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

Chapter 65

Relating Some Awful News that Reached the Village, and How Dr. Walsingham Visited Captain Richard Devereux at His Lodgings.

And now there was news all over the town, to keep all the tongues there in motion.

News — news — great news! — terrible news! Peter Fogarty, Mr. Tresham’s boy, had it that morning from his cousin, Jim Redmond, whose aunt lived at Ringsend, and kept the little shop over against the ‘Plume of Feathers,’ where you might have your pick and choice of all sorts of nice and useful things — bacon, brass snuff-boxes, penny ballads, eggs, candles, cheese, tobacco-pipes, pinchbeck buckles for knee and instep, soap, sausages, and who knows what beside.

No one quite believed it — it was a tradition at third hand, and Peter Fogarty’s cousin, Jim Redmond’s aunt, was easy of faith; — Jim, it was presumed, not very accurate in narration, and Peter, not much better. Though, however, it was not actually ‘intelligence,’ it was a startling thesis. And though some raised their brows and smiled darkly, and shook their heads, the whole town certainly pricked their ears at it. And not a man met another without ‘Well! anything more? You’ve heard the report, Sir — eh?’

It was not till Doctor Toole came out of town, early that day, that the sensation began in earnest.

‘There could be no doubt about it —’twas a wonderful strange thing certainly. After so long a time — and so well preserved too.’

What was it — what is it?’

‘Why, Charles Nutter’s corpse is found, Sir!’

‘Corpse — hey!’

‘So Toole says. Hollo! Toole — Doctor Toole — I say. Here’s Mr. Slowe hasn’t heard about poor Nutter.’

‘Ho! neighbour Slowe — give you good-day, Sir — not heard it? By Jove, Sir — poor Nutter! —’tis true — his body’s found — picked up this morning, just at sunrise, by two Dunleary fishermen, off Bullock. Justice Lowe has seen it — and Spaight saw it too. I’ve just been speaking with him, not an hour ago, in Thomas Street. It lies at Ringsend — and an inquest in the morning.’

And so on in Doctor Toole’s manner, until he saw Dr. Walsingham, the good rector, pausing in his leisurely walk just outside the row of houses that fronted the turnpike, in one of which were the lodgings of Dick Devereux.

The good Doctor Toole wondered what brought his reverence there, for he had an inkling of something going on. So he bustled off to him, and told his story with the stern solemnity befitting such a theme, and that pallid, half-suppressed smile with which an exciting horror is sometimes related. And the good rector had many ejaculations of consternation and sympathy, and not a few enquiries to utter. And at last, when the theme was quite exhausted, he told Toole, who still lingered on, that he was going to pay his respects to Captain Devereux.

‘Oh!’ said cunning little Toole, ‘you need not, for I told him the whole matter.’

‘Very like, Sir,’ answered the doctor; ‘but ’tis on another matter I wish to see him.’

‘Oh! — ho! — certainly — very good, Sir. I beg pardon — and — and — he’s just done his breakfast — a late dog, Sir — ha! ha! Your servant, Doctor Walsingham.’

Devereux puzzled his comrade Puddock more than ever. Sometimes he would descend with his blue devils into the abyss, and sit there all the evening in a dismal sulk. Sometimes he was gayer even than his old gay self; and sometimes in a bitter vein, talking enigmatical ironies, with his strange smile; and sometimes he was dangerous and furious, just as the weather changes, without rhyme or reason. Maybe he was angry with himself, and thought it was with others; and was proud, sorry, and defiant, and let his moods, one after another, possess him as they came.

They were his young days — beautiful and wicked — days of clear, rich tints, and sanguine throbbings, and gloria mundi — when we fancy the spirit perfect, and the body needs no redemption — when, fresh from the fountains of life, death is but a dream, and we walk the earth like heathen gods and goddesses, in celestial egotism and beauty. Oh, fair youth! — gone for ever. The parting from thee was a sadness and a violence — sadder, I think, than death itself. We look behind us, and sigh after thee, as on the pensive glories of a sunset, and our march is toward the darkness. It is twilight with us now, and will soon be starlight, and the hour and place of slumber, till the reveille sounds, and the day of wonder opens. Oh, grant us a good hour, and take us to Thy mercy! But to the last those young days will be remembered and worth remembering; for be we what else we may, young mortals we shall never be again.

Of course Dick Devereux was now no visitor at the Elms. All that for the present was over. Neither did he see Lilias; for little Lily was now a close prisoner with doctors, in full uniform, with shouldered canes, mounting guard at the doors. ’Twas a hard winter, and she needed care and nursing. And Devereux chafed and fretted; and, in truth, ’twas hard to bear this spite of fortune — to be so near, and yet so far — quite out of sight and hearing.

A word or two from General Chattesworth in Doctor Walsingham’s ear, as they walked to and fro before the white front of Belmont, had decided the rector on making this little call; for he had now mounted the stair of Devereux’s lodging, and standing on the carpet outside, knocked, with a grave, sad face on his door panel, glancing absently through the lobby window, and whistling inaudibly the while.

The doctor was gentle and modest, and entirely kindly. He held good Master Feltham’s doctrine about reproofs. ‘A man,’ says he, ‘had better be convinced in private than be made guilty by a proclamation. Open rebukes are for Magistrates, and Courts of Justice! for Stelled Chambers and for Scarlets, in the thronged Hall Private are for friends; where all the witnesses of the offender’s blushes are blinde and deaf and dumb. We should do by them as Joseph thought to have done by Mary, seeke to cover blemishes with secrecy. Public reproofe is like striking of a Deere in the Herd; it not only wounds him to the loss of enabling blood, but betrays him to the Hound, his Enemy, and makes him by his fellows be pusht out of company.’

So on due invitation from within, the good parson entered, and the handsome captain in all his splendours — when you saw him after a little absence ’twas always with a sort of admiring surprise — you had forgot how very handsome he was — this handsome slender fellow, with his dark face and large, unfathomable violet eyes, so wild and wicked, and yet so soft, stood up surprised, with a look of welcome quickly clouded and crossed by a gleam of defiance.

They bowed, and shook hands, however, and bowed again, and each was the other’s ‘servant;’ and being seated, they talked de generalibus; for the good parson would not come like an executioner and take his prisoner by the throat, but altogether in the spirit of the shepherd, content to walk a long way about, and wait till he came up with the truant, and entreating him kindly, not dragging or beating him back to the flock, but leading and carrying by turns, and so awaiting his opportunity. But Devereux was in one of his moods. He thought the doctor no friend to his suit, and was bitter, and formal, and violent.

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