‚Why not?‘ asked Monks hastily.
‚Because you know it well.‘
‚Denial to me is vain,‘ replied Mr. Brownlow. ‚I shall show you that I know more than that.‘
‚You–you–can’t prove anything against me,‘ stammered Monks. ‚I defy you to do it!‘
‚We shall see,‘ returned the old gentleman with a searching glance. ‚I lost the boy, and no efforts of mine could recover him. Your mother being dead, I knew that you alone could solve the mystery if anybody could, and as when I had last heard of you you were on your own estate in the West Indies–whither, as you well know, you retired upon your mother’s death to escape the consequences of vicious courses here–I made the voyage. You had left it, months before, and were supposed to be in London, but no one could tell where. I returned. Your agents had no clue to your residence. You came and went, they said, as strangely as you had ever done: sometimes for days together and sometimes not for months: keeping to all appearance the same low haunts and mingling with the same infamous herd who had been your associates when a fierce ungovernable boy. I wearied them with new applications. I paced the streets by night and day, but until two hours ago, all my efforts were fruitless, and I never saw you for an instant.‘
‚And now you do see me,‘ said Monks, rising boldly, ‚what then? Fraud and robbery are high-sounding words–justified, you think, by a fancied resemblance in some young imp to an idle daub of a dead man’s Brother! You don’t even know that a child was born of this maudlin pair; you don’t even know that.‘
‚I _did not_,‘ replied Mr. Brownlow, rising too; ‚but within the last fortnight I have learnt it all. You have a brother; you know it, and him. There was a will, which your mother destroyed, leaving the secret and the gain to you at her own death. It contained a reference to some child likely to be the result of this sad connection, which child was born, and accidentally encountered by you, when your suspicions were first awakened by his resemblance to your father. You repaired to the place of his birth. There existed proofs–proofs long suppressed–of his birth and parentage. Those proofs were destroyed by you, and now, in your own words to your accomplice the Jew, „_the only proofs of the boy’s identity lie at the bottom of the river, and the old hag that received them from the mother is rotting in her coffin_.“ Unworthy son, coward, liar,–you, who hold your councils with thieves and murderers in dark rooms at night,–you, whose plots and wiles have brought a violent death upon the head of one worth millions such as you,–you, who from your cradle were gall and bitterness to your own father’s heart, and in whom all evil passions, vice, and profligacy, festered, till they found a vent in a hideous disease which had made your face an index even to your mind–you, Edward Leeford, do you still brave me!‘
‚No, no, no!‘ returned the coward, overwhelmed by these accumulated charges.
‚Every word!‘ cried the gentleman, ‚every word that has passed between you and this detested villain, is known to me. Shadows on the wall have caught your whispers, and brought them to my ear; the sight of the persecuted child has turned vice itself, and given it the courage and almost the attributes of virtue. Murder has been done, to which you were morally if not really a party.‘
‚No, no,‘ interposed Monks. ‚I–I knew nothing of that; I was going to inquire the truth of the story when you overtook me. I didn’t know the cause. I thought it was a common quarrel.‘
‚It was the partial disclosure of your secrets,‘ replied Mr. Brownlow. ‚Will you disclose the whole?‘
‚Yes, I will.‘
‚Set your hand to a statement of truth and facts, and repeat it before witnesses?‘
‚That I promise too.‘
‚Remain quietly here, until such a document is drawn up, and proceed with me to such a place as I may deem most advisable, for the purpose of attesting it?‘
‚If you insist upon that, I’ll do that also,‘ replied Monks.
‚You must do more than that,‘ said Mr. Brownlow. ‚Make restitution to an innocent and unoffending child, for such he is, although the offspring of a guilty and most miserable love. You have not forgotten the provisions of the will. Carry them into execution so far as your brother is concerned, and then go where you please. In this world you need meet no more.‘
While Monks was pacing up and down, meditating with dark and evil looks on this proposal and the possibilities of evading it: torn by his fears on the one hand and his hatred on the other: the door was hurriedly unlocked, and a gentleman (Mr. Losberne) entered the room in violent agitation.
‚The man will be taken,‘ he cried. ‚He will be taken to-night!‘
‚The murderer?‘ asked Mr. Brownlow.
‚Yes, yes,‘ replied the other. ‚His dog has been seen lurking about some old haunt, and there seems little doubt that his master either is, or will be, there, under cover of the darkness. Spies are hovering about in every direction. I have spoken to the men who are charged with his capture, and they tell me he cannot escape. A reward of a hundred pounds is proclaimed by Government to-night.‘
‚I will give fifty more,‘ said Mr. Brownlow, ‚and proclaim it with my own lips upon the spot, if I can reach it. Where is Mr. Maylie?‘
‚Harry? As soon as he had seen your friend here, safe in a coach with you, he hurried off to where he heard this,‘ replied the doctor, ‚and mounting his horse sallied forth to join the first party at some place in the outskirts agreed upon between them.‘
‚Fagin,‘ said Mr. Brownlow; ‚what of him?‘
‚When I last heard, he had not been taken, but he will be, or is, by this time. They’re sure of him.‘
‚Have you made up your mind?‘ asked Mr. Brownlow, in a low voice, of Monks.
‚Yes,‘ he replied. ‚You–you–will be secret with me?‘
‚I will. Remain here till I return. It is your only hope of safety.‘
They left the room, and the door was again locked.