The Tenants of Malory, by Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu

Chapter 6.

Tom has a “Talk” With the Admiral.

“WILL you tell her?” whispered Sedley to Agnes.

“Oh, no. Do you,” she entreated.

They both looked at Charity, who was preparing the little dog’s supper of bread and milk in a saucer.

“I’ll go in and see papa, and you shall speak to her,” said Agnes.

Which Tom Sedley did, so much to her amazement that she set the saucer down on the table beside her, and listened, and conversed for half an hour; and the poodle’s screams, and wild jumping and clawing at her elbow, at last reminded her that he had been quite forgotten.

So, while its mistress was apologising earnestly to poor Bijou, and superintending his attentions to the bread and milk, now placed upon the floor, in came Agnes, and up got Charity, and kissed her with a frank, beaming smile, and said —

“I’m excessively glad, Agnes. I was always so fond of Thomas Sedley; and I wonder we never thought of it before.”

They were all holding hands in a ring by this time.

“And what do you think Mr. Etherage will say?” inquired Tom.

“Papa! why of course he will be delighted,” said Miss Charity. “He likes you extremely.”

“But you know, Agnes might do so much better. She’s such a treasure, there’s no one that would not be proud of her, and no one could help falling in love with her, and the Ad —— I mean Mr. Etherage, may think me so presumptuous; and, you know, he may think me quite too poor.”

“If you mean to say that papa would object to you because you have only four hundred a year, you think most meanly of him. I know I should not like to be connected with anybody that I thought so meanly of, because that kind of thing I look upon as really wicked; and I should be sorry to think papa was wicked. I’ll go in and tell him all that has happened this moment.”

In an awful suspense, pretty Agnes and Tom Sedley, with her hand in both his, stood side by side, looking earnestly at the double door which separated them from this conference.

In a few minutes they heard Vane Etherage’s voice raised to a pitch of testy bluster, and then Miss Charity’s rejoinder with shrill emphasis.

“Oh! gracious goodness! he’s very angry. What shall we do?” exclaimed poor little Agnes, in wild helplessness.

“I knew it — I knew it — I said how it would be-he can’t endure the idea, he thinks it such audacity. I knew he must, and I really think I shall lose my reason. I could not — I could not live. Oh! Agnes, I couldn’t if he prevents it.”

In came Miss Charity, very red and angry.

“He’s just in one of his odd tempers. I don’t mind one word he says to-night. He’ll be quite different, you’ll see, in the morning. We’ll sit up here, and have a good talk about it, till it’s time for you to go; and you’ll see I’m quite right. I’m surprised,” she continued, with severity, “at his talking as he did to-night. I consider it quite worldly and wicked! But I contented myself with telling him that he did not think one word of what he said, and that he knew he didn’t, and that he’d tell me so in the morning; and instead of feeling it, as I thought he would, he said something intolerably rude.”

Old Etherage, about an hour later, when they were all in animated debate, shuffled to the door, and put in his head, and looked surprised to see Tom, who looked alarmed to see him. And the old gentleman bid them all a glowering good night, and shortly afterwards they heard him wheeled away to his bed-room, and were relieved.

They sat up awfully late, and the old servant, who poked into the room oftener than he was wanted towards the close of their sitting, looked wan and bewildered with drowsiness; and at last Charity, struck by the ghastly resignation of his countenance, glanced at the French clock over the chimney-piece, and ejaculated —

“Why, merciful goodness! is it possible? A quarter to one! It can’t possibly be. Thomas Sedley, will you look at your watch, and tell us what o’clock it really is?”

His watch corroborated the French clock.

If papa heard this! I really can’t the least conceive how it happened. I did not think it could have been eleven. Well, it is undoubtedly the oddest thing that ever happened in this house!”

In the morning, between ten and eleven, when Tom Sedley appeared again at the drawing-room windows, he learned from Charity, in her own emphatic style of narration, what had since taken place, which was not a great deal, but still was uncomfortably ambiguous.

She had visited her father at his breakfast in the study, and promptly introduced the subject of Tom Sedley, and he broke into this line of observation —

“I’d like to know what the deuce Tom Sedley means by talking of business to girls. I’d like to know it. I say, if he has anything to say, why doesn’t he say it, that’s what I say. Here I am. What has he to say. I don’t object to hear him, be it sense or be it nonsense — out with it! That’s my maxim; and be it sense or be it nonsense, I won’t have it at second-hand. That’s my idea.”

Acting upon this, Miss Charity insisted that he ought to see Mr. Etherage; and, with a beating heart, he knocked at the study door, and asked an audience.

“Come in,” exclaimed the resonant voice of the Admiral. And Tom Sedley obeyed.

The Admiral extended his hand, and greeted Tom kindly, but gravely.

“Fine day, Mr. Sedley; very fine, sir. It’s an odd thing, Tom Sedley, but there’s more really fine weather up here, at Hazelden, than anywhere else in Wales. More sunshine, and a deal less rain. You’d hardly believe, for you’d fancy on this elevated ground we should naturally have more rain, but it’s less, by several inches, than anywhere else in Wales! And there’s next to no damp — the hygrometer tells that. And a curious thing, you’ll have a southerly wind up here when it’s blowing from the east on the estuary. You can see it, by Jove! Now just look out of that window; did you ever see such sunshine as that? There’s a clearness in the air up here — at the other side, if you go up, you get mist— but there’s something about it here that I would not change for any place in the world.”

You may be sure Tom did not dispute any of these points.

“By Jove, Tom Sedley, it would be a glorious day for a sail round the point of Penruthyn. I’d have been down with the tide, sir, this morning if I had been as I was ten years ago; but a fellow doesn’t like to be lifted into his yacht, and the girls did not care for sailing; so I sold her. There wasn’t such a boat — take her for everything — in the worldnever!”

“The Feather; wasn’t she, sir?” said Tom.

“The Feather! that she was, sir. A name pretty well known, I venture to think. Yes, the Feather was her name.”

“I have, sir; yes, indeed, often heard her spoken of,” said Tom, who had heard one or two of the boatmen of Cardyllian mention her with a guarded sort of commendation. I never could learn, indeed, that there was anything very remarkable about the boat; but Tom would just then have backed any assertion of the honest Admiral’s with a loyal alacrity, bordering, I am afraid, upon unscrupulousness.

“There are the girls going out with their trowels, going to poke among those flowers; and certainly, I’ll do them justice to say, their garden prospers. I don’t see such flowers anywhere; do you?”

Nowhere!” said Tom, with enthusiasm.

“By, there they’re at it — grubbing and raking. And, by-the-by, Tom, what was that? Sit down for a minute.”

Tom felt as if he was going to choke, but he sat down.

“What was that — some nonsense Charity was telling me last night?”

Thus invited, poor Sedley, with many hesitations, and wanderings, and falterings, did get through his romantic story. And Mr. Etherage did not look pleased by the recital; on the contrary, he carried his head unusually high, and looked hot and minatory, but he did not explode. He continued looking on the opposite wall, as he had done as if he were eyeing a battle there, and he cleared his voice.

“As I understand it, sir, there’s not an income to make it at all prudent. I don’t want my girls to marry; I should, in fact, miss them very much; but if they do, there ought to be a settlement, don’t you see? there should be a settlement, for I can’t do so much for them as people suppose. The property is settled, and the greater part goes to my grand-nephew after me; and I’ve invested, as you know, all my stock and money in the quarry at Llanrwyd; and if she married you, she should live in London the greater part of the year. And I don’t see how you could get on upon what you both have; I don’t, sir. And I must say, I think you ought to have spoken to me before paying your addresses, sir. I don’t think that’s unreasonable; on the contrary, I think it reasonable, perfectly so, and only right and fair. And I must go further, sir; I must say this, I don’t see, sir, without a proper competence, what pretensions you had to address my child.”

“None, sir; none in the world, Mr. Etherage. I know, sir, I’ve been thinking of my presumption ever since. I betrayed myself into it, sir; it was a kind of surprise. If I had reflected I should have come to you, sir; but — but you have no idea, sir, how I adore her.” Tom’s eye wandered after her through the window, among the flowers. “Or what it would be to me to — to have to”——

Tom Sedley faltered, and bit his lip, and started up quickly and looked at an engraving of old Etherage’s frigate, which hung on the study wall.

He looked at it for some time steadfastly. Never was man so affected by the portrait of a frigate, you would have thought. Vane Etherage saw him dry his eyes stealthily two or three times, and the old gentleman coughed a little, and looked out of the window, and would have got up, if he could, and stood close to it.

“It’s a beautiful day, certainly; wind coming round a bit to the south, though — south by east; that’s always a squally wind with us; and — and — I assure you I like you, Tom; upon my honour I do, Tom Sedley — better, sir, than any young fellow I know. I think I do— I am sure, in fact, I do. But this thing — it wouldn’t do — it really wouldn’t; no, Tom Sedley, it wouldn’t do; if you reflect you’ll see it. But, of course, you may get on in the world. Rome wasn’t built in a day.”

“It’s very kind of you, sir; but the time’s so long, and so many chances,” said Sedley, with a sigh like a sob; “and when I go away, sir, the sooner I die, the happier for me.”

Tom turned again quickly toward the frigate — the Vulcan— and old Etherage looked out of the window once more, and up at the clouds.

“Yes,” said the admiral, “it will; we shall have it from south by east. And, d’ye hear, Tom Sedley? I— I’ve been thinking there’s no need to make any fuss about this — this thing; just let it be as if you had never said a word about it, do you mind, and come here just as usual. Let us put it out of our heads; and if you find matters improve, and still wish it, there’s nothing to prevent your speaking to me; only Agnes is perfectly free, you understand, and you are not to make any change in your demeanour — a — or — I mean to be more with my daughters, or anything marked, you understand. People begin to talk here, you know, in the club-house, on very slight grounds! and — and — you understand now; and there mustn’t be any nonsense; and I like you, sir — I like you, Thomas Sedley; I do — I do, indeed, sir.”

And old Vane Etherage gave him a very friendly shake by the hand, and Tom thanked him gratefully, and went away reprieved, and took a walk with the girls, and told them, as they expressed it, everything; and Vane Etherage thought it incumbent on him to soften matters a little by asking him to dinner; and Tom accepted; and when they broke up after tea, there was another mistake discovered about the hour, and Miss Charity most emphatically announced that it was perfectly unaccountable, and must never occur again; and I hope, for the sake of the venerable man who sat up, resigned and affronted, to secure the hall-door and put out the lamps after the party had broken up, that these irregular hours were kept no more at Hazelden.

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