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[-269-] 

CHAPTER CCXVIII.

THE VEILED VISITOR.

    Mr. Tidkins sate down and smoked his pipe as calmly as if he were not at all afraid to be left alone to the company of the thoughts which the occupation was likely to stir up within him.
    For when a man takes up his pipe, all the most important ideas in his brain are certain to present themselves to his contemplation; and think on them he must, willing or unwilling.
    But Tidkins shrank not from any of those reflections: he was not one of your villains who are either afraid in the dark, or who loathe solitude;  what he did he perpetrated systematically, and reviewed coolly.
    He did not have recourse to the pipe on account of its soothing qualities  for as long as he made money, he had no cares; and when he indulged in a glass, it was by no means to drown remorse  because he had no compunctions to still.
    "A few months more in this country, and I shall be all right," he mused to himself: "then off to America  plunge into the far-west  change my name  buy land  and live comfortable for the rest of my days. This business of Katherine Wilmot must produce me something handsome:  Gilbert Vernon's affair is sure to do so, in one way or the other;  and if any other business worth taking, and speedily done, comes in the meantime, all the better. That rascal Tomlinson regularly bilked me: and yet the fellow did it cleverly! Bolted with the old man  got clean away. For my part, I wonder he didn't do it long ago. Well  perhaps I shall meet them both some day in America; for I dare say they are gone there. All run-a-ways go to America  because there is no fear of questions being asked in the back-woods, and no need of letters of introduction when a chap has got plenty of money in his pocket. With what I've got already, and what I hope to get from the things now in hand, I shall stand a chance of taking a few thousands with me. But before I do go I must pay one or two [-270-] people out:  there's that hated Markham  when he comes back; then there's the Rattlesnake; and there's Crankey Jem, who, they say in the papers, will have a free pardon before the trial of that young fool Holford comes on. Well  I have got something to do, in one way or another, before I leave England; but I'm not the man to neglect business  either in the pursuit of money or to punish an enemy Ha! that was a knock at the door! who can come to me at this hour?"
    The Resurrection Man looked at his watch:-the time had passed rapidly away while he was smoking and thinking;  and it was now nearly an hour past mid-day.
    The knock  which was low and timid  was repeated.
    "It is a knock," said Tidkins; and he hastened down to the street door.
    He opened it and beheld a lady, enveloped in a large cloak, and wearing a black veil which was so elaborately worked and so well arranged in thick folds that it was impossible to catch even the faintest glimpse of the countenance that it concealed.
    Tidkins, however, perceived at the first glance that it was no mean person who had sought his abode; for the delicate kid gloves were drawn on the small hands with a scrupulous nicety; the foot which rested upon the door-step was diminutive to a fault; and the appearance of the lady, even disguised as she was, had something of superiority and command which could not be mistaken.
    "Does Mr. Tidkins reside here?" she said, in a tremulous and half-affrighted tone.
    "My name's Tidkins, ma'am  at your service," answered the Resurrection Man, in as polite a manner as he could possibly assume.
    It seemed as if the lady looked at him through her veil for a few moments, ere she made a reply and she even appeared to shudder as she made that survey.
    And no wonder;  for a countenance with a more sinister expression never met her eyes; and she had moreover recognised the man's voice, which she had heard before.
    "Will you step in, ma'am?" said Tidkins; seeing that she hesitated. "I am all alone;  and if you come to speak on any particular business  as of course you do  there'll be no one to overhear us."
    For another instant did Adeline  (there is no necessity to affect mystery here)  hesitate ere she accepted this invitation:  then she thought of her torturess Lydia  and she boldly crossed the threshold.
    But when Tidkins closed and bolted the door behind her, and she found herself ascending the steep staircase,  when she remembered that she was now alone in that house with a man concerning whom her notions were of the most appalling nature,  she felt her legs tremble beneath her.
    Then again was she compelled to encourage herself by rapidly passing in mental review the horrors of those tortures and the extent of those indignities which she endured at the hands of Lydia Hutchinson!  and her strength immediately revived.
    She ascended the stairs, and entered the back room, to which the Resurrection Man directed her in language as polite as he could command.
    Then, having placed a chair for his mysterious visitor near the fire, he took another at a respectful distance from her  for he knew that it would be impolitic to alarm one who was evidently a well-bred lady, by appearing to be too familiar.
    "I dare say you are surprised to see a  a female  alone and unprotected  visit your abode in this  in this unceremonious manner?" said Adeline, after a long pause, but still fearfully embarrassed.
    "I am not surprised at any thing, ma'am, in this world," replied Tidkins: "I've seen too much ever to wonder. Besides, it is not the first time that I have had dealings with gentlemen and ladies even of the highest class. But I ask no impertinent questions, and make no impertinent remarks. One thing, however, I should like to learn, ma'am  if it would not be rude: and that is, how you came to address yourself to me for whatever business you may have in hand?"
    "That I cannot explain," returned Adeline: then, after a moment's thought, she said, "Will it not be sufficient for you to know that I obtained your address from one of those high-born persons to whom you ere now alluded?"
    "Quite sufficient, ma'am," answered Tidkins. "In what way can I aid you?"
    "I scarcely know how to explain myself," said Lady Ravensworth. "I require a great service  a terrible one; but I am prepared to pay in proportion."
    "Do not hesitate with me, ma'am," observed Tidkins, his countenance brightening up considerably at the prospect of reaping a good harvest by means of his new customer. "Of course you require something which a lawyer can't do, or else you'd go to one: therefore what you want is illegal, ma'am; and my business, in a word, is to do every thing which can be done in opposition to the law."
    "But are you prepared to accomplish a deed which, if detected  Oh! I cannot explain myself! No:  let me depart  I never should have come hither!"
    And Adeline was seized by a sudden paroxysm of remorse and alarm.
    "Calm yourself, ma'am," said Tidkins. "If you wish to go, I cannot prevent you; but if you really need my aid  in any way  no matter what  speak at your leisure. I am not particular, ma'am, as to what I undertake; and don't think I mean to offend you in what I'm going to say  it's only to give you confidence towards me, and to afford you an idea of what I now and then do for great folks and others, both male and female. Suppose a lady has pawned or sold her diamonds to pay a gaming debt, she wants a sham burglary got up in the house to cover the loss of them: well, ma'am, I'm the man to break in and carry off a few trifles, besides forcing open the door of the closet or bureau where the casket of jewels ought to be. Or perhaps a tradesman who is about to become bankrupt, wants the stock removed to a place of safety where he can have it again after a time: there again, ma'am, I'm the individual to accomplish the whole affair in the night, and give the house the appearance of having been robbed. Or else a gentleman insures his house and furniture, and wants the money: he goes off into the country  his place is burnt to a cinder during his absence-and no one can possibly suspect him of having had any thing to do with it. Besides, the whole thing seems an accident-so cleverly do I manage it. And, to go a little farther, ma'am  if a lady should happen to want to get rid of a severe husband  an illegitimate child  an extortionate lover  or a successful rival  "
    [-271-] "Or a bitter enemy!" added Lady Ravensworth, hastily  for she had been enabled to collect her thoughts and compose herself while Tidkins was thus expatiating upon his exploits.
    "Yes, ma'am  or a bitter enemy," he repeated;  "it's all the same to me; for,"  and he lowered his voice as he spoke  "I have either the means of imprisoning them till they're driven raving mad and can be safely removed to an asylum  or I make shorter work of it still!" he added, significantly.
    "Ah! you have the means of imprisoning persons  of keeping them for ever out of the way  and yet not go to the last extreme!" said Adeline, catching at this alternative.
    "I have, ma'am," was the calm reply.
    "But wherefore do you speak thus freely to me? why do you tell me so much?" demanded Adeline, a vague suspicion entering her mind that this fearful man knew her. "I am a complete stranger to you  "
    "Yes, ma'am: and you may remain so, if it suits your purpose," answered Tidkins, who divined the motive of her observations. "Tell me what you wish done-pay me my price  and I shall ask you no questions. And if you think that I am incautious in telling you so much concerning myself, let me assure you that I am not afraid of your being a police-spy. The police cannot get hold of such persons as yourself to entrap men like me. I knew that you have business to propose to me: your words and manner prove it. Now, ma'am, answer me as frankly as I have spoken to you. You have a bitter enemy?"
    "I have indeed," answered Adeline, reassured that she was not known to the Resurrection Man: "and that enemy is a woman."
    "Saving your presence, ma'am, a woman is a worse enemy than a man," said Tidkins. "And of course you wish to get your enemy out of the way by some means!"
    "I do," replied Adeline, in a low and hoarse tone  as if she only uttered those monosyllables with a great exertion.
    "There are two ways, ma'am," said the Resurrection Man, significantly: "confinement in a dungeon, or  "
    "I understand you," interrupted Lady Ravensworth, hastily. "Oh! I am at a loss which course to adopt  which plan to decide upon! Heaven knows I shrink from the extreme one  and yet  "
    "The dead tell no tales," observed Tidkins, in a low and measured tone.
    Adeline shuddered, and made no reply.
    She fell back in the chair, and rapidly reviewed in her mind all the perils and circumstances of her position.
    She wished to rid herself of Lydia Hutchinson  for ever! She was moreover anxious that this object should be effected in a manner so mysterious and secret that she might not afterwards find herself at the mercy of the agent whom she employed in her criminal purpose. She had, indeed, already settled a plan to that effect, ere she called upon Tidkins. During the whole of the preceding night had she pondered upon that terrible scheme; and so well digested was it that Lydia might be made away with  murdered, in fine  and yet Tidkins would never know whom he had thus cut off, where the deed was accomplished, nor by whom he had been employed. Thus, according to that project all traces of the crime would disappear, without the possibility of ever fixing it upon herself.
    Now this idea was disturbed by the hint thrown out relative to imprisonment in a dungeon. Were such a scheme carried into effect, Tidkins must know who his prisoner was, and by whom he was employed. A hundred chances might lead to an exposure, or enable Lydia to effect her escape. Moreover, by adopting this project, Adeline saw that she should be placing herself at the mercy of a ferocious man, who might become an extortioner, and perpetually menace her by virtue of the secret that would be in his keeping. She felt that she should live in constant alarm lest Lydia might effect he, release by bribery or accident. But chiefly did she reason that she had suffered so much at the hand of one who was acquainted with a dread secret concerning her, that she shrank from the idea of so placing herself at the mercy of another.
    All these arguments were reviewed by the desperate woman in far less time than we have occupied in the narration.
    But while she was thus wrapped up in her awful reverie, Tidkins, who guessed to a certain extent what was passing in her mind, sate silently and patiently awaiting her decision between the two alternatives proposed  a dungeon or death!
    Had he been able to penetrate with a glance through the folds of that dark veil, he would have beholden a countenance livid white, and distorted with the fell thoughts which occupied the mind of his visitor:  but never once during this interview did he obtain a glimpse of her features.
    "Mr. Tidkins," at length said Adeline, in a low tone and with a visible shudder, "my case is so desperate that nothing but a desperate remedy can meet it. Were you acquainted with all the particulars, you would see the affair in the same light. Either my enemy must die  or I must commit suicide! Those are the alternatives."
    "Then let your enemy die," returned the Resurrection Man.
    "Yes-yes: it must be so! "exclaimed Adeline, stifling all feelings of compunction: then taking from beneath her cloak a heavy bag, she threw it upon the table, the chink of gold sounding most welcome to the ears of the Resurrection Man. "That bag contains a hundred sovereigns," she continued: "it is only an earnest of what I will give if you consent to serve me precisely in the manner which I shall point out."
    "That is a good beginning, at all events," said Tidkins, his eyes sparkling with joy beneath their shaggy brows. "Go on, ma'am  I am ready to obey you."
    "My plan is this," continued Adeline, forcing herself to speak with calmness:  "you will meet me to-night at the hour and place which I shall presently mention; you will accompany me in a vehicle some few miles; but you must consent to be blindfolded as long as it suits my purposes to keep you so: when the deed is accomplished, you shall receive two hundred sovereigns in addition to the sum now lying before you; and you will return blindfolded with me to the place where I shall think fit to leave you. Do you agree to this!"
    "I cannot have the least objection, ma'am," answered Tidkins, overjoyed at the prospect of obtaining such an important addition to the ill-gotten gains already hoarded. "Where and when shall I meet you?"
    [-272-] "This evening, at nine o'clock  at the corner of the Edgeware Road and Oxford Street," replied Adeline.
    "I will be punctual to the minute," said the Resurrection Man.
    Lady Ravensworth then took her departure.
    As soon as it was dusk, Tidkins filled a basket with provisions, and repaired to the subterranean dungeon where the old hag was confined.
    "How do you get on!" he demanded, as he placed the basket upon the table.
    "Alack! I have not half completed my task," returned the old woman: "my thoughts oppress me  my hand trembles  and my sight is bad."
    "Then you will have to wait in this place a few hours longer than I expected," said Tidkins. "But that basket contains the wherewith to cheer you, and you need not expect to see me again until tomorrow morning, or perhaps to-morrow night. So make yourself comfortable  and get on with your work. I shall keep my word about the reward  do you keep yours concerning the true history and the written proofs of Katherine's parentage."
    "I shall not deceive you  I shall not deceive you," answered the hag. "Alack! I am too anxious to escape from this horrible den."
    "You may leave it to-morrow night for certain," returned Tidkins: "at least, it all depends on yourself."
    He then closed the door, bolted it carefully, and quitted the subterranean.
    While he was engaged in making some little changes in his toilet ere he sallied forth to his appointment with the veiled lady, he thus mused upon a project which he had conceived  "I have more than half a mind to get the Buffer to dog that lady and me, and find out where she takes me to. And yet if we go far in a vehicle, the Buffer never could follow on foot; and if he took a cab, it would perhaps be observed and excite their suspicions. Then she might abandon the thing altogether, and I should lose my two hundred quids extra. No:  I must trust to circumstances to obtain a clue to all I want t know  who she is, and where she is going to take me."
    Having thus reasoned against the project which he had for a moment considered feasible, the Resurrection Man armed himself with a dagger and pistols, enveloped himself in his cloak, slouched his hat over his forbidding countenance, and then took his departure,

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