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[-111-]

CHAPTER XL.

THE SPECULATION.-AN UNWELCOME MEETING.

FIVE months elapsed; and in the middle of October Richard received an invitation to pass a few days at the abode of Count Alteroni.
    He contemplated change of scene with unfeigned delight, and lost no time in repairing to Richmond. 
    The count received him with the utmost cordiality the countess expressed a regret that he should wait to be solicited to honour them with his company; and Isabella's countenance wore a smile and a blush as she extended her hind towards him.
    "I was anxious to see you again," said the count, after dinner, before the ladies had retired, "if it were only to joke you about the fright into which you threw poor Bounce the last time you were here. Isabel apprehended a duel between you and Dapper; but we never could learn the origin of your dispute."
    " Indeed, I scarcely dreaded such an event," said Isabella; "for however capable Mr. Markham may be of fighting, I felt perfectly well convinced that Captain Dapper would not be induced to commit such a breach of the peace."
    "Our dispute was a mere trifle," said Markham; "and I am sorry it should have reached your ears."
    "The Trojan war sprung from a trifle," cried the count: " but these trifles are frequently very interesting."
    "The truth is," said Richard, "that I overheard Captain Dapper abuse me to his companion, heaven only knows why! Sir Cherry Bounce started away; and I was compelled to give the young officer a couple of boxes upon the ears to teach him courtesy in future."
    Isabella laughed heartily at this anecdote; and Markham felt indescribably happy when he thus received a convincing proof that the lovely Italian was in no way interested in that aspirant to her hand.
    "I shall not invite those gentlemen here very readily again," observed the count. "I thought that they would have helped to pass away the time agreeably; but one was such a fool, and the other such a fop, that I was really glad to get rid of them. However, I have now something else to occupy my attention."
    "The count is going to speculate in an English Company," said the countess. "We foreigners, you [-112-] know, Mr. Markham, are struck with the facility with which enormous fortunes are built up in your country."
    " Italy has lost all her commerce," added the count, with a sigh: "poor Italy!"
    "With all due deference to your experience," said Markham, " I should counsel you to be particularly careful how you allow yourself to be deluded by visionaries and adventurers."
    "Oh! the gentleman who has proposed to me certain schemes for the realization of an immense fortune, is a man of probity and honour. The truth is, that the political condition of Italy may possibly compel me to remain an exile from my native land for the rest of my existence; and I am anxious to turn the means now within my reach to the best advantage for my daughter."
    "You know, my dear father," said Isabella, her eyes filling with tears, "that I can be contented with a little - a very little."
    "I think I have before informed you that I lost considerable portion of my own property through the nefarious speculations of an adventurer," observed Richard; "and I must confess that I look with a suspicious eye upon all schemes which induce us to change realities for chances. You possess, count, all that you require to make you happy during your exile ;-why should you sighs and languish after immense wealth ?"
    The signora bestowed a glance of gratitude upon Markham, who also rose considerably in the estimation of the countess. Indeed, both the ladies were very much averse to the count's ideas of speculating; and they were delighted to find in their visitor so able an advocate of their opinions.
    "I consider," resumed the count, "that a man is bound to do the best he can to increase the property he has to leave his offspring; and as my own estate in Castelcicala is confiscated, and I have nothing to rely upon but a certain sum of ready-money, I am determined to vest the greater portion of it in an enterprise which will produce immense returns."
    "And what may the nature of the undertaking be?" inquired Markham.
    "A line of steam-packets between London and Montoni, the capital of Castelcicala. Such an enterprise would absorb all the commerce now enjoyed by Leghorn and Civita Vecchia; and Montoni would be the great mercantile port of Italy."
    "The scheme certainly seems plausible," observed Richard; "and, guided by your experience, may realize your expectations. I would rather see you embarking money in such an undertaking than in those desperate and outrageous ones which have nothing but their originality to recommend them."
    The count smiled with triumph and satisfaction at having thus disarmed the opposition of his young friend to the projected speculation.
    On the following day Count Alteroni repaired to London, and did not return home until dinner-time.
    After dinner, when he and Richard were sitting alone together, sipping their claret, the count said in a semi-mysterious and confidential manner, "I have this morning broken the ice: indeed, I have made the first plunge. I have confided the necessary funds to Mr. Greenwood  -that is the name of the gentleman with whom 1 am to co-operate - and he will immediately busy himself with the foundation of the enterprize. I shall not, however, mention this to the countess and Isabella for a few days; for in commercial matters ladies always entertain apprehensions which give one what you English call the 'blue devils.'"
    Richard made an observation. The evil - if evil it were - was done; and he did not choose to fill the count with apprehensions which might eventually prove to be unfounded. The conversation upon the subject accordingly dropped for the present; and the two gentlemen joined the ladies in the drawing- room.
    Several weeks glided away; and Markham still remained at Richmond. His acquaintance with the count's family rapidly expanded into an intimacy which gave him unfeigned pleasure. The count treated him as a near relative - almost as a son; tie countess was charmed with him because he could converse upon German literature and history ;- and where the parents were so encouraging, how could the daughter be reserved? Isabella was naturally of a frank and confiding disposition; and she soon learned to consider Markham as a very intimate friend of the family. Whenever he hinted at the necessity of returning to his own home, he expressed his fears that he was intruding upon the hospitality of his kind hosts, Isabella always had some cause ready to delay his departure, as soon as her father and mother had concluded their own entreaties for him to prolong his visit. Markham had nothing to occupy his attention elsewhere; and he was thus easily induced to remain in a mansion where he received so much kindness, and where there was an attraction that daily disclosed new charms and revealed fresh spells.
    It was in the middle of December that Markham was walking, on a fine frosty morning, with Isabella along the high road in the immediate vicinity of the count's dwelling, when he noticed a strange arid repulsive looking individual following them at a short distance. At first he supposed that the man's way lay in the same direction which he and his fair companion were pursuing; he accordingly turned with Isabella into another path, and, to his misfortune and annoyance, found that he was still followed by the stranger whose dilapidated appearance, long black matted hair, week's beard, filthy person, and sinister expression of countenance, filled him with alarming suspicious.
    He remembered his dream; and a shudder passed through his frame.
    Determined to ascertain the motive of this man perseverance in dogging him thus, he conducted Isabella by a short cut back to the house, and retraced his steps to encounter the person who was still following him.
    The man advanced towards him with a dogged and determined air, and yet downcast eyes, which were buried beneath his projecting temples and shaggy brows:
    "Holloa, my fine fellow!" he exclaimed, when he came within a few yards of Richard; "you don't mean to say that you have forgotten an old pal?"
    "What, Anthony - is this you?" said Markham, turning deadly pale as he recognised one of his fellow-prisoners in Newgate.
    It was the Resurrection Man.
    "Yes - it is me - poor Tony Tidkins. But now permit me to ask you a question or two. What are you doing now? Who lives there? And what young girl was that you were walking about with?"
    "And by what right do you dare put those insolent queries to me?" cried Markham, surveying the ruffian with mingled indignation and disgust.
    "Oh I if you don't choose to answer my questions, I can precious soon ascertain all the truth for myself," coolly replied the Resurrection Man, who never once looked Markham in the face - then, having uttered these words, he advanced a few paces as if he were about to seek the count's dwelling.
    "Wretch I what do you mean to do?" ejaculated [-113-] 

Richard, hurrying after him and detaining him by the arm: "you do not know that that abode is sacred - that it is the residence of probity, innocence, and honour - that if you were to breathe a hint who and what you are, you would be spurned from the door?"
    "Ah! I am accustomed to that in this Christian land - in this land of Bibles and Missionary Societies," said the Resurrection Man, bitterly; then, resuming his dogged surliness of tone, he added, "But at all events I can first ask for alms and a morsel of bread at that house, and thereupon state that the gentleman who was just now walking with the young lady belonging to the house was a companion of mine in Newgate - a communication which will tend to preserve the innocence, honour, probity, and all the rest of it, of that family."
    With these words he again set off in the direction of the count's abode.
    "Confusion!" exclaimed Markham: "this man will now effect my ruin !"
    A second time did he stop the Resurrection Man as he advanced towards the residence of the Italians.
    "Well - what now? Isn't a man at liberty to walk which way he chooses?"
    "You cannot be so base as to betray me? you would not ruin my happiness for ever?" said Richard, in whose mind the particulars of his dream were now uppermost.
    "And why should I have any regard for you, since you receive and treat mean if I was a dog?"
    "I really did not mean —"
    "Oh! bother to all apologies," cried the Resurrection Man, ferociously.
    [-114-] "My God! what do you want of me? what can I do for you? " exclaimed Richard, uncertain how to act, and his mind a prey to the most painful emotions; for he already fancied that he saw himself exposed - banished from the count's hospitable roof  separated from Isabella, without a chance of reconciliation - and reproached for having intruded himself upon the society of a virtuous and untainted family.
    The mere anticipation of such an afflicting series of incidents was more than he could bear; and he was prepared to make any sacrifices to avert so terrible an occurrence.
    "I may obtain from your fears what I should not have got from your generosity," exclaimed the Resurrection Man: "but it doesn't matter what motive produces it, so long as I get it."
    "And what is it that you require?" asked Richard hastily. "But let us walk aside - they may seen from the windows."
    "And what do I care if they do?" brutally demanded the Resurrection Man. "I suppose I shan't suffer in character by talking to a companion in former misfortunes?" he added, in a sarcastic tone.
    There was something peculiarly revolting about that man ;- his death-like countenance, jet black whiskers, shaggy brows, averted glances, and horrible nick-name, all combined to render him a loathsome and disgusting object.
    The contact of such a wretch was like plunging one's hand amidst the spawn of toads.
    But the savage irony of this monster - oh! that was utterly intolerable. Richard writhed beneath it.
    "Now I tell you what it is," said the Resurrection Man, who probably by this time saw that he had reduced the young man to a pliability suitable to his purposes; "if you will only be civil I'll accommodate you to the utmost of my power. Let us walk away from the house - we can then talk more at our ease."
    Richard accompanied the miscreant a short distance; and then they again stopped,- but no longer within view of the count's residence.
    "You can, doubtless, suppose what I want!" said the Resurrection Man, turning suddenly round upon Markham, and looking him full in the face for the first time.
    "Money, I presume," replied Richard.
    "Yes - money. I know that you were in expectation of a great fortune when you were in Newgate; and I suppose you have not run through it all yet."
    "I was almost totally ruined, during my imprisonment, by the unfortunate speculations in which my guardian engaged," answered Markham mournfully.
    "That's all my eye! Nevertheless, I won't be hard upon you: I know that you have got a splendid house and a grand estate close by —"
    "A few acres of land, as heaven is my witness!"
    "Well - you may try it on as much as you like; but I tell you plainly it won't do for me. Let us cut this matter devilish short, and come to some understanding at once. I am hard up - I don't know what to turn my hand to for a moment; and I can't get orders for the stiff'uns as I used to do."
    "All that I .have told you about the loss of my property is quite true," said Markham; "and I have now but little more than a bare two hundred a year to live upon."
    "Well, I will be generous and let you off easy,"said  the Resurrection Man. "You shall give me for the present —"
    "For the present !" repeated Markham, all the terror of his mind again betraying itself; "if I make any arrangement with you at all, it would be upon the express condition that you would never molest me more."
    "Be it so," said the Resurrection Man, whom the promise cost nothing, and who knew that there was nothing to bind him to its implicit performance; "give me five hundred pounds, and I will never seek you out again."
    "Five hundred pounds !" exclaimed Richard: "I cannot command the money!"
    "Not a mag less will I take," said the extortioner with a determined air and voice.
    "I really cannot comply with the proposal - I have not the money - I do not know where to get it. Why do you persecute me in this way? what harm have I ever done to you? why should you seek to ruin me, and to annihilate all my hopes of again establishing myself in an honourable position in society? Tell me - by what right, by what law, do you now endeavour to extort - vilely, infamously extort - this money from me?"
    No pen could describe - no painter depict the singular expression of countenance which the Resurrection Man wore as these words fell upon his ears. He knew not whether to burst out into a fit of laughter, or to utter a volley of imprecations against his former companion in Newgate; and so, not to be wrong by doing one and omitting the other, he did both. His ironical and ferocious laugh fell horribly upon the ears of Markham, who was at the same time assailed by such a string of oaths and blasphemies, that he trembled.
    "You want to know by what law and right I demand money of you," cried the wretch, when be had indulged in this out-pouring of laughter and imprecations to his heart's content: "well - I will tell you. My law is that practised by all the world - the oppression of the weak by the strong; and my right is also that of universal practice - the right of him who takes what will not dare to be refused. Now, then, you understand me; and if not, bear my resolution."
    "Speak," said Richard, now thoroughly cooled and disarmed; "and let me know the worst at once."
    "You have confirmed my suspicion that you are courting the young girl I saw you walking with: you have confirmed that suspicion by your manner and your words. Now, I require five hundred pounds; and if you are anxious that your fair one should remain in ignorance of your Old Bailey adventures, you had better comply with my terms."
    "I positively declare that I have not the money," said Richard.
    "Make it."
    "But how?"
    "Borrow it of the young lady's father or mother, or uncle, or aunt."
    "Never - impossible!"
    "You say that you have a few acres of land left. I believe you have more; but let a take your own statement. Upon those few acres you can easily borrow the money I require."
    "And diminish my miserable income still more?"
    "Yes - or no, without further wrangling? You must be well aware that this sacrifice is necessary if the girl is worth having."
    "In the name of heaven, allude not to - to - to Miss — to the young lady with whom you saw me ere now ;- allude not to her in this disgraceful  [-115-] manner!" cried Markham; for when the lips of that horrible man framed a sentiment which bore reference to Isabella, it seemed to Richard as if a loathsome serpent was pouring its slimy venom on a sweet and blooming flower.
    "Will you give me the money? demanded the Resurrection Man.
    "I will give you two hundred pounds - I have no more - I can get no more - I will not raise any more upon my property."
    "Can't be done," returned the ruffian. "I will have the five hundred, or nothing."
    "It will take some days to procure the money," said Markham, yielding gradually.
    "Never mind. Give me what you have about you for my present purposes, and name the day and place for me to receive the rest."
    Markham took his purse from his pocket, and examined its contents. There were seventeen sovereigns at that moment at his command. He retained two, and handed fifteen to the Resurrection Man, who pocketed them with savage glee.
    "Now this looks like business," said he, "and m an earnest that you will do the thing that a right. Where and when for the remainder?"
    "In a fortnight I will meet you at any place you may name in London," answered Markham.
    "Well, make it a fortnight. Do you know the Dark House, in Brick Lane, Bethnal Green ?"
    "What is it ?" asked Richard, shuddering at the name.
    "A public-house. Any one will tell you where it is. This day fortnight I shall expect to find you there at eight o'clock in the evening. If I don't happen to be punctual, you can wait for me; and if I don't come that night, I shall the next. Remember how much depends upon your fulfilment of the contract."
    "I shall not fail," answered Richard, with a sinking of the heart which none can understand who have not been placed in a similar position. "And you, on your part, will adhere to your side of the agreement ?"
    "Mute as a mouse," said the Resurrection Man, "and should I afterwards meet you by accident, I shall not know you. Farewell."
    With these words the Resurrection Man turned away, and pursued his course towards London.
    Markham followed him with his eyes until he turned an angle of the road and was no longer to be seen.
    Then only did Richard breathe freely.

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