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[-102-]

CHAPTER XXXVII.

THE LAPSE OF TWO YEARS

SHAKSPEARE said, "All the world is a stage;" we say, "All the world is an omnibus."
    The old and young - the virtuous and wicked - the rich and the poor, are invariably thrown and mixed up together; and yet their interests are always separate. Few stretch out a hand to help a ragged or decrepit man into the vehicle; and the well-dressed draw back and avert their heads as the impoverished wretch forces his way with difficulty past them up to the vacant seat in the farthest corner. The moment a well-dressed individual mounts the steps of the omnibus, every hand is thrust out to help him in, and the most convenient seat is instantaneously accorded to him. And then the World's omnibus hurries along. stopping occasionally at the gates of a church-yard to put down one of its passengers, and calling at some palace or some cottage indiscriminately to fill up the vacant seat.
    Away - away thunders the World's omnibus again, crushing the fairest flowers of the earth in its progress, and frequently choosing rough, dreary, and unfrequented roads in preference to paths inviting, even, and pleasant. Sometimes, by the caprice of the passengers, or by the despotic commands of the masters of the World's omnibus, the beggar and the rich man change garments and places; and then the former becomes the object of deference and respect, while the latter is treated with contempt and scorn. In the World's omnibus might makes right ;- but cunning frequently secures a more soft and comfortable seat than either.
    If a dispute ensues, and the question at issue is referred to the conductor for arbitration, he glances at the personal appearance of the complainant and defendant, and decides in favour of him who wears the better coat. When stones or other impediments obstruct the way of the World's omnibus, the poor and the ragged passengers are commanded to alight and clear them away; and yet, when the vehicle stops for dinner at the inn by the way side, the well-dressed and the affluent appropriate to themselves the luxuries, while those who cleared away the stones and who grease the wheels, get only a sorry crust - and sometimes nothing at all.
    And then, away - away the World's omnibus goes again, amidst noise, dust, and all variations of weather. In the inclement seasons extra garments are given to the well-dressed and the rich but none to the ragged and the poor: - on the contrary, their very rags and tatters are frequently taken from them to pay the prices of the hard crusts at the road-side inns. So goes the World's omnibus; and the moment the driver and conductor, who are its masters and owners, are deposited in their turn at the gates of some cemetery, their sons succeed them, whether competent or not - whether infants in swaddling-clothes, or old men [-103-] in their dotage. And few - very few of those drivers know how to bold the reins ;- and thus is it that the World's omnibus is frequently hurried at a thundering rate over broken ground, even unto the very verge of some precipice, down which it would be inevitably dashed, did not some bold intrepid passenger emerge from his obscurity in the corner, rush upon the box, hurl the incompetent driver from his seat, and assume the reins in his stead. But mark the strange opinions of those who journey in the World's omnibus! The passengers, instead of being grateful to him who has thus rescued them from ruin, pronounce him the usurper of a seat to which he has no hereditary claim, and never rest till they have succeeded in displacing him, and restoring the incompetent driver to his function.
    So goes the World's omnibus! None of the passengers are ever contented with their seats even though they may have originally chosen those seats for themselves. This circumstance leads to a thousand quarrels and mean artifices; and constant shiftings of positions take place. One passenger envies the seat of another; and, when he has succeeded in working his way into it, he finds to his surprise that it is not so agreeable as he imagines, and he either wishes to get back to his old one or to shove himself into another. The passengers in the World's omnibus are divided into different sects and parties, each party professing certain opinions for the authority of which they have no better plea than "the wisdom of their forefathers." Thus one party hates and abhors another; and each confidently imagines itself to be in the right, and all other parties to be in the wrong. And for those differences of opinion the most sanguinary broils ensue ; and friendship, honour, virtue, and integrity are all forgotten in the vindictive contention.
    But the World's omnibus rolls along all the same and the Driver and Conductor laugh at the contests amongst the passengers, which they themselves have probably encouraged, and which somehow or another always turn to their individual benefit in the long run.
    So goes the World's omnibus ;- so it has always hurried onwards;- and in like manner will it ever go!
    Oh! say not that Time his a leaden wing while it accompanies the World's omnibus on its way!
    Two years elapsed from the date of the Old Bailey trials decribed in preceding chapters.
    It was now the beginning of December, 1837.
    The morning was dry, fine, and bright the ground was as hard as asphalte; and the air was pure, cold, and frosty.
    From an early hour a stout, elderly man well wrapped up in a large great coat, and with a worsted "comforter" coming up to his very nose, which was of a purple colour with the cold -  was seen walking up and down the front of the Giltspur Street Compter, apparently dividing his attention between the prison entrance and the clock of Saint Sepulchre's church.
    At a quarter to ten o'clock, on that same morning, a private carriage, without armorial bearings upon the panels, and attended by two domestics whose splendid liveries were concealed beneath drab great-coats, drove up to the door of the house inhabited by the Governor of Newgate. Inside that carriage was seated a lady - wrapped up in the most costly firs, and with a countenance whose beauty were enhanced by the smile of pleasure and satisfaction which illuminated it.
    Previously as the clock of Saint Sepulchre's Church struck ten, the doors of the Compter and Newgate opened simultaneously, and with a similar object.
    From the Compter issued Richard Markham:-  the portal of Newgate gave freedom to Eliza Sydney.
    They were both restored to liberty upon the same day - the terms of their imprisonment dating from the commencement of the sessions during which they were tried.
    The moment Richard set foot in the street, he was caught in the arms of the faithful Whittingham, who welcomed him with a kind of paternal affection, and whimpered over him like a child.
    Eliza Sydney entered the carriage awaiting her at the door of Newgate, and was clasped to the bosom of Mrs. Arlington. The vehicle immediately drove rapidly away in a north-easterly direction.
    "Mr. Monroe is waiting for you at your own house at Holloway," said Whittingham to his young master, when the first ebullition of joy was over. "He has been ailing lately - and he thought that this happy and fortitudinous event would be too much for his nerves."
    "Let us make haste home, my excellent friend," observed Markham. "I am dying to behold once more the haunts of my childhood."
    Whittingham summoned a cab; and he and his young master were soon rolling along the road which led to home.
    Two years' imprisonment had produced a great effect upon Richard Markham. The intellectual cast and faultless beauty of his countenance still remained; but the joyous expression, natural to youth, had fled for ever; and in its place was a settled melancholy which proclaimed an early and intimate acquaintance with misfortune. His spirit was broken; but his principles were not undermined :- his heart was lacerated to its very core, but his integrity remained intact. Even though the gate of his prison had closed behind him, he could not shake off the idea that his very countenance proclaimed him to be a Freed Convict.
   
At length the cab reached Markham Place.
    Richard glanced, with a momentary gleam of satisfaction upon his pale countenance, towards the hill on which stood the two trees - the rallying point for the brothers who had separated, more than six years back, beneath the foliage. Tears started to his eyes; and the ray of sunshine upon his brow gave place to a cloud of deep and sombre melancholy. He thought of what he was when he bade adieu to his brother at that period, and what he was at the present moment. Then all was blooming and encouraging in his path; and now he felt as if the mark of Cain was upon him!
    He alighted from the vehicle, and entered the library, where Mr. Monroe awaited him. He and his guardian were at length alone together.
    But how altered was Monroe since Richard had last seen him! His form was bowed down, his countenance was haggard, his eyes were sunken and his brow was covered with wrinkles. He glanced furtively end anxiously around him the instant the young man entered the room; and instead of hastening forward to welcome him, he sank upon a chair, covering his face with his hands. The tears trickled through his fingers; and his breast was convulsed with deep sobs.
    "In the name of heaven, what ails you, sir?" demanded Richard
    "My boy - you have come back at last", exclaimed the old gentleman, scarcely able to articu-[-104-]late a wind, through the bitterness of his grief;- "and the much-dreaded day has at length arrived!"
    "Much-dreaded day," repeated Markham, in unfeigned astonishment. "I should have thought, sir," he added coldly, "that you, who professed yourself so convinced of my innocence, would have received me with a smile of welcome!"
    "My dear - dear boy," gasped the old man, "God knows I am rejoiced to hail your freedom; and that same Almighty power can also attest to my sincere conviction of your innocence. Believe me, I would go through fire and water to serve you,- I would lay down my life, miserable and valueless as it is, to benefit you ;- but, oh! I cannot - cannot support your presence!"
    And the old gentlemen seemed absolutely convulsed with agony as he spoke.
    "I presume," said Richard, leaning over him, so as to be enabled to whisper its his ear, although there was no-one else at hand to listen,- "I presume that you scorn the man who has been convicted of felony? It is natural, sir - it is natural; but such a demonstration of aversion is not the less calculated to wound one who never injured you."
    "No, - no, Richard; you never injured me; and that makes me feel the more acutely now. But - hear me. I take God to witness that I love you as my own son, and that I am above such unnatural conduct as that which you would impute to me."
    "My God!" cried Markham, impatiently, "what does all this mean? Are you ill? Has anything unpleasant occurred? If so, we will postpone all discussion upon my affairs until a period more agreeable to yourself."
    As Markham uttered these words, he gently disengaged the old man's hands from his countenance, and pressed them in his own. He was then for the first time struck by the altered and care-worn features of his guardian; and without thinking of the effect his words might produce, he exclaimed, "My dear sir, you have evidently been very - very ill!"
    "Ill!" cried the old man, bitterly. " When the mind suffers, the body is sympathetically affected; and this has been my case! If you have suffered much Richard, during the last two years - so have I; and we have both only the same consolation - our innocence!"
    "You speak in enigmas," ejaculated Markham. "What can you have to do with innocence or guilt - you who never wronged a human being ?"
    So strange became the expression of the old man's countenance, as Richard uttered these words, that the young man was perfectly astonished, and almost horrified; and undefined alarms floated through his brain. He was in a painful state of suspense; and yet he was afraid to ask a question.
    "Richard!" suddenly exclaimed the old man, now looking our hero fixedly arid fearlessly in the face, "I have a terrible communication to make to you."
    "A terrible communication!" repeated Markham : "is it in respect to my brother? If so, do not keep me in suspense - let me know the worst at once - I can bear anything but suspense!"
    "I have never heard from nor of your brother," answered Mr. Monroe; "and cannot say whether he is dead or living."
    "Thank God, you have nothing terrible to communication relative to him," exclaimed Markham ; for he always had and still entertained a presentiment that the appointment on the hill, beneath the two trees, would be punctually kept ;- and this hope had cheered him during his horrible imprisonment.
    "But I will not keep you in suspense, Richard," said the old man; "it is better for me to unburthen my mind at once. You are ruined!"
    "Ruined! said Markham starting as that dread word fell upon his ears; for the word ruin does not express one evil, like other words such as sickness, poverty, imprisonment; but it comprises and expresses an awful catalogue of all the miseries which can be supposed to afflict humanity. "Ruined!" he cried ;- then catching at a straw, he added, "Aye! ruined in reputation, doubtless; but rich in the possessions which this world principally esteems. My property was all vested in you by my deceased father - I was not of age when I was condemned - and consequently the law could not touch my fortune when it filched from me my good name!"
    "Ruined - ruined in property and all!" returned Mr. Monroe, solemnly. "Unfortunate speculations on my part, but in your interest, have consumed the vast property entrusted to me by your father!"
    Markham fell into an arm chair; and for a moment he thought that every fibre in his heart would break. A terrible load oppressed his chest and his brain ;- he was the victim of deep despair. As one look, forth into the darkness of midnight, and sees it dense and motionless, so did he now survey his own prospects The single consolation which, besides the hope of again meeting his brother,- the real, the present, the tangible consolation, as it might be called, which would have enabled him to forget a portion of his sufferings and his wrongs - this was now gone; and, a beggar upon the face of the earth, he found that he bed not even the advantage of a good name to help him onwards in his career. Hope was quenched within him!
    A long pause ensued.
    At its expiration Markham suddenly rose from the arm-chair, approached his guardian, and said in a low and hollow voice, "Tell me how all this has happened: let me know the circumstances which led to this calamity."
    "They are brief," said Monroe, "and will convince you that I am more to be pitied than blamed. Long previous to your unfortunate trial, I commenced a series of speculations with my own property, all of which turned out unhappily. The year 1832 was a fatal one to many old-established houses; and mine was menaced with absolute ruin. In an evil hour I listened to the advice of a Mr. Allen, a merchant who had been reduced by great losses in America trading; and by his counsel. I employed a small portion of your property with the view of recovering my own, and augmenting your wealth at the same time. Allen acted as my agent in these new speculations. At first we were eminently successful: I speedily released myself from difficulty, and doubled the sum that I had borrowed from your fortune. At the beginning of 1836 Mr. Allen heard of a gentleman who required the loan of a considerable sum of money to work a patent which was represented to be a perfect mine of gold. Mr. Allen and I consulted upon the eligibility of embarking money in this enterprise: in a word, we were dazzled by the immense advantages to be derived from the speculation. At that time - it was shortly after your trial and sentence, Richard  - I was ill and confined to my bed. Mr. Allen therefore managed this for me; and it is an extraordinary fact that I have never once seen the [-105-]

individual to whom I lent an enormous sum of money - for I did advance the sum required by that person; and I drew largely upon your fortune to procure it! Oh! Richard - had this speculation succeeded, I should have been a wealthy man once more, and your property would have been more than doubled. But, alas! this individual to whom I advanced that immense amount, and whose securities I had fancied unexceptionable, defrauded me in the most barefaced manner! And yet the law could not touch him, for he had contrived to associate Allen's name with his own as a partner in the enterprise. Rendered desperate by this appalling loss, I embarked in the moat extravagant speculations with the remainder of your money. The infatuation of the gambler seized upon me: end I never stopped until the result was ruin - total ruin to me and comparative ruin to you!"
    "Comparative ruin - only comparative ruin!" ejaculated Markham, his countenance suddenly brightening up at these words: "is there any thing left from the wrecks of my property - is there any thing available still remaining ? Speak ;- and if you answer me in the affirmative - if you announce the existence of never so small a pittance, I will yet forgive you all!"
    "This house and the small estate attached to it are left," answered the old man, "and totally unincumbered. I neither could nor would touch your paternal possessions."
    Markham felt indescribable relief from this statement; and he wrung his guardian's hand with the same gratitude which he would have shown had he that day received his inheritance entire.
    "Thank God, I am not totally ruined! " cried Markham. "I can at least bury myself in this re-[-106-]treat ; - I can daily ascend that hill where the memorials of fraternal affection stand ; - and I can there hope for the return of my brother! My dears sir, what has been done cannot be recalled: reproaches, even were I inclined to offer any, would be useless; and regrets would be equally unavailing. This estate will produce me a small income - but enough for my wants. Two hundred pounds a-year are certainly a beggar's pittance, when compared with the inheritance which my father left me ;- but I am still grateful that even the means of subsistence are left. And you, Mr. Monroe - upon what are you subsisting?"
    " I still attend to the wrecks of my affairs," replied the old man; "and then I have my daughter Ellen - who earns a little with her needle —"
    "You shall come and take up your abode with me - you and your daughter - and share my income," interrupted the generous young man, who saw not before him an individual that had deprived him of a large fortune, but an old - old man, bent down by the weight of numerous and deep afflictions.
    Monroe wept at this noble conduct on the part of his ward, and strenuously refused to accept the proffered kindness and hospitality. Markham urged, begged, and entreated ;- but the old man would not accede to his wish.
    "You have not told me what became of your friend Mr. Allen," said Richard, after a pause.
    "He was an honourable and an upright man," was the reply; "and the ruin which he had been the means of entailing, though innocently, upon me, broke his heart. He died three months ago."
    "And what became of the infamous cheat whose schemes have thus killed one person and ruined two others?"
    "I know not," answered Mr. Monroe. "I never saw him myself; nor did he even know that there was such a person as myself connected with the loan which he received. Certain commercial reasons - too long to be explained now - made me put forward Allen as the person who advanced the money, and conducted the entire business as a principal, and not as an agent. Thus no communication ever took place between me and this George Montague."
    "George Montague! " ejaculated Richard.
    "Yes - he was the villain who has plundered us."
    "George Montague again !" murmured Richard, as he paced the room with hurried and uneven steps. " Why is it that this name should constantly obtrude itself upon my notice? wherefore should I be perpetually condemned to hear it uttered, and always coupled with epithets of abhorrence and reproach? and why should I be amongst the number of that miscreant's victims? Strange combination of circumstances! "
    "Are you acquainted with this Montague?" demanded his guardian: "the name seemed to produce a singular effect upon you."
    "I am not acquainted with him: like you, I have never even seen him," said Markham. "But I have heard much concerning him; and all that I have heard is evil. Surely - surely justice will some day overtake a miscreant who is constantly preying upon society, and who enriches himself at the expense of his fellow-creatures' happiness! "
    Some time longer was devoted to conversation upon topics of interest to Markham and his guardian; and when the former had partially succeeded in tranquillising the mind of the latter, the old man was suffered to take his departure.

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