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

Chapter 58

In which One of Little Bopeep’s Sheep Comes Home Again, and Various Theories are Entertained Respecting Charles Nutter And Lieutenant Puddock.

And just on Monday morning, in the midst of this hurly-burly of conjecture, who should arrive, of all the people in the world, and re-establish himself in his old quarters, but Dick Devereux. The gallant captain was more splendid and handsome than ever. But both his spirits and his habits had suffered. He had quarrelled with his aunt, and she was his bread and butter — ay, buttered on both sides. How lightly these young fellows quarrel with the foolish old worshippers who lay their gold, frankincense, and myrrh, at the feet of the handsome thankless idols. They think it all independence and high spirit, whereas we know it is nothing but a little egotistical tyranny, that unconsciously calculates even in the heyday of its indulgence upon the punctual return of the penitent old worshipper, with his or her votive offerings.

Perhaps the gipsy had thought better of it, and was already sorry he had not kept the peace. At all events, though his toilet and wardrobe were splendid — for fine fellows in his plight deny themselves nothing — yet morally he was seedy, and in temper soured. His duns had found him out, and pursued him in wrath and alarm to England, and pestered him very seriously indeed. He owed money beside to several of his brother officers, and it was not pleasant to face them without a guinea. An evil propensity, at which, as you remember, General Chattesworth hinted, had grown amid his distresses, and the sting of self-reproach exasperated him. Then there was his old love for Lilias Walsingham, and the pang of rejection, and the hope of a strong passion sometimes leaping high and bright, and sometimes nickering into ghastly shadows and darkness.

Indeed, he was by no means so companionable just now as in happier times, and was sometimes confoundedly morose and snappish — for, as you perceive, things had not gone well with him latterly. Still he was now and then tolerably like his old self.

Toole, passing by, saw him in the window. Devereux smiled and nodded, and the doctor stopped short at the railings, and grinned up in return, and threw out his arms to express surprise, and then snapped his fingers, and cut a little caper, as though he would say —‘Now, you’re come back — we’ll have fun and fiddling again.’ And forthwith he began to bawl his enquiries and salutations. But Devereux called him up peremptorily, for he wanted to hear the news — especially all about the Walsinghams. And up came Toole, and they had a great shaking of hands, and the doctor opened his budget and rattled away.

Of Sturk’s tragedy and Nutter’s disappearance he had already heard. And he now heard some of the club gossip, and all about Dangerfield’s proposal for Gertrude Chattesworth, and how the old people were favourable, and the young lady averse — and how Dangerfield was content to leave the question in abeyance, and did not seem to care a jackstraw what the townspeople said or thought — and then he came to the Walsinghams, and Devereux for the first time really listened. The doctor was very well — just as usual; and wondering what had become of his old crony, Dan Loftus, from whom he had not heard for several months; and Miss Lily was not very well — a delicacy here (and he tapped his capacious chest), like her poor mother. ‘Pell and I consulted about her, and agreed she was to keep within doors.’ And then he went on, for he had a suspicion of the real state of relations between him and Lily, and narrated the occurrence rather with a view to collect evidence from his looks and manner, than from any simpler motive; and, said he, ‘Only think, that confounded wench, Nan — you know — Nan Glynn,’ And he related her and her mother’s visit to Miss Lily, and a subsequent call made upon the rector himself — all, it must be confessed, very much as it really happened. And Devereux first grew so pale as almost to frighten Toole, and then broke into a savage fury — and did not spare hard words, oaths, or maledictions. Then off went Toole, when things grew quieter, upon some other theme, giggling and punning, spouting scandal and all sorts of news — and Devereux was looking full at him with large stern eyes, not hearing a word more. His soul was cursing old Mrs. Glynn, of Palmerstown — that mother of lies and what not — and remonstrating with old Dr. Walsingham — and protesting wildly against everything.

General Chattesworth, who returned two or three weeks after, was not half pleased to see Devereux. He had heard a good deal about him and his doings over the water, and did not like them. He had always had a misgiving that if Devereux remained in the corps, sooner or later he would be obliged to come to a hard reckoning with him. And the handsome captain had not been three weeks in Chapelizod, when more than the general suspected that he was in nowise improved. So General Chattesworth did not often see or talk with him; and when he did, was rather reserved and lofty with him. His appointment on the staff was in abeyance — in fact, the vacancy on which it was expectant had not definitely occurred — and all things were at sixes and sevens with poor Dick Devereux.

That evening, strange to say, Sturk was still living; and Toole reported him exactly in the same condition. But what did that signify? ’Twas all one. The man was dead — as dead to all intents and purposes that moment as he would be that day twelvemonths, or that day hundred years.

Dr. Walsingham, who had just been to see poor Mrs. Sturk — now grown into the habit of hoping, and sustained by the intense quiet fuss of the sick room — stopped for a moment at the door of the Phoenix, to answer the cronies there assembled, who had seen him emerge from the murdered man’s house.

‘He is in a profound lethargy,’ said the worthy divine. ‘’Tis a subsidence — his life, Sir, stealing away like the fluid from the clepsydra — less and less left every hour — a little time will measure all out.’

‘What the plague’s a clepsydra?’ asked Cluffe of Toole, as they walked side by side into the club-room.

‘Ho! pooh! one of those fabulous tumours of the epidermis mentioned by Pliny, you know, exploded ten centuries ago — ha, ha, ha!’ and he winked and laughed derisively, and said, ‘Sure you know Doctor Walsingham.’

And the gentlemen began spouting their theories about the murder and Nutter, in a desultory way; for they all knew the warrant was out against him.

‘My opinion,’ said Toole, knocking out the ashes of his pipe upon the hob; for he held his tongue while smoking, and very little at any other time; ‘and I’ll lay a guinea ’twill turn out as I say — the poor fellow’s drowned himself. Few knew Nutter — I doubt if any one knew him as I did. Why he did not seem to feel anything, and you’d ha’ swore nothing affected him, more than that hob, Sir; and all the time, there wasn’t a more thin-skinned, atrabilious poor dog in all Ireland — but honest, Sir — thorough steel, Sir. All I say is, if he had a finger in that ugly pie, you know, as some will insist, I’ll stake my head to a china orange, ’twas a fair front to front fight. By Jupiter, Sir, there wasn’t one drop of cur’s blood in poor Nutter. No, poor fellow; neither sneak nor assassin there —’

‘They thought he drowned himself from his own garden — poor Nutter,’ said Major O’Neill.

‘Well, that he did not,’ said Toole. ‘That unlucky shoe, you know, tells a tale; but for all that, I’m clear of the opinion that drowned he is. We tracked the step, Lowe and I, to the bank, near the horse-track, in Barrack Street, just where the water deepens — there’s usually five feet of water there, and that night there was little short of ten. Now, take it, that Nutter and Sturk had a tussle — and the thing happened, you know — and Sturk got the worst of it, and was, in fact, despatched, why, you know the kind of panic — and — and — the panic — you know — a poor dog, finding himself so situated, would be in-with the bitter, old quarrel between them — d’ye see? And this at the back of his vapours and blue-devils, for he was dumpish enough before, and would send a man like Nutter into a resolution of making away with himself; and that’s how it happened, you may safely swear.’

‘And what do you think, Mr. Dangerfield?’ asked the major.

‘Upon my life,’ said Dangerfield, briskly, lowering his newspaper to his knee, with a sharp rustle, ‘these are questions I don’t like to meddle in. Certainly, he had considerable provocation, as I happen to know; and there was no love lost — that I know too. But I quite agree with Doctor Toole — if he was the man, I venture to say ’twas a fair fight. Suppose, first, an altercation, then a hasty blow — Sturk had his cane, and a deuced heavy one — he wasn’t a fellow to go down without knowing the reason why; and if they find Nutter, dead or alive, I venture to say he’ll show some marks of it about him.’

Cluffe wished the whole company, except himself, at the bottom of the Red Sea; for he was taking his revenge of Puddock, and had already lost a gammon and two hits. Little Puddock won by the force of the dice. He was not much of a player; and the sight of Dangerfield — that repulsive, impenetrable, moneyed man, who had ‘overcome him like a summer cloud,’ when the sky of his fortunes looked clearest and sunniest, always led him to Belmont, and the side of his lady-love.

If Cluffe’s mind wandered in that direction, his reveries were rather comfortable. He had his own opinion about his progress with Aunt Rebecca, who had come to like his conversation, and talked with him a great deal about Puddock, and always with acerbity; Cluffe, who was a sort of patron of Puddock’s, always, to do him justice, defended him respectfully. And Aunt Rebecca would listen very attentively, and then shake her head, and say, ‘You’re a great deal too good-natured, captain; and he’ll never thank you for your pains, neverI can tell you.’

Well, Cluffe knew that the higher powers favoured Dangerfield; and that, beside his absurd sentiment, not to say passion, which could not but be provoking, Puddock’s complicity in the abortive hostilities of poor Nutter and the gallant O’Flaherty rankled in Aunt Becky’s heart. She was, indeed, usually appeasable and forgiving enough; but in this case her dislike seemed inveterate and vindictive; and she would say —

‘Well, let’s talk no more of him; ’tis easy finding a more agreeable subject: but you can’t deny, captain, that ’twas an unworthy hypocrisy his pretending to sentiments against duelling to me, and then engaging as second in one on the very first opportunity that presented.’

Then Cluffe would argue his case, and plead his excuses, and fumbled over it a good while; not that he’d have cried a great deal if Puddock had been hanged; but, I’m afraid, chiefly because, being a fellow of more gaiety and accomplishment than quickness of invention, it was rather convenient, than otherwise, to have a topic, no matter what, supplied to him, and one that put him in an amiable point of view, and in a kind of graceful, intercessorial relation to the object of his highly prudent passion. And Cluffe thought how patiently she heard him, though he was conscious ’twas rather tedious, and one time very like another. But then, ‘twasn’t the talk, but the talker; and he was glad, at all risks, to help poor Puddock out of his disgrace, like a generous soul, as he was.

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