The Ash-Tree V

‘You are mighty obliging, Mr Crome, and, if you will be so good as to follow me to the parlour, and drink a glass of wine, we will take a first look at these same papers together. And you, Mrs Chiddock, as I said, be about airing this chamber…. Yes, it is here my grandfather died…. Yes, the tree, perhaps, does make the place a little dampish…. No; I do not wish to listen to any more. Make no difficulties, I beg. You have your orders–go.
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Will you follow me, sir?’ They went to the study. The packet which young Mr Crome had brought–he was then just become a Fellow of Clare Hall in Cambridge, I may say, and subsequently brought out a respectable edition of Polyaenus–contained among other things the notes which the old Vicar had made upon the occasion of Sir Matthew Fell’s death. And for the first time Sir Richard was confronted with the enigmatical _Sortes Biblicae_ which you have heard. They amused him a good deal. ‘Well,’ he said, ‘my grandfather’s Bible gave one prudent piece of advice–_Cut it down_. If that stands for the ash-tree, he may rest assured I shall not neglect it. Such a nest of catarrhs and agues was never seen.’ The parlour contained the family books, which, pending the arrival of a collection which Sir Richard had made in Italy, and the building of a proper room to receive them, were not many in number. Sir Richard looked up from the paper to the bookcase. ‘I wonder,’ says he, ‘whether the old prophet is there yet? I fancy I see him.’ Crossing the room, he took out a dumpy Bible, which, sure enough, bore on the flyleaf the inscription: ‘To Matthew Fell, from his Loving Godmother, Anne Aldous, 2 September 1659.’ ‘It would be no bad plan to test him again, Mr Crome. I will wager we get a couple of names in the Chronicles. H’m! what have we here? “Thou shalt seek me in the morning, and I shall not be.” Well, well! Your grandfather would have made a fine omen of that, hey? No more prophets for me! They are all in a tale. And now, Mr Crome, I am infinitely obliged to you for your packet. You will, I fear, be impatient to get on. Pray allow me–another glass.’ So with offers of hospitality, which were genuinely meant (for Sir Richard thought well of the young man’s address and manner), they parted. In the afternoon came the guests–the Bishop of Kilmore, Lady Mary Hervey, Sir William Kentfield, etc. Dinner at five, wine, cards, supper, and dispersal to bed. Next morning Sir Richard is disinclined to take his gun with the rest. He talks with the Bishop of Kilmore. This prelate, unlike a good many of the Irish Bishops of his day, had visited his see, and, indeed, resided there, for some considerable time. This morning, as the two were walking along the terrace and talking over the alterations and improvements in the house, the Bishop said, pointing to the window of the West Room: ‘You could never get one of my Irish flock to occupy that room, Sir Richard.’ ‘Why is that, my lord? It is, in fact, my own.’ ‘Well, our Irish peasantry will always have it that it brings the worst of luck to sleep near an ash-tree, and you have a fine growth of ash not two yards from your chamber window. Perhaps,’ the Bishop went on, with a smile, ‘it has given you a touch of its quality already, for you do not seem, if I may say it, so much the fresher for your night’s rest as your friends would like to see you.’ ‘That, or something else, it is true, cost me my sleep from twelve to four, my lord. But the tree is to come down tomorrow, so I shall not hear much more from it.’…

by Montague Rhodes James

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