Joseph Le Fanu.

Guy Deverell. Volume 1 of 2

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He walked to the door of Wardlock Manor, and I purposely omit all he said, because I doubt whether it would look as well in this unexceptionable type as it sounded from his lips in Beatrix Marlowe's pretty ear.

If the speaker succeed with his audience, what more can oratory do for him? Well! he was gone. There remained in Beatrix's ear a music; in her fancy a heaven-like image – a combination of tint, and outline, and elegance, which made every room and scene without it lifeless, and every other object homely. These little untold impressions are of course liable to fade and vanish pretty quickly in absence, and to be superseded even sooner. Therefore it would be unwarranted to say that she was in love, although I can't deny that she was haunted by that slightly foreign young gentleman.

This latter portion of the adventure was not divulged by old Lady Alice, because Beatrix, I suppose, forgot to tell her, and she really knew nothing about it. All the rest, her own observation and experience, she related with a grim and candid particularity.

The Green Chamber at Marlowe

So the Baronet, with a rather dreary chuckle, said: —

"I don't think, to say truth, there is anything in it. I really can't see why the plague I should bore myself about it. You know your pew in the middle of the gallery, with that painted hatchment thing, you know…"

"Respect the dead," said Lady Alice, looking down with a dry severity on the table.

"Well, yes; I mean, you know, it is so confoundedly conspicuous, I can't wonder at the two fellows, the old and young, staring a bit at it, and, perhaps, at you, you know," said Sir Jekyl, in his impertinent vein. "But I agree with you they are no ghosts, and I really shan't trouble my head about them any more. I wonder I was such a fool – hey? But, as you say, you know, it is unpleasant to be reminded of – of those things; it can't be helped now, though."

"Now, nor ever," said Lady Alice, grimly.

"Exactly; neither now, nor ever," repeated Sir Jekyl; "and we both know it can't possibly be poor – I mean anyone concerned in that transaction; so the likeness must be accidental, and therefore of no earthly significance – eh?"

Lady Alice, with elevated brows, fiddled in silence with some crumbs on the table with the tip of her thin finger.

"I suppose Beatrix is ready; may I ring the bell?"

"Oh! here she is. Now, bid grandmamma good-night," said the Baronet.

So slim and pretty Beatrix, in her cloak, stooped down and placed her arms about the neck of the old lady, over whose face came a faint flush of tender sunset, and her old grey eyes looked very kindly on the beautiful young face that stooped over her, as she said, in a tone that, however, was stately —

"Good-bye, my dear child; you are warm enough – you are certain?"

"Oh! yes, dear grandmamma – my cloak, and this Cashmere thing."

"Well, darling, good-night.

You'll not forget to write – you'll not fail? Good-night, Beatrix, dear – good-bye."

"Good-night," said the Baronet, taking the tips of her cold fingers together, and addressing himself to kiss her cheek, but she drew back in one of her whims, and said, stiffly, "There, not to-night. Good-bye, Jekyl."

"Well," chuckled he, after his wont, "another time; but mind, you're to come to Marlowe."

He did not care to listen to what she replied, but he called from the stairs, as he ran down after his daughter —

"Now, mind, I won't let you off this time; you really must come. Good-night, au revoir– good-night."

I really think that exemplary old lady hated the Baronet, who called her "little mamma," and invited her every year, without meaning it, most good-naturedly, to join his party under the ancestral roof-tree. He took a perverse sort of pleasure in these affectionate interviews, in fretting her not very placid temper – in patting her, as it were, wherever there was a raw, and in fondling her against the grain; so that his caresses were cruel, and their harmony, such as it was, amounted to no more than a flimsy deference to the scandalous world.

But Sir Jekyl knew that there was nothing in this quarter to be gained in love by a different tactique; there was a dreadful remembrance, which no poor lady has ostrich power to digest, in the way; it lay there, hard, cold, and irreducible; and the morbid sensation it produced was hatred. He knew that "little mamma," humanly speaking, ought to hate him. His mother indeed she was not; but only the step-mother of his deceased wife. Mother-in-law is not always a very sweet relation, but with the prefix "step" the chances are, perhaps, worse.

There was, however, as you will by-and-by see, a terrible accident, or something, always remembered, gliding in and out of Wardlock Manor like the Baronet's double, walking in behind him when he visited her, like his evil genius, and when they met affectionately, standing by his shoulder, black and scowling, with clenched fist.

Now pretty Beatrix sat in the right corner of the chariot, and Sir Jekyl, her father, in the left. The lamps were lighted, and though there was moonlight, for they had a long stretch of road always dark, because densely embowered in the forest of Penlake. Tier over tier, file behind file, nodding together, the great trees bent over like plumed warriors, and made a solemn shadow always between their ranks.

Marlowe was quite new to Beatrix; but still too distant, twelve miles away, to tempt her to look out and make observations as she would on a nearer approach.

"You don't object to my smoking a cigar, Beatrix? The smoke goes out of the window, you know," said the Baronet, after they had driven about a mile in silence.

What young lady, so appealed to by a parent, ever did object? The fact is, Sir Jekyl did not give himself the trouble to listen to her answer, but was manifestly thinking of something quite different, as he lighted his match.

When he threw his last stump out of the window they were driving through Penlake Forest, and the lamplight gleamed on broken rows of wrinkled trunks and ivy.

"I suppose she told you all about it?" said he, suddenly pursuing his own train of thought.

"Who?" inquired Beatrix.

"I never was a particular favourite of her's, you know – grandmamma's, I mean. She does not love me, poor old woman! And she has a knack of making herself precious disagreeable, in which I try to imitate her, for peace' sake, you know; for, by George, if I was not uncivil now and then, we could never get on at all."

Sir Jekyl chuckled after his wont, as it were, between the bars of this recitative, and he asked —

"What were the particulars – the adventure on Sunday – that young fellow, you know?"

Miss Beatrix had heard no such interrogatory from her grandmamma, whose observations in the church-aisle were quite as unknown to her; and thus far the question of Sir Jekyl was a shock.

"Did not grandmamma tell you about it?" he pursued.

"About what, papa?" asked Beatrix, who was glad that it was dark.

"About her illness – a young fellow in a pew down in the aisle staring at her. By Jove! one would have fancied that sort of thing pretty well over. Tell me all about it."

The fact was that this was the first she had heard of it.

"Grandmamma told me nothing of it," said she.

"And did not you see what occurred? Did not you see him staring?" asked he.

Beatrix truly denied.

"You young ladies are always thinking of yourselves. So you saw nothing, and have nothing to tell? That will do," said Sir Jekyl, drily; and silence returned.

Beatrix was relieved on discovering that her little adventure was unsuspected. Very little was there in it, and nothing to reflect blame upon her. From her exaggeration of its importance, and her quailing as she fancied her father was approaching it, I conclude that the young gentleman had interested her a little.

And now, as Sir Jekyl in one corner of the rolling chariot brooded in the dark over his disappointed conjectures, so did pretty Beatrix in the other speculate on the sentences which had just fallen from his lips, and long to inquire some further particulars, but somehow dared not.

Could that tall and handsome young man, who had come to her rescue so unaccountably – the gentleman with those large, soft, dark eyes, which properly belong to heroes – have been the individual whose gaze had so mysteriously affected her grandmamma? What could the associations have been that were painful enough so to overcome that grim, white woman? Was he a relation? Was he an outcast member of that proud family? Or, was he that heir-at-law, or embodied Nemesis, that the yawning sea or grave will sometimes yield up to plague the guilty or the usurper?

For all or any of these parts he seemed too young. Yet Beatrix fancied instinctively that he could be no other than the basilisk who had exercised so strange a spell over her grim, but withal kind old kinswoman.

Was there not, she thought, something peculiar in the look he threw across the windows of old stone-fronted Wardlock manor – reserved, curious, half-smiling – as if he looked on an object which he had often heard described, and had somehow, from personal associations or otherwise, an interest in? It was but a momentary glance just as he took his leave; but there was, she thought, that odd character in it.

By this time the lamps were flashing on the village windows and shop-fronts; and at the end of the old gabled street, under a canopy of dark trees, stood the great iron gate of Marlowe.

Sir Jekyl rubbed the glass and looked out when they halted at the gate. The structures of his fancy had amused him, rather fearfully indeed, and he was surprised to find that they were entering the grounds of Marlowe so soon.

He did not mind looking out, or speaking to the old gamekeeper, who pulled open the great barriers, but lay back in his corner sullenly, in the attitude of a gentleman taking a nap.

Beatrix, however, looked out inquisitively, and saw by the misty moonlight a broad level studded with majestic timber – singly, in clumps, and here and there in solemn masses; and soon rose the broad-fronted gabled house before them, with its steep roofs and its hospitable clumps of twisted chimneys showing black against the dim sky.

Miss Marlowe's maid, to whom the scene was quite as new as to her mistress, descended from the back seat, in cloaks and mufflers, and stood by the hall-door steps, that shone white in the moonlight, before their summons had been answered.

Committing his daughter to her care, the Baronet – who was of a bustling temperament, and never drank tea except from motives of gallantry – called for Mrs. Gwynn, the housekeeper, who presently appeared.

She was an odd-looking woman – some years turned of fifty, thin, with a longish face and a fine, white, glazed skin. There was something queer about her eyes: you soon discovered it to arise from their light colour and something that did not quite match in their pupils.

On entering the hall, where the Baronet had lighted a candle, having thrown his hat on the table, and merely loosed his muffler and one or two buttons of his outside coat, she smiled a chill gleam of welcome with her pale lips, and dropped two sharp little courtesies.

"Well, old Donica, and how do ye do?" said the Baronet, smiling, with a hand on each thin grey silk shoulder. "Long time since I saw you. But, egad! you grow younger and younger, you pretty old rogue;" and he gave her pale, thin cheek a playful tap with his fingers.

"Pretty well, please, Sir Jekyl, thank ye," she replied, receding a little with dry dignity. "Very welcome, sir, to Marlowe. Miss Beatrix looks very well, I am happy to see; and you, sir, also."

"And you're glad to see us, I know?"

"Certainly, sir, glad to see you," said Mrs. Gwynn, with another short courtesy.

"The servants not all come? No, nor Ridley with the plate. He'll arrive to-morrow; and – and we shall have the house full in little more than a week. Let us go up and look at the rooms; I forget them almost, by Jove – I really do – it's so long since. Light you another, and we'll do very well."

"You'll see them better by daylight, sir. I kept everything well aired and clean. The house looks wonderful – it do," replied Mrs. Gwynn, accompanying the Baronet up the broad oak stairs.

"If it looks as fresh as you, Donica, it's a miracle of a house – egad! you're a wonder. How you skip by my side, with your little taper, like a sylph in a ballet, egad!"

"You wear pretty well yourself, Sir Jekyl," drily remarked the white-faced sylph, who had a sharp perpendicular line between her eyebrows, indicative of temper.

"So they tell me, by Jove. We're pretty well on though, Donnie – eh? Everyone knows my age – printed, you know, in the red book. You've the advantage of me there – eh, Don?"

"I'm just fifty-six, sir, and I don't care if all the world knewd it."

"All the world's curious, I dare say, on the point; but I shan't tell them, old Gwynn," said Sir Jekyl.

"Curious or no, sir, it's just the truth, and I don't care to hide it. Past that folly now, sir, and I don't care if I wor seventy, and a steppin' like a – "

"A sylph," supplied he.

"Yes – a sylph – into my grave. It's a bad world, and them that's suffered in it soon tires on it, sir."

"You have not had a great deal to trouble you. Neither chick, nor child, nor husband, egad! So here we are."

They were now standing on the gallery, at the head of the great staircase.

"These are the rooms your letter says are not furnished – eh? Let us come to the front gallery."

So, first walking down the gallery in which they were, to the right, and then entering a passage by a turn on the left, they reached the front gallery which runs parallel to that at the head of the stairs.

"Where have you put Beatrix?"

"She wished the room next mine, please, sir, up-stairs," answered the housekeeper.

"Near the front – eh?"

"The left side, please, sir, as you look from the front," replied she.

"From the front?" he repeated.

"From the front," she reiterated.

"Over there, then?" he said, pointing upward to the left.

"That will be about it, sir," she answered.

"How many rooms have we here in a row?" he asked, facing down the gallery, with its file of doors at each side.

"Four bed-rooms and three dressing-rooms at each side."

"Ay, well now, I'll tell you who's coming, and how to dispose of them."

So Sir Jekyl quartered his friends, as he listed, and then said he —

"And the large room at the other end, here to the right – come along."

And Sir Jekyl marched briskly in the direction indicated.

"Please, sir," said the slim, pale housekeeper, with the odd leer in her eye, overtaking him quietly.

"Ay, here it is," said he, not minding her, and pushing open the door of a dressing-room at the end of the gallery. "Inside this, I remember."

"But that's the green chamber, sir," continued Mrs. Gwynn, gliding beside him as he traversed the floor.

"The room we call Sir Harry's room, I know – capital room – eh?"

"I don't suppose," began the pale lady, with a sinister sharpness.

"Well?" he demanded, looking down in her face a little grimly.

"It's the green chamber, sir," she said, with a hard emphasis.

"You said so before, eh?" he replied.

"And I did not suppose, sir, you'd think of putting anyone there," she continued.

"Then you're just as green as the chamber," said Sir Jekyl, with a chuckle.

And he entered the room, holding the candle high in air, and looking about him a little curiously, the light tread and sharp pallid face of Donica Gwynn following him.

Sir Jekyl bethinks him of Pelter and Crowe

The Baronet held his candle high in air, as I have said, as he gazed round him inquisitively. The thin housekeeper, with her pale lips closed, and her odd eyes dropped slantingly toward the floor, at the corner of the room, held hers demurely in her right finger and thumb, her arms being crossed.

The room was large, and the light insufficient. Still you could not help seeing at a glance that it must be, in daylight, a tolerably cheerful one. It was roomy and airy, with a great bow-window looking to the front of the building, of which it occupied the extreme left, reaching about ten feet from the level of the more ancient frontage of the house. The walls were covered with stamped leather, chiefly green and gold, and the whole air of the room, even in its unarranged state, though somewhat quaint and faded, was wonderfully gay and cozy.

"This is the green chamber, sir," she repeated, with her brows raised and her eyes still lowered askance, and some queer wrinkles on her forehead as she nodded a sharp bitter emphasis.

"To be sure it is, damme! – why not?" he said, testily, and then burst into a short laugh.

"You're not a going, I suppose, Sir Jekyl, to put anyone into it?" said she.

"I don't see, for the life of me, why I should not – eh? a devilish comfortable room."

"Hem! I can't but suppose you are a joking me, Sir Jekyl," persisted the gray silk phantom.

"Egad! you forget how old we're growing; why the plague should I quiz you! I want the room for old General Lennox, that's all – though I'm not bound to tell you for whom I want it – am I?"

"There's a plenty o' rooms without this one, Sir Jekyl," persevered the lady, sternly.

"Plenty, of course; but none so good," said he, carelessly.

"No one ever had luck that slept in it," answered the oracle, lifting her odd eyes and fixing them on Sir Jekyl.

"I don't put them here for luck. We want to make them comfortable," answered Sir Jekyl, poking at the furniture as he spoke.

"You know what was your father's wish about it, sir?" she insisted.

"My father's wish – egad, he did not leave many of his wishes unsatisfied – eh?" he answered, with another chuckle.

"And your poor lady's wish," she said, a good deal more sharply.

"I don't know why the devil I'm talking to you, old Gwynn," said the Baronet, turning a little fiercely about.

"Dying wishes," emphasised she.

"It is time, Heaven knows, all that stuff should stop. You slept in it yourself, in my father's time. I remember you, here, Donica, and I don't think I ever heard that you saw a ghost – did I?" he said, with a sarcastic chuckle.

She darted a ghastly look to the far end of the chamber, and then, with a strange, half-frozen fury, she said —

"I wish you good-night, Sir Jekyl," and glided like a shadow out of the room.

"Saucy as ever, by Jupiter," he ejaculated, following her with his glance, and trying to smile; and as the door shut, he looked again down the long apartment as she had just done, raising the candle again.

The light was not improved of course by the disappearance of Mrs. Gwynn's candle, and the end of the room was dim and unsatisfactory. The great four-poster, with dark curtains, and a plume at each corner, threw a vague shadow on the back wall and up to the ceiling, as he moved his candle, which at the distance gave him an uncomfortable sensation, and he stood for a few seconds sternly there, and then turned on his heel and quitted the room, saying aloud, as he did so —

"What a d – d fool that old woman is – always was!"

If there was a ghost there, the Baronet plainly did not wish it to make its exit from the green chamber by the door, for he locked it on the outside, and put the key in his pocket. Then, crossing the dressing-room I have mentioned, he entered the passage which crosses the gallery in which he and Mrs. Gwynn, a few minutes before, had planned their dispositions. The dressing-room door is placed close to the window which opens at the end of the corridor in the front of the house. Standing with his back to this, he looked down the long passage, and smiled.

For a man so little given to the melodramatic, it was a very well expressed smile of mystery – the smile of a man who knows something which others don't suspect, and would be surprised to learn.

It was the Baronet's fancy, as it had been his father's and his grandfather's before him, to occupy very remote quarters in this old house. Solitary birds, their roost was alone.

Candle in hand, Sir Jekyl descended the stairs, marched down the long gaunt passage, which strikes rearward so inflexibly, and at last reaches the foot of a back staircase, after a march of a hundred and forty feet, which I have measured.

At top of this was a door at his left, which he opened, and found himself in his own bed-room.

You would have said on looking about you that it was the bed-room of an old campaigner or of a natty gamekeeper – a fellow who rather liked roughing it, and had formed tastes in the matter like the great Duke of Wellington. The furniture was slight and plain, and looked like varnished deal; a French bed, narrow, with chintz curtains, and a plain white coverlet, like what one might expect in a barrack dormitory or an hospital; a little strip of carpet lying by the bed, and a small square of Turkey carpet under the table by the fire, hardly broke the shining uniformity of the dark oak floor; a pair of sporting prints decorated the sides of the chimneypiece, and an oil-portrait of a grey hunter hung in the middle. There were fishing-rods and gun-cases, I dare say the keys were lost of many, they looked so old and dingy.

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