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

Chapter 35

In which Aunt Becky and Doctor Toole, in Full Blow, with Dominick, the Footman, Behind Them, Visit Miss Lily at the Elms.

After such leave-takings, especially where something like a revelation takes place, there sometimes supervenes, I’m told, a sort of excitement before the chill and ache of separation sets in. So, Lily, when she went home, found that her music failed her, all but the one strange little air, ‘The river ran between them;’ and then she left the harpsichord and went into the garden through the glass door, but the flowers had only half their interest, and the garden was solitary, and she felt restless, as if she were going to make a journey, or looking for strange news; and then she bethought her again of Mrs. Colonel Stafford, that she might have by this time returned from Dublin, and there was some little interest about the good old lady, even in this, that she had just returned by the same road that he had gone away by, that she might have chanced to see him as he passed; that at least she might happen to speak of him, and to know something of the likelihood of his return, or even to speculate about him; for now any talk in which his name occurred was interesting, though she did not know it quite herself. So she went down to the King’s House, and did find old Mrs. Stafford at home: and after an entertaining gossip about some ‘rich Nassau damask,’ at Haughton’s in the Coombe, that had taken her fancy mightily, and how she had chosen a set of new Nankeen plates and fine oblong dishes at the Music Hall, and how Peter Raby, the watchman, was executed yesterday morning, in web worsted breeches, for the murder of Mr. Thomas Fleming, of Thomas-street, she did come at last to mention Devereux: and she said that the colonel had received a letter from General Chattesworth, ‘who by-the-bye,’ and then came a long parenthesis, very pleasant, you may be sure, for Lily to listen to; and the general, it appeared, thought it most likely that Devereux would not return to Chapelizod, and the Royal Irish Artillery; and then she went on to other subjects, and Lily staid a long time, thinking she might return to Devereux, but she did not mention him again. So home went little Lily more pensive than she came.

It was near eight o’clock, when who should arrive at the door, and flutter the crows in the old elms with an energetic double knock, but Aunt Rebecca, accompanied by no less a personage than Dr. Toole in full costume, and attended by old Dominick, the footman.

The doctor was a little bit ruffled and testy, for having received a summons from Belmont, he had attended in full blow, expecting to prescribe for Aunt Rebecca or Miss Gertrude, and found, instead, that he was in for a barren and benevolent walk of half a mile on the Inchicore road, with the energetic Miss Rebecca, to visit one of her felonious pensioners who lay sick in his rascally crib. It was not the first time that the jolly little doctor had been entrapped by the good lady into a purely philanthropic excursion of this kind. But he could not afford to mutiny, and vented his disgust in blisters and otherwise drastic treatment of the malingering scoundrels whom he served out after his kind for the trouble and indignity they cost him.

‘And here we are, Lily dear, on our way to see poor dear Pat Doolan, who, I fear, is not very long for this world. Dominick! — he’s got a brain fever, my dear.’

The doctor said ‘pish!’ inaudibly, and Aunt Becky went on.

‘You know the unhappy creature is only just out of prison, and if ever mortal suffered unjustly, he’s the man. Poor Doolan’s as innocent as you or I, my dear, or sweet little Spot, there;’ pointing her fan like a pistol at that interesting quadruped’s head. ‘The disgrace has broken his heart, and that’s at the bottom of his sickness. I wish you could hear him speak, poor dear wretch — Dominick!’ and she had a word for that domestic in the hall.

‘Hear him speak, indeed!’ said Toole, taking advantage of her momentary absence. ‘I wish you could, the drunken blackguard. King Solomon could not make sense of it. She gave that burglar, would you believe it, Ma’am? two guineas, by Jupiter: the first of this month — and whiskey only sixpence a pint — and he was drunk without intermission of course, day and night for a week after. Brain fever, indeed, ’tis just as sweet a little fit of delirium tremens, my dear Madam, as ever sent an innocent burglar slap into bliss;’ and the word popped out with a venomous hiss and an angry chuckle.

‘And so, my dear,’ resumed Aunt Becky, marching in again; ‘good Doctor Toole — our good Samaritan, here — has taken him up, just for love, and the poor man’s fee — his blessing.’

The doctor muttered something about ‘taking him up,’ but inarticulately, for it was only for the relief of his own feelings.

‘And now, dear Lilias, we want your good father to come with us, just to pray by the poor fellow’s bedside: he’s in the study, is he?’

‘No, he was not to be home until tomorrow morning.’

‘Bless me!’ cried Aunt Becky, with as much asperity as if she had said something different; ‘and not a soul to be had to comfort a dying wretch in your father’s parish — yes, he’s dying; we want a minister to pray with him, and here we’ve a Flemish account of the rector. This tells prettily for Dr. Walsingham!’

‘Dr. Walsingham’s the best rector in the whole world, and the holiest man and the noblest,’ cried brave little Lily, standing like a deer at bay, with her wild shy eyes looking full in Aunt Becky’s, and a flush in her cheeks, and the beautiful light of truth beaming like a star from her forehead. And for a moment it looked like battle; but the old lady smiled a kind of droll little smile, and gave her a little pat on the cheek, saying with a shake of her head, ‘saucy girl!’

‘And you,’ said Lily, throwing her arms about her neck, ‘are my own Aunt Becky, the greatest darling in the world!’ And so, as John Bunyan says, ‘the water stood in their eyes,’ and they both laughed, and then they kissed, and loved one another the better. That was the way their little quarrels used always to end.

‘Well, doctor, we must only do what we can,’ said Aunt Becky, looking gravely on the physician: ‘and I don’t see why you should not read — you can lend us a prayer-book, darling — just a collect or two, and the Lord’s Prayer — eh?’

‘Why, my dear Ma’am, the fellow’s howling about King Lewis and the American Indians, Dominick says, and ghosts and constables, and devils, and worse things, Madam, and — pooh — punch and laudanum’s his only chance; don’t mind the prayer-book, Miss Lily — there’s no use in it, Mistress Chattesworth! I give you my honour, Ma’am, he could not make head or tale of it.’

In fact, the doctor was terrified lest Aunt Rebecca should compel him to officiate, and he was thinking how the fellows at the club, and the Aldermen of Skinner’s-alley, would get hold of the story, and treat the subject less gravely than was desirable.

So Aunt Becky, with Lily’s leave, called in Dominick, to examine him touching the soundness of Pat Doolan’s mind, and the honest footman had no hesitation in pronouncing him wholly non compos.

‘Pleasant praying with a chap like that, by Jove, as drunk as an owl, and as mad as a March hare! my dear Ma’am,’ whispered Toole to Lilias.

‘And, Lily dear’, there’s poor Gertrude all alone —‘twould be good natured in you to go up and drink a dish of tea with her; but, then, you’re cold — you’re afraid?’

She was not afraid — she had been out today — and it had done her all the good in the world, and it was very good of Aunt Becky to think of it, for she was lonely too: and so off went the elder Miss Chattesworth, with her doctor and Dominick, in their various moods, on their mission of mercy; and Lily sent into the town for the two chairmen, Peter Brian and Larry Foy, the two-legged ponies, as Toole called them.

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