Joseph Le Fanu.

Guy Deverell. Volume 1 of 2

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The Baronet's luggage, relieved of its black japanned casings, lay on the floor, with his hat-case and travelling-desk. A pleasant fire burnt in the grate, and a curious abundance of wax-lights, without which Sir Jekyl, such was his peculiarity, could not exist, enlivened the chamber.

As he made his toilet at his homely little dressing-table, he bethought him suddenly, and rang the bell in his shirt-sleeves.

"My letters."

"Yes, sir."

And up came a salver well laden with letters, pamphlets, and newspapers, of all shapes and sizes.

"And tell Miss Beatrix I shan't have any tea, and get some brandy from Mrs. Gwynn, and cold water and a tumbler, and let them leave me alone – d'ye see? – and give me that."

It was a dressing-gown which Tomlinson's care had already liberated from its valise, and expanded before the fire.

The Baronet's tastes, as we might see, were simple. He could dine on a bit of roast mutton, and a few glasses of sherry. But his mutton was eight years old, and came all the way from Dartbroke, and his sherry cost more than other men's Madeira, and he now lighted one of those priceless cigars, which so many fellows envied, and inhaled the disembodied aroma of a tobacco which, perhaps, Jove smokes in his easy chair on Olympus, but which I have never smelt on earth, except when Sir Jekyl dispensed the inestimable treasures of his cigar-case.

Now, the Baronet stood over his table, with a weed between his lips, tall in his flowered silk dressing-gown, his open hands shoving apart the pile of letters, as a conjurer at an exhibition spreads his pack of cards.

"Ha! poor little thing!" he murmured, with a sly simper, in a petting tone, as he plucked an envelope, addressed in a lady's hand, between two fingers, caressingly, from the miscellaneous assortment.

He looked at it, but reserved it as a bon-bouche in his waistcoat pocket, and pursued his examination.

There were several from invited guests, who were either coming or not, with the customary expressions, and were tossed together in a little isolated litter for conference with Mrs. Gwynn in the morning.

"Not a line from Pelter and Crowe! the d – d fellows don't waste their ink upon me, except when they furnish their costs. It's a farce paying fellows to look after one's business – no one ever does it but yourself. If those fellows were worth their bread and butter, they'd have known all about this thing, whatever it is, and I'd have had it all here, d – it, to-night."

Sir Jekyl, it must be confessed, was not quite consistent about this affair of the mysterious young gentleman; for, as we have seen, he himself had a dozen times protested against the possibility of there being anything in it, and now he was seriously censuring his respectable London attorneys for not furnishing him with the solid contents of this "windbag."

But it was only his talk that was contradictory. Almost from the moment of his first seeing that young gentleman, on the open way under the sign of the "Plough," there lowered a fantastic and cyclopean picture, drawn in smoke or vapour, volcanic and thunderous, all over his horizon, like those prophetic and retrospective pageants with which Doree loves to paint his mystic skies.

It was wonderful, and presaged unknown evil; and only cowed him the more that it baffled analysis and seemed to mock at reason.

"Pretty fellows to keep a look-out! It's well I can do it for myself – who knows where we're driving to, or what's coming? Signs enough – whatever they mean – he that runs may read, egad! Not that there's anything in it necessarily. But it's not about drawing and ruins and that stuff – those fellows have come down here. Bosh! looking after my property. I'd take my oath they are advised by some lawyer; and if Pelter and Crowe were sharp, they'd know by whom, and all about it, by Jove!"

Sir Jekyl jerked the stump of his cigar over his shoulder into the grate as he muttered this, looking surlily down on the unprofitable papers that strewed the table.

He stood thinking, with his back to the fire, and looking rather cross and perplexed, and so he sat down and wrote a short letter. It was to Pelter and Crowe, but he began, as he did not care which got it, in his usual way —

"My dear Sir, – I have reason to suspect that those ill-disposed people, who have often threatened annoyance, are at last seriously intent on mischief. You will be good enough, therefore, immediately to set on foot inquiries, here and at the other side of the water, respecting the movements of the D – family, who, I fancy, are at the bottom of an absurd, though possibly troublesome, demonstration. I don't fear them, of course. But I think you will find that some members of that family are at present in this country, and disposed to be troublesome. You will see, therefore, the urgency of the affair, and will better know than I where and how to prosecute the necessary inquiries. I do not, of course, apprehend the least danger from their machinations; but you have always thought annoyance possible; and if any be in store for me, I should rather not have to charge it upon our supineness. You will, therefore, exert your vigilance and activity on my behalf, and be so good as to let me know, at the earliest possible day – which, I think, need not be later than Wednesday next – the result of your inquiries through the old channels. I am a little disappointed, in fact, at not having heard from you before now on the subject.

"Yours, my dear sir, very sincerely,
"Jekyl M. Marlowe."

Sir Jekyl never swore on paper, and, as a rule, commanded his temper very creditably in that vehicle. But all people who had dealings with him knew very well that the rich Baronet was not to be trifled with. So, understanding that it was strong enough, he sealed it up for the post-office in the morning, and dropped it into the post-bag, and with it the unpleasant subject for the present.

And now, a little brandy and water, and the envelope in the well-known female hand; and he laughed a little over it, and looked at himself in the glass with a vaunting complacency, and shook his head playfully at the envelope. It just crossed his sunshine like the shadow of a flying vapour – "that cross-grained old Gwynn would not venture to meddle?" But the envelope was honestly closed, and showed no signs of having been fiddled with.

He made a luxury of this little letter, and read it in his easy chair, with his left leg over the arm, with the fragrant accompaniment of a weed.

"Jealous, by Jove!" he ejaculated, in high glee; "little fool, what's put that in your head?"

"Poor, little, fluttering, foolish thing!" sang the Baronet, and then laughed, not cynically, but indulgently rather.

"How audacious the little fools are upon paper! Egad, it's a wonder there is not twice as much mischief in the world as actually happens. We must positively burn this little extravagance."

But before doing so he read it over again; then smiling still, he gallantly touched it to his lips, and re-perused it, as he drew another cigar from the treasury of incense which he carried about him. He lighted the note, but did not apply it to his cigar, I am bound to say – partly from a fine feeling, and partly, I am afraid, because he thought that paper spoiled the flavour of his tobacco. So, with a sentimental smile, a gentle shrug, and a sigh of the Laurence Sterne pattern, he converted that dangerous little scrawl into ashes – and he thought, as he inhaled his weed —

"It is well for you, poor little fanatics, that we men take better care of you than you do of yourselves, sometimes!"

No doubt; and Sir Jekyl supposed he was thinking only of his imprudent little correspondent, although there was another person in whom he was nearly interested, who might have been unpleasantly compromised also, if that document had fallen into other hands.

Sir Jekyl's Room is Visited

It was near one o'clock. Sir Jekyl yawned and wound his watch, and looked at his bed as if he would like to be in it without the trouble of getting there; and at that moment there came a sharp knock at his door, which startled him, for he thought all his people were asleep by that time.

"Who's there?" he demanded in a loud key.

"It's me, sir, please," said Donica Gwynn's voice.

"Come in, will you?" cried he; and she entered.

"Are you sick?" he asked.

"No, sir, thank you," she replied, with a sharp courtesy.

"You look so plaguy pale. Well, I'm glad you're not. But what the deuce can you want of me at this hour of night? Eh?"

"It's only about that room, sir."

"Oh, curse the room! Talk about it in the morning. You ought to have been in your bed an hour ago."

"So I was, sir; but I could not sleep, sir, for thinking of it."

"Well, go back and think of it, if you must. How can I stop you? Don't be a fool, old Gwynn."

"No more I will, sir, please, if I can help, for fools we are, the most on us; but I could not sleep, as I said, for thinking o't; and so I thought I'd jist put on my things again, and come and try if you, sir, might be still up."

"Well, you see I'm up; but I want to get to bed, Gwynn, and not to talk here about solemn bosh; and you must not bore me about that green chamber – do you see? – to-night, like a good old girl; it will do in the morning – won't it?"

"So it will, sir; only I could not rest in my bed, until I said, seeing as you mean to sleep in this room, it would never do. It won't. I can't stand it."

"Stand what? Egad! it seems to me you're demented, my good old Donica."

"No, Sir Jekyl," she persisted, with a grim resolution to say out her say. "You know very well, sir, what's running in my head. You know it's for no good anyone sleeps there. General Lennox, ye say; well an' good. You know well what a loss Mr. Deverell met with in that room in Sir Harry, your father's time."

"And you slept in it, did not you, and saw something? Eh?"

"Yes, I did" she said, in a sudden fury, with a little stamp on the floor, and a pale, staring frown.

After a breathless pause of a second or two she resumed.

"And you know what your poor lady saw there, and never held up her head again. And well you know, sir, how your father, Sir Harry, on his death-bed, desired it should be walled up, when you were no more than a boy; and your good lady did the same many a year after, when she was a dying. And I tell ye, Sir Jekyl, ye'll sup sorrow yourself yet if you don't. And take a fool's counsel, and shut up that door, and never let no one, friend or foe, sleep there; for well I know it's not for nothing, with your dead father's dying command, and your poor dear lady's dying entreaty against it, that you put anyone to sleep there. I don't know who this General Lennox may be – a good gentleman or a bad; but I'm sure it's for no righteous reason he's to lie there. You would not do it for nothing."

This harangue was uttered with a volubility, which, as the phrase is, took Sir Jekyl aback. He was angry, but he was also perplexed and a little stunned by the unexpected vehemence of his old housekeeper's assault, and he stared at her with a rather bewildered countenance.

"You're devilish impertinent," at last he said, with an effort. "You rant there like a madwoman, just because I like you, and you've been in our family, I believe, since before I was born; you think you may say what you like. The house is mine, I believe, and I rather think I'll do what I think best in it while I'm here."

"And you going to sleep in this room!" she broke in. "What else can it be?"

"You mean – what the devil do you mean?" stammered the Baronet again, unconsciously assuming the defensive.

"I mean you know very well what, Sir Jekyl," she replied.

"It was my father's room, hey? – when I was a boy, as you say. It's good enough for his son, I suppose; and I don't ask you to lie in the green chamber."

"I'll be no party, sir, if you please, to any one lying there," she observed, with a stiff courtesy, and a sudden hectic in her cheek.

"Perhaps you mean because my door's a hundred and fifty feet away from the front of the house, if any mischief should happen, I'm too far away – as others were before me – to prevent it, eh?" said he, with a flurried sneer.

"What I mean, I mean, sir – you ought not; that's all. You won't take it amiss, Sir Jekyl – I'm an old servant – I'm sorry, sir; but I'a made up my mind what to do."

"You're not thinking of any folly, surely? You seemed to me always too much afraid, or whatever you call it, of the remembrance, you know, of what you saw there – eh? —I don't know, of course, what– to speak of it to me. I never pressed you, because you seemed – you know you did – to have a horror; and surely you're not going now to talk among the servants or other people. You can't be far from five-and-thirty years in the family."

"Four-and-thirty, Sir Jekyl, next April. It's a good while; but I won't see no more o' that; and unless the green chamber be locked up, at the least, and used no more for a bed-room, I'd rather go, sir. Nothing may happen, of course, Sir Jekyl – it's a hundred to one nothing would happen; but ye see, sir, I've a feeling about it, sir; and there has been these things ordered by your father that was, and by your poor lady, as makes me feel queer. Nothing being done accordingly, and I could not rest upon it, for sooner or later it would come to this, and stay I could not. I judge no one – Heaven forbid, – Sir Jekyl – oh, no! my own conscience is as much as I can look to; so sir, if you please, so soon as you can suit yourself I'll leave, sir."

"Stuff! old Gwynn; don't mind talking to-night," said the Baronet, more kindly than he had spoken before; "we'll see about it in the morning. Good-night. We must not quarrel about nothing. I was only a school-boy when you came to us, you know."

But in the morning "old Gwynn" was resolute. She was actually going, so soon as the master could suit himself. She was not in a passion, nor in a panic, but in a state of gloomy and ominous obstinacy.

"Well, you'll give me a little time, won't you, to look about me?" said the Baronet, peevishly.

"Such is my intention, sir."

"And see, Gwynn, not a word about that – that green chamber, you know, to Miss Beatrix."

"As you please, sir."

"Because if you begin to talk, they'll all think we are haunted."

"Whatever you please to order, sir."

"And it was not – it was my grandfather, you know, who built it."

"Ah, so it was, sir;" and Gwynn looked astonished and shook her head, as though cowed by the presence of a master-spirit of evil.

"One would fancy you saw his ghost, Gwynn; but he was not such a devil as your looks would make him, only a bit wild, and a favourite with the women, Gwynn – always the best judge of merit – hey? Beau Marlowe they called him – the best dressed man of his day. How the devil could such a fellow have any harm in him?"

There is a fine picture, full length, of Beau Marlowe, over the chimneypiece of the great hall of Marlowe. He has remarkably gentlemanlike hands and legs; the gloss is on his silk stockings still. His features are handsome, of that type which we conventionally term aristocratic; high, and smiling with a Louis-Quatorze insolence. He wears a very fine coat of cut velvet, of a rich, dusky red, the technical name of which I forget. He was of the gilded and powdered youth of his day.

He certainly was a handsome fellow, this builder of the "green chamber," and he has not placed his candle under a bushel. He shines in many parts of the old house, and has repeated himself in all manner of becoming suits. You see him, three-quarters, in the parlour, in blue and silver; you meet him in crayon, and again in small oil, oval; and you have him in half a dozen miniatures.

We mention this ancestor chiefly because when his aunt, Lady Mary, left him a legacy, he added the green chamber to the house.

It seems odd that Sir Jekyl, not fifty yet, should have had a grandfather who was a fashionable and wicked notoriety of mature years, and who had built an addition to the family mansion so long as a hundred and thirty years ago. But this gentleman had married late, as rakes sometimes do, and his son, Sir Harry, married still later – somewhere about seventy; having been roused to this uncomfortable exertion by the proprietorial airs of a nephew who was next in succession. To this matrimonial explosion Sir Jekyl owed his entrance and agreeable sojourn upon the earth.

"I won't ask you to stay now; you're in a state. I'll write to town for Sinnott, as you insist on it, but you won't leave us in confusion, and you'll make her au fait– won't you? Give her any hints she may require; and I know I shall have you back again when you cool a little, or at all events when we go back to Dartbroke; for I don't think I shall like this place."

So Donica Gwynn declared herself willing to remain till Mrs. Sinnott should arrive from London; and preparations for the reception of guests proceeded with energy.

The Baronet Pursues

Sir Jekyl Marlowe was vexed when the letters came, and none from Pelter and Crowe. There are people who expect miracles from their doctors and lawyers, and, in proportion to their accustomed health and prosperity, are unreasonable when anything goes wrong. The Baronet's notion was that the legal firm in question ought to think and even dream of nothing else than his business. It was an impertinence their expecting him to think about it. What were they there for? He knew that London was a pretty large place, and England still larger; and that it was not always easy to know what everybody was about in either, and still less what each man was doing on the Continent. Pelter and Crowe had some other clients too on their hands, and had hitherto done very satisfactorily. But here was a serious-looking thing – the first really uncomfortable occurrence which had taken place under his reign – the first opportunity for exhibiting common vigilance – and he ventured to say those fellows did not know these Strangways people were in these kingdoms at all!

Sir Jekyl, though an idle fellow, was a man of action, so he ordered his horse, and rode nine miles to the "Plough Inn," where he hoped to see Mr. Strangways again, improve his intimacy, and prevail with the gentlemen to return with him to Marlowe, and spend a fortnight there, when, or the devil was in it, he should contrive to get at the bottom of their plans.

He looked shrewdly in at the open door as he rode up, and halloed for some one to take his horse. The little porch smiled pleasantly, and the two gables and weather-cock, in the sunlight; and the farmer on the broad and dingy panel, in his shirt-sleeves, low-crowned, broad-leafed hat, crimson waistcoat, canary-coloured shorts, and blue stockings, and flaxen wig, was driving his plump horses, and guilding his plough undiscouraged, as when last he saw him.

Boots and Mrs. Jones came out. Sir Jekyl was too eager to wait to get down; so from the saddle he accosted his buxom hostess, in his usual affable style. The Baronet was not accustomed to be crossed and thwarted as much as, I have been told, men with less money sometimes are; and he showed his mortification in his face when he learned that the two gentlemen had left very early that morning.

"This morning! Why you said yesterday they would not go till evening. Hang it, I wish you could tell it right; and what the d – l do you mean by Strangers? Call him Strangways, can't you. It's odd people can't say names."

He must have been very much vexed to speak so sharply; and he saw, perhaps, how much he had forgotten himself in the frightened look which good Mrs. Jones turned upon him.

"I don't mean you, my good little soul. It's their fault; and where are they gone to? I wanted to ask them both over to Marlowe. Have you a notion?"

"They took our horses as far as the 'Bell and Horns,' at Slowton." She called shrilly to Boots, "They're not stoppin' at the 'Bell and Horns,' sure. Come here, and tell Sir Jekyl Marlowe about Mr. Strangers."

"You said last night they were going to Awkworth;" and Sir Jekyl chuckled scornfully, for he was vexed.

"They changed their minds, sir."

"Well, we'll say so. You're a wonderful fascinating sex. Egad! if you could only carry anything right in your heads for ten minutes, you'd be too charming." And at this point Boots emerged, and Sir Jekyl continued, addressing him —

"Well, where are the gentlemen who left this morning?" asked he.

"They'll be at the 'Bell and Horns,' sir."

"Where's that?"

"Slowton, sir."

"I know. What hour did they go?"

"Eight o'clock, sir."

"Just seven miles. The Sterndale Road, isn't it?"

"Yes, sir."

And that was all Boots had to tell.

"Will ye please to come in, sir?" inquired Mrs. Jones.

"No, my good creature. I haven't time. The old gentleman – what's his name?"

"I don't know, Sir, please. He calls the young gentleman Guy, and the young gentleman calls him sir."

"And both the same name?"

"We calls 'em both Strangers, please, sir."

"I know. Servants, had they?"

"Yes, sir, please. But they sent 'em on."

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