Wylder's Hand by Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu
Chapter XVIII. Mark Wylder's Slave.
Nearly two hours had passed before they returned. As they did so, Rachel Lake went swiftly and silently before her brother. The moon had gone down, and the glen was darker than ever. Noiselessly they re-entered the little hall of Redman's Farm. The candles were still burning in the sitting-room, and the light was dazzling after the profound darkness in which they had been for so long.
Captain Lake did not look at all like a London dandy now. His dress was confoundedly draggled; the conventional countenance, too, was wanting. There was a very natural savagery and dejection there, and a wild leer in his yellow eyes.
Rachel sat down. No living woman ever showed a paler face, and she stared with a look that was sharp and stern upon the wainscot before her.
For some minutes they were silent; and suddenly, with an exceeding bitter cry, she stood up, close to him, seizing him in her tiny hands by the collar, and with wild eyes gazing into his, she said--
'See what you've brought me to--wretch, wretch, wretch!'
And she shook him with violence as she spoke. It was wonderful how that fair young face could look so terrible.
'There, Radie, there,' said Lake, disengaging her fingers. 'You're a little hysterical, that's all. It will be over in a minute; but don't make a row. You're a good girl, Radie. For Heaven's sake, don't spoil all by folly now.'
He was overawed and deprecatory.
'A slave! only think--a slave! Oh frightful, frightful! Is it a dream? Oh frightful, frightful! Stanley, Stanley, it would be mercy to kill me,' she broke out again.
'Now, Radie, listen to reason, and don't make a noise; you know we agreed, you must go, and I can't go with you.'
Lake was cooler by this time, and his sister more excited than before they went out.
'I used to be brave; my courage I think is gone; but who'd have imagined what's before me?'
Stanley walked to the window and opened the shutter a little. He forgot how dark it was. The moon had gone down. He looked at his watch and then at Rachel. She was sitting, and in no calmer state; serene enough in attitude, but the terribly wild look was unchanged. He looked at his watch again, and held it to his ear, and consulted it once more before he placed the tiny gold disk again in his pocket.
'This won't do,' he muttered.
With one of the candles in his hand he went out and made a hurried, peeping exploration, and soon, for the rooms were quickly counted in Redman's Farm, he found her chamber small, neat, simplex munditiis. Bright and natty were the chintz curtains, and the little toilet set out, not inelegantly, and her pet piping-goldfinch asleep on his perch, with his bit of sugar between the wires of his cage; her pillow so white and unpressed, with its little edging of lace. Were slumbers sweet as of old ever to know it more? What dreams were henceforward to haunt it? Shadows were standing about that lonely bed already. I don't know whether Stanley Lake felt anything of this, being very decidedly of the earth earthy. But there are times when men are translated from their natures, and forced to be romantic and superstitious.
When he came back to the drawing-room, a toilet bottle of eau de cologne in his hand, with her lace handkerchief he bathed her temples and forehead. There was nothing very brotherly in his look as he peered into her pale, sharp features, during the process. It was the dark and pallid scrutiny of a familiar of the Holy Office, bringing a victim back to consciousness.
She was quickly better.
'There, don't mind me,' she said sharply; and getting up she looked down at her dress and thin shoes, and seeming to recollect herself, she took the candle he had just set down, and went swiftly to her room.
Gliding without noise from place to place, she packed a small black leather bag with a few necessary articles. Then changed her dress quickly, put on her walking boots, a close bonnet and thick veil, and taking her purse, she counted over its contents, and then standing in the midst of the room looked round it with a great sigh, and a strange look, as if it was all new to her. And she threw back her veil, and going hurriedly to the toilet, mechanically surveyed herself in the glass. And she looked fixedly on the pale features presented to her, and said--
'Rachel Lake, Rachel Lake! what are you now?'
And so, with knitted brows and stern lips, a cadaveric gaze was returned on her from the mirror.
A few minutes later her brother, who had been busy down stairs, put his head in and asked--
'Will you come with me now, Radie, or do you prefer to wait here?'
'I'll stay here--that is, in the drawing-room,' she answered, and the face was withdrawn.
In the little hall Stanley looked again at his watch, and getting quietly out, went swiftly through the tiny garden, and once upon the mill-road, ran at a rapid pace down towards the town.
The long street of Gylingden stretched dim and silent before him. Slumber brooded over the little town, and his steps sounded sharp and hollow among the houses. He slackened his pace, and tapped sharply at the little window of that modest post-office, at which the young ladies in the pony carriage had pulled up the day before, and within which Luke Waggot was wont to sleep in a sort of wooden box that folded up and appeared to be a chest of drawers all day. Luke took care of Mr. Larkin's dogs, and groomed Mr. Wylder's horse, and 'cleaned up' his dog-cart, for Mark being close about money, and finding that the thing was to be done more cheaply that way, put up his horse and dog-cart in the post-office premises, and so evaded the livery charges of the 'Brandon Arms.'
But Luke was not there; and Captain Lake recollecting his habits and his haunt, hurried on to the 'Silver Lion,' which has its gable towards the common, only about a hundred steps away, for distances are not great in Gylingden. Here were the flow of soul and of stout, long pipes, long yarns, and tolerably long credits; and the humble scapegraces of the town resorted thither for the pleasures of a club-life, and often revelled deep into the small hours of the morning.
So Luke came forth.
D-- it, where's the note?' said the captain, rummaging uneasily in his pockets.
'You know me--eh!'
'Captain Lake. Yes, Sir.'
'Well--oh! here it is.'
It was a scrap pencilled on the back of a letter--
'Put the horse to and drive the dog-cart to the "White House." Look out for me there. We must catch the up mail train at Dollington. Be lively. If Captain Lake chooses to drive you need not come.
'I'll drive,' said Captain Lake. 'Lose no time and I'll give you half-a-crown.'
Luke stuck on his greasy wideawake, and in a few minutes more the dog-cart was trundled out into the lane, and the horse harnessed, went between the shafts with that wonderful cheerfulness with which they bear to be called up under startling circumstances at unseasonable hours.
'Easily earned, Luke,' said Captain Lake, in his soft tones.
The captain had buttoned the collar of his loose coat across his face, and it was dark beside. But Luke knew his peculiar smile, and presumed it; so he grinned facetiously as he put the coin in his breeches pocket and thanked him; and in another minute the captain, with a lighted cigar between his lips, mounted to the seat, took the reins, the horse bounded off, and away rattled the light conveyance, sparks flying from the road, at a devil of a pace, down the deserted street of Gylingden, and quickly melted in darkness.
That night a spectre stood by old Tamar's bedside, in shape of her young mistress, and shook her by the shoulder, and stooping, said sternly, close in her face--
'Tamar, I'm going away--only for a few days; and mind this--I'd rather be dead than any creature living should know it. Little Margery must not suspect--you'll manage that. Here's the key of my bed-room--say I'm sick--and you must go in and out, and bring tea and drinks, and talk and whisper a little, you understand, as you might with a sick person, and keep the shutters closed; and if Miss Brandon sends to ask me to the Hall, say I've a headache, and fear I can't go. You understand me clearly, Tamar?'
'Yes, Miss Radie,' answered old Tamar, wonder-stricken, with a strange expression of fear in her face.
'And listen,' she continued, 'you must go into my room, and bring the message back, as if from me, with my love to Miss Brandon; and if she or Mrs. William Wylder, the vicar's wife, should call to see me, always say I'm asleep and a little better. You see exactly what I mean?'
'Yes, Miss,' answered Tamar, whose eyes were fixed in a sort of fascination, full on those of her mistress.
'If Master Stanley should call, he is to do just as he pleases. You used to be accurate, Tamar; may I depend upon you?'
'Yes, Ma'am, certainly.'
'If I thought you'd fail me now, Tamar, I should never come back. Good-night, Tamar. There--don't bless me. Good-night.'
When the light wheels of the dog-cart gritted on the mill-road before the little garden gate of Redman's Farm, the tall slender figure of Rachel Lake was dimly visible, standing cloaked and waiting by it. Silently she handed her little black leather bag to her brother, and then there was a pause. He stretched his hand to help her up.
In a tone that was icy and bitter, she said--
'To save myself I would not do it. You deserve no love from me--you've showed me none--never, Stanley; and yet I'm going to give the most desperate proof of love that ever sister gave--all for your sake; and it's guilt, guilt, but my fate, and I'll go, and you'll never thank me; that's all.'
In a moment more she sat beside him; and silent as the dead in Charon's boat, away they glided toward the 'White House which lay upon the high road to Dollington.
The sleepy clerk that night in the Dollington station stamped two first-class tickets for London, one of which was for a gentleman, and the other for a cloaked lady, with a very thick veil, who stood outside on the platform; and almost immediately after the scream of the engine was heard piercing the deep tatting, the Cyclopean red lamps glared nearer and nearer, and the palpitating monster, so stupendous and so docile, came smoothly to a stand-still before the trelliswork and hollyhocks of that pretty station.