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[-60-]

CHAPTER CLIX.

THE INTERVIEW.

    A WEEK passed away, during which the examination of Reginald Tracy took place before the police-magistrate, and terminated in the committal of the rector to Newgate.
    The whole town rang with the extraordinary events which had led to this crisis in the career of a man whose very name had so lately inspired respect!
    The clergy were horror-struck at the disgrace [-61-] brought upon their cloth by this terrific explosion; for people grew inclined to look upon real ecclesiastical sanctity as nothing more nor less than a garb of rank hypocrisy.
    Some ministers of the gospel, more daring and enthusiastic than the rest, boldly proclaimed from their pulpits that Reginald Tracy was a saint and a martyr, against whom a horrible conspiracy had been concocted in order to remove the imputation of murder from the young female who had been discharged, and fix it on him.
    Other clergymen entered into learned disquisitions to prove that Satan must have obtained especial leave from God, as in the case of Job, to tempt the most holy and pious of men; and that, having failed to seduce him from the right path, the Evil One had accomplished a series of atrocities all so artfully arranged as to fix the stain upon the rector of St. David's.
    But there were some reverend gentlemen, who, having always been jealous of Reginald Tracy's popularity, descanted in significant terms upon the Shallowness of mere eloquence in the pulpit, and the folly of running after "fashionable preachers." One venerable and holy gentleman, who had been married three times, and had received from his wives an aggregate of seventeen pledges of their affection, bitterly denounced in his sermon the "whitened sepulchre," "tinkling cymbal," and "unclean vessel," who had dared to set his face against the sacred institution of matrimony.
    The fashionable world was powerfully excited by the exposure of Reginald Tracy. Some wiseacres shook their heads, and observed that they had always suspected there was something wrong about the rector; others plainly asserted that they had even prophesied what would happen some day. The fair sex all agreed that it was a great pity, as he was such a charming preacher and such a handsome man!
    The press was not idle in respect to the business. The newspapers teemed with "Latest Particulars;" and all the penny-a-liners in London were on the alert to collate additional facts. Nine out of ten of these facts, however, turned out to be pure fictions. One journal, conducted on more imaginative principles than its contemporaries, promulgated a new discovery which it had made in respect to the rector's history, and coolly fixed upon his back all the murders which had occurred in the metropolis during the previous dozen years, and the perpetrators of which had never yet been detected.
    Heaven knows Reginald Tracy was bad enough; but if one believed all which was now said of him in the public journals, no monster that ever disgraced humanity was so vile as he.
    Some of the cheap unstamped periodicals treated their readers with portraits of the rector; and as very few of the artists who were employed to draw them had ever seen their subject, and were now unable to obtain access to him, their inventive faculties were put to the most exciting test. And, as a convincing proof that no two persons entertain the same idea of an object which they have never seen, it may be observed that there was a most extraordinary variety in the respective characteristics of these portraits.
    In a word, the rector's name engrossed universal attention:  a cheap romance was issued, entitled "The Murdered Housekeeper; or, the Corrupt Clergyman;"  one of the minor theatres attracted crowded houses by the embodiment of the particulars of the case in a melodrama;  and Madame Tussaud added the effigy of Reginald Tracy to her collection of wax-works.
    But what were the feelings of Lady Cecilia Harborough when the terrible announcement of the rector's arrest met her ears!
    We must observe that when she first heard of the death of the housekeeper, she entertained a faint suspicion that Reginald, and not Katherine Wilmot, was the author of the deed. But while the young girl was yet in prison, before the trial, and when Cecilia and the rector met, the latter so eloquently expatiated upon the case, that Cecilia's suspicions were hushed; and she learnt to look upon the housekeeper's death following so shortly on the exposure of the rector's hypocrisy to that female as a remarkable coincidence only. Moreover, the rector had all along declared his impression that the housekeeper had committed suicide, and that the innocence of Katherine would be made apparent before the judges.
    Thus Cecilia's mind had been more or less tranquillised during the interval which occurred between the housekeeper's death and the day of trial.
    But when, in the afternoon of the day on which that trial took place, the appalling news of Katherine's acquittal and Reginald's arrest reached her ears, she was thrown into a state of the most painful excitement.
    It was true that she could not in the slightest degree be implicated in the enormous crime of which he was accused: but would her guilty connexions with him transpire?
    Her conscience entertained the worst forebodings in this respect.
    At one moment she thought of hastening to visit him in his prison: then she reflected that suet. a course would only encourage a suspicion calculated to proclaim that scandal which she was so anxious to avoid.
    Fortunately Sir Rupert Harborough was still away from home, with his friend Chichester, and thus Lady Cecilia had no disagreeable spy to witness her distressing emotions and embarrassment.
    Day after day passed; Reginald had been committed, as before stated, to Newgate; and Cecilia heard nothing from him.
    At length at the expiration of a week from the day of his arrest, a dirty, shabby-looking lad called in Tavistock Square, and requested to see Lady Cecilia Harborough alone.
    He was accordingly admitted to her presence. "Please, ma'am," he said, "I've come with a message from Mr. Tracy, which is in Newgate. He is a wery nice gen'leman, and is certain sure to be hung, they say."
    "Who are you?" demanded Cecilia, with ill-concealed disgust.
    "Please, ma'am, I belong to an eating-house in the Old Bailey," returned the boy; "and I take in Mr. Tracy's meals to him."
    "And what do you want with me?"
    "Please, ma'am, Mr. Tracy says will you go and see him to-morrow morning between ten and eleven?"
    "In Newgate!" ejaculated Lady Cecilia, with an unaffected shudder.
    "Oh! yes, ma'am: I goes in there three times [-62-] every day o' my life; and so I'm sure you need n't he afraid to wisit it just for vonce."
    "Well  I will think of it. Have you any thing else to say to me?"
    "Please, ma'am, Mr. Tracy says that you've no call to give your own name at the gate; but if you pass yourself off as his sister, just come up from the country, you can see him alone in his cell. But if you don't do that you'd on'y be allowed to speak to him through the bars of his yard. He would have wrote to you, but then the letters must be read by the governor before they goes out; and so it would have been known that he sent to you. He never thought of speaking about it to me till this morning; and I promised to do his arrand faithful. That's all, ma'am."
    "And enough too," said Lady Cecilia, in a tone of deep disgust, as she threw the lad a few shillings across the table in the room where she received him.
    "Is there any message, ma'am, to take back to Mr. Tracy?" asked the boy; "'cos I shall see him the first thing in the morning."
    "You may say that I will do as he desires," answered Cecilia: "but beware how you mention to a soul that you have been here. Forget my name as you had never heard it."
    "Yes, ma'am  to be sure," replied the boy; "and thank'ee kindly."
    He then pocketed the money, and took his departure.
    "Newgate, Newgate!" thought Lady Cecilia, when she was once more alone: "there is something chilling  menacing-  awful in that name! And yet I must penetrate into those gloomy cells to see  whom? A murderer! Oh! who would have thought that the rich, the handsome, the renowned, the courted, the flattered rector of St. David's would become an inmate of Newgate? A murderer! Ah  my God, the mere idea is horrible! And that uncouth boy who said coolly that he was certain to be hanged! Reginald  Reginald, to what have you come? Would It not have been better to dare exposure  contumely  infamy  reproach, than to risk such an appalling alternative? But reputation was dearer to this man than aught in the world beside! And he is rich:  what will he do with his wealth? Perhaps it is for that he desires my presence? Who knows?"
    This idea determined Lady Cecilia upon visiting Newgate on the following day.
    She did not reflect that she herself was the first link in that chain which had so rapidly wound itself around the unhappy man, until it paralysed his limbs in a criminal gaol. She often asked herself how he could have been so mad as to commit the deed that menaced him with the most terrible fate; but beyond the abstract event itself she never thought of looking.
    The morning dawned; Lady Cecilia rose, and dressed herself in as unpretending a manner as possible.
    At half-past nine she went out, took a cab at the nearest stand, and proceeded to Newgate. She ascertained, by inquiry, which was the prison entrance, and ascended the steps leading to the half-door, the top of which was garnished with long iron spikes.
    A stout, red-faced turnkey, with a good-tempered countenance, admitted her into the obscure lobby, behind which was a passage where a gas-light burns all day long.
    "Who do you want, ma'am?" said the turnkey.
    "Mr. Tracy," was the reply.
    "Are you any relation to him?"
    "His sister. I have just arrived from the country."
    "Please to write your name down in this book."
    Lady Cecilia, who seldom lost her presence of mind, instantly took up the pen, and wrote down "ANNE TRACY."
    "Excuse me, ma'am," said the turnkey, "but if you have any knife in your pocket you must leave it here."
    "I have none," answered Cecilia.
    "Take that passage, ma'am, and you will find a turnkey who will admit you to Tracy's cell."
    All titular distinctions are dropped in Newgate.
    Lady Cecilia proceeded along the passage as she was desired, and at length reached a large stone vestibule, from which several doors opened into the different yards in that part of the building.
    She accosted a turnkey, informing him whom she came to visit; and he bade her follow him.
    In a few moments he stopped at a massive door opened it, and said, "Walk in there, ma'am."
    She advanced a few steps: the door closed behind her; and she found herself in the presence of Reginald Tracy.
    But how changed was he! His cheeks were ghastly pale  his eyes sunken  his hair was in disorder  his person dirty and neglected.
    "This is kind of you, Cecilia," he said, without rising from his chair. "Sit down, and lose no time in conversing  we have not much time to be together."
    "Oh, Reginald! " exclaimed Cecilia, as she took a seat, "what a place for us to meet in!"
    "Now do not give way to ejaculations and laments which will do no good," said Reginald. "If you can maintain your tranquillity it will be advantageous to yourself. You know that I am possessed of some property?"
    "The world always believed you to be rich," observed Cecilia.
    "I have lately been extravagant," continued Reginald: "still I have a handsome fortune remaining. As I am not yet condemned," he added bitterly, "I can leave it to whom I choose. Do you wish to be my heiress!"
    "Ah! Reginald  this proof of your affection  "
    "No superfluous words, Cecilia," interrupted the rector impatiently. "If you wish to possess my wealth you must render me a service-an important service, to merit it."
    "Any thing in the world that I can do to benefit you shall be performed most faithfully," said Lady Cecilia.
    "And you will not shrink from the service which I demand? The condition is no light one."
    "Name it. Whatever it be, I will accept it  provided that it do not involve my safety," returned Cecilia.
    "Selfishness!" exclaimed the rector contemptuously. "Listen attentively. To-morrow my solicitor will attend upon me here. To him I shall make over all my property  in trust for the person to whom I choose to bequeath it. He is an honourable man, and will faithfully perform my wishes. I have not a relation nor a friend in the world who [-63-] has any particular claim upon me. I can constitute you my heiress: at my death," he added slowly, "all I possess may revert to you,  the world remaining in ignorance of the manner in which I have disposed of my wealth. But if I thus enrich you, I demand from your hands the means of escaping an infamy otherwise inevitable."
    "I do not understand you," said Cecilia, somewhat alarmed.
    The rector leant forward, fixed a penetrating glance upon his mistress, and said in a hollow and subdued tone, "I require poison  a deadly poison!"
    "Poison!" echoed Cecilia, with a shudder.
    "Yes: do you comprehend me now? Will you earn wealth by rendering me that service?" he asked eagerly.
    "What poison do you require?" demanded Cecilia greatly excited.
    "Prussic acid: it is the most certain  and the quickest," answered the rector. "If you are afraid to procure it yourself, the old hag in Golden Lane will, assist you in that respect."
    "And must it really come to this?" said Cecilia. "Is all hope dead?"
    "My doom is certain  if I live to meet it," answered Reginald, who only maintained the composure which he now displayed by the most desperate efforts to subdue his emotions. "The evidence is too damning against me. And yet I imagined that I had adopted such precautions! "he continued, in a musing tone. "I felt so confident that the poor, old woman would appear to have died by her own hand! I sent the footman out of the way, not upon a frivolous cause, but on an errand which would bear scrutiny. I made the housekeeper herself get rid of Katherine. I did all that prudence suggested. But never  never did I anticipate that another would be charged with the crime! And yet, when suspicion attached itself so strongly to that poor innocent girl, what could I do? I had but two alternatives  to allow her to suffer, or to immolate myself by proclaiming her guiltlessness. Oh! Cecilia, you know not  you cannot conceive all that I have suffered since that fatal evening! Often and often was I on the point of going forward and confessing all, in order to save that innocent girl. But I had not the courage! When I gave my testimony, I rendered it as favourable towards her as possible. I laboured hard to encourage the suspicion that the deceased had been her own destroyer. But fate had ordained that all should transpire."
    He paused, and buried his face in his hands.
    A sob escaped his breast.
    "This is childish  this is foolish in the extreme," he suddenly cried. "Time is passing  and you have not yet decided whether you will render me the service I require, upon the consideration of inheriting all my wealth."
    "I will do what you ask of me," said Cecilia, in a low but decided tone.
    "And do not attempt to deceive me," continued Reginald; "for if you bring me a harmless substitute for a deadly poison, you will frustrate my design, it is true-but I shall live to revoke the bequest made in your favour."
    "I will not deceive you, Reginald  If you be indeed determined," said his mistress.
    "I am determined. We now understand each other: to me the poison  to you the wealth."
    "Agreed," was the answer.
    "The day after to-morrow you will return  provided with what I require?" said Reginald.
    "You may rely upon me."
    "Then farewell, Cecilia, for the present."
    The rector offered the lady his hand: Cecilia pressed it with affected fervour, though in reality she almost recoiled from the touch.
    Profligate as she was, she had no sincere sympathy for a murderer.
    Nor was she sorry when she once more found herself beyond the terrible walls of Newgate.    

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