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Wylder's Hand by J. Sheridan Le Fanu

Part 4 out of 10

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'I say he _shall_, Radie.'

'Has he lost his wits? I can't comprehend you--you frighten me, Stanley.
You're talking wildly on purpose, I believe, to terrify me. You know the
state I'm in--sleepless--half wild--all alone here. You're talking like a
maniac. It's cruel--it's cowardly.'

'I mean to _do_ it--you'll see.'

Suddenly she hurried by him, and in a moment was in the little kitchen,
with its fire and candle burning cheerily. Stanley Lake was at her
shoulder as she entered, and both were white with agitation.

Old Tamar rose up affrighted, her stiff arms raised, and uttered a
blessing. She did not know what to make of it. Rachel sat down upon one
of the kitchen chairs, scarce knowing what she did, and Stanley Lake
halted near the threshold--gazing for a moment as wildly as she, with the
ghost of his sly smile on his smooth, cadaverous face.

'What ails her--is she ill, Master Stanley?' asked the old woman,
returning with her white eyes the young man's strange yellow glare.

'I--I don't know--maybe--give her some water,' said Lake.

'Glass of water--quick, child,' cried old Tamar to Margery.

'Put it on the table,' said Rachel, collected now, but pale and somewhat
stern.

'And now, Stanley, dear,' said she, for just then she was past caring for
the presence of the servants, 'I hope we understand one another--at
least, that you do me. If not, it is not for want of distinctness on my
part; and I think you had better leave me for the present, for, to say
truth, I do not feel very well.'

'Good-night, Radie--good-night, old Tamar. I hope, Radie, you'll be
better--every way--when next I see you. Good-night.'

He spoke in his usual clear low tones, and his queer ambiguous smile was
there still; and, hat in hand, with his cane in his fingers, he made
another glance and a nod over his shoulder, at the threshold, and then
glided forth into the little garden, and so to the mill-road, down which,
at a swift pace, he walked towards the village.

CHAPTER XXVI.

CAPTAIN LAKE FOLLOWS TO LONDON.

Wylder's levanting in this way was singularly disconcerting. The time was
growing short. He wrote with a stupid good-humour, and an insolent
brevity which took no account of Miss Brandon's position, or that (though
secondary in awkwardness) of her noble relatives. Lord Chelford plainly
thought more than he cared to say; and his mother, who never minced
matters, said perhaps more than she quite thought.

Chelford was to give the beautiful heiress away. But the receiver of this
rich and peerless gift--like some mysterious knight who, having carried
all before him in the tourney, vanishes no one knows whither, when the
prize is about to be bestowed, and whom the summons of the herald and the
call of the trumpet follow in vain--had escaped them.

'Lake has gone up to town this morning--some business with his banker
about his commission--and he says he will make Wylder out on his arrival,
and write to me,' said Lord Chelford.

Old Lady Chelford glanced across her shoulder at Dorcas, who leaned back
in a great chair by the window, listlessly turning over a book.

'She's a strange girl, she does not seem to feel her situation--a most
painful and critical one. That low, coarse creature must be looked up
somehow.'

'Lake knows where he is likely to be found, and will see him, I dare say,
this evening--perhaps in time to write by to-night's post.'

So, in a quiet key, Miss Dorcas being at a distance, though in the same
room, the dowager and her son discussed this unpleasant and very nervous
topic.

That evening Captain Lake was in London, comfortably quartered in a
private hotel, in one of the streets off Piccadilly. He went to his club
and dined better than he had done for many days. He really enjoyed his
three little courses--his pint of claret, his cup of _caf� noir_, and his
_chasse;_ the great Babylon was his Jerusalem, and his spirit found rest
there.

He was renovated and refreshed, his soul was strengthened, and his
countenance waxed cheerful, and he began to feel like himself again,
under the brown canopy of metropolitan smoke, and among the cabs and
gaslights.

After dinner he got into a cab, and drove to Mark Wylder's club. Was he
there?--No. Had he been there to-day?--No. Or within the last week?--No;
not for two months. He had left his address, and was in the country. The
address to which his letters were forwarded was 'The Brandon Arms,
Gylingden.'

So Captain Lake informed that functionary that his friend had come up to
town, and asked him again whether he was quite certain that he had not
called there, or sent for his letters.--No; nothing of the sort. Then
Captain Lake asked to see the billiard-marker, who was likely to know
something about him. But he knew nothing. He certainly had not been at
the 'Lark's Nest,' which was kept by the marker's venerable parent, and
was a favourite haunt of the gay lieutenant.

Then our friend Stanley, having ruminated for a minute, pencilled a
little note to Mark, telling him that he was staying at Muggeridge's
Hotel, 7, Hanover Street, Piccadilly, and wished _most_ particularly to
see him for a few minutes; and this he left with the hall-porter to give
him should he call.

Then Lake got into his cab again, having learned that he had lodgings in
St. James's Street when he did not stay at the club, and to these he
drove. There he saw Mrs. M'Intyre, a Caledonian lady, at this hour
somewhat mellow and talkative; but she could say nothing to the purpose
either. Mr. Wylder had not been there for nine weeks and three days; and
would owe her, on Saturday next, twenty-five guineas. So here, too, he
left a little note to the same purpose; and re-entering his cab, he drove
a long way, and past St. Paul's, and came at last to a court, outside
which he had to dismount from his vehicle, entering the grimy quadrangle
through a narrow passage. He had been there that evening before, shortly
after his arrival, with old Mother Dutton, as he called her, about her
son, Jim.

Jim was in London, looking for a situation, all which pleased Captain
Lake; and he desired that she should send him to his hotel to see him in
the morning.

But being in some matters of a nervous and impatient temperament, he had
come again, as we see, hoping to find Jim there, and to anticipate his
interview of the morning.

The windows, however, were dark, and a little research satisfied Captain
Lake that the colony was in bed. In fact, it was by this time half-past
eleven o'clock, and working-people don't usually sit up to that hour. But
our friend, Stanley Lake, was one of those persons who think that the
course of the world's affairs should bend a good deal to their personal
convenience, and he was not pleased with these unreasonable
working-people who had gone to their beds, and brought him to this remote
and grimy amphitheatre of black windows for nothing. So, wishing them the
good-night they merited, he re-entered his cab, and drove rapidly back
again towards the West-end.

This time he went to a somewhat mysterious and barricadoed place, where
in a blaze of light, in various rooms, gentlemen in hats, and some in
great coats, were playing roulette or hazard; and I am sorry to say, that
our friend, Captain Lake, played first at one and then at the other, with
what success exactly I don't know. But I don't think it was very far from
four o'clock in the morning when he let himself into his family hotel
with that latchkey, the cock's tail of Micyllus, with which good-natured
old Mrs. Muggeridge obliged the good-looking captain.

Captain Lake having given orders the evening before, that anyone who
might call in the morning, and ask to see him, should be shown up to his
bed-room _sans ceremonie_, was roused from deep slumber at a quarter past
ten, by a knock at his door, and a waiter's voice.

'Who's that?' drawled Captain Lake, rising, pale and half awake, on his
elbow, and not very clear where he was.

'The man, Sir, as you left a note for yesterday, which he desires to see
you?'

'Tell him to step in.'

So out went the waiter in pumps, and the sound of thick shoes was audible
on the lobby, and a sturdier knock sounded on the door.

'Come in,' said the captain.

And Jim Dutton entered the room, and, closing the door, made, at the side
of the bed, his reverence, consisting of a nod and a faint pluck at the
lock of hair over his forehead.

Now Stanley Lake had, perhaps, expected to see some one else; for though
this was a very respectable-looking fellow for his walk in life, the gay
young officer stared full at him, with a frightened and rather dreadful
countenance, and actually sprung from his bed at the other side, with an
ejaculation at once tragic and blasphemous.

The man plainly had not expected to produce any such result, and looked
very queer. Perhaps he thought something had occurred to affect his
personal appearance; perhaps some doubt about the captain's state of
health, and misgiving as to delirium tremens may have flickered over his
brain.

They were staring at one another across the bed, the captain in his
shirt.

At last the gallant officer seemed to discover things as they were, for
he said--

'Jim Dutton, by Jove!'

The oath was not so innocent; but it was delivered quietly; and then the
captain drew a long breath, and then, still staring at him, he laughed a
ghastly little laugh, also quietly.

'And so it is you, Jim,' said the captain. 'And how do you do--quite
well, Jim--and out of place? You've been hurt in the foot, eh? so old
your--Mrs. Dutton tells me, but that won't signify. I was dreaming when
you came in; not quite awake yet, hardly; just wait a bit till I get my
slippers on; and this--' So into his red slippers he slid, and got his
great shawl dressing-gown, such as fine gentlemen then wore, about his
slender person, and knotted the silken cords with depending tassels, and
greeted Jim Dutton again in very friendly fashion, enquiring very
particularly how he had been ever since, and what his mother was doing;
and I'm afraid not listening to Jim's answers as attentively as one might
have expected.

Whatever may have been his intrinsic worth, Jim was not polished, and
spoke, moreover, an uncouth dialect, which broke out now and then. But he
was in a sort of way attached to the Lake family, the son of an
hereditary tenant on that estate which had made itself wings, and flown
away like the island of Laputa. It could not be said to be love; it was a
sort of traditionary loyalty; a sentiment, however, not altogether
unserviceable.

When they had talked together for a while, the captain said--

'The fact is, it is not quite on me you would have to attend; the
situation, perhaps, is better. You have no objection to travel. You
_have_ been abroad, you know; and of course wages and all that will be in
proportion.'

Well, Jim had not any objection to speak of.

'What's wanted is a trustworthy man, perfectly steady, you see, and a
fellow who knows how to hold his tongue.'

The last condition, perhaps, struck the man as a little odd; he looked a
little confusedly, and he conveyed that he would not like to be in
anything that was not quite straight.

'Quite straight, Sir!' repeated Stanley Lake, looking round on him
sternly; 'neither should I, I fancy. You are to suppose the case of a
gentleman who is nursing his estate--you know what that means--and wants
to travel, and keep quite quiet, and who requires a steady, trustworthy
man to look after him, in such a way as I shall direct, with very little
trouble and capital pay. I have a regard for you, Dutton; and seeing so
good a situation was to be had, and thinking you the fittest man I know,
I wished to serve you and my friend at the same time.'

Dutton became grateful and docile upon this.

'There are reasons, quite honourable I need not tell you, which make it
necessary, James Dutton, that the whole of this affair should be kept
perfectly to ourselves; you are not to repeat one syllable I say to you
to your mother, do you mind, or to any other person living. The gentleman
is liberal, and if you can just hold your tongue, you will have little
trouble in satisfying him upon all other points. But if you can't be
quite silent, you had better, I frankly tell you, decline the situation,
excellent in all respects as it is.'

'I'm a man, Sir, as can be close enough.'

'So much the better. You don't drink?'

Dutton coloured a little and coughed and said--

'No, Sir.'

'You have your papers?'

'Yes, Sir.'

'We must be satisfied as to your sobriety, Dutton. Come back at half-past
eleven and I'll see you, and bring your papers; and, do you see, you are
not to talk, you understand; only you may say, if anyone presses, that I
am thinking of hiring you to attend on a gentleman, whose name you don't
yet know, who's going to travel. That's all.'

So Jim Dutton made his bow, and departed; and Captain Lake continued to
watch the door for some seconds after his departure, as if he could see
his retreating figure through it. And, said he, with an oath, and his
hand to his forehead, over his eyebrow--

'It _is_ the most unaccountable thing in nature!'

Then, after a reverie of some seconds, the young gentleman applied
himself energetically to his toilet; and coming down to his sitting-room,
he looked into his morning paper, and then into the street, and told the
servant as he sate down to breakfast, that he expected a gentleman named
Wylder to call that morning, and to be sure to show him up directly.

Captain Lake's few hours' sleep, contrary to popular ideas about
gamesters' slumbers, had been the soundest and the most natural which he
had enjoyed for a good many nights. He was refreshed. At Gylingden and
Brandon he had been simulating Captain Stanley Lake--being, in truth,
something quite different--with a vigilant histrionic effort which was
awfully exhausting, and sometimes nearly intolerable. Here the captain
was perceptibly stealing into his old ways and feelings. His spirit
revived; something like confidence in the future, and a possibility even
of enjoying the present, was struggling visibly through the cold fog that
environed him. Reason has, after all, so little to do with our moods. The
weather, the scene, the stomach, how pleasantly they deal with facts--how
they supersede philosophy, and even arithmetic, and teach us how much of
life is intoxication and illusion.

Still there was the sword of Damocles over his pineal gland. D---- that
sheer, cold blade! D---- him that forged it! Still there was a great deal
of holding in a horse-hair. Had not salmon, of I know not how many
pounds' weight, been played and brought to land by that slender towage.
There is the sword, a burnished piece of cutlery, weighing just so many
pounds; and the horsehair has sufficed for an hour, and why not for
another--and soon? Hang moping and nonsense! Waiter, another pint of
Chian; and let the fun go forward.

So the literal waiter knocked at the door. 'A person wanted to see
Captain Lake. No, it was not Mr. Wylder. It was the man who had been here
in the morning--Dutton is his name.'

'And so it is really half-past eleven?' said Lake, in a sleepy surprise.
'Let him come in.'

And so in comes Jim Dutton again, to hear particulars, and have, as he
hopes, his engagement ratified.

CHAPTER XXVII.

LAWYER LARKIN'S MIND BEGINS TO WORK.

That morning Lake's first report upon his inquisition into the
whereabouts of Mark Wylder--altogether disappointing and barren--reached
Lord Chelford in a short letter; and a similar one, only shorter, found
Lawyer Larkin in his pleasant breakfast parlour.

Now this proceeding of Mr. Wylder's, at this particular time, struck the
righteous attorney, and reasonably, as a very serious and unjustifiable
step. There was, in fact, no way of accounting for it, that was
altogether complimentary to his respected and nutritious client. Yes;
there was something every way _very_ serious in the affair. It actually
threatened the engagement which was so near its accomplishment. Some most
powerful and mysterious cause must undoubtedly be in operation to induce
so sharp a 'party,' so keen after this world's wealth, to risk so huge a
prize. Whatever eminent qualities Mark Wylder might be deficient in, the
attorney very well knew that cunning was not among the number.

'It is nothing of the nature of debt--plenty of money. It is nothing that
money can buy off easily either, though he does not like parting with it.
Ten--_twenty_ to one--it is the old story--some unfortunate female
connection--some ambiguous relation, involving a doubtful marriage.'

And Josiah Larkin turned up his small pink eyes, and shook his tall, bald
head gently, and murmured, as he nodded it--

'The sins of his youth find him out; the sins of his youth.'

And he sighed; and his long palms were raised, and waved, or rather
paddled slowly to the rhythm of the sentiment.

If the butchers' boy then passing saw that gaunt and good attorney,
standing thus in his bow-window, I am sure he thought he was at his
devotions and abated his whistling as he went by.

After this Mr. Larkin's ruminations darkened, and grew, perhaps, less
distinct. He had no particular objection to a mystery. In fact, he rather
liked it, provided he was admitted to confidence. A mystery implied a
difficulty of a delicate and formidable sort; and such difficulties were
not disadvantageous to a clever and firm person, who might render himself
very necessary to an embarrassed principal with plenty of money.

Mr. Larkin had a way of gently compressing his under-lip between his
finger and thumb--a mild pinch, a reflective caress--when contemplations
of this nature occupied his brain. The silver light of heaven faded from
his long face, a deep shadow of earth came thereon, and his small,
dove-like eyes grew intense, hungry, and rat-like.

Oh! Lawyer Larkin, your eyes, though very small, are very sharp. They can
read through the outer skin of ordinary men, as through a parchment
against the light, the inner writing, and spell out its meanings. How is
it that they fail to see quite through one Jos. Larkin, a lawyer of
Gylingden? The layover of Gylingden is somehow two opaque for them, I
almost think. Is he really too deep for you? Or is it that you don't care
to search him too narrowly, or have not time? or as men in money
perplexities love not the scrutiny of their accounts or papers, you don't
care to tire your eyes over the documents in that neatly japanned box,
the respectable lawyer's conscience?

If you have puzzled yourself, you have also puzzled me. I don't quite
know what to make of you. I've sometimes thought you were simply an
impostor, and sometimes simply the dupe of your own sorceries. The heart
of man is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked. Some men,
with a piercing insight into the evil of man's nature, have a blurred
vision for their own moralities. For them it is not easy to see where
wisdom ends and guile begins--what wiles are justified to honour, and
what partake of the genius of the robber, and where lie the delicate
boundaries between legitimate diplomacy and damnable lying. I am not sure
that Lawyer Larkin did not often think himself very nearly what he wished
the world to think him--an 'eminent Christian.' What an awful abyss is
self delusion.

Lawyer Larkin was, on the whole, I dare say, tolerably well pleased with
the position, as he would have said, of his spiritual interest, and
belonged to that complacent congregation who said, 'I am rich and have
need of nothing;' and who, no doubt, opened their eyes wide enough, and
misdoubted the astounding report of their ears, when the judge thundered,
'Thou art wretched and miserable, and poor and blind and naked.'

When Jos. Larkins had speculated thus, and built rich, but sombre,
castles in the air, for some time longer, he said quietly to himself--

'Yes.'

And then he ordered his dog-cart, and drove off to Dollington, and put up
at Johnson's Hotel, where Stanley Lake had slept on the night of his
sister's return from London. The people there knew the lawyer very well;
of course, they quite understood his position. Mr. Johnson, the
proprietor, you may be sure, does not confound him with the great
squires, the baronets, and feudal names of the county; but though he was
by comparison easy in his company, with even a dash of familiarity, he
still respected Mr. Larkin as a man with money, and a sort of influence,
and in whose way, at election and other times, it might lie to do his
house a good or an ill turn.

Mr. Larkin got into a little brown room, looking into the inn garden, and
called for some luncheon, and pen and ink, and had out a sheaf of law
papers he had brought with him, tied up in professional red tape; and
asked the waiter, with a grand smile and recognition, how he did; and
asked him next for his good friend, Mr. Johnson; and trusted that
business was improving; and would be very happy to see him for two or
three minutes, if he could spare time.

So, in due time, in came the corpulent proprietor, and Lawyer Larkin
shook hands with him, and begged him to sit down, like a man who confers
a distinction; and assured him that Lord Edward Buxleigh, whom he had
recommended to stay at the house for the shooting, had been very well
pleased with the accommodation--very highly so indeed--and his lordship
had so expressed himself when they had last met at Sir Hugh Huxterley's,
of Hatch Court.

The good lawyer liked illuminating his little narratives, compliments,
and reminiscences with plenty of armorial bearings and heraldic figures,
and played out his court-cards in easy and somewhat overpowering
profusion.

Then he enquired after the two heifers that Mr. Johnson was so good as to
feed for him on his little farm; and then he mentioned that his friend,
Captain Lake, who was staying with him at his house at Gylingden, was
also very well satisfied with his accommodation, when he, too, at Lawyer
Larkin's recommendation, had put up for a night at Johnson's Hotel; and
it was not every house which could satisfy London swells of Captain
Lake's fashion and habits, he could tell him.

Then followed some conversation which, I dare say, interested the lawyer
more than be quite showed in Mr. Johnson's company. For when that pleased
and communicative host had withdrawn, Jos. Larkin made half-a-dozen
little entries in his pocket-book, with 'Statement of Mr. William
Johnson,' and the date of their conversation, at the head of the
memorandum.

So the lawyer, having to run on as far as Charteris by the goods-train,
upon business, walked down to the station, where, having half-an-hour to
wait, he fell into talk with the station-master, whom he also knew, and
afterwards with Tom Christmas, the porter; and in the waiting-room he
made some equally business-like memoranda, being certain chips and
splinters struck off the clumsy talk of these officials, and laid up in
the lawyer's little private museum, for future illustration and analysis.

By the time his little book was again in the bottom of his
pocket, the train had arrived, and doors swung open and clapt
and people got in and out to the porter's accompaniment of
'Dollington--Dollington--Dollington!' and Lawyer Larkin took his place,
and glided away to Charteris, where he had a wait of two hours for the
return train, and a good deal of barren talk with persons at the station,
rewarded by one or two sentences worth noting, and accordingly duly
entered in the same little pocket-book.

Thus was the good man's day consumed; and when he mounted his dog-cart,
at Dollington, wrapped his rug about his legs, whip and reins in hand,
and the ostler buckled the apron across, the sun was setting redly behind
the hills; and the air was frosty, and the night dark, as he drew up
before his own door-steps, near Gylingden. A dozen lines of one of these
pages would suffice to contain the fruits of his day's work; and yet the
lawyer was satisfied, and even pleased with it, and eat his late dinner
very happily; and though dignified, of course, was more than usually mild
and gracious with all his servants that evening, and 'expounded at family
prayers' in a sense that was liberal and comforting; and went to bed
after a calm and pleased review of his memoranda, and slept the sleep of
the righteous.

CHAPTER XXVIII.

MARK WYLDER'S SUBMISSION.

Every day the position grew more critical and embarrassing. The day
appointed for the nuptials was now very near, and the bridegroom not only
out of sight but wholly untraceable. What was to be done?

A long letter from Stanley Lake told Lord Chelford, in detail, all the
measures adopted by that energetic young gentleman for the discovery of
the truant knight:--

'I have been at his club repeatedly, as also at his lodgings--still
_his_, though he has not appeared there since his arrival in town. The
billiard-marker at his club knows his haunts; and I have taken the
liberty to employ, through him, several persons who are acquainted with
his appearance, and, at my desire, frequent those places with a view to
discovering him, and bringing about an interview with me.

'He was seen, I have reason to believe, a day or two before my arrival
here, at a low place called the "Miller's Hall," in the City, where
members of the "Fancy" resort, at one of their orgies, but not since. I
have left notes for him wherever he is likely to call, entreating an
interview.

'On my arrival I was sanguine about finding him; but I regret to say my
hopes have very much declined, and I begin to think he must have changed
his quarters. If you have heard from him within the last few days,
perhaps you will be so kind as to send me the envelope of his letter,
which, by its postmark, may possibly throw some light or hint some theory
as to his possible movements. He is very clever; and having taken this
plan of concealing his residence, will conduct it skilfully. If the case
were mine I should be much tempted to speak with the detective
authorities, and try whether they might not give their assistance, of
course without _�clat_. But this is, I am aware, open to objection, and,
in fact, would not be justifiable, except under the very peculiar urgency
of the case.

'Will you be so good as to say what you think upon this point; also, to
instruct me what you authorise me to say should I be fortunate enough to
meet him. At present I am hardly in a position to say more than an
acquaintance--never, I fear, very cordial on his part--would allow;
which, of course, could hardly exceed a simple mention of your anxiety to
be placed in communication with him.

'If I might venture to suggest, I really think a peremptory alternative
should be presented to him. Writing, however, in ignorance of what may
since have passed at Brandon, I may be assuming a state of things which,
possibly, no longer exists. Pray understand that in any way you please to
employ me, I am entirely at your command. It is also possible, though I
hardly hope it, that I may be able to communicate something definite by
this evening's post.

'I do not offer any conjectures as to the cause of this very embarrassing
procedure on his part; and indeed I find a great difficulty in rendering
myself useful, with any likelihood of really succeeding, without at the
same exposing myself to an imputation of impertinence. You will easily
see how difficult is my position.

'Whatever may be the cause of Mark Wylder's present line of conduct, it
appears to me that if he really did attend that meeting at the "Miller's
Hall," there cannot be anything _very_ serious weighing upon his spirits.
My business will detain me here, I rather think, three days longer.'

By return of post Lord Chelford wrote to Stanley Lake:--

'I am so very much obliged to you for all the trouble you have taken. The
measures which you have adopted are, I think, most judicious; and I
should not wish, on consideration, to speak to any official person. I
think it better to trust entirely to the means you have already employed.
Like you, I do not desire to speculate as to the causes of Wylder's
extraordinary conduct; but, all the circumstances considered, I cannot
avoid concluding, as you do, that there must be some _very_ serious
reason for it. I enclose a note, which, perhaps, you will be so good as
to give him, should you meet before you leave town.'

The note to Mark Wylder was in these terms:--

'DEAR WYLDER,--I had hoped to see you before now at Brandon. Your
unexplained absence longer continued, you must see, will impose on me the
necessity of offering an explanation to Miss Brandon's friends, of the
relations, under these strange circumstances, in which you and she are to
be assumed to stand. You have accounted in no way for your absence. You
have not even suggested a postponement of the day fixed for the
completion of your engagement to that young lady; and, as her guardian, I
cannot avoid telling her, should I fail to hear explicitly from you
within three days from this date, that she is at liberty to hold herself
acquitted of her engagement to you. I do not represent to you how much
reason everyone interested by relationship in that young lady has to feel
offended at the disrespect with which you have treated her. Still hoping,
however, that all may yet be explained,

'I remain, my dear Wylder, yours very truly,

'CHELFORD.'

Lord Chelford had not opened the subject to Dorcas. Neither had old Lady
Chelford, although she harangued her son upon it as volubly and fiercely
as if he had been Mark Wylder in person, whenever he and she were
_t�te-�-t�te_. She was extremely provoked, too, at Dorcas's evident
repose under this astounding treatment, and was enigmatically sarcastic
upon her when they sat together in the drawing-room.

She and her son were, it seemed, not only to think and act, but to feel
also, for this utterly immovable young lady! The Brandons, in her young
days, were not wanting in spirit. No; they had many faults, but they were
not sticks or stones. They were not to be taken up and laid down like wax
dolls; they could act and speak. It would not have been safe to trample
upon them; and they were not less beautiful for being something more than
pictures and statues.

This evening, in the drawing-room, there were two very pretty ormolu
caskets upon the little marble table.

'A new present from Mark Wylder,' thought Lady Chelford, as these objects
met her keen glance. 'The unceremonious bridegroom has, I suppose, found
his way back with a peace-offering in his hand.' And she actually peered
through her spectacles into the now darkened corners of the chamber, half
expecting to discover the truant Wylder awaiting there the lecture she
was well prepared to give him; but the square form and black whiskers of
the prodigal son were not discernible there.

'So, so, something new, and very elegant and pretty,' said the old lady
aloud, holding her head high, and looking as if she were disposed to be
propitiated. 'I think I can risk a conjecture. Mr. Wylder is about to
reappear, and has despatched these heralds of his approach, no doubt
suitably freighted, to plead for his reacceptance into favour. You have
heard, then, from Mr. Wylder, my dear Dorcas?'

'No, Lady Chelford,' said the young lady with a grave serenity, turning
her head leisurely towards her.

'No? Oh, then where is my son? He, perhaps, can explain; and pray, my
dear, what are these?'

'These caskets contain the jewels which Mr. Wylder gave me about six
weeks since. I had intended restoring them to him; but as his return is
delayed, I mean to place them in Chelford's hands; because I have made up
my mind, a week ago, to put an end to this odious engagement. It is all
over.'

Lady Chelford stared at the audacious young lady with a look of incensed
amazement for some seconds, unable to speak.

'Upon my word, young lady! vastly fine and independent! You _chasser_ Mr.
Wylder without one moment's notice, and without deigning to consult me,
or any other person capable of advising you. You are about to commit as
gross and indelicate a breach of faith as I recollect anywhere to have
heard of. What will be thought?--what will the world say?--what will your
friends say? Will you be good enough to explain yourself? _I_'ll not
undertake your excuses, I promise you.'

'Excuses! I don't think of excuses, Lady Chelford; no person living has a
right to demand one.'

'Very tragic, young lady, and quite charming!' sneered the dowager
angrily.

'Neither one nor the other, I venture to think; but quite true, Lady
Chelford,' answered Miss Brandon, haughtily.

'I don't believe you are serious, Dorcas,' said Lady Chelford, more
anxiously, and also more gently. 'I can't suppose it. I'm an old woman,
my dear, and I sha'n't trouble you very long. I can have no object in
misleading you, and you have never experienced from me anything but
kindness and affection. I think you might trust me a little, Dorcas--but
that, of course, is for you, you are your own mistress now--but, at
least, you may reconsider the question you propose deciding in so
extraordinary a way. I allow you might do much better than Mark Wylder,
but also worse. He has not a title, and his estate is not enough to carry
the point _� force d'argent_; I grant all that. But _together_ the
estates are more than most titled men possess; and the real point is the
fatal slip in your poor uncle's will, which makes it so highly important
that you and Mark should be united; bear that in mind, dear Dorcas. I
look for his return every day--every hour, indeed--and no doubt his
absence will turn out to have been unavoidable. You must not act
precipitately, and under the influence of mere pique. His absence, I will
lay my life, will be satisfactorily accounted for; he has set his heart
upon this marriage, and I really think you will almost drive him mad if
you act as you threaten.'

'You have, indeed, dear Lady Chelford, been always very kind to me, and I
do trust you,' replied this beautiful heiress, turning her large shadowy
eyes upon the dowager, and speaking in slow and silvery accents, somehow
very melancholy. 'I dare say it is very imprudent, and I don't deny that
Mr. Wylder may have reason to complain of me, and the world will not
spare me either; but I have quite made up my mind, and nothing can ever
change me; all is over between me and Mr. Wylder--quite over--for ever.'

'Upon my life, young lady, this is being very sharp, indeed. Mr. Wylder's
business detains him a day or two longer than he expected, and he is
punished by a final dismissal!'

The old lady's thin cheeks were flushed, and her eyes shot a reddish
light, and altogether she made an angry sight. It was hardly reasonable.
She had been inveighing against Miss Brandon's apathy under Wylder's
disrespect, and now that the young lady spoke and acted too, she was
incensed. She had railed upon Wylder, in no measured terms, herself, and
even threatened, as the proper measure, that very step which Dorcas had
announced; and now she became all at once the apologist of this insolent
truant, and was ready to denounce her unreasonable irritation.

'So far, dear Lady Chelford, from provoking me to this decision, his
absence is, I assure you, the sole reason of my having delayed to inform
him of it.'

'And I assure you, Miss Brandon, _I_ sha'n't undertake to deliver your
monstrous message. He will probably be here to-morrow. You have prepared
an agreeable surprise for him. You shall have the pleasure of
administering it yourself, Miss Brandon. For my part, I have done my
duty, and here and now renounce all responsibility in the future
management of your affairs.'

Saying which, she rose, in a stately and incensed way, and looking with
flashing eyes over Dorcas's head to a far corner of the apartment,
without another word she rustled slowly and majestically from the
drawing-room.

She was a good deal shocked, and her feelings quite changed, however,
when next morning the post brought a letter to Chelford from Mark Wylder,
bearing the Boulogne postmark. It said--

'DEAR CHELFORD,

'Don't get riled; but the fact is I don't see my way out of my present
business'--(this last word was substituted for another, crossed out,
which looked like 'scrape')--'for a couple of months, maybe. Therefore,
you see, my liberty and wishes being at present interfered with, it would
be very hard lines if poor Dorcas should be held to her bargain.
Therefore, I will say this--_she is quite free_ for me. Only, of course,
I don't decline to fulfil my part whenever at liberty. In the meantime I
return the miniature, with her hair in it, which I constantly wore about
me since I got it. But I have no right to it any longer, till I know her
decision. Don't be too hard on me, dear Chelford. It is a very old lark
has got me into this present vexation. In the meantime, I wish to make it
quite clear what I mean. Not being able by any endeavour'--(here a
nautical phrase scratched out, and 'endeavour' substituted)--'of mine to
be up to time, and as these are P.P. affairs, I must only forfeit. I
mean, I am at the lady's disposal, either to fulfil my engagement the
earliest day I can, or to be turned adrift. That is all I can say.

'In more trouble than you suppose, I remain, dear Chelford, yours,
whatever you may think, faithfully,

'MARK WYLDER'

CHAPTER XXIX.

HOW MARK WYLDER'S DISAPPEARANCE AFFECTED HIS FRIENDS.

Lady Chelford's wrath was now turned anew upon Wylder--and the
inconvenience of having no visible object on which to expend it was once
more painfully felt. Railing at Mark Wylder was, alas! but beating the
air. The most crushing invective was--thanks to his adroit
mystification--simply a soliloquy. Poor Lady Chelford, who loved to give
the ingenious youngsters of both sexes, when occasion invited, a piece of
her mind, was here--in the case of this vulgar and most provoking
delinquent--absolutely tongue-tied! If it had been possible to tell
Wylder what she thought of him it would, perhaps, have made her more
tolerable than she was for some days after the arrival of that letter, to
other members of the family.

The idea of holding Miss Brandon to this engagement, and proroguing her
nuptials from day to day, to convenience the bridegroom--absent without
explanation--was of course quite untenable. Fortunately, the marriage,
considering the antiquity and the territorial position of the two
families who were involved, was to have been a very quiet affair
indeed--no festivities--no fire-works--nothing of the nature of a county
gala--no glare or thunder--no concussion of society--a dignified but
secluded marriage.

This divested the inevitable dissolution of these high relations of a
great deal of its _�clat_ and ridicule.

Of course there was abundance of talk. Scarce a man or woman in the shire
but had a theory or a story--sometimes bearing hard on the lady,
sometimes on the gentleman; still it was an abstract breach of promise,
and would have much improved by some outward and visible sign of
disruption and disappointment. Some concrete pageantries to be abolished
and removed; flag-staffs, for instance, and banners, marquees,
pyrotechnic machinery, and long tiers of rockets, festoons of evergreens,
triumphal arches with appropriate mottoes, to come down and hide
themselves away, would have been pleasant to the many who like a joke,
and to the few, let us hope, who love a sneer.

But there were no such fopperies to hurry off the stage disconcerted. In
the autumnal sun, among the embrowned and thinning foliage of the noble
trees, Brandon Hall looked solemn, sad and magnificent, as usual, with a
sort of retrospective serenity, buried in old-world glories and sorrows,
and heeding little the follies and scandals of the hour.

In the same way Miss Brandon, with Lord and Lady Chelford, was seen next
Sunday, serene and unchanged, in the great carved oak Brandon pew, raised
like a dais two feet at least above the level of mere Christians, who
frequented the family chapel. There, among old Wylder and Brandon
tombs--some painted stone effigies of the period of Elizabeth and the
first James, and some much older--stone and marble knights praying on
their backs with their spurs on, and said to have been removed nearly
three hundred years ago from the Abbey of Naunton Friars, when that
famous monastery began to lose its roof and turn into a picturesque ruin,
and by-gone generations of Wylders and Brandons had offered up their
conspicuous devotions, with--judging from their heathen lives--I fear no
very remarkable efficacy.

Here then, next Sunday afternoon, when the good vicar, the Rev. William
Wylder, at three o'clock, performed his holy office in reading-desk and
pulpit, the good folk from Gylingden assembled in force, saw nothing
noticeable in the demeanour or appearance of the great Brandon heiress. A
goddess in her aerial place, haughty, beautiful, unconscious of human
gaze, and seen as it were telescopically by mortals from below. No shadow
of trouble on that calm marble beauty, no light of joy, but a serene
superb indifference.

Of course there was some satire in Gylingden; but, in the main, it was a
loyal town, and true to its princess. Mr. Wylder's settlements were not
satisfactory, it was presumed, or the young lady could not bring herself
to like him, or however it came to pass, one way or another, that sprig
of willow inevitably to be mounted by hero or heroine upon such equivocal
occasions was placed by the honest town by no means in her breast, but
altogether in his button-hole.

Gradually, in a more authentic shape, information traceable to old Lady
Chelford, through some of the old county families who visited at Brandon,
made it known that Mr. Wylder's affairs were not at present by any means
in so settled a state as was supposed; and that a long betrothal not
being desirable on the whole, Miss Brandon's relatives thought it
advisable that the engagement should terminate, and had so decided, Mr.
Wylder having, very properly, placed himself absolutely in their hands.

As for Mark, it was presumed he had gone into voluntary banishment, and
was making the grand tour in the spirit of that lackadaisical gentleman
in the then fashionable song, who says:--

From sport to sport they hurry me,
To banish my regret,
And if they win a smile from me,
They think that I forget.

It was known to be quite final, and as the lady evinced no chagrin and
affected no unusual spirits, but held, swanlike and majestic, the even
tenor of her way, there was, on the whole, little doubt anywhere that the
gentleman had received his _cong�_, and was hiding his mortification and
healing his wounds in Paris or Vienna, or some other suitable retreat.

But though the good folk of Gylingden, in general, cared very little how
Mark Wylder might have disposed of himself, there was one inhabitant to
whom his absence was fraught with very serious anxiety and inconvenience.
This was his brother, William, the vicar.

Poor William, sound in morals, free from vice, no dandy, a quiet,
bookish, self-denying mortal, was yet, when he took holy orders and
quitted his chambers at Cambridge, as much in debt as many a scamp of his
college. He had been, perhaps, a little foolish and fanciful in the
article of books, and had committed a serious indiscretion in the matter
of a carved oak bookcase; and, worse still, he had published a slender
volume of poems, and a bulkier tome of essays, scholastic and theologic,
both which ventures, notwithstanding their merits, had turned out
unhappily; and worse still, he had lent that costly loan, his sign
manual, on two or three occasions, to friends in need, and one way or
another found that, on winding up and closing his Cambridge life, his
assets fell short of his liabilities very seriously.

The entire amount it is true was not very great. A pupil or two, and a
success with his work 'On the Character and Inaccuracies of Eusebius,'
would make matters square in a little time. But his advertisements for a
resident pupil had not been answered; they had cost him something, and he
had not any more spare bread just then to throw upon the waters. So the
advertisements for the present were suspended; and the publishers,
somehow, did not take kindly to Eusebius, who was making the tour of that
fastidious and hard-hearted fraternity.

He had staved off some of his troubles by a little loan from an insurance
company, but the premium and the instalments were disproportioned to his
revenue, and indeed very nearly frightful to contemplate. The Cambridge
tradesmen were growing minatory; and there was a stern person who held a
renewal of one of his old paper subsidies to the necessities of his
scampish friend Clarkson, who was plainly a difficult and awful character
to deal with.

Dreadful as were the tradesmen's peremptory and wrathful letters, the
promptitude and energy of this latter personage were such as to produce a
sense of immediate danger so acute that the scared vicar opened his
dismal case to his Brother Mark.

Mark, sorely against the grain, and with no good grace, at last consented
to advance �300 in this dread emergency, and the vicar blessed his
benefactor, and in his closet on his knees, shed tears of thankfulness
over his deliverance, and the sky opened and the flowers locked bright,
and life grew pleasant once more.

But the �300 were not yet in his pocket, and Mark had gone away; and
although of course the loan was sure to come, the delay--any delay in his
situation--was critical and formidable. Here was another would-be
correspondent of Mark's foiled for want of his address. Still he would
not believe it possible that he could forget his promise, or shut up his
bowels of mercy, or long delay the remittance which he knew to be so
urgently needed.

In the meantime, however, a writ reached the hand of the poor Vicar of
Naunton Friars, who wrote in eager and confused terror to a friend in the
Middle Temple on the dread summons, and learned that he was now 'in
court,' and must 'appear,' or suffer judgment by default.

The end was that he purchased a respite of three months, by adding thirty
pounds to his debt, and so was thankful for another deliverance, and was
confident of the promised subsidy within a week, or at all events a
fortnight, or, at worst, three months was a long reprieve--and the
subsidy must arrive before the emergency.

In this there can be no dismay;
My ships come home a month before the day.

When the 'service' was over, the neighbourly little congregation, with a
sprinkling of visitors to Gylingden, for sake of its healing waters,
broke up, and loitered in the vicinity of the porch, to remark on the
sermon or the weather, and ask one another how they did, and to see the
Brandon family enter their carriage and the tall, powdered footman shut
the door upon them, and mount behind, and move off at a brilliant pace,
and with a glorious clangour and whirl of dust; and, this incident over,
they broke up gradually into little groups, in Sunday guise, and many
colours, some for a ramble on the common, and some to tea, according to
the primitive hours that ruled old Gylingden.

The vicar, and John Hughes, clerk and sexton, were last out; and the
reverend gentleman, thin and tall, in white necktie, and black, a little
threadbare, stood on the steps of the porch, in a sad abstraction. The
red autumnal sun nearing the edge of the distant hills,

Looked through the horizontal misty air
Shorn of its beams--

and lighted the thin and gentle features of the vicar with a melancholy
radiance. The sound of the oak door closing heavily behind him and John
Hughes, and the key revolving in the lock recalled him, and with a sigh
and a smile, and a kindly nod to John, he looked up and round on the
familiar and pretty scenery undecided. It was not quite time to go home;
his troubles were heavy upon him, too, just then; they have their
paroxysms like ague; and the quiet of the road, and the sweet air and
sunshine, tempted him to walk off the chill and fever of the fit.

As he passed the little cottage where old Widow Maddock lay sick, Rachael
Lake emerged. He was not glad. He would rather have had his sad walk in
his own shy company. But there she was--he could not pass her by; so he
stopped, and lifted his hat, and greeted her; and then they shook hands.
She was going his way. He looked wistfully on the little hatch of old
Widow Maddock's cottage; for he felt a pang of reproach at passing her
door; but there was no comfort then in his thoughts, only a sense of fear
and hopeless fatigue.

'How is poor old Mrs. Maddock?' he asked; 'you have been visiting the
sick and afflicted, and I was passing by; but, indeed, if I were capable
at this moment I should not fail to see her, poor creature.'

There was something apologetic and almost miserable in his look as he
said this.

'She is not better; but you have been very good to her, and she is very
grateful; and I am glad,' said Rachel, 'that I happened to light on you.'

And she paused. They were by this time walking side by side; and she
glanced at him enquiringly; and he thought that the handsome girl looked
rather thin and pale.

'You once said,' Miss Lake resumed, 'that sooner or later I should be
taught the value of religion, and would learn to prize my great
privileges; and that for some spirits the only approach to the throne of
mercy was through great tribulation. I have often thought since of those
words, and they have begun, for me, to take the spirit of a
prophecy--sometimes that is--but at others they sound differently--like a
dreadful menace--as if my afflictions were only to bring me to the gate
of life to find it shut.'

'Knock, and it shall be opened,' said the vicar; but the comfort was
sadly spoken, and he sighed.

'But is not there a time, Mr. Wylder, when He shall have shut to the
door, and are there not some who, crying to him to open, shall yet remain
for ever in outer darkness?'

'I see, dear Miss Lake, that your mind is at work--it is a good
influence--at work upon the great, theme which every mortal spirit ought
to be employed upon.'

'My fears are at work; my mind is altogether dark and turbid; I am
sometimes at the brink of despair.'

'Take comfort from those fears. There is hope in that despair;' and he
looked at her with great interest in his gentle eyes.

She looked at him, and then away toward the declining sun, and she said
despairingly--

'I cannot comprehend you.'

'Come!' said he, 'Miss Lake, bethink you; was there not a time--and no
very distant one--when futurity caused you no anxiety, and when the
subject which has grown so interesting, was altogether distasteful to
you. The seed of the Word is received at length into good ground; but a
grain of wheat will bring forth no fruit unless it die first. The seed
dies to outward sense, and despair follows; but the principle of life is
working in it, and it will surely grow, and bring forth fruit--thirty,
sixty, an hundredfold--be not dismayed. The body dies, and the Lord of
life compares it to the death of the seed in the earth; and then comes
the palingenesis--the rising in glory. In like manner He compares the
reception of the principle of eternal life into the soul to the dropping
of a seed into the earth; it follows the general law of mortality. It too
dies--such a death as the children of heaven die here--only to germinate
afresh with celestial power and beauty.'

Miss Lake's way lay by a footpath across a corner of the park to Redman's
Dell. So they crossed the stile, and still conversing, followed the
footpath under the hedgerow of the pretty field, and crossing another
stile, entered the park.

CHAPTER XXX.

IN BRANDON PARK.

To me, from association, no doubt, that park has always had a melancholy
character. The ground undulates beautifully, and noble timber studs it in
all varieties of grouping; and now, as when I had seen the ill-omened
form of Uncle Lorne among its solitudes, the descending sun shone across
it with a saddened glory, tipping with gold the blades of grass and the
brown antlers of the distant deer.

Still pursuing her solemn and melancholy discourse, the young lady
followed the path, accompanied by the vicar.

'True,' said the vicar, 'your mind is disturbed, but not by doubt. No; it
is by _truth_.' He glanced aside at the tarn where I had seen the
phantom, and by which their path now led them--'You remember Parnell's
pretty image?

'So when a smooth expanse receives imprest
Calm nature's image on its watery breast,
Down bend the banks, the trees depending grow,
And skies beneath with answering colours glow;
But if a stone the gentle scene divide,
Swift ruffling circles curl on every side,
And glimmering fragments of a broken sun,
Banks, trees, and skies, in thick disorder run.'

'But, as I said, it is not a doubt that agitates your mind--that is well
represented by the "stone," that subsides and leaves the pool clear, it
maybe, but stagnant as before. Oh, no; it is an angel who comes down and
troubles the water.'

'What a heavenly evening!' said a low, sweet voice, but with something
insidious in it, close at his shoulder.

With a start, Rachel glanced back, and saw the pale, peculiar face of her
brother. His yellow eyes for a moment gleamed into hers, and then on the
vicar, and, with his accustomed smile, he extended his hand.

'How do you do?--better, I hope, Radie? How are you, William?'

Rachel grew deadly pale, and then flushed, and then was pale again.

'I thought, Stanley, you were in London.'

'So I was; but I arrived here this morning; I'm staying for a few days at
the Lodge--Larkin's house; you're going home, I suppose, Radie?'

'Yes--oh, yes--but I don't know that I'll go this way. You say you must
return to Gylingden now, Mr. Wylder; I think I'll turn also, and go home
that way.'

'Nothing would give me greater pleasure,' said the vicar, truly as well
as kindly, for he had grown interested in their conversation; 'but I fear
you are tired'--he looked very kindly on her pale face--'and you know it
will cost you a walk of more than two miles.'

'I forgot--yes--I believe I _am_ a _little_ tired; I'm afraid I have led
_you_, too, farther than you intended.' She fancied that her sudden
change of plan on meeting her brother would appear odd.

'I'll see you a little bit on your way home, Radie,' said Stanley.

It was just what she wished to escape. She was more nervous, though not
less courageous than formerly. But the old, fierce, defiant spirit awoke.
Why should she fear Stanley, or what could it be to her whether he was
beside her in her homeward walk?

So the vicar made his adieux there, and began, at a brisker pace, to
retrace his steps toward Gylingden; and she and Stanley, side by side,
walked on toward Redman's Dell.

'What a charming park! and what delightful air, Radie; and the weather so
very delicious. They talk of Italian evenings; but there is a pleasant
sharpness in English evenings quite peculiar. Is not there just a little
suspicion of frost--don't you think so--not actually cold, but crisp and
sharp--unspeakably exhilarating; now really, this evening is quite
celestial.'

'I've just been listening to a good man's conversation, and I wish to
reflect upon it,' said Rachel, very coldly.

'Quite so; that is, of course, when you are alone,' answered Stanley,
serenely. 'William was always a very clever fellow to talk--very well
read in theology--is not he?--yes, he does talk very sweetly and nobly on
religion; it is a pity he is not quite straight, or at least more
punctual, in his money affairs.'

'He is distressed for money? William Wylder is distressed for money! Do
you mean _that_?' said Rachel, turning a tone of sudden surprise and
energy, almost horror, turning full upon him, and stopping short.

'Oh, dear! no--not the least distressed that I ever heard of,' laughed
Stanley coldly--'only just a little bit roguish, maybe.'

'That's so like you, Stanley,' said the young lady, with a quiet scorn,
resuming her onward walk.

'How very beautiful that clump of birch trees is, near the edge of the
slope there; you really can't imagine, who are always here, how very
intensely a person who has just escaped from London enjoys all this.'

'I don't think, Stanley,' said the young lady coldly, and looking
straight before her as she walked, 'you ever cared for natural
scenery--or liked the country--and yet you are here. I don't think you
ever loved me, or cared whether I was alone or in company; and yet
seeing--for you _did_ see it--that I would now rather be alone, you
persist in walking with me, and talking of trees and air and celestial
evenings, and thinking of something quite different. Had not you better
turn back to Gylingden, or the Lodge, or wherever you mean to pass the
evening, and leave me to my quiet walk and my solitude?'

'In a few minutes, dear Radie--you are so odd. I really believe you think
no one can enjoy a ramble like this but yourself.'

'Come, Stanley, what do you want?' said his sister, stopping short, and
speaking with the flush of irritation on her cheek--'do you mean to walk
to Redman's Dell, or have you anything unpleasant to say?'

'Neither, I hope,' said the captain, with his sleepy smile, his yellow
eyes resting on the innocent grass blades before him.

'I don't understand you, Stanley. I am always uncomfortable when you are
near me. You stand there like an evil spirit, with some purpose which I
cannot divine; but you shall not ensnare me. Go your own way, why can't
you? Pursue your own plots--your wicked plots; but let me rest. I _will_
be released, Sir, from your presence.'

'Really this is very fine, Radie, considering how we are related; I'm
Mephistopheles, I suppose, and you Margaret, or some other simple
heroine--rebuking the fiend in the majesty of your purity.'

And indeed in the reddish light, and in that lonely and solemn spot, the
slim form of the captain, pale, sneering, with his wild eyes, confronting
the beautiful light-haired girl, looked not quite unlike a type of the
jaunty fiend he was pleased to suppose himself.

'I tell you, Stanley, I feel that you design employing me in some of your
crooked plans. I have horrible reasons, as you know, for avoiding you,
and so I will. I hope I may never desire to see you alone again, but if I
do, it shall not be to receive, but to impose commands. You had better
return to Gylingden, and leave me.'

'So I will, dear Radie, by-and-by,' said he, with his amused smile.

'That is, you _won't_ until you have said what you meditate. Well, then,
as it seems I must hear it, pray speak at once, standing where we are,
and quickly, for the sun will soon go down, and one step more I will not
walk with you.'

'Well, Radie, you are pleased to be whimsical; and, to say truth, I _was_
thinking of saying a word or two, just about as idea that has been in my
mind some time, and which you half divined--you are so clever--the first
day I saw you at Redman's Farm. You know you fancied I was thinking of
marrying.'

'I don't remember that I said so, but I thought it. You mentioned
Caroline Beauchamp, but I don't see how your visit _here_ could have been
connected with that plan.'

'But don't you think, Radie, I should do well to marry, that is, assuming
everything to be suitable?'

'Well, perhaps, for _yourself_, Stanley; but----'

'Yes, of course,' said Lake; 'but the unfortunate girl, you were going to
say--thank you. She's, of course, very much to be pitied, and you have my
leave to pity her as much as you please.'

'I do pity her,' said Rachel.

'Thank you, again,' said Stanley; 'but seriously, Radie, you can be, I
think, very essentially of use to me in this affair, and you must not
refuse.'

'Now, Stanley, I will cut this matter short. I can't serve you. I won't.
I don't know the young lady, and I don't mean to make her acquaintance.'

'But I tell you that you _can_ serve me,' retorted Stanley, with a savage
glare, and features whitened with passion, 'and you _shall_ serve me; and
you _do_ know the young lady intimately.'

'I say, Sir, I do _not_,' replied Rachel, haughtily and fiercely.

'She is Dorcas Brandon; you know _her_, I believe. I came down here to
marry her. I had made up my mind when I saw you first and I'll carry my
point; I always do. She does not like me, maybe; but she _shall_. I never
yet resolved to make a woman like me, and failed. You need not look so
pale; and put on that damned affected look of horror. I may be wild,
and--and what you please, but I'm no worse than that brute, Mark Wylder,
and you never turned up your eyes when he was her choice; and I knew
things about him that ought to have damned him, and she's well rid of a
branded rascal. And now, Rachel, you know her, and you must say a good
word for me. I expect your influence, and if you don't use it, and
effectually, it will be worse for you. You women understand one another,
and how to get a fellow favourably into one another's thoughts. So,
listen to me, this is a vital matter; indeed, it is, Radie. I have lost a
lot of money, like a--fool, I suppose; well, it is gone, and this
marriage is indispensable. I must go in for it, it is life or death; and
if I fail through your unkindness (here he swore an impious oath) I'll
end all with a pistol, and leave a letter to Chelford, disclosing
everything concerning you, and me, and Mark Wylder.'

I think Rachel Lake was as near fainting as ever lady was, without
actually swooning. It was well they had stopped just by the stem of a
great ash tree, against which Rachel leaned for some seconds, with
darkness before her eyes, and the roar of a whirlpool in her ears.

After a while, with two or three gasps, she came to herself. Lake had
been railing on all this time, and his voice, which, in ill-temper, was
singularly bleak and terrible, was again in her ears the moment she
recovered her hearing.

'I do not care to quarrel; there are many reasons why we should not,'
Lake said in his peculiar tones. 'You have some of my secrets, and you
must have more; it can't be helped, and, I say, you _must_. I've been
very foolish. I'll give up play. It has brought me to this. I've had to
sell out. I've paid away all I could, and given bills for the rest; but I
can't possibly pay them, don't you see; and if things go to the worst, I
tell you I'll not stay. I don't want to make my bow just yet, and I've no
wish to injure you; but I'll do as I have said (he swore again), and
Chelford shall have a distinct statement under my hand of everything that
has happened. I don't suppose you wish to be accessory to all this, and
therefore it behoves you, Rachel, to do what you can to prevent it. One
woman can always influence another, and you are constantly with Dorcas.
You'll do all you can; I'm sure you will; and you can do a great deal. I
know it; I'll do as much for you, Radie! Anything you like.'

For the first time her brother stood before her in a really terrible
shape; she felt his villainy turning with a cowardly and merciless
treason upon her forlorn self. Sacrificed for him, and that sacrifice
used by him to torture, to extort, perhaps to ruin. She quailed for a
minute in the presence of this gigantic depravity and cruelty. But Rachel
was a brave lass, and rallied quickly.

'After all I have done and suffered!' said she, with a faint smile of
unimaginable bitterness; 'I did not think that human wickedness could
produce such a brother as you are.'

'Well, it is no news what you think of me, and not much matter, either. I
don't see that I am a worse brother than you are a sister.' Stanley Lake
was speaking with a livid intensity. 'You see how I'm placed; a ruined
man, with a pistol to my head; what you can do to save me may amount to
nothing, but it may be everything, and you say you won't try! Now I say
you _shall_, and with every energy and faculty you possess, or else abide
the consequences.'

'And I tell you, Sir,' replied Rachel, 'I know you; you are capable of
anything but of hurting yourself. I'll never be your slave; though, if I
pleased, I might make you mine. I scorn your threats--I defy you.'

Stanley Lake looked transported, and the yellow fires of his deep-set
eyes glared on her, while his lips moved to speak, but not a word came,
and it became a contortion; he grasped the switch in his hand as if to
strike her.

'Take care, Sir, Lord Chelford's coming,' said the young lady, haughtily,
with a contracted glance of horror fixed on Lake.

Lake collected himself. He was a man who could do it pretty quickly; but
he had been violently agitated, and the traces of his fury could not
disappear in a moment.

Lord Chelford was, indeed, approaching, only a few hundred yards away.

'Take my arm,' said Lake.

And Rachel mechanically, as story-tellers say, placed her slender gloved
hand upon his arm--the miscreant arm that had been so nearly raised to
strike her; and they walked along, brother and sister, in the Sabbath
sunset light, to meet him.

CHAPTER XXXI.

IN REDMAN'S DELL.

Lord Chelford raised his hat, smiling: 'I am so very glad I met you, I
was beginning to feel so solitary!' he placed himself beside Miss Lake.
'I've had such a long walk across the park. How do you do, Lake? when did
you come?'

And so on--Lake answering and looking wonderfully as usual.

I think Lord Chelford perceived there was something amiss between the
young people, for his eye rested on Rachel with a momentary look of
enquiry, unconscious, no doubt, and quickly averted, and he went on
chatting pleasantly; but he looked, once or twice, a little hard at
Stanley Lake. I don't think he had an extraordinarily good opinion of
that young gentleman. He seldom expressed an ill one of anybody, and then
it was in very measured language. But though he never hinted at an
unfavourable estimate of the captain, his intimacies with him were a
little reserved; and I think I have seen him, even when he smiled, look
the least little bit in the world uncomfortable, as if he did not quite
enter into the captain's pleasantries.

They had not walked together very far, when Stanley recollected that he
must take his leave, and walk back to Gylingden; and so the young lady
and Lord Chelford were left to pursue their way towards Redman's Farm
together.

It would have been a more unaccountable proceeding on the part of Stanley
Lake, and a more romantic situation, if Rachel and his lordship had not
had before two or three little accidental rambles together in the grounds
and gardens of Brandon. There was nothing quite new in the situation,
therefore; and Rachel was for a moment indescribably relieved by
Stanley's departure.

The shock of her brief interview with her brother over, reflection
assured her, knowing all she did, that Stanley's wooing would prosper,
and so this cause of quarrel had really nothing in it; no, nothing but a
display of his temper and morals--not very astonishing, after all--and,
like an ugly picture or a dreadful dream, in no way to affect her
after-life, except as an odious remembrance.

Therefore, little by little, like a flower that has been bruised, in the
tranquillising influences about her, the young lady got up, expanded, and
grew like herself again--not like enough, indeed, to say much, but to
listen and follow his manly, refined, and pleasant talk, every moment
with a pang, that had yet something pleasurable in it, contrasting the
quiet and chivalric tone of her present companion, with the ferocious
duplicity of the sly, smooth terrorist who had just left her side.

It was rather a marked thing--as lean Mrs. Loyd, of Gylingden, who had
two thin spinsters with pink noses under her wing, remarked--this long
walk of Lord Chelford and Miss Lake in the park; and she enjoined upon
her girls the propriety of being specially reserved in their intercourse
with persons of Lord Chelford's rank; not that they were much troubled
with dangers from any such quarter. Miss Lake had, she supposed, her own
notions, and would act as she pleased; but she owned for her part she
preferred the old fashion, and thought the men did also; and was sure,
too, that young ladies lost nothing by a little reserve and modesty.

Now something of this, no doubt, passed in the minds of Lord Chelford and
his pretty companion. But what was to be done? That perverse and utterly
selfish brother, Stanley Lake, had chosen to take his leave. Lord
Chelford could not desert the young lady, and would it have been a very
nice delicacy in Miss Lake to make her courtesy in the middle of the
park, and protest against pursuing their walk together any further?

Lord Chelford was a lively and agreeable companion; but there was
something unusually gentle, almost resembling tenderness, in his manner.
She was so different from her gay, fiery self in this walk--so gentle; so
subdued--and he was more interested by her, perhaps, than he had ever
been before.

The sun just touched the verge of the wooded uplands, as the young people
began to descend the slope of Redman's Dell.

'How very short!' Lord Chelford paused, with a smile, at these words. 'I
was just going to say how short the days have grown, as if it had all
happened without notice, and contrary to the almanac; but really the sun
sets cruelly early this evening, and I am so _very_ sorry our little walk
is so soon to end.'

There was not much in this little speech, but it was spoken in a low,
sweet voice; and Rachel looked down on the ferns before her feet, as they
walked on side by side, not with a smile, but with a blush, and that
beautiful look of gratification so becoming and indescribable. Happy that
moment--that enchanted moment of oblivion and illusion! But the fitful
evening breeze came up through Redman's Dell, with a gentle sweep over
the autumnal foliage. Sudden as a sigh, and cold; in her ear it sounded
like a whisper or a shudder, and she lifted up her eyes and saw the
darkening dell before her; and with a pang, the dreadful sense of reality
returned. She stopped, with something almost wild in her look. But with
an effort she smiled, and said, with a little shiver, 'The air has grown
quite chill, and the sun nearly set; we loitered, Stanley and I, a great
deal too long in the park, but I am now at home, and I fear I have
brought you much too far out of your way already; good-bye.' And she
extended her hand.

'You must not dismiss your escort here. I must see you through the
enchanted dell--it is only a step--and then I shall return with a good
conscience, like a worthy knight, having done my devoir honestly.'

She looked down the dell, with a dark and painful glance, and then she
said a few words of hesitating apology and acquiescence, and in a few
minutes more they parted at the little wicket of Redman's Farm. They
shook hands. He had a few pleasant, lingering words to say. She paused as
he spoke at the other side of that little garden door. She seemed to like
those lingering sentences--and hung upon them--and even smiled but in her
eyes there was a vague and melancholy pleading--a wandering and
unfathomable look that pained him.

They shook hands again--it was the third time--and then she walked up the
little gravel walk, hardly a dozen steps, and disappeared within the door
of Redman's Farm, without turning another parting look on Lord Chelford,
who remained at the little paling--expecting one, I think--to lift his
hat and say one more parting word.

She turned into the little drawing-room at the left, and, herself unseen,
did take that last look, and saw him go up the road again towards
Brandon. The shadows and mists of Redman's Dell anticipated night, and it
was already deep twilight there.

On the table there lay a letter which Margery had brought from the
post-office. So Rachel lighted her candles and read it with very little
interest, for it concerned a world towards which she had few yearnings.
There was just one sentence which startled her attention: it said, 'We
shall soon be at Knowlton--for Christmas, I suppose. It is growing too
wintry for mamma near the sea, though I like it better in a high wind
than in a calm; and a gale is such fun--such a romp. The Dulhamptons have
arrived: the old Marchioness never appears till three o'clock, and only
out in the carriage twice since they came. I can't say I very much admire
Lady Constance, though she is to be Chelford's wife. She has fine
eyes--and I think no other good point--much too dark for my taste--but
they say clever;' and not another word was there on this subject.

'Lady Constance! arranged, I suppose, by Lady Chelford--no great dot--and
an unamiable family--an odious family--nothing to recommend her but her
rank.'

So ruminated Rachel Lake as she looked out on her shadowy garden, and
tapped a little feverish tattoo with her finger on the window pane; and
she meditated a great while, trying to bring back distinctly her
recollection of Lady Constance, and also vaguely conjecturing who had
arranged the marriage, and how it had come about.

'Chelford cannot like her. It is all Lady Chelford's doing. Can I have
mistaken the name?'

But no. Nothing could be more perfectly distinct than 'Chelford,' traced
in her fair correspondent's very legible hand.

'He treats the young lady very coolly,' thought Rachel, forgetting,
perhaps, that his special relations to Dorcas Brandon had compelled his
stay in that part of the world.

Mingled with this criticism, was a feeling quite unavowed even to
herself--a sore feeling that Lord Chelford had been--and this she never
admitted to herself before--more particular--no, not exactly that--but
more something or other--not exactly expressible in words, in his
approaches to her, than was consistent with his situation. But then she
had been very guarded; not stiff or prudish, indeed, but frank and cold
enough with him, and that was comforting.

Still there was a sense of wonder--a great blank, and something of pain
in the discovery--yes, pain--though she smiled a faint blushing
smile--alone as she was; and then came a deep sigh; and then a sort of
start.

'Rachel, Rachel, is it possible?' murmured the young lady, with the same
dubious smile, looking down upon the ground, and shaking her head. 'Yes,
I do really think you had begun to like Lord Chelford--only _begun_, the
least little insidious bit; but thank you, wild Bessie Frankleyn, you
have quite opened my eyes. Rachel, Rachel, girl! what a fool you were
near becoming!'

She looked like her old pleasant self during this little speech--arch and
fresh, and still smiling--she looked up and sighed, and then her dark
look returned, and she said dismally,

'What utter madness!'

And leaned for a while with her fingers upon the window sash; and when
she turned to old Tamar, who brought in her tiny tea equipage, it seemed
as if the shadow of the dell, into which she had been vacantly gazing,
still rested on her face.

'Not here, Tamar; I'll drink tea in my room; and you must bring your
tea-cup, too, and we'll take it together. I am--I think I am--a little
nervous, darling, and you won't leave me?'

So they sat down together in her chamber. It was a cheery little
bed-room, when the shutters were closed, and the fire burning brightly in
the grate.

'My good Tamar will read her chapters aloud. I wish I could enjoy them
like you. I can only wish. You must pray for me, Tamar. There is a
dreadful image--and I sometimes think a dreadful being always near me.
Though the words you read are sad and awful, they are also sweet, like
funeral music a long way off, and they tranquillise me without making me
better, as the harping of David did the troubled and forsaken King Saul.'

So the old nurse mounted her spectacles, glad of the invitation, and
began to read. Her reading was very, slow, and had other faults too,
being in that sing-song style to which some people inexplicably like to
read Holy Writ; but it was reverent and distinct, and I have heard worse
even in the reading desk.

'Stop,' said Rachel suddenly, as she reached about the middle of the
chapter.

The old woman looked up, with her watery eyes wide open, and there was a
short pause.

'I beg your pardon, dear Tamar, but you must first tell me that story you
used to tell me long ago of Lady Ringdove, that lived in Epping Forest,
to whom the ghost came and told something she was never to reveal, and
who slowly died of the secret, growing all the time more and more like
the spectre; and besought the priest when she was dying, that he would
have her laid in the abbey vault, with her mouth open, and her eyes and
ears sealed, in token that her term of slavery was over, that her lips
might now be open, and that her eyes were to see no more the dreadful
sight, nor her ears to hear the frightful words that used to scare them
in her life-time; and then, you remember, whenever afterwards they opened
the door of the vault, the wind entering in, made such moanings in her
hollow mouth, and declared things so horrible that they built up the door
of the vault, and entered it no more. Let me have the entire story, just
as you used to tell it.'

So old Tamar, who knew it was no use disputing a fancy of her young
mistress, although on Sunday night she would have preferred other talk,
recounted her old tale of wonder.

'Yes, it is true--a true allegory, I mean, Tamar. Death will close the
eyes and ears against the sights and sounds of earth; but even the tomb
secures no secrecy. The dead themselves declare their dreadful secrets,
open-mouthed, to the winds. Oh, Tamar! turn over the pages, and try to
find some part which says where safety and peace may be found at any
price; for sometimes I think I am almost bereft of--reason.'

CHAPTER XXXII.

MR. LARKIN AND THE VICAR.

The good vicar was not only dismayed but endangered by his brother's
protracted absence. It was now the first week in November. Bleak and
wintry that ungenial month set in at Gylingden; and in accord with the
tempestuous and dismal weather the fortunes of the Rev. William Wylder
were darkened and agitated.

This morning a letter came at breakfast, by post, and when he had read
it, the poor vicar grew a little white, and he folded it very quietly and
put it in his waistcoat pocket, and patted little Fairy on the head.
Little Fairy was asking him a question all this time, very vehemently,
'How long was Jack's sword that he killed the giants with?' and several
times to this distinct question he received only the unsatisfactory
reply, 'Yes, my darling;' and at last, when little Fairy mounted his
knee, and hugging the abstracted vicar round the neck, urged his question
with kisses and lamentations, the parson answered with a look of great
perplexity, and only half recalled, said, 'Indeed, little man, I don't
know. How long, you say, was Jack's sword? Well, I dare say it was as
long as the umbrella.' He got up, with the same perplexed and absent
look, as he said this, and threw an anxious glance about the room, as if
looking for something he had mislaid.

'You are not going to write now, Willie, dear?' expostulated his good
little wife, 'you have not tasted your tea yet.'

'I have, indeed, dear; haven't I? Well, I will.'

And, standing, he drank nearly half the cup she had poured out for him,
and set it down, and felt in his pocket, she thought, for his keys.

'Are you looking for anything, Willie, darling? Your keys are in my
basket.'

'No, darling; no, darling--nothing. I have everything I want. I think I
must go to the Lodge and see Mr. Larkin, for a moment.'

'But you have eaten nothing,' remonstrated his partner; 'you must not go
until you have eaten something.'

'Time enough, darling; I can't wait--I sha'n't be away twenty
minutes--time enough when I come back.'

'Have you heard anything of Mark, darling?' she enquired eagerly.

'Of Mark? Oh, no!--nothing of Mark.' And he added with a deep sigh, 'Oh,
dear! I wonder he does not write--no, nothing of Mark.'

She followed him into the hall.

'Now, Willie darling, you must not go till you have had your
breakfast--you will make yourself ill--indeed you will--do come back,
just to please me, and eat a little first.'

'No, darling; no, my love--I can't, indeed. I'll be back immediately; but
I must catch Mr. Larkin before he goes out. It is only a little matter--I
want to ask his opinion--and--oh! here is my stick--and I'll return
immediately.'

'And I'll go with you,' cried little Fairy.

'No, no, little man; I can't take you--no, it is business--stay with
mamma, and I'll be back again in a few minutes.'

So, spite of Fairy's clamours and the remonstrances of his fond, clinging
little wife, with a hurried kiss or two, away he went alone, at a very
quick pace, through the high street of Gylingden, and was soon in the
audience chamber of the serious, gentleman attorney.

The attorney rose with a gaunt and sad smile of welcome--begged Mr.
Wylder, with a wave of his long hand, to be seated--and then seating
himself and crossing one long thigh over the other, he threw his arm over
the back of his chair, and leaning back with what he conceived to be a
graceful and gentlemanly negligence--with his visitor full in the light
of the window and his own countenance in shadow, the light coming from
behind--a diplomatic arrangement which he affected--he fixed his small,
pink eyes observantly upon him, and asked if he could do anything for Mr.
William Wylder.

'Have you heard anything since, Mr. Larkin? Can you conjecture where his
address may now be?' asked the vicar, a little abruptly.

'Oh! Mr. Mark Wylder, perhaps, you refer to?'

'Yes; my brother, Mark.'

Mr. Larkin smiled a sad and simple smile, and shook his head.

'No, indeed--not a word--it is very sad, and involves quite a world of
trouble--and utterly inexplicable; for I need not tell you, in my
position, it can't be pleasant to be denied all access to the client who
has appointed me to act for him, nor conducive to the apprehension of his
wishes upon many points, which I should much prefer not being left to my
discretion. It is really, as I say, inexplicable, for Mr. Mark Wylder
must thoroughly see all this: he is endowed with eminent talents for
business, and must perfectly appreciate the embarrassment in which the
mystery with which he surrounds the place of his abode must involve those
whom he has appointed to conduct his business.'

'I have heard from him this morning,' resumed the lawyer; 'he was pleased
to direct a power of attorney to me to receive his rents and sign
receipts; and he proposes making Lord Viscount Chelford and Captain Lake
trustees, to fund his money or otherwise invest it for his use, and'--

'Has he--I beg pardon--but did he mention a little matter in which I am
deeply--indeed, vitally interested?' The vicar paused.

'I don't quite apprehend; perhaps if you were to frame your question a
little differently, I might possibly--a--you were saying'--

'I mean a matter of very deep interest to me,' said the poor vicar,
colouring a little, 'though no very considerable sum, viewed absolutely;
but, under my unfortunate circumstances, of the most urgent importance--a
loan of three hundred pounds--did he mention it?'

Again Mr. Larkin shook his head, with the same sad smile.

'But, though we do not know how to find him, he knows very well where to
find us--and, as you are aware, we hear from him constantly--and no doubt
he recollects his promise, and will transmit the necessary directions all
in good time.'

'I earnestly hope he may,' and the poor cleric lifted up his eyes
unconsciously and threw his hope into the form of a prayer. 'For, to
speak frankly, Mr. Larkin, my circumstances are very pressing. I have
just heard from Cambridge, and find that my good friend, Mr. Mountain,
the bookseller, has been dead two months, and his wife--he was a
widower when I knew him, but it would seem has married since--is
his sole executrix, and has sold the business, and directed
two gentlemen--attorneys--to call in all the debts due to
him--peremptorily--and they say I must pay before the 15th; and I have,
absolutely, but five pounds in the world, until March, when my half-year
will be paid. And indeed, only that the tradespeople here are so very
kind, we should often find it very difficult to manage.'

'Perhaps,' said Mr. Larkin, blandly, 'you would permit me to look at the
letter you mention having received from the solicitors at Cambridge?'

'Oh, thank you, certainly; here it is,' said William Wylder, eagerly, and
he gazed with his kind, truthful eyes upon the attorney's countenance as
he glanced over it, trying to read something of futurity therein.

'Foukes and Mauley,' said Mr. Larkin. 'I have never had but one
transaction with them; they are not always pleasant people to deal with.
Mind, I don't say anything affecting their integrity--Heaven forbid; but
they certainly did take rather what I would call a short turn with us on
the occasion to which I refer. You must be cautious; indeed, my dear Sir,
_very_ cautious. The fifteenth--just ten clear days. Well, you know you
have till then to look about you; and you know we may any day hear from
your brother, directing the loan to be paid over to you. And now, my dear
and reverend friend, you know me, I hope,' continued Mr. Larkin, very
kindly, as he handed back the letter; 'and you won't attribute what I say
to impertinent curiosity; but your brother's intended advance of three
hundred pounds can hardly have had relation only to this trifling claim
upon you. There are, no doubt--pardon me--several little matters to be
arranged; and considerable circumspection will be needed, pending your
brother's absence, in dealing with the persons who are in a position to
press their claims unpleasantly. You must not trifle with these things.
And let me recommend you seeing your legal adviser, whoever he is,
immediately.'

'You mean,' said the vicar, who was by this time very much flushed, 'a
gentleman of your profession, Mr. Larkin. Do you really think--well, it
has frequently crossed my mind--but the expense, you know; and although
my affairs are in a most unpleasant and complicated state, I am sure that
everything would be perfectly smooth if only I had received the loan my
kind brother intends, and which, to be sure, as you say, any day I may
receive.'

'But, my dear Sir, do you really mean to say that you would pay claims
from various quarters--how old is this, for instance?--without
examination!'

The vicar looked very blank.

'I--this--well, this I certainly do owe; it has increased a little with
interest, though good Mr. Mountain never charged more than six per cent.
It was, I think, about fifteen pounds--books--I am ashamed to say how
long ago; about a work which I began then, and laid aside--on Eusebius;
but which is now complete, and will, I hope, eventually repay me.'

'Were you of age, my dear Sir, when he gave you these books on credit?
Were you twenty-one years of age?'

'Oh! no; not twenty; but then I owe it, and I could not, as s a Christian
man, you know, evade my debts.'

'Of course; but you can't pay it at present, and it may be highly
important to enable you to treat this as a debt of honour, you perceive.
Suppose, my dear Sir, they should proceed to arrest you, or to
sequestrate the revenue of your vicarage. Now, see, my dear Sir, I am, I
humbly hope, a Christian man; but you will meet with men in every
profession--and mine is no exception--disposed to extract the last
farthing which the law by its extremest process will give them. And I
really must tell you, frankly, that if you dream of escaping the most
serious consequences, you must at once place yourself and your affairs in
the hands of a competent man of business. It will probably be found that
you do not in reality owe sixty pounds of every hundred claimed against
you.'

'Oh, Mr. Larkin, if I could induce _you_.'

Mr. Larkin smiled a melancholy smile, and shook his head.

'My dear Sir, I only wish I could; but my hands are so awfully full,' and
he lifted them up and shook them, and shook his tall, bald head at the
same time, and smiled a weary smile. 'Just look there,' and he waved his
fingers in the direction of the Cyclopean wall of tin boxes, tier above
tier, each bearing, in yellow italics, the name of some country
gentleman, and two baronets among the number; 'everyone of them laden
with deeds and papers. You can't have a notion--no one has--what it is.'

'I see, indeed,' murmured the honest vicar, in a compassionating tone,
and quite entering into the spirit of Mr. Larkin's mournful appeal, as if
the being in large business was the most distressing situation in which
an attorney could well find himself.

'It was very unreasonable of me to think of troubling you with my
wretched affairs; but really I do not know very well where to turn, or
whom to speak to. Maybe, my dear Sir, you can think of some conscientious
and Christian practitioner who is not so laden with other people's cares
and troubles as you are. I am a very poor client, and indeed more trouble
than I could possibly be gain to anyone. But there may be some one; pray
think; ten days is so short a time, and I can do nothing.'

Mr. Larkin stood at the window ruminating, with his left hand in his
breeches pocket, and his right, with finger and thumb pinching his under
lip, after his wont, and the despairing accents of the poor vicar's last
sentence still in his ear.

'Well,' he said hesitatingly, 'it is not easy, at a moment's notice, to
point out a suitable solicitor; there are many, of course, very desirable
gentlemen, but I feel it, my dear Sir, a very serious responsibility
naming one for so peculiar a matter. But you shall not, in the meantime,
go to the wall for want of advice. Rely upon it, we'll do the best we can
for you,' he continued, in a patronising way, with his chin raised, and
extending his hand kindly to shake that of the parson. 'Yes, I certainly
will--you must have advice. Can you give me two hours to-morrow
evening--say to tea--if you will do me the honour. My friend, Captain
Lake, dines at Brandon to-morrow. He's staying here with me, you are
aware, on a visit; but we shall be quite by ourselves, say at seven
o'clock. Bring all your papers, and I'll get at the root of the business,
and see, if possible, in each particular case, what line is best to be
adopted.'

'How can I thank you, my dear Sir,' cried gentle William Wylder, his
countenance actually beaming with delight and gratitude--a brighter look
than it had worn for many weeks.

'Oh, don't--_pray_ don't mention it. I assure you, it is a happiness to
me to be of any little use; and, really, I don't see how you could
possibly hold your own among the parties who are pressing you without
professional advice.'

'I feel,' said the poor vicar, and his eyes filled as he smiled, and his
lip quivered a little--'I feel as if my prayer for direction and
deliverance were answered at last. Oh! my dear Sir, I have suffered a
great deal; but something assures me I am rescued, and shall have a quiet
mind once more--I am now in safe and able hands.' And he shook the safe
and able, and rather large, hands of the amiable attorney in both his.

'You make too much of it, my dear Sir. I should at any time be most happy
to advise you,' said Mr. Larkin, with a lofty and pleased benevolence,
'and with great pleasure, _provisionally_, until we can hit upon a
satisfactory solicitor with a little more time at his disposal, I
undertake the management of your case.'

'Thank Heaven!' again said the vicar, who had not let go his hands. 'And
it is so delightful to have for my guide a Christian man, who, even were
I so disposed, would not lend himself to an unworthy or questionable
defence; and although at this moment it is not in my power to reward your
invaluable assistance----'

'Now really, my dear Sir, I must insist--no more of this, I beseech you.
I do most earnestly insist that you promise me you will never mention the
matter of professional remuneration more, until, at least, I press it,
which, rely upon it, will not be for a good while.'

The attorney's smile plainly said, that his 'good while' meant in fact
'never.'

'This is, indeed, unimaginable kindness. How _have_ I deserved so
wonderful a blessing!'

'And I have no doubt,' said the attorney, fondling the vicar's arm in his
large hand, 'that these claims will ultimately be reduced fully thirty
per cent. I had once a good deal of professional experience in this sort
of business; and, oh! my dear Sir, it is really _melancholy_!' and up
went his small pink eyes in a pure horror, and his hands were lifted at
the same time; 'but we will bring them to particulars; and you may rely
upon it, you will have a much longer time, at all events, than they are
disposed to allow you.'

CHAPTER XXXIII.

THE LADIES ON GYLINGDEN HEATH.

Just at this moment they became aware of a timid little tapping which had
been going on at the window during the latter part of this conference,
and looking up, the attorney and the vicar saw 'little Fairy's' violet
eyes peering under his light hair, with its mild, golden shadow, and the
odd, sensitive smile, at once shy and arch; his cheeks were wet with
tears, and his pretty little nose red, though he was smiling; and he drew
his face aside among the jessamine, when he saw the gaunt attorney
directing his patronising smile upon him.

'I beg pardon,' said the vicar, rising with a sudden smile, and going to
the window. 'It is my little man. Fairy! Fairy! What has brought you
here; my little man?'

Fairy glanced, still smiling, but very shamefacedly at the grand
attorney, and in his little fist he held a pair of rather seedy gloves to
the window pane.

'So I did. I protest I forgot my gloves. Thank you, little man. Who is
with you? Oh! I see. That is right.'

The maid ducked a short courtesy.

'Indeed, Sir, please, Master Fairy was raising the roof (a nursery
phrase, which implied indescribable bellowing), and as naughty as could
be, until missis allowed him to come after you.'

'Oh! my little man, you must not do that. Ask nicely, you know; always
quietly, like a little gentleman.'

'But, oh! Wapsie, your hands would be cold;' and he held the gloves to
him against the glass.

'Well, darling, thank you; you are a kind little man, and I'll be with
you in a moment,' said the vicar, smiling very lovingly on his naughty
little man.

'Mr. Larkin,' said he, turning very gratefully to the attorney 'you can
lay this Christian comfort to your kind heart, that you have made mine a
hundredfold lighter since I entered this blessed room; indeed, you have
lifted a mountain from it by the timely proffer of your invaluable
assistance.'

Again the attorney waved off, with a benignant and humble smile, rather
oppressive to see, all idea of obligation, and accompanied his grateful
client to the glass door of his little porch, where Fairy was already
awaiting him with the gloves in his hand.

'I do believe,' said the good vicar, as he walked down what Mr. Larkin
called 'the approach,' and looking up with irrepressible gratitude to the
blue sky and the white clouds sailing over his head, 'if it be not
presumption, I must believe that I have been directed hither--yes,
darling, yes, my hands are warm' (this was addressed to little Fairy, who
was clamouring for information on the point, and clinging to his arm as
he capered by his side). 'What immense relief;' and he murmured another
thanksgiving, and then quite hilariously--

'If little man would like to come with his Wapsie, we'll take such a nice
little walk together, and we'll go and see poor Widow Maddock; and we'll
buy three muffins on our way home, for a feast this evening; and we'll
look at the pictures in the old French "Josephus;" and Mamma and I will
tell stories; and I have a halfpenny to buy apples for little Fairy.'

The attorney stood at his window with a shadow on his face, and his small
eyes a little contracted and snakelike, following the slim figure of the
threadbare vicar and his golden-haired, dancing little comrade; and then
he mounted a chair, and took down successively four of his japanned
boxes; two of them, in yellow letters, bore respectively the label
'_Brandon, No. 1_,' and '_No. 2_;' the other '_Wylder, No. 1_,' and '_No.
2_.'

He opened the 'Wylder' box first, and glanced through a neat little
'statement of title,' prepared for counsel when draughting the deed of
settlement for the marriage which was never to take place.

'The limitations, let me see, is not there something that one might be
safe in advancing a trifle upon--eh?--h'm--yes.'

And, with his lip in his finger and thumb, he conned over those
remainders and reversions with a skilled and rapid eye.

Rachel Lake was glad to see the slender and slightly-stooped figure of
the vicar standing that morning--his bright little boy by the hand--in
the wicket of the tiny flower-garden of Redman's Farm. She went out
quickly to greet him. The sick man likes the sound of his kind doctor's
step on the stairs; and, be his skill much or little, trusts in him, and
will even joke a little asthmatic joke, and smile a feeble hectic smile
about his ailments, when he is present.

So they fell into discourse among the autumnal flowers and withered
leaves; and, as the day was still and genial, they remained standing in
the garden; and away went busy little 'Fairy,' smiling and chatting with
Margery, to see the hens and chickens in the yard.

The physician, after a while, finds the leading features of most cases
pretty much alike. He knows when inflammation may be expected and fever
will supervene; he is not surprised if the patient's mind wanders a
little at times; expects the period of prostration and the return of
appetite; and has his measures and his palliatives ready for each
successive phase of sickness and recovery. In like manner, too, the good
and skilful parson comes by experience to know the signs and stages of
the moral ailments and recoveries which some of them know how so tenderly
and so wisely to care for. They, too, have ready--having often proved
their consolatory efficacy--their febrifuges and their tonics, culled
from that tree of life whose 'leaves are for the healing of the nations.'

Poor Rachel's hours were dark, and life had grown in some sort terrible,
and death seemed now so real and near--aye, quite a fact--and, somehow,
not unfriendly. But, oh! the immense futurity beyond, that could not be
shirked, to which she was certainly going.

Death, and sleep so welcome! But, oh! that stupendous LIFE EVERLASTING,
now first unveiled. She could only close her eyes and wring her hands.
Oh! for some friendly voice and hand to stay her through the Valley of
the Shadow of Death!

They talked a long while--Rachel chiefly a listener, and often quietly
weeping; and, at last, a very kindly parting, and a promise from the
simple and gentle vicar that he would often look in at Redman's Farm.

She watched his retreating figure as he and little Fairy walked down the
tenebrose road to Gylingden, following them with a dismal gaze, as a
benighted and wounded wayfarer in that 'Valley' would the pale lamp's
disappearing that had for a few minutes, in a friendly hand, shone over
his dreadful darkness.

And when, in fitful reveries, fancy turned for a moment to an earthly
past and future, all there was a blank--the past saddened, the future
bleak. She did not know, or even suspect, that she had been living in an
aerial castle, and worshipping an unreal image, until, on a sudden, all
was revealed in that chance gleam of cruel lightning, the line in that
letter, which she read so often, spelled over, and puzzled over so
industriously, though it was clear enough. How noble, how good, how
bright and true, was that hero of her unconscious romance.

Well, no one else suspected that incipient madness--that was something;
and brave Rachel would quite master it. Happy she had discovered it so
soon. Besides, it was, even if Chelford were at her feet, a wild
impossibility now; and it was well, though despair were in the pang, that
she had, at last, quite explained this to herself.

As Rachel stood in her little garden, on the spot where she had bidden
farewell to the vicar, she was roused from her vague and dismal reverie
by the sound of a carriage close at hand. She had just time to see that
it was a brougham, and to recognise the Brandon liveries, when it drew up
at the garden wicket, and Dorcas called to her from the open window.

'I'm come, Rachel, expressly to take you with me; and I won't be denied.'

'You are very good, Dorcas; thank you, dear, very much; but I am not very
well, and a very dull companion to-day.'

'You think I am going to bore you with visits. No such thing, I assure
you. I have taken a fancy to walk on the common, that is all--a kind of
longing; and you must come with me; quite to ourselves, you and I. You
won't refuse me, darling; I know you'll come.'

Well, Rachel did go. And away they drove through the quiet town of
Gylingden together, and through the short street on the right, and so

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