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[-23-]

CHAPTER CXLV.

HYPOCRISY.

    REGINALD TRACY proceeded from the dwelling of the hangman to the corner of Tottenham Court Road, where his carriage was waiting for him.
    He stepped into the vehicle, and ordered the coachman to drive him to Markham Place near Lower Holloway.
    Richard was not at home: he had gone for a short walk with Mr. Monroe, who was yet too feeble to move far without the support of a companion's arm. They were, however, expected to return in a short time; besides, Miss Monroe was in the drawing-room; and the rector therefore decided upon walking in and waiting for Mr. Markham.
    The name of Miss Monroe produced a powerful sensation in the breast of that man whose passions, until lately dormant with his birth, now raged so furiously. He had seen her in a voluptuous negligee, attending by the sick bed of her father, he had heard her utter words of strange self accusing import, in connection with that parent's illness; and his curiosity, as well as his desires, was kindled.
    He had been fascinated by that charming girl, and our readers will remember that he had felt himself capable of making any sacrifice to obtain her love!
    His mind, too, entertained a distant suspicion a very distant one, but still a suspicion that she had strayed from the path of virtue;-for of what else could a daughter, whom he had seen hanging like a ministering angel over her father's couch, accuse herself?
    This suspicion and, at all events, that mystery which hung around the accusation alluded to, served to inflame the imagination of a man who now sought to place no bridal [-sic-] upon his passions. The idea suggested itself to him, that if another had revelled in her charms, why should not he? In a word, his heart glowed with secret delight when he learnt from Whittingham that Miss Monroe was alone in the drawing-room.
    On his entrance, Ellen rose from the sofa, and welcomed him with a cordiality which originated in a sense of gratitude for the spiritual comfort he had rendered her father during his illness.
    At a glance his eyes scanned the fair form of Ellen from head to foot; and his imagination was instantly fired with the thoughts of her soft and swelling charms those graceful undulations which were all her own, and needed no artificial aids to improve the originals of nature!
    "I am pleased to learn from the servant that your father, Miss Monroe, is able to take a little exercise once more," said the rector.
    "Oh! all danger is now peat," exclaimed Ellen cheerfully. "But at one time, Mr. Tracy, I had made up my mind to lose him."
    "I saw how much you were afflicted," observed the rector; "and I was grieved to hear you reproach yourself to some extent "
    "Reproach myself!" interrupted Ellen, blushing deeply. "You heard me reproach myself?"
    "I did," answered the rector. "And now forgive me, if by virtue of my sacred calling I make bold to remind you that Providence frequently tries us, through the medium of afflictions visited upon those whom we love, in order to punish us for our neglectfulness, our unkindness, or our errors, towards those so afflicted. Pardon me, Miss Monroe, for thus addressing you; but I should be unfaithful towards Him whom I serve, did I not avail myself of every opportunity to explain the lessons which his wise and just dispensations convey."
    "Mr. Tracy," exclaimed Ellen, cruelly embarrassed by this language, "do you really believe that Providence punished my father for some misconduct on my part?" [-24-]
    "Judging by the reproach the accusation which your lips uttered against yourself perhaps in an unguarded moment when you administered with angelic tenderness at your father's sick-bed-"
    "Sir Mr. Tracy, this is too much!" cried Ellen, tears starting from her eyes, while her cheeks were suffused with blushes: "it is unmanly it is ungenerous to take advantage of any expressions which might have been wrung from me in a moment of acute anguish."
    "Pardon me, young lady," said the rector with apparent meekness: "heaven knows the purity of my intentions in thus addressing you. It is not always that my spiritual aid is thus rejected that my motives are thus cruelly suspected."
    "Forgive me, sir, I was wrong to excite myself at words which were meant in kindness," said Ellen, completely deceived by this consummate hypocrisy.
    "Miss Monroe," continued Reginald, believe me when I assure you that I feel deep compassion deep interest, wherever I perceive grief especially when that sorrow is secret. And, if my eyes have not deceived me, methinks I have read in your young heart the existence of some such secret sorrow. My aim is to console you; for the consolation which I can offer is not human it is divine! I am but the humble instrument of the supernal Goodness; but God imparts solace through even the least worthy of his ministers."
    "I thank you sincerely for your friendly intentions towards me," said Ellen, now recovering her presence of mind; "but, since my father is restored to health, I have little to vex me."
    "And yet that self-reproach, Miss Monroe," persisted the rector, determined not to abandon the point to which he had so dexterously conducted the conversation, "that self-accusation which escaped your lips "
    "Is a family secret, Mr. Tracy, which may not be revealed," interrupted Ellen firmly.
    "I ask you not for your confidence, Miss Monroe; think not that I seek to pry into your affairs with an impertinent curiosity "
    "Once more, sir, I thank you for the kindness which prompts you thus to address me; but pray, let us change the conversation"
    These words were uttered in so decided a tone, that Reginald dared not persist in his attempt to thrust himself into the young lady's confidence.
    An awkward silence ensued; and the rector was thinking how he should break it, when the door opened.
    Almost at the same moment, a female voice was heard outside the room, saying, in tender playfulness, "Come to mamma! come to mamma!"
    Then, immediately afterwards, Marian entered the apartment, bearing an infant in her arms.
    Whittingham had neglected to tell her that there was a visitor in the drawing-room.
    Poor Marian, astounded at the presence of the rector, could neither advance nor retreat for some time.
    At length she turned abruptly away.
    Ellen sank back upon the sofa, overcome with shame and grief.
    The rector threw upon her a glance full of meaning; but she saw it not for her own eyes were cast down.
    This depression, however, lasted only for a moment. Suddenly raising her head, she exclaimed with that boldness and firm frankness which had been taught her by the various circumstances of the last few years of her life, "You now know my secret, sir: but you are a man of honour. I need say no more."
    "Who has been base enough to leave this grievous wrong unrepaired?" asked Reginald, taking her hand that soft, warm, delicate hand.
    "Nay seek to know no more," returned Ellen, withdrawing her hand hastily from what she however conceived to be only the pressure of a friendly or fraternal interest; "you have learnt too much already. For God's sake, let not my father know that you have discovered his daughter's shame!"
    "Not for worlds would I do aught to cause you pain!" cried the rector, enthusiastically.
    "Thank you thank you," murmured Ellen, completely deceived in respect to the cause of Tracy's warmth, and mistaking for friendly interest an ebullition of feeling which was in reality gross and sensual.
    With these words Ellen hurried from the room,
    "I have discovered her secret!" said the rector triumphantly to himself, as he rose and paced the apartment, mad passions raging in his breast; "and that discovery shall make her mine. Oh! no sacrifice were too great to obtain possession of that charming creature! I would give the ten best years of my life to clasp her in my arms, in the revels of love! Happy thrice happy should I be to feel that lovely form become supple and yielding in my embrace! But my brain burns my heart beats my eyes throb my blood seems liquid fire!"
    Reginald threw himself, exhausted by the indomitable violence of his passions, upon the sofa.
    Scarcely had he time to compose himself, when Markham entered the room.
    The rector communicated to him the particulars of his interview with Katherine Wilmot, and concluded by saying that, as the girl was known to his housekeeper, he had determined upon taking her into his service.
    "With regard to the fragment of the letter," observed Richard, "allusion must have been made to some person of the name of Markham who is totally unconnected with our family. We have no relations of that name. I feel convinced that the mention of the name could not in any way refer to my father; and my brother and myself were children at the time when that letter must have been written."
    "It is a coincidence and that is all," observed the rector. "But as you have to some extent constituted yourself the benefactor of this young person, do you approve of the arrangement which I have made for her to enter my household?"
    "My dear sir, how can I object?" exclaimed Richard, who, in the natural generosity of his heart, gave the rector credit for the most worthy motives. "I consider myself your debtor for your noble conduct in this instance. Under your roof, Mr. Tracy, the breath of calumny cannot reach that poor creature; and there no one will dare to make her family connexions a subject of reproach."
    Some farther conversation took place between Reginald Tracy and Richard Markham upon this subject, and when the former rose to depart, they both observed, for the first time during their inter-[-25-]

view, that a violent shower of rain was pouring down.
    Richard pressed the rector to remain to dinner an invitation which he, whose head was filled with Ellen, did not hesitate to accept.
    The rector's carriage and horses were accordingly housed in the stables attached to Markham Place; and Whittingham was desired to make Mr. Tracy's coachman and livery-servant as comfortable as possible instructions with which the hospitable old butler did not fail to comply.
    Dinner was served up at five o'clock; and Reginald had the felicity of sitting next to Miss Monroe.
    The more he saw of this young lady, the more did he become enraptured with her, not, however, experiencing a pure and chaste affection, but one whose ingredients were completely sensual.
    The evening passed rapidly away; the rain continued to pour in torrents.
    As a matter of courtesy indeed, of hospitality, for Richard's nature was generosity itself the rector was pressed to stay the night at the Place; and. although he had a good close carriage to convey him home (and persons who have such equipages are seldom over careful of their servants) he accepted the invitation.
    There was something so pleasing so intoxicating in the idea of passing the night under the same roof with Ellen!
    
    

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