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[-66-]

CHAPTER CLXI.

LADY CECILIA HAROROUGH.

    CECILIA passed a sleepless and agitated night. Wild hopes and undefined fears-had banished repose from her pillow.
    She thought the morning would never come. At length the first gleam of dawn struggled through the windows of her bed-room; and she instantly arose.
    She was pale-yet fearfully excited; and there was a wildness in her eyes which denoted the most cruel suspense.
    The minutes seemed to be hours; for she was now anxiously awaiting the arrival of the morning paper.
    She descended to the breakfast parlour; but the repast remained untouched
    At length the well-known knock of the news-boy at the front door echoed through the house.
    The moment the journal was placed on the table by her side, Cecilia took it up with trembling hands, and cast a hasty glance over its contents.
    In another instant all suspense relative to the rector's fate ceased.
    The following words settled that point beyond a doubt:-
    
    "SUICIDE OF THE REV. REGINALD TRACY.
    "Shortly after eight o'clock last evening a rumour was in circulation, to the effect that the above-mentioned individual, whose name has so recently been brought before the public in connection with the murder of Matilda Kenrick, had put a period to his existence by means of poison. It appears that the turnkey, on visiting his cell, according to custom, at eight o'clock, found him stretched upon the floor, to all appearances quite dead. Medical aid was immediately procured; but life was pronounced by the gaol-surgeon to be totally extinct. We have been unable to learn any further particulars."
    
    "It is better so, than to die upon the scaffold," said Cecilia to herself. "Now to the lawyer's: Reginald expressly told me that I was to call upon him this morning."
    The heartless woman did not drop a tear nor heave a sigh to the memory of her paramour.
    She rang the bell and desired the servant to fetch a cab without delay.
    By the time it arrived Cecilia was ready.
    During the rapid drive to the City, she arranged a thousand plans for the employment and enjoyment of the wealth which she believed herself to be now entitled to, and the bequest of which she was resolved to conceal from her husband.
    When she alighted at the solicitor's door, she assumed a melancholy and solemn air, which she thought decorous under the circumstances.
    The solicitor, who was an elderly man, and whose name was Wharton, received her in his private office and politely inquired the nature of her business.
    "Did you not expect a visit from Lady Cecilia Harborough this morning?" asked the frail woman.
    "Lady Cecilia Harborough!" exclaimed the lawyer, his countenance assuming a severe tone the moment that name fell upon his ears. "Are you Lady Cecilia Harborough?"
    "I am Lady Cecilia Harborough," was the reply.
    'So young  and yet so powerful to work evil!" observed Mr Wharton, in a musing tone, and with a sorrowful air.
    "I do not understand you, sir," exclaimed Cecilia, somewhat alarmed, yet affecting a haughty and offended manner.
    "Do not aggravate your wickedness by means of falsehood," said the lawyer sternly. "Think you that I am a stranger to your connexion with that unhappy man who died by his own hands last night? I have known him for many years  I knew him when he was pure, honourable, and respected: I have seen him the inmate of a dungeon. The day before yesterday I was with him for the last time He then revealed to me every particular connected with his fall. He told me how you practised your syren arts upon him  how you led him on, until he became an adulterer! He explained to me how he repented of his first weakness, and how you practised a vile-a detestable artifice, by the aid of an old hag in Golden Lane, to bring him back to your arms."
    "Spare me this recital, sir, which has been so highly coloured to my prejudice," exclaimed Lady Cecilia. "I confess that I was enamoured of that unhappy man: but-"
    "You cannot palliate your wickedness, madam, interrupted Mr. Wharton, sternly. "Mr. Tracy detailed to me every blandishment you used  every art you called into force to subdue him. And as for your love for him, Lady Cecilia Harborough  even that excuse cannot be advanced in extenuation of your infamy."
    "Sir-that is a harsh word!" cried Cecilia, red with indignation, and starting upon her chair. [-67-]
    "Nay, madam  sit still," continued the solicitor: "you may yet hear harsher terms from my lips. I say that you cannot even plead a profound and sincere attachment to that man as an excuse for the arts which you practised to ensnare and ruin him:  no, madam  it was his gold which you coveted!"
    "Sir  I will hear no more  I  "
    "Your ladyship must hear me out," interrupted the lawyer, authoritatively motioning her to retain her seat. "When alone in his gloomy cell, your victim pondered upon all that had passed between him and you, until he came to a full and entire comprehension of the utter hollowness of your heart, he then understood how he had been duped and deluded by you! Moreover, madam, it was by your desire that he admitted you into his own house  that fatal indiscretion which, being often repeated, at length led to the terrible catastrophe. Now, then, madam," cried Mr. Wharton, raising his voice, "who was the real cause of my friend's downfall? who was the origin of his ruin? who, in a word, is the murderess of Reginald Tracy?"
    "My God!" ejaculated the wretched woman, quivering like an aspen beneath these appalling denunciations; "you are very severe  too, too harsh upon me, sir!"
    "No, madam," resumed the lawyer; "I am merely placing your conduct in its true light, and giving your deeds their proper name. You had no mercy upon my unfortunate friend;  you sacrificed him to your base lust after gold;  you hurried him to his doom. Why should I spare you? You have no claims upon my forbearance as a woman  because, madam, your unmitigated wickedness debars you from the privilege of your sex. To show courtesy to you, would be to encourage crime of the most abhorrent nature."
    "Was it to be thus upbraided, sir  thus reviled," demanded Lady Cecilia, endeavouring to recover her self-possession, "that I was desired to call upon you this morning?"
    "Desired to call upon me, madam " exclaimed the solicitor: "who conveyed to you such instructions?"
    "Mr. Tracy himself," answered Cecilia in a faint tone  for she now trembled lest Reginald had deceived her.
    "Then my poor friend must have been aware of the reception which you would meet at my hands  of the stern truths that you would hear from my lips," said Mr. Wharton; "for to no other purpose could this visit have been designed."
    "But-are there no written instructions-with which you may be as yet unacquainted  no papers, the contents of which you have not read  "
    "Madam, I am at a loss to comprehend you,' said the lawyer. "If you allude to any papers of Mr. Tracy's now in my hands, I can assure you that they bear no reference to any affairs in which you can possibly be interested."
    "And you have read all those papers  every one  the last that was placed in your hands, as well as my others?" inquired Cecilia, in a tone of breathless excitement.
    "Merciful heavens, madam!" ejaculated the lawyer, on whose mind a light seemed suddenly to break: "surely  surely you cannot be in expectation of a legacy or a boon from that man whom you hurried to his ruin  aye, even to murder and suicide? Surely your presumption is not so boundless as all that?"
    Cecilia sank back, almost fainting in her chair: her sole hope was now annihilated; and in its stead there remained to her only the bitter  bitter conviction that she had been deceived by Reginald in that last transaction which took place between them.
    "No, madam  no," continued the lawyer, with a smile of the most cutting contempt: "if that unhappy man had bequeathed you any thing, it would have been his curse  his withering, dying curse!"
    "Oh! do not say that," screamed Cecilia, now really appalled by the energetic language of that man who was so unsparing in his duty to the memory of his friend.
    "Ah! I am rejoiced that your ladyship at last feels the full force of that infamy which has accomplished the ruin of a man once so good, so upright, so honourable, so happy! But you are, no doubt, curious to know how your victim has disposed of that wealth of which you would have plundered him had he not been so suddenly stopped in his mad career! I will tell you. He has bequeathed it to that young girl who so nearly suffered for his crime  to Katherine Wilmot, who was so unjustly accused of the enormity which he perpetrated!"
    Lady Cecilia wept with rage, shame, and disappointment.
    "Weep, madam, weep," rang the iron voice of that stern denunciator once more in her ears: "weep  for you have good cause! Not for the wealth of the universe would I harbour the feeling which ought to be  must be yours at this moment."
    A pause ensued, which was interrupted by the entrance of a clerk who whispered something in the lawyer's ear, and then withdrew.
    "I request your ladyship to have the goodness to remain here until my return," said Mr. Wharton. "I shall not keep you long."
    The lawyer passed into the outer office; and Cecilia was now alone.
    The reader can scarcely require to be reminded that this lady was not one who was likely to remain long depressed by a moral lesson, however severe its nature.
    Scarcely had the lawyer left her, when else raised her head, and thought within herself, "I have been deceived  cruelly deceived; and if I did Reginald any wrong, he is amply avenged. One thing seems certain  he has retained the secret of the means by which he obtained the poison. He has not compromised me there; or else this harsh man would have been only too glad to throw that also in my teeth Thus, my position might have been worse!"
    Such was the substance of Lady Cecilia Harborough's musing during the absence of the lawyer.
    This absence lasted nearly a quarter of an hour: and then he returned to the office.
    He held an open letter in his hand.
    "Lady Cecilia Harborough," he said, in stone of increased sternness, "the measure of your guilt is now so full, that justice demands an explanation at your hands."
    "Justice, sir!" faltered the frail woman, an icy coldness striking to her heart.
    "Yes, madam," answered the lawyer; "and even from the grave will the wrongs of Reginald Tracy cry out against you."
    "My God! what do you mean?" she exclaimed her pallor now becoming actually livid.
    "Before Reginald Tracy took the poison which [-68-] hurried him to his last account," continued the solicitor in a low and solemn tone, "he wrote two letters. These were found upon the table in his cell. One was to Katherine Wilmot  the other was to me. The governor of Newgate has just been with me, and has delivered to me this last communication from my poor friend.".
    "The governor of Newgate!" repeated Cecilia, now overwhelmed with vague terrors.
    "Yes, madam: and the contents are to inform me that you  you, madam, with an assumed name, and passing yourself off as Mr. Tracy's sister, visited him twice in his cell, and, on the latter occasion, furnished him with the means of self-destruction."
    "Heaven protect me! it is but too true!" cried Cecilia; and, throwing herself upon her knees before the lawyer, she almost shrieked the words, "You would not give me up to justice, sir  you will not betray me?"
    "No, madam," answered Mr. Wharton; "I had punished you sufficiently when these tidings arrived."
    "Thank you, sir  thank you," cried Cecilia, rising from her knees. "But the governor of Newgate  "
    "Is gone, madam. I did not tell him that you were here. I must, however, warn you that I communicated to him, as in duty bound, the contents of this letter."
    "Then he is aware that I-"
    "He is aware that you conveyed the poison to Reginald Tracy; and the officers of justice will be in search of you in another hour," replied the lawyer, coldly.
    "My God! what will become of me?" ejaculated Cecilia, now pushed to an extremity which she never had contemplated.
    "I would not say that you were here, madam," continued the lawyer, "because Reginald Tracy had contemplated making me the means of handing you over to the grasp of justice; and I am sorry that he should so far have misunderstood me. I now comprehend why he directed you to come hither. He thought that his letter would reach me earlier  before you came, and that I should be the willing instrument of his vengeance. I will not show you the letter, because he has mistaken me-he has misunderstood me; and for this reason alone  and for no merciful feeling towards you  have I shielded you thus far. Now go, madam: when once you are away from this house, you must adopt the best measures you can devise to ensure your safety."
    "But can you not counsel me, sir  will you not direct me how to act?" cried Cecilia: "I am bewildered  I know not what step to take!"
    "I have no counsel to offer, madam," returned the lawyer, briefly.
    Cecilia could not mistake the meaning conveyed by this tone.
    She rose; and bowing in a constrained manner to the solicitor, left the office.
    But when she found herself in the street, she was cruelly embarrassed how to act.
    She dared not return home; the paternal door had long been closed against her; she had not a friend  and she had not a resource.
    A few sovereigns in her purse were all her available means.
    She thought of quitting the country at once, and proceeding to join her husband, whom she knew to be in Paris.
    But how would he receive her? The newspapers would soon be busy with her name; and Sir Rupert was not the man to burden himself with a woman penniless in purse and ruined in reputation.
    For an instant she thought of Greenwood; but, this idea was discarded almost as soon as entertained. She was aware of his utter heartlessness, and felt confident that he would repulse her coldly from his dwelling.
    To whom could she apply? whither was she to betake herself?
    And yet concealment was necessary-oh! she must hide somewhere!
    The feelings of this woman were terrible beyond description.
    And now she was walking rapidly along the streets towards London Bridge; for the idea of quitting the country was uppermost in her mind.
    Her veil was drawn carefully over her countenance; and yet she trembled at every policeman whom she passed.
    She was hurrying down Gracechurch Street, when she heard herself called by name.
    She knew the voice, and turned round, saying to herself, "Help may come from this quarter!"
    It was the old hag who had spoken to her.
    "My good woman," said Lady Cecilia hastily, "all is known  all is discovered!"
    "What is known?" asked the old hag, in her usual imperturbable tone.
    "It is known that I conveyed the poison, which you procured for me, to Reginald Tracy," replied Cecilia, in a hoarse whisper "You have heard that he is dead?"
    "I heard that last evening," said the hag. "What are you going to do?"
    "To hide myself from the officers of justice," returned Cecilia. "But step into this court, or we shall be observed."
    The old woman followed the unhappy lady under an archway.
    "I must conceal myself  at least for the present," resumed Cecilia. "Will you grant me an asylum?"
    "I! my dear lady!" ejaculated the hag, shaking her head ominously: "I am in danger myself  I am in danger myself! Did I not procure you the poison?"
    "True. But I would not betray you."
    "No  we must each shift for ourselves-we must each, shift for ourselves, as best we can," replied the hag flatly. "Indeed, I may as well remind you, Lady Cecilia, that your day is gone-you are ruined  and, if you had any spirit, you would not survive it!"
    "My God what do you mean?" faltered Cecilia, in a faint tone.
    "The river is deep, or the Monument is high," answered the hag, in a significant tone; "and you are near both!"
    The wrinkled old harridan then hobbled out of the court as quickly as her rheumatic limbs would carry her.
    "Even she deserts me!" murmured Cecilia to herself, and with difficulty suppressing an ebullition of feeling which would have attracted notice, and probably led to her detection: "Even she deserts [-69-] me! My God  is there nothing left to me but suicide? No  nothing!"
    Her countenance wore, beneath her veil, an expression of blank despair, as she arrived at this appalling conviction; and for some moments she stood as if rooted to the spot.
    "No  nothing left but that," she murmured, awaking from her temporary stupefaction: "nothing  nothing!"
    And although these words were uttered in the lowest whisper, still it seemed as if she shrieked them within herself.
    Then she hurried from the court.
    "The river  or the Monument," she said, as she continued her rapid way: "the river is near  but the Monument is nearer. Drowning must be slow and painful  the other will be instantaneous. From the river I might be rescued; but no human power can snatch me from death during a fall from that dizzy height."
    And she glanced upwards to the colossal pillar whose base she had now reached.
    At that moment two men, evidently belonging to the working classes, passed her.
    A portion of their conversation met her ears.
    "And so she was not his sister, then?" said one.
    "No such thing," replied the other. "I heard the governor of Newgate tell all about it to one of the City officers scarcely half an hour ago. The governor was coming out of a lawyer's house  Tracy's lawyer, I believe-and the City officer was waiting for him at the door. He then told him that it was a lady of fashion  with a name something like Cecilia Scarborough, I think  "
    The men were now too far for the wretched woman to hear any more of their conversation.
    "Merciful heavens! " she said, scarcely able to prevent herself from wringing her hands; "even at this moment I am not safe!"
    Then, without farther hesitation, she passed round the base of the Monument, and crossed the threshold.
    "Sixpence, if you please, ma'am," said the man who received the fees from visitors.
    Lady Cecilia exercised an almost superhuman power over her distracted feelings, so as to appear composed, while she drew forth the coin from her purse.
    'It's a fine day to view London, ma'am," said the man, as he took the money.
    "Beautiful," answered Cecilia.
    She then began the tedious ascent.
    And now what awful emotions laboured in her breast as she toiled up that winding staircase.
    "My God. my God!" she murmured to herself; "Is it indeed come to this"
    Once she was compelled to stop and lean against the wall for support.
    Then she wrung her hands in agony  indescribable agony of mind.
    "And yet there is no alternative!" she thought; "none-none! But my mother  my poor mother! what will be her feelings? Oh! better to know that I am dead, than an inmate of Newgate!"
    And, somewhat encouraged in her dreadful purpose by this idea, she pursued her way.
    In a few moments the fresh air blew in her face.
    She was near the top
    A dozen more steps  and the brilliant sun-light burst upon her eyes.
    It was indeed a lovely mornings and the Thames appeared like a huge serpent of quicksilver, meandering its way amidst the myriads of buildings that stretched on either side, far as the eye could reach.
    The din of the huge city reached the ears of the wretched woman who now stood upon that tremendous eminence.
    All was life-bustle-business  activity below!
    And above was the serene blue sky of an early spring, illuminated by the bright and cloudless sun.
    "But yesterday," thought Cecilia, as she surveyed the exciting scene spread beneath her, "had any one said to me, 'Thou wilt seek death to-morrow, I should have ridiculed the idea. And yet it has come to this! Oh! it is hard to quit this world of pleasure  to leave that city of enjoyment! Never more to behold that gorgeous sun  never more to hear those busy sounds! But if I hesitate, my heart will turn coward; and then  Newgate   Newgate!"
    These last words were uttered aloud in the shrill and piercing tones of despair.
    She clasped her hands together, and prayed for a few moments.
    Then, as if acting by a sudden impulse,  as if afraid to trust herself with the thoughts that were crowding into her mind,  she placed her hand  upon the railing.
    One leap  and she stood upon the rail.
    For a single instant she seemed as if she would fall backwards upon the platform of the Monument, and her arms were agitated convulsively, like the motions of one who endeavours to gain a lost balance.
    Then she sprang forwards.
    Terrific screams burst from her lips as she rolled over and over in her precipitate whirl.
    Down she fell!
    Her head dashed against the pavement, at a distance of three yards from the base of the Monument.
    Her brains were scattered upon the stones.
    She never moved from time moment she touched the ground:  the once gay, sprightly, beautiful patrician lady was no more.
    A crowd instantaneously collected around her and horror was depicted on every countenance, save one, that gazed upon the sad spectacle.
    And that one wretch who showed no feeling, was the old hag of Golden Lane.
    "She cannot now betray me for procuring the poison," thought the vile harridan, as she calmly contemplated the mangled corpse at her feet.    

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