The House by the Churchyard

by Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu

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Chapter VI



No wonder, then, if Father Roach, when Loftus, in the innocence of his heart, announced his song and its theme, was thoroughly uneasy, and would have given a good deal that he had not helped that simple youth into his difficulty. But things must now take their course. So amid a decorous silence, Dan Loftus lifted up his voice, and sang. That voice was a high small pipe, with a very nervous quaver in it. He leaned back in his chair, and little more than the whites of his upturned eyes were visible; and beating time upon the table with one hand, claw-wise, and with two or three queer, little thrills and roulades, which re-appeared with great precision in each verse, he delivered himself thus, in what I suspect was an old psalm tune:—

'Now Lent is come, let us refrain
From carnal creatures, quick or slain;
Let's fast and macerate the flesh,
Impound and keep it in distress.'

Here there came a wonderful, unspellable choking sound, partly through the mouth, partly through the nose, from several of the officers; and old General Chattesworth, who was frowning hard upon his dessert-plate, cried, 'Order, gentlemen,' in a stern, but very tremulous undertone. Lord Castlemallard, leaning upon his elbow, was staring with a grave and dreamy curiosity at the songster, and neither he nor his lordship heard the interruption, and on went the pleasant ditty; and as the musician regularly repeated the last two lines like a clerk in a piece of psalmody, the young wags, to save themselves from bursting outright, joined in the chorus, while verse after verse waxed more uproarious and hilarious, and gave a singular relief to Loftus's thin, high, quavering solo:—

(Loftus, solo.)
'But to forbear from flesh, fowl, fish,
And eat potatoes in a dish,
Done o'er with amber, or a mess
Of ringos in a Spanish dress
(Chorus of Officers.)
'Done o'er with amber, or a mess
Of ringos in a Spanish dress.'

Tis a good song,' murmured Doctor Walsingham in Lord Castlemallard's ear—'I know the verses well—the ingenious and pious Howel penned them in the reign of King James the First.'

'Ha! thank you, Sir,' said his lordship.

(Loftus, solo.)
'Or to refrain from all high dishes,
But feed our thoughts with wanton wishes,
Making the soul, like a light wench,
Wear patches of concupiscence.
(Chorus of Officers.)
'Making the soul, like a light wench,
Wear patches of concupiscence
(Loftus, solo.)
'This is not to keep Lent aright,
But play the juggling hypocrite;
For we must starve the inward man,
And feed the outward too on bran.
(Chorus of Officers.)
'For we must starve the inward man,
And feed the outward too on bran.'

I believe no song was ever received with heartier bursts of laughter and applause. Puddock indeed was grave, being a good deal interested in the dishes sung by the poet. So, for the sake of its moral point, was Dr. Walsingham, who, with brows gathered together judicially, kept time with head and hand, murmuring 'true, true—good, Sir, good,' from time to time, as the sentiment liked him.

But honest Father Roach was confoundedly put out by the performance. He sat with his blue double chin buried in his breast, his mouth pursed up tightly, a red scowl all over his face, his quick, little, angry, suspicious eyes peeping cornerwise, now this way, now that, not knowing how to take what seemed to him like a deliberate conspiracy to roast him for the entertainment of the company, who followed the concluding verse with a universal roaring chorus, which went off into a storm of laughter, in which Father Roach made an absurd attempt to join. But it was only a gunpowder glare, swallowed in an instant in darkness, and down came the black portcullis of his scowl with a chop, while clearing his voice, and directing his red face and vicious little eyes straight on simple Dan Loftus he said, rising very erect and square from an unusually ceremonious bow—

'I don't know, Mr. Loftus, exactly what you mean by a "ring-goat in a Spanish dress"' (the priest had just smuggled over a wonderful bit of ecclesiastical toggery from Salamanca): 'and—a—person wearing patches, you said of—of—patches of concupiscence, I think.' (Father Roach's housekeeper unfortunately wore patches, though, it is right to add, she was altogether virtuous, and by no means young); 'but I'm bound to suppose, by the amusement our friends seem to derive from it, Sir, that a ring-goat, whatever it means, is a good joke, as well as a good-natured one.'

'But, by your leave, Sir,' emphatically interposed Puddock, on whose ear the ecclesiastic's blunder grated like a discord, 'Mr. Loftus sang nothing about a goat, though kid is not a bad thing: he said, "ringos," meaning, I conclude, eringoeous, a delicious preserve or confection. Have you never eaten them, either preserved or candied—a—why I—a—I happen to have a receipt—a—and if you permit me, Sir—a capital receipt. When I was a boy, I made some once at home, Sir; and, by Jupiter, my brother, Sam, eat of them till he was quite sick—I remember, so sick, by Jupiter, my poor mother and old Dorcas had to sit up all night with him—a—and—I was going to say, if you will allow me, Sir, I shall be very happy to send the receipt to your housekeeper.'

'You'll not like it, Sir,' said Devereux, mischievously: 'but there really is a capital one—quite of another kind—a lenten dish—fish, you know, Puddock—the one you described yesterday; but Mr. Loftus has, I think, a still better way.'

'Have you, Sir?' asked Puddock, who had a keen appetite for knowledge.

'I don't know, Captain Puddock,' murmured Loftus, bewildered.

'What is it?' remarked his reverence, shortly.

'A roast roach,' answered Puddock, looking quite innocently in that theologian's fiery face.

'Thank you,' said Father Roach, with an expression of countenance which polite little Puddock did not in the least understand.

'And how do you roast him—we know Loftus's receipt,' persisted Devereux, with remarkable cruelty.

'Just like a lump,' said Puddock, briskly.

'And how is that?' enquired Devereux.

'Flay the lump—splat him—divide him,' answered Puddock, with great volubility; 'and cut each side into two pieces; season with salt, pepper, and nutmeg, and baste with clarified butter; dish him with slices of oranges, barberries, grapes, gooseberries, and butter; and you will find that he eats deliriously either with farced pain or gammon pain.'

This rhapsody, delivered with the rapidity and emphasis of Puddock's earnest lisp, was accompanied with very general tokens of merriment from the company, and the priest, who half suspected him of having invented it, was on the point of falling foul of him, when Lord Castlemallard rose to take leave, and the general forthwith vacated the chair, and so the party broke up, fell into groups, and the greater part sauntered off to the Phoenix, where, in the club-room, they, with less restraint, and some new recruits, carried on the pleasures of the evening, which pleasures, as will sometimes happen, ended in something rather serious.

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