Joseph Le Fanu.

Guy Deverell. Volume 1 of 2



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"Don't be excited, my dear Jenny," said Lady Alice Ц an exhortation sometimes a little inconsistently administered by members of her admirable sex when they are themselves most exciting.

"I'm not in the least excited, Lady Alice; but I've had a note from you," said Lady Jane, in rather a choking key.

"You have," acquiesced her senior.

"And I connect your extraordinary intrusion here, with it."

Lady Alice nodded.

"I do, and Ц and I'm right. You mean to insult me. It is a shame Ц an outrage. What do you mean, madam?"

"I'd have you to remember, Jane Chetwynd (the altercation obliterated her newly-acquired name of Lennox), that I am your relation and your senior."

"Yes, you're my cousin, and my senior by fifty years; but an old woman may be very impertinent to a young one."

"Compose yourself, if you please, compose yourself," said Lady Alice, in the same philosophic vein, but with colour a little heightened.

"I don't know what you mean Ц you're a disgraceful old woman. I'll complain to my husband, and I'll tell Sir Jekyl Marlowe. Either you or I must leave this house to-night," declaimed Lady Jane, with a most beautiful blush, and eyes flashing lurid lightnings.

"You forget yourself, my dear," said the old lady, rising grimly and confronting her.

"No, I don't, but you do. It's perfectly disgusting and intolerable," cried Lady Jane, with a stamp.

"One moment, if you please Ц you can afford to listen for one moment, I suppose," said the old lady, in a very low, dry tone, laying two of her lean fingers upon the snowy arm of the beautiful young lady, who, with a haughty contraction and an uplifted head, withdrew it fiercely from her touch. "You forget your maid, I think. You had better tell her to withdraw, hadn't you?"

"I don't care; why should I?" said Lady Jane, in a high key.

"Beatrix, dear, run into my bed-room for a moment," said "Granny" to that distressed and perplexed young lady, who, accustomed to obey, instantly withdrew.

CHAPTER XXI
Lady Alice in Bed

"We may be alone together, if you choose it; if not, I can't help it," said Lady Alice, in a very low and impressive key.

"Well, it's nothing to me," said Lady Jane, more calmly and sullenly Ц "nothing at all Ц but as you insist Ц Cecile, you may go for a few minutes."

This permission was communicated sulkily, in French.

"Now, Jane, you shall hear me," said the old lady, so soon as the maid had disappeared and the doors were shut; "you must hear me with patience, if not with respect Чthat I don't expect Ц but remember you have no mother, and I am an old woman and your kinswoman, and it is my duty to speak Ц "

"I'm rather tired standing," interrupted Lady Jane, in a suppressed passion. "Besides, you say you don't want to be overheard, and you can't know who may be on the lobby there," and she pointed with her jewelled fingers at the door.

"I'll go into my bed-room, if you please; and I have not the slightest objection to hear everything you can possibly say. Don't fancy I'm the least afraid of you."

Saying which Lady Jane, taking up her bed-room candle, rustled out of the room, without so much as looking over her shoulder to see whether the prophetess was following.

She did follow, and I dare say her lecture was not mitigated by Lady Jane's rudeness. That young lady was lighting her candles on her dressing-table when her kinswoman entered and shut the door, without an invitation. She then seated herself serenely, and cleared her voice.

"I live very much out of the world Ц in fact, quite to myself; but I learn occasionally what my relations are doing; and I was grieved, Jane, to hear a great deal that was very unpleasant, to say the least, about you."

Something between a smile and a laugh was her only answer.

"Yes, extremely foolish. I don't, of course, say there was anything wicked, but very foolish and reckless. I know perfectly how you were talked of; and I know also why you married that excellent but old man, General Lennox."

"I don't think anyone talked about me. Everybody is talked about. There has been enough of this rubbish. I burnt your odious letter," broke in Lady Jane, incoherently.

"And would, no doubt, burn the writer, if you could."

As there was no disclaimer, Lady Alice resumed.

"Now, Jane, you have married a most respectable old gentleman; I dare say you have nothing on earth to conceal from him Ц remember I've said all along I don't suppose there is Ц but as the young wife of an old man, you ought to remember how very delicate your position is."

"What do you mean?"

"I mean, generally," answered the old lady, oracularly.

"I do declare this is perfectly insufferable! What's the meaning of this lecture? I'm as little likely, madam, as you are to disgrace myself. You'll please to walk out of my room."

"And how dare you talk to me in that way, young lady; how dare you attempt to hector me like your maid there?" broke out old Lady Alice, suddenly losing her self-command. "You know what I mean, and what's more, I do, too. We both know it Ц you a young bride Ц what does Jekyl Marlowe invite you down here for? Do you think I imagine he cares twopence about your stupid old husband, and that I don't know he was once making love to you? Of course I do; and I'll have nothing of the sort here Ц and that's the reason I've come, and that's why I'm in that dressing-room, and that's why I'll write to your husband, so sure as you give me the slightest uneasiness; and you had better think well what you do."

The old lady, in a towering passion, with a fierce lustre in her cheeks, and eyes flashing lightning over the face of her opponent, vanished from the room.

Lady Alice had crossed the disputed territory of the Window dressing-room, and found herself in her elected bed-room before she had come to herself. She saw Lady Jane's face still before her, with the lurid astonishment and fear, white and sharp, on it, as when she had threatened a letter to General Lennox.

She sat down a little stunned and confused about the whole thing, incensed and disgusted with Lady Jane, and confirmed in her suspicion by a look she did not like in that young lady's face, and which her peroration had called up. She did not hear the shrilly rejoinder that pursued her through the shut door. She had given way to a burst of passion, and felt a little hot and deaf and giddy.

When the party assembled at dinner Lady Jane exerted herself more than usual. She was agreeable, and even talkative, and her colour had not been so brilliant since her arrival. She sat next to Guy Strangways, and old Lady Alice at the other side of the table did not look triumphant, but sick and sad; and to look at the two ladies you would have set her down as the defeated and broken-spirited, and Lady Jane as the victrix in the late encounter.

The conversation at this end of the table resembled a dance, in which sometimes each man sets to his partner and turns her round, so that the whole company is frisking and spinning together; sometimes two perform; sometimes a cavalier seul. Thus was it with the talk of this section of the dinner-table, above the salt, at which the chief people were seated.

"I've just been asked by Lady Blunket how many miles it is to Wardlock, and I'm ashamed to say I can't answer her," cried Sir Jekyl diagonally to Lady Alice, so as to cut off four people at his left hand, whose conversation being at the moment in a precarious way, forthwith expired, and the Baronet and his mother-in-law were left in possession of this part of the stage.

The old lady, as I have said, looked ill and very tired, and as if she had grown all at once very old; and instead of answering, she only nodded once or twice, and signed across the table to Lady Jane.

"Oh! I forgot," said Sir Jekyl; "you know Wardlock and all our distances, don't you, Lady Jane Ц can you tell me?"

"I don't remember," said Lady Jane, hardly turning toward him; "ten or twelve miles Ц is not it? it may be a good deal more. I don't really recollect;" and this was uttered with an air which plainly said, "I don't really care."

"I generally ride my visits, and a mile or two more or less does not signify; but one ought to know all the distances for thirty miles round; you don't know otherwise who's your neighbour."

"Do you think it an advantage to know that any particular person is your neighbour?" inquired impertinent Drayton, with his light moustache, leaning back and looking drowsily into his glasses after his wont.

"Oh! Mr. Drayton, the country without neighbours Ц how dreadful!" exclaimed Miss Blunket. "Existence without friends."

"Friends Ц bosh!" said Drayton, confidentially, to his wine.

"There's Drayton scouting friendship, the young cynic!" cried Sir Jekyl. "Do call him to order, Lady Jane."

"I rather incline to agree with Mr. Drayton," said Lady Jane, coldly.

"Do you mean to say you have no friends?" said Sir Jekyl, in well-bred amazement.

"Quite the contrary Ц I have too many."

"Come Ц that's a new complaint. Perhaps they are very new friends?" inquired the Baronet.

"Some of them very old, indeed; but I've found that an old friend means only an old person privileged to be impertinent."

Lady Jane uttered a musical little laugh that was very icy as she spoke, and her eye flashed a single insolent glance at old Lady Alice.

At another time perhaps a retort would not have been wanting, but now the old woman's eye returned but a wandering look, and her face expressed nothing but apathy and sadness.

"Grandmamma, dear, I'm afraid you are very much tired," whispered Beatrix when they reached the drawing-room, sitting beside her after she had made her comfortable on a sofa, with cushions to her back; "you would be better lying down, I think."

"No, dear Ц no, darling. I think in a few minutes I'll go to my room. I'm not very well. I'm tired Чvery tired."

And poor old granny, who was speaking very gently, and looking very pale and sunken, sighed deeply Ц it was almost a moan.

Beatrix was growing very much alarmed, and accompanied, or rather assisted, the old lady up to the room, where, aided by her and her maid, she got to her bed in silence, sighing deeply now and then.

She had not been long there when she burst into tears; and after a violent paroxysm she beckoned to Beatrix, and threw her lean old arms about her neck, saying Ч

"I'm sorry I came, child; I don't know what to think. I'm too old to bear this agitation Ц it will kill me."

Then she wept more quietly, and kissed Beatrix, and whispered Ц "Send her out of the room Ц let her wait in the dressing-room."

The maid was sitting at the further end of the apartment, and the old lady was too feeble to raise her voice so as to be heard there. So soon as her maid had withdrawn Lady Alice said Ч

"Sit by me, Beatrix, darling. I am very nervous, and tell me who is that young man who sat beside Jane Lennox at dinner."

As she ended her little speech Lady Alice, who, though I dare say actually ill enough, yet did not want to lose credit for all the exhaustion she fancied beside, closed her eyelids, and leaned a little back on her pillow motionless. This prevented her seeing that if she were nervous Beatrix was so also, though in another way, for her colour was heightened very prettily as she answered.

"You mean the tall, slight young man at Lady Jane's right?" inquired Beatrix.

"That beautiful but melancholy-looking young man whom we saw at Wardlock Church," said Lady Alice, forgetting for the moment that she had never divulged the result of her observations from the gallery to any mortal but Sir Jekyl. Beatrix, who forgot nothing, and knew that her brief walk at Wardlock with that young gentleman had not been confessed to anyone, was confounded on hearing herself thus, as she imagined, taxed with her secret.

She was not more secret than young ladies generally are; but whom could she have told at Wardlock? which of the old women of that time-honoured sisterhood was she to have invited to talk romance with her? and now she felt very guilty, and was blushing in silent confusion at the pearl ring on her pretty, slender finger, not knowing what to answer, or how to begin the confession which she fancied her grandmamma was about to extort.

Her grandmamma, however, relieved her on a sudden by saying Ч

"I forgot, dear, I told you nothing of that dreadful day at Wardlock Church, the day I was so ill. I told your papa only; but the young man is here, and I may as well tell you now that he bears a supernatural likeness to my poor lost darling. Jekyl knew how it affected me, and he never told me. It was so like Jekyl. I think, dear, I should not have come here at all had I known that dreadful young man was here."

"Dreadful! How is he dreadful?" exclaimed Beatrix.

"From his likeness to my lost darling Ц my dear boy Ц my poor, precious, murdered Guy," answered the old lady, lying back, and looking straight toward the ceiling with upturned eyes and clasped hands. She repeated Ц "Oh! Guy Ц Guy Ц Guy Ц my poor child!"

She looked like a dying nun praying to her patron saint.

"His name is Strangways Ц Mr. Guy Strangways," said Beatrix.

"Ah, yes, darling! Guy was the name of my dear boy, and Strangways was the name of his companion Ц an evil companion, I dare say."

Beatrix knew that the young man whom her grandmamma mourned had fallen in a duel, and that, reasonably or unreasonably, her father was blamed in the matter. More than this she had never heard. Lady Alice had made her acquainted with thus much; but with preambles so awful that she had never dared to open the subject herself, or to question her "Granny" beyond the point at which her disclosure had stopped.

That somehow it reflected on Sir Jekyl prevented her from inquiring of any servant, except old Donica, who met her curiosity with a sound jobation, and told her if ever she plagued her with questions about family misfortunes like that, she would speak to Sir Jekyl about it. Thus Beatrix only knew how Guy Deverell had died Ц that her grandmamma chose to believe he had been murdered, and insisted beside in blaming her father, Sir Jekyl, somehow for the catastrophe.

CHAPTER XXII
How Everything went on

"Go down, dear, to your company," resumed Lady Alice, sadly; "they will miss you. And tell your father, when he comes to the drawing-room, I wish to see him, and won't detain him long."

So they parted, and a little later Sir Jekyl arrived with a knock at the old lady's bed-room door.

"Come in Ц oh! yes Ц Jekyl Ц well, I've only a word to say. Sit down a moment at the bedside."

"And how do you feel now, you dear old soul?" inquired the Baronet, cheerfully. He looked strong and florid, as gentleman do after dinner, with a genial air of contentment, and a fragrance of his wonderful sherry about him; all which seemed somehow brutal to the nervous old lady.

"Wonderfully, considering the surprise you had prepared for me, and which might as well have killed me as not," she made answer.

"I know, to be sure Ц Strangways, you mean. Egad! I forgot. Trixie ought to have told you."

"You ought to have told me. I don't think I should have come here, Jekyl, had I known it."

"If I had known that," thought Sir Jekyl, with a regretful pang, "I'd have made a point of telling you." But he said aloud Ч

"Yes. It was a sottise; but I've got over the likeness so completely that I forgot how it agitated you. But I ought to tell you they have no connexion with the family Ц none in the world. Pelter and Crowe, you know Ц devilish sharp dogs Ц my lawyers in town Ц they are regular detectives, by Jove! and know everything Ц and particularly have had for years a steady eye upon them and their movements; and I have had a most decided letter from them, assuring me that there has not been the slightest movement in that quarter, and therefore there is, absolutely, as I told you from the first, nothing in it."

"And what Deverells are now living?" inquired the old lady, very pale.

"Two first cousins, they tell me Ц old fellows now; and one of them has a son or two; but not one called Guy, and none answering this description, you see; and neither have a shadow of a claim, or ever pretended; and as for that unfortunate accident Ц "

"Pray spare me," said the old lady, grimly.

"Well, they did not care a brass farthing about the poor fellow, so they would never move to give me trouble in that matter; and, in fact, people never do stir in law, and put themselves to serious expense, purely for a sentiment Ц even a bad one."

"I remember some years ago you were very much alarmed, Jekyl."

"No, I was not. Who the plague says that? There's nothing, thank Heaven, I need fear. One does not like to be worried with lawsuits Ц that's all Ц though there is and can be no real danger in them."

"And was it from these cousins you apprehended lawsuits?" inquired Lady Alice.

"No, not exactly Ц no, not at all. I believe that fellow Strangways Ц that fellow that used to live on poor Guy Ц I fancy he was the mover of it Ц indeed I know he was."

"What did they proceed for?" asked the old lady. "You never told me Ц you are so secret, Jekyl."

"They did not proceed at all Ц how could I? Their attorneys had cases before counsel affecting me Ц that's all I ever heard; and they say now it was all Strangways' doing Ц that is, Pelter and Crowe say so. I wish I were secret."

Old Lady Alice here heaved a deep groan, and said, not with asperity, but with a fatigued abhorrence Ч

"Go away; I wonder I can bear you near me."

"Thank you very much," said the Baronet, rising, with one of his pleasant chuckles. "I can't tell you how glad I am to see you here, and I know you'll be very glad to see me in the morning, when you are a little rested."

So he kissed the tips of his fingers and touched them playfully to the back of her thin hand, which she withdrew with a little frown, as if they chilled her. And by her direction he called in her maid, whom he asked very smilingly how she did, and welcomed to Marlowe; and she, though a little pass?, having heard the fame of Sir Jekyl, and many stories of his brilliant adventures, was very modest and fluttered on the occasion. And with another little petting speech to Lady Alice, the radiant Baronet withdrew.

It is not to be supposed that Lady Alice's tremors communicated themselves to Beatrix. Was it possible to regard that handsome, refined young man, who spoke in that low, sweet voice, and smiled so intelligently, and talked so pleasantly, and with that delicate flavour of romance at times, in the light of a goblin?

The gentlemen had made their whist-party. The Rev. Dives Marlowe was chatting to, not with, Lady Jane, who sat listlessly on an ottoman. That elderly girl, Miss Blunket, with the na?ve ways, the animated, smiling, and rather malevolent countenance, had secured little Linnett, who bore his imprisonment impatiently and wearily it must be owned. When Miss Blunket was enthusiastic it was all very well; but her playfulness was wicked, and her satire gaily vitriolic.

"Mr. Marlowe is fascinated, don't you think?" she inquired of harmless little Linnett, glancing with an arch flash of her fierce eyes at the Rev. Dives.

"She's awfully handsome," said Linnett, honestly.

"Oh, dear, you wicked creature, you can't think I meant that. She is some kind of cousin, I think Ц is not she? And her husband has that great living Ц what's its name?†Ц and no relation in the Church; and Lady Jane, they say, rules him Ц and Sir Jekyl, some people say, rules her."

Linnett returned her arch glance with an honest stare of surprise.

"I had no idea of that, egad," said he.

"She thinks him so wise in all worldly matters, you know; and people in London fancied she would have been the second Lady Marlowe, if she had not met General Lennox just at a critical time, and fallen in love with him;" and as she said this she laughed.

"Really!" exclaimed Linnett; and he surveyed Lady Jane in this new light wonderingly.

"I really don't know; I heard it said merely; but very likely, you know, it is not true," she answered with an artless giggle.

"I knew you were quizzing Ц though, by Jove, you did sell me at first; but I really think Sir Jekyl's a little spoony on that pretty little Mrs. Maberly. Is she a widow?"

"Oh, dear, no Ц at least, not quite; she has a husband in India, but then, poor man, he's so little in the way she need hardly wish him dead."

"I see," said Linnett, looking at Mrs. Maberly with a grave interest.

While Miss Blunket was entertaining and instructing little Linnett with this sort of girlish chatter, and from the whist-table, between the deals, arose those critical discussions and reviews, relieved now and then by a joke from the Baronet, or from his partner, Colonel Doocey, at the piano, countenanced by old Lady Blunket, who had come to listen and remained to doze, Beatrix, her fingers still on the keys, was listening to young Strangways.

There are times, lights, accidents, under which your handsome young people become incredibly more handsome, and this Guy Strangways now shared in that translated glory, as he leaned on the back of a tall carved chair, sometimes speaking, sometimes listening.



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