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[-242-] 

CHAPTER LXXX

THE REVELATION.

THAT same evening Mr. Chichester dined with his friend Sir Rupert Harborough, at the dwelling of the latter in Tavistock Square.
    Whenever her husband invited this guest, Lady Cecilia invariably made it a rule to accept an invitation elsewhere.
    The baronet and his friend were therefore alone together.
    [-243-] "This is awkward - very awkward," said Chichester, when the cloth was removed, and the two gentlemen were occupied with their wine.
    "Awkward! I believe you," exclaimed the baronet. "Upon my honour, that Greenwood ought to be well thrashed!"
    "He is an insufferable coxcomb," said Chichester. 
    "A conceited humbug," added the baronet.
    "A self-sufficient fool," remarked Chichester.
    "A consummate scoundrel," cried Sir Rupert.
    "So he is," observed Chichester.
    "But all this will not pay my bill," continued the baronet; "and where to obtain six hundred pounds, the deuce take me if I can tell."
    "No - nor I either," said Chichester; "unless we get a couple of horses and ride down towards Hounslow upon a venture."
    "You never can be serious, Chichester? What! turn highwaymen!"
    "I was only joking. But do you really think that Greenwood will press you so hard?"
    "He will send the bill to Lord Tremordyn's banker's to-morrow. Oh! I can assure you he was quite high about it, and pretended to forget all the circumstances that had led to the transaction. To every word I said, it was 'I don't recollect.'  May the devil take him!"
    "And so he has got you completely in his power?"
    "Completely."
    "And you would like to have your revenge?"
    "Of course I should. But what is the use of talking in this manner? You know very well that I can do him no injury!"
    "I am not quite so sure of that," said Chichester.
    "What do you mean?" demanded the baronet. "I can see that there is something in your mind."
    "I was only thinking. Suppose we accused him ,of something that he would not like exposed, and, could not very well refute - an intrigue with any particular lady, for instance —"
    "Ah! if we could - even though it were with my own wife," exclaimed the baronet. "And, by the bye, he is very intimate with Lady Cecilia."
   
"Of course he is," said Chichester drily. "Have you never noticed that before."
    "It never struck me until now," observed the baronet.
    "But it has struck me - frequently," added Chichester.
    "And when I think of it," continued Sir Rupert Harborough, "he has often been here for an hour or two together; for I have gone out and left him with Lady Cecilia in the drawing-room; and when I have come back, he has been there still."
    "Greenwood is not the man to waste his time at a lady's apron-strings for nothing."
    "Chichester - you do not mean —"
    "Oh! no - I mean nothing more than you choose to surmise."
    "And what would you have me surmise?"
    "I do not suppose," said Chichester, "that you care very much for Lady Cecilia."
    "You are well aware of my feelings with regard to her."
    "And out of all the money she has had lately - an affluence that you yourself have noticed more than once - she has never assisted you."
    "No - never. And I have often puzzled myself to think whence came those supplies."
    "You cannot suppose that either Lord or Lady Tremordyn replenish her purse?"
    "Yes - I have thought so."
    "Oh! very well; you know best;" and Chichester sipped his wine with an affected indifference which was in itself most eloquently significant.
    "My dear fellow," said the baronet, after a pause, "I feel convinced that you have got some plan in your head, or else that you know more than you choose to say. In either case, Lady Cecilia is concerned, I have told you that I care not one fig about her - on my honour! Have the kindness. then, to speak without reserve."
    "And then you may be offended," said Chichester.
    "How absurd! Speak."
    "What if I was to tell you that Lady Cecilia —"
    "Well?"
    "Is Greenwood's mistress!"
    "The proof! the proof!" ejaculated the baronet.
    "I myself saw them in each other's arms."
    Sir Rupert Harborough's countenance grew deadly pale, and his lips quivered. He now revolted from the mere idea of what he had just before wished to be a fact.
    "You remember the day that Greenwood called to acquaint us with his success at Rottenborough in March last?" said Chichester, after a pause. "You and I had been practising with the dice and cards; and we went out together."
    "I recollect," exclaimed the baronet; " and you returned for the dice-boxes which you had left behind."
    "It was upon that occasion. Greenwood followed me out of the drawing-room, and gave me a hundred pounds to keep the secret."
    "True! you produced a hundred pounds immediately afterwards; and you said that Greenwood had lent you the amount. Why did you never tell me of this before? "
    "The deuce! Is it a pleasant thing to communicate to a friend, Harborough? Besides, it always struck me that the discovery would one day or another be of some use."
    "Of use indeed!" ejaculated the baronet. "And Lady Cecilia is Greenwood's mistress I Ah! that explains the restoration of her diamonds, as well as the improved condition of her finances. The false creature!"
    "You must admit, Harborough," said Chichester, "that you have never been over attentive to your wife; and if —"
    "Nonsense, my good fellow," interrupted the baronet sharply. "That is no excuse for a woman. A man may do what he chooses; but a woman's wife —"
    "Come, come - no moralizing," said Chichester. " It is all your own fault. Not one woman out of fifty would go wrong, if the husband behaved properly. But now that I have told you the secret, think what use you can make of it."
    "I cannot see how the circumstance can serve me, without farther proof," remarked the baronet. "Al! Lady Cecilia - what duplicity! what deceit!"
    "Why not search her drawers - her boxes?" said Chichester. " She is absent; no one can interrupt you; and perhaps you may find a letter —"
    "Excellent thought!" cried Sir Rupert; and, seizing a candle, he hurried from the room.
    Twenty minutes elapsed, during which Mr. Chichester sate drinking his wine as comfortably as if he had done a good action, instead of revealing so fearful a secret to his friend.
    At length Sir Rupert Harborough returned to the dining-room.
    He was very pale; and there was something [-244-] ghastly in his countenance, and sinister in the expression of his eyes.
    "Well - any news?" inquired Chichester.
    "No proof - not a note, not a letter," answered the baronet. "But I have found something," he added, with an hysterical kind of laugh, "that will answer my purpose for the moment better still."
    "What is that?" asked his friend.
    "Lady Cecilia's diamonds and other trinkets - presents, most likely, from Greenwood - together with ninety pounds in notes and gold."
    "Capital!" cried Chichester. " You can now settle with Greenwood."
    "Yes - I will pay him his six hundred pounds, renew for the remainder for three or four months, and then devise some plot to obtain undeniable proof of his amour with Lady Cecilia., But when I think of that woman, Chichester - not that she is any thing to me - still she is my wife —"
    "Nonsense! It is fortunate for you that I told you of the affair, or else you would never have thought of using her property for the purpose of raising the sum you require."
    "Ah! I will be revenged on that Greenwood!" cried Sir Rupert, in whose mind one idea was upper. most, in spite of his depraved and selfish disposition " I will have the most signal vengeance upon the seducer of my wife! But remember, Chichester - I care nothing for her;- still the outrage  - the dishonour - the perfidy! Yes - by God!" he added, dashing his clenched fist upon the table; "I will be avenged!"
    "And in the mean time convert the diamonds and jewels into money," said Chichester. "It is only seven o'clock; we have plenty of time for the pawnbroker's."
    "Come," cried the baronet, whose manner continued to be excited and irritable; "I am ready."
    The two friends emptied their glasses, and took their departure, the baronet having carefully secured about his person the booty he had plundered from his wife. They then bent their steps towards the pawnbroking-establishment of Mr. V—, in the Strand.
    What a strange type of all the luxury, dissipation, extravagance, profligacy, misery, ruin, and want, which characterise the various classes of society, is a pawnbroker's shop! It is the emporium whither go the jewels of the aristocrat, the clothes of the mechanic, the ornaments of the actress, and the necessaries of the poor. Genteel profligacy and pining industry seek, at the same place - the one the means for fresh extravagance, the other the wherewith to purchase food to sustain life. Two broad and direct roads branch off from the pawnbroker's shop in different directions; the first leading to the gaming-table, the second to the gin-palace; and then those paths are carried onwards, past those half-way houses of destruction, and converge to one point, at which they meet at last, and whose name is Ruin.
    Two working men have been seen standing at the corner of a street, whispering together: at length one has taken off his coat, gone to the pawnbroker's, come out with the proceeds, and accompanied the other to the nearest gin-shop, where they have remained until all the money raised upon the garment was expended. Again, during the absence from home of the hard-working mechanic, his intemperate wife has collected together their few necessaries, carried them to the pawnbroker's, and spent the few shillings, thus procured, on gin. The thief, when he has picked a pocket of a watch, finds a ready means of disposing of it at the pawnbroker's. Hundreds of working-men pledge their Sunday garments regularly every Monday morning, and redeem them again on Saturday night.
    Are pawnbrokers' shops a necessary evil? To some extent they are. They afford assistance to those whom some pressing urgence suddenly overtakes, or who are temporarily out of work. But are not the facilities which they thus present to all classes liable to an abuse more than commensurate with this occasional advantage? Decidedly. They supply a ready means for drink to those who would hesitate before they sold their little property out-and-out; for every one who pawns, under such circumstances, entertains the hope and intention of redeeming the articles again. The enormous interest charged by pawnbrokers crushes and effectually ruins the poor. We will suppose that a mechanic pledges his best clothes every Monday morning, and redeems them every Saturday night for wear on the Sabbath: we will presume that the pawnbroker lends him one pound each time :- they will thus be in pawn 313 days in each year, for which year he will pay 3s. 8d. interest, and 4s 4d. for duplicates - making a total of 8s. Thus he pays 8s. for the use of his own clothes for 52 days!
    If the government were really a paternal one - if it had the welfare of the industrious community at heart, it would take the system of lending money upon deposits under its own supervision, and establish institutions similar to the Mont do Piété in France. Correctly managed, demanding is small interest upon loans, such institutions would become a blessing :- now the shops of pawnbrokers are an evil and a curse!
    Sir Rupert Harborough entered the pawnbroker's shop by the front door, while Mr. Chichester awaited him in the Lowther Arcade. The baronet was well known in that establishment; and he accordingly entered into a friendly and familiar chat with one of the young men behind the counter.
    "That is a very handsome painting," said Sir Rupert, pointing to one suspended to the wall.
    "Yes, sir. It was pledged fifteen months ago for seven pounds, by a young nobleman who had received it along with fifty pounds in cash the same morning by way of discount for a thousand pound bill."
    "And what do you expect for it? "
    "Eighty guineas," answered the young man coolly. " But here is one much finer than that," continued the pawnbroker's assistant, turning towards another painting. "That expired a few days ago. It was only pledged for thirty guineas."
    "And how much have you the conscience to ask for it? "
    "One hundred and twenty," whispered the young man.
    "There is something peculiar connected with that picture. It belonged to an upholsterer who was once immensely rich, but who was ruined by giving credit to the Duke of York."
    "To the Duke of York - eh?"
    "Oh! yes, sir: we have received in pledge the goods of many, many tradesmen who were once very wealthy, but who have been reduced to absolute beggary - starvation - by his late Royal Highness. We call the pillar in Saint James's Park the COLUMN OF INFAMY."
    "Well, it was too bad not to pay his debts before they built that monument," said the baronet carelessly. "But, come - give me a cool six hundred for these things."
    [-245-] "What! the diamonds again?" exclaimed the assistant.
    "Oh yes - they come and go, like good and bad fortune - 'pon my honour!" said Sir Rupert.
    "Like the jewels of many others at the West End," added the assistant; and, having made out the duplicates, he handed Sir Rupert over the sum required.
    On the following morning the baronet paid Mr. Greenwood the six hundred pounds, and gave a new bill for a thousand at four months, for which the capitalist was generous enough not to charge him any interest.
    There was nothing in the baronet's conduct to create a suspicion in Mr. Greenwood's mind that his intrigue with Lady Cecilia was detected; but when the transaction was completed, Sir Rupert hastened to consult with his friend Chichester upon some plan for obtaining positive evidence of that amour.

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