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

Chapter 61

In which the Ghosts of a by-Gone Sin Keep Tryst.

Devereux, wrapped in his cloak, strode into the park, through Parson’s-gate, up the steep hill, and turned towards Castleknock and the furze and hawthorn wood that interposes. The wide plain spread before him in solitude, with the thin vapours of night, lying over it like a film in the moonlight.

Two or three thorn trees stood out from the rest, a pale and solitary group, stooping eastward with the prevailing sweep of a hundred years or more of westerly winds. To this the gipsy captain glided, in a straight military line, his eye searching the distance; and, after a while, from the skirts of the wood, there moved to meet him a lonely female figure, with her light clothing fluttering in the cold air. At first she came hurriedly, but as they drew near, she came more slowly.

Devereux was angry, and, like an angry man, he broke out first with —

‘So, your servant, Mistress Nan! Pretty lies you’ve been telling of me — you and your shrew of a mother. You thought you might go to the rector and say what you pleased, and I hear nothing.’

Nan Glynn was undefinably aware that he was very angry, and had hesitated and stood still before he began, and now she said imploringly —

‘Sure, Masther Richard, it wasn’t me.’

‘Come, my lady, don’t tell me. You and your mother — curse her! — went to the Elms in my absence — you and she — and said I had promised to marry you! There — yes or no. Didn’t you? And could you or could she have uttered a more utterly damnable lie?’

‘’Twas she, Master Richard — troth an’ faith. I never knew she was going to say the like — no more I didn’t.’

‘A likely story, truly, Miss Nan!’ said the young rake, bitterly.

‘Oh! Masther Richard! by this cross! — you won’t believe me —’tis as true as you’re standin’ there — until she said it to Miss Lily —’

‘Hold your tongue!’ cried Devereux, so fiercely, that she thought him half wild; ‘do you think ’tis a pin’s point to me which of you first coined or uttered the lie? Listen to me; I’m a desperate man, and I’ll take a course with you both you’ll not like, unless you go tomorrow and see Dr. Walsingham yourself, and tell him the whole truth — yes, the truth — what the devil do I care? — speak that, and make the most of it. But tell him plainly that your story about my having promised to marry you — do you hear — was a lie, from first to last — a lie — a lie — without so much as a grain of truth mixed up in it. All a cursed — devil’s — woman’s invention. Now, mind ye, Miss Nan, if you don’t, I’ll bring you and your mother into court, or I’ll have the truth out of you.’

‘But there’s no need to threaten, sure, you know, Masther Richard, I’d do anything for you — I would. I’d beg, or I’d rob, or I’d die for you, Masther Richard; and whatever you bid me, your poor wild Nan ‘ill do.’

Devereux was touched, the tears were streaming down her pale cheeks, and she was shivering.

‘You’re cold, Nan; where’s your cloak and riding hood?’ he said, gently.

‘I had to part them, Masther Richard.’

‘You want money, Nan,’ he said, and his heart smote him.

‘I’m not cold when I’m near you, Masther Richard. I’d wait the whole night long for a chance of seeing you; but oh! ho —(she was crying as if her heart would break, looking in his face, and with her hands just a little stretched towards him), oh, Masther Richard, I’m nothing to you now — your poor wild Nan!’

Poor thing! Her mother had not given her the best education. I believe she was a bit of a thief, and she could tell fibs with fluency and precision. The woman was a sinner; but her wild, strong affections were true, and her heart was not in pelf.

‘Now, don’t cry — where’s the good of crying — listen to me,’ said Devereux.

‘Sure I heerd you were sick, last week, Masther Richard,’ she went on, not heeding, and with her cold fingers just touching his arm timidly — and the moon glittered on the tears that streamed down her poor imploring cheeks —‘an’ I’d like to be caring you; an’ I think you look bad, Masther Richard.’

‘No, Nan — I tell you, no — I’m very well, only poor, just now, Nan, or you should not want.’

‘Sure I know, Masther Richard: it is not that. I know you’d be good to me if you had it: and it does not trouble me.’

‘But see, Nan, you must speak to your friends, and say —’

‘Sorra a friend I have — sorra a friend, Masther Richard; and I did not spake to the priest this year or more, and I darn’t go near him,’ said the poor Palmerstown lass that was once so merry.

‘Why won’t you listen to me, child? I won’t have you this way. You must have your cloak and hood. ’Tis very cold; and, by Heavens, Nan, you shall never want while I have a guinea. But you see I’m poor now, curse it — I’m poor — I’m sorry, Nan, and I have only this one about me.’

‘Oh, no, Masther Richard, keep it — maybe you’d want it yourself.’

‘No, child, don’t vex me — there — I’ll have money in a week or two, and I’ll send you some more, Nan — I’ll not forget you.’ He said this in a sadder tone; ‘and, Nan, I’m a changed man. All’s over, you know, and we’ll see one another no more. You’ll be happier, Nan, for the parting, so here, and now, Nan, we’ll say good-bye.’

‘Oh! no — no — no — not good-bye; you couldn’t — couldn’t — couldn’t — your poor wild Nan.’

And she clung to his cloak, sobbing in wild supplication.

‘Yes, Nan, good-bye, it must be-no other word.’

‘An’ oh, Masther Richard, is it in airnest? You wouldn’t, oh! sure you wouldn’t.’

‘Now, Nan, there’s a good girl; I must go. Remember your promise, and I’ll not forget you, Nan — on my soul, I won’t.’

‘Well, well, mayn’t I chance to see you, maybe? mayn’t I look at you marching, Masther Richard, at a distance only? I wouldn’t care so much, I think, if I could see you sometimes.’

‘Now, there, Nan, you must not cry; you know ’tis all past and gone more than a year ago. ’Twas all d —— d folly — all my fault; I’m sorry, Nan — I’m sorry; and I’m a changed man, and I’ll lead a better life, and so do you, my poor girl.’

‘But mayn’t I see you? Not to spake to you, Masther Richard. Only sometimes to see you, far off, maybe.’ Poor Nan was crying all the time she spoke. —‘Well, well, I’ll go, I will, indeed, Masther Richard; only let me kiss your hand — an’ oh! no, no, don’t say good-bye, an’ I’ll go — I’m gone now, an’ maybe — just maybe, you might some time chance to wish to see your poor, wild Nan again — only to see her, an’ I’ll be thinking o’ that.’

The old feeling — if anything so coarse deserved the name — was gone; but he pitied her with all his heart; and that heart, such as it was — though she did not know it — was bleeding for her.

He saw her, poor creature, hurrying away in her light clothing, through the sharp, moonlight chill, which, even in the wrapping of his thick cloak, he felt keenly enough. She looked over her shoulder — then stopped; perhaps, poor thing, she thought he was relenting, and then she began to hurry back again. They cling so desperately to the last chance. But that, you know, would never do. Another pleading — another parting — So he turned sharply and strode into the thickets of the close brushwood, among which the white mists of night were hanging. He thought, as he stepped resolutely and quickly on, with a stern face, and heavy heart, that he heard a wild sobbing cry in the distance, and that was poor Nan’s farewell.

So Devereux glided on like a ghost, through the noiseless thicket, and scarcely knowing or caring where he went, emerged upon the broad open plateau, and skirting the Fifteen Acres, came, at last, to a halt upon the high ground overlooking the river — which ran, partly in long trains of silver sparkles, and partly in deep shadow beneath him. Here he stopped; and looked towards the village where he had passed many a pleasant hour — with a profound and remorseful foreboding that there were no more such pleasant hours for him; and his eye wandered among the scattered lights that still twinkled from the distant windows; and he fancied he knew, among them all, that which gleamed pale and dim through the distant elms — the star of his destiny; and he looked at it across the water — a greater gulf severed them — so near, and yet a star in distance — with a strange mixture of sadness and defiance, tenderness and fury.

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