The Tenants of Malory, by Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu

Chapter 9.

The Reverend Isaac Dixie.

AT five o’clock next day, Cleve Verney was again in Cardyllian.

Outside “The Chancery” stood a “fly,” only just arrived. The Reverend Isaac Dixie had come only a minute or two before, and was waiting in the chamber which was still called the state room.

The room is long and panelled with oak, and at the further end is the fire-place. The ceiling above the cornice slopes at each side with the roof, so as to give it quite a chapel-like effect; a high carved oak mantel-piece, and a carved wainscotting embedding in its panels a symmetrical system of cupboards, closed the perspective, and, as Cleve entered at the door in the further wall, gave effect to the solitary figure of the Reverend Isaac Dixie, who was standing with his back to the fire-place on the threadbare hearthrug, waiting, with an angelic smile, and beating time to a sacred melody, I am willing to believe, with his broad flat foot.

This clerical gentleman looked some six or seven and forty years old, rather tall than otherwise, broad, bland, and blue-chinned, smiling, gaitered, and single-breasted.

“Capital place to read out the Ten Commandments,” exclaimed Cleve. “Glad to see you, old Dixie. It’s a long time since we met.”

The clergyman stepped forward, his chin a little advanced, his head a little on one side, smiling rosily with nearly closed eyes, and with a broad hand expanded to receive his former pupil’s greeting.

“I’ve obeyed the summons, you see; punctually, I hope. Delighted, my dear, distinguished young pupil, to meet you, and congratulate you on your brilliant successes, delighted, my dear Cleve,” murmured the divine, in a mild rapture of affection.

“That’s not so neat as the old speech, Dixie; don’t you remember?” said Cleve, nevertheless shaking his great soft red hand kindly enough. “What was it? Yes, you were to be my tutamen, and I your dulce decus. Wasn’t that it?”

“Ha, yes, I may have said it; a little classic turn, you know; ha, ha! not altogether bad — not altogether? We have had many agreeable conversations — colloquies — you and I, Mr. Verney, together, in other and very happy days,” said the clergyman, with a tender melancholy smile, while his folded hands faintly smoothed one another over as if in a dream of warm water and wash-balls.

“Do you remember the day I shied that awful ink-bottle at your head? by Jove, it was as large as a tea-pot. If I had hit you that time, Dixie, I don’t think we’d ever have found a mitre to fit your head.”

“Arch, arch — ha, ha! dear me! yes — I had forgot that — yes, quite — you were always an arch boy, Cleve. Always arch, Mr. Verney.”.

“Very arch — yes, it was what old Toler called the office bottle; do you remember? it weighed three or four pounds. I think you were glad it was broken; you never got one like it into the room again. I say if it had caught you on the head, what a deal of learning and other things the Church would have lost!”

Whenever it was Cleve’s pleasure to banter, the Reverend Isaac Dixie took it in good part. It was his ancient habit, so on this occasion he simpered agreeably.

“It was in the little study at Malory. By-the-by, who are those people you have put into Malory?” continued Cleve.

“Ha — the — the people who occupy the house?” asked the clergyman, throwing out a question to gain time.

“Come — who are they?” said Cleve, a little briskly, throwing himself back in his seat at the same time, and looking in Dixie’s face.

“Well, I’m the person responsible; in fact the lease is to me.”

“Yes, I know that; go on.”

“Well, I took it at the request of Miss Sheckleton, an elderly lady, whom ——”

“Whom I don’t care to hear about,” interrupted Cleve. “There’s an old gentleman — there’s a young lady; who are they? I want their names.”

The Reverend Isaac Dixie was evidently a little puzzled. He coughed, he looked down, he simpered, and shook his head.

“You don’t want to tell me, Dixie.”

“There is nothing I should not be most happy to tell my distinguished pupil. I’ve been always frank, quite frank with you, Mr. Verney. I’ve never had a secret.”

Cleve laughed gently.

“You wrong me if you think I have,” and the Rector of Clay dropped his eyes and coloured a little and coughed. “But this is not mine — and there really is a difficulty.”

“Insuperable?”

“Well, really, I’m afraid that term expresses it but too truly,” acquiesced the clergyman.

“What a bore!” exclaimed Cleve.

“Shut the window, if it isn’t too much trouble, like a dear old Dixie — a thousand thanks.”

“I assure you I would not say it,” resumed the Rector of Clay, “if it were not so — and I hope I’m in the habit of speaking truth — and this secret, if so trifling a thing may be seriously so termed, is not mine, and therefore not at my disposal.”

“Something in that, old Dixie. Have a weed?” he added, tendering his cigars.

“Thanks, no; never smoke now,” said he, closing his eyes, and lifting his hand as if in a benediction.

“Oh, to be sure, your bishop — I forgot,” said Cleve.

“Yes, a-ha; strong opinions — very able lecture; you have no doubt read it.”

“With delight and terror. Death riding on a pipe-clay coloured horse. Sir Walter Raleigh, the man of sin, and the smoke of the Bottomless pit, smelling of cheroots. You used not to be such a fool, old Dixie. I’m your bishop now; I’ve said it, mind — and no one sees you,” said Cleve, again offering his cigars.

“Well, well; anything, anything; thanks, just for once, only once;” and he selected one, with a playful bashfulness.

“I’m your bishop — I don’t forget. But you must wait till I’m — what d’ye call it? —consecrated — there, you need not laugh. Upon my honour, I’m serious; you shall have your choice; I swear you shall,” said Cleve Verney, who stood very near the title and estates of Verney, with all their comfortable advowsons appendant.

The Reverend Isaac Dixie smiled affably and meekly with prospective gratitude, and said he softly —

“I’m only too happy to think my distinguished, and I may say, honoured pupil, should deem me fit for a weighty charge in the Church; and I may say, although Clay has been considered a nice little thing, some years ago, yet, since the vicar’s — I must say, most unreasonable — claim has been allowed, it is really, I should be ashamed to say how trifling in emolument; we have all our crosses to bear, my dear pupil, friend, and I may say, patron — but it is good, nay, pleasant to me to have suffered disappointments, since in their midst comes no trifling balm in the confidence you are pleased to evidence in my humble fitness.”

The clergyman was moved. A gleam of the red western sun through the window, across his broad, meek, and simpering countenance, helped the effect of his blinking eyes, and he hastily applied his handkerchief.

“Isaac, Isaac, you shan’t come that over me. I don’t think you fit — not a bit. I’m not an Aristides, only a bishop; and I don’t pretend to more conscience than the rest.” His eye rested on him with an unconscious disdain. “And for the life of me, I don’t know why I intend doing anything for you, except that I promised, and your name’s lucky, I suppose; you used to keep telling me, don’t you remember, that all the promises were to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob? and you are Isaac, in the middle —medio tutissimus— and I think Isaac is the queerest mixture of Jew and muff in the Old Testament, and — and — so on.”

The sentence ended so because Cleve was now lighting his cigar. The clergyman smiled affably, and even waggishly, as one who can bear to be quizzed, and has a confidence in the affection of the joker; and Cleve smoked on serenely and silently for a little.

“And those are really my intentions respecting you,” he resumed; “but you are to do as I bid you in the mean time, you know. I say, you mustn’t snub your bishop; and, upon my honour, I’m perfectly serious, you shall never see my face again, nor hear of me more, if you don’t, this minute, tell me everything you know about those people at Malory.”

“Are you really serious, Mr. Verney? —really so?”

“Yes, quite so; and I can keep my word, as you know. Who are they?”

“You are placing me in the most awkward possible position; pray consider whether you really do make a point of it.”

“I do make a point of it.”

“I, of course, keep nothing from you, when you press it in that way; and beside, although it is awkward, it is, in a measure right, inasmuch as you are connected with the property, I may say, and have a right to exact information, if you thus so insist upon it as a duty.”

“Come, Dixie, who are they!” said Cleve, peremptorily.

“Well, he’s in some difficulties just now, and it is really vital that his name should not be disclosed, so I entreat you won’t mention it; and especially you won’t mention me as having divulged it.”

“Certainly; of course I don’t want to set the beaks on your friend. I shan’t mention his name, depend upon it, to mortal. I’ve just one reason for wishing to know, and I have brought you a journey, here and back, of a hundred and forty miles, precisely to answer me this question, and I will know.”

“Well, Mr. Verney, my dear sir, I venture to wash my hands of consequences, and unfeignedly relying upon your promise, I tell you that the old gentleman now residing in very strict seclusion at Malory, is Sir Booth ——” he paused as if willing that Cleve should supply the surname, and so, perhaps, relieve him of a part of the disclosure.

“Sir Booth what?”

“Don’t you know?”

No. You can’t mean Sir Booth Fanshawe.”

“Sir Booth — Sir Booth Fanshawe; yes,” said the clergyman, looking down bashfully, “I do mean Sir Booth Fanshawe.”

By Jove! And don’t you think it was rather a liberty, bringing Sir Booth Fanshawe to occupy our house at Malory, after all that has passed?” demanded Cleve Verney, rather sternly.

“Well, no, it really did not— I’m grieved if I have erred in judgment; but it never did strike me in that light — never in that point of view; and Sir Booth doesn’t know who it belongs to. It never struck me to tell him, and I don’t think he has an idea.”

I don’t care; but if my uncle hears, he’ll not like it, I can tell you.”

“I should not for any earthly consideration have made myself accessory to anything that could possibly have given a moment’s pain to my honoured patron, the Honourable Kiffyn Fulke Verney, or to my honoured pupil ——”

“Why, yes, my uncle might do you a mischief; as for me, I don’t care. Only I think it was rather cool, considering how savage he has always been — what a lot of money he has cost us — getting up contests and petitions, and vilifying us wherever he could. He has left no stone unturned — but that’s all over; and I think you’ve committed an indiscretion, because he hasn’t a guinea left, and my sensible old grandmother will positively make you pay the rent, and that will be as unpleasant as sharing your tithes with the vicar.”

“We are not all so wise as perhaps we should be in our generation,” said the Reverend Isaac Dixie, with an apostolic simper that was plaintive and simple. To quiet the reader’s uneasiness, however, I may mention that this good man had taken particular care to secure himself against a possible loss of a shilling in the matter. “And there are claims to which it is impossible to be deaf — there is a voice that seems to say, turn not thou away.”

Do stop that. You know very well that Booth Fanshawe was once a man who could give you a lift; and you did not know, perhaps, that he is ruined.”

“Pardon me; but too well. It is to protect him against immediate and melancholy consequences that I ventured, at some little risk, perhaps, to seek for him an asylum in the seclusion of Malory.”

“Well, it wasn’t all sentiment, my dear Dixie; there’s a gold thread of a ravelled tuft running through it somewhere; for whatever the romance of Christianity may say, the practice of the apostles is, very much, nothing for nothing; and if old Fanshawe wasn’t worth obliging, I dare say Hammerdon wrote or spoke to you. Come, your looks confess it.”

“Lord Hammerdon, I have no hesitation in saying, did suggest ——”

“There, that will do. Will you come over to Ware, and dine with me? I’m sure old Jones can give you a bed.”

The Reverend Isaac Dixie, however, could not come. There was to be a religious meeting in the morning at Clay school-house; the bishop was to be there; and the rector was himself to move a resolution, and had not yet considered what he was to say.

So he stepped with a bland countenance and a deliberate stride into his fly again; and from its window smirked sadly, and waved his hand to the future patron of Fridon-cum-Fleece, as he drove away; and the clergyman, who was not always quite celestial, and could, on safe occasions, be sharp and savage enough, exploded in a coarse soliloquy over the money, and the day and the ease he had sacrificed to the curiosity of that young man, who certainly had some as odious points as it had ever been his lot to meet with.

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