The Haunted Baronet by Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu
Chapter XIV. A New Philip Feltram
The Baronet had not seen Feltram since his strange escape from death. His last interview with him had been stern and threatening; Sir Bale dealing with appearances in the spirit of an incensed judge, Philip Feltram lamenting in the submission of a helpless despair.
Feltram was full in the moonlight now, standing erect, and smiling cynically on the Baronet.
There was that in the bearing and countenance of Feltram that disconcerted him more than the surprise of the sudden meeting.
He had determined to meet Feltram in a friendly way, whenever that not very comfortable interview became inevitable. But he was confused by the suddenness of Feltram's appearance; and the tone, cold and stern, in which he had last spoken to him came first, and he spoke in it after a brief silence.
"I fancied, Mr. Feltram, you were in your bed; I little expected to find you here. I think the Doctor gave very particular directions, and said that you were to remain perfectly quiet."
"But I know more than the Doctor," replied Feltram, still smiling unpleasantly.
"I think, sir, you would have been better in your bed," said Sir Bale loftily.
"Come, come, come, come!" exclaimed Philip Feltram contemptuously.
"It seems to me," said Sir Bale, a good deal astonished, "you rather forget yourself."
"Easier to forget oneself, Sir Bale, than to forgive others, at times," replied Philip Feltram in his unparalleled mood.
"That's the way fools knock themselves up," continued Sir Bale. "You've been walking ever so far--away to the Fells of Golden Friars. It was you whom I saw there. What d----d folly! What brought you there?"
"To observe you," he replied.
"And have you walked the whole way there and back again? How did you get there?"
"Pooh! how did I come--how did you come--how did the fog come? From the lake, I suppose. We all come up, and then down." So spoke Philip Feltram, with serene insolence.
"You are pleased to talk nonsense," said Sir Bale.
"Because I like it--with a meaning."
Sir Bale looked at him, not knowing whether to believe his eyes and ears. He did not know what to make of him.
"I had intended speaking to you in a conciliatory way; you seem to wish to make that impossible"--Philip Feltram's face wore its repulsive smile;--"and in fact I don't know what to make of you, unless you are ill; and ill you well may be. You can't have walked much less than twelve miles."
"Wonderful effort for me!" said Feltram with the same sneer.
"Rather surprising for a man so nearly drowned," answered Sir Bale Mardykes.
"A dip: you don't like the lake, sir; but I do. And so it is: as Antaeus touched the earth, so I the water, and rise refreshed."
"I think you'd better get in and refresh there. I meant to tell you that all the unpleasantness about that bank-note is over."
"Yes. It has been recovered by Mr. Creswell, who came here last night. I've got it, and you're not to blame," said Sir Bale.
"But some one is to blame," observed Mr. Feltram, smiling still.
"Well, you are not, and that ends it," said the Baronet peremptorily.
"Ends it? Really, how good! how very good!"
Sir Bale looked at him, for there was something ambiguous and even derisive in the tone of Feltram's voice.
But before he could quite make up his mind, Feltram spoke again.
"Everything is settled about you and me?"
"There is nothing to prevent your staying at Mardykes now," said Sir Bale graciously.
"I shall be with you for two years, and then I go on my travels," answered Feltram, with a saturnine and somewhat wild look around him.
"Is he going mad?" thought the Baronet.
"But before I go, I'm to put you in a way of paying off your mortgages. That is my business here."
Sir Bale looked at him sharply. But now there was not the unpleasant smile, but the darkened look of a man in secret pain.
"You shall know it all by and by."
And without more ceremony, and with a darkening face, Philip Feltram made his way under the boughs of the thick oaks that grew there, leaving on Sir Bale's mind an impression that he had been watching some one at a distance, and had gone in consequence of a signal.
In a few seconds he followed in the same direction, halloaing after Feltram; for he did not like the idea of his wandering about the country by moonlight, or possibly losing his life among the precipices, and bringing a new discredit upon his house. But no answer came; nor could he in that thick copse gain sight of him again.
When Sir Bale reached Mardykes Hall he summoned Mrs. Julaper, and had a long talk with her. But she could not say that there appeared anything amiss with Philip Feltram; only he seemed more reserved, and as if he was brooding over something he did not intend to tell.
"But, you know, Sir Bale, what happened might well make a thoughtful man of him. If he's ever to think of Death, it should be after looking him so hard in the face; and I'm not ashamed to say, I'm glad to see he has grace to take the lesson, and I hope his experiences may be sanctified to him, poor fellow! Amen."
"Very good song, and very well sung," said Sir Bale; "but it doesn't seem to me that he has been improved, Mrs. Julaper. He seems, on the contrary, in a queer temper and anything but a heavenly frame of mind; and I thought I'd ask you, because if he is ill--I mean feverish--it might account for his eccentricities, as well as make it necessary to send after him, and bring him home, and put him to bed. But I suppose it is as you say,--his adventure has upset him a little, and he'll sober in a day or two, and return to his old ways."
But this did not happen. A change, more comprehensive than at first appeared, had taken place, and a singular alteration was gradually established.
He grew thin, his eyes hollow, his face gradually forbidding.
His ways and temper were changed: he was a new man with Sir Bale; and the Baronet after a time, people said, began to grow afraid of him. And certainly Feltram had acquired an extraordinary influence over the Baronet, who a little while ago had regarded and treated him with so much contempt.