The House by the Churchyard

by Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu

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Chapter III



The morning was fine—the sun shone out with a yellow splendour—all nature was refreshed—a pleasant smell rose up from tree, and flower, and earth. The now dry pavement and all the row of village windows were glittering merrily—the sparrows twittered their lively morning gossip among the thick ivy of the old church tower—here and there the village cock challenged his neighbour with high and vaunting crow, and the bugle notes soared sweetly into the air from the artillery ground beside the river.

Moore, the barber, was already busy making his morning circuit, servant men and maids were dropping in and out at the baker's, and old Poll Delany, in her weather-stained red hood, and neat little Kitty Lane, with her bright young careful face and white basket, were calling at the doors of their customers with new laid eggs. Through half-opened hall doors you might see the powdered servant, or the sprightly maid in her mob-cap in hot haste steaming away with the red japanned 'tea kitchen' into the parlour. The town of Chapelizod, in short, was just sitting down to its breakfast.

Mervyn, in the meantime, had had his solitary meal in the famous back parlour of the Phoenix, where the newspapers lay, and all comers were welcome. He was by no means a bad hero to look at, if such a thing were needed. His face was pale, melancholy, statuesque—and his large enthusiastic eyes, suggested a story and a secret—perhaps a horror. Most men, had they known all, would have wondered with good Doctor Walsingham, why, of all places in the world, he should have chosen the little town where he now stood for even a temporary residence. It was not a perversity, but rather a fascination. His whole life had been a flight and a pursuit—a vain endeavour to escape from the evil spirit that pursued him—and a chase of a chimera.

He was standing at the window, not indeed enjoying, as another man might, the quiet verdure of the scene, and the fragrant air, and all the mellowed sounds of village life, but lost in a sad and dreadful reverie, when in bounced little red-faced bustling Dr. Toole—the joke and the chuckle with which he had just requited the fat old barmaid still ringing in the passage—'Stay there, sweetheart,' addressed to a dog squeezing by him, and which screeched out as he kicked it neatly round the door-post.

'Hey, your most obedient, Sir,' cried the doctor, with a short but grand bow, affecting surprise, though his chief object in visiting the back parlour at that moment was precisely to make a personal inspection of the stranger. 'Pray, don't mind me, Sir,—your—ho! Breakfast ended, eh? Coffee not so bad, Sir; rather good coffee, I hold it, at the Phoenix. Cream very choice, Sir?—I don't tell 'em so though (a wink); it might not improve it, you know. I hope they gave you—eh?—eh? (he peeped into the cream-ewer, which he turned towards the light, with a whisk). And no disputing the eggs—forty-eight hens in the poultry yard, and ninety ducks in Tresham's little garden, next door to Sturk's. They make a precious noise, I can tell you, when it showers. Sturk threatens to shoot 'em. He's the artillery surgeon here; and Tom Larkin said, last night, it's because they only dabble and quack—and two of a trade, you know—ha! ha! ha! And what a night we had—dark as Erebus—pouring like pumps, by Jove. I'll remember it, I warrant you. Out on business—a medical man, you know, can't always choose—and near meeting a bad accident too. Anything in the paper, eh? ho! I see, Sir, haven't read it. Well, and what do you think—a queer night for the purpose, eh? you'll say—we had a funeral in the town last night, Sir—some one from Dublin. It was Tressel's men came out. The turnpike rogue—just round the corner there—one of the talkingest gossips in the town—and a confounded prying, tattling place it is, I can tell you—knows the driver; and Bob Martin, the sexton, you know—tells me there were two parsons, no less—hey! Cauliflowers in season, by Jove. Old Dr. Walsingham, our rector, a pious man, Sir, and does a world of good—that is to say, relieves half the blackguards in the parish—ha! ha! when we're on the point of getting rid of them—but means well, only he's a little bit lazy, and queer, you know; and that rancid, raw-boned parson, Gillespie—how the plague did they pick him up?—one of the mutes told Bob 'twas he. He's from Donegal; I know all about him; the sourest dog I ever broke bread with—and mason, if you please, by Jove—a prince pelican! He supped at the Grand Lodge after labour, one night—you're not a mason, I see; tipt you the sign—and his face was so pinched, and so yellow, by Jupiter, I was near squeezing it into the punch-bowl for a lemon—ha! ha! hey?'

Mervyn's large eyes expressed a well-bred surprise. Dr. Toole paused for nearly a minute, as if expecting something in return; but it did not come.

So the doctor started afresh, never caring for Mervyn's somewhat dangerous looks.

'Mighty pretty prospects about here, Sir. The painters come out by dozens in the summer, with their books and pencils, and scratch away like so many Scotchmen. Ha! ha! ha! If you draw, Sir, there's one prospect up the river, by the mills—upon my conscience—but you don't draw?'

No answer.

'A little, Sir, maybe? Just for a maggot, I'll wager—like my good lady, Mrs. Toole.' A nearer glance at his dress had satisfied Toole that he was too much of a maccaroni for an artist, and he was thinking of placing him upon the lord lieutenant's staff. 'We've capital horses here, if you want to go on to Leixlip,' (where—this between ourselves and the reader—during the summer months His Excellency and Lady Townshend resided, and where, the old newspapers tell us, they 'kept a public day every Monday,' and he 'had a levée, as usual, every Thursday.') But this had no better success.

'If you design to stay over the day, and care for shooting, we'll have some ball practice on Palmerstown fair-green to-day. Seven baronies to shoot for ten and five guineas. One o'clock, hey?'

At this moment entered Major O'Neill, of the Royal Irish Artillery, a small man, very neatly got up, and with a decidedly Milesian cast of countenance, who said little, but smiled agreeably—

'Gentlemen, your most obedient. Ha, doctor; how goes it?—anything new—anything on the Freeman?'

Toole had scanned that paper, and hummed out, as he rumpled it over,—'nothing—very—particular. Here's Lady Moira's ball: fancy dresses—all Irish; no masks; a numerous appearance of the nobility and gentry—upwards of five hundred persons. A good many of your corps there, major?'

'Ay, Lord Blackwater, of course, and the general, and Devereux, and little Puddock, and——'

'Sturk wasn't,' with a grin, interrupted Toole, who bore that practitioner no good-will. 'A gentleman robbed, by two foot-pads, on Chapelizod-road, on Wednesday night, of his watch and money, together with his hat, wig and cane, and lies now in a dangerous state, having been much abused; one of them dressed in an old light-coloured coat, wore a wig. By Jupiter, major, if I was in General Chattesworth's place, with two hundred strapping fellows at my orders, I'd get a commission from Government to clear that road. It's too bad, Sir, we can't go in and out of town, unless in a body, after night-fall, but at the risk of our lives. [The convivial doctor felt this public scandal acutely.] The bloody-minded miscreants, I'd catch every living soul of them, and burn them alive in tar-barrels. By Jove! here's old Joe Napper, of Dirty-lane's dead. Plenty of dry eyes after him. And stay, here's another row.' And so he read on.

In the meantime, stout, tightly-braced Captain Cluffe of the same corps, and little dark, hard-faced, and solemn Mr. Nutter, of the Mills, Lord Castlemallard's agents, came in, and half a dozen more, chiefly members of the club, which met by night in the front parlour on the left, opposite the bar, where they entertained themselves with agreeable conversation, cards, backgammon, draughts, and an occasional song by Dr. Toole, who was a florid tenor, and used to give them, 'While gentlefolks strut in silver and satins,' or 'A maiden of late had a merry design,' or some other such ditty, with a recitation by plump little stage-stricken Ensign Puddock, who, in 'thpite of hith lithp,' gave rather spirited imitations of some of the players—Mossop, Sheridan, Macklin, Barry, and the rest. So Mervyn, the stranger, by no means affecting this agreeable society, took his cane and cocked-hat, and went out—the dark and handsome apparition—followed by curious glances from two or three pairs of eyes, and a whispered commentary and criticism from Toole.

So, taking a meditative ramble in 'His Majesty's Park, the Phoenix;' and passing out at Castleknock gate, he walked up the river, between the wooded slopes, which make the valley of the Liffey so pleasant and picturesque, until he reached the ferry, which crossing, he at the other side found himself not very far from Palmerstown, through which village his return route to Chapelizod lay.

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