The Tenants of Malory, by Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu

Chapter 15.

Within the Sanctuary.

“SO the old man of the mountains is dead at last,” thought Cleve. “Poor old sinner — what a mess he made of it — uncle Arthur! Fine cards, uncle, ill played, sir. I wonder what it all was. To judge by the result he must have been a precious fool. Of what sort was your folly, I wonder — weak brains, or violent will. They say he was clever — a little bit mad, I dare say; an idea ran away with him, whip and spurs, but no bridle — not unlike me, I sometimes think, headstrong — headlong — but I’ll never run in your track, though I may break my neck yet. And so this Viscount Verney, de jure— outlaw and renegade, de facto— has died in one of those squalid lanes of Constantinople, and lies among poor Asiatics, in a Turkish cemetery! This was the meaning of my uncle Kiffyn’s letter — never was mortal in such a fuss and flurry about anything, as he is at this moment; and yet he must practise his affectation of indifference, and his airs of superiority —what a fool my uncle Kiffyn is!”

Cleve walked back to the study. Things looked changed, somehow. He had never perceived before how old and dingy the furniture was, and how shabby the paint and gilding had grown.

“This house must be made habitable, one of the first things,” said he, “and we must take our right place in the county. The Hammerdons have been everything here. It must not be so.”

Cleve went to the window and looked out. The timber of Ware is old and magnificent. The view of Malory and Cardyllian and all that Verney sea-board does make an imposing display across the water. The auctioneering slang of the attorney, had under its glare and vulgarity a pleasant foundation of truth, and as the young man viewed this landscape the sun seemed to brighten over it, and he smiled with a new and solemn joy swelling at his heart.

“I hope that attorney fellow, Larkin, will go on and work this thing properly. It would be too bad that any delay should occur for want of proof — another name for want of energy — after the unfortunate old fellow has actually died.”

Mr. Larkin’s card was upon the table, and with the providence which in all small matters distinguished him, he had written under “The Lodge” his post-town, “Gylingden.” So Cleve Verney wrote forthwith to tell him that although he had no authority to direct inquiries in the matter, and that his uncle would, of course, undertake that, he was yet so strongly of opinion that no time should be wasted, and that Mr. Larkin’s services might be of the greatest possible value, that he could not forbear writing to say so; and also that he would take the first opportunity of pressing that view upon his uncle. So the letter found the good attorney that evening at “The Lodge.” He needed no such spur. He was, in fact, very deep in the business already, and, with his own objects in view, was perhaps quite as much excited as either Cleve Verney or his uncle.

When Cleve had dispatched this note, the restlessness and fever of this new and great suspense were upon him. It was impossible to sit down and read his magazines and newspapers. Had he been a fisherman he might have taken his rod and fly-hook, and becalmed his excited spirit in that mysterious absorption. But he had never possessed patience enough for the gentle craft. It ought to be cultivated early for its metaphysical virtues — neither transient like music nor poisonous like opium. For a harassed or excited mind, priceless is the resource of being able to project itself into the condition of the otter or the crane, and think of nothing but fish.

Two sedatives, however, were at his disposal — cigars and the sea — and to them he betook himself. Away went the Wave over the sparkling sea, with a light breeze, toward the purple dome of Pendillion, streaked with dull yellow rock and towering softly in the distance. Delightful sea-breeze, fragrant cigars, and gently rising, misty woods of Malory with their romantic interest — and all seen under the glory of this great news from the East. The cutter seemed to dance and writhe along the waves in elation and delight, and the spray flew up like showers of brilliants from the hands of friendly Undines sporting round her bows. Trance-like it seemed, all musical and dreamy; and Cleve felt, for the hour, he could have lived and died in that luxurious fascination.

Away for Pendillion ran the cutter. He did not choose idle tongues in Cardyllian to prate of his hovering about Malory. He knew his yacht would be seen from the pier. Active Captain Shrapnell frequented it, and would forthwith report her course in the billiard and reading rooms, with such conjectures as might strike his ingenious mind. So the cutter should run for that remote headland for nearly an hour, and then with a change of tack for Penruthyn Priory, which was hidden from Cardyllian eyes by intervening promontories; and not one of the wiseacres could tell or guess where he had been.

When the sail of the yacht had grown like a gray speck in the distance, she was put about, and at a sharp angle ran to the rude pier of Penruthyn Priory, whence taking his gun as if for a ramble in the warren, he told his men to expect him in about two hours, at the turn of the tide.

Across the Warren there is a wild pathway which leads toward Malory, coming out upon the old road close by Llanderris churchyard, and within a few minutes’ walk of the wooded grounds of the ancient Dower House of the Verneys.

Approached from this point, there is a peculiar melancholy in the old wood. The quiet little church of Llanderris, and the graveyard with its old yew tree, and the curve of the narrow road overhung by ivy-mantled ash trees form the foreground, as you approach the wildest side of the woodlands, which lie at the foot of the gentle descent.

The little by-road making a sweep skirts the rear of the Malory grounds. Here the great hawthorn hedges have, time out of mind, been neglected, and have grown gigantic and utterly irregular, stooping from the grassy bank like isolated trees, and leaving wide gaps through which you may see the darkened sward, the roots and stems of the forest trees within, and the vistas that break dimly into the distance.

Hours had passed since the Wave had left the jetty of Ware, and the autumnal sun was already declining in the early evening. There is no hour and no light, not even night and moonlight — so favourable to a certain pensive and half saddened vein of fancy, as that at which the day gives signs of approaching farewell, and gilds the landscape with a funereal splendour.

When Cleve reached the old road that descends by the churchyard, and through its double hedgerows looked down upon the enchanted grounds of Malory, he slackened his pace, and fell into a sort of reverie and rapture.

There are few of the impostures we commit more amusing, than that which we habitually practise upon ourselves in assigning the highest moral motives for doing what pleases us best.

“If my uncle Arthur had married some one whom he really loved, how differently all might have gone with him! Here am I, with more money ultimately awaiting me than I shall really care to spend. One thousand pounds with me will do more than two thousand with most other men. I don’t play. I’m not on the turf. Why should I sacrifice my chance of happiness for the sake of a little more money, which I really don’t want, or for the sake of party connection? If I can’t make my way without the aid of a wife, I’m not fit for politics, and the sooner I turn to something else the better. Every man ought to consult his affections, and to make his home the centre of them. Where is the good of fortune, and money, and all that, if it does not enable one to do so? How can you love your children if you don’t love their mother — if you hate her, by Jove — as I know fellows that do. Settlements, and political influence — all very fine — and we expect happiness to come of itself, when we have sold our last chance of it.”

In this vein was Cleve Verney’s contemplation — and even more virtuous and unworldly as he proceeded — in the elation of his new sense of omnipotence and glory. Had he been a little franker with himself he might have condensed it thus, “A fancy has taken possession of me, and I don’t choose to deny myself.”

Troubling his visions, however, was the image of his uncle, and the distant sound of his cold uncomfortable voice, and a sense of severity, selfishness, and danger, under his feeble smile. Against this teasing phantom with its solemn prattle, however, he closed his eyes and shook his ears. He had never enjoyed a sail or a walk so in all his life. Was nature ever so glorious before, or romance so noble and tender? What a pensive glow and glory was over everything! He walked down the steep little curve of the old road, and found himself on the path that follows the low bank and thorn trees which fence in the woods of Malory.

Walking slowly, and now and then pausing, he looked among the glittering trunks and down the opening aisles of the wood. But there was no sign of life. The weeds trembled and nodded in the shadow, and now and then a brown leaf fell. It was like the wood of the “Sleeping Beauty.” The dusky sunlight touched it drowsily, and all the air was silent and slumbrous.

The path makes a turn round a thick clump of trees, and as he passed this, on a sudden he saw the beautiful young lady standing near the bank, her hat thrown on the ground, the thick folds of her chestnut hair all golden in the misty sunlight. Never so like the Guido before. The large eyes, the delicate, oval, and pearly tints, and the small vermilion mouth, its full lips parted, he could see the sunlight glitter on the edge of the little teeth within.

A thrill — a kind of shiver — passed through him, as if at sight of a beautiful spectre. She saw him stop, and in the momentary silence, he thought — was it fancy? — he saw a blush just tinge her cheeks. On the bank, glimmering in the sunlight, was the cage with the little squirrels hopping inside.

“What a sweet evening!” said he, “I’ve been down to Penruthyn Priory — I’ve grown so fond of that old place. I used not to care about it; but one changes — and now it seems to me the most interesting place in the world, except, perhaps, one. You tired of it very quickly, Miss Fanshawe. You have not half seen it, you know. Why don’t you come and see it again?”

“I suppose we ought,” said the young lady, “and I dare say we shall.”

“Then do tomorrow, pray,” said he.

She laughed, and said —

“An excursion like that must always depend on the whim of the hour, don’t you think, to be the least pleasant? It loses its charm the moment it loses the air of perfect liberty and caprice; and I don’t know whether we shall ever see the old Priory again.”

“I’m very sorry,” said Cleve. There was honest disappointment in his tone, and his dark soft eyes looked full in hers.

She laughed again a little, and looking at the pretty old Church of Llanderris, that stands among nodding ash trees on the near upland, she said —

“That old church is, I think, quite beautiful. I was exploring these woods with my little squirrels here, when I suddenly came upon this view, and here I stood for nearly ten minutes.”

“I’m very much obliged, I know, to Llanderris Church, and I’m glad you admire it, for I like it very much myself,” said Cleve. “And so you have got two squirrels. I was so sorry to hear last Sunday that you had lost your little pet, Whisk. Wasn’t that his name?”

“Yes. Poor little Whisk!”

“And you’re not going to leave Malory?”

“Not immediately, I believe,” said Miss Fanshawe.

“That makes me very happy for three reasons,” he said, lowering his voice. —“First, it proves that you have some confidence, after all, in me; and next, because it shows that you are not so troubled here as you feared you might be; and the third reason — perhaps you shall never know until, at least, you can guess it.”

“Yes; papa is not talking of leaving immediately, and I’m glad of it, for I know it was important that he should be able for a little time longer to remain in England. And now, I think my little squirrels want their nuts, and I must go.”

“Poor little prisoners! You’re all prisoners here. You shut yourselves up so jealously,” said Cleve. “The monastic spirit still haunts this place, I think. It must be that old convent ground. Almost every day I walk by this old place, and never have seen you once, even through the grille, until today.”

She stooped to pick up the cage.

“I’m sure you’ll shake hands before you go, Miss Fanshawe, won’t you, through the grille — the hedge, I mean?”

“Well, I wish you good-bye,” she said, merrily, but without coming nearer.

“And we are good friends?”

“Oh, yes.”

“And — and I’ll tell you a secret, but you must forgive me.” As he spoke, Cleve Verney, with a step or two, mounted the bank and stood beside the young lady within the precincts of Malory.

“Don’t mind coming in, pray,” said she.

“Only for a moment — only one word,” besought Cleve.

“Well,” laughed Miss Fanshawe, though he thought a little uneasily, for she glanced toward the house, and he fancied was thinking of Sir Booth. “If you will, I can’t help it, only you must remember there are dogs in the yard, and,” she added, more gravely, “papa has so many notices up to keep people away, I think he’d be vexed.”

“Here I’m almost on neutral ground. It is only a step, and I’m gone. I want to tell you — you must forgive me — but it was I who ventured to send that little boy with those squirrels there. I knew how lonely you were, and I was selfish enough to wish to give you even so small an evidence of the sincerity of my professions — my anxiety to be employed.”

“That little boy promised to return, but has never come back,” said Miss Fanshawe, throwing back her head a little, and pushing back her rich tresses. He thought there was a brighter colour in her cheeks, and that she looked a little haughty.

“He could not help it, poor little fellow. He lives at Pendillion, nine miles across the water, and nearly thirty by the road. You must lay the whole blame upon me — you must, indeed. It’s all my fault.”

Miss Fanshawe was looking down upon the unconscious squirrels. There was something of disdain in this glance that fell from under her long silken lashes askance upon them, hopping and frisking within their wires, as if she meditated sending them away in disgrace.

“You must not be vexed with them either, it is all my doing, my fault, let me confess. I ran down in my boat to Pendillion, and looked up that little fellow who always has half-a-dozen squirrels. I had to go twice to find him, and then brought him here, and he met a lady in the wood. There was no mistaking the description, and so these little creatures are your happy captives — and — I hope you are not very angry with me.”

The colour was brilliant in her cheeks, and gave a corresponding brilliancy to her great eyes; how were they so mysterious and yet so frank? She looked on him gravely in silence for a moment, and then down upon the little prisoners in the cage. Was she angry — was she embarrassed — was she secretly pleased? That odd, beautiful girl — he could not quite understand her.

But Mr. Cleve Verney was an impetuous orator; when he took fire upon a theme he ran on daringly —

“And I’ve done more — I’m even more guilty; I’ll hide nothing — I’ve taken a great reward — I’ve got a talisman that I prize above anything — this little coin;” and there was a bright shilling fixed like a “charm” to his watch-guard. “It is mine— you only can guess; no one shall ever know why I wore it next my heart, and you may blame, but you won’t quite condemn me; and won’t you make it up with these poor little squirrels, and tell me it’s all forgiven, and — by Jove, here’s Miss Sheckleton.”

And so she was approaching with her firm light step, and pleasant smile, in the shadow of the great trees, and near enough already to greet Mr. Verney with —

“How d’ye do? What a charming evening?” and having arrived at the hawthorn tree beside which they were standing, she added, in the low tone in which she habitually spoke of the Baronet —“Sir Booth is not very well this evening — he’s in his room, and he’ll stay at home reading the newspapers, at all events for an hour or so.”

There was a want of tact in this little intimation which had an effect quite different from that which the good-natured spinster intended; for Miss Fanshawe said, lifting the little cage, and looking in upon its tiny inhabitants in the sunlight —

“Then I had better run in and see him.” And with a gay slight “Good-bye,” she nodded to Mr. Cleve Verney. The smile was only a momentary light, and the great hazel eyes looked thoughtfully as she turned away; and as she disappeared among the old trees, it seemed to him that a dull shadow suddenly descended upon the trees, and the grass, and the landscape.

“We are always, Mr. Verney, in a fuss here; that is, we never know exactly what a post may bring us any morning or evening, or how suddenly we may have to go. You may guess what it is to me, who have to arrange everything,” said the old lady, lifting her thin fingers and shaking her head. “As for Margaret there, she’s both clever and energetic — but no experience; and therefore, I don’t allow her to take her share. Poor thing, it is a sad thing for her, and this place so very solitary.”

“You must make her come tomorrow,” said Cleve, “and see the Priory; you only half saw it the other day, and I assure you it is really well worth looking at; and it will make an excuse to tempt her outside this gloomy place. I can’t conceive anything worse than being shut up week after week in this solitude and darkness; you really must persuade her; at what hour do you think you will be there?”

“Well now, I really will try,” said good-natured Miss Sheckleton, “positively I will; and I think about three o’clock — I’ll make an effort; and I’ll send for the boat without asking her, and she can hardly refuse me, then. You have not been here very long, Mr. Verney?” she added, with a not unnatural curiosity.

“Only a minute or two before you came,” he answered, a little inaccurately, I think. “Well, then, tomorrow, I hope to tempt her out a little, as you advise; and — and”— she glanced over her shoulder towards the house —“perhaps I had better bid you good-bye for the present, Mr. Verney; good-bye! How beautiful everything looks!”

She gave him her hand very cordially. Was there a sort of freemasonry and a romantic sympathy in that kindly farewell? Cleve felt that she at least half understood him. Even in reserved natures, there is an instinctive yearning for a confidant in such situations, and a friendly recognition, even at a distance, of one that promises to fill that place of sympathy.

So there they parted, with friendly looks, in a friendly spirit. Romantic and simple Miss Sheckleton, he felt that you were a true denizen of those regions in which of late, he had been soaring, unworldly, true. It is well for a time to put off the profound attorney-nature of man — we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out — and to abandon ourselves for a few happy moments, to the poetry and kindness which are eternal.

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