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Title: The Crock of Gold - A Rural Novel
Author: Tupper, Martin Farquhar, 1810-1889
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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THE CROCK OF GOLD;

A Rural Novel.

by

MARTIN FARQUHAR TUPPER, ESQ., M.A.,

Author of "Proverbial Philosophy."



Hartford:
Silas Andrus and Son.

1851.



CHAPTER I.

THE LABOURER; AND HIS DAWNING DISCONTENT.


ROGER ACTON woke at five. It was a raw March morning, still
dark, and bitterly cold, while at gusty intervals the rain beat in
against the crazy cottage-window. Nevertheless, from his poor pallet he
must up and rouse himself, for it will be open weather by sunrise, and
his work lies two miles off; Master Jennings is not the man to show him
favour if he be late, and Roger cannot afford to lose an hour: so he
shook off the luxury of sleep, and rose again to toil with weary effort.

"Honest Roger," as the neighbours called him, was a fair specimen of a
class which has been Britain's boast for ages, and may be still again,
in measure, but at present that glory appears to be departing: a class
much neglected, much enduring; thoroughly English--just, industrious,
and patient; true to the altar, and loyal to the throne; though haply
shaken somewhat now from both those noble faiths--warped in their
principles, and blunted in their feelings, by lying doctrines and harsh
economies; a class--I hate the cold cant term--a race of honourable men,
full of cares, pains, privations--but of pleasures next to none; whose
life at its most prosperous estate is labour, and in death we count him
happy who did not die a pauper. Through them, serfs of the soil, the
earth yields indeed her increase, but it is for others; from the fields
of plenty they glean a scanty pittance, and fill the barns to bursting,
while their children cry for bread. Not that Roger for his part often
wanted work; he was the best hand in the parish, and had earned of his
employers long ago the name of Steady Acton; but the fair wages for a
fair day's labour were quite another thing, and the times went very hard
for him and his. A man himself may starve, while his industry makes
others fat: and a liberal landlord all the winter through may keep his
labourers in work, while a crafty, overbearing bailiff mulcts them in
their wages.

For the outward man, Acton stood about five feet ten, a gaunt, spare,
and sinewy figure, slightly bent; his head sprinkled with gray; his face
marked with those rigid lines, which tell, if not of positive famine, at
least of too much toil on far too little food; in his eye, patience and
good temper; in his carriage, a mixture of the sturdy bearing, necessary
to the habitual exercise of great muscular strength, together with that
gait of humility--almost humiliation--which is the seal of oppression
upon poverty. He might be about forty, or from that to fifty, for
hunger, toil, and weather had used him the roughest; while, for all
beside, the patched and well-worn smock, the heavily-clouted high-laced
boots, a dingy worsted neck-tie, and an old felt hat, complete the
picture of externals.

But, for the matter of character within, Roger is quite another man. If
his rank in this world is the lowest, many potentates may envy him his
state elsewhere. His heart is as soft, as his hand is horny; with the
wandering gipsy or the tramping beggar, thrust aside, perhaps
deservedly, as impudent impostors from the rich man's gate, has he
often-times shared his noon-day morsel: upright and sincere himself, he
thinks as well of others: he scarcely ever heard the Gospels read in
church, specially about Eastertide, but the tears would trickle down his
weather-beaten face: he loves children--his neighbour's little ones as
well as his own: he will serve any one for goodness' sake without reward
or thanks, and is kind to the poor dumb cattle: he takes quite a pride
in his little rod or two of garden, and is early and late at it, both
before and after the daily sum of labour: he picks up a bit of knowledge
here and there, and somehow has contrived to amass a fund of information
for which few would give him credit from his common looks; and he joins
to that stock of facts a natural shrewdness to use his knowledge wisely.
Though with little of what is called sentiment, or poetry, or fancy in
his mind (for harsh was the teaching of his childhood, and meagre the
occasions of self-culture ever since), the beauty of creation is by no
means lost upon him, and he notices at times its wisdom too. With a
fixed habit of manly piety ever on his lips and ever in his heart, he
recognises Providence in all things, just, and wise, and good. More than
so; simply as a little child who endures the school-hour for the
prospect of his play-time, Roger Acton bears up with noble meekness
against present suffering, knowing that his work and trials and
troubles are only for a little while, but his rest and his reward remain
a long hereafter. He never questioned this; he knew right well Who had
earned it for him; and he lived grateful and obedient, filling up the
duties of his humble station. This was his faith, and his works followed
it. He believed that God had placed him in his lot, to be a labourer,
and till God's earth, and, when his work is done, to be sent on better
service in some happier sphere: the where, or the how, did not puzzle
him, any more than divers other enigmatical whys and wherefores of his
present state; he only knew this, that it would all come right at last:
and, barring sin (which he didn't comprehend), somehow all was right at
present. What if poverty pinched him? he was a great heir still; what if
oppression bruised him? it would soon be over. He trusted to his Pilot,
like the landsman in a storm; to his Father, as an infant in the dark.
For guilt, he had a Saviour, and he thought of him in penitence; for
trouble, a Guardian, and he looked to him in peace; and as for toil,
back-breaking toil, there was another Master whom he served with spade,
and mattock, and a thankful heart, while he only seemed to be working
for the landlord or his bailiff.

Such a man then had been Roger Acton from his youth up till now, or, if
sadness must be told, nearly until now; for, to speak truth, his heart
at times would fail him, and of late he had been bitter in repinings and
complaint. For a day or two, in particular, he had murmured loudly. It
was hard, very hard, that an honest, industrious man, as he was, should
so scantily pick a living out of this rich earth: after all said, let
the parson preach as he will, it's a fine thing to have money, and that
his reverence knows right well, or he wouldn't look so closely for his
dues. [N.B. Poor Mr. Evans was struggling as well as he could to bring
up six children, on a hundred and twenty pounds per annum.] Roger, too,
was getting on in years, with a blacker prospect for the future than
when he first stood behind a plough-tail. Then there were many wants
unsatisfied, which a bit of gold might buy; and his wife teased him to
be doing something better. Thus was it come at length to pass, that,
although he had endured so many years, he now got discontented at his
penury;--what human heart can blame him?--and with murmurings came
doubt; with doubt of Providence, desire of lucre; so the sunshine of
religion faded from his path;--what mortal mind can wonder?



CHAPTER II.

THE FAMILY; THE HOME; AND MORE REPININGS.


NOW, if Malthus and Martineau be verily the pundits that men
think them, Roger had twice in his life done a very foolish thing: he
had sinned against society, statistics, and common sense, by a two-fold
marriage. The wife of his youth (I am afraid he married early) had once
been kitchen-maid at the Hall; but the sudden change from living
luxuriously in a great house, to the griping poverty of a cotter's
hovel, had changed, in three short years, the buxom country girl into an
emaciated shadow of her former self, and the sorrowing husband buried
her in her second child-bed. The powers of the parish clapped their
hands; political economy was glad; prudence chuckled; and a
coarse-featured farmer (he meant no ill), who occasionally had given
Roger work, heartlessly bade him be thankful that his cares were the
fewer and his incumbrance was removed; "Ay, and Heaven take the babies
also to itself," the Herodian added. But Acton's heart was broken!
scarcely could he lift up his head; and his work, though sturdy as
before, was more mechanical, less high-motived: and many a year of
dreary widowhood he mourned a loss all the greater, though any thing but
bitterer, for the infants so left motherless. To these, now grown into a
strapping youth and a bright-eyed graceful girl, had he been the
tenderest of nurses, and well supplied the place of her whom they had
lost. Neighbours would have helped him gladly--sometimes did; and many
was the hinted offer (disinterested enough, too, for in that match
penury must have been the settlement, and starvation the dower), of
giving them a mother's kindly care; but Roger could not quite so soon
forget the dead: so he would carry his darlings with him to his work,
and feed them with his own hard hands; the farmers winked at it, and
never said a word against the tiny trespassers; their wives and
daughters loved the little dears, bringing them milk and possets; and
holy angels from on high may have oft-times hovered about this rude
nurse, tending his soft innocents a-field, and have wept over the poor
widower and his orphans, tears of happy sorrow and benevolent affection.
Yea, many a good angel has shed blessings on their heads!

Within the last three years, and sixteen from the date of his first
great grief, Roger had again got married. His daughter was growing into
early womanhood, and his son gave him trouble at times, and the cottage
wanted a ruling hand over it when he was absent, and rheumatism now and
then bade him look out for a nurse before old age, and Mary Alder was a
notable middle-aged careful sort of soul, and so she became Mary Acton.
All went on pretty well, until Mrs. Acton began to have certain little
ones of her own; and then the step-mother would break out (a contingency
poor Roger hadn't thought of), separate interests crept in, and her own
children fared before the others; so it came to pass that, however truly
there was a ruling hand at home, and however well the rheumatism got
nursed (for Mary was a good wife in the main), the grown-up son and
daughter felt themselves a little jostled out. Grace, gentle and
submissive, found all her comforts shrunk within the space of her father
and her Bible; Thomas, self-willed and open-hearted, sought his pleasure
any where but at home, and was like to be taking to wrong courses
through domestic bickering: Grace had the dangerous portion, beauty,
added to her lowly lot, and attracted more admiration than her father
wished, or she could understand; while the frank and bold spirit of
Thomas Acton exposed him to the perilous friendship of Ben Burke the
poacher, and divers other questionable characters.

Of these elements, then, are our labourer and his family composed; and
before Roger Acton goes abroad at earliest streak of dawn, we will take
a casual peep within his dwelling. It consists of four bare rubble
walls, enclosing a grouted floor, worn unevenly, and here and there in
holes, and puddly. There were but two rooms in the tenement, one on the
ground, and one over-head; which latter is with no small difficulty got
at by scaling a ladder-like stair-case that fronts the cottage-door.
This upper chamber, the common dormitory, for all but Thomas, who sleeps
down stairs, has a thin partition at one end of it, to screen off the
humble truckle-bed where Grace Acton forgets by night the troubles of
the day; and the remainder of the little apartment, sordid enough, and
overhung with the rough thatch, black with cobweb, serves for the father
and mother with their recent nursery. Each room has its shattery
casement, to let in through linchened panes, the doubtful light of
summer, and the much more indubitable wind, and rain, and frost of
wintry nights. A few articles of crockery and some burnished tins
decorate the shelves of the lower apartment; which used to be much
tidier before the children came, and trimmer still when Grace was sole
manager: in a doorless cupboard are apparent sundry coarse edibles, as
the half of a huge unshapely home-made loaf, some white country cheese,
a mass of lumpy pudding, and so forth; beside it, on the window-sill, is
better bread, a well-thumbed Bible, some tracts, and a few odd volumes
picked up cheap at fairs; an old musket (occasionally Ben's companion,
sometimes Tom's) is hooked to the rafters near a double rope of onions;
divers gaudy little prints, tempting spoil of pedlars, in honour of
George Barnwell, the Prodigal Son, the Sailor's Return, and the Death of
Nelson, decorate the walls, and an illuminated Christmas carol is pasted
over the mantel-piece: which, among other chattels and possessions,
conspicuously bears its own burden of Albert and Victoria--two plaster
heads, resplendently coloured, highly varnished, looking with arched
eye-brows of astonishment on their uninviting palace, and royally
contrasting with the sombre hue of poverty on all things else. The
pictures had belonged to Mary, no small portion of her virgin wealth;
and as for the statuary, those two busts had cost loyal Roger far more
in comparison than any corporation has given to P.R.A., for majesty and
consortship in full. There is, moreover, in the room, by way of
household furniture, a ricketty, triangular, and tri-legged table, a
bench, two old chairs with rush-bottoms, and a yard or two of matting
that the sexton gave when the chancel was new laid. I don't know that
there is any thing else to mention, unless it be a gaunt lurcher
belonging to Ben Burke, and with all a dog's resemblance to his master,
who lies stretched before the hearth where the peaty embers never quite
die out, but smoulder away to a heap of white ashes; over these is
hanging a black boiler, the cook of the family; and beside them, on a
substratum of dry heather, and wrapped about with an old blanket, nearly
companioned by his friend, the dog, snores Thomas Acton, still fast
asleep, after his usual extemporaneous fashion.

As to the up-stairs apartment, it contained little or nothing but its
living inmates, their bedsteads and tattered coverlids, and had an air
of even more penury and discomfort than the room below; so that, what
with squalling children, a scolding wife, and empty stomach, and that
cold and wet March morning, it is little wonder maybe (though no small
blame), that Roger Acton had not enough of religion or philosophy to
rise and thank his Maker for the blessings of existence.

He had just been dreaming of great good luck. Poor people often do so;
just as Ugolino dreamt of imperial feasts, and Bruce, in his delirious
thirst on the Sahara, could not banish from his mind the cool fountains
of Shiraz, and the luxurious waters of old Nile. Roger had unfortunately
dreamt of having found a crock of gold--I dare say he will tell us his
dream anon--and just as he was counting out his treasure, that blessed
beautiful heap of shining money--cruel habit roused him up before the
dawn, and his wealth faded from his fancy. So he awoke at five, anything
but cheerfully.

It was Grace's habit, good girl, to read to her father in the morning a
few verses from the volume she best loved: she always woke betimes when
she heard him getting up, and he could hear her easily from her little
flock-bed behind the lath partition; and many a time had her dear
religious tongue, uttering the words of peace, soothed her father's
mind, and strengthened him to meet the day's affliction; many times it
raised his thoughts from the heavy cares of life to the buoyant hopes of
immortality. Hitherto, Roger had owed half his meek contentedness to
those sweet lessons from a daughter's lips, and knew that he was
reaping, as he heard, the harvest of his own paternal care, and
heaven-blest instructions. However, upon this dark morning, he was full
of other thoughts, murmurings, and doubts, and poverty, and riches. So,
when Grace, after her usual affectionate salutations, gently began to
read,

"The sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with
the glory--"

Her father strangely stopped her on a sudden with--

"Enough, enough, my girl! God wot, the sufferings are grievous, and the
glory long a-coming."

Then he heavily went down stairs, and left Grace crying.



CHAPTER III.

THE CONTRAST.


THUS, full of carking care, while he pushed aside the proffered
consolation, Roger Acton walked abroad. There was yet but a glimmer of
faint light, and the twittering of birds told more assuringly of morning
than any cheerful symptom on the sky: however, it had pretty well ceased
raining, that was one comfort, and, as Roger, shouldering his spade, and
with the day's provision in a handkerchief, trudged out upon his daily
duty, those good old thoughts of thankfulness came upon his mind, and he
forgot awhile the dream that had unstrung him. Turning for a moment to
look upon his hovel, and bless its inmates with a prayer, he half
resolved to run back, and hear a few more words, if only not to vex his
darling child: but there was now no time to spare; and then, as he gazed
upon her desolate abode--so foul a casket for so fair a jewel--his
bitter thoughts returned to him again, and he strode away, repining.

Acton's cottage was one of those doubtful domiciles, whose only
recommendation it is, that they are picturesque in summer. At present we
behold a reeking rotting mass of black thatch in a cheerless swamp; but,
as the year wears on, those time-stained walls, though still both damp
and mouldy, will be luxuriantly overspread with creeping
plants--honeysuckle, woodbine, jessamine, and the everblowing monthly
rose. Many was the touring artist it had charmed, and Suffolk-street had
seen it often: spectators looked upon the scene as on an old familiar
friend, whose face they knew full well, but whose name they had
forgotten for the minute. Many were the fair hands that had immortalized
its beauties in their albums, and frequent the notes of admiration
uttered by attending swains: particularly if there chanced to be taken
into the view a feathery elm that now creaked overhead, and dripped on
the thatch like the dropping-well at Knaresborough, and (in the near
distance) a large pond, or rather lake, upon whose sedgy banks, gay--not
now, but soon about to be--with flowering reeds and bright green
willows, the pretty cottage stood. In truth, if man were but an
hibernating animal, invisible as dormice in the winter, and only to be
seen with summer swallows, Acton's cottage at Hurstley might have been a
cantle cut from the Elysian-fields. But there are certain other seasons
in the year, and human nature cannot long exist on the merely
"picturesque in summer."

Some fifty yards, or so, from the hither shore, we discern a roughly
wooded ait, Pike Island to wit, a famous place for fish, and the grand
rendezvous for woodcocks; which, among other useful and ornamental
purposes, serves to screen out the labourer's hovel, at this the
narrowest part of the lake, from a view of that fine old mansion on the
opposite shore, the seat of Sir John Vincent, a baronet just of age, and
the great landlord of the neighbourhood. Toward this mansion, scarcely
yet revealed in the clear gray eye of morning, our humble hero, having
made the long round of the lake, is now fast trudging; and it may merit
a word or two of plain description, to fill up time and scene, till he
gets nearer.

A smooth grassy eminence, richly studded with park-like clumps of trees,
slopes up from the water's very edge to--Hurstley Hall; yonder goodly,
if not grand, Elizabethan structure, full of mullioned windows, carved
oak panels, stone-cut coats of arms, pinnacles, and traceries, and
lozenges, and drops; and all this glory crowned by a many-gabled,
high-peaked roof. A grove of evergreens and American shrubs hides the
lower windows from vulgarian gaze--for, in the neighbourly feeling of
our ancestors, a public way leads close along the front; while, behind
the house, and inaccessible to eyes profane, are drawn terraced gardens,
beautifully kept, and blooming with a perpetual succession of the
choicest flowers. The woods and shrubberies around, attempted some half
a century back to be spoilt by the meddlesome bad taste of Capability
Brown, have been somewhat too resolutely robbed of the formal avenues,
clipped hedges, and other topiarian adjuncts which comport so well with
the starch prudery of things Elizabethan; but they are still replete
with grotto, fountain, labyrinth, and alcove--a very paradise for the
more court-bred rank of sylphs, and the gentler elves of Queen Titania.

However, we have less to do with the gardens than, probably, the elves
have; and as Roger now, just at breaking day, is approaching the windows
somewhat too curiously for a poor man's manners, it may not be amiss if
we bear him company. He had pretty well recovered of his fit of
discontent, for morning air and exercise can soon chase gloom away; so
he cheerily tramped along, thinking as he went, how that, after all, it
is a middling happy world, and how that the raindrops, now that it had
cleared up, hung like diamonds on the laurels, when of a sudden, as he
turned a corner near the house, there broke upon his ear, at that quiet
hour, such a storm of boisterous sounds--voices so loud with oaths and
altercation--such a calling, clattering, and quarrelling, as he had
never heard the like before. So no wonder that he stepped aside to see
it.

The noise proceeded from a ground-floor window, or rather from three
windows, lighted up, and hung with draperies of crimson and gold: one of
the casements, flaring meretriciously in the modest eye of morn, stood
wide open down to the floor, probably to cool a heated atmosphere; and
when Roger Acton, with a natural curiosity, went on tiptoe, looked in,
and just put aside the curtain for a peep, to know what on earth could
be the matter, he saw a vision of waste and wealth, at which he stood
like one amazed, for a poor man's mind could never have conceived its
equal.

Evidently, he had intruded on the latter end of a long and luxurious
revel. Wax-lights, guttering down in gilded chandeliers, poured their
mellow radiance round in multiplied profusion--for mirrors made them
infinite; crimson and gold were the rich prevailing tints in that wide
and warm banqueting-room; gayly-coloured pictures, set in frames that
Roger fancied massive gold, hung upon the walls at intervals; a
wagon-load of silver was piled upon the sideboard; there blazed in the
burnished grate such a fire as poverty might imagine on a frozen
winter's night, but never can have thawed its blood beside: fruits, and
wines, and costly glass were scattered in prodigal disorder on the
board--just now deserted of its noisy guests, who had crowded round a
certain green table, where cards and heaps of sovereigns appeared to be
mingled in a mass. Roger had never so much as conceived it possible that
there could be wealth like this: it was a fairy-land of Mammon in his
eyes: he stood gasping like a man enchanted; and in the contemplation of
these little hills of gold--in their covetous longing contemplation, he
forgot the noisy quarrel he had turned aside to see, and thirsted for
that rich store earnestly.

In an instant, as he looked (after the comparative lull that must
obviously have succeeded to the clamours he had first heard), the roar
and riot broke out worse than ever. There were the stormy revellers, as
the rabble rout of Comus and his crew, filling that luxurious room with
the sounds of noisy execration and half-drunken strife. Young Sir John,
a free and generous fellow, by far the best among them all, has
collected about him those whom he thought friends, to celebrate his
wished majority; they had now kept it up, night after night, hard upon a
week; and, as well became such friends--the gambler, the duellist, the
man of pleasure, and the fool of Fashion--they never yet had separated
for their day-light beds, without a climax to their orgie, something
like the present scene.

Henry Mynton, high in oath, and dashing down his cards, has charged Sir
Richard Hunt with cheating (it was _sauter la coupe_ or _couper la
saut_, or some such mystery of iniquity, I really cannot tell which):
Sir Richard, a stout dark man, the patriarch of the party, glossily
wigged upon his head, and imperially tufted on his chin, retorts with a
pungent sarcasm, calmly and coolly uttered; that hot-headed fool
Silliphant, clearly quite intoxicated, backs his cousin Mynton's view of
the case by the cogent argument of a dice-box at Sir Richard's head--and
at once all is struggle, strife, and uproar. The other guests, young
fellows of high fashion, now too much warmed with wine to remember their
accustomed Mohican cold-bloodedness--those happy debtors to the prowess
of a Stultz, and walking advertisers of Nugee--take eager part with the
opposed belligerents: more than one decanter is sent hissing through
the air; more than one bloody coxcomb witnesses to the weight of a
candle-stick and its hurler's clever aim: uplifted chairs are made the
weapons of the chivalric combatants; and along with divers other less
distinguished victims in the melée, poor Sir John Vincent, rushing into
the midst, as a well-intentioned host, to quell the drunken brawl, gets
knocked down among them all; the tables are upset, the bright gold runs
about the room in all directions--ha! no one heeds it--no one owns
it--one little piece rolled right up to the window-sill where Roger
still looked on with all his eyes; it is but to put his hand in--the
window is open to the floor--nay a finger is enough: greedily, one
undecided moment, did he gaze upon the gold; he saw the hideous contrast
of his own dim hovel and that radiant chamber--he remembered the pining
faces of his babes, and gentle Grace with all her hardships--he thought
upon his poverty and well deserts--he looked upon wastefulness of wealth
and wantonness of living--these reflections struck him in a moment; no
one saw him, no one cared about the gold; that little blessed morsel,
that could do him so much good; all was confusion, all was opportunity,
and who can wonder that his fingers closed upon the sovereign, and that
he picked it up?



CHAPTER IV.

THE LOST THEFT.


STEALTHILY and quickly "honest Roger" crept away, for his
conscience smote him on the instant: he felt he had done wrong; at any
rate, the sovereign was not his--and once the thought arose in him to
run back, and put it where he found it: but it was now become too
precious in his sight, that little bit of gold--and they, the rioters
there, could not want it, might not even miss it; and then its righteous
uses--it should be well spent, even if ill-got: and thus, so many
mitigations crowded in to excuse, if not to applaud the action, that
within a little while his warped mind had come to call the theft a
god-send.

O Roger, Roger! alas for this false thought of that wrong deed! the
poisonous gold has touched thy heart, and left on it a spot of cancer:
the asp has bitten thee already, simple soul. This little seed will grow
into a huge black pine, that shall darken for a while thy heaven, and
dig its evil roots around thy happiness. Put it away, Roger, put it
away: covet not unhallowed gold.

But Roger felt far otherwise; and this sudden qualm of conscience once
quelled (I will say there seemed much of palliation in the matter), a
kind of inebriate feeling of delight filled his mind, and Steady Acton
plodded on to the meadow yonder, half a mile a-head, in a species of
delirious complacency. Here was luck indeed, filling up the promise of
his dreams. His head was full of thoughts, pleasant holiday thoughts, of
the many little useful things, the many small indulgences, that bit of
gold should buy him. He would change it on the sly, and gradually bring
the shillings home as extra pay for extra work; for, however much his
wife might glory in the chance, and keep his secret, well he knew that
Grace would have a world of things to say about it, and he feared to
tell his daughter of the deed. However, she should have a ribbon, so she
should, good girl, and the pedlar shouldn't pass the door unbidden;
Mary, too, might have a cotton kerchief, and the babes a doll and a
rattle, and poor Thomas a shilling to spend as he liked; and so, in
happy revery, the kind father distributed his ill-got sovereign.

For a while he held it in his hand, as loth to part from the tangible
possession of his treasure; but manual contact could not last all day,
and, as he neared his scene of labour--he came late after all, by the
by, and lost the quarter-day, but it mattered little now--he began to
cogitate a place of safety; and carefully put it in his fob. Poor
fellow--he had never had enough to stow so well away before: his pockets
had been thought quite trust-worthy enough for any treasures hitherto:
never had he used that fob for watch, or note, or gold--and his
predecessor in the cast-off garment had probably been quite aware how
little that false fob was worthy of the name of savings' bank; it was in
the situation of the Irishman's illimitable rope, with the end cut off.
So while Roger was brewing up vast schemes of nascent wealth, and
prosperous days at last, the filched sovereign, attracted by centripetal
gravity, had found a passage downwards, and had straightway rolled into
a crevice of mother-earth, long before its "brief lord" had commenced
his day's labour. Yes, it had been lost a good hour ere he found it out,
for he had fancied that he had felt it there, and often did he feel, but
his fancy was a button; and when he made the dread discovery, what a
sting of momentary anguish, what a sickening fear, what an eager search!
and, as the grim truth became more evident, that, indeed, beyond all
remedy, his new-got, ill-got, egg of coming wealth was all clean
gone--oh! this was worm-wood, this was bitter as gall, and the strong
man well-nigh fainted. It was something sad to have done the ill--but
misery to have done it all for nothing: the sin was not altogether
pleasant to his taste, but it was aloe itself to lose the reward. And
when, pale and sick, leaning on his spade, he came to his old strength
again, what was the reaction? Compunction at incipient crime, and
gratitude to find its punishment so mercifully speedy, so lenient, so
discriminative? I fear that if ever he had these thoughts at all, he
chased them wilfully away: his disappointment, far from being softened
into patience, was sharpened to a feeling of revenge at fate; and all
his hope now was--such another chance, gold, more gold, never mind how;
more gold, he burnt for gold, he lusted after gold!

We must leave him for a time to his toil and his reflections, and touch
another topic of our theme.



CHAPTER V.

THE INQUEST.


JUST a week before the baronet came of age, and a fortnight
from the present time, an awful and mysterious event had happened at the
Hall: the old house-keeper, Mrs. Quarles, had been found dead in her
bed, under circumstances, to say the very least, of a black and
suspicious appearance. The county coroner had got a jury of the
neighbours impanelled together; who, after sitting patiently on the
inquest, and hearing, as well as seeing, the following evidence, could
arrive at no verdict more specific than the obvious fact, that the poor
old creature had been "found dead." The great question lay between
apoplexy and murder; and the evidence tended to a well-matched conflict
of opinions.

First, there lay the body, quietly in bed, tucked in tidily and
undisturbed, with no marks of struggling, none whatever--the clothes lay
smooth, and the chamber orderly: yet the corpse's face was of a purple
hue, the tongue swollen, the eyes starting from their sockets: it might,
indeed, possibly have been an apoplectic seizure, which took her in her
sleep, and killed her as she lay; _but_ that the gripe of clutching
fingers had left their livid seals upon the throat, and countenanced
the dreadful thought of strangulation!

Secondly, a surgeon (one Mr. Eager, the Union doctor, a very young
personage, wrong withal and radical) maintained that this actual
strangulation might have been effected by the hands of the deceased
herself, in the paroxysm of a rush of blood to the brain; and he
fortified his wise position by the instance of a late statesman, who, he
averred, cut his throat with a pen-knife, to relieve himself of pressure
on the temples: while another surgeon--Stephen Cramp, he was farrier as
well, and had been, until lately, time out of mind, the village
Æsculapius, who looked with scorn on his pert rival, and opposed him
tooth and nail on all occasions--insisted that it was not only
physically impossible for poor Mrs. Quarles so to have strangled
herself, but more particularly that, if she had done so, she certainly
could not have laid herself out so decently afterwards; therefore, that
as some one else had kindly done the latter office for her, why not the
former too?

Thirdly, Sarah Stack, the still-room maid, deposed, that Mrs. Quarles
always locked her door before she went to bed, but that when she
(deponent) went to call her as usual on the fatal morning, the door was
just ajar; and so she found her dead: while parallel with this, tending
to implicate some domestic criminal, was to be placed the equally
uncommon fact, that the other door of Mrs. Quarles's room, leading to
the lawn, was open too:--be it known that Mrs. Quarles was a stout
woman, who could'nt abide to sleep up-stairs, for fear of fire;
moreover, that she was a nervous woman, who took extraordinary
precautions for her safety, in case of thieves. Thus, unaccountably
enough, the murderer, if there was any, was as likely to have come from
the outside, as from the in.

Fourthly, the murderer in this way is commonly a thief, and does the
deed for mammon-sake; but the new house-keeper, lately installed, made
her deposition, that, by inventories duly kept and entered--for her
honoured predecessor, rest her soul! had been a pattern of
regularity--all Mrs. Quarles's goods and personal chattels were found to
be safe and right in her room--some silver spoons among them too--ay,
and a silver tea-pot; while, as to other property in the house, with
every room full of valuables, nothing whatever was missing from the
lists, except, indeed, what was scarce worth mention (unless one must be
very exact), sundry crocks and gallipots of honey, not forthcoming;
these, however, it appeared probable that Mrs. Quarles had herself
consumed in a certain mixture she nightly was accustomed too, of rum,
horehound, and other matters sweetened up with honey, for her
hoarseness. It seemed therefore clear she was not murdered for her
property, nor by any one intending to have robbed the house.

Against this it was contended, and really with some show of reason, that
as Mrs. Quarles was thought to have a hoard, always set her face against
banks, railway shares, speculations, and investments, and seemed to have
left nothing behind her but her clothes and so forth, it was still
possible that the murderer who took the life, might have also been the
thief to take the money.

Fifthly, Simon Jennings--butler in doors, bailiff out of doors, and
general factotum every where to the Vincent interest--for he had managed
to monopolize every place worth having, from the agent's book to the
cellar-man's key--the said Simon deposed, that on the night in question,
he heard the house-dog barking furiously, and went out to quiet him; but
found no thieves, nor knew any reason why the dog should have barked so
much.

Now, the awkward matter in this deposition (if Mr. Jennings had not been
entirely above suspicion--the idea was quite absurd--not to mention that
he was nephew to the deceased, a great favourite with her, and a man
altogether of the very strictest character), the awkward matters were
these: the nearest way out to the dog, indeed the only way but casement
windows on that side of the house, was through Mrs. Quarles's room: she
had had the dog placed there for her special safety, as she slept on the
ground floor; and it was not to be thought that Mr. Jennings could do so
incorrect a thing as to pass through her room after bed-time, locked or
unlocked--indeed, when the question was delicately hinted to him, he was
quite shocked at it--quite shocked. But if he did not go that way, which
way did he go? He deposed, indeed, and his testimony was no ways to be
doubted, that he went through the front door, and so round; which, under
the circumstances, was at once a very brave and a very foolish thing to
do; for it is, first, little wisdom to go round two sides of a square to
quiet a dog, when one might have easily called to him from the
men-servants' window; and secondly, albeit Mr. Jennings was a strict
man, an upright man, shrewd withal, and calculating, no one had ever
thought him capable of that Roman virtue, courage. Still, he had
reluctantly confessed to this one heroic act, and it was a bold one, so
let him take the credit of it--mainly because--

Sixthly, Jonathan Floyd, footman, after having heard the dog bark at
intervals, surely for more than a couple of hours, thought he might as
well turn out of his snug berth for a minute, just to see what ailed
the dog, or how many thieves were really breaking in. Well, as he
looked, he fancied he saw a boat moving on the lake, but as there was no
moon, he might have been mistaken.

_By a Juryman._ It might be a punt.

_By another._ He did'nt know how many boats there were on the
lake-side: they had a boat-house at the Hall, by the water's edge, and
therefore he concluded something in it; really did'nt know; might be a
boat, might be a punt, might be both--or neither.

_By the Coroner._ Could not swear which way it was moving; and, really,
if put upon his Bible oath, wouldn't be positive about a boat at all, it
was so dark, and he was so sleepy.

Not long afterwards, as the dog got still more violent, he turned his
eyes from straining after shadows on the lake, to look at home, and then
all at once noticed Mr. Jennings trying to quiet the noisy animal with
the usual blandishments of "Good dog, good dog--quiet, Don, quiet--down,
good dog--down, Don, down!"

_By a Juryman._ He would swear to the words.

But Don would not hear of being quiet. After that, knowing all must be
right if Mr. Jennings was about, he (deponent) turned in again, went to
sleep, and thought no more of it till he heard of Mrs. Quarles's death
in the morning. If he may be so bold as to speak his mind, he thinks the
house-keeper, being fat, died o' the 'plexy in a nateral way, and that
the dog barking so, just as she was a-going off, is proof positive of
it. He'd often heard of dogs doing so; they saw the sperit gliding away,
and barked at it; his (deponent's) own grandmother--

At this juncture--for the court was getting fidgetty--the coroner cut
short the opinions of Jonathan Floyd: and when Mr. Crown, summing up,
presented in one focus all this evidence to the misty minds of the
assembled jurymen, it puzzled them entirely; they could not see their
way, fairly addled, did not know at all what to make of it. On the
threshold, there was no proof it was a murder--the Union doctor was loud
and staunch on this; and next, there seemed to be no motive for the
deed, and no one to suspect of it: so they left the matter open, found
her simply "Dead," and troubled their heads no more about the business.

Good Mr. Evans, the vicar, preached her funeral sermon, only as last
Sunday, amplifying the idea that she "was cut off in the midst of her
days:" and thereby encouraging many of the simpler folks, who knew that
Mrs. Quarles had long passed seventy, in the luminous notion that
house-keepers in great establishments are privileged, among other
undoubted perquisites, to live to a hundred and forty, unless cut off by
apoplexy or murder.

Mr. Simon Jennings, as nephew and next of kin, followed the body to its
last home in the capacity of chief mourner; to do him justice, he was a
real mourner, bewailed her loudly, and had never been the same man
since. Moreover, although aforetime not much given to indiscriminate
charity, he had now gained no small credit by distributing his aunt's
wardrobe among the poorer families at Hurstley. It was really very kind
of him, and the more so, as being altogether unexpected: he got great
praise for this, did Mr. Jennings; specially, too, because he had gained
nothing whatever from his aunt's death, though her heir and probable
legatee, and clearly was a disappointed man.



CHAPTER VI.

THE BAILIFF; AND A BITTER TRIAL.


JENNINGS--Mr. Simon Jennings--for he prided himself much both
on the Mr. and the Simon, was an upright man, a very upright man indeed,
literally so as well as metaphorically. He was not tall certainly, but
what there was of him stood bolt upright. Many fancied that his neck was
possessed of some natural infirmity, or rather firmity, of
unbendableness, some little-to-be-envied property of being a perpetual
stiff-neck; and they were the more countenanced in this theory, from the
fact that, within a few days past, Mr. Jennings had contracted an ugly
knack of carrying his erect head in the comfortless position of peeping
over his left shoulder; not always so, indeed, but often enough to be
remarkable; and then he would occasionally start it straight again, eyes
right, with a nervous twitch, any thing but pleasant to the marvelling
spectator. It was as if he was momentarily expecting to look upon some
vague object that affrighted him, and sometimes really did see it. Mr.
Jennings had consulted high medical authority (as Hurstley judged), to
wit, the Union doctor of last scene, an enterprising practitioner, glib
in theory, and bold in practice--and it had been mutually agreed between
them that "stomach" was the cause of these unhandsome symptoms; acridity
of the gastric juice, consequent indigestion and spasm, and generally a
hypochondriacal habit of body. Mr. Jennings must take certain draughts
thrice a day, be very careful of his diet, and keep his mind at ease. As
to Simon himself, he was, poor man, much to be pitied in this ideal
visitation; for, though his looks confessed that he saw, or fancied he
saw, a something, he declared himself wholly at a loss to explain what
that something was: moreover, contrary to former habits of an
ostentatious boldness, he seemed meekly to shrink from observation: and,
as he piously acquiesced in the annoyance, would observe that his
unpleasant jerking was "a little matter after all, and that, no doubt,
the will of Providence."

Independently of these new grimaces, Simon's appearance was little in
his favour: not that his small dimensions signified--Cæsar, and
Buonaparte, and Wellington, and Nelson, all were little men--not that
his dress was other than respectable--black coat and waistcoat, white
stiff cravat, gray trowsers somewhat shrunk in longitude, good
serviceable shoe-leather (of the shape, if not also of the size, of
river barges), and plenty of unbleached cotton stocking about the
gnarled region of his ankles. All this was well enough; nature was
beholden to that charity of art which hides a multitude of failings; but
the face, where native man looks forth in all his unadornment, that it
was which so seldom pre-possessed the many who had never heard of
Jenning's strict character and stern integrity. The face was a sallow
face, peaked towards the nose, with head and chin receding; lit withal
by small protrusive eyes, so constructed, that the whites all round were
generally visible, giving them a strange and staring look; elevated
eye-brows; not an inch of whisker, but all shaved sore right up to the
large and prominent ear; and lank black, hair, not much of it, scantily
thatching all smooth. Then his arms, oscillating as he walked (as if the
pendulum by which that rigid man was made to go his regular routine),
were much too long for symmetry: and altogether, to casual view, Mr.
Jennings must acknowledge to a supercilious, yet sneaking air--which
charity has ere now been kind enough to think a conscious rectitude
towards man, and a soft-going humility with God.

When the bailiff takes his round about the property, as we see him now,
he is mounted--to say he rides would convey far too equestrian a
notion--he is mounted on a rough-coated, quiet, old, white
shooting-pony; the saddle strangely girded on with many bands about the
belly, the stirrups astonishingly short, and straps never called upon to
diminish that long whity-brown interval between shoe and trowser: Mr.
Jennings sits his steed with nose aloft, and a high perch in the
general, somewhat loosely, and, had the pony been a Bucephalus rather
than a Rozinante, not a little perilously. Simon is jogging hitherwards
toward Roger Acton, as he digs the land-drain across this marshy meadow:
let us see how it fares now with our poor hero.

Occupation--yes, duteous occupation--has exerted its wholsesome
influences, and, thank God! Roger is himself again. He has been very
sorry half the day, both for the wicked feelings of the morning, and
that still more wicked theft--a bad business altogether, he cannot bear
to think of it; the gold was none of his, whosesoever it might be--he
ought not to have touched it--vexed he did, but cannot help it now; it
is well he lost it too, for ill-got money never came to any good:
though, to be sure, if he could only get it honestly, money would make a
man of him.

I am not sure of that, Roger, it may be so sometimes; but, in my
judgment, money has unmade more men than made them.

"How now, Acton, is not this drain dug yet! You have been about it much
too long, sir; I shall fine you for this."

"Please you, Muster Jennings, I've stuck to it pretty tightly too,
barring that I make to-day three-quarters, being late: but it's heavy
clay, you see, Mr. Simon--wet above and iron-hard below: it shall all be
ready by to-morrow, Mr. Simon."

Whether the "Mr. Simon" had its softening influence, or any other
considerations lent their soothing aid, we shall see presently; for the
bailiff added, in a tone unusually indulgent,

"Well, Roger, see it is done, and well done; and now I have just another
word to say to you: his honour is coming round this way, and if he asks
you any questions, remember to be sure and tell him this--you have got a
comfortable cottage, very comfortable, just repaired, you want for
nothing, and are earning twelve shillings a week."

"God help me, Muster Jennings: why my wages are but eight, and my hovel
scarcely better than a pig-pound."

"Look you, Acton; tell Sir John what you have told me, and you are a
ruined man. Make it twelve to his honour, as others shall do: who
knows," he added, half-coaxing, half-soliloquizing, "perhaps his honour
may really make it twelve, instead of eight."

"Oh, Muster Jennings! and who gets the odd four?"

"What, man! do you dare to ask me that? Remember, sir, at your peril,
that you, and all the rest, _have had_ twelve shillings a-week wages
whenever you have worked on this estate--not a word!--and that, if you
dare speak or even think to the contrary, you never earn a penny here
again. But here comes John Vincent, my master, as I, Simon Jennings, am
yours: be careful what you say to him."

Sir John Devereux Vincent, after a long minority, had at length shaken
off his guardians, and become master of his own doings, and of Hurstley
Hall. The property was in pretty decent order, and funds had accumulated
vastly: all this notwithstanding a thousand peculations, and the
suspicious incident that one of the guardians was a "highly respectable"
solicitor. Sir John, like most new brooms, had with the best intentions
resolved upon sweeping measures of great good; especially also upon
doing a great deal with his own eyes and ears; but, like as aforesaid,
he was permitted neither to hear nor see any truths at all. Just now,
the usual night's work took him a little off the hooks, and we must make
allowances; really, too, he was by far the soberest of all those choice
spirits, and drank and played as little as he could; and even, under
existing disadvantages, he managed by four o'clock post meridiem to
inspect a certain portion of the estate duly every day, under the
prudential guidance of his bailiff Jennings. There, that good-looking,
tall young fellow on the blood mare just cantering up to us is Sir John;
the other two are a couple of the gallant youths now feasting at the
Hall: ay, two of the fiercest foes in last night's broil. Those heated
little matters are easily got over.

"Hollo, Jennings! what the devil made you give that start? you couldn't
look more horrified if ghosts were at your elbow: why, your face is the
picture of death; look another way, man, do, or my mare will bolt."

"I beg your pardon, Sir John, but the spasm took me: it is my infirmity;
forgive it. This meadow, you perceive, Sir John, requires drainage, and
afterwards I propose to dress it with free chalk to sweeten the grass.
Next field, you will take notice, the guano--"

"Well, well--Jennings--and that poor fellow there up to his knees in
mud, is he pretty tolerably off now?"

"Oh, your honour," said the bailiff, with a knowing look, "I only wish
that half the little farmers hereabouts were as well to do as he is: a
pretty cottage, Sir John, half an acre of garden, and twelve shillings a
week, is pretty middling for a single man."

"Aha--is it?--well; but the poor devil looks wretched enough too--I will
just ask him if he wants any thing now."

"Don't, Sir John, pray don't; pray permit me to advise your honour:
these men are always wanting. 'Acton's cottage' is a proverb; and Roger
there can want for nothing honestly; nevertheless, as I know your
honour's good heart, and wish to make all happy, if you will suffer me
to see to it myself--"

"Certainly, Jennings, do, do by all means, and thank you: here, just to
make a beginning, as we're all so jolly at the Hall, and that poor
fellow's up to his neck in mud, give him this from me to drink my health
with."

Acton, who had dutifully held aloof, and kept on digging steadily, was
still quite near enough to hear all this; at the magical word "give," he
looked up hurriedly, and saw Sir John Vincent toss a piece of gold--yes,
on his dying oath, a bright new sovereign--to Simon Jennings. O blessed
vision, and gold was to be his at last!

"Come along, Mynton; Hunt, now mind you try and lame that big beast of a
raw-boned charger among these gutters, will you? I'm off, Jennings; meet
me, do you hear, at the Croft to-mor--"

So the three friends galloped away; and John Vincent really felt more
light-hearted and happy than at any time the week past, for having so
properly got rid of a welcome bit of gold.

"Roger Acton! come up here, sir, out of that ditch: his honour has been
liberal enough to give you a shilling to drink his health with."

"A shilling, Muster Jennings?" said the poor astonished man; "why I'll
make oath it was a pound; I saw it myself. Come, Muster Jennings, don't
break jokes upon a poor man's back."

"Jokes, Acton? sticks, sir, if you say another word: take John Vincent's
shilling."

"Oh, sir!" cried Roger, quite unmanned at this most cruel
disappointment; "be merciful--be generous--give me my gold, my own bit
of gold! I'll swear his honour gave it for me: blessings on his head!
You know he did, Mr. Simon; don't play upon me!"

"Play upon you?--generous--your gold--what is it you mean, man? We'll
have no madmen about us, I can tell you; take the shilling, or else--"

"'Rob not the poor, because he is poor, for the Lord shall plead his
cause,'" was the solemn answer.

"Roger Acton!"--the bailiff gave a scared start, as usual, and,
recovering himself, looked both white and stern: "you have dared to
quote the Bible against me: deeply shall you rue it. Begone, man! your
work on this estate is at an end."



CHAPTER VII.

WRONGS AND RUIN.


A VERY miserable man was Roger Acton now, for this last trial
was the worst of all. The vapours of his discontent had almost passed
away--that bright pernicious dream was being rapidly forgotten--the
morning's ill-got coin, "thank the Lord, it was lost as soon as found,"
and penitence had washed away that blot upon his soul; but here, an
honest pound, liberally bestowed by his hereditary landlord--his own
bright bit of gold--the only bit but one he ever had (and how different
in innocence from that one!)--a seeming sugar-drop of kindness, shed by
the rich heavens on his cup of poverty--to have this meanly filched away
by a grasping, grinding task-master--oh, was it not a bitter trial? What
affliction as to this world's wealth can a man meet worse than this?

Acton's first impulse was to run to the Hall, and ask to see Sir
John:--"Out; won't be back till seven, and then can see nobody; the
baronet will be dressing for dinner, and musn't be disturbed." Then he
made a vain effort to speak with Mr. Jennings, and plead with him: yes,
even on his knees, if must be. Mr. Simon could not be so bad; perhaps it
was a long joke after all--the bailiff always had a queer way with him.
Or, if indeed the man meant robbery, loudly to threaten him, that all
might hear, to bring the house about his ears, and force justice, if he
could not fawn it. But both these conflicting expedients were vetoed.
Jonathan Floyd, who took in Acton's meek message of "humbly craved leave
to speak with Master Jennings," came back with the inexplicable mandate,
"Warn Roger Acton from the premises." So, he must needs bide till
to-morrow morning, when, come what might, he resolved to see his honour,
and set some truths before him.

Acton was not the only man on the estate who knew that he had a
landlord, generous, not to say prodigal--a warm-hearted,
well-intentioned master, whose mere youth a career of sensuality had not
yet hardened, nor a course of dissipation been prolonged enough to
distort his feelings from the right. And Acton, moreover, was not the
only man who wondered how, with such a landlord (ay, and the guardians
before him were always well-spoken gentle-folks, kindly in their
manners, and liberal in their looks), wages could be kept so low, and
rents so high, and indulgences so few, and penalties so many. There
were fines for every thing, and no allowances of hedgebote, or
housebote, or any other time-honoured right; the very peat on the common
must be paid for, and if a child picked a bit of fagot the father was
mulcted in a shilling. Mr. Jennings did all this, and always pleaded his
employers' orders; nay, if any grumbled, as men would now and then, he
would affect to think it strange that the gentlemen guardians, with the
landlord at their head, could be so hard upon the poor: he would not be
so, credit him, if he had been born a gentleman; but the bailiff, men,
must obey orders, like the rest of you; these are hard times for
Hurstley, he would say, and we must all rub over them as best we can.
According to Simon, it was as much as his own place was worth to remit
one single penny of a fine, or make the least indulgence for calamity;
while, as to lowering a cotter's rent, or raising a ditcher's wages, he
dared not do it for his life; folks must not blame him, but look to the
landlord.

Now, all this, in the long absence of any definite resident master at
the Hall, sounded reasonable, if true; and Mr. Jennings punctually paid,
however bad the terms; so the poor men bode their time, and looked for
better days. And the days long-looked-for now were come; but were they
any better? The baronet, indeed, seemed bent upon inquiry, reform,
redress; but, as he never went without the right-hand man, his
endeavours were always unsuccessful. At first it would appear that the
bailiff had gone upon his old plan, shrugging up his shoulders to the
men at the master's meanness, while he praised to the landlord the
condition of his tenants; but this could not long deceive, so he turned
instanter on another tack; he assumed the despot, issuing authoritative
edicts, which no one dared to disobey; he made the labourer hide his
needs, and intercepted at its source the lord's benevolence; he began to
be found out, so the bolder spirits said, in filching with both hands
from man and master; and, to the mind of more than one shrewd observer,
was playing the unjust steward to admiration.

But stop: let us hear the other side; it is possible we may have been
mistaken. Bailiffs are never popular, particularly if they are too
honest, and this one is a stern man with a repulsive manner. Who knows
whether his advice to Acton may not have been wise and kind, and would
not have conduced to a general rise of wages? Who can prove, nay,
venture to insinuate, any such systematic roguery against a man hitherto
so strict, so punctual, so sanctimonious? Even in the case of Sir John's
golden gift, Jennings may be right after all; it is quite possible that
Roger was mistaken, and had gilt a piece of silver with his longings;
and the upright man might well take umbrage at so vile an imputation as
that hot and silly speech; it was foolish, very foolish, to have quoted
text against him, and no wonder that the labourer got dismissed for it.
Then again to return to wages--who knows? it might be, all things
considered, the only way of managing a rise; the bailiff must know his
master's mind best, and Acton had been wise to have done as he bade him;
perhaps it really was well-meant, and might have got him twelve
shillings a-week, instead of eight as hitherto; perhaps Simon was a
shrewd man, and arranged it cleverly; perhaps Roger was an honest man,
and couldn't but think others so.

Any how, though, all was lost now, and he blamed his own rash tongue,
poor fellow, for what he could not help fearing was the ruin of himself
and all he loved. With a melancholy heart, he shouldered his spade, and
slowly plodded homewards. How long should he have a home? How was he to
get bread, to get work, if the bailiff was his enemy? How could he face
his wife, and tell her all the foolish past and dreadful future? How
could he bear to look on Grace, too beautiful Grace, and torture his
heart by fancying her fate? Thomas, too, his own brave boy, whom utter
poverty might drive to desperation? And the poor babes, his little
playful pets, what on earth would become of them? There was the Union
workhouse to be sure, but Acton shuddered at the thought; to be
separated from every thing he loved, to give up his little all, and be
made both a prisoner and a slave, all for the sake of what?--daily
water-gruel, and a pauper's branded livery. Or they might perchance go
beyond the seas, if some Prince Edward's Company would help him and his
to emigrate; ay, thought he, and run new risks, encounter fresh dangers,
lose every thing, get nothing, and all the trouble taken merely to
starve three thousand miles from home. No, no; at his time of life, he
could not be leaving for ever old friends, old habits, old fields, old
home, old neighbourhood--where he had seen the saplings grow up trees,
and the quick toppings change into a ten-foot hedge; where the very
cattle knew his step, and the clods broke kindly to his ploughshare; and
more than all, the dear old church, where his forefathers had worshipped
from the Conquest, and the old mounds where they slept,
and--and--and--that one precious grave of his dear lost Annie--could he
leave it? Oh God, no! he had done no ill, he had committed no crime--why
should he prefer the convict's doom, and seek to be transported for
life?

A miserable walk home was that, and full of wretched thoughts. Poor
Roger Acton, tossed by much trouble, vexed with sore oppression, I wish
that you had prayed in your distress; stop, he did pray, and that
vehemently; but it was not for help, or guidance, or patience, or
consolation--he only prayed for gold.



CHAPTER VIII.

THE COVETOUS DREAM.


ONCE at home, the sad truth soon was told. Roger's look alone
spoke of some calamity, and he had but little heart or hope to keep the
matter secret. True, he said not a word about the early morning's sin;
why should he? he had been punished for it, and he had repented; let him
be humbled before God, but not confess to man. However, all about the
bailiff, and the landlord, and the thieved gift, and the sudden
dismissal, the sure ruin, the dismal wayside plans, and fears, and dark
alternatives, without one hope in any--these did poor Acton fluently
pour forth with broken-hearted eloquence; to these Grace listened
sorrowfully, with a face full of gentle trust in God's blessing on the
morrow's interview; these Mary, the wife, heard to an end, with--no
storm of execration on ill-fortune, no ebullition of unjust rage against
a fool of a husband, no vexing sneers, no selfish apprehensions. Far
from it; there really was one unlooked-for blessing come already to
console poor Roger; and no little compensation for his trouble was the
way his wife received the news. He, unlucky man, had expected something
little short of a virago's talons, and a beldame's curse; he had
experienced on less occasions something of the sort before; but now that
real affliction stood upon the hearth, Mary Acton's character rose with
the emergency, and she greeted her ruined husband with a kindness
towards him, a solemn indignation against those who grind the poor, and
a sober courage to confront evil, which he little had imagined.

"Bear up, Roger; here, goodman, take the child, and don't look quite so
downcast; come what may, I'll share your cares, and you shall halve my
pleasures; we will fight it out together."

Moreover, cross, and fidgetty, and scolding, as Mary had been ever
heretofore, to her meek step-daughter Grace, all at once, as if just to
disappoint any preconcerted theory, now that actual calamity was come,
she turned to be a kind good mother to her. Roger and his daughter could
scarcely believe their ears.

"Grace, dear, I know you're a sensible good girl, try and cheer your
father." And then the step-dame added,

"There now, just run up, fetch your prayer-book down, and read a little
to us all to do us good."--The fair, affectionate girl, unused to the
accents of kindness, could not forbear flinging her arms round Mary
Acton's neck, and loving her, as Ruth loved Naomi.

Then with a heavenly smile upon her face, and a happy heart within her
to keep the smile alight, her gentle voice read these words--it will do
us good to read them too:

  "Out of the deep have I called unto thee, O Lord: Lord, hear my voice.
  O let thine ears consider well the voice of my complaint.
  If thou, Lord, wilt be extreme to mark what is done amiss,
      O Lord, who may abide it?
  Because there is mercy with thee; therefore shall thou be feared.
  I look for the Lord, my soul doth wait for him: in his word is my trust.
  My soul fleeth unto the Lord, before the morning watch,
      before the morning watch.
  O Israel, trust in the Lord: for with the Lord there is mercy:
      and with him is plenteous redemption.
  And he shall redeem Israel from all his sins."

"Isn't the last word 'troubles,' child? look again; I think it's
'troubles' either there, or leastways in the Bible-psalm."

"No, father, sins, 'from all his sins;' and 'iniquities' in the
Bible-version--look, father."

"Well, girl, well; I wish it had been 'troubles;' 'from all his
troubles' is a better thought to my mind: God wot, I have plenty on 'em,
and a little lot of gold would save us from them all."

"Gold, father? no, my father--God."

"I tell you, child," said Roger, ever vacillating in his strong
temptation between habitual religion and the new-caught lust of money,
"if only on a sudden I could get gold by hook or by crook, all my cares
and all your troubles would be over on the instant."

"Oh, dear father, do not hope so; and do not think of troubles more than
sins; there is no deliverance in Mammon; riches profit not in the day of
evil, and ill-got wealth tends to worse than poverty."

"Well, any how, I only wish that dream of mine came true."

"Dream, goodman--what dream?" said his wife.

"Why, Poll, I dreamt I was a-working in my garden, hard by the celery
trenches in the sedge; and I was moaning at my lot, as well I may: and a
sort of angel came to me, only he looked dark and sorrowful, and kindly
said, 'What would you have, Roger?' I, nothing fearful in my dream, for
all the strangeness of his winged presence, answered boldly, 'Money;' he
pointed with his finger, laughed aloud, and vanished away: and, as for
me, I thought a minute wonderingly, turned to look where he had pointed,
and, O the blessing! found a crock of gold!"

"Hush, father! that dark angel was the devil; he has dropt ill thoughts
upon your heart: I would I could see you as you used to be, dear father,
till within these two days."

"Whoever he were, if he brought me gold, he would bring me blessing.
There's meat and drink, and warmth and shelter, in the yellow gold--ay,
and rest from labour, child, and a power of rare good gifts."

"If God had made them good, and the gold were honest gains, still,
father, even so, you forget righteousness, and happiness, and wisdom.
Money gives us none of these, but it might take them all away: dear
father, let your loving Grace ask you, have you been better, happier,
wiser, even from the wishing it so much?"

"Daughter, daughter, I tell you plainly, he that gives me gold, gives me
all things: I wish I found the crock the de--the angel, I mean, brought
me."

"O father," murmured Grace, "do not breathe the wicked wish; even if you
found it without any evil angel's help, would the gold be rightfully
your own?"

"Tush, girl!" said her mother; "get the gold, feed the children, and
then to think about the right."

"Ay, Grace, first drive away the toils and troubles of this life," added
Roger, "and then one may try with a free mind to discover the comforts
of religion."

Poor Grace only looked up mournfully, and answered nothing.



CHAPTER IX.

THE POACHER.


A SUDDEN knock at the door here startled the whole party, and
Mary Acton, bustling up, drew the bolt to let in--first, a lurcher, one
Rover to wit, our gaunt ember-loving friend of Chapter II.; secondly,
Thomas Acton, full flush, who carried the old musket on his shoulder,
and seemed to have something else under his smock; and thirdly, Ben
Burke, a personage of no small consequence to us, and who therefore
deserves some specific introduction.

Big Ben, otherwise Black Burke, according to the friendship or the
enmity of those who named him, was a huge, rough, loud, good-humoured,
dare-devil sort of an individual, who lived upon what he considered
common rights. His dress was of the mongrel character, a well-imagined
cross between a ploughman's and a sailor's; the bottle-green frock of
the former, pattern-stitched about the neck as ingeniously as if a tribe
of Wisconsin squaws had tailored it--and mighty fishing boots, vast as
any French postillion's, acting as a triton's tail to symbolize the
latter: a red cotton handkerchief (dirty-red of course, as all things
else were dirty, for cleanliness had little part in Ben), occupied just
now the more native region of a halter; and a rusty fur cap crowned the
poacher; I repeat it--crowned the poacher; for in his own estimation,
and that of many others too, Ben was, if not quite an emperor, at least
an Agamemnon, a king of men, a natural human monarch; in truth, he felt
as much pride in the title Burke the Poacher (and with as great justice
too, for aught I know), as Ali-Hamet-Ghee-the-Thug eastwards, or
William-of-Normandy-the-Conqueror westwards, may be thought respectively
to have cherished, on the score of their murderous and thievish
surnames.

There was no small good, after all, in poor Ben; and a mountain of
allowance must be flung into the scales to counterbalance his
deficiencies. However coarse, and even profane, in his talk (I hope the
gentle reader will excuse me alike for eliding a few elegant extracts
from his common conversation, and also for reminding him
characteristically, now and then, that Ben's language is not entirely
Addisonian), however rough of tongue and dissonant in voice, Ben's heart
will be found much about in the right place; nay, I verily believe it
has more of natural justice, human kindness, and right sympathies in
it, than are to be found in many of those hard and hollow cones that
beat beneath the twenty-guinea waistcoats of a Burghardt or a
Buckmaster. Ay, give me the fluttering inhabitant of Ben Burke's cowskin
vest; it is worth a thousand of those stuffed and artificial denizens,
whose usual nest is figured satin and cut velvet.

Ben stole--true--he did not deny it; but he stole naught but what he
fancied was wrongfully withheld him: and, if he took from the rich, who
scarcely knew he robbed them, he shared his savoury booty with the poor,
and fed them by his daring. Like Robin Hood of old, he avenged himself
on wanton wealth, and frequently redressed by it the wrongs of penury.
Not that I intend to break a lance for either of them, nor to go any
lengths in excusing; slight extenuation is the limit for prudent
advocacy in these cases. Robin Hood and Benjamin Burke were both of them
thieves; bold men--bad men, if any will insist upon the bad; they sinned
against law, and order, and Providence; they dug rudely at the roots of
social institutions; they spoke and acted in a dangerous fashion about
rights of men and community of things. But set aside the statutes of
Foresting and Venery, disfranchise pheasants, let it be a cogent thing
that poverty and riches approach the golden mean somewhat less
unequally, and we shall not find much of criminality, either in Ben or
Robin.

For a general idea, then, of our poaching friend:--he is a gigantic,
black-whiskered, humorous, ruddy mortal, full of strange oaths, which we
really must not print, and bearded like the pard, and he tumbles in
amongst our humble family party, with--

"Bless your honest heart, Roger! what makes you look so sodden? I'm a
lord, if your eyes a'n't as red as a hedge-hog's; and all the rest o'
you, too; why, you seem to be pretty well merry as mutes. Ha! I see what
it is," added Ben, pouring forth a benediction on their frugal supper;
"it's that precious belly-ache porridge that's a-giving you all the
'flensy. Tip it down the sink, dame, will you now? and trust to me for
better. Your Tom here, Roger, 's a lad o' mettle, that he is; ay, and
that old iron o' yours as true as a compass; and the pheasants would
come to it, all the same as if they'd been loadstoned. Here, dame, pluck
the fowl, will you: drop 'em, Tom."--And Thomas Acton flung upon the
table a couple of fine cock-pheasants.

Roger, Mary, and Grace, who were well accustomed to Ben Burke's eloquent
tirades, heard the end of this one with anxiety and silence; for Tom
had never done the like before. Grace was first to expostulate, but was
at once cut short by an oath from her brother, whose evident state of
high excitement could not brook the semblance of reproof. Mary Acton's
marketing glance was abstractedly fixed upon the actual _corpus
delicti_; each fine plump bird, full-plumaged, young-spurred; yes, they
were still warm, and would eat tender, so she mechanically began to
pluck them; while, as for poor downcast Roger, he remembered, with a
conscience-sting that almost made him start, his stolen bit of money in
the morning--so, how could he condemn? He only looked pityingly on
Thomas, and sighed from the bottom of his heart.

"Why, what's the matter now?" roared Ben; "one 'ud think we was bailiffs
come to raise the rent, 'stead of son Tom and friendly Ben; hang it,
mun, we aint here to cheat you out o' summut--no, not out o' peace o'
mind neither; so, if you don't like luck, burn the fowls, or bury 'em,
and let brave Tom risk limbo for nothing."

"Oh, Ben!" murmured Grace, "why will you lead him astray? Oh, brother!
brother! what have you done?" she said, sorrowfully.

"Miss Grace,"--her beauty always awed the poacher, and his rugged
Caliban spirit bowed in reverence before her Ariel soul--"I wish I was
as good as you, but can't be: don't condemn us, Grace; leastways, first
hear me, and then say where's the harm or sin on it. Twelve hundred head
o' game--I heard John Gorse, the keeper, tell it at the Jerry--twelve
hundred head were shot at t'other day's battew: Sir John--no blame to
him for it--killed a couple o' hundred to his own gun: and though they
sent away a coachful, and gave to all who asked, and feasted themselves
chuckfull, and fed the cats, and all, still a mound, like a haycock, o'
them fine fat fowl, rotted in a mass, and were flung upon the dungpit.
Now, Miss Grace, that ere salt pea-porridge a'n't nice, a'n't wholesome;
and, bless your pretty mouth, it ought to feed more sweetly. Look at
Acton, isn't he half-starved. Is Tom, brave boy, full o' the fat o' the
land? Who made fowl, I should like to know, and us to eat 'em? And
where's the harm or sin in bringing down a bird? No, Miss, them ere
beaks, dammem (beg humble pardon, Miss, indeed I won't again) them ere
justices, as they call themselves, makes hard laws to hedge about their
own pleasures; and if the poor man starves, he starves; but if he stays
his hunger with the free, wild birds of heaven, they prison him and
punish him, and call him poacher."

"Ben, those who make the laws, do so under God's permission; and they
who break man's law, break His law."

"Nonsense, child,"--suddenly said Roger; "hold your silly tongue. Do
you mean to tell us, God's law and man's law are the same thing! No,
Grace, I can't stomach that; God makes right, and man makes
might--riches go one way, and poor men's wrong's another. Money, money's
the great law-maker, and a full purse frees him that has it, while it
turns the jailor's key on the wretch that has it not: one of those
wretches is the hopeless Roger Acton. Well, well," he added, after a
despondent sigh, "say no more about it all; that's right,
good-wife--why, they do look plump. And if I can't stomach Grace's
text-talk there, I'm sure I can the birds; for I know what keeps crying
cupboard lustily."

It was a faint effort to be gay, and it only showed his gloom the
denser. Truly, he has quite enough to make him sad; but this is an
unhealthy sadness: the mists of mammon-worship, rising up, meet in the
mid æther of his mind, these lowering clouds of discontent: and the
seeming calamity, that should be but a trial to his faith, looks too
likely to wreck it.

So, then, the embers were raked up, the trivet stuck a-top, the savoury
broil made ready; and (all but Grace, who would not taste a morsel, but
went up straight to bed) never had the Actons yet sate down before so
rich a supper.



CHAPTER X.

BEN BURKE'S STRANGE ADVENTURE.


"TAKE a pull, Roger, and pass the flask," was the cordial
prescription of Ben Burke, intended to cure a dead silence, generated
equally of eager appetites and self-accusing consciences; so saying, he
produced a quart wicker-bottle, which enshrined, according to his
testimony, "summut short, the right stuff, stinging strong, that had
never seen the face of a wishy-washy 'ciseman." But Roger touched it
sparingly, for the vaunted nectar positively burnt his swallow: till
Ben, pulling at it heartily himself, by way of giving moral precept the
full benefit of a good example, taught Roger not to be afraid of it, and
so the flask was drained.

Under such communicative influence, Acton's tale of sorrows and
oppressions, we may readily believe, was soon made known; and as
readily, that it moved Ben's indignant and gigantic sympathies to an
extent of imprecation on the eyes, timbers, and psychological existence
of Mr. Jennings, very little edifying. One thing, however, made amends
for the license of his tongue; the evident sincerity and warmth with
which his coarse but kindly nature proffered instant aid, both offensive
and defensive.

"It's a black and burning shame, Honest Roger, and right shall have his
own, somehow, while Big Ben has a heart in the old place, and a hand to
help his friend." And the poacher having dealt his own broad breast a
blow that would have knocked a tailor down, stretched out to Acton the
huge hand that had inflicted it.

"More than that, Roger--hark to this, man!" and, as he slapped his
breeches pocket, there was the chink as of a mine of money shaken to its
foundations: "hark to this, man! and more than hark, have! Here, good
wife, hold your apron!" And he flung into her lap a handful of silver.

Roger gave a sudden shout of wonder, joy, and avarice: and then as
instantaneously turning very pale, he slowly muttered, "Hush, Ben! is it
bloody money?" and almost shrieked as he added, "and my poor boy Tom,
too, with you! God-a-mercy, mun! how came ye by it?"

"Honestly, neighbour, leastways, middling honest: don't damp a good
fellow's heart, when he means to serve you."

"Tell me only that my boy is innocent!--and the money--yes, yes, I'll
keep the money;" for his wife seemed to be pushing it from her at the
thought.

"I innocent, father! I never know'd till this minute that Ben had any
blunt at all--did I, Ben?--and I only brought him and Rover here to sup,
because I thought it neighbourly and kind-like."

Poor Tom had till now been very silent: some how the pheasants lay heavy
on his stomach.

"Is it true, Ben, is it true? the lad isn't a thief, the lad isn't a
murderer? Oh, God! Burke, tell me the truth!

"Blockhead!" was the courteous reply, "what, not believe your own son?
Why, neighbour Acton, look at the boy: would that frank-faced,
open-hearted fellow do worse, think you, than Black Burke? And would I,
bad as I be, turn the bloody villain to take a man's life? No,
neighbour; Ben kills game, not keepers: he sets his wire for a hare, but
wouldn't go to pick a dead man's pocket. All that's wrong in me, mun,
the game-laws put there; but I'm neither burglar, murderer,
highwayman--no, nor a mean, sneaking thief; however the quality may
think so, and even wish to drive me to it. Neither, being as I be no
rogue, could I bear to live a fool; but I should be one, neighbour, and
dub myself one too, if I didn't stoop to pick up money that a madman
flings away."

"Madman? pick up money? tell us how it was, Ben," interposed female
curiosity.

"Well, neighbours, listen: I was a-setting my night-lines round Pike
Island yonder, more nor a fortnight back; it was a dark night and a
mizzling, or morning rather, 'twixt three and four; by the same token,
I'd caught a power of eels. All at once, while I was fixing a trimmer, a
punt came quietly up: as for me, Roger, you know I always wades it
through the muddy shallow: well, I listens, and a chap creeps ashore--a
mad chap, with never a tile to his head, nor a sole to his feet--and
when I sings out to ax him his business, the lunatic sprung at me like a
tiger: I didn't wish to hurt a little weak wretch like him, specially
being past all sense, poor nat'ral! so I shook him off at once, and held
him straight out in this here wice." [Ben's grasp could have cracked any
cocoa-nut.] "He trembled like a wicked thing; and when I peered close
into his face, blow me but I thought I'd hooked a white devil--no one
ever see such a face: it was horrible too look at. 'What are you arter,
mun?' says I; 'burying a dead babby?' says I. 'Give us hold here--I'm
bless'd if I don't see though what you've got buckled up there.' With
that, the little white fool--it's sartin he was mad--all on a sudden
flings at my head a precious hard bundle, gives a horrid howl, jumps
into the punt, and off again, afore I could wink twice. My head a'n't a
soft un, I suppose; but when a lunatic chap hurls at it with all his
might a barrow-load of crockery at once, it's little wonder that my
right eye flinched a minute, and that my right hand rubbed my right eye;
and so he freed himself, and got clear off. Rum start this, thinks I:
but any how he's flung away a summut, and means to give it me: what can
it be? thinks I. Well, neighbours, if I didn't know the chap was mad
afore, I was sartain of it now; what do you think of a grown man--little
enough, truly, but out of long coats too--sneaking by night to Pike
Island, to count out a little lot of silver, and to guzzle twelve
gallipots o' honey? There it was, all hashed up in an old shawl, a slimy
mesh like birdlime: no wonder my eye was a leetle blackish, when
half-a-dozen earthern crocks were broken against it. I was angered
enough, I tell you, to think any man could be such a fool as to bring
honey there to eat or to hide--when at once I spied summut red among
the mess; and what should it be but a pretty little China house,
red-brick-like, with a split in the roof for droppings, and ticketed
'Savings-bank:' the chink o' that bank you hears now: and the bank
itself is in the pond, now I've cleaned the till out."

"Wonderful sure! But what did you do with the honey, Ben?--some of the
pots wasn't broke," urged notable Mrs. Acton.

"Oh, burn the slimy stuff, I warn't going to put my mouth out o' taste
o' bacca, for a whole jawful of tooth-aches: I'll tell you, dame, what I
did with them ere crocks, wholes, and parts. There's never a stone on
Pike Island, it's too swampy, and I'd forgot to bring my pocketful, as
usual. The heaviest fish, look you, always lie among the sedge,
hereabouts and thereabouts, and needs stirring, as your Tom knows well;
so I chucked the gallipots fur from me, right and left, into the
shallows, and thereby druv the pike upon my hooks. A good night's work I
made of it too, say nothing of the Savings-bank; forty pound o' pike and
twelve of eel warn't bad pickings."

"Dear, it was a pity though to fling away the honey; but what became of
the shawl, Ben?" Perhaps Mrs. Acton thought of looking for it.

"Oh, as for that, I was minded to have sunk it, with its mess of
sweet-meats and potsherds; but a thought took me, dame, to be
'conomical for once: and I was half sorry too that I'd flung away the
jars, for I began to fancy your little uns might ha' liked the stuff; so
I dipped the clout like any washerwoman, rinshed, and squeezed, and
washed the mess away, and have worn it round my waist ever since; here,
dame, I haven't been this way for a while afore to-night; but I meant to
ask you if you'd like to have it; may be 'tan't the fashion though."

"Good gracious, Ben! why that's Mrs. Quarles's shawl, I'd swear to it
among a hundred; Sarah Stack, at the Hall, once took and wore it, when
Mrs. Quarles was ill a-bed, and she and our Thomas walked to church
together. Yes--green, edged with red, and--I thought so--a yellow circle
in the middle; here's B.Q., for Bridget Quarles, in black cotton at the
corner. Lackapity! if they'd heard of all this at the Inquest! I tell
you what, Big Ben, it's kindly meant of you, and so thank you heartily,
but that shawl would bring us into trouble; so please take it yourself
to the Hall, and tell 'em fairly how you came by it."

"I don't know about that Poll Acton; perhaps they might ask me for the
Saving-bank, too--eh, Roger!"

"No, no, wife; no, it'll never do to lose the money! let a bygone be a
bygone, and don't disturb the old woman in her grave. As to the shawl,
if it's like to be a tell-tale, in my mind, this hearth's the safest
place for it."

So he flung it on the fire; there was a shrivelling, smouldering, guilty
sort of blaze, and the shawl was burnt.

Roger Acton, you are falling quickly as a shooting star; already is your
conscience warped to connive, for lucre's sake, at some one's secret
crimes. You had better, for the moral of the matter, have burnt your
right hand, as Scævola did, than that shawl. Beware! your sin will bring
its punishment.



CHAPTER XI.

SLEEP.


GRACE, in her humble truckle-bed, lay praying for her father;
not about his trouble, though that was much, but for the spots of sin
she could discern upon his soul.

Alas! an altered man was Roger Acton; almost since morning light, the
leprosy had changed his very nature. The simple-minded Christian,
toiling in contentment for his daily bread, cheerful for the passing
day, and trustful for the coming morrow, this fair state was well-nigh
faded away; while a bitterness of feeling against (in one word)
GOD--against unequal partialities in providence, against things as they
exist; and this world's inexplicable government--was gnawing at his very
heart-strings, and cankering their roots by unbelief. It is a speedy
process--throw away faith with its trust for the past, love for the
present, hope for the future--and you throw away all that makes sorrow
bearable, or joy lovely; the best of us, if God withheld his help, would
apostatize like Peter, ere the cock crew thrice; and, at times, that
help has wisely been withheld, to check presumptuous thoughts, and teach
how true it is that the creature depends on the Creator. Just so we
suffer a wilful little child, who is tottering about in leading-strings,
to go alone for a minute, and have a gentle fall. And just so Roger
here, deserted for a time of those angelic ministrations whose
efficiency is proved by godliness and meekness, by patience and content,
is harassed in his spirit as by harpies, by selfishness and pride, and
fretful doublings; by a grudging hate of labour, and a fiery lust of
gold. Temptation comes to teach a weak man that he was fitted for his
station, and his station made for him; that fulfilment of his ignorant
desires will only make his case the worse, and that

  Providence alike is wise
  In what he gives and what denies.

Meanwhile, gentle Grace, on her humble truckle-bed, is full of prayers
and tears, uneasily listening to the indistinct and noisy talk, and
hearing, now and then, some louder oath of Ben's that made her shudder.
Yes, she heard, too, the smashing sound, when the poacher flung the
money down, and she feared it was a mug or a plate--no slight domestic
loss; and she heard her father's strange cry, when he gave that
wondering shout of joyous avarice, and she did not know what to fear.
Was he ill? or crazed! or worse--fallen into bad excesses? How she
prayed for him!

Poor Ben, too, honest-hearted Ben; she thought of him in charity, and
pleaded for his good before the Throne of Mercy. Who knows but Heaven
heard that saintly virgin prayer? There is love in Heaven yet for poor
Ben Burke.

And if she prayed for Ben, with what an agony of deep-felt intercession
did she plead for Thomas Acton, that own only brother of hers, just a
year the younger to endear him all the more, her playmate, care, and
charge, her friend and boisterous protector. The many sorrowing hours
she had spent for his sake, and the thousand generous actions he had
done for hers! Could she forget how the stripling fought for her that
day, when rude Joseph Green would help her over the style? Could she but
remember how slily he had put aside, for more than half a year, a little
heap of copper earnings--weeding-money, and errand-money, and
harvest-money--and then bounteously spent it all at once in giving her a
Bible on her birth-day? And when, coming across the fields with him
after leasing, years ago now, that fierce black bull of Squire Ryle's
was rushing down upon us both, how bravely did the noble boy attack him
with a stake, as he came up bellowing, and make the dreadful monster
turn away! Ah! I looked death in the face then, but for thee, my
brother! Remember him, my God, for good!

"Poor father! poor father! Well, I am resolved upon one thing: I'll go,
with Heaven's blessing, to the Hall myself, and see Sir John, to-morrow;
he shall hear the truth, for"--And so Grace fell asleep.

Roger, when he went to bed, came to similar conclusions. He would speak
up boldly, that he would, without fear or favour. Ben's most seasonable
bounty, however to be questioned on the point of right, made him feel
entirely independent, both of bailiffs and squires, and he had now no
anxieties, but rather hopes, about to-morrow. He was as good as they,
with money in his pocket; so he'd down to the Hall, and face the baronet
himself, and blow his bailiff out o' water: that should be his business
by noon. Another odd idea, too, possessed him, and he could not sleep at
night for thinking of it: it was a foolish fancy, but the dream might
have put it in his head: what if one or other of those honey-jars, so
flung here and there among the rushes, were in fact another sort of
"Savings-bank"--a crock of gold? It was a thrilling thought--his very
dream, too; and the lot of shillings, and the shawl--ay, and the
inquest, and the rumours how that Mrs. Quarles had come to her end
unfairly, and no hoards found--and--and the honey-pots missing. Ha! at
any rate he'd have a search to-morrow. No bugbear now should hinder him;
money's money; he'd ask no questions how it got there. His own bit of
garden lay the nearest to Pike Island, and who knows but Ben might have
slung a crock this way? It wouldn't do to ask him, though--for Burke
might look himself, and get the crock--was Roger's last and selfish
thought, before he fell asleep.

As to Mrs. Acton, she, poor woman, had her own thoughts, fearful ones,
about that shawl, and Ben's mysterious adventure. No cloudy love of
mammon had overspread her mind, to hide from it the hideousness of
murder; in her eyes, blood was terrible, and not the less so that it
covered gold. She remembered at the inquest--be sure she was there among
the gossips--the facts, so little taken notice of till now, the keys in
the cupboard, where the honey-pots were not, and how Jonathan Floyd had
seen something on the lake, and the marks of a man's hand on the throat;
and, God forgive her for saying so, but Mr. Jennings was a little,
white-faced man. How wrong was it of Roger to have burnt that shawl! how
dull of Ben not to have suspected something! but then the good fellow
suspects nobody, and, I dare say, now doesn't know my thoughts. But
Roger does, more shame for him; or why burn the shawl? Ah! thought she,
with all the gossip rampart in her breast, if I could only have taken it
to the Hall myself, what a stir I should have caused! Yes, she would
have reaped a mighty field of glory by originating such a whirlwind of
inquiries and surmises. Even now, so attractive was the mare's nest, she
would go to the Hall by morning, and tell Sir John himself all about
the burnt shawl, and Pike Island, and the galli--And so she fell fast
asleep.

With respect to Ben, Tom, and Rover, a well-matched triad, as any Isis,
Horus, and Nepthys, they all flung themselves promiscuously on the hard
floor beside the hearth, "basked at the fire their hairy strength," and
soon were snoring away beautifully in concert, base, tenor, and treble,
like a leash of glee-singers. No thoughts troubled them, either of
mammon or murder: so long before the meditative trio up-stairs, they had
set a good example, and fallen asleep.



CHAPTER XII.

LOVE.


WITH the earliest peep of day arose sweet Grace, full of
cheerful hope, and prayer, and happy resignation. She had a great deal
to do that morning; for, innocent girl, she had no notion that it was
quite possible to be too early at the Hall; her only fear was being too
late. Then there were all the household cares to see to, and the dear
babes to dress, and the place to tidy up, and breakfast to get ready,
and, any how, she could not be abroad till half-past eight: so, to her
dismay, it must be past nine before ever she can see Sir John. Let us
follow her a little: for on this important day we shall have to take the
adventures of our labourer's family one at a time.

By twenty minutes to nine, Grace had contrived to bustle on her things,
give the rest the slip, and be tripping to the Hall. It is nearly two
miles off, as we already know; and Grace is such a pretty creature that
we can clearly do no better than employ our time thitherward by taking a
peep at her.

Sweet Grace Acton, we will not vex thy blushing maiden modesty by
elaborate details of form, and face, and feature. Perfect womanhood at
fair eighteen: let that fill all the picture up with soft and swelling
charms; no wadding, or padding, or jigot, or jupe--but all those
graceful undulations are herself: no pearl-powder, no carmine, no
borrowed locks, no musk, or ambergris--but all those feeble helps of
meretricious art excelled and superseded by their just originals in
nature. It will not do to talk, as a romancer may, of velvet cheeks and
silken tresses; or invoke, to the aid of our inadequate description,
roses, and swans, and peaches, and lilies. Take the simple village
beauty as she is. Did you ever look on prettier lips or sweeter
eyes--more glossy natural curls upon a whiter neck? And how that little
red-riding-hood cloak, and the simple cottage hat tied down upon her
cheeks, and the homely russet gown, all too short for modern fashions,
and the white, well-turned ankle, and the tidy little leather shoe, and
the bunch of snow drops in her tucker, and the neat mittens contrasting
darkly with her fair, bare arms--pretty Grace, how well all these become
thee! There, trip along, with health upon thy cheek, and hope within thy
heart; who can resist so eloquent a pleader? Haste on, haste on: save
thy father in his trouble, as thou hast blest him in his sin--this
rustic lane is to thee the path of duty--Heaven speed thee on it!

More slowly now, and with more anxious thoughts, more heart-weakness,
more misgiving--Grace approacheth the stately mansion: and when she
timidly touched the "Servants'" bell, for she felt too lowly for the
"Visiters',"--and when she heard how terribly loud it was, how
long it rung, and what might be the issue of her--wasn't it
ill-considered?--errand--the poor girl almost fainted at the sound.

As she leaned unconsciously for strength against the door, it opened on
a sudden, and Jonathan Floyd, in mute amazement, caught her in his arms.

"Why, Grace Acton! what's the matter with you?" Jonathan knew Grace
well; they had been at dame's-school together, and in after years
attended the same Sunday class at church. There had been some talk among
the gossips about Jonathan and Grace, and ere now folks had been kind
enough to say they would make a pretty couple. And folks were right,
too, as well as kind: for a fine young fellow was Jonathan Floyd, as any
duchess's footman; tall, well built, and twenty-five; Antinous in a
livery. Well to do, withal, though his wages don't come straight to him;
for, independently of his place--and the baronet likes him for his good
looks and proper manners--he is Farmer Floyd's only son, on the hill
yonder, as thriving a small tenant as any round abouts; and he is proud
of his master, of his blue and silver uniform, of old Hurstley, and of
all things in general, except himself.

"But what on earth's the matter, Grace?" he was obliged to repeat, for
the dear girl's agitation was extreme.

"Jonathan, can I see the baronet?"

"What, at nine in the morning, Grace Acton! Call again at two, and you
may find him getting up. He hasn't been three hours a-bed yet, and
there's nobody about but Sarah Stack and me. I wish those Lunnun sparks
would but leave the place: they do his honour no good, I'm thinking."

"Not till two!" was the slow and mournful ejaculation. What a damper to
her buoyant hopes: and Providence had seen fit to give her ill-success.
Is it so? Prosperity may come in other shapes.

"Why, Grace," suddenly said Floyd, in a very nervous way, "what makes
you call upon my master in this tidy trim?"

"To save my father," answered Innocence.

"How? why? Oh don't, Grace, don't! I'll save him--I will indeed--what is
it? Oh, don't, don't!"

For the poor affectionate fellow conjured on the spot the black vision
of a father saved by a daughter's degradation.

"Don't, Jonathan?--it's my duty, and God will bless me in it. That cruel
Mr. Jennings has resolved upon our ruin, and I wished to tell Sir John
the truth of it."

At this hearing, Jonathan brightened up, and glibly said, "Ah, indeed,
Jennings is a trouble to us all: a sad life I've led of it this year
past; and I've paid him pretty handsomely too, to let me keep the place:
while, as for John Page and the grooms, and Mr. Coachman and the
helpers, they don't touch much o' their wages on quarter-day, I know."

"Oh, but we--we are ruined! ruined! Father is forbidden now to labour
for our bread." And then with many tears she told her tale.

"Stop, Miss Grace," suddenly said Jonathan, for her beauty and eloquence
transformed the cottager into a lady in his eyes, and no wonder; "pray,
stop a minute, Miss--please to take a seat; I sha'n't be gone an
instant."

And the good-hearted fellow, whose eyes had long been very red, broke
away at a gallop; but he was back again almost as soon as gone, panting
like a post-horse. "Oh, Grace! don't be angry! do forgive me what I am
going to do."

"Do, Jonathan?" and the beauty involuntarily started--"I hope it's
nothing wrong," she added, solemnly.

"Whether right or wrong, Grace, take it kindly; you have often bade me
read my Bible, and I do so many times both for the sake of it and you;
ay, and meet with many pretty sayings in it: forgive me if I act on
one--'It is more blessed to give than to receive.'" With that, he
thrust into her hand a brass-topped, red-leather purse, stuffed with
money. Generous fellow! all the little savings, that had heretofore
escaped the prying eye and filching grasp of Simon Jennings. There was
some little gold in it, more silver, and a lot of bulky copper.

"Dear Jonathan!" exclaimed Grace, quite thrown off her guard of maidenly
reserve, "this is too kind, too good, too much; indeed, indeed it is: I
cannot take the purse." And her bright eyes overflowed again.

"Well, girl," said Jonathan, gulping down an apple in his throat, "I--I
won't have the money, that's all. Oh, Grace, Grace!" he burst out
earnestly, "let me be the blessed means of helping you in trouble--I
would die to do it, Grace; indeed I would!"

The dear girl fell upon his neck, and they wept together like two loving
little sisters.

"Jonathan"--her duteous spirit was the first to speak--"forgive this
weakness of a foolish woman's heart: I will not put away the help which
God provides us at your friendly hands: only this, kind brother--let me
call you brother--keep the purse; if my father pines for want of work,
and the babes at home lack food, pardon my boldness if I take the help
you offer. Meanwhile, God in heaven bless you, Jonathan, as He will!"

And she turned to go away.

"Won't you take a keepsake, Grace--one little token? I wish I had any
thing here but money to give you for my sake."

"It would even be ungenerous in me to refuse you, brother; one little
piece will do."

Jonathan fumbled up something in a crumpled piece of paper, and said
sobbingly--"Let it be this new half-crown, Grace: I won't say, keep it
always; only when you want to use that and more, I humbly ask you'll
please come to me."

Now a more delicate, a more unselfish act, was never done by man: along
with the half-crown he had packed up two sovereigns! and thereby not
only escaped thanks, concealed his own beneficence, and robbed his purse
of half its little store; but actually he was, by doing so, depriving
himself for a month, or maybe more, of a visit from Grace Acton. Had it
been only half-a-crown, and want had pinched the family (neither Grace
nor Jonathan could guess of Ben Burke's bounty, and for all they knew
Roger had not enough for the morrow's meals)--had poverty come in like
an armed man, and stood upon their threshold a grim sentinel--doubtless
she must have run to him within a day or two. How sweet would it have
been to have kept her coming day by day, and to a commoner affection how
excusable! but still how selfish, how unlike the liberal and honourable
feeling that filled the manly heart of Jonathan Floyd! It was a noble
act, and worthy of a long parenthesis.

If Grace Acton had looked back as she hurried down the avenue, she would
have seen poor Jonathan still watching her with all his eyes till she
was out of sight. Perhaps, though, she might have guessed it--there is a
sympathy in these things, the true animal magnetism--and I dare say that
was the very reason why she did not once turn her head.



CHAPTER XIII.

THE DISCOVERY.


ROGER ACTON had not slept well; had not slept at all till
nearly break of day, except in the feverish fashion of half dream half
revery. There were thick-coming fancies all night long about what Ben
had said and done: and more than once Roger had thought of the
expediency of getting up, to seek without delay the realization of that
one idea which now possessed him--a crock of gold. When he put together
one thing and another, he considered it almost certain that Ben had
flung away among the lot no mere honey-pot, but perhaps indeed a
money-pot: Burke hadn't half the cunning of a child; more fool he, and
maybe so much the better for me, thought money-bitten, selfish Roger.
Thus, in the night's hot imaginations, he resolved to find the spoil; to
will, was then to do: to do, was then to conquer. However, Nature's
sweet restorer came at last, and, when he woke, the idea had sobered
down--last night's fancies were preposterous. So, it was with a heavy
heart he got up later than his wont--no work before him, nothing to do
till the afternoon, when he might see Sir John, except it be to dig a
bit in his little marshy garden. When Grace ran to the Hall, Roger was
going forth to dig.

Now, I know quite well that the reader is as fully aware as I am, what
is about to happen; but it is impossible to help the matter. If the
heading of this chapter tells the truth, a "discovery" of some sort is
inevitable. Let us preliminarize a thought or two, if thereby we can
hang some shadowy veil of excuse over a too naked mystery. First and
foremost, truth is strange, stranger, _et-cetera_; and this
_et-cetera_, pregnant as one of Lyttleton's, intends to add the
superlative strangest, to the comparative stranger of that seldom-quoted
sentiment. To every one of us, in the course of our lives, something
quite as extraordinary has befallen more than once. What shall we say of
omens, warnings, forebodings? What of the most curious runs of luck; the
most whimsical freaks of fortune; the unaccountable things that happen
round us daily, and no one marvels at them, till he reads of them in
print? Even as Macpherson, ingenious, if not ingenuous, gathered Ossian
from the lips of Highland hussifs, and made the world with modern Attila
to back it, wonder at the stores that are hived on old wives' tongues;
even so might any other literary, black-smith hammer from the ore of
common gossip a regular Vulcan's net of superstitious "facts." Never yet
was uttered ghost story, that did not breed four others; every one at
table is eager to record his, or his aunt's, experience in that line;
and the mass of queer coincidences, inexplicable incidents, indubitable
seeings, hearings, doings, and sufferings; which you and I have heard of
in this popular vein of talk, would amply excuse the wildest fictionist
for the most extravagant adventure--the more improbable, the nearer
truth. Talk of the devil, said our ancestors--let "&c." save us from the
consequence. Think of any thing vehemently, and it is an even chance it
happens: be confident, you conquer; be obstinate in willing, and events
shall bend humbly to their lord: nay, dream a dream, and if you
recollect it in the morning, and it bother you next day, and you cannot
get it out of your head for a week, and the matter positively haunt you,
ten to one but it finds itself or makes itself fulfilled, some odd day
or other. Just so, doubtless, will it prove to be with Roger's dream: I
really cannot help the matter.

Again, it is more than likely that the reader is clever, very clever,
and that any attempts at concealment would be merely futile. From the
first page he has discovered who is the villain, and who the victim: the
title alone tells him of the golden hinge on which the story turns: he
can look through stone walls, if need be, or mesmerically see, without
making use of eyes: no peep-holes for him, as for Pyramus and Thisbe: no
initiation requisite for any hidden mysteries; all arcana are revealed
to him, every sanctum is a highway. No art of mortal pen can defeat this
mischief of acuteness: character is character; oaks grow of acorns, and
the plan of a life may be detected in a microscopic speech. The career
of Mr. Jennings is as much predestined by us to iniquity, from the first
intimation that he never makes excuse, as honest Roger is to trouble
and temptation from the weary effort wherewithal he woke. And, even now,
pretty Grace and young Sir John, the reader thinks that he can guess at
nature's consequence; while, with respect to Roger's going forth to dig
this morning, he sees it straight before him, need not ask for the
result. Well, if the shrewd reader has the eye of Lieuenhöeck, and can
discern, cradled in the small triangular beech-mast, a noble
forest-tree, with silvery trunk, branching arms, and dark-green foliage,
he deserves to be complimented indeed, for his own keen skill; but, at
the same time, Nature will not hurry herself for him, but will quietly
educe results which he foreknew--or thought he did--a century ago. And
is there not the highest Art in this unveiled simplicity: to lead the
reader onwards by a straight road, with the setting sun a-blaze at the
end of it, knowing his path, knowing its object, yet still borne on with
spirits unexhausted and unflagging foot? Trust me, there is better
praise in this, than in dazzling the distracted glance with a perpetual
succession of luminous fire-flies, and dragging your fair novel-reader,
harried and excited, through the mazes of a thousand incidents.

Thirdly, and lastly, in this prefatorial say, there is to be considered
that inevitable defeator of all printed secrets--impatience. Nothing is
easier, nothing commoner (most wise people do it, whose fate is, that
they must keep up with the race of current publication, and therefore
must keep down the still-increasing crowd of authorial creations),
nothing is more venial, more laudable, than to read the last chapter
first; and so, finding out all mysteries at once, to save one's self a
vast deal of unnecessary trouble. And, for mere tale-telling, this may
be sufficient. What need to burden memory with imaginary statements, or
to weary out one's sympathies on trite fictitious woes?--come to the
catastrophe at once: the uncle hanged; the heir righted; the heroine, an
orange-flowered bride; and the white-headed grandmother, after all her
wrongs, winding up the story with a prudent moral. Now, this may all be
very well with histories that merely carry a sting in the tail, whose
moral is the warning of the rattlesnake, and whose hot-exciting interest
is posted with the scorpion's venom. They are the Dragon of Wantley,
with one caudal point--a barbed termination: we, like Moore of Moore
Hall, all point, covered with spikes: every where we boast ourselves an
ethical hedge-hog, all-over-armed with keen morals--a Rumour painted
full of tongues, echoing all around with revealing of secrets. The
feelings of our humble hero, altered Roger Acton, are worthy to be
studied by the great, to be sifted by the rich; and Grace's simple
tongue may teach the sage, for its wisdom cometh from above; and
Jonathan, for all his shoulder-knot and smart cockade, is worthy to give
lessons to his master: that master, also, is far better than you think
him; and poor Burke too, for true humanity's sake: so we get a mint of
morals, set aside the story. It is not raw material, but the
workmanship, that gives its value to the flowered damask; our
grand-dames' sumptuous taffeties and stand-alone brocades are but spun
silk-worms' interiors; the fairest statue is intrinsically but a mass of
clumsy stone, until, indeed, the sculptor has rough-hewn it, and shaped
it, and chiselled it, and finished all the touches with sand-paper. This
story of '_The Crock of Gold_' purports to be a Dutch picture, as
becometh boors, their huts, their short and simple annals; so that,
after its moralities, the mass of minute detail is the only thing that
gives it any value.

Now, whilst all of you have been yawning through these egotistic
phrases, Roger has been digging in his garden; there he is, pecking away
at what once was the celery-bed, but now are fallow trenches; celery, as
we all know, is a water-loving plant, doing best in marshy-land, so no
wonder the trenches open on the sedge, and the muddy shallow opposite
Pike Island puddles up to them. There needs be no suspense, no mystery
at all; Roger's dream had clearly sent him thither, for he should not
have levelled those trenches yet awhile, it was a little too soon--bad
husbandry; and, barring the appearance of a devil, Roger's dream came
true. Yes, under the roots of a clump of bullrush, he lifted out with
his spade--a pot of Narbonne honey!

When first he spied the pot, his heart was in his mouth--it must be
gold, and with tottering knees he raised the precious burden. But, woful
disappointment! the word "Honey," with plenty of French and Fortnum on
another pasted label, stared him in the face; it was sweet and slimy too
about the neck; there was no sort of jingle when he shook the crock;
what though it be heavy?--honey's heavy; and it was tied over quite in a
common way with pig's bladder, and his clumsy trembling fingers could
not undo that knot; and thus, with a miserable sense of cheated poverty,
he threw it down beside the path, and would, perhaps, have flung it
right away in sheer disgust, but for the reflection that the little ones
might like it. Once, indeed, the glorious doubt of maybe gold came back
upon his mind, and he lifted up the spade to smash the baffling pot, and
so make sure of what it might contain;--make sure, eh? why, you would
only lose the honey, whispered domestic economy. So he left the jar to
be opened by his wife when he should go in.



CHAPTER XIV.

JONATHAN'S STORE.


AND where has Mrs. Acton been all this morning? Off to the
Hall, very soon after Grace had got away; and she rung at the side
entrance, hard by the kitchen, most fortunately caught Sarah Stack
about, and had a good long gossip with her; telling her, open-mouthed,
all about Ben Burke having found a shawl of Mrs. Quarles's on the
island; and how, it being very rotten, yes, and smelling foul, Ben had
been fool enough to burn it; what a pity! how could the shawl have got
there? if it only could ha' spoken what it knew! And the bereaved
gossips mourned together over secrets undivulged, and their evidence
destroyed. As to the crockery, for a miraculous once in life, Mrs. Acton
held her tongue about a thing she knew, and said not a syllable
concerning it. Roger would be mad to lose the money. Just at parting
with her friend Mary Acton was going out by the wrong door, through the
hall, but luckily did no more than turn the handle; or she never could
have escaped bouncing in upon the lovers' interview, and thereby
occasioning a chaos of confusion. For, be it whispered, the step-dame
was not a little jealous of her ready-made daughter's beauty, persisted
in calling her a child, and treated her any thing but kindly and
sisterly, as her full-formed woman's loveliness might properly have
looked for. Only imagine, if the Hecate had but seen Jonathan's lit-up
looks, or Grace's down-cast blushes; for it really slipped my
observation to record that there were blushes, and probably some cause
for them when the keep-sake was given and accepted; only conceive if
the step-mother had heard Jonathan's afterward soliloquy, when he was
watching pretty Grace as she tripped away--and how much he seemed to
think of her eyes and eye-lashes! I am reasonably fearful, had she heard
and seen all this--Poll Acton's nails might have possibly drawn blood
from the cheeks of Jonathan Floyd. As it was, the little god of love
kindly warded from his votaries the coming of so crabbed an antagonist.

Grace has now reached home again, blessing her overruling stars to have
escaped notice so entirely both in going and returning; for the mother
was hard at washing near the well, having got in half an hour before,
and father has not yet left off digging in his garden. So she crept up
stairs quietly, put away her Sunday best, and is just dropping on her
knees beside her truckle-bed, to speak of all her sorrows to her
Heavenly friend, and to thank him for the kindness He had raised her in
an earthly one. She then, with no small trepidation, took out of her
tucker, just below those withered snow-drops, the crumpled bit of paper
that held Jonathan's parting gift. It was surprising how her tucker
heaved; she could hardly get at the parcel. She wanted to look at that
half-crown; not that she feared it was a bad one, or was curious about
coins, or felt any pleasure in possessing such a sum: but there was such
a don't-know-what connected with that new half-crown, which made her
long to look at it; so she opened the paper--and found its golden
fellows! O noble heart! O kind, generous, unselfish--yes, beloved
Jonathan! But what is she to do with the sovereigns? Keep them? No, she
cannot keep them, however precious in her sight as proofs of deep
affection; but she will call as soon as possible, and give them back,
and insist upon his taking them, and keeping them too--for her, if no
otherwise. And the dear innocent girl was little aware herself how glad
she felt of the excuse to call so soon again at Hurstley.

Meantime, for safety, she put the money in her Bible.

What hallowed gold was that? Gained by honest industry, saved by
youthful prudence, given liberally and unasked, to those who needed, and
could not pay again; with a delicate consideration, an heroic essay at
concealment, a voluntary sacrifice of self, of present pleasure,
passion, and affection. And there it lies, the little store, hidden up
in Grace's Bible. She has prayed over it, thanked over it, interceded
over it, for herself, for it, for others. How different, indeed, from
ordinary gold, from common sin-bought mammon; how different from that
unblest store, which Roger Acton covets; how purified from meannesses,
and separate from harms! This is of that money, the scarcest coins of
all the world, endued with all good properties in heaven and in earth,
whereof it had been written, "The silver is mine, and the gold is mine,
saith the Lord of hosts."

Such alone are truly riches--well-earned, well-saved, well-sanctified,
well-spent. The wealthiest of European capitalists--the Croesus of
modern civilization--may be but a pauper in that better currency,
whereof a sample has been shown in the store of Jonathan Floyd.



CHAPTER XV.

ANOTHER DISCOVERY, AND THE EARNEST OF GOOD THINGS.


"DAME, here's one o' Ben's gallipots he flung away: it's naught
but honey, dame--marked so--no crock of gold; don't expect it; no such
thing; luck like that isn't for such as me: though, being as it is, the
babes may like it, with their dry bread: open it, good-wife: I hope the
water mayn't ha' spoilt it."

The notable Mary Acton produced certain scissors, hanging from her
pocket by a tape, and cut a knot, which to Roger had been Gordian's.

"Why, it's bran, Acton, not honey; look here, will you." She tilted it
up, and, along with a cloud of saw-dust, dropped out a heavy hail-storm
of--little bits of leather!

"Hallo? what's that?" said Roger, eagerly: "it's gold, gold, I'll be
sworn!" It was so.

Every separate bit of money, whatever kind of coins they were, had been
tidily sewn up in a shred of leather; remnants of old gloves of all
colours; and the Narbonne jar contained six hundred and eighty-seven of
them. These, of course, were hastily picked up from the path whereon
they had first fallen, were counted out at home, and the glittering
contents of most of those little leather bags ripped up were immediately
discovered. Oh dear! oh dear! such a sight! Guineas and half-guineas,
sovereigns and half-sovereigns, quite a little hill of bright, clean,
prettily-figured gold.

"Hip, hip, hooray!" shouted Roger, in an ecstacy; "Hurrah, hurrah,
hurrah!" and in the madness of his joy, he executed an extravagant pas
seul; up went his hat, round went his heels, and he capered awkwardly
like a lunatic giraffe.

"Here's an end to all our troubles, Poll: we're as good as gentle-folks
now; catch me a-calling at the Hall, to bother about Jennings and Sir
John: a fig for bailiffs, and baronets, parsons, and prisons, and all,"
and again he roared Hooray! "I tell you what though, old 'ooman, we must
just try the taste of our glorious golden luck, before we do any thing
else. Bide a bit, wench, and hide the hoard till I return. I'm off to
the Bacchus's Arms, and I'll bring you some stingo in a minute, old
gal." So off he ran hot-foot, to get an earnest of the blessing of his
crock of gold.

The minute that was promised to produce the stingo, proved to be rather
of a lengthened character; it might, indeed, have been a minute, or the
fraction of one, in the planet Herschel, whose year is as long as
eighty-five of our Terra's, but according to Greenwich calculation, it
was nearer like two hours.

The little Tom and Jerry shop, that rejoiced in the classical heraldry
of Bacchus's Arms, had been startled from all conventionalities by the
unwonted event of the demand, "change for a sovereign?" and when it was
made known to the assembled conclave that Roger Acton was the fortunate
possessor, that even assumed an appearance positively miraculous.

"Why, honest Roger, how in the world could you ha' come by that?" was
the troublesome inquiry of Dick the Tanner.

"Well, Acton, you're sharper than I took you for, if you can squeeze
gold out of bailiff Jennings," added Solomon Snip; and Roger knew no
better way of silencing their tongues, than by profusely drenching them
in liquor. So he stood treat all round, and was forced to hobanob with
each; and when that was gone, he called for more to keep their curiosity
employed. Now, all this caused delay; and if Mary had been waiting for
the "stingo," she would doubtless have had reasonable cause for anger
and impatience: however, she, for her part, was so pleasantly occupied,
like Prince Arthur's Queen, in counting out the money, that, to say the
truth, both lord and liquor were entirely forgotten.

But another cause that lengthened out the minute, was the embarrassing
business of where to find the change. Bacchus's didn't chalk up trust,
where hard money was flung upon the counter; but all the accumulated
wealth of Bacchus's high-priest, Tom Swipey, and of the seven
worshippers now drinking in his honour, could not suffice to make up
enough of change: therefore, after two gallons left behind him in
libations as aforesaid, and two more bottled up for a drink-offering at
home, Roger was contented to be owed seven and fourpence; a debt never
likely to be liquidated. Much speculation this afforded to the gossips;
and when the treater's back was turned, they touched their foreheads,
for the man was clearly crazed, and they winked to each other with a
gesture of significance.

Grace, while musing on her new half-crown--it was strange how long she
looked at it--had heard with real amazement that uproarious huzzaing!
and, just as her father had levanted for the beer, glided down from her
closet, and received the wondrous tidings from her step-mother. She
heard in silence, if not in sadness: intuitive good sense proclaimed to
her that this sudden gush of wealth was a temptation, even if she felt
no secret fears on the score of--shall we call it superstition?--that
dream, this crock, that dark angel--and this so changed spirit of her
once religious father: what could she think? she meekly looked to Heaven
to avert all ill.

Mary Acton also was less elated and more alarmed than she cared to
confess: not that she, any more than Grace, knew or thought about lords
of manors, or physical troubles on the score of finding the crock: but
Mrs. Quarles's shawl, and sundry fearful fancies tinged with blood,
these worried her exceedingly, and made her look upon the gold with an
uneasy feeling, as if it were an unclean thing, a sort of Achan's wedge.

At last, here comes Roger back, somewhat unsteadily I fear, with a stone
two-gallon jar of what he was pleased to avouch to be "the down-right
stingo." "Hooray, Poll!" (he had not ceased shouting all the way from
Bacchus's,) "Hooray--here I be again, a gentle-folk, a lord, a king,
Poll: why daughter Grace, what's come to you? I won't have no dull looks
about to-day, girl. Isn't this enough to make a poor man merry? No more
troubles, no more toil, no more 'humble sarvent,' no more a ragged,
plodding ploughman: but a lord, daughter Grace--a great, rich, luxurious
lord--isn't this enough to make a man sing out hooray?--Thank the crock
of gold for this--Oh, blessed crock!"

"Hush, father, hush! that gold will be no blessing to you; Heaven send
it do not bring a curse. It will be a sore temptation, even if the
rights of it are not in some one else: we know not whom it may belong
to, but at any rate it cannot well be ours."

"Not ours, child? whose in life is it then?"

Mary Acton, made quite meek by a superstitious dread of having money of
the murdered, stepped in to Grace's help, whom her father's fierce
manner had appalled, with "Roger, it belonged to Mrs. Quarles, I'm
morally sure on it--and must now be Simon Jennings's, her heir."

"What?" he almost frantically shrieked, "shall that white hell-hound rob
me yet again? No, dame--I'll hang first! the crock I found, the crock
I'll keep: the money's mine, whoever did the murder." Then, changing his
mad tone into one of reckless inebriate gayety--for he was more than
half-seas over even then from the pot-house toastings and excitement--he
added, "But come, wenches, down with your mugs, and help me to get
through the jar: I never felt so dry in all my life. Here's blessings on
the crock, on him as sent it, him as has it, and on all the joy and
comfort it's to bring us! Come, drink, drink--we must all drink
that--but where's Tom?"

If Roger had been quite himself, he never would have asked so
superfluous a question: for Tom was always in one and the same company,
albeit never in one and the same place: he and his Pan-like Mentor were
continually together, studying wood-craft, water-craft, and all manner
of other craft connected with the antique trade of picking and stealing.

"Where's Tom?"

Grace, glad to have to answer any reasonable question, mildly answered,
"Gone away with Ben, father."

Alas! that little word, Ben, gave occasion to reveal a depth in Roger's
fall, which few could have expected to behold so soon. To think that the
liberal friend, who only last night had frankly shared his all with him,
whose honest glowing heart would freely shed its blood for him, that he
in recollection should be greeted with a loathing! Ben would come, and
claim some portion of his treasure--he would cry halves--or, who knows?
might want all--all: and take it by strong arm, or by threat to 'peach
against him:--curse that Burke! he hated him.

Oh, Steady Acton! what has made thee drink and swear? Oh, Honest Roger!
what has planted guile, and suspicion, and malice in thy heart? Are
these the mere first-fruits of coveting and having? Is this the earliest
blessing of that luck which many long for--the finding of a crock of
gold?

We would not enlarge upon the scene; a painful one at all times, when
man forgets his high prerogative, and drowns his reason in the tankard:
but, in a Roger Acton's case, lately so wise, temperate, and patient,
peculiarly distressing. Its chief features were these. Grace tasted
nothing, but mournfully looked on: once only she attempted to
expostulate, but was met--not with fierce oaths, nor coarse chidings,
nor even with idiotic drivelling--oh no! worse than that she felt: he
replied to her with the maudlin drunken promise, "If she'd only be a
good girl, and let him bide, he'd give her a big Church-bible, bound in
solid gold--that 'ud make the book o' some real value, Grace." Poor
broken-hearted daughter--she rushed to her closet in a torrent of tears.

As for Mary Acton, she was miraculously meek and dumb; all the scold was
quelled within her; the word "blood" was the Petruchio that tamed that
shrew; she could see a plenty of those crimson spots, which might

  "The multitudinous seas incarnadine,
  Making the green, one red,"

dancing in the sun-beams, dotted on the cottage walls, sprinkled as
unholy water, over that foul crock. Would not the money be a curse to
them any how, say nothing of the danger? If things went on as they
began, Mary might indeed have cause for fear: actually, she could not
a-bear to look upon the crock; she quite dreaded it, as if it had
contained a "bottled devil." So there she sat ever so long--silent,
thoughtful, and any thing but comfortable.

What became of Roger until next day at noon, neither he nor I can tell:
true, his carcase lay upon the floor, and the two-gallon jar was empty.
But, for the real man, who could answer to the name of Roger Acton, the
sensitive and conscious soul--that was some where galloping away for
fifteen hours in the Paradise of fools: the Paradise? no--the Maëlstrom;
tossed about giddily and painfully in one whirl of tumultuous
drunkenness.



CHAPTER XVI.

HOW THE HOME WAS BLEST THEREBY.


IT will surprise no one to be told that, however truly such an
excess may have been the first, it was by no means the last exploit of
our altered labourer in the same vein of heroism. Bacchus's was quite
close, and he needs must call for his change; he had to call often;
drank all quits; changed another sovereign, and was owed again; but,
trust him, he wasn't going to be cheated out of that: take care of the
pence, and the pounds will take care of themselves. But still it was
ditto repeated; changing, being owed, grudging, grumbling: at last he
found out the famous new plan of owing himself; and as Bacchus's did not
see fit to reject such wealthy customers, Roger soon chalked up a
yard-long score, and grew so niggardly that they could not get a penny
from him.

It is astonishing how immediately wealth brings in, as its companion,
meanness: they walk together, and stand together, and kneel together, as
the hectoring, prodigal Faulconbridge, the Bastard Plantagenet in _King
John_, does with his white-livered, puny brother, Robert. Wherefore, no
sooner was Roger blest with gold, than he resolved not to be such a fool
as to lose liberally, or to give away one farthing. To give, I say, for
extravagant indulgence is another thing; and it was a fine, proud
pleasure to feast a lot of fellows at his sole expense. If meanness is
brother to wealth, it is at any rate first cousin to extravagance.

When the dowager collects "her dear five hundred friends" to parade
before the fresh young heirs her wax-light lovely daughters--when all is
glory, gallopade, and Gunter--when Rubini warbles smallest, and
Lablanche is heard as thunder on the stairs--speak, tradesmen, ye who
best can tell, the closeness that has catered for that feast; tell it
out, ye famished milliners, ground down to sixpence on a ball-dress
bill; whisper it, ye footmen, with your wages ever due; let Gath, let
Askelon re-echo with the truth, that extortion is the parent of
extravagance!

Now, that episode should have been in a foot note; but no one takes the
trouble to read notes; and with justice too; for if a man has any thing
to say, let him put it in his text, as orderly as may be. And, if order
be sometimes out of the question, as seems but clearly suitable at
present to our hero's manner of life, it is wise to go boldly on,
without so prim an usher; to introduce our thoughts as they reveal
themselves, ignorant of "their own degrees," not "standing on the order
of their coming," but, as a pit crowd on a benefit-night, bustling over
one another, helter-skelter, "in most admired disorder." This will well
comport with Roger's daily life: for, notwithstanding the frequent
interference of an Amazon wife--regardless of poor, dear Grace's gentle
voice and melancholy eyes--in spite of a conscience pricking in his
breast, with the spines of a horse-chestnut, that evil crock
appeared from the beginning to have been found for but one sole
purpose--_videlicet_, that of keeping alight in Roger's brain the fire
of mad intoxication. Yes, there were sundry other purposes, too, which
may as well be told directly.

The utter dislocation of all home comforts occupied the foremost rank.
True--in comparison with the homes of affluence and halls of
luxury--those comforts may have formerly seemed few and far between; yet
still the angel of domestic peace not seldom found a rest within the
cottage. Not seldom? always: if sweet-eyed Grace be such an angel, that
ever-abiding guest, full of love, duty, piety, and cheerfulness. But
now, after long-enduring anguish, vexed in her righteous soul by the
shocking sights and sounds of the drunkard and his parasites (for all
the idle vagabonds about soon flocked around rich Acton, and were freely
welcome to his reckless prodigality), Grace had been forced to steal
away, and seek refuge with a neighbour. Here was one blessing the less.

Another wretched change was in the wife. Granted, Mary Acton had not
ever been the pink of politeness, the violet of meekness, nor the rose
of entire amiability: but if she were a scold, that scolding was well
meant; and her irate energies were incessantly directed towards
cleanliness, economy, quiet, and other _notabilia_ of a busy house-wife.
She did her best to keep the hovel tidy, to make the bravest show with
their scanty chattels, to administer discreetly the stores of their
frugal larder, and to recompense the good-man returning from his hard
day's work, with much of rude joy and bustling kindness. But now, after
the first stupor of amazement into which the crock and its consequences
threw her, Poll Acton grew to be a fury: she raged and stormed, and well
she might, at filth and discomfort in her home, at nauseous dregs and
noisome fumes, at the orgie still kept up, day by day, and night by
night, through the length of that first foul week, which succeeded the
fortunate discovery. And not in vain she raged and stormed--and fought
too; for she did fight--ay, and conquered: and miserable Roger, now in
full possession of those joys which he had longed for at the casement of
Hurstley Hall, was glad to betake himself to the bench at Bacchus's,
whither he withdrew his ragged regiment. Thus, that crock had spoilt all
there was to spoil in the temper and conduct of the wife.

Look also at the pretty prattling babes, twin boys of two years old,
whom Roger used to hasten home to see; who had to say their simple
prayers; to be kissed, and comforted, and put to bed; to be made happier
by a wild flower picked up on his path, than if the gift had been a
coral with gold bells: where were they now? neglected, dirty, fretting
in a corner, their red eyes full of wonder at father's altered ways, and
their quick minds watching, with astonished looks, the progress of
domestic discord. How the crock of gold has nipped those early blossoms
as a killing frost!

Again, there used to be, till this sad week of wealth and riotous
hilarity, that constantly recurring blessing of the morn and evening
prayer which Roger read aloud, and Grace's psalm or chapter; and
afterwards the frugal meal--too scanty, perhaps, and coarse--but still
refreshing, thank the Lord, and seasoned well with health and appetite;
and the heart-felt sense of satisfaction that all around was earned by
honest labour; and there was content, and hope of better times, and
God's good blessing over every thing.

Now, all these pleasures had departed; gold, unhallowed gold, gotten
hastily in the beginning, broadcast on the rank strong soil of a heart
that coveted it earnestly, had sprung up as a crop of poisonous tares,
and choked the patch of wheat; gold, unhallowed gold, light come, light
gone, had scared or killed the flock of unfledged loves that used to
nestle in the cotter's thatch, as surely as if the cash were stones,
flung wantonly by truants at a dove-cot; and forth from the crock, that
egg of wo, had been hatched a red-eyed vulture, to tyrannize in this sad
home, where but lately the pelican had dwelt, had spread her fostering
wing, and poured out the wealth of her affections.



CHAPTER XVII.

CARE.


BUT other happy consequences soon became apparent. If Acton in
his tipsy state was mad, in his intervals of soberness he was thoroughly
miserable. And this, not merely on the score of sickness, exhaustion,
prostrated spirits, blue-devils, or other the long catalogue of a
drunkard's joys; not merely from a raging wife, and a wretched home; not
merely from the stings, however sharp, however barbed, of a conscience
ill at ease, that would rise up fiercely like a hissing snake, and
strike the black apostate to the earth: these all, doubtless, had their
pleasant influences, adding to the lucky finder's bliss: but there was
another root of misery most unlooked for, and to the poor who dream of
gold, entirely paradoxical.

The possession of that crock was the heaviest of cares. Where on earth
was he to hide it? how to keep it safely, secretly? What if he were
robbed of it in some sly way! O, thought of utter wo! it made the
fortunate possessor quiver like an aspen. Or what, if some one or more
of those blustering boon companions were to come by night with a
bludgeon and a knife, and--and cut his throat, and find the treasure?
or, worse still, were to torture him, set him on the fire like a
saucepan (he had heard of Turpin having done so with a rich old woman),
and make him tell them "where" in his extremity of pains, and give up
all, and then--and then murder him at last, outright, and afterwards
burn the hovel over his head, babes and all, that none might live to
tell the tale? These fears set him on the rack, and furnished one
inciting cause to that uninterrupted orgie; he must be either mad or
miserable, this lucky finder.

Also, even in his tipsy state, he could not cast off care: he might in
his cups reveal the dangerous secret of having found a crock of gold. A
secret still it was: Grace, his wife, and himself, were the only souls
who knew it. Dear Grace feared to say a word about the business: not in
apprehension of the law, for she never thought of that too probable
intrusion on the finder: but simply because her unsophisticated piety
believed that God, for some wise end, had allowed the Evil One to tempt
her father; she, indeed, did not know the epigram,

  The devil now is wiser than of yore:
  He tempts by making rich--not making poor:

but she did not conceive that notion in her mind; she contrasted the
wealthy patriarch Job, tried by poverty and pain, but just and patient
in adversity--with the poor labourer Acton, tried by luxury and wealth,
and proved to be apostate in prosperity: so she held her tongue, and
hitherto had been silent on a matter of so much local wonder as her
father's sudden wealth, in the midst of urgent curiosity and
extraordinary rumours.

Mary was kept quiet as we know, by superstition of a lower grade, the
dread of having money of the murdered, a thought she never breathed to
any but her husband; and to poor uninitiated Grace (who had not heard a
word of Ben's adventure), her answer about Mrs. Quarles and Mr. Jennings
in the dawn of the crock's first blessing, had been entirely
unintelligible: Mary, then, said never a word, but looked on dreadingly
to see the end.

As for Roger himself, he was too much in apprehension of a landlord's
claims, and of a task-master's extortions, to breath a syllable about
the business. So he hid his crock as best he could--we shall soon hear
how and where--took out sovereign after sovereign day by day, and made
his flush of instant wealth a mystery, a miracle, a legacy, good luck,
any thing, every thing but the truth: and he would turn fiercely round
to the frequent questioner with a "What's that to you?--Nobody's
business but mine:" and then would coaxingly add the implied bribe to
secresy, in his accustomed invitation--"And now, what'll you take?"--a
magical phrase, which could suffice to quell murmurs for the time, and
postponed curiosity to appetite. Thus the fact was still unknown, and
weighed on Roger's mind as a guilty concealment, an oppressive secret.
What if any found it out?

For immediate safety--the evening after his memorable first fifteen
hours of joy--he buried the crock deeply in a hole in his garden,
filling all up hard with stones and brick-bats; and when he had
smoothed it straight and workmanlike, remembered that he surely hadn't
kept out enough to last him; so up it had to come again--five more taken
out, and the crock was restored to its unquiet grave.

Scarcely had he done this, than it became dark, and he began to fancy
some one might have seen him hide it; those low mean tramps (never
before had he refused the wretched wayfarers his sympathy) were always
sneaking about, and would come and dig it up in the night: so he went
out in the dark and the rain, got at it with infinite trouble and a
broken pickaxe, and exultingly brought the crock in-doors; where he
buried it a third time, more securely, underneath the grouted floor,
close beside the fire in the chimney-corner: it was now nearly midnight,
and he went to bed.

Hardly had he tumbled in, after pulling on a nightcap of the flagon,
than the dread idea overtook him that his treasure might be melted! Was
there ever such a fool as he? Well, well, to think he could fling his
purse on the fire! What a horrid thought! Metallurgy was a science quite
unknown to Roger; he only considered gold as heavy as lead, and
therefore probably as fusible: so down he bustled, made another hole, a
deeper one too this time, in the floor under the dresser, where,
exhausted with his toil and care, he deposited the crock by four in the
morning--and so retired once more.

All in vain--nobody ever knew when Black Burke might be returning from
his sporting expeditions--and that beast of a lurcher would be sure to
be creeping in this morning, and would scratch it up, and his brute of a
master would get it all! This fancy was the worst possible: and Roger
rose again, quite sick at heart, pale, worn, and trembling with a
miser's haggard joys. Where should he hide that crock--the epithet
"cursed" crock escaped him this time in his vexed impatience. In the
house and in the garden, it was equally unsafe.

Ha! a bright thought indeed: the hollow in the elm-tree, creaking
overhead, just above the second arm: so the poor, shivering wretch,
almost unclad, swarmed up that slimy elm, and dropped his treasure in
the hollow. Confusion! how deep it was: he never thought of that; here
was indeed something too much of safety: and then those boys of
neighbour Goode's were birds'-nesting continually, specially round the
lake this spring. What an idiot he was not to have remembered this! And
up he climbed again, thrust in his arm to the shoulder, and managed to
repossess himself a fifth time of that blessed crock.

Would that the elm had been hollow to its root, and beneath the root a
chasm bottomless, and that Plutus in that Narbonne jar had served as a
supper to Pluto in the shades! Better had it been for thee, my Roger.

But he had not hid it yet; so, that night--or rather that cold morning
about six, the drenched, half-frozen Fortunatus carried it to bed with
him: and a precious warming-pan it made: for nothing would satisfy the
finder of its presence but perpetual bodily contact:--accordingly, he
placed it in his bosom, and it chilled him to the back-bone.

Yes; that was undoubtedly the safest way; to carry the spoil about with
him; so, next noon--how could he get up till noon after such a woful
night?--next noon he emptied the jar, and tying up its contents in a
handkerchief, proceeded to wear it as a girdle; for an hour he clattered
about the premises, making as much jingle as a wagoner's team of bells;
laden heavily with gold, like the [Greek: ibebusto] genius in Herodotus:
but he soon found out this would not do at all; for, independently of
all concealment at an end, so long as his secret store was rattling as
he walked, louder than military spurs or sabre-tackle, he soberly
reflected that he might--possibly, possibly, though not probably--get a
glass too much again, by some mere accident or other; and then to be
robbed of his golden girdle, this cincture of all joy! O, terrible
thought! as well [this is my fancy, not Rogers's] deprive Venus of her
zone, and see how the beggared Queen of Beauty could exist without her
treasury, the Cestus.



CHAPTER XVIII.

INVESTMENT.


NEXT day, the wealthy Roger had higher aspirations. Why should
not he get interest for his money, like lords and gentlefolk? His gold
had been lying idle too long; more fool he: it ought to breed money
somehow, he knew that; for, like most poor men whose sole experience of
investment is connected with the Lombard's golden balls, he took exalted
views of usury. Was he to be "hiding up his talent in a napkin--?"

Ah!--he remembered and applied the holy parable, but it smote across his
heart like a flash of frost, a chilling recollection of good things past
and gone. What had he been doing with his talents--for he once
possessed the ten? had he not squandered piety, purity, and patience?
where were now his gratitude to God, his benevolence to man? the
father's duteous care, the husband's industry and kindness, the
labourer's faith, the Christian's hope--who had spent all these?--Till
money's love came in, and money-store to feed it, the poor man had been
rich: but now, rotten to the core, by lust of gold, the rich is poor
indeed.

However, such considerations did not long afflict him--for we know that
lookers-on see more than players--and if Roger had encouraged half our
wise and sober thoughts, he might have been a better man: but Roger
quelled the thoughts, and silenced them; and thoughts are tender
intonations, shy little buzzing sounds, soon scared by coarser noise:
Roger had no mind to cherish those small fowls; so they flew back again
to Heaven's gate, homeless and uncomforted as weeping peri's.

The bank--the county bank--Shark, Breakem, and Company--this was the
specious Eldorado, the genuine gold-increaser, the hive where he would
store his wealth (as honey left for the bees in winter), and was to have
it soon returned fourfold. It was indeed a thought to make the rich man
glad, that all his shining heap was just like a sample of seed-corn, and
the pocket-full should next year fill a sack. How grudgingly he now
began to mourn over past extravagance, five pieces gone within the week!
how close and careful he resolved to be in future! how he would scrape
and economize to get and save but one more of those sweet little seeds,
that yield more gold--more gold! And if Roger had been privileged in
youth to have fed upon the wisdom of the Eton Latin grammar, he could
have now quoted with some experimental unction the "_Crescit Amor_"
line, which every body well knows how to finish. Truly, it was growing
with his growth, and rioting in strength above his weakness.

Swollen with this expanding love, he packed up his money in what were,
though he knew it not, _rouleaux_, but to his plebeian eyes looked more
like golden sausages: and he would take it to the bank, and they should
bow to him, and Sir him, and give him forthwith more than he had
brought; and if those summary gains were middling great--say twice as
much, to be moderate--he thought he might afford himself a chaise coming
back, and return to Hurstley Common like a nabob. Thus, full of wealthy
fancies, after one glass more, off set Roger to the county town, with
his treasure in a bundle.

Half-way to it, as hospitality has ordained to be the case wherever
there be half-ways, occurred a public-house: and really,
notwithstanding all our monied neophyte's economical resolutions, his
throat was so "uncommon dry," that he needs must stop there to refresh
the muscles of his larynx: so, putting down his bundle on the settle, he
called for a foaming tankard, and thanking the crock, as his evil wont
now was, sat down to drink and think. Here was prosperity indeed, a
flood of astonishing good fortune: that he, but a little week agone, a
dirty ditcher--so was he pleased to designate his former self--a ragged
wretch, little better than a tramp, should be now progressing like a
monarch, with a mighty bag of gold to enrich his county town. To enrich,
and be thereby the richer; for Roger's actions of finance were so
simple, as to run the risk of being called sublimely indistinct: he took
it as an axiom that "money bred money," but in what way to draw forth
its generative properties, whether or not by some new-fangled manure, he
was entirely ignorant; and it clearly was his wisdom to leave all that
mystery of money-making solely to the banker. All he cared about was
this: to come back richer than he came--and, lo! how rich he was
already. Lolling at high noon, on a Wednesday too, in the extremest mode
of rustic beauism, with a bag of gold by his side, and a pot of porter
in his hand--here was an accumulation of magnificence--all the
prepositions pressed into his service. His wildest hopes exceeded, and
almost nothing left to wish. Blown up with the pride and importance of
the moment, and some little oblivious from the potent porter--he had
paid and sallied forth, and marched a mile upon his way, full of golden
fancies, a rich luxurious lord as he was--when all on a sudden the
hallucination crossed his dull pellucid mind, that he had left the store
behind him! O, pungent terror!--O, most exquisite torture! was it clean
gone, stolen, lost, lost, lost for ever? Rushing back in an agony of
fear, that made the ruddy hostess think him crazed, with his hair on
end, and a face as if it had been white-washed, he flew to the tap-room,
and--almost fainted for ecstasy of joy when he found it, where he had
laid it, on the settle!

Better had you lost it, Roger; better had your ecstasy been sorrow:
there is more trouble yet for you, from that bad crock of gold. But if
your lesson is not learnt, and you still think otherwise, go on a little
while exultingly as now I see you, and hug the treasure to your
heart--the treasure that will bring you yet more misery.

And now the town is gained, the bank approached. What! that big barred,
guarded place, looking like a mighty mouse-trap? he didn't half like to
venture in. At last he pushed the door ajar, and took a peep; there
were muskets over the mantel-piece, ostentatiously ticketed as "Loaded!
Beware!" there were leather buckets ranged around the walls: he did not
in any degree like it: was he to expose his treasure in this idiot
fashion to all the avowed danger of fire and thieves? However, since he
had come so far, he would get some interest for his money, that he
would--so he'd just make bold to step to the counter and ask a very
obsequious bald-headed gentleman, who sired him quite affably,

"How much, Master, will you be pleased to give me for my gold?"

The gentleman looked queerish, as if he did not comprehend the question,
and answered, "Oh! certainly, sir--certainly--we do not object to give
you our notes for it," at the same time producing an extremely dirty
bundle of worn-out bits of paper.

Roger stroked his chin.

"But, Master, my meaning is, not how many o' them brown bits o' paper
you'll sell me for my gold here," and he exhibited a greater store than
Mr. Breakem had seen at once upon his counter for a year, "but how much
more gold you'll send me back with than what I've brought? by way of
interest, you know, or some such law: for I don't know much about the
Funds, Master."

"Indeed, sir," replied the civil banker, who wished by any means to
catch the clodpole's spoil--"you are very obliging; we shall be glad to
allow you two-and-a-half per centum per annum for the deposit you are
good enough to leave in our keeping."

"Leave in your keeping, Master! no, I didn't say that! by your leave,
I'll keep it myself!"

"In that case, sir, I really do not see how I can do business with you."

True enough; and Roger would never have been such a monetary blockhead,
had he not been now so generally tipsy; the fumes of beer had mingled
with his plan, and all his usual shrewdness had been blunted into folly
by greediness of lucre on the one side, and potent liquors on the other.
The moment that the banker's parting speech had reached his ear, the
absurdity of Roger's scheme was evident even to himself, and with a bare
"Good day, Master," he hurriedly took his bundle from the counter, and
scuttled out as quick as he could.

His feelings, walking homeward, were any thing but pleasant; the bubble
of his ardent hope was burst: he never could have more than the paltry
little sum he carried in that bundle: what a miser he would be of it:
how mean it now seemed in his eyes--a mere sample-bag of seed, instead
of the wide-waving harvest! Ah, well; he would save and scrape--ay, and
go back to toil again--do any thing rather than spend.

Got home, the difficulty now recurred, where was he to hide it? The
store was a greater care than ever, now those rascally bankers knew of
it. He racked his brain to find a hiding-place, and, at length, really
hit upon a good one. He concealed the crock, now replenished with its
contents, in the thatch just over his bed's head: it was a rescued
darling: so he tore a deep hole, and nested it quite snugly.

Perhaps it did not matter much, but the rain leaked in by that hole all
night, and fortunate Roger woke in the morning drenched with wet, and
racked by rheumatism.



CHAPTER XIX.

CALUMNY.


MORE blessings issue from the crock; Pandora's box is set wide
open, and all the sweet inhabitants come forth. If apprehensions for its
safety made the finder full of care, the increased whisperings of the
neighbourhood gave him even deeper reason for anxiety. In vain he told
lie upon lie about a legacy of some old uncle in the clouds; in vain he
stuck to the foolish and transparent falsehood, with a dogged
pertinacity that appealed, not to reason, but to blows; in vain he made
affirmation weaker by his oath, and oaths quite unconvincing by his
cudgel: no one believed him: and the mystery was rendered more
inexplicable from his evidently nervous state and uneasy terror of
discovery.

He had resolved at the outset, cunningly as he fancied, to change no
more than one piece of gold in the same place; though Bacchus's
undoubtedly proved the rule by furnishing an exception: and the
consequence came to be, that there was not a single shop in the whole
county town, nor a farm-house in all the neighbourhood round, where
Roger Acton had not called to change a sovereign. True, the silver had
seldom been forthcoming; still, he had asked for it; and where in life
could he have got the gold? Many was the rude questioner, whose
curiosity had been quenched in drink; many the insufferable pryer, whom
club-law had been called upon to silence. Meanwhile, Roger steadily kept
on, accumulating silver where he could: for his covetous mind delighted
in the mere semblance of an increase to his store, and took some
untutored numismatic interest in those pretty variations of his
idol--money.

But if Roger's heap increased, so did the whispers and suspicions of the
country round; they daily grew louder, and more clamorous; and soon the
charitable nature of chagrined wonder assumed a shape more heart-rending
to the wretched finder of that golden hoard, than any other care, or
fear, or sin, that had hitherto torn him. It only was a miracle that the
neighbours had not thought of it before; seldom is the world so
unsuspicious; but then honest Roger's forty years of character were
something--they could scarcely think the man so base; and, above all,
gentle Grace was such a favourite with all, was such a pattern of
purity, and kindliness, and female conduct, that the tongue would have
blistered to its roots, that had uttered scorn of her till now. As
things were, though, could any thing be clearer? Was charity herself to
blame in putting one and one together? Sir John was rich, was young,
gay, and handsome; but Grace was poor--but indisputably beautiful, and
probably had once been innocent: some had seen her going to the Hall at
strange times and seasons--for in truth, she often did go there;
Jonathan and Sarah Stack, of course, were her dearest friends on earth:
and so it came to pass, that, through the blessing of the crock, honest
Roger was believed to live on the golden wages of his daughter's shame!
Oh, coarse and heartless imputation! Oh, bitter price to pay for secresy
and wonderful good fortune! In vain the wretched father stormed, and
swore, and knocked down more than one foul-spoken fellow that had
breathed against dear Grace. None but credited the lie, and many envious
wretches actually gloried in the scandal; I grieve to say that
women--divers venerable virgins--rejoiced that this pert hussey was at
last found out; she was too pretty to be good, too pious to be pure; now
at length they were revenged upon her beauty; now they had their triumph
over one that was righteous over-much. For other people, they would urge
the reasonable question, how else came Roger by the cash? and getting no
answer, or worse than none--a prevaricating, mystifying mere
put-off--they had hardly an alternative in common exercise of judgment:
therefore, "Shame on her," said the neighbours, "and the bitterest shame
on him:" and the gaffers and grand-dames shook their heads virtuously.

Yet worse: there was another suggestion, by no means contradictory,
though simultaneous: what had become of Tom? ay--that bold young
fellow--Thomas Acton, Ben Burke's friend: why was he away so long,
hiding out of the country? they wondered.

The suspected Damon and Pythias had gone a county off to certain fens,
and were, during this important week, engaged in a long process of
ensnaring ducks.

Old Gaffer White had muttered something to Gossip Heartley, which Dick
the Tanner overheard, wherein Tom Acton and a gun, and Burke, and
burglary, and throats cut, and bags of gold, were conspicuous
ingredients: so that Roger Acton's own dear Tom, that eagle-eyed and
handsome better image of himself, stood accused, before his quailing
father's face, of robbery and murder.

Both--both darlings, dead Annie's little orphaned pets, thus stricken by
one stone to infamy! Grace, scouted as a hussey, an outcast, a bad girl,
a wanton--blessed angel! Thomas--generous boy--keenly looked for, in his
near return, to be seized by rude hands, manacled, and dragged away, and
tried on suspicion as a felon--for what? that crock of gold. Yet Roger
heard it all, knew it all, writhed at it all, as if scorpions were
lashing him; but still he held on grimly, keeping that bad secret.
Should he blab it out, and so be poor again, and lose the crock?

That our labourer's changed estate influenced his bodily health, under
this accumulated misery and desperate excitement, began to be made
manifest to all. The sturdy husbandman was transformed into a tremulous
drunkard; the contented cottager, into a querulous hypochondriac; the
calm, religious, patient Christian, into a tumultuous blasphemer. Could
all this be, and even Roger's iron frame stand up against the battle!
No, the strength of Samson has been shorn. The crock has poured a
blessing on its finder's very skin, as when the devil covered Job with
boils.



CHAPTER XX.

THE BAILIFF'S VISIT.


ONE day at noon, ere the first week well was over since the
fortunate discovery of gold, as Roger lay upon his bed, recovering from
an overnight's excess, tossed with fever, vexation, and anxiety, he was
at once surprised and frightened by a visit from no less a personage
than Mr. Simon Jennings. And this was the occasion of his presence:

Directly the gathering storm of rumours had collected to that focus of
all calumny, the destruction of female character and murder charged upon
the innocent, Grace Acton had resolved upon her course; secresy could be
kept no longer; her duty now appeared to be, to publish the story of her
father's lucky find.

Grace, we may observe, had never been bound to silence, but only imposed
it on herself from motives of tenderness to one, whom she believed to be
taken in the toils of a temptation. She, simple soul, knew nothing of
manorial rights, nor wotted she that any could despoil her father of his
money; but even if such thoughts had ever crossed her mind, she loathed
the gold that had brought so much trouble on them all, and cared not how
soon it was got rid of. Her father's health, honour, happiness, were
obviously at stake; perhaps, also, her brother's very life: and, as for
herself, the martyr of calumny looked piously to heaven, offered up her
outraged heart, and resolved to stem this torrent of misfortune.
Accordingly, with a noble indignation worthy of her, she had gone
straightway to the Hall, to see the baronet, to tell the truth, fling
aside a charge which she could scarcely comprehend, and openly vindicate
her offended honour. She failed--many imagine happily for her own peace,
if Sir John had not been better than his friends--in gaining access to
the Lord of Hurstley; but she did see Mr. Jennings, who serenely
interposed, and listened to all she came to say--"her father had been
unfortunate enough to find a crock of money on the lake side near his
garden."

When Jennings heard the tale, he started as if stung by a wasp: and
urging Grace to tell it no one else (though the poor girl "must," she
said, "for honour's sake"), he took up his hat, and ran off breathlessly
to Acton's cottage. Roger was at home, in bed, and sick; there was no
escape; and Simon chuckled at the lucky chance. So he crept in,
carefully shut the door, put his finger on his lips to hush Roger's note
of admiration at so little wished a vision; and then, with one of his
accustomed scared and fearful looks behind him, muttered under his
breath,

"Man, that gold is mine: I have paid its price to the uttermost; give me
the honey-pot."

Roger's first answer was a vulgar oath; but his tipsy courage faded soon
away before old habits of subserviency, and he faltered out,
"I--I--Muster Jennings! I've got no pot of gold!"

"Man, you lie! you have got the money! give it me at once--and--" he
added in a low, hoarse voice, "we will not say a word about the murder."

"Murder!" echoed the astonished man.

"Ay, murder, Acton:--off! off, I say!" he muttered parenthetically, then
wrestled for a minute violently, as with something in the air; and
recovering as from a spasm, calmly added,

"Ay, murder for the money."

"I--I!" gasped Roger; "I did no murder, Muster Jennings!"

A new light seemed to break upon the bailiff, and he answered with a
tone of fixed determination,

"Acton, you are the murderer of Bridget Quarles."

Roger's jaw dropped, dismay was painted on his features, and certainly
he did look guilty enough. But Simon proceeded in a tenderer tone;

"Notwithstanding, give me the gold, Acton, and none shall know a word
about the murder. We will keep all quiet, Roger Acton, all nice and
quiet, you know;" and he added, coaxingly, "come, Roger, give me up this
crock of gold."

"Never!" with a fierce anathema, answered our hero, now himself again:
the horrid accusation had entranced him for a while, but this coaxing
strain roused up all the man in him: "Never!" and another oath confirmed
it.

"Acton, give it up, I say!" was shouted in rejoinder, and Jennings
glared over him with his round and staring eyes as he lay faint upon his
bed--"Give up the crock, or else--"

"Else what? you whitened villain."

The bailiff flung himself at Roger's neck, and almost shrieked, "I'll
serve you as I--"

There was a tremendous struggle; attacked at unawares, for the moment he
was nearly mastered; but Acton's tall and wiry frame soon overpowered
the excited Jennings, and long before you have read what I have
written--he has leaped out of bed--seized--doubled up--and flung the
battered bailiff headlong down the narrow stair-case to the bottom. This
done, Roger, looking like Don Quixote de la Mancha in his penitential
shirt, mounted into bed again, and quietly lay down; wondering,
half-sober, at the strange and sudden squall.



CHAPTER XXI.

THE CAPTURE.


HE had not long to wonder. Jennings got up instantly, despite
of bruises, posted to the Hall, took a search-warrant from Sir John's
study, (they were always ready signed, and Jennings filled one up,) and
returned with a brace of constables to search the cottage.

Then Roger, as he lay musing, fancied he heard men's voices below, and
his wife, who had just come in, talking to them; what could they want?
tramps, perhaps: or Ben? he shuddered at the possibility; with Tom too;
and he felt ashamed to meet his son. So he turned his face to the wall,
and lay musing on--he hadn't been drinking too much over-night--Oh, no!
it was sickness, and rheumatics, and care about the crock; Tom should be
told that he was very ill, poor father! Just as he had planned this, and
resolved to keep his secret from that poaching ruffian Burke, some one
came creeping up the stairs, slided in at the door, and said to him in a
deep whisper from the further end of the room,

"Acton, give me the gold, and the men shall go away; it is not yet too
late; tell me where to find the crock of gold."

An oath was the reply; and, at a sign from Jennings, up came the other
two.

"We have searched every where, Mr. Simon Jennings, both cot and garden;
ground disturbed in two or three places, but nothing under it; in-doors
too, the floor is broken by the hearth and by the dresser, but no signs
of any thing there: now, Master Acton, tell us where it is, man, and
save us all the trouble."

Roger's newly-learnt vocabulary of oaths was drawn upon again.

"Did you look in the ash-pit?" asked Jennings.

"No, sir."

"Well, while you two search this chamber, I will examine it myself."

Mr. Jennings apparently entertained a wholesome fear of Acton's powers
of wrestling.

Up came Simon in a hurry back again, with a lot of little empty leather
bags he had raked out, and--the fragment of a shawl! the edges burnt, it
was a corner bit, and marked B.Q.

"What do you call this, sir?" asked the exulting bailiff.

"Curse that Burke!"--thought Roger; but he said nothing.

And the two men up stairs had searched, and pried, and hunted every
where in vain; the knotty mattress had been ripped up, the chimney
scrutinized, the floor examined, the bed-clothes overhauled, and as for
the thatch, if it hadn't been for Roger Acton's constant glance upwards
at his treasure in the roof, I am sure they never would have found it.
But they did at last: there it was, the crock of gold, full proof of
robbery and murder!

"Aha!" said Simon, in a complacent triumph, "Mrs. Quarles's identical
honey-pot, full of her clean bright gold, and many pieces still encased
in those tidy leather bags;" and his round eyes glistened again; but all
at once, with a hurried look over his left shoulder, he exclaimed,
involuntarily, in a very different tone, "Ha! away, I say!--" Then he
snatched the crock up eagerly, and nursed it like a child.

"Come along with us, Master Acton, you're wanted somewhere else; up,
man, look alive, will you?"

And Roger dressed himself mechanically. It was no manner of use, not in
the least worth while resisting, innocent though he was; his treasure
had been found, and taken from him; he had nothing more to live for; his
gold was gone--his god; where was the wisdom of fighting for any thing
else; let them take him to prison if they would, to the jail, to the
gallows, to any-whither, now his gold was gone. So he put on his
clothes without a murmur, and went with them as quiet as a lamb.

Never was there a clearer case; the housekeeper's hoard had been found
in his possession, with a fragment of her shawl; and Sir John Vincent
was very well aware of the mystery attending the old woman's death;
besides, he was in a great hurry to be off; for Pointer, and Silliphant,
and Lord George Pypp, were to have a hurdle race with him that day, for
a heavy bet; so he really had not time to go deep into the matter; and
the result of five minutes' talk before the magisterial chairs (Squire
Ryle having been summoned to assist) was, that, on the accusation of
Simon Jennings, Roger Acton was fully committed to the county jail, to
be tried at next assizes, for Bridget Quarles's murder.

Thank God! poor Roger, it has come to this. What other way than this was
there to save thee from thy sin--to raise thee from thy fall? Where
else, but in a prison, could you get the silent, solitary hours leading
you again to wholesome thought and deep repentance? Where else could you
escape the companionship of all those loose and low associates, sottish
brawlers, ignorant and sensual unbelievers, vagabond radicals, and
other lewd fellows of the baser sort, that had drank themselves drunk at
your expense, and sworn to you as captain! The place, the time, the
means for penitence are here. The crisis of thy destiny is come.

Honest Roger, Steady Acton, did I not see thy guardian angel--after all
his many tears, aggrieved and broken spirit!--did I not see him lift his
swollen eyes in gratitude to Heaven, and benevolence to thee, and smile
a smile of hopeful joy when that damned crock was found?

Gladly could he thank his Lord, to behold the temptation at an end.

Did I not see the devil slink away from thee abashed, issuing like an
adder from thy heart, and then, with a sudden Protean change, driven
from thy hovel as a thunder-cloud dispersing, when Simon Jennings seized
the jar, hugged it as his household-god--and took it home with him--and
counted out the gold--and locked the bloody treasure in his iron-chest?

Fitly did the murderer lock up curses with his spoil.

And when God smote thine idol, dashing Dagon to the ground, and thy
heart was sore with disappointment, and tender as a peeled fig--when
hope was dead for earth, and conscience dared not look beyond it--ah!
Roger, did I judge amiss when I saw, or thought I saw, those eyes full
of humble shame, those lips quivering with remorseful sorrow?

We will leave thee in the cold stone cell--with thy well-named angel
Grace to comfort thee, and pray with thee, and help thee back to God
again, and so repay the debt that a daughter owes her father.

Happy prison! where the air is sweetened by the frankincense of piety,
and the pavement gemmed with the flowers of hope, and the ceiling arched
with Heaven's bow of mercy, and the walls hung around with the dewy
drapery of penitence!

Happy prison! where the talents that were lost are being found again,
gathered in humility from this stone floor; where poor-making riches are
banished from the postern, and rich-making poverty streameth in as light
from the grated window; where care vexeth not now the labourer emptied
of his gold, and calumny's black tooth no longer gnaws the heart-strings
of the innocent.

Hark! it is the turnkey, coming round to leave the pittance for the day:
he is bringing in something in an earthern jar. Speak, Roger Acton,
which will you choose, man--a prisoner's mess of pottage--or a crock of
gold?



CHAPTER XXII.

THE AUNT AND HER NEPHEW.


WHILE we leave Roger Acton in the jail, waiting for the very
near assizes, and wearing every hour away in penitence and prayer, it
will be needful to our story that we take a retrospective glance at
certain events, of no slight importance.

I must now speak of things, of which there is no human witness;
recording words, and deeds, whereof Heaven alone is cognizant, Heaven
alone--and Hell! For there are secret matters, which the murdered cannot
tell us, and the murderer dare not--let him confess as fully as he will.
Therefore, with some omnipresent sense, some invisible ubiquity, I must
note down scenes as they occurred, whether mortal eye has witnessed them
or not; I must lay bare secret thoughts, unlatch the hidden chambers of
the heart, and duly set out, as they successively arose, the idea which
tongue had not embodied, the feeling which no action had expressed.

Hitherto, we have pretty well preserved inviolate the three grand
unities--time, place, circumstance; and even now we do not sin against
the first and chiefest, however we may seem so to sin; for, had it
suited my purpose to have begun with the beginning, and to have placed
the present revelations foremost, the strictest stickler for the unities
would have only had to praise my orthodox adherence to them. As it is, I
have chosen, for interest sake, to shuffle my cards a little; and two
knaves happen to have turned up together just at this time and place.
The time is just three weeks ago--a week before the baronet came of age,
and a fortnight antecedent to the finding of the crock; which, as we
know, after blessing Roger for a se'nnight, has at last left him in
jail. The place is the cozy house-keepers room at Hurstley: and the
brace of thorough knaves, to enact then and there as _dramatis personæ_,
includes Mistress Bridget Quarles, a fat, sturdy, bluffy, old woman, of
a jolly laugh withal, and a noisy tongue--and our esteemed acquaintance
Mister Simon Jennings. The aunt, house-keeper, had invited the nephew,
butler, to take a dish of tea with her, and rum-punch had now succeeded
the souchong.

"Well, Aunt Quarles, is it your meaning to undertake a new master?"

"Don't know, nephy--can't say yet what he'll be like: if he'll leave us
as we are, won't say wont."

"Ay, as we are, indeed; comfortable quarters, and some little to put by,
too: a pretty penny you will have laid up all this while, I'll be bound:
I wager you now it is a good five hundred, aunt--come, done for a
shilling."

"Get along, foolish boy; a'n't you o' the tribe o' wisdom too--ha, ha,
ha!"

"I will not say," smirked Simon, "that my nest has not a feather."

"It's easy work for us, Nep; we hunt in couples: you the men, and I the
maids--ha, ha!"

"Tush, Aunt Bridget! that speech is not quite gallant, I fear." And the
worshipful extortioners giggled jovially.

"But it's true enough for all that, Simon: how d'ye manage it, eh, boy?
much like me, I s'pose; wages every quarter from the maids, dues from
tradesmen Christmas-tide and Easter, regular as Parson Evans's; pretty
little bits tacked on weekly to the bills, beside presents from every
body; and so, boy, my poor forty pounds a-year soon mounts up to a
hundred."

"Ay, ay, Aunt Bridget--but I get the start of you, though you probably
were born a week before-hand: talk of parsons, look at me, a regular
grand pluralist monopolist, as any bishop can be; butler in doors,
bailiff out of doors, land-steward, house-steward, cellar-man, and
pay-master. I am not all this for naught, Aunt Quarles: if so much goes
through my fingers, it is but fair that something stick."

"True, Simon--O certainly; but if you come to boasting, my boy, I don't
carry this big bunch o' keys for nothing neither. Lord love you! why
merely for cribbings in the linen-line for one month, John Draper
swapped me that there shawl: none o' my clothes ever cost me a penny,
and I a'n't quite as bare as a new-born baby neither. Look at them
trunks, bless you!"

"Ay, ay, aunt, I'll be bound the printer of your prayer-book has left
out a 'not,' before the 'steal,' eh?--ha! ha!"

"Fie, naughty Simon, fie! them's not stealings, them's parquisites.
Where's the good o' living in a great house else? But come, Si, haven't
you struck out the 'not,' for yourself, though the printer did his duty,
eh, Nep?"

"Not a bit, aunt--not a bit: all sheer honesty and industry. Look at my
pretty little truck-shop down the village. Wo betide the labourer that
leaves off dealing there! not one that works at Hurstley, but eats my
bread and bacon; besides the 'tea, coffee, tobacco, and snuff.'"

"Pretty fairish articles, eh? I never dealt with you, Si: no, Nep,
no--you never saw the colour o' my money."

Jennings gave a start, as if a thought had pricked him; but gayly
recovering himself, said,

"Oh, as to pretty fairish, I know there is one thing about the bacon
good enough; ay, and the bread too--the very best of prices; ha! ha! is
not that good? And for the other genuine articles, I don't know that
much of the tea comes from China--and the coffee is sold ground, because
it is burnt maize--and there's a plenty of wholesome cabbage leaf cut up
in the tobacco--while as for snuff, I give them a dry, peppery, choky,
sneezy dust, and I dare say that it does its duty."

It was astonishing how innocently the worthy couple laughed together.

"My only trouble, Aunt Quarles, is where to keep my gains--what to do
with them. I am quite driven to the strong-box system, interest is so
bad; and as to speculations, they are nervous things, and sicken one. I
invest in the Great Western one day--a tunnel falls in, so I sell my
shares the next, and send the proceeds to Australia; then, looking at
the map, I see the island isn't clean chalked out all round, and
beginning to fear that the sea will get in where it a'n't made
water-tight by the Admiralty, I call the money home again. You see I
don't know what to do with gold when I get it. Where do you keep yours
now, aunt, I wonder?"

"O, Nep, never mind me; you rattle on so I can't get in never a word.
I'll only tell you where I don't keep it. Not at Breakem's bank, for
they're brewers, and hosiers, and chandlers, and horse-dealers--ay, and
swindlers too, the whole 'company' on 'em; not in mortgages, for I hate
the very smell of a lawyer, with all his pounce and parchment; not in
Gover'me't 'nuities, for I'm an old 'ooman, boy; and not in the Three
per Cents, nor any other per cents, for I've sense enough to know that
my highest interest lies in counting out, as my first principle is
dropping in." And the fat female laughed herself purple at the venerable
joke.

Simon was a courtier, and laughed too, as immoderately as possible.

"Ah! I dare say now you have got a Chubb's patent somewhere full of
gold?" he asked somewhat anxiously; "take your punch, aunt, wont you? I
do not see you drink."

"Simon, mark me; fools who want to be robbed put their money into an
iron chest, that thieves may know exactly where to find it; they might
as well ticket it 'cash,' and advertise to Newgate--come and steal. I
know a little better than to be such a fool."

"Yes, certainly--I dare say now you keep it in your work-box, or sew it
up in your stays, or hide it in the mattress, or in an old tea-pot,
maybe." And Jennings eyed her narrowly.

"Nephew, what rhymes to money?"

"Money?--Well I can't say I am a poet--stony, perhaps. At least," added
the benevolent individual, "when I have raised a wretch's rent to gain a
little more by him, stony is not a bad shield to lift against prayers,
and tears, and orphans, and widows, and starvation, and all such
nonsense."

"Not bad, neither, Nep: but there's a better rhyme than that."

"You cannot mean honey, aunt? when I guessed stony, I thought you might
have some snug little cash cellar under the flags. But honey? are you
such a thorough Mrs. Rundle as to pickle and preserve your very guineas,
the same as you do strawberries or apricots in syrup?"

"Oh, you clever little fool! how prettily you do talk on: your tongue's
as tidy as your cash-book: when you've any money to put by, come to Aunt
Bridget for a crock to hide it in: mayn't one use a honey-pot, as Teddy
Rourke would say, barring the honey?"

"Ha! and so you hide the hoard up there, aunt, eh? along with the
preserves in a honey-pot, do you?"

"We'll see--we'll see, some o' these long days; not that the money's to
be yours, Nep--you're rich enough, and don't want it; there's your poor
sister Scott with her fourteen children, and Aunt Bridget must give her
a lift in life: she was a good niece to me, Simon, and never left my
side before she married: maybe she'll have cause to bless the dead."

Jennings hardly spoke a word more; but drained his glass in silence, got
up a sudden stomach-ache, and wished his aunt good-night.



CHAPTER XXIII.

SCHEMES.


WE must follow Simon Jennings to his room. He felt keenly
disappointed. Money was the idol of his heart, as it is of many million
others. He had robbed, lied, extorted, tyrannized; he had earned scorn,
ill-report, and hatred; nay, he had even diligently gone to work, and
lost his own self-love and self-respect in the service of his darling
idol. He was at once, for lucre's sake, the mean, cringing fawner, and
the pitiless, iron despot; to the rich he could play supple parasite,
while the poor man only knew him as an unrelenting persecutor; with the
good, and they were chiefly of the fairer, softer sex, he walked in
meekness, the spiritual hypocrite; the while, it was his boast to
over-reach the worst in low duplicity and crooked dealing. All this he
was for gold. When the eye of the world was on him, and intuition warned
him of the times, he was ever the serene, the correct, with a smooth
tongue and an oily smile; but in the privacy of some poor hovel, where
his debtor sued for indulgence, or some victim of his passions (he had
more depravities than one) threw her wretched self upon his pity, then
could Simon Jennings lash sternness into rage, and heat his brazen heart
with the embers of inveterate malice. It was as if the serpent, that
voluble, insinuating reptile, which had power to fascinate poor Eve,
turned to rend her when she had fallen, erect, with flashing eyes, and
bristling crest, with venomed fangs, and hissing. Behold,
snake-worshippers of Mexico, the prototype of your grim idol, in
Mammon's model slave and specimen disciple!

Such a man was Simon Jennings, a soul given up to gold--exclusively to
gold; for although, as we have hinted, and as hereafter may appear, he
could sell himself at times to other sins, still these were but as stars
in his evil firmament, while covetousness ruled it like the sun; or, if
the beauteous stars and blessed sun be an image too hallowed for his
wickedness, we may find a fitter in some stagnant pool, where the
pestilential vapour over all is Mammonism, and the dull, fat weeds that
rot beneath, are pride, craftiness, and lechery. In fact, to speak of
passions in a heart such as his, were a palpable misnomer; all was
reduced to calculation; his rage was fostered to intimidate, and where
the wretch seemed kinder, his kindnesses were aimed at power, as an
object, rather than at pleasure--the power to obtain more gold.

For it is a dreadful truth (which I would not dare to utter if such
crimes had never been), that a reprobate of the bailiff Jennings's stamp
may, by debts, or fines, or kind usurious loans, entrap a beggared
creature in his toils; and then lyingly propose remission at the secret
sacrifice of honour, in some one, over whom that dastard beggar has
control; and having this point gained, the seducer is quite capable of
using, for still more extortion, the power which a threatening of
exposure gives, when the criminally weak has stooped to sin, on promises
of silence and delivery from ruin. I wish there may be no poor yeoman
in this broad land, of honourable name withal, he and his progenitors
for ages, who can tell the tale of his own base fears, a creditor's
exactions, and some dependant victim's degradation: some orphaned niece,
some friendless ward, immolated in her earliest youth at the shrine of
black-hearted Mammon; I wish there may be no sleek middle-man guilty of
the crimes here charged upon Simon Jennings.

This worthy, then, had been introduced at Hurstley by his aunt, Mrs.
Quarles, on the occurrence of a death vacancy in the lad-of-all-work
department, during the long ungoverned space of young Sir John's
minority. As the precious "lad" grew older, and divers in-door
potentates died off, the house-keeper had power to push her nephew on to
pageship, footmanship, and divers other similar crafts, even to the
final post of butler; while his own endeavours, backed by his aunt's
interest, managed to secure for him the rule out of doors no less than
in, and the closest possible access to guardians and landlords, to the
tenants--and their rent.

Now, the amiable Mrs. Quarles had contrived the elevation of her nephew,
and connived at his monopolies, mainly to fit in cleverly with her own
worldly weal; for it would never have done to have risked the loss of
innumerable perquisites, and other peculations, by the possible advent
of an honest butler. But, while the worshipful Simon, to do him only
justice, fully answered Mrs. Bridget's purpose, and even added much to
her emoluments; still he was no mere derivative scion, but an
independent plant, and entertained views of his own. He had his own
designs, and laid himself out to entrap his aunt's affections; or
rather, for I cannot say he greatly valued these, to secure her good
graces, and worm himself within the gilded clauses of her will; she was
an old woman, rolling in gold, no doubt had a will; and as for himself,
he was younger by five-and-thirty years, so he could afford to wait a
little, before trying on her shoes. The petty schemes of thievery and
cheating, which he in his Quotem capacities had practised, were to his
eyes but as driblets of wealth in comparison with the mighty stream of
his old aunt's savings. Not that he had done amiss, trust him! but then
he knew the amount of his own hoard to a farthing, while of hers he was
entirely ignorant; so, on the principle of '_omne ignotum pro
mirifico_,' he pondered on its vastness with indefinite amazement,
although probably it might not reach the quarter of his own. For it
should in common charity be stated, that, with all her hiding and hiving
propensities, Mrs. Quarles, however usually a screw, was by fits and
starts an extravagant woman, and besides spending on herself, had
occasionally helped her own kith and kin; poor niece Scott, in
particular, had unconsciously come in for many pleasant pilferings, and
had to thank her good aunt for innumerable filched groceries, and
hosieries, and other largesses, which (the latter in especial) really
had contributed, with sundry other more self indulgent expenses, to make
no small havoc of the store.

Still, this store was Simon's one main chance, the chief prize in his
hope's lottery; and it was with a pang, indeed, that he found all his
endeavours to compass its possession had been vain. Was that endless
cribbage nothing, and the weary Bible-lessons on a Sunday, and the
constant fetchings and carryings, and the forced smiles, sham
congratulations, and other hypocritical affections--fearing for his dear
aunt's dropsy, and inquiring so much about her bunions--was all this
dull servitude to meet with no reward? With none? worse than none! Fool
that he was! had he schemed, and plotted, and flattered, and
cozened--ay, and given away many pretty little presents, lost decoys,
that had cost hard money, all for nothing--less than nothing--to be
laughed at and postponed to his Methodist sister Scott? The impudence of
deliberately telling him he "didn't want it, and was rich enough!" as if
"enough" could ever be good grammar after such a monosyllable as "rich;"
and "want it" indeed! of course he wanted it; if not, why had he slaved
so many years? want it, indeed! if to hope by day, and to dream by
night--if to leave no means untried of delicately showing how he longed
for it--if to grow sick with care, and thin with coveting--if this were
to want the gold, good sooth, he wanted it. Don't tell him of starving
brats, his own very bowels pined for it; don't thrust in his face the
necessities of others--the necessity is his; he must have it--he will
have it--talk of necessity!

Wait a bit: is there no way of managing some better end to all this? no
mode of giving the right turn to that wheel of fortune, round which his
cares and calculations have been hovering so long? Is there no
conceivable method of possessing that vast hoard?

Bless me! how huge it must be! and Simon turned whiter at the thought:
only add up Mother Quarles's income for fifty-five years: she is
seventy-five at least, and came here a girl of twenty. Simon's hair
stood on end, and his heart went like a mill-clapper, as he mentally
figured out the sum.

Is there no possibility of contriving matters so that I may be the
architect of my own good luck, and no thanks at all to the old witch
there? Dear--what a glorious fancy--let me think a little. Cannot I get
at the huge hoard some how?



CHAPTER XXIV.

THE DEVIL'S COUNSEL.


"STEAL it," said the Devil.

Simon was all of a twitter; for though he fancied his own heart said it,
still his ear-drum rattled, as if somebody had spoken.

Simon--that ear-drum was to put you off your guard: the deaf can hear
the devil: he needs no tympanum to commune with the spirit: listen
again, Simon; your own thoughts echo every word.

"Steal it: hide in her room; you know she has a shower-bath there, which
nobody has used for years, standing in a corner; two or three cloaks in
it, nothing else: it locks inside, how lucky! ensconce yourself there,
watch the old woman to sleep--what a fat heavy sleeper she is!--quietly
take her keys, and steal the store: remember, it is a honey-pot.
Nothing's easier--or safer. Who'd suspect you?"

"Splendid! and as good as done," triumphantly exclaimed the nephew,
snapping his fingers, and prancing with glee;--"a glorious fancy! bless
my lucky star!"

If there be a planet Lucifer, that was Simon's lucky star.

And so, Mrs Quarles the biter is going to be bit, eh? It generally is so
in this world's government. You, who brought in your estimable nephew to
aid and abet in your own dishonest ways, are, it seems, going to be
robbed of all your knavish gains by him. This is taking the wise in
their own craftiness, I reckon: and richly you deserve to lose all your
ill-got hoard. At the same time, Mrs. Quarles--I will be just--there are
worse people in the world than you are: in comparison with your nephew,
I consider you a grosser kind of angel; and I really hope no harm may
befall your old bones beyond the loss of your money. However, if you are
to lose this, it is my wish that poor Mrs. Scott, or some other honest
body, may get it, and not Simon; or rather, I should not object that he
may get it first, and get hung for getting it, too, before the sister
has the hoard.

Our friend, Simon Jennings, could not sleep that night; his reveries and
scheming lasted from the rum-punch's final drop, at ten P.M., to
circiter two A.M., and then, or thenabouts, the devil hinted "steal it;"
and so, not till nearly four, he began to shut his eyes, and dream
again, as his usual fashion was, of adding up receipts in five figures,
and of counting out old Bridget's hoarded gold.

Next day, notwithstanding nocturnal semi-sleeplessness, he awoke as
brisk as a bee, got up in as exhilarated a state as any gas-balloon, and
was thought to be either surprisingly in spirits, or spirits
surprisingly in him; none knew which, "where each seemed either." That
whole day long, he did the awkwardest things, and acted in the most
absent manner possible; Jonathan thought Mr. Simon was beside himself;
Sarah Stack, foolish thing! said he was in love, and was observed to
look in the glass several times herself; other people did not know what
to think--it was quite a mystery. To recount only a few of his
unprecedented exploits on that day of anticipative bliss:

First, he asked the porter how his gout was, and gave him a thimble-full
of whiskey from his private store.

Secondly, he paid Widow Soper one whole week's washing in full, without
the smallest deduction or per centage.

Thirdly, he ordered of Richard Buckle, commonly called Dick the Tanner,
a lot of cart harness, without haggling for price, or even asking it.

And, fourthly, he presented old George White, who was coming round with
a subscription paper for a dead pig--actually, he presented old Gaffer
White with the sum of two-pence out of his own pocket! never was such
careless prodigality.

But the little world of Hurstley did not know what we know. They
possessed no clue to the secret happiness wherewithal Simon Jennings
hugged himself; they had no inkling of the crock of gold; they thought
not he was going to be suddenly so rich; they saw no cause, as we do,
why he should feel to be like a great heir on the eve of his majority;
they wotted not that Sir John Devereux Vincent, Baronet, had scarcely
more agreeable or triumphant feelings when his clock struck twenty-one,
than Simon Jennings, butler, as the hour of his hope drew nigh.

If a destiny like this man's can ever have a crisis, the hour of his
hope is that; but downward still, into a lower gulf, has been
continually his bad career; there is (unless a miracle intervene) no
stopping in the slope on which he glides, albeit there may be
precipices. He that rushes in his sledge down the artificial ice-hills
of St. Petersburgh, skims along not more swiftly than Jennings, from the
altitude of infant innocence, had sheered into the depths of full-grown
depravity; but even he can fall, and reach, with startling suddenness, a
lower deep.

As if that Russian mountain, hewn asunder midway, were fitted flush to
a Norwegian cliff, beetling precipitately over the whirlpool; then tilt
the sledge with its furred inmate over the slope, let it skim with
quicker impetus the smoking ice, let it touch that beetling edge, and,
leaping from the tangent, let it dart through the air, let it strike the
eddying waters, be sucked hurriedly down that hoarse black throat, wind
among the roots of the everlasting hills, and split upon the loadstone
of the centre.

Even such a fate, "down, down to hell," will come to Simon Jennings;
wrapped in the furs of complacency, seated in the sledge of
covetousness, a-down the slippery launch of well-worn evil habit--over
the precipice of crime--into the billows of impenitent remorse--to be
swallowed by the vortex of Gehenna!



CHAPTER XXV.

THE AMBUSCADE.


NIGHT came, and with it all black thoughts. Not that they were
black at once, any more than darkness leaps upon the back of noon,
without the intervening cloak of twilight. Oh dear, no! Simon's thoughts
accommodated themselves fitly to the time of day. They had been, for
him, at early morning, pretty middling white, that is whity-brown;
thence they passed, with the passing hour kindly, through the shades of
burnt sienna, raw umber, and bistre; until, just as we may notice in the
case of marking-ink; that which, five minutes ago, was as water only
delicately dirtied, has become a fixed and indelible black.

Simon was resolved upon the spoil, come what might; although his waking
sensations of buoyancy, his noon-day cogitations of a calmer kind, and
his even-tide determined scheming, had now given way to a nervous and
unpleasant trepidation. So he poured spirits down to keep his spirits
up. Very early after dark, he had watched his opportunity while Mrs.
Quarles was scolding in the kitchen, had slipped shoeless and
unperceived, from his pantry into the housekeeper's room, and locked
himself securely in the shower bath. Hapless wight! it was very little
after six yet, and there he must stand till twelve or so: his foresight
had not calculated this, and the devil had already begun to cheat him.
But he would go through with it now; no flinching, though his rabbit
back is breaking with fatigue, and his knocked knees totter with
exhaustion, and his haggard eyes swim dizzily, and his bad heart is
failing him for fear.

Yes, fear, and with good reason too for fear; "nothing easier, nothing
safer," said his black adviser; how easily for bodily pains, how safely
for chances of detection, was he getting at the promised crock of gold!

"Mr. Jennings! Mr. Simon! where in the world was Mr. Jennings?" nobody
knew; he must have gone out somewhere. Strange, too--and left his hat
and great-coat.

Here's a general for an ambuscade; Oh, Simon, Simon! you have had the
whole day to think of it--how is it that both you and your dark friend
overlooked in your calculations the certainty of search, and the chance
of a discovery? The veriest school-boy, when he hid himself, would hide
his hat. I am half afraid that you are in that demented state, which
befits the wretch ordained to perish.

But where is Mr. Jennings? that was the continued cry for four agonizing
hours of dread and difficulty. Sarah, the still-room maid, was sitting
at her work, unluckily in Mrs. Quarles's room; she had come in shortly
after Simon's secret entry; there she sat, and he dared not stir. And
they looked every where--except in the right place; to do the devil
justice, it was a capital hiding-corner that; rooms, closets, passages,
cellars, out-houses, gardens, lofts, tenements, and all the "general
words," in a voluminous conveyance, were searched and searched in vain;
more than one groom expected (hoped is a truer word) to find Mr.
Jennings hanging by a halter from the stable-lamp; more than one
exhilarated labourer, hastily summoned for the search, was sounding the
waters with a rake and rope, in no slight excitement at the thought of
fishing up a deceased bailiff.

It was a terrible time for the ensconced one: sometimes he thought of
coming out, and treating the affair as a bit of pleasantry: but then the
devil had taken off his shoes--as a Glascow captain deals with his cargo
of refractory Irishers; how could he explain that? his abominable old
aunt was shrewd, and he knew how clearly she would guess at the truth;
if he desired to make sure of losing every chance, he could come out
now, and reveal himself; but if he nourished still the hope of counting
out that crock of gold, he'll bide where he is, and trust to--to--to
fate. The wretch had "Providence" on his blistered tongue.

If, under the circumstances, any thing could be added to Simon's
gratification, such pleasing addition was afforded in overhearing, as
Lord Brougham did, the effect which his rumoured death produced on the
minds of those who best had known him. It so happened, Sarah was sick,
and did not join the universal hunt; accordingly, being the only
audience, divers ambassadors came to tell her constantly the same most
welcome news, that Jennings had not yet been found.

"Lawk, Sally," said a helper, "what a blessing it'll be, if that mean
old thief's dead; I'll go to town, if 'tis so, get a dozen Guy's-day
rockets, tie 'em round with crape, and spin 'em over the larches:
that'll be funeral fun won't it? and it'll sarve to tell the neighbours
of our luck in getting rid on him."

"I doan't like your thought, Tom," said another staider youth: "it's
ill-mirth playing leap-frog over tomb-stones, and poor bravery insulting
the dead. Besides, I'm thinking the bad man that's taken from us an't a
going up'ards, so it's no use lending him a light. I wish we may all lie
in a cooler grave than he does, and not have to go quite so deep
down'ard."

"Gee up for Lady-day!" exclaimed the emancipated coachman; "why, Sall, I
shall touch my whole lump of wages free for the fust time: and I only
wish the gals had our luck."

"Here, Sarah," interposed a kind and ruddy stable youth, "as we're all
making free with Mr. Simon's own special ale, I've thought to bring you
a nogging on't: come, you're not so sick as you can't drink with all the
rest on us--The bailiff, and may none on us never see his face no more!"

These, and similar testimonials to the estimation in which Simon's
character was held, must have gratified not a little the hearer of his
own laudations: now and then, he winced so that Sarah might have heard
him move: but her ear was alive to nothing but the news-bringers, and
her eyes appeared to be fixed upon the linen she was darning. That
Jennings vowed vengeance, and wreaked it afterwards too, on the youths
that so had shown their love, was his solitary pleasure in the
shower-bath. But his critics were too numerous for him to punish all:
they numbered every soul in the house, besides the summoned aiders--only
excepting three: Sarah, who really had a head-ache, and made but little
answers to the numerous glad envoys; Jonathan Floyd, whose charity did
not altogether hate the man, and who really felt alarmed at his absence;
and chiefest, Mrs. Quarles, who evinced more affection for her nephew
than any thought him worthy of exciting--she wrung her hands, wept,
offered rewards, bustled about every where, and kept calling
blubberingly for "Simon--poor dear Simon."

At length, that fearful hue and cry began to subside--the hubbub came
to be quieter: neighbour-folks went home, and inmates went to bed. Sarah
Stack put aside her work, and left the room.

What a relief to that hidden caitiff! his feet, standing on the cold,
damp iron so many hours, bare of brogues, were mere ice--only that they
ached intolerably: he had not dared to move, to breathe, and was all
over in one cramp: he did not bring the brandy-bottle with him, as he
once had planned; for calculation whispered--"Don't, your head will be
the clearer; you must not muddle your brains;" and so his caution
over-reached itself, as usual; his head was in a fog, and his brains in
a whirlwind, for lack of other stimulants than fear and pain.

O Simon, how your prudence cheats you! five mortal hours of anguish and
anxiety in one unalterable posture, without a single drop of
creature-comfort; and all this preconcerted too!



CHAPTER XXVI.

PRELIMINARIES.


AT last, just as the nephew was positively fainting from
exhaustion, in came his kind old aunt to bed. She talked a good deal to
herself, did Mrs. Quarles, and Simon heard her say,

"Poor fellow--poor, dear Simon, he was taken bad last night, and has
seemed queerish in the head all day: pray God nothing's amiss with the
boy!"

The boy's heart (he was forty) smote him as he heard: yes, even he was
vexed that Aunt Bridget could be so foolishly fond of him. But he would
go on now, and not have all his toil for nothing. "I'm in for it," said
he, "and there's an end."

Ay, Simon, you are, indeed, in for it; the devil has locked you in--but
as to the end, we shall see, we shall see.

"I shouldn't wonder now," the good old soul went on to say, "if
Simon's wentured out without his hat to cool a head-ache: his
grand-father--peace be with him! died, poor man, in a Lunacy 'Sylum:
alack, Si, I wish you mayn't be going the same road. No, no, I hope
not--he's always so prudent-like, and wise, and good; so kind, too, to a
poor old fool like me:" and the poor old fool began to cry again.

"Silly boy--but he'll take cold at any rate: Sarah!" (here Mrs. Quarles
rung her bell, and the still-maid answered it.) "Sarah Stack, sit up
awhile for Mr. Jennings, and when he comes in, send him here to me. Poor
boy," she went on soliloquizing, "he shall have a drop or two to comfort
his stomach, and keep the chill out."

The poor boy, lying _perdu_, shuddered at the word chill, and really
wished his aunt would hold her tongue. But she didn't.

"Maybe now," the affectionate old creature proceeded, "maybe Simon was
vexed at what I let drop last night about the money. I know he loves his
sister Scott, as I do: but it'll seem hard, too, to leave him nothing. I
must make my will some day, I 'spose; but don't half like the job: it's
always so nigh death. Yes--yes, dear Si shall have a snug little
corner."

The real Simon Pure, in his own snug little corner, writhed again. Mrs.
Quarles started at the noise, looked up the chimney, under the bed,
tried the doors and windows, and actually went so near the mark as to
turn the handle of the shower-bath; "Drat it," said she, "Sarah must ha'
took away the key: well, there can't be nothing there but cloaks, that's
one comfort."

Last of all, a thought struck her--it must have been a mouse at the
preserves. And Mrs. Quarles forthwith opened the important cupboard,
where Jennings now well knew the idol of his heart was shrined. Then
another thought struck Mrs. Quarles, though probably no unusual one, and
she seemed to have mounted on a chair, and to be bringing down some
elevated piece of crockery. Simon could see nothing with his eyes, but
his ears made up for them: if ever Dr. Elliotson produced clairvoyance
in the sisters Okey, the same sharpened apprehensions ministered to the
inner man of Simon Jennings through the instrumental magnet of his
inordinately covetous desires. Therefore, though his retina bore no
picture of the scene, the feelers of his mind went forth, informing him
of every thing that happened.

Down came a Narbonne honey-pot--Simon saw that first, and it was as the
lamp of Aladdin in his eyes: then the bladder was whipped off, and the
crock set open on the table. Jennings, mad as Darius's horse at the
sight of the object he so longed for, once thought of rushing from his
hiding-place, taking the hoard by a _coup de main_, and running off
straightway to America: but--deary me--that'll never do; I mustn't leave
my own strong-box behind me, say nothing of hat and shoes: and if I stop
for any thing, she'd raise the house.

While this was passing through the immaculate mind of Simon Jennings,
Bridget had been cutting up an old glove, and had made one of its
fingers into a very tidy little leather sacklet; into this she deposited
a bright half sovereign, spoil of the day, being the douceur of a needy
brush-maker, who wished to keep custom, and, of course, charged all
these vails on the current bill for mops and stable-sponges.

"Ha!" muttered she, "it's your last bill here, Mr. Scrubb, I can tell
you; so, you were going to put me off with a crown-piece, were you? and
actually that bit of gold might as well have been a drop of blood wrung
from you: yes--yes, Mr. Scrubb, I could see that plainly; and so you've
done for yourself."

Then, having sewed up the clever little bag, she dropped it into the
crock: there was no jingle, all dumby: prudent that, in his aunt--for
the dear morsels of gold were worth such tender keeping, and leather
would hinder them from wear and tear, set aside the clink being
silenced. So, the nephew secretly thanked Bridget for the wrinkle, and
thought how pleasant it would be to stuff old gloves with his own yellow
store. Ah, yes, he would do that--to-morrow morning.

Meanwhile, the pig-skin is put on again, and the honey-pot stored away:
and Simon instinctively stood a tip-toe to peep ideally into that
wealthy corner cupboard. His mind's eye seemed to see more honey-pots!
Mammon help us! can they all be full of gold? why, any one of them would
hold a thousand pounds. And Simon scratched the palms of his hands, and
licked his lips at the thought of so much honey.

But see, Mrs. Quarles has, in her peculiar fashion, undressed herself:
that is to say, she has taken off her outer gown, her cap and wig--and
then has _added_ to the volume of her under garments, divers night
habiliments, flannelled and frilled: while wrappers, manifold as a
turbaned Turk's, protect ear-ache, tooth-ache, head-ache, and face-ache,
from the elves of the night.

And now, that the bedstead creaks beneath her weight, (as well it may,
for Bridget is a burden like Behemoth,) Simon's heart goes thump so
loud, that it was a wonder the poor woman never heard it. That heart in
its hard pulsations sounded to me like the carpenter hammering on her
coffin-lid: I marvel that she did not take it for a death-watch tapping
to warn her of her end. But no: Simon held his hand against his heart to
keep it quiet: he was so very fearful the pitapating would betray him.
Never mind, Simon; don't be afraid; she is fast asleep already; and her
snore is to thee as it were the challenge of a trumpeter calling to the
conflict.



CHAPTER XXVII.

ROBBERY.


HUSH--hush--hush!

Stealthily on tiptoe, with finger on his lips, that fore-doomed man
crept out.

"The key is in the cupboard still--ha! how lucky: saves time that, and
trouble, and--and--risk! Oh, no--there can be no risk now," and the
wretch added, "thank God!"

The devil loves such piety as this.

So Simon quietly turned the key, and set the cupboard open: it was to
him a Bluebeard's chamber, a cave of the Forty Thieves, a garden of the
Genius in Aladdin, a mysterious secret treasure-house of wealth
uncounted and unseen.

What a galaxy of pickle-pots! tier behind tier of undoubted
currant-jelly, ranged like the houses in Algiers! vasty jars of
gooseberry! delicate little cupping-glasses full of syruped fruits! Yet
all these candied joys, which probably enhance a Mrs. Rundle's heaven,
were as nothing in the eyes of Simon--sweet trash, for all he cared
they might be vulgar treacle. His ken saw nothing but the
honey-pots--embarrassing array--a round dozen of them! All alike, all
posted in a brown line, like stout Dutch sentinels with their hands in
their breeches pockets, and set aloft on that same high-reached shelf.
Must he really take them all? impracticable: a positive sack full.
What's to be done?--which is he to leave behind? that old witch
contrived this identity and multitude for safety's sake. But what if he
left the wrong one, and got clear off with the valuable booty of two
dozen pounds of honey? Confusion! that'll never do: he must take them
all, or none; all, all's the word; and forthwith, as tenderly as
possible, the puzzled thief took down eleven pots of honey to his one of
gold--all pig-bladdered, all Fortnumed--all slimy at the string;
"Confound that cunning old aunt of mine," said Simon, aloud; and took no
notice that the snores surceased.

Then did he spread upon the table a certain shawl, and set the crocks in
order on it: and it was quite impossible to leave behind that pretty
ostentatious "Savings' Bank," which the shrewd hoarder kept as a feint
to lure thieves from her hidden gold, by an open exhibition of her
silver: unluckily, though, the shillings, not being leathered up nor
branned, rattled like a Mandarin toy, as the trembling hand of Jennings
deposited the bank beside the crockeries--and, at the well-known sound,
I observed (though Simon did not, as he was in a trance of addled
triumph) or fancied I observed Mrs. Quarles's head move: but as she said
nothing, perhaps I was mistaken. Thus stood Simon at the table,
surveying his extraordinary spoils.

And while he looked, the Mercy of God, which never yet hath seen the
soul too guilty for salvation, spake to him kindly, and whispered in his
ear, "Poor, deluded man--there is yet a moment for escape--flee from
this temptation--put all back again--hasten to thy room, to thy prayers,
repent, repent: even thou shalt be forgiven, and none but God, who will
forgive thee, shall know of this bad crime. Turn now from all thy sins;
the gate of bliss is open, if thou wilt but lift the latch."

It was one moment of irresolute delay; on that hinge hung Eternity. The
gate swung upon its pivot, that should shut out hell, or heaven!

Simon knit his brow--bit his nails--and answered quite out loud, "What!
and after all to lose the crock of gold?"



CHAPTER XXVIII.

MURDER.


HE had waked her!

In an instant the angel form of Mercy melted away--and there stood the
devil with his arms folded.

"Murder!--fire!--rape!--thieves!--what, Nephew Jennings, is that you,
with all my honey pots? Help! help! help!"

"Phew-w-w!" whistled the devil: "I tell you what, Master Simon, you must
quiet the old woman, she bellows like a bull, the house'll be about your
ears in a twinkling--she'll hang you for this!"

Yes--he must quiet her--the game was up; he threatened, he implored, but
she would shriek on; she slept alone on the ground-floor, and knew she
must roar loudly to be heard above the drawing-rooms; she would not be
quieted--she would shriek--and she did. What must he do? she'll raise
the house!--Stop her mouth, stop her mouth, I say, can't you?--No, she's
a powerful, stout, heavy woman, and he cannot hold her: ha! she has
bitten his finger to the bone, like a very tigress! look at the blood!

"Why can't you touch her throat; no teeth there, bless you! that's the
way the wind comes: bravo! grasp it--tighter! tighter! tighter!"

She struggled, and writhed, and wrestled, and fought--but all was
strangling silence; they rolled about the floor together, tumbled on the
bed, scuffled round the room, but all in horrid silence; neither uttered
a sound, neither had a shoe on--but all was earnest, wicked,
death-dealing silence.

Ha! the desperate victim has the best of it; gripe harder, Jennings; she
has twisted her fingers in your neckcloth, and you yourself are choking:
fool! squeeze the swallow, can't you? try to make your fingers meet in
the middle--lower down, lower down, grasp the gullet, not the ears,
man--that's right; I told you so: tighter, tighter, tighter! again; ha,
ha, ha, bravo! bravo!--tighter, tighter, tighter!

At length the hideous fight was coming to an end--though a hungry
constrictor, battling with the huge rhinoceros, and crushing his mailed
ribs beneath its folds, could not have been so fierce or fearful; fewer
now, and fainter are her struggles; that face is livid blue--the eyes
have started out, and goggle horribly; the tongue protrudes, swollen and
black. Aha! there is another convulsive effort--how strong she is still!
can you hold her, Simon?--can he?--All the fiend possessed him now with
savage exultation: can he?--only look! gripe, gripe still, you are
conquering, strong man! she is getting weaker, weaker; here is your
reward, gold! gold! a mighty store uncounted; one more grasp, and it is
all your own--relent now, she hangs you. Come, make short work of it,
break her neck--gripe harder--back with her, back with here against the
bedstead: keep her down, down I say--she must not rise again. Crack!
went a little something in her neck--did you hear it? There's the
death-rattle, the last smothery complicated gasp--what, didn't you hear
that?

And the devil congratulated Simon on his victory.



CHAPTER XXIX.

THE REWARD.


TILL the wretch had done the deed, he scarcely knew that it was
doing. It was a horrid, mad excitement, where the soul had spread its
wings upon the whirlwind, and heeded not whither it was hurried. A
terrible necessity had seemed to spur him onwards all the while, and
one thing so succeeded to another, that he scarce could stop at any but
the first. From the moment he had hidden in the shower-bath (but for
God's interposing mercy), his doom appeared to have been
sealed--robbery, murder, false witness, and--damnation!

Crime is the rushing rapid, which, but for some kind miracle, inevitably
carries on through circling eddies, and a foamy swinging tide, to the
cataract of death and wo: haste, poor fisherman of Erie, paddle hard
back, stem the torrent, cling to the shore, hold on tight by this
friendly bough; know you not whither the headlong current drives? hear
you not the roar of many waters, the maddening rush as of an ocean
disenthralled? feel you not the earth trembling at the thunder--see you
not the heaven clouded o'er with spray? Helpless wretch--thy frail canoe
has leapt that dizzy water-cliff, Niagara!

But if, in doing that fell deed, madness raged upon the minutes, now
that it was done--all still, all calm, all quiet, Terror held the
hour-glass of Time. There lay the corpse, motionless, though coiled and
cramped in the attitude of struggling agony; and the murderer gazed upon
his victim with a horror most intense. Fly! fly!--he dared not stop to
think: fly! fly! any whither--as you are--wait for nothing; fly! thou
caitiff, for thy life! So he caught up the blood-bought spoils, and was
fumbling with shaky fingers at the handle of the garden-door, when the
unseen tempter whispered in his ear,

"I say, Simon, did not your aunt die of apoplexy?"

O, kind and wise suggestion! O, lightsome, tranquillizing thought!
Thanks! thanks! thanks!--And if the arch fiend had revealed himself in
person at the moment, Simon would have worshipped at his feet.

"But," and as he communed with his own black heart, there needed now no
devil for his prompter--"if this matter is to be believed, I must
contrive a little that it may look likelier. Let me see:--yes, we must
lay all tidy, and the old witch shall have died in her sleep; apoplexy!
capital indeed; no tell-tales either. Well, I must set to work."

Can mortal mind conceive that sickening office?--To face the strangled
corpse, yet warm; to lift the fearful burden in his arms, and order out
the heavily-yielding limbs in the ease of an innocent sleep? To arrange
the bed, smooth down the tumbled coverlid, set every thing straight
about the room, and erase all tokens of that dread encounter? It needed
nerves of iron, a heart all stone, a cool, clear head, a strong arm, a
mindful, self-protecting spirit; but all these requisites came to
Simon's aid upon the instant; frozen up with fear, his heart-strings
worked that puppet-man rigidly as wires; guilt supplied a reckless
energy, a wild physical power, which actuates no human frame but one
saturate with crime, or madness; and in the midst of those terrific
details, the murderer's judgment was so calm and so collected, that
nothing was forgotten, nothing unconsidered--unless, indeed, it were
that he out-generalled himself by making all too tidy to be natural.
Hence, suspicion at the inquest; for the "apoplexy" thought was really
such a good one, that, but for so exact a laying out, the fat old corpse
might have easily been buried without one surmise of the way she met her
end. Again and again, in the history of crimes, it is seen that a "Judas
hangs himself;" and albeit, as we know, the murderer has hitherto
escaped detection, still his own dark hour shall arrive in its due
place.

The dreadful office done, he asked himself again, or maybe took counsel
of the devil (for that evil master always cheats his servants), "What
shall I do with my reward, this crock--these crocks of gold? It might be
easy to hide one of them, but not all; and as to leaving any behind,
that I won't do. About opening them to see which is which--"

"I tell you what," said the tempter, as the clock struck three,
"whatever you do, make haste; by morning's dawn the house and garden
will be searched, no doubt, and the crocks found in your possession.
Listen to me--I'm your friend, bless you! remember the apoplexy. Pike
Island yonder is an unfrequented place; take the punt, hide all there
now, and go at your best leisure to examine afterwards; but whatever you
do, make haste, my man."

Then Jennings crept out by the lawn-door, thereby rousing the house-dog;
but he skirted the laurels in their shadow, and it was dark and
mizzling, so he reached the punt both quickly and easily.

The quiet, and the gloom, and the dropping rain, strangely affected him
now, as he plied his punt-pole; once he could have wept in his remorse,
and another time he almost shrieked in fear. How lonesome it seemed! how
dreadful! and that death-dyed face behind him--ha! woman, away I say!
But he neared the island, and, all shoeless as he was, crept up its
muddy bank.

"Hallo! nybor, who be you a-poaching on my manor, eh? that bean't good
manners, any how."

Ben Burke has told us all the rest.

But, when Burke had got his spoils--when the biter had been bitten--the
robber robbed--the murderer stripped of his murdered victim's
money--when the bereaved miscreant, sullenly returning in the dark,
damp night, tracked again the way he came upon that lonely lake--no one
yet has told us, none can rightly tell, the feelings which oppressed
that God-forsaken man. He seemed to feel himself even a sponge which,
the evil one had bloated with his breath, had soaked it then in blood,
had squeezed it dry again, and flung away! He was Satan's broken tool--a
weed pulled up by the roots, and tossed upon the fire; alone--alone in
all the universe, without countenance or sympathy from God, or man, or
devil; he yearned to find, were it but a fiend to back him, but in vain;
they held aloof, he could see them vaguely through the gloom--he could
hear them mocking him aloud among the patter of the rain-drops--ha! ha!
ha--the pilfered fool!

Bitterly did he rue his crime--fearfully he thought upon its near
discovery--madly did he beat his miserable breast, to find that he had
been baulked of his reward, yet spent his soul to earn it.

Oh--when the house-dog bayed at him returning, how he wished he was that
dog! he went to him, speaking kindly to him, for he envied that
dog--"Good dog--good dog!"

But more than envy kept him lingering there: the wretched man did it for
delay--yes, though morn was breaking on the hills--one more--one more
moment of most precious time.



CHAPTER XXX.

SECOND THOUGHTS.


FOR--again he must go through that room!

No other entrance is open--not a window, not a door: all close as a
prison: and only by the way he went, by the same must he return.

He trembled all over, as a palsied man, when he touched the lock: with
stiffening hair, and staring eyes, he peeped in at that well-remembered
chamber: he entered--and crept close up to the corpse, stealthily and
dreadingly--horror! what if she be alive still?

SHE WAS.

Not quite dead--not quite dead yet! a gurgling in the bruised throat--a
shadowy gleam of light and life in those protruded eyes--an irregular
convulsive heaving at the chest: she might recover! what a fearful
hope: and, if she did, would hang him--ha! he went nearer; she was
muttering something in a moanful way--it was, "Simon did it--Simon did
it--Simon did it--Si--Si--Simon did--" he should be found out!

Yet once again, for the last time, the long-suffering Mercy of the Lord
stood like Balaam's angel in the way, pleading with that miserable man
at the bed-side of her whom he had strangled. And even then, that
Guardian Spirit came not with chiding on his tongue, but He uttered
words of hope, while his eyes were streaming with sorrow and with pity.

"Most wretched of the sinful sons of men, even now there may be mercy
for thee, even now plenteous forgiveness. True, thou must die, and pay
the earthly penalty of crimes like thine: but do my righteous bidding,
and thy soul shall live. Go to that poor, suffocating creature--cherish
the spark of life--bind up the wounds which thou hast rent, pouring in
oil and wine: rouse the house--seek assistance--save her life--confess
thy sin--repent--and though thou diest for this before the tribunal of
thy fellows, God will yet be gracious--he will raise again her whom thou
hadst slain--and will cleanse thy blood-stained soul."

Thus in Simon's ear spake that better conscience.

But the reprobate had cast off Faith; he could not pledge the Present
for the Future; he shuddered at the sword of Justice, and would not
touch the ivory sceptre of Forgiveness. No: he meditated horrid
iteration--and again the fiend possessed him! What! not only lose the
crock of gold, but all his own bright store? and give up every thing of
this world's good for some imaginary other, and meekly confess, and
meanly repent--and--and all this to resuscitate that hated old aunt of
his, who would hang him, and divorce him from his gold?

No! he must do the deed again--see, she is moving--she will recover! her
chest heaves visibly--she breathes--she speaks--she knows me--ha!
down--down, I say!

Then, with deliberate and damning resolution--to screen off temporal
danger, and count his golden hoards a little longer--that awful criminal
touched the throat again: and he turned his head away not to see that
horrid face, clutched the swollen gullet with his icy hands, and
strangled her once more!

"This time all is safe," said Simon. And having set all smooth as
before, he stole up to his own chamber.



CHAPTER XXXI.

MAMMON, AND CONTENTMENT.


AY, safe enough: and the murderer went to bed. To bed? No.

He tumbled about the clothes, to make it seem that he had lain there:
but he dared neither lie down, nor shut his eyes. Then, the darkness
terrified him: the out-door darkness he could have borne, and Mrs.
Quarles's chamber always had a night-lamp burning: but the darkness of
his own room, of his own thoughts, pressed him all around, as with a
thick, murky, suffocating vapour. So, he stood close by the window,
watching the day-break.

As for sleep, never more did wholesome sleep rëvisit that atrocious
mind: laudanum, an ever-increasing dose of merciless laudanum, that was
the only power which ever seemed to soothe him. For a horrid vision
always accompanied him now: go where he might, do what he would, from
that black morning to eternity, he went a haunted man--a scared,
sleepless, horror-stricken wretch. That livid face with goggling eyes,
stuck to him like a shadow; he always felt its presence, and sometimes,
also, could perceive it as if bodily peeping over his shoulder, next his
cheek; it dogged him by day, and was his incubus by night; and often he
would start and wrestle, for the desperate grasp of the dying appeared
to be clutching at his throat: so, in his ghostly fears, and bloody
conscience, he had girded round his neck a piece of thin sheet-iron in
his cravat, which he wore continually as armour against those clammy
fingers: no wonder that he held his head so stiff.

O Gold--accursed Mammon! is this the state of those who love thee
deepest? is this their joy, who desire thee with all their heart and
soul--who serve thee with all their might--who toil for thee--plot for
thee--live for thee--dare for thee--die for thee? Hast thou no better
bliss to give thy martyrs--no choicer comfort for thy most consistent
worshippers, no fairer fate for those, whose waking thoughts, and
dreaming hopes, and intricate schemes, and desperate deeds, were only
aimed at gold, more gold? God of this world, if such be thy rewards, let
me ever escape them! idol of the knave, false deity of the fool, if this
be thy blessing on thy votaries--come, curse me, Mammon, curse thou me!

For, "The love of money is the root of all evil." It groweth up a
little plant of coveting; presently the leaves get rank, the branches
spread, and feed on petty thefts; then in their early season come the
blossoms, black designs, plots, involved and undeveloped yet, of foul
conspiracies, extortions on the weak, rich robbings of the wealthy, the
threatened slander, the rewarded lie, malice, perjury, sacrilege; then
speedily cometh on the climax, the consummate flower, dark-red murder:
and the fruit bearing in itself the seeds that never die, is righteous,
wrathful condemnation.

Dyed with all manner of iniquity, tinged with many colours like the
Mohawk in his woods, goeth forth in a morning the covetous soul. His
cheek is white with envy, his brow black with jealous rage, his livid
lips are full of lust, his thievish hands spotted over with the crimson
drops of murder. "The poison of asps is under his lips; and his feet are
swift to shed blood: destruction and misery are in his ways; and there
is no fear of God before his eyes."

O, ye thousands--the covetous of this world's good--behold at what a
fire ye do warm yourselves! dread it: even now, ye have imagined many
deaths, whereby your gains may be the greater; ye have caught, in
wishful fancy, many a parting sigh; ye have closed, in a heartless
revery, many a glazing eye--yea, of those your very nearest, whom your
hopes have done to death: and are ye guiltless? God and conscience be
your judges!

Even now ye have compassed many frauds, connived at many meannesses,
trodden down the good, and set the bad on high--all for gold--hard gold;
and are ye the honest--the upright? Speak out manfully your excuse, if
you can find one, ye respectables of merchandise, ye traders, bartering
all for cash, ye Scribes, ye Pharisees, hypocrites, all honourable men.

Even now, your dreams are full of money-bags; your cares are how to add
superfluity to wealth; ye fawn upon the rich, ye scorn the poor, ye pine
and toil both night and day for gold, more gold; and are ye happy?
Answer me, ye covetous ones.

Yet are there righteous gains, God's blessing upon labour: yet is there
rightful hope to get those righteous gains. Who can condemn the poor
man's care, though Faith should make his load the lighter? And who will
extenuate the rich man's coveting, whose appetite grows with what it
feeds on? "Having food and raiment, be therewith content;" that is the
golden mean; to that is limited the philosophy of worldliness: the man
must live, by labour and its earnings; but having wherewithal for him
and his temperately, let him tie the mill-stone of anxiety to the wing
of Faith, and speed that burden to his God.

If Wealth come, beware of him, the smooth false friend: there is
treachery in his proffered hand, his tongue is eloquent to tempt, lust
of many harms is lurking in his eye, he hath a hollow heart; use him
cautiously.

If Penury assail, fight against him stoutly, the gaunt grim foe: the
curse of Cain is on his brow, toiling vainly; he creepeth with the worm
by day, to raven with the wolf by night: diseases battle by his side,
and crime followeth his footsteps. Therefore fight against him boldly,
and be of a good courage, for there are many with thee; not alone the
doled alms, the casual aids dropped from compassion, or wrung out by
importunity; these be only temporary helps, and indulgence in them
pampers the improvident; but look thou to a better host of strong
allies, of resolute defenders; turn again to meet thy duties, needy one:
no man ever starved, who even faintly tried to do them. Look to thy God,
O sinner! use reason wisely; cherish honour; shrink not from toil,
though somewhile unrewarded; preserve frank bearing with thy fellows;
and in spite of all thy sins--forgiven; all thy follies--flung away; all
the trickeries of this world--scorned; all competitions--disregarded;
all suspicions--trodden under foot; thou neediest and raggedest of
labourers' labourers--Enough shall be thy portion, ere a week hath
passed away.

Well did Agur-the-Wise counsel Ithiel and Ucal his disciples, when he
uttered in their ears before his God, this prayerful admonition, "Two
things have I required of Thee; deny me them not before I die: remove
far from me vanity and lies; give me neither poverty nor riches: feed me
with food convenient for me. Lest I be full, and deny Thee, saying, Who
is the Lord? or lest I be poor, and steal, and dishonour the name of the
Lord my God."



CHAPTER XXXII.

NEXT MORNING.


DAY dawned apace; and a glorious cavalcade of flaming clouds
heralded the Sun their captain. From far away, round half the wide
horizon, their glittering spears advanced. Heaven's highway rang with
the trampling of their horse-hoofs, and the dust went up from its
jewelled pavement as spray from the bottom of a cataract. Anon, he
came, the chieftain of that on-spurring host! his banner blazed upon the
sky; his golden crest was seen beneath, nodding with its ruddy plumes;
over the south-eastern hills he arose in radiant armour. Fair Nature,
waking at her bridegroom's voice, arrived so early from a distant clime,
smiled upon him sleepily, gladdening him in beauty with her sweet
half-opened eyelids, and kissing him in faithfulness with
dew-besprinkled lips.

And he looked forth upon the world from his high chariot, holding back
the coursers that must mount the steep of noon: and he heard the morning
hymn of thankfulness to Heaven from the mountains, and the valleys, and
the islands of the sea; the prayer of man and woman, the praise of
lisping tongues, the hum of insect joy upon the air, the sheep-bell
tinkling in the distance, the wild bird's carol, and the lowing kine,
the mute minstrelsy of rising dews, and that stilly scarce-heard
universal melody of wakeful plants and trees, hastening to turn their
spring-buds to the light--this was the anthem he, the Lord of Day, now
listened to--this was the song his influences had raised to bless the
God who made him.

And he saw, from his bright throne of wide derivative glory, Hope flying
forth upon her morning missions, visiting the lonesome, comforting the
sorrowful, speaking cheerfully to Care, and singing in the ear of
Labour: and he watched that ever-welcome friend, flitting with the
gleams of light to every home, to every heart; none but gladly let her
in; her tapping finger opened the very prison doors; the heavy head of
Sloth rejoiced to hear her call; and every common Folly, every common
Sin--ay, every common Crime--warmed his unconscious soul before her
winning beauty.

Yet, yet was there one, who cursed that angel's coming; and the holy Eye
of day wept pityingly to see an awful child of man who dared not look on
Hope.

The murderer stood beside his casement, watching that tranquil scene:
with bloodshot eyes and haggard stare, he gazed upon the waking world;
for one strange minute he forgot, entranced by innocence and beauty; but
when the stunning tide of memory, that had ebbed that one strange
minute, rolled back its mighty flood upon his mind, the murderer swooned
away.

And he came to himself again all too soon; for when he arose, building
up his weak, weak limbs, as if he were a column of sand, the cruel
giant, Guilt, lifted up his club, and felled the wretch once more.

How long he lay fainting, he knew not then; if any one had vowed it was
a century, Simon, as he gradually woke, could not have gainsaid the man;
but he only lay four seconds in that white oblivious trance--for Fear,
Fear knocked at his heart:--Up, man, up!--you need have all your wits
about you now;--see, it is broad day--the house will be roused before
you know where you are, and then will be shouted out that awful
name--Simon Jennings! Simon Jennings!



CHAPTER XXXIII.

THE ALARM.


HE arose, held up on either hand that day as if fighting
against Amalek;--despair buttressed him on one side, and secresy shored
him on the other: behind that wall of stone his heart had strength to
beat.

He arose; and listened at the key-hole anxiously: all silent, quiet,
quiet still; the whole house asleep: nothing found out yet. And he bit
his nails to the quick, that they bled again: but he never felt the
pain.

Hush!--yes, somebody's about: it is Jonathan's step; and hark, he is
humming merrily, "Hail, smiling morn, that opes the gates of day?" Wo,
wo--what a dismal gulph between Jonathan and me! And he beat his breast
miserably. But, Jonathan cannot find it out--he never goes to Mrs.
Quarles's room. Oh! this suspense is horrible: haste, haste, some kind
soul, to make the dread discovery! And he tore his hair away by
handfulls.

"Hark!--somebody else--unlatching shutters; it will be Sarah--ha! she is
tapping at the housekeeper's room--yes, yes, and she will make it known,
O terrible joy!--A scream! it is Sarah's voice--she has seen her dead,
dead, dead;--but is she indeed dead?"

The miscreant quivered with new fears; she might still mutter "Simon did
it!"

And now the house is thoroughly astir; running about in all directions;
and shouting for help; and many knocking loudly at the murderer's own
door--"Mr. Jennings! Mr. Jennings!--quick--get up--come down--quick,
quick--your aunt's found dead in her bed!"

What a relief to the trembling wretch!--she _was_ dead. He could have
blessed the voice that told him his dread secret was so safe. But his
parched tongue may never bless again: curses, curses are all its
blessings now.

And Jennings came out calmly from his chamber, a white, stern,
sanctimonious man, lulling the storm with his wise presence:--"God's
will be done," said he; "what can poor weak mortals answer Him?" And he
played cleverly the pious elder, the dignified official, the
affectionate nephew: "Ah, well, my humble friends, behold what life is:
the best of us must come to this; my poor, dear aunt, the late
house-keeper, rest her soul--I feared it might be this way some night or
other: she was a stout woman, was our dear, deceased Bridget--and,
though a good kind soul, lived much on meat and beer: ah well, ah well!"
And he concealed his sentimental hypocrisy in a cotton pocket-handkerchief.

"Alas, and well-a-day! that it should have come to this. Apoplexy--you
see, apoplexy caught her as she slept: we may as well get her buried at
once: it is unfortunately too clear a case for any necessity to open the
body; and our young master is coming down on Tuesday, and I could not
allow my aunt's corpse to be so disrespectful as to stop till it became
offensive. I will go to the vicar myself immediately."

"Begging pardon, Mr. Jennings," urged Jonathan Floyd, "there's a strange
mark here about the throat, poor old 'ooman."

"Ay," added Sarah, "and now I come to think of it, Mrs. Quarles's
room-door was ajar; and bless me, the lawn-door's not locked neither!
Who could have murdered her?"

"Murdered? there's no murder here, silly wench," said Jennings, with a
nervous sneer.

"I don't know that, Mr. Simon," gruffly interposed the coachman; "it's a
case for a coroner, I'll be bail; so here I goes to bring him: let all
bide as it is, fellow-sarvents; murder will out, they say."

And off he set directly--not without a shrewd remark from Mr. Jennings,
about letting him escape that way; which seemed all very sage and
likely, till the honest man came back within the hour, and a _posse
comitatus_ at his heels.

We all know the issue of that inquest.

Now, if any one requests to be informed how Jennings came to be looked
for as usual in his room, after that unavailing search last night, I
reply, this newer, stronger excitement for the minute made the house
oblivious of that mystery; and if people further will persist to know,
how that mystery of his absence was afterwards explained (though I for
my part would gladly have said nothing of the bailiff's own excuse), let
it be enough to hint, that Jennings winked with a knowing and gallant
expression of face; alluded to his private key, and a secret return at
two in the morning from some disreputable society in the neighbourhood;
made the men laugh, and the women blush; and, altogether, as he might
well have other hats and coats, the delicate affair was not unlikely.



CHAPTER XXXIV.

DOUBTS.


AND so, this crock of gold--gained through extortion, by the
frauds of every day, the meannesses of every hour--this concrete
oppression to the hireling in his wages--this mass of petty pilferings
from poverty--this continuous obstruction to the charities of
wealth--this cockatrice's egg--this offspring of iniquity--had already
been baptized in blood before poor Acton found it, and slain its earthly
victim ere it wrecked his faith; already had it been perfected by crime,
and destroyed the murderer's soul, before it had endangered the life of
slandered innocence.

Is there yet more blessing in the crock? more fearful interest still, to
carry on its story to an end? Must another sacrifice bleed before the
shrine of Mammon, and another head lie crushed beneath the heel of that
monster--his disciple?

Come on with me, and see the end; push further still, there is a
labyrinth ahead to attract and to excite; from mind to mind crackles the
electric spark: and when the heart thrillingly conceives, its
children-thoughts are as arrows from the hand of the giant, flying
through that mental world--the hearts of other men. Fervent still from
its hot internal source, this fountain gushes up; no sluggish
Lethe-stream is here, dull, forgetful, and forgotten; but liker to the
burning waves of Phlegethon, mingling at times (though its fire is still
unquenched), with the pastoral rills of Tempe, and the River from the
Mount of God.

Lower the sail--let it flap idly on the wind--helm a-port--and so to
smoother waters: return to common life and humbler thoughts.

It may yet go hard with Roger Acton. Jennings is a man of character,
especially the farther from his home; the county round take him for a
model of propriety, a sample of the strictest conduct. We know the bad
man better; but who dare breathe against the bailiff in his
power--against the caitiff in his sleek hypocrisy--that, while he makes
a show of both humilities, he fears not God nor man? What shall hinder,
that the perjured wretch offer up to the manes of the murdered the
life-blood of the false-accused? May he not live yet many years, heaping
up gold and crime? And may not sweet Grace Acton--her now repentant
father--the kindly Jonathan--his generous master, and if there be any
other of the Hurstley folk we love, may they not all meet destruction at
his hands, as a handful of corn before the reaper's sickle? I say not
that they shall, but that they might. Acton's criminal state of mind,
and his hunger after gold--gold any how--have earned some righteous
retribution, unless Providence in mercy interpose; and young Sir John,
in nowise unblameable himself, with wealth to tempt the spoiler, lives
in the spoiler's very den; and as to Jonathan and Grace, this world has
many martyrs. If Heaven in its wisdom use the wicked as a sword, Heaven
is but just; but if in its vengeance that sword of the wicked is turned
against himself, Heaven showeth mercy all unmerited. To a criminal like
Jennings, let loose upon the world, without the clog of conscience to
retard him, and with the spur of covetousness ever urging on, any thing
in crime is possible--is probable: none can sound those depths: and when
we raise our eyes on high to the Mighty Moral Governor, and note the
clouds of mystery that thunder round his Throne--He may permit, or he
may control; who shall reach those heights?



CHAPTER XXXV.

FEARS.


MOREOVER, innocent of blood, as we know Roger Acton to be,
appearances are strongly against him: and in such a deed as secret,
midnight murder, which none but God can witness, multiplied appearances
justify the world in condemning one who seems so guilty.

The first impression against Roger is a bad one, for all the neighbours
know how strangely his character had been changing for the worse of
late: he is not like the same man; sullen and insubordinate, he was
turned away from work for his bold and free demeanor; as to church,
though he had worn that little path these forty years, all at once he
seems to have entirely forgotten the way hither.

He lives, nobody knows how--on bright, clean gold, nobody knows whence:
his daughter says, indeed, that her father found a crock of gold in his
garden--but she needs not have held her tongue so long, and borne so
many insults, if that were all the truth; and, mark this! even though
she says it, and declares it on her Bible-oath, Acton himself most
strenuously denied all such findings--but went about with impudent tales
of legacy, luck, nobody knows what; the man prevaricated continually,
and got angry when asked about it--cudgelling folks, and swearing
like--like any one but old-time "honest Roger."

Only look, too, where he lives: in a lone cottage opposite Pike Island,
on the other side of which is Hurstley Hall, the scene of robbery and
murder: was not a boat seen that night upon the lake? and was not the
lawn-door open? How strangely stupid in the coroner and jury not to have
imagined this before! how dull it was of every body round not to have
suspected murder rather more strongly, with those finger-marks about the
throat, and not to have opened their eyes a little wider, when the
murderer's cottage was within five hundred yards of that open lawn-door!

Then again--when Mr. Jennings, in his strict and searching way, accused
the culprit, he never saw a man so confused in all his life! and on
repeating the charge before those two constables, they all witnessed his
guilty consternation: experienced men, too, they were, and never saw a
felon if Acton wasn't one; the dogged manner in which he went with them
so quietly was quite sufficient; innocent men don't go to jail in that
sort of way, as if they well deserved it.

But, strongest of all, if any shadow of a doubt remained, the most
fearful proof of Roger's guilt lay in the scrap of shawl--the little
leather bags--and the very identical crock of gold! There it was,
nestled in the thatch within a yard of his head, as he lay in bed at
noon-day guarding it.

One proof, weaker than the weakest of all these banded together, has ere
now sufficed to hang the guilty; and many, many fears have I that this
multitude of seeming facts, conspiring in a focus against Roger Acton,
will be quite enough to overwhelm the innocent. "Nothing lies like a
fact," said Dr. Johnson: and statistics prove it, at least as well as
circumstantial evidence.

The matter was as clear as day-light, and long before the trial came
about, our poor labourer had been hanged outright in the just judgment
of Hurstley-cum-Piggesworth.



CHAPTER XXXVI.

PRISON COMFORTS.


MANY blessings, more than he had skill to count, had visited
poor Acton in his cell. His gentle daughter Grace, sweet minister of
good thoughts--she, like a loving angel, had been God's instrument of
penitence and peace to him. He had come to himself again, in solitude,
by nights, as a man awakened from a feverish dream; and the hallowing
ministrations of her company by day had blest reflective solitude with
sympathy and counsel.

Good-wife Mary, too, had been his comforting and cheering friend.
Immediately the crock of gold had been taken from its ambush in the
thatch, it seemed as if the chill which had frozen up her heart had been
melted by a sudden thaw. Roger Acton was no longer the selfish prodigal,
but the guiltless, persecuted penitent; her care was now to soothe his
griefs, not to scold him for excesses; and indignation at the false and
bloody charge made him appear a martyr in her eyes. As to his accuser,
Jennings, Mary had indeed her own vague fancies and suspicions, but
there being no evidence, nor even likelihood to support them, she did
not dare to breathe a word; she might herself accuse him falsely. Ben,
who alone could have thrown a light upon the matter, had always been
comparatively a stranger at Hurstley; he was no native of the place, and
had no ties there beyond wire and whip-cord: he would appear in that
locality now and then in his eccentric orbit, like a comet, and, soon
departing thence, would take away Tom as his tail; but even when there,
he was mainly a night-prowler, seldom seen by day, and so little versed
in village lore, so rarely mingling with its natives, that neither
Jennings nor Burke knew one another by sight. His fame indeed was known,
but not his person. At present, he and Tom were still fowling in some
distant fens, nobody could tell where; so that Roger's only witness, who
might have accounted for the crock and its finding, was as good as dead
to him; to make Ben's absence more unusually prolonged, and his
rëappearance quite incalculable, he had talked of going with his cargo
of wild ducks "either to London or to Liverpool, he didn't rightly know
which."

Nevertheless, Mary comforted her husband, and more especially herself,
by the hope of his return as a saving witness; though it was always
doubtful how far Burke's numerous peccadilloes against property would
either find him at large, or authorize the poacher in walking straight
before the judges. Still Ben's possible interposition was one source of
hope and cheerful expectation. Then the good wife would leave her babes
at home, safely in a neighbour's charge, and stay and sit many long
hours with poor Roger, taking turns with Grace in talking to him
tenderly, making little of home-troubles past, encouraging him to wear a
stout heart, and filling him with gratitude for all her kindly care.
Thus did she bless, and thus was made a blessing, through the loss and
absence of that crock of gold.

For Roger himself, he had repented; bitterly and deeply, as became his
headlong fall: no sweet luxuries of grief, no soothing sorrow, no
chastened meditative melancholy--such mild penitence as this, he
thought, could be but a soberer sort of joy for virgins, saints, and
martyrs: no--he, bad man, was unworthy of those melting pleasures, and
in sturdy self-revenge he flung them from him, choosing rather to feel
overwhelmed with shame, contrition, and reproaches. A humbled man with a
broken heart within him--such was our labourer, penitent in prison; and
when he contrasted his peaceful, pure, and Christian course those forty
years of poverty, with his blasphemous and infidel career for the one
bad week of wealth, he had no patience with himself--only felt his fall
the greater; and his judgment of his own guilt, with a natural
exaggeration, went the length of saying--I am scarcely less guilty
before God and man, than if, indeed, my hands were red with murder, and
my casual finding had been robbery. He would make no strong appeals to
the bar of justice, as an innocent condemned; not he--not he: innocent,
indeed? his wicked, wicked courses--(an old man, too--gray-headed, with
no young blood in him to excuse, no inexperience to extenuate), these
deserved--did he say hanging? it was a harsher syllable--hell: and the
contrite sinner gladly would have welcomed all the terrors of the
gibbet, in hope to take full vengeance on himself for his wicked thirst
for gold and all its bitter consequences.



CHAPTER XXXVII.

GOOD COUNSEL.


BUT Grace advised him better. "Be humbled as you may before
God, my father, but stand up boldly before man: for in his sight, and by
his law, you are little short of blameless. I would not, dearest father,
speak to you of sins, except for consolation under them; for it ill
becomes a child to see the failings of a parent. But when I know at once
how innocent you are in one sense, and how not quite guiltless in
another, I wish my words may comfort you, if you will hear them, father.
Covetousness, not robbery--excess, not murder--these were your only
sins; and concealment was not wise, neither was a false report
befitting. Money, the idol of millions, was your temptation: its earnest
love, your fault; its possession, your misfortune. Forgive me, father,
if I speak too freely. Good Mr. Evans, who has been so kind to us for
years, (never kinder than since you were in prison,) can speak better
than I may, of sins forgiven, and a Friend to raise the fallen: it is
not for poor Grace to school her dear and honoured father. If you feel
yourself guilty of much evil in the sight of Him before whom the angels
bow in meekness--I need not tell you that your sorrow is most wise, and
well-becoming. But this must not harm your cause with men: though tired
of life, though hopeless in one's self, though bad, and weak, and like
to fall again, we are still God's servants upon earth, bound to guard
the life he gives us. Neither must you lightly allow the guilt of
unrighteous condemnation to fall upon the judge who tries you; nor let
your innocent blood cry to God for vengeance on your native land.
Manfully confront the false accuser, tell openly the truth, plead your
own cause firmly, warmly, wisely:--so, God defend the right!"

And as Grace Acton said these words, in all the fervour of a daughter's
love, with a flushed cheek, parted lips, and her right hand raised to
Him whom she invoked, she looked like an inspired prophetess, or the
fair maid of Orleans leading on to battle.

In an instant afterwards, she humbly added,

"Forgive me any thing I may have said, that seems to chide my father."

"Bless you, bless you, dearest one!" was Roger's sobbing prayer, who
had listened to her wisdom breathlessly. "Ah, daughter," then exclaimed
the humbled, happy man, "I'll try to do all you ask me, Grace; but it is
a hard thing to feel myself so wicked, and to have to speak up boldly
like a Christian man."



CHAPTER XXXVIII.

EXPERIENCE.


THEN, with disjointed sentences, suited to the turmoil of his
thoughts, half in a soliloquy, half as talking to his daughter, Roger
Acton gave his hostile testimony to the worth of wealth.

"Oh, fool, fool that I have been, to set so high a price on gold! To
have hungered and thirsted for it--to have coveted earnestly so bad a
gift--to have longed for Mammon's friendship, which is enmity with God!
What has not money cost me? Happiness:--ay, wasn't it to have given me
happiness? and the little that I had (it was much, Grace, not little,
very much--too much--God be praised for it!) all, all the happiness I
had, gold took away. Look at our dear old home--shattered and scattered,
as now I wish that crock had been. Health, too; were it not for gold,
and all gold gave, I had been sturdy still, and capable; but my nights
maddened with anxieties, my days worried with care, my head feverish
with drink, my heart rent by conscience--ah, my girl, my girl, when I
thought much of poverty and its hardships, of toil, and hunger, and
rheumatics, I little imagined that wealth had heavier cares and pains: I
envied them their wanton life of pleasure at the Hall, and little knew
how hard it was: well are they called hard-livers who drink, and game,
and have nothing to do, except to do wickedness continually.
Religion--can it bide with money, child? I never knew my wicked heart,
till fortune made me rich; not until then did I guess how base, lying,
false, and bad was 'honest Roger;' how sensual, coarse, and brutal, was
that hypocrite 'steady Acton'. Money is a devil, child, or pretty near
akin. Then I complained of toil, too, didn't I?--Ah, what are all the
aches I ever felt--labouring with spade and spud in cold and rain,
hungry belike, and faint withal--what are they all at their worst (and
the worst was very seldom after all), to the gnawing cares, the hideous
fears, the sins--the sins, my girl, that tore your poor old father?
Wasn't it to be an end of troubles, too, this precious crock of gold?
Wo's me, I never knew real trouble till I had it! Look at me, and judge;
what has made me live like a beast, sin like a heathen, and lie down
here like a felon? what has made me curse Ben Burke--kind, hearty,
friendly Ben?--and given my poor good boy an ill-report as having stolen
and slain? all this crock of gold. But O, my Grace, to think that the
crock's curses touched thee, too! didn't it madden me to hear them?
Dear, pure, patient child, my darling, injured daughter, here upon my
knees I pray, forgive that wrong!" And he fell at her feet beseechingly.

"My father," said the noble girl, lifting up his head, and passionately
kissing it; "when they whispered so against me, and Jonathan heard the
wicked things men said, I would have borne it all, all in silence, and
let them all believe me bad, father, if I could have guessed that by
uttering the truth, I should have seen thee here, in a dungeon, treated
as a--murderer! How was I to tell that men could be so base, as to
charge such crimes upon the innocent, when his only fault, or his
misfortune, was to find a crock of gold? Oh! forgive me, too, this
wrong, my father!"

And they wept in each other's arms.



CHAPTER XXXIX.

JONATHAN'S TROTH.


GRACE had been all but an inmate of the prison, ever since her
father had been placed there on suspicion. Early and late, and often in
the day, was the duteous daughter at his cell, for the governor and the
turn-keys favoured her. Who could resist such beauty and affection,
entreating to stay with a father about to stand on trial for his life,
and making every effort to be allowed only to pray with him? Thus did
Grace spend all the week before those dread assizes.

As to her daily maintenance, ever since that bitter morning when the
crock was found, her spiritual fears had obliged her to abstain from
touching so much as one penny of that unblest store; and, seeing that
honest pride would not let her be supported by grudged and common
charity, she had thankfully suffered the wages of her now betrothed
Jonathan to serve as means whereon she lived, and (what cost more than
all her humble wants) whereby she could administer many little comforts
to her father in his prison. When she was not in the cell, Grace was
generally at the Hall, to the scandal of more than one Hurstleyan
gossip; but perhaps they did not know how usually kind Sarah Stack was
of the company, to welcome her with Jonathan, and play propriety. Sarah
was a true friend, one for adversity, and though young herself, and not
ill-looking, did not envy Grace her handsome lover; on the contrary, she
did all to make them happy, and had gone the friendly length of
insisting to find Grace and her family in tea and sugar, while all this
lasted. I like that much in Sarah Stack.

However, the remainder of the virtuous world were not so considerate,
nor so charitable. Many neighbours shunned the poor girl, as if
contaminated by the crimes which Roger had undoubtedly committed: the
more elderly unmarried sisterhood, as we have chronicled already, were
overjoyed at the precious opportunity:--"Here was the pert vixen, whom
all the young fellows so shamelessly followed, turned out, after all, a
murderer's daughter;--they wished her joy of her eyes, and lips, and
curls, and pretty speeches: no good ever came of such naughty ways, that
the men liked so."

Nay, even the tipsy crew at Bacchus's affected to treat her name with
scorn:--"The girl had made much noise about being called a trull, as if
many a better than she wasn't one; and, after all, what was the prudish
wench? a sort of she-butcher; they had no patience with her proud
looks."

As to farmer Floyd, he made a great stir about his boy being about to
marry a felon's daughter; and the affectionate mother, with many
elaborate protestations, had "vowed to Master Jonathan, that she would
rather lay him out with her own hands, and a penny on each eye, than see
a Floyd disgrace himself in that 'ere manner."

And uncles, aunts, and cousins, most disinterestedly exhorted that the
obstinate youth be disinherited--"Ay, Mr. Floyd, I wish your son was a
high-minded man like his father; but there's a difference, Mr. Floyd; I
wish he had your true blue yeoman's honour, and the spirit that becomes
his father's son: if the lad was mine, I'd cut him off with a shilling,
to buy a halter for his drab of a wife. Dang it, Mrs. Floyd, it'll never
do to see so queer a Mrs. Jonathan Junior, a standing in your tidy shoes
beside this kitchen dresser."

These estimable counsels were, I grieve to say, of too flattering a
nature to displease, and of too lucrative a quality not to be
continually repeated; until, really, Jonathan was threatened with
beggary and the paternal malediction, if he would persist in his
disreputable attachment.

Nevertheless, Jonathan clung to the right like a hero.

"Granting poor Acton is the wretch you think--but I do not believe one
word of it--does his crime make his daughter wicked too? No; she is an
angel, a pure and blessed creature, far too good for such a one as I.
And happy is the man that has gained her love; he should not give her up
were she thrice a felon's daughter. My father and mother," Jonathan went
on to say, "never found a fault in her till now. Who was more welcome on
the hill than pretty Grace? who would oftenest come to nurse some sickly
lamb, but gentle Grace? who was wont, from her childhood up, to run home
with me so constantly, when school was over, and pleased my kinsfolk so
entirely with her nice manners and kind ways? Hadn't he fought for her
more than once, and though he came home with bruises on his face, his
mother praised him for it?" Then, with a natural divergence from the
strict subject-matter of objection, vicarious felony, Jonathan went on
to argue about other temporal disadvantages. "Hadn't he heard his father
say, that, if she had but money, she was fit to be a countess? and was
money, then, the only thing, whereof the having, or the not having,
could make her good or bad?--money, the only wealth for soul, and mind,
and body? Are affections nothing, are truth and honour nothing, religion
nothing, good sense nothing, health nothing, beauty nothing--unless
money gild them all? Nonsense!" said Jonathan, indignantly, warmed by
his amatory eloquence; "come weal, come wo, Grace and I go down to the
grave together; for better, if she can be better--for worse, if she
could sin--Grace Acton is my wealth, my treasure, and possession; and
let man do his worst, God himself will bless us!"

So, all this knit their loves: she knew, and he felt, that he was going
in the road of nobleness and honour; and the fiery ordeal which he had
to struggle through, raised that hearty earthly lover more nearly to a
level with his heavenly-minded mistress. Through misfortune and
mistrust, and evil rumours all around, in spite of opposition from false
friends, and the scorn of slanderous foes, he stood by her more
constantly, perchance more faithfully, than if the course of true-love
had been smoother: he was her escort morning and evening to and from the
prison; his strong arm was the dread of babbling fools that spoke a word
of disrespect against the Actons; and his brave tongue was now making
itself heard, in open vindication of the innocent.



CHAPTER XL.

SUSPICIONS.


YES--Jonathan Floyd was beginning to speak out boldly certain
strange suspicions he had entertained of Jennings. It was a courageous,
a rash, a dangerous thing to do: he did not know but what it might have
jeoparded his life, say nothing of his livelihood: but Floyd did it.

Ever since that inquest, contrived to be so quickly and so quietly got
over, he had noticed Simon's hurried starts, his horrid looks, his
altered mien in all he did and said, his new nervous ways at
nightfall--John Page to sleep in Mr. Jennings's chamber, and a
rush-light perpetually--his shudder whenever he had occasion to call at
the housekeeper's room, and his evident shrinking from the frequent
phrase "Mrs. Quarles's murder."

Then again, Jonathan would often lie awake at nights, thinking over
divers matters connected with his own evidence before the coroner, which
he began to see might be of great importance. Jennings said, he had gone
out to still the dog by the front door--didn't he?--"How then, Mr.
Jennings, did you contrive to push back the top bolt? The Hall chairs
had not come then, and you are a little fellow, and you know that nobody
in the house could reach, without a lift, that bolt but me. Besides,
before Sir John came down, the hinges of that door creaked, like a
litter o' kittens screaming, and the lock went so hard for want of use
and oil, that I'll be sworn your gouty chalkstone fingers could never
have turned it: now, I lay half awake for two hours, and heard no creak,
no key turned; but I tell you what I did hear though, and I wish now I
had said it at that scanty, hurried inquest; I heard what I now believe
were distant screams (but I was so sleepy), and a kind of muffled
scuffling ever so long: but I fancied it might be a horse in the stable
kicking among the straw in a hunter's loose box. I can guess what it was
now--cannot you, Mr. Simon?--I say, butler, you must have gone out to
quiet Don--who by the way can't abear the sight of you--through Mrs.
Quarles's room: and, for all your threats, I'm not afeard to tell you
what I think. First answer me this, Mr. Simon Jennings:--where were you
all that night, when we were looking for you?--Oh! you choose to forget,
do you? I can help your memory, Mr. Butler; what do you think of the
shower-bath in Mother Quarles's room?"

As Jonathan, one day at dinner in the servants' hall, took occasion to
direct these queries to the presiding Simon, the man gave such a horrid
start, and exclaimed, "Away, I say!" so strangely, that Jonathan could
doubt no longer--nor, in fact, any other of the household: Jennings gave
them all round a vindictive scowl, left the table, hastened to his own
room, and was seen no more that day.

Speculation now seemed at an end, it had ripened into probability;--but
what evidence was there to support so grave a charge against this rigid
man? Suspicions are not half enough to go upon--especially since Roger
Acton seemed to have had the money. Therefore, though the folks at
Hurstley, Sir John, his guests, and all the house, could not but think
that Mr. Jennings acted very oddly--still, he had always been a strange
creature, an unpopular bailiff; nobody understood him. So, Floyd, to his
own no small danger, stood alone in accusing the man openly.



CHAPTER XLI.

GRACE'S ALTERNATIVE.


VERY shortly after that remarkable speech in the servants'
hall, Jonathan found another reason for believing that Mr. Simon
Jennings was equal to any imaginable amount of human wickedness. That
reason will shortly now appear; but we must first of all dig at its
roots somewhat deeper than Jonathan's mental husbandry could manage.

If any trait of character were wanting to complete the desperate infamy
of Jennings--(really I sometimes hope that his grandfather's madness had
a kind of rëawakening in this accursed man)--it was furnished by a new
and shrewd scheme for feeding to the full his lust of gold. The bailiff
had more than once, as we have hinted, found means to increase his evil
hoard, by having secretly gained power over female innocence and honest
reputation: similarly he now devised a deep-laid plot, nothing short of
diabolical. His plot was this: and I choose to hurry over such foul
treason. Let a touch or two hint its outlines: those who will, may paint
up the picture for themselves. Simon looked at Sir John--young, gay,
wealthy; he coveted his purse, and fancied that the surest bait to catch
that fish was fair Grace Acton: if he could entrap her for his master
(to whom he gave full credit for delighting in the plan), he counted
surely on magnificent rewards. How then to entrap her? Thus:--he,
representing himself as prosecutor of Roger, the accused, held for him,
he averred, the keys of life and death: he would set this idea (whether
true or not little mattered, if it served his purpose) before an
affectionate daughter, who should have it in her power to save her
parent, if, and only if, she would yield herself to Jennings: and he
well knew that, granting she gave herself secretly to him first, on such
a bribe as her father's liberation, he would have no difficulty whatever
in selling her second-hand beauty on his own terms to his master. It was
a foul scheme, and shall not be enlarged upon: but (as will appear) thus
slightly to allude to it was needful to our tale, as well as to the
development of character in Mammon's pattern-slave, and to the fullness
of his due retribution in this world. I may add, that if any thing could
make the plan more heinous--if any shade than blackest can be
blacker--this extra turpitude is seen in the true consideration, that
the promise to Grace of her father's safety would be entirely futile--as
Jennings knew full well; the crown was prosecutor, not he: and
circumstantial evidence alone would be sufficient to condemn. Again, it
really is nothing but bare justice to remark, with reference to Sir
John, that the deep-dyed villain reckoned quite without his host; for
however truly the baronet had oft-times been much less a self-denying
Scipio than a wanton Alcibiades, still the fine young fellow would have
flung Simon piecemeal to his hounds, if ever he had breathed so
atrocious a temptation: the maid was pledged, and Vincent knew it.

Now, it so happened that one evening at dusk, when Grace as usual was
obliged to leave the prison, there was no Jonathan in waiting to
accompany her all the dreary long way home: this was strange, as his
good-hearted master, privately informed of his noble attachment, never
refused the man permission, but winked, for the time, at his frequent
evening absence. Nevertheless, on this occasion, as would happen now and
then, Floyd could not escape from the dining-room; probably because--Mr.
Jennings had secretly gone forth to escort the girl himself.
Accordingly, instead of loved Jonathan, sidled up to her the loathsome
Simon.

Let me not soil these pages by recording, in however guarded phrase, the
grossness of this wretch's propositions; it was a long way to Hurstley,
and the reptile never ceased tormenting her every step of it, till the
village was in sight: twice she ran, and he ran too, keeping up with
her, and pouring into her ear a father's cruel fate and his own
detestable alternative. She never once spoke to him, but kept on praying
in her own pure mind for a just acquittal; not for one moment would she
entertain the wicked thought of "doing evil that good might come;" and
so, with flushed cheek, tingling ears, the mien of an insulted empress,
and the dauntless resolution of a heroine, she hastened on to Hurstley.

Look here! by great good fortune comes Jonathan Floyd to meet her.

"Save me, Jonathan, save me!" and she fainted in his arms.

Now, truth to say, though Sir John knew it, Simon did not, that Grace
was Jonathan's beloved and betrothed; and the cause lay simply in this,
that Jonathan had frankly told his master of it, when he found the
dreadful turn things had taken with poor Roger; but as to Simon, no
mortal in the neighbourhood ever communicated with him, further than as
urged by fell necessity. Of course, the lovers' meetings were as private
as all such matters generally are; and Sarah's aid managed them
admirably. Therefore it now came to pass that Simon and Jonathan looked
on each other in mutual astonishment, and needs must wait until Grace
Acton could explain the "save me." Not but that Jennings seemed much as
if he wished to run away; but he did not know how to manage it.

"Dear Jonathan," she whispered feebly, "save me from Simon Jennings."

In an instant, Jonathan's grasp was tightly involved in the bailiff's
stiff white neckcloth. And Grace, with much maidenly reserve, told her
lover all she dared to utter of that base bartering for her father's
life.

"Come straight along with me, you villain, straight to the master!" And
the sturdy Jonathan, administering all the remainder of the way (a
quarter of a mile of avenue made part of it) innumerable kickings and
cuffings, hauled the half-mummied bailiff into the servants' hall.

"Now then, straight before the master! John Page, be so good as to knock
at the dining-room door, and ask master very respectfully if his honour
will be good enough to suffer me to speak to him."



CHAPTER XLII.

THE DISMISSAL.


IT was after dinner. Sir John and his friends had somehow been
less jovial than usual; they were absolutely dull enough to be talking
politics. So, when the boy of many buttons tapped at the door, and
meekly brought in Jonathan's message, recounting also how he had got Mr.
Jennings in tow for some inexplicable crime, the strangeness of the
affair was a very welcome incident: both host and guests hailed it an
adventure.

"By all means, let Jonathan come in."

The trio were just outside; and when the blue and silver footman,
hauling in by his unrelinquished throat that scared bailiff, and
followed by the blushing village beauty, stood within the room, Sir John
and his half-dozen friends greeted the _tableau_ with united
acclamations.

"I say, Pypp, that's a devilish fine creature," metaphorically remarked
the Honorable Lionel Poynter.

"Yaas." Lord George was a long, sallow, slim young man, with a goatish
beard, like the Duc d'Aumale's; he affected extreme fashion and infinite
_sangfroid_.

"Well, Jonathan, what is it?" asked the baronet.

"Why, in one word, my honoured master, this scoundrel here has been
wickedly insulting my own poor dear Grace, by promising to save her
father from the gallows if--if--"

"If what, man? speak out," said Mr. Poynter.

"You don't mean to say, Jennings, that you are brute enough to be
seducing that poor man Roger's daughter, just as he's going to be tried
for his life?" asked Sir John.

Simon uttered nothing in reply; but Grace burst into tears.

"A fair idea that, 'pon my honour," drawled the chivalrous Pypp,
proceeding to direct his delicate attentions towards the weeping damsel.

"Simon Jennings," said Sir John, after pausing in vain for his reply, "I
have long wished to get rid of you, sir. Silence! I know you, and have
been finding out your rascally proceedings these ten days past. I have
learnt much, more than you may fancy: and now this crowning villany
[what if he had known of the ulterior designs?] gives me fair occasion
to say once and for ever, begone!"

Jennings drew himself up with an air of insufferable impudence, and
quietly answered,

"John Vincent, I am proud to leave your service. I trust I can afford to
live without your help."

There was a general outcry at this speech, and Jonathan collared him
again; but the baronet calmly set all straight by saying,

"Perhaps, sir, you may not be aware that your systematic thievings and
extortions have amply justified me in detaining your iron chest and
other valuables, until I find out how you may have come by them."

This was the _coup de grace_ to Jennings, who looked scared and
terrified:--what! all gone--all, his own beloved hoard, and that
dear-bought crock of gold? Then Sir John added, after one minute of
dignified and indignant silence,

"Begone!--Jonathan put him out; and if you will kick him out of the
hall-door on your private account, I'll forgive you for it."

With that, the liveried Antinous raised the little monster by the small
of the back, drew him struggling from the presence, and lifting him up
like a football, inflicted one enormous kick that sent him spinning down
the whole flight of fifteen marble stairs. This exploit accomplished to
the satisfaction of all parties, Jonathan naturally enough returned to
look for Grace; and his master, with a couple of friends who had run to
the door to witness the catastrophe, returned immediately before him.

"Lord George Pypp, you will oblige me by leaving the young woman alone;"
was Sir John's first angry reproof when he perceived the rustic beauty
radiant with indignation at some mean offence.

"The worthy baronet wa-ants her for himself," drawled Pypp.

"Say that again, my lord, and you shall follow Jennings."

Whilst the noble youth was slowly elaborating a proper answer,
Jonathan's voice was heard once more: he had long looked very white,
kept both hands clenched, and seemed as if, saving his master's
presence, he could, and would have vanquished the whole room of them.

"Master, have I your honour's permission to speak?"

"No, Jonathan, I'll speak for you; if, that is to say, Lord George
will--"

"Paardon me, Sir John Devereux Vincent, your feyllow--and his master,
are not fit company for Lord George Pypp;"--and he leisurely proceeded
to withdraw.

"Stop a minute, Pypp, I've just one remark to make," hurriedly exclaimed
Mr. Lionel Poynter, "if Sir John will suffer me; Vincent, my good
friend, we are wrong--Pypp's wrong, and so am I. First then, let me beg
pardon of a very pretty girl, for making her look prettier by blushes;
next, as the maid really is engaged to you, my fine fellow, it is not
beneath a gentleman to say, I hope that you'll forgive me for too warmly
admiring your taste; as for George's imputation, Vincent--"

"I beyg to observe," enunciated the noble scion, "I'm awf, Poynter."

He gradually drew himself away, and the baronet never saw him more.

"For shame, Pypp!" shouted after him the warm-hearted Siliphant; "I tell
you what it is, Vincent, you must let me give a toast:--'Grace and her
lover!' here, my man, your master allows you to take a glass of wine
with us; help your beauty too."

The toast was drank with high applause: and before Jonathan humbly led
away his pleased and blushing Grace, he took an opportunity of saying,

"If I may be bold enough to speak, kind gentlemen, I wish to thank you:
I oughtn't to be long, for I am nothing but your servant; let it be
enough to say my heart is full. And I'm in hopes it wouldn't be very
wrong in me, kind gentlemen, to propose;--'My noble master--honour and
happiness to him!'"

"Bravo! Jonathan, bravo-o-o-o!" there was a clatter of glasses;--and the
humble pair of lovers retreated under cover of the toast.



CHAPTER XLIII.

SIMON ALONE.


JENNINGS gathered himself up, from that Jew-of-Malta tumble
down the steps, less damaged by the fall than could have been imagined
possible; the fact being that his cat-like nature had stood him in good
stead--he had lighted on his feet; and nothing but a mighty dorsal
bruise bore witness to the prowess of a Jonathan.

But, if his body was comparatively sound, the inner man was bruised all
over: he crept back, and retreated to his room, in as broken and
despondent a frame of mind, as any could have wished to bless him
wherewithal. However, he still had one thing left to live for: his
hoard--that precious hoard within his iron box, and then--the crock of
gold. He took Sir John's threat about detaining, and so forth, as
merely future, and calculated on rendering it nugatory, by decamping
forthwith, chattels and all; but he little expected to find that the
idea had already been acted upon!

On that identical afternoon, when Simon had gone forth to insult Grace
Acton with his villanous proposals, Sir John, on returning from a ride,
had commanded his own seal to be placed on all Mr. Jennings's effects,
and the boxes to be forthwith removed to a place of safety: induced
thereto by innumerable proofs from every quarter that the bailiff had
been cheating him on a most liberal scale, and plundering his tenants
systematically. Therefore, when Jennings hastened to his chamber to
console himself for all things by looking at his gold, and counting out
a bag or two--it was gone, gone, irrevocably gone! safely stored away
for rigid scrutiny in the grated muniment-room of Hurstley. Oh, what a
howl the caitiff gave, when he saw that his treasure had been taken! he
was a wild bull in a net; a crocodile caught upon the hooks; a hyena at
bay. What could he do? which way should he turn? how help himself, or
get his gold again? Unluckily--Oh, confusion, confusion!--his
account-books were along with all his hoard, those tell-tale legers,
wherein he had duly noted down, for his own private and triumphant
glance, the curious difference between his lawful and unlawful gains;
there, was every overcharge recorded, every matter of extortion
systematically ranged, that he might take all the tenants in their turn;
there, were filed the receipts of many honest men, whom the guardians
and Sir John had long believed to be greatly in arrear; there, was
recorded at length the catalogue of dues from tradesmen; there, the list
of bribes for the custom of the Hall. It would amply authorize Sir John
in appropriating the whole store; and Jennings thought of this with
terror. Every thing was now obviously lost, lost! Oh, sickening little
word, all lost! all he had ever lived for--all which had made him live
the life he did--all which made him fear to die. "Fear to die--ha! who
said that? I will not fear to die; yes, there is one escape left, I will
hazard the blind leap; this misery shall have an end--this sleepless,
haunted, cheated, hated wretch shall live no longer--ha! ha! ha! ha!
I'll do it! I'll do it!"

Then did that wretched man strive in vain to kill himself, for his hour
was not yet come. His first idea was laudanum--that only mean of any
thing like rest to him for many weeks; and pouring out all he had, a
little phial, nearly half a wine-glass full, he quickly drank it off: no
use--no use; the agitation of his mind was too intense, and the habit
of a continually increasing dose had made him proof against the poison;
it would not even lull him, but seemed to stretch and rack his nerves,
exciting him to deeds of bloody daring. Should he rush out, like a Malay
running a muck, with a carving-knife in each hand, and kill right and
left:--vengeance! vengeance! on Jonathan Floyd, and John Vincent? No,
no; for some of them at last would overcome him, think him mad, and, O
terror!--his doom for life, without the means of death, would be
solitary confinement. "Stay! with this knife in my hand--means of
death--yes, it shall be so." And he hurriedly drew the knife across his
throat; no use, nothing done; his cowardly skin shrank away from
cutting--he dared not cut again; a little bloody scratch was all.

But the heart, the heart--that should be easier! And the miscreant, not
quite a Cato, gave a feeble stab, that made a little puncture. Not yet,
Simon Jennings; no, not yet; you shall not cheat the gallows. "Ha!
hanging, hanging! why had I not thought of that before?"

He mounted on a chair with a gimlet in his hand, and screwed it tightly
into the wainscotting as high as he could reach; then he took a cord
from the sacking of his bed, secured it to the gimlet, made a noose, put
his head in, kicked the chair away--and swung by his wounded neck; in
vain, all in vain; as he struggled in the agonies of self-protecting
nature, the handle of the gimlet came away, and he fell heavily to the
ground.

"Bless us!" said Sarah to one of the house-maids, as they were arranging
their curl-papers to go to bed: "what can that noise be in Mr.
Jennings's room? his tall chest of drawers has fallen, I shouldn't
wonder: it was always unsafe to my mind. Listen, Jenny, will you?"

Jenny crept out, and, as laudable females sometimes do, listened at
Simon's key-hole.

"Lack-a-daisy, Sall, such a groaning and moaning; p'raps he's a-dying:
put on your cap again, and tell Jonathan to go and see."

Sarah did as she was bid, and Jonathan did as he was bid; and there was
Mr. Jennings on the floor, blue in the face, with a halter round his
neck.

The house was soon informed of the interesting event, and the bailiff
was nursed as tenderly as if he had been a sucking babe; fomentations,
applications, hot potations: but he soon came to again, without any hope
or wish to repeat the dread attempt: he was kept in bed, closely
watched, and Stephen Cramp, together with his rival, Eager, remained
continually in alternate attendance: until a day or two recovered him as
strong as ever. I told you, Simon Jennings, that your time was not yet
come.



CHAPTER XLIV.

THE TRIAL.


THE trial now came on, and Roger Acton stood arraigned of
robbery and murder. I must hasten over lengthy legal technicalities,
which would only serve to swell this volume, without adding one iota to
its interest or usefulness. Nothing could be easier, nothing more worth
while, as a matter of mere book-making, than to tear a few pages out of
some musty record of Criminal Court Practice or other Newgate
Calendar-piece of authorship, and wade wearily through the length and
breadth of indictments, speeches, examinations, and all the other
learned clatter of six hours in the judgment-halls of law. If the reader
wishes for all this, let him pore over those unhealthy-looking books,
whose exterior is dove-coloured as the kirtle of innocence, but their
inwards black as the conscience of guilt; whitened sepulchres, all
spotless without; but within them are enshrined the quibbling knavery,
the distorted ingenuity, the mystifying learnedness, the warped and
warping views of truth, the lying, slandering, bad-excusing,
good-condemning principles and practices of those who cater for their
custom at the guiltiest felon's cell, and would glory in defending
Lucifer himself.

In the case of sheer innocence, indeed, as Roger's was--or in one of
much doubt and secresy, where the client denies all guilt, and the
counsel sees reason to believe him--let the advocate manfully battle out
his cause: but where crime has poured out his confessions in a
counsellor's ear--is not this man bought by gold to be a partaker and
abettor in his sins, when he strives with all his might to clear the
guilty, and not seldom throws the hideous charge on innocence? If the
advocate has no wish to entrap his own conscience, nor to damage the
tissue of his honour, let him reject the client criminal who confesses,
and only plead for those from whom he has had no assurance of their
guilt; or, better far, whose innocence he heartily believes in.

Such an advocate was Mr. Grantly, a barrister of talents and experience,
who, from motives of the purest benevolence, did all that in him lay for
Roger Acton. In one thing, however, and that of no small import, the
kindly cautious man of law had contrived to do more harm than good: for,
after having secretly made every effort, but in vain, to find Ben Burke
as a witness--and after having heard that the aforesaid Ben was a
notorious poacher, and only intimate at Hurstley with Acton and his
family--he strongly recommended Roger to say nothing about the man or
his adventure, as the acknowledgment of such an intimacy would only
damage his cause: all that need appear was, that he found the crock in
his garden, never mind how he "thought" it got there: poachers are not
much in the habit of flinging away pots of gold, and no jury would
believe but that the ill-reputed personage in question was an accomplice
in the murder, and had shared the spoil with his friend Roger Acton. All
this was very shrewd; and well meant; but was not so wise, for all that,
as simple truth would have been: nevertheless, Roger acquiesced in it,
for a better reason than Mr. Grantly's--namely, this: his feelings
toward poor Ben had undergone an amiable revulsion, and, well aware how
the whole neigbourhood were prejudiced against him for his freebooting
propensities, he feared to get his good rough friend into trouble if he
mentioned his nocturnal fishing at Pike island; especially when he
considered that little red Savings' Bank, which, though innocent as to
the getting, was questionable as to the rights of spending, and that,
really, if he involved the professed poacher in this mysterious affair,
he might put his liberty or life into very serious jeopardy. On this
account, then, which Grace could not entirely find fault with (though
she liked nothing that savoured of concealment), Roger Acton agreed to
abide by Mr. Grantly's advice; and thus he never alluded to his
connexion with the poacher.

Enlightened as we are, and intimate with all the hidden secrets of the
story, we may be astonished to hear that, notwithstanding all Mr.
Grantly's ingenuity, and all the siftings of cross-questioners, the case
was clear as light against poor Acton. No _alibi_, he lived upon the
spot. No witnesses to character; for Roger's late excesses had wiped
away all former good report: kind Mr. Evans himself, with tears in his
eyes, acknowledged sadly that Acton had once been a regular church-goer,
a frequent communicant: but had fallen off of late, poor fellow! And
then, in spite of protestations to the contrary, behold! the _corpus
delicti_--that unlucky crock of gold, actually in the man's possession,
and the fragment of shawl--was not that sufficient?

Jonathan Floyd in open court had been base enough to accuse Mr. Jennings
of the murder. Mr. Jennings indeed! a strict man of high character,
lately dismissed, after twenty years' service, in the most arbitrary
manner by young Sir John, who had taken a great liking to the Actons.
People could guess why, when they looked on Grace: and Grace, too, was
sufficient reason to account for Jonathan's wicked suspicions; of
course, it was the lover's interest to throw the charge on other people.
As to Mr. Jennings himself, just recovered from a fit of illness, it was
astonishing how liberally and indulgently he prayed the court to show
the prisoner mercy: his white and placid face looked quite benevolently
at him--and this respectable person was a murderer, eh, Mr. Jonathan?

So, when the judge summed up, and clearly could neither find nor make a
loop-hole for the prisoner, the matter seemed accomplished; all knew
what the verdict must be--poor Roger Acton had not the shadow of a
chance.



CHAPTER XLV.

ROGER'S DEFENCE.


THEN, while the jury were consulting--they would not leave the
box, it seemed so clear--Roger broke the death-like silence; and he
said:

"Judge, I crave your worship's leave to speak: and hearken to me,
countrymen. Many evil things have I done in my time, both against God
and my neighbour: I am ashamed, as well I may be, when I think on 'em: I
have sworn, and drunk, and lied; I have murmured loudly--coveted
wickedly--ay, and once I stole. It was a little theft, I lost it on the
spot, and never stole again: pray God, I never may. Nevertheless,
countrymen, and sinful though I be in the sight of Him who made us,
according to man's judgment and man's innocency, I had lived among you
all blameless, until I found that crock of gold. I did find it,
countrymen, as God is my witness, and, therefore, though a sinner, I
appeal to Him: He knoweth that I found it in the sedge that skirts my
garden, at the end of my own celery trench. I did wickedly and foolishly
to hide my find, worse to deny it, and worst of all to spend it in the
low lewd way I did. But of robbery I am guiltless as you are. And as to
this black charge of murder, till Simon Jennings spoke the word, I never
knew it had been done. Folk of Hurstley, friends and neighbours, you all
know Roger Acton--the old-time honest Roger of these forty years,
before the devil made him mad by giving him much gold--did he ever
maliciously do harm to man or woman, to child or poor dumb brute?--No,
countrymen, I am no murderer. That the seemings are against me, I wot
well; they may excuse your judgment in condemning me to death--and I and
the good gentleman there who took my part (Heaven bless you, sir!)
cannot go against the facts: but they speak falsely, and I truly; Roger
Acton is an innocent man: may God defend the right!"

"Amen!" earnestly whispered a tremulous female voice, "and God will save
you, father."

The court was still as death, except for sobbing; the jury were doubting
and confounded; in vain Mr. Jennings, looking at the foreman, shook his
head and stroked his chin in an incredulous and knowing manner; clearly
they must retire, not at all agreed; and the judge himself, that masqued
man in flowing wig and ermine, but still warmed by human sympathies,
struck a tear from his wrinkled cheek; and all seemed to be
involuntarily waiting (for the jury, though unable to decide, had not
yet left their box), to see whether any sudden miracle would happen to
save a man whom evidence made so guilty, and yet he bore upon his open
brow the genuine signature of Innocence.

"Silence, there, silence! you can't get in; there's no room for'ards!"
But a couple of javelin-men at the door were knocked down right and
left, and through the dense and suffocating crowd, a black-whiskered
fellow, elbowing his way against their faces, spite of all obstruction,
struggled to the front behind the bar. Then, breathless with gigantic
exertion (it was like a mammoth treading down the cedars), he roared
out,

"Judge, swear me, I'm a witness; huzza! it's not too late."

And the irreverent gentleman tossed a fur cap right up to the skylight.



CHAPTER XLVI.

THE WITNESS.


MR. GRANTLY brightened up at once, Grace looked happily to
Heaven, and Roger Acton shouted out,

"Thank God! thank God!--there's Ben Burke!"

Yes, he had heard miles away of his friend's danger about an old shawl
and a honey-pot full of gold, and he had made all speed, with Tom in his
train, to come and bear witness to the innocence of Roger. The sensation
in court, as may be well conceived, was thrilling; but a vociferous
crier, and the deep anxiety to hear this sturdy witness, soon reduced
all again to silence.

Then did they swear Benjamin Burke, who, to the scandal of his cause,
would insist upon stating his profession to be "poacher;" and at first,
poor simple fellow, seemed to have a notion that a sworn witness meant
one who swore continually; but he was soon convinced otherwise, and his
whole demeanour gradually became as polite and deferent as his coarse
nature would allow. And Ben told his adventure on Pike island, as we
have heard him tell it, pretty much in the same words, for the judge and
Mr. Grantly let him take his own courses; and then he added (with a
characteristic expletive, which we may as well omit, seeing it
occasioned a cry of "order" in the court), "There, if that there
white-livered little villain warn't the chap that brought the crocks, my
name an't Ben Burke."

"Good Heavens! Mr. Jennings, what's the matter?" said a briefless one,
starting up: this was Mr. Sharp, a personage on former occasions
distinguished highly as a thieves' advocate, but now, unfortunately, out
of work. "Loosen his cravat, some one there; the gentleman is in fits."

"Oh, Aunt--Aunt Quarles, don't throttle me; I'll tell all--all; let go,
let go!" and the wretched man slowly recovered, as Ben Burke said,

"Ay, my lord, ask him yourself, the little wretch can tell you all about
it."

"I submit, my lurd," interposed the briefless one, "that this
respectable gentleman is taken ill, and that his presence may now be
dispensed with, as a witness in the cause."

"No, sir, no;" deliberately answered Jennings; "I must stay: the time I
find is come; I have not slept for weeks; I am exhausted utterly; I have
lost my gold; I am haunted by her ghost; I can go no where but that face
follows me--I can do nothing but her fingers clutch my throat. It is
time to end this misery. In hope to lay her spirit, I would have offered
up a victim: but--but she will not have him. Mine was the hand that--"

"Pardon me," upstarted Mr. Sharp, "this poor gentleman is a mono-maniac;
pray, my lurd, let him be removed while the trial is proceeding."

"You horse-hair hypocrite, you!" roared Ben, "would you hang the
innocent, and save the guilty?"

Would he? would Mr. Philip Sharp? Ay, that he would; and glad of such a
famous opportunity. What! would not Newgate rejoice, and Horsemonger be
glad? Would not his bag be filled with briefs from the community of
burglars, and his purse be rich in gold subscribed by the brotherhood of
thieves? Great at once would be his name among the purlieus of iniquity:
and every rogue in London would retain but Philip Sharp. Would he? ask
him again.

But Jennings quietly proceeded like a speaking statue.

"I am not mad, most noble--" [the Bible-read villain was from habit
quoting Paul]--"my lord, I mean. My hand did the deed: I throttled her"
(here he gave a scared look over his shoulder): "yes--I did it once and
again: I took the crock of gold. You may hang me now, Aunt Quarles."

"My lurd, my lurd, this is a most irregular proceeding," urged Mr.
Sharp; "on the part of the prisoner--I, I crave pardon--on behalf of
this most respectable and deluded gentleman, Mr. Simon Jennings, I
contend that no one may criminate himself in this way, without the
shadow of evidence to support such suicidal testimony. Really, my
lurd--"

"Oh, sir, but my father may go free?" earnestly asked Grace. But Ben
Burke's voice--I had almost written woice--overwhelmed them all:

"Let me speak, judge, an't it please your honour, and take you notice,
Master Horsehair. You wan't ewidence, do you, beyond the man's
confession: here, I'll give it you. Look at this here wice:" and he
stretched forth his well-known huge and horny hand:

"When I caught that dridful little reptil by the arm, he wriggled like a
sniggled eel, so I was forced you see, to grasp him something tighter,
and could feel his little arm-bones crack like any chicken's: now then,
if his left elbow an't black and blue, though it's a month a-gone and
more, I'll eat it. Strip him and see."

No need to struggle with the man, or tear his coat off. Jennings
appeared only too glad to find that there was other evidence than his
own foul tongue, and that he might be hung at last without sacking-rope
or gimlet; so, he quietly bared his arm, and the elbow looked all manner
of colours--a mass of old bruises.



CHAPTER XLVII.

MR. SHARP'S ADVOCACY.


THE whole court trembled with excitement: it was deep, still
silence; and the judge said,

"Prisoner at the bar, there is now no evidence against you: gentlemen of
the jury, of course you will acquit him."

The foreman: "All agreed, my lord, not guilty."

"Roger Acton," said the judge, "to God alone you owe this marvellous,
almost miraculous, interposition: you have had many wrongs innocently to
endure, and I trust that the right feelings of society will requite you
for them in this world, as, if you serve Him, God will in the next. You
are honourably acquitted, and may leave this bar."

In vain the crier shouted, in vain the javelin-men helped the crier, the
court was in a tumult of joy; Grace sprang to her father's neck, and Sir
John Vincent, who had been in attendance sitting near the judge all the
trial through, came down to him, and shook his hand warmly.

Roger's eyes ran over, and he could only utter,

"Thank God! thank God! He does better for me than I deserved." But the
court was hushed at last: the jury rësworn; certain legal forms and
technicalities speedily attended to, as counts of indictment, and so
forth: and the judge then quietly said,

"Simon Jennings, stand at that bar."

He stood there like an image.

"My lurd, I claim to be prisoner's counsel."

"Mr. Sharp--the prisoner shall have proper assistance by all means; but
I do not see how it will help your case, if you cannot get your client
to plead not guilty."

While Mr. Philip Sharp converses earnestly with the criminal in
confidential whispers, I will entertain the sagacious reader with a few
admirable lines I have just cut out of a newspaper: they are headed

  "SUPPRESSION OF TRUTH AND EXCLUSION OF EVIDENCE.

"Lawyers abhor any short cut to the truth. The pursuit is the thing for
their pleasure and profit, and all their rules are framed for making the
most of it.

"Crime is to them precisely what the fox is to the sportsman: and the
object is not to pounce on it, and capture it at once, but to have a
good run for it, and to exhibit skill and address in the chase. Whether
the culprit or the fox escape or not, is a matter of indifference, the
run being the main thing.

"The punishment of crime is as foreign to the object of lawyers, as the
extirpation of the fox is to that of sportsmen. The sportsman, because
he hunts the fox, sees in the summary destruction of the fox by the hand
of a clown, an offence foul, strange, and unnatural, little short of
murder. The lawyer treats crime in the same way: his business is the
chase of it; but, that it may exist for the chase, he lays down rules
protecting it against surprises and capture by any methods but those of
the forensic field.

"One good turn deserves another, and as the lawyer owes his business to
crime, he naturally makes it his business to favour and spare it as much
as possible. To seize and destroy it wherever it can be got at, seems to
him as barbarous as shooting a bird sitting, or a hare in her form, does
to the sportsman. The phrase, to give _law_, for the allowance of a
start, or any chance of escape, expresses the methods of lawyers in the
pursuit of crime, and has doubtless been derived from their practice.

"Confession is the thing most hateful to law, for this stops its sport
at the outset. It is the surrender of the fox to the hounds. 'We don't
want your stinking body,' says the lawyer; 'we want the run after the
scent. Away with you, be off; retract your admission, take the benefit
of telling a lie, give us employment, and let us take our chance of
hunting out, in our roundabout ways, the truth, which we will not take
when it lies before us.'"

       *       *       *       *       *

As I perceive that Mr. Sharp has not yet made much impression upon the
desponding prisoner, suffer me to recommend to your notice another
sensible leader: the abuse which it would combat calls loudly for
amendment. There is plenty of time to spare, for some preliminaries of
trial have yet to be arranged, and the judge has just stepped out to get
a sandwich, and every body stands at ease; moreover, gentle reader, the
paragraphs following are well worthy of your attention. Let us name
them,

  "MORBID SYMPATHIES.

"We have often thought that the tenderness shown by our law to presumed
criminals is as injurious as it is inconsistent and excessive. A
miserable beggar, a petty rioter, the wretch who steals a loaf to
satisfy the gnawings of his hunger, is roughly seized, closely examined,
and severely punished; meanwhile, the plain common sense of our mobs, if
not of our magistracy, has pitied the offender, and perhaps acquitted
him. But let some apparent murderer be caught, almost in the flagrant
deed of his atrocity; let him, to the best of all human belief, have
killed, disembowelled, and dismembered; let him have united the coolness
of consummate craft to the boldest daring of iniquity, and straightway
(though the generous crowd may hoot and hunt the wretch with yelling
execration) he finds in law and lawyers, refuge, defenders, and
apologists. Tenderly and considerately is he cautioned on no account to
criminate himself: he is exhorted, even by judges, to withdraw the
honest and truthful plea of 'guilty,' now the only amends which such a
one can make to the outraged laws of God and man: he is defended, even
to the desperate length of malignant accusation of the innocent, by
learned men, whose aim it is to pervert justice and screen the guilty!
he is lodged and tended with more circumstances of outward comfort and
consideration than he probably has ever experienced in all his life
before; and if, notwithstanding the ingenuity of his advocates, and the
merciful glosses of his judge, a simple-minded British jury capitally
convict him, and he is handed over to the executioner, he still finds
pious gentlemen ready to weep over him in his cell, and titled dames to
send him white camellias, to wear upon his heart when he is hanging.[A]

"Now what is the necessary consequence of this, but a mighty, a
fearfully influential premium on crime? And what is its radical cause,
but the absurd indulgence wherewith our law greets the favoured,
_because_ the atrocious criminal? Upon what principle of propriety, or
of natural justice, should a seeming murderer not be--we will not say
sternly, but even kindly--catechised, and for his very soul's sake
counselled to confess his guilt? Why should the _morale_ of evidence be
so thoroughly lost sight of, and a malefactor, who is ready to
acknowledge crime, or unable, when questioned, to conceal it, on no
account be listened to, lest he may do his precious life irreparable
harm? It is not agonized repentance, or incidental disclosure, that
makes the culprit his own executioner, but his crime that has preceded;
it is not the weak, avowing tongue, but the bold and bloody hand.

"We are unwilling to allude specifically to the name of any recent
malefactor in connexion with these plain remarks; for, in the absence
alike of hindered voluntary confession and of incomplete legal evidence,
we would not prejudge, that is, prejudice a case. But we do desire to
exclaim against any further exhibition of that morbid tenderness
wherewith all persons are sure to be treated, if only they are accused
of enormities more than usually disgusting; and we specially protest
against that foolish, however ancient, rule in our criminal law, which
discourages and rejects the slenderest approach to a confession, while
it has sacrificed many an innocent victim to the uncertainty of
evidence, supported by nothing more safe than outward circumstantials."

At length, and after much gesticulation and protestation, Mr. Sharp has
succeeded; he had apparently innoculated the miserable man with hopes;
for the miscreant now said firmly, "I plead not guilty."

       *       *       *       *       *

The briefless one looked happy--nay, triumphant: Jennings was a wealthy
man, all knew; and, any how, he should bag a bouncing fee. How far such
money was likely to do him any good, he never stopped to ask. "Money is
money," said Philip Sharp and the Emperor Vespasian.

We need not trouble ourselves to print Mr. Sharp's very flashy, flippant
speech. Suffice it to say, that, not content with asserting vehemently
on his conscience as a Christian, on his honour as a man, that Simon
Jennings was an innocent, maligned, persecuted individual; labouring,
perhaps, under mono-mania, but pure and gentle as the babe new-born--not
satisfied with traducing honest Ben Burke as a most suspicious witness,
probably a murderer--ay, _the_ murderer himself, a mere riotous ruffian
[Ben here chucked his cap at him, and thereby countenanced the charge],
a mere scoundrel, not to say scamp, whom no one should believe upon his
oath; he again, with all the semblance of sincerity, accused, however
vainly, Roger Acton: and lastly, to the disgust and astonishment of the
whole court, added, with all acted appearances of fervent zeal for
justice, "And I charge his pious daughter, too, that far too pretty
piece of goods, Grace Acton, with being accessory to this atrocious
crime after the fact!"

There was a storm of shames and hisses; but the judge allayed it,
quietly saying,

"Mr. Sharp, be so good as to confine your attention to your client; he
appears to be quite worthy of you."

Then Mr. Sharp, like the firm just man immortalized by Flaccus, stood
stout against the visage of the judge, sneered at the wrath of citizens
commanding things unjust, turned to Ben Burke minaciously, calling him
"_Dux inquieti turbidus Adriæ_" [as Burke had heard this quotation, he
thought it was about the "ducks" he had been decoying], and altogether
seemed not about to be put down, though the huge globe crack about his
ears. After this, he calmly worded on, seeming to regard the judge's
stinging observation with the same sort of indifference as the lion
would a dew-drop on his mane; and having poured out all manner of
voluminous bombast, he gradually ran down, and came to a conclusion;
then, jumping up refreshed, like the bounding of a tennis-ball, he
proceeded to call witnesses; and, judging from what happened at the
inquest, as well as because he wished to overwhelm a suspected and
suspecting witness, he pounced, somewhat infelicitously, on Jonathan
Floyd.

"So, my fine young fellow, you are a footman, eh, at Hurstley?"

"Yes, sir, an' it please you--or rather, an' it please my master."

"You remember what happened on the night of the late Mrs. Quarles's
decease?"

"Oh, many things happened; Mr. Jennings was lost, he wasn't to be found,
he was hid somewhere, nobody saw him till next morning."

"Stop, sirrah! not quite so quick, if you please; you are on your oath,
be careful what you say. I have it in evidence, sirrah, before the
coroner;" and he looked triumphantly about him at this clencher to all
Jonathan's testimony; "that you saw him yourself that night speaking to
the dog; what do you mean by swearing that nobody saw him till next
morning?"

"Well, mister, I mean this; whether or no poor old Mrs. Quarles saw her
affectionate nephew that night before the clock struck twelve, there's
none alive to tell; but no one else did--for Sarah and I sat up for him
till past midnight. He was hidden away somewhere, snug enough; and as I
verily believe, in the poor old 'ooman's own--"

"Silence, silence! sir, I say; we want none of your impertinent guesses
here, if you please: to the point, sirrah, to the point; you swore
before the coroner, that you had seen Mr. Jennings, in his courage and
his kindness, quieting the dog that very night, and now--"

"Oh," interrupted Jonathan in his turn, "for the matter of that, when I
saw him with the dog, it was hard upon five in the morning. And here,
gentlemen," added Floyd, with a promiscuous and comprehensive bow all
round, "if I may speak my mind about the business--"

"Go down, sir!" said Mr. Sharp, who began to be afraid of truths.

"Pardon me, this may be of importance," remarked Roger Acton's friend;
"say what you have to say, young man."

"Well, then, gentlemen and my lord, I mean to say thus much. Jennings
there, the prisoner (and I'm glad to see him standing at the bar), swore
at the inquest that he went to quiet Don, going round through the front
door; now, none could get through that door without my hearing of him;
and certainly a little puny Simon like him could never do so without I
came to help him; for the lock was stiff with rust, and the bolt out of
his reach."

"Stop, young man; my respected client, Mr. Jennings, got upon a chair."

"Indeed, sir? then he must ha' created the chair for that special
purpose: there wasn't one in the hall then; no, nor for two days after,
when they came down bran-new from Dowbiggins in London, with the rest o'
the added furnitur' just before my honoured master."

This was conclusive, certainly; and Floyd proceeded.

"Now, gentlemen and my lord, if Jennings did not go that way, nor the
kitchen-way neither--for he always was too proud for scullery-door and
kitchen--and if he did not give himself the trouble to unfasten the
dining-room or study windows, or to unscrew the iron bars of his own
pantry, none of which is likely, gentlemen--there was but one other way
out, and that way was through Bridget Quarles's own room. Now--"

"Ah--that room, that bed, that corpse, that crock!--It is no use, no
use," the wretched miscreant added slowly, after his first hurried
exclamations; "I did the deed, I did it! guilty, guilty." And,
notwithstanding all Mr. Sharp's benevolent interferences, and appeals to
judge and jury on the score of mono-mania, and shruggings-up of
shoulders at his client's folly, and virtuous indignation at the evident
leaning of the court--the murderer detailed what he had done. He spoke
quietly and firmly, in his usually stern and tyrannical style, as if
severe upon himself, for being what?--a man of blood, a thief, a
perjured false accuser? No, no; lower in the scale of Mammon's judgment,
worse in the estimate of him whose god is gold; he was now a pauper, a
mere moneyless forked animal; a beggared, emptied, worthless, penniless
creature: therefore was he stern against his ill-starred soul, and took
vengeance on himself for being poor.

It was a consistent feeling, and common with the mercantile of this
world; to whom the accidents of fortune are every thing, and the
qualities of mind nothing; whose affections ebb and flow towards
friends, relations--yea, their own flesh and blood, with the varying
tide of wealth: whom a luckless speculation in cotton makes an enemy,
and gambling gains in corn restore a friend; men who fall down mentally
before the golden calf, and offer up their souls to Nebuchadnezzar's
idol: men who never saw harm nor shame in the craftiest usurer or
meanest pimp, provided he has thousands in the three per cents.; and
whose indulgent notions of iniquity reach their climax in the
phrase--the man is poor.

So then, with unhallowed self-revenge, Simon rigidly detailed his
crimes: he led the whole court step by step, as I have led the reader,
through the length and breadth of that terrible night: of the facts he
concealed nothing, and the crowded hall of judgment shuddered as one
man, when he came to his awful disclosure, hitherto unsuspected,
unimagined, of that second strangulation: as to feelings, he might as
well have been a galvanized mummy, an automaton lay-figure enunciating
all with bellows and clapper, for any sense he seemed to have of shame,
or fear, or pity; he admitted his lie about the door, complimented Burke
on the accuracy of his evidence, and declared Roger Acton not merely
innocent, but ignorant of the murder.

This done, without any start or trepidation in his manner as formerly,
he turned his head over his left shoulder, and said, in a deep whisper,
heard all over the court, "And now, Aunt Quarles, I am coming; look out,
woman, I will have my revenge for all your hauntings: again shall we
wrestle, again shall we battle, again shall I throttle you, again,
again!"

O, most fearful thought! who knoweth but it may be true? that spirits of
wickedness and enmity may execute each other's punishment, as those of
righteousness and love minister each other's happiness! that--damned
among the damned--the spirit of a Nero may still delight in torturing,
and that those who in this world were mutual workers of iniquity, may
find themselves in the next, sworn retributors of wrath? No idle threat
was that of the demoniac Simon, and possibly with no vain fears did the
ghost of the murdered speed away.

When the sensation of horror, which for a minute delayed the
court-business, and has given us occasion to think that fearful thought,
when this had gradually subsided, the foreman of the jury, turning to
the judge, said,

"My lord, we will not trouble your lordship to sum up; we are all
agreed--Guilty."

One word about Mr. Sharp: he was entirely chagrined; his fortunes were
at stake; he questioned whether any one in Newgate would think of him
again. To make matters worse, when he whispered for a fee to Mr.
Jennings (for he did whisper, however contrary to professional
etiquette), that worthy gentleman replied by a significant sneer, to the
effect that he had not a penny to give him, and would not if he had:
whereupon Mr. Sharp began to coincide with the rest of the world in
regarding so impoverished a murderer as an atrocious criminal; then,
turning from his client with contempt, he went to the length of
congratulating Roger on his escape, and actually offered his hand to Ben
Burke. The poacher's reply was characteristic: "As you means it kindly,
Master Horsehair, I won't take it for an insult: howsomdever, either
your hand or mine, I won't say which, is too dirty for shaking. Let me
do you a good turn, Master: there's a blue-bottle on your wig; I think
as it's Beelzebub a-whispering in your ear: allow me to drive him away."
And the poacher dealt him such a cuff that this barrister reeled again;
and instantly afterwards took advantage of the cloud of hair-powder to
leave the court unseen.



CHAPTER XLVIII.

SENTENCE AND DEATH.


SILENCE, silence! shouted the indignant crier, and the
episodical cause of Burke, _v._ Sharp, was speedily hushed.

The eyes of all now concentred on the miserable criminal; for the time,
every thing else seemed forgotten. Roger, Grace, and Ben, grouped
together in the midst of many friends, who had crowded round them to
congratulate, leaned forward like the rest of that dense hall, as simply
thralled spectators. Mr. Grantly lifted up a pair of very moistened eyes
behind his spectacles, and looked earnestly on, with his wig, from
agitation, wriggled tails in front. The judge (it was good old Baron
Parker) put on the black cap to pronounce sentence. There was a pause.

But we have forgotten Simon Jennings--what was he about? did that
"cynosure of neighbouring eyes" appear alarmed at his position, anxious
at his fate, or even attentive to what was going on? No: he not only
appeared, but was, the most unconcerned individual in the whole court:
he even tried to elude utter vacancy of thought by amusing himself with
external things about him: and, on Wordsworth's principle of inducing
sleep by counting

  "A flock of sheep, that leisurely pass by,
  One after one,"

he was trying to reckon, for pleasant peace of mind's sake, how many
folks were looking at him. Only see--he is turning his white stareful
face in every direction, and his lips are going a thousand and
forty-one, a thousand and forty-two, a thousand and forty-three; he will
not hurry it over, by leaving out the "thousand:" alas! this holiday of
idiotic occupation is all the respite now his soul can know.

And the judge broke that awful silence, saying,

"Prisoner at the bar, you are convicted on your own confession, as well
as upon other evidence, of crimes too horrible to speak of. The
deliberate repetition of that fearful murder, classes you among the
worst of wretches whom it has been my duty to condemn: and when to this
is added your perjured accusation of an innocent man, whom nothing but a
miracle has rescued, your guilt becomes appalling--too hideous for human
contemplation. Miserable man, prepare for death, and after that the
judgment; yet, even for you, if you repent, there may be pardon; it is
my privilege to tell even you, that life and hope are never to be
separated, so long as God is merciful, or man may be contrite. The
Sacrifice of Him who died for us all, for you, poor fellow-creature
[here the good judge wept for a minute like a child]--for you, no less
than for me, is available even to the chief of sinners. It is my duty
and my comfort to direct your blood-stained, but immortal soul, eagerly
to fly to that only refuge from eternal misery. As to this world, your
career of wickedness is at an end: covetousness has conceived and
generated murder; and murder has even over-stept its common bounds, to
repeat the terrible crime, and then to throw its guilt upon the
innocent. Entertain no hope whatever of a respite; mercy in your case
would be sin.

"The sentence of the court is, that you, Simon Jennings, be taken from
that bar to the county jail, and thence on this day fortnight to be
conveyed to the place of execution within the prison, and there by the
hands of the common hangman be hanged by the neck--"

At the word "neck," in the slow and solemn enunciation of the judge,
issued a terrific scream from the mouth of Simon Jennings: was he mad
after all--mad indeed? or was he being strangled by some unseen
executioner? Look at him, convulsively doing battle with an invisible
foe! his eyes start; his face gets bluer and bluer; his hands, fixed
like griffin's talons, clutch at vacancy--he wrestles--struggles--falls.

All was now confusion: even the grave judge, who had necessarily stopped
at that frightful interruption, leaned eagerly over his desk, while
barristers and serjeants learned in the law crowded round the prisoner:
"He is dying! air, there--air! a glass of water, some one!"

About a thimbleful of water, after fifty spillings, arrived safely in a
tumbler; but as for air, no one in that court had breathed any thing but
nitrogen for four hours.

He was dying: and three several doctors, hoisted over the heads of an
admiring multitude, rushed to his relief with thirsty lancets:
apoplexy--oh, of course, apoplexy: and they nodded to each other
confidentially.

Yes, he was dying: they might not move him now: he must die in his sins,
at that dread season, upon that dread spot. Perjury, robbery, and
murder--all had fastened on his soul, and were feeding there like
harpies at a Strophadian feast, or vultures ravening on the liver of
Prometheus. Guilt, vengeance, death had got hold of him, and rent him,
as wild horses tearing him asunder different ways; he lay there
gurgling, strangling, gasping, panting: none could help him, none could
give him ease; he was going on the dark, dull path in the bottom of that
awful valley, where Death's cold shadow overclouds it like a canopy; he
was sinking in that deep black water, that must some day drown us
all--pray Heaven, with hope to cheer us then, and comfort in the fierce
extremity! His eye filmed, his lower jaw relaxed, his head dropped
back--he was dying--dying--dying--

On a sudden, he rallied! his blood had rushed back again from head to
heart, and all the doctors were deceived--again he battled, and fought,
and wrestled, and flung them from him; again he howled, and his eyes
glared lightning--mad? Yes, mad--stark mad! quick--quick--we cannot hold
him: save yourselves there!

But he only broke away from them to stand up free--then he gave one
scream, leaped high into the air, and fell down dead in the dock, with a
crimson stream of blood issuing from his mouth.



CHAPTER XLIX.

RIGHTEOUS MAMMON.


THUS the crock of gold had gained another victim. Is the curse of its
accumulation still unsatisfied? Must more misery be born of that
unhallowed store? Shall the poor man's wrongs, and his little ones' cry
for bread, and the widows' vain appeal for indulgence in necessity, and
the debtor's useless hope for time--more time--and the master's misused
bounty, and the murmuring dependants' ever-extorted dues--must the
frauds, falsehoods, meannesses, and hardnesses of half a century long,
concentrate in that small crock--must these plead still for bloody
judgments from on high against all who touch that gold?

No! the miasma is dispelled: the curse is gone: the crimes are expiated.
The devil in that jar is dispossessed, and with Simon's last gasp has
returned unto his own place. The murderer is dead, and has thereby laid
the ghost of his mate in sin, the murdered victim; while that victim has
long ago paid by blood for her many years of mean domestic pilfering.

And now I see a better angel hovering round the crock: it is purified,
sanctified, accepted. It is become a talent from the Lord, instead of a
temptation from the devil; and the same coin, which once has been but
dull, unrighteous mammon, through justice, thankfulness, and piety,
shineth as the shekel of the temple. Gratefully, as from God, the
rightful owner now may take the gift.

For, gold is a creature of God, representing many excellencies: the
sweat of honest Industry distils to gold; the hot-spring of Genius
congeals to gold; the blessing upon Faithfulness is often showered in
gold; and Charities not seldom are guerdoned back with gold. Let no man
affect to despise what Providence hath set so high in power. None do so
but the man who has it not, and who knows that he covets it in vain.
Sour grapes--sour grapes--for he may not touch the vintage. This is not
the verdict of the wise; the temptation he may fear, the cares he may
confess, the misuse he may condemn: yet will he acknowledge that,
received at God's hand, and spent in his service, there is scarce a
creature in this nether world of higher name than Money.

Beauty fadeth; Health dieth; Talents--yea, and Graces--go to bloom in
other spheres--but when Benevolence would bless, and bless for ages,
his blessing is vain, but for money--when Wisdom would teach, and teach
for ages, the teacher must be fed, and the school built, and the scholar
helped upon his way by money--righteous money. There is a righteous
money as there is unrighteous mammon; but both have their ministrations
here limited to earth and time; the one, a fruit of heaven--the other, a
fungus from below: yet the fruit will bring no blessing, if the Grower
be forgotten; neither shall the fungus yield a poison, if warmed awhile
beneath the better sun. Like all other gifts, given to us sweet, but
spoilt in the using, gold may turn to good or ill: Health may kick, like
fat Jeshurun in his wantonness; Power may change from beneficence to
tyranny; Learning may grow critical in motes until it overlooks the
sunbeam; Love may be degraded to an instinct; Zaccheus may turn
Pharisee; Religion may cant into the hypocrite, or dogmatize to
theologic hate. Even so it is with money: its power of doing good has no
other equivalent in this world than its power of doing evil: it is like
fire--used for hospitable warmth, or wide-wasting ravages; like air--the
gentle zephyr, or the destroying hurricane. Nevertheless, all is for
this world--this world only; a matter extraneous to the spirit, always
foreign, often-times adversary: let a man beware of lading himself with
that thick clay.

I see a cygnet on the broad Pactolus, stemming the waters with its downy
breast; and anon, it would rise upon the wing, and soar to other skies;
so, taking down that snow-white sail, it seeks for a moment to rest its
foot on shore, and thence take flight: alas, poor bird! thou art sinking
in those golden sands, the heavy morsels clog thy flapping wing--in
vain--in vain thou triest to rise--Pactolus chains thee down.

Even such is wealth unto the wisest; wealth at its purest source,
exponent of labour and of mind. But, to the frequent fool, heaped with
foulest dross--for the cygnet of Pactolus and those golden sands,
read--the hippopotamus wallowing in the Niger, and smothered in a bay of
mud.



CHAPTER L.

THE CROCK A BLESSING.


THERE was no will found: it is likely Mrs. Quarles had never made one;
she feared death too much, and all that put her in mind of it. So the
next of kin, the only one to have the crock of gold, was Susan Scott, a
good, honest, hard-working woman, whom Jennings, by many arts, had kept
away from Hurstley: her husband, a poor thatcher, sadly out of work
except in ricking time, and crippled in both legs by having fallen from
a hay-stack: and as to the family, it was already as long a flight of
steps as would reach to an ordinary first floor, with a prospect (so the
gossips said) of more in the distance. Susan was a Wesleyan
Methodist--many may think, more the pity: but she neither disliked
church, nor called it steeple-house: only, forasmuch as Hagglesfield was
blessed with a sporting parson, the chief reminders of whose presence in
the parish were strifes perpetual about dues and tithes, it is little
blame or wonder, if the starving sheep went anywhither else for
pasturage and water. So, then, Susan was a good mother, a kind
neighbour, a religious, humble-minded Christian: is it not a comfort now
to know that the gold was poured into her lap, and that she hallowed her
good luck by prayers and praises?

I judge it worth while stepping over to Hagglesfield for a couple of
minutes, to find out how she used that gold, and made the crock a
blessing. Susan first thought of her debts: so, to every village shop
around, I fear they were not a few, which had kindly given her credit,
some for weeks, some for months, and more than one for a year, the happy
house-wife went to pay in full; and not this only, but with many
thanks, to press a little present upon each, for well-timed help in her
adversity.

The next thought was near akin to it: to take out of pawn divers valued
articles, two or three of which had been her mother's; for Reuben's
lameness, poor man, kept him much out of work, and the childer came so
quick, and ate so fast, and wore out such a sight of shoes, that, but
for an occasional appeal to Mrs. Quarles--it was her one fair feature
this--they must long ago have been upon the parish: now, however, all
the ancestral articles were redeemed, and honour no doubt with them.

Thirdly, Susan went to her minister in best bib and tucker, and humbly
begged leave to give a guinea to the school; and she hoped his reverence
wouldn't be above accepting a turkey and chine, as a small token of her
gratitude to him for many consolations: it pleased me much to hear that
the good man had insisted upon Susan and her husband coming to eat it
with him the next day at noon.

Fourthly, Susan prudently set to work, and rigged out the whole family
in tidy clothes, with a touch of mourning upon each for poor Aunt
Bridget, and unhappy brother Simon; while the fifthly, sixthly, and to
conclude, were concerned in a world of notable and useful schemes, with
a strong resolution to save as much as possible for schooling and
getting out the children.

It was wonderful to see how much good was in that gold, how large a fund
of blessing was hidden in that crock: Reuben Scott gained health, the
family were fed, clad, taught; Susan grew in happiness at least as truly
as in girth; and Hagglesfield beheld the goodness of that store, whose
curse had startled all Hurstley-cum-Piggesworth.

But also at Hurstley now are found its consequential blessings.

We must take another peep at Roger and sweet Grace; they, and Ben too,
and Jonathan, and Jonathan's master, may all have cause to thank an
overruling Providence, for blessing on the score of Bridget's crock.
Only before I come to that, I wish to be dull a little hereabouts, and
moralize: the reader may skip it, if he will--but I do not recommend him
so to do.

For, evermore in the government of God, good groweth out of evil: and,
whether man note the fact or not, Providence, with secret care, doth
vindicate itself. There is justice done continually, even on this stage
of trial, though many pine and murmur: substantial retribution, even in
this poor dislocated world of wrong, not seldom overtakes the sinner,
not seldom encourages the saint. Encourages? yea, and punishes: blessing
him with kind severity; teaching him to know himself a mere bad root, if
he be not grafted on his God; proving that the laws which govern life
are just, and wise, and kind; showing him that a man's own heart's
desire, if fulfilled, would probably tend to nothing short of sin,
sorrow, and calamity; that many seeming goods are withheld, because they
are evils in disguise; and many seeming ills allowed, because they are
masqueraded blessings; and demonstrating, as in this strange tale, that
the unrighteous Mammon is a cruel master, a foul tempter, a pestilent
destroyer of all peace, and a teeming source of both world's misery.

Listen to the sayings of the Wisest King of men:

"As the whirlwind passeth, so is the wicked no more: but the righteous
is an everlasting foundation."

"The righteous is delivered out of trouble, and the wicked cometh in his
stead."

"He that trusteth in his riches shall fall: but the righteous shall
flourish as a branch."

"Better is a little with righteousness, than great revenues without
right."

"The wicked shall be a ransom for the righteous, and the transgressor
for the upright."

"A good man leaveth an inheritance to his children's children: and the
wealth of the sinner is laid up for the just."



CHAPTER LI.

POPULARITY.


THE storm is lulled: the billows of temptation have ebbed away
from shore, and the clouds of adversity have flown to other skies.

"The winter is past; the rain is over and gone; the flowers appear upon
the earth; the time of the singing of birds is come, and the voice of
the turtle is heard in our land: the fig-tree putteth forth his green
figs, and the blossoms of the vine smell sweetly. Arise, and come away."

Yesterday's trial, and its unlooked-for issue, have raised Roger Acton
to the rank of hero. The town's excitement is intense: and the little
inn, where he and Grace had spent the night in gratitude and prayerful
praise, is besieged by carriages full of lords and gentlemen, eager to
see and speak with Roger.

Humbly and reverently, yet preserving an air of quiet self-possession,
the labourer received their courteous kindnesses; and acquitted himself
of what may well be called the honours of that levee, with a dignity
native to the true-born Briton, from the time of Caractacus at Rome to
our own.

But if Roger was a demi-god, Grace was at the least a goddess; she
charmed all hearts with her modest beauty. Back with the shades of
night, and the prison-funeral of Jennings, fled envy, hatred, malice,
and all uncharitableness; the elderly sisterhood of Hurstley, not to be
out of a fashion set by titled dames, hastened to acknowledge her
perfections; Calumny was shamed, and hid his face; the uncles, aunts,
and cousins of the hill-top yonder, were glad to hold their tongues, and
bite their nails in peace: Farmer Floyd and his Mrs. positively came
with peace-offerings--some sausage-meat, elder-wine, jam, and other
dainties, which were to them the choicest sweets of life: and as for
Jonathan, he never felt so proud of Grace in all his life before; the
handsome fellow stood at least a couple of inches taller.

Honest Ben Burke, too, that most important witness--whose coming was as
Blucher's at Waterloo, and secured the well-earned conquest of the
day--though it must be confessed that his appearance was something of
the satyr, still had he been Phoebus Apollo in person, he would
scarcely have excited sincerer admiration. More than one fair creature
sketched his unkempt head, and loudly wished that its owner was a
bandit; more than one bright eye discovered beauty in his open
countenance--though a little soap and water might have made it more
distinguishable. Well--well--honest Ben--they looked, and wisely looked,
at the frank and friendly mind hidden under that rough carcase, and
little wonder that they loved it.

Now, to all this stream of hearty English sympathy, the kind and proper
feeling of young Sir John resolved to give a right direction. His
fashionable friends were gone, except Silliphant and Poynter, both good
fellows in the main, and all the better for the absence (among others)
of that padded old debauchee, Sir Richard Hunt, knight of the order of
St. Sapphira--that frivolous inanity, Lord George Pypp--and that
professed gentleman of gallantry, Mr. Harry Mynton. The follies and the
vices had decamped--had scummed off, so to speak--leaving the more
rectified spirits behind them, to recover at leisure, as best they
might, from all that ferment of dissipation. So, then, there was now
neither ridicule, nor interest, to stand in the way of a young and
wealthy heir's well-timed schemes of generosity.

Well-timed they were, and Sir John knew it, though calculation seldom
had a footing in his warm and heedless heart; but he could not shut his
eyes to the fact, that the state of feeling among his hereditary
labourers was any thing but pleasant. In truth, owing to the desperate
malpractices of Quarles and Jennings, perhaps no property in the kingdom
had got so ill a name as Hurstley: discontent reigned paramount;
incendiary fires had more than once occurred; threatening notices, very
ill-spelt, and signed by one _soi-disant_ Captain Blood, had been
dropped, in dead of winter, at the door-sills of the principal farmers;
and all the other fruits of long-continued penury, extortion, and
mis-government, were hanging ripe upon the bough--a foul and fatal
harvest.

Therefore, did the kind young landlord, who had come to live among his
own peasantry, resolve, not more nobly than wisely, to seize an
opportunity so good as this, for restoring, by a stroke of generous
policy, peace and content on his domain. No doubt, the baronet rejoiced,
as well he might, at the honourable acquittal of innocence, and the
mysteries of murder now cleared up; he made small secret of his
satisfaction at the doom of Jennings; and, as for Bridget Quarles, by
all he could learn of her from tenants' wives, and other female
dependants, he had no mind to wish her back again, or to think her fate
ill-timed: nevertheless, he was even more glad of an occasion to
vindicate his own good feelings; and prove to the world that bailiff
Simon Jennings was a very opposite character to landlord Sir John
Devereux Vincent.

To carry out his plan, he determined to redress all wrongs within one
day, and to commence by bringing "honest Roger" in triumph home again to
Hurstley; following the suggestion of Baron Parker, to make some social
compensation for his wrongs. With this view, Sir John took counsel of
the county-town authorities, and it was agreed unanimously, excepting
only one dissenting vote--a rich and radical Quaker, one Isaac Sneak,
grocer, and of the body corporate, who refused to lose one day's service
of his shopmen, and thereby (I rejoice to add) succeeded in getting rid
of fifteen good annual customers--it was agreed, then, and arranged that
the morrow should be a public holiday. All Sir John's own tenantry, as
well as Squire Ryle's, and some of other neighbouring magnates, were to
have a day's wages without work, on the easy conditions of attending the
procession in their smartest trim, and of banqueting at Hurstley
afterwards. So, then, the town-band was ordered to be in attendance next
morning by eleven at the Swan, a lot of old election colours were shaken
from their dust and cobwebs, the bell-ringers engaged, vasty
preparations of ale and beef made at Hurstley Hall--an ox to be roasted
whole upon the terrace, and a plum-pudding already in the cauldron of
two good yards in circumference--and all that every body hoped for that
night, was a fine May-day to-morrow.



CHAPTER LII.

ROGER AT THE SWAN.


MEANWHILE, eventide came on: the crowd of kindly gentle-folks
had gone their several ways; and Roger Acton found himself (through Sir
John's largess) at free quarters in the parlour of the Swan, with Grace
by his side, and many of his mates in toil and station round him.

"Grace," said her father on a sudden, "Grace--my dear child--come
hither." She stood in all her loveliness before him. Then he took her
hand, looked up at her affectionately, and leaned back in the old oak
chair.

"Hear me, mates and neighbours; to my own girl, Grace, under God, I owe
my poor soul's welfare. I have nothing, would I had, to give her in
return:" and the old man (he looked ten years older for his six weeks,
luck, and care, and trouble)--the old man could not get on at all with
what he had to say--something stuck in his throat--but he recovered, and
added cheerily, with an abrupt and rustic archness, "I don't know,
mates, whether after all I can't give the good girl something: I can
give her--away! Come hither, Jonathan Floyd; you are a noble fellow,
that stood by us in adversity, and are almost worthy of my angel Grace."
And he joined their hands.

"Give us thy blessing too, dear father!"

They kneeled at his feet on the sanded floor, in the midst of their
kinsfolk and acquaintance, and he, stretching forth his hands like a
patriarch, looked piously up to heaven, and blessed them there.

"Grace," he added, "and Jonathan my son, I need not part with you--I
could not. I have heard great tidings. To-morrow you shall know how kind
and good Sir John is: God bless him! and send poor England's children of
the soil many masters like him.

"And now, mates, one last word from Roger Acton; a short word, and a
simple, that you may not forget it. My sin was love of money: my
punishment, its possession. Mates, remember Him who sent you to be
labourers, and love the lot He gives you. Be thankful if His blessing on
your industry keeps you in regular work and fair wages: ask no more from
God of this world's good. Believe things kindly of the gentle-folks, for
many sins are heaped upon their heads, whereof their hearts are
innocent. Never listen to the counsels of a servant, who takes away his
master's character: for of such are the poor man's worst oppressors. Be
satisfied with all your lowliness on earth, and keep your just ambitions
for another world. Flee strong liquors and ill company. Nurse no heated
hopes, no will-o'-the-wisp bright wishes: rather let your warmest hopes
be temperately these--health, work, wages: and as for wishing, mates,
wish any thing you will--sooner than to find a crock of gold."



CHAPTER LIII.

ROGER'S TRIUMPH.


THE steeples rang out merrily, full chime; High street was gay with
streamers; the town-band busily assembling; a host of happy urchins from
emancipated schools, were shouting in all manner of keys all manner of
gleeful noises: every body seemed a-stir.

A proud man that day was Roger Acton; not of his deserts--they were
worse than none, he knew it; not of the procession--no silly child was
he, to be caught with toy and tinsel; God wot, he was meek enough in
self--and as for other pride, he knew from old electioneerings, what a
humbling thing is triumph.

But when he saw from the windows of the Swan, those crowds of new-made
friends trooping up in holiday suits with flags, and wands, and
corporation badges--when the band for a commencement struck up the
heart-stirring hymn 'God save the Queen,'--when the horsemen, and
carriages, and gigs, and carts assembled--when the baronet's own
barouche and four, dashing up to the door, had come from Hurstley Hall
for _him_--when Sir John, the happiest of the happy, alighting with his
two friends, had displaced them for Roger and Grace, while the kind
gentlemen took horse, and headed the procession--when Ben Burke (as
clean as soap could get him, and bedecked in new attire) was ordered to
sit beside Jonathan in the rumble-tumble--when the cheering, and the
merry-going bells, and the quick-march 'British Grenadiers,' rapidly
succeeding the national anthem--when all these tokens of a generous
sympathy smote upon his ears, his eyes, his heart, Roger Acton wept
aloud--he wept for very pride and joy: proud and glad was he that day of
his country, of his countrymen, of his generous landlord, of his gentle
Grace, of his vindicated innocence, and of God, "who had done so great
things for him."

So, the happy cavalcade moved on, horse and foot, and carts and
carriages, through the noisy town, along the thronged high road, down
the quiet lanes that lead to Hurstley; welcomed at every cottage-door
with boisterous huzzas, and adding to its ranks at every corner. And so
they reached the village, where the band struck up,

  "See the conquering hero comes,
  Sound the trumpets, beat the drums!"

Is not this returning like a nabob, Roger? Hath not God blest thee
through the crock of gold at last, in spite of sin?

There, at the entrance by the mile-stone, stood Mary and the babes, with
a knot of friends around her, bright with happiness; on the top of it
was perched son Tom, waving the blue and silver flag of Hurstley, and
acting as fugleman to a crowd of uproarious cheerers; and beside it, on
the bank, sat Sarah Stack, overcome with joy, and sobbing like a
gladsome Niobe.

And the village bells went merrily; every cottage was gay with spring
garlands, and each familiar face lit up with looks of kindness; Hark!
hark!--"Welcome, honest Roger, welcome home again!" they shout: and the
patereroes on the lawn thunder a salute; "welcome, honest
neighbour;"--and up went, at bright noon, Tom Stableboy's dozen of
rockets wrapped around with streamers of glazed calico--"welcome,
welcome!"

Good Mr. Evans stood at the door of fine old Hurstley, in wig, and band,
and cassock, to receive back his wandering sheep that had been lost: and
the school-children, ranged upon the steps, thrillingly sang out the
beautiful chant, "I will arise, and go to my Father, and will say unto
Him, 'Father, I have sinned against Heaven and before Thee, and am no
more worthy to be called thy son!'"

Every head was uncovered, and every cheek ran down with tears.



CHAPTER LIV.

SIR JOHN'S PARTING SPEECH.


THEN Sir John, standing up in the barouche at his own
hall-door, addressed the assembled multitude:

"Friends, we are gathered here to-day, in the cause of common justice
and brotherly kindness. There are many of you whom I see around me, my
tenants, neighbours, or dependants, who have met with wrongs and
extortions heretofore, but you all shall be righted in your turn; trust
me, men, the old hard times are gone, your landlord lives among you, and
his first care shall be to redress your many grievances, paying back the
gains of your oppressor."

"God bless you, sir, God bless you!" was the echo from many a gladdened
heart.

"But before I hear your several claims in turn, which shall be done
to-morrow, our chief duty this day is to recompense an honest man for
all that he has innocently suffered. It is five-and-thirty years, as I
find by my books, on this very first of May, since Roger Acton first
began to work at Hurstley; till within this now past evil month, he has
always been the honest steady fellow that you knew him from his youth:
what say you, men, to having as a bailiff one of yourselves; a kind and
humble man, a good man, the best hand in the parish in all the works of
your vocation--a steady mind, an honest heart--what say ye all to Roger
Acton?"

There was a whirlwind of tumultuous applause.

"Moreover, men, though you all, each according to his measure and my
means, shall meet with liberal justice for your lesser ills, yet we must
all remember that Bailiff Acton here had nearly died a felon's death,
through that bad man Jennings and the unlucky crock of gold; in
addition, extortion has gone greater lengths with him, than with any
other on the property; I find that for the last twenty years, Roger
Acton has regularly paid to that monster of oppression who is now dead,
a double rent--four guineas instead of forty shillings. I desire, as a
good master, to make amends for the crimes of my wicked servant;
therefore in this bag, Bailiff Acton, is returned to you all the rent
you ever paid;" [Roger could not speak for tears;]--"and your cottage
repaired and fitted, with an acre round it, is yours and your
children's, rent-free for ever."

"Huzzah, huzzah!" roared Ben from the dickey, in a gush of disinterested
joy; and then, like an experienced toast-master, he marshalled in due
hip, hip, hip order, the shouts of acclamation that rent the air. In an
interval of silence, Sir John added,

"As for you, good-hearted fellow, if you will only mend your speech,
I'll make you one of my keepers; you shall call yourself licensed
poacher, if you choose."

"Blessings on your honour! you've made an honest man o' me."

"And now, Jonathan Floyd, I have one word to say to you, sir. I hear you
are to marry our Roger's pretty Grace." Jonathan appeared like a sheep
in livery.

"You must quit my service." Jonathan was quite alarmed. "Do you suppose,
Master Jonathan, that I can house at Hurstley, before a Lady Vincent
comes amongst us to keep the gossips quiet, such a charming little wife
as that, and all her ruddy children?"

It was Grace's turn to feel confused, so she "looked like a rose in
June," and blushed all over, as Charles Lamb's Astræa did, down to the
ankle.

"Yes, Jonathan, you and I must part, but we part good friends: you have
been a noble lover: may you make the girl a good and happy husband!
Jennings has been robbing me and those about me for years: it is
impossible to separate specially my rights from his extortions: but all,
as I have said, shall be satisfied: meanwhile, his hoards are mine. I
appropriate one half of them for other claimants; the remaining half I
give to Grace Floyd as dower. Don't be a fool, Jonathan, and blubber;
look to your Grace there, she's fainting--you can set up landlord for
yourself, do you hear?--for I make yours honestly, as much as Roger
found in his now lucky Crock of Gold."

Poor Roger, quite unmanned, could only wave his hat, and--the curtain
falls amid thunders of applause.

[Footnote A: It has been stated as a fact, that a certain Lady L----
S----, in her last interview with a young man, condemned to death for
the brutal murder of his sweetheart, presented him with a white
camellia, as a token of eternal peace, which the gallant gentleman
actually wore at the gallows in his button-hole.]





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