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[-36-]

CHAPTER CL.

MRS. KENRICK.

THE rector of Saint David's returned home a prey to the most unenviable feelings.
    Rage  disappointment humiliation conspired to make him mad.
    The old hag had raised his hopes to the highest pitch; and at the moment when the cup of bliss seemed to approach his lips, it was rudely dashed away.
    A woman had triumphed over him mocked his passion spurned his offers read him a lesson of morality taught him that proud man must not always domineer over feminine weakness.
    Oh! it was too much for that haughty that vain that self-sufficient ecclesiastic to endure!
    As he returned home in a hired cab, he threw from the window of the vehicle the Carmelite gown and cowl which he had worn; and bitterly did he reproach himself for his folly in having been seduced into the degradation of that masqued mummery.
    Arrived at his own house, he rushed part the housekeeper who opened the door, and was hurrying up-stairs to the solitude of his chamber, when the voice of the old lady compelled him to pause.
    "Mr. Tracy Mr. Tracy," she exclaimed; "here is a note from Lady Harborough."
    "Tell Lady Harborough to go to the devil, Mrs. Kenrick!" cried the rector, goaded almost to madness by this new proof of Cecilia's indiscretion. [-37-]
    The old housekeeper dropped the candle and the note, as if she were thunderstruck.
    Was it possible that she had heard aright? could such an expression have emanated from the lips of her master of that man whom the world idolized?
    "What is the matter now, Mrs. Kenrick?" asked the rector, suddenly recovering his presence of mind, and perceiving the immense error into which his excited feelings had betrayed him.
    "Nothing, sir nothing," answered the house-keeper, as she re-lighted her candle by means of a lamp which was standing on the hall-table; "only I thought that something very terrible had occurred to annoy you."
    "Yes yes I have indeed been grievously annoyed," said Reginald; "and you must forgive my hasty conduct. I was wrong very wrong. Do not think anything more of it, Mrs. Kenrick. But did you not observe that Lady Harborough had sent a message "
    "A note, sir. Here it is."
    And as the housekeeper handed her master the perfumed billet, she cast a scrutinizing glance upon his countenance.
    He was as pale as death his lips quivered and his eyes had a wild expression.
    "I am afraid, sir, that something very dreadful has happened to you," she observed timidly. "Shall I send for the physician?"
    "No no, Mrs. Kenrick: I shall be quite well in the morning. I have received a violent shock-the sudden communication of ill news the death of a dear friend "
    "Ah! sir, I was convinced that all was not right," observed the housekeeper. "If you would follow my advice you would take something to compose you to make you sleep well "
    "An excellent thought, Mrs. Kenrick! If it be not too late, I wish you would send and procure me a little laudanum: I will take a few drops to en sure a sound slumber."
    "I will do so, sir," answered the housekeeper.
    She then repaired to the kitchen, while Reginald hurried up to his own chamber to read Lady Cecilia's letter, the contents of which ran as follow:
    
    "Nearly a week has elapsed, dearest Reginald, and I have not seen you! neither have I heard from you. What is the meaning of this? Is it neglect, or extreme caution? At all events the interval which you enjoined for the cessation of my visits to you, has nearly expired; and my impatience will brook no longer delay. I must see you to-night! Precisely as the clock strikes twelve, I will be at your front-door, when you must admit me as on previous occasions or I shall imagine that you are already wearied of your
    "CECILIA."
    
    "After all," said the rector, "the presence of Cecilia will in some degree console me for my disappointment of this evening! I cannot remain alone with my reflections it drives me mad to think of what I am, and what I have been! And laudanum is a miserable resource for one who dreads a sleepless night: it peoples slumber with hideous phantoms. Yes I will admit Cecilia at the appointed hour: my housekeeper does not suspect me-my guilty conscience alone makes me think at times that she reads the secrets of my soul!"
    The rector seated himself before the cheerful fire which burnt in the grate, and fell into a long train of voluptuous meditation.
    He had become in so short a time a confirmed sensualist; and now that his long pent-up passions had broken loose, they never left him a moment of repose.
    His reverie was interrupted by a knock at the door; and Mrs. Kenrick entered.
    "Kate was fortunate enough to find a druggist's shop open, sir," she said, "and procured some laudanum. But pray be cautious how you use it."
    "Never fear," returned the rector: "I may not avail myself of it at all for I feel more composed now."
    The housekeeper wished her master a good night's rest, and withdrew.
    The rector then took a decanter of wine from a cupboard, and tossed off two glasses full, one immediately after the other.
    The idea that Cecilia would shortly be there and the effects of the wine inflamed his blood, and brought back the colour to his cheeks.
    Midnight soon sounded: the rector threw off his shoes, took a candle in his hand, and hastened down stairs.
    He opened the front-door with the utmost caution; and a female, muffled in an ample cloak, darted into the hall.
    "Cecilia?" whispered the rector.
    "Dearest Reginald," answered the lady, in the same under tone.
    They then stole noiselessly up stairs, and reached the rector's chamber without having scarcely awakened the faintest echo in the house.
    The remainder of the night was passed by them in the intoxicating joys of illicit love. Locked in Cecilia's arms, the rector forgot the humiliation he had received at the hands of Ellen, and abandoned himself to those pleasures for which he risked so much!
    It was still dark though at a later hour in the morning than Cecilia had been previously in the habit of quitting the rector's house when the guilty pair stole softly down stairs, without a light.
    "Hasten, Cecilia," murmured the rector: "it is later than you imagine."
    "My God!" whispered the lady: "I hear a step ascending!"
    The rector listened for a moment, and then said in a faint tone, "Yes: we are lost!"
    A light flashed on the wall a few steps beneath those on which they were standing: it was too late to retreat; and in another moment Mrs. Kenrick made her appearance on the stairs.
    "What! Mr. Tracy?" ejaculated the housekeeper, her eyes glancing from the rector in his dressing-gown to the lady in her cloak.
    Then the good woman stood motionless and silent her tongue tied, and her feet rooted to the spot, with astonishment.
    Lady Cecilia drew her veil hastily over her countenance; but not before Mrs. Kenrick had recognised her.
    A thousand ideas passed rapidly through the rector's brain during the two or three moments that succeeded this, encounter.
    At first he thought of inventing some excuse for his awkward situation; next he felt inclined to spring upon his old housekeeper and strangle her, then he conceived the desperate idea of rushing back to his room and blowing his brains out.
    "Mrs. Kenrick," at length he exclaimed, "I hope you will say nothing of this." [-38-]
    The housekeeper made no reply to her master; but, turning a contemptuous glance upon the lady, said, "Madam, allow me to conduct you to the front door."
    Cecilia followed her mechanically; and Reginald rushed up the stairs to his room, a pray to emotions more readily conceived than described.
    The housekeeper preceded Lady Cecilia in silence, and opened the front door.
    "My dear Mrs. Kenrick," said the frail patrician, who had now nearly recovered her presence of mind, "I hope you will take no notice of this unpleasant discovery."
    "I shall remain silent, madam," answered the housekeeper; "but through no respect for you. I however value the reputation of a master whom I have served for many years, too much to be the means of ruining him."
    She then closed the door unceremoniously, and, seating herself on one of the mahogany benches in the hall, burst into tears.
    That good woman loved her master with a maternal affection; and she was shocked at this dread confirmation of the faint suspicions which she had already entertained, and which had so sorely afflicted her.
    "It is then true!" she thought within herself. "He has fallen! He is a living, breathing falsehood. His eloquence is a mere talent, and not the spontaneous outpouring of holy conviction! The world adores an idle delusion worships a vain phantom. Oh! what a discovery is this! How can I ever respect him more? how can I ever talk with others of his virtues again? And yet he may repent oh! God grant that he may! Yes he must repent: he must again become the great, the good man he once was! It behoves me, then, to shield his guilt: at the same time all temptation should be removed from his presence. Ah! now I bethink me that he has cast wistful eyes upon that poor girl whom he has taken into the establishment. I must remove her: yes-I will remove her, upon my own authority. He will thank me hereafter for my prudence."
    Thus did the good woman reason within herself. When she had somewhat recovered from the first shock which the unpleasant discovery of her master's criminality had produced upon her, she repaired to her domestic avocations.
    Kate was already in the kitchen, occupied with her usual duties.
    "Katherine, my dear child," said Mrs. Kenrick, "I am going to give you my advice or rather to propose to you a plan which I have formed relative to you "
    "To me, ma'am?" exclaimed the young maiden, desisting from her employment, and preparing to listen with attention.
    "Yes, my dear girl," continued the housekeeper; "and when I tell you that it is for your good entirely for your good you would thank me "
    "Oh! I do, ma'am I thank you in advance," said Kate; "for I have already experienced too much kindness at your hands not to feel convinced that all you propose is for my good."
    "Well, then, my dear without giving you any reasons for my present conduct-I am anxious that you should leave this house "
    "Leave. ma'am!" cried Kate, astonished at this unexpected announcement.
    "Yes, Katherine: you must leave this house," proceeded Mrs. Kenrick. "But think not that you will be unprovided for. I have a sister who resides a few miles from London; and to her care I shall recommend you. She will be a mother to you."
    "But why would you remove me from the roof of my benefactor?" asked Kate: "why would you send me away from London, where my only relations on the face of the earth reside?" she added, bursting into tears; for she thought of her poor persecuted cousin the hump-back.
    "Do not ask me, my good child," returned Mrs. Kenrick: "my reasons are of a nature which cannot be communicated to you. And yet-if you knew them, and could rightly understand them you would not object "
    "Alas! ma'am, I am afraid that I understand them but too well," interrupted the girl: " the executioner's niece brings discredit upon the house of her benefactor."
    "Oh! no-no," exclaimed the good-natured housekeeper; "do not entertain such an idea! Not for worlds would I have you labour under such an error. You know I would not tell a falsehood; and I declare most solemnly that you have totally misunderstood me and my motives."
    There was an earnestness in the way in which Mrs. Kenrick spoke that immediately removed from Katherine's mind the suspicion she had entertained.
    "Why should you send the poor girl away, Mrs. Kenrick?" said the footman, now suddenly emerging from the pantry, which joined the kitchen.
    "Have you overheard our conversation, then, Thomas?" exclaimed Mrs. Kenrick, angrily.
    "I could n't very well avoid it," answered the footman, "since I was in there all the time."
    "It would have been more discreet on your part to have let us know that you were there, when you heard a private conversation begin," remarked the housekeeper.
    "How should I know the conversation was private?" exclaimed Thomas. "I suppose you're jealous of the girl, and want to get rid of her."
    "You must value your place very little by speaking to me in this way," said Mrs. Kenrick. "However, I scorn your base allusions. And you, my dear," she continued, now addressing herself to Katherine, "look upon me as your friend your very sincere friend. What I am doing is for your good: to-day I will write to my sister and to-morrow you shall, proceed to her abode."
    The housekeeper then resumed her avocations with the complacency of one conscious of having performed a duty.
    "Thomas," she said, after a pause, "go up and inquire if your master will have breakfast served in his own chamber, or in the parlour."
    The footman hastened to obey this order.
    "Master says he is very unwell, and desires no breakfast at all," was the information which the man gave on his return to the kitchen.
    The housekeeper made no reply: she was however pleased when she reflected that the rector felt his situation a state of mind which she hoped would lead to complete repentance and reform.
    The morning passed: the afternoon arrived: and still Reginald Tracy kept his room.
    The housekeeper sent the footman up to ask if he required any thing.
    Thomas returned with a negative answer, adding "Master spoke to me without opening the door, and seemed by his tone of voice to be very unwell."
    Again the housekeeper remained silent, more convinced than before that contrition was working its good effects with her master.
    Hour after hour passed; the sun went down; and darkness once more threw its veil over the mighty city.
    Mrs. Kenrick again sent up Thomas with the same inquiry as before.
    The servant returned to the kitchen with a letter in his hand.
    "This time master opened the door," he said, "and gave me this letter to take up to Mr. Markham at Holloway. But I shall take the omnibus there and back."
    Thomas then departed to execute his commission.
    Shortly after he was gone, the bell of the rector s room rang.
    Mrs. Kenrick hastened to answer it.
    She found Mr. Tracy sitting in a musing attitude before the fire in his bed-room.
    "My dear Mrs. Kenrick," he said, "I wish to have some conversation with you I need scarcely now explain upon what subject. I have sent Thomas out of the way with an excuse: do you get rid of Katherine for an hour; I am faint-and require refreshment; and I will take my tea with you in the kitchen."
    "In the kitchen, sir!" exclaimed the house-keeper, in surprise.
    "Yes If you will permit me," answered the rector: "I can then converse with you at the same time.
    Mrs. Kenrick left the room to execute her master's wishes; and, as she descended the stairs, she thought within herself, "I am right! he has repented: he will become the virtuous and upright man he once was!"
    And the good woman experienced a pleasure as sincere as if any one had announced to her that she was entitled to a princely fortune.
    To send Katherine out of this way for an hour was no difficult matter. The old housekeeper gave her leave to repair to Saint Giles's to visit her relatives; and the young girl, thinking that her uncle might repent of his recent harshness towards her, now that she was no longer dependant upon him, gladly availed herself of this permission.
    Katherine accordingly proceeded to Saint Giles: and the moment she had left the house Mrs Kenrick spread the kitchen table with the tea-things.    

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