The Tenants of Malory, by Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu

Chapter 16.

An Unlooked-For Visitor.

IN romances, it is usual for lovers to dream a great deal, and always of the objects of their adorations. We acquiesce gravely and kindly in these conventional visions; but, on reflection, we must admit that lovers have no faculty of dreaming, and of selecting the subjects of their dreams, superior to that of ordinary persons. Cleve, I allow, sat up rather late that night, thinking, I venture to say, a great deal about the beautiful young lady who, whether for good or ill, now haunted his thoughts incessantly; and with this brilliant phantom, he walked romantically in the moonlight, by the chiming shingle of the sea. But I don’t know what his dreams were about, or that he had any dreams at all; and, in fact, I believe he slept very soundly, but awoke in the morning with a vague anticipation of something very delightful and interesting. Why is it that when we first awake the pleasures or the horrors of the coming day seem always most intense?

Another bright autumnal day, with just breeze enough to fill the sails of the cutter. On his breakfast-table, from the post-office of Ware, lay a letter, posted over-night, at Gylingden, by his newly revealed good angel, “very truly, his,” Jos. Larkin. It said —

“MY DEAR SIR — The interview with which you this morning honoured me, conveyed more fully even than your note implies your wishes on the subject of it. Believe me, I needed no fresh incentive to exertion in a matter so pregnant with serious results, and shall be only too happy to expend thought, time, and money, in securing with promptitude a successful termination of what in dilatory or inexperienced hands might possibly prove a most tedious and distressing case. I have before me directions of proofs on which I have partially acted, and mean in the sequel to do so completely. I may mention that there awaited me on my arrival a letter from my agent, to whom I more particularly referred in the conversation, which you were pleased to invite this morning, conveying information of very high importance, of which I shall be happy to apprise you in detail, when next I have the honour of a conference. I am not quite clear as to whether I mentioned this morning a person named Dingwell? —”

“No, you did not,” interpolated Cleve.

“Who,” continued the letter, “resides under circumstances of considerable delicacy on his part, at Constantinople, and who has hitherto acted as the correspondent and agent of the Jewish firm, through whom the Dowager Lady Verney and your uncle, the Hon. Kiffyn Fulke Verney, were accustomed, with a punctuality so honourable to their feelings, to forward the respective annuities, which they were so truly considerate, as mutually to allow for the maintenance of the unfortunate deceased. This gentleman, Mr. Dingwell, has been unhappily twice a bankrupt in London, in early life, and there are still heavy judgments against him; and as he is the only witness discoverable, competent from his habits of regular communication with your lamented uncle for years, to depose to his identity and his death; it is unfortunate that there should exist, for the special reasons I have mentioned, considerable risk and difficulty in his undertaking to visit London, for the purpose of making the necessary depositions; and I fear he cannot be induced to take that step without some considerable pecuniary sacrifice on your part. This will necessarily form one of the topics for discussion at the proposed conference of the 15th prox.; and it is no small point in our favour satisfactorily to be assured that a witness to the cardinal points to which I have referred, is actually produceable, and at this moment in communication with me.

“I have the honour to be, dear Sir,

“Very truly yours,

“JOS. LARKIN.

“The Lodge, Gylingden.

“P.S. I may mention that the Jewish firm to which I have referred, have addressed to me a letter, apprising me of the decease of the Hon. Arthur Verney, a step which, as terminating the annuities on which they received an annual percentage, they would not, I presume, have adopted, had they not been absolutely certain of the event, and confident also that we must, if they were silent, be otherwise apprised of it.”

I think our old friend, Jos. Larkin, wrote this letter with several views, one of which was that, in the event of his thinking proper, some years hence, notwithstanding his little flourishes of gratuitous service, to unmuzzle the ox who had trod out the corn, and to send in his little bill, it might help to show that he had been duly instructed to act in this matter at least by Mr. Cleve Verney. The other object, that of becoming the channel of negotiating terms with Mr. Dingwell, offered obvious advantages to a gentleman of acquisitive diplomacy and ingenious morals.

Cleve, however, had not yet learned to suspect this Christian attorney, and the letter on the whole was highly satisfactory.

“Capital man of business, this Mr. Larkin! Who could have expected an answer, and so full an answer, so immediately to his letter? That is the kind of attorney the world sighed for. Eager, prompt, clear, making his clients’ interests his own”— more literally sometimes than Cleve was yet aware —“disinterested, spirited, for was he not risking his time, skill, and even money, without having been retained in this matter, and with even a warning that he might possibly never be so? Did he not also come in the livery of religion, and discuss business, as it were, in a white robe and with a palm in his hand? And was it not more unlikely that a man who committed himself every hour to the highest principles should practise the lowest, than a person who shirked the subject of virtue, and thought religion incongruous with his doings?” Perhaps, Cleve thought, there is a little too much of that solemn flam. But who can object if it helps to keep him straight?

This was a day of surprises. Cleve had gone up to his room to replenish his cigar-case, when a chaise drove up to the hall door of Ware, and looking out he beheld with a sense of dismay his uncle’s man, Mr. Ridley, descending from his seat on the box, and opening the door of the vehicle, from which the thin stiff figure of the Hon. Kiffyn Fulke Verney descended, and entered the house.

Could the devil have hit upon a more ill-natured plan for defeating the delightful hopes of that day? Why could not that teasing old man stay where he was? Heaven only knows for how many days he might linger at Ware, lecturing Cleve upon themes on which his opinion was not worth a pin, directing him to write foolish letters, and now and then asking him to obleege him by copying papers of which he required duplicates, benumbing him with his chilly presence, and teasing him by his exactions.

Cleve groaned when he saw this spectacle from his window, and muttered something, I don’t care what.

“Let him send for me if he wants me. I shan’t pretend to have seen him,” was Cleve’s petulant resolve. But a knock at his room door, with an invitation from his uncle to visit him in the library, settled the question.

“How d’ye do, Cleve?” and his uncle, who was sitting in a great chair at the table, with some letters, noted, and folded into long slim parallelograms, already before him, put forth a thin hand for him to shake, throwing back his head, and fixing his somewhat dull grey eyes with an imperious sort of curiosity upon him, he said, “Yes — yes — recruiting. I was always in favour of making the most of the recess, about it. You make the most of it. I saw Winkledon and your friend Colonel Tellerton at Dyce’s yesterday, and talked with ’em about it, and they both agreed with me, we are pretty sure of a stormy session, late sittings, and no end of divisions, and I am glad you are taking your holiday so sensibly. The Wave’s here, isn’t she? And you sail in her a good deal, I dare say, about it, and you’ve got yourself a good deal sunburnt. Yes, the sun does that; and you’re looking very well, about it, I think, very well indeed.”

To save the reader trouble, I mention here, that the Hon. Kiffyn Fulke Verney has a habit of introducing the words “about it,” as everybody is aware who has the honour of knowing him, without relation to their meaning, but simply to caulk, as it were, the seams of his sentences, to stop them where they open, and save his speech from foundering for want of this trifling half-pennyworth of oakum.

“Very lonely, sir, Ware is. You’ve come to stay for a little time perhaps.”

“Oh! no. Oh, dear no. My view upon that subject is very decided indeed, as you know. I ask myself this question — What good can I possibly do, about it, by residing for any time at Ware, until my income shall have been secured, and my proper position ascertained and recognised? I find myself, by the anomalous absurdity of our existing law, placed in a position, about it, of so much difficulty and hardship, that although the people must feel it very much, and the county regret it, I feel it only due to myself, to wash my hands about it, of the entire thing for the present, and to accept the position of a mere private person, which the existing law, in its wisdom, imposes upon me — don’t you see?”

“It certainly is,” acquiesced Cleve, “a gross absurdity that there should be no provision for such a state of things.”

“Absurdity! my dear sir, I don’t call it absurdity at all, I call it rank injustice, and a positive cruelty,” said the feeble voice of this old gentleman with an eager quaver in it, while, as always occurred when he was suddenly called on for what he called his “sentiments” upon this intolerable topic, a pink flush suffused his thin temples and narrow forehead. “Here I am, about it, invested by opinion, don’t you see, and a moral constraint, with the liabilities of a certain position, and yet excluded from its privileges and opportunities. And what, I ask myself, can come of such a thing, except the sort of thing, about it, which we see going on? Don’t you see?”

“Any news of any kind from the East, sir?” asked Cleve.

“Well, now, wait — a — a — I’ll come to it — I’m coming to that. I wrote to you to say that you were to meet me in town, d’ye see, on the fifteenth, and I mean to have a Mr. Larkin, an attorney, a very proper person in his rank of life — a very proper person — about it, to meet us and produce his papers, and make his statement again. And I may tell you that he’s of opinion, and under the impression, that poor Arthur is dead, about it; and now you’ll read this letter — very good, and now this — very good, and now this.”

As he handed these papers over to Cleve in succession, the young gentleman thought his uncle’s air a little grander than usual, and fancied there was a faint simper of triumph discernible under the imposing solemnity of his looks.

“A— well, that’s all, at present; and immediately on receiving the first of these I wrote to the consul there — a very proper man, very well connected; I was, I may say, instrumental in getting his appointment for him — saying he’d obleege me by instituting inquiry and communicating the result, and possibly I may hear before the fifteenth; and I should be very glad, about it, to learn or know something definite, in which case, you see, there would be a natural solution of the complication, and poor Arthur’s death, about it, would clear up the whole thing, as in fact it does in all such cases, don’t you see?”

“Of course, sir, perfectly.”

“And as to mourning and all that, about it, I don’t quite see my way; no, I don’t; because, d’ye see, I rather think there should be nothing of the kind: but it’s time enough to decide what the house of Verney are to do when I shall have all the circumstances, don’t you see, and everything.”

Cleve acquiesced.

“And if the dissolution comes next autumn — as they apprehend it may — you’ll have no annoyance from the old quarter — Sir Booth Fanshawe — he’s quite ruined — about it; and he’s been obliged to leave the country; he’s in France, I understand, and I’ve directed our people in town to follow up the proceedings as sharply as possible. He has never spared me, egad, and has often distressed me very seriously by his malevolent and utterly wanton opposition where he had absolutely no chance whatever, and knew it, nor any object, I give you my honour, except to waste my money, when, owing to the absurd and cruel position I was placed in, he knew very well I could not have a great deal to throw away. I look upon a person of that kind as a mere nuisance; and I look upon it as a matter of dooty and of principle, about it, which one owes to society, don’t you see, to exterminate them like vermin. And if you want to stop it, you mustn’t let him off when you’ve got the advantage at last, don’t you see? You must follow it up, and show evil-disposed people that if they choose to play that game they may, but that you won’t let ’em off, about it, and that.”

These were not very pleasant words in Cleve’s ears.

“And, egad, sir, I’ll make an example of that person — I owe it to the principle of fair political warfare, about it. What business had he to run me into six thousand pounds expense for nothing, when he had not really a hundred pounds at the time he could call his own? And I ask myself, where’s the good of laws if there’s no way of reaching a person who commits, from the worst possible motives, an outrage like that, and goes on doing that sort of thing, about it?”

Here the Hon. Kiffyn Fulke Verney paused for a minute, and then looked at his watch.

“Just ten minutes still left me. I’ll ask you to touch the bell, Cleve. I’m going to the railway — to Llwynan, about it, and to see the people at Heathcote Hall; and I’ve been thinking you ought to turn over in your mind what I said last Easter, when we were at Dawling Hill. If this affair of poor Arthur’s should turn out to be quite true, I think the connection would recommend itself to most people,” he said, grandly, “and in fact you might strengthen yourself very materially, about it. You could not do better than marry Ethel; depend upon it, the connection will serve you. Her uncle, you know — always some of that family — in the Cabinet; and Dorminster, they say — every one says it — Winkledon, for instance, and Colonel Tellers, about it — they both said the other day he’ll very probably be Minister. Every one says that sort of thing, about it; and it has been my opinion a long time before people generally began to say so, and things of that sort, don’t you see?”

As a general rule, Cleve knew that there was no use in fighting any favourite point with his uncle. He acquiesced and relied upon dilatory opportunities and passive resistance; so now he expressed himself most gratefully for the interest he had always taken in him, and seemed to lend an attentive ear, while the Hon. Kiffyn Fulke Verney rambled on upon this theme in his wise and quietly dictatorial way. It was one of his pleasantest occupations, and secretly pleased his self-love, this management of Cleve Verney — really a promising young man — and whom he magnified, as he did everything else that belonged to him, and whose successes in the House, and growth in general estimation, he quietly took to himself as the direct consequence of his own hints and manipulations, and his “keeping the young man straight about it.”

“He has an idea — the young man has — that I know something about it — that I have seen some public life, and known people — and things of that sort. He is a young man who can take a hint, and, egad, I think I’ve kept him pretty straight about it up to this, and put him on a right track, and things; and if I’m spared, I’ll put him on, sir. I know pretty well about things, and you see the people talk to me, and they listen to me, about it, and I make him understand what he’s about, and things.”

And then came the parting. He gave Cleve ten pounds, which Mrs. Jones, the draper’s wife, used to distribute for him among certain poor people of Cardyllian. So his small soul was not destitute of kindliness, after its fashion; and he drove away from Ware, and Cleve stood upon the steps, smiling, and waving his hand, and repeating, “On the fifteenth,” and then suddenly was grave.

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