The House by the Church-Yard, by J. Sheridan Le Fanu

Chapter 14

Relating How Puddock Purged O’flaherty’s Head — A Chapter Which, it is Hoped, No Genteel Person Will Read.

Rum disagreed with O’Flaherty confoundedly, but, being sanguine, and also of an obstinate courage not easily to be put down, and liking that fluid, and being young withal, he drank it defiantly and liberally whenever it came in his way. So this morning he announced to his friend Puddock that he was suffering under a headache ‘that ‘id burst a pot.’ The gallant fellow’s stomach, too, was qualmish and disturbed. He heard of breakfast with loathing. Puddock rather imperiously insisted on his drinking some tea, which he abhorred, and of which, in very imperfect clothing and with deep groans and occasional imprecations on ‘that bastely clar’t’— to which he chose to ascribe his indisposition — he drearily partook.

‘I tell you what, Thir,’ said Puddock, finding his patient nothing better, and not relishing the notion of presenting his man in that seedy condition upon the field: ‘I’ve got a remedy, a very thimple one; it used to do wondereth for my poor Uncle Neagle, who loved rum shrub, though it gave him the headache always, and sometimes the gout.’

And Puddock had up Mrs. Hogg, his landlady, and ordered a pair of little muslin bags about the size of a pistol-cartridge each, which she promised to prepare in five minutes, and he himself tumbled over the leaves of his private manuscript quarto, a desultory and miscellaneous album, stuffed with sonnets on Celia’s eye — a lock of hair, or a pansy here or there pressed between the pages — birthday verses addressed to Sacharissa, receipts for ‘puptons,’ ‘farces,’ &c.; and several for toilet luxuries, ‘Angelica water,’ ‘The Queen of Hungary’s’ ditto, ‘surfeit waters,’ and finally, that he was in search of, to wit, ‘My great Aunt Bell’s recipe for purging the head’ (good against melancholy or the headache). You are not to suppose that the volume was slovenly or in anywise unworthy of a gentleman and officer of those days. It was bound in red and gold, had two handsome silver-gilt clasps and red edges, the writing being exquisitely straight and legible, and without a single blot.

‘I have them all except — two — three,’ murmured the thoughtful Puddock when he had read over the list of ingredients. These, however, he got from Toole, close at hand, and with a little silver grater and a pretty little agate pocket pestle and mortar — an heirloom derived from poor Aunt Bell — he made a wonderful powder; ‘nutmeg and ginger, cinnamon and cloves,’ as the song says, and every other stinging product of nature and chemistry which the author of this famous family ‘purge for the head’ could bring to remembrance; and certainly it was potent. With this the cartridges were loaded, the ends tied up, and O’Flaherty, placed behind a table on which stood a basin, commenced the serious operation, under Puddock’s directions, by introducing a bag at each side of his mouth, which as a man of honour, he was bound to retain there until Puddock had had his morning’s tête-à-tête with the barber.

Those who please to consult old domestic receipt-books of the last century, will find the whole process very exactly described therein.

‘Be the powers, Sorr, that was the stuff!’ said O’Flaherty, discussing the composition afterwards, with an awful shake of his head; ‘my chops wor blazing before you could count twenty.’

It was martyrdom; but anything was better than the incapacity which threatened, and certainly, by the end of five minutes, his head was something better. In this satisfactory condition — Jerome being in the back garden brushing his regimentals, and preparing his other properties — he suddenly heard voices close to the door, and gracious powers! one was certainly Magnolia’s.

‘That born devil, Juddy Carrol,’ blazed forth. O’Flaherty, afterwards, ‘pushed open the door; it served me right for not being in my bed-room, and the door locked — though who’d a thought there was such a cruel eediot on airth — bad luck to her — as to show a leedy into a gentleman, with scarcely the half of his clothes on, and undhergoin’ a soart iv an operation, I may say.’

Happily the table behind which he stood was one of those old-fashioned toilet affairs, with the back part, which was turned toward the door, sheeted over with wood, so that his ungartered stockings and rascally old slippers, were invisible. Even so, it was bad enough: he was arrayed in a shabby old silk roquelaire, and there was a towel upon his breast, pinned behind his neck. He had just a second to pop the basin under the table, and to whisk the towel violently from under his chin, drying that feature with merciless violence; when the officious Judy Carrol, Grand Chamberlain in Jerome’s absence, with the facetious grin of a good-natured lady about to make two people happy, introduced the bewitching Magnolia, and her meek little uncle, Major O’Neill.

In they came, rejoicing, to ask the gallant fireworker (it was a different element just now), to make one of a party of pleasure to Leixlip. O’Flaherty could not so much as hand the young lady a chair; to emerge from behind the table, or even to attempt a retreat, was of course not to be thought of in the existing state of affairs. The action of Puddock’s recipe was such as to make his share in the little complimentary conversation that ensued very indistinct, and to oblige him, to his disgrace and despair, when the poor fellow tried a smile, actually to apply his towel hastily to his mouth.

He saw that his visitors observed those symptoms with some perplexity: the major was looking steadfastly at O’Flaherty’s lips, and unconsciously making corresponding movements with his own, and the fair Magnolia was evidently full of pleasant surprise and curiosity. I really think, if O’Flaherty had had a pistol within reach, he would have been tempted to deliver himself summarily from that agonising situation.

‘I’m afraid, lieutenant, you’ve got the toothache,’ said Miss Mag, with her usual agreeable simplicity.

In his alacrity to assure her there was no such thing, he actually swallowed one of the bags. ’Twas no easy matter, and he grew very red, and stared frightfully, and swallowed a draught of water precipitately. His misery was indeed so great that at the conclusion of a polite little farewell speech of the major’s, he uttered an involuntary groan, and lively Miss Mag, with an odious titter, exclaimed —

‘The little creature’s teething, uncle, as sure as you’re not; either that, or he’s got a hot potato in his poor little mouzey-wouzey;’ and poor O’Flaherty smiled a great silent moist smile at the well-bred pleasantry. The major, who did not choose to hear Mag’s banter, made a formal, but rather smiling salute. The lieutenant returned it, and down came the unlucky mortar and a china plate, on which Puddock had mingled the ingredients, with a shocking crash and jingle on the bare boards; a plate and mortar never made such a noise before, O’Flaherty thought, with a mental imprecation.

‘Nothing — hash —‘appened — Shur,’ said O’Flaherty, whose articulation was affected a good deal, in terror lest the major should arrest his departure.

So the major and tall Miss Magnolia, with all her roses and lilies, and bold broad talk, and her wicked eyes, went down the stairs; and O’Flaherty, looking with lively emotion in the glass, at the unbecoming coup-d’oeil, heard that agreeable young lady laughing most riotously under the windows as she and the major marched away.

It was well for Judy, that, being of the gentler sex, the wrath of the fireworker could not wreak itself upon her. The oftener he viewed himself in the pier-glass, trying in vain to think he did not look so very badly after all, the more bitter were his feelings. Oh, that villainous old silk morning gown! and his eyes so confoundedly red, and his hair all dishevelled — bad luck to that clar’t! the wig was all right, that was his only comfort;, and his mouth, ‘och, look at it; twiste its natural size,’ though that was no trifle.

‘Another week I’ll not stop in her lodgings,’ cried poor O’Flaherty, grinning at himself in the glass, ‘if she keeps that savage, Judy Carrol, here a day longer.’

Then he stumbled to the stair-head to call her up for judgment; but changed his mind, and returned to the looking-glass, blowing the cooling air in short whistles through his peppered lips — and I’m sorry to say, blowing out also many an ejaculation and invective, as that sorry sight met his gaze in the oval mirror, which would have been much better not uttered.

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Last updated Monday, March 17, 2014 at 16:49