Joseph Le Fanu
Guy Deverell. Volume 1 of 2скачать книгу бесплатно
In the Drawing-Room
Sir Jekyl heard snatches of conversation, sometimes here, sometimes there.
Guy Strangways was talking to Beatrix, and the Baronet heard him say, smiling —
"But you don't, I'm sure, believe in the elixir of life; you only mean to mystify us." He was looking more than ever – identical with that other person, whom it was not pleasant to Sir Jekyl to be reminded of – horribly like, in this white waxlight splendour.
"But there's another process, my uncle, Monsieur Varbarriere, says, by slow refrigeration: you are first put to sleep, and in that state frozen; and once frozen, without having suffered death, you may be kept in a state of suspended life for twenty or thirty years, neither conscious, nor growing old; arrested precisely at the point of your existence at which the process was applied, and at the same point restored again whenever for any purpose it may be expedient to recall you to consciousness and activity."
One of those restless, searching glances which the solemn, portly old gentleman in black directed, from time to time, as he indulged his taciturn gulosity, lighted on the Baronet at this moment, and Sir Jekyl felt that they exchanged an unintentional glance of significance. Each averted his quickly; and Sir Jekyl, with one of his chuckles, for the sake merely of saying something, remarked —
"I don't see how you can restore people to life by freezing them."
"He did not speak, I think, of restoring life – did you, Guy?" said the bell-toned diapason of the old gentleman, speaking his nasal French.
"Oh, no – suspending merely," answered the young man.
"To restore life, you must have recourse, I fancy, to a higher process," continued the sage, with an ironical gravity, and his eye this time fixed steadily on Sir Jekyl's; "and I could conceive none more embarrassing to the human race, under certain circumstances," and he shrugged slowly and shook his head.
"How delightful! – no more death!" exclaimed enthusiastic Miss Blunket.
"Embarrassing, of course, I mean, to certain of the survivors."
This old gentleman was hitting his tenderest points rather hard and often. Was it by chance or design? Who was he?
So thought the Baronet as he smiled and nodded.
"Do you know who that fat old personage is who dresses like an undertaker and looks like a Jew?" asked Captain Drayton of Beatrix.
"I think he is a relative of Mr. Strangways."
"And who is Mr. Strangways?"
"He's at my right, next me," answered she in a low tone, not liking the very clear and distinct key in which the question was put.
But Captain Drayton was not easily disconcerted, being a young gentleman of a bold and rather impertinent temperament, and he continued leaning back in his chair and looking dreamily into his hock-glass.
"Not a friend of yours, is he?"
"Really – not a friend. You're quite certain?"
We never saw either – that is, papa met them at some posting place on his way from London, and invited them; but I think he knows nothing more."
"Well, I did not like to say till I knew, but I think him – the old fellow – I have not seen the young man – a most vulgar-looking old person. He's a wine-jobber, or manager of a factory, or something. You never saw – I know Paris by heart – you never saw such a thing in gentlemanly society there."
And the young lady heard him say, sotto voce, "Brute!" haughtily to himself, as an interjection, while he just raised the finger-tips of the hand which rested on the table, and let them descend again on the snowy napery. The subject deserved no more troublesome gesture.
"And where is the young gentleman?" asked Captain Drayton, after a little interval.
Beatrix told him again.
"Oh! That's he! Isn't his French very bad – did it strike you? Bad accent– I can tell in a moment. That's not an accent one hears anywhere."
Oddly enough, Sir Jekyl at the same time, with such slight interruptions as his agreeable attentions to Lady Blunket imposed, was, in the indistinct way in which such discussions are mentally pursued, observing upon the peculiarities of his two new guests, and did not judge them amiss.
The elder was odd, take him for what country you pleased. Bearded like a German, speaking good French, with a good accent, but in the loud full tones of a Spaniard, and with a quality of voice which resounds in the synagogue, and a quietude of demeanour much more English than continental. His dress, such as I have described it, fine in material, but negligent and easy, though odd. Reserved and silent he was, a little sinister perhaps, but his bearing unconstrained and gracious when he spoke. There was, indeed, that odd, watchful glance from under his heavy eyebrows, which, however, had nothing sly, only observant, in it. Again he thought, "Who could he be?" On the whole, Sir Jekyl was in nowise disposed to pronounce upon him as Captain Drayton was doing a little way down the table; nor yet upon Guy Strangways, whom he thought, on the contrary, an elegant young man, according to French notions of the gentlemanly, and he knew the French people a good deal better than the youthful Captain did.
The principal drawing-room of Marlowe is a very large apartment, and people can talk of one another in it without any risk of detection.
"Well, Lady Jane," said the Baronet, sitting down before that handsome woman, and her husband the General, so as to interrupt a conjugal t?te-?-t?te, probably a particularly affectionate one, for he was to leave for London next day. "I saw you converse with Monsieur Varbarriere. What do you think of him?"
"I don't think I conversed with him – did I? He talked to me; but I really did not take the trouble to think about him."
The General laughed triumphantly, and glanced over his shoulder at the Baronet. He liked his wife's contempt for the rest of the sex, and her occasional —only occasional – enthusiasm for him.
"Now you are much too clever, Lady Jane, to be let off so. I really want to know something about him, which I don't at present; and if anyone can help me to a wise conjecture, you, I am certain, can."
"And don't you really know who he is?" inquired General Lennox, with a haughty military surprise.
"Upon my honour, I have not the faintest idea," answered Sir Jekyl. "He may be a cook or a rabbi, for anything I can tell."
The General's white eyebrows went some wrinkles up the slanting ascent of his pink forehead, and he plainly looked his amazement that Lady Jane should have been subjected at Marlowe to the risk of being accosted on equal terms by a cook or a rabbi. His lips screwed themselves unconsciously into a small o, and his eyes went in search of the masquerading menial.
"We had a cook," said the General, still eyeing M. Varbarriere, "at Futtychur, a French fellow, fat like that, but shorter – a capital cook, by Jove! and a very gentlemanly man. He wore a white cap, and he had a very good way of stewing tomatas and turkeys, I think it was, and – yes it was – and a monstrous gentlemanlike fellow he was; rather too expensive though; he cost us a great deal," and the General winked slyly. "I had to speak to him once or twice. But an uncommon gentlemanlike man."
"He's not a cook, my dear. He may be a banker, perhaps," said Lady Jane, languidly.
"You have exactly hit my idea," said Sir Jekyl. "It was his knowing all about French banking, General, when you mentioned that trick that was played you on the Bourse."
At this moment the massive form and face of M. Varbarriere was seen approaching with Beatrix by his side. They were conversing, but the little group we have just been listening to dropped the discussion of M. Varbarriere, and the Baronet said that he hoped General Lennox would have a fine day for his journey, and that the moon looked particularly bright and clear.
"I want to show Monsieur Varbarriere the drawings of the house, papa; they are in this cabinet. He admires the architecture very much."
The large enchanter in black made a solemn bow of acquiescence here, but said nothing and Beatrix took from its nook a handsome red-leather portfolio, on the side of which, in tall golden letters, were the words —
VIEWS AND ELEVATIONS
MARLOWE MANOR HOUSE
"Capital drawing, I am told. He was a young man of great promise," said Sir Jekyl, in French. "But the style is quite English, and, I fear, will hardly interest an eye accustomed to the more graceful contour of southern continental architecture."
"Your English style interests me very much. It is singular, and suggests hospitality, enjoyment, and mystery."
Monsieur Varbarriere was turning over these tinted drawings carefully.
"Is not that very true, papa – hospitality, enjoyment, mystery?" repeated Beatrix. "I think that faint character of mystery is so pleasant. We have a mysterious room here." She had turned to M. Varbarriere.
"Oh, a dozen," interrupted Sir Jekyl. "No end of ghosts and devils, you know. But I really think you excel us in that article. I resided for five weeks in a haunted house once, near Havre, and the stories were capital, and there were some very good noises too. We must get Dives to tell it by-and-by; he was younger than I, and more frightened."
"And Mademoiselle says you have a haunted apartment here," said the ponderous foreigner with the high forehead and projecting brows.
"Yes, of course. We are very much haunted. There is hardly a crooked passage or a dark room that has not a story," said Sir Jekyl. "Beatrix, why don't you sing us a song, by-the-bye?"
"May I beg one other favour first, before the crowning one of the song?" said M. Varbarriere, with an imposing playfulness. "Mademoiselle, I am sure, tells a story well. Which, I entreat, is the particular room you speak of?"
"We call it the green chamber," said Beatrix.
"The green chamber – what a romantic title!" exclaimed the large gentleman in black, graciously; "and where is it situated?" he pursued.
"We must really put you into it," said Sir Jekyl.
"Nothing I should like so well," he observed, with a bow.
"That is, of course, whenever it is deserted. You have not been plagued with apparitions, General? Even Lady Jane – and there are no ghost-seers like ladies, I've observed – has failed to report anything horrible."
His hand lay on the arm of her chair, and, as he spoke, for a moment pressed hers, which, not choosing to permit such accidents, she, turning carelessly and haughtily toward the other speakers, slipped away.
"And pray, Mademoiselle Marlowe, in what part of the house is this so wonderful room situated?" persisted the grave and reverend signor.
"Quite out of the question to describe to one who does not already know the house," interposed Sir Jekyl. "It is next the six-sided dressing-room, which opens from the hatchment gallery – that is its exact situation; and I'm afraid I have failed to convey it," said Sir Jekyl, with one of his playful chuckles.
The Druidic-looking Frenchman shrugged and lifted his fingers with a piteous expression of perplexity, and shook his head.
"Is there not among these drawings a view of the side of the house where this room lies?" he inquired.
"I was looking it out," said Beatrix.
"I'll find it, Trixie. Go you and sing us a song," said the Baronet.
"I've got them both, papa. Now, Monsieur Varbarriere, here they are. This is the front view – this is the side."
"I am very much obliged," said Monsieur examining the drawings curiously. "The room recedes. This large bow-window belongs to it. Is it not so? – wide room? – how long? You see I want to understand everything. Ah! yes, here is the side view. It projects from the side of the older building, I see. How charming! And this is the work of the Italian artist? The style is quite novel – a mixture partly Florentine – really very elegant. Did he build anything more here?"
"Yes, a very fine row of stables, and a temple in the grounds," said Sir Jekyl. "You shall see them to-morrow."
"The chamber green. Yes, very clever, very pretty;" and having eyed them over again carefully, he said, laying them down —
"A curious as well as a handsome old house, no doubt. Ah! very curious, I dare say," said the sage Monsieur Varbarriere. "Are there here the ground plans?"
"We have them somewhere, I fancy, among the title-deeds, but none here," said Sir Jekyl, a little stiffly, as if it struck him that his visitor's curiosity was a trifle less ceremonious than, all things considered, it might be.
Pretty Beatrix was singing now to her own accompaniment; and Captain Drayton, twisting the end of his light moustache, stood haughtily by her side. The music in his ear was but a half-heard noise. Indeed, although he had sat out operas innumerable, like other young gentlemen, who would sit out as many hours of a knife-grinder's performance, or of a railway whistle, if it were the fashion, had but an imperfect recollection of the airs he had paid so handsomely to hear, and was no authority on music of any sort.
Now Beatrix was pretty – more than pretty. Some people called her lovely. She sang in that rich and plaintive contralto – so rare and so inexplicably moving – the famous "Come Gentil," from Don Pasquale. When she ceased, the gentleman at her other side, Guy Strangways, sighed – not a complimentary – a real sigh.
"That is a wonderful song, the very spirit of a serenade. Such distance – such gaiety – such sadness. Your Irish poet, Thomas Moore, compares some spiritual music or kind voice to sunshine spoken. This is moonlight– moonlight sung, and so sung that I could dream away half a life in listening, and yet sigh when it ceases."
Mr. Guy Strangway's strange, dark eyes looked full on her, as with an admiring enthusiasm he said these words.
The young lady smiled, looking up for a moment from the music-stool, and then with lowered eyes again, and that smile of gratification which is so beautiful in a lovely girl's face.
"It is quite charming, really. I'm no musician, you know; but I enjoy good music extravagantly, especially singing," said Captain Drayton. "I don't aspire to talk sentiment and that kind of poetry." He was, perhaps, near using a stronger term – "a mere John Bull; but it is, honestly, charming."
He had his glass in his eye, and turned back the leaf of the song to the title-page.
"Don Pasquale – yes. Sweet opera that. How often I have listened to Mario in it! But never, Miss Marlowe, with more real pleasure than to the charming performance I have just heard."
Captain Drayton was not making his compliment well, and felt it somehow. It was clumsy – it was dull – it was meant to override the tribute offered by Guy Strangways, whose presence he chose, in modern phrase, to ignore; and yet he felt that he had, as he would have expressed it, rather "put his foot in it;" and, with just a little flush in his cheek and rather angry eyes, he stooped over the piano and read the Italian words half aloud.
"By-the-bye," he said, suddenly recollecting a topic, "what a sweet scene that is of Gryston Bridge? Have you ever been to see it before?"
"Once since we came, we rode there, papa and I," answered Miss Marlowe. "It looked particularly well this evening – quite beautiful in the moonlight."
"Is it possible, Miss Marlowe, that you were there this evening? I and my uncle stopped on our way here to admire the exquisite effect of the steep old bridge, with a wonderful foreground of Druidic monuments, as they seemed to me."
"Does your father preserve that river?" asked Captain Drayton, coolly pretermitting Mr. Strangways altogether.
"I really don't know," she replied, in a slight and hurried way that nettled the Captain; and, turning to Guy Strangways, she said, "Did you see it from the bridge?"
"No, Mademoiselle; from the mound in which those curious stones are raised," answered Mr. Strangways.
Captain Drayton felt that Miss Marlowe's continuing to talk to Mr. Strangways, while he was present and willing to converse, was extremely offensive, choosing to entertain a low opinion in all respects of that person. He stooped a little forward, and stared at the stranger with that ill-bred gaze of insolent surprise which is the peculiar weapon of Englishmen, and which very distinctly expresses, "who the devil are you?"
Perhaps it was fortunate for the harmony of the party that just at this moment, and before Captain Drayton could say anything specially impertinent, Sir Jekyl touched Drayton on the shoulder, saying —
"Are you for whist?"
"No, thanks – I'm no player."
"Oh! Mr. Strangways – I did not see – do you play?"
Mr. Strangways smiled, bowed, and shook his head.
"Drayton, did I present you to Mr. Strangways?" and the Baronet made the two young gentlemen technically known to one another – though, of course, each knew the other already.
They bowed rather low, and a little haughtily, neither smiling. I suppose Sir Jekyl saw something a little dangerous in the countenance of one at least of the gentlemen as he approached, and chose to remind them, in that agreeable way, that he was present, and wished them acquainted, and of course friendly.
He had now secured old Colonel Doocey to make up his party – the sober old Frenchman and Sir Paul Blunket making the supplementary two; and before they had taken their chairs round the card-table, Captain Drayton said, with a kind of inclination rather insolent than polite —
"You are of the Dilbury family, of course? I never knew a Strangways yet – I mean, of course, a Strangways such as one would be likely to meet, you know – who was not."
"You know one now, sir; for I am not connected ever so remotely with that distinguished family. My family are quite another Strangways."
"No doubt quite as respectable," said Captain Drayton, with a bow, a look, and a tone that would have passed for deferential with many; but which, nevertheless, had the subtle flavour of an irony in it.
"Perhaps more so; my ancestors are the Strangways of Lynton; you are aware they had a peerage down to the reign of George II."
Captain Drayton was not as deep as so fashionable and moneyed a man ought to have been in extinct peerages, and therefore he made a little short supercilious bow, and no answer. He looked drowsily toward the ceiling, and then —
"The Strangways of Lynton are on the Continent or something – one does not hear of them," said Captain Drayton, slightly but grandly. "We are the Draytons of Drayton Forest, in the same county."
"Oh! then my uncle is misinformed. He thought that family was extinct, and lamented over it when we saw the house and place at a distance."
Captain Drayton coloured a little above his light yellow moustache. He was no Drayton, but a remotely collateral Smithers, with a queen's letter constituting him a Drayton.
"Aw – yes – it is a fine old place – quite misinformed. I can show you our descent if you wish it."
If Drayton had collected his ideas a little first he would not have made this condescension.
"Your descent is high and pure —very high, I assume – mine is only respectable – presentable, as you say, but by no means so high as to warrant my inquiring into that of other people."
"Inquiry! of course. I did not say inquiry," and with an effort Captain Drayton almost laughed.
"Nothing more dull," acquiesced Mr. Strangways slightly.
Both gentlemen paused – each seemed to expect something from the other – each seemed rather angrily listening for it. The ostensible attack had all been on the part of the gallant Captain, who certainly had not been particularly well bred. The Captain, nevertheless, felt that Mr. Strangways knew perfectly all about Smithers, and that Smithers really had not one drop of the Drayton blood in his veins; and he felt in the sore and secret centre of his soul that the polished, handsome young gentleman, so easy, so graceful, with that suspicion of a foreign accent and of foreign gesture, had the best of the unavowed battle. He had never spoken a word or looked a look in the course of this little dialogue which could have suggested an idea of altercation, or any kind of mutual unpleasantness, to the beautiful young girl; who, with one hand on the keys of the piano, touched them so lightly with her fingers as to call forth a dream of an air rather than the air itself.
To her Guy Strangways turned, with his peculiar smile – so winning, yet so deep – an enigmatic smile that had in it a latent sadness and fierceness, and by its very ambiguousness interested one.
"I upbraid myself for losing these precious moments while you sit here, and might, perhaps, be persuaded to charm us with another song."
So she was persuaded; Captain Drayton still keeping guard, and applauding, though with no special goodwill toward the unoffending stranger.
The party broke up early. The ladies trooped to their bed-room candles and ascended the great staircase, chatting harmoniously, and bidding mutual sweet goodnights as in succession they reached their doors. The gentlemen, having sat for awhile lazily about the fire, or gathered round the tray whereon stood sherry and seltzer water, repaired also to the cluster of bedchamber candlesticks without, and helped themselves, talking together in like sociable manner.скачать книгу бесплатно
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