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[-327-] 

CHAPTER CCXXXV.

PLOTS AND COUNTER-PLOTS.

    Is the morning Eliza Sydney received the following letter from Filippo Dorsenni:
    
    Your orders have been punctually obeyed. I have already visited the landlady in Stamford Street, under pretence of being acquainted with a gentleman who wishes to take lodgings in that Street; and I have ascertained that her last lodger  who can be none other than Mr. Vernon  resided with her three or four months. Consequently he has been in England during that period.
    "In the second place, I have discovered the address of the beautiful Georgian; and can communicate with her so soon as I receive your instructions to that effect.
    "Thirdly, I have despatched a faithful person to Beyrout; and he will return to England the moment he shall have gleaned the information specified in your instructions."
    
    To this letter Eliza despatched an immediate answer, praising her faithful adherent for the skill and despatch with which he had executed her orders, and giving him certain instructions in respect to Malkhatoun.
    She then repaired to the parlour opposite Lady Ravensworth's own apartment; for Quentin had already sent a private message by one of the female servants, intimating that he was anxious to speak to her without delay.
    When they met in the parlour, Eliza heard with profound astonishment the extraordinary narrative which the valet had to relate to her.
    "Some deed of mystery and crime has been doubtless perpetrated," observed Eliza; "but it cannot possibly bear any reference to the atrocious plot which Gilbert Vernon is meditating against the happiness of his sister-in-law and the life of her child. I will now tell you that the villain who passes in this house as James White is in reality a certain Anthony Tidkins, known amongst his associates in crime as the Resurrection Man."
    "I have heard of him, madam," said Quentin, with a shudder. "And, by the by  was it not this same wretch who lately escaped in so extraordinary a manner from the Middlesex House of Correction? The affair was in all the newspapers."
    "He is the same person," answered Eliza.
    "Oh! madam," cried Quentin, somewhat reproachfully; "It is not for me to dictate to you  but since you have discovered who this man is, how could you permit him to remain for one single day at large?  why should he be allowed to take his place at the same table with honest people?"
    "I admit that such society must be abhorrent in the extreme," answered Eliza, mildly but firmly: "I also acknowledge that for a short space I am depriving justice of its due. Listen, however, to my reasons. Gilbert Vernon is a man of so desperate a character that he will hesitate at no crime which will make him master of the lands and title of Ravensworth. I have every reason to believe that he caused the death of his brother: I have equally good grounds for suspecting him of an intention to murder his nephew. As speedily as circumstances will permit am I adopting measures to collect evidence that will place his guilt beyond all doubt. But until that evidence be obtained, we must excite in his mind no suspicion that there are counter-schemes in progress. Were we to do so, it is impossible to imagine what desperate deed he might immediately risk in furtherance of his aims."
    "But suspicions are already so strong against him, madam," observed Quentin "that a magistrate would grant a warrant for his apprehension."
    "And if the evidence against him were found so be incomplete and vague, as it, indeed now is," an-[-328-]swered Eliza, "he would soon be at large again to pursue his detestable machinations. No, Quentin your good sense must show you that it is better to take no decisive step until our evidence shall be so complete that it will serve two objects  namely, to punish him for the crime he has already committed, and thereby release your lady and her son from any future danger at his hands."
    "I submit to your superior judgment, madam," said Quentin. "But in respect to this Anthony Tidkins  this James White  this villain who is now quartered upon us  "
    "Until you ere now communicated to me those strange and horrifying incidents of last night," interrupted Eliza, "my intention was to leave that miscreant also unmolested, for fear that by handing him over to justice Gilbert Vernon might be led to perceive that he also was suspected. But the narrative of last night's adventure involves so serious a matter that I am for a moment at a loss what course to pursue. In any case it will be better to ascertain the nature of the object which the villain buried at the foot of the tree; and probably we shall thereby discover some clue to the elucidation if this mystery. In the meantime, I conjure you to keep your lips sealed in respect to all these topics of fearful interest. Lady Ravensworth is in so nervous and agitated a state, that I shall not acquaint her with the incidents of which you were last night a spectator, until she be better able to support the terrors of so frightful a narrative. But to-night, Quentin, you must visit the spot where the villain buried some object in the earth: you will ascertain what that object is;  and we will then decide upon the proper course which we ought to pursue."
    Quentin could not help admiring the strength of mind, the sagacity, and the calmness which Eliza Sydney displayed in her self-imposed task of counter-mining the dark plots of the Honourable Gilbert Vernon. Though but a servant, he was himself shrewd, intelligent, and well-informed; and he was not one of those obstinate men who refuse to acknowledge to themselves the superiority of a female mind, where such superiority really exists. He accordingly expressed his readiness to follow Eliza's counsel in all things connected with their present business; and he also promised that he would not by his conduct towards Tidkins excite in that individual's mind any idea that he was known or suspected.
    He and Eliza Sydney then separated.
    We must pause for a moment to explain the system of argument upon which this lady's present proceedings were based.
    "If," she said to herself, "Tidkins be delivered up to justice, it is possible that he will not turn upon his employer Vernon, who might readily account for having such a villain in his service by declaring that he was entirely ignorant of his true character when he engaged him as a valet. Again, were Vernon immediately accused of the murder of his brother, the evidence would be slight unless it were proved not only that the tobacco was really poisoned, but also that it was the same which Vernon had sent to Lord Ravensworth. For the only positive ground of suspicion which can as yet be adduced against him, is that he has been some time in England while he represented himself to have been still dwelling in the East. But this circumstance might be disposed of by some feasible excuse on his part, and would also be inefficient unless coupled with more conclusive evidence. In a month I shall probably be able to collect all the testimony I require; and it is not likely that Vernon will immediately attempt the life of the infant heir, as such a deed following so closely upon the death of the late lord would of itself afford matter of serious inquiry and arouse suspicions against him. It is therefore necessary to remain tranquil for the present, until the day arrives when the machinations of Gilbert Vernon may be crushed for ever by the same blow that shall punish him for his past crimes!"

    ***

    Ravensworth Hall was now the scene of plot and counter-plot,  of fears, suspicions, and a variety of conflicting passions.
    While Quentin and Eliza Sydney were engaged in the conversation above related, the following discourse took place between the Resurrection Man and Gilbert Vernon in the bed-chamber of the latter.
    "I don't think I shall relish this monotonous kind of life long," said Tidkins. "Bustle and activity are what I like. Besides, I can't say that I'm altogether without fears; for that description of my person which was published after my escape from Coldbath Fields, was so infernally correct that even this white neck-cloth, and brand new suit of black, and the cropping of my hair, and so on, haven't changed me enough to make all safe."
    "Nonsense!" exclaimed Vernon, impatiently "Who would think of looking for you at Ravensworth Hall? who would suspect that the valet of one in my station is what he really is?"
    "But where is the use of putting the thing off for a month or six weeks?" asked Tidkins.
    "Because it would appear strange-too strange that such an event should occur only a few days after my arrival at the Hall," answered Vernon. "You must be guided by me in this respect. The scheme to get rid of the brat is your own  and a good one it is too. Nothing could be better. But you really must allow me to have my own way as to the time when it is to be put into execution."
    "Well, well," growled Tidkins: "be it so. For my part, however, I don't see how it is to be put into execution at all, if Lady Ravensworth remains cooped up with the brat in her own room, as she did all yesterday, and seems disposed to do again to-day, by what the servants said at breakfast just now."
    "That certainly embarrasses me," observed Vernon. "It was my intention, as I before in formed you, to remain here for a few weeks and ingratiate myself as much as possible with my sister-in-law, and get into the habit of fondling the child. Faugh! it almost makes me sick to think that I must take the snivelling brat from its nurse, and dandle it about for half-an-hour at a time, so as to save appearances at least. But, as you say, Lady Ravensworth seems determined that I shall have no chance of playing the amiable at all; for she keeps her room with that widow friend of hers who came so cursed inopportunely. It cannot be that Adeline suspects me! And yet the strange way in which she received me-the impression my voice made upon her  "
    [-329-] 

"Which proves that she really was concealed in those ruins, for some purpose or another, when we met there," interrupted the Resurrection Man.
    But I am convinced that nothing which then passed between us, gave her any hint concerning our projects," said Vernon; "for when I denied that it was my voice which she had heard, she afterwards became convinced that the more coincidence of a resemblance of tones had deceived her. Had any other circumstance tended to corroborate her first impression, she would not have hesitated to mention it. But to return to what we were ere now talking of. If my sister-in-law should persist in keeping her own chamber, I shall request an interview with her; and the result will teach me how to act."
    "And suppose she really is afraid of you,  suppose she suddenly leaves the Hall, and proceeds to town,  or suppose she sends for her friends and relations to keep her company here," exclaimed Tidkins; "how will you act then?"
    "She will not quit the Hall," replied Vernon. "Decency compels her to live in retirement at the country-sat during the first few months of her widowhood; and Lord and Lady Rossville, her parents, are kept in London by the parliamentary duties of his lordship."
    "I think I know a way to make her leave her room," said Tidkins, with some little hesitation, and after a few moments' pause.
    "You!" cried Vernon, turning shortly round, and surveying his ill-favoured accomplice with astonishment.
    "Yes  me," answered the Resurrection Man, coolly. "If I could only speak to her alone for a few minutes, I'm very much mistaken if I can't do what I say."
    "Impossible  ridiculous!" ejaculated Vernon.
    "I say that it's neither impossible or ridiculous," rejoined Tidkins, angrily.
    "But how will you manage it? what will you say to her?" demanded Vernon, more and more surprised; for he knew that the Resurrection Man was not accustomed to boast without the power of performing.
    "All that is my own secret," answered Tidkins. "If you question me from now till the end of next month, I won't satisfy you. That's my rule  and [-330-] I always act on it. Now, all I have to say is that if you will procure me a private meeting with your sister-in-law, I'll engage that she shall leave her room  unless she really is very ill  and take her seat at the dinner-table to-day."
    "But this is so extraordinary," cried Vernon, "that unless you know something wherewith to over-awe her  and let me tell you that she is not a woman to be frightened by empty menace  "
    "Leave all that to me, Mr. Vernon," said the Resurrection Man, coolly. "Accept my proposal, or refuse it, as you like;  but don't question me."
    "You are really a wonderful man, Tidkins," observed Gilbert, slowly; "and you are not in the habit of talking for talking's sake. If you feel convinced that you will succeed  if you do not incur the risk of spoiling all  "
    "I am not such a fool as that," interrupted the other, gruffly.
    "Then I will endeavour to bring about the interview which you desire," said Vernon.
    And, without farther hesitation  though not entirely without misgiving  he sate down to pen a brief note to his sister-in-law, requesting an interview at her leisure.

    ***

    An hour afterwards Lady Ravensworth proceeded alone to one of the drawing-rooms.
    Eliza Sydney had offered no objection to this interview which Mr. Vernon had demanded with his sister-in-law: on the contrary, she was afraid that his suspicions would be excited were it refused.
    On her part, Adeline was far from feeling annoyed at the request contained in Vernon's letter; for she had been a prey to the most acute suspense ever since she had recognised the Resurrection Man in her brother-in-law's valet.
    Her guilty conscience led her at one moment to believe that Tidkins was certain to discover that Ravensworth Hall was the scene of the mysterious murder in which he was her instrument; and at another time she persuaded herself that her plans had been too prudently adopted to admit of such an elucidation.
    "Oh! if that dreadful man should obtain a clue to the real truth," she thought, as she repaired to the sewing-room, "how completely should I be in his power! Nay, more  he might communicate his discovery to Vernon; and then  but I cannot dwell upon so terrible an idea! My God! in what torture do I exist! O Lydia Hutchinson, thy vengeance pursues me even from the other world! And now I am about to meet my brother-in-law again! Well  it is better that this interview should take place at once. It must relieve me from much terrible uncertainty  much agonising suspense. If Tidkins have already discovered the dread secret, I shall know the worst now;  and if he have not already discovered it, there is but little chance that he ever will. Let me then summon all my courage to my aid: a few minutes more, and my fate must be decided! Either I shall find myself in the power of Vernon and that horrible man; or my secret is safe! And if it be still safe-safe it shall remain;  for he could only recognise me by my voice  and I will take care never to speak in his presence! No  no: sooner than incur the risk of thus betraying my secret. I will shut myself up for ever in my own apartment  or I will fly far away from this house which has so many fearful recollections for me!"
    Thus musing, Lady Ravensworth entered the drawing-room.
    Her countenance was almost as white as marble; and this pallor was enhanced by the widow's weeds which she wore.
    We must here observe that there was, as is usual in the well-furnished rooms of the mansions of the rich, a screen in one corner of the apartment; and on the same side were large folding-doors opening into an ante-chamber, which communicated with the passage and also with the suite of saloons intended for grand occasions.
    The moment Adeline entered the apartment, Gilbert Vernon, who was already there, rose from a sofa and hastened to meet her.
    "My dear sister," he said, taking her hand with an air of great friendship, "I was truly sorry to hear that you wore so indisposed yesterday as to be compelled to keep your chamber. May I hope that you are better to-day?"
    "I am very far from well, Mr. Vernon," answered Adeline coldly, as she withdrew her hand somewhat hastily; for, deeply steeped in guilt as she herself was, she shrank from the touch of one whom she looked upon as the murderer of her husband and the deadly foe of her infant child.
    "You seem to avoid me purposely, Adeline," said Gilbert, fixing his large grey eyes upon her in a searching manner, though she averted her looks from him: "have I offended you? or is my presence in this house irksome to you?"
    "I must candidly confess," replied Lady Ravensworth, "that I remained at the Hall, after the sad loss which I lately sustained, with a view to avoid society  to dwell in retirement;  and neither decency nor my own inclination allow me to receive company with any degree of pleasure."
    "Your ladyship, then, looks upon the brother of your late husband as a stranger  a mere guest?" said Vernon, biting his lip. "And yet you have no relative who is more anxious to serve you  more ready to become your true friend  "
    "My lamented husband left his affairs in such position as to preclude the necessity of any intervention save on the part of the trustees," observed Adeline, gathering courage when she perceived that her brother-in-law was rather inclined to conciliate than to menace.
    "Then, if such be your sentiments, Adeline," said Gilbert, "I need intrude upon your presence no longer."
    Thus speaking, he hastily retreated from the room through the same door by which Lady Ravensworth had entered it.
    "My secret is safe!" murmured Adeline, clasping her hands joyfully together, the moment Vernon had disappeared;  and she also was about to quit the apartment, when the screen was suddenly thrown back.
    She cast a glance of apprehension towards the spot whence the noise had emanated; and an ejaculation of horror escaped her lips.
    The Resurrection Man stood before her!
    "Don't be frightened, my lady," said Tidkins, advancing towards her with a smirking smile on hit cadaverous countenance: "I shan't eat you!"
    "Wretch! what means this intrusion?" cried Adeline, in a feigned voice, and endeavouring to [-331-] subdue her terror so as ward off, if possible, the danger which now menaced her.
    "Lord, ma'am, don't be angry with me for just presenting my obscure self to your notice," said Tidkins, with a horrible chuckle. "You can't pretend not to know me, after all that's taken place between us?"
    "Know you!  I know only that you are Mr. Vernon's valet, and that he shall chastise you for this insolence," cried Adeline, astonished at her own effrontery: but her case was so truly desperate!
    "I always thought you was the cleverest woman I ever came near," said the Resurrection Man; "but I also pride myself on being as sharp a fellow as here and there one. If I was on the rack I could swear to your voice although it is feigned, and though when you came to my crib you kept your face out of sight. But your voice  your height  your manner,  everything convinces me that I and Lady Ravensworth are old friends."
    "You are mistaken, sir  grossly mistaken," cried Adeline, almost wildly. "I do not know you  I never saw you before you set foot in this house the other night."
    "And then you recognised me so well that you fainted on the stairs," returned Tidkins, maliciously. "But if you think to put me off with denials like this, I can soon show you the contrary; for, though I was blindfolded when you brought me to the Hall on a certain night in the middle of February last, I am not quite such a fool as to have forgot the gardens we passed through  the little door leading to the private staircase at the south end of the building  and the very position of the room where the mischief was done. Why, bless you, ma'am, I began to suspect all about it the very first hear I was in this house, when the servants got talking of a certain Lydia Hutchinson who disappeared just about that time."
    "You are speaking of matters wholly incomprehensible to me," said Lady Ravensworth, whose tone and countenance, however, strangely belied the words which she uttered. "It is true that a servant of mine, named Lydia Hutchinson, decamped in the month of February last; and if you know any thing concerning her  "
    "By Satan!" cried the Resurrection Man, stamping his foot with impatience; "this is too much! Do you pretend that it was not Lydia Hutchinson whom you hired me to throttle in your own chamber?"
    "Monster!" screamed Adeline, starting from her seat, and speaking in her proper tone, being now completely thrown off her guard: "of what would you accuse me?"
    And her countenance, which expressed all the worst and most furious passions of her soul, contrasted strangely with her garb of widowhood.
    "Of nothing more than I accuse myself," answered the Resurrection Man, brutally. "But if you want any other proof of what I say, come along with me, and I'll show you the very pond in which the body of Lydia Hutchinson is rotting. Ah! I found out that too, during my rambles yesterday!"
    Adeline's cheeks were flushed with rage when he began to answer her last question; but as he went on, all the colour forsook them; and, pale  pale as a corpse, she fell back again upon the sofa.
    "There! I knew I should bring it home to you," said the Resurrection Man, coolly surveying the condition to which he had reduced the guilty woman. "But don't be frightened  I'm not going to blab, for my own sake. I haven't even told your brother-in-law about this business. Tony Tidkins never betrays his employers."
    Lady Ravensworth cast a rapid glance at his countenance as he uttered these words; and catching at the assurance which they conveyed, she said in a low and hollow tone, "You have not really acquainted Mr. Vernon with all this?"
    "Not a syllable of it!" cried Tidkins. "Why should I! he wouldn't pay me the more for betraying you!"
    "Then how came you here during my interview with him?" demanded Adeline, almost suffocated by painful emotions. "Was he not privy to your presence?"
    "He was, my lady," answered Tidkins, in a less familiar tone than before: "but for all that, he doesn't know what business I had with your ladyship."
    "This is false-you are deceiving me!" exclaimed Adeline, with hysterical impatience.
    "Not a whit of it, ma'am: I'm too independent to deceive any body," rejoined the Resurrection Man. "In plain terms, your brother-in-law has taken a fancy to this place, and means to stay here for a few weeks."
    "He is very kind! " said Adeline, bitterly.
    "But he doesn't like sitting down to breakfast and dinner by himself, and to lounge about in the drawing-room without soul to speak to," continued the Resurrection Man; "for a petticoat is the natural ornament of a drawing-room. So what he wants is a little more of your society; and as he didn't exactly know how to obtain his wishes in this respect, I offered to use my interest with your ladyship."
    "Your interest!" repeated Lady Ravensworth, disdainfully.
    "Yes, ma'am  and that can't be small either," returned Tidkins, with a leer. "Now all you have to do is to show yourself more in the drawing and dining-rooms  and on my part I engage not to breathe a word of the Lydia Hutchinson affair to Mr. Vernon."
    "And can you for a moment think that I shall submit to be dictated to in this manner?" cried Adeline, again becoming flushed with indignation.
    "I do indeed think it, ma'am," answered Tidkins, coolly; "and what is more, I mean it, too  or, as sure as you're there, I'll drag up the body of Lydia Hutchinson, as I did last night!"
    "O heavens!" shrieked Adeline: "what do you mean?"
    "I mean, my lady, that when I heard the servants talking about the loss of your jewel-casket, I began to suspect that you had sacrificed it to create an idea that Lydia Hutchinson had bolted with it," answered Tidkins: "and I thought it just probable that I should find it in the pond. So last night I fished up the dead body  "
    "Enough! enough! " cried Adeline, wildly: "Oh! this is too much!  you will drive me mad!"
    "Not a bit of it, ma'am," returned Tidkins. "A clever and strong-minded lady like you shouldn't give way in this manner. All I wanted was the casket and-"
    [-332-] "And what?" said Adeline, speaking in a tone as if she were suffocating.
    "And I got it," was the answer. "But I rolled the body back again into the pond; and there it'll stay  unless you force me to drag it up once more, and bring it to the Hall."
    "No: never  never!" screamed Lady Ravensworth. "Were you to perpetrate such a horrible deed, I would die that moment-I would stab myself to the heart  or I would leap from this window on the stones beneath! Beware, dreadful man-or you will drive me mad! But if you require gold  if you need money, speak: let me purchase your immediate departure from this house."
    "That does not suit my book, ma'am," answered Tidkins. "Here I must remain while it suits the pleasure of my master," he added, with a low chuckling laugh.
    "And what business keeps your master here? what wickedness does he meditate? why does he force his presence upon me?" cried Adeline, rapidly.
    "I don't know any thing about that," answered the Resurrection Man. "All I have to say can be summed up in a word: leave your own chamber and act as becomes the mistress of the house. Preside at your own table  this very day too;  or, by Satan! ma'am, I'll take a stroll by the pond in the evening, and then run back to the Hall with a cry that I have seen a human hand appear above the surface!"
    Having thus expressed his appalling menaces, the Resurrection Man hurried from the apartment.
    Lady Ravensworth pressed her hands to her brow, murmuring, "O heavens! I shall go mad  I shall go mad!"

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