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Wylder's Hand by J. Sheridan Le Fanu

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upon the still quieter common.

This plain of green turf broke gradually into a heath; and an irregular
screen of timber and underwood divided the common of Gylingden in sylvan
fashion from the moor. The wood passed, Dorcas stopped the carriage, and
the two young ladies descended. It was a sunny day, and the air still;
and the open heath contrasted pleasantly with the sombre and confined
scenery of Redman's Dell; and altogether Rachel was glad now that she had
made the effort, and come with her cousin.

'It was good of you to come, Rachel,' said Miss Brandon; 'and you look
tired; but you sha'n't speak more than you like; and I'll tell you all
the news. Chelford is just returned from Brighton; he arrived this
morning; and he and Lady Chelford will stay for the Hunt Ball. I made it
a point. And he called at Hockley, on his way back, to see Sir Julius. Do
you know him?'

'Sir Julius Hockley? No--I've heard of him only.'

'Well, they say he is wasting his property very fast; and I think him
every way very nearly a fool; but Chelford wanted to see him about Mr.
Wylder. Mark Wylder, you know, of course, has turned up again in England.
His letter to Chelford, six weeks ago, was from Boulogne; but his last
was from Brighton; and Sir Julius Hockley witnessed--I think they call
it--that letter of attorney which Mark sent about a week since to Mr.
Larkin; and Chelford, who is most anxious to trace Mark Wylder, having to
surrender--I think they call it--a "trust" is not it--or something--I
really don't understand these things--to him, and not being able to find
out his address, Mr. Larkin wrote to Sir Julius, whom Chelford did not
find at home, to ask him for a description of Mark, to ascertain whether
he had disguised himself; and Sir Julius wrote to Chelford such an absurd
description of poor Mark, in doggrel rhyme--so like--his odd walk, his
great whiskers, and everything. Chelford does not like personalities, but
he could not help laughing. Are you ill, darling?'

Though she was walking on beside her companion, Rachel looked on the
point of fainting.

'My darling, you must sit down; you do look very ill. I forgot my promise
about Mark Wylder. How stupid I have been! and perhaps I have distressed
you.'

'No, Dorcas, I am pretty well; but I have been ill, and I am a little
tired; and, Dorcas, I don't deny it, I _am_ amazed, you tell me such
things. That letter of attorney, or whatever it is, must not be acted
upon. It is incredible. It is all horrible wickedness. Mark Wylder's fate
is dreadful, and Stanley is the mover of all this. Oh! Dorcas, darling, I
wish I could tell you everything. Some day I may be--I am sick and
terrified.'

They had sat down, by this time, side by side, on the crisp bank. Each
lady looked down, the one in suffering, the other in thought.

'You are better, darling; are not you better?' said Dorcas, laying her
hand on Rachel's, and looking on her with a melancholy gaze.

'Yes, dear, better--very well'--answered Rachel, looking up but without
an answering glance at her cousin.

'You blame your brother, Rachel, in this affair.'

'Did I? Well--maybe--yes, he _is_ to blame--the miserable man--whom I
hate to think of, and yet am always thinking of--Stanley well knows is
not in a state to do it.'

'Don't you think, Rachel, remembering what I have confided to you, that
you might be franker with me in this?'

'Oh, Dorcas! don't misunderstand me. If the secret were all my
own--Heaven knows, hateful as it is, how boldly I would risk all, and
throw myself on your fidelity or your mercy--I know not how you might
view it; but it is different, Dorcas, at least for the present. You know
me--you know how I hate secrets; but this _is_ not mine--only in
part--that is, I dare not tell it--but may be soon free--and to us all,
dear Dorcas, a woful, _woful_, day will it be.'

'I made you a promise, Rachel,' said her beautiful cousin, gravely, and a
little coldly and sadly, too; 'I will never break it again--it was
thoughtless. Let us each try to forget that there is anything hidden
between us.'

'If ever the time comes, dear Dorcas, when I may tell it to you, I don't
know whether you will bless or hate me for having kept it so well; at all
events, I think you'll pity me, and at last understand your miserable
cousin.'

'I said before, Rachel, that I liked you. You are one of us, Rachel. You
are beautiful, wayward, and daring, and one way or another, misfortune
always waylays us; and I have, I know it, calamity before me. Death comes
to other women in its accustomed way; but we have a double death. There
is not a beautiful portrait in Brandon that has not a sad and true story.
Early death of the frail and fair tenement of clay--but a still earlier
death of happiness. Come, Rachel, shall we escape from the spell and the
destiny into solitude? What do you think of my old plan of the valleys
and lakes of Wales? a pretty foreign tongue spoken round us, and no one
but ourselves to commune with, and books, and music. It is not, Radie,
altogether jest. I sometimes yearn for it, as they say foreign girls do
for convent life.'

'Poor Dorcas,' said Rachel, very softly, fixing her eyes upon her with a
look of inexpressible sadness and pity.

'Rachel,' said Dorcas, 'I am a changeable being--violent, self-willed. My
fate may be quite a different one from that which _I_ suppose or _you_
imagine. I may yet have to retract _my_ secret.'

'Oh! would it were so--would to Heaven it were so.'

'Suppose, Rachel, that I had been deceiving you--perhaps deceiving
myself--time will show.'

There was a wild smile on beautiful Dorcas's face as she said this, which
faded soon into the proud serenity that was its usual character.

'Oh! Dorcas, if your good angel is near, listen to his warnings.'

'We have no good angels, my poor Rachel: what modern necromancers,
conversing with tables, call "mocking spirits," have always usurped their
place with us: singing in our drowsy ears, like Ariel--visiting our
reveries like angels of light--being really our evil genii--ah, yes!'

'Dorcas, dear,' said Rachel, after both had been silent for a time,
speaking suddenly, and with a look of pale and keen entreaty--'Beware of
Stanley--oh! beware, beware. I think I am beginning to grow afraid of him
myself.'

Dorcas was not given to sighing--but she sighed--gazing sadly across the
wide, bleak moor, with her proud, apathetic look, which seemed passively
to defy futurity--and then, for awhile, they were silent.

She turned, and caressingly smoothed the golden tresses over Rachel's
frank, white forehead, and kissed them as she did so.

'You are better, darling; you are rested?' she said.

'Yes, dear Dorcas,' and she kissed the slender hand that smoothed her
hair.

Each understood that the conversation on that theme was ended, and
somehow each was relieved.

CHAPTER XXXIV.

SIR JULIUS HOCKLEY'S LETTER.

Jos. Larkin mentioned in his conversation with the vicar, just related,
that he had received a power of attorney from Mark Wylder. Connected with
this document there came to light a circumstance so very odd, that the
reader must at once be apprised of it.

This legal instrument was attested by two witnesses, and bore date about
a week before the interview, just related, between the vicar and Mr.
Larkin. Here, then, was a fact established. Mark Wylder had returned from
Boulogne, for the power of attorney had been executed at Brighton. Who
were the witnesses? One was Thomas Tupton, of the Travellers' Hotel,
Brighton.

This Thomas Tupton was something of a sporting celebrity, and a likely
man enough to be of Mark's acquaintance.

The other witness was Sir Julius Hockley, of Hockley, an unexceptionable
evidence, though a good deal on the turf.

Now our friend Jos. Larkin had something of the Red Indian's faculty for
tracking his game, by hardly perceptible signs and tokens, through the
wilderness; and this mystery of Mark Wylder's flight and seclusion was
the present object of his keen and patient pursuit.

On receipt of the 'instrument,' therefore, he wrote by return of post,
'presenting his respectful compliments to Sir Julius Hockley, and deeply
regretting that, as solicitor of the Wylder family, and the _gentleman_
(_sic_) empowered to act under the letter of attorney, it was imperative
upon him to trouble him (Sir Julius H.) with a few interrogatories, which
he trusted he would have no difficulty in answering.'

The first was, whether he had been acquainted with Mr. Mark Wylder's
personal appearance before seeing him sign, so as to be able to identify
him. The second was, whether he (Mr. M.W.) was accompanied, at the time
of executing the instrument, by any friend; and if so, what were the name
and address of such friend. And the third was, whether he could
communicate any information whatsoever respecting Mr. M.W.'s present
place of abode?

The same queries were put in a somewhat haughty and peremptory way to the
sporting hotel-keeper, who answered that Mr. Mark Wylder had been staying
for a week at his house, about five months ago; and that he had seen him
twice--once 'backing' Jonathan, when he beat the great American
billiard-player; and another time, when he lent him his copy of 'Bell's
Life,' in the coffee-room; and thus he was enabled to identify him. For
the rest he could say nothing.

Sir Julius's reply was of the hoity-toity and rollicking sort, bordering
in parts very nearly on nonsense, and generally impertinent. It reached
Mr. Larkin as he sat at breakfast with his friend, Stanley Lake.

'Pray read your letters, and don't mind me, I entreat. Perhaps you will
allow me to look at the "Times;" and I'll trouble you for the sardines.'

The postmark 'Hockley,' stared the lawyer in the face; and, longing to
break the seal, he availed himself of the captain's permission. So Lake
opened the 'Times;' and, as he studied its columns, I think he stole a
glance or two over its margin at the attorney, now deep in the letter of
Sir Julius Hockley.

He (Sir J.H.) 'presented his respects to Mr. Lark_ens_, or Lark_ins_, or
Lark_me_, or Lark_us_--Sir J.H. is not able to read _which_ or _what_;
but he is happy to observe, at all events, that, end how he may, the
gentleman begins with a "lark!" which Sir J.H. always does, when he can.
Not being able to discover his terminal syllable, he will take the
liberty of styling him by his sprightly beginning, and calling him
shortly "Lark." As Sir J. never objected to a lark, the gentleman so
designated introduces himself with a strong prejudice, in Sir J.'s mind,
in his favour--so much so, that by way of a lark, Sir J. will answer
Lark's questions, which are not, he thinks, very impertinent. The wildest
of all Lark's questions refers to Wylder's place of abode, which Sir J.
was never wild enough to think of asking after, and does not know; and so
little was he acquainted with the gentleman, that he forgot he was an
evangelist doing good under the style and title of Mark. Lark may,
therefore, tell Mark, if he sees him, or his friends--Matthew, Luke, and
John--that Sir Julius saw Mark only on two successive days, at the
cricket-match, played between Paul's Eleven--the coincidence is
remarkable--and the Ishmaelites (these, I am bound to observe, were
literally the designations of the opposing sides); and that he had the
honour of being presented to Mark--saint or sinner, as he may be--on the
ground, by his, Sir J.H.'s, friend, Captain Stanley Lake, of the Guards.'

Here was an astounding fact. Stanley Lake had been in Mark Wylder's
company only ten days ago, when that great match was played at Brighton!
What a deep gentleman was that Stanley Lake, who sat at the other end of
the table with the 'Times' before him. What a varnished rascal--what a
matchless liar!

He had returned to Gylingden, direct, in all likelihood, from his
conferences with Mark Wylder, to tell all concerned that it was vain
endeavouring to trace him, and still offering his disinterested services
in the pursuit.

No matter! We must take things coolly and cautiously. All this chicanery
will yet break down, and the conspiracy, be it what it may, will be
thoroughly exposed. Mystery is the shadow of guilt; and, most assuredly,
thought Mr. Larkin, there is some _infernal_ secret, _well worth
knowing_, at the bottom of all this. You little think I have you here!
and he slid Sir Julius Hockley's piece of rubbishy banter into his
waistcoat pocket, and then opened and glanced at half-a-dozen other
letters, in a cool, quick official way, endorsing a little note on the
back of each with his gold, patent pencil. All Mr. Jos. Larkin's
'properties' were handsome and imposing, and he never played with
children without producing his gold repeater, and making it strike, and
exhibiting its wonders for their amusement, and the edification of the
adults, whose presence, of course, he forgot.

'Paul's Eleven have challenged the Gipsies,' said Lake, languidly lifting
his eyes from the paper. 'By-the-bye, are you anything of a cricketer?
And they are to play at Hockley, Sir Julius Hockley's ground. You know
Sir Julius, don't you?'

'Very slightly. I may say I _have_ that honour, but we have never been
thrown together; a mere--a--the slightest thing in the world.'

'Not schoolfellows----you are not an Eton man, eh?' said Lake.

'Oh no! My dear father' (the organist) 'would not send a boy of his to
what he called an idle school. But my acquaintance with Sir Julius was a
trifling matter. Hockley is a very pretty place, is not it?'

'A sweet place. A great match was played between those fellows at
Brighton: Paul's Eleven beat fifteen of the Ishmaelites, about a
fortnight since; but they have no chance with the Gipsies. It will be
quite a hollow thing--a one-innings affair.'

'Have you ever seen Paul's Eleven play?' asked the lawyer, carelessly
taking up the newspaper which Lake had laid down.

'I saw them play that match at Brighton, I mentioned just now, a few days
ago.'

'Ah! did you?'

'Did not you _know_ I was there?' said Lake, in rather a changed tone.
Larkin looked up, and Lake laughed in his face quietly the most
impertinent laugh he had ever seen or heard, with his yellow eyes fixed
on the lawyer's pink little optics. 'I was there, and Hockley was there,
and Mark Wylder was there--was not he?' and Lake stared and laughed, and
the attorney stared; and Lake added, 'What a d--d cunning fellow you are;
ha, ha, ha!'

Larkin was not easily put out, but he _was_ disconcerted now; and his
cheeks and forehead grew suddenly pink, and he coughed a little, and
tried to throw a look of mild surprise into his face.

'Why, you have this moment had a letter from Hockley. Don't you think I
knew his hand and the post-mark, and your look said quite plainly,
"Here's news of my friend Stanley Lake and Mark Wylder." I had an uncle
in the Foreign Office, and they said he would have been quite a
distinguished diplomatist if he had lived; and I was said to have a good
deal of his talent; and I really think I have brought my little evidences
very prettily together, and jumped to a right conclusion--eh?'

A flicker of that sinister shadow I have sometimes mentioned crossed
Larkin's face, and contracted his eyes, as he said, a little sternly--

'I have nothing on earth to conceal, Sir; I never had. All _my_ conduct
has been as open as the light; there's not a letter, Sir, I ever write or
receive, that might not, so far as _I_ am concerned, with my good will,
lie open on that table for every visitor that comes in to read;--open as
the day, Sir:' and the attorney waved his hand grandly.

'Hear, hear, hear,' said Lake, languidly, and tapping a little applause
on the table, while he watched the solicitor's rhetoric with his sly,
disconcerting smile.

'It was but conscientious, Captain Lake, that I should make particular
enquiry respecting the genuineness of a legal instrument conferring such
very considerable powers. How, on earth, Sir, could I have the slightest
suspicion that _you_ had seen my client, Mr. Wylder, considering the
tenor of your letters and conversation? And I venture to say, Captain
Lake, that Lord Chelford will be just as much surprised as I, when he
hears it.'

Jos. Larkin, Esq., delivered this peroration from a moral elevation, all
the loftier that he had a peer of the realm on his side. But peers did
not in the least overawe Stanley Lake, who had been all his days familiar
with those idols; and the moral altitudes of the attorney amused him
vastly.

'But he'll _not_ hear it; _I_ won't tell him, and you sha'n't; because I
don't think it would be prudent of us--do you?--to quarrel with Mark
Wylder, and he does not wish our meeting known. It is nothing on earth to
me; on the contrary, it rather places me in an awkward position keeping
other people's secrets.'

The attorney made one of his slight, gentlemanlike bows, and threw back
his head with a lofty and reserved look.

'I don't know, Captain Lake, that I would be quite justified in
withholding the substance of Sir Julius Hockley's letter from Lord
Chelford, consulted, as I have had the honour to be, by that nobleman. I
shall, however, turn it over in my mind.'

'Don't the least mind me. In fact, I would rather tell it than not. And I
can explain to Chelford why _I_ could not mention the circumstance.
Wylder, in fact, tied me down by a promise, and he'll be devilish angry
with you; but, it seems, you don't very much mind that.'

He knew that Mr. Larkin _did_ very much mind it; and the quick glance of
the attorney could read nothing whatever in the captain's pallid face and
downcast eyes, smiling on the points of his varnished boots.

'Of course, you know, Captain Lake, in alluding to the possibility of my
making any communication to Lord Chelford, I limit myself strictly to the
letter of Sir Julius Hockley, and do not, by any means, my dear Captain
Lake, include the conversation which has just occurred, and the
communication which you have volunteered to make me.'

'Oh! quite so,' said the captain, looking up suddenly, as was his way,
with a momentary glare, like a man newly-waked from a narcotic doze.

CHAPTER XXXV.

THE HUNT BALL.

By this time your humble servant, the chronicler of these Gylingden
annals, had taken his leave of magnificent old Brandon, and of its
strangely interesting young mistress and was carrying away with him, as
he flew along the London rails, the broken imagery of that grand and
shivered dream. He was destined, however, before very long, to revisit
these scenes; and in the meantime heard, in rude outline, the tenor of
what was happening--the minute incidents and colouring of which were
afterwards faithfully communicated.

I can, therefore, without break or blur, continue my description; and to
say truth, at this distance of time, I have some difficulty--so well
acquainted was I with the actors and the scenery--in determining, without
consulting my diary, what portions of the narrative I relate from
hearsay, and what as a spectator. But that I am so far from understanding
myself, I should often be amazed at the sayings and doings of other
people. As it is, I behold in myself an abyss, I gaze down and listen,
and discover neither light nor harmony, but thunderings and lightnings,
and voices and laughter, and a medley that dismays me. There rage the
elements which God only can control. Forgive us our trespasses; lead us
not into temptation; deliver us from the Evil One! How helpless and
appalled we shut our eyes over that awful chasm.

I have long ceased, then, to wonder why any living soul does anything
that is incongruous and unanticipated. And therefore I cannot say how
Miss Brandon persuaded her handsome Cousin Rachel to go with her party,
under the wing of Old Lady Chelford, to the Hunt Ball of Gylingden. And
knowing now all that then hung heavy at the heart of the fair tenant of
Redman's Farm, I should, indeed, wonder inexpressibly, were it not, as I
have just said, that I have long ceased to wonder at any vagaries of
myself or my fellow creatures.

The Hunt Ball is the great annual event of Gylingden. The critical
process of 'coming out' is here consummated by the young ladies of that
town and vicinage. It is looked back upon for one-half of the year, and
forward to for the other. People date by it. The battle of Inkerman was
fought immediately before the Hunt Ball. It was so many weeks after the
Hunt Ball that the Czar Nicholas died. The Carnival of Venice was nothing
like so grand an event. Its solemn and universal importance in Gylingden
and the country round, gave me, I fancied, some notion of what the feast
of unleavened bread must have been to the Hebrews and Jerusalem.

The connubial capabilities of Gylingden are positively wretched. When I
knew it, there were but three single men, according even to the modest
measure of Gylingden housekeeping, capable of supporting wives, and these
were difficult to please, set a high price on themselves--looked the
country round at long ranges, and were only wistfully and meekly glanced
after by the frugal vestals of Gylingden, as they strutted round the
corners, or smoked the pipe of apathy at the reading-room windows.

Old Major Jackson kept the young ladies in practice between whiles, with
his barren gallantries and graces, and was, just so far, better than
nothing. But, as it had been for years well ascertained that he either
could not or would not afford to marry, and that his love passages, like
the passages in Gothic piles that 'lead to nothing,' were not designed to
terminate advantageously, he had long ceased to excite, even in that
desolate region, the smallest interest.

Think, then, what it was, when Mr. Pummice, of Copal and Pummice, the
splendid house-painters at Dollington, arrived with his artists and
charwomen to give the Assembly Room its annual touching-up and
bedizenment, preparatory to the Hunt Ball. The Gylingden young ladies
used to peep in, and from the lobby observe the wenches dry-rubbing and
waxing the floor, and the great Mr. Pummice, with his myrmidons, in
aprons and paper caps, retouching the gilding.

It was a tremendous crisis for honest Mrs. Page, the confectioner, over
the way, who, in legal phrase, had 'the carriage' of the supper and
refreshments, though largely assisted by Mr. Battersby, of Dollington.
During the few days' agony of preparation that immediately preceded this
notable orgie, the good lady's countenance bespoke the magnitude of her
cares. Though the weather was usually cold, I don't think she ever was
cool during that period--I am sure she never slept--I don't think she
ate--and I am afraid her religious exercises were neglected.

Equally distracting, emaciating, and godless, was the condition to which
the mere advent of this festival reduced worthy Miss Williams, the
dressmaker, who had more white muslin and young ladies on her hands than
she and her choir of needle-women knew what to do with. During this
tremendous period Miss Williams hardly resembled herself--her eyes
dilated, her lips were pale, and her brow corrugated with deep and
inflexible lines of fear and perplexity. She lived on bad tea--sat up all
night--and every now and then burst into helpless floods of tears. But
somehow, generally things came pretty right in the end. One way or
another, the gay belles and elderly spinsters, and fat village
chaperones, were invested in suitable costume by the appointed hour, and
in a few weeks Miss Williams' mind recovered its wonted tone, and her
countenance its natural expression.

The great night had now arrived. Gylingden was quite in an uproar. Rural
families of eminence came in. Some in old-fashioned coaches; others, the
wealthier, more in London style. The stables of the 'Brandon Arms,' of
the 'George Inn,' of the 'Silver Lion,' even of the 'White House,' though
a good way off, and generally every vacant standing for horses in or
about the town were crowded; and the places of entertainment we have
named, and minor houses of refection, were vocal with the talk of
flunkeys, patrician with powdered heads, and splendent in variegated
liveries.

The front of the Town Hall resounded with the ring of horse-hoofs, the
crack of whips, the bawling of coachmen, the clank of carriage steps and
clang of coach doors. A promiscuous mob of the plebs and profanum vulgus
of Gylingden beset the door, to see the ladies--the slim and the young in
white muslins and artificial flowers, and their stout guardian angels, of
maturer years, in satins and velvets, and jewels--some real, and some,
just as good, of paste. In the cloak-room such a fuss, unfurling of fans,
and last looks and hurried adjustments.

When the Crutchleighs, of Clay Manor, a good, old, formal family, were
mounting the stairs in solemn procession--they were always among the
early arrivals--they heard a piano and a tenor performing in the
supper-room.

Now, old Lady Chelford chose to patronise Mr. Page, the Dollington
professor, and partly, I fancy, to show that she could turn things
topsy-turvy in this town of Gylingden, had made a point, with the rulers
of the feast, that her client should sing half-a-dozen songs in the
supper-room before dancing commenced.

Mrs. Crutchleigh stayed her step upon the stairs abruptly, and turned,
with a look of fierce surprise upon her lean, white-headed lord,
arresting thereby the upward march of Corfe Crutchleigh, Esq., the hope
of his house, who was pulling on his gloves, with his eldest spinster
sister on his lank arm.

'There appears to be a concert going on; we came here to a ball. Had you
not better enquire, Mr. Crutchleigh; it would seem we have made a
mistake?'

Mrs. Crutchleigh was sensitive about the dignity of the family of Clay
Manor; and her cheeks flushed above the rouge, and her eyes flashed
severely.

'That's singing--particularly _loud singing_. Either we have mistaken the
night, or somebody has taken upon him to upset all the arrangements.
You'll be good enough to enquire whether there will be dancing to-night;
I and Anastasia will remain in the cloak-room; and we'll all leave if you
please, Mr. Crutchleigh, if this goes on.'

The fact is, Mrs. Crutchleigh had got an inkling of this performance, and
had affected to believe it impossible; and, detesting old Lady Chelford
for sundry slights and small impertinences, and envying Brandon and its
belongings, was resolved not to be put down by presumption in that
quarter.

Old Lady Chelford sat in an arm-chair in the supper-room, where a
considerable audience was collected. She had a splendid shawl or two
about her, and a certain air of demi-toilette, which gave the Gylingden
people to understand that her ladyship did not look on this gala in the
light of a real ball, but only as a sort of rustic imitation--curious,
possibly amusing, and, like other rural sports, deserving of
encouragement, for the sake of the people who made innocent holiday
there.

Mr. Page, the performer, was a plump young man, with black whiskers, and
his hair in oily ringlets, such as may be seen in the model wigs
presented on smiling, waxen dandies, in Mr. Rose's front window at
Dollington. He bowed and smiled in the most unexceptionable of white
chokers and the dapperest of dress coats, and drew off the whitest
imaginable pair of kid gloves, when he sat down to the piano, subsiding
in a sort of bow upon the music-stool, and striking those few, brisk and
noisy chords with which such artists proclaim silence and reassure
themselves.

Stanley Lake, that eminent London swell, had attached himself as
gentleman-in-waiting to Lady Chelford's household, and was perpetually
gliding with little messages between her ladyship and the dapper vocalist
of Dollington, who varied his programme and submitted to an occasional
_encore_ on the private order thus communicated.

'I told you Chelford would be here,' said Miss Brandon to Rachel, in a
low tone, glancing at the young peer.

'I thought he had returned to Brighton. I fancied he might be--you know
the Dulhamptons are at Brighton; and Lady Constance, of course, has a
claim on his time and thoughts.'

Rachel smiled as she spoke, and was adjusting her bouquet, as Dorcas made
answer--

'Lady Constance, my dear Radie! That, you know, was never more than a
mere whisper; it was only Lady Chelford and the marchioness who talked it
over--they would have liked it very well. But Chelford won't be managed
or scolded into anything of the kind; and will choose, I think, for
himself, and I fancy not altogether according to their ideas, when the
time comes. And I assure you, dear Radie, there is not the least truth in
that story about Lady Constance.'

Why should Dorcas be so earnest to convince her handsome cousin that
there was nothing in this rumour? Rachel made no remark, and there was a
little silence.

'I'm so glad I succeeded in bringing you here,' said Dorcas; 'Chelford
made such a point of it; and he thinks you are losing your spirits among
the great trees and shadows of Redman's Dell; and he made it quite a
little cousinly duty that I should succeed.'

At this moment Mr. Page interposed with the energetic prelude of his
concluding ditty. It was one of Tom Moore's melodies.

Rachel leaned back, and seemed to enjoy it very much. But when it was
over, I think she would have found it difficult to say what the song was
about.

Mr. Page had now completed his programme, and warned by the disrespectful
violins from the gallery of the ball-room, whence a considerable
caterwauling was already announcing the approach of the dance, he made
his farewell flourish, and bow and, smiling, withdrew.

CHAPTER XXXVI.

THE BALL ROOM.

Rachel Lake, standing by the piano, turned over the leaves of the volume
of 'Moore's Melodies' from which the artist in black whiskers and white
waistcoat had just entertained his noble patroness and his audience.

Everyone has experienced, I suppose for a few wonderful moments, now and
then, a glow of seemingly causeless happiness, in which the earth and its
people are glorified--peace and sunlight rest on everything--the spirit
of music and love is in the air, and the heart itself sings for joy. In
the light of this celestial illusion she stood now by the piano, turning
over the pages of poor Tom Moore, as I have said, when a low pleasant
voice near her said--

'I was so glad to see that Dorcas had prevailed, and that you were here.
We both agreed that you are too much a recluse in that Der Frieschutz
Glen--at least, for your friends' pleasure; and owe it to us all to
appear now and then in this upper world.'

'Excelsior, Miss Lake,' interposed dapper little Mr. Buttle, with a
smirk; 'I think this little bit of music--it was got up, you know, by
that old quiz, Dowager Lady Chelford--was really not so bad--a rather
good idea, after all, Miss Lake. Don't you?'

Poor Mr. Buttle did not know Lord Chelford, and thus shooting his 'arrow
o'er the house,' he 'hurt his brother.' Chelford turned away, and bowed
and smiled to one or two friends at the other side of the room.

'Yes, the music was very pretty, and some of the songs were quite
charmingly sung. I agree with you--we are very much obliged to Lady
Chelford--that is her son, Lord Chelford.'

'Oh!' said Buttle, whose smirk vanished on the instant in a very red and
dismal vacancy, 'I--I'm afraid he'll think me shockingly rude.' And in a
minute more Buttle was gone.

Miss Lake again looked down upon the page, and as she did so, Lord
Chelford turned and said--

'You are a worshipper of Tom Moore, Miss Lake?'

'An admirer, perhaps--certainly no worshipper. Yet, I can't say. Perhaps
I do worship; but if so, it is a worship strangely mixed with contempt.'
And she laughed a little. 'A kind of adoring which I fancy belongs
properly to the lords of creation, and which we of the weaker sex have no
right to practise.'

'Miss Lake is pleased to be ironical to-night,' he said, with a smile.

'Am I? I dare say. All women are. Irony is the weapon of cowardice, and
cowardice the vice of weakness. Yet I think I was naturally bold and
true. I hate cowardice and deception even in myself--I hate perfidy--I
hate _fraud_.'

She tapped a little emphasis upon the floor with her white satin shoe,
and her eyes flashed with a dark and angry meaning among the crowd at the
other end of the room, as if for a second or two following an object to
whom in some way the statement applied.

The strange bitterness of her tone, though it was low enough, and
something wild, suffering, and revengeful in her look, though but
momentary, and hardly definable, did not escape Lord Chelford, and he
followed unconsciously the direction of her glance; but there was nothing
there to guide him to a conclusion, and the good people who formed that
polite and animated mob were in his eyes, one and all, quite below the
level of tragedy, or even of melodrama.

'And yet, Miss Lake, we are all more or less cowards or deceivers--at
least, to the extent of suppression. Who would speak the whole truth, or
like to hear it?--not I, I know.'

'Nor I,' she said, quietly.

'And I do think, if people had no reserves, they would be very
uninteresting,' he added.

She was looking, with a strange light upon her face--a smile,
perhaps--upon the open pages of 'Moore's Melodies' as he spoke.

'I like a little puzzle and mystery--they surround our future and our
past; and the present would be insipid, I think, without them. Now, I
can't tell, Miss Lake, as you look on Tom Moore there, and I try to read
your smile, whether you happen at this particular moment to adore or
despise him.'

'Moore's is a daring morality--what do you think, for instance, of these
lines?' she said, touching the verse with her bouquet.

Lord Chelford read--

I ask not, I know not, if guilt's in thy heart
I but know that I love thee, whatever thou art.'

He laughed.

'Very passionate, but hardly respectable. I once knew,' he continued a
little more gravely, 'a marriage made upon that principle, and not very
audaciously either, which turned out very unhappily.'

'So I should conjecture,' she said, rising from her chair, rather
drearily and abstractedly, 'and there is good old Lady Sarah. I must go
and ask her how she does.' She paused for a moment, holding her bouquet
drooping towards the floor, and looking with her clouded eyes
down--down--through it; and then she looked up suddenly, with an odd,
fierce smile, and she said bitterly enough--'and yet, if I were a man,
and capable of loving, I could love no other way; because I suppose love
to be a madness, and the sublimest and the most despicable of states. And
I admire Moore for that flash of the fallen angelic--it is the sentiment
of a hero and a madman--too base and too _noble_ for this cool, wise
world.'

She was already moving away, nebulous in hovering folds of snowy muslin.
And she floated down like a cloud upon the ottoman, beside old Lady
Sarah, and smiled and leaned towards her, and talked in her sweet, low,
distinct accents. And Lord Chelford followed her, with a sad sort of
smile, admiring her greatly.

Of course, _non cuivis contigit_, it was not every man's privilege to
dance with the splendid Lady of Brandon. It was only the demigods who
ventured within the circle. Her kinsman, Lord Chelford, did so; and now
handsome Sir Harry Bracton, six feet high, so broad-shouldered and
slim-waisted, his fine but not very wise face irradiated with
indefatigable smiles, stood and conversed with her, with that jaunty
swagger of his--his weight now on this side, now on that, squaring his
elbows like a crack whip with four-in-hand, and wagging his perfumed
tresses--boisterous, rollicking, beaming with immeasurable
self-complacency.

Stanley Lake left old Lady Chelford's side, and glided to that of Dorcas
Brandon.

'Will you dance this set--are you engaged, Miss Brandon?' he said, in low
eager tones.

'Yes, to both questions,' answered she, with the faintest gleam of the
conventional smile, and looking now gravely again at her bouquet.

'Well, the next possibly, I hope?'

'I never do that,' said the apathetic beauty, serenely.

Stanley looked as if he did not quite understand, and there was a little
silence.

'I mean, I never engage myself beyond one dance. I hope you do not think
it rude--but I never do.'

'Miss Brandon can make what laws she pleases for all here, and for some
of us everywhere,' he replied, with a mortified smile and a bow.

At that moment Sir Harry Bracton arrived to claim her, and Miss
Kybes--elderly and sentimental, and in no great request--timidly said, in
a gobbling, confidential whisper--

'What a handsome couple they do make! Does not it quite realise your
conception, Captain Lake, of young Lochinvar, you know, and his fair
Helen--

So stately his form and so lovely her face--

You remember--

'That never a hall such a galliard did grace.

Is not it?'

'So it is, really; it did not strike me. And that "one cup of wine"--you
recollect--which the hero drank; and, I dare say it made young Lochinvar
a little noisy and swaggering, when he proposed "treading the
measure"--is not that the phrase? Yes, really; it is a very pretty
poetical parallel.'

And Miss Kybes was pleased to think that Captain Lake would be sure to
report her elegant little compliment in the proper quarters, and that her
incense had not missed fire.

When Miss Brandon returned, Lake was unfortunately on duty beside old
Lady Chelford, whom it was important to propitiate, and who was in the
middle of a story--an extraordinary favour from her ladyship; and he had
the vexation to see Lord Chelford palpably engaging Miss Brandon for the
next dance.

When she returned, she was a little tired, and doubtful whether she would
dance any more--certainly not the next dance. So he resolved to lie in
wait, and anticipate any new suitor who might appear.

His eyes, however, happened to wander, in an unlucky moment, to old Lady
Chelford, who instantaneously signalled to him with her fan.

'-- the woman,' mentally exclaimed Lake, telegraphing, at the same time,
with a bow and a smile of deferential alacrity, and making his way
through the crowd as deftly as he could; what a ---- fool I was to go
near her.'

So the captain had to assist at the dowager lady's supper; and not only
so, but in some sort at her digestion also, which she chose should take
place for some ten minutes in the chair that she occupied at the supper
table.

When he escaped, Miss Brandon _was_ engaged once more--and to Sir Harry
Bracton, for a second time.

And moreover, when he again essayed his suit, the young lady had
peremptorily made up her mind to dance no more that night.

'How _can_ Dorcas endure that man,' thought Rachel, as she saw Sir Harry
lead her to her seat, after a second dance. 'Handsome, but so noisy and
foolish, and wicked; and is not he vulgar, too?'

But Dorcas was not demonstrative. Her likings and dislikings were always
more or less enigmatical. Still Rachel Lake fancied that she detected
signs, not only of tolerance, but of positive liking, in her haughty
cousin's demeanour, and wondered, after all, whether Dorcas was beginning
to like Sir Harry Bracton. Dorcas had always puzzled her--not, indeed, so
much latterly--but this night the mystery began to darken once more.

Twice, for a moment, their eyes met; but only for a moment. Rachel knew
that a tragedy might be--at that instant, and under the influence of that
very spectacle--gathering its thunders silently in another part of the
room, where she saw Stanley's pale, peculiar face; and although he
appeared in nowise occupied by what was passing between Dorcas Brandon
and Sir Harry, she perfectly well knew that nothing of it escaped him.

The sight of that pale face was a cold pang at her heart--a face
prophetic of evil, at sight of which the dark curtain which hid futurity
seemed to sway and tremble, as if a hand from behind was on the point of
drawing it. Rachel sighed profoundly, and her eyes looked sadly through
her bouquet on the floor.

'I'm very glad you came, Radie,' said a sweet voice, which somehow made
her shiver, close to her ear. 'This kind of thing will do you good; and
you really wanted a little fillip. Shall I take you to the supper-room?'

'No, Stanley, thank you; I prefer remaining.'

'Have you observed how Dorcas has treated me this evening?'

'No, Stanley; nothing unusual, is there?' answered Rachel, glancing
uneasily round, lest they should be overheard.

'Well, I think she has been more than usually repulsive--quite marked; I
almost fancy these Gylingden people, dull as they are, must observe it. I
have a notion I sha'n't trouble Gylingden or her after to-morrow.'

Rachel glanced quickly at him. He was deadly pale, with his faint
unpleasant smile; and he returned her glance for a second wildly, and
then dropped his eyes to the ground.

'I told you,' he resumed again, after a short pause, and commencing with
a gentle laugh, 'that she liked that fellow, Bracton.'

'You did say something, I think, of that, some time since,' said Rachel;
'but really----'

'But really, Radie, dear, you can't need any confirmation more than this
evening affords. We both know Dorcas very well; she is not like other
girls. She does not encourage fellows as they do; but if she did not like
Bracton very well indeed, she would send him about his business. She has
danced with him twice, on the contrary, and has suffered his agreeable
conversation all the evening; and that from Dorcas Brandon means, you
know, everything.'

'I don't know that it means anything. I don't see why it should; but I am
very certain,' said Rachel, who, in the midst of this crowded, gossiping
ball-room, was talking much more freely to Stanley, and also, strange to
say, in more sisterly fashion, than she would have done in the little
parlour of Redman's Farm; 'I am very certain, Stanley, that if this
supposed preference leads you to abandon your wild pursuit of Dorcas, it
will prevent more ruin than, perhaps, either of us anticipates; and,
Stanley,' she added in a whisper, looking full in his eyes, which were
raised for a moment to hers, 'it is hardly credible that you dare still
to persist in so desperate and cruel a project.'

'Thank you,' said Stanley quietly, but the yellow lights glared fiercely
from their sockets, and were then lowered instantly to the floor.

'She has been very rude to me to-night; and you have not been, or tried
to be, of any earthly use to me; and I will take a decided course. I
perfectly know what I'm about. You don't seem to be dancing. _I_ have not
either; we have both got something more serious, I fancy, to think of.'

And Stanley Lake glided slowly away, and was lost in the crowd. He went
into the supper-room, and had a glass of seltzer water and sherry. He
loitered at the table. His ruminations were dreary, I fancy, and his
temper by no means pleasant; and it needed a good deal of that artificial
command of countenance which he cultivated, to prevent his betraying
something of the latter, when Sir Harry Bracton, talking loud and volubly
as usual, swaggered into the supper-room, with Dorcas Brandon on his arm.

CHAPTER XXXVII.

THE SUPPER-ROOM.

It was rather trying, in this state of things, to receive from the
triumphant baronet, with only a parenthetical 'Dear Lake, I beg your
pardon,' a rough knock on the elbow of the hand that held his glass, and
to be then summarily hustled out of his place. It was no mitigation of
the rudeness, in Lake's estimate, that Sir Harry was so engrossed and
elated as to seem hardly conscious of any existence but Miss Brandon's
and his own.

Lake was subject to transient paroxysms of exasperation; but even in
these be knew how to command himself pretty well before witnesses. His
smile grew a little stranger, and his face a degree whiter, as he set
down his glass, quietly glided a little away, and brushed off with his
handkerchief the aspersion which his coat had suffered.

In a few minutes more Miss Brandon had left the supper-room leaning upon
Lord Chelford's arm; and Sir Harry remained, with a glass of pink
champagne, such as young fellows drink with a faith and comfort so
wonderful, at balls and _fêtes champêtres_.

Sir Harry Bracton was already 'chaffing a bit,' as he expressed it, with
the young lady who assisted in dispensing the good things across the
supper-table, and was just calling up her blushes by a pretty parallel
between her eyes and the sparkling quality of his glass, and telling her
her mamma must have been sweetly pretty.

Now, Sir Harry's rudeness to Lake had not been, I am afraid, altogether
accidental. The baronet was sudden and vehement in his affairs of the
heart; but curable on short absences, and easily transferable. He had
been vehemently enamoured of the heiress of Brandon a year ago and more;
but during an absence Mark Wylder's suit grew up and prospered, and Sir
Harry Bracton acquiesced; and, to say truth, the matter troubled his
manly breast but little.

He had hardly expected to see her here in this rollicking, rustic
gathering. She was, he thought, even more lovely than he remembered her.
Beauty sometimes seen again does excel our recollections of it. Wylder
had gone off the scene, as Mr. Carlyle says, into infinite space. Who
could tell exactly the cause of his dismissal, and why the young lady had
asserted her capricious resolve to be free?

There were pleasant theories adaptable to the circumstances; and Sir
Harry cherished an agreeable opinion of himself; and so, all things
favouring; the old flame blazed up wildly, and the young gentleman was
more in love then, and for some weeks after the ball, than perhaps he had
ever been before.

Now some men--and Sir Harry was of them--are churlish and ferocious over
their loves, as certain brutes are over their victuals. In one of these
tender paroxysms, when in the presence of his Dulcinea, the young baronet
was always hot, short, and saucy with his own sex; and when his jealousy
was ever so little touched, positively impertinent.

He perceived what other people did not, that Miss Brandon's eye once on
that evening rested for a moment on Captain Lake with a peculiar
expression of interest. This look was but once and momentary; but the
young gentleman resented it, and brooded over it, every now and then,
when the pale face of the captain crossed his eye; and two or three
times, when the beautiful young lady's attention seemed unaccountably to
wander from his agreeable conversation, he thought he detected her
haughty eye moving in the same direction. So he looked that way too; and
although he could see nothing noticeable in Stanley's demeanour, he could
have felt it in his heart to box his ears.

Therefore, I don't think he was quite so careful as he might have been to
spare Lake that jolt upon the elbow, which coming from a rival in a
moment of public triumph was not altogether easy to bear like a
Christian.

'Some grapes, please,' said Lake, to the young lady behind the table.

'Oh, _uncle_! Is that you, Lake?--beg pardon; but you _are_ so like my
poor dear uncle, Langton. I wish you'd let me adopt you for an uncle. He
was such a pretty fellow, with his fat white cheeks and long nose, and he
looked half asleep. Do, pray, Uncle Lake; I should like it so,' and the
baronet, who was, I am afraid, what some people would term, perhaps,
vulgar, winked over his glass at the blooming confectioner, who turned
away and tittered over her shoulder at the handsome baronet's charming
banter.

The girl having turned away to titter, forgot Lake's grapes; so he helped
himself, and leaning against the table, looked superciliously upon Sir
Harry, who was not to be deterred by the drowsy gaze of contempt with
which the captain retorted his angry 'chaff.'

'Poor uncle died of love, or chicken pox, or something, at forty. You're
not ailing, Nunkie, are you? You do look wofully sick though; too bad to
lose a second uncle at the same early age. You're near forty, eh, Nunkie?
and such a pretty fellow! You'll take care of me in your will, Nunkie,
won't you? Come, what will you leave me; not much tin, I'm afraid.'

'No, not much tin,' answered Lake; 'but I'll leave you what you want
more, my sense and decency, with a request that you will use them for my
sake.'

'You're a devilish witty fellow, Lake; take care your wit don't get you
into trouble,' said the baronet, chuckling and growing angrier, for he
saw the Hebe laughing; and not being a ready man, though given to banter,
he sometimes descended to menace in his jocularity.

'I was just thinking your dulness might do the same for you,' drawled
Lake.

'When do you mean to pay Dawlings that bet on the Derby?' demanded Sir
Harry, his face very red, and only the ghost of his smile grinning there.
'I think you'd better; of course it is quite easy.'

The baronet was smiling his best, with a very red face, and that
unpleasant uncertainty in his contracted eyes which accompanies
suppressed rage.

'As easy as that,' said Lake, chucking a little bunch of grapes full into
Sir Harry Bracton's handsome face.

Lake recoiled a step; his face blanched as white as the cloth; his left
arm lifted, and his right hand grasping the haft of a table-knife.

There was just a second in which the athletic baronet stood, as it were
breathless and incredulous, and then his Herculean fist whirled in the
air with a most unseemly oath: the girl screamed, and a crash of glass
and crockery, whisked away by their coats, resounded on the ground.

A chair between Lake and Sir Harry impeded the baronet's stride, and his
uplifted arm was caught by a gentleman in moustache, who held so fast
that there was no chance of shaking it loose.

'D-- it, Bracton; d-- you, what the devil--don't be a--fool' and other
soothing expressions escaped this peacemaker, as he clung fast to the
young baronet's arm.

'The people--hang it!--you'll have all the people about you.
Quiet--quiet--can't you, I say. Settle it quietly. Here I am.'

'Well, let me go; that will do,' said he, glowering furiously at Lake,
who confronted him, in the same attitude, a couple of yards away. 'You'll
hear,' and he turned away.

'I am at the "Brandon Arms" till to-morrow,' said Lake, with white lips,
very quietly, to the gentleman in moustaches, who bowed slightly, and
walked out of the room with Sir Harry.

Lake poured out some sherry in a tumbler, and drank it off. He was a
little bit stunned, I think, in his new situation.

Except for the waiters, and the actors in it, it so happened that the
supper-room was empty during this sudden fracas. Lake stared at the
frightened girl, in his fierce abstraction. Then, with his wild gaze, he
followed the line of his adversary's retreat, and shook his ears
slightly, like a man at whose hair a wasp has buzzed.

'Thank you,' said he to the maid, suddenly recollecting himself, with a
sort of smile; 'that will do. What confounded nonsense! He'll be quite
cool again in five minutes. Never mind.'

And Lake pulled on his white glove, glancing down the file of silent
waiters-some looking frightened, and some reserved--in white ties and
waistcoats, and he glided out of the room--his mind somewhere else--like
a somnambulist.

It was not perfectly clear to the gentlemen and ladies in charge of the
ices, chickens, and champagne, between which of the three swells who had
just left the room the quarrel was--it had come so suddenly, and was over
so quickly, like a clap of thunder. Some had not seen any, and others
only a bit of it, being busy with plates and ice-tubs; and the few who
had seen it all did not clearly comprehend it--only it was certain that
the row had originated in jealousy about Miss Jones, the pretty
apprentice, who was judiciously withdrawn forthwith by Mrs. Page, the
properest of confectioners.

CHAPTER XXXVIII.

AFTER THE BALL.

Lake glided from the feast with a sense of a tremendous liability upon
him. There was no retreat. The morning--yes, the morning--what then?
Should he live to see the evening? Sir Harry Bracton was the crack shot
of Swivel's gallery. He could hit a walking-cane at fifteen yards, at the
word. There he was, talking to old Lady Chelford. Very well; and there
was that fellow with the twisted moustache--plainly an officer and a
gentleman--twisting the end of one of them, and thinking profoundly, with
his back to the wall, evidently considering his coming diplomacy with
Lake's 'friend.' Aye, by-the-bye, and Lake's eye wandered in bewilderment
among village dons and elderly country gentlemen, in search of that
inestimable treasure.

These thoughts went whisking and whirling round in Captain Lake's brain,
to the roar and clatter of the Joinville Polka, to which fifty pair of
dancing feet were hopping and skimming over the floor.

'Monstrous hot, Sir--hey? ha, ha, by Jove!' said Major Jackson, who had
just returned from the supper-room, where he had heard several narratives
of the occurrence. 'Don't think I was so hot since the ball at Government
House, by Jove, Sir, in 1828--awful summer that!'

The major was jerking his handkerchief under his florid nose and chin, by
way of ventilation; and eyeing the young man shrewdly the while, to read
what he might of the story in his face.

'Been in Calcutta, Lake?'

'No; very hot, indeed. Could I say just a word with you--this way a
little. So glad I met you.' And they edged into a little nook of the
lobby, where they had a few minutes' confidential talk, during which the
major looked grave and consequential, and carried his head high, nodding
now and then with military decision.

Major Jackson whispered an abrupt word or two in his ear, and threw back
his head, eyeing Lake with grave and sly defiance. Then came another
whisper and a wink; and the major shook his hand, briefly but hard, and
the gentlemen parted.

Lake strolled into the ball-room, and on to the upper end, where the
'best' people are, and suddenly he was in Miss Brandon's presence.

'I've been very presumptuous, I fear, to-night, Miss Brandon, he said, in
his peculiar low tones. 'I've been very importunate--I prized the honour
I sought so very much, I forgot how little I deserved it. And I do not
think it likely you'll see me for a good while--possibly for a very long
time. I've therefore ventured to come, merely to say good-bye--only that,
just--good-bye. And--and to beg that flower'--and he plucked it
resolutely from her bouquet--'which I will keep while I live. Good-bye,
Miss Brandon.'

And Captain Stanley Lake, that pale apparition, was gone.

I do not know at all how Miss Brandon felt at this instant; for I never
could quite understand that strange lady. But I believe she looked a
little pale as she gravely adjusted the flowers so audaciously violated
by the touch of the cool young gentleman.

I can't say whether Miss Brandon deigned to follow him with her dark,
dreamy gaze. I rather think not. And three minutes afterwards he had left
the Town Hall.

The Brandon party did not stay very late. And they dropped Rachel at her
little dwelling. How very silent Dorcas was, thought Rachel, as they
drove from Gylingden. Perhaps others were thinking the same of Rachel.

Next morning, at half-past seven o'clock, a dozen or so of rustics, under
command of Major Jackson, arrived at the back entrance of Brandon Hall,
bearing Stanley Lake upon a shutter, with glassy eyes, that did not seem
to see, sunken face, and a very blue tinge about his mouth.

The major fussed into the house, and saw and talked with Larcom, who was
solemn and bland upon the subject, and went out, first, to make personal
inspection of the captain, who seemed to him to be dying. He was shot
somewhere in the shoulder or breast--they could not see exactly where,
nor disturb him as he lay. A good deal of blood had flowed from him, upon
the arm and side of one of the men who supported his head.

Lake said nothing--he only whispered rather indistinctly one word,
'water'--and was not able to lift his head when it came; and when they
poured it into and over his lips, he sighed and closed his eyes.

'It is not a bad sign, bleeding so freely, but he looks devilish shaky,
you see. I've seen lots of our fellows hit, you know, and I don't like
his looks--poor fellow. You'd better see Lord Chelford this minute. He
could not stand being brought all the way to the town. I'll run down and
send up the doctor, and he'll take him on if he can bear it.'

Major Jackson did not run. Though I have seen with an astonishment that
has never subsided, fellows just as old and as fat, and braced up,
besides, in the inflexibilities of regimentals, keeping up at double
quick, at the heads of their companies, for a good quarter of a mile,
before the colonel on horseback mercifully called a halt.

He walked at his best pace, however, and indeed was confoundedly uneasy
about his own personal liabilities.

The major surprised Doctor Buddle shaving. He popped in unceremoniously.
The fat little doctor received him in drawers and a very tight web
worsted shirt, standing by the window, at which dangled a small
looking-glass.

'By George, Sir, they've been at mischief,' burst forth the major; and
the doctor, razor in hand, listened with wide open eyes and half his face
lathered, to the story. Before it was over the doctor shaved the unshorn
side, and (the major still in the room) completed his toilet in hot
haste.

Honest Major Jackson was very uncomfortable. Of course, Buddle could not
give any sort of opinion upon a case which he had not seen; but it
described uglily, and the major consulted in broken hints, with an uneasy
wink or two, about a flight to Boulogne.

'Well, it will be no harm to be ready; but take no step till I come
back,' said the doctor, who had stuffed a great roll of lint and
plaister, and some other medicinals, into one pocket, and his leather
case of instruments, forceps, probe, scissors, and all the other steel
and silver horrors, into the other; so he strutted forth in his great
coat, unnaturally broad about the hips; and the major, 'devilish
uncomfortable,' accompanied him at a smart pace to the great gate of
Brandon. He did not care to enter, feeling a little guilty, although he
explained on the way all about the matter. How devilish stiff Bracton's
man was about it. And, by Jove, Sir! you know, what was to be said? for
Lake, like a fool, chucked a lot of grapes in his face--for nothing, by
George!'

The doctor, short and broad, was now stumping up the straight avenue,
under the noble trees that roofed it over, and Major Jackson sauntered
about in the vicinity of the gate, more interested in Lake's safety than
he would have believed possible a day or two before.

Lord Chelford being an early man, was, notwithstanding the ball of the
preceding night, dressing, when St. Ange, his Swiss servant, knocked at
his door with a dozen pockethandkerchiefs, a bottle of eau-de-cologne,
and some other properties of his métier.

St. Ange could not wait until he had laid them down, but broke out with--

'Oh, mi Lor!--qu'est-il arrivé?--le pauvre capitaine! il est tué--il se
meurt--he dies--d'un coup de pistolet. He comes de se battre from beating
himself in duel--il a été atteint dans la poitrine--le pauvre
gentil-homme! of a blow of the pistol.'

And so on, the young nobleman gathering the facts as best he might.

'Is Larcom there?'

'In the gallery, mi lor.'

'Ask him to come in.'

So Monsieur Larcom entered, and bowed ominously.

'You've seen him, Larcom. Is he very much hurt?'

'He appears, my lord, to me, I regret to say, almost a-dying like.'

'Very weak? Does he speak to you?'

'Not a word, my lord. Since he got a little water he's quite quiet.'

'Poor fellow. Where have you put him?'

'In the housekeeper's lobby, my lord. I rather think he's a-dying. He
looks uncommon bad, and I and Mrs. Esterbroke, the housekeeper, my lord,
thought you would not like he should die out of doors.'

'Has she got your mistress's directions?'

'Miss Brandon is not called up, my lord, and Mrs. Esterbroke is unwillin'
to halarm her; so she thought it better I should come for orders to your
lordship; which she thinks also the poor young gentleman is certainly
a-dying.'

'Is there any vacant bed-room near where you have placed him? What does
Mrs. ---- the housekeeper, say?'

'She thinks, my lord, the room hopposit, where Mr. Sledd, the architeck,
slep, when 'ere, would answer very nice. It is roomy and hairy, and no
steps. Major Jackson, who is gone to the town to fetch the doctor, my
lord, says Mr. Lake won't a-bear carriage; and so the room on the level,
my lord, would, perhaps, be more convenient.'

'Certainly; tell her so. I will speak to Miss Brandon when she comes
down. How soon will the doctor be here?'

'From a quarter to half an hour, my lord.'

'Then tell the housekeeper to arrange as she proposes, and don't remove
his clothes until the doctor comes. Everyone must assist. I know, St.
Ange, you'll like to assist.'

So Larcom withdrew ceremoniously, and Lord Chelford hastened his toilet,
and was down stairs, and in the room assigned by the housekeeper to the
ill-starred Captain Lake, before Doctor Buddle had arrived.

It had already the dismal character of a sick chamber. Its light was
darkened; its talk was in whispers; and its to-ings and fro-ings on
tip-toe. An obsolete chambermaid had been already installed as nurse.
Little Mrs. Esterbroke, the housekeeper, was fussing hither and thither
about the room noiselessly.

So this gay, astute man of fashion had fallen into the dungeon of sudden
darkness, and the custody of old women; and lay helpless in the stocks,
awaiting the judgment of Buddle. Ridiculous little pudgy Buddle--how
awful on a sudden are you grown--the interpreter of death in this very
case. '_My_ case,' thought that seemingly listless figure on the bed;
'_my_ case--I suppose it _is_ fatal--I am to go out of this room in a
long cloth-covered box. I am going to try, alone and for ever, the value
of those theories of futurity and the unseen which I have quietly scouted
all my days. Oh, that the prophet Buddle were here, to end my tremendous
suspense, and to announce a reprieve from Heaven.'

While the wounded captain lay on the bed, with his clothes on, and the
coverlet over him, and that clay-coloured apathetic face, with closed
eyes, upon the pillow, without sigh or motion, not a whispered word
escaped him; but his brain was appalled, and his heart died within him in
the unspeakable horror of death.

Lord Chelford, too, having looked on Lake with silent, but awful
misgivings, longed for the arrival of the doctor; and was listening and
silent when Buddle's short step and short respiration were heard in the
passage. So Larcom came to the door to announce the doctor in a whisper,
and Buddle fussed into the room, and made his bow to Lord Chelford, and
his brief compliments and condolences.

'Not asleep?' he enquired, standing by the bed.

The captain's lips moved a disclaimer, I suppose, but no sound came.

So the doctor threw open the window-shutters, and clipped Stanley Lake's
exquisite coat ruthlessly through with his scissors, and having cleared
the room of all useless hands, he made his examination.

It was a long visit. Buddle in the hall afterwards declined breakfast--he
had a board to attend. He told Lord Chelford that the case was 'a very
nasty one.'

In fact, the chances were against the captain, and he, Buddle, would wish
a consultation with a London surgeon--whoever Lord Chelford lead most
confidence in--Sir Francis Seddley, he thought, would be very
desirable--but, of course, it was for the family to decide. If the
messenger caught the quarter to eleven up train at Dollington, he would
be in London at six, and could return with the doctor by the down mail
train, and so reach Dollington at ten minutes past four next morning,
which would answer, as he would not operate sooner.

As the doctor toddled towards Gylingden, with sympathetic Major Tackson
by his side, before they entered the town they were passed by one of the
Brandon men riding at a hard canter for Dollington.

'London?' shouted the doctor, as the man touched his hat in passing.

'Yes, Sir.'

'Glad o' that,' said the major, looking after him.

'So am I,' said the learned Buddle. 'I don't see how we're to get the
bullet out of him, without mischief. Poor devil, I'm afraid he'll do no
good.'

The ladies that morning had tea in their rooms. It was near twelve
o'clock when Lord Chelford saw Miss Brandon. She was in the conservatory
amongst her flowers, and on seeing him stepped into the drawing-room.

'I hope, Dorcas, you are not angry with me. I've been, I'm afraid, very
impertinent; but I was called on to decide for you, in your absence, and
they all thought poor Lake could not be moved on to Gylingden without
danger.'

'You did quite rightly, Chelford, and I thank you,' said Miss Brandon,
coldly; and she seated herself, and continued--

'Pray, what does the doctor really say?'

'He speaks very seriously.'

'Does he think there is danger?'

'Very great danger.'

Miss Brandon looked down, and then, with a pale gaze suddenly in
Chelford's face--

'He thinks he may die?' said she.

'Yes,' said Lord Chelford, in a very low tone, returning her gaze
solemnly.

'And nobody to advise but that village doctor, Buddle--that's hardly
credible, I think.'

'Pardon me. At his suggestion I have sent for Sir Francis Seddley, from
town, and I hope he may arrive early to-morrow morning.'

'Why, Stanley Lake may die to-day.'

'He does not apprehend that. But it is necessary to remove the bullet,
and the operation will be critical, and it is for that specially that Sir
Francis is coming down.'

'It is to take place to-morrow, and he'll die in that operation. You know
he'll die,' said Dorcas, pale and fierce.

'I assure you, Dorcas, I have been perfectly frank. He looks upon poor
Lake as in very great danger--but that is all.'

'What brutes you men are!' said Dorcas, with a wild scorn in her look and
accent, and her cheeks flushed with passion. 'You knew quite well last
night there was to be this wicked duel in the morning--and you--a
magistrate--a lord-lieutenant--what are you?--you connived at this bloody
conspiracy--and _he_--your own cousin, Chelford--your cousin!'

Chelford looked at her, very much amazed.

'Yes; you are worse than Sir Harry Bracton--for you're no fool; and worse
than that wicked old man. Major Jackson--who shall never enter these
doors again--for he was employed--trusted in their brutal plans; but you
had no excuse and every opportunity--and you have allowed your Cousin
Stanley to be murdered.'

'You do me great injustice, Dorcas. I did not know, or even suspect that
a hostile meeting between poor Lake and Bracton was thought of. I merely
heard that there had been some trifling altercation in the supper-room;
and when, intending to make peace between them, I alluded to it, just
before we left, and Bracton said it was really nothing--quite blown
over--and that he could not recollect what either had said. I was
entirely deceived--you know I speak truth--quite deceived. They think it
fair, you know, to dupe other people in such affairs; and I will also
say,' he continued, a little haughtily, 'that you might have spared your
censure until at least you had heard what I had to say.'

'I do believe you, Chelford; you are not vexed with me. Won't you shake
hands?'

He took her hand with a smile.

'And now,' said she, 'Chelford, ought not we to send for poor Rachel: her
only brother? Is not it sad?'

'Certainly; shall I ask my mother, or will you write?'

'I will write,' she said.

CHAPTER XXXIX.

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

In about an hour afterwards, Rachel Lake arrived in the carriage which
had been despatched for her with Dorcas's note.

She was a good deal muffled up, and looked very pale, and asked whether
Miss Brandon was in her room, whither she glided rapidly up stairs. It
was a sort of boudoir or dressing-room, with a few pretty old portraits
and miniatures, and a number of Louis Quatorze looking-glasses hung
round, and such pretty quaint cabriole gilt and pale green furniture.

Dorcas met her at the door, and they kissed silently.

'How is he, Dorcas?'

'Very ill, dear, I'm afraid--sit down, darling.'

Rachel was relieved, for in her panic she almost feared to ask if he were
living.

'Is there immediate danger?'

'The doctor says not, but he is very much alarmed for to-morrow.'

'Oh! Dorcas, darling, he'll die; I know it. Oh! merciful Heaven! how
tremendous.'

'You will not be so frightened in a little time. You have only just heard
it, Rachel dearest, and you are startled. I was so myself.'

'I'd like to see him, Dorcas.'

'Sit here a little and rest, dear. The doctor will make his visit
immediately, and then we can ask him. He's a good-natured little
creature--poor old Buddle--and I am certain if it can safely be, he won't
prevent it.'

'Where is he, darling--where is Stanley?'

So Dorcas described as well as she could.

'Oh, poor Stanley. Oh, Stanley--poor Stanley,' gasped Rachel, with white
lips. 'You have no idea, Dorcas--no one can--how terrific it is. Oh, poor
Stanley--poor Stanley.'

'Drink this water, darling; you must not be so excited.'

'Dorcas, say what the doctor may, see him I must.'

'There is time to think of that, darling.'

'Has he spoken to anyone?'

'Very little, I believe. He whispers a few words now and then--that is
all.'

'Nothing to Chelford--nothing particular, I mean?'

'No--nothing--at least that I have heard of.'

'Did he wish to see no one?'

'No one, dear.'

'Not poor William Wylder?'

'No, dear. I don't suppose he cares more for a clergyman than for any
other man; none of his family ever did, when they came to lie on a bed of
sickness, or of death either.'

'No, no,' said Rachel, wildly; 'I did not mean to pray. I was not
thinking of that; but William Wylder was different; and he did not
mention _me_ either?'

Dorcas shook her head.

'I knew it,' continued Rachel, with a kind of shudder. 'And tell me,
Dorcas, does he know that he is in danger--such imminent danger?'

'That I cannot say, Rachel, dear. I don't believe doctors like to tell
their patients so.'

There was a silence of some minutes, and Rachel, clasping her hands in an
agony, said--

'Oh, yes--he's gone--he's certainly gone; and I remain alone under that
dreadful burden.'

'Please, Miss Brandon, the doctor's down stairs with Captain Lake,' said
the maid, opening the door.

'Is Lord Chelford with him?'

'Yes, Miss, please.'

'Then tell him I will be so obliged if he will come here for a moment,
when the doctor is gone; and ask the doctor now, from me, how he thinks
Captain Lake.'

In a little while the maid returned. Captain Lake was not so low, and
rather better than this morning, the doctor said; and Rachel raised her
eyes, and whispered an agitated thanksgiving. 'Was Lord Chelford coming?'

'His lordship had left the room when she returned, and Mr. Larcom said he
was with Lawyer Larkin in the library.'

'Mr. Larkin can wait. Tell Lord Chelford I wish very much to see him
here.'

So away went the maid again. A message in that great house was a journey;
and there was a little space before they heard a knock at the door of
Dorcas's pretty room, and Lord Chelford, duly invited, came in.

Lord Chelford was surprised to see Rachel, and held her hand, while he
congratulated her on the more favourable opinion of the physician this
afternoon; and then he gave them, as fully and exactly as he could, all
the lights emitted by Dr. Buddle, and endeavoured to give his narrative
as cheerful and confident an air as he could. Then, at length, he
recollected that Mr. Larkin was waiting in the study.

'I quite forgot Mr. Larkin,' said he; 'I left him in the library, and I
am so very glad we have had a pleasanter report upon poor Lake this
evening; and I am sure we shall all feel more comfortable on seeing Sir
Francis Seddley. He _is_ such an admirable surgeon; and I feel sure he'll
strike out something for our poor patient. I've known him hit upon such
original expedients, and make such wonderful successes.'

So with a kind smile he left the room.

Then there was a long pause.

'Does he really think that Stanley will recover?' said Rachel.

'I don't know; I suppose he hopes it. I don't know, Rachel, what to think
of anyone or anything. What wild beasts they are. How "swift to shed
blood," as poor William Wylder said last Sunday. Have you any idea what
they quarrelled about?'

'None in the world. It was that odious Sir Harry Bracton--was not it?'

'Why so odious, Rachel? How can you tell which was in the wrong? I only
know he seems to be a better marksman than your poor brother.'

Rachel looked at her with something of haughty and surprised displeasure,
but said nothing.

'You look at me, Radie, as if I were a monster--or _monstress_, I should
say--whereas I am only a Brandon. Don't you remember how our great
ancestor, who fought for the House of York, changed suddenly to
Lancaster, and how Sir Richard left the King and took part with Cromwell,
not for any particular advantage, I believe, or for any particular reason
even, but for wickedness and wounded pride, perhaps.'

'I don't quite see your meaning, Dorcas. I can't understand how _your_
pride has been hurt; but if Stanley had any, I can well imagine what
torture it must have endured; wretched, wicked, punished fool!'

'You suspect what they fought about, Radie!'

Rachel made no answer.

'You do, Radie, and why do you dissemble with me?'

'I don't dissemble; I don't care to speak; but if you will have me say
so, I _do_ suspect--I think it must have originated in jealousy of you.'

'You look, Radie, as if you thought I had managed it--whereas I really
did not care.'

'I do not understand you, Dorcas; but you appear to me very cruel, and
you smile, as I say so.'

'I smile, because I sometimes think so myself.'

With a fixed and wrathful stare Rachel returned the enigmatical gaze of
her beautiful cousin.

'If Stanley dies, Dorcas, Sir Harry Bracton shall hear of it. I'll lose
my life, but he shall pay the forfeit of his crime.'

So saying, Rachel left the room, and gliding through passages, and down
stairs, she knocked at Stanley's door. The old woman opened it.

'Ah, Dorothy! I'm so glad to see _you_ here!' and she put a present in
her hard, crumpled hand.

So, noiselessly, Rachel Lake, without more parley, stepped into the room,
and closed the door. She was alone with Stanley With a beating heart, and
a kind of chill stealing over her, by her brother's bed.

The room was not so dark that she could not see distinctly enough.

There lay her brother, such as he was--still her brother, on the bleak,
neutral ground between life and death. His features, peaked and earthy,
and that look, so new and peculiar, which does not savour of life upon
them. He did not move, but his strange eyes gazed cold and earnest from
their deep sockets upon her face in awful silence. Perhaps he thought he
saw a phantom.

'Are you better, dear?' whispered Rachel.

His lips stirred and his throat, but he did not speak until a second
effort brought utterance, and he murmured,

'Is that you, Radie?'

'Yes, dear. Are you better?'

'_No_. I'm shot. I shall die to-night. Is it night yet?'

'Don't despair, Stanley, dear. The great London doctor, Sir Francis
Seddley, will be with you early in the morning, and Chelford has great
confidence in him. I'm sure he will relieve you.'

'This is Brandon?' murmured Lake.

'Yes, dear.'

She thought he was going to say more, but he remained silent, and she
recollected that he ought not to speak, and also that she had that to say
which must be said.

Sharp, dark, and strange lay that familiar face upon the white pillow.
The faintest indication of something like a peevish sneer; it might be
only the lines of pain and fatigue; still it had that unpleasant
character remaining fixed on its features.

'Oh, Stanley! you say you think you are dying. Won't you send for William
Wylder and Chelford, and tell all you know of Mark?'

She saw he was about to say something, and she leaned her head near his
lips, and she heard him whisper,--

'It won't serve Mark.'

'I'm thinking of _you_, Stanley--I'm thinking of you.'

To which he said either 'Yes' or 'So.' She could not distinguish.

'I view it now quite differently. You said, you know, in the park, you
would tell Chelford; and I resisted, I believe, but I don't now. I had
_rather_ you did. Yes, Stanley, I conjure you to tell it all.'

The cold lips, with a livid halo round them, murmured, 'Thank you.'

It was a sneer, very shocking just then, perhaps; but unquestionably a
sneer.

'Poor Stanley!' she murmured, with a kind of agony, looking down upon
that changed face. 'One word more, Stanley. Remember, it's I, the only
one on earth who stands near you in kindred, your sister, Stanley, who
implores of you to take this step before it is too late; at least, to
consider.'

He said something. She thought it was 'I'll think;' and then he closed
his eyes. It was the only motion she had observed, his face lay just as
it had done on the pillow. He had not stirred all the time she was there;
and now that his eyelids closed, it seemed to say, our interview is
over--the curtain has dropped; and so understanding it, with that one
awful look that may be the last, she glided from the bed-side, told old
Dorothy that he seemed disposed to sleep, and left the room.

There is something awful always in the spectacle of such a sick-bed as
that beside which Rachel had just stood. But not quite so dreadful is the
sight as are the imaginings and the despair of absence. So reassuring is
the familiar spectacle of life, even in its subsidence, so long as bodily
torture and mental aberration are absent.

In the meanwhile, on his return to the library, Lord Chelford found his
dowager mother in high chat with the attorney, whom she afterwards
pronounced 'a very gentlemanlike man for his line of life.'

The conversation, indeed, was chiefly that of Lady Chelford, the
exemplary attorney contributing, for the most part, a polite
acquiescence, and those reflections which most appositely pointed the
moral of her ladyship's tale, which concerned altogether the vagaries of
Mark Wylder--a subject which piqued her curiosity and irritated her
passions.

It was a great day for Jos. Larkin; for by the time Lord Chelford
returned the old lady had asked him to stay for dinner, which he did,
notwithstanding his morning dress, to his great inward satisfaction,
because he could henceforward mention, 'the other day, when I dined at
Brandon,' or 'old Lady Chelford assured me, when last I dined at
Brandon;' and he could more intimately speak of 'our friends at Brandon,'
and 'the Brandon people,' and, in short, this dinner was very serviceable
to the excellent attorney.

It was not very amusing this interchange of thought and feeling between
Larkin and the dowager, upon a theme already so well ventilated as Mark
Wylder's absconding, and therefore I let it pass.

After dinner, when the dowager's place knew her no more, Lord Chelford
resumed his talk with Larkin.

'I am quite confirmed in the view I took at first,' he said. 'Wylder has
no claim upon me. There are others on whom much more naturally the care
of his money would devolve, and I think that my undertaking the office he
proposes, under his present strange circumstances, might appear like an
acquiescence in the extraordinary course he has taken, and a sanction
generally of his conduct, which I certainly can't approve. So, Mr.
Larkin, I have quite made up my mind. I have no business to undertake
this trust, simple as it is.'

'I have only, my lord, to bow to your lordship's decision; at the same
time I cannot but feel, my lord, how peculiar and painful is the position
in which it places me. There are rents to be received by me, and sums
handed over, to a considerable--I may say, indeed, a very large amount:
and my friend Lake--Captain Lake--now, unhappily, in so very precarious a
state, appears to dislike the office, also, and to anticipate annoyance,
in the event of his consenting to act. Altogether, your lordship will
perceive that the situation is one of considerable, indeed very great
embarrassment, as respects me. There is, however, one satisfactory
circumstance disclosed in his last letter. His return, he says, cannot be
delayed beyond a very few months, perhaps _weeks;_ and he states, in his
own rough way, that he will then explain the motives of his conduct to
the entire satisfaction of all those who are cognizant of the measures
which he has adopted--no more claret, thanks--no more--a delicious
wine--and he adds, it will then be quite understood that he
has acted neither from caprice, nor from any motive other than
self-preservation. I assure you, my lord, that is the identical phrase he
employs--self-preservation. I all along suspected, or, rather, I mean,
supposed, that Mr. Wylder had been placed in this matter under
coercion--a--a threat.'

'A little more wine?' asked Lord Chelford, after another interval.

'No--no more, I thank you. Your lordship's very good, and the wine, I may
say, excellent--delicious claret; indeed, quite so--ninety shillings a
dozen, I should venture to say, and hardly to be had at that figure; but
it grows late, I rather think, and the trustees of our little Wesleyan
chapel--we've got a little into debt in that quarter, I am sorry to
say--and I promised to advise with them this evening at nine o'clock.
They have called me to counsel more than once, poor fellows; and so, with
your lordship's permission, I'll withdraw.'

Lord Chelford walked with him to the steps. It was a beautiful
night--very little moon, but that and the stars wonderfully clear and
bright, and all things looking so soft and airy.

'Try one of these,' said the peer, presenting his cigar case.

Larkin, with a glow of satisfaction, took one of these noble cigars, and
rolled it in his fingers, and smelt it.

'Fragrant--wonderfully fragrant!' he observed, meekly, with a
connoisseur's shake of the head.

The night was altogether so charming that Lord Chelford was tempted. So
he took his cap, and lighted his cigar, too, and strolled a little way
with the attorney.

He walked under the solemn trees--the same under whose airy groyning
Wylder and Lake had walked away together on that noteworthy night on
which Mark had last turned his back upon the grand old gables and twisted
chimneys of Brandon Hall.

This way was rather a round, it must be confessed, to the Lodge--Jos,
Larkin's peaceful retreat. But a stroll with a lord was worth more than
that sacrifice, and every incident which helped to make a colourable case
of confidential relations at Brandon--a point in which the good attorney
had been rather weak hitherto--was justly prized by that virtuous man.

If the trustees, Smith the pork-butcher, old Captain Snoggles, the Town
Clerk, and the rest, had to wait some twenty minutes in the drawing-room
at the Lodge, so much the better. An apology was, perhaps, the best and
most modest shape into which he could throw the advertisement of his
dinner at Brandon--his confidential talk with the proud old dowager, and
his after-dinner ramble with that rising young peer, Lord Chelford. It
would lead him gracefully into detail, and altogether the idea, the
situation, the scene and prospect, were so soothing and charming, that
the good attorney felt a silent exaltation as he listened to Lord
Chelford's two or three delighted sentences upon the illimitable wonders
and mysteries glimmering in the heavens above them.

The cigar was delicious, the air balmy and pleasant, his digestion happy,
the society unexceptionably aristocratic--a step had just been gained,
and his consideration in the town and the country round improved, by the
occurrences of the evening, and his whole system, in consequence, in a
state so serene, sweet and satisfactory, that I really believe there was
genuine moisture in his pink, dove-like eyes, as he lifted them to the
heavens, and murmured, 'Beautiful, beautiful!' And he mistook his
sensations for a holy rapture and silent worship.

Cigars, like other pleasures, are transitory. Lord Chelford threw away
his stump, tendered his case again to Mr. Larkin, and then took his
leave, walking slowly homewards.

CHAPTER XL.

THE ATTORNEY'S ADVENTURES ON THE WAY HOME.

Mr. Jos. Larkin was now moving alone, under the limbs of the Brandon
trees. He knew the path, as he had boasted to Lord Chelford, from his
boyhood; and, as he pursued his way, his mind got upon the accustomed
groove, and amused itself with speculations respecting the vagaries of
Mark Wylder.

'I wonder what his lordship thinks. He was very close--very' ruminated
Larkin; 'no distinct ideas about it possibly; and did not seem to wish to
lead me to the subject. Can he _know_ anything? Eh, can he possibly?
Those high fellows are very knowing often--so much on the turf, and all
that--very sharp and very deep.'

He was thinking of a certain noble lord in difficulties, who had hit a
client of his rather hard, and whose affairs did not reflect much credit
upon their noble conductor.

'Aye, I dare say, deep enough, and intimate with the Lakes. He expects to
be home in two months' time. _He's_ a deep fellow too; he does not like
to let people know what he's about. I should not be surprised if he came
to-morrow. Lake and Lord Chelford may both know more than they say. Why
should they both object merely to receive and fund his money? They think
he wants to get them into a fix--hey? If I'm to conduct his business, I
ought to know it; if he keeps a secret from me, affecting all his
business relations, like this, and driving him about the world like an
absconding bankrupt, how can I advise him?'

All this drifted slowly through his mind, and each suggestion had its
collateral speculations; and so it carried him pleasantly a good way on
his walk, and he was now in the shadow of the dense copsewood that
mantles the deep ravine which debouches into Redman's Dell.

The road was hardly two yards wide, and the wood walled it in, and
overhung it occasionally in thick, irregular masses. As the attorney
marched leisurely onward, he saw, or fancied that he saw, now and then,
in uncertain glimpses, something white in motion among the trees beside
him.

At first he did not mind; but it continued, and grew gradually
unpleasant. It might be a goat, a white goat; but no, it was too tall for
that. Had he seen it at all? Aye! there it was, no mistake now. A
poacher, maybe? But their poachers were not of the dangerous sort, and
there had not been a robber about Gylingden within the memory of man.
Besides, why on earth should either show himself in that absurd way?

He stopped--he listened--he stared suspiciously into the profound
darkness. Then he thought he heard a rustling of the leaves near him, and
he hallooed, 'Who's there?' But no answer came.

So, taking heart of grace, he marched on, still zealously peering among
the trees, until, coming to an opening in the pathway, he more distinctly
saw a tall, white figure, standing in an ape-like attitude, with its arms
extended, grasping two boughs, and stooping, as if peeping cautiously, as
he approached.

The good attorney drew up and stared at this gray phantasm, saying to
himself, 'Yes,' in a sort of quiet hiss.

He stopped in a horror, and as he gazed, the figure suddenly drew back
and disappeared.

'Very pleasant this!' said the attorney, after a pause, recovering a
little. 'What on earth can it be?'

Jos. Larkin could not tell which way it had gone. He had already passed
the midway point, where this dark path begins to descend through the
ravine into Redman's Dell. He did not like going forward--but to turn
back might bring him again beside the mysterious figure. And though he
was not, of course, afraid of ghosts, nor in this part of the world, of
robbers, yet somehow he did not know what to make of this gigantic gray
monkey.

So, not caring to stay longer, and seeing nothing to be gained by turning
back, the attorney buttoned the top button of his coat, and holding his
head very erect, and placing as much as he could of the path between
himself and the side where the figure had disappeared, marched on
steadily. It was too dark, and the way not quite regular enough, to
render any greater speed practicable.

From the thicket, as he proceeded, he heard a voice--he had often shot
woodcocks in that cover--calling in a tone that sounded in his ears like
banter, 'Mark--Mark--Mark--Mark.'

He stopped, holding his breath, and the sound ceased.

'Well, this certainly is not usual,' murmured Mr. Larkin, who was a
little more perturbed than perhaps he quite cared to acknowledge even to
himself. 'Some fellow perhaps watching for a friend--or tricks, maybe.'

Then the attorney, trying his supercilious smile in the dark, listened
again for a good while, but nothing was heard except those whisperings of
the wind which poets speak of. He looked before him with his eyebrows
screwed, in a vain effort to pierce the darkness, and the same behind
him; and then after another pause, he began uncomfortably to move down
the path once more.

In a short time the same voice, with the same uncertain echo among the
trees, cried faintly, 'Mark--Mark,' and then a pause; then again,
'Mark--Mark--Mark,' and then it grew more distant, and sounded among the
trees and reverberations of the glen like laughter.

'Mark--ha--ha--hark--ha--ha--ha--hark--Mark--Mark--ha--ha--hark!'

'Who's there?' cried the attorney, in a tone rather ferocious from
fright, and stamping on the path. But his summons and the provocation
died away together in the profoundest silence.

Mr. Jos. Larkin did not repeat his challenge. This cry of 'Mark!' was
beginning to connect itself uncomfortably in his mind with his
speculations about his wealthy client, which in that solitude and
darkness began to seem not so entirely pure and disinterested as he was
in the habit of regarding them, and a sort of wood-demon, such as a queer
little schoolfellow used long ago to read a tale about in an old German
story-book, was now dogging his darksome steps, and hanging upon his
flank with a vindictive design.

Jos. Larkin was not given to fancy, nor troubled with superstition. His
religion was of a comfortable, punctual, business-like cast, which
according with his genius--denied him, indeed, some things for which, in
truth, he had no taste--but in no respect interfered with his main
mission upon earth, which was getting money. He had found no difficulty
hitherto in serving God and Mammon. The joint business prospered. Let us
suppose it was one of those falterings of faith, which try the best men,
that just now made him feel a little queer, and gave his thoughts about
Mark Wylder, now grown habitual, that new and ghastly complexion which
made the situation so unpleasant.

He wished himself more than once well out of this confounded pass, and
listened nervously for a good while, and stared once more,
half-frightened, in various directions, into the darkness.

'If I thought there could be anything the least wrong or
reprehensible--we are all fallible--in my allowing my mind to turn so
much upon my client, I can certainly say I should be very far from
allowing it--I shall certainly consider it--and I may promise myself to
decide in a Christian spirit, and if there be a doubt, to give it against
myself.'

This resolution, which was, he trusted, that of a righteous man, was, I
am afraid, the effect rather of fright than reflection, and employed in
that sense somewhat in the manner of an exorcism--whispered rather to the
ghost than to his conscience.

I am sure Larkin did not himself suppose this. On the contrary, he really
believed, I am convinced, that he scouted the ghost, and had merely
volunteered this salutary self-examination as an exercise of conscience.
He could not, however, have doubted that he was very nervous--and that he
would have been glad of the companionship even of one of the Gylingden
shopkeepers, through this infested bit of wood.

Having again addressed himself to his journey, he was now approaching
that part of the path where the trees recede a little, leaving a
considerable space unoccupied at either side of his line of march. Here
there was faint moonlight and starlight, very welcome; but a little in
advance of him, where the copsewood closed in again, just above those
stone steps which Lake and his sister Rachel had mounted together upon
the night of the memorable rendezvous, he fancied that he again saw the
gray figure cowering among the foremost stems of the wood.

It was a great shock. He stopped short--and as he stared upon the object,
he felt that electric chill and rising of the hair which accompany
supernatural panic.

As he gazed, however, it was gone. Yes. At all events, he could see it no
more. Had he seen it there at all? He was in such an odd state he could
not quite trust himself. He looked back hesitatingly. But he remembered
how very long and dark the path that way was, and how unpleasant his
adventures there had been. And although there was a chance that the gray
monkey was lurking somewhere near the path, still there was now but a
short space between him and the broad carriage track down Redman's Dell,
and once upon that he considered himself almost in the street of
Gylingden.

So he made up his mind, and marched resolutely onward, and had nearly
reached that point at which the converging screen of thicket again
overshadows the pathway, when close at his side he saw the tall, white
figure push itself forward among the branches, and in a startling
under-tone of enquiry, like a conspirator challenging his brother, a
voice--the same which he had so often heard during this walk--cried over
his shoulder,

'Mark _Wylder_!'

Larkin sprung back a pace or two, turning his face full upon the
challenger, who in his turn was perhaps affrighted, for the same voice
uttered a sort of strangled shriek, and he heard the branches crack and
rustle as he pushed his sudden retreat through them--leaving the attorney
more horrified than ever.

No other sound but the melancholy soughing of the night-breeze, and the
hoarse murmur of the stream rising from the stony channel of Redman's
Dell, were now, or during the remainder of his walk through these haunted
grounds, again audible.

So, with rapid strides passing the dim gables of Redman's Farm, he at
length found himself, with a sense of indescribable relief, upon the
Gylingden road, and could see the twinkling lights in the windows of the
main street.

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