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

Chapter 8

Relating How Doctor Toole and Captain Devereux Went on a Moonlight Errand.

Nearly a dozen gentlemen broke out at once into voluble speech. Nutter was in a confounded passion; but being a man of few words, showed his wrath chiefly in his countenance, and stood with his legs apart and his arms stuffed straight into his coat pockets, his back to the fire-place, with his chest thrown daringly out, sniffing the air in a state of high tension, and as like as a respectable little fellow of five feet six could be to that giant who smelt the blood of the Irishman, and swore, with a ‘Fee! Faw!! Fum!!!’ he’d ‘eat him for his supper that night.’

‘None of the corps can represent you, Nutter, you know,’ said Captain Cluffe. ‘It may go hard enough with Puddock and O’Flaherty, as the matter stands; but, by Jove! if any of us appear on the other side, the general would make it a very serious affair, indeed.’

‘Toole, can’t you?’ asked Devereux.

‘Out of the question,’ answered he, shutting his eyes, with a frown, and shaking his head. ‘There’s no man I’d do it sooner for, Nutter knows; but I can’t — I’ve refused too often; besides, you’ll want me professionally, you know; for Sturk must attend that Royal Hospital enquiry tomorrow all day — but hang it, where’s the difficulty? Isn’t there? — pooh! — why there must be lots of fellows at hand. Just — a — just think for a minute.’

‘I don’t care who,’ said Nutter, with dry ferocity, ‘so he can load a pistol.’

‘Tom Forsythe would have done capitally, if he was at home,’ said one.

‘But he’s not,’ remarked Cluffe.

‘Well,’ said Toole, getting close up to Devereux, in a coaxing undertone, ‘suppose we try Loftus.’

‘Dan Loftus!’ ejaculated Devereux.

‘Dan Loftus,’ repeated the little doctor, testily; ‘remember, it’s just eleven o’clock. He’s no great things, to be sure; but what better can we get.’

‘Allons, donc!’ said Devereux, donning his cocked-hat, with a shrug, and the least little bit of a satirical smile, and out bustled the doctor beside him.

‘Where the deuce did that broganeer, O’Flaherty, come from?’ said Cluffe, confidentially, to old Major O’Neill.

‘A Connaughtman,’ answered the major, with a grim smile, for he was himself of that province and was, perhaps, a little bit proud of his countryman.

‘Toole says he’s well connected,’ pursued Cluffe; ‘but, by Jupiter! I never saw so-mere a Teague; and the most cross-grained devil of a cat-a-mountain.’

‘I could not quite understand why he fastened on Mr. Nutter,’ observed the major, with a mild smile.

‘I’ll rid the town of him,’ rapped out Nutter, with an oath, leering at his own shoebuckle, and tapping the sole with asperity on the floor.

‘If you are thinking of any unpleasant measures, gentlemen, I’d rather, if you please, know nothing of them,’ said the sly, quiet major; ‘for the general, you are aware, has expressed a strong opinion about such affairs; and as ’tis past my bed-hour, I’ll wish you, gentlemen, a good-night,’ and off went the major.

‘Upon my life, if this Connaught rapparee is permitted to carry on his business of indiscriminate cut-throat here, he’ll make the service very pleasant,’ resumed Cluffe, who, though a brisk young fellow of eight-and-forty, had no special fancy for being shot. ‘I say the general ought to take the matter into his own hands.’

‘Not till I’m done with it,’ growled Nutter.

‘And send the young gentleman home to Connaught,’ pursued Cluffe.

‘I’ll send him first to the other place,’ said Nutter, in allusion to the Lord Protector’s well-known alternative.

In the open street, under the sly old moon, red little Dr. Toole, in his great wig, and Gipsy Devereux, in quest of a squire for the good knight who stood panting for battle in the front parlour of the ‘Phoenix,’ saw a red glimmer in Loftus’s dormant window.

‘He’s alive and stirring still,’ said Devereux, approaching the hall door with a military nonchalance.

‘Whisht!’ said Toole, plucking him back by the sash: ‘we must not make a noise — the house is asleep. I’ll manage it — leave it to me.’

And he took up a handful of gravel, but not having got the range, he shied it all against old Tom Drought’s bed-room window.

‘Deuce take that old sneak,’ whispered Toole vehemently, ‘he’s always in the way; the last man in the town I’d have — but no matter:’ and up went a pebble, better directed, for this time it went right through Loftus’s window, and a pleasant little shower of broken glass jingled down into the street.

‘Confound you, Toole,’ said Devereux, ‘you’ll rouse the town.

‘Plague take the fellow’s glass — it’s as thin as paper,’ sputtered Toole.

‘Loftus, we want you,’ said Toole, in a hard whispered shout, and making a speaking trumpet of his hands, as the wild head of the student, like nothing in life but a hen’s nest, appeared above.

‘Cock–Loftus, come down, d’ye hear?’ urged Devereux.

‘Dr. Toole and Lieutenant Devereux — I— I— dear me! yes. Gentlemen, your most obedient,’ murmured Loftus vacantly, and knocking his head smartly on the top of the window frame, in recovering from a little bow. ‘I’ll be wi’ ye, gentlemen, in a moment.’ And the hen’s nest vanished.

Toole and Devereux drew back a little into the shadow of the opposite buildings, for while they were waiting, a dusky apparition, supposed to be old Drought in his night-shirt, appeared at that gentleman’s windows, saluting the ambassadors with mop and moe, in a very threatening and energetic way. Just as this demonstration subsided, the hall door opened wide — and indeed was left so — while our friend Loftus, in a wonderful tattered old silk coat, that looked quite indescribable by moonlight, the torn linings hanging down in loops inside the skirts, pale and discoloured, like the shreds of banners in a cathedral; his shirt loose at the neck, his breeches unbuttoned at the knees, and a gigantic, misshapen, and mouldy pair of slippers clinging and clattering about his feet, came down the steps, his light, round little eyes and queer, quiet face peering at them into the shade, and a smokified volume of divinity tucked under his arm, with his finger between the leaves to keep the place.

When Devereux saw him approaching, the whole thing — mission, service, man, and all — struck him in so absurd a point of view, that he burst out into an explosion of laughter, which only grew more vehement and uproarious the more earnestly and imploringly Toole tried to quiet him, pointing up with both hands, and all his fingers extended, to the windows of the sleeping townsfolk, and making horrible grimaces, shrugs, and ogles. But the young gentleman was not in the habit of denying himself innocent indulgences, and shaking himself loose of Toole, he walked down the dark side of the street in peals of laughter, making, ever and anon, little breathless remarks to himself, which his colleague could not hear, but which seemed to have the effect of setting him off again into new hemi-demi-semiquavers and roars of laughter, and left the doctor to himself, to conduct the negociation with Loftus.

‘Well?’ said Devereux, by this time recovering breath, as the little doctor, looking very red and glum, strutted up to him along the shady pavement.

‘Well? well? — oh, ay, very well, to be sure. I’d like to know what the plague we’re to do now,’ grumbled Toole.

‘Your precious armour-bearer refuses to act then?’ asked Devereux.

‘To be sure he does. He sees you walking down the street, ready to die o’ laughing — at nothing, by Jove!’ swore Toole, in deep disgust; ‘and — and — och! hang it! it’s all a confounded pack o’ nonsense. Sir, if you could not keep grave for five minutes, you ought not to have come at all. But what need I care? It’s Nutter’s affair, not mine.’

‘And well for him we failed. Did you ever see such a fish? He’d have shot himself or Nutter, to a certainty. But there’s a chance yet: we forgot the Nightingale Club; they’re still in the Phoenix.’

‘Pooh, Sir! they’re all tailors and green-grocers,’ said Toole, in high dudgeon.

‘There are two or three good names among them, however,’ answered Devereux; and by this time they were on the threshold of the Phoenix.

‘Larry,’ he cried to the waiter, ‘the Nightingale Club is there, is it not?’ glancing at the great back parlour door.

‘Be the powers! Captain, you may say that,’ said Larry, with a wink, and a grin of exquisite glee.

‘See, Larry,’ said Toole, with importance, ‘we’re a little serious now; so just say if there’s any of the gentlemen there; you — you understand, now; quite steady? D’ye see me?’

Larry winked — this time a grave wink — looked down at the floor, and up to the cornice, and —

‘Well,’ said he, ‘to be candid with you, jest at this minute — half-an-hour ago, you see, it was different — the only gentleman I’d take on myself to recommend to you as perfectly sober is Mr. Macan, of Petticoat-lane.’

‘Is he in business?’ asked Toole.

‘Does he keep a shop?’ said Devereux.

‘A shop! two shops; — a great man in the chandlery line,’ responded Larry.

‘H’m! not precisely the thing we want, though,’ says Toole.

‘There are some of them, surely, that don’t keep shops,’ said Devereux, a little impatiently.

‘Millions!’ said Larry.

‘Come, say their names.’

‘Only one of them came this evening, Mr. Doolan, of Stonnybatther — he’s a retired merchant.’

‘That will do,’ said Toole, under his breath, to Devereux. Devereux nodded.

‘Just, I say, tap him on the shoulder, and tell him that Dr. Toole, you know, of this town, with many compliments and excuses, begs one word with him,’ said the doctor.

‘Hoo! Docthur dear, he was the first of them down, and was carried out to his coach insensible jist when Mr. Crozier of Christ Church began, “Come Roger and listen;” he’s in his bed in Stonnybatther a good hour and a half ago.’

‘A retired merchant,’ says Devereux; ‘well, Toole, what do you advise now?’

‘By Jove, I think one of us must go into town. ’Twill never do to leave poor Nutter in the lurch; and between ourselves, that O’Flaherty’s a — a blood-thirsty idiot, by Jove — and ought to be put down.’

‘Let’s see Nutter — you or I must go — we’ll take one of these songster’s “noddies.”’

A ‘noddy’ give me leave to remark, was the one-horse hack vehicle of Dublin and the country round, which has since given place to the jaunting car, which is, in its turn, half superseded by the cab.

And Devereux, followed by Toole, entered the front parlour again. But without their help, the matter was arranging itself, and a second, of whom they knew nothing, was about to emerge.

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