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Wylder's Hand by J. Sheridan Le Fanu

Part 9 out of 10

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'Another man might not have come here, Mr. Wylder, until his presence had
been specially invited, after the--the----' when he came to define the
offence it was not very easy to do so, inasmuch as it consisted in the
vicar's having unconsciously very nearly escaped from his fangs; 'but let
that pass. I have had, I grieve to say, by this morning's post a most
serious letter from London;' the attorney shook his head, while searching
his pocket. 'I'll read just a passage or two if you'll permit me; it
comes from Burlington and Smith. I protest I have forgot it at home;
however, I may mention, that in consequence of the letter you authorised
me to write, and guaranteed by your bond, on which they have entered
judgment, they have gone to the entire expense of drawing the deeds, and
investigating title, and they say that the purchaser will positively be
off, unless the articles are in their office by twelve o'clock to-morrow;
and, I grieve to say, they add, that in the event of the thing falling
through, they will issue execution for the amount of their costs, which,
as I anticipated, a good deal exceeds four hundred pounds. I have,
therefore, my dear Mr. Wylder, casting aside all unpleasant feeling,
called to entreat you to end and determine any hesitation you may have
felt, and to execute without one moment's delay the articles which are
prepared, and which must be in the post-office within half an hour.'

Then Mr. Jos. Larkin entered pointedly and briefly into Miss Lake's
offer, which he characterised as 'wholly nugatory, illusory, and
chimerical;' told him he had spoken on the subject, yesterday evening, to
the young lady, who now saw plainly that there really was nothing in it,
and that she was not in a position to carry out that part of her
proposition, which contemplated a residence in the vicar's family.

This portion of his discourse he dismissed rather slightly and
mysteriously; but he contrived to leave upon the vicar's mind a very
painful and awful sort of uncertainty respecting the young lady of whom
he spoke.

Then he became eloquent on the madness of further indecision in a state
of things so fearfully menacing, freely admitting that it would have been
incomparably better for the vicar never to have moved in the matter,
than, having put his hand to the plough, to look back as he had been
doing. If he declined his advice, there was no more to be said, but to
bow his head to the storm, and that ponderous execution would descend in
wreck and desolation.

So the vicar, very much flushed, in panic and perplexity, and trusting
wildly to his protesting lawyer's guidance, submitted. Buggs and the
bilious youngster entered with the deed, and the articles were duly
executed, and the vicar signed also a receipt for the fanciful part of
the consideration, and upon it and the deed he endorsed a solemn promise,
in the terms I have mentioned before, that he would never take any step
to question, set aside, or disturb the purchase, or any matter connected
therewith.

Then the attorney, now in his turn flushed and very much elated,
congratulated the poor vicar on his emancipation from his difficulties;
and 'now that it was all done and over, told him, what he had never told
him before, that, considering the nature of the purchase, he had got a
_splendid_ price for it.'

The good man had also his agreement from Lake to sell Five Oaks.

The position of the good attorney, therefore, in a commercial point of
view, was eminently healthy and convenient. For less than half the value
of Five Oaks alone, he was getting that estate, and a vastly greater one
beside, to be succeeded to on Mark Wylder's death.

No wonder, then, that the good attorney was more than usually bland and
happy that day. He saw the pork-butcher in his back-parlour, and had a
few words to say about the chapel-trust, and his looks and talk were
quite edifying. He met two little children in the street, and stopped and
smiled as he stooped down to pat them on the heads, and ask them whose
children they were, and gave one of them a halfpenny. And he sat
afterwards, for nearly ten minutes, with lean old Mrs. Mullock, in her
little shop, where toffey, toys, and penny books for young people were
sold, together with baskets, tea-cups, straw-mats, and other adult ware;
and he was so friendly and talked so beautifully, and although, as he
admitted in his lofty way, 'there might be differences in fortune and
position,' yet were we not all members of one body? And he talked upon
this theme till the good lady, marvelling how so great a man could be so
humble, was called to the receipt of custom, on the subject of 'paradise'
and 'lemon-drops,' and the heavenly-minded attorney, with a celestial
condescension, recognised his two little acquaintances of the street, and
actually adding another halfpenny to his bounty--escaped, with a hasty
farewell and a smile, to the street, as eager to evade the thanks of the
little people, and the admiration of Mrs. Mullock.

It is not to be supposed, that having got one momentous matter well off
his mind, the good attorney was to be long rid of anxieties. The human
mind is fertile in that sort of growth. As well might the gentleman who
shaves suppose, as his fingers glide, after the operation, over the
polished surface of his chin--_factus ad unguem_--that he may fling his
brush and strop into the fire, and bury his razor certain fathoms in the
earth. No! One crop of cares will always succeed another--not very
oppressive, nor in any wise grand, perhaps--worries, simply, no more; but
needing a modicum of lather, the looking glass, the strop, the diligent
razor, delicate manipulation, and stealing a portion of our precious time
every day we live; and this must go on so long as the state of man is
imperfect, and plenty of possible evil in futurity.

The attorney must run up to London for a day or two. What if that
mysterious, and almost illegible brute, James Dutton, should arrive while
he was away. Very unpleasant, possibly! For the attorney intended to keep
that gentleman very quiet. Sufficient time must be allowed to intervene
to disconnect the purchase of the vicar's remainder from the news of Mark
Wylder's demise. A year and a-half, maybe, or possibly a year might do.
For if the good attorney was cautious, he was also greedy, and would take
possession as early as was safe. Therefore arrangements were carefully
adjusted to detain that important person, in the event of his arriving;
and a note, in the good attorney's hand, inviting him to remain at the
Lodge till his return, and particularly requesting that 'he would kindly
abstain from mentioning to _anyone_, during his absence, any matter he
might intend to communicate to him in his professional capacity or
otherwise.'

This, of course, was a little critical, and made his to-morrow's journey
to London a rather anxious prospect.

In the meantime our friend, Captain Lake, arrived in a hired fly, with
his light baggage, at the door of stately Brandon. So soon as the dust
and ashes of railway travel were removed, the pale captain, in changed
attire, snowy cambric, and with perfumed hair and handkerchief, presented
himself before Dorcas.

'Now, Dorkie, darling, your poor soldier has come back, resolved to turn
over a new leaf, and never more to reserve another semblance of a secret
from you,' said he, so soon as his first greeting was over. 'I long to
have a good talk with you, Dorkie. I have no one on earth to confide in
but you. I think,' he said, with a little sigh, 'I would never have been
so reserved with you, darling, if I had had anything pleasant to confide;
but all I have to say is triste and tiresome--only a story of
difficulties and petty vexations. I want to talk to you, Dorkie. Where
shall it be?'

They were in the great drawing-room, where I had first seen Dorcas
Brandon and Rachel Lake, on the evening on which my acquaintance with the
princely Hall was renewed, after an interval of so many years.

'This room, Stanley, dear?'

'Yes, this room will answer very well,' he said, looking round. 'We can't
be overheard, it is so large. Very well, darling, listen.'

CHAPTER LXII.

THE CAPTAIN EXPLAINS WHY MARK WYLDER ABSCONDED.

'How delicious these violets are!' said Stanley, leaning for a moment
over the fragrant purple dome that crowned a china stand on the marble
table they were passing. 'You love flowers, Dorkie. Every perfect woman
is, I think, a sister of Flora's. You are looking pale--you have not been
ill? No! I'm very glad you say so. Sit down for a moment and listen,
darling. And first I'll tell you, upon my honour, what Rachel has been
worrying me about.'

Dorcas sate beside him on the sofa, and he placed his slender arm
affectionately round her waist.

'You must know, Dorkie, that before his sudden departure, Mark Wylder
promised to lend William, his brother, a sum sufficient to relieve him of
all his pressing debts.'

'Debts! I never knew before that he had any,' exclaimed Dorcas. 'Poor
William! I am so sorry.'

'Well, he has, like other fellows, only he can't get away as easily, and
he has been very much pressed since Mark went, for he has not yet lent
him a guinea, and in fact Rachel says she thinks he is in danger of being
regularly sold out. She does not say she knows it, but only that she
suspects they are in a great fix about money.'

'Well, you must know that _I_ was the sole cause of Mark Wylder's leaving
the country.'

'_You_, Stanley!'

'Yes, _I_, Dorkie. I believe I thought I was doing a duty; but really I
was nearly mad with _jealousy_, and simply doing my utmost to drive a
rival from _your_ presence. And yet, without hope for myself,
_desperately_ in love.'

Dorcas looked down and smiled oddly; it was a sad and bitter smile, and
seemed to ask whither has that desperate love, in so short a time, flown?

'I know I was right. He was a stained man, and was liable at any moment
to be branded. It was villainous in him to seek to marry you. I told him
at last that, unless he withdrew, your friends should know all. I
expected he would show fight, and that a meeting would follow; and I
really did not much care whether I were killed or not. But he went, on
the contrary, rather quietly, threatening to pay me off, however, though
he did not say how. He's a cunning dog, and not very soft-hearted; and
has no more conscience than that,' and he touched his finger to the cold
summit of a marble bust.

'He is palpably machinating something to my destruction with an
influential attorney on whom I keep a watch, and he has got some fellow
named Dutton into the conspiracy; and not knowing how they mean to act,
and only knowing how utterly wicked, cunning, and bloody-minded he is,
and that he hates me as he probably never hated anyone before, I must be
prepared to meet him, and, if possible, to blow up that Satanic cabal,
which without _money_ I can't. It was partly a mystification about the
election; of course, it will be expensive, but nothing like the other.
Are you ill, Dorkie?'

He might well ask, for she appeared on the point of fainting.

Dorcas had read and heard stories of men seemingly no worse than their
neighbours--nay, highly esteemed, and praised, and liked--who yet were
haunted by evil men, who encountered them in lonely places, or by night,
and controlled them by the knowledge of some dreadful crime. Was
Stanley--her husband--whose character she had begun to discern, whose
habitual mystery was, somehow, tinged in her mind with a shade of horror,
one of this two-faced, diabolical order of heroes?

Why should he dread this cabal, as he called it, even though directed by
the malignant energy of the absent and shadowy Mark Wylder? What could
all the world do to harm him in free England, if he were innocent, if he
were what he seemed--no worse than his social peers?

Why should it be necessary to buy off the conspirators whom a guiltless
man would defy and punish?

The doubt did not come in these defined shapes. As a halo surrounds a
saint, a shadow rose suddenly, and enveloped pale, scented, smiling
Stanley, with the yellow eyes. He stood in the centre of a dreadful
medium, through which she saw him, ambiguous and awful; and she sickened.

'Are you ill, Dorkie, darling?' said the apparition in accents of
tenderness. 'Yes, you _are_ ill.'

And he hastily threw open the window, close to which they were sitting,
and she quickly revived in the cooling air.

She saw his yellow eyes fixed upon her features, and his face wearing an
odd expression--was it interest, or tenderness, or only scrutiny; to her
there seemed a light of insincerity and cruelty in its pallor.

'You are better, darling; thank Heaven, you are better.'

'Yes--yes--a great deal better; it is passing away.'

Her colour was returning, and with a shivering sigh, she said--

'Oh? Stanley, you must speak truth; I am your wife. Do they know anything
very bad--are you in their power?'

'Why, my dearest, what on earth could put such a wild fancy in your
head?' said Lake, with a strange laugh, and, as she fancied, growing
still paler. 'Do you suppose I am a highwayman in disguise, or a
murderer, like--what's his name--Eugene Aram? I must have expressed
myself very ill, if I suggested anything so tragical. I protest before
Heaven, my darling, there is not one word or act of mine I need fear to
submit to any court of justice or of honour on earth.'

He took her hand, and kissed it affectionately, and still fondling it
gently between his, he resumed--

'I don't mean to say, of course, that I have always been better than
other young fellows; I've been foolish, and wild, and--and--I've done
wrong things, occasionally--as all young men will; but for high crimes
and misdemeanors, or for melodramatic situations, I never had the
slightest taste. There's no man on earth who can tell anything of me, or
put me under any sort of pressure, thank Heaven; and simply because I
have never in the course of my life done a single act unworthy of a
gentleman, or in the most trifling way compromised myself. I swear it, my
darling, upon my honour and soul, and I will swear it in any terms--the
most awful that can be prescribed--in order totally and for ever to
remove from your mind so amazing a fancy.'

And with a little laugh, and still holding her hand, he passed his arm
round her waist, and kissed her affectionately.

'But you are perfectly right, Dorkie, in supposing that I _am_ under very
considerable apprehension from their machinations. Though they cannot
slur our fair fame, it is quite possible they may very seriously affect
our property. Mr. Larkin is in possession of all the family papers. I
don't like it, but it is too late now. The estates have been back and
forward so often between the Brandons and Wylders, I always fancy there
may be a screw loose, or a frangible link somewhere, and he's deeply
interested for Mark Wylder.'

'You are better, darling; I think you are better,' he said, looking in
her face, after a little pause.

'Yes, dear Stanley, much better; but why should you suppose any plot
against our title?'

'Mark Wylder is in constant correspondence with that fellow Larkin. I
wish we were quietly rid of him, he is such an unscrupulous dog. I assure
you, I doubt very much if the deeds are safe in his possession; at all
events, he ought to choose between us and Mark Wylder. It is monstrous
his being solicitor for both. The Wylders and Brandons have always been
contesting the right to these estates, and the same thing may arise again
any day.'

'But tell me, Stanley, how do you want to apply money? What particular
good can it do us in this unpleasant uncertainty?'

'Well, Dorkie, believe me I have a sure instinct in matters of this kind.
Larkin is plotting treason against us. Wylder is inciting him, and will
reap the benefit of it. Larkin hesitates to strike, but that won't last
long. In the meantime, he has made a distinct offer to buy Five Oaks. His
doing so places him in the same interest with us; and, although he does
not offer its full value, still I should sleep sounder if it were
concluded; and the fact is, I don't think we are safe until that sale
_is_ concluded.'

Dorcas looked for a moment earnestly in his face, and then down, in
thought.

'Now, Dorkie, I have told you all. Who is to advise you, if not your
husband? Trust my sure conviction, and promise me, Dorcas, that you will
not hesitate to join me in averting, by a sacrifice we shall hardly feel,
a really stupendous blow.'

He kissed her hand, and then her lips, and he said--

'You _will_, Dorkie, I _know_ you will. Give me your promise.'

'Stanley, tell me once more, are you really quite frank when you tell me
that you apprehend no personal injury from these people--apart, I mean,
from the possibility of Mr. Larkin's conspiring to impeach our rights in
favour of Mr. Wylder?'

'Personal injury? None in life, my darling.'

'And there is really no secret--nothing--_tell_ your wife--nothing you
fear coming to light?'

'I swear again, nothing. _Won't_ you believe me, darling?'

'Then, if it be so, Stanley, I think we should hesitate long before
selling any part of the estate, upon a mere conjecture of danger. You or
I may over-estimate that danger, being so nearly affected by it. We must
take advice; and first, we must consult Chelford. Remember, Stanley, how
long the estate has been preserved. Whatever may have been their crimes
and follies, those who have gone before us never impaired the Brandon
estate; and, without full consideration, without urgent cause, I,
Stanley, will not begin.'

'Why, it is only Five Oaks, and we shall have the money, you forget,'
said Stanley.

'Five Oaks is an estate in itself; and the idea of dismembering the
Brandon inheritance seems to me like taking a plank from a ship--all will
go down when that is done.'

'But you _can't_ dismember it; it is only a life estate.'

'Well, perhaps so; but Chelford told me that one of the London people
said he thought Five Oaks belonged to me absolutely.'

'In that case the inheritance _is_ dismembered already.'

'I will have no share in selling the old estate, or any part of it, to
strangers, Stanley, except in a case of necessity; and we must do nothing
precipitately; and I must insist, Stanley, on consulting Chelford before
taking any step. He will view the question more calmly than you or I can;
and we owe him that respect, Stanley, he has been so very kind to us.'

'Chelford is the very last man whom I would think of consulting,'
answered Stanley, with his malign and peevish look.

'And why?' asked Dorcas.

'Because he is quite sure to advise against it,' answered Stanley,
sharply. 'He is one of those Quixotic fellows who get on very well in
fair weather, while living with a duke or duchess, but are sure to run
you into mischief when they come to the inns and highways of common life.
I know perfectly, he would protest against a compromise. Discharge
Larkin--fight him--and see us valiantly stript of our property by some
cursed law-quibble; and think we ought to be much more comfortable so,
than in this house, on the terms of a compromise with a traitor like
Larkin. But _I_ don't think so, nor any man of sense, nor anyone but a
hairbrained, conceited knight-errant.'

'I think Chelford one of the most sensible as well as honourable men I
know; and I will take no step in selling a part of our estate to that
odious Mr. Larkin, without consulting him, and at least hearing what he
thinks of it.'

Stanley's eyes were cast down--and he was nipping the struggling hairs of
his light moustache between his lips--but he made no answer. Only
suddenly he looked up, and said quietly,

'Very well. Good-bye for a little, Dorkie,' and he leaned over her and
kissed her cheek, and then passed into the hall, where he took his hat
and cane.

Larcom presented him with a note, in a sealed envelope. As he took it
from the salver he recognised Larkin's very clear and large hand. I
suspect that grave Mr. Larcom had been making his observations and
conjectures thereupon.

The captain took it with a little nod, and a peevish side-glance. It
said--

'MY DEAR CAPTAIN BRANDON LAKE,--Imperative business calls me to London by
the early train to-morrow. Will you therefore favour me, if convenient,
_by the bearer_, with the small note of consent, which must accompany the
articles agreeing to sell.

'I remain, &c. &c. &c.'

Larkin's groom was waiting for an answer.

'Tell him I shall probably see Mr. Larkin myself,' said the captain,
snappishly; and so he walked down to pretty little Gylingden.

On the steps of the reading-room stood old Tom Ruddle, who acted as
marker in the billiard-room, treasurer, and book-keeper beside, and swept
out the premises every morning, and went to and fro at the proper hours,
between that literary and sporting institution and the post-office; and
who, though seldom sober, was always well instructed in the news of the
town.

'How do you do, old Ruddle--quite well?' asked the captain with a smile.
'Who have you got in the rooms?'

Well, Jos. Larkin was not there. Indeed he seldom showed in those
premises, which he considered decidedly low, dropping in only now and
then, like the great county gentlemen, on sessions days, to glance at the
papers, and gossip on their own high affairs.

But Ruddle had seen Mr. Jos. Larkin on the green, not five minutes since,
and thither the gallant captain bent his steps.

CHAPTER LXIII.

THE ACE OF HEARTS.

'So you are going to London--_to-morrow_, is not it?' said Captain Lake,
when on the green of Gylingden where visitors were promenading, and the
militia bands playing lusty polkas, he met Mr. Jos. Larkin, in lavender
trousers and kid gloves, new hat, metropolitan black frock-coat, and
shining French boots--the most elegant as well as the most Christian of
provincial attorneys.

'Ah, yes--I think--should my engagements permit--of starting early
to-morrow. The fact is, Captain Lake, our poor friend the vicar, you
know, the Rev. William Wylder, has pressing occasion for some money, and
I can't leave him absolutely in the hands of Burlington and Smith.'

'No, of course--quite so,' said Lake, with that sly smile which made
every fellow on whom it lighted somehow fancy that the captain had
divined his secret. 'Very honest fellows, with good looking after--eh?'

The attorney laughed a little awkwardly, with his pretty pink blush over
his long face.

'Well, I'm far from saying that, but it is their business, you know, to
take care of _their_ client; and it would not do to give them the
handling of _mine_. Can I do anything, Captain Lake, for you while in
town?'

'Nothing on earth, thank you very much. But I am thinking of doing
something for you. You've interested yourself a great deal about Mark
Wylder's movements.'

'Not more than my duty clearly imposed.'

'Yes; but notwithstanding it will operate, I'm afraid, as you will
presently see, rather to his prejudice. For to prevent your conjectural
interference from doing him a more serious mischief, I will now, and
here, if you please, divulge the true and only cause of his absconding.
It is fair to mention, however, that your knowing it will make you fully
as odious to him as I am--and that, I assure you, is very odious indeed.
There were four witnesses beside myself--Lieutenant-Colonel Jermyn, Sir
James Carter, Lord George Vanbrugh, and Ned Clinton.

'_Witnesses_! Captain Lake. Do you allude to a legal matter?' enquired
Larkin, with his look of insinuating concern and enquiry.

'Quite the contrary--a very lawless matter, indeed. These four gentlemen,
beside myself, were present at the occurrence. But perhaps you've heard
of it?' said the captain, 'though that's not likely.'

'Not that I recollect, Captain Lake,' answered Jos. Larkin.

'Well, it is not a thing you'd forget easily--and indeed it was a very
well kept secret, as well as an ugly one,' and Lake smiled in his sly
quizzical way.

'And _where_, Captain Lake, did it occur, may I enquire?' said Larkin,
with his charming insinuation.

'You may, and you shall hear--in fact, I'll tell you the whole thing. It
was at Gray's Club, in Pall Mall. The whist party were old Jermyn,
Carter, Vanbrugh, and Wylder. Clinton and I were at piquet, and were
disturbed by a precious row the old boys kicked up. Jermyn and Carter
were charging Mark Wylder, in so many words, with not playing
fairly--there was an ace of hearts on the table played by him, and before
three minutes they brought it home--and in fact it was quite clear that
poor dear Mark had helped himself to it in quite an irregular way.'

'Oh, dear, Captain Lake, oh, dear, how shocking--how inexpressibly
shocking! Is not it _melancholy_?' said Larkin, in his finest and most
pathetic horror.

'Yes; but don't cry till I've done,' said Lake, tranquilly. 'Mark tried
to bully, but the cool old heads were too much for him, and he threw
himself at last entirely on our mercy--and very abject he became, poor
thing.'

'How well the mountains look! I am afraid we shall have rain to-morrow.'

Larkin uttered a short groan.

'So they sent him into the small card-room, next that we were playing in.
I think we were about the last in the club--it was past three
o'clock--and so the old boys deliberated on their sentence. To bring the
matter before the committee were utter ruin to Mark, and they let him
off, on these conditions--he was to retire forthwith from the club; he
was never to play any game of cards again; and, lastly, he was never more
to address any one of the gentlemen who were present at his detection.
Poor dear devil!--how he did jump at the conditions;--and provided they
were each and all strictly observed, it was intimated that the occurrence
should be kept secret. Well, you know, that was letting poor old Mark off
in a coach; and I do assure you, though we had never liked one another, I
really was very glad they did not move his expulsion--which would have
involved his quitting the service--and I positively don't know how he
could have lived if that had occurred.'

'I do solemnly assure you, Captain Lake, what you have told me has beyond
expression amazed, and I will say, horrified me,' said the attorney, with
a slow and melancholy vehemence. 'Better men might have suspected
something of it--I do solemnly pledge my honour that nothing of the kind
so much as crossed my mind--not naturally suspicious, I believe, but all
the more shocked, Captain Lake, on that account'

'He was poor then, you see, and a few pounds were everything to him, and
the temptation immense; but clumsy fellows ought not to try that sort of
thing. There's the highway--Mark would have made a capital garrotter.'

The attorney groaned, and turned up his eyes. The band was playing 'Pop
goes the weasel,' and old Jackson, very well dressed and buckled up, with
a splendid smile upon his waggish, military countenance, cried, as he
passed, with a wave of his hand, 'How do, Lake--how do, Mr.
Larkin--beautiful day!'

'I've no wish to injure Mark; but it is better that you should know at
once, than go about poking everywhere for information.'

'I do assure you----'

'And having really no wish to hurt him,' pursued the captain, 'and also
making it, as I do, a point that you shall repeat this conversation as
little as possible, I don't choose to appear singular, as your sole
informant, and I've given you here a line to Sir James Carter--he's
member, you know, for Huddlesbury. I mention, that Mark, having broken
his promise, and played for heavy stakes, too, both on board his ship,
and at Plymouth and Naples, which I happen to know; and also by accosting
me, whom, as one of the gentlemen agreeing to impose these conditions, he
was never to address, I felt myself at liberty to mention it to you,
holding the relation you do to me as well as to him, in consequence of
the desirableness of placing you in possession of the true cause of his
absconding, which was simply my telling him that I would not permit him,
slurred as he was, to marry a lady who was totally ignorant of his actual
position; and, in fact, that unless he withdrew, I must acquaint the
young lady's guardian of the circumstances.'

There was quite enough probability in this story to warrant Jos. Larkin
in turning up his eyes and groaning. But in the intervals, his shrewd
eyes searched the face of the captain, not knowing whether to believe one
syllable of what he related.

I may as well mention here, that the attorney did present the note to Sir
J. Carter with which Captain Lake had furnished him; indeed, he never
lost an opportunity of making the acquaintance of a person of rank; and
that the worthy baronet, so appealed to, and being a blunt sort of
fellow, and an old acquaintance of Stanley's, did, in a short and testy
sort of way, corroborate Captain Lake's story, having previously
conditioned that he was not to be referred to as the authority from whom
Mr. Larkin had learned it.

The attorney and Captain Brandon Lake were now walking side by side over
the more sequestered part of the green.

'And so,' said the captain, coming to a stand-still, 'I'll bid you
good-bye, Larkin; what stay, I forgot to ask, do you make in town?'

'Only a day or two.'

'You'll not wait for the division on Trawler's motion?'

'Oh, dear, no. I calculate I'll be here again, certainly, in three days'
time. And, I suppose, Captain Lake, you received my note?'

'You mean just now? Oh, yes; of course it is all right; but one day is as
good as another; and you have got my agreement signed.'

'Pardon me, Captain Brandon Lake; the fact is, one day, in this case,
does _not_ answer as well as another, for I must have drafts of the deeds
prepared by my conveyancer in town, and the note is indispensable.
Perhaps, if there is any difficulty, you will be so good as to say so,
and I shall then be in a position to consider the case in its new
aspect.'

'What the devil difficulty _can_ there be, Sir? I can't see it, any more
than what _hurry_ can possibly exist about it,' said Lake, stung with a
momentary fury. It seemed as though everyone was conspiring to perplex
and torment him; and he, like the poor vicar, though for very different
reasons, had grown intensely anxious to sell. He had grown to dread the
attorney, since the arrival of Dutton's letter. He suspected that his
journey to London had for its object a meeting with that person. He could
not tell what might be going on in the dark. But the possibility of such
a conjunction might well dismay him.

On the other hand, the more Mr. Larkin relied upon the truth of Dutton's
letter, the cooler he became respecting the purchase of Five Oaks. It
was, of course, a very good thing; but not his first object. The vicar's
reversion in that case was everything; and of it he was now sure.

'There is no difficulty about the note, Sir; it contains but four lines,
and I've given you the form. No difficulty can exist but in the one
quarter; and the fact is,' he added, steadily, 'unless I have that note
before I leave to-morrow-morning, I'll assume that you wish to be off,
Captain Lake, and I will adapt myself to circumstances.'

'You may have it _now_,' said the captain, with a fierce carelessness.
'D--d nonsense! Who could have fancied any such stupid hurry? Send in the
morning, and you shall have it.' And the captain rather savagely turned
away, skirting the crowd who hovered about the band, in his leisurely and
now solitary ramble.

The captain was sullen that evening at home. He was very uncomfortable.
His heart was failing him for the things that were coming to pass. One of
his maniacal tempers, which had often before thrown him, as it were, 'off
the rails,' was at the bottom of his immediate troubles. This proneness
to sudden accesses of violence and fury was the compensation which abated
the effect of his ordinary craft and self-command.

He had done all he could to obviate the consequences of his folly in this
case. He hoped the attorney might not succeed in discovering Jim Dutton's
whereabouts. At all events, he had been beforehand, and taken measures to
quiet that person's dangerous resentment. But it was momentous in the
critical state of things to give this dangerous attorney a handsome share
in his stake--to place him, as he had himself said, 'in the same boat,'
and enlist all his unscrupulous astuteness in maintaining his title: and
if he went to London disappointed, and that things turned out unluckily
about Dutton, it might be a very awful business indeed.

Dinner had been a very dull _t�te-�-t�te_. Dorcas sat stately and
sad--looking from the window toward the distant sunset horizon, piled in
dusky gold and crimson clouds, against the faded, green sky--a glory that
is always melancholy and dreamy. Stanley sipped his claret, his eyes upon
the cloth. He raised them and looked out, too; and the ruddy light tinted
his pale features.

A gleam of good humour seemed to come with it, and he said,

'I was just thinking, Dorkie, that for you and me, _alone_, these great
rooms are a little dreary. Suppose we have tea in the tapestry room.'

'The Dutch room, Stanley--I think so--I should like it very well. So, I
am certain, would Rachel. I've written to her to come. I hope she will. I
expect her at nine. The brougham will be with her. She wrote such an odd
note to-day, addressed to you; but _I opened it_. Here it is.'

She did not watch his countenance, or look in his direction, as he read
it. She addressed herself, on the contrary, altogether to her Liliputian
white lap-dog, Snow, and played with his silken ears; and chatted with
him as ladies will.

A sealed envelope broken. That scoundrel, Larcom, knew perfectly it was
meant for _me_. He was on the point of speaking his mind, which would
hardly have been pleasant to hear, upon this piece of detective
impertinence of his wife's. He could have smashed all the glass upon the
table. But he looked serene, and leaned back with the corner of Rachel's
note between two fingers. It was a case in which he clearly saw he must
command himself.

CHAPTER LXIV.

IN THE DUTCH ROOM.

His heart misgave him. He felt that a crisis was coming; and he read--

'I cannot tell you, my poor brother, how miserable I am. I have just
learned that a very dangerous person has discovered more about that
dreadful evening than we believed known to anybody in Gylingden. I am
subjected to the most agonising suspicions and _insults_. Would to Heaven
I were dead! But living, I cannot endure my present state of mind longer.
To-morrow morning I will see Dorcas--poor Dorcas!--and tell her all. I am
weary of urging you, _in vain_, to do so. It would have been much better.
But although, after that interview, I shall, perhaps, never see her more,
I shall yet be happier, and, I think, relieved from suspense, and the
torments of mystery. So will she. At all events, it is her _right_ to
know all--and she shall.

'YOUR OUTCAST AND MISERABLE SISTER.'

On Stanley's lips his serene, unpleasant smile was gleaming, as he closed
the note carelessly. He intended to speak, but his voice caught. He
cleared it, and sipped a little claret.

'For a clever girl she certainly does write the most wonderful rubbish.
Such an effusion! And she sends it tossing about, from hand to hand,
among the servants. I've anticipated her, however, Dorkie.' And he took
her hand and kissed it. 'She does not know I've told you _all_ myself.'

Stanley went to the library, and Dorcas to the conservatory, neither very
happy, each haunted by an evil augury, and a sense of coming danger. The
deepening shadow warned Dorcas that it was time to repair to the Dutch
room, where she found lights and tea prepared.

In a few minutes more the library door opened and Stanley Lake peeped in.

'Radie not come yet?' said he entering. 'We certainly are much pleasanter
in this room, Dorkie, more, in proportion, than we two should have been
in the drawing-room.'

He seated himself beside her, drawing his chair very close to hers, and
taking her hand in his. He was more affectionate this evening than usual.
What did it portend? she thought. She had already begun to acquiesce in
Rachel's estimate of Stanley, and to fancy that whatever he did it was
with an unacknowledged purpose.

'Does little Dorkie love me?' said Lake, in a sweet undertone.

There was reproach, but love too, in the deep soft glance she threw upon
him.

'You must promise me not to be frightened at what I am going to tell
you,' said Lake.

She heard him with sudden panic, and a sense of cold stole over her. He
looked like a ghost--quite white--smiling. She knew something was
coming--the secret she had invoked so long--and she was appalled.

'Don't be frightened, darling. It is necessary to tell you; but it is
really not much when you hear me out. You'll say so when you have quite
heard me. So you won't be frightened?'

She was gazing straight into his wild yellow eyes, fascinated, with a
look of expecting terror.

'You are nervous, darling,' he continued, laying his hand on hers. 'Shall
we put it off for a little? You are frightened.'

'Not much frightened, Stanley,' she whispered.

'Well, we had better wait. I see, Dorcas, you _are_ frightened and
nervous. Don't keep looking at me; look at something else, can't you? You
make yourself nervous that way. I promise, upon my honour, I'll not say a
word about it till you bid me.'

'I know, Stanley--I know.'

'Then, why won't you look down, or look up, or look any way you please,
only don't stare at me so.'

'Yes--oh, yes,' and she shut her eyes.

'I'm sorry I began,' he said, pettishly. 'You'll make a fuss. You've made
yourself quite nervous; and I'll wait a little.'

'Oh! no, Stanley, _now_--for Heaven's sake, _now_. I was only a little
startled; but I am quite well again. Is it anything about marriage? Oh,
Stanley, in mercy, tell me was there any other engagement?'

'Nothing, darling--nothing on earth of the sort;' and he spoke with an
icy little laugh. 'Your poor soldier is altogether yours, Dorkie,' and he
kissed her cheek.

'Thank God for that!' said Dorcas, hardly above her breath.

'What I have to say is quite different, and really nothing that need
affect you; but Rachel has made such a row about it. Fifty fellows, I
know, are in much worse fixes; and though it is not of so much
consequence, still I think I should not have told you; only, without
knowing it, you were thwarting me, and helping to get me into a serious
difficulty by your obstinacy--or what you will--about Five Oaks.'

Somehow trifling as the matter was, Stanley seemed to grow more and more
unwilling to disclose it, and rather shrank from it now.

'Now, Dorcas, mind, there must be no trifling. You must not treat me as
Rachel has. If you can't keep a secret--for it _is_ a secret--say so.
Shall I tell you?'

'Yes, Stanley--yes. I'm your wife.'

'Well, Dorcas, I told you something of it; but only a part, and some
circumstances I _did_ intentionally colour a little; but I could not help
it, unless I had told everything; and no matter what you or Rachel may
say, it was kinder to withhold it as long as I could.'

He glanced at the door, and spoke in a lower tone.

And so, with his eyes lowered to the table at which he sat, glancing ever
and anon sideways at the door, and tracing little figures with the tip of
his finger upon the shining rosewood, he went on murmuring his strange
and hateful story in the ear of his wife.

It was not until he had spoken some three or four minutes that Dorcas
suddenly uttered a wild scream, and started to her feet. And Stanley also
rose precipitately, and caught her in his arms, for she was falling.

As he supported her in her chair, the library door opened, and the
sinister face of Uncle Lorne looked in, and returned the captain's stare
with one just as fixed and horrified.

'Hush!' whispered Uncle Lorne, and he limped softly into the room, and
stopped about three yards away, 'she is not dead, but sleepeth.'

'Hallo! Larcom,' shouted Lake.

'I tell you she's dreaming the same dream that I dreamt in the middle of
the night.'

'Hallo! Larcom.'

'Mark's on leave to-night, in uniform; his face is flattened against the
window. This is his lady, you know.'

'Hallo! D-- you--are you there?' shouted the captain, very angry.

'I saw Mark following you like an ape, on all-fours; such nice white
teeth! grinning at your heels. But he can't bite yet--ha, ha, ha! Poor
Mark!'

'Will you be so good, Sir, as to touch the bell?' said Lake, changing his
tone.

He was afraid to remove his arm from Dorcas, and he was splashing water
from a glass upon her face and forehead.

'No--no. No bell yet--time enough--ding, dong. You say, dead and gone.'

Captain Lake cursed him and his absent keeper between his teeth; still in
a rather flurried way, prosecuting his conjugal attentions.

'There was no bell for poor Mark; and he's always listening, and stares
so. A cat may look, you know.'

'Can't you touch the bell, Sir? What are you standing there for?' snarled
Lake, with a glare at the old man. He looked as if he could have murdered
him.

'Standing between the living and the dead!'

'Here, Reuben, here; where the devil have you been--take him away. He has
terrified her. By ---- he ought to be shot.'

The keeper silently slid his arm into Uncle Lorne's, and, unresisting,
the old man talking to himself the while, drew him from the room.

Larcom, about to announce Miss Lake, and closely followed by that young
lady, passed the grim old phantom on the lobby.

'Be quick, you are wanted there,' said the attendant as he passed.

Dorcas, pale as marble, sighing deeply again and again, her rich black
hair drenched in water, which trickled over her cheeks, like the tears
and moisture of agony, was recovering. There was water spilt on the
table, and the fragments of a broken glass upon the floor.

The moment Rachel saw her, she divined what had happened, and, gliding
over, she placed her arm round her.

'You're better, darling. Open the window, Stanley. Send her maid.'

'Aye, send her maid,' cried Captain Lake to Larcom. 'This is your d--d
work. A nice mess you have made of it among you.'

'Are you better, Dorcas?' said Rachel.

'Yes--much better. I'm glad, darling, I understand you now. Radie, kiss
me.'

Next morning, before early family prayers, while Mr. Jos. Larkin was
locking the despatch box which was to accompany him to London Mr. Larcom
arrived at the Lodge.

He had a note for Mr. Larkin's hand, which he must himself deliver; and
so he was shown into that gentleman's official cabinet, and received with
the usual lofty kindness.

'Well, Mr. Larcom, pray sit down. And can I do anything for you, Mr.
Larcom?' said the good attorney, waving his long hand toward a vacant
chair.

'A note, Sir.'

'Oh, yes; very well.' And the tall attorney rose, and, facing the rural
prospect at his window, with his back to Mr. Larcom, he read, with a
faint smile, the few lines, in a delicate hand, consenting to the sale of
Five Oaks.

He had to look for a time at the distant prospect to allow his smile to
subside, and to permit the conscious triumph which he knew beamed through
his features to discharge itself and evaporate in the light and air
before turning to Mr. Larcom, which he did with an air of sudden
recollection.

'Ah--all right, I was forgetting; I must give you a line.'

So he did, and hid away the note in his despatch-box, and said--

'The family all quite well, I hope?' whereat Larcom shook his head.

'My mistress'--he always called her so, and Lake the capting--'has been
takin' on hoffle, last night, whatever come betwixt 'em. She was fainted
outright in her chair in the Dutch room; and he said it was the old
gentleman--Old Flannels, we calls him, for shortness--but lor' bless you,
she's too used to him to be frightened, and that's only a make-belief;
and Miss Dipples, her maid, she says as how she was worse up stairs, and
she's made up again with Miss Lake, which _she_ was very glad, no doubt,
of the making friends, I do suppose; but it's a bin a bad row, and I
suspeck amost he's used vilins.'

'Compulsion, I suppose; you mean constraint?' suggested Larkin, very
curious.

'Well, that may be, Sir, but I amost suspeck she's been hurted somehow.
She got them crying fits up stairs, you know; and the capting, he's
hoffle bad-tempered this morning, and he never looked near her once,
after his sister came; and he left them together, talking and crying, and
he locked hisself into the library, like one as knowed he'd done
something to be ashamed on, half the night.'

'It's not happy, Larcom, I'm much afraid; it's _not_ happy,' and the
attorney rose, shaking his tall bald head, and his hands in his pockets,
and looked down in meditation.

'In the Dutch room, after tea, I suppose?' said the attorney.

'Before tea, Sir, just as Miss Lake harrived in the brougham.'

And so on. But there was no more to be learned, and Mr. Larcom returned
and attended the captain very reverentially at his solitary breakfast.

Mr. Jos. Larkin was away for London. And a very serene companion he was,
if not very brilliant. Everything was going perfectly smoothly with him.
A celestial gratitude glowed and expanded within his breast. His angling
had been prosperous hitherto, but just now he had made a miraculous
draught, and his nets and his heart were bursting. Delightful sentiment,
the gratitude of a righteous man; a man who knows that his heart is not
set upon the things of the world; who has, like King Solomon, made wisdom
his first object, and who finds riches added thereto!

There was no shadow of self-reproach to slur the sunny landscape. He had
made a splendid purchase from Captain Lake it was true. He drew his
despatch-box nearer to him affectionately, as he thought on the precious
records it contained. But who in this wide-awake world was better able to
take care of himself than the gallant captain? If it were not the best
thing for the captain, surely it would not have been done. Whom have I
defrauded? My hands are clean! He had made a still better purchase from
the vicar; but what would have become of the vicar if he had not been
raised up to purchase? And was it not speculative, and was it not
possible that he should lose all that money, and was it not, on the
whole, the wisest thing that the vicar, under his difficulties, could
have been advised to do?

So reasoned the good attorney, as with a languid smile and a sigh of
content, his long hand laid across the cover of the despatch-box by his
side, he looked forth through the plate-glass window upon the sunny
fields and hedgerows that glided by him, and felt the blessed assurance,
'look, whatsoever he doeth it shall prosper,' mingling in the hum of
surrounding nature. And as his eyes rested on the flying diorama of
trees, and farmsteads, and standing crops, and he felt already the pride
of a great landed proprietor, his long fingers fiddled pleasantly with
the rough tooling of his morocco leather box; and thinking of the signed
articles within, it seemed as though an angelic hand had placed them
there while he slept, so wondrous was it all; and he fancied under the
red tape a label traced in the neatest scrivenery, with a pencil of
light, containing such gratifying testimonials to his deserts, 'as well
done good and faithful servant,' 'the saints shall inherit the earth,'
and so following; and he sighed again in the delicious luxury of having
secured both heaven and mammon. And in this happy state, and volunteering
all manner of courtesies, opening and shutting windows, lending his
railway guide and his newspapers whenever he had an opportunity, he at
length reached the great London terminus, and was rattling over the
metropolitan pavement, with his hand on his despatch-box, to his cheap
hotel near the Strand.

CHAPTER LXV.

I REVISIT BRANDON HALL.

Rachel Lake was courageous and energetic; and, when once she had taken a
clear view of her duty, wonderfully persistent and impracticable. Her
dreadful interview with Jos. Larkin was always in her mind. The bleached
face, so meek, so cruel, of that shabby spectre, in the small, low
parlour of Redman's Farm, was always before her. There he had spoken the
sentences which made the earth tremble, and showed her distinctly the
cracking line beneath her feet, which would gape at his word into the
fathomless chasm that was to swallow her. But, come what might, she would
not abandon the vicar and his little boy, and good Dolly, to the arts of
that abominable magician.

The more she thought, the clearer her conviction. She had no one to
consult with; she knew the risk of exasperating that tall man of God, who
lived at the Lodge. But, determined to brave all, she went down to see
Dolly and the vicar at home.

Poor Dolly was tired; she had been sitting up all night with sick little
Fairy. He was better to-day; but last night he had frightened them so,
poor little man! he began to rave about eleven o'clock; and more or less
his little mind continued wandering until near six, when he fell into a
sound sleep, and seemed better for it; and it was such a blessing there
certainly was neither scarlatina nor small-pox, both which enemies had
appeared on the northern frontier of Gylingden, and were picking down
their two or three cases each in that quarter.

So Rachel first made her visit to little man, sitting up in his bed, very
pale and thin, and looking at her, not with his pretty smile, but a
languid, earnest wonder, and not speaking. How quickly and strikingly
sickness tells upon children. Little man's frugal store of toys, chiefly
the gifts of pleasant Rachel, wild beasts, Noah and his sons, and part of
a regiment of foot soldiers, with the usual return of broken legs and
missing arms, stood peacefully mingled upon the board across his bed
which served as a platform.

But little man was leaning back; his fingers once so busy, lay motionless
on the coverlet, and his tired eyes rested on the toys with a joyless,
earnest apathy.

'Didn't play with them a minute,' said the maid.

'I'll bring him a new box. I'm going into the town; won't that be
pretty?' said Rachel, parting his golden locks over the young forehead,
and kissing him; and she took his little hand in hers--it was hot and
dry.

'He looks better--a little better, don't you think; just a little
better?' whispered his mamma, looking, as all the rest were, on that wan,
sad little face.

But he really looked worse.

'Well, he can't look better, you know, dear, till there's a decided
change. What does Doctor Buddle say?'

'He saw him yesterday morning. He thinks it's all from his stomach, and
he's feverish; no meat. Indeed he won't eat anything, and you see the
light hurts his eyes.

There was only a chink of the shutter open.

'But it is always so when he is ever so little ill, my precious little
man; and I _know_ if he thought it anything the _least_ serious, Doctor
Buddle would have looked in before now, he's so very kind.'

'I wish my darling could get a little sleep. He's very tired, nurse,'
said Rachel.

'Yes'm, very tired'm; would he like his precious head lower a bit? No;
very well, darling, we'll leave it so.'

'Dolly, darling, you and nurse must be so tired sitting up. I have a
little wine at Redman's Farm. I got it, you remember, more than a year
ago, when Stanley said he was coming to pay me a visit. I never take any,
and a little would be so good for you and poor nurse. I'll send some to
you.'

So coming down stairs Rachel said, 'Is the vicar at home?' Yes, he was in
the study, and there they found him brushing his seedy hat, and making
ready for his country calls in the neighbourhood of the town. The hour
was dull without little Fairy; but he would soon be up and out again, and
he would steal up now and see him. He could not go out without his little
farewell at the bed-side, and he would bring him in some pretty flowers.

'You've seen little Fairy!' asked the good vicar, with a very anxious
smile, 'and you think him better, dear Miss Lake, don't you?'

'Why, I can't say that, because you know, so soon as he's better, he'll
be quite well; they make their recoveries all in a moment.'

'But he does not look worse?' said the vicar, lifting his eyes eagerly
from his boot, which he was buttoning on the chair.

'Well, he _does_ look more _tired_, but that must be till his recovery
begins, which will be, please Heaven, immediately.'

'Oh, yes, my little man has had two or three attacks _much_ more serious
than this, and always shook them off so easily, I was reminding Dolly,
always, and good Doctor Buddle assures us it is none of those horrid
complaints.'

And so they talked over the case of the little man, who with Noah and his
sons, and the battered soldiers and animals before him, was fighting,
though they only dimly knew it, silently in his little bed, the great
battle of life or death.

'Mr. Larkin came to me the evening before last,' said Rachel, '_and told
me_ that the little sum I mentioned--now don't say a word till you have
heard me--was not sufficient; so I want to tell you what I have quite
resolved on. I have been long intending some time or other to change my
place of residence, perhaps I shall go to Switzerland, and I have made up
my mind to sell my rent-charge on the Dulchester estate. It will produce,
Mr. Young says, a very large sum, and I wish to lend it to you, either
_all_ or as much as will make you _quite_ comfortable--you must not
refuse. I had intended leaving it to my dear little man up stairs; and
you must promise me solemnly that you will not listen to the advice of
that bad, cruel man, Mr. Larkin.'

'My dear Miss Lake, you misunderstood him. But what can I say--how can I
thank you?' said the vicar, clasping her hand.

'A wicked and merciless man, I say,' repeated Miss Lake. 'From my
observation of him, I am certain of two things--I am sure that he has
some reason for thinking that your brother, Mark Wylder, is dead; and
secondly, that he is himself deeply interested in the purchase of your
reversion. I feel a little ill; Dolly, open the window.'

There was a silence for a little while, and Rachel resumed:--

'Now, William Wylder, I am convinced, that you and your wife (and she
kissed Dolly), and your dear little boy, are marked out for plunder--the
objects of a conspiracy; and I'll lose my life, but I'll prevent it.'

'Now, maybe, Willie, upon my word, perhaps, she's quite right; for, you
know, if poor Mark is dead, then would not _he_ have the estate _now_; is
not that it, Miss Lake, and--and, you know, that would be dreadful, to
sell it all for next to nothing, is not that what you mean, Miss
Lake--Rachel dear, I mean.'

'Yes, Dolly, stripping yourselves of a splendid inheritance, and robbing
your poor little boy. I protest, in the name of Heaven, against it, and
you have no excuse now, William, with my offer before you; and, Dolly, it
will be inexcusable _wickedness_ in you, if you allow it.'

'Now, Willie dear, do you hear that--do you hear what she says?'

'But, Dolly darling--dear Miss Lake, there is no reason whatever to
suppose that poor Mark is dead,' said the vicar, very pale.

'I tell you again, I am convinced the attorney _believes_ it. He did not
say so, indeed; but, cunning as he is, I think I've quite seen through
his plot; and even in what he said to me, there was something that half
betrayed him every moment. And, Dolly, if you allow this sale, you
deserve the ruin you are inviting, and the remorse that will follow you
to your grave.'

'Do you hear that, Willie?' said Dolly, with her hand on his arm.

'But, dear, it is too late--I _have_ signed this--this instrument--and it
is too late. I hope--God help me--I have not done wrong. Indeed, whatever
happens, dear Miss Lake, may Heaven for ever bless you. But respecting
good Mr. Larkin, you are, indeed, in error; I am sure you have quite
misunderstood him. You don't know how kind--how _disinterestedly_ good he
has been; and _now_, my dear Miss Lake, it is too late--_quite_ too
late.'

'No; it is _not_ too late. Such wickedness as that cannot be lawful--I
won't believe the law allows it,' cried Rachel Lake. 'It is all a
fraud--even if you have signed--all a fraud. You must procure able advice
at once. Your enemy is that dreadful Mr. Larkin. Write to some good
attorney in London. I'll pay everything.'

'But, dear Miss Lake, I can't,' said the vicar, dejectedly; 'I am bound
in honour and conscience not to disturb it--I have written to Messrs.
Burlington and Smith to that effect. I assure you, dear Miss Lake, we
have not acted inconsiderately--nothing has been done without careful and
deep consideration.'

'You _must_ employ an able attorney immediately. You have been duped.
Your little boy must not be ruined.'

'But--but I do assure you, I have so pledged myself by the letter I have
mentioned, that I _could_ not--no, it is _quite impossible_,' he added,
as he recollected the strong and pointed terms in which he had pledged
his honour and conscience to the London firm, to guarantee them against
any such disturbance as Miss Lake was urging him to attempt.

'I am going into the town, Dolly, and so are you,' said Rachel, after a
little pause. 'Let us go together.'

And to this Dolly readily assented; and the vicar, evidently much
troubled in mind, having run up to the nursery to see his little man, the
two ladies set out together. Rachel saw that she had made an impression
upon Dolly, and was resolved to carry her point. So, in earnest terms,
again she conjured her, at least, to lay the whole matter before some
friend on whom she could rely; and Dolly, alarmed and eager, quite agreed
with Rachel, that the sale must be stopped, and she would do whatever
dear Rachel bid her.

'But do you think Mr. Larkin really supposes that poor Mark is dead?'

'I do, dear--I suspect he knows it.'

'And what makes you think that, Rachel, darling?'

'I can't define--I've no proofs to give you. One knows things, sometimes.
I perceived it--and I think I can't be mistaken; and now I've said all,
and pray ask me no more upon that point.'

Rachel spoke with a hurried and fierce impatience, that rather startled
her companion.

It is wonderful that she showed her state of mind so little. There was,
indeed, something feverish, and at times even fierce, in her looks and
words. But few would have guessed her agony, as she pleaded with the
vicar and his wife; or the awful sense of impending consequences that
closed over her like the shadow of night, the moment the excitement of
her pleading was over--'Rachel, are you mad?--Fly, fly, fly!' was always
sounding in her ears. The little street of Gylingden, through which they
were passing, looked strange and dream-like. And as she listened to Mrs.
Crinkle's babble over the counter, and chose his toys for poor little
'Fairy,' she felt like one trifling on the way to execution.

But her warnings and entreaties, I have said, were not quite thrown away;
for, although the vicar was inflexible, she had prevailed with his wife,
who, at parting, again promised Rachel, that if she could do it, the sale
should be stopped.

When I returned to Brandon, a few mornings later, Captain Lake received
me joyfully at his solitary breakfast. He was in an intense
electioneering excitement. The evening papers for the day before lay on
the breakfast table.

'A move of some sort suspected--the opposition prints all hinting at
tricks and ambuscades. They are whipping their men up awfully. Old
Wattles, not half-recovered, went by the early train yesterday, Wealdon
tells me. It will probably kill him. Stower went up the day before. Lee
says he saw him at Charteris. He never speaks--only a vote--and a fellow
that never appears till the minute.'

'Brittle, the member for Stoney-Muckford, was in the next carriage to me
yesterday; and he's a slow coach, too,' I threw in. 'It does look as if
the division was nearer than they pretend.'

'Just so. I heard from Gybes last evening--what a hand that fellow
writes--only a dozen words--"Look out for squalls," and "keep your men in
hand." I've sent for Wealdon. I wish the morning papers were come. I'm a
quarter past eleven--what are you? The post's in at Dollington fifty
minutes before we get our letters here. D--d nonsense--it's all that
heavy 'bus of Driver's--I'll change that. They leave London at five, and
get to Dollington at half-past ten, and Driver never has them in sooner
than twenty minutes past eleven! D--d humbug! I'd undertake to take a
dog-cart over the ground in twenty minutes.'

'Is Larkin here?' I asked.

'Oh, no--run up to town. I'm so glad he's away--the clumsiest dog in
England--nothing clever--no invention--only a bully--the people hate him.
Wealdon's my man. I wish he'd give up that town-clerkship--it can't be
worth much, and it's in his way--I'd make it up to him somehow. Will you
just look at that--it's the 'Globe'--only six lines, and tell me what
_you_ make of it?'

'It does look like it, certainly.'

'Wealdon and I have jotted down a few names here,' said Lake, sliding a
list of names before me; 'you know some of them, I think--rather a strong
committee; don't you think so? Those fellows with the red cross before
have promised.'

'Yes; it's very strong--capital!' I said, crunching my toast. 'Is it
thought the writs will follow the dissolution unusually quickly?'

'They must, unless they want a very late session. But it is quite
possible the government may win--a week ago they reckoned upon eleven.'

And as we were talking the post arrived.

'Here they are!' cried Lake, and grasping the first morning paper he
could seize on, he tore it open with a greater display of energy than I
had seen that languid gentleman exhibit on any former occasion.

CHAPTER LXVI.

LADY MACBETH.

'Here it is,' said the captain. 'Beaten'--then came an oath--'three
votes--how the devil was that?--there it is, by Jove--no
mistake--majority against ministers, three! Is that the "Times?" What
does _it_ say?'

'A long leader--no resignation--immediate dissolution. That is what I
collect from it.'

'How on earth could they have miscalculated so! Swivell, I see, voted in
the majority; that's very odd; and, by Jove, there's Surplice, too, and
he's good for seven votes. Why his own paper was backing the ministers!
What a fellow that is! That accounts for it all. A difference of fourteen
votes.'

And thus we went on, discussing this unexpected turn of luck, and reading
to one another snatches of the leading articles in different interests
upon the subject.

Then Lake, recollecting his letters, opened a large-sealed envelope, with
S.C.G. in the corner.

'This is from Gybes--let us see. Oh! _before_ the division. "It looks a
little fishy," he says--well, so it does--"We may take the division
to-night. Should it prove adverse, you are to expect an immediate
dissolution; this on _the best authority_. I write to mention this, as I
may be too much hurried to-morrow."'

We were discussing this note when Wealdon arrived.

'Well, captain; great news, Sir. The best thing, I take it, could have
happened ministers, ha, ha, ha! A rotten house--down with it--blow it
up--three votes only--but as good as three hundred for the purpose--of
the three hundred, grant but three, you know--of course, they don't think
of resigning.'

'Oh, dear, no--an immediate dissolution. Read that,' said Lake, tossing
Gybes' note to him.

'Ho, then, we'll have the writs down hot and heavy. We must be sharp. The
sheriff's all right; that's a point. You must not lose an hour in getting
your committee together, and printing your address.'

'Who's on the other side?'

'You'll have Jennings, of course; but they are talking of four different
men, already, to take Sir Harry Twisden's place. _He'll_ resign; that's
past a doubt now. He has his retiring address written; Lord Edward Mordun
read it; and he told FitzStephen on Sunday, after church, that he'd never
sit again.'

'Here, by Jove, is a letter from Mowbray,' said Lake, opening it. 'All
about his brother George. Hears I'm up for the county. Lord George ready
to join and go halves. What shall I say?'

'Could not have a better man. Tell him you desire no better, and will
bring it at once before your committee; and let him know, the moment they
meet; and tell him _I_ say he knows Wealdon pretty well--he may look on
it as settled. That will be a spoke in Sir Harry's wheel.'

'Sir Harry who?' said Lake.

'Bracton. I think it's only to spoil your game, you see,' answered
Wealdon.

'Abundance of malice; but I don't think he's countenanced?'

'He'll try to get the start of you; and if he does, one or other must go
to the wall; for Lord George is too strong to be shook out. Do _you_ get
forward at once; that's your plan, captain.'

Then the captain recurred to his letters, which were a larger pack than
usual this morning, chatting all the time with Wealdon and me on the
tremendous topic, and tossing aside every letter that did not bear on the
coming struggle.

'Who can this be?' said Lake, looking at the address of one of these.
'Very like my hand,' and he examined the seal. It was only a large
wafer-stamp, so he broke it open, and drew out a shabby, very ill-written
scroll. He turned suddenly away, talking the while, but with his eyes
upon the note, and then he folded, or rather crumpled it up, and stuffed
it into his pocket, and continued his talk; but it was now plain to me
there was something more on his mind, and he was thinking of the shabby
letter he had just received.

But, no matter; the election was the pressing topic, and Lake was soon
engaged in it again.

There was now a grand _coup_ under discussion--the forestalling of all
the horses and vehicles along the line of railway, and in all the
principal posting establishments throughout the county.

'They'll want to keep it open for a bid from the other side. It is a
heavy item any way; and if you want to engage them now, you'll have to
give double what they got last time.'

But Lake was not to be daunted. He wanted the seat, and would stick at
nothing to secure it; and so, Wealdon got instructions, in his own
phrase, to go the whole animal.

As I could be of no possible use in local details, I left the council of
war sitting, intending a stroll in the grounds.

In the hall, I met the mistress of the house, looking very handsome, but
with a certain witch-like beauty, very pale, something a little haggard
in her great, dark eyes, and a strange, listening look. Was it
watchfulness? was it suspicion? She was dressed gravely but richly, and
received me kindly--and, strange to say, with a smile that, yet, was not
joyful.

'I hope she is happy. Lake is such a beast; I hope he does not bully
her.'

In truth, there were in her exquisite features the traces of that
mysterious misery and fear which seemed to fall wherever Stanley Lake's
ill-omened confidences were given.

I walked down one of the long alleys, with tall, close hedges of beech,
as impenetrable as cloister walls to sight, and watched the tench basking
and flickering in the clear pond, and the dazzling swans sailing
majestically along.

What a strange passion is ambition, I thought. Is it really the passion
of great minds, or of little. Here is Lake, with a noble old place,
inexhaustible in variety; with a beautiful, and I was by this time
satisfied, a very singular and interesting woman for his wife, who must
have married him for love, pure and simple; a handsome fortune; the power
to bring his friends--those whom he liked, or who amused him--about him,
and to indulge luxuriously every reasonable fancy, willing to forsake
all, and follow the beck of that phantom. Had he knowledge, public
talents, training? Nothing of the sort. Had he patriotism, any one noble
motive or fine instinct to prompt him to public life? The mere suggestion
was a sneer. It seemed to me, simply, that Stanley Lake was a lively,
amusing, and even intelligent man, without any internal resource; vacant,
peevish, with an unmeaning passion for corruption and intrigue, and the
sort of egotism which craves distinction. So I supposed.

Yet, with all its weakness, there was a dangerous force in the character
which, on the whole, inspired an odd mixture of fear and contempt. I was
bitten, however, already, by the interest of the coming contest. It is
very hard to escape that subtle and intoxicating poison. I wondered what
figure Stanley would make as a hustings orator, and what impression in
his canvass. The latter, I was pretty confident about. Altogether,
curiosity, if no deeper sentiment, was highly piqued; and I was glad I
happened to drop in at the moment of action, and wished to see the play
out.

At the door of her boudoir, Rachel Lake met Dorcas.

'I am so glad, Radie, dear, you are come. You must take off your things,
and stay. You must not leave me to-night. We'll send home for whatever
you want; and you won't leave me, Radie, I'm certain.'

'I'll stay, dear, as you wish it,' said Rachel, kissing her.

'Did you see Stanley? I have not seen him to-day,' said Dorcas.

'No, dear; I peeped into the library, but he was not there; and there are
two men writing in the Dutch room, very busily,'

'It must be about the election.'

'What election, dear?' asked Rachel.

'There is going to be an election for the county, and--only think--he
intends coming forward. I sometimes think he is mad, Radie.'

'I could not have supposed such a thing. If I were he, I think I should
fly to the antipodes. I should change my name, sear my features with
vitriol, and learn another language. I should obliterate my past self
altogether; but men are so different, so audacious--some men, at
least--and Stanley, ever since his ill-omened arrival at Redman's Farm,
last autumn, has amazed and terrified me.'

'I think, Radie, we have both courage--_you_ have certainly; you have
shown it, darling, and you must cease to blame yourself; I think you a
_heroine_, Radie; but you know _I_ see with the wild eyes of the
Brandons.'

'I am grateful, Dorcas, that you don't hate me. Most women I am sure
would abhor me--yes, Dorcas--_abhor_ me.'

'You and I against the world, Radie!' said Dorcas, with a wild smile and
a dark admiration in her look, and kissing Rachel again. 'I used to think
myself brave; it belongs to women of our blood; but this is no common
strain upon courage, Radie. I've grown to fear Stanley somehow like a
ghost; I fear it is even worse than he says,' and she looked with a
horrible enquiry into Rachel's eyes.

'So do _I_, Dorcas,' said Rachel, in a firm low whisper, returning her
look as darkly.

'What's done cannot be undone,' said Rachel, sadly, after a little pause,
unconsciously quoting from a terrible soliloquy of Shakespeare.

'I know what you mean, Radie; and you warned me, with a strange
second-sight, before the evil was known to either of us. It was an
irrevocable step, and I took it, not seeing all that has happened, it is
true; but forewarned. And this I will say, Radie, if I _had_ known the
worst, I think even that would not have deterred me. It was madness--it
_is_ madness, for I love him still. Rachel, though I know him and his
wickedness, and am filled with horror--I love him desperately.'

'I am very glad,' said Rachel, 'that you do know everything. It is so
great a relief to have companionship. I often thought I must go mad in my
solitude.'

'Poor Rachel! I think you wonderful--I think you a heroine--I do, Radie;
you and I are made for one another--the same blood--something of the same
wild nature; I can admire you, and understand you, and will always love
you.'

'I've been with William Wylder and Dolly. That wicked attorney, Mr.
Larkin, is resolved on robbing them. I wish they had anyone able to
advise them. Stanley I am sure could save them; but he does not choose to
do it. He was always so angry when I urged him to help them, that I knew
it would be useless asking him; I don't think he knows what Mr. Larkin
has been doing; but, Dorcas, I am afraid the very same thought has been
in his mind.'

'I hope not, Radie,' and Dorcas sighed deeply. 'Everything is so
wonderful and awful in the light that has come.'

That morning, poor William Wylder had received a letter from Jos. Larkin,
Esq., mentioning that he had found Messrs. Burlington and Smith anything
but satisfied with him--the vicar. What exactly he had done to disoblige
them he could not bring to mind. But Jos. Larkin told him that he had
done all in his power 'to satisfy them of the _bon� fide_ character' of
his reverend client's dealings from the first. But 'they still express
themselves dissatisfied upon the point, and appear to suspect a
disposition to shilly-shally.' I have said 'all I could to disabuse them
of the unpleasant prejudice; but I think I should hardly be doing my duty
if I were not to warn you that you will do wisely to exhibit no
hesitation in the arrangements by which your agreement is to be carried
out, and that in the event of your showing the slightest disposition to
qualify the spirit of your strong note to them, or in anywise
disappointing their client, you must be prepared, from what I know of the
firm, for very sharp practice indeed.'

What could they do to him, or why should they hurt him, or what had he
done to excite either the suspicion or the temper of the firm? They
expected their client, the purchaser, in a day or two. He was already
grumbling at the price, and certainly would stand no trifling. Neither
would Messrs. Burlington and Smith, who, he must admit, had gone to very
great expense in investigating title, preparing deeds, &c., and who were
noted as a very expensive house. He was aware that they were in a
position to issue an execution on the guarantee for the entire amount of
their costs; but he thought so extreme a measure would hardly be
contemplated, notwithstanding their threats, unless the purchaser were to
withdraw or the vendor to exhibit symptoms of--he would not repeat their
phrase--irresolution in his dealing. He had, however, placed the vicar's
letter in their hands, and had accompanied it with his own testimony to
the honour and character of the Rev. William Wylder, which he was happy
to say seemed to have considerable weight with Messrs. Burlington and
Smith. There was also this passage, 'Feeling acutely the anxiety into
which the withdrawal of the purchaser must throw you--though I trust
nothing of that sort may occur--I told them that rather than have you
thrown upon your beam-ends by such an occurrence, I would myself step in
and purchase on the terms agreed on. This will, I trust, quiet them on
the subject of their costs, and also prevent any low _dodging_ on the
part of the purchaser.'

This letter would almost seem to have been written with a supernatural
knowledge of what was passing in Gylingden, and was certainly well
contrived to prevent the vicar from wavering.

But all this time the ladies are conversing in Dorcas's boudoir.

'This election frightens me, Radie--everything frightens me now--but this
is _so_ audacious. If there be powers either in heaven or hell, it seems
like a defiance and an invocation. I am glad you are here, Radie--I have
grown so nervous--so superstitious, I believe; watching always for signs
and omens. Oh, darling, the world's ghastly for me now.'

'I wish, Dorcas, we were away--as you used to say--in some wild and
solitary retreat, living together--two recluses--but all that is
visionary--quite visionary now.'

Dorcas sighed.

'You know, Rachel, the world must not see this--we will carry our heads
high. Wicked men, and brave and suffering women--that is the history of
our family--and men and women always quite unlike the rest of the
world--unlike the human race; and somehow they interest me unspeakably. I
wish I knew more about those proud, forlorn beauties, whose portraits are
fading on the walls. Their spirit, I am sure, is in us, Rachel; and their
pictures and traditions have always supported me. When I was a little
thing, I used to look at them with a feeling of melancholy and mystery.
They were in my eyes, reserved prophetesses, who could speak, if they
would, of my own future.'

'A poor support, Dorcas--a broken reed. I wish we could find another--the
true one, in the present, and in the coming time.'

Dorcas smiled faintly, and I think there was a little gleam of a ghastly
satire in it. I am afraid that part of her education which deals with
futurity had been neglected.

'I am more likely to turn into a Lady Macbeth than a _d�vote_,' said she,
coldly, with the same painful smile. 'I found myself last night sitting
up in my bed, talking in the dark about it.'

There was a silence for a time, and Rachel said,--

'It is growing late, Dorcas.'

'But you must not go, Rachel--you _must_ stay and keep me company--you
must, _indeed_, Radie,' said Dorcas.

'So I will,' she answered; 'but I must send a line to old Tamar; and I
promised Dolly to go down to her to-night, if that darling little boy
should be worse--I am very unhappy about him.'

'And is he in danger, the handsome little fellow?' said Dorcas.

'Very great danger, I fear,' said Rachel. 'Doctor Buddle has been very
kind--but he is, I am afraid, more desponding than poor William or Dolly
imagines--Heaven help them!'

'But children recover wonderfully. What is his ailment?'

'Gastric fever, the doctor says. I had a foreboding of evil the moment I
saw him--before the poor little man was put to his bed.'

Dorcas rang the bell.

'Now, Radie, if you wish to write, sit down here--or if you prefer a
message, Thomas can take one very accurately; and he shall call at the
vicar's, and see Dolly, and bring us word how the dear little boy is. And
don't fancy, darling, I have forgotten what you said to me about
duty--though I would call it differently--only I feel so wild, I can
think of nothing clearly yet. But I am making up my mind to a great and
bold step, and when I am better able, I will talk it over with you--my
only friend, Rachel.'

And she kissed her.

CHAPTER LXVII.

MR. LARKIN IS VIS-A-VIS WITH A CONCEALED COMPANION.

The time had now arrived when our friend Jos. Larkin was to refresh the
village of Gylingden with his presence. He had pushed matters forward
with wonderful despatch. The deeds, with their blue and silver stamps,
were handsomely engrossed--having been approved in draft by Crompton S.
Kewes, the eminent Queen's Counsel, on a case furnished by Jos. Larkin,
Esq., The Lodge, Brandon Manor, Gylingden, on behalf of his client, the
Reverend William Wylder; and in like manner on behalf of Stanley Williams
Brandon Lake, of Brandon Hall, in the county of ----, Esq.

In neither draft did Jos. Larkin figure as the purchaser by name. He did
not care for advice on any difficulty depending on his special relations
to the vendors in both these cases. He wished, as was his custom,
everything above-board, and such 'an opinion' as might be published by
either client in the 'Times' next day if he pleased it. Besides these
matters of Wylder and of Lake, he had also a clause to insert in a
private Act, on behalf of the trustees of the Baptist Chapel, at Naunton
Friars; a short deed to be consulted upon on behalf of his client, Pudder
Swynfen, Esq., of Swynfen Grange, in the same county; and a deed to be
executed at Shillingsworth, which he would take _en route_ for Gylingden,
stopping there for that night, and going on by next morning's train.

Those little trips to town paid very fairly.

In this particular case his entire expenses reached exactly �5 3_s._, and
what do you suppose was the good man's profit upon that small item?
Precisely �62 7_s._! The process is simple, Jos. Larkin made his own
handsome estimate of his expenses, and the value of his time to and from
London, and then he charged this in its entirety--shall we say
integrity--to each client separately. In this little excursion he was
concerned for no less than _five_.

His expenses, I say, reached exactly �5 3_s_. But he had a right to go to
Dondale's if he pleased, instead of that cheap hostelry near Covent
Garden. He had a right to a handsome lunch and a handsome dinner, instead
of that economical fusion of both meals into one, at a cheap
eating-house, in an out-of-the-way quarter. He had a right to his pint of
high-priced wine, and to accomplish his wanderings in a cab, instead of,
as the Italians say, 'partly on foot, and partly walking.' Therefore, and
on this principle, Mr. Jos. Larkin had 'no difficulty' in acting. His
savings, if the good man chose to practise self-denial, were his own--and
it was a sort of problem while he stayed, and interested him
curiously--keeping down his bill in matters which he would not have
dreamed of denying himself at home.

The only client among his wealthy supporters, who ever went in a grudging
spirit into one of these little bills of Jos. Larkin's, was old Sir
Mulgrave Bracton--the defunct parent of the Sir Harry, with whom we are
acquainted.

'Don't you think, Mr. Larkin, you could perhaps reduce _this_, just a
little?'

'Ah, the expenses?'

'Well, yes.'

Mr. Jos. Larkin smiled--the smile said plainly, 'what would he have me
live upon, and where?' We do meet persons of this sort, who would fain
'fill our bellies with the husks' that swine digest; what of that--we
must remember who we are--_gentlemen_--and answer this sort of
shabbiness, and every other endurable annoyance, as Lord Chesterfield
did--with a bow and a smile.

'I think so,' said the baronet, in a bluff, firm way.

'Well, the fact is, when I represent a client, Sir Mulgrave Bracton, of a
certain rank and position, I make it a principle--and, as a man of
business, I find it tells--to present myself in a style that is suitably
handsome.'

'Oh! an expensive house--_where_ was this, now?'

'Oh, Sir Mulgrave, pray don't think of it--I'm only too happy--pray, draw
your pen across the entire thing.'

'I think so,' said the baronet unexpectedly. 'Don't you think if we said
a pound a-day, and your travelling expenses?'

'Certainly--_any_thing--what_ever_ you please, Sir.'

And the attorney waved his long hand a little, and smiled almost
compassionately; and the little alteration was made, and henceforward he
spoke of Sir Mulgrave as not quite a pleasant man to deal with in money
matters; and his confidential friends knew that in a transaction in which
he had paid money out of his own pocket for Sir Mulgrave he had never got
back more than seven and sixpence in the pound; and, what made it worse,
it was a matter connected with the death of poor Lady Bracton! And he
never lost an opportunity of conveying his opinion of Sir Mulgrave,
sometimes in distinct and confidential sentences, and sometimes only by a
sad shake of his head, or by awfully declining to speak upon the subject.

In the present instance Jos. Larkin was returning in a heavenly frame of
mind to the Lodge, Brandon Manor, Gylingden. Whenever he was away he
interpolated 'Brandon Manor,' and stuck it on his valise and hat-case;
and liked to call aloud to the porters tumbling among the luggage--'Jos.
Larkin, Esquire, _Brandon Manor, if_ you please;' and to see the people
read the inscription in the hall of his dingy hostelry. Well might the
good man glow with a happy consciousness of a blessing. In small things
as in great he was prosperous.

This little excursion to London would cost him, as I said, exactly �5
3_s._ It might have cost him �13 10_s._ and at that sum his expenses
figured in his ledger; and as he had five clients on this occasion, the
total reached �67 10_s._, leaving a clear profit, as I have mentioned, of
�62 7_s._ on this item.

But what was this little tip from fortune, compared with the splendid
pieces of scrivenery in his despatch box. The white parchment--the blue
and silver stamps in the corner--the German text and flourishes at the
top, and those broad, horizontal lines of recital, `habendum,' and so
forth--marshalled like an army in procession behind his march of triumph
into Five Oaks, to take the place of its deposed prince? From the
captain's deed to the vicar's his mind glanced fondly.

He would yet stand the highest man in his county. He had found time for a
visit to the King-at-Arms and the Heralds' Office. He would have his
pictures and his pedigree. His grandmother had been a Howard. Her branch,
indeed, was a little under a cloud, keeping a small provision-shop in the
town of Dwiddleston. But this circumstance need not be in prominence. She
was a Howard--_that_ was the fact he relied on--no mortal could gainsay
it; and he would be, first, J. Howard Larkin, then Howard Larkin, simply;
then Howard Larkin Howard, and the Five Gaks' Howards would come to be
very great people indeed. And the Brandons had intermarried with other
Howards, and Five Oaks would naturally, therefore, go to Howards; and so
he and his, with clever management, would be anything but _novi homines_
in the county.

'He shall be like a tree planted by the water-side, that will bring forth
his fruit in due season. His leaf also shall not wither. So thought this
good man complacently. He liked these fine consolations of the Jewish
dispensation--actual milk and honey, and a land of promise on which he
could set his foot. Jos. Larkin, Esq., was as punctual as the clock at
the terminus. He did not come a minute too soon or too late, but
precisely at the moment which enabled him, without fuss, and without a
tiresome wait, to proceed to the details of ticket, luggage, selection of
place, and ultimate ascension thereto.

So now having taken all measures, gliding among the portmanteaus,
hand-barrows, and porters, and the clangorous bell ringing, he mounted,
lithe and lank, into his place.

There was a pleasant evening light still, and the gas-lamps made a
purplish glow against it. The little butter-cooler of a glass lamp
glimmered from the roof. Mr. Larkin established himself, and adjusted his
rug and mufflers about him, for, notwithstanding the season, there had
been some cold, rainy weather, and the evening was sharp; and he set his
two newspapers, his shilling book, and other triumphs of cheap literature
in sundry shapes, in the vacant seat at his left hand, and made
everything handsome about him. He glanced to the other end of the
carriage, where sat his solitary fellow-passenger. This gentleman was
simply a mass of cloaks and capes, culminating in a queer battered felt
hat; his shoulders were nestled into the corner, and his face buried
among his loose mufflers. They sat at corners diagonally opposed, and
were, therefore, as far apart as was practicable--an arrangement, not
sociable, to be sure, but on the whole, very comfortable, and which
neither seemed disposed to disturb.

Mr. Larkin had a word to say to the porter from the window, and bought
one more newspaper; and then looked out on the lamplit platform, and saw
the officials loitering off to the clang of the carriage doors; then came
the whistle, and then the clank and jerk of the start. And so the brick
walls and lamps began to glide backward, and the train was off.

Jos. Larkin tried his newspaper, and read for ten minutes, or so, pretty
diligently; and then looked for a while from the window, upon receding
hedgerows and farmsteads, and the level and spacious landscape; and then
he leaned back luxuriously, his newspaper listlessly on his knees, and
began to read, instead, at his ease, the shapeless, wrapt-up figure
diagonally opposite.

The quietude of the gentleman in the far corner was quite singular. He
produced neither tract, nor newspaper, nor volume--not even a pocket-book
or a letter. He brought forth no cigar-case, with the stereotyped, 'Have
you any objection to my smoking a cigar?' He did not even change his
attitude ever so little. A burly roll of cloaks, rugs, capes, and loose
wrappers, placed in the corner, and _tanquam cadaver_, passive and
motionless.

I have sometimes in my travels lighted on a strangely shaped mountain,
whose huge curves, and sombre colouring have interested me indefinably.
In the rude mass at the far angle, Mr. Jos. Larkin, I fancy, found some
such subject of contemplation. And the more he looked, the more he felt
disposed to look.

As they got on there was more night fog, and the little lamp at top shone
through a halo. The fellow-passenger at the opposite angle lay back, all
cloaks and mufflers, with nothing distinct emerging but the felt hat at
top, and the tip--it was only the tip now--of the shining shoe on the
floor.

The gentleman was absolutely motionless and silent. And Mr. Larkin,
though his mind was pretty universally of the inquisitive order, began in
this particular case to feel a special curiosity. It was partly the
monotony and their occupying the carriage all to themselves--as the two
uncommunicative seamen did the Eddystone Lighthouse--but there was,
beside, an indistinct feeling, that, in spite of all these wrappers and
swathings, he knew the outlines of that figure; and yet the likeness must
have been of the rudest possible sort.

He could not say that he recognised anything distinctly--only he fancied
that some one he knew was sitting there, unrevealed, inside that mass of
clothing. And he felt, moreover, as if he ought to be able to guess who
he was.

CHAPTER LXVIII.

THE COMPANION DISCLOSES HIMSELF.

But this sort of musing and wonderment leads to nothing; and Mr. Jos.
Larkin being an active-minded man, and practical withal, in a little
while shook it off, and from his breast-pocket took a tiny treasure of a
pocket-book, in which were some bank-notes, precious memoranda in pencil,
and half-a-dozen notes and letters, bearing upon cases and negotiations
on which, at this juncture, he was working.

Into these he got, and now and then brought out a letter bearing on some
point of speculation, and read it through, and then closed his eyes for
three minutes at a time, and thought. But he had not his tin boxes there;
and, with a man of his stamp, speculation, which goes upon guess as to
dates and quantities, which are all ascertainable by reference to black
and white, soon loses its interest. And the evidence in his pocket being
pretty soon exhausted, he glanced again at his companion over the way.

He had not moved all this while. He had a high stand-up collar to the
cape he wore, which covered his cheeks and nose and outside was loosely
swathed a large, cream-coloured, cashmere handkerchief. The battered felt
hat covered his forehead and eyebrows, and left, in fact, but a narrow
streak of separation between.

Through this, however, for the first time, Jos. Larkin now saw the
glitter of a pair of eyes gazing at him, he fancied. At all events there
was the glitter, and the gentleman was awake.

Jos. returned the gentleman's gaze. It was his lofty aristocratic stare;
and he expected to see the glittering lights that peeped through the dark
chink between brim and collar shut up under its rebuke. But nothing of
the kind took place, and the ocular exercises of the attorney were
totally ineffectual.

If the fellow knew that his fixed stare was observed through his narrow
embrasure--and Larkin thought he could hardly be insensible to the
reproof of his return fire--he must be a particularly impertinent person.
It would be ridiculous, however, to continue a contest of this kind; so
the attorney lowered the window and looked out. Then he pulled it up, and
took to his newspaper again, and read the police cases, and a very
curious letter from a poor-house doctor, describing a boy who was quite
blind in daylight, but could see very fairly by gas or candle light, and
then he lighted upon a very odd story, and said to be undergoing special
sifting at the hands of Sir Samuel Squailes, of a policeman on a certain
beat, in Fleet Street, not far from Temple Bar, who every night saw, at
or about the same hour, a certain suspicious-looking figure walk along
the flag-way and enter a passage. Night after night he pursued this
figure, but always lost it in the same passage. On the last occasion,
however, he succeeded in keeping him in view, and came up with him in a
court, when he was rewarded with a sight of such a face as caused him to
fall to the ground in a fit. This was the Clampcourt ghost, and I believe
he was left in that debatable state, and never after either exploded or
confirmed.

So having ended all these studies, the attorney lifted up his eyes again,
as he lowered his newspaper, and beheld the same glittering gaze fixed
upon him through the same horizontal cranny.

He fancied the eyes were laughing. He could not be sure, of course, but
at all events the persistent stare was extremely, and perhaps
determinedly, impertinent. Forgetting the constitutional canon through
which breathes the genuine spirit of British liberty, he felt for a
moment that he was such a king as that cat had no business to look at;
and he might, perhaps, have politely intimated something of the kind, had
not the enveloped offender made a slight and lazy turn which, burying his
chin still deeper in his breast, altogether concealed his eyes, and so
closed the offensive scrutiny.

In making this change in his position, slight as it was, the gentleman in
the superfluous clothing reminded Mr. Jos. Larkin very sharply for an
instant of--_some_body. There was the rub; who could it be?

The figure was once more a mere mountain of rug. What was the peculiarity
in that slight movement--something in the knee? something in the elbow?
something in the general character?

Why had he not spoken to him? The opportunity, for the present, was past.
But he was now sure that his fellow-traveller was an acquaintance, who
had probably recognised him. Larkin--except when making a mysterious trip
at election times, or in an emergency, in a critical case--was a frank,
and as he believed could be a fascinating _compagnon de voyage_, such and
so great was his urbanity on a journey. He rather liked talking with
people; he sometimes heard things not wholly valueless, and once or twice
had gathered hints in this way, which saved him trouble, or money, which
is much the same thing. Therefore upon principle he was not averse from
that direst of bores, railway conversation.

And now they slackened speed, with a long, piercing whistle, and came to
a standstill at 'East Had_don_' (with a jerk upon the last syllable),
'East Had_don_, East Had_don_,' as the herald of the station declared,
and Lawyer Larkin sat straight up, very alert, with a budding smile,
ready to blow out into a charming radiance the moment his
fellow-traveller rose perpendicular, as was to be expected, and peeped
from his window.

But he seemed to know intuitively that Larkin intended telling him,
_apropos_ of the station, that story of the Haddon property, and Sir
James Wotton's will, which as told by the good attorney and jumbled by
the clatter, was perhaps a little dreary. At all events he did not stir,
and carefully abstained from wakening, and in a few seconds more they
were again in motion.

They were now approaching Shillingsworth, where the attorney was to get
out, and put up for the night, having a deed with him to be executed in
that town, and so sweetening his journey with this small incident of
profit.

Now, therefore, looking at his watch, and consulting his time table, he
got his slim valise from under on top of the seat before him, together
with his hat-case, despatch-box, stick, and umbrella, and brushed off
with his handkerchief some of the gritty railway dust that lay drifted in
exterior folds and hollows of his coat, rebuttoned that garment with
precision, arranged his shirt-collar, stuffed his muffler into his
coat-pocket, and made generally that rude sacrifice to the graces with
which natty men precede their exit from the dust and ashes of this sort
of sepulture.

At this moment he had just eight minutes more to go, and the glitter of
the pair of eyes, staring between the muffler and the rim of the hat, met
his view once more.

Mr. Larkin's cigar-case was open in his hand in a moment, and with such a
smile as a genteel perfumer offers his wares with, he presented it toward
the gentleman who was built up in the stack of garments.

He merely shook his head with the slightest imaginable nod and a wave of
a pudgy hand in a soiled dog-skin glove, which emerged for a second from
under a cape, in token that he gratefully declined the favour.

Mr. Larkin smiled and shrugged regretfully, and replaced the case in his
coat pocket. Hardly five minutes remained now. Larkin glanced round for a
topic.

'My journey is over for the present, Sir, and perhaps you would find
these little things entertaining.'

And he tendered with the same smile 'Punch,' the 'Penny Gleaner,' and
'Gray's Magazine,' a religious serial. They were, however, similarly
declined in pantomime.

'He's not particularly polite, whoever he is,' thought Mr. Larkin, with a
sniff. However, he tried the effect of a direct observation. So getting
one seat nearer, he said:--

'Wonderful place Shillingsworth, Sir; one does not really, until one has
visited it two or three times over, at all comprehend its wealth and
importance; and how justly high it deserves to hold its head amongst the
provincial emporia of our productive industry.'

The shapeless traveller in the corner touched his ear with his pudgy
dogskin fingers, and shook his hand and head a little, in token either
that he was deaf, or the noise such as to prevent his hearing, and in the
next moment the glittering eyes closed, and the pantomimist appeared to
be asleep.

And now, again, the train subsided to a stand-still, and Shillingsworth
resounded through the night air, and Larkin scrambled forward to the
window, by which sat the enveloped gentleman, and called the porter, and,
with many unheeded apologies, pulled out his various properties, close by
the knees of the tranquil traveller. So, Mr. Larkin was on the platform,
and his belongings stowed away against the wall of the station-house.

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