The House by the Church-Yard, by J. Sheridan Le Fanu

Chapter 30

Concerning a Certain Woman in Black.

And Toole, holding her stout wrist, felt her pulse and said —‘Hem — I see — and —’

And so he ran on with half-a-dozen questions, and at the end of his catechism said, bluntly enough —

‘I tell you what it is, Mrs. Mack, you have something on your mind, my dear Madam, and till it’s off, you’ll never be better.’

Poor Mrs. Mack opened her eyes, and made a gesture of amazed disclaimer, with her hands palm upwards. It was all affectation.

‘Pish!’ said Toole, who saw the secret almost in his grasp; ‘don’t tell me, my dear Madam — don’t you think I know my business by this time o’ day? I tell you again you’d better ease your mind — or take my word for it you’ll be sorry too late. How would you like to go off like poor old Peggy Slowe — eh? There’s more paralysis, apoplexy, heart-diseases, and lunacy, caused in one year by that sort of silly secrecy and moping, than by — hang it! My dear Madam,’ urged Toole, breaking into a bold exhortation on seeing signs of confusion and yielding in his fat patient —‘you’d tell me all that concerns your health, and know that Tom Toole would put his hand in the fire before he’d let a living soul hear a symptom of your case; and here’s some paltry little folly or trouble that I would not — as I’m a gentleman — give a half-penny to hear, and you’re afraid to tell me — though until you do, neither I, nor all the doctors in Europe, can do you a ha’porth o’ good.’

‘Sure I’ve nothing to tell, doctor dear,’ whimpered poor Mrs. Mack, dissolving into her handkerchief.

‘Look ye — there’s no use in trying to deceive a doctor that knows what he’s about.’ Toole was by this time half mad with curiosity. ‘Don’t tell me what’s on your mind, though I’d be sorry you thought I wasn’t ready and anxious, to help you with my best and most secret services; but I confess, my dear Ma’am, I’d rather not hear — reserve it for some friend who has your confidence — but ’tis plain from the condition you’re in’— and Toole closed his lips hard, and nodded twice or thrice —‘you have not told either the major or your daughter; and tell it you must to some one, or take the consequences.’

‘Oh! Dr. Toole, I am in trouble — and I’d like to tell you; but won’t you — won’t you promise me now, on your solemn honour, if I do, you won’t tell a human being?’ blubbered the poor matron.

‘Conscience, honour, veracity, Ma’am — but why should I say any more — don’t you know me, my dear Mrs. Mack?’ said Toole in a hot fidget, and with all the persuasion of which he was master.

‘Indeed, I do — and I’m in great trouble — and sometimes think no one can take me out of it,’ pursued she.

‘Come, come, my dear Madam, is it money?’ demanded Toole.

‘Oh! no — it’s —’tis a dreadful — that is, there is money in it — but oh! dear Doctor Toole, there’s a frightful woman, and I don’t know what to do: and I sometimes thought you might be able to help me — you’re so clever — and I was going to tell you, but I was ashamed — there now, it’s out,’ and she blubbered aloud.

What’s out?’ said Toole, irritated. ‘I can’t stop here all day, you know; and if you’d rather I’d go, say so.’

‘Oh no, but the major, nor Maggy does not know a word about it; and so, for your life, don’t tell them; and — and — here it is.’

And from her pocket she produced a number of the Freeman’s Journal, five or six weeks old and a great deal soiled.

‘Read it, read it, doctor dear, and you’ll see.’

‘Read all this! thank you, Ma’am; I read it a month ago,’ said the doctor gruffly.

‘Oh! no — this — only there — you see — here,’ and she indicated a particular advertisement, which we here reprint for the reader’s instruction; and thus it ran —

“MARY MATCHWELL’S most humble Respects attend the Nobility and Gentry. She has the Honour to acquaint them that she transacts all Business relative to Courtship and Marriage, with the utmost Dispatch and Punctuality. She has, at a considerable Expense, procured a complete List of all the unmarried Persons of both Sexes in this Kingdom, with an exact Account of their Characters, Fortunes, Ages, and Persons. Any Lady or Gentleman, by sending a Description of the Husband or Wife they would chuse, shall be informed where such a One is to be had, and put in a Method for obtaining him, or her, in the speediest Manner, and at the smallest Expense. Mrs. Matchwell’s Charges being always proportioned to the Fortunes of the Parties, and not to be paid till the Marriage takes place. She hopes the Honour and Secrecy she will observe in her Dealings, will encourage an unfortunate Woman, who hath experienced the greatest Vicissitudes of Life, as will be seen in her Memoirs, which are shortly to be published under the Title of ‘Fortune’s Football.’ All Letters directed to M. M., and sent Post paid to the Office where this Paper is published, shall be answered with Care.”’

‘Yes, yes, I remember that — a cheating gipsy — why, it’s going on still — I saw it again yesterday, I think — a lying jade! — and this is the rogue that troubles you?’ said Toole with his finger on the paragraph, as the paper lay on the table.

‘Give it to me, doctor, dear. I would not have them see it for the world — and — and — oh! doctor — sure you wouldn’t tell.’

‘Augh, bother! — didn’t I swear my soul, Ma’am; and do you think I’m going to commit a perjury about “Mary Matchwell”— phiat!’

Well, with much ado, and a great circumbendibus, and floods of tears, and all sorts of deprecations and confusions, out came the murder at last.

Poor Mrs. Mack had a duty to perform by her daughter. Her brother was the best man in the world; but what with ‘them shockin’ forfitures’ in her father’s time (a Jacobite granduncle had forfeited a couple of town-lands, value £37 per annum, in King William’s time, and to that event, in general terms, she loved to refer the ruin of her family), and some youthful extravagances, his income, joined to hers, could not keep the dear child in that fashion and appearance her mother had enjoyed before her, and people without pedigree or solid pretension of any sort, looked down upon her, just because they had money (she meant the Chattesworths), and denied her the position which was hers of right, and so seeing no other way of doing the poor child justice, she applied to ‘M. M.’

‘To find a husband for Mag, eh?’ said Toole.

‘No, no. Oh, Dr. Toole, ’twas —’twas for me,’ sobbed poor Mrs. Mack. Toole stared for a moment, and had to turn quickly about, and admire some shell-work in a glass box over the chimneypiece very closely, and I think his stout short back was shaking tremulously as he did so; and, when he turned round again, though his face was extraordinarily grave, it was a good deal redder than usual.

‘Well, my dear Madam, and where’s the great harm in that, when all’s done?’ said Toole.

‘Oh, doctor, I had the unpardonable wakeness, whatever come over me, to write her two letters on the subject, and she’ll print them, and expose me, unless,’— here she rolled herself about in an agony of tears, and buried her fat face in the back of the chair.

‘Unless you give her money, I suppose,’ said Toole. ‘There’s what invariably comes of confidential communications with female enchanters and gipsies! And what do you propose to do?’

‘I don’t know — what can I do? She got the £5 I borrowed from my brother, and he can’t lend me more; and I can’t tell him what I done with that; and she has £3 10s. I— I raised on my best fan, and the elegant soiclainet, you know — I bought it of Knox & Acheson, at the Indian Queen, in Dame-street;’ and his poor patient turned up her small tearful blue eyes imploringly to his face, and her good-natured old features were quivering all over with tribulation.

‘And Mag knows nothing of all this?’ said Toole.

‘Oh, not for the wide world,’ whispered the matron, in great alarm. ‘Whisht! is that her coming?’

‘No; there she is across the street talking to Mrs. Nutter. Listen to me: I’ll manage that lady, Mrs. Mary — what’s her name? — Matchwell. I’ll take her in hands, and — whisper now.’

So Toole entered into details, and completed an officious little conspiracy; and the upshot of it was that Mrs. Mack, whenever M. M. fixed a day for her next extortionate visit, was to apprise the doctor, who was to keep in the way; and, when she arrived, the good lady was just to send across to him for some ‘peppermint drops,’ upon which hint Toole himself would come slily over, and place himself behind the arras in the bed-room, whither, for greater seclusion and secrecy, she was to conduct the redoubted Mary Matchwell, who was thus to be overheard, and taken by the clever doctor in the act; and then and there frightened not only into a surrender of the documents, but of the money she had already extracted, and compelled to sign such a confession of her guilt as would effectually turn the tables, and place her at the mercy of the once more happy Macnamara.

The doctor was so confident, and the scheme, to the sanguine Celtic imagination of the worthy matron, appeared so facile of execution and infallible of success, that I believe she would at that moment have embraced, and even kissed, little Toole, in the exuberance of her gratitude, had that learned physician cared for such fooleries.

The fact is, however, that neither the doctor nor his patient quite understood Mrs. Matchwell or her powers, nor had the least inkling of the marvellous designs that were ripening in her brain, and involving the fate of more than one of the good easy people of Chapelizod, against whom nobody dreamed a thunderbolt was forging.

So the doctor, being a discreet man, only shook her cordially by the hand, at his departure, patting her encouragingly at the same time, on her fat shoulder, and with a sly grin and a wink, and a wag of his head — offering to ‘lay fifty,’ that between them ‘they’d be too hard for the witch.’

Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:57