This was, Charles thought, the very height and acme of impudence, and yet what could he do? What could he say? He was foiled by the downright coolness of Varney.
As for Henry, George, and Mr. Marchdale, they had listened to what was passing between Sir Francis and Charles in silence. They feared to diminish the effect of anything Charles might say, by adding a word of their own; and, likewise, they did not wish to lose one observation that might come from the lips of Varney.
But now Charles appeared to have said all he had to say, he turned to the window and looked out. He seemed like a man who had made up his mind, for a time, to give up some contest in which he had been engaged.
And, perhaps, not so much did he give it up from any feeling or consciousness of being beaten, as from a conviction that it could be the more effectually, at some other and far more eligible opportunity, renewed.
Varney now addressed Henry, saying,—
“I presume the subject of our conference, when you did me the honour of a call, is no secret to any one here?”
“None whatever,” said Henry.
“Then, perhaps, I am too early in asking you if you have made up your mind?”
“I have scarcely, certainly, had time to think.”
“My dear sir, do not let me hurry you; I much regret, indeed, the intrusion.”
“You seem anxious to possess the Hall,” remarked Mr. Marchdale, to Varney.
“Is it new to you?”
“Not quite. I have some boyish recollections connected with this neighbourhood, among which Bannerworth Hall stands sufficiently prominent.”
“May I ask how long ago that was?” said Charles Howard, rather abruptly.
“I do not recollect, my enthusiastic young friend,” said Varney. “How old are you?”
“Just about twenty-one.”
“You are, then, for your age, quite a model of discretion.”
It would have been difficult for the most accurate observer of human nature to have decided whether this was said truthfully or ironically, so Charles made no reply to it whatever.
“I trust,” said Henry, “we shall induce you, as this is your first visit, Sir Francis Varney, to the Hall, to partake of some thing.”
“Well, well, a cup of wine—”
“Is at your service.”
Henry now led the way to a small parlour, which, although by no means one of the showiest rooms of the house, was, from the care and exquisite carving with which it abounded, much more to the taste of any who possessed an accurate judgment in such works of art.
Then wine was ordered, and Charles took an opportunity of whispering to Henry,—
“Notice well if he drinks.”
“Do you see that beneath his coat there is a raised place, as if his arm was bound up?”
“There, then, was where the bullet from the pistol fired by Flora, when we were at the church, hit him.”