Joseph Le Fanu.

Guy Deverell. Volume 1 of 2



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But with all this he was kindly. The happiness of a great number of persons depended upon M. Varbarriere, and they were happy. His wine-estates were well governed. His great silk-factory in the south was wisely and benevolently administered. He gave handsomely to every deserving charity. He smiled on children and gave them small coins. He loved flowers, and no man was more idolised by his dogs.

Guy was attached by his kindness, and he felt that be his moral system exactly what it might, he had framed one, and acted under it, and he instinctively imbibed for him that respect which we always cherish for the man who has submitted his conduct consistently to a code or principle self-imposed by intellect Ц even erring.

CHAPTER XXV
Lady Alice talks with Guy Strangways

When Guy had bid this man good-night and entered his chamber, he threw himself into his easy-chair beside the fire, which had grown low and grey in the grate. He felt both sad and alarmed. He now felt assured that M. Varbarriere was fashioning and getting together the parts of a machine which was to work evil against their host and his family. His family? His daughter Beatrix. He had no other.

Already implicated in deception, the reasons for which he knew not, the direction of which he only suspected Ц bound as he was to secrecy by promises the most sacred, to his stern old kinsman and benefactor, he dared not divulge the truth. Somehow the blow meditated, he was confident, against this Baronet, was to redound to his advantage. What a villain should he appear when all was over! Sir Jekyl his host, too, frank and hospitable Ц how could he have earned the misfortune, be it great or small, that threatened? And the image of Beatrix Ц like an angel Ц stood between her father and the unmasked villain, Guy, who had entered the house in a borrowed shape, ate and drank and slept, talked and smiled, and, he now feared, loved, and in the end Ц struck!

When Mr. Guy Strangways came down next morning he looked very pale. His breakfast was a sham. He talked hardly at all, and smiled but briefly and seldom.

M. Varbarriere, on the contrary, was more than usually animated, and talked in his peculiar vein rather more than was his wont; and after breakfast, Sir Jekyl placed his hand kindly on Guy Strangways' arm as he looked dismally from the window. The young man almost started at the kindly pressure.

"Very glad to hear that Monsieur Varbarriere has changed his mind," said Sir Jekyl, with a smile.

What change was this? thought Guy, whose thoughts were about other plans of his uncle's, and he looked with a strange surprise in Sir Jekyl's face.

"I mean his ill-natured idea of going so soon. I'm so glad. You know you have seen nothing yet, and we are going to kill a buck to-day, so you had better postpone the moor to-morrow, and if you like to take your rod in the afternoon, you will find Ц Barron tells me Ц some very fine trout, about half a mile lower down the stream than you fished yesterday Ц a little below the bridge."

Guy thanked him, I fancy, rather oddly.

He heard him in fact as if it was an effort to follow his meaning, and he really did feel relieved when his good-natured host was called away, the next moment, to settle a disputed question between the two sportsmen, Linnett and Doocey.

"How is grandmamma this morning?" inquired Sir Jekyl of Beatrix, before she left the room.

"Better, I think. She says she will take a little turn up and down the broad walk, by-and-by, and I am to go with her."

"Very pleasant for you, Trixie," said her papa, with one of his chuckles. "So you can't go with your ladies to Lonsted to-day?"

"No Ц it can't be helped; but I'm glad poor granny can take her little walk."

"Not a bit of you, Trixie."

"Yes, indeed, I am. Poor old granny!"

The incredulous Baronet tapped her cheek with his finger, as he chuckled again roguishly, and with a smile and a shake of his head, their little talk ended.

In the hall he found Guy Strangways in his angling garb, about to start on a solitary excursion. He preferred it. He was very much obliged. He did not so much care for the chase, and liked walking even better than riding.

The Baronet, like a well-bred host, allowed his guests to choose absolutely their own methods of being happy, but he could not but perceive something in the young gentleman's manner that was new and uncomfortable. Had he offended him Ц had anything occurred during the sitting after dinner last night? Well, he could not make it out, but his manner was a little odd and constrained, and in that slanting light from above, as he had stood before him in the hall, he certainly did look confoundedly like that other Guy whose memory was his chief spoil-sport. But it crossed him only like a neuralgic pang, to be forgotten a minute later. And so the party dispersed Ц some mounted, to the park; others away with the keeper and dogs for the moor; and Strangways, dejected, on his solitary river-side ramble.

His rod and fly-book were but pretexts Ц his object was solitude. It was a beautiful autumnal day, a low sun gilding the red and yellow foliage of wood and hedgerow, and the mellow songs of birds were quivering in the air. The cheer and the melancholy of autumn were there Ц the sadness of a pleasant farewell.

"It is well," thought Strangways, "that I have been so startled into consciousness, while I yet have power to escape my fate Ц that beautiful girl! I did not know till last night how terrible I shall find it to say farewell. But, cost what it may, the word must be spoken. She will never know what it costs me. I may call it a dream, but even dreams of paradise are forgotten; my dream Ц never! All after-days dark without her. All my future life a sad reverie Ц a celestial remembrance Ц a vain yearning. These proud English people Ц and those dark designs, what are they? No, they shan't hurt her Ц never. I'll denounce him first. What is it to me what becomes of me if I have saved her Ц in so few days grown to be so much to me Ц my idol, my darling, though she may never know it?"

Guy Strangways, just five-and-twenty, had formed, on the situation, many such tremendous resolutions as young gentlemen at that period of life are capable of. He would speak to her no more; he would think of her no more; he would brave his uncle's wrath Ц shield her from all possibility of evil Ц throw up his own stakes, be they what they might Ц and depart in silence, and never see Beatrix again.

The early autumn evening had begun to redden the western clouds, as Guy Strangways, returning, approached the fine old house, and passing a thick group of trees and underwoods, he suddenly found himself before Beatrix and Lady Alice. I dare say they had been talking about him, for Beatrix blushed, and the old lady stared at him from under her grey brows, with lurid half-frightened eyes, as she leaned forward, her thin fingers grasping the arms of the rustic chair, enveloped in her ermine-lined mantle.

Lady Alice looked on him as an old lady might upon a caged monster Ц with curiosity and fear. She was beginning to endure his presence, though still with an awe nearly akin to horror Ц though that horror was fast disappearing Ц and there was a strange yearning, too, that drew her towards him.

He had seen Beatrix that morning. The apparition had now again risen in the midst of his wise resolutions, and embarrassed him strangely. The old lady's stare, too, was, you may suppose, to a man predisposed to be put out, very disconcerting. The result was that he bowed very low indeed before the ladies, and remained silent, expecting, like a ghost, to be spoken to.

"Come here, sir, if you please," said the old lady, with an odd mixture of apprehension and command. "How d'ye do, Mr. Strangways? I saw you yesterday you know, at dinner; and I saw you some weeks since at Wardlock Church. I have been affected by a resemblance. Merciful Heaven, it is miraculous! And things of that sort affect me now more than they once might have done. I'm a sickly old woman, and have lost most of my dearest ties on earth, and cannot expect to remain much longer behind them."

It was odd, but the repulsion was still active, while at the same time she was already, after a fashion, opening her heart to him.

It was not easy to frame an answer, on the moment, to this strange address. He could only say, as again he bowed low Ч

"I do recollect, Lady Alice, having seen you in Wardlock Church. My uncle, Monsieur Varbarriere Ц "

At this point the handsome young gentleman broke down. His uncle had whispered him, as they sat side by side Ч

"Look at that old lady costumed in mourning, in the seat in the gallery with the marble tablet and two angels Ц do you see?†Ц on the wall behind. That is Lady Alice Redcliffe. I'll tell you more about her by-and-by."

"By-and-by," as Guy Strangways had come to know, indicated in M. Varbarriere's vocabulary that period which was the luminous point in his perspective, at which his unexplained hints and proceedings would all be cleared up. The sudden rush of these recollections and surmises in such a presence overcame Guy Strangways, and he changed colour and became silent.

The old lady, however, understood nothing of the causes of his sudden embarrassment, and spoke again.

"Will you forgive an old woman for speaking with so little reserve?†Ц your voice, too, sir, so wonderfully resembles it Ц wonderfully."

Old Lady Alice dried her eyes a little here, and Guy, who felt that his situation might soon become very nearly comical, said very gently Ч

"There are, I believe, such likenesses. I have seen one or two such myself." And then to Beatrix, aside, "My presence and these recollections, I fear, agitate Lady Alice."

But the old lady interposed in a softened tone Ц "No, sir; pray don't go; pray remain. You've been walking, fishing. What a sweet day, and charming scenery near here. I know it all very well. In my poor girl's lifetime I was a great deal here. She was very accomplished Ц she drew beautifully Ц poor thing; my pretty Beatrix here is very like her. You can't remember your poor mamma? No, hardly."

All this time Lady Alice was, with aristocratic ill-breeding, contemplating the features of Guy Strangways, as she might a picture, with saddened eyes. She was becoming accustomed to the apparition. It had almost ceased to frighten her; and she liked it even, as a help to memory.

Five minutes later she was walking feebly up and down the plateau, in the last level beams of the genial sunset, leaning on the arm of the young man, who could not refuse this courtesy to the garrulous old lady, although contrary to his prudent resolutions Ц it retained him so near to Beatrix.

"And, Mr. Strangways, it is not every day, you know, I can walk out; and Trixie here will sometimes bring her work into the boudoir Ц and if you would pay me a visit there, and read or talk a little, you can't think what a kindness you would do me."

What could he do but hear and smile, and declare how happy it would make him? Although here, too, he saw danger to his wise resolutions. But have not the charities of society their claims?

These were their parting words as they stood on the stone platform, under the carved armorial bearings of the Marlowes, at the hall-door; and old Lady Alice, when she reached her room, wept softer and happier tears than had wet her cheeks for many a year.

CHAPTER XXVI
Some Talk of a Survey of the Green Chamber

The red sunset beam that had lighted the group we have just been following, glanced through the windows of M. Varbarriere's dressing-room, and lighted up a letter he was at that moment reading. It said Ч

"The woman to whom you refer is still living. We heard fully about her last year, and, we are informed, is now in the service of Lady Alice Redcliffe, of Wardlock, within easy reach of Marlowe. We found her, as we thought, reliable in her statements, though impracticable and reserved; but that is eight years since. She was, I think, some way past fifty then."

M. Varbarriere looked up here, and placed the letter in his pocket, beholding his valet entering.

"Come in, Jacques," exclaimed the ponderous old gentleman, in the vernacular of the valet.

He entered gaily bowing and smiling.

"Well, my friend," he exclaimed good-humouredly, "you look very happy, and no wonder Ц you, a lover of beauty, are fortunate in a house where so much is treasured."

"Ah! Monsieur mocks himself of me. But there are many beautiful ladies assembled here, my faith!"

"What do you think of Lady Jane Lennox?"

"Oh, heavens! it is an angel!"

"And only think! she inhabits, all alone, that terrible green chamber!" exclaimed the old gentleman, with an unwonted smile, "I have just been wondering about that green chamber, regarding which so many tales of terror are related, and trying from its outward aspect to form some conjecture as to its interior, you understand, its construction and arrangements. It interests me so strangely. Now, I dare say, by this time so curious a sprite as you Ц so clever Ц so potent with that fair sex who hold the keys of all that is worth visiting, there is hardly a nook in this house, from the cellar to the garret, worth looking at, into which you have not contrived a peep during this time?"

"Ah, my faith! Monsieur does me too much honour. I may have been possibly, but I do not know to which of the rooms they accord that name."

Now upon this M. Varbarriere described to him the exact situation of the apartment.

"And who occupies the room at present, Monsieur?"

"Lady Jane Lennox, I told you."

"Oh! then I am sure I have not been there. That would be impossible."

"But there must be no impossibility here," said the old gentleman, with a grim "half joke and whole earnest" emphasis. "If you satisfy me during our stay in this house I will make you a present of five thousand francs Ц you comprehend?†Ц this day three weeks. I am curious in my way as you are in yours. Let us see whether your curiosity cannot subserve mine. In the first place, on the honour of a gentleman Ц your father was a Captain of Chasseurs, and his son will not dishonour him Ц you promise to observe the strictest silence and secrecy."

Jacques bowed and smiled deferentially; their eyes met for a moment, and Monsieur Varbarriere said Ч

"You need not suppose anything so serious Чmon amiЦ†there is no tragedy or even fourberie intended. I have heard spiritual marvels about that apartment; I am inquisitive. Say, I am composing a philosophy and writing a book on the subject, and I want some few facts about the proportions of it. See, here is a sketch Ц oblong square Ц that is the room. You will visit it Ц you take some pieces of cord Ц you measure accurately the distance from this wall to that Ц you see?†Ц the length; then from this to this Ц the breadth. If any projection or recess, you measure its depth or prominence most exactly. If there be any door or buffet in the room, beside the entrance, you mark where. You also measure carefully the thickness of the wall at the windows and the door. I am very curious, and all this you shall do."

The courier shrugged, and smiled, and pondered.

"Come, there may be difficulties, but such as melt before the light of your genius and the glow of this," and he lifted a little column of a dozen golden coins between his finger and thumb.

"Do you think that when we, the visitors, are all out walking or driving, a chamber-maid would hesitate for a couple of these counters to facilitate your enterprise and enable you to do all this? Bah! I know them too well."

"I am flattered of the confidence of Monsieur. I am ravi of the opportunity to serve him."

There was something perhaps cynical in the imposing solemnity of gratitude with which M. Varbarriere accepted these evidences of devotion.

"You must so manage that she will suppose nothing of the fact that it is I who want all these foolish little pieces of twine," said the grave gentleman; "she would tell everybody. What will you say to her?"

"Ah, Monsieur, please, it will be Margery. She is a charming rogue, and as discreet as myself. She will assist, and I will tell her nothing but fibs; and we shall make some money. She and I together in the servants' hall Ц she shall talk of the ghosts and the green chamber, and I will tell how we used to make wagers who would guess, without having seen it, the length of such a room in the Chateau Mauville, when we were visiting there Ц how many windows Ц how high the chimneypiece; and then the nearest guesser won the pool. You see, Monsieur Ц you understand?†Ц Margery and I, we will play this little trick. And so she will help me to all the measurements before, without sharing of my real design, quite simply."

"Sir, I admire your care of the young lady's simplicity," said M. Varbarriere, sardonically. "You will procure all this for me as quickly as you can, and I shan't forget my promise."

Jacques was again radiantly grateful.

"Jacques, you have the character of being always true to your chief. I never doubted your honour, and I show the esteem I hold you in by undertaking to give you five thousand francs in three weeks' time, provided you satisfy me while here. It would not cost me much, Jacques, to make of you as good a gentleman as your father."

Jacques here threw an awful and indescribable devotion into his countenance.

"I don't say, mind you, I'll do it Ц only that if I pleased I very easily might. You shall bring me a little plan of that room, including all the measurements I have mentioned, if possible to-morrow Ц the sooner the better; that to begin with. Enough for the present. Stay; have you had any talk with Sir Jekyl Marlowe Ц you must be quite frank with me Ц has he noticed you?"

"He has done me that honour."

"Frequently?"

"Once only, Monsieur."

"Come, let us hear what passed."

M. Varbarriere had traced a slight embarrassment in Jacques' countenance.

So with a little effort and as much gaiety as he could command, Jacques related tolerably truly what had passed in the stable-yard.

A lurid flush appeared on the old man's forehead for a moment, and he rang out fiercely Ч

"And why the devil, sir, did you not mention that before?"

"I was not aware, Monsieur, it was of any importance," he answered deferentially.

"Jacques, you must tell me the whole truth Ц did he make you a present?"

"No, Monsieur."

"He gave you nothing then or since?"

"Pas un sous, Monsieurֆnothing."

"Has he promised you anything?"

"Nothing, Monsieur."

"But you understand what he means?"

"Monsieur will explain himself."

"You understand he has made you an offer in case you consent to transfer your service."

"Monsieur commands my allegiance."

"You have only to say so if you wish it."

"Monsieur is my generous chief. I will not abandon him for a stranger Ц never, while he continues his goodness and his preference for me."

"Well, you belong to me for a month, you know, by our agreement. After that you may consider what you please. In the meantime be true to me; and not one word, if you please, of me or my concerns to anybody."

"Certainly, Monsieur. I shall be found a man of honour now as always."

"I have no doubt, Jacques; as I told you, I know you to be a gentleman Ц I rely upon you."

M. Varbarriere looked rather grimly into his eye as he uttered this compliment; and when the polite little gentleman had left the room, M. Varbarriere bethought him how very little he had to betray Ц how little he knew about him, his nephew, and his plans; and although he would not have liked his inquiries to be either baulked or disclosed, he could yet mentally snap his fingers at Monsieur.

CHAPTER XXVII
M. Varbarriere talks a little more freely

After his valet left him, M. Varbarriere did not descend, but remained in his dressing-room, thinking profoundly; and, after a while, he opened his pocket-book, and began to con over a number of figures, and a diagram to which these numbers seemed to refer.

Sometimes standing at the window, at others pacing the floor, and all the time engrossed by a calculation, like a man over a problem in mathematics.

For two or three minutes he had been thus engaged when Guy Strangways entered the room.

"Ho! young gentleman, why don't you read your prayer-book?" said the old man, with solemn waggery.

"I don't understand," said the young gentleman.

"No, you don't. I am the old sphynx, you see, and some of my riddles I can't make out, even myself. My faith! I have been puzzling my head till it aches over my notebook; and I saw you walking with that old lady, Lady Alice Redcliffe, up and down so affectionately. There is another riddle! My faith! the house itself is an enigma. And Sir Jekyl Ц what do you think of him; is he going to marry?"

"To marry!" echoed Guy Strangways.

"Ay, to marry. I do not know, but he is so sly. We must not let him marry, you know; it would be so cruel to poor little Mademoiselle Beatrix Ц eh?"

Guy Strangways looked at him doubtingly.

"He is pretty old, you know, but so am I, and older, my faith! But I think he is making eyes at the married ladies Ц eh?"



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