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

Chapter 50

Treating of Some Confusion, in Consequence, in the Club-Room of the Phoenix and Elsewhere, and of a Hat that was Picked Up.

When Cluffe sprang out of the boat, he was very near capsizing it and finishing Puddock off-hand, but she righted and shot away swiftly towards the very centre of the weir, over which, in a sheet of white foam, she swept, and continued her route toward Dublin — bottom upward, leaving little Puddock, however, safe and sound, clinging to a post, at top, and standing upon a rough sort of plank, which afforded a very unpleasant footing, by which the nets were visited from time to time.

‘Hallo! are you safe, Cluffe?’ cried the little lieutenant, quite firm, though a little dizzy, on his narrow stand, with the sheets of foam whizzing under his feet; what had become of his musical companion he had not the faintest notion, and when he saw the boat hurled over near the sluice, and drive along the stream upside down, he nearly despaired.

But when the captain’s military cloak, which he took for Cluffe himself, followed in the track of the boat, whisking, sprawling, and tumbling, in what Puddock supposed to be the agonies of drowning, and went over the weir and disappeared from view, returning no answer to his screams of ‘Strike out, Cluffe! to your right, Cluffe. Hollo! to your right,’ he quite gave the captain over.

‘Surrendhur, you thievin’ villain, or I’ll put the contints iv this gun into yir carcass,’ shouted an awful voice from the right bank, and Puddock saw the outline of a gigantic marksman, preparing to fire into his corresponding flank.

‘What do you mean, Sir?’ shouted Puddock, in extreme wrath and discomfort.

‘Robbin’ the nets, you spalpeen; if you throw them salmon you’re hidin’ undher your coat into the wather, be the tare-o-war —’

‘What salmon, Sir?’ interrupted the lieutenant. ‘Why, salmon’s not in season, Sir.’

‘None iv yer flummery, you schamin’ scoundrel; but jest come here and give yourself up, for so sure as you don’t, or dar to stir an inch from that spot, I’ll blow you to smithereens!’

‘Captain Cluffe is drowned, Sir; and I’m Lieutenant Puddock,’ rejoined the officer.

‘Tare-an-ouns, an’ is it yerself, Captain Puddock, that’s in it?’ cried the man. ‘I ax yer pardon; but I tuk you for one of thim vagabonds that’s always plundherin’ the fish. And who in the wide world, captain jewel, id expeck to see you there, meditatin’ in the middle of the river, this time o’ night; an’ I dunna how in the world you got there, at all, at all, for the planking is carried away behind you since yistherday.’

‘Give an alarm, if you please, Sir, this moment,’ urged Puddock. ‘Captain Cluffe has gone over this horrid weir, not a minute since, and is I fear drowned.’

‘Dhrownded! och! bloody wars.’

‘Yes, Sir, send some one this moment down the stream with a rope —’

‘Hollo, Jemmy?’ cried the man, and whistled through his crooked finger.

‘Jemmy,’ said he to the boy who presented himself, ‘run down to Tom Garret, at the Millbridge, and tell him Captain Cluffe’s dhrownded over the weir, and to take the boat-hook and rope — he’s past the bridge by this time — ay is he at the King’s House — an’ if he brings home the corpse alive or dead, before an hour, Captain Puddock here will give him twenty guineas reward.’ So away went the boy.

‘’Tis an unaisy way you’re situated yourself, I’m afeard,’ observed the man.

‘Have the goodness to say, Sir, by what meanth, if any, I can reach either bank of the river,’ lisped Puddock, with dignity.

‘’Tis thrue for you, captain, that’s the chat — how the divil to get you alive out o’ the position you’re in. Can you swim?’

‘No, Thir.’

‘An’ how the dickens did you get there?’

‘I’d rather hear, Sir, how I’m to get away, if you please,’ replied Puddock, loftily.

‘Are you bare-legged?’ shouted the man.

‘No, Sir,’ answered the little officer, rather shocked.

‘An’ you’re there wid shoes on your feet.

‘Of course, Sir,’ answered Puddock.

‘Chuck them into the water this instant minute,’ roared the man.

‘Why, there are valuable buckles, Sir,’ remonstrated Puddock.

‘Do you mane to say you’d rather be dhrownded in yer buckles than alive in yer stockin’ feet?’ he replied.

There were some cross expostulations, but eventually the fellow came out to Puddock. Perhaps the feat was not quite so perilous as he represented; but it certainly was not a pleasant one. Puddock had a rude and crazy sort of banister to cling to, and a rugged and slippery footing; but slowly and painfully, from one post to another, he made his way, and at last jumped on the solid, though not dry land, his life and his buckles safe.

‘I’ll give you a guinea in the morning, if you come to my quarterth, Mr. —— Thir,’ and, without waiting a second, away he ran by the footpath, and across the bridge, right into the Phoenix, and burst into the club-room. There were assembled old Arthur Slowe, Tom Trimmer, from Lucan, old Trumble, Jack Collop, Colonel Stafford, and half-a-dozen more members, including some of the officers — O’Flaherty among the number, a little ‘flashy with liquor’ as the phrase then was.

Puddock stood in the wide opened door, with the handle in his hand. He was dishevelled, soused with water, bespattered with mud, his round face very pale, and he fixed a wild stare on the company. The clatter of old Trimmer’s backgammon, Slowe’s disputations over the draftboard with Colonel Stafford, Collop’s dissertation on the points of that screw of a horse he wanted to sell, and the general buzz of talk, were all almost instantaneously suspended on the appearance of this phantom, and Puddock exclaimed —

‘Gentlemen, I’m thorry to tell you, Captain Cluffe ith, I fear, drowned!’

‘Cluffe?’ ‘Drowned?’ ‘By Jupiter!’ ‘You don’t say so? and a round of such ejaculations followed this announcement.

Allow me here to mention that I permit my people to swear by all the persons of the Roman mythology. There was a horrible profanity in the matter of oaths in those days, and I found that without changing the form of sentences, and sacrificing idioms, at times, I could not manage the matter satisfactorily otherwise.

‘He went over the salmon weir — I saw him — Coyle’s — weir — headlong, poor fellow! I shouted after him, but he could not anthwer, so pray let’s be off, and —’

Here he recognised the colonel with a low bow and paused. The commanding officer instantaneously despatched Lieutenant Brady, who was there, to order out Sergeant Blakeney and his guard, and any six good swimmers in the regiment who might volunteer, with a reward of twenty guineas for whoever should bring in Cluffe alive, or ten guineas for his body; and the fat fellow all the time in his bed sipping sack posset!

So away ran Brady and a couple more of the young fellows at their best pace — no one spared himself on this errand — and little Puddock and another down to the bridge. It was preposterous.

By this time Lillyman was running like mad from Cluffe’s lodgings along Martin’s Row to the rescue of Puddock, who, at that moment with his friends and the aid of a long pole, was poking into a little floating tanglement of withered leaves, turf, and rubbish, under the near arch of the bridge, in the belief that he was dealing with the mortal remains of Cluffe.

Lillyman overtook Toole at the corner of the street just in time to hear the scamper of the men, at double-quick, running down the sweep of the road to the bridge, and to hear the shouting that arose from the parade-ground by the river bank, from the men within the barrack precincts.

Toole joined Lillyman running.

‘What the plague’s this hubbub and hullo?’ he cried.

‘Puddock’s drowned,’ panted Lillyman.

‘Puddock! bless us! where?’ puffed Toole.

‘Hollo! you, Sir — have they heard it — is he drowned?’ cried Lillyman to the sentry outside the gate.

‘Dhrownded? yes, Sir,’ replied the man saluting.

‘Is help gone?’

‘Yes, Sir, Lieutenant Brady, and Sergeant Blakeney, and nine men.’

‘Come along,’ cried Lillyman to Toole, and they started afresh. They heard the shouting by the river bank, and followed it by the path round the King’s House, passing the Phoenix; and old Colonel Stafford, who was gouty, and no runner, standing with a stern and anxious visage at the door, along with old Trumble, Slowe, and Trimmer, and some of the maids and drawers in the rear, all in consternation.

‘Bring me the news,’ screamed the colonel, as they passed.

Lillyman was the better runner. Toole a good deal blown, but full of pluck, was labouring in the rear; Lillyman jumped over the stile, at the river path; and Toole saw an officer who resembled ‘poor Puddock,’ he thought, a good deal, cross the road, and follow in Lillyman’s wake. The doctor crossed the stile next, and made his best gallop in rear of the plump officer, excited by the distant shouting, and full of horrible curiosity and good-nature.

Nearly opposite Inchicore they fished up an immense dead pig; and Toole said, to his amazement, he found Puddock crying over it, and calling it ‘my brother!’ And this little scene added another very popular novelty to the doctor’s stock of convivial monologues.

Toole, who loved Puddock, hugged him heartily, and when he could get breath, shouted triumphantly after the more advanced party, ‘He’s found, he’s found!’

‘Oh, thank Heaven!’ cried little Puddock, with upturned eyes; ‘but is he really found?’

The doctor almost thought that his perils had affected his intellect.

‘Is he found — are you found?’ cried the doctor, resuming that great shake by both hands, which in his momentary puzzle he had suspended.

‘I— a — oh, dear! — I don’t quite understand — is he lost? for mercy’s sake is Cluffe lost?’ implored Puddock.

‘Lost in his bed clothes, maybe,’ cried Lillyman, who had joined them.

‘But he’s not — he’s not drowned?’

‘Pish! drowned, indeed! unless he’s drowned in the crock of hot water he’s clapt his legs into.’

‘Where is he — where’s Cluffe?’

‘Hang it! — he’s in bed, in his lodging, drinking hot punch this half-hour.’

‘But are you certain?’

‘Why, I saw him there myself,’ answered Lillyman, with an oath.

Poor little Puddock actually clasped his hands, looked up, and poured forth a hearty, almost hysterical, thanksgiving; for he had charged Cluffe’s death altogether upon his own soul, and his relief was beyond expression.

In the meantime, the old gentlemen of the club were in a thrilling suspense, and that not altogether disagreeable state of horror in which men chew the cud of bitter fancy over other men’s catastrophes. After about ten minutes in came young Spaight.

‘Well,’ said the colonel, ‘is Cluffe safe or — eh?’

‘Cluffe’s safe — only half drowned; but poor Puddock’s lost.’

‘What!’

‘Drowned, I’m afraid.’

‘Drowned! who says so?’ repeated the colonel.

‘Cluffe — everybody.’

‘Why, there it is!’ replied the colonel, with a great oath, breaking through all his customary reserve and stiffness, and flinging his cocked-hat on the middle of the table, piteously, ‘A fellow that can’t swim a yard will go by way of saving a great — a large gentleman, like Captain Cluffe, from drowning, and he’s pulled in himself; and so — bless my soul! what’s to be done?’

So the colonel broke into a lamentation, and a fury, and a wonder. ‘Cluffe and Puddock, the two steadiest officers in the corps! He had a devilish good mind to put Cluffe under arrest — the idiots — Puddock — he was devilish sorry. There wasn’t a more honourable’— et cetera. In fact, a very angry and pathetic funeral oration, during which, accompanied by Doctor Toole, Lieutenant Puddock, in person, entered; and the colonel stopped short with his eyes and mouth very wide open, and said the colonel very sternly.

‘I— I’m glad to see, Sir, you’re safe: and — and — I suppose, I shall hear now that Cluffe’s drowned?’ and he stamped the emphasis on the floor.

While all this was going on, some of the soldiers had actually got into Dublin. The tide was in, and the water very high at ‘Bloody Bridge.’ A hat, near the corner, was whisking round and round, always trying to get under the arch, and always, when on the point, twirled round again into the corner — an image of the ‘Flying Dutchman’ and hope deferred. A watchman’s crozier hooked the giddy thing. It was not a military hat; but they brought it back, and the captive was laid in the guard-room — mentioned by me because we’ve seen that identical hat before.

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