The House by the Churchyard

by Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu

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Chapter XXVI



Twice a week the band of the Royal Irish Artillery regaled all comers with their music on the parade-ground by the river; and, as it was reputed the best in Ireland, and Chapelizod was a fashionable resort, and a very pretty village, embowered in orchards, people liked to drive out of town on a fine autumn day like this, by way of listening, and all the neighbours showed there, and there was quite a little fair for an hour or two.

Mervyn, among the rest, was there, but for scarce ten minutes, and, as usual, received little more than a distant salutation, coldly and gravely returned, from Gertrude Chattesworth, to whom Mr. Beauchamp, whom she remembered at the Stafford's dinner, addicted himself a good deal. That demigod appeared in a white surtout, with a crimson cape, a French waistcoat, his hair en papillote, a feather in his hat, a couteau de chasse by his side, with a small cane hanging to his button, and a pair of Italian greyhounds at his heels; and he must have impressed Tresham prodigiously; for I observe no other instance in which he has noted down costume so carefully. Little Puddock, too, was hovering near, and his wooing made uncomfortable by Aunt Becky's renewed severity, as well as by the splendour of 'Mr. Redheels,' who was expending his small talk and fleuerets upon Gertrude. Cluffe, moreover, who was pretty well in favour with Aunt Rebecca, and had been happy and prosperous, had his little jealousies too to plague him, for Dangerfield, with his fishing-rod and basket, no sooner looked in, with his stern front and his remarkable smile, than Aunt Becky, seeming instantaneously to forget Captain Cluffe, and all his winning ways, and the pleasant story, to the point of which he was just arriving, in his best manner, left him abruptly, and walked up to the grim pescator del onda, with an outstretched hand, and a smile of encouragement, and immediately fell into confidential talk with him.

'The minds of anglers,' says the gentle Colonel Robert Venables, 'be usually more calm and composed than many others; when he hath the worst success he loseth but a hook or line, or perhaps what he never possessed, a fish; and suppose he should take nothing, yet he enjoyeth a delightful walk by pleasant rivers, in sweet pastures, amongst odoriferous flowers, which gratify his senses and delight his mind; and if example, which is the best proof, may sway anything, I know no sort of men less subject to melancholy than anglers.' It was only natural, then, that Dangerfield should be serene and sunny.

Aunt Becky led him a little walk twice or thrice up and down. She seemed grave, earnest, and lofty, and he grinned and chatted after his wont energetically, to stout Captain Cluffe's considerable uneasiness and mortification. He had seen Dangerfield the day before, through his field-glass, from the high wooded grounds in the park, across the river, walk slowly for a good while under the poplars in the meadow at Belmont, beside Aunt Becky, in high chat; and there was something particular and earnest in their manner, which made him uncomfortable then. And fat Captain Cluffe's gall rose and nearly choked him, and; he cursed Dangerfield in the bottom of his corpulent, greedy soul, and wondered what fiend had sent that scheming old land-agent three hundred miles out of his way, on purpose to interfere with his little interests, as if there were not plenty of—of—well!—rich old women—in London. And he bethought him of the price of the cockatoo and the probable cost of the pelican, rejoinders to Dangerfield's contributions to Aunt Rebecca's menagerie, for those birds were not to be had for nothing; and Cluffe, who loved money as well, at least, as any man in his Majesty's service, would have seen the two tribes as extinct as the dodo, before he would have expended sixpence upon such tom-foolery, had it not been for Dangerfield's investments in animated nature. 'The hound! as if two could not play at that game.' But he had an uneasy and bitter presentiment that they were birds of paradise, and fifty other cursed birds beside, and that in this costly competition Dangerfield could take a flight beyond and above him; and he thought of the flagitious waste of money, and cursed him for a fool again. Aunt Becky had said, he thought, something in which 'to-morrow' occurred, on taking leave of Dangerfield. 'To-morrow!' 'What to-morrow? She spoke low and confidentially, and seemed excited and a little flushed, and very distrait when she came back. Altogether, he felt as if Aunt Rebecca was slipping through his fingers, and would have liked to take that selfish old puppy, Dangerfield, by the neck and drown him out of hand in the river. But, notwithstanding the state of his temper, he knew it might be his only chance to shine pre-eminently at that moment in amiability, wit, grace, and gallantry, and, though it was up-hill work, he did labour uncommonly.

When Mr. Dangerfield's spectacles gleamed through the crowd upon Dr. Sturk, who was thinking of other things beside the music, the angler walked round forthwith, and accosted that universal genius. Mrs. Sturk felt the doctor's arm, on which she leaned, vibrate for a second with a slight thrill—an evidence in that hard, fibrous limb of what she used to call 'a start'—and she heard Dangerfield's voice over his shoulder. And the surgeon and the grand vizier were soon deep in talk, and Sturk brightened up, and looked eager and sagacious, and important, and became very voluble and impressive, and, leaving his lady to her own devices, with her maid and children, he got to the other side of the street, where Nutter, with taciturn and black observation, saw them busy pointing with cane and finger, and talking briskly as they surveyed together Dick Fisher's and Tom Tresham's tenements, and the Salmon House; and then beheld them ascend the steps of Tresham's door, and overlook the wall on the other side toward the river, and point this way and that along the near bank, as it seemed to Nutter discussing detailed schemes of alteration and improvement. Sturk actually pulled out his pocket-book and pencil, and then Dangerfield took the pencil, and made notes of what he read to him, on the back of a letter; and Sturk looked eager and elated, and Dangerfield frowned and looked impressed, and nodded again and again. Diruit ædificat, mutat quadrata rotundis, under his very nose—he unconsulted! It was such an impertinence as Nutter could ill-digest. It was a studied slight, something like a public deposition, and Nutter's jealous soul seethed secretly in a hellbroth of rage and suspicion.

I mentioned that Mistress Sturk felt in that physician's arm the telegraphic thrill with which the brain will occasionally send an invisible message of alarm from the seat of government to the extremities; and as this smallest of all small bits of domestic gossip did innocently escape me, the idle and good-natured reader will, I hope, let me say out my little say upon the matter, in the next chapter.

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