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[-322-] 

CHAPTER CCXXXIII.

A WELCOME FRIEND.

As 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 pursued her!
    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 enemies!"
    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 others!
    "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 your child."
    "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 child."
    "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 behalf!"
    "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 gratitude."
    "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 allude?"
    "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 ruins.
    "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, interrogatively.
    "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 Hutchinson.
    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:  

'Ravensworth Hall, April 16th, 1841.

    "You 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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