The Wyvern Mystery, by J. Sheridan Le Fanu

Chapter 19.


Charles Fairfield, in true Fairfield wrath, had ridden at a hard pace, which helped to keep his blood up, all the way to the bridge of Wykeford. He had expected to overtake the magistrate easily before he reached that point, and if he had, who knows what might have happened next.

Baulked at Wykeford, and learning there how long a ride interposed before he could hope to reach him, he turned and followed in a somewhat changed mood.

He would himself bail that woman. The question, felony or no felony—bailable offence or not bailable—entered not his uninstructed head. Be she what she might, assassin—devil, he could not and would not permit her to lie in jail. Arrested in his own house, with many sufferings and one great wrong to upbraid him with—with rights, imaginary he insisted, but honestly believed in, perhaps, by her—with other rights, which his tortured heart could not deny, the melancholy rights which are founded on outlawry and disgrace, eleemosynary, but quite irresistible when pleaded with natures not lost to all good, and which proclaim the dreadful equity-that vice has its duties no less than virtue.

Baulked in his first violent impulse, Charles rode his hot horse quietly along the by-road that leads to Hatherton, over many a steep and through many a rut.

Yes, pleasant it would have been to “lick” that rascal Rodney, and upset his dog-cart into the ditch, and liberate the distressed damsel. But even Charles Fairfield began to perceive consequences, and to approve a more moderate course.

At Hatherton was there not Peregrine Hincks, the attorney who carried his brother, Harry Fairfield, whose course, any more than that of true love, did not always run smooth, through the short turns and breaks that disturbed it?

He would go straight to this artist in all manner of quips and cranks in parchment, and tell him what he wanted—the most foolish thing perhaps in the world, to undo that which his good fortune had done for him, and let loose again his trouble.

Scandal! What did the defiant soul of a Fairfield care for scandal? Impulsive, reckless, affectionate, not ungenerous—all considerations were lost in the one compunctious feeling.

Two hours later he was in the office of Mr. Peregrine Hincks, who listened to his statement with a shrewd inflexibility of face. He knew as much as Harry Fairfield did of the person who was now under the turnkey’s tutelage. But Charles fancied him quite in the dark, and treated the subject accordingly.

“We’ll send down to the jail, and learn what she’s committed for, but two will be necessary. Who will execute the recognizance with you?”

“I’m certain Harry will do it in a moment,” said Charles.

The attorney was very sure that Harry would do no such thing. But it was not necessary to discuss that particular point, nor to insinuate officiously his ideas about the county scandal which would follow his inter-position in favour of a prisoner committed upon a charge involving an attempt upon the life of his wife, for the information brought back from the prison was such as to convince the attorney that bail could not be accepted in the case.

On learning this, Charles’ wrath returned. He stood for a time at the chimney-piece, examining in silence a candlestick that stood there, and then to the window he went, with a haggard, angry face, and looked out for a while with his hands in his pockets.

“Very well. So much the worse for Rodney,” said he suddenly. “I told you my sole motive was to snub that fellow. He chose to make an arrest in my house—his damned impertinence!—without the slightest reference to me, and I made up my mind, if I could, to let his prisoner go. That fellow wants to be kicked—I don’t care twopence about anything else, but it’s all one—I’ll find some other way.”

“You’d better have a glass of sherry, sir; you’re a little tired, and a biscuit.”

“I’ll have nothing, thanks, till I—till I—what was I going to say? Time enough; I have lots to do at home—a great deal, Mr. Hincks—and my head aches. I am tired, but I won’t mind the wine, thank you, my head is too bad. If I could just clear it of two or three things I’d be all right, and rest a little. I’ve been overworked, and I’ll ride over here tomorrow—that will do—and we’ll talk it over; and I don’t choose the wretched, crazy woman to be shut up in prison, because that stupid prig, Rodney, pleases to say she’s sane, and would like to hang her, just because she was arrested at Carwell; and—and as you say, of course, if she is insane she is best out of the way; but there are ways of doing things, and I won’t be bullied by that vulgar snob. By if I had caught him today I’d have broken his neck, I believe.”

“Glad you did not meet him, sir—a row at any time brings one into mischief, but an interference with the course of law—don’t you see—a very serious affair, indeed!”

“Well, see—yes, I suppose so, and there was just another thing. Believing, as I do, that wretched person quite mad—don’t you see?—it would be very hard to let her—to let her half starve there where they’ve put her—don’t you think?—and I don’t care to go down to the place there, and all that; and if you’d just manage to let her have this—it’s all I can do just now—but—but its happening at my house—although I’m not a bit to blame, puts it on me in a way.—so I think I can’t do less than this.”

He handed a bank-note to the attorney, and was looking all the time on a brief that lay on the table.

Mr. Hincks, the respectable attorney, was a little shy, also, as he took it.

“I’m to say you send it to—what’s her name, by-the-by?” he asked.

“Bertha Velderkaust, but you need not mention me—only say it was sent to her—that’s all. I’m so vexed, because as you may suppose, I had particular reasons for wishing to keep quiet, and I was staying there at the Grange, you know—Carwell—and thought I might keep quiet for a few weeks; and that wretched maniac comes down there while I was for a few days absent, and in one of her fits makes an attack on a member of my family; and so my little hiding place is disclosed, for of course such a fracas will be heard of,—it is awfully provoking—I’m rather puzzled to know where to go.

Charles ceased, with a faint, dreary laugh, and the attorney looked at his bank-note, which he held by the comers, as the mate, in Mudford’s fine story, might at the letter which Vanderdecken wished to send to his long-lost wife in Amsterdam.

It was not, however, clear to him that he had any very good excuse for refusing to do this trifling kindness for the brother of his quarrelsome and litigious client, Harry Fairfield, who, although he eschewed costs himself, laid them pretty heavily upon others, and was a valuable feeder for Mr. Hincks’ office.

This little commission, therefore, accepted, the attorney saw his visitor downstairs. He had already lighted a candle, and in its light he thought he never saw a man upon his legs look so ill as Charles, and the hand which he gave Mr. Hincks at the steps was dry and burning.

“It’s a long ride, sir, to Carwell,” the attorney hesitated.

“The horse has had some oats, thanks, down here,” and he nodded toward the Plume of Feathers at which he had put up his beast, “and I shan’t be long getting over the ground.”

And without turning about, or a look over his shoulder, he sauntered away, in the rising moonlight, toward the little inn.

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