Joseph Le Fanu.

Guy Deverell. Volume 1 of 2



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The Rector was a shrewd and gentlemanlike, though not a very pretty, apostle, and had made a sufficient toilet before presenting himself, and snapped and gobbled his fish, in a glossy, single-breasted coat, with standing collar; a ribbed silk waistcoat, covering his ample chest, almost like a cassock, and one of those transparent muslin dog-collars which High Churchmen affect.

"Well, Dives," cried Sir Jekyl, "how do the bells ring? I gave them a chime, poor devils" (this was addressed to Lady Blunket at his elbow), "by way of compensation, when I sent them Dives."

"Pretty well; they don't know how to pull 'em, I think, quite," answered Dives, dabbing a bit of fish in a pool of sauce, and punching it into shape with his bit of bread. "And how is old Parson Moulders?" continued the Baronet, pleasantly.

"I haven't heard," said the Hector, and drank off half his glass of hock.

"Can't believe it, Dives. Here's Lady Blunket knows. He's the aged incumbent of Droughton. A devilish good living in my gift; and of course you've been asking how the dear old fellow is."

"I haven't, upon my word; not but I ought, though," said the Rev. Dives Marlowe, as if he did not see the joke.

"He's very severe on you," simpered fat Lady Blunket, faintly, across the table, and subsided with a little cough, as if the exertion hurt her.

"Is he? Egad! I never perceived it." The expression was not clerical, but the speaker did not seem aware he had uttered it. "How dull I must be! Have you ever been in this part of the world before, Lady Jane?" continued he, turning towards General Lennox's wife, who sat beside him.

"I've been to Wardlock, a good many years ago; but that's a long way from this, and I almost forget it," answered Lady Jane, in her languid, haughty way.

"In what direction is Wardlock," she asked of Beatrix, raising her handsome, unfathomable eyes for a moment.

"You can see it from the bow-window of your room – I mean that oddly-shaped hill to the right."

"That's from the green chamber," said the Rector. "I remember the view. Isn't it?"

"Yes. They have put Lady Jane in the haunted room," said Beatrix, smiling and nodding to Lady Jane.

"And what fool, pray, told you that," said the Baronet, perhaps just a little sharply.

"Old Gwynn seems to think so," answered Beatrix, with the surprised and frightened look of one who fancies she has made a blunder. "I – of course we know it is all folly."

"You must not say that – you shan't disenchant us," said Lady Jane. "There's nothing I should so like as a haunted room; it's a charming idea – isn't it, Arthur?" she inquired of the General.

"We had a haunted room in my quarters at Puttypoor," observed the General, twiddling the point of one of his moustaches. "It was the store-room where we kept pickles, and olives, and preserves, and plates, and jars, and glass bottles. And every night there was a confounded noise there; jars, and bottles, and things tumbling about, made a devil of a row, you know.

I got Smith – my servant Smith, you know, a very respectable man – uncommon steady fellow, Smith – to watch, and he did. We kept the door closed, and Smith outside. I gave him half-a-crown a night and his supper – very well for Smith, you know. Sometimes he kept a light, and sometimes I made him sit in the dark with matches ready."

"Was not he very much frightened?" asked Beatrix, who was deeply interested in the ghost.

"I hope you gave him a smelling-bottle?" inquired Tom Linnett, with a tender concern.

"Well, I don't suppose he was," said the General, smiling good-humouredly on pretty Beatrix, while he loftily passed by the humorous inquiry of the young gentleman. "He was, in fact, on dooty, you know; and there were occasional noises and damage done in the store-room – in fact, just the same as if Smith was not there."

"Oh, possibly Smith himself among the bottles!" suggested Linnett.

"He always got in as quick as he could," continued the General; "but could not see anyone. Things were broken – bottles sometimes."

"How very strange," exclaimed Beatrix, charmed to hear the tale of wonder.

"We could not make it out; it was very odd, you know," resumed the narrator.

"You weren't frightened, General?" inquired Linnett.

"No, sir," replied the General, who held that a soldier's courage, like a lady's reputation, was no subject for jesting, and conveyed that sentiment by a slight pause, and a rather alarming stare from under his fierce grey eyebrows. "No one was frightened, I suppose; we were all men in the house, sir."

"At home, I think, we'd have suspected a rat or a cat," threw in the Rector.

"Some did, sir," replied the General; "and we made a sort of a search; but it wasn't. There was a capital tiled floor, not a hole you could put a ramrod in; and no cat, neither – high windows, grated; and the door always close; and every now and then something broken by night."

"Delightful! That's what Mrs. Crowe, in that charming book, you know, "The Night Side of Nature," calls, I forget the name; but it's a German word, I think – the noisy ghost it means. Racket – something, isn't it, Beet?" (the short for Beatrix). "I do so devour ghosts!" cried sharp old Miss Blunket, who thought Beatrix's enthusiasm became her; and chose to exhibit the same pretty fanaticism.

"I didn't say it was a ghost, mind ye," interposed the General, with a grave regard for his veracity; "only we were puzzled a bit. There was something there we all knew; and something that could reach up to the high shelves, and break things on the floor too, you see. We had been watching, off and on, I think, some three or four weeks, and I heard one night, early, a row in the store-room – a devil of a row it was; but Smith was on dooty, as we used to say, that night, so I left it to him; and he could have sung out, you know, if he wanted help – poor fellow! And in the morning my native fellow told me that poor Smith was dead in the store-room; and, egad! so he was, poor fellow!"

"How awful!" exclaimed Beatrix.

And Miss Blunket, in girlish horror, covered her fierce black eyes with her lank fingers.

"A bite of a cobra, by Jove! above the knee, and another on the hand. A fattish fellow, poor Smith, the natives say they go faster – that sort of man; but no one can stand a fair bite of a cobra – I defy you. We killed him after."

"What! Smith?" whispered Linnett in his neighbour's ear.

"He lay in a basket; you never saw such a brute," continued the General; "he was very near killing another of my people."

"So there was your ghost?" said Doocey, archly.

"Worse than a ghost," observed Sir Paul Blunket.

"A dooced deal," acquiesced the General gravely.

"You're very much annoyed with vermin out there in India?" remarked Sir Paul.

"So we are, sir," agreed the General.

"It's very hard, you see, to meet with a genuine ghost, Miss Marlowe; they generally turn out impostors," said Doocey.

"I should like to think my room was haunted," said Lady Jane.

"Oh! dear Lady Jane, how can you be so horribly brave?" cried Miss Blunket.

"We have no cobras here, at all events," said Sir Paul, nodding to Sir Jekyl, with the gravity becoming such a discovery.

"No," said Sir Jekyl, gloomily. I suppose he was thinking of something else.

The ladies now floated away like summer clouds, many-tinted, golden, through the door, which Doocey held gracefully open; and the mere mortals of the party, the men, stood up in conventional adoration, while the divinities were translated, as it were, before their eyes, and hovered out of sight and hearing into the resplendent regions of candelabra and mirrors, nectar and ambrosia, tea and plum-cake, and clouds of silken tapestry, and the musical tinkling of their own celestial small-talk.

CHAPTER X
Inquiries have been made by Messrs, Pelter and Crowe

Before repairing to bed, such fellows, young or old, as liked a talk and a cigar, and some sherry – or, by'r lady, brandy and water – were always invited to accompany Sir Jekyl to what he termed the back settlement, where he bivouacked among deal chairs and tables, with a little camp-bed, and plenty of wax candles and a brilliant little fire.

Here, as the Baronet smoked in his homely little "hut," as he termed it, after his guests had dispersed to their bed-rooms, the Rev. Dives Marlowe that night knocked at the door, crying, "May I come in, Jekyl?"

"Certainly, dear Dives."

"You really mean it?"

"Never was parson so welcome."

"By Jove!" said the Rector, "it's later than I thought – you're sure I don't bore you."

"Not sure, but you may, Dives," said Sir Jekyl, observing his countenance, which was not quite pleasant. "Come in, and say your say. Have a weed, old boy?"

"Well, well – a – we're alone. I don't mind – I don't generally – not that there's any harm; but some people, very good people, object – the weaker brethren, you know."

"Consummate asses, we call them; but weaker brethren, as you say, does as well."

The Rector was choosing and sniffing out a cigar to his heart's content.

"Milk for babes, you know," said the Rector, making his preparations. "Strong meats – "

"And strong cigars; but you'll find these as mild as you please. Here's a match."

The Rector sat down, with one foot on the fender, and puffed away steadily, looking into the fire; and his brother, at the opposite angle of the fender, employed himself similarly.

"Fine old soldier, General Lennox," said the cleric, at last. "What stay does he make with you?"

"As long as he pleases. Why?" said Sir Jekyl.

"Only he said something to-night in the drawing-room about having to go up to town to attend a Board of the East India Directors," answered the parson.

"Oh, did he?"

"And I think he said the day after to-morrow. I thought he told you, perhaps."

"Upon my life I can't say – perhaps he did," said Sir Jekyl, carelessly. "Lennox is a wonderful fine old fellow, as you say, but a little bit slow, you know; and his going or staying would not make very much difference to me."

"I thought he told his story pretty well at dinner – that haunted room and the cobra, you remember," said the Rector.

The Baronet grunted an assent, and nodded, without removing his cigar. The brothers conducted their conversation, not looking on one another, but each steadily into the grate.

"And, apropos of haunted rooms, Lady Jane mentioned they are in the green chamber," continued the Rector.

"Did she? I forgot – so they are, I think," answered the Baronet.

Here they puffed away in silence for some time.

"You know, Jekyl, about that room? Poor Amy, when she was dying, made you promise – and you did promise, you know – and she got me to promise to remind you to shut it up; and then, you know, my father wished the same," said the Rector.

"Come, Dives, my boy, somebody has been poking you up about this. You have been hearing from my old mother-in-law, or talking to her, the goosey old shrew!"

"Upon my honour!" said the Rector, solemnly resting the wrist of his cigar-hand upon the black silk vest, and motioning his cheroot impressively, "you are quite mistaken. One syllable I have not heard from Lady Alice upon the subject, nor, indeed, upon any other, for two months or more."

"Come, come, Dives, old fellow, you'll not come the inspired preacher over me. Somebody's been at you, and if it was not poor old Lady Alice it was stupid old Gwynn. You need not deny it – ha! ha! ha! your speaking countenance proclaims it, my dear boy."

"I'm not thinking of denying it. Old Donica Gwynn did write to me," said the pastor.

"Let me see her note?" said Sir Jekyl.

"I threw it in the fire; but I assure you there was nothing in it that would or could have vexed you. Nothing, in fact, but an appeal to me to urge you to carry out the request of poor Amy, and not particularly well spelt or written, and certainly not the sort of thing I should have liked anyone to see but ourselves, so I destroyed it as soon as I had read it."

"I'd like to have known what the plague could make you come here two days – of course I'm glad to see you – two days before you intended, and what's running in your mind."

"Nothing in particular – nothing, I assure you, but this. I'm certain it will be talked about – it will – the women will talk. You'll find there will be something very unpleasant; take my advice, my dear Jekyl, and just do as you promised. My poor father wished it, too – in fact, directed it, and – and it ought to be done – you know it ought."

"Upon my soul I know no such thing. I'm to pull down my house, I suppose, for a sentiment? What the plague harm does the room to anybody? It doesn't hurt me, nor you."

"It may hurt you very much, Jekyl."

"I can't see it; but if it does, that's my affair," said Sir Jekyl, sulkily.

"But, my dear Jekyl, surely you ought to consider your promise."

"Come, Dives, no preaching. It's a very good trade, I know, and I'll do all I can for you in it; but I'm no more to be humbugged by a sermon than you are. Come! How does the dog I sent you get on? Have you bottled the pipe of port yet, and how is old Moulders, as I asked you at dinner? Talk of shooting, eating and drinking, and making merry, and getting up in your profession – by-the-bye, the Bishop is to be here in a fortnight, so manage to stay and meet him. Talk of the port, and the old parson's death, and the tithes small and great, and I'll hear you with respect, for I shall know you are speaking of things you understand, and take a real interest in; but pray don't talk any more about that stupid old room, and the stuff and nonsense these women connect with it; and, once for all, believe me when I say I have no notion of making a fool of myself by shutting up or pulling down a room which we want to use – I'll do no such thing," and Sir Jekyl clenched the declaration with an oath, and chucking the stump of his cigar into the fire, stood up with his back to it, and looked down on his clerical Mentor, the very impersonation of ungodly obstinacy.

"I had some more to say, Jekyl, but I fancy you don't care to hear it."

"Not a word of it," replied the Baronet.

"That's enough for me," said the parson, with a wave of his hand, like a man who has acquitted himself of a duty.

"And how soon do you say the Bishop is to be here?" he inquired, after a pause.

"About ten days, or less– egad! I forget," answered Sir Jekyl, still a good deal ruffled.

The Rector stood up also, and hummed something like "Rule Britannia" for a while. I am afraid he was thinking altogether of himself by this time, and suddenly recollecting that he was not in his own room, he wished his brother good-night, and departed.

Sir Jekyl was vexed. There are few things so annoying, when one has made up his mind to a certain course, as to have the unavowed misgivings and evil auguries of one's own soul aggravated by the vain but ominous dissuasions of others.

"I wish they'd keep their advice to themselves. What hurry need there be? Do they want me to blow up the room with old Lennox and his wife in it? I don't care twopence about it. It's a gloomy place." Sir Jekyl was charging the accidental state of his own spirits upon the aspect of the place, which was really handsome and cheerful, though antique.

"They're all in a story, the fools! What is it to me? I don't care if I never saw it again. They may pull it down after Christmas, if they like, for me. And Dives, too, the scamp, talking pulpit. He thinks of nothing but side-dishes and money. As worldly a dog as there is in England!"

Jekyl Marlowe could get angry enough on occasion, but he was not prone to sour tempers and peevish humours. There was, however, just now, something to render him uncomfortable and irritable, and that was that his expected guests, Mr. Guy Strangways and M. Varbarriere had not kept tryste. The day appointed for their visit had come and gone, and no appearance made. In an ordinary case a hundred and fifty accidents might account for such a miscarriage; but there was in this the unavowed specialty which excited and sickened his mind, and haunted his steps and his bed with suspicions; and he fancied he could understand a little how Herod felt when he was mocked of the wise men.

Next morning's post-bag brought Sir Jekyl two letters, one of which relieved, and the other rather vexed him, though not very profoundly. This latter was from his mother-in-law, Lady Alice, in reply to his civil note, and much to his surprise, accepting his invitation to Marlowe.

"Cross-grained old woman! She's coming, for no reason on earth but to vex me. It shan't though. I'll make her most damnably welcome. We'll amuse her till she has not a leg to stand on; we'll take her an excursion every second day, and bivouac on the side of a mountain, or in the bottom of a wet valley. We'll put the young ponies to the phaeton, and Dutton shall run them away with her. I'll get up theatricals, and balls, and concerts; and I'll have breakfast at nine instead of ten. I'll entertain her with a vengeance, egad! We'll see who'll stand it longest."

A glance at the foot of the next letter, which was a large document, on a bluish sheet of letter-paper, showed him what he expected, the official autograph of Messrs. Pelter and Crowe; it was thus expressed —

"My dear Sir Jekyl Marlowe, —

"Pursuant to yours of the – th, and in accordance with the instructions therein contained, we have made inquiries, as therein directed, in all available quarters, and have received answers to our letters, and trust that the copies thereof, and the general summary of the correspondence, which we hope to forward by this evening's post, will prove satisfactory to you. The result seems to us clearly to indicate that your information has not been well founded, and that there has been no movement in the quarter to which your favour refers, and that no member – at all events no prominent member – of that family is at present in England. In further execution of your instructions, as conveyed in your favour as above, we have, through a reliable channel, learned that Messrs. Smith, Rumsey, and Snagg, have nothing in the matter of Deverell at present in their office. Nor has there been, we are assured, any correspondence from or on the part of any of those clients for the last five terms or more. Notwithstanding, therefore, the coincidence of the date of your letter with the period to which, on a former occasion, we invited your attention, as indicated by the deed of 1809 – "

"What the plague is that?" interpolated Sir Jekyl. "They want me to write and ask, and pop it down in the costs;" and after a vain endeavour to recall it, he read the passage over again with deliberate emphasis.

"Notwithstanding, therefore, the coincidence of the date of your letter with the period to which, on a former occasion, we invited your attention, as indicated by the deed of 1809, we are clear upon the evidence of the letters, copies of which will be before you as above by next post, that there is no ground for supposing any unusual activity on the part or behalf of the party or parties to whom you have referred.

"Awaiting your further directions,
"I have the honour to remain,
"My dear Sir Jekyl Marlowe,
"Your obedient servant,
"N. Crowe.
"For Pelter and Crowe.

"Sir Jekyl Marlowe, Bart.

"Marlowe, Old Swayton."

When Sir Jekyl read this he felt all on a sudden a dozen years younger. He snapped his fingers, and smiled, in spite of himself. He could hardly bring himself to acknowledge, even in soliloquy, how immensely he was relieved. The sun shone delightfully: and his spirits returned quite brightly. He would have liked to cricket, to ride a steeple-chase – anything that would have breathed and worked him well, and given him a fair occasion for shouting and cheering.

CHAPTER XI
Old Gryston Bridge

Very merry was the Baronet at the social breakfast-table, and the whole party very gay, except those few whose natures were sedate or melancholic.

"A tremendous agreeable man, Sir Jekyl – don't you think so, Jennie?" said General Lennox to his wife, as he walked her slowly along the terrace at the side of the house.

"I think him intolerably noisy, and sometimes absolutely vulgar," answered Lady Jane, with a languid disdain, which conveyed alike her estimate of her husband's discernment and of Sir Jekyl's merits.

"Well, I thought he was agreeable. Some of his jokes I think, indeed, had not much sense in them. But sometimes I don't see a witty thing as quick as cleverer fellows do, and they were all laughing, except you; and I don't think you like him, Jennie."

"I don't dislike him. I dare say he's a very worthy soul; but he gives me a headache."

"He is a little bit noisy, maybe. Yes, he certainly is," acquiesced the honest General, who in questions of taste and nice criticism, was diffident of his own judgment, and leaned to his wife's. "But I thought he was rather a pleasant fellow. I'm no great judge; but I like to see fellows laughing, and that sort of thing. It looks good-humoured, don't you think?"

"I hate good-humour," said Lady Jane.

The General, not knowing exactly what to say next, marched by her side in silence, till Lady Jane let go his arm, and sat down on the rustic seat which commands so fine a view, and, leaning back, eyed the landscape with a dreamy indolence, as if she was going to "cut" it.



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