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Wylder's Hand by J. Sheridan Le Fanu

Part 8 out of 10

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Wylders and Brandons were losing themselves in shadow. Part of the
periwig and cheek of Sir Marcus Brandon still glimmered whitish, as at a
little distance did also the dim marble face and arm of the young
Countess of Lydingworth, mourning these hundred and thirty years over her
dead baby. Sir William Wylder, in ruff, rosettes, and full dress of James
I.'s fashion, on his back, defunct, with children in cloaks kneeling at
head and foot, was hardly distinguishable; and the dusky crimson and
tarnished gold had gone out of view till morning. The learned Archbishop
Brandon, a cadet, who filled the see of York in his day, and was the only
unexceptionably godly personage of that long line, was praying, as usual,
at his desk--perhaps to the saints and Virgin, for I believe he was
before the Reformation--in beard and skull-cap, as was evident from the
black profile of head and uplifted hands, against the dim sky seen
through the chapel window. A dusky glow from the west still faintly
showed Hans Holbein's proud 'Elector,' in the Brandon window, fading,
with Death himself, and the dread inscription, 'Princeps induetur
maerore,' into utter darkness.

The ice once broken, Jos. Larkin urged his point with all sorts of
arguments, always placing the proposed transaction in the most plausible
lights and attitudes, and handling his subject in round and flowing
sentences. This master of persuasion was not aware that Captain Lake was
arguing the question for himself, on totally different grounds, and that
it was fixed in his mind pretty much in these terms:--

'That old villain wants an exorbitant bribe--is he worth it?'

He knew what the lawyer thought he did _not_ know--that Five Oaks was
held by the lawyers to be possibly _without_ those unfortunate
limitations which affected all the rest of the estate. It was only a
moot-point; but the doubt had led Mr. Jos. Larkin to the selection.

'I'll look in upon you between eight and nine in the morning, and I'll
say yes or no then,' said the captain, as they parted under the old stone
porch, the attorney with a graceful inclination, a sad smile, and a wave
of his hand--the captain with his hands in the pockets of his loose coat,
and a sidelong glance from his yellow eyes.

The sky, as he looked toward Brandon, was draped in black cloud,
intensely black, meeting a black horizon--except for one little rent of
deep crimson which showed westward behind those antique gables and lordly
trees, like a lake of blood.

CHAPTER LVI.

THE BRANDON CONSERVATORY.

Captain Lake did look in at the Lodge in the morning, and remained an
hour in conference with Mr. Jos. Larkin. I suppose everything went off
pleasantly. For although Stanley Lake looked very pale and vicious as he
walked down to the iron gate of the Lodge among the evergreens and
bass-mats, the good attorney's countenance shone with a serene and
heavenly light, so pure and bright, indeed, that I almost wonder his
dazzled servants, sitting along the wall while he read and expounded that
morning, did not respectfully petition that a veil, after the manner of
Moses, might be suspended over the seraphic effulgence.

Somehow his 'Times' did not interest him at breakfast; these
parliamentary wrangles, commercial speculations, and foreign disputes,
are they not, after all, but melancholy and dreary records of the merest
worldliness; and are there not moments when they become almost insipid?
Jos. Larkin tossed the paper upon the sofa. French politics, relations
with Russia, commercial treaties, party combinations, how men _can_ so
wrap themselves up in these things!

And he smiled ineffable pity over the crumpled newspaper--on the poor
souls in that sort of worldly limbo. In which frame of mind he took from
his coat pocket a copy of Captain Lake's marriage settlement, and read
over again a covenant on the captain's part that, with respect to this
particular estate of Five Oaks, he would do no act, and execute no
agreement, deed, or other instrument whatsoever, in any wise affecting
the same, without the consent in writing of the said Dorcas Brandon; and
a second covenant binding him and the trustees of the settlement against
executing any deed, &c., without a similar consent; and especially
directing, that in the event of alienating the estate, the said Dorcas
must be made an assenting party to the deed.

He folded the deed, and replaced it in his pocket with a peaceful smile
and closed eyes, murmuring--

'I'm much mistaken if the gray mare's the better horse in that stud.'

He laughed gently, thinking of the captain's formidable and unscrupulous
nature, exhibitions of which he could not fail to remember.

'No, no, Miss Dorkie won't give us much trouble.'

He used to call her 'Miss Dorkie,' playfully to his clerks. It gave him
consideration, he fancied. And now with this Five Oaks to begin
with--£1,400 a year--a great capability, immensely improvable, he would
stake half he's worth on making it more than £2,000 within five years;
and with other things at his back, an able man like him might before long
look as high as she. And visions of the grand jury rose dim and
splendid--an heiress and a seat for the county; perhaps he and Lake might
go in together, though he'd rather be associated with the Hon. James
Cluttworth, or young Lord Griddlestone. Lake, you see, wanted weight,
and, nothwithstanding his connections, was, it could not be denied, a new
man in the county.

So Wylder, Lake, and Jos. Larkin had each projected for himself, pretty
much the same career; and probably each saw glimmering in the horizon the
golden round of a coronet. And I suppose other modest men are not always
proof against similar flatteries of imagination.

Jos. Larkin had also the vicar's business and reversion to attend to. The
Rev. William Wylder had a letter containing three lines from him at eight
o'clock, to which he sent an answer, whereupon the solicitor despatched a
special messenger, one of his clerks to Dollington, with a letter to the
sheriff's deputy, from whom he received duly a reply, which necessitated
a second letter with a formal undertaking, to which came another reply;
whereupon he wrote to Burlington, Smith, and Co., acquainting them
respectfully, in diplomatic fashion, with the attitude which affairs had
assumed.

With this went a private and confidential, non-official, note to Smith,
desiring him to answer stiffly and press for an immediate settlement, and
to charge costs fairly, as Mr. William Wylder would have ample funds to
liquidate them. Smith knew what _fairly_ meant, and his entries went down
accordingly. By the same post went up to the same firm a proposition--an
afterthought--sanctioned by a second miniature correspondence with his
client, now sailing before the wind, to guarantee them against loss
consequent against staying the execution in the sheriff's hands for a
fortnight, which, if they agreed to, they were further requested to send
a draft of the proposed undertaking by return, at foot of which, in
pencil, he wrote, 'N.B.--_Yes_.'

This arrangement necessitated his providing himself with a guarantee from
the vicar; and so the little account as between the vicar and Jos.
Larkin, solicitor, and the vicar and Messrs. Burlington, Smith, and Co.,
solicitors, grew up and expanded with a tropical luxuriance.

About the same time--while Mr. Jos. Larkin, I mean, was thinking over
Miss Dorkie's share in the deed, with a complacent sort of interest,
anticipating a struggle, but sure of victory--that beautiful young lady
was walking slowly from flower to flower, in the splendid conservatory
which projects southward from the house, and rears itself in glacial
arches high over the short sward and flowery patterns of the outer garden
of Brandon. The unspeakable sadness of wounded pride was on her beautiful
features, and there was a fondness in the gesture with which she laid her
fingers on these exotics and stooped over them, which gave to her
solitude a sentiment of the pathetic.

From the high glass doorway, communicating with the drawing-rooms, at the
far end, among towering ranks of rare and gorgeous flowers, over the
encaustic tiles, and through this atmosphere of perfume, did Captain
Stanley Lake, in his shooting coat, glide, smiling, toward his beautiful
young wife.

She heard the door close, and looking half over her shoulder, in a low
tone indicating surprise, she merely said:

'Oh!' receiving him with a proud sad look.

'Yes, Dorkie, I'm here at last. I've been for some weeks so insufferably
busy,' and he laid his white hand lightly over his eyes, as if they and
the brain within were alike weary.

'How charming this place is--the temple of Flora, and you the divinity!'

And he kissed her cheek.

'I'm now emancipated for, I hope, a week or two. I've been so stupid and
inattentive. I'm sure, Dorkie, you must think me a brute. I've been shut
up so in the library, and keeping such tiresome company--you've no idea;
but I think you'll say it was time well spent, at least I'm sure you'll
approve the result; and now that I have collected the facts, and can show
you, darling, exactly what the chances are, you must consent to hear the
long story, and when you have heard, give me your advice.'

Dorcas smiled, and only plucked a little flowery tendril from a plant
that hung in a natural festoon above her.

'I assure you, darling, I am serious; you must not look so incredulous;
and it is the more provoking, because I love you so. I think I have a
right to your advice, Dorkie.'

'Why don't you ask Rachel, she's cleverer than I, and you are more in the
habit of consulting her?'

'Now, Dorkie is going to talk her wicked nonsense over again, as if I had
never answered it. What about Radie? I do assure you, so far from taking
her advice, and thinking her an oracle, as you suppose, I believe her in
some respects very little removed from a fool.'

'I think her very clever, on the contrary,' said Dorcas, enigmatically.

'Well, she is clever in some respects; she is gay, at least she used to
be, before she fell into that transcendental parson's hands--I mean poor
dear William Wylder; and she can be amusing, and talks very well, but she
has no sense--she is utterly Quixotic--she is no more capable of advising
than a child.'

'I should not have fancied that, although you say so, Stanley.' she
answered carelessly, adding a geranium to her bouquet.

'You are thinking, I know, because you have seen us once or twice talking
together----'

Stanley paused, not knowing exactly how to construct the remainder of his
sentence.

Dorcas added another blossom.

'I think that blue improves it wonderfully. Don't you?'

'The blue? Oh yes, certainly.'

'And now that little star of yellow will make it perfect,' said Dorcas.

'Yes--yellow--quite perfect,' said Stanley. 'But when you saw Rachel and
me talking together, or rather Rachel talking to me, I do assure you,
Dorcas, upon my sacred honour, one half of what she said I do not to this
moment comprehend, and the whole was based on the most preposterous
blunder; and I will tell you in a little time everything about it. I
would this moment--I'd be delighted--only just until I have got a letter
which I expect--a letter, I assure you, nothing more--and until I have
got it, it would be simply to waste your time and patience to weary you
with any such--any such.'

'_Secret_,' said Dorcas.

'_Secret_, then, if you will have it so,' retorted Stanley, suddenly,
with one of those glares that lasted for just one fell moment; but he
instantly recovered himself. '_Secret_--yes--but no secret in the evil
sense--a secret only awaiting the evidence which I daily expect, and then
to be stated fully and frankly to you, my only darling, and as completely
blown to the winds.'

Dorcas looked in his strange face with her proud, sad gaze, like one
guessing at a funereal allegory.

He kissed her cheek again, placing one arm round her slender waist, and
with his other hand taking hers.

'Yes, Dorcas, my beloved, my only darling, you will yet know all it has
cost me to retain from you even this folly; and when you have heard
all--which upon my soul and honour, you shall the moment I am enabled to
_prove_ all--you will thank me for having braved your momentary
displeasure, to spare you a great deal of useless and miserable suspense.
I trust you, Dorcas, in everything implicitly. Why won't you credit what
I say?'

'I don't urge you--I never have--to reveal that which you describe so
strangely as a concealment, yet no secret; as an absurdity, and yet
fraught with miserable suspense.'

'Ah, Dorcas, why will you misconstrue me? Why will you not believe me? I
long to tell you this, which, after all, _is_ an _utter_ absurdity, a
thousand times more than you can desire to hear it; but my doing so now,
unfortified by the evidence I shall have in a very few days, would be
attended with a danger which you will then understand. Won't you trust
me?'

'And now for my advice,' said Dorcas, smiling down in her mysterious way
upon a crimson exotic near her feet.

'Yes, darling, thank you. In sober earnest, your advice,' answered Lake;
'and you must advise me. Several of our neighbours--the Hillyards, the
Ledwiches, the Wyndermeres, and ever so many more--have spoken to me very
strongly about contesting the county, on the old Whig principles, at the
election which is now imminent. There is not a man with a chance of
acceptance to come forward, if I refuse. Now, you know what even moderate
success in the House, when family and property go together, may
accomplish. There are the Dodminsters. Do you think they would ever have
got their title by any other means? There are the Forresters----'

'I know it all, Stanley; and at once I say, go on. I thought you must
have formed some political project, Mr. Wealdon has been with you so
often; but you tell me nothing, Stanley.'

'Not, darling, till I know it myself. This plan, for instance, until you
spoke this moment, was but a question, and one which I could not submit
until I had seen Wealdon, and heard how matters stood, and what chances
of success I should really have. So, darling, you have it all; and I am
so glad you advise me to go on. It is five-and-thirty years since anyone
connected with Brandon came forward. But it will cost a great deal of
money, Dorkie.'

'Yes, I know. I've always heard it cost my uncle and Sir William Camden
fifteen thousand pounds.'

'Yes, it will be expensive, Wealdon thinks--_very_, this time. The other
side will spend a great deal of money. It often struck me as a great
mistake, that, where there is a good income, and a position to be
maintained, there is not a little put by every year to meet cases like
this--what they call a reserve fund in trading companies.'

'I do not think there is much money. _You_ know, Stanley.'

'Whatever there is, is under settlement, and we cannot apply it, Dorkie.
The only thing to be done, it strikes me, is to sell a part of Five
Oaks.'

'I'll not sell any property, Stanley.'

'And what _do_ you propose, then?'

'I don't know. I don't understand these things. But there are ways of
getting money by mortgages and loans, and paying them off, without losing
the property.'

'I've the greatest possible objection to raising money in that way. It
is, in fact, the first step towards ruin; and nobody has ever done it who
has not regretted that he did not sell instead.'

'I won't sell Five Oaks, Stanley,' said the young lady, seriously.

'I only said a part,' replied Stanley.

'I won't sell at all.'

'Oh? And _I_ won't mortgage,' said Stanley. 'Then the thing can't go on?'

'I can't help it.'

'But I'm resolved it _shall_,' answered Stanley.

'I tell you, Stanley, plainly, I will not sell. The Brandon estate shall
not be diminished in my time.'

'Why, you perverse idiot, don't you perceive you impair the estate as
much by mortgaging as by selling, with ten times the ultimate danger. I
tell you _I_ won't mortgage, and _you shall sell_.'

'This, Sir, is the first time I have been spoken to in such terms.'

'And why do you contradict and thwart me upon business of which I know
something and you nothing? What object on earth can I have in impairing
the estate? I've as deep an interest in it as you. It is perfectly plain
we should sell; and I am determined we shall. Come now, Dorcas--I'm
sorry--I'm such a brute, you know, when I'm vexed. You mustn't be angry;
and if you'll be a good girl, and trust me in matters of business----'

'Stanley, I tell you plainly once more, I never will consent to sell one
acre of the Brandon estates.'

'Then we'll see what I can do without you, Dorkie,' he said in a
pleasant, musing way.

He was now looking down, with his sly, malign smile; and Dorcas could
almost fancy two yellow lights reflected upon the floor.

'I shall protect the property of my family, Sir, from your folly or your
machinations; and I shall write to Chelford, as my trustee, to come here
to advise me.'

'And I snap my fingers at you both, and meet you with _defiance_;' and
Stanley's singular eyes glared upon her for a few seconds.

Dorcas turned in her grand way, and walked slowly toward the door.

'Stay a moment, I'm going,' said Stanley, overtaking and confronting her
near the door. 'I've only one word. I don't think you quite know me. It
will be an evil day for you, Dorkie, when you quarrel with me.'

He looked steadily on her, smiling for a second or two more, and then
glided from the conservatory.

It was the first time Dorcas had seen Stanley Lake's features in that
translated state which indicated the action of his evil nature, and the
apparition haunted her for many a day and night.

CHAPTER LVII.

CONCERNING A NEW DANGER WHICH THREATENED CAPTAIN STANLEY LAKE.

The ambitious captain walked out, sniffing, white, and incensed. There
was an air of immovable resolution in the few words which Dorcas had
spoken which rather took him by surprise. The captain was a terrorist. He
acted instinctively on the theory that any good that was to be got from
human beings was to be extracted from their fears. He had so operated on
Mark Wylder; and so sought to coerce his sister Rachel. He had hopes,
too, of ultimately catching the good attorney napping, and leading him
too, bound and docile, into his ergastulum, although he was himself just
now in jeopardy from that quarter. James Dutton, too. Sooner or later he
would get Master Jim into a fix, and hold him also spell-bound in the
same sort of nightmare.

It was not from malice. The worthy attorney had much more of that leaven
than he. Stanley Lake did not care to smash any man, except such as stood
in his way. He had a mercantile genius, and never exercised his craft,
violence and ferocity, on men or objects, when no advantage was
obtainable by so doing. When, however, fortune so placed them that one or
other must go to the wall, Captain Stanley Lake was awfully unscrupulous.
But, having disabled, and struck him down, and won the stakes, he would
have given what remained of him his cold, white hand to shake, or sipped
claret with him at his own table, and told him stories, and entertained
him with sly, sarcastic sallies, and thought how he could make use of him
in an amicable way.

But Stanley Lake's cold, commercial genius, his craft and egotism, were
frustrated occasionally by his temper, which, I am afraid, with all its
external varnish, was of the sort which is styled diabolical. People said
also, what is true of most terrorists, that he was himself quite capable
of being frightened; and also, that he lied with too fertile an audacity:
and, like a man with too many bills afloat, forgot his endorsements
occasionally, and did not recognise his own acceptances when presented
after an interval. Such were some of this dangerous fellow's weak points.
But on the whole it was by no means a safe thing to cross his path; and
few who did so came off altogether scathless.

He pursued his way with a vague feeling of danger and rage, having
encountered an opposition of so much more alarming a character than he
had anticipated, and found his wife not only competent _ferre aspectum_
to endure his maniacal glare and scowl, but serenely to defy his violence
and his wrath. He had abundance of matter for thought and perturbation,
and felt himself, when the images of Larcom, Larkin, and Jim Dutton
crossed the retina of his memory, some thrill of the fear which 'hath
torment'--the fear of a terrible coercion which he liked so well to
practise in the case of others.

In this mood he paced, without minding in what direction he went, under
those great rows of timber which over-arch the pathway leading toward
Redman's Dell--the path that he and Mark Wylder had trod in that misty
moonlight walk on which I had seen them set out together.

Before he had walked five minutes in this direction, he was encountered
by a little girl in a cloak, who stopped and dropped a courtesy. The
captain stopped also, and looked at her with a stare which, I suppose,
had something forbidding in it, for the child was frightened. But the
wild and menacing look was unconscious, and only the reflection of the
dark speculations and passions which were tumbling and breaking in his
soul.

'Well, child,' said he, gently, 'I think I know your face, but I forget
your name.'

'Little Margery, please Sir, from Miss Lake at Redman's Farm,' she
replied with a courtesy.

'Oh! to be sure, yes. And how is Miss Rachel?'

'Very bad with a headache, please, Sir.'

'Is she at home?'

'Yes, Sir, please.'

'Any message?'

'Yes, Sir, please--a note for you, Sir;' and she produced a note, rather,
indeed, a letter.

'She desired me, Sir, please, to give it into your own hand, if I could,
and not to leave it, please, Sir, unless you were at home when I
reached.'

He read the direction, and dropped it unopened into the pocket of his
shooting coat. The peevish glance with which he eyed it betrayed a
presentiment of something unpleasant.

'Any answer required?'

'No, Sir, please--only to leave it.'

'And Miss Lake is quite well?'

'No, Sir, please--a bad headache to-day.'

'Oh! I'm very sorry, indeed. Tell her so. She is at home, is she?'

'Yes, Sir.'

'Very well; that's all. Say I am very sorry to hear she is suffering; and
if I can find time, I hope to see her to-day; and remember to say I have
not read her letter, but if I find it requires an answer, it shall have
one.'

He looked round like a man newly awakened, and up among the great boughs
and interlacing foliage of the noble trees, and the child made him two
courtesies, and departed towards Redman's Farm.

Lake sauntered back slowly toward the Hall. On his way, a rustic seat
under the shadow invited him, and he sat down, drawing Rachel's letter
from his pocket.

What a genius they have for teasing! How women do contrive to waste our
time and patience over nonsense! How ingeniously perverse their whimsies
are! I do believe Beelzebub employs them still, as he did in Eden, for
the special plague of us, poor devils. Here's a lecture or an exhortation
from Miss Radie, and a quantity of infinitely absurd advice, all which I
am to read and inwardly digest, and discuss with her whenever she
pleases. I've a great mind to burn it quietly.'

But he applied his match, instead, to his cigar; and having got it well
lighted, he leaned back, and broke the seal, and read this letter, which,
I suspect, notwithstanding his preliminary thoughts, he fancied might
contain matter of more practical import:--

'I write to you, my beloved and only brother, Stanley, in an altered
state of mind, and with clearer views of duty than, I think, I have ever
had before.'

'Just as I conjectured,' muttered Stanley, with a bitter smile, as he
shook the ashes off the top of his cigar--'a woman's homily.'

He read on, and a livid frown gradually contracted his forehead as he did
so.

'I do not know, Stanley, what your feelings may be. Mine have been the
same ever since that night in which I was taken into a confidence so
dreadful. The circumstances are fearful; but far more dreadful to me, the
mystery in which I have lived ever since. I sometimes think I have only
myself to blame. But you know, my poor brother, why I consented, and with
what agony. Ever since, I have lived in terror, and worse, in
degradation. I did not know, until it was too late, how great was my
guilt. Heaven knows, when I consented to that journey, I did not
comprehend its full purpose, though I knew enough to have warned me of my
danger, and undertook it in great fear and anguish of mind. I can never
cease to mourn over my madness. Oh! Stanley, you do not know what it is
to feel, as I do, the shame and treachery of my situation; to try to
answer the smiles of those who, at least, once loved me, and to take
their hands; to kiss Dorcas and good Dolly; and feel that all the time I
am a vile impostor, stained incredibly, from whom, if they knew me, they
would turn in horror and disgust. Now, Stanley, I can bear anything but
this baseness--anything but the life-long practice of perfidy--that, I
will not and cannot endure. _Dorcas must know the truth._ That there is a
secret jealously guarded from her, she does know--no woman could fail to
perceive that; and there are few, Stanley, who would not prefer the
certainty of the worst, to the anguish of such relations of mystery and
reserve with a _husband_. She is clever, she is generous, and has many
noble qualities. She will see what is right, and do it. Me she may hate,
and must despise; but that were to me more endurable than friendship
gained on false pretences. I repeat, therefore, Stanley, that _Dorcas
must know the whole truth_. Do not suppose, my poor brother, that I write
from impulse--I have deeply thought on the subject.'

'_Deeply_,' repeated Stanley, with a sneer.

'And the more I reflect, the more am I convinced--if _you_ will not tell
her, Stanley, that _I_ must. But it will be wiser and better, terrible as
it may be, that the revelation should come from _you_, whom she has made
her husband. The dreadful confidence would be more terrible from any
other. Be courageous then, Stanley; you will be happier when you have
disclosed the truth, and released, at all events, one of your victims.

'Your sorrowful and only sister,

'RACHEL.'

On finishing the letter, Stanley rose quickly to his feet. He had become
gradually so absorbed in reading it, that he laid his cigar unconsciously
beside him, and suffered it to go out. With downcast look, and an angry
contortion, he tore the sheets of note-paper across, and was on the point
of reducing them to a thousand little snow flakes, and giving them to the
wind, when, on second thoughts, he crumpled them together, and thrust
them into his breast pocket.

His excitement was too intense for foul terms, or even blasphemy. With
the edge of his nether lip nipped in his teeth, and his clenched hands in
his pockets, he walked through the forest trees to the park, and in his
solitudes hurried onward as if his life depended on his speed. Gradually
he recovered his self-possession. He sat down under the shade of a knot
of beech trees, overlooking that ill-omened tarn, which we have often
mentioned, upon a lichen-stained rock, his chin resting on his clenched
hand, his elbow on his knee, and the heel of his other foot stamping out
bits of the short, green sod.

'That d--d girl deserves to be shot for her treachery,' was the first
sentence that broke from his white lips.

It certainly was an amazing outrage upon his self-esteem, that the secret
which was the weapon of terror by which he meant to rule his sister
Rachel, should, by her slender hand, be taken so easily from his grasp,
and lifted to crush him.

The captain's plans were not working by any means so smoothly as he had
expected. That sudden stab from Jos. Larkin, whom he always despised, and
now hated--whom he believed to be a fifth-rate, pluckless rogue, without
audacity, without invention; whom he was on the point of tripping up,
that he should have turned short and garotted the gallant captain, was a
provoking turn of fortune.

That when a dire necessity subjugated his will, his contempt, his rage,
and he inwardly decided that the attorney's extortion must be submitted
to, his wife--whom he never made any account of in the transaction, whom
he reckoned carelessly on turning about as he pleased, by a few
compliments and cajoleries--should have started up, cold and inflexible
as marble, in his path, to forbid the payment of the black mail, and
expose him to the unascertained and formidable consequences of Dutton's
story, and the disappointed attorney's vengeance--was another stroke of
luck which took him altogether by surprise.

And to crown all, Miss Radie had grown tired of keeping her own secret,
and must needs bring to light the buried disgraces which all concerned
were equally interested in hiding away for ever.

Stanley Lake's position, if all were known, was at this moment formidable
enough. But he had been fifty times over, during his brief career, in
scrapes of a very menacing kind; once or twice, indeed, of the most
alarming nature. His temper, his craft, his impetus, were always driving
him into projects and situations more or less critical. Sometimes he won,
sometimes he failed; but his audacious energy hitherto had extricated
him. The difficulties of his present situation were, however, appalling,
and almost daunted his semi-diabolical energies.

From Rachel to Dorcas, from Dorcas to the attorney, and from him to
Dutton, and back again, he rambled in the infernal litany he muttered
over the inauspicious tarn, among the enclosing banks and undulations,
and solitary and lonely woods.

'Lake Avernus,' said a hollow voice behind him, and a long grisly hand
was laid on his shoulder.

A cold breath of horror crept from his brain to his heel, as he turned
about and saw the large, blanched features and glassy eyes of Uncle Lorne
bent over him.

'Oh, Lake Avernus, is it?' said Lake, with an angry sneer, and raising
his hat with a mock reverence.

'Ay! it is the window of hell, and the spirits in prison come up to see
the light of it. Did you see him looking up?' said Uncle Lorne, with his
pallid smile.

'Oh! of course--Napoleon Bonaparte leaning on old Dr. Simcock's arm,'
answered Lake.

It was odd, in the sort of ghastly banter in which he played off this old
man, how much hatred was perceptible.

'No--not he. It is Mark Wylder,' said Uncle Lorne; 'his face comes up
like a white fish within a fathom of the top--it makes me laugh. That's
the way they keep holiday. Can you tell by the sky when it is holiday in
hell? _I_ can.'

And he laughed, and rubbed his long fingers together softly.

'Look! ha! ha!--Look! ha! ha! ha!--_Look!_' he resumed pointing with his
cadaverous forefinger towards the middle of the pool.

'I told you this morning it was a holiday,' and he laughed very quietly
to himself.

'Look how his nostrils go like a fish's gills. It is a funny way for a
gentleman, and _he's_ a gentleman. Every fool knows the Wylders are
gentlemen--all gentlemen in misfortune. He has a brother that is walking
about in his coffin. Mark has no coffin; it is all marble steps; and a
wicked seraph received him, and blessed him till his hair stood up. Let
me whisper you.'

'No, not just at this moment, please,' said Lake, drawing away,
disgusted, from the maniacal leer and titter of the gigantic old man.

'Aye, aye--another time--some night there's aurora borealis in the sky.
You know this goes under ground all the way to Vallambrosa?'

'Thank you; I was not aware: that's very convenient. Had you not better
go down and speak to your friend in the water?'

'Young man, I bless you for remembering,' said Uncle Lorne, solemnly.
'What was Mark Wylder's religion, that I may speak to him comfortably?'

'An Anabaptist, I conjecture, from his present situation,' replied Lake.

'No, that's in the lake of fire, where the wicked seraphim and cherubim
baptise, and anabaptise, and hold them under, with a great stone laid
across their breasts. I only know two of their clergy--the African vicar,
quite a gentleman, and speaks through his nose; and the archbishop with
wings; his face is so burnt, he's all eyes and mouth, and on one hand has
only one finger, and he tickles me with it till I almost give up the
ghost. The ghost of Miss Baily is a lie, he said, by my soul; and he
likes you--he loves you. Shall I write it all in a book, and give it you?
I meet Mark Wylder in three places sometimes. Don't move, till I go down;
he's as easily frightened as a fish.'

And Uncle Lorne crept down the bank, tacking, and dodging, and all the
time laughing softly to himself; and sometimes winking with a horrid,
wily grimace at Stanley, who fervently wished him at the bottom of the
tarn.

'I say,' said Stanley, addressing the keeper, whom by a beck he had
brought to his side, 'you don't allow him, surely, to go alone now?'

'No, Sir--since your order, Sir,' said the stern, reserved official.

'Nor to come into any place but this--the park, I mean?'

'No, Sir.'

'And do you mind, try and get him home always before nightfall. It is
easy to frighten him. Find out what frightens him, and do it or say it.
It is dangerous, don't you see? and he might break his d--d neck any time
among those rocks and gullies, or get away altogether from you in the
dark.'

So the keeper, at the water's brink, joined Uncle Lorne, who was talking,
after his fashion, into the dark pool. And Stanley Lake--a general in
difficulties--retraced his steps toward the park gate through which he
had come, ruminating on his situation and resources.

CHAPTER LVIII.

MISS RACHEL LAKE BECOMES VIOLENT.

So soon as the letter which had so surprised and incensed Stanley Lake
was despatched, and beyond recall, Rachel, who had been indescribably
agitated before, grew all at once calm. She knew that she had done right.
She was glad the die was cast, and that it was out of her power to
retract.

She kneeled at her bedside, and wept and prayed, and then went down and
talked with old Tamar, who was knitting in the shade by the porch.

Then the young lady put on her bonnet and cloak, and walked down to
Gylingden, with an anxious, but still a lighter heart, to see her friend,
Dolly Wylder.

Dolly received her in a glad sort of fuss.

'I'm so glad to see you, Miss Lake.'

'Call me Rachel; and won't you let me call you Dolly?'

'Well, Rachel, dear,' replied Dolly, laughing, 'I'm delighted you're
come; I have such good news--but I can't tell it till I think for a
minute--I must begin at the beginning.'

'Anywhere, everywhere, only if it is good news, let me hear it at once.
I'll be sure to understand.'

'Well, Miss--I mean Rachel, dear--you know--I may tell you now--the
vicar--my dear Willie--he and I--we've been in great trouble--oh, such
trouble--Heaven _only_ knows--' and she dried her eyes quickly--'money,
my dear--' and she smiled with a bewildered shrug--'some debts at
Cambridge--no fault of his--you can't imagine what a saving darling he
is--but these were a few old things that mounted up with interest, my
dear--you understand--and law costs--oh, you can't think--and indeed,
dear Miss--well, _Rachel_--I forgot--I sometimes thought we must be quite
ruined.'

'Oh, Dolly, dear,' said Rachel, very pale, 'I feared it. I thought you
might be troubled about money. I was not sure, but I was afraid; and, to
say truth, it was partly to try your friendship with a question on that
very point that I came here, and not indeed, Dolly, dear, from
impertinent curiosity, but in the hope that maybe you might allow me to
be of some use.'

'How wonderfully good you are! How friends are raised up!' and with a
smile that shone like an April sun through her tears, she stood on
tiptoe, and kissed the tall young lady, who--not smiling, but with a pale
and very troubled face--bowed down and returned her kiss.

'You know, dear, before he went, Mark promised to lend dear Willie a
large sum of money. Well, he went away in such a hurry, that he never
thought of it; and though he constantly wrote to Mr. Larkin--you have no
idea, my dear Miss Lake, what a blessed angel that man is--oh! _such_ a
friend as has been raised up to us in that holy and wise man, words
cannot express; but what was I saying?--oh, yes--Mark, you know--it was
very kind, but he has so many things on his mind it quite escaped
him--and he keeps, you know, wandering about on the Continent, and never
gives his address; so he, can't, you see, be written to; and the
delay--but, Rachel, darling, are you ill?'

She rang the bell, and opened the window, and got some water.

'My darling, you walked too fast here. You were very near fainting.'

'No, dear--nothing--I am quite well now--go on.'

But she did not go on immediately, for Rachel was trembling in a kind of
shivering fit, which did not pass away till after poor Dolly, who had no
other stimulant at command, made her drink a cup of very hot milk.

'Thank you, darling. You are too good to me, Dolly. Oh! Dolly, you are
too good to me.'

Rachel's eyes were looking into hers with a careworn, entreating gaze,
and her cold hand was pressed on the back of Dolly's.

Nearly ten minutes passed before the talk was renewed.

'Well, now, what do you think--that good man, Mr. Larkin, just as things
were at the worst, found a way to make everything--oh, blessed
mercy!--the hand of Heaven, my dear--quite right again--and we'll be so
happy. Like a bird I could sing, and fly almost--a foolish old thing--ha!
ha! ha!--such an old goose!' and she wiped her eyes again.

'Hush! is that Fairy? Oh, no, it is only Anne singing. Little man has not
been well yesterday and to-day. He won't eat, and looks pale, but he
slept very well, my darling man; and Doctor Buddle--I met him this
morning--so kindly took him into his room, and examined him, and says it
may be nothing at all, please Heaven,' and she sighed, smiling still.

'Dear little Fairy--where is he?' asked Rachel, her sad eyes looking
toward the door.

'In the study with his Wapsie. Mrs. Woolaston, she is such a kind soul,
lent him such a beautiful old picture book--"Woodward's Eccentricities"
it is called--and he's quite happy--little Fairy, on his little stool at
the window.'

'No headache or fever?' asked Miss Lake cheerfully, though, she knew not
why, there seemed something ominous in this little ailment.

'None at all; oh, none, thank you; none in the world. I'd be so
frightened if there was. But, thank Heaven, Doctor Buddle says there's
nothing to make us at all uneasy. My blessed little man! And he has his
canary in the cage in the window, and his kitten to play with in the
study. He's quite happy.'

'Please Heaven, he'll be quite well to-morrow--the darling little man,'
said Rachel, all the more fondly for that vague omen that seemed to say,
'He's gone.'

'Here's Mr. Larkin!' cried Dolly, jumping up, and smiling and nodding at
the window to that long and natty apparition, who glided to the hall-door
with a sad smile, raising his well-brushed hat as he passed, and with one
grim glance beyond Mrs. Wylder, for his sharp eye half detected another
presence in the room.

He was followed, not accompanied--for Mr. Larkin knew what a gentleman he
was--by a young and bilious clerk, with black hair and a melancholy
countenance, and by old Buggs--his conducting man--always grinning, whose
red face glared in the little garden like a great bunch of hollyhocks. He
was sober as a judge all the morning, and proceeded strictly on the
principle of business first, and pleasure afterward. But his orgies, when
off duty, were such as to cause the good attorney, when complaints
reached him, to shake his head, and sigh profoundly, and sometimes to
lift up his mild eyes and long hands; and, indeed, so scandalous an
appendage was Buggs, that if he had been less useful, I believe the pure
attorney, who, in the uncomfortable words of John Bunyan, 'had found a
cleaner road to hell,' would have cashiered him long ago.

'There is that awful Mr. Buggs,' said Dolly, with a look of honest alarm.
'I often wonder so Christian a man as Mr. Larkin can countenance him. He
is hardly ever without a black eye. He has been three nights together
without once putting off his clothes--think of that; and, my dear, on
Friday week he fell through the window of the Fancy Emporium, at two
o'clock in the morning; and Doctor Buddle says if the cut on his jaw had
been half an inch lower, he would have cut some artery, and lost his
life--wretched man!'

'They have come about law business, Dolly!' enquired the young lady, who
had a profound, instinctive dread of Mr. Larkin.

'Yes, my dear; a most important windfall. Only for Mr. Larkin, it never
could have been accomplished, and, indeed, I don't think it would ever
have been thought of.'

'I hope he has some one to advise him,' said Miss Lake, anxiously. 'I--I
think Mr. Larkin a very cunning person; and you know your husband does
not understand business.'

'Is it Mr. Larkin, my dear? Mr. Larkin! Why, my dear, if you knew him as
we do, you'd trust your life in his hands.'

'But there are people who know him still better; and I think they fancy
he is a very crafty man. I do not like him myself, and Dorcas Brandon
dislikes him too; and, though I don't think we could either give a
reason--I don't know, Dolly, but I should not like to trust him.'

'But, my dear, he is an excellent man, and such a friend, and he has
managed all this most troublesome business so delightfully. It is what
they call a reversion.'

'William Wylder is not selling his reversion?' said Rachel, fixing a wild
and startled look on her companion.

'Yes, reversion, I am sure, is the name. And why not, dear? It is most
unlikely we should ever get a farthing of it any other way, and it will
give us enough to make us quite happy.'

'But, my darling, don't you know the reversion under the will is a great
_fortune_? He must not think of it;' and up started Rachel, and before
Dolly could interpose or remonstrate, she had crossed the little hall,
and entered the homely study, where the gentlemen were conferring.

William Wylder was sitting at his desk, and a large sheet of law
scrivenery, on thick paper, with a stamp in the corner, was before him.
The bald head of the attorney, as he leaned over him, and indicated an
imaginary line with his gold pencil-case, was presented toward Miss Lake
as she entered.

The attorney had just said '_there_, please,' in reply to the vicar's
question, 'Where do I write my name?' and red Buggs, grinning with his
mouth open, like an over-heated dog, and the sad and bilious young
gentleman, stood by to witness the execution of the cleric's autograph.

Tall Jos. Larkin looked up, smiling with his mouth also a little open, as
was his wont when he was particularly affable. But the rat's eyes were
looking at her with a hungry suspicion, and smiled not.

'William Wylder, I am so glad I'm in time,' said Rachel, rustling across
the room.

'_There_,' said the attorney, very peremptorily, and making a little
furrow in the thick paper with the seal end of his pencil.

'Stop, William Wylder, don't sign; I've a word to say--you _must_ pause.'

'If it affects our business, Miss Lake, I do request that you address
yourself to me; if not, may I beg, Miss Lake, that you will defer it for
a moment.'

'William Wylder, lay down that pen; as you love your little boy, lay it
_down_, and hear me,' continued Miss Lake.

The vicar looked at her with his eyes wide open, puzzled, like a man who
is not quite sure whether he may not be doing something wrong.

'I--really, Miss Lake--pardon me, but this is very irregular, and, in
fact, unprecedented!' said Jos. Larkin. 'I think--I suppose, you can
hardly be aware, Ma'am, that I am here as the Rev. Mr. Wylder's
confidential solicitor, acting solely for him, in a matter of a strictly
private nature.'

The attorney stood erect, a little flushed, with that peculiar
contraction, mean and dangerous, in his eyes.

'Of course, Mr. Wylder, if you, Sir, desire me to leave, I shall
instantaneously do so; and, indeed, unless you proceed to sign, I had
better go, as my time is generally, I may say, a little pressed upon, and
I have, in fact, some business elsewhere to attend to.'

'What _is_ this law-paper?' demanded Rachel, laying the tips of her
slender fingers upon it.

'Am I to conclude that you withdraw from your engagement?' asked Mr.
Larkin. 'I had better, then, communicate with Burlington and Smith by
this post; as also with the sheriff, who has been very kind.'

'Oh, no!--oh, no, Mr. Larkin!--pray, I'm quite ready to sign.'

'Now, William Wylder, you _sha'n't_ sign until you tell me whether this
is a sale of your reversion.'

The young lady had her white hand firmly pressed upon the spot where he
was to sign, and the ring that glittered on her finger looked like a
talisman interposing between the poor vicar and the momentous act he was
meditating.

'I think, Miss Lake, it is pretty plain you are not acting for yourself
here--you have been sent, Ma'am,' said the attorney, looking very
vicious, and speaking a little huskily and hurriedly; 'I quite conceive
by whom.'

'I don't know what you mean, Sir,' replied Miss Lake, with grave disdain.

'You have been commissioned, Ma'am, I venture to think, to come here to
watch the interests of another party.'

'I say, Sir, I don't in the least comprehend you.'

'I think it is pretty obvious, Ma'am--Miss Lake, I beg pardon--you have
had some conversation with your _brother_,' answered the attorney, with a
significant sneer.

'I don't know what you mean, Sir, I repeat. I've just heard, in the other
room, from your wife, William Wylder, that you were about selling your
reversion in the estates, and I want to know whether that is so; for if
it be, it is the act of a madman, and I'll prevent it, if I possibly
can.'

'Upon my word! possibly'--said the vicar, his eyes very wide open, and
looking with a hesitating gaze from Rachel to the attorney--'there may be
something in it which neither you nor I know; does it not strike you--had
we not better consider?'

'Consider _what_, Sir?' said the attorney, with a snap, and losing his
temper somewhat. 'It is simply, Sir, that this young lady represents
Captain Lake, who wishes to get the reversion for himself.'

'That is utterly false, Sir!' said Miss Lake, flashing and blushing with
indignation. 'You, William, are a _gentleman_; and such inconceivable
meanness cannot enter _your_ mind.'

The attorney, with what he meant to be a polished sarcasm, bowed and
smiled toward Miss Lake.

Pale little Fairy, sitting before his 'picture-book,' was watching the
scene with round eyes and round mouth, and that mixture of interest, awe,
and distress, with which children witness the uncomprehended excitement
and collision of their elders.

'My dear Miss Lake, I respect and esteem you; you quite mistake, I am
persuaded, my good friend Mr. Larkin; and, indeed, I don't quite
comprehend; but if it were so, and that your brother really wished--do
you think he does, Mr. Larkin?--to buy the reversion, he might think it
more valuable, perhaps.'

'I can say with certainty, Sir, that from that quarter you would get
nothing like what you have agreed to take; and I must say, once for all,
Sir, that--quite setting aside every consideration of honour and of
conscience, and of the highly prejudicial position in which you would
place me as a man of business, by taking the very _short turn_ which this
young lady, Miss Lake, suggests--your letters amount to an equitable
agreement to sell, which, on petition, the court would compel you to do.'

'So you see, my dear Miss Lake, there is no more to be said,' said the
vicar, with a careworn smile, looking upon Rachel's handsome face.

'Now, now, we are all friends, aren't we?' said poor Dolly, who could not
make anything of the debate, and was staring, with open mouth, from one
speaker to another. 'We are all agreed, are not we? You are all so good,
and fond of Willie, that you are actually ready almost to quarrel for
him.' But her little laugh produced no echo, except a very joyless and
flushed effort from the attorney, as he looked up from consulting his
watch.

'Eleven minutes past three,' said he, 'and I've a meeting at my house at
half-past: so, unless you complete that instrument _now_, I regret to say
I must take it back unfinished, and the result may be to defeat the
arrangement altogether, and if the consequences should prove serious, I,
at least, am not to blame.'

'Don't sign, I entreat, I _implore_ of you. William Wylder, you
_shan't_.'

'But, my dear Miss Lake, we have considered everything, and Mr. Larkin
and I agree that my circumstances are such as to make it inevitable.'

'Really, this is child's play; _there_, if you please,' said the
attorney, once more.

Rachel Lake, during the discussion, had removed her hand. The
faintly-traced line on which the vicar was to sign was now fairly
presented to him.

'Just in your usual way,' murmured Mr. Larkin.

So the vicar's pen was applied, but before he had time to trace the first
letter of his name, Rachel Lake resolutely snatched the thick, bluish
sheet of scrivenery, with its handsome margins, and red ink lines, from
before him, and tore it across and across, with the quickness of terror,
and in fewer seconds than one could fancy, it lay about the floor and
grate in pieces little bigger than dominoes.

The attorney made a hungry snatch at the paper, over William Wylder's
shoulder, nearly bearing that gentleman down on his face, but his clutch
fell short.

'Hallo! Miss Lake, Ma'am--the paper!'

But wild words were of no avail. The whole party, except Rachel, were
aghast. The attorney's small eye glanced over the ground and hearthstone,
where the bits were strewn, like

Ladies' smocks, all silver white,
That paint the meadows with delight.

He had nothing for it but to submit to fortune with his best air. He
stood erect; a slanting beam from the window glimmered on his tall, bald
head, and his face was black and menacing as the summit of a
thunder-crowned peak.

'You are not aware, Miss Lake, of the nature of your act, and of the
consequences to which you have exposed yourself, Madam. But that is a
view of the occurrence in which, except as a matter of deep regret, I
cannot be supposed to be immediately interested. I will mention, however,
that your interference, your _violent_ interference, Madam, may be
attended with most serious consequences to my reverend client, for which,
of course, you constituted yourself fully responsible, when you entered
on the course of unauthorised interference, which has resulted in
destroying the articles of agreement, prepared with great care and
labour, for his protection; and retarding the transmission of the
document, by at least four-and-twenty hours, to London. You may, Madam, I
regret to observe, have ruined my client.'

'Saved him, I hope.'

'And run yourself, Madam, into a _very_ serious scrape.'

'Upon that point you have said quite enough, Sir. Dolly, William, don't
look so frightened; you'll both live to thank me for this.'

All this time little Fairy, unheeded, was bawling in great anguish of
soul, clinging to Rachel's dress, and crying--'Oh! he'll hurt her--he'll
hurt her--he'll hurt her. Don't let him--don't let him. Wapsie, don't let
him. Oh! the frightle man!--don't let him--he'll hurt her--the frightle
man!' And little man's cheeks were drenched in tears, and his wee feet
danced in an agony of terror on the floor, as, bawling, he tried to pull
his friend Rachel into a corner.

'Nonsense, little man,' cried his father, with quick reproof, on hearing
this sacrilegious uproar. 'Mr. Larkin never hurt anyone; tut, tut; sit
down, and look at your book.'

But Rachel, with a smile of love and gratification, lifted the little man
up in her arms, and kissed him; and his thin, little legs were clasped
about her waist, and his arms round her neck, and he kissed her with his
wet face, devouringly, blubbering 'the frightle man--you doatie!--the
frightle man!'

'Then, Mr. Wylder, I shall have the document prepared again from the
draft. You'll see to that, Mr. Buggs, please; and perhaps it will be
better that you should look in at the Lodge.'

When he mentioned the Lodge, it was in so lofty a way that a stranger
would have supposed it something very handsome indeed, and one of the
sights of the county.

'Say, about nine o'clock to-morrow morning. Farewell, Mr. Wylder,
farewell. I regret the enhanced expense--I regret the delay--I regret the
risk--I regret, in fact, the whole scene. Farewell, Mrs. Wylder.' And
with a silent bow to Rachel--perfectly polished, perfectly terrible--he
withdrew, followed by the sallow clerk, and by that radiant scamp, old
Buggs, who made them several obeisances at the door.

'Oh, dear Miss Lake--Rachel, I mean--Rachel, dear, I hope it won't be all
off. Oh, you don't know--Heaven only knows--the danger we are in. Oh,
Rachel, dear, if this is broken off, I don't know what is to become of
us--I don't know.'

Dolly spoke quite wildly, with her hands on Rachel's shoulders. It was
the first time she had broken down, the first time, at least, the vicar
had seen her anything but cheery, and his head sank, and it seemed as if
his last light had gone out, and he was quite benighted.

'Do you think,' said he, 'there is much danger of that? Do you really
think so?'

'Now, don't blame me,' said Miss Lake, 'and don't be frightened till you
have heard me. Let us sit down here--we shan't be interrupted--and just
answer your wretched friend, Rachel, two or three questions, and hear
what she has to say.'

Rachel was flushed and excited, and sat with the little boy still in her
arms.

So, in reply to her questions, the vicar told her frankly how he stood;
and Rachel said--'Well, you must not think of selling your reversion. Oh!
think of your little boy--think of Dolly--if _you_ were taken away from
her.'

'But,' said Dolly, 'Mr. Larkin heard from Captain Lake that Mark is
privately married, and actually has, he says, a large family; and he, you
know, has letters from him, and Mr. Larkin thinks, knows more than anyone
else about him; and if that were so, none of us would ever inherit the
property. So'--

'_Do_ they say that Mark is married? Nothing can be more _false_. I
_know_ it is altogether a falsehood. He neither is nor ever will be
married. If my brother _dared_ say that in my presence, I would make him
confess, before you, that he _knows_ it cannot be. Oh! my poor little
Fairy--my poor Dolly--my poor good friend, William! What shall I say? I
am in great distraction of mind.' And she hugged and kissed the pale
little boy, she herself paler.

'Listen to me, good and kind as you are. You are never to call me your
friend, mind that. I am a most unhappy creature forced by circumstances
to be your enemy, for a time--not always. You have no conception _how_,
and may never even suspect. Don't ask me, but listen.'

Wonder stricken and pained was the countenance with which the vicar gazed
upon her, and Dolly looked both frightened and perplexed.

'I have a little more than three hundred a-year. There is a little
annuity charged on Sir Hugh Landon's estate, and his solicitor has
written, offering me six hundred pounds for it. I will write to-night
accepting that offer, and you shall have the money to pay those debts
which have been pressing so miserably upon you. _Don't_ thank--not a
word--but listen. I would so like, Dolly, to come and live with you. We
could unite our incomes. I need only bring poor old Tamar with me, and I
can give up Redman's Farm in September next. I should be so much happier;
and I think my income and yours joined would enable us to live without
any danger of getting into debt. Will you agree to this, Dolly, dear; and
promise me, William Wylder, that you will think no more of selling that
reversion, which may be the splendid provision of your dear little boy.
Don't thank me--don't say anything now; and oh! don't reject my poor
entreaty. Your refusal would almost make me mad. I would try, Dolly, to
be of use. I think I could. Only try me.'

She fancied she saw in Dolly's face, under all her gratitude, some
perplexity and hesitation, and feared to accept a decision then. So she
hurried away, with a hasty and kind good-bye.

A fortnight before, I think, during Dolly's jealous fit, this magnificent
offer of Rachel's would, notwithstanding the dreadful necessities of the
case, have been coldly received by the poor little woman. But that
delusion was quite cured now--no reserve, or doubt, or coldness left
behind. And Dolly and the vicar felt that Rachel's noble proposal was the
making of them.

CHAPTER LIX.

AN ENEMY IN REDMAN'S DELL.

Jos. Larkin grew more and more uncomfortable about the unexpected
interposition of Rachel Lake as the day wore on. He felt, with an
unerring intuition, that the young lady both despised and suspected him.
He also knew that she was impetuous and clever, and he feared from that
small white hand a fatal mischief--he could not tell exactly how--to his
plans.

Jim Dutton's letter had somehow an air of sobriety and earnestness, which
made way with his convictions. His doubts and suspicions had subsided,
and he now believed, with a profound moral certainty, that Mark Wylder
was actually dead, within the precincts of a mad-house or of some lawless
place of detention abroad. What was that to the purpose? Dutton might
arrive at any moment. Low fellows are always talking; and the story might
get abroad before the assignment of the vicar's interest. Of course there
was something speculative in the whole transaction, but he had made his
book well, and by his 'arrangement' with Captain Lake, whichever way the
truth lay, he stood to win. So the attorney had no notion of allowing
this highly satisfactory arithmetic to be thrown into confusion by the
fillip of a small gloved finger.

On the whole he was not altogether sorry for the delay. Everything worked
together he knew. One or two covenants and modifications in the articles
had struck him as desirable, on reading the instrument over with William
Wylder. He also thought a larger consideration should be stated and
acknowledged as paid, say 22,000_l._ The vicar would really receive just
2,200_l._ 'Costs' would do something to reduce the balance, for Jos.
Larkin was one of those oxen who, when treading out corn, decline to be
muzzled. The remainder was--the vicar would clearly understand--one of
those ridiculous pedantries of law, upon which our system of crotchets
and fictions insisted. And William Wylder, whose character, simply and
sensitively honourable, Mr. Larkin appreciated, was to write to
Burlington and Smith a letter, for the satisfaction of their speculative
and nervous client, pledging his honour, as a gentleman, and his
conscience, as a Christian, that in the event of the sale being
completed, he would never do, countenance, or permit, any act or
proceeding, whatsoever, tending on any ground to impeach or invalidate
the transaction.

'I've no objection--have I?--to write such a letter,' asked the vicar of
his adviser.

'Why, I suppose you have no intention of trying to defeat your own act,
and that is all the letter would go to. I look on it as wholly
unimportant, and it is really not a point worth standing upon for a
second.'

So that also was agreed to.

Now while the improved 'instrument' was in preparation, the attorney
strolled down in the evening to look after his clerical client, and keep
him 'straight' for the meeting at which he was to sign the articles next
day.

It was by the drowsy faded light of a late summer's evening that he
arrived at the quaint little parsonage. He maintained his character as 'a
nice spoken gentleman,' by enquiring of the maid who opened the door how
the little boy was. 'Not so well--gone to bed--but would be better,
everyone was sure, in the morning.' So he went in and saw the vicar, who
had just returned with Dolly from a little ramble. Everything promised
fairly--the quiet mind was returning--the good time coming--all the
pleasanter for the storms and snows of the night that was over.

'Well, my good invaluable friend, you will be glad--you will rejoice with
us, I know, to learn that, after all, the sale of our reversion is
unnecessary.'

The attorney allowed his client to shake him by both hands, and he smiled
a sinister congratulation as well as he could, grinning in reply to the
vicar's pleasant smile as cheerfully as was feasible, and wofully puzzled
in the meantime. Had James Dutton arrived and announced the death of
Mark--no; it could hardly be _that_--decency had not yet quite taken
leave of the earth; and stupid as the vicar was, he would hardly announce
the death of his brother to a Christian gentleman in a fashion so
outrageous. Had Lord Chelford been invoked, and answered satisfactorily?
Or Dorcas--or had Lake, the diabolical sneak, interposed with his long
purse, and a plausible hypocrisy of kindness, to spoil Larkin's plans?
All these fanciful queries flitted through his brain as the vicar's hands
shook both his, and he laboured hard to maintain the cheerful grin with
which he received the news, and his guileful rapacious little eyes
searched narrowly the countenance of his client.

So after a while, Dolly assisting, and sometimes both talking together,
the story was told, Rachel blessed and panegyrised, and the attorney's
congratulations challenged and yielded once more. But there was something
not altogether joyous in Jos. Larkin's countenance, which struck the
vicar, and he said--

'You don't see any objection?' and paused.

'Objection? Why, _objection_, my dear Sir, is a strong word; but I fear I
do see a difficulty--in fact, several difficulties. Perhaps you would
take a little turn on the green--I must call for a moment at the
reading-room--and I'll explain. You'll forgive me, I hope, Mrs. Wylder,'
he added, with a playful condescension, 'for running away with your
husband, but only for a few minutes--ha, ha!'

The shadow was upon Jos. Larkin's face, and he was plainly meditating a
little uncomfortably, as they approached the quiet green of Gylingden.

'What a charming evening,' said the vicar, making an effort at
cheerfulness.

'Delicious evening--yes,' said the attorney, throwing back his long head,
and letting his mouth drop. But though his face was turned up towards the
sky, there was a contraction and a darkness upon it, not altogether
heavenly.

'The offer,' said the attorney, beginning rather abruptly, 'is no doubt a
handsome offer at the first glance, and it may be well meant. But the
fact is, my dear Mr. Wylder, six hundred pounds would leave little more
than a hundred remaining after Burlington and Smith have had their costs.
You have no idea of the expense and trouble of title, and the inevitable
costliness, my dear Sir, of all conveyancing operations. The deeds, I
have little doubt, in consequence of the letter you directed me to write,
have been prepared--that is, in draft, of course--and then, my dear Sir,
I need not remind you, that there remain the costs to me--those, of
course, await your entire convenience--but still it would not be either
for your or my advantage that they should be forgotten in the general
adjustment of your affairs, which I understand you to propose.'

The vicar's countenance fell. In fact, it is idle to say that, being
unaccustomed to the grand scale on which law costs present themselves on
occasion, he was unspeakably shocked and he grew very pale and silent on
hearing these impressive sentences.

'And as to Miss Lake's residing with you--I speak now, you will
understand, in the strictest confidence, because the subject is a painful
one; as to her residing with you, as she proposes, Miss Lake is well
aware that I am cognizant of circumstances which render any such
arrangement absolutely impracticable. I need not, my dear Sir, be more
particular--at present, at least. In a little time you will probably be
made acquainted with them, by the inevitable disclosures of time, which,
as the wise man says, "discovers all things."'

'But--but what'--stammered the pale vicar, altogether shocked and giddy.

'You will not press me, my dear Sir; you'll understand that, just now, I
really _cannot_ satisfy any particular enquiry. Miss Lake has spoken, in
charity I _will_ hope and trust, without thought. But I am much mistaken,
or she will herself, on half-an-hour's calm consideration, see the moral
impossibilities which interpose between her, to me, most amazing plan and
its realisation.'

There was a little pause here, during which the tread of their feet on
the soft grass alone was audible.

'You will quite understand,' resumed the attorney, 'the degree of
confidence with which I make this communication; and you will please,
specially not to mention it to any person whatsoever. I do not except, in
fact, _any_. You will find, on consideration, that Miss Lake will not
press her residence upon you. No; I've no doubt Miss Lake is a very
intelligent person, and, when not excited, will see it clearly.'

The attorney's manner had something of that reserve, and grim sort of
dryness, which supervened whenever he fancied a friend or client on whom
he had formed designs was becoming impracticable. Nothing affected him so
much as that kind of unkindness.

Jos. Larkin took his leave a little abruptly. He did not condescend to
ask the vicar whether he still entertained Miss Lake's proposal. He had
not naturally a pleasant temper--somewhat short, dark, and dangerous, but
by no means noisy. This temper, an intense reluctance ever to say 'thank
you,' and a profound and quiet egotism, were the ingredients of that
'pride' on which--a little inconsistently, perhaps, in so eminent a
Christian--he piqued himself. It must be admitted, however, that his
pride was not of that stamp which would prevent him from listening to
other men's private talk, or reading their letters, if anything were to
be got by it; or from prosecuting his small spites with a patient and
virulent industry; or from stripping a man of his possessions, and
transferring them to himself by processes from which most men would
shrink.

'Well,' thought the vicar, 'that munificent offer is unavailing, it
seems. The sum insufficient, great as it is; and other difficulties in
the way.'

He was walking homewards, slowly and dejectedly; and was now beginning to
feel alarm lest the purchase of the reversion should fail. The agreement
was to have gone up to London by this day's mail, and now could not reach
till the day after to-morrow--four-and-twenty hours later than was
promised. The attorney had told him it was a 'touch-and-go affair,' and
the whole thing might be off in a moment; and if it _should_ miscarry
what inevitable ruin yawned before him? Oh, the fatigue of these
monotonous agitations--this never-ending suspense! Oh, the yearning
unimaginable for quiet and rest! How awfully he comprehended the
reasonableness of the thanksgiving which he had read that day in the
churchyard--'We give Thee hearty thanks for that it hath pleased Thee to
deliver this our brother out of the miseries of this sinful world.'

With the attorney it was different. Making the most of his height, which
he fancied added much to the aristocratic effect of his presence, with
his head thrown back, and swinging his walking cane easily between his
finger and thumb by his side, he strode languidly through the main street
of Gylingden, in the happy belief that he was making a sensation among
the denizens of the town.

And so he moved on to the mill-road, on which he entered, and was soon
deep in the shadows of Redman's Dell.

He opened the tiny garden-gate of Redman's Farm, looking about him with a
supercilious benevolence, like a man conscious of bestowing a
distinction. He was inwardly sensible of a sort of condescension in
entering so diminutive and homely a place--a kind of half amusing
disproportion between Jos. Larkin, Esq., of the Lodge, worth, already,
£27,000, and on the high road to greatness, and the trumpery little place
in which he found himself.

Old Tamar was sitting in the porch, with her closed Bible upon her knees;
there was no longer light to read by. She rose up, like the 'grim, white
woman who haunts yon wood,' before him.

Her young lady had walked up to Brandon, taking the little girl with her,
and she supposed would be back again early.

Mr. Larkin eyed her for a second to ascertain whether she was telling
lies. He always thought everyone might be lying. It was his primary
impression here. But there was a recluse and unearthly character in the
face of the crone which satisfied him that she would never think of
fencing with such weapons with him.

Very good. Mr. Larkin would take a short walk, and as his business was
pressing, he would take the liberty of looking in again in about
half-an-hour, if she thought her mistress would be at home then.

So, although the weird white woman who leered after him so strangely as
he walked with his most lordly air out of the little garden, and down the
darkening road towards Gylingden, could not say, he resolved to make
trial again.

In the meantime Rachel had arrived at Brandon Hall. Dorcas--whom, if the
truth were spoken, she would rather not have met--encountered her on the
steps. She was going out for a lonely, twilight walk upon the terrace,
where many a beautiful Brandon of other days, the sunshine of whose smile
glimmered only on the canvas that hung upon those ancestral walls, and
whose sorrows were hid in the grave and forgotten by the world, had
walked in other days, in the pride of beauty, or in the sadness of
desertion.

Dorcas paused upon the door-steps, and received her sister-in-law upon
that elevation.

'Have you really come all this way, Rachel, to see _me_ this evening?'
she said, and something of sarcasm thrilled in the cold, musical tones.

'No, Dorcas,' said Rachel, taking her proffered hand in the spirit in
which it was given, and with the air rather of a defiance than of a
greeting; 'I came to see my brother.'

'You are frank, at all events, Rachel, and truth is better than courtesy;
but you forget that your brother could not have returned so soon.'

'Returned?' said Rachel; 'I did not know he had left home.'

'It's strange he should not have consulted you. I, of course, knew
nothing of it until he had been more than an hour upon his journey.'

Rachel Lake made no answer but a little laugh.

'He'll return to-morrow; and perhaps your meeting may still be in time. I
was thinking of a few minutes' walk upon the terrace, but you are
fatigued: you had better come in and rest.'

'No, Dorcas, I won't go in.'

'But, Rachel, you are tired; you must come in with me, and drink tea, and
then you can go home in the brougham,' said Dorcas, more kindly.

'No, Dorcas, no; I will not drink tea nor go in; but I _am_ tired, and as
you are so kind, I will accept your offer of the carriage.'

Larcom had, that moment, appeared in the vestibule, and received the
order.

'I'll sit in the porch, if you will allow me, Dorcas; you must not lose
your walk.'

'Then you won't come into the house, you won't drink tea with me, and you
won't join me in my little walk; and why not any of these?'

Dorcas smiled coldly, and continued,

'Well, I shall hear the carriage coming to the door, and I'll return and
bid you good-night. It is plain, Rachel, you do not like my company.'

'True, Dorcas, I do _not_ like your company. You are unjust; you have no
confidence in me; you prejudge me without proof; and you have quite
ceased to love me. Why should I like your company?'

Dorcas smiled a proud and rather sad smile at this sudden change from the
conventional to the passionate; and the direct and fiery charge of her
kinswoman was unanswered.

She stood meditating for a minute.

'You think I no longer love you, Rachel, as I did. Perhaps young ladies'
friendships are never very enduring; but, if it be so, the fault is not
mine.'

'No, Dorcas, the fault is not yours, nor mine. The fault is in
circumstances. The time is coming, Dorcas, when you will know all, and,
maybe, judge me mercifully. In the meantime, Dorcas, _you_ cannot like
_my_ company, because you do not like me; and I do not like yours, just
because, in spite of all, I do love you still; and in yours I only see
the image of a lost friend. You may be restored to me soon--maybe
_never_--but till then, I have lost you.'

'Well,' said Dorcas, 'it may be there is a wild kind of truth in what you
say, Rachel, and--no matter--_time_, as you say, and _light_--I don't
understand you, Rachel; but there is this in you that resembles me--we
both hate hypocrisy, and we are both, in our own ways, proud. I'll come
back, when I hear the carriage, and see you for a moment, as you won't
stay, or come with me, and bid you good-bye.'

So Dorcas went her way; and alone, on the terrace, looking over the stone
balustrade--over the rich and sombre landscape, dim and vaporous in the
twilight--she still saw the pale face of Rachel--paler than she liked to
see it. Was she ill?--and she thought how lonely she would be if Rachel
were to die--how lonely she was now. There was a sting of compunction--a
yearning--and then started a few bitter and solitary tears.

In one of the great stone vases, that are ranged along the terrace, there
flourished a beautiful and rare rose. I forget its name. Some of my
readers will remember. It is first to bloom--first to wither. Its
fragrant petals were now strewn upon the terrace underneath. One blossom
only remained untarnished, and Dorcas plucked it, and with it in her
fingers, she returned to the porch where Rachel remained.

'You see, I have come back a little before my time,' said Dorcas. 'I have
just been looking at the plant you used to admire so much, and the leaves
are shed already, and it reminded me of our friendship, Radie; but I am
sure you are right; it will all bloom again, after the winter, you know,
and I thought I would come back, and say _that_, and give you this relic
of the bloom that is gone--the last token,' and she kissed Rachel, as she
placed it in her fingers, 'a token of remembrance and of hope.'

'I will keep it, Dorkie. It was kind of you,' and their eyes met
regretfully.

'And--and, I think, I do trust you, Radie,' said the heiress of Brandon;
'and I hope you will try to like me on till--till spring comes, you know.
And, I wish,' she sighed softly, 'I wish we were as we used to be. I am
not very happy; and--here's the carriage.'

And it drew up close to the steps, and Rachel entered; and her little
handmaid of up in the seat behind; and Dorcas and Rachel kissed their
hands, and smiled, and away the carriage glided; and Dorcas, standing on
the steps, looked after it very sadly. And when it disappeared, she
sighed again heavily, still looking in its track; and I think she said
'Darling!'

CHAPTER LX.

RACHEL LAKE BEFORE THE ACCUSER.

Twilight was darker in Redman's Dell than anywhere else. But dark as it
was, there was still light enough to enable Rachel, as she hurried across
the little garden, on her return from Brandon, to see a long white face,
and some dim outline of the figure to which it belonged, looking out upon
her from the window of her little drawing-room.

But no, it could not be; who was there to call at so odd an hour? She
must have left something--a bag, or a white basket upon the window-sash.
She was almost startled, however, as she approached the porch, to see it
nod, and a hand dimly waved in token of greeting.

Tamar was in the kitchen. Could it be Stanley! But faint as the outline
was she saw, she fancied that it was a taller person than he. She felt a
sort of alarm, in which there was some little mixture of the
superstitious, and she pushed open the door, not entering the room, but
staring in toward the window, where against the dim, external light, she
clearly saw, without recognising it, a tall figure, greeting her with mop
and moe.

'Who is that?' cried Miss Lake, a little sharply.

'It is I, Miss Lake, Mr. Josiah Larkin, of the Lodge,' said that
gentleman, with what he meant to be an air of dignified firmness, and
looking very like a tall constable in possession; 'I have taken the
liberty of presenting myself, although, I fear, at a somewhat
unseasonable hour, but in reference to a little business, which,
unfortunately, will not, I think, bear to be deferred.'

'No bad news, Mr. Larkin, I hope--nothing has happened. The Wylders are
all well, I hope?'

'Quite well, so far as I am aware,' answered the attorney, with a grim
politeness; 'perfectly. Nothing has occurred, as yet at least, affecting
the interests of that family; but something is--I will not say
threatened--but I may say mooted, which, were any attempt seriously made
to carry it into execution, would, I regret to say, involve very serious
consequences to a party whom for, I may say, many reasons, I should
regret being called upon to affect unpleasantly.'

'And pray, Mr. Larkin, can I be of any use?'

'_Every_ use, Miss Lake, and it is precisely for that reason that I have
taken the liberty of waiting upon you, at what, I am well aware, is a
somewhat unusual hour.'

'Perhaps, Mr. Larkin, you would be so good as to call in the morning--any
hour you appoint will answer me,' said the young lady, a little stiffly.
She was still standing at the door, with her hand upon the brass handle.

'Pardon me, Miss Lake, the business to which I refer is really urgent.'

'_Very_ urgent, Sir, if it cannot wait till to-morrow morning.'

'Very true, quite true, very urgent indeed,' replied the attorney,
calmly; 'I presume, Miss Lake, I may take a chair?'

'Certainly, Sir, if you insist on my listening to-night, which I should
certainly decline if I had the power.'

'Thank you, Miss Lake.' And the attorney took a chair, crossing one leg
over the other, and throwing his head back as he reclined in it with his
long arm over the back--the 'express image,' as he fancied, of a polished
gentleman, conducting a diplomatic interview with a clever and high-bred
lady.

'Then it is plain, Sir, I _must_ hear you to-night,' said Miss Lake,
haughtily.

'Not that, exactly, Miss Lake, but only that _I_ must _speak_
to-night--in fact, I have no choice. The subject of our conference really
is, as you will find, an urgent one, and to-morrow morning, which we
should each equally prefer, would be possibly too late--too late, at
least, to obviate a very painful situation.'

'You will make it, I am sure, as short as you can, Sir,' said the young
lady, in the same tone.

'Exactly my wish, Miss Lake,' replied Mr. Jos. Larkin.

'Bring candles, Margery.'

And so the little drawing-room was illuminated; and the bald head of the
tall attorney, and the gloss on his easy, black frock-coat, and his gold
watch-chain, and the long and large gloved hand, depending near the
carpet, with the glove of the other in it. And Mr. Jos. Larkin rose with
a negligent and lordly case, and placed a chair for Miss Lake, so that
the light might fall full upon her features, in accordance with his usual
diplomatic arrangement, which he fancied, complacently, no one had ever
detected; he himself resuming his easy _pose_ upon his chair, with his
back, as much as was practicable, presented to the candles, and the long,
bony fingers of the arm which rested on the table, negligently shading
his observing little eyes, and screening off the side light from his
expressive features.

These arrangements, however, were disconcerted by Miss Lake's sitting
down at the other side of the table, and quietly requesting Mr. Larkin to
open his case.

'Why, really, it is hardly a five minutes' matter, Miss Lake. It refers
to the vicar, the Rev. William Wylder, and his respectable family, and a
proposition which he, as my client, mentioned to me this evening. He
stated that you had offered to advance a sum of 600_l._ for the
liquidation of his liabilities. It will, perhaps, conduce to clearness to
dispose of this part of the matter first. May I therefore ask, at this
stage, whether the Rev. William Wylder rightly conceived you, when he so
stated your meaning to me?'

'Yes, certainly, I am most anxious to assist them with that little sum,
which I have now an opportunity of procuring.'

'A--exactly--yes--well, Miss Lake, that is, of course, very kind of
you--very kind, indeed, and creditable to your feelings; but, as Mr.
William Wylder's solicitor, and as I have already demonstrated to him, I
must now inform you, that the sum of six hundred pounds would be
absolutely _useless_ in his position. No party, Miss Lake, in his
position, ever quite apprehends, even if he could bring himself fully to
state, the aggregate amount of his liabilities. I may state, however, to
you, without betraying confidence, that ten times that sum would not
avail to extricate him, even temporarily, from his difficulties. He sees
the thing himself now; but drowning men will grasp, we know, at straws.
However, he _does_ see the futility of this; and, thanking you most
earnestly, he, through me, begs most gratefully to decline it. In fact,
my dear Miss Lake--it is awful to contemplate--he has been in the hands
of sharks, harpies, my dear Madam; but I'll beat about for the money, in
the way of loan, if possible, and, one way or another, I am resolved, if
the thing's to be done, to get him straight.'

There was here a little pause, and Mr. Larkin, finding that Miss Lake had
nothing to say, simply added--

'And so, for these reasons, and with these views, my dear Miss Lake, we
beg, most respectfully, and I will say gratefully, to decline the
proffered advance, which, I will say, at the same time, does honour to
your feelings.'

'I am sorry,' said Miss Lake, 'you have had so much trouble in explaining
so simple a matter. I will call early to-morrow, and see Mr. Wylder.'

'Pardon me,' said the attorney, 'I have to address myself next to the
second portion of your offer, as stated to me by Mr. W. Wylder, that
which contemplates a residence in his house, and in the respectable
bosom, I may say, of that, in many respects, unblemished family.'

Miss Lake stared with a look of fierce enquiry at the attorney.

'The fact is, Miss Lake, that that is an arrangement which under existing
circumstances I could not think of advising. I think, on reflection, you
will see, that Mr. Wylder--the Reverend William Wylder and his
lady--could not for one moment seriously entertain it, and that I, who am
bound to do the best I can for them, could not dream of advising it.'

'I fancy it is a matter of total indifference, Sir, what you may and what
you may not advise in a matter quite beyond your province--I don't in the
least understand, or desire to understand you--and thinking your manner
impertinent and offensive, I beg that you will now be so good as to leave
my house.'

Miss Rachel was very angry--although nothing but her bright colour and
the vexed flash of her eye showed it.

'I were most unfortunate--most unfortunate indeed, Miss Lake, if my
manner could in the least justify the strong and undue language in which
you have been pleased to characterise it. But I do not resent--it is not
my way--"beareth all things," Miss Lake, "beareth all things"--I hope I
try to practise the precept; but the fact of being misunderstood shall
not deter me from the discharge of a simple duty.'

'If it is part of your duty, Sir, to make yourself intelligible, may I
beg that you will do it without further delay.'

'My principal object in calling here was to inform you, Miss Lake, that
you must quite abandon the idea of residing in the vicar's house, as you
proposed, unless you wish me to state explicitly to him and to Mrs.
Wylder the insurmountable objections which exist to any such arrangement.
Such a task, Miss Lake, would be most painful to me. I hesitate to
discuss the question even with you; and if you give me your word of
honour that you quite abandon that idea, I shall on the instant take my
leave, and certainly, for the present, trouble you no further upon a most
painful subject.'

'And now, Sir, as I have no intention whatever of tolerating your
incomprehensibly impertinent interference, and don't understand your
meaning in the slightest degree, and do not intend to withdraw the offer
I have made to good Mrs. Wylder, you will I hope perceive the uselessness
of prolonging your visit, and be so good as to leave me in unmolested
possession of my poor residence.'

'If I wished to do you an injury, Miss Lake, I should take you at your
word. I don't--I wish to spare you. Your countenance, Miss Lake--you must
pardon my frankness, it is my way--_your countenance_ tells only too
plainly that you now comprehend my allusion.'

There was a confidence and significance in the attorney's air and accent,
and a peculiar look of latent ferocity in his evil countenance, which
gradually excited her fears, and fascinated her gaze.

'Now, Miss Lake, we are sitting here in the presence of Him who is the
searcher of hearts, and before whom nothing is secret--your eye is upon
mine and mine on yours--and I ask you, _do you remember the night of the
29th of September last_?'

That mean, pale, taunting face! the dreadful accents that vibrated within
her! How could that ill-omened man have divined her connection with the
incidents--the unknown incidents--of that direful night? The lean figure
in the black frock-coat, and black silk waistcoat, with that great
gleaming watch-chain, the long, shabby, withered face, and flushed, bald
forehead; and those paltry little eyes, in their pink setting, that
nevertheless fascinated her like the gaze of a serpent. How had that
horrible figure come there--why was this meeting--whence his knowledge?
An evil spirit incarnate he seemed to her. She blanched before it--every
vestige of colour fled from her features--she stared--she gaped at him
with a strange look of imbecility--and the long face seemed to enjoy and
protract its triumph.

Without removing his gaze he was fumbling in his pocket for his
note-book, which he displayed with a faint smile, grim and pallid.

'I see you _do_ remember that night--_as well you may_, Miss Lake,' he
ejaculated, in formidable tones, and with a shake of his bald head.

'Now, Miss Lake, you see this book. It contains, Madam, the skeleton of a
case. The bones and joints, Ma'am, of a case. I have it here, noted and
prepared. There is not a fact in it without a note of the name and
address of the witness who can prove it--the _witness_--observe me.'

Then there was a pause of a few seconds, during which he still kept her
under his steady gaze.

'On that night, Miss Lake, the 29th September, you drove in Mr. Mark
Wylder's tax-cart to the Dollington station, where, notwithstanding your
veil, and your caution, you were _seen_ and _recognised_. The same
occurred at Charteris. You accompanied Mr. Mark Wylder in his midnight
flight to London, Miss Lake. Of your stay in London I say nothing. It was
protracted to the 2nd October, when you arrived in the down train at
Dollington at twelve o'clock at night, and took a cab to the "White
House," where you were met by a gentleman answering the description of
your brother, Captain Lake. Now, Miss Lake, I have stated no particulars,
but do you think that knowing all this, and knowing the _fraud_ by which
your absence was covered, and perfectly understanding, as every man
conversant with this sinful world must do, the full significance of all
this, I could dream of permitting you, Miss Lake, to become domesticated
as an inmate in the family of a pure-minded, though simple and
unfortunate clergyman?'

'It may become my duty,' he resumed, 'to prosecute a searching enquiry,
Madam, into the circumstances of Mr. Mark Wylder's disappearance. If you
have the slightest regard for your own honour, you will not precipitate
that measure, Miss Lake; and so sure as you persist in your unwarrantable
design of residing in that unsuspecting family, I will publish what I
shall then feel called upon by my position to make known; for I will be
no party to seeing an innocent family compromised by admitting an inmate
of whose real character they have not the faintest suspicion, and I shall
at once set in motion a public enquiry into the circumstances of Mr. Mark
Wylder's disappearance.'

Looking straight in his face, with the same expression of helplessness,
she uttered at last a horrible cry of anguish that almost thrilled that
callous Christian.

'I think I'm going mad!'

And she continued staring at him all the time.

'Pray compose yourself, Miss Lake--there's no need to agitate
yourself--nothing of all this need occur if you do not force it upon
me--_nothing_. I beg you'll collect yourself--shall I call for water,
Miss Lake?'

The fact is the attorney began to apprehend hysterics, or something even
worse, and was himself rather frightened. But Rachel was never long
overwhelmed by any shock--fear was not for her--her brave spirit stood
her in stead; and nothing rallied her so surely as the sense that an
attempt was being made to intimidate her.

'What have I heard--what have I endured? Listen to me, you cowardly
libeller. It is true that I was at Dollington, and at Charteris, on the
night you name. Also true that I went to London. Your hideous slander is
garnished with two or three bits of truth, but only the more villainous
for that. All that you have dared to insinuate is utterly false. Before
Him who judges all, and knows all things--_utterly_ and _damnably_
false!'

The attorney made a bow--it was his best. He did not imitate a gentleman
happily, and was never so vulgar as when he was finest.

One word of her wild protest he did not believe. His bow was of that
grave but mocking sort which was meant to convey it. Perhaps if he had
accepted what she said it might have led him to new and sounder
conclusions. Here was light, but it glared and flashed in vain for him.

Miss Lake was naturally perfectly frank. Pity it was she had ever had a
secret to keep! These frank people are a sore puzzle to gentlemen of
Lawyer Larkin's quaint and sagacious turn of mind. They can't believe
that anybody ever speaks quite the truth: when they hear it--they don't
recognise it, and they wonder what the speaker is driving at. The best
method of hiding your opinion or your motives from such men, is to tell
it to them. They are owls. Their vision is formed for darkness, and light
blinds them.

Rachel Lake rang her bell sharply, and old Tamar appeared.

'Show Mr.--Mr.--; show him to the door,' said Miss Lake.

The attorney rose, made another bow, and threw back his head, and moved
in a way that was oppressively gentlemanlike to the door, and speedily
vanished at the little wicket. Old Tamar holding her candle to lighten
his path, as she stood, white and cadaverous, in the porch.

'She's a little bit noisy to-night,' thought the attorney, as he
descended the road to Gylingden; 'but she'll be precious sober by
to-morrow morning--and I venture to say we shall hear nothing more of
that scheme of hers. A reputable inmate, truly, and a pleasant
_éclaircissement_ (this was one of his French words, and pronounced by
him with his usual accuracy, precisely as it is spelt)--a pleasant
_éclaircissement_--whenever that London excursion and its creditable
circumstances come to light.'

CHAPTER LXI.

IN WHICH DAME DUTTON IS VISITED.

Duly next morning the rosy-fingered Aurora drew the gold and crimson
curtains of the east, and the splendid Apollo, stepping forth from his
chamber, took the reins of his unrivalled team, and driving four-in-hand
through the sky, like a great swell as he is, took small note of the
staring hucksters and publicans by the road-side, and sublimely
overlooked the footsore and ragged pedestrians that crawl below his
level. It was, in fact, one of those brisk and bright mornings which
proclaim a universal cheerfulness, and mock the miseries of those dismal
wayfarers of life, to whom returning light is a renewal of sorrow, who,
bowing toward the earth, resume their despairing march, and limp and
groan under heavy burdens, until darkness, welcome, comes again, and
their eyelids drop, and they lie down with their loads on, looking up a
silent supplication, and wishing that death would touch their eyelids in
their sleep, and their journey end where they lie.

Captain Lake was in London this morning. We know he came about
electioneering matters; but he had not yet seen Leverett. Perhaps on
second thoughts he rightly judged that Leverett knew no more than he did
of the matter. It depended on the issue of the great debate that was
drawing nigh. The Minister himself could not tell whether the dissolution
was at hand; and could no more postpone it, when the time came, than he
could adjourn an eclipse.

Notwithstanding the late whist party of the previous night, the gallant
captain made a very early toilet. With his little bag in his hand, he
went down stairs, thinking unpleasantly, I believe, and jumped into the
Hansom that awaited him at the door, telling the man to go to the ----
station. They had hardly turned the corner, however, when he popped his
head forward and changed the direction.

He looked at his watch. He had quite time to make his visit, and save the
down-train after.

He did not know the City well. Many men who lived two hundred miles away,
and made a flying visit only once in three years, knew it a great deal
better than the London-bred rake who had lived in the West-end all his
days.

Captain Lake looked peevish and dangerous, as he always did, when he was
anxious. In fact he did not know what the next ten minutes might bring
him. He was thinking what had best be done in any and every contingency.
Was he still abroad, or had he arrived? was he in Shive's Court, or,
cursed luck! had he crossed him yesterday by the down-train, and was he
by this time closeted with Larkin in the Lodge? Lake, so to speak, stood
at his wicket, and that accomplished bowler, Fortune, ball in hand, at
the other end; will it be swift round-hand, or a slow twister, or a
shooter, or a lob? Eye and hand, foot and bat, he must stand tense, yet
flexible, lithe and swift as lightning, ready for everything--cut, block,
slip, or hit to leg. It was not altogether pleasant. The stakes were
enormous! and the suspense by no means conducive to temper.

Lake fancied that the man was driving wrong, once or twice, and was on
the point of cursing him to that effect, from the window. But at last,
with an anxious throb at his heart, he recognised the dingy archway, and
the cracked brown marble tablet over the keystone, and he recognised
Shive's Court.

So forth jumped the captain, so far relieved, and glided into the dim
quadrangle, with its square of smoky sky overhead; and the prattle of
children playing on the flags, and the scrape of a violin from a window,
were in his ears, but as it were unheard. He was looking up at a window,
with a couple of sooty scarlet geraniums in it. This was the court where
Dame Dutton dwelt. He glided up her narrow stair and let himself in by
the latch; and with his cane made a smacking like a harlequin's sword
upon the old woman's deal table, crying: 'Mrs. Dutton; Mrs. Dutton. Is
Mrs. Dutton at home?'

The old lady, who was a laundress, entered, in a short blue cotton
wrapper, wiping the suds from her shrunken but sinewy arms with her
apron, and on seeing the captain, her countenance, which was threatening,
became very reverential indeed.

'How d'ye do, Mrs. Dutton? Quite well. Have you heard lately from Jim?'

'No.'

'You'll see him soon, however, and give him this note, d'ye see, and tell
him I was here, asking about you and him, and very well, and glad if I
can serve him again? don't forget that, _very_ glad. Where will you keep
that note? Oh! your tea-caddy, not a bad safe; and see, give him this,
it's ten pounds. You won't forget; and you want a new gown, Mrs. Dutton.
I'd choose it thyself, only I'm such a bad judge; but you'll choose it
for me, won't you? and let me see it on you when next I come,' and with a
courtesy and a great beaming smile on her hot face, she accepted the
five-pound note, which he placed in her hand.

In another moment the captain was gone. He had just time to swallow a cup
of coffee at the 'Terminus Hotel,' and was gliding away towards the
distant walls of Brandon Hall.

He had a coupé all to himself. But he did not care for the prospect. He
saw Lawyer Larkin, as it were, reflected in the plate-glass, with his
hollow smile and hungry eyes before him, knowing more than he should do,
paying him compliments, and plotting his ruin.

'Everything would have been quite smooth only for that d---- fellow. The
Devil fixed him precisely there for the express purpose of fleecing and
watching, and threatening him--perhaps worse. He hated that sly,
double-dealing reptile of prey--the arachnida of social nature--the
spiders with which also naturalists place the scorpions. I dare say Mr.
Larkin would have had as little difficulty in referring the gallant
captain to the same family.

While Stanley Lake is thus scanning the shabby, but dangerous image of
the attorney in the magic mirror before him, that eminent limb of the law
was not inactive in the quiet town of Gylingden. Under ordinary
circumstances his 'pride' would have condemned the vicar to a direful
term of suspense, and he certainly would not have knocked at the door of
the pretty little gabled house at the Dollington end of the town for many
days to come. The vicar would have had to seek out the attorney, to lie
in wait for and to woo him.

But Jos. Larkin's pride, like all his other passions--except his weakness
for the precious metals--was under proper regulation. Jim Dutton might
arrive at any moment, and it would not do to risk his publishing the
melancholy intelligence of Mark Wylder's death before the transfer of the
vicar's reversion; and to prevent that risk the utmost promptitude was
indispensable.

At nine o'clock, therefore, he presented himself, attended by his legal
henchmen as before.

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