The House by the Churchyard

by Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu

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Chapter LXXVI



That evening there came to the door of the Mills, a damsel, with a wide basket on her arm, the covering of which being removed, a goodly show of laces, caps, fans, wash-balls, buckles, and other attractions, came out like a parterre of flowers, with such a glow as dazzled the eyes of Moggy, at the study window.

'Would you plaze to want any, my lady?' enquired the pedlar.

Moggy thought they were, perhaps, a little bit too fine for her purse, but she could not forbear longing and looking, and asking the prices of this bit of finery and that, at the window; and she called Betty, and the two maids conned over the whole contents of the basket.

At last she made an offer for an irresistible stay-hook of pinchbeck, set with half-a-dozen resplendent jewels of cut glass, and after considerable chaffering, and a keen encounter of their wits, they came at last to terms, and Moggy ran out to the kitchen for her money, which lay in a brass snuff-box, in a pewter goblet, on the dresser.

As she was counting her coin, and putting back what she did not want, the latch of the kitchen door was lifted from without, and the door itself pushed and shaken. Though the last red gleam of a stormy sunset was glittering among the ivy leaves round the kitchen window, the terrors of last night's apparition were revived in a moment, and, with a blanched face, she gazed on the door, expecting, breathlessly, what would come.

The door was bolted and locked on the inside, in accordance with Doctor Toole's solemn injunction; and there was no attempt to use violence. But a brisk knocking began thereat and Moggy, encouraged by hearing the voices of Betty and the vender of splendours at the little parlour window, and also by the amber sunlight on the rustling ivy leaves, and the loud evening gossip of the sparrows, took heart of grace, and demanded shrilly—

'Who's there?'

A whining beggar's voice asked admission.

'But you can't come in, for the house is shut up for the night, replied the cook.

Tis a quare hour you lock your doors at,' said the besieger.

'Mighty quare, but so it is,' she answered.

'But 'tis a message for the misthress I have,' answered the applicant.

'Who from?' demanded the porteress.

Tis a present o' some wine, acushla.'

'Who from?' repeated she, growing more uneasy.

'Auch! woman, are you going to take it in, or no?'

'Come in the morning, my good man,' said she, 'for sorrow a foot you'll put inside the house to-night.'

'An' that's what I'm to tell them that sent me.'

'Neither more nor less,' replied she.

And so she heard a heavy foot clank along the pavement, and she tried to catch a glimpse of the returning figure, but she could not, though she laid her cheek against the window-pane. However, she heard him whistling as he went, which gave her a better opinion of him, and she thought she heard the road gate shut after him.

So feeling relieved, and with a great sigh, she counted her money over; and answering Betty's shrill summons to the study, as the woman was in haste, with a 'Coming, coming this minute,' she replaced her treasure, and got swiftly into poor Charles Nutter's little chamber. There was his pipe over the chimney, and his green, and gold-laced Sunday waistcoat folded on the little walnut table by the fire, and his small folio, 'Maison Rustique, the Country Farme,' with his old green worsted purse set for a marker in it where he had left off reading the night before all their troubles began; and his silk dressing-gown was hanging by the window-frame, and his velvet morning-cap on the same peg—the dust had settled on them now. And after her fright in the kitchen, all these mementoes smote her with a grim sort of reproach and menace, and she wished the window barred, and the door of the ominous little chamber locked for the night.

Tis growing late,' said the dealer from without, 'and I daren't be on the road after dark. Gi' me my money, good girl; and here, take your stay-hook.'

And so saying, she looked a little puzzled up and down, as not well knowing how they were to make their exchange.

'Here,' says Moggy, 'give it in here.' And removing the fastening, she shoved the window up a little bit. 'Hould it, Betty; hould it up,' said she. And in came the woman's hard, brown hand, palm open, for her money, and the other containing the jewel, after which the vain soul of Moggy lusted.

'That'll do,' said she; and crying shrilly, 'Give us a lift, sweetheart,' in a twinkling she shoved the window up, at the same time kneeling, with a spring, upon the sill, and getting her long leg into the room, with her shoulder under the window-sash, her foot firmly planted on the floor, and her face and head in the apartment. Almost at the same instant she was followed by an ill-looking fellow, buttoned up in a surtout, whose stature seemed enormous, and at sight of whom the two women shrieked as if soul and body were parting.

The lady was now quite in the room, and standing upright showed the tall shape and stern lineaments of Mary Matchwell. And as she stood she laughed a sort of shuddering laugh, like a person who had just had a plunge in cold water.

'Stop that noise,' said she, recognising Betty, who saw her with unspeakable terror. 'I'm the lady that came here, you know, some months ago, with Mrs. Macnamara; and I'm Mrs. Nutter, which the woman up stairs is not. I'm Mrs. Nutter, and you're my servants, do ye mind? and I'll act a fair mistress by you, if you do me honest service. Open the hall-door,' she said to the man, who was by this time also in the room. And forth he went to do her bidding, and a gentleman, who turned out to be that respectable pillar of the law whom Mr. Gamble in the morning had referred to as 'Dirty Davy,' entered. He was followed by Mrs. Mary Matchwell's maid, a giggling, cat-like gipsy, with a lot of gaudy finery about her, and a withered, devilment leering in her face; and a hackney-coach drove up to the door, which had conveyed the party from town; and the driver railing in loud tones, after the manner of his kind in old times, at all things, reeking of whiskey and stale tobacco, and cursing freely, pitched in several trunks, one after the other; and, in fact, it became perfectly clear that M. M. was taking possession. And Betty and Moggy, at their wits' end between terror and bewilderment, were altogether powerless to resist, and could only whimper a protest against the monstrous invasion, while poor little Sally Nutter up stairs, roused by the wild chorus of strange voices from the lethargy of her grief, and even spurred into active alarm, locked her door, and then hammered with a chair upon the floor, under a maniacal hallucination that she was calling I know not what or whom to the rescue.

Then Dirty Davy read aloud, with due emphasis, to the maids, copies, as he stated, of the affidavits sworn to that day by Mistress Mary Matchwell, or as he called her, Mrs. Nutter, relict of the late Charles Nutter, gentleman, of the Mills, in the parish of Chapelizod, barony of Castleknock, and county of Dublin, deposing to her marriage with the said Charles Nutter having been celebrated in the Church of St. Clement Danes, in London, on the 7th of April, 1750. And then came a copy of the marriage certificate, and then a statement how, believing that deceased had left no 'will' making any disposition of his property, or naming an executor, she applied to the Court of Prerogative for letters of administration to the deceased, which letters would be granted in a few days; and in the meantime the bereaved lady would remain in possession of the house and chattels of her late husband.

All this, of course, was so much 'Hebrew-Greek,' as honest Father Roach was wont to phrase it, to the scared women. But M. M.—[Greek: nykti eoikôst]—fixing them both with her cold and terrible gaze, said quite intelligibly—

'What's your name?'

'Moggy Sullivan, if you please, Ma'am.'

'And what's yours?'

'Lizabet—Betty they call me—Madam; Lizabet Burke, if you please, Madam.'

'Well, then, Moggy Sullivan and Elizabeth Burke, harkee both, while I tell you a thing. I'm mistress here by law, as you've just heard, and you're my servants; and if you so much as wind the jack or move a tea-cup, except as I tell you, I'll find a way to punish you; and if I miss to the value of a pin's head, I'll indict you for a felony, and have you whipped and burnt in the hand—you know what that means. And now, where's Mistress Sarah Harty? for she must pack and away.'

'Oh! Ma'am, jewel, the poor misthress.'

'I'm the mistress, slut.'

'Ma'am, dear, she's very bad.'

'Where is she?'

'In her room, Ma'am,' answered Betty, with blubbered cheeks.

'Where are you going, minx?' cried M. M., with a terrible voice and look, and striding toward the door, from which Moggy was about to escape.

Now, Moggy was a sort of heroine, not in the vain matter of beauty, for she had high cheek bones, a snub nose, and her figure had no more waist, or other feminine undulations, than the clock in the hall; but like that useful piece of furniture, presented an oblong parallelogram, unassisted by art; for, except on gala days, these homely maidens never sported hoops. But she was, nevertheless, a heroine of the Amazonian species. She tripped up Pat Morgan, and laid that athlete suddenly on his back, upon the grass plot before the hall door, to his eternal disgrace, when he 'offered' to kiss her, while the fiddler and tambourine-man were playing. She used to wring big boys by the ears; overawe fishwives with her voluble invective; put dangerous dogs to rout with sticks and stones, and evince, in all emergencies, an adventurous spirit and an alacrity for battle.

For her, indeed, as for others, the spell of 'M. M.'s' evil eye and witchlike presence was at first too much; but Moggy rallied, and, thus challenged, she turned about at the door and stoutly confronted the intruder.

'Minx, yourself, you black baste; I'm goin' just wherever it plases me best, and I'd like to know who'll stop me; and first, Ma'am, be your lave, I'll tell the mistress to lock her door, and keep you and your rake-helly squad at the wrong side of it, and then, Ma'am, wherever the fancy takes me next—and that's how it is, and my sarvice to your ladyship.'

Off went Moggy, with a leer of defiance and a snap of her fingers, cutting a clumsy caper, and rushed like a mad cow up the stairs, shouting all the way, 'Lock your door, Ma'am—lock your door.'

Growing two or three degrees whiter, M. M., so soon as she recovered herself, glided in pursuit, like the embodiment of an evil spirit, as perhaps she was, and with a gleam of insanity, or murder, in her eye, which always supervened when her wrath was moved.

The sullen face of the bailiff half lighted up with a cynical grin of expectation, for he saw that both ladies were game, and looked for a spirited encounter. But Dirty Davy spoiled all by interposing his person, and arresting the pursuit of his client, and delivering a wheezy expostulation close in her ear.

Tis a strange thing if I can't do what I will with my own—fine laws, i'faith!'

'I only tell you, Madam, and if you do, it may embarrass us mightily by-and-by.'

'I'd wring her neck across the banister,' murmured M. M.

'An' now, plase your ladyship, will I bring your sarvice to the ladies and gentlemen down in the town, for 'tis there I'm going next,' said Moggy, popping in at the door, with a mock courtesy, and a pugnacious cock in her eye, and a look altogether so provoking and warlike as almost tempted the bailiff at the door to clap her on the back, and cry, had he spoken Latin, macte virtute puer!

'Catch the slut. You sha'n't budge—not a foot—hold her,' cried M. M. to the bailiff.

'Baugh!' was his answer.

'See, now,' said Davy, 'Madam Nutter's not serious—you're not, Ma'am? We don't detain you, mind. The door's open. There's no false imprisonment or duress, mind ye, thanking you all the same, Miss, for your offer. We won't detain you, ah, ah. No, I thank you. Chalk the road for the young lady, Mr. Redmond.'

And Davy fell to whisper energetically again in M. M.'s ear.

And Moggy disappeared. Straight down to the town she went, and to the friendly Dr. Toole's house, but he was not expected home from Dublin till morning. Then she had thoughts of going to the barrack, and applying for a company of soldiers, with a cannon, if necessary, to retake the Mills. Then she bethought her o' good Dr. Walsingham, but he was too simple to cope with such seasoned rogues. General Chattesworth was too far away, and not quite the man either, no more than Colonel Stafford; and the young beaux, 'them captains, and the like, 'id only be funnin' me, and knows nothing of law business.' So she pitched upon Father Roach.

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