The Haunted Baronet, by J. Sheridan Le Fanu

Chapter XXVIII

Sir Bale in the Gallery

“Now, Janet darling, you are yourself low and nervous, and you treat this fancy of Bale’s as seriously as he does himself. The truth is, he is a hypochondriac, as the doctors say; and you will find that I am right; he will be quite well in the morning, and I daresay a little ashamed of himself for having frightened his poor little wife as he has. I will sit up with you. But our poor Mary is not, you know, very strong; and she ought to lie down and rest a little. Suppose you give me a cup of tea in the drawing-room. I will run up to my room and get these things off, and meet you in the drawing-room; or, if you like it better, you can sit with me in my own room; and for goodness’ sake let us have candles enough and a bright fire; and I promise you, if you will only exert your own good sense, you shall be a great deal more cheerful in a very little time.”

Lady Walsingham’s address was kind and cheery, and her air confident. For a moment a ray of hope returned, and her sister Janet acknowledged at least the possibility of her theory. But if confidence is contagious, so also is panic; and Lady Walsingham experienced a sinking of the heart which she dared not confess to her sister, and vainly strove to combat.

Lady Walsingham went up with her sister Mary, and having seen her in her room, and spoken again to her in the same cheery tone in which she had lectured her sister Lady Mardykes, she went on; and having taken possession of her own room, and put off her cloaks and shawls, she was going downstairs again, when she heard Sir Bale’s voice, as he approached along the gallery, issuing orders to a servant, as it seemed, exactly in his usual tone.

She turned, with a strange throb at her heart, and met him.

A little sterner, a little paler than usual he looked; she could perceive no other change. He took her hand kindly and held it, as with dilated eyes he looked with a dark inquiry for a moment in her face. He signed to the servant to go on, and said, “I’m glad you have come, Maud. You have heard what is to happen; and I don’t know how Janet could have borne it without your support. You did right to come; and you’ll stay with her for a day or two, and take her away from this place as soon as you can.”

She looked at him with the embarrassment of fear. He was speaking to her with the calmness of a leave-taking in the pressroom — the serenity that overlies the greatest awe and agony of which human nature is capable.

“I am glad to see you, Bale,” she began, hardly knowing what she said, and she stopped short.

“You are come, it turns out, on a sad mission,” he resumed; “you find all about to change. Poor Janet! it is a blow to her. I shall not live to see tomorrow’s sun.”

“Come,” she said, startled, “you must not talk so. No, Bale, you have no right to speak so; you can have no reason to justify it. It is cruel and wicked to trifle with your wife’s feelings. If you are under a delusion, you must make an effort and shake it off, or, at least, cease to talk of it. You are not well; I know by your looks you are ill; but I am very certain we shall see you much better by tomorrow, and still better the day following.”

“No, I’m not ill, sister. Feel that pulse, if you doubt me; there is no fever in it. I never was more perfectly in health; and yet I know that before the clock, that has just struck three, shall have struck five, I, who am talking to you, shall be dead.”

Lady Walsingham was frightened, and her fear irritated her.

“I have told you what I think and believe,” she said vehemently. “I think it wrong and cowardly of you to torture my poor sister with your whimsical predictions. Look into your own mind, and you will see you have absolutely no reason to support what you say. How can you inflict all this agony upon a poor creature foolish enough to love you as she does, and weak enough to believe in your idle dreams?”

“Stay, sister; it is not a matter to be debated so. If tomorrow I can hear you, it will be time enough to upbraid me. Pray return now to your sister; she needs all you can do for her. She is much to be pitied; her sufferings afflict me. I shall see you and her again before my death. It would have been more cruel to leave her unprepared. Do all in your power to nerve and tranquillise her. What is past cannot now be helped.”

He paused, looking hard at her, as if he had half made up his mind to say something more. But if there was a question of the kind, it was determined in favour of silence.

He dropped her hand, turned quickly, and left her.

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Last updated Monday, March 17, 2014 at 16:49