The Wyvern Mystery, by J. Sheridan Le Fanu

Chapter 2.

The Vale of Carwell.

In about an hour and a half this chaise reached the Pied Horse, on Elverstone Moor. Having changed horses at this inn, they resumed their journey, and Miss Alice Maybell, who had been sad and abstracted, now lowered the window beside her, and looked out upon the broad, shaggy heath, rising in low hillocks, and breaking here and there into pools — a wild, and on the whole a monotonous and rather dismal expanse.

“How fresh and pleasant the air is here, and how beautiful the purple of the heath!” exclaimed the young lady with animation.

“There now — that’s right — beautiful it is, my darling; that’s how I like to see my child — pleasant-like and ’appy, and not mopin’ and dull, like a sick bird. Be that way always; do, dear.”

“You’re a kind old thing,” said the young lady, placing her slender hand fondly on her old nurse’s arm, “good old Dulcibella: you’re always to come with me wherever I go.”

“That’s just what Dulcibella’d like,” answered the old woman, who was fat, and liked her comforts, and loved Miss Alice more than many mothers love their own children, and had answered the same reminders, in the same terms, a good many thousand times in her life.

Again the young lady was looking out of the window — not like one enjoying a landscape as it comes, but with something of anxiety in her countenance, with her head through the open window, and gazing forward as if in search of some expected object.

“Do you remember some old trees standing together at the end of this moor, and a ruined windmill, on a hillock?” she asked suddenly.

“Well,” answered Dulcibella, who was not of an observant turn, “I suppose I do, Miss Alice; perhaps there is.”

“I remember it very well, but not where it is; and when last we passed, it was dark,” murmured the young lady to herself, rather than to Dulcibella, whom upon such points she did not much mind. “Suppose we ask the driver?”

She tapped at the window behind the box, and signed to the man, who looked over his shoulder. When he had pulled up she opened the front window and said —

“There’s a village a little way on — isn’t there?”

“Shuldon — yes’m, two mile and a bit,” he answered.

“Well, before we come to it, on the left there is a grove of tall trees and an old windmill,” continued the pretty young lady, looking pale.

“Gryce’s mill we call it, but it don’t go this many a day.”

“Yes, I dare say; and there is a road that turns off to the left, just under that old mill?”

“That’ll be the road to Church Carwell.”

“You must drive about three miles along that road.”

“That’ll be out o’ the way, ma’am — three, and three back — six miles — I don’t know about the hosses.”

“You must try, I’ll pay you — listen,” and she lowered her voice. “There’s one house — an old house — on the way, in the Vale of Carwell; it is called Carwell Grange — do you know it?”

“Yes’m; but there’s no one livin’ there.”

“No matter — there is; there is an old woman whom I want to see; that’s where I want to go, and you must manage it, I shan’t delay you many minutes, and you’re to tell no one, either on the way or when you get home, and I’ll give you two pounds for yourself.”

“All right,” he answered, looking hard in the pale face and large dark eyes that gazed on him eagerly from the window. “Thank ye, Miss, all right, we’ll wet their mouths at the Grange, or you wouldn’t mind waiting till they get a mouthful of oats, I dessay?”

“No, certainly; anything that is necessary, only I have a good way still to go before evening, and you won’t delay more than you can help?”

“Get along, then,” said the man, briskly to his horses, and forthwith they were again in motion.

The young iady pulled up the window, and leaned back for some minutes in her place.

“And where are we going to, dear Miss Alice?” inquired Dulcibella, who dimly apprehended that they were about to deviate from the straight way home, and feared the old Squire, as other Wyvern folk did.

“A very little way, nothing of any consequence; and Dulcibella, if you really love me as you say, one word about it, to living being at Wyvern or anywhere else, you’ll never say — you promise?”

“You know me well, Miss Alice — I don’t talk to no one; but I’m sorry-like to hear there’s anything like a secret. I dread secrets.”

“You need not fear this — it is nothing, no secret, if people were not unreasonable, and it shan’t be a secret long, perhaps, only be true to me.”

“True to you! Well, who should I be true to if not to you, darling, and never a word about it will pass old Dulcibella’s lips, talk who will; and are we pretty near it?”

“Very near, I think; it’s only to see an old woman, and get some information from her, nothing, only I don’t wish it to be talked about, and I know you won’t.”

“Not a word, dear. I never talk to any one, not I, for all the world.”

In a few minutes more they crossed a little bridge spanning a brawling stream, and the chaise turned the corner of a by-road to the left, under the shadow of a group of tall and sombre elms, overtopped by the roofless tower of the old windmill. Utterly lonely was the road, but at first with only a solitariness that partook of the wildness and melancholy of the moor which they had been traversing. Soon, however, the uplands at either side drew nearer, grew steeper, and the scattered bushes gathered into groups, and rose into trees, thickening as the road proceeded. Steeper grew the banks, higher and gloomier. Precipitous rocks showed their fronts, overtopped by trees and copse. The hollow which they had entered by the old windmill had deepened into a valley and was now contracted to a dark glen, overgrown by forest, and relieved from utter silence only by the moan and tinkle of the brook that wound its way through stones and brambles, in its unseen depths. Along the side of this melancholy glen about half way down, ran the narrow road, near the point where they now were, it makes an ascent, and as they were slowly mounting this an open carriage — a, shabby, hired, nondescript vehicle — appeared in the deep shadow, at some distance, descending towards them. The road is so narrow that two carriages could not pass one another without risk. Here and there the inconvenience is provided against by a recess in the bank, and into one of these the distant carriage drew aside. A tall female figure, with feet extended on the opposite cushion, sat or rather reclined in the back seat. There was no one else in the carriage. She was wrapped in gray tweed, and the driver had now turned his face towards her, and was plainly receiving some orders.

Miss Maybell, as the carriage entered this melancholy pass, had grown more and more anxious; and pale and silent, was looking forward through the window, as they advanced. At sight of this vehicle, drawn up before them, a sudden fear chilled the young lady with, perhaps, a remote prescience.

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