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

Chapter 66

Of a Certain Tempest that Arose and Shook the Captain’s Spoons and Tea-Cups; and How the Wind Suddenly Went Down.

‘I’m very glad, Sir, to have a few quiet minutes with you,’ said the doctor, making then a little pause; and Devereux thought he was going to re-open the matter of his suit. ‘For I’ve had no answer to my last letter, and I want to know all you can tell me of that most promising young man, Daniel Loftus, and his most curious works.’

‘Dan Loftus is dead and —’ (I’m sorry to say he added something else); ‘and his works have followed him, Sir,’ said the strange captain, savagely; for he could not conceive what business the doctor had to think about him, when Captain Devereux’s concerns were properly to be discussed. So though he had reason to believe he was quite well, and in Malaga with his ‘honourable’ and sickly cousin, he killed him off-hand, and disposed summarily of his works.

There was an absolute silence of some seconds after this scandalous explosion; and Devereux said —‘In truth, Sir, I don’t know. They hold him capable of taking charge of my wise cousin — hang him! — so I dare say he can take care of himself; and I don’t see what the plague ill’s to happen him.’

The doctor’s honest eyes opened, and his face flushed a little. But reading makes a full man, not a quick one; and so while he was fashioning his answer, the iron cooled. Indeed he never spoke in anger. When on sudden provocation he carried his head higher and flushed a little, they supposed he was angry; but if he was, this was all he showed of the old Adam, and he held his peace.

So now the doctor looked down upon the table-cloth, for Devereux’s breakfast china and silver were still upon the table, and he marshalled some crumbs he found there, sadly, with his finger, in a row first, and then in a circle, and then, goodness knows how; and he sighed profoundly over his work.

Devereux was in his mood. He was proud — he had no notion of apologising. But looking another way, and with his head rather high, he hoped Miss Lilias was better.

Well, well, the spring was coming; and Parson Walsingham knew the spring restored little Lily. ‘She’s like a bird — she’s like a flower, and the winter is nearly past,’ (and the beautiful words of the ‘Song of Songs,’ which little Lily so loved to read, mingled like a reverie in his discourse, and he said), ‘the flowers will soon appear in the earth, the time of the singing birds will come, and the voice of the turtle be heard in our land.’

‘Sir,’ said Dick Devereux, in a voice that sounded strangely, ‘I have a request; may I make it? — a favour to beg. ‘Tisn’t, all things remembered, very much. If I write a letter, and place it open in your hand — a letter, Sir — to Miss Lily — will you read it to her, or else let her read it? Or even a message — a spoken message — will you give it?’

‘Captain Devereux,’ said the doctor, in a reserved but very sad sort of way, ‘I must tell you that my dear child is by no means well. She has had a cold, and it has not gone away so soon as usual — something I think of her dear mother’s delicacy — and so she requires care, my little Lily, a great deal of care. But, thank God, the spring is before us. Yes, yes; the soft air and sunshine, and then she’ll be out again. You know the garden, and her visits, and her little walks. So I don’t fret or despair. Oh, no.’ He spoke very gently, in a reverie, after his wont, and he sighed heavily. ‘You know ’tis growing late in life with me, Captain Devereux,’ he resumed, ‘and I would fain see her united to a kind and tender partner, for I think she’s a fragile little flower. Poor little Lily! Something, I often think, of her dear mother’s delicacy, and I have always nursed her, you know. She has been a great pet;’ and he stopped suddenly, and walked to the window. ‘A great pet. Indeed, if she could have been spoiled, I should have spoiled her long ago, but she could not. Ah, no! Sweet little Lily!’

Then quite firmly but gently Parson Walsingham went on:—

‘Now, the doctors say she mustn’t be agitated, and I can’t allow it, Captain Devereux. I gave her your message — let me see — why ’tis four, ay, five months ago. I gave it with a good will, for I thought well of you.’

‘And you don’t any longer — there, ’tis all out,’ broke in Devereux, fiercely.

‘Well, you know her answer; it was not lightly given, nor in haste, and first and last ’twas quite decided, and I sent it to you under my own hand.’

‘I thought you were a friend to me, Dr. Walsingham, and now I’m sure you’re none,’ said the young fellow, in the same bitter tone.

‘Ah, Captain Devereux, he can be no friend to you who is a friend to your faults; and you no friend to yourself if you be an enemy to him that would tell you of them. Will you like him the worse that would have you better?’

‘We’ve all faults, Sir; mine are not the worst, and I’ll have neither shrift nor absolution. There’s some reason here you won’t disclose.’

He was proud, fierce, pale, and looked damnably handsome and wicked.

‘She gave no reason, Sir;’ answered Dr. Walsingham. No, she gave none; but, as I understood, she did not love you, and she prayed me to mention it no more.’

‘She gave no reason; but you know the reason,’ glared out Devereux.

‘Indeed, Sir, I do not know the reason,’ answered the rector.

‘But you know — you must — you meantyou, at least had heard some ill of me, and you no longer wish my suit to prosper.’

‘I have, indeed, of late, heard much ill of you, Captain Devereux,’ answered Dr. Walsingham, in a very deliberate but melancholy way, ‘enough to make me hold you no meet husband for any wife who cared for a faithful partner, or an honourable and a quiet home.’

‘You mean — I know you do — that Palmerstown girl, who has belied me?’ cried Devereux.

‘That unhappy young woman, Captain Devereux, her name is Glynn, whom you have betrayed under a promise of marriage.’

That moment Devereux was on his feet. It was the apparition of Devereux; a blue fire gleaming in his eyes, not a word from his white lips, while three seconds might have ticked from Mrs. Irons’s prosy old clock on the stair-head; his slender hand was outstretched in appeal and defiance, and something half-celestial, half-infernal — the fallen angelic — in his whole face and bearing.

‘May my merciful Creator strike me dead, here at your feet, Doctor Walsingham, but ’tis a lie,’ cried he. ‘I never promised — she’ll tell you. I thought she told you long ago. ’Twas that devil incarnate, her mother, who forged the lie, why or where-fore, except for her fiendish love of mischief, I know not.’

‘I cannot tell, Sir, about your promise,’ said the doctor gravely; ‘with or without it, the crime is heinous, the cruelty immeasurable.’

‘Dr. Walsingham,’ cried Dick Devereux, a strange scorn ringing in his accents, ‘with all your learning you don’t know the world; you don’t know human nature; you don’t see what’s passing in this very village before your eyes every day you live. I’m not worse than others; I’m not half so bad as fifty older fellows who ought to know better; but I’m sorry, and ‘tisn’t easy to say that, for I’m as proud, proud as the devil, proud as you; and if it were to my Maker, what more can I say? I’m sorry, and if Heaven forgives us when we repent, I think our wretched fellow-mortals may.’

‘Captain Devereux, I’ve nothing to forgive,’ said the parson, kindly.

‘But I tell you, Sir, this cruel, unmeaning separation will be my eternal ruin,’ cried Devereux. ‘Listen to me — by Heaven, you shall. I’ve fought a hard battle, Sir! I’ve tried to forget her — to hate her — it won’t do. I tell you, Dr. Walsingham, ’tis not in your nature to comprehend the intensity of my love — you can’t. I don’t blame you. But I think, Sir — I think I might make her like me, Sir. They come at last, sometimes, to like those that love them so — so desperately: that may not be for me, ’tis true. I only ask to plead my own sad cause. I only want to see her — gracious Heaven — but to see her — to show her how I was wronged — to tell her she can make me what she will — an honourable, pure, self-denying, devoted man, or leave me in the dark, alone, with nothing for it but to wrap my cloak about my head, and leap over the precipice.’

‘Captain Devereux, why will you doubt me? I’ve spoken the truth. I have already said I must not give your message; and you are not to suppose I dislike you, because I would fain have your faults mended.’

‘Faults! have I? To be sure I have. So have you, more, Sir, and worse than I, maybe,’ cried Devereux, wild again; ‘and you come here in your spiritual pride to admonish and to lecture, and to insult a miserable man, who’s better, perhaps, than yourself. You’ve heard ill of me? you hear I sometimes drink maybe a glass too much — who does not? you can drink a glass yourself, Sir; drink more, and show it less than I maybe; and you listen to every damned slander that any villain, to whose vices and idleness you pander with what you call your alms, may be pleased to invent, and you deem yourself charitable; save us from such charity! Charitable, and you refuse to deliver my miserable message: hard-hearted Pharisee!’

It is plain poor Captain Devereux was not quite himself — bitter, fierce, half-mad, and by no means so polite as he ought to have been. Alas! as Job says, ‘ye imagine to reprove words; and the speeches of one that is desperate, which are as wind.’

‘Yes, hard-hearted, unrelenting Pharisee.’ The torrent roared on, and the wind was up; it was night and storm with poor Devereux. ‘You who pray every day — oh — damnable hypocrisy — lead us not into temptation — you neither care nor ask to what courses your pride and obstinacy are driving me — your fellow-creature.’

‘Ah, Captain Devereux, you are angry with me, and yet it’s not my doing; the man that is at variance with himself will hardly be at one with others. You have said much to me that is unjust, and, perhaps, unseemly; but I won’t reproach you; your anger and trouble make wild work with your words. When one of my people falls into sin, I ever find it is so through lack of prayer. Ah! Captain Devereux, have you not of late been remiss in the duty of private prayer?’

The captain laughed, not pleasantly, into the ashes in the grate. But the doctor did not mind, and only said, looking upward —.

‘Lord, if thou hadst been here, my brother had not died.’

There was kindness, and even tenderness, in the tone in which simple Dr. Walsingham spoke the appellative, brother; and it smote Devereux now, as sometimes happens with wayward fellows, and his better nature was suddenly moved.

‘I’m sorry, Sir — I am. You’re too patient — I’m very sorry; ’tis like an angel — you’re noble, Sir, and I such an outcast. I— I wish you’d strike me, Sir — you’re too kind and patient, Sir, and so pure — and how have I spoken to you? A trial, Sir, if you can forgive me — one trial — my vice — you shall see me changed, a new man. Oh, Sir, let me swear it. I am, Sir — I’m reformed; don’t believe me till you see it. Oh! good Samaritan — don’t forsake me — I’m all one wound.’

Well! they talked some time longer, and parted kindly.

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