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

Chapter 77

In which Irish Melody Prevails.

Now, Father Roach’s domicile was the first house in the Chapel-lane, which consisted altogether of two, not being very long. It showed a hall-door, painted green — the national hue — which enclosed, I’m happy to say, not a few of the national virtues, chief among which reigned hospitality. As Moggy turned the corner, and got out of the cold wind under its friendly shelter, she heard a stentorian voice, accompanied by the mellifluous drone of a bagpipe, concluding in a highly decorative style the last verse of the ‘Colleen Rue.’

Respect for this celestial melody, and a desire to hear a little more of what might follow, held Moggy on the steps, with the knocker between her finger and thumb, unwilling to disturb by an unseasonable summons the harmonies from which she was, in fact, separated only by the thickness of the window and its shutter. And when the vocal and instrumental music came to an end together with a prolonged and indescribable groan and a grunt from the songster and the instrument, there broke forth a shrilly chorus of female cackle, some in admiration and some in laughter; and the voice of Father Roach was heard lustily and melodiously ejaculating ‘More power to you, Pat Mahony!’

As this pleasant party all talked together, and Moggy could not clearly unravel a single sentence, she made up her mind to wait no longer, and knocked with good emphasis, under cover of the uproar.

The maid, who had evidently been in the hall, almost instantaneously opened the door; and with a hasty welcome full of giggle and excitement, pulled in Moggy by the arm, shutting the door after her; and each damsel asked the other, ‘An’ how are you, and are you elegant?’ and shaking her neighbour by both hands. The clerical handmaid, in a galloping whisper in Moggy’s ear, told her,’ ’Twas a weddin’ party, and such tarin’ fun she never see — sich dancin’ and singin’, and laughin’ and funnin’; and she must wait a bit, and see the quality,’ a portion of whom, indeed, were visible as well as over-poweringly audible, through the half-open door of the front parlour; ‘and there was to be a thunderin’ fine supper — a round of beef and two geese, and a tubful of oysters,’ &c, &c.

Now I must mention that this feast was, in fact, in its own way, more romantically wonderful than that of the celebrated wedding of Camacho the Rich, and one of the many hundred proofs I’ve met with in the course of my long pilgrimage that the honest prose of everyday life is often ten times more surprising than the unsubstantial fictions of even the best epic poets.

The valiant Sir Jaufry, it is true, was ordered to a dungeon by the fair Brunissende, who so soon as she beheld him, nevertheless became enamoured of the knight, and gave him finally her hand in wedlock. But if the fair Brunissende had been five and forty, or by’r lady, fifty, the widow of a tailor, herself wondrous keen after money, and stung very nigh to madness by the preposterous balance due (as per ledger), and the inexhaustible and ingenious dodges executed by the insolvent Sir Jaufry, the composer of that chivalric romance might have shrunk from the happy winding-up as bordering too nearly upon the incredible.

Yet good Father Roach understood human nature better. Man and woman have a tendency to fuse. And given a good-looking fellow and a woman, no matter of what age, who but deserves the name, and bring them together, and let the hero but have proper opportunities, and deuce is in it if nothing comes of the matter. Animosity is no impediment. On the contrary ’tis a more advantageous opening than indifference. The Cid began his courtship by shooting his lady-love’s pigeons, and putting her into a pet and a frenzy. The Cid knew what he was about. Stir no matter what passions, provided they be passions, and get your image well into your lady’s head, and you may repeat, with like success, the wooing (which superficial people pronounce so unnatural) of crook-backed Richard and the Lady Anne. Of course, there are limits. I would not advise, for instance, a fat elderly gentleman, bald, carbuncled, dull of wit, and slow of speech, to hazard that particular method, lest he should find himself the worse of his experiment. My counsel is for the young, the tolerably good-looking, for murmuring orators of the silver-tongue family, and romantic athletes with coaxing ways.

Worthy Father Roach constituted himself internuncio between Mahony, whom we remember first in his pride of place doing the honours of that feast of Mars in which his ‘friend’ Nutter was to have carved up the great O’Flaherty on the Fifteen Acres, and next, quantum, mutatus ab illo! a helpless but manly captive in the hands of the Dublin bailiffs, and that very Mrs. Elizabeth Woolly, relict and sole executrix of the late Timotheus Woolly, of High-street, tailor, &c., &c., who was the cruel cause of his incarceration.

Good Father Roach, though a paragon of celibacy, was of a gallant temperament, and a wheedling tongue, and unfolded before the offended eye of the insulted and vindictive executrix so interesting a picture of ‘his noble young friend, the victim of circumstance, breaking his manly heart over his follies and misfortunes;’ and looking upon her, Mrs. Woolly, afar off, with an eye full of melancholy and awe, tempered with, mayhap, somewhat of romantic gallantry, like Sir Walter Raleigh from the Tower window on Queen Elizabeth, that he at length persuaded the tremendous ‘relict’ to visit her captive in his dungeon. This she did, in a severe mood, with her attorney, and good Father Roach; and though Mahony’s statement was declamatory rather than precise, and dealt more with his feelings than his resources, and was carried on more in the way of an appeal to the ‘leedy’ than as an exposition to the man of law, leaving matters at the end in certainly no clearer state than before he began, yet the executrix consented to see the imprisoned youth once more, this time dispensing with her attorney’s attendance, and content with the protection of the priest, and even upon that, on some subsequent visits, she did not insist.

And so the affair, like one of those medleys of our Irish melodies arranged by poor M. Jullien, starting with a martial air, breathing turf and thunder, fire and sword, went off imperceptibly into a pathetic and amorous strain. Father Roach, still officiating as internuncio, found the dowager less and less impracticable, and at length a treaty was happily concluded. The captive came forth to wear thenceforward those lighter chains only, which are forged by Hymen and wreathed with roses; and the lady applied to his old promissory notes the torch of love, which in a moment reduced them to ashes. And here, at the hermitage of our jolly Chapelizod priest — for bride and bridegroom were alike of the ‘ancient faith’— the treaty was ratified, and the bagpipe and the bridegroom, in tremendous unison, splitting the rafters with ‘Hymen, Hymen, O Hymenoee!’

In the midst of this festive celebration, his reverence was summoned to the hall, already perfumed with the incense of the geese, the onions, the bacon browned at the kitchen-fire, and various other delicacies, toned and enriched by the vapours that exhaled from the little bottle of punch which, in consideration of his fatigues, stood by the elbow of the piper.

When the holy man had heard Moggy’s tale, he scratched his tonsure and looked, I must say, confoundedly bored.

‘Now, Moggy, my child, don’t you see, acushla, ‘tisn’t to me you should ha’ come; I’m here, my dear, engaged,’ and he dried his moist and rubicund countenance, ‘in one of the sacred offices iv the Church, the sacrament, my dear, iv’— here Mahony and the piper struck up again in so loud a key in the parlour, that as Moggy afterwards observed, ‘they could not hear their own ears,’ and the conclusion of the sentence was overwhelmed in, ‘Many’s the bottle I cracked in my time.’ So his reverence impatiently beckoned to the hall-door, which he opened, and on the steps, where he was able to make himself audible, he explained the nature of his present engagement, and referred her to Doctor Toole. Assured, however, that he was in Dublin, he scratched his tonsure once more.

‘The divil burn the lot o’ them, my dear, an’ purty evenin’ they chose for their vagaries — an’ law papers too, you say, an’ an attorney into the bargain — there’s no influence you can bring to bear on them fellows. If ’twas another man, an’ a couple more at his back, myself an’ Pat Moran ‘id wallop them out of the house, an’ into the river, be gannies; as aisy as say an ave.’

The illustration, it occurred to him, might possibly strike Moggy as irreverent, and the worthy father paused, and, with upturned eyes, murmured a Latin ejaculation, crossing himself; and having thus reasserted his clerical character, he proceeded to demonstrate the uselessness of his going.

But Father Roach, though sometimes a little bit testy, and, on the whole, not without faults, was as good-natured an anchorite as ever said mass or brewed a contemplative bowl of punch. If he refused to go down to the Mills, he would not have been comfortable again that night, nor indeed for a week to come. So, with a sigh, he made up his mind, got quietly into his surtout and mufflers which hung on the peg behind the hall-door, clapped on his hat, grasped his stout oak stick, and telling his housekeeper to let them know, in case his guests should miss him, that he was obliged to go out for ten minutes or so on parish business, forth sallied the stout priest, with no great appetite for knight-errantry, but still anxious to rescue, if so it might be, the distressed princess, begirt with giants and enchanters, at the Mills.

At the Salmon House he enlisted the stalworth Paddy Moran, with the information conveyed to that surprised reveller, that he was to sleep at ‘Mrs. Nutter’s house’ that night; and so, at a brisk pace, the clerical knight, his squire, and demoiselle-errant, proceeded to the Mills.

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