Joseph Le Fanu.

Guy Deverell. Volume 1 of 2



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When the party transferred themselves to the drawing-room, Lady Alice failed to secure the Bishop, who was seized by the Rev. Dives Marlowe and carried into a recess – Sir Jekyl having given his clerical brother the key of a cabinet in which were deposited more of the memoranda, and a handsome collection of the official and legal correspondence of that episcopal ancestor whose agreeable MSS. had interested the Bishop so much before dinner.

Jekyl, indeed, was a good-natured brother. As a match-making mother will get the proper persons under the same roof, he had managed this little meeting at Marlowe. When the ladies went away to the drawing-room, he had cried —

"Dives, I want you here for a moment," and so he placed him on the chair which Lady Jane Lennox had occupied beside him, and what was more to the purpose, beside the Bishop; and, as Dives was a good scholar, well made up on controversies, with a very pretty notion of ecclesiastical law and a turn for Latin verse, he and the prelate were soon in a state of very happy and intimate confidence. This cabinet, too, was what the game of chess is to the lovers – a great opportunity – a seclusion; and Dives knowing all about the papers, was enabled really to interest the Bishop very keenly.

So Lady Alice, who wanted to talk with him, was doomed to a jealous isolation, until that friend, of whom she was gradually coming to think very highly indeed, Monsieur Varbarriere, drew near, and they fell into conversation, first on the recent railway collision, and then on the fruit and flower show, and next upon the Bishop.

They both agreed what a charming and venerable person he was, and then Lady Alice said —

"Sir Harry Marlowe, I told you – the father, you know, of Jekyl there," and she dropped her voice as she named him, "was in possession at the time when the deed affecting my beloved son's rights was lost."

"Yes, madame."

"And it was the Bishop there who attended him on his death-bed."

"Ho!" exclaimed M. Varbarriere, looking more curiously for a moment at that dapper little gentleman in the silk apron.

"They said he heard a great deal from poor wretched Sir Harry. I have never had an opportunity of asking him in private about it, but I mean to-morrow, please Heaven."

"It may be, madame, in the highest degree important," said Monsieur Varbarriere, emphatically.

"How can it be? My son is dead."

"Your son is" – and M. Varbarriere, who was speaking sternly and with a pallid face, like a man deeply excited, suddenly checked himself, and said —

"Yes, very true, your son is dead. Yes, madame, he is dead."

Old Lady Alice looked at him with a bewildered and frightened gaze.

"In Heaven's name, sir, what do you mean?"

"Mean – mean – why, what have I said?" exclaimed Monsieur Varbarriere, very tartly, and looking still more uncomfortable.

"I did not say you had said anything, but you do mean something."

"No, madame, I forgot something; the tragedy to which you referred is not to be supposed to be always as present to the mind of another as it naturally is to your own.

We forget in a moment of surprise many things of which at another time we need not to be reminded, and so it happened with me."

Monsieur Varbarriere stood up and fiddled with his gold double eye-glasses, and seemed for a while disposed to add more on that theme, but, after a pause, said —

"And so it was to the Bishop that Sir Harry Marlowe communicated his dying wish that the green chamber should be shut up?"

"Yes, to him; and I have heard that more passed than is suspected, but of that I know nothing; only I mean to put the question to him directly, when next I can see him alone."

Monsieur Varbarriere again looked with a curious scrutiny at the Bishop, and then he inquired —

"He is a prelate, no doubt, who enjoys a high reputation for integrity?"

"This I know, that he would not for worlds utter an untruth," replied Lady Alice.

"What a charming person is Lady Jane Lennox!" exclaimed Monsieur Varbarriere, suddenly diverging.

"H'm! do you think so? Well, yes, she is very much admired."

"It is not often you see a pair so unequal in years so affectionately attached," said Monsieur Varbarriere.

"I have never seen her husband, and I can't, therefore, say how they get on together; but I'm glad to hear you say so. Jane has a temper, you know, which every one might not get on with; that is," she added, fearing lest she had gone a little too far, "sometimes it is not quite pleasant."

"No doubt she was much admired and much pursued," observed Varbarriere.

"Yes, I said she was admired," answered Lady Alice, drily.

"How charming she looks, reading her book at this moment!" exclaimed Varbarriere.

She was leaning back on an ottoman, with a book in her hand; her rich wavy hair, her jewels and splendid dress, her beautiful braceleted arms, and exquisitely haughty features, and a certain negligence in her pose, recalled some of those voluptuous portraits of the beauties of the Court of Charles II.

Sir Jekyl was seated on the other side of the cushioned circle, leaning a little across, and talking volubly, and, as it seemed, earnestly. It is one of those groups in which, marking the silence of the lady and the serious earnestness of her companion, and the flush of both countenances, one concludes, if there be nothing to forbid, that the talk is at least romantic.

Lady Alice was reserved, however; she merely said —

"Yes, Jane looks very well; she's always well got up."

Monsieur Varbarriere saw her glance with a shrewd little frown of scrutiny at the Baronet and Lady Jane, and he knew what was passing in her mind; she, too, suspected what was in his, for she glanced at him, and their eyes met for a moment and were averted. Each knew what the other was thinking; so Lady Alice said —

"For an old gentleman, Jekyl is the most romantic I know; when he has had his wine, I think he'd flirt with any woman alive. I dare say he's boring poor Jane to death, if we knew but all. She can't read her book. I assure you I've seen him, when nobody better was to be had, making love to old Susan Blunket – Miss Blunket there – after dinner, of course: and by the time he has played his rubber of whist he's quite a sane man, and continues so until he comes in after dinner next evening. We all know Jekyl, and never mind him." Having thus spoken, she asked Monsieur Varbarriere whether he intended a long stay in England, and a variety of similar questions.

CHAPTER XXXVII
In which Lady Alice pumps the Bishop

Lady Jane Lennox, who complained of a headache, departed early for her room. The Baronet's passion for whist returned, and he played with more than his usual spirit and hilarity; Monsieur Varbarriere, his partner, was also in great force, and made some very creditable sallies between the deals. All went, in fact, merry as a marriage-bell. But in that marriage-bell booms unmarked the selfsame tone which thrills in the funeral-knell. There was its somewhat of bitter rising probably in each merry soul in that gay room. Black care walked silently among those smiling guests, and on an unseen salver presented to each his sprig of rue or rosemary. Another figure also, lank, obsequious, smirking dolorously, arrayed in the Marlowe livery, came in with a bow, and stood with an hour-glass in his long yellow claw at the back of Sir Jekyl's chair; you might see the faint lights of his hollow eyes reflected on the Baronet's cards.

"A little chilly to-night, is not it?" said Sir Jekyl, and shook his shoulders. "Have we quite light enough, do you think?"

In that serene company there were two hearts specially sore, each with a totally different anguish.

In Lady Alice's old ears continually beat these words, "Your son is" – ending, like an interrupted dream, in nothing. Before her eyes was Varbarriere's disturbed countenance as he dropped the curtain over his meaning, and affected to have forgotten the death of Guy Deverell.

"Your son is" – Merciful Heaven! could he have meant living?

Could that shape she had seen in its coffin, with the small blue mark in its serene forehead, where the bullet had entered, been a simulacrum – not her son – a cast – a fraud?

Her reason told her loudly such a thought was mere insanity; and yet what could that sudden break in Varbarriere's sentence have been meant to conceal, and what did that recoiling look imply?

"Your son is" – It was for ever going on. She knew there was something to tell, something of which M. Varbarriere was thoroughly cognisant, and about which nothing could ever induce him to open his lips.

If it was not "your son is living," she cared not what else it might be, and that– could it? – no, it could not be. A slight hectic touched each thin cheek, otherwise she looked as usual. But as she gazed dreamily over the fender, with clouded eyes, her temples were throbbing, and she felt sometimes quite wild, and ready to start to her feet and adjure that awful whist-player to disclose all he knew about her dead boy.

Beatrix was that evening seated near the fireplace, and Drayton making himself agreeable, with as small trouble as possible to himself. Drayton! Well, he was rather amusing – cleverish – well enough up upon those subjects which are generally supposed to interest young ladies; and, with an affectation of not caring, really exerting himself to be entertaining. Did he succeed? If you were to judge by her animated looks and tones, you would have said very decidedly. Drayton's self-love was in a state of comfort, even of luxury, that evening. But was there anything in the triumph?

A pale face, at the farther end of the room, with a pair of large, dark, romantic eyes, a face that had grown melancholy of late, she saw every moment, though she had not once looked in that direction all the evening.

As Drayton saw her smile at his sallies, with bright eyes and heightened colour, leaning back in her cushioned chair, and looking under her long lashes into the empty palm of her pretty hand, he could not see that little portrait – painted on air with the colours of memory – that lay there like a locket; – neither his nor any other eyes, but hers alone.

Guy Strangways was at the farther end of the room, where were congregated Lady Blunket and her charming daughter, and that pretty Mrs. Maberly of whom we have spoken; and little Linnett, mounted straddlewise on his chair, leaning with his elbows on the back, and his chin on his knuckles, helped to entertain them with his inexhaustible agreeabilities. Guy Strangways had indeed very little cast upon him, for Linnett was garrulous and cheerful, and reinforced beside by help from other cheery spirits.

Here was Guy Strangways undergoing the isolation to which he had condemned himself; and over there, engrossed by Drayton, the lady whose peer he had never seen. Had she missed him? He saw no sign. Not once even casually had she looked in his direction; and how often, though she could not know it, had his eyes wandered toward her! Dull to him was the hour without her, and she was engrossed by another, who, selfish and shallow, was merely amusing himself and pleasing his vanity.

How is it that people in love see so well without eyes? Beatrix saw, without a glance, exactly where Guy Strangways was. She was piqued and proud, and chose perhaps to show him how little he was missed. It was his presence, though he suspected it so little, that sustained that animation which he resented; and had he left the room, Drayton would have found, all at once, that she was tired.

Next day was genial and warm, one of those days that bygone summer sometimes gives us back from the past to the wintry close of autumn, as in an old face that we love we sometimes see a look, transitory and how pathetic, of the youth we remember. Such days, howsoever pleasant, come touched with the melancholy of a souvenir. And perhaps the slanting amber light nowhere touched two figures more in harmony with its tone than those who now sat side by side on the rustic seat, under the two beech trees at the farther end of the pleasure-ground of Marlowe.

Old Lady Alice, with her cushions disposed about her, and her cloaks and shawls, had one arm of the seat; and the Bishop, gaitered and prudently buttoned up in a surtout of the finest black cloth, and with that grotesque (bequeathed of course by the Apostles) shovel-hat upon his silvery head, leaned back upon the other, and, with his dapper leg crossed, and showing the neat sole of his shoe to Lady Alice, stroked and patted, after his wont, the side of his calf.

"Upwards of three-and-thirty years," said the Bishop.

"Yes, about that – about three-and-thirty years; and what did you think of him? A very bad man, I'm sure."

"Madam, de mortuis. We have a saying, 'concerning the dead, nothing but good.'"

"Nothing but truth, say I," answered Lady Alice. "Praise can do them no good, and falsehood will do us a great deal of harm."

"You put the point strongly, Lady Alice; but when it is said, 'nothing but good,' we mean, of course, nothing but the good we may truly speak of them."

"And that, as you know, my lord, in his case was not much. You were with him to the moment of his death – nearly a week, was it not?"

"Three days precisely."

"Did he know from the first he was dying?" inquired Lady Alice.

"He was not aware that his situation was desperate until the end of the second day. Nor was it; but he knew he was in danger, and was very much agitated, poor man; very anxious to live and lead a better life."

"And you prayed with him?"

"Yes, yes; he was very much agitated, though; and it was not easy to fix his thoughts, poor Sir Harry! It was very sad. He held my hand in his – my hand – all the time I sat by the bed, saying, 'Don't you think I'll get over it? – I feel that I shall – I feel quite safe while I hold your hand.' I never felt a hand tremble as his did."

"You prayed for him, and read with him?" said Lady Alice. "And you acted, beside, as his confessor, did not you, and heard some revelation he had to make?"

"You forget, my dear Lady Alice, that the office of confessor is unknown to the Church. It is not according to our theory to extract a specific declaration of particular sins."

"H'm! I remember they told me that you refused at school to read the Absolution to the boys of your house until they had made confession and pointed out an offender they were concealing."

The Bishop hemmed and slightly coloured. It might have amused an indifferent auditor to see that eminent and ancient divine taken to task, and made even to look a little foolish, by this old woman, and pushed into a corner, as a wild young curate might be by him on a question of Church doctrine.

"Why, as to that, the fact may be so; but it was under very special circumstances, Lady Alice. The Church refuses even the Sacrament of the Lord's Supper to an intending communicant who is known to be living in wilful sin; and here was a wilful concealment of a grave offence, to which all had thus made themselves, and were continuing to make themselves, accessory. It is, I allow, a doubtful question, and I do not say I should be prepared to adopt that measure now. The great Martin Luther has spoken well and luminously on the fallacy of taking his convictions at any one period of his life as the measure of his doctrine at a later one. The grain of mustard-seed, the law of perpetual expansion and development, applies to faith as well as to motive and action, to the Christian as a spiritual individual as well as to the Church as an aggregate."

This apology for his faith did the Right Reverend the Lord Bishop of Queen's Copely urge in his citation before old Lady Alice Redcliffe, whom one would have thought he might have afforded to despise in a Christian way; but for wise purposes the instincts of self-defence and self-esteem, and a jealousy of even our smallest neighbour's opinion, is so deeply implanted, that we are ready to say a good word for ourselves to anyone who misconceives the perfect wisdom of our words, or the equally perfect purity of our motives.

END OF VOL. I

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