The Wyvern Mystery, by J. Sheridan Le Fanu

Chapter 9.

Harry Fairfield Grows Uneasy.

A FEW days later Harry Fairfield rode from Wyvern into the picturesque little town of Wykeford, and passing the steep, narrow bridge, pulled up near the church, at the door of Dr. Willett. Harry had something to say to the doctor, but, like a good diplomatist, that shrewd dealer in horses preferred letting the doctor talk a bit on his own account first.

He found him in slippers and dressing-gown, clipping the evergreens that grew in front of his house, the hour of his forenoon excursion not having yet arrived.

“Woodman, spare that tree,” said Harry, quoting a popular song, facetiously.

The doctor looked up.

“And how is Doctor Willett this morning?” said Harrj.

“Oh! oh! Is that you?” said the doctor, straightening his back with a little effort, for he had been stooping to his task, and old backs don’t unbend in a moment.

“Quite well, thank you — so are you, I see.

“Can’t complain.”

“And how’s the old Squire?” said the doctor.

“How’s the old house?” answered Harry: “staunch and straight, and like to stand for ever. I see no change in him. And all well over at Carwell?”

“Far from it,” said the doctor.

“And who’s sick r’

“The poor young mother — very ill indeed,” said he — “nervous, low, and feverish, she has been, and yesterday, when I saw her, it was plainly fever — quite declared.”

“What sort of fever?” asked Harry.

“Well, the nerves are very much engaged,” began the doctor —

“Take care it ain’t typhus,” said Harry. “The baby ha’n’t got it, I hope?”

“No, the child’s all safe.”

“There’s typhus down at Gryce’s mill, and a child in scarlatina in the glen, I hear.”

“Is there? ha! It has been going a good deal at that side, I’m told,” said Dr. Willett. “There’s Lady Wyndale at Oulton — very good-natured she seems to be — wouldn’t she take the child and nurse it for a while? It’s a nice place, well enclosed, and lies high — nothing likely to get in there. I attended a patient there in dropsy, once, when it was let, and the Wyndales away in India.”

“Ay, she’s good-natured; she’d have the mother and child together, with a welcome, but she says she won’t take no one’s babby to nurse away from its people, and she’s right, I think, so the young chap must stand his ground, and bide the fortune o’ war, you know. What time shall you be there today?” he inquired.

“Three o’clock.”

“Very well, then, I’ll be passin’ at the mill end o’ the glen about that time, and I’ll ride up, and look in, just to hear what you have to say, and I’ll get home by Cressley Common. It will do me as well as t’other way. I turned aside a bit to reach you, and hear the news, and I must be joggin’ again. Good-bye, doctor. Is your church clock right ?” said Harry, looking up at the old tower and pulling out his watch to compare.

“‘The clock goes as it pleaseth the clerk,’ the old saw tells us, but we all go by the clock here, and it does keep right good time,” said old Dr. Willett, with his hand over his eyes, reading its golden hands and figures, as Harry was.

“Well, then, doctor, good-bye, and God bless ye,” said Harry, and away he rode, without hearing the doctor’s farewell.

At Carwell Grange, at three o’clock, there was the gloom and silence of a sick house.

The tiptoe tread of old Dulcibella, and her whisperings at the door, were scarcely audible, and now and then a weary moan was heard in the darkened room, and the wail and squall of a little child from another room not far off.

Old Mildred Tarnley had undertaken the charge of the child, while Dulcibella, with the aid of a neighbour brought in for the occasion, took charge of the sick lady.

Before three o’clock came, to the surprise of this sad household, Harry Fairfield arrived. He did not come riding; he arrived in a tax-cart. He had got through more real work that day than many men who were earning their bread by their labour.

“Give this one a feed, Tom, and how’s all here?” said he, throwing the apron off and jumping down.

“Bad enough, I’m afraid, sir.”

“JVorsef”

“I don’t know, sir, till the doctor comes; but can’t be no better, for I heard Mrs. Crane say she didn’t close an eye all night.”

“I hope they’re not forgetting the child in the hurry?” said Harry.

“Mrs. Tarnley and Lilly Dogger looks after it, turn about.”

“That wouldn’t do nohow, you know,” said Harry — “and give her a good feed, Tom, good dog, good bone. She came at a good lick, I can tell you, up the glen. The doctor will be here soon.”

“Ay, sir.”

“Well, I’ll stay till I hear what he says; and there’s sickness in Carwell Glen here, I’m told.”

“I dessay, sir, there’s a good deal going, I hear.”

“Ye needn’t take her out of the shafts, Tom. Fix her head in a halter by the gate — in the ring there, if ye have a nose-bag at hand — and come in here. She’s as quiet as a lamb; I want to talk to you a bit. I’m goin’ to buy two or three fillies, and think of any you may have seen down about here. Old Tarnley’s in the kitchen now, is she?”

“I think she is, sir.”

“Well, think of them fillies if you can; there’s business to be done if I can get ’em to suit.”

So in marched Harry, and tapped at the kitchen window, and nodded and smiled to Mrs. Tarnley.

“So you’re all sick down here, I’m told; but sickness is better than sadness. That’s all I can say, lass,” said Harry, pacing, much in his usual way, into the kitchen, and clapping his big hand down on Mildred’s shoulder.

“Sick, sore, and sorry we be, sir. Your brother’s not that long buried that there should be no sadness in the Grange, his own house that was, and his widow’s that is — sickness may well be better than sadness, but ’taint turn about wi’ them here, but one and ’tother, both together. And that slut upstairs. Miss Dogger, if you please, out of the scullery into the bed-chamber, she’s no more use to me than the cock at the top o’ Carwell steeple. I never knew such times in Carwell Grange; I’m wore off my old feet — I can’t Stan’ it long, and I wish twenty times in a day I was quiet at last in my grave.”

“A gruntin’ horse and a grumblin’ wife, they say, lasts long. Never you fear, you won’t die this time, old girl, and I wouldn’t know the Grange if you wasn’t here. ’Twill all be right again soon, I warrant — no wind blows long at the highest, ye know, and we’ll hear what the doctor says just now.”

“Hoot! what can the doctor say but just the old thing. The leech to the physic and God to the cure, and death will do as God allows, and sickness shows us what we are, and all fears the grave as the child does the dark. I don’t know much good he’s doin’, or much he did for Master Charles — not but he’s as good as another, and better than many a one, maybe — but he costs a deal o’ money. and only Lady Wyndale came over here yesterday — poorly though she is, and not able to get out o’ her coach — and saw Mrs. Crane, and lent a fifty-pun note to keep all straight till the young lady, please God, may be able to look about her, and see after ’em herself, we’d a bin at a sore pinch before the week was out. Pity’s good, but help’s better. ’Tis well in this miserly world there’s a kind one left here and there, that wouldn’t let kindred want in the midst of plenty. There’s Squire Harry o’ Wyvern, and his own little grandson lyin’ up in the cradle there, and look at you. Master Harry. I wonder you hadn’t the thought.”

Harry laughed, perhaps, the least degree awkwardly.

“Why, chick-a — biddy — “began Harry.

“I’m none o’ yer chick-a-biddies. I’m old Mildred Tarnley, o’ the Grange o’ Car well, that’s in the service o’ the family — her and hers — many a long year, and I speaks my mind, and I shouldn’t like the family to be talked of as it will for meanness. If there’s a want o’ money here in times of sickness, ’tis a shame!”

“Well, ye know there’s no want, but the Governor’s riled just now, and he’ll come round again; and as for me, I’m as poor a dog as is in the parish. Take me and turn me round and round, and what more am I than just a poor devil that lives by horses, and not always the price of a pot o’ stout in my pocket —

‘ Four farthings and a thimble, Makes the tailor’s pocket jingle.’

Your tongue’s a bit too hard, Mildred; but ye mean well, and there’s kindness at the bottom o’ the mug, though the brew be bitter.”

“I think I hear the doctor,” said Mildred, placing her palm behind her ear and listening.

“Ay,” said Harry; “I hear him talkin’.” And forth he strode to meet him.

Before he went up Harry and the doctor talked together for a little in the panelled sitting-room, with which we are familiar.

“I’m sure to see you here, eh?”

“Before I go? Yes. I shall look in here.”

“All right,” said Harry, and the doctor walked up the stairs on his exploration.

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