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

Chapter 33

In which Captain Devereux’s Fiddle Plays a Prelude to ‘Over the Hills and Far Away.’

There was some little undefinable coolness between old General Chattesworth and Devereux. He admired the young fellow, and he liked good blood in his corps, but somehow he was glad when he thought he was likely to go. When old Bligh, of the Magazine, commended the handsome young dog’s good looks, the general would grow grave all at once, and sniff once or twice, and say, ‘Yes, a good-looking fellow certainly, and might make a good officer, a mighty good officer, but he’s wild, a troublesome dog.’ And, lowering his voice, ‘I tell you what, colonel, as long as a young buck sticks to his claret, it is all fair; but hang it, you see, I’m afraid he likes other things, and he won’t wait till after dinner — this between ourselves, you know. ’Tis not a button to me, by Jupiter, what he does or drinks, off duty; but hang it, I’m afraid some day he’ll break out; and once or twice in a friendly way, you know, I’ve had to speak with him, and, to say truth, I’d rather he served under anyone else. He’s a fine fellow, ’tis a pity there should be anything wrong, and it would half break my heart to have to take a public course with him; not, you know, that it has ever come to anything like that — but — but I’ve heard things — and — and he must pull up, or he’ll not do for the service.’ So, though the thing did not amount to a scandal, there was a formality between Devereux and his commanding officer, who thought he saw bad habits growing apace, and apprehended that ere long disagreeable relations might arise between them.

Lord Athenry had been no friend to Devereux in his nonage, and the good-natured countess, to make amends, had always done her utmost to spoil him, and given him a great deal more of his own way, as well as of plum-cake, and Jamaica preserves, and afterwards a great deal more money, than was altogether good for him. Like many a worse person, she was a little bit capricious, and a good deal selfish; but the young fellow was handsome. She was proud of his singularly good looks, and his wickedness interested her, and she gave him more money than to all the best public charities to which she contributed put together. Devereux, indeed, being a fast man, with such acres as he inherited, which certainly did not reach a thousand, mortgaged pretty smartly, and with as much personal debt beside, of the fashionable and refined sort, as became a young buck of bright though doubtful expectations — and if the truth must be owned, sometimes pretty nearly pushed into a corner — was beholden, not only for his fun, but, occasionally for his daily bread and even his liberty, to those benevolent doles.

He did not like her peremptory summons; but he could not afford to quarrel with his bread and butter, nor to kill by undutiful behaviour the fair, plump bird whose golden eggs were so very convenient. I don’t know whether there may not have been some slight sign in the handwriting — in a phrase, perhaps, or in the structure of the composition, which a clever analysis might have detected, and which only reached him vaguely, with a foreboding that he was not to see Chapelizod again so soon as usual when this trip was made. And, in truth, his aunt had plans. She designed his retirement from the Royal Irish Artillery, and had negociated an immediate berth for him on the Staff of the Commander of the Forces, and a prospective one in the household of Lord Townshend; she had another arrangement ‘on the anvil’ for a seat in Parliament, which she would accomplish, if that were possible; and finally a wife. In fact her ladyship had encountered old General Chattesworth at Scarborough only the autumn before, and they had had, in that gay resort, a good deal of serious talk (though serious talk with the good countess never lasted very long), between their cards and other recreations, the result of which was, that she began to think, with the good general, that Devereux would be better where one unlucky misadventure would not sully his reputation for life. Besides, she thought Chapelizod was not safe ground for a young fellow so eccentric, perverse, and impetuous, where pretty faces were plentier than good fortunes, and at every tinkling harpsichord there smiled a possible mesalliance. In the town of Chapelizod itself, indeed, the young gentleman did not stand quite so high in estimation as with his aunt, who thought nothing was good or high enough for her handsome nephew, with his good blood and his fine possibilities. The village folk, however, knew that he was confoundedly dipped; that he was sometimes alarmingly pestered by duns, and had got so accustomed to hear that his uncle, the earl, was in his last sickness, and his cousin, the next heir, dead, when another week disclosed that neither one nor the other was a bit worse than usual, that they began to think that Devereux’s turn might very possibly never come at all. Besides, the townspeople had high notions of some of their belles, and not without reason. There was Miss Gertrude Chattesworth, for instance, with more than fourteen thousand pounds to her fortune, and Lilias Walsingham, who would inherit her mother’s money, and the good rector’s estate of twelve hundred a year beside, and both with good blood in their veins, and beautiful princesses too. However, in those days there was more parental despotism than now. The old people kept their worldly wisdom to themselves, and did not take the young into a scheming partnership; and youth and beauty, I think, were more romantic, and a great deal less venal.

Such being the old countess’s programme — a plan, according to her lights, grand and generous, she might have dawdled over it, for a good while, for she did not love trouble. It was not new; the airy castle had been some years built, and now, in an unwonted hurry, she wished to introduce the tenant to the well-aired edifice, and put him in actual possession. For a queer little attack in her head, which she called a fainting fit, and to which nobody dared afterwards to make allusion, and which she had bullied herself and everybody about her into forgetting, had, nevertheless, frightened her confoundedly. And when her helpless panic and hysterics were over, she silently resolved, if the thing were done, then ’twere well ’twere done quickly.

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