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Wylder's Hand by J. Sheridan Le Fanu

Part 7 out of 10

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tones, looking steadfastly with his peculiar gaze upon the closed door.
'Jermyn is with him, but he'll burn the house or murder some one yet.
It's all d--d nonsense keeping him here--did you see him at the door?--he
was on the point of assailing some of us. He ought to be in a madhouse.'

'He used to be very quiet,' said the Town Clerk, who knew all about him.

'Oh! very quiet--yes, of course, very quiet, and quite harmless to people
who don't live in the house with him, and see him but once in
half-a-dozen years; but you can't persuade me it is quite so pleasant for
those who happen to live under the same roof, and are liable to be
intruded upon as we have been to-night every hour of their existence.'

'Well, certainly it is not pleasant, especially for ladies,' admitted the
Town Clerk.

'No, not pleasant--and I've quite made up my mind it sha'n't go on. It is
too absurd, really, that such a monstrous thing should be enforced; I'll
get a private Act, next Session, and regulate those absurd conditions in
the will. The old fellow ought to be under restraint; and I rather think
it would be better for himself that he were.'

'Who is he?' I asked, speaking for the first time.

'I thought you had seen him before now,' said Lake.

'So I have, but quite alone, and without ever learning who he was,' I
answered.

'Oh! He is the gentleman, Julius, for whom in the will, under which we
take, those very odd provisions are made--such as I believe no one but a
Wylder or a Brandon would have dreamed of. It is an odd state of things
to hold one's estate under condition of letting a madman wander about
your house and place, making everybody in it uncomfortable and insecure
and exposing him to the imminent risk of making away with himself, either
by accident or design. I happen to know what Mark Wylder would have
done--for he spoke very fiercely on the subject--perhaps he consulted
you?'

'No.'

'No? well, he intended locking him quietly into the suite of three
apartments, you know, at the far end of the old gallery, and giving him
full command of the mulberry garden by the little private stair, and
putting a good iron door to it; so that "my beloved brother, Julius, at
present afflicted in mind" (Lake quoted the words of the will, with an
unpleasant sneer), should have had his apartments and his pleasure
grounds quite to himself.'

'And would that arrangement of Mr. Wylder's have satisfied the conditions
of the will?' said the Town Clerk.

'I rather think, with proper precautions, it would. Mark Wylder was very
shrewd, and would not have run himself into a fix,' answered Lake. 'I
don't know any man shrewder; he is, certainly.'

And Lake looked at us, as he added these last words, in turn, with a
quick, suspicious glance, as if he had said something rash, and doubted
whether we had observed it.

After a little more talk, Lake and the Town Clerk resumed their
electioneering conference, and the lists of electors were passed under
their scrutiny, name by name, like slides under the miscroscope.

There is a great deal in nature, physical and moral, that had as well not
be ascertained. It is better to take things on trust, with something of
distance and indistinctness. What we gain in knowledge by scrutiny is
sometimes paid for in a ghastly sort of disgust. It is marvellous in a
small constituency of 300 average souls, what a queer moral result one of
these business-like and narrow investigations which precede an election
will furnish. How you find them rated and classified--what odd notes you
make to them in the margin; and after the trenchant and rapid
vivisection, what sinister scars and seams remain, and how gaunt and
repulsive old acquaintances stand up from it.

The Town Clerk knew the constituency of Dollington at his fingers' ends;
and Stanley Lake quietly enjoyed, as certain minds will, the nefarious
and shabby metamorphosis which every now and then some familiar and
respectable burgess underwent, in the spell of half-a-dozen dry sentences
whispered in his ear; and all this minute information is trustworthy and
quite without malice.

I went to my bed-room, and secured the door, lest Uncle Lorne, or Julius,
should make me another midnight visit. So that mystery was cleared up.
Neither ghost nor spectral illusion, but flesh and blood--though in my
mind there has always been a horror of a madman akin to the ghostly or
demoniac.

I do not know how late Tom Wealdon and Stanley Lake sat up over their
lists; but I dare say they were in no hurry to leave them, for a
dissolution was just then expected, and no time was to be lost.

When I saw Tom Wealdon alone next day in the street of Gylingden, he
walked a little way with me, and, said Tom, with a grave wink--

'Don't let the captain up there be hard on the poor old gentleman. He's
quite harmless--he would not hurt a fly. I know all about him; for Jack
Ford and I spent five weeks in the Hall, about twelve years ago, when the
family were away and thought the keeper was not kind to him. He's quite
gentle, and sometimes he'd make you die o' laughing. He fancies, you
know, he's a prophet; and says he's that old Sir Lorne Brandon that shot
himself in his bed-room. Well, he is a rum one; and we used to draw him
out--poor Jack and me. I never laughed so much, I don't think, in the
same time, before or since. But he's as innocent as a child--and you know
them directions in the will is very strong; and they say Jos. Larkin does
not like the captain a bit too well--and he has the will off, every word
of it; and I think, if Captain Lake does not take care, he may get into
trouble; and maybe it would not be amiss if you gave him a hint.'

Tom Wealdon, indeed, was a good-natured fellow: and if he had had his
way, I think the world would have gone smoothly enough with most people.

CHAPTER XLIX.

LARCOM, THE BUTLER, VISITS THE ATTORNEY.

Now I may as well mention here an occurrence which, seeming very
insignificant, has yet a bearing upon the current of this tale, and it is
this. About four days after the receipt of the despatches to which the
conference of Captain Lake and the attorney referred, there came a letter
from the same prolific correspondent, dated 20th March, from Genoa, which
altogether puzzled Mr. Larkin. It commenced thus:--

'Genoa: 20th march.

'DEAR LARKIN,--I hope you did the three commissions all right. Wealdon
won't refuse, I reckon--but don't let Lake guess what the 150_l._ is for.
Pay Martin for the job when finished; it is under 60_l._. mind; and get
it looked at first.'

There was a great deal more, but these were the passages which perplexed
Larkin. He unlocked the iron safe, and took out the sheaf of Wylder's
letters, and conned the last one over very carefully.

'Why,' said he, holding the text before his eyes in one hand and with the
fingers of the other touching the top of his bald forehead, 'Tom Wealdon
is not once mentioned in this, nor in any of them; and this palpably
refers to some direction. And 150_l._?--no such sum has been mentioned.
And what is this job of Martin's? Is it Martin of the China Kilns, or
Martin of the bank? That, too, plainly refers to a former letter--not a
word of the sort. This is very odd indeed.'

Larkin's finger-tips descended over his eyebrow, and scratched in a
miniature way there for a few seconds, and then his large long hand
descended further to his chin, and his under-lip was, as usual in deep
thought, fondled and pinched between his finger and thumb.

'There has plainly been a letter lost, manifestly. I never knew anything
wrong in this Gylingden office. Driver has been always correct; but it is
hard to know any man for certain in this world. I don't think the captain
would venture anything so awfully hazardous. I really can't suspect so
monstrous a thing; but, _unquestionably_, a letter _has_ been lost--and
who's to _take_ it?'

Larkin made a fuller endorsement than usual on this particular letter,
and ruminated over the correspondence a good while, with his lip between
his finger and thumb, and a shadow on his face, before he replaced it in
its iron drawer.

'It is not a thing to be passed over,' murmured the attorney, who had
come to a decision as to the first step to be taken, and he thought with
a qualm of the effect of one of Wylder's confidential notes getting into
Captain Lake's hands.

While he was buttoning his walking boots, with his foot on the chair
before the fire, a tap at his study door surprised him. A hurried glance
on the table satisfying him that no secret paper or despatch lay there,
he called--

'Come in.'

And Mr. Larcom, the grave butler of Brandon, wearing outside his portly
person a black garment then known as a 'zephyr,' a white choker, and
black trousers, and well polished, but rather splay shoes, and, on the
whole, his fat and serious aspect considered, being capable of being
mistaken for a church dignitary, or at least for an eminent undertaker,
entered the room with a solemn and gentlemanlike reverence.

'Oh, Mr. Larcom! a message, or business?' said Mr. Larkin, urbanely.

'Not a message, Sir; only an enquiry about them few shares,' answered Mr.
Larcom, with another serene reverence, and remaining standing, hat in
hand, at the door.

'Oh, yes; and how do you do, Mr. Larcom? Quite well, I trust. Yes--about
the Naunton Junction. Well, I'm happy to tell you--but pray take a
chair--that I have succeeded, and the directors have allotted you five
shares; and it's your own fault if you don't make two ten-and-six a
share. The Chowsleys are up to six and a-half, I see here,' and he
pointed to the 'Times.' Mr. Larcom's fat face smiled, in spite of his
endeavour to keep it under. It was part of his business to look always
grave, and he coughed, and recovered his gravity.

'I'm very thankful, Sir,' said Mr. Larcom, 'very.'

'But do sit down, Mr. Larcom--pray do,' said the attorney, who was very
gracious to Larcom. 'You'll get the scrip, you know, on executing, but
the shares are allotted. They sent the notice for you here. And--and how
are the family at Brandon--all well, I trust?'

Mr. Larcom blew his nose.

'All, Sir, well.'

'And--and let me give you a glass of sherry, Mr. Larcom, after your walk.
I can't compete with the _Brandon_ sherry, Mr. Larcom. Wonderful fine
wine that!--but still I'm told this is not a _bad_ wine notwithstanding.'

Larcom received it with grave gratitude, and sipped it, and spoke
respectfully of it.

'And--and any news in that quarter of Mr. Mark Wylder--any--any
_surmise_? I--you know--I'm interested for all parties.'

'Well, Sir, of Mr. Wylder, I can't say as I know no more than he's been a
subjek of much unpleasant feelin', which I should say there has been a
great deal of angry talk since I last saw you, Sir, between Miss Lake and
the capting.'

'Ah, yes, you mentioned something of the kind; and your own impression,
that Captain Lake, which I trust may turn out to be so, knows where Mr.
Mark Wylder is at present staying.'

'I much misdoubt, Sir, it won't turn out to be no good story for no one,'
said Mr. Larcom, in a low and sad tone, and with a long shake of his
head.

'No good story--hey? How do you mean, Larcom?'

'Well, Sir, I know you won't mention me, Mr. Larkin.'

'Certainly not--go on.'

'When people gets hot a-talking they won't mind a body comin' in; and
that's how the capting and Miss Rachel Lake they carried on their dispute
like, though me coming into the room.'

'Just so; and what do you found your opinion about Mr. Mark Wylder on?'

'Well, Sir, I could not hear more than a word now and a sentince again;
and pickin' what meaning I could out of what Miss Lake said, and the
capting could not deny, I do suspeck, Sir, most serious, as how they have
put Mr. Mark Wylder into a mad-house; and that's how I think it's gone
with him; an' you'll never see him out again if the capting has his
will.'

'Do you mean to say you actually think he's shut up in a madhouse at this
moment?' demanded the attorney; his little pink eyes opened quite round,
and his lank cheeks and tall forehead flushed, at the rush of wild ideas
that whirred round him, like a covey of birds at the startling
suggestion.

The butler nodded gloomily. Larkin continued to stare on him in silence,
with his round eyes, for some seconds after.

'In a _mad_-house! Pooh, pooh! incredible! Pooh! impossible--_quite_
impossible. Did either Miss Lake or the captain use the word mad-house?'

'Well, no.'

Or any other word--lunatic asylum, or a--bedlam, or--or _any_ other word
meaning the same thing?'

'Well, I can't say, Sir, as I remember; but I rayther think not. I only
know for certain, I took it so; and I do believe as how Mr. Mark Wylder
is confined in a mad-house, and the captain knows all about it, and won't
do nothing to get him out.'

'H'm--very odd--very strange; but it is only from the general tenor of
what passed, by a sort of guess work, you have arrived at that
conclusion?'

Larcom assented.

'Well, Mr. Larcom, I think you have been led into an erroneous
conclusion. Indeed, I may mention I have reason to think so--in fact, to
_know_ that such is the case. What you mention to me, you know, as a
friend of the family, and holding, as I do, a confidential position--in
fact, a _very_ confidential one--alike in relation to Mr. Wylder and to
the family of Brandon Hall, is of course sacred; and anything that comes
from you, Mr. Larcom, is never heard in connection with your name beyond
these walls. And let me add, it strikes me as highly important, both in
the interests of the leading individuals in this unpleasant business, and
also as pertaining to your own comfort and security, that you should
carefully avoid communicating what you have just mentioned to any other
party. You understand?'

Larcom did understand perfectly, and so this little visit ended.

Mr. Larkin took a turn or two up and down the room thinking. He stopped,
with his fingertips to his eyebrow, and thought more. Then he took
another turn, and stopped again, and threw back his head, and gazed for a
while on the ceiling, and then he stood for a time at the window, with
his lip between his finger and thumb.

No, it was a mistake; it could not be. It was Mark Wylder's
penmanship--he could swear to it. There was no trace of madness in his
letters, nor of restraint. It was not possible even that he was wandering
from place to place under the coercion of a couple of keepers. No; Wylder
was an energetic and somewhat violent person, with high animal courage,
and would be sure to blow up and break through any such machination. No,
no; with Mark Wylder it was quite out of the question--altogether
visionary and impracticable. Persons like Larcom do make such absurd
blunders, and so misapprehend the conversation of educated people.

Nothwithstanding all which, there remained in his mind an image of Mark
Wylder, in the straw and darkness of a solitary continental
mad-house--squalid, neglected, and becoming gradually that which he was
said to be. And he always shaped him somehow after the outlines of a
grizzly print he remembered in his boyish days, of a maniac chained in a
Sicilian cell, grovelling under the lash of a half-seen gaoler, and with
his teeth buried in his own arm.

Quite impossible! Mark Wylder was the last man in the world to submit to
physical coercion. The idea, besides, could not be reconciled with the
facts of the case. It was all a blundering chimera.

Mr. Larkin walked down direct to Gylingden, and paid a rather awful visit
to Mr. Driver, of the post-office. A foreign letter, addressed to him,
had most positively been lost. He had called to mention the circumstance,
lest Mr. Driver should be taken by surprise by official investigation.
Was it possible that the letter had been sent by mistake to Brandon--to
Captain Lake? Lake and Larkin, you know, might be mistaken. At all
events, it would be well to make your clerks recollect themselves. (Mr.
Larkin knew that Driver's 'clerks' were his daughters.) It is not easy to
meet with a young fellow that is quite honest. But if they knew that they
would be subjected to a sifting examination on oath, on the arrival of
the commissioner, they might possibly prefer finding the letter, in which
case there would be no more about it. Mr. Driver knew him (Mr. Larkin),
and he might tell his young men if they got the letter for him they
should hear no more of it.

The people of Gylingden knew very well that, when the rat-like glitter
twinkled in Mr. Larkin's eyes, and the shadow came over his long face,
there was mischief brewing.

CHAPTER L.

NEW LIGHTS.

A few days later 'Jos. Larkin, Esq., The Lodge, Gylingden,' received from
London a printed form, duly filled in, and with the official signature
attached, informing him that enquiry having been instituted in
consequence of his letter, no result had been obtained.

The hiatus in his correspondence caused Mr. Larkin extreme uneasiness. He
had a profound distrust of Captain Lake. In fact, he thought him capable
of everything. And if there should turn out to be anything not quite
straight going on at the post-office of Gylingden--hitherto an
unimpeached institution--he had no doubt whatsoever that that dark and
sinuous spirit was at the bottom of it.

Still it was too prodigious, and too hazardous to be probable; but the
captain had no sort of principle, and a desperately strong head. There
was not, indeed, when they met yesterday, the least change or
consciousness in the captain's manner. That, in another man, would have
indicated something; but Stanley Lake was so deep--such a mask--in him it
meant nothing.

Mr. Larkin's next step was to apply for a commissioner to come down and
investigate. But before he had time to take this step, an occurrence took
place to arrest his proceedings. It was the receipt of a foreign letter,
of which the following is an exact copy:--

'VENICE: March 28.

'DEAR LARKIN,--I read a rumour of a dissolution during the recess. Keep a
bright look out. Here's three things for you:--

'1. Try and get Tom Wealdon. He is a _sina que non_. [Mark's Latin was
sailor-like.]

'2. Cash the enclosed order for 150_l._ more, for _the same stake_.

'3. Tell Martin the tiles I saw in August last will answer for the
cow-house; and let him put them down at once.

'In haste,

'Yours truly,

'M. WYLDER.'

Enclosed was an order on Lake for 150_l._

When Larkin got this he was in his study.

'Why--why--this--_positively_ this is the letter. _How's_ this?'

And Mr. Larkin looked as much scared and astonished as if a spirit rose
up before him.

'_This_ is the letter--aye, this _is_ the letter.'

He repeated this from time to time as he turned it over and looked at the
postmark, and back again at the letter, and looked up at the date, and
down at the signature, and read the note through.

'Yes, this is it--here it is--this is it. There's no doubt whatever--this
is the letter referred to in the last--Wealdon, Martin, and the 150_l._'

And the attorney took out his keys, looking pale and stern, like a man
about to open the door upon a horror, and unlocked his safe, and took out
the oft-consulted and familiar series--letters tied up and bearing the
label, 'Mark Wylder, Esq.'

'Aye, here it is, Genoa, 20th, and this, Venice, 28th. Yes, the postmarks
correspond; yet the letter from Genoa, dated 20th, refers back to the
letter from Venice, written eight days later! the-- Well--I can't
comprehend--how in the name of--how in the name----'

He placed the two letters on his desk, and read them over, and up and
down, and pondered darkly over them.

'It is Mark Wylder's writing--I'll swear to it. What on earth _can_ he
mean? He can't possibly want to confuse us upon dates, as well as places,
because that would simply render his letters, for purposes of business,
nugatory, and there are many things he wishes attended to.'

Jos. Larkin rose from his desk, ruminating, and went to the window, and
placed the letter against the pane. I don't think he had any definite
motive in doing this, but something struck him that he had not remarked
before.

There was something different in the quality of the ink that wrote the
number of the date, 28th, from that used in the rest of the letter.

'What can that mean?' muttered Larkin, with a sort of gasp at his
discovery; and shading his eyes with his hand, he scrutinised the
numerals--'28th,' again;--'a totally different ink!

He took the previous letter, frowned on it fiercely from his rat-like
eyes, and then with an ejaculation, as like an oath as so good a man
could utter, he exclaimed,

'I have it!'

Then came a pause, and he said--

'Both alike!--blanks left when the letters were written, and the dates
filled in afterward--_not_ the same hand I _think_--no, _not_ the
same--_positively_ a different hand.'

Then Jos. Larkin examined these mysterious epistles once more.

'There may be something in what Larcom said--a very great deal, possibly.
If he was shut up somewhere they could make him write a set of these
letters off at a sitting, and send them from place to place to be posted,
to make us think he was travelling, and prevent our finding where they
keep him. Here it is plain there was a slip in posting the wrong one
first.'

Trepanned, kidnapped, hid away in the crypts of some remote
mad-house--reduced to submission by privation and misery--a case as
desperate as that of a prisoner in the Inquisition. What could be the
motive for this elaborate and hideous fraud? Would it not be a more
convenient course, as well as more merciful to put him to death? The
crime would hardly be greater. Why should he be retained in that ghastly
existence?

Well, if Stanley Lake were at the bottom of this horrid conspiracy, _he_
certainly had a motive in clearing the field of his rival. And then--for
the attorney had all the family settlements present to his mind--there
was this clear motive for prolonging his life, that by the slip in the
will under which Dorcas Brandon inherited, the bulk of her estate would
terminate with the life of Mark Wylder; and this other motive too existed
for retaining him in the house of bondage, that by preventing his
marriage, and his having a family to succeed him, the reversion of his
brother William was reduced to a certainty, and would become a
magnificent investment for Stanley Lake whenever he might choose to
purchase. Upon that purchase, however, the good attorney had cast his
eye. He thought he now began to discern the outlines of a gigantic and
symmetrical villainy emerging through the fog. If this theory were right,
William Wylder's reversion was certain to take effect; and it was
exasperating that the native craft and daring of this inexperienced
captain should forestall so accomplished a man of business as Jos.
Larkin.

The attorney began to hate Stanley Lake as none but a man of that stamp
can hate the person who mars a scheme of aggrandisement. But what was he
to do exactly? If the captain had his eye on the reversion, it would
require nice navigation to carry his plan successfully through.

On the other hand, it was quite possible that Wylder was a free agent,
and yet, for purposes of secrecy, employing another person to post his
letters at various continental towns; and this blunder might just as well
have happened in this case, as in any other that supposed the same
machinery.

On the whole, then, it was a difficult question. But there were Larcom's
conclusions about the mad-house to throw into the balance. And though, as
respected Mark Wylder, they were grisly, the attorney would not have been
sorry to be quite sure that they were sound. What he most needed were
ascertained data. With these his opportunities were immense.

Mr. Larkin eyed the Wylder correspondence now with a sort of reverence
that was new to him. There was something supernatural and talismanic in
the mystery. The sheaf of letters lay before him on the table, like
Cornelius Agrippa's 'bloody book'--a thing to conjure with. What
prodigies might it not accomplish for its happy possessor, if only he
could read it aright, and command the spirits which its spells might call
up before him? Yes, it was a stupendous secret. Who knew to what it might
conduct? There was a shade of guilt in his tamperings with it, akin to
the black art, which he felt without acknowledging. This little parcel of
letters was, in its evil way, a holy thing. While it lay on the table,
the room became the holy of holies in his dark religion; and the lank
attorney, with tall bald head, shaded face, and hungry dangerous eyes, a
priest or a magician.

The attorney quietly bolted his study door, and stood erect, with his
hands in his pockets, looking sternly down on the letters. Then he took a
little gazetteer off a tiny shelf near the bell-rope, where was a railway
guide, an English dictionary, a French ditto, and a Bible, and with his
sharp penknife he deftly sliced from its place in the work of reference
the folded map of Europe.

It was destined to illustrate the correspondence, and Larkin sat down
before it and surveyed, with a solemn stare, the wide scene of Mark
Wylder's operations, as a general would the theatre of his rival's
strategy.

Referring to the letters as he proceeded, with a sharp pen in red ink, he
made his natty little note upon each town or capital in succession, from
which Wylder had dated a despatch. Boulogne, for instance, a neat little
red cross over the town, and beneath, '12th October, 1854;' Brighton,
ditto, '20th October, 1854;' Paris, ditto, '17th November, 1854;'
Marseilles, ditto, '26th November, 1854;' Frankfurt, ditto, '22nd
February, 1855;' Geneva, ditto, '10th March, 1855;' Genoa, ditto, '20th
March, 1855;' Venice, ditto, '28th March, 1855.'

I may here mention that in the preceding notation I have marked the days
and months exactly, but the years fancifully.

I don't think that Mr. Larkin had read the 'Wandering Jew.' He had no
great taste for works of fancy. If he had he might have been reminded, as
he looked down upon the wild field of tactics just noted by his pen, of
that globe similarly starred all over with little red crosses, which M.
Rodin was wont to consult.

Now he was going into this business as he did into others, methodically.
He, therefore, read what his gazetteer had to say about these towns and
cities, standing, for better light, at the window. But though, the type
being small, his eyes were more pink than before, he was nothing wiser,
the information being of that niggardly historical and statistical kind
which availed nothing in his present scrutiny. He would get Murray's
handbooks, and all sorts of works--he was determined to read it up. He
was going into this as into a great speculative case, in which he had a
heavy stake, with all his activity, craft, and unscrupulousness. It might
be the making of him.

His treasure--his oracle--his book of power, the labelled parcel of
Wylder's letters, with the annotated map folded beside them--he replaced
in their red-taped ligature in his iron safe, and with Chubb's key in his
pocket, took his hat and cane--the day was fine--and walked forth for
Brandon and the captain's study.

A pleasant day, a light air, a frosty sun. On the green the vicar, with
his pretty boy by the hand, passed him, not a hundred yards off, like a
ship at sea. There was a waving of hands, and smiles, and a shouted
'beautiful day.'

'What a position that poor fellow has got himself into!' good Mr. Larkin
thought, with a shrug of compassion, to himself. 'That reversion! Why
it's nothing--I really don't know why I think about it at all. If it were
offered me this moment, positively I would not have it. Anything
certain--_any_ thing would be better.'

Little Fairy grew grave, in spite of the attorney's smiles, whenever he
saw him. He was now saying--as holding his 'Wapsie's' hand, he capered
round in front, looking up in his face--

'Why has Mr. Larkin no teeth when he laughs? Is he ever angry when he
laughs--is he, Wapsie--oh, Wapsie, _is_ he? Would you let him whip me, if
I was naughty? I don't like him. Why does mamma say he is a good man,
Wapsie?'

'Because, little man, he _is_ a good man,' said the vicar, recalled by
the impiety of the question. 'The best friend that Wapsie ever met with
in his life.'

'But you would not give me to him, Wapsie?'

'Give you, darling! no--to no one but to God, my little man; for richer,
for poorer, you're my own--your Wapsie's little man.'

And he lifted him up, and carried him in his arms against his loving
heart, and the water stood in his eyes, as he laughed fondly into that
pretty face.

But 'little man' by this time was struggling to get down and give chase
to a crow grubbing near them for dainties, with a muddy beak, and
'Wapsie's' eyes followed, smiling, the wild vagaries of his little Fairy.

In the mean time Mr. Larkin had got among the noble trees of Brandon, and
was approaching the lordly front of the Hall. His mind was busy. He had
not very much fact to go upon. His theories were built chiefly of vapour,
and every changing light or breath, therefore, altered their colouring
and outlines.

'Maybe Mark Wylder is mad, and wandering in charge of a keeper; maybe he
is in some mad doctor's house, and _not_ mad; maybe in England, and there
writes these letters which are sent from one continental town to another
to be posted, and thus the appearance of locomotion is kept up. Perhaps
he has been inveigled into the hands of ruffians, and is living as it
were under the vault of an Inquisition, and compelled to write what ever
his gaolers dictate. Maybe he writes not under physical but moral
coercion. Be the fact how it may, those Lakes, brother and sister, have a
guilty knowledge of the affair.

'I will be firm--it is my duty to clear this matter up, if I can--we must
do as we would be done by.'

CHAPTER LI.

A FRACAS IN THE LIBRARY.

It was still early in the day. Larcom received him gravely in the hall.
Captain Lake was at home, as usual, up to one o'clock in the library--the
most diligent administrator that Brandon had perhaps ever known.

'Well, Larkin--letters, letters perpetually, you see. Quite well, I hope?
Won't you sit down--no bad news? You look rather melancholy. Your other
client is not ill--nothing sad about Mark Wylder, I hope?'

'No--nothing sad, Captain Lake--nothing--but a good deal that is
strange.'

'Oh, is there?' said Lake, in his soft tones, leaning forward in his easy
chair, and looking on the shining points of his boots.

'I have found out a thing, Captain Lake, which will no doubt interest
_you_ as much as it does me. It will lead, I think, to a much more exact
_guess_ about Mr. Mark Wylder.'

There was a sturdy emphasis in the attorney's speech which was far from
usual, and indicated something.

'Oh! you have? May one hear it?' said Lake, in the same silken tone, and
looking down, as before, on his boots.

'I've discovered something about his letters,' said the attorney, and
paused.

'Satisfactory, I hope?' said Lake as before.

'Foul play, Sir.'

'Foul play--is there? What is he doing now?' said Lake in the same
languid way, his elbows on the arms of his chair, stooping forward, and
looking serenely on the floor, like a man who is tired of his work, and
enjoys his respite.

'Why, Captain Lake, the matter is this--it amounts, in fact, to _fraud_.
It is plain that the letters are written in batches--several at a
time--and committed to some one to carry from town to town, and post,
_having previously filled in dates_ to make them _correspond_ with the
exact period of posting them.'

The attorney's searching gaze was fixed on the captain, as he said this,
with all the significance consistent with civility; but he could not
observe the slightest indication of change. I dare say the captain felt
his gaze upon him, and he undoubtedly heard his emphasis, but he plainly
did not take either to himself.

'Indeed! that is very odd,' said Captain Lake.

'Very odd;' echoed the attorney.

It struck Mr. Larkin that his gallant friend was a little overacting, and
showing perhaps less interest in the discovery than was strictly natural.

'But how can you show it?' said Lake with a slight yawn. 'Wylder _is_
such a fellow. I don't the least pretend to understand him. It may be a
freak of his.'

'I don't think, Captain Lake, that is exactly a possible solution here. I
don't think, Sir, he would write two letters, one referring back to the
other, at the same time, and post and date the latter more than a week
_before_ the other.'

'Oh!' said Lake, quietly, for the first time exhibiting a slight change
of countenance, and looking peevish and excited; yes, that certainly does
look very oddly.'

'And I think, Captain Lake, it behoves us to leave no stone unturned to
sift this matter to the bottom.'

'With what particular purpose, I don't quite see,' said Lake. 'Don't you
think possibly Mark Wylder might think us very impertinent?'

'I think, Captain Lake, on the contrary, we might be doing that gentleman
the only service he is capable of receiving, and I know we should be
doing something toward tracing and exposing the machinations of a
conspiracy.'

'A conspiracy! I did not quite see your meaning. Then, you really think
there is a conspiracy--formed _by_ him or _against_ him, which?'

'_Against_ him, Captain Lake. Did the same idea never strike you?'

'Not, I think, that I can recollect.'

'In none of your conversations upon the subject with--with members of
your family?' continued the attorney with a grave significance.

'I say, Sir, I don't recollect,' said Lake, glaring for an instant in his
face very savagely. 'And it seems to me, that sitting here, you fancy
yourself examining some vagrant or poacher at Gylingden sessions. And
pray, Sir, have you no evidence in the letters you speak of but the
insertion of dates, and the posting them in inverse order, to lead you to
that strong conclusion?'

'None, as supplied by the letters themselves,' answered Larkin, a little
doggedly, 'and I venture to think that is rather strong.'

'Quite so, to a mind like yours,' said Lake, with a faint gleam of his
unpleasant smile thrown upon the floor, 'but other men don't see it; and
I hope, at all events, there's a likelihood that Mark Wylder will soon
return and look after his own business--I'm quite tired of it, and of'
(he was going to say _you_)--'of everything connected with it.'

'This delay is attended with more serious mischief. The vicar, his
brother, had a promise of money from him, and is disappointed--in very
great embarrassments; and, in fact, were it not for some temporary
assistance, which I may mention--although I don't speak of such things--I
afforded him myself, he must have been ruined.'

'It is very sad,' said Lake; 'but he ought not to have married without an
income.'

'Very true, Captain Lake--there's no defending that--it was wrong, but
the retribution is terrible,' and the righteous man shook his tall head.

'Don't you think he might take steps to relieve himself considerably?'

'I don't see it, Captain Lake,' said the attorney, sadly and drily.

'Well, you know best; but are not there resources?'

'I don't see, Captain Lake, what you point at.'

'I'll give him something for his reversion, if he chooses, and make him
comfortable for his life.'

The attorney, somehow, didn't seem to take kindly to this proposition. We
know he had imagined for himself some little flirtation on this behalf,
and cherished a secret _tendre_ for the same reversion. Perhaps he had
other plans, too. At all events it flashed the same suspicion of Lake
upon his mind again; and he said--

'I don't know, Sir, that the Reverend Mr. Wylder would entertain anything
in the nature of a sale of his reversion. I rather think the contrary. I
don't think his friends would advise it.'

'And why not? It was never more than a contingency; and now they say Mark
Wylder is married, and has children; they tell me he was seen at Ancona?'
said Lake tranquilly.

'_They_ tell you! who are _they?_' said the attorney, and his dove's eyes
were gone again, and the rat's eyes unequivocally looking out of the
small pink lids.

'They--they,' repeated Captain Lake. 'Why, of course, Sir, I use the word
in its usual sense--that is, there was a rumour when I was last in town,
and I really forget who told me. Some one, two, or three, perhaps.'

'Do you think it's true, Sir?' persisted Mr. Larkin.

'No, Sir, I don't,' said Captain Lake, fixing his eyes for a moment with
a frank stare on the attorney's face; 'but it is quite possible it _may_
be true.'

'If it _is_, you know, Sir,' said Jos. Larkin, 'the reversion would be a
bad purchase at a halfpenny. I don't believe it either, Sir,' resumed the
attorney, after a little interval; 'and I could not advise the party you
named, Sir, to sell his remainder for a song.'

'You'll advise as you please, Sir, and no doubt not without sufficient
reason,' retorted Captain Lake.

There was a suspicion of a sneer--not in his countenance, not in his
tone, not necessarily in his words--but somehow a suspicion, which stung
the attorney like a certainty, and a pinkish flush tinged his forehead.

Perhaps Mr. Larkin had not yet formed any distinct plans, and was really
in considerable dubitation. But as we know, perceiving that the situation
of affairs, like all uncertain conjunctures, offered manifestly an
opportunity for speculation, he was, perhaps, desirous, like our old
friend, Sindbad, of that gleam of light which might show him the gold and
precious stones with which the floor of the catacomb was strewn.

'You see, Captain Lake, to speak quite frankly--there's nothing like
being perfectly frank and open--although you have not treated me with
confidence, which, of course, was not called for in this particular
instance--I may as well say, in passing, that I have no doubt on my mind
you know a great deal more than you care to tell about the fate of Mr.
Mark Wylder. I look upon it, Sir, that that party has been made away
with.'

'Old villain!' exclaimed Lake, starting up, with a sudden access of
energy, and his face looked whiter still than usual--perhaps it was only
the light.

'It won't do, Sir,' said Larkin, with a sinister quietude. 'I say there's
been _foul play_. I think, Sir, you've got him into some foreign
mad-house, or place of confinement, and I won't stop till it's sifted to
the bottom. It is my duty, Sir.'

Captain Lake's slender hand sprang on the attorney's collar, coat and
waistcoat together, and his knuckles, hard and sharp, were screwed
against Mr. Larkin's jaw-bone, as he shook him, and his face was like a
drift of snow, with two yellow fires glaring in it.

It was ferine and spectral, and so tremendously violent, that the long
attorney, expecting nothing of the sort, was thrown out of his balance
against the chimneypiece.

'You d--d old miscreant! I'll pitch you out of the window.'

'I--I say, let go. You're mad, Sir,' said the attorney, disengaging
himself with a sudden and violent effort, and standing, with the back of
a tall chair grasped in both hands, and the seat interposed between
himself and Captain Lake. He was twisting his neck uncomfortably in his
shirt collar, and for some seconds was more agitated, in a different way,
than his patron was.

The fact was, that Mr. Larkin had a little mistaken his man. He had never
happened before to see him in one of his violent moods, and fancied that
his apathetic manner indicated a person more easily bullied. There was
something, too, in the tone and look of Captain Lake which went a good
way to confound and perplex his suspicions, and he half fancied that the
masterstroke he had hazarded was a rank and irreparable blunder.
Something of this, I am sure, appeared in his countenance, and Captain
Lake looked awfully savage, and each gentleman stared the other full in
the face, with more frankness than became two such diplomatists.

'Allow me to speak a word, Captain Lake.'

'You d--d old miscreant!' repeated the candescent captain.

'Allow me to say, you misapprehend.'

'You infernal old cur!'

'I mean no imputation upon _you_, Sir. I thought you might have committed
a mistake--any man may; perhaps you have. I have acted, Captain Lake,
with fidelity in all respects to you, and to every client for whom I've
been concerned. Mr. Wylder is my client, and I was bound to say I was not
satisfied about his present position, which seems to me unaccountable,
except on the supposition that he is under restraint of some sort. I
never said you were to blame; but you may be in error respecting Mr.
Wylder. You may have taken steps, Captain Lake, under a mistake. I never
went further than that. On reflection, you'll say so. I didn't upon my
honour.'

'Then you did not mean to insult me, Sir,' said Lake.

'Upon my honour, and conscience, and soul, Captain Lake,' said the
attorney, stringing together, in his vindication, all the articles he was
assumed most to respect, 'I am perfectly frank, I do assure you. I never
supposed for an instant more than I say. I could not imagine--I am amazed
you have so taken it.'

'But you think I exercise some control or coercion over my cousin, Mr.
Mark Wylder. He's not a man, I can tell you, wherever he is, to be
bullied, no more than I am. I don't correspond with him. I have nothing
to do with him or his affairs; I wash my hands of him.'

Captain Lake turned and walked quickly to the door, but came back as
suddenly.

'Shake hands, Sir. We'll forget it. I accept what you say; but don't talk
that way to me again. I can't imagine what the devil put such stuff in
your head. I don't care twopence. No one's to blame but Wylder himself. I
say I don't care a farthing. Upon my honour, I quite see--I now acquit
you. You could not mean what you seemed to say; and I can't understand
how a sensible man like you, knowing Mark Wylder, and knowing me, Sir,
could use such--such _ambiguous_ language. I have no more influence with
him, and can no more affect his doings, or what you call his _fate_--and,
to say the truth, care about them no more than the child unborn. He's his
own master, of course. What the devil can you have been dreaming of. I
don't even get a letter from him. He's _nothing_ to me.'

'You have misunderstood me; but that's over, Sir. I may have spoken with
warmth, fearing that you might be acting under some cruel
misapprehension--that's all; and you don't think worse of me, I'm very
sure, Captain Lake, for a little indiscreet zeal on behalf of a gentleman
who has treated me with such unlimited confidence as Mr. Wylder. I'd do
the same for you, Sir; it's my character.'

The two gentlemen, you perceive, though still agitated, were becoming
reasonable, and more or less complimentary and conciliatory; and the
masks which an electric gust had displaced for a moment, revealing gross
and somewhat repulsive features, were being readjusted, while each looked
over his shoulder.

I am sorry to say that when that good man, Mr. Larkin, left his presence,
Captain Lake indulged in a perfectly blasphemous monologue. His fury was
excited to a pitch that was very nearly ungovernable; and after it had
exhibited itself in the way I have said, Captain Lake opened a little
despatch-box, and took therefrom a foreign letter, but three days
received. He read it through: his ill-omened smile expanded to a grin
that was undisguisedly diabolical. With a scissors he clipt his own name
where it occurred from the thin sheet, and then, in red ink and Roman
capitals, he scrawled a line or two across the interior of the letter,
enclosed it in an envelope, directed it, and then rang the bell.

He ordered the tax-cart and two horses to drive tandem. The captain was
rather a good whip, and he drove at a great pace to Dollington, took the
train on to Charteris, there posted his letter, and so returned; his
temper continuing savage all that evening, and in a modified degree in
the same state for several days after.

CHAPTER LII.

AN OLD FRIEND LOOKS INTO THE GARDEN AT REDMAN'S FARM.

Lady Chelford, with one of those sudden changes of front which occur in
female strategy, on hearing that Stanley Lake was actually accepted by
Dorcas, had assailed both him and his sister, whom heretofore she had a
good deal petted and distinguished, with a fury that was startling. As
respects Rachel, we know how unjust was the attack.

And when the dowager opened her fire on Rachel, the young lady replied
with a spirit and dignity to which she was not at all accustomed.

So soon as Dorcas obtained a hearing, which was not for sometime--for
she, 'as a miserable and ridiculous victim and idiot,' was nearly as deep
in disgrace as those 'shameless harpies the Lakes'--she told the whole
truth as respected all parties with her superb and tranquil frankness.

Lady Chelford ordered her horses, and was about to leave Brandon next
morning. But rheumatism arrested her indignant flight; and during her
week's confinement to her room, her son contrived so that she consented
to stay for 'the odious ceremony,' and was even sourly civil to Miss
Lake, who received her advances quite as coldly as they were made.

To Miss Lake, Lord Chelford, though not in set terms, yet in many
pleasant ways, apologised for his mother's impertinence. Dorcas had told
_him_ also the story of Rachel's decided opposition to the marriage.

He was so particularly respectful to her--he showed her by the very form
into which he shaped his good wishes that he knew how frankly she had
opposed the marriage--how true she had been to her friend Dorcas--and she
understood him and was grateful.

In fact, Lord Chelford, whatever might be his opinion of the motives of
Captain Lake and the prudence of Dorcas, was clearly disposed to make the
best of the inevitable, and to stamp the new Brandon alliance with what
ever respectability his frank recognition could give it.

Old Lady Chelford's bitter and ominous acquiescence also came, and the
presence of mother and son at the solemnity averted the family scandal
which the old lady's first access of frenzy threatened.

This duty discharged, she insisted, in the interest of her rheumatism,
upon change of air; and on arriving at Duxley, was quite surprised to
find Lady Dulhampton and her daughters there upon a similar quest.

About the matrimonial likelihoods of gentlemen with titles and estates
Fame, that most tuft-hunting of divinities, is always distending her
cheeks, and blowing the very finest flourishes her old trumpet affords.

Lord Chelford was not long away when the story of Lady Constance was
again alive and vocal. It reached old Jackson through his sister, who was
married to the brother of the Marquis of Dulhampton's solicitor. It
reached Lake from Tom Twitters, of his club, who kept the Brandon Captain
_au courant_ of the town-talk; and it came to Dorcas in a more authentic
fashion, though mysteriously, and rather in the guise of a conundrum than
of a distinct bit of family intelligence, from no less a person than the
old Dowager Lady Chelford herself.

Stanley Lake, who had begun to entertain hopes for Rachel in that
direction, went down to Redman's Farm, and, after his bleak and bitter
fashion, rated the young lady for having perversely neglected her
opportunities and repulsed that most desirable _parti_. In this he was
intensely in earnest, for the connection would have done wonders for
Captain Lake in the county.

Rachel met this coarse attack with quiet contempt; told him that Lord
Chelford had, she supposed, no idea of marrying out of his own rank; and
further, that he, Captain Lake, must perfectly comprehend, if he could
not appreciate, the reasons which would for ever bar any such relation.

But Rachel, though she treated the subject serenely in this interview,
was sadder and more forlorn than ever, and lay awake at night, and,
perhaps, if we knew all, shed some secret tears; and then with time came
healing of these sorrows.

It was a fallacy, a mere chimera, that was gone; an impracticability too.
She had smiled at it as such when Dorcas used to hint at it; but are
there no castles in the clouds which we like to inhabit, although we know
them altogether air-built, and whose evaporation desolates us?

Rachel's talks with the vicar were frequent; and poor little Mrs. William
Wylder, who knew not the reason of his visits, fell slowly, and to the
good man's entire bewilderment, into a chronic jealousy. It expressed
itself enigmatically; it was circumlocutory, sad, and mysterious.

'Little Fairy was so pleased with his visit to Redman's Farm to-day. He
told me all about it; did not you, little man? But still you love poor
old mamma best of all; you would not like to have a new mamma. Ah, no;
you'd rather have your poor old, ugly Mussie. I wish I was handsome, my
little man, and clever; but wishing is vain.'

'Ah! Willie, there was a time when you could not see how ugly and dull
your poor foolish little wife was; but it could not last for ever. How
did it happen--oh, how?--you such a scholar, so clever, so handsome, my
beautiful Willie--how did you ever look down on poor wretched me?'

'I think it will be fine, Willie, and Miss Lake will expect you at
Redman's Farm; and little Fairy will go too; yes, you'd like to go, and
mamma will stay at home, and try to be useful in her poor miserable way,'
and so on.

The vicar, thinking of other things, never seeing the reproachful irony
in all this, would take it quite literally, assent sadly, and with little
Fairy by the hand, set forth for Redman's Farm; and the good little body,
to the amazement of her two maids, would be heard passionately weeping in
the parlour in her forsaken state.

At last there came a great upbraiding, a great _�claircissement_, and
laughter, and crying, and hugging; and the poor little woman, quite
relieved, went off immediately, in her gratitude, to Rachel, and paid her
quite an affectionate little visit.

Jealousy is very unreasonable. But have we no compensation in this, that
the love which begets it is often as unreasonable? Look in the glass, and
then into your own heart, and ask your conscience, next, 'Am I really
quite a hero, or altogether so lovely, as I am beloved?' Keep the answer
to yourself, but be tender with the vehement follies of your jealous
wife. Poor mortals! It is but a short time we have to love, and be
jealous, and love again.

One night, after a long talk in the morning with good William Wylder, and
great dejection following, all on a sudden, Rachel sat up in her bed, and
in a pleasant voice, and looking more like herself than she had for many
months, she said--

'I think I have found the true way out of my troubles, Tamar. At every
sacrifice to be quite honest; and to that, Tamar, I have made up my mind
at last, thank God. Come, Tamar, and kiss me, for I am free once more.'

So that night passed peacefully.

Rachel--a changed Rachel still--though more like her early self, was now
in the tiny garden of Redman's Farm. The early spring was already showing
its bright green through the brown of winter, and sun and shower
alternating, and the gay gossiping of sweet birds among the branches,
were calling the young creation from its slumbers. The air was so sharp,
so clear, so sunny, the mysterious sense of coming life so invigorating,
and the sounds and aspect of nature so rejoicing, that Rachel with her
gauntlets on, her white basket of flower seeds, her trowel, and all her
garden implements beside her, felt her own spring of life return, and
rejoiced in the glad hour that shone round her.

Lifting up her eyes, she saw Lord Chelford looking over the little gate.

'What a charming day,' said he, with his pleasant smile, raising his hat,
'and how very pleasant to see you at your pretty industry again.'

As Rachel came forward in her faded gardening costume, an old silk shawl
about her shoulders, and hoodwise over her head, somehow very becoming,
there was a blush--he could not help seeing it--on her young face, and
for a moment her fine eyes dropped, and she looked up, smiling a more
thoughtful and a sadder smile than in old days. The picture of that smile
so gay and fearless, and yet so feminine, rose up beside the sadder smile
that greeted him now, and he thought of Ondine without and Ondine with a
soul.

'I am afraid I am a very impertinent--at least a very
inquisitive--wayfarer; but I could not pass by without a word, even at
the risk of interrupting you. And the truth is, I believe, if it had not
been for that chance of seeing and interrupting you, I should not have
passed through Redman's Dell to-day.'

He laughed a little as he said this; and held her hands some seconds
longer than is strictly usual in such a greeting.

'You are staying at Brandon?' said Rachel, not knowing exactly what to
say.

'Yes; Dorcas, who is always very good to me, made me promise to come
whenever I was at Drackley. I arrived yesterday, and they tell me you
stay so much at home, that possibly you might not appear in the upper
world for two or three days; so I had not patience, you see.'

It was now Rachel's turn to laugh a musical little roulade; but somehow
her talk was neither so gay, nor so voluble, as it used to be. She liked
to listen; she would not for the world their little conversation ended
before its time; but there was an unwonted difficulty in finding anything
to say.

'It is quite true; I am more a stay-at-home than I used to be. I believe
we learn to prize home more the longer we live.'

'What a wise old lady! I did not think of that; I have only learned that
whatever is most prized is hardest to find.'

'And spring is come again,' continued Rachel, passing by this little
speech, 'and my labours recommence. And though the day is longer, there
is more to do in it, you see.'

'I don't wonder at your being a stay-at-home, for, to my eyes, it is the
prettiest spot of earth in all the world; and if you find it half as hard
to leave it as I do, your staying here is quite accounted for.'

This little speech, also, Rachel understood quite well, though she went
on as if she did not.

'And this little garden costs, I assure you, a great deal of wise
thought. In sowing my annuals I have so much to forecast and arrange;
suitability of climate, for we have sun and shade here, succession of
bloom and contrast of colour, and ever so many other important things.'

'I can quite imagine it, though it did not strike me before,' he said,
looking on her with a smile of pleasant and peculiar interest, which
somehow gave a reality to this playful talk. 'It is quite true; and I
should not have thought of it--it is very pretty,' and he laughed a
gentle little laugh, glancing over the tiny garden.

'But, after all, there is no picture of flowers, or still life, or even
of landscape, that will interest long. You must be very solitary here at
times--that is, you must have a great deal more resource than I, or,
indeed, almost anyone I know, or this solitude must at times be
oppressive. I hope so, at least, for that would force you to appear among
us sometimes.'

'No, I am not lonely--that is, not lonelier than is good for me. I have
such a treasure of an old nurse--poor old Tamar--who tells me stories,
and reads to me, and listens to my follies and temper, and sometimes says
very wise things, too; and the good vicar comes often--this is one of his
days--with his beautiful little boy, and talks so well, and answers my
follies and explains all my perplexities, and is really a great help and
comfort.'

'Yes,' said Lord Chelford, with the same pleasant smile, 'he told me so;
and seems so pleased to have met with so clever a pupil. Are you coming
to Brandon this evening? Lake asked William Wylder, perhaps he will be
with us. I do hope you will come. Dorcas says there is no use in writing;
but that you know you are always welcome. May I say you'll come?'

Rachel smiled sadly on the snow-drops at her feet, and shook her head a
little.

'No, I must stay at home this evening--I mean I have not spirits to go to
Brandon. Thank Dorcas very much from me--that is, if you really mean that
she asked me.'

'I am so sorry--I am so disappointed,' said Lord Chelford, looking
gravely and enquiringly at her. He began, I think, to fancy some
estrangement there. 'But perhaps to-morrow--perhaps even to-day--you may
relent, you know. Don't say it is impossible.'

Rachel smiled on the ground, as before; and then, with a little sigh and
a shake of her head, said--

'No.'

'Well, I must tell Dorcas she was right--you are very inexorable and
cruel.'

'I am very cruel to keep you here so long--and I, too, am forgetting the
vicar, who will be here immediately, and I must meet him in a costume
less like the Woman of Endor.'

Lord Chelford, leaning on the little wicket, put his arm over, and she
gave him her hand again.

'Good-bye,' said Rachel.

'Well, I suppose I, too, must say good-bye; and I'll say a great deal
more,' said he, in a peculiar, odd tone, that was very firm, and yet
indescribably tender. And he held her slender hand, from which she had
drawn the gauntlet, in his. 'Yes, Rachel, I will--I'll say everything. We
are old friends now--you'll forgive me calling you Rachel--it may be
perhaps the last time.'

Rachel was standing there with such a beautiful blush, and downcast eyes,
and her hand in his.

'I liked you always, Rachel, from the first moment I saw you--I liked you
better and better--indescribably--indeed, I do; and I've grown to like
you so, that if I lose you, I think I shall never be the same again.'

There was a very little pause, the blush was deeper, her eyes lower
still.

'I admire you, Rachel--I like your character--I have grown to love you
with all my heart and mind--quite desperately, I think. I know there are
things against me--there are better-looking fellows than I--and--and a
great many things--and I know very well that you will judge for
yourself--quite differently from other girls; and I can't say with what
fear and hope I await what you may say; but this you may be sure of, you
will never find anyone to love you better, Rachel--I think so
well--and--and now--that is all. Do you think you could _ever_ like me?'

But Rachel's hand, on a sudden, with a slight quiver, was drawn from his.

'Lord Chelford, I can't describe how grateful I am, and how astonished,
but it could never be--no--never.'

'Rachel, perhaps you mean my mother--I have told her everything--she will
receive you with all the respect you so well deserve; and with all her
faults, she loves me, and will love you still more.'

'No, Lord Chelford, no.' She was pale now, and looking very sadly in his
eyes. 'It is not that, but only that you must never, never speak of it
again.'

'Oh! Rachel, darling, you must not say that--I love you so--so
_desperately_, you don't know.'

'I can say nothing else, Lord Chelford. My mind is quite made up--I am
inexpressibly grateful--you will never know how grateful--but except as a
friend--and won't you still be my friend?--I never can regard you.'

Rachel was so pale that her very lips were white as she spoke this in a
melancholy but very firm way.

'Oh, Rachel, it is a great blow--maybe if you thought it over!--I'll wait
any time.'

'No, Lord Chelford, I'm quite unworthy of your preference; but time
cannot change me--and I am speaking, not from impulse, but conviction.
This is our secret--yours and mine--and we'll forget it; and I could not
bear to lose your friendship--you'll be my friend still--won't you?
Good-bye.'

'God bless you, Rachel!' And he hurriedly kissed the hand she had placed
in his, and without a word more, or looking back, he walked swiftly down
the wooded road towards Gylingden.

So, then, it had come and gone--gone for ever.

'Margery, bring the basket in; I think a shower is coming.'

And she picked up her trowel and other implements, and placed them in the
porch, and glanced up towards the clouds, as if she saw them, and had
nothing to think of but her gardening and the weather, and as if her
heart was not breaking.

CHAPTER LIII.

THE VICAR'S COMPLICATIONS, WHICH LIVELY PEOPLE HAD BETTER NOT READ.

William Wylder's reversion was very tempting. But Lawyer Larkin knew the
value of the precious metals, and waited for more data. The more he
thought over his foreign correspondence, and his interview with Lake, the
more steadily returned upon his mind the old conviction that the gallant
captain was deep in the secret, whatever it might be.

Whatever his motive--and he always had a distinct motive, though
sometimes not easily discoverable--he was a good deal addicted now to
commenting, in his confidential talk, with religious gossips and others,
upon the awful state of the poor vicar's affairs, his inconceivable
prodigality, the unaccountable sums he had made away with, and his own
anxiety to hand over the direction of such a hopeless complication of
debt, and abdicate in favour of any competent skipper the command of the
water-logged and foundering ship.

'Why, his Brother Mark could get him cleverly out of it--could not he?'
wheezed the pork-butcher.

'More serious than you suppose,' answered Larkin, with a shake of his
head.

'It can't go beyond five hundred, or say nine hundred--eh, at the
outside?'

'Nine _hundred_--say double as many _thousand_, and I'm afraid you'll be
nearer the mark. You'll not mention, of course, and I'm only feeling my
way just now, and speaking conjecturally altogether; but I'm afraid it is
enormous. I need not remind you not to mention.'

I cannot, of course, say how Mr. Larkin's conjectures reached so
prodigious an elevation, but I can now comprehend why it was desirable
that this surprising estimate of the vicar's liabilities should prevail.
Mr. Jos. Larkin had a weakness for enveloping much of what he said and
wrote in an honourable mystery. He liked writing _private_ or
_confidential_ at top of his notes, without apparent right or even reason
to impose either privacy or confidence upon the persons to whom he wrote.
There was, in fact, often in the good attorney's mode of transacting
business just a _soup�on_ or flavour of an _arri�re pens�e_ of a remote
and unseen plan, which was a little unsatisfactory.

Now, with the vicar he was imperative that the matter of the reversion
should be strictly confidential--altogether 'sacred,' in fact.

'You see, the fact is, my dear Mr. Wylder, I never meddle in speculative
things. It is not a class of business that I like or would touch with one
of my fingers, so to speak,' and he shook his head gently; 'and I may
say, if I were supposed to be ever so slightly engaged in these risky
things, it would be the _ruin_ of me. I don t like, however, sending you
into the jaws of the City sharks--I use the term, my dear Mr. Wylder,
advisedly--and I make a solitary exception in your case; but the fact is,
if I thought you would mention the matter, I could not touch it even for
you. There's Captain Lake, of Brandon, for instance--I should not be
surprised if I lost the Brandon business the day after the matter reached
his ears. All men are not like you and me, my dear Mr. Wylder. The sad
experience of my profession has taught me that a suspicious man of the
world, without religion, my dear Mr. Wylder,' and he lifted his pink
eyes, and shook his long head and long hands in unison--'without
religion--will imagine anything. They can't understand us.'

Now, the fifty pounds which good Mr. Larkin had procured for the
improvident vicar, bore interest, I am almost ashamed to say, at thirty
per cent. per annum, and ten per cent. more the first year. But you are
to remember that the security was altogether speculative; and Mr. Larkin,
of course, made the best terms he could.

Annual premium on a policy for �100 [double insurance } � _s._ _d._
being insisted upon by lender, to cover contingent ex- } 10 0 0
penses, and life not insurable, a delicacy of the lungs }
being admitted, on the ordinary scale] }

Annuity payable to lender, clear of premium, the } 7 10 0
security being unsatisfactory }
--------------
�17 10 0

Ten pounds of which (the premium), together with four pounds ten
shillings for expenses, &c. were payable in advance. So that thirty-two
pounds, out of his borrowed fifty, were forfeit for these items within a
year and a month. In the meantime the fifty pounds had gone, as we know,
direct to Cambridge; and he was called upon to pay forthwith ten pounds
for premium, and four pounds ten shillings for 'expenses.' _Quod
impossibile._

The attorney had nothing for it but to try to induce the lender to let
him have another fifty pounds, pending the investigation of
title--another fifty, of which he was to get, in fact, eighteen pounds.
Somehow, the racking off of this bitter vintage from one vessel into
another did not seem to improve its quality. On the contrary, things were
growing decidedly more awful.

Now, there came from Messrs. Burlington and Smith a peremptory demand for
the fourteen pounds ten shillings, and an equally summary one for
twenty-eight pounds fourteen shillings and eight pence, their costs in
this matter.

When the poor vicar received this latter blow, he laid the palm of his
hand on the top of his head, as if to prevent his brain from boiling
over. Twenty-eight pounds fourteen shillings and eight pence! _Quod
impossibile._ again.

When he saw Larkin, that conscientious guardian of his client's interests
scrutinised the bill of costs very jealously, and struck out between four
and five pounds. He explained to the vicar the folly of borrowing
insignificant and insufficient sums--the trouble, and consequently the
cost, of which were just as great as of an adequate one. He was
determined, if he could, to pull him through this. But he must raise a
sufficient sum, for the expense of going into title would be something;
and he would write sharply to Burlington, Smith, and Co., and had no
doubt the costs would be settled for twenty-three pounds. And Mr. Jos.
Larkin's opinion upon the matter was worthy of respect, inasmuch as he
was himself, under the rose, the 'Co.' of that firm, and ministered its
capital.

'The fact is you must, my dear Mr. Wylder, make an effort. It won't do
peddling and tinkering in such a case. You will be in a worse position
than ever, unless you boldly raise a thousand pounds--if I can manage
such a transaction upon a security of the kind. Consolidate all your
liabilities, and keep a sum in hand. You are well connected--powerful
relatives--your brother has Huxton, four hundred, a year, whenever
old--the--the present incumbent goes--and there are other things
beside--but you must not allow yourself to be ruined through timidity;
and if you go to the wall without an effort, and allow yourself to be
slurred in public, what becomes of your chance of preferment?'

And now 'title' went up to Burlington, Smith, and Co. to examine and
approve; and from that firm, I am sorry to say, a bill of costs was
coming, when deeds were prepared and all done, exceeding three hundred
and fifty pounds; and there was a little reminder from good Jos. Larkin
for two hundred and fifty pounds more. This, of course, was to await Mr.
Wylder's perfect convenience. The vicar knew _him_--_he_ never pressed
any man. Then there would be insurances in proportion; and interest, as
we see, was not trifling. And altogether, I am afraid, our friend the
vicar was being extricated in a rather embarrassing fashion.

Now, I have known cases in which good-natured debauchees have interested
themselves charitably in the difficulties of forlorn families; and I
think _I_ knew, almost before they suspected it, that their generous
interference was altogether due to one fine pair of eyes, and a pretty
_tournure_, in the distressed family circle. Under a like half-delusion,
Mr. Jos. Larkin, in the guise of charity, was prosecuting his designs
upon the vicar's reversion, and often most cruelly and most artfully,
when he frankly fancied his conduct most praiseworthy.

And really I do not myself know, that, considering poor William's
liabilities and his means, and how many chances there were against that
reversion ever becoming a fact, that I would not myself have advised his
selling it, if a reasonable price were obtainable.

'All this power will I give thee,' said the Devil, 'and the glory of
them; for that is delivered unto me, and to whomsoever I will I give it.'
The world belongs to the rascals. It is like 'the turf,' where, everyone
admits, an honest man can hardly hold his own. Jos. Larkin looked down on
the seedy and distracted vicar from an immense moral elevation. He heard
him talk of religion with disgust. He owed him costs, and, beside, costs
also to Burlington, Smith, and Co. Was there not Talkative in 'Pilgrim's
Progress?' I believe there are few things more provoking than that a man
who owes you money, and can't pay the interest, should pretend to
religion to your face, except, perhaps, his giving sixpence in charity.

The attorney was prosperous. He accounted for it by his attributes, and
the blessing that waits on industry and integrity. He did not see that
luck and selfishness had anything to do with it. No man ever failed but
through his own fault--none ever succeeded but by his deservings. The
attorney was in a position to lecture the Rev. Mr. Wylder. In his
presence, religion, in the vicar's mouth, was an impertinence.

The vicar, on the other hand, was all that we know. Perhaps, in
comparison, his trial is, in some sort, a blessing; and that there is no
greater snare than the state of the man with whom all goes smoothly, and
who mistakes his circumstances for his virtues.

The poor vicar and his little following were got pretty well into the
Furcae Caudinae. Mr. Jos. Larkin, if he did not march him out, to do him
justice, had had no hand in primarily bringing him there. There was no
reason, however, why the respectable lawyer should not make whatever was
to be fairly made of the situation. The best thing for both was, perhaps,
that the one should sell and the other buy the reversion. Larkin had no
apprehensions about the nature of the dealing. He was furnished with an
excellent character--his cheques were always honoured--his 'tots' always
unexceptionable--his vouchers never anything but exact. He had twice been
publicly complimented in this sense, when managing Lord Hedgerow's
estate. No man had, I believe, a higher reputation in his walk--few men
were more formidable. I think it was Lawyer Larkin's private canon, in
his dealings with men, that everything was moral that was not contrary to
an Act of Parliament.

CHAPTER LIV.

BRANDON CHAPEL ON SUNDAY.

For a month and three days Mr. Jos. Larkin was left to ruminate without
any new light upon the dusky landscape now constantly before his eyes. At
the end of that time a foreign letter came for him to the Lodge. It was
not addressed in Mark Wylder's hand--not the least like it. Mark's was a
bold, free hand, and if there was nothing particularly elegant, neither
was there anything that could be called vulgar in it. But this was a
decidedly villainous scrawl--in fact it was written as a self-educated
butcher might pen a bill. There was nothing impressed on the wafer, but a
poke of something like the ferrule of a stick.

The interior corresponded with the address, and the lines slanted
confoundedly. It was, however, on the whole, better spelled and expressed
than the penmanship would have led one to expect. It said--

'MISTER LARKINS,--Respeckted Sir, I write you, Sir, to let you know has
how there is no more Chance you shud ear of poor Mr. Mark Wylder--of hose
orrible Death I make bold to acquainte you by this writing--which is
Secret has yet from all--he bing Hid, and made away with in the dark. It
is only Right is family shud know all, and his sad ending--wich I will
tell before you, Sir, in full, accorden to my Best guess, as bin the
family Lawyer (and, Sir, you will find it usful to Tell this in secret to
Capten Lake, of Brandon Hall--But not on No account to any other). It is
orrible, Sir, to think a young gentleman, with everything the world can
give, shud be made away with so crewel in the dark. Though you do not
rekelect me, Sir, I know you well, Mr. Larkins, haven seen you hoffen
when a boy. I wud not wish, Sir, no noise made till I cum--which I am
returning hoame, and will then travel to Gylingden strateways to see you.

Sir, your obedient servant,

'JAMES DUTTON.'

This epistle disturbed Mr. Jos. Larkin profoundly. He could recollect no
such name as James Dutton. He did not know whether to believe this letter
or not. He could not decide what present use to make of it, nor whether
to mention it to Captain Lake, nor, if he did so, how it was best to open
the matter.

Captain Lake, he was confident, knew James Dutton--why, otherwise, should
that person have desired his intelligence communicated to him. At least
it proved that Dutton assumed the captain to be specially interested in
what concerned Mark Wylder's fate; and in so far it confirmed his
suspicions of Lake. Was it better to wait until he had seen Dutton, and
heard his story, before hinting at his intelligence and his name--or was
it wiser to do that at once, and watch its effect upon the gallant
captain narrowly, and trust to inspiration and the moment for striking
out the right course.

If this letter was true there was not a moment to be lost in bringing the
purchase of the vicar's reversion to a point. The possibilities were
positively dazzling. They were worth risking something. I am not sure
that Mr. Larkin's hand did not shake a little as he took the statement of
title again out of the Wylder tin box No. 2.

Now, under the pressure of this enquiry, a thing struck Mr. Larkin,
strangely enough, which he had quite overlooked before. There were
certain phrases in the will of the late Mr. Wylder, which limited a large
portion of the great estate in strict settlement. Of course an attorney's
opinion upon a question of real property is not conclusive. Still they
can't help knowing something of the barrister's special province; and
these words were very distinct--in fact, they stunted down the vicar's
reversion in the greater part of the property to a strict life estate.

Long did the attorney pore over his copy of the will, with his finger and
thumb closed on his under lip. The language was quite explicit--there was
no way out of it. It was strictly a life estate. How could he have
overlooked that? His boy, indeed, would take an estate tail--and could
disentail whenever--if ever--he came of age. But that was in the clouds.
Mackleston-on-the-Moor, however, and the Great Barnford estate, were
unaffected by these limitations; and the rental which he now carefully
consulted, told him these jointly were in round numbers worth 2,300_l._ a
year, and improvable.

This letter of Dutton's, to be sure, may turn out to be all a lie or a
blunder. But it may prove to be strictly true; and in that case it will
be _every_ thing that the deeds should be executed and the purchase
completed before the arrival of this person, and the public notification
of Mark Wylder's death.

'What a world it is, to be sure!' thought Mr. Larkin, as he shook his
long head over Dutton's letter. 'How smoothly and simply everything would
go, if only men would stick to truth! Here's this letter--how much time
and trouble it costs me--how much opportunity possibly sacrificed, simply
by reason of the incurable mendacity of men.' And he knocked the back of
his finger bitterly on the open page.

Another thought now struck him for the first time. Was there no mode of
'hedging,' so that whether Mark Wylder were living or dead the attorney
should stand to win?

Down came the Brandon boxes. The prudent attorney turned the key in the
door, and forth came the voluminous marriage settlement of Stanley
Williams Lake, of Slobberligh, in the county of Devon, late captain, &c.,
&c. of the second part, and Dorcas Adderley Brandon, of Brandon Hall, in
the county of &c., &c. of the second part, and so forth. And as he read
this pleasant composition through, he two or three times murmured
approvingly, 'Yes--yes--yes.' His recollection had served him quite
rightly. There was the Five Oaks estate, specially excluded from
settlement, worth 1,400_l._ a year; but it was conditioned that the said
Stanley Williams Lake was not to deal with the said lands, except with
the consent in writing of the said Dorcas, &c., who was to be a
consenting party to the deed.

If there was really something 'unsound in the state of Lake's relations,'
and that he could be got to consider Lawyer Larkin as a friend worth
keeping, that estate might be had a bargain--yes, a _great_ bargain.

Larkin walked off to Brandon, but there he learned that Captain _Brandon_
Lake as he now chose to call himself, had gone that morning to London.

'Business, I venture to say, and he went into that electioneering without
ever mentioning it either.'

So thought Larkin, and he did not like this. It looked ominous, and like
an incipient sliding away of the Brandon business, Well, no matter, all
things worked together for good. It was probably well that he should not
be too much shackled with considerations of that particular kind in the
important negotiation about Five Oaks.

That night he posted a note to Burlington, Smith, and Co., and by
Saturday night's post there came down to the sheriff an execution for
123_l._ and some odd shillings, upon a judgment on a warrant to confess,
at the suit of that firm, for costs and money advanced, against the poor
vicar, who never dreamed, as he conned over his next day's sermon with
his solitary candle, that the blow had virtually descended, and that his
homely furniture, the silver spoons his wife had brought him, and the two
shelves half full of old books which he had brought her, and all the rest
of their little frugal trumpery, together with his own thin person, had
passed into the hands of Messrs. Burlington, Smith, and Co.

The vicar on his way to the chapel passed Mr. Jos. Larkin on the
green--not near enough to speak--only to smile and wave his hand kindly,
and look after the good attorney with one of those yearning grateful
looks, which cling to straws upon the drowning stream of life.

The sweet chapel bell was just ceasing to toll as Mr. Jos. Larkin stalked
under the antique ribbed arches of the little aisle. Slim and tall, he
glided, a chastened dignity in his long upturned countenance, and a faint
halo of saint-hood round his tall bald head. Having whispered his orisons
into his well-brushed hat and taken his seat, his dove-like eyes rested
for a moment upon the Brandon seat.

There was but one figure in it--slender, light-haired, with his yellow
moustache and pale face, grown of late a little fatter. Captain Brandon
Lake was a very punctual church-goer since the idea of trying the county
at the next election had entered his mind. Dorcas was not very well. Lord
Chelford had taken his departure, and your humble servant, who pens these
pages, had gone for a few days to Malwich. There was no guest just then
at Brandon, and the captain sat alone on that devotional dais, the
elevated floor of the great oaken Brandon seat.

There were old Brandon and Wylder monuments built up against the walls.
Figures cut in stone, and painted and gilded in tarnished splendour,
according to the gorgeous barbarism of Elizabeth's and the first James's
age; tablets in brass, marble-pillared monuments, and a couple of
life-sized knights, armed _cap-�-pie_, on their backs in the aisle.

There is a stained window in the east which connoisseurs in that branch
of mediaeval art admire. There is another very fine one over the Brandon
pew--a freak, perhaps, of some of those old Brandons or Wylders, who had
a strange spirit of cynicism mingling in their profligacy and violence.

Reader, you have looked on Hans Holbein's 'Dance of Death,' that grim,
phantasmal pageant, symbolic as a dream of Pharaoh; and perhaps you bear
in mind that design called 'The Elector,' in which the Prince, emerging
from his palace gate, with a cloud of courtiers behind, is met by a poor
woman, her little child by the hand, appealing to his compassion,
despising whom, he turns away with a serene disdain. Beneath, in black
letter, is inscribed the text '_Princeps induetur maerore et quiescere
faciam superbiam potentium_'--and gigantic Death lays his fingers on the
great man's ermine tippet.

It is a copy of this, which, in very splendid colouring, fills the window
that lights the Brandon state seat in the chapel. The gules and gold were
reflected on the young man's head, and with a vain augury, the attorney
read again the solemn words from Holy Writ, _'Princeps induetur
maerore.'_ The golden glare rested like a glory on his head; but there
was also a gorgeous stain of blood that bathed his ear and temple. His
head was busy enough at that moment, though it was quite still, and his
sly eyes rested on his Prayer-book; for Sparks, the millionaire clothier,
who had purchased Beverley, and was a potent voice in the Dollington
Bank, and whose politics were doubtful, and relations amphibious, was
sitting in the pew nearly opposite, and showed his red, fat face and
white whiskers over the oak wainscoting.

Jos. Larkin, like the rest of the congregation, was by this time praying,
his elbows on the edge of the pew, his hands clasped, his thumbs under
his chin, and his long face and pink eyes raised heavenward, with now and
then a gentle downward dropping of the latter. He was thinking of Captain
Lake, who was opposite, and, like him, praying.

He was thinking how aristocratic he looked and how well, in externals, he
became the Brandon seat; and there were one or two trifles in the
captain's attitude and costume of which the attorney, who, as we know,
was not only good, but elegant, made a note. He respected his audacity
and his mystery, and he wondered intensely what was going on in that
small skull under the light and glossy hair, and anxiously guessed how
vitally it might possibly affect him, and wondered what his schemes were
after the election--_quiescere faciam superbiam potentium_; and more
darkly about his relations with Mark Wylder--_Princeps induetur maerore_.

His eye was on the window now and then it dropped, with a vague presage,
upon the sleek head of the daring and enigmatical captain, reading the
Litany, from 'battle, murder, and sudden death, good Lord deliver us,'
and he almost fancied he saw a yellow skull over his shoulder glowering
cynically on the Prayer-book. So the good attorney prayed on, to the
edification of all who saw, and mothers in the neighbouring seats were
specially careful to prevent their children from whispering or fidgeting.

When the service was over Captain Lake went across to Mr. Sparks, and
asked him to come to Brandon to lunch. But the clothier could not, and
his brougham whirled him away to Naunton Friars. So Stanley Lake walked
up the little aisle toward the communion table, thinking, and took hold
of the railing that surrounded the brass monument of Sir William de
Braundon, and seemed to gaze intently on the effigy, but was really
thinking profoundly of other matters and once or twice his sly sidelong
glance stole ominously to Jos. Larkin, who was talking at the church door
with the good vicar.

In fact, he was then and there fully apprising him of his awful
situation; and poor William Wylder looking straight at him, with white
face and damp forehead, was listening stunned, and hardly understanding a
word he said, and only the dreadful questions rising to his mouth, 'Can
_anything_ be done? Will the people come _to-day_?'

Mr. Larkin explained the constitutional respect for the Sabbath.

'It would be better, Sir--the publicity of an arrest' (it was a hard word
to utter) 'in the town would be very painful--it would be better I think,
that I should walk over to the prison--it is only six miles--and see the
authorities there, and give myself up.'

And his lip quivered; he was thinking of the leave-taking--of poor Dolly
and little Fairy.

'I've a great objection to speak of business to-day,' said Mr. Larkin,
holily; 'but I may mention that Burlington and Smith have written very
sternly; and the fact is, my dear Sir, we must look the thing straight in
the face; they are determined to go through with it; and you know my
opinion all along about the fallacy--you _must_ excuse me, seeing all the
trouble it has involved you in--the infatuation of hesitating about the
sale of that miserable reversion, which they could have disposed of on
fair terms. In fact, Sir, they look upon it that you don't want to pay
them and of course, they are very angry.'

'I'm sure I was wrong. I'm such a fool!'

'I must only go to the Sheriff the first thing the morning and beg of him
to hold over that thing, you know, until I have heard from Burlington and
Smith; and I suppose I may say to them that you see the necessity of
disposing of the reversion, and agree to sell it if it be not too late.'

The vicar assented; indeed, he had grown, under this urgent pressure, as
nervously anxious to sell as he had been to retain it.

'And they can't come _to-day_?'

'Certainly not.'

And poor William Wylder breathed again in the delightful sense of even
momentary escape, and felt he could have embraced his preserver.

'I'll be very happy to see you to-morrow, if you can conveniently look
in--say at twelve, or half-past, to report progress.'

So that was arranged; and again in the illusive sense of deliverance, the
poor vicar's hopes brightened and expanded. Hitherto his escapes had not
led to safety, and he was only raised from the pit to be sold to the
Ishmaelites.

CHAPTER LV.

THE CAPTAIN AND THE ATTORNEY CONVERSE AMONG THE TOMBS.

I cannot tell whether that slender, silken machinator, Captain Lake,
loitered in the chapel for the purpose of talking to or avoiding Jos.
Larkin, who was standing at the doorway, in sad but gracious converse
with the vicar.

He was certainly observing him from among the tombs in his sly way. And
the attorney, who had a way, like him, of noting things without appearing
to see them, was conscious of it, and was perhaps decided by this trifle
to accost the gallant captain.

So he glided up the short aisle with a sad religious smile, suited to the
place, and inclined his lank back and his tall bald head toward the
captain in ceremonious greeting as he approached.

'How d'ye do, Larkin? The fog makes one cough a little this evening.'

Larkin's answer, thanks, and enquiries, came gravely in return. And with
the same sad smile he looked round on the figures, some marble, some
painted stone, of departed Brandons and Wylders, with garrulous epitaphs,
who surrounded them in various costumes, quite a family group, in which
the attorney was gratified to mingle.

'_Ancestry_, Captain Lake--_your_ ancestry--noble assemblage--monuments
and timber. Timber like the Brandon oaks, and monuments like these--these
are things which, whatever else he may acquire, the _novus homo_, Captain
Brandon Lake--the _parvenu_--can never command.'

Mr. Jos. Larkin had a smattering of school Latin, and knew half-a-dozen
French words, which he took out on occasion.

'Certainly our good people do occupy some space here; more regular
attendants in church, than, I fear, they formerly were; and their virtues
more remarked, perhaps, than before the stone-cutter was instructed to
publish them with his chisel,' answered Lake, with one of his quiet
sneers.

'Beautiful chapel this, Captain Lake--beautiful chapel, Sir,' said the
attorney, again looking round with a dreary smile of admiration. But
though his accents were engaging and he smiled--of course, a Sabbath-day
smile--yet Captain Lake perceived that it was not the dove's but the
rat's eyes that were doing duty under that tall bald brow.

'Solemn thoughts, Sir--solemn thoughts, Captain Lake--silent mentors,
eloquent monitors!' And he waved his long lank hand toward the monumental
groups.

'Yes,' said Lake, in the same mocking tone, that was low and sweet, and
easily mistaken for something more amiable. 'You and they go capitally
together--so solemn, and eloquent, and godly--capital fellows! _I_'m not
half good enough for such company--and the place is growing rather
cold--is not it?'

'A great many Wylders, Sir--a great many _Wylders_.' And the attorney
dropped his voice, and paused at this emphasis, pointing a long finger
toward the surrounding effigies.

Captain Lake, after his custom, glared a single full look upon the
attorney, sudden as the flash of a pair of guns from their embrasures in
the dark; and he said quietly, with a wave of his cane in the same
direction--

'Yes, a precious lot of Wylders.'

'Is there a _Wylder_ vault here, Captain Brandon Lake?'

'Hanged if I know!--what the devil's that to you or me, Sir?' answered
the captain, with a peevish sullenness.

'I was thinking, Captain Lake, whether in the event of its turning out
that Mr. Mark Wylder was _dead_, it would be thought proper to lay his
body here?'

'Dead, Sir!--and what the plague puts that in your head? You are
corresponding with him--aren't you?'

'I'll tell you exactly how that is, Captain Lake. May I take the liberty
to ask you for one moment to look up?'

As between these two gentlemen, this, it must be allowed, was an
impertinent request. But Captain Lake did look up, and there was
something extraordinarily unpleasant in his yellow eyes, as he fixed them
upon the contracted pupils of the attorney, who, nothing daunted, went
on--

'Pray, excuse me--thank you, Captain Lake--they say one is better heard
when looked at than when not seen; and I wish to speak rather low, for
reasons.'

Each looked the other in the eyes, with that uncertain and sinister gaze
which has a character both of fear and menace.

'I have received those letters, Captain Lake, of which I spoke to you
when I last had the honour of seeing you, as furnishing, in certain
circumstances connected with them, grave matter of suspicion, since when
I have _not_ received one with Mr. Wylder's signature. But I _have_
received, only the other day, a letter from a new correspondent--a person
signing himself James Dutton--announcing his belief that Mr. Mark Wylder
is dead--_is dead_--and has been made away with by foul means; and I have
arranged, immediately on his arrival, at his desire, to meet him
professionally, and to hear the entire narrative, both of what he knows
and of what he suspects.'

As Jos. Larkin delivered this with stern features and emphasis, the
captain's countenance underwent such a change as convinced the attorney
that some indescribable evil had befallen Mark Wylder, and that Captain
Brandon Lake had a guilty knowledge thereof. With this conviction came a
sense of superiority and a pleasant confidence in his position, which
betrayed itself in a slight frown and a pallid smile, as he looked
steadily in the young man's face, with his small, crafty, hungry eyes.

Lake knew that his face had betrayed him. He had felt the livid change of
colour, and that twitching at his mouth and cheek which he could not
control. The mean, tyrannical, triumphant gaze of the attorney was upon
him, and his own countenance was his accuser.

Lake ground his teeth, and returned Jos. Larkin's intimidating smirk with
a look of fury, which--for he now believed he held the winning cards--did
not appal him.

Lake cleared his throat twice, but did not find his voice, and turned
away and read half through the epitaph on Lady Mary Brandon, which is a
pious and somewhat puritanical composition. I hope it did him good.

'You know, Sir,' said Captain Lake, but a little huskily, turning about
and smiling at last, 'that Mark Wylder is nothing to me. We don't
correspond: we have not corresponded. I know--upon my honour and soul,
Sir--nothing on earth about him--what he's doing, where he is, or what's
become of him. But I can't hear a man of business like you assert, upon
what he conceives to be reliable information--situated as the Brandon
title is--depending, I mean, in some measure, upon his life--that Mark
Wylder is no more, without being a good deal shocked.'

'I quite understand, Sir--quite, Captain Lake. It is very serious, Sir,
very; but I can't believe it has gone that length, quite. I shall know
more, of course, when I've seen James Dutton. I can't think, I mean, he's
been made away with in that sense; nor how that could benefit anyone; and
I'd much rather, Captain Lake, move in this matter--since move I must--in
your interest--I mean, as your friend and man of business--than in any
way, Captain Lake, that might possibly involve you in trouble.'

'You _are_ my man of business--aren't you? and have no grounds for
ill-will--eh?' said the captain, drily.

'No ill-will certainly--quite the reverse. Thank Heaven, I think I may
truly say, I bear ill-will to no man living; and wish you, Captain Lake,
nothing but good, Sir--nothing but good.'

'Except a hasty word or two, I know no reason you should _not_,' said the
captain, in the same tone.

'Quite so. But, Captain Brandon Lake, there is nothing like being
completely above-board--it has been my rule through life; and I will
say--it would not be frank and candid to say anything else--that I have
of late been anything but satisfied with the position which, ostensibly
your professional adviser and confidential man of business, I have
occupied. Have I been consulted?--I put it to you; have I been trusted?
Has there been any real confidence, Captain Lake, upon your part? You
have certainly had relations with Mr. Mark Wylder--correspondence, for
anything I know. You have entertained the project of purchasing the
Reverend William Wylder's reversion; and you have gone into
electioneering business, and formed connections of that sort, without
once doing me the honour to confer with me on the subject. Now, the plain
question is, do you wish to retain my services?'

'Certainly,' said Captain Lake, biting his lip, with a sinister little
frown.

'Then, Captain Lake, upon the same principle, and speaking quite
above-board, you must dismiss at once from your mind the idea that you
_can_ do so upon the terms you have of late seen fit to impose. I am
speaking frankly when I say there must be a total change. I must _be_ in
reality what I am held out to the world as being--your trusted, and
responsible, and _sole_ adviser. I don't aspire to the position--I am
willing at this moment to retire from it; but I never yet knew a divided
direction come to good. It is an office of great responsibility, and I
for one will not consent to touch it on any other conditions than those I
have taken the liberty to mention.'

'These are easily complied with--in fact I undertake to show you they
have never been disturbed,' answered Lake, rather sullenly. 'So that
being understood--eh?--I suppose we have nothing particular to add?'

And Captain Lake extended his gloved hand to take leave.

But the attorney looked down and then up, with a shadow on his face, and
his lip in his finger and thumb, and he said--

'That's all very well, and a _sine qua non_, so far as it goes! but, my
dear Captain Lake, let us be plain. You must see, my dear Sir, with such
rumours, possibly about to get afloat, and such persons about to appear,
as this James Dutton, that matters are really growing critical, and
there's no lack of able solicitors who would on speculation, undertake a
suit upon less evidence, perhaps, than may be forthcoming, to upset your
title, under the will, through Mrs. Dorcas Brandon Lake--your joint
title--in favour of the reversioner.'

Lake only bit his lip and shook his head. The attorney knew, however,
that the danger was quite appreciated, and went on--

'You will, therefore, want a competent man--who has the papers at his
fingers' ends, and knows how to deal ably--_ably_, Sir, with a fellow of
James Dutton's stamp--at your elbow. The fact is, to carry you safely
through you will need pretty nearly the undivided attention of a
well-qualified, able, and confidential practitioner; and I need not say,
such a man is not to be had for nothing.'

Lake nodded a seeming assent, which seemed to say, 'I have found it so.'

'Now, my dear Captain Lake, I just mention this--I put it before
you--that is, because you know the county is not to be contested for
nothing--and you'll want a very serious sum of money for the purpose, and
possibly a petition--and I can, one way or another, make up, with an
effort, about �15,000_l._ Now it strikes me that it would be a wise thing
for you--the wisest thing, perhaps, my dear Captain Lake, you ever
did--to place me in the same boat with yourself.'

'I don't exactly see.'

'I'll make it quite clear.' The attorney's tall forehead had a little
pink flush over it at this moment, and he was looking down a little and
poking the base of Sir William de Braundon's monument with the point of
his umbrella. 'I wish, Captain Lake, to be perfectly frank, and, as I
said, above-board. You'll want the money, and you must make up your mind
to sell Five Oaks.'

Captain Lake shifted his foot, as if he had found it on a sudden on a hot
flag.

'Sell Five Oaks--that's fourteen hundred a year,' said he.

'Hardly so much, but nearly, perhaps.'

'Forty-three thousand pounds were offered for it. Old Chudworth offered
that about ten years ago.'

'Of course, Captain Lake, if you are looking for a fancy price from me I
must abandon the idea. I was merely supposing a dealing between friends,
and in that sense I ventured to name the extreme limit to which I could
go. Little more than five per cent, for my money, if I insure--and
possibly to defend an action before I've been six months in possession. I
think my offer will strike you as a _great_ one, considering the posture
of affairs. Indeed, I apprehend, my friends will hardly think me
justified in offering so much.'

The sexton was walking back and forward near the door, making the best
clatter he decently could, and wondering the Captain and Lawyer Larkin
could find no better place to talk in than the church.

'In a moment--in a moment,' said the lawyer, signalling to him to be
quiet, as loftily as if chapel, hall, and sexton were his private
property.

It was one of those moments into which a good deal of talk is fitted, and
which seem somewhat of the longest to those who await its expiration.

The chapel was growing dark, and its stone and marble company of bygone

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