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[-275-] 

CHAPTER CCXX.

THE EFFECT OF THE ORIENTAL TOBACCO.  THE OLD HAG'S PAPERS.

    SCARCELY had Lady Ravensworth risen from the table, whereon stood the untasted morning meal, when the housekeeper of the town-mansion entered the room, and informed her mistress that Quentin had just arrived on horseback from the Hall, and requested an immediate audience of her ladyship.
    Adeline was not unprepared for some such circumstance as this: she however affected to believe that the sudden appearance of Quentin in town bore reference to the illness of her husband; and when the valet entered the apartment, she hastened to meet him, exclaiming, with well-assumed anxiety, "Is any thing the matter with your lord? Speak, Quentin  speak!"
    "His lordship is certainly worse this morning, my lady: but-  "
    "But not dangerously so, Quentin?" cried Adeline, as if tortured by acute suspense and apprehension.
    "My lord is far  very far from well," returned Quentin: "but that is not precisely the object of my coming to town so early. The truth is, my lady, that Lydia Hutchinson has decamped."
    "Lydia gone!" exclaimed Lady Ravensworth.
    "Yes  my lady. But permit me to ask whether your ladyship brought your jewel-casket to town with you yesterday morning."
    "Certainly not, Quentin: I merely came for a few hours  or at least until this morning  "
    "Then our worst fears are confirmed!" ejaculated the valet. "Lydia has decamped with your ladyship's jewel case."
    "The ungrateful wretch!" cried Adeline, feigning deep indignation. "Was she not well treated at the Hall? was I a severe mistress to her?"
    "She was not a favourite with the other dependents of your ladyship's household," observed Quentin.
    "And when did this happen? how did you discover her flight?" demanded Lady Ravensworth.
    "She was not missed until this morning, my lady; although there is every reason to believe that she must have taken her departure last evening. She had agreed with the housekeeper to take the first half of the night in watching by the side of Lord Dunstable's bed; but as she did not make her appearance at the proper time, it was concluded she had gone to rest, and another female domestic took her place. This morning, the gardener found the wicket of the southern fence open, and the key in the lock: this circumstance excited his suspicions; and, on farther investigation, he also found the key is the lock of the private door at the same end of the building. He gave an alarm: a search was instituted; and, after a time, your ladyship's chamber was visited, when the bureau was discovered to be open and the casket of jewels was missed. The servants were mustered; but Lydia had disappeared; and it was subsequently ascertained that her bed had not been slept in all night. Moreover, the candlestick which Lydia was in the habit of using when she waited upon your ladyship, was found lying in the middle of your ladyship's boudoir, as if it had been hastily flung down  probably in a moment of alarm."
    "And has nothing been missed save my jewels?" demanded Adding, whose plan had succeeded in all its details precisely as she had foreseen.
    "Nothing  at least so far as we had been enabled to ascertain before I left for town, my lady," answered Quentin. "And what is more remarkable still, is that Lydia took none of her own things with her. It seems as if she had gone to your ladyship's boudoir, discovered the key of the bureau, and finding the jewel-casket there, was suddenly impelled by the idea of the theft; so that she decamped that very moment-for it does not appear that she even took a shawl, or a cloak, or a bonnet with her; although, of course, as she had been so short a time in your ladyship's service, the other female servants scarcely knew what clothes she possessed."
    "But the keys of the private door and the wicket!" exclaimed Adeline: "how came she with them?"
    "They might have been in your ladyship's room  by some accident," answered Quentin, with a little embarrassment of manner.
    "Yes  I believe they were," said Adeline, blushing deeply  for she guessed the cause of the valet's hesitation: he was evidently impressed with the idea that his mistress had possessed herself of those keys to favour her supposed amour with Colonel Cholmondeley.
    But she willingly incurred even this suspicion, because, by apparently accounting for the keys being in her room, it made the evidence stronger against Lydia Hutchinson.
    "Does his lordship as yet know of this event?" inquired Adeline, after a short pause.
    "I communicated the fact to his lordship," answered Quentin; "but he treated it with so much indifference, that I did not enter into any details. I shall now, with your ladyship's permission, repair to Bow Street, and lodge information of the robbery."
    Lady Ravensworth suffered the valet to reach the door ere she called him back; for nothing was more opposed to her plan than the idea of giving any notoriety to the transaction, inasmuch as such a course might afford Anthony Tidkins a clue to the entire mystery of the transaction in which he had played so important a part.
    Accordingly, as if impelled by a second thought, she said, "Stay, Quentin: this step must not be taken."
    "What, my lady?" cried the valet, in astonishment.
    "I must show leniency in this respect," was the answer.
    "Leniency, my lady, towards one who has robbed your ladyship of jewels worth, as I understand, at least two thousand pounds!" ejaculated Quentin, his surprise increasing.
    "Yes  such is my desire, upon second thoughts,' she continued. "My dear cousin Lady Bounce is [-276-] deeply interested  I scarcely know exactly why  in this young woman; and I feel convinced that she would rather induce her husband Sir Cherry to repay me for the loss of my jewels, than see Lydia Hutchinson, bad though she must be, involved in so serious a dilemma. I shall therefore feel obliged to you, Quentin, to keep the affair as secret as possible  at least until I have communicated with Lady Bounce."
    "Your ladyship's commands shall be obeyed," said the obsequious valet, with a bow. "In this case, I may return immediately to the Park."
    "Let the carriage be got ready, and I will myself hasten thither," answered Adeline; "as you say that his lordship is somewhat worse."
    Quentin retired, well persuaded in his own mind that the leniency of his mistress was caused by her fears lest the presumed fact of the keys of the private door and the wicket having been kept in her room might lead to inquiries calculated to bring to light her supposed amour with Colonel Cholmondeley.
    Thus was it that one of the engines of Lydia's vengeance,  namely, the trick by which she had induced the Colonel to enter her mistress's boudoir, and the fact of making the other servants privy to that visit,  now materially served the purposes of Adeline.
    In a quarter of an hour the carriage was ready; and Lady Ravensworth was soon on her way back to the Hall.
    On her arrival, she found that the circumstance of Lydia Hutchinson's disappearance had yielded in interest to one of a more grave and absorbing character.
    Lord Ravensworth was dying!
    She hastened to his apartment, and found him lying in bed  in a state of complete insensibility  and attended by Mr. Graham, who had sent of an express to town (by a shorter way than the main road by which Adeline had returned) for eminent medical assistance.
    It appeared that about an hour previously the nobleman's bell had rung violently; and when the servants hurried to the room, they found their master in a fit. He had probably felt himself suddenly attacked with an alarming symptom, and staggered from his chair to the bell-rope, and had then fallen upon the floor. Mr. Graham had been immediately summoned; and by his orders Lord Ravensworth was conveyed to bed.
    But he had continued insensible  with his eyes closed; and the only sign of life was given by his faint, low breathing.
    It is scarcely necessary to state that Mr. Graham exerted all his skill on behalf of the dying man.
    Adeline affected the deepest sorrow at the condition in which she found her husband;  but the only grief which she really experienced was caused by the prospect of being shortly compelled to resign all control over the broad lands of Ravensworth in case her as yet unborn child should prove a daughter.
    In the course of the day two eminent physicians arrived from London; but the condition of Lord Ravensworth was hopeless: nothing could arouse him from the torpor in which he was plunged; and in the evening he breathed his last.
    Thus was it that this nobleman had at length accomplished  involuntarily accomplished  his self-destruction by the use of the oriental tobacco sent to him by his brother Gilbert Vernon!
    On the first day of February there had been a marriage at Ravensworth Hall: on the sixteenth there was a funeral.
    How closely does mourning follow upon the heels of rejoicing, in this world!
    ***
    On the same night when Lord Ravensworth breathed his last, the following scene occurred in London.
    It was about eleven o'clock when the Resurrection Man and Mr. Banks entered the cell in which the old woman was confined.
    "Is your labour done?" demanded Tidkins, in a surly tone, as if he expected a farther delay in the business.
    "God be thanked! "returned the foul hag; "it is complete."
    And she pointed to several sheets of paper, written upon in a hand which showed that the harridan had been no contemptible pen-woman in her younger days.
    The Resurrection Man greedily seized the manuscript, and began to scrutinise each consecutive page. As he read, his countenance displayed grim signs of satisfaction; and when, at the expiration of a quarter of an hour, he consigned the papers to his pocket, he said, "Well, by what I have seen this really looks like business."
    "The old wessel has done her dooty at last,,' observed Mr. Banks, shaking his head solemnly; "and what a blessed consolation it must be for her to know that she has made a friend of you that's able to protect her from her enemies while she lives, and of me that'll bury her on the newest and most economic principles when she's nothing more than a defunct old carkiss."
    "Consolation, indeed!" cried Tidkins: then, counting down ten sovereigns upon the table, he said, "Here's what I promised you, old woman, for the fulfilment of the first condition. Now me and Banks will take you home again; and when you give me up the written proofs you spoke of, you shall have t'other ten quids."
    "Alack! I've earned these shining pieces well," muttered the hag, as she wrapped the sovereigns in a morsel of paper, and concealed them under her clothes.
    The Resurrection Man now proceeded to blindfold her carefully; and the operation reminded him of the process to which he had submitted on the preceding night, at the hands of his veiled patroness. He next helped the old woman to put on her cloak, the hood of which he threw over her bonnet so that a portion of it concealed her face; and Banks then led her away from the subterranean, while Tidkins remained behind them for a few moments to secure the doors.
    The party now proceeded, by the most unfrequented streets, through Globe Town into Bethnal Green; but it was not until they reached Shoreditch, that the Resurrection Man removed the bandage from the old hag's eyes.
    Then she gazed rapidly around her, to ascertain where she was.
    "Ah! you'll never guess. where you've been locked up for the last ten or twelve days," said the Resurrection Man, with a low chuckle.
    [-277-] "Never  as sure as she's a sinful old creetur'!" remarked Banks.
    The worthy trio then pursued their way to Golden Lane.
    On their arrival at the court, the hag uttered an exclamation of delight when she beheld the filthy place of her abode once more but her joy was suddenly changed into sadness as a thought struck her; and she exclaimed, "I wonder what has become of the poor dear children that are dependent on me!"
    She alluded to the juvenile prostitutes whom she had tutored in the ways of vice.
    Heaving a deep sigh at the reflection, she took a key from her pocket, and opened the door of her house.
    A little delay occurred in obtaining a light; but at length she found a candle and matches in a cup-board at the end of the passage.
    Mr. Banks now officiously opened the door of the old woman's parlous; but this act was followed by sweeping, rustling noise  and the undertaker started back, uttering a yell of agony.
    The hag screamed too, and nearly dropped the light; for her large black cat had flown at Banks as he entered the room.
    The fact was that the poor animal had been left in that apartment, when the old woman first set out with the Resurrection Man and the undertaker for Hounslow; and it had gone mad through starvation.
    Tidkins rushed forward the moment his friend gave vent to that scream of anguish, and caught the cat by the neck and hind legs with his powerful fingers, as it clung, furious with rage, to the breast of the undertaker, whose dingy shirt frill and front its claws tore to rags.
    "Don't strangle it-don't strangle it!" cried the hag, with unfeigned anxiety  for the only thing she loved in the world was her huge black cat.
    "Stand back, old witch!" exclaimed Tidkins "this beast is capable of tearing you to pieces.
    And in spite of the violent pressure he maintained with his fingers upon its throat, the animal struggled fearfully.
    "They say the cussed weasel has nine lives," observed Mr. Banks, dolefully, as he beheld the tattered state of his linen and smarted with the pain of the cat's scratches upon his chest.
    "Don't kill it, I say!" again screamed the hag "it will be good with me-it will be good with me."
    "Too late to intercede," add the Resurrection Man, coolly, as he literally wrung the cat's neck: then he tossed the carcass from him upon the stairs.
    "Poor thing!" murmured the old woman: "poor thing! I will bury it decently in the yard to-morrow morning."
    And she actually wiped away a tear,  she who felt no pity, no compunction, no sympathy in favour of a human soul!
    "She'll bury it, will she?" muttered Banks, endeavouring to smooth his linen: "on economic principles, I suppose."
    The trio then entered the parlour: but before she could compose herself to attend to business, the old hag was compelled to have recourse to her gin; and fortunately there was some in her bottle. Her two companions refreshed themselves in a similar manner; and Tidkins then said, "Now for the proofs of all you've said in your history!"
    "Not all  not all: I never said all," cried the hag; "only of a part. And so, if you will lay the other ten sovereigns on the table, you shall have the papers."
    The old woman spoke more confidently now; for she felt herself to be less in the power of her two companions than she so lately was.
    The Resurrection Man understood her, and smiled grimly, as he counted the money before her.
    She then took a pair of scissors, cut a small hole in the mattress of her bed, and drew forth a pocketbook, which she betided to Tidkins.
    It was tied round with a piece of riband  once pink, now faded to a dingy white; and its contents were several letters.
    The Resurrection Man glanced over their superscriptions, muttering to himself, "Well, you have not deceived me: I have brought you to reason  I thought I should. Ha! what have we here? 'To Mr. Markham, Markham Place, Lower Holloway.'  And here is another to him  and another.  But this next is different. 'To the Marquis of Holmesford, Holmesford House.'  Slap-up fellow, that  a regular old rake: keeps a harem, they say.  And here is another to him.  Then we have one  two  three, all directed alike  to 'Mrs. Wilmot,' and no address: conveyed by hand, I suppose. And that's all."
    With a complacent smile  as complacent as a smile on such a countenance could be  the Resurrection Man secured the pocketbook with its contents about his person.
    He and Banks then took their leave of the old woman.    

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