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

Chapter 81

In which Mr. Dangerfield Receives a Visitor, and Makes a Call.

Dangerfield walked out and blandly greeted the visitor, who turned out to be Mr. Justice Lowe.

‘I give you good-morning, Sir; pray, alight and step in. Hallo, Doolan, take Mr. Justice Lowe’s horse.’

So Mr. Lowe thanked him, in his cold way, and bowing, strode into the Brass Castle; and after the customary civilities, sat himself down, and says he —

‘I’ve been at the Crown Office, Sir, about this murder, we may call it, upon Sturk, and I told them you could throw a light, as I thought, on the matter.’

‘As how, Sir?’

‘Why, regarding the kind of feeling that subsisted between the prisoner, Nutter, and Doctor Sturk.’

‘’Tis unpleasant, Sir, but I can’t object.’

‘There was an angry feeling about the agency, I believe? Lord Castlemallard’s agency, eh?’ continued Lowe.

‘Well, I suppose it was that; there certainly was an unpleasant feeling — very unpleasant.’

‘You’ve heard him express it?’

‘Yes; I think most gentlemen who know him have. Why, he made no disguise of it; he was no great talker, but we’ve heard him on that subject.’

‘But you specially know how it stood between them in respect of the agency?’

‘Yes.’

‘Very good, Sir,’ said Lowe.

‘And I’ve a notion that something decisive should be done toward effecting a full discovery, and I’ll consider of a method,’ replied Dangerfield.

‘How do you mean?’ said Lowe, looking up with a glance like a hawk.

‘How! why I’ll talk it over with Mrs. Sturk this evening.’

‘Why, what has she got to tell?’

‘Nothing, as I suppose; I’ll see her today; there’s nothing to tell; but something, I think, to be done; it hasn’t been set about rightly; ’tis a botched business hitherto — that’s in my judgment.’

‘Yet ’tis rather a strong case,’ answered Mr. Lowe, superciliously.

‘Rather a strong case, so it is, but I’ll clench it, Sir; it ought to be certain.’

‘Well, Sir?’ said Lowe, who expected to hear more.

‘Yes,’ said Dangerfield, briskly, ‘’twill depend on her; I’ll suggest, she’ll decide.’

‘And why she, Sir?’ said Lowe sharply.

‘Because ’tis her business and her right, and no one else can,’ answered Dangerfield just as tartly, with his hands in his breeches’ pockets, and his head the least thing o’ one side, and then with a bow, ‘won’t you drink a glass of wine, Sir?’ which was as much as to say, you’ll get no more from me.

‘I thank you, Sir, no; ’tis a little too early for me.’ And so with the usual ceremonies, Mr. Lowe departed, the governor of the Brass Castle walking beside his horse, as far as the iron gate, to do him honour; and as he rode away towards Lucan, Mr. Dangerfield followed him with a snowy smirk.

Then briskly, after his wont, the knight of the shining spectacles made his natty toilet; and in a few minutes his cocked hat was seen gliding along the hedge toward Chapelizod.

He glanced up at Sturk’s window — it was a habit now — so soon as he came in sight, but all looked as usual. So he mounted the steps, and asked to see Mrs. Sturk.

‘My dear Madam,’ said he, after due courtesies interchanged, ‘I’ve but a few minutes; my horse waits yonder at the Phoenix, and I’m away to town. How does your patient today?’

‘Oh, mighty well — wonderful — that is considering how cold the weather is. The doctor says he’s lower, indeed, but I don’t mind that, for he must be lower while the cold continues; I always say that; and I judge very much by the eye; don’t you, Mr. Dangerfield? by his looks, you know; they can’t deceive me, and I assure you —’

‘Your house is quiet; are the children out, Ma’am?’

‘Oh, yes, with Mag in the park.’

‘Perhaps, Ma’am, you’d let me see him?’

‘See him?’

‘Yes, look on him, Ma’am, only for a moment you know.’

She looked very much surprised, and perhaps a little curious and frightened.

‘I hope you haven’t heard he’s worse, Mr. Dangerfield. Oh, Sir, sure you haven’t?’

‘No, Madam, on my honour, except from yourself, I’ve heard nothing of him today; but I’d like to see him, and speak a word to you, with your permission.’

So Mrs. Sturk led the way up stairs, whispering as she ascended; for she had always the fancy in her head that her Barney was in a sweet light sleep, from which he was on no account to be awakened, forgetting, or not clearly knowing, that all the ordnance in the barrack-yard over the way had not voice enough to call him up from that dread slumber.

‘You may go down, my dear,’ said Mr. Dangerfield to the little girl, who rose silently from the chair as they entered; ‘with your permission, Mistress Sturk — I say, child, you may run down,’ and he smiled a playful, sinister smile, with a little wave of his finger toward the door. So she courtesied and vanished obediently.

Then he drew the curtain, and looked on Doctor Sturk. There lay the hero of the tragedy, his smashed head strapped together with sticking-plaster, and a great white fold of fine linen, like a fantastic turban, surmounting his grim yellow features.

Then he slipped his fingers under the coverlet, and took his hand; a strange greeting that! But it was his pulse he wanted, and when he had felt it for a while —

‘Psha!’ said he in a whisper — for the semblance of sleep affected everyone alike —‘his pulse is just gone. Now, Madam, listen to me. There’s not a soul in Chapelizod but yourself who does not know his wounds are mortal — he’s dying, Ma’am.’

‘Oh — oh — o — o — oh, Mr. Dangerfield, you don’t — you don’t think so,’ wildly cried the poor little lady, growing quite white with terror and agony.

‘Now, pray, my dear Mistress Sturk, compose yourself, and hear me out: ’Tis my belief he has a chance; but none, absolutely no chance, Madam, unless my advice be taken. There’s not an evening, Ma’am, I meet Doctor Toole at the club, but I hear the same report — a little lower — always the same — lower — sinking — and no hope.’

Here Mrs. Sturk broke out again.

‘Now, Madam,’ I protest you’ll make me regret my visit, unless you please to command yourself. While the doctors who are about him have got him in hands, there’s neither hope for his life, nor for his recovering, for one moment, the use of his speech. Pray, Madam, hear me. They state as much themselves. Now, Madam, I say, we must have a chance for his life, and if that fails, a chance for his speech. The latter, Madam, is of more consequence than, perhaps, you are aware.’

Poor little Mrs. Sturk was looking very pale, and breathing very hard, with her hand pressed to her heart.

‘I’ve done what I could, you know, to see my way through his affairs, and I’ve succeeded in keeping his creditors quiet.’

At this point poor Mrs. Sturk broke out —

‘Oh! may the Father of the fatherless, if such they are to be bless and reward — oh — oh — ho — ho, Mr. Dangerfield — oh — oh-oh — Sir.’

‘Now, pray, Madam, oblige me and be tranquil. I say, Madam, his affairs, I suspect, are by no means in so bad a case as we at first supposed, and he has got, or I’m mistaken, large sums out, but where, neither I nor you can tell. Give him five minutes’ speech, and it may be worth a thousand pounds to you — well, not to you, if you will, but to his children. And again, Madam, ’tis of the utmost importance that he should be able to state who was the villain who struck him — Charles — a — Charles — Mr. Nutter — you know, Madam.’

‘Oh! that dreadful — dreadful man — may Heaven forgive him. Oh, my Barney! look at him there — he’d forgive him if he could speak. You would, my blessed Barney — you would.’

‘To be sure he would. But see, Ma’am, the importance of having his evidence to settle the fact. Well, I know that he would not like to hang anybody. But suppose, Ma’am, Charles Nutter is innocent, don’t you think he’d like to acquit him? ay, you do. Well, Ma’am, ’tis due to the public, you see, and to his children that he should have a chance of recovering his speech, and to common humanity that he should have a chance for his life — eh? and neither will the doctors who have him in hands allow him. Now, Madam, there’s a simple operation, called trepanning, you have heard of it, which would afford him such a chance, but fearing its failure they won’t try it, although they allege that without it he must die, d’ye see? — ay, die he must, without a cast for his life if you won’t try it.’

And so, by harping on the alternatives, and demonstrating the prudence, humanity, and duty of action, and the inevitably fatal consequences of the other course, he wrought upon her at last to write a note to Surgeon Dillon to come out on the evening following, and to perform the operation. The dreadful word ‘today,’ the poor little woman could not abide. She pleaded for a respite, and so, half-distracted, fixed tomorrow.

‘I hope, my dear Madam, you’ve some little confidence in me. I think I have shown an interest, and I’ve striven to be of use.’

‘Oh, Sir, Mr. Dangerfield, you’ve been too good, our guardian angel; but for you, Sir, we should not have had a roof over our heads, or a bed to lie on; oh! may —’

‘Well, Ma’am, you please to speak too highly of my small services; but I would plead them, humble as they are, as a claim on your confidence, and having decided upon this wise and necessary course, pray do not say a word about it to anybody but myself. I will go to town, and arrange for the doctor’s visit, and you’ll soon, I hope, have real grounds for gratitude, not to me, Ma’am, but to Heaven.’

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