The Wyvern Mystery, by J. Sheridan Le Fanu

Chapter 8.

A Talk with the Squire.

Harry proved how hungry he was by eating a huge dinner. He had the old dining-room to himself, and sipped his brandy and water there by a pleasant fire of coal and spluttering wood. With a button or two undone, he gazed drowsily into the fire, with his head thrown back and his eyes nearly closed; and the warmth of the fire and the glow of the alcohol flushed his cheeks and his nose and his forehead to a brilliant crimson.

Harry had had a hard day’s riding. Some agitations, great variety of air, and now, as we have seen, a hearty dinner and many glasses of brandy and water, and a hot fire before him. Naturally he fell asleep.

He dreamed that the old Squire was dead and buried. He forgot all about the little bo J at Carwell, and fancied that he, Harrj Fairfield, draped in the black mantle with which the demure undertaker hangs the mourners in chief, had returned from the funeral, and was seated in the old “oak parlour,” just in all other respects as he actually was. As he sat there. Master of Wyvern at last, and listening, he thought, to the rough tick of the old clock in the hall, old Tom “Ward seemed to him to bounce in, his mulberry-coloured face turned the colour of custard, his mouth agape, and his eyes starting out of their sockets. “Get up, Master Harry,” the old servant seemed to say, in a woundy tremor, “for may the devil fetch me if here baint the old master back again, and he’s in the blue room callin’ for ye.”

“Ye lie! “gasped Harry, waking up in a horror.

“Come, ye, quick, Master Harry, for when the Squire calls it’s ill tarrying,” said now the real voice of Tom Ward.

“Where?”

“In the blue chamber.”

“Where — where am I?” said Harry, now on his feet and looking at Tom Ward. “By jingo, Tom, I beheve I was dreaming. You gave me a hell of a fright, and is he there really? Very well.”

And Harry walked in and found the old Squire of Wyvern standing with his back to the fire, tall, gaunt, and flushed, and his eyes looking large with the glassy sheen of age.

“Well, why didn’t ye tell me the news, ye fool?” said the Squire, as he entered. “damn ye, if it hadn’t a bin for Tom Ward I shouldn’t a heerd nout o’ the matter. So there’s a brat down in Carwell Grange — ha, ha, — marriage is honourable, I’ve heerd tell, but housekeepin’s costly. ’Tis the old tune on the bagpipe. That’s the way to beggar’s bush. When marriage gets into the saddle repentance gets up at the crupper. Why the devil didn’t ye tell me the news? Why didn’t ye tell me, ye damned wether-head?”

“So I would ’a told ye tonight, but I fell asleep after dinner. It’s true enough, though, and there’s doctors, and nurses, and caudles, and all sorts.”

“Well for Charlie he’s out of the way — dead mice feels no cold, you know, and she’s a bad un — Alice Maybell’s a bad un. The vicar was a thankless loon, and she’s took after him. She went her own gait, and much good it did her. Sweetheart and honey bird keeps no house, and the devil’s bread is half bran. She’ll learn a lesson now. I was too good to that huzzy. Put another man’s child in your bosom, they say, and he’ll creep out at your sleeves. She’s never a friend now. She’s lost Charlie and she’s lost me. Well might the cat wink when both her eyes were out. She’d like well enough to be back here again in Wyvern — damn her. She knows who was her best friend by this time. Right well pleased wi’ herself, I’ll be bound, the day she gi’ed us the slip and ran off with the fool Charlie — down in the mouth, I warrant her now, the jade. I dare say the parson’s down at the Grange every day to pray wi’ my lady and talk o’ resignation. When all their rogueries breaks down they take to cantin’ and psalm singin’, and turns up their eyes, the limmers, and cries the Lord’s will be done. Welcome death, quoth the rat, when the trap fell. Much thanks to ’em for takin’ what they can’t help. Well, she’s a bad un — a black-hearted, treacherous lass she proved, and Charlie was a soft fellow and a mad fellow, and so his day’s over, and I was just a daft old fool, and treated accordin’. But time and thought tames all, and we shall all lie alike in our graves.”

“And what’s the boy like?” the old man resumed. “Is he like Charlie?”

“He was asleep, and the room dark, so there was no good trying to see him,” said Harry, inventing an excuse.

“Not a bit, dark or light, not a bit; he’s Ally’s son, and good won’t grow from that stock — never. As the old bird crows, so crows the young, and that foreign madam, I hear, swears she was married first to poor Charlie, and what’s that to me? — not that spoonful of punch. She’s up in limbo, and if her story be true, why then that boy of Ally’s ain’t in the runnin’, and his mother, bless her heart, needn’t trouble her head about Wyvern, nor be wishin’ the old Squire, that was good to her, under the sod, to make way for her son, and then there’s you to step in and claim my shoes, and my chair, and cellar key, and then Madam — what’s her name — Van Trump, or something, will out wi’ a bantling, I take it, and you’ll all fight it out, up and down — kick, throttle and bite — in the Court of Chancery, or where ye can, and what is’t to me who wins or who loses? Not that bit o’ lemon-peel, and if you think I’m a going to spend a handful o’ money in law to clear up a matter that don’t concern me, no more than the cat’s whisker, you’re a long way out in your reckonin’ — be me soul ye are, for I’ll not back none o’ ye, and I won’t sport a shillin’ — and I don’t care a d — n. Ye’ll fight the battle o’er my grave, and ye’ll take Wyvern who can, and ’twill cost ye all round a pretty penny. Ye’ll be sellin’ your shirts and your smocks, and ye’re pretty well in for it, and ye can’t draw back. Well lathered is half shaved, and it won’t break my heart, I promise you.”

And the old man chuckled and hooted, and wagged his head fiercely as he declaimed, in his own way, upon the row that was coming.

“Don’t ye spare one another for my sake. Take Wyvern who can. I’ll keep my hands in my pockets, I promise ye. What have I to do wi’ other folk’s windmills?”

So the old Squire stormed on more serenely than he had done for a long time.

“Make another tankard o’ that thing, Tom; make a big one and brew it well, and fetch a rummer for yourself, lad.”

“Beggar’s breed for rich men to feed,” resumed the Squire. “A son at the Grange o’ Carwell, no less! Well, I ’a taken enough, and too much, on my shoulders in my day, and ’tis often the least boy carries the biggest fiddle. She’s a sly lass — Alice. She’ll find fools enough to help her. I ’a done wi’ her — she’s a bad un. Look at that harpsichord thing there she used to play on,” he pointed to the piano. “I got that down from Lunnon for her to jingle tunes at as long as she liked, and I’d a had it smashed up and pitched in the river, only ’twould a made her think I cared enough about her to take that trouble about her lumber. She turned her back on me when she liked, and I’ll not turn my face on her when she lists. A graceless huzzy she was and is, and grace lasts but beauty blasts, and so let it be for me. That’s enough. I take it there’s no more to tell. So take ye a candle if ye’re sleepy, man, no use dawdlin’ sluggard’s guise, loath to bed, and loath to rise,” and so, with a gruff nod he dismissed him, and in came Tom Ward with the punch before very long.

“That’s good, Tom; that’ll warm yer ribs . How long a’ you been here? Wyvern always, but a long time in the house, Tom, a long time wi’ the family ’Tis sixty years ago, Tom. I remember you in our livery, Isabel and Blue — them’s the old colours. They don’t know the name now — salmon, they calls it. We ’a seen Christmas pretty often in the old house. We’ll not see many more, I’m thinking. The tale’s nigh done. ’Twasn’t bad times wi’ ye here, Tom; we can’t complain; we ’a had our share, and after cheese comes nothing, as the old folks used to say. Take the rummer and sit ye down by the door, Tom. There’s blaster Harry. I’d rather ha’ a glass wi’ you, Tom, than a dozen wi’ him, a damned pippin’- squeezing rascal. Tom, ain’t he a sneak, and no Fairfield, Tom, ain’t he, ain’t he, d — vel”

“I won’t say that all out, sir. He’s a tall. handsome lad, and Master Harry can sit down and drink his share like a man.”

“Like a beast, ye mean. He never tells ye a pleasant story, nor laughs like a man, and what liquor he swallows, it goes into a bad skin, Tom. He’s not hot and hearty in his cups, like a Fairfield; he has no good nature, Tom; he’s so close-fisted and cunnin’. I hate them fellows that can’t buy at the market and sell at the fair, and drink when he’s drinkin’; damn him, he’s always a watching to do ye, just like his mother; a screw she was, and her son’s like her, crooked to sell, and crooked to buy. I hate him sober, Tom, and I hate him drunk. Bring your glass here, old lad; a choice mug-full ye’ve brewed tonight. Hold it straight, you fool!

“What was I sayin’? The old things is out o’ date, Tom; the world’s changin’, and ’tain’t in nature, Tom, to teach old dogs tricks. I do suppose there’s fun goin’, though I don’t see it, and the old folks beginning to be in the way, as they were always, and things won’t change for us. We were brave lads, we Fairfields, hut there’s no one to come now. There won’t be no one after me in “Wyvern house. To the wrestlin’ on Wyvern Fair Green, when I was a boy, I mind the time when lords and ladies id come ridin’ down for twenty miles round, and all the old stock o’ the country, some on horse-back, and some in coaches, and silks and satins, to see the belt played for and single-stick and quarter-staves. They were manly times, Tom, and a Fairfield ever first in the field, and — what year is this? ay, I was twenty the week before that day — ’tis sixty-four years ago — when I threw Dick Dutton over my shoulder and broke his collar-bone, and Dutton was counted the best man they ever brought down here, and Meg Weeks — ye’ll mind Meg Weeks wi’ the hazel eyes — was lookin’ on; and the wrestlin’s gone, and not a man left in the country round that could tell a quarter-staff from a flail; and when I’m gone to my place in the church-yard, there’s not a Fairfield in Wyvern no longer, for I don’t count Harry one, he’s not a Fairfield, by no chance, and never was. Charlie had it in him, handsome Charlie. I seen many a turn in him like me, I did; and that Captain Jolliffe’s died only t’other day that he shot in the arm at Tewkesbury only twenty years ago, for sayin’ a wry word o’ me; old Morton read it yesterday, he says, in the Lun’on paper. But it’s all over wi’ Charlie, and — stand up, Tom, and fill yer glass, and we’ll drink to him.”

Old Tom Ward was the first to speak aftef.

“Hot blood and proud, sir, and a bit wild, when he was young; more than that, there’s nout to be said by any. A brave lad, sir, and the good naturedest I ever see. He shouldn’t be buried where he is, alone. I don’t like that nohow. He wouldn’t a done so by you. Squire; he liked ye well; he liked everyone that was ever kind to him. I mind how he cried after poor Master Willie. They two was very like and loving. Master Willie was tall, like him, and handsome.”

“Don’t ye be talkin’ o’ them at all, ye fool,” broke in the Squire, violently, “stop that and hold your tongue, Tom. D— you, do you think I’m foolish? Light my candle, and get ye to bed, the tankard’s out; get ye to bed, ye damned old fool,” and he shook the old servant hard by the hand as he spoke.

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