< previous chapter <  |  THE MYSTERIES OF LONDON [Vol. II]  |  > next chapter >


[-231-] 

CHAPTER CCVI.

THE PATRICIAN LADY AND THE UNFORTUNATE WOMAN.

    LADY RAVENSWORTH retired to her boudoir; and, throwing herself upon a voluptuous ottoman, she burst into a flood of tears.
    The wife of one of England's wealthiest nobles,  mistress of a splendid mansion and numerous household,  young, beautiful, and admired,  with a coronet upon her brow, and all the luxuries and pleasures of the world at her command,  this haughty and high-born lady now trembled at the idea  now shrunk from the thought  of meeting an obscure young woman who was forced to accept a menial place in order to earn her daily bread!
    It was a strange coincidence that thus brought Lydia Hutchinson beneath the roof of Lady Ravensworth, whom the young woman was very far from suspecting to be that same Adeline Enfield who had been her companion  nay, her tutoress  in the initiative of wantonness and dishonour.
    Mrs. Chichester had manifested a sisterly kindness towards the unfortunate Lydia; and, instead of shrinking in disgust, as so many others would have done, from the young woman who had been urged by stern necessity to ply a loathsome trade, she had endeavoured, by the most delicate attentions, to reclaim the mind of society's outcast from the dark ocean of despair in which it was so profoundly plunged.
    The reader has doubtless seen that Lydia Hutchinson had never courted vice for vice's sake. She was not naturally of a depraved nor lascivious disposition. Circumstances  amongst which must be reckoned the treachery exorcised by Lord Dunstable to accomplish her seduction, and the accident which threw the poor creature upon the tender mercies of Mrs. Harpy,  had conspired,  fearfully conspired, to brand her with infamy, and to drag her through the filth and mire of the various phases which characterise the downward path of a career of prostitution. Necessity had made her what she was!
    Mrs. Chichester comprehended all this; and she was not one of those who believe that there is no sincere penitence  no reformation for the lost one. She longed to afford Lydia an opportunity of entering on a course of virtue and propriety. She would have willingly afforded the poor creature a permanent asylum, as a matter of charity, and even to insure a companion to cheer her own species of semi-widowed loneliness; but she was well aware that eleemosynary aid of such a kind, by retaining its object in a condition of idleness and of dependence, was of a most demoralising nature. She wished to give Lydia an opportunity of retrieving her character in her own estimation, and of regaining a proper confidence In herself; and she resolved that no excess of indulgence, nor extreme of charity, on her part, should permit the young woman to live in an indolence that might unfit her for any occupation in case of ultimate necessity, and that would thus fling her back upon the last and only resource  a recurrence to the walks of ignominy [-232-] and crime. To reclaim and reinstate, as it were the unfortunate Lydia Hutchinson, was Viola Chichester's aim; and the object of this humane solicitude was deeply anxious to second, by her own conduct, the intentions of her generous benefactress.
    As time wore on, Lydia improved greatly in mental condition and personal appearance: her thoughts became settled and composed, and her form resumed much of the freshness which had characterised her youth. She speedily began to express a desire to exert herself in some honest employment to gain her livelihood;  she also felt that indolence and dependence, even in the presence of the best moral examples, produce a vitiated frame of mind;  and she revolted from the mere idea of a relapse into the horrible path from which a friendly hand had redeemed her, as the most appalling catastrophe that her imagination could conceive.
    Mrs. Chichester felt so persuaded of Lydia's firmness of purpose in pursuing a career of rectitude, that she resolved to take a step which only the extreme urgency of the case and a settled conviction of the young woman's inclination to do well, could justify. This was to obtain her a situation in some family. Lydia was overjoyed at the proposal. An advertisement was accordingly inserted in a newspaper; and a few days brought many written answers. Miss Villiers  now Lady Bounce  called personally, and was so pleased with Lydia's manner that she put no special questions to Mrs. Chichester.
    Viola, however, addressed Miss Villiers thus:  "The young woman who now stands before you has been unfortunate  very unfortunate; and hers has been the fate of the unfortunate. She is most anxious to eat the bread of industry and honesty. I am persuaded that a kind hand stretched out to aid her in this desire, will raise her to happiness, and ensure her lasting gratitude."
    Miss Villiers was a young lady of an excellent heart: she did not completely understand all that Mrs. Chichester meant; but she comprehended enough to render her willing to assist a fellow-creature who sought to earn her livelihood honourably, and who seemed to possess the necessary qualifications for the employment desired. Thus the bargain was hastily concluded; and when Miss Villiers desired Lydia to join her on a certain day at Ravensworth Hall, the young woman entertained not the least idea that her school friend Adeline Enfield was Lady Ravensworth, the mistress of that lordly habitation.
    We will now return to Adeline, whom we left weeping in her boudoir.
    The presence of Lydia in that house was indeed enough to alarm and embarrass her. Not that she precisely feared exposure at Lydia's hands in respect to the past  especially as it would been easy to deny any derogatory statement of the kind. But Adeline felt that she should now possess a dependant before whom her dignity and self-confidence would ever be overwhelmed by the weight of that dread secret of which Lydia's bosom was the depository. Such a prospect was most galling  most humiliating  most degrading to the mind of the haughty peeress.
    "But of what avail are tears?" said Adeline, suddenly. "The danger is here  the evil is before me. We must meet:  it were better that I should see her at once! Doubtless she is unaware in whose abode she is now a menial!"
    Adeline wiped her eyes, rang the bell, and reseating herself, assumed as composed a manner as possible under the circumstances.
    In a few moments she hoard footsteps approaching.
    "This is my lady's apartment," said the house-keeper in the passage.
    "Thank you," replied another voice.
    Oh! how Adeline's heart beat;  the well-remembered tones of Lydia Hutchinson had just met her ears.
    Then she heard the retreating sounds of the housekeeper's footsteps; and there was a gentle knock at the door of their boudoir.
    "Come in," said Adeline, in a half-stifling voice. The door opened, and Lydia Hutchinson entered the room.
    Lady Ravensworth's countenance was averted towards the fire; and it was not until she heard the door close that she turned towards Lydia, who was in a state of trembling anxiety, mingled with curiosity, as to what might be the disposition of her mistress.
    But no pen can describe the astonishment of the young woman, when by that pale but beautiful countenance, which was now suddenly turned towards her, she recognised her whom she had so much reason never to forget.
    Staggering towards the mantel for support, and with her eyes fixed almost wildly upon her mistress, she exclaimed, "Miss Enfield! Is it indeed you?"
    "I am Lady Ravensworth," was the somewhat haughty answer.
    "Oh! now I understand it all!" cried Lydia, an expression of sincere gratitude animating her countenance, while she clasped her hands fervently together: "you have taken compassion on me at length,  you discovered where I was residing,  you sent some friend to engage me as if for herself~  and you were determined to surprise me by this proof of your goodness  this token of your kind remembrance of me!"
    "No," returned Adeline: "accident alone has brought you into my service; and you must well understand that I am not over well pleased with the coincidence. In a word, name the sum that will satisfy you for the loss of a good place  and take your departure. You can leave to me the invention of some proper excuse  "
    "Is it possible?" ejaculated Lydia; "this cold  heartless  ungrateful reception  "
    "Do you recollect to whom you are speaking?" demanded Adeline, the colour mounting to hot cheeks.
    "Oh! yes,  I know that full well  too well," said Lydia, again clasping her hands, and casting her eyes upwards, as if in appeal to heaven against the ingratitude of the world. "I stand in the presence of one to save whose good fame I sacrificed my own  to shield whom from the finger of scorn and reproach, I allowed myself to be made a victim! Yes, proud lady of Ravensworth  so many years have not elapsed since, in my cold and cheerless garret, in the depth of a winter night, you gave birth  "
    "Silence, Lydia!" ejaculated Adeline, her lips quivering, and the colour coming and going on her cheeks with rapid alternations. "Let us not refer to the past. The present  "
    "No," interrupted Lydia, in a solemn tone: "you can not  you shall not deter me from talking of the past. For you, lady, are so highly exalted above [-233-] 

myself, that it is almost impossible for you to shape the least  the faintest  the most remote idea of the depth of misery into which I have been plunged. And yet I pant  I long  I feel a burning desire to make you comprehend all I have suffered;  because to my acquaintance with you  to my fatal connexion with you at the seminary  may be traced all the sorrows  the profound, ineffable woes  the degradations  the terrible afflictions that have since marked my career!"
    "I will not hear more;  I cannot permit you thus to insult  to upbraid me," faltered Lady Ravensworth, her bosom agitated with the most cruel emotions.
    "Oh! I have longed for this opportunity to meet you face to face, and tell you all I have suffered, and all I now feel!" exclaimed Lydia; "and it is not likely that I will abandon so favourable an occasion. No  you have triumphed over me long enough you have used me as a tool when it suited your convenience  and you spurned me when I had ceased to be useful. Though maintaining your own outward respectability, honour, and good name upon the wreck of mine, you dare to treat me with the blackest ingratitude. Lady Ravensworth, I said that all I have endured was traceable to you! When I first met you at the Kensington seminary, I was pure, artless, innocent:  you wore already initiated in the secrets of intrigue  you were even then, at that tender age, a wanton in your heart."
    "Lydia  Miss Hutchinson! Oh! my God!" exclaimed Adeline, covering her face with her hands.
    "Yes-you were already trembling on the verge of dishonour  you were courting seduction and all its consequences!" continued the unfortunate woman, upbraiding that proud peeress with a remorselessness, a bitterness, and a feeling of delighted vengeance that made her language the more terrible and its effect more overwhelming. "I even remember still  Oh! how well I remember  that you were the first who opened my eyes to the existence of female frailty. Yes  I, who went to that school as a teacher, was taught by a pupil! And merciful heavens! what did you teach me? You led me on step by step in the path of duplicity and dishonour: you made me the companion of your own amours; and we became victims to our seducers on the some day!"
    [-234-] "Oh! spare me  spare me!" moaned Adeline. "My God! if we were overheard! I would be 1ost  ruined  undone!"
    "Rest tranquil on that head:  it does not suit my present purposes to betray you  and I will explain my reason shortly. In the meantime," continued Lydia Hutchinson, "I must recall to your recollection all those circumstances which led me to sacrifice myself to save you."
    "No  no: I remember everything. Say no more, Lydia," cried Lady Ravensworth. "Tell me what you require  what I can do for you! Will you have money? or  "
     "Peace!  silence!" said Lydia, eyeing the patrician lady with a glance of ineffable scorn. "Oh!" she added, almost wildly, "I have sold myself for gold;  but never  never may that occur again; either bodily or morally! Your ladyship declares you remember all that has ever passed, between us! Then does your ingratitude become infinitely the more vile and contemptible. For when you lay writhing in the agonies of maternity, I was there,  there in that cold and cheerless garret,  to minister unto you! And when the lifeless form of your babe was discovered concealed amongst my clothes  in my room  and in my box,  I did not turn to the schoolmistress and say, It is not mine: it is Miss Adeline Enfield's;  When, too, I saw that you were so weak, so feeble, and so suffering that the cold night air would kill you, I took your child, and, like a thief, I stole away from the house to sink the corpse in a distant pool. For you had said to me, 'Keep my secret, dearest Lydia: the honour of a noble family depends upon your prudence!'  My prudence! Oh! no:  the honour of your family depended on the sacrifice of mine! And I did sacrifice my family to save you  for to all that I did for you may be traced the broken heart of my poor father and the assassination of my brother by the hand of the duellist!"
    "Oh! spare me  spare me!" again exclaimed Lady Ravensworth. "I have been very ungrateful  very unkind; but now, Lydia, I will endeavour to compensate you for all that has passed."
    "One being alone can so compensate me, lady," said Miss Hutchinson in a solemn tone; "and that being is God! No human power can give me back my poor father or my much-loved brother: no human agency can obliterate from my mind those infamies and degradations to which I have been subject. What amount of gold can reward me for days of starvation and nights of painful wanderings amidst the creatures of crime, without a place to repose my aching, shivering limbs? And sometimes, amidst the overwhelming crowd of sorrows that so often drove me to the river's bank, or made me pause on the threshold of the chemist's-shop where poison was to be procured,  I saw, from time to time, your name mentioned in the newspapers. Oh! what memories did those occasions recall! On the very day that you were presented at Court, I had not a crust to eat! And twice on that day did I seek the river's brink, whence I turned away again  afraid of changing even the horrible certainties of this life's sufferings for the more appalling uncertainties of another world."
    "Lydia  Lydia, you are killing me!" exclaimed Lady Ravensworth. "Pity me  if not for myself, for the sake of the innocent child which I bear in my bosom. Tell me what I can do for you  what you require  "
    "My views are soon explained," interrupted Lydia. "I demand permission to remain in the service of your ladyship."
    "Oh! no  no: impossible!" said Adeline, in an imploring tone.
    "It must be as I say," observed Lydia, coolly.
    "Insolent menial!" ejaculated Lady Ravensworth, losing all command over herself. "Leave me  quit this house  go "
    "Do you dare me?" said Miss Hutchinson. "I assured your ladyship ere now that it did not suit my present plans to expose you; because I seek to remain in your service. But, if you essay again to triumph over me  to spurn me from your presence  I will, remorselessly and fearlessly, proclaim the past."
    "And who will believe you?" cried Adeline, trembling with mingled alarm and rage: "who will believe you? The whole world will denounce you as an impostress. Nay  more: I will punish you  yes, I will punish you for your insolence! I will declare that you have attempted to extort money from me by means of the most diabolical threats  "
    "Think not that I am to be intimidated by your ladyship's miserable subterfuges," interrupted Lydia, who grew if possible more cold and contemptuous in her manner in proportion as the proud patrician became excited and indignant. "Are there no witnesses to speak to collateral facts! Could Cholmondeley and Dunstable prove nothing against you?"
    "They would not raise their voices against a noble lady's fame," said Adeline, impatiently.
    "They would speak the truth when placed on their oaths in a court of justice," exclaimed Lydia, confidently; "for it is to a court of justice that your ladyship threatens to drag me, And now, proud peeress, I dare you to the public investigation! Throw open the door  summon your domestics  send me to a gaol!  but the day of fair and searching scrutiny must come  and I should await in confidence the reply that a British judge and a British jury would give to the vile calumny of even a lady so highly exalted as yourself!"
    "Enough!" cried Adeline, now almost purple with rage, and every vein on her forehead swollen almost to bursting. "I accept your challenge  for I well know that I can rely upon the honour of Lord Dunstable and Colonel Cholmondeley. Yes  yes: they would sooner perjure themselves than attaint the honour of a peeress!"
    "There is one other consideration, then," said Lydia, still completely unruffled: "and perhaps the ingenuity of your ladyship will devise a means of frustrating that test also."
    "To what do you allude?" demanded Adeline.
    "I mean that when you summon your domestics to drag me to a gaol on a charge of extortion," replied Lydia, contemptuously, "that moment do I proclaim the history of the past! Then will medical experience speedily prove whether Lady Ravensworth now bears her first child in her bosom!"
    Adeline uttered a faint shriek, and fell back upon the sofa, overwhelmed by this dread menace.
    That shriek was accompanied by a low moan that seemed to come from the passage outside.
    Lydia hastened towards the door; but ere she had half crossed the room, it was thrown violently open. and Lord Ravensworth entered the boudoir.
    [-235-] "My husband!" screamed Adeline, in a frantic tone: then, flinging herself on her knees before him, she cried, "Mercy! mercy!"   

< previous chapter <  |  THE MYSTERIES OF LONDON [Vol. II]  |  > next chapter >