The Tenants of Malory, by Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu

Chapter 3.

Home to Ware.

“MAD!” thought Cleve. “What an awful pity if she is. She doesn’t look mad — melancholy she may. She does not look a bit mad. By Jove, I don’t believe a word of it. It’s utterly out of the question that the quiet old lady there could bring a mad girl to church with her. And thus resolved, Cleve walked out of the coffee-room, and awaiting his conveyance, stood on the steps of the Verney Arms, from whence he saw Wynne Williams, the portly solicitor of Cardyllian, and of a wide circle of comfortable clients round it. Wynne Williams is omniscient. Nothing ever happens in Cardyllian that he does not know with precision.

“Wynne,” Cleve called up the quiet little street, and the attorney, looking over his fat shoulder, arrested his deliberate walk, and marched swiftly back, smiling.

So there was another greeting; and some more questions ensued, and answers, and then said Cleve —

“So Malory’s let, I hear.”

“Yes,” said the attorney, with a slight shrug.

“You don’t like the bargain, I see,” said Cleve.

“It’s a mismanaged place, you know. Lady Verney won’t spend a shilling on it, and we must only take what we can get. We haven’t had a tenant for five years till now.”

“And who has taken it?”

“The Reverend Isaac Dixie.”

“The devil he has. Why old Dixie’s not mad, is he?”

“No, he’s no fool. More like the other thing — rather. Drove a hard bargain — but I wouldn’t take it myself at the money.”

“Doesn’t he live there?”

“No. There’s an old gentleman and two ladies; one of them an old woman.”

“And what’s the old gentleman’s name, and the young lady’s?”

“Don’t know, indeed; and what does it matter?” The attorney was curious, and had taken some little trouble to find out. “The Reverend Isaac Dixie’s the tenant, and Miss Sheckleton manages the family business; and devil a letter ever comes by post here, except to Miss Sheckleton or the servants.”

“Old Mother Jones, the draper’s wife, over the way, says the girl and the old fellow are mad.”

“Don’t believe it. More likely he’s in a fix, and wants to keep out of sight and hearing just now, and Malory’s the very place to hide a fellow in. It’s just possible, you know, there may be a screw loose in the upper works; but I don’t believe it, and don’t for the world hint it to the old lady. She’s half mad herself about mad people, and if she took that in her head, by Jove, she’d never forgive me,” and the attorney laughed uneasily.

“You do think they’re mad. By Jove, you do. I know you think they’re mad.”

“I don’t think they’re mad. I don’t know anything about them,” said the good-humoured attorney, with Dundreary whiskers, leaning on the wooden pillar of the Verney Arms, and smiling provokingly in the young man’s face.

“Come now, Wynne, I’ll not tell the old lady, upon my honour. You may as well tell me all you know. And you do know; of course, you do; you always know. And these people living not a mile away! You must know.”

“I see how it is. She’s a pretty girl, and you want to pick up all about her, by way of inquiring after the old gentleman.”

Verney laughed, and said —

“Perhaps you’re right, though, I assure you, I didn’t know it myself. But is the old fellow mad, or is there any madness among them?”

“I do assure you, I know no more than you do,” laughed Mr. Wynne Williams. “He may be as sober as Solomon, or as mad as a hatter, for anything I know. It’s nothing to me. He’s only a visitor there, and the young lady, too, for that matter; and our tenant is the Reverend Isaac Dixie.”

“Where is Dixie living now?”

“The old shop.”

“I know. I wonder he has not wriggled on and up a bit. I always looked on Dixie as the bud of a dignitary; he has had time to burst into a Bishop since I saw him. Dixie and I have had some queer scenes together,” and he laughed quietly over his recollections. “He and I spent three months once together in Malory — do you remember? I dare say he does. He was tutor and I pupil. Charming time. We used to read in the gun-room. That was the year they had the bricklayers and painters at Ware. Do you remember the day you came in exactly as I shied the ink-bottle at his head? I dare say the mark’s on the wall still. By Jove, I’d have killed him, I suppose, if I’d had the luck to hit him. You must come over and see me before I go. I’m quite alone; but I can give you a mutton chop and some claret, and I want to show you the rifle I told you of. You’ll be delighted with it.”

And so this young man, with large dark eyes, smiled and waved his farewell, and, with a groom behind him, drove at a rapid pace down the street, and away toward Ware.

“He’ll do that seven miles in five-and-thirty minutes,” thought the attorney, looking after him drowsily; and his speculation taking another turn, he thought mistily of his political possibilities, for he had been three years in the House, and was looked upon as a clever young man, and one who, having many advantages, might yet be-who could tell where? and have power to make the fortunes of many deserving attorneys.

Cleve meanwhile was driving at a great pace toward Ware. I don’t suppose a town life — a life of vice, a life of any sort, has power to kill the divine spark of romance in a young man born with imagination.

Malory had always had a strange and powerful interest for him. A dower house now, it had once been the principal mansion of his family. Over it, to his eye, hung, like the sombre and glowing phantasms of a cloudy sunset, the story of the romance, and the follies and the crimes of generations of the Verneys of Malory. The lordly old timber that rises about its chimneys and gables, seemed to him the mute and melancholy witnesses of bygone tragedies and glories.

There, too, in the Steward’s House, a veritable relic of the ancient Friary, lived dreamy old Rebecca Mervyn; he wondered how he had forgotten to ask whether she was still there. She had seemed to his boyish fancy one of those delightful German ambiguities — half human, half ghost; her silent presents of toffy, and faint wintry smile and wandering gaze, used to thrill him with “a pleasing terror.” He liked her, and yet he would have been afraid to sit alone in her latticed room with that silent lady, after twilight. Poor old Rebecca! It was eight years since he had last seen her tall, sad, silent form — silent, except when she thought herself alone, and used to whisper and babble as she looked with a wild and careworn gaze over the sea, toward the mighty mountains that built it round, line over line, till swell and peak are lost in misty distance. He used to think of the Lady of Branksome Tower, and half believe that old Rebecca was whispering with the spirits of the woods and cataracts, and lonely headlands, over the water.

“Is old Rebecca Mervyn there still?” he wondered on. “Unless she’s dead, poor thing, she is— for my grandmother would never think of disturbing her, and she shall be my excuse for going up to Malory. I ought to see her.”

The door of her quaint tenement stood by the court-yard, its carved stone chimney top rose by the roof of the dower-house, with which, indeed, it was connected. “It won’t be like crossing their windows or knocking at their hall door. I shan’t so much as enter the court-yard, and I really ought to see the poor old thing.”

The duty would not have been so urgent had the face that appeared in church that day been less lovely.

He had never troubled himself for eight years about the existence of old Rebecca. And now that the image, after that long interval, suddenly returned, he for the first time asked himself why old Rebecca Mervyn was ever there? He had always accepted her presence as he did that of the trees, and urns, and old lead statues in the yew walk, as one of the properties of Malory. She was a sort of friend or client of his grandmother’s — not an old servant plainly, not even a house-keeper. There was an unconscious refinement, and an air of ladyhood in this old woman. His grandmother used to call her Mrs. Mervyn, and treated her with a sort of distinction and distance that had in it both sympathy and reserve.

“I dare say Wynne Williams knows all about her, and I’ll go and see her, at all events.” So he thought as his swift trotter flew under the noble trees of Ware, along the picturesque road which commands the seaward view of that unrivalled estuary flanked by towering headlands, and old Pendillion, whose distant outline shews like a gigantic sphinx crouching lazily at the brink of the sea. Across the water now he sees the old town of Cardyllian, the church tower and the ruined Castle, and, further down, sad and sequestered, the dark wood and something of the gray front of Malory blurred in distance, but now glowing with a sort of charm that was fast deepening into interest.

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