Wylder's Hand by Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu
Chapter VIII. In Which Captain Lake Takes His Hat and Stick.
So the young people sitting in the little drawing-room of Redman's farm pursued their dialogue; Rachel Lake had spoken last, and it was the captain's turn to speak next.
'Do you remember Miss Beauchamp, Radie?' he asked rather suddenly, after a very long pause.
'Miss Beauchamp? Oh! to be sure; you mean little Caroline; yes, she must be quite grown up by this time--five years--she promised to be pretty. What of her?'
Rachel, very flushed and agitated still, was now trying to speak as usual.
'She is good-looking--a little coarse some people think,' resumed the young man; 'but handsome; black eyes--black hair--rather on a large scale, but certainly handsome. A style I admire rather, though it is not very refined, nor at all classic. But I like her, and I wish you'd advise me.' He was talking, after his wont, to the carpet.
'Oh?' she exclaimed, with a gentle sort of derision.
'You mean,' he said, looking up for a moment, with a sudden stare, 'she has got money. Of course she has; I could not afford to admire her if she had not; but I see you are not just now in a mood to trouble yourself about my nonsense--we can talk about it to-morrow; and tell me now, how do you get on with the Brandon people?'
Rachel was curious, and would, if she could, have recalled that sarcastic 'oh' which had postponed the story; but she was also a little angry, and with anger there was pride, which would not stoop to ask for the revelation which he chose to defer; so she said, 'Dorcas and I are very good friends; but I don't know very well what to make of her. Only I don't think she's quite so dull and apathetic as I at first supposed; but still I'm puzzled. She is either absolutely uninteresting, or very interesting indeed, and I can't say which.'
'Does she like you?' he asked.
'I really don't know. She tolerates me, like everything else; and I don't flatter her; and we see a good deal of one another upon those terms, and I have no complaint to make of her. She has some aversions, but no quarrels; and has a sort of laziness--mental, bodily, and moral--that is sublime, but provoking; and sometimes I admire her, and sometimes I despise her; and I do not yet know which feeling is the juster.'
'Surely she is woman enough to be fussed a little about her marriage?'
'Oh, dear, no! she takes the whole affair with a queenlike and supernatural indifference. She is either a fool or a very great philosopher, and there is something grand in the serene obscurity that envelopes her,' and Rachel laughed a very little.
'I must, I suppose, pay my respects; but to-morrow will be time enough. What pretty little tea-cups, Radie--quite charming--old cock china, isn't it? These were Aunt Jemima's, I think.'
'Yes; they used to stand on the little marble table between the windows.'
Old Tamar had glided in while they here talking, and placed the little tea equipage on the table unnoticed, and the captain was sipping his cup of tea, and inspecting the pattern, while his sister amused him.
'This place, I suppose, is confoundedly slow, is not it? Do they entertain the neighbours ever at Brandon?'
'Sometimes, when old Lady Chelford and her son are staying there.'
'But the neighbours can't entertain them, I fancy, or you. What a dreary thing a dinner party made up of such people must be--like "Aesop's Fables," where the cows and sheep converse.'
'And sometimes a wolf or a fox,' she said.
'Well, Radie, I know you mean me; but as you wish it, I'll carry my fangs elsewhere;--and what has become of Will Wylder?'
'Oh! he's in the Church!'
'Quite right--the only thing he was fit for;' and Captain Lake laughed like a man who enjoys a joke slily. 'And where is poor Billy quartered?'
'Not quite half a mile away; he has got the vicarage of Naunton Friars.'
'Oh, then, Will is not quite such a fool as we took him for.'
'It is worth just L180 a year! but he's very far from a fool.'
'Yes, of course, he knows Greek poets and Latin fathers, and all the rest of it. I don't mean he ever was plucked. I dare say he's the kind of fellow you'd like very well, Radie.' And his sly eyes had a twinkle in them which seemed to say, 'Perhaps I've divined your secret.'
'And so I do, and I like his wife, too, very much.'
'His wife! So William has married on L180 a year;' and the captain laughed quietly but very pleasantly again.
'On a very little more, at all events; and I think they are about the happiest, and I'm sure they are the best people in this part of the world.'
'Well, Radie, I'll see you to-morrow again. You preserve your good looks wonderfully. I wonder you haven't become an old woman here.'
And he kissed her, and went his way, with a slight wave of his hand, and his odd smile, as he closed the little garden gate after him.
He turned to his left, walking down towards the town, and the innocent green trees hid him quickly, and the gush and tinkle of the clear brook rose faint and pleasantly through the leaves, from the depths of the glen, and refreshed her ear after his unpleasant talk.
She was flushed, and felt oddly; a little stunned and strange, although she had talked lightly and easily enough.
'I forgot to ask him where he is staying: the Brandon Arms, I suppose. I don't at all like his coming down here after Mark Wylder; what can he mean? He certainly never would have taken the trouble for me. What can he want of Mark Wylder? I think he knew old Mr. Beauchamp. He may be a trustee, but that's not likely; Mark Wylder was not the person for any such office. I hope Stanley does not intend trying to extract money from him; anything rather than that degradation--than that villainy. Stanley was always impracticable, perverse, deceitful, and so foolish with all his cunning and suspicion--so very foolish. Poor Stanley. He's so unscrupulous; I don't know what to think. He said he could force Mark Wylder to leave the country. It must be some bad secret. If he tries and fails, I suppose he will be ruined. I don't know what to think; I never was so uneasy. He will blast himself, and disgrace all connected with him; and it is quite useless speaking to him.'
Perhaps if Rachel Lake had been in Belgravia, leading a town life, the matter would have taken no such dark colouring and portentous proportions. But living in a small old house, in a dark glen, with no companion, and little to occupy her, it was different.
She looked down the silent way he had so lately taken, and repeated, rather bitterly, 'My only brother! my only brother! my only brother!'
That young lady was not quite a pauper, though she may have thought so. Comparatively, indeed, she was; but not, I venture to think, absolutely. She had just that symmetrical three hundred pounds a year, which the famous Dean of St. Patrick's tells us he so 'often wished that he had clear.' She had had some money in the Funds besides, still more insignificant but this her Brother Stanley had borrowed and begged piecemeal, and the Consols were no more. But though something of a nun in her way of life, there was no germ of the old maid in her, and money was not often in her thoughts. It was not a bad dot; and her Brother Stanley had about twice as much, and therefore was much better off than many a younger son of a duke. But these young people, after the manner of men were spited with fortune; and indeed they had some cause. Old General Lake had once had more than ten thousand pounds a year, and lived, until the crash came, in the style of a vicious old prince. It was a great break up, and a worse fall for Rachel than for her brother, when the plate, coaches, pictures, and all the valuable effects' of old Tiberius went to the hammer, and he himself vanished from his clubs and other haunts, and lived only--a thin intermittent rumour--surmised to be in gaol, or in Guernsey, and quite forgotten soon, and a little later actually dead and buried.