Joseph Le Fanu.

Guy Deverell. Volume 1 of 2



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By this time Sir Jekyl was poking up the fire and frowning down on the bars, with the flickering glare shooting over his face.

"Can the old woman have anything to do with it? Pooh! no. I'd like to see her. But who knows what sort of a temper she's in?"

As he thus ruminated, the domestic with the old-fashioned livery and floured head returned to say that his mistress would be happy to see him.

The servant conducted him up a broad stair with a great oak banister, and opening a drawing-room door, announced —

"Sir Jekyl Marlowe."

He was instantly in the room, and a tall, thin old lady, with a sad and stately mien, rose up to greet him.

"How is little mamma?" cried the Baronet, with his old chuckle. "An age since we met, hey? How well you look!"

The old lady gave her thin mittened hand to her son-in-law, and looked a grim and dubious sort of welcome upon him.

"Yes, Jekyl, an age; and only that Beatrix is here, I suppose another age would have passed without my seeing you. And an old woman at my years has not many ages between her and the grave."

The old lady spoke not playfully, but sternly, like one who had suffered long and horribly, and who associated her sufferings with her visitor; and in her oblique glance was something of deep-seated antipathy.

"Egad! you're younger than I, though you count more years. You live by clock and rule, and you show it. You're as fresh as that bunch of flowers there; while I am literally knocking myself to pieces – and I know it – by late hours, and all sorts of nonsense. So you must not be coming the old woman over me, you know, unless you want to frighten me. And how is Beatrix? How do, Beatrix? All ready, I see. Good child."

Beatrix at this moment was entering. She was tall and slightly formed, with large dark eyes, hair of soft shadowy black, and those tints of pure white and rich clear blush, scarlet lips, and pearly teeth, and long eyelashes, which are so beautiful in contrast and in harmony. She had the prettiest little white nose, and her face was formed in that decided oval which so heightens the charm of the features. She was not a tragic heroine. Her smile was girlish and natural – and the little ring of pearls between her lips laughed beautifully – and her dimples played on chin and cheek as she smiled.

Her father kissed her, and looked at her with a look of gratification, as he might on a good picture that belonged to him; and turning her smiling face, with his finger and thumb upon her little dimpled chin, toward Lady Alice, he said —

"Pretty well, this girl, hey?"

"I dare say, Jekyl, she'll do very well; she's not formed yet, you know," – was stately Lady Alice's qualified assent. She was one of that school who are more afraid of spoiling people than desirous of pleasing them by admiration. "She promises to be like her darling mother; and that is a melancholy satisfaction to me, and, of course, to you. You'll have some tea, Jekyl?"

The Baronet was standing, hat in hand, with his outside coat on, and his back to the fire, and a cashmere muffler loosely about his throat.

"Well, as it is here, I don't mind."

"May I run down, grandmamma, and say good-bye to Ellen and old Mrs.

Mason?"

"Surely – you mean, of course to the parlour? You may have them there."

"And you must not be all night about it, Beatrix. We'll be going in a few minutes. D'ye mind?"

"I'm quite ready, papa," said she; and as she glided from the room she stole a glance at her bright reflection in the mirror.

"You are always in a hurry, Jekyl, to leave me when you chance to come here. I should be sorry, however, to interfere with the pleasanter disposition of your time."

"Now, little mother, you mustn't be huffed with me. I have a hundred and fifty things to look after at Marlowe when I get there. I have not had a great deal of time, you know – first the session, then three months knocking about the world."

"You never wrote to me since you left Paris," said the old lady, grimly.

"Didn't I? That was very wrong! But you knew those were my holidays, and I detest writing, and you knew I could take care of myself; and it is so much better to tell one's adventures than to put them into letters, don't you think?"

"If one could tell them all in five minutes," replied the old lady, drily.

"Well, but you'll come over to Marlowe – you really must – and I'll tell you everything there – the truth, the whole truth, and as much more as you like."

This invitation was repeated every year, but like Don Juan's to the statue, was not expected to lead to a literal visit.

"You have haunted rooms there, Jekyl," she said, with an unpleasant smile and a nod. "You have not kept house in Marlowe for ten years, I think. Why do you go there now?"

"Caprice, whim, what you will," said the Baronet, combing out his favourite whisker with the tips of his fingers, while he smiled on himself in the glass upon the chimneypiece, "I wish you'd tell me, for I really don't know, except that I'm tired of Warton and Dartbroke, as I am of all monotony. I like change, you know."

"Yes; you like change," said the old lady, with a dignified sarcasm.

"I'm afraid it's a true bill," admitted Sir Jekyl, with a chuckle, "So you'll come to Marlowe and see us there – won't you?"

"No, Jekyl – certainly not," said the old lady, with intense emphasis.

A little pause ensued, during which the Baronet twiddled at his whisker, and continued to smile amusedly at himself in the glass.

"I wonder you could think of asking me to Marlowe, considering all that has happened there. I sometimes wonder at myself that I can endure to see you at all, Jekyl Marlowe; and I don't think, if it were not for that dear girl, who is so like her sainted mother, I should ever set eyes on you again."

"I'm glad we have that link. You make me love Beatrix better," he replied. He was now arranging the elaborate breast-pin with its tiny chain, which was at that date in vogue.

"And so you are going to keep house at Marlowe?" resumed the lady, stiffly, not heeding the sentiment of his little speech.

"Well, so I purpose."

"I don't like that house," said the old lady, with a subdued fierceness.

"Sorry it does not please you, little mother," replied Sir Jekyl.

"You know I don't like it," she repeated.

"In that case you need not have told me," he said.

"I choose to tell you. I'll say so as often as I see you – as often as I like."

It was an odd conference – back to back – the old lady stiff and high – staring pale and grimly at the opposite wall. The Baronet looking with a quizzical smile on his handsome face in the mirror – now plucking at a whisker – now poking at a curl with his finger-tip – and now in the same light way arranging the silken fall of his necktie.

"There's nothing my dear little mamma can say, I'll not listen to with pleasure."

"There is much I might say you could not listen to with pleasure." The cold was growing more intense, and bitter in tone and emphasis, as she addressed the Italian picture of Adonis and his two dogs hanging on the distant wall.

"Well, with respect, not with pleasure – no," said he, and tapped his white upper teeth with the nail of his middle finger.

"Assuming, then, that you speak truth, it is high time, Jekyl Marlowe, that you should alter your courses – here's your daughter, just come out. It is ridiculous, your affecting the vices of youth. Make up as you will – you're past the middle age – you're an elderly man now."

"You can't vex me that way, you dear old mamma," he said, with a chuckle, which looked for the first time a little vicious in the glass. "We baronets, you know, are all booked, and all the world can read our ages; but you women manage better – you and your two dear sisters, Winifred and Georgiana."

"They are dead," interrupted Lady Alice, with more asperity than pathos.

"Yes, I know, poor old souls – to be sure, peers' daughters die like other people, I'm afraid."

"And when they do, are mentioned, if not with sorrow, at least with decent respect, by persons, that is, who know how to behave themselves."

There was a slight quiver in Lady Alice's lofty tone that pleased Sir Jekyl, as you might have remarked had you looked over his shoulder into the glass.

"Well, you know, I was speaking not of deaths but births, and only going to say if you look in the peerage you'll find all the men, poor devils, pinned to their birthdays, and the women left at large, to exercise their veracity on the point; but you need not care – you have not pretended to youth for the last ten years I think."

"You are excessively impertinent, sir."

"I know it," answered Sir Jekyl, with a jubilant chuckle.

A very little more, the Baronet knew, and Lady Alice Redcliffe would have risen gray and grim, and sailed out of the room. Their partings were often after this sort.

But he did not wish matters to go quite that length at present. So he said, in a sprightly way, as if a sudden thought had struck him —

"By Jove, I believe I am devilish impertinent, without knowing it though – and you have forgiven me so often, I'm sure you will once more, and I am really so much obliged for your kindness to Beatrix. I am, indeed."

So he took her hand, and kissed it.

CHAPTER III
Concerning two Remarkable Persons who appeared in Wardlock Church

Lady Alice carried her thin Roman nose some degrees higher; but she said —

"If I say anything disagreeable, it is not for the pleasure of giving you pain, Jekyl Marlowe; but I understand that you mean to have old General Lennox and his artful wife to stay at your house, and if so, I think it an arrangement that had better be dispensed with. I don't think her an eligible acquaintance for Beatrix, and you know very well she's not– and it is not a respectable or creditable kind of thing."

"Now, what d – d fool, I beg pardon – but who the plague has been filling your mind with those ridiculous stories – my dear little mamma? You know how ready I am to confess; you might at least; I tell you everything; and I do assure you I never admired her. She's good looking, I know; but so are fifty pictures and statues I've seen, that don't please me."

"Then it's true, the General and his wife are going on a visit to Marlowe?" insisted Lady Alice, drily.

"No, they are not. D – me, I'm not thinking of the General and his wife, nor of any such d – d trumpery. I'd give something to know who the devil's taking these cursed liberties with my name."

"Pray, Jekyl Marlowe, command your language. It can't the least signify who tells me; but you see I do sometimes get a letter."

"Yes, and a precious letter too. Such a pack of lies did any human being ever hear fired off in a sentence before? I'm ?pris of Mrs. General Lennox. Thumper number one! She's a lady of – I beg pardon – easy virtue. Thumper number two! and I invite her and her husband down to Marlowe, to make love of course to her, and to fight the old General. Thumper number three!"

And the Baronet chuckled over the three "thumpers" merrily.

"Don't talk slang, if you please – gentlemen don't, at least in addressing ladies."

"Well, then, I won't; I'll speak just as you like, only you must not blow me up any more; for really there is no cause, and we here only two or three minutes together, you know; and I want to tell you something, or rather to ask you – do you ever hear anything of those Deverells, you know?"

Lady Alice looked quite startled, and turned quickly half round in her chair, with her eyes on Sir Jekyl's face. The Baronet's smile subsided, and he looked with a dark curiosity in hers. A short but dismal silence followed.

"You've heard from them?"

"No!" said the lady, with little change in the expression of her face.

"Well, of them?"

"No," she repeated; "but why do you ask? It's very strange!"

"What's strange? Come, now, you have something to say; tell me what it is."

"I wonder, Jekyl, you ask for them, in the first place."

"Well – well, of course; but what next?" murmured the Baronet, eagerly: "why is it so strange?"

"Only because I've been thinking of them – a great deal – for the last few days; and it seemed very odd your asking; and in fact I fancy the same thing has happened to us both."

"Well, may be; but what is it?" demanded the Baronet, with a sinister smile.

"I have been startled; most painfully and powerfully affected; I have seen the most extraordinary resemblance to my beautiful, murdered Guy."

She rose, and wept passionately, standing with her face buried in her handkerchief.

Sir Jekyl frowned with closed eyes and upturned face, waiting like a patient man bored to death, for the subsidence of the storm which he had conjured up. Very pale, too, was that countenance, and contracted for a few moments with intense annoyance.

"I saw the same fellow," said the Baronet, in a subdued tone, so soon as there was a subsidence, "this evening; he's at that little inn on the Sterndale Road. Guy Strangways he calls himself; I talked with him for a few minutes; a gentlemanly young man; and I don't know what to make of it. So I thought I'd ask you whether you could help me to a guess; and that's all."

The old lady shook her head.

"And I don't think you need employ quite such hard terms," he said.

"I don't want to speak of it at all," said she; "but if I do I can't say less; nor I won't – no, never!"

"You see it's very odd, those two names," said Sir Jekyl, not minding; "and as you say, the likeness so astonishing – I – I – what do you think of it?"

"Of course it's an accident," said the old lady.

"I'm glad you think so," said he, abruptly.

"Why, what could it be? you don't believe in apparitions?" she replied, with an odd sort of dryness.

"I rather think not," said he; "I meant he left no very near relation, and I fancied those Deverell people might have contrived some trick, or intended some personation, or something, and I thought that you, perhaps, had heard something of their movements."

"Nothing – what could they have done, or why should they have sought to make any such impression? I don't understand it. It is very extraordinary. But the likeness in church amazed and shocked me, and made me ill."

"In church, you say?" repeated Sir Jekyl.

"Yes, in church," and she told him in her own way, what I shall tell in mine, as follows: —

Last Sunday she had driven, in her accustomed state, with Beatrix, to Wardlock church. The church was hardly five hundred yards away, and the day bright and dry. But Lady Alice always arrived and departed in the coach, and sat in the Redcliffe seat, in the centre of the gallery. She and Beatrix sat face to face at opposite sides of the pew.

As Lady Alice looked with her cold and steady glance over the congregation in the aisle, during the interval of silence that precedes the commencement of the service, a tall and graceful young man, with an air of semi-foreign fashion, entered the church, accompanied by an elderly gentleman, of whom she took comparatively little note.

The young man and his friend were ushered into a seat confronting the gallery. Lady Alice gazed and gazed transfixed with astonishment and horror. The enamelled miniature on her bosom was like; but there, in that clear, melancholy face, with its large eyes and wavy hair, was a resurrection. In that animated sculpture were delicate tracings and touches of nature's chisel, which the artist had failed to represent, which even memory had neglected to fix, but which all now returned with the startling sense of identity in a moment.

She had put on her gold spectacles, as she always did on taking her seat, and opened her "Morning Service," bound in purple Russia, with its golden clasp and long ribbons fringed with the same precious metal, with the intent to mark the proper psalms and lessons at her haughty leisure. She therefore saw the moving image of her dead son before her, with an agonizing distinctness that told like a blight of palsy on her face.

She saw his elderly companion also distinctly. A round-shouldered man, with his short caped cloak still on. A grave man, with a large, high, bald forehead, a heavy, hooked nose, and great hanging moustache and beard. A dead and ominous face enough, except for the piercing glance of his full eyes, under very thick brows, and just the one you would have chosen out of a thousand portraits, for a plotting high-priest or an old magician.

This magus fixed his gaze on Lady Alice, not with an ostentation of staring, but sternly from behind the dark embrasure of his brows; and leaning a little sideways, whispered something in the ear of his young companion, whose glance at the same moment was turned with a dark and fixed interest upon the old lady.

It was a very determined stare on both sides, and of course ill-bred, but mellowed by distance. The congregation were otherwise like other country congregations, awaiting the offices of their pastor, decent, listless, while this great stare was going on, so little becoming the higher associations and solemn aspect of the place. It was, with all its conventional screening, a fierce, desperate scrutiny, cutting the dim air with a steady congreve fire that crossed and glared unintermittent by the ears of deceased gentlemen in ruffs and grimy doublets, at their posthumous devotions, and brazen knights praying on their backs, and under the eyes of all the gorgeous saints, with glories round their foreheads, in attitudes of benediction or meekness, who edified believers from the eastern window.

Lady Alice drew back in her pew. Beatrix was in a young-lady reverie, and did not observe what was going on. There was nothing indeed to make it very conspicuous. But when she looked at Lady Alice, she was shocked at her appearance, and instantly crossed, and said —

"I am afraid you are ill, grandmamma; shall we come away?"

The old lady made no answer, but got up and took the girl's arm, and left the seat very quietly. She got down the gallery stairs, and halted at the old window on the landing, and sate there a little, ghastly and still mute.

The cold air circulating upward from the porch revived her.

"I am better, child," said she, faintly.

"Thank Heaven," said the girl, whose terror at her state proved how intensely agitated the old lady must have been.

Mrs. Wrattles, the sextoness, emerging at that moment with repeated courtesies, and whispered condolence and inquiries, Lady Alice, with a stiff condescension, prayed her to call her woman, Mason, to her.

So Lady Alice, leaning slenderly on Mason's stout arm, insisted that Beatrix should return and sit out the service; and she herself, for the first time within the memory of man, returned from Wardlock church on foot, instead of in her coach. Beatrix waited until the congregation had nearly disgorged itself and dispersed, before making her solitary descent.

When she came down, without a chaperon, at the close of the rector's discourse, the floured footman in livery, with his gold-headed cane, stood as usual at the coach door only to receive her, and convey the order to the coachman, "home."

The churchyard gate, as is usual, I believe, in old places of that kind, opens at the south side, and the road to Wardlock manor leads along the churchyard wall and round the corner of it at a sharp angle just at the point where the clumsy old stone mausoleum or vault of the Deverell family overlooks the road, with its worn pilasters and beetle-browed cornice.

Now that was a Sunday of wonders. It had witnessed Lady Alice's pedestrian return from church, an act of humiliation, almost of penance, such as the memory of Wardlock could furnish no parallel to; and now it was to see another portent, for her ladyship's own gray horses, fat and tranquil beasts, who had pulled her to and from church for I know not how many years, under the ministration of the careful coachman, with exemplary sedateness, on this abnormal Sabbath took fright at a musical performance of two boys, one playing the Jew's harp and the other drumming tambourine-wise on his hat, and suadente diabolo and so forth, set off at a gallop, to the terror of all concerned, toward home. Making the sharp turn of the road, where the tomb of the Deverells overhangs it from the churchyard, the near-gray came down, and his off-neighbour reared and plunged frightfully.

The young lady did not scream, but, very much terrified, she made voluble inquiries of the air and hedges from the window, while the purple coachman pulled hard from the box, and spoke comfortably to his horses, and the footman, standing out of reach of danger, talked also in his own vein.

Simultaneously with all this, as if emerging from the old mausoleum, there sprang over the churchyard fence, exactly under its shadow, that young man who had excited emotions so various in the Baronet and in Lady Alice, and seized the horse by the head with both hands, and so cooperated that in less than a minute the two horses were removed from the carriage, and he standing, hat in hand, before the window, to assure the young lady that all was quite safe now.

So she descended, and the grave footman, with the Bible and Prayer-book, followed her steps with his gold-headed rod of office, while the lithe and handsome youth, his hat still in air which stirred his rich curls, walked beside her with something of that romantic deference which in one so elegant and handsome has an inexpressible sentiment of the tender in it.



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