The Tenants of Malory, by Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu

Chapter 14.

A Surprise.

MR. DINGWELL, already much more like himself, having made the journey by easy stages, was approaching Malory by night, in a post-chaise. Fatigue, sickness, or some other cause, perhaps, exasperated his temper specially that night.

Well made up in mufflers, his head was frequently out at the window.

“The old church, by Jove!” he muttered, with a dismal grin, as going slowly down the jolty hill: beneath the ancient trees, the quaint little church of Llanderris and its quiet churchyard appeared at the left of the narrow road, white in the moonlight.

“A new crop of fools, fanatics, and hypocrites come up, since I remember them, and the old ones gone down to enrich that patch of ground and send up their dirty juice in nettles, and thistles, and docks. ‘In sure and certain hope.’ Why should not they, the swine! as well as their masters, cunning, and drunken, and sneaks. I’d like to pay a fellow to cut their epitaphs. Why should I spare them a line of truth. Here I am, plain Mr. Dingwell. They don’t care much about me; and when my Lord Verney went down the other day, to show them what a fool they have got for a master, amid congenial rejoicings, I don’t hear that they troubled their heads with many regrets for my poor friend Arthur. Ha! There’s the estuary, and Pendillion. These things don’t change, my Lord Verney. Pity Lord Verney doesn’t wear as well as Pendillion. There is Ware, over the water, if we had light to see it — to think of that shabby little whey-faced fool! Here we are; these are the trees of Malory, egad!”

And with a shrug he repeated Homer’s words, which say —“As are the generations of leaves, such are those of men.”

Up the avenue of Malory they were driving, and Dingwell looked out with a dismal curiosity upon the lightless front of the old house.

“Cheerful reception!” he muttered. “Suppose we pick a hole in your title — a hole in your pocket— hey!”

Dingwell’s servant was at the door of the steward’s house as they drew up, and helped the snarling old invalid down.

When he got to the room the servant said —

“There’s coffee, and everythink as you desired.”

“I’ll take breath first, if you please — coffee afterwards.”

“Mrs. Mervyn hopes, sir, as how you’ll parding her to-night, being so late, and not in good ‘ealth herself, which she would been hup to receive you hotherwise,” said the man, delivering his message eloquently.

“Quite time enough tomorrow, and tomorrow — and tomorrow; and I don’t care if our meeting creeps away, as that remarkable person, William Shakespeare, says —‘in this petty pace.’ This is more comfortable, egad! than Rosemary Court. I don’t care, I say, if it creeps in that pretty pace, till we are both in heaven. What’s Hecuba to me, or I to Hecuba? So help me off with these things.”

Lord Verney, on whom, in his moods, Mr. Dingwell commented so fully, was dispensing his hospitalities just then, on the other side of the estuary, at his princely mansion of Ware. The party was, it is true, small — very small, in fact. Lady Wimbledon had been there, and the Hon. Caroline Oldys, but they were now visiting Cardyllian at the Verney Arms.

Mr. Jos. Larkin, to his infinite content, was at Ware, and deplored the unchristian feelings displayed by Mr. Wynne Williams, whom he had by this time formally supplanted in the management of Lord Verney’s country affairs, and who had exhibited “a nasty feeling,” he “might say a petulance quite childish,” last Sunday, when Mr. Larkin had graced Cardyllian Church with his personal devotions, and refused to vacate, in his favour, the small pew which he held as proprietor of Plasdwllyn, but which Mr. Larkin chose to think he occupied in virtue of his former position of solicitor to Lord Verney.

Cleve Verney being still in London, received one morning from his uncle the following short and astounding note, as he sat at breakfast:—

“MY DEAR CLEVE— The time having arrived for taking that step, which the stability of our house of Verney has long appeared to demand, all preliminaries being satisfactorily adjusted, and the young lady and Lady Wimbledon, with a very small party of their relations, as you may have observed by the public papers, at present at the hotel of Cardyllian, nothing remains unaccomplished by way of preparation, but your presence at Ware, which I shall expect on Friday next, when you can meet Miss Caroline Oldys in those new and more defined relations which our contemplated alliance suggests. That event is arranged to take place on the Wednesday following. Mr. Larkin, who reports to me the substance of a conversation with you, and who has my instructions to apprise you fully of any details you may desire to be informed of, will see you on the morning of tomorrow, in the library at Verney House, at a quarter-past eleven o’clock. He leaves Ware by the mail train to-night. You will observe that the marriage, though not strictly private, is to be conducted without éclat, and has not been anywhere announced. This will explain my not inviting you to bring down any friend of yours to Ware for the occasion.”

So it ends with the noble lord’s signature, and a due attestation of the state of his affections towards Cleve.

With the end of his uncle’s letter, an end of that young gentleman’s breakfast — only just begun — came also.

Cleve did not start up and rap out an oath. On the contrary, he sat very still, with something, almost a smile, on his pale, patient face. In a little while he folded the letter up gently, and put it in his pocket. Then he did get up and go to the window looking out upon the piece of ground at the rear of Verney House, and the sooty leaves and sparrows that beautified it. For a long time he enjoyed that view, and then took a swift walk for nearly half an hour in the streets — drowsy, formal streets — in that quarter of the town, involving little risk of interruption.

His wife — what a hell was now in that word! and why? Another man would have found in it a fountain of power and consolation. His wife, his little boy, were now in France. He thought of them both sourly enough. He was glad they were so far off. Margaret would have perceived the misery of his mind. She would have been poking questions at him, and he would neither have divulged nor in anything have consulted her. In the motive of this reserve, which harmonised with his character, may have mingled a suspicion that his interest and hers might not, in this crisis, have required quite the same treatment.

It was about eleven o’clock as he entered Verney House again. In a quarter of an hour more that villanous attorney, to whose vulgar machinations he attributed his present complicated wretchedness, would be with him.

Without any plan, only hating that abominable Christian, and resolved to betray neither thought nor emotion which could lead him to suspect, ever so faintly, the truth, he at length heard him announced, as a man who has seen his death-warrant hears the approach of the executioner. Mr. Larkin entered, with his well-brushed hat in his hand, his bald head shining as with a glory, a meek smile on his lips, a rat-like shrinking observation in his eyes.

“Oh! Mr. Larkin,” said Mr. Cleve Verney, with a smile. “My uncle said you would look in today. We have often talked the matter over together, you know, my uncle and I, and I’m not sure that you can tell me very much that I don’t know already. Sit down, pray.”

“Thanks. I think it was chiefly to let you know what he can do for you. I need not say to you, my dear Mr. Verney, how generous Lord Verney is, and what an uncle, Mr. Verney, he has been to you.”

Here was a little glance of the pink eyes at the ceiling, and a momentary elevation of his large hand, and a gentle, admiring shake of the bald head.

“No; of course. It is entirely as his attorney, sir, acquainted with details which he has directed you to mention to me, that he speaks of your call here. I had a letter this morning.”

“Quite so. It was to mention that although he could not, of course, in prudence, under the circumstances, think of settling anything — which amounts, in fact, to an alienation — a step which in justice to himself and the integrity of the family estates, he could not concede or contemplate; he yet — and he wishes it at the same time to be understood, strictly, as his present intention — means to make you an allowance of a thousand pounds a year.”

“Rather a small allowance, don’t you think, for a man with a seat in the House to marry on?” observed Cleve.

“Pardon me; but he does not contemplate your immediate marriage, Mr. Verney,” answered Larkin.

“Rather a sudden change of plan, considering that he fixed Wednesday next, by his letter,” said Cleve, with a faint sneer.

“Pardon me, again; but that referred to his own marriage — Lord Verney’s contemplated marriage with the Honourable Miss Oldys.”

“Oh!” said Cleve, looking steadily down on the table. “Oh! to be sure.”

“That alliance will be celebrated on Wednesday, as proposed.”

Mr. Larkin paused, and Cleve felt that his odious eyes were reading his countenance. Cleve could not help turning pale, but there was no other visible symptom of his dismay.

“Yes; the letter was a little confused. He has been urging me to marry, and I fancied he had made up his mind to expedite my affair; and it is rather a relief to me to be assured it is his own, for I’m in no particular hurry — quite the reverse. Is there anything more?”

“I meant to ask you that question, Mr. Verney. I fancied you might possibly wish to put some questions to me. I have been commissioned, within certain limits, to give you any information you may desire.” Mr. Larkin paused again.

Cleve’s blood boiled. “Within certain limits, more in my uncle’s confidence than I am, that vulgar, hypocritical attorney!” He fancied beside that Mr. Larkin saw what a shock the news was, and that he liked, with a mean sense of superiority, making him feel that he penetrated his affectation of indifference.

“It’s very thoughtful of you; but if anything strikes me I shall talk to my uncle. There are subjects that would interest me more than those on which he would be at all likely to talk with you.”

“Quite possibly,” said Mr. Larkin. “And what shall I report to his lordship as the result of our conversation?”

“Simply the truth, sir.”

“I don’t, I fear, make myself clear. I meant to ask whether there was anything you wished me to add. You can always reckon upon me, Mr. Verney, to convey your views to Lord Verney, if there should ever happen to be anything you feel a delicacy about opening to his lordship yourself.”

“Yes, I shall write to him,” answered Cleve, drily.

And Cleve Verney rose, and the attorney, simpering and bowing grandly, took his departure.

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