The Tenants of Malory, by Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu

Chapter 21.

Captain Shrapnell.

THE next afternoon Miss Charity Etherage and her sister Agnes, were joined in their accustomed walk upon the green of Cardyllian by Captain Shrapnell, a jaunty half-pay officer of five-and-fifty, who represented to his own satisfaction, the resident youth and fashion of that quiet watering-place.

“I give you my honour, Miss Etherage,” said he, placing himself beside Miss Agnes, “I mistook you yesterday, for Lady Fanny Mersey. Charming person she is, and I need not say, perfectly lovely.” A little arch bow gave its proper point to the compliment. “She has gone, however, I understand; left Llwynan yesterday. Is that young Verney’s boat? No, oh no — nothing like so sharp. He’s a very nice fellow, young Verney.”

This was put rather interrogatively, and Miss Agnes, thinking that she had blushed a little, blushed more, to her inexpressible chagrin, for she knew that Captain Shrapnell was watching her with the interest of a gossip.

“Nice? I dare say. But I really know him so very slightly,” said Miss Agnes.

“Come, come; that won’t do,” said the Captain, very archly. “You forget that I was sitting in our club window, yesterday evening, when a certain party were walking up and down. Ha, ha, you do. We’re tolerably clear-sighted up there, and old Rogers keeps our windows rubbed; and the glass is quite brilliantly transparent, ha, ha, ha! hey?”

“I think your windows are made of multiplying glasses, and magnifying glasses, and every kind of glass that distorts and discolours,” said Miss Agnes, a little pettishly. “I don’t know how else it is that you all see such wonderful sights as you do, through them.”

“Well, they do, certainly. Some of our friends do colour a little,” said the Captain, with a waggish yet friendly grin, up at the great bow window. “But in this case, you’ll allow there was no great opportunity for colour, the tints of nature are so beautiful,” and Shrapnell fired off this little saying, with his bow and smile of fascination. “Nor, by Jove! for the multiplying glasses either, for more than three in that party would have quite spoiled it; now, wouldn’t it, hey? ha, ha, ha! The two principals, and a gooseberry, eh? Ha, ha, ha!”

“What is a gooseberry?” inquired Miss Charity, peremptorily.

“A delightful object in the garden, Miss Etherage, a delightful object everywhere. The delight of the young especially, hey, Miss Agnes? ha, ha! hey? and one of the sweetest products of nature Eh, Miss Agnes? ha, ha, ha! Miss Etherage, I give you my honour every word I say is true.”

“I do declare, Captain Shrapnell, it seems to me you have gone perfectly mad!” said Miss Charity, who was out-spoken and emphatic.

“Always a mad fellow, Miss Etherage, ha, ha, ha! Very true; that’s my character, hey? ha, ha, ha, egad! So the ladies tell me,” said the gay, young Captain. “Wish I’d a guinea for every time they’ve called me mad, among them. I give you my honour I’d be a rich fellow this moment.”

“Now, Captain Shrapnell,” said Miss Charity, with a frank stare with her honest goggle eyes, “you are talking the greatest nonsense I ever heard in my life.”

“Miss Agnes, here, does not think so, hey?” giggled the Captain. “Now, come, Miss Agnes, what do you think of young Verney, hey? There’s a question.”

How Miss Agnes hated the gibing, giggling wretch, and detested the club of whose prattle and gossip he was the inexhaustible spokesman; and would at that moment have hailed the appearance of a ship-of-war with her broadside directed upon the bow window of that haunt, with just, of course, such notice to her worthy father, whose gray head was visible in it, as was accorded to the righteous Lot — under orders, with shot, shell, rockets, and marlin-spikes, to blow the entire concern into impalpable dust.

It must be allowed that Miss Agnes was unjust; that it would not have been fair to visit upon the harmless and, on the whole, good-natured persons who congregated in that lively receptacle, and read the Times through their spectacles there, the waggeries and exaggerations of the agreeable captain, and to have reached that incorrigible offender, and demolished his stronghold at so great a waste of human life.

“Come, now; I won’t let you off, Miss Aggie. I say, there’s a question. What do you say? Come, now, you really must tell us. What do you think of young Verney?”

“If you wish to know what I think,” interposed Miss Charity, “I think he’s the very nicest man I ever spoke to. He’s so nice about religion. Wasn’t he, Aggie?”

Here the Captain exploded.

“Religion! egad — do you really mean to tell me — ha, ha, ha! Upon my soul, that’s the richest thing! — now, really!”

“My goodness! How frightfully wicked you are,” exclaimed Miss Charity.

“True bill, egad! upon my soul, I’m afraid — ha, ha, ha!”

“Now, Captain Shrapnell, you shall not walk with us, if you swear,” said Miss Charity.

Swear! I didn’t swear, did I? Very sorry if I did, upon my — I give you my word,” said the Captain, politely.

“Yes, you did; and it’s extremely wicked,” said Miss Charity.

“Well, I won’t; I swear to you I won’t,” vowed the Captain, a little inconsistently; “but now about Master Cleve Verney, Miss Agnes. I said I would not let you off, and I won’t. I give you my honour, you shall say what you think of him, or, by Jove! — I conclude you can’t trust yourself on the subject, ha, ha, ha! Hey?”

“You are mad, Captain Shrapnell,” interposed Miss Charity, with weight.

“I can’t say, really, I’ve formed any particular opinion. I think he is rather agreeable,” answered Miss Agnes, under this pressure.

“Well, so do I” acquiesced the Captain.

“Master Cleve can certainly be agreeable when he chooses; and you think him devilish good-looking — don’t you?”

“I really can’t say — he has very good features — but ——”

“But what? Why every one allows that Verney’s as good-looking a fellow as you’ll meet with anywhere,” persisted the Captain.

I think him perfectly be-autiful!” said Miss Charity, who never liked people by halves.

“Well — yes — he may be handsome,” said Miss Agnes. “I’m no very great critic; but I can’t conceive any girl falling in love with him.”

“Oh! as to that— but —why?” said Captain Shapnell.

“His face, I think, is so selfish — somehow,” she said.

“Is it now, really? —how?” asked the Captain. “I’m am-azed at you!” exclaimed Miss Charity.

“Well, there’s a selfish hook — no, not a hook, a curve— of his nose, and a cruel crook of his shoulder,” said Miss Agnes, in search of faults.

“You’re determined to hit him by hook or by crook — ha, ha, ha — I say,” pursued the Captain.

“A hook!” exclaimed Miss Charity, almost angrily; “there’s no hook! I wonder at you — I really think, sometimes, Agnes, you’re the greatest fool I ever met in the whole course of my life!”

“Well, I can’t help thinking what I think,” said Agnes.

“But you don’t think that— you know you don’t — you can’t think it,” decided her elder sister.

“No more she does,” urged the Captain, with his teazing giggle; “she doesn’t think it. You always know, when a girl abuses a man, she likes him; she does, by Jove! And I venture to say she thinks Master Cleve one of the very handsomest and most fascinating fellows she ever beheld,” said the agreeable Captain.

“I really think what I said,” replied Agnes, and her pretty face showed a brilliant colour, and her eyes had a handsome fire in them, for she was vexed; “though it is natural to think in a place like this, where all the men are more or less old and ugly, that any young man, even tolerably good-looking, should be thought a wonder.”

“Ha, ha, ha! very good,” said the Captain, plucking out his whisker a little, and twiddling his moustache, and glancing down at his easy waistcoat, and perhaps ever so little put out; but he also saw over his shoulder Cleve crossing the Green towards them from the jetty, and not perhaps being quite on terms to call him “Master Cleve” to his face, he mentioned a promise to meet young Owen of Henlwyd in the billiard-room for a great game of pyramid, and so took off his hat gracefully to the ladies, and, smirking, and nodding, and switching his cane, swaggered swiftly away toward the point of rendezvous.

So Cleve arrived, and joined the young ladies, and walked beside Agnes, chatting upon all sorts of subjects, and bearing some occasional reproofs and protests from Miss Charity with great submission and gaiety, and when Miss Charity caught a glimpse of “the Admiral’s” bath-chair, with that used-up officer in it, en route for the Hazelden Road, and already near the bridge, she plucked her watch from her belt, with a slight pallor in her cheek, and “declared” she had not an idea how late it was. Cleve Verney accompanied the ladies all the way to Hazelden, and even went in, when bidden, and drank a cup of tea, at their early meal, and obeyed also a summons to visit the “Admiral” in his study.

“Very glad to see you, sir — very happy, Mr. Verney,” said Mr. Vane Etherage, with his fez upon his head, and lowering his pipe with the gravity of a Turk. “I wish you would come and dine at three o’clock — the true hour for dinner, sir — I’ve tried every hour, in my time, from twelve to half-past eight — at three o’clock, sir, some day — any day — tomorrow. The Welsh mutton is the best on earth, and the Hazelden mutton is the best in Wales!” The “Admiral” always looked in the face of the person whom he harangued, with an expression of cool astonishment, which somehow aided the pomp of his delivery. “An unfortunate difference, Mr. Verney — a dispute, sir — has arisen between me and your uncle; but that, Mr. Verney, need not extend to his nephew; no, sir, it need not; no need it should. Shall we say tomorrow, Mr. Verney?”

I forget what excuse Mr. Verney made; it was sufficient, however, and he was quite unable to name an immediate day, but lived in hope. So having won golden opinions, he took his leave. And the good people of Cardyllian, who make matches easily, began to give Mr. Cleve Verney to pretty Miss Agnes Etherage.

While this marrying and giving in marriage was going on over many tea-tables, that evening, in Cardyllian, Mr. Cleve Verney, the hero of this new romance, had got ashore a little below Malory, and at nightfall walked down the old road by Llanderris church, and so round the path that skirts the woods of Malory, and down upon the shore that winds before the front of the old house.

As he came full in sight of the shore, on a sudden, within little more than a hundred paces away, he saw, standing solitary upon the shingle, a tall man, with a Tweed rug across his arm, awaiting a boat which was slowly approaching in the distance.

In this tall figure he had no difficulty in recognizing Sir Booth Fanshawe, whom he had confronted in other, and very different scenes, and who had passed so near him, in the avenue at Malory.

With one of those sudden and irresistible impulses, which, as they fail or succeed, are classed as freaks of madness, or inspirations of genius, he resolved to walk up to Sir Booth, and speak to him upon the subject then so near to his heart.

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