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[-391-]

CHAPTER CCL.

 EGERTON'S LAST DINNER PARTY.

We have already stated that Egerton was deeply affected by the result of the imposture which he had practised upon his relations. During the drive back to London, his four friends  Dunstable, Cholmondeley, Harborough, and Chichester  vainly endeavoured to rally him: he wan silent and thoughtful, and replied only in monosyllables.
    On their arrival at Stratton Street, Egerton took leave of his friends at the door without inviting them to enter; but they were not so easily disposed of. They urged him to accompany them to some place of amusement: he remained inaccessible to their solicitations, and firmly declared his intention of passing the remainder of the evening alone.
    They were at length compelled to leave him  consoling themselves with the hope that he would "sleep off his melancholy humour," and rise in the morning as pliant and ductile in their hands as ever.
    The four gentlemen had not long departed, when Major Anderson called at the house; and having represented to the servant that his object was an affair of some importance, he was admitted into the drawing-room where Egerton was lying upon the sofa.
    "At length I find you alone, Mr. Egerton," said the Major. "I have called every evening for the last few days, and have never until now been fortunate enough to learn that you were at home."
    "To what am I to attribute the honour of this visit?"' asked the young man, whom it struck that he had seen the Major before-but when or where he could not really, for the life of him, remember.
    "Pardon me if, ere I reply to that question, I pause to observe that you survey me with some attention," said Anderson; "and I can divine what is passing in your mind. You think that my features are not altogether unknown to you? I believe this to be the case-for you have seen me before. Indeed I should have begun by thanking you  most gratefully thanking you for that generous intention on your part which was interrupted at the door of the St. James's Club House  "
    "Ah! I recollect now!" cried Egerton, at once starting up from his hitherto reclining position. "But  "
    "Again I can read what is passing in your mind," observed the Major, with a smile; "and I can appreciate the delicacy which made you thus stop short. You notice the change that has taken place in my appearance? Yes  my circumstances are indeed altered; and from a wandering mendicant, I have become a gentleman once more. But that change has been effected by the very individual whose interposition on that night to which I have just now alluded, prevented you exercising your intended benevolence towards me."
    "And that individual was the Prince of Montoni," said Egerton.
    "Oh! then, I perceive, you very possibly know him by sight-"
    "I knew him not, otherwise than by name, until that evening," interrupted Egerton; "and it was from Sir Robert Harborough and Mr. Chichester that I learnt who the stranger was."
    "Ah! his Highness has good cause to remember them also!" cried Anderson, to whom the Prince had related his entire history a day or two previously.
    "Indeed," exclaimed Egerton, "I now recollect that they seemed alarmed at his presence, and mentioned his name with trepidation."
    "Well might they do so!" said the Major, indignantly. "But the Prince himself will explain to you those particulars to which I allude."
    "The Prince  explain to me!" cried Egerton.
    "Yes; my object in calling upon you is to request that you will either visit the Prince as soon as convenient, or appoint a day and an hour when his Highness may visit you."
    "Oh! I should be indeed joyful to form the acquaintance of that illustrious hero of whom every Englishman must feel proud!" exclaimed Egerton, with the enthusiasm that was natural to him. "Valour, integrity, and the most unbounded humanity are associated with the name of Richard Markham. But upon what business can the Prince be desirous to honour me with his acquaintance?"
    "That his Highness will himself explain," was the reply. "What hour will you appoint for tomorrow to wait upon the Prince at his own residence?"
    "I will be there punctually at mid-day," answered Egerton.
    "And in the meantime," said Major Anderson after a moment's hesitation, "it will be as well you do not mention to those persons with whom you are intimate, the appointment which you have made."
    "I understand you, sir," rejoined Egerton: "it shall be as you suggest."
    The Major then took his leave; and Egerton  who entertained a faint suspicion of the object which the Prince had in view  received consolation from the idea that his illustrious fellow country [-392-] man experienced some degree of interest in his behalf.
    That suspicion was engendered by the known philanthropy and anxiety to do good which characterised Markham; by the allusion made by Anderson to certain explanations which the Prince intended to give relative to Harborough and Chichester; and also by the injunction of secrecy in respect to the appointment that had been made.
    Well knowing that his four friends would not fail to visit him early next day,  and determined that they should not interfere with his visit to one whose acquaintance he so ardently desired to form,  Egerton repaired to an hotel, where he passed the night.
    On the following morning he was greatly surprised, and to some extent shocked, to read in the newspaper the tidings of the fearful conflagration which had not only destroyed Ravensworth Hall, but in which the lady who owned the mansion had herself perished.
    "And there likewise is entombed the mystery of the dead body!" said Egerton, as he laid aside the paper.
    His toilette was performed with great care; and, punctual to the moment, the young man knocked at the door of Markham Place.
    He was conducted into an elegantly furnished apartment, where the Prince advanced to receive him in a most kind and affable manner.
    "You will perhaps imagine that I have taken a very great liberty with you, Mr. Egerton," said Richard, "in requesting you to call upon me in this manner; but when you are made acquainted with my motives in seeking the present interview, you will give me credit for the most sincere disinterestedness. In a word, I consider it to be my duty to warn you against at least two of those persons who call themselves your friends."
    "My lord, I was not unprepared for such an announcement," said Egerton, in a deferential manner.
    "Then is my task the more easy," exclaimed Richard. "I allude to Sir Rupert Harborough and Mr. Chichester, the latter of whom assumes the distinction of Honourable."
    "And is be not of noble birth, my lord?" inquired Egerton.
    "He is the son of a tradesman," answered Markham. "But that is no disgrace in my estimation: far from it! The industrious classes are the pillars of England's greatness; and I for one would rather walk arm-in-arm along the most fashionable thoroughfare with the honest mechanic or upright shopkeeper, than boast of intimacy even with a King who is unworthy of esteem and respect."
    Egerton surveyed with unfeigned admiration the individual from whose lips these noble sentiments emanated  sentiments the more noble, inasmuch as they were expressed by one whose rank was so exalted, and who stood so high above his fellow-men.
    "Yes," continued Markham, "your friend Mr. Chichester is one of those impostors who assume title and distinction as well to aid their nefarious courses as to gratify their own grovelling pride. I do not speak with malignity of that man  although I once suffered so much through him: for were he to seek my forgiveness, heaven knows how readily it would be accorded. Neither is it to gratify any mean sentiment of revenge that I now warn you against these two individuals. My present conduct is dictated by a sense of duty, and by an ardent desire to save a young and confiding young man, as I believe you to be, from the snares of unprincipled adventurers."
    "Oh! now a light breaks in upon me," exclaimed Egerton; "and I recognise in the actions of those, whom I lately deemed my friends, all the designing intrigues to which your Highness alludes! Fool that I was to be thus deceived!"
    "Rather thank heaven that the means of redemption have arrived ere it be too late," said the Prince, impressively; "for I can scarcely believe, from all I have heard concerning you, that your affairs are in a state of ruin which admits of no hope."
    "Your Highness argues truly," exclaimed Egerton: "I have yet sufficient resources remaining to furnish me with the means of an honourable livelihood."
    "Then you need scarcely regret the amount you have paid for the purchase of experience," said the Prince. "But allow me to place in your hands proofs of the iniquity of Sir Rupert Harborough and his friend. Behold these two documents! They contain the narrative of as foul a scheme of turpitude as ever called the misdirected vengeance of the law upon an innocent victim. The first of these papers is the confession of an engraver whom Harborough and Chichester made the instrument of that project which at one time covered my name with so dark a cloud. You seem astonished at what I say? Oh! then you are ignorant of that episode in my chequered life."
    "Never have I heard rumour busy with your Lordship's name, save to its honour and glory," observed Egerton, in a tone of convincing sincerity.
    "Peruse these papers  they will not occupy you many minutes," returned our hero, after a temporary pause. "The second document, which I now hand you, only came into my possession this morning: it was signed yesterday afternoon, by Sir Rupert Harborough and Mr. Chichester  "
    "Yesterday afternoon, my lord!" cried Egerton. "Those gentlemen were in my company  at a short distance from London  "
    "At Ravensworth Park," said Richard, with a smile. "You see that I know all. It was indeed at that very mansion  which, as you are doubtless aware, was reduced to ashes during the night-that this confession was drawn up and signed by your two friends. The engraver, whose name is appended to the first of those papers, was led by accident to Ravensworth Hall; and there he encountered the two adventurers who had once made him their instrument  their vile tool! He compelled them to draw up and sign that second paper, which you hold in your hands, and which, through gratitude for some trifling act of kindness that I was once enabled to show him, he obtained by working on their fears. Scarcely an hour has elapsed since I experienced the satisfaction of receiving that document from him; and my delight was enhanced by the conviction that he is now an honest-a worthy  and a prosperous member of society."
    Egerton perused the two confessions, and thereby obtained a complete insight into the real characters of Sir Rupert Harborough and Mr. Chichester. If any doubt had remained in his mind, this elucidation was even more than sufficient to convince him that he had only been courted by his fashionable friends [-393-] 

on account of his purse; and heartfelt indeed was the gratitude which he expressed towards the Prince for having thus intervened to save him from utter ruin.
    But how was that gratitude increased, and how profound became the young man's horror of the course which he had lately been pursuing, when Richard drew a forcible and deeply touching picture of the usual career of the gambler,  importing into the narrative the leading incidents of Major Anderson's own biography, without however specifying that gentleman's name,  and concluding with an earnest appeal to Egerton hence. forth to avoid the gaming-table, if he hoped to enjoy prosperity and peace.
    "Would you rush madly into a thicket where venomous reptiles abound?" demanded the Prince: "would you plunge of your own accord into a forest where the most terrible wild beasts are prowling?" would you, without a sufficient motive, leave the wholesome country and take up your abode in a plague stricken city? No: and it would be an insult to your understanding  to that intelligence with which God has endowed you  to put such questions to you, were it not for the purpose of conveying a more impressive moral. For the gaming-house is the thicket where reptiles abound  it is the forest where wild beasts prowl, ravenous after their prey  it is the city of pestilence into which one hurries from the salubrious air. Pause, then  reflect, my young friend,  and say whether the folly of the gambler be not even as great as his wickedness?"
    Egerton fell at our hero's feet: he seized the Prince's hand, and pressed it to his lips  covering it also with his tears.
    "You have converted me, my lord  you have saved me!" cried the young man, retrospecting with unfeigned horror upon the desperate career which he had lately been pursuing. "Oh! how can I express my gratitude? But you may read it in those tears which I now shed  tears of contrition for the past, and bright hopes for the future!"
    Richard raised the penitent from hie kneeling posture, saying, "Enough! I see that you are sincere. And now listen to the plan which I have conceived to shame the men who have been preying upon you; for such punishment is their due   and it may even be salutary."
    The Prince then unfolded his designs in this re-[-394-]spect to Egerton; but it is not necessary to explain them at present. Suffice it to say that the young man willingly assented to the arrangement proposed by one on whom he naturally looked as a saviour; and when the scheme was fully digested, our hero conducted his new friend into an adjoining apartment, where luncheon was served up.
    Egerton was then enabled to judge of the domestic happiness which always prevailed in that mansion where virtue, love, friendship and good-fellowship were the presiding divinities of the place.
    The faultless beauty of the Princess Isabella, the splendid charms of Ellen,  and the retiring loveliness of Katherine, fascinated him for a time; but as the conversation developed the amiability of their minds and evinced the goodness of their hearts, he learnt that woman possesses attractions far-far more witching, more permanent, enduring, and more endearing than all the heavenly boons which nature ever bestowed upon even their countenances or their forms!
    Old Monroe was present; and while he looked upon our hero with all the affection which a fond, father might bestow upon a son, the Prince on his part treated him with the respect which a good son manifests towards an honoured father. Between Markham, too, and Mario Bazzano the most sincere friendship existed: in a word, the bond which united that happy family was one that time could never impair.
    ***
    Three days after the event just recorded, Albert Egerton gave a dinner-party at his lodgings in Stratton Street.
    The guests were Lord Dunstable, Colonel Cholmondeley, Sir Rupert Harborough, and Mr. Chichester.
    The dinner-hour was seven; and, contrary to the usual arrangements, the table was spread in the drawing-room, instead of the dining-room, which was behind the former, folding doors communicating between the two magnificent apartments.
    Let us suppose the cloth to have been drawn, and the dessert placed upon the gorgeously-spred [-sic-] table.
    The wine circulated rapidly; and never had Egerton appeared in more animated and better spirits, nor more affably courteous towards his boon friends.
    "Well, I really began to suppose that you had determined to cut us altogether," said Dunstable, as he sipped his wine very complacently. "For three whole days we saw nothing of you  "
    "Have I not already assured you that I was compelled to pass that time with my relatives, in order to appease them after the exposure at Ravensworth?"' exclaimed Egerton, in an excited tone.
    "And we have therefore accepted the apology as a proper and valid one," observed Chichester, very coolly.
    "Upon my honour," said the baronet, "if I had known you were doing the amiable on Finsbury Pavement, I should have called just to help you, in your endeavours to regain the favour of those, excellent ladies."
    "I am afraid your reception would have been none of the best, Harborough," exclaimed Colonel Cholmondeley.
    "I must confess that the old lady was terribly enraged," said Egerton; "not only against me, but also against you all, as she looked upon you as my accomplices in the heartless cheat practiced on her."
    "Well, we must take same opportunity of making our peace in that quarter," observed Lord Dunstable. "I will send her a dozen of champagne and a Strasburg pie to-morrow, with my compliments. But what shall we do to pass away an hour or two!"
    "What shall we do?" repeated Chichester. "Why, amuse ourselves-as gentlemen of rank and fashion are always accustomed  eh Egerton?"
    "Oh! decidedly. I am willing to fall in with your views. You have been my tutor," he added, with a peculiar smile "and the pupil will not prove rebellious."
    "Well said, my boy!" cried Dunstable. "Have you your dice box handy?"
    "My rascal of a tiger has lost it," answered Egerton. "But I know that the baronet seldom goes abroad without the usual business implements."
    "Ah! you dog!" chuckled Sir Rupert, as if mightily amused by this sally. "You are, however, quite right; and I do not think that a any fashionable man about town should forget to provide himself with the means of. the most aristocratic of all innocent recreations. Upon my honour, that is my opinion."
    "Just what my friend the Duke of Highgate said the other day-even to the very words," exclaimed Dunstable.
    "How singular!,' observed the baronet, as he produced a box and a pair of dice.
    "By the by, Dunstable," said Egerton, "you promised to introduce me to his Grace."
    "So I did, my dear boy  and so I will. Let me see  I shall see the Duke on Monday, and I will make an appointment for him to join us at dinner somewhere."
    "The very thing," said Egerton: "I shall be quite delighted  particularly if his Grace be one of your own sort."
    "Oh! he is  to the utmost," returned Dunstable, who did not perceive a lurking irony beneath the tranquillity of Egerton's manner.
    "I am glad of that," continued the young man. "If I only knew three or four more such gay, dashing, good-hearted fellows as you all are, I should be as contented as possible. By the way, Chichester, I will tell you a very odd, curious thing."
    "Indeed! what is it?"' inquired that gentleman.
    "Oh! nothing more than a strange coincidence. Just this:  I told you that I had been staying a day or two with my respected aunt on the Pavement. Well, yesterday I wandered through the Tower Hamlets  merely for a ramble  and without any fixed purpose: but, as I was strolling down Brick Lane  a horrid, low, vulgar neighbourhood  "
    "Dreadful!" cried Chichester, sitting somewhat uneasily on his chair.
    "Oh! terrible  filthy, degrading," continued Egerton, emphatically. "You may therefore conceive my surprise when I perceived the aristocratic name of Chichester printed in huge yellow letters, shaded with brown, over a shop-front in that same Brick Lane."
    "How very odd!', ejaculated Chichester, filling himself a bumper of champagne.
    "Yes  but those coincidences of course do occur," said the baronet, who, after eyeing his [-395-] host suspiciously, saw nothing beneath his calm exterior to indicate a pointed object in raising the present topic.
    "And what made the thing more ludicrous," continued the young man, "was that over the aristocratic name of Chichester hung three dingy yellow balls."
    "Capital! excellent!" exclaimed the gentleman whom this announcement so particularly touched, and who scarcely knew how to cover his confusion.
    "Yes; I had a good laugh at the coincidence," said Egerton. "At the same time I know very well that there could be nothing in common between Mr. Chichester, the pawnbroker of Brick Lane, and the Honourable Arthur Chichester of the fashionable world."
    "I should hope not, indeed!" exclaimed Chichester, reassured by this observation.
    "Come-take the box, Egerton," said Sir Rupert Harborough.
    "Oh! willingly," replied the young man. "But we must play on credit, because I have no money in the house; and he who loses shall pay by cheque or note of hand."
    "With pleasure," said the baronet.
    The two gentlemen began to play; and Egerton lost considerably.
    He, however, appeared to submit with extraordinary patience and equanimity to his ill-luck, and continued to chatter in a gay and unusually jocular manner.
    "Seven's the main. Come, Dunstable, fill your glass: the wine stands with you. By the by, has your rascally steward sent you up your remittances yet! You know you were complaining to me about him the other day."
    "No  he is still a defaulter," returned the young nobleman, laughing.
    "And likely to continue so, I'm afraid," added Egerton. "But where is that estate of yours, old fellow!"
    "Oh! down in the country  "
    "Yes  I dare say it is. But where?" -
    "Why  in Somersetshire, to be sure. I thought you knew that," cried Dunstable, not altogether relishing either the queries themselves or the manner in which they were put.
    "That makes seven hundred I owe you, Harborough," said Egerton. "Do pass the wine, Chichester. Five's the main. Let me see  what were we talking about! Oh! I recollect  Dunstable's estate. And so it's in Somersetshire? Beautiful county! What is the name of the estate, my dear fellow!"
    "My own name  Dunstable Manor," was the reply; but the nobleman began to cast suspicious glances towards his friend.
    "Dunstable Manor  eh? What a sweet pretty name!" ejaculated Egerton. "And yet it is very strange  I know Somersetshire as well as any one can know a county; but I do not recollect Dunstable Manor. How foolish I must be to forget such a thing as that."
    With these words, he rose from the table and took down a large volume from the bookcase.
    "What are you going to do!" inquired Dunstable, now feeling particularly uneasy.
    "Only refreshing my memory by a reference to this Gazetteer," answered Egerton, as he deliberately turned over the pages of the book.
    "Oh! come-none of this nonsense!" exclaimed Dunstable, snatching the volume from Egerton's hands. "Whoever thinks of reading before company?"
    "It would be rude, I admit," said Egerton, recovering the volume from the other's grasp, "were we not such very particular and intimate friends  so intimate indeed, that we have one purse in common between us all five, and that purse happens to be the one which I have the honour to carry in my pocket."
    "Egerton, what's the matter with you?" demanded Lord Dunstable, who was now convinced more than ever that something was wrong.
    "Matter! nothing at all, my dear boy," answered the young man, as he continued to turn the leaves of the volume. "Here it is  Somersetshire  a very detailed account  not even the smallest farm omitted. But how is this? Why  Dunstable Manor is not here!"
    "Not there!" cried the nobleman, blushing pu [-sic-] to his very hair.
    "No-indeed it is not!" rejoined Egerton. "Now really this is a great piece of negligence on the part of the compiler of the work and if I were you, Dunstable, I would bring an action against him for damages; because, only conceive how awkward this would make you appear before persons of suspicious dispositions. Well  upon my honour, as the baronet says  this coincidence is almost as extraordinary as that of the pawnbroker in Brick Lane."
    While Egerton was thus speaking, his four friends exchanged significant glances which seemed to ask each other what all this could possibly mean.
    "Yes  suspicious people would be inclined to imagine that the Dunstable estate was in the clouds rather than in Somersetshire," proceeded Egerton, who did not appear to notice the confusion of his guests. "But the world is so very ill-natured! Would you believe that there are persons so lamentably scandalous as to declare that our friend Chichester is no more an Honourable than I am, and that he really is the son of the pawnbroker in Brick Lane?"
    "The villains!" cried Chichester, starting from his seat: "who are those persons that than dare  "
    "Wait one moment!" exclaimed Egerton: "it is my duty as a sincere friend to tell you each and all what I have heard. Those same scandalous and ill-natured people exceed all bounds of propriety; for they actually assert that Sir Rupert Harborough has for years been known an a profligate adventurer  "
    "By God, Mr. Egerton!" cried the baronet, "I-"
    "And they affirm in quite as positive a manner," continued the young man, heedless of this interruption, "that you,. Dunstable, and you too, Cholmondeley, are nothing more nor less than ruined gamesters."
    "Egerton," exclaimed the Colonel, foaming with indignation, "this is carrying a joke too far"
    "A great deal too far  a very great deal too far," added Dunstable.
    "It really is no joke at all, my lord and gentlemen," said the young man, now speaking in a tone expressive of the deepest disgust: "for every word I have uttered is firmly believed by myself!"
    By you!" cried the four adventurers, speaking as it were in one breath.
    "Yes-and by all the world," exclaimed Egerton, rising from his seat, sad casting indignant glances upon his guests.
    "This is too much!" said Cholmondeley; and, unable to restrain his passion, he rushed upon the young man, seized him by the collar, and would have [-396-] inflicted a severe chastisement on him had not assistance been at hand.
    But the door communicating with the dining room was suddenly thrown open, and the individual who now made his appearance, threw himself open Cholmondeley, tore him away from his hold upon Albert Egerton, and actually hurled him to the opposite side of the apartment.
    "The Prince of Montoni!" ejaculated Harborough, as he rushed towards the door, with Chichester close at his heels.
    But the Prince hastened to intercept them; and, leaning his back against the door, he exclaimed, "No one passes hence, at present. Mr. Egerton, secure these dice."
    Dunstable darted towards that part of the table where the dice lay; but Egerton had already obtained possession of them.
    Richard in the meantime locked the door, and put the key in his pocket.
    "Be he a king," cried Cholmondeley, who had caught the words uttered by the baronet, "he shall suffer for his conduct to me;"  and the Colonel advanced in a menacing manner towards the Prince
    "Beware, sir, how you place a finger on me!" cried Richard. "Approach another step nearer, and I will lay you at my feet!"
    The Colonel muttered something to himself, and retreated towards the folding-doors communicating with the dining-room; but there his way was interrupted by the presence of two stout men in plain clothes and two of Richard's servants in handsome liveries.
    "Let no one pass, Whittingham," said the Prince, "until our present business be accomplished."
    "No, my lord," answered the old butler, who was one of the stout men in plainclothes: then, having given the same instructions to the two servants in livery, Whittingham exclaimed in a loud tone, "And mind, my men, that you on no account let them sneaking willains Scarborough and Axminster defect their escape!"
    "My lord, what means this conduct on your part?" demanded Dunstable of the Prince. "By what authority do you detain us here as prisoners?"
    "Yes  by what authority?" echoed Cholmondeley, again stepping forward.
    "By that authority which gives every honest man a right to expose unprincipled adventurers who are leagued to plunder and rob an inexperienced youth," answered Richard, in a stern tone. "Mr. Egerton, give me those dice."
    This request was immediately complied with; and the other stout man in plain clothes now stepped forward from the dining-room.
    To the infinite dismay of Harborough and Chichester, they immediately recognised Pocock, who did not, however, take any notice of them; but producing a very fine saw from his pocket, he set to work to cut in halves one of the dice which Richard handed to him.
    The four adventurers now turned pale as death, and exchanged glances of alarm and dismay.
    "Behold, Mr. Egerton," said the Prince, after examining the die that had been sawed in halves, "how your false friends have been enabled to plunder you. Heaven be thanked that I am entirely ignorant of the disgraceful details of gamesters' frauds; but a child might understand for what purpose this die has been thus prepared."
    "Loaded, your Highness, is the technical term," observed Pocock. "That scoundrel there," pointing to Chichester, "once told me all about them things, at the time I was leagued with him and his baronet friend."
    "I hope your Highness will not make this affair public," said Lord Dunstable, his manner having changed to the most cringing meekness. "Egerton  you cannot wish to ruin me altogether?"
    "Would you not have ruined me?" inquired the young man, bitterly.
    "Oh! what a blessed day it is for me to be a high-witness of the disposure of them scoundrels Marlborough and Winchester!" ejaculated the old butler, rubbing his hands joyfully together. "Send 'em to Newgate, my lord  send 'em to Newgate  and then let 'em be disported to the spinal settlemints, my lord!"
    "Pray have mercy upon me  for the sake of my father and mother!" said Dunstable, whose entire manner expressed the most profound alarm. "Your Highness is known to possess a good heart  "
    "It is not to me that you must address yourself," interrupted Markham, in a severe tone. "Appeal to this young man whom you have basely defrauded of large sums  upon whom you have ben preying for weeks past-and whom you have tutored in the ways that lead to destruction:  appeal to him, I say  and not to me."
    "I am entirely in the hands of your Highness," observed Egerton, with a grateful glance towards the Prince.
    "Then we will spare these men, bad and unprincipled though they be," exclaimed Richard: "we will spare them  not for their own sakes, Egerton  but for yours. Were it known, through the medium of the details of a public prosecution, that you have been so intimately connected with a gang of cheats and depredators, your character would be irretrievably lost; for the world is not generous enough to pause and reflect that you were only a victim. Therefore, as you are determined to retrieve the past, it will be prudent to forego any criminal proceedings against those who have made you their dupe."
    Your Highness has spoken harshly  very harshly," said Lord Dunstable; "and yet I feel I have deserved all that vituperation. But this leniency with which your lordship has treated me-and your forbearance, Egerton  will not have been ineffectual. I now see the fearful brink upon which I stood  and I shudder; for had you resolved to drag me before a tribunal of justice, I would have avoided that last disgrace by means of suicide!"
    The young nobleman spoke with a feeling and an evident sincerity that touched both our hero and Egerton; but Cholmondeley turned away in disgust from his penitent friend, and Harborough exchanged a contemptuous look with Chichester.
    "Lord Dunstable," said Markham, in an impressive tone, "your conduct has been bad  very bad; but much of its blackness is already wiped away by this manifestation of regret and contrition. Do not allow that spark of good feeling to be extinguished  or destruction must await you. And above all, I conjure you to avoid the companionship of such men as those who have even now by their manner scoffed at your expressions of repentance."
    "Farewell, my lord," returned the young nobleman, tears trickling down his cheeks: "the events of this evening will never be forgotten by me. [-397-] Egerton, take this pocket-book: it contains the greater portion of the last sum of money that I borrowed of you; and I shall never know peace of mind, until I have restored all of which I have been instrumental in plundering you."
    With these words, Dunstable bowed profoundly to the Prince, and hurried from the room, without casting a single glance upon his late confederates in iniquity.
    "My lord, isn't Newgate to become more formiliarly [-sic-] acquainted with them scrape-graces Aldborough and Winchester?" asked the old butler, as soon as Dunstable had disappeared from the room.
    "Were it not that I had promised this honest and grateful man," said the Prince, turning towards the engraver, "that no criminal proceedings should be instituted on the document that he obtained from you, Sir Rupert Harborough, and from you also, Mr. Chichester, I should consider myself bound, in justice to myself and as a duty owing to society, to expose in a public tribunal the black artifices by which you once inveigled me into your toils. But for his sake  for the sake alike of his personal security and of the good character which he now enjoys  I must leave your punishment to your own consciences. And, though scoffing smiles may now mark time little weight which my prediction carries with it in respect to you, yet rest assured that the time will come when your misdeeds shall be visited with those penalties which it may seem wise to a just heaven to inflict."
    Having uttered these words, the Prince turned away, with undisguised aversion, from the two villains whom he had so impressively and solemnly addressed.
    They slunk out of the apartment, with chap-fallen countenances, while Whittingham followed them to the door of the dining-room, through which they passed, and conveyed to them the satisfactory intelligence that "if it had impended on him, they should have been confided with strong letters of communication to the governor of Newgate."
    As soon as they had departed, Colonel Cholmondely inquired in an insolent tone whether the Prince had any thing to say to him; but finding that Markham turned his back contemptuously upon him, he swaggered out of the room, muttering something about "satisfaction in another manner."
    Early time next morning, Mrs. Bustard received the following letter:-
    
    "King Square, Goswell Road.
    "Faithful to the promise which I made to you the day before yesterday, my dear aunt, I have quitted the West End, and am once more located in a quiet neighbourhood. Thank, to the kind interference of that most amiable and excellent nobleman the Prince of Montoni, and to the encouragement given me by your forgiveness of the deception which I so shamefully practised upon you, I have been completely awakened to the errors of my late mode of life. I shall pledge myself to nothing now; my future conduct will prove to you how effectually wise counsel and past experience have changed my habits, my inclinations, and my ideas. One thing, however, I may state on the present occasion: namely, that I am convinced there is no character so truly dangerous and so thoroughly unprincipled as the one who delights in the name of 'the man about town.'
    I must also declare that I yesterday handled the dice box for the last time. Much as I loathed the idea, after the dread warning which I received from the lips of the Prince, I nevertheless consented to play a last game  and it shall remain the last! But, start not, dear aunt  I did so by the desire of the Prince, and that I might induce one of my false friends to produce the dice which he always carried about with him. The result was as the Prince had anticipated: those dice were so prepared that it was no wonder if their owner was constantly a winner And had not the Prince known my repentance to be sincere, he would not for a moment have permitted me to touch those dice again  even though it were to accomplish an aim that might the more effectually expose the men by whom I was surrounded!
    "To the Prince my unbounded gratitude is due. He has saved me from utter ruin, and has advised me how to employ the remainder of my fortune so as to recover by my industry what I have lost by my folly. It appears that his august father-in-law, the sovereign of Castelcicala,  and who has set so good an example to the Italian States by giving a Constitution and a national representation to his own country,  has established a line of steam-packets between London and Montoni; and it is my Intention to trade between the two capitals. But the details of this project I will explain to you to-morrow, when I shall have the pleasure of calling upon you.
    Your affectionate Nephew,
    
    ALBERT EGERTON. "    

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