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Wylder's Hand by J. Sheridan Le Fanu

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In a few minutes more they were walking in deep darkness and silence,
side by side, along the path, which diverging from the mill-road,
penetrates the coppice of that sequestered gorge, along the bottom of
which flows a tributary brook that finds its way a little lower down into
the mill-stream. This deep gully in character a good deal resembles
Redman's Glen, into which it passes, being fully as deep, and wooded to
the summit at both sides, but much steeper and narrower, and therefore
many shades darker.

They had now reached those rude stone steps, some ten or fifteen in
number, which conduct the narrow footpath up a particularly steep
acclivity, and here Lake lost courage again, for they distinctly heard
the footsteps that paced the platform above.

CHAPTER XVIII.

MARK WYLDER'S SLAVE.

Nearly two hours had passed before they returned. As they did so, Rachel
Lake went swiftly and silently before her brother. The moon had gone
down, and the glen was darker than ever. Noiselessly they re-entered the
little hall of Redman's Farm. The candles were still burning in the
sitting-room, and the light was dazzling after the profound darkness in
which they had been for so long.

Captain Lake did not look at all like a London dandy now. His dress was
confoundedly draggled; the conventional countenance, too, was wanting.
There was a very natural savagery and dejection there, and a wild leer in
his yellow eyes.

Rachel sat down. No living woman ever showed a paler face, and she stared
with a look that was sharp and stern upon the wainscot before her.

For some minutes they were silent; and suddenly, with an exceeding bitter
cry, she stood up, close to him, seizing him in her tiny hands by the
collar, and with wild eyes gazing into his, she said--

'See what you've brought me to--wretch, wretch, wretch!'

And she shook him with violence as she spoke. It was wonderful how that
fair young face could look so terrible.

'There, Radie, there,' said Lake, disengaging her fingers. 'You're a
little hysterical, that's all. It will be over in a minute; but don't
make a row. You're a good girl, Radie. For Heaven's sake, don't spoil all
by folly now.'

He was overawed and deprecatory.

'A slave! only think--a slave! Oh frightful, frightful! Is it a dream? Oh
frightful, frightful! Stanley, Stanley, it would be _mercy_ to kill me,'
she broke out again.

'Now, Radie, listen to reason, and don't make a noise; you know we
agreed, _you_ must go, and _I can't_ go with you.'

Lake was cooler by this time, and his sister more excited than before
they went out.

'I used to be brave; my courage I think is gone; but who'd have imagined
what's before me?'

Stanley walked to the window and opened the shutter a little. He forgot
how dark it was. The moon had gone down. He looked at his watch and then
at Rachel. She was sitting, and in no calmer state; serene enough in
attitude, but the terribly wild look was unchanged. He looked at his
watch again, and held it to his ear, and consulted it once more before he
placed the tiny gold disk again in his pocket.

'This won't do,' he muttered.

With one of the candles in his hand he went out and made a hurried,
peeping exploration, and soon, for the rooms were quickly counted in
Redman's Farm, he found her chamber small, neat, _simplex munditiis_.
Bright and natty were the chintz curtains, and the little toilet set out,
not inelegantly, and her pet piping-goldfinch asleep on his perch, with
his bit of sugar between the wires of his cage; her pillow so white and
unpressed, with its little edging of lace. Were slumbers sweet as of old
ever to know it more? What dreams were henceforward to haunt it? Shadows
were standing about that lonely bed already. I don't know whether Stanley
Lake felt anything of this, being very decidedly of the earth earthy. But
there are times when men are translated from their natures, and forced to
be romantic and superstitious.

When he came back to the drawing-room, a toilet bottle of _eau de
cologne_ in his hand, with her lace handkerchief he bathed her temples
and forehead. There was nothing very brotherly in his look as he peered
into her pale, sharp features, during the process. It was the dark and
pallid scrutiny of a familiar of the Holy Office, bringing a victim back
to consciousness.

She was quickly better.

'There, don't mind me,' she said sharply; and getting up she looked down
at her dress and thin shoes, and seeming to recollect herself, she took
the candle he had just set down, and went swiftly to her room.

Gliding without noise from place to place, she packed a small black
leather bag with a few necessary articles. Then changed her dress
quickly, put on her walking boots, a close bonnet and thick veil, and
taking her purse, she counted over its contents, and then standing in the
midst of the room looked round it with a great sigh, and a strange look,
as if it was all new to her. And she threw back her veil, and going
hurriedly to the toilet, mechanically surveyed herself in the glass. And
she looked fixedly on the pale features presented to her, and said--

'Rachel Lake, Rachel Lake! what are you now?'

And so, with knitted brows and stern lips, a cadaveric gaze was returned
on her from the mirror.

A few minutes later her brother, who had been busy down stairs, put his
head in and asked--

'Will you come with me now, Radie, or do you prefer to wait here?'

'I'll stay here--that is, in the drawing-room,' she answered, and the
face was withdrawn.

In the little hall Stanley looked again at his watch, and getting quietly
out, went swiftly through the tiny garden, and once upon the mill-road,
ran at a rapid pace down towards the town.

The long street of Gylingden stretched dim and silent before him. Slumber
brooded over the little town, and his steps sounded sharp and hollow
among the houses. He slackened his pace, and tapped sharply at the little
window of that modest post-office, at which the young ladies in the pony
carriage had pulled up the day before, and within which Luke Waggot was
wont to sleep in a sort of wooden box that folded up and appeared to be a
chest of drawers all day. Luke took care of Mr. Larkin's dogs, and
groomed Mr. Wylder's horse, and 'cleaned up' his dog-cart, for Mark being
close about money, and finding that the thing was to be done more cheaply
that way, put up his horse and dog-cart in the post-office premises, and
so evaded the livery charges of the 'Brandon Arms.'

But Luke was not there; and Captain Lake recollecting his habits and his
haunt, hurried on to the 'Silver Lion,' which has its gable towards the
common, only about a hundred steps away, for distances are not great in
Gylingden. Here were the flow of soul and of stout, long pipes, long
yarns, and tolerably long credits; and the humble scapegraces of the town
resorted thither for the pleasures of a club-life, and often revelled
deep into the small hours of the morning.

So Luke came forth.

D-- it, where's the note?' said the captain, rummaging uneasily in his
pockets.

'You know me--eh!'

'Captain Lake. Yes, Sir.'

'Well--oh! here it is.'

It was a scrap pencilled on the back of a letter--

'LUKE WAGGOT,

'Put the horse to and drive the dog-cart to the "White House." Look out
for me there. We must catch the up mail train at Dollington. Be lively.
If Captain Lake chooses to drive you need not come.

'M. WYLDER.'

'I'll drive,' said Captain Lake. 'Lose no time and I'll give you
half-a-crown.'

Luke stuck on his greasy wideawake, and in a few minutes more the
dog-cart was trundled out into the lane, and the horse harnessed, went
between the shafts with that wonderful cheerfulness with which they bear
to be called up under startling circumstances at unseasonable hours.

'Easily earned, Luke,' said Captain Lake, in his soft tones.

The captain had buttoned the collar of his loose coat across his face,
and it was dark beside. But Luke knew his peculiar smile, and presumed
it; so he grinned facetiously as he put the coin in his breeches pocket
and thanked him; and in another minute the captain, with a lighted cigar
between his lips, mounted to the seat, took the reins, the horse bounded
off, and away rattled the light conveyance, sparks flying from the road,
at a devil of a pace, down the deserted street of Gylingden, and quickly
melted in darkness.

That night a spectre stood by old Tamar's bedside, in shape of her young
mistress, and shook her by the shoulder, and stooping, said sternly,
close in her face--

'Tamar, I'm going away--only for a few days; and mind this--I'd rather be
_dead_ than any creature living should know it. Little Margery must not
suspect--you'll manage that. Here's the key of my bed-room--say I'm
sick--and you must go in and out, and bring tea and drinks, and talk and
whisper a little, you understand, as you might with a sick person, and
keep the shutters closed; and if Miss Brandon sends to ask me to the
Hall, say I've a headache, and fear I can't go. You understand me
clearly, Tamar?'

'Yes, Miss Radie,' answered old Tamar, wonder-stricken, with a strange
expression of fear in her face.

'And listen,' she continued, 'you must go into my room, and bring the
message back, as if from me, with _my love_ to Miss Brandon; and if she
or Mrs. William Wylder, the vicar's wife, should call to see me, always
say I'm asleep and a little better. You see exactly what I mean?'

'Yes, Miss,' answered Tamar, whose eyes were fixed in a sort of
fascination, full on those of her mistress.

'If Master Stanley should call, he is to do just as he pleases. You used
to be accurate, Tamar; may I depend upon you?'

'Yes, Ma'am, certainly.'

'If I thought you'd fail me now, Tamar, I should _never_ come back.
Good-night, Tamar. There--don't bless me. Good-night.'

When the light wheels of the dog-cart gritted on the mill-road before the
little garden gate of Redman's Farm, the tall slender figure of Rachel
Lake was dimly visible, standing cloaked and waiting by it. Silently she
handed her little black leather bag to her brother, and then there was a
pause. He stretched his hand to help her up.

In a tone that was icy and bitter, she said--

'To save myself I would not do it. You deserve no love from me--you've
showed me none--_never_, Stanley; and yet I'm going to give the most
desperate proof of love that ever sister gave--all for your sake; and
it's guilt, guilt, but my _fate_, and I'll go, and you'll never thank me;
that's all.'

In a moment more she sat beside him; and silent as the dead in Charon's
boat, away they glided toward the 'White House which lay upon the high
road to Dollington.

The sleepy clerk that night in the Dollington station stamped two
first-class tickets for London, one of which was for a gentleman, and the
other for a cloaked lady, with a very thick veil, who stood outside on
the platform; and almost immediately after the scream of the engine was
heard piercing the deep tatting, the Cyclopean red lamps glared nearer
and nearer, and the palpitating monster, so stupendous and so docile,
came smoothly to a stand-still before the trelliswork and hollyhocks of
that pretty station.

CHAPTER XIX.

THE TARN IN THE PARK.

Next morning Stanley Lake, at breakfast with the lawyer, said--

'A pretty room this is. That bow window is worth all the pictures in
Brandon. To my eye there is no scenery so sweet as this, at least to
breakfast by. I don't love your crags and peaks and sombre grandeur, nor
yet the fat, flat luxuriance of our other counties. These undulations,
and all that splendid timber, and the glorious ruins on that hillock over
there! How many beautiful ruins that picturesque old fellow Cromwell has
left us.'

'You don't eat your breakfast, though,' said the attorney, with a
charming smile of reproach.

'Ah, thank you; I'm a bad breakfaster; that is,' said Stanley,
recollecting that he had made some very creditable meals at the same
table, 'when I smoke so late as I did last night.'

'You drove Mr. Wylder to Dollington?'

'Yes; he's gone to town, he says--yes, the mail train--to get some
diamonds for Miss Brandon--a present--that ought to have come the day
before yesterday. He says they'll never have them in time unless he goes
and blows them up. Are you in his secrets at all?'

'Something in his confidence, I should hope,' said Mr. Larkin, in rather
a lofty and reserved way.

'Oh, yes, of course, in serious matters; but I meant other things. You
know he has been a little bit wild; and ladies, you know, ladies will be
troublesome sometimes; and to say truth, I don't think the diamonds have
much to say to it.'

'Oh?--hem!--well, you know, _I_'m not exactly the confidant Mr. Wylder
would choose, I suspect, in a case of that very painful, and, I will say,
distressing character--I rather think--indeed, I _hope_ not.'

'No, of course--I dare say--but I just fancied he might want a hint about
the law of the matter.'

The gracious attorney glanced at his guest with a thoroughly
business-like and searching eye.

'You don't think there's any really serious annoyance--you don't know the
party?' said he.

'_I?_--Oh, dear, no. Wylder has always been very reserved with me. He
told me nothing. If he had, of course I should not have mentioned it. I
only conjecture, for he really did seem to have a great deal more on his
mind; and he kept me walking back and forward, near the mill-road, a
precious long time. And I really think once or twice he was going to tell
me.'

'Oh! you think then, Mr. Lake, there _may_ be some serious--a--a--well, I
should hope not--I do most earnestly _trust_ not.' This was said with
upturned eyes and much unction. 'But do you happen, Captain Lake, to know
of any of those unfortunate, those miserable connections which young
gentlemen of fashion--eh? It's very sad. Still it often needs, as you
say, professional advice to solve such difficulties--it is very sad--oh!
is not it sad?'

'Pray, don't let it affect your spirits,' said Lake, who was leaning back
in his chair, and looking on the carpet, about a yard before his
lacquered boots, in his usual sly way. 'I may be quite mistaken, you
know, but I wished you to understand--having some little experience of
the world, I'd be only too happy to be of any use, if you thought my
diplomacy could help poor Wylder out of his trouble--that is, if there
really is any. But _you_ don't know?'

'_No_,' said Mr. Larkin, thoughtfully; and thoughtful he continued for a
minute or two, screwing his lips gently, as was his wont, while
ruminating, his long head motionless, the nails of his long and somewhat
large hand tapping on the arm of his chair, with a sharp glance now and
then at the unreadable visage of the cavalry officer. It was evident his
mind was working, and nothing was heard in the room for a minute but the
tapping of his nails on the chair, like a death-watch.

'No,' said Mr. Larkin again, 'I'm not suspicious--naturally too much the
reverse, I fear; but it certainly does look odd. Did he tell the family
at Brandon?'

'Certainly not, that I heard. He may have mentioned it. But I started
with him, and we walked together, under the impression that he was going,
as usual, to the inn, the--what d'ye call it?--"Brandon Arms;" and it was
a sudden thought--now I think of it--for he took no luggage, though to be
sure I dare say he has got clothes and things in town.'

'And when does he return?'

'In a day or two, at furthest,' he said.

'I wonder what they'll think of it at Brandon?' said the attorney, with a
cavernous grin of sly enquiry at his companion, which, recollecting his
character, he softened into a sad sort of smile, and added, 'No harm, I
dare say; and, after all, you know, why should there--any man may have
business; and, indeed, it is very likely, after all, that he really went
about the jewels. Men are too hasty to judge one another, my dear Sir;
charity, let us remember, thinketh no evil.'

'By-the-bye,' said Lake, rather briskly for him, rummaging his pockets,
'I'm glad I remembered he gave me a little note to Chelford. Are any of
your people going to Brandon this morning?'

'I'll send it,' said the lawyer, eyeing the little pencilled note
wistfully, which Lake presented between two fingers.

'Yes, it is to Lord Chelford,' said the attorney, with a grand sort of
suavity--he liked lords--placing it, after a scrutiny, in his waistcoat
pocket.

'Don't you think it had best go at once?--there may be something
requiring an answer, and your post leaves, doesn't it, at twelve?'

'Oh! an answer, is there?' said Mr. Larkin, drawing it from his pocket,
and looking at it again with a perceptible curiosity.

'I really can't say, not having read it, but there _may_,' said Captain
Lake, who was now and then a little impertinent, just to keep Mr. Larkin
in his place, and perhaps to hint that he understood him.

'_Read_ it! Oh, my _dear_ Sir, my _dear_ Captain Lake, how _could_
you--but, oh! no--you _could_ not suppose I meant such an idea--oh,
dear--no, no. You and I have our notions about what's gentlemanlike and
professional--a--and gentlemanlike, as I say--Heaven forbid.'

'Quite so!' said Captain Lake, gently.

'Though all the world does not think with us, _I_ can tell you, things
come before us in _our_ profession. Oh, ho! ho!' and Mr. Larkin lifted up
his pink eyes and long hands, and shook his long head, with a melancholy
smile and a sigh like a shudder.

When at the later breakfast, up at Brandon, that irregular pencilled
scroll reached Lord Chelford's hand, he said, as he glanced on the
direction--

'This is Mark Wylder's; what does he say?'

'So Mark's gone to town,' he said; 'but he'll be back again on Saturday,
and in the meantime desires me to lay his heart at your feet, Dorcas.
Will you read the note?'

'No,' said Dorcas, quietly.

Lady Chelford extended her long, shrivelled fingers, on which glimmered
sundry jewels, and made a little nod to her son, who gave it to her, with
a smile. Holding her glasses to her eyes, the note at a distance, and her
head rather back, she said--

'It is not a pretty billet,' and she read in a slow and grim way:--

'DEAR CHELFORD,--I'm called up to London just for a day. No lark, but
honest business. I'll return on Saturday; and tell Dorcas, with dozens of
loves, I would write to her, but have not a minute for the train.

'Yours, &c.

'M. WYLDER.'

'No; it is not pretty,' repeated the old lady; and, indeed, in no sense
was it. Before luncheon Captain Lake arrived.

'So Wylder has run up to town,' I said, so soon as we had shaken hands in
the hall.

'Yes; _I_ drove him to Dollington last night; we just caught the up
train.'

'He says he'll be back again on Saturday,' I said.

'Saturday, is it? He seemed to think--yes--it _would_ be only a day or
so. Some jewels, I think, for Dorcas. He did not say distinctly; I only
conjecture. Lady Chelford and Miss Brandon, I suppose, in the
drawing-room?'

So to the drawing-room he passed.

'How is Rachel? how is your sister, Captain Lake, have you seen her
to-day?' asked old Lady Chelford, rather benignantly. She chose to be
gracious to the Lakes. 'Only, for a moment, thank you. She has one of her
miserable headaches, poor thing; but she'll be better, she says, in the
afternoon, and hopes to come up here to see you, and Miss Brandon, this
evening.'

Lord Chelford and I had a pleasant walk that day to the ruins of
Willerton Castle. I find in my diary a note--'Chelford tells me it is
written in old surveys, Wylderton, and was one of the houses of the
Wylders. What considerable people those Wylders were, and what an antique
stock.'

After this he wished to make a visit to the vicar, and so we parted
company. I got into Brandon Park by the pretty gate near Latham.

It was a walk of nearly three miles across the park from this point to
the Hall, and the slopes and hollows of this noble, undulating plain,
came out grandly in the long shadows and slanting beams of evening. That
yellow, level light has, in my mind, something undefinably glorious and
melancholy, such as to make almost any scenery interesting, and my
solitary walk was delightful.

People must love and sympathise very thoroughly, I think, to enjoy
natural scenery together. Generally it is one of the few spectacles best
seen alone. The silence that supervenes is indicative of the solitary
character of the enjoyment. It is a poem and a reverie. I was quite happy
striding in the amber light and soft, long shadows, among the ferns, the
copsewood, and the grand old clumps of timber, exploring the undulations,
and the wild nooks and hollows which have each their circumscribed and
sylvan charm; a wonderful interest those little park-like broken dells
have always had for me; dotted with straggling birch and oak, and here
and there a hoary ash tree, with a grand and melancholy grace, dreaming
among the songs of wild birds, in their native solitudes, and the brown
leaves tipped with golden light, all breathing something of old-world
romance--the poetry of bygone love and adventure--and stirring
undefinable and delightful emotions that mingle unreality with sense, a
music of the eye and spirit.

After many devious wanderings, I found, under shelter of a wonderful
little hollow, in which lay, dim and still, a tarn, reflecting the stems
of the trees that rose from its edge, in a way so clear and beautiful,
that, with a smile and a sigh, I sat myself down upon a rock among the
ferns, and fell into a reverie.

The image of Dorcas rose before me. There is a strange mystery and power
in the apathetic, and in that unaffected carelessness, even defiance of
opinion and criticism, which I had seen here for the first time, so
beautifully embodied. I was quite sure she both thought and felt, and
could talk, too, if she chose it. What tremendous self-reliance and
disdain must form the basis of a female character, which accepted
misapprehension and depreciation with an indifference so genuine as to
scorn even the trifling exertion of disclosing its powers.

She could not possibly care for Wylder, any more than he cared for her.
That odd look I detected in the mirror--what did it mean? and Wylder's
confusion about Captain Lake--what was that? I could not comprehend the
situation that was forming. I went over Wylder's history in my mind, and
Captain Lake's--all I could recollect of it--but could find no clue, and
that horrible visitation or vision! what was _it_?

This latter image had just glided in and taken its place in my waking
dream, when I thought I saw reflected in the pool at my feet, the shape
and face which I never could forget, of the white, long-chinned old man.

For a second I was unable, I think, to lift my eyes from the water which
presented this cadaverous image.

But the figure began to move, and I raised my eyes, and saw it retreat,
with a limping gait, into the thick copse before me, in the shadow of
which it stopped and turned stiffly round, and directed on me a look of
horror, and then withdrew.

It is all very fine laughing at me and my fancies. I do not think there
are many men who in my situation would have felt very differently. I
recovered myself; I shouted lustily after him to stay, and then in a sort
of half-frightened rage, I pursued him; but I had to get round the pool,
a considerable circuit. I could not tell which way he had turned on
getting into the thicket; and it was now dusk, the sun having gone down
during my reverie. So I stopped a little way in the copsewood, which was
growing quite dark, and I shouted there again, peeping under the
branches, and felt queer and much relieved that nothing answered or
appeared.

Looking round me, in a sort of dream, I remembered suddenly what Wylder
had told me of old Lorne Brandon, to whose portrait this inexplicable
phantom bore so powerful a resemblance. He was suspected of having
murdered his own son, at the edge of a tarn in the park. _This_ tarn
maybe--and with the thought the water looked blacker--and a deeper and
colder shadow gathered over the ominous hollow in which I stood, and the
rustling in the withered leaves sounded angrily.

I got up as quickly as might be to the higher grounds, and waited there
for awhile, and watched for the emergence of the old man. But it did not
appear; and shade after shade was spreading solemnly over the landscape,
and having a good way to walk, I began to stride briskly along the slopes
and hollows, in the twilight, now and then looking into vacancy, over my
shoulder.

The little adventure, and the deepening shades, helped to sadden my
homeward walk; and when at last the dusky outline of the Hall rose before
me, it wore a sort of weird and haunted aspect.

CHAPTER XX.

CAPTAIN LAKE TAKES AN EVENING STROLL ABOUT GYLINGDEN.

Again I had serious thoughts of removing my person and effects to the
Brandon Arms. I could not quite believe I had seen a ghost; but neither
was I quite satisfied that the thing was altogether canny. The
apparition, whatever it was, seemed to persecute me with a mysterious
obstinacy; at all events, I was falling into a habit of seeing it; and I
felt a natural desire to escape from the house which was plagued with its
presence.

At the same time I had an odd sort of reluctance to mention the subject
to my entertainers. The thing itself was a ghostly slur upon the house,
and, to run away, a reproach to my manhood; and besides, writing now at a
distance, and in the spirit of history, I suspect the interest which
beauty always excites had a great deal to do with my resolve to hold my
ground; and, I dare say, notwithstanding my other reasons, had the ladies
at the Hall been all either old or ugly, I would have made good my
retreat to the village hotel.

As it was, however, I was resolved to maintain my position. But that
evening was streaked with a tinge of horror, and I more silent and
_distrait_ than usual.

The absence of an accustomed face, even though the owner be nothing very
remarkable, is always felt; and Wylder was missed, though, sooth to say,
not very much regretted. For the first time we were really a small party.
Miss Lake was not there. The gallant captain, her brother, was also
absent. The vicar, and his good little wife, were at Naunton that evening
to hear a missionary recount his adventures and experiences in Japan, and
none of the neighbours had been called in to fill the empty chairs.

Dorcas Brandon did not contribute much to the talk; neither, in truth,
did I. Old Lady Chelford occasionally dozed and nodded sternly after tea,
waking up and eyeing people grimly, as though enquiring whether anyone
presumed to suspect her ladyship of having had a nap.

Chelford, I recollect, took a book, and read to us now and then, a snatch
of poetry--I forget what. _My_ book--except when I was thinking of the
tarn and that old man I so hated--was Miss Brandon's exquisite and
mysterious face.

That young lady was leaning back in her great oak chair, in which she
looked like the heroine of some sad and gorgeous romance of the old civil
wars of England, and directing a gaze of contemplative and haughty
curiosity upon the old lady, who was unconscious of the daring
profanation.

All on a sudden Dorcas Brandon said--

'And pray what do you think of marriage, Lady Chelford?'

'What do I think of marriage?' repeated the dowager, throwing back her
head and eyeing the beautiful heiress through her gold spectacles, with a
stony surprise, for she was not accustomed to be catechised by young
people. 'Marriage?--why 'tis a divine institution. What can the child
mean?'

'Do you think, Lady Chelford, it may be safely contracted, solely to join
two estates?' pursued the young lady.

'Do I think it may safely be contracted, solely to join two estates?'
repeated the old lady, with a look and carriage that plainly showed how
entirely she appreciated the amazing presumption of her interrogatrix.

There was a little pause.

'_Certainly_,' replied Lady Chelford; 'that is, of course, under proper
conditions, and with a due sense of its sacred character and
a--a--obligations.'

'The first of which is _love_,' continued Miss Brandon; 'the second
_honour_--both involuntary; and the third _obedience_, which springs from
them.'

Old Lady Chelford coughed, and then rallying, said--

'Very good, Miss!'

'And pray, Lady Chelford, what do you think of Mr. Mark Wylder?' pursued
Miss Dorcas.

'I don't see, Miss Brandon, that my thoughts upon that subject can
concern anyone but myself,' retorted the old lady, severely, and from an
awful altitude. 'And I may say, considering who I am--and my years--and
the manner in which I am usually treated, I am a little surprised at the
tone in which you are pleased to question me.'

These last terrible remarks totally failed to overawe the serene temerity
of the grave beauty.

'I assumed, Lady Chelford, as you had interested yourself in me so far as
to originate the idea of my engagement to Mr. Wylder, that you had
considered these to me very important questions a little, and could give
me satisfactory answers upon points on which my mind has been employed
for some days; and, indeed, I think I've a right to ask that assistance
of you.'

'You seem to forget, young lady, that there are times and places for such
discussions; and that to Mr.--a--a--your visitor (a glance at me), it
can't be very interesting to listen to this kind of--of--conversation,
which is neither very entertaining, nor very _wise_.'

'I am answerable only for _my_ part of it; and I think my questions very
much to the purpose,' said the young lady, in her low, silvery tones.

'I don't question your good opinion, Miss Brandon, of your own
discretion; but _I_ can't see any profit in now discussing an engagement
of more than two months' standing, or a marriage, which is fixed to take
place only ten days hence. And I think, Sir (glancing again at me), it
must strike _you_ a little oddly, that I should be invited, in your
presence, to discuss family matters with Miss Dorcas Brandon?'

Now, was it fair to call a peaceable inhabitant like me into the thick of
a fray like this? I paused long enough to allow Miss Brandon to speak,
but she did not choose to do so, thinking, I suppose, it was my business.

'I believe I ought to have withdrawn a little,' I said, very humbly; and
old Lady Chelford at the word shot a gleam of contemptuous triumph at
Miss Dorcas; but I would not acquiesce in the dowager's abusing my
concession to the prejudice of that beautiful and daring young lady--'I
mean, Lady Chelford, in deference to you, who are not aware, as Miss
Brandon is, that I am one of Mr. Wylder's oldest and most intimate
friends; and at his request, and with Lord Chelford's approval, have been
advised with, in detail, upon all the arrangements connected with the
approaching marriage.'

'I am not going, at present, to say any more upon these subjects, because
Lady Chelford prefers deferring our conversation,' said this very odd
young lady; 'but there is nothing which either she or I may say, which I
wish to conceal from any friend of Mr. Wylder's.'

The idea of Miss Brandon's seriously thinking of withdrawing from her
engagement with Mark Wylder, I confess never entered my mind. Lady
Chelford, perhaps, knew more of the capricious and daring character of
the ladies of the Brandon line than I, and may have discovered some signs
of a coming storm in the oracular questions which had fallen so
harmoniously from those beautiful lips. As for me, I was puzzled. The old
viscountess was flushed (she did not rouge), and very angry, and, I
think, uncomfortable, though she affected her usual supremacy. But the
young lady showed no sign of excitement, and lay back in her chair in her
usual deep, cold calm.

Lake's late smoking with Wylder must have disagreed with him very much
indeed, for he seemed more out of sorts as night approached. He stole
away from Mr. Larkin's trellised porch, in the dusk. He marched into the
town rather quickly, like a man who has business on his hands; but he had
none--for he walked by the 'Brandon Arms,' and halted, and stared at the
post-office, as if he fancied he had something to say there. But
no--there was no need to tap at the wooden window-pane. Some idle boys
were observing the dandy captain, and he turned down the short lane that
opened on the common, and sauntered upon the short grass.

Two or three groups, and an invalid visitor or two--for Gylingden boasts
a 'spa'--were lounging away the twilight half-hours there. He seated
himself on one of the rustic seats, and his yellow eyes wandered
restlessly and vaguely along the outline of the beautiful hills. Then for
nearly ten minutes he smoked--an odd recreation for a man suffering from
the cigars of last night--and after that, for nearly as long again, he
seemed lost in deep thought, his eyes upon the misty grass before him,
and his small French boot beating time to the music of his thoughts.

Several groups passed close by him, in their pleasant circuit. Some
wondered what might be the disease of that pale, peevish-looking
gentleman, who sat there so still, languid, and dejected. Others set him
down as a gentleman in difficulties of some sort, who was using Gylingden
for a temporary refuge.

Others, again, supposed he might be that Major Craddock who had lost
thirty thousand pounds on Vanderdecken the other day. Others knew he was
staying with Mr. Larkin, and supposed he was trying to raise money at
disadvantage, and remarked that some of Mr. Larkin's clients looked
always unhappy, though they had so godly an attorney to deal with.

When Lake, with a little shudder, for it was growing chill, lifted up his
yellow eyes suddenly, and recollected where he was, the common had grown
dark, and was quite deserted. There were lights in the windows of the
reading-room, and in the billiard-room beneath it; and shadowy figures,
with cues in their hands, gliding hither and thither, across its
uncurtained windows.

With a shrug, and a stealthy glance round him, Captain Lake started up.
The instinct of the lonely and gloomy man unconsciously drew him towards
the light, and he approached. A bat, attracted thither like himself, was
flitting and flickering, this way and that, across the casement.

Captain Lake, waiting, with his hand on the door-handle, for the stroke,
heard the smack of the balls, and the score called by the marker, and
entered the hot, glaring room. Old Major Jackson, with his glass in his
eye, was contending in his shirt-sleeves heroically with a Manchester
bag-man, who was palpably too much for him. The double-chinned and florid
proprietor of the 'Brandon Arms,' with a brandy-and-water familiarity,
offered Captain Lake two to one on the game in anything he liked, which
the captain declined, and took his seat on the bench.

He was not interested by the struggle of the gallant major, who smiled
like a prize-fighter under his punishment. In fact, he could not have
told the score at any point of the game; and, to judge by his face, was
translated from the glare of that arena into a dark and splenetic world
of his own.

When he wakened up, in the buzz and clack of tongues that followed the
close of the game, Captain Lake glared round for a moment, like a man
called up from sleep; the noise rattled and roared in his ears, the talk
sounded madly, and the faces of the people excited and menaced him
undefinably, and he felt as if he was on the point of starting to his
feet and stamping and shouting. The fact is, I suppose, he was
confoundedly nervous, dyspeptic, or whatever else it might be, and the
heat and glare were too much for him.

So, out he went into the chill, fresh night-air, and round the corner
into the quaint main-street of Gylingden, and walked down it in the dark,
nearly to the last house by the corner of the Redman's Dell road, and
then back again, and so on, trying to tire himself, I think; and every
time he walked down the street, with his face toward London, his yellow
eyes gleamed through the dark air, with the fixed gaze of a man looking
out for the appearance of a vehicle. It, perhaps, indicated an anxiety
and a mental look-out in that direction, for he really expected no such
thing.

Then he dropped into the 'Brandon Arms,' and had a glass of brandy and
water, and a newspaper, in the coffee-room; and then he ordered a 'fly,'
and drove in it to Lawyer Larkin's house--'The Lodge,' it was called--and
entered Mr. Larkin's drawing-room very cheerfully.

'How quiet you are here,' said the captain. 'I have been awfully
dissipated since I saw you.'

'In an innocent way, my dear Captain Lake, you mean, of course--in an
innocent way.'

'Oh! no; billiards, I assure you. Do you play?'

'Oh! dear no--not that I see any essential harm in the game _as_ a game,
for those, I mean, who don't object to that sort of thing; but for a
resident here, putting aside other feelings--a resident holding a
position--it would not do, I assure you. There are people there whom one
could not associate with comfortably. I don't care, I hope, how poor a
man may be, but do let him be a gentleman. I own to that prejudice. A
man, my dear Captain Lake, whose father before him has been a gentleman
(old Larkin, while in the flesh, was an organist, and kept a small day
school at Dwiddleston, and his grandfather he did not care to enquire
after), and who has had the education of one, does not feel himself at
home, you know--I'm sure you have felt the same sort of thing yourself.'

'Oh! of course; and I had such a nice walk on the common first, and then
a turn up and down before the 'Brandon Arms,' where at last I read a
paper, and could not resist a glass of brandy and water, and, growing
lazy, came home in a 'fly,' so I think I have had a very gay evening.

Larkin smiled benignantly, and would have said something no doubt worth
hearing, but at that moment the door opened, and his old cook and elderly
parlour-maid--no breath of scandal ever troubled the serene fair fame of
his household, and everyone allowed that, in the prudential virtues, at
least, he was nearly perfect--and Sleddon the groom, walked in, with
those sad faces which, I suppose, were first learned in the belief that
they were acceptable to their master.

'Oh!' said Mr. Larkin, in a low, reverential tone, and the smile
vanished; 'prayers!'

'Well, then, if you permit me, being a little tired, I'll go to my
bed-room.'

With a grave and affectionate interest, Mr. Larkin looked in his face,
and sighed a little and said:--

'Might I, perhaps, venture to beg, just this one night----'

That chastened and entreating look it was hard to resist. But somehow the
whole thing seemed to Lake to say, 'Do allow me this once to prescribe;
do give your poor soul this one chance,' and Lake answered him
superciliously and irreverently.

'No, thank you, no--any prayers I require I can manage for myself, thank
you. Good-night.'

And he lighted a bed-room candle and left the room.

'What a beast that fellow is. I don't know why the d-- I stay in his
house.'

One reason was, perhaps, that it saved him nearly a guinea a day, and he
may have had some other little reasons just then.

'Family prayers indeed! and such a pair of women--witches, by Jove!--and
that rascally groom, and a hypocritical attorney! And the vulgar brute
will be as rich as Croesus, I dare say.'

Here soliloquised Stanley Lake in that gentleman's ordinary vein. His
momentary disgust had restored him for a few seconds to his normal self.
But certain anxieties of a rather ghastly kind, and speculations as to
what might be going on in London just then, were round him again, like
armed giants, in another moment, and the riches or hypocrisy of his host
were no more to him than those of Overreach or Tartuffe.

CHAPTER XXI.

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

I suspect there are very few mere hypocrites on earth. Of course, I do
not reckon those who are under compulsion to affect purity of manners and
a holy integrity of heart--and there are such--but those who volunteer an
extraordinary profession of holiness, being all the while conscious
villains. The Pharisees, even while devouring widows' houses, believed
honestly in their own supreme righteousness.

I am afraid our friend Jos. Larkin wore a mask. I am sure he often wore
it when he was quite alone. I don't know indeed, that he ever took it
off. He was, perhaps, content to see it, even when he looked in the
glass, and had not a very distinct idea what the underlying features
might be. It answers with the world; it almost answers with himself. Pity
it won't do everywhere! 'When Moses went to speak with God,' says the
admirable Hall, 'he pulled off his veil. It was good reason he should
present to God that face which he had made. There had been more need of
his veil to hide the glorious face of God from him than to hide his from
God. Hypocrites are contrary to Moses. He showed his worst to men, his
best to God; they show their best to men, their worst to God; but God
sees both their veil and their face, and I know not whether He more hates
their veil of dissimulation or their face of wickedness.'

Captain Lake wanted rest--sleep--quiet thoughts at all events. When he
was alone he was at once in a state of fever and gloom, and seemed always
watching for something. His strange eyes glanced now this way, now that,
with a fierce restlessness--now to the window--now to the door--and you
would have said he was listening intently to some indistinct and too
distant conversation affecting him vitally, there was such a look of fear
and conjecture always in his face.

He bolted his door and unlocked his dressing case, and from a little
silver box in that glittering repository he took, one after the other,
two or three little wafers of a dark hue, and placed them successively on
his tongue, and suffered them to melt, and so swallowed them. They were
not liquorice. I am afraid Captain Lake dabbled a little in opium. He was
not a great adept--yet, at least--like those gentlemen who can swallow
five hundred drops of laudanum at a sitting. But he knew the virtues of
the drug, and cultivated its acquaintance, and was oftener under its
influence than perhaps any mortal, except himself, suspected.

The greater part of mankind are, upon the whole, happier and more
cheerful than they are always willing to allow. Nature subserves the
majority. She smiled very brightly next morning. There was a twittering
of small birds among the brown leaves and ivy, and a thousand other
pleasant sounds and sights stirring in the sharp, sunny air. This sort of
inflexible merry-making in nature seems marvellously selfish in the eyes
of anxious Captain Lake. Fear hath torment--and fear is the worst
ingredient in mental pain. This is the reason why suspense is so
intolerable, and the retrospect even of the worst less terrible.

Stanley Lake would have given more than he could well afford that it were
that day week, and he no worse off. Why did time limp so tediously away
with him, prolonging his anguish gratuitously? He felt truculently, and
would have murdered that week, if he could, in the midst of its loitering
sunshine and gaiety.

There was a strange pain at his heart, and the pain of intense and
fruitless calculation in his brain; and, as the Mahometan prays towards
Mecca, and the Jew towards Jerusalem, so Captain Lake's morning orisons,
whatsoever they were, were offered at the window of his bed-room toward
London, from whence he looked for his salvation, or it might be the other
thing--with a dreadful yearning.

He hated the fresh glitter of that morning scene. Why should the world be
cheerful? It was a repast spread of which he could not partake, and it
spited him. Yes; it was selfish--and hating selfishness--he would have
struck the sun out of the sky that morning with his walking-cane, if he
could, and draped the world in black.

He saw from his window the good vicar walk smiling by, in white choker
and seedy black, his little boy holding by his fingers, and capering and
wheeling in front, and smiling up in his face. They were very busy
talking.

Little 'Fairy' used to walk, when parochial visits were not very distant,
with his 'Wapsie;' how that name came about no one remembered, but the
vicar answered to it more cheerily than to any other. The little man was
solitary, and these rambles were a delight. A beautiful smiling little
fellow, very exacting of attention--troublesome, perhaps; he was so
sociable, and needed sympathy and companionship, and repaid it with a
boundless, sensitive _love_. The vicar told him the stories of David and
Goliath, and Joseph and his brethren, and of the wondrous birth in
Bethlehem of Judea, the star that led the Wise Men, and the celestial
song heard by the shepherds keeping their flocks by night, and snatches
of 'Pilgrim's Progress'; and sometimes, when they made a feast and eat
their pennyworth of cherries, sitting on the style, he treated him, I am
afraid, to the profane histories of Jack the Giant-killer and the Yellow
Dwarf; the vicar had theories about imagination, and fancied it was an
important faculty, and that the Creator had not given children their
unextinguishable love of stories to no purpose.

I don't envy the man who is superior to the society of children. What can
he gain from children's talk? Is it witty, or wise, or learned? Be frank.
Is it not, honestly, a mere noise and interruption--a musical cackling of
geese, and silvery braying of tiny asses? Well, say I, out of my large
acquaintance, there are not many men to whom I would go for wisdom;
learning is better found in books, and, as for wit, is it always
pleasant? The most companionable men are not always the greatest
intellects. They laugh, and though they don't converse, they make a
cheerful noise, and show a cheerful countenance.

There was not a great deal in Will Honeycomb, for instance; but our dear
Mr. Spectator tells us somewhere that 'he laughed easily,' which I think
quite accounts for his acceptance with the club. He was kindly and
enjoying. What is it that makes your dog so charming a companion in your
walks? Simply that he thoroughly likes you and enjoys himself. He appeals
imperceptibly to your affections, which cannot be stirred--such is God's
will--ever so lightly, without some little thrillings of happiness; and
through the subtle absorbents of your sympathy he infuses into you
something of his own hilarious and exulting spirit.

When Stanley Lake saw the vicar, the lines of his pale face contracted
strangely, and his wild gaze followed him, and I don't think he breathed
once until the thin smiling man in black, with the little gambolling
bright boy holding by his hand, had passed by. He was thinking, you may
be sure, of his Brother Mark.

When Lake had ended his toilet and stared in the glass, he still looked
so haggard, that on greeting Mr. Larkin in the parlour, he thought it
necessary to mention that he had taken cold in that confounded
billiard-room last night, which spoiled his sleep, and made him awfully
seedy that morning. Of course, his host was properly afflicted and
sympathetic.

'By-the-bye, I had a letter this morning from that party--our common
friend, Mr. W., you know,' said Larkin, gracefully.

'Well, what is he doing, and when does he come back? You mean Wylder, of
course?'

'Yes; my good client, Mr. Mark Wylder. Permit me to assist you to some
honey, you'll find it remarkably good, I venture to say; it comes from
the gardens of Queen's Audley. The late marquis, you know, prided himself
on his honey--and my friend, Thornbury, cousin to Sir Frederick
Thornbury--I suppose you know him--an East Indian judge, you know--very
kindly left it at Dollington for me, on his way to the Earl of Epsom's.'

'Thank you--delicious, I'm sure, it has been in such good company. May I
see Wylder's note--that is, if there's no private business?'

'Oh, certainly.'

And, with Wylder's great red seal on the back of the envelope, the letter
ran thus:--

'DEAR LARKIN,--I write in haste to save post, to say I shall be detained
in town a few days longer than I thought. Don't wait for me about the
parchments; I am satisfied. If anything crosses your mind, a word with
Mr. De C. at the Hall, will clear all up. Have all ready to sign and seal
when I come back--certainly, within a week.

'Yours sincerely,

'M. WYLDER,

'London.'

It was evidently written in great haste, with the broad-nibbed pen he
liked; but notwithstanding the sort of swagger with which the writing
marched across the page, Lake might have seen here and there a little
quaver--indicative of something different from haste--the vibrations of
another sort of flurry.

'"Certainly within a week," he writes. Does he mean he'll be here in a
week or only to have the papers ready in a week?' asked Lake.

'The question, certainly, does arise. It struck me on the first perusal,'
answered the attorney. 'His address is rather a wide one, too--London! Do
you know his club, Captain Lake?'

'The _Wanderers_. He has left the _United Service_. Nothing for me,
by-the-way?'

'No letter. No.'

'_Tant mieux_, I hate them,' said the captain. 'I wonder how my sister is
this morning.'

'Would you like a messenger? I'll send down with pleasure to enquire.'

'Thank you, no; I'll walk down and see her.'

And Lake yawned at the window, and then took his hat and stick and
sauntered toward Gylingden. At the post-office window he tapped with the
silver tip of his cane, and told Miss Driver with a sleepy smile--

'I'm going down to Redman's Farm, and any letters for my sister, Miss
Lake, I may as well take with me.'

Everybody 'in business' in the town of Gylingden, by this time, knew
Captain Lake and his belongings--a most respectable party--a high man;
and, of course, there was no difficulty. There was only one letter--the
address was written--'Miss Lake, Redman's Farm, near Brandon Park,
Gylingden,' in a stiff hand, rather slanting backwards.

Captain Lake put it in his paletot pocket, looked in her face gently, and
smiled, and thanked her in his graceful way--and, in fact, left an
enduring impression upon that impressible nature.

Turning up the dark road at Redman's Dell, the gallant captain passed the
old mill, and, all being quiet up and down the road, he halted under the
lordly shadow of a clump of chestnuts, and opened and read the letter he
had just taken charge of. It contained only these words:--

'Wednesday.

'On Friday night, next, at half-past twelve.'

This he read twice or thrice, pausing between whiles. The envelope bore
the London postmark. Then he took out his cigar case, selected a
promising weed, and wrapping the laconic note prettily round one of his
scented matches, lighted it, and the note flamed pale in the daylight,
and dropped still blazing, at the root of the old tree he stood by, and
sent up a little curl of blue smoke--an incense to the demon of the
wood--and turned in a minute more into a black film, overrun by a hundred
creeping sparkles; and having completed his mysterious incremation, he,
with his yellow eyes, made a stolen glance around, and lighting his
cigar, glided gracefully up the steep road, under the solemn canopy of
old timber, to the sound of the moaning stream below, and the rustle of
withered leaves about him, toward Redman's Farm.

As he entered the flower-garden, the jaundiced face of old Tamar, with
its thousand small wrinkles and its ominous gleam of suspicion, was
looking out from the darkened porch. The white cap, kerchief, and
drapery, courtesied to him as he drew near, and the dismal face changed
not.

'Well, Tamar, how do you do?--how are all? Where is that girl Margery?'

'In the kitchen, Master Stanley,' said she, courtesying again.

'Are you sure?' said Captain Lake, peeping toward that apartment over the
old woman's shoulder.

'Certain sure, Master Stanley.'

'Well, come up stairs to your mistress's room,' said Lake, mounting the
stairs, with his hat in his hand, and on tip-toe, like a man approaching
a sick chamber.

There was something I think grim and spectral in this ceremonious ascent
to the empty chamber. Children had once occupied that silent floor for
there was a little balustraded gate across the top of the staircase.

'I keep this closed,' said old Tamar, 'and forbid her to cross it, lest
she should disturb the mistress. Heaven forgive me!'

'Very good,' he whispered, and he peeped over the banister, and then
entered Rachel's silent room, darkened with closed shutters, the white
curtains and white coverlet so like 'the dark chamber of white death.'

He had intended speaking to Tamar there, but changed his mind, or rather
could not make up his mind; and he loitered silently, and stood with the
curtain in his gloved hand, looking upon the cold coverlet, as if Rachel
lay dead there.

'That will do,' he said, awaking from his wandering thought. 'We'll go
down now, Tamar.'

And in the same stealthy way, walking lightly and slowly, down the stairs
they went, and Stanley entered the kitchen.

'How do you do, Margery? You'll be glad to hear your mistress is better.
You must run down to the town, though, and buy some jelly, and you are to
bring her back change of this.'

And he placed half-a-crown in her hand.

'Put on your bonnet and my old shawl, child; and take the basket, and
come back by the side door,' croaked old Tamar.

So the girl dried her hands--she was washing the teacups--and in a
twinkling was equipped and on her way to Gylingden.

CHAPTER XXII.

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

Lake had no very high opinion of men or women, gentle or simple.

'She listens, I dare say, the little spy,' said he.

'No, Master Stanley! She's a good little girl.'

'She quite believes her mistress is up stairs, eh?'

'Yes; the Lord forgive me--I'm deceiving her.'

He did not like the tone and look which accompanied this.

'Now, my good old Tamar, you really can't be such an idiot as to fancy
there can be any imaginable wrong in keeping that prying little slut in
ignorance of that which in no wise concerns her. This is a critical
matter, do you see, and if it were known in this place that your young
mistress had gone away as she has done--though quite innocently--upon my
honour--I think it would blast her. You would not like, for a stupid
crotchet, to ruin poor Radie, I fancy.'

'I'm doing just what you both bid me,' said the old woman.

'You sit up stairs chiefly?'

She nodded sadly.

'And keep the hall door shut and bolted?'

Again she nodded.

'I'm going up to the Hall, and I'll tell them she's much better, and that
I've been in her room, and that, perhaps, she may go up to see them in
the morning.'

Old Tamar shook her head and groaned.

'How long is all this to go on for, Master Stanley?'

'Why, d-- you, Tamar, can't you listen?' he said, clutching her wrist in
his lavender kid grasp rather roughly. 'How long--a very short time, I
tell you. She'll be home immediately. I'll come to-morrow and tell you
exactly--maybe to-morrow evening--will that do? And should they call, you
must say the same; and if Miss Dorcas, Miss Brandon, you know--should
wish to go up to see her, tell her she's asleep. Stop that hypocritical
grimacing, will you. It is no part of your duty to tell the world what
can't possibly concern them, and may bring your young mistress
to--_perdition_. That does not strike me as any part of your religion.'

Tamar groaned again, and she said: 'I opened my Bible, Lord help me,
three times to-day, Master Stanley, and could not go on. It's no use--I
can't read it.'

'Time enough--I think you've read more than is good for you. I think you
are half mad, Tamar; but think what you may, it must be done. Have not
you read of straining at gnats and swallowing camels? You used not, I've
heard, to be always so scrupulous, old Tamar.'

There was a vile sarcasm in his tone and look.

'It is not for the child I nursed to say that,' said Tamar.

There were scandalous stories of wicked old Tiberius--bankrupt, dead, and
buried--compromising the fame of Tamar--not always a spectacled and
cadaverous student of Holy Writ. These, indeed, were even in Stanley's
childhood old-world, hazy, traditions of the servants' hall. But boys
hear often more than is good, and more than gospel, who live in such
houses as old General Lake, the old millionaire widower, kept.

'I did not mean anything, upon my honour, Tamar, that could annoy you. I
only meant you used not to be a fool, and pray don't begin now; for I
assure you Radie and I would not ask it if it could be avoided. You have
Miss Radie's secret in your hands, I don't think you'd like to injure
her, and you used to be trustworthy. I don't think your Bible teaches you
anywhere to hurt your neighbour and to break faith.'

'Don't speak of the Bible now; but you needn't fear me, Master Stanley,'
answered the old woman, a little sternly. 'I don't know why she's gone,
nor why it's a secret--I don't, and I'd rather not. Poor Miss Radie, she
never heard anything but what was good from old Tamar, whatever I might
ha' bin myself, miserable sinners are we all; and I'll do as you bid me,
and I _have_ done, Master Stanley, howsoever it troubles my mind;' and
now old Tamar's words spoke--that's all.

'Old Tamar is a sensible creature, as she always was. I hope I did not
vex you, Tamar. I did not mean, I assure you; but we get rough ways in
the army, I'm afraid, and you won't mind me. You never _did_ mind little
Stannie when he was naughty, you know.'

There was here a little subsidence in his speech. He was thinking of
giving her a crown, but there were several reasons against it, so that
handsome coin remained in his purse.

'And I forgot to tell you, Tamar, I've a ring for you in town--a little
souvenir; you'll think it pretty--a gold ring, with a stone in it--it
belonged to poor dear Aunt Jemima, you remember. I left it behind; so
stupid!'

So he shook hands with old Tamar, and patted her affectionately on the
shoulder, and he said:--

'Keep the hall-door bolted. Make any excuse you like: only it would not
do for anyone to open it, and run up to the room as they might, so don't
forget to secure the door when I go. I think that is all. Ta-ta, dear
Tamar. I'll see you in the morning.'

As he walked down the mill-road toward the town, he met Lord Chelford on
his way to make enquiry about Rachel at Redman's Farm; and Lake, who, as
we know, had just seen his sister, gave him all particulars.

Chelford, like the lawyer, had heard from Mark Wylder that morning--a few
lines, postponing his return. He merely mentioned it, and made no
comment; but Lake perceived that he was annoyed at his unexplained
absence.

Lake dined at Brandon that evening, and though looking ill, was very good
company, and promised to bring an early report of Rachel's convalescence
in the morning.

I have little to record of next day, except that Larkin received another
London letter. Wylder plainly wrote in great haste, and merely said:--

'I shall have to wait a day or two longer than I yesterday thought, to
meet a fellow from whom I am to receive something of importance, rather,
as I think, to me. Get the deeds ready, as I said in my last. If I am not
in Gylingden by Monday, we must put off the wedding for a week
later--there is no help for it. You need not talk of this. I write to
Chelford to say the same.'

This note was as unceremonious, and still shorter. Lord Chelford would
have written at once to remonstrate with Mark on the unseemliness of
putting off his marriage so capriciously, or, at all events, so
mysteriously--Miss Brandon not being considered, nor her friends
consulted. But Mark had a decided objection to many letters: he had no
fancy to be worried, when he had made up his mind, by prosy
remonstrances; and he shut out the whole tribe of letter-writers by
simply omitting to give them his address.

His cool impertinence, and especially this cunning precaution, incensed
old Lady Chelford. She would have liked to write him one of those terse,
courteous, biting notes, for which she was famous; and her fingers,
morally, tingled to box his ears. But what was to be done with mere
'London?' Wylder was hidden from mortal sight, like a heaven-protected
hero in the 'Iliad,' and a cloud of invisibility girdled him.

Like most rustic communities, Gylingden and its neighbourhood were early
in bed. Few lights burned after half-past ten, and the whole vicinity was
deep in its slumbers before twelve o'clock.

At that dread hour, Captain Lake, about a mile on the Dollington, which
was the old London road from Gylingden, was pacing backward and forward
under the towering files of beech that overarch it at that point.

The 'White House' public, with a wide panel over its door, presenting, in
tints subdued by time, a stage-coach and four horses in mid career, lay a
few hundred yards nearer to Gylingden. Not a soul was stirring--not a
sound but those, sad and soothing, of nature was to be heard.

Stanley Lake did not like waiting any more than did Louis XIV. He was
really a little tired of acting sentry, and was very peevish by the time
the ring of wheels and horse-hoofs approaching from the London direction
became audible. Even so, he had a longer wait than he expected,
sounds are heard so far by night. At last, however, it drew
nearer--nearer--quite close--and a sort of nondescript vehicle--one
horsed--loomed in the dark, and he calls--

'Hallo! there--I say--a passenger for the "White House?"'

At the same moment, a window of the cab--shall we call it--was let down,
and a female voice--Rachel Lake's--called to the driver to stop.

Lake addressed the driver--

'You come from Johnson's Hotel--don't you--at Dollington?'

'Yes, Sir.'

'Well, I'll pay you half-fare to bring me there.'

'All right, Sir. But the 'oss, Sir, must 'av 'is oats fust.'

'Feed him here, then. They are all asleep in the "White House." I'll be
with you in five minutes, and you shall have something for yourself when
we get into Dollington.'

Stanley opened the door. She placed her hand on his, and stepped to the
ground. It was very dark under those great trees. He held her hand a
little harder than was his wont.

'All quite well, ever since. You are not very tired, are you? I'm afraid
it will be necessary for you to walk to "Redman's Farm," dear Radie--but
it is hardly a mile, I think--for, you see, the fellow must not know who
you are; and I must go back with him, for I have not been very
well--indeed I've been, I may say, very ill--and I told that fellow,
Larkin, who has his eyes about him, and would wonder what kept me out so
late, that I would run down to some of the places near for a change, and
sleep a night there; and that's the reason, dear Radie, I can walk only a
short way with you; but you are not afraid to walk a part of the way home
without me? You are so sensible, and you have been, really, so very kind,
I assure you I appreciate it, Radie--I do, indeed; and I'm very
grateful--I am, upon my word.'

Rachel answered with a heavy sigh.

CHAPTER XXIII.

HOW RACHEL SLEPT THAT NIGHT IN REDMAN'S FARM.

'Allow me--pray do,' and he took her little bag from her hand. 'I hope
you are not very tired, darling; you've been so very good; and you're not
afraid--you know the place is so quiet--of the little walk by yourself.
Take my arm; I'll go as far as I can, but it is very late you know--and
you are sure you are not afraid?'

'I ought to be afraid of nothing now, Stanley, but I think I am afraid of
everything.'

'Merely a little nervous--it's nothing--I've been wretchedly since,
myself; but, I'm so glad you are home again; you shall have no more
trouble, I assure you; and not a creature suspects you have been from
home. Old Tamar has behaved admirably.'

Rachel sighed again and said--

'Yes--poor Tamar.'

'And now, dear, I'm afraid I must leave you--I'm very sorry; but you see
how it is; keep to the shady side, close by the hedge, where the trees
stop; but I'm certain you will meet no one. Tamar will tell you who has
called--hardly anyone--I saw them myself every day at Brandon, and told
them you were ill. You've been very kind, Radie; I assure you I'll never
forget it. You'll find Tamar up and watching for you--I arranged all
that; and I need not say you'll be very careful not to let that girl of
yours hear anything. You'll be very quiet--she suspects nothing; and I
assure you, so far as personal annoyance of any kind is concerned, you
may be perfectly at ease. Good-night, Radie; God bless you, dear. I wish
very much I could see you all the way, but there's a risk in it, you
know. Good-night, dear Radie. By-the-bye, here's your bag; I'll take the
rug, it's too heavy for you, and I may as well have it to Dollington.'

He kissed her cheek in his slight way, and left her, and was soon on his
way to Dollington, where he slept that night--rather more comfortably
than he had done since Rachel's departure.

Rachel walked on swiftly. Very tired, but not at all sleepy--on the
contrary, excited and nervous, and rather relieved, notwithstanding that
Stanley had left her to walk home alone.

It seemed to her that more than a month had passed since she saw the
mill-road last. How much had happened! how awful was the change! Familiar
objects glided past her, the same, yet the fashion of the countenance was
altered; there was something estranged and threatening.

The pretty parsonage was now close by: in the dews of night the spirit of
peace and slumbers smiled over it; but the sight of its steep roof and
homely chimney-stacks smote with a shock at her brain and heart--a
troubled moan escaped her. She looked up with the instinct of prayer, and
clasped her hands on the handle of that little bag which had made the
mysterious journey with her; a load which no man could lift lay upon her
heart.

Then she commenced her dark walk up the mill-road--her hands still
clasped, her lips moving in broken appeals to Heaven. She looked neither
to the right nor to the left, but passed on with inflexible gaze and
hasty steps, like one who crosses a plank over some awful chasm.

In such darkness Redman's dell was a solemn, not to say an awful, spot;
and at any time, I think, Rachel, in a like solitude and darkness, would
have been glad to see the red glimmer of old Tamar's candle proclaiming
under the branches the neighbourhood of human life and sympathy.

The old woman, with her shawl over her head, sat listening for her young
mistress's approach, on the little side bench in the trellised porch, and
tottered hastily forth to meet her at the garden wicket, whispering
forlorn welcomes, and thanksgivings, which Rachel answered only with a
kiss.

Safe, safe at home! Thank Heaven at least for that. Secluded once
more--hidden in Redman's Dell; but never again to be the same--the
careless mind no more. The summer sunshine through the trees, the leafy
songs of birds, obscured in the smoke and drowned in the discord of an
untold and everlasting trouble.

The hall-door was now shut and bolted. Wise old Tamar had turned the key
upon the sleeping girl. There was nothing to be feared from prying eyes
and listening ears.

'You are cold, Miss Radie, and tired--poor thing! I lit a bit of fire in
your room, Miss; would you like me to go up stairs with you, Miss?'

'Come.'

And so up stairs they went; and the young lady looked round with a
strange anxiety, like a person seeking for something, and forgetting
what; and, sitting down, she leaned her head on her hand with a moan, the
living picture of despair.

'You've a headache, Miss Radie?' said the old woman, standing by her with
that painful enquiry which sat naturally on her face.

'A heartache, Tamar.'

'Let me help you off with these things, Miss Radie, dear.'

The young lady did not seem to hear, but she allowed Tamar to remove her
cloak and hat and handkerchief.

The old servant had placed the tea-things on the table, and what remained
of that wine of which Stanley had partaken on the night from which the
eclipse of Rachel's life dated. So, without troubling her with questions,
she made tea, and then some negus, with careful and trembling hands.

'No,' said Rachel, a little pettishly, and put it aside.

'See now, Miss Radie, dear. You look awful sick and tired. You are tired
to death and pale, and sorry, my dear child; and to please old Tamar,
you'll just drink this.'

'Thank you, Tamar, I believe you are right.'

The truth was she needed it; and in the same dejected way she sipped it
slowly; and then there was a long silence--the silence of a fatigue, like
that of fever, near which sleep refuses to come. But she sat in that
waking lethargy in which are sluggish dreams of horror, and neither eyes
nor ears for that which is before us.

When at last with another great sigh she lifted her head, her eyes rested
on old Tamar's face, at the other side of the fire-place, with a dark,
dull surprise and puzzle for a moment, as if she could not tell why she
was there, or where the place was; and then rising up, with piteous look
in her old nurse's face, she said, 'Oh! Tamar, Tamar. It is a dreadful
world.'

'So it is, Miss Radie,' answered the old woman, her glittering eyes
returning her sad gaze wofully. 'Aye, so it is, sure!--and such it was
and will be. For so the Scripture says--"Cursed is the ground for thy
sake"--hard to the body--a vale of tears--dark to the spirit. But it is
the hand of God that is upon you, and, like me, you will say at last, "It
is good for me that I have been in trouble." Lie down, dear Miss Radie,
and I'll read to you the blessed words of comfort that have been sealed
for me ever since I saw you last. They have--but that's over.'

And she turned up her pallid, puckered face, and, with a trembling and
knotted pair of hands uplifted, she muttered an awful thanksgiving.

Rachel said nothing, but her eyes rested on the floor, and, with the
quiet obedience of her early childhood, she did as Tamar said. And the
old woman assisted her to undress, and so she lay down with a sigh in her
bed. And Tamar, her round spectacles by this time on her nose, sitting at
the little table by her pillow, read, in a solemn and somewhat quavering
voice, such comfortable passages as came first to memory.

Rachel cried quietly as she listened, and at last, worn out by many
feverish nights, and the fatigues of her journey, she fell into a
disturbed slumber, with many startings and sudden wakings, with cries and
strange excitement.

Old Tamar would not leave her, but kept her seat in the high-backed
arm-chair throughout the night, like a nurse--as indeed she was--in a
sick chamber. And so that weary night limped tediously away, and morning
dawned, and tipped the discoloured foliage of the glen with its glow,
awaking the songs of all the birds, and dispersing the white mists of
darkness. And Rachel with a start awoke, and sat up with a wild look and
a cry--

'What is it?'

'Nothing, dear Miss Radie--only poor old Tamar.' And a new day had begun.

CHAPTER XXIV.

DORCAS BRANDON PAYS RACHEL A VISIT.

It was not very much past eleven that morning when the pony carriage from
Brandon drew up before the little garden wicket of Redman's Farm.

The servant held the ponies' heads, and Miss Dorcas passed through the
little garden, and met old Tamar in the porch.

'Better to-day, Tamar?' enquired this grand and beautiful young lady.

The sun glimmered through the boughs behind her; her face was in shade,
and its delicate chiselling was brought out in soft reflected lights; and
old Tamar looked on her in a sort of wonder, her beauty seemed so
celestial and splendid.

Well, she _was_ better, though she had had a bad night. She was up and
dressed, and this moment coming down, and would be very happy to see Miss
Brandon, if she would step into the drawing-room.

Miss Brandon took old Tamar's hand gently and pressed it. I suppose she
was glad and took this way of showing it; and tall, beautiful, graceful,
in rustling silks, she glided into the tiny drawing-room silently, and
sate down softly by the window, looking out upon the flowers and the
falling leaves, mottled in light and shadow.

We have been accustomed to see another girl--bright and fair-haired
Rachel Lake--in the small rooms of Redman's Farm; but Dorcas only in rich
and stately Brandon Hall--the beautiful 'genius loci' under lofty
ceilings, curiously moulded in the first James's style--amid carved oak
and richest draperies, tall china vases, paintings, and cold white
statues; and somehow in this low-roofed room, so small and homely, she
looks like a displaced divinity--an exile under Juno's jealousy from the
cloudy splendours of Olympus--dazzlingly melancholy, and 'humano major'
among the meannesses and trumperies of earth.

So there came a step and a little rustling of feminine draperies, the
small door opened, and Rachel entered, with her hand extended, and a pale
smile of welcome.

Women can hide their pain better than we men, and bear it better, too,
except when _shame_ drops fire into the dreadful chalice. But poor Rachel
Lake had more than that stoical hypocrisy which enables the tortured
spirits of her sex to lift a pale face through the flames and smile.

She was sanguine, she was genial and companionable, and her spirits rose
at the sight of a friendly face. This transient spring and lighting up
are beautiful--a glamour beguiling our senses. It wakens up the frozen
spirit of enjoyment, and leads the sad faculties forth on a wild
forgetful frolic.

'Rachel, dear, I'm so glad to see you,' said Dorcas, placing her arms
gently about her neck, and kissing her twice or thrice. There was
something of sweetness and fondness in her tones and manner, which was
new to Rachel, and comforting, and she returned the greeting as kindly,
and felt more like her former self. 'You have been more ill than I
thought, darling, and you are still far from quite recovered.'

Rachel's pale and sharpened features and dilated eye struck her with a
painful surprise.

'I shall soon be as well as I am ever likely to be--that is, quite well,'
answered Rachel. 'You have been very kind. I've heard of your coming
here, and sending, so often.'

They sat down side by side, and Dorcas held her hand.

'Maybe, Rachel dear, you would like to drive a little?'

'No, darling, not yet; it is very good of you.'

'You have been so ill, my poor Rachel.'

'Ill and troubled, dear--troubled in mind, and miserably nervous.'

Poor Rachel! her nature recoiled from deceit, and she told, at all
events, as much of the truth as she dared.

Dorcas's large eyes rested upon her with a grave enquiry, and then Miss
Brandon looked down in silence for a while on the carpet, and was
thinking a little sternly, maybe, and with a look of pain, still holding
Rachel's hand, she said, with a sad sort of reproach in her tone,

'Rachel, dear, you have not told my secret?'

'No, indeed, Dorcas--never, and never will; and I think, though I have
learned to fear death, I would rather die than let Stanley even suspect
it.'

She spoke with a sudden energy, which partook of fear and passion, and
flushed her thin cheek, and made her languid eyes flash.

'Thank you, Rachel, my Cousin Rachel, my only friend. I ought not to have
doubted you,' and she kissed her again. 'Chelford had a note from Mr.
Wylder this morning--another note--his coming delayed, and something of
his having to see some person who is abroad,' continued Dorcas, after a
little pause. 'You have heard, of course, of Mr. Wylder's absence?'

'Yes, something--_everything_,' said Rachel, hurriedly, looking
frowningly at a flower which she was twirling in her fingers.

'He chose an unlucky moment for his departure. I meant to speak to him
and end all between us; and I would now write, but there is no address to
his letters. I think Lady Chelford and her son begin to think there is
more in this oddly-timed journey of Mr. Wylder's than first appeared.
When I came into the parlour this morning I knew they were speaking of
it. If he does not return in a day or two, Chelford, I am sure, will
speak to me, and then I shall tell him my resolution.'

'Yes,' said Rachel.

'I don't understand his absence. I think _they_ are puzzled, too. Can you
conjecture why he is gone?'

Rachel made no answer, but rose with a dreamy look, as if gazing at some
distant object among the dark masses of forest trees, and stood before
the window so looking across the tiny garden.

'I don't think, Rachel dear, you heard me?' said Dorcas.

'Can I conjecture why he is gone?' murmured Rachel, still gazing with a
wild kind of apathy into distance. 'Can I? What can it now be to you or
me--why? Yes, we sometimes conjecture right, and sometimes wrong; there
are many things best not conjectured about at all--some interesting, some
abominable, some that pass all comprehension: I never mean to conjecture,
if I can help it, again.'

And the wan oracle having spoken, she sate down in the same sort of
abstraction again beside Dorcas, and she looked full in her cousin's
eyes.

'I made you a voluntary promise, Dorcas, and now you will make me one. Of
Mark Wylder I say this: his name has been for years hateful to me, and
recently it has become frightful; and you will promise me simply this,
that you will never ask me to speak again about him. Be he near, or be he
far, I regard his very name with horror.'

Dorcas returned her gaze with one of haughty amazement; and Rachel said,

'Well, Dorcas, you promise?'

'You speak truly, Rachel, you _have_ a right to my promise: I give it.'

'Dorcas, you are changed; have I lost your love for asking so poor a
kindness?'

'I'm only disappointed, Rachel; I thought you would have trusted me, as I
did you.'

'It is an antipathy--an antipathy I cannot get over, dear Dorcas; you may
think it a madness, but don't blame me. Remember I am neither well nor
happy, and forgive what you cannot like in me. I have very few to love me
now, and I thought you might love me, as I have begun to love you. Oh!
Dorcas, darling, don't forsake me; I am very lonely here and my spirits
are gone and I never needed kindness so much before.'

And she threw her arms round her cousin's neck, and brave Rachel at last
burst into tears.

Dorcas, in her strange way, was moved.

'I like you still, Rachel; I'm sure I'll always like you. You resemble
me, Rachel: you are fearless and inflexible and generous. That spirit
belongs to the blood of our strange race; all our women were so. Yes,
Rachel, I do love you. I was wounded to find you had thoughts you would
not trust to me; but I have made the promise, and I'll keep it; and I
love you all the same.'

'Thank you, Dorcas, dear. I like to call you cousin--kindred is so
pleasant. Thank you, from my heart, for your love; you will never know,
perhaps, how much it is to me.'

The young queen looked on her kindly, but sadly, through her large,
strange eyes, clouded with a presage of futurity, and she kissed her
again, and said--

'Rachel, dear, I have a plan for you and me: we shall be old maids, you
and I, and live together like the ladies of Llangollen, careless and
happy recluses. I'll let Brandon and abdicate. We will make a little tour
together, when all this shall have blown over, in a few weeks, and choose
our retreat; and with the winter's snow we'll vanish from Brandon, and
appear with the early flowers at our cottage among the beautiful woods
and hills of Wales. Will you come, Rachel?'

At sight of this castle or cottage in the air, Rachel lighted up. The
little whim had something tranquillising and balmy. It was escape--flight
from Gylingden--flight from Brandon--flight from Redman's Farm: they and
all their hated associations would be far behind, and that awful page in
her story, not torn out, indeed, but gummed down as it were, and no
longer glaring and glowering in her eyes every moment of her waking life.

So she smiled upon the picture painted on the clouds; it was the first
thing that had interested her for days. It was a hope. She seized it; she
clung to it. She knew, perhaps, it was the merest chimera; but it rested
and consoled her imagination, and opened, in the blackness of her sky,
one small vista, through whose silvery edge the blue and stars of heaven
were visible.

CHAPTER XXV.

CAPTAIN LAKE LOOKS IN AT NIGHTFALL.

In the queer little drawing-room of Redman's Farm it was twilight, so
dense were the shadows from the great old chestnuts that surrounded it,
before the sun was well beneath the horizon; and you could, from its
darkened window, see its red beams still tinting the high grounds of
Willerston, visible through the stems of the old trees that were massed
in the near foreground.

A figure which had lost its energy--a face stamped with the lines and
pallor of a dejection almost guilty--with something of the fallen grace
and beauty of poor Margaret, as we see her with her forehead leaning on
her slender hand, by the stirless spinning-wheel--the image of a strange
and ineffaceable sorrow, sat Rachel Lake.

Tamar might glide in and out; her mistress did not speak; the shadows
deepened round her, but she did look up, nor call, in the old cheerful
accents, for lights. No more roulades and ringing chords from the
piano--no more clear spirited tones of the lady's voice sounded through
the low ceilings of Redman's Farm, and thrilled with a haunting melody
the deserted glen, wherein the birds had ended their vesper songs and
gone to rest.

A step was heard at the threshold--it entered the hall; the door of the
little chamber opened, and Stanley Lake entered, saying in a doubtful,
almost timid way--

'It is I, Radie, come to thank you, and just to ask you how you do, and
to say I'll never forget your kindness; upon my honour, I never can.'

Rachel shuddered as the door opened, and there was a ghastly sort of
expectation in her look. Imperfectly as it was seen, he could understand
it. She did not bid him welcome or even speak. There was a silence.

'Now, you're not angry with me, Radie dear; I venture to say I suffer
more than you: and how could I have anticipated the strange turn things
have taken? You know how it all came about, and you must see I'm not
really to blame, at least in intention, for all this miserable trouble;
and even if I were, where's the good in angry feeling or reproaches now,
don't you see, when I can't mend it? Come, Radie, let by-gones be
by-gones. There's a good girl; won't you?'

'Aye, by-gones are by-gones; the past is, indeed, immutable, and the
future is equally fixed, and more dreadful.'

'Come, Radie; a clever girl like you can make your own future.'

'And what do you want of me now?' she asked, with a fierce cold stare.

'But I did not say I wanted anything.'

'Of course you do, or I should not have seen you. Mark me though, I'll go
no further in the long route of wickedness you seem to have marked out
for me. I'm sacrificed, it is true, but I won't renew my hourly horrors,
and live under the rule of your diabolical selfishness.'

'Say what you will, but keep your temper--will you?' he answered, more
like his angry self. But he checked the rising devil within him, and
changed his tone; he did not want to quarrel--quite the reverse.

'I don't know really, Radie, why you should talk as you do. I don't want
you to do anything--upon my honour I don't--only just to exercise your
common sense--and you have lots of sense, Radie. Don't you think people
have eyes to see, and ears and tongues in this part of the world? Don't
you know very well, in a small place like this, they are all alive with
curiosity? and if you choose to make such a tragedy figure, and keep
moping and crying, and all that sort of thing, and look so _funeste_ and
miserable, you'll be sure to fix attention and set the whole d--d place
speculating and gossiping? and really, Radie, you're making mountains of
mole-hills. It is because you live so solitary here, and it _is_ such a
gloomy out-o'-the-way spot--so awfully dark and damp, nobody _could_ be
well here, and you really must change. It is the very temple of
blue-devilry, and I assure you if I lived as you do I'd cut my throat
before a month--you _mustn't_. And old Tamar, you know, such a figure!
The very priestess of despair. She gives me the horrors, I assure you,
whenever I look at her; you must not keep her, she's of no earthly use,
poor old thing; and, you know, Radie, we're not rich enough--you and
I--to support other people. You must really place yourself more
cheerfully, and I'll speak to Chelford about Tamar. There's a very nice
place--an asylum, or something, for old women--near--(Dollington he was
going to say, but the associations were not pleasant)--near some of those
little towns close to this, and he's a visitor, or governor, or whatever
they call it. It is really not fair to expect you or me to keep people
like that.'

'She has not cost you much hitherto, Stanley, and she will give you very
little trouble hereafter. I won't part with Tamar.'

'She has not cost me much?' said Lake, whose temper was not of a kind to
pass by anything. 'No; of course, she has not. _I_ can't afford a guinea.
You're poor enough; but in proportion to my expenses--a woman, of course,
can live on less than half what a man can--I'm a great deal poorer than
you; and I never said I gave her sixpence--did I? I have not got it to
give, and I don't think she's fool enough to expect it; and, to say the
truth, I don't care. I only advise you. There are some cheerful little
cottages near the green, in Gylingden, and I venture to think, this is
one of the very gloomiest and most uncomfortable places you could have
selected to live in.'

Rachel looked drearily toward the window and sighed--it was almost a
groan.

'It was cheerful always till this frightful week changed everything. Oh!
why, why, why did you ever come?' She threw back her pale face, biting
her lip, and even in that deepening gloom her small pearly teeth
glimmered white; and then she burst into sobs and an agony of tears.

Captain Lake knew something of feminine paroxysms. Rachel was not given
to hysterics. He knew this burst of anguish was unaffected. He was rather
glad of it. When it was over he expected clearer weather and a calm. So
he waited, saying now and then a soothing word or two.

'There--there--there, Radie--there's a good girl. Never
mind--there--there.' And between whiles his mind, which, in truth, had a
good deal upon it, would wander and pursue its dismal and perplexed
explorations, to the unheard accompaniment of her sobs.

He went to the door, but it was not to call for water, or for old Tamar.
On the contrary, it was to observe whether she or the girl was listening.
But the house, though small, was built with thick partition walls, and
sounds were well enclosed in the rooms to which they belonged.

With Rachel this weakness did not last long. It was a gust--violent--soon
over; and the 'o'er-charged' heart and brain were relieved. And she
pushed open the window, and stood for a moment in the chill air, and
sighed, and whispered a word or two over the closing flowers of her
little garden toward the darkening glen, and with another great sigh
closed the window, and returned.

'Can I do anything, Radie? You're better now. I knew you would be. Shall
I get some water from your room?'

'No, Stanley; no, thank you. I'm very well now,' she said, gently.

'Yes, I think so. I knew you'd be better.' And he patted her shoulder
with his soft hand; and then followed a short silence.

'I wish you were more pleasantly lodged, Radie; but we can speak of that
another time.'

'Yes--you're right. This place is dreadful, and its darkness dreadful;
but light is still more dreadful now, and I think I'll change; but, as
you say, there is time enough to think of all that.'

'Quite so--time enough. By-the-bye, Radie, you mentioned our old servant,
whom my father thought so highly of--Jim Dutton--the other evening. I've
been thinking of him, do you know, and I should like to find him out. He
was a very honest fellow, and attached, and a clever fellow, too, my
father thought; and _he_ was a good judge. Hadn't you a letter from his
mother lately? You told me so, I think; and if it is not too much
trouble, dear Radie, would you allow me to see it?'

Rachel opened her desk, and silently selected one of those clumsy and
original missives, directed in a staggering, round hand, on paper oddly
shaped and thick, such as mixes not naturally with the aristocratic
fabric, on which crests and ciphers are impressed, and placed it in her
brother's hand.

'But you can't read it without light,' said Rachel.

'No; but there's no hurry. Does she say where she is staying, or her
son?'

'Both, I think,' answered Rachel, languidly; 'but he'll never make a
servant for you--he's a rough creature, she says, and was a groom. You
can't remember him, nor I either.'

'Perhaps--very likely;' and he put the letter in his pocket.

'I was thinking, Rachel, you could advise me, if you would, you are so
clever, you know.'

'Advise!' said Rachel, softly; but with a wild and bitter rage ringing
under it. 'I did advise when it was yet time to profit by advice. I bound
you even by a promise to take it, but you know how it ended. You don't
want my advice.'

'But really I do, Radie. I quite allow I was wrong--worse than wrong--but
where is the use of attacking me now, when I'm in this dreadful fix? I
took a wrong step; and what I now have to do is to guard myself, if
possible, from what I'm threatened with.'

She fancied she saw his pale face grow more bloodless, even in the shadow
where he sat.

'I know you too well, Stanley. You want _no_ advice. You never took
advice--you never will. Your desperate and ingrained perversity has
ruined us both.'

'I wish you'd let me know my own mind. I say I do--(and he uttered an
unpleasant exclamation). Do you think I'll leave matters to take their
course, and sit down here to be destroyed? I'm no such idiot. I tell you
I'll leave no stone unturned to save myself; and, in some measure, _you_
too, Radie. You don't seem to comprehend the tremendous misfortune that
menaces me--_us_--_you_ and me.'

And he cursed Mark Wylder with a gasp of hatred not easily expressed.

She winced at the name, and brushed her hand to her ear.

'Don't--don't--_don't_,' she said, vehemently.

'Well, what the devil do you mean by refusing to help me, even with a
hint? I say--I _know_--all the odds are against us. It is sometimes a
long game; but unless I'm sharp, I can't escape what's coming. I
_can't_--you can't--sooner or later. It is in motion already--d--
him--it's coming, and you expect me to do everything alone.'

'I repeat it, Stanley,' said Rachel, with a fierce cynicism in her low
tones, 'you don't want advice; you have formed your plan, whatever it is,
and that plan you will follow, and no other, though men and angels were
united to dissuade you.'

There was a pause here, and a silence for a good many seconds.

'Well, perhaps, I _have_ formed an outline of a plan, and it strikes me
as very well I have--for I don't think you are likely to take that
trouble. I only want to explain it, and get your advice, and any little
assistance you can give me; and surely that is not unreasonable?'

'I have learned one secret, and am exposed to one danger. I have
taken--to save you--it may be only a _respite_--one step, the remembrance
of which is insupportable. But I was passive. I am fallen from light into
darkness. There ends my share in your confidence and your fortunes. I
will know no more secrets--no more disgrace; do what you will, you shall
never use me again.'

'Suppose these heroics of yours, Miss Radie, should contribute to bring
about--to bring about the worst,' said Stanley, with a sneer, through
which his voice trembled.

'Let it come--my resolution is taken.'

Stanley walked to the window, and in his easy way, as he would across a
drawing-room to stand by a piano, and he looked out upon the trees, whose
tops stood motionless against the darkened sky, like masses of ruins.
Then he came back as gently as he had gone, and stood beside his sister;
she could not see his yellow eyes now as he stood with his back to the
window.

'Well, Radie, dear--you have put your hand to the plough, and you sha'n't
turn back now.'

'What?'

'No--you sha'n't turn back now.'

'You seem, Sir, to fancy that I have no right to choose for myself,' said
Miss Rachel, spiritedly.

'Now, Radie, you must be reasonable--who have I to advise with?'

'Not me, Stanley--keep your plots and your secrets to yourself. In the
guilty path you have opened for me one step more I will never tread.'

'Excuse me, Radie, but you're talking like a fool.'

'I am not sorry you think so--you can't understand motives higher than
your own.'

'You'll see that you must, though. You'll see it in a little while.
Self-preservation, dear Radie, is the first law of nature.'

'For yourself, Stanley; and for _me_, self-sacrifice,' she retorted,
bitterly.

'Well, Radie, I may as well tell you one thing that I'm resolved to carry
out,' said Lake, with a dreamy serenity, looking on the dark carpet.

'I'll hear no secret, Stanley.'

'It can't be long a secret, at least from you--you can't help knowing
it,' he drawled gently. 'Do you recollect, Radie, what I said that
morning when I first called here, and saw you?'

'Perhaps I do, but I don't know what you mean,' answered she.

'I said, Mark Wylder----'

'Don't name him,' she said, rising and approaching him swiftly.

'I said _he_ should go abroad, and so he shall,' said Lake, in a very low
tone, with a grim oath.

'Why do you talk that way? You terrify me,' said Rachel, with one hand
raised toward his face with a gesture of horror and entreaty, and the
other closed upon his wrist.

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