The Wyvern Mystery, by J. Sheridan Le Fanu

Chapter 13.

Marjory Trevellian.

In order to throwing a light upon the nature of some of the duties of Mr. Archdale, “we must convey the reader in spirit, to some little distance.

In the sequestered country, about twelve miles south of Twyford, in a pretty nook formed by a wooded hollow close by the old by-road to Warhampton, stands an antique cottage, with a loft and two little windows peeping through the very steep thatched roof and a high narrow gable—gable and wall alike streaked and crossed with those black oak beams which formed the cage into whose interstices our ancestors built their brick and plaster. The steep roof runs out over a little porch which has a bench in one side of it. Another stone bench stands under the lattice “window, the woodwork of which casement, as well as the black spars crossed and morticed in the walls, and even the curved brick chimney, look shrunk and warped by time, by which, too, the hatch at the door is rounded and furrowed, and the stone seat and window stones worn into curves and hollows, and such and so venerable is the air of the structure, with its ivy-bound porch, that one might fancy it the very farm house in which Anne Hathaway passed her girlhood.

Here dwelt good Mrs. Marjory Trevellian, some fifty years old and upward, with, I think, the kindest face and pleasantest laugh in that part of the country; a widow of many years; not very happy in her marriage, and quite content with her experience of the wedded state; quiet, cheerful, very industrious; with a little farm of three acres, and a cow; spinning sometimes, knitting at others, and when she could, taking in washing, and in all things approving herself diligent, cheerful, and honest.

With this kind, cheery, honest dame lived a little boy, the son of a Mr. Henry—that was all she knew distinctly about his people. She called him her Fairy, and her Prince, and when curious people questioned her closely, she said that his father was a merchant, “unfortunate in business,” as the phrase is; that he was living perhaps in concealment, and in distressed circumstances, or possibly was dead. All she could say for certain was, that she received a very small allowance for maintaining him, which was paid punctually every three months in advance, and that as to the name of the boy, his Christian name was William and his surname Henry, and that she called him her “Prince” or her “Fairy,” and he called her “Granny.”

She idolised this pretty boy, and he loved her with the tenderness which a child bestows upon a loving nurse, something more than filial.

The boy remembers no other home but this, and no other friend but “Granny.” He was now a little past eleven. His life had been solitary, but cheerful. “Was there not the pond only thirty yards away from their door-step, in which he sailed his fleet of ships, made of corks, which old Peter Durdon gave him? He was a cousin of Marjory Trevellian’s, and lived in the village two miles away. He used to call every Sunday and to bring these corks in his pocket, and a bit of such lead as tea is wrapped in to make the keels of their navy. He was dressed in a blue “swallow-tailed “coat with brass buttons; his drab trousers were very short; his stockings faded sky-blue; and his shoes clumsy and clouted, and highly polished. He wore a chestnut wig of a long and lank cut, and his forehead slanted back very much, and his nose came forward, and a perpetual smile expanded his cheeks, which were as red and smooth as a ripe apple. His countenance was not wise, though very good-natured—rather silly, I’m afraid—and I think he took more interest in this sort of shipping than was quite compatible with strength of mind.

As these ships glided with thin paper sails across the pond, while Master Henry watched them in grave absorption, Peter’s raptures expressed themselves in continuous peals of laughter.

These were great occasions in the solitary life of Fairy.

There were a set of big box-wood nine-pins—skittles, I suppose, with balls—battered and discoloured—I never knew how they got into the cottage, but they looked a hundred years old if a day. Many a game with these on the smooth patch, of sward at the other side of the pond had pleasant old Marjory with her darling.

In its seclusion this life was monastic, but not in its liberty. The boy was, on the whole, very happy.

Looking on honest Marjory as mistress of all she surveyed, it never struck him, that in the points in which her dietary differed from his she was practising a compulsory economy. The article of meat was not often found in her bill of fare. But conscientiously she placed the little fellow’s bit of broiled meat before him every day, and told him when he inquired why she had none for herself that she did not like it, and that it did not agree with her, which he accepted as undoubted truths, and wondered and regretted secretly.

On winter evenings their tea was very cosy. A wheaten cake baked on the griddle, a new-laid egg each, and a cup of tea from the many-coloured delf tea-pot—a good deal burnt on the side next the fire. With the door barred and the window carefully closed, the fire burning cheerfully, and their candle lighting the party—who so happy? And was there not the old Robinson Crusoe, with binding black with age, and a frontispiece showing the hero with his grave countenance and beard, his tall cap and goat-skin dress, his musket over one shoulder and his umbrella over the other, and recounting his marvellous life in the quaint old type of Queen Anne? And was there not that other literary treasure, the old folio volume of Captain Cook’s, Commodore Anson’s, and other seafaring worthies’ voyages round or up and down the world, with no end of careful old copperplates, showing Pacific islands, curious volcanoes, flotillas of armed canoes, thick-lipped miscreants with rings in their noses and birds’ tails enlivening their foreheads, and long processions of official people, priests, &c., with a small white pocket-handkerchief each by way of dress? But better far than these, which together with her Bible and Prayer–Book, constituted Marjory’s library was that good creature’s inexhaustible collection of fairy tales, received traditionally and recounted viva voce, and prefaced with the rhyme which even at this distance recals me to the nursery fireside with the far-off tones of a kindly voice that I shall hear no more.

“Once upon a time there was a king and a queen, As many have been, But few I have seen, Except in pictures I”

And starting with this little trumpeting and summons to attention—the “oyes-oyes-oyes “and immutable prelude of an ever-varying sequel, good Marjory, the herald of ever new wonders, would tell her tale of dwarfs and castles, of godmother fairies, and malignant enchantresses, broken—hearted princes and persecuted princesses, and enchanted palaces and awful forests, till the hour came for the little fellow to get to his bed and enter the no less wonderful land of dreams.

Another person who contributed to the regular entertainment of the boy was Tom Orange.

Tom Orange called at the cottage sometimes at intervals of three months, sometimes, for perhaps half a year, on the first of every month, and was always made welcome by Marjory Trevellian, and feasted with rashers and whatever else her humble larder afforded, and on going had established a mysterious right to a shilling “tip,” which he always made it a point should be an honourable secret among them.

What might be the nature of his business the little boy neither knew nor cared, but Tom Orange was in the boy’s eyes the ideal and epitome of all that was enchanting, brilliant, and exhilarating.

Tom was somewhat long and lean, with a face also long and always smiling, except when it was making a grimace, an art in which he excelled almost every other blackguard I have heard of His clothes and hat were seedy, and, for so merry a person, he was wonderfully poor.

Tom Orange’s accomplishments were infinite, he could dance a hornpipe with all the well-known airs and graces of a sailor; he could protrude his mouth till it assumed a shape quite unknown to physiognomists, and with a delicate finger, turning his eyelids inside out, make the pupils of those organs quiver strangely, while he uttered a sound like the call of a jackdaw. He could sing a variety of comic songs, with refrains delivered with a volubility which distanced admiration, and made his very audience breathless, and some of these were relieved with occasional dialogue of matchless character and humour. He could swallow any number of pennies you pleased, and take them all out at different angles of his body; he could put several potatoes under his hat, and withdraw them all without touching either the hat or the potatoes. He could keep three balls always in the air together, and he could balance two chairs upon his chin.

In short, as I have said, his accomplishments were innumerable and extraordinary, and the only wonder was how so universal a genius could possibly possess so few shillings and so many seedy articles of dress.

Tom Orange, too, was great at skittles, and gave his pupil wonderful new lights.

He taught him also how to guard, stop, and strike according to the principles of “the noble art of self-defence.” In fact, it would have been difficult to discover a more fascinating companion and instructor of youth. Possibly it was as well, however, that his visits were so far between, and as brief as fortune ordained them to be. It was no wonder, however, that these visits were looked for by the boy, as the return of the life and excitement of an annual fair might have been by the ingenuous youth of some other rural district.

There was but one point on which Marjory was obliged to impose a prohibition upon the child. It seemed a trifle, but in reality was a gigantic privation.

“No, darling, you mustn’t talk to any other boys, nor play with them, nor go near them; if you do you’ll be took away by your friends, and I’ll never see you again; and what will poor Granny do then without her darling?”

And Granny’s eyes filled with tears, and the boy cried and hugged her passionately, and this little agony gave place to wild affection and a glow of unspeakable delight and happiness, and was celebrated by a hot cake that evening, and new-laid eggs and a great tea, and stories to no end.

And she found her darling that night crying in his sleep, and was sure he was dreaming of leaving the old cottage, and she wakened him with kisses, herself crying.

So these two persons, notwithstanding some disparity of years, were wonderfully happy in one another’s society, and if they had each their will, would have fixed things as they were, and neither grown older nor younger, but just gone on living so for ever.

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