Sir Bale abstractedly drew near, and looked over his wife’s shoulder on the full-length portrait that stood before him; and as he did so a strange expression for a moment passed over his face.
The picture represented a man of swarthy countenance, with signs of the bottle glowing through the dark skin; small fierce pig eyes, a rather flat pendulous nose, and a grim forbidding mouth, with a large wart a little above it. On the head hung one of those full-bottomed powdered wigs that look like a cloud of cotton-wadding; a lace cravat was about his neck; he wore short black-velvet breeches with stockings rolled over them, a bottle-green coat of cut velvet and a crimson waistcoat with long flaps; coat and waistcoat both heavily laced with gold. He wore a sword, and leaned upon a crutch-handled cane, and his figure and aspect indicated a swollen and gouty state. He could not be far from sixty. There was uncommon force in this fierce and forbidding-looking portrait. Lady Mardykes said, “What wonderful dresses they wore! How like a fine magic-lantern figure he looks! What gorgeous colouring! it looks like the plumage of a mackaw; and what a claw his hand is! and that huge broken beak of a nose! Isn’t he like a wicked old mackaw?”
“Where did you find that?” asked Sir Bale.
Surprised at his tone, she looked round, and was still more surprised at his looks.
“I told you, dear Bale, I found them in the clock-tower. I hope I did right; it was not wrong bringing them here? I ought to have asked. Are you vexed, Bale?”
“Vexed! not I. I only wish it was in the fire. I must have seen that picture when I was a child. I hate to look at it. I raved about it once, when I was ill. I don’t know who it is; I don’t remember when I saw it. I wish you’d tell them to burn it.”
“It is one of the Feltrams,” she answered. “‘Sir Hugh Feltram’ is on the frame at the foot; and old Mrs. Julaper says he was the father of the unhappy lady who was said to have been drowned near Snakes Island.”
“Well, suppose he is; there’s nothing interesting in that. It is a disgusting picture. I connect it with my illness; and I think it is the kind of thing that would make any one half mad, if they only looked at it often enough. Tell them to burn it; and come away, come to the next room; I can’t say what I want here.”
Sir Bale seemed to grow more and more agitated the longer he remained in the room. He seemed to her both frightened and furious; and taking her a little roughly by the wrist, he led her through the door.
When they were in another apartment alone, he again asked the affrighted lady who had told her that picture was there, and who told her to clean it.
She had only the truth to plead. It was, from beginning to end, the merest accident.
“If I thought, Janet, that you were taking counsel of others, talking me over, and trying clever experiments—” he stopped short with his eyes fixed on hers with black suspicion.