Joseph Le Fanu
Guy Deverell. Volume 1 of 2скачать книгу бесплатно
"I have not observed – perhaps so," answered Guy, carelessly. "He does walk and talk a great deal with that pretty Madame Maberly."
"Madame Maberly? Bah!" And M. Varbarriere's "bah" sounded like one of those long sneering slides played sometimes on a deep chord of a double bass. "No, no, it is that fine woman, Miladi Jane Lennox."
"Lady Jane! I fancied she did not like him. I mean that she positively disliked him; and to say truth, I never saw, on his part, the slightest disposition to make himself agreeable."
"I do not judge by words or conduct – in presence of others those are easily controlled; it is when the eyes meet – you can't mistake. Bah! I knew the first evening we arrived. Now see, you must have your eyes about you, Guy. It is your business, not mine. Very important to you, mon petit gar?on; of no sort of imaginable consequence to me, except as your friend; therefore you shall watch and report to me. You understand?"
Guy flushed with a glow of shame and anger, and looked up with gleaming eyes, expecting to meet the deep-set observation of the old man. Had their eyes encountered, perhaps a quarrel would have resulted, and the fates and furies would have had the consequences in their hands; but M. Varbarriere was at the moment reading his attorney's letter again. Guy looked out of the window, and thought resolutely.
"One duplicity I have committed. It is base enough to walk among these people masked, but to be a spy —never."
And he clenched his hand and pressed his foot upon the floor.
It was dreadful to know that these moral impossibilities were expected of him. It was terrible to feel that a rupture with his best, perhaps his only friend, was drawing slowly but surely on; but he was quite resolved. Nothing on earth could tempt him to the degradation of which his kinsman seemed to think so lightly.
Happily, perhaps, for the immediate continuance of their amicable relations, the thoughts of M. Varbarriere had taken a new turn, or rather reverted to the channel from which they had only for a few minutes diverged.
"You were walking with that old woman, Lady Alice Redcliffe. She seemed to talk a great deal. How did she interest you all that time?"
"To say truth, she did not interest me all that time. She talked vaguely about family afflictions, and the death of her son; and she looked at me at first as if I were a brigand, and said I was very like some one whom she had lost."
"Then she's a friendly sort of old woman, at least on certain topics, and garrulous? Who's there? Oh! Jacques; very good, you need not stay."
The old gentleman was by this time making his toilet.
"Did she happen to mention a person named Gwynn, a housekeeper in her service?"
"I'm glad she is an affable old lady; we shall be sure to hear something useful," said the old gentleman, with an odd smile. "That housekeeper I must see and sift.
They tell me she's impracticable; they
found her so. I shall see. While you live, Guy, do your own business; no one else will do it, be sure. I did mine, and I've got on."
The old gentleman, who was declaiming before the looking-glass in his shirt-sleeves and crimson silk suspenders, brushing up that pyramid of grizzled hair which added to the solemnity of his effect, now got into his black silk waistcoat. The dressing-bell had rung, and the candles had superseded daylight.
"You'll observe all I told you, Guy. Sir Jekyl shan't marry – he would grow what they call impracticable, like Madame Gwynn; Miss Beatrix, she shan't marry either – it would make, perhaps, new difficulties; and you, I may as well tell you, can't marry her. When you know the reasons you will see that such an event could not be contemplated. You understand?"
And he dropped his haircomb, with which he had been bestowing a last finish on his spire of hair, upon his dressing-table, with a slight emphasis.
"Therefore, Guy, you will understand you must not be a fool about that young lady; there are many others to speak to; and if you allow yourself to like her, you will be a miserable stripling till you forget her."
"There is no need, sir, to warn me; I have resolved to avoid any such feeling. I have sense enough to see that there are obstacles insurmountable to my ever cherishing that ambition, and that I never could be regarded as worthy."
"Bravo! young man, that is what I like; you are as modest as the devil; and here, I can tell you, modesty, which is so often silly, is as wise as the serpent. You understand?"
The large-chested gentleman was now getting into his capacious coat, having buttoned his jewelled wrist-studs in; so he contemplated himself in the glass, with a touch and a pluck here and there.
"One word more, about that old woman. Talk to her all you please, and let her talk – and talk more than you, so much the better; but observe, she will question you about yourself and your connections, and one word you shall not answer; observe she learns nothing from you, that is, in the spirit of your solemn promise to me."
M. Varbarriere had addressed this peremptory reminder over his shoulder, and now retouched his perpendicular cone of hair, which waved upwards like a grey flame.
"Guy, you will be late," he called over his shoulder. "Come, my boy; we must not be walking in with the entremets."
And he plucked out that huge chased repeater, a Genevan masterpiece, which somehow harmonised, with his air of wealth and massiveness, and told him he had hut eight minutes left; and with an injunction to haste, which Guy, with a start, obeyed, this sable and somewhat mountainous figure swayed solemnly from the room.
"Who is that Monsieur Varbarriere?" inquired Lady Alice of her host, as the company began to assemble in the drawing-room, before that gentleman had made his appearance.
"I have not a notion."
"Are you serious? No, you're not serious," served Lady Alice.
"I'm always serious when I talk to you."
"Thank you. I'm sure that is meant for a compliment," said the old lady, curtly.
"And I assure you I mean what I say," continued Sir Jekyl, not minding the parenthesis. "I really don't know, except that he comes from France – rather a large place, you know —where he comes from. I have not a notion what his business, calling, or trade may be."
"Trade!" replied Lady Alice, with dry dignity.
"Trade, to be sure. You're a tradesman yourself, you know – a miner —I bought twenty-two shares in that for you in June last; you're an iron ship-builder – you have fifteen in that; you're a 'bus-man – you have ten there; and you were devilish near being a brewer, only it stopped."
"Don't talk like a fool – a joint-stock company I hope is one thing, and a – a – the other sort of thing quite another, I fancy."
"You fancy, yes; but it is not. It's a firm – Smith, Brown, Jones, Redcliffe, and Co., omnibus drivers, brewers, and so forth. So if he's not a rival, and doesn't interfere with your little trade, I really don't care, my dear little mamma, what sort of shop my friend Varbarriere may keep; but as I said, I don't know; maybe he's too fine a fellow to meddle, like us, with vats and 'busses."
"It appears odd that you should know absolutely nothing about your own guests," remarked Lady Alice.
"Well, it would be odd, only I do," answered Sir Jekyl – "all one needs to know or ask. He presented his papers, and comes duly accredited – a letter from old Philander the Peer. Do you remember Peery still? I don't mind him; he was always a noodle, though in a question of respectability he's not quite nothing; and another from Bob Charteris – you don't know him – Attach? at Paris; a better or more reliable quarter one could not hear from. I'll let you read them to-morrow; they speak unequivocally for his respectability; and I think the inference is even that he has a soul above 'busses. Here he is."
M. Varbarriere advanced with the air of a magician about to conduct a client to his magic mirror, toward Lady Alice before whom he made a low bow, having been presented the day before, and he inquired with a grave concern how she now felt herself and expressed with a sonorous suavity his regrets and his hopes.
Lady Alice, having had a good account of him, received him on the whole very graciously; and being herself a good Frenchwoman, the conversation flowed on agreeably.
Some private Talk of Varbarriere and Lady Alice at the Dinner-table
At dinner he was placed beside the old lady. He understood good cookery, and with him to dine was to analyse and contemplate. He was usually taciturn and absorbed during the process; but on this occasion he made an effort, and talked a good deal in a grave, but, as the old lady thought, an agreeable and kindly vein.
Oddly enough, he led the conversation to his nephew, and found his companion very ready indeed to listen, as perhaps he had anticipated, and even to question him on this theme with close but unavowed interest.
"He bears two names which, united, remind me of some of my bitterest sorrows – Guy was my dear son's Christian name, and Mr. Strangways was his most particular friend; and there is a likeness too," she continued, looking with her dim and clouded eyes upon Guy at the other side, whom fate had placed beside Miss Blunket – "a likeness so wonderful as to make me, at times, quite indescribably nervous; at times it is – how handsome! don't you consider him wonderfully handsome? – at times the likeness is so exact as to become all but insupportable."
She glanced suddenly as she spoke, and saw an expression on the countenance of M. Varbarriere, who looked for no such inspection at that moment, which she neither liked nor understood.
No, it was not pleasant, connected with the tone in which she spoke, the grief and the agitation she recounted, and above all with the sad and horrible associations connected indissolubly in her mind with those names and features. It was a face both insincere and mocking – such a countenance as has perhaps shocked us in childhood, when in some grief or lamentation, looking up for sympathy, we behold a face in which lurks a cruel enjoyment, or a sense of an undivulged joke.
Perhaps he read in the old lady's face something of the shock she experienced; for he said, to cover his indiscretion, "I was, at the moment, reminded of a strange mistake which once took place in consequence of a likeness. Some of the consequences were tragic, but the rest so ridiculous that I can never call the adventure to mind without feeling the comedy prevail. I was thinking of relating it, but, on recollection, it is too vulgar."
M. Varbarriere, I am certain, was telling fibs; but he did it well. He did not hasten to change his countenance, but allowed that expression to possess his features serenely after she had looked, and only shifted it for a grave and honest one when he added —
"You think then, perhaps, that, my nephew had formerly the honour of being a companion of Mr. Redcliffe, your son?"
"Oh, dear, no. He was about Jekyl's age. I dare say I had lost him before that young man was born."
"Oh! that surprises me very much. Monsieur Redcliffe – your son – is it possible he should have been so much older?"
"My son's name was Deverell," said the old lady, sadly.
"Ah! that's very odd. He, Guy, then, had an uncle who had a friend of that name – Guy Deverell – long ago, in this country. That is very interesting."
"Is not it?" repeated Lady Alice, with a gasp. "I feel, somehow, it must be he – a tall, slight young man."
"Alas! madam, he is much changed if it be he. He must have been older than your son, madam. He must be, I think, near sixty now, and grown rather stout. I've heard him talk at times of his friend Guy Deverell."
"And with affection, doubtless."
"Well, yes, with affection, certainly, and with great indignation of his death – the mode of it."
"Ah! yes," said Lady Alice, flushing to the roots of her grey hair, and looking down on her plate.
Here there was silence for the space of a minute or more.
"Yes, Monsieur Varbarriere; but you know, even though we cannot always forget, we must forgive."
"Champagne, my lady?" inquired the servant over her shoulder.
"No, thank you," murmured Lady Alice.
M. Varbarriere took some and sipped it, wondering how Sir Jekyl contrived to get such wines, and mentally admitting that even in the champagne countries it would task him – M. Varbarriere – to find its equal. And he said —
"Yes, Lady Alice, divine philosophy, but not easy to practise. I fear it is as hard to do one as the other."
"And how is Mr. Strangways?" inquired Lady Alice.
They were talking very confidentially and in a low tone, as if old Strangways' health was the subject of conspiracy.
"Growing old, Lady Alice; he has not spared himself; otherwise well."
"And this, you say, is his nephew?" continued the old lady. "And you?"
"I am Guy's uncle – his mother's brother."
"And his mother, is she living?"
"No, poor thing! gone long ago."
Lady Alice looked again unexpectedly into M. Varbarriere's face, and there detected the same unreliable expression.
"Monsieur Varbarriere," said old Lady Alice a little sternly in his ear, "you will pardon me, but it seems to me that you are trifling, and not quite sincere in all you tell me."
In a moment the gravity of all the Chief Justices that ever sat in England was gathered in his massive face.
"I am shocked, madam, at your thinking me capable of trifling. How have I showed, I entreat, any evidences of a disposition so contrary to my feelings?"
"I tell you frankly – in your countenance, Monsieur Varbarriere; and I observed it before, Monsieur."
"Believe me, I entreat, madam, when I assure you, upon the honour of a gentleman, every word I have said is altogether true. Nor would it be easy for me to describe how profound is my sympathy with you."
From this time forth Lady Alice saw no return, of that faint but odious look of banter that had at first shocked and then irritated her; and fortified by the solemn assurance he had given, she fell into a habit of referring it to some association unconnected with herself, and tried to make up for her attack upon him by an increased measure of courtesy.
Dwelling on those subjects that most interested Lady Alice, he and she grew more and more confidential, and she came, before they left the parlour, to entertain a high opinion of both the wisdom and the philanthropy of M. Varbarriere.
The Ladies and Gentlemen resume Conversation in the Drawing-room
"Dives, my boy," said the Baronet, taking his stand beside his brother on the hearthrug, when the gentlemen had followed the ladies into the drawing-room, and addressing him comfortably over his shoulder, "the Bishop's coming to-morrow."
"Ho!" exclaimed Dives, bringing his right shoulder forward, so as nearly to confront his brother. They had both been standing side by side, with their backs, according to the good old graceful English fashion, to the fire.
"Here's his note – came to-night. He'll be here to dinner, I suppose, by the six o'clock fast train to Slowton."
"Thanks," said Dives, taking the note and devouring it energetically.
"Just half a dozen lines of three words each – always so, you know. Poor old Sammy! I always liked old Sammy – a good old cock at school he was – great fun, you know, but always a gentleman."
Sir Jekyl delivered these recollections standing with his hands behind his back, and looking upwards with a smile to the ceiling, as the Rev. Dives Marlowe read carefully every word of the letter.
"Sorry to see his hand begins to shake a little," said Dives, returning the interesting manuscript.
"Time for it, egad! He's pretty well on, you know. We'll all be shaky a bit before long, Dives."
"How long does he stay?"
"I think only a day or two. I have his first note up-stairs, if I did not burn it," answered the Baronet.
"I'm glad I'm to meet him —very glad indeed. I think it's five years since I met his lordship at the consecration of the new church of Clopton Friars. I always found him very kind – very. He likes the school-house fellows."
"You'd better get up your parochial experiences a little, and your theology, eh? They say he expects his people to be alive. You used to be rather good at theology – usen't you?"
"Pretty well, Jekyl."
"And what do you want of him, Dives?"
"Oh! he could be useful to me in fifty ways. I was thinking – you know there's that archdeaconry of Priors." Dives replied pretty nearly in a whisper.
"By Jove! yes – a capital thing – I forgot it;" and Sir Jekyl laughed heartily.
"Why do you laugh, Jekyl?" he asked, a little drily.
"I – I really don't know," said the Baronet, laughing on.
"I don't see anything absurd or unreasonable in it. That archdeaconry has always been held by some one connected with the county families. Whoever holds it must be fit to associate with the people of that neighbourhood, who won't be intimate, you know, with everybody; and the thing really is little more than a feather, the house and place are expensive, and no one that has not something more than the archdeaconry itself can afford it."
The conversation was here arrested by a voice which inquired —
"Pray, can you tell me what day General Lennox returns?"
The question was Lady Alice's. She had seemed to be asleep – probably was – and opening her eyes suddenly, had asked it in a hard, dry tone.
"I?" said Sir Jekyl. "I don't know, I protest – maybe to-night – maybe to-morrow. Come when he may, he's very welcome."
"You have not heard?" she persisted.
"No, I have not," he answered, rather tartly, with a smile.
Lady Alice nodded, and raised her voice —
"Lady Jane Lennox, you've heard, no doubt – pray, when does the General return?"
If the scene had not been quite so public, I dare say this innocent little inquiry would have been the signal for one of those keen encounters to which these two fiery spirits were prone.
"He has been detained unexpectedly," drawled Lady Jane.
"You hear from him constantly?" pursued the old lady.
"It's odd he does not say when you may look for him," said Lady Alice.
"Egad, you want to make her jealous, I think," interposed Sir Jekyl.
"Jealous? Well, I think a young wife may very reasonably be jealous, though not exactly in the vulgar sense, when she is left without a clue to her husband's movements."
"You said you were going to write to him. I wish you would, Lady Alice," said the young lady, with an air of some contempt.
"I can't believe he has not said how soon his return may be looked for," observed the old lady.
"I suppose he'll say whenever he can, and in the meantime I don't intend plaguing him with inquiries he can't answer." And with these words she leaned back fatigued, and with a fierce glance at Sir Jekyl, who was close by, she added, so loud that I wonder Lady Alice did not hear her – "Why don't you stop that odious old woman?"
"Stop an odious old woman! – why, who ever did? Upon my honour, I know no way but to kill her," chuckled the Baronet.
Lady Jane deigned no reply.
"Come here, Dives, and sit by me," croaked the old lady, beckoning him with her thin, long finger. "I've hardly seen you since I came."
"Very happy, indeed – very much obliged to you, Lady Alice, for wishing it."
And the natty but somewhat forbidding-looking Churchman sat himself down in a prie-dieu chair vis-?-vis to the old gentlewoman, and folded his hands, expecting her exordium.
"Do you remember, Sir Harry, your father?"
"Oh, dear, yes. I recollect my poor father very well. We were at Oxford then or just going. How old was I? – pretty well out of my teens."
It must be observed that they sat in a confidential proximity – nobody listened – nobody cared to approach.
"You remember when he died, poor man?"
"Yes – poor father! – we were at home – Jekyl and I – for the holidays – I believe it was– a month or so. The Bishop, you know, was with him."
"I know. He's coming to-morrow."
"Yes; so my brother here just told me – an excellent, exemplary, pious prelate, and a true friend to my poor father. He posted fifty miles – from Doncaster – in four hours and a half, to be with him. And a great comfort he was. I shall never forget it to him."
"I don't think you cared for your father, Dives; and Jekyl positively disliked him," interposed Lady Alice agreeably.
"I trust there was no feeling so unchristian and monstrous ever harboured in my brother's breast," replied Dives, loftily, and with a little flush in his cheeks.
"You can't believe any such thing, my dear Dives; and you know you did not care if he was at the bottom of the Red Sea, and I don't wonder."
"Pray don't, Lady Alice. If you think such things, I should prefer not hearing them," murmured Dives, with clerical dignity.
"And what I want to ask you now is this," continued Lady Alice; "you are of course aware that he told the Bishop that he wanted that green chamber, for some reason or another, pulled down?"
Dives coughed, and said —
"Well, yes, I have heard."
"What was his reason, have you any notion?"
"He expressed none. My father gave, I believe, no reason. I never heard any," replied the Reverend Dives Marlowe.скачать книгу бесплатно
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