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Wylder's Hand by J. Sheridan Le Fanu

Part 2 out of 10

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proud, formalists, hypocrites, or even as this Pharisee.'

'Do you wish another game?' I asked.

'Just now,' said Wylder, emitting first a thin stream of smoke, and
watching its ascent. 'Dorcas is the belle of the county; and she likes
me, though she's odd, and don't show it the way other girls would. But a
fellow knows pretty well when a girl likes him, and you know the marriage
is a sensible sort of thing, and I'm determined, of course, to carry it
through; but, hang it, a fellow can't help thinking sometimes there are
other things besides money, and Dorcas is not my style. Rachel's more
that way; she's a _tremendious_ fine girl, by Jove! and a spirited minx,
too; and I think,' he added, with an oath, having first taken two puffs
at his cigar, 'if I had seen her first, I'd have thought twice before I'd
have got myself into this business.'

I only smiled and shook my head. I did not believe a word of it. Yet,
perhaps, I was wrong. He knew very well how to take care of his money; in
fact, compared with other young fellows, he was a bit of a screw. But he
could do a handsome and generous thing for himself. His selfishness would
expand nobly, and rise above his prudential considerations, and drown
them sometimes; and he was the sort of person, who, if the fancy were
strong enough, might marry in haste, and repent--and make his wife, too,
repent--at leisure.

'What do you laugh at, Charlie?' said Wylder, grinning himself.

'At your confounded grumbling, Mark. The luckiest dog in England! Will
nothing content you?'

'Why, I grumble very little, I think, considering how well off I am,'
rejoined he, with a laugh.

'Grumble! If you had a particle of gratitude, you'd build a temple to
Fortune--you're pagan enough for it, Mark.'

'Fortune has nothing to do with it,' says Mark, laughing again.

'Well, certainly, neither had you.'

'It was all the Devil. I'm not joking, Charlie, upon my word, though I'm
laughing.' (Mark swore now and then, but I take leave to soften his
oaths). 'It was the Persian Magician.'

'Come, Mark, say what you mean.'

'I mean what I say. When we were in the Persian Gulf, near six years ago,
I was in command of the ship. The captain, you see, was below, with a
hurt in his leg. We had very rough weather--a gale for two days and a
night almost--and a heavy swell after. In the night time we picked up
three poor devils in an open boat--. One was a Persian merchant, with a
grand beard. We called him the magician, he was so like the pictures of
Aladdin's uncle.'

'Why _he_ was an African,' I interposed, my sense of accuracy offended.

'I don't care a curse what he was,' rejoined Mark; 'he was exactly like
the picture in the story-books. And as we were lying off--I forget the
cursed name of it--he begged me to put him ashore. He could not speak a
word of English, but one of the fellows with him interpreted, and they
were all anxious to get ashore. Poor devils, they had a notion, I
believe, we were going to sell them for slaves, and he made me a present
of a ring, and told me a long yarn about it. It was a talisman, it seems,
and no one who wore it could ever be lost. So I took it for a keepsake;
here it is,' and he extended his stumpy, brown little finger, and showed
a thick, coarsely-made ring of gold, with an uncut red stone, of the size
of a large cherry stone, set in it.

'The stone is a humbug,' said Wylder. 'It's not real. I showed it to
Platten and Foyle. It's some sort of glass. But I would not part with it.
I got a fancy into my head that luck would come with it, and maybe that
glass stuff was the thing that had the virtue in it. Now look at these
Persian letters on the inside, for that's the oddest thing about it. Hang
it, I can't pull it off--I'm growing as fat as a pig--but they are like a
queer little string of flowers; and I showed it to a clever fellow at
Malta--a missionary chap--and he read it off slick, and what do you think
it means: "I will come up again;"' and he swore a great oath. 'It's as
true as you stand there--_our_ motto. Is not it odd? So I got the
"resurgam" you see there engraved round it, and by Jove! it did bring me
up. I was near lost, and did rise again. Eh?'

Well, it certainly was a curious accident. Mark had plenty of odd and not
unamusing lore. Men who beat about the world in ships usually have; and
these 'yarns,' furnished, after the pattern of Othello's tales of
Anthropophagites and men whose heads do grow beneath their shoulders, one
of the many varieties of fascination which he practised on the fair sex.
Only in justice to Mark, I must say that he was by no means so shameless
a drawer of the long-bow as the Venetian gentleman and officer.

'When I got this ring, Charlie, three hundred a year and a London life
would have been Peru and Paradise to poor Pill Garlick, and see what it
has done for me.'

'Aye, and better than Aladdin's, for you need not rub it and bring up
that confounded ugly genii; the slave of your ring works unseen.'

'So he does,' laughed Wylder, in a state of elation, 'and he's not done
working yet, I can tell you. When the estates are joined in one, they'll
be good eleven thousand a year; and Larkin says, with smart management, I
shall have a rental of thirteen thousand before three years! And that's
only the beginning, by George! Sir Henry Twisden can't hold his
seat--he's all but broke--as poor as Job, and the gentry hate him, and he
lives abroad. He has had a hint or two already, and he'll never fight the
next election. D'ye see--hey?'

And Wylder winked and grinned, with a wag of his head.

'M.P.--eh? You did not see that before. I look a-head a bit, eh? and can
take my turn at the wheel--eh?'

And he laughed with cunning exultation.

'Miss Rachel will find I'm not quite such a lubber as she fancies. But
even then it is only begun. Come, Charlie, you used to like a bet. What
do you say? I'll buy you that twenty-five guinea book of pictures--what's
its name?--if you give me three hundred guineas one month after I'm a
peer of Parliament. Hey? There's a sporting offer for you. Well! what do
you say--eh?'

'You mean to come out as an orator, then?'

'Orator be diddled! Do you take me for a fool? No, Charlie; but I'll come
out strong as a _voter_--that's the stuff they like--at the right side,
of course, and that is the way to manage it. Thirteen thousand a
year--the oldest family in the county--and a steady thick and thin
supporter of the minister. Strong points, eh, Charlie? Well, do you take
my offer?'

I laughed and declined, to his great elation, and just then the gong
sounded and we were away to our toilets.

While making my toilet for dinner, I amused myself by conjecturing
whether there could be any foundation in fact for Mark's boast, that Miss
Brandon liked him. Women are so enigmatical--some in everything--all in
matters of the heart. Don't they sometimes actually admire what is
repulsive? Does not brutality in our sex, and even rascality, interest
them sometimes? Don't they often affect indifference, and occasionally
even aversion, where there is a different sort of feeling?

As I went down I heard Miss Lake chatting with her queen-like cousin near
an open door on the lobby. Rachel Lake was, indeed, a very constant guest
at the Hall, and the servants paid her much respect, which I look upon as
a sign that the young heiress liked her and treated her with
consideration; and indeed there was an insubordinate and fiery spirit in
that young lady which would have brooked nothing less and dreamed of
nothing but equality.

CHAPTER X.

THE ACE OF HEARTS.

Who should I find in the drawing-room, talking fluently and smiling,
after his wont, to old Lady Chelford, who seemed to receive him very
graciously, for her at least, but Captain Stanley Lake!

I can't quite describe to you the odd and unpleasant sort of surprise
which that very gentlemanlike figure, standing among the Brandon
household gods at this moment, communicated to me. I thought of the few
odd words and looks that had dropped from Wylder about him with an
ominous pang as I looked, and I felt somehow as if there were some occult
relation between that confused prelude of Wylder's and the
Mephistophelean image that had risen up almost upon the spot where it was
spoken. I glanced round for Wylder, but he was not there.

'You know Captain Lake?' said Lord Chelford, addressing me.

And Lake turned round upon me, a little abruptly, his odd yellowish eyes,
a little like those of the sea-eagle, and the ghost of his smile that
flickered on his singularly pale face, with a stern and insidious look,
confronted me. There was something evil and shrinking in his aspect,
which I felt with a sort of chill, like the commencing fascination of a
serpent. I often thought since that he had expected to see Wylder before
him.

The church-yard meteor expired, there was nothing in a moment but his
ordinary smile of recognition.

'You're surprised to see me here,' he said in his very pleasing low
tones.

'I lighted on him in the village; and I knew Miss Brandon would not
forgive me if I allowed him to go away without coming here. (He had his
hand upon Lake's shoulder.) They are cousins, you know; we are all
cousins. I'm bad at genealogies. My mother could tell us all about
it--we, Brandons, Lakes; Wylders, and Chelfords.'

At this moment Miss Brandon entered, with her brilliant Cousin Rachel.
The blonde and the dark, it was a dazzling contrast.

So Chelford led Stanley Lake before the lady of the castle. I thought of
the 'Fair Brunnisende,' with the captive knight in the hands of her
seneschal before her, and I fancied he said something of having found him
trespassing in her town, and brought him up for judgment. Whatever Lord
Chelford said, Miss Brandon received it very graciously, and even with a
momentary smile. I wonder she did not smile oftener, it became her so.
But her greeting to Captain Lake was more than usually haughty and
frozen, and her features, I fancied, particularly proud and
pale. It seemed to me to indicate a great deal more than mere
indifference--something of aversion, and nearer to a positive emotion
than anything I had yet seen in that exquisitely apathetic face.

How was it that this man with the yellow eyes seemed to gleam from them
an influence of pain or disturbance, wherever almost he looked.

'Shake hands with your cousin, my dear,' said old Lady Chelford,
peremptorily. The little scene took place close to her chair; and upon
this stage direction the little piece of by-play took place, and the
young lady coldly touched the captain's hand, and passed on.

Young as he was, Stanley Lake was an old man of the world, not to be
disconcerted, and never saw more than exactly suited him. Waiting in the
drawing-room, I had some entertaining talk with Miss Lake. Her
conversation was lively, and rather bold, not at all in the coarse sense,
but she struck me as having formed a system of ethics and views of life,
both good-humoured and sarcastic, and had carried into her rustic
sequestration the melancholy and precocious lore of her early London
experience.

When Lord Chelford joined us, I perceived that Wylder was in the room,
and saw a very cordial greeting between him and Lake. The captain
appeared quite easy and cheerful; but Mark, I thought, notwithstanding
his laughter and general jollity, was uncomfortable; and I saw him once
or twice, when Stanley's eye was not upon him, glance sharply on the
young man with an uneasy and not very friendly curiosity.

At dinner Lake was easy and amusing. That meal passed off rather
pleasantly; and when we joined the ladies in the drawing-room, the good
vicar's enthusiastic little wife came to meet us, in one of her honest
little raptures.

'Now, here's a thing worth your looking at! Did you ever see anything so
bee-utiful in your life? It is such a darling little thing; and--look
now--is not it magnificent?'

She arrested the file of gentlemen just by a large lamp, before whose
effulgence she presented the subject of her eulogy--one of those costly
trifles which announce the approach of Hymen, as flowers spring up before
the rosy steps of May.

Well, it was pretty--French, I dare say--a little set of tablets--a
toy--the cover of enamel, studded in small jewels, with a slender border
of symbolic flowers, and with a heart in the centre, a mosaic of little
carbuncles, rubies, and other red and crimson stones, placed with a view
to light and shade.

'Exquisite, indeed!' said Lord Chelford. 'Is this yours, Mrs. Wylder?'

'Mine, indeed!' laughed poor little Mrs. Dorothy. 'Well, dear me, no,
indeed;'--and in an earnest whisper close in his ear--'a present to Miss
Brandon, and the donor is not a hundred miles away from your elbow, my
lord!' and she winked slyly, and laughed, with a little nod at Wylder.

'Oh! I see--to be sure--really, Wylder, it does your taste infinite
credit.'

'I'm glad you like it,' says Wylder, chuckling benignantly on it, over
his shoulder. 'I believe I _have_ a little taste that way; those are all
real, you know, those jewels.'

'Oh, yes! of course. Have you seen it, Captain Lake?' And he placed it in
that gentleman's fingers, who now took his turn at the lamp, and
contemplated the little parallelogram with a gleam of sly amusement.

'What are you laughing at?' asked Wylder, a little snappishly.

'I was thinking it's very like the ace of hearts,' answered the captain
softly, smiling on.

'Fie, Lake, there's no poetry in you,' said Lord Chelford, laughing.

'Well, now, though, really it is funny; it did not strike me before, but
do you know, now, it _is_,' laughs out jolly Mrs. Dolly, 'isn't it. Look
at it, do, Mr. Wylder--isn't it like the ace of hearts?'

Wylder was laughing rather redly, with the upper part of his face very
surly, I thought.

'Never mind, Wylder, it's the winning card,' said Lord Chelford, laying
his hand on his shoulder.

Whereupon Lake laughed quietly, still looking on the ace of hearts with
his sly eyes.

And Wylder laughed too, more suddenly and noisily than the humour of the
joke seemed quite to call for, and glanced a grim look from the corners
of his eyes on Lake, but the gallant captain did not seem to perceive it;
and after a few seconds more he handed it very innocently back to Mrs.
Dorothy, only remarking--

'Seriously, it _is_ very pretty, and _appropriate_.'

And Wylder, making no remark, helped himself to a cup of coffee, and then
to a glass of Curaoa, and then looked industriously at a Spanish quarto
of Don Quixote, and lastly walked over to me on the hearthrug.

'What the d-- has he come down here for? It can't be for money, or balls,
or play, and he has no honest business anywhere. Do you know?'

'Lake? Oh! I really can't tell; but he'll soon tire of country life. I
don't think he's much of a sportsman.'

'Ha, isn't he? I don't know anything about him almost; but I hate him.'

'Why should you, though? He's a very gentlemanlike fellow and your
cousin.'

'My cousin--the Devil's cousin--everyone's cousin. I don't know who's my
cousin, or who isn't; nor you don't, who've been for ten years over those
d--d papers; but I think he's the nastiest dog I ever met. I took a
dislike to him at first sight long ago, and that never happened me but I
was right.'

Wylder looked confoundedly angry and flustered, standing with his heels
on the edge of the rug, his hands in his pockets, jingling some silver
there, and glancing from under his red forehead sternly and unsteadily
across the room.

'He's not a man for country quarters! he'll soon be back in town, or to
Brighton,' I said.

'If _he_ doesn't, _I_ will. That's all.'

Just to get him off this unpleasant groove with a little jolt, I said--

'By-the-bye, Wylder, you know the pictures here; who is the tall man,
with the long pale face, and wild phosphoric eyes? I was always afraid of
him; in a long peruke, and dark red velvet coat, facing the hall-door. I
had a horrid dream about him last night.'

'That? Oh, I know--that's Lorne Brandon. He was one of our family devils,
he was. A devil in a family now and then is not such a bad thing, when
there's work for him.' (All the time he was talking to me his angry
little eyes were following Lake.) 'They say he killed his son, a
blackguard, who was found shot, with his face in the tarn in the park. He
was going to marry the gamekeeper's daughter, it was thought, and he and
the old boy, who was for high blood, and all that, were at loggerheads
about it. It was not proved, only thought likely, which showed what a
nice character he was; but he might have done worse. I suppose Miss
Partridge would have had a precious lot of babbies; and who knows where
the estate would have been by this time.'

'I believe, Charlie,' he recommenced suddenly, 'there is not such an
unnatural family on record as ours; is there? Ha, ha, ha! It's well to be
distinguished in any line. I forget all the other good things he did; but
he ended by shooting himself through the head in his bed-room, and that
was not the worst thing ever he did.'

And Wylder laughed again, and began to whistle very low--not, I fancy,
for want of thought, but as a sort of accompaniment thereto, for he
suddenly said--

'And where is he staying?'

'Who?--Lake?'

'Yes.'

'I don't know; but I think he mentioned Larkins's house, didn't he? I'm
not quite sure.'

'I suppose he this I'm made of money. By Jove! if he wants to borrow any
I'll surprise him, the cur; I'll talk to him; ha, ha, ha!'

And Wylder chuckled angrily, and the small change in his pocket tinkled
fiercely, as his eye glanced on the graceful captain, who was
entertaining the ladies, no doubt, very agreeably in the distance.

CHAPTER XI.

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

Miss Lake declined the carriage to-night. Her brother was to see her
home, and there was a leave-taking, and the young ladies whispered a word
or two, and kissed, after the manner of their kind. To Captain Lake, Miss
Brandon's adieux were as cold and haughty as her greeting.

'Did you see that?' said Wylder in my ear, with a chuckle; and, wagging
his head, he added, rather loftily for him, 'Miss Brandon, I reckon, has
taken your measure, Master Stanley, as well as I. I wonder what the deuce
the old dowager sees in him. Old women always like rascals.'

And he added something still less complimentary.

I suppose the balance of attraction and repulsion was overcome by Miss
Lake, much as he disliked Stanley, for Wylder followed them out with Lord
Chelford, to help the young lady into her cloak and goloshes, and I found
myself near Miss Brandon for the first time that evening, and much to my
surprise she was first to speak, and that rather strangely.

'You seem to be very sensible, Mr. De Cresseron; pray tell me, frankly,
what do you think of all this?'

'I am not quite sure, Miss Brandon, that I understand your question,' I
replied, enquiringly.

'I mean of the--the family arrangements, in which, as Mr. Wylder's
friend, you seem to take an interest?' she said.

'There can hardly be a second opinion, Miss Brandon; I think it a very
wise measure,' I replied, much surprised.

'Very wise--exactly. But don't these very wise things sometimes turn out
very foolishly? Do you really think your friend, Mr. Wylder, cares about
me?'

'I take that for granted: in the nature of things it can hardly be
otherwise,' I replied, a good deal startled and perplexed by the curious
audacity of her interrogatory.

'It was very foolish of me to expect from Mr. Wylder's friend any other
answer; you are very loyal, Mr. De Cresseron.'

And without awaiting my reply she made some remark which I forget to Lady
Chelford, who sat at a little distance; and, appearing quite absorbed in
her new subject, she placed herself close beside the dowager, and
continued to chat in a low tone.

I was vexed with myself for having managed with so little skill a
conversation which, opened so oddly and frankly, might have placed me on
relations so nearly confidential, with that singular and beautiful girl.
I ought to have rejoiced--but we don't always see what most concerns our
peace. In the meantime I had formed a new idea of her. She was so
unreserved, it seemed, and yet in this directness there was something
almost contemptuous.

By this time Lord Chelford and Wylder returned; and, disgusted rather
with myself, I ruminated on my want of general-ship.

In the meantime, Miss Lake, with her hand on her brother's arm, was
walking swiftly under the trees of the back avenue towards that footpath
which, through wild copse and broken clumps near the park, emerges upon
the still darker road which passes along the wooded glen by the mills,
and skirts the little paling of the recluse lady's garden.

They had not walked far, when Lake suddenly said--

'What do you think of all this, Radie--this particular version, I mean,
of marriage, _-la-mode_, they are preparing up there?' and he made a
little dip of his cane towards Brandon Hall, over his shoulder. 'I really
don't think Wylder cares twopence about her, or she about him,' and
Stanley Lake laughed gently and sleepily.

'I don't think they pretend to like one another. It is quite understood.
It was all, you know, old Lady Chelford's arrangement: and Dorcas is so
supine, I believe she would allow herself to be given away by anyone, and
to anyone, rather than be at the least trouble. She provokes me.'

'But I thought she liked Sir Harry Bracton: he's a good-looking fellow;
and Queen's Bracton is a very nice thing, you know.'

'Yes, so they said; but that would, I think, have been worse. Something
may be made of Mark Wylder. He has some sense and caution, has not
he?--but Sir Harry is wickedness itself!'

'Why--what has Sir Harry done? That is the way you women run away with
things! If a fellow's been a little bit wild, he's Beelzebub at once.
Bracton's a very good fellow, I can assure you.'

The fact is, Captain Lake, an accomplished player, made a pretty little
revenue of Sir Harry's billiards, which were wild and noisy; and liking
his money, thought he liked himself--a confusion not uncommon.

'I don't know, and can't say, how you fine gentlemen define wickedness:
only, as an obscure female, I speak according to my lights: and he is
generally thought the wickedest man in this county.'

'Well, you know, Radie, women like wicked fellows: it is contrast, I
suppose, but they do; and I'm sure, from what Bracton has said to me--I
know him intimately--that Dorcas likes him, and I can't conceive why they
are not married.'

'It is very happy, for her at least, they are not,' said Rachel, and a
long silence ensued.

Their walk continued silent for the greater part, neither was quite
satisfied with the other. But Rachel at last said--

'Stanley, you meditate some injury to Mark Wylder.'

'I, Radie?' he answered quietly, 'why on earth should you think so?'

'I saw you twice watch him when you thought no one observed you--and I
know your face too well, Stanley, to mistake.'

'Now that's impossible, Radie; for I really don't think I once thought of
him all this evening--except just while we were talking.'

'You keep your secret as usual, Stanley,' said the young lady.

'Really, Radie, you're quite mistaken. I assure you, upon my honour, I've
no secret. You're a very odd girl--why won't you believe me?'

Miss Rachel only glanced across her mufflers on his face. There was a
bright moonlight, broken by the shadows of overhanging boughs and
withered leaves; and the mottled lights and shadows glided oddly across
his pale features. But she saw that he was smiling his sly, sleepy smile,
and she said quietly--

'Well, Stanley, I ask no more--but you don't deceive me.'

'I don't try to. If your feelings indeed had been different, and that you
had not made such a point--you know--'

'Don't insult me, Stanley, by talking again as you did this morning. What
I say is altogether on your own account. Mark my words, you'll find him
too strong for you; aye, and too deep. I see very plainly that _he_
suspects you as I do. You saw it, too, for nothing of that kind escapes
you. Whatever you meditate, he probably anticipates it--you know
best--and you will find him prepared. You have given him time enough. You
were always the same, close, dark, and crooked, and wise in your own
conceit. I am very uneasy about it, whatever it is. _I_ can't help it. It
will happen--and most ominously I feel that you are courting a dreadful
retaliation, and that you will bring on yourself a great misfortune; but
it is quite vain, I know, speaking to you.'

'Really, Radie, you're enough to frighten a poor fellow; you won't mind a
word I say, and go on predicting all manner of mischief between me and
Wylder, the very nature of which I can't surmise. Would you dislike my
smoking a cigar, Radie?'

'Oh, no,' answered the young lady, with a little laugh and a heavy sigh,
for she knew it meant silence, and her dark auguries grew darker.

To my mind there has always been something inexpressibly awful in family
feuds. Mortal hatred seems to deepen and dilate into something diabolical
in these perverted animosities. The mystery of their origin--their
capacity for evolving latent faculties of crime--and the steady vitality
with which they survive the hearse, and speak their deep-mouthed
malignities in every new-born generation, have associated them somehow in
my mind with a spell of life exceeding and distinct from human and a
special Satanic action.

My chamber, as I have mentioned, was upon the third storey. It was one of
many, opening upon the long gallery, which had been the scene, four
generations back, of that unnatural and bloody midnight duel which had
laid one scion of this ancient house in his shroud, and driven another a
fugitive to the moral solitudes of a continental banishment.

Much of the day, as I told you, had been passed among the grisly records
of these old family crimes and hatreds. They had been an ill-conditioned
and not a happy race. When I heard the servant's step traversing that
long gallery, as it seemed to the in haste to be gone, and when all grew
quite silent, I began to feel a dismal sort of sensation, and lighted the
pair of wax candles which I found upon the small writing table. How
wonderful and mysterious is the influence of light! What sort of beings
must those be who hate it?

The floor, more than anything else, showed the great age of the room. It
was warped and arched all along by the wall between the door and the
window. The portion of it which the carpet did not cover showed it to be
oak, dark and rugged. My bed was unexceptionably comfortable, but, in my
then mood, I could have wished it a great deal more modern. Its four
posts were, like the rest of it, oak, well-nigh black, fantastically
turned and carved, with a great urn-like capital and base, and shaped
midway, like a gigantic lance-handle. Its curtains were of thick and
faded tapestry. I was always a lover of such antiquities, but I confess
at that moment I would have vastly preferred a sprightly modern chintz
and a trumpery little French bed in a corner of the Brandon Arms. There
was a great lowering press of oak, and some shelves, with withered green
and gold leather borders. All the furniture belonged to other times.

I would have been glad to hear a step stirring, or a cough even, or the
gabble of servants at a distance. But there was a silence and desertion
in this part of the mansion which, somehow, made me feel that I was
myself a solitary intruder on this level of the vast old house.

I shan't trouble you about my train of thoughts or fancies; but I began
to feel very like a gentleman in a ghost story, watching experimentally
in a haunted chamber. My cigar case was a resource. I was not a bit
afraid of being found out. I did not even take the precaution of smoking
up the chimney. I boldly lighted my cheroot. I peeped through the dense
window curtain there were no shutters. A cold, bright moon was shining
with clear sharp lights and shadows. Everything looked strangely cold and
motionless outside. The sombre old trees, like gigantic hearse plumes,
black and awful. The chapel lay full in view, where so many of the,
strange and equivocal race, under whose ancient roof-tree I then stood,
were lying under their tombstones.

Somehow, I had grown nervous. A little bit of plaster tumbled down the
chimney, and startled me confoundedly. Then some time after, I fancied I
heard a creaking step on the lobby outside, and, candle in hand, opened
the door, and looked out with an odd sort of expectation, and a rather
agreeable disappointment, upon vacancy.

CHAPTER XII.

IN WHICH UNCLE LORNE TROUBLES ME.

I was growing most uncomfortably like one of Mrs. Anne Radcliffe's
heroes--a nervous race of demigods.

I walked like a sentinel up and down my chamber, puffing leisurely the
solemn incense, and trying to think of the Opera and my essay on
'Paradise Lost,' and other pleasant subjects. But it would not do. Every
now and then, as I turned towards the door, I fancied I saw it softly
close. I can't the least say whether it was altogether fancy. It was with
the corner, or as the Italians have it, the 'tail' of my eye that I saw,
or imagined that I saw, this trifling but unpleasant movement.

I called out once or twice sharply--'Come in!' 'Who's there?' 'Who's
that?' and so forth, without any sort of effect, except that unpleasant
reaction upon the nerves which follows the sound of one's own voice in a
solitude of this kind.

The fact is I did not myself believe in that stealthy motion of my door,
and set it down to one of those illusions which I have sometimes
succeeded in analysing--a half-seen combination of objects which, rightly
placed in the due relations of perspective, have no mutual connection
whatever.

So I ceased to challenge the unearthly inquisitor, and allowed him, after
a while, serenely enough, to peep as I turned my back, or to withdraw
again as I made my regular right-about face.

I had now got half-way in my second cheroot, and the clock clanged 'one.'
It was a very still night, and the prolonged boom vibrated strangely in
my excited ears and brain. I had never been quite such an ass before; but
I do assure you I was now in an extremely unpleasant state. One o'clock
was better, however, than twelve. Although, by Jove! the bell was
'beating one,' as I remember, precisely as that king of ghosts, old
Hamlet, revisited the glimpses of the moon, upon the famous platform of
Elsinore.

I had pondered too long over the lore of this Satanic family, and drunk
very strong tea, I suppose. I could not get my nerves into a comfortable
state, and cheerful thoughts refused to inhabit the darkened chamber of
my brain. As I stood in a sort of reverie, looking straight upon the
door, I saw--and this time there could be no mistake whatsoever--the
handle--the only modern thing about it--slowly turned, and the door
itself as slowly pushed about a quarter open.

I do not know what exclamation I made. The door was shut instantly, and I
found myself standing at it, and looking out upon the lobby, with a
candle in my hand, and actually freezing with foolish horror.

I was looking towards the stair-head. The passage was empty and ended in
utter darkness. I glanced the other way, and thought I saw--though not
distinctly--in the distance a white figure, not gliding in the
conventional way, but limping off, with a sort of jerky motion, and, in a
second or two, quite lost in darkness.

I got into my room again, and shut the door with a clap that sounded
loudly and unnaturally through the dismal quiet that surrounded me, and
stood with my hand on the handle, with the instinct of resistance.

I felt uncomfortable; and I would have secured the door, but there was no
sort of fastening within. So I paused. I did not mind looking out again.
To tell you the plain truth, I was just a little bit afraid. Then I grew
angry at having been put into such remote, and, possibly, suspected
quarters, and then my comfortable scepticism supervened. I was yet to
learn a great deal about this visitation.

So, in due course having smoked my cheroot, I jerked the stump into the
fire. Of course I could not think of depriving myself of candle-light;
and being already of a thoughtful, old-bachelor temperament, and averse
from burning houses, I placed one of my tall wax-lights in a basin on the
table by my bed--in which I soon effected a lodgment, and lay with a
comparative sense of security.

Then I heard two o'clock strike; but shortly after, as I suppose, sleep
overtook me, and I have no distinct idea for how long my slumber lasted.
The fire was very low when I awoke, and saw a figure--and a very odd
one--seated by the embers, and stooping over the grate, with a pair of
long hands expanded, as it seemed, to catch the warmth of the sinking
fire.

It was that of a very tall old man, entirely dressed in white flannel--a
very long spencer, and some sort of white swathing about his head. His
back was toward me; and he stooped without the slightest motion over the
fire-place, in the attitude I have described.

As I looked, he suddenly turned toward me, and fixed upon me a cold, and
as it seemed, a wrathful gaze, over his shoulder. It was a bleached and a
long-chinned face--the countenance of Lorne's portrait--only more faded,
sinister, and apathetic. And having, as it were, secured its awful
command over me by a protracted gaze, he rose, supernaturally lean and
tall, and drew near the side of my bed.

I continued to stare upon this apparition with the most dreadful
fascination I ever experienced in my life. For two or three seconds I
literally could not move. When I did, I am not ashamed to confess, it was
to plunge my head under the bed-clothes, with the childish instinct of
terror; and there I lay breathless, for what seemed to me not far from
ten minutes, during which there was no sound, nor other symptom of its
presence.

On a sudden the bed-clothes were gently lifted at my feet, and I sprang
backwards, sitting upright against the back of the bed, and once more
under the gaze of that long-chinned old man.

A voice, as peculiar as the appearance of the figure, said:--

'You are in my bed--I died in it a great many years ago. I am Uncle
Lorne; and when I am not here, a devil goes up and down in the room. See!
he had his face to your ear when I came in. I came from Dorcas Brandon's
bed-chamber door, where her evil angel told me a thing;--and Mark Wylder
must not seek to marry her, for he will be buried alive if he does, and
he will, maybe, never get up again. Say your prayers when I go out, and
come here no more.'

He paused, as if these incredible words were to sink into my memory; and
then, in the same tone, and with the same countenance, he asked--

'Is the blood on my forehead?'

I don't know whether I answered.

'So soon as a calamity is within twelve hours, the blood comes upon my
forehead, as they found me in the morning--it is a sign.'

The old man then drew back slowly, and disappeared behind the curtains at
the foot of the bed, and I saw no more of him during the rest of that
odious night.

So long as this apparition remained before me, I never doubted its being
supernatural. I don't think mortal ever suffered horror more intense. My
very hair was dripping with a cold moisture. For some seconds I hardly
knew where I was. But soon a reaction came, and I felt convinced that the
apparition was a living man. It was no process of reason or philosophy,
but simply I became persuaded of it, and something like rage overcame my
terrors.

CHAPTER XIII.

THE PONY CARRIAGE

So soon as daylight came, I made a swift cold water toilet, and got out
into the open air, with a solemn resolution to see the hated interior of
that bed-room no more. When I met Lord Chelford in his early walk that
morning, I'm sure I looked myself like a ghost--at all events, very wild
and seedy--for he asked me, more seriously than usual, how I was; and I
think I would have told him the story of my adventure, despite the secret
ridicule with which, I fancied, he would receive it, had it not been for
a certain insurmountable disgust and horror which held me tongue-tied
upon the affair.

I told him, however, that I had dreamed dreams, and was restless and
uncomfortable in my present berth, and begged his interest with the
housekeeper to have my quarters changed to the lower storey--quite
resolved to remove to the 'Brandon Arms,' rather than encounter another
such night as I had passed.

Stanley Lake did not appear that day; Wylder was glowering and
abstracted--worse company than usual; and Rachel seemed to have quite
passed from his recollection.

While Rachel Lake was, as usual, busy in her little garden that day, Lord
Chelford, on his way to the town, by the pretty mill-road, took off his
hat to her with a smiling salutation, and leaning on the paling, he
said--

'I often wonder how you make your flowers grow here--you have so little
sun among the trees--and yet, it is so pretty and flowery; it remains in
my memory as if the sun were always shining specially on this little
garden.'

Miss Lake laughed.

'I am very proud of it. They try not to blow, but I never let them alone
till they do. See all my watering-pots, and pruning-scissors, my sticks,
and bass-mat, and glass covers. Skill and industry conquer churlish
nature--and this is my Versailles.'

'I don't believe in those sticks, and scissors, and watering-pots. You
won't tell your secret; but I'm sure it's an influence--you smile and
whisper to them.'

She smiled--without raising her eyes--on the flower she was tying up;
and, indeed, it was such a smile as must have made it happy--and she
said, gaily--

'You forget that Lord Chelford passes this way sometimes, and shines upon
them, too.'

'No, he's a dull, earthly dog; and if he shines here, it is only in
reflected light'

'Margery, child, fetch me the scissors.'

And a hobble-de-hoy of a girl, with round eyes, and a long white-apron,
and bare arms, came down the little walk, and--eyeing the peer with an
awful curiosity--presented the shears to the charming Atropos, who
clipped off the withered blossoms that had bloomed their hour, and were
to cumber the stalk no more.

'Now, you see what art may do; how _passe_ this creature was till I made
her toilet, and how wonderfully the poor old beauty looks now,' and she
glanced complacently at the plant she had just trimmed.

'Well, it is young again and beautiful; but no--I have no faith in the
scissors; I still believe in the influence--from the tips of your
fingers, your looks, and tones. Flowers, like fairies, have their
favourites, whom they smile on and obey; and I think this is a haunted
glen--trees, flowers, all have an intelligence and a feeling--and I am
sure you see wonderful things, by moonlight, from your window.'

With a strange meaning echo, those words returned to her afterwards--'I'm
sure you see wonderful things, by moonlight, from your window.'

But no matter; the winged words--making pleasant music--flew pleasantly
away, now among transparent leaves and glimmering sun; by-and-by, in
moonlight, they will return to the casement piping the same tune, in
ghostly tones.

And as they chatted in this strain, Rachel paused on a sudden, with
upraised hand, listening pleasantly.

'I hear the pony-carriage; Dorcas is coming,' she said.

And the tinkle of tiny wheels, coming down the road, was audible.

'There's a pleasant sense of adventure, too, in the midst of your
seclusion. Sudden arrivals and passing pilgrims, like me, leaning over
the paling, and refreshed by the glimpse the rogue steals of this
charming oratory. Yes; here comes the fair Brunnisende.'

And he made his salutation. Miss Brandon smiled from under her gipsy-hat
very pleasantly for her.

'Will you come with me for a drive, Radie?' she asked.

'Yes, dear--delighted. Margery, bring my gloves and cloak.' And she
unpinned the faded silk shawl that did duty in the garden, and drew off
her gauntlets, and showed her pretty hands; and Margery popped her cloak
on her shoulders, and the young lady pulled on her gloves. All ready in a
moment, like a young lady of energy; and chatting merrily she sat down
beside her cousin, who held the reins. As there were no more gates to
open, Miss Brandon dismissed the servant, who stood at the ponies' heads,
and who, touching his hat with his white glove, received his _cong_, and
strode with willing steps up the road.

'Will you take me for your footman as far as the town?' asked Lord
Chelford; so, with permission, up he jumped behind, and away they
whirled, close over the ground, on toy wheels ringing merrily on the
shingle, he leaning over the back and chatting pleasantly with the young
ladies as they drove on.

They drew up at the Brandon Arms, and little girls courtesied at doors,
and householders peeped from their windows, not standing close to the
panes, but respectfully back, at the great lady and the nobleman, who was
now taking his leave.

And next they pulled up at that official rendezvous, with white-washed
front--and 'post-office,' in white letters on a brown board over its
door, and its black, hinged window-pane, through which Mr. Driver--or, in
his absence, Miss Anne Driver--answered questions, and transacted affairs
officially.

In the rear of this establishment were kept some dogs of Lawyer Larkin's;
and just as the ladies arrived, that person emerged, looking
overpoweringly gentlemanlike, in a white hat, gray paletot, lavender
trowsers, and white riding gloves. He was in a righteous and dignified
way pleased to present himself in so becoming a costume, and moreover in
good company, for Stanley Lake was going with him to Dutton for a day's
sport, which neither of them cared for. But Stanley hoped to pump the
attorney, and the attorney, I'm afraid, liked being associated with the
fashionable captain; and so they were each pleased in the way that suited
them.

The attorney, being long as well as lank, had to stoop under the doorway,
but drew himself up handsomely on coming out, and assumed his easy,
high-bred style, which, although he was not aware of it, was very nearly
insupportable, and smiled very engagingly, and meant to talk a little
about the weather; but Miss Brandon made him one of her gravest and
slightest bows, and suddenly saw Mrs. Brown at her shop door on the other
side, and had a word to say to her.

And now Stanley Lake drew up in the tax-cart, and greeted the ladies, and
told them how he meant to pass the day; and the dogs being put in, and
the attorney, I'm afraid a little spited at his reception, in possession
of the reins, they drove down the little street at a great pace, and
disappeared round the corner; and in a minute more the young ladies, in
the opposite direction, resumed their drive. The ponies, being grave and
trustworthy, and having the road quite to themselves, needed little
looking after, and Miss Brandon was free to converse with her companion.

'I think, Rachel, you have a lover,' she said.

'Only a bachelor, I'm afraid, as my poor Margery calls the young
gentleman who takes her out for a walk on a Sunday, and I fear means
nothing more.'

'This is the second time I've found Chelford talking to you, Rachel, at
the door of your pretty little garden.'

Rachel laughed.

'Suppose, some fine day, he should put his hand over the paling, and take
yours, and make you a speech.'

'You romantic darling,' she said, 'don't you know that peers and princes
have quite given over marrying simple maidens of low estate for love and
liking, and understand match-making better than you or I; though I could
give a tolerable account of myself, after the manner of the white cat in
the story, which I think is a pattern of frankness and modest dignity.
I'd say with a courtesy--"Think not, prince, that I have always been a
cat, and that my birth is obscure; my father was king of six kingdoms,
and loved my mother tenderly," and so forth.'

'Rachel, I like you,' interrupted the dark beauty, fixing her large eyes,
from which not light, but, as it were, a rich shadow fell softly on her
companion. It was the first time she had made any such confession. Rachel
returned her look as frankly, with an amused smile, and then said, with a
comic little toss of her head--

'Well, Dorcas, I don't see why you should not, though I don't know why
you say so.'

'You're not like other people; you don't complain, and you're not bitter,
although you have had great misfortunes, my poor Rachel.'

There be ladies, young and old, who, the moment they are pitied, though
never so cheerful before, will forthwith dissolve in tears. But that was
not Rachel's way; she only looked at her with a good-humoured but grave
curiosity for a few seconds, and then said, with rather a kindly smile--

'And now, Dorcas, I like you.'

Dorcas made no answer, but put her arm round Rachel's neck, and kissed
her; Dorcas made two kisses of it, and Rachel one, but it was cousinly
and kindly; and Rachel laughed a soft little laugh after it, looking
amused and very lovingly on her cousin; but she was a bold lass, and not
given in anywise to the melting mood, and said gaily, with her open hand
still caressingly on Dorcas's waist--

'I make a very good nun, Dorcas, as I told Stanley the other day. I
sometimes, indeed, receive a male visitor, at the other side of the
paling, which is my grille; but to change my way of life is a dream that
does not trouble me. Happy the girl--and I am one--who cannot like until
she is first beloved. Don't you remember poor, pale Winnie, the maid who
used to take us on our walks all the summer at Dawling; how she used to
pluck the leaves from the flowers, like Faust's Marguerite, saying, "He
loves me a little--passionately, not at all." Now if I were loved
passionately, I might love a little; and if loved a little--it should be
not at all.'

They had the road all to themselves, and were going at a walk up an
ascent, so the reins lay loosely on the ponies' necks and Dorcas looked
with an untold meaning in her proud face, on her cousin, and seemed on
the point of speaking, but she changed her mind.

'And so Dorcas, as swains are seldom passionately in love with so small a
pittance as mine, I think I shall mature into a queer old maid, and take
all the little Wylders, masters and misses, with your leave, for their
walks, and help to make their pinafores.' Whereupon Miss Dorcas put her
ponies into a very quick trot, and became absorbed in her driving.

CHAPTER XIV.

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

'Stanley is an odd creature,' said Rachel, so soon as another slight
incline brought them to a walk; 'I can't conceive why he has come down
here, or what he can possibly want of that disagreeable lawyer. They have
got dogs and guns, and are going, of course, to shoot; but he does not
care for shooting, and I don't think Mr. Larkin's society can amuse him.
Stanley is clever and cunning, I think, but he is neither wise nor frank.
He never tells me his plans, though he must know--he _does_ know--I love
him; yes, he's a strange mixture of suspicion and imprudence. He's
wonderfully reserved. I am certain he trusts no one on earth, and at the
same time, except in his confidences, he's the rashest man living. If he
were like Lord Chelford, or even like our good vicar--not in piety, for
poor Stanley's training, like my own, was sadly neglected there--I mean
in a few manly points of character, I should be quite happy, I think, in
my solitary nook.'

'Is he so very odd?' said Miss Brandon, coldly.

'I only know he makes me often very uncomfortable,' answered Rachel. 'I
never mind what he tells me, for I think he likes to mislead everybody;
and I have been two often duped by him to trust what he says. I only know
that his visit to Gylingden must have been made with some serious
purpose, and his ideas are all so rash and violent.'

'He was at Donnyston for ten days, I think, when I was there, and seemed
clever. They had charades and _proverbes dramatiques_. I'm no judge, but
the people who understood it, said he was very good.'

'Oh! yes he is clever; I knew he was at Donnyston, but he did not mention
he had seen you there; he only told me he had met you pretty often when
you were at Lady Alton's last season.'

'Yes, in town,' she answered, a little drily.

While these young ladies are discussing Stanley Lake, I may be permitted
to mention my own estimate of that agreeable young person.

Captain Lake was a gentleman and an officer, and of course an honourable
man; but somehow I should not have liked to buy a horse from him. He was
very gentlemanlike in appearance, and even elegant; but I never liked
him, although he undoubtedly had a superficial fascination. I always
thought, when in his company, of old Lord Holland's silk stocking with
something unpleasant in it. I think, in fact, he was destitute of those
fine moral instincts which are born with men, but never acquired; and in
his way of estimating his fellow men, and the canons of honour, there was
occasionally perceptible a faint flavour of the villainous, and an
undefined savour, at times, of brimstone. I know also that when his
temper, which was nothing very remarkable, was excited, he could be
savage and brutal enough; and I believe he had often been violent and
cowardly in his altercations with his sister--so, at least, two or three
people, who were versed in the scandals of the family, affirmed. But it
is a censorious world, and I can only speak positively of my own
sensations in his company. His morality, however, I suppose, was quite
good enough for the world, and he had never committed himself in any of
those ways of which that respectable tribunal takes cognizance.

'So that d--d fellow Lake is down here still; and that stupid, scheming
lubber, Larkin, driving him about in his tax-cart, instead of minding his
business. I could not see him to-day. That sort of thing won't answer me;
and he _is_ staying at Larkin's house, I find.' Wylder was talking to me
on the door steps after dinner, having in a rather sulky way swallowed
more than his usual modicum of Madeira, and his remarks were delivered
interruptedly--two or three puffs of his cigar interposed between each
sentence.

'I suppose he expects to be asked to the wedding. He _may_ expect--ha,
ha, ha! You don't know that lad as I do.'

Then there came a second cigar, and some little time in lighting, and
full twenty enjoyable puffs before he resumed.

'Now, you're a moral man, Charlie, tell me really what you think of a
fellow marrying a girl he does not care that for,' and he snapt his
fingers. 'Just for the sake of her estate--it's the way of the world, of
course, and all that--but, is not it a little bit shabby, don't you
think? Eh? Ha, ha, ha!'

'I'll not debate with you, Wylder, on that stupid old question. It's the
way of the world, as you say, and there's an end of it.'

'They say she's such a beauty! Well, so I believe she is, but I can't
fancy her. Now you must not be angry. I'm not a poet like
you--book-learned, you know; and she's too solemn by half, and grand. I
wish she was different. That other girl, Rachel--she's a devilish
handsome craft. I wish almost she was not here at all, or I wish she was
in Dorcas's shoes.'

'Nonsense, Wylder! stop this stuff; and it is growing cold throw away
that cigar, and come in.'

'In a minute. No, I assure you, I'm not joking. Hang it! I must talk to
some one. I'm devilish uncomfortable about this grand match. I wish I had
not been led into it I don't think I'd make a good husband to any woman I
did not fancy, and where's the good of making a girl unhappy, eh?'

'Tut, Wylder, you ought to have thought of all that before. I don't like
your talking in this strain when you know it is too late to recede;
besides, you are the luckiest fellow in creation. Upon my word, I don't
know why the girl marries you; you can't suppose that she could not marry
much better, and if you have not made up your mind to break off, of which
the world would form but one opinion, you had better not speak in that
way any more.'

'Why, it was only to you, Charlie, and to tell you the truth, I do
believe it is the best thing for me; but I suppose every fellow feels a
little queer when he is going to be spliced, a little bit nervous, eh?
But you are right--and I'm right, and we are all right--it _is_ the best
thing for us both. It will make a deuced fine estate; but hang it! you
know a fellow's never satisfied. And I suppose I'm a bit put out by that
disreputable dog's being here--I mean Lake; not that I need care more
than Dorcas, or anyone else; but he's no credit to the family, you see,
and I never could abide him. I've half a mind, Charlie, to tell you a
thing; but hang it! you're such a demure old maid of a chap. Will you
have a cigar?'

'No.'

'Well, I believe two's enough for me,' and he looked up at the stars.

'I've a notion of running up to town, only for a day or two, before this
business comes off, just on the sly; you'll not mention it, and I'll have
a word with Lake, quite friendly, of course; but I'll shut him up, and
that's all. I wonder he did not dine here to-day. Did you ever see so
pushing a brute?'

So Wylder chucked away his cigar, and stood for a minute with his hands
in his pockets looking up at the stars, as if reading fortunes there.

I had an unpleasant feeling that Mark Wylder was about some mischief--a
suspicion that some game of mine and countermine was going on between him
and Lake, to which I had no clue whatsoever.

Mark had the frankness of callosity, and could recount his evil deeds and
confess his vices with hilarity and detail, and was prompt to take his
part in a lark, and was a remarkably hard hitter, and never shrank from
the brunt of the row; and with these fine qualities, and a much superior
knowledge of the ways of the flash world, had commanded my boyish
reverence and a general popularity among strangers. But, with all this,
he could be as secret as the sea with which he was conversant, and as
hard as a stonewall, when it answered his purpose. He had no lack of
cunning, and a convenient fund of cool cruelty when that stoical
attribute was called for. Years, I dare say, and a hard life and
profligacy, and command, had not made him less selfish or more humane, or
abated his craft and resolution.

If one could only see it, the manoeuvring and the ultimate collision of
two such generals as he and Lake would be worth observing.

I dare say my last night's adventure tended to make me more nervous and
prone to evil anticipation. And although my quarters had been changed to
the lower storey, I grew uncomfortable as it waxed late, and half
regretted that I had not migrated to the 'Brandon Arms.'

Uncle Lorne, however, made me no visit that night. Once or twice I
fancied something, and started up in my bed. It was fancy, merely. What
state had I really been in, when I saw that long-chinned apparition of
the pale portrait? Many a wiser man than I had been mystified by
dyspepsia and melancholic vapours.

CHAPTER XV.

DORCAS SHOWS HER JEWELS TO MISS LAKE.

Stanley Lake and his sister dined next day at Brandon. Under the cold
shadow of Lady Chelford, the proprieties flourished, and generally very
little else. Awful she was, and prompt to lecture young people before
their peers, and spoke her mind with fearful directness and precision.
But sometimes she would talk, and treat her hearers to her recollections,
and recount anecdotes with a sort of grim cleverness, not wholly
unamusing.

She did not like Wylder, I thought, although she had been the inventor
and constructor of the family alliance of which he was the hero. I did
not venture to cultivate her; and Miss Brandon had been, from the first,
specially cold and repellent to Captain Lake. There was nothing very
genial or promising, therefore, in the relations of our little party, and
I did not expect a very agreeable evening.

Notwithstanding all this, however, our dinner was, on the whole, much
pleasanter than I anticipated. Stanley Lake could be very amusing; but I
doubt if our talk would quite stand the test of print. I often thought if
one of those artists who photograph language and thought--the quiet,
clever 'reporters,' to whom England is obliged for so much of her daily
entertainment, of her social knowledge, and her political safety, were,
pencil in hand, to ensconce himself behind the arras, and present us, at
the close of the agreeable banquet, with a literal transcript of the
feast of reason, which we give and take with so much complacency--whether
it would quite satisfy us upon reconsideration.

When I entered the drawing-room after dinner, Lord Chelford was plainly
arguing a point with the young ladies, and by the time I drew near, it
was Miss Lake's turn to speak.

'Flattering of mankind, I am sure, I have no talent for; and without
flattering and wheedling you'll never have conjugal obedience. Don't you
remember Robin Hood? how--

'The mother of Robin said to her husband,
My honey, my love, and my dear.'

And all this for leave to ride with her son to see her own brother at
Gamwell.'

'I remember,' said Dorcas, with a smile. 'I wonder what has become of
that old book, with its odd little woodcuts.

'And he said, I grant thee thy boon, gentle Joan!
Take one of my horses straightway.'

'Well, though the book is lost, we retain the moral, you see,' said
Rachel with a little laugh; 'and it has always seemed to me that if it
had not been necessary to say, "my honey, my love, and my dear," that
good soul would not have said it, and you may be pretty sure that if she
had not, and with the suitable by-play too, she might not have ridden to
Gamwell that day.'

'And you don't think _you_ could have persuaded yourself to repeat that
little charm, which obtained her boon and one of his horses straightway?'
said Lord Chelford.

'Well, I don't know what a great temptation and a contumacious husband
might bring one to; but I'm afraid I'm a stubborn creature, and have not
the feminine gift of flattery. If, indeed, he felt his inferiority and
owned his dependence, I think I might, perhaps, have called him "my
honey, my love, and my dear," and encouraged and comforted him; but to
buy my personal liberty, and the right to visit my brother at
Gamwell--never!'

And yet she looked, Lord Chelford thought, very goodhumoured and
pleasant, and he fancied a smile from her might do more with some men
than all gentle Joan's honeyed vocabulary.

'I own,' said Lord Chelford, laughing, 'that, from prejudice, I suppose,
I am in favour of the apostolic method, and stand up for the divine right
of my sex; but then, don't you see, it is your own fault, if you make it
a question of right, when you may make it altogether one of fascination?'

'Who, pray, is disputing the husband's right to rule?' demanded old Lady
Chelford unexpectedly.

'I am very timidly defending it against very serious odds,' answered her
son.

'Tut, tut! my dears, what's all this; you _must_ obey your husbands,'
cried the dowager, who put down nonsense with a high hand, and had ruled
her lord with a rod of iron.

'That's no tradition of the Brandons,' said Miss Dorcas, quietly.

'The Brandons--pooh! my dear--it is time the Brandons should grow like
other people. Hitherto, the Brandon men have all, without exception, been
the wickedest in all England, and the women the handsomest and the most
self-willed. Of course the men could not be obeyed in all things, nor the
women disobeyed. I'm a Brandon myself, Dorcas, so I've a right to speak.
But the words are precise--honour and obey--and obey you _must_; though,
of course you may argue a point, if need be, and let your husband hear
reason.'

And, having ruled the point, old Lady Chelford leaned back and resumed
her doze.

There was no longer anything playful in Dorcas's look. On the contrary,
something fierce and lurid, which I thought wonderfully becoming; and
after a little she said--

'I promised, Rachel, to show you my jewels. Come now--will you?--and see
them.'

And she placed Rachel's hand on her arm, and the two young ladies
departed.

'Are you well, dear?' asked Rachel when they reached her room.

Dorcas was very pale, and her gaze was stern, and something undefinably
wild in her quietude.

'What day of the month is this?' said Dorcas.

'The eighth--is not it?--yes, the eighth,' answered Rachel.

'And our marriage is fixed for the twenty-second--just a fortnight hence.
I am going to tell you, Rachel, what I have resolved on.'

'How really beautiful these diamonds are!--quite superb.'

'Yes,' said Dorcas, opening the jewel-cases, which she had taken from her
cabinet, one after the other.

'And these pearls! how very magnificent! I had no idea Mark Wylder's
taste was so exquisite.'

'Yes, very magnificent, I suppose.'

'How charming--quite regal--you will look, Dorcas!'

Dorcas smiled strangely, and her bosom heaved a little, Rachel thought.
Was it elation, or was there not something wildly bitter gleaming in that
smile?

'I _must_ look a little longer at these diamonds.'

'As long, dear, as you please. You are not likely, Rachel, to see them
again.'

From the blue flash of the brilliants Rachel in honest amazement raised
her eyes to her cousin's face. The same pale smile was there; the look
was oracular and painful. Had she overheard a part of that unworthy talk
of Wylder's at the dinner-table, the day before, and mistaken Rachel's
share in the dialogue?

And Dorcas said--

'You have heard of the music on the waters that lures mariners to
destruction. The pilot leaves the rudder, and leans over the prow, and
listens. They steer no more, but drive before the wind; and what care
they for wreck or drowning?'

I suppose it was the same smile; but in Rachel s eyes, as pictures will,
it changed its character with her own change of thought, and now it
seemed the pale rapt smile of one who hears music far off, or sees a
vision.

'Rachel, dear, I sometimes think there is an evil genius attendant on our
family,' continued Dorcas in the same subdued tone, which, in its very
sweetness, had so sinister a sound in Rachel's ear. 'From mother to
child, from child to grandchild, the same influence continues; and, one
after another, wrecks the daughters of our family--a wayward family, and
full of misery. Here I stand, forewarned, with my eyes open, determinedly
following in the funereal footsteps of those who have gone their way
before me. These jewels all go back to Mr. Wylder. He never can be
anything to me. I was, I thought, to build up our house. I am going, I
think, to lay it in the dust. With the spirit of the insane, I feel the
spirit of a prophetess, too, and I see the sorrow that awaits me. You
will see.'

'Dorcas, darling, you are certainly ill. What is the matter?'

'No, dear Rachel, not ill, only maybe agitated a little. You must not
touch the bell--listen to me; but first promise, so help you Heaven, you
will keep my secret.'

'I do promise, indeed Dorcas, I swear I'll not repeat one word you tell
me.'

'It has been a vain struggle. I know he's a bad man, a worthless
man--selfish, cruel, maybe. Love is not blind with me, but quite insane.
He does not know, nor you, nor anyone; and now, Rachel, I tell you what
was unknown to all but myself and Heaven--looking neither for counsel,
nor for pity, nor for sympathy, but because I must, and you have sworn to
keep my secret. I love your brother. Rachel, you must try to like me.'

She threw her arms round her cousin's neck, and Rachel felt in her
embrace the vibration of an agony.

She was herself so astonished that for a good while she could hardly
collect her thoughts or believe her senses. Was it credible? Stanley!
whom she had received with a coldness, if not aversion, so marked, that,
if he had a spark of Rachel's spirit, he would never have approached her
more! Then came the thought--perhaps they understood one another, and
that was the meaning of Stanley's unexpected visit?

'Well, Dorcas, dear, I _am_ utterly amazed. But does Stanley--he can
hardly hope?'

Dorcas removed her arms from her cousin's neck; her face was pale, and
her cheeks wet with tears, which she did not wipe away.

'Sit down by me, Rachel. No, _he_ does _not_ like _me_--that is--I don't
know; but, I am sure, he can't suspect that I like him. It was my
determination it should not be. I resolved, Rachel, quite to extinguish
the madness; but I could not. It was not his doing, nor mine, but
something else. There are some families, I think, too wicked for Heaven
to protect, and they are given over to the arts of those who hated them
in life and pursue them after death; and this is the meaning of the curse
that has always followed us. No good will ever happen us, and I must go
like the rest.'

There was a short silence, and Rachel gazed on the carpet in troubled
reflection, and then, with an anxious look, she took her cousin's hand,
and said--

'Dorcas, you must think of this no more. I am speaking against my
brother's interest. But you must not sacrifice yourself, your fortune,
and your _happiness_, to a shadow; whatever his means are, they hardly
suffice for his personal expenses--indeed, they don't suffice, for I have
had to help him. But that is all trifling compared with other
considerations. I am his sister, and, though he has shown little love for
me, I am not without affection--and strong affection--for him; but I must
and will speak frankly. You could not, I don't think anyone could be
happy with Stanley for her husband. You don't know him: he's profligate;
he's ill-tempered; he's cold; he's selfish; he's secret. He was a spoiled
boy, totally without moral education; he might, perhaps, have been very
different, but he _is what_ he is, and I don't think he'll ever change.'

'He may be what he will. It is vain reasoning with that which is not
reason; the battle is over; possibly he may never know, and that might be
best for both--but be it how it may, I will never marry anyone else.'

'Dorcas, dear, you must not speak to Lady Chelford, or to Mark Wylder,
to-night. It is too serious a step to be taken in haste.'

'There has been no haste, Rachel, and there can be no change.'

'And what reason can you give?'

'None; no reason,' said Dorcas, slowly.

'Wylder would have been suitable in point of wealth. Not so well, I am
sure, as you _might_ have married; but neither would _he_ be a good
husband, though not so bad as Stanley; and I do not think that Mark
Wylder will quietly submit to his disappointment.'

'It was to have been simply a marriage of two estates. It was old Lady
Chelford's plan. I have now formed mine, and all that's over. Let him do
what he will--I believe a lawsuit is his worst revenge--I'm indifferent.'

Just then a knock came to the chamber door.

'Come in,' said Miss Brandon: and her maid entered to say that the
carriage, please Ma'am, was at the door to take Miss Lake home.

'I had no idea it was so late,' said Rachel.

'Stay, dear, don't go for a moment. Jones, bring Miss Lake's cloak and
bonnet here. And now, dear,' she said, after a little pause, 'you'll
remember your solemn promise?'

'I never broke my word, dear Dorcas; your secret is safe.'

'And, Rachel, try to like me.'

'I love you better, Dorcas, than I thought I ever could. Good-night,
dear.'

'Good-night.'

And the young ladies parted with a kiss, and then another.

CHAPTER XVI.

'JENNY, PUT THE KETTLE ON.'

Old Lady Chelford, having despatched a sharp and unceremonious message to
her young kinswoman, absent without leave, warning her, in effect, that
if she returned to the drawing-room it would be to preside, alone, over
gentlemen, departed, somewhat to our secret relief.

Upon this, on Lord Chelford's motion, in our forlorn condition, we went
to the billiard-room, and there, under the bright lights, and the gay
influence of that wonderful game, we forgot our cares, and became
excellent friends apparently--'cuts,' 'canons,' 'screws,' 'misses,'
'flukes'--Lord Chelford joked, Wylder 'chaffed,' even Lake seemed to
enjoy himself; and the game proceeded with animation and no lack of
laughter, beguiling the watches of the night; and we were all amazed, at
length, to find how very late it was. So we laid down our cues, with the
customary ejaculations of surprise.

We declined wine and water, and all other creature comforts. Wylder and
Lake had a walk before them, and we bid Lord Chelford 'good-night' in the
passage, and I walked with them through the deserted and nearly darkened
rooms.

Our talk grew slow, and our spirits subsided in this changed and
tenebrose scenery. The void and the darkness brought back, I suppose, my
recollection of the dubious terms on which these young men stood, and a
feeling of the hollowness and delusion of the genial hours just passed
under the brilliant lights, together with an unpleasant sense of
apprehension.

On coming out upon the door-steps we all grew silent.

The moon was low, and its yellow disk seemed, as it sometimes does,
dilated to a wondrous breadth, as its edge touched the black outline of
the distant woods. I half believe in presentiments, and I felt one now,
in the chill air, the sudden silence, and the watchful gaze of the moon.
I suspect that Wylder and Lake, too, felt something of the same ominous
qualm, for I thought their faces looked gloomy in the light, as they
stood together buttoning their loose wrappers and lighting their cigars.

With a 'good-night, good-night,' we parted, and I heard their retreating
steps crunching along the walk that led to Redman's Hollow, and by Miss
Rachel's quiet habitation. I heard no talking, such as comes between
whiffs with friendly smokers, side by side; and, silent as mutes at a
funeral, they walked on, and soon the fall of their footsteps was heard
no more, and I re-entered the hall and shut the door. The level moonlight
was shining through the stained heraldic window, and fell bright on the
portrait of Uncle Lorne, at the other end, throwing a patch of red, like
a stain, on one side of its pale forehead.

I had forgot, at the moment, that the ill-omened portrait hung there, and
a sudden horror smote me. I thought of what my vision said of the 'blood
upon my forehead,' and, by Jove! there it was!

At this moment the large white Marseilles waistcoat of grave Mr. Larcom
appeared, followed by a tall powdered footman, and their candles and
business-like proceedings frightened away the phantoms. So I withdrew to
my chamber, where, I am glad to say, I saw nothing of Uncle Lorne.

Miss Lake, as she drove that night toward Gylingden, said little to the
vicar's wife, whose good husband had been away to Friars, making a
sick-call, and she prattled on very merrily about his frugal little tea
awaiting his late return, and asked her twice on the way home whether it
was half-past nine, for she did not boast a watch; and in the midst of
her prattle was peeping at the landmarks of their progress.

'Oh, I'm so glad--here's the finger post, at last!' and then--'Well, here
we are at the "Cat and Fiddle;" I thought we'd never pass it.'

And, at last, the brougham stopped at the little garden-gate, at the far
end of the village; and the good little mamma called to her
maid-of-all-work from the window--

'Has the master come yet, Becky?'

'No, Ma'am, please.'

And I think she offered up a little thanksgiving, she so longed to give
him his tea herself; and then she asked--

'Is our precious mannikin asleep?' Which also being answered happily, as
it should be, she bid her fussy adieux, with a merry smile, and hurried,
gabbling amicably with her handmaid, across the little flower-garden; and
Miss Lake was shut in and drove on alone, under the thick canopy of old
trees, and up the mill-road, lighted by the flashing lamps, to her own
little precincts, and was, in turn, at home--solitary, triste, but still
her home.

'Get to your bed, Margery, child, you are sleepy,' said the young lady
kindly to her queer little maid-of-honour. Rachel was one of those
persons who, no matter what may be upon their minds, are quickly
impressible by the scenes in which they find themselves. She stepped into
her little kitchen--always a fairy kitchen, so tiny, so white, so
raddled, and shining all over with that pleasantest of all
effulgence--burnished tins, pewters, and the homely decorations of the
dresser--and she looked all round and smiled pleasantly, and kissed old
Tamar, and said--

'So, my dear old fairy, here's your Cinderella home again from the ball,
and I've seen nothing so pretty as this since I left Redman's Farm. How
white your table is, how nice your chairs; I wish you'd change with me
and let me be cook week about; and, really the fire is quite pleasant
to-night. Come, make a cup of tea, and tell us a story, and frighten me
and Margery before we go to our beds. Sit down, Margery, I'm only here by
permission. What do you mean by standing?' And the young lady, with a
laugh, sat down, looking so pleased, and good-natured, and merry, that
even old Tamar was fain to smile a glimmering smile; and little Margery
actively brought the tea-caddy; and the kettle, being in a skittish
singing state, quickly went off in a boil, and Tamar actually made tea in
her brown tea-pot.

'Oh, no; the delf cups and saucers;--it will be twice as good in them;'
and as the handsome mistress of the mansion, sitting in the deal chair,
loosened her cloak and untied her bonnet, she chatted away, to the
edification of Margery and the amusement of both.

This little extemporised bivouac, as it were, with her domestics,
delighted the young belle. Vanity of vanities, as Mr. Thackeray and King
Solomon cry out in turn. Silver trays and powdered footmen, and Utrecht,
velvet upholstery--miserable comforters! What saloon was ever so cheery
as this, or flashed all over in so small a light so splendidly, or
yielded such immortal nectar from chased teapot and urn, as this brewed
in brown crockery from the roaring kettle?

So Margery, sitting upon her stool in the background--for the Queen had
said it, and sit she must--and grinning from ear to ear, in a great halo
of glory, partook of tea.

'Well, Tamar, where's your story?' said the young lady.

'Story! La! bless you, dear Miss Radie, where should I find a story? My
old head's a poor one to remember,' whimpered white Tamar.

'Anything, no matter what--a ghost or a murder.'

Old Tamar shook her head.

'Or an elopement?'

Another shake of the head.

'Or a mystery--or even a dream?'

'Well--a dream! Sometimes I do dream. I dreamed how Master Stanley was
coming, the night before.'

'You did, did you? Selfish old thing! and you meant to keep it all to
yourself. What was it?'

Tamar looked anxiously and suspiciously in the kitchen fire, and placed
her puckered hand to the side of her white linen cap.

'I dreamed, Ma'am, the night before he came, a great fellow was at the
hall-door.'

'What! here?'

'Yes, Ma'am, this hall-door. So muffled up I could not see his face; and
he pulls out a letter all over red.'

'Red?'

'Aye, Miss; a red letter.'

'Red ink?'

'No, Miss, red _paper_, written with black, and directed for you.'

'Oh!'

'And so, Miss, in my dream, I gave it you in the drawing-room; and you
opened it, and leaned your hand upon your head, sick-like, reading it. I
never saw you read a letter so serious-like before. And says you to me,
Miss, "It's all about Master Stanley; he is coming." And sure enough,
here he was quite unexpected, next morning.'

'And was there no more?' asked Miss Lake.

'No more, Miss. I awoke just then.'

'It _is_ odd,' said Miss Lake, with a little laugh. 'Had you been
thinking of him lately?'

'Not a bit, Ma'am. I don't know when.'

'Well, it certainly is _very_ odd.'

At all events, it had glanced upon a sensitive recollection unexpectedly.
The kitchen was only a kitchen now; and the young lady, on a sudden,
looked thoughtful--perhaps a little sad. She rose; and old Tamar got up
before her, with her scared, secret look, clothed in white--the witch,
whose word had changed all, and summoned round her those shapes, which
threw their indistinct shadows on the walls and faces around.

'Light the candles in the drawing-room, Margery, and then, child, go to
your bed,' said the young lady, awakening from an abstraction. 'I don't
mind dreams, Tamar, nor fortune-tellers--I've dreamed so many good
dreams, and no good ever came of them. But talking of Stanley reminds me
of trouble and follies that I can't help, or prevent. He has left the
army, Tamar, and I don't know what his plans are.'

'Ah! poor child; he was always foolish and changeable, and a deal too
innocent for them wicked officer-gentlemen; and I'm glad he's not among
them any longer to learn bad ways--I am.'

So, the drawing-room being prepared, Rachel bid Tamar and little Margery
good-night, and the sleepy little handmaid stumped off to her bed; and
white old Tamar, who had not spoken so much for a month before, put on
her solemn round spectacles, and by her dipt candle read her chapter in
the ponderous Bible she had thumbed so well, and her white lips told over
the words as she read them in silence.

Old Tamar, I always thought, had seen many untold things in her day, and
some of her recollections troubled her, I dare say; and she held her
tongue, and knitted her white worsteds when she could sit quiet--which
was most hours of the day; and now and then when evil remembrances,
maybe, gathered round her solitude, she warned them off with that book of
power--so that my recollection of her is always the same white-clad,
cadaverous old woman, with a pair of barnacles on her nose, and her look
of secrecy and suffering turned on the large print of that worn volume,
or else on the fumbling-points of her knitting-needles.

It was a small house, this Redman's Farm, but very silent, for all that,
when the day's work was over; and very solemn, too, the look-out from the
window among the colonnades of tall old trees, on the overshadowed earth,
and through them into deepest darkness; the complaining of the lonely
stream far down is the only sound in the air.

There was but one imperfect vista, looking down the glen, and this
afforded no distant view--only a downward slant in the near woodland, and
a denser background of forest rising at the other side, and to-night
mistily gilded by the yellow moon-beams, the moon herself unseen.

Rachel had opened her window-shutters, as was her wont when the moon was
up, and with her small white hands on the window-sash, looked into the
wooded solitudes, lost in haunted darkness in every direction but one,
and there massed in vaporous and discoloured foliage, hardly more
distinct, or less solemn.

'Poor old Tamar says her prayers, and reads her Bible; I wish _I_ could.
How often I wish it. That good, simple vicar--how unlike his brother--is
wiser, perhaps, than all the shrewd people that smile at him. He used to
talk to me; but I've lost that--yes--I let him understand I did not care
for it, and so that good influence is gone from me--graceless creature.
No one seemed to care, except poor old Tamar, whether I ever said a
prayer, or heard any good thing; and when I was no more than ten years
old, I refused to say my prayers for her. My poor father. Well, Heaven
help us all.'

So she stood in the same sad attitude, looking out upon the shadowy
scene, in a forlorn reverie.

Her interview with Dorcas remained on her memory like an odd, clear,
half-horrible dream. What a dazzling prospect it opened for Stanley; what
a dreadful one might it not prepare for Dorcas. What might not arise from
such a situation between Stanley and Mark Wylder, each in his way a
worthy representative of the ill-conditioned and terrible race whose
blood he inherited? Was this doomed house of Brandon never to know repose
or fraternity?

Was it credible? Had it actually occurred, that strange confession of
Dorcas Brandon's? Could anything be imagined so mad--so unaccountable?
She reviewed Stanley in her mind's eye. She was better acquainted,
perhaps, with his defects than his fascinations, and too familiar with
both to appreciate at all their effect upon a stranger.

'What can she see in him? There's nothing remarkable in Stanley, poor
fellow, except his faults. There are much handsomer men than he, and many
as amusing--and he with no estate.'

She had heard of charms and philtres. How could she account for this
desperate hallucination?

Rachel was troubled by a sort of fear to-night, and the low fever of an
undefined expectation was upon her. She turned from the window, intending
to write two letters, which she had owed too long--young ladies'
letters--for Miss Lake, like many of her sex, as I am told, had several
little correspondences on her hands; and as she turned, with a start, she
saw old Tamar standing in the door-way, looking at her.

'Tamar!'

'Yes, Miss Rachel.'

'Why do you come so softly, Tamar? Do you know, you frightened me?'

'I thought I'd look in, Miss, before I went to bed, just to see if you
wanted anything.'

'No--nothing, thank you, dear Tamar.'

'And I don't think, Miss Rachel, you are quite well to-night, though you
are so gay--you're pale, dear; and there's something on your mind. Don't
be thinking about Master Stanley; he's out of the army now, and I'm
thankful for it; and make your mind easy about him; and would not it be
better, dear, you went to your bed, you rise so early.'

'Very true, good old Tamar, but to-night I must write a letter--not a
long one, though--and I assure you, I'm quite well. Good-night, Tamar.'

Tamar stood for a moment with her odd weird look upon her, and then
bidding her good-night, glided stiffly away, shutting the door.

So Rachel sat down to her desk and began to write; but she could not get
into the spirit of her letter; on the contrary, her mind wandered away,
and she found herself listening, every now and then, and at last she
fancied that old Tamar, about whom that dream, and her unexpected
appearance at the door, had given her a sort of spectral feeling that
night, was up and watching her; and the idea of this white sentinel
outside her door excited her so unpleasantly, that she opened it, but
found no Tamar there; and then she revisited the kitchen, but that was
empty too, and the fire taken down. And, finally, she passed into the old
woman's bed-chamber, whom she saw, her white head upon her pillow,
dreaming again, perhaps. And so, softly closing her door, she left her to
her queer visions and deathlike slumber.

CHAPTER XVII.

RACHEL LAKE SEES WONDERFUL THINGS BY MOONLIGHT FROM HER WINDOW.

Though Rachel was unfit for letter-writing, she was still more unfit for
slumber. She leaned her temple on her hand, and her rich light hair half
covered her fingers, and her amazing interview with Dorcas was again
present with her, and the same feeling of bewilderment. The suddenness
and the nature of the disclosures were dream-like and unreal, and the
image of Dorcas remained impressed upon her sight; not like Dorcas,
though the same, but something ghastly, wan, glittering, and terrible,
like a priestess at a solitary sacrifice.

It was late now, not far from one o'clock, and around her the terrible
silence of a still night. All those small sounds lost in the hum of
midday life now came into relief--a ticking in the wainscot, a crack now
and then in the joining of the furniture, and occasionally the tap of a
moth against the window pane from outside, sounds sharp and odd, which
made her wish the stillness of the night were not so intense.

As from her little table she looked listlessly through the window, she
saw against the faint glow of the moonlight, the figure of a man who
seized the paling and vaulted into the flower garden, and with a few
swift, stumbling strides over the flower-beds, reached the window, and
placing his pale face close to the glass, she saw his eyes glittering
through it; he tapped--or rather beat on the pane with his fingers--and
at the same time he said, repeatedly: 'Let me in; let me in.'

Her first impression, when she saw this person cross the little fence at
the road-side was, that Mark Wylder was the man. But she was mistaken;
the face and figure were Stanley Lake's.

She would have screamed in the extremity of her terror, but that her
voice for some seconds totally failed her; and recognising her brother,
though like Rhoda, in Holy Writ, she doubted whether it was not his
angel, she rose up, and with an awful ejaculation, she approached the
window.

'Let me in, Radie; d-- you, let me in,' he repeated, drumming incessantly
on the glass. There was no trace now of his sleepy jeering way. Rachel
saw that something was very wrong, and beckoned him toward the porch in
silence, and having removed the slender fastenings of the door, it
opened, and he entered in a rush of damp night air. She took him by the
hand, and he shook hers mechanically, like a man rescued from shipwreck,
and plainly not recollecting himself well.

'Stanley, dear, what's the matter, in Heaven's name?' she whispered, so
soon as she had got him into her little drawing-room.

'He has done it; d-- him, he has done it,' gasped Stanley Lake.

He looked in her face with a glazed and ashy stare. His hat remained on
his head, overshadowing his face; and his boots were soiled with clay,
and his wrapping coat marked, here and there, with the green of the stems
and branches of trees, through which he had made his way.

'I see, Stanley, you've had a scene with Mark Wylder; I warned you of
your danger--you have had the worst of it.'

'I spoke to him. He took a course I did not expect. I'm not well.'

'You've broken your promise. I see you have used _me_. How base; how
stupid!'

'How could I tell he was such a _fiend_?'

'I told you how it would be. He has frightened you,' said Rachel, herself
frightened.

'D-- him; I wish I had done as you said. I wish I had never come here.
Give me a glass of wine. He has ruined me.'

'You cruel, wretched creature!' said Rachel, now convinced that he had
compromised her as he threatened.

'Yes, I was wrong; I'm sorry; things have turned out different. Who's
that?' said Lake, grasping her wrist.

'Who--where--Mark Wylder?'

'No; it's nothing, I believe.'

'Where is he? Where have you left him?'

'Up there, at the pathway, near the stone steps.'

'Waiting there?'

'Well, yes; and I don't think I'll go back, Radie.'

'You _shall_ go back, Sir, and carry my message; or, no, I could not
trust you. I'll go with you and see him, and disabuse him. How could
you--how _could_ you, Stanley?'

'It was a mistake, altogether; I'm sorry, but I could not tell there was
such a devil on the earth.'

'Yes, I told you so. _He_ has frightened _you_' said Rachel.

'He _has_, _maybe_. At any rate, I was a fool, and I think I'm ruined;
and I'm afraid, Rachel, you'll be inconvenienced too.'

'Yes, you have made him savage and brutal; and between you, I shall be
called in question, you wretched fool!'

Stanley was taking these hard terms very meekly for a savage young
coxcomb like him. Perhaps they bore no very distinct meaning just then to
his mind. Perhaps it was preoccupied with more exciting ideas; or, it may
be, his agitation and fear cried 'amen' to the reproach; at all events,
he only said, in a pettish but deprecatory sort of way--

'Well, where's the good of scolding? how can I help it now?'

'What's your quarrel? why does he wait for you there? why has he sent you
here? It must concern _me_, Sir, and I insist on hearing it all.'

'So you shall, Radie; only have patience just a minute--and give me a
little wine or water--anything.'

'There is the key. There's some wine in the press, I think.'

He tried to open it, but his hand shook. He saw his sister look at him,
and he flung the keys on the table rather savagely, with, I dare say, a
curse between his teeth.

There was running all this time in Rachel's mind, and had been almost
since the first menacing mention of Wylder's name by her brother, an
indistinct remembrance of something unpleasant or horrible. It may have
been mere fancy, or it may have referred to something long ago
imperfectly heard. It was a spectre of mist, that evaporated before she
could fix her eyes on it, but was always near her elbow.

Rachel took the key with a faint gleam of scorn on her face and brought
out the wine in silence.

He took a tall-stemmed Venetian glass that stood upon the cabinet, an
antique decoration, and filled it with sherry--a strange revival of old
service! How long was it since lips had touched its brim before, and
whose? Lovers', maybe, and how. How long since that cold crystal had
glowed with the ripples of wine? This, at all events, was its last
service. It is an old legend of the Venetian glass--its shivering at
touch of poison; and there are those of whom it is said, 'the poison of
asps is under their lips.'

'What's that?' ejaculated Rachel, with a sudden shriek--that whispered
shriek, so expressive and ghastly, that you, perhaps, have once heard in
your life--and her very lips grew white.

'Hollo!' cried Lake. He was standing with his back to the window, and
sprang forward, as pale as she, and grasped her, with a white leer that
she never forgot, over his shoulder, and the Venice glass was shivered on
the ground.

'Who's there?' he whispered.

And Rachel, in a whisper, ejaculated the awful name that must not be
taken in vain.

She sat down. She was looking at him with a wild, stern stare, straight
in the face, and he still holding her arm, and close to her.

'I see it all now,' she whispered.

'Who--what--what is it?' said he.

'I could not have fancied _that_,' she whispered with a gasp.

Stanley looked round him with pale and sharpened features.

'What the devil is it! If that scoundrel had come to kill us you could
not cry out louder,' he whispered, with an oath. 'Do you want to wake
your people up?'

'Oh! Stanley,' she repeated, in a changed and horror-stricken way. 'What
a fool I've been. I see it at last; I see it all now,' and she waved her
white hands together very slowly towards him, as mesmerisers move theirs.

There was a silence of some seconds, and his yellow ferine gaze met hers
strangely.

'You were always a sharp girl, Radie, and I think you do see it,' he said
at last, very quietly.

'The witness--the witness--the dreadful witness!' she repeated.

'I'll show you, though, it's not so bad as you fancy. I'm sorry I did not
take your advice; but how, I say, could I know he was such a devil? I
must go back to him. I only came down to tell you, because Radie, you
know you proposed it yourself; _you_ must come, too--you _must_, Radie.'

'Oh, Stanley, Stanley, Stanley!'

'Why, d-- it, it can't be helped now; can it?' said he, with a peevish
malignity. But she was right; there was something of the poltroon in him,
and he was trembling.

'Why could you not leave me in peace, Stanley?'

'I can't go without you, Rachel. I won't; and if we don't we're both
ruined,' he said, with a bleak oath.

'Yes, Stanley, I knew you were a coward,' she replied, fiercely and
wildly.

'You're always calling names, d-- you; do as you like. I care less than
you think how it goes.'

'No, Stanley; you know me too well. Ah! No, you sha'n't be lost if I can
help it.' Rachel shook her head as she spoke, with a bitter smile and a
dreadful sigh.

Then they whispered together for three or four minutes, and Rachel
clasped her jewelled fingers tight across her forehead, quite wildly, for
a minute.

'You'll come then?' said Stanley.

She made no answer, and he repeated the question.

By this time she was standing; and without answering, she began
mechanically to get on her cloak and hat.

'You must drink some wine first; he may frighten you, perhaps. You _must_
take it, Rachel, or I'll not go.'

Stanley Lake was swearing, in his low tones, like a swell-mobsman
to-night.

Rachel seemed to have made up her mind to submit passively to whatever he
required. Perhaps, indeed, she thought there was wisdom in his advice. At
all events she drank some wine.

Rachel Lake was one of those women who never lose their presence of mind,
even under violent agitation, for long, and who generally, even when
highly excited, see, and do instinctively, and with decision, what is
best to be done; and now, with dilated eyes and white face, she walked
noiselessly into the kitchen, listened there for a moment, then stole
lightly to the servants' sleeping-room, and listened there at the door,
and lastly looked in, and satisfied herself that both were still
sleeping. Then as cautiously and swiftly she returned to her
drawing-room, and closed the window-shutters and drew the curtain, and
signalling to her brother they went stealthily forth into the night air,
closing the hall-door, and through the little garden, at the outer gate
of which they paused.

'I don't know, Rachel--I don't like it--I'm not fit for it. Go back
again--go in and lock your door--we'll not go to him--_you_ need not, you
know. He may stay where he is--let him--I'll not return. I say, I'll see
him no more. I'll get away. I'll consult Larkin--shall I? Though that
won't do--he's in Wylder's interest--curse him. What had I best do? I'm
not equal to it.'

'We _must_ go, Stanley. You said right just now; be resolute--we are both
ruined unless we go. You have brought it to that--you _must_ come.'

'I'm not fit for it, I tell you--I'm not. You were right, Radie--I think
I'm not equal to a business of this sort, and I won't expose you to such
a scene. _You're_ not equal to it either, I think,' and Lake leaned on
the paling.

'Don't mind me--you haven't much hitherto. Go or stay, I'm equally ruined
now, but not equally disgraced; and go we must, for it is _your only_
chance of escape. Come, Stanley--for shame!'

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