The Wyvern Mystery, by J. Sheridan Le Fanu

Chapter 10.

The Drive Over Cressley Common by Moonlight.

The old Squire of Wyvern wandered from room to room, and stood in this window and that. An hour after the scene on the terrace, he was trembling still and flushed, with his teeth grimly set, sniffing, and with a stifling weight at his heart.

Night came, and the drawing-room was lighted up, and the Squire rang the bell, and sent for old Mrs. Durdin.

That dapper old woman, with a neat little cap on, stood prim in the doorway and curtsied. She knew, of course, pretty well what the Squire was going to tell her, and waited in some alarm to learn in what tone he would make his communication.

“Well,’ said the Squire, sternly, holding his head very high, “Miss Alice is gone. I sent for you to tell ye, as y’re housekeeper here. She’s gone; she’s left Wyvern.”

“She’ll be coming again, sir, soon?” said the old woman after a pause.

“No, not she—no,” said the Squire.

“Not returnin’ to Wyvern, sir?”

“While there’s breath in my body she’ll never darken these doors.”

“Sorry she should a’ displeased you, sir,” said the good-natured little woman with a curtsey.

“Displease me? Who said she displeased me? It ain’t the turning of a pennypiece to me—me, by ——. Ha, ha I that’s funny.”

“And—what do you wish done with the bed and the furniture, sir? Shall I leave it still in the room, please? ”

“Out o’ window wi’t—pitch it after her; let the work’us people send up and cart it off for the poor-house, where she should ’a bin, if I hadn’t a bin the biggest fool in the parish.”

“I’ll have it took down and moved, sir,” said the old woman, interpreting more moderately; “and the same with Mrs. Crane’s room; Dulcibella, she’s gone too?”

“Ha, ha! well for her—plotting old witch. I’ll have her ducked in the pond if she’s found here; and never you name them, one or t’other more, unless you want to go yourself. I’m fifty pounds better. I didn’t know how to manage or look after her—they’re all alike. If I chose it I could send a warrant after her for the clothes on her back; but let her be. Away wi’ her—a good riddance; and get her who may, I give him joy o’ her.”

The Squire was glad to see Tom Ward that night, and had a second tankard of punch.

“Old servant, Tom; I believe the old folk’s the best after all,” said he. “It’s a damned changed world, Tom. Things were otherwise in our time; no matter, I’ll pay em off yet.”

And old Harry Fairfield fell asleep in his chair, and after an hour wakened up with a dream of little Ally’s music still in his ears.

“Play it again, child, play it again,” he said, and listened—to silence and looked about the empty room, and the sudden pain came again, with a dreadful yearning mixed with his anger.

The Squire cursed her for a devil, a wildcat, a viper, and he walked round the room with his hands clenched in his coat pockets, and the proud old man was crying. With straining and squeezing the tears oozed and trickled from his wrinkled eyelids down his rugged cheeks.

“I don’t care a damn, I hate her; I don’t know what it’s for, I be such a fool; I’m glad she’s gone, and I pray God the sneak she’s gone wi’ may break her heart, and break his own damned neck after, over Carwell scaurs.”

The old man took his candle and from old habit, in the hall, was closing the door of the staircase that led up to her room.

“Ay, ay,” said he, bitterly, recollecting himself, “the stable-door when the nag’s stole. I don’t care if the old house was blown down tonight—I wish it was. She was a kind little thing before that damned fellow—what could she see in him—good for nothing—old as I am, I’d pitch him over my head like a stock o’ barley. Here was a plot, she was a good little thing, but see how she was drew into it, damn her, they’re all so false. I’ll find out who was in it, I will; I’ll find it all out. There’s Tom Sherwood, hes one. I’ll pitch ’em all out, neck and crop, out o’ Wyvern doors. I’d rather fill my house wi’ rats than the two-legged vermin. Let ’em pack away to Carwell and starve with that big pippin-squeezing ninny. I hope in God’s justice he’ll never live to put his foot in Wyvern. I could shoot myself, I think, but for that. She might a waited till the old man died, at any rate; I was kind to her—a fool—a fool.”

And the tall figure of the old man, candle in hand, stalked slowly from the dim hall and vanished up the other staircase.

While this was going on at Wyvern, nearly forty miles away, under the bright moon-light, a chaise, in which were seated the young lady whose departure had excited so strange a sensation there, and her faithful old servant, Dulcibella Crane, was driving rapidly through a melancholy but not unpleasing country.

A wide undulating plain, with here and there patches of picturesque natural wood, oak, and whitethorn, and groups of silver-stemmed birch-trees spread around them. Those were the sheep-walks of Cressley Common. The soil is little better than peat, over which grows a short velvet verdure, altogether more prized by lovers of the picturesque than by graziers of Southdowns. Could any such scene look prettier than it did in the moonlight? The solitudes, so sad and solemn, the lonely clumps and straggling trees, the gentle hollows and hills, and the misty distance in that cold illusive light acquire the interest and melancholy of mystery.

The young lady’s head was continually out of the window, sometimes—looking forward, sometimes back, upon the road they had traversed. With an anxious look and a heavy sigh she threw herself back in her seat.

“You’re not asleep, Dulcibella?” she said, a little peevishly.

“No Miss, no dear.”

“You don’t seem to have much to trouble you,” continued the young lady.

“If Law bless you, dear, nothing, thank God.”

“None of your own, and my troubles don’t vex you, that’s plain,” said her young mistress, reproachfully.

“I did not think, dear, you was troubled about anything—law! I hope nothing’s gone wrong, darling?” said the old woman with more energy and a simple stare in her mistress’s face.

“Well, you know he said he’d be with us as we crossed Cressley Common, and this is it, and he’s not here, and I see no sign of him.”

And the young lady again popped her head out of the window, and, her survey ended, threw herself back once more with another melancholy moan.

“Why, Miss Alice, dear, you’re not frettin’ for that?” said Dulcibella. “Don’t you know, dear, if he isn’t here he’s somewhere else? We’re not to be troubling ourselves about every little thing like, and who knows, poor gentleman, what’s happened to delay him?”

“That’s just what I say, Dulcibella; you’ll set me mad J Something has certainly happened. You know he owes money. Do you think they have arrested him? If they have, what’s to become of us? Oh! Dulcibella, do tell me what you really think.”

“No, no, no—there now—there’s a darling, don’t you be worrying yourself about nothing; look out again, and who knows but he’s coming?”

So said old Dulcibella, who was constitutionally hopeful and contented, and very easy about Master Charles, as she still called Charles Fairfield.

She was not remarkable for prescience, but here the worthy creature fluked prophetically; for Alice Maybell, taking her advice, did look out again, and she thought she saw the distant figure of a horseman in pursuit.

She rattled at the window calling to the driver, and the man who sat beside him, and succeeded in making them hear her, and pull the horses up.

“Look back and see if that is not your master coming,” she cried eagerly.

He was still too distant for recognition, but the rider was approaching fast. The gentlemen of the road, once a substantial terror, were now but a picturesque tradition; the appearance of the pursuing horseman over the solitudes of Cressley Common would else have been anything but a source of pleasant anticipation. On he came, and now the clink of the horse-shoes sounded sharp on the clear night air. And now the rider passed the straggling trees they had just left behind them, and now his voice was raised and recognised, and in a few moments more, pale and sad in the white moonlight as Leonora’s phantom trooper, her stalwart lover pulled up his powerful hunter at the chaise window.

A smile lighted up his gloomy face as he looked in.

“Well, darling, I have overtaken you at Cressley Common; and is my little woman quite well, and happy to see her Ry once more?”

His hand had grasped hers as he murmured these words through the window.

“Oh, Ry, darling—I’m so happy—you must let Tom ride the horse on, and do you come in and sit here, and Dulcibella can take my cloaks and sit by the driver. Come, darling, I want to hear everything.”

And so this little arrangement was completed, as she said, and Charles Fairfield sat himself beside his beautiful young wife, and as they drove on through the moonlit scene, he pressed her hand and kissed her lovingly.

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