Wylder's Hand, by J. Sheridan Le Fanu

Chapter 42.

A Paragraph in the County Paper.

The nature of his injury considered, Captain Lake recovered with wonderful regularity and rapidity. In four weeks he was out rather pale and languid but still able to walk without difficulty, leaning on a stick, for ten or fifteen minutes at a time. In another fortnight he had made another great advance, had thrown away his crutch handled stick, and recovered flesh and vigour. In a fortnight more he had grown quite like himself again; and in a very few weeks more, I read in the same county paper, transmitted to me by the same fair hands, but this time not with a cross, but three distinct notes of admiration standing tremulously at the margin of the paragraph, the following to me for a time incredible, and very nearly to this day amazing, announcement:—

‘MARRIAGE IN HIGH LIFE.

‘The auspicious event so interesting to our county, which we have this day to announce, though for some time upon the tapis, has been attended with as little publicity as possible. The contemplated union between Captain Stanley Lake, late of the Guards, sole surviving son of the late General Williams Stanley Stanley Lake, of Plasrhwyn, and the beautiful and accomplished Miss Brandon, of Brandon Hall, in this county, was celebrated in the ancestral chapel of Brandon, situated within the manorial boundaries, in the immediate vicinity of the town of Gylingden, on yesterday. Although the marriage was understood to be strictly private — none but the immediate relations of the bride and bridegroom being present — the bells of Gylingden rang out merry peals throughout the day, and the town was tastefully decorated with flags, and brilliantly illuminated at night.

‘A deputation of the tenantry of the Gylingden and the Longmoor estates, together with those of the Brandon estate, went in procession to Brandon Hall in the afternoon, and read a well-conceived and affectionate address, which was responded to in appropriate terms by Captain Lake, who received them, with his beautiful bride at his side, in the great gallery — perhaps the noblest apartment in that noble ancestral mansion. The tenantry were afterwards handsomely entertained under the immediate direction of Josiah Larkin, Esq., of the Lodge, the respected manager of the Brandon estates, at the “Brandon Arms,” in the town of Gylingden. It is understood that the great territorial influence of the Brandon family will obtain a considerable accession in the estates of the bridegroom in the south of England.’

There was some more which I need not copy, being very like what we usually see on such occasions.

I read this piece of intelligence half a dozen times over during breakfast. ‘How that beautiful girl has thrown herself away!’ I thought. ‘Surely the Chelfords, who have an influence there, ought to have exerted it to prevent her doing anything so mad. His estates in the south of England, indeed! Why, he can’t have £300 a year clear from that little property in Devon. He is such a liar; and so absurd, as if he could succeed in deceiving anyone upon the subject.’

So I read the paragraph over again, and laid down the paper, simply saying, ‘Well, certainly, that is disgusting!’

I had heard of his duel. It was also said that it had in some way had reference to Miss Brandon. But this was the only rumoured incident which would at all have prepared one for the occurrence. I tried to recollect anything particular in his manner — there was nothing; and she positively seemed to dislike him. I had been utterly mystified, and so, I presume, had all the other lookers-on.

Well! after all, ’twas no particular business of mine.

At the club, I saw it in the ‘Morning Post;’ and an hour after, old Joe Gabloss, that prosy Argus who knows everything, recounted the details with patient precision, and in legal phrase, ‘put in’ letters from two or three country houses proving his statement.

So there was no doubting it longer: and Captain Stanley Lake, late of Her Majesty’s —— Regiment of Guards, idler, scamp, coxcomb, and the beautiful Dorcas Brandon, heiress of Brandon, were man and wife.

I wrote to my fair friend, Miss Kybes, and had an answer confirming, if that were needed, the public announcement, and mentioning enigmatically, that it had caused ‘a great deal of conversation.’

The posture of affairs in the small world of Gylingden, except in the matter of the alliance just referred to, was not much changed.

Since the voluminous despatch from Marseilles, promising his return so soon, not a line had been received from Mark Wylder. He might arrive any day or night. He might possibly have received some unexpected check — if not checkmate, in that dark and deep game on which he seemed to have staked so awfully. Mr. Jos. Larkin sometimes thought one thing, sometimes another.

In the meantime, Captain Lake accepted the trust. Larkin at times thought there was a constant and secret correspondence going on between him and Mark Wylder, and that he was his agent in adjusting some complicated and villainous piece of diplomacy by means of the fund — secret-service money — which Mark had placed at his disposal.

He, Mr. Larkin, was treated like a child in this matter, and his advice never so much as asked, nor his professional honour accredited by the smallest act of confidence.

Sometimes his suspicions took a different turn, and he thought that Lake might be one of those ‘persecutors’ of whom Mark spoke with such mysterious hatred; and that the topic of their correspondence was, perhaps, some compromise, the subject or the terms of which would not bear the light.

Lake certainly made two visits to London, one of them of a week’s duration. The attorney being a sharp, long-headed fellow, who knew very well what business was, knew perfectly well, too, that two or three short letters might have settled any legitimate business which his gallant friend had in the capital.

But Lake was now married, and under the incantation whistled over him by the toothless Archdeacon of Mundlebury, had sprung up into a county magnate, and was worth cultivating, and to be treated tenderly.

So the attorney’s business was to smile and watch — to watch, and of course, to pray as heretofore — but specially to watch. He himself hardly knew all that was passing in his own brain. There are operations of physical nature which go on actively without your being aware of them; and the moral respiration, circulation, insensible perspiration, and all the rest of that peculiar moral system which exhibited its type in Jos. Larkin, proceeded automatically in the immortal structure of that gentleman.

Being very gentlemanlike in externals, with a certain grace, amounting very nearly to elegance, and having applied himself diligently to please the county people, that proud fraternity, remembering his father’s estates, condoned his poverty, and took Captain Lake by the hand, and lifted him into their superb, though not very entertaining order.

There were solemn festivities at Brandon, and festive solemnities at the principal county houses in return. Though not much of a sportsman, Lake lent himself handsomely to all the sporting proceedings of the county, and subscribed in a way worthy of the old renown of Brandon Hall to all sorts of charities and galas. So he was getting on very pleasantly with his new neighbours, and was likely to stand very fairly in that dull, but not unfriendly society.

About three weeks after this great county marriage, there arrived, this time from Frankfort, a sharp letter, addressed to Jos. Larkin, Esq. It said:—

‘My Dear Sir — I think I have reason to complain. I have just seen by accident the announcement of the marriage at Brandon. I think as my friend, and a friend to the Brandon family, you ought to have done something to delay, if you could not stop it. Of course, you had the settlements, and devil’s in it if you could not have beat about a while — it was not so quick with me — and not doubled the point in a single tack; and you know the beggar has next to nothing. Any way, it was your duty to have printed some notice that the thing was thought of. If you had put it, like a bit of news, in “Galignani,” I would have seen it, and known what to do. Well, that ship’s blew up. But I won’t let all go. The cur will begin to try for the county or for Dollington. You must quietly stop that, mind; and if he persists, just you put an advertisement in “Galignani,” saying Mr. Smith will take notice, that the other party is desirous to purchase, and becoming very pressing. Just you hoist that signal, and somebody will bear down, and blaze into him at all hazards — you’ll see how. Things have not gone quite smooth with me since; but it won’t be long till I run up my flag again, and take the command. Be perfectly civil with Stanley Lake till I come on board — that is indispensable; and keep this letter as close from every eye as sealed orders. You may want a trifle to balk S.L.‘s electioneering, and there’s an order on Lake for 200_l. Don’t trifle about the county and borough. He must have no footing in either till I return.

‘Yours, dear Larkin,

‘Very truly

‘(but look after my business better),

‘M. WYLDER.’

The order on Lake, a little note, was enclosed:—

‘Dear Lake — I wish you joy, and all the good wishes going, as I could not make the prize myself.

‘Be so good to hand my lawyer, Mr. Jos. Larkin, of the Lodge, Gylingden, 200_l. sterling, on my account.

‘Yours, dear Lake,

‘Very faithfully,

‘M. WYLDER.

200_l.)

‘23rd Feb., &c. &c.’

When Jos. Larkin presented this little order, it was in the handsome square room in which Captain Lake transacted business — a lofty apartment, wainscoted in carved oak, and with a great stone mantelpiece, with the Wylder arms, projecting in bold relief, in the centre, and a florid scroll, with ‘RESURGAM’ standing forth as sharp as the day it was chiselled nearly three hundred years before.

There was some other business — Brandon business — to be talked over first; and that exhausted, Mr. Larkin sat as usual, with one long thigh crossed upon the other — his arm thrown over the back of his chair, and his tall, bald head a little back, and his small mild eyes twinkling through their pink lids on the enigmatical captain, who had entered upon the march of ambition in a spirit so audacious and conquering.

‘I had a line from Mr. Mark Wylder yesterday afternoon, as usual without any address but the postmark;’ and good Mr. Larkin laughed a mild, little patient laugh, and lifted his open hand, and shook his head. ‘It really is growing too absurd — a mere order upon you to hand me 200_l. How I’m to dispose of it, I have not the faintest notion.’

And he laughed again; at the same time he gracefully poked the little note, between two fingers, to Captain Lake, who glanced full on him, for a second, as he took it.

‘And how is Mark?’ enquired Lake, with his odd, sly smile, as he scrawled a little endorsement on the order. ‘Does he say anything?’

‘No; absolutely nothing — he’s a very strange client!’ said Larkin, laughing again. ‘There can be no objection, of course, to your reading it; and he thinks — he thinks — he’ll be here soon again — oh, here it is.’

Mr. Larkin had been fumbling, first in his deep waistcoat, and then in his breast-pocket, as if for the letter, which was locked fast into the iron safe, with Chubb’s patent lock, in his office at the Lodge. But it would not have done to have kept a secret from Captain Lake, of Brandon; and therefore his not seeing the note was a mere accident.

‘Oh! no — stupid! — that’s Mullett and Hock’s. I have not got it with me; but it does not signify, for there’s nothing in it. I hope I shall soon be favoured with his directions as to what to do with the money.’

‘He’s an odd fellow; and I don’t know how he feels towards me; but on my part there is no feeling, I do assure you, but the natural desire to live on the friendly terms which our ties of family and our position in the county’—

Stanley Lake was writing the cheque for 200_l. meanwhile, and handed it to Larkin; and as that gentleman penned a receipt, the captain continued — his eyes lowered to the little vellum-bound book in which he was now making an entry:—

‘You have handed me a large sum, Mr. Larkin — 3,276_l. 11_s. 4_d. I undertook this, you know, on the understanding that it was not to go on very long; and I find my own business pretty nearly as much as I can manage. Is Wylder at all definite as to when we may expect his return?’

‘Oh, dear no — quite as usual — he expects to be here soon; but that is all. I so wish I had brought his note with me; but I’m positive that is all.’

So, this little matter settled, the lawyer took his leave.

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