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Wylder's Hand by J. Sheridan Le Fanu

Part 10 out of 10

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He made an enquiry of the guard, with whom he was acquainted, about his
companion; but the guard knew nothing of the 'party,' neither did the
porter, to whom the guard put a similar question.

So, as Larkin walked down the platform, the whistle sounded and the train
glided forward, and as it passed him, the gentleman in the cloak and
queer hat was looking out. A lamp shone full on him. Mr. Larkin's heart
stood still for a moment, and then bounded up as if it would choke him.

'It's him, by ----!' and Mr. Larkin, forgetting syntax, and propriety,
and religion, all together, and making a frantic race to keep up with the
train, shouted--

'Stop it, stop it--hollo!--stop--stop--ho, stop!'

But he pleaded with the winds; and before he had reached the end of the
platform, the carriage windows were flying by him with the speed of
wheel-spokes, and the end of the coup, with its red lantern, sailed away
through the cutting.

'Forgot summat, Sir,' said the porter, touching his hat.

'Yes--signal--stop him, can you?'

The porter only scratched his head, under his cap, and smiled sheepishly
after the train. Jos. Larkin knew, the next moment, he had talked
nonsense.

'I--I--yes--I have--have you an engine here:--express--I'll pay
anything.'

But, no, there was 'no engine--not nearer than the junction, and she
might not be spared.'

'How far is the junction?'

'Nineteen and a-half.'

'Nineteen miles! They'll never bring me there, by horse, under two hours,
they are so cursed tedious. Why have not you a spare engine at a place
like this? Shillingsworth! Nice management! Are you certain? Where's the
station-master?'

All this time he kept staring after the faint pulsations on the air that
indicated the flight of the engine.

But it would not do. The train--the image upon earth of the irrevocable,
the irretrievable--was gone, neither to be overtaken nor recalled. The
telegraph was not then, as now, whispering secrets all over England, at
the rate of two hundred miles a second, and five shillings per twenty
words. Larkin would have given large money for an engine, to get up with
the train that was now some five miles on its route, at treble,
quadruple, the common cost of such a magical appliance; but all was vain.
He could only look and mutter after it wildly. Vain to conjecture for
what station that traveller in the battered hat was bound! Idle
speculation! Mere distraction!

Only that Mr. Larkin was altogether the man he was, I think he would have
cursed freely.

CHAPTER LXIX.

OF A SPECTRE WHOM OLD TAMAR SAW.

Little Fairy, all this while, continued, in our Church language, 'sick
and weak.' The vicar was very sorry, but not afraid. His little man was
so bright and merry, that he seemed to him the very spirit of life. He
could not dream of his dying. It was sad, to be sure, the little man so
many days in his bed, too languid to care for toy or story, quite silent,
except when, in the night time, those weird monologues began which showed
that the fever had reached his brain. The tones of his pleasant little
voice, in those sad flights of memory and fancy, busy with familiar
scenes and occupations, sounded wild and plaintive in his ear. And when
'Wapsie' was mentioned, sometimes the vicar's eyes filled, but he smiled
through this with a kind of gladness at the child's affection. 'It will
soon be over, my darling! You will be walking with Wapsie in a week
again.' The sun could as soon cease from shining as little Fairy from
living. The thought he would not allow near him.

Doctor Buddle had been six miles away that evening with a patient, and
looked in at the vicar's long after the candles were lighted.

He was not satisfied with little Fairy--not at all satisfied. He put his
hand under the clothes and felt his thin, slender limbs--thinner than
ever now. Dry and very hot they were--and little man babbling his
nonsense about little boys, and his 'Wapsie,' and toys, and birds, and
the mill-stream, and the church-yard--of which, with so strange a
fatality, children, not in romance only, but reality, so often prattle in
their feverish wanderings.

He felt his pulse. He questioned his mamma, and cross-examined the nurse,
and looked grave and very much annoyed; and then bethought him of
something to be tried; and having given his directions to the maid, he
went home in haste, and returned in half an hour with the something in a
phial--a few drops in water, and little man sat up, leaning on his
Wapsie's arm, and 'took it very good,' his nurse said, approvingly; and
he looked at them all wonderingly, for two or three moments, and so
tired; and they laid him down again, and then his spoken dreams began
once more.

Doctor Buddle was dark and short in his answers to voluble little Mrs.
Wylder--though, of course, quite respectful--and the vicar saw him down
the narrow stairs, and they turned into the study for a moment, and, said
Buddle, in an under tone--

'He's very ill--I can say nothing else.'

And there was a pause.

The little colour he had receded from the vicar's face, for the looks and
tones of good-natured Buddle were not to be mistaken. He was reading
little Fairy's death warrant.

'I see, doctor--I see; you think he'll die,' said the vicar, staring at
him. 'Oh doctor, my little Fairy!'

The doctor knew something of the poor vicar's troubles--of course in a
village most things of the kind _are_ known--and often, in his brisk,
rough way, he thought as, with a nod and a word, he passed the lank
cleric, under the trees or across the common, with his bright, prattling,
sunny-haired little boy by the hand--or encountered them telling stories
on the stile, near the castle meadow--what a gleam of sunshine was always
dancing about his path, in that smiling, wayward, loving little
fellow--and now a long Icelandic winter was coming, and his path was to
know that light no more.

'With children, you know, I--I always say there's a chance--but you are
right to look the thing in the face--and I'll be here the first call in
the morning; and you know where to find me, in the meantime;' and the
doctor shook hands very hard with the vicar at the hall-door, and made
his way homeward--the vicar's eyes following him till he was out of
sight.

Then William Wylder shut the hall-door, and turned about.

Little Fairy's drum was hanging from a peg on the hat-stand--the drum
that was to sound no more in the garden, or up and down the hall, with
the bright-haired little drummer's song. There would be no more
interruption now--the vicar would write his sermons undisturbed; no more
consolations claimed--no more broken toys to be mended--some of the
innocent little rubbish lay in the study. It should never move from
that--nor his drum--nor that little hat and cape, hanging on their peg,
with the tiny boots underneath.

No more prattling at unseasonable times--no more crying--no more
singing--no more laughing; all these interruptions were quiet now, and
altogether gone--'Little man! little Fairy! Oh, was it possible!' But
memory would call up the vicar from his half-written sermon. He would
miss his troublesome little man, when the sun shone out that he used to
welcome--when the birds hopped on the window-stone, to find the crumbs
that little man used to strew there; and when his own little
canary--'Birdie' he used to call him--would sing and twitter in his
cage--and the time came to walk out on his lonely visits.

He must walk alone by the shop-doors--where the little man was so
admired--and up the mill-road, and in the castle meadow and over the
stile where they used to sit.

Poor Dolly! Her Willie would not tell her yet. He kneeled down in the
study--'Little man's' top, and some cut paper nondescripts, were lying
where he had left them, at his elbow--and he tried to pray, and then he
remembered that his darling ought to know that he was going into the
presence of his Maker.

Yes, he would tell poor Dolly first, and then his little man. He would
repeat his hymn with him, and pray--and so he went up the nursery stairs.

Poor Dolly, very tired, had gone to lie down for a little. He would not
disturb her--no, let her enjoy for an hour more her happy illusion.

When he went into the nursery little Fairy was sitting up, taking his
medicine; the nurse's arm round his thin shoulders. He sat down beside
him, weeping gently, his thin face turned a little away, and his hand on
the coverlet.

Little man looked wonderingly from his tired eyes on Wapsie, and his thin
fingers crept on his hand, and Wapsie turned about, drying his eyes, and
said--

'Little man! my darling!'

'He's like himself, Sir, while he's sitting up--his little head quite
right again.'

'My head's quite right, Wapsie,' the little man whispered, sadly.

'Thank God, my darling!' said the vicar. The tears were running down his
cheeks while he parted little Fairy's golden hair with his fingers.

'When I am quite well again,' whispered the little man, 'won't you bring
me to the castle meadow, where the wee river is, and we'll float races
with daisies and buttercups--the way you did on my birthday.'

'They say that little mannikin----' suddenly the vicar stopped. 'They say
that little mannikin won't get well.'

'And am I always to be sick, here in my little bed, Wapsie?' whispered
little Fairy, in his dreamy, earnest way, that was new to him.

'No, darling; not always sick: you'll be happier than ever--but not here;
little man will be taken by his Saviour, that loves him best of all--and
he'll be in heaven--and only have a short time to wait, and maybe his
poor Wapsie will come to him, please God, and his darling mamma--and
we'll all be happy together, for ever, and never be sick or sorry any
more, my treasure--my little Fairy--my darling.'

And little man looked on him with his tired eyes, not quite understanding
what it meant, nor why Wapsie was crying; and the nurse said--

'He'd like to be dozin', Sir, he's so tired, please.' So down the poor
little fellow lay, his 'Wapsie' praying by his bedside.

When, in a little time, poor Dolly returned, her Willie took her round
the waist, as on the day when she accepted him, and led her tenderly into
the other room, and told her all, and they hugged and wept together.

'Oh, Dolly, Dolly!'

'Oh, Willie, darling! Oh, Willie, our precious treasure--our only one.'

And so they walked up and down that room, his arm round her waist, and in
that sorrowful embrace, murmuring amid their sobs to one another, their
thoughts and remembrances of 'little man.' How soon the treasure grows a
retrospect!

Then Dolly bethought her of her promise to Rachel.

'She made me promise to send for her if he was worse--she loved him
so--everyone loved him--they could not help--oh, Willie! our bright
darling.'

'I think, Dolly, we could not live here. I'd like to go on some mission,
and maybe come back in a great many years--maybe, Dolly, when we are old.
I'd like to see the place again--and--and the walks--but not, I think,
for a long time. He was such a darling.'

Perhaps the vicar was thinking of the church-yard, and how he would like,
when his time came, to lie beside the golden-haired little comrade of his
walks. So Dolly despatched the messenger with a lantern, and thus it was
there came a knocking at the door of Redman's Farm at that unseasonable
hour. For some time old Tamar heard the clatter in her sleep; disturbing
and mingling with her dreams. But in a while she wakened quite, and heard
the double knocks one after another in quick succession; and huddling on
her clothes, and muttering to herself all the way, she got into the hall,
and standing a couple of yards away from the door, answered in shrill and
querulous tones, and questioning the messenger in the same breath.

How could she tell what it might or might not portend? Her alarms quickly
subsided, however, for she knew the voice well.

So the story was soon told. Poor little Fairy; it was doubtful if he was
to see another morning; and the maid being wanted at home, old Tamar
undertook the message to Brandon Hall, where her young mistress was, and
sallied forth in her cloak and bonnet, under the haunted trees of
Redman's Dell.

Tamar had passed the age of ghostly terrors. There are a certain sober
literality and materialism in old age which abate the illusions of the
supernatural as effectually as those of love; and Tamar, though not
without awe, for darkness and solitude, even were there no associations
of a fearful kind in the locality, are suggestive and dismal to the last.

Her route lay, as by this time my reader is well aware, by that narrow
defile reached from Redman's Farm by a pathway which scales a flight of
rude steps, the same which Stanley Lake and his sister had mounted on the
night of Mark Wylder's disappearance.

Tamar knew the path very well. It was on the upper level of it that she
had held that conference with Stanley Lake, which obviously referred to
that young gentleman's treatment of the vanished Mark. As she came to
this platform, round which the trees receded a little so as to admit the
moonlight, the old woman was tired.

She would have gladly chosen another spot to rest in, but fatigue was
imperious; and she sat down under the gray stone which stood
perpendicularly there, on what had once been the step of a stile, leaning
against the rude column behind her.

As she sat here she heard the clank of a step approaching measuredly from
the Brandon side. It was twelve o'clock now; the chimes from the
Gylingden church-tower had proclaimed that in the distance some minutes
before. The honest Gylingden folk seldom heard the tower chimes tell
eleven, and gentle and simple had, of course, been long in their beds.

The old woman had a secret hatred of this place, and the unexpected
sounds made her hold her breath. She peeped round the stone, in whose
shadow she was sitting. The steps were not those of a man walking briskly
with a purpose: they were the desultory strides of a stroller lounging
out an hour's watch. The steps approached. The figure was visible--that
of a short broadish man, with a mass of cloaks, rugs, and mufflers across
his arm.

Carrying them with a sort of swagger, he came slowly up to the part of
the pathway opposite to the pillar, where he dropped those draperies in a
heap upon the grass; and availing himself of the clear moonlight, he
stopped nearly confronting her.

It was the face of Mark Wylder--she knew it well--but grown fat and
broader, and there was--but this she could not see distinctly--a purplish
scar across his eyebrow and cheek. She quivered with terror lest he
should have seen her, and might be meditating some mischief. But she was
seated close to the ground, several yards away, and in the sharp shadow
of the old block of stone.

He consulted his watch, and she sat fixed and powerless as a portion of
the block on which she leaned, staring up at this, to her, terrific
apparition. Mark Wylder's return boded, she believed, something
tremendous.

She saw the glimmer of the gold watch, and, distinctly, the great black
whiskers, and the face pallid in the moonlight. She was afraid for a
minute, during which he loitered there, that he was going to seat himself
upon the cloaks which he had just thrown upon the ground, and felt that
she could not possibly escape detection for many seconds more. But she
was relieved; for, after a short pause, leaving these still upon the
ground, he turned, and walked slowly, like a policeman on his beat,
toward Brandon.

With a gasp she began to recover herself; but she felt too faint and ill
to get up and commence a retreat towards Redman's Farm. Besides, she was
sure he would return--she could not tell how soon--and although the clump
of alders hid her from view, she could not tell but that the next moment
would disclose his figure retracing his leisurely steps, and ready to
pursue and overtake, if by a precipitate movement she had betrayed her
presence.

In due time the same figure, passing at the same rate, did emerge again,
and approached just as before, only this time he was carelessly examining
some small but clumsy steel instrument which glittered occasionally in
the light. From Tamar's description of it, I conclude it was a revolver.

He passed the pile of cloaks but a few steps, and again turned toward
Brandon. So soon as he was once more concealed by the screen of
underwood, old Tamar, now sufficiently recovered, crept hurriedly away in
the opposite direction, half dead with terror, until she had descended
the steps, and was buried once more in friendly darkness.

Old Tamar did not stop at Redman's Farm; she passed it and the mills, and
never stopped till she reached the Vicarage. In the hall, she felt for a
moment quite overpowered, and sitting in one of the old chairs that did
duty there, she uttered a deep groan, and looked with such a gaze in the
face of the maid who had admitted her, that she thought the old woman was
dying.

Sick rooms, even when, palpably, doctors, nurses, friends, have all
ceased to hope, are not to those who stand in the _very_ nearest and most
tender relations to the patient, altogether chambers of despair. There
are those who hover about the bed and note every gleam and glow of
subsiding life, and will read in sunset something of the colours of the
dawn, and cling wildly to these hallucinations of love; and no one has
the heart to tear them from them.

Just now, Dolly fancied that 'little man was better--the darling! the
treasure! oh, precious little man! He was coming back!'

So, she ran down with this light of hope in her face, and saw old Tamar
in the hall, and gave her a glass of the wine which Rachel had provided,
and the old woman's spirit came again.

'She was glad--yes, very glad. She was thankful to hear the dear child
was better.' But there was a weight upon her soul, and a dreadful horror
on her countenance still.

'Will you please, Ma'am, write a little note--my old hand shakes so, she
could hardly read my writing--to my mistress--Miss Radie, Ma'am. I see
pen and ink on the table there. I was not able to go up to the Hall,
Ma'am, with the message. There's something on the road I could not pass.'

'Something! What was it?' said Dolly, staring with round eyes in the old
woman's woeful face, her curiosity aroused for a moment.

'Something, Ma'am--a person--I can't exactly tell--above the steps, in
the Blackberry path. It would cost my young mistress her life. For
Heaven's sake, Ma'am, write, and promise, if you send for her, she shall
get the note.'

So, Dolly made the promise, and bringing old Tamar with her into the
study, penned these odd lines from her dictation, merely adjusting the
grammar.

'MISS RADIE, DEAR,--If coming down to-night from Brandon, this is to tell
you, it is as much as your life is worth to pass the Blackberry walk
above the steps. My old eyes have seen him there, walking back and
forward, lying at catch for some one, this night--the great enemy of man;
you can suppose in what shape.

'Your dutiful and loving servant,

TAMAR.'

So, old Tamar, after a little, took her departure; and it needed a great
effort to enable her to take the turn up the dark and lonely mill-road,
leading to Redman's Farm; so much did she dread the possibility of again
encountering the person she had just described.

CHAPTER LXX.

THE MEETING IN THE LONG POND ALLEY.

I suppose there were few waking heads at this hour in all the wide parish
of Gylingden, though many a usually idle one was now busy enough about
the great political struggle which was to muster its native forces, both
in borough and county, and agitate these rural regions with the roar and
commotion of civil strife.

But generals must sleep like other men; and even Tom Wealdon was snoring
in the fairy land of dreams.

The night was very still--a sharp night, with a thin moon, like a
scimitar, hanging bright in the sky, and a myriad of intense stars
blinking in the heavens, above the steep roofs and spiral chimneys of
Brandon Hall, and the ancient trees that surrounded it.

It was late in the night, as we know. The family, according to their
custom, had sought their slumbers early; and the great old house was
perfectly still.

One pair, at least, of eyes, however, were wide open; one head busy; and
one person still in his daily costume. This was Mr. Larcom--the grave
_major domo_, the bland and attached butler. He was not busy about his
plate, nor balancing the cellar book, nor even perusing his Bible.

He was seated in that small room or closet which he had, years ago,
appropriated as his private apartment. It is opposite the housekeeper's
room--a sequestered, philosophic retreat. He dressed in it, read his
newspaper there, and there saw his select acquaintance. His wardrobe
stood there. The iron safe in which he kept his keys, filled one of its
nooks. He had his two or three shelves of books in the recess; not that
he disturbed them much, but they were a grave and gentlemanlike property,
and he liked them for their binding, and the impression they produced on
his visitors. There was a meditative fragrance of cigars about him, and
two or three Havannah stumps under the grate.

The fact is, he was engaged over a letter, the writing of which,
considering how accomplished a gentleman he was, he had found rather
laborious and tedious. The penmanship was, I am afraid, clumsy, and the
spelling here and there, irregular. It was finished however, and he was
now reading it over with care.

It was thus expressed:--

'RESPECTET SIR,--In accordens with your disier, i av took my pen to say a
fue words. There has cum a leter for a sertun persen this morning, with a
Lundun posmark, and i do not now hand nor sele, but bad writting, which i
have not seen wot contanes, but I may, for as you told me offen, you are
anceus for welfare of our famly, as i now to be no more than trewth, so I
am anceus to ascest you Sir, wich my conseynce is satesfid, but leter as
trubeled a sertun persen oufull, hoo i new was engry, and look oufull put
about, wich do not offen apen, and you may sewer there is sumthing in
wind, he is alday so oufull peefish, you will not thing worse of me
speeken plane as yo disier, there beeing a deel to regret for frends of
the old famly i feer in a sertun resent marrege, if I shud lern be chance
contense of letter i will sewer rite you.--i Remane your humbel servant,

'JOHN LARCOM.'

Just as grave Mr. Larcom had ended the perusal of this bulletin, he heard
a light step on the stair, at the end of the passage, which made his
manly heart jump unpleasantly within his fat ribs. He thrust the unfolded
letter roughly into the very depths of his breeches pocket, and blew out
both candles; and then listened, as still as a mouse.

What frightened him was the certainty that the step, which he well knew,
was Stanley Lake's. And Stanley being a wideawake and violent person, and
his measures sharp and reckless, Mr. Larcom cherished a nervous respect
for him.

He listened; the captain's step came lightly to the foot of the stairs,
and paused. Mr. Larcom prepared to be fast asleep in the chair, in the
event of the captain's making a sudden advance, and entering his sanctum.
But this movement was not executed.

There was a small door at the foot of the stairs. It shut with a spring
lock, of which Captain Lake had a latch-key. Mr. Larcom accidentally had
another--a cylindrical bit of steel, with a hinge in the end of it, and a
few queer wards.

Now, of this little door he heard the two iron bolts stealthily drawn,
and then the handle of the spring lock turned, and the door cautiously
opened, and as gently closed.

Mr. Larcom's fears now naturally subsided, and curiosity as naturally
supervened. He drew near his window; and it was well he had extinguished
his lights, for as he did so, Captain Lake's light figure, in a gray
paletot and cloth cap, glided by like a spirit in the faint moonlight.

This phenomenon excited the profoundest interest in the corresponding
friend of the family, who, fumbling his letter between his finger and
thumb in his breeches' pocket, standing on tip-toe, with mouth agape, and
his head against the shutter, followed the receding figure with a greedy
stare.

Mr. Larcom had no theory whatsoever to account for this procedure on the
part of his master. It must be something very extraordinary, and well
worth investigating--of course, for the benefit of the family--which
could have evoked the apparition which had just crossed his window. With
his eyes close to the window pane, he saw his master glide swiftly along
the short terrace which covers this side of the house, and disappear down
the steps, like a spectre sinking into the earth.

It is a meeting, thought Mr. Larcom, taking courage, for he already felt
something of the confidence and superiority of possessing a secret; and
as quickly as might be, the trustworthy man, with his latch-key in his
pocket, softly opened the portal through which the object of his anxiety
had just emerged, closed the door behind him, and stood listening
intently in the recess of the entrance, where he heard the now more
careless step of the captain, treading, as he thought, the broad
yew-walk, which turns at a right angle at the foot of the terrace step.
The black yew hedge was a perfect screen.

Here was obviously resented a chance of obtaining the command of a secret
of greater or less importance. It was a considerable stake to play for,
and well worth a trifling risk.

He did not hesitate to follow--but with the soft tread of a polite
butler, doing his offices over the thick carpet of a drawing-room--and it
was in his mind--'Suppose he does discover me, what then? _I_'m as much
surprised as he! Thomas Brewen, the footman, who is under notice to
leave, has twice, to the captain's knowledge, played me the same trick,
and stole out through the gunroom window at night, and denied it
afterwards; so I sat up to detect him, and hearing the door open, and a
step, I pursued, and find I've made a mistake; and beg pardon with proper
humility--supposing the master is on the same errand--what can he say? It
will bring me a present, and a hint to say nothing of my having seen him
in the yew-walk at this hour.'

Of course he did not run through all this rigmarole in detail; but the
situation, the excuse, and the result, were present to his mind, and
filled him with a comfortable assurance.

Therefore, with decision and caution, he followed Captain Lake's march,
and reaching the yew-walk, he saw the slim figure in the cap and paletot
turn the corner, and enter the broad walk between the two wall-like beech
hedges, which led direct to the first artificial pond--a long, narrow
parallelogram, round which the broad walk passed in two straight lines,
fenced with the towering beech hedges, shorn as smooth as the walls of a
nunnery.

When the butler reached the point at which Captain Lake had turned, he
found himself all at once within fifty steps of that eccentric gentleman,
who was talking, but in so low a tone, that not even the sound of the
voices reached him, with a rather short, broad-shouldered person,
buttoned up in a surtout, and wearing a queer, Germanesque, felt hat,
battered and crushed a good deal.

Mr. Larcom held his breath. He was profoundly interested. After a while,
with an oath, he exclaimed--

'That's _him!_'

Then, after another pause, he gasped another oath:--

'It _is_ him!'

The square-built man in the surtout had a great pair of black whiskers;
and as he stood opposite Lake, conversing, with, now and again, an
earnest gesture, he showed a profile which Mr. Larcom knew very well; and
now they turned and walked slowly side by side along the broad walk by
that perpendicular wall of crisp brown leaves, he recognised also a
certain hitch in his shoulder, which made him swear and asseverate again.

He would have given something to hear what was passing. He thought
uneasily whether there might not be a side-path or orifice anywhere
through which he might creep so as to get to the other side of the hedge
and listen. But there was no way, and he must rest content with such
report as his eyes might furnish.

'They're not quarrelling no ways,' murmured he.

And, indeed, they walked together, stopping now and again, as it seemed,
very amicably. Captain Lake seemed to have most to say.

'He's awful cowed, he is; I never did think to see Mr. Wylder so affeard
of Lake; he _is_ affeard; yes, he is--_that_ he is.

And indeed there was an indescribable air of subservience in the
demeanour of the square-built gentleman very different from what Mark
Wylder once showed.

He saw the captain take from the pocket of his paletot a square box or
packet, it might be jewels or only papers, and hand them to his
companion, who popped them into his left-hand surtout pocket, and kept
his hand there as if the freightage were specially valuable.

Then they talked earnestly a little longer, standing together by the
pond; and then, side-by-side, they paced down the broad walk by its edge.
It was a long walk. Honest Larcom would have followed if there had been
any sort of cover to hide his advance; but there being nothing of the
kind he was fain to abide at his corner. Thence he beheld them come at
last slowly to a stand-still, talk evidently a little more, and finally
they shook hands--an indefinable something still of superiority in Lake's
air--and parted.

The captain was now all at once walking at a swift pace, alone, towards
Larcom's post of observation, and his secret confederate nearly as
rapidly in an opposite direction. It would not do for the butler to be
taken or even seen by Lake, nor yet to be left at the outside of the door
and barred out. So the captain had hardly commenced his homeward walk,
when Larcom, though no great runner, threw himself into an agitated
amble, and reached and entered the little door just in time to escape
observation. He had not been two minutes in his apartment again when he
once more beheld the figure of his master cross the window, and heard the
small door softly opened and closed, and the bolts slowly and cautiously
drawn again into their places. Then there was a pause. Lake was listening
to ascertain whether anyone was stirring, and being satisfied,
re-ascended the stairs, leaving the stout and courteous butler ample
matter for romantic speculation.

It was now the butler's turn to listen, which he did at the half-opened
door of his room. When he was quite assured that all was quiet, he shut
and bolted his door, closed the window-shutters, and relighted his pair
of wax candles.

Mr. Larcom was a good deal excited. He had seen strange things that
night. He was a good deal blown and heated by his run, and a little wild
and scared at the closeness of the captain's unconscious pursuit. His
head beside was full of amazing conjectures. After a while he took his
crumpled letter from his pocket, unfolded and smoothed it, and wrote upon
a blank half-page--

'RESPECTED SIR,--Since the above i ave a much to tel mos surprisen, the
gentleman you wer anceous of tiding mister M. W. is cum privet, and him
and master met tonite nere 2 in morning, in the long pond allee, so is
near home then we suposed, no more at present Sir from your

'humbel servent JOHN

'LARCOM.

'i shall go to dolington day arter to-morrow by eleven o'clock trane if
you ere gong, Sir.'

When the attorney returned, between eleven and twelve o'clock next
morning, this letter awaited him. It did not, of course, surprise him,
but it conclusively corroborated all his inferences.

Here had been Mark Wylder. He had stopped at Dollington, as the attorney
suspected he would, and he had kept tryst, in the Brandon grounds, with
sly Captain Lake, whose relations with him it became now more difficult
than ever clearly to comprehend.

Wylder was plainly under no physical coercion. He had come and gone
unattended. For one reason or other he was, at least, as strongly
interested as Lake in maintaining secrecy.

That Mark Wylder was living was the grand fact with which he had just
then to do. How near he had been to purchasing the vicar's reversion! The
engrossed deeds lay in the black box there. And yet it might be all true
about Mark's secret marriage. At that moment there might be a whole
rosary of sons, small and great, to intercept the inheritance; and the
Reverend William Wylder might have no more chance of the estates than he
had of the crown.

What a deliverance for the good attorney. His money was quite safe. The
excellent man's religion was, we know, a little Jewish, and rested upon
temporal rewards and comforts. He thought, I am sure, that a competent
staff of angels were placed specially in charge of the interests of Jos.
Larkin, Esq., who attended so many services and sermons on Sundays, and
led a life of such ascetic propriety. He felt quite grateful to them, in
his priggish way--their management in this matter had been so eminently
satisfactory. He regretted that he had not an opportunity of telling them
so personally. I don't say that he would have expressed it in these
literal terms; but it was fixed in his mind that the carriage of his
business was supernaturally arranged. Perhaps he was right, and he was at
once elated and purified, and his looks and manner that afternoon were
more than usually meek and celestial.

CHAPTER LXXI.

SIR HARRY BRACTON'S INVASION OF GYLINGDEN.

Jim Dutton had not turned up since, and his letter was one of those
mares' nests of which gentlemen in Mr. Larkin's line of business have so
large an experience. Of Mark Wylder not a trace was discoverable. His
enquiries on this point were, of course, conducted with caution and
remoteness. Gylingden, however, was one of those places which, if it
knows anything, is sure to find a way of telling it, and the attorney was
soon satisfied that Mark's secret visit had been conducted with
sufficient caution to baffle the eyes and ears of the good folk of the
town.

Well, one thing was plain. The purchase of the reversion was to wait, and
fraudulent as was the price at which he had proposed to buy it, he was
now resolved to get it for less than half that sum, and he wrote a short
note to the vicar, which he forthwith despatched.

In the meantime there was not a moment to be lost in clenching the
purchase of Five Oaks. And Mr. Jos. Larkin, with one of his 'young men'
with him in the tax-cart, reached Brandon Hall in a marvellously short
time after his arrival at home.

Jos. Larkin, his clerk, and the despatch-box, had a short wait in the
Dutch room, before his admission to the library, where an animated debate
was audible. The tremendous contest impending over the county was, of
course, the theme. In the Dutch room, where they waited, there was a
large table, with a pyramid of blank envelopes in the middle, and ever so
many cubic feet of canvassing circulars, six chairs, and pens and ink.
The clerks were in the housekeeper's room at that moment, partaking of
refreshment. There was a gig in the court-yard, with a groom at the
horse's head, and Larkin, as he drew up, saw a chaise driving round to
the stable yard. People of all sorts were coming and going, and Brandon
Hall was already growing like an inn.

'How d'ye do, dear Larkin?' said Captain Brandon Stanley Lake, the hero
of all this debate and commotion, smiling his customary sly greeting, and
extending his slim hand across the arm of his chair--'I'm so sorry you
were away--this thing has come, after all, so suddenly--we are getting on
famously though--but I'm awfully fagged.' And, indeed, he looked pale and
tired, though smiling. 'I've a lot of fellows with me; they've just run
in to luncheon; won't you take something?'

But Jos. Larkin, smiling after his sort, excused himself. He was glad
they had a moment to themselves. He had brought the money, which he knew
would be acceptable at such a moment, and he thought it would be
desirable to sign and seal forthwith, to which the captain, a little
anxiously, agreed. So he got in one of the clerks who were directing the
canvassing circulars, and gave him the draft, approved by his counsel, to
read aloud, while he followed with his eye upon the engrossed deed.

The attorney told down the money in bank bills. He fancied that exception
might be taken to his cheque for so large a sum, and was eager to avoid
delay, and came from London so provided.

The captain was not sorry, for in truth he was in rather imminent
jeopardy just then. He had spoken truth, strangely enough, when he
mentioned his gambling debts as an incentive to his marriage with the
heiress of Brandon, in that Sunday walk with Rachel in the park; and
hardly ten minutes had passed when Melton Hervey, trustiest of
aide-de-camps, was on his way to Dollington to make a large lodgment to
the captain's credit in the county bank, and to procure a letter of
credit for a stupendous sum in favour of Messrs. Hiram and Jacobs,
transmitted under cover to Captain Lake's town solicitor. The captain had
signed, sealed, and delivered, murmuring that formula about hand and
seal, and act and deed, and Dorcas glided in like a ghost, and merely
whispering an enquiry to Lake, did likewise, the clerk deferentially
putting the query, 'this is your hand and seal, &c.?' and Jos. Larkin
drawing a step or two backward.

Of course the lady saw that lank and sinister man of God quite
distinctly, but she did not choose to do so, and Larkin, with a grand
sort of prescience, foresaw a county feud between the Houses of Five Oaks
and Brandon, and now the lady had vanished. The money, carefully counted,
was rolled in Lake's pocket book, and the bright new deed which made Jos.
Larkin, of the Lodge, Esq., master of Five Oaks, was safely locked into
the box, under his long arm, and the attorney vanished, bowing very much,
and concealing his elation under a solemn sort of _nonchalance_.

The note, which by this time the vicar had received, though short, was,
on the whole, tremendous. It said:--

'(_Private._)

REV. AND DEAR SIR,--I have this moment arrived from London, where I
deeply regret to state the negotiation on which we both relied to carry
you comfortably over your present difficulties has fallen through, in
consequence of what I cannot but regard as the inexcusable caprice of the
intending purchaser. He declines stating any reason for his withdrawal. I
fear that the articles were so artfully framed by his solicitors, in one
particular which it never entered into my mind to refer to anything like
trick or design, that we shall find it impossible to compel him to carry
out what, in the strongest terms, I have represented to Messrs.
Burlington and Smith as a bargain irrevocably concluded in point of
honour and morality. The refusal of their own client to make the proposed
investment has alarmed those gentlemen, I regret to add, for the safety
of their costs, which, as I before apprised you, are, though I cannot say
excessive, certainly _very heavy_; and I fear we must be prepared for
extreme measures upon their part. I have carefully reconsidered the very
handsome proposal which Miss Lake was so good as to submit; but the
result is that, partly on technical, and partly on other grounds, I
continue of the clear opinion that the idea is absolutely impracticable,
and must be peremptorily laid aside in attempting to arrive at an
estimate of any resources which you may be conscious of commanding. If,
under these deplorably untoward circumstances, you still think I can be
of any use to you, may I beg that you will not hesitate to say how.

'I remain, my dear and reverend Sir, with profound regrets and sympathy,
yours very sincerely,

'JOS. H. LARKIN.'

He had already imported the H. which was to germinate, in a little while,
into Howard.

When Jos. Larkin wanted to get a man's property a bargain--and he had
made two or three excellent hits, though, comparatively, on a very small
scale--he liked so to contrive matters as to bring his client to his
knees, begging him to purchase on the terms he wished; and then Jos.
Larkin came forward, in the interests of humanity, and unable to resist
the importunities of 'a party whom he respected,' he did 'what, at the
time, appeared a very risky thing, although it has turned out tolerably
safe in the long run.'

The screw was now twisted pretty well home upon the poor vicar, who, if
he had any sense at all, would, remembering Larkin's expressions only a
week before, suggest his buying, and so, the correspondence would
disclose, in a manner most honourable to the attorney, the history of the
purchase.

But the clouds had begun to break, and the sky to clear, over the good
vicar, just at the point where they had been darkest and most menacing.

Little Fairy, after all, was better. Good-natured Buddle had been there
at nine, quite amazed at his being so well, still reserved and cautious,
and afraid of raising hopes. But when he came back, at eleven, and had
completed his examination, he told them, frankly, that there was a
decided change; in fact, that the little man, with, of course, great
care, might do very well, and _ought_ to recover, if nothing went wrong.

Honest Buddle was delighted. He chuckled over the little man's bed. He
could not suppress his grins. He was a miracle of a child! a prodigy! By
George, it was the most extraordinary case he had ever met with! It was
all that bottle, and that miraculous child; they seemed made for one
another. From two o'clock, last night, the action of his skin has
commenced, and never ceased since. When he was here last night, the
little fellow's pulse was a hundred and forty-four, and now down to
ninety-seven!

The doctor grew jocular; and who can resist a doctor's jokes, when they
garnish such tidings as he was telling. Was ever so pleasant a doctor!
Laughter through tears greeted these pleasantries; and oh, such
transports of gratitude broke forth when he was gone!

It was well for Driver, the postmaster, and his daughters, that all the
circulars made up that day in Brandon Hall were not despatched through
the Gylingden post-office. It was amazing how so many voters could find
room to one county. Next day, it was resolved, the captain's personal
canvass was to commence. The invaluable Wealdon had run through the list
of his to-morrow's visits, and given him an inkling of the
idiosyncrasies, the feuds, and the likings of each elector in the
catalogue. 'Busy times, Sir!' Tom Wealdon used to remark, with a chuckle,
from time to time, in the thick of the fuss and conspiration which was
the breath of his nostrils; and, doubtless, so they are, and were, and
ever will be, until the time-honoured machinery of our election system
has been overhauled, and adapted to the civilisation of these days.

Captain Brandon Lake was as much as possible at head quarters in these
critical times; and, suddenly, Mr. Crump; the baker, and John Thomas, of
the delft, ironmongery, sponge, and umbrella shop, at the corner of
Church Street, in Gylingden, were announced by the fatigued servant. They
bowed, and stood, grinning, near the door; and the urbane and cordial
captain, with all a candidate's good fellowship, shook them both by the
hands, and heard their story; and an exciting one it was.

Sir Harry Bracton had actually invaded the town of Gylingden. There was a
rabble of the raff of Queen's Bracton along with him. He, with two or
three young swells by him, had made a speech, from his barouche, outside
the 'Silver Lion,' near the green; and he was now haranguing from the
steps of the Court House. They had a couple of flags, and some music. It
was 'a regular, planned thing;' for the Queen's Bracton people had been
dropping in an hour before. The shop-keepers were shutting their windows.
Sir Harry was 'chaffing the capting,' and hitting him very hard 'for a
hupstart'--and, in fact, Crump was more particular in reporting the
worthy baronet's language than was absolutely necessary. And it was
thought that Sir Harry was going to canvass the town.

The captain was very much obliged, indeed, and begged they would go into
the parlour, and take luncheon; and, forthwith, Wealdon took the command.
The gamekeepers, the fifty hay-makers in the great meadow, they were to
enter the town from the top of Church Street, where they were to gather
all the boys and blackguards they could. The men from the gas-works, the
masons, and blacksmiths, were to be marched in by Luke Samways. Tom
Wealdon would, himself, in passing, give the men at the coal-works a
hint. Sir Harry's invasion was the most audacious thing on record; and it
was incumbent on Gylingden to make his defeat memorably disgraceful and
disastrous.

His barouche was to be smashed, and burnt on the green; his white topcoat
and hat were to clothe the effigy, which was to swing over the bonfire.
The captured Bracton banners were to hang in the coffee-room of the
'Silver Lion,' to inspire the roughs. What was to become of the human
portion of the hostile pageant, Tom, being an official person, did not
choose to hint.

All these, and fifty minor measures, were ordered by the fertile Wealdon
in a minute, and suitable messengers on the wing to see after them. The
captain, accompanied by Mr. Jekyl, myself, and a couple of the grave
scriveners from the next room, were to go by the back approach and
Redman's Dell to the Assembly Rooms, which Crump and Thomas, already on
their way in the fly, undertook to have open for their reception, and
furnished with some serious politicians from the vicinity. From the
windows, the captain, thus supported, was to make his maiden speech, one
point in which Tom Wealdon insisted upon, and that was an injunction to
the 'men of Gylingden' on no account to break the peace. 'Take care to
say it, and we'll have it well reported in the "Chronicle," and our lads
won't mind it, nor hear it neither, for that matter.'

So, there was mounting in hot haste in the courtyard of old Brandon, and
a rather ponderous selection of walking-sticks by the politicians--of
whom I was one--intended for the windows of the assembly room.

Lake rode; Tom Wealdon, myself, and two scriveners, squeezed into the
dog-cart, which was driven by Jekyl, and away we went. It was a pleasant
drive, under the noble old trees. But we were in no mood for the
picturesque. A few minutes brought us into the Blackberry hollow, which
debouches into Redman's Dell.

Here, the road being both steep and rugged, our speed abated. The
precipitous banks shut out the sunlight, except at noon, and the road
through this defile, overhung by towering trees and rocks, was even now
in solemn shadow. The cart-road leading down to Redman's Dell, and
passing the mills near Redman's Farm, diverges from the footpath with
which we are so well acquainted, near that perpendicular block of stone
which stands a little above the steps which the footpath here descends.

CHAPTER LXXII.

MARK WYLDER'S HAND.

Just at the darkest point of the road, a little above the rude column
which I have mentioned, Lake's horse, a young one, shied, stopped short,
recoiling on its haunches, and snorted fiercely into the air. At the same
time, the two dogs which had accompanied us began to bark furiously
beneath in the ravine.

The tall form of Uncle Lorne was leaning against a tree at the edge of
the ravine, with his left hand extended towards us, and his right
pointing down the precipice. Perhaps it was this odd apparition that
startled Lake's horse.

'I told you he was coming up--lend him a hand,' yelled Uncle Lorne, in
great excitement.

No one at such a moment minded his maunderings: but many people
afterwards thought that the crazed old man, in one of his night-rambles,
had seen that which, till now, no one had imagined; and that Captain Lake
himself, whose dislike of him was hardly disguised, suspected him, at
times of that alarming knowledge.

Lake plunged the spurs into his beast, which reared so straight that she
toppled backward toward the edge of the ravine.

'Strike her on the head; jump off,' shouted Wealdon.

But he did neither.

'D-- it! put her head down; lean forward,' bellowed Wealdon again.

But it would not do. With a crash among briars, and a heavy thump from
beneath that shook the earth, the mare and her rider went over. A shout
of horror broke from us all; and Jekyl, watching the catastrophe, was
very near pulling our horse over the edge, and launching us all together,
like the captain, into the defile.

In a moment more we were all on the ground, and scrambling down the side
of the ravine, among rocks, boughs, brambles, and ferns, in the deep
shadows of the gorge, the dogs still yelling furiously from below.

'Here he is,' cried Jekyl. 'How are you, Lake? Much hurt, old boy? By
Jove, he's killed, I think.'

Lake groaned.

He lay about twelve feet below the edge. The mare, now lying near the
bottom of the gorge, had, I believe, fallen upon him, and then tumbled
over.

Strange to say, Lake was conscious, and in a few seconds, he said, in
reply to the horrified questions of his friend--

'I'm _all_ smashed. Don't move me;' and, in a minute more--'Don't mind
that d--d brute; she's killed. Let her lie.'

It appeared very odd, but so it was, he appeared eager upon this point,
and, faint as he was, almost savage.

'Tell them to let her lie there.'

Wealdon and I, however, scrambled down the bank. He was right. The mare
lay stone dead, on her side, at the bottom. He lifted her head, by the
ear, and let it fall back.

In the meantime the dogs continued their unaccountable yelling close by.

'What the devil's that?' said Wealdon.

Something like a stunted, blackened branch was sticking out of the peat,
ending in a set of short, thickish twigs. This is what it seemed. The
dogs were barking at it. It was, really, a human hand and arm, disclosed
by the slipping of the bank; undermined by the brook, which was swollen
by the recent rains.

The dogs were sniffing and yelping about it.

'It's a hand!' cried Wealdon, with an oath.

'A hand?' I echoed.

We were both peering at it, having drawn near, stooping and hesitating as
men do in a curious horror.

It was, indeed, a human hand and arm, disclosed from about the elbow,
enveloped in a discoloured coat-sleeve, which fell back from the limb,
and the fingers, like it black, were extended in the air. Nothing more of
the body to which it belonged, except the point of a knee, in stained and
muddy trousers, protruding from the peat, was visible.

It must have lain there a considerable time, for, notwithstanding the
antiseptic properties of that sort of soil, mixed with the decayed bark
and fibre of trees, a portion of the flesh of the hand was decomposed,
and the naked bone disclosed. On the little finger something glimmered
dully.

In this livid hand, rising from the earth, there was a character both of
menace and appeal; and on the finger, as I afterwards saw at the inquest,
glimmered the talismanic legend 'Resurgam--I will rise again!' It was the
corpse of Mark Wylder, which had lain buried here undiscovered for many
months. A horrible odour loaded the air. Perhaps it was this smell of
carrion, from which horses sometimes recoil with a special terror, that
caused the swerving and rearing which had ended so fatally. At that
moment we heard a voice calling, and raising our eyes, saw Uncle Lorne
looking down from the rock with an agitated scowl.

'I've done with him now--_emeritus_--he touches me, no more. Take him by
the hand, merciful lads, or they'll draw him down again.'

And with these words Uncle Lorne receded, and I saw him no more.

As yet we had no suspicion whose was the body thus unexpectedly
discovered.

We beat off the dogs, and on returning to Lake, found Jekyl trying to
raise him a little against a tree. We were not far from Redman's Farm,
and it was agreed, on hasty consultation, that our best course would be
to carry Lake thither at once by the footpath, and that one of
us--Wealdon undertook this--should drive the carriage on, and apprising
Rachel on the way of the accident which had happened, and that her
brother was on his way thither, should drive on to Buddle's house,
sending assistance to us from the town.

It was plain that Stanley Lake's canvass was pretty well over. There was
not one of us who looked at him that did not feel convinced that he was
mortally hurt. I don't think he believed so himself then; but we could
not move him from the place where he lay without inflicting so much pain,
that we were obliged to wait for assistance.

'D-- the dogs, what are they barking for?' said Lake, faintly. He seemed
distressed by the noise.

'There's a dead body partly disclosed down there--some one murdered and
buried; but one of Mr. Juke's young men is keeping them off.'

Lake made an effort to raise himself, but with a grin and a suppressed
moan he abandoned it.

'Is there no doctor--I'm very much hurt?' said Lake, faintly, after a
minute's silence.

We told him that Buddle had been sent for; and that we only awaited help
to get him down to Redman's Farm.

When Rachel heard the clang of hoofs and the rattle of the tax-cart
driving down the mill-road, at a pace so unusual, a vague augury of evil
smote her. She was standing in the porch of her tiny house, and old Tamar
was sitting knitting on the bench close by.

'Tamar, they are galloping down the road, I think--what can it mean?'
exclaimed the young lady, scared she could not tell why; and old Tamar
stood up, and shaded her eyes with her shrunken hand.

Tom Wealdon pulled up at the little wicket. He was pale. He had lost his
hat, too, among the thickets, and could not take time to recover it.
Altogether he looked wild.

He put his hand to where his hat should have been in token of salutation,
and said he--

'I beg pardon, Miss Lake, Ma'am, but I'm sorry to say your brother the
captain's badly hurt, and maybe you could have a shakedown in the parlour
ready for him by the time I come back with the doctor, Ma'am?'

Rachel, she did not know how, was close by the wheel of the vehicle by
this time.

'Is it Sir Harry Bracton? He's in the town, I know. Is Stanley shot?'

'Not shot; only thrown, Miss, into the Dell; his mare shied at a dead
body that's there. You'd better stay where you are, Miss; but if you
could send up some water, I think he'd like it. Going for the doctor,
Ma'am; good-bye, Miss Lake.'

And away went Wealdon, wild, pale, and hatless, like a man pursued by
robbers.

'Oh! Tamar, he's killed--Stanley's killed--I'm sure he's killed, and
all's discovered'--and Rachel ran wildly up the hill a few steps, but
stopped and returned as swiftly.

'Thank God, Miss,' said old Tamar, lifting up her trembling fingers and
white eyes to Heaven. 'Better dead, Miss, than living on in sin and
sorrow, better discovered than hid by daily falsehood and cruelty. Old
Tamar's tired of life; she's willing to go, and wishin' for death this
many a day. Oh! Master Stanley, my child!'

Rachel went into the parlour and kneeled down, with white upturned face
and clasped hands. But she could not pray. She could only look her wild
supplication;--deliverance--an issue out of the terrors that beset her;
and 'oh! poor miserable lost Stanley!' It was just a look and an
inarticulate cry for mercy.

An hour after Captain Stanley Brandon Lake, whose 'election address' was
figuring that evening in the 'Dollington Courier,' and in the 'County
Chronicle,' lay with his clothes still on, in the little drawing-room of
Redman's Farm, his injuries ascertained, his thigh broken near the hip,
and his spine fractured. No hope--no possibility of a physical
reascension, this time.

Meanwhile, in the Blackberry Dell, Doctor Buddle was assisting at a
different sort of inquisition. The two policemen who constituted the
civil force of Gylingden, two justices of the peace, the doctor, and a
crowd of amateurs, among whom I rank myself, were grouped in the dismal
gorge, a little to windward of the dead body, which fate had brought to
light, while three men were now employed in cautiously disinterring it.

When the operation was completed, there remained no doubt whatever on my
mind: discoloured and disfigured as were both clothes and body, I was
sure that the dead man was no other than Mark Wylder. When the clay with
which it was clotted was a little removed, it became indubitable. The
great whiskers; the teeth so white and even; and oddly enough, one black
lock of hair which he wore twisted in a formal curl flat on his forehead,
remained undisturbed in its position, as it was fixed there at his last
toilet for Brandon Hall.

In the rude and shallow grave in which he lay, his purse was found, and
some loose silver mixed in the mould. The left hand, on which was the
ring of 'the Persian magician,' was bare; the right gloved, with the
glove of the other hand clutched firmly in it.

The body was got up in a sheet to a sort of spring cart which awaited it,
and so conveyed to the 'Silver Lion,' in Gylingden, where it was placed
in a disused coach-house to await the inquest. There the examination was
continued, and his watch (the chain broken) found in his waistcoat
pocket. In his coat-pocket were found (of course, in no very presentable
condition) his cigar-case, his initials stamped on it, for Mark had, in
his day, a keen sense of property; his handkerchief, also marked; a
pocket-book with some entries nearly effaced; and a letter unopened, and
sealed with Lord Chelford's seal. The writing was nearly washed away, but
the letters 'lwich,' or 'twich,' were still legible near the corner, and
it turned out to be a letter to Dulwich, which Mark Wylder had undertaken
to put in the Gylingden post-office, on the last night on which he
appeared at Brandon.

The whole town was in a ferment that night. Great debate and conjecture
in the reading-room, and even on the benches of the billiard-room. The
'Silver Lion' did a great business that night. Mine host might have
turned a good round sum only by showing the body, were it not that
Edwards, the chief policeman, had the keys of the coach-house. Much
to-ing and fro-ing there was between the town and Redman's Farm, the
respectable inhabitants all sending or going up to enquire how the
captain was doing. At last Doctor Buddle officially interfered. The
constant bustle was injurious to his patient. An hourly bulletin up to
twelve o'clock should be in the hall of the 'Brandon Arms;' and Redman's
Dell grew quiet once more.

When William Wylder heard the news, he fainted; not altogether through
horror or grief, though he felt both; but the change in his circumstances
was so amazing and momentous. It was a strange shock--immense
relief--immense horror--quite overwhelming.

Mark had done some good-natured things for him in a small five-pound way;
he had promised him that loan, too, which would have lifted him out of
his Slough of Despond, and he clung with an affectionate gratitude to
these exhibitions of brotherly love. Besides, he had accustomed
himself--the organ of veneration standing prominent on the top of the
vicar's head--to regard Mark in the light of a great practical
genius--'natus rebus agendis;' he knew men so thoroughly--he understood
the world so marvellously! The vicar was not in the least surprised when
Mark came in for a fortune. He had always predicted that Mark must become
_very_ rich, and that nothing but indolence could prevent his ultimately
becoming a very great man. The sudden and total disappearance of so
colossal an object was itself amazing.

There was another person very strongly, though differently, affected by
the news. Under pretext of business at Naunton, Jos. Larkin had driven
off early to Five Oaks, to make inspection of his purchase. He dined like
a king in disguise, at the humble little hostelry of Naunton Friars, and
returned in the twilight to the Lodge, which he would make the
dower-house of Five Oaks, with the Howard shield over the door. He was
gracious to his domestics, but the distance was increased: he was nearer
to the clouds, and they looked smaller.

'Well, Mrs. Smithers,' said he, encouragingly, his long feet on the
fender, for the evening was sharp, and Mrs. S. knew that he liked a bit
of fire at his tea 'any letters--any calls--any news stirring?'

'No letters, nor calls, Sir, please, except the butcher's book. I s'pose,
Sir, you were viewing the body?'

'What body?'

'Mr. Wylder's, please, Sir.'

'The vicar!' exclaimed Mr. Larkin, his smile of condescension suddenly
vanishing.

'No, Sir; Mr. _Mark_ Wylder, please; the gentleman, Sir, as was to 'av
married Miss Brandon.'

'What the devil do you mean, woman?' ejaculated the attorney, his back to
the fire, standing erect, and a black shadow over his amazed and offended
countenance.

'The devil,' in such a mouth, was so appalling and so amazing, that the
worthy woman gazed, thunder-struck, upon him for a moment.

'Beg your pardon, Sir; but his body's bin found, Sir.'

'You mean Mr. _Mark_?'

'Yes, please, Sir; in a hole near the mill road--it's up in the "Silver
Lion" now, Sir.'

'It must be the vicar's--it must,' said Jos. Larkin, getting his hat on,
sternly, and thinking how likely he was to throw himself into the mill
race, and impossible it was that Mark, whom he and Larcom had both seen
alive and well last night--the latter, indeed, _this morning_--could
possibly be the man. And thus comforting himself, he met old Major
Jackson on the green, and that gentleman's statement ended with the
words; 'and in an advanced stage of decomposition.'

'That settles the matter,' said Larkin, breathing again, and with a toss
of his head, and almost a smile of disdain: 'for I saw Mr. Mark Wylder
late last night at Shillingsworth.'

Leaving Major Jackson in considerable surprise, Mr. Larkin walked off to
Edwards' dwelling, at the top of Church Street, and found that active
policeman at home. In his cool, grand, official way, Mr. Larkin requested
Mr. Edwards to accompany him to the 'Silver Lion,' where in the same calm
and commanding way, he desired him to attend him to view the corpse. In
virtue of his relation to Mark Wylder, and of his position as sole
resident and legal practitioner, he was obeyed.

The odious spectacle occupied him for some minutes. He did not speak
while they remained in the room. On coming out there was a black cloud
upon the attorney's features, and he said, sulkily, to Edwards, who had
turned the key in the lock, and now touched his hat as he listened,

'Yes, there is a resemblance, but it is all a mistake. I travelled as far
as Shillingsworth last night with Mr. Mark Wylder: he was perfectly well.
This can't be he.'

But there was a terrible impression on Mr. Jos. Larkin's mind that this
certainly _was_ he, and with a sulky nod to the policeman, he walked
darkly down to the vicar's house. The vicar had been sent for to Naunton
to pray with a dying person; and Mr. Larkin, disappointed, left a note to
state that in writing that morning, as he had done, in reference to the
purchase of the reversion, through Messrs. Burlington and Smith, he had
simply expressed his own surmises as to the probable withdrawal of the
intending purchaser, but had received no formal, nor, indeed, _any_
authentic information, from either the party or the solicitors referred
to, to that effect. That he mentioned this lest misapprehension should
arise, but not as attaching any importance to the supposed discovery
which seemed to imply Mr. Mark Wylder's death. That gentleman, on the
contrary, he had seen alive and well at Shillingsworth on the night
previous; and he had been seen in conference with Captain Lake at a
subsequent hour, at Brandon.

From all this the reader may suppose that Mr. Jos. Larkin was not quite
in a comfortable state, and he resolved to get the deeds, and go down
again to the vicar's, and persuade him to execute them. He could make
William Wylder, of course, do whatever he pleased.

There were a good many drunken fellows about the town, but there was an
end of election demonstrations in the Brandon interest. Captain Lake was
not going in for that race; he would be on another errand by the time the
writ came down.

CHAPTER LXXIII.

THE MASK FALLS.

There was a 'stop press' that evening in the county paper--'We have just
learned that a body has been disinterred, early this afternoon, under
very strange circumstances, in the neighbourhood of Gylingden; and if the
surmises which are afloat prove well-founded, the discovery will set at
rest the speculations which have been busy respecting the whereabouts of
a certain gentleman of large property and ancient lineage, who, some time
since, mysteriously disappeared, and will, no doubt, throw this county
into a state of very unusual excitement. We can state, upon authority,
that the coroner will hold his inquest on the body, to-morrow at twelve
o'clock, in the town of Gylingden.

There was also an allusion to Captain Lake's accident--with the
expression of a hope that it would 'prove but a trifling one,' and an
assurance 'that his canvass would not be prevented by it--although for a
few days it might not be a personal one. But his friends might rely on
seeing him at the hustings, and hearing him too, when the proper time
arrived.'

It was quite well known, however, in Gylingden, by this time, that
Captain Lake was not to see the hustings--that his spine was
smashed--that he was lying on an extemporised bed, still in his clothes,
in the little parlour of Redman's Farm--cursing the dead mare in
gasps--railing at everybody--shuddering whenever they attempted to remove
his clothes--hoping, in broken sentences, that his people would give
Bracton and--good licking. Bracton's outrage was the cause of the entire
thing--and so help him Heaven, so soon as he should be on his legs again,
he would make him feel it, one way or other.

Buddle thought he was in so highly excited a state, that his brain must
have sustained some injury also.

He asked Buddle about ten o'clock (having waked up from a sort of
stupor)--'what about Jim Dutton?' and then, whether there was not some
talk about a body they had found, and what it was. So Buddle told him all
that was yet known, and he listened very attentively.

'But Larkin has been corresponding with Mark Wylder up to a very late
day, and if this body has been so long buried, how the devil can it be
he? And if it be as bodies usually are after such a time, how can anybody
pretend to identify it? And I happen to know that Mark Wylder is living,'
he added, suddenly.

The doctor told him not to tire himself talking, and offered, if he
wished to make a statement before a magistrate, to arrange that one
should attend and receive it.

'I rather dislike it, because Mark wants to keep it quiet; but if, on
public grounds, it is desirable, I will make it, of course. You'll use
your discretion in mentioning the subject.'

So the captain was now prepared to acknowledge the secret meeting of the
night before, and to corroborate the testimony of his attorney and his
butler.

Stanley Lake had now no idea that his injuries were dangerous. He said he
had a bad bruise under his ribs, and a sprained wrist, and was a little
bit shaken; and he talked of his electioneering as only suspended for a
day or two.

Buddle, however, thought the case so imminent, that on his way to the
'Brandon Arms,' meeting Larkin, going, attended by his clerk, again to
the vicar's house, he stopped him for a moment, and told him what had
passed, adding, that Lake was so frightfully injured, that he might begin
to sink at any moment, and that by next evening, at all events, he might
not be in a condition to make a deposition.

'It is odd enough--very odd,' said Larkin. 'It was only an hour since, in
conversation with our policeman, Edwards, that I mentioned the fact of my
having myself travelled from London to Shillingsworth last night with Mr.
Mark Wylder, who went on by train in this direction, I presume, to meet
our unfortunate friend, Captain Lake, by appointment. Thomas Sleddon, of
Wadding Hall--at this moment in the "Brandon Arms"--is just the man; if
you mention it to him, he'll go up with you to Redman's Farm, and take
the deposition. Let it be a _deposition_, do you mind; a statement is
mere hearsay.'

Comforted somewhat, reassured in a certain way, and in strong hopes that,
at all events, such a muddle would be established as to bewilder the
jury, Mr. Jos. Larkin, with still an awful foreboding weighing at his
heart, knocked at the vicar's door, and was shown into the study. A
solitary candle being placed, to make things bright and pleasant for the
visitor, who did not look so himself, the vicar, very pale, and appearing
to have grown even thinner since he last saw him, entered, and shook his
hand with an anxious attempt at a smile, which faded almost instantly.

'I am so delighted that you have come. I have passed a day of such
dreadful agitation. Poor Mark!'

'There is no doubt, Sir, whatsoever that he is perfectly well. Three
different persons--unexceptionable witnesses--can depose to having seen
him last night, and he had a long conference with Captain Lake, who is by
this time making his deposition. It is with respect to the other little
matter--the execution of the deed of conveyance to Messrs. Burlington and
Smith's clients. You know my feeling about the note I wrote this morning
a little--I will not say incautiously, because with a client of your
known character and honour, no idea of the sort can find place--but I
will say thoughtlessly. If there be any hanging back, or appearance of
it, it may call down unpleasant--indeed, to be quite frank,
ruinous--consequences, which, I think, in the interest of your family,
you would hardly be justified in invoking upon the mere speculation of
your respected brother's death.'

There was a sound of voices at the door. 'Do come in--pray do,' was heard
in Dolly's voice. 'Won't you excuse me, but pray do. Willie, darling,
don't you wish him to come in?'

'Most particularly. Do _beg_ of him, in my name--and I know Mr. Larkin
would wish it so much.'

And so Lord Chelford, with a look which, at another time, would have been
an amused one, quite conscious of the oddity of his introduction, came in
and slightly saluted Mr. Larkin, who was for a few seconds pretty
obviously confounded, and with a pink flush all over his bald forehead,
tried to smile, while his hungry little eyes searched the viscount with
fear and suspicion.

Larkin's tone was now much moderated. Any sort of dealing was good enough
for the simple vicar; but here was the quiet, sagacious peer, who had
shown himself, on two remarkable committees, so quick and able a man of
business, and the picture of the vicar's situation, and of the powers and
terrors of Messrs. Burlington and Smith, were to be drawn with an exacter
pencil, and far more delicate colouring.

Lord Chelford listened so quietly that the tall attorney felt he was
making way with him, and concluded his persuasion by appealing to him for
an opinion.

'That is precisely as I said. I knew my friend, Mr. Larkin, would be only
too glad of an opinion in this difficulty from you,' threw in the vicar.

The opinion came--very clear, very quiet, very unpleasant--dead against
Mr. Larkin's view, and concluding with the remark that he thought there
was more in the affair than had yet come to light.

'I don't see exactly how, my lord,' said Mr. Larkin, a little loftily,
and redder than usual.

'Nor do I, Mr. Larkin, at present; but the sum offered is much too small,
and the amount of costs and other drawbacks utterly monstrous, and the
result is, after deducting all these claims, including your costs, Mr.
Larkin----'

Here Mr. Larkin threw up his chin a little, smiling, and waving his long
hand, and saying, 'Oh! as to _mine_,' in a way that plainly expressed,
'They are merely put down for form's sake. It is playing at costs. You
know Jos. Larkin--he never so much as dreamed of looking for them.'

'There remain hardly nine hundred and fifty pounds applicable to the
payment of the Reverend Mr. Wylder's debts--a sum which would have been
ample, before this extraordinary negotiation was commenced, to have
extricated him from all his pressing difficulties, and which I would have
been only too happy at being permitted to advance, and which, and a great
deal more, Miss Lake, whose conduct has been more than kind--quite
noble--wished to place in your client's hands.'

'_That_,' said the attorney, flushing a little, 'I believe to have been
technically impossible; and it was accompanied by a proposition which was
on other grounds untenable.'

'You mean Miss Lake's proposed residence here--an arrangement, it appears
to me, every way most desirable.'

'I objected to it on, I will say, _moral_ grounds, my lord. It is painful
to me to disclose what I know, but that young lady accompanied Mr. Mark
Wylder, my lord, in his midnight flight from Dollington, and remained in
London, under, I presume, his protection for some time.'

'That statement, Sir, is, I happen to _know_, utterly contrary to fact.
The young lady you mention never even saw Mr. Mark Wylder, since she took
leave of him in the drawing-room at Brandon; and I state this not in
vindication of her, but to lend weight to the caution I give you against
ever again presuming to connect her name with your surmises.'

The peer's countenance was so inexpressibly stern, and his eyes poured
such a stream of fire upon the attorney, that he shrank a little, and
looked down upon his great fingers which were drumming, let us hope, some
sacred music upon the table.

'I am truly rejoiced, my lord, to hear you say so. Except to the young
party herself, and in this presence, I have never mentioned it; and I can
show you the evidence on which my conclusions rested.'

'Thank you--no Sir; my evidence is conclusive.'

I don't know what Mr. Larkin would have thought of it; it was simply
Rachel's letter to her friend Dolly Wylder on the subject of the
attorney's conference with her at Redman's Farm. It was a frank and
passionate denial of the slander, breathing undefinably, but
irresistibly, the spirit of truth.

'Then am I to understand, in conclusion,' said the attorney, that defying
all consequences, the Rev. Mr. Wylder refuses to execute the deed of
sale?'

'Certainly,' said Lord Chelford, taking this reply upon himself.

'You know, my dear Mr. Wylder, I told you from the first that Messrs.
Burlington and Smith were, in fact, a very sharp house; and I fear they
will execute any powers they possess in the most summary manner.' The
attorney's eye was upon the vicar as he spoke, but Lord Chelford
answered.

'The powers you speak of are quite without parallel in a negotiation to
purchase; and in the event of their hazarding such a measure, the Rev.
Mr. Wylder will apply to a court of equity to arrest their proceedings.
My own solicitor is retained in the case.'

Mr. Larkin's countenance darkened and lengthened visibly, and his eyes
assumed their most unpleasant expression, and there was a little pause,
during which, forgetting his lofty ways, he bit his thumb-nail rather
viciously.

'Then I am to understand, my lord, that I am superseded in the management
of this case?' said the attorney at last, in a measured way, which seemed
to say, 'you had better think twice on this point.'

'Certainly, Mr. Larkin,' said the viscount.

'I'm not the least surprised, knowing, I am sorry to say, a good deal of
the ways of the world, and expecting very little gratitude, for either
good will or services.' This was accompanied with a melancholy sneer
directed full upon the poor vicar, who did not half understand the
situation, and looked rather guilty and frightened. 'The Rev. Mr. Wylder
very well knows with what reluctance I touched the case--a nasty case;
and I must be permitted to add, that I am very happy to be quite rid of
it, and only regret the manner in which my wish has been anticipated, a
discourtesy which I attribute, however, to female influence.'

The concluding sentence was spoken with a vile sneer and a measured
emphasis directed at Lord Chelford, who coloured with a sudden access of
indignation, and stood stern and menacing, as the attorney, with a
general bow to the company, and a lofty _nonchalance_, made his exit from
the apartment.

Captain Lake was sinking very fast next morning. He made a statement to
Chelford, who was a magistrate for the county, I suppose to assist the
coroner's inquest. He said that on the night of Mark Wylder's last visit
to Brandon, he had accompanied him from the Hall; that Mark had seen some
one in the neighbourhood of Gylingden, a person pretending to be his
wife, or some near relative of hers, as well as he, Captain Lake, could
understand, and was resolved to go to London privately, and have the
matter arranged there. He waited near the 'White House,' while he,
Stanley Lake, went to Gylingden and got his tax-cart at his desire. He
could give particulars as to that. Captain Lake overtook him, and he got
in and was driven to Dollington, where he took the up-train. That some
weeks afterwards he saw him at Brighton; and the night before last, by
appointment, in the grounds of Brandon; and that he understood Larkin had
some lights to throw upon the same subject.

The jury were not sworn until two o'clock. The circumstances of the
discovery of the body were soon established. But the question which next
arose was very perplexed--was the body that of Mr. Mark Wylder? There
could be no doubt as to a general resemblance; but, though marvellously
preserved, in its then state, certainty was hardly attainable. But there
was a perfectly satisfactory identification of the dress and properties
of the corpse as those of Mr. Mark Wylder. On the other hand there was
the testimony of Lord Chelford, who put Captain Lake's deposition in
evidence, as also the testimony of Larkin, and the equally precise
evidence of Larcom, the butler.

The proceedings had reached this point when an occurrence took place
which startled Lord Chelford, Larkin, Larcom, and every one in the room
who was familiar with Mark Wylder's appearance.

A man pushed his way to the front of the crowd, and for a moment it
seemed that Mark Wylder stood living before them.

'Who are you?' said Lord Chelford.

'Jim Dutton, Sir; I come by reason of what I read in the "Chronicle" over
night, about Mr. Mark Wylder being found.'

'Do you know anything of him?' asked the coroner.

'Nowt,' answered the man bluffly, 'only I writ to Mr. Larkin, there, as I
wanted to see him. I remember him well when I was a boy. I seed him in
the train from Lunnon t'other night; and he seed me on the Shillingsworth
platform, and I think he took me for some one else. I was comin' down to
see the Captain at Brandon--and seed him the same night.'

'Why have you come here?' asked the coroner.

'Thinkin' I might be mistook,' answered the man. 'I _was_ twice here in
England, and three times abroad.'

'For whom?'

'Mr. Mark Wylder,' answered he.

'It is a wonderful likeness,' said Lord Chelford.

Larkin stared at him with his worst expression; and Larcom, I think,
thought he was the devil.

I was as much surprised as any for a few seconds. But there were points
of difference--Jim Dutton was rather a taller and every way a larger man
than Mark Wylder. His face, too, was broader and coarser, but in features
and limbs the relative proportions were wonderfully preserved. It was
such an exaggerated portrait as a rustic genius might have executed upon
a sign-board. He had the same black, curly hair, and thick, black
whiskers: and the style of his dress being the same, helped the illusion.
In fact, it was a rough, but powerful likeness--startling at the
moment--unexceptionable at a little distance--but which failed on a
nearer and exacter examination. There was, beside, a scar, which,
however, was not a very glaring inconsistency, although it was plainly of
a much older standing than the date of Mark's disappearance. All that
could be got from Jim Dutton was that 'he thought he might be mistook'
and so attended. But respecting Mr. Mark Wylder he could say 'nowt.' He
knew 'nowt.'

Lord Chelford was called away at this moment by an urgent note. It was to
request his immediate attendance at Redman's Farm, to see Captain Lake,
who was in a most alarming state. The hand was Dorcas's--and Lord
Chelford jumped into the little pony carriage which awaited him at the
door of the 'Silver Lion.'

When he reached Redman's Farm, Captain Lake could not exert himself
sufficiently to speak for nearly half-an-hour. At the end of that time he
was admitted into the tiny drawing-room in which the captain lay. He was
speaking with difficulty.

'Did you see Buddle, just now?'

'No, not since morning.'

'He seems to have changed--bad opinion--unless he has a _law_
object--those d--d doctors--never can know. Dorcas thinks--I'll do no
good. Don't you think--he may have an object--and not believe I'm in much
danger? You don't?'

Lake's hand, with which he clutched and pulled Chelford's, was trembling.

'You must reflect, my dear Lake, how very severe are the injuries you
have sustained. You certainly _are_ in danger--_great_ danger.'

Lake became indescribably agitated, and uttered some words, not often on
his lips, that sounded like desperate words of supplication. Not that
seaworthy faith which floats the spirit through the storm, but fragments
of its long-buried wreck rolled up from the depths and flung madly on the
howling shore.

'I'd like to see Rachel,' at last he said, holding Chelford's hand in
both his, very hard. 'She's clever--and I don't think she gives me up
yet, no--a drink!--and they think I'm more hurt than I really am--Buddle,
you know--only an apothecary--village;' and he groaned.

His old friend, Sir Francis Seddley, summoned by the telegraph, was now
gliding from London along the rails for Dollington station; but
another--a pale courier--on the sightless coursers of the air, was
speeding with a different message to Captain Stanley Lake, in the small
and sombre drawing-room in Redman's Dell.

I had promised Chelford to run up to Redman's Farm, and let him know if
the jury arrived at a verdict during his absence. They did so; finding
that the body was that of Marcus Wylder, Esquire, of Raddiston, and 'that
he had come by his death in consequence of two wounds inflicted with a
sharp instrument, in the region of the heart, by some person or persons
unknown, at a period of four weeks since or upwards.'

Chelford was engaged in the sick room, as I understood, in conference
with the patient. It was well to have heard, without procrastination,
what he had to say; for next morning, at a little past four o'clock, he
died.

A nurse who had been called in from the county infirmary, said he made a
very happy ending. He mumbled to himself, in his drowsy state, as she was
quite sure, in prayer; and he made a very pretty corpse when he was laid
out, and his golden hair looked so nice, and he was all so slim and
shapely.

Rachel and Dorcas were sitting in the room with him--not expecting the
catastrophe then. Both tired; both silent; the nurse dozing a little in
her chair, near the bed's head; and Lake said, in his clear, low tone, on
a sudden, just as he spoke when perfectly well--

'Quite a mistake, upon my honour.'

As a clear-voiced sentence sometimes speaks out in sleep, followed by
silence, so no more was heard after this--no more for ever. The nurse was
the first to perceive 'the change.'

'There's a change, Ma'am'--and there was a pause. 'I'm afraid, Ma'am,
he's gone,' said the nurse.

Both ladies, in an instant, were at the bedside, looking at the peaked
and white countenance, which was all they were ever again to see of
Stanley; the yellow eyes and open mouth.

Rachel's agony broke forth in a loud, wild cry. All was forgotten and
forgiven in that tremendous moment.

'Oh! Stanley, Stanley!--brother, brother, oh, brother!'

There was the unchanged face, gaping its awful farewell of earth. All
over!--never to stir more.

'Is he dead?' said Dorcas, with the peculiar sternness of agony.

There could be no doubt. It was a sight too familiar to deceive the
nurse.

And Dorcas closed those strange, wild eyes that had so fatally fascinated
her, and then she trembled, without speaking or shedding a tear. Her
looks alarmed the nurse, who, with Rachel's help, persuaded her to leave
the room. And then came one of those wild scenes which close such
tragedies--paroxysms of despair and frantic love, over that worthless
young man who lay dead below stairs; such as strike us sometimes with a
desolate scepticism, and make us fancy that all affection is illusion,
and perishable with the deceits and vanities of earth.

CHAPTER LXXIV.

WE TAKE LEAVE OF OUR FRIENDS.

The story which, in his last interview with Lord Chelford, Stanley Lake
had related, was, probably, as near the truth as he was capable of
telling.

On the night when Mark Wylder had left Brandon in his company they had
some angry talk; Lake's object being to induce Mark to abandon his
engagement with Dorcas Brandon. He told Stanley that he would not give up
Dorcas, but that he, Lake, must fight him, and go to Boulogne for the
purpose, and they should arrange matters so that one or other _must_
fall. Lake laughed quietly at the proposition, and Mark retorted by
telling him he would so insult him, if he declined, as to compel a
meeting. When they reached that lonely path near the flight of stone
steps, Stanley distinctly threatened his companion with a disclosure of
the scandalous incident in the card-room of the club, which he afterwards
related, substantially as it had happened, to Jos. Larkin. When he took
this decisive step, Lake's nerves were strung, I dare say, to a high
pitch of excitement. Mark Wylder, he knew, carried pistols, and, all
things considered, he thought it just possible he might use them. He did
not, but he struck Lake with the back of his hand in the face, and Lake,
who walked by his side, with his fingers on the handle of a dagger in his
coat pocket, instantly retorted with a stab, which he repeated as Mark
fell.

He solemnly averred that he never meant to have used the dagger, except
to defend his life. That he struck in a state of utter confusion, and
when he saw Mark dead, with his feet on the path, and his head lying over
the edge, he would have given a limb almost to bring him back. The terror
of discovery and ruin instantly supervened.

He propped the body against the bank, and tried to stanch the bleeding.
But there could be no doubt that he was actually dead. He got the body
easily down the nearly precipitous declivity. Lake was naturally by no
means wanting in resource, and a certain sort of coolness, which
supervened when the momentary distraction was over.

He knew it would not do to leave the body so, among the rocks and
brambles. He recollected that only fifty yards back they had passed a
spade and pick, lying, with some other tools, by the side of the path,
near that bit of old wall which was being removed. Like a man doing
things in a dream, without thought or trouble, only waiting and listening
for a moment before he disturbed them, he took away the implements which
he required; and when about to descend, a sort of panic and
insurmountable disgust seized him; and in a state of supernatural dismay,
he felt for a while disposed to kill himself. In that state it was he
reached Redman's Farm, and his interview with Rachel occurred. It was the
accidental disclosure of the blood, in which his shirt sleeve was soaked,
that first opened Rachel's eyes to the frightful truth.

After her first shock, all her terrors were concentrated on the one
point--Stanley's imminent danger. He must be saved. She made him return;
she even accompanied him as far as the top of the rude flight of steps I
have mentioned so often, and there awaited his return--the condition
imposed by his cowardice--and made more dreadful by the circumstance that
they had heard retreating footsteps along the walk, and Stanley saw the
tall figure of Uncle Julius or Lorne, as he called himself, turning the
far corner.

There was a long wait here, lest he should return; but he did not appear,
and Stanley--though I now believe observed by this strange
being--executed his horrible task, replaced the implements, and returned
to Rachel, and with her to Redman's Farm; where--his cool cunning once
more ascendant--he penned those forgeries, closing them with Mark
Wylder's seal, which he compelled his sister--quite unconscious of all
but that their despatch by post, at the periods pencilled upon them, was
essential to her wretched brother's escape. It was the success of this,
his first stratagem, which suggested that long series of frauds which,
with the aid of Jim Dutton, selected for his striking points of
resemblance to Mark Wylder, had been carried on for so long with such
consummate art in a different field.

It was Lake's ungoverned fury, when Larkin discovered the mistake in
posting the letters in wrong succession, which so nearly exploded his
ingenious system. He wrote in terms which roused Jim Dutton's wrath. Jim
had been spinning theories about the reasons of his mysterious, though
very agreeable occupation, and announced them broadly in his letter to
Larkin. But he had cooled by the time he reached London, and the letter
from Lake, received at his mother's and appointing the meeting at
Brandon, quieted that mutiny.

I never heard that Jim gave any member of the family the least trouble
afterward. He handed to Lord Chelford a parcel of those clever and
elaborate forgeries, with which Lake had last furnished him, with a
pencilled note on each, directing the date and town at which it was to be
despatched. Years after, when Jim was emigrating, I believe Lord Chelford
gave him a handsome present.

Lord Chelford was advised by the friend whom he consulted that he need
not make those painful particulars public, affecting only a dead man, and
leading to no result.

Lake admitted that Rachel had posted the letters in London, believing
them to be genuine, for he pretended that they were Wylder's. It is easy
to look grave over poor Rachel's slight, and partly unconscious, share in
the business of the tragedy. But what girl of energy and strong
affections would have had the melancholy courage to surrender her brother
to public justice under the circumstances? Lord Chelford, who knew all,
says that she 'acted nobly.'

'Now, Joseph, being a just man, was minded to put her away privily.' The
_law_ being what? That she was to be publicly stigmatised and punished.
His _justice_ being what? Simply that he would have her to be
neither--but screened and parted 'with privily.' Let the Pharisees who
would have _summum jus_ against their neighbours, remember that God
regards the tender and compassionate, who forbears, on occasion, to put
the law in motion, as the _just_ man.

The good vicar is a great territorial magnate now; but his pleasures and
all his ways are still simple. He never would enter Brandon as its
master, and never will, during Dorcas Brandon's lifetime. And although
with her friend, Rachel Lake, she lives abroad, chiefly in Italy and
Switzerland, Brandon Hall, by the command of its proprietor, lies always
at her disposal.

I don't know whether Rachel Lake will ever marry. The tragic shadow of
her life has not chilled Lord Chelford's strong affection. Neither does
the world know or suspect anything of the matter. Old Tamar died three
years since, and lies in the pretty little churchyard of Gylingden. And
Mark's death is, by this time, a nearly forgotten mystery.

Jos. Larkins's speculations have not turned out luckily. The trustees of
Wylder, a minor, tried, as they were advised they must, his title to Five
Oaks, by ejectment. A point had been overlooked--as sometimes
happens--and Jos. Larkin was found to have taken but an estate for the
life of Mark Wylder, which terminated at his decease. The point was
carried on to the House of Lords, but the decision of 'the court below'
was ultimately affirmed.

The flexible and angry Jos. Larkin then sought to recoup himself out of
the assets of the deceased captain; but here he failed. In his
cleverness--lest the inadequate purchase-money should upset his
bargain--he omitted the usual covenant guaranteeing the vendor's title to
sell the fee-simple, and recited, moreover, that, grave doubts existing
on the point, it was agreed that the sum paid should not exceed twelve
years' purchase. Jos. then could only go upon the point that it was known
to Lake at the period of the sale that Mark Wylder was dead. Unluckily,
however, for Jos.'s case, one of his clever letters, written during the
negotiation, turned up, and was put in evidence, in which he pressed
Captain Lake with the fact, that he, the purchaser, was actually in
possession of information to the effect that Mark was dead, and that he
was, therefore, buying under a liability of having his title litigated,
with a doubtful result, the moment he should enter into possession. This
shut up the admirable man, who next tried a rather bold measure, directed
against the Reverend William Wylder. A bill was filed by Messrs.
Burlington and Smith, to compel him to execute a conveyance to their
client--on the terms of the agreement. The step was evidently taken on
the calculation that he would strike, and offer a handsome compromise;
but Lord Chelford was at his elbow--the suit was resisted. Messrs.
Burlington and Smith did not care to run the awful risk which Mr. Larkin,
behind the scenes, invited them to accept for his sake. There was first a
faltering; then a bold renunciation and exposure of Mr. Jos. Larkin by
the firm, who, though rather lamely, exonerated themselves as having been
quite taken in by the Gylingden attorney.

Mr. Jos. Larkin had a holy reliance upon his religious reputation, which
had always stood him in stead. But a worldly judge will sometimes
disappoint the expectations of the Christian suitor; and the language of
the Court, in commenting upon Mr. Jos. Larkin, was, I am sorry to say, in
the highest degree offensive--'flagitious,' 'fraudulent,' and kindred
epithets, were launched against that tall, bald head, in a storm that
darkened the air and obliterated the halo that usually encircled it. He
was dismissed, in a tempest, with costs. He vanished from court, like an
evil spirit, into the torture-chamber of taxation.

The whole structure of rapine and duplicity had fallen through with a
dismal crash. Shrewd fellows wondered, as they always do, when a rash
game breaks down, at the infatuation of the performer. But the cup of his
tribulation was not yet quite full. Jos. Larkin's name was ultimately
struck from the roll of solicitors and attorneys, and there were minute
and merciless essays in the papers, surrounding his disgrace with a
dreadful glare. People say he has not enough left to go on with. He had
lodgings somewhere near Richmond, as Howard Larkin, Esq., and is still a
religious character. I am told that he shifts his place of residence
about once in six months, and that he has never paid one shilling of rent
for any, and has sometimes positively received money for vacating his
abode. So substantially valuable is a thorough acquaintance with the
capabilities of the law. I saw honest Tom Wealdon about a fortnight
ago--grown stouter and somewhat more phlegmatic by time, but still the
same in good nature and inquisitiveness. From him I learned that Jos.
Larkin is likely to figure once more in the courts about some very ugly
defalcations in the cash of the Penningstal Mining Company, and that this
time the persecutions of that eminent Christian are likely to take a
different turn, and, as Tom said, with a gloomy shrewdness, to end in
'ten years penal.'

Some summers ago, I was, for a few days, in the wondrous city of Venice.
Everyone knows something of the enchantment of the Italian moon, the
expanse of dark and flashing blue, and the phantasmal city, rising like a
beautiful spirit from the waters. Gliding near the Lido--where so many
rings of Doges lie lost beneath the waves--I heard the pleasant sound of
female voices upon the water--and then, with a sudden glory, rose a sad,
wild hymn, like the musical wail of the forsaken sea:--

The spouseless Adriatic mourns her lord.

The song ceased. The gondola which bore the musicians floated by--a
slender hand over the gunwale trailed its fingers in the water. Unseen I
saw Rachel and Dorcas, beautiful in the sad moonlight, passed so near we
could have spoken--passed me like spirits--never more, it may be, to
cross my sight in life.

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