The House by the Churchyard

by Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu

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Chapter XIII



Next morning Toole, sauntering along the low road towards the mills, as usual bawling at his dogs, who scampered and nuzzled hither and thither, round and about him, saw two hackney coaches and a 'noddy' arrive at 'the Brass Castle,' a tall old house by the river, with a little bit of a flower-garden, half-a-dozen poplars, and a few old privet hedges about it; and being aware that it had been taken the day before for Mr. Dangerfield, for three months, he slackened his pace, in the hope of seeing that personage, of whom he had heard great things, take seisin of his tabernacle. He was disappointed, however; the great man had not arrived, only a sour-faced, fussy old lady, Mrs. Jukes, his housekeeper and a servant-wench and a great lot of boxes and trunks; and so leaving the coachman grumbling and swearing at the lady, who, bitter, shrill, and voluble, was manifestly well able to fight her own battles, he strolled back to the Phoenix, where a new evidence of the impending arrival met his view in an English groom with three horses, which the hostler and he were leading into the inn-yard.

There were others, too, agreeably fidgeted about this arrival. The fair Miss Magnolia, for instance, and her enterprising parent, the agreeable Mrs. Macnamara: who both as they gaped and peeped from the windows, bouncing up from the breakfast-table every minute, to the silent distress of quiet little Major O'Neill, painted all sorts of handsome portraits, and agreeable landscapes, and cloud-clapped castles, each for her private contemplation, on the spreading canvas of her hopes.

Dr. Walsingham rode down to the 'Tiled House,' where workmen were already preparing to make things a little more comfortable. The towering hall-door stood half open; and down the broad stairs—his tall, slim figure, showing black against the light of the discoloured lobby-window—his raven hair reaching to his shoulders—Mervyn, the pale, large-eyed genius of that haunted place, came to meet him. He led him into the cedar parlour, the stained and dusty windows of which opened upon that moss-grown orchard, among whose great trunks and arches those strange shapes were said sometimes to have walked at night, like penitents and mourners through cathedral pillars.

It was a reception as stately, but as sombre and as beggarly withal as that of the Master of Ravenswood, for there were but two chairs in the cedar-parlour,—one with but three legs, the other without a bottom; so they were fain to stand. But Mervyn could smile without bitterness and his desolation had not the sting of actual poverty, as he begged the rector to excuse his dreary welcome, and hoped that he would find things better the next time.

Their little colloquy got on very easily, for Mervyn liked the rector, and felt a confidence in him which was comfortable and almost exhilarating. The doctor had a cheery, kindly, robust voice, and a good, honest emphasis in his talk; a guileless blue eye; a face furrowed, thoughtful, and benevolent; well formed too. He must have been a handsome curate in his day. Not uncourtly, but honest; the politeness of a gentle and tender heart; very courteous and popular among ladies, although he sometimes forgot that they knew no Latin.

So Mervyn drew nigh to him in spirit, and liked him and talked to him rather more freely [though even that was enigmatically enough] than he had done to anybody else for a long time. It would seem that the young man had formed no very distinct plan of life. He appeared to have some thought of volunteering to serve in America, and some of entering into a foreign service; but his plans were, I suppose, in nubibus. All that was plain was that he was restless and eager for some change—any.

It was not a very long visit, you may suppose; and just as Dr. Walsingham rode out of the avenue, Lord Castlemallard was riding leisurely by towards Chapelizod, followed by his groom.

His lordship, though he had a drowsy way with him, was esteemed rather an active man of business, being really, I'm afraid, only what is termed a fidget: and the fact is, his business would have been better done if he had looked after it himself a good deal less.

He was just going down to the town to see whether Dangerfield had arrived, and slackened his pace to allow the doctor to join him, for he could ride with him more comfortably than with parsons generally, the doctor being well descended, and having married, besides, into a good family. He stared, as he passed, at the old house listlessly and peevishly. He had heard of Mervyn's doings there, and did not like them.

'Yes, Sir, he's a very pretty young, man, and very well dressed,' said his lordship, with manifest dissatisfaction: 'but I don't like meeting him, you know. 'Tis not his fault; but one can't help thinking of—of things! and I'd be glad his friends would advise him not to dress in velvets, you know—particularly black velvets you can understand. I could not help thinking, at the time, of a pall, somehow. I'm not—no—not pleasant near him. No—I—I can't—his face is so pale—you don't often, see so pale a face—no—it looks like a reflection from one that's still paler—you understand—and in short, even in his perfumes there's a taint of—of—you know—a taint of blood, Sir. Then there was a pause, during which he kept slapping his boot peevishly with his little riding-whip. 'One can't, of course, but be kind,' he recommenced. 'I can't do much—I can't make him acceptable, you know—but I pity him, Dr. Walsingham, and I've tried to be kind to him, you know that; for ten years I had all the trouble, Sir, of a guardian without the authority of one. Yes, of course we're kind; but body o' me! Sir, he'd be better any where else than here, and without occupation, you know, quite idle, and so conspicuous. I promise you there are more than I who think it. And he has commenced fitting up that vile old house—that vile house, Sir. It is ready to tumble down—upon my life they say so; Nutter says so, and Sturk—Dr. Sturk, of the Artillery here—an uncommon sensible man, you know, says so too. 'Tis a vile house, and ready to tumble down, and you know the trouble I was put to by that corporation fellow—a—what's his name—about it; and he can't let it—people's servants won't stay in it, you know, the people tell such stories about it, I'm told; and what business has he here, you know? It is all very fine for a week or so, but they'll find him out, they will, Sir. He may call himself Mervyn, or Fitzgerald, or Thompson, Sir, or any other name, but it won't do, Sir. No, Dr. Walsingham, it won't do. The people down in this little village here, Sir, are plaguy sharp—they're cunning; upon my life, I believe they are too hard for Nutter.'

In fact, Sturk had been urging on his lordship the purchase of this little property, which, for many reasons ought to be had a bargain, and adjoined Lord Castlemallard's, and had talked him into viewing it quite as an object. No wonder, then, he should look on Mervyn's restorations and residence, in the light of an impertinence and an intrusion.

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