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

Chapter 45

Concerning a Little Rehearsal in Captain Cluffe’s, Lodging, and a Certain Confidence Between Dr. Sturk and Mr. Dangerfield.

Mrs. Sturk, though very quiet, was an active little body, with a gentle, anxious face. She was up and about very early, and ran down to the King’s House, to ask Mrs. Colonel Stafford, who was very kind to her, and a patroness of Sturk’s, to execute a little commission for her in Dublin, as she understood she was going into town that day, and the doctor’s horse had gone lame, and was in the hands of the farrier. So the good lady undertook it, and offered a seat in her carriage to Dr. Sturk, should his business call him to town. The carriage would be at the door at half-past eleven.

And as she trotted home — for her Barney’s breakfast-hour was drawing nigh — whom should she encounter upon the road, just outside the town, but their grim spectacled benefactor, Dangerfield, accompanied by, and talking in his usual short way to Nutter, the arch enemy, who, to say truth, looked confoundedly black and she heard the silver spectacles say, ‘’Tis, you understand, my own thoughts only I speak, Mr. Nutter.’

The fright and the shock of seeing Nutter so near her, made her salutation a little awkward; and she had, besides, an instinctive consciousness that they were talking about the terrible affair of yesterday. Dangerfield, on meeting her, bid Nutter good-morning suddenly, and turned about with Mrs. Sturk, who had to slacken her pace a little, for the potent agent chose to walk rather slowly.

‘A fine morning after all the rain, Madam. How well the hills look,’ and he pointed across the Liffey with his cane; ‘and the view down the river,’ and he turned about, pointing towards Inchicore.

I believe he wanted to see how far Nutter was behind them. He was walking in the opposite direction, looking down on the kerb-stones of the footpath, and touching them with his cane, as if counting them as he proceeded. Dangerfield nodded, and his spectacles in the morning sun seemed to flash two sudden gleams of lightning after him.

‘I’ve been giving Nutter a bit of my mind, Madam, about that procedure of his. He’s very angry with me, but a great deal more so with your husband, who has my sympathies with him; and I think I’m safe in saying he’s likely soon to have an offer of employment under my Lord Castlemallard, if it suits him.

And he walked on, and talked of other things in short sentences, and parted with Mrs. Sturk with a grim brief kindness at the door, and so walked with his wiry step away towards the Brass Castle, where his breakfast awaited him, and he disappeared round the corner of Martin’s Row.

‘And which way was he going when you met him and that — that Nutter?’ demanded Sturk, who was talking in high excitement, and not being able to find an epithet worthy of Nutter, made it up by his emphasis and his scowl. She told him.

‘H’m! then, he can’t have got my note yet!’

She looked at him in a way that plainly said, ‘what note?’ but Sturk said no more, and he had trained her to govern her curiosity.

As Dangerfield passed Captain Cluffe’s lodgings, he heard the gay tinkle of a guitar, and an amorous duet, not altogether untunefully sung to that accompaniment; and he beheld little Lieutenant Puddock’s back, with a broad scarlet and gold ribbon across it, supporting the instrument on which he was industriously thrumming, at the window, while Cluffe, who was emitting a high note, with all the tenderness he could throw into his robust countenance, and one of those involuntary distortions which in amateurs will sometimes accompany a vocal effort, caught the eye of the cynical wayfarer, and stopped short with a disconcerted little cough and a shake of his chops, and a grim, rather red nod, and ‘Good-morning, Mr. Dangerfield.’ Puddock also saluted, still thrumming a low chord or two as he did so, for he was not ashamed, like his stout playmate, and saw nothing incongruous in their early minstrelsy.

The fact is, these gallant officers were rehearsing a pretty little entertainment they designed for the ladies at Belmont. It was a serenade, in short, and they had been compelled to postpone it in consequence of the broken weather; and though both gentlemen were, of course, romantically devoted to their respective objects, yet there were no two officers in his Majesty’s service more bent upon making love with a due regard to health and comfort than our friends Cluffe and Puddock. Puddock, indeed, was disposed to conduct it in the true masquerading spirit, leaving the ladies to guess at the authors of that concord of sweet sounds with which the amorous air of night was to quiver round the walls and groves of Belmont; and Cluffe, externally acquiescing, had yet made up his mind, if a decent opportunity presented, to be detected and made prisoner, and that the honest troubadours should sup on a hot broil, and sip some of the absent general’s curious Madeira at the feet of their respective mistresses, with all the advantage which a situation so romantic and so private would offer.

So ‘tinkle, tinkle, twang, twang, THRUM!’ went the industrious and accomplished Puddock’s guitar; and the voices of the enamoured swains kept tolerable tune and time; and Puddock would say, ‘Don’t you think, Captain Cluffe, ‘twould perhapth go better if we weren’t to try that shake upon A. Do let’s try the last two barth without it;’ and ‘I’m thorry to trouble you, but jutht wonth more, if you pleathe —

‘“But hard ith the chathe my thad heart mutht purthue, While Daphne, thweet Daphne, thtill flieth from my view.”’

Puddock, indeed, had strict notions about rehearsing, and, on occasions like this, assumed managerial airs, and in a very courteous way took the absolute command of Captain Cluffe, who sang till he was purple, and his belts and braces cracked again, not venturing to mutiny, though he grumbled a little aside.

So when Dangerfield passed Cluffe’s lodging again, returning on his way into Chapelizod, the songsters were at it still. And he smiled his pleasant smile once more, and nodded at poor old Cluffe, who this time was very seriously put out, and flushed up quite fiercely, and said, almost in a mutiny —

‘Hang it, Puddock, I believe you’d keep a fellow singing ballads over the street all day. Didn’t you see that cursed fellow, Dangerfield, sneering at us — curse him — I suppose he never heard a gentleman sing before; and, by Jove, Puddock, you know you do make a fellow go over the same thing so often it’s enough to make a dog laugh.’

A minute after Dangerfield had mounted Sturk’s door-steps, and asked to see the doctor. He was ushered up stairs and into that back drawing-room which we know so well. Sturk rose as he entered.

‘Your most obedient, Mr. Dangerfield,’ said the doctor, with an anxious bow.

‘Good-morning, Sir,’ said Dangerfield. ‘I’ve got your note, and am here in consequence; what can I do?’

Sturk glanced at the door, to see it was shut, and then said —

‘Mr. Dangerfield, I’ve recollected a — something.’

‘You have? ho! Well, my good Sir?’

‘You, I know, were acquainted with — with Charles Archer?’

Sturk looked for a moment on the spectacles, and then dropped his eyes.

‘Charles Archer,’ answered Dangerfield promptly, ‘yes, to be sure. But, Charles, you know, got into trouble, and ’tis not an acquaintance you or I can boast of; and, in fact, we must not mention him; and I have long ceased to know anything of him.’

‘But, I’ve just remembered his address; and there’s something about his private history which I very well know, and which gives me a claim upon his kind feeling, and he’s now in a position to do me a material service; and there’s no man living, Mr. Dangerfield, has so powerful an influence with him as yourself. Will you use it in my behalf, and attach me to you by lasting gratitude?’

Sturk looked straight at Dangerfield; and Dangerfield looked at him, quizzically, perhaps a little ashamed, in return; after a short pause —

‘I will,’ said Dangerfield, with a sprightly decision. ‘But, you know, Charles is not a fellow to be trifled with — hey? and we must not mention his name — you understand — or hint where he lives, or anything about him, in short.’

‘That’s plain,’ answered Sturk.

‘You’re going into town, Mrs. Sturk tells me, in Mrs. Strafford’s carriage. Well, when you return this evening, put down in writing what you think Charles can do for you, and I’ll take care he considers it.’

‘I thank you, Sir,’ said Sturk, solemnly.

‘And hark ye, you’d better go about your business in town — do you see — just as usual; ’twill excite enquiry if you don’t; so you must in this and other things proceed exactly as I direct you,’ said Dangerfield.

‘Exactly, Sir, depend on’t,’ answered Sturk.

‘Good-day,’ said Dangerfield.

‘Adieu,’ said the doctor; and they shook hands, gravely.

On the lobby Dangerfield encountered Mrs. Sturk, and had a few pleasant words with her, patting the bull-heads of the children, and went down stairs smiling and nodding; and Mrs. Sturk popped quietly into the study, and found her husband leaning on the chimney piece, and swabbing his face with his handkerchief — strangely pale — and looking, as the good lady afterwards said, for all the world as if he had seen a ghost.

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