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Wylder's Hand by J. Sheridan Le Fanu

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WYLDER'S HAND

A NOVEL

by

J. SHERIDAN LE FANU

First published 1864

CONTENTS

CHAP.

I.--RELATING HOW I RODE THROUGH THE VILLAGE OF GYLINGDEN WITH MARK
WYLDER'S LETTER IN MY VALISE

II.--IN WHICH I ENTER THE DRAWING-ROOM

III.--OUR DINNER-PARTY AT BRANDON

IV.--IN WHICH WE GO TO THE DRAWING-ROOM AND THE PARTY BREAKS UP

V.--IN WHICH MY SLUMBER IS DISTURBED

VI.--IN WHICH DORCAS BRANDON SPEAKS

VII.--RELATING HOW A LONDON GENTLEMAN APPEARED IN REDMAN'S DELL

VIII.--IN WHICH CAPTAIN LAKE TAKES HIS HAT AND STICK

IX.--I SEE THE RING OF THE PERSIAN MAGICIAN

X.--THE ACE OF HEARTS

XI.--IN WHICH LAKE UNDER THE TREES OF BRANDON, AND I IN MY CHAMBER, SMOKE
OUR NOCTURNAL CIGARS

XII.--IN WHICH UNCLE LORNE TROUBLES ME

XIII.--THE PONY CARRIAGE

XIV.--IN WHICH VARIOUS PERSONS GIVE THEIR OPINIONS OF CAPTAIN STANLEY
LAKE

XV.--DORCAS SHOWS HER JEWELS TO MISS LAKE

XVI.--"JENNY PUT THE KETTLE ON"

XVII.--RACHEL LAKE SEES WONDERFUL THINGS BY MOONLIGHT FROM HER WINDOW

XVIII.--MARK WYLDER'S SLAVE

XIX.--THE TARN IN THE PARK

XX.--CAPTAIN LAKE TAKES AN EVENING STROLL ABOUT GYLINGDEN

XXI.--IN WHICH CAPTAIN LAKE VISITS HIS SISTER'S SICK BED

XXII.--IN WHICH CAPTAIN LAKE MEETS A FRIEND NEAR THE WHITE HOUSE

XXIII.--HOW RACHEL SLEPT THAT NIGHT IN REDMAN'S FARM

XXIV.--DORCAS BRANDON PAYS RACHEL A VISIT

XXV.--CAPTAIN LAKE LOOKS IN AT NIGHTFALL

XXVI.--CAPTAIN LAKE FOLLOWS TO LONDON

XXVII.--LAWYER LARKIN'S MIND BEGINS TO WORK

XXVIII.--MARK WYLDER'S SUBMISSION

XXIX.--HOW MARK WYLDER'S DISAPPEARANCE AFFECTED HIS FRIENDS

XXX.--IN BRANDON PARK

XXXI.--IN REDMAN'S DELL

XXXII.--MR. LARKIN AND THE VICAR

XXXIII.--THE LADIES OF GYLINGDEN HEATH

XXXIV.--SIR JULIUS HOCKLEY'S LETTER

XXXV.--THE HUNT BALL

XXXVI.--THE BALL ROOM

XXXVII.--THE SUPPER-ROOM

XXXVIII.--AFTER THE BALL

XXXIX.--IN WHICH MISS RACHEL LAKE COMES TO BRANDON, AND DOCTOR BUDDLE
CALLS AGAIN

XL.--THE ATTORNEY'S ADVENTURES ON THE WAY HOME

XLI.--IN WHICH SIR FRANCIS SEDDLEY MANIPULATES

XLII.--A PARAGRAPH IN THE COUNTY PAPER

XLIII.--AN EVIL EYE LOOKS ON THE VICAR

XLIV.--IN WHICH OLD TAMAR LIFTS UP HER VOICE IN PROPHECY

XLV.--DEEP AND SHALLOW

XLVI.--DEBATE AND INTERRUPTION

XLVII.--A THREATENING NOTICE

XLVIII.--IN WHICH I GO TO BRANDON, AND SEE AN OLD ACQUAINTANCE IN THE
TAPESTRY ROOM

XLIX.--LARCOM, THE BUTLER, VISITS THE ATTORNEY

L.--NEW LIGHTS

LI.--A FRACAS IN THE LIBRARY

LII.--AN OLD FRIEND LOOKS INTO THE GARDEN AT REDMAN'S FARM

LIII.--THE VICAR'S COMPLICATIONS, WHICH LIVELY PEOPLE HAD BETTER NOT READ

LIV.--BRANDON CHAPEL ON SUNDAY

LV.--THE CAPTAIN AND THE ATTORNEY CONVERSE AMONG THE TOMBS

LVI.--THE BRANDON CONSERVATORY

LVII.--CONCERNING A NEW DANGER WHICH THREATENED CAPTAIN STANLEY LAKE

LVIII.--MISS RACHEL LAKE BECOMES VIOLENT

LIX.--AN ENEMY IN REDMAN'S DELL

LX.--RACHEL LAKE BEFORE THE ACCUSER

LXI.--IN WHICH DAME DUTTON IS VISITED

LXII.--THE CAPTAIN EXPLAINS WHY MARK WYLDER ABSCONDED

LXIII.--THE ACE OF HEARTS

LXIV.--IN THE DUTCH ROOM

LXV.--I REVISIT BRANDON HALL

LXVI.--LADY MACBETH

LXVII.--MR. LARKIN IS VIS-A-VIS WITH A CONCEALED COMPANION

LXVIII.--THE COMPANION DISCLOSES HIMSELF

LXIX.--OF A SPECTRE WHOM OLD TAMAR SAW

LXX.--THE MEETING IN THE LONG POND ALLEY

LXXI.--SIR HARRY BRACTON'S INVASION OF GYLINGDEN

LXXII.--MARK WYLDER'S HAND

LXXIII.--THE MASK FALLS

LXXIV.--WE TAKE LEAVE OF OUR FRIENDS

WYLDER'S HAND.

CHAPTER I.

RELATING HOW I DROVE THROUGH THE VILLAGE OF GYLINGDEN WITH MARK WYLDER'S
LETTER IN MY VALISE.

It was late in the autumn, and I was skimming along, through a rich
English county, in a postchaise, among tall hedgerows gilded, like all
the landscape, with the slanting beams of sunset. The road makes a long
and easy descent into the little town of Gylingden, and down this we were
going at an exhilarating pace, and the jingle of the vehicle sounded like
sledge-bells in my ears, and its swaying and jerking were pleasant and
life-like. I fancy I was in one of those moods which, under similar
circumstances, I sometimes experience still--a semi-narcotic excitement,
silent but delightful.

An undulating landscape, with a homely farmstead here and there, and
plenty of old English timber scattered grandly over it, extended mistily
to my right; on the left the road is overtopped by masses of noble
forest. The old park of Brandon lies there, more than four miles from end
to end. These masses of solemn and discoloured verdure, the faint but
splendid lights, and long filmy shadows, the slopes and hollows--my eyes
wandered over them all with that strange sense of unreality, and that
mingling of sweet and bitter fancy, with which we revisit a scene
familiar in very remote and early childhood, and which has haunted a long
interval of maturity and absence, like a romantic reverie.

As I looked through the chaise-windows, every moment presented some
group, or outline, or homely object, for years forgotten; and now, with a
strange surprise how vividly remembered and how affectionately greeted!
We drove by the small old house at the left, with its double gable and
pretty grass garden, and trim yews and modern lilacs and laburnums,
backed by the grand timber of the park. It was the parsonage, and old
bachelor Doctor Crewe, the rector, in my nonage, still stood, in memory,
at the door, in his black shorts and gaiters, with his hands in his
pockets, and a puckered smile on his hard ruddy countenance, as I
approached. He smiled little on others I believe, but always kindly upon
me. This general liking for children and instinct of smiling on them is
one source of the delightful illusions which make the remembrance of
early days so like a dream of Paradise, and give us, at starting, such
false notions of our value.

There was a little fair-haired child playing on the ground before the
steps as I whirled by. The old rector had long passed away; the shorts,
gaiters, and smile--a phantom; and nature, who had gathered in the past,
was providing for the future.

The pretty mill-road, running up through Redman's Dell, dank and dark
with tall romantic trees, was left behind in another moment; and we were
now traversing the homely and antique street of the little town, with its
queer shops and solid steep-roofed residences. Up Church-street I
contrived a peep at the old gray tower where the chimes hung; and as we
turned the corner a glance at the 'Brandon Arms.' How very small and low
that palatial hostelry of my earlier recollections had grown! There were
new faces at the door. It was only two-and-twenty years ago, and I was
then but eleven years old. A retrospect of a score of years or so, at
three-and-thirty, is a much vaster affair than a much longer one at
fifty.

The whole thing seemed like yesterday; and as I write, I open my eyes and
start and cry, 'can it be twenty, five-and-twenty, aye, by Jove!
five-and-thirty, years since then?' How my days have flown! And I think
when another such yesterday shall have arrived, where shall I be?

The first ten years of my life were longer than all the rest put
together, and I think would continue to be so were my future extended to
an ante-Noachian span. It is the first ten that emerge from nothing, and
commencing in a point, it is during them that consciousness, memory--all
the faculties grow, and the experience of sense is so novel, crowded, and
astounding. It is this beginning at a point, and expanding to the immense
disk of our present range of sensuous experience, that gives to them so
prodigious an illusory perspective, and makes us in childhood, measuring
futurity by them, form so wild and exaggerated an estimate of the
duration of human life. But, I beg your pardon.

My journey was from London. When I had reached my lodgings, after my
little excursion up the Rhine, upon my table there lay, among the rest,
one letter--there generally _is_ in an overdue bundle--which I viewed
with suspicion. I could not in the least tell why. It was a broad-faced
letter, of bluish complexion, and had made inquisition after me in the
country--had asked for me at Queen's Folkstone; and, _vised_ by my
cousin, had presented itself at the Friars, in Shropshire, and thence
proceeded by Sir Harry's direction (there was the autograph) to Nolton
Hall; thence again to Ilchester, whence my fiery and decisive old aunt
sent it straight back to my cousin, with a whisk of her pen which seemed
to say, 'How the plague can I tell where the puppy is?--'tis your
business, Sir, not mine, to find him out!' And so my cousin despatched it
to my head-quarters in town, where from the table it looked up in my
face, with a broad red seal, and a countenance scarred and marred all
over with various post-marks, erasures, and transverse directions, the
scars and furrows of disappointment and adventure.

It had not a good countenance, somehow. The original lines were not
prepossessing. The handwriting I knew as one sometimes knows a face,
without being able to remember who the plague it belongs to; but, still,
with an unpleasant association about it. I examined it carefully, and
laid it down unopened. I went through half-a-dozen others, and recurred
to it, and puzzled over its exterior again, and again postponed what I
fancied would prove a disagreeable discovery; and this happened every now
and again, until I had quite exhausted my budget, and then I did open it,
and looked straight to the signature.

'Pooh! Mark Wylder,' I exclaimed, a good deal relieved.

Mark Wylder! Yes, Master Mark could not hurt _me_. There was nothing
about him to excite the least uneasiness; on the contrary, I believe he
liked me as well as he was capable of liking anybody, and it was now
seven years since we had met.

I have often since thought upon the odd sensation with which I hesitated
over his unopened letter; and now, remembering how the breaking of that
seal resembled, in my life, the breaking open of a portal through which I
entered a labyrinth, or rather a catacomb, where for many days I groped
and stumbled, looking for light, and was, in a manner, lost, hearing
strange sounds, witnessing imperfectly strange sights, and, at last,
arriving at a dreadful chamber--a sad sort of superstition steals over
me.

I had then been his working junior in the cause of Wylder _v._ Trustees
of Brandon, minor--Dorcas Brandon, his own cousin. There was a
complicated cousinship among these Brandons, Wylders, and
Lakes--inextricable intermarriages, which, five years ago, before I
renounced the bar, I had at my fingers' ends, but which had now relapsed
into haze. There must have been some damnable taint in the blood of the
common ancestor--a spice of the insane and the diabolical. They were an
ill-conditioned race--that is to say, every now and then there emerged a
miscreant, with a pretty evident vein of madness. There was Sir Jonathan
Brandon, for instance, who ran his own nephew through the lungs in a duel
fought in a paroxysm of Cencian jealousy; and afterwards shot his
coachman dead upon the box through his coach-window, and finally died in
Vienna, whither he had absconded, of a pike-thrust received from a sentry
in a brawl.

The Wylders had not much to boast of, even in contrast with that wicked
line. They had produced their madmen and villains, too; and there had
been frequent intermarriages--not very often happy. There had been many
lawsuits, frequent disinheritings, and even worse doings. The Wylders of
Brandon appear very early in history; and the Wylder arms, with their
legend, 'resurgam,' stands in bold relief over the great door of Brandon
Hall. So there were Wylders of Brandon, and Brandons of Brandon. In one
generation, a Wylder ill-using his wife and hating his children, would
cut them all off, and send the estate bounding back again to the
Brandons. The next generation or two would amuse themselves with a
lawsuit, until the old Brandon type reappeared in some bachelor brother
or uncle, with a Jezebel on his left hand, and an attorney on his right,
and, presto! the estates were back again with the Wylders.

A 'statement of title' is usually a dry affair. But that of the dynasty
of Brandon Hall was a truculent romance. Their very 'wills' were spiced
with the devilment of the 'testators,' and abounded in insinuations and
even language which were scandalous.

Here is Mark Wylder's letter:--

'DEAR CHARLES--Of course you have heard of my good luck, and how kind
poor Dickie--from whom I never expected anything--proved at last. It was
a great windfall for a poor devil like me; but, after all, it was only
right, for it ought never to have been his at all. I went down and took
possession on the 4th, the tenants very glad, and so they might well be;
for, between ourselves, Dickie, poor fellow, was not always pleasant to
deal with. He let the roof all out of repair, and committed waste beside
in timber he had no right to in life, as I am told; but that don't
signify much, only the house will cost me a pretty penny to get it into
order and furnish. The rental is five thousand a-year and some hundreds,
and the rents can be got up a bit--so Larkin tells me. Do you know
anything of him? He says he did business for your uncle once. He seems a
clever fellow--a bit too clever, perhaps--and was too much master here, I
suspect, in poor Dickie's reign. Tell me all you can make out about him.
It is a long time since I saw you, Charles; I'm grown brown, and great
whiskers. I met poor Dominick--what an ass that chap is--but he did not
know me till I introduced myself, so I must be a good deal changed. Our
ship was at Malta when I got the letter. I was sick of the service, and
no wonder: a lieutenant--and there likely to stick all my days. Six
months, last year, on the African coast, watching slavers--think of that!
I had a long yarn from the viscount--advice, and that sort of thing. I do
not think he is a year older than I, but takes airs because he's a
trustee. But I only laugh at trifles that would have riled me once. So I
wrote him a yarn in return, and drew it uncommon mild. And he has been
useful to me; and I think matters are pretty well arranged to disappoint
the kind intention of good Uncle Wylder--the brute; he hated my father,
but that was no reason to persecute me, and I but an infant, almost, when
he died, d-- him. Well, you know he left Brandon with some charges to my
Cousin Dorcas. She is a superbly fine girl. Our ship was at Naples when
she was there two years ago; and I saw a good deal of her. Of course it
was not to be thought of then; but matters are quite different, you know,
now, and the viscount, who is a very sensible fellow in the main, saw it
at once. You see, the old brute meant to leave her a life estate; but it
does not amount to that, though it won't benefit me, for he settled that
when I die it shall go to his right heirs--that will be to my son, if I
ever have one. So Miss Dorcas must pack, and turn out whenever I die,
that is, if I slip my cable first. Larkin told me this--and I took an
opinion--and found it is so; and the viscount seeing it, agreed the best
thing for her as well as me would be, we should marry. She is a
wide-awake young lady, and nothing the worse for that: I'm a bit that way
myself. And so very little courtship has sufficed. She is a splendid
beauty, and when you see her you'll say any fellow might be proud of such
a bride; and so I am. And now, dear Charlie, you have it all. It will
take place somewhere about the twenty-fourth of next month; and you must
come down by the first, if you can. Don't disappoint. I want you for best
man, maybe; and besides, I would like to talk to you about some things
they want me to do in the settlements, and you were always a long-headed
fellow: so pray don't refuse.

'Dear Charlie, ever most sincerely,

'Your old Friend,

'MARK WYLDER.

'P.S.--I stay at the Brandon Arms in the town, until after the marriage;
and then you can have a room at the Hall, and capital shooting when we
return, which will be in a fortnight after.'

I can't say that Wylder was an old _friend_. But he was certainly one of
the oldest and most intimate acquaintances I had. We had been for nearly
three years at school together; and when his ship came to England, met
frequently; and twice, when he was on leave, we had been for months
together under the same roof; and had for some years kept up a regular
correspondence, which first grew desultory, and finally, as manhood
supervened, died out. The plain truth is, I did not _very_ much like him.

Then there was that beautiful apathetic Dorcas Brandon. Where is the
laggard so dull as to experience no pleasing flutter at his heart in
anticipation of meeting a perfect beauty in a country house. I was
romantic, like every other youngish fellow who is not a premature
curmudgeon; and there was something indefinitely pleasant in the
consciousness that, although a betrothed bride, the young lady still was
fancy free: not a bit in love. It was but a marriage of convenience, with
mitigations. And so there hovered in my curiosity some little flicker of
egotistic romance, which helped to rouse my spirits, and spur me on to
action.

CHAPTER II.

IN WHICH I ENTER THE DRAWING-ROOM.

I was now approaching Brandon Hall; less than ten minutes more would set
me down at its door-steps. The stiff figure of Mrs. Marston, the old
housekeeper, pale and austere, in rustling black silk (she was accounted
a miser, and estimated to have saved I dare not say how much money
in the Wylder family--kind to me with the bread-and-jam and
Naples-biscuit-kindness of her species, in old times)--stood in fancy at
the doorway. She, too, was a dream, and, I dare say, her money spent by
this time. And that other dream, to which she often led me, with the
large hazel eyes, and clear delicate tints--so sweet, so _riante_, yet so
sad; poor Lady Mary Brandon, dying there--so unhappily mated--a young
mother, and her baby sleeping in long 'Broderie Anglaise' attire upon the
pillow on the sofa, and whom she used to show me with a peeping mystery,
and her finger to her smiling lip, and a gaiety and fondness in her
pretty face. That little helpless, groping, wailing creature was now the
Dorcas Brandon, the mistress of the grand old mansion and all its
surroundings, who was the heroine of the splendid matrimonial compromise
which was about to reconcile a feud, and avert a possible lawsuit, and,
for one generation, at least, to tranquillise the troubled annals of the
Brandons and Wylders.

And now the ancient gray chapel, with its stained window, and store of
old Brandon and Wylder monuments among its solemn clump of elm-trees,
flitted by on my right; and in a moment more we drew up at the great gate
on the left; not a hundred yards removed from it, and with an eager
recognition, I gazed on the noble front of the old manorial house.

Up the broad straight avenue with its solemn files of gigantic timber
towering at the right and the left hand, the chaise rolled smoothly, and
through the fantastic iron gate of the courtyard, and with a fine
swinging sweep and a jerk, we drew up handsomely before the door-steps,
with the Wylder arms in bold and florid projection carved above it.

The sun had just gone down. The blue shadows of twilight overcast the
landscape, and the mists of night were already stealing like thin smoke
among the trunks and roots of the trees. Through the stone mullions of
the projecting window at the right, a flush of fire-light looked pleasant
and hospitable, and on the threshold were standing Lord Chelford and my
old friend Mark Wylder; a faint perfume of the mildest cheroot declared
how they had been employed.

So I jumped to the ground and was greeted very kindly by the smokers.

'I'm here, you know, _in loco parentis_;--my mother and I keep watch and
ward. We allow Wylder, you see, to come every day to his devotions. But
you are not to go to the Brandon Arms--you got my note, didn't you?'

I had, and had come direct to the Hall in consequence.

I looked over the door. Yes, my memory had served me right. There were
the Brandon arms, and the Brandon quartered with the Wylder; but the
Wylder coat in the centre, with the grinning griffins for supporters, and
flaunting scrolls all round, and the ominous word 'resurgam' underneath,
proclaimed itself sadly and vauntingly over the great entrance. I often
wonder how the Wylder coat came in the centre; who built the old house--a
Brandon or a Wylder; and if a Wylder, why was it Brandon Hall?

Dusty and seedy somewhat, as men are after a journey, I chatted with Mark
and the noble peer for a few minutes at the door, while my valise and _et
ceteras_ were lifted in and hurried up the stairs to my room, whither I
followed them.

While I was at my toilet, in came Mark Wylder laughing, as was his wont,
and very unceremoniously he took possession of my easy-chair, and threw
his leg over the arm of it.

'I'm glad you're come, Charlie; you were always a good fellow, and I
really want a hand here confoundedly. I think it will all do very nicely;
but, of course, there's a lot of things to be arranged--settlements, you
know--and I can't make head or tail of their lingo, and a fellow don't
like to sign and seal hand over head--_you_ would not advise that, you
know; and Chelford is a very good fellow, of course, and all that--but
he's taking care of Dorcas, you see; and I might be left in the lurch.'

'It is a better way, at all events, Mark, than Wylder _versus_ Trustees
of Brandon, minor,' said I.

'Well, things do turn out very oddly; don't they?' said Mark with a sly
glance of complacency, and his hands in his pockets. 'But I know you'll
hold the tiller till I get through; hang me if I know the soundings, or
where I'm going; and you have the chart by heart, Charlie.'

'I'm afraid you'll find me by no means so well up now as six years ago in
"Wylder and Brandon;" but surely you have your lawyer, Mr. Larkin,
haven't you?'

'To be sure--that's exactly it--he's Dorcas's agent. I don't know
anything about him, and I do know you--don't you see? A fellow doesn't
want to put himself into the hands of a stranger altogether, especially a
lawyer, ha, ha! it wouldn't pay.'

I did not half like the equivocal office which my friend Mark had
prepared for me. If family squabbles were to arise, I had no fancy to mix
in them; and I did not want a collision with Mr. Larkin either; and, on
the whole, notwithstanding his modesty, I thought Wylder very well able
to take care of himself. There was time enough, however, to settle the
point. So by this time, being splendid in French boots and white vest,
and altogether perfect and refreshed, I emerged from my dressing-room,
Wylder by my side.

We had to get along a dim oak-panelled passage, and into a sort of
_oeil-de-boeuf_, with a lantern light above, from which diverged two
other solemn corridors, and a short puzzling turn or two brought us to
the head of the upper stairs. For I being a bachelor, and treated
accordingly, was airily perched on the third storey.

To my mind, there is something indescribably satisfactory in the intense
solidity of those old stairs and floors--no spring in the planks, not a
creak; you walk as over strata of stone. What clumsy grandeur! What
Cyclopean carpenters! What a prodigality of oak!

It was dark by this time, and the drawing-room, a vast and grand chamber,
with no light but the fire and a pair of dim soft lamps near the sofas
and ottomans, lofty, and glowing with rich tapestry curtains and
pictures, and mirrors, and carved oak, and marble--was already tenanted
by the ladies.

Old Lady Chelford, stiff and rich, a Vandyke dowager, with a general
effect of deep lace, funereal velvet, and pearls; and pale, with dreary
eyes, and thin high nose, sat in a high-backed carved oak throne, with
red cushions. To her I was first presented, and cursorily scrutinised
with a stately old-fashioned insolence, as if I were a candidate footman,
and so dismissed. On a low seat, chatting to her as I came up, was a very
handsome and rather singular-looking girl, fair, with a light
golden-tinted hair; and a countenance, though then grave enough, instinct
with a certain promise of animation and spirit not to be mistaken. Could
this be the heroine of the pending alliance? No; I was mistaken. A third
lady, at what would have been an ordinary room's length away, half
reclining on an ottoman, was now approached by Wylder, who presented me
to Miss Brandon.

'Dorcas, this is my old friend, Charles de Cresseron. You have often
heard me speak of him; and I want you to shake hands and make his
acquaintance, and draw him out--do you see; for he's a shy youth, and
must be encouraged.'

He gave me a cheerful slap on the shoulder as he uttered this agreeable
bit of banter, and altogether disconcerted me confoundedly. Wylder's
dress-coats always smelt of tobacco, and his talk of tar. I was quietly
incensed and disgusted; for in those days I _was_ a little shy.

The lady rose, in a soft floating way; tall, black-haired--but a
blackness with a dull rich shadow through it. I had only a general
impression of large dusky eyes and very exquisite features--more delicate
than the Grecian models, and with a wonderful transparency, like tinted
marble; and a superb haughtiness, quite unaffected. She held forth her
hand, which I did little more than touch. There was a peculiarity in her
greeting, which I felt a little overawing, without exactly discovering in
what it consisted; and it was I think that she did not smile. She never
took that trouble for form's sake, like other women.

So, as Wylder had set a chair for me I could not avoid sitting upon it,
though I should much have preferred standing, after the manner of men,
and retaining my liberty.

CHAPTER III.

OUR DINNER PARTY AT BRANDON.

I was curious. I had heard a great deal of her beauty; and it had
exceeded all I heard; so I talked my sublimest and brightest chit-chat,
in my most musical tones, and was rather engaging and amusing, I ventured
to hope. But the best man cannot manage a dialogue alone. Miss Brandon
was plainly not a person to make any sort of exertion towards what is
termed keeping up a conversation; at all events she did not, and after a
while the present one got into a decidedly sinking condition. An
acquiescence, a faint expression of surprise, a fainter smile--she
contributed little more, after the first few questions of courtesy had
been asked, in her low silvery tones, and answered by me. To me the
natural demise of a _tte--tte_ discourse has always seemed a disgrace.
But this apathetic beauty had either more moral courage or more stupidity
than I, and was plainly terribly indifferent about the catastrophe. I've
sometimes thought my struggles and sinkings amused her cruel serenity.

Bella ma stupida!--I experienced, at last, the sort of pique with which
George Sand's hero apostrophises _la derniere Aldini_. Yet I could not
think her stupid. The universal instinct honours beauty. It is so
difficult to believe it either dull or base. In virtue of some mysterious
harmonies it is 'the image of God,' and must, we feel, enclose the
God-like; so I suppose I felt, for though I wished to think her stupid, I
could not. She was not exactly languid, but a grave and listless beauty,
and a splendid beauty for all that.

I told her my early recollections of Brandon and Gylingden, and how I
remembered her a baby, and said some graceful trifles on that theme,
which I fancied were likely to please. But they were only received, and
led to nothing. In a little while in comes Lord Chelford, always natural
and pleasant, and quite unconscious of his peerage--he was above it, I
think--and chatted away merrily with that handsome animated blonde--who
on earth, could she be?--and did not seem the least chilled in the stiff
and frosted presence of his mother, but was genial and playful even with
that Spirit of the Frozen Ocean, who received his affectionate trifling
with a sort of smiling, though wintry pride and complacency, reflecting
back from her icy aspects something of the rosy tints of that kindly
sunshine.

I thought I heard him call the young lady Miss Lake, and there rose
before me an image of an old General Lake, and a dim recollection of some
reverse of fortune. He was--I was sure of that--connected with the
Brandon family; and was, with the usual fatality, a bit of a _mauvais
sujet_. He had made away with his children's money, or squandered his
own; or somehow or another impoverished his family not creditably. So I
glanced at her, and Miss Brandon divined, it seemed, what was passing in
my mind, for she said:--

'That is my cousin, Miss Lake, and I think her very beautiful--don't
you?'

'Yes, she certainly is very handsome,' and I was going to say something
about her animation and spirit, but remembered just in time, that that
line of eulogy would hardly have involved a compliment to Miss Brandon.
'I know her brother, a little--that is, Captain Lake--Stanley Lake; he's
her brother, I fancy?'

'_Oh?_' said the young lady, in that tone which is pointed with an
unknown accent, between a note of enquiry and of surprise. 'Yes; he's her
brother.'

And she paused; as if something more were expected. But at that moment
the bland tones of Larcom, the solemn butler, announced the Rev. William
Wylder and Mrs. Wylder, and I said--

'William is an old college friend of mine;' and I observed him, as he
entered with an affectionate and sad sort of interest. Eight years had
passed since we met last, and that is something at any time. It had
thinned my simple friend's hair a little, and his face, too, was more
careworn than I liked, but his earnest, sweet smile was there still.
Slight, gentle, with something of a pale and studious refinement in his
face. The same gentle voice, with that slight, occasional hesitation,
which somehow I liked. There is always a little shock after an absence of
some years before identities adjust themselves, and then we find the
change is not, after all, so very great. I suspect it is, rather, that
something of the old picture is obliterated, in that little interval, to
return no more. And so William Wylder was vicar now instead of that
straight wiry cleric of the mulberry face and black leggings.

And who was this little Mrs. William Wylder who came in, so homely of
feature, so radiant of goodhumour, so eager and simple, in a very plain
dress--a Brandon housemaid would not have been seen in it, leaning so
pleasantly on his lean, long, clerical arm--made for reaching books down
from high shelves, a lank, scholarlike limb, with a somewhat threadbare
cuff--and who looked round with that anticipation of pleasure, and that
simple confidence in a real welcome, which are so likely to insure it?
Was she an helpmeet for a black-letter man, who talked with the Fathers
in his daily walks, could extemporise Latin hexameters, and dream in
Greek. Was she very wise, or at all learned? I think her knowledge lay
chiefly in the matters of poultry, and puddings, and latterly, of the
nursery, where one treasure lay--that golden-haired little boy, four
years old, whom I had seen playing among the roses before the parsonage
door, asleep by this time--half-past seven, 'precise,' as old Lady
Chelford loved to write on her summons to dinner.

When the vicar, I dare say, in a very odd, quaint way, made his proposal
of marriage, moved thereto assuredly, neither by fortune, nor by beauty,
to good, merry, little Miss Dorothy Chubley, whom nobody was supposed to
be looking after, and the town had, somehow, set down from the first as a
natural-born old maid--there was a very general amazement; some
disappointment here and there, with customary sneers and compassion, and
a good deal of genuine amusement not ill-natured.

Miss Chubley, all the shopkeepers in the town knew and liked, and, in a
way, respected her, as 'Miss Dolly.' Old Reverend John Chubley, D.D., who
had been in love with his wife from the period of his boyhood; and yet so
grudging was Fate, had to undergo an engagement of nigh thirty years
before Hymen rewarded their constancy; being at length made Vicar of
Huddelston, and master of church revenues to the amount of three hundred
pounds a year--had, at forty-five, married his early love, now forty-two.

They had never grown old in one another's fond eyes. Their fidelity was
of the days of chivalry, and their simplicity comical and beautiful.
Twenty years of happy and loving life were allotted them and one
pledge--poor Miss Dorothy--was left alone, when little more than nineteen
years old. This good old couple, having loved early and waited long, and
lived together with wonderful tenderness and gaiety of heart their
allotted span, bid farewell for a little while--the gentle little lady
going first, and, in about two years more, the good rector following.

I remembered him, but more dimly than his merry little wife, though she
went first. She made raisin-wine, and those curious biscuits that tasted
of Windsor soap.

And this Mrs. William Wylder just announced by soft-toned Larcom, is the
daughter (there is no mistaking the jolly smile and lumpy odd little
features, and radiance of amiability) of the good doctor and Mrs.
Chubley, so curiously blended in her loving face. And last comes in old
Major Jackson, smiling largely, squaring himself, and doing his
courtesies in a firm but florid military style, and plainly pleased to
find himself in good company and on the eve of a good dinner. And so our
dinner-list is full.

The party were just nine--and it is wonderful what a row nine
well-behaved people will contrive to make at a dinner-table. The inferior
animals--as we see them caged and cared for, and fed at one o'clock,
'precise,' in those public institutions provided for their
maintenance--confine their uproar to the period immediately antecedent to
their meal, and perform the actual process of deglutition with silent
attention, and only such suckings, lappings, and crunchings, as
illustrate their industry and content. It is the distinctive privilege of
man to exert his voice during his repast, and to indulge also in those
specially human cachinnations which no lower creature, except that
disreputable Australian biped known as the 'laughing jackass,' presumes
to imitate; and to these vocal exercises of the feasters respond the
endless ring and tinkle of knife and fork on china plate, and the
ministering angels in white chokers behind the chairs, those murmured
solicitations which hum round and round the ears of the revellers.

Of course, when great guns are present, and people talk _pro bono
publico_, one at a time, with parliamentary regularity, things are
different; but at an ordinary symposium, when the garrulous and diffident
make merry together, and people break into twos or threes and talk across
the table, or into their neighbours' ears, and all together, the noise is
not only exhilarating and peculiar, but sometimes perfectly
unaccountable.

The talk, of course, has its paroxysms and its subsidences. I have once
or twice found myself on a sudden in total silence in the middle of a
somewhat prolix, though humorous story, commenced in an uproar for the
sole recreation of my pretty neighbour, and ended--patched up,
_renounced_--a faltering failure, under the converging gaze of a sternly
attentive audience.

On the other hand, there are moments when the uproar whirls up in a
crescendo to a pitch and volume perfectly amazing; and at such times, I
believe that anyone might say anything to the reveller at his elbow,
without the smallest risk of being overheard by mortal. You may plan with
young Caesar Borgia, on your left, the poisoning of your host; or ask
pretty Mrs. Fusible, on your right, to elope with you from her grinning
and gabbling lord, whose bald head flashes red with champagne only at the
other side of the table. There is no privacy like it; you may plot your
wickedness, or make your confession, or pop the question, and not a soul
but your confidant be a bit the wiser--provided only you command your
countenance.

I don't know how it happened, but Wylder sat beside Miss Lake. I fancied
he ought to have been differently placed, but Miss Brandon did not seem
conscious of his absence, and it seemed to me that the handsome blonde
would have been as well pleased if he had been anywhere but where he was.
There was no look of liking, though some faint glimmerings both of
annoyance and embarrassment in her face. But in Wylder's I saw a sort of
conceited consciousness, and a certain eagerness, too, while he talked;
though a shrewd fellow in many ways, he had a secret conviction that no
woman could resist him.

'I suppose the world thinks me a very happy fellow, Miss Lake?' he said,
with a rather pensive glance of enquiry into that young lady's eyes, as
he set down his hock-glass.

'I'm afraid it's a selfish world, Mr. Wylder, and thinks very little of
what does not concern it.'

'Now, _you_, I dare say,' continued Wylder, not caring to perceive the
_soupon_ of sarcasm that modulated her answer so musically, 'look upon
me as a very fortunate fellow?'

'You are a very fortunate person, Mr. Wylder; a gentleman of very
moderate abilities, with no prospects, and without fortune, who finds
himself, without any deservings of his own, on a sudden, possessed of an
estate, and about to be united to the most beautiful heiress in England,
_is_, I think, rather a fortunate person.'

'You did not always think me so stupid, Miss Lake,' said Mr. Wylder,
showing something of the hectic of vexation.

'Stupid! did I say? Well, you know, we learn by experience, Mr. Wylder.
One's judgment matures, and we are harder to please--don't you think
so?--as we grow older.'

'Aye, so we are, I dare say; at any rate, some things don't please us as
we calculated. I remember when this bit of luck would have made me a
devilish happy fellow--_twice_ as happy; but, you see, if a fellow hasn't
his liberty, where's the good of money? I don't know how I got into it,
but I can't get away now; and the lawyer fellows, and trustees, and all
that sort of prudent people, get about one, and persuade, and exhort, and
they bully you, by Jove! into what they call a marriage of convenience--I
forget the French word--you know; and then, you see, your feelings may be
very different, and all that; and where's the good of money, I say, if
you can't enjoy it?'

And Mr. Wylder looked poetically unhappy, and trundled over a little bit
of fricandeau on his plate with his fork, desolately, as though earthly
things had lost their relish.

'Yes; I think I know the feeling,' said Miss Lake, quietly. 'That ballad,
you know, expresses it very prettily:--"Oh, thou hast been the cause of
this anguish, my mother?"'

It was not then as old a song as it is now.

Wylder looked sharply at her, but she did not smile, and seemed to speak
in good faith; and being somewhat thick in some matters, though a cunning
fellow, he said--

'Yes; that is the sort of thing, you know--of course, with a
difference--a girl is supposed to speak there; but men suffer that way,
too--though, of course, very likely it's more their own fault.'

'It is very sad,' said Miss Lake, who was busy with a _pt_.

'She has no life in her; she's a mere figurehead; she's awfully slow; I
don't like black hair; I'm taken by conversation--and all that. There are
some men that can only really love once in their lives, and never forget
their first love, I assure you.'

Wylder murmured all this, and looked as plaintive as he could without
exciting the attention of the people over-the-way.

Mark Wylder had, as you perceive, rather vague notions of decency, and
not much experience of ladies; and thought he was making just the
interesting impression he meditated. He was a good deal surprised, then,
when Miss Lake said, and with quite a cheerful countenance, and very
quickly, but so that her words stung his ear like the prick of a bodkin.

'Your way of speaking of my cousin, Sir, is in the highest degree
discreditable to you and offensive to me, and should you venture to
repeat it, I will certainly mention it to Lady Chelford.'

And so she turned to old Major Jackson at her right, who had been
expounding a point of the battle of Vittoria to Lord Chelford; and she
led him again into action, and acquired during the next ten minutes a
great deal of curious lore about Spanish muleteers and French prisoners,
together with some particulars about the nature of picket duty, and 'that
scoundrel, Castanos.'

CHAPTER IV.

IN WHICH WE GO TO THE DRAWING-ROOM AND THE PARTY BREAKS UP.

Wylder was surprised, puzzled, and a good deal incensed--that saucy craft
had fired her shot so unexpectedly across his bows. He looked a little
flushed, and darted a stealthy glance across the table, but no one he
thought had observed the manoeuvre. He would have talked to ugly Mrs. W.
Wylder, his sister-in-law, at his left, but she was entertaining Lord
Chelford now. He had nothing for it but to perform _cavalier seul_ with
his slice of mutton--a sensual sort of isolation, while all the world was
chatting so agreeably and noisily around him. He would have liked, at
that moment, a walk upon the quarter-deck, with a good head-wind blowing,
and liberty to curse and swear a bit over the bulwark. Women are so full
of caprice and hypocrisy, and 'humbugging impudence!'

Wylder was rather surly after the ladies had floated away from the scene,
and he drank his liquor doggedly. It was his fancy, I suppose, to revive
certain sentimental relations which had, it may be, once existed between
him and Miss Lake; and he was a person of that combative temperament that
magnifies an object in proportion as its pursuit is thwarted.

In the drawing-room he watched Miss Lake over his cup of coffee, and
after a few words to his _fiance_ he lounged toward the table at which
she was turning over some prints.

'Do come here, Dorothy,' she exclaimed, not raising her eyes, 'I have
found the very thing.'

'What thing? my dear Miss Lake,' said that good little woman, skipping to
her side.

'The story of "Fridolin," and Retzch's pretty outlines. Sit down beside
me, and I'll tell you the story.'

'Oh!' said the vicar's wife, taking her seat, and the inspection and
exposition began; and Mark Wylder, who had intended renewing his talk
with Miss Lake, saw that she had foiled him, and stood with a heightened
colour and his hands in his pockets, looking confoundedly cross and very
like an outcast, in the shadow behind.

After a while, in a pet, he walked away. Lord Chelford had joined the two
ladies, and had something to say about German art, and some pleasant
lights to throw from foreign travel, and devious reading, and was as
usual intelligent and agreeable; and Mark was still more sore and angry,
and strutted away to another table, a long way off, and tossed over the
leaves of a folio of Wouverman's works, and did not see one of the plates
he stared at so savagely.

I don't think Mark was very clear as to what he wanted, or, even if he
had had a cool half-hour to define his wishes, that he would seriously
have modified existing arrangements. But he had a passionate sort of
obstinacy, and his whims took a violent character when they were crossed,
and he was angry and jealous and unintelligible, reminding one of
Carlyle's description of Philip Egalit--a chaos.

Then he joined a conversation going on between Dorcas Brandon and the
vicar, his brother. He assisted at it, but took no part, and in fact was
listening to that other conversation which sounded, with its pleasant
gabble and laughter, like a little musical tinkle of bells in the
distance. His gall rose, and that distant talk rang in his ears like a
cool but intangible insult.

It was dull work. He looked at his watch--the brougham would be at the
door to take Miss Lake home in a quarter of an hour; so he glided by old
Lady Chelford, who was dozing stiffly through her spectacles on a French
novel, and through a second drawing-room, and into the hall, where he saw
Larcom's expansive white waistcoat, and disregarded his advance and
respectful inclination, and strode into the outer hall or vestibule,
where were hat-stands, walking-sticks, great coats, umbrellas, and the
exuviae of gentlemen.

Mark clapped on his hat, and rifled the pocket of his paletot of his
cigar-case and matches, and spluttered a curse or two, according to old
Nollekins' receipt for easing the mind, and on the door-steps lighted his
cheroot, and became gradually more philosophical.

In due time the brougham came round with its lamps lighted, and Mark, who
was by this time placid, greeted Price on the box familiarly, after his
wont, and asked him whom he was going to drive, as if he did not know,
cunning fellow; and actually went so far as to give Price one of those
cheap and nasty weeds, of which he kept a supply apart in his case for
such occasions of good fellowship.

So Mark waited to put the lady into the carriage, and he meditated
walking a little way by the window and making his peace, and there was
perhaps some vague vision of jumping in afterwards; I know not. Mark's
ideas of ladies and of propriety were low, and he was little better than
a sailor ashore, and not a good specimen of that class of monster.

He walked about the courtyard smoking, looking sometimes on the solemn
front of the old palatial mansion, and sometimes breathing a white film
up to the stars, impatient, like the enamoured Aladdin, watching in
ambuscade for the emergence of the Princess Badroulbadour. But honest
Mark forgot that young ladies do not always come out quite alone, and
jump unassisted into their vehicles. And in fact not only did Lord
Chelford assist the fair lady, cloaked and hooded, into the carriage, but
the vicar's goodhumoured little wife was handed in also, the good vicar
looking on, and as the gay good-night and leave-taking took place by the
door-steps, Mark drew back, like a guilty thing, in silence, and showed
no sign but the red top of his cigar, glowing like the eye of a Cyclops
in the dark; and away rolled the brougham, with the two ladies, and
Chelford and the vicar went in, and Mark hurled the stump of his cheroot
at Fortune, and delivered a fragmentary soliloquy through his teeth; and
so, in a sulk, without making his adieux, he marched off to his crib at
the Brandon Arms.

CHAPTER V.

IN WHICH MY SLUMBER IS DISTURBED.

The ladies had accomplished their ascension to the upper regions. The
good vicar had marched off with the major, who was by this time
unbuckling in his lodgings; and Chelford and I, _tte--tte_, had a
glass of sherry and water together in the drawing-room before parting.
And over this temperate beverage I told him frankly the nature of the
service which Mark Wylder wished me to render him; and he as frankly
approved, and said he would ask Larkin, the family lawyer, to come up in
the morning to assist.

The more I saw of this modest, refined, and manly peer, the more I liked
him. There was a certain courteous frankness, and a fine old English
sense of duty perceptible in all his serious talk. So I felt no longer
like a conspirator, and was to offer such advice as might seem expedient,
with the clear approbation of Miss Brandon's trustee. And this point
clearly settled, I avowed myself a little tired; and lighting our candles
at the foot of the stairs, we scaled that long ascent together, and he
conducted me through the intricacies of the devious lobbies up stairs to
my chamber-door, where he bid me good-night, shook hands, and descended
to his own quarters.

My room was large and old-fashioned, but snug; and I, beginning to grow
very drowsy, was not long in getting to bed, where I fell asleep
indescribably quickly.

In all old houses one is, of course, liable to adventures. Where is the
marvellous to find refuge, if not among the chambers, the intricacies,
which have seen the vicissitudes, the crimes, and the deaths of
generations of such men as had occupied these?

There was a picture in the outer hall--one of those full-length gentlemen
of George II.'s time, with a dark peruke flowing on his shoulders, a cut
velvet coat, and lace cravat and ruffles. This picture was pale, and had
a long chin, and somehow had impressed my boyhood with a singular sense
of fear. The foot of my bed lay towards the window, distant at least
five-and-twenty-feet; and before the window stood my dressing-table, and
on it a large looking-glass.

I dreamed that I was arranging my toilet before this glass--just as I had
done that evening--when on a sudden the face of the portrait I have
mentioned was presented on its surface, confronting me like a real
countenance, and advancing towards me with a look of fury; and at the
instant I felt myself seized by the throat and unable to stir or to
breathe. After a struggle with this infernal garotter, I succeeded in
awaking myself; and as I did so, I felt a rather cold hand really resting
on my throat, and quietly passed up over my chin and face. I jumped out
of bed with a roar, and challenged the owner of the hand, but received no
answer, and heard no sound. I poked up my fire and lighted my candle.
Everything was as I had left it except the door, which was the least bit
open.

In my shirt, candle in hand, I looked out into the passage. There was
nothing there in human shape, but in the direction of the stairs the
green eyes of a large cat were shining. I was so confoundedly nervous
that even 'a harmless, necessary cat' appalled me, and I clapped my door,
as if against an evil spirit.

In about half an hour's time, however, I had quite worked off the effect
of this night-mare, and reasoned myself into the natural solution that
the creature had got on my bed, and lay, as I have been told they will,
upon my throat, and so, all the rest had followed.

Not being given to the fear of _larvae_ and _lemures_, and also knowing
that a mistake is easily committed in a great house like that, and that
my visitor might have made one, I grew drowsy in a little while, and soon
fell asleep again. But knowing all I now do, I hold a different
conclusion--and so, I think, will you.

In the morning Mark Wylder was early upon the ground. He had quite slept
off what he would have called the nonsense of last night, and was very
keen upon settlements, consols, mortgages, jointures, and all that dry
but momentous lore.

I find a note in my diary of that day:--'From half-past ten o'clock until
two with Mark Wylder and Mr. Larkin, the lawyer, in the study--dull
work--over papers and title--Lord Chelford with us now and then to lend a
helping hand.'

Lawyer Larkin, though he made our work lighter--for he was clear, quick,
and orderly, and could lay his hand on any paper in those tin walls of
legal manuscripts that built up two sides of his office--did not make our
business, to me at least, any pleasanter. Wylder thought him a clever man
(and so perhaps, in a certain sense, he was); Lord Chelford, a most
honourable one; yet there came to me by instinct an unpleasant feeling
about him. It was not in any defined way--I did not fancy that he was
machinating, for instance, any sort of mischief in the business before
us--but I had a notion that he was not quite what he pretended.

Perhaps his _personnel_ prejudiced me--though I could not quite say why.
He was a tall, lank man--rather long of limb, long of head, and gaunt of
face. He wanted teeth at both sides, and there was rather a skull-like
cavity when he smiled--which was pretty often. His eyes were small and
reddish, as if accustomed to cry; and when everything went smoothly were
dull and dove-like, but when things crossed or excited him, which
occurred when his own pocket or plans were concerned, they grew
singularly unpleasant, and greatly resembled those of some not amiable
animal--was it a rat, or a serpent? It was a peculiar concentrated
vigilance and rapine that I have seen there. But that was long
afterwards. Now, indeed, they were meek, and sad, and pink.

He had an ambition, too, to pass for a high-bred gentleman, and thought
it might be done by a somewhat lofty and drawling way of talking, and
distributing his length of limb in what he fancied were easy attitudes.
If the tender mercies of the wicked are cruel, so are the elegances of a
vulgar man; and his made me wince.

I might be all in the wrong--and was, no doubt, unreasonable--for he bore
a high character, and passed for a very gentlemanlike man among the
villagers. He was also something of a religious light, and had for a time
conformed to Methodism, but returned to the Church. He had a liking for
long sermons, and a sad abhorrence of amusements, and sat out the morning
and the evening services regularly--and kept up his dissenting connection
too, and gave them money--and appeared in print, in all charitable
lists--and mourned over other men's backslidings and calamities in a
lofty and Christian way, shaking his tall bald head, and turning up his
pink eyes mildly.

Notwithstanding all which he was somehow unlovely in my eyes, and in an
indistinct way, formidable. It was not a pleasant misgiving about a
gentleman of Larkin's species, the family lawyer, who become _viscera
magnorum domuum_.

My duties were lighter, as adviser, than I at first apprehended. Wylder's
crotchets were chiefly 'mare's nests.' We had read the draft of the
settlement, preparatory to its being sent to senior counsel to be
approved. Wylder's attorney had done his devoir, and Mr. Larkin avowed a
sort of parental interest in both parties to the indentures, and made, at
closing, a little speech, very high in morality, and flavoured in a manly
way with religion, and congratulated Mark on his honour and plain
dealing, which he gave us to understand were the secrets of all success
in life, as they had been, in an humble way of his own.

CHAPTER VI.

IN WHICH DORCAS BRANDON SPEAKS.

In answer to 'the roaring shiver of the gong' we all trooped away
together to luncheon. Lady Chelford and Dorcas and Chelford had nearly
ended that irregular repast when we entered. My chair was beside Miss
Brandon; she had breakfasted with old Lady Chelford that morning, and
this was my first meeting that day. It was not very encouraging.

People complained that acquaintance made little way with her. That you
were, perhaps, well satisfied with your first day's progress, but the
next made no head-way; you found yourself this morning exactly at the
point from which you commenced yesterday, and to-morrow would recommence
where you started the day before. This is very disappointing, but may
sometimes be accounted for by there being nothing really to discover. It
seemed to me, however, that the distance had positively increased since
yesterday, and that the oftener she met me the more strange she became.
As we went out, Wylder enquired, with his usual good taste: 'Well, what
do you think of her?' Then he looked slily at me, laughing, with his
hands in his pockets. 'A little bit slow, eh?' he whispered, and laughed
again, and lounged into the hall. If Dorcas Brandon had been a plain
woman, I think she would have been voted an impertinent bore; but she was
so beautiful that she became an enigma. I looked at her as she stood
gravely gazing from the window. Is it Lady Macbeth? No; she never would
have had energy to plan her husband's career and manage that affair of
Duncan. A sultana rather--sublimely egotistical, without reverence--a
voluptuous and haughty embodiment of indifference. I paused, looking at a
picture, but thinking of her, and was surprised by her voice very near
me.

'Will you give me just a minute, Mr. De Cresseron, in the drawing-room,
while I show you a miniature? I want your opinion.'

So she floated on and I accompanied her.

'I think,' she said, 'you mentioned yesterday, that you remembered me
when an infant. You remember my poor mamma, don't you, very well?'

This was the first time she had yet shown any tendency, so far as I had
seen, to be interested in anything, or to talk to me. I seized the
occasion, and gave her, as well as I could, the sad and pretty picture
that remained, and always will, in the vacant air, when I think of her,
on the mysterious retina of memory.

How filmy they are! the moonlight shines through them, as through the
phantom Dane in Retzch's outlines--colour without substance. How they
come, wearing for ever the sweetest and pleasantest look of their earthly
days. Their sweetest and merriest tones hover musically in the distance;
how far away, how near to silence, yet how clear! And so it is with our
remembrance of the immortal part. It is the loveliest traits that remain
with us perennially; all that was noblest and most beautiful is there, in
a changeless and celestial shadow; and this is the resurrection of the
memory, the foretaste and image which the 'Faithful Creator' accords us
of the resurrection and glory to come--the body redeemed, the spirit made
perfect.

On a cabinet near to where she stood was a casket of ormolu, which she
unlocked, and took out a miniature, opened, and looked at it for a long
time. I knew very well whose it was, and watched her countenance; for, as
I have said, she interested me strangely. I suppose she knew I was
looking at her; but she showed always a queenlike indifference about what
people might think or observe. There was no sentimental softening; but
her gaze was such as I once saw the same proud and handsome face turn
upon the dead--pale, exquisite, perhaps a little stern. What she read
there--what procession of thoughts and images passed by--threw neither
light nor shadow on her face. Its apathy interested me inscrutably.

At last she placed the picture in my hand, and asked--

'Is this really very like her?'

'It is, and it is _not_,' I said, after a little pause. 'The features are
true: it is what I call an accurate portrait, but that is all. I dare
say, exact as it is, it would give to one who had not seen her a false,
as it must an inadequate, idea, of the original. There was something
_nave_ and _spirituel_, and very tender in her face, which he has not
caught--perhaps it could hardly be fixed in colours.'

'Yes, I always heard her expression and intelligence were very beautiful.
It was the beauty of mobility--true beauty.'

'There is a beauty of another stamp, equally exquisite, Miss Brandon, and
perhaps more overpowering.' I said this in nearly a whisper, and in a
very marked way, almost tender, and the next moment was amazed at my own
audacity. She looked on me for a second or two, with her dark drowsy
glance, and then it returned to the picture, which was again in her hand.
There was a total want of interest in the careless sort of surprise she
vouchsafed my little sally; neither was there the slightest resentment.
If a wafer had been stuck upon my forehead, and she had observed it,
there might have been just that look and no more. I was ridiculously
annoyed with myself. I was betrayed, I don't know how, into this little
venture, and it was a flat failure. The position of a shy man, who has
just made an unintelligible joke at a dinner-table, was not more pregnant
with self-reproach and embarrassment.

Upon my honour, I don't think there was anything of the _rou_ in me. I
own I did feel towards this lady, who either was, or seemed to me, so
singular, a mysterious interest just beginning--of that peculiar kind
which becomes at last terribly absorbing.

I was more elated by her trifling notice of me than I can quite account
for. It was a distinction. She was so indescribably handsome--so
passively disdainful. I think if she had listened to me with even the
faintest intimation of caring whether I spoke in this tone or not, with
even a flash of momentary resentment, I might have rushed into a most
reprehensible and ridiculous rigmarole.

In this, the subtlest and most perilous of all intoxications, it needs
immense presence of mind to conduct ourselves always with decorum. But
she was looking, just as before, at the miniature, as it seemed to me, in
fancy infusing some of the spirit I had described into the artist's
record, and she said, only in soliloquy, as it were, 'Yes, I see--I
_think_ I see.'

So there was a pause; and then she said, without, however, removing her
eyes from the miniature, 'You are, I believe, Mr. De Cresseron, a very
old friend of Mr. Wylder's. Is it not so?'

So soon after my little escapade, I did not like the question; but it was
answered. There was not the faintest trace of a satirical meaning,
however, in her face; and after another very considerable interval, at
the end of which she shut the miniature in its case, she said, 'It was a
peculiar face, and very beautiful. It is odd how many of our family
married for love--wild love-matches. My poor mother was the last. I could
point you out many pictures, and tell you stories--my cousin, Rachel,
knows them all. You know Rachel Lake?'

'I've not the honour of knowing Miss Lake. I had not an opportunity of
making her acquaintance yesterday; but I know her brother--so does
Wylder.'

'What's that?' said Mark, who had just come in, and was tumbling over a
volume of 'Punch' at the window.

'I was telling Miss Brandon that we both know Stanley Lake.' On hearing
which, Wylder seemed to discover something uncommonly interesting or
clever in the illustration before him; for he approached his face very
near to it, in a scrutinising way, and only said, 'Oh?'

'That marrying for love was a fatality in our family,' she continued in
the same low tone--too faint I think to reach Mark. 'They were all the
most beautiful who sacrificed themselves so--they were all unhappy
marriages. So the beauty of our family never availed it, any more than
its talents and its courage; for there were clever and witty men, as well
as very brave ones, in it. Meaner houses have grown up into dukedoms;
ours never prospers. I wonder what it is.'

'Many families have disappeared altogether, Miss Brandon. It is no small
thing, through so many centuries, to have retained your ancestral
estates, and your pre-eminent position, and even this splendid residence
of so many generations of your lineage.'

I thought that Miss Brandon, having broken the ice, was henceforth to be
a conversable young lady. But this sudden expansion was not to last. Ovid
tells us, in his 'Fasti,' how statues sometimes surprised people by
speaking more frankly and to the purpose even than Miss Brandon, and
straight were cold chiselled marble again; and so it was with that proud,
cold _chef d'oeuvre_ of tinted statuary.

Yet I thought I could, even in that dim glimpse, discern how the silent
subterranean current of her thoughts was flowing; like other
representatives of a dynasty, she had studied the history of her race to
profit by its errors and misfortunes. There was to be no weakness or
passion in her reign.

The princess by this time was seated on the ottoman, and chose to read a
letter, thus intimating, I suppose, that my audience was at an end; so I
took up a book, put it down, and then went and looked over Wylder's
shoulder, and made my criticisms--not very novel, I fear--upon the pages
he turned over; and I am sorry to say I don't think he heard much of what
I was saying, for he suddenly came out with--

'And where is Stanley Lake now, do you know?'

'I saw him in town--only for a moment though--about a fortnight ago; he
was arranging, he said, about selling out.'

'Oh! retiring; and what does he propose doing then?' asked Wylder,
without raising his eyes from his book. He spoke in a sort of undertone,
like a man who does not want to be overheard, and the room was quite
large enough to make that sort of secrecy easy without the appearance of
seeking it.

'I have not an idea. I don't think he's fit for many things. He knows
something of horses, I believe, and something of play.'

'But he'll hardly make out a living that way,' said Wylder, with a sort
of sneer or laugh. I thought he seemed put out, and a little flushed.

'I fancy he has enough to live upon, without adding to it, however,' I
said.

Wylder leaned back in his low chair, with his hands stuffed in his
pockets, and the air of a man trying to look unconcerned, but both
annoyed and disconcerted nevertheless.

I tell you what, Charlie, between you and me, that fellow, Stanley, is a
d----d bad lot. I may be mistaken, of course; he's always been very civil
to me, but we don't like one another; and I don't think I ever heard him
say a good word of any one, I dare say he abuses you and me, as he does
everyone else.'

'Does he?' I said. 'I was not aware he had that failing.'

'Oh, yes. He does not stick at trifles, Master Stanley. He's about the
greatest liar, I think, I ever met with,' and he laughed angrily.

I happened at that moment to raise my eyes, and I saw Dorcas's face
reflected in the mirror; her back was towards us, and she held the letter
in her hand as if reading it, but her large eyes were looking over it,
and on us, in the glass, with a gaze of strange curiosity. Our glances
met in the mirror; but hers remained serenely undisturbed, and mine
dropped and turned away hastily. I wonder whether she heard us. I do not
know. Some people are miraculously sharp of hearing.

'I dare say,' said Wylder, with a sneer, 'he was asking affectionately
for me, eh?'

'No; not that I recollect--in fact there was not time; but I suppose he
does not like you less for what has happened; you're worth cultivating
now, you know.'

Wylder was leaning on his elbow, with just the tip of his thumb to his
teeth, with a vicious character of biting it, which was peculiar to him
when anything vexed him considerably, and glancing sharply this way and
that--

'You know,' he said, suddenly, 'we are a sort of cousins; his mother was
a Brandon--a second cousin of Dorcas's--no, of her father's--I don't know
exactly how. He's a pushing fellow, one of the coolest hands I know; but
I don't see that I can be of any use to him, or why the devil I should. I
say, old fellow, come out and have a weed, will you?'

I raised my eyes. Miss Brandon had left the room. I don't know that her
presence would have prevented his invitation, for Wylder's wooing was
certainly of the coolest. So forth we sallied, and under the autumnal
foliage, in the cool amber light of the declining evening, we enjoyed our
cheroots; and with them, Wylder his thoughts; and I, the landscape, and
the whistling of the birds; for we waxed Turkish and taciturn over our
tobacco.

CHAPTER VII.

RELATING HOW A LONDON GENTLEMAN APPEARED IN REDMAN'S DELL.

I believe the best rule in telling a story is to follow events
chronologically. So let me mention that just about the time when Wylder
and I were filming the trunks of the old trees with wreaths of lingering
perfume, Miss Rachel Lake had an unexpected visitor.

There is, near the Hall, a very pretty glen, called Redman's Dell, very
steep, with a stream running at the bottom of it, but so thickly wooded
that in summer time you can only now and then catch a glimpse of the
water gliding beneath you. Deep in this picturesque ravine, buried among
the thick shadows of tall old trees, runs the narrow mill-road, which
lower down debouches on the end of the village street. There, in the
transparent green shadow, stand the two mills--the old one with A.D.
1679, and the Wylder arms, and the eternal 'resurgam' projecting over its
door; and higher up, on a sort of platform, the steep bank rising high
behind it, with its towering old wood overhanging and surrounding, upon a
site where one of king Arthur's knights, of an autumn evening, as he rode
solitary in quest of adventures, might have seen the peeping, gray gable
of an anchorite's chapel dimly through the gilded stems, and heard the
drowsy tinkle of his vesper-bell, stands an old and small two-storied
brick and timber house; and though the sun does not very often glimmer on
its windows, it yet possesses an air of sad, old-world comfort--a little
flower-garden lies in front with a paling round it. But not every kind of
flowers will grow there, under the lordly shadow of the elms and
chestnuts.

This sequestered tenement bears the name of Redman's Farm; and its
occupant was that Miss Lake whom I had met last night at Brandon Hall,
and whose pleasure it was to live here in independent isolation.

There she is now, busy in her tiny garden, with the birds twittering
about her, and the yellow leaves falling; and her thick gauntlets on her
slender hands. How fresh and pretty she looks in that sad, sylvan
solitude, with the background of the dull crimson brick and the climbing
roses. Bars of sunshine fall through the branches above, across the thick
tapestry of blue, yellow, and crimson, that glow so richly upon their
deep green ground.

There is not much to be done just now, I fancy, in the gardening way; but
work is found or invented--for sometimes the hour is dull, and that
bright, spirited, and at heart, it may be, bitter exile, will make out
life somehow. There is music, and drawing. There are flowers, as we see,
and two or three correspondents, and walks into the village; and her dark
cousin, Dorcas, drives down sometimes in the pony-carriage, and is not
always silent; and indeed, they are a good deal together.

This young lady's little Eden, though overshadowed and encompassed with
the solemn sylvan cloister of nature's building, and vocal with sounds of
innocence--the songs of birds, and sometimes those of its young
mistress--was no more proof than the Mesopotamian haunt of our first
parents against the intrusion of darker spirits. So, as she worked, she
lifted up her eyes, and beheld a rather handsome young man standing at
the little wicket of her garden, with his gloved hand on the latch. A man
of fashion--a town man--his dress bespoke him: smooth cheeks, light brown
curling moustache, and eyes very peculiar both in shape and colour, and
something of elegance of finish in his other features, and of general
grace in the _coup d'oeil_, struck one at a glance. He was smiling
silently and slily on Rachel, who, with a little cry of surprise, said--

'Oh, Stanley! is it you?'

And before he could answer, she had thrown her arms about his neck and
kissed him two or three times. Laughingly, half-resisting, the young man
waited till her enthusiastic salutation was over, and with one gloved
hand caressingly on her shoulder, and with the other smoothing his
ruffled moustache, he laughed a little more, a quiet low laugh. He was
not addicted to stormy greetings, and patted his sister's shoulder
gently, his arm a little extended, like a man who tranquillises a
frolicsome pony.

'Yes, Radie, you see I've found you out;' and his eye wandered, still
smiling oddly, over the front of her quaint habitation.

'And how have you been, Radie?'

'Oh, very well. No life like a gardener's--early hours, work, air, and
plenty of quiet.' And the young lady laughed.

'You are a wonderful lass, Radie.'

'Thank you, dear.'

'And what do you call this place?'

'"The Happy Valley," _I_ call it. Don't you remember "Rasselas?"'

'No,' he said, looking round him; 'I don't think I was ever there.'

'You horrid dunce!--it's a book, but a stupid one--so no matter,' laughed
Miss Rachel, giving him a little slap on the shoulder with her slender
fingers.

His reading, you see, lay more in circulating library lore, and he was
not deep in Johnson--as few of us would be, I'm afraid, if it were not
for Boswell.

'It's a confounded deal more like the "Valley of the Shadow of Death," in
"Pilgrim's Progress"--you remember--that old Tamar used to read to us in
the nursery,' replied Master Stanley, who had never enjoyed being quizzed
by his sister, not being blessed with a remarkably sweet temper.

'If you don't like my scenery, come in, Stanley, and admire my
decorations. You must tell me all the news, and I'll show you my house,
and amaze you with my housekeeping. Dear me, how long it is since I've
seen you.'

So she led him in by the arm to her tiny drawing-room; and he laid his
hat and stick, and gray paletot, on her little marquetrie-table, and sat
down, and looked languidly about him, with a sly smile, like a man
amused.

'It is an odd fancy, living alone here.'

'An odd necessity, Stanley.'

'Aren't you afraid of being robbed and murdered, Radie?' he said, leaning
forward to smell at the pretty bouquet in the little glass, and turning
it listlessly round. 'There are lots of those burglar fellows going
about, you know.'

'Thank you, dear, for reminding me. But, somehow, I'm not the least
afraid. There hasn't been a robbery in this neighbourhood, I believe, for
eight hundred years. The people never think of shutting their doors here
in summer time till they are going to bed, and then only for form's sake;
and, beside, there's nothing to rob, and I really don't much mind being
murdered.'

He looked round, and smiled on, as before, like a man contemptuously
amused, but sleepily withal.

'You are very oddly housed, Radie.'

'I like it,' she said quietly, also with a glance round her homely
drawing-room.

'What do you call this, your boudoir or parlour?'

'I call it my drawing-room, but it's anything you please.'

'What very odd people our ancestors were,' he mused on. 'They lived, I
suppose, out of doors like the cows, and only came into their sheds at
night, when they could not see the absurd ugliness of the places they
inhabited. I could not stand upright in this room with my hat on. Lots of
rats, I fancy, Radie, behind that wainscoting? What's that horrid work of
art against the wall?'

'A shell-work cabinet, dear. It is not beautiful, I allow. If I were
strong enough, or poor old Tamar, I should have put it away; and now that
you're here, Stanley, I think I'll make you carry it out to the lobby for
me.'

'I should not like to touch it, dear Radie. And pray how do you amuse
yourself here? How on earth do you get over the day, and, worse still,
the evenings?'

'Very well--well enough. I make a very good sort of a nun, and a capital
housemaid. I work in the garden, I mend my dresses, I drink tea, and when
I choose to be dissipated, I play and sing for old Tamar--why did not you
ask how she is? I do believe, Stanley, you care for no one, but' (she was
going to say yourself, she said instead, however, but) 'perhaps, the
least in the world for me, and that not very wisely,' she continued, a
little fiercely, 'for from the moment you saw me, you've done little else
than try to disgust me more than I am with my penury and solitude. What
do you mean? You always have a purpose--will you ever learn to be frank
and straightforward, and speak plainly to those whom you ought to trust,
if not to love? What are you driving at, Stanley?'

He looked up with a gentle start, like one recovering from a reverie, and
said, with his yellow eyes fixed for a moment on his sister, before they
dropped again to the carpet.

'You're miserably poor, Rachel: upon my word, I believe you haven't clear
two hundred a year. I'll drink some tea, please, if you have got any, and
it isn't too much trouble; and it strikes me as very curious you like
living in this really very humiliating state.'

'I don't intend to go out for a governess, if that's what you mean; nor
is there any privation in living as I do. Perhaps you think I ought to go
and housekeep for you.'

'Why--ha, ha!--I really don't know, Radie, where I shall be. I'm not of
any regiment now.'

'Why, you have not sold out?' She flushed and suddenly grew pale, for she
was afraid something worse might have happened, having no great
confidence in her brother.

But she was relieved.

'I _have_ sold my commission.'

She looked straight at him with large eyes and compressed lips, and
nodded her head two or three times, just murmuring, 'Well! well! well!'

'Women never understand these things. The army is awfully expensive--I
mean, of course, a regiment like ours; and the interest of the money is
better to me than my pay; and see, Rachel, there's no use in lecturing
_me_--so don't let us quarrel. We're not very rich, you and I; and we
each know our own affairs, you yours, and I mine, best.'

There was something by no means pleasant in his countenance when his
temper was stirred, and a little thing sometimes sufficed to do so.

Rachel treated him with a sort of deference, a little contemptuous
perhaps, such as spoiled children receive from indulgent elders; and she
looked at him steadily, with a faint smile and arched brows, for a little
while, and an undefinable expression of puzzle and curiosity.

'You are a very amusing brother--if not a very cheery or a very useful
one, Stanley.'

She opened the door, and called across the little hall into the homely
kitchen of the mansion.

'Tamar, dear, Master Stanley's here, and wishes to see you.'

'Oh! yes, poor dear old Tamar; ha, ha!' says the gentleman, with a gentle
little laugh, 'I suppose she's as frightful as ever, that worthy woman.
Certainly she _is_ awfully like a ghost. I wonder, Radie, you're not
afraid of her at night in this cheerful habitation. _I_ should, I know.'

'A ghost _indeed_, the ghost of old times, an ugly ghost enough for many
of us. Poor Tamar! she was always very kind to _you_, Stanley.'

And just then old Tamar opened the door. I must allow there was something
very unpleasant about that worthy old woman; and not being under any
personal obligations to her, I confess my acquiescence in the spirit of
Captain Lake's remarks.

She was certainly perfectly neat and clean, but white predominated
unpleasantly in her costume. Her cotton gown had once had a pale pattern
over it, but wear and washing had destroyed its tints, till it was no
better than white, with a mottling of gray. She had a large white
kerchief pinned with a grisly precision across her breast, and a white
linen cap tied under her chin, fitting close to her head, like a child's
nightcap, such as they wore in my young days, and destitute of border or
frilling about the face. It was a dress very odd and unpleasant to
behold, and suggested the idea of an hospital, or a madhouse, or death,
in an undefined way.

She was past sixty, with a mournful puckered and puffy face, tinted all
over with a thin gamboge and burnt sienna glazing; and very blue under
the eyes, which showed a great deal of their watery whites. This old
woman had in her face and air, along with an expression of suspicion and
anxiety, a certain character of decency and respectability, which made
her altogether a puzzling and unpleasant apparition.

Being taciturn and undemonstrative, she stood at the door, looking with
as pleased a countenance as so sad a portrait could wear upon the young
gentleman.

He got up at his leisure and greeted 'old Tamar,' with his sleepy, amused
sort of smile, and a few trite words of kindness. So Tamar withdrew to
prepare tea; and he said, all at once, with a sudden accession of energy,
and an unpleasant momentary glare in his eyes--

'You know, Rachel, this sort of thing is all nonsense. You cannot go on
living like this; you must marry--you shall marry. Mark Wylder is down
here, and he has got an estate and a house, and it is time he should
marry you.'

'Mark Wylder is here to marry my cousin, Dorcas; and if he had no such
intention, and were as free as you are, and again to urge his foolish
suit upon his knees, Stanley, I would die rather than accept him.'

'It was not always so foolish a suit, Radie,' answered her brother, his
eyes once more upon the carpet. 'Why should not _he_ do as well as
another? You liked him well enough once.'

The young lady coloured rather fiercely.

'I am not a girl of seventeen now, Stanley; and--and, besides, I _hate_
him.'

'What d--d nonsense! I really beg your pardon, Radie, but it _is_
precious stuff. You are quite unreasonable; you've no cause to hate him;
he dropped you because you dropped him. It was only prudent; he had not a
guinea. But now it is different, and he _must_ marry you.'

The young lady stared with a haughty amazement upon her brother.

'I've made up my mind to speak to him; and if he won't I promise you he
shall leave the country,' said the young man gently, just lifting his
yellow eyes for a second with another unpleasant glare.

'I almost think you're mad, Stanley; and if you do anything so insane,
sure I am you'll rue it while you live; and wherever he is I'll find him
out, and acquit myself, with the scorn I owe him, of any share in a plot
so unspeakably mean and absurd.'

'Brava, brava! you're a heroine, Radie; and why the devil,' he continued,
in a changed tone, 'do you apply those insolent terms to what I purpose
doing?'

'I wish I could find words strong enough to express my horror of your
plot--a plot every way disgusting. You plainly know something to Mark
Wylder's discredit; and you mean, Stanley, to coerce him by fear into a
marriage with your penniless sister, who _hates_ him. Sir, do you pretend
to be a gentleman?'

'I rather think so,' he said, with a quiet sneer.

'Give up every idea of it this moment. Has it not struck you that Mark
Wylder may possibly know something of you, you would not have published?'

'I don't think he does. What do you mean?'

'On my life, Stanley, I'll acquaint Mr. Wylder this evening with what you
meditate, and the atrocious liberty you presume--yes, Sir, though you are
my brother, the _atrocious liberty_ you dare to take with my name--unless
you promise, upon your honour, now and here, to dismiss for ever the
odious and utterly resultless scheme.'

Captain Lake looked very angry after his fashion, but said nothing. He
could not at any time have very well defined his feelings toward his
sister, but mingling in them, certainly, was a vein of unacknowledged
dread, and, shall I say, respect. He knew she was resolute, fierce of
will, and prompt in action, and not to be bullied.

'There's more in this, Stanley, than you care to tell me. You have not
troubled yourself a great deal about me, you know: and I'm no worse off
now than any time for the last three years. You've _not_ come down here
on _my_ account--that is, altogether; and be your plans what they may,
you sha'n't mix my name in them. What you please--wise or foolish--you'll
do in what concerns yourself;--you always _have_--without consulting me;
but I tell you again, Stanley, unless you promise, upon your honour, to
forbear all mention of my name, I will write this evening to Lady
Chelford, apprising her of your plans, and of my own disgust and
indignation; and requesting her son's interference. _Do_ you promise?'

'There's no such _haste_, Radie. I only mentioned it. If you don't like
it, of course it can lead to nothing, and there's no use in my speaking
to Wylder, and so there's an end of it.'

'There _may_ be some use, a purpose in which neither my feelings nor
interests have any part. I venture to say, Stanley, your plans are all
for _yourself_. You want to extort some advantage from Wylder; and you
think, in his present situation, about to marry Dorcas, you can use me
for the purpose. Thank Heaven! Sir, you committed for once the rare
indiscretion of telling the truth; and unless you make me the promise I
require, I will take, before evening, such measures as will completely
exculpate me. Once again, do you promise?'

'Yes, Radie; ha, ha! of course I promise.'

'Upon your honour?'

'Upon my honour--_there_.'

'I believe, you gentlemen dragoons observe that oath--I hope so. If you
choose to break it you may give me some trouble, but you sha'n't
compromise me. And now, Stanley, one word more. I fancy Mr. Wylder is a
resolute man--none of the Wylders wanted courage.'

Captain Lake was by this time smiling his sly, sleepy smile upon his
French boots.

'If you have formed any plan which depends upon frightening him, it is a
desperate one. All I can tell you, Stanley, is this, that if I were a
man, and an attempt made to extort from me any sort of concession by
terror, I would shoot the miscreant who made it through the head, like a
highwayman.'

'What the devil are you talking about?' said he.

'About _your danger_,' she answered. 'For once in your life listen to
reason. Mark Wylder is as prompt as you, and has ten times your nerve and
sense; you are more likely to have committed yourself than he. Take care;
he may retaliate your _threat_ by a counter move more dreadful. I know
nothing of your doings, Stanley--Heaven forbid! but be warned, or you'll
rue it.'

'Why, Radie, you know nothing of the world. Do you suppose I'm quite
demented? Ask a gentleman for his estate, or watch, because I know
something to his disadvantage! Why, ha, ha! dear Radie, every man who has
ever been on terms of intimacy with another must know things to his
disadvantage, but no one thinks of telling them. The world would not
tolerate it. It would prejudice the betrayer at least as much as the
betrayed. I don't affect to be angry, or talk romance and heroics,
because you fancy such stuff; but I assure you--when will that old woman
give me a cup of tea?--I assure you, Radie, there's nothing in it.'

Rachel made no reply, but she looked steadfastly and uneasily upon the
enigmatical face and downcast eyes of the young man.

'Well, I hope so,' she said at last, with a sigh, and a slight sense of
relief.

CHAPTER VIII.

IN WHICH CAPTAIN LAKE TAKES HIS HAT AND STICK.

So the young people sitting in the little drawing-room of Redman's farm
pursued their dialogue; Rachel Lake had spoken last, and it was the
captain's turn to speak next.

'Do you remember Miss Beauchamp, Radie?' he asked rather suddenly, after
a very long pause.

'Miss Beauchamp? Oh! to be sure; you mean little Caroline; yes, she must
be quite grown up by this time--five years--she promised to be pretty.
What of her?'

Rachel, very flushed and agitated still, was now trying to speak as
usual.

'She _is_ good-looking--a little coarse some people think,' resumed the
young man; 'but handsome; black eyes--black hair--rather on a large
scale, but certainly handsome. A style I admire rather, though it is not
very refined, nor at all classic. But I like her, and I wish you'd advise
me.' He was talking, after his wont, to the carpet.

'Oh?' she exclaimed, with a gentle sort of derision.

'You mean,' he said, looking up for a moment, with a sudden stare, 'she
has got money. Of course she has; I could not afford to admire her if she
had not; but I see you are not just now in a mood to trouble yourself
about my nonsense--we can talk about it to-morrow; and tell me now, how
do you get on with the Brandon people?'

Rachel was curious, and would, if she could, have recalled that sarcastic
'oh' which had postponed the story; but she was also a little angry, and
with anger there was pride, which would not stoop to ask for the
revelation which he chose to defer; so she said, 'Dorcas and I are very
good friends; but I don't know very well what to make of her. Only I
don't think she's quite so dull and apathetic as I at first supposed; but
still I'm puzzled. She is either absolutely uninteresting, or very
interesting indeed, and I can't say which.'

'Does she like you?' he asked.

'I really don't know. She tolerates me, like everything else; and I don't
flatter her; and we see a good deal of one another upon those terms, and
I have no complaint to make of her. She has some aversions, but no
quarrels; and has a sort of laziness--mental, bodily, and moral--that is
sublime, but provoking; and sometimes I admire her, and sometimes I
despise her; and I do not yet know which feeling is the juster.'

'Surely she is woman enough to be fussed a little about her marriage?'

'Oh, dear, no! she takes the whole affair with a queenlike and
supernatural indifference. She is either a fool or a very great
philosopher, and there is something grand in the serene obscurity that
envelopes her,' and Rachel laughed a very little.

'I must, I suppose, pay my respects; but to-morrow will be time enough.
What pretty little tea-cups, Radie--quite charming--old cock china, isn't
it? These were Aunt Jemima's, I think.'

'Yes; they used to stand on the little marble table between the windows.'

Old Tamar had glided in while they here talking, and placed the little
tea equipage on the table unnoticed, and the captain was sipping his cup
of tea, and inspecting the pattern, while his sister amused him.

'This place, I suppose, is confoundedly slow, is not it? Do they
entertain the neighbours ever at Brandon?'

'Sometimes, when old Lady Chelford and her son are staying there.'

'But the neighbours can't entertain them, I fancy, or you. What a dreary
thing a dinner party made up of such people must be--like "Aesop's
Fables," where the cows and sheep converse.'

'And sometimes a wolf or a fox,' she said.

'Well, Radie, I know you mean me; but as you wish it, I'll carry my fangs
elsewhere;--and what has become of Will Wylder?'

'Oh! he's in the Church!'

'Quite right--the only thing he was fit for;' and Captain Lake laughed
like a man who enjoys a joke slily. 'And where is poor Billy quartered?'

'Not quite half a mile away; he has got the vicarage of Naunton Friars.'

'Oh, then, Will is not quite such a fool as we took him for.'

'It is worth just 180 a year! but he's very far from a fool.'

'Yes, of course, he knows Greek poets and Latin fathers, and all the rest
of it. I don't mean he ever was plucked. I dare say he's the kind of
fellow _you'd_ like very well, Radie.' And his sly eyes had a twinkle in
them which seemed to say, 'Perhaps I've divined your secret.'

'And so I do, and I like his wife, too, _very_ much.'

'His wife! So William has married on 180 a year;' and the captain
laughed quietly but very pleasantly again.

'On a very little more, at all events; and I think they are about the
happiest, and I'm sure they are the best people in this part of the
world.'

'Well, Radie, I'll see you to-morrow again. You preserve your good looks
wonderfully. I wonder you haven't become an old woman here.'

And he kissed her, and went his way, with a slight wave of his hand, and
his odd smile, as he closed the little garden gate after him.

He turned to his left, walking down towards the town, and the innocent
green trees hid him quickly, and the gush and tinkle of the clear brook
rose faint and pleasantly through the leaves, from the depths of the
glen, and refreshed her ear after his unpleasant talk.

She was flushed, and felt oddly; a little stunned and strange, although
she had talked lightly and easily enough.

'I forgot to ask him where he is staying: the Brandon Arms, I suppose. I
don't at all like his coming down here after Mark Wylder; what _can_ he
mean? He certainly never would have taken the trouble for _me_. What
_can_ he want of Mark Wylder? I think _he_ knew old Mr. Beauchamp. He may
be a trustee, but that's not likely; Mark Wylder was not the person for
any such office. I hope Stanley does not intend trying to extract money
from him; anything rather than that degradation--than that _villainy_.
Stanley was always impracticable, perverse, deceitful, and so foolish
with all his cunning and suspicion--so _very_ foolish. Poor Stanley. He's
so unscrupulous; I don't know what to think. He said he could force Mark
Wylder to leave the country. It must be some bad secret. If he tries and
fails, I suppose he will be ruined. I don't know what to think; I never
was so uneasy. He will blast himself, and disgrace all connected with
him; and it is quite useless speaking to him.'

Perhaps if Rachel Lake had been in Belgravia, leading a town life, the
matter would have taken no such dark colouring and portentous
proportions. But living in a small old house, in a dark glen, with no
companion, and little to occupy her, it was different.

She looked down the silent way he had so lately taken, and repeated,
rather bitterly, 'My only brother! my only brother! my only brother!'

That young lady was not quite a pauper, though she may have thought so.
Comparatively, indeed, she was; but not, I venture to think, absolutely.
She had just that symmetrical three hundred pounds a year, which the
famous Dean of St. Patrick's tells us he so 'often wished that he had
clear.' She had had some money in the Funds besides, still more
insignificant but this her Brother Stanley had borrowed and begged
piecemeal, and the Consols were no more. But though something of a nun in
her way of life, there was no germ of the old maid in her, and money was
not often in her thoughts. It was not a bad _dot_; and her Brother
Stanley had about twice as much, and therefore was much better off than
many a younger son of a duke. But these young people, after the manner of
men were spited with fortune; and indeed they had some cause. Old General
Lake had once had more than ten thousand pounds a year, and lived, until
the crash came, in the style of a vicious old prince. It was a great
break up, and a worse fall for Rachel than for her brother, when the
plate, coaches, pictures, and all the valuable effects' of old Tiberius
went to the hammer, and he himself vanished from his clubs and other
haunts, and lived only--a thin intermittent rumour--surmised to be in
gaol, or in Guernsey, and quite forgotten soon, and a little later
actually dead and buried.

CHAPTER IX.

I SEE THE RING OF THE PERSIAN MAGICIAN.

'That's a devilish fine girl,' said Mark Wylder.

He was sitting at this moment on the billiard table, with his coat off
and his cue in his hand, and had lighted a cigar. He and I had just had a
game, and were tired of it.

'Who?' I asked. He was looking on me from the corners of his eyes, and
smiling in a sly, rakish way, that no man likes in another.

'Radie Lake--she's a splendid girl, by Jove! Don't you think so? and she
liked me once devilish well, I can tell you. She was thin then, but she
has plumped out a bit, and improved every way.'

Whatever else he was, Mark was certainly no beauty;--a little short he
was, and rather square--one shoulder a thought higher than the other--and
a slight, energetic hitch in it when he walked. His features in profile
had something of a Grecian character, but his face was too broad--very
brown, rather a bloodless brown--and he had a pair of great, dense,
vulgar, black whiskers. He was very vain of his teeth--his only really
good point--for his eyes were a small cunning, gray pair; and this,
perhaps, was the reason why he had contracted his habit of laughing and
grinning a good deal more than the fun of the dialogue always warranted.

This sea-monster smoked here as unceremoniously as he would have done in
'Rees's Divan,' and I only wonder he did not call for brandy-and-water.
He had either grown coarser a great deal, or I more decent, during our
separation. He talked of his _fiance_ as he might of an opera-girl
almost, and was now discussing Miss Lake in the same style.

'Yes, she is--she's very well; but hang it, Wylder, you're a married man
now, and must give up talking that way. People won't like it, you know;
they'll take it to mean more than it does, and you oughtn't. Let us have
another game.'

'By-and-by; what do you think of Larkin?' asked Wylder, with a sly glance
from the corners of his eyes. 'I think he prays rather more than is good
for his clients; mind I spell it with an 'a,' not with an 'e;' but hang
it, for an attorney, you know, and such a sharp chap, it does seem to me
rather a--a joke, eh?'

'He bears a good character among the townspeople, doesn't he? And I don't
see that it can do him any harm, remembering that he has a soul to be
saved.'

'Or the other thing, eh?' laughed Wylder. 'But I think he comes it a
little too strong--two sermons last Sunday, and a prayer-meeting at nine
o'clock?'

'Well, it won't do him any harm,' I repeated.

'Harm! O, let Jos. Larkin alone for that. It gets him all the religious
business of the county; and there are nice pickings among the charities,
and endowments, and purchases of building sites, and trust deeds; I dare
say it brings him in two or three hundred a year, eh?' And Wylder laughed
again. 'It has broken up his hard, proud heart,' he says; 'but it left
him a devilish hard head, I told him, and I think it sharpens his wits.'

'I rather think you'll find him a useful man; and to be so in his line of
business he must have his wits about him, I can tell you.'

'He amused me devilishly,' said Wylder, 'with a sort of exhortation he
treated me to; he's a delightfully impudent chap, and gave me to
understand I was a limb of the Devil, and he a saint. I told him I was
better than he, in my humble opinion, and so I am, by chalks. I know very
well I'm a miserable sinner, but there's mercy above, and I don't hide my
faults. I don't set up for a light or a saint; I'm just what the
Prayer-book says--neither more nor less--a miserable sinner. There's only
one good thing I can safely say for myself--I am no Pharisee; that's all;
I air no religious prig, puffing myself, and trusting to forms, making
long prayers in the market-place' (Mark's quotations were paraphrastic),
'and thinking of nothing but the uppermost seats in the synagogue, and
broad borders, and the praise of men--hang them, I hate those fellows.'

So Mark, like other men we meet with, was proud of being a Publican; and
his prayer was--'I thank Thee that I am not as other men are, spiritually

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