Joseph Le Fanu.

Guy Deverell. Volume 1 of 2

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"When he was dying?" said Lady Alice.

"Ay, my lady, a beautiful summer it was, and the doctor, nor I, thought it would be nothing to speak of; but he was anxious in his mind from the first, and he wrote for Doctor Wyndale – it was the holidays then – asking him to come to him; and he did, but Sir Harry had took an unexpected turn for the worse, and not much did he ever say, the Lord a' mercy on us, after that good gentleman, he's the bishop now, came to Marlowe, and he prayed by his bed, and closed his eyes; and I, in and out, and wanted there every minute, could not but hear some of what he said, which it was not much."

"He said something about that green chamber, as you call it, I always understood?" said Lady Alice, interrogatively.

"Yes, my lady, he wished it shut up, or taken down, or summat that way; but 'man proposes and God disposes,' and there's small affection and less gratitude to be met with now-a-days."

"I think, Donica Gwynn, and I always thought, that you knew a good deal more than you chose to tell me. Some people are reserved and secret, and I suppose it is your way; but I don't think it could harm you to treat me more as your friend."

Donica rose, and courtesied as she said —

"You have always treated me friendly, I'm sure, my lady, and I hope I am thankful; and this I know, I'll be a faithful servant to your ladyship so long as I continue in your ladyship's service."

"I know that very well; but I wish you were franker with me, that's all – here are the keys."

So Donica, with very little ceremony, assumed the keys of office.

"And pray what do you mean exactly?" said Lady Alice, rising and drawing on her glove, and not looking quite straight at the housekeeper as she spoke; "do you mean to say that Lady Jane is giddy or imprudent? Come, be distinct."

"I can't say what she is, my lady, but she may be brought into folly some way. I only know this much, please my lady, it will be good for her you should be nigh, and your eye and thoughts about her, at least till the General returns."

"Well, Gwynn, I see you don't choose to trust me."

"I have, my lady, spoke that free to you as I would not to any other, I think, alive."

"No, Gwynn, you don't trust me; you have your reasons, I suppose; but I think you are a shrewd woman – shrewd and mean well. I don't suppose that you could talk as you do without a reason; and though I can't see any myself, not believing in apparitions or – or – "

She nearly lost the thread of her discourse at this point, for as she spoke the word apparition, the remembrance of the young gentleman whom she had seen in Wardlock Church rose in her memory – handsome, pale, with sealed lips, and great eyes – unreadable as night – the resurrection of another image. The old yearning and horror overpowered the train of her thoughts, and she floundered into silence, and coughed into her handkerchief, to hide her momentary confusion.

"What was I going to say?" she said, briskly, meaning to refer her break-down to that little fit of coughing, and throwing on Gwynn the onus of setting her speech in motion again.

"Oh! yes.

I don't believe in those things not a bit. But Jennie, poor thing, though she has not treated me quite as she might, is a young wife, and very pretty; and the house is full of wicked young men from London; and her old fool of a husband chooses to go about his business and leave her to her devices —that's what you mean, Gwynn, and that's what I understand."

"I have said all I can, my lady; you can help her, and be near her night and day," said Donica.

"Sir Jekyl in his invitation bid me choose my own room – so I shall. I'll choose that oddly-shaped little room that opens into hers – if I remember rightly, the room that my poor dear Amy occupied in her last illness."

"And, my lady, do you take the key of the door, and keep it in your bag, please."

"Of the door of communication between the two rooms?"

"Yes, my lady."

"Why should I take it; you would not have me lock her up?"

"Well, no, to be sure, my lady."

"Then why?"

"Because there is no bolt to her door, inside or out. You will see what I mean, my lady, when you are there."

"Because she can't secure her door without it, I'm to take possession of her key!" said Lady Alice, with a dignified sneer.

"Well, my lady, it may seem queer, but you'll see what I mean."

Lady Alice tossed her stately head.

"Any commands in particular, please, my lady, before you leave?" inquired Donica, with one of her dry little courtesies.

"No; and I must go. Just hand this pillow and bag to the man; and I suppose you wish your respects to Miss Beatrix?"

To all which, in her own way, Donica Gwynn assented; and the old lady, assisted by her footman, got into the carriage, and nodded a pale and silent farewell to her housekeeper; and away drove the old carriage at a brisk pace toward Marlowe Manor.

Lady Alice takes Possession

What to the young would seem an age; what, even in the arithmetic of the old, counts for something, about seventeen years had glided into the eternal past since last Lady Alice had beheld the antique front and noble timber of Marlowe Manor; and memory was busy with her heart, and sweet and bitter fancies revisiting her old brain, as her saddened eyes gazed on that fair picture of the past. Old faces gone, old times changed, and she, too, but the shadow of her former self, soon, like those whom she remembered there, to vanish quite, and be missed by no one.

"Where is Miss Beatrix?" inquired the old lady, as she set her long slim foot upon the oak flooring of the hall. "I'll rest a moment here." And she sat down upon a carved bench, and looked with sad and dreaming eyes through the open door upon the autumnal landscape flushed with the setting sun, the season and the hour harmonising regretfully with her thoughts.

Her maid came at the summons of the footman. "Tell her that granny has come," said the old woman gently. "You are quite well, Jones?"

Jones made her smirk and courtesy, and was quite well; and so tripped up the great stair to apprise her young mistress.

"Tell the new housekeeper, please, that Lady Alice Redcliffe wishes very much to see her for a moment in the hexagon dressing-room at the end of the hatchment-gallery," said the old lady, names and localities coming back to her memory quite naturally in the familiar old hall.

And as she spoke, being an active-minded old lady, she rose, and before her first message had reached Beatrix, was ascending the well-known stairs, with its broad shining steps of oak, and her hand on its ponderous banister, feeling strangely, all in a moment, how much more she now needed that support, and that the sum of the seventeen years was something to her as to others.

On the lobby, just outside this dressing-room door, which stood open, letting the dusky sunset radiance, so pleasant and so sad, fall upon the floor and touch the edges of the distant banisters, she was met by smiling Beatrix.

"Darling!" cried the girl, softly, as she threw her young arms round the neck of the stately and thin old lady. "Darling, darling, I'm so glad!"

She had been living among strangers, and the sight and touch of her true old friend was reassuring.

Granny's thin hands held her fondly. It was pretty to see this embrace, in the glow of the evening sun, and the rich brown tresses of the girl close to the ashen locks of old Lady Alice, who, with unwonted tears in her eyes, was smiling on her very tenderly. She was softened that evening. Perhaps it was her real nature, disclosed for a few genial moments, generally hidden under films of reserve or pride – the veil of the flesh.

"I think she does like her old granny," said Lady Alice, with a gentle little laugh; one thin hand on her shoulder, the other smoothing back her thick girlish tresses.

"I do love you, granny; you were always so good to me, and you are so – so fond of me. Now, you are tired, darling; you must take a little wine – here is Mrs. Sinnott coming – Mrs. Sinnott."

"No, dear, no wine; I'm very well. I wish to see Mrs. Sinnott, though. She's your new housekeeper, is not she?"

"Yes; and I'm so glad poor, good old Donnie Gwynn is with you. You know she would not stay; but our new housekeeper is, I'm told, a very good creature too. Grandmamma wants to speak to you, Mrs. Sinnott."

Lady Alice by this time had entered the dressing-room, three sides of which, projecting like a truncated bastion, formed a great window, which made it, for its size, the best lighted in the house. In the wall at the right, close to this entrance, is the door which admits to the green chamber; in the opposite wall, but nearer the window, a door leading across the end of the hatchment-gallery, with its large high window, by a little passage, screened off by a low oak partition, and admitting to a bed-room on the opposite side of the gallery.

In the middle of the Window dressing-room stood Lady Alice, and looked round regretfully, and said to herself, with a little shake of the head —

"Yes, yes, poor thing!"

She was thinking of poor Lady Marlowe, whom, with her usual perversity, although a step-daughter, she had loved very tenderly, and who in her last illness had tenanted these rooms, in which, seventeen years ago, this old lady had sat beside her and soothed her sickness, and by her tenderness, no doubt, softened those untold troubles which gathered about her bed as death drew near.

"How do you do, Mrs. Sinnott?" said stately Lady Alice, recovering her dry and lofty manner.

"Lady Alice Redcliffe, my grandmamma," said Beatrix, in an undertoned introduction, in the housekeeper's ear.

Mrs. Sinnott made a fussy little courtesy.

"Your ladyship's apartments, which is at the other end of the gallery, please, is quite ready, my lady."

"I don't mean to have those rooms, though – that's the reason I sent for you – please read this note, it is from Sir Jekyl Marlowe. By-the-bye, is your master at home?"

"No, he was out."

"Well, be so good as to read this."

And Lady Alice placed Beatrix's note of invitation in Mrs. Sinnott's hand, and pointed to a passage in the autograph of Sir Jekyl, which spoke thus: —

"P.S. – Do come, dearest little mamma, and you shall command everything. Choose your own apartments and hours, and, in short, rule us all. With all my worldly goods I thee endow, and place Mrs. Sinnott at your orders."

"Well, Mrs. Sinnott, I choose these apartments, if you please," said Lady Alice, sitting down stiffly, and thereby taking possession.

"Very well, my lady," said Mrs. Sinnott, dropping another courtesy; but her sharp red nose and little black eyes looked sceptical and uneasy; "and I suppose, Miss," here she paused, looking at Beatrix.

"You are to do whatever Lady Alice directs," said the young lady.

"This here room, you know, Miss, is the dressing-room properly of the green chamber."

"Lady Jane does not use it, though?" replied the new visitor.

"But the General, when he comes back," insinuated Mrs. Sinnott.

"Of course, he shall have it. I'll remove then; but in the meantime, liking these rooms, from old remembrances, best of any, I will occupy them, Beatrix; this as a dressing-room, and the apartment there as bed-room. I hope I don't give you a great deal of trouble," added Lady Alice, addressing the housekeeper, with an air that plainly said that she did not care a pin whether she did or not.

So this point was settled, and Lady Alice sent for her maid and her boxes; and rising, she approached the door of the green chamber, and pointing to it, said to Beatrix —

"And so Lady Jane has this room. Do you like her, Beatrix?"

"I can't say I know her, grandmamma."

"No, I dare say not. It is a large room – too large for my notion of a cheerful bed-room."

The old lady drew near, and knocked.

"She's not there?"

"No, she's in the terrace-garden."

Lady Alice pushed the door open, and looked in.

"A very long room. That room is longer than my drawing-room at Wardlock, and that is five and thirty feet long. Dismal, I say – though so much light, and that portrait – Sir Harry smirking there. What a look of duplicity in that face! He was an old man when I can remember him; an old beau; a wicked old man, rouged and whitened; he used to paint under his eyelashes, and had, they said, nine or ten sets of false teeth, and always wore a black curled wig that made his contracted countenance more narrow. There were such lines of cunning and meanness about his eyes, actually crossing one another. Jekyl hated him, I think. I don't think anybody but a fool could have really liked him; he was so curiously selfish, and so contemptible; he was attempting the life of a wicked young man at seventy!"

Lady Alice had been speaking as it were in soliloquy, staring drearily on the clever portrait in gold lace and ruffles, stricken by the spell of that painted canvas into a dream.

"Your grandpapa, my dear, was not a good man; and I believe he injured my poor son irreparably, and your father. Well – these things, though never forgotten, are best not spoken of when people happen to be connected. For the sake of others we bear our pain in silence; but the heart knoweth its own bitterness."

And so saying, the old lady drew back from the threshold of Lady Jane's apartment, and closed the door with a stern countenance.

An Altercation

Almost at the same moment Sir Jekyl entered the hexagon, or, as it was more pleasantly called, the Window dressing-room, from the lobby. He was quite radiant, and, in that warm evening light, struck Lady Alice as looking quite marvellously youthful.

"Well, Jekyl Marlowe, you see you have brought me here at last," said the old lady, extending her hand stiffly, like a wooden marionette, her thin elbow making a right angle.

"So I have; and I shall always think the better of my eloquence for having prevailed. You're a thousand times welcome, and not tired, I hope; the journey is not much after all."

"Thanks; no, the distance is not much, the fatigue nothing," said Lady Alice, drawing her fingers horizontally back from his hospitable pressure. "But it is not always distance that separates people, or fatigue that depresses one."

"No, of course; fifty things; rheumatism, temper, hatred, affliction: and I am so delighted to see you! Trixie, dear, would not grandmamma like to see her room? Send for – "

"Thank you, I mean to stay here," said Lady Alice.

"Here!" echoed Sir Jekyl, with a rather bewildered smile.

"I avail myself of the privilege you give me; your postscript to Beatrix's note, you know. You tell me there to choose what rooms I like best," said the old lady, drily, at the same time drawing her bag toward her, that she might be ready to put the documents in evidence, in case he should dispute it.

"Oh! did I?" said the Baronet, with the same faint smile.

Lady Alice nodded, and then threw back her head, challenging contradiction by a supercilious stare, her hand firmly upon the bag as before.

"But this room, you know; it's anything but a comfortable one – don't you think?" said Sir Jekyl.

"I like it," said the inflexible old lady, sitting down.

"And I'm afraid there's a little difficulty," he continued, not minding. "For this is General Lennox's dressing-room. Don't you think it might be awkward?" and he chuckled agreeably.

"General Lennox is absent in London, on business," said Lady Alice, grim as an old Diana; "and Jane does not use it, and there can be no intelligible objection to my having it in his absence."

There was a little smile, that yet was not a smile, and a slight play about Sir Jekyl's nostrils, as he listened to this speech. They came when he was vicious; but with a flush, he commanded himself, and only laughed slightly, and said —

"It is really hardly a concern of mine, provided my guests are happy. You don't mean to have your bed into this room, do you?"

"I mean to sleep there," she replied drily, stabbing with her long forefinger toward the door on the opposite side of the room.

"Well, I can only say I'd have fancied, for other reasons, these the very last rooms in the house you would have chosen – particularly as this really belongs to the green chamber. However, you and Lady Jane can arrange that between you. You'd have been very comfortable where we would have put you, and you'll be very uncomfortable here, I'm afraid; but perhaps I'm not making allowance for the affection you have for Lady Jane, the length of time that has passed since you've seen her, and the pleasure of being so near her."

There was an agreeable irony in this; for the Baronet knew that they had never agreed very well together, and that neither spoke very handsomely of the other behind her back. At the same time, this was no conclusive proof of unkindness on Lady Alice's part, for her goodwill sometimes showed itself under strange and uncomfortable disguises.

"Beatrix, dear, I hope they are seeing to your grandmamma's room; and you'll want candles, it is growing dark. Altogether I'm afraid you're very uncomfortable, little mother; but if you prefer it, you know, of course I'm silent."

With these words he kissed the old lady's chilly cheek, and vanished.

As he ran down the darkening stairs the Baronet was smiling mischievously; and when, having made his long straight journey to the foot of the back stairs, he re-ascended, and passing through the two little ante-rooms, entered his own homely bedchamber, and looked at his handsome and wonderfully preserved face in the glass, he laughed outright two or three comfortable explosions at intervals, and was evidently enjoying some fun in anticipation.

When, a few minutes later, that proud sad beauty, Lady Jane, followed by her maid, sailed rustling into the Window dressing-room – I call it so in preference – and there saw, by the light of a pair of wax candles, a stately figure seated on the sofa at the further end in grey silk draperies, with its feet on a boss, she paused in an attitude of sublime surprise, with just a gleam of defiance in it.

"How d' y' do, Jenny, my dear?" said a voice, on which, as on the tones of an old piano, a few years had told a good deal, but which she recognised with some little surprise, for notwithstanding Lady Alice's note accepting the Baronet's invitation, he had talked and thought of her actually coming to Marlowe as a very unlikely occurrence indeed.

"Oh! oh! Lady Alice Redcliffe!" exclaimed the young wife, setting down her bed-room candle, and advancing with a transitory smile to her old kinswoman, who half rose from her throne and kissed her on the cheek as she stooped to meet her salutation. "You have only arrived a few minutes; I saw your carriage going round from the door."

"About forty minutes – hardly an hour. How you have filled up, Jane; you're quite an imposing figure since I saw you. I don't think it unbecoming; your embonpoint does very well; and you're quite well?"

"Very well – and you?"

"I'm pretty well, dear, a good deal fatigued; and so you're a wife, Jennie, and very happy, I hope."

"I can't say I have anything to trouble me. I am quite happy, that is, as happy as other people, I suppose."

"I hear nothing but praises of your husband. I shall be so happy to make his acquaintance," continued Lady Alice.

"He has had to go up to town about business this morning, but he's to return very soon."

"How soon, dear?"

"In a day or two," answered the young wife.

"To-morrow?" inquired Lady Alice, drily.

"Or next day," rejoined Lady Jane, with a little stare.

"Do you really, my dear Jane, expect him here the day after to-morrow?"

"He said he should be detained only a day or two in town."

Old Lady Alice shook her incredulous head, looking straight before her.

"I don't think he can have said that, Jane, for he wrote to a friend of mine, the day before yesterday, mentioning that he should be detained by business at least a week."

"Oh! did he?"

"Yes, and Jekyl Marlowe, I dare say, thinks he will be kept there longer."

"I should fancy I am a better opinion, rather, upon that point, than Sir Jekyl Marlowe," said Lady Jane, loftily, and perhaps a little angrily.

The old lady, with closed lips, at this made a little nod, which might mean anything.

"And I can't conceive how it can concern Sir Jekyl, or even you, Lady Alice, what business my husband may have in town."

It was odd how sharp they were growing upon this point.

"Well, Sir Jekyl's another thing; but me, of course, it does concern, because I shall have to give him up his room again when he returns."

"What room?" inquired Lady Jane, honestly puzzled.

"This room," answered the old lady, like one conscious that she drops, with the word, a gage of battle.

"But this is my room."

"You don't use it, Lady Jane. I wish to occupy it. I shall, of course, give it up on your husband's return; in the meantime I deprive you of nothing by taking it. Do I?"

"That's not the question, Lady Alice. It is my room – it is my dressing-room – and I don't mean to give it up to any one. You are the last person on earth who would allow me to take such a liberty with you. I don't understand it."

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