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[-28-]

CHAPTER CXLVII.

    THE RECTOR'S NEW PASSION.

    To make his peace with Lady Cecilia was by no means a difficult matter; and it was accomplished rather by the aid of the rector's purse than his caresses.
    He remained to dinner with the syren who had first seduced him from the paths of virtue, which he had pursued so brilliantly and triumphantly too brilliantly and triumphantly to ensure stability!
    In the evening, when they were seated together upon the sofa, Reginald implored her to be more cautious in her proceedings in future.
    "Such indiscretion as that of which you have been guilty," he said, "would ruin me. Why send so [-29-] often to request my presence? The most unsuspicious would be excited; and my housekeeper has spoken to me in a manner that has seriously alarmed me."
    "Forgive me, Reginald," murmured Cecilia, casting her arms around him; "but I was afraid you were unfaithful to me."
    "And to set at rest your own selfish jealousies, you would compromise. me," said the rector. "Do you know that my housekeeper has overheard me moving about at night when I have admitted you, or descended the stairs to let you out before daylight? and, although she attributes that fact to restlessness on my part, it would require but little to excite her suspicions."
    "Again I say forgive me, Reginald," whispered Cecilia, accompanying her words with voluptuous kisses, so that in a short time the rector's ill-humour was completely subdued. "Tell me," she added, "may I not visit you again? say shall I come to you to-night?"
    "No, Cecilia," answered the clergyman; "we must exercise some caution. Let a week or a fortnight pass, so that my housekeeper may cease to think upon the subject which has attracted her notice and alarmed me; and then then, dearest Cecilia, we will set no bounds to our enjoyment."
    Reginald Tracy now rose, embraced his mistress, and took his leave.
    But it was not to return home immediately.
    His mind was filled with Ellen's image; and, even while in the society of Lady Cecilia, he had been pondering upon the means of gratifying his new passion of possessing that lovely creature of whose charms he had caught glimpses that had inflamed him to madness.
    Amongst a thousand vague plans, one had struck him. He remembered the horrible old woman of Golden Lane, who had enticed him to her house under a pretence of seeing a beautiful statue, and had thereby led him back to the arms of Lady Cecilia Harborough.
    To her he was determined to proceed; for he thought that he might be aided in his designs by that ingenuity of which he had received so signal a proof.
    Accordingly, wrapping himself up in his cloak, he repaired directly from Lady Cecilia's house to the vile court in Golden Lane.
    It was past seven o'clock in the evening when he reached the old hag's abode.
    She was dozing over a comfortable fire; and her huge cat slept upon her lap. Even in the midst of her nap, the harridan mechanically stretched forth her bony hand from time to time, and stroked the animal down the back; and then it purred in acknowledgment of that caress which to a human being would have been hideous.
    Suddenly a knock at the door awoke the hag.
    "Business business," murmured the old woman, as she rose, placed the cat upon the rug, and hastened to answer the door: "no idle visitor comes to me at this time."
    The moment she opened the door the rector rushed in.
    "Gently, gently," said the old hag: "there is nothing to alarm you in this neighbourhood. Ah!" she cried, as Reginald Tracy laid aside his hat and cloak: "is it you, is it? I am not surprised to see you again."
    "And why not?" demanded the rector, as he threw himself into a chair.
    "Because all those who wander in the mazes of love, sooner or later require my services," answered the hag; "be they men or women."
    "You have divined my object in seeking you," said the rector. "I love a charming creature, and know not how to obtain possession of her."
    "You could not have come to a better plate for aid and assistance, sir," observed the harridan with one of her most significant and, therefore, most wicked leers.
    "But can I trust you? will you be faithful? what guarantee have I that you will not betray me to Lady Harborough, whoso jealousy is so soon excited?" cried Reginald.
    "If you pay me well I am not likely to lose a good patron by my misconduct," answered the old woman boldly. "In a word, my left hand knows not what my right hand does."
    "Well spoken," said the rector; and, taking gold from his purse, he flung it upon the table, adding, "Be this your retaining fee; but it is as nothing compared to what I will give you if you succeed in a matter on which I have set my heart."
    "You must be candid with me, and tell me every particular, sir," said the hag, as she gathered up the gold with avidity.
    "I have seen the young lady to whom I allude, but on three or four occasions," continued the rector; "and yet I have discovered much concerning her. She has been weak already, and has a child of some six or seven months old. That child was not born in wedlock; nor, indeed, has its mother ever borne the name of wife."
    "Then the conquest cannot be so difficult," murmured the hag.
    "I am not sure of that," said Reginald Tracy. "Without knowing any thing of her history I am inclined to believe that some deep treachery some foul wrong must have entrapped that young lady into error. She lives in the most respectable way; and neither by her manner nor her looks could her secret be divined. Accident alone revealed it to me."
    "It may serve our purpose it may serve our purpose," cried the harridan, musing.
    "She dwells with her father, at the house of a friend a very young man "
    "Ah!" cried the hag, struck by this information. "What is her name?"
    "Ellen Monroe," replied the rector.
    "I thought so," exclaimed the old woman.
    "You know her, then?" cried Reginald Tracy in astonishment. "Are you sure she is the same whom you imagine her to be?"
    "She resides at the house of Mr. Markham in Holloway does she not?"
    "She does. But how came you to be acquainted with her? what cause of intimacy could exist between you and her?" demanded the rector.
    "My left hand never knows what my right hand does," said the hag. "If I reveal to you the affairs of another, how could you put confidence in me when I declare that your own secrets shall not be communicated to Lady Harborough or any one else who might question me?"
    "True!" said the rector: "I cannot blame your discretion. "But tell me-have you any hope that I may succeed?" [-30-]
    "The business is a difficult one," answered the hag. "And yet greater obstacles than I can here see have been overcome aye, and by me, too. Did I not tell Lady Harborough that I would bring you back to her arms? and did I not succeed? Am I then to be foiled now. Show me the weakness of a human being, and I direct all my energies against that failing. Ellen Monroe has two vulnerable points "
    "Which are they?" asked the rector eagerly.
    "Her vanity and her love for her father," replied the harridan. "Leave her to me: when I am ready for you I will call upon you."
    "And you will lose no time, good Woman?" said the rector, overjoyed at the hopes held out to him.
    "I will not let the grass grow under my feet," returned the hag. "But you must have patience; for the girl is stubborn sadly stubborn. Art, and not entreaties, will prevail with her."
    "In any case, manage your matters in such a way that I cannot be compromised," said the rector; "and your reward shall be most liberal."
    "Trust to me," murmured the hag.
    Reginald Tracy once more enveloped himself in his cloak, and took his departure.
    "And so I have made a discovery this evening!" mused the hag, when she was once more alone. "Miss Ellen is a mother she has a child of six or seven months old! She never told me that when she came to seek my aid, and I gave her the card of the Mesmerist; she never told me that when she sought me after that, and I sent her to the Manager; she never told me that when I met her at Greenwood's house in the country, and from which she escaped by the window. The cunning puss! She does not even think that I know where she lives; but Lafleur told me that Lafleur told me that! He is the prince of French valets worth a thousand such moody, reserved Italians as Filippo! So now the rector must possess Miss Ellen! Well and he shall, too, if I have any skill left-if I have any ingenuity to aid him!"
    Then the hag concealed the five pieces of glittering gold which the rector had given her, in her Dutch clock; and having thus secured the wages of her iniquity, she proceeded to mix herself a steaming glass of gin-and water to assist her meditations concerning the business entrusted to her.
    "Yes," she said, continuing her musings aloud," "I must not fail in this instance. The rector is a patron who will not spare his gold; and Ellen may not be the only one he may covet. I warrant he will not keep me unemployed! These parsons are terrible fellows when once they give way; and I should think time rector has not been long at this same, or he could scarcely have contrived to maintain his reputation as he has. How the world would be astonished did it know all! But I am astonished at nothing not I! No no I have seen too much in my time. And if I repent of any thing but no I do not repent: still, If I did sometimes think of one more than another, 'tis of that poor Harriet Wilmot! I should like to know what became of her. It must be sixteen or seventeen years since that occurred; but the mention of the name of Markham just now, brought it all fresh back again to my mind. Well it cannot be helped: it was in the way of business like any thing else!"
    Let us leave the horrible old hag at her musings, and relate a little incident which occurred elsewhere, and which, however trivial the reader may deem it now, is not without importance in respect to a future portion of our narrative.
    The rector had reached the door of his own house, after his interview with the old hag, and was about to knock when he perceived, by the light of the gas lamp, a strange-looking being standing on his step.
    "What do you want, my good lad?" asked Reginald.
    "Please, sir, I want to speak to Kate Wilmot, my cousin," answered Gibbet for it was he.
    "Indeed! I suppose, then, that you are the son of of " and Reginald stopped; for he did not like to wound the hump-back's feelings by saying "of the hangman," and at that moment he had forgotten the name of Katherine's uncle.
    "My name is Smithers, sir," said the lad.
    "Ah! Smithers so it is," cried the rector. "Well, my good lad, I cannot think of preventing Katherine's relations from coming to see her if they choose; but, as she is now in a good place and respectably settled, it would perhaps be prudent that those visits should occur as seldom as possible- I mean, not too often."
    "I'm sure, sir, I'm very sorry if I have offended you, by coming," sobbed the poor hump-back; "and I would not for all the world injure Kate in the opinion of those friends who have been so kind as to provide for her."
    "You have done no harm I am not angry with you," said the rector. "Only Mrs. Kenrick, my housekeeper, is very particular, and does not like the servants to have many visitors."
    "Then I won't come any more, sir," murmured Gibbet, whose heart was ready to break at this cruel announcement.
    "Yes you may come and see your cousin every Sunday evening."
    "Oh! thank you, sir thank you kindly, sir!" ejaculated the hump-back, in a tone of touching sincerity.
    "Every Sunday evening, then, let it be," continued the rector. "And now go round by the back way, and see her to-night, since you wish to do so."
    The hump-back literally bounded with joy off the steps, and hurried to the stable-yard, whence there was a means of communication with the servants' offices attached to the rector's house.
    As he drew near the back-door, he observed lights through the kitchen-windows; and he stopped for a moment to observe if Katherine were within.
    In order to see into the kitchen, which, with its offices, formed a sort of out-house joining the main dwelling, the hump-back was compelled to climb upon a covered dust-hole standing in an obscure nook on the opposite side of the yard, and so shrouded in darkness that no one passing through the yard could observe a person concealed there.
    Time idea of ascertaining if Kate were in the kitchen at that moment, was not a mere whim on the part of the hump-back: he was afraid that, if she were not, he might not be allowed to return, and was therefore apprehensive of not seeing her that evening at all.
    Accordingly, he clambered upon the dust-bin, which stood in a nook formed by the irregularity of the high wall that separated the yard of the rector's house from that of the stables; and from this point of observation, which his quick eye had thus detected he commanded a full view of the interior of the kitchen.
    Yes-Kate was there, seated at the table, and occupied with her needle.
    She was alone too.
    Gibbet remained in his hiding-place for some minutes, contemplating, with melancholy pleasure, the interesting countenance of the young girl.
    At length it struck him that it was growing late, and that his visit must not last long.
    He let himself gently down from the eminence to which he had clambered; and as he was about to turn away, to cross the yard to the kitchen door, he stopped short, as if an idea had suddenly entered his mind.
    Casting a look back upon the obscure place from which he had just emerged, he muttered between his teeth, "No, Kate-they shall not prevent me from seeing you of an evening when I will and when, too, you will little suspect that I am so near."
    He then walked over to the kitchen door, and knocked gently.
    Kate herself rose to open it, and with unfeigned pleasure admitted the hump-back.
    "Mr. Tracy says that I may come and see you every Sunday evening, Kate," were Gibbet's first words: "you won't say no-will you, Kate?"
    "Certainly not, John," answered the maiden. "I shall always be glad to see you, my poor cousin," she added compassionately.
    "Oh! I know you will, Kate," exclaimed the hump-back. "I have missed you so all yesterday afternoon, and all to-day; and father is more unkind to me than ever," he added, the tears trickling down his cheeks.
    "We must hope that better times await you, John," said Katherine, in a soothing tone.
    "Never for me," observed Gibbet, with a profound sigh. "Father does not cease to upbraid me for my conduct yesterday morning. But I could not help It. I went down to Newgate with the intention to do my best; but when I got there, and found myself face to face with the miserable wretch who was about to suffer, when I saw his awful pale face, his wild glaring eyes, his distorted features, his quivering limbs, and when I heard him murmur every other moment, ' O Lord! O Lord in a tone scarcely audible and yet expressive of such intense anguish, I could not lay a finger upon him! When my father gave me the twine to pinion him, it fell from my hands; and I believe I felt as much as the unfortunate man himself. Oh I heavens his face will haunt me in my dreams as long as I live. I never shall forget it it was so ghastly, so dreadful! I would not have had any thing to do with taking that man's life away no, not for all the world. I did not see a criminal before me-I only saw a fellow-creature from whom his fellow-creatures were about to take away something which God alone gave, and which God alone should have the right to recall. I thought of all this; and I was paralysed. And it was because my nature would not let me touch so much as the hem of that man's garment to do him harm, that my father upbraids and beats me. Oh! it is too cruel, Kate it is too cruel to bear!"
    "It is, my poor cousin, answered the girl; "but let me entreat you to submit patiently as patiently as you can. Times must change for you as they have for me."
    These last words she uttered in a half-tone of self-reproach, as if she upbraided herself with having left her unfortunate cousin to the mercy of his brutal father.
    But how could she have done otherwise, poor girl?
    The conversation between that interesting young creature and the hump-back continued in pretty much the same strain for about half-an-hour, when Gibbet took leave of his cousin.
    "You will come and see me next Sunday, John," said Katherine, as she shook him warmly by the hand.
    "Next Sunday evening, dear Kate," he replied, and then departed.

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