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   Chapter 7 THE WARNING.

Little Novels By Wilkie Collins Characters: 11390

Updated: 2017-11-28 00:07


HAVING delivered his little formula of words, the shabby servant cast a look of furtive curiosity at Percy and withdrew. Charlotte turned to her lover, with indignation sparkling in her eyes and flushing on her cheeks at the bare idea of seeing Captain Bervie again. "Does he think I will breathe the same air," she exclaimed, "with the man who attempted to take your life!"

Percy gently remonstrated with her.

"You are sadly mistaken," he said. "Captain Bervie stood to receive my fire as fairly as I stood to receive his. When I discharged my pistol in the air, he was the first man who ran up to me, and asked if I was seriously hurt. They told him my wound was a trifle; and he fell on his knees and thanked God for preserving my life from his guilty hand. 'I am no longer the rival who hates you,' he said. 'Give me time to try if change of scene will quiet my mind; and I will be your brother, and her brother.' Whatever his faults may be, Charlotte, Arthur Bervie has a great heart. Go in, I entreat you, and be friends with him as I am."

Charlotte listened with downcast eyes and changing color. "You believe him?" she asked in low and trembling tones.

"I believe him as I believe You," Percy answered.

She secretly resented the comparison, and detested the Captain more heartily than ever. "I will go in and see him, if you wish it," she said. "But not by myself. I want you to come with me."

"Why?" Percy asked.

"I want to see what his face says, when you and he meet."

"Do you still doubt him, Charlotte?"

She made no reply. Percy had done his best to convince her, and had evidently failed.

They went together into the cottage. Fixing her eyes steadily on the Captain's face, Charlotte saw it turn pale when Percy followed her into the parlor. The two men greeted one another cordially. Charlotte sat down by her mother, preserving her composure so far as appearances went. "I hear you have called to bid us good-by," she said to Bervie. "Is it to be a long absence?"

"I have got two months' leave," the Captain answered, without looking at her while he spoke.

"Are you going abroad?"

"Yes. I think so."

She turned away to her mother. Bervie seized the opportunity of speaking to Percy. "I have a word of advice for your private ear." At the same moment, Charlotte whispered to her mother: "Don't encourage him to prolong his visit."

The Captain showed no intention to prolong his visit. To Charlotte's surprise, when he took leave of the ladies, Percy also rose to go. "His carriage," he said, "was waiting at the door; and he had offered to take Captain Bervie back to London."

Charlotte instantly suspected an arrangement between the two men for a confidential interview. Her obstinate distrust of Bervie strengthened tenfold. She reluctantly gave him her hand, as he parted from her at the parlor-door. The effort of concealing her true feeling toward him gave a color and a vivacity to her face which made her irresistibly beautiful. Bervie looked at the woman whom he had lost with an immeasurable sadness in his eyes. "When we meet again," he said, "you will see me in a new character." He hurried out of the gate, as if he feared to trust himself for a moment longer in her presence.

Charlotte followed Percy into the passage. "I shall be here to-morrow, dearest!" he said, and tried to raise her hand to his lips. She abruptly drew it away. "Not that hand!" she answered. "Captain Bervie has just touched it. Kiss the other!"

"Do you still doubt the Captain?" said Percy, amused by her petulance.

She put her arm over his shoulder, and touched the plaster on his neck gently with her finger. "There's one thing I don't doubt," she said: "the Captain did that!"

Percy left her, laughing. At the front gate of the cottage he found Arthur Bervie in conversation with the same shabbily-dressed man-servant who had announced the Captain's visit to Charlotte.

"What has become of the other servant?" Bervie asked. "I mean the old man who has been with Mr. Bowmore for so many years."

"He has left his situation, sir."

"Why?"

"As I understand, sir, he spoke disrespectfully to the master."

"Oh! And how came the master to hear of you?"

"I advertised; and Mr. Bowmore answered my advertisement."

Bervie looked hard at the man for a moment, and then joined Percy at the carriage door. The two gentlemen started for London.

"What do you think of Mr. Bowmore's new servant?" asked the Captain as they drove away from the cottage. "I don't like the look of the fellow."

"I didn't particularly notice him," Percy answered.

There was a pause. When the conversation was resumed, it turned on common-place subjects. The Captain looked uneasily out of the carriage window. Percy looked uneasily at the Captain.

They had left Dartford about two miles behind them, when Percy noticed an old gabled house, sheltered by magnificent trees, and standing on an eminence well removed from the high-road. Carriages and saddle-horses were visible on the drive in front, and a flag was hoisted on a staff placed in the middle of the lawn.

"Something seems to be going on there," Percy remarked. "A fine old house! Who does it belong to?"

Bervie smiled. "It belongs to my father," he said. "He is chairman of the bench of local magistrates, and he receives his brother justices to-day, to celebrate the opening of the sessions."

He stopped and looked at Percy with some embarrassment. "I am afraid I have surprised and disappointed you," he resumed, abruptly changing the subject. "I told you when we met just now at Mr. Bowmore's cottage that I had something to say to you; and I have not yet said it

. The truth is, I don't feel sure whether I have been long enough your friend to take the liberty of advising you."

"Whatever your advice is," Percy answered, "trust me to take it kindly on my side."

Thus encouraged, the Captain spoke out.

"You will probably pass much of your time at the cottage," he began, "and you will be thrown a great deal into Mr. Bowmore's society. I have known him for many years. Speaking from that knowledge, I most seriously warn you against him as a thoroughly unprincipled and thoroughly dangerous man."

This was strong language-and, naturally enough, Percy said so. The Captain justified his language.

"Without alluding to Mr. Bowmore's politics," he went on, "I can tell you that the motive of everything he says and does is vanity. To the gratification of that one passion he would sacrifice you or me, his wife or his daughter, without hesitation and without remorse. His one desire is to get into Parliament. You are wealthy, and you can help him. He will leave no effort untried to reach that end; and, if he gets you into political difficulties, he will desert you without scruple."

Percy made a last effort to take Mr. Bowmore's part-for the one irresistible reason that he was Charlotte's father.

"Pray don't think I am unworthy of your kind interest in my welfare," he pleaded. "Can you tell me of any facts which justify what you have just said?"

"I can tell you of three facts," Bervie said. "Mr. Bowmore belongs to one of the most revolutionary clubs in England; he has spoken in the ranks of sedition at public meetings; and his name is already in the black book at the Home Office. So much for the past. As to the future, if the rumor be true that Ministers mean to stop the insurrectionary risings among the population by suspending the Habeas Corpus Act, Mr. Bowmore will certainly be in danger; and it may be my father's duty to grant the warrant that apprehends him. Write to my father to verify what I have said, and I will forward your letter by way of satisfying him that he can trust you. In the meantime, refuse to accept Mr. Bowmore's assistance in the matter of your claim on Parliament; and, above all things, stop him at the outset, when he tries to steal his way into your intimacy. I need not caution you to say nothing against him to his wife and daughter. His wily tongue has long since deluded them. Don't let him delude you! Have you thought any more of our evening at Doctor Lagarde's?" he asked, abruptly changing the subject.

"I hardly know," said Percy, still under the impression of the formidable warning which he had just received.

"Let me jog your memory," the other continued. "You went on with the consultation by yourself, after I had left the Doctor's house. It will be really doing me a favor if you can call to mind what Lagarde saw in the trance-in my absence?"

Thus entreated Percy roused himself. His memory of events were still fresh enough to answer the call that his friend had made on it. In describing what had happened, he accurately repeated all that the Doctor had said.

Bervie dwelt on the words with alarm in his face as well as surprise.

"A man like me, trying to persuade a woman like-" he checked himself, as if he was afraid to let Charlotte's name pass his lips. "Trying to induce a woman to go away with me," he resumed, "and persuading her at last? Pray, go on! What did the Doctor see next?"

"He was too much exhausted, he said, to see any more."

"Surely you returned to consult him again?"

"No; I had had enough of it."

"When we get to London," said the Captain, "we shall pass along the Strand, on the way to your chambers. Will you kindly drop me at the turning that leads to the Doctor's lodgings?"

Percy looked at him in amazement. "You still take it seriously?" he said.

"Is it not serious?" Bervie asked. "Have you and I, so far, not done exactly what this man saw us doing? Did we not meet, in the days when we were rivals (as he saw us meet), with the pistols in our hands? Did you not recognize his description of the lady when you met her at the ball, as I recognized it before you?"

"Mere coincidences!" Percy answered, quoting Charlotte's opinion when they had spoken together of Doctor Lagarde, but taking care not to cite his authority. "How many thousand men have been crossed in love? How many thousand men have fought duels for love? How many thousand women choose blue for their favorite color, and answer to the vague description of the lady whom the Doctor pretended to see?"

"Say that it is so," Bervie rejoined. "The thing is remarkable, even from your point of view. And if more coincidences follow, the result will be more remarkable still."

Arrived at the Strand, Percy set the Captain down at the turning which led to the Doctor's lodgings. "You will call on me or write me word, if anything remarkable happens?" he said.

"You shall hear from me without fail," Bervie replied.

That night, the Captain's pen performed the Captain's promise, in few and startling words.

"Melancholy news! Madame Lagarde is dead. Nothing is known of her son but that he has left England. I have found out that he is a political exile. If he has ventured back to France, it is barely possible that I may hear something of him. I have friends at the English embassy in Paris who will help me to make inquiries; and I start for the Continent in a day or two. Write to me while I am away, to the care of my father, at 'The Manor House, near Dartford.' He will always know my address abroad, and will forward your letters. For your own sake, remember the warning I gave you this afternoon! Your faithful friend, A. B."

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