The House by the Church-Yard
by J. Sheridan Le Fanu
Previous Part     1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9  10  11  12  13  14     Next Part
Home - Random Browse



Next morning Toole, sauntering along the low road towards the mills, as usual bawling at his dogs, who scampered and nuzzled hither and thither, round and about him, saw two hackney coaches and a 'noddy' arrive at 'the Brass Castle,' a tall old house by the river, with a little bit of a flower-garden, half-a-dozen poplars, and a few old privet hedges about it; and being aware that it had been taken the day before for Mr. Dangerfield, for three months, he slackened his pace, in the hope of seeing that personage, of whom he had heard great things, take seisin of his tabernacle. He was disappointed, however; the great man had not arrived, only a sour-faced, fussy old lady, Mrs. Jukes, his housekeeper and a servant-wench and a great lot of boxes and trunks; and so leaving the coachman grumbling and swearing at the lady, who, bitter, shrill, and voluble, was manifestly well able to fight her own battles, he strolled back to the Phoenix, where a new evidence of the impending arrival met his view in an English groom with three horses, which the hostler and he were leading into the inn-yard.

There were others, too, agreeably fidgeted about this arrival. The fair Miss Magnolia, for instance, and her enterprising parent, the agreeable Mrs. Macnamara: who both as they gaped and peeped from the windows, bouncing up from the breakfast-table every minute, to the silent distress of quiet little Major O'Neill, painted all sorts of handsome portraits, and agreeable landscapes, and cloud-clapped castles, each for her private contemplation, on the spreading canvas of her hopes.

Dr. Walsingham rode down to the 'Tiled House,' where workmen were already preparing to make things a little more comfortable. The towering hall-door stood half open; and down the broad stairs—his tall, slim figure, showing black against the light of the discoloured lobby-window—his raven hair reaching to his shoulders—Mervyn, the pale, large-eyed genius of that haunted place, came to meet him. He led him into the cedar parlour, the stained and dusty windows of which opened upon that moss-grown orchard, among whose great trunks and arches those strange shapes were said sometimes to have walked at night, like penitents and mourners through cathedral pillars.

It was a reception as stately, but as sombre and as beggarly withal as that of the Master of Ravenswood, for there were but two chairs in the cedar-parlour,—one with but three legs, the other without a bottom; so they were fain to stand. But Mervyn could smile without bitterness and his desolation had not the sting of actual poverty, as he begged the rector to excuse his dreary welcome, and hoped that he would find things better the next time.

Their little colloquy got on very easily, for Mervyn liked the rector, and felt a confidence in him which was comfortable and almost exhilarating. The doctor had a cheery, kindly, robust voice, and a good, honest emphasis in his talk; a guileless blue eye; a face furrowed, thoughtful, and benevolent; well formed too. He must have been a handsome curate in his day. Not uncourtly, but honest; the politeness of a gentle and tender heart; very courteous and popular among ladies, although he sometimes forgot that they knew no Latin.

So Mervyn drew nigh to him in spirit, and liked him and talked to him rather more freely [though even that was enigmatically enough] than he had done to anybody else for a long time. It would seem that the young man had formed no very distinct plan of life. He appeared to have some thought of volunteering to serve in America, and some of entering into a foreign service; but his plans were, I suppose, in nubibus. All that was plain was that he was restless and eager for some change—any.

It was not a very long visit, you may suppose; and just as Dr. Walsingham rode out of the avenue, Lord Castlemallard was riding leisurely by towards Chapelizod, followed by his groom.

His lordship, though he had a drowsy way with him, was esteemed rather an active man of business, being really, I'm afraid, only what is termed a fidget: and the fact is, his business would have been better done if he had looked after it himself a good deal less.

He was just going down to the town to see whether Dangerfield had arrived, and slackened his pace to allow the doctor to join him, for he could ride with him more comfortably than with parsons generally, the doctor being well descended, and having married, besides, into a good family. He stared, as he passed, at the old house listlessly and peevishly. He had heard of Mervyn's doings there, and did not like them.

'Yes, Sir, he's a very pretty young, man, and very well dressed,' said his lordship, with manifest dissatisfaction: 'but I don't like meeting him, you know. 'Tis not his fault; but one can't help thinking of—of things! and I'd be glad his friends would advise him not to dress in velvets, you know—particularly black velvets you can understand. I could not help thinking, at the time, of a pall, somehow. I'm not—no—not pleasant near him. No—I—I can't—his face is so pale—you don't often, see so pale a face—no—it looks like a reflection from one that's still paler—you understand—and in short, even in his perfumes there's a taint of—of—you know—a taint of blood, Sir. Then there was a pause, during which he kept slapping his boot peevishly with his little riding-whip. 'One can't, of course, but be kind,' he recommenced. 'I can't do much—I can't make him acceptable, you know—but I pity him, Dr. Walsingham, and I've tried to be kind to him, you know that; for ten years I had all the trouble, Sir, of a guardian without the authority of one. Yes, of course we're kind; but body o' me! Sir, he'd be better any where else than here, and without occupation, you know, quite idle, and so conspicuous. I promise you there are more than I who think it. And he has commenced fitting up that vile old house—that vile house, Sir. It is ready to tumble down—upon my life they say so; Nutter says so, and Sturk—Dr. Sturk, of the Artillery here—an uncommon sensible man, you know, says so too. 'Tis a vile house, and ready to tumble down, and you know the trouble I was put to by that corporation fellow—a—what's his name—about it; and he can't let it—people's servants won't stay in it, you know, the people tell such stories about it, I'm told; and what business has he here, you know? It is all very fine for a week or so, but they'll find him out, they will, Sir. He may call himself Mervyn, or Fitzgerald, or Thompson, Sir, or any other name, but it won't do, Sir. No, Dr. Walsingham, it won't do. The people down in this little village here, Sir, are plaguy sharp—they're cunning; upon my life, I believe they are too hard for Nutter.'

In fact, Sturk had been urging on his lordship the purchase of this little property, which, for many reasons ought to be had a bargain, and adjoined Lord Castlemallard's, and had talked him into viewing it quite as an object. No wonder, then, he should look on Mervyn's restorations and residence, in the light of an impertinence and an intrusion.



Rum disagreed with O'Flaherty confoundedly, but, being sanguine, and also of an obstinate courage not easily to be put down, and liking that fluid, and being young withal, he drank it defiantly and liberally whenever it came in his way. So this morning he announced to his friend Puddock that he was suffering under a headache 'that 'id burst a pot.' The gallant fellow's stomach, too, was qualmish and disturbed. He heard of breakfast with loathing. Puddock rather imperiously insisted on his drinking some tea, which he abhorred, and of which, in very imperfect clothing and with deep groans and occasional imprecations on 'that bastely clar't'—to which he chose to ascribe his indisposition—he drearily partook.

'I tell you what, Thir,' said Puddock, finding his patient nothing better, and not relishing the notion of presenting his man in that seedy condition upon the field: 'I've got a remedy, a very thimple one; it used to do wondereth for my poor Uncle Neagle, who loved rum shrub, though it gave him the headache always, and sometimes the gout.'

And Puddock had up Mrs. Hogg, his landlady, and ordered a pair of little muslin bags about the size of a pistol-cartridge each, which she promised to prepare in five minutes, and he himself tumbled over the leaves of his private manuscript quarto, a desultory and miscellaneous album, stuffed with sonnets on Celia's eye—a lock of hair, or a pansy here or there pressed between the pages—birthday verses addressed to Sacharissa, receipts for 'puptons,' 'farces,' &c.; and several for toilet luxuries, 'Angelica water,' 'The Queen of Hungary's' ditto, 'surfeit waters,' and finally, that he was in search of, to wit, 'My great Aunt Bell's recipe for purging the head' (good against melancholy or the headache). You are not to suppose that the volume was slovenly or in anywise unworthy of a gentleman and officer of those days. It was bound in red and gold, had two handsome silver-gilt clasps and red edges, the writing being exquisitely straight and legible, and without a single blot.

'I have them all except—two—three,' murmured the thoughtful Puddock when he had read over the list of ingredients. These, however, he got from Toole, close at hand, and with a little silver grater and a pretty little agate pocket pestle and mortar—an heirloom derived from poor Aunt Bell—he made a wonderful powder; 'nutmeg and ginger, cinnamon and cloves,' as the song says, and every other stinging product of nature and chemistry which the author of this famous family 'purge for the head' could bring to remembrance; and certainly it was potent. With this the cartridges were loaded, the ends tied up, and O'Flaherty, placed behind a table on which stood a basin, commenced the serious operation, under Puddock's directions, by introducing a bag at each side of his mouth, which as a man of honour, he was bound to retain there until Puddock had had his morning's tete-a-tete with the barber.

Those who please to consult old domestic receipt-books of the last century, will find the whole process very exactly described therein.

'Be the powers, Sorr, that was the stuff!' said O'Flaherty, discussing the composition afterwards, with an awful shake of his head; 'my chops wor blazing before you could count twenty.'

It was martyrdom; but anything was better than the incapacity which threatened, and certainly, by the end of five minutes, his head was something better. In this satisfactory condition—Jerome being in the back garden brushing his regimentals, and preparing his other properties—he suddenly heard voices close to the door, and gracious powers! one was certainly Magnolia's.

'That born devil, Juddy Carrol,' blazed forth. O'Flaherty, afterwards, 'pushed open the door; it served me right for not being in my bed-room, and the door locked—though who'd a thought there was such a cruel eediot on airth—bad luck to her—as to show a leedy into a gentleman, with scarcely the half of his clothes on, and undhergoin' a soart iv an operation, I may say.'

Happily the table behind which he stood was one of those old-fashioned toilet affairs, with the back part, which was turned toward the door, sheeted over with wood, so that his ungartered stockings and rascally old slippers, were invisible. Even so, it was bad enough: he was arrayed in a shabby old silk roquelaire, and there was a towel upon his breast, pinned behind his neck. He had just a second to pop the basin under the table, and to whisk the towel violently from under his chin, drying that feature with merciless violence; when the officious Judy Carrol, Grand Chamberlain in Jerome's absence, with the facetious grin of a good-natured lady about to make two people happy, introduced the bewitching Magnolia, and her meek little uncle, Major O'Neill.

In they came, rejoicing, to ask the gallant fireworker (it was a different element just now), to make one of a party of pleasure to Leixlip. O'Flaherty could not so much as hand the young lady a chair; to emerge from behind the table, or even to attempt a retreat, was of course not to be thought of in the existing state of affairs. The action of Puddock's recipe was such as to make his share in the little complimentary conversation that ensued very indistinct, and to oblige him, to his disgrace and despair, when the poor fellow tried a smile, actually to apply his towel hastily to his mouth.

He saw that his visitors observed those symptoms with some perplexity: the major was looking steadfastly at O'Flaherty's lips, and unconsciously making corresponding movements with his own, and the fair Magnolia was evidently full of pleasant surprise and curiosity. I really think, if O'Flaherty had had a pistol within reach, he would have been tempted to deliver himself summarily from that agonising situation.

'I'm afraid, lieutenant, you've got the toothache,' said Miss Mag, with her usual agreeable simplicity.

In his alacrity to assure her there was no such thing, he actually swallowed one of the bags. 'Twas no easy matter, and he grew very red, and stared frightfully, and swallowed a draught of water precipitately. His misery was indeed so great that at the conclusion of a polite little farewell speech of the major's, he uttered an involuntary groan, and lively Miss Mag, with an odious titter, exclaimed—

'The little creature's teething, uncle, as sure as you're not; either that, or he's got a hot potato in his poor little mouzey-wouzey;' and poor O'Flaherty smiled a great silent moist smile at the well-bred pleasantry. The major, who did not choose to hear Mag's banter, made a formal, but rather smiling salute. The lieutenant returned it, and down came the unlucky mortar and a china plate, on which Puddock had mingled the ingredients, with a shocking crash and jingle on the bare boards; a plate and mortar never made such a noise before, O'Flaherty thought, with a mental imprecation.

'Nothing—hash—'appened—Shur,' said O'Flaherty, whose articulation was affected a good deal, in terror lest the major should arrest his departure.

So the major and tall Miss Magnolia, with all her roses and lilies, and bold broad talk, and her wicked eyes, went down the stairs; and O'Flaherty, looking with lively emotion in the glass, at the unbecoming coup-d'oeil, heard that agreeable young lady laughing most riotously under the windows as she and the major marched away.

It was well for Judy, that, being of the gentler sex, the wrath of the fireworker could not wreak itself upon her. The oftener he viewed himself in the pier-glass, trying in vain to think he did not look so very badly after all, the more bitter were his feelings. Oh, that villainous old silk morning gown! and his eyes so confoundedly red, and his hair all dishevelled—bad luck to that clar't! the wig was all right, that was his only comfort;, and his mouth, 'och, look at it; twiste its natural size,' though that was no trifle.

'Another week I'll not stop in her lodgings,' cried poor O'Flaherty, grinning at himself in the glass, 'if she keeps that savage, Judy Carrol, here a day longer.'

Then he stumbled to the stair-head to call her up for judgment; but changed his mind, and returned to the looking-glass, blowing the cooling air in short whistles through his peppered lips—and I'm sorry to say, blowing out also many an ejaculation and invective, as that sorry sight met his gaze in the oval mirror, which would have been much better not uttered.



It was not until Puddock had returned, that the gallant fireworker recollected all on a sudden that he had swallowed one of the bags.

'Thwallowed?—thwallowed it!' said Puddock, looking very blank and uncomfortable; 'why, Thir, I told you you were to be very careful.'

'Why, why curse it, it's not, 'tisn't——'

'There was a long pause, and O'Flaherty stared a very frightened and hideous stare at the proprietor of the red quarto.

'Not what, Thir?' demanded Puddock, briskly, but plainly disconcerted.

'Not anything—anything bad—or, or—there's no use in purtendin', Puddock,' he resumed, turning quite yellow. 'I see, Sir, I see by your looks, it's what you think, I'm poisoned!'

'I—I—do not, Thir, think you're poisoned,' he replied indignantly, but with some flurry; 'that is, there's a great deal in it that could not pothibly do you harm—there's only one ingredient, yes—or, or, yes, perhapth three, but thertainly no more, that I don't quite know about, depend upon it, 'tis nothing—a—nothing—a—seriouthly—a—But why, my dear Thir, why on earth did you violate the thimple directions—why did you thwallow a particle of it?'

'Och, why did I let it into my mouth at all—the divil go with it!' retorted poor O'Flaherty; 'an' wasn't I the born eediot to put them devil's dumplins inside my mouth? but I did not know what I was doin'—no more I didn't.'

'I hope your head'th better,' said Puddock, vindicating by that dignified enquiry the character of his recipe.

'Auch! my head be smathered, what the puck do I care about it?' O'Flaherty broke out. 'Ah, why the devil, Puddock, do you keep them ould women's charrums and devilments about you?—you'll be the death of some one yet, so you will.'

'It's a recipe, Sir,' replied Puddock, with the same dignity 'from which my great uncle, General Neagle, derived frequent benefit.'

'And here I am,' says O'Flaherty, vehemently; 'and you don't know whether I'm poisoned or no!'

At this moment he saw Dr. Sturk passing by, and drummed violently at the window. The doctor was impressed by the summons; for however queer the apparition, it was plain he was desperately in earnest.

'Let's see the recipe,' said Sturk, drily; 'you think you're poisoned—I know you do;' poor O'Flaherty had shrunk from disclosing the extent of his apprehensions, and only beat about the bush; 'and if you be, I lay you fifty, I can't save you, nor all the doctors in Dublin—show me the recipe.'

Puddock put it before him, and Sturk looked at the back of the volume with a leisurely disdain, but finding no title there, returned to the recipe. They both stared on his face, without breathing, while he conned it over. When he came about half-way, he whistled; and when he arrived at the end, he frowned hard; and squeezed his lips together till the red disappeared altogether, and he looked again at the back of the book, and then turned it round, once more reading the last line over with a severe expression.

'And so you actually swallowed this—this devil's dose, Sir, did you?' demanded Sturk.

'I—I believe he did, some of it; but I warned him, I did, upon my honour! Now, tell him, did I not warn you, my dear lieutenant, not to thwallow,' interposed little Puddock, who began to grow confoundedly agitated; but Sturk, who rather liked shocking and frightening people, and had a knack of making bad worse, and an alacrity in waxing savage without adequate cause, silenced him with—

'I p-pity you, Sir,' and 'pity' shot like a pellet from his lips. 'Why the deuce will you dabble in medicine, Sir? Do you think it's a thing to be learnt in an afternoon out of the bottom of an old cookery-book?'

'Cookery-book! excuse me, Dr. Sturk,' replied Puddock offended. 'I'm given to underthtand, Sir, it's to be found in Culpepper.'

'Culpepper!' said Sturk, viciously. 'Cull-poison—you have peppered him to a purpose, I promise you! How much of it, pray, Sir (to O'Flaherty,) have you got in your stomach?'

'Tell him, Puddock,' said O'Flaherty, helplessly.

'Only a trifle I assure you,' extenuated Puddock (I need not spell his lisp), 'in a little muslin bag, about the size of the top joint of a lady's little finger.'

'Top joint o' the devil!' roared O'Flaherty, bitterly, rousing himself; 'I tell you, Dr. Sturk, it was as big as my thumb, and a miracle it did not choke me.'

'It may do that job for you yet, Sir,' sneered the doctor with a stern disgust. 'I dare say you feel pretty hot here?' jerking his finger into his stomach.

'And—and—and—what is it?—is it—do you think it's anything —anyways—dangerous?' faltered poor O'Flaherty.

'Dangerous!' responded Sturk, with an angry chuckle—indeed, he was specially vindictive against lay intruders upon the mystery of his craft; 'why, yes—ha,—ha!—just maybe a little. It's only poison, Sir, deadly, barefaced poison!' he began sardonically, with a grin, and ended with a black glare and a knock on the table, like an auctioneer's 'gone!'

'There are no less than two—three—five mortal poisons in it,' said the doctor with emphatic acerbity. 'You and Mr. Puddock will allow that's rather strong.'

O'Flaherty sat down and looked at Sturk, and wiping his damp face and forehead, he got up without appearing to know where he was going. Puddock stood with his hands in his breeches pockets, staring with his little round eyes on the doctor, I must confess, with a very foolish and rather guilty vacuity all over his plump face, rigid and speechless, for three or four seconds; then he put his hand, which did actually tremble, upon the doctor's arm, and he said, very thickly—

'I feel, Sir, you're right; it is my fault, Sir, I've poisoned him —merthiful goodneth!—I—I—'

Puddock's address acted for a moment on O'Flaherty. He came up to him pale and queer, like a somnambulist, and shook his fingers very cordially with a very cold grasp.

'If it was the last word I ever spoke, Puddock, you're a good-natured—he's a gentleman, Sir—and it was all my own fault; he warned me, he did, again' swallyin' a dhrop of it—remember what I'm saying, doctor—'twas I that done it; I was always a botch, Puddock, an' a fool; and—and—gentlemen—good-bye.'

And the flowered dressing-gown and ungartered stockings disappeared through the door into the bed-room, from whence they heard a great souse on the bed, and the bedstead gave a dismal groan.

'Is there;—is there nothing, doctor—for mercy's sake, think—doctor, do—I conjure you—pray think—there must be something'—urged Puddock, imploringly.

'Ay, that's the way, Sir, fellows quacking themselves and one another; when they get frightened, and with good reason, come to us and expect miracles; but as in this case, the quantity was not very much, 'tis not, you see, overpowering, and he may do if he takes what I'll send him.'

Puddock was already at his bedside, shaking his hand hysterically, and tumbling his words out one over the other—

'You're thafe, my dear Thir—dum thpiro thpero—he thayth—Dr. Thturk—he can thave you, my dear Thir—my dear lieutenant—my dear O'Flaherty—he can thave you, Thir—thafe and thound, Thir.'

O'Flaherty, who had turned his face to the wall in the bitterness of his situation—for like some other men, he had the intensest horror of death when he came peaceably to his bedside, though ready enough to meet him with a 'hurrah!' and a wave of his rapier, if he arrived at a moment's notice, with due dash and eclat—sat up like a shot, and gaping upon Puddock for a few seconds, relieved himself with a long sigh, a devotional upward roll of the eyes, and some muttered words, of which the little ensign heard only 'blessing,' very fervently, and 'catch me again,' and 'divil bellows it;' and forthwith out came one of the fireworker's long shanks, and O'Flaherty insisted on dressing, shaving, and otherwise preparing as a gentleman and an officer, with great gaiety of heart, to meet his fate on the Fifteen Acres.

In due time arrived the antidote. It was enclosed in a gallipot, and was what I believe they called an electuary. I don't know whether it is an obsolete abomination now, but it looked like brick-dust and treacle, and what it was made of even Puddock could not divine. O'Flaherty, that great Hibernian athlete, unconsciously winced and shuddered like a child at sight of it. Puddock stirred it with the tip of a tea-spoon, and looked into it with inquisitive disgust, and seemed to smell it from a distance, lost for a minute in inward conjecture, and then with a slight bow, pushed it ceremoniously toward his brother in arms.

'There is not much the matter with me now—I feel well enough,' said O'Flaherty, mildly, and eyeing the mixture askance; and after a little while he looked at Puddock. That disciplinarian understood the look, and said, peremptorily, shaking up his little powdered head, and lisping vehemently—

'Lieutenant O'Flaherty, Sir! I insist on your instantly taking that physic. How you may feel, Sir, has nothing to do with it. If you hesitate, I withdraw my sanction to your going to the field, Sir. There's no—there can be—no earthly excuse but a—a miserable objection to a—swallowing a—recipe, Sir—that isn't—that is may be—not intended to please the palate, but to save your life, Sir,—remember. Sir, you've swallowed a—you—you require, Sir—you don't think I fear to say it, Sir!—you have swallowed that you ought not to have swallowed, and don't, Sir—don't—for both our sakes—for Heaven's sake—I implore—and insist—don't trifle, Sir.'

O'Flaherty felt himself passing under the chill and dismal shadow of death once more, such was the eloquence of Puddock, and so impressible his own nature, as he followed the appeal of his second. 'Life is sweet;' and, though the compound was nauseous, and a necessity upon him of swallowing it in horrid instalments, spoonful after spoonful, yet, though not without many interruptions, and many a shocking apostrophe, and even some sudden paroxysms of horror, which alarmed Puddock, he did contrive to get through it pretty well, except a little residuum in the bottom, which Puddock wisely connived at.

The clink of a horse-shoe drew Puddock to the window. Sturk riding into town, reined in his generous beast, and called up to the little lieutenant.

'Well, he's taken it, eh?'

Puddock smiled a pleasant smile and nodded.

'Walk him about, then, for an hour or so, and he'll do.'

'Thank you, Sir,' said little Puddock, gaily.

'Don't thank me, Sir, either of you, but remember the lesson you've got,' said the doctor, tartly, and away he plunged into a sharp trot, with a cling-clang and a cloud of dust. And Puddock followed that ungracious leech, with a stare of gratitude and admiration, almost with a benediction. And his anxiety relieved, he and his principal prepared forthwith to provide real work for the surgeons.



The chronicles of the small-sword and pistol are pregnant with horrid and absurd illustrations of certain great moral facts. Let them pass. A duel, we all know, spirit of 'Punch and Judy'—a farce of murder. Sterne's gallant father expired, or near it, with the point of a small-sword sticking out two feet between his shoulders, all about a goose-pie. I often wondered what the precise quarrel was. But these tragedies smell all over of goose-pie. Why—oh, why—brave Captain Sterne, as with saucy, flashing knife and fork you sported with the outworks of that fated structure, was there no augur at thine elbow, with a shake of his wintry beard, to warn thee that the birds of fate—thy fate—sat vigilant under that festive mask of crust? Beware, it is Pandora's pie! Madman! hold thy hand! The knife's point that seems to thee about to glide through that pasty is palpably levelled at thine own windpipe! But this time Mephistopheles leaves the revellers to use their own cutlery; and now the pie is opened; and now the birds begin to sing! Come along, then to the Fifteen Acres, and let us see what will come of it all.

That flanking demi-bastion of the Magazine, crenelled for musketry, commands, with the aid of a couple of good field-glasses, an excellent and secret view of the arena on which the redoubted O'Flaherty and the grim Nutter were about to put their metal to the proof. General Chattesworth, who happened to have an appointment, as he told his sister at breakfast, in town about that hour, forgot it just as he reached the Magazine, gave his bridle to the groom, and stumped into the fortress, where he had a biscuit and a glass of sherry in the commandant's little parlour, and forth the two cronies sallied mysteriously side by side; the commandant, Colonel Bligh, being remarkably tall, slim, and straight, with an austere, mulberry-coloured face; the general stout and stumpy, and smiling plentifully, short of breath, and double chinned, they got into the sanctum I have just mentioned.

I don't apologise to my readers, English-born and bred, for assuming them to be acquainted with the chief features of the 'Phoenix Park, near Dublin. Irish scenery is now as accessible as Welsh. Let them study the old problem, not in blue books, but in the green and brown ones of our fields and heaths, and mountains. If Ireland be no more than a great capability and a beautiful landscape, faintly visible in the blue haze, even from your own headlands, and separated by hardly four hours of water, and a ten-shilling fare, from your jetties, it is your own shame, not ours, if a nation of bold speculators and indefatigable tourists leave it unexplored.

So I say, from this coigne of vantage, looking westward over the broad green level toward the thin smoke that rose from Chapelizod chimneys, lying so snugly in the lap of the hollow by the river, the famous Fifteen Acres, where so many heroes have measured swords, and so many bullies have bit the dust, was distinctly displayed in the near foreground. You all know the artillery butt. Well, that was the centre of a circular enclosure containing just fifteen acres, with broad entrances eastward and westward.

The old fellows knew very well where to look.

Father Roach was quite accidentally there, reading his breviary when the hostile parties came upon the ground—for except when an accident of this sort occurred, or the troops were being drilled, it was a sequestered spot enough—and he forthwith joined them, as usual, to reconcile the dread debate.

Somehow, I think his arguments were not altogether judicious.

'I don't ask particulars, my dear—I abominate all that concerns a quarrel; but Lieutenant O'Flaherty, jewel, supposin' the very worst—supposin', just for argument, that he has horse-whipped you——.'

'An' who dar' suppose it?' glared O'Flaherty.

'Or, we'll take it that he spit in your face, honey. Well,' continued his reverence, not choosing to hear the shocking ejaculations which this hypothesis wrung from the lieutenant; 'what of that, my darlin'? Think of the indignities, insults, and disgraces that the blessed Saint Martellus suffered, without allowing, anything worse to cross his lips than an Ave Mary or a smile in resignation.'

'Ordher the priest off the ground, Sorr,' said O'Flaherty, lividly, to little Puddock, who was too busy with Mr. Mahony to hear him; and Roach had already transferred his pious offices to Nutter, who speedily flushed up and became, to all appearances, in his own way just as angry as O'Flaherty.

'Lieutenant O'Flaherty, a word in your ear,' once more droned the mellow voice of Father Roach; 'you're a young man, my dear, and here's Lieutenant Puddock by your side, a young man too; I'm as ould, my honeys, as the two of you put together, an' I advise you, for your good—don't shed human blood—don't even draw your swords—don't, my darlins; don't be led or said by them army-gentlemen, that's always standin' up for fightin' because the leedies admire fightin' men. They'll call you cowards, polthroons, curs, sneaks, turn-tails—let them!'

'There's no standin' this any longer, Puddock,' said O'Flaherty, incensed indescribably by the odious names which his reverence was hypothetically accumulating; 'if you want to see the fightin', Father Roach——.'

'Apage, Sathanas!' murmured his reverence, pettishly, raising his plump, blue chin, and dropping his eyelids with a shake of the head, and waving the back of his fat, red hand gently towards the speaker.

'In that case, stay here, an' look your full, an' welcome, only don't make a noise; behave like a Christian, an' hould your tongue; but if you really hate fightin', as you say——'

Having reached this point in his address, but intending a good deal more, O'Flaherty suddenly stopped short, drew himself into a stooping posture, with a flush and a strange distortion, and his eyes fastened upon Father Roach with an unearthly glare for nearly two minutes, and seized Puddock upon the upper part of his arm with so awful a grip, in his great bony hand, that the gallant little gentleman piped out in a flurry of anguish—

'O—O—O'Flaherty, Thir—let go my arm, Thir.'

O'Flaherty drew a long breath, uttered a short, deep groan, and wiping the moisture from his red forehead, and resuming a perpendicular position, was evidently trying to recover the lost thread of his discourse.

'There'th dethidedly thomething the matter with you, Thir,' said Puddock, anxiously, sotto voce, while he worked his injured arm's a little at the shoulder.

'You may say that,' said O'Flaherty, very dismally, and, perhaps, a little bitterly.

'And—and—and—you don't mean to thay—why—eh?' asked Puddock, uneasily.

'I tell you what, Puddock—there's no use in purtendin'—the poison's working—that's what's the matter,' returned poor O'Flaherty, in what romance writers call 'a hissing whisper.'

'Good—merthiful—graciouth—Thir!' ejaculated poor little Puddock, in a panic, and gazing up into the brawny fireworker's face with a pallid fascination; indeed they both looked unpleasantly unlike the popular conception of heroes on the eve of battle.

'But—but it can't be—you forget Dr. Sturk and—oh, dear!—the antidote. It—I thay—it can't be, Thir,' said Puddock, rapidly.

'It's no use, now; but I shirked two or three spoonfuls, and I left some more in the bottom,' said the gigantic O'Flaherty, with a gloomy sheepishness.

Puddock made an ejaculation—the only violent one recorded of him—and turning his back briskly upon his principal, actually walked several steps away, as if he intended to cut the whole concern. But such a measure was really not to be thought of.

'O'Flaherty—Lieutenant—I won't reproach you,' began Puddock.

'Reproach me! an' who poisoned me, my tight little fellow?' retorted the fireworker, savagely.

Puddock could only look at him, and then said, quite meekly—

'Well, and my dear Thir, what on earth had we better do?'

'Do,' said O'Flaherty, 'why isn't it completely Hobson's choice with us? What can we do but go through with it?'

The fact is, I may as well mention, lest the sensitive reader should be concerned for the gallant O'Flaherty, that the poison had very little to do with it, and the antidote a great deal. In fact, it was a reckless compound conceived in a cynical and angry spirit by Sturk, and as the fireworker afterwards declared, while expressing in excited language his wonder how Puddock (for he never suspected Sturk's elixir) had contrived to compound such a poison—'The torture was such, my dear Madam, as fairly thranslated me into the purlieus of the other world.'

Nutter had already put off his coat and waistcoat, and appeared in a neat little black lutestring vest, with sleeves to it, which the elder officers of the R.I.A. remembered well in by-gone fencing matches.

'Tis a most miserable situation,' said Puddock, in extreme distress.

'Never mind,' groaned O'Flaherty, grimly taking off his coat; 'you'll have two corpses to carry home with you; don't you show the laste taste iv unaisiness, an' I'll not disgrace you, if I'm spared to see it out.'

And now preliminaries were quite adjusted; and Nutter, light and wiry, a good swordsman, though not young, stepped out with his vicious weapon in hand, and his eyes looking white and stony out of his dark face. A word or two to his armour-bearer, and a rapid gesture, right and left, and that magnificent squire spoke low to two or three of the surrounding officers, who forthwith bestirred themselves to keep back the crowd, and as it were to keep the ring unbroken. O'Flaherty took his sword, got his hand well into the hilt, poised the blade, shook himself up as it were, and made a feint or two and a parry in the air, and so began to advance, like Goliath, towards little Nutter.

'Now, Puddock, back him up—encourage your man,' said Devereux, who took a perverse pleasure in joking; 'tell him to flay the lump, splat him, divide him, and cut him in two pieces——.

It was a custom of the corps to quiz Puddock about his cookery; but Puddock, I suppose, did not hear his last night's 'receipt' quoted, and he kept his eye upon his man, who had now got nearly within fencing distance of his adversary. But at this critical moment, O'Flaherty, much to Puddock's disgust, suddenly stopped, and got into the old stooping posture, making an appalling grimace in what looked like an endeavour to swallow, not only his under lip, but his chin also. Uttering a quivering, groan, he continued to stoop nearer to the earth, on which he finally actually sat down and hugged his knees close to his chest, holding his breath all the time till he was perfectly purple, and rocking himself this way and that.

The whole procedure was a mystery to everybody except the guilty Puddock, who changed colour, and in manifest perturbation, skipped to his side.

'Bleth me—bleth me—my dear O'Flaherty, he'th very ill—where ith the pain?'

'Is it "farced pain," Puddock, or "gammon pain?"' asked Devereux, with much concern.

Puddock's plump panic-stricken little face, and staring eye-balls, were approached close to the writhing features of his redoubted principal—as I think I have seen honest Sancho Panza's, in one of Tony Johannot's sketches, to that of the prostrate Knight of the Rueful Countenance.

'I wish to Heaven I had thwallowed it myself—it'th dreadful—what ith to be—are you eathier—I think you're eathier.'

I don't think O'Flaherty heard him. He only hugged his knees tighter, and slowly turned up his face, wrung into ten thousand horrid puckers, to the sky, till his chin stood as high as his forehead, with his teeth and eyes shut, and he uttered a sound like a half-stifled screech; and, indeed, looked very black and horrible.

Some of the spectators, rear-rank men, having but an imperfect view of the transaction, thought that O'Flaherty had been hideously run through the body by his solemn opponent, and swelled the general chorus of counsel and ejaculation, by all together advising cobwebs, brown-paper plugs, clergymen, brandy, and the like; but as none of these comforts were at hand, and nobody stirred, O'Flaherty was left to the resources of Nature.

Puddock threw his cocked hat upon the ground and stamped in a momentary frenzy.

'He'th dying—Devereux—Cluffe—he'th—I tell you, he'th dying;' and he was on the point of declaring himself O'Flaherty's murderer, and surrendering himself as such into the hands of anybody who would accept the custody of his person, when the recollection of his official position as poor O'Flaherty's second flashed upon him, and collecting with a grand effort, his wits and his graces—

'It'th totally impothible, gentlemen,' he said, with his most ceremonious bow; 'conthidering the awful condition of my printhipal—I—I have reathon to fear—in fact I know—Dr. Thturk has theen him—that he'th under the action of poithon—and it'th quite impractithable, gentlemen, that thith affair of honour can protheed at prethent;' and Puddock drew himself up peremptorily, and replaced his hat, which somebody had slipped into his hand, upon his round powdered head.

Mr. Mahony, though a magnificent gentleman, was, perhaps, a little stupid, and he mistook Puddock's agitation, and thought he was in a passion, and disposed to be offensive. He, therefore, with a marked and stern sort of elegance, replied—

'Pison, Sir, is a remarkably strong alpathet; it's language, Sir, which, if a gentleman uses at all, he's bound in justice, in shivalry, and in dacency to a generous adversary, to define with precision. Mr. Nutter is too well known to the best o'society, moving in a circle as he does, to require the panegyric of humble me. They drank together last night, they differed in opinion, that's true, but fourteen clear hours has expired, and pison being mentioned——'

'Why, body o' me! Sir,' lisped Puddock, in fierce horror; 'can you imagine for one moment, Sir, that I or any man living could suppose for an instant, that my respected friend, Mr. Nutter, to whom (a low bow to Nutter, returned by that gentleman) I have now the misfortune to be opposed, is capable—capable, Sir, of poisoning any living being—man, woman, or child; and to put an end, Sir, at once to all misapprehension upon this point, it was I—I, Sir—myself—who poisoned him, altogether accidentally, of course, by a valuable, but mismanaged receipt, this morning, Sir—you—you see, Mr. Nutter!'

Nutter, balked of his gentlemanlike satisfaction, stared with a horrified but somewhat foolish countenance from Puddock to O'Flaherty.

'And now, Thir,' pursued Puddock, addressing himself to Mr. Mahony, 'if Mr. Nutter desires to postpone the combat, I consent; if not, I offer mythelf to maintain it inthead of my printhipal.'

And so he made another low bow, and stood bareheaded, hat in hand, with his right hand on his sword hilt.

'Upon my honour, Captain Puddock, it's precisely what I was going to propose myself, Sir,' said Mahony, with great alacrity; 'as the only way left us of getting honourably out of the great embarrassment in which we are placed by the premature death-struggles of your friend; for nothing, Mr. Puddock, but being bona fide in articulo mortis, can palliate his conduct.'

'My dear Puddock,' whispered Devereux, in his ear, 'surely you would not kill Nutter to oblige two such brutes as these?' indicating by a glance Nutter's splendid second and the magnanimous O'Flaherty, who was still sitting speechless upon the ground.

'Captain Puddock,' pursued that mirror of courtesy, Mr. Patrick Mahony, of Muckafubble, who, by-the-bye, persisted in giving him his captaincy, may I enquire who's your friend upon this unexpected turn of affairs?'

'There's no need, Sir,' said Nutter, dryly and stoutly, 'I would not hurt a hair of your head, Lieutenant Puddock.'

'Do you hear him?' panted O'Flaherty, for the first time articulate, and stung by the unfortunate phrase—it seemed fated that Nutter should not open his lips without making some allusion to human hair: 'do you hear him, Puddock? Mr. Nutter—(he spoke with great difficulty, and in jerks)—Sir—Mr. Nutter—you shall—ugh—you shall render a strict accow-ow-oh-im-m-m!'

The sound was smothered under his compressed lips, his face wrung itself again crimson with a hideous squeeze, and Puddock thought the moment of his dissolution was come, and almost wished it over.

'Don't try to speak—pray, Sir, don't—there—there, now,' urged Puddock, distractedly; but the injunction was unnecessary.

'Mr. Nutter,' said his second sulkily, 'I don't see anything to satisfy your outraged honour in the curious spectacle of that gentleman sitting on the ground making faces; we came here not to trifle, but, as I conceive, to dispatch business, Sir.'

'To dispatch that unfortunate gentleman, you mean, and that seems pretty well done to your hand,' said little Dr. Toole, bustling up from the coach where his instruments, lint, and plasters were deposited. 'What's it all, eh?—oh, Dr. Sturk's been with him, eh? Oh, ho, ho, ho!' and he laughed sarcastically, in an undertone, and shrugged, as he stooped down and took O'Flaherty's pulse in his fingers and thumb.

'I tell you what, Mr. a—a—a—Sir,' said Nutter, with a very dangerous look; 'I have had the honour of knowing Lieutenant Puddock since August, 1756; I won't hurt him, for I like and respect him; but, if fight I must, I'll fight you, Sir!'

'Since August, 1756?' repeated Mr. Mahony, with prompt surprise. 'Pooh! why didn't you mention that before? Why, Sir, he's an old friend, and you could not pleasantly ask him to volunteer to bare his waypon against the boosom of his friend. No, Sir, shivalry is the handmaid of Christian charity, and honour walks hand in hand with the human heart!'

With this noble sentiment he bowed and shook Nutter's cold, hard hand, and then Puddock's plump little white paw.

You are not to suppose that Pat Mahoney, of Muckafubble, was a poltroon; on the contrary, he had fought several shocking duels, and displayed a remarkable amount of savagery and coolness; but having made a character, he was satisfied therewith. They may talk of fighting for the fun of it, liking it, delighting in it; don't believe a word of it. We all hate it, and the hero is only he who hates it least.'

'Ugh, I can't stand it any longer; take me out of this, some of you,' said O'Flaherty, wiping the damp from his red face. 'I don't think there's ten minutes' life in me.'

'De profundis conclamavi,' murmured fat father Roach; 'lean upon me, Sir.'

'And me,' said little Toole.

'For the benefit of your poor soul, my honey, just say you forgive Mr. Nutter before you leave the field,' said the priest quite sincerely.

'Anything at all, Father Roach,' replied the sufferer; 'only don't bother me.'

'You forgive him then, aroon?' said the priest.

'Och, bother! forgive him, to be sure I do. That's supposin', mind, I don't recover; but if I do——.'

'Och, pacible, pacible, my son,' said Father Roach, patting his arm, and soothing him with his voice. It was the phrase he used to address to his nag, Brian O'Lynn, when Brian had too much oats, and was disagreeably playful. 'Nansinse, now, can't you be pacible—pacible my son—there now, pacible, pacible.'

Upon his two supporters, and followed by his little second, this towering sufferer was helped, and tumbled into the coach, into which Puddock, Toole, and the priest, who was curious to see O'Flaherty's last moments, all followed; and they drove at a wild canter—for the coachman was 'hearty'—over the green grass, and toward Chapelizod, though Toole broke the check-string without producing any effect, down the hill, quite frightfully, and were all within an ace of being capsized. But ultimately they reached, in various states of mind, but safely enough, O'Flaherty's lodgings.

Here the gigantic invalid, who had suffered another paroxysm on the way, was slowly assisted to the ground by his awestruck and curious friends, and entered the house with a groan, and roared for Judy Carroll with a curse, and invoked Jerome, the cokang modate, with horrible vociferation. And as among the hushed exhortations of the good priest, Toole and Puddock, he mounted the stairs, he took occasion over the banister, in stentorian tones, to proclaim to the household his own awful situation, and the imminent approach of the moment of his dissolution.



The old gentlemen, from their peepholes in the Magazine, watched the progress of this remarkable affair of honour, as well as they could, with the aid of their field-glasses, and through an interposing crowd.

'By Jupiter, Sir, he's through him!' said Colonel Bligh, when he saw O'Flaherty go down.

'So he is, by George!' replied General Chattesworth; 'but, eh, which is he?'

'The long fellow,' said Bligh.

'O'Flaherty?—hey!—no, by George!—though so it is—there's work in Frank Nutter yet, by Jove,' said the general, poking his glass and his fat face an inch or two nearer.

'Quick work, general!' said Bligh.

'Devilish,' replied the general.

The two worthies never moved their glasses; as each, on his inquisitive face, wore the grim, wickedish, half-smile, with which an old stager recalls, in the prowess of his juniors, the pleasant devilment of his own youth.

'The cool, old hand, Sir, too much for your new fireworker,' remarked Bligh, cynically.

'Tut, Sir, this O'Flaherty has not been three weeks among us,' spluttered out the general, who was woundily jealous of the honour of his corps. 'There are lads among our fireworkers who would whip Nutter through the liver while you'd count ten!'

'They're removing the—the—(a long pause) the body, eh?' said Bligh. 'Hey! no, see, by George, he's walking but he's hurt.'

'I'm mighty well pleased it's no worse, Sir,' said the general, honestly glad.

'They're helping him into the coach—long legs the fellow's got,' remarked Bligh.

'These—things—Sir—are—are—very—un—pleasant,' said the general, adjusting the focus of the glass, and speaking slowly—though no Spanish dandy ever relished a bull-fight more than he an affair of the kind. He and old Bligh had witnessed no less than five—not counting this—in which officers of the R.I.A. were principal performers, from the same sung post of observation. The general, indeed, was conventionally supposed to know nothing of them, and to reprobate the practice itself with his whole soul. But somehow, when an affair of the sort came off on the Fifteen Acres, he always happened to drop in, at the proper moment, upon his old crony, the colonel, and they sauntered into the demi-bastion together, and quietly saw what was to be seen. It was Miss Becky Chattesworth who involved the poor general in this hypocrisy. It was not exactly her money; it was her force of will and unflinching audacity that established her control over an easy, harmless, plastic old gentleman.

'They are unpleasant—devilish unpleasant—somewhere in the body, I think, hey? they're stooping again, stooping again—eh?—plaguy unpleasant, Sir (the general was thinking how Miss Becky's tongue would wag, and what she might not even do, if O'Flaherty died). Ha! on they go again, and a—Puddock—getting in—and that's Toole. He's not so much hurt—eh? He helped himself a good deal, you saw; but (taking heart of grace) when a quarrel does occur, Sir, I believe, after all, 'tis better off the stomach at once—a few passes—you know—or the crack of a pistol—who's that got in—the priest—hey? by George!'

'Awkward if he dies a Papist,' said cynical old Bligh—the R.I.A. were Protestant by constitution.

'That never happens in our corps, Sir,' said the general, haughtily; 'but, as I say, when a quarrel—does—occur—Sir—there, they're off at last; when it does occur—I say—heyday! what a thundering pace! a gallop, by George! that don't look well (a pause)—and—and—a—about what you were saying—you know he couldn't die a Papist in our corps—no one does—no one ever did—it would be, you know—it would be a trick, Sir, and O'Flaherty's a gentleman; it could not be—(he was thinking of Miss Becky again—she was so fierce on the Gunpowder Plot, the rising of 1642, and Jesuits in general, and he went on a little flustered); but then, Sir, as I was saying, though the thing has its uses——.'

'I'd like to know where society'd be without it,' interposed Bligh, with a sneer.

'Though it may have its uses, Sir; it's not a thing one can sit down and say is right—we can't!'

'I've heard your sister, Miss Becky, speak strongly on that point, too,'said Bligh.

'Ah! I dare say,' said the general, quite innocently, an coughing a little. This was a sore point with the hen-pecked warrior, and the grim scarcecrow by his side knew it, and grinned through his telescope; 'and you see—I say—eh! I think they're breaking up, a—and—I say—I—it seems all over—eh—and so, dear colonel, I must take my leave, and——.'

And after a lingering look, he shut up his glass, and walking thoughtfully back with his friend, said suddenly—

'And, now I think of it—it could not be that—Puddock, you know, would not suffer the priest to sit in the same coach with such a design—Puddock's a good officer, eh! and knows his duty.'

A few hours afterwards, General Chattesworth, having just dismounted outside the Artillery barracks, to his surprise, met Puddock and O'Flaherty walking leisurely in the street of Chapelizod. O'Flaherty looked pale and shaky, and rather wild; and the general returned his salute, looking deuced hard at him, and wondering all the time in what part of his body (in his phrase) 'he had got it;' and how the plague the doctors had put him so soon on his legs again.

'Ha, Lieutenant Puddock,' with a smile, which Puddock thought significant—'give you good-evening, Sir. Dr. Toole anywhere about, or have you seen Sturk?'

'No, he had not.'

The general wanted to hear by accident, or in confidence, all about it; and having engaged Puddock in talk, that officer followed by his side.

'I should be glad of the honour of your company, Lieutenant Puddock, to dinner this evening—Sturk comes, and Captain Cluffe, and this wonderful Mr. Dangerfield too, of whom we all heard so much at mess, at five o'clock, if the invitation's not too late.'

The lieutenant acknowledged and accepted, with a blush and a very low bow, his commanding officer's hospitality; in fact, there was a tendre in the direction of Belmont, and little Puddock had inscribed in his private book many charming stanzas of various lengths and structures, in which the name of 'Gertrude' was of frequent recurrence.

'And—a—I say, Puddock—Lieutenant O'Flaherty, I thought—I—I thought, d'ye see, just now, eh? (he looked inquisitively, but there was no answer); I thought, I say, he looked devilish out of sorts, is he—a—ill?'

'He was very ill, indeed, this afternoon, general; a sudden attack——'

The general looked quickly at Puddock's plump, consequential face; but there was no further light in it. 'He was hurt then, I knew it'—he thought—'who's attending him—and why is he out—and was it a flesh-wound—or where was it?' all these questions silently, but vehemently, solicited an answer—and he repeated the last aloud, in a careless sort of way.

'And—a—Lieutenant Puddock, you were saying—a—tell me—now—where was it?'

'In the park, general,' said Puddock, in perfect good faith.

'Eh? ah! in the park, was it? but I want to know, you know, what part of the body—d'ye see—the shoulder—or?——'

'The duodenum, Dr. Toole called it—just here, general,' and he pressed his fingers to what is vulgarly known as the 'pit' of his stomach.

'What, Sir, do you mean to say the pit of his stomach?' said the general, with more horror and indignation than he often showed.

'Yes, just about that point, general, and the pain was very violent indeed,' answered Puddock, looking with a puzzled stare at the general's stern and horrified countenance—an officer might have a pain in his stomach, he thought, without exciting all that emotion. Had he heard of the poison, and did he know more of the working of such things than, perhaps, the doctors did?

'And what in the name of Bedlam, Sir, does he mean by walking about the town with a hole through his—his what's his name? I'm hanged but I'll place him under arrest this moment,' the general thundered, and his little eyes swept the perspective this way and that, as if they would leap from their sockets, in search of the reckless O'Flaherty. 'Where's the adjutant, Sir?' he bellowed with a crimson scowl and a stamp, to the unoffending sentry.

'That's the way to make him lie quiet, and keep his bed till he heals, Sir.'

Puddock explained, and the storm subsided, rumbling off in half a dozen testy assertions on the general's part that he, Puddock, had distinctly used the word 'wounded,' and now and then renewing faintly, in a muttered explosion, on the troubles and worries of his command, and a great many 'pshaws!' and several fits of coughing, for the general continued out of breath for some time. He had showed his cards, however, and so, in a dignified disconcerted sort of way, he told Puddock that he had heard something about O'Flaherty's having got most improperly into a foolish quarrel, and having met Nutter that afternoon, and for a moment feared he might have been hurt; and then came enquiries about Nutter, and there appeared to have been no one hurt, and yet the parties on the ground—and no fighting—and yet no reconciliation—and, in fact, the general was so puzzled with this conundrum, and so curious, that he was very near calling after Puddock, when they parted at the bridge, and making him entertain him, at some cost of consistency, with the whole story.

So Puddock—his head full of delicious visions—marched homeward—to powder and perfume, and otherwise equip for that banquet of the gods, of which he was to partake at five o'clock, and just as he turned the corner at 'The Phoenix,' who should he behold, sailing down the Dublin road from the King's House, with a grand powdered footman, bearing his cane of office, and a great bouquet behind her, and Gertrude Chattesworth by her side, but the splendid and formidable Aunt Becky, who had just been paying her compliments to old Mrs. Colonel Stafford, from whom she had heard all about the duel. So as Puddock's fat cheeks grew pink at sight of Miss Gertrude, all Aunt Becky's colour flushed into her face, as her keen eye pierced the unconscious lieutenant from afar off, and chin and nose high in air, her mouth just a little tucked in, as it were, at one corner—a certain sign of coming storm—an angry hectic in each cheek, a fierce flirt of her fan, and two or three short sniffs that betokened mischief—she quickened her pace, leaving her niece a good way in the rear, in her haste to engage the enemy. Before she came up she commenced the action at a long range, and very abruptly—for an effective rhetorician of Aunt Becky's sort, jumps at once, like a good epic poet, in medias res; and as Nutter, who, like all her friends in turn, experienced once or twice 'a taste of her quality,' observed to his wife, 'by Jove, that woman says things for which she ought to be put in the watch-house.' So now and here she maintained her reputation—

'You ought to be flogged, Sir; yes,' she insisted, answering Puddock's bewildered stare, 'tied up to the halberts and flogged.'

Aunt Rebecca was accompanied by at least half a dozen lap-dogs, and those intelligent brutes, aware of his disgrace, beset poor Puddock's legs with a furious vociferation.

'Madam,' said he, his ears tingling, and making a prodigious low bow; 'commissioned officers are never flogged.'

'So much the worse for the service, Sir; and the sooner they abolish that anomalous distinction the better. I'd have them begin, Sir, with you, and your accomplice in murder, Lieutenant O'Flaherty.'

'Madam! your most obedient humble servant,' said Puddock, with another bow, still more ceremonious, flushing up intensely to the very roots of his powdered hair, and feeling in his swelling heart that all the generals of all the armies of Europe dare not have held such language to him.

'Good-evening, Sir,' said Aunt Becky, with an energetic toss of her head, having discharged her shot; and with an averted countenance, and in high disdain, she swept grandly on, quite forgetting her niece, who said a pleasant word or two to Puddock as she passed, and smiled so kindly, and seemed so entirely unconscious of his mortification, that he was quite consoled, and on the whole was made happy and elated by the rencontre, and went home to his wash-balls and perfumes in a hopeful and radiant, though somewhat excited state.

Indeed, the little lieutenant knew that kind-hearted termagant, Aunt Becky, too well, to be long cast down or even flurried by her onset. When the same little Puddock, about a year ago, had that ugly attack of pleurisy, and was so low and so long about recovering, and so puny and fastidious in appetite, she treated him as kindly as if he were her own son, in the matter of jellies, strong soups, and curious light wines, and had afterwards lent him some good books which the little lieutenant had read through, like a man of honour as he was. And, indeed, what specially piqued Aunt Becky's resentment just now was, that having had, about that time, a good deal of talk with Puddock upon the particular subject of duelling, he had, as she thought, taken very kindly to her way of thinking; and she had a dozen times in the last month, cited Puddock to the general; and so his public defection was highly mortifying and intolerable.

So Puddock, in a not unpleasant fuss and excitement, sat down in his dressing-gown before the glass; and while Moore the barber, with tongs, powder, and pomade, repaired the dilapidations of the day, he contemplated his own plump face, not altogether unapprovingly, and thought with a charming anticipation of the adventures of the approaching evening.



Puddock drove up the avenue of gentlemanlike old poplars, and over the little bridge, and under the high-arched bowers of elms, walled up at either side with evergreens, and so into the court-yard of Belmont. Three sides of a parellelogram, the white old house being the largest, and offices white and in keeping, but overgrown with ivy, and opening to yards of their own on the other sides, facing one another at the flanks, and in front a straight Dutch-like moat, with a stone balustrade running all along from the garden to the bridge, with great stone flower pots set at intervals, the shrubs and flowers of which associated themselves in his thoughts with beautiful Gertrude Chattesworth, and so were wonderfully bright and fragrant. And there were two swans upon the water, and several peacocks marching dandily in the court-yard; and a grand old Irish dog, with a great collar, and a Celtic inscription, dreaming on the steps in the evening sun.

It was always pleasant to dine at Belmont. Old General Chattesworth was so genuinely hospitable and so really glad to see you, and so hilarious himself, and so enjoying. A sage or a scholar, perhaps, might not have found a great deal in him. Most of his stories had been heard before. Some of them, I am led to believe, had even been printed. But they were not very long, and he had a good natured word and a cordial smile for everybody; and he had a good cook, and explained his dishes to those beside him, and used sometimes to toddle out himself to the cellar in search of a curious bon-bouche; and of nearly every bin in it he had a little anecdote or a pedigree to relate. And his laugh was frequent and hearty, and somehow the room and all in it felt the influence of his presence like the glow, and cheer, and crackle of a bright Christmas fire.

Miss Becky Chattesworth, very stately in a fine brocade, and a great deal of point lace, received Puddock very loftily, and only touched his hand with the tips of her fingers. It was plain he was not yet taken into favour. When he entered the drawing-room, that handsome stranger, with the large eyes, so wonderfully elegant and easy in the puce-coloured cut velvet—Mr. Mervyn—was leaning upon the high back of a chair, and talking agreeably, as it seemed, to Miss Gertrude. He had a shake of the hand and a fashionable greeting from stout, dandified Captain Cluffe, who was by no means so young as he would be supposed, and made up industriously and braced what he called his waist, with great fortitude, and indeed sometimes looked half-stifled, in spite of his smile and his swagger. Sturk, leaning at the window with his shoulders to the wall, beckoned Puddock gruffly, and cross-examined him in an undertone as to the issue of O'Flaherty's case. Of course he knew all about the duel, but the corps also knew that Sturk would not attend on the ground in any affair where the Royal Irish Artillery were concerned, and therefore they could bring what doctor they pleased to the field without an affront.

'And see, my buck,' said Sturk, winding up rather savagely with a sneer; 'you've got out of that scrape, you and your patient, by a piece of good luck that's not like to happen twice over; so take my advice, and cut that leaf out of your—your—grandmother's cookery book, and light your pipe with it.'

This slight way of treating both his book and his ancestors nettled little Puddock—who never himself took a liberty, and expected similar treatment—but he knew Sturk, the nature of the beast, and he only bowed grandly, and went to pay his respects to cowed, kindly, querulous little Mrs. Sturk, at the other end of the room. An elderly gentleman, with a rather white face, a high forehead and grim look, was chatting briskly with her; and Puddock, the moment his eye lighted on the stranger, felt that there was something remarkable about him. Taken in detail, indeed, he was insignificant. He was dressed as quietly as the style of that day would allow, yet in his toilet, there was entire ease and even a latent air of fashion. He wore his own hair; and though there was a little powder upon it and upon his coat collar, it was perfectly white, frizzed out a little at the sides, and gathered into a bag behind. The stranger rose and bowed as Puddock approached the lady, and the lieutenant had a nearer view of his great white forehead—his only good feature—and the pair of silver spectacles that glimmered under it, and his small hooked nose and stern mouth.

''Tis a mean countenance,' said the general, talking him over when the company had dispersed.

'No countenance,' said Miss Becky decisively, 'could be mean with such a forehead.'

The fact is—if they had cared to analyse—the features, taken separately, with that one exception, were insignificant; but the face was singular, with its strange pallor, its intellectual mastery, and sarcastic decision.

The general, who had accidentally omitted the ceremony—in those days essential—now strutted up to introduce them.

'Mr. Dangerfield, will you permit me to present my good friend and officer Lieutenant Puddock. Lieutenant Puddock, Mr Dangerfield—Mr. Dangerfield, Lieutenant Puddock.'

And there was a great deal of pretty bowing, and each was the other's 'most obedient,' and declared himself honoured; and the conventional parenthesis ended, things returned to their former course.

Puddock only perceived that Mrs. Sturk was giving Dangerfield a rambling sort of account of the people of Chapelizod. Dangerfield, to do him justice, listened attentively. In fact, he had led her upon that particular theme, and as easily and cleverly kept her close to the subject. For he was not a general to manoeuvre without knowing first how the ground lay, and had an active, enquiring mind, in which he made all sorts of little notes.

So Mrs. Sturk prattled on, to her own and Mr. Dangerfield's content, for she was garrulous when not under the eye of her lord, and always gentle, though given to lamentation, having commonly many small hardships to mention. So, quite without malice or retention, she poured out the gossip of the town, but not its scandal. Indeed, she was a very harmless, and rather sweet, though dolorous little body, and was very fond of children, especially her own, who would have been ruined were it not that they quailed as much as she did before Sturk, on whom she looked as by far the cleverest and most awful mortal then extant, and never doubted that the world thought so too. For the rest, she preserved her dresses, which were not amiss, for an interminable time, her sheets were always well aired, her maids often saucy, and she often in tears, but Sturk's lace and fine-linen were always forthcoming in exemplary order; she rehearsed the catechism with the children, and loved Dr. Walsingham heartily, and made more raspberry jam than any other woman of her means in Chapelizod, except, perhaps, Mrs. Nutter, between whom and herself there were points of resemblance, but something as nearly a feud as could subsist between their harmless natures. Each believed the other matched with a bold bad man, who was always scheming something—they never quite understood what—against her own peerless lord; each on seeing the other, hoping that Heaven would defend the right and change the hearts of her enemies, or, at all events confound their politics; and each, with a sort of awful second-sight, when they viewed one another across the street, beholding her neighbour draped in a dark film of thunder-cloud, and with a sheaf of pale lightning, instead of a fan flickering in her hand.

When they came down to dinner, the gallant Captain Cluffe contrived to seat himself beside Aunt Becky, to whom the rogue commended himself by making a corner on his chair, next hers, for that odious greedy little brute 'Fancy,' and by a hundred other adroit and amiable attentions. And having a perfect acquaintance with all her weak points—as everybody had who lived long in Chapelizod—he had no difficulty in finding topics to interest her, and in conversing acceptably thereupon. And, indeed, whenever he was mentioned for some time after, she used to remark, that Captain Cluffe was a very conversable and worthy young (!) man.

In truth, that dinner went swiftly and pleasantly over for many of the guests. Gertrude Chattesworth was placed between the enamoured Puddock and the large-eyed, handsome, mysterious Mervyn. Of course, the hour flew with light and roseate wings for him. Little Puddock was in great force, and chatted with energy, and his theatrical lore, and his oddities, made him not unamusing. So she smiled on him more than usual, to make amends for the frowns of the higher powers, and he was as happy as a prince and as proud as a peacock, and quite tipsy with his success.

It is not always easy to know what young ladies like best or least, or quite what they are driving at; and Cluffe, from the other side of the table, thought, though Puddock was an agreeable fellow, and exerting himself uncommonly (for Cluffe, like other men not deep in the literae humaniores, had a sort of veneration for 'book learning,' under which category he placed Puddock's endless odds and ends of play lore, and viewed the little lieutenant himself accordingly with some awe as a man of parts and a scholar, and prodigiously admired his verses, which he only half understood); he fancied, I say, although Puddock was unusually entertaining, that Miss Gertrude would have been well content to exchange him for the wooden lay-figure on which she hung her draperies when she sketched, which might have worn his uniform and filled his chair, and spared her his agreeable conversation, and which had eyes and saw not, and ears and heard not.

In short, the cunning fellow fancied he saw, by many small signs, a very decided preference on her part for the handsome and melancholy, but evidently eloquent stranger. Like other cunning fellows, however, Cluffe was not always right; and right or wrong, in his own illusions, if such they were, little Puddock was, for the time, substantially blessed.

The plump and happy lieutenant, when the ladies had flown away to the drawing-room and their small tea-cups, waxed silent and sentimental, but being a generous rival, and feeling that he could afford it, made a little effort, and engaged Mervyn in talk, and found him pleasantly versed in many things of which he knew little, and especially in the Continental stage and drama, upon which Puddock heard him greedily; and the general's bustling talk helped to keep the company merry, and he treated them to a bottle of the identical sack of which his own father's wedding posset had been compounded! Dangerfield, in a rather harsh voice, but agreeably and intelligently withal, told some rather pleasant stories about old wines and curious wine fanciers; and Cluffe and Puddock, who often sang together, being called on by the general, chanted a duet rather prettily, though neither, separately, had much of a voice. And the incorrigible Puddock, apropos of a piece of a whale once eaten by Dangerfield, after his wont, related a wonderful receipt—'a weaver surprised.' The weaver turned out to be a fish, and the 'surprising' was the popping him out of ice into boiling water, with after details, which made the old general shake and laugh till tears bedewed his honest cheeks. And Mervyn and Dangerfield, as much surprised as the weaver, both looked, each in his own way, a little curiously at the young warrior who possessed this remarkable knowledge.

And the claret, like the general's other wines, was very good, and Dangerfield said a stern word or two in its praise, and guessed its vintage, to his host's great elation, who, with Lord Castlemallard, began to think Dangerfield a very wonderful man.

Dr. Sturk alone sipped his claret silently; looking thoughtfully a good deal at Dangerfield over the way, and when spoken to, seemed to waken up, but dropped out of the conversation again; though this was odd, for he had intended giving Dangerfield a bit of his mind as to what might be made of the Castlemallard estates, and by implication letting in some light upon Nutter's mismanagement.

When Dr. Sturk had come into the drawing-room before dinner, Dangerfield was turning over a portfolio in the shade beyond the window, and the evening sun was shining strongly in his own face; so that during the ceremony of introduction he had seen next to nothing of him, and then sauntered away to the bow window at the other end, where the ladies were assembled, to make his obeisance.

But at the dinner-table, he was placed directly opposite, with the advantage of a very distinct view; and the face, relieved against the dark stamped leather hangings on the wall, stood out like a sharply-painted portrait, and produced an odd and unpleasant effect upon Sturk, who could not help puzzling himself then, and for a long time after, with unavailing speculations about him.

The grim white man opposite did not appear to trouble his head about Sturk. He eat his dinner energetically, chatted laconically, but rather pleasantly. Sturk thought he might be eight-and-forty, or perhaps six or seven-and-fifty—it was a face without a date. He went over all his points, insignificant features, high forehead, stern countenance, abruptly silent, abruptly speaking, spectacles, harsh voice, harsher laugh, something sinister perhaps, and used for the most part when the joking or the story had a flavour of the sarcastic and the devilish. The image, as a whole, seemed to Sturk to fill in the outlines of a recollection, which yet was not a recollection. He could not seize it; it was a decidedly unpleasant impression of having seen him before, but where he could not bring to mind. 'He got me into some confounded trouble some time or other,' thought Sturk, in his uneasy dream; 'the sight of him is like a thump in my stomach. Was he the sheriff's deputy at Chester, when that rascally Jew-tailor followed me? Dangerfield—Dangerfield—Dangerfield—no; or could it be that row at Taunton? or the custom-house officer—let me see—1751; no, he was a taller man—yes, I remember him; it is not he. Or was he at Dick Luscome's duel?' and he lay awake half the night thinking of him; for he was not only a puzzle, but there was a sort of suspicion of danger and he knew not what, throbbing in his soul whenever his reverie conjured up that impenetrable, white scoffing face.



Having had as much claret as they cared for, the gentlemen fluttered gaily into the drawing-room, and Puddock, who made up to Miss Gertrude, and had just started afresh, and in a rather more sentimental vein, was a good deal scandalised, and put out by the general's reciting with jolly emphasis, and calling thereto his daughter's special attention, his receipt for 'surprising a weaver,' which he embellished with two or three burlesque improvements of his own, which Puddock, amidst his blushes and confusion, allowed to pass without a protest. Aunt Rebecca was the only person present who pointedly refused to laugh; and with a slight shudder and momentary elevation of her eyes, said, 'wicked and unnatural cruelty!' at which sentiment Puddock used his pocket-handkerchief in rather an agitated manner.

''Tis a thing I've never done myself—that is, I've never seen it done,' said Little Puddock, suffused with blushes, as he pleaded his cause at the bar of humanity—for those were the days of Howard, and the fair sex had taken up the philanthropist. 'The—the—receipt—'tis, you see, a thing I happened to meet—and—and just read it in the—in a book—and the—I—a——'

Aunt Becky, with her shoulders raised in a shudder, and an agonised and peremptory 'there, there, there,' moved out of hearing in dignified disgust, to the general's high entertainment, who enjoyed her assaults upon innocent Puddock, and indeed took her attacks upon himself, when executed with moderation, hilariously enough—a misplaced good-humour which never failed to fire Aunt Becky's just resentment.

Indeed, the general was so tickled with this joke that he kept it going for the rest of the evening, by sly allusions and mischievous puns. As for instance, at supper, when Aunt Rebecca was deploring the miserable depression of the silk manufacture, and the distress of the poor Protestant artisans of the Liberty, the general, with a solemn wink at Puddock, and to that officer's terror, came out with—

'Yet, who knows, Lieutenant Puddock, but the weavers, poor fellows, may be surprised, you know, by a sudden order from the Court, as happened last year.'

But Aunt Rebecca only raised her eyebrows, and, with a slight toss of her head, looked sternly at a cold fowl on the other side. But, from some cause or other—perhaps it was Miss Gertrude's rebellion in treating the outlawed Puddock with special civility that evening, Miss Becky's asperity seemed to acquire edge and venom as time proceeded. But Puddock rallied quickly. He was on the whole very happy, and did not grudge Mervyn his share of the talk, though he heard him ask leave to send Miss Gertrude Chattesworth a portfolio of his drawings made in Venice, to look over, which she with a smile accepted—and at supper, Puddock, at the general's instigation, gave them a solo, which went off pretty well, and, as they stood about the fire after it, on a similar pressure, an imitation of Barry in Othello; and upon this, Miss Becky, who was a furious partisan of Smock-alley Theatre and Mossop against Barry, Woodward, and the Crow-street play-house, went off again. Indeed, this was a feud which just then divided the ladies of all Dublin, and the greater part of the country, with uncommon acrimony.

'Crow-street was set up,' she harangued, 'to ruin the old house in the spirit of covetousness, you say' (Puddock had not said a word on the subject;) 'well, covetousness, we have good authority for saying, is idolatry—nothing less—idolatry, Sir,—you need not stare.' (Puddock certainly did stare.) 'I suppose you once read your Bible, Sir, but every sensible man, woman, child, and infant, Sir, in the kingdom, knows it was malice; and malice, Holy Writ says, is murder—but I forgot, that's perhaps no very great objection with Lieutenant Puddock.'

And little Puddock flushed up, and his round eyes grew rounder and rounder, as she proceeded, every moment; and he did not know what to say—for it had not struck him before that Messrs. Barry's and Woodward's theatrical venture might be viewed in the light of idolatry or murder. So dumfounded as he was, he took half of Lord Chesterfield's advice in such cases, that is, he forgot the smile, but he made a very low bow, and, with this submission, the combat (si rixa est) subsided.

Dangerfield had gone away some time—so had Mervyn—Sturk and his wife went next, and Cluffe and Puddock, who lingered as long as was decent, at last took leave. The plump lieutenant went away very happy, notwithstanding the two or three little rubs he had met with, and a good deal more in love than ever. And he and his companion were both thoughtful, and the walk home was quite silent, though very pleasant.

Cluffe was giving shape mentally to his designs upon Miss Rebecca's L20,000 and savings. He knew she had had high offers in her young days and refused; but those were past and gone—and gray hairs bring wisdom—and women grow more practicable as the time for action dwindles—and she was just the woman to take a fancy—and 'once the maggot bit,' to go any honest length to make it fact. And Cluffe knew that he had the field to himself, and that he was a well-made, handsome, agreeable officer—not so young as to make the thing absurd, yet young enough to inspire the right sort of feeling. To be sure, there were a few things to be weighed. She was, perhaps—well, she was eccentric. She had troublesome pets and pastimes—he knew them all—was well stricken in years, and had a will of her own—that was all. But, then, on the other side was the money—a great and agreeable arithmetical fact not to be shaken—and she could be well-bred when she liked, and a self-possessed, dignified lady, who could sail about a room, and courtesy, and manage her fan, and lead the conversation, and do the honours, as Mrs. Cluffe, with a certain air of haut ton, and in an imposing way, to Cluffe's entire content, who liked the idea of overawing his peers.

And the two warriors, side by side, marched over the bridge, in the starlight, and both by common consent, halted silently, and wheeled up to the battlement; and Puddock puffed a complacent little sigh up the river toward Belmont; and Cluffe was a good deal interested in the subject of his contemplation, and in fact, the more he thought of it, the better he liked it.

And they stood, each in his reverie, looking over the battlement toward Belmont, and hearing the hushed roll of the river, and seeing nothing but the deep blue, and the stars, and the black outline of the trees that overhung the bridge, until the enamoured Cluffe, who liked his comforts, and knew what gout was, felt the chill air, and remembered suddenly that they had stopped, and ought to be in motion toward their beds, and so he shook up Puddock, and they started anew, and parted just at the Phoenix, shaking hands heartily, like two men who had just done a good stroke of business together.



Early next morning Lord Castlemallard, Dangerfield, and Nutter, rode into Chapelizod, plaguy dusty, having already made the circuit of that portion of his property which lay west of the town. They had poked into the new mills and the old mills, and contemplated the quarries, and lime-kilns, and talked with Doyle about his holding, and walked over the two vacant farms, and I know not all besides. And away trotted his lordship to his breakfast in town. And Dangerfield seeing the church door open, dismounted and walked in, and Nutter did likewise.

Bob Martin was up in the gallery, I suppose, doing some good, and making a considerable knocking here and there in the pews, and walking slowly with creaking shoes. Zekiel Irons, the clerk, was down below about his business, at the communion table at the far end, lean, blue-chinned, thin-lipped, stooping over his quarto prayer books, and gliding about without noise, reverent and sinister. When they came in, Nutter led the way to Lord Castlemallard's pew, which brought them up pretty near to the spot where grave Mr. Irons was prowling serenely. The pew would soon want new flooring, Mr. Dangerfield thought, and the Castlemallard arms and supporters, a rather dingy piece of vainglory, overhanging the main seat on the wall, would be nothing the worse of a little fresh gilding and paint.

Previous Part     1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9  10  11  12  13  14     Next Part
Home - Random Browse