The Wyvern Mystery, by J. Sheridan Le Fanu

Chapter 16.

A Party of Three.

“I’d tip you a stave, only I’ve got a hoarseness since yesterday, and I’d ask Alice to play a bit, only there’s no piano here to kick up a gingle with, and Charlie never sang a note in his life, and “— standing before the fire, he yawned long and loud—“by Jove, that wasn’t over civil of me, but old friends need not be stiff, and I vote we yawn all round for company; and I’ll forgive ye, for my hour’s come, and I’ll be taking the road.”

“I wish so much I had a bed to offer you, Harry; but you know all about it—there hasn’t been time to arrange anything,” said Charles.

“Won’t you stay and take some tea?” urged Alice.

“I never could abide it, child; thank ye all the same,” said he, “I’d as soon drink a mug o’ whey.”

“And what about the gray hunter—you did not sell him yet?” asked Charles.

“I don’t well know what to do about him.” answered his brother. “I’d a sold him for fifty, only old Clinker wouldn’t pass him for sound. Clinker and me, we had words about that.”

“I want fifty pounds very much, if I could get it,” said Charles.

“I never knew a fellow that didn’t want fifty very bad, if he could get it,” laughed Harry; “but you’ll not be doin’ that bad, I’m afeard, if ye get half the money.”

“The devil!—do you really—why I thought, with luck, I might get seventy. I’m hard up, Harry, and I know you’ll do your best-for me,” said Charles, to whom this was really a serious question.

“And with luck so you might; but chaps isn’t easy done these times; and though I swear it’s only his mouth, he steps short at the off side, and a fellow with an eye in his head won’t mistake his action.”

“You will do the best you can for me, Harry, I know,” said Charles, who knew nothing about horses, and was lazy in discussion. “But it’s rather a blow just now, when a poor devil wants every shilling he can get together, to find himself fifty pounds nearly out of pocket.”

Was it fancy, or did Alice’s pretty ear hear truly? It seemed to her that the tone in which Charlie spoke was a little more sour than need be, that it seemed to blame her as the cause of altered circumstances, and to hint, though very faintly, an unkind repentance. His eye met hers; full and sad it looked, and his heart smote him, for the intangible reproof was deserved.

“And here’s the best little wife in the world,” he said, “who would save a lazy man like me a little fortune in a year, and make that unlucky fifty pounds, if I could but get it, do as much as a hundred.”

And his hand was fondly placed on her shoulder, as he looked in her loving eyes.

“A good house—wife is she, that’s something,” said Harry, who was inspecting his spur. “Though by Jove it was hardly at Wyvern she learned thrift.”

“All the more merit,” said Charles, “it’s all her wise, good little self.”

“No, no; I can’t take all that praise; it’s your great kindness, Charlie. But I’ll try. I’ll learn all I can, and I’m sure the real secret is to be very anxious to do it well.”

“Ay, to be sure,” interrupted Harry, who, having completed his little arrangement, placed his foot again on the ground. “The more you like it the better you’ll do it—pare the cheeses, skin the flints, kill the fleas for the hide and tallow, pot the potato-skins, sweat the shillin’s and all that, and now I’ll be going. Good night, Alice. Will you let Charlie see me down to the end o’ the lane, and I’ll send him safe back to you? Come along, Charlie. God bless you girl, and I’ll look in again whenever I have a bit o’ news to tell ye.”

And with that elegant farewell, he shook Alice by the hand and clapped her on the shoulder, and “chucked “her under the chin.

“And don’t ye be faint-hearted, mind, ’twill all come right, and I didn’t think this place was so comfortable as it is. It is a snug old house with a bit o’ coal and a faggot o’ wood, and a pair o’ bright eyes, and a glass o’ that, a man might make shift for a while. I’d do it myself. I didn’t think it was so snug by half, and I’d rayther stay here tonight by a long chalk than ride to Barnsley, I can tell ye. Come, Charlie, it’s time I should be on the road; and she says, don’t you, Alice, you may see me a bit o’ the way.”

And so the leave-taking came to an end, and Charlie and Harry went out together; and Alice wondered what had induced Harry to come all that way for so short a visit, with so very little to tell. Perhaps, however, his own business, for he was always looking after horses, and thought nothing of five-and-thirty miles, had brought him to the verge of Cressley Common, and if so, he would have come on the few additional miles, if only to bait his horse and get his dinner.

Perhaps the old Squire at Wyvern had broken out more angrily, and was threatening something in which their was real danger to Charlie, which the brothers did not choose to tell her. A kindly secrecy and considerate, but seldom unsuspected, and being so often fifty-fold more torturing than downright ghastly frankness.

There had been a little chill and shadow over the party of three, she thought. Charlie thought his brother Harry the most thorough partisan that ever man had, and the most entirely sympathetic. If that were so, and should not he know best? Harry had certainly laughed and joked after his fashion, and enjoyed himself, and there could not be much wrong. But Charlie—was not there something more upon his mind than she quite knew? She stood too much in awe of her husband to follow them, as she would have wished, and implore of them if there was any new danger to let her hear it all. In her ear was the dismal iteration, as it were, of this little “ death-watch,” and sighing, she got up and opened the window-shutter and looked out upon the moonlighted scene.

A little platform of grass stood between the wall of the house and the precipitous edge of the vale of Mario w. Tall trees stood lonely and silent sentinels without the old gray walls, and a low ivied parapet guarded the sudden descent of the riven and wooded cliff. The broken screen of the solemn forest foreground showed in the distance the thicker masses of the wood that topped the summit of the further side of that sombre glen. Stiller, sadder scene fancy never painted.

She had opened the shutter, uncertain whether the window commanded the point from which her husband and his brother might be expected to emerge, for the geography of this complicated house was still new to her, and disappointed, she lingered in contemplation of a view which so well accorded with the melancholy of her lonely misgivings.

How soon in the possession of our heart’s desire comes the sense of disappointment, and the presence of the worm, and promise of the blight among the flowers of our vernal days. Pitch the tent or drop the anchor where we may, always a new campaign opening, always a new voyage beginning—quiet nowhere.

“I dare say it is only my folly—that nothing has gone wrong, and that they have no secrets to hide from me. I have no one else; he would not shut me out from his confidence, and leave me quite alone. No, Ry, you could not.”

With a full heart she turned again from the window.

“He’ll come again in a minute; he’ll not walk far with Harry.”

She went to the door, and opening it, listened. She heard a step enter the passage from the stable-yard, and called to ask who was there. It was only Tom, who had let out Master Harry’s horse, and opened the gate for him. He led it out, and they walked together—Master Harry with the bridle in his hand, and Master Charles walking beside him. They took the narrow way along the little glen towards Cressley Common.

She knew that he would return probably in a few minutes; and more and more she wondered what those minutes might contain, she partly wondered at her own anxiety. So she returned to the room and waited there for him. But he remained longer away than she expected. The tea-things were on the table deserted. The fire flickered its genial invitation in vain, and she, growing more uncomfortable and lonely, and perhaps a little high at being thus forsaken, went upstairs to pay old Dulcibella Crane a visit.

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