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[-138-]    

CHAPTER XLVII.

ELIZA SYDNEY.

THE reader will remember that the events already related have brought us up to the close of 1838.
    Thus three years had elapsed since the memorable trial which resulted in the condemnation of Eliza Sydney to an imprisonment of twenty-four long months in Newgate: and a year had passed since her release from that dread abode.
    We therefore return to her again in December, 1838 - about the same time that those incidents occurred which we detailed in the last few chapters.
    Probably to the surprise of the reader, we again find Eliza Sydney the mistress of the beautiful villa at Upper Clapton.
    Yes: on the evening when we once more introduce ourselves to her, she was sitting alone in the drawing-room of that house, reading by the side of a cheerful fire.
    She was now twenty-eight years of age; and, although somewhat more inclining to embonpoint than when we first described her, she was still a lovely and fascinating woman. That slightly increased roundness of form had given her charms a voluptuousness the most ravishing and seductive, but the effects of which upon the beholder were at. tempered by the dignity that reigned upon her high and noble brow, and the chaste expression of her melting hazel eyes.
    She was one of those fine creatures - one of those splendid specimens of the female sex, which are alone seen in the cold climates of the north; for it appears to be a rule in nature that the flowers of our species expand into the most luscious loveliness in the least genial latitudes.
    There was a soft melancholy in the expression of her countenance, which might have been mistaken for languor, and which gave an additional charm to her appearance; for it was easy to perceive her mind was now at ease, that delicate shade of sadness being the indelible effect of the adventures of the past.
    Her mind was at ease, because she was pure in heart and virtuous in intention, - because she knew that she had erred innocently when she lent herself to the fraud for which she had suffered, - because she possessed a competency that secured her against care for the present and fear for the future, - and because she dwelt in that strict solitude and retirement which she loved, and which was congenial to a soul that had seen enough of the world to learn to dread its cruel artifices and deceptive ways.
    We said that it was evening when we again introduce Eliza to the readers. A cold wind whistled without; and a huge Christmas log burnt at the back of the grate, giving an air of supreme comfort to that [word illegible, ed.]-furnished room.
    The French porcelain time-piece upon the mantel proclaimed the hour of eight.
    Scarcely had the silvery chime ceased, when Louisa entered the room in great haste and excitement.
    "Oh, ma'am! who do you think is here?" she cried, closing the door carefully behind her.
    "It is impossible for me to guess, Louisa," said Eliza, smiling.
    "Mr. Stephens!"exclaimed the servant: "and he earnestly implores to see you!"
    "Mr. Stephens!" echoed Eliza. " Impossible!"
    "It is him, flesh and blood: but so pale - so ghostly pale - and so altered!"
    "Mr. Stephens!" repeated Eliza. " You must be mistaken - you must be dreaming; for you are [-139-] aware that, in accordance with his sentence, he must be very - very far from England."
    "He is here - he is in London - he is at your door!" said Louisa emphatically; "and as far as I could see by the light of the candle that I had with me when I answered his knock, he is in rags and tatters."
    "And he wishes to see me?" said Eliza, musing.
    "Yes, ma'am."
    There was a pause of a few moments.
    "I will see him," exclaimed Eliza, in a decided tone, after some consideration. "He may be in want - in distress; and I cannot forget that he proclaimed my innocence in the dock of the Old Bailey."
    Louisa left the room: and in another minute the convict Stephens stood in the presence of Eliza Sydney.
    Altered! he was indeed altered. His eyes were sunken and lustreless - his cheeks wan and hollow - his hair prematurely tinged with grey - and his form thin and emaciated. He was moreover clad in rags - absolute rags.
    "My God!" ejaculated Eliza: "in what a condition do you return to your native land!"
    "And heaven alone knows what sacrifices I have made, and what hardships I have undergone to come back!" said Stephens in a hollow voice.
    "You are pardoned, then?"
    "Oh, no! crimes like mine are not so readily forgiven. I escaped!"
    "Escaped!" exclaimed Eliza: "and are you not afraid of being recaptured ?"
    "I must run that risk," replied Stephens, sorrowfully. "But give me food - I am hungry - I am starving!"
    The unhappy man sank upon a chair as he uttered these words; and Eliza summoned Louisa to bring refreshments.
    The servant placed a tray laden with provisions upon the table, and retired.
    Stephens then fell ravenously upon the food thus set before him; while tears stood in Eliza's eyes when she thought that the miserable wretch had once commanded in that house where he now craved a morsel of bread!
    At length the convict terminated his meal.
    "I had eaten nothing," he said, "since yesterday afternoon, when I spent my last penny to procure a roll. Last night I slept in a shed near the docks, a large stone for my pillow. All this day I have been wandering about the most obscure and wretched neighbourhoods of London - not knowing whither to go, and afraid to be seen by any one who may recognise me. Recognise me!" he added, in a strange satirical manner: "that would perhaps be difficult;" then, sinking his voice almost to a whisper, be said in a tonic of profound and touching melancholy, "Do you not find me much - very much altered?"
    "You have doubtless suffered deeply," said Eliza, wiping away the tears from her eyes; for at that moment she remembered not the injury brought by that man upon herself - she saw and knew of nought save the misery of the hapless being before her.
    "You weep, Eliza," exclaimed Stephens, "you weep for me who am unworthy even of your notice!"
    "Forget the past: I prefer dwelling upon the kindness rather than the injuries I have experienced at your hands."
    "Excellent woman!" cried the convict, deeply affected. "Oh! you know not what I have endured - what dangers I have incurred - what hardships I have undergone - what privations I have experienced! Compelled to work my passage back to England as s common sailor - a prey to the brutality of a tyrannical and drunken captain - exposed to all the inclemencies of the weather, - no tongue can tell what I have gone through! But I will not weary you with my complaints. Rather let me hear how you yourself have fared."
    "My tale is short," answered Eliza. "The two years in Newgate passed away. God knows how they passed away - but they did pass! Of that I will say no more - save that the most powerful interest was exerted to obtain a mitigation of my sentence - but in vain ! The Secretary of State assured the Earl of Warrington that he could not interfere with the very lenient judgment awarded by the court relative to myself. One more circumstance I must mention. Every three months, when the prison regulations allowed the admission of the friends of those confined, a lady visited me; and though that lady be the mistress of the Earl of Warrington, I would rejoice to call her sister."
    "Oh I how rejoiced I am to know that you were not without friends !" exclaimed Stephens.
    "The Earl of Warrington sent me by this lady assurances of his forgiveness, and even of his intention to befriend me, for the sake of my dear departed mother. But, oh! who could have anticipated the noble - the generous conduct pursued towards me by that nobleman ? The day of my liberation dawned. Mrs. Arlington came in the earl's private travelling carriage, and received me at the door of the prison. The carriage rolled away; and, when I had recovered from the first emotions of joy at leaving that horrible place, I found we were proceeding along the Hackney Road. I cast a glance of surprise at Mrs. Arlington; she only smiled, and would not gratify my curiosity. At length we came in sight of the villa, and my astonishment increased. Still Mrs. Arlington only smiled. In a few minutes more the carriage entered the enclosure, and drove up to this door. Mrs. Arlington seemed to enjoy my surprise - and yet tears glistened in her eyes. Oh! the admirable woman: they were tears of joy at the grateful task which the earl had imposed upon her. The front door opened, and Louisa ran forward to welcome me. Mrs. Arlington took my hand, and led me into the dining-room. The furniture was all entirely new. She conducted me over the house: every room was similarly renovated. At length I felt exhausted with pleasure, hope, and alarm, and sank upon the sofa in this apartment. 'My dear Eliza,' said Mrs. Arlington, 'all that you survey is yours. The very house itself is your own property. The Earl of Warrington has purchased it for you; and his solicitor, Mr. Pakenham, will call upon you to-morrow with the title-deeds.'- I fainted through excess of happiness and gratitude.'
    "How noble!" exclaimed Stephens. "I knew that the Earl of Warrington had purchased this estate; for I had already mortgaged it to its full value previous to that fatal epoch when all my hopes failed! My brother, who resided in Liverpool, left England six months after my departure, and went out to settle in New South Wales. He told me that the person who had lent me the money upon this property, had disposed of it to the earl.  My brother's object was to settle at Sydney, and procure one to be allotted to him as his servant. I should then have been free. But, alas! scarcely had he set foot in the island, when he was seized with a malignant fever, which proved fatal.
    "Misfortunes never come singly," said Eliza. Then, after a pause, she added. "Neither do bless-[-140-]ings! And if I have been greatly afflicted - I have also enjoyed some happiness. In reference to my own narrative, I must add that Mr. Pakenham called on the following day, as Mrs. Arlington had promised; and he placed the deeds in my hand. I desired him to retain them in his care for me. He then informed me that the Earl of Warrington had purchased for me an annuity of four hundred pounds a-year. Oh! such generosity overwhelmed me. I begged to be allowed to hasten and throw myself at the feet of that excellent nobleman; but Mr. Pakenham intimated that his lordship was averse to an interview. In a word, he made me understand that I might never hope to thank my benefactor to his face, and that a letter expressing my feelings would be equally unwelcome. The good lawyer, however, tranquillised my mind on one point: the earl has no aversion to me - entertains no animosity against me; but he cannot bear to contemplate the offspring of the woman whom he himself loved so madly!"
    "Thus you are happy, and blest with kind friends; and I - I am an outcast!" said Stephens, in a tone of bitter remorse." Oh! what would I give to be able to recall the past! Blessed, however, be that strange and unaccountable curiosity which led me into this neighbourhood to-night! I say, blessed be it - since it has been the unexpected means for me to hear and know that you at least are happy. Oh! conceive my astonishment when, on approaching the villa, I inquired of a peasant, 'Who dwells here, now?' and he replied, 'Miss Sydney!' I could not mistake that announcement: I was already prepared by it for the narrative which you have given me of the Earl of Warrington's generosity.
    "Without him, what should I be at this moment?" said Eliza. " He has been more than a friend to me, - his kindness was rather that of a father or a brother! And that angel Mrs. Arlington, who visited me in prison - who poured consolation into my soul, and sustained me with hopes that have been more than realised, - oh! how deep a debt of gratitude do I owe to her also. She did not conceal from me her true position in reference to the Earl of Warrington: she detailed to me the narrative of her sorrows; and I learnt that George Montague was the base deceiver who first taught her to stray from the paths of virtue."
    "George Montague!" exclaimed Stephens. "What has become of that man? He is artful, talented, designing, and might perhaps be able to serve me if he would."
    "He has assumed, I am told, the name of Greenwood, and dwells in a magnificent house in Spring Gardens. This I learnt from Mrs. Arlington, who called here a few days ago. She also informed me that Montague had circulated a report amongst his acquaintances, that the death of a distant relation had put him in possession of considerable property, and rendered the assumption of the name of Greenwood an indispensable condition of its enjoyment."
    "And thus has Montague risen," said Stephens; "while I am humbled to the dust! His intrigues and machinations have enriched him; and the story of the death of a wealthy relation is no doubt the apology for the sudden display of the treasures he has been amassing for the last four or five years. Have you seen him lately ?"
    " He called here a few days after my release from imprisonment," said Eliza, with a alight blush; "but I did not choose to see him. I love solitude - I prefer retirement."
    "And my visit has most disagreeably intruded upon your privacy," observed Stephens.
    "I could have wished to have seen you in a more prosperous state, for your own sake," answered Eliza; "but as I observed just now, I would rather remember the kindnesses I have received at your hands, than the miseries which have resulted from your guilty deception. If with my modest and limited means I can assist you, speak! What do you propose to do ?"
    "My object is to proceed to America, where I might be enabled to obtain an honest livelihood by my mercantile experience and knowledge. Every moment that I prolong my stay in England is fraught with increased peril to my safety; for were I captured, I should be sent back to that far-off clime where so many of my fellow-countrymen endure inconceivable miseries, and where my lot would become terrible indeed."
    " I will assist you in your object," said Eliza. "Mr. Pakenham, who acts as my banker, has a hundred pounds of mine in his hands: to-morrow I will draw that amount; and if it will be of any service towards the accomplishment of your plans —"
    "Oh, Eliza! how can I sufficiently express my gratitude?" interrupted Stephens, joy and hope animating his care-worn countenance and firing his sunken eyes.
    "Do not thank me," said Eliza. "I shall he happy if I can efface one wrinkle from the brow of a fellow-creature. For your present necessities take this," and she handed him her purse. "To-morrow evening I shall expect you to call again; and I will then provide you with the means to seek your fortune in another quarter of the world."
    Stephens shed tears as he received the purse from the fair hand of that noble-hearted woman.
    He then took his departure with a heart far more light than when he had knocked humbly and timidly at the door of that villa an hour before.

 

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