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[-293-]      

 CHAPTER XCVI.

THE MEMBER OF PARLIAMENT' S LEVEE.

    "You have doubtless called, my dear Cecilia," said Mr. Greenwood, as he handed the fair visitant to a seat in his elegant drawing-room, - "you have doubtless called to remonstrate with me respecting my note of this evening."
    "No," answered Cecilia coldly: " I come on a more momentous affair than that: Sir Rupert knows all!"
    "Ah!" cried Greenwood; "is it possible that the villain Chichester —"
    "Has betrayed us," added the lady. "Moreover, Sir Rupert and his inseparable friend have been watching and dogging all our movements for months past."
    "This is awkward - very awkward," observed Greenwood. "However, Sir Rupert will not dare show his teeth against me, nor venture to give publicity to the affair."
    "Because you hold his bill, with a forged acceptance, for one thousand pounds," said Lady Cecilia. 
    "Ah! he has told you that much - has he?" exclaimed Greenwood.     "Well  - you perceive, my dearest Cecilia, that he is completely in my power."
    "The most remarkable part of the entire business," observed the lady, " is that I am actually deputed [-294-] by Sir Rupert to negotiate the amicable settlement of the affair with you."
    "Indeed!" cried Greenwood. " He could not have chosen a more charming plenipotentiary. "
    "His proposal is this :- you are to give up the acceptance, and he will sign any paper you choose to guarantee you against legal proceedings on his part."
    "I do not see, fair ambassadress," said Greenwood, who did not treat the business with so much serious attention as Lady Cecilia had anticipated - " I do not see that I should benefit myself by such an arrangement. So long as the bill remains in my possession, it is impossible for Sir Rupert Harborough to commence civil proceedings against me, because he knows full well that were he to have process issued against me, I should that moment hand him over to the officers of justice."
    "Then, for my sake, Mr. Greenwood," said Lady Cecilia, cruelly hurt by this cold calculation on the part of a man the slave of whose passions she had so completely been,- "for my sake, compromise this affair amicably."
    "A thousand pounds is a large sum to fling into the street, my dear Cecilia," observed Greenwood. 
    "And suppose that, by some accident my husband should raise that amount and pay the bill —"
    "It never was my intention to allow him to pay all," interrupted Greenwood. "I imagined that by threatening him, I should obtain five or six hundred on account, and I should still hold the bill for the balance. That balance I would not receive, were he to offer it, because by retaining the bill, I keep him in my power."
    "Then, once again, for my sake - for my sake," repeated Lady Cecilia, "consent to the proposal made to you this evening - settle the affair in an amicable manner."
    "To oblige you, my dear Cecilia, I will assent to Sir Rupert Harborough's proposal. Let him draw up and sign a document in which he acknowledges that he has discovered the - the —"
    "Criminal conversation between his wife and Mr. George Greenwood," said Cecilia: "we will not mince words in a negotiation of this kind," she added, ironically.
    "Precisely," exclaimed Greenwood, coolly; "and that he has received full satisfaction for the same. In this manner the business can be disposed of to the satisfaction of all parties."
    "To-morrow morning at eleven o'clock I will call with the paper," said Lady Cecilia. 
    "And I will give you up the forged bill," returned the Member of Parliament. "And now, my dear Cecilia, allow me to make an observation relative to the answer I sent you this evening to your little note. The truth is, that representing as I do an enlightened and independent constituency —"
    "Pardon me," said Lady Cecilia, rising, " we will not talk of any other business until this most painful affair be settled."
    The fair patrician lady then took her leave, and returned to her husband, who awaited Greenwood's decision in a state of the most painful suspense.
    Cecilia communicated to him the particulars of the interview; and, ere he retired to rest, the baronet drew up the document which was to save himself by the compromise of his honour.
    "So far, so good," said Sir Rupert. as he handed the paper to his wife. "I have now a proposal to make to you, Cecilia - and I have little doubt that you will accept it."
    "Proceed," said Cecilia.
    "After the explanation which has taken place between us this evening, it is impossible that we can ever entertain much respect for each other again. You know me to be a forger - I know you to be unfaithful to my bed. If it suits you, we will agree to live together beneath the same roof as hitherto - to have our separate apartments - to maintain an appearance of enjoying domestic tranquillity - and each to follow his own pursuits without leave or remonstrance on the part of the other. You will never interfere with me - I will never interfere with you. If you hear that I have a mistress, you will take no otice of it: if I know that you have a lover, I shall be equally blind and dumb. Does this please you?"
    "Perfectly," answered Lady Cecilia. "Shall we commit this compact to writing?"
    "Oh! with much pleasure," returned Sir Rupert. "I will draw up two agreements, embodying the conditions of our compact, immediately. You can retain one; and I will keep the other."
    The baronet set to work, and, in a most business-like manner, wrote out the compact. He then read it to Lady Cecilia, who signified her approval of its terms. A counterpart was written; and the u husband and wife signed the papers that released them from all the moral obligations of their marriage-vows!
    They then retired to their separate apartments, better pleased with each other, perhaps than they had been for a long-long time.
    The reader need scarcely be informed that Lady u Cecilia said nothing to her husband relative to the mysterious letter containing the Bank note for a thousand pounds.
    On the following morning Lady Cecilia repaired to the abode of Mr. Greenwood. When she arrived in Spring Gardens, she found the street completely blocked up with a train of charity children-boys and girls, marshalled by the parish beadle, and accompanied by the schoolmaster and school-mistress. The girls were attired in their light blue dresses, plain straw bonnets, white collars, and pepper-and-salt coloured cloaks; and their arms, red with the cold, were only half covered with their coarse mittens. The boys wore their muffin caps, short coats, and knee-breeches; and each was embellished with a large tin plate, or species of medal, affixed like a badge of honour, to the breast. Their meagre countenances, their thin arms, and lanky  legs, did not speak much in favour of the quantity of food which constituted their diurnal meals.
    Lady Cecilia was conducted to the drawing-room by the Italian valet, who informed her that Mr. Greenwood would wait upon her the moment he had dismissed the charity children.
    Lafleur, in the mean time threw open the door of the mansion, and admitted the procession into the spacious hall, after having kept the poor creatures shivering in the cold for nearly a quarter of an hour. The beadle took his station upon the steps, with awful dignity, and watched the boys and girls as they defiled past him in military order into the hall. It was very evident from the timid glances which the little scholars cast towards the countenance of this  functionary, that they believed him to be one of the most important personages on the face of the earth; and perhaps they were even perplexed to decide, in their own minds, whether the parish beadle whom they saw before them, or Mr. Greenwood, M. P., whom they were about to see, was the greater man of the two.
    At length the procession had entirely cleared the threshold of the mansion, and then only did the [-295-] beadle enter. He doffed his enormous cocked hat out of respect to the owner of the dwelling in which he now found himself, and made his long staff ring upon the marble pavement of the hall with a din that electrified the children and called looks of solemn importance to the countenances of the schoolmaster and mistress.
    In a few moments a aide door opened, and Mr. Greenwood appeared.
    The beadle struck his stick upon the hall floor once more; and the children, duly tutored to obey the signal, saluted the great man, the girls with low curtseys, and the boys by doffing their muffin caps, bobbing their heads forward, and kicking back their left legs.
    "Well, Mr. Muffles," said the Member of Parliament to the beadle, with one of his usual affable smiles; "brought your little family - eh?"
    "These children, sir," responded Muffles in a self-sufficient and important tone, glancing at the same time in a patronising manner upon the groups of juveniles around - "these children,-sir, has come, as in dooty bounden, to hoffer up the hincense of their most gratefullest thanks to you, sir, as their kind paytron which supplied 'em with pea-soup, blankets, and religious tracts, to keep their bodies and souls both warm and comfortable, as one may say."
    "I am delighted, Mr. Muffles," replied the Member of Parliament, in a most condescending manner, " to receive this little mark of gratitude on the part of those for whom I entertain a deep interest, and I am the more pleased because this visit on their part was quite spontaneous, and on mine totally unlooked for."
    Mr. Greenwood did not think it necessary to state his knowledge that the whole affair had been got up by Lafleur, in obedience to his own commands.
    "Representing as I do," continued Mr. Greenwood, " an enlightened, independent, and important constituency, I cannot do otherwise than feel interested in the welfare of the rising generation; and when I glance upon the happy countenances of these dear children, I thank God for having given me the means to contribute my mite towards the maintenance of the schools of the parish wherein I have the honour to reside."
    Mr. Muffles' stick was here rapped upon the floor with tremendous violence ; and the boys and girls immediately burst forth into shrill cries of "Hear! hear!"
    When silence was once more restored, the beadle in due form presented the schoolmaster and school-mistress to Mr. Greenwood. 
    "This gen'leman, sir," said the parish functionary, "is Mr. Twiggs, the parochial perceptor - as worthy a man, sir, as ever broke bread. He's bin in his present sitivation thirteen year come Janivary —"
    "Febivary, Mr. Muffles," said the schoolmaster, mildly correcting the beadle.
    "Oh! Febivary, be it, Mr. Twiggs?" exclaimed the parish authority. "And this, sir, is Mrs. Twiggs, a lady well known for her excellent qualities in teaching them blessed young gals, and taking care o' their linen."
    "Delighted to see your scholars looking so well, Mr. Twiggs," said Greenwood, bowing to the master: "quite charmed, Mrs. Twiggs, to behold the healthy and neat appearance of your girls," he added, bowing to the mistress.
    "Would you be kind enough, sir," said Mr. Twiggs. in a meek and fawning tone, "to question any of them lads on any pint of edication?'"
    "Perhaps I might as well, Mr. Twiggs," returned Greenwood; "in case I should ever have to allude to the subject in the House of Commons."
    The mere idea of any mention of the parochial school being made in Parliament, produced such an impression upon the beadle that he banged his staff most earnestly on the hall floor; and the children, taking it for a signal which they had been previously tutored to observe, again yelled forth "Hear! Hear!"
    "Silence!" thundered Mr. Muffles; and the vociferations instantly ceased.
    "Now, my boy," said Mr. Greenwood, addressing the one who stood nearest to him, "I will ask you a question or two. What is your name?"
    "Jem Blister, sir," was the prompt reply.
    "James Blister-eh? Well - who gave you that name?"
    "Father and mother, please, sir."
    "Blister, for shame!" ejaculated Mr. Twiggs with a terrific frown: then, by way of prompting the lad, he said, "My Godfathers and —"
    "My Godfathers and Godmother in my baptism," hastily cried the boy, catching at the hint; and after a pause, he added, "I mean an outward and wisible sign of an inward —"
    "Blister, I am raly ashamed of you!" again exclaimed Mr. Twiggs. "Stand back, sir; and let the boy behind you stand for'ard."
    Another urchin stepped forth from the rank, and stood, blushing up to his very hair, and fumbling about with his cap, in the presence of Mr. Greenwood.
    "My good boy," said the Member of Parliament, condescendingly patting him upon the head, "what is your name?"
    "M. or N. as the case may be, please, sir," replied the boy.
    "I should observe, sir," said the schoolmaster, "that this lad only began his Catechism yesterday."
    "Oh very well, Mr. Twiggs," exclaimed Greenwood: "that accounts for his answer! I will ask him something else, then. My good lad, who was Adam?"
    "The fust man, sir."
    "Very good, my boy. And who was Eve?"
    "The fust 'ooman, sir."
    "Very good indeed," repeated Mr Greenwood. "Now tell me what is the capital of England?"
    "This boy is not in geography, sir," said Mr. Twiggs. " He a jest begun cyphering."
    "Oh very good. Can you say your multiplication table, my boy?" 
    "Twice one's two; twice two's three; twice three's eight; twice four's ten; twice five's fourteen —"
    The boy was rattling on at a furious pace, when the ominous voice of Mr. Twiggs ejaculated, "Garlick, I am ashamed of you!"
    And Master Garlick began to cry most piteously.
    "Come, it is not so bad, though," said Mr. Greenwood, by way of soothing the discomfited schoolmaster and restoring the abashed beadle to confidence; "he evidently knows his Bible very well - and that is the essential."
    The Member of Parliament then delivered himself of a long harangue in favour of a sound religious education and in praise of virtue; and thus ended the solemn farce.
    The great man bowed and withdrew: the beadle rapped his staff upon the floor; Lafleur opened the door; and the procession filed slowly out of the mansion.
    Mr. Greenwood, having thus gone through a ceremony an account of which was to appear in the papers [-296-] on the following morning, hurried up to the drawing-room where Lady Cecilia awaited him.
    "My dear Cecilia," he exclaimed, as he entered the room, "a thousand pardons for keeping you; but the fact is that the position in which an intelligent and independent constituency has placed me, entails upon me duties —"
    "A truce to that absurdity with me," interrupted the baronet's wife, in a more peremptory tone than Mr. Greenwood had ever yet heard her use. "I am come according to appointment to settle a most unpleasant business. Here is my husband's acknowledgment, drawn up as you desired: please to deliver up to me the bill."
    Mr. Greenwood ran his eye over the document, and appeared satisfied. He then drew forth the bill from his pocket-book, and handed it to Lady Cecilia.
    There was a flush upon the lady's delicately pale countenance; and her eyes sparkled with unusual vivacity. She was dressed in a very neat, but plain and simple manner; and Mr. Greenwood fancied that she had never seemed so interesting before.
    As he delivered the bill into her keeping he took her hand and endeavoured to convey it to his lips.
    She drew back with an air of offended dignity, which would have well become a lady that had never surrendered herself to the pleasures of an illicit love.
    "No, Mr. Greenwood," she said, in a firm, and even haughty tone: "all that is ended between you and me. You are a heartless man, who cannot appreciate the warmth with which a confiding woman yields herself up to you ;- you have treated me - the daughter of a peer - like a pensioned mistress. But I let that now pass :- I have made you acquainted with the nature of my thoughts - and I am satisfied."
    "I am at a loss to understand how I should have deserved these harsh words, Cecilia," replied Greenwood, with a somewhat supercilious smile; "but perhaps my inability to supply you with the means of gratifying your extravagances has given you offence."
    "Your cool indifference of late has indeed given me a bitter lesson," said Lady Cecilia. 
    "And yet I manifested every disposition to serve you, madam," rejoined Greenwood haughtily, "when I consented to compromise your husband's felony."
    "Yes - you generously abandoned your claim to a thousand pounds," exclaimed Cecilia, with cutting irony, "in order to hush up an intrigue with the wife of the man whom you had inveigled into your net. But think not, Mr Greenwood, that I attempt to justify my husband's conduct: I know him to be a heartless - a bad - an unprincipled man; and yet Mr. Greenwood, I do not conceive that you would shine the more resplendently by being placed in contrast with him. One word more. Had you refused to deliver up that bill, I was prepared to pay it. Some unknown friend had heard of this transaction - heaven alone knows how; and that friend forwarded last evening the means wherewith to liquidate this debt. Here is the letter which contained a Bank note for a thousand pounds: it fell into my hands, and my husband knows naught concerning it; can you say whose writing that is?"
    Greenwood glanced hastily at the letter, and exclaimed, "Yes - I know that writing well Mrs Arlington is your husband's generous friend!"
    "Mrs. Arlington!" exclaimed Cecilia: "Oh! - now I recollect that rumour points to that woman as having once been my husband's mistress."
    "The same," said Greenwood, struck by this noble act on the part of the fair one whom be himself had first seduced from the paths of virtue.
    "it would now be difficult to decide," observed Cecilia, in a tone of profound contempt. "which has acted the more noble part - the late mistress of his Rupert Harborough, or the late lover of his wife."
    Greenwood only answered with a satirical curl of the lip. 
    Lady Cecilia rose from her seat, bowed coldly to the capitalist, and withdrew.
    Thus terminated the amours of the man of the world and the lady of fashion - ending, as such illicit loves usually do, in a quarrel.
    But the reader must not suppose that the same sentiments of pride which had thus induced Lady Cecilia to break off abruptly a connexion which her paramour had been for some time dissolving by degrees, influenced her in the use to which she appropriated the handsome sum supplied for an especial purpose by Mrs. Arlington. The lady knew no compunction in this respect, and she therefore devoted the thousand pounds so generously forwarded by her husband's late mistress, to her own wants!

* * * * * * *

    The Italian valet had overheard the entire conversation between Lady Cecilia Harborough and Mr. Greenwood, which we have just described.
    In the course of the day the whole details of that interview were communicated to Mrs. Arlington, who thus learnt that Lady Cecilia had intercepted the money intended for Sir Rupert Harborough and had settled the forged bill without being compelled to disburse it.

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