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

Chapter 9

How a Squire was Found for the Knight of the Rueful Countenance.

When Dr. Toole grumbled at his disappointment, he was not at all aware how nearly his interview with Loftus had knocked the entire affair on the head. He had no idea how much that worthy person was horrified by his proposition; and Toole walked off in a huff, without bidding him good-night, and making a remark in which the words ‘old woman’ occurred pretty audibly. But Loftus remained under the glimpses of the moon in perturbation and sore perplexity. It was so late he scarcely dared disturb Dr. Walsingham or General Chattesworth. But there came the half-stifled cadence of a song — not bacchanalian, but sentimental — something about Daphne and a swain — struggling through the window-shutters next the green hall-door close by, and Dan instantly bethought himself of Father Roach. So knocking stoutly at the window, he caused the melody to subside and the shutter to open. When the priest, looking out, saw Dan Loftus in his deshabille, I believe he thought for a moment it was something from the neighbouring churchyard.

However, his reverence came out and stood on the steps, enveloped in a hospital aroma of broiled bones, lemons, and alcohol, and shaking his visitor affectionately by the hand — for he bore no malice, and the Lenten ditty he quite forgave as being no worse in modern parlance than an unhappy ‘fluke’— was about to pull him into the parlour, where there was ensconced, he told him, ‘a noble friend of his.’ This was ‘Pat Mahony, from beyond Killarney, just arrived — a man of parts and conversation, and a lovely singer.’

But Dan resisted, and told his tale in an earnest whisper in the hall. The priest made his mouth into a round queer little O, through which he sucked a long breath, elevating his brows, and rolling his eyes slowly about.

‘A jewel! And Nutter, of all the men on the face of the airth — though I often heerd he was a fine shot, and a sweet little fencer in his youth, an’ game, too — oh, be the powers! you can see that still — game to the back-bone — and — whisht a bit now — who’s the other?’

‘Lieutenant O’Flaherty.’

(A low whistle from his reverence). ‘That’s a boy that comes from a fighting county — Galway. I wish you saw them at an election time. Why, there’s no end of divarsion — the divarsion of stopping them, of course, I mean (observing a sudden alteration in Loftus’s countenance). An’ you, av coorse, want to stop it? And so, av coorse, do I, my dear. Well, then, wait a bit, now — we must have our eyes open. Don’t be in a hurry — let us be harrumless as sarpints, but wise as doves. Now, ’tis a fine thing, no doubt, to put an end to a jewel by active intherfarence, though I have known cases, my dear child, where suppressing a simple jewel has been the cause of half a dozen breaking out afterwards in the same neighbourhood, and on the very same quarrel, d’ye mind — though, of coorse, that’s no reason here or there, my dear boy! But take it that a jewel is breaking down and coming to the ground of itself (here a hugely cunning wink), in an aisy, natural, accommodating way, the only effect of intherfarence is to bolster it up, d’ye see, so just considher how things are, my dear. Lave it all to me, and mind my words, it can’t take place without a second. The officers have refused, so has Toole, you won’t undertake it, and it’s too late to go into town. I defy it to come to anything. Jest be said be me, Dan Loftus, and let sleeping dogs lie. Here I am, an old experienced observer, that’s up to their tricks, with my eye upon them. Go you to bed — lave them to me — and they’re checkmated without so much as seeing how we bring it to pass.’

Dan hesitated.

‘Arrah! go to your bed, Dan Loftus, dear. It’s past eleven o’clock — they’re nonplussed already; and lave me — me that understands it — to manage the rest.’

‘Well, Sir, I do confide it altogether to you. I know I might, through ignorance, do a mischief.’

And so they bid a mutual good-night, and Loftus scaled his garret stair and snuffed his candle, and plunged again into the business of two thousand years ago.

‘Here’s a purty business,’ says the priest, extending both his palms, with a face of warlike importance, and shutting the door behind him with what he called ‘a cow’s kick;’ ‘a jewel, my dear Pat, no less; bloody work I’m afeared.’

Mr. Mahony, who had lighted a pipe during his entertainer’s absence, withdrew the fragrant tube from his lips, and opened his capacious mouth with a look of pleasant expectation, for he, like other gentlemen of his day — and, must we confess, not a few jolly clerics of my creed, as well as of honest Father Roach’s — regarded the ordeal of battle, and all its belongings, simply as the highest branch of sporting. Not that the worthy father avowed any such sentiment; on the contrary, his voice and his eyes, if not his hands, were always raised against the sanguinary practice; and scarce a duel occurred within a reasonable distance unattended by his reverence, in the capacity, as he said, of ‘an unauthorised, but airnest, though, he feared, unavailing peacemaker.’ There he used to spout little maxims of reconciliation, and Christian brotherhood and forbearance; exhorting to forget and forgive; wringing his hands at each successive discharge; and it must be said, too, in fairness, playing the part of a good Samaritan towards the wounded, to whom his green hall-door was ever open, and for whom the oil of his consolation and the wine of his best bin never refused to flow.

‘Pat, my child,’ said his reverence, ‘that Nutter’s a divil of a fellow — at least he was, by all accounts; he’ll be bad enough, I’m afeared, and hard enough to manage, if everything goes smooth; but if he’s kept waiting there, fuming and boiling over, do ye mind, without a natural vent for his feelings, or a friend, do ye see, at his side to — to resthrain him, and bring about, if possible, a friendly mutual understanding — why, my dear child, he’ll get into that state of exasperation an’ violence, he’ll have half a dozen jewels on his hands before morning.’

‘Augh! ‘tid be a murther to baulk them for want of a friend,’ answered Mr. Mahony, standing up like a warrior, and laying the pipe of peace upon the chimney. ‘Will I go down, Father Denis, and offer my sarvices?’

‘With a view to a reconciliation, mind,’ said his reverence, raising his finger, closing his eyes, and shaking his florid face impressively.

‘Och, bother! don’t I know — of coorse, reconciliation;’ and he was buttoning his garments where, being a little ‘in flesh,’ as well as tall, he had loosed them. ‘Where are the gentlemen now, and who will I ask for?’

‘I’ll show you the light from the steps. Ask for Dr. Toole; and he’s certainly there; and if he’s not, for Mr. Nutter; and just say you came from my house, where you — a — pooh! accidentally heard, through Mr. Loftus, do ye mind, there was a difficulty in finding a friend to — a — strive to make up matters between thim.’

By this time they stood upon the door-steps; and Mr. Mahony had clapt on his hat with a pugnacious cock o’ one side; and following, with a sporting and mischievous leer, the direction of the priest’s hand, that indicated the open door of the Phoenix, through which a hospitable light was issuing.

‘There’s where you’ll find the gentlemen, in the front parlour,’ says the priest. ‘You remember Dr. Toole, and he’ll remember you. An’ mind, dear, it’s to make it up you’re goin’.’ Mr. Mahony was already under weigh, at a brisk stride, and with a keen relish for the business. ‘And the blessing of the peacemaker go with you, my child!’ added his reverence, lifting his hands and his eyes towards the heavens, ‘An’ upon my fainy!’ looking shrewdly at the stars, and talking to himself, ‘they’ll have a fine morning for the business, if, unfortunately’— and here he re-ascended his door-steps with a melancholy shrug —‘if unfortunately, Pat Mahony should fail.’

When Mr. Pat Mahony saw occasion for playing the gentleman, he certainly did come out remarkably strong in the part. It was done in a noble, florid, glowing style, according to his private ideal of the complete fine gentleman. Such bows, such pointing of the toes, such graceful flourishes of the three-cocked hat — such immensely engaging smiles and wonderful by-play, such an apparition, in short, of perfect elegance-valour, and courtesy, were never seen before in the front parlour of the Phoenix.

‘Mr. Mahony, by jingo!’ ejaculated Toole, in an accent of thankfulness amounting nearly to rapture. Nutter seemed relieved, too, and advanced to be presented to the man who, instinct told him, was to be his friend. Cluffe, a man of fashion of the military school, eyed the elegant stranger with undisguised disgust and wonder, and Devereux with that sub-acid smile with which men will sometimes quietly relish absurdity.

Mr. Mahony, ‘discoursin’ a country neighbour outside the half-way-house at Muckafubble, or enjoying an easy tête-à-tête with Father Roach, was a very inferior person, indeed, to Patrick Mahony, Esq., the full-blown diplomatist and pink of gentility astonishing the front parlour of the Phoenix.

There, Mr. Mahony’s periods were fluent and florid, and the words chosen occasionally rather for their grandeur and melody than for their exact connexion with the context or bearing upon his meaning. The consequence was a certain gorgeous haziness and bewilderment, which made the task of translating his harangues rather troublesome and conjectural.

Having effected the introduction, and made known the object of his visit, Nutter and he withdrew to a small chamber behind the bar, where Nutter, returning some of his bows, and having listened without deriving any very clear ideas to two consecutive addresses from his companion, took the matter in hand himself, and said he —

‘I beg, Sir, to relieve you at once from the trouble of trying to arrange this affair amicably. I have been grossly insulted, he’s not going to apologise, and nothing but a meeting will satisfy me. He’s a mere murderer. I have not the faintest notion why he wants to kill me; but being reduced to this situation, I hold myself obliged, if I can, to rid the town of him finally.’

‘Shake hands, Sir,’ cried Mahony, forgetting his rhetoric in his enthusiasm; ‘be the hole in the wall, Sir, I honour you.’

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