< previous chapter <  |  THE MYSTERIES OF LONDON  |  > next chapter >




IT was seven o'clock pi the evening.
    Count Alteroni was sipping his claret; the countess was reading a new German novel; and the Signora Isabella was sitting in a pensive and melancholy mood, apparently occupied with some embroidery or other fancy-work, but in reality bent only upon her own painful reflections.
    The air of this charming girl was languishing and sorrowful; and from time to time a tear started into her large black eye. That crystal drop upon the jet fringe of her eye-lid, seemed like the dew hanging on the ebony frame of a window.
    The delicate hue of the rose which usually coloured her cheeks, and appeared as it were beneath the complexion of faint bistre which denoted her Italian origin, had fled; and her sweet vermilion lips were no longer wreathed in smiles.
    "Isabel, my love," said the count, "you are thoughtful this evening. What a silly girl you are to oppose that tyrannical little will of your own to my anxious hopes and wishes for your welfare - especially as I must know so much better than you what is for your good and what is not."
    "I think," answered Isabella, with a deep sigh, "that I oppose no tyrannical will to your lordship's commands."
    "Lordship's commands!" repeated the count, somewhat angrily. "Have I not ordered our rank and station to be forgotten here - in England? And as for commands, Bella," added the nobleman, softening, "I have merely expressed my wish that you should give Mr. Greenwood an opportunity of proving his disinterested affection and securing your esteem  - especially on the occasion of our approaching visit to our friends the Tremordyns."
    "My dear papa," answered the signora, "I have faithfully promised you that if Mr. Greenwood should gain my affections, he shall not sue in vain for my hand."
    "That is a species of compromise which I do not understand," exclaimed the count. "Have you any particular aversion to him?"
    "I have no aversion - but I certainly have no love," replied Isabella firmly; "and where there is not love, dear father, you would not have me wed?"
    "Oh! as for love," said the count, evading a direct reply to this query, "time invariably thaws away those stern resolves and objections which young ladies sometimes choose to entertain, in opposition to the wishes of their parents."
    "My lord, I have no power over volition," exclaimed Isabella, with difficulty restraining her tears.
    "This is very provoking, Isabella - very! " said the count, drinking his claret with rapidity. "This man is in every way worthy of you - rich, genteel, and good-looking. As for his rank - it is true that he has no title: but of what avail to us are rank and title - exiled as we are from our native land —"
    "Oh! my dear father!" cried Isabella, wiping her eyes; "do not fancy so ill of me as to suppose that I languish for rank, or care for honour! No - let me either possess that title which is a reflection of your own when in Castelcicala ;- or let me be plain Signora Isabella in a foreign land. Pomp and banishment - pride and exile, are monstrous incongruities!"
    "That is spoken like my own dear daughter," exclaimed the count. "The sorrows of my own lot are mitigated by the philosophy and firmness with which you and your dear mother support our change of fortunes ;- and, alas! I see but little chance of another re-action in our favour. O my dear country! shall I ever see thee more? Wilt thou one day recognise those who really love thee?"
    A profound silence ensued: neither of the ladies chose to interrupt the meditations of the patriot; and he himself rose and paced the room with agitated steps.
    "And it is this despair when I contemplate my future prospects," continued the nobleman, after a long pause, "that induces me to wish to see you speedily settled and provided for, my dearest Isabella. What other motive can I have but your good?"
    "Oh! I know it - I know it, my dear father," cried the charming girl; "and it is that conviction which makes me wretched when I think how reluctant I am to obey you in this instance. But do not grieve yourself, my dear father - and do not be angry with me! I will be as civil and friendly as I can to this Mr. Greenwood; and if - and if —"
    The beautiful Italian could say no more:  her heart was full - almost to bursting; and throwing herself into her mother's arms, she wept bitterly.
    The count, who was passionately attached to his daughter, was deeply affected and greatly shocked by this demonstration of her feelings. He had flattered himself that her repugnance to Mr. Greenwood was far from being deeply rooted, and was merely the result of a young girl's fears and anxieties when she found that she was not romantically attached to her suitor. But he little suspected that she cherished a sincere and tender passion for another - a passion which she might essay in vain to conquer.
    [-159-] "Bella, my darling," he exclaimed, "do not give way to grief: you cannot think that I would sacrifice you to gold - mere gold? No - never, never! Console yourself - you shall never be dragged a victim to the altar!"
    "My dearest father," cried Isabella, turning towards the count and embracing him fondly,- "God, who reads all my actions, knows that I would make any sacrifice to please you - to spare you one pang - to forward your views! Oh! believe me, I am too well aware of the deep responsibility under which I exist towards my parents - too deeply imbued with gratitude for all your kindness towards me, not to be prepared to obey your wishes!"
    "I will exact no sacrifice, dearest girl," said the count. "Compose yourself - and do not weep!"
     At that moment a loud double knock at the front door resounded through the house; and scarcely bad Isabella, recovered her self-possession, when Mr. Greenwood was announced.
    "Ladies, excuse this late visit," said the financier, sailing into the room with his countenance wreathed into the blandest smiles; "but the truth is, I had  business in the neighbourhood, and I could not possibly pass without stopping for a few moments at a mansion where there are such attractions."
    These last words were addressed pointedly to Isabella, who only replied to the compliment by a cold bow.
    "Count," said Mr. Greenwood, now turning towards the nobleman, "I have not seen you since our adventure upon the highway! But I was delighted to learn that you had received no injury."
    "My only regret is that I did not shoot the villains," answered the count. "Have you had another deed prepared, to replace the one stolen from me on that occasion?"
    "I have given my solicitors the necessary instructions," answered Greenwood. "In a few days —"
    "Every thing with you is in a few days, Greenwood," interrupted the count, somewhat pointedly. "That deed would not occupy one day to engross, now that the copy is at your attorney's office; and it would have been a mark of goodwill on your part —"
    "Pray do not blame me! "exclaimed the financier, smiling so as to display his very white teeth, of which he seemed not a little proud. "I believe that for a man who has so much business upon his hands, and the interests of so many to watch and care for, I am as punctual to my appointments as most people."
    "I do not speak of want of punctuality in keeping appointments," said the nobleman: "but I allude to the neglect of a matter which to you may appear trivial, but which to me is of importance."
    "Oh! my dear count - we will repair this little error the day after to-morrow - or the next day," answered Mr. Greenwood: "I wish that every body was as regular and as punctual with me, as I endeavour to be with others; and that punctuality on my part my dear sir, has been the origin of my fortune.  I do not like to speak of myself, ladies - I hate egotism - but really," he added with another smile, "when one is attacked, you know —"
    At that moment a domestic entered the room, and handed a letter to the countess, who immediately opened it, glanced towards the signature, and exclaimed almost involuntarily, "From Richard Markham!"
    "Richard Markham!" cried Mr. Greenwood: "I thought I understood you that that gentleman has ceased to visit or correspond with you?"
    "So I said - and so I shall maintain! " exclaimed the count. "My dear, we will return that letter without reading it."
    "But I have already commenced the perusal of it," said the countess, without taking her eyes off the paper: "and —"
    "Then read no more," cried the count, angrily.
    "Excuse me - I shall read it all," answered the countess significantly: "and so will you."
    "What means this? " ejaculated the count. "Have I last all authority in my own house? Madam, I command you —"
    "There - I have finished it, and I implore you to read it yourself. Its contents are highly important, and do not in any way relate to certain recent events. Indeed he has purposely avoided any thing which may appear obtrusive, either in the shape of explanation or apology."
    The count took the letter with a very ill grace, and requested Mr. Greenwood's permission to read it. This was of course awarded; and the nobleman commenced the perusal. He had not, however, read many lines, before he gave a convulsive start, and looked mistrustfully upon Mr. Greenwood (who noticed his emotion), an~ hastily ran his eye over the remainder of the letter's contents.
    He then folded up the letter, and appeared to be absorbed in deep thought for several moments. Mr. Greenwood saw that the note bore some allusion to himself, and prepared his mind for any explanation, or any storm.
    The countess sate, pale and unhappy, in deep meditation; and the eyes of Isabella wandered anxiously from one to the other.
    At length the count, in a tone which showed with how much difficulty he suppressed an outbreak of his irritated feelings, turned abruptly towards Mr. Greenwood, exclaiming, " Pray, sir, how long is it since you were acquainted with one George Montague?"
    Mr. Greenwood was not taken at all aback. This  was a question to which he was always liable, and for which he was constantly prepared. He accordingly answered, with his usual smile of complaisance, in the following manner;-
     "Oh! my dear sir, I presume you are acquainted with the fact that my name was once Montague, since you ask me that question. I may also suppose that some one has communicated that circumstance to you with a desire to prejudice inc in your opinion; but I can assure you that I have not changed my name for any sinister purpose. My only motive was the request of an old lady, who left me a considerable property some time ago, upon that condition."
    "And you can also explain, perhaps, the nature of your dealings with a certain Mr. Allen?" demanded the count, staggered at the assurance with which Mr. Greenwood met an accusation that the nobleman imagined would have overwhelmed him with confusion.
    "My dear sir," replied the financier, very far from betraying any embarrassment, whatever he might have felt, "I can explain that and every other action of my life. I was myself misled - I was duped - I was involved in an enterprise which entailed ruin upon myself and all connected with me. I suffered along with the others, and gave up all to the creditors. I have, however, been enabled to build up my fortunes again by means of the property left to me, and a series of successful operations. All people in commercial and financial affairs are liable to disappointment and embarrassment: the most  [-160-] cautious may over-speculate or miscalculate, and how can I be blamed more than another ?"
    "I will admit that a particular enterprise may fail," said the count: "but the writer of this letter, explained to me on one or two occasions, enough to enable me to comprehend the whole machinery of fraud which you put into motion to obtain money from the public; and though he never mentioned any names until to-day, in his letter, I might —"
    "Every man has his enemies," said Mr. Greenwood, calmly: "I cannot hope to be without mine. They may assert what they choose: upright and impartial men never listen to one-sided statements. But perhaps the writer of that letter —"
    "He is the Mr. Markham of whom I have often spoken to you, and concerning whom you were always asking me questions. I could not conceive," proceeded the count, "why you were so curious to pry into his affairs, especially as when I mentioned you to him by the name of Greenwood, he did not seem to know any thing about you. But I can now well understand why you should wish to know something of a man whom you ruined!"
    "I ruined!" cried Mr. Greenwood, now excited for the first time since the commencement of this dialogue, and speaking with an air of unfeigned astonishment. "There must be some mistake in this! I never had any dealings with him in my life, which could either cause his ruin or establish his prosperity."
    "You took very good care, it would appear, not to do the latter," said the count. "But probably Mr. Markham's letter will explain to you that which you appear to have forgotten."
    Count Alteroni handed the letter to Mr. Greenwood, who perused its contents with intense interest. and anxiety.
    The count, the countess, and the signora watched. his countenance as he read it. Proficient in the art of duplicity as he was,- skilled in all the wiles of hypocrisy and deceit, he could not conceal his emotions now. There was something in that letter which chased the colour from his cheeks, and convulsed his whole frame with extreme agony.
    "This is indeed singular!" he murmured, turning, the letter over and over in his hand. "Who would have suspected that Allen was merely an agent? who could have foreseen where that blow was to strike? Strange - unaccountable concatenation of unfortunate circumstances!"
    "Is the writer of that letter correct in his statement? " demanded the count imperiously. 
    "The information given to you by Mr. Markham, relative to the losses experienced by a certain Mr. .Allen, is correct," returned Mr. Greenwood, apparently labouring under considerable excitement.  "But, I take my God to witness, that, until this moment, I was unaware that either Mr. Monroe or Mr. Markham were in the remotest way connected with that affair; and I also solemnly protest that I would have given worlds sooner than have been the' means of injuring either of them !"
    "You admit, then, that you defrauded the people who at that time placed their funds in your hands?" said the count.
    "I admit nothing of the kind," returned the financier, now recovering his presence of mind: " I. admit nothing so base as your insinuation implies."
    "Then wherefore were you so agitated when you perused that letter from Mr. Richard Markham?"
    "Count Alteroni, I am not aware that I owe you any explanation of my own private feelings. It is true, I was agitated - and I am still deeply grieved, to think that my want of judgment and foresight in a certain speculation should have involved in ruin of those whom I wish well! But I suffered as well as they - I lost as many thousands as they did," continued Mr. Greenwood, passing once more into that system of plausible, specious, and deceptive reasoning, which lulled so many suspicions, and closed the eyes of so many persons with regard to his real character: "and although I have done nothing for which I can be blamed by the world, I may still reproach myself when I find that others whom I care for have suffered by my speculations."
    The count was staggered at this expression and honourable manifestation of feeling on the part of one whom he had a few minutes ago begun to look upon as a selfish adventurer, callous to all humane emotions and philanthropic sentiments.
    Mr. Greenwood continued:-
    "When that unfortunate speculation of mine took place, I was not so experienced in the sinuosities of the commercial and financial worlds as I am now. I lost my all, and poverty stared me in the face."
    Mr. Greenwood's voice faltered, although he was now once more uttering a tissue of falsehoods.
    "But by dint of some good fortune and much hard toll and unwearied application to business, I retrieved my circumstances. Now, answer me candidly, Count Alteroni; is there any thing dishonourable in my career? Will you judge a man upon an ex-parte statement? Is not one story very good until another be told? Why, if all persons viewed their affairs constantly in the same light, would there be any business for the civil tribunals? Do not plaintiff and defendant invariably survey the point at issue between them under discrepant aspects? If they did not, wherefore do they go to law? You may allow Mr. Markham and Mr. Monroe to entertain their views; you will also permit me to enjoy mine?"
    "Mr. Greenwood," said, the count, "I am afraid I have been too severe-  nay, even rude in my observations. You will forgive me?"
    "My dear sir, say not another word," ejaculated the financier, chuckling inwardly at the triumphant victory which he had thus gained over the suspicious of the Italian nobleman.
    At that moment a servant entered the room, and informed Count Alteroni "that the Earl of Warrington was in the drawing-room, and requested an interview, at which his lordship would not detain the count above ten minutes."
    The count, having desired Mr. Greenwood not to depart until his return, and apologising for his his temporary absence, proceeded to the drawing-room, where the Earl of Warrington awaited him.
    The earl rose when the count entered the apartment; and that proud, wealthy, and high-born English peer wore an air of profound respect and deference, as he returned the salutation of the Italian exile. 
    " Your lordship," said the earl, "will, I hope, pardon this intrusion at so unseemly an hour —"
    "The Earl of Warrington in always welcome," interrupted Count Alteroni; "and if I cannot give him so princely a reception in England as I was proud to do in Italy, it is my means and not my will, which is the cause."
    "My lord, I beseech you not to allude to any discrepancy in that respect - a discrepancy which I can regret for your lordship only, and not for my self," said the earl. "Indeed, I am so far selfish on the present occasion, that I am come to ask a favour."

    "Name the matter in which my poor services can avail your lordship," returned the count, "and I pledge myself in advance to meet your wishes. "
    "My lord," said the Earl of Warrington, "I must inform your lordship that I am somewhat interested in a cousin of mine of the name of Eliza Sydney. This lady loved a man who was unworthy of her - a wretch  whose pursuits are villainy, and who enriches himself at the expense of the unwary and confiding. The heartless scoundrel to whom I allude, and the full measure of whose infamy was only exposed to me this day, has endeavoured to  possess himself of the person of Eliza in a manner the most atrocious and cowardly. My lord, he employed a confederate to administer soporific drugs to her; but Providence moved that confederate's heart, and frustrated the damnable scheme."
    "And can such conduct go unpunished in this lend of excellent laws and unerring justice?" inquired the count.
    "Ah! my lord," replied the earl, "this man is possessed of great wealth, and consequently of great Influence; for, in England, money is power! Moreover, the complete chain of evidence is wanting ; and then exposure to the female in such a case is almost equal to a stigma and to shame! To continue my brief tale, my lord - this man, with a demon heart, is one who will persecute my cousin Eliza to the very death. A lady of my acquaintance, who can also tell a tale of the unequalled villany of this George Montague Greenwood —"
    "What!" ejaculated the count; "do I hear aright? or do my ears deceive me? What name did you give the miscreant who administered opiate drugs to a woman with the foulest of motives?"
    "George Montague Greenwood, repeated the earl.
    "O God!" ejaculated the count, sinking back in his chair, and covering his face with his hands; " I thank thee that thou hast intervened ere it was too late to prevent that fearful sacrifice of my daughter!"
    "Pardon me, my lord," exclaimed the earl, "if I have awakened any disagreeable reminiscences, or produced impressions —"
    "Your lordship has done me an infinite service, in fully opening my eyes to the villainy of a man whose damnable sophistry glosses over his crimes with so deceptive a varnish, that the sight is dazzled when contemplating his conduct."
    As the count uttered these words he wrung the [-162-] hands of the English peer with the most friendly and grateful warmth.
    "Another time, my lord," continued the Italian noble, "I will explain to you the cause of my present emotions. You will then perceive how confirmed a miscreant is this Greenwood. In the meantime tell me how I can aid your lordship?"
    "I was about to inform you, my lord," continued the Earl of Warrington, "that Miss Sydney, alarmed and appalled at the persecution of this man, who seems to spare neither expense nor crime to accomplish any purpose upon which he has once set his mind, has determined to sojourn for a time upon the Continent. Your lordship is aware that I possess a humble villa in the suburbs of Montoni —"
    "A beautiful residence, on the contrary," said the count "and where," he added with a sigh, "in happier times I have partaken of your hospitality."
    "Yes, your lordship has honoured me with your society at that retreat," said the earl, with a low and deferential bow. "It is to that villa that I now propose to despatch my cousin, in order that she may escape the persecutions and the plots of this vile Greenwood. The object of my present visit is to solicit your lordship for a few letters of introduction for Miss Sydney to some of those families in Montoni with whom she may experience the charms of profitable and intellectual society."
    "With much pleasure," answered the count. "When does Miss Sydney propose to leave England?"
    "The day after to-morrow, my lord."
    "To-morrow evening your lordship shall receive the letters which Miss Sydney requires. They will of course be unsealed - both in observance of the rules of etiquette, and on account of the custom-house officers in the continental states; but your lordship will take care that they be not opened in England."
    "I comprehend you, my lord. The incognito which your lordship chooses to preserve in this country shall not be disturbed by any Indiscretion on the part of myself or of those connected with me."
    The Earl of Warrington then took his leave.
    The moment he had departed, the count rang the bell, and said to the servant who answered the summons, "Request Mr. Greenwood to favour me with his company in this room - here!"
    In another minute the financier was introduced into the saloon which the count was pacing with uneven and agitated steps.
    "Mr. Greenwood," said the Italian nobleman, "I think you recollect the subject of our conversation when I was called away by the visit of the Earl of Warrington?"
    " Perfectly," answered the financier, who perceived that there was again something wrong. "I remember that you made many accusations against me, all of which I most satisfactorily explained - insomuch that you very handsomely apologised for the severity of your language."
    "Then, sir," continued the count, with difficulty restraining his impatience while Mr. Greenwood thus delivered himself, "if you be really such an honourable and such an injured man as you would represent, and if you be really grieved when you hear that a fellow-creature has been ruined by the failure of your speculations, have the kindness to return to me the money which I have confided to you, and I shall be inclined to think of you as you choose to think of yourself. To tell the truth. I am already sick of the uncertainty of speculation; and I would rather withdraw from the enterprise altogether."
    "Really, my dear sir," said Mr. Greenwood, "this demand is so very irregular - so exceedingly unbusiness-like —"
    "We will not place it upon the footing of business, sir," interrupted the count emphatically; "we will place it upon the basis of honour."
    "Honour and business with me, my dear sir, are synonymous," said the financier with a smile.
    "So much the better!" ejaculated the counts " I see that we shall not dispute over this matter. The whole .is summed up in a few words: return me the money I have placed in your hands."
    "These things cannot be done in a hurry, my dear sir," said Mr Greenwood, playing with a very handsome gold guard-chain which fastened over his waistcoat.
    "Either you have made away with my money, or you have it in your possession still," exclaimed the count. "If you have it, give me a cheque upon. your banker for the amount: if you have placed it out at interest, give me security."
    "I must observe to you that the whole proceeding is most irregular," said Mr. Greenwood: "and the business requires mature reflection. Moreover, all my funds are locked up for the moment."
    "Then how would you carry out the enterprise for which I embarked my capital? demanded the count.
    "You must be aware," replied the financier, "that capitalists - like me - always lay out their cash to the greatest advantage, and make use of bills and negotiable paper of various descriptions. Thus, I could build a dozen steam-packets in a few weeks, and pay for them all without actually encroaching upon my capital!"
    "I understand you, sir," said the count: "and in order to meet your convenience, I am ready to receive the securities you mention, payable at early dates, instead of specie."
    "Oh! well - that alters the question," cried Mr. Greenwood, an idea apparently striking him at that moment. " I am acquainted with one of the richest bankers in London - intimately acquainted with him :- would you have any objection for him to take my place in respect to you, and become the holder of your capital -say for a period of six months?"
    "Who is the banker?" asked the count.
    "James Tomlinson," answered the financier.
    "I know the name well. Are you serious in your proposal?"
    "Call upon me to-morrow at twelve o'clock, and we will proceed together to Mr. Tomlinson's banking house in the city. I will have the whole affair arranged for you in the course of an hour after our arrival at his establishment."
    "I rely upon your word, Mr. Greenwood," returned the count.
    The financier then took his departure.

< previous chapter <  |  THE MYSTERIES OF LONDON  |  > next chapter >