The Wyvern Mystery, by J. Sheridan Le Fanu

Chapter 16


Having her own misgivings as to the temper in which her master would take this coup of the arrest, Mildred Tarnley prudently kept her own counsel, and retreated nearly to the kitchen door, while the éclaircissement took place outside. Popping in and out to see what would come of it, old Mildred affected to be busy about her mops and tubs. After a time, in came Tom, looking sulky and hot.

“Is he comin’ this way?” asked Mildred.

“Not him,” answered Tom.

“Where is he?”

“’Twixt this and Wykeford,” he answered, “across the common he’s ridin’”

“To Wykeford, hey?”

“To Wykeford, every foot, if he don’t run him down on the way; and when they meet—him and Squire Rodney—’twill be hot and shrewd work between them, I tell ye. I’d a rid wi’ him myself if there was a beast to carry me, for three agin one is too long odds.”

“Ye don’t mean to tell me!” exclaimed Mildred, planting her mop perpendicularly on the ground, and leaning immovably on this sceptre.

“Tell ye what?”

“There’s goin’ to be rough work like that on the head o’t?”

“Hot blood, ma’am. Ye know the Fairfields. They folk don’t stand long jawin’. It’s like when the blood’s up the hand’s up too.”

“And what’s he to fight for—not that blind beldame, sure?”

“I want my mug o’ beer,” said Tom, turning the conversation.

“Yes, sure,” she said, “yes, ye shall have it. But what for should master Charles go to wry words wi’ Squire Rodney, and what for should there be blows and blood spillin’ between ’em? Nonsense?”

“I can’t help ’em. I’d lend master a hand if I could. Squire Rodney’s no fool neither—’twill e’en be fight dog, fight bear—and there’s two stout lads wi’ him will make short work o’t.”

“Ye don’t think he’s like to be hurt, do ye?”

“Well, ye know, they say fightin’ dogs comes haltin’ home. He’s as strong as two, that’s all, and has a good nag under him. Now gi’e me my beer.”

“’Twon’t be nothin’, Tom, don’t you think, Tom? It won’t come to nothin’?”

“If he comes up wi’ them ’twill be an up-and-down fight, I take it. ’Twas an unlucky maggot bit him.”

“Bit who?”

“What but the Divil brought Squire Rodney over here?”

“Who knows?” answered the dame, fumbling in her pocket for the key of the beer-cellar—“I’m goin’ to fetch your beer, Tom.”

And away she went, and in a minute returned with his draught of beer.

“And I think,” she said, setting it down before him, “’twas well done, taking that beast to her right place, do it who might. She’s just a bedlam Bess—clean out o’ her wits wi’ wickedness—mad wi’ drink and them fits she has. We knows here what she is, and bloody work she’d a made last night wi’ that poor young lady, that’ll never be the same again—the old limb—and master himself, though he’s angered a bit because Justice Rodney did not ask his leave to catch a murderer, if ye please, down here at the Grange!”

“There’s more in it, mayhap, than just that,” said Tom, blowing the froth off his beer.

“To come down here without with your leave or by your leave, to squat in the Grange here like gipsey would on Cressley Common, as tho’ she was lady of all—to hurt who she pleased, and live as she liked. More in’t than that, ye say, what more?”

“Hoot, how should I know? Mayhap she thinks she’s as good a right as another to a bit and a welcome down here.”

“She was here before—years enough gone now, and long enough she stayed, and cost a pretty penny, too, I warrant you. Them was more tired of her than me—guest ever, welcome never, they say. She was a play-actor, or something, long ago—a great idle huzzy, never would earn a honest penny, nor do nothing useful, all her days.”

“Ay, Joan reels ill and winds worse, and de’il a stomach she has to spin—that’ll be the way wi’ her, I swear—ha, ha, ha. She’ll not be growin’ richer, I warrant—left in the mud and found in the mire—they folk knows nout o’ thrift, and small luck and less good about ’em.”

“If ye heard her talk, Tom, ye’d soon know what sort she is, always crayin’—she would not leave a body a shillin’ if she could help it.”

“Ay, I warrant, women, priests, and poultry have never enough,” said Tom. “I know nout about her, nor who she’s a lookin’ after here, but she’s safe enough now I take it; and bloody folks, they say, digs their own graves. But as I said, I knows nout about her, and I say nout, and he that judges as he runs may owertake repentance.”

“’Tis easy judgin’ here, I’m thinkin’. Killin’ and murder’s near akin, and when Mr. Charles cools a bit, he’ll thank Squire Rodney for riddin’ his house of that blind serpent. ’Tis somethin’ to be so near losing his wife. So sure as your hand’s on that mug it would a’ bin done while the cat’s lickin’ her ear if he had not bounced in on the minute, and once dead, dead as Adam.”

“Who loseth his wife and sixpence hath lost a tester, they do say,” answered Tom, with a laugh.

“None but a born beast would say so!” said Mildred Tarnley, with a swarthy flush, and striking her hand sternly on the table.

“Well, ’tis only a sayin’, ye know, and no new one neither,” said Tom, wiping his mouth with his sleeve, and standing up. “But the mistress is a pretty lady, and a kind—and a gentle-born as all may see, and I’d give or take a shrewd blow or two, or harm should happen her.”

“Ye’d be no man else, Tom, and I don’t doubt ye. Little thought I last night what was in her head, the sly villain, when I left her back again in her bed, and the cross door shut and locked. Lord a’ mercy on us! To think how the fiend works wi’ his own-smooth and sly sometimes, as if butter would not melt in her mouth.”

“’Tis an old sayin’—

“‘When the cat winketh,

Little wots mouse what the cat thinketh.’”

said Tom, with a grin and a wag of his head. “She was neither sleek, nor soft, nor sly for that matter, when I saw her. I thought she’d a’ had her claws in my chops; such a catamaran I never did see.”

“And how’s the young lady?” asked Tom, clapping his greasy hat on his head.

“Hey! dear! I’m glad ye asked,” exclaimed the old woman—“easier she’ll be, no doubt, now that devil’s gone. But, dearie me! all’s in a jumble till Master Charles comes back, for she’ll not know, poor thing, what she’s to do till he talks wi’ her—now all’s changed.”

And Mildred trotted off to see for herself, and to hear what the young lady might have to say.

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