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

Chapter 34

In which Lilias Hears a Stave of an Old Song and There is a Leave-Taking Beside the River.

Devereux’s move was very sudden, and the news did not reach the Elms till his groom had gone on to Island-bridge with the horses, and he himself, booted and spurred, knocked at the door. The doctor was not at home; he had ridden into Dublin. Of course it was chiefly to see him he had gone there.

‘And Miss Walsingham?’

She was also out; no, not in the garden. John thought maybe at old Miss Chattesworth’s school; or, Sally said, maybe at Belmont; they did not know.

Devereux looked into the large room at the right hand of the hall, with the fair sad portrait of Lilias’s young mother smiling, from the wall. Like her, too — and the tall glasses of flowers — and the harpsichord open, with the music she would play, just as usual, that evening, he supposed; and he stood at the door, looking round the room, booted and spurred, as I have said, with his cocked hat held to his breast, in a reverie. It was not easy for old Sally to guess what was passing in his mind, for whenever he was sad he smiled, but with the somewhat of bitter in his smile, and when he suffered he used to joke.

Just at that moment Lilias Walsingham was walking along the high street of the village to the King’s House, and stopping to say a good-natured little word to old Jenny Creswell, was overtaken by mild Mrs. Sturk, who was walking her little menagerie into the park.

‘And oh! dear Miss Walsingham, did you hear the news? she said; ‘Captain Devereux is gone to England, and I believe we sha’n’t see him here again.’

Lilias felt that she grew pale, but she patted one of the children on the head, and smiled, and asked him some foolish little question.

‘But why don’t you listen, dear Miss Lilias? You don’t hear, I think,’ said Mrs. Sturk.

‘I do hear, indeed; when did he go?’ she asked, coldly enough.

‘About half an hour ago,’ Mrs. Sturk thought: and so, with a word or two more, and a kissing of hands, the good lady turned, with her brood, up the park lane, and Lily walked on to pay her visit to Mrs. Colonel Stafford, feeling all the way a strange pang of anger and disappointment.

‘To think of his going away without taking leave of my father!’

And when she reached the hall-door of the King’s House for a moment she forgot what she had come for, and was relieved to find that good Mrs. Strafford was in town.

There was then, I don’t know whether there is not now, a little path leading by the river bank from Chapelizod to Island-bridge, just an angler’s footpath, devious and broken, but withal very sweet and pretty. Leaving the King’s House, she took this way home, and as she walked down to the river bank, the mortified girl looked down upon the grass close by her feet, and whispered to the daisies as she went along —‘No, there’s no more kindness nor friendliness left in the world; the people are all cold creatures now, and hypocrites; and I’m glad he’s gone.’

She paused at the stile which went over the hedge just beside an old fluted pier, with a grass-grown urn at top, and overgrown with a climbing rose-tree, just such a study as a young lady might put in her album; and then she recollected the long letter from old Miss Wardle that Aunt Becky had sent her to read, with a request, which from that quarter was a command, that she should return it by six o’clock, for Aunt Becky, even in matters indifferent, liked to name hours, and nail people sharp and hard to futile appointments and barren punctualities.

She paused at the stile; she liked the old pier; its partner next the river was in fragments, and the ruin and the survivor had both been clothed by good Mrs. Strafford — who drew a little, and cultivated the picturesque — with the roses I have mentioned, besides woodbine and ivy. She had old Miss Wardle’s letter in her hand, full, of course, of shocking anecdotes about lunatics, and the sufferings of Fleet prisoners, and all the statistics, and enquiries, and dry little commissions, with which that worthy lady’s correspondence abounded. It was open in her hand, and rustled sharp and stiffly in the air, but it was not inviting just then. From that point it was always a pretty look down or up the river; and her eyes followed with the flow of its waters towards Inchicore. She loved the river; and in her thoughts she wondered why she loved it — so cold, so unimpressible — that went shining and rejoicing away into the sea. And just at that moment she heard a sweet tenor, with a gaiety somehow pathetic, sing not far away the words she remembered —

‘And she smiled upon the stream, Like one that smiles at folly, A dreamer on a dream.’

Devereux was coming — it was his playful salutation. Her large eyes dropped to the ground with the matchless blush of youth. She was strangely glad, but vexed at having changed colour; but when he came up with her, in the deep shadow thrown by the old pier, with its thick festooneries, he could not tell, he only knew she looked beautiful.

‘My dreams take wing, but my follies will not leave me. And you have been ill, Miss Lilias?’

‘Oh, nothing; only a little cold.’

‘And I am going — I only knew last night — really going away.’ He paused; but the young lady did not feel called upon to say anything, and only allowed him to go on. In fact, she was piqued, and did not choose to show the least concern about his movements. ‘And I’ve a great mind now that I’m departing this little world,’ and he glanced, it seemed to her, regretfully towards the village, ‘to put you down, Miss Lily, if you will allow it, in my codicil for a legacy ——’

She laughed a pleasant little careless laugh. How ill-natured! but, oh! wasn’t it musical.

‘Then I suppose, if you were not to see me for some time, or maybe for ever, the village folks won’t break their hearts after Dick Devereux?’

And the gipsy captain smiled, and his eyes threw a soft violet shadow down upon her; and there was that in his tone which for a moment touched her with a strange reproach, like a bar of sweet music.

But little Lily was spirited; and if he, so early a friend, could go away without bidding good-bye, why he should not suppose she cared.

‘Break our hearts? Not at all, perhaps; but of course I— the parson’s daughter — I should, and old Moore, the barber, and Pat Moran, the hackney coachman, and Mrs. Irons your fat landlady, you’ve been so very good to all of us, you know.’

‘Well,’ he interrupted, ‘I’ve left my white surtout to Moran: a hat, let me see, and a pair of buckles to Moore; and my glass and china to dear Mrs. Irons.’

‘Hat — buckles — surtout — glass — china — gone! Then it seems to me your earthly possessions are pretty nearly disposed of, and your worldly cares at an end.’

‘Yes; very nearly, but not quite,’ he laughed. ‘I have one treasure left — my poor monkey; he’s a wonderful fellow — he has travelled half over the world, and is a perfect fine gentleman — and my true comrade until now. Do you think Dr. Walsingham, of his charity, would give the poor fellow free quarters at the Elms?’

She was going to make answer with a jest, satirically; but her mood changed quickly. It was, she thought, saucy of Captain Devereux to fancy that she should care to have his pet; and she answered a little gravely —

‘I can’t say indeed; had you cared to see him, you might have asked him; but, indeed, Captain Devereux, I believe you’re jesting.’

‘Faith! Madam, I believe I am; or, it does not much matter — dreaming perhaps. There’s our bugle!’ And the sweet sounds quivered and soared through the pleasant air. ‘How far away it sounds already; ours are sweet bugles — the sweetest bugles to my ear in the wide world. Yes, dreaming. I said I had but one treasure left,’ he continued, with a fierce sort of tenderness that was peculiar to him: ‘and I did not mean to tell you, but I will. Look at that, Miss Lily, ’tis the little rose you left on your harpsichord this morning. I stole it: ’tis mine; and Richard Devereux would die rather than lose it to another.’

So then, after all, he had been at the Elms; and she had wronged him.

‘Yes, dreaming,’ he continued, in his old manner; ‘and ’tis time I were awake, awake and on the march.’

‘You are then really going?’ she said, so that no one would have guessed how strangely she felt at that moment.

‘Yes, really going,’ he said, quite in his own way; ‘Over the hills and far away; and so, I know, you’ll first wish your old friend God speed.’

‘I do, indeed.’

‘And then you’ll shake hands, Miss Lily, as in old times.’

And out came the frank little hand, and he looked on it, with a darkling smile, as it lay in his own sinewy but slender grasp; and she said with a smile —‘Good-bye.’

She was frightened lest he should possibly say more than she knew how to answer.

‘And somehow it seems to me, I have a great deal to say.’

‘And I’ve a great deal to read, you see;’ and she just stirred old Miss Wardle’s letter, that lay open in her hand, with a smile just the least in the world of comic distress.

‘A great deal,’ he said.

‘And farewell, again,’ said Lilias.

‘Farewell! dear Miss Lily.’

And then, he just looked his old strange look upon her; and he went: and she dropped her eyes upon the letter. He had got into the far meadow, where the path makes a little turn round the clump of poplars, and hides itself. Just there he looked over his shoulder, a last look it might be, the handsome strange creature that had made so many of her hours pass so pleasantly; he that was so saucy with everyone else, and so gentle with her; of whom, she believed, she might make anything, a hero or a demigod! She knew a look would call him back — back, maybe, to her feet; but she could not give that little sign. There she stood, affecting to read that letter, one word of which she did not see. ‘She does not care; but — but there’s no one like her. No — she does not care,’ he thought; and she let him think it: but her heart swelled to her throat, and she felt as if she could have screamed, ‘Come back — my only love — my darling — without you I must die!’ But she did not raise her head. She only read on, steadily, old Miss Wardle’s letter — over and over — the same half-dozen lines. And when, after five minutes more, she lifted up her eyes, the hoary poplars were ruffling their thick leaves in the breeze — and he gone; and the plaintive music came mellowed from the village, and the village and the world seemed all on a sudden empty for her.

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