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[-162-]

CHAPTER CLXXXVII.

THE FORGED BILLS.

    AT half-past four o'clock on the following afternoon, Ellen Monroe was in the immediate vicinity of the Bank of England.
    She had been to receive a small sum of money which an old debtor of her father's, residing in Birchin Lane, had written to state that he was in a condition to pay; and she was now on her return to Markham Place.
    The evenings of January are obscure, if not quite dark, at that hour; and the lamps were lighted.
    As she was proceeding along Lothbury, Greenwood suddenly passed her. He was walking rapidly, in a preoccupied manner, and did not perceive her.
    But she beheld him; and she turned to speak to him; for in spite of all the injuries which her parent, her benefactor Richard, and herself had sustained at his hands, he was still the father of her child!
    Scarcely had she thus turned, when he drew his handkerchief from his pocket-still hurrying on towards Tokenhouse Yard.
    Ellen quickened her pace; but in a few moments her foot encountered an object on the pavement.
    She stooped, and picked it up.
    It was a pocket-book.
    Conceiving that Greenwood might have dropped it, as she had found it on the very spot where she had seen him take his handkerchief from his pocket, she ran in the direction which she supposed him to have pursued; but as, in the mean time, he had turned into the narrow alley called Tokenhouse Yard, and as she continued her way along Lothbury towards Throgmorton Street, she did not of course overtake him.
    Finding that her search after him was unavailing, she determined to examine the contents of the pocket-book, and ascertain if it really did belong to him; in which case, she resolved to proceed straight to Spring Gardens; and restore it to him.
    Retracing her steps along Lothbury, she entered Cateaton Street; and turning into the Old Jewry, which was almost deserted, she stopped beneath the light of a lamp to open the pocket-book.
    It contained several letters, addressed to "G. M. GREENWOOD, ESQ., M.P;" and thus her doubts were cleared up at once. But as she was thus investigating the interior of the pocket-book, her eye fell upon a number of bills of exchange, all drawn and endorsed by Mr. Greenwood, and accepted for large sums by noblemen, well-known landowners, and eminent merchants. A rapid glance over these documents convinced Ellen that the aggregate amount which they represented could not fall far short of twenty-five thousand pounds; for, in addition to the fictitious bills obtained from Pennywhiffe, Greenwood had placed in his pocket-book several genuine ones which he legitimately possessed.
    Miss Monroe's scrutiny did not altogether occupy a minute; and, carefully securing the pocket-book about her person, she hurried towards Cheapside, where she entered a cab, directing the driver to take her to Spring Gardens.
    She did not forget Greenwood's former conduct in having her carried away to his house in the country, but she did not apprehend any ill-usage at his hands in a part of London where succour would be so readily obtained as in Spring Gardens. It was therefore without hesitation that she resolved to proceed direct to his own dwelling in that quarter.
    In due time the vehicle stopped at Greenwood's house in Spring Gardens.
    With a beating heart Ellen knocked at the door, which was almost immediately opened by Filippo.
    "Ah! Miss Monroe!" he exclaimed, as the light of the hall-lamp fell upon her beautiful countenance.
    "Yes  it is I at Mr. Greenwood's house," she answered, with a smile: "is he at home?"
    "No, Miss  he has gone into the City; but he will he back at six o'clock at the latest."
[-163-] "Then I will wait for him," said Ellen.
    Filippo conducted her up stairs.
    In the window of the staircase still stood the beautiful model of the Diana, holding a lamp in its hand,  that model which was the image of her own faultless form.
    On the landing-place, communicating with the drawing-room, was also the marble statue, the bust of which was sculptured in precise imitation of her own.
    And, when she entered the drawing-room, the first object which met her eyes was the picture of Venus rising from the ocean, surrounded by nereids and nymphs,  that Venus which was a faithful likeness of herself!
    Oh! how many phases of her existence did these permanent representations of her matchless beauty bring back to her memory!
    When Filippo left her, and she found herself alone, she fell upon a sofa, and gave way to a violent flood of tears.
    Then she felt relieved; and she began to ask herself wherefore she had come thither? Was it because she was glad to have found an excuse for calling upon him who was the father of her child? was it because she was anxious to receive his thanks  from his own lips  for restoring to him his pocket-book? She scarcely knew.
    Half an hour passed in reflections of this nature  reflections which branched off in so many different ways, and converged to no satisfactory point  when a cab suddenly drove up to the house.
    In another minute hasty steps ascended the stairs  they approached the drawing-room  and Greenwood rushed in, banging the door furiously behind him.
    "My God! what have I done?" he exclaimed, frantically  for he did not immediately perceive Ellen, whom a screen concealed from his view. "The pocket-book is lost  gone! I am ruined  should those forged bills  "
    He said no more, but threw himself upon a chair, and buried his face in his hands.
    Ellen instantly comprehended it all:  the bills which she had seen in the pocket-book were forgeries!
    Rapid as lightning a train of new reflections passed through her brain:  a project suggested itself;  she hesitated for a moment  but only for a moment  she thought of her child  and she was resolved.
    Assuming all her calmness, and calculating in an instant all the chances of her scheme, she rose from the sofa, and slowly approached the chair on which Greenwood was seated.
    He heard a step in the room, and raised his eyes. "Ellen!" he exclaimed, starting back in surprise.
    She murmured a Christian name  but it was not George.
    "Call me not that, Ellen!" cried Greenwood, fiercely "the time is not come! But tell me," he added, speaking thickly, and at the same instant casting upon her a glance which seemed to pierce her inmost soul,  " tell me  were you here  in this room  when I came in?"
    "I was," answered Ellen, gazing, in her turn, fixedly upon him.
    "And you heard  "
    "I heard every word you uttered,' continued Miss Monroe, keeping her eyes still bent upon him.
    "And then you know  "
    "That you have committed forgery," added Ellen, in an emphatic tone; "and that you are ruined!"
    "Damnation!', ejaculated Greenwood. "What did you come for? why are you here! To gloat over my falling fortunes  to make yourself merry at my ruin  to taunt me with the past - to laugh at me in my adversity  to  "
    "Then it is true," thought Ellen, within herself these bills are forgeries  and he is in my power.  No," she exclaimed aloud; " such was not my object."
    "Then, go  leave me  depart!" cried Greenwood, frantically. "I am in no humour to listen to you now! But, Ellen," he added, suddenly becoming cool  desperately cool:  "tell me  speak  you will not betray me?"
    "No - that is, on one condition," answered Ellen.
    "One condition!" repeated Greenwood: "name it!"
    "That you make me your wife," was the steady reply.
    "My wife!" exclaimed Greenwood, laughing hysterically. "Do you know whose wife you would become  the wife of a forger! Have you not learnt that dread secret! But, perhaps, it is to mock me that you offer to become my wife! Oh! I understand you full well, Ellen! When I was rich and beyond the reach of the law, I would not marry you;  and now you mean me to comprehend that since I am ruined, and every moment in danger of being dragged to a station-house, you would scorn the alliance! The jest is good:  no  the revenge is just! But it is not the less bitter to me, Ellen!"
    "By heavens, you wrong me!" cried Ellen. "Listen with calmness  with composure - if you can!"
    "I cannot, Ellen  I cannot! I am mad! A few months - nay, even a few weeks ago, I was happy  wealthy  prosperous:  now I am ruined  miserable  lost! Oh! the grand prospects that were so lately open before me!"
    "Again I say, listen. All is not so bad as you imagine," said the young lady, in a hasty tone.
    "What do you mean, Ellen! what can you mean!" he exclaimed, bewildered. "Do you not understand the nature of a forgery  the consequences which it entails? True  I did not perpetrate the forgery with my own hands;  but the bills are all drawn  all endorsed by me! Oh! It is dreadful  it is terrible!"
    "I will not keep you any longer in suspense," said Ellen. "Your pocket-book is found!"
    "Found!" repeated Greenwood, electrified by that word, and not knowing whether it imported good or evil to him: "found! Did you say  "
    "Yes  found," answered Miss Monroe;  "and by me!"
    "By you, Ellen?" cried Greenwood, "No  it is impossible!"
    "How, then, should I know that you had lost a pocket-book?" asked the young lady.
    "True! And you have found it? Oh! then I am saved  I am saved! Give it to me, Ellen  give it to me!"
    And he advanced towards her, with outstretched hands.
    "No  not yet," exclaimed the young lady, in a firm tone. "In this room  yes, in this very room  I went down upon my knees, and implored you to [-164-] save me from disgrace - to give a father's name to the child who was then as yet unborn. And you refused my supplication  you turned a deaf ear to my agonising entreaties. Oh! I remember that scene but too well. You would not do me justice  and I told you that you might live to repent your cruelty towards me!"
    "What! you will now avenge your alleged wrongs!" cried Greenwood, his countenance becoming livid with mingled fear and rage: "you will deliver me up to justice? No - I will tear the pocket. book from you  I will destroy the proofs of my folly  my crime; and then  but why should I waste time in idle words like these; I must act! Give me the book!"
    And he rushed towards her, as a tiger springs upon its victim.
    But Ellen, light as the fawn, glided away from him, and took such a position that a table was between them, and a bell-pull within her reach.
    "Dare to attempt violence towards me," she exclaimed, "and I summon your servants. Then  in their presence  I will proclaim their master a forger! Provoke me not  my spirit is roused  and your fate hangs upon a thread!"
    Damnation!" [-end-] Greenwood, grinding his teeth with rage. "Can nothing move you, Ellen?"
    "Yea  the one condition that I ere now named," she answered, drawing herself up to her full height, and assuming all the influence of her really queenly beauty.
    "Agreed!" ejaculated Greenwood. "Give me the pocket-book  I take God to witness that I will make you my wife within a week from this day."
    "You regard an oath no more than a mere promise," replied Ellen, calmly, and with a slightly satirical curl of the lip.
    "I will give you the promise in writing, Ellen," persisted Greenwood, urged to desperation.
    "Neither will that satisfy me," said the young lady. "When our hands are joined at the altar, I will restore you the proofs of your crime; and God grant," she added solemnly, "that this peril which you have incurred may serve as a warning for you against future risks of the same fearful kind."
    "You have no faith in my word  you have no confidence in my written promise, Ellen," cried Greenwood: "how, then, can you be anxious to have me as a husband?"
    "That my child may not grow up with the stain of illegitimacy upon him  that he may not learn to despise his mother," answered Ellen, emphatically; "for he need never know the precise date of our union.
    "But you know, Ellen," again remonstrated Greenwood, "that there are circumstances which act as an insuperable barrier to this marriage. Could you tell your father that you have espoused the man who ruined him  ruined Richard,  and also admit, at the same time, that this man was the father of your child! Consider, Ellen  reflect  "
    "There is no need of consideration  no need of reflection," interrupted Miss Monroe. "I care not about revealing the fact of my marriage for the present. In a few years  when our child can comprehend his true position,  then it would be necessary to declare myself a wife."
    "But there is another difficulty, Ellen," persisted Greenwood: "my name  ."
    "Let us be wedded privately  in some suburban church, where you stand no chance of being recognised as George Montague Greenwood, and where your right name may be fearlessly inscribed upon the register."
    "A woman who is determined to gain her point, annihilates all difficulties," muttered Greenwood to himself.
    "How do you decide?" asked Ellen. "Remember that I am firm. I have these alternatives before me  either to obtain a father's name for my child, or to avenge the wrongs of my own parent and myself. Consent to make me your wife, and the proofs of your crime shall be returned to you at the altar: refuse, and to-morrow morning I will prepare the way for vengeance."
    "Ellen, I consent to your proposal," said Greenwood, in a tone of deep humiliation; "but upon condition that our marriage shall never be proclaimed until that day, when - "
    "I understand you; and I cheerfully agree to the proposal," interrupted Miss Monroe. "You can believe my word:  besides, you must know that I also should have reasons to conceal our union, until you chose to declare your real name."
    "Then be it as you propose, Ellen. To-morrow morning, early, I will procure a special license, and we will be united at Hackney. You can meet me at the church precisely at ten o'clock in the morning: I will have every thing in readiness. But whom will you ask to accompany you?"
    "Marian  the faithful servant who has been so devoted to my interests," answered Miss Monroe.
    "I think that I should prefer the wife of that surgeon  Mrs. Wentworth, I mean  as the witness to our union," said Greenwood. "I dislike the idea of domestics being entrusted with important secrets. Besides, Mrs. Wentworth has never seen me - knows not that I am passing by the name of Greenwood  and, in a word, is a lady."
    "Be it as you will in this instance," returned. Ellen. "Mrs. Wentworth shall accompany me  I can rely upon her."
    She then rang the bell.
    "What do you require, Ellen?" asked Greenwood, alarmed by this movement on her part.
    "Merely to ensure the presence of one of your servants, as I pass from this spot to the door of the room," replied Ellen. "You can give him some order to avert suspicion."
    Filippo made his appearance; and Ellen then took leave of Mr. Greenwood, as if nothing peculiar had occurred between them.
    Oh! with what joy  with what fervid, intoxicating joy  did she return to Markham Place! She had subdued him whose cold, calculating, selfish heart was hitherto unacquainted with honourable concessions;  she had conquered him  reduced him to submit to her terms  imposed her own conditions!
    Never  never before had she embraced her child with such pride - such undiluted happiness as on that evening. And never had she herself appeared more beautiful  more enchantingly lovely! Her lips were wreathed in smiles  her eyes beamed with the transports of hope, triumph, and maternal affection  a glow of ineffable bliss animated her countenance   her swelling bosom heaved with rapture.
    "You are very late, my dear child," said Mr. Monroe, when she took her seat at the tea-table: "I began to grow uneasy."
    [-165-] "I was detained a long time at the office of your debtor," answered Ellen. "Tomorrow morning I intend to pay a visit to Mrs. Wentworth, and shall invite myself to breakfast with her. So you need not be surprised, dear father," she added, with a sweet smile, "if I do not make my appearance at your table."
    "You please me in pleasing yourself, dear Ellen. Moreover, I am delighted that you should cultivate Mrs. Wentworth's acquaintance. Most sincerely do I hope," continued Mr. Monroe, "that we shall have letters from Richard to-morrow. The communications which we have already received are not satisfactory to my mind. God grant that he may be by this time safe in Naples  if not on his way to England."
    "Alas! the enterprise has been a most unfortunate one for him!" returned Ellen, a cloud passing over her countenance. "I understand his noble disposition so well, that I am convinced he deeply feels the defeat of Ossore."
    We must observe that the news of our hero's success at Estella had not yet reached England.
    "It will be a happy day for us all," said Mr. Monroe, after a pause, "when Richard once more sets foot in his own home - for I love him as if he were my son."
    "And I as if he were my brother," added Ellen; yes  my brother," she repeated, with strange emphasis upon these words.
    * * * * *
    On the following morning, a few minutes before ten o'clock a post-chaise stopped at the gate of the parish church of Hackney; and Mr. Greenwood alighted.
    He was pale; and the quivering of his lip denoted the agitation of his mind.
    The clock was striking ten, when a hackney-coach reached the same point.
    Greenwood hastened to the door, and assisted Mrs. Wentworth and Ellen Monroe to descend the steps.
    As he handed out the latter, he said, in a hurried whisper, "You have the pocketbook with you?"
    "I have," answered Ellen.
    The party then proceeded to the church, the drivers of the vehicles being directed to await their return at a little distance, so as not to attract the notice of the inhabitants.
    The clergyman and the clerk awaited the arrival of the nuptial party.
    The ceremony commenced  proceeded  and terminated.
    Ellen was now a wife!
    Her husband imprinted a kiss upon her pale fore-head; and at the same moment she handed him *** the pocket-book.
    In a few minutes the marriage-certificate was in her possession.
    Drawing her husband aside, she said, "Let me now implore you  for your own sake  for the sake of your child  if not for mine  to abstain from those courses  "
    "Ellen," interrupted Greenwood, "do not alarm yourself on that head. My friend the Marquis of Holmesford lent me ten thousand pounds last evening; and with that sum I will retrieve my falling fortunes. Yes  you shall yet bear a great name. Ellen." he added, his countenance lighting up with *** animation; "a name that shall go down to Posterity. But, tell me - has your father received any tidings from Richard?"
    "None since those of which I wrote to you. We are not yet aware whether he be in safety, or not."
    "You will write to me the moment you receive any fresh communication?"
    "Rest assured that I shall not forget that duty."
    "And now, Ellen, we must pass the day together. We will spend our honeymoon of twenty-four hours at Richmond. Mrs. Wentworth can return home, and send word to your father that she means to keep you with her until to-morrow morning,"
    "If you command me, it is my duty to obey," replied Ellen.
    "I do - I do," answered Greenwood, earnestly. "You are now mine - the circumstances which led to our union shall be forgotten  and I shall think of you only as my beautiful wife."
    "Oh! if this be really true!" murmured Ellen, pressing his hand fervently, and regarding him with affection  for he was the father of her child!
    "It is true," answered Greenwood;  but his bride perceived not how much of sensual passion prompted him on the present occasion. "I know that you have been faithful to me - that the hope of one day becoming my wife has swayed your conduct. Of that I have had proofs."
    "Proofs! " repeated Ellen, with mingled surprise and joy.
    "Yes  proofs. Do you not remember the Greek Brigand at the masquerade, where you met and so justly upbraided that canting hypocrite, Reginald Tracy?"
    "I do. But that Greek Brigand  "
    "Was myself! " replied Greenwood.
    "You!" exclaimed Ellen, with a smile of satisfaction.
    "Yes: and I overheard every sentence you uttered. But we may not tarry here longer: speak to Mrs. Wentworth, that she send a proper excuse to your father; and let us depart."
    Ellen hastened to the vestry where the surgeon's wife was seated near a cheerful fire; and the arrangement desired by Greenwood was soon made.
    The party then proceeded to the vehicles.
    Mrs. Wentworth bade the newly-married couple adieu, having faithfully promised to retain their secret inviolate; and Greenwood handed her into the hackney-coach.
    He and Ellen entered the post-chaise; and while the surgeon's wife retraced her way to her own abode, the bride and bridegroom hastened to Richmond.        

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