The House by the Church-Yard
by J. Sheridan Le Fanu
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'I had taken a whim to marry; there's no need to mention names; but I supposed I should have met no difficulty with the lady—relying on my wealth. Had I married, I should have left the country.

'However, it was not to be. It might have been well for all had I never thought of it. For I'm a man who, when he once places an object before him, will not give it up without trying. I can wait as well as strike, and know what's to be got by one and t'other. Well, what I've once proposed to myself I don't forego, and that helped to hold me where I was.

'The nature of the beast, Sturk, and his circumstances were dangerous. 'Twas necessary for my safety to make away with him. I tried it by several ways. I made a quarrel between him and Toole, but somehow it never came to a duel; and a worse one between him and Nutter, but that too failed to come to a fight. It was to be, Sir, and my time had come. What I long suspected arrived, and he told me in his own study he knew me, and wanted money. The money didn't matter; of that I could spare abundance, though 'tis the nature of such a tax to swell to confiscation. But the man who gets a sixpence from you on such terms is a tyrant and your master, and I can't brook slavery.

'I owed the fellow no ill-will; upon my honour, as a gentleman; I forgive him, as I hope he has forgiven me. It was all fair he should try. We can't help our instincts. There's something wolfish in us all. I was vexed at his d——d folly, though, and sorry to have to put him out of the way. However, I saw I must be rid of him.

'There was no immediate hurry. I could afford to wait a little. I thought he would walk home on the night I met him. He had gone into town in Colonel Strafford's carriage. It returned early in the afternoon without him. I knew his habits; he dined at Keating's ordinary at four o'clock; and Mercer, whom he had to speak with, would not see him, on his bill of exchange business, in his counting-house. Sturk told me so; and he must wait till half-past five at his lodgings. What he had to say was satisfactory, and I allowed five minutes for that.

'Then he might come home in a coach. But he was a close-fisted fellow and loved a shilling; so it was probable he would walk. His usual path was by the Star Fort, and through the thorn woods between that and the Magazine. So I met him. I said I was for town, and asked him how he had fared in his business; and turned with him, walking slowly as though to hear. I had that loaded whalebone in my pocket, and my sword, but no pistol. It was not the place for firearms; the noise would have made an alarm. So I turned sharp upon him and felled him. He knew by an intuition what was about to happen, for as the blow fell he yelled "murder." That d——d fellow, Nutter, in the wood at our right, scarce a hundred yards away, halloed in answer. I had but time to strike him two blows on the top of his head that might have killed an ox. I felt the metal sink at the second in his skull, and would have pinked him through with my sword, but the fellow was close on me, and I thought I knew the voice for Nutter's. I stole through the bushes swiftly, and got along into the hollow under the Magazine, and thence on.

'There was a slight fog upon the park, and I met no one. I got across the park-wall, over the quarry, and so down by the stream at Coyles, and on to the road near my house. No one was in sight, so I walked down to Chapelizod to show myself. Near the village tree I met Dr. Toole. I asked him if Nutter was in the club, and he said no—nor at home, he believed, for his boy had seen him more than half-an-hour ago leave his hall door, dressed for the road.

'So I made as if disappointed, and turned back again, assured that Nutter was the man. I was not easy, for I could not be sure that Sturk was dead. Had I been allowed a second or two more, I'd have made sure work of it. Still I was nearly sure. I could not go back now and finish the business. I could not say whether he lay there any longer, and if he did, how many men Nutter might have about him by this time. So, Sir, the cast was made, I could not mend it, and must abide my fortune be it good or ill.

'Not a servant saw me go out or return. I came in quietly, and went into my bed-room and lighted a candle. 'Twas a blunder, a blot, but a thousand to one it was not hit. I washed my hands. There was some blood on the whalebone, and on my fingers. I rolled the loaded whalebone up in a red handkerchief, and locked it into my chest of drawers, designing to destroy it, which I did, so soon as the servants were in bed; and then I felt a chill and a slight shiver;—'twas only that I was an older man. I was cool enough, but a strain on the mind was more to me then than twenty years before. So I drank a dram, and I heard a noise outside my window. 'Twas then that stupid dog, Cluffe, saw me, as he swears.

'Well, next day Sturk was brought home; Nutter was gone, and the suspicion attached to him. That was well. But, though Pell pronounced that he must die without recovering consciousness, and that the trepan would kill him instantaneously, I had a profound misgiving that he might recover speech and recollection. I wrote as exact a statement of the case to my London physician—a very great man—as I could collect, and had his answer, which agreed exactly with Doctor Pell's. 'Twas agreed on all hands the trepan would be certain death. Days, weeks, or months—it mattered not what the interval—no returning glimmer of memory could light his death-bed. Still, Sir, I presaged evil. He was so long about dying.

'I'm telling you everything, you see. I offered Irons what would have been a fortune to him—he was attending occasionally in Sturk's sick-room, and assisting in dressing his wounds—to watch his opportunity and smother him with a wet handkerchief. I would have done it myself afterwards, on the sole opportunity that offered, had I not been interrupted.

'I engaged, with Mrs. Sturk's approval, Doctor Dillon. I promised him five hundred guineas to trepan him. That young villain, I could prove, bled Alderman Sherlock to death to please the alderman's young wife. Who'd have thought the needy profligate would have hesitated to plunge his trepan into the brain of a dying man—a corpse, you may say, already—for five hundred guineas? I was growing feverish under the protracted suspense. I was haunted by the apprehension of Sturk's recovering his consciousness and speech, in which case I should have been reduced to my present rueful situation; and I was resolved to end that cursed uncertainty.

'When I thought Dillon had forgot his appointment in his swinish vices, I turned my mind another way. I resolved to leave Sturk to nature, and clench the case against Nutter, by evidence I would have compelled Irons to swear. As it turned out, that would have been the better way. Had Sturk died without speaking, and Nutter hanged for his death, the question could have opened no more, and Irons would have been nailed to my interest.

'I viewed the problem every way. I saw the danger from the first, and provided many expedients, which, one after the other, fortune frustrated. I can't confidently say even now that it would have been wiser to leave Sturk to die, as the doctors said he must. I had a foreboding, in spite of all they could say, he would wake up before he died and denounce me. If 'twas a mistake, 'twas a fated one, and I could not help it.

'So, Sir, you see I've nothing to blame myself for—though all has broken down.

'I guessed when I heard the sound at the hall-door of my house that Sturk or Irons had spoken, and that they were come to take me. Had I broken through them, I might have made my escape. It was long odds against me, but still I had a chance—that's all. And the matter affecting my Lord Dunoran's innocence, I'm ready to swear, if it can serve his son—having been the undesigned cause of some misfortunes to you, my lord, in my lifetime.'

Lord Dunoran said nothing, he only bowed his head.

So Dangerfield, when his statement respecting the murder of Beauclerc had been placed clearly in writing, made oath of its truth, and immediately when this was over (he had, while they were preparing the statement, been walking up and down his flagged chamber), he grew all on a sudden weak, and then very flushed, and they thought he was about to take a fit; but speedily he recovered himself, and in five minutes' time was much as he had been at the commencement.

After my lord and Mr. Armstrong went away, he had the gaoler with him, and seemed very sanguine about getting his pardon, and was very brisk and chatty, and said he'd prepare his petition in the morning, and got in large paper for drafting it on, and said, 'I suppose at the close of this commission they will bring me up for judgment; that will be the day after to-morrow, and I must have my petition ready.' And he talked away like a man who had got a care off his mind, and is in high spirits; and when grinning, beetle-browed Giant Despair shook his hand, and wished him luck at parting, he stopped him, laying his white hand upon his herculean arm, and, said he, 'I've a point to urge they don't suspect. I'm sure of my liberty; what do you think of that—hey?' and he laughed. 'And when I get away what do you say to leaving this place and coming after me? Upon my life, you must, Sir. I like you, and if you don't, rot me, but I'll come and take you away myself.'

So they parted in a sprightly, genial way; and in the morning the turnkey called the gaoler up at an unseasonable hour, and told him that Mr. Dangerfield was dead.

The gaoler lay in the passage outside the prisoner's cell, with his bed across the door, which was locked, and visited him at certain intervals. The first time he went in there was nothing remarkable. It was but half-an-hour after the gaoler had left. Mr. Dangerfield, for so he chose to be called, was dozing very quietly in his bed, and just opened his eyes, and nodded on awaking, as though he would say, 'Here I am,' but did not speak.

When, three hours later, the officer entered, having lighted his candle at the lamp, he instantly recoiled. 'The room felt so queer,' said he, 'I thought I'd a fainted, and I drew back. I tried it again a bit further in, and 'twas worse, and the candle almost went out—'twas as if the devil was there. I drew back quick, and I called the prisoner, but no word was there. Then I locks the door, and called Michael; and when he came we called the prisoner again, but to no purpose. Then we opened the door, and I made a rush, and smashed the glass of the window to let in air. We had to wait outside a good while before we could venture in; and when we did, there he was lying like a man asleep in his bed, with his nightcap on, and his hand under his cheek, and he smiling down on the flags, very sly, like a man who has won something cleverly. He was dead, and his limbs cold by this time.'

There was an inquest. Mr. Dangerfield 'looked very composed in death,' says an old letter, and he lay 'very like sleep,' in his bed, 'his fingers under his cheek and temple,' with the countenance turned 'a little downward, as if looking upon something on the floor,' with an 'ironical smile;' so that the ineffaceable lines of sarcasm, I suppose, were traceable upon that jaundiced mask.

Some said it was a heart disease, and others an exhalation from the prison floor. He was dead, that was all the jury could say for certain, and they found 'twas 'by a visitation of God.' The gaoler, being a superstitious fellow, was plaguily nervous about Mr. Dangerfield's valediction, and took clerical advice upon it, and for several months after became a very serious and ascetic character; and I do believe that the words were spoken in reality with that sinister jocularity in which his wit sported like church-yard meteors, when crimes and horrors were most in his mind.

The niece of this gaoler said she well remembered her uncle, when a very old man, three years before the rebellion, relating that Mr. Dangerfield came by his death in consequence of some charcoal in a warming pan he had prevailed on him to allow him for his bed, he having complained of cold. He got it with a design to make away with himself, and it was forgotten in the room. He placed it under the bed, and waited until the first call of the turnkey was over, and then he stuffed his surtout into the flue of the small fire-place, which afforded the only ventilation of his cell, and so was smothered. It was not till the winter following that the gaoler discovered, on lighting a fire there, that the chimney was stopped. He had a misgiving about the charcoal before, and now he was certain. Of course, he said nothing about his suspicions at first, nor of his discovery afterwards.

So, sometimes in my musings, when I hear of clever young fellows taking to wild courses, and audaciously rushing—where good Christians pray they may not be led—into temptation, there rises before me, with towering forehead and scoffing face, a white image smoking his pipe grimly by a plutonic fire; and I remember the words of the son of Sirach—'The knowledge of wickedness is not wisdom, neither at any time the counsel of sinners prudence.'

Mr. Irons, of course, left Chapelizod. He took with him the hundred guineas which Mr. Dangerfield had given him, as also, it was said, a handsome addition made to that fund by open-handed Dr. Walsingham; but somehow, being much pressed for time, he forgot good Mistress Irons, who remained behind and let lodgings pretty much as usual, and never heard from that time forth anything very distinct about him; and latterly it was thought was, on the whole, afraid rather than desirous of his turning up again.

Doctor Toole, indeed, related in his own fashion, at the Phoenix, some years later, a rumour which, however, may have turned out to be no better than smoke.

'News of Zekiel, by Jove! The prophet was found, Sir, with a friend in the neighbourhood of Hounslow, with a brace of pistols, a mask, a handful of slugs, and a powder-horn in his pocket, which he first gave to a constable, and then made his compliments to a justice o' the peace, who gave him and his friend a note of commendation to my Lord Chief Justice, and his lordship took such a fancy to both that, by George, he sent them in a procession in his best one-horse coach, with a guard of honour and a chaplain, the high-sheriff dutifully attending, through the City, where, by the king's commands, they were invested with the grand collar of the order of the hempen cravat, Sir, and with such an attention to their comfort they were not required to descend from their carriage, by George, and when it drove away they remained in an easy, genteel posture, with their hands behind their backs, in a sort of an ecstasy, and showed their good humour by dancing a reel together with singular lightness and agility, and keeping it up till they were both out of breath, when they remained quiet for about half an hour to cool, and then went off to pay their respects to the President of the College of Surgeons,' and so forth; but I don't think Irons had pluck for a highwayman, and I can't, therefore, altogether, believe the story.

We all know Aunt Rebecca pretty well by this time. And looking back upon her rigorous treatment of Puddock, recorded in past chapters of this tale, I think I can now refer it all to its true source.

She was queer, quarrelsome, and sometimes nearly intolerable; but she was generous and off-handed, and made a settlement, reserving only a life interest, and nearly all afterwards to Puddock.

'But in a marriage settlement,' said the attorney (so they called themselves in those days), 'it is usual; and here his tone became so gentle that I can't say positively what he uttered.'

'Oh—a—that,' she said, 'a—well, you can speak to Lieutenant Puddock, if you wish. I only say for myself a life estate; Lieutenant Puddock can deal with the remainder as he pleases.' And Aunt Rebecca actually blushed a pretty little pink blush. I believe she did not think there was much practical utility in the attorney's suggestion, and if an angel in her hearing had said of her what he once said of Sarah, she would not have laughed indeed, but I think she would have shaken her head.

She was twenty years and upwards his senior; but I don't know which survived the other, for in this life the battle is not always to the strong.

Their wedding was a very quiet affair, and the talk of the village was soon directed from it to the approaching splendours of the union of Miss Gertrude and my Lord Dunoran.



The old minutes of the Irish House of Lords can better explain than I the parliamentary process by which all the consequences of the judgment against the late Lord Dunoran were abrogated, as respected his son. An ancient name rescued from the shadow of dishonour, and still greater estates, made my lord and lady as happy as things can. So for the recluse Mervyn, and the fair Gertrude Chattesworth, our story ends like a fairy tale.

A wedding in those days was a celebration and a feast; and it was deemed fitting that the union of Gertrude Chattesworth and the youthful Lord Dunoran should await the public vindication of his family, and the authentic restoration of all their rights and possessions. On the eve of this happy day, leaning on the youthful arm of kindly Dan Loftus, there came a figure not seen there for many months before, very much changed, grown, oh, how old! It was the good rector, who asked to see Miss Gertrude.

And so when he entered the room, she ran to meet him with a little cry; and she threw her arms about his neck and sobbed a good deal on that old, cassocked shoulder, and longed to ask him to let her be as a daughter to him. But he understood her and, after a while, he wished her joy, very kindly. And my Lord Dunoran came in, and was very glad to see him, and very tender and reverent too; and the good doctor, as he could not be at the wedding, wished to say a word 'on the eve of the great change which my dear young friend—little Gertie, we used to call her—is about to make.' And so he talked to them both. It was an affectionate little homily, and went on something in this sort—

'But I need not say how honourable an estate it is, only, my lord, you will always remember your wooing is not over with your wedding. As you did first choose your love, you must hereafter love your choice. In Solomon's Song, the Redeemer the bridegroom, and the Church His spouse, one calls the other "love," to show that though both did not honour alike, yet both should love alike.

'And always be kind, and the kinder the more her weakness needs it. Elkanah says to his wife, "Am not I better unto thee than ten sons?" As though he favoured her more for that which she thought herself despised. So a good husband will not love his wife less, but comfort her more for her infirmities, as this man did, that she may bear with his infirmities too. And if she be jealous—ay, they will be jealous—'

He spoke in a reverie, with a sad fond look, not a smile, but something like a smile, and a little pensive shake of the head; he was thinking, perhaps, of very old times. And 'my lord' glanced with a sly smile at Gertrude, who was looking on the carpet with, I think, a blush, and I'm sure saw my lord's glance seeking hers, but made as though she did not.

'If she be jealous, her jealousy, you know, is still the measure of her love. Bless God that he hath made thee to her so dear a treasure that she cannot hide her fears and trouble lest she should lose even a portion of thy love; and let thy heart thank her too.

'And if the husband would reprove her, it must be in such a mood as if he did chide with himself, and his words like Jonathan's arrows, which were not shot to hurt but to give warning. She must have no words but loving words from thee. She is come to thee as to a sanctuary to defend her from hurt, and canst thou hurt her thyself? Does the king trample his crown? Solomon calls the wife the crown of her husband; therefore, he who despiseth her woundeth his own honour. I am resolved to honour virtue in what sex soever I find it.'

The doctor was speaking this like a soliloquy, slowly, and looking on the floor.

'And I think in general I shall find it more in women than in men.'

Here the young people exchanged another smile, and the doctor looked up and went on. 'Ay—though weaker and more infirmly guarded, I believe they are better; for everyone is so much the better, by how much he comes nearer to God; and man in nothing is more like him than in being merciful. Yet woman is far more merciful than man. God is said to be love; and I am sure in that quality woman everywhere transcends.'

The doctor's serious discourses were a mosaic of old divines and essayists, and Greek and Latin authors, as the writings of the Apostolic Fathers are, in a great measure, a tesselation of holy writ. He assumed that everybody knew where to find them. His business was only to repeat the truth wherever gleaned. So I can't tell how much was the doctor's and how much theirs.

And when he had done upon this theme, and had risen to take leave, he said in his gentle and simple way—

'And I brought you a little present—a necklace and ear-rings—old-fashioned, I'm afraid—they were my dear mother's diamonds, and were to have been—'

Here there was a little pause—they knew what was in his mind—and he dried his eyes quickly.

'And won't you take them, Gertie, for poor little Lily's keepsake? And so—well, well—little Gerty—I taught you your catechism—dear, dear! Little Gerty going to be married! And may God Almighty bless her to you, and you to her, with length of days, and all goodness; and with children, the inheritors of your fair forms, and all your graces, to gladden your home with love and duty, and to close your eyes at last with tender reverence; and to walk after you, when your time is over, in the same happy and honourable paths.'

Miss Gertrude was crying, and with two quick little steps she took his knotted old hand, and kissed it fervently and said—

'I thank you, Sir, you've always been so good to me; I wish I could tell you—and won't you come to us, Sir, and see us very often—when we are settled—and bring good Mr. Loftus, and dear old Sally; and thank you, Sir, with all my heart, for your beautiful presents, and for your noble advice, Sir, which I will never forget, and for your blessing, and I wish I could show you how very much I love and reverence you.'

And my Lord Dunoran, though he was smiling, looked as if he had been crying too. But men, you know, don't like to be detected in that weakness, though everybody knows there are moments when bonus Homerus dormitat.

Good Doctor Walsingham made Dan Loftus his curate. But when in the course of time a day came when the old rector was to meet his parishioners no more, and the parish was vacant, I do not hear that honest Dan succeeded to it. Indeed I'm afraid that it needs sometimes a spice of the devil, or at least of the world, to get on in the Church. But Lord Dunoran took him with him on the embassage to Lisbon, and afterwards he remained in his household as his domestic chaplain, much beloved and respected. And there he had entire command of his lordship's fine library, and compiled and composed, and did everything but publish and marry.

In due time the fair Magnolia made the amorous and formidable O'Flaherty happy. Single blessedness was not for her, and it is due to her to say, she turned out one of the best house-wives in Chapelizod, and made the fireworker account for every shilling of his pay and other revenues, and managed the commissariat and all other departments to admiration. She cured her lord very nearly of boozing, and altogether of duelling. One combat only he fought after his marriage, and it was rumoured that the blooming Magnolia actually chastised the gigantic delinquent with her own fair hand. That, however, I don't believe. But unquestionably she did, in other ways, lead the contumacious warrior so miserable a life for some months after that, as he averred to the major, with tears in his eyes, it would have been 'more to his teeste to have been shot on the occasion.' At first, of course, the fireworker showed fight, and sometimes broke loose altogether; but in the end 'his mouth was made,' his paces formed, and he became a very serviceable and willing animal. But if she was strong she was also generous, and very popular for her good nature and fearlessness. And they made a very happy, as well as a comely couple. And many handsome children were nursed at her fair breast, and drew many a Celtic virtue from that kindly fountain and one of the finest grenadiers who lay in his red coat and sash within the French lines on the field of Waterloo, in that great bivouac which knows no reveille save the last trumpet, was a scion of that fine military stock.

At length came the day of the nuptials—a grand day for Belmont—a grand day for the town. Half-a-dozen flags were up and floating in the autumnal sun. The band of the Royal Irish Artillery played noble and cheering strains upon the lawns of Belmont. There were pipers and fiddlers beside for rustic merry-makers under the poplars. Barrels of strong ale and sparkling cider were broached on the grass; and plenty of substantial fare kept the knives and forks clattering under the marquees by the hedgerow. The rude and hospitable feudalism of old times had not died out yet; marriage being an honourable estate, the bride and bridegroom did not steal away in a travelling carriage, trying to pass for something else, to unknown regions, but remained courageously upon the premises, the central figures of a genial gala.

Need I describe the wedding? It always seems to me that I saw it, and see it still, I've heard the old folk talk it over so often. The reader's fancy will take that business off my hands. 'What's a play without a marriage? and what is a marriage if one sees nothing of it?' says Sir Roger in Gay's tragi-comic pastoral. 'Let him have his humour, but set the doors wide open, that we may see how all goes on.'

(Sir Roger at the door, pointing.)

'So natural! d'ye see now, neighbours? The ring, i'faith. To have and to hold! Right again; well play'd, doctor; well play'd, son Thomas. Come, come, I'm satisfied. Now for the fiddles and dances.'

And so are we—now, then, for the fiddles and dances! And let those who love to foot it keep it up—after sack-posset and stocking thrown—till two o'clock i' the morning; and the elder folk, and such as are 'happy thinking,' get home betimes; and smiling still, get to their beds; and with hearty laughter—as it were mellowed by distance—still in their ears, and the cheery scrape of the fiddle, all pervading, still humming on; and the pleasant scuffle of light feet, and with kindly ancient faces, and blushing young ones all round in airy portraiture; grinning, roguish, faithful, fuddled old servants, beflowered and liveried, pronouncing benedictions at the foot of the stairs, and pocketing their vails; and buxom maids in their best Sunday finery, giggling and staring, with eyes starting out of their heads, at the capering 'quality,', through the half-open doors; let us try to remember the 'sentiment' delivered by that ridiculous dog, Tom Toole, after supper, at which we all laughed so heartily. And, ah! there were some pretty faces that ought to have been there—faces that were pleasant to see, but that won't smile or blush any more; and I missed them, though I said nothing. And so, altogether, it went down among my pleasant recollections, and I think will always remain so, for it was all kindly, and had its root in the heart; and the affections were up and stirring, and mixed in the dance with the graces, and shook hands kindly with old father Bacchus; and so I pull my nightcap about my ears, drop the extinguisher on the candle, and wish you all pleasant dreams.


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