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Wylder's Hand by J. Sheridan Le Fanu

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CHAPTER XLI.

IN WHICH SIR FRANCIS SEDDLEY MANIPULATES.

At about two o'clock Buddle was called up, and spirited away to Brandon
in a dog-cart. A haemorrhage, perhaps, a sudden shivering, and
inflammation--a sinking, maybe, or delirium--some awful change,
probably--for Buddle did not return.

Old Major Jackson heard of it, in his early walk, at Buddle's door. He
had begun to grow more hopeful. But hearing this he walked home, and
replaced the dress-coat and silk stockings he had ventured to remove,
promptly in his valise, which he buckled down and locked--swallowed with
agitated voracity some fragments of breakfast--got on his easy boots and
gaiters--brushed his best hat, and locked it into its leather
case--placed his rug, great-coat, and umbrella, and a rough walking-stick
for service, and a gold-tipped, exquisite cane, for duty on promenades of
fashion, neatly on top of his valise, and with his old white hat and
shooting-coat on, looking and whistling as much as possible as usual, he
popped carelessly into John Hobbs's stable, where he was glad to see
three horses standing, and he mentally chose the black cob for his flight
to Dollington.

'A bloodthirsty rascal that Bracton,' muttered the major. The expenses
were likely to be awful, and some allowance was to be made for his state
of mind.

He was under Doctor Buddle's porch, and made a flimsy rattle with his
thin brass knocker. 'Maybe he has returned?' He did not believe it,
though.

Major Jackson was very nervous, indeed. The up trains from Dollington
were 'few and far between,' and that _diddled_ Crutchleigh would be down
on him the moment the breath was out of poor Lake. 'It was plain
yesterday at the sessions that infernal woman (his wife) had been at him.
She hates Bracton like poison, because he likes the Brandon people; and,
by Jove, he'll have up every soul concerned. The Devil and his wife I
call them. If poor Lake goes off anywhere between eleven and four
o'clock, I'm nabbed, by George!'

The door was opened. The doctor peeped out of his parlour.

'Well?' enquired the major, confoundedly frightened.

'Pretty well, thank ye, but awfully fagged--up all night, and no use.'

'But how _is_ he?' asked the major, with a dreadful qualm of dismay.

'Same as yesterday--no change--only a little bleeding last night--not
arterial; venous you know--only venous.'

The major thought he spoke of the goddess, and though he did not well
comprehend, said he was 'glad of it.'

'Think he'll do then?'

'He may--very unlikely though. A nasty case, as you can imagine.'

'He'll certainly not go, poor fellow, before four o'clock P.M. I dare
say--eh?'

The major's soul was at the Dollington station, and was regulating poor
Lake's departure by 'Bradshaw's Guide.'

'Who knows? We expect Sir Francis this morning. Glad to have a share of
the responsibility off my shoulders, I can tell you. Come in and have a
chop, will you?'

'No, thank you, I've had my breakfast.'

'You have, have you? Well, I haven't,' cried the doctor, with an
agreeable chuckle, shaking the major's hand, and disappearing again into
his parlour.

I found in my lodgings in London, on my return from Doncaster, some two
months later, a copy of the county paper of this date, with a cross
scrawled beside the piece of intelligence which follows. I knew that
tremulous cross. It was traced by the hand of poor old Miss Kybes--with
her many faults always kind to me. It bore the Brandon postmark, and
altogether had the impress of authenticity. It said:--

'We have much pleasure in stating that the severe injury sustained four
days since by Captain Stanley Lake, at the time a visitor at the Lodge,
the picturesque residence of Josiah Larkin, Esq., in the vicinity of
Gylingden, is not likely to prove so difficult of treatment or so
imminently dangerous as was at first apprehended. The gallant gentleman
was removed from the scene of his misadventure to Brandon Hall, close to
which the accident occurred, and at which mansion his noble relatives,
Lord Chelford and the Dowager Lady Chelford, are at present staying on a
visit. Sir Francis Seddley came down express from London, and assisted by
our skilful county practitioner, Humphrey Buddle, Esq., M.D. of
Gylingden, operated most successfully on Saturday last, and we are happy
to say the gallant patient has since been going on as favourably as could
possibly have been anticipated. Sir Francis Seddley returned to London on
Sunday afternoon.'

Within a week after the operation, Buddle began to talk so confidently
about his patient, that the funereal cloud that overhung Brandon had
almost totally disappeared, and Major Jackson had quite unpacked his
portmanteau.

About a week after the 'accident' there came one of Mr. Mark Wylder's
strange letters to Mr. Jos. Larkin. This time it was from Marseilles, and
bore date the 27th November. It was much the longest he had yet received,
and was in the nature of a despatch, rather than of those short notes in
which he had hitherto, for the most part, communicated.

Like the rest of his letters it was odd, but written, as it seemed, in
better spirits.

'Dear Larkin,--You will be surprised to find me in this port, but I think
my secret cruise is nearly over now, and you will say the plan was a
master-stroke, and well executed by a poor devil, with nobody to advise
him. I am coiling such a web round them, and making it fast, as you may
see a spider, first to this point and then to the other, that I won't
leave my persecutors one solitary chance of escape. I'll draw it quietly
round and round--closer and closer--till they can neither blow nor budge,
and then up to the yardarm they go, with what breath is left in them. You
don't know yet _how_ I am dodging, or why my measures are taken; but I'll
shorten your long face a good inch with a genuine broad grin when you
learn how it all was. I may see you to tell the story in four weeks'
time; but keep this close. Don't mention where I write from, nor even so
much as my name. I have reasons for everything, which you may guess, I
dare say, being a sharp chap; and it is not for nothing, be very sure,
that I am running this queer rig, masquerading, hiding, and dodging, like
a runaway forger, which is not pleasant anyway, and if you doubt it, only
try; but needs must when the old boy drives. He is a clever fellow, no
doubt, but has been sometimes out-witted before now. You must arrange
about Chelford and Lake. I don't know where Lake is staying. I don't
suppose at Brandon; but he won't stay in the country nor spend his money
to please you or I. Therefore you must have him at your house--be
sure--and I will square it with you; I think three pounds a week ought to
do it very handsome. Don't be a muff and give him expensive wines--a pint
of sherry is plenty between you; and when he dines at his club
half-a-pint does him. _I_ know; but if he costs you more, I hereby
promise to pay it. Won't that do? Well, about Chelford: I have been
thinking he takes airs, and maybe he is on his high-horse about that
awkward business about Miss Brandon. But there is no reason why Captain
Lake should object. He has only to hand you a receipt in my name for the
amount of cheques you may give him, and to lodge a portion of it where I
told him, and the rest to buy Consols; and I suppose he will expect
payment for his no-trouble. Every fellow, particularly these
gentlemanlike fellows, they have a pluck at you when they can. If he is
at that, give him at the rate of a hundred a-year, or a hundred and fifty
if you think he won't do for less; though 100_l_. ought to be a good deal
to Lake; and tell him I have a promise of the adjutancy of the county
militia, if he likes that; and I am sure of a seat in Parliament either
for the county or for Dollington, as you know, and can do better for him
then; and I rely on you, one way or another, to make him undertake it.
And now for myself: I think my vexation is very near ended. I have not
fired a gun yet, and they little think what a raking broadside I'll give
them. Any of the county people you meet, tell them I'm making a little
excursion on the Continent; and if they go to particularise, you may say
the places I have been at. Don't let anyone know more. I wish there was
any way of stopping that old she'--(it looked like dragon or devil--but
was traced over with a cloud of flourishes, and only 'Lady Chelford's
mouth' was left untouched). 'Don't expect to hear from me so long a yarn
for some time again; and don't write. I don't stay long anywhere, and
don't carry my own name--and never ask for letters at the post. I've a
good glass, and can see pretty far, and make a fair guess enough what's
going on aboard the enemy.

'I remain always,

'Dear Larkin,

'Ever yours truly,

'MARK WYLDER.'

'He hardly trusts Lake more than he does me, I presume,' murmured Mr.
Larkin, elevating his tall bald head with an offended and supercilious
air; and letting the thin, open letter fall, or rather throwing it with a
slight whisk upon the table.

'No, I take leave to think he certainly does _not_. Lake has got private
directions about the disposition of a portion of the money. Of course, if
there are persons to be dealt with who are not pleasantly approachable by
respectable professional people--in fact it would not suit me. It is
really rather a compliment, and relieves me of the unpleasant necessity
of saying--no.'

Yet Mr. Larkin was very sore, and curious, and in a measure, hated both
Lake and Wylder for their secret confidences, and was more than ever
resolved to get at the heart of Mark's mystery.

CHAPTER XLII.

A PARAGRAPH IN THE COUNTY PAPER.

The nature of his injury considered, Captain Lake recovered with
wonderful regularity and rapidity. In four weeks he was out rather pale
and languid but still able to walk without difficulty, leaning on a
stick, for ten or fifteen minutes at a time. In another fortnight he had
made another great advance, had thrown away his crutch handled stick, and
recovered flesh and vigour. In a fortnight more he had grown quite like
himself again; and in a very few weeks more, I read in the same county
paper, transmitted to me by the same fair hands, but this time not with a
cross, but three distinct notes of admiration standing tremulously at the
margin of the paragraph, the following to me for a time incredible, and
very nearly to this day amazing, announcement:--

'MARRIAGE IN HIGH LIFE.

'The auspicious event so interesting to our county, which we have this
day to announce, though for some time upon the _tapis_, has been attended
with as little publicity as possible. The contemplated union between
Captain Stanley Lake, late of the Guards, sole surviving son of the late
General Williams Stanley Stanley Lake, of Plasrhwyn, and the beautiful
and accomplished Miss Brandon, of Brandon Hall, in this county, was
celebrated in the ancestral chapel of Brandon, situated within the
manorial boundaries, in the immediate vicinity of the town of Gylingden,
on yesterday. Although the marriage was understood to be strictly
private--none but the immediate relations of the bride and bridegroom
being present--the bells of Gylingden rang out merry peals throughout the
day, and the town was tastefully decorated with flags, and brilliantly
illuminated at night.

'A deputation of the tenantry of the Gylingden and the Longmoor estates,
together with those of the Brandon estate, went in procession to Brandon
Hall in the afternoon, and read a well-conceived and affectionate
address, which was responded to in appropriate terms by Captain Lake, who
received them, with his beautiful bride at his side, in the great
gallery--perhaps the noblest apartment in that noble ancestral mansion.
The tenantry were afterwards handsomely entertained under the immediate
direction of Josiah Larkin, Esq., of the Lodge, the respected manager of
the Brandon estates, at the "Brandon Arms," in the town of Gylingden. It
is understood that the great territorial influence of the Brandon family
will obtain a considerable accession in the estates of the bridegroom in
the south of England.'

There was some more which I need not copy, being very like what we
usually see on such occasions.

I read this piece of intelligence half a dozen times over during
breakfast. 'How that beautiful girl has thrown herself away!' I thought.
'Surely the Chelfords, who have an influence there, ought to have exerted
it to prevent her doing anything so mad. His estates in the south of
England, indeed! Why, he can't have 300 a year clear from that little
property in Devon. He _is_ such a liar; and so absurd, as if he could
succeed in deceiving anyone upon the subject.'

So I read the paragraph over again, and laid down the paper, simply
saying, 'Well, certainly, that _is_ disgusting!'

I had heard of his duel. It was also said that it had in some way had
reference to Miss Brandon. But this was the only rumoured incident which
would at all have prepared one for the occurrence. I tried to recollect
anything particular in his manner--there was nothing; and she positively
seemed to dislike him. I had been utterly mystified, and so, I presume,
had all the other lookers-on.

Well! after all, 'twas no particular business of mine.

At the club, I saw it in the 'Morning Post;' and an hour after, old Joe
Gabloss, that prosy Argus who knows everything, recounted the details
with patient precision, and in legal phrase, 'put in' letters from two or
three country houses proving his statement.

So there was no doubting it longer: and Captain Stanley Lake, late of Her
Majesty's ---- Regiment of Guards, idler, scamp, coxcomb, and the
beautiful Dorcas Brandon, heiress of Brandon, were man and wife.

I wrote to my fair friend, Miss Kybes, and had an answer confirming, if
that were needed, the public announcement, and mentioning enigmatically,
that it had caused 'a great deal of conversation.'

The posture of affairs in the small world of Gylingden, except in the
matter of the alliance just referred to, was not much changed.

Since the voluminous despatch from Marseilles, promising his return so
soon, not a line had been received from Mark Wylder. He might arrive any
day or night. He might possibly have received some unexpected check--if
not checkmate, in that dark and deep game on which he seemed to have
staked so awfully. Mr. Jos. Larkin sometimes thought one thing, sometimes
another.

In the meantime, Captain Lake accepted the trust. Larkin at times thought
there was a constant and secret correspondence going on between him and
Mark Wylder, and that he was his agent in adjusting some complicated and
villainous piece of diplomacy by means of the fund--secret-service
money--which Mark had placed at his disposal.

He, Mr. Larkin, was treated like a child in this matter, and his advice
never so much as asked, nor his professional honour accredited by the
smallest act of confidence.

Sometimes his suspicions took a different turn, and he thought that Lake
might be one of those 'persecutors' of whom Mark spoke with such
mysterious hatred; and that the topic of their correspondence was,
perhaps, some compromise, the subject or the terms of which would not
bear the light.

Lake certainly made two visits to London, one of them of a week's
duration. The attorney being a sharp, long-headed fellow, who knew very
well what business was, knew perfectly well, too, that two or three short
letters might have settled any legitimate business which his gallant
friend had in the capital.

But Lake was now married, and under the incantation whistled over him by
the toothless Archdeacon of Mundlebury, had sprung up into a county
magnate, and was worth cultivating, and to be treated tenderly.

So the attorney's business was to smile and watch--to watch, and of
course, to pray as heretofore--but specially to watch. He himself hardly
knew all that was passing in his own brain. There are operations of
physical nature which go on actively without your being aware of them;
and the moral respiration, circulation, insensible perspiration, and all
the rest of that peculiar moral system which exhibited its type in Jos.
Larkin, proceeded automatically in the immortal structure of that
gentleman.

Being very gentlemanlike in externals, with a certain grace, amounting
very nearly to elegance, and having applied himself diligently to please
the county people, that proud fraternity, remembering his father's
estates, condoned his poverty, and took Captain Lake by the hand, and
lifted him into their superb, though not very entertaining order.

There were solemn festivities at Brandon, and festive solemnities at the
principal county houses in return. Though not much of a sportsman, Lake
lent himself handsomely to all the sporting proceedings of the county,
and subscribed in a way worthy of the old renown of Brandon Hall to all
sorts of charities and galas. So he was getting on very pleasantly with
his new neighbours, and was likely to stand very fairly in that dull, but
not unfriendly society.

About three weeks after this great county marriage, there arrived, this
time from Frankfort, a sharp letter, addressed to Jos. Larkin, Esq. It
said:--

'My Dear Sir,--I think I have reason to complain. I have just seen by
accident the announcement of the marriage at Brandon. I think as my
friend, and a friend to the Brandon family, you ought to have done
something to delay, if you could not stop it. Of course, you had the
settlements, and devil's in it if you could not have beat about a
while--it was not so quick with me--and not doubled the point in a single
tack; and you know the beggar has next to nothing. Any way, it was your
duty to have printed some notice that the thing was thought of. If you
had put it, like a bit of news, in "Galignani," I would have seen it, and
known what to do. Well, that ship's blew up. But I won't let all go. The
cur will begin to try for the county or for Dollington. You must quietly
stop that, mind; and if he persists, just you put an advertisement in
"Galignani," saying _Mr. Smith will take notice, that the other party is
desirous to purchase, and becoming very pressing_. Just you hoist that
signal, and _somebody_ will bear down, and blaze into him at all
hazards--you'll see how. Things have not gone quite smooth with me since;
but it won't be long till I run up my flag again, and take the command.
Be perfectly civil with Stanley Lake till I come on board--that is
indispensable; and keep this letter as close from every eye as sealed
orders. You may want a trifle to balk S.L.'s electioneering, and there's
an order on Lake for 200_l._ Don't trifle about the county and borough.
He must have no footing in either till I return.

'Yours, dear Larkin,

'Very truly

'(but look after my business better),

'M. WYLDER.'

The order on Lake, a little note, was enclosed:--

'Dear Lake,--I wish you joy, and all the good wishes going, as I could
not make the prize myself.

'Be so good to hand my lawyer, Mr. Jos. Larkin, of the Lodge, Gylingden,
200_l._ sterling, on my account.

'Yours, dear Lake,

'Very faithfully,

'M. WYLDER.

200_l._)

'23rd Feb., &c. &c.'

When Jos. Larkin presented this little order, it was in the handsome
square room in which Captain Lake transacted business--a lofty apartment,
wainscoted in carved oak, and with a great stone mantelpiece, with the
Wylder arms, projecting in bold relief, in the centre, and a florid
scroll, with 'RESURGAM' standing forth as sharp as the day it was
chiselled nearly three hundred years before.

There was some other business--Brandon business--to be talked over first;
and that exhausted, Mr. Larkin sat as usual, with one long thigh crossed
upon the other--his arm thrown over the back of his chair, and his tall,
bald head a little back, and his small mild eyes twinkling through their
pink lids on the enigmatical captain, who had entered upon the march of
ambition in a spirit so audacious and conquering.

'I had a line from Mr. Mark Wylder yesterday afternoon, as usual without
any address but the postmark;' and good Mr. Larkin laughed a mild, little
patient laugh, and lifted his open hand, and shook his head. 'It really
is growing too absurd--a mere order upon you to hand me 200_l._ How I'm
to dispose of it, I have not the faintest notion.'

And he laughed again; at the same time he gracefully poked the little
note, between two fingers, to Captain Lake, who glanced full on him, for
a second, as he took it.

'And how is Mark?' enquired Lake, with his odd, sly smile, as he scrawled
a little endorsement on the order. 'Does he say anything?'

'No; absolutely nothing--he's a very strange client!' said Larkin,
laughing again. 'There can be no objection, of course, to your reading
it; and he thinks--he thinks--he'll be here soon again--oh, here it is.'

Mr. Larkin had been fumbling, first in his deep waistcoat, and then in
his breast-pocket, as if for the letter, which was locked fast into the
iron safe, with Chubb's patent lock, in his office at the Lodge. But it
would not have done to have kept a secret from Captain Lake, of Brandon;
and therefore his not seeing the note was a mere accident.

'Oh! no--stupid!--that's Mullett and Hock's. I have not got it with me;
but it does not signify, for there's nothing in it. I hope I shall soon
be favoured with his directions as to what to do with the money.'

'He's an odd fellow; and I don't know how he feels towards me; but on my
part there is no feeling, I do assure you, but the natural desire to live
on the friendly terms which our ties of family and our position in the
county'--

Stanley Lake was writing the cheque for 200_l._ meanwhile, and handed it
to Larkin; and as that gentleman penned a receipt, the captain
continued--his eyes lowered to the little vellum-bound book in which he
was now making an entry:--

'You have handed me a large sum, Mr. Larkin--3,276_l._ 11_s._ 4_d._ I
undertook this, you know, on the understanding that it was not to go on
very long; and I find my own business pretty nearly as much as I can
manage. Is Wylder at all definite as to when we may expect his return?'

'Oh, dear no--quite as usual--he expects to be here soon; but that is
all. I so wish I had brought his note with me; but I'm positive that is
all.'

So, this little matter settled, the lawyer took his leave.

CHAPTER XLIII.

AN EVIL EYE LOOKS ON THE VICAR.

There were influences of a wholly unsuspected kind already gathering
round the poor vicar, William Wylder; as worlds first begin in thinnest
vapour, and whirl themselves in time into consistency and form, so do
these dark machinations, which at times gather round unsuspecting mortals
as points of revolution, begin nebulously and intangibly, and grow in
volume and in density, till a colossal system, with its inexorable
tendencies and forces, crushes into eternal darkness the centre it has
enveloped.

Thou shalt not covet; thou shalt not cast an eye of desire; out of the
heart proceed _murders_;--these dreadful realities shape themselves from
so filmy a medium as thought!

Ever since his conference with the vicar, good Mr. Larkin had been dimly
thinking of a thing. The good attorney's weakness was money. It was a
speck at first; a metaphysical microscope of no conceivable power could
have developed its exact shape and colour--a mere speck, floating, as it
were, in a transparent kyst, in his soul--a mere germ--by-and-by to be an
impish embryo, and ripe for action. When lust hath conceived it bringeth
forth sin, and sin when it is finished bringeth forth death.

The vicar's troubles grew and gathered, as such troubles will; and the
attorney gave him his advice; and the business of the Rev. William Wylder
gradually came to occupy a good deal of his time. Here was a new reason
for wishing to know really how Mark Wylder stood. William had undoubtedly
the reversion of the estate; but the attorney suspected sometimes--just
from a faint phrase which had once escaped Stanley Lake--as the likeliest
solution, that Mark Wylder had made a left-handed marriage somehow and
somewhere, and that a subterranean wife and family would emerge at an
unlucky moment, and squat upon that remainder, and defy the world to
disturb them. This gave to his plans and dealings in relation to the
vicar a character of irresolution and caprice foreign to his character,
which was grim and decided enough when his data were clear, and his
object in sight.

William Wylder, meanwhile, was troubled, and his mind clouded by more
sorrows than one.

Poor William Wylder had those special troubles which haunt nervous
temperaments and speculative minds, when under the solemn influence of
religion. What the great Luther called, without describing them, his
'tribulations'--those dreadful doubts and apathies which at times menace
and darken the radiant fabric of faith, and fill the soul with nameless
horrors. The worst of these is, that unlike other troubles, they are not
always safely to be communicated to those who love us best. These terrors
and dubitations are infectious. Other spiritual troubles, too, there are;
and I suppose our good vicar was not exempt from them any more than other
Christians.

The best man, the simplest man that ever lived, has his reserves. The
conscious frailty of mortality owes that sad reverence to itself, and to
the esteem of others. You can't be too frank and humble when you have
wronged your neighbour; but keep your offences against God to yourself,
and let your battle with your own heart be waged under the eye of Him
alone. The frankness of the sentimental Jean Jacques Rousseau, and of my
coarse friend, Mark Wylder, is but a damnable form of vicious egotism. A
miserable sinner have I been, my friend, but details profit neither thee
nor me. The inner man had best be known only to himself and his Maker. I
like that good and simple Welsh parson, of Beaumaris, near two hundred
years ago, who with a sad sort of humour, placed for motto under his
portrait, done in stained glass, _nunc primum transparui_.

But the spiritual tribulation which came and went was probably connected
with the dreadful and incessant horrors of his money trouble. The
gigantic Brocken spectre projected from himself upon the wide horizon of
his futurity.

The poor vicar! He felt his powers forsaking him. Hope, the life of
action, was gone. Despair is fatalism, and can't help itself. The
inevitable mountain was always on his shoulders. He could not rise--he
could not stir. He could scarcely turn his head and look up beseechingly
from the corners of his eyes.

Why is that fellow so supine? Why is his work so ill done, when he ought
most to exert himself? He disgusts the world with his hang-dog looks.
Alas! with the need for action, the power of action is gone.
Despair--distraction--the Furies sit with him. Stunned, stupid, and
wild--always agitated--it is not easy to compose his sermons as finely as
heretofore. He is always jotting down little sums in addition and
subtraction. The cares of the world--the miseries of what the world calls
'difficulties' and a 'struggle'--these were for the poor vicar;--the
worst torture, for aught we know, which an average soul out of hell can
endure. Other sorrows bear healing on their wings;--this one is the
Promethean vulture. It is a falling into the hands of men, not of God.
The worst is, that its tendencies are so godless. It makes men bitter;
its promptings are blasphemous. Wherefore, He who knew all things, in
describing the thorns which choke the word, places the _cares_ of this
world _first_, and _after_ them the deceitfulness of riches and the lusts
of other things. So if money is a root of evil, the want of it, with
debt, is root, and stem, and branches.

But all human pain has its intervals of relief. The pain is suspended,
and the system recruits itself to endure the coming paroxysm. An hour of
illusion--an hour of sleep--an hour's respite of any sort, to six hours
of pain--and so the soul, in anguish, finds strength for its long labour,
abridged by neither death nor madness.

The vicar, with his little boy, Fairy, by the hand, used twice, at least,
in the week to make, sometimes an hour's, sometimes only half an hours,
visit at Redman's Farm. Poor Rachel Lake made old Tamar sit at her
worsteds in the window of the little drawing-room while these
conversations proceeded. The young lady was so intelligent that William
Wylder was obliged to exert himself in controversy with her eloquent
despair; and this combat with the doubts and terrors of a mind of much
more than ordinary vigour and resource, though altogether feminine,
compelled him to bestir himself, and so, for the time, found him entire
occupation; and thus memory and forecast, and suspense, were superseded,
for the moment, by absorbing mental action.

Rachel's position had not been altered by her brother's marriage. Dorcas
had urged her earnestly to give up Redman's Farm, and take up her abode
permanently at Brandon. This kindness, however, she declined. She was
grateful, but no, nothing could move her. The truth was, she recoiled
from it with a species of horror.

The marriage had been, after all, as great a surprise to Rachel as to any
of the Gylingden gossips. Dorcas, knowing how Rachel thought upon it, had
grown reserved and impenetrable upon the subject; indeed, at one time, I
think, she had half made up her mind to fight the old battle over again
and resolutely exercise this fatal passion. She had certainly mystified
Rachel, perhaps was mystifying herself.

Rachel grew more sad and strange than ever after this marriage. I think
that Stanley was right, and that living in that solitary and darksome
dell helped to make her hypochondriac.

One evening Stanley Lake stood at her door.

'I was just thinking, dear Radie,' he said in his sweet low tones, which
to her ear always bore a suspicion of mockery in them, 'how pretty you
contrive to make this bright little garden at all times of the year--you
have such lots of those evergreens, and ivy, and those odd flowers.'

'They call them _immortelles_ in France,' said Rachel, in a cold strange
tone, 'and make chaplets of them to lay upon the coffin-lids and the
graves.'

'Ah, yes, to be sure, I have seen them there and in Pre la Chaise--so
they do; they have them in all the cemeteries--I forgot that. How
cheerful; how very sensible. Don't you think it would be a good plan to
stick up a death's-head and cross-bones here and there, and to split up
old coffin-lids for your setting-sticks, and get old Mowlders, the
sexton, to bury your roots, and cover them in with a "dust to dust," and
so forth, and plant a yew tree in the middle, and stick those bits of
painted board, that look so woefully like gravestones, all round it, and
then let old Tamar prowl about for a ghost? I assure you, Radie, I think
you, all to nothing, the perversest fool I ever encountered or heard of
in the course of my life.'

'Well, Stanley, suppose you do, I'll not dispute it. Perhaps you are
right,' said Rachel, still standing at the door of her little porch.

'Perhaps,' he repeated with a sneer; 'I venture to say, _most
positively_, I can't conceive any sane reason for your refusing Dorcas's
entreaty to live with us at Brandon, and leave this triste, and
unwholesome, and everyway objectionable place.'

'She was very kind, but I can't do it.'

'Yes, you can't do it, simply because it would be precisely the most
sensible, prudent, and comfortable arrangement you could possibly make;
you _won't_ do it--but you can and will practise all the airs and
fooleries of a bad melodrama. You have succeeded already in filling
Dorcas's mind with surmise and speculation, and do you think the
Gylingden people are either blind or dumb? You are taking, I've told you
again and again, the very way to excite attention and gossip. What good
can it possibly do you? You'll not believe until it happens, and when it
does, you'd give your eyes you could undo it. It is so like you.'

'I have said how very kind I thought it of Dorcas to propose it. I can't
explain to her all my reasons for declining; and to you I need not. But I
cannot overcome my repugnance--and I won't try.'

'I wonder,' said Stanley, with a sly look of enquiry, 'that you who read
the Bible--and a very good book it is no doubt--and believe in all sorts
of things--'

'That will do, Stanley. I'm not so weak as you suppose.'

'You know, Radie, I'm a Sadducee and that sort of thing does not trouble
me the least in the world. It is a little cold here. May we go into the
drawing-room? You can't think how I hate this--house. We are always
unpleasant in it.'

This auspicious remark he made taking off his hat, and placing it and his
cane on her work-table.

But this was not a tempestuous conference by any means. I don't know
precisely what they talked about. I think it was probably the pros and
cons of that migration to Brandon, against which Rachel had pronounced so
firmly.

'I can't do it, Stanley. My motives are unintelligible to you, I know,
and you think me obstinate and stupid; but, be I what I may, my
objections are insurmountable. And does it not strike you that my staying
here, on the contrary, would--would tend to prevent the kind of
conversation you speak of?'

'Not the least, dear Radie--that is, I mean, it could have no possible
effect, unless the circumstances were first supposed, and then it could
be of no appreciable use. And your way of life and your looks--for both
are changed--are likely, in a little prating village, where every human
being is watched and discussed incessantly, to excite conjecture; that is
all, and that is _every thing_.'

It had grown dark while Stanley sat in the little drawing-room, and
Rachel stood on her doorstep, and saw his figure glide away slowly into
the thin mist and shadow, and turn upward to return to Brandon, by that
narrow ravine where they had held rendezvous with Mark Wylder, on that
ill-omened night when trouble began for all.

To Rachel's eyes, that disappearing form looked like the moping spirit of
guilt and regret, haunting the scene of the irrevocable.

When Stanley took his leave after one of these visits--stolen visits,
somehow, they always seemed to her--the solitary mistress of Redman's
Farm invariably experienced the nervous reaction which follows the
artificial calm of suppressed excitement. Something of panic or horror,
relieved sometimes by a gush of tears--sometimes more slowly and
painfully subsiding without that hysterical escape.

She went in and shut the door, and called Tamar. But Tamar was out of the
way. She hated that little drawing-room in her present mood--its
associations were odious and even ghastly; so she sat herself down by the
kitchen fire, and placed her pretty feet--cold now--upon the high steel
fender, and extended her cold hands towards the embers, leaning back in
her rude chair.

And so she got the girl to light candles, and asked her a great many
questions, and obliged her, in fact, to speak constantly though she
seemed to listen but little. And when at last the girl herself, growing
interested in her own narrative about a kidnapper, grew voluble and
animated, and looked round upon the young lady at the crisis of the tale,
she was surprised to remark, on a sudden, that she was gazing vacantly
into the bars; and when Margery, struck by her fixed and melancholy
countenance, stopped in the midst of a sentence, the young lady turned
and gazed on her wistfully, with large eyes and pale face, and sighed
heavily.

CHAPTER XLIV.

IN WHICH OLD TAMAR LIFTS UP HER VOICE IN PROPHECY.

Certainly Stanley Lake was right about Redman's Dell. Once the sun had
gone down behind the distant hills, it was the darkest, the most silent,
and the most solitary of nooks.

It was not, indeed, quite dark yet. The upper sky had still a faint gray
twilight halo, and the stars looked wan and faint. But the narrow walk
that turned from Redman's Dell was always dark in Stanley's memory; and
Sadducees, although they believe neither in the resurrection nor the
judgment, are no more proof than other men against the resurrections of
memory and the penalties of association and of fear.

Captain Lake had many things to think of. Some pleasant enough as he
measured pleasure, others troublesome. But as he mounted the stone steps
that conducted the passenger up the steep acclivity to the upper level of
the dark and narrow walk he was pursuing, one black sorrow met him and
blotted out all the rest.

Captain Lake knew very well and gracefully practised the art of not
seeing inconvenient acquaintances in the street. But here in this narrow
way there met him full a hated shadow whom he would fain have 'cut,' by
looking to right or left, or up or down, but which was not to be
evaded--would not only have his salutation but his arm, and walked--a
horror of great darkness, by his side--through this solitude.

Committed to a dreadful game, in which the stakes had come to exceed
anything his wildest fears could have anticipated, from which he could
not, according to his own canons, by any imaginable means recede--_here_
was the spot where the dreadful battle had been joined, and his covenant
with futurity sealed.

The young captain stood for a moment still on reaching the upper
platform. A tiny brook that makes its way among briars and shingle to the
more considerable mill-stream of Redman's Dell, sent up a hoarse babbling
from the darkness beneath. Why exactly he halted there he could not have
said. He glanced over his shoulder down the steps he had just scaled. Had
there been light his pale face would have shown just then a malign
anxiety, such as the face of an ill-conditioned man might wear, who
apprehends danger of treading on a snake.

He walked on, however, without quickening his pace, waving very slightly
from side to side his ebony walking-cane--thin as a pencil--as if it were
a wand to beckon away the unseen things that haunt the darkness; and now
he came upon the wider plateau, from which, the close copse receding,
admitted something more of the light, faint as it was, that lingered in
the heavens.

A tall gray stone stands in the centre of this space. There had once been
a boundary and a stile there. Stanley knew it very well, and was not
startled as the attorney was the other night when he saw it. As he
approached this, some one said close in his ear,

'I beg your pardon, Master Stanley.'

He cowered down with a spring, as I can fancy a man ducking under a
round-shot, and glanced speechlessly, and still in his attitude of
recoil, upon the speaker.

'It's only me, Master Stanley--your poor old Tamar. Don't be afraid,
dear.'

'I'm _not_ afraid--woman. Tamar to be sure--why, of course, I know you;
but what the devil brings you here?' he said.

Tamar was dressed just as she used to be when sitting in the open air at
her knitting, except that over her shoulders she had a thin gray shawl.
On her head was the same close linen nightcap, borderless and skull-like,
and she laid her shrivelled, freckled hand upon his arm, and looking with
an earnest and fearful gaze in his face she said--

'It has been on my mind this many a day to speak to you, Master Stanley;
but whenever I meant to, summat came over me, and I couldn't.'

'Well, well, well,' said Lake, uneasily; 'I mean to call to-morrow, or
next day, or some day soon, at Redman's Farm. I'll hear it then; this is
no place, you know, Tamar, to talk in; besides I'm pressed for time, and
can't stay now to listen.'

'There's no place like this, Master Stanley; it's so awful secret,' she
said, with her hand still upon his arm.

'Secret! Why one place is as well as another; and what the devil have I
to do with secrets? I tell you, Tamar, I'm in haste and can't stay. I
_won't_ stay. There!'

'Master Stanley, for the love of Heaven--you know what I'm going to speak
of; my old bones have carried me here--'tis years since I walked so far.
I'd walk till I dropped to reach you--but I'd say what's on my mind, 'tis
like a message from heaven--and I _must_ speak--aye, dear, I must.'

'But I say I can't stay. Who made you a prophet? You used not to be a
fool, Tamar; when I tell you I can't, that's enough.'

Tamar did not move her fingers from the sleeve of his coat, on which they
rested, and that thin pressure mysteriously detained him.

'See, Master Stanley, if I don't say it to _you_, I must to another,' she
said.

'You mean to threaten me, woman,' said he with a pale, malevolent look.

'I'm threatening nothing but the wrath of God, who hears us.'

'Unless you mean to do me an injury, Tamar, I don't know what else you
mean,' he answered, in a changed tone.

'Old Tamar will soon be in her coffin, and this night far in the past,
like many another, and 'twill be everything to you, one day, for weal or
woe, to hearken to her words _now_, Master Stanley.'

'Why, Tamar, haven't I told you I'm ready to listen to you. I'll go and
see you--upon my honour I will--to-morrow, or next day, at the Dell;
what's the good of stopping me here?'

'Because, Master Stanley, something told me 'tis the best place; we're
quiet, and you're more like to weigh my words here--and you'll be alone
for a while after you leave me, and can ponder my advice as you walk home
by the path.'

'Well, whatever it is, I suppose it won't take very long to say--let us
walk on to the stone there, and then I'll stop and hear it--but you must
not keep me all night,' he said, very peevishly.

It was only twenty steps further on, and the woods receded round it, so
as to leave an irregular amphitheatre of some sixty yards across; and
Captain Lake, glancing from the corners of his eyes, this way and that,
without raising or turning his face, stopped listlessly at the time-worn
white stone, and turning to the old crone, who was by his side, he said,

'Well, then, you have your way; but speak low, please, if you have
anything unpleasant to say.'

Tamar laid her hand upon his arm again; and the old woman's face afforded
Stanley Lake no clue to the coming theme. Its expression was quite as
usual--not actually discontent or peevishness, but crimped and puckered
all over with unchanging lines of anxiety and suffering. Neither was
there any flurry in her manner--her bony arm and discoloured hand, once
her fingers lay upon his sleeve, did not move--only she looked very
earnestly in his face as she spoke.

'You'll not be angry, Master Stanley, dear? though if you be, I can't
help it, for I must speak. I've heard it all--I heard you and Miss Radie
speak on the night you first came to see her, after your sickness; and I
heard you speak again, by my room door, only a week before your marriage,
when you thought I was asleep. So I've heard it all--and though I mayn't
understand all the ins and outs on't, I know it well in the main. Oh,
Master Stanley, Master Stanley! How can you go on with it?'

'Come, Tamar, what do you want of me? What do you mean? What the d-- is
it all about?'

'Oh! well you know, Master Stanley, what it's about.'

'Well, there _is_ something unpleasant, and I suppose you have heard a
smattering of it in your muddled way; but it is quite plain you don't in
the least understand it, when you fancy I can do anything to serve anyone
in the smallest degree connected with that disagreeable business--or that
I am personally in the least to blame in it; and I can't conceive what
business you had listening at the keyhole to your mistress and me, nor
why I am wasting my time talking to an old woman about my affairs, which
she can neither understand nor take part in.'

'Master Stanley, it won't do. I heard it--I could not help hearing. I
little thought you had any such matter to speak--and you spoke so sudden
like, I could not help it. You were angry, and raised your voice. What
could old Tamar do? I heard it all before I knew where I was.'

'I really think, Tamar, you've taken leave of your wits--you are quite in
the clouds. Come, Tamar, tell me, once for all--only drop your voice a
little, if you please--what the plague has got into your old head. Come,
I say, what is it?'

He stooped and leaned his ear to Tamar; and when she had done, he
laughed. The laugh, though low, sounded wild and hollow in that dark
solitude.

'Really, dear Tamar, you must excuse my laughing. You dear old witch, how
the plague could you take any such frightful nonsense into your head? I
do assure you, upon my honour, I never heard of so ridiculous a blunder.
Only that I know you are really fond of us, I should never speak to you
again. I forgive you. But listen no more to other people's conversation.
I could tell you how it really stands now, only I have not time; but
you'll take my word of honour for it, you have made the most absurd
mistake that ever an old fool tumbled into. No, Tamar, I can't stay any
longer now; but I'll tell you the whole truth when next I go down to
Redman's Farm. In the meantime, you must not plague poor Miss Radie with
your nonsense. She has too much already to trouble her, though of quite
another sort. Good-night, foolish old Tamar.'

'Oh, Master Stanley, it will take a deal to shake my mind; and if it be
so, as I say, what's to be done next--what's to be done--oh, what _is_ to
be done?'

'I say good-night, old Tamar; and hold your tongue, do you see?'

'Oh, Master Stanley, Master Stanley! my poor child--my child that I
nursed!--anything would be better than this. Sooner or later judgment
will overtake you, so sure as you persist in it. I heard what Miss Radie
said; and is not it true--is not it cruel--is not it frightful to go on?'

'You don't seem to be aware, my good Tamar, that you have been talking
slander all this while, and might be sent to gaol for it. There, I'm not
angry--only you're a fool. Good-night.'

He shook her hand, and jerked it from him with suppressed fury, passing
on with a quickened pace. And as he glided through the dark, towards
splendid old Brandon, he ground his teeth, and uttered two or three
sentences which no respectable publisher would like to print.

CHAPTER XLV.

DEEP AND SHALLOW.

Lawyer Larkin's mind was working more diligently than anyone suspected
upon this puzzle of Mark Wylder. The investigation was a sort of
scientific recreation to him, and something more. His sure instinct told
him it was a secret well worth mastering.

He had a growing belief that Lake, and perhaps he _only_--except Wylder
himself--knew the meaning of all this mysterious marching and
counter-marching. Of course, all sorts of theories were floating in his
mind; but there was none that would quite fit all the circumstances. The
attorney, had he asked himself the question, what was his object in these
inquisitions, would have answered--'I am doing what few other men would.
I am, Heaven knows, giving to this affair of my absent client's,
gratuitously, as much thought and vigilance as ever I did to any case in
which I was duly remunerated. This is self-sacrificing and noble, and
just the conscientious conduct I should expect from myself.'

But there was also this consideration, which you failed to define.

'Yes; my respected client, Mr. Mark Wylder, is suffering under some acute
pressure, applied perhaps by my friend Captain Lake. Why should not I
share in the profit--if such there be--by getting my hand too upon the
instrument of compression? It is worth trying. Let us try.'

The Reverend William Wylder was often at the Lodge now. Larkin had struck
out a masterly plan. The vicar's reversion, a very chimerical
contingency, he would by no means consent to sell. His little man--little
Fairy--oh! no, he could not. The attorney only touched on this, remarking
in a friendly way--

'But then, you know, it is so mere a shadow.'

This indeed, poor William knew very well. But though he spoke quite
meekly, the attorney looked rather black, and his converse grew somewhat
dry and short.

This sinister change was sudden, and immediately followed the suggestion
about the reversion; and the poor vicar was a little puzzled, and began
to consider whether he had said anything _gauche_ or offensive--'it would
be so very painful to appear ungrateful.'

The attorney had the statement of title in one hand, and leaning back in
his chair, read it demurely in silence, with the other tapping the
seal-end of his gold pencil-case between his lips.

'Yes,' said Mr. Larkin, mildly, 'it is so _very_ shadowy--and that
feeling, too, in the way. I suppose we had better, perhaps, put it aside,
and maybe something else may turn up.' And the attorney rose grandly to
replace the statement of title in its tin box, intimating thereby that
the audience was ended.

But the poor vicar was in rather urgent circumstances just then, and his
troubles had closed in recently with a noiseless, but tremendous
contraction, like that iron shroud in Mr. Mudford's fine tale; and to
have gone away into outer darkness, with no project on the stocks, and
the attorney's countenance averted, would have been simply despair.

'To speak frankly,' said the poor vicar, with that hectic in his cheek
that came with agitation, 'I never fancied that my reversionary interest
could be saleable.'

'Neither is it, in all probability,' answered the attorney. 'As you are
so seriously pressed, and your brother's return delayed, it merely
crossed my mind as a thing worth trying.'

'It was very kind and thoughtful; but that feeling--the--my poor little
man! However, I may be only nervous and foolish, and I think I'll speak
to Lord Chelford about it.'

The attorney looked down, and took his nether lip gently between his
finger and thumb. I rather think he had no particular wish to take Lord
Chelford into council.

'I think before troubling his lordship upon the subject--if, indeed, on
reflection, you should not think it would be a little odd to trouble him
at all in reference to it--I had better look a little more carefully into
the papers, and see whether anything in that direction is really
practicable at all.'

'Do you think, Mr. Larkin, you can write that strong letter to stay
proceedings which you intended yesterday?'

The attorney shook his head, and said, with a sad sort of dryness--'I
can't see my way to it.'

The vicar's heart sank with a flutter, and then swelled, and sank another
bit, and his forehead flushed.

There was a silence.

'You see, Mr. Wylder, I relied, in fact, altogether upon this
a--arrangement; and I don't see that any thing is likely to come of it.'

The attorney spoke in the same dry and reserved way, and there was a
shadow on his long face.

'I have forfeited his good-will somehow--he has ceased to take any
interest in my wretched affairs; I am abandoned, and must be ruined.'

These dreadful thoughts filled in another silence; and then the vicar
said--

'I am afraid I have, quite unintentionally, offended you, Mr.
Larkin--perhaps in my ignorance of business; and I feel that I should be
quite ruined if I were to forfeit your good offices; and, pray tell me,
if I have said anything I ought not.'

'Oh, no--nothing, I assure you,' replied Mr. Larkin, with a lofty and
gentle dryness. 'Only, I think, I have, perhaps, a little mistaken the
relation in which I stood, and fancied, wrongly, it was in the light
somewhat of a friend as well as of a professional adviser; and I thought,
perhaps, I had rather more of your confidence than I had any right to,
and did not at first see the necessity of calling in Lord Chelford, whose
experience of business is necessarily very limited, to direct you. You
remember, my dear Mr. Wylder, that I did not at all invite these
relations; and I don't think you will charge me with want of zeal in your
business.'

'Oh! my dear Mr. Larkin, my dear Sir, you have been my preserver, my
benefactor--in fact, under Heaven, very nearly my last and only hope.'

'Well, I _had_ hoped I was not remiss or wanting in diligence.'

And Mr. Larkin took his seat in his most gentlemanlike fashion, crossing
his long legs, and throwing his tall head back, raising his eyebrows, and
letting his mouth languidly drop a little open.

'My idea was, that Lord Chelford would see more clearly what was best for
little Fairy. I am so very slow and so silly about business, and you so
much my friend--I have found you so--that you might think only of me.'

'I should, of course, consider the little boy,' said Mr. Larkin,
condescendingly; 'a most interesting child. I'm very fond of children
myself, and should, of course, put the entire case--as respected him as
well as yourself--to the best of my humble powers before you. Is there
any thing else just now you think of, for time presses, and really we
have ground to apprehend something unpleasant _to-morrow_. You ought not,
my dear Sir--pray permit me to say--you really ought _not_ to have
allowed it to come to this.'

The poor vicar sighed profoundly, and shook his head, a contrite man.
They both forgot that it was arithmetically impossible for him to have
prevented it, unless he had got some money.

'Perhaps,' said the vicar, brightening up suddenly, and looking in the
attorney's eyes for answer, 'Perhaps something might be done with the
reversion, as a security, to borrow a sufficient sum, without selling.'

The attorney shook his high head, and whiskers gray and foxy, and
meditated with the seal of his pencil case between his lips.

'I don't see it,' said he, with another shake of that long head.

'I don't know that any lender, in fact, would entertain such a security.
If you wish it I will write to Burlington, Smith, and Company, about
it--they are largely in policies and _post-obits_.'

'It is very sad--very sad, indeed. I wish so much, my dear Sir, I could
be of use to you; but you know the fact is, we solicitors seldom have the
command of our own money; always in advance--always drained to the
uttermost shilling, and I am myself in the predicament you will see
there.'

And he threw a little note from the Dollington Bank to Jos. Larkin, Esq.,
The Lodge, Gylingden, announcing the fact that he had overdrawn his
account certain pounds, shillings, and pence, and inviting him forthwith
to restore the balance.

The vicar read it with a vague comprehension, and in his cold fingers
shook the hand of his fellow sufferer. Less than fifty pounds would not
do! Oh, where was he to turn? It was _quite_ hopeless, and poor Larkin
pressed too!

Now, there was this consolation in 'poor Larkin's case,' that although he
was quite run aground, and a defaulter in the Dollington Bank to the
extent of 7_l_. 12_s_. 4_d_., yet in that similar institution, which
flourished at Naunton, only nine miles away, there stood to his name the
satisfactory credit of 564_l_. 11_s_. 7_d_. One advantage which the good
attorney derived from his double account with the rival institutions was,
that whenever convenient he could throw one of these certificates of
destitution and impotence sadly under the eyes of a client in want of
money like poor Will Wylder.

The attorney had no pleasure in doing people ill turns. But he had come
to hear the distresses of his clients as tranquilly as doctors do the
pangs of their patients. As he stood meditating near his window, he saw
the poor vicar, with slow limbs and downcast countenance, walk under his
laburnums and laurustinuses towards his little gate, and suddenly stop
and turn round, and make about a dozen quick steps, like a man who has
found a bright idea, towards the house, and then come to a thoughtful
halt, and so turn and recommence his slow march of despair homeward.

At five o'clock--it was dark now--there was a tread on the door-steps,
and a double tattoo at the tiny knocker. It was the 'lawyer.'

Mr. Larkin entered the vicar's study, where he was supposed to be busy
about his sermon.

'My dear Sir; thinking about you--and I have just heard from an old
humble friend, who wants high interest, and of course is content to take
security somewhat personal in its nature. I have written already. He's in
the hands of Burlington, Smith, and Company. I have got exactly 55_l._
since I saw you, which makes me all right at Dollington; and here's my
check for 50_l._ which you can send--or perhaps _I_ had better send by
this night's post--to those Cambridge people. It settles _that_; and you
give me a line on this stamp, acknowledging the 50_l._ on account of
money to be raised on your reversion. So that's off your mind, my dear
Sir.'

'Oh, Mr. Larkin--my--my--you don't know, Sir, what you have done for
me--the agony--oh, thank God! what a friend is raised up.'

And he clasped and wrung the long hands of the attorney, and I really
think there was a little moisture in that gentleman's pink eyes for a
moment or two.

When he was gone the vicar returned from the door-step, radiant--not to
the study but to the parlour.

'Oh, Willie, darling, you look so happy--you were uneasy this evening,'
said his little ugly wife, with a beautiful smile, jumping up and
clasping him.

'Yes, darling, I was--_very_ uneasy; but thank God, it is over.'

And they cried and smiled together in that delightful embrace, while all
the time little Fairy, with a paper cap on his head, was telling them
half-a-dozen things together, and pulling Wapsie by the skirts.

Then he was lifted up and kissed, and smiled on by that sunshine only
remembered in the sad old days--parental love. And there was high
festival kept in the parlour that night. I am told six crumpets, and a
new egg apiece besides at tea, to make merry with, and stories and little
songs for Fairy. Willie was in his old college spirits. It was quite
delightful; and little Fairy was up a great deal too late; and the vicar
and his wife had quite a cheery chat over the fire, and he and she both
agreed he would make a handsome sum by Eusebius.

Thus, if there are afflictions, there are also comforts: great
consolations, great chastisements. There is a comforter, and there is a
chastener. Every man must taste of death: every man must taste of life.
It shall not be all bitter nor all sweet for any. It shall be life. The
unseen ministers of a stupendous equity have their eyes and their hands
about every man's portion; 'as it is written, he that had gathered much
had nothing over; and he that had gathered little had no lack.'

It is the same earth for all; the same earth for the dead, great and
small; dust to dust. The same earth for the living. 'Thorns, also, and
thistles shall it bring forth,' and God provides the flowers too.

CHAPTER XLVI.

DEBATE AND INTERRUPTION.

Rachel beheld the things which were coming to pass like an awful dream.
She had begun to think, and not without evidence, that Dorcas, for some
cause or caprice, had ceased to think of Stanley as she once did. And the
announcement, without preparation or apparent courtship, that her brother
had actually won this great and beautiful heiress, and that, just emerged
from the shades of death, he, a half-ruined scapegrace, was about to take
his place among the magnates of the county, and, no doubt, to enter
himself for the bold and splendid game of ambition, the stakes of which
were now in his hand, towered before her like an incredible and
disastrous illusion of magic.

Stanley's uneasiness lest Rachel's conduct should compromise them
increased. He grew more nervous about the relations between him and Mark
Wylder, in proportion as the world grew more splendid and prosperous for
him.

Where is the woman who will patiently acquiesce in the reserve of her
husband who shares his confidence with another? How often had Stanley
Lake sworn to her there was no secret; that he knew nothing of Mark
Wylder beyond the charge of his money, and making a small payment to an
old Mrs. Dutton, in London, by his direction, and that beyond this, he
was as absolutely in the dark as she or Chelford.

What, then, did Rachel mean by all that escaped her, when he was in
danger?

'How the -- could he tell? He really believed she was a little--_ever_ so
little--crazed. He supposed she, like Dorcas, fancied he knew everything
about Wylder. She was constantly hinting something of the kind; and
begging of him to make a disclosure--disclosure of what? It was enough to
drive one mad, and would make a capital farce. Rachel has a ridiculous
way of talking like an oracle, and treating as settled fact every
absurdity she fancies. She is very charming and clever, of course, so
long as she speaks of the kind of thing she understands. But when she
tries to talk of serious business--poor Radie! she certainly does talk
such nonsense! She can't reason; she runs away with things. It _is_ the
most tiresome thing you can conceive.'

'But you have not said, Stanley, that she does not suspect the truth.'

'Of course, I say it; I _have_ said it. I swear it, if you like. I've
said plainly, and I'm ready to swear it. Upon my honour and soul I know
no more of his movements, plans, or motives, than you do. If you reflect
you must see it. We were never good friends, Mark and I. It was no fault
of mine, but I never liked him; and he, consequently, I suppose, never
liked me. There was no intimacy or confidence between us. I was the last
man on earth he would have consulted with. Even Larkin, his own lawyer,
is in the dark. Rachel knows all this. I have told her fifty times over,
and she seems to give way at the moment. Indeed the thing is too plain to
be resisted. But as I said, poor Radie, she can't reason; and by the time
I see her next, her old fancy possesses her. I can't help it; because
with more reluctance than I can tell, I at length consent, at Larkin's
_entreaty_, I may say, to bank and fund his money.'

But Dorcas's mind retained its first impression. Sometimes his
plausibilities, his vehemence, and his vows disturbed it for a time; but
there it remained like the picture of a camera obscura, into which a
momentary light has been admitted, unseen for a second, but the images
return with the darkness, and group themselves in their old colours and
places again. Whatever it was Rachel probably knew it. There was a
painful confidence between them; and there was growing in Dorcas's mind a
feeling towards Rachel which her pride forbade her to define.

She did not like Stanley's stealthy visits to Redman's Farm; she did not
like his moods or looks after those visits, of which he thought she knew
nothing. She did not know whether to be pleased or sorry that Rachel had
refused to reside at Brandon; neither did she like the stern gloom that
overcast Rachel's countenance when Stanley was in the room, nor those
occasional walks together, up and down the short yew walk, in which Lake
looked so cold and angry, and Rachel so earnest. What was this secret?
How dared her husband mask from her what he confided to another? How
dared Rachel confer with him--influence him, perhaps, under her very eye,
walking before the windows of Brandon--that Brandon which was _hers_, and
to which she had taken Stanley, passing her gate a poor and tired
wayfarer of the world, and made him--_what?_ Oh, mad caprice! Oh, fit
retribution!

A wild voice was talking this way, to-and-fro, and up and down, in the
chambers of memory. But she would not let it speak from her proud lips.
She smiled, and to outward seeming, was the same; but Rachel felt that
the fashion of her countenance towards her was changed.

Since her marriage she had not hinted to Rachel the subject of their old
conversations: burning beneath her feeling about it was now a deep-rooted
anger and jealousy. Still she was Stanley's sister, and to be treated
accordingly. The whole household greeted her with proper respect, and
Dorcas met her graciously, and with all the externals of kindness. The
change was so little, that I do not think any but she and Rachel saw it;
and yet it was immense.

There was a dark room, a sort of ante-room, to the library, with only two
tall and narrow windows, and hung with old Dutch tapestries, representing
the battles and sieges of men in periwigs, pikemen, dragoons in buff
coats, and musketeers with matchlocks--all the grim faces of soldiers,
generals, drummers, and the rest, grown pale and dusky by time, like
armies of ghosts.

Rachel had come one morning to see Dorcas, and, awaiting her appearance,
sat down in this room. The door of the library opened, and she was a
little surprised to see Stanley enter.

'Why, Stanley, they told me you were gone to Naunton.'

'Oh! did they? Well, you see, I'm here, Radie.'

Somehow he was not very well pleased to see her.

'I think you'll find Dorcas in the drawing-room, or else in the
conservatory,' he added.

'I am glad, Stanley, I happened to meet you. Something _must_ be done in
the matter I spoke of immediately. Have you considered it?'

'Most carefully,' said Stanley, quietly.

'But you have done nothing.'

'It is not a thing to be done in a moment.'

'You can, if you please, do a great deal in a moment'

'Certainly; but I may repent it afterwards.'

'Stanley, you may regret postponing it, much more.'

'You have no idea, Rachel, how very tiresome you've grown.'

'Yes, Stanley, I can quite understand it. It would have been better for
you, perhaps for myself, I had died long ago.'

'Well, that is another thing; but in the meantime, I assure you, Rachel,
you are disposed to be very impertinent.'

'Very impertinent; yes, indeed, Stanley, and so I shall continue to be
until----'

'Pray how does it concern you? I say it is no business on earth of
yours.'

Stanley Lake was growing angry.

'Yes, Stanley, it _does_ concern me.'

'That is false.'

'True, _true_, Sir. Oh, Stanley, it is a load upon my conscience--a
mountain--a mountain between me and my hopes. I can't endure the misery
to which you would consign me; you _shall_ do it--immediately, too' (she
stamped wildly as she said it), 'and if you hesitate, Stanley, I shall be
compelled to speak, though the thought of it makes me almost mad with
terror.'

'What is he to do, Rachel?' said Dorcas, standing near the door.

It was a very awkward pause. The splendid young bride was the only person
on the stage who looked very much as usual. Stanley turned his pale glare
of fury from Rachel to Dorcas, and Dorcas said again,

'What is it, Rachel, darling?'

Rachel, with a bright blush on her cheeks, stepped quickly up to her, put
her arms about her neck and kissed her, and over her shoulder she cried
to her brother--

'Tell her, Stanley.'

And so she quickly left the room and was gone.

'Well, Dorkie, love, what's the matter?' said Stanley sharply, at last
breaking the silence.

'I really don't know--you, perhaps, can tell,' answered she coldly.

'You have frightened Rachel out of the room, for one thing,' answered he
with a sneer.

'I simply asked her what she urged you to do--I think I have a claim to
know. It is strange so reasonable a question from a wife should scare
your sister from the room.'

'I don't quite see that--for my part, I don't think _anything_ strange in
a woman. Rachel has been talking the rankest nonsense, in the most
unreasonable temper conceivable; and because she can't persuade me to
accept her views of what is Christian and sensible, she threatens to go
mad--I think that is her phrase.'

'I don't think Rachel is a fool,' said Dorcas, quietly, her eye still
upon Stanley.

'Neither do I--when she pleases to exert her good sense--but she can,
when she pleases, both talk and act like a fool.'

'And pray, what does she want you to do, Stanley?'

'The merest nonsense.'

'But what is it?'

'I really can hardly undertake to say I very well understand it myself,
and I have half-a-dozen letters to write; and really if I were to stay
here and try to explain, I very much doubt whether I could. Why don't you
ask _her_? If she has any clear ideas on the subject I don't see why she
should not tell you. For my part, I doubt if she understands herself--_I_
certainly don't.'

Dorcas smiled bitterly.

'Mystery already--mystery from the first. _I_ am to know nothing of your
secrets. You confer and consult in my house--you debate and decide upon
matters most nearly concerning, for aught I know, my interests and my
happiness--certainly deeply affecting you, and therefore which I have a
_right_ to know; and my entering the room is the signal for silence--a
guilty silence--for departure and for equivocation. Stanley, you are
isolating me. Beware--I may entrench myself in that isolation. You are
choosing your confidant, and excluding me; rest assured you shall have no
confidence of mine while you do so.'

Stanley Lake looked at her with a gaze at once peevish and inquisitive.

'You take a wonderfully serious view of Rachel's nonsense.'

'I do.'

'Certainly, you women have a marvellous talent for making mountains of
molehills--you and Radie are adepts in the art. Never was a poor devil so
lectured about nothing as I between you. Come now, Dorkie, be a good
girl--you must not look so vexed.'

'I'm not vexed.'

'What then?'

'I'm only _thinking_.'

She said this with the same bitter smile. Stanley Lake looked for a
moment disposed to break into one of his furies, but instead he only
laughed his unpleasant laugh.

'Well, I'm thinking too, and I find it quite possible to be vexed at the
same time. I assure you, Dorcas, I really am busy; and it is too bad to
have one's time wasted in solemn lectures about stuff and nonsense. Do
make Rachel explain herself, if she can--_I_ have no objection, I assure
you; but I must be permitted to decline undertaking to interpret that
oracle.' And so saying, Stanley Lake glided into the library and shut the
door with an angry clap.

Dorcas did not deign to look after him. She had heard his farewell
address, looking from the window at the towering and sombre clumps of her
ancestral trees--pale, proud, with perhaps a peculiar gleam of
resentment--or malignity--in her exquisite features.

So she stood, looking forth on her noble possessions--on terraces--'long
rows of urns'--noble timber--all seen in slanting sunlight and long
shadows--and seeing nothing but the great word FOOL! in letters of flame
in the air before her.

CHAPTER XLVII.

A THREATENING NOTICE.

Stanley Lake was not a man to let the grass grow under his feet when an
object was to be gained. It was with a sure prescience that Mark Wylder's
letter had inferred that Stanley Lake would aspire to the representation
either of the county or of the borough of Dollington. His mind was
already full of these projects.

Electioneering schemes are conducted, particularly at their initiation,
like conspiracies--in fact, they _are_ conspiracies, and therefore there
was nothing remarkable in the intense caution with which Stanley Lake set
about his. He was not yet 'feeling his way.' He was only preparing to
feel his way.

All the data, except the muster-roll of electors, were _in nubibus_--who
would retire--who would step forward, as yet altogether in the region of
conjecture. There are men to whom the business of elections--a life of
secrecy, excitement, speculation, and combat--has all but irresistible
charms; and Tom Wealdon, the Town Clerk, was such a spirit.

A bold, frank, good-humoured fellow--he played at elections as he would
at cricket. Every faculty of eye, hand, and thought--his whole heart and
soul in the game. But no ill-will--no malevolence in victory--no sourness
in defeat. A successful _coup_ made Tom Wealdon split with laughing. A
ridiculous failure amused him nearly as much. He celebrated his last
great defeat with a pic-nic in the romantic scenery of Nolton, where he
and his comrades in disaster had a roaring evening, and no end of 'chaff'
When he and Jos. Larkin carried the last close contest at Dollington, by
a majority of two, he kicked the crown out of the grave attorney's
chimney-pot, and flung his own wide-awake into the river. He did not show
much; his official station precluded prominence. He kept in the
background, and did his spiriting gently. But Tom Wealdon, it was
known--as things _are_ known without evidence--was at the bottom of all
the clever dodges, and long-headed manoeuvres. When, therefore, Mr.
Larkin heard from the portly and veracious Mr. Larcom, who was on very
happy relations with the proprietor of the Lodge, that Tom Wealdon had
been twice quietly to Brandon to lunch, and had talked an hour alone with
the captain in the library each time; and that they seemed very 'hernest
like, and stopped of talking directly he (Mr. Larcom) entered the room
with the post-bag'--the attorney knew very well what was in the wind.

Now, it was not quite clear what was right--by which the good attorney
meant prudent--under the circumstances. He was in confidential--which
meant lucrative--relations with Mark Wylder. Ditto, ditto with Captain
Lake, of Brandon. He did not wish to lose either. Was it possible to hold
to both, or must he cleave only to one and despise the other?

Wylder might return any day, and Tom Wealdon would probably be one of the
first men whom he would see. He must 'hang out the signal' in
'Galignani.' Lake could never suspect its meaning, even were he to see
it. There was but one risk in it, which was in the coarse perfidy of Mark
Welder himself, who would desire no better fun, in some of his moods,
than boasting to Lake of the whole arrangement in Jos. Larkin's presence.

However, on the whole, it was best to obey Mark Wylder's orders, and
accordingly 'Galignani' said: '_Mr. Smith will take notice that the other
party is desirous to purchase, and becoming very pressing._'

In the meantime Lake was pushing his popularity among the gentry with
remarkable industry, and with tolerable success. Wealdon's two little
visits explained perfectly the active urbanities of Captain Stanley Lake.

About three weeks after the appearance of the advertisement in
'Galignani,' one of Mark Wylder's letters reached Larkin. It was dated
from Geneva(!) and said:--

'DEAR LARKIN,--I saw my friend _Smith_ here in the caf, who has kept a
bright look out, I dare say; and tells me that Captain Stanley Lake is
thinking of standing either for the county or for Dollington. I will
thank you to apprise him that I mean to take my choice first; and please
hand him the enclosed notice open as you get it; and, if you please, to
let him run his eye also over this note to you, as I have my own reasons
for wishing him to know that you have seen it.

'This is all I will probably trouble you about elections for some months
to come, or, at least, weeks. It being time enough when I go back, and no
squalls a-head just now at home, though foreign politics look muggy
enough.

'I have nothing particular at present about tenants or timber, except the
three acres of oak behind Farmer Tanby's--have it took down. Thomas Jones
and me went over it last September, and it ought to bring near 3,000_l_.
I must have a good handful of money by May next.

'Yours, my dear Larkin,

'Very truly,

'MARK WYLDER.'

Folded in this was a thin slip of foreign paper, on which were traced
these lines:--

'_Private._

'DEAR LARKIN,--Don't funk the interview with the beast Lake--a hyaena has
no pluck in him. When he reads what I send him by your hand, he'll be as
mild as you please. Parkes must act for me as usual--no bluster about
giving up. Lake's afraid of yours,

'M. W.'

Within was what he called his 'notice' to Stanley Lake, and it was thus
conceived:--

'_Private._

'DEAR LAKE--I understand you are trying to make all safe for next
election in Dollington or the county. Now, understand at once, that _I
won't permit that_. There is not a country gentleman on the grand jury
who is not your superior; and there is no extremity I will not make you
feel--and you know what I mean--if you dare despise this first and not
unfriendly warning.

'Yours truly,

'MARK WYLDER.'

Now there certainly was need of Wylder's assurance that nothing
unpleasant should happen to the conscious bearer of such a message to an
officer and a gentleman. Jos. Larkin did not like it. Still there was a
confidence in his own conciliatory manners and exquisite tact. Something,
too, might be learned by noting Lake's looks, demeanour, and language
under this direct communication from the man to whom his relations were
so mysterious.

Larkin looked at his watch; it was about the hour when he was likely to
find Lake in his study. The attorney withdrew the little private
enclosure, and slipt it, with a brief endorsement, into the neat sheaf of
Wylder's letters, all similarly noted, and so locked it up in the iron
safe. He intended being perfectly ingenuous with Lake, and showing him
that he had 'no secrets--no concealments--all open as the day'--by
producing the letter in which the 'notice' was enclosed, and submitting
it for Captain Lake's perusal.

When Lawyer Larkin reached the dim chamber, with the Dutch tapestries,
where he had for a little while to await Captain Lake's leisure, he began
to anticipate the scene now so immediately impending more uncomfortably
than before. The 'notice' was, indeed, so outrageous in its spirit, and
so intolerable in its language, that, knowing something of Stanley's wild
and truculent temper, he began to feel a little nervous about the
explosion he was about to provoke.

The Brandon connection, one way or other, was worth to the attorney in
hard cash between five and six hundred a-year. In influence, and what is
termed 'position,' it was, of course, worth a great deal more. It would
be a very serious blow to lose this. He did not, he hoped, care for money
more than a good man ought; but such a loss, he would say, he could not
afford.

Precisely the same, however, was to be said of his connection with Mark
Wylder; and in fact, of late years, Mr. Jos. Larkin, of the Lodge, had
begun to put by money so fast that he was growing rapidly to be a very
considerable man indeed. 'Everything,' as he said, 'was doing very
nicely;' and it would be a deplorable thing to mar, by any untoward act,
this pilgrim's quiet and prosperous progress.

In this stage of his reverie he was interrupted by a tall, powdered
footman, in the Brandon livery, who came respectfully to announce that
his master desired to see Mr. Larkin.

Larkin's soul sneered at this piece of state. Why could he not put his
head in at the door and call him? But still I think it impressed him, and
that, diplomatically, Captain Lake was in the right to environ himself
with the ceremonial of a lord of Brandon.

'Well, Larkin, how d'ye do? Anything about Raikes's lease?' said the
great Captain Lake, rising from behind his desk, with his accustomed
smile, and extending his gentlemanlike hand.

'No, Sir--nothing, Captain Lake. He has not come, and I don't think we
should show any anxiety about it,' replied the attorney, taking the
captain's thin hand rather deferentially. 'I've had--a--such a letter
from my--my client, Mr. Mark Wylder. He writes in a violent passion, and
I'm really placed in a most disagreeable position.'

'Won't you sit down?'

'A--thanks--a--well I thought, on the whole, having received the letter
and the enclosure, which I must say very much surprises me--very much
_indeed_.' And Larkin looked reprovingly on an imaginary Mark Wylder, and
shook his head a good deal.

'He has not appointed another man of business?'

'Oh, dear, no,' said Larkin, quickly, with a faint, supercilious smile.
'No, nothing of that kind. The thing--in fact, there has been some
gossiping fellow. Do you happen to know a person at all versed in
Gylingden matters--or, perhaps, a member of your club--named Smith?'

'Smith? I don't, I think, recollect any particular Smith, just at this
moment. And what is Smith doing or saying?'

'Why, he has been talking over election matters. It seems Wylder--Mr.
Wylder--has met him in Geneva, from whence he dates; and he says--he
says--oh, here's the letter, and you'll see it all there.'

He handed it to Lake, and kept his eye on him while he read it. When he
saw that Lake, who bit his lip during the perusal, had come to the end,
by his glancing up again at the date, Larkin murmured--

'Something, you see, has gone wrong with him. I can't account for the
temper otherwise--so violent.'

'Quite so,' said Lake, quietly; 'and where is the notice he speaks of
here?'

'Why, really, Captain Lake, I did not very well know, it _is such_ a
production--I could not say whether you would wish it presented; and in
any case you will do me the justice to understand that I, for my part--I
really don't know how to speak of it.

'Quite so,' repeated Lake, softly, taking the thin, neatly folded piece
of paper which Larkin, with a sad inclination of his body, handed to him.

Lake, under the 'lawyer's' small, vigilant eyes, quietly read Mark
Wylder's awful threatenings through, twice over, and Larkin was not quite
sure whether there was any change of countenance to speak of as he did
so.

'This is dated the 29th,' said Lake, in the same quiet tone; 'perhaps you
will be so good as to write a line across it, stating the date of your
handing it to me.'

'I--of course--I can see no objection. I may mention, I suppose, that I
do so at your request.'

And Larkin made a neat little endorsement to that effect, and he felt
relieved. The hyaena certainly was not showing fight.

'And now, Mr. Larkin, you'll admit, I think, that I've exhibited no
ill-temper, much less violence, under the provocation of that note.'

'Certainly; none whatever, Captain Lake.'

'And you will therefore perceive that whatever I now say, speaking in
cool blood, I am not likely to recede from.'

Lawyer Larkin bowed.

'And may I particularly ask that you will so attend to what I am about to
say, as to be able to make a note of it for Mr. Welder's consideration?'

'Certainly, if you desire; but I wish to say that in this particular
matter I beg it may be clearly understood that Mr. Wylder is in no
respect more my client than you, Captain Lake, and that I merely act as a
most reluctant messenger in the matter.'

'Just so,' said Captain Lake.

'Now, as to my thinking of representing either county or borough,' he
resumed, after a little pause, holding Mark Wylder's 'notice' between his
finger and thumb, and glancing at it from time to time, as a speaker
might at his notes, 'I am just as well qualified as he in every respect;
and if it lies between him and me, I will undoubtedly offer myself, and
accompany my address with the publication of this precious document which
he calls his notice--the composition, in all respects, of a ruffian--and
which will inspire every gentleman who reads it with disgust, abhorrence,
and contempt. His threat I don't understand. I despise his machinations.
I defy him utterly; and the time is coming when, in spite of his
manoeuvring, I'll drive him into a corner and pin him to the wall. He
very well knows that flitting and skulking from place to place, like an
escaped convict, he is safe in writing what insults he pleases through
the post. I can't tell how or where to find him. He is not only no
gentleman, but no man--a coward as well as a ruffian. But his game of
hide-and-seek cannot go on for ever; and when next I can lay my hand upon
him, I'll make him eat that paper on his knees, and place my heel upon
his neck.'

The peroration of this peculiar invective was emphasised by an oath, at
which the half-dozen short grizzled hairs that surmounted the top of Mr.
Jos. Larkin's shining bald head no doubt stood up in silent appeal.

The attorney was standing during this sample of Lake's parliamentary
rhetoric a little flushed, for he did not know the moment when a blue
flicker from the rhetorical thunder-storm might splinter his own bald
head, and for ever end his connection with Brandon.

There was a silence, during which pale Captain Lake locked up Mark
Wylder's warning, and the attorney twice cleared his voice.

'I need hardly say, Captain Lake, how I feel in this business. I----'

'Quite so,' said the captain, in his soft low tones. 'I assure you I
altogether acquit you of sympathy with any thing so utterly ruffianly,'
and he took the hand of the relieved attorney with a friendly
condescension. 'The only compensation I exact for your involuntary part
in the matter is that you distinctly convey the tenor of my language to
Mr. Wylder, on the first occasion on which he affords you an opportunity
of communicating with him. And as to my ever again acting as his
trustee;--though, yes, I forgot'--he made a sudden pause, and was lost
for a minute in annoyed reflection--'yes, I must for a while. It can't
last very long; he _must_ return soon, and I can't well refuse to act
until at least some other arrangement is made. There are quite other
persons and I can't allow them to starve.'

So saying, he rose, with his peculiar smile, and extended his hand to
signify that the conference was at an end.

'And I suppose,' he said, 'we are to regard this little conversation, for
the present, as confidential?'

'Certainly, Captain Lake, and permit me to say that I fully appreciate
the just and liberal construction which you have placed upon my
conduct--a construction which a party less candid and honourably-minded
than yourself might have failed to favour me with.'

And with this pretty speech Larkin took his hat, and gracefully withdrew.

CHAPTER XLVIII.

IN WHICH I GO TO BRANDON, AND SEE AN OLD ACQUAINTANCE IN THE TAPESTRY
ROOM.

To my surprise, a large letter, bearing the Gylingden postmark, and with
a seal as large as a florin, showing, had I examined the heraldry, the
Brandon arms with the Lake bearings quartered thereon, and proving to be
a very earnest invitation from Stanley Lake, found me in London just
about this time.

I paused, I was doubtful about accepting it, for the business of the
season was just about to commence in earnest, and the country had not yet
assumed its charms. But I now know very well that from the first it was
quite settled that down I should go. I was too curious to see the bride
in her new relations, and to observe something of the conjugal
administration of Lake, to allow anything seriously to stand in the way
of my proposed trip.

There was a postscript to Lake's letter which might have opened my eyes
as to the motives of this pressing invitation, which I pleased myself by
thinking, though penned by Captain Lake, came in reality from his
beautiful young bride.

This small appendix was thus conceived:--

'P.S.--Tom Wealdon, as usual, deep in elections, under the rose, begs you
kindly to bring down whatever you think to be the best book or books on
the subject, and he will remit to your bookseller. Order them in his
name, but bring them down with you.'

So I was a second time going down to Brandon as honorary counsel, without
knowing it. My invitations, I fear, were obtained, if not under false
pretences, at least upon false estimates, and the laity rated my legal
lore too highly.

I reached Brandon rather late. The bride had retired for the night. I had
a very late dinner--in fact a supper--in the parlour. Lake sat with me
chatting, rather cleverly, not pleasantly. Wealdon was at Brandon about
sessions business, and as usual full of election stratagems and
calculations. Stanley volunteered to assure me he had not the faintest
idea of looking for a constituency. I really believe--and at this
distance of time I may use strong language in a historical sense--that
Captain Lake was the greatest liar I ever encountered with. He seemed to
do it without a purpose--by instinct, or on principle--and would
contradict himself solemnly twice or thrice in a week, without seeming to
perceive it. I dare say he lied always, and about everything. But it was
in matters of some moment that one perceived it.

What object could he gain, for instance, by the fib he had just told me?
On second thoughts this night he coolly apprised me that he _had_ some
idea of sounding the electors. So, my meal ended, we went into the
tapestry room where, the night being sharp, a pleasant bit of fire burned
in the grate, and Wealdon greeted me.

My journey, though by rail, and as easy as that of the Persian gentleman
who skimmed the air, seated on a piece of carpet, predisposed me to
sleep. Such volumes of fine and various country air, and such an eight
hours' procession of all sorts of natural pictures are not traversed
without effect. Sitting in my well-stuffed chair, my elbows on the
cushioned arms, the conversation of Lake and the Town Clerk now and then
grew faint, and their faces faded away, and little 'fyttes' and fragments
of those light and pleasant dreams, like fairy tales, which visit such
stolen naps, superseded with their picturesque and musical illusions the
realities and recollections of life.

Once or twice a nod a little too deep or sudden called me up. But Lake
was busy about the Dollington constituency, and the Town Clerk's bluff
face was serious and thoughtful. It was the old question about Rogers,
the brewer, and whether Lord Adleston and Sir William could not get him;
or else it had gone on to the great railway contractor, Dobbs, and the
question how many votes his influence was really worth; and, somehow, I
never got very far into the pros and cons of these discussions, which
soon subsided into the fairy tale I have mentioned, and that sweet
perpendicular sleep--all the sweeter, like everything else, for being
contraband and irregular.

For one bout--I fancy a good deal longer than the others--my nap was much
sounder than before, and I opened my eyes at last with the shudder and
half horror that accompany an awakening from a general chill--a dismal
and frightened sensation.

I was facing a door about twenty feet distant, which exactly as I opened
my eyes, turned slowly on its hinges, and the figure of Uncle Lorne, in
his loose flannel habiliments, ineffaceably traced upon my memory, like
every other detail of that ill-omened apparition, glided into the room,
and crossing the thick carpet with long, soft steps, passed near me,
looking upon me with a malign sort of curiosity for some two or three
seconds, and sat down by the declining fire, with a side-long glance
still fixed upon me.

I continued gazing on this figure with a dreadful incredulity, and the
indistinct feeling that it must be an illusion--and that if I could only
wake up completely, it would vanish.

The fascination was disturbed by a noise at the other end of the room,
and I saw Lake standing close to him, and looking both angry and
frightened. Tom Wealdon looking odd, too, was close at his elbow, and had
his hand on Lake's arm, like a man who would prevent violence. I do not
know in the least what had passed before, but Lake said--

'How the devil did he come in?'

'Hush!'was all that Tom Wealdon said, looking at the gaunt spectre with
less of fear than inquisitiveness.

'What are you doing here, Sir?' demanded Lake, in his most unpleasant
tones.

'Prophesying,' answered the phantom.

'You had better write your prophecies in your room, Sir--had not
you?--and give them to the Archbishop of Canterbury to proclaim, when
they are finished; we are busy here just now, and don't require
revelations, if you please.'

The old man lifted up his long lean finger, and turned on him with a
smile which I hate even to remember.

'Let him alone,' whispered the Town Clerk, in a significant whisper,
'don't cross him, and he'll not stay long.'

'_You_'re here, a scribe,' murmured Uncle Lorne, looking upon Tom
Wealdon.

'Aye, Sir, a scribe and a Pharisee, a Sadducee and a publican, and a
priest, and a Levite,' said the functionary, with a wink at Lake. 'Thomas
Wealdon, Sir; happy to see you, Sir, so well and strong, and likely to
enlighten the religious world for many a day to come. It's a long time,
Sir, since I had the honour of seeing you; and I'm always, of course, at
your command.'

'Pshaw!' said Lake, angrily.

The Town Clerk pressed his arm with a significant side nod and a wink,
which seemed to say, 'I understand him; can't you let me manage him?'

The old man did not seem to hear what they said; but his tall figure rose
up, and he extended the fingers of his left hand close to the candle for
a few seconds, and then held them up to his eyes, gazing on his
finger-tips, with a horrified sort of scrutiny, as if he saw signs and
portents gathered there, like Thomas Aquinas' angels at the needles'
points, and then the same cadaverous grin broke out over his features.

'Mark Wylder is in an evil plight,' said he.

'Is he?' said Lake, with a sly scoff, though he seemed to me a good deal
scared. 'We hear no complaints, however, and fancy he must be tolerably
comfortable notwithstanding.'

'You know where he is,' said Uncle Lorne.

'Aye, in Italy; everyone knows that,' answered Lake.

'In Italy,' said the old man, reflectively, as if trying to gather up his
ideas, 'Italy. Oh! yes, Vallombrosa--aye, Italy, I know it well.'

'So do we, Sir; thank you for the information,' said Lake, who
nevertheless appeared strangely uneasy.

'He has had a great tour to make. It is nearly accomplished now; when it
is done, he will be like me, _humano major_. He has seen the places which
you are yet to see.'

'Nothing I should like better; particularly Italy,' said Lake.

'Yes,' said Uncle Lorne, lifting up slowly a different finger at each
name in his catalogue. 'First, Lucus Mortis; then Terra Tenebrosa; next,
Tartarus; after that, Terra Oblivionis; then Herebus; then Barathrum;
then Gehenna, and then Stagium Ignis.'

'Of course,' acquiesced Lake, with an ugly sneer, and a mock bow.

'And to think that all the white citizens were once men and women!'
murmured Uncle Lorne, with a scowl.

'Quite so,' whispered Lake.

'I know where he is,' resumed the old man, with his finger on his long
chin, and looking down upon the carpet.

'It would be very convenient if you would favour us with his address,'
said Stanley, with a gracious sneer.

'I know what became of him,' continued the oracle.

'You are more in his confidence than we are,' said Lake.

'Don't be frightened--but he's alive; I think they'll make him mad. It is
a frightful plight. Two angels buried him alive in Vallombrosa by night;
I saw it, standing among the lotus and hemlock. A negro came to me, a
black clergyman with white eyes, and remained beside me; and the angels
imprisoned Mark; they put him on duty forty days and forty nights, with
his ear to the river listening for voices; and when it was over we
blessed them; and the clergyman walked with me a long while, to-and-fro,
to-and-fro upon the earth, telling me the wonders of the abyss.'

'And is it from the abyss, Sir, he writes his letters?' enquired the Town
Clerk, with a wink at Lake.

'Yes, yes, very diligent; it behoves him; and his hair is always standing
straight on his head for fear. But he'll be sent up again, at last, a
thousand, a hundred, ten and one, black marble steps, and then it will be
the other one's turn. So it was prophesied by the black magician.'

'I thought, Sir, you mentioned just now he was a clergyman,' suggested
Mr. Wealdon, who evidently enjoyed this wonderful yarn.

'Clergyman and magician both, and the chief of the lying prophets with
thick lips. He'll come here some night and see you,' said Uncle Lorne,
looking with a cadaverous apathy on Lake, who was gazing at him in
return, with a sinister smile.

'Maybe it was a vision, Sir,' suggested the Town Clerk.

'Yes, Sir; a vision, maybe,' echoed the cavernous tones of the old man;
'but in the flesh or out of the flesh, I saw it.'

'You have had revelations, Sir, I've heard,' said Stanley's mocking
voice.

'Many,' said the seer; 'but a prophet is never honoured. We live in
solitude and privations--the world hates us--they stone us--they cut us
asunder, even when we are dead. Feel me--I'm cold and white all over--I
died too soon--I'd have had wings now only for that pistol. I'm as white
as Gehazi, except on my head, when that blood comes.'

Saying which, he rose abruptly, and with long jerking steps limped to the
door, at which, I saw, in the shade, the face of a dark-featured man,
looking gloomily in.

When he reached the door Uncle Lorne suddenly stopped and faced us, with
a countenance of wrath and fear, and threw up his arms in an attitude of
denunciation, but said nothing. I thought for a moment the gigantic
spectre was about to rush upon us in an access of frenzy; but whatever
the impulse, it subsided--or was diverted by some new idea; his
countenance changed, and he beckoned as if to some one in the corner of
the room behind us, and smiled his dreadful smile, and so left the
apartment.

'That d--d old madman is madder than ever,' said Lake, in his fellest

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