Joseph Le Fanu.

Guy Deverell. Volume 1 of 2



скачать книгу бесплатно

"Rich – don't want for money, I suppose. Eh?"

"Oh! plenty money, sir."

"And the servants called the men Strangways, I suppose, eh?"

"Yes, Sir Jekyl, please; and so the letters came."

"You never happened to hear any other name?"

"No, Sir Jekyl."

"Think."

Mrs. Jones did think, but could recall nothing.

"Nothing with a D?"

"D, sir! What, sir?"

"No matter what," said the Baronet. "No name beginning with D – eh?"

"No, sir. You don't think they're going by a false name?" inquired the lady, curiously.

"What the devil puts that in your head? Take care of the law; you must not talk that way, you foolish little rogue."

"I did not know, sir," timidly answered Mrs. Jones, who saw in Sir Jekyl, the Parliament-man, Deputy-Lieutenant, and Grand Juror, a great oracle of the law.

"I only wanted to know whether you had happened to hear the name of the elder of the two gentlemen, and could recollect what letter it begins with."

"No, sir, please."

"So you've no more to tell me?"

"Nothing, sir."

"If they come back tell them I rode over to offer them some shooting, and to beg they'd remember to come to Marlowe. You won't forget?"

"No sir."

"Do they return here?"

"I think not, sir."

"Well, I believe there's nothing else," and the Baronet looked up reflectively, as if he expected to find a memorandum scribbled on the blue sky, leaning with his hand on the back of his horse. "No, nothing. You won't forget my message, that's all. Good-bye, my dear."

And touching the tips of his gloves to his lips, with a smile and a nod he cantered down the Sterndale Road.

He pulled up at the "Bell and Horns," in the little town of Slowton, but was disappointed. The entire party, servants and all, had taken the train two hours before, at the station three miles away.

Now Sir Jekyl was blooded, and the spirit of the chase stirred within him. So he rode down in his jack-boots, and pulled up his steaming horse by the station, and he went in and made inquiry.

A man like him is received even at one of these cosmopolitan rallying-points within his own county with becoming awe. The station-master was awfully courteous, and the subaltern officials awfully active and obliging, and the resources of the establishment were at once placed at his sublime disposal. Unhappily, two branch lines converge at this point, causing the usual bustle, and there was consequently a conflict and confusion in the evidence; so that Sir Jekyl, who laughed and chatted agreeably amidst all the reverential zeal that surrounded him, could arrive at nothing conclusive, but leaned to the view that the party had actually gone to Awkworth, only by rail, instead of by road.

Sir Jekyl got on his horse and walked him through the town, uncertain what to do next. This check had cooled him; his horse had his long trot home still. It would not do to follow to Awkworth; to come in, after a four-and-twenty miles' ride, bespattered like a courier, merely to invite these gentlemen, viv? voce, who had hardly had his note of invitation a score hours.

It would be making too much of them with a vengeance.

As he found himself once more riding under the boughs of Marlowe, the early autumnal evening already closing in, Sir Jekyl experienced one of those qualms and sinkings of the heart, which overcome us with a vague anticipation of evil.

The point of the road which he had now gained, commands a view of the old hall of Marlowe, with that projecting addition, and its wide bow-window, every pane of which was now flaming in the sunset light, which indicated the green chamber.

The green chamber! Just at that moment the glare of its broad window flashed with a melancholy and vengeful light upon his brain, busied with painful retrospects and harassing conjecture.

Old Gwynn going away! It was an omen. Marlowe without old Gwynn. Troy without its palladium. Old Gwynn going with something like a denunciation on her lips! That stupid old woman at Wardlock, too, who really knew nothing about it, undertaking also to prophesy! Out of the mouths of babes and sucklings! There was no sense in it – scarcely articulation. Still it was the croak of the raven – the screech of the owl.

He looked across the gentle slope at the angle of the inauspicious room. Why should old General Lennox be placed within the unhallowed precincts of that chamber? The image of old Gwynn as she gabbled her grim protest on the preceding night, rose before him like a ghost. What business was it of hers, and how could she divine his motives? Still, if there was anything wrong, did not this vehement warning make the matter worse.

An old man he felt himself on a sudden that evening, and for the first time. There was some failure of the electric fire, and a subsidence of the system. His enterprise was gone. Why should he take guilt, if such it were, on his soul for vanity and vexation of spirit? If guilt it were, was it not of a kind inexcusably cold-blooded and long-headed. Old Gwynn, he did not like to lose you on those terms – just, too, as those unknown actors were hovering at the wing, and about to step upon the stage, this old man and young, who, instinctively he felt, were meditating mischief against him. Mischief —what? Such, perhaps, as might shatter the structure of his greatness, and strew its pinnacles in the dust. Perhaps all this gloom was but the depression of a long ride, and still longer fast. But he was accustomed to such occasional strains upon his strength without any such results. Ah, no! He had come within the edge of the shadow of judgment, and its darkness was stealing over him, and its chill touched his heart.

These were the dreamy surmisings with which he rode slowly toward the house, and a few good resolutions in a nebulous state hovered uncomfortably about him.

No letter of any interest had come by the early post, and Sir Jekyl sat down t?te-?-t?te with his pretty daughter, in very dismal spirits, to dinner.

CHAPTER VIII
The House begins to Fill

Beatrix was fond of her father, who was really a good-natured man, in the common acceptance of the term, that is to say, he had high animal spirits, and liked to see people pleasant about him, and was probably as kind as a tolerably selfish and vicious man can be, and had a liking, moreover, for old faces, which was one reason why he hated the idea of his housekeeper's leaving him. But Beatrix was also a little in awe of him, as girls often are of men of whom they see but little, especially if they have something of the masculine decision of temper.

"You may all go away now," said the Baronet suddenly to the servants, who had waited at dinner; and when the liveried phantoms had withdrawn, and the door had closed on the handsome calves of tall and solemn Jenkins, he said —

"Nothing all day – no adventure, or visitor, Trixie – not a word of news or fun, I dare say?"

"Nothing – not a creature, papa; only the birds and dogs, and some new music."

"Well, it is not much worse than Wardlock, I suppose; but we shall have a gay house soon – at all events plenty of people. Old General Lennox is coming. His nephew, Captain Drayton, is very rich; he will be Lord Tewkesbury – that is, if old Tewkesbury doesn't marry; and, at all events, he has a very nice property, and does not owe a guinea. You need not look modest, Trixie. You may do just as you please, only I'd be devilish glad you liked one another – there, don't be distressed, I say; I'll mention it no more if you don't like; but he'll be here in a few days, and you mayn't think him so bad."

After this the Baronet drank two glasses of sherry in silence, slowly, and with a gloomy countenance, and then, said he —

"I think, Trixie, if you were happily placed, I should give the whole thing up. I'm tired of that cursed House of Commons. You can't imagine what a bore it is, when a fellow does not want anything from them, going down there for their d – d divisions. I'm not fit for the hounds either. I can't ride as I used – egad! I'm as stiff as a rusty hinge when I get up in the morning. And I don't much like this place, and I'm tired to death of the other two. When you marry I'll let them, or, at all events, let them alone. I'm tired of all those servants. I know they're robbing me, egad! You would not believe what my gardens cost me last year, and, by Jove, I don't believe all that came to my table was worth two hundred pounds. I'll have quite a different sort of life. I haven't any time to myself, looking after all those confounded people one must keep about them. Keepers, and gardeners, and devil knows who beside. I don't like London half as well as the Continent. I hate dinner-parties, and the season, and all the racket. It doesn't pay, and I'm growing old – you'll not mind if I smoke it?" (he held a cigar between his fingers) – "a complaint that doesn't mend by time, you know. Oh! yes, I am old, you little rogue. Everybody knows I'm just fifty; and the fact is I'm tired of the whole thing, stock, lock, and barrel; and I believe what little is to be got of life is best had – that is, if you know how to look for it – abroad. A fellow like me who has got places and properties – egad! they expect him to live pro bono publico, and not to care or think twopence about himself – at least it comes to that. How is old Gwynn?"

"Very well, I think."

"And what has she to say for herself; what about things in general?"

"She's not very chatty, poor old Gwynn, and I think she seems a little – just ever so little – cross."

"So she does – damnably cross. She was always a bit of a vixen, and she isn't improving, poor old thing; but don't be afraid, I like old Donnie for all that, though I don't think I ever quite understood her, and I don't expect either." These observations concluded the conversation subsided, and a long silence supervened.

"I wonder who the devil he is," said the Baronet abruptly, as he threw the stump of his cigar into the fire. "If it's a fluke, it's as like a miracle as anything I ever saw."

He recollected that he was talking without an interlocutor, and looked for a moment hesitatingly at his daughter.

"And your grandmamma told you nothing of her adventure in church?"

"No, papa – not a word."

"It seems to me, women can hold their tongues sometimes, but always in the wrong places."

Here he shook the ashes of his cigar into the grate.

"Old Granny's a fool – isn't she, Trixie, and a little bit vicious – eh?"

Sir Jekyl put his question dreamily, in a reverie, and it plainly needed no answer. So Beatrix was spared the pain of making one; which she was glad of, for Lady Alice was good to her after her way, and she was fond of her.

"We must ask her to come, you know. You write. Say I thought you would have a better chance of prevailing. She won't, you know; and so much the better."

So as the Baronet rose, and stood gloomily with his back to the fire; the young lady rose also, and ran away to the drawing-room and her desk; and almost at the same moment a servant entered the room, with a letter, which had come by the late post.

Oddly enough, it had the Slowton postmark.

"Devilish odd!" exclaimed Sir Jekyl, scowling eagerly on it; and seating himself hastily on the side of a chair, he broke it open and read at the foot the autograph, "Guy Strangways."

It was with the Napoleonic thrill, "I have them, then, these English!" that Sir Jekyl read, in a gentlemanlike, rather foreign hand, a ceremonious and complimentary acceptance of his invitation to Marlowe, on behalf both of the young man and of his elder companion. His correspondent could not say exactly, as their tour was a little desultory, where a note would find them; but as Sir Jekyl Marlowe had been so good as to permit them to name a day for their visit, they would say so and so.

"Let me see – what day's this – why, that will be" – he was counting with the tips of his fingers, pianowise, on the table – "Wednesday week, eh?" and he tried it over again with nature's "Babbage's machine" and of course with an inflexible result. "Wednesday week – Wednesday," and he heaved a great sigh, like a man with a load taken off him.

"Well, I'm devilish glad. I hope nothing will happen to stop them now. It can't be a ruse to get quietly off the ground? No – that would be doing it too fine." He rang the bell.

"I want Mrs. Gwynn."

The Baronet's spirit revived within him, and he stood erect, with his back to the fire, and his hands behind him, and when the housekeeper entered, he received her with his accustomed smile.

"Glad to see you, Donnie. Glass of sherry? No – well, sit down – won't take a chair! – why's that? Well, we'll be on pleasanter terms soon – you'll find it's really no choice of mine. I can't help using that stupid green room. Here are two more friends coming – not till Wednesday week though – two gentlemen. You may put them in rooms beside one another – wherever you like – only not in the garrets, of course. Good rooms, do ye see."

"And what's the gentlemen's names, please, Sir Jekyl," inquired Mrs. Gwynn.

"Mr. Strangways, the young gentleman; and the older, as well as I can read it, is Mr. Varbarriere."

"Thank ye, sir."

The housekeeper having again declined the kindly distinction of a glass of sherry, withdrew.

In less than a week guests began to assemble, and in a few days more old Marlowe Hall began to wear a hospitable and pleasant countenance.

The people were not, of course, themselves all marvels of agreeability. For instance, Sir Paul Blunket, the great agriculturist and eminent authority on liquid manures, might, as we all know, be a little livelier with advantage. He is short and stolid; he wears a pale blue muslin neck-handkerchief with a white stripe, carefully tied. His countenance, I am bound to say, is what some people would term heavy – it is frosty, painfully shaven, and shines with a glaze of transparent soap. He has small, very light blue round eyes, and never smiles. A joke always strikes him with unaffected amazement and suspicion. Laughter he knows may imply ridicule, and he may himself possibly be the subject of it. He waits till it subsides, and then talks on as before on subjects which interest him.

Lady Blunket, who accompanies him everywhere, though not tall, is stout. She is delicate, and requires nursing; and, for so confirmed an invalid, has a surprising appetite. John Blunket, the future baronet, is in the Diplomatic Service, I forget exactly where, and by no means young; and lean Miss Blunket, at Marlowe with her parents, though known to be older than her brother, is still quite a girl, and giggles with her partner at dinner, and is very na?ve and animated, and sings arch little chansons discordantly to the guitar, making considerable play with her eyes, which are black and malignant.

This family, though neither decorative nor entertaining, being highly respectable and ancient, make the circuit of all the good houses in the county every year, and are wonderfully little complained of. Hither also they had brought in their train pretty little Mrs. Maberly, a cousin, whose husband, the Major, was in India – a garrulous and good-humoured siren, who smiled with pearly little teeth, and blushed easily.

At Marlowe had already assembled several single gentlemen too. There was little Tom Linnett, with no end of money and spirits, very good-natured, addicted to sentiment, and with a taste for practical joking too, and a very popular character notwithstanding.

Old Dick Doocey was there also, a colonel long retired, and well known at several crack London clubs; tall, slight, courtly, agreeable, with a capital elderly wig, a little deaf, and his handsome high nose a little reddish. Billy Cobb – too, a gentleman who could handle a gun, and knew lots about horses and dogs – had arrived.

Captain Drayton had arrived: a swell, handsome, cleverish, and impertinent, and, as young men with less reason will be, egotistical. He would not have admitted that he had deigned to make either plan or exertion with that object, but so it happened that he was placed next to Miss Beatrix, whom he carelessly entertained with agreeable ironies, and anecdotes, and sentiments poetic and perhaps a little vapid. On the whole, a young gentleman of intellect, as well as wealth and expectations, and who felt, not unnaturally, that he was overpowering. Miss Beatrix, though not quite twenty, was not overpowered, however, neither was her heart pre-occupied. There was, indeed, a shadow of another handsome young gentleman – only a shadow, in a different style – dark, and this one light; and she heart-whole, perhaps fancy-free, amused, delighted, the world still new and only begun to be explored. One London season she had partly seen, and also made her annual tour twice or thrice of all the best county-houses, and so was not nervous among her peers.

CHAPTER IX
Dinner

Of the two guests destined for the green chamber, we must be permitted to make special mention.

General and Lady Jane Lennox had come. The General, a tall, soldier-like old gentleman, who held his bald and pink, but not very high forehead, erect, with great grey projecting moustache, twisted up at the corners, and bristling grey eyebrows to correspond, over his frank round grey eyes – a gentleman with a decidedly military bearing, imperious but kindly of aspect, good-natured, prompt, and perhaps a little stupid.

Lady Jane – everybody knows Lady Jane – the most admired of London belles for a whole season. Golden brown hair, and what young Thrumly of the Guards called, in those exquisite lines of his, "slumbrous eyes of blue," under very long lashes and exquisitely-traced eyebrows, such brilliant lips and teeth, and such a sweet oval face, and above all, so beautiful a figure and wonderful a waist, might have made one marvel how a lady so well qualified for a title, with noble blood, though but a small dot, should have wrecked herself on an old general, though with eight thousand a year. But there were stories and reasons why the simple old officer, just home from India, who knew nothing about London lies, and was sure of his knighthood, and it was said of a baronetage, did not come amiss.

There were people who chose to believe these stories, and people who chose to discredit them. But General Lennox never had even heard them; and certainly, it seemed nobody's business to tell him now. It might not have been quite pleasant to tell the General. He was somewhat muddled of apprehension, and slow in everything but fighting; and having all the old-fashioned notions about hair-triggers, and "ten paces," as the proper ordeal in a misunderstanding, people avoided uncomfortable topics in his company, and were for the most part disposed to let well alone.

Lady Jane had a will and a temper; but the General held his ground firmly. As brave men as he have been henpecked; but somehow he was not of the temperament which will submit to be bullied even by a lady; and as he was indulgent and easily managed, that tactique was the line she had adopted. Lady Jane was not a riant beauty. Luxurious, funeste, sullen, the mystery and melancholy of her face was a relief among the smirks and simpers of the ball-room, and the novelty of the style interested for a time even the blaz? men of twenty seasons.

Several guests of lesser note there were; and the company had sat down to dinner, when the Reverend Dives Marlowe, rector of the succulent family living of Queen's Chorleigh, made his appearance in the parlour, a little to the surprise of his brother the Baronet, who did not expect him quite so soon.

The Rector was a tall man and stalwart, who had already acquired that convex curve which indicates incipient corpulence, and who, though younger than his brother, looked half a dozen years his senior. With a broad bald forehead, projecting eyebrows, a large coarse mouth, and with what I may term the rudiments of a double chin – altogether an ugly and even repulsive face, but with no lack of energy and decision – one looked with wonder from this gross, fierce, clerical countenance to the fine outlines and proportions of the Baronet's face, and wondered how the two men could really be brothers.

The cleric shook his brother's hand in passing, and smiled and nodded briefly here and there, right and left, and across the table his recognition, and chuckled a harsher chuckle than his brother's, as he took his place, extemporized with the quiet legerdemain of a consummate butler by Ridley; and answered in a brisk, abrupt voice the smiling inquiries of friends.

"Hope you have picked up an appetite on the way, Dives," said the Baronet. Dives generally carried a pretty good one about with him. "Good air on the way, and pretty good mutton here, too – my friends tell me."

"Capital air – capital mutton – capital fish," replied the ecclesiastic, in a brisk, business-like tone, while being a man of nerve, he got some fish, although that esculent had long vanished, and even the entr?es had passed into history, and called over his shoulder for the special sauces which his soul loved, and talked, and compounded his condiments with energy and precision.



скачать книгу бесплатно

страницы: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19