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if struck by a lash of lightning, Adeline fell insensible upon the stairs.
When she awoke, she found herself in bed, — not
in the chamber where the murder of Lydia Hutchinson had been perpetrated:
no — never since that fatal night had Lady Ravensworth dared to
sleep in her boudoir; — but she had adopted as her own apartment,
one quite at the opposite end of the building.
Yet, vain — oh! passing vain were the
endeavours of the murderess to escape from the phantom of her victim: — had
she fled to the uttermost parts of the earth — had she buried
herself amidst the pathless forests of America, or made her abode on the eternal
ice of the northern pole, — even thither would the spectre have
It was midnight when Lady Ravensworth awoke in her
chamber, after having fainted upon the stairs.
An ejaculation of terror escaped her lips — for
she instantly recollected all that had passed.
The curtains were immediately drawn aside; and a
charming female countenance, but totally unknown to Adeline, beamed upon her.
Tranquillise yourself, lady," said the stranger:
"it is a friend who watches by your side."
"A friend!" repeated Adeline, with a profound
sigh: "have I indeed a friend? Oh! no — no: I am surrounded by
And covering her face with her hands, she burst into an
agony of tears.
"Pray compose yourself, Lady Ravensworth,"
said the stranger, in so sweet and musical a tone that it carried to the heart
conviction of friendly intentions.
"And who are you that thus feel an interest in one
so woebegone as I?" asked Adeline, relieved by her tears.
Then she turned her still streaming eyes towards the
stranger who spoke in so kind, so soothing, so convincing a manner; and she
beheld, by the mellowed light of the lamps that burnt in the chamber, a female
of lovely person. but clad in deep black, and wearing the peculiar cap which
bepeaks the widow.
The respectability of this garb combined with the
softness of the lady's tone and manner, and the sweet amiability of her fine
countenance, to produce the most favourable impression upon the wretched
Adeline, — wretched alike through her own misdeeds and those of
"You ask me who I am," answered the
stranger: — "rather seek to know wherefore I am here!! Compose
yourself, and I will explain the latter mystery in a few words. This evening I
received tidings — from an authority which I cannot doubt, but which
I dare not name — of a fearful conspiracy that is in progress
against you, — not only against you, but I fear also against
"Oh! heavens — I begin to understand it
all!" shrieked Lady Ravensworth, the presence of Gilbert Vernon and Anthony
Tidkins in that mansion, and evidently leagued together, recurring to her mind.
"But how did you hear this? how did you learn the terrible tidings which
other circumstances proclaim so fatally to be, alas! too true?"
"Lady, ask me not for my authority," was the
reply. "Were I to reveal it, I should incur the chance of ruining a source
of intelligence which may enable me to frustrate other diabolical schemes that
might be conceived, even as I hope to baffle the one that is now in progress
against yourself. You are no doubt watched by enemies of a desperate [-323-]
character — one of whom has every thing to gain by the death of your
"Oh! you allude to Gilbert Vernon — my
brother in-law!" exclaimed Adeline. "He is already in this house — accompanied
by his valet, who — "
She checked herself ere she uttered another word that
might have led her new friend to marvel how she could possibly have obtained any
previous insight into the character of that attendant upon her brother-in-law.
"And that valet, by all I have heard," said
the strange lady, "is a man of the most fiend-like soul — the
most remorseless disposition, a man capable of every atrocity — every
crime, — and who is so ready to accomplish any enormity for gain,
that were there another Saviour to betray, he would become another Judas."
"Oh! what a picture you are drawing!" cried
Lady Ravensworth, with a cold shudder — for she knew how much of
that appalling description was true!
"It is not to intimidate you, that I am thus
candid," was the reply; "but simply to convince you in what danger you
are placed, and how deeply you need the assistance of a sincere friend."
"And that friend — " said Adeline.
"Is myself," answered the stranger. "It
is true, I am but a woman — a poor, weak woman, as the lords of the
creation style our sex; — but I possess the heart to aid you — the
Spirit to defend you — and the courage to dare every peril in your
"Excellent woman! — heaven must have
sent you to me!" cried Adeline, reassured by these words; and, as she
spoke, she caught her new friend's hand and pressed it enthusiastically to her
lips. "But, your name! — tell me your name! — that
I may address you in terms of affection, and hereafter speak of you in those of
"Call me by any name you will," was the reply;
"but ask me no more concerning myself. In aiding you, I must impose the
conditions upon which I offer to befriend you! I have no selfish motive: — my
own social position places me above all interested views. No: — through
the purest feelings of humanity have I sought you. Listen to me a few moments in
patience. This evening I heard the principal details of the plot contrived
against your peace: I learnt enough to prove that you have enemies capable of
the very worst deeds to secure their own ends. I resolved upon hastening to your
aid — of offering myself as your companion, your friend, until the
peril be averted. I arrived at Ravensworth Hall at about nine o'clock this
evening, and requested an interview with you. I was told that you had just been
seized with a fit, and conveyed to your chamber. I replied that I was well known
to you — that I had even come in pursuance of an invitation received
from you — and that my presence was most opportune since you were so
suddenly taken ill. Your lady's-maid was summoned, and, in consequence of my
representations, I was admitted to your chamber. You had partially recovered,
and had sunk into a sound sleep. I assured the maid that she need not remain
with you, as I would watch by your side. This is the tale I have told — an
innocent falsehood to ensure a good aim. If you wish me us remain with you, it
will be for you to repeat to your servants the same story of our previous
acquaintance. This will be necessary to account to Vernon for my presence in the
mansion, and for the terms of inseparable friendship on which we must appear to
be together. For from this night I shall not lose sight of yourself or your
child, until the danger that threatens that innocent infant be averted. As for
my name-I dare not allow it to be known here; for Vernon is acquainted with a
certain individual to whom that name is not strange, and who, were he to learn
that I am here, would perhaps suspect that I had some ulterior motive. Indeed,
it was a conversation between your brother-in-law and that individual to whom I
allude, which was overheard by a person devoted to my interests, and which
discourse betrayed enough to show that one terrible deed had already been
committed by Vernon, and that he was meditating another."
"One terrible deed has already been
committed!" exclaimed Adeline, in affright: "to what can you
"Alas!" replied Eliza Sydney, — for
she was the generous-hearted unknown, — "did the lamentable
death of Lord Ravensworth excite no suspicions in your mind!"
"Oh! now I see it all!" cried Adeline,
clasping her hands together, and speaking with hysterical vehemence:
"Gilbert Vernon was in England — it was his voice
that I heard in the ruins; — and it was he who sent the fatal and
poisoned weed which carried my husband to the tomb! Monster — monster
that you are, Gilbert Vernon!"
And she sank back exhausted upon the pillow, from which
she had raised herself as she screamed forth that last accusation.
Several minutes elapsed ere she grew calm enough to
explain to Eliza the meaning of her exclamation relative to the voice in the
"You see how well arranged have been all Vernon's
plans," observed Eliza; "for, in the conversation with the individual
to whom I have already alluded, he admitted that he had been some time in
England. Oh! there can be no doubt that he was awaiting the effect of the
poisoned weed; — for I read in the newspapers the account of your
husband's strange and mysterious death after a few months of atrophy, and which
fatal event was alleged to have been hastened by his passionate attachment to a
peculiar oriental tobacco. It is now for you to remain retired and
tranquil — to keep your child constantly with you — and
to allow me to act as I shall think fit. In a short time I hope to be enabled to
collect a chain of evidence that may establish Vernon's guilt. At present there
is strong suspicion — but no proof — that he caused the
death of his brother."
"But I will not stay here — in this
lonely house," cried Adeline: "I will seek safety with my
father!" — "And think you that change of dwelling will
screen your child from the intrigues — the infernal intrigues and
plots of a man who found means, while at a distance, to murder his brother with
a fatal poison!" demanded Eliza. "No-he would accomplish his purpose,
wherever you might conceal the heir of Ravensworth! But if we can obtain proofs
of his past crime or of his present intention — if we can so
contrive that we may place him within the reach of justice, — then — and
only then will there be safety for your child. If you seek refuge with your
relatives, he will see that he is suspected; and his schemes will only be
prosecuted with the more caution."
"I am in your hands-I will follow your advice [-324-]
in all things," said Adeline: "but, in the name of heaven! devise
means to bring these dangers and perplexities to a speedy issue."
"Trust to me, Lady Ravensworth," returned
Eliza. "In the first place, is there still left in the house any of that
oriental weed whose effects were so fatal upon your husband!"
"There is," answered Adeline; "and I
think I divine your motive for asking the question. You would have the tobacco
analysed and tested by a skilful chemist! That step was taken shortly after my
lamented husband's death, by the desire of Mr. Graham — a medical
gentleman who attended him in his last moments. Not that any suspicion against
Gilbert Vernon had then arisen: no-it was curiosity and a love of science which
prompted Mr. Graham thus to act."
"And the result? " said Eliza,
"No trace of a deleterious substance could be
discovered," was the answer.
"Providence will open another road to the discovery
of that man's guilt," observed Eliza. But you must now compose yourself to
sleep: the night is far advanced — and you need rest."
"Rest! — oh! not for me!" said
Adeline with a dreadful shudder, as she thought of the murdered Lydia
But Eliza Sydney did not comprehend that Lady
Ravensworth had any source of affliction save the machinations of her enemies.
In the morning, Eliza wrote the following letter to
Filippo Dorsenni, Greenwood's valet: —
Hall, April 16th, 1841.
will see by the superscription that I am on the spot where danger menaces an
innocent babe of a month old. Vernon and Anthony Tidkins are both here; but Lady
Ravensworth has placed herself entirely under my guidance.
"I wish you to undertake the three following
commissions as speedily as possible.
"The first is to form an acquaintance with the
landlady of the house in Stamford Street where Gilbert Vernon lodged, and
endeavour to glean from her not only how long he lived in her dwelling, but any
other particulars concerning him she may be willing to communicate. This task
you must execute with great precaution, so that in case Vernon should call upon
her she may not inform him that you have actually sought information at her
hands. Should she be skilfully drawn into gossiping discourse upon the subject,
she would not mention to Vernon that she had breathed a word in connexion with
him or his affairs.
"In the second place, you must endeavour to
discover the abode of the beautiful Georgian, Malkhatoun, whom, as you informed
me some months ago — shortly after my arrival in England — Mr.
Greenwood made over to his friend the Honourable Major Dapper.
"In the third place you must find some trusty
person who will immediately set off for Beyrout. Fortunately, an extra Overland
Mail departs to-morrow evening. The instructions of the individual whom you may
thus employ are contained in the enclosed letter. Doubtless, amongst the few
Castelcicalans who are now resident in London, you are acquainted with one who
will undertake this mission, for the expenses of which I forward you a cheque
upon my bankers.
"You can write to me to report the progress of
these three commissions."
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