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

Chapter 93

In which Doctor Toole and Dirty Davy Confer in the Blue-Room.

The coach rumbled along toward Dublin at a leisurely jog. Notwithstanding the firm front Mr. Lowe had presented, Dangerfield’s harangue had affected him unpleasantly. Cluffe’s little bit of information respecting the instrument he had seen the prisoner lay up in his drawer on the night of the murder, and which corresponded in description with the wounds traced upon Sturk’s skull, seemed to have failed. The handle of Dangerfield’s harmless horsewhip, his mind misgave him, was all that would come of that piece of evidence; and it was impossible to say there might not be something in all that Dangerfield had uttered. Is it a magnetic force, or a high histrionic vein in some men, that makes them so persuasive and overpowering, and their passion so formidable? But, with Dangerfield’s presence, the effect of his plausibilities and his defiance passed away. The pointed and consistent evidence of Sturk, perfectly clear as he was upon every topic he mentioned, and the corroborative testimony of Irons, equally distinct and damning — the whole case blurred and disjointed, and for a moment grown unpleasantly hazy and uncertain in the presence of that white sorcerer, readjusted itself now that he was gone, and came out in iron and compact relief — impregnable.

‘Run boys, one of you, and open the gate of the Mills,’ said Lowe, whose benevolence, such as it was, expanded in his intense feeling of relief. ‘’Twill be good news for poor Mistress Nutter. She’ll see her husband in the morning.’

So he rode up to the Mills, and knocked his alarm, as we have seen and heard, and there told his tidings to poor Sally Nutter, vastly to the relief of Mistress Matchwell, the Blind Fiddler, and even of the sage, Dirt Davy; for there are persons upon the earth to whom a sudden summons of any sort always sounds like a call to judgment, and who, in any such ambiguous case, fill up the moments of suspense with wild conjecture, and a ghastly summing-up against themselves; can it be this — or that — or the other old, buried, distant villainy, that comes back to take me by the throat?

Having told his good news in a few dry words to Mrs. Sally, Mr. Lowe superadded a caution to the dark lady down stairs, in the face of which she, being quite reassured by this time, grinned and snapped her fingers, and in terms defied, and even cursed the tall magistrate without rising from the chair in which she had re-established herself in the parlour. He mounted his hunter again, and followed the coach at a pace which promised soon to bring him up with that lumbering conveyance; for Mr. Lowe was one of those public officers who love their work, and the tenant of the Brass Castle was no common prisoner, and well worth seeing, though at some inconvenience, safely into his new lodging.

Next morning, you may be sure, the news was all over the town of Chapelizod. All sorts of cross rumours and wild canards, of course, were on the wind, and every new fact or fib borne to the door-step with the fresh eggs, or the morning’s milk and butter, was carried by the eager servant into the parlour, and swallowed down with their toast and tea by the staring company.

Upon one point all were agreed: Mr. Paul Dangerfield lay in the county gaol, on a charge of having assaulted Dr. Sturk with intent to kill him. The women blessed themselves, and turned pale. The men looked queer when they met one another. It was altogether so astounding — Mr. Dangerfield was so rich — so eminent — so moral — so charitable — so above temptation. It had come out that he had committed, some said three, others as many as fifteen secret murders. All the time that the neighbours had looked on his white head in church as the very standard of probity, and all the prudential virtues rewarded, they were admiring and honouring a masked assassin. They had been bringing into their homes and families an undivulged and terrible monster. The wher-wolf had walked the homely streets of their village. The ghoul, unrecognised, had prowled among the graves of their church-yard. One of their fairest princesses, the lady of Belmont, had been on the point of being sacrificed to a vampire. Horror, curiosity, and amazement, were everywhere.

Charles Nutter, it was rumoured, was to be discharged on bail early, and it was mooted in the club that a deputation of the neighbours should ride out to meet him at the boundaries of Chapelizod, welcome him there with an address, and accompany him to the Mills as a guard of honour; but cooler heads remembered the threatening and unsettled state of things at that domicile, and thought that Nutter would, all things considered, like a quiet return best; which view of the affair was, ultimately, acquiesced in.

For Mary Matchwell, at the Mills, the tidings which had thrown the town into commotion had but a solitary and a selfish interest. She was glad that Nutter was exculpated. She had no desire that the king should take his worldly goods to which she intended helping herself: otherwise he might hang or drown for ought she cared. Dirty Davy, too, who had quaked about his costs, was greatly relieved by the turn which things had taken; and the plain truth was that, notwithstanding his escape from the halter, things looked very black and awful for Charles Nutter and his poor little wife, Sally.

Doctor Toole, at half-past nine, was entertaining two or three of the neighbours, chiefly in oracular whispers, by the fire in the great parlour of the Phoenix, when he was interrupted by Larry, the waiter, with —

‘Your horse is at the door, docther’ (Toole was going into town, but was first to keep an appointment at Doctor Sturk’s with Mr. Lowe), ‘and,’ continued Larry, ‘there’s a fat gentleman in the blue room wants to see you, if you plase.’

‘Hey? — ho! let’s see then,’ said little Toole, bustling forth with an important air. ‘The blue room, hey?’

When he opened the door of that small apartment there stood a stout, corpulent, rather seedy and dusty personage, at the window, looking out and whistling with his hat on. He turned lazily about as Toole entered, and displayed the fat and forbidding face of Dirty Davy.

‘Oh! I thought it might be professionally, Sir,’ said Toole, a little grandly; for he had seen the gentleman before, and had, by this time, found out all about him, and perceived he had no chance of a fee.

‘It is professionally, Sir,’ quoth Dirty Davy, ‘if you’ll be so obleeging as to give me five minutes.’

With that amiable egotism which pervades human nature, it will be observed, each gentleman interpreted ‘professionally’ as referring to his own particular calling.

So Toole declared himself ready and prepared to do his office, and Dirty Davy commenced.

‘You know me, I believe, Sir?’

‘Mr. David O’Reegan, as I believe,’ answered Toole.

‘The same, Sir,’ replied Davy. ‘I’m on my way, Sir, to the Mills, where my client, Mrs. Nutter (here Toole uttered a disdainful grunt), resides; and I called at your house, doctor, and they sent me here; and I am desirous to prove to you, Sir, as a friend of Miss Sarah Harty, styling herself Mrs. Nutter, that my client’s rights are clear and irresistible, in order that you may use any interest you may have with that ill-advised faymale — and I’m told she respects your advice and opinion highly — to induce her to submit without further annoyance; and I tell you, in confidence, she has run herself already into a very sarious predicament.’

‘Well, Sir, I’ll be happy to hear you,’ answered Toole.

‘’Tis no more, Sir, than I expected from your well-known candour,’ replied Dirty Davy, with the unctuous politeness with which he treated such gentlemen as he expected to make use of. ‘Now, Sir, I’ll open our case without any reserve or exaggeration to you, Sir, and that, Doctor Toole, is what I wouldn’t do to many beside yourself. The facts is in a nutshell. We claim our conjugal rights. Why, Sir? Because, Sir, we married the oppugnant, Charles Nutter, gentleman, of the Mills, and so forth, on the 7th of April, Anno Domini, 1750, in the Church of St. Clement Danes, in London, of which marriage this, Sir, is a verbatim copy of the certificate. Now, Sir, your client — I mane your friend — Misthress Mary Harty, who at present affects the state and usurps the rights of marriage against my client — the rightful Mrs. Nutter, performed and celebrated a certain pretended marriage with the same Charles Nutter, in Chapelizod Church, on the 4th of June, 1758, seven years and ten months, wanting three days, subsequent to the marriage of my client. Well, Sir, I see exactly, Sir, what you’d ask: “Is the certificate genuine?”’

Toole grunted an assent.

‘Well, Sir, upon that point I have to show you this,’ and he handed him a copy of Mr. Luke Gamble’s notice served only two days before, to the effect that, having satisfied himself by enquiring on the spot of the authenticity of the certificate of the marriage of Charles Nutter of the Mills, and so forth, to Mary Duncan, his client did not mean to dispute it. ‘And, Sir, further, as we were preparing evidence in support of my client’s and her maid’s affidavit, to prove her identity with the Mary Duncan in question, having served your client — I mane, Sir, asking your pardon again — your friend, with a notice that such corroboratory evidence being unnecessary, we would move the court, in case it were pressed for, to give us the costs of procuring it, Mr. Luke Gamble fortwith struck, on behalf of his client, and admitted the sufficiency of the evidence. Now, Sir, I mention these things, not as expecting you to believe them upon my statement, you see, but simply to enquire of Mr. Gamble whether they be true or no; and if true, Sir, upon his admission, then, Sir, I submit we’re entitled to your good offices, and the judicious inthurfarence of the Rev. Mr. Roach, your respectable priest, Sir.’

‘My friend, Sir, not my priest. I’m a Churchman, Sir, as everybody knows.’

‘Of course, Sir — I ask your pardon again, Doctor Toole — Sir, your friend to induce your client —-friend I mane again, Sir — Mistress Sarah Harty, formerly housekeeper of Mr. Charless (so he pronounced it) Nutther, gentleman, of the Mills, and so forth, to surrendher quiet and peaceable possession of the premises and chattels, and withdraw from her tortuous occupation dacently, and without provoking the consequences, which must otherwise follow in the sevarest o’ forms;’ or, as he pronounced it, ‘fawrums.’

‘The sevarest o’ grandmothers. Humbug and flummery! Sir,’ cried Toole, most unexpectedly incensed, and quite scarlet.

‘D’ye mane I’m a liar, Sir? Is that what you mane?’ demanded Dirty Davy, suddenly, like the doctor, getting rid of his ceremonious politeness.

‘I mane what I mane, and that’s what I mane,’ thundered Toole, diplomatically.

‘Then, tell your friend to prepare for consequences,’ retorted Dirty Davy, with a grin.

‘And make my compliments to your client, or conjuror, or wife, or whatever she is, and tell her that whenever she wants her dirty work done, there’s plenty of other Dublin blackguards to be got to do it, without coming to Docther Thomas Toole, or the Rev. Father Roach.’

Which sarcasm he delivered with killing significance, but Dirty Davy had survived worse thrusts than that.

‘She’s a conjuror, is she? I thank you, Sir.’

‘You’re easily obliged, Sir,’ says Toole.

‘We all know what that manes. And these documents sworn to by my client and myself, is a pack o’ lies! Betther and betther! I thank ye again, Sir.’

‘You’re welcome, my honey,’ rejoined Toole, affectionately.

‘An’ you live round the corner. I know your hall-door, Sir — a light brown, wid a brass knocker.’

‘Which is a fine likeness iv your own handsome face, Sir,’ retorted Toole.

‘An’ them two documents, Sir, is a fabrication and a forgery, backed up wid false affidavits?’ continued Mr. O’Reegan.

‘Mind that, Larry,’ says the doctor, with a sudden inspiration addressing the waiter, who had peeped in; ‘he admits that them two documents you see there, is forgeries, backed up with false affidavits; you heard him say so, and I’ll call you to prove it.’

You lie!’ said Dirty Davy, precipitately, for he was quite disconcerted at finding his own sophistical weapons so unexpectedly turned against him.

‘You scum o’ the airth!’ cried Toole, hitting him, with his clenched fist, right upon the nose, so vigorous a thump, that his erudite head with a sonorous crash hopped off the wainscot behind it; ‘you lying scullion!’ roared the doctor, instantaneously repeating the blow, and down went Davy, and down went the table with dreadful din, and the incensed doctor bestrode his prostrate foe with clenched fists and flaming face, and his grand wig all awry, and he panting and scowling.

‘Murdher, murdher, murdher!’ screamed Dirty Davy, who was not much of a Spartan, and relished nothing of an assault and battery but the costs and damages.

‘You — you — you’

‘Murdher — help — help — murdher — murdher!’

‘Say it again, you cowardly, sneaking, spying viper; say it again, can’t you?’

It was a fine tableau, and a noble study of countenance and attitude.

‘Sich a bloody nose I never seen before,’ grinned Larry rubbing his hands over the exquisite remembrance. ‘If you only seed him, flat on his back, the great ould shnake, wid his knees and his hands up bawling murdher; an’ his big white face and his bloody nose in the middle, like nothin’ in nature, bedad, but the ace iv hearts in a dirty pack.’

How they were separated, and who the particular persons that interposed, what restoratives were resorted to, how the feature looked half an hour afterwards, and what was the subsequent demeanour of Doctor Toole, upon the field of battle, I am not instructed; my letters stop short at the catastrophe, and run off to other matters.

Doctor Toole’s agitations upon such encounters did not last long. They blew off in a few thundering claps of bravado and defiance in the second parlour of the Phoenix, where he washed his hands and readjusted his wig and ruffles, and strutted forth, squaring his elbows, and nodding and winking at the sympathising waiters in the inn hall; and with a half grin at Larry —

‘Well, Larry, I think I showed him Chapelizod, hey?’ said the doctor, buoyantly, to that functionary, and marched diagonally across the broad street toward Sturk’s house, with a gait and a countenance that might have overawed an army.

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