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Chapter 3

  • "KEEP the American!" Miss Searle, in compliance with the injunction conveye_n her brother's telegram (with something certainly of telegraphic curtness), lost no time in expressing the pleasure it would give her that our frien_hould remain. "Really you must," she said; and forthwith repaired to th_ouse- keeper to give orders for the preparation of a room.
  • "But how in the world did he know of my being here?" my companion put to me.
  • I answered that he had probably heard from his solicitor of the other's visit.
  • "Mr. Simmons and that gentleman must have had another interview since you_rrival in England. Simmons, for reasons of his own, has made known to hi_our journey to this neighbourhood, and Mr. Searle, learning this, ha_mmediately taken for granted that you've formally presented yourself to hi_ister. He's hospitably inclined and wishes her to do the proper thing by you.
  • There may even," I went on, "be more in it than that. I've my little theor_hat he's the very phoenix of usurpers, that he has been very much struck wit_hat the experts have had to say for you, and that he wishes to have th_riginality of making over to you your share—so limited after all—of th_state."
  • "I give it up!" my friend mused. "Come what come will!"
  • "You, of course," said Miss Searle, reappearing and turning to me, "ar_ncluded in my brother's invitation. I've told them to see about a room fo_ou. Your luggage shall immediately be sent for."
  • It was arranged that I in person should be driven over to our little inn an_hat I should return with our effects in time to meet Mr. Searle at dinner. O_y arrival several hours later I was immediately conducted to my room. Th_ervant pointed out to me that it communicated by a door and a private passag_ith that of my fellow visitor. I made my way along this passage—a low narro_orridor with a broad latticed casement through which there streamed upon _eries of grotesquely sculptured oaken closets and cupboards the vivi_nimating glow of the western sun —knocked at his door and, getting no answer, opened it. In an armchair by the open window sat my friend asleep, his arm_nd legs relaxed and head dropped on his breast. It was a great relief to se_im rest thus from his rhapsodies, and I watched him for some moments befor_aking him. There was a faint glow of colour in his cheek and a ligh_xpressive parting of his lips, something nearer to ease and peace than I ha_et seen in him. It was almost happiness, it was almost health. I laid my han_n his arm and gently shook it. He opened his eyes, gazed at me a moment, vaguely recognised me, then closed them again. "Let me dream, let me dream!"
  • "What are you dreaming about?"
  • A moment passed before his answer came. "About a tall woman in a quaint blac_ress, with yellow hair and a sweet, sweet smile, and a soft low deliciou_oice! I'm in love with her."
  • "It's better to see her than to dream about her," I said. "Get up and dress; then we'll go down to dinner and meet her."
  • "Dinner—dinner—?" And he gradually opened his eyes again. "Yes, upon my word _hall dine!"
  • "Oh you're all right!" I declared for the twentieth time as he rose to hi_eet. "You'll live to bury Mr. Simmons." He told me he had spent the hours o_y absence with Miss Searle—they had strolled together half over the place.
  • "You must be very intimate," I smiled.
  • "She's intimate with ME. Goodness knows what rigmarole I've treated her to!"
  • They had parted an hour ago; since when, he believed, her brother had arrived.
  • The slow-fading twilight was still in the great drawing-room when we cam_own. The housekeeper had told us this apartment was rarely used, there bein_thers, smaller and more convenient, for the same needs. It seemed now, however, to be occupied in my comrade's honour. At the furthest end, rising t_he roof like a royal tomb in a cathedral, was a great chimney-piece o_hiselled white marble, yellowed by time, in which a light fire was crackling.
  • Before the fire stood a small short man, with his hands behind him; near hi_as Miss Searle, so transformed by her dress that at first I scarcely kne_er. There was in our entrance and reception something remarkably chilling an_olemn. We moved in silence up the long room; Mr. Searle advanced slowly, _ozen steps, to meet us; his sister stood motionless. I was conscious of he_asking her visage with a large white tinselled fan, and that her eyes, grav_nd enlarged, watched us intently over the top of it. The master of Lackle_rasped in silence the proffered hand of his kinsman and eyed him from head t_oot, suppressing, I noted, a start of surprise at his resemblance to Si_oshua's portrait. "This is a happy day." And then turning to me with an od_ittle sharp stare: "My cousin's friend is my friend." Miss Searle lowered he_an.
  • The first thing that struck me in Mr. Searle's appearance was his very limite_tature, which was less by half a head than that of his sister. The second wa_he preternatural redness of his hair and beard. They intermingled over hi_ars and surrounded his head like a huge lurid nimbus. His face was pale an_ttenuated, the face of a scholar, a dilettante, a comparer of points an_exts, a man who lives in a library bending over books and prints and medals.
  • At a distance it might have passed for smooth and rather blankly composed; bu_n a nearer view it revealed a number of wrinkles, sharply etched an_cratched, of a singularly aged and refined effect. It was the complexion of _an of sixty. His nose was arched and delicate, identical almost with the nos_f my friend. His eyes, large and deep-set, had a kind of auburn glow, th_uggestion of a keen metal red-hot—or, more plainly, were full of temper an_pirit. Imagine this physiognomy—grave and solemn, grotesquely solemn, i_pite of the bushy brightness which made a sort of frame for it—set in motio_y a queer, quick, defiant, perfunctory, preoccupied smile, and you will hav_n imperfect notion of the remarkable presence of our host; something bette_orth seeing and knowing, I perceived as I quite breathlessly took him in, than anything we had yet encountered. How thoroughly I had entered int_ympathy with my poor picked-up friend, and how effectually I had associate_y sensibilities with his own, I had not suspected till, within the short fiv_inutes before the signal for dinner, I became aware, without his giving m_he least hint, of his placing himself on the defensive. To neither of us wa_r. Searle sympathetic. I might have guessed from her attitude that his siste_ntered into our thoughts. A marked change had been wrought in her since th_orning; during the hour, indeed—as I read in the light of the wonderin_lance he cast at her—that had elapsed since her parting with her cousin. Sh_ad not yet recovered from some great agitation. Her face was pale and she ha_learly been crying. These notes of trouble gave her a new and quite pervers_ignity, which was further enhanced by something complimentary an_ommemorative in her dress.
  • Whether it was taste or whether it was accident I know not; but the amiabl_reature, as she stood there half in the cool twilight, half in the arreste_low of the fire as it spent itself in the vastness of its marble cave, was _igure for a painter. She was habited in some faded splendour of sea-gree_rape and silk, a piece of millinery which, though it must have witnessed _umber of dull dinners, preserved still a festive air. Over her whit_houlders she wore an ancient web of the most precious and venerable lace an_bout her rounded throat a single series of large pearls. I went in with he_o dinner, and Mr. Searle, following with my friend, took his arm, as th_atter afterwards told me, and pretended jocosely to conduct him. As dinne_roceeded the feeling grew within me that a drama had begun to be played i_hich the three persons before me were actors—each of a really arduous part.
  • The character allotted to my friend, however, was certainly the least easy t_epresent with effect, though I overflowed with the desire that he shoul_cquit himself to his honour. I seemed to see him urge his faded faculties t_ake their cue and perform. The poor fellow tried to do himself credit mor_eriously than ever in his old best days. With Miss Searle, credulous passiv_nd pitying, he had finally flung aside all vanity and propriety and shown th_ottom of his fantastic heart. But with our host there might be no talking o_onsense nor taking of liberties; there and then, if ever, sat a consummat_onservative, breathing the fumes of hereditary privilege and security. For a_our, accordingly, I saw my poor protege attempt, all in pain, to meet a ne_ecorum. He set himself the task of appearing very American, in order that hi_ppreciation of everything Mr. Searle represented might seem purel_isinterested. What his kinsman had expected him to be I know not; but I mad_r. Searle out as annoyed, in spite of his exaggerated urbanity, at findin_im so harmless. Our host was not the man to show his hand, but I think hi_est card had been a certain implicit confidence that so provincial a parasit_ould hardly have good manners.
  • He led the conversation to the country we had left; rather as if a leash ha_een attached to the collar of some lumpish and half- domesticated animal th_endency of whose movements had to be recognised. He spoke of it indeed as o_ome fabled planet, alien to the British orbit, lately proclaimed to have th_dmixture of atmospheric gases required to support animal life, but not, sav_nder cover of a liberal afterthought, to be admitted into one's regula_onception of things. I, for my part, felt nothing but regret that the spheri_moothness of his universe should be disfigured by the extrusion even of suc_nconsiderable particles as ourselves.
  • "I knew in a general way of our having somehow ramified over there," Mr.
  • Searle mentioned; "but had scarcely followed it more than you pretend to pic_p the fruit your long-armed pear tree may drop, on the other side of you_all, in your neighbour's garden. There was a man I knew at Cambridge, a ver_dd fellow, a decent fellow too; he and I were rather cronies; I think h_fterwards went to the Middle States. They'll be, I suppose, about th_ississippi? At all events, there was that great-uncle of mine whom Sir Joshu_ainted. He went to America, but he never got there. He was lost at sea. Yo_ook enough like him to make one fancy he DID get there and that you've kep_im alive by one of those beastly processes—I think you have 'em over there: what do you call it, 'putting up' things? If you're he you've not done a wis_hing to show yourself here. He left a bad name behind him. There's a ghos_ho comes sobbing about the house every now and then, the ghost of one to who_e did a wrong."
  • "Oh mercy ON us!" cried Miss Searle in simple horror.
  • "Of course YOU know nothing of such things," he rather dryly allowed. "You'r_oo sound a sleeper to hear the sobbing of ghosts."
  • "I'm sure I should like immensely to hear the sobbing of a ghost," said m_riend, the light of his previous eagerness playing up into his eyes. "Wh_oes it sob? I feel as if that were what we've come above all to learn."
  • Mr. Searle eyed his audience a moment gaugingly; he held the balance as t_easure his resources. He wished to do justice to his theme. With the lon_inger-nails of his left hand nervously playing against the tinkling crysta_f his wineglass and his conscious eyes betraying that, small and strange a_e sat there, he knew himself, to his pleasure and advantage, remarkabl_mpressive, he dropped into our untutored minds the sombre legend of hi_ouse. "Mr. Clement Searle, from all I gather, was a young man of grea_alents but a weak disposition. His mother was left a widow early in life, with two sons, of whom he was the elder and the more promising. She educate_im with the greatest affection and care. Of course when he came to manhoo_he wished him to marry well. His means were quite sufficient to enable him t_verlook the want of money in his wife; and Mrs. Searle selected a young lad_ho possessed, as she conceived, every good gift save a fortune—a fine prou_andsome girl, the daughter of an old friend, an old lover I suspect, of he_wn. Clement, however, as it appeared, had either chosen otherwise or was a_et unprepared to choose. The young lady opened upon him in vain the batter_f her attractions; in vain his mother urged her cause. Clement remained cold, insensible, inflexible. Mrs. Searle had a character which appears to have gon_ut of fashion in my family nowadays; she was a great manager, a maitresse- femme. A proud passionate imperious woman, she had had immense cares and eve_o many law-suits; they had sharpened her temper and her will. She suspecte_hat her son's affections had another object, and this object she began t_ate. Irritated by his stubborn defiance of her wishes she persisted in he_urpose. The more she watched him the more she was convinced he loved i_ecret. If he loved in secret of course he loved beneath him. He went abou_he place all sombre and sullen and brooding. At last, with the rashness of a_ngry woman, she threatened to bring the young lady of her choice—who, by th_ay, seems to have been no shrinking blossom—to stay in the house. A storm_cene was the result. He threatened that if she did so he would leave th_ountry and sail for America. She probably disbelieved him; she knew him to b_eak, but she overrated his weakness. At all events the rejected one arrive_nd Clement Searle departed. On a dark December day he took ship a_outhampton. The two women, desperate with rage and sorrow, sat alone in thi_ig house, mingling their tears and imprecations. A fortnight later, o_hristmas Eve, in the midst of a great snowstorm long famous in the country, something happened that quickened their bitterness. A young woman, battere_nd chilled by the storm, gained entrance to the house and, making her wa_nto the presence of the mistress and her guest, poured out her tale. She wa_ poor curate's daughter out of some little hole in Gloucestershire. Clemen_earle had loved her—loved her all too well! She had been turned out in wrat_rom her father's house; his mother at least might pity her—if not for hersel_hen for the child she was soon to bring forth. Hut the poor girl had been _econd time too trustful. The women, in scorn, in horror, with blows possibly, drove her forth again into the storm. In the storm she wandered and in th_eep snow she died. Her lover, as you know, perished in that hard winte_eather at sea; the news came to his mother late, but soon enough. We'r_aunted by the curate's daughter!"
  • Mr. Searle retailed this anecdote with infinite taste and point, the happies_rt; when he ceased there was a pause of some moments. "Ah well we may be!"
  • Miss Searle then mournfully murmured.
  • Searle blazed up into enthusiasm. "Of course, you know"—with which he began t_lush violently—"I should be sorry to claim any identity with the poor devi_y faithless namesake. But I should be immensely gratified if the young lady'_pirit, deceived by my resemblance, were to mistake me for her cruel lover.
  • She's welcome to the comfort of it. What one can do in the case I shall b_lad to do. But can a ghost haunt a ghost? I AM a ghost!"
  • Mr. Searle stared a moment and then had a subtle sneer. "I could almos_elieve you are!"
  • "Oh brother—and cousin!" cried Miss Searle with the gentlest yet mos_ppealing dignity. "How can you talk so horribly?" The horrible talk, however, evidently possessed a potent magic for my friend; and his imagination, checke_ while by the influence of his kinsman, began again to lead him a dance. Fro_his moment he ceased to steer his frail bark, to care what he said or how h_aid it, so long as he expressed his passionate appreciation of the scen_round him. As he kept up this strain I ceased even secretly to wish h_ouldn't. I have wondered since that I shouldn't have been annoyed by the wa_e reverted constantly to himself. But a great frankness, for the time, make_ts own law and a great passion its own channel. There was moreover a_rresponsible indescribable effect of beauty in everything his lips uttered.
  • Free alike from adulation and from envy, the essence of his discourse was _ivine apprehension, a romantic vision free as the flight of Ariel, of th_oetry of his companions' situation and their contrasted genera_rresponsiveness.
  • "How does the look of age come?" he suddenly broke out at dessert. "Does i_ome of itself, unobserved, unrecorded, unmeasured? Or do you woo it and se_aits and traps for it, and watch it like the dawning brownness of _eerschaum pipe, and make it fast, when it appears, just where it peeps out, and light a votive taper beneath it and give thanks to it daily? Or do yo_orbid it and fight it and resist it, and yet feel it settling and deepenin_bout you as irresistible as fate?"
  • "What the deuce is the man talking about?" said the smile of our host.
  • "I found a little grey hair this morning," Miss Searle incoherently prosed.
  • "Well then I hope you paid it every respect!" cried her visitor.
  • "I looked at it for a long time in my hand-glass," she answered with mor_resence of mind.
  • "Miss Searle can for many years to come afford to be amused at grey hairs," _nterposed in the hope of some greater ease. It had its effect. "Ten year_rom last Thursday I shall be forty-four," she almost comfortably smiled.
  • "Well, that's just what I am," said Searle. "If I had only come here ten year_go! I should have had more time to enjoy the feast, but I should have ha_ess appetite. I needed first to get famished."
  • "Oh why did you wait for that?" his entertainer asked. "To think of these te_ears that we might have been enjoying you!" At the vision of which waste an_oss Mr. Searle had a fine shrill laugh.
  • "Well," my friend explained, "I always had a notion—a stupid vulgar notion i_here ever was one—that to come abroad properly one had to have a pot o_oney. My pot was too nearly empty. At last I came with my empty pot!"
  • Mr. Searle had a wait for delicacy, but he proceeded. "You're reduced, you're—a—straitened?"
  • Our companion's very breath blew away the veil. "Reduced to nothing.
  • Straitened to the clothes on my back!"
  • "You don't say so!" said Mr. Searle with a large vague gasp. "Well—well—well!"
  • he added in a voice which might have meant everything or nothing; and then, i_is whimsical way, went on to finish a glass of wine. His searching eye, as h_rank, met mine, and for a moment we each rather deeply sounded the other, t_he effect no doubt of a slight embarrassment. "And you," he said by way o_arrying this off—"how about YOUR wardrobe?"
  • "Oh his!" cried my friend; "his wardrobe's immense. He could dress up _egiment!" He had drunk more champagne—I admit that the champagne wa_ood—than was from any point of view to have been desired. He was rapidl_rifting beyond any tacit dissuasion of mine. He was feverish and rash, an_ll attempt to direct would now simply irritate him. As we rose from the tabl_e caught my troubled look. Passing his arm for a moment into mine, "This i_he great night!" he strangely and softly said; "the night and the crisis tha_ill settle me."
  • Mr. Searle had caused the whole lower portion of the house to be thrown ope_nd a multitude of lights to be placed in convenient and effective positions.
  • Such a marshalled wealth of ancient candlesticks and flambeaux I had neve_eheld. Niched against the dusky wainscots, casting great luminous circle_pon the pendent stiffness of sombre tapestries, enhancing and completing wit_dmirable effect the variety and mystery of the great ancient house, the_eemed to people the wide rooms, as our little group passed slowly from one t_nother, with a dim expectant presence. We had thus, in spite of everything, _onderful hour of it. Mr. Searle at once assumed the part of cicerone, and—_ad not hitherto done him justice—Mr. Searle became almost agreeable. While _ingered behind with his sister he walked in advance with his kinsman. It wa_s if he had said: "Well, if you want the old place you shall have it—so fa_s the impression goes!" He spared us no thrill—I had almost said no pang—o_hat experience. Carrying a tall silver candlestick in his left hand, h_aised it and lowered it and cast the light hither and thither, upon picture_nd hangings and carvings and cornices. He knew his house to perfection. H_ouched upon a hundred traditions and memories, he threw off a cloud of ric_eference to its earlier occupants. He threw off again, in his easy elegan_ay, a dozen—happily lighter—anecdotes. His relative attended with a broodin_eference. Miss Searle and I meanwhile were not wholly silent.
  • "I suppose that by this time you and your cousin are almost old friends," _emarked.
  • She trifled a moment with her fan and then raised her kind small eyes. "Ol_riends—yet at the same time strangely new! My cousin, my cousin"—and he_oice lingered on the word—"it seems so strange to call him my cousin afte_hinking these many years that I've no one in the world but my brother. Bu_e's really so very odd!"
  • "It's not so much he as—well, as his situation, that deserves that name," _ried to reason.
  • "I'm so sorry for his situation. I wish I could help it in some way. H_nterests me so much." She gave a sweet-sounding sigh. "I wish I could hav_nown him sooner—and better. He tells me he's but the shadow of what he use_o be."
  • I wondered if he had been consciously practising on the sensibilities of thi_entle creature. If he had I believed he had gained his point. But hi_osition had in fact become to my sense so precarious that I hardly venture_o be glad. "His better self just now seems again to be taking shape," I said.
  • "It will have been a good deed on your part if you help to restore him to al_e ought to be."
  • She met my idea blankly. "Dear me, what can I do?"
  • "Be a friend to him. Let him like you, let him love you. I dare say you see i_im now much to pity and to wonder at. But let him simply enjoy a while th_rateful sense of your nearness and dearness. He'll be a better and stronge_an for it, and then you can love him, you can esteem him, withou_estriction."
  • She fairly frowned for helplessness. "It's a hard part for poor stupid me t_lay!"
  • Her almost infantine innocence left me no choice but to be absolutely frank.
  • "Did you ever play any part at all?"
  • She blushed as if I had been reproaching her with her insignificance. "Never!
  • I think I've hardly lived."
  • "You've begun to live now perhaps. You've begun to care for something els_han your old-fashioned habits. Pardon me if I seem rather meddlesome; yo_now we Americans are very rough and ready. It's a great moment. I wish yo_oy!"
  • "I could almost believe you're laughing at me. I feel more trouble than joy."
  • "Why do you feel trouble?"
  • She paused with her eyes fixed on our companions. "My cousin's arrival's _reat disturbance," she said at last.
  • "You mean you did wrong in coming to meet him? In that case the fault's mine.
  • He had no intention of giving you the opportunity."
  • "I certainly took too much on myself. But I can't find it in my heart t_egret it. I never shall regret it! I did the only thing I COULD, heave_orgive me!"
  • "Heaven bless you, Miss Searle! Is any harm to come of it? I did the evil; le_e bear the brunt!"
  • She shook her head gravely. "You don't know my brother!"
  • "The sooner I master the subject the better then," I said. I couldn't hel_elieving myself—at least by the tone of my voice —of the antipathy wit_hich, decidedly, this gentleman had inspired me. "Not perhaps that we shoul_et on so well together!" After which, as she turned away, "Are you VERY muc_fraid of him?" I added.
  • She gave me a shuddering sidelong glance. "He's looking at me!"
  • He was placed with his back to us, holding a large Venetian hand- mirror, framed in chiselled silver, which he had taken from a shelf of antiquities, just at such an angle that he caught the reflexion of his sister's person. I_as evident that I too was under his attention, and was resolved I wouldn't b_uspected for nothing. "Miss Searle," I said with urgency, "promise m_omething."
  • She turned upon me with a start and a look that seemed to beg me to spare her.
  • "Oh don't ask me—please don't!" It was as if she were standing on the edge o_ place where the ground had suddenly fallen away, and had been called upon t_ake a leap. I felt retreat was impossible, however, and that it was th_reater kindness to assist her to jump.
  • "Promise me," I repeated.
  • Still with her eyes she protested. "Oh what a dreadful day!" she cried a_ast.
  • "Promise me to let him speak to you alone if he should ask you— any wish yo_ay suspect on your brother's part notwithstanding." She coloured deeply. "Yo_ean he has something so particular to say?"
  • "Something so particular!"
  • "Poor cousin!"
  • "Well, poor cousin! But promise me."
  • "I promise," she said, and moved away across the long room and out of th_oor.
  • "You're in time to hear the most delightful story," Searle began to me as _ejoined him and his host. They were standing before an old sombre portrait o_ lady in the dress of Queen Anne's time, whose ill-painted flesh-tints showe_ivid, in the candle- light, against her dark drapery and background. "This i_rs. Margaret Searle—a sort of Beatrix Esmond—qui se passait ses fantaisies.
  • She married a paltry Frenchman, a penniless fiddler, in the teeth of her whol_amily. Pretty Mrs. Margaret, you must have been a woman of courage! Upon m_ord, she looks like Miss Searle! But pray go on. What came of it all?"
  • Our companion watched him with an air of distaste for his boisterous homag_nd of pity for his crude imagination. But he took up the tale with a_ffective dryness: "I found a year ago, in a box of very old papers, a lette_rom the lady in question to a certain Cynthia Searle, her elder sister. I_as dated from Paris and dreadfully ill-spelled. It contained a mos_assionate appeal for pecuniary assistance. She had just had a baby, she wa_tarving and dreadfully neglected by her husband—she cursed the day she ha_eft England. It was a most dismal production. I never heard she found mean_o return."
  • "So much for marrying a Frenchman!" I said sententiously.
  • Our host had one of his waits. "This is the only lady of the family who eve_as taken in by an adventurer."
  • "Does Miss Searle know her history?" asked my friend with a stare at th_ounded whiteness of the heroine's cheek.
  • "Miss Searle knows nothing!" said our host with expression.
  • "She shall know at least the tale of Mrs. Margaret," their guest returned; an_e walked rapidly away in search of her.
  • Mr. Searle and I pursued our march through the lighted rooms. "You've found _ousin with a vengeance," I doubtless awkwardly enough laughed.
  • "Ah a vengeance?" my entertainer stiffly repeated.
  • "I mean that he takes as keen an interest in your annals and possessions a_ourself."
  • "Oh exactly so! He tells me he's a bad invalid," he added in a moment. "_hould never have supposed it."
  • "Within the past few hours he's a changed man. Your beautiful house, you_xtreme kindness, have refreshed him immensely." Mr. Searle uttered the vagu_jaculation with which self- conscious Britons so often betray the concussio_f any especial courtesy of speech. But he followed this by a sudden odd glar_nd the sharp declaration: "I'm an honest man!" I was quite prepared t_ssent; but he went on with a fury of frankness, as if it were the first tim_n his life he had opened himself to any one, as if the process were highl_isagreeable and he were hurrying through it as a task. "An honest man, min_ou! I know nothing about Mr. Clement Searle! I never expected to see him. H_as been to me a—a—!" And here he paused to select a word which should vividl_nough express what, for good or for ill, his kinsman represented. "He ha_een to me an Amazement! I've no doubt he's a most amiable man. You'll no_eny, however, that he's a very extraordinary sort of person. I'm sorry he'_ll. I'm sorry he's poor. He's my fiftieth cousin. Well and good. I'm a_onest man. He shall not have it to say that he wasn't received at my house."
  • "He too, thank heaven, is an honest man!" I smiled.
  • "Why the devil then," cried Mr. Searle, turning almost fiercely on me, "has h_ut forward this underhand claim to my property?"
  • The question, quite ringing out, flashed backward a gleam of light upon th_emeanour of our host and the suppressed agitation of his sister. In a_nstant the jealous gentleman revealed itself. For a moment I was so surprise_nd scandalised at the directness of his attack that I lacked words to reply.
  • As soon as he had spoken indeed Mr. Searle appeared to feel he had bee_anting in form. "Pardon me," he began afresh, "if I speak of this matter wit_eat. But I've been more disgusted than I can say to hear, as I heard thi_orning from my solicitor, of the extraordinary proceedings of Mr. Clemen_earle. Gracious goodness, sir, for what does the man take me? He pretends t_he Lord knows what fantastic admiration for my place. Let him then show hi_espect for it by not taking too many liberties! Let him, with his high-flow_arade of loyalty, imagine a tithe of what _I_ feel! I love my estate; it's m_assion, my conscience, my life! Am I to divide it up at this time of day wit_ beggarly foreigner—a man without means, without appearance, without proof, _retender, an adventurer, a chattering mountebank? I thought America boaste_aving lands for all men! Upon my soul, sir, I've never been so shocked in m_ife."
  • I paused for some moments before speaking, to allow his passion fully t_xpend itself and to flicker up again if it chose; for so far as I wa_oncerned in the whole awkward matter I but wanted to deal with hi_iscreetly. "Your apprehensions, sir," I said at last, "your not unnatura_urprise, perhaps, at the candour of our interest, have acted too much on you_erves. You're attacking a man of straw, a creature of unworthy illusion; though I'm sadly afraid you've wounded a man of spirit and conscience. Eithe_y friend has no valid claim on your estate, in which case your agitation i_uperfluous; or he HAS a valid claim—"
  • Mr. Searle seized my arm and glared at me; his pale face paler still with th_orror of my suggestion, his great eyes of alarm glowing and his strange re_air erect and quivering. "A valid claim!" he shouted. "Let him try it—let hi_ring it into court!"
  • We had emerged into the great hall and stood facing the main doorway. The doo_as open into the portico, through the stone archway of which I saw the garde_litter in the blue light of a full moon. As the master of the house uttere_he words I have just repeated my companion came slowly up into the porch fro_ithout, bareheaded, bright in the outer moonlight, dark in the shadow of th_rchway, and bright again in the lamplight at the entrance of the hall. As h_rossed the threshold the butler made an appearance at the head of th_taircase on our left, faltering visibly a moment at sight of Mr. Searle; after which, noting my friend, he gravely descended. He bore in his hand _mall silver tray. On the tray, gleaming in the light of the suspended lamp, lay a folded note. Clement Searle came forward, staring a little and startled, I think, by some quick nervous prevision of a catastrophe. The butler applie_he match to the train. He advanced to my fellow visitor, all solemnly, wit_he offer of his missive. Mr. Searle made a movement as if to spring forward, but controlled himself. "Tottenham!" he called in a strident voice.
  • "Yes, sir!" said Tottenham, halting.
  • "Stand where you are. For whom is that note?"
  • "For Mr. Clement Searle," said the butler, staring straight before him an_issociating himself from everything.
  • "Who gave it to you?"
  • "Mrs. Horridge, sir." This personage, I afterwards learned, was our friend th_ousekeeper.
  • "Who gave it Mrs. Horridge?"
  • There was on Tottenham's part just an infinitesimal pause before replying.
  • "My dear sir," broke in Searle, his equilibrium, his ancient ease, completel_estored by the crisis, "isn't that rather my business?"
  • "What happens in my house is my business, and detestable things seem to b_appening." Our host, it was clear, now so furiously detested them that I wa_fraid he would snatch the bone of contention without more ceremony. "Bring m_hat thing!" he cried; on which Tottenham stiffly moved to obey.
  • "Really this is too much!" broke out my companion, affronted and helpless.
  • So indeed it struck me, and before Mr. Searle had time to take the note _ossessed myself of it. "If you've no consideration for your sister let _tranger at least act for her." And I tore the disputed object into a doze_ieces.
  • "In the name of decency, what does this horrid business mean?" my companio_uavered.
  • Mr. Searle was about to open fire on him, but at that moment our hostes_ppeared on the staircase, summoned evidently by our high-pitched contentiou_oices. She had exchanged her dinner- dress for a dark wrapper, removed he_rnaments and begun to disarrange her hair, a thick tress of which escape_rom the comb. She hurried down with a pale questioning face. Feelin_istinctly that, for ourselves, immediate departure was in the air, an_ivining Mr. Tottenham to be a person of a few deep- seated instincts and o_uch latent energy, I seized the opportunity to request him, sotto voce, t_end a carriage to the door without delay. "And put up our things," I added.
  • Our host rushed at his sister and grabbed the white wrist that escaped fro_he loose sleeve of her dress. "What was in that note?" he quite hissed a_er.
  • Miss Searle looked first at its scattered fragments and then at her cousin.
  • "Did you read it?"
  • "No, but I thank you for it!" said Searle.
  • Her eyes, for an instant, communicated with his own as I think they had never, never communicated with any other source of meaning; then she transferred the_o her brother's face, where the sense went out of them, only to leave a dul_ad patience. But there was something even in this flat humility that seeme_o him to mock him, so that he flushed crimson with rage and spite and flun_er away. "You always were an idiot! Go to bed."
  • In poor Searle's face as well the gathered serenity had been by this time al_lighted and distorted and the reflected brightness of his happy day turned t_lank confusion. "Have I been dealing these three hours with a madman?" h_oefully cried.
  • "A madman, yes, if you will! A man mad with the love of his home and the sens_f its stability. I've held my tongue till now, but you've been too much fo_e. Who the devil are you, and what and why and whence?" the terrible littl_an continued. "From what paradise of fools do you come that you fancy I shal_ake over to you, for the asking, a part of my property and my life? I'_orsooth, you ridiculous person, to go shares with you? Prove you_reposterous claim! There isn't THAT in it!" And he kicked one of the bits o_aper on the floor.
  • Searle received this broadside gaping. Then turning away he went and seate_imself on a bench against the wall and rubbed his forehead amazedly. I looke_t my watch and listened for the wheels of our carriage.
  • But his kinsman was too launched to pull himself up. "Wasn't it enough tha_ou should have plotted against my rights? Need you have come into my ver_ouse to intrigue with my sister?"
  • My friend put his two hands to his face. "Oh, oh, oh!" he groaned while Mis_earle crossed rapidly and dropped on her knees at his side.
  • "Go to bed, you fool!" shrieked her brother.
  • "Dear cousin," she said, "it's cruel you're to have so to think of us!"
  • "Oh I shall think of YOU as you'd like!" He laid a hand on her head.
  • "I believe you've done nothing wrong," she brought bravely out.
  • "I've done what I could," Mr. Searle went on—"but it's arrant folly to preten_o friendship when this abomination lies between us. You were welcome to m_eat and my wine, but I wonder you could swallow them. The sight spoiled M_ppetite!" cried the master of Lackley with a laugh. "Proceed with you_rumpery case! My people in London are instructed and prepared."
  • "I shouldn't wonder if your case had improved a good deal since you gave i_p," I was moved to observe to Searle.
  • "Oho! you don't feign ignorance then?" and our insane entertainer shook hi_hining head at me. "It's very kind of you to give it up! Perhaps you'll als_ive up my sister!"
  • Searle sat staring in distress at his adversary. "Ah miserable man—I though_e had become such beautiful friends."
  • "Boh, you hypocrite!" screamed our host.
  • Searle seemed not to hear him. "Am I seriously expected," he slowly an_ainfully pursued, "to defend myself against the accusation of any rea_ndelicacy—to prove I've done nothing underhand or impudent? Think what yo_lease!" And he rose, with an effort, to his feet. "I know what YOU think!" h_dded to Miss Searle.
  • The wheels of the carriage resounded on the gravel, and at the same moment _ootman descended with our two portmanteaux. Mr. Tottenham followed him wit_ur hats and coats.
  • "Good God," our host broke out again, "you're not going away?"— an ejaculatio_hat, after all that had happened, had the grandest comicality. "Bless m_oul," he then remarked as artlessly, "of course you're going!"
  • "It's perhaps well," said Miss Searle with a great effort, inexpressibl_ouching in one for whom great efforts were visibly new and strange, "that _hould tell you what my poor little note contained."
  • "That matter of your note, madam," her brother interrupted, "you and I wil_ettle together!"
  • "Let me imagine all sorts of kind things!" Searle beautifully pleaded.
  • "Ah too much has been imagined!" she answered simply. "It was only a word o_arning. It was to tell you to go. I knew something painful was coming."
  • He took his hat. "The pains and the pleasures of this day," he said to hi_insman, "I shall equally never forget. Knowing you," and he offered his han_o Miss Searle, "has been the pleasure of pleasures. I hoped something mor_ight have come of it."
  • "A monstrous deal too much has come of it!" Mr. Searle irrepressibly declared.
  • His departing guest looked at him mildly, almost benignantly, from head t_oot, and then with closed eyes and some collapse of strength, "I'm afraid so, I can't stand more," he went on. I gave him my arm and we crossed th_hreshold. As we passed out I heard Miss Searle break into loud weeping.
  • "We shall hear from each other yet, I take it!" her brother pursued, harassin_ur retreat.
  • My friend stopped, turning round on him fiercely. "You very impossible man!"
  • he cried in his face.
  • "Do you mean to say you'll not prosecute?" Mr. Searle kept it up. "I shal_orce you to prosecute! I shall drag you into court, and you shall b_eaten—beaten—beaten!" Which grim reiteration followed us on our course.
  • We drove of course to the little wayside inn from which we had departed in th_orning so unencumbered, in all broad England, either with enemies or friends.
  • My companion, as the carriage rolled along, seemed overwhelmed and exhausted.
  • "What a beautiful horrible dream!" he confusedly wailed. "What a strang_wakening! What a long long day! What a hideous scene! Poor me! Poor woman!"
  • When we had resumed possession of our two little neighbouring rooms I aske_im whether Miss Searle's note had been the result of anything that had passe_etween them on his going to rejoin her. "I found her on the terrace," h_aid, "walking restlessly up and down in the moonlight. I was greatl_xcited—I hardly know what I said. I asked her, I think, if she knew the stor_f Margaret Searle. She seemed frightened and troubled, and she used just th_ords her brother had used—'I know nothing.' For the moment, somehow, I fel_s a man drunk. I stood before her and told her, with great emphasis, how poo_argaret had married a beggarly foreigner—all in obedience to her heart and i_efiance to her family. As I talked the sheeted moonlight seemed to clos_bout us, so that we stood there in a dream, in a world quite detached. Sh_rew younger, prettier, more attractive—I found myself talking all kinds o_onsense. Before I knew it I had gone very far. I was taking her hand an_alling her 'Margaret, dear Margaret!' She had said it was impossible, tha_he could do nothing, that she was a fool, a child, a slave. Then with _udden sense—it was odd how it came over me there—of the reality of m_onnexion with the place, I spoke of my claim against the estate. 'It exists,'
  • I declared, 'but I've given it up. Be generous! Pay me for my sacrifice.' Fo_n instant her face was radiant. 'If I marry you,' she asked, 'will it mak_verything right?' Of that I at once assured her—in our marriage the whol_ifficulty would melt away like a rain-drop in the great sea. 'Our marriage!'
  • she repeated in wonder; and the deep ring of her voice seemed to wake us u_nd show us our folly. 'I love you, but I shall never see you again,' sh_ried; and she hurried away with her face in her hands. I walked up and dow_he terrace for some moments, and then came in and met you. That's the onl_itchcraft I've used!"
  • The poor man was at once so roused and so shaken by the day's events that _elieved he would get little sleep. Conscious on my own part that I shouldn'_lose my eyes, I but partly undressed, stirred my fire and sat down to do som_riting. I heard the great clock in the little parlour below strike twelve, one, half- past one. Just as the vibration of this last stroke was dying o_he air the door of communication with Searle's room was flung open and m_ompanion stood on the threshold, pale as a corpse, in his nightshirt, shinin_ike a phantom against the darkness behind him. "Look well at me!" h_ntensely gasped; "touch me, embrace me, revere me! You see a man who has see_ ghost!"
  • "Gracious goodness, what do you mean?"
  • "Write it down!" he went on. "There, take your pen. Put it into dreadfu_ords. How do I look? Am I human? Am I pale? Am I red? Am I speaking English?
  • A ghost, sir! Do you understand?"
  • I confess there came upon me by contact a kind of supernatural shock. I shal_lways feel by the whole communication of it that I too have seen a ghost. M_irst movement—I can smile at it now —was to spring to the door, close i_uickly and turn the key upon the gaping blackness from which Searle ha_merged. I seized his two hands; they were wet with perspiration. I pushed m_hair to the fire and forced him to sit down in it; then I got on my knees an_eld his hands as firmly as possible. They trembled and quivered; his eye_ere fixed save that the pupil dilated and contracted with extraordinar_orce. I asked no questions, but waited there, very curious for what he woul_ay. At last he spoke. "I'm not frightened, but I'm—oh excited! This is life!
  • This is living! My nerves—my heart—my brain! They're throbbing —don't you fee_t? Do you tingle? Are you hot? Are you cold? Hold me tight—tight—tight! _hall tremble away into waves— into surges—and know all the secrets of thing_nd all the reasons and all the mysteries!" He paused a moment and then wen_n: "A woman—as clear as that candle: no, far clearer! In a blue dress, with _lack mantle on her head and a little black muff. Young and wonderfull_retty, pale and ill; with the sadness of all the women who ever loved an_uffered pleading and accusing in her wet-looking eyes. God knows I never di_ny such thing! But she took me for my elder, for the other Clement. She cam_o me here as she would have come to me there. She wrung her hands and sh_poke to me 'marry me!' she moaned; 'marry me and put an end to my shame!' _at up in bed, just as I sit here, looked at her, heard her—heard her voic_elt away, watched her figure fade away. Bless us and save us! Here I be!"
  • I made no attempt either to explain or to criticise this extraordinar_assage. It's enough that I yielded for the hour to the strange force of m_riend's emotion. On the whole I think my own vision was the more interestin_f the two. He beheld but the transient irresponsible spectre—I beheld th_uman subject hot from the spectral presence. Yet I soon recovered m_udgement sufficiently to be moved again to try to guard him against th_esults of excitement and exposure. It was easily agreed that he was not fo_he night to return to his room, and I made him fairly comfortable in hi_lace by my fire. Wishing above all to preserve him from a chill I removed m_edding and wrapped him in the blankets and counterpane. I had no nerve_ither for writing or for sleep; so I put out my lights, renewed the fuel an_at down on the opposite side of the hearth. I found it a great and hig_olemnity just to watch my companion. Silent, swathed and muffled to his chin, he sat rigid and erect with the dignity of his adventure. For the most par_is eyes were closed; though from time to time he would open them with _teady expansion and stare, never blinking, into the flame, as if he agai_eheld without terror the image of the little woman with the muff. Hi_adaverous emaciated face, his tragic wrinkles intensified by the upward glo_rom the hearth, his distorted moustache, his extraordinary gravity and _ertain fantastical air as the red light flickered over him, all re-enforce_is fine likeness to the vision-haunted knight of La Mancha when laid up afte_ome grand exploit. The night passed wholly without speech. Toward its close _lept for half an hour. When I awoke the awakened birds had begun to twitte_nd Searle, unperturbed, sat staring at me. We exchanged a long look, and _elt with a pang that his glittering eyes had tasted their last of natura_leep. "How is it? Are you comfortable?" I nevertheless asked.
  • He fixed me for a long time without replying and then spoke with a wea_xtravagance and with such pauses between his words as might have represente_he slow prompting of an inner voice. "You asked me when you first knew m_hat I was. 'Nothing,' I said, 'nothing of any consequence.' Nothing I'v_lways supposed myself to be. But I've wronged myself—I'm a great exception.
  • I'm a haunted man!"
  • If sleep had passed out of his eyes I felt with even a deeper pang that sanit_ad abandoned his spirit. From this moment I was prepared for the worst. Ther_ere in my friend, however, such confirmed habits of mildness that I foun_yself not in the least fearing he would prove unmanageable. As morning bega_ully to dawn upon us I brought our curious vigil to a close. Searle was s_nfeebled that I gave him my hands to help him out of his chair, and h_etained them for some moments after rising to his feet, unable as he seeme_o keep his balance. "Well," he said," I've been once favoured, but don'_hink I shall be favoured again. I shall soon be myself as fit to 'appear' a_ny of them. I shall haunt the master of Lackley! It can only mean one thing— that they're getting ready for me on the other side of the grave."
  • When I touched the question of breakfast he replied that he had his breakfas_n his pocket; and he drew from his travelling-bag a phial of morphine. H_ook a strong dose and went to bed. At noon I found him on foot again, dressed, shaved, much refreshed. "Poor fellow," he said, "you've got more tha_ou bargained for— not only a man with a grievance but a man with a ghost.
  • Well, it won't be for long!" It had of course promptly become a questio_hither we should now direct our steps. "As I've so little time," he argue_or this, "I should like to see the best, the best alone." I answered tha_ither for time or eternity I had always supposed Oxford to represent th_nglish maximum, and for Oxford in the course of an hour we accordingl_eparted.