The Wyvern Mystery, by J. Sheridan Le Fanu

Chapter 13.

An Inspection of Carwell Grange.

Through an open door, at the end of this short gallery, the pleasant firelight gleamed, sufficiently indicating the room that had been prepared for her reception. She felt a little oddly and frightened, and the sight of old Dulcibella Crane in the cheerful light, busily unpacking her boxes, reassured her.

The grim old woman, Mildred Tarnley, stopped at the door.

“It’s very well aired, ma’am,” she said, making a little courtesy.

“It looks very comfortable; thank you—everything so neat; and such a bright nice fire,” said Alice, smiling on her as well as she could.

“There’s the tapestry room, and the leather room; but they’re not so dry as this, though it’s wainscot.”

“Oak, I think—isn’t it?” said the young lady, looking round.

“Yes, ma’am; and there’s the pink paper chamber and dressing room; but they’re gone very poor—and the bed and all that being in here, I thought ’twas the best ’o the lot; an’ there’s lots o’ presses and cupboards in the wall, and the keys in them, and the locks all right; and I do think’ it’s the most comfortablest room, my lady. That is the dressing-room in there, please; and do you like some more wood or coal on the fire, ma’am?”

“Not any; it is very nice—thanks.”

And Alice sat down before the fire, and the smile seemed to evaporate in its glow, and she looked very grave—and even anxious. Mildred Tarnley made her courtesy, looked round the room, and withdrew.

“Well, Dulcibella, when are you going to have your tea?” asked Alice, kindly.

“I’ll make a cup here, dear, if you think I may, after I’ve got your things in their places, in a few minutes’ time.”

“Would you like that better than taking it downstairs with the servant?”

“Yes, dear, I would.”

“I don’t think you like her, Dulcibella?”

“I can’t say I mislike her, dear; I han’t spoke ten words wi’ her—she may be very nice—I don’t know.”

“There’s something not very pleasant about her face, don’t you think?” said Alice.

“Well, dear, but you are sharp; there’s no hiding my thoughts from you; but there’s many a face we gets used to that doesn’t seem so agreeable-like at first. I think this rack’ll do very nice for hanging your cloak on,” she said, taking it from the young lady’s hands. “You’re tired a bit, I’m afeard; ye look a bit tired—ye do.”

“No, nothing,” said her young mistress, “only I can’t help feeling sorry for poor old Wyvern and the Squire, old Mr. Fairfield—it seems so unkind; and there was a good deal to think about; and, I don’t know how, I feel a little uncomfortable, in spite of so much that should cheer me; and now I must run down and take a cup of tea—come with me to the top of the stairs, and just hold the candle till I have got down.”

When she reached the head of the stairs she was cheered by the sound of Charles Fairfield’s voice, singing, in his exuberant jollity, the appropriate ditty, “Jenny, put the kettle on—Barney, blow the bellows strong,” &c.

And, hurrying downstairs, she found him ready to make tea, with his hand on the handle of the tea-pot, and the fire brighter than ever.

“Well, you didn’t stay very long, good little woman. I was keeping up my spirits with a song; and, in spite of my music, beginning to miss you.”

And, meeting her as she entered the room, he led her, with his arm about her waist, to a chair, in which, with a kiss, he placed her.

“All this seems to me like a dream. I can’t believe it; but, if it be, woe to the fool who wakes me! No, darling, it’s no dream, is it f he said, smiling, and kissed her again. “The happiest day of my life,” lie said, and through his eyes smiled upon her a flood of the tenderest love.

A little more such talk, and then they sat down to that memorable cup of tea—“the first in our own house.”

The delightful independence—the excitement, the importance—all our own—cups, spoons, room, servants—and the treasure secured, and the haven of all our hopes no longer doubtful or distant. Glorious, beautiful dream! from which death, wrinkles, duns, are quite obliterated. Sip while you may, your pleasant cup of—madness, from that fragile, pretty china, and may the silver spoon wherewith you stir it, prove to have come into the world at the moment of your birth, where fortune is said to place it sometimes. Next morning the smi shone clear over Carwell Grange, bringing into sharp relief the joints and wrinkles of the old gray-masonry, the leaves and tendrils of the ivy, and the tufts of grass which here and there sprout fast in the chinks of the parapet, and casting, with angular distinctness upon the shingled roof, the shadows of the jackdaws that circled about the old chimney. A twittering of small birds fills the air, and the solemn cawing comes mellowed on the ear from the dark rookery at the other side of the ravine, that, crossing at the side of the Grange, debouches on the wider and deeper glen that is known as the Vale of Carwell.

Youth enjoys a change of abode, and with the instinct of change and adventure proper to its energies, delights in a new scene.

Charles Fairfield accompanied his young wife, who was full of curiosity, and her head busy with a hundred plans, as in gay and eager spirits she surveyed her little empire.

“This is the garden—I tell you, lest you should mistake it for the forest where the enchanted princess slept, surrounded by great trees and thickets—it excels even the old garden at Wyvern. There are pear-trees, and plum, and cherry, and apple. Upon my word, I forgot they were so huge, and the jungles are raspberries and gooseberries and currants. Did you ever see such thickets, and nettles between. I’m afraid you’ll not make much of this. When I was a boy those great trees looked as big and moss-grown as they do now, and bore such odd crabbed little fruit, and not much even of that.”

“It will be quite beautiful when it is weeded, and flowers growing in the shade, and climbing plants trained up the stems of the trees, and it shan’t cost us anything; but you’ll see how wonderfully pretty it will be.”

“But what is to become of all your pretty plans, if flowers won’t grow without sun. I defy any fairy—even my own bright little one—to make them grow here; but, if you won’t be persuaded, by all means let us try. I think there’s sunshine wherever you go, and I should not wonder, after all, if nature relented, and beautiful miracles were accomplished under your influence.”

“I know you are laughing at me,” she said.

“No, darling—I’ll never laugh at you—you can make me believe whatever you choose; and now that we have looked over all the wild beauties of our neglected paradise, in which, you good little creature, you are resolved to see all kinds of capabilities and perfections—suppose we go now to the grand review of our goods and chattels, that you planned at breakfast—cups, saucers, plates, knives, forks, spoons, and all such varieties.”

“Oh, yes, let us come, Ry, it will be such fun, and so useful, and old Mrs. Tarnley said she would have a list made out,” said Alice, to whom the new responsibilities and dignities of her married state were full of interest and importance.

So in they came together, and called for old Mildred, with a list of their worldly goods; and they read the catalogue together, with every now and then a peal of irrepressible laughter.

“I had not an idea how near we were to our last cup and saucer,” said Charles, “and the dinner-service is limited to seven plates, two of which are cracked.”

The comic aspect of their poverty was heightened, perhaps, by Mrs. Tarnley’s peculiar spelling. The old woman stood in the doorway of the sitting-room while the revision was proceeding, mightily displeased at this levity, looking more than usually wrinkled and bilious, and rolling her eyes upon them, from time to time, with a malignant ogle.

“I was never good at the pen—I know that—but your young lady desired me, and I did my best, and very despickable it be, no doubt,” said Mildred, with grizzly scorn.

“Oh, my! I am so sorry—I assure you, Mrs. Tarnley—pray tell her, Charlie—we were laughing only at there being so few things left.”

“Left! I don’t know what ye mean by left, ma’am—there’s not another woman as ever I saw would keep his bit o’ delf and chaney half as long as me; I never was counted a smasher o’ things—no more I was.”

“But we didn’t think you broke them; did we, Charlie?” appealed poor little Alice, who, being new to authority, was easily bullied.

“Nonsense, old Mildred—don’t be a fool,” said Charles Fairfield, not in so conciliatory a tone as Alice would have wished.

“Well, fool’s easily said, and there’s no lack o’ fools, high or low. Master Charles, and I don’t pretend to be no scholar; but I’ve read that o’er much laughing ends, oft times, in o’er much crying—the Lord keep us all from grief.”

“Hold your tongue—what a bore you are,” exclaimed he, sharply.

Mrs. Tarnley raised her chin, and looked askance, but made no answer, she was bitter.

“Why the devil, old Mildred, can’t you try to look pleasant for once?” he persisted. “I believe there’s not a laugh in you, nor even a smile, is there?”

“I’m not much given to laughin’, thankee, sir, and there’s people, mayhap, should be less so, if they’d only take warnin’, and mind what they seed over night; and if the young lady don’t want me no longer, I’d be better back in the kitchen before the chicken burns, for Lilly’s out in the garden rootin’ out the potatoes for dinner.”

And after a moment’s silence she dropped a little courtesy, and assuming permission, took her departure.

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