The Wyvern Mystery, by J. Sheridan Le Fanu

Chapter 3.

Home to Wyvern.

When a sick man dies he leaves his bed and his physic. His best friend asks him not to stay, and sweetheart and kindred concur in putting him out of doors, to be in a bed of clay, under the sky, come frost, or storm, or rain; a dumb outcast from fireside, tankard, and even the talk of others.

Tall Charles Fairfield, of the blue eyes, was, in due course, robed in his strange white suit, boxed up and screwed down, with a plated inscription over his cold breast, recounting his Christian and surnames, and the tale of his years.

If from that serene slumber, he could have been called again, the loud and exceeding bitter cry, the wild farewell of his poor little Ally, would have wakened him; but her loving Ry, her hero, slept on, with the unearthly light on his face till the coffin-lid hid it, and in the morning the athlete passed downstairs on men’s shoulders, and was slid reverently into a hearse, and went away to old Wyvern churchyard.

At ten o’clock in the morning, Charlie Fairfield was on the ground. Was old Squire Harry there to meet his son, and follow his coffin to the aisle of the ancient little church, and thence to his place in the churchyard?

Not he.

“Serve him right,” said the Squire, when he heard it. “I’m damned if he’ll lie in our vault; let him go to Parson Maybell, yonder, under the trees; I’ll not have him.”

So Charles Fairfield is buried there under the drip of those melancholy old trees, close by the gentle vicar and his good and pretty wife, over whom the grass has grown long, and the leaves of twenty summers have bloomed and fallen, and whose forlorn and beautiful little child was to be his bride, and is now his widow.

Harry Fairfield was there, with the undertaker’s black cloak over his well-knit Fairfield shoulders. He nodded to this friend and that in the crowd, gruffly. His face was lowering with thought, his eyes cast down, and sometimes raised in an abstracted glare to the face of some unobserved bystander for a few moments. Conspicuous above other uncovered heads was his. The tall stature, and statuesque proportions of his race would have marked him without the black mantle for the kinsman of the dead Fairfield.

Up to Wyvern House, after the funeral was over, went Harry. The old man, his hat in his hand, was bareheaded, on the steps; as he approached he nodded to his last remaining son. Three were gone now. A faint sunlight glinted on his old features; a chill northern air stirred his white locks. A gloomy, but noble image of winter the gaunt old man presented.

“Well, that’s over; where’s the lad buried?”

“Just where you—wished, sir, near Vicar Maybell’s grave, under the trees.”

The old Squire grunted an assent.

“The neighbours was there, I dare say?”

“Yes, sir, all—I think.”

“I shouldn’t wonder—they liked Charlie—they did. He’s buried up there alone—well, he deserved it. Was Dobbs there, from Craybourne? He was good to Dobbs. He gave that fellow twenty pun’ once, like a big fool, when Dobbs was druv to the wall, the time he lost his cattle; he was there——”

“Yes, I saw Dobbs there, sir, he was crying.”

“More fool Dobbs—more fool he,” said the Squire, and then came a short pause; “cryin’ was he “?”

“Yes, sir.”

“He’s a big fool—Dobbs is a fool.”

“A man cryin’ always looks a fool, the rum faces they makes when they’re blubbin’,” observed Harry. “Some o’ the Wykeford folk was there—Rodney was at his funeral.”

“Rodney? He didn’t like a bone in his skin. Rodney’s a bad dog. What brought Rodney to my son’s funeral?”

“He’s took up wi’ them preachin’ folk at Wykeford, I’m told, and he came down, I ’spose, to show the swaddlers what a forgivin’, charitable chap he is. Before he put on his hat, he come over and put out his hand to me.”

“And ye took it! ye know ye took it.”

“Well, the folk was lookin’ on, and he took me so short,” said Harry.

“Charlie wouldn’t ’a done that; he wouldn’t ’a took his hand over your grave; but you’re not like us—never was; you were cut out for a lawyer, I think.”

“Well, the folk would ’a talked, ye know, sir.”

“Talked, sir, would they?” retorted the Squire, with an angry leer, “I never cared the crack o’ a cartwhip what the folk talked—let ’em talk, damn ’em. And ye had no gloves, Dickon says, nor nothin’, buried like a dog ’a most, up in a corner there.”

“Ye told me not to lay out a shillin’, sir,” said Harry.

“If I did I did, but angry folk don’t always mean all they says; no matter, we’re done wi’ it now—it’s over. He was worth ye all,” broke out the Squire passionately; “I could ’a liked him, if he had ’a liked me—if he had ’a let me, but he didn’t, and—there it is.”

So the Squire walked on a little hastily, which was his way when he chose to be alone, down the steps with gaunt, stumbling gait, and slowly away into the tall woods close by, and in that ancestral shadow disappeared.

Future—present—past. The future—mist, a tint, and shadow. The cloud on which fear and hope project their airy phantoms, living in imagination, and peopled by romance—a dream of dreams. The present only we possess man’s momentary dominion, plastic under his hand as the clay under the potter’s—always a moment of the present in our absolute power—always that fleeting, plastic moment speeding into the past—immutable, eternal. The metal flows molten by, and then chills and fixes for ever. So with the life of man—so with the spirit of man. Work while it is called day. The moment fixes the retrospect, and death the character, for ever. The heart knoweth its own bitterness. The proud man looks on the past he has made. The hammer of Thor can’t break it; the fire that is not quenched can’t melt it. His thoughtless handiwork will be the same for ever.

Old Squire Harry did not talk any more about Charlie. About a month after this he sent to Craybourne to say that Dobbs must come up to Wyvern. Dobbs’ heart failed him when he heard it. Everyone was afraid of old Squire Harry, for in his anger he regarded neither his own interest nor other men’s safety.

“Ho, Dobbs! you’re not fit for Craybourne, the farm’s too much for you, and I’ve nothing else to gi’e ye.” Dobbs’ heart quailed at these words. “You’re a fool, Dobbs—you’re a fool—you’re not equal to it, man. I wonder you didn’t complain o’ your rent. It’s too much—too high by half. I told Cresswell to let you off every rent day a good penn’orth, for future, and don’t you talk about it to no one, ’twould stop that.” He laid his hand on Dobbs’ shoulder, and looked not unkindly in his face.

And then he turned and walked away, and Dobbs knew that his audience was over.

And the old Squire was growing older, and grass and weeds were growing apace over handsome Charlie Fairfield’s grave in Wyvern. But the old man never sent to Carwell Grange, nor asked questions about Alice. That wound was not healed, as death heals some.

Harry came, but Alice was ill, and could not see him. Lady Wyndale came, and her she saw, and that good-natured kinswoman made her promise that she would come and live with her so soon as she was well enough to leave the Grange.

And Alice lay still in her bed, as the doctor commanded, and her heart seemed breaking. The summer would return, but Ry would never come again. The years would come and pass—how were they to be got over? And, oh! the poor little thing that was coming!—what a sad welcome! It would break her heart to look at it. “Oh, Ry, Ry, Ry, my darling!”

So the morning broke and evening closed, and her great eyes were wet with tears—“the rain it raineth every day.”

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