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

Chapter 99

The Story Ends.

The old minutes of the Irish House of Lords can better explain than I the parliamentary process by which all the consequences of the judgment against the late Lord Dunoran were abrogated, as respected his son. An ancient name rescued from the shadow of dishonour, and still greater estates, made my lord and lady as happy as things can. So for the recluse Mervyn, and the fair Gertrude Chattesworth, our story ends like a fairy tale.

A wedding in those days was a celebration and a feast; and it was deemed fitting that the union of Gertrude Chattesworth and the youthful Lord Dunoran should await the public vindication of his family, and the authentic restoration of all their rights and possessions. On the eve of this happy day, leaning on the youthful arm of kindly Dan Loftus, there came a figure not seen there for many months before, very much changed, grown, oh, how old! It was the good rector, who asked to see Miss Gertrude.

And so when he entered the room, she ran to meet him with a little cry; and she threw her arms about his neck and sobbed a good deal on that old, cassocked shoulder, and longed to ask him to let her be as a daughter to him. But he understood her and, after a while, he wished her joy, very kindly. And my Lord Dunoran came in, and was very glad to see him, and very tender and reverent too; and the good doctor, as he could not be at the wedding, wished to say a word ‘on the eve of the great change which my dear young friend — little Gertie, we used to call her — is about to make.’ And so he talked to them both. It was an affectionate little homily, and went on something in this sort —

‘But I need not say how honourable an estate it is, only, my lord, you will always remember your wooing is not over with your wedding. As you did first choose your love, you must hereafter love your choice. In Solomon’s Song, the Redeemer the bridegroom, and the Church His spouse, one calls the other “love,” to show that though both did not honour alike, yet both should love alike.

‘And always be kind, and the kinder the more her weakness needs it. Elkanah says to his wife, “Am not I better unto thee than ten sons?” As though he favoured her more for that which she thought herself despised. So a good husband will not love his wife less, but comfort her more for her infirmities, as this man did, that she may bear with his infirmities too. And if she be jealous — ay, they will be jealous —’

He spoke in a reverie, with a sad fond look, not a smile, but something like a smile, and a little pensive shake of the head; he was thinking, perhaps, of very old times. And ‘my lord’ glanced with a sly smile at Gertrude, who was looking on the carpet with, I think, a blush, and I’m sure saw my lord’s glance seeking hers, but made as though she did not.

‘If she be jealous, her jealousy, you know, is still the measure of her love. Bless God that he hath made thee to her so dear a treasure that she cannot hide her fears and trouble lest she should lose even a portion of thy love; and let thy heart thank her too.

‘And if the husband would reprove her, it must be in such a mood as if he did chide with himself, and his words like Jonathan’s arrows, which were not shot to hurt but to give warning. She must have no words but loving words from thee. She is come to thee as to a sanctuary to defend her from hurt, and canst thou hurt her thyself? Does the king trample his crown? Solomon calls the wife the crown of her husband; therefore, he who despiseth her woundeth his own honour. I am resolved to honour virtue in what sex soever I find it.’

The doctor was speaking this like a soliloquy, slowly, and looking on the floor.

‘And I think in general I shall find it more in women than in men.’

Here the young people exchanged another smile, and the doctor looked up and went on. ‘Ay — though weaker and more infirmly guarded, I believe they are better; for everyone is so much the better, by how much he comes nearer to God; and man in nothing is more like him than in being merciful. Yet woman is far more merciful than man. God is said to be love; and I am sure in that quality woman everywhere transcends.’

The doctor’s serious discourses were a mosaic of old divines and essayists, and Greek and Latin authors, as the writings of the Apostolic Fathers are, in a great measure, a tesselation of holy writ. He assumed that everybody knew where to find them. His business was only to repeat the truth wherever gleaned. So I can’t tell how much was the doctor’s and how much theirs.

And when he had done upon this theme, and had risen to take leave, he said in his gentle and simple way —

‘And I brought you a little present — a necklace and ear-rings — old-fashioned, I’m afraid — they were my dear mother’s diamonds, and were to have been —’

Here there was a little pause — they knew what was in his mind — and he dried his eyes quickly.

‘And won’t you take them, Gertie, for poor little Lily’s keepsake? And so — well, well — little Gerty — I taught you your catechism — dear, dear! Little Gerty going to be married! And may God Almighty bless her to you, and you to her, with length of days, and all goodness; and with children, the inheritors of your fair forms, and all your graces, to gladden your home with love and duty, and to close your eyes at last with tender reverence; and to walk after you, when your time is over, in the same happy and honourable paths.’

Miss Gertrude was crying, and with two quick little steps she took his knotted old hand, and kissed it fervently and said —

‘I thank you, Sir, you’ve always been so good to me; I wish I could tell you — and won’t you come to us, Sir, and see us very often — when we are settled — and bring good Mr. Loftus, and dear old Sally; and thank you, Sir, with all my heart, for your beautiful presents, and for your noble advice, Sir, which I will never forget, and for your blessing, and I wish I could show you how very much I love and reverence you.’

And my Lord Dunoran, though he was smiling, looked as if he had been crying too. But men, you know, don’t like to be detected in that weakness, though everybody knows there are moments when bonus Homerus dormitat.

Good Doctor Walsingham made Dan Loftus his curate. But when in the course of time a day came when the old rector was to meet his parishioners no more, and the parish was vacant, I do not hear that honest Dan succeeded to it. Indeed I’m afraid that it needs sometimes a spice of the devil, or at least of the world, to get on in the Church. But Lord Dunoran took him with him on the embassage to Lisbon, and afterwards he remained in his household as his domestic chaplain, much beloved and respected. And there he had entire command of his lordship’s fine library, and compiled and composed, and did everything but publish and marry.

In due time the fair Magnolia made the amorous and formidable O’Flaherty happy. Single blessedness was not for her, and it is due to her to say, she turned out one of the best house-wives in Chapelizod, and made the fireworker account for every shilling of his pay and other revenues, and managed the commissariat and all other departments to admiration. She cured her lord very nearly of boozing, and altogether of duelling. One combat only he fought after his marriage, and it was rumoured that the blooming Magnolia actually chastised the gigantic delinquent with her own fair hand. That, however, I don’t believe. But unquestionably she did, in other ways, lead the contumacious warrior so miserable a life for some months after that, as he averred to the major, with tears in his eyes, it would have been ‘more to his teeste to have been shot on the occasion.’ At first, of course, the fireworker showed fight, and sometimes broke loose altogether; but in the end ‘his mouth was made,’ his paces formed, and he became a very serviceable and willing animal. But if she was strong she was also generous, and very popular for her good nature and fearlessness. And they made a very happy, as well as a comely couple. And many handsome children were nursed at her fair breast, and drew many a Celtic virtue from that kindly fountain and one of the finest grenadiers who lay in his red coat and sash within the French lines on the field of Waterloo, in that great bivouac which knows no reveille save the last trumpet, was a scion of that fine military stock.

At length came the day of the nuptials — a grand day for Belmont — a grand day for the town. Half-a-dozen flags were up and floating in the autumnal sun. The band of the Royal Irish Artillery played noble and cheering strains upon the lawns of Belmont. There were pipers and fiddlers beside for rustic merry-makers under the poplars. Barrels of strong ale and sparkling cider were broached on the grass; and plenty of substantial fare kept the knives and forks clattering under the marquees by the hedgerow. The rude and hospitable feudalism of old times had not died out yet; marriage being an honourable estate, the bride and bridegroom did not steal away in a travelling carriage, trying to pass for something else, to unknown regions, but remained courageously upon the premises, the central figures of a genial gala.

Need I describe the wedding? It always seems to me that I saw it, and see it still, I’ve heard the old folk talk it over so often. The reader’s fancy will take that business off my hands. ‘What’s a play without a marriage? and what is a marriage if one sees nothing of it?’ says Sir Roger in Gay’s tragi-comic pastoral. ‘Let him have his humour, but set the doors wide open, that we may see how all goes on.’

(Sir Roger at the door, pointing.)

‘So natural! d’ye see now, neighbours? The ring, i’faith. To have and to hold! Right again; well play’d, doctor; well play’d, son Thomas. Come, come, I’m satisfied. Now for the fiddles and dances.’

And so are we — now, then, for the fiddles and dances! And let those who love to foot it keep it up — after sack-posset and stocking thrown — till two o’clock i’ the morning; and the elder folk, and such as are ‘happy thinking,’ get home betimes; and smiling still, get to their beds; and with hearty laughter — as it were mellowed by distance — still in their ears, and the cheery scrape of the fiddle, all pervading, still humming on; and the pleasant scuffle of light feet, and with kindly ancient faces, and blushing young ones all round in airy portraiture; grinning, roguish, faithful, fuddled old servants, beflowered and liveried, pronouncing benedictions at the foot of the stairs, and pocketing their vails; and buxom maids in their best Sunday finery, giggling and staring, with eyes starting out of their heads, at the capering ‘quality,’, through the half-open doors; let us try to remember the ‘sentiment’ delivered by that ridiculous dog, Tom Toole, after supper, at which we all laughed so heartily. And, ah! there were some pretty faces that ought to have been there — faces that were pleasant to see, but that won’t smile or blush any more; and I missed them, though I said nothing. And so, altogether, it went down among my pleasant recollections, and I think will always remain so, for it was all kindly, and had its root in the heart; and the affections were up and stirring, and mixed in the dance with the graces, and shook hands kindly with old father Bacchus; and so I pull my nightcap about my ears, drop the extinguisher on the candle, and wish you all pleasant dreams.

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