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[-290-]      

CHAPTER XCV.

THE FORGER AND THE ADULTERESS. 

IT was evening; and Lady Cecilia Harborough was seated alone in the drawing-room of the house which she and her husband occupied in Tavistock Square.
    A cheerful fire blazed in the grate: the lamp upon the table diffused a soft and mellow lustre through the apartment.
    Lady Cecilia's manner was pensive: a deep shade of melancholy overspread her countenance; and at times her lips quivered, and her bosom heaved convulsively.
    She was evidently attempting to struggle with feelings of a very painful nature.
    "Slighted - neglected - perhaps despised!" she at length murmured. "Oh! what an indignity! To have yielded myself up entirely to that man - and now to be cast aside in this manner! For months past have I observed that his conduct grew more and more cool towards me ;- his visits became less frequent ;- he made appointments with me and did not keep them;- he remonstrated with me for what he called my extravagances, when I asked him for money! Ah! how I endeavoured to close my eyes to the truth :- I forced myself to put faith in his excuses for absence - I compelled myself to be satisfied with his apologies for not keeping his engagements. Fool that I have been! Had I reproached - wept - stormed - and quarelled, as other women would have done, he would yet be my slave : but I was too pliant - too easy - too docile - and he has ended by contemning me! I wanted spirit - I was deficient in courage - I practised no artifice. I should have refused him my favours when he was most impassioned; I should have tantalised him - acted with caprice - set a high value upon the pleasures which he enjoyed in my arms. Oh! it is cruel - cruel! I have been the pensioned-harlot of that man! He commanded the use of my person as he would that of the lowest prostitute in the street. I was too cheap - too willing - too ready to meet him half way in the dalliance of love! I caught a fine bird - and by leaving his cage open, have allowed him an opportunity to fly away! The indignity is insufferable! For weeks I had not asked him for a shilling - for weeks I had not spoken to him on the subject of money. And now - to-day - when I require a hundred guineas for urgent matters, to be refused! to be denied that paltry sum! Oh! it is monstrous! And not to come himself to explain,- but to send a cool note, expressing a regret that the numerous demands he has had upon him lately render it impossible for him to comply with my request! A worn-out excuse - a wretched apology! And for him, too, who absolutely rolls in riches! I never could have believed it. Even now it appears a dream! Ah! the ungrateful monster! It is true that he has supplied me at times in the most generous manner, - that he redeemed my jewels for me a second time, some months ago, when Rupert played me that vile trick by plundering me during my absence ;- but, alas! the jewels have returned to their old place - and who is to redeem them now?"
    Lady Cecilia paused, and compressed her lips together.
    She felt herself slighted - perhaps for some rival  : and whose sufferings are more acute than those of a neglected woman who experiences mental pangs more poignant?
    Lady Cecilia felt herself degraded. She now comprehended that she had been made the instrument of a heartless libertine's pleasures; and that he coolly thrust her aside when literally satiated with her charms.
    This was a most debasing conviction - debasing beyond all others, for a patrician lady!
    Never did she seem so little in her own estimation: she felt polluted;- she saw that she had sold [-291-] herself for gold: she remembered how willingly, how easily she surrendered herself on the first occasion of her criminality ; and she despised herself, because she felt that Greenwood despised her also!
    She had no virtue - but she had pride.
    The highest bidder might enjoy her. person, so voluptuous was she by nature - so ready also was she to make any sacrifice to obtain the means of gratifying her extravagance.
    Love with her was not a refinement - it was a sensuality.
    Still she had her pride - her woman's pride; for even the most degraded courtesan has that;  and it, was her pride that was now so deeply wounded.
    She knew not what course to pursue.
    Should she endeavour to bring Greenwood back to her arms?
    Or should she be revenged?
    If she resolved upon the former, what wiles was she to adopt - what artifices to employ?
    If she decided upon the latter, what point in her neglectful lover was vulnerable - what weapon could she use?
    A woman does not like to choose the alternative of vengeance, because such a proceeding implies the absence of all hope and of all power of recalling the faithless one.
    And yet what was Lady Cecilia to do? That refusal of the money which she had requested, appeared expressive of Mr Greenwood's determination to break of the connexion.
    In that case nothing remained to her but vengeance.
    Such were her thoughts.
    Her reverie was interrupted by the sudden entrance of her husband Sir Rupert Harborough. His face was flushed with drinking - for he had dined, with his friend Chichester, at a tavern; and his cares had forced him to apply with even more than usual liberality to the bottle.
    He threw himself into a chair opposite to bit wife, and said, "Well, Cecilia, I have got very bad news to tell you."
    "Indeed, Sir Rupert?" she said, in a tone which signified that she also had her annoyances, and would rather not be troubled with his.
    "I have, on my honour! " cried the baronet. "In fact, Cecilia, I must find a thousand pounds to-morrow by twelve o'clock."
    Lady Cecilia only laughed ironically.
    "You make merry, madam, at my misfortunes," said Sir Rupert; "but I can assure you that the present is no laughing matter."
    "And I unfortunately have no more diamonds and jewellery for you to rob me of," returned the lady.
    "No, Cecilia - but you are my wife; and the disgrace that falls upon your husband would redound on yourself."
    "Oh! if you be afraid of rusticating in the Queen's Bench prison for a season, I would advise you to make yourself easy on that head; because —"
    "Because what, Cecilia?"
    "Because I can assure all your friends and acquaintances that you are merely passing the winter in Paris."
    "Ridiculous!" cried the baronet impatiently.
    "Not so ridiculous as you imagine," returned Lady Cecilia. " You are accustomed, you know, to leave home for weeks and months together."
    "Lady Cecilia, this is no time for either ill-feeling or sarcasm. If we have no love for one another, at least let us sit down and converse calmly upon the urgency of our present situation."
    "Our situation? " ejaculated Cecilia.
    "Yes - ours," repeated the baronet emphatically. " In one word, Cecilia, can you possibly raise a thousand pounds?"
    To a person who had not the means of obtaining oven the tenth part of that sum, and who had herself been disappointed that very evening in her endeavour to procure a hundred guineas, the question put by the baronet appeared in so ridiculous a light, that - in spite of her own annoyances - Lady Cecilia threw herself back in her chair, and burst into a loud and hearty laugh.
    Sir Rupert rose and paced the room in an agitated manner; for he was totally at a loss what course to pursue. His only hope was in his wife; and yet he knew not how to break the fatal news to her.
    "My God! Cecilia," he exclaimed, after a pause, during which he resumed his seat, "you will drive me mad!"
    "You have become very sensitive of late, Sir Rupert; and yet I was not aware that you were so weak-minded as to tremble upon the verge of insanity. Certainly your conduct has never led me to suppose that you were over sane."
    "My dear Cecilia, cease this raillery, in the name of every thing sacred," cried the baronet. " I tell you that ruin hangs over me - ruin of the most fearful nature - ruin in which your own name, as that of my wife, will be compromised —"
    "Then tell me at once what you dread, and I will tell you whether I can assist you; for I know perfectly well that you require me to do something."
    "Do not ask me what it is, Cecilia; but say - can you procure from any quarter - from any quarter, mind - a thousand pounds?"
    "Absurd! Sir Rupert," answered the lady. "I have no means of helping myself at this moment - much less of providing so large a sum to supply your extravagance. This is a debt of honour, I presume - a debt contracted at the gambling table."
    "No - it is far more serious than that, Cecilia; and you must exert yourself. If I do not have that amount by twelve to-morrow, the consequences will be most fatal. I know you can borrow the money for me - you have resources, no matter where or how - I ask no questions - I do not wish to pry into your secrets —"
    "You are really very considerate, Sir Rupert. You do not wish to pry into my secrets: but you would not hesitate to pry into my drawers and boxes, if you thought there was any thing in them worth taking."
    And as she uttered these words, a smile of superb contempt curled her vermilion lips.
    Sir Rupert was maddened by this behaviour on the part of his wife; and with difficulty could he restrain his feelings of rage and hatred.
    "Madam," he exclaimed, " I ask you to throw aside your raillery, and converse with me - for once - in a serious manner.''
    "I am willing to do so, Sir Rupert," answered Cecilia; " but you really appear to be joking me yourself. You speak in enigmas about the ruin that hangs over you and will involve me,- you refuse to entrust me with more of your secret than is necessary to serve as a preface for your demand ;- and that demand is a thousand pounds! A thousand pounds are required in a few hours of a person who has no diamonds to pledge - no friends to apply to —"
    "Stay, Cecilia," cried the baronet. "You cannot be without friends. For a year past you have beau well supplied with funds - you have redeemed your diamonds twice - you have satisfied many of on [-292-] creditors - the servants' wages and the rent have been regularly paid —" 
    "And all this has been done without the contribution of one shilling on the part of my husband towards the household expenses," added Lady Cecilia.
    " I am glad you have mentioned that point," exclaimed Sir Rupert: " it proves that you have friends - that perhaps your father and mother assist you in private,- in a word, that you have some resources. Now what those resources may be, I do not ask you: all I require is assistance - now - within a few hours-before twelve to-morrow."
    "Even if I could raise the sum you require," said Cecilia, "I would not think of giving it to you without knowing for what destination it was intended."
    "And can you procure the sum, if I reveal to you - if I tell you —"
    "I promise nothing," interrupted Lady Cecilia drily.
    "But you will do your best?" persisted the baronet
    "I will do nothing without being previously made aware of the real nature of your difficulties."
    "I will then keep you in the dark no longer. The cause of my embarrassment is a bill of exchange, for a thousand pounds, now lying in Greenwood's hands, and due to-morrow."
    "That is but a simple debt; and, methinks, Sir Rupert, that your acquaintance with bills is not so slight as to render you an alarmist respecting the consequences."
    "Were it only a simple matter of debt, I should care but little," said Sir Rupert, still compelled to support the biting raillery of his wife: "but unfortunately - in an evil hour - I know not what demon prompted me at the moment —"
    "Speak, Sir Rupert - tell me the truth at once," cried Lady Cecilia, now really alarmed.
    "I say that in an evil hour - in a moment of desperation - in an excess of frenzy - I committed a forgery!"
    "A forgery!" repeated Lady Cecilia, turning deadly pale. " Ah! what a disgrace to the family - what shame for me —"
    "I told you that my ruin would redound upon yourself, Cecilia. But there is more yet for you to hear. The acceptance that I forged —"
    "Well?"
    "Was that of Lord Tremordyn —"
    "My father!"
    "And now you know all. Can you assist me?"
    "Sir Rupert, I have no means of raising one tenth part of the sum that you need to cover this infamous transaction."
    "And yet you seemed to say that if I told you the nature of my difficulties —"
    "I was curious to learn your secret; and as you appeared resolved to keep it from me, I thought I would see if there were no means of wheedling it out of you."
    "And you therefore have no hope to give me?" said the baronet, in a tone of despair.
    "None. Where could I raise one thousand pounds? how am I to obtain such a sum? It is for you either to pacify Mr. Greenwood, or to throw yourself at my father's feet and confess all."
    "Mr. Greenwood is resolute; and you know that your father would spurn me from his presence. So far from me being able to help myself, it is for you to help me. Perhaps Mr. Greenwood would listen to your representations; or else Lord Tremordyn would accord to you what he would never concede to me."
    "You cannot suppose that I can have any influence upon Mr. Greenwood," began Lady Cecilia. " and as for —"
    "On the contrary," said Sir Rupert, fixing his eyes in a significant manner upon his wife's countenance; I have every reason to believe that your influence over Mr. Greenwood is very great; and I will now thank you to exercise it in my behalf."
    "What do you mean, Sir Rupert?" exclaimed Cecilia, a deep blush suffusing her face, and her eyes sinking beneath her husband's expressive look.
    "Do not force me to explanations, Cecilia," returned the baronet. "I know more than you imagine - I have proofs of more than you fancy I could even suspect. But of that no matter: relieve me from this embarrassment - and I will never trouble you about your pursuits."
    "What would you have me do?" asked the guilty wife, in a trembling voice.
    "Go to Greenwood and settle this business for me," said the baronet, in an authoritative tone.
    "I cannot - I dare not - I have no right to demand such a favour of him - I should be certain to experience a refusal - I —"
    "Lady Cecilia," interrupted the baronet, speaking in a slow and emphatic manner, "Mr. Greenwood is too gallant a man to refuse a mere trifle to a lady who has refused nothing to him."
    "Sir Rupert - you cannot suppose - you —"
    "I mean what I say, madam," added the baronet sternly. "Mr. Greenwood is your paramour, and you can surely use your influence with him to save your husband."
    "My God! what do I hear?" ejaculated Cecilia. "What proof have you, Sir Rupert - what testimony  - what ground —"
    "Every proof - every testimony - every ground," interrupted the baronet impatiently. " But, again I say, I do not wish to ruin your reputation, if you will save mine."
    "Impossible!" cried Lady Cecilia. " I do not deny that Mr. Greenwood has accommodated me with an occasional loan - upon interest —"
    "Interest indeed! " said the baronet, whose turn to assume a tone of raillery had now arrived: "interest paid from the bank of my honour!"
    "Upon legal and commercial terms has he lent me money," continued Lady Cecilia; "and this very evening has he refused to advance me another shilling!"
    "Is that true, Cecilia?" demanded Sir Rupert. 
    "Nay - satisfy yourself," said the lady; and drawing a note from her bosom, she handed it to her husband.
    The correspondence that passed between Mr. Greenwood and Lady Cecilia was always of a laconic and most guarded nature: there was consequently nothing in the letter now communicated to Sir Rupert Harborough, to confirm his belief in his wife's criminality. Indeed, the epistle was neither more nor less than any gentleman might write upon a matter of business to any lady.
    "I see that Mr. Greenwood is tired of you, Cecilia," said the baronet, throwing the note upon the table, "and that he is anxious to break off the connexion. Now I will tell you how you must be kind enough to act," he continued, in a tone of command. "You must proceed at once to Mr. Greenwood ; you must tell him that I have discovered all - that I have positive proofs - that since the day when Chichester discovered him with his arm round your neck in my drawing-room —"
    [-293-] "Oh! that villain Chichester!" murmured Lady Cecilia.
    "That ever since that day," continued the baronet, Chichester and myself have watched your proceedings - have seen you, Cecilia, repair to the appointments agreed upon with your paramour —"
    "But this is atrocious!" ejaculated the lady, now dreadfully excited.
    "Nay - do not interrupt me," said Sir Rupert in an imperative manner. " You must tell Mr. Greenwood that I and my witness have followed you both to an hotel at Greenwich - that we have been in the next room and have overheard your conversation - that we have been aware of the moments of your amorous dalliance —"
    "Ah! Sir Rupert - do you want to kill me?" cried Cecilia, bursting into an agony of tears.
    "Nonsense!" ejaculated the baronet : " I only want you to save me, and I will screen you. Go, then, to Greenwood - tell him all this - assure him that I know all - that for months have I been watching you - and that I should obtain from him damages far more important than the amount of this acceptance, but that I am willing to compromise the business by the destruction of that document."
    "And why could you not have acquainted Mr. Greenwood with all this when you last saw him?" demanded Lady Cecilia, drying her tears, and endeavouring to compose herself, now that the worst was known.
    "I did not intend to mention my knowledge of your criminality at all," said Sir Rupert; "and had you consented in the first instance to use your influence with Greenwood to obtain the money to settle the bill, you would not have forced me to these revelations."
    "Say rather, Sir Rupert Harborough," exclaimed the lady, "that you would have me obtain for you the means to pay this forged bill; and when once you were freed from the power of Greenwood, you would have brought your action against him, and exposed your wife. But as you have failed in making me - the wife whom you would thus expose - the instrument of procuring that sum, - and as the danger now stares you in the face, you proclaim your knowledge of our connexion, and use it as a means to compromise the forgery.''
    "Cecilia, you do not think me capable —"
    "I think you capable of any thing," interrupted his wife indignantly; and it was singular to see that adulterous woman - that criminal wife - that profligate female now putting her husband to the blush, by exposing his base designs.
    "Well - after all," exclaimed Sir Rupert, "recriminations will do no good. Go to Greenwood - settle the affair - and the past shall be buried in oblivion."
    "And what guarantee do you offer to ensure eternal secresy on your part, provided Mr. Greenwood will give up this forged bill?"
    "I will sign any paper he may require," replied the baronet. " But time presses - it is now nearly ten o'clock - and to-morrow morning —"
    "I will go to Mr. Greenwood," said Lady Cecilia, rising from her seat: " I will go to him - and endeavour to compromise this affair to the best of my power."
    Sir Rupert rang the bell and ordered wine to be brought up while Lady Cecilia hastened to her boudoir to attire herself for going out; and in the mean time a servant was despatched to procure a cab.
    The vehicle arrived and Lady Cecilia was already upon the threshold of the front door of the house, when a servant in a handsome livery ascended the steps, presented a letter, and said "For Sir Rupert Harborough."
    Lady Cecilia received the letter; and the servant who delivered it. immediately took his departure.
    The lady was about to send in the letter by her own domestic to her husband, when the superscription on the envelope caught her eyes by the light of the hall-lamp. The writing was in the delicate hand of a female; and, without a moment's hesitation, Cecilia consigned the epistle to her reticule.
    She then stepped into the vehicle, and ordered the driver to take her to Spring Gardens.
    There were two bright lamps fixed in front of the cab; and by these means was Lady Cecilia enabled to examine the contents of the letter intended for her husband.
    Without the least hesitation she opened the letter, and to her ineffable surprise discovered that it contained a Bank of England note for one thousand pounds.
    This treasure was accompanied by a letter, the contents of which were as follows:-

    "An individual who once received some kindness at the hands of Sir Rupert Harborough, has learnt by a strange accident that Sir Rupert Harborough has a pressing need of a sum of money to liquidate a debt due to Mr. George Montague Greenwood. The individual alluded to takes leave to place the sum required at Sir Rupert Harborough's disposal."

    No name - no date - no address were appended to this mysterious note. The writing was in a delicate female hand ;- and a servant in a handsome livery had delivered the letter. These circumstances, combined with the handsome manner in which the money was tendered, refuted the suspicion that some female, with whom Sir Rupert was illicitly connected, had thus befriended him.
    Lady Cecilia was bewildered the pain of conjecture and doubt was however absorbed in the pleasurable feelings excited by the possession of so large a sum of money.
    The cab now stopped at Mr. Greenwood's residence.

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