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[-299-] 

CHAPTER CCXXVI.

THE MARQUIS OF HOLMESFORD.

    IT was eleven o'clock on the following day, when the Marquis of Holmesford rose from the arms of one of the houris who formed his harem.
    He thrust his feet into a pair of red morocco slippers, put on an elegant dressing-gown of gay-coloured silk, and passed from the room of his charmer to his own chamber.
    There he entered a bath of warm milk; and, while luxuriating in the tepid fluid which imparted temporary vigour to a frame enfeebled by age and dissipation, he partook of a bowl of the richest. French soup, called consommιe, which his valet presented on a massive silver salver.
    Having finished a broth that was well calculated to replenish the juices of his wasting frame, the hoary voluptuary left the bath, which was immediately wheeled into an adjacent chamber.
    Every morning was a certain quantity, consisting of many gallons, of new milk supplied for the use of the Marquis of Holmesford; and when it had served him for one bath it became the perquisite of his valet.
    And what did this domestic do with it? Had he possessed hogs, he would not have given to those unclean beasts the fluid which had washed off all the impurities of his master's person: — no — he would not have allowed the very pigs to partake of the milk with which the disgusting exudations of the old voluptuary's body had commingled!
    But he contracted with a milk-man whose "walk" was in a very poor neighbourhood; and that milkman paid the valet a certain sum daily for the perquisite.
    It was then retailed to the poor as the best "country grass-fed milk!"
    Let us, however, return to the Marquis.
    Upon quitting his bath, he commenced the mysteries of the toilet, — that ceremony which involves so many repulsive details when connected with old men or old women who have recourse to cosmetics or succedaneous means to render less apparent the ravages of time and debauchery.
    Taking out his complete set of false teeth, he placed them in a glass filled with pure lavender water. His dressing-case supplied a silver instrument to scrape the white fur from a tongue that denoted the fever produced by the previous evening's deep potations; a pair of silver tweezers removed the hairs from his nostrils; and, in the meantime, his wig, stretched upon a block, was skilfully dressed by the valet.
    It was past mid-day when Lord Holmesford quitted his chamber, looking as well as all the artificial means which he adopted towards the improvement of his person, and all the accessories of faultless clothes, whitest linen, and richest jewellery, could render an old worn-out beau of sixty-four.
    As he was descending the Stairs, a servant met him, and said in a profoundly respectful tone, "Mr. Greenwood, my lord, is in the drawing-room."
    The Marquis nodded his head, as much as to say that he heard the announcement, and proceeded to the apartment where the Member for Rottenborough was waiting.
    "Well, Greenwood, my boy," cried the Marquis, affecting the sparkling hilarity of youth, and endeavouring to walk with a jaunty and easy air, just as if his old bones did not move heavily in their sockets like a door on rusty hinges; "how goes the world with you? As for me, by God! I really think I am growing young again, Instead — "
    "Your lordship does look uncommonly well," said Greenwood, who had his own purposes to serve by flattering the nobleman; "and for a man of fifty-two — "
    "Come, Greenwood — that won't do!" cried the Marquis. "Fifty-one, if you please, last birth-day."
    "Yes — I meant in your fifty-second year, my lord," said Greenwood, with admirable composure of countenance, although he well knew that the hoary old sinner would never see sixty-four again: — "but, as I was observing, you are really an astonishing man; and if I were married — egad! I should deem it but prudent to request your lordship not to call at the house except when I was at home!"
    "Ah! you rogue, Greenwood!" exclaimed the Marquis, highly delighted at the compliment thus conveyed — for with debauchees in fashionable life such a degrading assertion is a compliment, and a most welcome one, too: — "no — no — not so bad as that, either, Greenwood. Friendship before every thing!"
    [-300-] "No, my lord — love before every thing with your lordship!" cried Greenwood, gravely sustaining the familiar poke in the chest which his former compliment had elicited from the old nobleman. "You are really terrible amongst the women; and, some how or another, they cannot resist you. By the bye, how gets on the action which Dollabel has against you?"
    "What! Dollabel, the actor at the Haymarket!" ejaculated the Marquis. "Oh! settled — settled long ago. My lawyer ferretted out an overdue bill of his, for ninety-odd pounds, bought it up for seven guineas, sued him on it, and threw him into some hole of a place in the City, that they call Redcross — "
    "No — Bluecross, I think," suggested Greenwood, doubtingly — although he knew perfectly well to what place the Marquis was alluding.
    "No — no — that isn't it either," cried time nobleman: "Whitecross Street — that's it."
    "Ah! Whitecross Street — so it is!" exclaimed Greenwood. "What a memory your lordship has!"
    "Yes — improves daily — better than when I was a boy," said the Marquis. "But as I was observing, my solicitor threw Dollabel into Whitecross Street gaol, and starved him into a compromise. I consented to give him his discharge from the debt and a ten-pound note to see his way with when he came a out. But his wife was a really a nice woman!"
    She was — a very nice woman," observed Greenwood. " You got out of that little crim. con. very nicely. Then there was Maxton's affair — "
    "What! the tea-dealer in Bond Street!" exclaimed the Marquis, chuckling with delight as his exploits in the wars of love were thus recalled to his mind. "Oh! that was not so easily settled, my dear fellow, It went up to within a week of trial; and then Maxton agreed to stop all further proceedings and take his wife back if she came with a cool two thousand in her pocket. Well, my lawyer — knowing fellow, that! — drew him into a correspondence, and got him to receive his wife. Home she went: — Maxton met her with open arms — declared before witnesses 'that he was at length convinced of her innocence — (this he said to patch up her reputation) — and all was well till next morning, when he asked her to give him the two thousand pounds, that he might take them to the Bank. Then she laughed in his face — and he saw that he was done. Condonation, the civilians call it — and so he could not go on with the suit. Capital — wasn't it?"
    "Capital, indeed!" ejaculated Greenwood, nearly dying with laughter.
    The Marquis never for a moment suspected it to be all forced, but rubbed his hands together so briskly and chuckled so heartily, that a violent fit of coughing supervened, and he was compelled to turn aside to hold in his false teeth. — "Your lordship has naught a little cold," said the Member for Rottenborough. "But it is nothing — a mere nothing: I often have a cough like that. I've known many young men — much younger than your lordship — have worse coughs."
    "Oh! I know that it's nothing," cried the Marquis, still stammering with a diabolical irritation in the throat.
    "By the bye," said Greenwood, imagining that he had now so effectually worked himself into the old nobleman's good graces that he might safely explain the business that had brought him thither: "you are not in any hurry for the ten thousand I borrowed of you at the beginning of the year?"
    "Not in the least, my dear fellow," returned the Marquis. "But, while I think of it, what has become of the fair Georgian — the blue-eyed Mabkhatoun?"
    "I handed her over to Dapper some time ago,' answered Greenwood. "We were, however, speaking of those ten thousand pounds — "
    "A trifle — a mere trifle, Say no more about it," cried the nobleman.
    "I expected as much from your lordship's generous friendship," said Greenwood, obsequiously "In fact, I came to tax you for a further loan — just for a few days — "
    "Impossible at present, my dear fellow!" interrupted the Marquis, rather peremptorily; for he had entertained doubts of his friend's prosperity for some time past; and this application only tended to confirm his suspicions. "I am really so pressed at this moment — "
    The dialogue was interrupted by the sudden entrance of a servant, who said, "My lord, the Prince of Montoni requests an interview with your lordship."
    "The Prince — Richard — here!" exclaimed Greenwood, thrown off his guard.
    "Show his Highness up immediately," said the Marquis, in the tone of a man who was surprised but not alarmed at this visit.
    "My lord," interrupted Greenwood, speaking in a hurried and thick tone, "I have the most urgent reasons for not meeting the Prince of Montoni — for not even being seen by him. I implore you not to say that I am here — not even to allude to me."
    And having uttered this hasty injunction, Greenwood passed into a back drawing-room, which was separated from the front one by folding-doors.
    But it was easy to overhear in the former apartment all that was said in the latter.
    Scarcely had the Member for Rottenborough thus retreated, when the Prince was ushered into the presence of the Marquis of Holmesford.
    Those two personages had never met before; and the moment they thus found themselves face to face, they surveyed each other with rapid but scrutinising glances.
    On one side Richard Markham was naturally curious to behold the man, — the monster in human form, — who could have practised so much villany against so much virtue — who, in a word, had destroyed the happiness of the deceased and lamented a mother of Katherine.
    On the other hand, the Marquis was struck by the handsome and noble appearance of that fine young man, who had raised himself from a sphere comparatively humble to an exalted position — who had led armies to a crowning triumph through the deadly strife of battle — and who was himself the personification of that generous spirit of political freedom which now influences the civilised world from the banks of the Thames to the waters of the Volga.
    And, oh! what a contrast was formed in that splendid drawing-room where a great Prince and a wealthy peer now met for the first time: — the one possessing a heart beating with all the generous emotions that can redeem frail humanity from some of the dire consequences of the Primal Fall — the other accustomed to sacrifice all and every-[-301-]thing to his own selfish lusts and degrading debaucheries: — the one endowed with, that manly beauty which associates so well with the dignity of high rank and the aristocracy of virtue; the other sinking beneath the infirmities of age and the ravages of dissipation: — the one noble alike by nature and by name; the other noble only by name: — the one carrying his head erect, and well able to meet the glance of every eye that would seek to penetrate into the recesses of his soul; the other conscious of having outraged so many hearts, that he quailed beneath the look of every visitor whose business was not immediately announced: — the one, in a word, the type of all that is great, good, chivalrous and estimable; the other a representative of a vicious hereditary aristocracy!
    The Marquis requested our hero to be seated, and, having himself taken a chair, waited for an explanation at the motives of this visit.
    "I have called upon you, my lord," said Richard, "for the purpose of requesting one half-hour's serious conversation on a subject which deeply interests me and an amiable girl whom I only yesterday discovered to be my sister. My name is not unknown to your lordship — "
    "I have heard much of your Highness," interrupted the nobleman; "and am well acquainted with those great achievements which have covered you with glory."
     "When I said that my name was not unknown to your lordship," continued Richard, bowing coldly in acknowledgment of the compliment thus paid him, "I did not allude to that title by which the forms of ceremony compelled me to announce myself: I intended you to understand that the name of Markham must occupy no agreeable place in your lordship's memory."
    "Your Highness oversteps the bounds of courtesy in undertaking to answer for the state of my feelings," exclaimed the Marquis, with evident signs of astonishment: "your Highness insinuates that I have reason for self-reproach; and this between strangers — "
    "Pardon me for interrupting your lordship," said our hero, calmly but firmly: "if we were personally strangers to each other until now, the name of my deceased father was not unknown to you; nor am I unacquainted with your conduct towards one who was dear to him. And now, my lord, let us understand each other. I came not hither on an inimical errand — scarcely even to reproach you. You are an old man — and it would be unseemly in me, who am a young man, to assume a tone of intimidation or of menace. But I come to request an explanation of a certain affair which is to some degree enveloped in doubt and mystery — although, alas! I dread the very worst: — I come as one gentleman seeks another, to demand the only atonement that can be made for wrongs inflicted years ago on him who was the author of my being; — and that atonement is a full avowal of the past, so that no uncertainty even as to the worst may dwell in the minds of those who are now interested in the subject to which I allude."
    "Your Highness is labouring under some extraordinary error," said the Marquis of Holmesford, warmly. "I declare most solemnly that the name of your father was totally unknown to me: indeed, I never heard of your family until the newspapers first became busy with your own exploits in Italy."
    "Is this possible?" cried Richard; then as a sudden reminiscence struck him, he said in a musing tone, "Yes — it may be so. In her last letter addressed to the Marquis of Holmesford poor Harriet intimated that the name of her husband was unknown to him — and that letter was never sent!"
    Although the Prince uttered these words rather in a musing tone to himself than in direct address to the Marquis, this latter caught the name of Harriet, and instantly became deeply agitated.
    "Harriet, my lord? — did your Highness mention the name of Harriet?" murmured the nobleman.
    Yes, my lord," continued Richard: "I see that I have hitherto been speaking in enigmas. But I will now explain myself better. It is of one whom you knew as Harriet Wilmot that I require explanations, at your hands."
    "Harriet Wilmot! — yes — I knew her," said the Marquis, faintly: "I did her grievous wrong! and yet — "
    "Your lordship will understand wherefore I feel interested in all that relates to Harriet Wilmot," interrupted Markham, — "when I declare to you that she was secretly married to my own father — and it is her child whom I yesterday embraced as a sister!"
    "As there is a God in heaven, my lord," exclaimed the Marquis of Holmesford, emphatically, "I never until this moment knew the name of Harriet's husband; and with equal solemnity would I assert on my death-bed that she was innocent, my lord — she was innocent!"
    "Oh! if I could believe — if I were assured — " Richard could say no more: he pressed his hand to his brow, as if to steady his brain and collect his thoughts; and tears trembled on his long black lashes.
    "Prince of Montoni," cried the Marquis, rising front his seat, and speaking with more sincerity and more seriousness than had characterised his tone for many, many years; "I am a man of pleasure, I admit — a man of gallantry, I allow; but I have no inclination to gratify, no interest to serve, by uttering a falsehood now. Again I declare to you — as God is my judge — that Harriet was innocent in respect to myself, — and I believe — nay, I would venture to assert — innocent also with regard to others — and faithful to her husband!"
    "My lord," said Richard, in a voice tremulous with mingled emotions of joy and doubt; and as he spoke, he also rose from his seat, and took the nobleman's hand, which he pressed with nervous force, — "my lord, prove to me what you have just stated — explain all that took place between yourself and Harriet on that night which appears to have been so fatal to her happiness, — show me, in a word, that she was innocent, — and I will banish from my mind all angry feelings which may have been excited by the knowledge of your intrigues to undermine her virtue!"
    "I cannot for a moment hesitate to satisfy you in this respect," said the Marquis. Resume your seat, my lord — and I will narrate, as distinctly as I can, all that transpired when she was inveigled to my house; for I perceive that you are well acquainted with many details concerning her."
    "It is but right to inform you," observed Richard, "that the old woman who aided your designs with regard to her whom I must consider to have been my step-mother. has committed to paper a narrative of [-302-] all which she knew relative to that unfortunate young woman. But there is one gap which your lordship must fill up — one mystery which is as yet unrevealed. I allude to the incidents of that fatal might, when, even if Harriet escaped innocent from this house, she, by some strange combination of untoward circumstances, lost the confidence of my father — her husband — and appeared guilty in his eyes."
    "And yet she was innocent!" exclaimed the Marquis, emphatically. "Listen, Prince, to what I am about to say. The old woman to whom you have alluded, inveigled Harriet to. my house — and, I confess, by my instructions. I knew that she was married; but the old woman told me not to whom — even if she knew."
    "She did know," remarked our hero; "but the marriage was kept secret — "
    "And I never asked the vile procuress any particulars concerning it," interrupted the Marquis. "All I coveted was Harriet's person: I cared nothing for her connexions or circumstances. The young mother came hither, with her child in her arms. One of my female servants took the babe from her, and locked her in a room where she expected to find the woman whom she believed to be her friend. But she was alone with me! She knew me — and the conviction that she was betrayed dashed to her mind the moment her eyes met mine. Then she fell upon her knees, and implored me to save her — to spare her. I was inflamed with wine — maddened with desire; and I heeded not her prayers. I attempted to reason with her; — but not all the tempting offers I made her — not all the promises I uttered — not all the inducements I held out, could persuade her to submit to my wishes. I was already a widower, and I even swore to make her my wife, so soon as a divorce could be obtained between herself and her husband, if she would become my mistress. No: — she wept and shrieked — she prayed and menaced — she grew violent and imploring, by turns. At length — for I must tell you all — I had recourse to violence: I was no longer able to master my passions But she resisted me with a strength and energy that surprised me. I was completely baffled — and Harriet remained innocent!"
    "Thank God — thank God!" exclaimed Markham, fervently clasping his hands together.
    "Yes, my lord — she remained innocent," continued the Marquis; "and, when I myself grew more cool, I felt ashamed — humiliated — cast down, in the presence of that young woman who had preserved her virtue from my violence, — the first who ever entered that room and conquered me! I suddenly experienced an admiration for her — such as I had never known till then on behalf of any female! I approached her — in my turn I became a suppliant; — but it was for pardon! I deplored the outrage I had committed — I went upon my knees to ask her forgiveness. — 'My child' she suddenly exclaimed, as if awaking from a profound reverie. — I rang the bell, and received her child at the door: in my own arms I carried the babe to her. She covered it with kisses; and my manner touched her — for she declared that she would pardon me, if I never molested her more. I called heaven to witness the sincerity of the oath that I then pledged to observe this condition. Two hours had thus elapsed; and when she was composed, I rang the bell and ordered a hackney-coach to be fetched. When the vehicle arrived, I escorted her to it But as I handed her down the steps of the front door, a gentleman, who was passing at the moment, caught sight of her countenance. — 'Harriet!' he exclaimed, in a voice of mingled astonishment, rage, and despair. — 'My husband!' she cried, with a wild shriek; and she would have fallen on the pavement, had I not caught her in my arms. — 'Sir,' I said to the stranger, 'this lady is innocent, although appearances may be against her.' — 'Innocent,' he repeated, in a tone of bitterness and grief: "innocent when she comes calmly from the house of the Marquis of Holmesford, and sinks into the Marquis of Holmesford's arms! No: I am not to be deceived! Harriet, vile woman, I cast you off forever!' — And, with these words, the stranger hurried away."
    "Alas! that was my poor father!" said Markham, the tears trickling down his cheeks.
    "I had no opportunity to explain the circumstances that had occurred," continued the nobleman, after a pause. "Your father disappeared with the rapidity of lightning; and the moment he was gone, Harriet burst from my arms, evidently in pursuit of him. I was so bewildered with the suddenness of these events, that I remained transfixed as it were to the spot. At length I hurried down the street after Harriet; — but I could not overtake her. Distressed beyond measure, I returned home, vented my wrath upon the old woman, whom I loathed as the authoress of this misfortune, and drove her from my house. The wretch wrote to me afterwards, and even endeavoured to obtain an interview with me; but I would never see her more."
    "And did your lordship lose sight of poor Harriet altogether?" asked Richard.
    "I once received a letter from her," was the reply: "I think it must have been about a year after the occurrences which I have just related. She wrote in a mild and respectful tone — declaring that the sufferings of her half-famished child could alone have induced her to apply for assistance to me. I enclosed her a hundred pounds, and desired her in my letter of reply never to hesitate to avail herself of my purse — as I should not attempt to take any advantage of the assistance which I might render her. But to my astonishment she sent back eighty pounds — retaining only twenty, and declaring in a brief note that she felt ashamed of being even compelled to accept that sum. I never heard from her again; but I gather from your Highness's observations that she is no longer living!"
    "She died unhappily, — miserably upwards of thirteen years ago," said Richard. "A strange combination of circumstances threw me in the way of her daughter, — the orphan whom she left, — about fifteen months ago; and it was only last night that I discovered a sister in her whom I had known as Katherine Wilmot."
    "Katherine Wilmot!" exclaimed the Marquis: "surely that name is known to me?"
    "My sister was accused of a crime which the Rev. Reginald Tracy had in reality perpetrated; and — "
    "I remember the occurrence full well," interrupted the Marquis. "When that exposure of the rector of Saint David's took place, I was struck by the name of Wilmot; but I suspected not for a moment that the Katherine Wilmot, who was concerned in that affair, and whose innocence trans[-303-]pired so clearly, was the daughter of poor Harriet."
    "Katherine Markham — for such is now her name," said Richard, "was for a period the victim of circumstantial evidence — even as a combination of unfortunate circumstances had persecuted her mother before her. Yes — it was evidence of that kind which ruined Harriet in the eyes of my father! But I shall intrude no longer upon your lordship — unless it be to say that your candid explanation this day has gone far to retrieve the past in my estimation. For, oh! my lord — you can perhaps understand how welcome to me is the conviction that the mother of my newly-discovered sister was virtuous: — and to her, poor girl! the assurance of her parent's innocence will be joyful indeed! Every thing is now cleared up — and the narrative of Katherine's parentage is complete. Its truth is proved by the fact that certain letters now in my possession are in the handwriting of my father; and some which Harriet also wrote, correspond with a fragment of a note that the poor creature commenced on her death-bed, and which has remained in her daughter's possession. One link was alone wanting to make the history perfect — the occurrence of that night which was so fatal to my step-mother's happiness. That link your lordship has supplied; — and I thank you."
    The Prince then took his leave of the Marquis.
    Scarcely had Richard left the room, when Greenwood re-entered it from the back apartment.
    His countenance was pale — his manner was agitated.
    "What is the matter with you?" demanded the Marquis, astonished at his friend's altered mien.
    "Your lordship cannot divine how nearly all that I have overheard concerns us," was the answer.
    And Greenwood left the house abruptly.
    We must leave the reader to imagine the joy that prevailed at Markham Place, when the Prince returned thither, the bearer of those happy tidings which proved the legitimacy of Katherine and the innocence of her departed but not unlamented mother.

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