Joseph Le Fanu.

Guy Deverell. Volume 1 of 2

The elderly gentleman unlocked his desk, and taking forth a large envelope, he unfolded the papers enclosed in it.

"Have we anything to note to-day about that apartment verd? Did you manage the measurement of the two recesses?"

"They are three feet and a half wide, two feet and a half deep, and the pier between them is, counting in the carved case, ten feet and six inches; and there is from the angle of the room at each side, that next the window and that opposite, to the angle of the same recesses, counting in, in like manner, the carved case, two feet and six inches exactly. Here Monsieur has the threads of measurement," added Jacques, with a charming bow, handing a little paper, containing certain pieces of tape cut at proper lengths and noted in pen and ink, to his master.

"Were you in the room yourself since?"

"This afternoon I am promised to be again introduced."

"Try both particularly that to your right as you stand near the door and rap them with your knuckles, and search as narrowly as you can."

Monsieur Jacques bowed low and smiled.

"And now about the other room," said Monsieur Varbarriere; "have you had an opportunity?"

"I have enjoyed the permission of visiting it, by the kindness of Sir Jekyl's man."

"He does not suppose any object?" inquired Monsieur Varbarriere.

"None in the world nothing merely the curiosity of seeing everything which is common in persons of my rank."

Monsieur Varbarriere smiled dimly.

"Well, there is a room opening at the back of Sir Jekyl's room what is it?"

"His study."

Varbarriere nodded "Go on."

"A room about the same size, surrounded on all sides except the window with books packed on shelves."

"Where is the door?"

"There is no door, visible at least, except that by which one enters from Sir Jekyl Marlowe's room," answered Monsieur Jacques.

"Any sign of a door?"

Monsieur Jacques smiled a little mysteriously.

"When my friend, Monsieur Tomlinson, Sir Jekyl's gentleman, had left me alone for a few minutes, to look at some old books of travels with engravings, for which I had always a liking, I did use my eyes a little, Monsieur, upon other objects, but could see nothing. Then, with the head of my stick I took the liberty to knock a little upon the shelves, and one place I did find where the books are not real, but made of wood."

"Made of wood?" repeated Monsieur Varbarriere.

"Yes bound over to imitate the tomes; and all as old and dingy as the books themselves."

"You knew by the sound?"

"Yes, Monsieur, by the sound. I removed, moreover, a real book at the side, and I saw there wood."

"Whereabout is that in the wall?"

"Next to the corner, Monsieur, which is formed by the wall in which the windows are set it is a dark corner, nearly opposite the door by which you enter."

"That's a door," said Monsieur Varbarriere, rising deliberately as if he were about to walk through it.

"I think Monsieur conjectures sagely."

"What more did you see, Jacques?" demanded Monsieur Varbarriere, resuming his seat quietly.

"Nothing, Monsieur; for my good friend returned just then, and occupied my attention otherwise."

"You did not give him a hint of your discovery?"

"Not a word, sir."

"Jacques, you must see that room again, quietly.

You are very much interested, you know, in those books of travel. When you have a minute there to yourself again, you will take down in turn every volume at each side of that false bookcase, and search closely for hinge or bolt there must be something of the kind or keyhole do you see? Rely upon me, I will not fail to consider the service handsomely. Manage that, if possible, to-day."

"I will do all my possible, Monsieur."

"I depend upon you, Jacques. Adieu."

With a low bow and a smirk, Jacques departed.

Monsieur Varbarriere bolted his dressing-room door, and sat down musing mysteriously before his paper. His large, fattish, freckled hand hung down over the arm of the low chair, nearly to the carpet, with his heavy gold pencil-case in its fingers. He heaved one deep, unconscious sigh, as he leaned back. It was not that he quailed before any coming crisis. He was not a soft-hearted or nervous general, and had quite made up his mind. But he was not without good nature in ordinary cases, and the page he was about to open was full of terror and bordered all round with black.

Lady Jane Lennox was at that moment seated also before her desk, very pale, and writing a few very grateful and humble lines of thanks to her General vehement thanks vehement self-abasement such as surprised him quite delightfully. He read them over and over, smiling with all his might, under his stiff white moustache, and with a happy moisture in his twinkling grey eyes, and many a murmured apostrophe, "Poor little thing how pleased she is poor little Janet!" and resolving how happy they two should be, and how much sunshine was breaking into their world.

Monsieur Varbarriere was sitting in deep thought before his desk.

"Yes, I think I may," was the result of his ruminations.

And in his bold clear hand he indited the following letter, which we translate:

Private and Confidential.

Marlowe Manor, th October, 1849.

General Lennox.

Sir, I, in the first place, beg you to excuse the apparent presumption of my soliciting a private audience of a gentleman to whom I have the honour to be but so slightly known, and of claiming the protection of an honourable secrecy. The reason of my so doing will be obvious when I say that I have certain circumstances to lay before you which nearly affect your honour. I decline making any detailed statement by letter, nor will I explain my meaning at Marlowe Manor; but if, without fracas, you will give me a private meeting, at any place between this and London, I will make it my business to see you, when I shall satisfy you that I have not made this request without the gravest reasons. May I entreat that your reply may be addressed to me, poste restante, Slowton.

Accept the assurance, &c., &c., &c.,
H. Varbarriere.

Thus was the angelic messenger, musical with silvery wings, who visited honest General Lennox in his lodgings off Piccadilly, accompanied all the way, in the long flight from Slowton to the London terminus, by a dark spirit of compensation, to appal him with a doubt.

Varbarriere's letter had been posted at Wardlock by his own servant Jacques a precaution he chose to adopt, as he did not care that anyone at the little town of Marlowe, far less at the Manor, should guess that he had anything on earth to say to General Lennox.

When the two letters reached that old gentleman, he opened Lady Jane's first; for, as we know, he had arrived at the amorous age, and was impatient to read what his little Jennie had to say; and when he had read it once, he had of course to read it all over again; then he kissed it and laughed tremulously over it, and was nearer to crying than he would have confessed to anyone even to her; and he read it again at the window, where he was seen by seedy Captain Fezzy, who was reading Bell's Life, across, the street, in the three-pair-of-stairs window, and by Miss Dignum, the proprietress, from the drawing-room, with a countenance so radiant and moved as to interest both spectators from their different points of view.

Thus, with many re-perusals and pleasant castle-buildings, and some airs gently whistled in his reveries, he had nearly forgotten M. Varbarriere's letter.

He was so gratified he always knew she cared for her old man, little Jennie she was not demonstrative, all the better perhaps for that; and here, in this delightful letter, so grateful, so sad, so humble, it was all confessed demonstrated, at last; and old General Lennox thought infinitely better of himself, and far more adoringly of his wife than ever, and was indescribably proud and happy. Hitherto his good angel had had it all his own way; the other spirit was now about to take his turn touched him on the elbow and presented Monsieur Varbarriere's letter, with a dark smile.

"Near forgetting this, by Jove!" said the old gentleman with the white moustache and eyebrows, taking the letter in his gnarled pink fingers.

"What the devil can the fellow mean? I think he's a fool," said the General, very pale and stern, when he had read the letter twice through.

If the people at the other side had been studying the transition of human countenance, they would have had a treat in the General's, now again presented at his drawing-room window, where he stood leaning grimly on his knuckles.

Still oftener, and more microscopically, was this letter spelled over than the other.

"It can't possibly refer to Jane. It can't. I put that out of my head quite," said the poor General energetically to himself, with a short wave of his hand like a little sabre-cut in the air.

But what could it be? He had no kinsman near enough in blood to "affect his honour." But these French fellows had such queer phrases. The only transaction he could think of was the sale of his black charger in Calcutta for two hundred guineas, to that ill-conditioned fellow, Colonel Bardell, who, he heard, had been grumbling about that bargain, as he did about every other.

"I should not be surprised if he said I cheated him about that horse!"

And he felt quite obliged to Colonel Bardell for affording this hypothesis.

"Yes, Bardell was coming to England possibly at Marlowe now. He knows Sir Jekyl. Egad, that's the very thing. He's been talking; and this officious old French bourgeois thinks he's doing a devilish polite thing in telling me what a suspected dog I am."

The General laughed, and breathed a great sigh of relief, and recalled all the cases he could bring up in which fellows had got into scrapes unwittingly about horse-flesh, and how savagely fellows sometimes spoke when they did not like their bargains.

The Bishop at Marlowe

So he laboured in favour of his hypothesis with an uneasy sort of success; but, for a few seconds, on one sore point of his heart had there been a pressure, new, utterly agonising, and there remained the sense of contusion.

The General took his hat, and came and walked off briskly into the city a long way, thinking he had business; but when he reached the office, preferring another day wishing to be back at Marlowe wishing to see Varbarriere longing to know the worst.

At last he turned into a city coffee-house, and wrote a reply on a quarto sheet of letter-paper to Monsieur Varbarriere. He was minded first to treat the whole thing with a well-bred contempt, and simply to mention that as he expected soon to be at Marlowe, he would not give Monsieur Varbarriere the trouble of making an appointment elsewhere.

But, seated in his box, he read Monsieur Varbarriere's short letter over again before committing himself, and it struck him that it was not an intimation to be trifled with it had a certain gravity which did not lose its force by frequent reading. The gentleman himself, too reserved, shrewd, with an odd mixture of the unctuous and the sardonic his recollection of this person, the writer, came unpleasantly in aid of the serious impression which his letter was calculated to make; and he read again

"I have certain circumstances to lay before you which nearly affect your honour."

The words smote his heart again with a tremendous augury; somehow they would not quite fit his hypothesis about the horse, but it might be something else. Was there any lady who might conceive herself jilted? Who could guess what it might be?

Jennie's letter he read then again in his box, with the smell of beef-steaks, the glitter of pewter pots, and the tread of waiters about him.

Yes, it was he defied the devil himself to question it an affectionate, loving, grateful letter. And Lady Alice had gone to Marlowe, and was staying there Lady Alice Redcliffe, that stiff, austere duenna Jane's kinswoman. He was glad of it, and often thinking of it. But, no oh! no it could not possibly refer to Jane: upon that point he had perfectly made up his mind.

Well, with his pen between his fingers, he considered when he could go, and where he should meet this vulgar Frenchman. He could not leave London to-morrow, nor next day, and the day following he had to give evidence on the question of compensation to that native prince, and so on: so at last he wrote, naming the nearest day he could command, and requesting, in a postscript which he opened the letter to add, that Monsieur Varbarriere would be so very good as to let him know a little more distinctly to what specific subject his letter referred, as he had in vain taxed his recollection for the slightest clue to his meaning; and although he was perfectly satisfied that he could not have the smallest difficulty in clearing up anything that could possibly be alleged against him as a soldier or a gentleman having, he thanked Heaven, accomplished his career with honour he yet could not feel quite comfortable until he heard something more explicit.

As the General, with this letter in his pocket, was hurrying to the post-office, the party at Marlowe were admiring a glorious sunset, and Monsieur Varbarriere was describing to Lady Jane Lennox some gorgeous effects of sunlight which he had witnessed from Lisbon on the horizon of the Atlantic.

The Bishop had already arrived, and was in his dressing-room, and Dives was more silent and thoughtful than usual.

Yes, the Bishop had arrived. He was venerable, dignified, dapper, with, for his time of life, a wonderfully shapely leg in his black silk stocking. There was in his manner and tones that suavity which reminds one at the same time of heaven and the House of Lords. He did not laugh. He smiled and bowed sometimes. There was a classical flavour in his conversation with gentlemen, and he sometimes conversed with ladies, his leg crossed horizontally, the ankle resting on his knee, while he mildly stroked the shapely limb I have mentioned, and murmured well-bred Christianity, to which, as well as to his secular narratives, the ladies listened respectfully.

Don't suppose he was a hypocrite or a Pharisee. He was as honest as most men, and better than many Christians. He was a bachelor, and wealthy; but if he had amassed a good deal of public money, he had also displayed a good deal of public spirit, and had done many princely and even some kind actions. His family were not presentable, making a livelihood by unmentionable practices, such as shop-keeping and the like. Still he cut them with moderation, having maintained affable though clandestine relations with his two maiden aunts, who lived and died in Thames Street, and having twice assisted a nephew, though he declined seeing him, who was a skipper of a Russian brig.

He was a little High-Church. But though a disciplinarian in ecclesiastical matters, and with notions about self-mortification, his rule as master of the great school he had once governed had been kindly and popular as well as firm. I do not know exactly what interest got him his bishopric. Perhaps it was his reputation only; and that he was thinking of duty, and his fasts, and waked in his cell one morning with a mitre on instead of his nightcap. The Trappist, mayhap, in digging his grave had lighted on a pot of gold.

"I had no idea," exclaimed Miss Blunket, when the Bishop's apron and silk stockings had moved with the Rev. Dives Marlowe to the opposite extremity of the drawing-room, where the attentive Rector was soon deep in demonstrations, which evidently interested the right reverend prelate much, drawn from some manuscript notes of an ancestor of Dives's who had filled that see, which had long known him no more, and where he had been sharp in his day in looking up obscure rights and neglected revenues.

"I had no idea the Bishop was so young; he's by no means an old-looking man; and so very admirable a prelate is not he?"

"He has neglected one of St. Paul's conditions though," said Sir Jekyl; "but you will not think the worse of him for that. It may be mended, you know."

"What's that?" inquired Miss Blunket.

"Why, he's not the husband of one wife."

"Nonsense, you wretch!" cried Miss Blunket, with a giggle, jerking a violet which she was twiddling between her fingers at the Baronet.

"He has written a great deal, has not he?" continued Miss Blunket. "His tract on mortification has gone to fifteen thousand copies, I see by the newspaper."

"I wonder he has never married," interposed Lady Blunket, drowsily, with her usual attention to the context.

"I wonder he never tried it as a species of mortification," suggested Sir Jekyl.

"You horrid Vandal! Do you hear him, mamma?" exclaimed Miss Blunket.

Lady Blunket rather testily for she neither heard nor understood very well, and her daughter's voice was shrill asked

"What is it? You are always making mountains of molehills, my dear, and startling one."

Old Lady Alice Redcliffe's entrance at this moment made a diversion. She entered, tall, grey, and shaky, leaning on the arm of pretty Beatrix, and was encountered near the door by the right reverend prelate, who greeted her with a dignified and apostolic gallantry, which contrasted finely with Sir Jekyl's jaunty and hilarious salutation.

The Bishop was very much changed since she had seen him last. He, no doubt, thought the same of her. Neither intimated this little reflection to the other. Each estimated, with something of wonder and pity, the other's decay, and neither appropriated the lesson.

"I dare say you think me very much altered," said Lady Alice, so soon as she had made herself comfortable on the ottoman.

"I was about putting the same inquiry of myself, Lady Alice; but, alas! why should we? 'Never continueth in one stay,' you know; change is the universal law, and the greatest, last."

The excellent prelate delivered this ex cathedr?, as an immortal to a mortal. It was his duty to impress old Lady Alice, and he courteously included himself, being a modest priest, who talked of sin and death as if bishops were equally subject to them with other men.

Old Scenes recalled

At dinner the prelate, who sat beside Lady Alice, conversed in the same condescending spirit, and with the same dignified humility, upon all sorts of subjects upon the new sect, the Huggletonians, whom, with doubtful originality, but considerable emphasis, he likened to "lost sheep."

"Who's lost his sheep, my lord?" inquired Sir Paul Blunket across the table.

"I spoke metaphorically, Sir Paul. The Huggletonians, the sheep who should have been led by the waters of comfort, have been suffered to stray into the wilderness."

"Quite so I see. Shocking name that the Huggletonians. I should not like to be a Huggletonian, egad!" said Sir Paul Blunket, and drank some wine. "Lost sheep, to be sure yes; but that thing of bringing sheep to water you see it's a mistake. When a wether takes to drinking water, it's a sign he's got the rot."

The Bishop gently declined his head, and patiently allowed this little observation to blow over.

Sir Paul Blunket, having delivered it, merely added, after a decent pause, as he ate his dinner

"Dartbroke mutton this five years old eh?"

"Yes. I hope you like it," answered his host.

Sir Paul Blunket, having a bit in his mouth, grunted politely

"Only for your own table, though?" he added, when he'd swallowed it.

"That's all," answered Sir Jekyl.

"Never pay at market, you know," said Sir Paul Blunket. "I consider any sheep kept beyond two years as lost."

"A lost sheep, and sell him as a Huggletonian," rejoined Sir Jekyl.

"It is twenty years," murmured the Bishop in Lady Alice's ear, for he preferred not hearing that kind of joke, "since I sate in this parlour."

"Ha!" sighed Lady Alice.

"Long before that I used, in poor Sir Harry's time, to be here a good deal a hospitable, kind man, in the main."

"I never liked him," croaked Lady Alice, and wiped her mouth.

They sat so very close to Sir Jekyl that the Bishop merely uttered a mild ejaculation, and bowed toward his plate.

"The arrangements of this room the portraits are just what I remember them."

"Yes, and you were here let me see just thirty years since, when Sir Harry died weren't you?"

"So I was, my dear Lady Alice very true," replied the Bishop in his most subdued tones, and he threw his head back a little, and nearly closed his eyes; and she fancied he meant, in a dignified way, to say, "I should prefer not speaking of those particular recollections while we sit so near our host." The old lady was much of the same mind, and said to him quietly

"I'll ask you a few questions by-and-by. You remember Donica Gwynn. She's living with me now the housekeeper, you know."

"Yes, perfectly, a very nice-looking quiet young woman how is she?"

"A dried-up old woman now, but very well," said Lady Alice.

"Yes, to be sure; she must be elderly now," said he, hastily; and the Bishop mentally made up one of those little sums in addition, the result of which surprises us sometimes in our elderly days so oddly.

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