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[-317-] 

CHAPTER CCXXXI.

MR. GREENWOOD AND MR. VERNON.

    It was in the middle of April, and about two o'clock in the afternoon, when the Honourable Gilbert Vernon knocked at the door of Mr. Greenwood's mansion in Spring Gardens.
    He was immediately admitted by a footman in livery; and Filippo, the Italian valet, who was lounging in the hall at the moment, conducted him to the elegant drawing-room where the Member for Rottenborough was seated.
    As soon as Filippo had retired, Mr. Vernon said in a somewhat impatient tone, as he fixed his large grey eyes in a scrutinising manner upon Greenwood's countenance, "May I request to know, with as little delay as possible, the reason that has induced you to demand this interview?"
    "Sit down, Mr. Vernon," was the reply; "and listen to me calmly. In January last I met you accidentally in London; and you implored me not to breathe to a soul the fact that you were in this country."
    "And if I had private  urgent motives for so acting, Mr. Greenwood," exclaimed Vernon, "I cannot suppose that it cost you any effort to maintain my secret."
    "I set out by requesting you to listen to me attentively," returned the Member of Parliament, with the coolness of a man who knows he is dictating to one completely in his power.
    "Proceed," said Vernon, biting his lip. "I will not again interrupt you: that is  unless  "
    "I need scarcely state that I did keep your secret," continued Greenwood, without appearing to notice the hesitation with which his visitor gave the promise of attention. "You shortly afterwards called upon me to request a loan, which it was not convenient for me to advance at the moment. On that occasion you reiterated your request of secrecy relative to your presence in London. I renewed my pledge of silence  and I kept it; but I felt convinced that there were some cogent reasons which prompted that anxiety for concealment. Knowing much of your circumstances, I instituted inquiries in a certain quarter; and I learnt that Lord Ravensworth was dying  dying gradually  in a most mysterious manner  and of a disease that baffled all the skill of his physicians. I also ascertained that he was a slave to the use of a particular tobacco which you  his brother  had kindly sent him from the East!"
    "Mr. Greenwood!" ejaculated Vernon, his face assuming so dark  so foreboding  so ferocious arm expression that the Member of Parliament saw his dart had been levelled with the most accurate aim.
    "Pray, listen, Mr. Vernon!" said Greenwood, playing with his watch-chain in a calm and quiet manner, as if he were discoursing upon the most indifferent topics. "Having made those discoveries,  which, indeed, were so generally known in the fashionable world, that the most simple inquiry induced any West-End gossip or newsmonger of the Clubs to descant upon them,  I began to view them in a particular light  "
    "Mr. Greenwood," cried Vernon, starting from his seat, his countenance red with indignation, "do you pretend for one moment to insinuate that I  I, the brother of the late Lord Ravensworth  "
    "I insinuate nothing," interrupted the Member, with the most provoking calmness: "but I will presently explain to you in broad terms, if you choose, the facts of which I am convinced. I promise you that you will do well to hear me patently [-sic-]."
    "But is my character to suffer by the scandal of superannuated dowagers and the tattle of Club quid nuncs?" demanded Vernon, rage imparting a terrible emphasis to his deep-toned voice.
    "Your character has in no way suffered with those parties," answered Greenwood. "All that they relate is mere idle gossip, without an object or an aim. They have no suspicion: circumstances have aroused none in their minds. But when I heard all that they state as mere matter of conversation. I viewed it in a different light, because my [-318-] suspicions were aroused by the knowledge of your presence in England, and your anxiety to conceal that fact. And, if any thing were wanting to confirm those suspicions, the company in which I saw you the evening before last  "
    "Ah! you saw me  with some one?" cried Vernon, hastily, and for the moment thrown off his guard.
    "Yes: I saw you in conversation with a man of the most desperate character  a man who only last month escaped from the Middlesex House of Correction  "
    "Then, in a word, Mr. Greenwood," interrupted Vernon, subduing his vexation and rage with a desperate mental effort, and resuming his seat, "how came you to discover my address in Stamford Street! and wherefore did you yesterday write to me to call on you to-day!"
    "I overheard you say to Anthony Tidkins, 'The day, after to-morrow I shall proceed to Ravensworth Hall, as if I had only just returned to England in consequence of the letters sent to Beyrout to announce to me my brother's death; and you will join me in the capacity agreed upon.' This I overheard you say, Mr. Vernon," continued Greenwood, fixing upon his visitor a glance of triumphant assurance; "and I then felt convinced that all my previous suspicions were well founded! I accordingly followed you when you separated from that individual who bears the odious name of the Resurrection Man; and I traced you to your lodgings in Stamford Street."
    "But for what purpose? with what view!" demanded Vernon, who saw that he was completely in Greenwood's power.
    "I will come to that presently," was the calm reply. "You do not even give me credit for the delicacy with which I acted in bringing about this interview!"
    "Delicacy!" repeated Vernon, his lip curling haughtily.
    "Yes  delicacy," added Greenwood. "I knew not whether you passed at your lodging by your proper name; and therefore I would not call in person to inquire for you  fearful of betraying you."
    "But I do pass there in my proper name," said Vernon; "for the old widow who keeps the house nursed me in my infancy, and I can rely upon her."
    "Thank you for this admission, Mr. Vernon," rejoined Greenwood, complacently: "reliance is to be placed, it is clear that there is something which might be betrayed. You have confirmed the strength of my previous convictions."
    "Do not think that I made that admission unguardedly," said Vernon, nettled by Greenwood's manner. "No: I see that I am in your power  I admit it; and therefore I no longer attempted to mislead you."
    "And you acted wisely," returned Greenwood. "It were far better for you to have me as a friend, than as an enemy. But, as I was am now observing, it was to avoid the chance of betraying you that I sent my faithful valet, Filippo, to loiter about Stamford Street last evening, and slip my note into your hands. I described your person to him  and he executed my commission well."
    "Then you have no inimical motive in seeking me out  in telling me all that you suspect! "said Vernon, looking suspiciously at Greenwood from beneath his dark brows.
    "Not the slightest! How can I have such a motive!" exclaimed Greenwood. "A secret falls in my way  and I endeavour to profit by it. That is all."
    "I scarcely comprehend you," observed the guilty man, his countenance again becoming overcast.
    "In one word, Mr. Vernon," continued Greenwood, emphatically, "you come to England privately  upon some secret and mysterious errand. Still you pass by your own name at your lodging. That circumstance to superficial observers might seem to involve a strange want of precaution. To me it appears a portion of your plan, and the result of a judicious calculation. You return privately to England, I say  but you retain your own name at a place where you know it will not be betrayed unless circumstances should peremptorily demand its revelation; and then, should certain suspicions attach themselves to you, you would say boldly and feasibly also  'It is true that I came to England to live quietly; but I attempted no disguise  I assumed no fictitious name.' Ah! I can penetrate further into the human heart than most people: my experience of the world is of no common order."
    "It would seem not," said Vernon: "especially as you also appear to know Anthony Tidkins, since you recognised him in my society the other night."
    "There are few men at all notorious for their good or evil deeds, in this great city, who are unknown to me," observed Greenwood, calmly. "But permit me to continue. You are here  in this country, while really deemed to be abroad  under circumstances of no ordinary mystery; your brother smokes the tobacco you so kindly sent him  and dies; your associate the Resurrection Man and you are now about to proceed to Ravensworth Hall  doubtless convinced that you have allowed a sufficient interval to elapse since your brother's death in the middle of February, to maintain the belief  where such belief suits your purposes  that you have only just had time to receive that intelligence in the East and thence return to England. Can you deny one tittle of my most reasonable conjectures!"
    "Greenwood, you are an extraordinary man," cried Vernon, affecting an ease which he did not feel and a sudden familiarity which he did not like. "Did I not before say that I would no longer attempt to mislead you! And I am willing to secure you as my friend."
    "You now speak to the point. I candidly confess that I have told you all I suspect or know concerning yourself and your affairs," proceeded Greenwood; "and I am perfectly Indifferent as to whether you choose to enlighten me farther, or not. Doubtless you have some defined course to pursue; or else the aid of the Resurrection Man would be unnecessary. But whether you hope to inherit largely under your deceased brother's will; or whether you can establish claims that may benefit you, in spite of the existence of the infant heir of Ravensworth, who was born a month ago  "
    "Ah! the birth of that heir has well-nigh destroyed all my hopes!" interrupted Vernon, again rising from his seat. "But, tell me  what do you require at my hands? how am I to secure you as my friend! how am I to purchase your continued silence concerning all you have divined, or now know!"
    "With money," replied Greenwood: "with that article which buys every thing in this world!"
    [-319-] "Money!  I have none!" exclaimed Vernon. "But ere long  "
    "Stay! "cried Greenwood: "tell me nothing of your schemes  nothing of your projects! I would rather remain in ignorance of the designs you may have in view; for, look you, Mr. Vernon,  though, between ourselves, I am not over nice in some matters, as you may probably suppose from the fact that Anthony Tidkins is known to me, as well as from my readiness to receive a bribe to ensure my secrecy in respect to your proceedings,  yet I do not care if I tell you that I shudder when I think of the lengths to which you have already gone  to which, perhaps, you are still prepared to go!"
    "Was it to read me a moral lecture that you sought this interview?" demanded the Honourable Gilbert Vernon, with a contemptuous curl of the lip.
    "No  far from that!" responded Greenwood. "And therefore enough of this style of discourse on my part. Still the observations were not unnecessary; for they serve to explain the relative positions in which we stand. You have already committed one fearful crime  and I know it: perhaps you meditate another  and I suspect it. But it is not for me to betray you  nor to reason with you:  I am not inclined to do either  provided you are grateful."
    "Mr. Greenwood," said Vernon, speaking thickly between his set teeth, "you shall have a noble reward, if you religiously keep my secret."
    "Such is the understanding at which I was desirous to arrive," observed Greenwood.
    Gilbert Vernon then took his leave, in no very enviable state of mind under the conviction that his crimes had placed him so entirely in the power of such an extortioner as the Member for Rottenborough.
    We must observe, ere we conclude the chapter, that Filippo, the Italian valet, had listened at the door of the drawing-room where this Interview took place; and that not a syllable of the whole conversation was lost upon him.
    In the evening Filippo obtained leave of absence for a few hours; and he availed, himself of this license to repair to the villa in which Eliza Sydney dwelt.    

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