The Tenants of Malory, by Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu

Chapter 8.

A Night Sail.

POOR Tom Sedley! The little excitement of parting with the bull-necked keeper of his “garden of beauty”, over, his spirits sank. He could not act the unconscious tourist again, and recommit the premeditated mistake of the morning. His exclusion was complete.

Tom Sedley paid a visit that day at Hazelden, and was depressed, and dull, and absent to such a degree, that Miss Charity Etherage, after he had gone away, canvassed the matter very earnestly, and wondered whether he was quite well, and hoped he had not had bad news from London.

I don’t know how Tom got over all that day; but at about four o’clock, having paid his penny at the toll-gate of the pier of Cardyllian, he was pacing up and down that breezy platform, and discussing with himself the possibility of remaining for another Sunday, on the chance of again seeing the Malory ladies in church. Lifting up his eyes, in his meditation, he saw a cutter less than a mile away, making swiftly for the pierhead, stooping to the breeze as she flew, and beating up the spray in sparkling clouds from her bows. His practised eye recognised at a glance the Wave, the victorious yacht of Cleve Verney. With this breeze it was a run without a tack from Ware jetty.

In less than five minutes she furled her sails, and dropped anchor close to the pier stair, and Cleve Verney in another minute stepped upon it from his punt.

“You’re to come back in her, to Ware, this evening,” said he, as they shook hands. “I’m so glad I’ve found you. I’ve to meet a friend at the Verney Arms, but our talk won’t take very long; and how have you been amusing yourself all day? Rather slow, isn’t it?”

Tom Sedley told his story.

“Well, and what’s the name?” inquired Cleve.

“I can’t tell; they don’t know at the hotel; the Etherages don’t know. I asked Castle Edwards, and he doesn’t know either,” said Sedley.

“Yes, but the fellow, the servant, who turned you out at Malory ——”

“He did not turn me out. I was going,” interrupted Tom Sedley.

“Well, who saw you out? You made him a present; he’d have told you, of course. Did he?”

“I didn’t ask him.”

“Come, that’s being very delicate indeed! All I can say is, if I were as spoony as you are, on that girl, I’d have learned all about her long ago. It’s nothing to me; but if you find out her name, I know two or three fellows in town who know everything about everybody, and I’ll make out the whole story — that is, if she’s anybody.”

“By Jove! that’s very odd. There he is, just gone into the Golden Lion, that groom, that servant, that Malory man,” exclaimed Tom Sedley very eagerly, and staring hard at the open door of the quaint little pot-house.

“Well, go; give him a pound, it’s well worth it,” laughed Cleve. “I’m serious, if you want to learn it; no fellow like that can resist a pound; and if you tell me the name, I’ll make you out all the rest, I really will, when we get to town. There, don’t let him get off, and you’ll find me at the Verney Arms.”

So saying, Cleve nodding his irresolute friend toward the Golden Lion, walked swiftly away to meet the Reverend Isaac Dixie. But Dixie was not at the Chancery; only a letter, to say that “most unhappily” that morning, Clay Rectory was to undergo an inspection by a Commissioner of Dilapidations; but that, D.V., he would place himself next day, at the appointed hour, at his honoured pupil’s disposal.

“Those shovel-hatted martinets! they never allow a minute for common sense, or anything useful — always pottering over their clerical drill and pipe-clay,” said Cleve, who, when an idea once entered his mind, pursued it with a terrible concentration, and hated an hour’s delay.

So out he came disappointed, and joined Sedley near the Golden Lion.

They said little for a time, but walked on, side by side, and found themselves sauntering along the road toward Malory together.

“Well, Sedley, I forgot — what about the man? Did he tell you anything?”

“I do believe if a fellow once allows a girl to get into his head, ever so little, he’s in a sort of way drunk — worse than drunk — systematically foolish,” said honest Sedley, philosophizing. “I’ve been doing nothing but idiotic things ever since church time yesterday.”

“Well, but what did he say?”

“He took the pound, and devil a thing he said. He wouldn’t tell anything about them. I give you leave to laugh at me. I know I’m the greatest ass on earth, and I think he’s the ugliest brute I ever saw, and the most uncivil; and, by Jove, if I stay here much longer, I think he’ll get all my money from me. He doesn’t ask for it, but I go on giving it to him; I can’t help it; the beast!”

“Isn’t there a saying about a sage, or something and his money being soon parted?” asked Cleve. “I think if I were so much gone about a girl as you are, and on such easy terms with that fellow, and tipped him so handsomely, I’d have learned her name, at least, before now.”

“I can’t; everything goes wrong with me. Why should I risk my reason, and fall in love with the moon? The girl wouldn’t look at me; by Jove, she’ll never even see me; and it’s much better so, for nothing can possibly come of it, but pain to me, and fun to every one else. The late train does not stop at our station. I can’t go to-night; but, by Jove, I’ll be off in the morning. I will. Don’t you think I’m right, Cleve?”

Tom Sedley stopped short, and faced his friend — who was, in most matters, his oracle — earnestly laying his hand upon his arm. Cleve laughed at his vehemence, for he knew Tom’s impulsive nature, his generous follies, and terrible impetuosity, and, said he —“Right, Tom; always a philosopher! Nothing like the radical cure, in such a case, absence. If the cards won’t answer, try the dice, if they won’t do, try the balls. I’m afraid this is a bad venture; put your heart to sea in a sieve! No, Tom, that precious freightage is for a more substantial craft. I suppose you have seen your last of the young lady, and it would be a barren fib of friendship to say that I believe you have made any impression. Therefore, save yourself, fly, and try what absence will do, and work and play, and eating and drinking, and sleeping abundantly in a distant scene, to dissipate the fumes of your intoxication, steal you away from the enchantress, and restore you to yourself. Therefore I echo — go.”

“I’m sure you think it, though you’re half joking,” said Tom Sedley.

“Well, let us come on. I’ve half a mind to go up myself and have a peep at the refectory,” said Cleve.

“To what purpose?”

“Archæology,” said Cleve.

“If you go in there, after what occurred this morning, by Jove, I’ll not wait for you,” said Sedley.

“Well, come along; there’s no harm, I suppose, in passing by. The Queen’s highway, I hope, isn’t shut up,” answered Verney.

Sedley sighed, looked towards Malory, and not being in a mood to resist, walked on toward the enchanted forest and castle, by his companion’s side.

When they came by the dark and narrow cross-road that skirts the southern side of Malory to the farmyard gate, nailed on its pier, on a square bit of board, in fresh black and white paint, they read the following words:—

NOTICE.

No admission at this gate to any but servants or others employed at Malory.

Any person found trespassing within the walls will be prosecuted according to law.

— September, 18 —.

When the young men, in a momentary silence, read this warning, the ingenuous countenance of Tom Sedley flushed crimson to the very roots of his hair, and Cleve Verney was seized with a fit of laughter that grew more and more violent the more grave and reproachful grew Tom Sedley’s aspect.

“Well, Tom, I think, if we have any dignity left, we had better turn our backs upon this inhospitable refectory, and seek comfort elsewhere. By Jove! a pretty row you must have made up there this morning to oblige the governor to declare the place in a state of siege, and mount his artillery.”

“Come away, Cleve; that is, as soon as you’ve done laughing at that board. Of course, you knew as well as I do, that my coming in, and looking as, I hope, any gentleman might, at that stupid old barn, this morning, could not possibly be the cause of that offensive notice. If you think it is pointed at me, of course, it’s more amusing, but if not, hang me if I can see the joke.”

Tom Sedley was out of spirits, and a little testy, and very silent all the way back to Cardyllian. He refused Cleve’s invitation to Ware. He made up his mind to return to London in the morning; and this being his last evening in this part of the world, he must spend it at Hazelden.

So these young gentlemen dined together at the Verney Arms, and it grew dark as they sat by the open window at their wine, and the moon got up and silvered the distant peaks of shadowy mountains, and these companions grew silent and dreamy as they might in the spell of distant music.

But the people of Hazelden kept early hours, and Tom Sedley suddenly recollected that he must go. They parted, therefore, excellent friends, for Sedley had no suspicion that Cleve was his rival, and Cleve could afford to be amused at Sedley’s rivalry.

When Verney got on board there was a light breeze. “We’ll run down toward Penruthyn Priory,” said he; and round went the cutter, leaning with the breeze, and hissing and snorting through the gentle swell as she flew on towards the headland on which stands that pretty monastic ruin.

She glided into the black shadow cast by the solemn wall of cloud that now hid the moon from sight, away from the hundred star-like lights of Cardyllian, flying swiftly backward on the left, close under the shapeless blackness of the hill, that rises precipitously from the sea, and over which lies the path from the town to Malory, and onward by the wooded grounds of that old mansion, now an indistinguishable mass of darkness, whose outline was hardly visible against the sky.

I dare say, the thought of crossing the lights of these windows, had its share in prompting this nautical freak, and towards these Cleve’s gaze was turned, when, on a sudden, the man looking out at the bows shouted “Starboard;” but before the boat had time to feel the helm, the end of the cutter’s boom struck the mast of a small boat; a shout from several voices rose suddenly, and was almost instantaneously far behind. Round went the yacht; they hailed the boat.

“She’s lost her mast, I think,” said one of Cleve’s men.

“D—— you, where are your lights?” shouted a stern, fierce voice.

“No one overboard?” cried Cleve.

“No, no. You’ll be the Wave, sure? Mr. Cleve Verney, from Ware?” replied a different voice.

“Who are these fellows, do you know?” asked Cleve of his men.

“That will be Christmass Owen, sir.”

“Oh!” exclaimed Cleve. “And the other’s the old gentleman from Malory?”

“Well, I think ’twill be him, sure.”

In another minute the punt of the yacht was alongside the boat, with a message from Cleve, inviting the old gentleman on board, and offering to put him ashore wherever he liked best.

Shortly and grimly the courtesy was refused. The wrath of the old man, however, seemed to have subsided, and he gathered himself within the folds of his silence again. All had passed in a darkness like that of Styx. A dense screen of cloud had entirely hid the moon; and though so near, Cleve could not see the old man of Malory, about whom he was curious, with a strange and even tender sort of curiosity, which, certainly, no particular graciousness on his part had invited. In a few minutes more the boat, with the aid of another spar, was on her course again, and the Wave more than a mile away on hers.

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