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[-31-]

CHAPTER CXLVIII.

THE OLD HAG'S INTRIGUE.

    ON the morning after she had received the visit from the Reverend Reginald Tracy, the old hag rose early, muttering to herself, "I must lose no time I must lose no time."
    She then proceeded to dress herself in her holiday attire, each article of which was purchased with the wages of her infamous trade.
    Female frailty female shame had clothed the hag: female dishonour had produced her a warm gown, a fine shawl, and a new bonnet.
    When she was young she had lived by the sale of herself: now that she was old she lived by the sale of others.
    And she gloried in all the intrigues which she successfully worked out for those who employed her, as much as a sharp diplomatist triumphs in outwitting an astute antagonist.
    It is said that when Perseus carried the hideous head of the Gorgon Medusa through the air, the gore which dripped from it as he passed over the desert of Libya turned into frightful serpents: so does the moral filth which the corruption of great cities distils, engender grovelling and venomous wretches like that old hag.
    Well she dressed herself in her best attire, and contemplated herself with satisfaction in a little mirror cracked all across.
    Then, having partaken of a hearty breakfast, she sallied forth.
    By means of a public conveyance she soon reached the vicinity of Markham Place.
    She had never been in that neighbourhood before; and when she beheld the spacious mansion, with its heavy but imposing architecture, she muttered to herself, "She is well lodged she is well lodged!"
    The hag then strolled leisurely round Richard's miniature domain, debating within herself whether she should knock boldly at the front door and inquire for Miss Monroe, or wait in the neighbourhood to see if that young lady might chance to walk out alone.
    The day was fine, though cold; and the hag accordingly resolved to abide by the latter alternative.
    Perceiving a seat upon the summit of the hill, whereon stood the two trees, she opened the gate at the foot of the path which led to the top.
    Then she toiled up the hill, and seated herself between the two ash trees-now denuded of their foliage. [-32-]
    Presently, as her eyes wandered hither and thither, they fell upon the inscriptions engraved on the stem of one of the trees. Thus they stood:-
    
    EUGENE.
    Dec. 25, 1836.
    
    EUGENE.
    May 17th, 1838.
    
    The old woman marvelled what that name, twice inscribed, and those dates could mean.
    But she did not trouble herself much with conjecture on that point: she had other business on hand, and was growing impatient because Ellen did not appear.
    At length her penetrating eyes caught a glimpse of a female form approaching from the direction of the garden at the back of the mansion.
    The hag watched that form attentively, and in a few moments exclaimed joyfully, "It is she!"
    Ellen was indeed advancing up the hill. She had come forth for a short ramble; and the clearness of the day had prompted her to ascend the eminence which afforded so fine a view of the mighty metropolis at a little distance.
    When she was near the top, she caught sight of a female seated upon the bench between the trees, and was about to retreat fearful that her presence might be deemed a reproach for what was in fact an intrusion upon private property.
    But, to her surprise, she observed the female beckoning familiarly to her; and she continued her way to the summit.
    Then, with profound astonishment and no little annoyance, she recognised the old hag.
    "What are you doing here?" demanded Ellen, hastily.
    "Resting myself, as you see, miss," answered the harridan. "But how charming you look this morning! That black velvet bonnet sets off your beautiful complexion; and the fresh air has given a lovely glow to your cheeks."
    "You have not uttered that compliment without a motive," said Ellen, vainly endeavouring to suppress a half-smile of satisfaction. "But you must not suppose that your flattery will make me forget the part which you played when Mr. Greenwood had me conveyed to his house somewhere in the country."
    "My dear child, do not be angry with me on that account," said the old hag. "Mr. Greenwood thought that you would prefer me as your servant instead of a stranger."
    "Or rather, he hired you to talk me over to his wishes or, perhaps, because he knew that you would wink at any violence which he might use. But I outwitted you both," added Ellen, laughing.
    "Ah! now I see that you have forgiven me, my child," cried the hag. "And when I behold your sweet lips, red as cherries your lovely blue eyes, so soft and languishing and that small round chin, with its charming dimple, I feel convinced "
    "Nay you are determined to flatter me," interrupted Ellen; "but I shall not forgive you the more readily on that account."
    "How well this pelisse becomes your beautiful figure, my child," said the hag, affecting not to notice Ellen's last observation.
    "Cease this nonsense," cried Miss Monroe, "and tell me what brings you hither."
    "To see you once more, my child."
    "How did you discover my abode?"
    "A pleasant question, forsooth!" ejaculated the hag. "Do you think that I am not well acquainted with all yes, all that concerns you?" she added significantly.
    "Alas! I am well aware that you know much too much," said Ellen, with a profound sigh.
    "Much!" repeated the hag. "I know all I say even to the existence of the little one that will some day call you mother."
    "Who told you that? Speak who told you that?" demanded Ellen, greatly excited.
    "It cannot matter since I know it," returned the hag: "it cannot matter."
    "One question," said Ellen, "and I will ask you no more. Was Mr. Greenwood your informant?"
    "He was not," answered the hag.
    "And now tell me, without circumlocution, what business has brought you hither for that you came to meet with me I have no doubt."
    "Sit down by me, my child," said the hag, "and listen while I speak to you."
    "'Nay I can attend to you as well here," returned Ellen, laughing, as she leant against one of the trees an attitude which revealed her tiny feet and delicate ankles.
    "You seem to have no confidence in me," observed the hag; "and yet I have ever been your friend."
    "Yes-you have helped me to my ruin, said Ellen, mournfully. "And yet I scarcely blame you for all that, because you only aided me to discover what I sought at the time-and that was bread at any sacrifice. Well go on, and delay not: I will listen to you, if only through motives of curiosity."
    "My sweet child," said the harridan, endeavouring to twist her wrinkled face into as pleasing an expression as possible, "a strange thing has come to my knowledge. What would you think if I told you that a man of pure and stainless life, who is virgin of all sin, a man who to a handsome exterior unites a brilliant intellect, a man whose eloquence can excite the aristocracy as well as produce a profound impression upon the middle classes, a man possessed of a fine fortune and a high position, what would you think, I say if I told you that such a man has become enamoured of you?"
    "I should first wonder how such a phoenix of perfection came to select you as his intermediate," answered Ellen, with a smile, which displayed her brilliant teeth.
    "A mere accident made me acquainted with his passion," said the hag. "But surely you would not scorn the advances of a man who would sacrifice every thing for you who would consent to fall from his high place for one single hour of your love-who would lay his whole fortune at your feet as a proof of his sincerity."
    "To cut short this conversation, I will answer you with sincerity," returned Ellen. "Mr. Greenwood is the only man who can boast of a favour which involves my shame: he is the father of my child. I do not love him I have no reason to love him nevertheless, he is I repeat this father of my child. That expresses every thing. Who knows but that sooner or later, he may do me justice? And should [-33-] 

such an idea ever entered his mind, must I not retain myself worthy of that repentant sentiment on his part?"
    "You cherish a miserable delusion, my child," said the hag; "and I am surprised at your confidence in the good feelings of a man of whom you have already seen so much."
    "Ah! there is a higher power that often sways the human heart," observed Ellen; and, as she spoke, her eyes were fixed upon the inscriptions on the tree, while her heart heat with emotions unintelligible to the old hag.
    "You will then allow this man of whom I have spoken, and who has formed so enthusiastic an attachment towards you, to languish without a hope?" demanded the woman.
    "Men do not die of love," said Ellen, with a smile.
    "But he is rich and he would enrich you," continued the old harridan: "he would place your father in so happy a position that the old man should not even experience a regret for the prosperity which he has lost."
    "My father dwells with a friend, and is happy," observed Ellen.
    "But he is dependant," exclaimed the old hag, "for you yourself once said to me, 'We are dependant upon one who cannot afford to maintain us in idleness.' How happy would you be for I know your heart-to be enabled to place your father in a state of independence!"
    "Would he be happy did he know that he owed the revival of his prosperity to his daughter's infamy?"
    "Did he divine whence came the bread that was purchased by your services to the statuary, the artist, the sculptor, and the photographer? You yourself assured me that you kept your avocations a profound secret."
    "Were I inclined to sell myself for gold, Greenwood would become a liberal purchaser," said Ellen. "All your sophistry is vain. You cannot seduce me from that state of tranquil. seclusion in which I now dwell."
    "At least grant your unknown lover an interview, and let him plead his own cause." exclaimed [-34-] the hag, who did not calculate upon so much firmness on the part of the young lady.
    "Ah! think not that he is unknown," cried Ellen, a light breaking in upon her mind: "a man of pure and stainless life, virgin of all sin, a man endowed with a handsome person, and a brilliant intellect, a man whose. eloquence acts as a spell upon all classes, a man possessed of a large fortune and enjoying a high position, such is your description! And this man must have seen me to love me! Now think you I cannot divine the name of your phoenix?"
    "You suspect then, my child "
    "Nay I have something more than mere suspicion in my mind," interrupted Ellen. "Oh I now I comprehend the motive of that apparent earnestness with which he implored me to reveal the secret sorrow that oppressed me! In a word, old woman," added the young lady, in a tone of superb contempt, "your phoenix is the immaculate rector of St. David's!"
    "And do you not triumph in your conquest, Miss?" demanded the hag, irritated by Ellen's manner.
    "Oh! yes," exclaimed the young lady, with a sort of good-humoured irony; "so much so, that I will meet him when and where you will."
    "Are you serious?" inquired the hag, doubtfully.
    "Did I ever jest when I agreed to accept the fine offers which you made me on past occasions?" asked Ellen.
    "No: and you cannot have an object in jesting now," observed the old woman. "But when and where will you meet him who is enamoured of you?"
    "You say that he will make any sacrifice to please me?"
    "He will he will."
    "Then he cannot refuse the appointment which I am about to propose to you. On Monday evening next there is to be a masked ball at Drury Lane Theatre. At ten o'clock precisely I will be there, dressed as a Circassian slave, with a thick veil over my face. Let him be attired as a monk, so that he may be enabled to shroud his features with his cowl. We shall not fail to recognise each other."
    "Again I ask if you are in earnest!" demanded the old woman, surprised at this singular arrangement.
    "I was never more so," answered Ellen.
    "But why cannot the appointment take place at my abode?" said the hag.
    "Oh! fie the immaculate rector in your dirty court in Golden Lane!" ejaculated Ellen.
    "That court was once good enough for you, my child," muttered the old woman.
    "We will not dispute upon that point," said the young lady. "If I am worth having, I am worth humouring; and I must test the sincerity of the attachment which your phoenix experiences for me, by making him seek me at a masked ball."
    "Oh! the caprices of you fair ones!" ejaculated the hag. "Well, my child, I will undertake that it shall be as you desire."
    "Next Monday evening at ten o'clock," cried Ellen; and with these words she tripped lightly down the hill in the direction of the mansion.
    The old hag then took her departure by the path on the opposite side; and, as she went along, she chuckled at the success of her intrigue.

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