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[-332-] 

CHAPTER CCXXXVI.

WOMAN AS SHE OUGHT TO BE.

    A QUARTER of an hour after the interview between Lady Ravensworth and the Resurrection Man, Eliza Sydney repaired to the little parlour before mentioned, in compliance with a message which had been conveyed to her from Quentin.
    The moment she entered that room she was struck by the ghastly and alarming appearance of the valet.
    He was pacing the apartment with agitated steps; his face was as pale as death  his eyes rolled wildly in their sockets  and his entire aspect was that of a man who had just seen some terrible spectacle, or heard some appalling revelation.
    "In heaven's name, what is the cause of this excitement?" asked Eliza, advancing towards the valet, after she had carefully closed the door.
    "Oh! madam-oh! Mrs. Beaufort," exclaimed Quentin, clasping his hands together through the intenseness of his mental anguish; "by playing the part of your spy I have learnt a most dreadful secret! Merciful God! this house has become the head-quarters of diabolical crime: its very atmosphere is tainted with the foul breath of murderers;-destruction lurks within its walls. Oh! accursed house, of which not one stone should be left upon another!"
    "Quentin, you alarm me!" cried Eliza. "Speak-explain yourself! What mean these strange expressions?"
    "Madam," said the valet, drawing close to and speaking in a low and hollow tone, "have you heard of a certain Lydia Hutchinson, who disappeared from this dwelling about two months ago?"
    "Yes: the nurse was this morning telling me something about that event," answered Eliza; "but Lady Ravensworth hastened to change the conversation."
    "And no wonder, madam  no wonder!" observed Quentin. "Oh! that I should still remain in the service of one who has perpetrated such a deed!"
    "Will you explain yourself, Quentin?" cried Eliza, somewhat impatiently. "I see that you have learnt a dreadful secret: but wherefore keep me thus in suspense?"
    "Pardon me, madam  forgive me," said Quentin, "I ought not to trifle with you! But, Ah! madam, what will you think  how will you act, when you learn that she for whom you are so generously striving to combat the wicked plots of Gilbert Vernon,  that Lady Ravensworth, in a word, is  is  "
    "Is what?" said Eliza, hastily.
    "A murderess!" returned Quentin, shuddering from head to foot as he uttered the appalling word.
    "Just heaven! what do I hear?" exclaimed Eliza, the colour forsaking her cheeks. "Oh! no  no: it cannot be! Recall that assertion, Quentin for you are labouring under some strange delusion!"
    "Would that I were, madam," said the valet, in a mournful tone; "but, alas! I heard too much  and that much too plainly  to entertain a doubt! Yes, Mrs. Beaufort  that lady to whom you have devoted yourself, is the murderess of poor Lydia Hutchinson!"
    "Oh! this is indeed a house of crime, Quentin!" exclaimed Eliza Sydney, now greatly excited. "But tell me how you made this fearful discovery!"
    "I will endeavour to collect my thoughts sufficiently to explain it all, madam," said the valet. "You must know, that about two hours ago, the miscreant Tidkins brought me a note, written by his master, and to be sent up to my lady. To this note a verbal message was returned that my lady would see Mr. Vernon in an hour in the drawing. a room."
    "Yes  that interview took place with my entire concurrence," observed Eliza.
    "Obedient to your instructions, madam," continued Quentin, "I kept a constant watch upon Tidkins; and when the hour for the meeting between my lady and Mr. Vernon approached, I saw Tidkins accompany his master to the drawing-room. This circumstance struck me to be so singular, that I concealed myself in an ante-room, separated only by folding doors from the saloon itself. It appears that Tidkins had placed himself behind the screen; for, after a few words of little consequence had passed between my lady and her brother-in-law, the latter left the apartment  and Tidkins burst forth from his hiding-place! Oh! madam, never shall I forget the scene which followed! By means of the key-hole I could perceive, as well as hear, all that occurred in the drawing-room. With. the most insolent familiarity did Tidkins address my lady; and, though for a time she steadily denied all participation in the murder of Lydia Hutchin-[-333-]son, at length she acknowledged it  she admitted it!"
    "Miserable woman that she is!" exclaimed Eliza. "Oh! this accounts for her sleepless nights  her constant nervousness-her strange looks!"
    "And it is the corpse of Lydia Hutchinson, madam," added Quentin, "which was last night dragged from the pond by that fiend who was hired by my lady to murder her!"
    The valet then detailed at length all the conversation which had taken place between the Resurrection Man and Lady Ravensworth, and which explained wherefore Tidkins had fished up the body of the murdered woman.
    "It is therefore clear," said Eliza, horror-struck at all she heard, "that it is the lost casket which Tidkins buried at the foot of the tree."
    "Doubtless, madam. But it now remains for you to decide what course you will pursue," continued Quentin: "as for me, my mind is made up  I shall depart within an hour from this abode of crime!"
    "Such will not be my conduct," said Eliza, firmly. "Dreadful as is the guilt of Lady Ravensworth, I cannot find it in my heart to abandon her to her enemies. She must have received some fearful provocation to have been driven thus to rid herself of a servant whom, under ordinary circumstances she might have abruptly discharged."
    "I think that I can penetrate into the mystery of this crime, madam," observed Quentin. "Her ladyship admitted a certain Colonel Cholmondeley to her chamber; and this intrigue was known to Lydia Hutchinson."
    "Oh! crime upon crime!" ejaculated Elms Sydney, with a shudder. "Yet will I not abandon this very guilty and very miserable woman! No!  for the sake of her babe will I still aid her in defeating her enemies! And this duty becomes the more imperious, inasmuch as if Gilbert Vernon should be made acquainted with her enormities  if the miscreant Tidkins should betray her to his master  he would obtain a hold upon her that must further all his vile schemes."
    "And will you remain, madam, in the midst of these murderers?" asked Quentin, profoundly surprised at the resolution of Eliza Sydney:  "will you remain in the same house with Vernon, the murderer of his brother,  with Tidkins, who lives by murder,  and with Lady Ravensworth the murderess of Lydia Hutchinson? Can you continue to dwell in such horrible society!"
    "As a matter of duty  yes," answered Eliza. "Were the infant heir of Ravensworth abandoned to the designs of those dreadful men, his life would not be worth a month's purchase; and his mother would not dare to publish the foul deed, even were he murdered before her face!"
    "The protection of that child is indeed a duty," said Quentin, in a musing manner; "and my lord was always a good and kind master to me! I have eaten his bread for many years-I have amassed in his service enough to keep me in my old age! Madam," added the valet, turning abruptly round towards Eliza, "your noble example shall not be lost upon me! I will remain here-I will obey your instructions-for you are a lady of whose confidence a humble individual like myself should feel proud!"
    How powerful is the moral influence of a virtuous woman, performing painful but solemn, though self-imposed duties! And, oh! had that man, when now felt and acknowledged this influence,  had he known that he stood in the presence of one whose brow had been adorned with a diadem, and who still possessed a ducal title, although she used it not,  had he known all this, he would have fallen at her feet, in homage to one so great and good!
    "Your resolution, Quentin, to remain here as the protector of your lamented master's heir, does you honour," exclaimed Eliza. "And, as you are indeed deserving of my confidence, I will acquaint you with the course which I shall adopt towards Lady Ravensworth. For the sake of her family  for the sake of the memory of her deceased husband  for the sake of her child, I will spare her that exposure, and those fearful consequences of such exposure, which justice seems to demand in expiation of a crime so foul as hers. Never  never could I consent to be the means of sending one of my own sex to a scaffold! No: I will gently break to her my knowledge of her guilt; I will enjoin her to pray often  long  and fervently to that Almighty Power which can show mercy to those who truly repent, be they never so deeply stained with crime; and I will endeavour to conduct her mind to that state which shall atone for the great sin which lies so heavy on her soul!"
    "Ah! madam," exclaimed Quentin, in unfeigned admiration of this excellent lady; "were there more like you in this world, there would be far less need for prisons, criminal judges, and public executioners!"
    "Reformation is better than punishment, Quentin," said Eliza, impressively. "But let us now separate. I need not enjoin you to the strictest silence in respect to the awful discovery of this morning."
    "Oh! madam, tell me how to act, and I would not for worlds deviate from your instructions," cried the valet.
    "Thank you for this assurance," said Eliza. "Before we separate, let me ask if you will assist in the performance of a painful but solemn duty which circumstances impose upon us?"
    "Speak, madam," returned Quentin: "I almost think that I can anticipate your explanation."
    "The corpse of the murdered woman must not be allowed to remain in that pond," said Eliza, in a low, but emphatic tone.
    "I had divined your thoughts, madam," observed the valet. "To-night I will bury it  painful, horrible though that duty be."
    "And I will assist you in the sad task," returned Eliza. "Nay-offer no objection: I am determined. To-night, at eleven o'clock, I will meet you in the garden near the wicket leading into the fields. You must be provided with the necessary implements for the purpose. In respect to the casket of jewels, leave it where it is  leave it to that dreadful man who will not long remain at large to dishonour human nature with his atrocities; for he and his present master will fall together  and the same knell shall ring for them both!"
    "I understand you, madam," said Quentin. "That casket could never return to the possession of Lady Ravensworth, with safety to herself."
    The valet then retired; and Eliza hurried back to Adeline's apartments.
    There a most painful  a most distressing scene took place.
    The nurse was dismissed with the child into a [-334-] remote chamber of the same suite; and when Eliza was alone with Adeline, she broke to the miserable lady her knowledge of the fearful crime which had put an end to the existence of Lydia Hutchinson.
    And, oh! how gently  how delicately  and in what a purely Christian spirit of charity, did Eliza perform this most difficult  this most melancholy duty!
    It was not as an avenger, menacing the thunders of the law, that Eliza spoke: it was not as one prepared to deliver up the criminal to justice, that she addressed herself to Lady Ravensworth. No:  it was as a true disciple of Him with whom is vengeance as well as mercy, that she communed with Adeline: and this wretched woman found, to her astonishment, that she possessed a friend who would pray with her, solace her, and conceal her guilt, instead of a being prepared to expose, to disgrace, and to abandon her upon the plea of performing a duty which every one owes to society!
    Then, when Lady Ravensworth was sufficiently composed  when the first terrific shock was over,  she related, truly and minutely, her entire history: she revealed to Eliza all those particulars of her connexion with Lydia Hutchinson, which are known to the reader; she concealed nothing  for the unparalleled generosity of Eliza's mind and conduct aroused in Adeline's heart all the better feelings of her sex and nature.
    Though the crime of murder is so horrible that there exists for it scarcely the shadow of extenuation,  still when the case of Lady Ravensworth was calmly considered,  when it was remembered how she had been goaded to madness and desperation by the conduct of Lydia Hutchinson,  when all the circumstances that united at the time to cause her reason to totter upon its seat, were dispassionately viewed,  even the well-ordered mind of Eliza Sydney was induced to admit that, if ever such shadow of extenuation did exist, it was in this most lamentable episode in the history of the race.
    And, oh! with what feelings of profound  ineffable gratitude did Adeline throw herself at the feet of that angel who seemed to have been sent from above to teach her that there was hope for even the greatest criminal, and that "there is more joy in heaven over the repentance of one sinner than over ninety-nine just persons who need no repentance!"
    "You ask me not to leave you  not to abandon you," said Eliza: "such an idea never entered my mind. Where the plague rages, there should the physician be; and if the physician fly away through fear of infection, he is unworthy to exercise an honourable calling. For it is not the healthy who require his services. And if the rich man offer alms to those who are as wealthy as himself, his charity becomes a mere mockery, because it is only offered where he knows it will be refused. No  it is the abodes of misery which he should visit; and it is amongst those who need his assistance that he should dispense his bounty. I fear not, Adeline, that I shall be endangered by the infection which has so unhappily seized upon you: on the contrary, I hope to eradicate from your heart the seeds of the pestilence of sin! And it is also you who require the alms of sympathy and solace; for you must be very  very wretched! Do not think, then, that I will desert you: oh! no-the more guilty, the more miserable you are, the stronger shall be the bond that unites me to your interests!"
    This was the holy and touching language with which Eliza Sydney sought to move the heart of Lady Ravensworth to penitence.
    Could such wholesome means fail of success?
    No:  and Adeline felt rejoiced that her secret had become known to one who availed herself of that knowledge for such excellent purposes!
    The comprehensive mind of Eliza Sydney enabled her to embrace at a glance all the new difficulties which the crime of Adeline had conjured up. Eliza's aim, as before stated, was to take such effectual steps to stop the guilty career of Vernon. that the heir of Ravensworth should be entirely freed from any farther peril at the hands of his unnatural uncle. But the very same moment that ruined Vernon and his atrocious assistant, might bring destruction upon Adeline; for when the strong grasp of the law once fixed itself on Tidkins, there was no guarantee that he would not, in his rage, reveal the terrible mystery respecting the fate of Lydia Hutchinson.
    This chance was duly weighed by Eliza Sydney; but she conceived a plan to save Adeline from the overwhelming consquences of such an exposure.
    What this project was will be explained hereafter:  suffice it for the present to say that it obviated the necessity of any change in the policy already adopted to defeat and punish Gilbert Vernon and Tidkins; and that Adeline gratefully assented to the conditions which it involved.
    A far more embarrassing subject for immediate consideration presented itself to the mind of Eliza Sydney. This was how to advise Lady Ravensworth to act in respect to the requisition made by Gilbert Vernon, and so energetically backed by Anthony Tidkins, relative to her presence in the drawing and dining rooms. But at length Eliza decided upon recommending Adeline to yield in this instance.
    "You will suffer too much in exposing yourself, by refusal, to the menaces and constant persecutions of Anthony Tidkins," said Eliza; "and moreover, we must remain faithful to our plan of not allowing Vernon to suspect that his plots are being met by counter-schemes. I shall always be with you when you are compelled to endure his presence; and therefore it will be better thus to humour him."
    "I shall be guided by you in all things," returned Adeline.
    She accordingly presided at the dinner-table that very evening:  and thus was the promise, made by the Resurrection Man to his employer, fulfilled to the letter.
    During the repast, Vernon endeavoured to ingratiate himself as much as possible with the two ladies: but Adeline was too unhappy even to affect any feeling beyond cold politeness; and Eliza Sydney was only distantly courteous.
    Coffee was served in the drawing-room; and afterwards the ladies withdrew to their own apartments.
    "One grand point is at least gained," said Vernon to himself, when he was alone: "my amiable sister-in-law has been forced to leave her nest! In a day or two I must ask to see the child. But with what spell Tidkins effected this change in Adeline's conduct, I am at a loss to imagine!"
    ***
    That night, at eleven o'clock, Eliza Sydney stole from the mansion, Adeline and Quentin being alone cognisant of her proceeding.
    [-335-] In the garden she met the faithful valet, who was provided with a drag, a mattock, a spade, and a sack.
    They repaired together to the field in which was the pond where the remains of Lydia Hutchinson were concealed.
    Quentin, who had purposely reconnoitred the vicinity in the afternoon, proceeded to dig a grave in a spot where there was no grass, and at a distance of about twenty yards from the water.
    This labour occupied an hour; and, when it was concluded, he proceeded with Eliza to the pond.
    The drag was used successfully; and the corpse was drawn to land. It was then wrapped in a large sheet which Eliza had brought for the purpose, and carried to the grave hollowed to receive it.
    Eliza breathed a prayer for the soul of her whose remains were denied Christian sepulture, while Quentin threw back the soil. The superfluous earth was conveyed in the sack to the pond; and thus all traces of this hurried burial disappeared.
    Eliza and Quentin then returned to the mansion.
    On the following morning, after breakfast, Eliza Sydney walked out alone, and repaired to a grove at a short distance from the mansion.
    A cab, containing two persons, drove up to the same spot a few moments afterwards; and Filippo, having leapt out, assisted Malkhatoun to alight.
    Eliza immediately joined them; and they all three entered the grove together.
    When they had proceeded so far as to be beyond the range of the cab-driver's hearing, Eliza stopped, and, addressing herself to Malkhatoun, said, "I hope that you understand enough of the English tongue to be able to converse with me for a few minutes upon a most important subject?"
    "I am well acquainted with your language, lady," was the reply, spoken with singular accuracy for an oriental foreigner.
    "Now listen to me attentively," continued Eliza: "I have read in some book of eastern travel that the inhabitants of Asia Minor, Georgia, and Circassia, possess the art of steeping the tobacco-leaf in a poison of such a nature that it undermines the constitution of him who uses the plant so treated."
    "It is perfectly correct, lady," answered Malkhatoun; "and the operation of steeping the plant in the opiatic poison is chiefly performed by the female slaves."
    "Have you ever seen the process?" inquired Eliza.
    "Frequently," was the reply. "My father was a Georgian chief,"  and as she spoke, tears started into her eyes:  "he had many slaves, and they prepared the tobacco which he purposely left in his tents, when the Persian invaders drove him from them. To poison your enemies thus, is not deemed a dishonourable mode of warfare in Georgia."
    "Should you recognise tobacco so prepared, were you to see it?" asked Eliza.
    "Instantaneously, lady, on the application of fire," replied Malkhatoun; "for the poison used is of so peculiar a nature that its qualities are only put into action by means of fire. The most skilful chemist cannot discover its presence in tobacco, unless he light the weed and inhale the perfume of the vapour."
    The idea of such a circumstance struck me also," observed Eliza.
    As she spoke, she produced from her reticule a small galley-pot containing some of the late Lord Ravensworth's tobacco: then she drew forth a box of lucifer-matches.
    Malkhatoun held the galley-pot, while Eliza procured a light; and the flame was then applied to the tobacco.
    The beautiful Georgian immediately inhaled the vapour, and said, "Lady, this tobacco is so strongly impregnated with the poison, that were the strongest man to indulge freely in its use for a few months, he would sink into the tomb."
    "It is as I suspected," murmured Eliza.
    "Tobacco thus poisoned," continued Malkhatoun, "possesses properties of so fascinating a nature, that he who smokes it becomes irresistibly attached to it; and I have heard it said in Georgia, that men labouring under incurable maladies, or those whose life is burthensome to them, have voluntarily whiled away their existence by the use of the poisoned weed."
    "I thank you sincerely for this explanation," said Eliza. "And now, pardon me if I speak a few words concerning yourself  for it is with a good motive. When you mentioned the name of your father, tears started into your eyes."
    "My poor father was slain in the battle which made me and several other Georgian females the prisoners of the Persian conquerors, against whom my sire rose in rebellion," answered Malkhatoun. "I was sent to Teflis, and sold as a slave to a Turkish merchant, who carried me to Constantinople, where I was purchased for an English nobleman. I wept ere now, lady, because I have a mother, and brothers, and sisters living in my native land; and my heart yearns towards them."
    "And would you be pleased, my poor girl, to return to Georgia?" asked Eliza, the tears trickling down her cheeks  for Malkhatoun's voice was soft and plaintive as she told her artless tale.
    "I would give half the years that remain to me to embrace my dear mother and brothers and sisters once more," replied Malkhatoun.
    You shall return to them  Oh! you shall return to them with as little delay as possible," exclaimed Eliza. "In the course of this day I will transmit by post to you, Filippo, a draft upon my banker to supply the means for this poor girl to go back to her native hand."
    "And it shall be my duty, madam, to see her safely on board the first ship that sails for the Levant," said Filippo.
    Malkhatoun could scarcely believe her ears; but when she saw that Eliza was really in earnest, she threw herself at the feet of her benefactress, whose hand she covered with her kisses and her tears.
    Eliza hastened to raise her from that posture, and when the now happy Georgian became composed, they all three retraced their steps to the cab.
    Malkhatoun and Filippo returned to London; and Eliza retraced her way to Ravensworth Hall.
    Nor did she forget her promise to Malkhatoun.; and two days afterwards the fair Georgian embarked at Gravesend on board a ship bound the Levant.

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