The Tenants of Malory, by Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu

Chapter 10.

Cleve Verney Sees the Chateau De Cresseron.

I FANCY that these estimates, on a rather large scale, moved by Mr. Dingwell, were agreed to, for sufficient reasons, by the parties interested in disputing them.

Mr. Dingwell kept very close during the daytime. He used to wander listlessly to and fro, between his bed-room and his drawing-room, with his hands in the pockets of his dressing-gown, and his feet in a pair of hard leather slippers, with curled-up toes and no heels, that clattered on the boards like sabots.

Miss Sarah Rumble fancied that her lodger was a little shy of the windows; when he looked out into the court, he stood back a yard or more from the window-sill.

Mr. Larkin, indeed, made no secret of Mr. Dingwell’s uncomfortable position, in his conferences with the Hon. Kiffyn Fulke Verney. Mr. Dingwell had been a bankrupt, against whom many transactions to which the Court had applied forcible epithets, had been proved; to whom, in fact, that tribunal had refused quarter; and who had escaped from its fangs by a miracle. There were judgments, however, in force against him; there was a warrant procurable any day for his arrest; he was still “in contempt;” I believe he was an “outlaw;” and, in fact, there was all but a price set on his head. Thus, between him and his outcast acquaintance, the late Hon. Arthur Verney, had subsisted some strong points of sympathy, which had no doubt helped to draw them into that near intimacy which stood the Hon. Kiffyn, no less than Mr. Dingwell (to whose mill it was bringing very comfortable grist), so well in stead, at this moment.

It behoved Mr. Dingwell, therefore, to exercise caution. Many years had passed since he figured as a London trader. But time, the obliterator, in some cases works slowly; or rather, while the pleasant things of memory are sketched in with a pencil, the others are written in a bold, legible, round hand, as it were, with a broad-nibbed steel pen, and the best durable japanned ink; on which Father Time works his India-rubber in vain, till his gouty old fingers ache, and you can fancy him whistling curses through his gums, and knocking his bald pate with his knuckles. Mr. Dingwell, on the way home, was, to his horror, half recognised by an ancient Cockney at Malta. Time, therefore, was not to be relied upon, though thirty years had passed; and Mr. Dingwell began to fear that a debtor is never forgotten, and that the man who is thoroughly dipt, like the lovely woman who stoops to folly, has but one way to escape consequences, and that is to die — a step which Mr. Dingwell did not care to take.

The meeting on the 15th, at the Hon. Kiffyn Fulke Verney’s house, Mr. Dingwell was prevented by a cold from attending. But the note of his evidence sufficed, and the consultation, at which Mr. Larkin assisted, was quite satisfactory. The eminent parliamentary counsel who attended, and who made, that session, nearly fifty-thousand pounds, went to the heart of the matter direct; was reverentially listened to by his junior, by the parliamentary agent, by the serious Mr. Larkin, at whom he thrust sharp questions, in a peremptory and even fierce way, like a general in action, to whom minutes are everything; treated them once or twice to a recollection or short anecdote, which tended to show what a clever, sharp fellow the parliamentary counsel was, which, indeed, was true; and talked to no one quite from a level, except to one Hon. Kiffyn Fulke Verney, to whom he spoke confidentially in his ear, and who himself quickly grew into the same confidential relations.

“I’m glad you take my view — Mr. — Mr. Forsythe — very happy about it, that we should be in accord. I’ve earned some confidence in my opinion, having found it more than once, I may say, come out right; and it gives me further confidence that you take my view,” said the Honourable Kiffyn Fulke Verney, grandly.

That eminent parliamentary counsel, Forsythe, was on his way to the door, when Mr. Verney interposed with this condescension.

“Oh! Ha! Do I? Very happy. What is it?” said Forsythe, smiling briskly, glancing at his watch and edging towards the door, all together.

“I mean the confident view — the cheerful — about it,” said the Hon. Mr. Verney, a little flushed, and laying his thin hand on his counsel’s arm.

“Certainly — confident, of course, smooth sailing, quite. I see no hitch at present.”

Mr. Forsythe was now, more decidedly, going. But he could not treat the Hon. Kiffyn Verney quite like an ordinary client, for he was before him occasionally in Committees of the House of Commons, and was likely soon to be so in others of the Lords, and therefore, chafing and smiling, he hesitated under the light pressure of the old gentleman’s stiff fingers.

“And you know the, I may say, absurd state of the law, about it — there was, you know, my unfortunate brother, Arthur — you are aware —civiliter mortuus, stopping the way, you know, for nearly twenty years, about it, ever since my poor father, Lord Verney, you know, expired, about it, and I’ve been, as you know, in the most painful position —absurd, you know.”

Quite so; I’m afraid—” Forsythe was again edging toward the door.

“And I always contended that where the heir was civilly dead, about it, the law should make proper provision — don’t you see?”

“Quite so, only fair— a very wise and politic statute — and I wish very much, with your experience, you’d turn your attention to draw one. I’m obliged to be off now, to meet the New Discount directors; consultation at my chambers.”

And so, smiling, Forsythe, Q.C., did vanish, at last.

All this over, Mr. Cleve Verney proposed to himself a little excursion, of a day or two, to Paris, to which his uncle saw no objection.

Not very far from the ancient town of Caen, where the comparative quietude of Normandy, throughout the throes of the great revolution, has spared so many relics of the bygone France, is an old château, still habitable — still, after a fashion, comfortable — and which you may have at a very moderate rent indeed.

Here is an old wood, cut in a quincunx; old ponds stocked with carp; great old stables gone to decay; and the château itself, is indescribably picturesque and sad.

It is the Château de Cresseron — withdrawn in historic seclusion, amid the glories and regrets of memory, quite out of the tide of modern traffic.

Here, by the side of one of the ponds, one evening, was an old lady, throwing in little bits of bread to the carp that floated and flitted, like golden shadows, this way and that, as the crumbs sank in the water, when she heard a well-known voice near her which made her start.

“Good heavens! Mr. Verney! You here?” she exclaimed, with such utter wonderment, her little bit of bread raised in her fingers, that Cleve Verney, though in no merry mood, could not help smiling.

“Yes — here indeed — and after all, is it quite so wonderful?” said he.

“Well, of course you know, Mr. Verney, I’m very glad to see you. Of course, you know that; but I’m very far from being certain that you have done a wise or a prudent thing in coming here, and I don’t know that, under the circumstances, I ought to be glad to see you; in fact, I’m afraid it is very rash,” said Miss Sheckleton, growing more decided as she proceeded.

“No, not rash. I’ve been very miserable; so miserable, that the worst certainty which this visit might bring upon me would be almost a relief compared with the intolerable suspense I have lived in; therefore, you see, it really is not rash.”

“I’m very bad at an argument,” persisted the old lady; “but it is rash, and very rash. You can’t conceive,” and here she lowered her voice, “the state of exasperation in which he is.”

“He,” of course, could only mean Sir Booth Fanshawe; and Cleve answered —

“I assure you, I can’t blame him. I don’t wonder. I think a great deal has been very wantonly done to aggravate his misfortunes; but surely, he can’t fancy that I could sympathise with any such proceedings, or feel anything but horror and disgust. Surely, you would not allow him to connect me, however slightly? I know you would not.”

“My dear Mr. Verney, you don’t know Booth Fanshawe, or rather, you do, I believe, know him a great deal too well, to fancy that I could venture to speak to him upon the subject. That, I assure you, is quite out of the question; and I may as well tell you frankly, if he were at home, I mean here, I should have begged you at once, inhospitable as it might seem, to leave this place, and trust to time and to letters, but here I would not have allowed you to linger.”

“He’s away from home, then!” exclaimed Cleve.

“Yes; but he’ll be back to-night at ten o’clock.”

“At ten o’clock,” repeated Cleve, and the young man thought what a treasure of minutes there was in the interval. “And Miss Fanshawe — Margaret — she’s quite well?”

“Yes, she’s quite well,” answered kind Miss Sheckleton, looking in his earnest eyes, and thinking that he looked a little thin and pale. “She’s quite well, and, I hope, you have been.”

“Oh, yes,” answered the young man, “as well as a man with a good many troubles can be. In fact, I may tell you, I’ve been very unhappy. I was thinking of writing to Sir Booth.”

Don’t,” implored Miss Sheckleton, looking quite wildly into his eyes, and with her hand upon his arm, as if to arrest the writing of that letter, “you have no notion how he feels. I assure you, an allusion — the slightest thing is quite enough to set him in a blaze. The other day, for instance, I did not know what it was, till I took up the paper he had been reading, and I found there something about the Verney peerage, and proof that Arthur Verney was dead, and your uncle to get it; and really I can’t wonder — some people seem so unaccountably fortunate, and others, everything goes wrong with — even I felt vexed when I read it, though, of course, any good fortune happening to you, I should be very glad of. But he did not see any of us till next day — even Macklin.”

“Yes, it is very true,” said Cleve, “my uncle is dead, and we shall prove it, that is, my uncle Kiffyn will. But you are quite right to distinguish as you do. It involves nothing for me. Since it has come so near, I have lost all faith in it’s ever reaching me. I have, I can’t call it a conviction, but a superstition, that it never will. I must build my own fortunes from their foundations, with my own hand. There is but one success on earth that can make me very proud and very happy. Do you think, that having come all this way, in that hope, on that one chance, that Margaret will see me?”

“I wish you had written to me before coming,” said Anne Sheckleton, after a little pause. “I should have liked to find out first, all I could, from herself; she is so odd. I’ve often told you that she is odd. I think it would have been wiser to write to me before coming over, and I should have talked to her — that is, of course, if she had allowed me — for I can’t in the least say that she would even hear me on the subject.”

“Well,” said Cleve, with a sigh, “I have come — I am here — and go I cannot without seeing her — I cannot — and you, I think, are too kind to wish that I should. Yes, Miss Sheckleton, you have been my true friend throughout this — what shall I call it? — wild and terrible dream — for I cannot believe it real — I wonder at it myself — I ought to wish I had never seen her — but I cannot — and I think on the result of this visit depends the whole course of my life. You’ll not see me long, I think, in the House of Commons, nor in England; but I’ll tell you more by-and-by.”

The sun had gone down now. A red and melancholy glow, rising from piles of western cloud, melted gradually eastward into the deep blue of night in which the stars were already glimmering.

Along one of the broad avenues cut through the forest that debouches upon the court-yard of the quaint old château they were now walking, and, raising his eyes, he saw Margaret approaching from the antique house.

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