Joseph Le Fanu.

Guy Deverell. Volume 1 of 2

The General scanned it with a military eye, and his reconnoitering glance discerned, coming up the broad walk at his right, their host, with pretty Mrs. Maberly on his arm, doing the honours plainly very agreeably.

On seeing the General and Lady Jane, he smiled, quickened his pace, and raised his hat.

"So glad we have found you," said he. "Charming weather, isn't it? You must determine, Lady Jane, what's to be done to-day. There are two things you really ought to see Gryston Bridge and Hazelden Castle. I assure you the great London artists visit both for studies. We'll take our luncheon there, it's such a warm, bright day that is, if you like the plan and, which do you say?"

"My husband always votes for me. What does Mrs. Maberly say?" and Lady Jane looked in her face with one of her winning smiles.

"Yes, what does Mrs. Maberly say?" echoed the General, gallantly.

"So you won't advise?" said the Baronet, leaning toward Lady Jane, a little reproachfully.

"I won't advise," she echoed, in her indolent way.

"Which is the best?" inquired Mrs. Maberly, gleefully. "What a charming idea!"

"For my part, I have a headache, you know, Arthur I told you, dear; and I shall hardly venture a long excursion, I think. What do you advise to-day?"

"Well, I think it might do you good hey? What do you say, Sir Jekyl?"

"So very sorry to hear Lady Jane is suffering; but I really think your advice, General Lennox it's so very fine and mild and I think it might amuse Lady Jane;" and he glanced at the lady, who, however, wearing her bewitching smile, was conversing with Mrs. Maberly about a sweet little white dog, with long ears and a blue ribbon, which had accompanied her walk from the house.

"Well, dear, Sir Jekyl wants to know. What do you say?" inquired the General.

"Oh, pray arrange as you please. I dare say I can go. It's all the same," answered Lady Jane, without raising her eyes from silvery little Bijou, on whom she bestowed her unwonted smiles and caresses.

"You belong to Beatrix, you charming little fairy I'm sure you do; and is not it very wicked to go out with other people without leave, you naughty little truant?"

"You must not attack her so. She really loves Beatrix; and though she has come out just to take the air with me, I don't think she cares twopence about me; and I know I don't about her."

"What a cruel speech!" cried pretty Mrs. Maberly, with a laugh that showed her exquisite little teeth.

"The fact is cruel if you will not the speech for she can't hear it," said Sir Jekyl, patting Bijou.

"So they act love to your face, poor little dog, and say what they please of you behind your back," murmured Lady Jane, soothingly, to little Bijou, who wagged his tail and wriggled to her feet. "Yes, they do, poor little dog!"

"Well, I shall venture may I? I'll order the carriages at one.

And we'll say Gryston Bridge," said Sir Jekyl, hesitating notwithstanding, inquiry plainly in his countenance.

"Sir Jekyl's waiting, dear," said General Lennox, a little imperiously.

"I really don't care. Yes, then," she said, and, getting up, she took the General's arm and walked away, leaving Mrs. Maberly and her host to their t?te-?-t?te.

Gryston Bridge is one of the prettiest scenes in that picturesque part of the country. A river slowly winds its silvery way through the level base of a beautifully irregular valley. No enclosure breaks the dimpling and undulating sward for it is the common of Gryston which rises in soft pastoral slopes at either side, forming the gentle barriers of the valley, which is closed in at the further end by a bold and Alpine hill, with a base rising purple and domelike from the plain; and in this perspective the vale of Gryston diverges, and the two streams, which at its head unite to form the slow-flowing current of the Greet, are lost to sight. Trees of nature's planting here and there overhang its stream, and others, solitarily or in groups, stud the hill-sides and the soft green plain. A strange row of tall, gray stones, Druidic or monumental, of a bygone Cyclopean age, stand up, time-worn and mysterious, on a gentle slope, with a few bending thorn and birch trees beside them, in the near distance; and in the foreground, the steep, Gothic bridge of Gretford, or Gryston, spans the river, with five tall arches, and a loop-holed gate-house, which once guarded the pass, now roofless and ruined.

In this beautiful and sequestered scene the party from Marlowe had loitered away that charming afternoon. The early sunset had been rapidly succeeded by twilight, and the moon had surprised them. The servants were packing up hampers of plates and knives and forks, and getting the horses to for the return to Marlowe; while, in the early moonlight a group stood upon the bridge, overlooking from the battlement the sweet landscape in its changing light.

Sir Jekyl could see that Captain Drayton was by Beatrix's side, and concluded, rightly, I have no doubt, that his conversation was tinted by the tender lights of that romantic scenery.

"The look back on this old bridge from those Druidic stones there by moonlight is considered very fine. It is no distance hardly four hundred steps from this although it looks so misty," said the Baronet to Lady Jane, who leaned on his arm. "Suppose we make a little party, will you venture?"

I suppose the lady acquiesced, for Sir Jekyl ordered that the carriages should proceed round by the road, and take them up at the point where these Druidic remains stand.

The party who ventured this little romantic walk over the grass, were General Lennox, in charge of the mature Miss Blunket, who loved a frolic with all her girlish heart; Sir Jekyl, with Lady Jane upon his arm; and Captain Drayton, who escorted Beatrix. Marching gaily, in open column, as the General would have said, they crossed the intervening hollow, and reached the hillock, on which stand these ungainly relics of a bygone race; and up the steep bank they got, each couple as best they could. Sir Jekyl and Lady Jane, for he knew the ground, by an easy path, were first to reach the upper platform.

Sir Jekyl, I dare say, was not very learned about the Druids, and I can't say exactly what he was talking about, when on a sudden he arrested both his step and his sentence, for on one of these great prostrate stones which strew that summit, he saw standing, not a dozen steps away, well illuminated by the moon, the figure of that very Guy Strangways, whom he so wished and hated to see whom he had never beheld without such strange sensations, and had not expected to see again.

The young man took no note of them apparently. He certainly did not recognise Sir Jekyl, whose position placed his face in the shade, while that of Mr. Strangways was full in the white light of the moon.

They had found him almost in the act of descending from his pedestal; and he was gone in a few moments, before the Baronet had recovered from his surprise.

The vivid likeness which he bore to a person whom the Baronet never wished to think of, and the suddenness of his appearance and his vanishing, had reimpressed him with just the same secret alarms and misgivings as when first he saw him; and the serene confidence induced by the letter of Messrs. Pelter and Crowe was for a moment demolished. He dropped Lady Jane's arm, and forgetting his chivalry, strode to the brow of the hillock, over which the mysterious young man had disappeared. He had lost sight of him, but he emerged in a few seconds, about fifty yards away, from behind a screen of thorn, walking swiftly toward the road close by, on which stood a chaise, sharp in the misty moonlight.

Just in time to prevent his shouting after the figure, now on the point of re-entering the vehicle, he recollected and checked himself. Confound the fellows, if they did not appreciate his hospitality, should he run after them; or who were they that he should care a pin about them? Had he not Pelter and Crowe's letter? And suppose he did overtake and engage the young rogue in talk, what could he expect but a parcel of polite lies. Certainly, under the circumstances, pursuit would have been specially undignified; and the Baronet drew himself up on the edge of the eminence, and cast a haughty half-angry look after the young gentleman, who was now stepping into the carriage; and suddenly he recollected how very ill he had treated Lady Jane, and he hastened to rejoin her.

But Sir Jekyl, in that very short interval, had lost something of his spirits. The sight of that young man had gone far to undo the tranquillising effect of his attorneys' letter. He would not have cared had this unchanged phantom of the past and his hoary mentor been still in England, provided it were at a distance. But here they were, on the confines of his property, within a short drive of Marlowe, yet affecting to forget his invitation, his house, and himself, and detected prowling in its vicinity like spies or poachers by moonlight. Was there not something insidious in this? It was not for nothing that so well-bred a person as that young man thus trampled on all the rules of courtesy for the sake of maintaining his incognito, and avoiding the obligations of hospitality.

So reasoned Sir Jekyl Marlowe, and felt himself rapidly relapsing into that dreamy and intense uneasiness, from which for a few hours he had been relieved.

"A thousand apologies, Lady Jane," cried he, as he ran back and proffered his arm again. "I was afraid that fellow might be one of a gang a very dangerous lot of rogues poachers, I believe. There were people robbed here about a year ago, and I quite forgot when I asked you to come. I should never have forgiven myself so selfishly forgetful never, had you been frightened."

Sir Jekyl could, of course, tell fibs, especially by way of apology, as plausibly as other men of the world. He had here turned a negligence skilfully into a gallantry, and I suppose the lady forgave him.

The carriages had now arrived at the bend of this pretty road; and our Marlowe friends got in, and the whole cort?ge swept away merrily towards that old mansion. Sir Jekyl had been, with an effort, very lively all the way home, and assisted Lady Jane to the ground, smiling, and had a joke for General Lennox as he followed; and a very merry party mustered in the hall, prattling, laughing, and lighting their candles, to run up-stairs and dress for a late dinner.

The Strangers appear again

Sir Jekyl was the last of the party in the hall; and the last joke and laugh had died away on the lobby above him, and away fled his smiles like the liveries and brilliants of Cinderella to the region of illusions, and black care laid her hand on his shoulder and stood by him.

The bland butler, with a grave bow, accosted him in mild accents

"The two gentlemen, sir, as you spoke of to Mrs. Sinnott, has arrived about five minutes before you, sir; and she has, please sir, followed your directions, and had them put in the rooms in the front, as you ordered, sir, should be kept for them, before Mrs. Gwynn left."

"What two gentlemen?" demanded Sir Jekyl, with a thrill. "Mr. Strangways and M. Varbarriere?"

"Them, sir, I think, is the names Strangways, leastways, I am sure on, 'aving lived, when young, with a branch of the Earl of Dilbury's family, if you please, sir which Strangways is the name."

"A good-looking young gentleman, tall and slight, eh?"

"Yes, sir; and a heavy gentleman haccompanies him something in years a furriner, as I suppose, and speaking French or Jarmin; leastways, it is not English."

"Dinner in twenty minutes," said Sir Jekyl, with the decision of the Duke of Wellington in action; and away he strode to his dressing-room in the back settlements, with a quick step and a thoughtful face.

"I shan't want you, Tomlinson, you need not stay," said he to his man; but before he let him go, he asked carelessly a word or two about the new guests, and learned, in addition to what he already knew, nothing but that they had brought a servant with them.

"So much the worse," thought Sir Jekyl; "those confounded fellows hear everything, and poke their noses everywhere. I sometimes think that rascal, Tomlinson, pries about here."

And the Baronet, half-dressed, opened the door of his study, as he called it, at the further end of his homely bedchamber, and looked round.

It is or might be a comfortable room, of some five-and-twenty feet square, surrounded by bookshelves, as homely as the style of the bed-room, stored with volumes of the "Annual Register," "Gentleman's Magazine," and "Universal History" sort long rows in dingy gilding moved up here when the old library of Marlowe was broken up. The room had a dusty air of repose about it. A few faded pieces of old-fashioned furniture, which had probably been quartered here in genteel retirement, long ago, when the principal sitting-rooms were undergoing a more modern decoration.

Here Sir Jekyl stood with a sudden look of dejection, and stared listlessly round on the compact wall of books that surrounded him, except for the one door-case, that through which he had entered, and the two windows, on all sides. Sir Jekyl was in a sort of collapse of spirits. He stepped dreamily to the far shelf and took down a volume of Old Bailey Reports, and read the back of it several times, then looked round once more dejectedly, and blew the top of the volume, and wondered at the quantity of dust there, and replacing it, heaved a deep sigh. Dust and death are old associations, and his thoughts were running in a gloomy channel.

"Is it worth all this?" he thought. "I'm growing tired of it utterly. I'm half sorry I came here; perhaps they are right. It might be a devilish good thing for me if this rubbishy old house were burnt to the ground and I in it, by Jove! 'Out, out, brief candle!' What's that Shakspeare speech? 'A tale told by an idiot a play played by an idiot' egad! I don't know why I do half the things I do."

When he looked in the glass he did not like the reflection.

"Down in the mouth hang it! this will never do," and he shook his curls, and smirked, and thought of the ladies, and bustled away over his toilet; and when it was completed, as he fixed in his jewelled wrist-buttons, the cold air and shadow of his good or evil angel's wing crossed him again, and he sighed. Capricious were his moods. Our wisdom is so frivolous, and our frivolities so sad. Is there time here to think out anything completely? Is it possible to hold by our conclusions, or even to remember them long? And this trifling and suffering are the woof and the warp of an eternal robe wedding garment, let us hope maybe winding-sheet, or toga molesta.

Sir Jekyl, notwithstanding his somewhat interrupted toilet, was in the drawing-room before many of his guests had assembled. He hesitated for a moment at the door, and turned about with a sickening thrill, and walked to the table in the outer hall, or vestibule, where the post-bag lay. He had no object in this countermarch, but to postpone for a second or two the meeting with the gentlemen whom, with, as he sometimes fancied, very questionable prudence, he had invited under his roof.

And now he entered, frank, gay, smiling. His eyes did not search, they were, as it were, smitten instantaneously with a sense of pain, by the image of the young man, so handsome, so peculiar, sad, and noble, the sight of whom had so moved him. He was conversing with old Colonel Doocey, at the further side of the fireplace. In another moment Sir Jekyl was before him, his hand very kindly locked in his.

"Very happy to see you here, Mr. Strangways."

"I am very much honoured, Sir Jekyl Marlowe," returned the young gentleman, in that low sweet tone which he also hated. "I have many apologies to make. We have arrived two days later than your note appointed; but an accident "

"Pray, not a word your appearance here is the best compensation you can make me. Your friend, Monsieur Varbarriere, I hope "

"My uncle yes; he, too, has the honour. Will you permit me to present him? Monsieur Varbarriere," said the young man, presenting his relative.

A gentleman at this summons turned suddenly from General Lennox, with whom he had been talking; a high-shouldered, portly man, taller a good deal when you approached him than he looked at first; his hair, "all silvered," brushed up like Louis Philippe's, conically from his forehead; grey, heavily projecting eyebrows, long untrimmed moustache and beard; altogether a head and face which seemed to indicate that combination of strong sense and sensuality which we see in some of the medals of Roman Emperors; a forehead projecting at the brows, and keen dark eyes in shadow, observing all things from under their grizzled pent-house; these points, and a hooked nose, and a certain weight and solemnity of countenance, gave to the large and rather pallid aspect, presented suddenly to the Baronet, something, as we have said, of the character of an old magician. Voluminous plaited black trousers, slanting in to the foot, foreshadowed the peg-top of more recent date; a loose and long black velvet waistcoat, with more gold chain and jewellery generally than Englishmen are accustomed to wear, and a wide and clumsy black coat, added to the broad and thick-set character of his figure.

As Sir Jekyl made his complimentary speech to this gentleman, he saw that his steady and shrewd gaze was attentively considering him in a way that a little tried his patience; and when the stranger spoke it was in French, and in that peculiar metallic diapason which we sometimes hear among the Hebrew community, and which brings the nasals of that tongue into sonorous and rather ugly relief.

"England is, I dare say, quite new to you, Monsieur Varbarriere?" inquired Sir Jekyl.

"I have seen it a very long time ago, and admire your so fine country very much," replied the pallid and bearded sage, speaking in French still, and in those bell-like tones which rang and buzzed unpleasantly in the ear.

"You find us the same foggy and tasteless islanders as before," said the host. "In art, indeed, we have made an advance; there, I think, we have capabilities, but we are as a people totally deficient in that fine decorative sense which expresses itself so gracefully and universally in your charming part of the world."

When Sir Jekyl talked of France, he was generally thinking of Paris.

"We have our barbarous regions, as you have; our vineyards are a dull sight after all, and our forest trees you, with your grand timber, would use for broom-sticks."

"But your capital; why every time one looks out at the window it is a fillip to one's spirits. To me, preferring France so infinitely, as I do," said Sir Jekyl, replying in his guest's language, "it appears a mystery why any Frenchman, who can help it, ever visits our dismal region."

The enchanter here shrugged slowly, with a solemn smile.

"No wonder our actions are mysterious to others, since they are so often so to ourselves."

"You are best acquainted with the south of France?" said Sir Jekyl, without any data for such an assumption, and saying the reverse of what he suspected.

"Very well with the south; pretty well, indeed, with most parts."

Just at this moment Mr. Ridley's bland and awful tones informed the company that dinner was on the table, and Sir Jekyl hastened to afford to Lady Blunket the support of his vigorous arm into the parlour.

It ought to have been given to Lady Jane; but the Blunket was a huffy old woman, and, on the score of a very decided seniority, was indulged.

Lady Blunket was not very interesting, and was of the Alderman's opinion, that conversation prevents one's tasting the green fat; Sir Jekyl had, therefore, time, with light and careless glances, to see pretty well, from time to time, what was going on among his guests. Monsieur Varbarriere had begun to interest him more than Mr. Guy Strangways, and his eye oftener reviewed that ponderous and solemn face and form than any other at the table. It seemed that he liked his dinner, and attended to his occupation. But though taciturn, his shrewd eyes glanced from time to time on the host and his guests with an air of reserved observation that showed his mind was anything but sluggish during the process. He looked wonderfully like some of those enchanters whom we have seen in illustrations of Don Quixote.

"A deep fellow," he thought, "an influential fellow. That gentleman knows what he's about; that young fellow is in his hands."

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