Joseph Le Fanu.
Guy Deverell. Volume 1 of 2
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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.