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[-200-] 

CHAPTER CXCV.

THE ARISTOCRATIC VILLAIN AND THE LOW MISCREANT.

    ON the northern side of the Thames there is no continuously direct way along the bank for any great distance: to walk, for instance, from London Bridge to Vauxhall Bridge, one would be compelled to take many turnings, and deviate materially from the course shaped by the sinuosity of the stream. But on the southern side of the Thames, one may walk from the foot of London Bridge to that of Vauxhall, without scarcely losing sight of the river.
    In this latter instance, the way would lie along Clink Street, Bankside, and Holland Street, to reach Blackfriars Bridge; the Commercial Road to Waterloo Bridge; the Belvidere Road, and Pedlar's Acre, to Westminster Bridge; and Stangate, the Bishop's Walk, and Fore Street, to reach Vauxhall Bridge.
    This journey would not occupy nearly so much time as might be supposed ere a second thought was devoted to the subject; and yet how large a section of the diameter of London would have been traversed!
    A portion of the path just detailed is denominated Pedlar's Acre; and it lies between Westminster and Hungerford Bridges. Adjoining the thoroughfare itself is an acre of ground, which is the property of the parish, and is let as a timber yard. Tradition declares that it was given by a pedlar to the parish, on condition that the picture of himself and his dog be preserved, in stained glass, in one of the windows of Lambeth church; and in support of this legend, such a representation may indeed be seen in the south-east window of the middle aisle of the church just mentioned. Nevertheless, one of those antiquaries whose sesquipedelian researches are undertaken with a view to elucidate matters of this kind,  a valueless labour,  has declared that the land was bequeathed to the parish, in the year 1504, by some person totally unknown. Be the origin, of the grant and the name of the donor as they may, there is such a place at Pedlar's Acre; and it is to a public-house in this thoroughfare that we must now request our readers to accompany us.
    Seated in a private room on the first floor was a gentlemanly-looking man, of about six-and-thirty years of age. His face was decidedly handsome, but it had a downcast and sinister expression little calculated to prepossess a stranger in this person's favour. There was also a peculiar curl  more wicked than haughty  about his lip, that seemed to speak of strongly concentrated passions: the deep tones of his voice, the peculiar glance of his large grey eyes, and the occasional contraction of his brow denoted a mind resolute in carrying out any purpose it might have formed.
    He was dressed with some degree of slovenliness; as if he had not leisure to waste upon the frivolity of self-adornment, or as if his means were not sufficient to permit that elegance of wardrobe which could alone stimulate his pride in the embellishment of his person.
    A glass of steaming punch stood untouched near him.
    It was six o'clock in the evening; and he was evidently waiting for some one.
    His patience was not, however, put to a very severe test; for scarcely had five minutes elapsed after his arrival, when the door opened, and the Resurrection Man entered the room.
    "Good evening, Mr. Vernon," he said, as he carefully closed the door behind him: then, taking a seat, he observed, "I hope I have not kept you waiting."
    "Oh! never mind that," exclaimed Vernon, impatiently. "Have you any good news to communicate?"
    "I am sorry to say that I have not. I called this morning upon the clerk of the parish church where your brother was married, and tried him in all ways."
    "And he refused?" said Vernon, with an angry tone.
    "He refused," answered Tidkins. "He is timid and old; and, after having first entertained the subject, at length backed out of it altogether."
    "Because you did not offer him enough," cried Vernon, savagely: "because you did not show him gold! You are only lukewarm in this affair: you are afraid to risk a few miserable pounds in the business. This is not the way to conduct a grand project of such a nature. It is true that I am fearfully embarrassed for funds at this moment; but if you had acted with liberality  if we eventually succeeded  you must be well aware that my generosity would know no bounds."
    [-201-] 

"Mr. Vernon," said the Resurrection Man, coolly, "If you have nothing better than reproaches to offer as a reward of my exertions in your behalf, we should do well to separate at once. I was not niggard in my offers to the clerk: I spread fifty golden sovereigns before him  told him to take them, and promised as much more when he had done the job. But he hesitated  reflected  and at length positively refused altogether."
    "And you really believe there is no hope in that quarter?" said Vernon, anxiously.
    "None. If the old clerk would ever agree to serve us, he would have consented this morning. I know the man now: he is too timid to suit our purposes. But let us look calmly at the whole business, and devise another mode of proceeding," added the Resurrection Man. "You are still determined, by some means or other, to get possession of the estates of your elder brother?"
    "My resolution is even increased by every fresh obstacle," replied Vernon. "I have two powerful objects to accomplish  revenge and ambition. Lord Ravensworth has treated me with a cruelty and a contempt that would goad the most meek and patient to study the means of vengeance. Our late father always intended the ready money, of which he could dispose, to come to me, because the estates were entailed upon my brother. But my father died suddenly, and intestate; and my brother, although he well knew our parent's intentions, grasped all  gave me nothing! No  I am wrong," added Vernon, with exceeding bitterness of tone and manner; "he agreed to allow me five hundred pounds a-year, as a recompense for the loss of as many thousands!"
    "And you accepted the offer?" said the Resurrection Man.
    "I accepted it as a beggar receives alms sooner than starve," continued Vernon: "I accepted it because I had nothing: I had not the means of existence. But I accepted it also as an instalment of my just due  and not as a concession on the part of his bounty. My habits are naturally extravagant: my expenses are great  I cannot check myself in that respect. Thus am I perpetually obtaining advances from my brother's agent; and now I have not another shilling to receive until next January."
    [-202-] "Nearly a year!" exclaimed the Resurrection Man. "But if you was to call on the agent  "
    "Absurd!" ejaculated Vernon. "Have I not told you that my brother believes me still to be in the East  still travelling In Turkey? So long as he supposes me far away, I can carry on my projects in London with far greater security. In a word, it is much safer that my presence In this country should remain a profound secret. He will die shortly  he must die  he is daily, steadily parting with vitality. He is passing out of existence by a sure, a speedy, and yet an inexplicable progression of decay. Of his death, then, I am sure; and when it shall occur, how can suspicion attach itself to me  since I am supposed to be abroad  far away?"
    "You are certain that your brother is hastening towards the grave?" said the Resurrection Man. "The great obstacle  the greatest, I mean  will be hereby removed. Suppose that Lady Ravensworth should be delivered of a boy, would it not be equally easy  "
    "Yes  it would be easy to put it out of the way by violence," was the rapid reply; "but, then, I would risk my neck at the same time that I gained a fortune. No-that will not do! I could not incur a danger of so awful a nature. The infant heir to vast estates would be jealously protected  attentively watched  surrounded by all wise precautions:  no-it were madness to think of practising aught against its life."
    "Could not the same means by which  even though at a distance  you are undermining the life of your brother  "
    "No  no," replied Vernon, impatiently. "It is not necessary that I should explain to you the precise nature of the means by which I succeed in effecting Lord Ravensworth's physical decay; suffice it to state that those means could not be applied to a child."
    "Nevertheless," continued the Resurrection Man, "you must have an agent at Ravensworth Park; for if  as I suppose  your brother is dying by means of slow poison, there is some confidential creature of your own about his person to administer the drugs."
    "I have no agent at Ravensworth;  I have no confidential creature about my brother's person;  and I have so combined my measures that Lord Ravensworth is actually committing suicide  dying by his own hand! Another time I will expound all this to you; for to you alone have I communicated my projects."
    "Have you not explained yourself to Greenwood?" demanded the Resurrection Man. "I thought you told me, the last time we met, that he knew you well  and knew also that you are in England?"
    "I was acquainted with him some four or five years ago, when he was not so prosperous as he is  or as he appears to be-at present," replied Vernon; "but having been abroad since that time until my return last week, I had lost sight of him  and had even forgotten him. It was not a little provoking to run against him the very first day of my arrival in London; and, though I endeavoured to avoid him, he persisted in speaking to me."
    "You are not afraid that he will gossip about your presence in London?" said the Resurrection Man.
    "He promised me most faithfully to keep the fact a profound secret," returned Vernon.
    "And will he not advance you a small sum for your present purposes?" demanded Tidkins.
    "I called on him lest evening, in consequence of the suggestion contained in your note;  I requested a loan for a particular purpose;  but he refused to oblige me," added Vernon, his brow contracting. "I wish that I had not so far humbled myself by asking him."
    "No matter for that," said Tidkins: "we are wandering from our subject. Here is the substance of the whole affair:  Lord Ravensworth will soon be gathered to his fathers, as they say: but in the meantime Lady Ravensworth may have a child. If it is a daughter, you are all safe; If it is a son you are all wrong. I do n't know how it is  I'm not superstitious  but in these matters, where a good fellow like yourself is within reach of a fortune, and whether you are to get it or not depends on the sex of an expected infant,  in such cases, I say, the card generally does turn up wrong. Now if the child should be a boy, what will you do?"
    "I cannot consent to abandon the plan of bribing the clerk to destroy the leaf in the register," answered Vernon.
    "Pshaw! the project is bad  I told you so all along. See how the matter would stand," continued Tidkins:  "Lord Ravensworth dies and leaves, we will suppose, an infant heir  a son. Then you suddenly make your appearance, and demand proofs of your brother's marriage. The register is searched  a leaf is missing  it is the one which contains the record of the union celebrated between Lord Ravensworth and Miss Adeline Enfield! Would not this seem very extraordinary? would it not create suspicions that Lord Ravensworth may not have died fairly? No-your project, Mr. Vernon, will never do: it is baseless  shallow-childish. It is unworthy of you. If you persist in it, I shall wash my hands of the business:  if you will follow my advice, you shall be Lord Ravensworth before you are a year older."
    Vernon could not conceal a sentiment of admiration for that man who thus dexterously reasoned on his plans, and thus boldly promised that consummation to which he so fondly aspired.
    "Speak, Mr. Tidkins," he said; "we have met to consult on the necessary course to be adopted."
    "Let us come, then, boldly to the point," continued the Resurrection Man, sinking his voice to a whisper: "rest patiently for the confinement of Lady Ravensworth, which, you have learnt, is expected to take place in six weeks;  if the issue is a girl, you need trouble yourself no more in the business, but calmly wait till death does its work with Lord Ravensworth."
    "And if the issue be a boy?" said Vernon, gazing fixedly on his companion's countenance.
    "It must be put out of the way," answered the Resurrection Man, in a low, but stern tone; "and you may trust to me that the business shall be done in such a manner as to endanger no one's neck."
    "You think  you imagine that it can be done  " said Vernon, hesitatingly  but still with that kind of hesitation which is prepared to yield and to consent.
    "I do not speak upon thoughts and imaginings," replied Tidkins: "I argue on conviction. Leave the whole affair to me. I have my plan already settled  and, when the time comes, we will talk more about it. For the present," continued the Resurrection Man, drawing a bill-stamp from his pocket, and handing it to his companion, "have the [-203-] goodness to write the name of Ravensworth at the bottom of this blank. I shall not use it until you are really Lord Ravensworth, when the signature will be your proper one."
    Vernon cast a hasty glance over the bill, and observed, "It is a five-and-twenty shilling stamp."
    "Yes  to cover three thousand pounds," returned the Resurrection Man. "That will not be too much for making you a peer and a rich man. Besides, I intend to advance you a matter of fifty pounds at once, for your immediate necessities."
    "And if I should happen to fail in obtaining the title and estates of Ravensworth," said Vernon, "this document would enable you to immure me in a debtor's prison."
    "Ridiculous!" ejaculated Tidkins, impatiently. "In that case your name would not be Ravensworth; and it is the name of Ravensworth which I require to this bill. As for throwing your person into a prison, what good could that do me? A dead carcass is of more value than a living one," he added, in a muttering tone.
    Vernon did not overhear this remark  or, if he did, he comprehended not the allusion; but he signed the bill without farther hesitation.
    The Resurrection Man consigned it to his pocket-book, and then drew forth a purse filled with gold, which he handed to his companion.
    Vernon received it with a stiff and haughty inclination of the head:  his necessities compelled him to accept the succour; but his naturally proud feelings made him shrink from its source.
    Having so far arranged the matters which they had met to discuss, the aristocratic villain and the low miscreant separated.
    Vernon returned to his lodging in Stamford Street; and the Resurrection Man proceeded into the Westminster Road, where he took a cab, saying to the driver, "Golden Lane, Saint Luke's."    

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