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[-266-]  

CHAPTER LXXXIX.

THE MYSTERIOUS LETTER.

AND now commenced a gay and busy life for Ellen Monroe. To account for her long absence each day from home, was an easy matter; for her father was readily satisfied, so implicit was the confidence he placed in his daughter's discretion; and Markham was always buried amongst his books in his study, save during the intervals occupied by meals.
    Ellen's salary was considerable; and to dispose. of it in a manner that was not calculated to excite the suspicion of her parent and benefactor, required more duplicity. She took home with her a small amount weekly; and the remainder she placed in the hands of a man of business, recommended to her by the manager.
    Numerous attempts were made by certain young noblemen and gentlemen, who frequented the theatre, to ascertain where she resided. But this secret was unknown to every one save the manager, and he kept it religiously.
    Nevertheless, Ellen was persecuted by amatory letters, and by proposals of a tender nature. A certain favoured few, of the youthful fashionables above alluded to, were permitted to lounge behind the scenes during the hours of performance; and with them Ellen was an object of powerful attraction - indeed, the object of undivided attention and interest. They perceived that she was as beautiful when surveyed near as she seemed when viewed from a distance. But, although she would lend a willing ear to the nonsense and small talk of her wooers, she gave them no direct encouragement; and, though somewhat free, her manners never afforded a pretence even for the most daring to overstep the bounds of decency towards her. The most brilliant offers were conveyed to her in the most delicate terms; but they were invariably declined with firmness, when oral - and left unanswered, when written.
    A species of mystery appeared to hang around the charming danseuse, and only served to render her the more interesting. No one knew who she was, or whence she cmne. Her residence was a secret; and she was seen only at the theatre. There she was reported to be a very paragon of virtue, and had refused the offers of titled and wealthy men. These circumstances invested her with those artificial attractions which please the public, and which, when united with her real qualifications, raised her to a splendid degree of popularity.
    Although her time was fully occupied, she now and then found leisure to call at the house of Mr. Wentworth, the surgeon, and pass half an hour in the company of her child. The little being throve apace; and Ellen felt for it all a mother's tenderness - a love which was not impaired by that callousness towards virtue for virtue's sake, which we have before noticed, and which had been produced in her by the strange scenes through which she had passed.
    One evening, a short time before she was to appear in the ballet, the manager informed her that a gentleman desired to speak with her alone in the green-room. 
    To that apartment did Ellen immediately repair, [-267-] and, to her surprise, she found herself in the presence of Mr. Greenwood.
    "Ah! I am not then mistaken," exclaimed that gentleman, with one of his blandest smiles. " I saw you last night for the first time; and the moment you appeared upon the stage I knew you - that is, I felt almost convinced that it was you.  But how happened this strange event in your life?"
    "My benefactor, Richard Markham," answered Ellen, with singular and mysterious emphasis upon the name, "is not wealthy - you best know why; my father is irretrievably ruined - you also know how :- and, with all my faults, I could not endure the idea of eating the bread of dependence and idleness."
    "But why did you not apply to me?" demanded Greenwood. "I would have placed you above want."
    "No - I would not for worlds be dependent upon you," replied Ellen warmly. "I appealed to you to support my child - our child; and you did so. There was only one way in which you could have manifested a real generosity towards me - and you refused. The service I asked you once upon my knees - with tears and prayers  -you rejected :- I implored you to give a father's honourable name to your child - I besought you to save the reputation of her whose father was ruined through you, and who herself became your victim by a strange combination of circumstances. You refused! What less could I accept at your hands? Do you think that I have not my little sentiments of pride as well as you? I could not live idly :- I embraced the stage; and my exertions have been crowned with success."
    "And your father - and Richard - do they know of your present avocation?" demanded Greenwood, somewhat abashed by the bitterness of the undercurrent of reproach which had characterised the last speech of the figurante.
    "God forbid!" cried Ellen. "And yet," she added, after a moment's thought, "I need not be ashamed of earning my bread by my own honourable exertions."
    "And now, Ellen - one more question," said Greenwood. "The child - is he well! Is he taken care of?"
    "He is well - and he is duly cared for," was Ellen's reply; and as she delivered it, she felt an emotion  -almost of tenderness - in favour of the man who thus inquired, with embarrassment of manner, after the welfare of their child.
    Greenwood's quick eye noticed the feeling that animated the young mother's bosom. He took her hand, and drew her towards him. She was so exquisitely beautiful - so inviting in the light gauze garb which she wore, that Greenwood's passions were fired, and he longed to make her his mistress.
    Her hand lingered in his ;- he pressed it gently. She did not seem to notice the circumstance; her eyes were cast down - she was absorbed in thought.
    Greenwood imprinted a kiss upon her spotless forehead.
    She started, hastily withdrew her hand, and cast upon him a look of mingled curiosity and reproach.
   "Are you astonished that I should bestow a mark of kind feeling upon the mother of my child?" asked Greenwood, assuming a soft and tender tone of voice.
    "That mother," answered Ellen, "whom you abandoned to shame and dishonour!"
    "Do not reproach me for what is past," said Greenwood.
    "Would you not act in the same manner over again?" inquired Ellen, darting a searching glance at the member of Parliament.
    "Why this question, Ellen?" exclaimed Greenwood. "Will you not believe me if I tell you that I am attached to you? Will you not give me credit for sincerity, when I declare that I would gladly exert all the means in my power to make you happy? Why do you look so coldly upon me? Listen for a moment, Ellen, to what I am about to say. A few miles from London there is a delicious spot - a perfect Paradise upon earth, a villa surrounded by charming grounds, and commanding views of the most lovely scenery. That property is for sale: say but the word - I will purchase it - it shall be yours; and all the time that I can spare from my numerous avocations shall be devoted to Ellen and to love."
    "The way to that charming villa, so far as you and I are concerned," said Ellen, " must lead through the church. Is it thus that you understand it?"
    "Why destroy the dream of love and happiness which I had formed, by allusion to the formal ceremonies of this cold world ?" exclaimed Greenwood.
    "That is the language of every libertine, sir," replied Ellen, with bitter irony. "Do not deceive yourself - you cannot deceive me. I would accept the title of your wife, for the sake of our child ;- but to be your  mistress - no, never - never."
    With these words Ellen left the green-room; and in a few minutes she appeared upon the stage - gay, animated, radiant with beauty and with smiles - the very personification of the voluptuous dance in which she shone with such unrivalled splendour.
    Five or six evenings after the one on which she had this interview with Greenwood, Ellen received a note by the post. It was addressed to her at the theatre, by the name which she had assumed; and its contents ran as follows - 

    "A certain person who is enamoured of you, and who is not accustomed to allow trivial obstacles to stand in the way of his designs, has determined upon carrying you forcibly off to a secluded spot in the country. He knows where you reside, and has ascertained that you return every evening from the theatre in a hackney cab to within a short distance of your abode. His plan is to way-lay you during your walk from the place where you descend from the vehicle, to your residence. If your suspicions fall upon any person of your acquaintance, after a perusal of this note, beware how you tax him with the vile intent ;- beware how you communicate this warning, for by any imprudence on your part, you may deprive the writer of the means of counteracting in future the infamous designs which the individual above alluded to may form against yourself or others."

    This note was written in a neat but curious hand, which seemed to be that of a foreigner. The reader can well imagine the painful surprise which its contents produced upon the young figurante. She however had no difficulty in fixing upon Greenwood as the person who contemplated the atrocity revealed in that note.
    He alone (save the manager, who was an honourable and discreet man) knew where she lived; unless, indeed, some other amatory swain had followed her homeward. This idea perplexed her - it was possible; and yet she could not help thinking that Greenwood was the person against whom she was thus warned.
    But who had sent her that friendly notice? Who was the mysterious individual that had thus generously placed her upon her guard? Conjecture was useless. She must think only of how she ought to act!
    Her mind was speedily made up. She resolved to ride in the vehicle of an evening up to the very door [-268-] of Markham's house, and trust to her ingenuity for an excuse to satisfy her father relative to this apparent extravagance on her part. Both Richard and Mr. Monroe put implicit confidence in her word ;- she had already satisfactorily accounted for the late hours which her attendance at the theatre compelled her to  keep, by stating that she was engaged to attend private concerts and musical conversaziones at the West End - sometimes, even, at Blackheath, Kensington, and Clapham - where she presided at the piano, in which she was a proficient. Then, when she was compelled to be present at rehearsals at the theatre, she stated that she had morning concerts to attend; and as she was not absent from home every a day (her engagement with the manager being merely to appear three nights a-week) this system of deception on her part readily obtained credit with both Markham and her father, neither of whom could seriously object to what they were induced to believe was the legitimate exercise of her accomplishments. Accordingly, when, on the morning after the receipt of the mysterious letter, she casually mentioned that she should no longer return home of an evening by the omnibus, as she disliked the lonely walk from the main-road, where it set her down, to the Place, and that her emoluments would now permit her to enjoy the comfort and safety of a cab, both Richard and her father earnestly commended her resolution.
    And why did she not tell the truth at once? wherefore did she not acknowledge the career which she was pursuing, and reveal the triumph which she had achieved?
    Because she knew that both her father and Markham would oppose themselves to the idea of her exercising the profession of a dancer ;- because she had commenced a system of duplicity, and was almost necessitated to persevere in it ;- and because she really loved - ardently loved - the course upon which she had entered. The applause of crowded audiences - the smiles of the manager - the adulation of the young nobles and gentlemen who, behind the scenes, complimented her upon her success, her talents, and her beauty,- these were delights which she would not very readily abandon.

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