Joseph Le Fanu.

Guy Deverell. Volume 1 of 2



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"Would you like to come to my room and have a cigar, Monsieur Varbarriere?" asked the Baronet in French.

Monsieur was much obliged, and bowed very suavely, but declined.

"And you, Mr. Strangways?"

He also, with many thanks, a smile and a bow, declined.

"My quarters are quite out of reach of the inhabited part of the house Ц not very far from two hundred feet from this spot, by Jove! right in the rear. You must really come to me there some night; you'll be amused at my deal furniture and rustic barbarism; we often make a party there and smoke for half an hour."

So, as they were not to be persuaded, the Baronet hospitably accompanied them to their rooms, at the common dressing-room door of which stood little Jacque Duval with his thin, bronzed face, candle in hand, bowing, to receive his master.

CHAPTER XV
M. Varbarriere converses with his Nephew

Here then Sir Jekyl bid them good-night, and descended the great staircase, and navigated the long line of passage to the back stairs leading up to his own homely apartment.

The elder man nodded to Jacque, and moved the tips of his fingers towards the door Ц a silent intimation which the adroit valet perfectly understood; so, with a cheerful bow, he withdrew.

There was a gay little spluttering fire in the grate, which the sharpness of the night made very pleasant. The clumsy door was shut, and the room had an air of comfortable secrecy which invited a talk.

It was not to come, however, without preparation. He drew a chair before the fire, and sat down solemnly, taking a gigantic cigar from his case, and moistening it diligently between his lips before lighting it. Then he pointed to a chair beside the hearth, and presented his cigar-case to his young companion, who being well versed in his elder's ways, helped himself, and having, like him, foreign notions about smoking, had of course no remorse about a cigar or two in their present quarters.

Up the chimney chiefly whisked the narcotic smoke. Over the ponderous features and knotted forehead of the sage flushed the uncertain light of the fire, revealing all the crows' feet Ц all the lines which years, thought, passion, or suffering had traced on that large, sombre, and somewhat cadaverous countenance, reversing oddly some of its shadows, and glittering with a snakelike brightness on the eyes, which now gazed grimly into the bars under their heavy brows.

The large and rather flat foot, shining in French leather, of the portly gentleman in the ample black velvet waistcoat, rested on the fender, and he spoke not a word until his cigar was fairly smoked out and the stump of it in the fire. Abruptly he began, without altering his pose or the direction of his gaze.

"You need not make yourself more friendly with any person here than is absolutely necessary."

He was speaking French, and in a low tone that sounded like the boom of a distant bell.

Young Strangways bowed acquiescence.

"Be on your guard with Sir Jekyl Marlowe.

Tell him nothing. Don't let him be kind to you. He will have no kind motive in being so. Fence with his questions Ц don't answer them. Remember he is an artful man without any scruple. I know him and all about him."

M. Varbarriere spoke each of these little sentences in an isolated way, as a smoker might, although he was no longer smoking, between his puffs. "Therefore, not a word to him Ц no obligations Ц no intimacy. If he catches you by the hand, even by your little finger, in the way of friendship, he'll cling to it, so as so impede your arm, should it become necessary to exert it."

"I don't understand you, sir," said the young man, in a deferential tone, but looking very hard at him.

"You partly don't understand me; the nature of my direction, however, is clear. Observe it strictly."

There was a short silence here.

"I don't understand, sir, what covert hostility can exist between us; that is, why I should, in your phrase, keep my hand free to exert it against him."

"No, I don't suppose you do."

"And I can't help regretting that, if such are our possible relations, I should find myself as a guest under his roof," said the young man, with a pained and almost resentful look.

"You can't help regretting, and Ц you can't help the circumstance," vibrated his Mentor, in a metallic murmur, his cadaverous features wearing the same odd character of deep thought and apathy.

"I don't know, with respect to himЦ†I know, however, how it has affected me Ц that I have felt unhappy, and even guilty since this journey commenced, as if I were a traitor and an impostor," said the young man, with a burst of impatience.

"Don't, sir, use phrases which reflect back upon me," said the other, turning upon him with a sudden sternness. "All you have done is by my direction."

The ample black waistcoat heaved and subsided a little faster than before, and the imposing countenance was turned with pallid fierceness upon the young man.

"I am sorry, uncle."

"So you should Ц you'll see one day how little it is to me, and how much to you."

Here was a pause. The senior turned his face again toward the fire. The little flush that in wrath always touched his forehead subsided slowly. He replaced his foot on the fender, and chose another cigar.

"There's a great deal you don't see now that you will presently. I did not want to see Sir Jekyl Marlowe any more than you did or do; but I did want to see this place. You'll know hereafter why. I'd rather not have met him. I'd rather not be his guest. Had he been as usual at Dartbroke, I should have seen all I wanted without that annoyance. It is an accident his being here Ц another, his having invited me; but no false ideas and no trifling chance shall regulate, much less stop, the action of the machine which I am constructing and will soon put in motion."

And with these words he lighted his cigar, and after smoking for a while he lowered it, and said Ч

"Did Sir Jekyl put any questions to you, with a view to learn particulars about you or me?"

"I don't recollect that he did. I rather think not; but Captain Drayton did."

"I know, Smithers?"

"Yes, sir."

"With an object?" inquired the elder man.

"I think not Ц merely impertinence," answered Guy Strangways.

"You are right Ц it is nothing to him. I do not know that even Marlowe has a suspicion. Absolutely impertinence."

And upon this M. Varbarriere began to smoke again with resolution and energy.

"You understand, Guy; you may be as polite as you please Ц but no friendship Ц nowhere Ц you must remain quite unembarrassed."

Here followed some more smoke, and after it the question Ч

"What do you think of the young lady, Mademoiselle Marlowe?"

"She sings charmingly, and for the rest, I believe she is agreeable; but my opportunities have been very little."

"What do you think of our fellow Jacque Ц is he trustworthy?"

"Perfectly, so far as I know."

"You never saw him peep into letters, or that kind of thing?"

"Certainly not."

"There is a theory which must be investigated, and I should like to employ him. You know nothing against him, nor do I."

"Suppose we go to our beds?" resumed the old gentleman, having finished his cigar.

A door at either side opened from the dressing-room, by whose fire they had been sitting.

"See which room is meant for me Ц Jacque will have placed my things there."

The young man did as he was bid, and made his report.

"Well, get you to bed, Guy, and remember Ц no friendships and no follies."

And so the old man rose, and shook his companion's hand, not smiling, but with a solemn and thoughtful countenance, and they separated for the night.

Next morning as the Rev. Dives Marlowe stood in his natty and unexceptionable clerical costume on the hall-door steps, looking with a pompous and, perhaps, a somewhat forbidding countenance upon the morning prospect before him, his brother joined him.

"Early bird, Dives, pick the worm Ц eh? Healthy and wise already, and wealthy to be. Slept well, eh?"

"Always well here," answered the parson. He was less of a parson and more like himself with Jekyl than with anyone else. His brother was so uncomfortably amused with his clerical airs, knew him so well, and so undisguisedly esteemed him of the earth earthy, that the cleric, although the abler as well as the better read man, always felt invariably a little sheepish before him, in his silk vest and single-breasted coat with the standing collar, and the demi-shovel, which under other eyes he felt to be imposing properties.

"You look so like that exemplary young man in Watt's hymns, in the old-fashioned toggery, Dives Ц the fellow with the handsome round cheeks, you know, piously saluting the morning sun that's rising with a lot of spokes stuck out of it, don't you remember?"

"I look like something that's ugly, I dare say," said the parson, who had not got up in a good temper. "There never was a Marlowe yet who hadn't ugly points about him. But a young man, though never so ugly, is rather a bold comparison Ц eh? seeing I'm but two years your junior, Jekyl."

"Bitterly true Ц every word Ц my dear boy. But let us be pleasant. I've had a line to say that old Moulders is very ill, and really dying this time. Just read this melancholy little bulletin."

With an air which seemed to say, "well, to please you," he took the note and read it. It was from his steward, to mention that the Rev. Abraham Moulders was extremely ill of his old complaint, and that there was something even worse the matter, and that Doctor Winters had said that morning he could not possibly get over this attack.

"Well, Dives, there is a case of 'sick and weak' for you; you'll have prayers for him at Queen's Chorleigh, eh?"

"Poor old man!" said Dives, solemnly, with his head thrown back, and his thick eyebrows elevated a little, and looking straight before him as he returned the note, "he's very ill, indeed, unless this reports much too unfavourably."

"Too favourably, you mean," suggested the Baronet.

"But you know, poor old man, it is only wonderful he has lived so long. The old people about there say he is eighty-seven. Upon my word, old Jenkins says he told him, two years ago, himself, he was eighty-five; and Doctor Winters, no chicken Ц just sixty Ц says his father was in the same college with him, at Cambridge, nearly sixty-seven years ago. You know, my dear Jekyl, when a man comes to that time of life, it's all idle Ц a mere pull against wind and tide, and everything. It is appointed unto all men once to die, you know, and the natural term is threescore years and ten. All idle Ц all in vain!"

And delivering this, the Rev. Dives Marlowe shook his head with a supercilious melancholy, as if the Rev. Abraham Moulders' holding out in that way against the inevitable was a piece of melancholy bravado, against which, on the part of modest mortality, it was his sad duty to protest.

Jekyl's cynicism was tickled, although there was care at his heart, and he chuckled.

"And how do you know you have any interest in the old fellow's demise?"

The Rector coughed a little, and flushed, and looked as careless as he could, while he answered Ч

"I said nothing of the kind; but you have always told me you meant the living for me. I've no reason, only your goodness, Jekyl."

"No goodness at all," said Jekyl, kindly. "You shall have it, of course. I always meant it for you, Dives, and I wish it were better, and I'm very glad, for I'm fond of you, old fellow."

Hereupon they both laughed a little, shaking hands very kindly.

"Come to the stable, Dives," said the Baronet, taking his arm. "You must choose a horse. You don't hunt now?"

"I have not been at a cover for ten years," answered the reverend gentleman, speaking with a consciousness of the demi-shovel.

"Well, come along," continued the Baronet. "I want to ask you Ц let's be serious" (everybody likes to be serious over his own business). "What do you think of these foreign personages?"

"The elder, I should say, an able man," answered Dives; "I dare say could be agreeable. It is not easy to assign his exact rank though, nor his profession or business. You remarked he seems to know something in detail and technically of nearly every business one mentions."

"Yes; and about the young man Ц that Mr. Guy Strangways, with his foreign accent and manner Ц did anything strike you about him?"

"Yes, certainly, could not fail. The most powerful likeness, I think, I ever saw in my life."

They both stopped, and exchanged a steady and anxious look, as if each expected the other to say more; and after a while the Rev. Dives Marlowe added, with an awful sort of nod Ч

"Guy Deverell."

The Baronet nodded in reply.

"Well, in fact, he appeared to me something more than like Ц the same Ц identical."

"And old Lady Alice saw him in Wardlock Church, and was made quite ill," said the Baronet gloomily. "But you know he's gone these thirty years; and there is no necromancy now-a-days; only I wish you would take any opportunity, and try and make out all about him, and what they want. I brought them here to pump them, by Jove; but that old fellow seems deuced reserved and wary. Only, like a good fellow, if you can find or make an opportunity, you must get the young fellow on the subject Ц for I don't care to tell you, Dives, I have been devilish uneasy about it. There are things that make me confoundedly uncomfortable; and I have a sort of foreboding it would have been better for me to have blown up this house than to have come here; but ten to one Ц a hundred to one Ц there's nothing, and I'm only a fool."

As they thus talked they entered the gate of the stable-yard.

CHAPTER XVI
Containing a Variety of Things

"Guy Deverell left no issue," said Dives.

"No; none in the world; neither chick nor child. I need not care a brass farthing about any that can't inherit, if there were any; but there isn't one; there's no real danger, you see. In fact, there can't be anyֆeh? I don't see it. Do you? You were a sharp fellow always, Dives. Can you see anything threatening in it?"

"It! What?" said the Rev. Dives Marlowe. "I see nothing Ц nothing whatever Ц absolutely nothing. Surely you can't fancy that a mere resemblance, however strong, where there can't possibly be identity, and the fact that the young man's name is Guy, will make a case for alarm!"

"Guy Strangways, you know," said Sir Jekyl.

"Well, what of Strangways? I don't see."

"Why, Strangways, you remember, or don't remember, was the name of the fellow that was always with Ц with Ц that cross-grained muff."

"With Guy Deverell, you mean?"

"Ay, with him that night, and constantly, and abroad I think at those German gaming-places where he played so much."

"I forgot the name. I remember hearing there was a person in your company that unlucky night; but you never heard more of him?"

"No, of course; for he owed me a precious lot of money;" and from habit he chuckled, but with something of a frown. "He could have given me a lot of trouble, but so could I him. My lawyers said he could not seriously affect me, but he might have annoyed me; and I did not care about the money, so I did not follow him; and, as the lawyers say, we turned our backs on one another."

"Strangways," murmured the Rector, musingly.

"Do you remember him now?" asked Sir Jekyl.

"No; that is, I'm not sure. I was in orders then though, and could hardly have met him. I am sure I should recollect him if I had. What was he like?"

"A nasty-looking Scotch dog, with freckles Ц starved and tall Ц a hungry hound Ц large hands and feet Ц as ugly a looking cur as you ever beheld."

"But Deverell, poor fellow, was a bit of a dandy Ц wasn't he? How did he come to choose such a companion?"

"Well, maybe he was not quite as bad as he describes, and his family was good, I believe; but there must have been something more, he hung about him so. Yes, he was a most objectionable-looking fellow Ц so awkward, and not particularly well dressed; but a canny rascal, and knew what he was about. I could not make out what use Deverell made of him, nor exactly what advantage he made of Deverell."

"I can't for the life of me, see, Jekyl, anything in it except a resemblance, and that is positively nothing, and a Christian name, that is all, and Guy is no such uncommon one. As for Strangways, he does not enter into it at all Ц a mere accidental association. Where is that Strangways Ц is he living?"

"I don't know now; ten years ago he was, and Pelter and Crowe thought he was going to do me some mischief, a prosecution or something, they thought, to extort money; but I knew they were wrong. I had a reason Ц at least it was unlikely, because I rather think he had repaid me that money about then. A year or so before a large sum of money was lodged to my account by Herbert Strangways, that was his name, at the International Bank in Lombard Street; in fact it was more than I thought he owed me Ц interest, I suppose, and that sort of thing. I put Pelter and Crowe in his track, but they could make out nothing. The bank people could not help us. Unluckily I was away at the time and the lodgment was two months old when I heard of it. There were several raw Scotch-looking rascals, they said, making lodgments about then, and they could not tell exactly what sort of fellow made this. I wanted to make out about him. What do you think of it?"

"I don't see anything suspicious in it. He owed you the money and chose to pay."

"He was protected by the Statute of Limitations, my lawyer said, and I could not have recovered it. Doesn't it look odd?"

"Those Scotch fellows."

"He's not Scotch, though."

"Well, whatever he is, if he has good blood he's proud, perhaps, and would rather pay what he owes than not."

"Well, of course, a fellow's glad of the money; but I did not like it; it looked as if he wanted to get rid of the only pull I had on him, and was going to take steps to annoy me, you see."

"That's ten years ago?"

"Yes."

"Well, considering how short life is, I think he'd have moved before now if he had ever thought of it. It is a quarter of a century since poor Deverell's time. It's a good while, you know, and the longer you wait in matters of that kind the less your chance;" and with a brisk decision the Rector added, "I'll stake, I think, all I'm worth, these people have no more connection with poor Deverell than Napoleon Bonaparte, and that Strangways has no more notion of moving any matter connected with that unhappy business than he has of leading an Irish rebellion."

"I'm glad you take that view Ц I know it's the sound one. I knew you would. I think it's just a little flicker of gout. If I had taken Vichy on my way back I'd never have thought of it. I've no one to talk to. It's a comfort to see you, Dives. I wish you'd come oftener." And he placed his hand very kindly on his brother's shoulder.

"So I will," said Dives, not without kindness in his eyes, though his mouth was forbidding still. "You must not let chimeras take hold of you. I'm very glad I was here."

"Did you remark that fat, mountainous French fellow, in that cursed suit of black, was very inquisitive about the green chamber?" asked Sir Jekyl, relapsing a little.

"No, I did not hear him mention it; what was it?" asked Dives.

"Well, not a great deal; only he seemed to want to know all about that particular room and its history, just as if there was already something in his head about it."

"Well, I told you, Jekyl," said Dives, in a subdued tone and looking away a little, "you ought to do something decisive about that room, all things considered. If it were mine, I can tell you, I should pull it down Ц not, of course, in such a way as to make people talk and ask questions, but as a sort of improvement. I'd make a conservatory, or something; you want a conservatory, and the building is positively injured by it. It is not the same architecture. You might put something there twice as good. At all events I'd get rid of it."

"So I will Ц I intendЦ†I think you're right Ц I really do. But it was brought about by little Beatrix talking about haunted rooms, you know, and that sort of nonsense," said Sir Jekyl.

"Oh! then she mentioned it? He only asked questions about what she told him. Surely you're not going to vex yourself about that?"

Sir Jekyl looked at him and laughed, but not quite comfortably.

"Well, I told you, you know, I do believe it's great; and whatever it is, I know, Dives, you've done me a great deal of good. Come, now, I've a horse I think you'll like, and you shall have him; try him to-day, and I'll send him home for you if he suits you."

While the groom was putting up the horse, Sir Jekyl, who was quick and accurate of eye, recognised the dark-faced, intelligent little valet, whom he had seen for a moment, candle in hand, at the dressing-room door, last night, to receive his guests.

With a deferential smile, and shrug, and bow, all at once, this little gentleman lifted his cap with one hand, removing his German pipe with the other.

He had been a courier Ц clever, active, gay Ц a man who might be trusted with money, papers, diamonds. Beside his native French, he spoke English very well, and a little German. He could keep accounts, and write a neat little foreign hand with florid capitals. He could mend his own clothes, and even his shoes. He could play the flute a little, and very much the fiddle. He was curious, and liked to know what was taking place. He liked a joke and the dance, and was prone to the tender passion, and liked, in an honest way, a little bit of intrigue, or even espionage. Such a man he was as I could fancy in a light company of that marvellous army of Italy, of which Napoleon I. always spoke with respect and delight.



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