The House by the Churchyard

by Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu

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Chapter XXVIII



It was so well known in Chapelizod that Sturk was poking after Lord Castlemallard's agency that Nutter felt the scene going on before his eyes between him and Dangerfield like a public affront. His ire was that of a phlegmatic man, dangerous when stirred, and there was no mistaking, in his rigid, swarthy countenance, the state of his temper.

Dangerfield took an opportunity, and touched Nutter on the shoulder, and told him frankly, in effect, though he wished things to go on as heretofore, Sturk had wormed himself into a sort of confidence with Lord Castlemallard.

'Not confidence, Sir—talk, if you please,' said Nutter grimly.

'Well, into talk,' acquiesced Dangerfield; 'and by Jove, I've a hard card to play, you see. His lordship will have me listen to Doctor Sturk's talk, such as it is.'

'He has no talk in him, Sir, you mayn't get from any other impudent dunderhead in the town,' answered Nutter.

'My dear Sir, understand me. I'm your friend,' and he placed his hand amicably upon Nutter's arm; 'but Lord Castlemallard has, now and then, a will of his own, I need not tell you; and somebody's been doing you an ill turn with his lordship; and you're a gentleman, Mr. Nutter, and I like you, and I'll be frank with you, knowing 'twill go no further. Sturk wants the agency. You have my good-will. I don't see why he should take it from you; but—but—you see his lordship takes odd likings, and he won't always listen to reason.'

Nutter was so shocked and exasperated, that for a moment he felt stunned, and put his hand toward his head.

'I think, Sir,' said Nutter, with a stern, deliberate oath, I'll write to Lord Castlemallard this evening, and throw up his agency; and challenge Sturk, and fight him in the morning.'

'You must not resign the agency, Sir; his lordship is whimsical; but you have a friend at court. I've spoken in full confidence in your secrecy; and should any words pass between you and Dr. Sturk, you'll not mention my name; I rely, Sir, on your honour, as you may on my good-will;' and Dangerfield shook hands with Nutter significantly, and called to Irons, who was waiting to accompany him, and the two anglers walked away together up the river.

Nutter was still possessed with his furious resolution to fling down his office at Lord Castlemallard's feet, and to call Sturk into the lists of mortal combat. One turn by himself as far as the turnpike, however, and he gave up the first, and retained only the second resolve. Half-an-hour more, and he had settled in his mind that there was no need to punish the meddler that way: and so he resolved to bide his time—a short one.

In the meanwhile Dangerfield had reached one of those sweet pastures by the river's bank which, as we have read, delight the simple mind of the angler, and his float was already out, and bobbing up and down on the ripples of the stream; and the verdant valley, in which he and his taciturn companion stood side by side, resounded, from time to time, with Dangerfield's strange harsh laughter; the cause of which Irons did not, of course, presume to ask.

There is a church-yard cough—I don't see why there may not be a church-yard laugh. In Dangerfield's certainly there was an omen—a glee that had nothing to do with mirth; and more dismaying, perhaps, than his sternest rebuke. If a man is not a laugher by nature, he had better let it alone. The bipeds that love mousing and carrion have a chant of their own, and nobody quarrels with it. We respect an owl or a raven, though we mayn't love him, while he sticks to his croak or to-whoo. 'Tisn't pleasant, but quite natural and unaffected, and we acquiesce. All we ask of these gentlemanlike birds is, that they mistake not their talent—affect not music; or if they do, that they treat not us to their queer warblings.

Irons, with that never-failing phantom of a smile on his thin lips, stood a little apart, with a gaff and landing-net, and a second rod, and a little bag of worms, and his other gear, silent, except when spoken to, or sometimes to suggest a change of bait, or fly, or a cast over a particular spot; for Dangerfield was of good Colonel Venables' mind, that 'tis well in the lover of the gentle craft to associate himself with some honest, expert angler, who will freely and candidly communicate his skill unto him.'

Dangerfield was looking straight at his float; but thinking of something else. Whenever Sturk met him at dinner, or the club, the doctor's arrogance and loud lungs failed him, and he fell for a while into a sort of gloom and dreaming; and when he came slowly to himself, he could not talk to anyone but the man with the spectacles; and in the midst of his talk he would grow wandering and thoughtful, as if over some half-remembered dream; and when he took his leave of Dangerfield it was with a lingering look and a stern withdrawal, as if he had still a last word to say, and he went away in a dismal reverie. It was natural, that with his views about the agency, Sturk should regard him with particular interest. But there was something more here, and it did not escape Dangerfield, as, indeed, very little that in anywise concerned him ever did.

'Clever fellow, Doctor Sturk,' said the silver spectacles, looking grimly at the float. 'I like him. You remember him, you say, Irons?'

'Ay, Sir,' said Blue-chin: 'I never forget a face.' 'Par nobile,' sneered the angler quietly.' In the year '45, eh—go on.'

'Ay, Sir; he slept in the "Pied Horse," at Newmarket, and was in all the fun. Next day he broke his arm badly, and slept there in the closet off Mr. Beauclerc's room that night under laudanum, and remained ten days longer in the house. Mr. Beauclerc's chamber was the "flower de luce." Barnabus Sturk, Esq. When I saw him here, half the length of the street away, I knew him and his name on the instant. I never forget things.'

'But he don't remember you?'

'No,' smiled Blue-chin, looking at the float also.

'Two-and-twenty-years. How came it he was not summoned?'

'He was under laudanum, and could tell nothing.'

'Ay,' said the spectacles, 'ay,' and he let out some more line. 'That's deep.'

'Yes, Sir, a soldier was drownded in that hole.'

'And Dr. Toole and Mr. Nutter don't love him—both brisk fellows, and have fought.'

Blue-chin smiled on.

'Very clever dog—needs be sharp though, or he'll come to—ha!' and a gray trout came splashing and flickering along the top of the water upon the hook, and Irons placed the net in Dangerfield's outstretched hand, and the troutling was landed, to the distant music of 'God save the King,' borne faintly on the air, by which the reader perceives that the band were now about to put up their instruments, and the gay folk to disperse. And at the same moment, Lord Castlemallard was doing old General Chattesworth the honour to lean upon his arm, as they walked to and fro upon the parade-ground by the river's bank, and the general looked particularly grand and thoughtful, and my lord was more than usually gracious and impressive, and was saying:—

Tis a good match every way: he has good blood in his veins, Sir, the Dangerfields of Redminster; and you may suppose he's rich, when he was ready to advance Sir Sedley Hicks thirty-five thousand pounds on mortgage, and to my certain knowledge has nearly as much more out on good securities; and he's the most principled man I think I ever met with, and the cleverest dog, I believe, in these kingdoms; and I wish you joy, General Chattesworth.'

And he gave the general snuff out of his box, and shook hands, and said something very good, as he got into his carriage, for he laughed a good deal, and touched the general's ribs with the point of his gloved finger; and the general laughed too, moderately, and was instantaneously grave again, when the carriage whirled away.

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