chapter < | THE MYSTERIES OF
LONDON [Vol. II]
| > next chapter >
VOICES IN THE RUINS.
would be impossible to conceive the existence of a more wretched woman than
Though wealth and title were hers, — though
every luxury and every pleasure were within her reach, — though with
jewels of inestimable value she might deck herself at will, and thus enhance her
natural charms, — still, still was she the prey to a constant agony
of mind which rendered life intolerable.
For it is not all the wealth of India, — nor
all the luxuries and pleasures of oriental palaces, — nor all the
diamonds that ever sparkled over the brow of beauty, — it is not
these that can impart tranquillity to the soul, nor give peace to the
Such was the bitter truth that Adeline was now compelled
Shortly after the departure of Colonel Cholmondeley,
which occurred at about four o'clock in the afternoon, Lady Ravensworth felt so
deeply the want of undisturbed solitude for her meditations and of fresh air to
relieve the stifling sensation which oppressed her, that she determined to take
along walk through the quiet fields.
Hastily slipping on a plain straw bonnet and a thick
warm shawl, she left the house unperceived by her torturess, Lydia Hutchinson.
Passing through the spacious gardens at the back of the
mansion, she gained the open fields, where the cold fresh breeze somewhat
revived her drooping spirits.
"Heaven grant that the babe which now agitates in
my bosom may prove a son!" she thought, as she cast a hasty but proud
glance around: "or else the broad lands which I now behold, and the soil on
which my feet now tread, will stand but a poor chance of remaining long beneath
my control. Yes — they would pass away to one whom I have never
seen — whom I have never known save by name — and who
could not possibly be supposed to entertain any sympathy for me! But if my babe
should prove a boy — if he should live, too — then adieu
to all thy hopes and chances, Gilbert Vernon."
These reflections led to a variety of others — all
connected with Adeline's interests or her sorrows.
So profoundly was she plunged in her painful reverie,
and at the same time so invigorated did she feel by the freshness of the air,
that she insensibly prolonged her walk until the shades of evening gathered
She had now reached the ruined remains of a gamekeeper's
lodge which marked the boundary of the Ravensworth estate in that direction.
Feeling a sudden sensation of weariness come over her,
she seated herself on a bench which still existed near the dilapidated remnant
of the cottage portico.
Scarcely had she taken that place, when a voice from the
other side of the ruined wall caused her to start with sudden affright: but the
words that met her ears conquered this first feeling of alarm, and inspired one
She accordingly lingered where she was; and as the
darkness was every moment growing more intense, she knew there was but little
danger of being perceived.
"I tell you that I am a man capable of doing any
thing for money," said the voice, in an impatient tone. "If you think
there is any squeamishness about me, you are deucedly mistaken. What I have
promised you, I will perform, when the time comes, and if there should be a
necessity for such a step. I value a human life no more than I do that of a dog.
If any one came to me and said, 'There is my enemy, and here is your
prize — now go and kill him,' I should just count the money
first to see that it was all right, and the remainder of the job would soon be
done, I can assure you,"
"Well — well, I believe you," said
another voice, whose deep tones rolled solemnly upon the silence of the dark
evening. "To all that you have proposed I must assent — I have
gone too far to retreat, But we must now separate."
"And when shall I see you again?" demanded the
first speaker: "because now that you have made me acquainted with the
whereabouts, I shall constantly be ascertaining how things go on, and I ought
therefore to be able to communicate very often with you. That is — I
ought to see you frequently; for I hate doing business by letter."
"Can you not give me your own private address?'
asked the individual with the deep-toned voice; "and then I might call upon
you every other evening."
"Well said," exclaimed the first speaker:
then, after a pause, during which Adeline distinctly heard the rustling sound of
paper, he said, "Have you got a pencil in your pocket? for I can feel to
write a few words in the dark."
"Yes — here is a pencil," returned
the deep-toned voice.
There was another short pause.
"All right!" cried the first speaker, at
length. "That bit of paper contains the name and address of the most daring
fellow that London ever produced," he added with a low chuckle. "Talk
of your bravos of Spain or Italy — why, they are nothing to me! And
isn't it odd, too, that whenever a rich or great person wants any thing queer
done for him, it is sure to be me that he gets hold of somehow or another!"
"I have no doubt that you enjoy a most extensive
patronage," said the deep-toned voice, rather impatiently — and
even haughtily. "But we must now separate. The day after to-morrow — in
the evening — I shall call upon you."
"Good: I shall expect you," returned the
The two individuals then separated — each
taking a different way; but one came round the angle of the ruined wall, and
passed so close to Adeline that she shrank back in a dreadful state of alarm
lest her presence there should be discovered; — for, mysterious as
was the conversation which she had just overheard, there was one fact which it
too intelligibly revealed — and this was the desperate nature of
those two men's characters.
But the individual who passed so closely, did not
observe her — for the evening was very dark, and she [-260-]
moreover was sitting in the still deeper obscurity of the ruined portico.
Neither was she enabled to obtain a glimpse of his
countenance: the outline of a tall and somewhat stout figure, as he hurried by
her, was the extent of the view which she caught of him.
In a few moments all was again silent: the sounds of the
retreating footsteps no longer met her ears.
She did not immediately leave the ruins: she paused to
reflect upon the strange conversation which she had overheard. But all its
details were dark and mysterious — save that one man was a wretch
who gloried in his readiness to perform any crime for a commensurate reward, and
that the other was either his accomplice or his employer in some fearful plot
that was in progress.
There was one expression that had fallen from the lips
of the former miscreant, and on which Lady Ravensworth principally dwelt: — "Now
that you have made me acquainted with the whereabouts, I shall be constantly
ascertaining how things go on."
Could the whereabouts, or locality, alluded to,
have any connexion with that neighbourhood? And, if so, did the observation
refer to the Ravensworth estate? Or were the two men merely discussing, in those
ruins, matters which regarded some other and totally distinct spot?
"The latter supposition must be the right
one," said Adeline to herself, after a long meditation upon the subject.
"The only person in the world who could have any interest in learning 'how
things were going on' in this neighbourhood, is Gilbert Vernon; and he is in
Turkey. Moreover — even were he in England — he would
have no need to spy about in the dark: he is on friendly terms with his brother,
and might present himself boldly at the Hall."
Thus reasoning against the vague and temporary fears
which had arisen in her mind, Adeline rose from the bench and was about to
retrace her steps homewards, when the moon suddenly appeared from behind a
cloud, and its rays fell upon a small white object that lay at the lady's feet.
She mechanically picked it up: — it was a
piece of paper on which she could perceive, by the moonlight, that a few words
were written; but she could not decypher them.
Nevertheless, the mode in which the short lines were
arranged struck her with the idea that this paper contained an address; and a
natural association of facts immediately encouraged the belief that she held in
her hand the one which the self-vaunted bravo had given ere now to his
companion, and which the latter might probably have dropped by accident.
Hastily concealing it in her bosom, Adeline retraced her
steps to Ravensworth Hall.
On her arrival she hurried to her boudoir, lighted the
wax tapers, and examined the paper ere she even laid aside her bonnet and shawl.
Yes — it contained an address; and the words
were scrawled as they would be if written in the dark.
There could, then, be no doubt that this was the address
which one of the men had given to his companion in the ruins of the gamekeeper's
"It is useful to know that such a villain as this
can be hired for money!" muttered Adeline to herself, as she concealed the
paper in one of her jewel caskets. "What did he say! That if any one went
to him and whispered, 'There is my enemy, and here is your price — now
go and kill him,' he would take the bribe and do the deed. And did he not
boast that he was employed by the rich and the powerful? In what manner could
such persons require his aid? Assuredly in no good cause! Ah! Lydia — Lydia,"
continued Adeline, her brows contracting and a dark cloud passing over her
countenance as she spoke, "be not too confident! You are now in my
But scarcely was the fearful thought thus implied, when
Adeline seemed to recoil from it with horror: for, covering her face with her
hands, she almost shrieked out, "No — no! I could not do
"What can you not do, dearest!" said a low
voice close by her ear; and almost at the same instant she was clasped in the
arms of Colonel Cholmondeley.
"Release me — release me!"
exclaimed Adeline, struggling to free herself from his embrace.
"Not till I have imprinted another kiss upon those
sweet lips," returned the Colonel: "not till I have made my peace with
you, dearest Adeline, in respect to the past: — else wherefore
should I have come hither!"
And as he uttered these words, he glued his lips to
hers, although she still continued to resist his insolence to the utmost of her
"Oh! my God!" she murmured in a faint tone
"am I to submit to this new indignity!"
Cholmondeley supported her to the sofa; then, throwing
himself at her feet, he took her hands in his, and said in a fervent tone,
"Adeline — dearest Adeline, wherefore do you receive me thus
coldly? Is it possible that you can have altogether forgotten those feelings
which animated our hearts with a reciprocal affection some years ago? But
perhaps my conduct — my ungrateful, my ungenerous conduct — has
completely effaced all those emotions and excited hatred and disgust instead?
Oh! I admit — I acknowledge that my conduct was
ungrateful — was ungenerous! I abandoned you at a moment when
you most required my counsel — my assistance! But was my fault so
grave that it is beyond the possibility of pardon? When I found myself this
morning brought by an imperious necessity — or rather by a strange
chance — to this mansion, I thought within my breast, "I
shall now see Adeline once again: but we must be strangers unto each other. Cold
ceremony must separate hearts that once beat in the reciprocities of love.' — And
you know, Adeline, with what formal respect I sought to treat you. But when I
beheld you so beautiful, and yet so unhappy, — when I saw that the
lovely girl had grown into the charming woman, — oh! I was every
moment about to dash aside that chilling ceremony and snatch you to my breast.
And now, Adeline, will you forgive me? — will you say that you do
not quite detest me — even if you cannot call me your lover — your
With her head drooping upon her bosom, — with
tears trembling upon her long dark lashes, — and with her hands
still retained in those of Colonel Cholmondeley, did Adeline listen to this
The words " your friend" touched a
chord which vibrated to her heart's core.
"Oh! yes — I do require a friend — a
friend to advise and console me," she exclaimed; "for I am very — very
[-261-] Cholmondeley was
man of the world enough to perceive that his appeal was successful — that
his victory was complete; and, seating himself by Adeline's side, he drew her
towards him, saying, "I will be your friend, dearest — I will
advise you — I will console you. You shall pour forth all your
sorrows to me, as if I were your brother: and I swear most solemnly, beloved
Adeline, that if it be your wish, I will never seek henceforth to be more to you
than a brother!"
"Oh! if that were true — if I could
rely upon your word!" cried Adeline, joyfully.
"By every sacred obligation with which man can
bind himself, do I vow the sincerity of that promise," returned
Then withdrawing his arm from her waist, as a tacit
proof of his honourable intentions, but still retaining one of her hands in his
own, he looked anxiously in her countenance to read the impression which his
words and manner had created.
"Again I say that if I could believe you, I should
think myself happy — nay, blest in your friendship," returned
Adeline; "for I am so miserable — so very, very wretched — that
I feel the burden of such an existence too heavy to bear. All that has passed
between us constitutes a reason to induce me to accept you as my friend, rather
than any other; — for I have lately seen so much of the fiend-like
disposition of one woman, that I am inclined to abhor the whole sex — yes,
even though it be my own! And to you, moreover, I can speak frankly of those
causes which have rendered me so very wretched."
"Speak, dear Adeline — unburden your
mind to me," said Cholmondeley, in a low, but tender tone. "I must,
however, inform you that I am already acquainted with many of the incidents
regarding the connection between Lydia Hutchinson and yourself, from the moment
when Lord Dunstable and I so dishonourably wrote to you both to state that we
were going abroad. Yes — Adeline, I have learnt how you were
extricated from the embarrassments of that situation in which I shamefully left
you, — how, in a word, the offspring of our love was born dead and
disposed of, and how your reputation was saved through the means of Lydia."
"You know all those fearful particulars!"
exclaimed Lady Ravensworth, profoundly surprised at what she heard.
"Yes, dearest: for Lydia, some time after she left
the school, became the mistress of my friend Dunstable; and she told him all. He
related those incidents to me: it was natural that he should do — seeing
that we were mutually acquainted with each-other's loves. And, oh! my dearest
Adeline," continued the Colonel, "I can well understand how completely
that odious woman is enabled to tyrannise over you."
"And you can also comprehend how much I stand in
need of a friend?" said Lady Ravensworth; "for it is hard to be
compelled to nurse one's griefs — to conceal one's sorrows — without
being able to unburden to a single living soul a heart surcharged with
"I will be that friend, Adeline," replied
"But, oh! what dangers do I incur by seeing
you — by receiving you here!" exclaimed Adeline. "And this
thought reminds me that I am even yet ignorant of the means by which you gained
access to my chamber."
"Nay, Adeline," said Cholmondeley, in a tender
tone, "do not attempt to disavow the encouragement which you so kindly gave
me — and to which you now force me to allude."
"Encouragement!" repeated Lady Ravensworth,
with a tone and manner expressive of unfeigned surprise.
"Yes, dearest. That key which I found in the
post-chaise — and the few words written upon the paper which
enveloped it — "
"My God! there is some fearful mistake in all
this!" cried Adeline, seriously alarmed. "But explain yourself — quickly — I
Cholmondeley was now astonished in his turn; and hastily
taking a paper from his pocket he handed it to Lady Ravensworth, saying,
"The key was enclosed in this."
Adeline cast her eyes upon the paper, and read these
words: — "The key contained herein belongs to a door on the
southern side of Ravensworth Hall: and that door communicates with a private
staircase leading to the passage from which my own apartments open. I wish to
converse with you in secret — it only for a moment; and though I
have taken this imprudent — this unpardonable step, you will surely
spare my feelings, should you avail yourself of the possession of the key, by
forbearing in my presence from any allusion to the means by which it fell into
"Merciful heavens!" ejaculated Adeline, when
she had hurriedly glanced over the paper: "I am ruined — I am
undone! It must be that fiend Lydia, who has thus paved the way for my utter
There was the wildness of despair in the manner of Lady
Ravensworth, as she uttered these words; and Cholmondeley could not for another
moment imagine that her distress was feigned.
"What do you mean, Adeline?" he said:
"did you not send me the key? — did you not pen those lines!
Surely — surely the handwriting is yours!"
"As God is my judge, Cholmondeley," she
answered, emphatically, "I never sent you the key — I never
penned those lines! No — it is Lydia who has done it: she knows my
writing well — she has imitated it but too faithfully! Go — fly — depart,
Cholmondeley: ruin awaits me — perhaps both!"
The Colonel dared not delay another moment: the almost
desperate wildness of Adeline's manner convinced him that she spoke the
truth — that she had not invited him thither.
"At least let me hope to see you soon again — or
to hear from you," he said, imprinting a hasty kiss — upon her
"Yes — yes — any thing you
will, so that you now leave me," she cried, in a tone of agonising alarm.
Cholmondeley rushed to the door: — Adeline
followed him into the passage, bearing a candle in her hand.
The reader may conceive the relief which she
experienced, when, upon casting a rapid glance up and down, she found that her
torturess was not there either to expose her completely, or to triumph over her
"Farewell," whispered Cholmondeley; and he
disappeared down the staircase. — Adeline remained at the top, until
she heard the private door at the bottom carefully open and as gently close.
Then she breathed more freely, and re-entered her own
[-262-] "What could
Lydia mean by this perfidious plot?" she murmured to herself, as she sank
upon the sofa, exhausted both mentally and bodily. "She was not there to
enjoy my confusion; she did not come with the servants to behold what might have
been considered the evidence of infidelity towards my husband: — what,
then, could she mean?"
Scarcely had these words passed Adeline's lips, when the
door opened, and her torturess entered the room.
chapter < | THE MYSTERIES OF
LONDON [Vol. II]
| > next chapter >