The House by the Churchyard

by Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu

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Chapter XXXVII



By this time little Dr. Toole had stepped into the club, after his wont, as he passed the Phoenix. Sturk was playing draughts with old Arthur Slowe, and Dangerfield, erect and grim, was looking on the game, over his shoulder. Toole and Sturk were more distant and cold in their intercourse of late, though this formality partook of their respective characters. Toole used to throw up his nose, and raise his eyebrows, and make his brother mediciner a particularly stiff, and withal scornful reverence when they met. Sturk, on the other hand, made a short, surly nod—'twas little more—and, without a word, turned on his heel, with a gruff pitch of his shoulder towards Toole.

The fact was, these two gentlemen had been very near exchanging pistol shots, or sword thrusts, only a week or two before; and all about the unconscious gentleman who was smiling in his usual pleasant fashion over the back of Sturk's chair. So Dangerfield's little dyspepsy had like to have cured one or other of the village leeches, for ever and a day, of the heart-ache and all other aches that flesh is heir to. For Dangerfield commenced with Toole: and that physician, on the third day of his instalment, found that Sturk had stept in and taken his patient bodily out of his hands.

'I've seen one monkey force open the jaws of his brother, resolutely introduce his fingers, pluck from the sanctuary of his cheek the filbert he had just stowed there for his private nutrition and delight, and crunch and eat it with a stern ecstasy of selfishness, himself; and I fancy that the feelings of the quadrumanous victim, his jaws aching, his pouch outraged, and his bon-bouche in the miscreant's mouth, a little resembles those of the physician who has suffered so hideous a mortification as that of Toole.

Toole quite forgave Dangerfield. That gentleman gave him to understand that his ministrations were much more to his mind than those of his rival. But—and this was conveyed in strict confidence—this change was put upon him by a—a—in fact a nobleman—Lord Castlemallard—with whom, just now, Dr. Sturk can do a great deal; 'and you know I can't quarrel with my lord. It has pained me, I assure you, very much; and to say truth, whoever applied to him to interfere in the matter, was, in my mind, guilty of an impertinence, though, as you see, I can't resent it.'

'Whoever applied? 'tis pretty plain,' repeated Toole, with a vicious sneer. 'The whispering, undermining—and as stupid as the Hill of Howth. I wish you safe out of his hands, Sir.'

And positively, only for Aunt Becky, who was always spoiling this sort of sport, and who restrained the gallant Toole by a peremptory injunction, there would have been, in Nutter's unfortunate phrase, 'wigs on the green,' next day.

So these gentlemen met on the terms I've described: and Nutter's antipathy also, had waxed stronger and fiercer. And indeed, since Dangerfield's arrival, and Sturk's undisguised endeavours to ingratiate himself with Lord Castlemallard, and push him from his stool, they had by consent ceased to speak to one another. When Sturk met Nutter, he, being of superior stature, looked over his head at distant objects: and when Nutter encountered Sturk, the little gentleman's dark face grew instantaneously darker—first a shade—then another shadow—then the blackness of thunder overspread it; and not only did he speak not a word to Sturk, but seldom opened his lips, while that gentleman remained in the room.

On the other hand, if some feuds grew blacker and fiercer by time, there were others which were Christianly condoned; foremost among which was the mortal quarrel between Nutter and O'Flaherty. On the evening of their memorable meeting on the Fifteen Acres, Puddock dined out, and O'Flaherty was too much exhausted to take any steps toward a better understanding. But on the night following, when the club had their grand supper in King William's parlour, it was arranged with Nutter that a gentlemanlike reconciliation was to take place; and accordingly, about nine o'clock, at which time Nutter's arrival was expected, Puddock, with the pomp and gravity becoming such an occasion, accompanied by O'Flaherty, big with his speech, entered the spacious parlour.

When they came in there was a chorus of laughter ringing round, with a clapping of hands, and a Babel of hilarious applause; and Tom Toole was seen in the centre, sitting upon the floor, hugging his knees, with his drawn sword under his arm, his eyes turned up to the ceiling, and a contortion so unspeakably ludicrous upon his queer little face, as was very near causing little Puddock to explode in an unseemly burst of laughter.

Devereux, sitting near the door, luckily saw them as they entered, and announced them in a loud tone—'Lieutenant Puddock, gentlemen, and Lieutenant Fireworker O'Flaherty.' For though Gipsy Devereux loved a bit of mischief, he did not relish it when quite so serious, as the Galwegian Fireworker was likely to make any sort of trifling on a point so tender as his recent hostilities on the Fifteen Acres.

Toole bounded to his feet in an instant, adjusting his wig and eyeing the new comers with intense but uneasy solemnity, which produced some suppressed merriment among the company.

It was well for the serenity of the village that O'Flaherty was about to make a little speech—a situation which usually deprived him of half his wits. Still with the suspicion of conscious weakness, he read something affecting himself in the general buzz and countenance of the assembly; and said to Devereux, on purpose loud enough for Toole to hear—'Ensign Puddock and myself would be proud to know what was the divarting tom-foolery going on about the floor, and for which we arrived unfortunately a little too leet?'

'Tom-foolery, Sir, is an unpleasant word!' cried the little doctor, firing up, for he was a game-cock.

'Tom Toolery he means,' interposed Devereux, 'the pleasantest word, on the contrary, in Chapelizod. Pray, allow me to say a word a degree more serious. I'm commissioned, Lieutenant Puddock and Lieutenant O'Flaherty' (a bow to each), 'by Mr. Mahony, who acted the part of second to Mr. Nutter, on the recent occasion, to pray that you'll be so obliging as to accept his apology for not being present at this, as we all hope most agreeable meeting. Our reverend friend, Father Roach whose guest he had the honour to be, can tell you more precisely the urgent nature of the business on which he departed.'

Father Roach tried to stop the captain with a reproachful glance, but that unfeeling officer fairly concluded his sentence notwithstanding, with a wave of his hand and a bow to the cleric; and sitting down at the same moment, left him in possession of the chair.

The fact was, that at an unseemly hour that morning three bailiffs—for the excursion was considered hazardous—introduced themselves by a stratagem into the reverend father's domicile, and nabbed the high-souled Patrick Mahony, as he slumbered peacefully in his bed, to the terror of the simple maid who let them in. Honest Father Roach was for showing fight on behalf of his guest. On hearing the row and suspecting its cause—for Pat had fled from the kingdom of Kerry from perils of the same sort—his reverence jumped out of bed with a great pound on the floor, and not knowing where to look for his clothes in the dark, he seized his surplice, which always lay in the press at the head of his bed, and got into it with miraculous speed, whisking along the floor two pounds and a half of Mr. Fogarty's best bacon, which the holy man had concealed in the folds of that sacred vestment, to elude the predatory instincts of the women, and from which he and Mr. Mahony were wont to cut their jovial rashers.

The shutter of poor Mahony's window was by this time open, and the gray light disclosed the grimly form of Father Roach, in his surplice, floating threateningly into the chamber. But the bailiffs were picked men, broad-shouldered and athletic, and furnished with active-looking shillelaghs. Veni, vidi, victus sum! a glance showed him all was lost.

'My blessin' an you, Peg Finigan! and was it you let them in?' murmured his reverence, with intense feeling.

'At whose suit?' enquired the generous outlaw, sitting up among the blankets.

'Mrs. Elizabeth Woolly, relict and administhrathrix of the late Mr. Timotheus Woolly, of High-street, in the city of Dublin, tailor,' responded the choragus of the officers.

'Woolly—I was thinkin' so,' said the captive. 'I wisht I had her by the wool, bad luck to her!'

So away he went, to the good-natured ecclesiastic's grief, promising, nevertheless, with a disconsolate affectation of cheerfulness, that all should be settled, and he under the Priest's roof-tree again before night.

'I don't—exactly—know the nature of the business, gentlemen,' said Father Roach, with considerable hesitation.

'Urgent, however, it was—wasn't it?' said Devereux.

'Urgent—well; certainly—a—and——'

'And a summons there was no resisting—from a lady—eh? You said so, Father Roach,' persisted Devereux.

'A—from a leedy—a—yes—certainly,' replied he.

'A widow—is not she?' enquired Devereux.

'A widda, undoubtedly,' said the priest.

'Thay no more Thir,' said little Puddock, to the infinite relief of the reverend father, who flung another look of reproach at Devereux, and muttered his indignation to himself. 'I'm perfectly satisfied; and so, I venture to thay, is Lieutenant O'Flaherty——'

'Is not he going to say something to Nutter?' enquired Devereux.

'Yes,' whispered Puddock, 'I hope he'll get through it. I—I wrote a few sentences myself; but he's by no means perfect—in fact, between ourselves, he's a somewhat slow study.'

'Suppose you purge his head again, Puddock?' Puddock did not choose to hear the suggestion: but Nutter, in reply to a complimentary speech from Puddock, declared, in two or three words, his readiness to meet Lieutenant O'Flaherty half-way; 'and curse me, Sir, if I know, at this moment, what I did or said to offend him.'

Then came a magnanimous, but nearly unintelligible speech from O'Flaherty, prompted by little Puddock, who, being responsible for the composition, was more nervous during the delivery of that remarkable oration, than the speaker himself; and 'thuffered indethcribably' at hearing his periods mangled; and had actually to hold O'Flaherty by the arm, and whisper in an agony—'not yet—curthe it—not yet'—to prevent the incorrigible fireworker from stretching forth his bony red hand before he had arrived at that most effective passage which Puddock afterwards gave so well in private for Dick Devereux, beginning, 'and thus I greet——'

Thus was there a perfect reconciliation, and the gentlemen of the club, Toole included, were more than ever puzzled to understand the origin of the quarrel, for Puddock kept O'Flaherty's secret magnificently, and peace prevailed in O'Flaherty's breast until nearly ten months afterwards, when Cluffe, who was talking of the American war, asked O'Flaherty, who was full of volunteering, how he would like a 'clean shave with an Indian scalping knife,' whereupon O'Flaherty stood erect, and having glowered about him for a moment, strode in silence from the room, and consulted immediately with Puddock on the subject, who, after a moment's reflection found it no more than chance medley.

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