Joseph Le Fanu.

Guy Deverell. Volume 1 of 2



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"It is quite indescribable, Miss Marlowe, how your music interests me – I should say, haunts me. I thought at first it was because you loved ballad music, which I also love; but it is not that – it is something higher and more peculiar."

"I am sure you were right at first, for I know I am a very indifferent musician," said Beatrix, looking down under her long lashes on the keys over which the jewelled fingers of her right hand wandered with hardly a tinkle, just tracing dreamily one of those sweet melancholy airs which made in fancy an accompaniment to the music of that young fellow's words.

How beautiful she looked, too, with eyes lowered and parted lips, and that listening smile – not quite a smile – drinking in with a strange rapture of pride and softness the flatteries which she refused and yet invited.

"It is something higher and mysterious, which, perhaps, I shall never attempt to explain, unless, indeed, I should risk talking very wildly – too wildly for you to understand, or, if you did, perhaps – to forgive."

"You mentioned a Breton ballad you once heard," said Beatrix, frightened, as girls will sometimes become whenever the hero of their happy hours begins on a sudden to define.

"Yes," he said, and the danger of the crisis was over. "I wish so much I could remember the air, you would so enter into its character, and make its wild unfathomable melancholy so beautifully touching in your clear contralto."

"You must not flatter me; I want to hear more of that ballad."

"If flattery be to speak more highly than one thinks, who can flatter Miss Marlowe?" Again the crisis was menacing. "Besides, I did not tell you we are leaving, I believe, in a day or two, and on the eve of so near a departure, may I not improve the few happy moments that are left me, and be permitted the privilege of a leave-taking, to speak more frankly, and perhaps less wisely than one who is destined to be all his life a neighbour?"

"Papa, I am sure, will be very sorry to hear that you and Monsieur Varbarriere are thinking of going so soon; I must try, however, to improve the time, and hear all you can tell me of those interesting people of Brittany."

"Yes, they are. I will make them another visit – a sadder visit, Mademoiselle – for me a far more interesting one. You have taught me how to hear and see them. I never felt the spirit of Villemarque, or the romance and melancholy of that antique region, till I had the honour of knowing you."

"My friends always laughed at me about Brittany. I suppose different people are interested by different subjects; but I do not think anyone could read at all about that part of the world and not be fascinated. You promised to tell all you remember of that Breton ballad."

"Oh, yes; the haunted lady, the beautiful lady, the heiress of Carlowel, now such a grand ruin, became enamoured of a mysterious cavalier who wooed her; but he was something not of flesh and blood, but of the spirit world."

"There is exactly such a legend, so far, at least, of a castle on the Rhine.

I must show it to you. Do you read German?"

"Yes, Mademoiselle."

"And does the ballad end tragically?"

"Most tragically. You shall hear."

"Where are you, Guy?" in French, inquired a deep ringing voice.

And on the summons, Guy glanced over his shoulder, and replied.

"Oh," exclaimed the same voice, "I demand pardon. I am disturbing conversation, I fear; but an old man in want of assistance will be excused. I want my road book, Guy, and you have got it. Pray, run up-stairs and fetch it."

With great pleasure, of course, Guy Strangways ran up-stairs to tumble over block-books, letters, diaries, and the general residuum of a half-emptied valise.

Miss Beatrix played a spirited march, which awoke Lady Blunket, whom she had forgotten; and that interesting woman, to make up for lost time, entertained her with a history of the unreasonableness of Smidge, her maid, and a variety of other minute afflictions, which, she assured Beatrix seriously, disturbed her sleep.

CHAPTER XXIII
The Divan

That night Sir Jekyl led the gentlemen in a body to his outpost quarters, in the rear of civilisation, where they enjoyed their cigars, brandy and water, and even "swipes," prodigiously. It is a noble privilege to be so rich as Sir Jekyl Marlowe. The Jewish price for frankincense was thrice its own weight in gold. How much did that aromatic blue canopy that rolled dimly over this Turkish divan cost that off-handed Sybarite? How many scruples of fine gold were floating in that cloud?

Varbarriere was in his way charmed with his excursion. He enjoyed the jokes and stories of the younkers, and the satiric slang and imperturbable good-humour of their host. The twinkle of his eye, from its deep cavern, and the suavity of his solemn features, testified to his profound enjoyment of a meeting to which he contributed, it must be owned, for his own share, little but smoke.

In fact, he was very silent, very observant – observant of more things than the talk perhaps.

All sorts of things were talked about. Of course, no end of horse and dog anecdote – something of wine, something of tobacco, something of the beauties of the opera and the stage, and those sad visions, the fallen angelic of the demimonde – something, but only the froth and sparkle, of politics – light conjecture, and pungent scandal, in the spirit of gay satire and profligate comedy.

"He's a bad dog, St. Evermore. Did not you hear that about the duel?" said Drayton.

"What?" asked the Baronet, with an unconscious glance at Guy Strangways.

"He killed that French fool – what's his name? – unfairly, they say. There has been a letter or something in one of the Paris papers about it. Fired before his time, I think, and very ill feeling against the English in consequence."

"Oh!" said the Baronet.

"But you know," interposed Doocey, who was an older clubman than Drayton, and remembering further back, thought that sort of anecdote of the duel a little maladroit just then and there, "St. Evermore has been talked about a good deal; there were other things – that horse, you know; and they say, by Jove! he was licked by Tromboni, at the wings of the opera, for what he called insulting his wife; and Tromboni says he's a marquess, and devil knows what beside, at home, and wanted to fight, but St. Evermore wouldn't, and took his licking."

"He's not a nice fellow by any means; but he's devilish good company – lots of good stories and capital cigars," said Drayton.

At this point M. Varbarriere was seized with a fit of coughing; and Sir Jekyl glanced sharply at him; but no, he was not laughing.

The conversation proceeded agreeably, and some charming stories were told of Sir Paul Blunket, who was not present; and in less than an hour the party broke up and left Sir Jekyl to his solitary quarters.

The Baronet bid his last guest good-night at the threshold, and then shut his door and locked himself in. It was his custom, here, to sleep with his door locked.

"What was that fellow laughing at – Varbarriere? I'm certain he was laughing. I never saw a fellow with so completely the cut of a charlatan. I'll write to Charteris to-night. I must learn all about him."

Then Sir Jekyl yawned, and reflected what a fool Drayton was, what a fellow to talk, and what asses all fellows were at that age; and, being sleepy, he postponed his letter to Charteris to the next morning, and proceeded to undress.

Next morning was bright and pleasant, and he really did not see much good in writing the letter; and so he put it off to a more convenient time.

Shortly after the ladies had left the drawing-room for their bed-rooms, Beatrix, having looked in for a moment to her grandmamma's room, and, with a kiss and a good-night, taken wing again, there entered to Lady Alice, as the old plays express it, then composing herself for the night, Lady Jane's maid, with —

"Please, my lady, my lady wants to know if your ladyship knows where her ladyship's key may be?"

"What key?"

"The key of her bedchamber, please, my lady."

"Oh! the key of my dressing-room. Tell Lady Jane that I have got the key of the Window dressing-room, and mean to keep it," replied the old lady, firmly.

The maid executed a courtesy, and departed; and Lady Alice sank back again upon her pillow, with her eyes and mouth firmly closed, and the countenance of an old lady who is conscious of having done her duty upon one of her sex.

About two minutes later there came a rustle of a dressing-gown and the patter of a swift-slippered tread through the short passage from the dressing-room, and, without a knock, Lady Jane, with a brilliant flush on her face, ruffled into the room, and, with her head very high, and flashing eyes, demanded —

"Will you be so good, Lady Alice Redcliffe, as to give me the key of my bed-room?"

To which Lady Alice, without opening her eyes, and with her hands mildly clasped, in the fashion of a medi?val monument, over her breast, meekly and firmly made answer —

"If you mean the key of the Window dressing-room, Jane, I have already told your maid that I mean to keep it!"

"And I'll not leave the room till I get it," cried Lady Jane, standing fiercely beside the monument.

"Then you'll not leave the room to-night, Jane," replied the statuesque sufferer on the bed.

"We shall see that. Once more, will you give me my key or not?"

"The key of my dressing-room door is in my possession, and I mean to keep it," repeated the old lady, with a provoking mildness.

"You shan't, madam – you'll do no such thing. You shall give up the key you have stolen. I'll lose my life but I'll make you."

"Jane, Jane," said the old lady, "you are sadly changed for the worse since last I saw you."

"And if you're not, it's only because there was no room for it. Sadly changed indeed – very true. I don't suffer you to bully me as you used at Wardlock."

"May Heaven forgive and pardon you!" ejaculated the old lady, with great severity, rising perpendicularly and raising both her eyes and hands.

"Keep your prayers for yourself, madam, and give me my key," demanded the incensed young lady.

"I'll do no such thing; I'll do as I said; and I'll pray how I please, ma'am," retorted the suppliant, fiercely.

"Your prayers don't signify twopence. You've the temper of a fiend, as all the world knows; and no one can live in the same house with you," rejoined Lady Jane.

"That's a wicked lie: my servants live all their days with me."

"Because they know no one else would take them. But you've the temper of a fury. You haven't a friend left, and everyone hates you."

"Oh! oh! oh!" moaned Lady Alice, sinking back, with her hand pressed to her heart piteously, and closing her eyes, as she recollected how ill she was.

"Ho! dear me!" exclaimed Lady Jane, in high disdain. "Had not you better restore my key before you die, old lady?"

"Jane!" exclaimed Lady Alice, recovering in an instant, "have you no feeling – you know the state I'm in; and you're bent on killing me with your unfeeling brutality?"

"You're perfectly well, ma'am, and you look it. I wish I was half as strong; you oblige me to come all this way, this bitter night, you odious old woman."

"I see how it is, and why you want the key. A very little more, and I'll write to General Lennox."

"Do; and he'll horsewhip you."

Lady Jane herself was a little stunned at this speech, when she heard it from her own lips; and I think would have recalled it.

"Thank you, Jane; I hope you'll remember that. Horsewhip me! No doubt you wish it; but General Lennox is a gentleman, I hope, although he has married you; and I don't suppose he would murder a miserable old woman to gratify you."

"You know perfectly what I mean – if you were a man he would horsewhip you; you have done nothing but insult me ever since you entered this house."

"Thank you; it's quite plain. I shan't forget it. I'll ask him, when he comes, whether he's in the habit of beating women. It is not usual, I believe, among British officers. It usen't at least; but everything's getting on – young ladies, and, I suppose, old men – all getting on famously."

"Give me my key, if you please; and cease talking like a fool," cried Lady Jane.

"And what do you want of that key? Come, now, young lady, what is it?"

"I don't choose to have my door lie open, and I won't. I've no bolt to the inside, and I will have my key, madam."

"If that's your object, set your mind at ease. I'll lock your door myself when you have got to your bed."

"So that if the house takes fire I shall be burnt to death!"

"Pooh! nonsense!"

"And if I am they'll hang you, I hope."

"Thank you. Flogged and hanged!" And Lady Alice laughed an exceeding bitter laugh. "But the wicked violence of your language and menaces shan't deter me from the duty I've prescribed to myself. I'll define my reasons if you like, and I'll write as soon as you please to General Lennox."

"I think you're mad– I do, I assure you. I'll endure it for once, but depend on it I'll complain to Sir Jekyl Marlowe, in my husband's absence, in the morning; and if this sort of thing is to go on, I had better leave the house forthwith – that's all."

And having uttered these dignified sentences with becoming emphasis, she sailed luridly away.

"Good-night, Jane," said Lady Alice, with a dry serenity.

"Don't dare, you insupportable old woman, to wish me good-night," burst out Lady Jane, whisking round at the threshold.

With which speech, having paused for a moment in defiance, she disappeared, leaving the door wide open, which is, perhaps, as annoying as clapping it, and less vulgar.

CHAPTER XXIV
Guy Strangways and M. Varbarriere converse

When M. Varbarriere and his nephew this night sat down in their dressing-room, the elder man said —

"How do you like Sir Jekyl Marlowe?"

"A most agreeable host – very lively – very hospitable," answered Guy Strangways.

"Does it strike you that he is anxious about anything?"

The young man looked surprised.

"No; that is, I mean, he appears to me in excellent spirits. Perhaps, sir, I do not quite apprehend you?"

"Not unlikely," said the old gentleman. "He does not question you?"

"No, sir."

"Yet he suspects me, and I think suspects you," observed M. Varbarriere.

The young man looked pained, but said nothing.

"That room where poor Lady Marlowe was – was so shocked – the green chamber – it is connected with the misfortunes of your family."

"How, sir?"

"Those papers you have heard my lawyer mention as having been lost at Dubois' Hotel in London, by your grandfather, it is my belief were lost in this house and in that room."

A gentleman smoking a cigar must be very much interested indeed when he removes his weed from his lips and rests the hand whose fingers hold it upon his knee, to the imminent risk of its going out while he pauses and listens.

"And how, sir, do you suppose this occurred – by what agency?" inquired the handsome young gentleman.

"The ghost," answered M. Varbarriere, with a solemn sneer.

Guy Strangways knew he could not be serious, although, looking on his countenance, he could discern there no certain trace of irony as he proceeded.

"Many years later, poor Lady Marlowe, entering that room late at night – her maid slept there, and she being ill, for a change, in the smaller room adjoining (you don't know those rooms, but I have looked in at the door) – beheld what we call the ghost, and never smiled or held up her head after," said the portly old gentleman between the puffs of his cigar.

"Beheld the ghost!"

"So they say, and I believe it – what they call the ghost."

"Did she make an alarm or call her husband?"

"Her husband slept in that remote room at the very back of the house, which, as you see, he still occupies, quite out of hearing. You go down-stairs first, then up-stairs; and as he slept the greater part of two hundred feet away from the front of the house, of course he was out of the question;" and M. Varbarriere sneered again solemnly.

"A housekeeper named Gwynn, I am told, knows all about it, but I believe she is gone."

"And do you really think, sir, that my grandfather lost those deeds here?"

"I always thought so, and so I told your father, and my information got him into a bad scrape."

"You don't, I know, think it occurred supernaturally?" said Guy, more and more bewildered.

"Supernaturally; of course it was – how else could it be?" answered the old gentleman, with a drowsy irony. "That room has been haunted, as I have heard, by a devil from the time it was built, in the reign of George II. Can you imagine why General Lennox was put to sleep there?"

The young man shook his head. The old one resumed his smoking, leaving his problem unsolved.

"It shall be my business to evoke and to lay that devil," said the elderly gentleman, abruptly.

"Ought not Lady Jane Lennox to be warned if you really think there is any – any danger?"

"The danger is to General Lennox, as I suppose."

"I don't understand, sir."

"No, you don't – better not. I told your poor father my belief once, and it proved fatal knowledge to him. In the day that he ate thereof he died. Bah! it is better to keep your mind to yourself until you have quite made it up – you understand? – and even then till the time for action has come, and not even then, unless you want help. Who will sum up the mischief one of those prating fellows does in a lifetime?"

The gentlemen were silent hereupon for a period which I may measure by half a cigar.

"That green chamber – it is a hypocrite," said the solemn old man, looking drowsily on the smoke that was ascending the chimney, into which he threw the butt-end of his cigar – "mind you, a hypocrite. I have my theory. But we will not talk; no —you will be less embarrassed, and I more useful, with this reserve. For the purpose I have in view I will do fifty things in which you could and would have no partnership. Will you peep into that letter, Monsieur?" The ponderous gentleman grew dramatic here. "Will you place your ear to that door, s'il vous plait– your eye to that keyhole? Will you oblige me by bribing that domestic with five pounds sterling? Bah! I will be all ear, all eye – omnipresent, omniscient, omnipotent! – by all means for this END – ay, all means – what you call secret, shabby, blackguard;" and the sonorous voice of the old man, for the first time since his arrival, broke into a clangorous burst of laughter, which, subsiding into a sort of growl, died, at last, quite away. The old gentleman's countenance looked more thoughtful and a shade darker than he had seen it. Then rising, he stood with his back to the fire, and fumbled slowly at the heavy links of his watch-chain, like a ghostly monk telling his beads, while he gazed, in the abstraction of deep thought, on the face of the young man.

Suddenly his face grew vigilant, his eyes lighted up, and some stern lines gathered about them, as he looked down full upon his nephew.

"Guy," said he, "you'll keep your promise – your word – your oath – that not one syllable of what passes between us is divulged to mortal, and that all those points on which I have enjoined reserve shall be held by you scrupulously secret."

Guy bowed his acquiescence.

"What nonsense was that going on at the piano to-night? Well, you need not answer, but there must be no more of it. I won't burden you with painful secrets. You will understand me hereafter; but no more of that– observe me."

The old gentleman spoke this injunction with a lowering nod, and that deliberate and peremptory emphasis to which his metallic tones gave effect.

Guy heard this, leaning in an unchanged attitude on his elbow over the chimneypiece, in silence and with downcast eyes.

"Yes, Guy," said the old man, walking suddenly up to him, and clapping his broad hand upon his shoulder, "I will complete the work I have begun for you. Have confidence in me, don't mar it, and you shall know all, and after I am gone, perhaps admire the zealous affection with which I laboured in your interest. Good-night, and Heaven bless you, dear Guy;" and so they parted for the night.

Guy Strangways had all his life stood in awe of this reserved despotic uncle – kind, indulgent in matters of pleasure and of money, but habitually secret, and whenever he imposed a command, tyrannical. Yet Guy felt that even here there was kindness; and though he could not understand his plans, of his motives he could have no doubt.

For M. Varbarriere, indeed, his nephew had a singular sort of respect. More than one-half of his character was enveloped in total darkness to his eyes. Of the traits that were revealed some were positively evil. He knew, by just one or two proofs, that he was proud and vindictive, and could carry revenge for a long time, like a cold stone, in his sleeve. He could break out into a devil of a passion, too, on occasion; he could be as unscrupulous, in certain ways, as Machiavel; and, it was fixed in Guy's mind, had absolutely no religion whatsoever. What were the evidences? M. Varbarriere led a respectable life, and showed his solemn face and person in church with regularity, and was on very courteous relations with the clergy, and had built the greater part of a church in Pontaubrique, where prayers are, I believe, still offered up for him. Ought not all this to have satisfied Guy? And yet he knew quite well that solemn M. Varbarriere did not believe one fact, record, tradition, or article of the religion he professed, or of any other. Had he denounced, ridiculed, or controverted them? – Never. On the contrary, he kept a civil tongue in his head, or was silent. What, then, were the proofs which had long quite settled the question in Guy's mind? They consisted of some half-dozen smiles and shrugs, scattered over some fifteen years, and delivered impressively at significant moments.



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