The Familiar, by J. Sheridan Le Fanu

Chapter 7

Flight

YIELDING to their persuasions, Barton left Dublin for England accompanied by General Montague. They posted rapidly to London, and thence to Dover, whence they took the packet with a fair wind for Calais. The General’s confidence in the result of the expedition on Barton’s spirits had risen day by day since their departure from the shores of Ireland; for to the inexpressible relief and delight of the latter, he had not since then so much as even once fancied a repetition of those impressions which had, when at home, drawn him gradually down to the very depths of despair.

This exemption from what he had begun to regard as the inevitable condition of his existence, and the sense of security which began to pervade his mind, were inexpressibly delightful; and in the exultation of what he considered his deliverance, he indulged in a thousand happy anticipations for a future into which so lately he had hardly dared to look; and, in short, both he and his companion secretly congratulated themselves upon the termination of that persecution which had been to its immediate victim a source of such unspeakable agony.

It was a beautiful day, and a crowd of idlers stood upon the jetty to receive the packet and enjoy the bustle of the new arrivals. Montague walked a few paces in advance of his friend, and as he made his way through the crowd a little man touched his arm and said to him, in a broad provincial patois:

“Monsieur is walking too fast; he will lose his sick comrade in the throng, for, by my faith, the poor gentleman seems to be fainting.”

Montague turned quickly, and observed that Barton did indeed look deadly pale. He hastened to his side.

“My dear fellow, are you ill?” he asked anxiously.

The question was unheeded, and twice repeated, ere Barton stammered —

“I saw him — by — — I saw him!”

Him! — the wretch — who — where now? — where is he?” cried Montague, looking around him.

“I saw him — but he is gone,” repeated Barton, faintly.

“But where — where? For God’s sake speak,” urged Montague, vehemently.

“It is but this moment — here,” said he.

“But what did he look like — what had he on — what did he wear — quick, quick,” urged his excited companion, ready to dart among the crowd and collar the delinquent on the spot.

“He touched your arm — he spoke to you — he pointed to me. God be merciful to me, there is no escape,” said Barton, in the low, subdued tones of despair.

Montague had already bustled away in all the flurry of mingled hope and rage; but though the singular personnel of the stranger who had accosted him was vividly impressed upon his recollection, he failed to discover among the crowd even the slightest resemblance to him.

After a fruitless search, in which he enlisted the services of several of the bystanders, who aided all the more zealously as they believed he had been robbed, he at length, out of breath and baffled, gave over the attempt.

“Ah, my friend, it won’t do,” said Barton, with the faint voice and bewildered, ghastly look of one who had been stunned by some mortal shock; “there is no use in contending; whatever it is, the dreadful association between me and it is now established — I shall never escape — never!”

“Nonsense, nonsense, my dear Barton; don’t talk so,” said Montague, with something at once of irritation and dismay; “you must not, I say; we’ll jockey the scoundrel yet; never mind, I say — never mind.”

It was, however, but labour lost to endeavour henceforward to inspire Barton with one ray of hope; he became desponding.

This intangible and, as it seemed, utterly inadequate influence was fast destroying his energies of intellect, character, and health. His first object was now to return to Ireland, there, as he believed, and now almost hoped, speedily to die.

To Ireland accordingly he came, and one of the first faces he saw upon the shore was again that of his implacable and dreaded attendant. Barton seemed at last to have lost not only all enjoyment and every hope in existence, but all independence of will besides. He now submitted himself passively to the management of the friends most nearly interested in his welfare.

With the apathy of entire despair he implicitly assented to whatever measures they suggested and advised; and as a last resource it was determined to remove him to a house of Lady L——’s, in the neighbourhood of Clontarf, where, with the advice of his medical attendant, who persisted in his opinion that the whole train of consequences resulted merely from some nervous derangement, it was resolved that he was to confine himself strictly to the house, and make use only of those apartments which commanded a view of an enclosed yard, the gates of which were to be kept jealously locked.

Those precautions would certainly secure him against the casual appearance of any living form that his excited imagination might possibly confound with the spectre which, as it was contended, his fancy recognized in every figure that bore even a distant or general resemblance to the peculiarities with which his fancy had at first invested it.

A month or six weeks’ absolute seclusion under these conditions, it was hoped might, by interrupting the series of these terrible impressions, gradually dispel the predisposing apprehensions, and the associations which had confirmed the supposed disease, and rendered recovery hopeless.

Cheerful society and that of his friends was to be constantly supplied, and on the whole, very sanguine expectations were indulged in, that under the treatment thus detailed the obstinate hypochondria of the patient might at length give way.

Accompanied, therefore, by Lady L— — General Montague and his daughter — his own affianced bride — poor Barton — himself never daring to cherish a hope of his ultimate emancipation from the horrors under which his life was literally wasting away — took possession of the apartments, whose situation protected him against the intrusions from which he shrank with such unutterable terror.

After a little time, a steady persistence in this system began to manifest its results in a very marked though gradual improvement, alike in the health and spirits of the invalid. Not, indeed, that anything at all approaching complete recovery was yet discernible. On the contrary, to those who had not seen him since the commencement of his strange sufferings, such an alteration would have been apparent as might well have shocked them.

The improvement, however, such as it was, was welcomed with gratitude and delight, especially by the young lady, whom her attachment to him, as well as her now singularly painful position, consequent on his protracted illness, rendered an object scarcely one degree less to be commiserated than himself.

A week passed — a fortnight — a month — and yet there had been no recurrence of the hated visitation. The treatment had, so far forth, been followed by complete success. The chain of associations was broken. The constant pressure upon the over-tasked spirits had been removed, and, under these comparatively favourable circumstances, the sense of social community with the world about him, and something of human interest, if not of enjoyment, began to reanimate him.

It was about this time that Lady L—— who, like most old ladies of the day, was deep in family receipts, and a great pretender to medical science, dispatched her own maid to the kitchen garden with a list of herbs, which were there to be care fully culled and brought back to her housekeeper for the purpose stated. The handmaiden, however, returned with her task scarce half completed, and a good deal flurried and alarmed. Her mode of accounting for her precipitate retreat and evident agitation was odd and, to the old lady, startling.

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