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

Chapter 71

In which Mr. Irons’s Narrative Reaches Merton Moor.

‘Well, I did as he bid me, and set the glass of rum before him, and in place of drinking it, he follows me out. “I told you,” says he, “I’d find a way, and I’m going to give you fifty guineas apiece. Stand you at the stair-head,” says he to Glascock, “and listen; and if you hear anyone coming, step into Mr. Beauclerc’s room with his boots, do you see, for I’m going to rob him.” I thought I’d a fainted, and Glascock, that was a tougher lad than me, was staggered; but Mr. Archer had a way of taking you by surprise, and getting you into a business before you knew where you were going. “I see, Sir,” says Glascock. “And come you in, and I’ll do it,” says Mr. Archer, and in we went, and Mr. Beauclerc was fast asleep.

‘I don’t like talking about it,’ said Irons, suddenly and savagely, and he got up and walked, with a sort of a shrug of the shoulders, to and fro half-a-dozen times, like a man who has a chill, and tries to make his blood circulate.

Mervyn commanded himself, for he knew the man would return to his tale, and probably all the sooner for being left to work off his transient horror how he might.

‘Well, he did rob him, and I often thought how cunningly, for he took no more than about half his gold, well knowing, I’m now sure, neither he nor my lord, your father, kept any count; and there was a bundle of notes in his pocket-book, which Mr. Archer was thinning swiftly, when all of a sudden, like a ghost rising, up sits Mr. Beauclerc, an unlucky rising it was for him, and taking him by the collar — he was a powerful strong man —“You’ve robbed me, Archer,” says he. I was behind Mr. Archer, and I could not see what happened, but Mr. Beauclerc made a sort of a start and a kick out with his foot, and seemed taken with a tremble all over, for while you count three, and he fell back in the bed with his eyes open, and Mr. Archer drew a thin long dagger out of the dead man’s breast, for dead he was.

“What are you afraid of, you —— fool?” says he, shaking me up; “I know what I’m about; I’ll carry you through; your life’s in my hands, mine in yours, only be cool.” He was that himself, if ever man was, and quick as light he closed the dead man’s eyes, saying, “in for a penny in for a pound,” and he threw a bit of the coverlet over his breast, and his mouth and chin, just as a man might draw it rolling round in the bed, for I suppose he thought it best to hide the mouth that was open, and told its tale too plainly, and out he was on the lobby the next instant. “Don’t tell Glascock what’s happened, ’twill make him look queer; let him put in the boots, and if he’s asked, say Mr. Beauclerc made a turn in the bed, and a grumbling, like a man turning over in his sleep, while he was doing so, d’ye see, and divide this, ’twill settle your little trouble, you know.” ’Twas a little paper roll of a hundred guineas. An’ that’s the way Mr. Beauclerc came by his death.’

This to Mervyn was the sort of shock that might have killed an older man. The dreadful calamity that had stigmatised and beggared his family — the horror and shame of which he well remembered, when first revealed to him, had held him trembling and tongue-tied for more than an hour before tears came to his relief, and which had ever since blackened his sky, with a monotony of storm and thunder, was in a moment shown to be a chimera. No wonder that he was for a while silent, stunned, and bewildered. At last he was able — pale and cold — to lift up his clasped hands, his eyes, and his heart, in awful gratitude, to the Author of Mercy, the Revealer of Secrets, the Lord of Life and Truth.

‘And where is this Charles Archer — is he dead or living?’ urged Mervyn with an awful adjuration.

‘Ay, where to catch him, and how — Dead? Well, he’s dead to some, you see, and living to others; and living or dead, I’ll put you on his track some fine day, if you’re true to me; but not yet awhile, and if you turn a stag, or name my name to living soul (and here Mr. Irons swore an oath such as I hope parish clerks don’t often swear, and which would have opened good Dr. Walsingham’s eyes with wonder and horror), you’ll never hear word more from me, and I think, Sir, you’ll lose your life beside.’

‘Your threats of violence are lost on me, I can take care of myself,’ said Mervyn, haughtily.

The clerk smiled a strange sort of smile.

‘But I’ve already pledged my sacred honour not to mention your name or betray your secret.’

‘Well, just have patience, and maybe I’ll not keep you long; but ’tis no trifle for a man to make up his mind to what’s before me, maybe.’

After a pause, Irons resumed —

‘Well, Sir, you see, Mr. Archer sat down by the fire and smoked a pipe, and was as easy and pleased, you’d say, to look on him, as a man need be; and he called for cards when my lord wanted them, and whatever else he needed, making himself busy and bustling — as I afterwards thought to make them both remember well that he was in the room with them.

‘In and out of the chamber I went with one thing or another, and every time I passed Mr. Beauclerc’s room I grew more and more frightened; and, truth to say, I was a scared man, and I don’t know how I got through my business; every minute expecting to hear the outcry from the dead man’s room.

‘Mr. Edwards had an appointment, he said — nothing good, you may be sure — they were a rake-helly set — saving your presence. Neither he nor my lord had lost, I believe, anything to signify to one another; and my lord, your father, made no difficulty about his going away, but began to call again for Mr. Beauclerc, and to curse him — as a half-drunk man will, making a power of noise; and, “Where’s he gone to?” and, “Where’s his room?” and, “—— him, he shall play, or fight me.” You see, Sir, he had lost right and left that time, and was an angry man, and the liquor made him half mad; and I don’t think he knew rightly what he was doing. And out on the lobby with him swearing he should give him his revenge, or he’d know the reason why.

“Where’s Mr. Beauclerc’s room?” he shouts to me, as if he’d strike me; I did not care a rush about that, but I was afraid to say — it stuck in my throat like — and I stared at Mr. Archer; and he calls to the chamber-maid, that was going up stairs, “Where does Mr. Beauclerc lie?” and she, knowing him, says at once, “The Flower de luce,” and pointed to the room; and with that, my lord staggered up to the door, with his drawn sword in hand, bawling on him to come out, and fumbling with the pin; he could not open it; so he knocked it open with a kick, and in with him, and Mr. Archer at his elbow, soothing him like; and I, I don’t know how — behind him.

‘By this time he had worked himself into a mad passion, and says he, “Curse your foxing — if you won’t play like a man, you may die like a dog.” I think ’twas them words ruined him; the chamber-maid heard them outside; and he struck Mr. Beauclerc half-a-dozen blows with the side of the small-sword across the body, here and there, quite unsteady; and “Hold, my lord, you’ve hurt him,” cries Mr. Archer, as loud as he could cry. “Put up your sword for Heaven’s sake,” and he makes a sort of scuffle with my lord, in a friendly way, to disarm him, and push him away, and “Throw down the coverlet and see where he’s wounded,” says he to me; and so I did, and there was a great pool of blood — we knew all about that — and my lord looked shocked when he seen it. “I did not mean that,” says my lord; “but,” says he, with a sulky curse, “he’s well served.”

‘I don’t know whether Glascock was in the room or not all this while, maybe he was; at any rate, he swore to it afterwards; but you’ve read the trial, I warrant. The room was soon full of people. The dead man was still warm —’twas well for us. So they raised him up; and one was for trying one thing, and another; and my lord was sitting stupid-like all this time by the wall; and up he gets, and says he, “I hope he’s not dead, but if he be, upon my honour, ’tis an accident — no more. I call Heaven to witness, and the persons who are now present; and pledge my sacred honour, as a peer, I meant no more than a blow or two.”

“You hear, gentlemen, what my lord says, he meant only a blow or two, and not to take his life,” cries Mr. Archer.

‘So my lord repeats it again, cursing and swearing, like St. Peter in the judgment hall.

‘So, as nobody was meddling with my lord, out he goes, intending, I suppose, to get away altogether, if he could. But Mr. Underwood missed him, and he says, “Gentlemen, where’s my Lord Dunoran? we must not suffer him to depart;” and he followed him — two or three others going along with him, and they met him with his hat and cloak on, in the lobby, and he says, stepping between him and the stairs —

‘“My lord, you must not go, until we see how this matter ends.”

‘“Twill end well enough,” says he, and without more ado he walks back again.

‘So you know the rest — how that business ended, at least for him.’

‘And you are that very Zekiel Irons who was a witness on the trial?’ said Mervyn, with a peculiar look of fear and loathing fixed on him.

‘The same,’ said Irons, doggedly; and after a pause, ‘but I swore to very little; and all I said was true — though it wasn’t the whole truth. Look to the trial, Sir, and you’ll see ’twas Mr. Archer and Glascock that swore home against my lord — not I. And I don’t think myself, Glascock was in the room at all when it happened — so I don’t.’

‘And where is that wretch, Glascock, and that double murderer Archer; where is he?

‘Well, Glascock’s making clay.’

‘What do you mean?’

‘Under ground, this many a day. Listen: Mr. Archer went up to London, and he was staying at the Hummums, and Glascock agreed with me to leave the “Pied Horse.” We were both uneasy, and planned to go up to London together; and what does he do — nothing less would serve him — but he writes a sort of letter, asking money of Mr. Archer under a threat. This, you know, was after the trial. Well, there came no answer; but after a while — all on a sudden — Mr. Archer arrives himself at the “Pied Horse;” I did not know then that Glascock had writ to him — for he meant to keep whatever he might get to himself. “So,” says Mr. Archer to me, meeting me by the pump in the stable-yard, “that was a clever letter you and Glascock wrote to me in town.”

‘So I told him ’twas the first I heard of it.

‘“Why,” says he, “do you mean to tell me you don’t want money?”

‘I don’t know why it was, but a sort of a turn came over me and I said, “No.”

‘“Well,” says he, “I’m going to sell a horse, and I expect to be paid tomorrow; you and Glascock must wait for me outside”— I think the name of the village was Merton — I’m not sure, for I never seen it before or since —“and I’ll give you some money then.”

‘“I’ll have none,” says I.

‘“What, no money?” says he. “Come, come.”

‘“I tell you, Sir, I’ll have none,” says I. Something, you see, came over me, and I was more determined than ever. I was always afeard of him, but I feared him like Beelzebub now. “I’ve had enough of your money, Sir; and I tell you what, Mr. Archer, I think ’tis best to end our dealings, and I’d rather, if you please, Sir, never trouble you more.”

‘“You’re a queer dog,” says he, with his eye fast on me, and musing for a while — as if he could see into my brain, and was diverted by what he found there; —“you’re a queer dog, Irons. Glascock knows the world better, you see; and as you and he are going up to London together, and I must give the poor devil a lift, I’ll meet you at the other side of Merton, beyond the quarry — you know the moor — on Friday evening, after dark — say seven o’clock — we must be quiet, you know, or people will be talking.”

‘Well, Sir, we met him, sure enough, at the time and place.’

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