The Tenants of Malory, by Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu

Chapter 17.

An Ovation.

CLEVE had no dinner; he had supped full of horrors. He got on his coat and hat, and appeared nowhere that evening, but took an immense walk instead, in the hope I dare say of tiring out his agony — perhaps simply because quietude and uninterrupted thought were unendurable.

Next day hope began a little to revive. An inventive mind is inexhaustible; and are not the resources of delay always considerable?

Who could have been acting upon his uncle’s mind in this matter? The spring of Lord Verney’s action was seldom quite within himself. All at once he recollected that he had come suddenly upon what seemed an unusually secret conference between his uncle and Mr. Larkin about ten days since; it was in the library. He was sure the conversation had some reference to him. His uncle looked both annoyed and embarrassed when he came into the room; even the practised countenance of Mr. Larkin betrayed some faint signs of confusion.

Larkin he knew had been down in the neighbourhood of Ware, and probably in Cardyllian. Had anything reached him about the Malory romance? Mr. Larkin was a man who would not stick at trifles in hunting up evidence, and all that concerned him would now interest Mr. Larkin, and Cleve had too high an opinion of that gentleman’s sagacity not to assume that if he had obtained the clue to his mystery he would make capital of the secret with Lord Verney. Viscera magnorum domuum— nothing like secret relations — confidences — and what might not come of this? Of course, the first result would be a peremptory order on which Lord Verney had spoken last night. The only safety for the young man, it will be concluded, is to marry him suitably forthwith.

And — by Jove! — a flash of light! He had it! The whole thing was clear now. Yes; he was to be married to Caroline Oldys, because Mr. Larkin was the professional right hand of that family, and so the attorney would glide ultimately into the absolute command of the House of Verney!

To think of that indescribably vulgar rogue’s actually shaping the fortunes and meting out the tortures of Cleve Verney.

How much of our miseries result from the folly of those who would serve us! Here was Viscount Verney with, as respected Cleve, the issues of life very much in his fingers, dropping through sheer imbecility into the coarse hands of that odious attorney!

Cleve trembled with rage as he thought of the degradation to which that pompous fool, Lord Verney, was consigning him, yet what was to be done? Cleve was absolutely at the disposal of the peer, and the peer was unconsciously placing himself in the hands of Mr. Larkin, to be worked like a puppet, and spoken for by the Pharisaical attorney.

Cleve’s theory hung together plausibly. It would have been gross folly to betray his jealousy of the attorney, whose opportunities with his uncle he had no means of limiting or interrupting, and against whom he had as yet no case.

He was gifted with a pretty talent for dissimulation; Mr. Larkin congratulated himself in secret upon Cleve’s growing esteem and confidence. The young gentleman’s manner was gracious and even friendly to a degree that was quite marked, and the unconscious attorney would have been startled had he learned on a sudden how much he hated him.

Ware — that great house which all across the estuary in which its princely front was reflected, made quite a feature in the landscape sketched by so many tourists, from the pier on the shingle of Cardyllian on bright summer days, was about to be rehabilitated, and very splendid doings were to follow.

In the mean time, before the architects and contractors, the plumbers, and painters, and carpenters, and carvers, and gilders had taken possession, and before those wonderful artists in stucco who were to encrust and overspread the ceilings with noble designs, rich and graceful and light, of fruit and flowers and cupids, and from memory, not having read the guide-book of Cardyllian and its vicinity for more than a year, I should be afraid to say what arabesques, and imagery beside, had entered with their cements and their scaffolding; and before the three brother artists had got their passports for England who were to paint on the panels of the doors such festive pieces as Watteau loved. In short, before the chaos and confusion that attend the throes of that sort of creation had set in, Lord Verney was to make a visit of a few days to Ware, and was to visit Cardyllian and to receive a congratulatory address from the corporation of that ancient town, and to inspect the gas-works (which I am glad to say are hid away in a little hollow), and the two fountains which supply the town — constructed, as the inscription tells, at the expense of “the Right Honourable Kiffyn Fulke, Nineteenth Viscount Verney, and Twenty-ninth Baron Penruthyn, of Malory.” What else his lordship was to see, and to do, and to say on the day of his visit the county and other newspapers round about printed when the spectacle was actually over, and the great doings matter of history.

There were arches of evergreens and artificial flowers of paper, among which were very tolerable hollyhocks, though the roses were startling. Under these, Lord Viscount Verney and the “distinguished party” who accompanied him passed up Castle Street to the town-hall, where he was received by the mayor and town-councillors, accompanied and fortified by the town-clerk and other functionaries, all smiling except the mayor, on whom weighed the solemn responsibility of having to read the address, a composition, and no mean one, of the Rev. Dr. Splayfoot, who attended with parental anxiety “to see the little matter through,” as he phrased it, and was so awfully engaged that Mrs. Splayfoot, who was on his arm, and asked him twice, in a whisper, whether the tall lady in purple silk was Lady Wimbledon, without receiving the slightest intimation that she was so much as heard, remarked testily that she hoped he would not write many more addresses, inasmuch as it made him ill-bred to that degree that if the town-hall had fallen during the reading, he never would have perceived it till he had shaken his ears in kingdom-come. Lord Verney read his answer, which there was much anxiety and pressure to hear.

“Now it really was beautiful —wasn’t it?” our friend Mrs. Jones, the draper, whispered, in particular reference to that part of it, in which the viscount invoked the blessing of the Almighty upon himself and his doings, gracefully admitting that in contravention of the Divine will and the decrees of heaven, even he could not be expected to accomplish much, though with the best intentions. And Captain Shrapnell, who felt that the sentiment was religious, and was anxious to be conspicuous, standing with his hat in his hand, with a sublime expression of countenance, said in an audible voice —“Amen.”

All this over, and the building inspected, the distinguished party were conducted by the mayor, the militia band accompanying their march —[air —“The Meeting of the Waters”]— to the “Fountains” in Gunner’s Lane, to which I have already alluded.

Here they were greeted by a detachment of the Llanwthyn Temperance Union, headed by short, fat Thomas Pritchard, the interesting apostle of total abstinence, who used to preach on the subject alternately in Welsh and English in all the towns who would hear his gospel, in most of which he was remembered as having been repeatedly fined for public intoxication, and known by the familiar pet-name of “Swipey Tom,” before his remarkable conversion.

Mr. Pritchard now led the choir of the Lanwthyn Temperance Union, consisting of seven members, of various sizes, dressed in their Sunday costume, and standing in a row in front of fountain No. 1 — each with his hat in his left hand and a tumbler of fair water in his right.

Good Mrs. Jones, who had a vague sense of fun, and remembered anecdotes of the principal figure in this imposing spectacle, did laugh a little modestly into her handkerchief, and answered the admonitory jog of her husband’s elbow by pleading —“Poor fellows! Well, you know it is odd — there’s no denying that you know;” and from the background were heard some jeers from the excursionists who visited Cardyllian for that gala, which kept Hughes, the Cardyllian policeman, and Evans, the other “horney,” who had been drafted from Llwynan, to help to overawe the turbulent, very hot and active during that part of the ceremony.

Particularly unruly was John Swillers, who, having failed as a publican in Liverpool, in consequence of his practice of drinking the greater part of his own stock in trade, had migrated to “The Golden Posts” in Church Street, Cardyllian, where he ceased to roll his barrel, set up his tressels, and had tabernacled for the present, drinking his usual proportion of his own liquors, and expecting the hour of a new migration.

Over the heads of the spectators and the admiring natives of Cardyllian were heard such exhortations as “Go it, Swipey.” “There’s gin in that,” “Five shillin’s for his vorship, Swipey,” “I say, Swipey Tom, pay your score at the Golden Posts, will ye?” “Will ye go a bit on the stretcher, Swipey?” “Here’s two horneys as’ll take ye home arter that.”

And these interruptions, I am sorry to say, continued, notwithstanding the remonstrances which Mr. Hughes addressed almost pathetically to John Swillers of the Golden Posts, as a respectable citizen of Cardyllian, one from whose position the police were led to expect assistance and the populace an example. There was something in these expostulations which struck John Swillers, for he would look with a tipsy solemnity in Hughes’s face while he delivered them, and once took his hand, rather affectionately, and said, “That’s your sort.” But invariably these unpleasant interpolations were resumed, and did not cease until this moral exhibition had ended with the last verse of the temperance song, chanted by the deputation with great vigour, in unison, and which, as the reader will perceive, had in it a Bacchanalian character, which struck even the gravest listeners as a hollow mockery:—

Refreshing more than sinful swipes,

The weary man

Who quaffs a can,

That sparkling foams through leaden pipes.

CHORUS.

Let every man

Then, fill his can,

And fill the glass

Of every lass

In brimming bumpers sparkling clear,

To pledge the health of Verney’s Peer!

And then came a chill and ghastly “hip-hip, hurrah,” and with some gracious inquiries on Lord Verney’s part, as to the numbers, progress, and finances of “their interesting association,” and a subscription of ten pounds, which Mr. John Swillers took leave to remark, “wouldn’t be laid out on water, by no means,” the viscount, with grand and radiant Mr. Larkin at his elbow, and frequently murmuring in his ear — to the infinite disgust of my friend, Wynne Williams, the Cardyllian attorney, thus out-strutted and out-crowed on his own rustic elevation — was winning golden opinions from all sorts of men.

The party went on, after the wonders of the town had been exhausted, to look at Malory, and thence returned to a collation, at which toasts were toasted and speeches spoken, and Captain Shrapnell spoke, by arrangement, for the ladies of Cardyllian in his usual graceful and facetious manner, with all the puns and happy allusions which a month’s private diligence, and, I am sorry to say, some shameless plagiarisms from three old numbers of poor Tom Hood’s “Comic Annual,” could get together, and the gallant captain concluded by observing that the noble lord whom they had that day the honour and happiness to congratulate, intended, he understood, everything that was splendid and liberal and handsome, and that the town of Cardyllian, in the full radiance of the meridian sunshine, whose golden splendour proceeded from the south—“The cardinal point at which the great house of Ware is visible from the Green of Cardyllian”—(hear, hear, and laughter)—“there remained but one grievance to be redressed, and that set to rights, every ground of complaint would slumber for ever, he might say, in the great bed of Ware”—(loud cheers and laughter)—“and what was that complaint? He was instructed by his fair, lovely, and beautiful clients — the ladies of Cardyllian — some of whom he saw in the gallery, and some still more happily situated at the festive board”—(a laugh). “Well, he was, he repeated, instructed by them to say that there was one obvious duty which the noble lord owed to his ancient name — to the fame of his public position — to the coronet, whose golden band encircled his distinguished brow — and above all, to the ancient feudal dependency of Cardyllian”—(hear, hear)—“and that was to select from his county’s beauty, fascination, and accomplishment, and he might say loveliness, a partner worthy to share the ermine and the coronet and the name and the — ermine” (hear, hear) “of the ancient house of Verney” (loud cheers); “and need he add that when the selection was made, it was hoped and trusted and aspired after, that the selection would not be made a hundred miles away from the ivied turrets, the feudal ruins, the gushing fountains, and the spacious town-hall of Cardyllian” (loud and long-continued cheering, amid which the gallant captain, very hot, and red, and smiling furiously, sat down with a sort of lurch, and drank off a glass of champagne, and laughed and giggled a little in his chair, while the “cheering and laughter” continued).

And Lord Verney rose, not at all hurt by this liberty, very much amused on the contrary, and in high good humour his lordship said —

“Allow me to say — I am sure you will”—(hear, hear, and cries of “We will”)—“I say, I am sure you will permit me to say that the ladies of Cardyllian, a-a-about it, seem to me to have chosen a very eloquent spokesman in the gallant, and I have no doubt, distinguished officer who has just addressed the house. We have all been entertained by the eloquence of Captain Scollop”—[here the mayor deferentially whispered something to the noble orator]—“I beg pardon — Captain Grapnell — who sits at the table, with his glass of wine, about it — and very good wine it is — his glass, I say, where it should be, in his hand”—(hear, hear, and laughter, and “You got it there, captain”). “And I assure the gallant captain I did not mean to be severe — only we were all joking — and I do say that he has his hand — my gallant friend, Captain Grabblet, has it — where every gallant officer’s ought to be, about it, and that is, upon his weapon”—(hear, hear, laughter, and cries of “His lordship’s too strong for you, captain”). “I don’t mean to hurt him, though, about it,” (renewed cries of hear, and laughter, during which the captain shook his ears a little, smiling into his glass rather foolishly, as a man who was getting the worst of it, and knew it, but took it pleasantly). “No, it would not be fair to the ladies about it,” (renewed laughter and cheering), “and all I will say is this, about it — there are parts of Captain Scraplet’s speech, which I shan’t undertake to answer at this moment. I feel that I am trespassing, about it, for a much longer time than I had intended,” (loud cries of “No, no, go on, go on,” and cheering, during which the mayor whispered something to the noble lord, who, having heard it twice or thrice repeated, nodded to the mayor in evident apprehension, and when silence was restored, proceeded to say), “I have just heard, without meaning to say anything unfair of the gallant captain, Captain Scalpel, that he is hardly himself qualified to give me the excellent advice, about it, which I received from him; for they tell me that he has rather run away, about it, from his colours, on that occasion.” (Great laughter and cheering). “I should be sorry to wound Captain Shat — Scat — Scrap, the gallant captain, to wound him, I say, even in front.” (Laughter, cheering, and a voice from the gallery “Hit him hard, and he won’t swell,” “Order.”) “But I think I was bound to make that observation in the interest of the ladies of Cardyllian, about it;” (renewed laughter); “and, for my part, I promise my gallant friend — my — captain — about it — that although I may take some time, like himself” (loud laughter); “although I cannot let fall, about it, any observation that may commit me, yet I do promise to meditate on the excellent advice he has been so good as to give me, about it.” And the noble lord resumed his seat amid uproarious cheering and general laughter, wondering what had happened to put him in the vein, and regretting that some of the people at Downing Street had not been present to hear it, and witness its effect.

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