Joseph Le Fanu.

Guy Deverell. Volume 1 of 2



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"You may be very sure he had a reason," continued Lady Alice.

"Yes, very likely."

"And why is it not done?" persisted Lady Alice.

"I can no more say why, than you can," replied Dives.

"But why don't you see to it?" demanded she.

"See to it! Why, my dear Lady Alice, you must know I have no more power in the matter than Doocey there, or the man in the moon. The house belongs to Jekyl. Suppose you speak to him."

"You've a tongue in your head, Dives, when you've an object of your own."

Dives flushed again, and looked, for an apostle, rather forbidding.

"I have not the faintest notion, Lady Alice, to what you allude."

"Whatever else he may have been, Dives, he was your father," continued Lady Alice, not diverted by this collateral issue; "and as his son, it was and is your business to give Jekyl no rest till he complies with that dying injunction."

"Jekyl's his own master; what can I do?"

"Do as you do where your profit's concerned; tease him as you would for a good living, if he had it to give."

"I don't press my interests much upon Jekyl. I've never teased him or anybody else, for anything," answered Dives, grandly.

"Come, come, Dives Marlowe; you have duties on earth, and something to think of besides yourself."

"I trust I don't need to be reminded of that, Lady Alice," said the cleric, with a bow and a repulsive meekness.

"Well, speak to your brother."

"I have alluded to the subject, and an opportunity may occur again."

"Make one – make an opportunity, Dives."

"There are rules, Lady Alice, which we must all observe."

"Come, come, Dives Marlowe," said the lady, very tartly, "remember you're a clergyman."

"I hope I do, madam; and I trust you will too."

And the Rector rose, and with an offended bow, and before she could reply, made a second as stiff, and turned away to the table, where he took up a volume and pretended to read the title.

"Dives," said the old lady, making no account of his huff, "please to tell Monsieur Varbarriere that I should be very much obliged if he would afford me a few minutes here, if he is not better engaged; that is, it seems to me he has nothing to do there."

M. Varbarriere was leaning back in his chair, his hands folded, and the points of his thumbs together; his eyes closed, and his bronzed and heavy features composed, as it seemed, to deep thought; and one of his large shining shoes beating time slowly to the cadences of his ruminations.

The Reverend Dives Marlowe was in no mood just at that moment to be trotted about on that offensive old lady's messages. But it is not permitted to gentlemen, even of his sacred calling, to refuse, in this wise, to make themselves the obedient humble servants of the fair sex, and to tell them to go on their own errands.

Silently he made her a slight bow, secretly resolving to avail himself sparingly of his opportunities of cultivating her society for the future.

Perhaps it was owing to some mesmeric reciprocity, but exactly at this moment M.

Varbarriere opened his eyes, arose, and walked towards the fireplace, as if his object had been to contemplate the ornaments over the chimneypiece; and arriving at the hearthrug, and beholding Lady Alice, he courteously drew near, and accosted her with a deferential gallantry, saving the Reverend Dives Marlowe, who was skirting the other side of the round table, the remainder of his tour.

CHAPTER XXX
Varbarriere picks up something about Donica Gwynn

Drawing-room conversation seldom opens like an epic in the thick of the plot, and the introductory portions, however graceful, are seldom worth much. M. Varbarriere and Lady Alice had been talking some two or three minutes, when she made this inquiry.

"When did you last see the elder Mr. Strangways, whom you mentioned at dinner?"

"Lately, very lately – within this year."

"Did he seem pretty well?"

"Perfectly well."

"What does he think about it all?"

"I find a difficulty. If Lady Alice Redcliffe will define her question – "

"I mean – well, I should have asked you first, whether he ever talked to you about the affairs of that family – the Deverell family – I mean as they were affected by the loss of a deed. I don't understand these things well; but it involved the loss, they say, of an estate; and then there was the great misfortune of my life."

M. Varbarriere here made a low and reverential bow of sympathy; he knew she meant the death of her son.

"Upon this latter melancholy subject he entirely sympathises with you. His grief of course has long abated, but his indignation survives."

"And well it may, sir. And what does he say of the paper that disappeared?"

"He thinks, madam, that it was stolen."

"Ha! So do I."

The confidential and secret nature of their talk had drawn their heads together, and lowered their voices.

"He thinks it was abstracted by one of the Marlowe family."

"Which of them? Go on, sir."

"Well, by old Sir Harry Marlowe, the father of Sir Jekyl."

"It certainly was he; it could have been no other; it was stolen, that is, I don't suppose by his hand; I don't know, perhaps it was; he was capable of a great deal; I say nothing, Monsieur Varbarriere."

Perhaps that gentleman thought she had said a good deal; but he was as grave on this matter as she.

"You seem, madam, very positive. May I be permitted to inquire whether you think there exists proof of the fact?"

"I don't speak from proof, sir."

Lady Alice sat straighter, and looked full in his face for a moment, and said —

"I am talking to you, Monsieur Varbarriere, in a very confidential way. I have not for ever so many years met a human being who cared, or indeed knew anything of my poor boy as his friend. I have at length met you, and I open my mind, my conjectures, my suspicions; but, you will understand, in the strictest confidence."

"I have so understood all you have said, and in the same spirit I have spoken and mean to speak, madam, if you permit me, to you. I do feel an interest in that Deverell family, of whom I have heard so much. There was a servant, a rather superior order of person, who lived as housekeeper – a Mrs. Gwynn – to whom I would gladly have spoken, had chance thrown her in my way, and from whom it was hoped something important might be elicited."

"She is my housekeeper now," said Lady Alice.

"Oh! and – "

"I think she's a sensible person; a respectable person, I believe, in her rank of life, although they chose to talk scandal about her; as what young woman who lived in the same house with that vile old man, Sir Harry Marlowe, could escape scandal? But, poor thing! there was no evidence that ever I could learn; nothing but lies and envy: and she has been a very faithful servant to the family."

"And is now in your employment, madam?"

"My housekeeper at Wardlock," responded Lady Alice.

"Residing there now?" inquired M. Varbarriere.

Lady Alice nodded assent.

I know not by what subtle evidences, hard to define, seldom if ever remembered, we sometimes come to a knowledge, by what seems an intuition, of other people's intentions. M. Varbarriere was as silent as Lady Alice was; his heavy bronzed features were still, and he looking down on one of those exquisite wreaths of flowers that made the pattern of the carpet; his brown, fattish hands were folded in his lap. He was an image of an indolent reverie.

Perhaps there was something special and sinister in the composure of those large features. Lady Alice's eye rested on his face, and instantly a fear smote her. She would have liked to shake him by the arm, and cry, "In God's name, do you mean us any harm?" But it is not permitted even to old ladies such as she to explode in adjuration, and shake up old gentlemen whose countenances may happen to strike them unpleasantly.

As people like to dispel an omen, old Lady Alice wished to disturb the unpleasant pose and shadows of those features. So she spoke to him, and he looked up like his accustomed self.

"You mentioned Mr. Herbert Strangways just now, Monsieur. I forget what relation you said he is to the young gentleman who accompanies you, Mr. Guy Strangways."

"Uncle, madam."

"And, pray, does he perceive – did he ever mention a most astonishing likeness in that young person to my poor son?"

"He has observed a likeness, madam, but never seemed to think it by any means so striking as you describe it. Your being so much moved by it has surprised me."

Here Lady Alice's old eyes wandered toward the spot where Guy Strangways stood, resting them but a moment; every time she looked so at him, this melancholy likeness struck her with a new force. She sighed and shuddered, and removed her eyes. On looking again at M. Varbarriere, she saw the same slightly truculent shadow over his features, as again he looked drowsily upon the carpet.

She had spent nearly a quarter of a century in impressing her limited audience with the idea that if there were thunderbolts in heaven they ought to fall upon Sir Jekyl Marlowe. Yet, now that she saw in that face something like an evil dream, a promise of judgment coming, a feeling of compunction and fear agitated her.

She looked over his stooping shoulders and saw pretty Beatrix leaning on the back of her father's chair, the young lady pleading gaily for some concession, Sir Jekyl laughing her off.

"How pretty she looks to-night – poor Trixie!" said Lady Alice, unconsciously.

M. Varbarriere raised his head, and looked, directed by her gaze, toward father and daughter. But his countenance did not brighten. On the contrary, it grew rather darker, and he looked another way, as if the sight offended him.

"Pretty creature she is – pretty Beatrix!" exclaimed the old lady, looking sadly and fondly across at her.

No response was vouchsafed by M. Varbarriere.

"Don't you think so? Don't you think my granddaughter very lovely?"

Thus directly appealed to, M. Varbarriere conceded the point, but not with effusion.

"Yes, Mademoiselle is charming – she is very charming – but I am not a critic. I have come to that time of life, Lady Alice, at which our admiration of mere youth, with its smooth soft skin and fresh tints, supersedes our appreciation of beauty."

In making this unsatisfactory compliment, he threw but one careless glance at Beatrix.

"That girl, you know, is heiress of all this – nothing but the title goes to Dives, and the small estate of Grimalston," said Lady Alice. "Of course I love my grandchild, but it always seems to me wrong to strip a title of its support, and send down the estates by a different line."

"Miss Beatrix Marlowe has a great deal too much for her own happiness. It is a disproportioned fortune, and in a young lady so sensible will awake suspicions of all her suitors. 'You are at my feet, sir,' she will think, 'but is your worship inspired by love or by avarice?' She is in the situation of that prince who turned all he touched into gold; while it feeds the love of money, it starves nature."

"I don't think it has troubled her head much as yet. If she had no dot whatever, she could not be less conscious," said the old lady.

"Some people might go through life and never feel it; and even of those who do, I doubt if there is one who would voluntarily surrender the consequence or the power of exorbitant wealth for the speculative blessing of friends and lovers more sincere. I could quite fancy, notwithstanding, a lady, either wise or sensitive, choosing a life of celibacy in preference to marriage under conditions so suspicious. Miss Marlowe would be a happier woman with only four or five hundred pounds a-year."

"Well, maybe so," said the old lady, dubiously, for she knew something of the world as well as of the affections.

"She will not, most likely, give it away; but if it were taken, she would be happier. Few people have nerve for an operation, and yet many are the more comfortable when it is performed."

"Beatrix has only been out one season, and that but interruptedly. She has been very much admired, though, and I have no doubt will be very suitably married."

"There are disadvantages, however."

"I don't understand," said Lady Alice, a little stiffly.

"I mean the tragedy in which Sir Jekyl is implicated," said M. Varbarriere, rising, and looking, without intending it, so sternly at Lady Alice, that she winced under it.

"Yes, to be sure, but you know the world does not mind that – the world does not choose to believe ill of fortune's minions – at least, to remember it. A few old-fashioned people view it as you and I do; but Jekyl stands very well. It is a wicked world, Monsieur Varbarriere."

"It is not for me to say. Every man has profited, more or less, at one time or another, by its leniency. Perhaps I feel in this particular case more strongly than others; but, notwithstanding the superior rank, wealth, and family of Sir Jekyl Marlowe, I should not, were I his equal, like to be tied to him by a close family connexion."

Lady Alice did not feel anger, nor was she pleased. She did not look down abashed at discovering that this stranger seemed to resent on so much higher ground than she the death of her son. She compressed her thin lips, looking a little beside the stern gentleman in black, at a distant point on the wall, and appeared to reflect.

CHAPTER XXXI
Lady Jane puts on her Brilliants

That evening, by the late post, had arrived a letter, in old General Lennox's hand, to his wife. It had come at dinner-time, and it was with a feeling of ennui she read the address. It was one of those billets which, in Swift's phrase, would "have kept cool;" but, subsiding on the ottoman, she opened it – conjugal relations demanded this attention; and Lady Jane, thinking "what a hand he writes!" ran her eye lazily down those crabbed pages in search of a date to light her to the passage where he announced his return; but there was none, so far as she saw.

"What's all this about? 'Masterson, the silkmercer at Marlowe – a very' – something – 'fellow —honest.' Yes, that's the word. So he may be, but I shan't buy his horrid trash, if that's what you mean," said she, crumpling up the stupid old letter, and leaning back, not in the sweetest temper, and with a sidelong glance of lazy defiance through her half-closed lashes, at the unconscious Lady Alice.

And now arrived a sleek-voiced servant, who, bowing beside Lady Jane, informed her gently that Mr. Masterson had arrived with the parcel for her ladyship.

"The parcel! what parcel?"

"I'm not aware, my lady."

"Tell him to give it to my maid. Ridiculous rubbish!" murmured Lady Jane, serenely.

But the man returned.

"Mr. Masterson's direction from the General, please, my lady, was to give the parcel into your own hands."

"Where is he?" inquired Lady Jane, rising with a lofty fierceness.

"In the small breakfast-parlour, my lady."

"Show me the way, please."

When Lady Jane Lennox arrived she found Mr. Masterson cloaked and muffled, as though off a journey, and he explained, that having met General Lennox yesterday accidentally in Oxford Street, in London, from whence he had only just returned, he had asked him to take charge of a parcel, to be delivered into her ladyship's own hands, where, accordingly, he now placed it.

Lady Jane did not thank him; she was rather conscious of herself conferring a favour by accepting anything at his hands; and when he was gone she called her maid, and having reached her room and lighted her candles, she found a very beautiful set of diamonds.

"Why, these are really superb, beautiful brilliants!" exclaimed the handsome young lady. The cloud had quite passed away, and a beautiful light glowed on her features.

Forthwith to the glass she went, in a charming excitement.

"Light all the candles you can find!" she exclaimed.

"Well, my eyes, but them is beautiful, my lady!" ejaculated the maid, staring with a smirk, and feeling that at such a moment she might talk a little, without risk, which, indeed, was true.

So with bed-room and dressing-table candles, and a pair purloined even from old Lady Alice's room, a tolerably satisfactory illumination was got up, and the jewels did certainly look dazzling.

The pendants flashed in her ears – the exquisite collar round her beautiful throat – the tiara streamed livid fire over her low Venus-like forehead, and her eager eyes and parted lips expressed her almost childlike delight.

There are silver bullets against charmed lives. There are women from whose snowy breasts the fire-tipped shafts of Cupid fall quenched and broken; and yet a handful of these brilliant pellets will find their way through that wintry whiteness, and lie lodged in her bleeding heart.

After I know not how long a time spent before the glass, it suddenly struck Lady Jane to inquire of the crumpled letter, in which the name of Masterson figured, and of whose contents she knew, in fact, nothing, but that they named no day for the General's return. She had grown curious as to who the donor might be. Were those jewels a gift from the General's rich old sister, who had a splendid suit, she had heard, which she would never put on again? Had they come as a bequest? How was it, and whose were they?

And now with these flashing gems still dangling so prettily in her ears, and spanning her white throat, as she still stood before the glass, she applied herself to spell out her General's meaning in better temper than for a long time she had read one of that gallant foozle's kindly and honest rigmaroles. At first the process was often interrupted by those glances at the mirror which it is impossible under ordinary circumstances to withhold; but as her interest deepened she drew the candle nearer, and read very diligently the stiffly written lines before her.

They showed her that the magnificent present was from himself alone. I should be afraid to guess how many thousand pounds had been lavished upon those jewels. An uxorious fogey – a wicked old fool – perhaps we, outside the domestic circle, may pronounce him. Lady Jane within that magic ring saw differently.

The brief, blunt, soldier-like affection that accompanied this magnificent present, and the mention of a little settlement of the jewels, which made them absolutely hers in case her "old man" should die, and the little conjecture "I wonder whether you would sometimes miss him?" smote her heart strangely.

"What a gentleman – what an old darling!" – and she – how heinously had she requited his manly but foolish adoration.

"I'll write to him this moment," she said, quite pale.

And she took the casket in her hands and laid it on her bed, and sat down on the side of it, and trembled very much, and suddenly burst into tears, insomuch that her maid was startled, and yielding forthwith to her sympathy, largely leavened with curiosity, she came and stood by her and administered such consolation as people will who know nothing of your particular grief, and like, perhaps, to discover its causes.

But after a while her mistress asked her impatiently what she meant, and, to her indignation and surprise, ordered her out of the room.

"I wish he had not been so good to me. I wish he had ever been unkind to me. I wish he would beat me, Good Heaven! is it all a dream?"

So, quite alone, with one flashing pendant in her ear, with the necklace still on – incoherently, wildly, and affrighted – raved Lady Jane, with a face hectic and wet with tears.

Things appeared to her all on a sudden, quite in a new character, as persons suddenly called on to leave life, see their own doings as they never beheld them before; so with a shock, and an awakening, tumbled about her the whole structure of her illusions, and a dreadful void with a black perspective for the first time opened round her.

She did not return to the drawing-room. When Beatrix, fearing she might be ill, knocked at the door of the green chamber, and heard from the far extremity Lady Jane's clear voice call "Come in," she entered. She found her lying in her clothes, with the counterpane thrown partially over her, upon the funereal-looking old bed, whose dark green curtains depended nearly from the ceiling.

"Well!" exclaimed Lady Jane, almost fiercely, rising to her elbow, and staring at Beatrix.

"I – you told me to come in. I'm afraid I mistook."

"Did I? I dare say. I thought it was my maid. I've got such a bad headache."

"I'm very sorry. Can I do anything?"

"No, Beatrix – no, thank you; it will go away of itself."

"I wish so much, Lady Jane, you would allow me to do anything for you. I – I sometimes fear I have offended you. You seemed to like me, I thought, when I saw you this spring in London, and I've been trying to think how I have displeased you."

"Displeased me! you displease me! Oh! Beatrix, Beatrix, dear, you don't know, you can never know. I – it is a feeling of disgust and despair. I hate myself, and I'm frightened and miserable, and I wish I dare cling to you."

She looked for a moment as if she would have liked to embrace her, but she turned away and buried her face in her pillow.

"Dear Lady Jane, you must not be so agitated. You certainly are not well," said Beatrix, close to the bedside, and really a good deal frightened. "Have you heard – I hope you have not – any ill news?"



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