Joseph Le Fanu.

Guy Deverell. Volume 1 of 2

скачать книгу бесплатно

In the stable-yard, as I have said, the Baronet found this dark sprite smoking a German pipe; and salutations having been exchanged, he bid him try instead two of his famous cigars, which he presented, and then he questioned him on tobacco, and on his family, the theatres, the railways, the hotels; and finally Sir Jekyl said,

"I wish you could recollect a man like yourself – I want one confoundedly. I shall be going abroad in August next year, and I'd give him five thousand francs a year, or more even, with pleasure, and keep him probably as long as he liked to stay with me. Try if you can remember such a fellow. Turn it over in your mind – do you see? and I don't care how soon he comes into my service."

The man lifted his cap again, and bowed even lower, as he undertook to "turn it over in his mind;" and though he smiled a great deal, it was plain his thoughts were already seriously employed in turning the subject over, as requested by the Baronet.

Next morning M. Varbarriere took a quiet opportunity, in the hall, of handing to his host two letters of introduction, as they are called – one from the Baronet's old friend, Charteris, attached to the embassy at Paris – a shrewd fellow, a man of the world, amphibious, both French and English, and equally at home on either soil – speaking unmistakably in high terms of M. Varbarriere as of a gentleman very much respected in very high quarters. The other was equally handsome. But Charteris was exactly the man whose letter in such a case was to be relied upon.

The Baronet glanced over these, and said he was very glad to hear from his friend Charteris – the date was not a week since – but laughed at the formality, regretting that he had not a note from Charteris to present in return, and then gracefully quoted an old French distich, the sentiment of which is that "chivalry proclaims itself, and the gentleman is no more to be mistaken than the rose," and proceeded to ask his guest, "How is Charteris – he had hurt his wrist when I saw him last – and is there any truth in the report about his possible alliance with that rich widow?" and so forth.

When Sir Jekyl got into his sanctum I am afraid he read both letters with a very microscopic scrutiny, and he resolved inwardly to write a very sifting note to Charteris, and put it upon him, as an act of friendship, to make out every detail of the past life and adventures of M. Varbarriere, and particularly whether he had any young kinsman, nephew or otherwise, answering a certain description, all the items of which he had by rote.

But writing of letters is to some people a very decided bore. The Baronet detested it, and his anxieties upon these points being intermittent, the interrogatories were not so soon despatched to his friend Charteris.

Old General Lennox was away for London this morning; and his host took a seat beside him in the brougham that was to convey him to the station, and was dropped on the way at the keeper's lodge, when he bid a kind and courteous adieu to his guest, whom he charged to return safe and soon, and kissed his hand, and waved it after the florid smiling countenance and bushy white eyebrows that were protruded from the carriage-window as it glided away.

"You can manage it all in a day or two, can't you?" said the Baronet, cordially, as he held the General's wrinkled hand, with its knobby and pink joints, in his genial grasp.

"We positively won't give you more than three days' leave. Capital shooting when you come back. I'm going to talk it over with the keeper here – that is, if you come back before we've shot them all."

"Oh! yes, hang it, you must leave a bird or two for me," laughed the General, and he bawled the conclusion of the joke as the vehicle drove away; but Sir Jekyl lost it.

Sir Jekyl was all the happier for his morning's talk with his brother. An anxiety, if only avowed and discussed, is so immensely lightened; but Dives had scouted the whole thing so peremptorily that the Baronet was positively grateful. Dives was a wise and clear-headed fellow. It was delightful his taking so decided a view. And was it not on reflection manifestly, even to him, the sound view?

The Magician Draws a Diagram

The Baronet approached Marlowe Manor on the side at which the stables and out-offices lie, leaving which to his left, he took his way by the path through the wood which leads to the terrace-walk that runs parallel to the side of the old house on which the green chamber lies.

On this side the lofty timber approaches the walks closely, and the green enclosure is but a darkened strip and very solitary. Here, when Sir Jekyl emerged, he saw M. Varbarriere standing on the grass, and gazing upward in absorbed contemplation of the building, which on the previous evening seemed to have excited his curiosity so unaccountably.

He did not hear the Baronet's approaching step on the grass. Sir Jekyl felt both alarmed and angry; for although it was but natural that his guest should have visited the spot and examined the building, it yet seemed to him, for the moment, like the act of a spy.

"Disappointed, I'm afraid," said he. "I told you that addition was the least worth looking at of all the parts of this otherwise ancient house."

He spoke with a sort of sharpness that seemed quite uncalled for; but it was unnoticed.

M. Varbarriere bowed low and graciously.

"I am much interested – every front of this curious and handsome house interests me. This indeed, as you say, is a good deal spoiled by that Italian incongruity – still it is charming – the contrast is as beautiful frequently as the harmony – and I am perplexed."

"Some of my friends tell me it spoils the house so much I ought to pull it down, and I have a great mind to do so. Have you seen the lake? I should be happy to show it to you if you will permit me."

The Baronet, as he spoke, was, from time to time, slyly searching the solemn and profound face of the stranger; but could find there no clue to the spirit of his investigation. There was no shrinking – no embarrassment – no consciousness. He might as well have looked on the awful surface of the sea, in the expectation of discovering there the secrets of its depths.

M. Varbarriere, with a profusion of gratitude, regretted that he could not just then visit the lake, as he had several letters to write; and so he and his host parted smiling at the hall-door; and the Baronet, as he pursued his way, felt some stirrings of that mental dyspepsia which had troubled him of late.

"The old fellow had not been in the house two hours," such was his train of thought, "when he was on the subject of that green chamber, in the parlour and in the drawing-room – again and again recurring to it; and here he was just now, alone, absorbed, and gazing up at its windows, as if he could think of nothing else!"

Sir Jekyl felt provoked, and almost as if he would like a crisis; and half regretted that he had not asked him – "Pray can I give you any information; is there anything you particularly want to know about that room? question me as you please, you shall see the room – you shall sleep in it if you like, so soon as it is vacant. Pray declare yourself, and say what you want."

But second thoughts are said to be best, if not always wisest; and this brief rehearing of the case against his repose ended in a "dismiss," as before. It was so natural, and indeed inevitable, that he should himself inspect the original of those views which he had examined the night before with interest, considering that, being a man who cared not for the gun or the fishing-rod, and plainly without sympathies with either georgics or bucolics, he had not many other ways of amusing himself in these country quarters.

M. Varbarriere, in the meantime, had entered his chamber. I suppose he was amused, for so soon as he closed the door he smiled with a meditative sneer. It was not a fiendish one, not even moderately wicked; but a sneer is in the countenance what irony is in the voice, and never pleasant.

If the Baronet had seen the expression of M. Varbarriere's countenance as he sat down in his easy-chair, he would probably have been much disquieted – perhaps not without reason.

M. Varbarriere was known in his own neighbourhood as a dark and inflexible man, but with these reservations kind; just in his dealings, bold in enterprise, and charitable, but not on impulse, with a due economy of resource, and a careful measurement of desert; on the whole, a man to be respected and a little feared, but a useful citizen.

Instead of writing letters as, of course, he had intended, M. Varbarriere amused himself by making a careful little sketch on a leaf of his pocket-book. It seemed hardly worth all the pains he bestowed upon it; for, after all, it was but a parallelogram with a projecting segment of a circle at one end, and a smaller one at the side, and he noted his diagram with figures, and pondered over it with a thoughtful countenance, and made, after a while, a little cross at one end of it, and then fell a-whistling thoughtfully, and nodded once or twice, as a thought struck him; and then he marked another cross at one of its sides, and reflected in like manner over this, and as he thought, fiddling with his pencil at the foot of the page, he scribbled the word "hypothesis." Then he put up his pocket-book, and stood listlessly with his hands in the pockets of his vast black trowsers, looking from the window, and whistled a little more, the air hurrying sometimes, and sometimes dragging a good deal, so as to come at times to an actual standstill.

On turning the corner of the mansion Sir Jekyl found himself on a sudden in the midst of the ladies of his party, just descending from the carriages which had driven them round the lake. He was of that gay and gallant temperament, as the reader is aware, which is fired with an instantaneous inspiration at sight of this sort of plumage and flutter.

"What a fortunate fellow am I!" exclaimed Sir Jekyl, forgetting in a moment everything but the sunshine, the gay voices, and the pretty sight before him. "I had laid myself out for a solitary walk, and lo! I'm in the midst of a paradise of graces, nymphs, and what not!"

"We have had such a charming drive round the lake," said gay little Mrs. Maberly.

"The lake never looked so well before, I'm sure. So stocked, at least, with fresh-water sirens and mermaids. Never did mirror reflect so much beauty. An instinct, you see, drew me this way. I assure you I was on my way to the lake; one of those enamoured sprites who sing us tidings in such tiny voices, we can't distinguish them from our own fancies, warbled a word in my ear, only a little too late, I suppose."

The Baronet was reciting his admiring nonsense to pretty Mrs. Maberly, but his eye from time to time wandered to Lady Jane, and rested for a moment on that haughty beauty, who, with downcast languid eyes, one would have thought neither heard nor saw him.

This gallant Baronet was so well understood that every lady expected to hear that kind of tender flattery whenever he addressed himself to the fair sex. It was quite inevitable, and simply organic and constitutional as blackbird's whistle and kitten's play, and, in ninety-nine cases out of a hundred, I am sure, meant absolutely nothing.

"But those sprites always come with a particular message; don't they?" said old Miss Blunket, smiling archly from the corners of her fierce eyes. "Don't you think so, Mr. Linnett?"

"You are getting quite above me," answered that sprightly gentleman, who was growing just a little tired of Miss Blunket's attentions. "I suppose it's spiritualism. I know nothing about it. What do you say, Lady Jane?"

"I think it very heathen," said Lady Jane, tired, I suppose, of the subject.

"I like to be heathen, now and then," said Sir Jekyl, in a lower key; he was by this time beside Lady Jane. "I'd have been a most pious Pagan. As it is, I can't help worshipping in the Pantheon, and trying sometimes even to make a proselyte."

"Oh! you wicked creature!" cried little Mrs. Maberly. "I assure you, Lady Jane, his conversation is quite frightful."

Lady Jane glanced a sweet, rather languid, sidelong smile at the little lady.

"You'll not get Lady Jane to believe all that mischief of me, Mrs. Maberly. I appeal for my character to the General."

"But he's hundreds of miles away, and can't hear you," laughed little Mrs. Maberly, who really meant nothing satirical.

"I forgot; but he'll be back to-morrow or next day," replied Sir Jekyl, with rather a dry chuckle, "and in the meantime I must do without one, I suppose. Here we are, Mr. Strangways, all talking nonsense, the pleasantest occupation on earth. Do come and help us."

This was addressed to Guy Strangways, who with his brother angler, Captain Doocey, in the picturesque negligence and black wide-awakes of fishermen, with baskets and rods, approached.

"Only too glad to be permitted to contribute," said the young man, smiling, and raising his hat.

"And pray permit me, also," said courtly old Doocey. "I could talk it, I assure you, before he was born. I've graduated in the best schools, and was a doctor of nonsense before he could speak even a word of sense."

"Not a bad specimen to begin with. Leave your rods and baskets there; some one will bring them in. Now we are so large a party, you must come and look at my grapes. I am told my black Hamburgs are the finest in the world."

So, chatting and laughing, and some in other moods, toward those splendid graperies they moved, from which, as Sir Jekyl used to calculate, he had the privilege of eating black Hamburg and other grapes at about the rate of one shilling each.

"A grapery – how delightful!" cried little Mrs. Maberly.

"I quite agree with you," exclaimed Miss Blunket, who effervesced with a girlish enthusiasm upon even the most difficult subjects. "It is not the grapes, though they are so pretty, and a – bacchanalian – no, I don't mean that – why do you laugh at me so? – but the atmosphere. Don't you love it? it is so like Lisbon – at least what I fancy it, for I never was there; but at home, I bring my book there, and enjoy it so. I call it mock Portugal."

"It has helped to dry her," whispered Linnett so loud in Doocey's ear as to make that courteous old dandy very uneasy.

It was odd that Sir Jekyl showed no sort of discomfort at sight of Guy Strangways on his sudden appearance; a thrill he felt indeed whenever he unexpectedly beheld that handsome and rather singular-looking young man – a most unpleasant sensation – but although he moved about him like a resurrection of the past, and an omen of his fate, he yet grew in a sort of way accustomed to this haunting enigma, and could laugh and talk apparently quite carelessly in his presence. I have been told of men, the victims of a spectral illusion, who could move about a saloon, and smile, and talk, and listen, with their awful tormentor gliding always about them and spying out all their ways.

Just about this hour the clumsy old carriage of Lady Alice Redcliffe stood at her hall-door steps, in the small square courtyard of Wardlock Manor, and the florid iron gates stood wide open, resting on their piers. The coachman's purple visage looked loweringly round; the footman, with his staff of office in hand, leaning on the door-post, gazed with a peevish listlessness through the open gateway across the road; the near horse had begun to hang his head, and his off-companion had pawed a considerable hole in Lady Alice's nattily-kept gravel enclosure. From these signs one might have reasonably conjectured that these honest retainers, brute and human, had been kept waiting for their mistress somewhat longer than usual.

Another Guest Prepares to Come

Lady Alice was at that moment in her bonnet and ample black velvet cloak and ermines, and the rest of her travelling costume, seated in her stately parlour, which, like most parlours of tolerably old mansions in that part of the country, is wainscoted in very black oak. In her own way Lady Alice evinced at least as much impatience as her dependants out of doors; she tapped with her foot monotonously upon her carpet; she opened and shut her black shining leather bag, and plucked at and rearranged its contents; she tattooed with her pale prolix fingers on the table; sometimes she sniffed a little; sometimes she muttered. As often as she fancied a sound, she raised her chin imperiously, and with a supercilious fixity, stared at the door until expectation had again expired in disappointment, when she would pluck out her watch, and glancing disdainfully upon it, exclaim —

"Upon my life!" or, "Very pretty behaviour!"

At last, however, the sound of a vehicle – a "fly" it was – unmistakably made itself heard at the hall-door, and her ladyship, with a preparatory shake of her head, as a pugnacious animal shakes its ears, and a "hem," and a severe and pallid countenance, sat up, very high and stiffly, in her chair.

The door opened, and the splendid footman inquired whether her ladyship would please to see Mrs. Gwynn.

"Show her in," said Lady Alice with a high look and an awful quietude.

And our old friend, Donica, just as thin, pallid, and, in her own way, self-possessed, entered the room.

"Well, Donica Gwynn, you've come at last! you have kept my horses standing at the door – a thing I never do myself – for three-quarters of an hour and four minutes!"

Donica Gwynn was sorry; but she could not help it. She explained how the delay had occurred, and, though respectful, her explanation was curt and dry in proportion to the sharpness and dryness of her reception.

"Sit down, Donica," said the lady, relenting loftily. "How do you do?"

"Pretty well, I thank your ladyship; and I hope I see you well, my lady."

"As well as I can ever be, Donica, and that is but poorly. I'm going, you know, to Marlowe."

"I'm rayther glad on it, my lady."

"And I wish to know why?" said Lady Alice.

"I wrote the why and the wherefore, my lady, in my letter," answered the ex-house-keeper, looking askance on the table, and closing her thin lips tightly when she had spoken.

"Your letter, my good Donica, it is next to impossible to read, and quite impossible to understand. What I want to know distinctly is, why you have urged me so vehemently to go to Marlowe."

"Well, my lady, I thought I said pretty plain it was about my Lady Jane, the pretty creature you had on visits here, and liked so well, poor thing; an' it seemed to me she's like to be in danger where she is. I can't explain how exactly; but General Lennox is gone up to London, and I think, my lady, you ought to get her out of that unlucky room, where he has put her; and, at all events, to keep as near to her as you can yourself, at all times."

"I've listened to you, Donica, and I can't comprehend you. I see you are hinting at something; but unless you are explicit, I don't see that I can be of any earthly use."

"You can, my lady – that is, you may, if you only do as I say – I can't explain it more, nor I won't," said Donica, peremptorily, perhaps bitterly.

"There can be no good reason, Donica, for reserve upon a point of so much moment as you describe this to be. Wherever reserve exists there is mystery, and wherever mystery —guilt."

So said Lady Alice, who was gifted with a spirit of inquiry which was impatient of disappointment.

"Guilt, indeed!" repeated Gwynn, in an under-key, with a toss of her head and a very white face; "there's secrets enough in the world, and no guilt along of 'em."

"What room is it you speak of – the green chamber, is not it?"

"Yes, sure, my lady."

"I think you are all crazed about ghosts and devils over there," exclaimed Lady Alice.

"Not much of ghosts, but devils, maybe," muttered Gwynn, oddly, looking sidelong over the floor.

"It is that room, you say," repeated Lady Alice.

"Yes, my lady, the green chamber."

"Well, what about it – come, woman, did not you sleep for years in that room?"

"Ay, my lady, a good while."

"And what did you see there?"

"A deal."

"What, I say?"

"Well, supposin' I was to say devils," replied Donica.

Lady Alice sneered.

"What did poor Lady Marlowe see there?" demanded Donica, looking with her odd eyes askance at Lady Alice's carpet, and backing her question with a nod.

"Well, you know I never heard exactly; but my darling creature was, as you remember, dying of a consumption at the time, and miserably nervous, and fancied things, no doubt, as people do."

"Well, she did; I knew it," said Donica.

"You may have conjectured – every one can do that; but I rather think my poor dear Amy would have told me, had she cared to divulge it to any living being. I am persuaded she herself suspected it was an illusion – fancy; but I know she had a horror of the room, and I am sure my poor girl's dying request ought to have been respected."

"So it ought, my lady," said Donica, turning up her eyes, and raising her lean hands together, while she slowly shook her head. "So I said to him, and in like manner his own father's dying orders, for such they was, my lady; and they may say what they will of Sir Harry, poor gentleman! But he was a kind man, and good to many that had not a good word for him after, though there may a' been many a little thing that was foolish or the like; but there is mercy above for all, and the bishop that is now, then he was the master of the great school where our young gentlemen used to go to, was with him."

скачать книгу бесплатно

страницы: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19