The Tenants of Malory, by Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu

Chapter 4.

On the Green of Cardyllian.

WARE is a great house, with a palatial front of cut stone. The Hon. Kiffyn Fulke Verney seldom sees it. He stands next to the title, and that large residue of the estates which go with it. The title has got for the present into an odd difficulty, and cannot assert itself; and those estates are, pending the abeyance, compulsorily at nurse, where they have thriven, quite thrown off their ailments and incumbrances, and grown plethorically robust.

Still the Hon. Kiffyn Fulke Verney is not, as the lawyers say, in perception of one shilling of their revenues. He feels indeed that he has grown in importance — that people seemed more pleased to see him, that he is listened to much better, that his jokes are taken and laughed at, and that a sceptical world seems to have come at last to give him credit for the intellect and virtues of which he is conscious. All this, however, is but the shadow of the substance which seems so near, and yet is intangible.

No wonder he is a little peevish. His nephew and heir presumptive — Cleve — runs down now and then for shooting and yachting; but his uncle does not care to visit Ware, and live in a corner of the house. I think he liked the people of Cardyllian and of the region round about, to suffer and resent with him. So they see his face but seldom.

Cleve Verney sat, after dinner, at an open window of Ware, with one foot on the broad window-stone, smoking his cigar and gazing across the dark blue sheet of water, whose ripples glimmered by this time in the moonlight, toward the misty wood of Malory.

Cleve Verney is a young man of accomplishment, and of talents, and of a desultory and tumultuous ambition, which sometimes engrosses him wholly, and sometimes sickens and loses its appetite. He is conceited — affecting indifference, he loves admiration. The object for the time being seizes his whole soul. The excitement of even a momentary pursuit absorbs him. He is reserved, capricious, and impetuous — knows not what self-mortification is, and has a pretty taste for dissimulation.

He is, I think, extremely handsome. I have heard ladies pronounce him fascinating. Of course, in measuring his fascinations, his proximity to a title and great estates was not forgotten; and he is as amiable as a man can be who possesses all the qualities I have described, and is selfish beside.

Now Cleve Verney was haunted, or rather possessed, for the present, by the beautiful phantom — sane or mad, saint or sinner — who had for so long, in that solemn quietude and monotony so favourable for the reception of fanciful impressions, stood or sat, Nun-like, book in hand, before him that day. So far from resisting, he encouraged this little delirium. It helped him through his solitary evening.

When his cigar was out, he still looked out toward Malory. He was cultivating his little romance. He liked the mystery of it. “Margaret — Margaret,” he repeated softly. He fancied that he saw a light for a moment in the window of Malory, like a star. He could not be sure; it might be the light of a boat. Still it was an omen — the emblem of life — an answer of hope.

How very capricious all this was. Here was a young man, before whom yearly the new blown beauties of each London season passed in review — who fancied he had but to choose among them all — who had never experienced a serious passion, hardly even a passing sentiment — now strangely moved and interested by a person whom he had never spoken to — only seen — who had seemed unaffectedly unconscious of his presence; who possibly had not even seen him; of whose kindred and history he knew nothing, and between whom and himself there might stand some impassable gulf.

Cleve was in the mood to write verses, but that relief, like others, won’t always answer the invocation of the sufferer. The muse is as coy as death. So instead, he wrote a line to the Rev. Isaac Dixie, of Clay Rectory, in which he said —

“MY DEAR DIXIE — You remember when I used to call you ‘Mr. Dixie’ and ‘Sir.’ I conjure you by the memory of those happy days of innocence and Greek grammar, to take pity on my loneliness, and come here to Ware, where you will find me pining in solitude. Come just for a day. I know your heart is in your parish, and I shan’t ask you to stay longer. The Wave, my cutter, is here; you used to like a sail (he knew that the Rev. Isaac Dixie suffered unutterably at sea, and loathed all nautical enjoyments), or you can stay in the house, and tumble over the books in the library. I will make you as comfortable as I can; only do come, and oblige

“Your old pupil,

“CLEVE VERNEY.

“P.S. — I shall be leaving this immediately, so pray answer in person, by return. You’ll get this at nine o’clock tomorrow morning, at Clay. If you take the 11·40 train to Llwynan — you see I have my “Bradshaw” by me — you will be there at four, and a fly will run you across to Cardyllian in little more than an hour, and there you will find me, expecting, at the Chancery; you know Wynne Williams’s old house in Castle Street. I assure you, I really do want to see you, particularly, and you must not fail me. I shan’t detain you a moment longer than your parish business will allow. Heavens, what a yarn have I post-scribbled!”

He walked down to the pretty little village of Ware, which consists of about a dozen and a-half of quaint little houses, and a small venerable church, situated by the road that winds through a wooded glen, and round the base of the hill by the shore of the moonlighted waters.

It was a romantic ramble. It was pleasanter, because it commanded, across the dark blue expanse, with its glimmering eddies, a misty view, now hardly distinguishable, of Malory, and pleasanter still, because his errand was connected with those tenants of old Lady Verney’s of whom he was so anxious to learn anything.

When Tom Sedley, with the light whiskers, merry face, and kind blue eyes, had parted company that afternoon, he walked down to the green of Cardyllian. In the middle of September there is a sort of second season there; you may then see a pretty gathering of muslins of all patterns, and silks of every hue, floating and rustling over the green, with due admixture of

“White waistcoats and black,

Blue waistcoats and gray,”

with all proper varieties of bonnet and hat — pork-pie, wide-awake, Jerry, and Jim–Crow. There are nautical gentlemen, and gentlemen in Knickerbockers; fat commercial “gents” in large white waistcoats, and starched buff cravats; touring curates in spectacles and “chokers,” with that smile proper to the juvenile cleric, curiously meek and pert; all sorts of persons, in short, making brief holiday, and dropping in and out of Cardyllian, some just for a day and off again in a fuss, and others dawdling away a week, or perhaps a month or two, serenely.

Its heyday of fashion has long been past and over; but though the “fast” people have gone elsewhere, it is still creditably frequented. Tom Sedley was fond of the old town. I don’t think he would have reviewed the year at its close, with a comfortable conscience, if he had not visited Cardyllian, “slow” as it certainly was, some time in its course.

It was a sunny Sunday afternoon, the green looked bright, and the shingle glittered lazily beyond it, with the estuary rippling here and there into gleams of gold, away to the bases of the glorious Welsh mountains, which rise up from the deepest purple to the thinnest gray, and with many a dim rift and crag, and wooded glen, and slope, varying their gigantic contour.

Tom Sedley, among others, showed his reverence for the Sabbath, by mounting a well brushed chimney-pot. No one, it is well established, can pray into a Jerry. The musical bell from the gray church tower hummed sweetly over the quaint old town, and the woods and hollows round about; and on a sudden, quite near him, Tom Sedley saw the friends of whom he had been in search!

The Etherage girls, as the ancient members of the family still called them, were two in number. Old Vane Etherage of Hazelden, a very pretty place, about twenty minutes’ walk from the green of Cardyllian, has been twice married. The result is, that the two girls belong to very different periods. Miss Charity is forty-five by the parish register, and Miss Agnes of the blue eyes and golden hair, is just nineteen and four months.

Both smiling after their different fashions, advanced upon Tom, who strode up to them, also smiling, with his chimney-pot in his hand.

Miss Charity of the long waist, and long thin brown face, and somewhat goggle eyes, was first up, and asked him very volubly, at least eleven kind questions, before she had done shaking his hand, all which he answered laughing, and at last, said he —

“Little Agnes, are you going to cut me? How well you look! Certainly there’s no place on earth like Cardyllian, for pretty complexions, is there?”

He turned for confirmation to the curiously brown thin countenance of Miss Charity, which smiled and nodded acquiescence. “You’re going tomorrow, you say; that’s a great pity; everything looking so beautiful.”

Everything,” acquiesced Tom Sedley, with an arch glance at Agnes, who blushed and said merrily —

“You’re just the same old fool you always were; and we don’t mind one word you say.”

“Aggie, my dear!” said her sister, who carried down the practice of reproof from the nursery; and it was well, I suppose, that Miss Aggie had that arbitress of proprieties always beside her.

“I suppose you have no end of news to tell me. Is anyone going to be married? Is anyone dying, or anyone christened? I’ll hear it all by-and-by. And who are your neighbours at Malory?”

“Oh, quite charming!” exclaimed Miss Agnes eagerly. “The most mysterious people that ever came to a haunted house. You know Malory has a ghost.”

“Nonsense, child. Don’t mind her, Mr. Sedley,” said Miss Charity. “I wonder how you can talk so foolishly.”

“Oh, that’s nothing new. Malory’s been haunted as long as I can remember,” said Tom.

“Well, I did not think Mr. Sedley could have talked like that!” exclaimed Miss Charity.

“Oh, by Jove, I know it. Everyone knows it that ever lived here. Malory’s full of ghosts. None but very queer people could think of living there; and, Miss Agnes, you were going to say ——”

“Yes, they are awfully mysterious. There’s an old man who stalks about at night, like the ghost in “Hamlet,” and never speaks, and there’s a beautiful young lady, and a gray old woman who calls herself Anne Sheckleton. They shut themselves up so closely — you can’t imagine. Some people think the old man is a maniac or a terrible culprit.”

“Highly probable,” said Tom; “and the old woman a witch, and the young lady a vampire.”

“Well, hardly that,” laughed Miss Agnes, “for they came to church today.”

“How you can both talk such folly,” interposed Miss Charity.

“But you know they would not let Mr. Pritchard up to the house,” pleaded Miss Agnes. “Mr. Pritchard, the curate, you know”— this was to Tom Sedley —“he’s a funny little man — he preached today — very good and zealous, and all that — and he wanted to push his way up to the house, and the cross old man they have put to keep the gate, took him by the collar, and was going to beat him. Old Captain Shrapnell says he did beat him with a child’s cricket-bat; but he hates Mr. Pritchard, so I’m not sure; but, at all events, he was turned out in disgrace, and blushes and looks dignified ever since whenever Malory is mentioned. Now, everyone here knows what a good little man poor Mr. Pritchard is, so it must have been sheer hatred of religion that led to his being turned out in that way.”

“But the ladies were in church, my dear Aggie; we saw them, Mr. Sedley, today; they were in the Malory pew.”

“Oh, indeed?” said Tom Sedley, artfully; “and you saw them pretty distinctly, I dare say.”

“The young lady is quite beautiful, we thought. I’m so sorry you were not in our seat; though, indeed, people ought not to be staring about them in church; but you would have admired her immensely.”

“Oh, I saw them. They were the people nearly opposite to the Verneys’ seat, in the small pew? Yes, they were— that is, the young lady, I mean, was perfectly lovely,” said little Tom, who could not with any comfort practise a reserve.

“See, the people are beginning to hurry off to church; it must be time to go,” said Charity.

So the little party walked up by the court-house into Castle Street, and turned into quaint old Church Street, walking demurely, and talking very quietly to the solemn note of the old bell.

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