The Wyvern Mystery, by J. Sheridan Le Fanu

Chapter 3.

The Grange.

The excited nerves of children people the darkness of the nursery with phantoms. The moral and mental darkness of suspense provokes, after its sort, a similar phantasmagoria. Alice Maybell’s heart grew still, and her cheeks paled as she looked with most unreasonable alarm upon the carriage, which had come to a standstill.

There was, however, the sense of a great stake, of great helplessness, of great but undefined possible mischiefs, such as to the “look-out” of a rich galleon in the old piratical days, would have made a strange sail, on the high seas, always an anxious object on the horizon.

And now Miss Alice Maybell was not reassured by observing the enemy’s driver get down, and taking the horses by the head, back the carriage far enough across the road, to obstruct their passage, and this had cleariy been done by the direction of the lady in the carriage.

They had now reached the point of obstruction, the driver pulled up, Miss Maybell had lowered the chaise window and was peeping; She saw a tall woman, wrapped up and reclining, as I have said. Her face she could not see, for it was thickly veiled, but she held her hand, from which she had pulled her glove, to her ear, and it was not a young hand nor very refined, — lean and masculine, on the contrary, and its veins and sinews rather strongly marked. The woman was listening, evidently, with attention, and her face, veiled as it was, was turned away so as to bring her ear towards the speakers in the expected colloquy.

Miss Alice Maybell saw the driver exchange a look with hers that seemed to betoken old acquaintance.

“I say, give us room to pass, will ye?” said Miss Maybell’s man,

“Where will you be going to?” inquired the other, and followed the question with a jerk of his thumb over his shoulder, toward the lady in the tweed wrappers, putting out his tongue and winking at the same time.

“To Church Carwell,” answered the man.

“To Church Carwell, ma’am,” repeated the driver over his shoulder to the reclining figure.

“What to do there?” said she, in a sharp, under tone, and with a decided foreign accent.

“What to do there?” repeated the man.

“Change hosses, and go on.”

“On where?” repeated the lady to her driver.

“On where?” repeated he.

“Doughton,” fibbed Miss Maybell’s man, and the same repetition ensued.

“Not going to the Grange?” prompted the lady, in the same undertone and foreign accent, and the question was transmitted as before —

“What Grange?” demanded the driver.

“Carwell Grange.”

Miss Alice Maybell was very much frightened as she heard this home-question put, and, relieved by the audacity of her friend on the box, who continued —

“Now then, you move out of that.”

The tall woman in the wrappers nodded, and her driver accordingly pulled the horses aside, with another grin and a wink to his friend, and Miss Maybell drove by to her own great relief.

The reclining figure did not care to turn her face enough to catch a passing sight of the people whom she had thus arbitrarily detained.

She went her way toward Gryce’s mill, and Miss Maybell pursuing hers toward Carwell Grange, was quickly out of sight.

A few minutes more and the glen expanded gently, so as to leave a long oval pasture of two or three acres visible beneath, with the little stream winding its way through the soft sward among scattered trees. Two or three cows were peacefully grazing there, and at the same point a converging hollow made its way into the glen at their right, and through this also spread the forest, under whose shadow they had already been driving for more than two miles.

Into this, from the main road, diverged a ruder track, with a rather steep ascent. This by-road leads up to the Grange, rather a stiff pull. The driver had to dismount and lead his horses, and once or twice expressed doubts as to whether they could pull their burden up the hill.

Alice Maybell, however, offered not to get out. She was nervous, and like a frightened child who gets its bed-clothes about its head, the instinct of concealment prevailed, and she trembled lest some other inquirer should cross her way less easily satisfied than the first.

They soon reached a level platform, under the deep shadow of huge old trees, nearly meeting over head. The hoarse cawing of a rookery came mellowed by short distance on the air. For all else, the place was silence itself.

The man came to the door of the carriage to tell his “fare” that they had reached the Grange.

“Stay where you are, Dulcibella, I shan’t be away many minutes,” said the young lady, looking pale, as if she was going to execution.

“I will, Miss Alice; but you must get a bit to eat, dear, you’re hungry, I know by your looks; get a bit of bread and butter.”

“Yes, yes, Dulcie,” said the young lady, not having heard a syllable of this little speech, as looking curiously at the old place, under whose walls they had arrived, she descended from the chaise.

Under the leafy darkness stood two time-stained piers of stone, with a wicket open in the gate. Through this she peeped into a paved yard, all grass-grown, and surrounded by a high wall, with a fine mantle of ivy, through which showed dimly the neglected doors and windows of out-offices and stables. At the right rose, three stories high, with melancholy gables and tall chimneys, the old stone house.

So this was Carwell Grange. Nettles grew in the corners of the yard, and tufts of grass in the chinks of the stone steps, and the worn masonry was tinted with moss and hchens, and all around rose the solemn melancholy screen of darksome foliage, high over the surrounding walls, and outtopping the gray roof of the house.

She hesitated at the door, and then raised the latch; but a bolt secured it. Another hesitation, and she ventured to knock with a stone, that was probably placed there for the purpose.

A lean old woman, whose countenance did not indicate a pleasant temper, put out her head from a window, and asked :

“Well, an’ what brings you here?”

“I expected to see a friend here,” she answered timidly; “and — and you are Mrs. Tarnley — I think?

“I’m the person,” answered the woman.

“And I was told to show you this — and that you would admit me.”

And she handed her, through the iron bars of the window, a little oval picture in a shagreen case, hardly bigger than a penny-piece.

The old lady turned it to the light and looked hard at it, saying, “Ay — ay — my old eyes — they won’t see as they used to — but it is so — the old missus — yes — it’s all right, Miss,” and she viewed the young lady with some curiosity, but her tones were much more respectful as she handed her back the miniature.

“I’ll open the door, please ’m.”

And almost instantly Miss Maybell heard the bolts withdrawn.

“Would you please to walk in — my lady? I can only bring ye into the kitchen. The apples is in the parlour, and the big room’s full o’ straw — and the rest o’ them is locked up. It’ll be Master I know who ye’ll be looking arter?”

The young lady blushed deeply — the question was hardly shaped in the most delicate way.

“There was a woman in a barooche, I think they call it, asking was any one here, and asking very sharp after Master, and I told her he wasn’t here this many a day, nor like to be — and ’twas that made me a bit shy o’ you; you’ll understand, just for a bit.”

“And is he — is your master?” — and she looked round the interior of the house.

“No, he b’aint come; but here’s a letter — what’s your name?” she added abruptly, with a sudden access of suspicion.

“Miss Maybell,” answered she.

“Yes — well — you’ll excuse me, Miss, but I was told to be sharp, and wide-awake, you see. Will you come into the kitchen?”

And without awaiting her answer the old woman led the way into the kitchen — a melancholy chamber, with two narrow windows, darkened by the trees not far off, that overshadowed the house.

A crooked little cur dog, with protruding ribs, and an air of starvation, flew furiously at Miss Maybell, as she entered, and was rolled over on his back by a lusty kick from the old woman’s shoe; and a cat sitting before the fire, bounced under the table to -escape the chances of battle.

A little bit of fire smouldered in a comer of the grate. An oak stool, a deal chair, and a battered balloon-backed one, imported from better company, in a crazed and faded fitate, had grown weaker in the joints, and more ragged and dirty in its antique finery in its present fallen fortunes. There was some cracked delf on the dresser, and something was stewing in a tall saucepan, covered with a broken plate, and to this the old woman directed her attention first, stirring its contents, and peering into it for a while; and when she had replaced it carefully, she took the letter from her pocket, and gave it to Miss Maybell, who read it standing near the window.

As she read this letter, which was a short one, the young lady looked angry, with bright eyes and a brilliant flush, then pale, and then the tears started to her eyes, and turning quite away from the old woman, and still holding up the letter as if reading it, she wept in silence.

The old woman, if she saw this, evinced no sympathy, but continued to fidget about, muttering to herself, shoving her miserable furniture this way or that, arranging her crockery on the dresser, visiting the saucepan that sat patiently on the embers, and sometimes kicking the dog, with an unwomanly curse, when he growled. Drying her eyes, the young lady took her departure, and with a heavy heart left this dismal abode; but with the instinct of propitiation, strong in the unhappy, and with the melancholy hope of even buying a momentary sympathy, she placed some money in the dark hard hand of the crone, who made her a courtesy and a thankless “thankee. Miss,” on the step, as her eye counted over the silver with a greedy ogle, that lay on her lean palm.

“Nothing for nothing.” On the whole a somewhat mercenary type of creation is the human. The post-boy reminded the young lady, as she came to the chaise-door, that she might as well gratify him, there and then, with the two pounds which she had promised. And this done, she took her place beside old Dulcibella, who had dropped into a reverie near akin to a doze, and so, without adventure they retraced their way, and once more passing under the shadow of Gryce’s mill, entered on their direct journey to Wyvern.

The sun was near the western horizon, and threw the melancholy tints of sunset over a landscape, undulating and wooded, that spread before them, as they entered the short, broad avenue that leads through two files of noble old trees, to the gray front of many-chimneyed Wyvern.

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