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Title: Verner's Pride
Author: Wood, Henry, Mrs., 1814-1887
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.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Verner's Pride" ***

This book is indexed by ISYS Web Indexing system to allow the reader find any word or number within the document.



VERNER'S PRIDE

MRS. HENRY WOOD

ILLUSTRATED BY HAROLD PIFFARD

[Illustration]

LONDON & GLASGOW
COLLINS' CLEAR-TYPE PRESS



CONTENTS.


         CHAP.                              PAGE
            I. RACHEL FROST      7

           II. THE WILLOW POND      19

          III. THE NEWS BROUGHT HOME      26

           IV. THE CROWD IN THE MOONLIGHT      32

            V. THE TALL GENTLEMAN IN THE LANE      36

           VI. DINAH ROY'S "GHOST"      47

          VII. THE REVELATION AT THE INQUEST      55

         VIII. ROBIN'S VOW      60

           IX. MR. VERNER'S ESTRANGEMENT      67

            X. LADY VERNER      72

           XI. LUCY TEMPEST      77

          XII. DR. WEST'S HOME      86

         XIII. A CONTEMPLATED VOYAGE      96

          XIV. THE NIGHT BEFORE THE WEDDING      104

           XV. A TROUBLED MIND      106

          XVI. AN ALTERED WILL      114

         XVII. DISAPPEARED      118

        XVIII. PERPLEXITY      125

          XIX. THE REVELATION TO LADY VERNER      129

           XX. DRY WORK      136

          XXI. A WHISPERED SUSPICION      139

         XXII. PECKABY'S SHOP      145

        XXIII. DAYS AND NIGHTS OF PAIN      156

         XXIV. DANGEROUS COMPANIONSHIP      164

          XXV. HOME TRUTHS FOR LIONEL      168

         XXVI. THE PACKET IN THE SHIRT-DRAWER      175

        XXVII. DR. WEST'S SANCTUM      181

       XXVIII. MISS DEBORAH'S ASTONISHMENT      191

         XXIX. AN INTERCEPTED JOURNEY      196

          XXX. NEWS FROM AUSTRALIA      200

         XXXI. ROY EATING HUMBLE PIE      209

        XXXII. "IT'S APPLEPLEXY"      215

       XXXIII. JAN'S REMEDY FOR A COLD      218

        XXXIV. IMPROVEMENTS      225

         XXXV. BACK AGAIN      231

        XXXVI. A MOMENT OF DELIRIUM      237

       XXXVII. NEWS FOR LADY VERNER: AND FOR LUCY      248

      XXXVIII. THE MISSES WEST EN PAPILLOTES      254

        XXXIX. BROTHER JARRUM      258

           XL. A VISIT OF CEREMONY      268

          XLI. A SPECIAL VISION TOUCHING MRS. PECKABY      278

         XLII. A SURPRISE FOR MRS. TYNN      287

        XLIII. LIONEL'S PRAYER FOR FORGIVENESS      298

         XLIV. FARMER BLOW'S WHITE-TAILED PONY      307

          XLV. STIFLED WITH DISHONOUR      312

         XLVI. SHADOWED-FORTH EMBARRASSMENT      318

        XLVII. THE YEW-TREE ON THE LAWN      328

       XLVIII. MR. DAN DUFF IN CONVULSIONS      336

         XLIX. "I SEE'D A DEAD MAN!"      338

            L. MR. AND MRS. VERNER        349

           LI. COMMOTION IN DEERHAM      353

          LII. MATTHEW FROST'S NIGHT ENCOUNTER      360

         LIII. MASTER CHEESE'S FRIGHT--OTHER FRIGHTS      370

          LIV. MRS. DUFF'S BILL      380

           LV. SELF WILL      390

          LVI. A LIFE HOVERING IN THE BALANCE       396

         LVII. A WALK IN THE RAIN       401

        LVIII. THE THUNDER-STORM      407

          LIX. A CASUAL MEETING ON THE RIVER      412

           LX. MISS DEB'S DISBELIEF      422

          LXI. MEETING THE NEWS      430

         LXII. TYNN PUMPED DRY      435

        LXIII. LOOKING OUT FOR THE WORST      443

         LXIV. ENDURANCE      449

          LXV. CAPTAIN CANNONBY      453

         LXVI. "DON'T THROTTLE ME, JAN!"      461

        LXVII. DRESSING UP FOR A GHOST      464

       LXVIII. A THREAT TO JAN      473

         LXIX. NO HOME      478

          LXX. TURNING OUT      485

         LXXI. UNPREMEDITATED WORDS       493

        LXXII. JAN'S SAVINGS      498

       LXXIII. A PROPOSAL      505

        LXXIV. TO NEW JERUSALEM ON A WHITE DONKEY      509

         LXXV. AN EXPLOSION OF SIBYLLA'S      519

        LXXVI. AN UNEXPECTED ARRIVAL       526

       LXXVII. AN EVENING AT LADY VERNER'S      534

      LXXVIII. AN APPEAL TO JOHN MASSINGBIRD      540

        LXXIX. A SIN AND A SHAME       546

         LXXX. RECOLLECTIONS OF A NIGHT GONE BY      550

        LXXXI. A CRISIS IN SIBYLLA'S LIFE      558

       LXXXII. TRYING ON WREATHS      565

      LXXXIII. WELL-NIGH WEARIED OUT      573

       LXXXIV. GOING TO THE BALL       578

        LXXXV. DECIMA'S ROMANCE      586

       LXXXVI. WAS IT A SPECTRE?      592

      LXXXVII. THE LAMP BURNS OUT AT LAST       598

     LXXXVIII. ACHING HEARTS      606

       LXXXIX. MASTER CHEESE BLOWN UP       615

           XC. LIGHT THROWN ON OBSCURITY       625

          XCI. MEDICAL ATTENDANCE GRATIS       633

         XCII. AT LAST!      641

        XCIII. LADY VERNER'S "FEAR"      645

         XCIV. IT MIGHT HAVE BEEN JAN!       654

          XCV. SUNDRY ARRIVALS      659



CHAPTER I.

RACHEL FROST.


The slanting rays of the afternoon sun, drawing towards the horizon,
fell on a fair scene of country life; flickering through the young
foliage of the oak and lime trees, touching the budding hedges, resting
on the growing grass, all so lovely in their early green, and lighting
up with flashes of yellow fire the windows of the fine mansion, that,
rising on a gentle eminence, looked down on that fair scene as if it
were its master, and could boast the ownership of those broad lands, of
those gleaming trees.

Not that the house possessed much attraction for those whose taste
savoured of the antique. No time-worn turrets were there, or angular
gables, or crooked eaves, or mullioned Gothic casements, so chary of
glass that modern eyes can scarcely see in or out; neither was the
edifice constructed of gray stone, or of bricks gone black and green
with age. It was a handsome, well-built white mansion, giving the
promise of desirable rooms inside, whose chimneys did not smoke or their
windows rattle, and where there was sufficient space to turn in. The
lower windows opened on a gravelled terrace, which ran along the front
of the house, a flight of steps descending from it in its midst. Gently
sloping lawns extended from the terrace, on either side the steps and
the broad walks which branched from them; on which lawns shone gay
parterres of flowers already scenting the air, and giving promise of the
advancing summer. Beyond, were covered walks, affording a shelter from
the sultry noontide sun; shrubberies and labyrinths of many turnings and
windings, so suggestive of secret meetings, were secret meetings
desirable; groves of scented shrubs exhaling their perfume; cascades and
rippling fountains; mossy dells, concealing the sweet primrose, the
sweeter violet; and verdant, sunny spots open to the country round, to
the charming distant scenery. These open spots had their benches, where
you might sit and feast the eyes through the live-long summer day.

It was not summer yet--scarcely spring--and the sun, I say, was drawing
to its setting, lighting up the large clear panes of the windows as with
burnished gold. The house, the ornamental grounds, the estate around,
all belonged to Mr. Verner. It had come to him by bequest, not by
entailed inheritance. Busybodies were fond of saying that it never ought
to have been his; that, if the strict law of right and justice had been
observed, it would have gone to his elder brother; or, rather, to that
elder brother's son. Old Mr. Verner, the father of these two brothers,
had been a modest country gentleman, until one morning when he awoke to
the news that valuable mines had been discovered on his land. The mines
brought him in gold, and in his later years he purchased this estate,
pulled down the house that was upon it--a high, narrow, old thing,
looking like a crazy tower or a capacious belfry--and had erected this
one, calling it "Verner's Pride."

An appropriate name. For if ever poor human man was proud of a house he
has built, old Mr. Verner was proud of that--proud to folly. He laid out
money on it in plenty; he made the grounds belonging to it beautiful and
seductive as a fabled scene from fairyland; and he wound up by leaving
it to the younger of his two sons.

These two sons constituted all his family. The elder of them had gone
into the army early, and left for India; the younger had remained always
with his father, the helper of his money-making, the sharer of the
planning out and building of Verner's Pride, the joint resident there
after it was built. The elder son--Captain Verner then--paid one visit
only to England, during which visit he married, and took his wife out
with him when he went back. These long-continued separations, however
much we may feel inclined to gloss over the fact, do play strange havoc
with home affections, wearing them away inch by inch.

The years went on and on. Captain Verner became Colonel Sir Lionel
Verner, and a boy of his had been sent home in due course, and was at
Eton. Old Mr. Verner grew near to death. News went out to India that his
days were numbered, and Sir Lionel Verner was instructed to get leave of
absence, if possible, and start for home without a day's loss, if he
would see his father alive. "If possible," you observe, they put to the
request; for the Sikhs were at that time giving trouble in our Indian
possessions, and Colonel Verner was one of the experienced officers
least likely to be spared.

But there is a mandate that must be obeyed whenever it comes--grim,
imperative death. At the very hour when Mr. Verner was summoning his son
to his death-bed, at the precise time that military authority in India
would have said, if asked, that Colonel Sir Lionel Verner could _not_ be
spared, death had marked out that brave officer for his own especial
prey. He fell in one of the skirmishes that took place near Moultan, and
the two letters--one going to Europe with tidings of his death, the
other going to India with news of his father's illness--crossed each
other on the route.

"Steevy," said old Mr. Verner to his younger son, after giving a passing
lament to Sir Lionel, "I shall leave Verner's Pride to you."

"Ought it not to go to the lad at Eton, father?" was the reply of
Stephen Verner.

"What's the lad at Eton to me?" cried the old man. "I'd not have left it
away from Lionel, as he stood first, but it has always seemed to me that
you had the most right to it; that to leave it away from you savoured of
injustice. You were at its building, Steevy; it has been your home as
much as it has been mine; and I'll never turn you from it for a
stranger, let him be whose child he may. No, no! Verner's Pride shall be
yours. But, look you, Stephen! you have no children; bring up young
Lionel as your heir, and let it descend to him after you."

And that is how Stephen Verner had inherited Verner's Pride.
Neighbouring gossipers, ever fonder of laying down the law for other
people's business than of minding their own, protested against it among
themselves as a piece of injustice. Had they cause? Many very
just-minded persons would consider that Stephen Verner possessed more
fair claim to it than the boy at Eton.

I will tell you of one who did not consider so. And that was the widow
of Sir Lionel Verner. When she arrived from India with her other two
children, a son and daughter, she found old Mr. Verner dead, and Stephen
the inheritor. Deeply annoyed and disappointed, Lady Verner deemed that
a crying wrong had been perpetrated upon her and hers. But she had no
power to undo it.

Stephen Verner had strictly fulfilled his father's injunctions touching
young Lionel. He brought up the boy as his heir. During his educational
days at Eton and at college, Verner's Pride was his holiday home, and he
subsequently took up his permanent residence at it. Stephen Verner,
though long married, had no children. One daughter had been born to him
years ago, but had died at three or four years old. His wife had died a
very short while subsequent to the death of his father. He afterwards
married again, a widow lady of the name of Massingbird, who had two
nearly grown-up sons. She had brought her sons home with her to Verner's
Pride, and they had made it their home since.

Mr. Verner kept it no secret that his nephew Lionel was to be his heir;
and, as such, Lionel was universally regarded on the estate. "Always
provided that you merit it," Mr. Verner would say to Lionel in private;
and so he had said to him from the very first. "Be what you ought to
be--what I fondly believe my brother Lionel was: a man of goodness, of
honour, of Christian integrity; a _gentleman_ in the highest acceptation
of the term--and Verner's Pride shall undoubtedly be yours. But if I
find you forget your fair conduct, and forfeit the esteem of good men,
so surely will I leave it away from you."

And that is the introduction. And now we must go back to the golden
light of that spring evening.

Ascending the broad flight of steps and crossing the terrace, the house
door is entered. A spacious hall, paved with delicately-grained marble,
its windows mellowed by the soft tints of stained glass, whose pervading
hues are of rose and violet, gives entrance to reception rooms on either
side. Those on the right hand are mostly reserved for state occasions;
those on the left are dedicated to common use. All these rooms are just
now empty of living occupants, save one. That one is a small room on the
right, behind the two grand drawing-rooms, and it looks out on the side
of the house towards the south. It is called "Mr. Verner's study." And
there sits Mr. Verner himself in it, leaning back in his chair and
reading. A large fire burns in the grate, and he is close to it: he is
always chilly.

Ay, always chilly. For Mr. Verner's last illness--at least, what will in
all probability prove his last, his ending--has already laid hold of
him. One generation passes away after another. It seems but the other
day that a last illness seized upon his father, and now it is his turn:
but several years have elapsed since then. Mr. Verner is not sixty, and
he thinks that age is young for the disorder that has fastened on him.
It is no hurried disorder; he may live for years yet; but the end, when
it does come, will be tolerably sudden: and that he knows. It is water
on the chest. He is a little man with light eyes; very much like what
his father was before him: but not in the least like his late brother
Sir Lionel, who was a very fine and handsome man. He has a mild,
pleasing countenance: but there arises a slight scowl to his brow as he
turns hastily round at a noisy interruption.

Some one had burst into the room--forgetting, probably, that it was the
quiet room of an invalid. A tall, dark young man, with broad shoulders
and a somewhat peculiar stoop in them. His hair was black, his
complexion sallow; but his features were good. He might have been called
a handsome man, but for a strange, ugly mark upon his cheek. A very
strange-looking mark indeed, quite as large as a pigeon's egg, with what
looked like radii shooting from it on all sides. Some of the villagers,
talking familiarly among themselves, would call it a hedgehog, some
would call it a "porkypine"; but it resembled a star as much as
anything. That is, if you can imagine a black star. The mark was black
as jet; and his pale cheek, and the fact of his possessing no whiskers,
made it all the more conspicuous. He was born with the mark; and his
mother used to say--But that is of no consequence to us. It was
Frederick Massingbird, the present Mrs. Verner's younger son.

"Roy has come up, sir," said he, addressing Mr. Verner. "He says the
Dawsons have turned obstinate and won't go out. They have barricaded the
door, and protest that they'll stay, in spite of him. He wishes to know
if he shall use force."

"No," said Mr. Verner. "I don't like harsh measures, and I will not have
such attempted. Roy knows that."

"Well, sir, he waits your orders. He says there's half the village
collected round Dawson's door. The place is in a regular commotion."

Mr. Verner looked vexed. Of late years he had declined active management
on his estate; and, since he grew ill, he particularly disliked being
disturbed with details.

"Where's Lionel?" he asked in a peevish tone.

"I saw Lionel ride out an hour ago. I don't know where he is gone."

"Tell Roy to let the affair rest until to-morrow, when Lionel will see
about it. And, Frederick, I wish you would remember that a little noise
shakes me: try to come in more quietly. You burst in as if my nerves
were as strong as your own."

Mr. Verner turned to his fire again with an air of relief, glad to have
got rid of the trouble in some way, and Frederick Massingbird proceeded
to what was called the steward's room, where Roy waited. This Roy, a
hard-looking man with a face very much seamed with the smallpox, was
working bailiff to Mr. Verner. Until within a few years he had been but
a labourer on the estate. He was not liked among the poor tenants, and
was generally honoured with the appellation "Old Grips," or "Grip Roy."

"Roy," said Frederick Massingbird, "Mr. Verner says it is to be left
until to-morrow morning. Mr. Lionel will see about it then. He is out at
present."

"And let the mob have it all their own way for to-night?" returned Roy
angrily. "They be in a state of mutiny, they be; a-saying everything as
they can lay their tongues to."

"Let them say it," responded Frederick Massingbird. "Leave them alone,
and they'll disperse quietly enough. I shall not go in to Mr. Verner
again, Roy. I caught it now for disturbing him. You must let it rest
until you can see Mr. Lionel."

The bailiff went off, growling. He would have liked to receive
carte-blanche for dealing with the mob--as he was pleased to term
them--between whom and himself there was no love lost. As he was
crossing a paved yard at the back of the house, some one came hastily
out of the laundry in the detached premises to the side, and crossed his
path.

A very beautiful girl. Her features were delicate, her complexion was
fair as alabaster, and a bright colour mantled in her cheeks. But for
the modest cap upon her head, a stranger might have been puzzled to
guess at her condition in life. She looked gentle and refined as any
lady, and her manners and speech would not have destroyed the illusion.
She may be called a protégée of the house, as will be explained
presently; but she acted as maid to Mrs. Verner. The bright colour
deepened to a glowing one when she saw the bailiff.

He put out his hand and stopped her. "Well, Rachel, how are you?"

"Quite well, thank you," she answered, endeavouring to pass on. But he
would not suffer it.

"I say, I want to come to the bottom of this business between you and
Luke," he said, lowering his voice. "What's the rights of it?"

"Between me and Luke?" she repeated, turning upon the bailiff an eye
that had some scorn in it, and stopping now of her own accord. "There is
no business whatever between me and Luke. There never has been. What do
you mean?"

"Chut!" cried the bailiff. "Don't I know that he has followed your steps
everywhere like a shadder; that he has been ready to kiss the very
ground you trod on? And right mad I have been with him for it. You can't
deny that he has been after you, wanting you to be his wife."

"I do not wish to deny it," she replied. "You and the whole world are
quite welcome to know all that has passed between me and Luke. He asked
to be allowed to come here to see me--to 'court' me, he phrased
it--which I distinctly declined. Then he took to following me about. He
did not molest me, he was not rude--I do not wish to make it out worse
than it was--but it is not pleasant, Mr. Roy, to be followed whenever
you may take a walk. Especially by one you dislike."

"What is there to dislike in Luke?" demanded the bailiff.

"Perhaps I ought to have said by one you do not like," she resumed. "To
like Luke, in the way he wished, was impossible for me, and I told him
so from the first. When I found that he dodged my steps, I spoke to him
again, and threatened that I should acquaint Mr. Verner. I told him,
once for all, that I could not like him, that I never would have him;
and since then he has kept his distance. That is all that has ever
passed between me and Luke."

"Well, your hard-heartedness has done for him, Rachel Frost. It has
drove him away from his native home, and sent him, a exile, to rough it
in foreign lands. You may fix upon one as won't do for you and be your
slave as Luke would. He could have kept you well."

"I heard he had gone to London," she remarked.

"London!" returned the bailiff slightingly. "That's only the first halt
on the journey. And you have drove him to it!"

"I can't help it," she replied, turning to the house. "I had no natural
liking for him, and I could not force it. I don't believe he has gone
away for that trifling reason, Mr. Roy. If he has, he must be very
foolish."

"Yes, he is foolish," muttered the bailiff to himself, as he strode
away. "He's a idiot, that's what he is! and so be all men that loses
their wits a-sighing after a girl. Vain, deceitful, fickle creatures,
the girls be when they're young; but once let them get a hold on you,
your ring on their finger, and they turn into vixenish, snarling women!
Luke's a sight best off without her."

Rachel Frost proceeded indoors. The door of the steward's room stood
open, and she turned into it, fancying it was empty. Down on a chair sat
she, a marked change coming over her air and manner. Her bright colour
had faded, her hands hung down listless; and there was an expression on
her face of care, of perplexity. Suddenly she lifted her hands and
struck her temples, with a gesture that looked very like despair.

"What ails you, Rachel?"

The question came from Frederick Massingbird, who had been standing at
the window behind the high desk, unobserved by Rachel. Violently
startled, she sprang up from her seat, her face a glowing crimson,
muttering some disjointed words, to the effect that she did not know
anybody was there.

"What were you and Roy discussing so eagerly in the yard?" continued
Frederick Massingbird. But the words had scarcely escaped his lips, when
the housekeeper, Mrs. Tynn, entered the room. She had a mottled face and
mottled arms, her sleeves just now being turned up to the elbow.

"It was nothing particular, Mr. Frederick," replied Rachel.

"Roy is gone, is he not?" he continued to Rachel.

"Yes, sir."

"Rachel," interposed the housekeeper, "are those things not ready yet,
in the laundry?"

"Not quite. In a quarter of an hour, they say."

The housekeeper, with a word of impatience at the laundry's delay, went
out and crossed the yard towards it. Frederick Massingbird turned again
to Rachel.

"Roy seemed to be grumbling at you."

"He accused me of being the cause of his son's going away. He thinks I
ought to have noticed him."

Frederick Massingbird made no reply. He raised his finger and gently
rubbed it round and round the mark upon his cheek: a habit he had
acquired when a child, and they could not entirely break him of it. He
was seven-and-twenty years of age now, but he was sure to begin rubbing
that mark unconsciously, if in deep thought. Rachel resumed, her tone a
covert one, as if the subject on which she was about to speak might not
be breathed, even to the walls.

"Roy hinted that his son was going to foreign lands. I did not choose to
let him see that I knew anything, so remarked that I had heard he was
gone to London. 'London!' he answered; 'that was only the first
halting-place on the journey!'"

"Did he give any hint about John?"

"Not a word," replied Rachel. "He would not be likely to do that."

"No. Roy can keep counsel, whatever other virtues he may run short of.
Suppose you had joined your fortunes to sighing Luke's, Rachel, and gone
out with him to grow rich together?" added Frederick Massingbird, in a
tone which could be taken for either jest or earnest.

She evidently took it as the latter, and it appeared to call up an angry
spirit. She was vexed almost to tears. Frederick Massingbird detected
it.

"Silly Rachel!" he said, with a smile. "Do you suppose I should really
counsel your throwing yourself away upon Luke Roy?--Rachel," he
continued, as the housekeeper again made her appearance, "you must bring
up the things as soon as they are ready. My brother is waiting for
them."

"I'll bring them up, sir," replied Rachel.

Frederick Massingbird passed through the passages to the hall, and then
proceeded upstairs to the bedroom occupied by his brother. A
sufficiently spacious room for any ordinary purpose, but it did not look
half large enough now for the litter that was in it. Wardrobes and
drawers were standing open, their contents half out, half in; chairs,
tables, bed, were strewed; and boxes and portmanteaus were gaping open
on the floor. John Massingbird, the elder brother, was stowing away some
of this litter into the boxes; not all sixes and sevens, as it looked
lying there, but compactly and artistically. John Massingbird possessed
a ready hand at packing and arranging; and therefore he preferred doing
it himself to deputing it to others. He was one year older than his
brother, and there was a great likeness between them in figure and in
feature. Not in expression: in that, they were widely different. They
were about the same height, and there was the same stoop observable in
the shoulders; the features also were similar in cast, and sallow in
hue; the same the black eyes and hair. John had large whiskers,
otherwise the likeness would have been more striking; and his face was
not disfigured by the strange black mark. He was the better looking of
the two; his face wore an easy, good-natured, free expression; while
Frederick's was cold and reserved. Many people called John Massingbird a
handsome man. In character they were quite opposite. John was a
harum-scarum chap, up to every scrape; Fred was cautious and steady as
Old Time.

Seated in the only free chair in the room--free from litter--was a tall,
stout lady. But that she had so much crimson about her, she would have
borne a remarkable resemblance to those two young men, her sons. She
wore a silk dress, gold in one light, green in another, with broad
crimson stripes running across it; her cap was of white lace garnished
with crimson ribbons, and her cheeks and nose were crimson to match. As
if this were not enough, she wore crimson streamers at her wrists, and a
crimson bow on the front of her gown. Had you been outside, you might
have seen that the burnished gold on the window-panes had turned to
crimson, for the setting sun had changed its hue: but the panes could
not look more brightly, deeply crimson, than did Mrs. Verner. It seemed
as if you might light a match at her face. In that particular, there was
a contrast between her and the perfectly pale, sallow faces of her sons;
otherwise the resemblance was great.

"Fred," said Mrs. Verner, "I wish you would see what they are at with
the shirts and things. I sent Rachel after them, but she does not come
back, and then I sent Mary Tynn, and she does not come. Here's John as
impatient as he can be."

She spoke in a slow, somewhat indifferent tone, as if she did not care
to put herself out of the way about it. Indeed it was not Mrs. Verner's
custom to put herself out of the way for anything. She liked to eat,
drink, and sleep in undisturbed peace; and she generally did so.

"John's impatient because he wants to get it over," spoke up that
gentleman himself in a merry voice. "Fifty thousand things I have to do,
between now and to-morrow night. If they don't bring the clothes soon,
I shall close the boxes without them, and leave them a legacy for Fred."

"You have only yourself to thank, John," said his mother. "You never
gave the things out until after breakfast this morning, and then
required them to be done by the afternoon. Such nonsense, to say they
had grown yellow in the drawers! They'll be yellower by the time you get
there. It is just like you! driving off everything till the last moment.
You have known you were going for some days past."

John was stamping upon a box to get down the lid, and did not attend to
the reproach. "See if it will lock, Fred, will you?" said he.

Frederick Massingbird stooped and essayed to turn the key. And just then
Mrs. Tynn entered with a tray of clean linen, which she set down. Rachel
followed, having a contrivance in her hand, made of silk, for the
holding of needles, threads, and pins, all in one.

She looked positively beautiful as she held it out before Mrs. Verner.
The evening rays fell upon her exquisite face, with its soft, dark eyes
and its changing colour; they fell upon her silk dress, a relic of Mrs.
Verner's--but it had no crimson stripes across it; upon her lace collar,
upon the little edge of lace at her wrists. Nature had certainly
intended Rachel for a lady, with her graceful form, her charming
manners, and her delicate hands.

"Will this do, ma'am?" she inquired. "Is it the sort of thing you
meant?"

"Ay, that will do, Rachel," replied Mrs. Verner. "John, here's a huswife
for you!"

"A what?" asked John Massingbird, arresting his stamping.

"A needle-book to hold your needles and thread. Rachel has made it
nicely. Sha'n't you want a thimble?"

"Goodness knows," replied John. "That's it, Fred! that's it! Give it a
turn."

Frederick Massingbird locked the box, and then left the room. His mother
followed him, telling John she had a large steel thimble somewhere, and
would try to find it for him. Rachel began filling the huswife with
needles, and John went on with his packing.

"Hollo!" he presently exclaimed. And Rachel looked up.

"What's the matter, sir?"

"I have pulled one of the strings off this green case. You must sew it
on again, Rachel."

He brought a piece of green baize to her and a broken string. It looked
something like the cover of a pocket-book or of a small case of
instruments.

Rachel's nimble fingers soon repaired the damage. John stood before her,
looking on.

Looking not only at the progress of the work, but at her. Mr. John
Massingbird was one who had an eye for beauty; he had not seen much in
his life that could match with that before him. As Rachel held the case
up to him, the damage repaired, he suddenly bent his head to steal a
kiss.

But Rachel was too quick for him. She flung his face away with her hand;
she flushed vividly; she was grievously indignant. That she considered
it in the light of an insult was only too apparent; her voice was
pained--her words were severe.

"Be quiet, stupid! I was not going to eat you," laughed John
Massingbird. "I won't tell Luke."

"Insult upon insult!" she exclaimed, strangely excited. "You know that
Luke Roy is nothing to me, Mr. Massingbird; you know that I have never
in my life vouchsafed to give him an encouraging word. But, much as I
despise him--much as he is beneath me--I would rather submit to have my
face touched by him than by you."

What more she would have said was interrupted by the reappearance of
Mrs. Verner. That lady's ears had caught the sound of the contest; of
the harsh words; and she felt inexpressibly surprised.

"What has happened?" she asked. "What is it, Rachel?"

"She pricked herself with one of the needles," said John, taking the
explanation upon himself; "and then said I did it."

Mrs. Verner looked from one to the other. Rachel had turned quite pale.
John laughed; he knew his mother did not believe him.

"The truth is, mother, I began teasing Rachel about her admirer, Luke.
It made her angry."

"What absurdity!" exclaimed Mrs. Verner testily, to Rachel. "My opinion
is, you would have done well to encourage Luke. He was steady and
respectable; and old Roy must have saved plenty of money."

Rachel burst into tears.

"What now!" cried Mrs. Verner. "Not a word can anybody say to you
lately, Rachel, but you must begin to cry as if you were heart-broken.
What has come to you, child? Is anything the matter with you?"

The tears deepened into long sobs of agony, as though her heart were
indeed broken. She held her handkerchief up to her face, and went
sobbing from the room.

Mrs. Verner gazed after her in very astonishment. "What has taken her?
What can it possibly be?" she uttered. "John, you must know."

"I, mother! I declare to you that I know no more about it than Adam.
Rachel must be going a little crazed."



CHAPTER II.

THE WILLOW POND.


Before the sun had well set, the family at Verner's Pride were
assembling for dinner. Mr. and Mrs. Verner, and John Massingbird:
neither Lionel Verner nor Frederick Massingbird was present. The usual
custom appeared somewhat reversed on this evening: while roving John
would be just as likely to absent himself from dinner as not, his
brother and Lionel Verner nearly always appeared at it. Mr. Verner
looked surprised.

"Where are they?" he cried, as he waited to say grace.

"Mr. Lionel has not come in, sir," replied the butler, Tynn, who was
husband to the housekeeper.

"And Fred has gone out to keep some engagement with Sibylla West," spoke
up Mrs. Verner. "She is going to spend the evening at the Bitterworths,
and Fred promised, I believe, to see her safely thither. He will take
his dinner when he comes in."

Mr. Verner bent his head, said the grace, and the dinner began.

Later--but not much later, for it was scarcely dark yet--Rachel Frost
was leaving the house to pay a visit in the adjoining village, Deerham.
Her position may be at once explained. It was mentioned in the last
chapter that Mr. Verner had had one daughter, who died young. The mother
of Rachel Frost had been this child's nurse, Rachel being an infant at
the same time, so that the child, Rachel Verner, and Rachel Frost--named
after her--had been what is called foster-sisters. It had caused Mr.
Verner, and his wife also while she lived, to take an interest in Rachel
Frost; it is very probable that their own child's death only made this
interest greater. They were sufficiently wise not to lift the girl
palpably out of her proper sphere; but they paid for a decent education
for her at a day-school, and were personally kind to her. Rachel--I
was going to say fortunately, but it may be as just to say
_un_fortunately--was one of those who seem to make the best of every
trifling advantage: she had grown, without much effort of her own, into
what might be termed a lady, in appearance, in manners, and in speech.
The second Mrs. Verner also took an interest in her; and nearly a year
before this period, on Rachel's eighteenth birthday, she took her to
Verner's Pride as her own attendant.

A fascinating, lovable child had Rachel Frost ever been: she was a
fascinating, lovable girl. Modest, affectionate, generous, everybody
liked Rachel; she had not an enemy, so far as was known, in all Deerham.
Her father was nothing but a labourer on the Verner estate; but in mind
and conduct he was superior to his station; an upright, conscientious,
and, in some degree, a proud man: her mother had been dead several
years. Rachel was proud too, in her way; proud and sensitive.

Rachel, dressed in her bonnet and shawl, passed out of the house by the
front entrance. She would not have presumed to do so by daylight; but it
was dusk now, the family not about, and it cut off a few yards of the
road to the village. The terrace--which you have heard of as running
along the front of the house--sloped gradually down at either end to the
level ground, so as to admit the approach of carriages.

Riding up swiftly to the door, as Rachel appeared at it, was a gentleman
of some five or six and twenty years. Horse and man both looked
thoroughbred. Tall, strong, and slender, with a keen, dark blue eye, and
regular features of a clear, healthy paleness, he--the man--would draw a
second glance to himself wherever he might be met. His face was not
inordinately handsome; nothing of the sort; but it wore an air of
candour, of noble truth. A somewhat impassive face in repose, somewhat
cold; but, in speaking, it grew expressive to animation, and the frank
smile that would light it up made its greatest charm. The smile stole
over it now, as he checked his horse and bent towards Rachel.

"Have they thought me lost? I suppose dinner is begun?"

"Dinner has been in this half-hour, sir."

"All right. I feared they might wait. What's the matter, Rachel? You've
been making your eyes red."

"The matter! There's nothing the matter with me, Mr. Lionel," was
Rachel's reply, her tone betraying a touch of annoyance. And she turned
and walked swiftly along the terrace, beyond reach of the glare of the
gas-lamp.

Up stole a man at this moment, who must have been hidden amid the
pillars of the portico, watching the transient meeting, watching for an
opportunity to speak. It was Roy, the bailiff; and he accosted the
gentleman with the same complaint, touching the ill-doings of the
Dawsons and the village in general, that had previously been carried to
Mr. Verner by Frederick Massingbird.

"I was told to wait and take my orders from you, sir," he wound up with.
"The master don't like to be troubled, and he wouldn't give none."

"Neither shall I give any," was the answer, "until I know more about
it."

"They ought to be got out to-night, Mr. Lionel!" exclaimed the man,
striking his hand fiercely against the air. "They sow all manner of
incendiarisms in the place, with their bad example."

"Roy," said Lionel Verner, in a quiet tone, "I have not, as you know,
interfered actively in the management of things. I have not opposed my
opinion against my uncle's, or much against yours; I have not come
between you and him. When I have given orders, they have been his
orders, not mine. But many things go on that I disapprove of; and I tell
you very candidly that, were I to become master to-morrow, my first act
would be to displace you, unless you could undertake to give up these
nasty acts of petty oppression."

"Unless some of 'em was oppressed and kept under, they'd be for riding
roughshod over the whole of us," retorted Roy.

"Nonsense!" said Lionel. "Nothing breeds rebellion like oppression. You
are too fond of oppression, Roy, and Mr. Verner knows it."

"They be a idle, poaching, good-for-nothing lot, them Dawsons," pursued
Roy. "And now that they be behind-hand with their rent, it is a glorious
opportunity to get rid of 'em. I'd turn 'em into the road, without a bed
to lie on, this very night!"

"How would you like to be turned into the road, without a bed to lie
on?" demanded Lionel.

"Me!" returned Roy, in deep dudgeon. "Do you compare me to that Dawson
lot? When I give cause to be turned out, then I hope I may be turned
out, sir, that's all. Mr. Lionel," he added, in a more conciliating
tone, "I know better about out-door things than you, and I say it's
necessary to be shut of the Dawsons. Give me power to act in this."

"I will not," said Lionel. "I forbid you to act in it at all, until the
circumstances shall have been inquired into."

He sprung from his horse, flung the bridle to the groom, who was at that
moment coming forward, and strode into the house with the air of a young
chieftain. Certainly Lionel Verner appeared fitted by nature to be the
heir of Verner's Pride.

Rachel Frost, meanwhile, gained the road and took the path to the left
hand; which would lead her to the village. Her thoughts were bent on
many sources, not altogether pleasant, one of which was the annoyance
she had experienced at finding her name coupled with that of the
bailiff's son, Luke Roy. There was no foundation for it. She had
disliked Luke, rather than liked him, her repugnance to him no doubt
arising from the very favour he felt disposed to show to her; and her
account of past matters to the bailiff was in accordance with the facts.
As she walked along, pondering, she became aware that two people were
advancing towards her in the dark twilight. She knew them instantly,
almost by intuition, but they were too much occupied with each other yet
to have noticed her. One was Frederick Massingbird, and the young lady
on his arm was his cousin, Sibylla West, a girl young and fascinating as
was Rachel. Mr. Frederick Massingbird had been suspected of a liking,
more than ordinary, for this young lady; but he had protested in
Rachel's hearing, as in that of others, that his was only cousin's love.
Some impulse prompted Rachel to glide in at a field-gate which she was
then passing, and stand behind the hedge until they should have gone
by. Possibly she did not care to be seen.

It was a still night, and their voices were borne distinctly to Rachel
as they slowly advanced. The first words to reach her came from the
young lady.

"You will be going out after him, Frederick. That will be the next thing
I expect."

"Sibylla," was the answer, and his accents bore that earnest, tender,
confidential tone which of itself alone betrays love, "be you very sure
of one thing: that I go neither there nor elsewhere without taking you."

"Oh, Frederick, is not John enough to go?"

"If I saw a better prospect there than here, I should follow him. After
he has arrived and is settled, he will write and report. My darling, I
am ever thinking of the future for your sake."

"But is it not a dreadful country? There are wolves and bears in it that
eat people up."

Frederick Massingbird slightly laughed at the remark. "Do you think I
would take my wife into the claws of wolves and bears?" he asked, in a
tone of the deepest tenderness. "She will be too precious to me for
that, Sibylla."

The voices and the footsteps died away in the distance, and Rachel came
out of her hiding-place, and went quickly on towards the village. Her
father's cottage was soon gained. He did not live alone. His only son,
Robert--who had a wife and family--lived with him. Robert was the son of
his youth; Rachel the daughter of his age; the children of two wives.
Matthew Frost's wife had died in giving birth to Robert, and twenty
years elapsed ere he married a second. He was seventy years of age now,
but still upright as a dart, with a fine fresh complexion, a clear
bright eye, and snow-white hair that fell in curls behind, on the collar
of his white smock-frock.

He was sitting at a small table apart when Rachel entered, a candle and
a large open Bible on it. A flock of grandchildren crowded round him,
two of them on his knees. He was showing them the pictures. To gaze
wonderingly on those pictures, and never tire of asking explanations of
their mysteries, was the chief business of the little Frosts' lives.
Robert's wife--but he was hardly ever called anything but Robin--was
preparing something over the fire for the evening meal. Rachel went up
and kissed her father. He scattered the children from him to make room
for her. He loved her dearly. Robin loved her dearly. When Robin was a
grown-up young man the pretty baby had come to be his plaything. Robin
seemed to love her still better than he loved his own children.

"Thee'st been crying, child!" cried old Matthew Frost. "What has ailed
thee?"

Had Rachel known that the signs of her past tears were so palpable as to
call forth remark from everybody she met, as it appeared they were
doing, she might have remained at home. Putting on a gay face, she
laughed off the matter. Matthew pressed it.

"Something went wrong at home, and I got a scolding," said Rachel at
length. "It was not worth crying over, though."

Mrs. Frost turned round from her saucepan.

"A scolding from the missis, Rachel?"

"There's nobody else at Verner's Pride should scold me," responded
Rachel, with a charming little air of self-consequence. "Mrs. Verner
said a cross word or two, and I was so stupid as to burst out crying. I
have had a headache all day, and that's sure to put me out of sorts."

"There's always things to worry one in service, let it be ever so good
on the whole," philosophically observed Mrs. Frost, bestowing her
attention again upon the saucepan. "Better be one's own missus on a
crust, say I, than at the beck and call of others."

"Rachel," interrupted old Matthew, "when I let you go to Verner's Pride,
I thought it was for your good. But I'd not keep you there a day, child,
if you be unhappy."

"Dear father, don't take up that notion," she quickly rejoined. "I am
happier at Verner's Pride than I should be anywhere else. I would not
leave it. Where is Robin this evening?"

"Robin--"

The answer was interrupted by the entrance of Robin himself. A short man
with a red face, somewhat obstinate-looking. His eye lighted up when he
saw Rachel; Mrs. Frost poured out the contents of her saucepan, which
appeared to be a compound of Scotch oatmeal and treacle. Rachel was
invited to take some, but declined. She lifted one of the children on
her knee--a pretty little girl named after herself. The child did not
seem well, and Rachel hushed it to her, bringing down her own sweet
face caressingly upon the little one's.

"So I hear as Mr. John Massingbird's a-going to London on a visit?"
cried Robin to his sister, holding out his basin for a second supply of
the porridge.

The question had to be repeated three times, and then Rachel seemed to
awake to it with a start. She had been gazing at vacancy, as if buried
in a dream.

"Mr. John? A visit to London? Oh, yes, yes; he is going to London."

"Do he make much of a stay?"

"I can't tell," said Rachel slightingly. A certain confidence had been
reposed in her at Verner's Pride; but it was not her business to make it
known, even in her father's home. Rachel was not a good hand at
deception, and she changed the subject. "Has there not been some
disturbance with the Dawsons to-day? Old Roy was at Verner's Pride this
afternoon, and the servants have been saying he came up about the
Dawsons."

"He wanted to turn 'em out," replied Robin.

"He's Grip Roy all over," said Mrs. Frost.

Old Matthew Frost shook his head. "There has been ill-feeling
smouldering between Roy and old Dawson this long while," said he. "Now
that it's come to open war, I misdoubt me but there'll be violence."

"There's ill-feeling between Roy and a many more, father, besides the
Dawsons," observed Robin.

"Ay! Rachel, child"--turning his head to the hearth, where his daughter
sat apart--"folks have said that young Luke wants to make up to you. But
I'd not like it. Luke's a good-meaning, kind-hearted lad himself, but
I'd not like you to be daughter-in-law to old Roy."

"Be easy, father dear. I'd not have Luke Roy if he were made of gold. I
never yet had anything to say to him, and I never will have. We can't
help our likes and dislikes."

"Pshaw!" said Robin, with pardonable pride. "Pretty Rachel is not for a
daft chap like Luke Roy, that's a head and ears shorter nor other men.
Be you, my dear one?"

Rachel laughed. Her conscience told her that she enjoyed a joke at
Luke's undersize. She took a shower of kisses from the little girl, put
her down, and rose.

"I must go," she said. "Mrs. Verner may be calling for me."

"Don't she know you be come out?" asked old Matthew.

"No. But do not fear that I came clandestinely--or, as our servants
would say, on the sly," added Rachel, with a smile. "Mrs. Verner has
told me to run down to see you whenever I like, after she has gone in to
dinner. Good-night, dear father."

The old man pressed her to his heart: "Don't thee get fretting again my
blessing. I don't care to see thee with red eyes."

For answer, Rachel burst into tears then--a sudden, violent burst. She
dashed them away again with a defiant, reckless sort of air, broke, into
a laugh, and laid the blame on her headache. Robin said he would walk
home with her.

"No, Robin, I would rather you did not to-night," she replied. "I have
two or three things to get at Mother Duff's, and I shall stop there a
bit, gossiping. After that, I shall be home in a trice. It's not dark;
and, if it were, who'd harm me?"

They laughed. To imagine harm of any sort occurring, through walking a
mile or so alone at night, would never enter the head of honest country
people. Rachel departed; and Robin, who was a domesticated man upon the
whole, helped his wife to put the children to bed.

Scarcely an hour later, a strange commotion arose in the village. People
ran about wildly, whispering dread words to one another. A woman had
just been drowned in the Willow Pond.

The whole place flocked down to the Willow Pond. On its banks, the
centre of an awe-struck crowd, which had been quickly gathering, lay a
body, recently taken out of the water. It was all that remained of poor
Rachel Frost--cold, and white, and DEAD!



CHAPTER III.

THE NEWS BROUGHT HOME.


Seated in the dining-room at Verner's Pride, comfortably asleep in an
arm-chair, her face turned to the fire and her feet on a footstool, was
Mrs. Verner. The dessert remained on the table, but nobody was there to
partake of it. Mr. Verner had retired to his study upon the withdrawal
of the cloth, according to his usual custom. Always a man of spare
habits, shunning the pleasures of the table, he had scarcely taken
sufficient to support nature since his health failed. Mrs. Verner would
remonstrate; but his medical attendant, Dr. West, said it was better for
him that it should be so. Lionel Verner (who had come in for the tail of
the dinner) and John Massingbird had likewise left the room and the
house, but not together. Mrs. Verner sat on alone. She liked to take her
share of dessert, if the others did not, and she generally remained in
the dining-room for the evening, rarely caring to move. Truth to say,
Mrs. Verner was rather addicted to dropping asleep with her last glass
of wine and waking up with the tea-tray, and she did so this evening.

Of course work goes on downstairs (or is supposed to go on) whether the
mistress of a house be asleep or awake. It really was going on that
evening in the laundry at Verner's Pride, whatever it may have been
doing in the other various branches and departments. The laundry-maids
had had heavy labour on their hands that day, and they were hard at work
still, while Mrs. Verner slept.

"Here's Mother Duff's Dan a-coming in!" exclaimed one of the women,
glancing over her ironing-board to the yard. "What do he want, I
wonder?"

"Who?" cried Nancy, the under-housemaid, a tart sort of girl, whose
business it was to assist in the laundry on busy days.

"Dan Duff. Just see what he wants, Nancy. He's got a parcel."

The gentleman familiarly called Dan Duff was an urchin of ten years old.
He was the son of Mrs. Duff, linen-draper-in-ordinary to Deerham--a lady
popularly spoken of as "Mother Duff," both behind her back and before
her face. Nancy darted out at the laundry-door and waylaid the intruder
in the yard.

"Now, Dan Duff!" cried she, "what do you want?"

"Please, here's this," was Dan Duff's reply, handing over the parcel.
"And, please, I want to see Rachel Frost."

"Who's it for? What's inside it?" sharply asked Nancy, regarding the
parcel on all sides.

"It's things as Rachel Frost have been a-buying," he replied. "Please, I
want to see her."

"Then want must be your master," retorted Nancy. "Rachel Frost's not at
home."

"_Ain't_ she?" returned Dan Duff, with surprised emphasis. "Why, she
left our shop a long sight afore I did! Mother says, please, would she
mind having some o' the dark lavender print instead o' the light, 'cause
Susan Peckaby's come in, and she wants the whole o' the light lavender
for a gownd, and there's only just enough of it. And, please, I be to
take word back."

"How are you to take word back if she's not in?" asked Nancy, whose
temper never was improved by extra work. "Get along, Dan Duff! You must
come along again to-morrow if you want her."

Dan Duff turned to depart, in meek obedience, and Nancy carried the
parcel into the laundry and flung it down on the ironing-board.

"It's fine to be Rachel Frost," she sarcastically cried. "Going shopping
like any lady, and having her things sent home for her! And messages
about her gownds coming up--which will she have, if you please, and
which won't she have! I'll borror one of the horses to-morrow, and go
shopping myself on a side-saddle!"

"Has Rachel gone shopping to-night?" cried one of the women, pausing in
her ironing. "I did not know she was out."

"She has been out all the evening," was Nancy's answer. "I met her
coming down the stairs, dressed. And she could tell a story over it,
too, for she said she was going to see her old father."

But Master Dan Duff is not done with yet. If that gentleman stood in awe
of one earthly thing more than another, it was of the anger of his
revered mother. Mrs. Duff, in her maternal capacity, was rather free
both with her hands and tongue. Being sole head of her flock, for she
was a widow, she deemed it best to rule with firmness, not to say
severity; and her son Dan, awed by his own timid nature, tried hard to
steer his course so as to avoid shoals and quicksands. He crossed the
yard, after the rebuff administered by Nancy, and passed out at the
gate, where he stood still to revolve affairs. His mother had
imperatively ordered him to _bring back_ the answer touching the
intricate question of the light and the dark lavender prints; and Susan
Peckaby--one of the greatest idlers in all Deerham--said she would wait
in the shop until he came with it. He stood softly whistling, his hands
in his pockets, and balancing himself on his heels.

"I'll get a basting, for sure," soliloquised he. "Mother'll lose the
sale of the gownd, and then she'll say it's my fault, and baste me for
it. What's of her? Why couldn't she ha' come home, as she said?"

He set his wits to work to divine what _could_ have "gone of
her"--alluding, of course, to Rachel. And a bright thought occurred to
him--really not an unnatural one--that she had probably taken the other
road home. It was a longer round, through the fields, and there were
stiles to climb, and gates to mount; which might account for the delay.
He arrived at the conclusion, though somewhat slow of drawing
conclusions in general, that if he returned home that way, he should
meet Rachel; and could then ask the question.

If he turned to his left hand--standing as he did at the gate with his
back to the back of the house--he would regain the high road, whence he
came. Did he turn to the right, he would plunge into fields and lanes,
and covered ways, and emerge at length, by a round, in the midst of the
village, almost close to his own house. It was a lonely way at night,
and longer than the other, but Master Dan Duff regarded those as
pleasant evils, in comparison with a "basting." He took his hands out of
his pockets, brought down his feet to a level, and turned to it,
whistling still.

It was a tolerably light night. The moon was up, though not very high,
and a few stars might be seen here and there in the blue canopy above.
Mr. Dan Duff proceeded on his way, not very quickly. Some dim idea was
penetrating his brain that the slower he walked, the better chance there
might be of his meeting Rachel.

"She's just a cat, is that Susan Peckaby!" decided he, with acrimony, in
the intervals of his whistling. "It was her as put mother up to the
thought o' sending me to-night: Rachel Frost said the things 'ud do in
the morning. 'Let Dan carry 'em up now,' says Dame Peckaby, 'and ask her
about the print, and then I'll take it home along o' me.' And if I go in
without the answer, she'll be the first to help mother to baste me! Hi!
ho! hur! hur-r-r-r!"

This last exclamation was caused by his catching sight of some small
animal scudding along. He was at that moment traversing a narrow,
winding lane; and, in the field to the right, as he looked in at the
open gate, he saw the movement. It might be a cat, it might be a hare,
it might be a rabbit, it might be some other animal; it was all one to
Mr. Dan Duff; and he had not been a boy had he resisted the propensity
to pursue it. Catching up a handful of earth from the lane, he shied it
in the proper direction, and tore in at the gate after it.

Nothing came of the pursuit. The trespasser had earthed itself, and Mr.
Dan came slowly back again. He had nearly approached the gate, when
somebody passed it, walking up the lane with a very quick step, from the
direction in which he, Dan, was bound. Dan saw enough to know that it
was not Rachel, for it was the figure of a man; but Dan set off to run,
and emerged from the gate just in time to catch another glimpse of the
person, as he disappeared beyond the windings of the lane.

"'Twarn't Rachel, at all events," was his comment. And he turned and
pursued his way again.

It was somewhere about this time that Tynn made his appearance in the
dining-room at Verner's Pride, to put away the dessert, and set the tea.
The stir woke up Mrs. Verner.

"Send Rachel to me," said she, winking and blinking at the tea-cups.

"Yes, ma'am," replied Tynn.

He left the room when he had placed the cups and things to his
satisfaction. He called for Rachel high and low, up and down. All to no
purpose. The servants did not appear to know anything of her. One of
them went to the door and shouted out to the laundry to know whether
Rachel was there, and the answering shout "No" came back. The footman at
length remembered that he had seen her go out at the hall door while the
dinner was in. Tynn carried this item of information to Mrs. Verner. It
did not please her.

"Of course!" she grumbled. "Let me want any one of you particularly, and
you are sure to be away! If she did go out, she ought not to stay as
long as this. Who's this coming in?"

It was Frederick Massingbird. He entered, singing a scrap of a song;
which was cut suddenly short when his eye fell on the servant.

"Tynn," said he, "you must bring me something to eat. I have had no
dinner."

"You cannot be very hungry, or you'd have come in before," remarked Mrs.
Verner to him. "It is tea-time now."

"I'll take tea and dinner together," was his answer.

"But you ought to have been in before," she persisted; for, though an
easy mistress and mother, Mrs. Verner did not like the order of meals to
be displaced. "Where have you stayed, Fred? You have not been all this
while taking Sibylla West to Bitterworth's."

"You must talk to Sibylla West about that," answered Fred. "When young
ladies keep you a good hour waiting, while they make themselves ready to
start, you can't get back precisely to your own time."

"What did she keep you waiting for?" questioned Mrs. Verner.

"Some mystery of the toilette, I conclude. When I got there, Amilly said
Sibylla was dressing; and a pretty prolonged dressing it appeared to be!
Since I left her at Bitterworth's, I have been to Poynton's about my
mare. She was as lame as ever to-day."

"And there's Rachel out now, just as I am wanting her!" went on Mrs.
Verner, who, when she did lapse into a grumbling mood, was fond of
calling up a catalogue of grievances.

"At any rate, that's not my fault, mother," observed Frederick. "I dare
say she will soon be in. Rachel is not given to stay out, I fancy, if
there's a chance of her being wanted."

Tynn came in with his tray, and Frederick Massingbird sat down to it.
Tynn then waited for Mr. Verner's tea, which he carried into the study.
He carried a cup in every evening, but Mr. Verner scarcely ever touched
it. Then Tynn returned to the room where the upper servants took their
meals and otherwise congregated, and sat down to read a newspaper. He
was a little man, very stout, his plain clothes always scrupulously
neat.

A few minutes, and Nancy came in, the parcel left by Dan Duff in her
hand. The housekeeper asked her what it was. She explained in her crusty
way, and said something to the same effect that she had said in the
laundry--that it was fine to be Rachel Frost. "She's long enough making
her way up here!" Nancy wound up with.

"Dan Duff says she left their shop to come home before he did. If Luke
Roy was in Deerham one would know what to think!"

"Bah!" cried the housekeeper. "Rachel Frost has nothing to say to Luke
Roy."

Tynn laid down his paper, and rose. "I'll just tell the mistress that
Rachel's on her way home," said he. "She's put up like anything at her
being out--wants her for something particular, she says."

Barely had he departed on his errand, when a loud commotion was heard in
the passage. Mr. Dan Duff had burst in at the back door, uttering sounds
of distress--of fright--his eyes starting, his hair standing on end, his
words nearly unintelligible.

"Rachel Frost is in the Willow Pond--drownded!"

The women shrieked when they gathered in the sense. It was enough to
make them shriek. Dan Duff howled in concert. The passages took up the
sounds and echoed them; and Mrs. Verner, Frederick Massingbird, and Tynn
came hastening forth. Mr. Verner followed, feeble, and leaning on his
stick. Frederick Massingbird seized upon the boy, questioning sharply.

"Rachel Frost's a-drowned in the Willow Pond," he reiterated. "I see'd
her."

A moment of pause, of startled suspense, and then they flew off, men and
women, as with one accord, Frederick Massingbird leading the van. Social
obligations were forgotten in the overwhelming excitement, and Mr. and
Mrs. Verner were left to keep house for themselves. Tynn, indeed,
recollected himself, and turned back.

"No," said Mr. Verner. "Go with the rest, Tynn, and see what it is, and
whether anything can be done."

He might have crept thither himself in his feeble strength, but he had
not stirred out of the house for two years.



CHAPTER IV.

THE CROWD IN THE MOONLIGHT.


The Willow Pond, so called from its being surrounded with weeping
willows, was situated at the corner of a field, in a retired part of the
road, about midway between Verner's Pride and Deerham. There was a great
deal of timber about that part; it was altogether as lonely as could be
desired. When the runners from Verner's Pride reached it, assistance had
already arrived, and Rachel, rescued from the pond, was being laid upon
the grass. All signs of life were gone.

Who had done it?--what had caused it?--was it an accident?--was it a
self-committed act?--or was it a deed of violence? What brought her
there at all? No young girl would be likely to take that way home (with
all due deference to the opinion of Master Dan Duff) alone at night.

What was to be done? The crowd propounded these various questions in so
many marvels of wonder, and hustled each other, and talked incessantly;
but to be of use, to direct, nobody appeared capable. Frederick
Massingbird stepped forward with authority.

"Carry her at once to Verner's Pride--with all speed. And some of
you"--turning to the servants of the house--"hasten on, and get water
heated and blankets hot. Get hot bricks--get anything and everything
likely to be required. How did she get in?"

He appeared to speak the words more in the light of a wailing regret,
than as a question. It was a question that none present appeared able to
answer. The crowd was increasing rapidly. One of them suggested that
Broom the gamekeeper's cottage was nearer than Verner's Pride.

"But there will be neither hot water nor blankets there," returned
Frederick Massingbird.

"The house is the best. Make haste! don't let grass grow under your
feet."

"A moment," interposed a gentleman who now came hastily up, as they were
raising the body. "Lay her down again."

They obeyed him eagerly, and fell a little back that he might have space
to bend over her. It was the doctor of the neighbourhood, resident at
Deerham. He was a fine man in figure, dark and florid in face, but a
more impassive countenance could not well be seen, and he had the
peculiarity of rarely looking a person in the face. If a patient's eyes
were mixed on Dr. West's, Dr. West's were invariably fixed upon
something else. A clever man in his profession, holding an Edinburgh
degree, and practising as a general practitioner. He was brother to the
present Mrs. Verner; consequently, uncle to the two young Massingbirds.

"Has anybody got a match?" he asked.

One of the Verner's Pride servants had a whole boxful, and two or three
were lighted at a time, and held so that the doctor could see the
drowned face better than he could in the uncertain moonlight. It was a
strange scene. The lonely, weird character of the place; the dark trees
scattered about; the dull pond with its bending willows; the swaying,
murmuring crowd collected round the doctor and what he was bending over;
the bright flickering flame of the match-light; with the pale moon
overhead, getting higher and higher as the night went on, and struggling
her way through passing clouds.

"How did it happen?" asked Dr. West.

Before any answer could be given, a man came tearing up at the top of
his speed; several men, indeed, it may be said. The first was Roy, the
bailiff. Upon Roy's leaving Verner's Pride, after the rebuke bestowed
upon him by its heir, he had gone straight down to the George and
Dragon, a roadside inn, situated on the outskirts of the village, on the
road from Verner's Pride. Here he had remained, consorting with
droppers-in from Deerham, and soothing his mortification with a pipe and
sundry cans of ale. When the news was brought in that Rachel Frost was
drowned in the Willow-pond, Roy, the landlord, and the company
collectively, started off to see.

"Why, it _is_ her!" uttered Roy, taking a hasty view of poor Rachel. "I
said it wasn't possible. I saw her and talked to her up at the house but
two or three hours ago. How did she get in?"

The same question always; from all alike: how did she get in? Dr. West
rose.

"You can move her," he said.

"Is she dead, sir?"

"Yes."

Frederick Massingbird--who had been the one to hold the matches--caught
the doctor's arm.

"Not _dead_!" he uttered. "Not dead beyond hope of restoration?"

"She will never be restored in this world," was the reply of Dr. West.
"She is quite dead."

"Measures should be tried, at any rate," said Frederick Massingbird
warmly.

"By all means," acquiesced Dr. West. "It will afford satisfaction,
though it should do nothing else."

They raised her once more, her clothes dripping, and turned with quiet,
measured steps towards Verner's Pride. Of course the whole assemblage
attended. They were eagerly curious, boiling over with excitement; but,
to give them their due, they were earnestly anxious to afford any aid in
their power, and contended who should take turn at bearing that wet
burden. Not one but felt sorely grieved for Rachel. Even Nancy was
subdued to meekness, as she sped on to be one of the busiest in
preparing remedies; and old Roy, though somewhat inclined to regard it
in the light of a judgment upon proud Rachel for slighting his son, felt
some twinges of pitying regret.

"I have knowed cases where people, dead from drownding, have been
restored to life," said Roy, as they walked along.

"That you never have," replied Dr. West. "The _apparently_ dead have
been restored; the dead, never."

Panting, breathless, there came up one as they reached Verner's Pride.
He parted the crowd, and threw himself almost upon Rachel with a wild
cry. He caught up her cold, wet face, and passing his hands over it,
bent down his warm cheek upon it.

"Who has done it?" he sobbed. "What has done it? She couldn't have fell
in alone."

It was Robin Frost. Frederick Massingbird drew him away by the arm.
"Don't hinder, Robin. Every minute may be worth a life."

And Robin, struck with the argument, obeyed docilely like a little
child.

Mr. Verner, leaning on his stick, trembling with weakness and emotion,
stood just without the door of the laundry, which had been hastily
prepared, as the bearers tramped in.

"It is an awful tragedy!" he murmured. "Is it true"--addressing Dr.
West--"that you think there is no hope?"

"I am sure there is none," was the answer. "But every means shall be
tried."

The laundry was cleared of the crowd, and their work began. One of the
next to come up was old Matthew Frost. Mr. Verner took his hand.

"Come in to my own room, Matthew," he said. "I feel for you deeply."

"Nay, sir; I must look upon her."

Mr. Verner pointed with his stick in the direction of the laundry.

"They are shut in there--the doctor and those whom he requires round
him," he said. "Let them be undisturbed; it is the only chance."

All things likely to be wanted had been conveyed to the laundry; and
they were shut in there, as Mr. Verner expressed it, with their fires
and their heat. On dragged the time. Anxious watchers were in the house,
in the yard, gathered round the back gate. The news had spread, and
gentlepeople, friends of the Verners, came hasting from their homes, and
pressed into Verner's Pride, and asked question upon question of Mr. and
Mrs. Verner, of everybody likely to afford an answer. Old Matthew Frost
stood outwardly calm and collected, full of inward trust, as a good man
should be. He had learned where to look for support in the darkest
trial. Mr. Verner in that night of sorrow seemed to treat him as a
brother.

One hour! Two hours! and still they plied their remedies, under the able
direction of Dr. West. All was of no avail, as the experienced physician
had told them. Life was extinct. Poor Rachel Frost was really dead!



CHAPTER V.

THE TALL GENTLEMAN IN THE LANE.


Apart from the horror of the affair, it was altogether attended with so
much mystery that that of itself would have kept the excitement alive.
What could have taken Rachel Frost near the pond at all? Allowing that
she had chosen that lonely road for her way home--which appeared
unlikely in the extreme--she must still have gone out of it to approach
the pond, must have walked partly across a field to gain it. Had her
path led close by it, it would have been a different matter: it might
have been supposed (unlikely still, though) that she had missed her
footing and fallen in. But unpleasant rumours were beginning to
circulate in the crowd. It was whispered that sounds of a contest, the
voices being those of a man and a woman, had been heard in that
direction at the time of the accident, or about the time; and these
rumours reached the ear of Mr. Verner.

For the family to think of bed, in the present state of affairs, or the
crowd to think of dispersing, would have been in the highest degree
improbable. Mr. Verner set himself to get some sort of solution first.
One told one tale; one, another: one asserted something else; another,
the exact opposite. Mr. Verner--and in saying Mr. Verner, we must
include all--was fairly puzzled. A notion had sprung up that Dinah Roy,
the bailiffs wife, could tell something about it if she would. Certain
it was, that she had stood amid the crowd, cowering and trembling,
shrinking from observation as much as possible, and recoiling visibly if
addressed.

A word of this suspicion at last reached her husband. It angered him. He
was accustomed to keep his wife in due submission. She was a little
body, with a pinched face and a sharp red nose, given to weeping upon
every possible occasion, and as indulgently fond of her son Luke as she
was afraid of her husband. Since Luke's departure she had passed the
better part of her time in tears.

"Now," said Roy, going up to her with authority, and drawing her apart,
"what's this as is up with you?"

She looked round her, and shuddered.

"Oh, law!" cried she, with a moan. "Don't you begin to ask, Giles, or I
shall be fit to die."

"Do you know anything about this matter, or don't you?" cried he
savagely. "Did you see anything?"

"What should I be likely to see of it?" quaked Mrs. Roy.

"Did you see Rachel fall into the pond? Or see her a-nigh the pond?"

"No, I didn't," moaned Mrs. Roy. "I never set eyes on Rachel this
blessed night at all. I'd take a text o' scripture to it."

"Then what is the matter with you?" he demanded, giving her a slight
shake.

"Hush, Giles!" responded she, in a tone of unmistakable terror. "I saw a
ghost!"

"Saw a--what?" thundered Giles Roy.

"A ghost!" she repeated. "And it have made me shiver ever since."

Giles Roy knew that his wife was rather prone to flights of fancy. He
was in the habit of administering one sovereign remedy, which he
believed to be an infallible panacea for wives' ailments whenever it was
applied--a hearty good shaking. He gave her a slight instalment as he
turned away.

"Wait till I get ye home," said he significantly. "I'll drive the ghosts
out of ye!"

Mr. Verner had seated himself in his study, with a view of investigating
systematically the circumstances attending the affair, so far as they
were known. At present all seemed involved in a Babel of confusion, even
the open details.

"Those able to tell anything of it shall come before me, one by one," he
observed; "we may get at something then."

The only stranger present was Mr. Bitterworth, an old and intimate
friend of Mr. Verner. He was a man of good property, and resided a
little beyond Verner's Pride. Others--plenty of them--had been eager to
assist in what they called the investigation, but Mr. Verner had
declined. The public investigation would come soon enough, he observed,
and that must satisfy them. Mrs. Verner saw no reason why she should be
absent, and she took her seat. Her sons were there. The news had reached
John out-of-doors, and he had hastened home full of consternation. Dr.
West also remained by request, and the Frosts, father and son, had
pressed in. Mr. Verner could not deny _them._

"To begin at the beginning," observed Mr. Verner, "it appears that
Rachel left this house between six and seven. Did she mention to anybody
where she was going?"

"I believe she did to Nancy, sir," replied Mrs. Tynn, who had been
allowed to remain.

"Then call Nancy in," said Mr. Verner.

Nancy came, but she could not say much: only that, in going up the front
stairs to carry some linen into Mrs. Verner's room, she had met Rachel,
dressed to go out. Rachel had said, in passing her, that she was about
to visit her father.

"And she came?" observed Mr. Verner, turning to Matthew Frost, as Nancy
was dismissed.

"She came, sir," replied the old man, who was having an incessant battle
with himself for calmness; for it was not there, in the presence of
others, that he would willingly indulge his grief. "I saw that she had
been fretting. Her eyes were as red as ferrets'; and I taxed her with
it. She was for turning it off at first, but I pressed for the cause,
and she then said she had been scolded by her mistress."

"By me!" exclaimed Mrs. Verner, lifting her head in surprise. "I had not
scolded her."

But as she spoke she caught the eye of her son John, and she remembered
the little scene of the afternoon.

"I recollect now," she resumed. "I spoke a word of reproof to Rachel,
and she burst into a violent flood of tears, and ran away from me. It
surprised me much. What I said was not sufficient to call forth one
tear, let alone a passionate burst of them."

"What was it about?" asked Mr. Verner.

"I expect John can give a better explanation of it than I," replied Mrs.
Verner, after a pause. "I went out of the room for a minute or two, and
when I returned, Rachel was talking angrily at John. I could not make
out distinctly about what. John had begun to tease her about Luke Roy, I
believe, and she did not like it."

Mr. John Massingbird's conscience called up the little episode of the
coveted kiss. But it might not be altogether prudent to confess it in
full conclave.

"It is true that I did joke Rachel about Luke," he said. "It seemed to
anger her very much, and she paid me out with some hard words. My mother
returned at the same moment. She asked what was the matter; I said I had
joked Rachel about Luke, and that Rachel did not like it."

"Yes, that was it," acquiesced Mrs. Verner. "I then told Rachel that in
my opinion she would have done well to encourage Luke, who was a steady
young man, and would no doubt have a little money. Upon which she began
weeping. I felt rather vexed; not a word have I been able to say to her
lately, but tears have been the answer; and I asked what had come to her
that she should cry for every trifle as if she were heart-broken. With
that, she fell into a burst of sobs, terrifying to see, and ran from the
room. I was thunderstruck. I asked John what could be the matter with
her, and he said he could only think she was going crazed."

John Massingbird nodded his head, as if in confirmation. Old Matthew
Frost spoke up, his voice trembling with the emotion that he was
striving to keep under--

"Did she say what it was that had come to her, ma'am?"

"She did not make any reply at all," rejoined Mrs. Verner. "But it is
quite nonsense to suppose she could have fallen into that wild burst of
grief simply at being joked about Luke. I could not make her out."

"And she has fallen into fretting, you say, ma'am, lately?" pursued
Matthew Frost, leaning his venerable white head forward.

"Often and often," replied Mrs. Verner. "She has seemed quite an altered
girl in the last few weeks!"

"My son's wife has said the same," cried old Matthew. "She has said that
Rachel was changed. But I took it to mean in her looks--that she had got
thinner. You mind the wife saying it, Robin?"

"Yes, I mind it," shortly replied Robin, who had propped himself against
the wall, his arms folded and his head bent. "I'm a-minding all."

"She wouldn't eat a bit o' supper," went on old Matthew. "But that was
nothing," he added; "she used to say she had plenty of food here,
without eating ours. She sat apart by the fire with one o' the little
uns in her lap. She didn't stay over long; she said the missus might be
wanting her, and she left; and when she was kissing my poor old face,
she began sobbing. Robin offered to see her home--"

"And she wouldn't have it," interrupted Robin, looking up for the first
time with a wild expression of despair. "She said she had things to get
at Mother Duff's, and should stop a bit there, a-gossiping. It'll be on
my mind by day and by night, that if I'd went with her, harm couldn't
have come."

"And that was how she left you," pursued Mr. Verner. "You did not see
her after that? You know nothing further of her movements?"

"Nothing further," assented Robin. "I watched her down the lane as far
as the turning, and that was the last."

"Did she go to Mrs. Duff's, I wonder?" asked Mr. Verner.

Oh, yes; several of those present could answer that. There was the
parcel brought up by Dan Duff, as testimony; and, if more had been
needed, Mrs. Duff herself had afforded it, for she made one of the crowd
outside.

"We must have Mrs. Duff in," said Mr. Verner.

Accordingly, Mrs. Duff was brought in--a voluble lady with red hair. Mr.
Verner politely asked her to be seated, but she replied that she'd
prefer to stand, if 'twas all the same. She was used to standing in her
shop, and she couldn't never sit for a minute together when she was
upset.

"Did Rachel Frost purchase things of you this evening, Mrs. Duff?"

"Well, she did, and she didn't," responded Mrs. Duff. "I never calls it
purchasing of things, sir, when a customer comes in and says, 'Just cut
me off so and so, and send it up.' They be sold, of course, if you look
at it in that light; but I'm best pleased when buyers examines the
goods, and chats a bit over their merits. Susan Peckaby, now, she--"

"What did Rachel Frost buy?" interrupted Mr. Verner, who knew what Mrs.
Duff's tongue was, when it was once set going.

"She looked in at the shop, sir, while I was a-serving little Green with
some bone buttons, that her mother had sent her for. 'I want some Irish
for aprons, Mrs. Duff,' says she. 'Cut off the proper quantity for a
couple, and send it me up some time to-morrow. I'd not give the
trouble,' says she, 'but I can't wait to take it now, for I'm in a hurry
to get home, and I shall be wanting the aprons.' 'What quality--pretty
good?' said I. 'Oh, you know,' says she; 'about the same that I bought
last time. And put in the tape for strings, and a reel of white cotton,
No. 30. And I don't mind if you put in a piece of that German ribbon,
middling width,' she went on. 'It's nicer than tape for nightcaps, and
them sort o' things.' And with that, sir, she was turning out again,
when her eyes was caught by some lavender prints, as was a-hanging just
in the doorway. Two shades of it, there was, dark and light. 'That's
pretty,' says she. 'It's beautiful,' said I; 'they be the sweetest
things I have had in, this many a day; and they be the wide width. Won't
you take some of it for a gownd?' 'No,' says she, 'I'm set up for cotton
gownds.' 'Why not buy a bit of it for a apron or two?' I said.
'Nothing's cleaner than them lavender prints for morning aprons, and
they saves the white.' So she looked at it for a minute, and then she
said I might cut her off a couple o' yards of the light, and send it up
with the other things. Well, sir, Sally Green went away with her
buttons, and I took down the light print, thinking I'd cut off the two
yards at once. Just then, Susan Peckaby comes in for some gray worsted,
and she falls right in love with the print. 'I'll have a gownd of that,'
says she, 'and I'll take it now.' In course, sir, I was only too glad to
sell it to her, for, like Rachel, she's good pay; but when I come to
measure it, there was barely nine yards left, which is what Susan
Peckaby takes for a gownd, being as tall as a maypole. So I was in a
mess; for I couldn't take and sell it all, over Rachel's head, having
offered it to her. 'Perhaps she wouldn't mind having her aprons off the
dark,' says Susan Peckaby; 'it don't matter what colour aprons is
of--they're not like gownds.' And then we agreed that I should send Dan
up here at once to ask her, and Susan Peckaby--who seemed mighty eager
to have the print--said she'd wait till he come back. And I cut off the
white Irish, and wrapped it up with the tape and things, and sent him."

"Rachel Frost had left your shop, then?"

"She left it, sir, when she told me she'd have some of the lavender
print. She didn't stay another minute."

Robin Frost lifted his head again. "She said she was going to stop at
your place for a bit of a gossip, Mother Duff."

"Then she didn't stop," responded that lady. "She never spoke a single
word o' gossip, or looked inclined to speak it. She just spoke out
short, as if she was in a hurry, and she turned clean out o' the shop
afore the words about the lavender print had well left her. Ask Sally
Green, if you don't believe me."

"You did not see which way she took?" observed Mr. Verner.

"No, sir, I didn't; I was behind my counter. But, for the matter o'
that, there was two or three as saw her go out of my shop and take the
turning by the pound--which is a good proof she meant to come home here
by the field way, for that turning, as you know, sir, leads to nowhere
else."

Mr. Verner did know it. He also knew--for witnesses had been speaking of
it outside--that Rachel had been seen to take that turning after she
left Mrs. Duff's shop, and that she was walking with a quick step.

The next person called in was Master Dan Duff--in a state of extreme
consternation at being called in at all. He was planted down in front of
Mr. Verner, his legs restless. An idea crossed his brain that they might
be going to accuse him of putting Rachel into the pond, and he began to
cry. With a good deal of trouble on Mr. Verner's part, owing to the
young gentleman's timidity, and some circumlocution on his own, the
facts, so far as Dan was cognisant of them, were drawn forth. It
appeared that after he had emerged from the field when he made that
slight diversion in pursuit of the running animal, he continued his
road, and had gained the lonely part near where the pond was situated,
when young Broom, the son of Mr. Verner's gamekeeper, ran up and asked
him what was the matter, and whether anybody was in the pond. Broom did
not wait for an answer, but went on to the pond, and Dan Duff followed
him. Sure enough, Rachel Frost was in it. They knew her by her clothes,
as she rose to the surface. Dan Duff, in his terror, went back shrieking
to Verner's Pride, and young Broom, more sensibly, ran for help to get
her out.

"How did young Broom know, or suspect, there was anybody in the pond?"
questioned Mr. Verner.

"I dun know, please, sir," sobbed Dan Duff; "that was what he said as he
runned off to it. He asked me if I had seen any folks about, and I said
I'd only seen that un in the lane."

"Whom did you see in the lane?"

"I dun know who it was, please, sir," returned Dan, sniffing greatly. "I
wasn't a-nigh him."

"But you must have been nigh him if you met him in the lane."

"Please, sir, I wasn't in the lane then. I had runned into the field
after a cat."

"After a cat?"

"Please, sir, 'twere a cat, I think. But it got away, and I didn't find
it. I saw somebody a-passing of the gate up the lane, but I warn't quick
enough to see who."

"Going which way?"

"Please, sir, up towards here. If I hadn't turned into the field, I
should ha' met him face to face. I dun know who it was."

"Did you hear any noise near the pond, or see any movement in its
direction, before you were accosted by Broom?"

"Please, sir, no."

It appeared to be of little use to detain Mr. Duff. In his stead young
Broom was called in. A fine-grown young fellow of nineteen, whose
temperament may be indicated by two words--cool and lazy. He was desired
to give his own explanation.

"I was going home for the night, sir," he began, in answer, "when I
heard the sound of voices in dispute. They seemed to come from the
direction of the grove of trees near the Willow Pond, and I stayed to
listen. I thought perhaps some of the Dawsons and Roy had come to an
encounter out there; but I soon found that one of the voices was that of
a woman. Quite a young voice it sounded, and it was broke by sobs and
tears. The other voice was a man's."

"Only two! Did you recognise them?"

"No, sir, I did not recognise them; I was too far off, maybe. I only
made out that it was two--a man's and a woman's. I stopped a few
minutes, listening, and they seemed to quiet down, and then, as I was
going on again, I came up to Mrs. Roy. She was kneeling down, and--"

"Kneeling down?" interrupted Mr. Verner.

"She was kneeling down, sir, with her hands clasped round the trunk of a
tree, like one in mortal fright. She laid hold of me then, and I asked
what was the matter with her, and she answered that she had been a'most
frightened to death. I asked whether it was at the quarrel, but she only
said, 'Hush! listen!' and at last she set on to cry. Just then we heard
an awful shriek, and a plunge into the water. 'There goes something into
the Willow Pond,' said I, and I was turning to run to it, when Mrs. Roy
shrieked out louder than the other shriek had been, and fell flat down
on the earth. I never hardly see such a face afore for ghastliness. The
moon was shining out full then, and it daunted me to look at her. I
thought she was dead--that the fright had killed her. There wasn't a bit
o' breath in her body, and I raised her head up, not knowing what to do
with her. Presently she heaved a sort of sigh, and opened her eyes; and
with that she seemed to recollect herself, and asked what was in the
pond. I left her and went off to it, meeting Dan Duff--and we found it
was Rachel Frost. Dan, he set on to howl, and wouldn't stay, and I went
for the nearest help, and got her out. That's all, sir."

"Was she already dead?"

"Well, sir, when you first get a person out of the water it's hard to
say whether they be dead or not. She seemed dead, but perhaps if there
had been means right at hand, she might have been brought-to again."

A moan of pain from old Matthew. Mr. Verner continued as it died out--

"Rachel Frost's voice must have been one of those you heard in dispute?"

"Not a doubt of that, sir," replied young Broom. "Any more than that
there must have been foul play at work to get her into the pond, or that
the other disputing voice must have belonged to the man who did it."

"Softly, softly," said Mr. Verner. "Did you see any man about?"

"I saw nobody at all, sir, saving Dan Duff and Mrs. Roy; and Rachel's
quarrel could not have been with either of them. Whoever the other was,
he had made himself scarce."

Robin Frost took a step forward respectfully.

"Did you mind, sir, that Mother Duffs Dan spoke to seeing some person in
the lane?"

"I do," replied Mr. Verner. "I should like to ask the boy another
question or two upon that point. Call him in, one of you."

John Massingbird went out and brought back the boy.

"Mind you have your wits sharp about you this time, Mr. Duff," he
remarked. Which piece of advice had the effect of scaring Mr. Duff's
wits more completely away than they had been scared before.

"You tell us that you saw a man pass up the lane when you were in the
field after the cat," began Mr. Verner. "Was the man walking fast?"

"Please, sir, yes. Afore I could get out o' the gate he was near out o'
sight. He went a'most as fast as the cat did."

"How long was it, after you saw him, before you met young Broom, and
heard that somebody was in the pond?"

"Please, sir, 'twas a'most directly. I was running then, I was."

As the boy's answer fell upon the room, a conviction stole over most of
those collected in it that this man must have been the one who had been
heard in dispute with Rachel Frost.

"Were there no signs about him by which you could recognise him?"
pursued Mr. Verner. "What did he look like? Was he tall or short?"

"Please, sir, he were very tall."

"Could you see his dress? Was it like a gentleman's or a labourer's?"

"Please, sir, I think it looked like a gentleman's--like one o' the
gentlemen's at Verner's Pride."

"Whose? Like which of the gentlemen's?" rang out Mr. Verner's voice,
sharply and sternly, after a moment's pause of surprise, for he
evidently had not expected the answer.

"Please, sir, I dun know which. The clothes looked dark, and the man
were as tall as the gentlemen, or as Calves."

"_Calves?_" echoed Mr. Verner, puzzled.

John Massingbird broke into an involuntary smile. He knew that their
tall footman, Bennet, was universally styled "Calves" in the village.
Dan Duff probably believed it to be his registered name.

But Frederick Massingbird was looking dark and threatening. The
suspicion hinted at--if you can call it a suspicion--angered him. The
villagers were wont to say that Mr. Frederick had ten times more pride
than Mr. John. They were not far wrong--Mr. John had none at all.

"Boy!" Frederick sternly said, "what grounds have you for saying it was
like one of the gentlemen?"

Dan Duff began to sob. "I dun know who it were," he said; "indeed I
don't. But he were tall, and his clothes looked dark. Please, sir, if
you basted me, I couldn't tell no more."

It was believed that he could not. Mr. Verner dismissed him, and John
Massingbird, according to order, went to bring in Mrs. Roy.

He was some little time before he found her. She was discovered at last
in a corner of the steward's room, seated on a low stool, her head bent
down on her knees.

"Now, ma'am," said John, with unwonted politeness, "you are being waited
for."

She looked up, startled. She rose from her low seat, and began to
tremble, her lips moving, her teeth chattering. But no sound came forth.

"You are not going to your hanging, Dinah Roy," said John Massingbird,
by way of consolation. "Mr. Verner is gathering the evidence about this
unfortunate business, and it is your turn to go in and state what you
know, or saw."

She staggered back a step or two, and fell against the wall, her face
changing to one of livid terror.

"I--I--saw nothing!" she gasped.

"Oh, yes, you did! Come along!"

She put up her hands in a supplicating attitude; she was on the point of
sinking on her knees in her abject fear, when at that moment the stern
face of her husband was pushed in at the door. She sprang up as if
electrified, and meekly followed John Massingbird.



CHAPTER VI.

DINAH ROY'S "GHOST."


The moon, high in the heavens, shone down brightly, lighting up the fair
domain of Verner's Pride, lighting up the broad terrace, and one who was
hasting along it; all looking as peaceful as if a deed of dark mystery
had not that night been committed.

He, skimming the terrace with a fleet foot, was that domain's recognised
heir, Lionel Verner. Tynn and others were standing in the hall, talking
in groups, as is the custom with dependents when something unusual and
exciting is going on. Lionel appeared full of emotion when he burst in
upon them.

"Is it true?" he demanded, speaking impulsively. "Is Rachel really
dead?"

"She is dead, sir."

"Drowned?"

"Yes, sir, drowned."

He stood like one confounded. He had heard the news in the village, but
this decided confirmation of it was as startling as if he now heard it
for the first time. A hasty word of feeling, and then he looked again at
Tynn.

"Was it the result of accident?"

Tynn shook his head.

"It's to be feared it was not, sir. There was a dreadful quarrel heard,
it seems, near to the pond, just before it happened. My master is
inquiring into it now, sir, in his study. Mr. Bitterworth and some more
are there."

Giving his hat to the butler, Lionel Verner opened the study door, and
entered. It was at that precise moment when John Massingbird had gone
out for Mrs. Roy; so that, as may be said, there was a lull in the
proceedings.

Mr. Verner looked glad when Lionel appeared. The ageing man, enfeebled
with sickness, had grown to lean on the strong young intellect. As much
as it was in Mr. Verner's nature to love anything, he loved Lionel. He
beckoned him to a chair beside himself.

"Yes, sir, in an instant," nodded Lionel. "Matthew," he whispered,
laying his hand kindly on the old man's shoulder as he passed, and
bending down to him with his sympathising eyes, his pleasant voice, "I
am grieved for this as if it had been my own sister. Believe me."

"I know it; I know you, Mr. Lionel," was the faint answer. "Don't unman
me, sir, afore 'em here; leave me to myself."

With a pressure of his hand on the shoulder ere he quitted it, Lionel
turned to Frederick Massingbird, asking of him particulars in an
undertone.

"I don't know them myself," replied Frederick, his accent a haughty one.
"There seems to be nothing but uncertainty and mystery. Mr. Verner ought
not to have inquired into it in this semi-public way. Very disagreeable
things have been said, I assure you. There was not the least necessity
for allowing such absurdities to go forth, as suspicions, to the public.
You have not been running from the Willow Pond at a strapping pace, I
suppose, to-night?".

"That I certainly have not," replied Lionel.

"Neither has John, I am sure," returned Frederick resentfully. "It is
not likely. And yet that boy of Mother Duff's--"

The words were interrupted. The door had opened, and John Massingbird
appeared, marshalling in Dinah Roy. Dinah looked fit to die, with her
ashy face and her trembling frame.

"Why, what is the matter?" exclaimed Mr. Verner.

The woman burst into tears.

"Oh, sir, I don't know nothing of it; I protest I don't," she uttered.
"I declare that I never set eyes on Rachel Frost this blessed night."

"But you were near the spot at the time?"

"Oh, bad luck to me, I was!" she answered, wringing her hands. "But I
know no more how she got into the water nor a child unborn."

"Where's the necessity for being put out about it, my good woman?" spoke
up Mr. Bitterworth. "If you know nothing, you can't tell it. But you
must state what you do know--why you were there, what startled you, and
such like. Perhaps--if she were to have a chair?" he suggested to Mr.
Verner in a whisper. "She looks too shaky to stand."

"Ay," acquiesced Mr. Verner. "Somebody bring forward a chair. Sit down,
Mrs. Roy."

Mrs. Roy obeyed. One of those harmless, well-meaning, timid women, who
seem not to possess ten ideas of their own, and are content to submit to
others, she had often been seen in a shaky state from very trifling
causes. But she had never been seen like this. The perspiration was
pouring off her pinched face, and her blue check apron was incessantly
raised to wipe it.

"What errand had you near the Willow Pond this evening?" asked Mr.
Verner.

"I didn't see anything," she gasped, "I don't know anything. As true as
I sit here, sir, I never saw Rachel Frost this blessed evening."

"I am not asking you about Rachel Frost. _Were_ you near the spot?"

"Yes. But--"

"Then you can say what errand you had there; what business took you to
it," continued Mr. Verner.

"It was no harm took me, sir. I went to get a dish o' tea with Martha
Broom. Many's the time she have asked me since Christmas; and my
husband, he was out with the Dawsons and all that bother; and Luke, he's
gone, and there was nothing to keep me at home. I changed my gownd and I
went."

"What time was that?"

"'Twas the middle o' the afternoon, sir. The clock had gone three."

"Did you stay tea there?"

"In course, sir, I did. Broom, he was out, and she was at home by
herself a-rinsing out some things. But she soon put 'em away, and we sat
down and had our teas together. We was a-talking about--"

"Never mind that," said Mr. Verner. "It was in coming home, I conclude,
that you were met by young Broom."

Mrs. Roy raised her apron again, and passed it over her face but not a
word spoke she in answer.

"What time did you leave Broom's cottage to return home?"

"I can't be sure, sir, what time it was. Broom's haven't got no clock;
they tells the time by the sun."

"Was it dark?"

"Oh, yes, it was dark, sir, except for the moon. That had been up a good
bit, for I hadn't hurried myself."

"And what did you see or hear, when you got near the Willow Pond?"

The question sent Mrs. Roy into fresh tears; into fresh tremor.

"I never saw nothing," she reiterated. "The last time I set eyes on
Rachel Frost was at church on Sunday."

"What is the matter with you?" cried Mr. Verner, with asperity. "Do you
mean to deny that anything had occurred to put you in a state of
agitation, when you were met by young Broom?"

Mrs. Roy only moaned.

"Did you hear people quarrelling?" he persisted.

"I heard people quarrelling," she sobbed. "I did. But I never saw, no
more than the dead, who it was."

"Whose voices were they?"

"How can I tell, sir? I wasn't near enough. There were two voices, a
man's and a woman's; but I couldn't catch a single word, and it did not
last long. I declare, if it were the last word I had to speak, that I
heard no more of the quarrel than that, and I wasn't no nearer to it."

She really did seem to speak the truth, in spite of her shrinking fear,
which was evident to all. Mr. Verner inquired, with incredulity equally
evident, whether that was sufficient to put her into the state of tremor
spoken of by young Broom.

Mrs. Roy hung her head.

"I'm timid at quarrels, 'specially if it's at night," she faintly
answered.

"And was it just the hearing of that quarrel that made you sink down on
your knees, and clasp hold of a tree?" continued Mr. Verner. Upon which
Mrs. Roy let fall her head on her hands, and sobbed piteously.

Robin Frost interrupted, sarcasm in his tone--"There's a tale going on,
outside, that you saw a ghost, and it was that as frighted you," he said
to her. "Perhaps, sir"--turning to Mr. Verner--"you'll ask her whose
ghost it was."

This appeared to put the finishing touch to Mrs. Roy's discomfiture.
Nothing could be made of her for a few minutes. Presently, her agitation
somewhat subsided; she lifted her head, and spoke as with a desperate
effort.

"It's true," she said. "I'll make a clean breast of it. I did see a
ghost, and it was that as upset me so. It wasn't the quarrelling
frighted me: I thought nothing of that."

"What do you mean by saying you saw a ghost?" sharply reproved Mr.
Verner.

"It was a ghost, sir," she answered, apparently picking up a little
courage, now the subject was fairly entered upon.

A pause ensued. Mr. Verner may have been at a loss what to say next.
When deliberately assured by any timorous spirit that they have "seen a
ghost," it is waste of time to enter an opposing argument.

"Where did you see the ghost?" he asked.

"I had stopped still, listening to the quarrelling, sir. But that soon
came to an end, for I heard no more, and I went on a few steps, and then
I stopped to listen again. Just as I turned my head towards the grove,
where the quarrelling had seemed to be, I saw something a few paces from
me that made my flesh creep. A tall, white thing it looked, whiter than
the moonlight. I knew it could be nothing but a ghost, and my knees sunk
down from under me, and I laid hold o' the trunk o' the tree."

"Perhaps it was a death's head and bones?" cried John Massingbird.

"Maybe, sir," she answered. "That, or something worse. It glided through
the trees with its great eyes staring at me; and I felt ready to die."

"Was it a man's or a woman's ghost?" asked Mr. Bitterworth, a broad
smile upon his face.

"Couldn't have been a woman's, sir; 'twas too tall," was the sobbing
answer. "A great tall thing it looked, like a white shadder. I wonder I
be alive!"

"So do I," irascibly cried Mr. Verner. "Which way was it going? Towards
the village, or in this direction?"

"Not in either of 'em, sir. It glided right off at a angle amid the
trees."

"And it was that--that folly, that put you into the state of tremor in
which Broom found you?" said Mr. Verner. "It was nothing else?"

"I declare, before Heaven, that it was what I saw as put me into the
fright young Broom found me in," she repeated earnestly.

"But if you were so silly as to be alarmed for the moment, why do you
continue to show alarm still?"

"Because my husband says he'll shake me," she whimpered, after a long
pause. "He never has no patience with ghosts."

"Serve you right," was the half-audible comment of Mr. Verner. "Is this
all you know of the affair?" he continued, after a pause.

"It's all, sir," she sobbed. "And enough too. There's only one thing as
I shall be for ever thankful for."

"What's that?" asked Mr. Verner.

"That my poor Luke was away afore this happened. He was fond of
hankering after Rachel, and folks might have been for laying it on his
shoulders; though, goodness knows, he'd not have hurt a hair of her
head."

"At any rate, he is out of it," observed John Massingbird.

"Ay," she replied, in a sort of self-soliloquy, as she turned to leave
the room, for Mr. Verner told her she was dismissed, "it'll be a corn o'
comfort amid my peck o' troubles. I have fretted myself incessant since
Luke left, a-thinking as I could never know comfort again; but perhaps
it's all for the best now, as he should ha' went."

She curtsied, and the door was closed upon her. Her evidence left an
unsatisfactory feeling behind it.

An impression had gone forth that Mrs. Roy could throw some light upon
the obscurity; and, as it turned out, she had thrown none. The greater
part of those present gave credence to what she said. All believed the
"ghost" to have been pure imagination; knowing the woman's proneness to
the marvellous, and her timid temperament. But, upon one or two there
remained a strong conviction that Mrs. Roy had not told the whole truth;
that she could have said a great deal more about the night's work, had
she chosen to do so.

No other testimony was forthcoming. The cries and shouts of young Broom,
when he saw the body in the water, had succeeded in arousing some men
who slept at the distant brick-kilns; and the tidings soon spread, and
crowds flocked up. These people were eager to pour into Mr. Verner's
room now, and state all _they_ knew, which was precisely the evidence
not required; but of further testimony to the facts there was none.

"More may come out prior to the inquest; there's no knowing," observed
Mr. Bitterworth, as the gentlemen stood in a group, before separating.
"It is a very dreadful thing, demanding the most searching
investigation. It is not likely she would throw herself in."

"A well-conducted girl like Rachel Frost throw herself wilfully into a
pond to be drowned!" indignantly repeated Mr. Verner. "She would be one
of the last to do it."

"And equally one of the last to be thrown in," said Dr. West. "Young
women are not thrown into ponds without some cause; and I should think
few ever gave less cause for maltreatment of any kind than she. It
appears most strange to me with whom she could have been quarrelling--if
indeed it was Rachel that was quarrelling."

"It is all strange together," cried Lionel Verner. "What took Rachel
that way at all, by night time?"

"What indeed!" echoed Mr. Bitterworth. "Unless--"

"Unless what?" asked Mr. Verner; for Mr. Bitterworth had brought his
words to a sudden standstill.

"Well, I was going to say, unless she had an appointment there. But that
does not appear probable for Rachel Frost."

"It is barely possible, let alone probable," was the retort of Mr.
Verner.

"But still, in a case like this, every circumstance must be looked at,
every trifle weighed," resumed Mr. Bitterworth. "Does Rachel's own
conduct appear to you to have been perfectly open? She has been
indulging, it would seem, in some secret grief latterly; has been
'strange,' as one or two have expressed it. Then, again, she stated to
her brother that she was going to stay at Duffs for a gossip, whereas
the woman says she had evidently no intention of gossiping, and barely
gave herself time to order the articles spoken of. Other witnesses
observed her leave Duff's, and walk with a hasty step direct to the
field road, and turn down it. All this does not sound quite clear to
me."

"There was one thing that did not sound clear to me," broke in Lionel
abruptly, "and that was Dinah Roy's evidence. The woman's half a fool;
otherwise I should think she was purposely deceiving us."

"A pity but she could see a real ghost!" cried John Massingbird, looking
inclined to laugh, "It might cure her for fancy ones. She's right in
one thing, however; poor Luke might have got this clapped on his
shoulders had he been here."

"Scarcely," dissented Dr. West. "Luke Roy is too inoffensive to harm any
one, least of all a woman, and Rachel; and that the whole parish knows."

"There's no need to discuss Luke's name in the business," said Mr.
Verner; "he is far enough away. Whoever the man may have been, it was
not Luke," he emphatically added. "Luke would have been the one to
succour Rachel, not to hurt her."

Not a soul present but felt that Mr. Verner spoke in strict accordance
with the facts, known and presumptive. They must look in another quarter
than Luke for Rachel's assailant.

Mr. Verner glanced at Mr. Bitterworth and Dr. West, then at the three
young men before him.

"We are amongst friends," he observed, addressing the latter. "I would
ask you, individually, whether it was one of you that the boy, Duff,
spoke of as being in the lane?"

They positively disclaimed it, each one for himself. Each one mentioned
that he had been elsewhere at the time, and where he had been.

"You see," said Mr. Verner, "the lane leads only to Verner's Pride."

"But by leaping a fence anywhere, or a gate, or breaking through a
hedge, it may lead all over the country," observed Frederick
Massingbird. "You forget that, sir."

"No, Frederick, I do not forget it. But unless a man had business at
Verner's Pride, what should he go into the lane for? On emerging from
the field on this side the Willow Pond, any one, not bound for Verner's
Pride, would take the common path to the right hand, open to all; only
in case of wanting to come here would he take the lane. You cannot
suppose for a moment that I suspect any one of you has had a hand in
this unhappy event; but it was right that I should be assured, from your
own lips, that you were not the person spoken of by young Duff."

"It may have been a stranger to the neighbourhood, sir. In that case he
would not know that the lane led only to Verner's Pride."

"True--so far. But what stranger would be likely to quarrel with
Rachel?"

"Egad, if you come to that, sir, a stranger's more likely to pick a
quarrel with her than one of us," rejoined John Massingbird.

"It was no stranger," said Mr. Verner, shaking his head. "We do not
_quarrel_ with strangers. Had any stranger accosted Rachel at night, in
that lonely spot, with rude words, she would naturally have called out
for help; which it is certain she did not do, or young Broom and Mrs.
Roy must have heard her. Rely upon it, that man in the lane is the one
we must look for."

"But where to look?" debated Frederick Massingbird.

"There it is! The inference would be that he was coming to Verner's
Pride; being on its direct way and nearly close upon it. But, the only
tall men (as the boy describes) at Verner's Pride, are you three and
Bennet. Bennet was at home, therefore he is exempt; and you were
scattered in different directions--Lionel at Mr. Bitterworth's, John at
the Royal Oak--I wonder you like to make yourself familiar with those
tap-rooms, John!--and Frederick coming in from Poynton's to his dinner."

"I don't think I had been in ten minutes when the alarm came," remarked
Frederick.

"Well, it is involved in mystery at present," cried Mr. Bitterworth,
shaking hands with them. "Let us hope that to-morrow will open more
light upon it. Are you on the wing too, doctor? Then we'll go out
together."



CHAPTER VII.

THE REVELATION AT THE INQUEST.


To say that Deerham was rudely disturbed from its equanimity; that petty
animosities, whether concerning Mr. Roy and the Dawsons or other
contending spirits, were lost sight of, hushed to rest in the absorbing
calamity which had overtaken Rachel; to say that occupations were
partially suspended, that there ensued a glorious interim of idleness,
for the female portion of it--of conferences in gutters and collectings
in houses; to say that Rachel was sincerely mourned, old Frost
sympathised with, and the supposed assailant vigorously sought after,
would be sufficient to indicate that public curiosity was excited to a
high pitch; but all this was as nothing compared to the excitement that
was to ensue upon the evidence given at the coroner's inquest.

In the absence of any certain data to go upon, Deerham had been content
to take uncertain data, and to come to its own conclusions. Deerham
assumed that Rachel, from some reasons which they could not fathom, had
taken the lonely road home that night, had met with somebody or other
with whom had ensued a quarrel and scuffle, and that, accidentally or by
intent, she had been pushed into the pond, the coward decamping.

"Villainy enough! even if 'twas but an accident!" cried wrathful
Deerham.

Villainy enough, beyond all doubt, had this been the extent. But,
Deerham had to learn that the villainy had had a beginning previous to
that.

The inquest had been summoned in due course. It sat two days after the
accident. No evidence, tending to further elucidate the matter, was
given, than had been elicited that first night before Mr. Verner; except
the medical evidence. Dr. West and a surgeon from a neighbouring town,
who had jointly made the post-mortem examination, testified that there
was a cause for Rachel Frost's unevenness of spirits, spoken to by her
father and by Mrs. Verner. She might possibly, they now thought, have
thrown herself into the pool; induced to it by self-condemnation.

It electrified Deerham. It electrified Mr. Verner. It worse than
electrified Matthew Frost and Robin. In the first impulse of the news,
Mr. Verner declared that it _could not be_. But the medical men, with
their impassive faces, calmly said that _it was_.

But, so far as the inquiry went, the medical testimony did not carry the
matter any further. For, if the evidence tended to induce a suspicion
that Rachel might have found life a burden, and so wished to end it, it
only rendered stronger the suspicion against another. This supplied the
very motive for that other's conduct which had been wanting, supposing
he had indeed got rid of her by violence. It gave the clue to much which
had before been dark. People could understand now why Rachel should
hasten to keep a stealthy appointment; why quarrelling should be heard;
in short, why poor Rachel should have been found in the pond. The jury
returned an open verdict--"Found drowned; but how she got into the
water, there is no precise evidence to show."

Robin Frost struggled out of the room as the crowd was dispersing. His
eye was blazing, his cheek burning. Could Robin have laid his hand at
that moment upon the right man, there would speedily have ensued another
coroner's inquest. The earth was not wide enough for the two to live on
it. Fortunately, Robin could not fix on any one, and say, Thou art the
man! The knowledge was hidden from him. And yet, the very man may have
been at the inquest, side by side with himself. Nay, he probably _was_.

Robin Frost cleared himself from the crowd. He gave vent to a groan of
despair; he lifted his strong arms in impotency. Then he turned and
sought Mr. Verner.

Mr. Verner was ill; could not be seen. Lionel came forward.

"Robin, I am truly sorry--truly grieved. We all are. But I know you will
not care to-day to hear me say it."

"Sir, I wanted to see Mr. Verner," replied Robin. "I want to know if
that inquest can be squashed." Don't laugh at him now, poor fellow. He
meant quashed.

"The inquest quashed!" repeated Lionel. "Of course it cannot be. I don't
know what you mean, Robin. It has been held, and it cannot be unheld."

"I should ha' said the verdict," explained Robin. "I'm beside myself
to-day, Mr. Lionel. Can't Mr. Verner get it squashed? He knows the
crowner."

"Neither Mr. Verner nor anybody else could do it, Robin. Why should you
wish it done?"

"Because it as good as sets forth a lie," vehemently answered Robin
Frost. "She never put herself into the water. Bad as things had turned
out with her, poor dear, she never did that. Mr. Lionel, I ask you, sir,
was she likely to do it?"

"I should have deemed it very unlikely," replied Lionel. "Until to-day,"
he added to his own thoughts.

"No, she never did! Was it the work of one to go and buy herself aprons,
and tape, and cotton for sewing, who was on her way to fling herself
into a pond, I'd ask the crowner?" he continued, his voice rising almost
to a shriek in his emotion. "Them aprons be a proof that _she_ didn't
take her own life. Why didn't they bring it in Wilful Murder, and have
the place scoured out to find him?"

"The verdict will make no difference to the finding him, Robin,"
returned Lionel Verner.

"I dun know that, sir. When a charge of wilful murder's out in a place,
again' some one of the folks in it, the rest be all on the edge to find
him; but 'Found drownded' is another thing. Have you any suspicion
again' anybody, sir?"

He put the question sharply and abruptly, and Lionel Verner looked full
in his face as he answered, "No, Robin."

"Well, good-afternoon, sir."

He turned away without another word. Lionel gazed after him with true
sympathy. "He will never recover this blow," was Lionel Verner's mental
comment.

But for this unfortunate occurrence, John Massingbird would have already
departed from Verner's Pride. The great bane of the two Massingbirds
was, that they had been brought up to be idle men. A sum of money had
become theirs when Frederick came of age--which sum you will call large
or small, as it may please you. It would be as a drop of water to the
millionaire; it would be as a countless fortune to one in the depths of
poverty: we estimate things by comparison. The sum was five thousand
pounds each--Mrs. Massingbird, by her second marriage with Mr. Verner,
having forfeited all right in it. With this sum the young Massingbirds
appeared to think that they could live as gentlemen, and need not seek
to add to it.

Thrown into the luxurious home of Verner's Pride--again we must speak by
comparison: Verner's Pride was luxurious compared to the moderate home
they had been reared in--John and Frederick Massingbird suffered that
worst complaint of all complaints, indolence, to overtake them and
become their master. John, careless, free, unsteady in many ways, set on
to spend his portion as fast as he could; Frederick, more cold, more
cautious, did not squander as his brother did, but he had managed to get
rid of a considerable amount of his own share in unfortunate
speculations. While losses do not affect our personal convenience they
are scarcely felt. And so it was with the Massingbirds. Mr. Verner was
an easy man in regard to money matters; he was also a man who was
particularly sensitive to the feelings of other people, and he had never
breathed a word to his wife about the inexpediency of her keeping her
sons at home in idleness. He feared his motives might be
misconstrued--that it might be thought he grudged the expense. He had
spoken once or twice of the desirability of his step-sons pursuing some
calling in life, and intimated that he should be ready to further their
views by pecuniary help; but the advice was not taken. He offered to
purchase a commission for one or both of them; he hinted that the bar
afforded a stepping-stone to fame. No; John and Frederick Massingbird
were conveniently deaf; they had grown addicted to field-sports, to a
life of leisure, and they did not feel inclined to quit it for one of
obligation or of labour. So they had stayed on at Verner's Pride in the
enjoyment of their comfortable quarters, of the well-spread table, of
their horses, their dogs. All these sources of expense were provided
without any cost or concern of theirs, their own private expenditure
alone coming out of their private purses. How it was with their clothes,
they and Mrs. Verner best knew; Mr. Verner did not. Whether these were
furnished at their own cost, or whether their mother allowed them to
draw for such on her, or, indeed, whether they were scoring up long
bills on account, Mr. Verner made it no concern of his to inquire.

John--who was naturally of a roving nature, and who, but for the
desirable home he was allowed to call his, would probably have been all
over the world before he was his present age, working in his shirt
sleeves for bread one day, exalted to some transient luck the next--had
latterly taken a fancy in his head to emigrate to Australia. Certain
friends of his had gone out there a year or two previously, and were
sending home flaming accounts of their success at the gold-fields. It
excited in John Massingbird a strong wish to join them. Possibly other
circumstances urged him to the step; for it was certain that his
finances were not in so desirable a state as they might be. With John
Massingbird to wish a thing was to do it; and almost before the plan was
spoken of, even in his own family, he was ready to start. Frederick was
in his confidence, Lionel partly so, and a hint to his mother was
sufficient to induce her to preserve reticence on the subject. John
Massingbird had his reasons for this. It was announced in the household
that Mr. Massingbird was departing on a visit to town, the only one who
was told the truth being Rachel Frost. Rachel was looked upon almost as
one of themselves. Frederick Massingbird had also confided it to
Sibylla West--but Frederick and Sibylla were on more confidential terms
than was suspected by the world. John had made a confident on his own
part, and that was of Luke Roy. Luke, despised by Rachel, whom he truly
loved, clearly seeing there was no hope whatever that she would ever
favour him, was eager to get away from Deerham--anywhere, so that he
might forget her. John Massingbird knew this; he liked Luke, and he
thought Luke might prove useful to him in the land to which he was
emigrating, so he proposed to him to join in the scheme. Luke warmly
embraced it. Old Roy, whom they were obliged to take into confidence,
was won over to it. He furnished Luke with the needful funds, believing
he should be repaid four-fold; for John Massingbird had contrived to
imbue him with the firm conviction that gold was to be picked up for the
stooping.

Only three days before the tragic event occurred to Rachel, Luke had
been despatched to London by John Massingbird to put things in a train
of preparation for the voyage. Luke said nothing abroad of his going,
and the village only knew he was away by missing him.

"What's gone of Luke?" many asked of his father.

"Oh, he's off to London on some spree; he can tell ye about it when he
gets back," was Roy's answer.

When he got back! John's departure was intended for the day following
that one when you saw him packing his clothes, but the untimely end of
Rachel had induced him to postpone it. Or, rather, the command of Mr.
Verner--a command which John could not conveniently disobey had he
wished. He had won over Mr. Verner to promise him a substantial sum, to
"set him up," as he phrased it, in Australia; and that sum was not yet
handed to him.



CHAPTER VIII.

ROBIN'S VOW.


The revelation at the inquest had affected Mr. Verner in no measured
degree, greatly increasing, for the time, his bodily ailments. He gave
orders to be denied to all callers; he could not bear the comments that
would be made. An angry, feverish desire to find out who had played the
traitor grew strong within him. Innocent, pretty, child-like Rachel! who
was it that had set himself, in his wickedness, deliberately to destroy
her? Mr. Verner now deemed it more than likely that she had been the
author of her own death. It was of course impossible to tell: but he
dwelt on that part of the tragedy less than on the other. The one injury
was uncertain; the other was a fact.

What rendered it all the more obscure was the absence of any previous
grounds of suspicion. Rachel had never been observed to be on terms of
intimacy with any one. Luke Roy had been anxious to court her, as
Verner's Pride knew; but Rachel had utterly repudiated the wish. Luke it
was not. And who else was there?

The suspicions of Mr. Verner veered, almost against his will, towards
those of his own household. Not to Lionel; he honestly believed Lionel
to be too high-principled: but towards his step-sons. He had no
particular cause to suspect either of them, unless the testimony of Mrs.
Duff's son about the tall gentleman could furnish it; and it may be said
that his suspicion strayed to them only from the total absence of any
other quarter to fix it upon. Of the two, he could rather fix upon John,
than Frederick. No scandal, touching Frederick, had ever reached his
ears: plenty of it touching John. In fact, Mr. Verner was rather glad to
help in shipping John off to some faraway place, for he considered him
no credit to Verner's Pride, or benefit to the neighbourhood. Venial
sins sat lightly on the conscience of John Massingbird.

But this was no venial sin, no case of passing scandal; and Mr. Verner
declared to that gentleman that if he found him guilty, he would discard
him from Verner's Pride without a shilling of help. John Massingbird
protested, in the strongest terms, that he was innocent as Mr. Verner
himself.

A trifling addition was destined to be brought to the suspicion already
directed by Mr. Verner towards Verner's Pride. On the night of the
inquest Mr. Verner had his dinner served in his study--the wing of a
fowl, of which he ate about a fourth part. Mrs. Tynn attended on him: he
liked her to do so when he was worse than usual. He was used to her, and
he would talk to her when he would not to others. He spoke about what
had happened, saying that he felt as if it would shorten his life. He
would give anything, he added, half in self-soliloquy, to have the
point cleared up of who it was young Duff had seen in the lane. Mrs.
Tynn answered this, lowering her voice.

"It was one of our young gentlemen, sir; there's, no doubt of it. Dolly
saw one of them come in."

"Dolly did!" echoed Mr. Verner.

Mrs. Tynn proceeded to explain. Dolly, the dairymaid at Verner's Pride,
was ill-conducted enough (as Mrs. Tynn would tell her, for the fact did
not give that ruling matron pleasure) to have a sweetheart. Worse still,
Dolly was in the habit of stealing out to meet him when he left work,
which was at eight o'clock. On the evening of the accident, Dolly,
abandoning her dairy, and braving the wrath of Mrs. Tynn, should she be
discovered, stole out to a sheltered spot in the rear of the house, the
usual meeting-place. Scarcely was she ensconced here when the swain
arrived; who, it may be remarked, _en passant_, filled the important
post of waggoner to Mr. Bitterworth. The spot was close to the small
green gate which led to the lane already spoken of; it led to that only;
and, while he and Dolly were talking and making love, after their own
rustic fashion, they saw Dan Duff come from the direction of the house,
and pass through the gate, whistling. A short while subsequently the
gate was heard to open again. Dolly looked out, and saw what she took to
be one of the gentlemen come in, _from_ the lane, walking very fast.
Dolly looked but casually, the moonlight was obscured there, and she did
not particularly notice _which_ of them it was; whether Mr. Lionel, or
either of Mrs. Verner's sons. But the impression received into her mind
was that it was one of the three; and Dolly could not be persuaded out
of that to this very day.

"Hush--sh--sh!" cried she to her sweetheart, "it's one o' the young
masters."

The quick steps passed on: but whether they turned into the yard, or
took the side path which would conduct round to the front entrance, or
bore right across, and so went out into the public road, Dolly did not
notice. Very shortly after this--time passes swiftly when people are
courting, of which fact the Italians have a proverb--Dan Duff came
bursting back again, calling, and crying, and telling the tidings of
Rachel Frost. This was the substance of what Mrs. Tynn told Mr. Verner.

"Dolly said nothing of this before!" he exclaimed.

"Not she, sir. She didn't dare confess that she'd been off all that
while from her dairy. She let drop a word, and I have got it out of her
piecemeal. I have threatened her, sir, that if ever she mentions it
again, I'll get her turned off."

"Why did you threaten her?" he hastily asked.

Mrs. Tynn dropped her voice. "I thought it might not be pleasant to have
it talked of, sir. She thinks I'm only afraid of the neglect of work
getting to the ears of Mrs. Verner."

This was the trifling addition. Not very much in itself, but it served
to bear out the doubts Mr. Verner already entertained. Was it John or
was it Frederick who had come in? Or was it--Lionel? There appeared to
be no more certainty that it was one than another. Mr. Verner had
minutely inquired into the proceedings of John and Frederick Massingbird
that night, and he had come to the conclusion that both could have been
in the lane at that particular hour. Frederick, previously to entering
the house for his dinner, after he had left the veterinary surgeon's,
Poynton; John, before he paid his visit to the Royal Oak. John appeared
to have called in at several places, and his account was not
particularly clear. Lionel, Mr. Verner had not thought it necessary to
question. He sent for him as soon as his dinner-tray was cleared away:
it was as well to be indisputably sure of him before fastening the
charge on either of the others.

"Sit down, Lionel," said Mr. Verner. "I want to talk to you. Had you
finished your dinner?"

"Quite, thank you. You look very ill to-night," Lionel added, as he drew
a chair to the fire; and his tone insensibly became gentle, as he gazed
on his uncle's pale face.

"How can I look otherwise? This trouble is worrying me to death. Lionel,
I have discovered, beyond doubt, that it was one of you young men who
was in the lane that night."

Lionel, who was then leaning over the fire, turned his head with a
quick, surprised gesture towards Mr. Verner. The latter proceeded to
tell Lionel the substance of the communication made to him by Mrs. Tynn.
Lionel sat, bending forward, his elbow on his knee, and his fingers
unconsciously running amidst the curls of his dark chestnut hair, as he
listened to it. He did not interrupt the narrative, or speak at its
conclusion.

"You see, Lionel, it appears certain to have been some one belonging to
this house."

"Yes, sir. Unless Dolly was mistaken."

"Mistaken as to what?" sharply asked Mr. Verner, who, when he made up
his own mind that a thing was so-and-so, could not bear to be opposed.
"Mistaken that some one came in at the gate?"

"I do not see how she could be mistaken in that," replied Lionel. "I
meant mistaken as to its being any one belonging to the house."

_"Is_ it likely that any one would come in at that gate at night, unless
they belonged to the house, or were coming to the house?" retorted Mr.
Verner. "Would a stranger drop from the clouds to come in at it? Or was
it Di Roy's 'ghost,' think you?" he sarcastically added.

Lionel did not answer. He vacantly ran his fingers through his hair,
apparently in deep thought.

"I have abstained from asking you the explicit details of your movements
on that evening," continued Mr. Verner, "but I must demand them of you
now."

Lionel started up, his cheek on fire. "Sir," he uttered, with emotion,
"you cannot suspect _me_ of having had act or part in it! I declare,
before Heaven, that Rachel was as sacred for me--"

"Softly, Lionel," interrupted Mr. Verner, "there's no cause for you to
break your head against a wheel. It is not you whom I suspect--thank
God! But I wish to be sure of your movements--to be able to speak of
them as sure, you understand--before I accuse another."

"I will willingly tell you every movement of mine that evening, so far
as I remember," said Lionel, resuming his calmness. "I came home when
dinner was half over. I had been detained--but you know all that," he
broke off. "When you left the dining-room, I went on to the terrace, and
sat there smoking a cigar. I should think I stayed there an hour, or
more; and then I went upstairs, changed my coat, and proceeded to Mr.
Bitterworth's."

"What took you to Mr. Bitterworth's that evening, Lionel?"

Lionel hesitated. He did not choose to say, "Because I knew Sibylla West
was to be there;" but that would have been the true answer. "I had
nothing particular to do with my evening, so I went up," he said aloud.
"Mr. Bitterworth was out. Mrs. Bitterworth thought he had gone into
Deerham."

"Yes. He was at Deerham when the alarm was given, and hastened on here.
Sibylla West was there, was she not?"

"She was there," said Lionel. "She had promised to be home early; and,
as no one came for her, I saw her home. It was after I left her that I
heard what had occurred."

"About what time did you get there--I mean to Bitterworth's?" questioned
Mr. Verner, who appeared to have his thoughts filled with other things
at that moment than with Sibylla West.

"I cannot be sure," replied Lionel. "I think it must have been nine
o'clock. I went into Deerham to the post-office, and then came back to
Bitterworth's."

Mr. Verner mused.

"Lionel," he observed, "it is a curious thing, but there's not one of
you but might have been the party to the quarrel that night; so, far as
that your time cannot be positively accounted for by minutes and by
hours. I mean, were the accusation brought publicly against you, you
would, none of you, be able to prove a distinct _alibi_, as it seems to
me. For instance, who is to prove that you did not, when you were
sitting on the terrace, steal across to a rendezvous at the Willow Pond,
or cut across to it when you were at the post-office at Deerham?"

"I certainly did _not_," said Lionel quietly, taking the remarks only as
they were meant--for an illustration. "It might, sir, as you observe, be
difficult to prove a decided _alibi_. But"--he rose and bent to Mr.
Verner, with a bright smile, a clear, truthful eye--"I do not think you
need one to believe me."

"No, Lionel, I do not. Is John Massingbird in the dining-room?"

"He was when I left it."

"Then go and send him to me."

John Massingbird was found and despatched to Mr. Verner, without any
reluctance on his own part. He had been bestowing hard words upon Lionel
for "taking up the time of the old man" just on the evening when he
wanted to take it up himself. The truth was, John Massingbird was
intending to depart the following morning, the Fates and Mr. Verner
permitting him.

Their interview was a long one. Two hours, full, had they been closeted
together when Robin Frost made his appearance again at Verner's Pride,
and craved once more an interview with Mr. Verner. "If it was only for a
minute--only for a minute!" he implored.

Remembering the overwhelming sorrow which had fallen on the man, Lionel
did not like again to deny him without first asking Mr. Verner. He went
himself to the study.

"Come in," called out Mr. Verner, in answer to the knock.

He was sitting in his chair as usual; John Massingbird was standing up,
his elbow on the mantle-piece. That their conversation must have been of
an exciting nature was evident, and Lionel could not help noticing the
signs. John Massingbird had a scarlet streak on his sallow cheek, never
seen there above once or twice in his life, and then caused by deep
emotion. Mr. Verner, on his part, looked livid. Robin Frost might come
in.

Lionel called him, and he came in with Frederick Massingbird.

The man could hardly speak for agitation. He believed the verdict could
not be set aside, he said; others had told him so besides Mr. Lionel. He
had come to ask if Mr. Verner would offer a reward.

"A reward!" repeated Mr. Verner mechanically, with the air of a man
whose mind is far away.

"If you'd please to offer it, sir, I'd work the flesh off my bones to
pay it back again," he urged. "I'll live upon a crust myself, and I'll
keep my home upon a crust, but what I'll get it up. If there's a reward
pasted up, sir, we might come upon the villain."

Mr. Verner appeared, then, to awake to the question before him, and to
awake to it in terrible excitement.

"He'll never be found, Robin--the villain will never be found, so long
as you and I and the world shall last!"

They looked at him in consternation--Lionel, Frederick Massingbird, and
Robin Frost. Mr. Verner recollected himself, and calmed his spirit down.

"I mean, Robin," he more quietly said, "that a reward will be useless.
The villain has been too cunning, rely upon it, to--to--leave his traces
behind him."

"It might be tried, sir," respectfully urged Robin. "I'd work--"

"You can come up to-morrow, Robin, and I'll talk with you," interrupted
Mr. Verner. "I am too ill--too much upset to-night. Come at any hour you
please, after twelve, and I will see you."

"I'll come, sir. I've registered a vow afore my old father," went on
Robin, lifting his right arm, "and I register it again afore you,
sir--afore our future master, Mr. Lionel--that I'll never leave a stone
unturned by night nor by day, that I'll make it my first and foremost
business in life to find that man. And when I've found him--let him be
who he will--either him or me shall die. So help me--"

"Be still, Robin!" passionately interposed Mr. Verner, in a voice that
startled the man. "Vows are bad things. I have found them so."

"It was registered afore, sir," significantly answered Robin, as he
turned away. "I'll be up here to-morrow."

The morrow brought forth two departures from Verner's Pride. John
Massingbird started for London in pursuit of his journey, Mr. Verner
having behaved to him liberally. And Lionel Verner was summoned in hot
haste to Paris, where his brother had just met with an accident, and was
supposed to be lying between life and death.



CHAPTER IX.

MR. VERNER'S ESTRANGEMENT.


The former chapters may be looked upon somewhat in the light of an
introduction to what is to follow. It was necessary to relate the events
recorded in them, but we must take a leap of not far short of two years
from the date of their occurrence.

John Massingbird and his attendant, Luke Roy, had arrived safely at
Melbourne in due course. Luke had written home one letter to his mother,
and there his correspondence ended; but John Massingbird wrote
frequently, both to Mrs. Verner and to his brother Frederick. John,
according to his own account, appeared to be getting on all one way. The
money he took out had served him well. He had made good use of it, and
was accumulating a fortune rapidly. Such was his statement; but whether
implicit reliance might be placed upon it was a question. Gay John was
apt to deceive himself; was given to look on the bright side, and to
imbue things with a tinge of _couleur de rose_; when, for less sanguine
eyes, the tinge would have shone out decidedly yellow. The time went on,
and his last account told of a "glorious nugget" he had picked up at the
diggings. "Almost as big as his head," a "fortune in itself," ran some
of the phrases in his letters; and his intention was to go down himself
to Melbourne and "realise the thousands" for it. His letter to Frederick
was especially full of this; and he strongly recommended his brother to
come out and pick up nuggets on his own score. Frederick Massingbird
appeared very much inclined to take the hint.

"Were I only sure it was all gospel, I'd go to-morrow," observed
Frederick Massingbird to Lionel Verner, one day that the discussion of
the contents of John's letter had been renewed, a month or two
subsequent to its arrival. "A year's luck, such as this, and a man might
come home a millionaire. I wish I knew whether to put entire faith in
it."

"Why should John deceive you?" asked Lionel.

"He'd not deceive me wilfully. He has no cause to deceive _me_. The
question is, is he deceived himself? Remember what grand schemes he
would now and then become wild upon here, saying and thinking he had
found the philosopher's stone. And how would they turn out? This may be
one of the same calibre. I wonder we did not hear again by the last
month's mail."

"There's a mail due now."

"I know there is," said Frederick. "Should it bring news to confirm
this, I shall go out to him."

"The worst is, those diggings appear to be all a lottery," remarked
Lionel. "Where one gets his pockets lined, another starves. Nay,
ten--fifty--more, for all we know, starve for the one lucky one. I
should not, myself, feel inclined to risk the journey to them."

"_You!_ It's not likely you would," was the reply of Frederick
Massingbird. "Everybody was not born heir to Verner's Pride."

Lionel laughed pleasantly. They were pacing the terrace in the sunshine
of a winter's afternoon, a crisp, cold, bright day in January. At that
moment Tynn came out of the house and approached them.

"My master is up, sir, and would like the paper read to him," said he,
addressing Frederick Massingbird.

"Oh, bother, I can't stop now," broke from that gentleman involuntarily.
"Tynn, you need not say that you found me here. I have an appointment,
and I must hasten to keep it."

Lionel Verner looked at his watch.

"I can spare half an hour," he observed to himself; and he proceeded to
Mr. Verner's room.

The old study that you have seen before. And there sat Mr. Verner in the
same arm-chair, cushioned and padded more than it had used to be. What a
change there was in him! Shrunken, wasted, drawn: surely there would be
no place very long in this world for Mr. Verner.

He was leaning forward in his chair, his back bowed, his hands resting
on his stick, which was stretched out before him. He lifted his head
when Lionel entered, and an expression, partly of displeasure, partly of
pain, passed over his countenance.

"Where's Frederick?"

"Frederick has an appointment out, sir. I will read to you."

"I thought you were going down to your mother's," rejoined Mr. Verner,
his accent not softening in the least.

"I need not go for this half hour yet," replied Lionel, taking up the
_Times_, which lay on a table near Mr. Verner. "Have you looked at the
headings of the news, sir; or shall I go over them for you, and then you
can tell me what you wish read?"

"I don't want anything read by you," said Mr. Verner. "Put the paper
down."

Lionel did not immediately obey. A shade of mortification had crossed
his face.

"Do you hear me, Lionel? Put the paper down. You know how it fidgets me
to hear those papers ruffled, when I am not in a mood for reading."

Lionel rose, and stood before Mr. Verner. "Uncle, I _wish_ you would let
me do something for you. Better send me out of the house altogether,
than treat me with this estrangement. Will it be of any use my asking
you, for the hundredth time, what I did to displease you?"

"I tell you I don't want the paper read," said Mr. Verner. "And if you'd
leave me alone I should be glad. Perhaps I shall get a wink of sleep.
All night, all night, and my eyes were never closed! It's time I was
gone."

The concluding sentences were spoken as in soliloquy; not to Lionel.
Lionel, who knew his uncle's every mood, quitted the room. As he closed
the door, a heavy groan, born of displeasure mingled with pain, as the
greeting look had been, was sent after him by Mr. Verner. Very
emphatically did it express his state of feeling with regard to Lionel;
and Lionel felt it keenly.

Lionel Verner had remained in Paris six months, when summoned thither by
the accident to his brother. The accident need not have detained him
half that period of time; but the seductions of the gay French capital
had charms for Lionel. From the very hour that he set foot in Verner's
Pride on his return, he found that Mr. Verner's behaviour had altered to
him. He showed bitter, angry estrangement, and Lionel could only
conceive one cause for it--his long sojourn abroad. Fifteen or sixteen
months had now elapsed since his return, and the estrangement had not
lessened. In vain Lionel sought an explanation. Mr. Verner would not
enter upon it. In fact, so far as direct words went, Mr. Verner had not
expressed much of his displeasure; he left it to his manner. That said
enough. He had never dropped the slightest allusion as to its cause.
When Lionel asked an explanation, he neither accorded nor denied it, but
would put him off evasively; as he might have put off a child who asked
a troublesome question. You have now seen him do so once again.

After the rebuff, Lionel was crossing the hall when he suddenly halted,
as if a thought struck him, and he turned back to the study. If ever a
man's attitude bespoke utter grief and prostration, Mr. Verner's did, as
Lionel opened the door. His head and hands had fallen, and his stick had
dropped upon the carpet. He started out of his reverie at the appearance
of Lionel, and made an effort to recover his stick. Lionel hastened to
pick it up for him.

"I have been thinking, sir, that it might be well for Decima to go in
the carriage to the station, to receive Miss Tempest. Shall I order it?"

"Order anything you like; order all Verner's Pride--what does it matter?
Better for some of us, perhaps, that it had never existed."

Hastily, abruptly, carelessly was the answer given. There was no
mistaking that Mr. Verner was nearly beside himself with mental pain.

Lionel went round to the stables, to give the order he had suggested.
One great feature in the character of Lionel Verner was its complete
absence of assumption. Courteously refined in mind and feelings, he
could not have presumed. Others, in his position, might have deemed they
were but exercising a right. Though the presumptive heir to Verner's
Pride, living in it, brought up as such, he would not, you see, even
send out its master's unused carriage, without that master's sanction.
In little things as in great, Lionel Verner could but be a thorough
gentleman: to be otherwise he must have changed his nature.

"Wigham, will you take the close carriage to Deerham Court. It is wanted
for Miss Verner."

"Very well, sir." But Wigham, who had been coachman in the family nearly
as many years as Lionel had been in the world, wondered much, for all
his prompt reply. He scarcely ever remembered a Verner's Pride carriage
to have been ordered for Miss Verner.

Lionel passed into the high road from Verner's Pride, and, turning to
the left, commenced his walk to Deerham. There were no roadside houses
for a little way, but they soon began, by ones, by twos, until at last
they grew into a consecutive street. These houses were mostly very poor;
small shops, beer-houses, labourers' cottages; but a turning to the
right in the midst of the village led to a part where the houses were of
a superior character, several gentlemen living there. It was a new road,
called Belvedere Road; the first house in it being inhabited by Dr.
West.

Lionel cast a glance across at that house as he passed down the long
street. At least, as much as he could see of it, looking obliquely. His
glance was not rewarded. Very frequently pretty Sibylla would be at the
windows, or her vain sister Amilly. Though, if vanity is to be brought
in, I don't know where it would be found in an equal degree, as it was
in Sibylla West. The windows appeared to be untenanted, and Lionel
withdrew his eyes and passed straightly on his way. On his left hand was
situated the shop of Mrs. Duff; its prints, its silk neckerchiefs, and
its ribbons displayed in three parts of its bow-window. The fourth part
was devoted to more ignominious articles, huddled indiscriminately into
a corner. Children's Dutch dolls and black-lead, penny tale-books and
square pink packets of cocoa, bottles of ink and india-rubber balls,
side combs and papers of stationery, scented soap and Circassian cream
(home made), tape, needles, pins, starch, bandoline, lavender-water,
baking-powder, iron skewers, and a host of other articles too numerous
to notice. Nothing came amiss to Mrs. Duff. She patronised everything
she thought she could turn a penny by.

"Your servant, sir," said she, dropping a curtsy as Lionel came up; for
Mrs. Duff was standing at the door.

He merely nodded to her, and went on. Whether it was the sight of the
woman or of some lavender prints hanging in her window, certain it was,
that the image of poor Rachel Frost came vividly into the mind of
Lionel. Nothing had been heard, nothing found, to clear up the mystery
of that past night.



CHAPTER X.

LADY VERNER.


AT the extremity of the village, lying a little back from it, was a
moderate-sized, red brick house, standing in the midst of lands, and
called Deerham Court. It had once been an extensive farm; but the
present tenant, Lionel's mother, rented the house, but only very little
of the land. The land was let to a neighbouring farmer. Nearly a mile
beyond--you could see its towers and its chimneys from the Court--rose
the stately old mansion, called Deerham Hall, Deerham Court, and a great
deal of the land and property on that side of the village, belonged to
Sir Rufus Hautley, a proud, unsociable man. He lived at the Hall; and
his only son, between whom and himself it was conjectured there existed
some estrangement, had purchased into an Indian regiment, where he was
now serving.

Lionel Verner passed the village, branched off to the right, and entered
the great iron gates which enclosed the courtyard of Deerham Court. A
very unpretending entrance admitted him into a spacious hall, the hall
being the largest and best part of the house. Those great iron gates and
the hall would have done honour to a large mansion; and they gave an
appearance of pretension to Deerham Court which it did not deserve.

Lionel opened a door on the left, and entered a small ante-room. This
led him into the only really good room the house contained. It was
elegantly furnished and fitted up, and its two large windows looked
towards the open country, and to Deerham Hall. Seated by the fire, in a
rich violet dress, a costly white lace cap shading her delicate face,
that must have been so beautiful, indeed, that was beautiful still, was
a lady of middle age. Her seat was low--one of those chairs we are
pleased to call, commonly and irreverently, a prie-dieu. Its back was
carved in arabesque foliage, and its seat was of rich violet velvet. On
a small inlaid table, whose carvings were as beautiful, and its top
inlaid with mosaic-work, lay a dainty handkerchief of lace, a bottle of
smelling-salts, and a book turned with its face downwards, all close at
the lady's elbow. She was sitting in idleness just then--she always did
sit in idleness--her face bent on the fire, her small hands, cased in
white gloves, lying motionless on her lap--ay, a beautiful face once,
though it had grown habitually peevish and discontented now. She turned
her head when the door opened, and a flush of bloom rose to her cheeks
when she saw Lionel.

He went up and kissed her. He loved her much. She loved him, too, better
than she loved anything in life; and she drew a chair close to her, and
he sat down, bending towards her. There was not much likeness between
them, the mother and the son; both were very good-looking, but not
alike.

"You see, mother mine, I am not late, as you prophesied I should be,"
said he, with one of his sweetest smiles.

"You would have been, Lionel, but for my warning. I'm sure I wish--I
_wish_ she was not coming! She must remember the old days in India, and
will perceive the difference."

"She will scarcely remember India, when you were there. She is only a
child yet, isn't she?"

"You know nothing about it, Lionel," was the querulous answer. "Whether
she remembers or not, will she expect to see _me_ in such a house, in
such a position as this? It is at these seasons, when people are coming
here, who know what I have been and ought to be, that I feel all the
humiliation of my poverty. Lucy Tempest is nineteen."

Lionel Verner knew that it was of no use to argue with his mother, when
she began upon that most unsatisfactory topic, her position; which
included what she called her "poverty" and her "wrongs." Though, in
truth, not a day passed but she broke out upon it.

"Lionel," she suddenly said.

He had been glancing over the pages of the book--a new work on India. He
laid it down as he had found it, and turned to her.

"What shall you allow me when you come into Verner's Pride?"

"Whatever you shall wish, mother. You shall name the sum, not I. And if
you name too modest a one," he added laughingly, "I shall double it. But
Verner's Pride must be your home then, as well as mine."

"Never!" was the emphatic answer. "What! to be turned out of it again by
the advent of a young wife? No, never, Lionel."

Lionel laughed--constrainedly this time.

"I may not be bringing home a young wife for this many and many a year
to come."

"If you never brought one, I would not make my home at Verner's Pride,"
she resumed, in the same impulsive voice. "Live in the house by favour,
that ought to have been mine by right? You would not be my true son to
ask me, Lionel. Catherine, is that you?" she called out, as the
movements of some one were heard in the ante-room.

A woman-servant put in her head.

"My lady?"

"Tell Miss Verner that Mr. Lionel is here?"

"Miss Verner knows it, my lady," was the woman's reply. "She bade me ask
you, sir," addressing Lionel, "if you'd please to step out to her."

"Is she getting ready, Catherine?" asked Lady Verner.

"I think not, my lady."

"Go to her, Lionel, and ask her if she knows the time. A pretty thing if
you arrive at the station after the train is in!"

Lionel quitted the room. Outside in the hall stood Catherine, waiting
for him.

"Miss Verner has met with a little accident and hurt her foot, sir," she
whispered. "She can't walk."

"Not walk!" exclaimed Lionel. "Where is she?"

"She is in the store-room, sir; where it happened."

Lionel went to the store-room, a small boarded room at the back of the
hall. A young lady sat there; a very pretty white foot in a wash-hand
basin of warm water, and a shoe and stocking lying; near, as if hastily
thrown off.

"Why, Decima! what is this?"

[Illustration: "Why, Decima! what is this?"]

She lifted her face. A face whose features were of the highest order of
beauty, regular as if chiselled from marble, and little less colourless.
But for the large, earnest, dark-blue eyes, so full of expression, it
might have been accused of coldness. In sleep, or in perfect repose,
when the eyelids were bent, it looked strangely cold and pure. Her dark
hair was braided; and she wore a dress something the same in colour as
Lady Verner's.

"Lionel, what shall I do? And to-day of all days! I shall be obliged to
tell mamma; I cannot walk a step."

"What is the injury? How did you meet with it?"

"I got on a chair. I was looking for some old Indian ornaments that I
know are in that high cupboard, wishing to put them in Miss Tempest's
room, and somehow the chair tilted with me, and I fell upon my foot. It
is only a sprain; but I cannot walk."

"How do you know it is only a sprain, Decima? I shall send West to you."

"Thank you all the same, Lionel, but, if you please, I don't like Dr.
West well enough to have him," was Miss Verner's answer. "See! I don't
think I can walk."

She took her foot out of the basin, and attempted to try. But for Lionel
she would have fallen; and her naturally pale face became paler from the
pain.

"And you say you will not have Dr. West!" he cried, gently putting her
into the chair again. "You must allow me to judge for you, Decima."

"Then, Lionel, I'll have Jan--if I must have any one. I have more faith
in him," she added, lifting her large blue eyes, "than in Dr. West."

"Let it be Jan, then, Decima. Send one of the servants for him at once.
What is to be done about Miss Tempest?"

"You must go alone. Unless you can persuade mamma out. Lionel, you will
tell mamma about this. She must be told."

As Lionel crossed the hall on his return, the door was being opened; the
Verner's Pride carriage had just driven up. Lady Verner had seen it from
the window of the ante-room, and her eyes spoke her displeasure.

"Lionel, what brings _that_ here?"

"I told them to bring it for Decima. I thought you would prefer that
Miss Tempest should be met with that rather than with a hired one."

"Miss Tempest will know soon enough that I am too poor to keep a
carriage," said Lady Verner. "Decima may use it if she pleases. I would
not."

"My dear mother, Decima will not be able to use it. She cannot go to the
station. She has hurt her foot."

"How did she do that?"

"She was on a chair in the store-room, looking in the cupboard. She----"

"Of course; that's just like Decima!" crossly responded Lady Verner.
"She is everlastingly at something or other, doing half the work of a
servant about the house."

Lionel made no reply. He knew that, but for Decima, the house would be
less comfortable than it was for Lady Verner; and that what Decima did,
she did in love.

"Will you go to the station?" he inquired.

"I! In this cold wind! How can you ask me, Lionel? I should get my face
chapped irretrievably. If Decima cannot go, you must go alone."

"But how shall I know Miss Tempest?"

"You must find her out," said Lady Verner. "Her mother was as tall as a
giantess; perhaps she is the same. Is Decima much hurt?"

"She thinks it is only a sprain. We have sent for Jan."

"For Jan! Much good he will do!" returned Lady Verner, in so
contemptuous a tone as to prove she had no very exalted opinion of Mr.
"Jan's" abilities.

Lionel went out to the carriage, and stepped in. The footman did not
shut the door. "And Miss Verner, sir?"

"Miss Verner is not coming. The railway station. Tell Wigham to drive
fast, or I shall be late."

"My lady wouldn't let Miss Decima come out in it," thought Wigham to
himself, as he drove on.



CHAPTER XI.

LUCY TEMPEST.


The words of my lady, "as tall as a giantess," unconsciously influenced
the imagination of Lionel Verner. The train was steaming into the
station at one end as his carriage stopped at the other. Lionel leaped
from it, and mingled with the bustle of the platform.

Not very much bustle, either; and it would have been less, but that
Deerham Station was the nearest approach, as yet, by rail, to Heartburg,
a town of some note about four miles distant. Not a single tall lady got
out of the train. Not a lady at all that Lionel could see. There were
two fat women, tearing about after their luggage, both habited in men's
drab greatcoats, or what looked like them; and there was one very young
lady, who stood back in apparent perplexity, gazing at the scene of
confusion around her.

"_She_ cannot be Miss Tempest," deliberated Lionel. "If she is, my
mother must have mistaken her age; she looks but a child. No harm in
asking her, at any rate."

He went up to the young lady. A very pleasant-looking girl, fair, with a
peach bloom upon her cheeks, dark brown hair and eyes, soft and brown
and luminous. Those eyes were wandering to all parts of the platform,
some anxiety in their expression.

Lionel raised his hat.

"I beg your pardon. Have I the honour of addressing Miss Tempest?"

"Oh, yes, that is my name," she answered, looking up at him, the peach
bloom deepening to a glow of satisfaction, and the soft eyes lighting
with a glad smile. "Have you come to meet me?"

"I have. I come from my mother, Lady Verner."

"I am so glad," she rejoined, with a frank sincerity of manner perfectly
refreshing in these modern days of artificial young ladyism. "I was
beginning to think nobody had come; and then what could I have done?"

"My sister would have come with me to receive you, but for an accident
which occurred to her just before it was time to start. Have you any
luggage?"

"There's the great box I brought from India, and a hair-trunk, and my
school-box. It is all in the van."

"Allow me to take you out of this crowd, and it shall be seen to," said
Lionel, bending to offer his arm.

She took it, and turned with him; but stopped ere more than a step or
two had been taken.

"We are going wrong. The luggage is up that way."

"I am taking you to the carriage. The luggage will be all right."

He was placing her in it, when she suddenly drew back and surveyed it.

"What a pretty carriage!" she exclaimed.

Many said the same of the Verner's Pride equipages. The colour of the
panels was of that rich shade of blue called ultra-marine, with white
linings and hammer-cloths, while a good deal of silver shone on the
harness of the horses. The servants' livery was white and silver, their
small-clothes blue.

Lionel handed her in.

"Have we far to go?" she asked.

"Not five minutes' drive."

He closed the door, gave the footman directions about the luggage, took
his own seat by the coachman, and the carriage started. Lady Verner came
to the door of the Court to receive Miss Tempest.

In the old Indian days of Lady Verner, she and Sir Lionel had been close
and intimate friends of Colonel and Mrs. Tempest. Subsequently Mrs.
Tempest had died, and their only daughter had been sent to a clergyman's
family in England for her education--a very superior place, where six
pupils only were taken. But she was of an age to leave it now, and
Colonel Tempest, who contemplated soon being home, had craved of Lady
Verner to receive her in the interim.

"Lionel," said his mother to him, "you must stop here for the rest of
the day, and help to entertain her."

"Why, what can I do towards it?" responded Lionel.

"You can do something. You can talk. They have got Decima into her room,
and I must be up and down with her. I don't like leaving Lucy alone the
first day she is in the house; she will take a prejudice against it. One
blessed thing, she seams quite simple--not exacting."

"Anything but exacting, I should say," replied Lionel. "I will stay for
an hour or two, if you like, mother, but I must be home to dinner."

Lady Verner need not have troubled herself about "entertaining" Lucy
Tempest. She was accustomed to entertain herself; and as to any ceremony
or homage being paid to her, she would not have understood it, and might
have felt embarrassed had it been tendered. She had not been used to
anything of the sort. Could Lady Verner have seen her then, at the very
moment she was talking to Lionel, her fears might have been relieved.
Lucy Tempest had found her way to Decima's room, and had taken up her
position in a very undignified fashion at that young lady's feet, her
soft, candid brown eyes fixed upwards on Decima's face, and her tongue
busy with reminiscences of India. After some time spent in this manner,
she was scared away by the entrance of a gentleman whom Decima called
"Jan." Upon which she proceeded to the chamber she had been shown to as
hers, to dress; a process which did not appear to be very elaborate by
the time it took, and then she went downstairs to find Lady Verner.

Lady Verner had not quitted Lionel. She had been grumbling and
complaining all that time. It was half the pastime of Lady Verner's life
to grumble in the ears of Lionel and Decima. Bitterly mortified had Lady
Verner been when she found, upon her arrival from India, that Stephen
Verner, her late husband's younger brother, had succeeded to Verner's
Pride, to the exclusion of herself and of Lionel; and bitterly mortified
she remained. Whether it had been by some strange oversight on the part
of old Mr. Verner, or whether it had been intentional, no provision
whatever had been left by him to Lady Verner and to her children.
Stephen Verner would have remedied this. On the arrival of Lady Verner,
he had proposed to pay over to her yearly a certain sum out of the
estate; but Lady Verner, smarting under disappointment, under the sense
of injustice, had flung his proposal back to him. Never, so long as he
lived, she told Stephen Verner, passionately, would she be obliged to
him for the worth of a sixpence in money or in kind. And she had kept
her word.

Her income was sadly limited. It was very little besides her pay as a
colonel's widow; and to Lady Verner it seemed less than it really was,
for her habits were somewhat expensive. She took this house, Deerham
Court, then to be let without the land, had it embellished inside and
out--which cost her more than she could afford, and had since resided in
it. She would not have rented under Mr. Verner had he paid her to do it.
She declined all intercourse with Verner's Pride; had never put her foot
over its threshold. Decima went once in a way; but she, never. If she
and Stephen Verner met abroad, she was coldly civil to him; she was
indifferently haughty to Mrs. Verner, whom she despised in her heart for
not being a lady. With all her deficiencies, Lady Verner was essentially
a gentlewoman--not to be one amounted in her eyes to little less than a
sin. No wonder that she, with her delicate beauty of person, her quiet
refinements of dress, shrank within herself as she swept past poor Mrs.
Verner, with her great person, her crimson face, and her flaunting
colours! No wonder that Lady Verner, smarting under her wrongs, passed
half her time giving utterance to them; or that her smooth face was
acquiring premature wrinkles of discontent. Lionel had a somewhat
difficult course to steer between Verner's Pride and Deerham Court, so
as to keep friends with both.

Lucy Tempest appeared at the door. She stood there hesitating, after the
manner of a timid school-girl. They turned round and saw her.

"If you please, may I come in?"

Lady Verner could have sighed over the deficiency of "style," or
confidence, whichever you may like to term it. Lionel laughed, as he
crossed the room to throw the door wider by way of welcome.

She wore a light shot pink dress of peculiar material, a sort of
cashmere, very fine and soft. Looking at it one way it was pink, the
other, mauve; the general shade of it was beautiful. Lady Verner could
have sighed again: if the wearer was deficient in style, so also was the
dress. A low body and short sleeves, perfectly simple, a narrow bit of
white lace alone edging them: nothing on her neck, nothing on her arms,
no gloves. A child of seven might have been so dressed. Lady Verner
looked at her, her brow knit, and various thoughts running through her
brain. She began to fear that Miss Tempest would require so much
training as would give her trouble.

Lucy saw the look, and deemed that her attire was wrong.

"Ought I to have put on my best things--my new silk?" she asked.

My new silk! My best things! Lady Verner was almost at a loss for an
answer. "You have not an extensive wardrobe, possibly, my dear?"

"Not very," replied Lucy. "This was my best dress, until I had my new
silk. Mrs. Cust told me to put this one on for dinner to-day, and she
said if Lady--if you and Miss Verner dressed very much, I could change
it for the silk to-morrow. It is a _beautiful_ dress," Lucy added,
looking ingenuously at Lady Verner, "a pearl gray. Then I have my
morning dresses, and then my white for dancing. Mrs. Cust said that
anything you found deficient in my wardrobe it would be better for you
to supply, than for her, as you would be the best judge of what I should
require."

"Mrs. Cust does not pay much attention to dress, probably," observed
Lady Verner coldly. "She is a clergyman's wife. It is sad taste when
people neglect themselves, whatever may be the duties of their station."

"But Mrs. Cust does not neglect herself," spoke up Lucy, a surprised
look upon her face. "She is always dressed nicely--not fine, you know.
Mrs. Cust says that the lower classes have become so fine nowadays, that
nearly the only way you may know a lady, until she speaks, is by her
quiet simplicity."

"My dear, Mrs. Cust should say elegant simplicity," corrected Lady
Verner. "She ought to know. She is of good family."

Lucy humbly acquiesced. She feared she herself must be too "quiet" to
satisfy Lady Verner. "Will you be so kind, then, as to get me what you
please?" she asked.

"My daughter will see to all these things, Lucy," replied Lady Verner.
"She is not young like you, and she is remarkably steady, and
experienced."

"She does not look old," said Lucy, in her open candour. "She is very
pretty."

"She is turned five-and-twenty. Have you seen her?"

"I have been with her ever so long. We were talking about India. She
remembers my dear mamma; and, do you know"--her bright expression fading
to sadness--"I can scarcely remember her! I should have stayed with
Decima--may I call her Decima?" broke off Lucy, with a faltering tongue,
as if she had done wrong.

"Certainly you may."

"I should have stayed with Decima until now, talking about mamma, but a
gentleman came in."

"A gentleman?" echoed Lady Verner.

"Yes. Some one tall and very thin. Decima called him Jan. After that, I
went to my room again. I could not find it at first," she added, with a
pleasant little laugh. "I looked into two; but neither was mine, for I
could not see the boxes. Then I changed my dress, and came down."

"I hope you had my maid to assist you," quickly remarked Lady Verner.

"Some one assisted me. When I had my dress on, ready to be fastened, I
looked out to see if I could find any one to do it, and I did. A servant
was at the end of the corridor, by the window."

"But, my dear Miss Tempest, you should have rung," exclaimed Lady
Verner, half petrified at the young lady's unformed manners, and
privately speculating upon the sins Mrs. Cust must have to answer for.
"Was it Thérèse?"

"I don't know," replied Lucy. "She was rather old, and had a broom in
her hand."

"Old Catherine, I declare! Sweeping and dusting as usual! She might have
soiled your dress."

"She wiped her hands on her apron," said Lucy simply. "She had a nice
face: I liked it."

"I _beg_, my dear, that in future you will ring for Thérèse,"
emphatically returned Lady Verner, in her discomposure. "She understands
that she is to wait upon you. Thérèse is my maid, and her time is not
half occupied. Decima exacts very little of her. But take care that you
do not allow her to lapse into English when with you. It is what she is
apt to do unless checked. You speak French, of course?" added Lady
Verner, the thought crossing her that Mrs. Cust's educational training
might have been as deficient on that point, as she deemed it had been on
that of "style."

"I speak it quite well," replied Lucy; "as well, or nearly as well, as a
French girl. But I do not require anybody to wait on me," she continued.
"There is never anything to do for me, but just to fasten these evening
dresses that close behind. I am much obliged to you, all the same, for
thinking of it, Lady Verner."

Lady Verner turned from the subject: it seemed to grow more and more
unprofitable. "I shall go and hear what Jan says, if he is there," she
remarked to Lionel.

"I wonder we did not see or hear him come in," was Lionel's answer.

"As if Jan could come into the house like a gentleman!" returned Lady
Verner, with intense acrimony. "The back way is a step or two nearer,
and therefore he patronises it."

She quitted the room as she spoke, and Lionel turned to Miss Tempest. He
had been exceedingly amused and edified at the conversation between her
and his mother; but while Lady Verner had been inclined to groan over
it, he had rejoiced. That Lucy Tempest was thoroughly and genuinely
unsophisticated; that she was of a nature too sincere and honest for her
manners to be otherwise than of truthful simplicity, he was certain. A
delightful child, he thought; one he could have taken to his heart and
loved as a sister. Not with any other love: _that_ was already given
elsewhere by Lionel Verner.

The winter evening was drawing on, and little light was in the room,
save that cast by the blaze of the fire. It flickered upon Lucy's face,
as she stood near it. Lionel drew a chair towards her. "Will you not sit
down, Miss Tempest?"

A formidable-looking chair, large and stately, as Lucy turned to look at
it. Her eyes fell upon the low one which, earlier in the afternoon, had
been occupied by Lady Verner. "May I sit in this one instead? I like it
best."

"You 'may' sit in any chair that the room contains, or on an ottoman, or
anywhere that you like," answered Lionel, considerably amused. "Perhaps
you would prefer this?"

"This" was a very low seat indeed--in point of fact, Lady Verner's
footstool. He had spoke in jest, but she waited for no second
permission, drew it close to the fire, and sat down upon it. Lionel
looked at her, his lips and eyes dancing.

"Possibly you would have preferred the rug?"

"Yes, I should," answered she frankly, "It is what we did at the
rectory. Between the lights, on a winter's evening, we were allowed to
do what we pleased for twenty minutes, and we used to sit down on the
rug before the fire, and talk."

"Mrs. Cust, also?" asked Lionel.

"Not Mrs. Cust; you are laughing at me. If she came in, and saw us, she
would say we were too old to sit there, and should be better on chairs.
But we liked the rug best."

"What had you used to talk of?"

"Of everything, I think. About the poor; Mr. Cust's poor, you know; and
the village, and our studies, and--But I don't think I must tell you
that," broke off Lucy, laughing merrily at her own thoughts.

"Yes, you may," said Lionel.

"It was about that poor old German teacher of ours. We used to play her
such tricks, and it was round the fire that we planned them. But she is
very good," added Lucy, becoming serious, and lifting her eyes to
Lionel, as if to bespeak his sympathy for the German teacher.

"Is she?"

"She was always patient and kind. The first time Lady Verner lets me go
to a shop, I mean to buy her a warm winter cloak. Hers is so thin. Do
you think I could get her one for two pounds?"

"I don't know at all," smiled Lionel. "A greatcoat for me would cost
more than two pounds."

"I have two sovereigns left of my pocket-money, besides some silver. I
hope it will buy a cloak. It is Lady Verner who will have the management
of my money, is it not, now that I have left Mrs. Cust's?"

"I believe so."

"I wonder how much she will allow me for myself?" continued Lucy, gazing
up at Lionel with a serious expression of inquiry, as if the question
were a momentous one.

"I think cloaks for old teachers ought to be apart," cried Lionel. "They
should not come out of your pocket-money."

"Oh, but I like them to do so. I wish I had a home of my own!--as I
shall have when papa returns to Europe. I should invite her to me for
the holidays, and give her nice dinners always, and buy her some nice
clothes, and send her back with her poor old heart happy."

"Invite whom?"

"Fraulein Müller. Her father was a gentleman of good position, and he
somehow lost his inheritance. When he died she found it out--there was
not a shilling for her, instead of a fortune, as she had always thought.
She was over forty then, and she had to come to England and begin
teaching for a living. She is fifty now, and nearly all she gets she
sends to Heidelberg to her poor sick sister. I wonder how much good warm
cloaks do cost?"

Lucy Tempest spoke the last sentence dreamily. She was evidently
debating the question in her own mind. Her small white hands rested
inertly upon her pink dress, her clear face with its delicate bloom was
still, her eyes were bent on the fire. But that Lionel's heart was
elsewhere, it might have gone out, there and then, to that young girl
and her attractive simplicity.

"What a pretty child you are!" involuntarily broke from him.

Up came those eyes to him, soft and luminous, their only expression
being surprise, not a shade of vanity.

"I am not a child; why do you call me one? But Mrs. Cust said you would
all be taking me for a child, until you knew me."

"How old are you?" asked Lionel.

"I was eighteen last September."

"Eighteen!" involuntarily repeated Lionel.

"Yes; eighteen. We had a party on my birthday. Mr. Cust gave me a most
beautifully bound copy of Thomas à Kempis; he had had it bound on
purpose. I will show it to you when my books are unpacked. You would
like Mr. Cust, if you knew him. He is an old man now, and he has white
hair. He is twenty years older than Mrs. Cust; but he is so good!"

"How is it," almost vehemently broke forth Lionel, "that you are so
different from others?"

"I don't know. Am I different?"

"So different--so different--that--that--"

"What is the matter with me?" she asked timidly, almost humbly, the
delicate colour in her cheeks deepening to crimson.

"There is nothing the matter with you," he answered, smiling; "a good
thing if there were as little the matter with everybody else. Do you
know that I never saw any one whom I liked so much at first sight as I
like you, although you appear to me only as a child? If I call here
often I shall grow to love you almost as much as I love my sister
Decima."

"Is not this your home?"

"No. My home is at Verner's Pride."



CHAPTER XII.

DR. WEST'S HOME.


The house of Dr. West was already lighted up. Gas at its front door, gas
at its surgery door, gas inside its windows: no habitation in the place
was ever so extensively lighted as Dr. West's. The house was inclosed
with iron railings, and on its side--detached--was the surgery. A very
low place, this surgery; you had to go down a step or two, and then
plunge into a low door. In the time of the last tenant it had been used
as a garden tool-house. It was a tolerably large room, and had a
tolerably small window, which was in front, the door being on the side,
opposite the side entrance of the house. A counter ran along the room at
the back, and a table, covered with miscellaneous articles, stood on the
right. Shelves were ranged completely round the room aloft, and a pair
of steps, used for getting down the jars and bottles, rested in a
corner. There was another room behind it, used exclusively by Dr. West.

Seated on the counter, pounding desperately away at something in a
mortar, as if his life depended on it, was a peculiar-looking gentleman
in shirt-sleeves. Very tall, very thin, with legs and arms that bore the
appearance of being too long even for his tall body, great hands and
feet, a thin face dark and red, a thin aquiline nose, black hair, and
black prominent eyes that seemed to be always on the stare--there sat
he, his legs dangling and his fingers working. A straightforward,
honest, simple fellow looked he, all utility and practicalness--if there
is such a word. One, plain in all ways.

It was Janus Verner--never, in the memory of anybody, called anything
but "Jan"--second and youngest son of Lady Verner, brother to Lionel.
_He_ brother to courtly Lionel, to stately Decima, son to refined Lady
Verner? He certainly was; though Lady Verner in her cross moods would
declare that Jan must have been changed at nurse--an assertion without
foundation, since he had been nursed at home under her own eye. Never in
his life had he been called anything but Jan; address him as Janus, or
as Mr. Verner, and it may be questioned if Jan would have answered to
it. People called him "droll," and, if to be of plain, unvarnished
manners and speech is to be droll, Jan decidedly was so. Some said Jan
was a fool, some said he was a bear. Lady Verner did not accord him any
great amount of favour herself. She had tried to make Jan what she
called a gentleman, to beat into him suavity, gracefulness, tact, gloss
of speech and bearing, something between a Lord Chesterfield and a Sir
Roger de Coverley; and she had been obliged lo give it up as a hopeless
job. Jan was utterly irreclaimable: Nature had made him plain and
straightforward, and so he remained. But there was many a one that the
world would bow down to as a model, whose intrinsic worth was poor
compared to unoffending Jan's. Lady Verner would tell Jan he was
undutiful. Jan tried to be as dutiful to her as ever he could; but he
_could not_ change his ungainly person, his awkward manner. As well try
to wash a negro white.

Lady Verner had proposed that Jan should go into the army, Jan (plain
spoken as a boy, as he was still) had responded that he'd rather not go
out to be shot at. What _was_ she to do with him? Lady Verner peevishly
asked. She had no money, she lamented, and she would take care Jan was
not helped by Mr. Verner. To make him a barrister, or a clergyman, or a
Member of Parliament (it was what Lady Verner said), would cost vast
sums of money; a commission could be obtained for him gratis, in
consideration of his father's services.

"Make me an apothecary," said Jan.

"An apothecary!" echoed Lady Verner, aghast. "That's not a gentleman's
calling."

Jan opened his great eyes. Had he taken a liking for carpentering, he
would have deemed it gentlemanly enough for him.

"What has put an apothecary's business into your head?" cried Lady
Verner.

"I should like the pounding," replied Jan.

"The pounding!" reiterated Lady Verner, in astonishment.

"I should like it altogether," concluded Jan, "I wish you'd let me go
apprentice to Dr. West."

Jan held to his liking. In due course of time he was apprenticed to Dr.
West, and pounded away to his heart's content. Thence he went to London
to walk the hospitals, afterwards completing his studies in Paris. It
was at the latter period that the accident happened to Jan that called
Lionel to Paris. Jan was knocked down by a carriage in the street, his
leg broken, and he was otherwise injured. Time and skill cured him. Time
and perseverance completed his studies, and Jan became a licensed
surgeon of no mean skill. He returned to Deerham, and was engaged as
assistant to Dr. West. No very ambitious position, but "it's good enough
for Jan," slightingly said Lady Verner. Jan probably thought the same,
or he would have sought a better. He was four-and-twenty now. Dr. West
was a general practitioner, holding an Edinburgh degree only. There was
plenty to do in Deerham and its neighbourhood, what with the rich and
what with the poor. Dr. West chiefly attended the rich himself and left
Jan to take care of the poor. It was all one to Jan.

Jan sat on the counter in the surgery, pounding and pounding. He had
just come in from his visit to Deerham Court, summoned thither by the
slight accident to his sister Decima. Leaning his two elbows on the
counter, his pale, puffy cheeks on his hands, and intently watching Jan
with his light eyes, was a young gentleman rising fifteen, with an apron
tied round his waist. This was Master Cheese; an apprentice, as Jan once
had been. In point of fact, the pounding now was Master Cheese's proper
work, but he was fat and lazy, and as sure as Jan came into the surgery,
so sure would young Cheese begin to grunt and groan, and vow that his
arms were "knocked off" with the work. Jan, in his indolent manner--and
in motion and manner Jan appeared intensely indolent, as if there was no
hurry in him; he would bring his words, too, out indolently--would lift
the pounding machine aloft, sit himself down on the counter, and
complete the work.

"I say," said young Cheese, watching the progress of the pestle with
satisfaction, "Dame Dawson has been here."

"What did she want?" asked Jan.

"Bad in her inside, she says. I gave her three good doses of jalap."

"Jalap!" echoed Jan. "Well, it won't do her much harm. She won't take
'em; she'll throw 'em away."

"Law, Jan!" For, in the private familiarity of the surgery, young Cheese
was thus accustomed unceremoniously to address his master--as Jan was.
And Jan allowed it with composure.

"She'll throw 'em away," repeated Jan. "There's not a worse lot for
physic in all the parish than Dame Dawson. I know her of old. She
thought she'd get peppermint and cordials ordered for her--an excuse for
running up a score at the public-house. Where's the doctor?"

"He's off somewhere. I saw one of the Bitterworth grooms come to the
house this afternoon, so perhaps something's wrong there. I say, Jan,
there'll be a stunning pie for supper!"

"Have you seen it?"

"Haven't I! I went into the kitchen when she was making it. It has got a
hare inside it, and forcemeat balls."

"Who?" asked Jan--alluding to the maker.

"Miss Deb," replied young Cheese. "It's sure to be something extra good,
for her to go and make it. If she doesn't help me to a rare good
serving, sha'n't I look black at her!"

"It mayn't be for supper," debated Jan.

"Cook said it was. I asked her. She thought somebody was coming. I say,
Jan, if you miss any of the castor oil, don't go and say I drank it."

Jan lifted his eyes to a shelf opposite, where various glass bottles
stood. Among them was the one containing the castor oil. "Who has been
at it?" he asked.

"Miss Amilly. She came and filled that great fat glass pot of hers, with
her own hands; and she made me drop in some essence of cloves to scent
it. Won't her hair smell of it to-night!"

"They'll make castor oil scarce, if they go at it like that," said Jan
indifferently.

"They use about a quart a month; I know they do; the three of 'em
together," exclaimed young Cheese, as vehemently as if the loss of the
castor oil was personal. "How their nightcaps must be greased!"

"Sibylla doesn't use it," said Jan.

"Doesn't she, though!" retorted young Cheese, with acrimony. "She uses
many things on the sly that she pretends not to use. She's as vain as a
peacock. Did you hear about--"

Master Cheese cut his question short. Coming in at the surgery door was
Lionel Verner.

"Well, Jan! What about Decima? After waiting ages at the Court for you
to come downstairs and report, I found you were gone."

"It's a twist," said Jan. "It will be all right in a few days. How's
Uncle Stephen to-day?"

"Just the same. Are the young ladies in?"

"Go and see," said Jan. "I know nothing about 'em."

"Yes, they are in, sir," interrupted Master Cheese. "They have not been
out all the afternoon, for a wonder."

Lionel left the surgery, stepped round to the front door, and entered
the house.

In a square, moderate-sized drawing-room, with tasty things scattered
about it to catch the eye, stood a young lady, figuring off before the
chimney-glass. Had you looked critically into the substantial furniture
you might have found it old and poor; of a different class from the
valuable furniture at Verner's Pride; widely different from the light,
elegant furniture at Lady Verner's. But, what with white antimacassars,
many coloured mats on which reposed pretty ornaments, glasses and vases
of flowers, and other trifles, the room looked well enough for anything.
In like manner, had you, with the same critical eye, scanned the young
lady, you would have found that of real beauty she possessed little. A
small, pretty doll's face with blue eyes and gold-coloured ringlets; a
round face, betraying nothing very great, or good, or intellectual; only
something fascinating and pretty. Her chief beauty lay in her
complexion; by candle-light it was radiantly lovely, a pure red and
white, looking like wax-work. A pretty, graceful girl she looked; and,
what with her fascinations of person, of dress, and of manner, all of
which she perfectly well knew how to display, she had contrived to lead
more than one heart captive, and to hold it in fast chains.

The light of the gas chandelier shone on her now; on her blue gauzy
dress, set off with ribbons, on her sleepy, blue eyes, on her
rose-coloured cheeks. She was figuring off before the glass, I say,
twisting her ringlets round her fingers, and putting them in various
positions to try the effect; her employment, her look, her manner, all
indicating the very essence of vanity. The opening of the door caused
her to turn her head, and she shook her ringlets into their proper
place, and dropped her hands by her side, at the entrance of Lionel
Verner.

"Oh, Lionel! is it you?" said she, with as much composure as if she had
not been caught gazing at herself. "I was looking at this," pointing to
an inverted tumbler on the mantel-piece. "Is it not strange that we
should see a moth at this cold season? Amilly found it this afternoon
on the geraniums."

Lionel Verner advanced and bent his head to look at the pretty speckled
moth reposing so still on its green leaf. Did he see through the
artifice? Did he suspect that the young lady had been admiring her own
pretty face, and not the moth? Not he. Lionel's whole heart had long ago
been given to that vain butterfly, Sibylla West, who was gay and
fluttering, and really of little more use in life than the moth. How was
it that he had suffered himself to love _her_? Suffered! Love plays
strange tricks, and it has fooled many a man as it was fooling Lionel
Verner.

And what of Sibylla? Sibylla did not love him. The two ruling passions
of her heart were vanity and ambition. To be sometime the mistress of
Verner's Pride was a very vista of desire, and therefore she encouraged
Lionel. She did not encourage him very much; she was rather in the habit
of playing fast and loose with him; but that only served to rivet
tighter the links of his chain. All the love--such as it was!--that
Sibylla West was capable of giving, was in possession of Frederick
Massingbird. Strange tricks again! It was scarcely credible that one
should fall in love with _him_ by the side of attractive Lionel; but so
it had been. Sibylla loved Frederick Massingbird for himself, she liked
Lionel because he was the heir to Verner's Pride, and she had managed to
keep both her slaves.

Lionel had never spoken of his love. He knew that his marriage with
Sibylla West would be so utterly distasteful to Mr. Verner, that he was
content to wait. He knew that Sibylla could not mistake him--could not
mistake what his feelings were; and he believed that she also was
content to wait until he should be his own master and at liberty to ask
for her. When that time should come, what did she intend to do with
Frederick Massingbird, who made no secret _to her_ that he loved her and
expected to make her his wife? Sibylla did not know; she did not much
care; she was of a careless nature, and allowed the future to take its
chance.

The only person who had penetrated to the secret of her love for
Frederick Massingbird was her father, Dr. West.

"Don't be a simpleton, child, and bind yourself with your eyes
bandaged," he abruptly and laconically said to her one day. "When
Verner's Pride falls in, then marry whoever is its master."

"Lionel will be its master for certain, will he not?" she answered,
startled out of the words.

"We don't know who will be its master," was Dr. West's rejoinder. "Don't
play the simpleton, I say, Sibylla, by entangling yourself with your
cousin Fred."

Dr. West was one who possessed an eye to the main chance; and, had
Lionel Verner been, beyond contingency, "certain" of Verner's Pride,
there is little doubt but he would have brought him to book at once, by
demanding his intentions with regard to Sibylla. There were very few
persons in Deerham but deemed Lionel as indisputably certain of Verner's
Pride as though he were already in possession of it. Dr. West was
probably an unusually cautious man.

"It is singular," observed Lionel, looking at the moth. "The day has
been sunshiny, but far too cold to call these moths into life. At least,
according to my belief; but I am not learned in entomology."

"Ento--, what a hard word!" cried Sibylla, in her prettily affected
manner. "I should never find out how to spell it."

Lionel smiled. His deep love was shining out of his eyes as he looked
down upon her. He loved her powerfully, deeply, passionately; to him she
was as a very angel, and he believed her to be as pure-souled,
honest-hearted, and single-minded.

"Where did my aunt go to-day?" inquired Sibylla, alluding to Mrs.
Verner.

"She did not go anywhere that I am aware of," he answered.

"I saw the carriage out this afternoon."

"It was going to the station for Miss Tempest."

"Oh! she's come, then? Have you seen her? What sort of a demoiselle does
she seem?"

"The sweetest child!--she looks little more than a child!" cried Lionel
impulsively.

"A child, is she? I had an idea she was grown up. Have any of you at
Verner's Pride heard from John?"

"No."

"But the mail's in, is it not? How strange that he does not write!"

"He may be coming home with his gold," said Lionel.

They were interrupted. First of all came in the tea-things--for at Dr.
West's the dinner-hour was early--and, next, two young ladies, bearing a
great resemblance to each other. It would give them dire offence not to
call them young. They were really not very much past thirty, but they
were of that class of women who age rapidly; their hair was sadly thin,
some of their teeth had gone, and they had thin, flushed faces and large
twisted noses; but their blue eyes had a good-natured look in them.
Little in person, rather bending forward as they walked, and dressing
youthfully, they yet looked older than they really were. Their light
brown hair was worn in short, straggling ringlets in front, and twisted
up with a comb behind. Once upon a time that hair was long and tolerably
thick, but it had gradually and spitefully worn down to what it was now.
The Misses West were proud of it still, however; as may be inferred by
the disappearance of the castor oil. A short while back, somebody had
recommended to them castor oil as the best specific for bringing on
departed hair. They were inoffensive in mind and manners, rather simple,
somewhat affected and very vain, quarrelling with no person under the
sun, except Sibylla. Sibylla was the plague of their lives. So many
years younger than they, they had petted her and indulged her as a
child, until at length the child became their mistress. Sibylla was rude
and ungrateful, would cast scornful words at them and call them "old
maids," with other reproachful terms. There was open warfare between
them; but in their hearts they loved Sibylla still. They had been named
respectively Deborah and Amilly. The latter name had been intended for
Amélie; but by some mistake of the parents or of the clergyman, none of
them French scholars, Amilly, the child was christened and registered.
It remained a joke against Amilly to this day.

"Sibylla!" exclaimed Deborah, somewhat in surprise, as she shook hands
with Lionel, "I thought you had gone to Verner's Pride."

"Nobody came for me. It got dusk, and I did not care to go alone,"
replied Sibylla.

"Did you think of going to Verner's Pride this evening, Sibylla?" asked
Lionel. "Let me take you now. We shall be just in time for dinner. I'll
bring you back this evening."

"I don't know," hesitated Sibylla. The truth was, she had expected
Frederick Massingbird to come for her. "I--think--I'll--go," she slowly
said, apparently balancing some point in her mind.

"If you do go, you should make haste and put your things on," suggested
Miss Amilly. And Sibylla acquiesced, and left the room.

"Has Mr. Jan been told that the tea's ready, I wonder?" cried Miss
Deborah.

Mr. Jan apparently had been told, for he entered as she was speaking:
and Master Cheese--his apron off and his hair brushed--with him. Master
Cheese cast an inquisitive look at the tea-table, hoping he should see
something tempting upon it; eating good things forming the pleasantest
portion of that young gentleman's life.

"Take this seat, Mr. Jan," said Miss Amilly, drawing a chair forward
next her own. "Master Cheese, have the kindness to move a little round:
Mr. Jan can't see the fire if you sit there."

"I don't want to see it," said literal Jan. "I'm not cold." And Master
Cheese took the opportunity which the words gave to remain where he was.
He liked to sit in warmth with his back to the fire.

"I cannot think where papa is," said Miss Deborah. "Mr. Lionel, is it of
any use asking you to take a cup of tea?"

"Thank you, I am going home to dinner," replied Lionel. "Dr. West is
coming in now," he added, perceiving that gentleman's approach from the
window.

"Miss Amilly," asked Jan, "have you been at the castor oil?"

Poor Miss Amilly turned all the colours of the rainbow; if she had one
weakness, it was upon the subject of her diminishing locks. While
Cheese, going red also, administered to Jan sundry kicks under the
table, as an intimation that he should have kept counsel. "I--took--just
a little drop, Mr. Jan," said she. "What's the dose, if you please? Is
it one tea-spoonful or two?"

"It depends upon the age," said Jan, "if you mean taken inwardly. For
you it would be--I say, Cheese, what are you kicking at?"

Cheese began to stammer something about the leg of the table; but the
subject was interrupted by the entrance of Sibylla. Lionel wished them
good-evening, and went out with her. Outside the room door they
encountered Dr. West.

"Where are you going, Sybilla?" he asked, almost sharply, as his glance
fell upon his daughter and Lionel.

"To Verner's Pride."

"Go and take your things off. You cannot go to Verner's Pride this
evening."

"But, papa, why?" inquired Sibylla, feeling that she should like to turn
restive.

"I have my reasons for it. You will know them later. Now go and take
your things off without another word."

Sibylla dared not openly dispute the will of her father, neither would
she essay to do it before Lionel Verner. She turned somewhat unwillingly
towards the staircase, and Dr. West opened the drawing-room door,
signing to Lionel to wait.

"Deborah, I am going out. Don't keep the tea. Mr. Jan, should I be
summoned anywhere, you'll attend for me, I don't know when I shall be
home."

"All right," called out Jan. And Dr. West went out with Lionel Verner.

"I am going to Verner's Pride," he said, taking Lionel's arm as soon as
they were in the street. "There's news come from Australia. John
Massingbird's dead."

The announcement was made so abruptly, with so little circumlocution or
preparation, that Lionel Verner failed at the first moment to take in
the full meaning of the words. "John Massingbird dead?" he mechanically
asked.

"He is dead. It's a sad tale. He had the gold about him, a great
quantity of it, bringing it down to Melbourne, and he was killed on the
road; murdered for the sake of the gold."

"How have you heard it?" demanded Lionel.

"I met Roy just now," replied Dr. West. "He stopped me, saying he had
heard from his son by this afternoon's post; that there was bad news in
the letter, and he supposed he must go to Verner's Pride, and break it
to them. He gave me the letter, and I undertook to carry the tidings to
Mrs. Verner."

"It is awfully sudden," said Lionel, "By the mail, two months ago, he
wrote himself to us, in the highest spirits. And now--dead!"

"Life, over there, is not worth a month's purchase just now," remarked
Dr. West; and Lionel could but note that had he been discussing the
death of a total stranger, instead of a nephew, he could only have
spoken in the same indifferent, matter-of-fact tone. "By all accounts,
society is in a strange state there," he continued; "ruffians lying in
wait ever for prey. The men have been taken, and the gold found upon
them, Luke writes."

"That's good, so far," said Lionel.

When they reached Verner's Pride, they found that a letter was waiting
for Frederick Massingbird, who had not been home since he left the house
early in the afternoon. The superscription was in the same handwriting
as the letter Dr. West had brought--Luke Roy's. There could be no doubt
that it was only a confirmation of the tidings.

Mrs. Verner was in the drawing-room alone, Tynn said, ready to go in to
dinner, and rather cross that Mr. Lionel should keep her waiting for it.

"Who will break it to her--you or I?" asked Dr. West of Lionel.

"I think it should be you. You are her brother."

Broken to her it was, in the best mode they were able. It proved a
severe shock. Mrs. Verner had loved John, her eldest born, above every
earthly thing. He was wild, random, improvident, had given her incessant
trouble as a child and as a man; and so, mother fashion, she loved him
best.



CHAPTER XIII.

A CONTEMPLATED VOYAGE.


Frederick Massingbird sat perched on the gate of a ploughed field,
softly whistling. His brain was busy, and he was holding counsel with
himself, under the gray February skies. Three weeks had gone by since
the tidings arrived of the death of his brother, and Frederick was
deliberating whether he should, or should not, go out. His own letter
from Luke Roy had been in substance the same as that which Luke had
written to his father. It was neither more explanatory, nor less so.
Luke Roy was not a first-hand at epistolary correspondence. John had
been attacked and killed for the sake of his gold, and the attackers and
the gold had been taken hold of by the law; so far it said, and no
further. That the notion should occur to Frederick to go out to
Melbourne, and lay claim to the gold and any other property left by
John, was only natural. He had been making up his mind to do so for the
last three weeks; and perhaps the vision of essaying a little business
in the gold-fields on his own account, urged him on. But he had not
fully made up his mind yet. The journey was a long and hazardous one;
and--he did not care to leave Sibylla.

"To be, or not to be?" soliloquised he, from his seat on the gate, as he
plucked thin branches off from the bare winter hedge, and scattered
them. "Old stepfather's wiry yet, he may last an age, and this is
getting a horrid, humdrum life. I wonder what he'll leave me, when he
does go off? Mother said one day she thought it wouldn't be more than
five hundred pounds. _She_ doesn't know; he does not tell her about his
private affairs--never has told her. Five hundred pounds! If he left me
a paltry sum such as that, I'd fling it in the heir's face--Master
Lionel's."

He put a piece of the thorn into his mouth, bit it up, spat it out
again, and went on with his soliloquy.

"I had better go. Why, if nothing to speak of does come to me from old
Verner, this money of John's would be a perfect windfall. I must not
lose the chance of it--and lose it I should, unless I go out and see
after it. No, it would never do. I'll go. It's hard to say how much he
has left, poor fellow. Thousands--if one may judge by his
letters--besides this great nugget that they killed him for, the
villains! Yes, I'll go--that's settled. And now, to try to get Sibylla.
She'll accompany me fast enough. At least, I fancy she would. But
there's that old West! I may have a battle over it with him."

He flung away what remained in his hand of the sticks, leaped off the
gate, and bent his steps hastily in the direction of Deerham. Could he
be going, there and then, to Dr. West's, to try his fate with Sibylla?
Very probably. Frederick Massingbird liked to deliberate well when
making up his mind to a step; but, that once done, he was wont to lose
no time in carrying it out.

On this same afternoon, and just about the same hour, Lionel Verner was
strolling through Deerham on his way to pay a visit to his mother. Close
at the door he encountered Decima--well, now--and Miss Tempest, who were
going out. None would have believed Lionel and Decima to be brother and
sister, judging by their attire--he wore deep mourning, she had not a
shred of mourning about her. Lady Verner, in her prejudice against
Verner's Pride, had neither put on mourning herself for John
Massingbird, nor allowed Decima to put it on. Lionel was turning with
them; but Lady Verner, who had seen him from the window, sent a servant
to desire him to come to her.

"Is it anything particular, mother?" he hastily inquired. "I am going
with Decima and Lucy."

"It is so far particular, Lionel, that I wish you to stay with me,
instead of going with them," answered Lady Verner. "I fancy you are
getting rather fond of being with Lucy, and--and--in short, it won't
do."

Lionel, in his excessive astonishment, could only stare at his mother.

"What do you mean?" he asked. "Lucy Tempest! What won't do?"

"You are beginning to pay Lucy Tempest particular attention," said Lady
Verner, unscrewing the silver stopper of her essence-bottle, and
applying some to her forehead. "I will not permit it, Lionel."

Lionel could not avoid laughing.

"What can have put such a thing in your head, mother, I am at a loss to
conceive. Certainly nothing in my conduct has induced it. I have talked
to Lucy as a child, more than as anything else; I have scarcely thought
of her but as one----"

"Lucy is not a child," interrupted Lady Verner.

"In years I find she is not. When I first saw her at the
railway-station, I thought she was a child, and the impression somehow
remains upon my mind. Too often I talk to her as one. As to anything
else--were I to marry to-morrow, it is not Lucy Tempest I should make my
wife."

The first glad look that Lionel had seen on Lady Verner's face for many
a day came over it then. In her own mind she had been weaving a pretty
little romance for Lionel; and it was her dread, lest that romance
should be interfered with, which had called up her fears, touching Lucy
Tempest.

"My darling Lionel, you know where you might go and choose a wife," she
said. "I have long wished that you would do it. Beauty, rank,
wealth--you may win them for the asking."

A slightly self-conscious smile crossed the lips of Lionel.

"You are surely not going to introduce again that nonsense about Mary
Elmsley!" he exclaimed. "I should never like her, never marry her,
therefore--"

"Did you not allude to _her_ when you spoke but now--that it was not
Lucy Tempest you should make your wife?"

"No."

"To whom, then? Lionel, I must know it."

Lionel's cheek flushed scarlet. "I am not going to marry yet--I have no
intention of it. Why should this conversation have arisen?"

The words seemed to arouse a sudden dread on the part of Lady Verner.
"Lionel," she gasped in a low tone, "there is a dreadful fear coming
over me. Not Lady Mary! Some one else! I remember Decima said one day
that you appeared to care more for Sibylla West than for her, your
sister. I have never thought of it from that hour to this. I paid no
more attention to it than though she had said you cared for my maid
Thérèse. You _cannot_ care for Sibylla West!"

Lionel had high notions of duty as well as of honour, and he would not
equivocate to his mother. "I do care very much for Sibylla West," he
said in a low tone; "and, please God, I hope she will sometime be my
wife. But, mother, this confidence is entirely between ourselves. I beg
you not to speak of it; it must not be suffered to get abroad."

The one short sentence of avowal over, Lionel might as well have talked
to the moon. Lady Verner heard him not. She was horrified. The Wests in
her eyes were utterly despicable. Dr. West was tolerated _as_ her
doctor; but as nothing else. Her brave Lionel--standing there before her
in all the pride of his strength and his beauty--_he_ sacrifice himself
to Sibylla West! Of the two, Thérèse might have been the less dreadful
to the mind of Lady Verner.

A quarrel ensued. Stay--that is a wrong word. It was not a quarrel, for
Lady Verner had all the talking, and Lionel would not respond angrily;
he kept his lips pressed together lest he should. Never had Lady Verner
been moved to make a like scene. She reproached, she sobbed, she
entreated. And, in the midst of it, in walked Decima and Lucy Tempest.

Lady Verner for once forgot herself. She forgot that Lucy was a
stranger; she forgot the request of Lionel for silence; and, upon
Decima's asking what was amiss, she told all--that Lionel loved Sibylla
West, and meant to marry her.

Decima was too shocked to speak. Lucy turned and looked at Lionel, a
pleasant smile shining in her eyes. "She is very pretty; very, very
pretty; I never saw any one prettier."

"Thank you, Lucy," he cordially said; and it was the first time he had
called her Lucy.

Decima went up to her brother. "Lionel, _must_ it be? I do not like
her."

"Decima, I fear that you and my mother are both prejudiced," he somewhat
haughtily answered. And there he stopped. In turning his eyes towards
his mother as he spoke of her, he saw that she had fainted away.

Jan was sent for, in all haste. Dr. West was Lady Verner's medical
adviser; but a feeling in Decima's heart at the moment prevented her
summoning him. Jan arrived, on the run; the servant had told him she was
not sure but her lady was dying.

Lady Verner had revived then; was better; and was re-entering upon the
grievance which had so affected her. "What could it have been?" wondered
Jan, who knew his mother was not subject to fainting fits.

"Ask your brother, there, what it was," resentfully spoke Lady Verner.
"He told me he was going to marry Sibylla West."

"Law!" uttered Jan.

Lionel stood; haughty, impassive; his lips curling, his figure drawn to
its full height. He would not reproach his mother by so much as a word,
but the course she was taking, in thus proclaiming his affairs to the
world, hurt him in no measured degree.

"I don't like her," said Jan. "Deborah and Amilly are not much, but I'd
rather have the two, than Sibylla."

"Jan," said Lionel, suppressing his temper, "_your_ opinion was not
asked."

Jan sat down on the arm of the sofa, his great legs dangling. "Sibylla
can't marry two," said he.

"Will you be quiet, Jan?" said Lionel. "You have no right to interfere.
You shall not interfere."

"Gracious, Lionel, I don't want to interfere," returned Jan simply.
"Sibylla's going to marry Fred Massingbird."

"Will you be quiet?" reiterated Lionel, his brow flushing scarlet.

"I'll be quiet," said Jan, with composure. "You can go and ask her for
yourself. It has all been settled this afternoon; not ten minutes ago.
Fred's going out to Australia, and Sibylla's going with him, and Deborah
and Amilly are crying their eyes out, at the thought of parting with
her."

Lady Verner looked up at Jan, an expression of eager hope on her face.
She could have kissed him a thousand times. Lionel--Lionel took his hat
and walked out.

Believing it? No. The temptation to chastise Jan was growing great, and
he deemed it well to remove himself out of it. Jan was right, however.

Much to the surprise of Frederick Massingbird, very much to the surprise
of Sibylla, Dr. West not only gave his consent to the marriage as soon
as asked, but urged it on. If Fred must depart in a week, why, they
could be married in a week, he said. Sibylla was thunderstruck: Miss
Deborah and Miss Amilly gave vent to a few hysterical shrieks, and
hinted about the wedding clothes and the outfit. _That_ could be got
together in a day, was the reply of Dr. West, and they were too much
astonished to venture to say it could not.

"You told me to wait for Lionel Verner," whispered Sibylla, when she and
her father were alone, as she stood before him, trembling. In her mind's
eye she saw Verner's Pride slipping from her; and it gave her chagrin,
in spite of her love for Fred Massingbird.

Dr. West leaned forward and whispered a few words in her ear. She
started violently, she coloured crimson. "Papa!"

"It is true," nodded the doctor.

As Lionel passed the house on his way from Deerham Court to Verner's
Pride, he turned into it, led by a powerful impulse. He did not believe
Jan, but the words had made him feel twitchings of uneasiness. Fred
Massingbird had gone then, and the doctor was out. Lionel looked into
the drawing-room, and there found the two elder Misses West, each
dissolved in a copious shower of tears. So far, Jan's words were borne
out. A sharp spasm shot across his heart.

"You are in grief," he said, advancing to them. "What is the cause?"

"The most dreadful voyage for her!" ejaculated Miss Deborah. "The ship
may go to the bottom before it gets there."

"And not so much as time to _think_ of proper things for her, let alone
getting them!" sobbed Miss Amilly. "It's all a confused mass in my mind
together--bonnets, and gowns, and veils, and wreaths, and trunks, and
petticoats, and calico things for the voyage!"

Lionel felt his lips grow pale. They were too much engrossed to notice
him; nevertheless, he covered his face with his hand as he stood by the
mantel-piece. "Where is she going?" he quietly asked.

"To Melbourne, with Fred," said Miss Deborah. "Fred's going out to see
about the money and gold that John left, and to realise it. They are not
to stay: it will only be the voyage out and home. But if she should be
taken ill out there, and die! Her sisters died, Mr. Lionel. Fred is her
cousin, too. Better have married one not of kin."

They talked on. Lionel heard them not. After the revelation, that she
was about to marry, all else seemed a chaos. But he was one who could
control his feelings.

"I must be going," said he quietly, moving from his standing-place with
calmness. "Good-day to you."

He shook hands with them both, amidst a great accession of sobs, and
quitted the room. Running down the stairs at that moment, singing gaily
a scrap of a merry song, came Sibylla, unconscious of his vicinity;
indeed, of his presence in the house. She started when she saw him, and
stopped in hesitation.

Lionel threw open the door of the empty dining-room, caught her arm and
drew her into it--his bearing haughty, his gestures imperative. There
they stood before each other, neither speaking for some moments.
Lionel's very lips were livid; and _her_ rich wax-work colour went and
came, and her clear blue eyes fell under the stern gaze of his.

"Is this true, which I have been obliged to hear?" was his first
question.

She knew that she had acted ill. She knew that Lionel Verner deserved to
have a better part played by him. She had always looked up to him--all
the Wests had--as one superior in birth, rank, and station to herself.
Altogether, the moment brought to her a great amount of shame and
confusion.

"Answer me one question; I demand it of you," exclaimed Lionel. "Have
you ever mistaken my sentiments towards you in the least degree?"

"Have--I--I don't know," she faltered.

"No equivocation," burst Lionel. "Have you not _known_ that I loved you?
that I was only waiting my uncle's death to make you my wife?--Heaven
forgive me that I should thus speak as though I had built upon it!"

Sibylla let fall some tears.

"Which have you loved?--all this while! Me?--or him?"

"Oh! don't speak to me like that," sobbed Sibylla. "He asked me to marry
him, and--and--papa said yes."

"I ask you," said Lionel in a low voice, "which is it that you love?"

She did not answer. She stood before him the prettiest picture of
distress imaginable; her hands clasped, her large blue eyes filled with
tears, her shower of golden hair shading her burning cheeks.

"If you have been surprised or terrified into this engagement, loving
him not, will you give him up for me?" tenderly whispered Lionel.
"Not--you understand--if your love be his. In that case, I would not ask
it. But, without reference to myself at all, I doubt--and I have my
reasons for it--if Frederick Massingbird be worthy of you."

Was she wavering in her own mind? She stole a glance upward--at his
tall, fine form, his attractive face, its lineaments showing out in that
moment, all the pride of the Verners. A pride that mingled with love.

Lionel bent to her--

"Sibylla, if you love him I have no more to say; if you love me, avow
it, as I will then avow my love, my intentions, in the face of day.
Reflect before you speak. It is a solemn moment--a moment which holds
alike my destiny and yours in its hands."

A rush of blood to her heart, a rush of moisture to her forehead; for
Sibylla West was not wholly without feeling, and she knew, as Lionel
said, that it was a decision fraught with grave destiny. But Frederick
Massingbird was more to her than he was.

"I have given my promise. I cannot go from it," was her scarcely
breathed answer.

"May your falsity never come home to you!" broke from Lionel, in the
bitterness of his anguish. And he strode from the room without another
word or look, and quitted the house.



CHAPTER XIV.

THE NIGHT BEFORE THE WEDDING.


Deerham could not believe the news. Verner's Pride could not believe it.
Nobody believed it, save Lady Verner, and she was only too thankful to
believe it and hug it. There was nothing surprising in Sibylla's
marrying her cousin Fred, for many had shrewdly suspected that the
favour between them was not altogether cousinly favour; but the surprise
was given to the hasty marriage. Dr. West vouchsafed an explanation. Two
of his daughters, aged respectively one year and two years younger than
Amilly, had each died of consumption, as all Deerham knew. On attaining
her twenty-fifth year, each one had shown rapid symptoms of the disease,
and had lingered but a few weeks. Sibylla was only one-and-twenty yet;
but Dr. West fancied he saw, or said he saw, grounds for fear. It was
known of what value a sea-voyage was in these constitutions; hence his
consent to the departure of Sibylla. Such was the explanation of Dr.
West.

"I wonder whether the stated 'fear of consumption' has been called up by
himself for the occasion?" was the thought that crossed the mind of
Decima Verner. Decima did not believe in Dr. West.

Verner's Pride, like the rest, had been taken by surprise. Mrs. Verner
received the news with equanimity. She had never given Fred a tithe of
the love that John had had, and she did not seem much to care whether he
married Sibylla, or whether he did not--whether he went out to
Australia, or whether he stayed at home. Frederick told her of it in a
very off-hand manner; but he took pains to bespeak the approbation of
Mr. Verner.

"I hope my choice is pleasant to you, sir. That you will cordially
sanction it."

"Whether it is pleasant to me or not, I have no right to say it shall
not be," was the reply of Mr. Verner. "I have never interfered with
you, or with your brother, since you became inmates of my house."

"Do you not like Sibylla, sir?"

"She is a pretty girl. I know nothing against her. I think you might
have chosen worse."

Coldly, very coldly were the words delivered, and there was a strangely
keen expression of anguish on Mr. Verner's face; but that was nothing
unusual now. Frederick Massingbird was content to accept the words as a
sanction of approval.

A few words--I don't mean angry ones--passed between him and Lionel on
the night before the wedding. Lionel had not condescended to speak to
Frederick Massingbird upon the subject at all; Sibylla had refused him
for the other of her own free will; and there he let it rest. But the
evening previous to the marriage day, Lionel appeared strangely
troubled; indecisive, anxious, as if he were debating some question with
himself. Suddenly he went straight up to Frederick Massingbird's
chamber, who was deep in the business of packing, as his unfortunate
brother John had been, not two short years before.

"I wish to speak to you," he began. "I have thought of doing so these
several days past, but have hesitated, for you may dream that it is no
business of mine. However, I cannot get it off my mind that it may be my
duty; and I have come to do it."

Frederick Massingbird was half buried amid piles of things, but he
turned round at this strange address and looked at Lionel.

"Is there _nothing_ on your conscience that should prevent your marrying
that girl?" gravely asked Lionel.

"Do you want her left for yourself?" was Fred's answer, after a
prolonged stare.

Lionel flushed to his very temples. He controlled the hasty retort that
rose to his tongue. "I came here not to speak in any one's interest but
hers. Were she free as air this moment--were she to come to my feet and
say, 'Let me be your wife,' I should tell her that the whole world was
before her to choose from, save myself. She can never again be anything
to me. No. I speak for her alone. She is marrying you in all confidence.
Are you worthy of her?"

"What on earth do you mean?" cried Frederick Massingbird.

"If there be any sin upon your conscience that ought to prevent your
taking her, or any confiding girl, to your heart, as wife, reflect
whether you should ignore it. The consequences may come home later; and
then what would be her position?"

"I have no sin upon my conscience, Poor John, perhaps, had plenty of it.
I do not understand you, Lionel Verner."

"On your sacred word?"

"On my word, and honour, too."

"Then forgive me," was the ready reply of Lionel. And he held out his
hand with frankness to Frederick Massingbird.



CHAPTER XV.

A TROUBLED MIND.


Just one fortnight from the very day that witnessed the sailing of
Frederick Massingbird and his wife, Mr. Verner was taken alarmingly ill.
Fred, in his soliloquy that afternoon, when you saw him upon the gate of
the ploughed field,--"Old stepfather's wiry yet, and may last an
age,"--had certainly not been assisted with the gift of prevision, for
there was no doubt that Mr. Verner's time to die had now come.

Lionel had thrown his sorrow bravely from him, in outward appearance at
any rate. What it might be doing for him inwardly, he alone could tell.
These apparently calm, undemonstrative natures, that show a quiet
exterior to the world, may have a fire consuming their heartstrings. He
did not go near the wedding; but neither did he shut himself up indoors,
as one indulging lamentation and grief. He pursued his occupations just
as usual. He read to Mr. Verner, who allowed him to do so that day; he
rode out; he saw people, friends and others whom it was necessary to
see. He had the magnanimity to shake hands with the bride, and wish her
joy.

It occurred in this way. Mrs. Verner declined to attend the ceremony.
Since the news of John's death she had been ailing both in body and
mind. But she desired Frederick to take Verner's Pride in his road when
driving away with his bride, that she might say her last farewell to him
and Sibylla, neither of whom she might ever see again. Oh, she'd see
them again fast enough, was Fred's response; they should not be away
more than a year. But he complied with her request, and brought Sibylla.
About three o'clock in the afternoon, the ceremony and the breakfast
over, the carriage, with its four horses, clattered on to the terrace,
and Fred handed Sibylla out of it. Lionel was crossing the hall at the
moment of their entrance; his horse had just been brought round for him.
To say he was surprised at seeing them there would not be saying enough;
he had known nothing of the intended call. They met face to face.
Sibylla wore a sweeping dress of silk; a fine Indian shawl, the gift of
Mrs. Verner, was folded round her, and her golden hair fell beneath her
bonnet. Her eyes fell, also, before the gaze of Lionel.

Never had she looked more beautiful, more attractive; and Lionel felt
it. But, had she been one for whom he had never cared, he could not have
shown more courtly indifference. A moment given to the choking down of
his emotion, to the stilling of his beating pulses, and he stood before
her calmly self-possessed; holding out his hand, speaking in a low,
clear tone.

"Allow me to offer you my good wishes for your welfare, Mrs.
Massingbird."

"Thank you; thank you very much," replied Sibylla, dropping his hand,
avoiding his eye, and going on to find Mrs. Verner.

"Good-bye, Lionel," said Frederick Massingbird. "You are going out, I
see."

Lionel shook his hand cordially. Rival though he had proved to him, he
did not blame Frederick Massingbird; he was too just to cast blame where
it was not due.

"Fare you well, Frederick. I sincerely hope you will have a prosperous
voyage; that you will come safely home again."

All this was over, and they had sailed; Dr. West having exacted a solemn
promise from his son-in-law that they should leave for home again the
very instant that John's property had been realised. And now, a
fortnight after it, Mr. Verner was taken--as was believed--for death. He
himself believed so. He knew what his own disorder was; he knew that the
moment the water began to mount, and had attained a certain height, his
life would be gone.

"How many hours have I to live?" he inquired of Dr. West.

"Probably for some days," was the answer.

_What_ could it have been that was troubling the mind of Mr. Verner?
That it was worldly trouble was certain. That other trouble, which has
been known to distract the minds of the dying, to fill them with agony,
was absent from his. On that score he was in perfect peace. But that
some very great anxiety was racking him might be seen by the most casual
observer. It had been racking him for a long time past, and it was
growing worse now. And it appeared to be what he could not, or would
not, speak of.

The news of the dangerous change in the master of Verner's Pride
circulated through the vicinity, and it brought forth, amidst other of
his friends, Mr. Bitterworth. This was on the second day of the change.
Tynn received Mr. Bitterworth in the hall.

"There's no hope, sir, I'm afraid," was Tynn's answer to his inquiries.
"He's not in much pain of body, but he is dreadfully anxious and
uneasy."

"What about?" asked Mr. Bitterworth, who was a little man with a pimpled
face.

"Nobody knows, sir; he doesn't say. For myself, I can only think it must
be about something connected with the estate. What else can it be?"

"I suppose I can see him, Tynn?"

"I'll ask, sir. He refuses visitors in his room, but I dare say he'll
admit you."

Lionel came to Mr. Bitterworth in the drawing-room. "My uncle will see
you," he said, after greetings had passed.

"Tynn informs me that he appears to be uneasy in his mind," observed Mr.
Bitterworth.

"A man so changed, as he has been in the last two years, I have never
seen," replied Lionel. "None can have failed to remark it. From entire
calmness of mind, he has exhibited anxious restlessness; I may say
irritability. Mrs. Verner is ill," Lionel added, as they were ascending
the stairs. "She has not been out of bed for two days."

Not in his study now; he had done with the lower part of the house for
ever; but in his bed-chamber, never to come out of it alive, was Mr.
Verner. They had got him up, and he sat in an easy-chair by the bedside,
partially dressed, and wrapped in his dressing-gown. On his pale, worn
face there were the unmistakable signs of death. He and Mr. Bitterworth
were left alone.

"So you have come to see the last of me, Bitterworth!" was the remark of
Mr. Verner.

"Not the last yet, I hope," heartily responded Mr. Bitterworth, who was
an older man than Mr. Verner, but hale and active. "You may rally from
this attack and get about again. Remember how many serious attacks you
have had."

"None like this. The end must come; and it has come now. Hush,
Bitterworth! To speak of recovery to me is worse than child's play. I
_know_ my time has come. And I am glad to meet it, for it releases me
from a world of care."

"Were there any in this world who might be supposed to be exempt from
care, it is you," said Mr. Bitterworth, leaning towards the invalid, his
hale old face expressing the concern he felt. "I should have judged you
to be perfectly free from earthly care. You have no children; what can
be troubling you?"

"Would to Heaven I had children!" exclaimed Mr. Verner; and the remark
appeared to break from him involuntarily, in the bitterness of his
heart.

"You have your brother's son, your heir, Lionel."

"He is no heir of mine," returned Mr. Verner, with, if possible, double
bitterness.

"No heir of yours!" repeated Mr. Bitterworth, gazing at his friend, and
wondering whether he had lost his senses.

Mr. Verner, on his part, gazed on vacancy, his thoughts evidently cast
inwards. He sat in his old favourite attitude; his hands clasped on the
head of his stick, and his face bent down upon it. "Bitterworth," said
he presently "when I made my will years ago, after my father's death, I
appointed you one of the executors."

"I know it," replied Mr. Bitterworth. "I was associated--as you gave me
to understand--with Sir Rufus Hautley."

"Ay. After the boy came of age,"--and Mr. Bitterworth knew that he
alluded to Lionel--"I added his name to those of Sir Rufus and yourself.
Legacies apart, the estate was all left to him."

"Of course it was," assented Mr. Bitterworth.

"Since then, I have seen fit to make an alteration," continued Mr.
Verner. "I mention it to you, Bitterworth, that you may not be
surprised when you hear the will read. Also I would tell you that I made
the change of my own free act and judgment, unbiassed by any one, and
that I did not make it without ample cause. The estate is not left to
Lionel Verner, but to Frederick Massingbird."

Mr. Bitterworth had small round eyes, but they opened now to their
utmost width. "What did you say?" he repeated, after a pause, like a man
out of breath.

"Strictly speaking, the estate is not bequeathed to Frederick
Massingbird; he will inherit it in consequence of John's death," quietly
went on Mr. Verner. "It is left to John Massingbird, and to Frederick
after him, should he be the survivor. Failing them both----"

"And I am still executor?" interrupted Mr. Bitterworth, in a tone raised
rather above the orthodox key for a sick-room.

"You and Sir Rufus. That, so far, is not altered."

"Then I will not act. No, Stephen Verner, long and close as our
friendship has been, I will not countenance an act of injustice. I will
not be your executor, unless Verner's Pride goes, as it ought, to Lionel
Verner."

"Lionel has forfeited it."

"Forfeited it!--how can he have forfeited it? Is this"--Mr. Bitterworth
was given to speak in plain terms when excited--"is this the underhand
work of Mrs. Verner?"

"Peace, Bitterworth! Mrs. Verner knows nothing of the change. Her
surviving son knows nothing of it; John knew nothing of it. They have no
idea but that Lionel is still the heir. You should not jump to unjust
conclusions. Not one of them has ever asked me how my property was left;
or has attempted, by the smallest word, to influence me in its
disposal."

"Then, what has influenced you? Why have you done it?" demanded Mr.
Bitterworth, his voice becoming more subdued.

To this question Mr. Verner did not immediately reply. He appeared not
to have done with the defence of his wife and her sons.

"Mrs. Verner is not of a covetous nature; she is not unjust, and I
believe that she would wish the estate willed to Lionel, rather than to
her sons. She knows no good reason why it should not be willed to him.
And for those sons--do you suppose either of them would have gone out
to Australia, had he been cognisant that he was heir to Verner's
Pride?"

"Why have you willed it away from Lionel?"

"I cannot tell you," replied Mr. Verner, in a tone of sharp pain. It
betrayed to Mr. Bitterworth what sharper pain the step itself must have
cost.

"It is _this_ which has been on your mind, Verner--disturbing your
closing years?"

"Ay, it is that; nothing else!" wailed Mr. Verner, "nothing else,
nothing else! Has it not been enough to disturb me?" he added, putting
the question in a loud, quick accent. "Setting aside my love for Lionel,
which was great, setting aside my finding him unworthy, it has been a
bitter trial to me to leave Verner's Pride to a Massingbird. I have
never loved the Massingbirds," he continued, dropping his voice to a
whisper.

"If Lionel _were_ unworthy,"--with a stress upon the "were,"--"you might
have left it to Jan," spoke Mr. Bitterworth.

"Lady Verner has thrown too much estrangement between Jan and me. No. I
would rather even a Massingbird had it than Jan."

"If Lionel were unworthy, I said," resumed Mr. Bitterworth. "I cannot
believe he is. How has he proved himself so? What has he done?"

Mr. Verner put up his hands as if to ward off some imaginary phantom,
and his pale face turned of a leaden hue.

"Never ask me," he whispered. "I cannot tell you. I have had to bear it
about with me," he continued, with an irrepressible burst of anguish;
"to bear it here, within me, in silence; never breathing a word of my
knowledge to him, or to any one."

"Some folly must have come to your cognisance," observed Mr.
Bitterworth; "though I had deemed Lionel Verner to be more free from the
sins of hot-blooded youth than are most men. I have believed him to be a
true gentleman in the best sense of the word--a good and honourable
man."

"A silent stream runs deep," remarked Mr. Verner.

Mr. Bitterworth drew his chair nearer to his friend, and, bending
towards him, resumed solemnly--

"Verner's Pride of right (speaking in accordance with our national
notions) belonged to your brother, Sir Lionel. It would have been his,
as you know, had he lived but a month or two longer; your father would
not have willed it away from him. After him it would have been Lionel's.
Sir Lionel died too soon, and it was left to you; but what injunction
from your father accompanied it? Forgive my asking you the question,
Stephen."

"Do you think I have forgotten it?" wailed Mr. Verner. "It has cost me
my peace--my happiness, to will it away from Lionel. To see Verner's
Pride in possession of any but a Verner will trouble me so--if, indeed,
we are permitted in the next world still to mark what goes on in
this--that I shall scarcely rest quiet in my grave."

"You have no more--I must speak plainly, Stephen--I believe that you
have no more right in equity to will away the estate from Lionel, than
you would have were he the heir-at-law. Many have said--I am sure you
must be aware that they have--that you have kept him out of it; that you
have enjoyed what ought to have been his, ever since his grandfather's
death."

"Have _you_ said it?" angrily asked Mr. Verner.

"I have neither said it nor thought it. When your father informed me
that he had willed the estate to you, Sir Lionel being dead, I answered
him that I thought he had done well and wisely; that you had far more
right to it, for your life, than the boy Lionel. But, Stephen, I should
never sanction your leaving it away from him after you. Had you
possessed children of your own, they should never have been allowed to
shut out Lionel. He is your elder brother's son, remember."

Mr. Verner sat like one in dire perplexity. It would appear that there
was a struggle going on in his own mind.

"I know, I know," he presently said, in answer. "The worry, the
uncertainty, as to what I ought to do, has destroyed the peace of my
later days. I altered my will when smarting under the discovery of his
unworthiness; but, even then a doubt as to whether I was doing right
caused me to name him as inheritor, should the Massingbirds die."

"Why, that must have been a paradox!" exclaimed Mr. Bitterworth. "Lionel
Verner should inherit before all, or not inherit at all. What your
ground of complaint against him is, I know not; but whatever it may be,
it can be no excuse for your willing away from him Verner's Pride. Some
youthful folly of his came to your knowledge, I conclude."

"Not folly. Call it sin--call it crime," vehemently replied Mr. Verner.

"As you please; you know its proper term better than I. For one solitary
instance of--what you please to name it--you should not blight his whole
prospects for life. Lionel's general conduct is so irreproachable
(unless he be the craftiest hypocrite under the sun) that you may well
pardon one defalcation. Are you sure you were not mistaken?"

"I am sure. I hold proof positive."

"Well, I leave that. I say that you might forgive him, whatever it may
be, remembering how few his offences are. He would make a faithful
master of Verner's Pride. Compare him to Fred Massingbird! Pshaw!"

Mr. Verner did not answer. His face had an aching look upon it, as it
leaned out over the top of his stick. Mr. Bitterworth laid his hand upon
his friend's knee persuasively.

"Do not go out of the world committing an act of injustice; an act, too,
that is irreparable, and of which the injustice must last for ever.
Stephen, I will not leave you until you consent to repair what you have
done."

"It has been upon my mind to do it since I was taken worse yesterday,"
murmured Stephen Verner. "Our Saviour taught us to forgive. Had it been
against me only that he sinned, I would have forgiven him long ago."

"You will forgive him now?"

"Forgiveness does not lie with me. It was not against me, I say, that he
sinned. Let him ask forgiveness of God and of his own conscience. But he
shall have Verner's Pride."

"Better that you should see it in its proper light at the eleventh hour,
than not at all, Stephen," said Mr. Bitterworth. "By every law of right
and justice, Verner's Pride, after you, belongs to Lionel."

"You speak well, Bitterworth, when you call it the eleventh hour,"
observed Mr. Verner. "If I am to make this change you must get Matiss
here without an instant's delay. See him yourself, and bring him back.
Tell him what the necessity is. He will make more haste for you than he
might for one of my servants."

"Does he know of the bequest to the Massingbirds?"

"Of course he knows of it. He made the will. I have never employed
anybody but Matiss since I came into the estate."

Mr. Bitterworth, feeling there was little time to be lost, quitted the
room without more delay. He was anxious that Lionel should have his own.
Not so much because he liked and esteemed Lionel, as that he possessed a
strong sense of justice within himself. Lionel heard him leaving the
sick-room, and came to him, but Mr. Bitterworth would not stop.

"I cannot wait," he said. "I am bound on an errand for your uncle."



CHAPTER XVI.

AN ALTERED WILL.


Mr. Bitterworth was bound to the house of the lawyer, Mr. Matiss, who
lived and had his office in the new part of Deerham, down by Dr. West's.
People wondered that he managed to make a living in so small a place;
but he evidently did make one. Most of the gentry in the vicinity
employed him for trifling things, and he held one or two good agencies.
He kept no clerk. He was at home when Mr. Bitterworth entered, writing
at a desk in his small office, which had maps hung round it. A
quick-speaking man, with dark hair and a good-natured face.

"Are you busy, Matiss?" began Mr. Bitterworth, when he entered; and the
lawyer looked at him through the railings of his desk.

"Not particularly, Mr. Bitterworth. Do you want me?"

"Mr. Verner wants you. He has sent me to bring you to him without delay.
You have heard that there's a change in him?"

"Oh, yes, I have heard it," replied the lawyer. "I am at his service,
Mr. Bitterworth."

"He wants his last will altered. Remedied, I should say," continued Mr.
Bitterworth, looking the lawyer full in the face, and nodding
confidentially.

"Altered to what it was before?" eagerly cried the lawyer.

Mr. Bitterworth nodded again. "I called in upon him this morning, and in
the course of conversation it came out what he had done about Verner's
Pride. And now he wants it undone."

"I am glad of it--I am glad of it, Mr. Bitterworth. Between
ourselves--though I mean no disrespect to them--the young Massingbirds
were not fit heirs for Verner's Pride. Mr. Lionel Verner is."

"He is the rightful heir as well as the fit one, Matiss," added Mr.
Bitterworth, leaning over the railings of the desk, while the lawyer was
hastily putting his papers in order, preparatory to leaving them,
placing some aside on the desk, and locking up others. "What was the
cause of his willing it away from Lionel Verner?"

"It's more than I can tell. He gave no clue whatever to his motive. Many
and many a time have I thought it over since, but I never came near
fathoming it. I told Mr. Verner that it was not a just thing, when I
took his instructions for the fresh will. That is, I intimated as much;
it was not my place, of course, to speak out my mind offensively to Mr.
Verner. Dr. West said a great deal more to him than I did; but he could
make no impression."

"Was Dr. West consulted, then, by Mr. Verner?"

"Not at all. When I called at Verner's Pride with the fresh will for Mr.
Verner to execute, it happened that Tynn was out. He and one of the
other servants were to have witnessed the signature. Dr. West came in at
the time, and Mr. Verner said he would do for a witness in Tynn's place.
Dr. West remonstrated most strongly when he found what it was; for Mr.
Verner told him in confidence what had been done. He, the doctor, at
first refused to put his hand to anything so unjust. He protested that
the public would cry shame, would say John Massingbird had no human
right to Verner's Pride, would suspect he had obtained it by fraud, or
by some sort of underhand work. Mr. Verner replied that I--Matiss--could
contradict that. At last the doctor signed."

"When was this?"

"It was the very week after John started for Australia. I wondered why
Mr. Verner should have allowed him to go, if he meant to make him his
heir. Dr. West wondered also, and said so to Mr. Verner, but Mr. Verner
made no reply."

"Mr. Verner has just told me that neither the Massingbirds nor Mrs.
Verner knew anything of the fresh will. I understood him to imply that
no person whatever was cognisant of it but himself and you."

"And Dr. West. Nobody else."

"And he gave _no_ reason for the alteration--either to you or to Dr.
West?"

"None at all. Beyond the assertion that Lionel had displeased him. Dr.
West would have pressed him upon the point, but Mr. Verner repulsed him
with coldness. He insisted upon our secrecy as to the new will; which we
promised, and I dare say have never violated. I know I can answer for
myself."

They hastened back to Verner's Pride. And the lawyer, in the presence of
Mr. Bitterworth, received instructions for a codicil, revoking the
bequest of the estate to the Massingbirds, and bestowing it absolutely
upon Lionel Verner. The bequests to others, legacies, instructions in
the former will, were all to stand. It was a somewhat elaborate will;
hence Mr. Verner suggested that that will, so far, could still stand,
and the necessary alteration be made by a codicil.

"You can have it ready by this evening?" Mr. Verner remarked to the
lawyer.

"Before then, if you like, sir. It won't take me long to draw that up.
One's pen goes glibly when one's heart is in the work. I am glad you are
willing it back to Mr. Lionel."

"Draw it up then, and bring it here as soon as it's ready. You won't
find me gone out," Mr. Verner added, with a faint attempt at jocularity.

The lawyer did as he was bid, and returned to Verner's Pride about five
o'clock in the afternoon. He found Dr. West there. It was somewhat
singular that the doctor should again be present, as he had been at the
previous signing. And yet not singular, for he was now in frequent
attendance on the patient.

"How do you feel yourself this afternoon, sir?" asked Mr. Matiss, when
he entered, his greatcoat buttoned up, his hat in his hand, his gloves
on; showing no signs that he had any professional document about him, or
that he had called in for any earthly reason, save to inquire in
politeness after the state of the chief of Verner's Pride.

"Pretty well, Matiss. Are you ready?"

"Yes, sir."

"We'll do it at once, then. Dr. West," Mr. Verner added, turning to the
doctor, "I have been making an alteration in my will. You were one of
the former witnesses; will you be so again?"

"With pleasure. An alteration consequent upon the death of John
Massingbird, I presume?"

"No. I should have made it, had he been still alive. Verner's Pride
must go to Lionel. I cannot die easy unless it does."

"But--I thought you said Lionel had done--had done something to forfeit
it?" interrupted Dr. West, whom the words appeared to have taken by
surprise.

"To forfeit my esteem and good opinion. Those he can never enjoy again.
But I doubt whether I have a right to deprive him of Verner's Pride. I
begin to think I have not. I believe that the world generally will think
I have not. It may be that a Higher Power, to whom alone I am
responsible, will judge I have not. There's no denying that he will make
a more fitting master of it than would Frederick Massingbird; and for
myself I shall die the easier knowing that a Verner will succeed me. Mr.
Matiss, be so kind as read over the deed."

The lawyer produced a parchment from one of his ample pockets, unfolded,
and proceeded to read it aloud. It was the codicil, drawn up with all
due form, bequeathing Verner's Pride to Lionel Verner. It was short, and
he read it in a clear, distinct voice.

"Will you like to sign it, sir?" he asked, as he laid it down.

"When I have read it for myself," replied Mr. Verner.

The lawyer smiled as he handed it to him. All his clients were not so
cautious. Some might have said, "so mistrustful."

Mr. Verner found the codicil all right, and the bell was rung for Tynn.
Mrs. Tynn happened to come in at the same moment. She was retreating
when she saw business a-gate, but her master spoke to her.

"You need not go, Mrs. Tynn. Bring a pen and ink here."

So the housekeeper remained present while the deed was executed. Mr.
Verner signed it, proclaiming it his last will and testament, and Dr.
West and Tynn affixed their signatures. The lawyer and Mrs. Tynn stood
looking on.

Mr. Verner folded it up with his own hands, and sealed it.

"Bring me my desk," he said, looking at Mrs. Tynn.

The desk was kept in a closet in the room, and she brought it forth. Mr.
Verner locked the parchment within it.

"You will remember where it is," he said, touching the desk, and looking
at the lawyer. "The will is also here."

Mrs. Tynn carried the desk back again; and Dr. West and the lawyer left
the house together.

Later, when Mr. Verner was in bed, he spoke to Lionel, who was sitting
with him.

"You will give heed to carry out my directions, Lionel, so far as I have
left directions, after you come into power."

"I will, sir," replied Lionel, never having had the faintest suspicion
that he had been near losing his inheritance.

"And be more active abroad than I have been. I have left too much to Roy
and others. You are young and strong; don't you leave it to them. Look
into things with your own eyes."

"Indeed I will. My dear uncle," he added, bending over the bed, and
speaking in an earnest tone, "I will endeavour to act in all things as
though in your sight, accountable to God and my own conscience. Verner's
Pride shall have no unworthy master."

"Try to live so as to redeem the past."

"Yes," said Lionel. He did not see what precise part of it he had to
redeem, but he was earnestly anxious to defer to the words of a dying
man. "Uncle, may I dare to say that I hope you will live yet?" he gently
said.

"It is of no use, Lionel. The world is closing for me."

It was closing for him even then, as he spoke--closing rapidly. Before
another afternoon had come round, the master of Verner's Pride had
quitted that, and all other pride, for ever.



CHAPTER XVII.

DISAPPEARED.


Sweeping down from Verner's Pride towards the church at Deerham came the
long funeral train--mutes with their plumes and batons, relays of
bearers, the bier. It had been Mr. Verner's express desire that he
should be carried to the grave, that no hearse or coaches should be
used.

"Bury me quietly; bury me without show," had been his charge. And yet a
show it was, that procession, if only from its length. Close to the
coffin walked the heir, Lionel; Jan and Dr. West came next; Mr.
Bitterworth and Sir Rufus Hautley. Other gentlemen were there, followers
or pall-bearers; the tenants followed; the servants came last. A long,
long line, slow and black; and spectators gathered on the side of the
road, underneath the hedges, and in the upper windows at Deerham, to see
it pass. The under windows were closed.

A brave heir, a brave master of Verner's Pride! was the universal
thought, as eyes were turned on Lionel, on his tall, noble form, his
pale face stilled to calmness, his dark hair. He chose to walk
bare-headed, his hat, with its sweeping streamers, borne in his hand.
When handed to him in the hall he had not put it on, but went out as he
was, carrying it. The rest, those behind him, did not follow his
example; they assumed their hats; but Lionel was probably unconscious of
it, probably he never gave it a thought.

At the churchyard entrance they were met by the Vicar of Deerham, the
Reverend James Bourne. All hats came off then, as his voice rose,
commencing the service. Nearly one of the last walked old Matthew Frost.
He had not gone to Verner's Pride, the walk so far was beyond him now,
but fell in at the churchyard gate. The fine, upright, hale man whom you
saw at the commencement of this history had changed into a bowed, broken
mourner. Rachel's fate had done that. On the right as they moved up the
churchyard, was the mound which covered the remains of Rachel. Old
Matthew did not look towards it; as he passed it he only bent his head
the lower. But many others turned their heads; they remembered her that
day.

In the middle of the church, open now, dark and staring, was the vault
of the Verners. There lay already within it Stephen Verner's father, his
first wife, and the little child Rachel, Rachel Frost's foster-sister. A
grand grave this, compared to that lowly mound outside; there was a
grand descriptive tablet on the walls to the Verners; while the mound
was nameless. By the side of the large tablet was a smaller one, placed
there to the memory of the brave Sir Lionel Verner, who had fallen near
Moultan. Lionel involuntarily glanced up at it, as he stood now over the
vault, and a wish came across him that his father's remains were here,
amidst them, instead of in that far-off grave.

The service was soon over, and Stephen Verner was left in his
resting-place. Then the procession, shorn of its chief and prominent
features, went back to Verner's Pride. Lionel wore his hat this time.

In the large drawing-room of state, in her mourning robes and widow's
cap, sat Mrs. Verner. She had not been out of her chamber, until within
the last ten minutes, since before Mr. Verner's death; scarcely out of
her bed. As they passed into the room--the lawyer, Dr. West, Jan, Mr.
Bitterworth, and Sir Rufus Hautley--they thought how Mrs. Verner had
changed, and how ill she looked; not that her florid complexion was any
paler. She had, indeed, changed since the news of John Massingbird's
death; and some of them believed that she would not be very long after
Mr. Verner.

They had assembled there for the purpose of hearing the will read. The
desk of Mr. Verner was brought forward and laid upon the table. Lionel,
taking his late uncle's keys from his pocket, unlocked it, and delivered
a parchment which it contained to Mr. Matiss. The lawyer saw at a glance
that it was the old will, not the codicil, and he waited for Lionel to
hand him also the latter.

"Be so kind as read it, Mr. Matiss," said Lionel, pointing to the will.

It had to be read; and it was of no consequence whether the codicil was
taken from the desk before reading the original will, or afterwards, so
Mr. Matiss unfolded it, and began.

It was a somewhat elaborate will--which has been previously hinted.
Verner's Pride, with its rich lands, its fine income, was left to John
Massingbird; in the event of John's death, childless, it went to
Frederick; in the event of Frederick's death, childless, it passed to
Lionel Verner. There the conditions ended; so that, if it did lapse to
Lionel, it lapsed to him absolutely. But it would appear that the
contingency of both the Massingbirds dying had been only barely glanced
at by Mr. Verner. Five hundred pounds were left to Lionel: five hundred
to Jan; five hundred to Decima; nothing to Lady Verner. Mrs. Verner was
suitably provided for, and there were bequests to servants. Twenty-five
pounds for "a mourning ring" were bequeathed to each of the two
executors, Sir Rufus Hautley, and Mr. Bitterworth; and old Matthew Frost
had forty pounds a year for his life. Such were the chief features of
the will; and the utter astonishment it produced on the minds and
countenances of some of the listeners was a sight to witness. Lionel,
Mrs. Verner, Jan, and Sir Rufus Hautley were petrified.

Sir Rufus rose. He was a thin, stately man, always dressed in hessian
boots and the old-fashioned shirt-frill. A proud, impassive countenance
was his, but it darkened now. "I will not act," he began. "I beg to
state my opinion that the will is an unfair one--"

"I beg your pardon, Sir Rufus," interrupted the lawyer. "Allow me a
word. This is not the final will of Mr. Verner; much of it has been
revoked by a recent codicil. Verner's Pride comes to Mr. Lionel. You
will find the codicil in the desk, sir," he added to Lionel.

Lionel, his pale face haughty, and quite as impassive as that of Sir
Rufus, for anything like injustice angered him, opened the desk again.
"I was not aware," he observed. "My uncle told me on the day of his
death that the will would be found in his desk; I supposed that to be
it."

"It is the will," said Mr. Matiss. "But he caused me to draw up a later
codicil, which revoked the bequest of Verner's Pride. It is left to you
absolutely."

Lionel was searching in the desk. The few papers in it appeared to be
arranged with the most methodical neatness: but they were small, chiefly
old letters. "I don't see anything like a codicil," he observed. "You
had better look yourself, Mr. Matiss; you will probably recognise it."

Mr. Matiss advanced to the desk and looked in it. "It is not here!" he
exclaimed.

Not there! They gazed at him, at the desk, at Lionel, half puzzled. The
lawyer, with rapid fingers, began taking out the papers one by one.

"No, it is not here, in either compartment. I saw it was not, the moment
I looked in; but it was well to be sure. Where has it been put?"

"I really do not know anything about it," answered Lionel, to whom he
looked as he spoke. "My uncle told me the will would be found in his
desk. And the desk has not been opened since his death."

"Could Mr. Verner himself have changed its place to somewhere else?"
asked the lawyer, speaking with more than usual quickness, and turning
over the papers with great rapidity.

"Not after he told me where the will was. He did not touch the desk
after that. It was but just before his death. So far as I know, he had
not had his desk brought out of the closet for days."

"Yes, he had," said the lawyer. "After he had executed the codicil on
the evening previous to his death, he called for his desk, and put the
parchment into it. It lay on the top of the will--this one. I saw that
much."

"I can testify that the codicil was locked in the desk, and the desk was
then returned to the closet, for I happened to be present," spoke up Dr.
West. "I was one of the witnesses to the codicil, as I had been to the
will. Mr. Verner must have moved it himself to some safer place."

"What place could be safer than the desk in his own bedroom?" cried the
lawyer. "And why move the codicil and not the will?"

"True," assented Dr. West. "But--I don't see--it could not go out of the
desk without being moved out. And who would presume to meddle with it
but himself? Who took possession of his keys when he died?" added the
doctor, looking round at Mrs. Verner.

"I did," said Lionel. "And they have not been out of my possession
since. Nothing whatever has been touched; desk, drawers, every place
belonging to him are as they were left when he died."

Of course the only thing to do was to look for the codicil. Great
interest was excited; and it appeared to be altogether so mysterious an
affair that one and all flocked upstairs to the room; the room where he
had died! whence the coffin had but just been borne. Mrs. Tynn was
summoned; and when she found what was amiss, she grew excited; fearing,
possibly, that the blame might in some way fall upon her. Saving Lionel
himself, she was the only one who had been alone with Mr. Verner; of
course, the only one who could have had an opportunity of tampering with
the desk. And that, only when the patient slept.

"I protest that the desk was never touched, after I returned it to the
closet by my master's desire, when the parchment was put into it!" she
cried. "My master never asked for his desk again, and I never so much as
opened the closet. It was only the afternoon before he died, gentlemen,
that the deed was signed."

"Where did he keep his keys?" asked Mr. Bitterworth.

"In the little table-drawer at his elbow, sir. The first day he took to
his bed, he wanted his keys, and I got them out of his dressing-gown
pocket for him. 'You needn't put them back,' he says to me; 'let them
stop inside this little drawer.' And there they stayed till he died,
when I gave them up to Mr. Lionel."

"You must have allowed somebody to get into the room, Mrs. Tynn," said
Dr. West.

"I never was away from the room above two minutes at a time, sir," was
the woman's reply, "and then either Mr. Lionel or Tynn would be with
him. But, if any of 'em did come in, it's not possible they'd get
picking at the master's desk to take out a paper. What good would the
paper do any of the servants?"

Mrs. Tynn's question was a pertinent one. The servants were neither the
better nor the worse for the codicil; whether it were forthcoming, or
not, it made no difference to them. Sir Rufus Hautley inquired upon this
point, and the lawyer satisfied him.

"The codicil was to this effect alone," he explained. "It changed the
positions of Mr. Lionel and Mr. John Massingbird, the one for the other,
as they had stood in the will. Mr. Lionel came into the inheritance, and
Mr. Frederick Massingbird to five hundred pounds only. Mr. John was
gone--as everybody knows."

"These two, Mr. Lionel and Frederick Massingbird, were the only parties
interested in the codicil, then?"

"The only two. John Massingbird's name was mentioned, but only to revoke
all former bequests to him."

"Then--were John Massingbird alive, he could not now succeed to the
estate!" cried Sir Rufus.

"He could not, Sir Rufus," replied the lawyer. "He would be debarred
from all benefit under Mr. Verner's will. That is, provided we can come
across the codicil. Failing that, he would succeed were he in life, to
Verner's Pride."

"The codicil _must_ be found," cried Mr. Bitterworth, getting heated.
"Don't say, 'if we can come across it,' Matiss."

"Very good, Mr. Bitterworth. I'm sure I should be glad to see it found.
Where else are we to look?"

Where else, indeed! That Mr. Verner could not get out of the room to
hide the codicil was an indisputable fact; and nobody else seemed to
know anything whatever about it. The only one personally interested in
the suppression of the codicil was Frederick Massingbird; and he,
hundreds of miles away, could neither have secured it nor sent his ghost
to secure it. In a less degree, Mrs. Verner and Dr. West were
interested; the one in her son, the other in that son's wife. But the
doctor was not an inmate of Verner's Pride; and Mrs. Tynn could have
testified that she had been present in the room and never left it during
each of the doctor's professional visits, subsequent to the drawing out
of the codicil. As for Mrs. Verner, she had not been out of her bed. Mr.
Verner, at the last, had gone off suddenly, without pain, and there had
been no time to call his wife. Mrs. Tynn excused the negligence by
saying she did not think her master had been quite so near his end; and
it was a true excuse. But no one dreamed of attaching suspicion to Mrs.
Verner, or to Dr. West. "I'd rather it had been Lionel to succeed than
Frederick," spoke the former, honestly, some faint idea that people
might think she was pleased suggesting the avowal to her. "Lionel has
more right than Fred to Verner's Pride."

"More right!" ejaculated Dr. West warmly. "Frederick Massingbird has
_no_ right, by the side of Lionel Verner. Why Mr. Verner ever willed it
away from Lionel we could not understand."

"Fred needn't take it--even if the codicil can't be found--he can give
it back to Lionel by deed of gift," said practical Jan. "_I_ should."

"That my master meant Mr. Lionel to succeed, is certain," interposed
Tynn, the butler. "Nearly the last word he said to me, before the breath
went out of his body, was an injunction to serve Mr. Lionel faithfully
at Verner's Pride, as I had served him. There can be no difficulty in
Mr. Lionel's succeeding, when my master's intentions were made so
plain."

"Be quiet, Tynn," said Lionel. "I succeed by means of legal right to
Verner's Pride, or I will not succeed at all."

"That's true," acquiesced the lawyer. "A will is a will, and must be
acted upon. How on earth has that codicil got spirited away?"

How indeed! But for the plain fact, so positive and palpable before
them, of the codicil's absence, they would have declared the loss to be
an impossibility. Upstairs and down, the house was vainly searched for
it; and the conclusion was at length unwillingly come to that Mr. Verner
had repented of his bequest, had taken the codicil out of the desk, and
burned it. The suggestion came from Mr. Bitterworth; and Mrs. Tynn
acknowledged that it was just possible Mr. Verner's strength would allow
him to accomplish so much, while her back was turned. And yet, how
reconcile this with his dying charges to Lionel, touching the management
of the estate?

The broad fact that there was the will, and that alone to act upon,
untempered by a codicil, shone out all too clearly. Lionel Verner was
displaced, and Frederick Massingbird was the heir.

Oh, if some impossible electric telegraph could but have carried the
news over the waves of the sea, to the ship ploughing along the mid-path
of the ocean; if the two fugitives in her could but have been spirited
back again, as the codicil seemed to have been spirited away, how
triumphantly would they have entered upon their sway at Verner's Pride.



CHAPTER XVIII.

PERPLEXITY.


It was a terrible blow; there was no doubt of that; very terrible to
Lionel Verner, so proud and sensitive. Do not take the word proud in its
wrong meaning. He did not set himself up for being better than others,
or think everybody else dirt beneath his feet; but he was proud of his
independence, of his unstained name--he was proud to own that fine
place, Verner's Pride. And now Verner's Pride was dashed from him, and
his independence seemed to have gone out with the blow, and a slight
seemed to have fallen upon him, if not upon his name.

He had surely counted upon Verner's Pride. He had believed himself as
indisputably its heir, as though he had been Stephen Verner's eldest
son, and the estate entailed. Never for a moment had a doubt that he
would succeed entered his own mind, or been imparted to it from any
quarter. In the week that intervened between Mr. Verner's death and
burial, he had acted as entire master. It was he who issued orders--from
himself now, not from any other--it was he who was appealed to. People,
of their own accord, began to call him Mr. Verner. Very peremptory
indeed had been a certain interview of his with Roy the bailiff. Not, as
formerly, had he said, "Roy, my uncle desires me to say so and so;" or,
"Roy, you must not act in that way, it would displease Mr. Verner;" but
he issued his own clear and unmistakable orders, as the sole master of
Verner's Pride. He and Roy all but came to loggerheads that day; and
they would have come quite to it, but that Roy remembered in time that
he, before whom he stood, was his head and master--his master to keep
him on, or to discharge him at pleasure, and who would brook no more
insubordination to his will. So Roy bowed, and ate humble pie, and hated
Lionel all the while. Lionel had seen this; he had seen how the man
longed to rebel, had he dared: and now a flush of pain rose to his brow
as he remembered that in that interview he had _not_ been the master;
that he was less master now than he had ever been. Roy would likewise
remember it.

Mr. Bitterworth took Lionel aside. Sir Rufus Hautley had gone out after
the blow had fallen, when the codicil had been searched for in vain, had
gone out in anger, shaking the dust from his feet, declining to act as
executor, to accept the mourning-ring, to have to do with anything so
palpably unjust. The rest lingered yet. It seemed that they could not
talk enough of it, could not tire of bringing forth new conjectures,
could not give vent to all the phases of their astonishment.

"What could have been your offence, that your uncle should alter his
will, two years ago, and leave the estate from you?" Mr. Bitterworth
inquired of Lionel, drawing him aside.

"I am unable to conjecture," replied Lionel. "I find by the date of this
will that it was made the week subsequent to my departure for Paris,
when Jan met with the accident. He was not displeased with me then, so
far as I knew----"

"Did you go to Paris in opposition to his wish?" interrupted Mr.
Bitterworth.

"On the contrary, he hurried me off. When the news of Jan's accident
arrived, and I went to my uncle with the message, he said to me--I
remember his very words--'Go off at once; don't lose an instant,' and he
handed me money for the journey and for my stay; for Jan, also, should
any great expense be needed for him; and in an hour I was away on my
route. I stayed six months in Paris, as you may remember--the latter
portion of the time for my own pleasure. When I did return home, I was
perfectly thunderstruck at the change in my uncle's appearance, and at
the change in his manners to me. He was a bowed, broken man, with--as it
seemed to me--some care upon his mind; and that I had offended him in
some very unfortunate way, and to a great extent, was palpable. I never
could get any solution to it, though I asked him repeatedly. I do not
know, to this hour, what I had done. Sometimes I thought he was angry
at my remaining so long away; but, if so, he might have given me a hint
to return, or have suffered some one else to give it, for he never wrote
to me."

"Never wrote to you?" repeated Mr. Bitterworth.

"Not once, the whole of the time I was away. I wrote to him often; but
if he had occasion to send me a message, Mrs. Verner or Fred Massingbird
would write it. Of course, this will, disinheriting me, proves that my
staying away could not have been the cause of displeasure--it is dated
only the week after I went."

"Whatever may have been the cause, it is a grievous wrong inflicted on
you. He was my dear friend, and we have but now returned from laying him
in his grave, but still I must speak out my sentiments--that he had _no
right_ to deprive you of Verner's Pride."

Lionel knit his brow. That he thought the same; that he was feeling the
injustice as a crying and unmerited wrong, was but too evident. Mr.
Bitterworth had bent his head in a reverie, stealing a glance at Lionel
now and then.

"Is there nothing that you can charge your conscience with; no sin,
which may have come to the knowledge of your uncle, and been deemed by
him a just cause for disinheritance?" questioned Mr. Bitterworth, in a
meaning tone.

"There is nothing, so help me Heaven!" replied Lionel, with emotion. "No
sin, no shame; nothing that could be a cause, or the shade of a cause--I
will not say for depriving me of Verner's Pride, but even for my uncle's
displeasure."

"It struck me--you will not be offended with me, Lionel, if I mention
something that struck me a week back," resumed Mr. Bitterworth. "I am a
foolish old man, given to ponder much over cause and effect--to put two
and two together, as we call it; and the day I first heard from your
uncle that he had had good cause--it was what he said--for depriving you
of Verner's Pride, I went home, and set myself to think. The will had
been made just after John Massingbird's departure for Australia. I
brought before me all the events which had occurred about that same
time, and there rose up naturally, towering above every other
reminiscence, the unhappy business touching Rachel Frost.
Lionel"--laying his hand on the young man's shoulder and dropping his
voice to a whisper--"did _you_ lead the girl astray?"

Lionel drew himself up to his full height, his lip curling with
displeasure.

"Mr. Bitterworth!"

"To suspect you never would have occurred to me. I do not suspect you
now. Were you to tell me that you were guilty of it, I should have
difficulty in believing you. But it did occur to me that possibly your
uncle may have cast that blame on you. I saw no other solution of the
riddle. It could have been no light cause to induce Mr. Verner to
deprive you of Verner's Pride. He was not a capricious man.'

"It is impossible that my uncle could have cast a shade of suspicion on
me, in regard to that affair," said Lionel. "He knew me better. At the
moment of its occurrence, when nobody could tell whom to suspect, I
remember a word or two were dropped which caused me to assure him _I_
was not the guilty party, and he stopped me. He would not allow me even
to speak of defence; he said he cast no suspicion on me."

"Well, it is a great mystery," said Mr. Bitterworth. "You must excuse
me, Lionel. I thought Mr. Verner might in some way have taken up the
notion. Evil tales, which have no human foundation, are sometimes palmed
upon credulous ears for fact, and do their work."

"Were it as you suggest, my uncle would have spoken to me, had it been
only to reproach," said Lionel. "It is a mystery, certainly, as you
observe; but that is nothing to this mystery of the disappearance of the
codicil----"

"I am going, Lionel," interrupted Jan, putting his head round the room
door.

"I must go, too," said Lionel, starting from the sideboard against which
he had been leaning. "My mother must hear of this business from no one
but me."

Verner's Pride emptied itself of its mourners, who betook themselves
their respective ways. Lionel, taking the long crape from his hat, and
leaving on its deep mourning band alone, walked with a quick step
through the village. He would not have _chosen_ to be abroad that day,
walking the very route where he had just figured chief in the
procession, but to go without delay to Lady Verner was a duty. And a
duty was never willingly omitted by Lionel Verner.



CHAPTER XIX.

THE REVELATION TO LADY VERNER.


IN the drawing-room at Deerham Court, in their new black dresses, sat
Lady Verner and Decima; Lucy Tempest with them. Lady Verner held out her
hand to Lionel when he entered, and lifted her face, a strange eagerness
visible in its refinement.

"I thought you would come to me, Lionel!" she uttered. "I want to know a
hundred things.--Decima, have the goodness to direct your reproachful
looks elsewhere; not to me. Why should I be a hypocrite, and feign a
sorrow for Stephen Verner which I do not feel? I know it is his
burial-day as well as you know it; but I will not make that a reason for
abstaining from questions on family topics, although they do relate to
money and means that were once his. I say it would be hypocritical
affectation to do so. Lionel," she deliberately continued, "has Jan an
interest in Verner's Pride after you, or is it left to you
unconditionally? And what residence is appointed for Mrs. Verner?"

Lionel leaned over the table, apparently to reach something that was
lying on it, contriving to bring his lips close to Decima. "Go out of
the room, and take Lucy," he whispered.

Decima received the hint promptly. She rose as of her own accord. "Lucy,
let us leave mamma and Lionel alone. We will come back when your secrets
are over," she added, turning round with a smile as she left the room,
drawing Lucy with her.

"You don't speak, Lionel," impatiently cried Lady Verner. In truth he
did not; he did not know how to begin. He rose, and approached her.

"Mother, can you bear disappointment?" he asked, taking her hand, and
speaking gently, in spite of his agitation.

"Hush!" interrupted Lady Verner. "If you speak of 'disappointment' to
me, you are no true son of mine. You are going to tell me that Stephen
Verner has left nothing to me. Let me tell you, Lionel, that I would not
have accepted it--and this I made known to him. Accept money from _him_!
No. But I will accept it from my dear son,"--looking at him with a
smile--"now that he enjoys the revenues of Verner's Pride."

"It was not with money left, or not left, to you, that I was connecting
disappointment," answered Lionel. "There is a worse disappointment in
store for us than that, mother."

"A worse disappointment!" repeated Lady Verner, looking puzzled. "You
are never to be saddled with the presence of Mrs. Verner at Verner's
Pride, until her death!" she hastily added. A great disappointment, that
would have been; a grievous wrong, in the estimation of Lady Verner.

"Mother, dear, Verner's Pride is not mine."

"Not yours!" she slowly said. "He _surely_ has not done as his father
did before him?--left it to the younger brother, over the head of the
elder? He has never left it to Jan!"

"Neither to Jan nor to me. It is left to Frederick Massingbird. John
would have had it, had he been alive."

Lady Verner's delicate features became crimson; before she could speak,
they had assumed a leaden colour. "Don't play with me, Lionel," she
gasped, an awful fear thumping at her heart that he was _not_ playing
with her. "It cannot be left to the Massingbirds!"

He sat down by her side, and gave her the history of the matter in
detail. Lady Verner caught at the codicil, as a drowning man catches at
a straw.

"How could you terrify me?" she asked. "Verner's Pride is yours, Lionel.
The codicil must be found."

"The conviction upon my mind is that it never will be found," he
resolutely answered. "Whoever took that codicil from the desk where it
was placed, could have had but one motive in doing it--the depriving me
of Verner's Pride. Rely upon it, it is effectually removed ere this, by
burning, or otherwise. No. I already look upon the codicil as a thing
that never existed. Verner's Pride is gone from us."

"But, Lionel, whom do you suspect? Who can have taken it? It is pretty
nearly a hanging matter to steal a will!"

"I do not suspect any one," he emphatically answered. "Mrs. Tynn
protests that no one could have approached the desk unseen by her. It is
very unlikely that any one could have burnt it. They must, first of all,
have chosen a moment when my uncle was asleep; they must have got Mrs.
Tynn from the room; they must have searched for and found the keys; they
must have unlocked the desk, taken the codicil, relocked the desk, and
replaced the keys. All this could not be done without time, and
familiarity with facts. Not a servant in the house--save the Tynns--knew
the codicil was there, and they did not know its purport. But the Tynns
are thoroughly trustworthy."

"It must have been Mrs. Verner----"

"Hush, mother! I cannot listen to that, even from you. Mrs. Verner was
in her bed--never out of it; she knew nothing whatever of the codicil.
And, if she had, you will, I hope, do her the justice to believe that
she would be incapable of meddling with it."

"She benefits by its loss, at any rate," bitterly rejoined Lady Verner.

"Her son does. But that he does was entirely unknown to her. She never
knew that Mr. Verner had willed the estate away from me; she never
dreamed but that I, and no other, would be his successor. The accession
of Frederick Massingbird is unwelcome to her, rather than the contrary;
he has no right to it, and she feels that he has not. In the impulse of
the surprise, she said aloud that she wished it had been left to me; and
I am sure these were her true sentiments."

Lady Verner sat in silence, her white hands crossed on her black dress,
her head bent down. Presently she lifted it----

"I do not fully understand you, Lionel. You appear to imply
that--according to your belief--no one has touched the codicil. How,
then, can it have got out of the desk?"

"There is only one solution. It was suggested by Mr. Bitterworth; and,
though I refused credence to it when he spoke, it has since been gaining
upon my mind. He thinks my uncle must have repented of the codicil after
it was made, and himself destroyed it. I should give full belief to this
were it not that at the very last he spoke to me as the successor to
Verner's Pride."

"Why did he will it from you at all?" asked Lady Verner.

"I know not. I have told you how estranged his manner has been to me for
the last year or two; but wherefore, or what I had done to displease
him, I cannot think or imagine."

"He had no right to will away the estate from you," vehemently rejoined
Lady Verner. "Was it not enough that he usurped your father's
birth-right, as Jacob usurped Esau's, keeping you out of it for years
and years, but he must now deprive you of it for ever? Had you been
dead--had there been any urgent reason why you should not succeed--Jan
should have come in. Jan is the lawful heir, failing you. Mark me,
Lionel, it will bring no good to Frederick Massingbird. Rights,
violently diverted out of their course, can bring only wrong and
confusion."

"It would be scarcely fair were it to bring him ill," spoke Lionel, in
his strict justice. "Frederick has had nothing to do with my uncle's
bequeathing the estate to him."

"Nonsense, Lionel! you cannot make me believe that no cajolery has been
at work from some quarter or other," peevishly answered Lady Verner.
"Tell the facts to an impartial person--a stranger. They were always
about him--his wife and those Massingbirds--and at the last moment it is
discovered that he has left all to them, and disinherited you."

"Mother, you are mistaken. What my uncle has done, he has done of his
own will alone, unbiassed by others; nay, unknown to others. He
distinctly stated this to Matiss, when the change was made. No, although
I am a sufferer, and they benefit, I cannot throw a shade of the wrong
upon Mrs. Verner and the Massingbirds."

"I will tell you what I cannot do--and that is to accept your view of
the disappearance of the codicil," said Lady Verner. "It does not stand
to reason that your uncle would cause a codicil to be made, with all the
haste and parade you speak of, only to destroy it afterwards. Depend
upon it, you are wrong. He never took it."

"It does appear unlikely," acquiesced Lionel, after some moments of
deliberation. "It was not likely, either, that he would destroy it in
secret; he would have done it openly. And still less likely, that he
would have addressed me as his successor in dying, and given me charges
as to the management of the estate, had he left it away from me."

"No, no; no, no!" emphatically returned Lady Verner. "That codicil has
been _stolen_, Lionel."

"But, by whom?" he debated. "There's not a servant in the house would do
it; and there was no other inmate of it, save myself. This is my chief
difficulty. Were it not for the total absence of all other suspicion, I
should not for a moment entertain the thought that it could have been
my uncle. Let us leave the subject, mother. It seems to be an
unprofitable one, and my head is weary."

"Are you going to give the codicil tamely up for a bad job, without
further search?" asked Lady Verner. "That I should live--that I should
_live_ to see Sibylla West's children inherit Verner's Pride!" she
passionately added.

Sibylla West's children! Lionel had enough pain at his heart, just then,
without that shaft. A piercing shaft truly, and it dyed his brow fiery
red.

"We have searched already in every likely or possible place that we can
think of; to-morrow morning, places unlikely and impossible will be
searched," he said, in answer to his mother's question. "I shall be
aided by the police; our searching is nothing compared with what they
can do. They go about it artistically, perfected by practice."

"And--if the result should be a failure?"

"It will be a failure," spoke Lionel, in his firm conviction. "In which
case I bid adieu to Verner's Pride."

"And come home here; will you not, Lionel?"

"For the present. And now, mother, that I have told you the ill news,
and spoiled your rest, I must go back again."

Spoiled her rest! Ay, for many a day and night to come. Lionel
disinherited! Verner's Pride gone from them for ever! A cry went forth
from Lady Verner's heart. It had been the moment of hope which she had
looked forward to for years; and, now that it was come, what had it
brought?

"My own troubles make me selfish," said Lionel, turning back when he was
half out at the door. "I forgot to tell you that Jan and Decima inherit
five hundred pounds each."

"Five hundred pounds!" slightingly returned Lady Verner. "It is but of
at piece with the rest."

He did not add that he had five hundred also, failing the estate. It
would have seemed worse mockery still.

Looking out at the door, opposite to the ante-room, on the other side of
the hall, was Decima. She had heard his step, and came to beckon him in.
It was the dining-parlour, but a pretty room still; for Lady Verner
would have nothing about her inelegant or ugly, if she could help it.
Lucy Tempest, in her favourite school attitude, was half-kneeling,
half-sitting on the rug before the fire; but she rose when Lionel came
in.

Decima entwined her arm within his, and led him up to the fire-place.
"Did you bring mamma bad news?" she asked. "I thought I read it in your
countenance."

"Very bad, Decima. Or I should not have sent you away while I told it."

"I suppose there's nothing left for mamma, or for Jan?"

"Mamma did not expect anything left for her, Decima. Don't go away,
Lucy," he added, arresting Lucy Tempest, who, with good taste, was
leaving them alone. "Stay and hear how poor I am; all Deerham knows it
by this time."

Lucy remained. Decima, her beautiful features a shade paler than usual,
turned her serene eyes on Lionel. She little thought what was coming.

"Verner's Pride is left away from me, Decima."

"Left away from you! From _you_?"

"Frederick Massingbird inherits. I am passed over."

"Oh, Lionel!" The words were not uttered angrily, passionately, as Lady
Verner's had been; but in a low, quiet voice, wrung from her, seemingly,
by intense inward pain.

"And so there will be some additional trouble for you in the
housekeeping line," went on Lionel, speaking gaily, and ignoring all the
pain at _his_ heart. "Turned out of Verner's Pride, I must come to you
here--at least, for a time. What shall you say to that, Miss Lucy?"

Lucy was looking up at him gravely, not smiling in the least. "Is it
true that you have lost Verner's Pride?" she asked.

"Quite true."

"But I thought it was yours--after Mr. Verner."

"I thought so too, until to-day," replied Lionel. "It ought to have been
mine."

"What shall you do without it?"

"What, indeed!" he answered. "From being a landed country gentleman--as
people have imagined me--I go down to a poor fellow who must work for
his bread and cheese before he eats it. Your eyes are laughing, Miss
Lucy, but it is true."

"Bread and cheese costs nothing," said she.

"No? And the plate you put it on, and the knife you eat it with, and the
glass of beer to help it go down, and the coat you wear during the
repast, and the room it's served in?--they cost something, Miss Lucy."

Lucy laughed. "I think you will always have enough bread and cheese,"
said she. "You look as though you would."

Decima turned to them. She had stood buried in a reverie, until the
light tone of Lionel aroused her from it. "_Which_ is real, Lionel? This
joking, or that you have lost Verner's Pride?"

"Both," he answered. "I am disinherited from Verner's Pride; better
perhaps that I should joke over it, than cry."

"What will mamma do? What will mamma do?" breathed Decima. "She has so
counted upon it. And what will you do, Lionel?"

"Decima!" came forth at this moment from the opposite room, in the
imperative voice of Lady Verner.

Decima turned in obedience to it, her step less light than usual. Lucy
addressed Lionel.

"One day at the rectory there came a gipsy woman, wanting to tell our
fortunes; she accosted us in the garden. Mr. Cust sent her away, and she
was angry, and told him his star was not in the ascendant. I think it
must be the case at present with your star, Mr. Verner."

Lionel smiled. "Yes, indeed."

"It is not only one thing that you are losing; it is more. First, that
pretty girl whom you loved; then, Mr. Verner; and now, Verner's Pride. I
wish I knew how to comfort you."

Lucy Tempest spoke with the most open simplicity, exactly as a sister
might have done. But the one allusion grated on Lionel's heart.

"You are very kind, Lucy. Good-bye. Tell Decima I shall see her some
time to-morrow."

Lucy Tempest looked after him from the window as he paced the inclosed
courtyard. "I cannot think how people can be unjust!" was her thought.
"If Verner's Pride was rightly his, why have they taken it from him?"



CHAPTER XX.

DRY WORK.


Certainly Lionel Verner's star was not in the ascendant--though Lucy
Tempest had used the words in jest. His love gone from him; his fortune
and position wrested from him; all become the adjuncts of one man,
Frederick Massingbird. Serenely, to outward appearance, as Lionel had
met the one blow, so did he now meet the other; and none, looking on his
calm bearing, could suspect what the loss was to him. But it is the
silent sorrow that eats into the heart; the loud grief does not tell
upon it.

An official search had been made; but no trace could be found of the
missing codicil. Lionel had not expected that it would be found. He
regarded it as a deed which had never had existence, and took up his
abode with his mother. The village could not believe it; the
neighbourhood resented it. People stood in groups to talk it over. It
did certainly appear to be a most singular and almost incredible thing,
that, in the enlightened days of the latter half of the nineteenth
century, an official deed should disappear out of a gentleman's desk, in
his own well-guarded residence, in his habited chamber. Conjectures and
thoughts were freely bandied about; while Dr. West and Jan grew nearly
tired of the particulars demanded of them in their professional visits,
for their patients would talk of nothing else.

The first visible effect that the disappointment had, was to stretch
Lady Verner on a sick-bed. She fell into a low, nervous state of
prostration, and her irritability--it must be confessed--was great. But
for this illness, Lionel would have been away. Thrown now upon his own
resources, he looked steadily into the future, and strove to chalk out a
career for himself; one by which--as he had said to Lucy Tempest--he
might earn bread and cheese. Of course, at Lionel Verner's age, and
reared to no profession, unfamiliar with habits of business, that was
easier thought of than done. He had no particular talent for literature;
he believed that, if he tried his hand at that, the bread might come,
but the cheese would be doubtful--although he saw men, with even less
aptitude for it than he, turning to it and embracing it with all the
confidence in the world, as if it were an ever-open resource for all,
when other trades failed. There were the three professions; but were
they available? Lionel felt no inclination to become a working drudge
like poor Jan; and the Church, for which he had not any liking, he was
by far too conscientious to embrace only as a means of living. There
remained the Bar; and to that he turned his attention, and resolved to
qualify himself for it. That there would be grinding, and drudgery, and
hard work, and no pay for years, he knew; but, so there might be, go to
what he would. The Bar did hold out a chance of success, and there was
nothing in it derogatory to the notions in which he had been
reared--those of a gentleman.

Jan came to him one day about the time of the decision, and Lionel told
him that he should soon be away; that he intended to enter himself at
the Middle Temple, and take chambers.

"Law!" said Jan. "Why, you'll be forty, maybe, before you ever get a
brief. You should have entered earlier."

"Yes. But how was I to know that things would turn out like this?"

"Look here," said Jan, tilting himself in a very uncomfortable fashion
on the high back of an arm-chair, "there's that five hundred pounds. You
can have that."

"What five hundred pounds?" asked Lionel.

"The five hundred that Uncle Stephen left me. I don't want it. Old West
gives me as much as keeps me in clothes and that, which is all I care
about. You take the money and use it."

"No, Jan. Thank you warmly, old boy, all the same; but I'd not take your
poor little bit of money if I were starving."

"What's the good of it to me?" persisted Jan, swaying his legs about. "I
can't use it: I have got nothing to use it in. I have put it in the bank
at Heartburg, but the bank may go smash, you know, and then who'd be the
better for the money? You take it and make sure of it, Lionel."

Lionel smiled at him. Jan was as simple and single-hearted in his way as
Lucy Tempest was in hers. But Lionel must want money very grievously
indeed, before he would have consented to take honest Jan's.

"I have five hundred of my own, you know, Jan," he said. "More than I
can use yet awhile."

So he fixed upon the Bar, and would have hastened to London but for Lady
Verner's illness. In the weak, low state to which disappointment and
irritability had reduced her, she could not bear to lose sight of
Lionel, or permit him to depart. "It will be time enough when I am dead;
and that won't be long first," was the constant burden of her song to
him.

He believed his mother to be little more likely to die than he was, but
he was too dutiful a son to cross her in her present state. He gathered
certain ponderous tomes about him, and began studying law on his own
account, shutting himself up in his room all day to do it. Awfully dry
work he found it; not in the least congenial; and many a time did he
long to pitch the whole lot into the pleasant rippling stream, running
through the grounds of Sir Rufus Hautley, which danced and glittered in
the sun in view of Lionel's window.

He could not remain at his daily study without interruptions. They were
pretty frequent. People--tenants, workmen, and others--would persist in
coming for orders to Mr. Lionel. In vain Lionel told them that he could
not give orders, could not interfere; that he had no longer anything to
do with Verner's Pride. They could not be brought to understand why he
was not their master as usual--at any rate, why he could not act as one,
and interpose between them and the tyrant, Roy. In point of fact, Mr.
Roy was head and master of the estate just now, and a nice head and
master he made! Mrs. Verner, shut up in Verner's Pride with her ill
health, had no conception what games were being played. "Let be, let
be," the people would say. "When Mr. Fred Massingbird comes home, Roy'll
get called to account, and receive his deserts;" a fond belief in which
all did not join. Many entertained a shrewd suspicion that Mr. Fred
Massingbird was too much inclined to be a tyrant on his own account, to
disapprove of the acts of Roy. Lionel's blood often boiled at what he
saw and heard, and he wished he could put miles between himself and
Deerham.



CHAPTER XXI.

A WHISPERED SUSPICION.


Dr. West was crossing the courtyard one day, after paying his morning
visit to Lady Verner, when he was waylaid by Lionel.

"How long will my mother remain in this weak state?" he inquired.

Dr. West lifted his arched eyebrows. "It is impossible to say, Mr.
Lionel. These cases of low nervous fever are sometimes very much
protracted."

"Lady Verner's is not nervous fever," dissented Lionel.

"It approaches near to it."

"The fact is, I want to be away," said Lionel.

"There is no reason why you should not be away, if you wish it,"
rejoined the physician. "Lady Verner is not in any danger; she is sure
to recover eventually."

"I know that. At least, I hope it is sure," returned Lionel. "But, in
the state she is, I cannot reason with her, or talk to her of the
necessity of my being away. Any approach to the topic irritates her."

"I should go, and say nothing to her beforehand," observed Dr. West.
"When she found you were really off, and that there was no remedy for
it, she must perforce reconcile herself to it."

Every fond feeling within Lionel revolted at the suggestion. "We are
speaking of my mother, doctor," was his courteously-uttered rebuke.

"Well, if you would not like to do that, there's nothing for it but
patience," the doctor rejoined, as he drew open one of the iron gates.
"Lady Verner may be no better than she is now for weeks to come.
Good-day, Mr. Lionel."

Lionel paced into the house with a slow step, and went up to his
mother's chamber. She was lying on a couch by the fire, her eyes closed,
her pale features contracted as if with pain. Her maid Thérèse appeared
to be busy with her, and Lionel called out Decima.

"There's no improvement, I hear, Decima."

"No. But, on the other hand, there is no danger. There's nothing even
very serious, if Dr. West may be believed. Do you know, Lionel, what I
fancy he thinks?"

"What?" asked Lionel.

"That if mamma were obliged to exert and rouse herself--were like any
poor person, for instance, who cannot lie by and be nursed--she would be
well directly. And--unkind, unlike a daughter as it may seem in me to
acknowledge it--I do very much incline to the same opinion."

Lionel made no reply.

"Only Dr. West has not the candour to say so," went on Decima. "So long
as he can keep her lying here, he will do it; she is a good patient for
him. Poor mamma gives way, and he helps her to do it. I wish she would
discard him, and trust to Jan."

"You don't like Dr. West, Decima?"

"I never did," said Decima. "And I believe that, in skill, Jan is quite
equal to him. There's this much to be said of Jan, that he is sincere
and open as if he were made of glass. Jan will never keep a patient in
bed unnecessarily, or give the smallest dose more than is absolutely
requisite. Did you hear of Sir Rufus Hautley sending for Jan?"

"No."

"He is ill, it seems. And when he sent to Dr. West's, he expressly
desired that it might be Mr. Jan Verner to answer the summons. Dr. West
will not forgive that in a hurry."

"That comes of prejudice," said Lionel; "prejudice not really deserved
by Dr. West. Since the reading of the will, Sir Rufus has been bitter
against the Massingbirds; and Dr. West, as connected with them, comes in
for his share of the feeling."

"I hope he may not deserve it in any worse way than as connected with
them," returned Decima, with more acrimony than she, in her calm
gentleness, was accustomed to speak.

The significant tone struck Lionel. "What do you mean, Decima?"

Decima glanced round. They were standing at the far end of the corridor
at the window which overlooked the domains of Sir Rufus Hautley. The
doors of the several rooms were closed, and no one was about. Decima
spoke in a whisper--

"Lionel, I cannot divest myself of the opinion that--that----"

"That what?" he asked, looking at her in wonder, for she was hesitating
strangely, her manner shrinking, her voice awe-struck.

"That it was Dr. West who took the codicil."

Lionel's face flushed--partially with pain; he did not like to hear it
said, even by Decima.

"You have never suspected so much yourself?" she asked.

"Never, never. I hope I never shall suspect it. Decima, you perhaps
cannot help the thought, but you can help speaking of it."

"I did not mean to vex you. Somehow, Lionel, it is for your sake that I
seem to have taken a dislike to the Wests----"

"To take a dislike to people is no just cause for accusing them of
crime," he interrupted. "Decima, you are not like yourself to-day."

"Do you suppose that it is my dislike which caused me to suspect him.
No, Lionel. I seem to see people and their motives very clearly; and I
do honestly believe"--she dropped her voice still lower--"that Dr. West
is a man capable of almost anything. At the time when the codicil was
being searched for, I used to think and think it over, how it could
be--how it could have disappeared. All its points, all its bearings, I
deliberated upon again and again. One certain thing was, the codicil
could not have disappeared from the desk without its having been taken
out. Another point, almost equally certain to my mind, was that my Uncle
Stephen did not take it out, but died in the belief that it was _in_,
and that it would give you your inheritance. A third point was, that
whoever took it must have had some strong motive for the act. Who (with
possible access to the desk) could have had this motive, even in a
remote degree? There were but two--Dr. West and Mrs. Verner. Mrs. Verner
I judge to be incapable of anything so wrong; Dr. West I believe to be
capable of even worse than that. Hence I drew my deductions."

"Deductions which I shall never accept, and which I would advise you to
get rid of, Decima," was his answer. "My dear, never let such an
accusation cross your lips again."

"I never shall. I have told you; and that is enough. I have longed to
tell you for some time past. I did not think you would believe me."

"Believe _it_, you should say, Decima. Dr. West take the codicil! Were
I to bring myself to that belief, I think all my faith in man would go
out. You are sadly prejudiced against the Wests."

"And you in their favour," she could not help saying. "But I shall ever
be thankful for one thing--that you have escaped Sibylla."

Was he thankful for it? Scarcely, while that pained heart of his, those
coursing pulses, could beat on in this tumultuous manner at the bare
sound of her name.

In the silence that ensued--for neither felt inclined to break it--they
heard a voice in the hall below, inquiring whether Mr. Verner was
within. Lionel recognised it as Tynn's.

"For all I know he is," answered old Catherine. "I saw him a few minutes
agone in the court out there, a-talking to the doctor."

"Will you please ask if I can speak to him."

Lionel did not wait further, but descended to the hall. The butler, in
his deep mourning, had taken his seat on the bench. He rose as Lionel
approached.

"Well, Tynn, how are you? What is it?"

"My mistress has sent me to ask if you'd be so kind as come to Verner's
Pride, sir?" said Tynn, standing with his hat in his hand. "She bade me
say that she did not feel well enough, or she'd have written you a note
with the request, but she wishes particularly to see you."

"Does she wish to see me to-day?"

"As soon as ever you could get there, sir, I fancy. I am sure she meant
to-day."

"Very well, Tynn. I'll come over. How is your mistress?"

"She's very well, sir, now; but she gets worried on all sides about
things out-of-doors."

"Who worries her with those tales?" asked Lionel.

"Everybody almost does, sir, as comes a-nigh her. First it's one
complaint that's brought to the house, of things going wrong, and then
it's another complaint--and the women servants, they have not the sense
to keep it from her. My wife can't keep her tongue still upon it, and
can't see that the rest do. Might I ask how her ladyship is to-day,
sir?"

"Not any better, Tynn. Tell Mrs. Verner I will be with her almost
immediately."

Lionel lost little time in going to Vender's Pride. Turned from it as
he had been, smarting under the injustice and the pain, many a one would
have haughtily refused to re-enter it, whatever might have been the
emergency. Not so Lionel. He had chosen to quit Verner's Pride as his
residence, but he had remained entirely good friends with Mrs. Verner,
calling on her at times. Not upon her would Lionel visit his
displeasure.

It was somewhat curious that she had taken to sit in the old study of
Stephen Verner; a room which she had rarely entered during his lifetime.
Perhaps some vague impression that she was now a woman of business, or
ought to be one, that she herself was in sole charge for the absent
heir, had induced her to take up her daily sitting amidst the drawers,
bureaux, and other places which had contained Mr. Verner's papers--which
contained them still. She had, however, never yet looked at one. If
anything came up to the house, leases, deeds, other papers, she would
say: "Tynn, see to it," or "Tynn, take it over to Mr. Lionel Verner, and
ask what's to be done." Lionel never refused to say.

She was sitting back in Mr. Verner's old chair, now, filling it a great
deal better than he used to do. Lionel took her hand cordially. Every
time he saw her he thought her looking bigger and bigger. However much
she may have grieved at the time for her son John's death, it had not
taken away either her flesh or her high colour. Nothing would have
troubled Mrs. Verner permanently, unless it had been the depriving her
of her meals. Now John was gone, she cared for nothing else in life.

"It's kind of you to come, Lionel," said she. "I want to talk to you.
What will you have?--some wine?"

"Not anything," replied Lionel. "Tynn said you wished to see me for
something particular."

"And so I do. You must take the management of the estate until Fred's at
home."

The words grated on his ear, and his brow knit itself into lines. But he
answered calmly--

"I cannot do that, Mrs. Verner."

"Then what can I do?" she asked. "Here's all this great estate, nobody
to see after it, nobody to take it in charge! I'm sure I have no more
right to be teased over it than you have, Lionel."

"It is your son's."

"I asked you not to leave Verner's Pride. I asked you to take the
management of out-door things! You did so, between your uncle's death
and his burial."

"Believing that I was taking the management of what was mine," replied
Lionel.

"Why do you visit upon me the blame of all that has happened?" pursued
Mrs. Verner. "I declare that I knew nothing of what was done; I could
not believe my own ears when I heard Matiss read out the will. You
should not blame me."

"I never have blamed you for it, Mrs. Verner. I believe you to be as
innocent of blame in the matter as I am."

"Then you ought not to turn haughty and cold, and refuse to help me.
They are going to have me up before the Justice Courts at Heartburg!"

"Have you up before the Justice Courts at Heartburg!" repeated Lionel,
in great astonishment.

"It's all through Roy; I know it is. There's some stupid dispute about a
lease, and I am to be had up in evidence. Did you hear of the threat?"

"What threat?" asked he.

"Some of the men are saying they'll burn down Verner's Pride. Roy turned
them off the brick-yard, and they threaten they'll do it out of revenge.
If you would just look to things and keep Roy quiet, nothing of this
would happen."

Lionel knew that.

"Mrs. Verner," he said, "were you the owner of Verner's Pride, I would
spare no pains to help you. But I cannot act for Frederick Massingbird."

"What has Fred done to you?" she asked quickly.

"That is not the question--he has done nothing," answered Lionel,
speaking more rapidly still. "My management would--if I know anything of
him--be essentially different from your son's; different from what he
would approve. Neither would I take authority upon myself only to have
it displaced upon his return. Have Roy before you, Mrs. Verner, and
caution him."

"It does no good. I have already had him. He smoothes things over to me,
so that black looks white. Lionel, I must say that you are unkind and
obstinate."

"I do not think I am naturally either one or the other," he answered,
smiling. "Perhaps it might answer your purpose to put things into the
hands of Matiss, until your son's return."

"He won't take it," she answered. "I sent for him--what with this court
business and the threat of incendiarism, I am like one upon thorns--and
he said he would not undertake it. He seemed to fear contact with Roy."

"Were I to take the management, Mrs. Verner, my first act would be to
discharge Roy."

Mrs. Verner tried again to shake his resolution. But he was quite firm.
And, wishing her good-day, he left Verner's Pride, and bent his steps
towards the village.



CHAPTER XXII.

PECKABY'S SHOP.


On passing through Deerham from Verner's Pride, a little below the shop
of Mrs. Duff, you come upon an opening on the left hand, which led to
quite a swarm of cottages. Many of the labourers congregated here. If
you took this turning, which was called Clay Lane, and continued your
way past the cottages in a straight line over the fields, you would
arrive at the residence of the gamekeeper, Broom, leaving some
brick-fields to the right, and the Willow Pool, which had been the end
of poor Rachel Frost, on the left. But, unless you climbed hedges, you
could not get to the pool from this quarter without going round, near
the gamekeeper's. The path which led to Verner's Pride past the pool,
and which Rachel had taken that unfortunate night, had its commencement
higher up in the village, above Mrs. Duff's. A few cottages were
scattered again beyond the gamekeeper's, and one or two on this side it;
but we have nothing to do with them at present.

A great part of the ill-feeling rife on the estate was connected with
these brick-fields. It had been a great mistake on Mr. Verner's part
ever to put Roy into power; had Mr. Verner been in the habit of going
out of doors himself, he would have seen this, and not kept the man on a
week. The former bailiff had died suddenly. He, the bailiff, had given
some little power to Roy during his lifetime; had taken him on as a sort
of inferior helper; and Mr. Verner, put to shifts by the bailiffs death,
had allowed Roy so to continue. Bit by bit, step by step, gradually,
covertly, the man made good his footing: no other was put over his head,
and in time he came to be called Roy the bailiff, without having ever
been formally appointed as bailiff. He drew his two pounds per week--his
stipulated wages--and he made, it is hard to say what, besides. Avarice
and tyranny were the predominant passions of Roy's mind; bad qualities,
and likely to bring forth bad fruits when joined to petty power.

About three years previous to Mr. Verner's death, a stranger had
appeared in Clay Lane, and set up a shop there. Nearly every conceivable
thing in the shape of eatables was sold in it; that is, such eatables as
are in request among the poor. Bread, flour, meat, potatoes, butter,
tea, sugar, red herrings, and the like. Soap and candles were also sold;
and afterwards the man added green vegetables and coals, the latter
doled out by the measure, so much a "kipe." The man's name was Peckaby;
he and his wife were without family, and they managed the shop between
them. A tall, strong, brawny man was he; his wife was a remarkably tall
woman, fond of gossip and of smart caps. She would go gadding out for
hours at a stretch, leaving him to get through all the work at home, the
preparing meals, the serving customers.

Folks fly to new things; to do so is a propensity inherent in human
nature; and Mr. Peckaby's shop flourished. Not that he was much honoured
with the complimentary "Mr."; his customers brought it out
short--"Peckaby's shop." Much intimacy had appeared to exist from the
first between him and Roy, so that it was surmised they had been
previously acquainted. The prices were low, the shop was close at hand,
and Clay Lane flocked to it.

New things, however, like new faces, are apt to turn out no better than
the old; sometimes not as good. And thus it proved with Peckaby's shop.
From rather underselling the shops of the village, Peckaby's shop grew
to increase its charges until they were higher than those of anybody
else; the wares also deteriorated in value. Clay Lane awoke to this by
degrees, and would have taken its custom away; but that was more easily
contemplated than done. A good many of its families had been allowed to
get on Peckaby's books, and they also found that Roy set his face
against their leaving the shop. For Roy to set his face against a
measure was a formidable affair, not readily contended with: the
labourers did not dare to fly in his face, lest he should make an excuse
to take their work from them. He had already discharged several. So
Clay Lane, for the most part, found itself tied to Peckaby's shop, and
to paying some thirty per cent. beyond what they would have paid at the
old shops; added to which was the grievance of being compelled to put up
with very inferior articles. Dissatisfaction at this state of things had
long been smouldering. It grew and grew, threatening to break out into
open rebellion, perhaps to bloodshed. The neighbourhood cried shame upon
Roy, and felt inclined to echo the cry upon Mrs. Verner; while Clay Lane
openly avowed their belief that Peckaby's shop was Roy's shop, and that
the Peckaby's were only put in to manage it.

One fearfully hot Monday morning, in the beginning of July, Lionel
Verner was passing down Clay Lane. In another week he would be away from
Deerham. Lady Verner's illness had commenced near the latter end of
April, and it was growing towards the end of June before she began to
get better, or would give Lionel leave to depart. Jan, plain-speaking,
truth-telling Jan, had at length quietly told his mother that there was
nothing the matter with her but "vexing and temper." Lady Verner went
into hysterics at Jan's unfilial conduct; but, certain it was, from that
very time she began to amend. July came in, and Lionel was permitted to
fix the day for his departure.

Lionel was walking down Clay Lane. It was a short cut to Lord Elmsley's
house over the hills, a mile or two distant. Not a very suitable day for
a walk. Had Lionel been training for a light jockey, without any
superfluous weight, he might have dispensed with extra covering in his
exercise, and done as effectually without it. A hotter day never was
known in our climate; a more intensely burning sun never rode in the
heavens. It blazed down with a force that was almost unbearable,
scorching and withering all within its radius. Lionel looked up at it;
it seemed to blister his face and dazzle his eyes; and his resolution
wavered as he thought of the walk before him. "I have a great mind not
to go," said he mentally. "They can set up their targets without me. I
shall be half dead by the time I get there." Nevertheless, in the
indecision, he still walked on. He thought he'd see how affairs looked
when he came to the green fields. Green! brown, rather.

But Lionel found other affairs to look at before he reached the fields.
On turning a sharp angle of Clay Lane, he was surprised to see a crowd
collected, stretching from one side of it to the other. Not a peaceable
crowd evidently, although it was composed for the most part of the
gentler sex; but a crowd of threatening arms and inflamed faces, and
swaying white caps and noisy tongues. The female population of Clay Lane
had collected there.

Smash! went the breaking of glass in Lionel's ears as he came in view;
smash! went another crash. Were Peckaby's shop windows suffering? A
misgiving that it must be so, crossed the mind of Lionel, and he made
few steps to the scene of warfare.

Sure enough it was nothing less. Three great holes were staring in so
many panes, the splinters of glass lying inside the shop-window, amidst
butter and flour, and other suchlike articles. The flour looked brown,
and the butter was running away in an oily stream; but that was no
reason why a shower of broken glass should be added to improve their
excellences. Mr. Peckaby, with white gills and hair raised up on end,
stood, the picture of fear, gazing at the damage, but too much afraid to
start out and prevent it. Those big men are sometimes physical cowards.
Another pane smashed! the weapon used being a hard piece of flint coal,
which just escaped short of Mr. Peckaby's head, and Lionel thought it
time to interfere. He pushed into the midst of them.

They drew aside when they saw who it was. In their hot passions--hot and
angry then--perhaps no one, friend or enemy, would have stood a chance
of being deferred to but Lionel Verner. They had so long looked upon him
as the future lord of Verner's Pride that they forgot to look upon him
as anything less now. And they all liked Lionel. His appearance was as
oil poured upon troubled waters.

"What is the meaning of this? What is the matter?" demanded Lionel.

"Oh, sir, why don't you interfere to protect us, now things is come to
this pass? You be a Verner!" was the prayer of remonstrance from all
sides that met his words.

"Give me an explanation," reiterated Lionel. "What is the grievance?"

The particular grievance of this morning, however easy to explain, was
somewhat difficult to comprehend, when twenty tongues were speaking at
once--and those, shrill and excited ones. In vain Lionel assured them
that if one, instead of all, would tell it, he should understand it
sooner; that if their tone were subdued, instead of loud enough to be
heard yonder at the brick-fields, it might be more desirable. Excited
women, suffering under what they deem a wrong, cannot be made quiet; you
may as well try to put down a rising flood. Lionel resigned himself to
his fate, and listened; and at this stage of the affair a new feature of
it struck his eye and surprised him. Scarcely one of the women but bore
in her hand some uncooked meat. Such meat! Lionel drew himself and his
coat from too close proximity to it. It was of varied hues, and walking
away alive. Upon plates, whole or broken, upon half-saucers, upon
dust-pans, upon fire-shovels, held at the end of tongs, hooked on to a
fork, spread out in a coal-box; anyhow so as to avoid contact with
fingers, these dainty pieces were exhibited for inspection.

By what Lionel could gather, it appeared that this meat had been
purchased on Saturday night at Peckaby's shop. The women had said then,
one and all, that it was not good; and Mr. Peckaby had been regaled with
various open conjectures, more plain than polite, as to the state of the
animal from which it had been supplied. Independent of the quality of
the meat, it was none the better, even then, for having been kept. The
women scented this; but Peckaby, and Peckaby's wife, who was always in
the shop with her husband on a Saturday night, protested and vowed that
their customers' noses were mistaken; that the meat would be perfectly
good and fresh on the Sunday, and on the Monday too, if they liked to
keep it so long. The women, somewhat doubtfully giving ear to the
assurance, knowing that the alternative was that or none, bought the
meat and took it home. On Sunday morning they found the meat
was--anything you may imagine. It was neither cookable nor eatable; and
their anger against Peckaby was not diminished by a certain fact which
oozed out to them; namely, that Peckaby himself did not cut _his_
Sunday's dinner off the meat in his shop, but sent to buy it of one of
the Deerham butchers. The general indignation was great; the men,
deprived of their Sunday's meat, joined in it; but nothing could be done
until Monday morning. Peckaby's shop was always hermetically sealed on a
Sunday. Mr. Verner had been stringent in allowing no Sunday traffic on
the estate.

Monday came. The men went to their work as usual, leaving their wives to
deal with the matter. Behold them assembled with their meat, kept for
the occasion in spite of its state, before the shop of Peckaby. But of
redress they could get none; Peckaby was deaf; and Lionel arrived to
find hostilities commenced. Such was the summary of the story.

"You are acting very wrongly," were Lionel's first words to them in
answer. "You should blame the meat, not Peckaby. Is this weather for
keeping meat?"

"The weather didn't get to this heat till yesterday in the afternoon,"
said they--and Lionel could not deny the fact. Mrs. Dawson took up the
word.

"_Our_ meat warn't bought at Peckaby's; our meat were got at Clark's,
and it were sweet as a nut. 'Twere veal, too, and that's the worst meat
for keeping. Roy 'ud kill us if he could; but he can't force _us_ on to
Peckaby's rubbish. We defy him to't."

In point of defying Roy, the Dawsons had done that long ago. There was
open warfare between them, and skirmishes took place occasionally. The
first act of Roy, after it was known that Lionel was disinherited, had
been to discharge old Dawson and his sons from work. How they had
managed to live since was a mystery; funds did not seem to run low with
them; tales of their night-poaching went about, and the sons got an odd
job at legitimate work now and then.

"It's an awful shame," cried a civil, quiet woman, Sarah Grind, one of a
very numerous family, commonly called "Grind's lot," "that we should be
beat down to have our victuals and other things at such a place as
Peckaby's! Sometimes, sir, I'm almost inclined to ask, is it Christians
as rules over us?"

Lionel felt the shaft levelled at his family, though not personally at
himself.

"You are not beaten down to it," he said. "Why do you deal at Peckaby's?
Stay a bit! I know what you would urge: that by going elsewhere you
would displease Roy. It seems to me that if you would all go elsewhere,
Roy _could_ not prevent it. Should one of you attempt to go, he might;
but he could not prevent it if you all go with one accord. If Peckaby's
things are bad--as I believe they are--why do you buy them?"

"There ain't a single thing as is good in his place," spoke up a woman,
half-crying. "Sir, it's truth. His flour is half bone-dust, and his
'taturs is watery. His sugar is sand, and his tea is leaves dried over
again, while his eggs is rotten, and his coals is flint."

"Allowing that, it is no good reason for your smashing his windows,"
said Lionel. "It is utterly impossible that that can be tolerated."

"Why do he palm his bad things off upon us, then?" retorted the crowd.
"He makes us pay half as much again as we do in the other shops; and
when we gets them home, we can't eat 'em. Sir, you be Mr. Verner now;
you ought to see as we be protected."

"I am Mr. Verner; but I have no power. My power has been taken from me,
as you know. Mrs. Verner is--"

"A murrain light upon her!" scowled a man from the outskirts of the
crowd. "Why do she call _herself_ Mrs. Verner, and stick herself up for
missis at Verner's Pride, if she is to take no notice on us? Why do she
leave us in the hands of Roy, to be--"

Lionel had turned upon the man like lightning.

"Davies, how dare you presume so to speak of Mrs. Verner in my presence?
Mrs. Verner is not the source of your ills; you must look nearer to you,
for that. Mrs. Verner is aged and ailing; she cannot get out of doors to
see into your grievances."

At the moment of Lionel's turning to the man, he, Davies, had commenced
to push his way towards Lionel. This caused the crowd to sway, and
Lionel's hat, which he held carelessly in his hand, having taken it off
to wipe his heated brow, got knocked down. Before he could stoop for its
rescue, it was trampled out of shape; not intentionally--they would have
protected Lionel and his things with their lives--but inadvertently. A
woman picked it up with a comical look of despair. To put on _that_
again was impossible.

"Never mind," said Lionel good-naturedly. "It was my own fault; I should
have held it better."

"Put your handkercher over your head, sir," was the woman's advice.
"It'll keep the sun off."

Lionel smiled, but did not take it. Davies was claiming his attention;
while some of the women seemed inclined to go in for a fight, which
should secure the hat.

"Could Mr. Verner get out o' doors and look into our grievances, the
last years of his life, any more, sir, nor she can?" he was asking, in
continuation of the subject.

"No, sir; he couldn't, and he didn't; but things wasn't then brought to
the pitch as they be now."

"No," acquiesced Lionel, "I was at hand then, to interpose between Roy
and Mr. Verner."

"And don't you think, sir, as you might be able to do the same thing
still?"

"No, Davies. I have been displaced from Verner's Pride, and from all
power connected with it. I have no more right to interfere with the
working of the estate than you have. You must make the best of things
until Mr. Massingbird's return."

"There'll be some dark deed done, then, afore many weeks is gone over;
that's what there'll be!" was Davies's sullen reply. "It ain't to be
stood, sir, as a man and his family is to clam, 'cause Peckaby--"

"Davies, I will hear no more on that score," interrupted Lionel. "You
men should be men, and make common cause in that one point for
yourselves against Roy. You have your wages in your hand on a Saturday
night, and can deal at any shop you please."

The man--he wore a battered old straw hat on his head, which looked as
dirty as his face--raised his eyes with an air of surprise at Lionel.

"What wages, sir? We don't get ours."

"Not get your wages?" repeated Lionel.

"No, sir; not on a Saturday night. That's just it--it's where the new
shoe's a-pinching. Roy don't pay now on a Saturday night. He gives us
all a sort o' note, good for six shilling, and we has, us or our wives,
to take that to Peckaby's, and get what we can for it. On the Monday, at
twelve o'clock, which is his new time for paying the wages, he docks us
of six shilling. _That's_ his plan now; and no wonder as some of us has
kicked at it, and then he have turned us off. I be one."

Lionel's brow burned; not with the blazing sun, but with indignation.
That this should happen on the lands of the Verner's! Hot words rose to
his lips--to the effect that Roy, as he believed, was acting against the
law--but he swallowed them down ere spoken. It might not be expedient to
proclaim so much to the men.

"Since when has Roy done this?" he asked. "I am surprised not to have
heard of it."

"This six weeks he have done it, sir, and longer nor that. It's get our
things from Peckaby's or it's not get any at all. Folks won't trust the
likes of us, without us goes with the money in our hands. We might have
knowed there was some evil in the wind when Peckaby's took to give us
trust. Mr. Verner wasn't the best of masters to us, after he let Roy get
on our backs--saving your presence for saying it, sir; but you must know
as it's truth--but there's things a-going on now as 'ud make him, if he
knowed 'em, rise up out of his grave. Let Roy take care of hisself, that
he don't get burned up some night in his bed!" significantly added the
man.

"Be silent, Davies! You--"

Lionel was interrupted by a commotion. Upon turning to ascertain its
cause, he found an excited crowd hastening towards the spot from the
brick-fields. The news of the affray had been carried thither, and Roy,
with much intemperate language and loud wrath, had set off at full speed
to quell it. The labourers set off after him, probably to protect their
wives. Shouting, hooting, swearing--at which pastime Roy was the
loudest--on they came, in a state of fury.

But for the presence of Lionel Verner, things might have come to a
crisis--if a fight could have brought a crisis on. He interposed his
authority, which even Roy did not yet dispute to his face, and he
succeeded in restoring peace for the time. He became responsible--I
don't know whether it was quite wise of him to do so--for the cost of
the broken windows, and the women were allowed to go home unmolested.
The men returned to their work, and Mr. Peckaby's face regained its
colour. Roy was turning away, muttering to himself, when Lionel beckoned
him aside with an authoritative hand.

"Roy, this must not go on. Do you understand me? It must not go on."

"What's not to go on, sir?" retorted Roy sullenly.

"You know what I mean. This disgraceful system of affairs altogether. I
believe that you would be amenable to the law in thus paying the men, or
in part paying them, with an order for goods; instead of in open, honest
coin. Unless I am mistaken, it borders very closely upon the truck
system."

"I can take care of myself and of the law, too, sir," was the answer of
Roy.

"Very good. I shall take care that this sort of oppression is lifted off
the shoulders of the men. Had I known it was being pursued, I should
have stopped it before."

"You have no right to interfere between me and anything now, sir."

"Roy," said Lionel calmly, "you are perfectly well aware that the right,
not only to interfere between you and the estate, but to invest me with
full power over it and you, was sought to be given me by Mrs. Verner at
my uncle's death. For reasons of my own I chose to decline it, and have
continued to decline it. Do you remember what I once told you--that one
of my first acts of power would be to displace you? After what I have
seen and heard to-day, I shall deliberate whether it be not my duty to
reconsider my determination, and assume this, and all other power."

Roy's face turned green. He answered defiantly, not in tone, but in
spirit--

"It wouldn't be for long, at any rate, sir; and Mr. Massingbird, I know,
'll put me into my place again on his return."

Lionel did not reply immediately. The sun was coming down upon his
uncovered head like a burning furnace, and he was casting a glance round
to see if any friendly shade might be at hand. In his absorption over
the moment's business he had not observed that he had halted with Roy
right underneath its beams. No, there was no shade just in that spot. A
public pump stood behind him, but the sun was nearly vertical, and the
pump got as much of it as he did. A thought glanced through Lionel's
mind of resorting to the advice of the women, to double his handkerchief
cornerwise over his head. But he did not purpose staying above another
minute with Roy, to whom he again turned.

"Don't deceive yourself, Roy. Mr. Massingbird is not likely to
countenance such doings as these. That Mrs. Verner will not, I know;
and, I tell you plainly, I will not. You shall pay the men's wages at
the proper and usual time; you shall pay them in full, to the last
halfpenny that they earn. Do you hear? I order you now to do so. We will
have no underhanded truck system introduced on the Verner estate."

"You'd like to ruin poor Peckaby, I suppose, sir!"

"I have nothing to do with Peckaby. If public rumour is to be credited,
the business is not Peckaby's, but yours--"

"Them that says it is a pack of liars!" burst forth Roy.

"Possibly. I say I have nothing to do with that. Peckaby--"

Lionel's voice faltered. An awful pain--a pain, the like of which, for
acute violence, he had never felt--had struck him in the head. He put
his hand up to it, and fell against the pump.

"Are you ill, sir?" asked Roy.

"What can it be?" murmured Lionel. "A sudden pain has attacked me here,
Roy," touching his head; "an awful pain. I'll get into Frost's, and sit
down."

Frost's cottage was but a minute's walk, but Lionel staggered as he went
to it. Roy attended him. The man humbly asked if Mr. Lionel would be
pleased to lean upon him, but Lionel waved him off. Matthew Frost was
sitting indoors alone; his grandchildren were at school, his son's wife
was busy elsewhere. Matthew no longer went out to labour. He had been
almost incapable of it before Mr. Verner's annuity fell to him. Robin
was away at work: but Robin was a sadly altered man since the death of
Rachel. His very nature appeared to have changed.

"My head! my head!" broke from Lionel, as he entered, in the intensity
of his pain. "Matthew, I think I must have got a sun-stroke."

Old Matthew pulled off his straw hat, and lifted himself slowly out of
his chair. All his movements were slow now. Lionel had sat himself down
on the settle, his head clasped by both hands, and his pale face turned
to fiery red--as deep a crimson as Mrs. Verner's was habitually.

"A sun-stroke?" echoed old Matthew, leaning on his stick, as he stood
before him, attentively regarding Lionel. "Ay, sir, for sure it looks
like it. Have you been standing still in the sun, this blazing day?"

"I have been standing in it without my hat," replied Lionel. "Not for
long, however."

"It don't take a minute, sir, to do the mischief. I had one myself,
years before you were born, Mr. Lionel. On a day as hot as this, I was
out in my garden, here, at the back of this cottage. I had gone out
without my hat, and was standing over my pig, watching him eat his wash,
when I felt something take my head--such a pain, sir, that I had never
felt before, and never wish to feel again. I went indoors, and Robin,
who might be a boy of five, or so, looked frightened at me, my face was
so red. I couldn't hold my head up, sir; and when the doctor came, he
said it was a sun-stroke. I think there must be particular moments and
days when the sun has this power to harm us, though we don't know which
they are nor how to avoid them," added old Matthew, as much in
self-soliloquy as to Lionel. "I had often been out before, without my
hat, in as great heat; for longer, too; and it had never harmed me.
Since then, sir, I have put a white handkerchief inside the crown of my
hat in hot weather. The doctor told me to do so."

"How long did the pain last?" asked Lionel, feeling _his_ pain growing
worse with every moment. "Many hours?"

"_Hours_?" repeated old Matthew, with a strong emphasis on the word.
"Mr. Lionel, it lasted for days and weeks. Before the next morning came,
sir, I was in a raging fever; for three weeks, good, I was in my bed,
above here, and never out of it; hardly the clothes smoothed a-top of
me. Sun-strokes are not frequent in this climate, sir, but when they do
come, they can't be trifled with."

Perhaps Lionel felt the same conviction. Perhaps he felt that with this
pain, increasing as it was in intensity, he must make the best of his
way home, if he would get home at all. "Good-day, Matthew," he said,
rising from the bench. "I'll go home at once!"

"And send for Dr. West, sir, or for Mr. Jan, if you are no better when
you get there," was the parting salutation of the old man.

He stood at the door, leaning on his stick, and watched Lionel down Clay
Lane. "A sun-stroke, for sure," repeated he, slowly turning in, as the
angle of the lane hid Lionel from his view.



CHAPTER XXIII.

DAYS AND NIGHTS OF PAIN.


In his darkened chamber at Deerham Court lay Lionel Verner. Whether it
was a sun-stroke, or whether it was but the commencement of a fever,
which had suddenly struck him down that day, certain it was, that a
violent sickness attacked him, and he lay for many, many days--days and
weeks as old Frost had called it--between life and death. Fever and
delirium struggled with life, which should get the mastery.

Very little doubt was there, that his state of mind increased the danger
of his state of body. How bravely Lionel had struggled to do battle with
his great anguish, he might scarcely have known himself, in all its full
intensity, save for this illness. He had loved Sibylla with the pure
fervour of feelings young and fresh. He could have loved her to the end
of life; he could have died for her. No leaven was mixed with his love,
no base dross; it was refined as the purest silver. It is only these
exalted, ideal passions, which partake more of heaven's nature than of
earth's, that _tell_ upon the heart when their end comes. Terribly had
it told upon Lionel Verner's. In one hour he had learned that Sibylla
was false to him, was about to become the wife of another. In his
sensitive reticence, in his shrinking pride, he had put a smiling face
upon it before the world. He had watched her marry Frederick
Massingbird, and had "made no sign." Deep, deep in his heart, fifty
fathom deep, had he pressed down his misery, passing his days in what
may be called a false atmosphere--showing a false side to his friends.
It seemed false to Lionel, the appearing what he was not. He was his
true self at night only, when he could turn, and toss, and groan out his
trouble at will. But, when illness attacked him, and he had no strength
of body to throw off his pain of mind, then he found how completely the
blow had shattered him. It seemed to Lionel, in his sane moments, in the
intervals of his delirium, that it would be far happier to die, than to
wake up again to renewed life, to bear about within him that
ever-present sorrow. Whether the fever--it was not brain fever, though
bordering closely upon it--was the result of this state of mind, more
than of the sun-stroke, might be a question. Nobody knew anything of
that inward state, and the sun-stroke got all the blame--save, perhaps,
from Lionel himself. He may have doubted.

One day Jan called in to see him. It was in August. Several weeks had
elapsed since the commencement of his illness, and he was so far
recovered as to be removed by day to a sitting-room on a level with his
chamber--a wondrously pretty sitting-room over Lady Verner's
drawing-room, but not so large as that, and called "Miss Decima's room."
The walls were panelled in medallions, white and delicate blue, the
curtains were of blue satin and lace, the furniture blue. In each
medallion hung an exquisite painting in water colours, framed--Decima's
doing. Lady Verner was one who liked at times to be alone, and then
Decima would sit in this room, and feel more at home than in any room in
the house. When Lionel began to recover, the room was given over to him.
Here he lay on the sofa; or lounged on an easy-chair; or stood at the
window, his hands clasping hold of some support, and his legs as
tottering as were poor old Matthew Frost's. Sometimes Lady Verner would
be his companion, sometimes he would be consigned to Decima and Lucy
Tempest. Lucy was pleased to take her share of helping the time to pass;
would read to him, or talk to him; or sit down on her low stool on the
hearth-rug and only look at him, waiting until he should want something
done. Dangerous moments, Miss Lucy! Unless your heart is cased in
adamant, you can scarcely be with that attractive man--ten times more
attractive now, in his sickness--and not get your wings singed.

Jan came in one day when Lionel was sitting on the sofa, having propped
the cushion up at the back of his head. Decima was winding some silk,
and Lucy was holding the skein for her. Lucy wore a summer dress of
white muslin, a blue sprig raised upon it in tambour-stitch, with blue
and white ribbons at its waist and neck. Very pretty, very simple it
looked, but wonderfully according with Lucy Tempest. Jan looked round,
saw a tolerably strong table, and took up his seat upon it.

"How d'ye get on, Lionel?" asked he.

It was Dr. West who attended Lionel, and Jan was chary of interfering
with the doctor's proper patients--or, rather, the doctor was chary of
his doing so--therefore Jan's visits were entirely unprofessional.

"I don't get on at all--as it seems to me," replied Lionel. "I'm sure I
am weaker than I was a week ago."

"I dare say," said Jan.

"You dare say!" echoed Lionel. "When a man has turned the point of an
illness, he expects to get stronger, instead of weaker."

"That depends," said Jan. "I beg your pardon, Miss Lucy; that's my foot
caught in your dress, isn't it?"

Lucy turned to disentangle her dress from Jan's great feet. "You should
not sway your feet about so, Jan," said she pleasantly.

"It hasn't hurt it, has it?" asked Jan.

"Oh, no. Is there another skein to hold, Decima?"

Decima replied in the negative. She rose, put the paper of silk upon the
table, and then turned to Jan.

"Mamma and I had quite a contention yesterday," she said to him. "I say
that Lionel is not being treated properly."

"That's just my opinion," laconically replied Jan. "Only West flares up
so, if his treatment is called in question. I'd get him well in half the
time."

Lionel wearily changed his position on the sofa. The getting well, or
the keeping ill, did not appear to interest him greatly.

"Let's look at his medicine, Decima," continued Jan. "I have not seen
what has come round lately."

Decima left the room and brought back a bottle with some medicine in it.

"There's only one dose left," she remarked to Jan.

Jan took the cork out and smelt it; then he tasted it, apparently with
great gusto, as anybody else might taste port wine; while Lucy watched
him, drawing her lips away from her pretty teeth in distaste at the
proceeding.

"Psha!" cried Jan.

"Is it not proper medicine for him?" asked Decima.

"It's as innocent as water," said Jan. "It'll do him neither good nor
harm."

And finally Jan poured the lot down his own throat.

Lucy shuddered.

"Oh, Jan, how could you take it?"

"It won't hurt me," said literal Jan.

"But it must be so nasty! I never could have believed any one would
willingly drink medicine. It is bad enough to do it when compelled by
sickness."

"Law!" returned Jan. "If you call this nasty, Miss Lucy, you should
taste some of our physic. The smell would about knock you down."

"I think nothing is worse than the smell of drugs," resumed Lucy. "The
other day, when Lady Verner called in at your surgery to speak to you,
and took me with her, I was glad to get into the open air again."

"Don't you ever marry a doctor, then, Miss Lucy."

"I am not going to marry one," returned Lucy.

"Well, you need not look so fierce," cried Jan. "I didn't ask you."

Lucy laughed. "Did I look fierce, Jan? I suppose I was thinking of the
drugs. I'd never, never be a surgeon, of all things in the world."

"If everybody was of your mind, Miss Lucy, how would people get
doctored?"

"Very true," answered Lucy. "But I don't envy them."

"The doctors or the people?" asked Jan.

"I meant the doctors. But I envy the patients less," glancing
involuntarily towards Lionel as she spoke.

Jan glanced at him too. "Lionel, I'll bring you round some better stuff
than this," said he. "What are you eating?"

"Nothing," put in Decima. "Dr. West keeps him upon arrowroot and
beef-tea, and such things."

"Slops," said Jan contemptuously. "Have a fowl cooked every day, Lionel,
and eat it all, if you like, bones and all; or a mutton--chop or two; or
some good eels. And have the window open and sit at it; don't lounge on
that sofa, fancying you can't leave it; and to-morrow or the next day,
borrow Mrs. Verner's carriage----"

"No, thank you," interposed Lionel.

"Have a fly, then," composedly went on Jan. "Rouse yourself, and eat and
drink, and go into the air, and you'll soon be as well as I am. It's the
stewing and fretting indoors, fancying themselves ill, that keeps folks
back."

Something like a sickly smile crossed Lionel's wan lips. "Do you
remember how you offended your mother, Jan, by telling her she only
wanted to rouse herself?"

"Well," said Jan, "it was the truth. West keeps his patients
dilly-dallying on, when he might have them well in no time. If he says
anything about them to me, I always tell him so; otherwise I don't
interfere; it's no business of mine. But you are my brother, you know."

"Don't quarrel with West on my account, Jan. Only settle it amicably
between you, what I am to do, and what I am to take. I don't care."

"Quarrel!" said Jan. "You never knew me to quarrel in your life. West
can come and see you as usual, and charge you, if you please; and you
can just pour his physic down the sink. I'll send you some bark: but
it's not of much consequence whether you take it or not; it's good
kitchen physic you want now. Is there anything on your mind that's
keeping you back?" added plain Jan.

A streak of scarlet rose to Lionel's white cheek.

"Anything on my mind, Jan! I do not understand you."

"Look here," said Jan, "if there is nothing, you ought to be better than
this by now, in spite of old West. What you have got to do is to rouse
yourself, and believe you are well, instead of lying by, here. My mother
was angry with me for telling her that, but didn't she get well all one
way after it? And look at the poor! They have their illnesses that bring
'em down to skeletons; but when did you ever find them lie by, after
they got better? They can't; they are obliged to go out and turn to at
work again; and the consequence is they are well in no time. You have
your fowl to-day," continued Jan, taking himself off the table to
depart; "or a duck, if you fancy it's more savoury; and if West comes in
while you are eating it, tell him I ordered it. He can't grumble at me
for doctoring _you_."

Decima left the room with Jan. Lucy Tempest went to the window, threw it
open, drew an easy-chair, with its cushions, near to it, and then
returned to the sofa.

"Will you come to the window?" said she to Lionel. "Jan said you were to
sit there, and I have put your chair ready."

Lionel unclosed his eyelids. "I am better here, child, thank you."

"But you heard what Jan said--that you were not going the right way to
get well."

"It does not much matter, Lucy, whether I get well, or whether I don't,"
he answered wearily.

Lucy sat down; not on her favourite stool, but on a low chair, and fixed
her eyes upon him gravely.

"Do you know what Mr. Cust would say to that?" she asked. "He would tell
you that you were ungrateful to God. You are already half-way towards
getting well."

"I know I am, Lucy. But I am nearly tired of life."

"It is only the very old who say that, or ought to say it. I am not sure
that they _ought_--even if they were a hundred. But you are young. Stay!
I will find it for you."

He was searching about for his handkerchief. Lucy found it, fallen on
the floor at the back of the sofa. She brought it round to him, and he
gently laid hold of her hand as he took it.

[Illustration: "He gently laid hold of her hand."]

"My little friend, you have yet to learn that _things_, not years, tire
us of life."

Lucy shook her head.

"No; I have not to learn it. I know it must be so. Will you _please_ to
come to the window?"

Lionel, partly because his tormentor (may the word be used? he was sick,
bodily and mentally, and would have lain still for ever) was a young
lady, partly to avoid the trouble of persisting in "No," rose, and took
his seat in the arm-chair.

"What an obstinate nurse you would make, Lucy! Is there anything else,
pray, that you wish me to do?"

She did not smile in response to his smile; she looked very grave and
serious.

"I would do all that Jan says, were I you," was her answer. "I believe
in Jan. He will get you well sooner than Dr. West."

"Believe in Jan?" repeated Lionel, willing to be gay if he could. "Do
you mean that Jan is Jan?"

"I mean that I have faith in Jan. I have none in Dr. West."

"In his medical skill? Let me tell you, Lucy, he is a very clever man,
in spite of what Jan may say."

"I can't tell anything about his skill. Until Jan spoke now I did not
know but he was treating you rightly. But I have no faith in himself. I
think a good, true, faithful-natured man should be depended on for cure,
more certainly than one who is false-natured."

"False-natured!" echoed Lionel. "Lucy, you should not so speak of Dr.
West. You know nothing wrong of Dr. West. He is much esteemed among us
at Deerham."

"Of course I know nothing wrong of him," returned Lucy, with some slight
surprise. "But when I look at people I always seem to know what they
are. I am sorry to have said so much. I--I think I forgot it was to you
I spoke."

"Forgot!" exclaimed Lionel. "Forgot what?"

She hesitated at the last sentence, and she now blushed vividly.

"I forgot for the moment that he was Sibylla's father," she simply said.

Again the scarlet rose in the face of Lionel. Lucy leaned against the
window-frame but a few paces from him, her large soft eyes, in their
earnest sympathy, lifted to his. He positively shrank from them.

"What's Sibylla to me?" he asked. "She is Mrs. Frederick Massingbird."

Lucy stood in penitence. "Do not be angry with me," she timidly cried.
"I ought not to have said it to you, perhaps. I see it always."

"See what, Lucy?" he continued, speaking gently, not in anger.

"I see now much you think of her, and how ill it makes you. When Jan
asked just now if you had anything on your mind to keep you back, I knew
what it was."

Lionel grew hot and cold with a sudden fear. "Did I say anything in my
delirium?"

"Nothing at all--that I heard of. I was not with you. I do not think
anybody suspects that you are ill because--because of _her_."

"Ill because of her!" he sharply repeated, the words breaking from him
in his agony, in his shrinking dread at finding so much suspected. "I am
ill from fever. What else should I be ill from?"

Lucy went close to his chair and stood before him meekly.

"I am so sorry," she whispered. "I cannot help seeing things, but I did
not mean to make you angry."

He rose, steadying himself by the table, and laid his hand upon her
head, with the same fond motion that a father might have used.

"Lucy, I am not angry--only vexed at being watched so closely," he
concluded, his lips parting with a faint smile.

In her earnest, truthful, serious face of concern, as it was turned up
to him, he read how futile it would be to persist in his denial.

"I did not watch you for the purpose of watching. I saw how it was,
without being able to help myself."

Lionel bent his head.

"Let the secret remain between us, Lucy. Never suffer a hint of it to
escape your lips."

Nothing answered him save the glad expression that beamed out from her
countenance, telling him how implicitly he might trust to her.



CHAPTER XXIV.

DANGEROUS COMPANIONSHIP.


Lionel Verner grew better. His naturally good constitution triumphed
over the disease, and his sick soreness of mind lost somewhat of its
sharpness. So long as he brooded in silence over his pain and his
wrongs, there was little chance of the sting becoming much lighter; it
was like the vulture preying upon its own vitals; but that season of
silence was past. When once a deep grief can be _spoken of_, its great
agony is gone. I think there is an old saying, or a proverb--"Griefs
lose themselves in telling," and a greater truism was never uttered. The
ice once broken, touching his feelings with regard to Sibylla, Lionel
found comfort in making it his theme of conversation, of complaint,
although his hearer and confidant was only Lucy Tempest. A strange
comfort, but yet a natural one, as those who have suffered as Lionel did
may be able to testify. At the time of the blow, when Sibylla deserted
him with coolness so great, Lionel could have died rather than give
utterance to a syllable betraying his own pain; but several months had
elapsed since, and the turning-point was come. He did not,
unfortunately, love Sibylla one shade less; love such as his cannot be
overcome so lightly; but the keenness of the disappointment, the blow to
his self-esteem--to his vanity, it may be said--was growing less
intense. In a case like this, of faithlessness, let it happen to man or
to woman, the wounding of the self-esteem is not the least evil that
must be borne. Lucy Tempest was, in Lionel's estimation, little more
than a child, yet it was singular how he grew to love to talk with her.
Not for love of _her_--do not fancy that--but for the opportunity it
gave him of talking of Sibylla. You may deem this an anomaly; I know
that it was natural; and, like oil poured upon a wound, so did it bring
balm to Lionel's troubled spirit.

He never spoke of her save at the dusk hour. During the broad, garish
light of day, his lips were sealed. In the soft twilight of the evening,
if it happened that Lucy was alone with him, then he would pour out his
heart--would tell of his past tribulation. As past he spoke of it; had
he not regarded it as past, he never would have spoken. Lucy listened,
mostly in silence, returning him her earnest sympathy. Had Lucy Tempest
been a little older in ideas, or had she been by nature and rearing less
entirely single-minded, she might not have sat unrestrainedly with him,
going into the room at any moment, and stopping there, as she would had
he been her brother. Lucy was getting to covet the companionship of
Lionel very much--too much, taking all things into consideration. It
never occurred to her that, for that very reason, she might do well to
keep away. She was not sufficiently experienced to define her own
sensations; and she did not surmise that there was anything inexpedient
or not perfectly orthodox in her being so much with Lionel. She liked to
be with him, and she freely indulged the liking upon any occasion that
offered.

"Oh, Lucy, I loved her! I did love her!" he would say, having repeated
the same words perhaps fifty times before in other interviews; and he
would lean back in his easy-chair, and cover his eyes with his hand, as
if willing to shut out all sight save that of the past. "Heaven knows
what she was to me! Heaven only knows what her faithlessness has cost!"

"Did you dream of her last night, Lionel?" answered Lucy, from her low
seat where she generally sat, near to Lionel, but with her face mostly
turned from him.

And it may as well be mentioned that Miss Lucy never thought of such a
thing as _discouraging_ Lionel's love and remembrance of Sibylla. Her
whole business in the matter seemed to be to listen to him, and help him
to remember her.

"Ay," said Lionel, in answer to the question. "Do you suppose I should
dream of anything else?"

Whatever Lucy may or may not have supposed, it was a positive fact,
known well to Lionel--known to him, and remembered by him to this
hour--that he constantly dreamed of Sibylla. Night after night, since
the unhappy time when he learned that she had left him for Frederick
Massingbird, had she formed the prominent subject of his dreams. It is
the strict truth; and it will prove to you how powerful a hold she must
have possessed over his imagination. This he had not failed to make an
item in his revelations to Lucy.

"What was your dream last night, Lionel?"

"It was only a confused one; or seemed to be when I awoke. It was full
of trouble. Sibylla appeared to have done something wrong, and I was
defending her, and she was angry with me for it. Unusually confused it
was. Generally my dreams are too clear and vivid."

"I wonder how long you will dream of her, Lionel? For a year, do you
think?"

"I hope not," heartily responded Lionel. "Lucy, I wish I could forget
her?"

"I wish you could--if you do wish to do it," simply replied Lucy.

"Wish! I wish I could have swallowed a draught of old Lethe's stream
last February, and never recalled her again!"

He spoke vehemently, and yet there was a little undercurrent of
suppressed consciousness deep down in his heart, whispering that his
greatest solace was to remember her, and to talk of her as he was doing
now. To talk of her as he would to his own soul: and that he had now
learned to do with Lucy Tempest. Not to any one else in the whole world
could Lionel have breathed the name of Sibylla.

"Do you suppose she will soon be coming home?" asked Lucy, after a
silence.

"Of course she will. The news of his inheritance went out shortly after
they started, and must have got to Melbourne nearly as soon as they did.
There's little doubt they are on their road home now. Massingbird would
not care to stop to look after what was left by John, when he knows
himself to be the owner of Verner's Pride."

"I wish Verner's Pride had not been left to Frederick Massingbird!"
exclaimed Lucy.

"Frankly speaking, so do I," confessed Lionel. "It ought to be mine by
all good right. And, putting myself entirely out of consideration, I
judge Frederick Massingbird unworthy to be its master. That's between
ourselves, mind, Lucy."

"It is all between ourselves," returned Lucy.

"Ay. What should I have done without you, my dear little friend?"

"I am glad you have not had to do without me," simply answered Lucy. "I
hope you will let me be your friend always!"

"That I will. Now Sibylla's gone, there's nobody in the whole world I
care for, but you."

He spoke it without any double meaning: he might have used the same
words, been actuated by precisely the same feelings, to his mother or
his sister. His all-absorbing love for Sibylla barred even the idea of
any other love to his mind, yet awhile.

"Lionel!" cried Lucy, turning her face full upon him in her earnestness,
"_how_ could she choose Frederick Massingbird, when she might have
chosen you?"

"Tastes differ," said Lionel, speaking lightly, a thing he rarely did
when with Lucy. "There's no accounting for them. Some time or other,
Lucy, you may be marrying an ugly fellow with a wooden leg and red
beard; and people will say, 'How could Lucy Tempest have chosen him?'"

Lucy coloured. "I do not like you to speak in that joking way, if you
please," she gravely said.

"Heigh ho, Lucy!" sighed he. "Sometimes I fancy a joke may cheat me out
of a minute's care. I wish I was well, and away from this place. In
London I shall have my hands full, and can rub off the rust of old
grievances with hard work."

"You will not like London better than Deerham."

"I shall like it ten thousand times better," impulsively answered
Lionel. "I have no longer a place in Deerham, Lucy. That is gone."

"You allude to Verner's Pride?"

"Everything's gone that I valued in Deerham," cried Lionel, with the
same impulse--"Verner's Pride amongst the rest. I would never stop here
to see the rule of Fred Massingbird. Better that John had lived to take
it, than that it should have come to him."

"Was John better than his brother?"

"He would have made a better master. He was, I believe, a better man.
Not but that John had his faults, as we all have."

"All!" echoed Lucy. "What are your faults?"

Lionel could not help laughing. She asked the question, as she did all
her questions, in the most genuine, earnest manner, really seeking the
information. "I think for some time back, Lucy, my chief fault has been
grumbling. I am sure you must find it so. Better days may be in store
for us both."

Lucy rose. "I think it must be time for me to go and make Lady Verner's
tea. Decima will not be home for it."

"Where is Decima this evening?"

"She is gone her round to the cottages. She does not find time for it in
the day, since you were ill. Is there anything I can do for you before I
go down?"

"Yes," he answered, taking her hand. "You can let me thank you for your
patience and kindness. You have borne with me bravely, Lucy. God bless
you, my dear child."

She neither went away, nor drew her hand away. She stood there--as he
had phrased it--patiently, until he should release it. He soon did so,
with a weary movement: all he did was wearisome to him then, save the
thinking and talking of the theme which ought to have been a barred
one--Sibylla.

"Will you please to come down to tea this evening?" asked Lucy.

"I don't care for tea; I'd rather be alone."

"Then I will bring you some up."

"No, no; you shall not be at the trouble. I'll come down, then,
presently."

Lucy Tempest disappeared. Lionel leaned against the window, looking out
on the night landscape, and lost himself in thoughts of his faithless
love. He aroused himself from them with a stamp of impatience.

"I must shake it off," he cried to himself; "I _will_ shake it off.
None, save myself or a fool, but would have done it months ago. And yet,
Heaven alone knows how I have tried and battled, and how vain the battle
has been!"



CHAPTER XXV.

HOME TRUTHS FOR LIONEL.


The cottages down Clay Lane were ill-drained. It might be nearer the
truth to say they were not drained at all. As is the case with many
another fine estate besides Verner's Pride, while the agricultural land
was well drained, no expense spared upon it, the poor dwellings had been
neglected. Not only in the matter of draining, but in other respects,
were these habitations deficient: but that strong terms are apt to grate
unpleasingly upon the ear, one might say shamefully deficient. The
consequence was that no autumn ever went over, scarcely any spring, but
somebody would be down with ague, with low fever; and it was reckoned a
fortunate season if a good many were not prostrate.

The first time that Lionel Verner took a walk down Clay Lane after his
illness was a fine day in October. He had been out before in other
directions, but not in that of Clay Lane. He had not yet recovered his
full strength; he looked ill and emaciated. Had he been strong, as he
used to be, he would not have found himself nearly losing his
equilibrium at being run violently against by a woman, who turned
swiftly out of her own door.

"Take care, Mrs. Grind! Is your house on fire?"

"It's begging a thousand pardons, sir! I hadn't no idea you was there,"
returned Mrs. Grind, in lamentable confusion, when she saw whom she had
all but knocked down. "Grind, he catches sight o' one o' the brick men
going by, and he tells me to run and fetch him in; but I had got my
hands in the soap-suds, and couldn't take 'em convenient out of it at
the minute, and I was hasting lest he'd gone too far to be caught up. He
have now."

"Is Grind better?"

"He ain't no worse, sir. There he is," she added, flinging the door
open.

On the side of the kitchen, opposite to the door, was a pallet-bed
stretched against the wall, and on it lay the woman's husband, Grind,
dressed. It was a small room, and it appeared literally full of
children, of encumbrances of all sorts. A string extended from one side
of the fire-place to the other, and on this hung some wet coloured
pinafores, the steam ascending from them in clouds, drawn out by the
heat of the fire. The children were in various stages of _un_-dress,
these coloured pinafores doubtless constituting their sole outer
garment. But that Grind's eye had caught his, Lionel might have
hesitated to enter so uncomfortable a place. His natural kindness of
heart--nay, his innate regard for the feelings of others, let them be
ever so inferior in station--prevented his turning back when the man had
seen him.

"Grind, don't move, don't get off the bed," Lionel said hastily. But
Grind was already up. The ague fit was upon him then, and he shook the
bed as he sat down upon it. His face wore that blue, pallid appearance,
which you may have seen in aguish patients.

"You don't seem much better, Grind."

"Thank ye, sir, I be baddish just now again, but I ain't worse on the
whole," was the man's reply. A civil, quiet, hard-working man as any on
the estate; nothing against him but his large flock of children, and his
difficulty of getting along any way. The mouths to feed were
many--ravenous young mouths, too; and the wife, though anxious and
well-meaning, was not the most thrifty in the world. She liked gossiping
better than thrift; but gossip was the most prevalent complaint of Clay
Lane, so far as its female population was concerned.

"How long is it that you have been ill?" asked Lionel, leaning his elbow
on the mantel-piece, and looking down on Grind, Mrs. Grind having
whisked away the pinafores.

"It's going along of four weeks, sir, now. It's a illness, sir, I takes
it, as must have its course."

"All illnesses must have that, as I believe," said Lionel. "Mine has
taken its own time pretty well, has it not?"

Grind shook his head.

"You don't look none the better for your bout, sir. And it's a long time
you must have been a-getting strong. Mr. Jan, he said, just a month ago,
when he first come to see me, as you was well, so to say, then. Ah! it's
only them as have tried it knows what the pulling through up to strength
again is, when the illness itself seems gone."

Lionel's conscience was rather suggestive at that moment. He might have
been stronger than he was, by this time, had he "pulled through" with a
better will, and given way less. "I am sorry not to see you better,
Grind," he kindly said.

"You see me at the worst, sir, to-day," said the man, in a tone of
apology, as if seeking to excuse his own sickness. "I _be_ getting
better, and that's a thing to be thankful for. I only gets the fever
once in three days now. Yesterday, sir, I got down to the field, and
earned what'll come to eighteen pence. I did indeed, sir, though you'd
not think it, looking at me to-day."

"I should not," said Lionel. "Do you mean to say you went to work in
your present state?"

"I didn't seem a bit ill yesterday, sir, except for the weakness. The
fever, it keeps me down all one day, as may be to-day; then the morrow I
be quite prostrate with the weakness it leaves; and the third day I be,
so to speak, well. But I can't do a full day's work, sir; no, nor hardly
half of a one, and by evening I be so done over I can scarce crawl to
my place here. It ain't much, sir, part of a day's work in three; but I
be thankful for that improvement. A week ago, I couldn't do as much as
that."

More suggestive thoughts for Lionel.

"He'd a got better quicker, sir, if he could do his work regular," put
in the woman. "What's one day's work out o' three--even if 'twas a full
day's--to find us all victuals? In course he can't fare better nor we;
and Peckaby's, they don't give much trust to us. He gets a pot o' gruel,
or a saucer o' porridge, or a hunch o' bread with a mite o' cheese."

Lionel looked at the man. "You cannot eat plain bread now, can you,
Grind?"

"All this day, sir, I shan't eat nothing; I couldn't swallow it," he
answered. "After the fever and the shaking's gone, then I could eat, but
not bread; it seems too dry for the throat, and it sticks in it. I get a
dish o' tea, or something in that way. The next day--my well day, as I
calls it--I can eat all afore me."

"You ought to have more strengthening food."

"It's not for us to say, sir, as we ought to have this here food, or
that there food, unless we earns it," replied Grind, in a meek spirit of
contented resignation that many a rich man might have taken a pattern
from. "Mr. Jan he says, 'Grind,' says he, 'you should have some meat to
eat, and some good beef-tea, and a drop o' wine wouldn't do you no
harm,' says he. And it makes me smile, sir, to think where the like o'
poor folks is to get such things. Lucky to be able to get a bit o' bread
and a drain o' tea without sugar, them as is off their work, just to rub
on and keep theirselves out o' the workhouse. I know I'm thankful to do
it. Jim, he have got a place, sir."

"Jim,--which is Jim?" asked Lionel, turning his eyes on the group of
children, supposing one must be meant.

"He ain't here, sir," cried the woman. "It's the one with the black
hair, and he was six year old yesterday. He's gone to Farmer Johnson's
to take care o' the pigs in the field. He's to get a shilling a week."

Lionel moved from his position. "Grind," he said, "don't you think it
would be better if you gave yourself complete rest, not attempting to go
out to work until you are stronger?"

"I couldn't afford it, sir. And as to its being better for me, I don't
see that. If I can work, sir, I'm better at work. I know it tires me,
but I believe I get stronger the sooner for it. Mr. Jan, he says to me,
says he, 'Don't lie by never, Grind, unless you be obliged to it; it
only rusts the limbs.' And he ain't far out, sir. Folks gets more harm
from idleness nor they do from work."

"Well, good-day, Grind," said Lionel, "and I heartily hope you'll soon
be on your legs again. Lady Verner shall send you something more
nourishing than bread, while you are still suffering."

"Thank ye kindly, sir," replied Grind. "My humble duty to my lady."

Lionel went out. "What a lesson for me!" he involuntarily exclaimed.
"This poor half-starved man struggling patiently onward through his
sickness; while I, who had every luxury about me, spent my time in
repining. What a lesson! Heaven help me to take it to my heart!"

He lifted his hat as he spoke, his feeling at the moment full of
reverence; and went on to Frost's. "Where's Robin?" he asked of the
wife.

"He's in the back room, sir," was the answer. "He's getting better fast.
The old father, he have gone out a bit, a-warming of himself in the
sun."

She opened the door of a small back room as she spoke; but it proved to
be empty. Robin was discerned in the garden, sitting on a bench;
possibly to give _him_self a warming in the sun--as Mrs. Frost expressed
it. He sat in a still attitude, his arms folded, his head bowed. Since
the miserable occurrence touching Rachel, Robin Frost was a fearfully
changed man; never, from the hour that the coroner's inquest was held
and certain evidence had come out, had he been seen to smile. He had now
been ill with ague, in the same way as Grind. Hearing the approach of
footsteps, he turned his head, and rose when he saw it was Lionel.

"Well, Robin, how fares it? You are better, I hear. Sit yourself down;
you are not strong enough to stand. What an enemy this low fever is! I
wish we could root it out!"

"Many might be all the healthier for it, sir, if it could be done," was
Robin's answer, spoken indifferently--as he nearly always spoke now. "As
for me, I'm not far off being well again."

"They said in the village you were going to die, Robin, did they not?"
continued Lionel. "You have cheated them, you see."

"They said it, some of 'em, sir, and thought it, too. Old father thought
it. I'm not sure but Mr. Jan thought it. _I_ didn't, bad as I was,"
continued Robin, in a significant tone. "I had my oath to keep."

"Robin!"

"Sir, I have sworn--and you know I have sworn it--to have my revenge
upon him that worked ill to Rachel. I can't die till that oath has been
kept."

"There's a certain sentence, Robin, given us for our guidance, amid many
other such sentences, which runs somewhat after this fashion: 'Vengeance
is mine,'" quietly spoke Lionel. "Have you forgotten who it is says
that?"

"Why did he--the villain--forget them sentences? Why did he forget 'em
and harm her?" retorted Robin. "Sir, it's of no good for you to look at
me in that way. I'll never be baulked in this matter. Old father, now
and again, _he'll_ talk about forgiveness; and when I say, 'weren't you
her father?' 'Ay,' he'll answer, 'but I've got one foot in the grave,
Robin, and anger will not bring her back to life.' No, it won't,"
doggedly went on Robin. "It won't undo what was done, neither: but I'll
keep my oath--so far as it is in my power to keep it. Dead though he is,
he shall be exposed to the world."

The words "dead though he is" aroused the attention of Lionel. "To whom
do you allude, Robin?" he asked. "Have you obtained any fresh clue?"

"Not much of a fresh one," answered the man, with a stress upon the word
"fresh." "I have had it this six or seven months. When they heard he was
dead, then they could speak out and tell me their suspicions of him."

"Who could? What mystery are you talking?" reiterated Lionel.

"Never mind who, sir. It was one that kept the mouth shut, as long as
there was any good in opening it. 'Not to make ill-blood,' was the
excuse gave to me after. If I had but knowed at the time!" added the
man, clenching his fist, "I'd have went out and killed him, if he had
been double as far off!"

"Robin, what have you heard?"

"Well, sir, I'll tell _you_--but I have not opened my lips to a living
soul,-not even to old father--The villain that did the harm to Rachel
was John Massingbird!"

Lionel remained silent from surprise.

"I don't believe it," he presently said, speaking emphatically. "Who has
accused him?"

"Sir, I have said that I can't tell you. I passed my word not to do it.
It was one that had cause to suspect him at the time. And it was never
told me--_never told me_--until John Massingbird was dead!"

Robin's voice rose to a sound of wailing pain, and he raised his hands
with a gesture of despair.

"Did your informant _know_ that it was John Massingbird?" Lionel gravely
asked.

"They had not got what is called positive proof, such as might avail in
a Court of Justice; but they was morally certain," replied Robin; "and
so am I. I am only waiting for one thing, sir, to tell it out to all the
world."

"And what's that?"

"The returning home of Luke Roy. There's not much doubt that he knows
all about it; I have my reasons for saying so, and I'd like to be quite
sure before I tell out the tale. Old Roy says Luke may be expected home
by any ship as comes; he don't think he'll stop there, now John
Massingbird's dead."

"Then, Robin, listen to me," returned Lionel. "I have no positive proof,
any more than it appears your informant has; but I am perfectly
convinced in my own mind that the guilty man was _not_ John Massingbird,
but another. Understand me," he emphatically continued, "I have good and
sufficient reason for saying this. Rely upon it, whoever it may have
been, John Massingbird it was not."

Robin lifted his eyes to the face of Lionel.

"You say you don't know this, sir?"

"Not of actual proof. But so sure am I that it was not he, that I could
stake all I possess upon it."

"Then, sir, you'd lose it," doggedly answered Robin. "When the time
comes that I choose to speak out--"

"What are you doing there?" burst forth Lionel, in a severely haughty
tone.

It caused Robin to start from his seat.

In a gap of the hedge behind them, Lionel had caught sight of a human
face, its stealthy ears complacently taking in every word. It was that
of Roy the bailiff.



CHAPTER XXVI.

THE PACKET IN THE SHIRT-DRAWER.


Mrs. Tynn, the housekeeper at Verner's Pride, was holding one of those
periodical visitations that she was pleased to call, when in familiar
colloquy with her female assistants, a "rout out." It appeared to
consist of turning a room and its contents topsy-turvy, and then putting
them straight again. The chamber this time subjected to the ordeal was
that of her late master, Mr. Verner. His drawers, closets, and other
places consecrated to clothes, had not been meddled with since his
death. Mrs. Verner, in some moment unusually (for her) given to
sentiment, had told Tynn she should like to "go over his dear clothes"
herself. Therefore Tynn left them alone for that purpose. Mrs. Verner,
however, who loved her personal ease better than any earthly thing, and
was more given to dropping off to sleep in her chair than ever, not only
after dinner but all day long, never yet had ventured upon the task.
Tynn suggested that she had better do it herself, after all; and Mrs.
Verner replied, perhaps she had. So Tynn set about it.

Look at Mrs. Tynn over that deep, open drawer full of shirts. She calls
it "Master's shirt-drawer." Have the shirts scared away her senses? She
has sat herself down on the floor--almost fallen back as it seems--in
some shock of alarm, and her mottled face has turned as white as her
master's was, when she last saw him lying on that bed at her elbow.

"Go downstairs, Nancy, and stop there till I call you up again," she
suddenly cried out to her helpmate.

And the girl left the room, grumbling to herself; for Nancy at Verner's
Pride did not improve in temper.

Between two of the shirts, in the very middle of the stack, Mrs. Tynn
had come upon a parcel, or letter. Not a small letter--if it was a
letter--but one of very large size, thick, looking not unlike a
government despatch. It was sealed with Mr. Verner's own seal, and
addressed in his own handwriting--"For my nephew, Lionel Verner. To be
opened after my death."

Mrs. Tynn entertained not the slightest doubt that she had come upon the
lost codicil. That the parcel must have been lying quietly in the
drawer since her master's death, was certain. The key of the drawer had
remained in her own possession. When the search after the codicil took
place, this drawer was opened--as a matter of form more than anything
else--and Mrs. Tynn herself had lifted out the stack of shirts. She had
assured those who were searching that there was no need to do so, for
the drawer had been locked up at the time the codicil was made, and the
deed could not have been put into it. They accepted her assurance, and
did not look between the shirts. It puzzled Mrs. Tynn, now, to think how
it could have got in.

"I'll not tell Tynn," she soliloquised--she and Tynn being somewhat
inclined to take opposite sides of a question, in social
intercourse--"and I'll not say a word to my mistress. I'll go straight
off now and give it into the hands of Mr. Lionel. What a blessed
thing!--If he should be come into his own!"

The inclosed paved court before Lady Verner's residence had a broad
flower-bed round it. It was private from the outer world, save for the
iron gates, and here Decima and Lucy Tempest were fond of lingering on a
fine day. On this afternoon of Mary Tynn's discovery, they were there
with Lionel. Decima went indoors for some string to tie up a fuchsia
plant, just as Tynn appeared at the iron gates. She stopped on seeing
Lionel.

"I was going round to the other entrance, sir, to ask to speak to you,"
she said. "Something very strange has happened."

"Come in," answered Lionel. "Will you speak here, or go indoors? What is
it?"

Too excitedly eager to wait to go indoors, or to care for the presence
of Lucy Tempest, Mrs. Tynn told her tale, and handed the paper to
Lionel. "It's the missing codicil, as sure as that we are here, sir."

He saw the official-looking nature of the document, its great seal, and
the superscription in his uncle's handwriting. Lionel did not doubt that
it was the codicil, and a streak of scarlet emotion arose to his pale
cheek.

"You don't open it, sir!" said the woman, as feverishly impatient as if
the good fortune were her own.

No. Lionel did not open it. In his high honour, he deemed that, before
opening, it should be laid before Mrs. Verner. It had been found in her
house; it concerned her son. "I think it will be better that Mrs.
Verner should open this, Tynn," he quietly said.

"You won't get me into a mess, sir, for bringing it out to you first?"

Lionel turned his honest eyes upon her, smiling then. "Can't you trust
me better than that? You have known me long enough."

"So I have, Mr. Lionel. The mystery is, how it could ever have got into
that shirt-drawer!" she continued. "I can declare that for a good week
before my master died, up to the very day that the codicil was looked
for, the shirt-drawer was never unlocked, nor the key of it out of my
pocket."

She turned to go back to Verner's Pride, Lionel intending to follow her
at once. He was going out at the gate when he caught the pleased eyes of
Lucy Tempest fixed on him.

"I am so glad," she simply said. "Do you remember my telling you that
you did not look like one who would have to starve on bread-and-cheese."

Lionel laughed in the joy of his heart. "I am glad also, Lucy. The place
is mine by right, and it is just that I should have it."

"I have thought it very unfair, all along, that Verner's Pride should
belong to _her_ husband, and not to you, after--after what she did to
you," continued Lucy, dropping her voice to a whisper.

"Things don't go by fairness, Lucy, in this world," said he, as he went
through the gate. "Stay," he said, turning back from it, a thought
crossing his mind. "Lucy, oblige me by not mentioning this to my mother
or Decima. It may be as well to be sure that we are right, before
exciting their hopes."

Lucy's countenance fell. "I will not speak of it. But, is it not sure to
be the codicil?"

"I hope it is," cordially answered Lionel.

Mrs. Tynn had got back before him. She came forward and encountered him
in the hall, her bonnet still on.

"I have told my mistress, sir, that I had found what I believed to be
the codicil, and had took it off straight to you. She was not a bit
angry; she says she hopes it is it."

Lionel entered. Mrs. Verner, who was in a semi-sleepy state, having been
roused up by Mary Tynn from a long nap after a plentiful luncheon,
received Lionel graciously--first of all asking him what he would
take--it was generally her chief question--and then inquiring what the
codicil said.

"I have not opened it," replied Lionel.

"No!" said she, in surprise. "Why did you wait?"

He laid it on the table beside her. "Have I your cordial approval to
open it, Mrs. Verner?"

"You are ceremonious, Lionel. Open it at once; Verner's Pride belongs to
you, more than to Fred; and you know I have always said so."

Lionel took up the deed. His finger was upon the seal when a thought
crossed him; ought he to open it without further witnesses? He spoke his
doubt aloud to Mrs. Verner.

"Ring the bell and have in Tynn," said she; "his wife also; she found
it."

Lionel rang. Tynn and his wife both came in, in obedience to the
request. Tynn looked at it curiously; and began rehearsing mentally a
private lecture for his wife, for acting upon her own responsibility.

The seal was broken. The stiff writing-paper of the outer cover revealed
a second cover of stiff writing-paper precisely similar to the first;
but on this last there was no superscription. It was tied round with
fine white twine. Lionel cut it, Tynn and Mrs. Tynn waited with the
utmost eagerness; even Mrs. Verner's eyes were open wider than usual.

Alas! for the hopes of Lionel. The parcel contained nothing but a glove,
and a small piece of writing-paper, folded once. Lionel unfolded it, and
read the following lines:--

"This glove has come into my possession. When I tell you that I know
where it was found and how you lost it, you will not wonder at the shock
the discovery has been to me. I hush it up, Lionel, for your late
father's sake, as much as for that of the name of Verner. I am about to
seal it up that it may be given to you after my death; and you will then
know why I disinherit you. S.V."

Lionel gazed on the lines like one in a dream. They were in the
handwriting of his uncle. Understand them, he could not. He took up the
glove--a thick, fawn-coloured riding-glove--and remembered it for one of
his own. When he had lost it, or where he had lost it, he knew no more
than did the table he was standing by. He had worn dozens of these
gloves in the years gone by, up to the period when he had gone in
mourning for John Massingbird, and, subsequently, for his uncle.

"What is it, Lionel?"

Lionel put the lines in his pocket, and pushed the glove toward Mrs.
Verner. "I do not understand it in the least," he said. "My uncle
appears to have found the glove somewhere, and he writes to say that he
returns it to me. The chief matter that concerns us is"--turning his
eyes on the servants--"that it is not the codicil!"

Mrs. Tynn lifted her hands. "How one may be deceived!" she uttered. "Mr.
Lionel, I'd freely have laid my life upon it."

"It was not exactly my place to speak, sir: to give my opinion
beforehand," interposed Tynn; "but I was sure that was not the lost
codicil, by the very look of it. The codicil might have been about that
size, and it had a big seal like that; but it was different in
appearance."

"All that puzzled me was, how it could have got into the shirt-drawer,"
cried Mrs. Tynn. "As it has turned out not to be the codicil, of course
there's no mystery about that. It may have been lying there weeks and
weeks before the master died."

Lionel signed to them to leave the room: there was nothing to call for
their remaining in it. Mrs. Verner asked him what the glove meant.

"I assure you I do not know," was his reply. And he took it up, and
examined it well again. One of his riding gloves, scarcely worn, with a
tear near the thumb; but there was nothing upon it, not so much as a
trace, a spot, to afford any information. He rolled it up mechanically
in the two papers, and placed them in his pocket, lost in thought.

"Do you know that I have heard from Australia?" asked Mrs. Verner.

The words aroused him thoroughly. "Have you? I did not know it."

"I wonder Mary Tynn did not tell you. The letters came this morning. If
you look about"--turning her eyes on the tables and places--"you will
find them somewhere."

Lionel knew that Mary Tynn had been too much absorbed in his business to
find room in her thoughts for letters from Australia. "Are these the
letters?" he asked, taking up two from a side-table.

"You'll know them by the post-marks. Do sit down and read them to me,
Lionel. My sight is not good for letters now, and I couldn't read half
that was in them. The ink's as pale as water. If it was the ink Fred
took out, the sea must have washed into it. Yes, yes, you must I read
both to me, and I shall not let you go away before dinner."

He did not like, in his good nature, to refuse her. And he sat there and
read the long letters. Read Sibylla's. Before the last one was fully
accomplished, Lionel's cheeks wore their hectic flush.

They had made a very quick and excellent passage. But Sibylla found
Melbourne _hateful_. And Fred was ill; ill with fever. A fever was
raging in a part of the crowded town, and he had caught it. She did not
think it was a catching fever, either, she added; people said it arose
from the over-population. They could not as yet hear of John, or his
money, or anything about him; but Fred would see into it when he got
better. They were at a part of Melbourne called Canvas Town, and she,
Sibylla, was sick of it, and Fred drank heaps of brandy. If it were all
land between her and home, she should set off at once on foot, and toil
her way back again. She _wished_ she had never come! Everything she
cared for, except Fred, seemed to be left behind in England.

Such was her letter. Fred's was gloomy also, in a different way. He said
nothing about any fever; he mentioned, casually, as it appeared, that he
was not well, but that was all. He had not learned tidings of John, but
had not had time yet to make inquiries. The worst piece of news he
mentioned was the loss of his desk, which had contained the chief
portion of his money. It had disappeared in a mysterious manner
immediately after being taken off the ship--he concluded by the light
fingers of some crimp, or thief, shoals of whom crowded on the quay. He
was in hopes yet to find it, and had not told Sibylla. That was all he
had to say at present, but would write again by the next packet.

"It is not very cheering news on the whole, is it?" said Mrs. Verner, as
Lionel folded the letters.

"No. They had evidently not received the tidings of my uncle's death, or
we should have heard that they were already coming back again."

"I don't know that," replied Mrs. Verner. "Fred worships money, and he
would not suffer what was left by poor John to slip through his fingers.
He will stay till he has realised it. I hope they will think to bring me
back some memento of my lost boy! If it were only the handkerchief he
used last, I should value it."

The tears filled her eyes. Lionel respected her grief, and remained
silent. Presently she resumed, in a musing tone--

"I knew Sibylla would only prove an encumbrance to Fred, out there; and
I told him so. If Fred thought he was taking out a wife who would make
shift, and put up pleasantly with annoyances, he was mistaken. Sibylla
in Canvas Town! Poor girl! I wonder she married him. Don't you?"

"Rather so," answered Lionel, his scarlet blush deepening.

"I do; especially to go to that place. Sibylla's a pretty flower, made
to sport in the sunshine; but she never was constituted for a rough
life, or to get pricked by thorns."

Lionel's heart beat. It echoed to every word. Would that she could have
been sheltered from the thorns, the rough usages of life, as he would
have sheltered her.

Lionel dined with Mrs. Verner, but quitted her soon afterwards. When he
got back to Deerham Court, the stars were peeping out in the clear
summer sky. Lucy Tempest was lingering in the courtyard, no doubt
waiting for him, and she ran to meet him as soon as he appeared at the
gate.

"How long you have been!" was her greeting, her glad eyes shining forth
hopefully. "And is it all yours?"

Lionel drew her arm within his own in silence, and walked with her in
silence until they reached the pillared entrance of the house. Then he
spoke--

"You have not mentioned it, Lucy?"

"Of course I have not."

"Thank you. Let us both forget it. It was not the codicil. And Verner's
Pride is not mine."



CHAPTER XXVII.

DR. WEST'S SANCTUM.


For some little time past, certain rumours had arisen in Deerham
somewhat to the prejudice of Dr. West. Rumours of the same nature had
circulated once or twice before during the progress of the last half
dozen years; but they had died away again, or had been hushed up, never
coming to anything. For one thing, their reputed scene had not lain at
the immediate spot, but at Heartburg; and distance is a great
discouragement to ill-natured tattle. This fresh scandal, however, was
nearer. It touched the very heart of Deerham, and people made themselves
remarkably busy over it--none the less busy because the accusations were
vague. Tales never lose anything in carrying, and the most outrageous
things were whispered of Dr. West.

A year or two previous to this, a widow lady named Baynton, with her two
daughters, no longer very young, had come to live at a pretty cottage in
Deerham. Nothing was known of who they were, or where they came from.
They appeared to be very reserved, and made no acquaintance whatever.
Under these circumstances, of course, their history was supplied for
them. If you or I went and established ourselves in a fresh place
to-morrow, saying nothing of who we were, or what we were, it would only
be the signal for some busybody in that place to coin a story for us,
and all the rest of the busybodies would immediately circulate it. It
was said of Mrs. Baynton that she had been left in reduced
circumstances; had fallen from some high pedestal of wealth, through the
death of her husband; that she lived in a perpetual state of
mortification in consequence of her present poverty, and would not admit
a single inhabitant of Deerham within her doors to witness it. There may
have been as little truth in it as in the greatest _canard_ that ever
flew; but Deerham promulgated it, Deerham believed in it, and the
Bayntons never contradicted it. The best of all reasons for this may
have been that they never heard of it. They lived quietly on alone,
interfering with nobody, and going out rarely. In appearance and manners
they were gentlewomen, and rather haughty gentlewomen, too; but they
kept no servant. How their work was done, Deerham could not conceive: it
was next to impossible to fancy one of those ladies scrubbing a floor or
making a bed. The butcher called for orders, and took in the meat, which
was nearly always mutton-chops; the baker left his bread at the door,
and the laundress was admitted inside the passage once a week.

The only other person admitted inside was Dr. West. He had been called
in, on their first arrival, to the invalid daughter--a delicate-looking
lady, who, when she did walk out, leaned on her sister's arm. Dr.
West's visits became frequent; they had continued frequent up to within
a short period of the present time. Once or twice a week he called in
professionally; he would also occasionally drop in for an hour in the
evening. Some people passing Chalk Cottage (that was what it was named)
had contrived to stretch their necks over the high privet hedge which
hid the lower part of the dwelling from the road, and were immensely
gratified by the fact of seeing Dr. West in the parlour, seated at tea
with the family. How the doctor was questioned, especially in the
earlier period of their residence, he alone could tell. Who were they?
Were they well connected, or ill connected, or not connected at all?
Were they known to fashion? How much was really their income? What was
the matter with the one whom he attended, the sickly daughter, and what
was her name? The questions would have gone on until now, but that the
doctor stopped them. He had not made impertinent inquiries himself, he
said, and had nothing at all to tell. The younger lady's complaint arose
from disordered liver; he had no objection to tell them that; she had
been so long a sufferer from it that the malady had become chronic; and
her name was Kitty.

Now, it was touching this very family that the scandal had arisen. _How_
it arose was the puzzle; since the ladies themselves never spoke to
anybody, and Dr. West would not be likely to invent or to spread stories
affecting himself. Its precise nature was buried in uncertainty, also
its precise object. Some said one thing, some another. The scandal, on
the whole, tended to the point that Dr. West had misbehaved himself. In
what way? What had he done? Had he personally ill-treated them--sworn at
them--done anything else unbecoming a gentleman? And which had been the
sufferer? The old lady in her widow's cap? or the sickly daughter? or
the other one? Could he have carelessly supplied wrong medicine; sent to
them some arsenic instead of Epsom Salts, and so thrown them into
fright, and danger, and anger? Had he scaled the privet hedge in the
night, and robbed the garden of its cabbages? What, in short, was it
that he had done? Deerham spoke out pretty broadly, as to the main
facts, although the rumoured details were varied and obscure. It
declared that some of Dr. West's doings at Chalk Cottage had not been
orthodox, and that discovery had followed.

There are two classes of professional men upon whom not a taint should
rest; who ought, in familiar phrase, to keep their hands clean--the
parson of the parish, and the family doctor. Other people may dye
themselves in Warren's jet if they like; but let as much as a spot get
on him who stands in the pulpit to preach to us, or on him who is
admitted to familiar intercourse with our wives and children, and the
spot grows into a dark thundercloud. What's the old saying? "One man may
walk in at the gate, while another must not look over the hedge." It
runs something after that fashion. Had Dr. West not been a family
doctor, the scandal might have been allowed to die out: as it was,
Deerham kept up the ball, and rolled it. The chief motive for this, the
one that influenced Deerham above all others, was unsatisfied curiosity.
Could Deerham have gratified this to the full, it would have been
content to subside into quietness.

Whether it was true, or whether it was false, there was no denying that
it had happened at an unfortunate moment for Dr. West. A man always in
debt--and what he did with his money Deerham could not make out, for his
practice was a lucrative one--he had latterly become actually
embarrassed. Deerham was good-natured enough to say that a handsome sum
had found its way to Chalk Cottage, in the shape of silence-money, or
something of the sort; but Deerham did not know. Dr. West was at his
wits' end where to turn to for a shilling--had been so, for some weeks
past; so that he had no particular need of anything worse coming down
upon him. Perhaps what gave a greater colour to the scandal than
anything else was the fact that, simultaneously with its rise, Dr.
West's visits to Chalk Cottage had suddenly ceased.

Only one had been bold enough to speak upon the subject personally to
Dr. West, and that was the proud old baronet, Sir Rufus Hautley. He rode
down to the doctor's house one day; and, leaving his horse with his
groom, had a private interview with the doctor. That Dr. West must have
contrived to satisfy him in some way, was undoubted. Rigidly severe and
honourable, Sir Rufus would no more have countenanced wrongdoing, than
he would have admitted Dr. West again to his house, whether as doctor or
anything else, had he been guilty of it. But when Sir Rufus went away,
Dr. West attended him to the door, and they parted cordially, Sir Rufus
saying something to the effect that he was glad his visit had dispelled
the doubt arising from these unpleasing rumours, and he would recommend
Dr. West to inquire into their source, with a view of bringing their
authors to punishment. Dr. West replied that he should make it his
business to do so. Dr. West, however, did nothing of the sort; or if he
did do it, it was in strict privacy.

Jan sat one day astride on the counter in his frequent abiding-place,
the surgery. Jan had got a brass vessel before him, and was mixing
certain powders in it, preparatory to some experiment in chemistry,
Master Cheese performing the part of looker-on, his elbows, as usual, on
the counter.

"I say, we had such a start here this morning," began young Cheese, as
if the recollection had suddenly occurred to him. "It was while you had
gone your round."

"What start was that?"

"Some fellow came here, and--I say, Jan," broke off young Cheese, "did
you ever know that room had got a second entrance to it?"

He pointed to the door of the back room--a room which was used
exclusively by Dr. West. He had been known to see patients there on rare
occasions, but neither Jan nor young Cheese was ever admitted into it.
It opened with a latch-key only.

"There is another door leading into it from the garden," replied Jan.
"It's never opened. It has got all those lean-to boards piled against
it."

"Is it never opened, then?" retorted Master Cheese. "You just hear. A
fellow came poking his nose into the premises this morning, staring up
at the house, staring round about him, and at last he walks in here. A
queer-looking fellow he was, with a beard, and appeared as if he had
come a thousand miles or two, on foot. 'Is Dr. West at home?' he asked.
I told him the doctor was not at home; for, you see, Jan, it wasn't ten
minutes since the doctor had gone out. So he said he'd wait. And he went
peering about and handling the bottles; and once he took the scales up,
as if he'd like to test their weight. I kept my eye on him. I thought a
queer fellow like that might be going to walk off with some physic, like
Miss Amilly walks off the castor oil. Presently he comes to that door.
'Where does this lead to?' said he. 'A private room,' said I, 'and
please to keep your hands off it.' Not he. He lays hold of the false
knob, and shakes it, and turns it, and pushes the door, trying to open
it. It was fast. Old West had come out of there before going out, and
catch him ever leaving that door open! I say, Jan, one would think he
kept skeletons there."

"Is that all?" asked Jan, alluding to the story.

"Wait a bit. The fellow put his big fist upon the latch-key-hole--I
think he must have been a feller of trees, I do--and his knee to the
door, and he burst it open. Burst it open, Jan! you never saw such
strength."

"I could burst any door open that I had a mind to," was the response of
Jan.

"He burst it open," continued young Cheese, "and burst it against old
West. You should have seen 'em stare! They both stared. I stared. I
think the chap did not mean to do it; that he was only trying his
strength for pastime. But now, Jan, the odd part of the business is, how
did West get in? If there's not another door, he must have got down the
chimney."

Jan went on with his compounding, and made no response.

"And if there _is_ a door, he must have been mortal sly over it,"
resumed the young gentleman. "He must have gone right out from here, and
in at the side gate of the garden, and got in that way. I wonder what he
did it for?"

"It isn't any business of ours," said Jan.

"Then I think it is," retorted Master Cheese. "I'd like to know how many
times he has been in there, listening to us, when we thought him a mile
off. It's a shame!"

"It's nothing to me who listens," said Jan equably. "I don't say things
behind people's backs, that I'd not say before their faces."

"I do," acknowledged young Cheese. "Wasn't there a row! Didn't he and
the man go on at each other! They shut themselves up in that room, and
had it out."

"What did the man want?" asked Jan.

"I'd like to know. He and old West had it out together, I say, but they
didn't admit me to the conference. Goodness knows where he had come
from. West seemed to know him. Jan, I heard something about him and the
Chalk Cottage folks yesterday."

"You had better take yourself to a safe distance," advised Jan. "If this
goes off with a bang, your face will come in for the benefit."

"I say, though, it's you that must take care and not let it go off,"
returned Master Cheese, edging, nevertheless, a little away. "But about
that room? If old West----"

The words were interrupted. The door of the room in question was pushed
open, and Dr. West came out of it. Had Master Cheese witnessed the
arrival of an inhabitant from the other world, introduced by the most
privileged medium extant, he could not have experienced more intense
astonishment. He had truly believed, as he had just expressed it, that
Dr. West was at that moment a good mile away.

"Put your hat on, Cheese," said Dr. West.

Cheese put it on, going into a perspiration at the same time. He thought
nothing less than that he was about to be dismissed.

"Take this note up to Sir Rufus Hautley's."

It was a great relief; and Master Cheese received the note in his hand,
and went off whistling.

"Step in here, Mr. Jan," said the doctor.

Jan took one of his long legs over the counter, jumped off, and stepped
in--into the doctor's sanctum. Had Jan been given to speculation, he
might have wondered what was coming; but it was Jan's method to take
things cool and easy, as they came, and not to anticipate them.

"My health has been bad of late," began the doctor.

"Law!" cried Jan. "What has been the matter?"

"A general disarrangement of the system altogether, I fancy," returned
Dr. West. "I believe that the best thing to restore me will be change of
scene--travelling; and an opportunity to embrace it has presented
itself. I am solicited by an old friend of mine, in practice in London,
to take charge of a nobleman's son for some months--to go abroad with
him."

"Is he ill?" asked literal Jan, to whom it never occurred to ask whether
Dr. West had first of all applied to his old friend to seek after such a
post for him.

"His health is delicate, both mentally and bodily," replied Dr. West. "I
should like to undertake it: the chief difficulty is leaving you here
alone."

"I dare say I can do it all," said Jan. "My legs get over the ground
quick. I can take to your horse."

"If you find you cannot do it, you might engage an assistant," suggested
Dr. West.

"So I might," said Jan.

"I should see no difficulty at all in the matter if you were my partner.
It would be the same as leaving myself, and the patients could not
grumble. But it is not altogether the thing to leave only an assistant,
as you are, Mr. Jan."

"Make me your partner, if you like," said cool Jan. "_I_ don't mind.
What'll it cost?"

"Ah, Mr. Jan, it will cost more than you possess. At least, it ought."

"I have got five hundred pounds," said Jan. "I wanted Lionel to have it,
but he won't. Is that of any use?"

Dr. West coughed. "Well, under the circumstances----But it is very
little! I am sure you must know that it is. Perhaps, Mr. Jan, we can
come to some arrangement by which I take the larger share for the
present. Say that, for this year, you forward me----"

"Why, how long do you mean to be away?" interrupted Jan.

"I can't say. One year, two years, three years--it may be even more than
that. I expect this will be a long and a lucrative engagement. Suppose,
I say, that for the first year you transmit to me the one-half of the
net profits, and, beyond that, hand over to Deborah a certain sum, as
shall be agreed upon, towards housekeeping."

"I don't mind how it is," said easy Jan. "They'll stop here, then?"

"Of course they will. My dear Mr. Jan, everything, I hope, will go on
just as it goes on now, save that I shall be absent. You and
Cheese--whom I hope you'll keep in order--and the errand boy: it will
all be just as it has been. As to the assistant, that will be a future
consideration."

"I'd rather be without one, if I can do it," cried Jan; "and Cheese will
be coming on. Am I to live with 'em?"

"With Deb and Amilly? Why not? Poor, unprotected old things, what would
they do without you? And now, Mr. Jan, as that is settled so far, we
will sit down, and go further into details. I know I can depend upon
your not mentioning this abroad."

"If you don't want me to mention it, you can. But where's the harm?"

"It is always well to keep these little arrangements private," said the
doctor. "Matiss will draw up the deed, and I will take you round and
introduce you as my partner. But there need not be anything said
beforehand. Neither need there be anything said at all about my going
away, until I actually go. You will oblige me in this, Mr. Jan."

"It's all the same to me," said accommodating Jan. "Whose will be this
room, then?"

"Yours, to do as you please with, of course, so long as I am away."

"I'll have a turn-up bedstead put in it and sleep here, then," quoth
Jan. "When folks come in the night, and ring me up, I shall be handy.
It'll be better than disturbing the house, as is the case now."

The doctor appeared struck with the proposition.

"I think it would be a very good plan, indeed," he said. "I don't fancy
the room's damp."

"Not it," said Jan. "If it were damp, it wouldn't hurt me. I have no
time to be ill, I haven't. Damp--Who's that?"

It was a visitor to the surgery--a patient of Dr. West's--and, for the
time, the conference was broken up, not to be renewed until evening.

Dr. West and Jan were both fully occupied all the afternoon. When
business was over--as much so as a doctor's business ever can be
over--Jan knocked at the door of this room, where Dr. West again was.

It was opened about an inch, and the face of the doctor appeared in the
aperture, peering out to ascertain who might be disturbing him. The same
aperture which enabled him to see out, enabled Jan to see in.

"Why! what's up?" cried unceremonious Jan.

Jan might well ask it. The room contained a table, a desk or two, some
sets of drawers, and other receptacles for the custody of papers. All
these were turned out, desks and drawers alike stood open, and their
contents, a mass of papers, were scattered everywhere.

The doctor could not, in good manners, shut the door right in his
proposed new partner's face. He opened it an inch or two more. His own
face was purple: it wore a startled, perplexed look, and the drops of
moisture had gathered on his forehead. That he was not in the most easy
frame of mind was evident. Jan put one foot into the room: he could not
put two, unless he had stepped upon the papers.

"What's the matter?" asked Jan, perceiving the signs of perturbation on
the doctor's countenance.

"I have had a loss," said the doctor. "It's the most extraordinary
thing, but a--a paper, which was here this morning, I cannot find
anywhere. I _must_ find it!" he added, in ill-suppressed agitation. "I'd
rather lose everything I possess, than lose that."

"Where did you put it? When did you have it?" cried Jan, casting his
eyes around.

"I kept it in a certain drawer," replied Dr. West, too much disturbed to
be anything but straightforward. "I have not had it in my hand for--oh,
I cannot tell how long--months and months, until this morning. I wanted
to refer to it then, and got it out. I was looking it over when a rough,
ill-bred fellow burst the door open----"

"I heard of that," interrupted Jan. "Cheese told me."

"He burst the door open, and I put the paper back in its place before I
spoke to him," continued Dr. West. "Half an hour ago I went to take it
out again, and I found it had disappeared."

"The fellow must have walked it off," cried Jan, a conclusion not
unnatural.

"He could not," said Dr. West; "it is quite an impossibility. I went
back there"--pointing to a bureau of drawers behind him--"and put the
paper hastily in, and locked it in, returning the keys to my pocket. The
man had not stepped over the threshold of the door then; he was a little
taken to, I fancy, at his having burst the door, and he stood there
staring."

"Could he have got at it afterwards?" asked Jan.

"It is, I say, an impossibility. He never was within a yard or two of
the bureau; and, if he had been, the place was firmly locked. That man
it certainly was not. Nobody has been in the room since, save myself,
and you for a few minutes to-day when I called you in. And yet the paper
is gone!"

"Could anybody have come into the room by the other door?" asked Jan.

"No. It opens with a latch-key only, as this does, and the key was safe
in my pocket."

"Well, this beats everything," cried Jan. "It's like the codicil at
Verner's Pride."

"The very thing it put me in mind of," said Dr. West. "I'd rather--I'd
rather have lost that codicil, had it been mine, than lose this, Mr.
Jan."

Jan opened his eyes. Jan had a knack of opening his eyes when anything
surprised him--tolerably wide, too, "What paper was it, then?" he cried.

"It was a prescription, Mr. Jan."

"A prescription!" returned Jan, the answer not lessening his wonder.
"That's not much. Isn't it in the book?"

"No, it is not in the book," said Dr. West. "It was too valuable to be
in the book. You may look, Mr. Jan, but I mean what I say. This was a
private prescription of inestimable value--a secret prescription, I may
say. I would not have lost it for the whole world."

The doctor wiped the dew from his perplexed forehead, and strove, though
unsuccessfully, to control his agitated voice to calmness. Jan could
only stare. All this fuss about a prescription!

"Did it contain the secret for compounding Life's Elixir?" asked he.

"It contained what was more to me than that," said Dr. West. "But you
can't help me, Mr. Jan. I would rather be left to the search alone."

"I hope you'll find it yet," returned Jan, taking the hint and
retreating to the surgery. "You must have overlooked it amongst some of
these papers."

"I hope I shall," replied the doctor.

And he shut himself up to the search, and turned over the papers. But he
never found what he had lost, although he was still turning and turning
them at morning light.



CHAPTER XXVIII.

MISS DEBORAH'S ASTONISHMENT.


One dark morning, near the beginning of November--in fact, it was the
first morning of that gloomy month--Jan was busy in the surgery. Jan was
arranging things there according to his own pleasure; for Dr. West had
departed that morning early, and Jan was master of the field.

Jan had risen betimes. Never a sluggard, he had been up now for some
hours, and had effected so great a metamorphosis in the surgery that the
doctor himself would hardly have known it again: things in it
previously never having been arranged to Jan's satisfaction. And now he
was looking at his watch to see whether breakfast time was coming on,
Jan's hunger reminding him that it might be acceptable. He had not yet
been into the house; his bedroom now being the room you have heard of,
the scene of Dr. West's lost prescription. The doctor had gone by the
six o'clock train, after a cordial farewell to Jan; he had gone--as it
was soon to turn out--without having previously informed his daughters.
But of this Jan knew nothing.

"Twenty minutes past eight," quoth Jan, consulting his watch, a silver
one, the size of a turnip. Jan had bought it when he was poor: had given
about two pounds for it, second-hand. It never occurred to Jan to buy a
better one while that legacy of his was lying idle. Why should he? Jan's
turnip kept time to a moment, and Jan did not understand buying things
for show. "Ten minutes yet! I shall eat a double share of bacon this
morning.--Good-morning, Miss Deb."

Miss Deb was stealing into the surgery with a scared look and a white
face. Miss Deb wore her usual winter morning costume, a huge brown cape.
She was of a shivery nature at the best of times, but she shivered
palpably now.

"Mr. Jan, have you got a drop of ether?" asked she, her poor teeth
chattering together. Jan was too good-natured to tell Deerham those
teeth were false, though Dr. West had betrayed the secret to Jan.

"Who's it for?" asked Jan. "For you? Aren't you well, Miss Deb? Eat some
breakfast; that's the best thing."

"I have had a dreadful shock, Mr. Jan. I have had bad news. That
is--what has been done to the surgery?" she broke off, casting her eyes
around it in wonder.

"Not much," said Jan. "I have been making some odds and ends of
alteration. Is the news from Australia?" he continued, the open letter
in her hand helping him to the suggestion. "A mail's due."

Miss Deborah shook her head. "It is from my father, Mr. Jan. The first
thing I saw, upon going into the breakfast parlour, was this note for
me, propped against the vase on the mantel-piece. Mr. Jan"--dropping her
voice to confidence--"it says he is gone! That he is gone away for an
indefinite period."

"You don't mean to say he never told you of it before!" exclaimed Jan.

"I never heard a syllable from him," cried poor Deborah. "He says you'll
explain to us as much as is necessary. You can read the note. Mr. Jan,
where's he gone?"

Jan ran his eyes over the note; feeling himself probably in somewhat of
a dilemma as to how much or how little it might be expedient to explain.

"He thought some travelling might be beneficial to his health," said
Jan. "He has got a rare good post as travelling doctor to some young
chap of quality."

Miss Deborah was looking very hard at Jan. Something seemed to be on her
mind; some great fear. "He says he may not be back for ever so long to
come, Mr. Jan."

"So he told me," said Jan.

"And is that the reason he took you into partnership, Mr. Jan?"

"Yes," said Jan. "Couldn't leave an assistant for an indefinite period."

"You will never be able to do it all yourself. I little thought, when
all this bustle and changing of bedrooms was going on, what was up. You
might have told me, Mr. Jan," she added, in a reproachful tone.

"It wasn't my place to tell you," returned Jan. "It was the doctor's."

Miss Deborah looked timidly round, and then sunk her voice to a lower
whisper. "Mr. Jan, _why_ has he gone away?"

"For his health," persisted Jan.

"They are saying--they are saying--Mr. Jan, what is it that they are
saying about papa and those ladies at Chalk Cottage?"

Jan laid hold of the pestle and mortar, popped in a big lump of some
hard-looking white substance, and began pounding away at it. "How should
I know anything about the ladies at Chalk Cottage?" asked he. "I never
was inside their door; I never spoke to any one of 'em."

"But you know that things are being said," urged Miss Deborah, with
almost feverish eagerness. "Don't you?"

"Who told you anything was being said?" asked Jan.

"It was Master Cheese. Mr. Jan, folks have seemed queer lately. The
servants have whispered together, and then have glanced at me and
Amilly, and I knew there was something wrong, but I could not get at
it. This morning, when I picked up this note--it's not five minutes ago,
Mr. Jan--in my fright and perplexity I shrieked out; and Master Cheese,
he said something about Chalk Cottage."

"What did he say?" asked Jan.

Miss Deborah's pale face turned to crimson. "I can't tell," she said. "I
did not hear the words rightly. Master Cheese caught them up again. Mr.
Jan, I have come to you to tell me."

Jan answered nothing. He was pounding very fiercely.

"Mr. Jan, I ought to know it," she went on. "I am not a child. If you
please I must _request_ you to tell me."

"What are you shivering for?" asked Jan.

"I can't help it. Is--is it anything that--that he can be taken up for?"

"Taken up!" replied Jan, ceasing from his pounding, and fixing his
wide-open eyes on Miss Deborah. "Can I be taken up for doing this?"--and
he brought down the pestle with such force as to threaten the
destruction of the mortar.

"You'll tell me, please," she shivered.

"Well," said Jan, "if you must know it, the doctor had a misfortune."

"A misfortune! He! What misfortune! A misfortune at Chalk Cottage?"

Jan gravely nodded. "And they were in an awful rage with him, and said
he should pay expenses, and all that. And he wouldn't pay expenses--the
chimney-glass alone was twelve pound fifteen; and there was a regular
quarrel, and they turned him out."

"But what was the nature of the misfortune?"

"He set the parlour chimney on fire."

Miss Deborah's lips parted with amazement; she appeared to find some
difficulty in closing them again.

"Set the parlour chimney on fire, Mr. Jan!"

"Very careless of him," continued Jan, with composure. "He had no
business to carry gunpowder about with him. Of course they won't believe
but he flung it in purposely."

Miss Deborah could not gather her senses. "Who won't?--the ladies at
Chalk Cottage?"

"The ladies at Chalk Cottage," assented Jan. "If I saw all these bottles
go to smithereens, through Cheese stowing gunpowder in his trousers'
pockets, I might go into a passion too, Miss Deb."

"But, Mr. Jan--_this_ is not what's being said in Deerham?"

"Law, if you go by all that's said in Deerham, you'll have enough to
do," cried Jan. "One says one thing and one says another. No two are
ever in the same tale. When that codicil was lost at Verner's Pride, ten
different people were accused by Deerham of stealing it."

"Were they?" responded Miss Deborah abstractedly.

"Did you never hear it! You just ask Deerham about the row between the
doctor and Chalk Cottage, and you'll hear ten versions, all different.
What else could be expected? As if he'd take the trouble to explain the
rights of it to them! Not that I should advise you to ask," concluded
Jan pointedly. "Miss Deborah, do you know the time?"

"It must be half-past eight," she repeated mechanically, her thoughts
buried in a reverie.

"And turned," said Jan. "I'd be glad of breakfast. I shall have the
gratis patients here."

"It shall be ready in two minutes," said Miss Deborah meekly. And she
went out of the surgery.

Presently young Cheese came leaping into it. "The breakfast's ready,"
cried he.

Jan stretched out his long arm, and pinned Master Cheese.

"What have you been saying to Miss Deb?" he asked. "Look here; who is
your master now?"

"You are, I suppose," said the young gentleman.

"Very well. You just bear that in mind; and don't go carrying tales
indoors of what Deerham says. Attend to your own business and leave Dr.
West's alone."

Master Cheese was considerably astonished. He had never heard such a
speech from easy Jan.

"I say, though, are you going to turn out a bashaw with three tails?"
asked he.

"Yes," replied Jan. "I have promised Dr. West to keep you in order, and
I shall do it."



CHAPTER XXIX.

AN INTERCEPTED JOURNEY.


Dr. West's was not the only departure from Deerham that was projected
for that day. The other was that of Lionel Verner. Fully recovered, he
had deemed it well to waste no more time. Lady Verner suggested that he
should remain in Deerham until the completion of the year; Lionel
replied that he had remained in it rather too long already, that he must
be up and doing. He was eager to be "up and doing," and his first step
towards it was the proceeding to London and engaging chambers. He fixed
upon the first day of November for his departure, unconscious that that
day had also been fixed upon by Dr. West for his. However, the doctor
was off long before Lionel was out of bed.

Lionel rose all excitement--all impulse to begin his journey, to be away
from Deerham. Somebody else rose with feelings less pleasurable; and
that was Lucy Tempest. Now that the real time of separation had come,
Lucy awoke to the state of her own feelings; to the fact, that the whole
world contained but one beloved face for her--that of Lionel Verner.

She awoke with no start, she saw nothing wrong in it, she did not ask
herself how it was to end, what the future was to be; any vision of
marrying Lionel, which might have flashed across the active brain of a
more sophisticated young lady, never occurred to Lucy. All she knew was
that she had somehow glided into a state of existence different from
anything she had ever experienced before; that her days were all
brightness, the world an Eden, and that it was the presence of Lionel
that made the sunshine.

She stood before the glass, twisting her soft brown hair, her cheeks
crimson with excitement, her eyes bright. The morrow morning would be
listless enough; but _this_, the last on which she would see him, was
gay with rose hues of love. Stay! not gay; that is a wrong expression.
It would have been gay but for that undercurrent of feeling which was
whispering that, in a short hour or two, all would change to the darkest
shade.

"He says it may be a twelvemonth before he shall come home again," she
said to herself, her white fingers trembling as she fastened her pretty
morning-dress. "How lonely it will be! What shall we do all that while
without him? Oh, dear, what's the matter with me this morning?"

In her perturbed haste, she had fastened her dress all awry, and had to
undo it again. The thought that she might be keeping them waiting
breakfast--which was to be taken that morning a quarter of an hour
earlier than usual--did not tend to expedite her. Lucy thought of the
old proverb: "The more haste, the less speed."

"How I wish I dare ask him to come sooner than that to see us! But he
might think it strange. I wonder he should not come! there's Christmas,
there's Easter, and he must have holiday then. A whole year, perhaps
more; and not to see him!"

She passed out of the room and descended, her soft skirts of pink-shaded
cashmere sweeping the staircase. You saw her in it the evening she first
came to Lady Verner's. It had lain by almost ever since, and was now
converted into a morning dress. The breakfast-room was empty. Instead of
being behind her time, Lucy found she was before it. Lady Verner had not
risen; she rarely did rise to breakfast; and Decima was in Lionel's
room, busy over some of his things.

Lionel himself was the next to enter. His features broke into a glad
smile when he saw Lucy. A fairer picture, she, Mr. Lionel Verner, than
even that other vision of loveliness which your mind has been pleased to
make its ideal--Sibylla!

"Down first, Lucy!" he cried, shaking hands with her. "You wish me
somewhere, I dare say, getting you up before your time."

"By how much--a few minutes?" she answered, laughing. "It wants twenty
minutes to nine. What would they have said to me at the rectory, had I
come down so late as that?"

"Ah, well, you won't have me here to torment you to-morrow. I have been
a trouble to you, Lucy, take it altogether. You will be glad to see my
back turned."

Lucy shook her head. She looked shyly up at him in her timidity; but she
answered truthfully still.

"I shall be sorry; not glad."

"Sorry! Why should you be sorry, Lucy?" and his voice insensibly assumed
a tone of gentleness. "You cannot have cared for me; for the
companionship of a half-dead fellow, like myself!"

Lucy rallied her courage. "Perhaps it was because you were half dead
that I cared for you," she answered.

"I suppose it was," mused Lionel, aloud, his thoughts cast back to the
past. "I will bid you good-bye now, Lucy, while we are alone. Believe me
that I part from you with regret; that I do heartily thank you for all
you have been to me."

Lucy looked up at him, a yearning, regretful sort of look, and her
eyelashes grew wet. Lionel had her hand in his, and was looking down at
her.

"Lucy, I do think you are sorry to part with me!" he exclaimed.

"Just a little," she answered.

If you, good, grave sir, had been stoical enough to resist the upturned
face, Lionel was not. He bent his lips and left a kiss upon it.

"Keep it until we meet again," he whispered.

Jan came in while they were at breakfast.

"I can't stop a minute," were his words when Decima asked him why he did
not sit down. "I thought I'd run up and say good-bye to Lionel, but I am
wanted in all directions. Mrs. Verner has sent for me, and there are the
regular patients."

"Dr. West attends Mrs. Verner, Jan," said Decima.

"He did," replied Jan. "It is to be myself, now. West is gone."

"Gone!" was the universal echo. And Jan gave an explanation.

It was received in silence. The rumours affecting Dr. West had reached
Deerham Court.

"What is the matter with Mrs. Verner?" asked Lionel. "She appeared as
well as usual when I quitted her last night."

"I don't know that there's anything more the matter with her than
usual," returned Jan, sitting down on a side-table. "She has been going
in some time for apoplexy."

"Oh, Jan!" uttered Lucy.

"So she has, Miss Lucy--as Dr. West has said. _I_ have not attended
her."

"Has she been told it, Jan?"

"Where's the good of telling her?" asked Jan. "She knows it fast
enough. She'd not forego a meal, if she saw the fit coming on before
night. Tynn came round to me, just now, and said his mistress felt
poorly. The Australian mail is in," continued Jan, passing to another
subject.

"Is it?" cried Decima.

Jan nodded.

"I met the postman as I was coming out, and he told me. I suppose
there'll be news from Fred and Sibylla."

After this little item of information, which called the colour into
Lucy's cheek--she best knew why--but which Lionel appeared to listen to
impassively, Jan got off the table--

"Good-bye, Lionel," said he, holding out his hand.

"What's your hurry, Jan?" asked Lionel.

"Ask my patients," responded Jan, "I am off the first thing to Mrs.
Verner, and then shall take my round. I wish you luck, Lionel."

"Thank you, Jan," said Lionel. "Nothing less than the woolsack, of
course."

"My gracious!" said literal Jan. "I say, Lionel, I'd not count upon
that. If only one in a thousand gets to the woolsack, and all the lot
expect it, what an amount of heart-burning must be wasted."

"Right, Jan. Only let me lead my circuit and I shall deem myself lucky."

"How long will it take you before you can accomplish that?" asked Jan.
"Twenty years?"

A shade crossed Lionel's countenance. That he was beginning late in
life, none knew better than he. Jan bade him farewell, and departed for
Verner's Pride.

Lady Verner was down before Lionel went. He intended to take the
quarter-past ten o'clock train.

"When are we to meet again?" she asked, holding her hand in his.

"I will come home to see you soon, mother."

"Soon! I don't like the vague word," returned Lady Verner. "Why cannot
you come for Christmas?"

"Christmas! I shall scarcely have gone."

"You will come, Lionel?"

"Very well, mother. As you wish it, I will."

A crimson flush--a flush of joy--rose to Lucy's countenance. Lionel
happened to have glanced at her. I wonder what he thought of it!

His luggage had gone on, and he walked with a hasty step to the
station. The train came in two minutes after he reached it. Lionel took
his ticket, and stepped into a first-class carriage.

All was ready. The whistle sounded, and the guard had one foot on his
van-step, when a shouting and commotion was heard. "Stop! Stop!" Lionel,
like others, looked out, and beheld the long legs of his brother Jan
come flying along the platform. Before Lionel had well known what was
the matter, or had gathered in the hasty news, Jan had pulled him out of
the carriage, and the train went shrieking on without him.

"There goes my luggage, and here am I and my ticket!" cried Lionel. "You
have done a pretty thing, Jan. _What_ do you say?"

"It's all true, Lionel. She was crying over the letters when I got
there. And pretty well I have raced back to stop your journey. Of course
you will not go away now. He's dead."

"I don't understand yet," gasped Lionel, feeling, however, that he did
understand.

"Not understand," repeated Jan. "It's easy enough. Fred Massingbird's
dead, poor fellow; he died of fever three weeks after they landed; and
you are master of Verner's Pride."



CHAPTER XXX.

NEWS FROM AUSTRALIA.


Lionel Verner could scarcely believe in his own identity. The train,
which was to have contained him, was whirling towards London; he, a poor
aspirant for future fortune, ought to have been in it; he had counted
most certainly to be in it; but here was he, while the steam of that
train yet snorted in his ears, walking out of the station, a wealthy
man, come into a proud inheritance, the inheritance of his fathers. In
the first moment of tumultuous thought, Lionel almost felt as if some
fairy must have been at work with a magic wand.

It was all true. He linked his arm within Jan's, and listened to the
recital in detail. Jan had found Mrs. Verner, on his arrival at Verner's
Pride, weeping over letters from Australia; one from a Captain Cannonby,
one from Sibylla. They contained the tidings that Frederick Massingbird
had died of fever, and that Sibylla was anxious to come home again.

"Who is Captain Cannonby?" asked Lionel of Jan.

"Have you forgotten the name?" returned Jan. "That friend of Fred
Massingbird's who sold out, and was knocking about London; Fred went up
once or twice to see him. He went to the diggings last autumn, and it
seems Fred and Sibylla lighted on him at Melbourne. He had laid poor
Fred in the grave the day before he wrote, he says."

"I can scarcely believe it all now, Jan," said Lionel. "What a change!"

"Ay. You won't believe it for a day or two. I say, Lionel, Uncle Stephen
need not have left Verner's Pride to the Massingbirds; they have not
lived to enjoy it. Neither need there have been all that bother about
the codicil. I know what."

"What?" asked Lionel, looking at him; for Jan spoke significantly.

"That Madam Sibylla would give her two ears now to have married you,
instead of Fred Massingbird."

Lionel's face flushed, and he replied coldly, hauteur in his tone,
"Nonsense, Jan! you are speaking most unwarrantably. When Sibylla chose
Fred Massingbird, I was the heir to Verner's Pride."

"_I_ know," said Jan. "Verner's Pride would be a great temptation to
Sibylla; and I can but think she knew it was left to Fred when she
married him."

Lionel did not condescend to retort. He would as soon believe himself
capable of bowing down before the god of gold, in a mean spirit, as
believe Sibylla capable of it. Indeed, though he was wont to charm
himself with the flattering notion that his love for Sibylla had died
out, or near upon it, he was very far off the point when he could think
any ill of Sibylla.

"My patients will be foaming," remarked Jan, who continued his way to
Verner's Pride with Lionel. "They will conclude I have gone off with Dr.
West; and I have his list on my hands now, as well as my own. I say,
Lionel, when I told you the letters from Australia were in, how little
we guessed they would contain this news."

"Little, indeed!" said Lionel.

"I suppose you won't go to London now?"

"I suppose not," was the reply of Lionel; and a rush of gladness
illumined his heart as he spoke it. No more toil over those dry old law
books! The study had never been to his taste.

The servants were gathered in the hall when Lionel and Jan entered it.
Decorously sorry, of course, for the tidings which had arrived, but
unable to conceal the inward satisfaction which peeped out--not
satisfaction at the death of Fred, but at the accession of Lionel. It is
curious to observe how jealous the old retainers of a family are, upon
all points which touch the honour or the well-being of the house. Fred
Massingbird was an alien; Lionel was a Verner; and now, as Lionel
entered, they formed into a double line that he might pass between them,
their master from henceforth.

Mrs. Verner was in the old place, the study. Jan had seen her in bed
that morning; but, since then, she had risen. Early as the hour yet was,
recent as the sad news had been, Mrs. Verner had dropped asleep. She sat
nodding in her chair, snoring heavily, breathing painfully, her neck and
face all one colour--carmine red. That she looked--as Jan had
observed--a very apoplectic subject, struck Lionel most particularly on
this morning.

"Why don't you bleed her, Jan?" he whispered.

"She won't be bled," responded Jan. "She won't take physic. She won't do
anything that she ought to do. You may as well talk to a post. She'll do
nothing but eat and drink, and fall asleep afterwards, and then wake up
to eat and drink and fall asleep again. Mrs. Verner"--exalting his
voice--"here's Lionel."

Mrs. Verner partially woke up. Her eyes opened sufficiently to observe
Jan; and her mind apparently grew awake to a confused remembrance of
facts. "He's gone to London," said she to Jan. "You won't catch him:"
and then she nodded again.

"I did catch him," shouted Jan. "Lionel's here."

Lionel sat down by her, and she woke up pretty fully.

"I am grieved at this news for your sake, Mrs. Verner," he said in a
kind tone, as he took her hand. "I am sorry for Frederick."

"Both my boys gone before me, Lionel!" she cried, melting into
tears--"John first; Fred next. Why did they go out there to die?"

"It is indeed sad for you," replied Lionel. "Jan says Fred died of
fever."

"He has died of fever. Don't you remember when Sibylla wrote, she said
he was ill with fever? He never got well. He never got well! I take it
that it must have been a sort of intermittent fever--pretty well one
day, down ill the next--for he had started for the place where John
died--I forget its name, but you'll find it written there. Only a few
hours after quitting Melbourne, he grew worse and died."

"Was he alone?" asked Lionel.

"Captain Cannonby was with him. They were going together up to--I
forget, I say, the name of the place--where John died, you know. It was
nine or ten days' distance from Melbourne, and they had travelled but a
day of it. And I suppose," added Mrs. Verner, with tears in her eyes,
"that he'd be put into the ground like a dog!"

Lionel, on this score, could give no consolation. He knew not whether
the fact might be so, or not. Jan hoisted himself on to the top of a
high bureau, and sat in comfort.

"He'd be buried like a dog," repeated Mrs. Verner. "What do they know
about parsons and consecrated ground out there? Cannonby buried him, he
says, and then he went back to Melbourne to carry the tidings to
Sibylla."

"Sibylla? Was Sibylla not with him when he died?" exclaimed Lionel.

"It seems not. It's sure not, in fact, by the letters. You can read
them, Lionel. There's one from her and one from Captain Cannonby."

"It's not likely they'd drag Sibylla up to the diggings," interposed
Jan.

"And yet almost as unlikely that her husband would leave her alone in
such a place as Melbourne appears to be," dissented Lionel.

"She was not left alone," said Mrs. Verner. "If you'd read the letters,
Lionel, you would see. She stayed in Melbourne with a family: friends, I
think she says, of Captain Cannonby's. She has written for money to be
sent out to her by the first ship, that she may pay her passage home
again."

This item of intelligence astonished Lionel more than any other.

"Written for money to be sent out for her passage home!" he reiterated.
"_Has_ she no money?"

Mrs. Verner looked at him. "They accuse me of forgetting things in my
sleep, Lionel; but I think you must be growing worse than I am. Poor
Fred told us in his last letter that he had been robbed of his desk, and
that it had got his money in it."

"But I did not suppose it contained all--that they were reduced so low
as for his wife to have no money left for a passage. What will she do
there until some can be got out?"

"If she is with comfortable folks, they'd not turn her out," cried Jan.

Lionel took up the letters, and ran his eyes over them. They told him
little else of the facts; though more of the details. It appeared to
have taken place pretty much as Mrs. Verner said. The closing part of
Sibylla's letter ran as follows:--

    "After we wrote to you, Fred met Captain Cannonby. You must
    remember, dear aunt, how often Fred would speak of him.
    Captain Cannonby has relatives out here, people in very good
    position--if people can be said to be in a position at all in
    such a horrid place. We knew Captain Cannonby had come over,
    but thought he was at the Bendigo diggings. However, Fred met
    him; and he was very civil and obliging. He got us apartments
    in the best hotel--one of the very places that had refused us,
    saying they were crowded. Fred seemed to grow a trifle better,
    and it was decided that they should go to the place where John
    died, and try to get particulars about his money, etc., which
    in Melbourne we could hear nothing of. Indeed, nobody seemed
    to know even John's name. Captain Cannonby (who has really
    made money here in some way--trading, he says--and expects to
    make a good deal more) agreed to go with Fred. Then Fred told
    me of the loss of his desk and money, his bills of credit, and
    that; whatever the term may be. It was stolen from the quay,
    the day we arrived, and he had never been able to hear of it;
    but, while there seemed a chance of finding it, he would not
    let me know the ill news. Of course, with this loss upon us,
    there was all the more necessity for our getting John's money
    as speedily as might be. Captain Cannonby introduced me to his
    relatives, the Eyres, told them my husband wanted to go up the
    country for a short while, and they invited me to stay with
    them. And here I am, and very kind they are to me in this
    dreadful trouble.

    "Aunt Verner, I thought I should have died when, a day or two
    after they started, I saw Captain Cannonby come back alone,
    with a long, sorrowful face. I seemed to know in a moment
    what had happened; I had thought at the time they started that
    Fred was too ill to go. I said to him, 'My husband is dead!'
    and he confessed that it was so. He had been taken ill at the
    end of the first day, and did not live many hours.

    "I can't tell you any more, dear Aunt Verner; I am too sick
    and ill, and if I filled ten sheets with the particulars, it
    would not alter the dreadful facts. I want to come home to
    _you_; I know you will receive me, and let me live with you
    always. I have not any money. Please send me out sufficient to
    bring me home by the first ship that sails. I don't care for
    any of the things we brought out; they may stop here or be
    lost in the sea, for all the difference it will make to me: I
    only want to come home. Captain Cannonby says he will take
    upon himself now to look after John's money, and transmit it
    to us, if he can get it.

    "Mrs. Eyre has just come in. She desires me to say that they
    are taking every care of me, and are all happy to have me with
    them: she says I am to tell you that her own daughters are
    about my age. It is all true, dear aunt, and they are
    exceedingly kind to me. They seem to have plenty of money, are
    intimate with the governor's family, and with what they call
    the good society of the colony. When I think what my position
    would have been now had I not met with them, I grow quite
    frightened.

    "I have to write to papa, and must close this. I have
    requested Captain Cannonby to write to you himself, and give
    you particulars about the last moments of Frederick. Send me
    the money without delay, dear aunt. The place is hateful to me
    now he is gone, and I'd rather be dead than stop in it.

    "Your affectionate and afflicted niece,

    "SIBYLLA MASSINGBIRD."

Lionel folded the letter musingly. "It would almost appear that they had
not heard of your son's accession to Verner's Pride," he remarked to
Mrs. Verner. "It is not alluded to in any way."

"I think it is sure they had not heard of it," she answered "I remarked
so to Mary Tynn. The letters must have been delayed in their passage.
Lionel, you will see to the sending out of the money for me."

"Immediately," replied Lionel.

"And when do you come home?"

"Do you mean--do you mean when do I come here?" returned Lionel.

"To be sure I mean it. It is your home. Verner's Pride is your home,
Lionel, now; not mine. It has been yours this three or four months past,
only we did not know it. You must come home to it at once, Lionel."

"I suppose it will be right that I should do so," he answered.

"And I shall be thankful," said Mrs. Verner. "There will be a master
once more, and no need to bother me. I have been bothered, Lionel. Mr.
Jan,"--turning to the bureau--"it's that which has made me feel ill. One
comes to me with some worry or other, and another comes to me: they
_will_ come to me. The complaints and tales of that Roy fidget my life
out."

"I shall discharge Roy at once, Mrs. Verner."

Mrs. Verner made a deprecatory movement of the hands, as much as to say
that it was no business of hers. "Lionel, I have only one request to
make of you: never speak of the estate to me again, or of anything
connected with its management. You are its sole master, and can do as
you please. Shall you turn me out?"

Lionel's face flushed. "No, Mrs. Verner," he almost passionately
answered. "You could not think so."

"You have the right. Had Fred come home, he would have had the right.
But I'd hardly reconcile myself to any other house how."

"It is a right which I should never exercise," said Lionel.

"I shall mostly keep my room," resumed Mrs. Verner; "perhaps wholly keep
it: and Mary Tynn will wait upon me. The servants will be yours, Lionel.
In fact, they are yours; not mine. What a blessing! to know that I may
be at peace from henceforth: that the care will be upon another's
shoulders! My poor Fred! My dear sons! I little thought I was taking
leave of them both for the last time!"

Jan jumped off his bureau. Now that the brunt of the surprise was over,
and plans began to be discussed, Jan bethought himself of his impatient
sick list, who were doubtlessly wondering at the non-appearance of their
doctor. Lionel rose to depart with him.

"But, you should not go," said Mrs. Verner. "In five minutes I vacate
this study; resign it to you. This change will give you plenty to do,
Lionel."

"I know it will, dear Mrs. Verner. I shall be back soon, but I must
hasten to acquaint my mother."

"You will promise not to go away again, Lionel. It is your lawful home,
remember."

"I shall not go away again," was Lionel's answer; and Mrs. Verner
breathed freely. To be emancipated from what she had regarded as the
great worry of life, was felt to be a relief. Now she could eat and
sleep all day, and never need be asked a single question, or hear
whether the outside world had stopped, or was going on still.

"You will just pen a few words for me to Sibylla, Lionel," she called
out. "I am past much writing now."

"If it be necessary that I should," he coldly replied.

"And send them with the remittance," concluded Mrs. Verner. "You will
know how much to send. Tell Sibylla that Verner's Pride is no longer
mine, and I cannot invite her to it. It would hardly be the--the thing
for a young girl, and she's little better, to be living here with you
all day long, and I always shut up in my room. Would it?"

Lionel somewhat haughtily shrugged his shoulders. "Scarcely," he
answered.

"She must go to her sisters, of course. Poor girl! what a thing it seems
to have to return to her old house again!"

Jan put in his head. "I thought you said you were coming, Lionel?"

"So I am--this instant." And they departed together: encountering Mr.
Bitterworth in the road.

He grasped hold of Lionel in much excitement.

"Is it true--what people are saying? That you have come into Verner's
Pride?"

"Quite true," replied Lionel. And he gave Mr. Bitterworth a summary of
the facts.

"Now look there!" cried Mr. Bitterworth, who was evidently deeply
impressed; "it's of no use to try to go against honest right: sooner or
later it will triumph. In your case, it has come wonderfully soon. I
told my old friend that the Massingbirds had no claim to Verner's Pride;
that if they were exalted to it, over your head, it would not prosper
them--not, poor fellows, that I thought of their death. May you remain
in undisturbed possession of it, Lionel! May your children succeed to it
after you!"

Lionel and Jan continued their road. But they soon parted company, for
Jan turned off to his patients. Lionel made the best of his way to
Deerham Court. In the room he entered, steadily practising, was Lucy
Tempest, alone. She turned her head to see who it was, and at the sight
of Lionel started up in alarm.

"What is it? Why are you back?" she exclaimed. "Has the train broken
down?"

Lionel smiled at her vehemence; at her crimsoned countenance; at her
unbounded astonishment altogether.

"The train has not broken down, I trust, Lucy. I did not go with it. Do
you know where my mother is?"

"She is gone out with Decima."

He felt a temporary disappointment; the news, he was aware, would be so
deeply welcome to Lady Verner. Lucy stood regarding him, waiting the
solution of the mystery.

"What should you say, Lucy, if I tell you Deerham is not going to get
rid of me at all?"

"I do not understand you," replied Lucy, colouring with surprise and
emotion. "Do you mean that you are going to remain here?"

"Not here--in this house. That would be a calamity for you."

Lucy looked as if it would be anything but a calamity.

"You are as bad as our French mistress at the rectory," she said. "She
would never tell us anything; she used to make us guess."

Her words were interrupted by the breaking out of the church bells: a
loud peal, telling of joy. A misgiving crossed Lionel that the news had
got wind, and that some officious person had been setting on the bells
to ring for him, in honour of his succession. The exceeding bad taste of
the proceeding--should it prove so--called a flush of anger to his
brow. His inheritance had cost Mrs. Verner her son.

The suspicion was confirmed. One of the servants, who had been to the
village, came running in at this juncture with open mouth, calling out
that Mr. Lionel had come into his own, and that the bells were ringing
for it. Lucy Tempest heard the words, and turned to Lionel.

"It is so, Lucy," he said, answering the look. "Verner's Pride is at
last mine. But--"

She grew strangely excited. Lionel could see her heart beat--could see
the tears of emotion gather in her eyes.

"I am so glad!" she said in a low, heartfelt tone. "I thought it would
be so, sometime. Have you found the codicil?"

"Hush, Lucy! Before you express your gladness, you must learn that sad
circumstances are mixed with it. The codicil has not been found; but
Frederick Massingbird has died."

Lucy shook her head. "He had no right to Verner's Pride, and I did not
like him. I am sorry, though, for himself, that he is dead.
And--Lionel--you will never go away now?"

"I suppose not: to live."

"I am so glad! I may tell you that I am glad, may I not?"

She half timidly held out her hand as she spoke. Lionel took it between
both of his, toying with it as tenderly as he had ever toyed with
Sibylla's. And his low voice took a tone which was certainly not that of
hatred, as he bent towards her.

"I am glad also, Lucy. The least pleasant part of my recent projected
departure was the constantly remembered fact that I was about to put a
distance of many miles between myself and you. It grew all too palpable
towards the last."

Lucy laughed and drew away her hand, her radiant countenance falling
before the gaze of Lionel.

"So you will be troubled with me yet, you see, Miss Lucy," he added, in
a lighter tone, as he left her and strode off with a step that might
have matched Jan's, on his way to ask the bells whether they were not
ashamed of themselves.



CHAPTER XXXI.

ROY EATING HUMBLE PIE.


And so the laws of right and justice had eventually triumphed, and
Lionel Verner took possession of his own. Mrs. Verner took possession of
her own--her chamber; all she was ever again likely to take possession
of at Verner's Pride. She had no particular ailment, unless heaviness
could be called an ailment, and steadily refused any suggestion of
Jan's.

"You'll go off in a fit," said plain Jan to her.

"Then I must go," replied Mrs. Verner. "I can't submit to be made
wretched with your medical and surgical remedies, Mr. Jan. Old people
should be let alone, to doze away their days in peace."

"As good give some old people poison outright, as let them always doze,"
remonstrated Jan.

"You'd like me to live sparingly--to starve myself, in short--and you'd
like me to take exercise!" returned Mrs. Verner. "Wouldn't you, now?"

"It would add ten years to your life," said Jan.

"I dare say! It's of no use your coming preaching to me, Mr. Jan. Go and
try your eloquence upon others. I always have had enough to eat, and I
hope I always shall. And as to my getting about, or walking, I _can't_.
When folks come to be my size, it's cruel to want them to do it."

Mrs. Verner was nodding before she had well spoken the last words, and
Jan said no more. You may have met with some such case in your own
experience.

When the news of Lionel Verner's succession fell upon Roy, the bailiff,
he could have gnashed his teeth in very vexation. Had he foreseen what
was to happen he would have played his cards so differently. It had not
entered into the head-piece of Roy to reflect that Frederick Massingbird
might die. Scarcely had it that he _could_ die. A man, young and strong,
what was likely to take him off? John had died, it was true; but John's
death had been a violent one. Had Roy argued the point at all--which he
did not, for it had never occurred to his mind--he might have assumed
that because John had died, Fred was the more likely to live. It is a
somewhat rare case for two brothers to be cut down in their youth and
prime, one closely following upon the other.

Roy lived in a cottage standing by itself, a little beyond Clay Lane,
but not so far off as the gamekeeper's. On the morning when the bells
had rung out--to the surprise and vexation of Lionel--Roy happened to be
at home. Roy never grudged himself holiday when it could be devoted to
the benefit of his wife. A negative benefit she may have thought it,
since it invariably consisted in what Roy called a "blowing of her up."

Mrs. Roy had heard that the Australian mail was in. But the postman had
not been to their door, therefore no letter could have arrived for them
from Luke. A great many mails, as it appeared to Mrs. Roy, had come in
with the like result. That Luke had been murdered, as his master, John
Massingbird, had been before him, was the least she feared. Her fears
and troubles touching Luke were great; they were never at rest; and her
tears fell frequently. All of which excited the ire of Roy.

She sat in a rocking-chair in the kitchen--a chair which had been new
when the absent Luke was a baby, and which was sure to be the seat
chosen by Mrs. Roy when she was in a mood to indulge any passing
tribulation. The kitchen opened to the road, as the kitchens of many of
the dwellings did open to it; a parlour was on the right, which was used
only on the grand occasion of receiving visitors; and the stairs,
leading to two rooms above, ascended from the kitchen. Here she sat,
silently wiping away her dropping tears with a red cotton
pocket-handkerchief. Roy was not in the sweetest possible temper himself
that morning, so, of course, he turned it upon her.

"There you be, a-snivelling as usual! I'd have a bucket always at my
feet, if I was you. It might save the trouble of catching rain-water."

"If the letter-man had got anything for us, he'd have been round here an
hour ago," responded Mrs. Roy, bursting into unrestrained sobs.

Now, this happened to be the very grievance that was affecting the
gentleman's temper--the postman's not having gone there. They had heard
that the Australian mail was in. Not that he was actuated by any strong
paternal feelings--such sentiments did not prey upon Mr. Roy. The
hearing or the not hearing from his son would not thus have disturbed
his equanimity. He took it for granted that Luke was alive
somewhere--probably getting on--and was content to wait until himself or
a letter should turn up. The one whom he had been expecting to hear from
was his new master, Mr. Massingbird. He had fondly indulged the hope
that credential letters would arrive for him, confirming him in his
place of manager; he believed that this mail would inevitably bring
them, as the last mails had not. Hence he had stayed at home to receive
the postman. But the postman had not come, and it gave Roy a pain in his
temper.

"They be a-coming back, that's what it is," was the conclusion he
arrived at, when his disappointment had a little subsided. "Perhaps they
might have come by this very ship! I wonder if it brings folks as well
as letters?"

"I know he must be dead!" sobbed Mrs. Roy.

"He's dead as much as you be," retorted Roy. "He's a-making his fortune,
and he'll come home after it--that's what Luke's a-doing. For all you
know he may be come too."

The words appeared to startle Mrs. Roy; she looked up, and he saw that
her face had gone white with terror.

"Why! what _does_ ail you?" cried he, in wonder. "Be you took crazy?"

"I don't want him to come home," she replied in an awe-struck whisper.
"Roy, I don't want him to."

"You don't want to be anything but a idiot," returned Roy, with supreme
contempt.

"But I'd like to hear from him," she wailed, swaying herself to and fro.
"I'm always a-dreaming of it."

"You'll just dream a bit about getting the dinner ready," commanded Roy
morosely; "that's what you'll dream about now. I said I'd have biled
pork and turnips, and nicely you be a-getting on with it. Hark ye! I'm
a-going now, but I shall be in at twelve, and if it ain't ready, mind
your skin!"

He swung open the kitchen door just in time to hear the church bells
burst out with a loud and joyous peal. It surprised Roy. In quiet
Deerham, such sounds were not very frequent.

"What's up now?" cried Roy savagely. Not that the abstract fact of the
bells ringing was of any moment to him, but he was in a mood to be angry
with everything. "Here, you!" continued he, seizing hold of a boy who
was running by, "what be them bells a-clattering for?"

Brought to thus summarily, the boy had no resource but to stop. It was a
young gentleman whom you have had the pleasure of meeting before--Master
Dan Duff. So fast had he been flying, that a moment or two elapsed ere
he could get breath to speak.

The delay did not tend to soothe his capturer; and he administered a
slight shake. "Can't you speak, Dan Duff? Don't you see who it is that's
a-asking of you? What be them bells a-working for?"

"Please, sir, it's for Mr. Lionel Verner."

The answer took Roy somewhat aback. He knew--as everybody else
knew--that Mr. Lionel Verner's departure from Deerham was fixed for that
day; but to believe that the bells would ring out a peal of joy on that
account was a staggerer even to Roy's ears. Dan Duff found himself
treated to another shake, together with a sharp reprimand.

"So they be a-ringing for him!" panted he. "There ain't no call to
shake my inside out of me for saying so. Mr. Lionel have got Verner's
Pride at last, and he ain't a-going away at all, and the bells be
a-ringing for it. Mother have sent me to tell the gamekeeper. She said
he'd sure to give me a penny, if I was the first to tell him."

Roy let go the boy. His arms and his mouth alike dropped. "Is that--that
there codicil found?" gasped he.

Dan Duff shook his head. "I dun know nothink about codinals," said he.
"Mr. Fred Massingbird's dead. He can't keep Mr. Lionel out of his own
any longer, and the bells is a-ringing for it."

Unrestrained now, he sped away. Roy was not altogether in a state to
stop him. He had turned of a glowing heat, and was asking himself
whether the news could be true. Mrs. Roy stepped forward, her tears
arrested.

"Law, Roy, whatever shall you do?" spoke she deprecatingly. "I said as
you should have kept in with Mr. Lionel. You'll have to eat humble pie,
for certain."

The humble pie would taste none the more palatable for his being
reminded of it by his wife, and Roy drove her back with a shower of
harsh words. He shut the door with a bang, and went out, a forlorn hope
lighting him that the news might be false.

But the news, he found, was too true. Frederick Massingbird was really
dead, and the true heir had come into his own.

Roy stood in much inward perturbation. The eating of humble pie--as Mrs.
Roy had been kind enough to suggest--would not cost much to a man of his
cringing nature; but he entertained a shrewd suspicion that no amount of
humble pie would avail him with Mr. Verner; that, in short, he should be
discarded entirely. While thus standing, the centre of a knot of
gossipers, for the news had caused Deerham to collect in groups, the
bells ceased as suddenly as they had begun, and Lionel Verner himself
was observed coming from the direction of the church. Roy stood out from
the rest, and, as a preliminary slice of the humble pie, took off his
hat, and stood bare-headed while Lionel passed by.

It did not avail him. On the following day Roy found himself summoned to
Verner's Pride. He went up, and was shown to the old business room--the
study.

Ah! things were changed now--changed from what they had been; and Roy
was feeling it to his heart's core. It was no longer the feeble
invalid, Stephen Verner, who sat there, to whom all business was
unwelcome, and who shunned as much of it as he could shun, leaving it to
Roy; it was no longer the ignorant and easy Mrs. Verner to whom (as she
herself had once expressed it) Roy could represent white as black, and
black as white: but he who reigned now was essentially master--master of
himself and of all who were dependent on him.

Roy felt it the moment he entered; felt it keenly. Lionel stood before a
table covered with papers. He appeared to have risen from his chair and
to be searching for something. He lifted his head when Roy appeared,
quitted the table and stood looking at the man, his figure drawn to its
full height. The exceeding nobility of the face and form struck even
Roy.

But Lionel greeted him in a quiet, courteous tone; to meet any one, the
poorest person on his estate, otherwise than courteously was next to an
impossibility for Lionel Verner. "Sit down, Roy," he said. "You are at
no loss, I imagine, to guess what my business is with you."

Roy did not accept the offered seat. He stood in discomfiture, saying
something to the effect that he'd change his mode of dealing with the
men, would do all he could to give satisfaction to his master, Mr.
Verner, if the latter would consent to continue him on.

"You must know, yourself, that I am not likely to do it," returned
Lionel briefly. "But I do not wish to be harsh, Roy--I trust I never
shall be harsh with any one--and if you choose to accept of work on the
estate, you can do so."

"You'll not continue me in my post over the brick-yard, sir--over the
men generally?"

"No," replied Lionel, "Perhaps the less we go into those past matters
the better. _I_ have no objection to speak of them, Roy; but, if I do,
you will hear some home truths that may not be palatable. You can have
work if you wish for it; and good pay."

"As one of the men, sir?" asked Roy, a shade of grumbling in his tone.

"As one of the superior men!"

Roy hesitated. The blow had fallen; but it was only what he feared.
"Might I ask as you'd give me a day to consider it over, sir?" he
presently said.

"A dozen days if you choose. The work is always to be had; it will not
run away; if you prefer to spend time deliberating upon the point, it is
your affair, not mine."

"Thank ye, sir. Then I'll think it over. It'll be hard lines, coming
down to be a workman, where I've been, as may be said, a sort of
master."

"Roy."

Roy turned back. He had been moving away. "Yes, sir."

"I shall expect you to pay rent for your cottage now, if you remain in
it. Mr. Verner, I believe, threw it into your post; made it part of your
perquisites. Mrs. Verner has, no doubt, done the same. But that is at an
end. I can show no more favour to you than I do to others."

"I'll think it over, sir," concluded Roy, his tone as sullen a one as he
dared let appear. And he departed.

Before the week was out, he came again to Verner's Pride, and said he
would accept the work, and pay rent for the cottage; but he hoped Mr.
Verner would name a fair rent.

"I should not name an unfair one, Roy," was the reply of Lionel. "You
will pay the same that others pay, whose dwellings are the same size as
yours. Mr Verner's scale of rents is not high, but low, as you know; I
shall not alter it."

And so Roy continued on the estate.



CHAPTER XXXII.

"IT'S APPLEPLEXY."


A short period elapsed. One night Jan Verner, upon getting into bed,
found he need not have taken the trouble, for the night-bell rang, and
Jan had to get up again. He opened his window and called out to know who
was there. A boy came round from the surgery door into view, and Jan
recognised him for the youngest son of his brother's gamekeeper, a youth
of twelve. He said his mother was ill.

"What's the matter with her?" asked Jan.

"Please, sir, she's took bad in the stomach. She's a-groaning awful.
Father thinks she'll die."

Jan dressed himself and started off, carrying with him a dose of
tincture of opium. When he arrived, however, he found the woman so
violently sick and ill, that he suspected it did not arise simply from
natural causes. "What has she been eating?" inquired Jan.

"Some late mushrooms out of the fields."

"Ah, that's just it," said Jan. And he knew the woman had been poisoned.
He took a leaf from his pocket-book, wrote a rapid word on it, and
ordered the boy to carry it to the house, and give it to Mr. Cheese.

"Now, look you, Jack," said he, "if you want your mother to get well,
you'll go there and back as fast as your legs can carry you. I can do
little till you bring me what I have sent for. Go past the Willow Pool,
and straight across to my house."

The boy looked aghast at the injunction. "Past the Willow Pool!" echoed
he. "I'd not go past there, sir, at night, for all the world."

"Why not?" questioned Jan.

"I'd see Rachel Frost's ghost, may be," returned Jack, his round eyes
open with perplexity.

The conceit of seeing a ghost amused Jan beyond everything. He sat down
on a high press that was in the kitchen, and grinned at the boy. "What
would the ghost do to you?" cried he.

Jack Broom could not say. All he knew was that neither he, nor a good
many more, had gone near that pond at night since the report had arisen
(which, of course, it had, simultaneously with the death) that Rachel's
ghost was to be seen there.

"Wouldn't you go to save your mother?" cried Jan.

"I'd--I'd not go to be made winner of the leg of mutton atop of a
greased pole," responded the boy, in a mortal fright lest Jan should
send him.

"You are a nice son, Mr. Jack! A brave young man, truly!"

"Jim Hook, he was a-going by the pond one night, and he see'd it," cried
the boy earnestly. "It don't take two minutes longer to cut down Clay
Lane, please, sir."

"Be off, then," said Jan, "and see how quick you can be. What has put
such a thing into his head?" he presently asked of the gamekeeper, who
was hard at work preparing hot water.

"Little fools!" ejaculated the man. "I think the report first took its
rise, sir, through Robin Frost's going to the pond of a moonlight
night, and walking about on its brink."

"Robert Frost did!" cried Jan. "What did he do that for?"

"What indeed, sir! It did no good, as I told him more than once, when I
came upon him there. He has not been lately, I think. Folks get up a
talk that Robin went there to meet his sister's spirit, and it put the
youngsters into a fright."

Back came Mr. Jack in an incredibly short time. He could not have come
much quicker, had he dashed right through the pool. Jan set himself to
his work, and did not leave the woman until she was better. That was the
best of Jan Verner. He paid every atom as much attention to the poor as
he did to the rich. Jan never considered who or what his patients were:
all his object was, to get them well.

His nearest way home lay past the pool, and he took it: _he_ did not
fear poor Rachel's ghost. It was a sharpish night, bright, somewhat of a
frost. As Jan neared the pool, he turned his head towards it and half
stopped, gazing on its still waters. He had been away when the
catastrophe happened; but the circumstances had been detailed to him.
"How it would startle Jack and a few of those timid ones," said he
aloud, "if some night--"

"Is that you, sir?"

Some persons, with nerves less serene than Jan's, might have started at
the sudden interruption there and then. Not so Jan. He turned round with
composure, and saw Bennet, the footman from Verner's Pride. The man had
come up hastily from behind the hedge.

"I have been to your house, sir, and they told me you were at the
gamekeeper's, so I was hastening there. My mistress is taken ill, sir."

"Is it a fit?" cried Jan, remembering his fears and prognostications,
with regard to Mrs. Verner.

"It's worse than that, sir; it's appleplexy. Leastways, sir, my master
and Mrs. Tynn's afraid that it is. She looks like dead, sir, and there's
froth on her mouth."

Jan waited for no more. He turned short round, and flew by the nearest
path to Verner's Pride.

The evil had come. Apoplexy it indeed was, and Jan feared that all his
efforts to remedy it would be of no avail.

"It was by the merest chance that I found it out, sir," Mrs. Tynn said
to him. "I happened to wake up, and I thought how quiet my mistress was
lying; mostly she might be heard ever so far off when she was asleep. I
got up, sir, and took the rushlight out of the shade, and looked at her.
And then I saw what had happened, and went and called Mr. Lionel."

"Can you restore her, Jan?" whispered Lionel.

Jan made no reply. He had his own private opinion; but, whatever that
may have been, he set himself to the task in right earnest.

She never rallied. She lived only until the dawn of morning. Scarcely
had the clock told eight, when the death-bell went booming over the
village; the bell of that very church which had recently been so merry
for the succession of Lionel. And when people came running from far and
near to inquire for whom the passing-bell was ringing out, they hushed
their voices and their footsteps when informed that it was for Mrs.
Verner.

Verily, within the last year, Death had made himself at home at Verner's
Pride!



CHAPTER XXXIII.

JAN'S REMEDY FOR A COLD.


A cold bright day in mid-winter. Luncheon was just over at Deerham
Court, and Lady Verner, Decima, and Lucy Tempest had gathered round the
fire in the dining-room. Lucy had a cold. _She_ laughed at it; said she
was used to colds; but Lady Verner had insisted upon her wrapping
herself in a shawl, and not stirring out of the dining-room--which was
the warmest room in the house--for the day. So there reclined Lucy in
state, in an arm-chair with cushions; half laughing at being made into
an invalid, half rebelling at it.

Lady Verner sat opposite to her. She wore a rich black silk dress--the
mourning for Mrs. Verner--and a white lace cap of the finest guipure.
The white gloves on her hands were without a wrinkle, and her curiously
fine handkerchief lay on her lap. Lady Verner could indulge her taste
for snowy gloves and for delicate handkerchiefs now, untroubled by the
thought of the money they cost. The addition to her income, which she
had spurned from Stephen Verner, she accepted willingly from Lionel.
Lionel was liberal as a man and as a son. He would have given the half
of his fortune to his mother, and not said, "It is a gift." Deerham
Court had its carriage and horses now, and Deerham Court had its
additional servants. Lady Verner visited and received company, and the
look of care had gone from her face, and the querulousness from her
tone.

But it was in Lady Verner's nature to make a trouble of things; and if
she could not do it in a large way, she must do it in a small. To-day,
occurred this cold of Lucy's, and that afforded scope for Lady Verner.
She sent for Jan as soon as breakfast was over, in defiance of the
laughing protestations of Lucy. But Jan had not made his appearance yet,
and Lady Verner waxed wroth.

He was coming in now--now, as the servant was carrying out the
luncheon-tray, entering by his usual mode--the back-door, and nearly
knocking over the servant and tray in his haste, as his long legs strode
to the dining-room. Lady Verner had left off reproaching Jan for using
the servants' entrance, finding it waste of breath: Jan would have come
down the chimney with the sweeps, had it saved him a minute's time.
"Who's ill?" asked he.

Lady Verner answered the question by a sharp reprimand, touching Jan's
tardiness.

"I can't be in two places at once," good-humouredly replied Jan. "I have
been with one patient since four o'clock this morning, until five
minutes ago. Who is it that's ill?"

Lucy explained her ailments, giving Jan her own view of them, that there
was nothing the matter with her but a bit of a cold.

"Law!" contemptuously returned Jan. "If I didn't think somebody must be
dying! Cheese said they'd been after me about six times!"

"If you don't like to attend Miss Tempest, you can let it alone," said
Lady Verner. "I can send elsewhere."

"I'll attend anybody that I'm wanted to attend," said Jan. "Where d'ye
feel the symptoms of the cold?" asked he of Lucy. "In the head or
chest?"

"I am beginning to feel them a little here," replied Lucy, touching her
chest.

"Only beginning to feel them, Miss Lucy?"

"Only beginning, Jan."

"Well, then, you just wring out a long strip of rag in cold water, and
put it round your neck, letting the ends rest on the chest," said Jan.
"A double piece, from two to three inches broad. It must be covered
outside with thin waterproof skin to keep the wet in; you know what I
mean; Decima's got some; oil-skin's too thick. And get a lot of toast
and water, or lemonade; any liquid you like; and sip a drop of it every
minute, letting it go down your throat slowly. You'll soon get rid of
your sore chest if you do this; and you'll have no cough."

Lady Verner listened to these directions of Jan's in unqualified
amazement. She had been accustomed to the very professional remedies of
Dr. West. Decima laughed. "Jan," said she, "I could fancy an old woman
prescribing this, but not a doctor."

"It'll cure," returned Jan. "It will prevent the cough coming on; and
prevention's better than cure. You try it at once, Miss Lucy; and you'll
soon see. You will know then what to do if you catch cold in future."

"Jan," interposed Lady Verner, "I consider the very mention of such
remedies beneath the dignity of a medical man."

Jan opened his eyes. "But if they are the best remedies, mother?"

"At any rate, Jan, if this is your fashion of prescribing, you will not
fill your pockets," said Decima.

"I don't want to fill my pockets by robbing people," returned plain Jan.
"If I know a remedy that costs nothing, why shouldn't I let my patients
have the benefit of it, instead of charging them for drugs that won't do
half the good?"

"Jan," said Lucy, "if it cost gold I should try it. I have great faith
in what you say."

"All right," replied Jan. "But it must be done at once, mind. If you let
the cold get ahead first, it will not be so efficacious. And now
good-day to you all, for I must be off to my patients. Good-bye,
mother."

Away went Jan. And, amidst much laughter from Lucy, the wet "rag," Jan's
elegant phrase for it, was put round her neck, and covered up. Lionel
came in, and they amused him by reciting Jan's prescription.

"It is this house which has given her the cold," grumbled Lady Verner,
who invariably laid faults and misfortunes upon something or somebody.
"The servants are for ever opening that side-door, and then there comes
a current of air throughout the passage. Lionel, I am not sure but I
shall leave Deerham Court."

Lionel leaned against the mantel-piece, a smile upon his face. He had
completely recovered his good looks, scared away though they had been
for a time by his illness. He was in deep mourning for Mrs. Verner.
Decima looked up, surprised at Lady Verner's last sentence.

"Leave Deerham Court, mamma! When you are so much attached to it!"

"I don't dislike it," acknowledged Lady Verner. "But it suited me better
when we were living quietly, than it does now. If I could find a larger
house with the same conveniences, and in an agreeable situation, I might
leave this."

Decima did not reply. She felt sure that her mother was attached to the
house, and would never quit it. Her eyes said as much as they
encountered Lionel's.

"I wish my mother would leave Deerham Court!" he said aloud.

Lady Verner turned to him. "Why should you wish it, Lionel?"

"I wish you would leave it to come to me, mother. Verner's Pride wants a
mistress."

"It will not find one in me," said Lady Verner. "Were you an old man,
Lionel, I might then come. Not as it is."

"What difference can my age make?" asked he.

"Every difference," said Lady Verner. "Were you an old man, you might
not be thinking of getting married; as it is, you will be. Your wife
will reign at Verner's Pride, Lionel."

Lionel made no answer.

"You _will_ be marrying sometime, I suppose?" reiterated Lady Verner,
with emphasis.

"I suppose I shall be," replied Lionel; and his eyes, as he spoke,
involuntarily strayed to Lucy. She caught the look, and blushed vividly.

"How much of that do you intend to drink, Miss Lucy?" asked Lionel, as
she sipped the tumbler of lemonade, at her elbow.

"Ever so many tumblers of it," she answered. "Jan said I was to keep
sipping it all day long. The water, going down slowly, heals the chest."

"I believe if Jan told you to drink boiling water, you'd do it, Lucy,"
cried Lady Verner. "You seem to fall in with all he says."

"Because I like him, Lady Verner. Because I have faith in him; and if
Jan prescribes a thing, I know that he has faith in it."

"It is not displaying a refined taste to like Jan," observed Lady
Verner, intending the words as a covert reprimand to Lucy.

But Lucy stood up for Jan. Even at the dread of openly disagreeing with
Lady Verner, Lucy would not be unjust to one whom she deemed of sterling
worth.

"I like Jan very much," said she resolutely, in her championship.
"There's nobody I like so well as Jan, Lady Verner."

Lady Verner made a slight movement with her shoulders. It was almost as
much as to say that Lucy was growing as hopelessly incorrigible as Jan.
Lionel turned to Lucy.

"_Nobody_ you like so well as Jan, did you say?"

Poor Lucy! If the look of Lionel, just before, had brought the hot blush
to her cheek, that blush was nothing compared to the glowing crimson
which mantled there now. She had not been thinking of one sort of liking
when she so spoke of Jan: the words had come forth in the honest
simplicity of her heart.

Did Lionel read the signs aright, as her eyes fell before his? Very
probably. A smile stole over his lips.

"I do like Jan very much," stammered Lucy, essaying to mend the matter.
"I _may_ like him, I suppose? There's no harm in it."

"Oh! no harm, certainly," spoke Lady Verner, with a spice of irony. "I
never thought Jan could be a favourite before. Not being fastidiously
polished yourself, Lucy--forgive my saying it--you entertain, I
conclude, a fellow feeling for Jan."

Lucy--for Jan's sake--would not be beaten.

"Don't you think it is better to be like Jan, Lady Verner,
than--than--like Dr. West, for instance?"

"In what way?" returned Lady Verner.

"Jan is so true," debated Lucy, ignoring the question.

"And Dr. West was not, I suppose," retorted Lady Verner. "He wrote false
prescriptions, perhaps? Gave false advice?"

Lucy looked a little foolish. "I will tell you the difference, as it
seems to me, between Jan and other people," she said. "Jan is like a
rough diamond--real within, unpolished without--but a genuine diamond
withal. Many others are but the imitation stone--glittering outside,
false within."

Lionel was amused.

"Am I one of the false ones, Miss Lucy?"

She took the question literally.

"No; you are true," she answered, shaking her head, and speaking with
grave earnestness.

"Lucy, my dear, I would not espouse Jan's cause so warmly, were I you,"
advised Lady Verner. "It might be misconstrued."

"How so?" simply asked Lucy.

"It might be thought that you--pray excuse the common vulgarity of the
suggestion--were in love with Jan."

"In love with Jan!" Lucy paused for a moment after the words, and then
burst into a merry fit of laughter. "Oh, Lady Verner! I cannot fancy
anybody falling in love with Jan. I don't think he would know what to
do."

"I don't think he would," quietly replied Lady Verner.

A peal at the courtyard bell, and the letting down the steps of a
carriage. Visitors for Lady Verner. They were shown to the drawing-room,
and the servant came in.

"The Countess of Elmsley and Lady Mary, my lady."

Lady Verner rose with alacrity. They were favourite friends of
hers--nearly the only close friends she had made in her retirement.

"Lucy, you must not venture into the drawing-room," she stayed to say.
"The room is colder than this. Come."

The last "come" was addressed conjointly to her son and daughter. Decima
responded to it, and followed; Lionel remained where he was.

"The cold room would not hurt me, but I am glad not to go," began Lucy,
subsiding into a more easy tone, a more social manner, than she ventured
on in the presence of Lady Verner. "I think morning visiting the
greatest waste of time! I wonder who invented it?"

"Somebody who wanted to kill time," answered Lionel.

"It is not as though friends, who really cared for each other, met and
talked. The calls are made just for form's sake, and for nothing else,
_I_ will never fall into it when I am my own mistress."

"When is that to be?" asked Lionel, smiling.

"Oh! I don't know," she answered, looking up at him in all confiding
simplicity. "When papa comes home, I suppose."

Lionel crossed over to where she was sitting.

"Lucy, I thank you for your partisanship of Jan," he said, in a low,
earnest tone. "I do not believe anybody living knows his worth."

"Yes; for I do," she replied, her eyes sparkling.

"Only, don't you get to like him too much--as Lady Verner hinted,"
continued Lionel, his eyes dancing with merriment at his own words.

Lucy's eyelashes fell on her hot cheek. "Please not to be so foolish,"
she answered, in a pleading tone.

"Or a certain place--that has been mentioned this morning--might have to
go without a mistress for good," he whispered.

What made him say it? It is true he spoke in a light, joking tone; but
the words were not justifiable, unless he meant to follow them up
seriously in future. He _did_ mean to do so when he spoke them.

Decima came in, sent by Lady Verner to demand Lionel's attendance.

"I am coming directly," replied Lionel. And Decima went back again.

"You ought to take Jan to live at Verner's Pride," said Lucy to him, the
words unconsciously proving that she had understood Lionel's allusion to
it. "If he were my brother, I would not let him be always slaving
himself at his profession."

"If he were your brother, Lucy, you would find that Jan would slave just
as he does now, in spite of you. Were Jan to come into Verner's Pride
to-morrow, through my death, I really believe he would let it, and live
on where he does, and doctor the parish to the end of time."

"Will Verner's Pride go to Jan after you?"

"That depends. It would, were I to die as I am now, a single man. But I
may have a wife and children some time, Lucy."

"So you may," said Lucy, filling up her tumbler from the jug of
lemonade. "Please to go into the drawing-room now, or Lady Verner will
be angry. Mary Elmsley's there, you know."

She gave him a saucy glance from her soft bright eyes. Lionel laughed.

"Who made you so wise about Mary Elmsley, young lady?"

"Lady Verner," was Lucy's answer, her voice subsiding into a
confidential tone. "She tells us all about it, me and Decima, when we
are sitting by the fire of an evening. _She_ is to be the mistress of
Verner's Pride."

"Oh, indeed," said Lionel. "She is, is she! Shall I tell you something,
Lucy?"

"Well?"

"If that mistress-ship--is there such a word?--ever comes to pass, I
shall not be the master of it."

Lucy looked pleased. "That is just what Decima says. She says it to Lady
Verner. I wish you would go to them."

"So I will. Good-bye. I shall not come in again. I have a hundred and
one things to do this afternoon."

He took her hand and held it. She, ever courteous of manner, simple
though she was, rose and stood before him to say her adieu, her eyes
raised to his, her pretty face upturned.

Lionel gazed down upon it, and, as he had forgotten himself once before,
so he now forgot himself again. He clasped it to him with a sudden
movement of affection, and left on it some fervent kisses, whispering
tenderly--

"Take care of yourself, my darling Lucy!"

Leaving her to make the best of the business, Mr. Lionel proceeded to
the drawing-room. A few minutes' stay in it, and then he pleaded an
engagement, and departed.



CHAPTER XXXIV.

IMPROVEMENTS.


Things were changed now out of doors. There was no dissatisfaction, no
complaining. Roy was deposed from his petty authority, and all men were
at peace, with the exception, possibly, of Mr. Peckaby. Mr. Peckaby did
not, find his shop flourish. Indeed, far from flourishing, so completely
was it deserted, that he was fain to give up the trade, and accept work
at Chuff the blacksmith's forge, to which employment, it appeared, he
had been brought up. A few stale articles remained in the shop, and the
counters remained; chiefly for show. Mrs. Peckaby made a pretence of
attending to customers; but she did not get two in a week. And if those
two entered, they could not be served, for she was pretty sure to be
out, gossiping.

This state of things did not please Mrs. Peckaby. In one point of view
the failing of the trade pleased her, because it left her less work to
do; but she did not like the failing of their income. Whether the shop
had been actually theirs, or whether it had been Roy's, there was no
doubt that they had drawn sufficient from it to live comfortably and to
find Mrs. Peckaby in smart caps. This source was gone, and all they had
now was an ignominious fourteen shillings a week, which Peckaby earned.
The prevalent opinion in Clay Lane was that this was quite as much as
Peckaby deserved; and that it was a special piece of undeserved good
fortune which had taken off the blacksmith's brother and assistant in
the nick of time, Joe Chuff, to make room for him. Mrs. Peckaby,
however, was in a state of semi-rebellion; the worse, that she did not
know upon whom to visit it, or see any remedy. She took to passing her
time in groaning and tears, somewhat after the fashion of Dinah Roy,
venting her complaints upon anybody that would listen to her.

Lionel had not said to the men, "You shall leave Peckaby's shop." He had
not even hinted to them that it might be desirable to leave it. In
short, he had not interfered. But, the restraint of Roy being removed
from the men, they quitted it of their own accord. "No more Roy; no more
Peckaby; no more grinding down--hurrah!" shouted they, and went back to
the old shops in the village.

All sorts of improvements had Lionel begun. That is, he had planned
them: begun yet, they were not. Building better tenements for the
labourers, repairing and draining the old ones, adding whatever might be
wanted to make the dwellings healthy: draining, ditching, hedging. "It
shall not be said that while I live in a palace, my poor live in
pigsties," said Lionel to Mr. Bitterworth one day. "I'll do what I can
to drive that periodical ague from the place."

"Have you counted the cost?" was Mr. Bitterworth's rejoinder.

"No," said Lionel. "I don't intend to count it. Whatever the changes may
cost, I shall carry them out."

And Lionel, like other new schemers, was red-hot upon them. He drew out
plans in his head and with his pencil; he consulted architects, he
spent half his days with builders. Lionel was astonished at the mean,
petty acts of past tyranny, exercised by Roy, which came to light, far
more than he had had any idea of. He blushed for himself and for his
uncle, that such a state of things had been allowed to go on; he
wondered that it could have gone on; that he had been blind to so much
of it, or that the men had not exercised Lynch law upon Roy.

Roy had taken his place in the brick-yard as workman; but Lionel, in the
anger of the moment, when these things came out, felt inclined to spurn
him from the land. He would have done it but for his promise to the man
himself; and for the pale, sad face of Mrs. Roy. In the hour when his
anger was at its height, the woman came up to Verner's Pride,
stealthily, as it seemed, and craved him to write to Australia, "now he
was a grand gentleman," and ask the "folks over there" if they could
send back news of her son. "It's going on of a twelvemonth since he
writed to us, sir, and we don't know where to write to him, and I'm
a'most fretted into my grave."

"My opinion is that he is coming home," said Lionel.

"Heaven sink the ship first!" she involuntarily muttered, and then she
burst into a violent flood of tears.

"What do you mean?" exclaimed Lionel. "Don't you want him to come home?"

"No, sir. No."

"But why? Are you fearing"--he jumped to the most probable solution of
her words that he could suggest--"are you fearing that he and Roy would
not agree?--that there would be unpleasant scenes between them, as there
used to be?"

The woman had her face buried in her hands, and she never lifted it as
she answered, in a stifled voice, "It's what I'm a-fearing, sir."

Lionel could not quite understand her. He thought her more weak and
silly than usual.

"But he is not coming home," she resumed. "No, sir, I don't believe that
England will ever see him again; and it's best as it is, for there's
nothing but care and sorrow here, in the old country. But I'd like to
know what's become of him; whether he is alive or dead, whether he is
starving or in comfort. Oh, sir!" she added, with a burst of wailing
anguish, "write for me, and ask news of him! They'd answer _you_. My
heart is aching for it."

He did not explain to her then, how very uncertain was the fate of
emigrants to that country, how next to impossible it might be to obtain
intelligence of an obscure young man like Luke; he contented himself
with giving her what he thought would be better comfort.

"Mrs. Frederick Massingbird will be returning in the course of a few
months, and I think she may bring news of him. Should she not, I will
see what inquiries can be made."

"Will she be coming soon, sir?"

"In two or three months, I should suppose. The Misses West may be able
to tell you more definitely, if they have heard from her."

"Thank ye, sir; then I'll wait till she's home. You'll not tell Roy that
I have been up here, sir?"

"Not I," said Lionel. "I was debating, when you came in, whether I
should not turn Roy off the estate altogether. His past conduct to the
men has been disgraceful."

"Ay, it have, sir! But it was my fate to marry him, and I have had to
look on in quiet, and see things done, not daring to say as my soul's my
own. It's not my fault, sir."

Lionel knew that it was not. He pitied her, rather than blamed.

"Will you go into the servants' hall and eat something after your walk?"
he kindly asked.

"No, sir, many thanks. I don't want to see the servants. They might get
telling that I have been here."

She stole out from his presence, her pale, sad face, her evidently deep
sorrow, whatever might be its source, making a vivid impression upon
Lionel. But for that sad face, he might have dealt more harshly with her
husband. And so Roy was tolerated still.

It was upon these various past topics that Lionel's mind was running as
he walked away from Deerham Court after that afternoon's interview with
Lucy, which he had made so significant. He had pleaded an engagement, as
an excuse for quitting his mother's drawing-room and her guests. It must
have been at home, we must suppose, for ho took his way straight towards
Verner's Pride, sauntering through the village as if he had leisure to
look about him, his thoughts deep in his projected improvements.

Here, a piece of stagnant water was to be filled in; there was the site
of his new tenements; yonder, was the spot for a library and
reading-room; on he walked, throwing his glances everywhere. As he
neared the shop of Mrs. Duff, a man came suddenly in view, facing him; a
little man, in a suit of rusty black, and a white neckcloth, with a pale
face and red whiskers, whom Lionel remembered to have seen once before,
a day or two previously. As soon as he caught sight of Lionel he turned
short off, crossed the street, and darted out of sight down the
Belvidere Road.

"That looks as though he wanted to avoid me," thought Lionel. "I wonder
who he may be? Do you know who that man is, Mrs. Duff?" asked he aloud;
for that lady was taking the air at her shop-door, and had watched the
movement.

"I don't know much about him, sir. He have been stopping in the place
this day or two. What did I hear his name was, again?" added Mrs. Duff,
putting her fingers to her temples in a considering fit. "Jarrum, I
think. Yes, that was it. Brother Jarrum, sir."

"Brother Jarrum?" repeated Lionel, uncertain whether the "Brother" might
be spoken in a social point of view, or was a name bestowed upon the
gentleman in baptism.

"He's a missionary from abroad, or something of that sort, sir. He is
come to see what he can do towards converting us."

"Oh, indeed," said Lionel, his lip curling with a smile. The man's face
had not taken his fancy. "Honest missionaries do not need to run away to
avoid meeting people, Mrs. Duff."

"He have got cross eyes," responded Mrs. Duff. "Perhaps that's a reason
he mayn't like to look gentlefolks in the face, sir."

"Where does he come from?"

"Well, now, sir, I did hear," replied Mrs. Duff, putting on her
considering cap again, "it were some religious place, sir, that's talked
of a good deal in the Bible. Jericho, were it? No. It began with a J,
though. Oh, I have got it, sir! It were Jerusalem. He conies all the way
from Jerusalem."

"Where is he lodging?" continued Lionel.

"He have been lodging at the George and Dragon, sir. But to-day he have
gone and took that spare bedroom as the Peckabys have wanted to let,
since their custom fell off."

"He means to make a stay, then?"

"It looks like it, sir. Susan Peckaby, she were in here half an hour
ago, a-buying new ribbons for a cap, all agog with it. He's a-going to
hold forth in their shop, she says, and see how many of the parish he
can turn into saints. I say it won't be a bad 'turn,' if it keeps the
men from the beer-houses."

Lionel laughed as he went on. He supposed it was a new movement that
would have its brief day and then be over, leaving results neither good
nor bad behind it; and he dismissed the man from his memory.

He walked on, in the elasticity of his youth and health. All nature
seemed to be smiling around him. Outward things take their hue very much
from the inward feelings, and Lionel felt happier than he had done for
months and months. Had the image of Lucy Tempest anything to do with
this? No--nothing. He had not yet grown to love Lucy in that idolising
manner, as to bring her ever present to him. He was thinking of the
change in his own fortunes; he cast his eyes around to the right and the
left, and they rested on his own domains--domains which had for a time
been wrested from him; and as his quick steps rung on the frosty road,
his heart went up in thankfulness to the Giver of all good.

Just before he reached Verner's Pride, he overtook Mr. Bitterworth, who
was leaning against a roadside gate. He had been attacked by sudden
giddiness, he said, and asked Lionel to give him an arm home. Lionel
proposed that he should come in and remain for a short while at Verner's
Pride; but Mr. Bitterworth preferred to go home.

"It is one of my bilious attacks coming on," he remarked, as he went
along. "I have not had a bad one for this four months."

Lionel took him safe home, and remained with him for some time, talking;
the chief theme being his own contemplated improvements, and how to go
to work upon them; a topic which seemed to bring no satiety to Lionel
Verner.



CHAPTER XXXV.

BACK AGAIN.


It was late when Lionel reached Verner's Pride. Night had set in, and
his dinner was waiting.

He ate it hurriedly--he mostly did eat hurriedly when he was alone, as
if he were glad to get it over--Tynn waiting on him. Tynn liked to wait
upon his young master. Tynn had been in a state of glowing delight since
the accession of Lionel. Attached to the old family, Tynn had felt it
almost as keenly as Lionel himself, when the estate had lapsed to the
Massingbirds. Mrs. Tynn was in a glow of delight also. There was no
mistress, and she ruled the household, including Tynn.

The dinner gone away and the wine on the table, Lionel drew his chair in
front of the fire, and fell into a train of thought, leaving the wine
untouched. Full half an hour had he thus sat, when the entrance of Tynn
aroused him. He poured out a glass, and raised it to his lips. Tynn bore
a note on his silver waiter.

"Matiss's boy has just brought it. He is waiting to know whether there's
any answer."

Lionel opened the note, and was reading it, when a sound of carriage
wheels came rattling on to the terrace, passed the windows, and stopped
at the hall door. "Who can be paying me a visit to-night, I wonder?"
cried he. "Go and see, Tynn."

"It sounded like one of them rattling one-horse flies from the railway
station," was Tynn's comment to his master, as he left the room.

Whoever it might be, they appeared pretty long in entering, and Lionel,
very greatly to his surprise, heard a sound as of much luggage being
deposited in the hall. He was on the point of going out to see, when the
door opened, and a lovely vision glided forward--a young, fair face and
form, clothed in deep mourning, with a shower of golden curls shading
her damask cheeks. For one single moment, Lionel was lost in the beauty
of the vision. Then he recognised her, before Tynn's announcement was
heard; and his heart leaped as if it would burst its bounds--

"Mrs. Massingbird, sir."

--leaped within him fast and furiously. His pulses throbbed, his blood
coursed on, and his face went hot and cold with emotion. Had he been
fondly persuading himself, during the past months, that she was
forgotten? Truly the present moment rudely undeceived him.

Tynn shut the door, leaving them alone. Lionel was not so agitated as to
forget the courtesies of life. He shook hands with her, and, in the
impulse of the moment, called her Sibylla; and then bit his tongue for
doing it.

She burst into tears. There, as he held her hand. She lifted her lovely
face to him with a yearning, pleading look. "Oh, Lionel!--you will give
me a home, won't you?"

What was he to say? He could not, in that first instant, abruptly say to
her--No, you cannot have a home here. Lionel could not hurt the feelings
of any one. "Sit down, Mrs. Massingbird," he gently said, drawing an
easy-chair to the fire. "You have taken me quite by surprise. When did
you land?"

She threw off her bonnet, shook back those golden curls, and sat down in
the chair, a large heavy shawl on her shoulders. "I will not take it off
yet," she said in a plaintive voice. "I am very cold."

She shivered slightly. Lionel drew her chair yet nearer the fire, and
brought a footstool for her feet, repeating his question as he did so.

"We reached Liverpool late yesterday, and I started for home this
morning," she answered, her eyelashes wet still, as she gazed into the
fire. "What a miserable journey it has been!" she added, turning to
Lionel. "A miserable voyage out; a miserable ending!"

"Are you aware of the changes that have taken place since you left?" he
asked. "Your aunt is dead."

"Yes, I know it," she answered. "They told me at the station just now.
That lame porter came up and knew me; and his first news to me was that
Mrs. Verner was dead. What a greeting! I was coming home here to live
with her."

"You could not have received my letter. One which I wrote at the request
of Mrs. Verner in answer to yours."

"What news was in it?" she asked. "I received no letter from you."

"It contained remittances. It was sent, I say, in answer to yours, in
which you requested money should be forwarded for your home passage.
You did not wait for it?"

"I was tired of waiting. I was sick for home. And one day, when I had
been crying more than usual, Mrs. Eyre said to me that if I were so
anxious to go, there need be no difficulty about the passage-money, that
they would advance me any amount I might require. Oh, I was so glad! I
came away by the next ship."

"Why did you not write saying that you were coming?"

"I did not think it mattered--and I knew I had this home to come to. If
I had had to go to my old home again at papa's, then I should have
written. I should have seemed like an intruder arriving at their house,
and have deemed it necessary to warn them of it."

"You heard in Australia of Mr. Verner's death, I presume?"

"I heard of that, and that my husband had inherited Verner's Pride. The
news came out just before I sailed for home. Of course I thought I had a
right to come to this home, though he was dead. I suppose it is yours
now?"

"Yes."

"Who lives here?"

"Only myself."

"Have I a right to live here--as Frederick's widow?" she continued,
lifting her large blue eyes anxiously at Lionel. "I mean would the law
give it me?"

"No," he replied, in a low tone. He felt that the truth must be told to
her without disguise. She was placing both him and herself in an
embarrassing situation.

"Was there any money left to me?--or to Frederick?"

"None to you. Verner's Pride was left to your husband; but at his demise
it came to me."

"Did my aunt leave me nothing?"

"She had nothing to leave, Mrs. Massingbird. The settlement which Mr.
Verner executed on her, when they married, was only for her life. It
lapsed back to the Verner's Pride revenues when she died."

"Then I am left without a shilling, to the mercy of the world!"

Lionel felt for her--felt for her rather more than was safe. He began
planning in his own mind how he could secure to her an income from the
Verner's Pride estate, without her knowing whence it came. Frederick
Massingbird had been its inheritor for a short three or four months,
and Lionel's sense of justice revolted against his widow being thrown on
the world, as she expressed it, without a shilling.

"The revenues of the estate during the short time that elapsed between
Mr. Verner's death and your husband's are undoubtedly yours, Mrs.
Massingbird," he said. "I will see Matiss about it, and they shall be
paid over."

"How long will it be first?"

"A few days, possibly. In a note which I received but now from Matiss,
he tells me he is starting for London, but will be home the beginning of
the week. It shall be arranged on his return."

"Thank you. And, until then, I may stay here?"

Lionel was at a nonplus. It is not a pleasing thing to tell a lady that
she must quit your house, in which, like a stray lamb, she has taken
refuge. Even though it be, for her own fair sake, expedient that she
should go.

"I am here alone," said Lionel, after a pause. "Your temporary home had
better be with your sisters."

"No, that it never shall," returned Sibylla, in a hasty tone of fear. "I
will never go home to them, now papa's away. Why did he leave Deerham?
They told me at the station that he was gone, and Jan was doctor."

"Dr. West is travelling on the Continent, as medical attendant and
companion to a nobleman. At least--I think I heard it was a nobleman,"
continued Lionel. "I am really not sure."

"And you would like me to go home to those two cross, fault-finding
sisters!" she resumed. "They might reproach me all day long with coming
home to be kept. As if it were my fault that I am left without anything.
Oh, Lionel! don't turn me out! Let me stay until I can see what is to be
done for myself. I shall not hurt you. It would have been all mine had
Frederick lived."

He did not know what to do. Every moment there seemed to grow less
chance that she would leave the house. A bright thought darted into his
mind. It was, that he would get his mother or Decima to come and stay
with him for a time.

"What would you like to take?" he inquired. "Mrs. Tynn will get you
anything you wish. I----"

"Nothing yet," she interrupted. "I could not eat; I am too unhappy. I
will take some tea presently, but not until I am warmer. I am very
cold."

She cowered over the fire again, shivering much. Lionel, saying he had a
note to write, sat down to a distant table. He penned a few hasty lines
to his mother, telling her that Mrs. Massingbird had arrived, under the
impression that she was coming to Mrs. Verner, and that he could not
well turn her out again that night, fatigued and poorly as she appeared
to him to be. He begged his mother to come to him for a day or two, in
the emergency, or to send Decima.

An undercurrent of conviction ran in Lionel's mind during the time of
writing it that his mother would not come; he doubted even whether she
would allow Decima to come. He drove the thought away from him; but the
impression remained. Carrying the note out of the room when written, he
despatched it to Deerham Court by a mounted groom. As he was returning
to the dining-room he encountered Mrs. Tynn.

"I hear Mrs. Massingbird has arrived, sir," cried she.

"Yes," replied Lionel. "She will like some tea presently. She appears
very much fatigued."

"Is the luggage to be taken upstairs, sir?" she continued, pointing to
the pile in the hall. "Is she going to stay here?"

Lionel really did not know what answer to make.

"She came expecting to stay," he said, after a pause. "She did not know
but your mistress was still here. Should she remain, I dare say Lady
Verner, or my sister, will join her. You have beds ready?"

"Plenty of them, sir, at five minutes' notice."

When Lionel entered the room, Sibylla was in the same attitude,
shivering over the fire. Unnaturally cold she appeared to be, and yet
her cheeks were brilliantly bright, as if with a touch of fever.

"I fear you have caught cold on the journey to-day," he said.

"I don't think so," she answered. "I am cold from nervousness. I went
cold at the station when they told me that my aunt was dead, and I have
been shivering ever since. Never mind me; it will go off presently."

Lionel drew a chair to the other side of the fire, compassionately
regarding her. He could have found in his heart to take her in his arms,
and warm her there.

"What was that about a codicil?" she suddenly asked him. "When my aunt
wrote to me upon Mr. Verner's death, she said that a codicil had been
lost: or that, otherwise, the estate would have been yours."

Lionel explained it to her, concealing nothing.

"Then--if that codicil had been forthcoming, Frederick's share would
have been but five hundred pounds?"

"That is all."

"It was very little to leave him," she musingly rejoined.

"And still less to leave me, considering my nearer relationship--my
nearer claims. When the codicil could not be found, the will had to be
acted upon: and five hundred pounds was all the sum it gave me."

"Has the codicil never been found?"

"Never."

"How very strange! What became of it, do you think?"

"I wish I could think what," replied Lionel. "Although Verner's Pride
has come to me without it, it would be satisfactory to solve the
mystery."

Sibylla looked round cautiously, and sunk her voice. "Could Tynn or his
wife have done anything with it? You say they were present when it was
signed."

"Most decidedly they did not. Both of them were anxious that I should
succeed."

"It is so strange! To lock a paper up in a desk, and for it to disappear
of its own accord! The moths could not have got in and eaten it?"

"Scarcely," smiled Lionel. "The day before your aunt died, she----"

"Don't talk of that," interrupted Mrs. Massingbird. "I will hear about
her death to-morrow. I shall be ill if I cry much to-night."

She sank into silence, and Lionel did not interrupt it. It continued,
until his quick ears caught the sound of the groom's return. The man
rode his horse round to the stables at once. Presently Tynn came in with
a note. It was from Lady Verner. A few lines, written hastily with a
pencil:--

"I do not understand your request, Lionel, or why you make it. Whatever
may be my opinion of Frederick Massingbird's widow, I will not insult
her sense of propriety by supposing that she would attempt to remain at
Verner's Pride now her aunt is dead. It is absurd of you to ask me to
come; neither shall I send Decima. Were I and Decima residing with you,
it would not be the place for Sibylla Massingbird. She has her own home
to go to."

There was no signature. Lionel knew his mother's handwriting too well to
require the addition. It was just the note that he might have expected
her to write.

What was he to do? In the midst of his ruminations, Sibylla rose.

"I am warm now," she said. "I should like to go upstairs and take this
heavy shawl off."

Lionel rang the bell for Mrs. Tynn. And Sibylla left the room with her.

"I'll get her sisters here!" he suddenly exclaimed, the thought of them
darting into his mind. "They will be the proper persons to explain to
her the inexpediency of her remaining here. Poor girl! she is unable to
think of it in her fatigue and grief."

He did not give it a second thought, but snatched his hat, and went down
himself to Dr. West's with strides as long as Jan's. Entering the
general sitting-room without ceremony, his eyes fell upon a supper-table
and Master Cheese; the latter regaling himself upon apple-puffs to his
heart's content.

"Where are the Misses West?" asked Lionel.

"Gone to a party," responded the young gentleman, as soon as he could
get his mouth sufficiently empty to speak.

"Where to?"

"To Heartburg, sir. It's a ball at old Thingumtight's, the doctor's.
They are gone off in gray gauze, with, branches of white flowers hanging
to their curls, and they call that mourning. The fly is to bring them
back at two in the morning. They left these apple-puffs for me and Jan.
Jan said he should not want any; he'd eat meat; so I have got his share
and mine!"

And Master Cheese appeared to be enjoying the shares excessively. Lionel
left him to it, and went thoughtfully back to Verner's Pride.



CHAPTER XXXVI.

A MOMENT OF DELIRIUM.


The dining-room looked a picture of comfort, and Lionel thought so as he
entered. A blaze of light and warmth burst upon him. A well-spread
tea-table was there, with cold meat, game and else, at one end of it.
Standing before the fire, her young, slender form habited in its black
robes, was Sibylla. No one, looking at her, would have believed her to
be a widow; partly from her youth, partly that she did not wear the
widow's dress. Her head was uncovered, and her fair curls fell, shading
her brilliant cheeks. It has been mentioned that her chief beauty lay in
her complexion: seen by candle-light, flushed as she was now, she was
inexpressibly beautiful. A dangerous hour, a perilous situation for the
yet unhealed heart of Lionel Verner.

The bright flush was the result of excitement, of some degree of inward
fever. Let us allow that it was a trying time for her. She had arrived
to find Mrs. Verner dead, her father absent; she had arrived to find
that no provision had been made for her by Mr. Verner's will, as the
widow of Frederick Massingbird. Frederick's having succeeded to the
inheritance debarred her even of the five hundred pounds. It is true
there would be the rents, received for the short time it had been his.
There was no doubt that Sibylla, throughout the long voyage, had
cherished the prospect of finding a home at Verner's Pride. If her
husband had lived, it would have been wholly hers; she appeared still to
possess a right in it; and she never gave a thought to the possibility
that her aunt would not welcome her to it. Whether she cast a reflection
to Lionel Verner in the matter, she best knew: had she reflected
properly, she might have surmised that Lionel would be living at it, its
master. But, the voyage ended, the home gained, what did she find? That
Mrs. Verner was no longer at Verner's Pride, to press the kiss of
welcome upon her lips; a few feet of earth was all her home now.

It was a terrible disappointment. There could be no doubt of that. And
another disappointment was, to find Dr. West away. Sibylla's sisters had
been at times over-strict with her, much as they loved her, and the
vision of returning to her old home, to them, was one of bitterness. So
bitter, in fact, that she would not glance at its possibility.

Fatigued, low-spirited, feverishly perplexed, Sibylla did not know what
she could do. She was not in a state that night to give much care to the
future. All she hoped was, to stay in that haven until something else
could be arranged for her. Let us give her her due. Somewhat careless,
naturally, of the punctilios of life, it never occurred to her that it
might not be the precise thing for her to remain, young as she was, the
sole guest of Lionel Verner. Her voyage out, her residence in that very
unconventional place, Melbourne, the waves and storms which had gone
over her there in more ways than one, the voyage back again alone, all
had tended to give Sibylla Massingbird an independence of thought; a
contempt for the rules and regulations, the little points of etiquette
obtaining in civilised society. She really thought no more harm of
staying at Verner's Pride with Lionel, than she would have thought it
had old Mr. Verner been its master. The eyelashes, resting on her hot
cheeks, were wet, as she turned round when Lionel entered.

"Have you taken anything, Mrs. Massingbird?"

"No."

"But you should have done so," he remonstrated, his tone one of the most
considerate kindness.

"I did not observe that tea waited," she replied, the covered table
catching her eye for the first time. "I have been thinking."

He placed a chair for her before the tea-tray, and she sat down. "Am I
to preside?" she asked.

"If you will. If you are not too tired."

"Who makes tea for you in general?" she continued.

"They send it in, made."

Sibylla busied herself with the tea, in a languid sort of manner. In
vain Lionel pressed her to eat. She could touch nothing. She took a
piece of rolled bread-and-butter, but left it.

"You must have dined on the road, Mrs. Massingbird?" he said, with a
smile.

"I? I have not taken anything all day. I kept thinking 'I shall get to
Verner's Pride in time for my aunt's dinner.' But the train arrived
later than I anticipated; and when I got here she was gone."

Sibylla bent her head, as if playing with her teaspoon. Lionel detected
the dropping tears.

"Did you wonder where I was going just now, when I went out?"

"I did not know you had been out," replied Sibylla.

"I went to your sisters'. I thought it would be better for them to come
here. Unfortunately, I found them gone out; and young Cheese says they
will not be home until two in the morning."

"Why, where can they be gone?" cried Sibylla, aroused to interest. It
was so unusual for the Misses West to be out late.

"To some gathering at Heartburg. Cheese was eating apple-puffs with
unlimited satisfaction."

The connection of apple-puffs with Master Cheese called up a faint smile
into Sibylla's face. She pushed her chair away from the table, turning
it towards the fire.

"But you surely have not finished, Mrs. Massingbird?"

"Yes, thank you. I have drunk my tea. I cannot eat anything."

Lionel rang, and the things were removed. Sibylla was standing before
the mantel-piece when they were left alone, unconsciously looking at
herself in the glass. Lionel stood near her.

"I have not got a widow's cap," she exclaimed, turning to him, the
thought appearing suddenly to strike her. "I had two or three curious
things made, that they called widows' caps in Melbourne, but they were
spoiled on the voyage."

"You have seen some trouble since you went out," Lionel observed.

"Yes, I have. It was an ill-starred voyage. It has been ill-starred from
the beginning to the end; all of it together."

"The voyage has, you mean?"

"I mean more than the voyage," she replied. But her tone did not invite
further question.

"Did you succeed in getting particulars of the fate of John?"

"No. Captain Cannonby promised to make inquiries, but we had not heard
from him before I came away. I wish we could have found Luke Roy."

"Did you not find him?"

"We heard of him from the Eyres--the friends I was staying with. It was
so singular," she continued, with some animation in her tone. "Luke Roy
came to Melbourne after John was killed, and fell in with the Eyres. He
told them about John, little thinking that I and Frederick should meet
the Eyres afterwards. John died from a shot."

"From a shot!" involuntarily exclaimed Lionel.

"He and Luke were coming down to Melbourne from--where was it?--the
Bendigo Diggings, I think; but I heard so much of the different names,
that I am apt to confound one with another. John had a great deal of
gold on him, in a belt round his waist, and Luke supposes that it got
known. John was attacked as they were sleeping by night in the open air,
beaten, and shot. It was the shot that killed him."

"Poor fellow!" exclaimed Lionel, his eyes fixed on vacancy, mentally
beholding John Massingbird. "And they robbed him!"

"They had robbed him of all. Not a particle of gold was left upon him.
And the report sent home by Luke, that the gold and men were taken,
proved to be a mistaken one. Luke came on afterwards to Melbourne, and
tried to discover the men; but he could not. It was this striving at
discovery which brought him in contact with Mr. Eyre. After we reached
Melbourne and I became acquainted with the Eyres, they did all they
could to find out Luke, but they were unsuccessful."

"What had become of him?"

"They could not think. The last time Mr. Eyre saw him, Luke said he
thought he had obtained a clue to the men who killed John. He promised
to go back the following day and tell Mr. Eyre more about it. But he did
not. And they never saw him afterwards. Mrs. Eyre used to say to me that
she sincerely trusted no harm had come to Luke."

"Harm in what way?" asked Lionel.

"She thought--but she would say that it was a foolish thought--if Luke
should have found the men, and been imprudent enough to allow them to
know that he recognised them, they might have worked him some ill.
Perhaps killed him."

Sibylla spoke the last words in a low tone. She was standing very still;
her hands lightly resting before her, one upon another. How Lionel's
heart was beating as he gazed on her, he alone knew. She was once again
the Sibylla of past days. He forgot that she was the widow of another;
that she had left him for that other of her own free will. All his past
resentment faded in that moment: nothing was present to him but his
love; and Sibylla with her fascinating beauty.

"You are thinner than when you left home," he remarked.

"I grew thin with vexation; with grief. He ought not to have taken me."

The concluding sentence was spoken in a strangely resentful tone. It
surprised Lionel. "Who ought not to have taken you?--taken you where?"
he asked, really not understanding her.

"He. Frederick Massingbird. He might have known what a place that
Melbourne was. It was not fit for a lady. We had lodgings in a wooden
house, near a spot that had used to be called Canvas Town. The place was
crowded with people."

"But surely there are decent hotels at Melbourne?"

"All I know is he did not take me to one. He inquired at one or two, but
they were full; and then somebody recommended him to get a lodging. It
was not right. He might have gone to it himself, but he had me with him.
He lost his desk, you know."

"I heard that he did," replied Lionel.

"And I suppose that frightened him. Everything was in the desk--money
and letters of credit. He had a few bank-notes, only, left in his
pocket-book. It never was recovered. I owe my passage-money home, and I
believe Captain Cannonby supplied him with some funds--which of course
ought to be repaid. He took to drinking brandy," she continued.

"I am much surprised to hear it."

"Some fever came on. I don't know whether he caught it, or whether it
came to him naturally. It was a sort of intermittent fever. At times he
was very low with it, and then it was that he would drink the brandy.
Only fancy what my position was!" she added, her face and voice alike
full of pain. "He, not always himself; and I, out there in that wretched
place, alone. I went down on my knees to him one day, and begged him to
send me back to England."

"Sibylla!"

He was unconscious that he called her by the familiar name. He was
wishing he could have shielded her from all this. Painful as the
retrospect might be to her, the recital was far more painful to him.

"After that, we met Captain Cannonby. I did not much like him, but he
was kind to us. He got us to change to an hotel--made them find room for
us--and then introduced me to the Eyres. Afterwards, he and Fred started
from Melbourne, and I went to stay at the Eyres."

Lionel did not interrupt her. She had made a pause, her eyes fixed on
the fire.

"A day or two, and Captain Cannonby came back, and said that my husband
was dead. I was not very much surprised. I thought he would not live
when he left me: he had death written in his face. And so I am alone in
the world."

She raised her large blue eyes, swimming in tears, to Lionel. It
completely disarmed him. He forgot all his prudence, all his caution; he
forgot things that it was incumbent upon him to remember; and, as many
another has done before him, older and wiser than Lionel Verner, he
suffered a moment's impassioned impulse to fix the destiny of a life.

"Not alone from henceforth, Sibylla," he murmured, bending towards her
in agitation, his lips apart, his breath coming fast and loud, his
cheeks scarlet. "Let me be your protector. I love you more fondly than I
have ever done."

She was entirely unprepared for the avowal. It may be that she did not
know what to make of it--how to understand it. She stepped back, her
eyes strained on him inquiringly, her face turning to pallor. Lionel
threw his arms around her, drew her to him, and sheltered her on his
breast, as if he would ward off ill from her for ever.

"Be my wife," he fondly cried, his voice trembling with its own
tenderness. "My darling, let this home be yours! Nothing shall part us
more."

She burst into tears, raised herself, and looked at him. "You cannot
mean it! After behaving to you as I did, can you love me still?"

"I love you far better than ever," he answered, his voice becoming
hoarse with emotion. "I have been striving to forget you ever since that
cruel time; and not until to-night did I know how utterly futile has
been the strife. You will let me love you! you will help me to blot out
its remembrance!"

She drew a long, deep sigh, like one who is relieved from some wearing
pain, and laid her head down again as he had placed it. "I can love you
better than I loved him," she breathed, in a low whisper.

"Sibylla, why did you leave me? Why did you marry him?"

"Oh, Lionel, don't reproach me!--don't reproach me!" she answered,
bursting into tears. "Papa made me. He did, indeed."

"_He_ made you! Dr. West?"

"I liked Frederick a little. Yes, I did; I will not deny it. And oh, how
he loved me! All the while, Lionel, that you hovered near me--never
speaking, never saying that you loved--he told me of it incessantly."

"Stay, Sibylla. You could not have mistaken me."

"True. Yours was silent love; his was urgent. When it came to the
decision, and he asked me to marry him, and to go out to Australia, then
papa interfered. He suspected that I cared for you--that you cared for
me; and he--he--"

Sibylla stopped and hesitated.

"Must I tell you all?" she asked. "Will you never, never repeat it to
papa, or reproach him? Will you let it remain a secret between us?"

"I will, Sibylla. I will never speak upon the point to Dr. West."

"Papa said that I must choose Frederick Massingbird. He told me that
Verner's Pride was left to Frederick, and he ordered me to marry him. He
did not say how he knew, it--how he heard it; he only said that it was
so. He affirmed that you were cut off with nothing, or next to nothing;
that you would not be able to take a wife for years--perhaps never. And
I weakly yielded."

A strangely stern expression had darkened Lionel's face. Sibylla saw it,
and wrung her hands.

"Oh, don't blame me!--don't blame me more than you can help! I know how
weak, how wrong it was; but you cannot tell how entirely obedient we
have always been to papa."

"Dr. West became accidentally acquainted with the fact that the property
was left away from me," returned Lionel, in a tone of scorn he could not
entirely suppress. "He made good use, it seems, of his knowledge."

"Do not blame _me!_" she reiterated. "It was not my fault."

"I do not blame you, my dearest."

"I have been rightly served," she said, the tears streaming down. "I
married him, pressed to it by my father, that I might share in Verner's
Pride; and, before the news came out that Verner's Pride was ours, he
was dead. It had lapsed to you, whom I rejected! Lionel, I never
supposed that you would cast another thought to me; but, many a time
have I felt that I should like to kneel and ask your forgiveness."

He bent his head, fondly kissing her. "We will forget it together,
Sibylla."

A sudden thought appeared to strike her, called forth, no doubt, by this
new state of things, and her face turned crimson as she looked at
Lionel.

"Ought I to remain here now?"

"You cannot well do anything else, as it is so late," he answered.
"Allow Verner's Pride to afford you an asylum for the present, until you
can make arrangements to remove to some temporary home. Mrs. Tynn will
make you comfortable. I shall be, during the time, my mother's guest."

"What is the time now?" asked Sibylla.

"Nearly ten; and I dare say you are tired. I will not be selfish enough
to keep you up," he added, preparing to depart. "Good-night, my
dearest."

She burst into fresh tears, and clung to his hand. "I shall be thinking
it must be a dream as soon as you leave me. You will be sure to come
back and see me to-morrow?"

"Come back--ay!" he said, with a smile; "Verner's Pride never contained
the magnet for me that it contains now."

He gave a few brief orders to Mrs. Tynn and to his own servant, and
quitted the house. Neither afraid of ghosts nor thieves, he took the
field way, the road which led by the Willow Pond. It was a fine, cold
night, his mind was unsettled, his blood was heated, and the lonely
route appeared to him preferable to the one through the village.

As he passed the Willow Pond with a quick step, he caught a glimpse of
some figure bending over it, as if it were looking for something in the
water, or else about to take a leap in. Remembering the fate of Rachel,
and not wishing to have a second catastrophe of the same nature happen
on his estate, Lionel strode towards the figure and caught it by the
arm. The head was flung upwards at the touch, and Lionel recognised
Robin Frost.

[Illustration: "He caught a glimpse of a figure bending over it."]

"Robin! what do you do here?" he questioned, his tone somewhat severe in
spite of its kindness.

"No harm," answered the man. "There be times, Mr. Lionel, when I am
forced to come. If I am in my bed, and the thought comes over me that I
may see her if I only stay long enough upon the brink of this here
water, which was her ending, I'm obliged to get up and come here. There
be nights, sir, when I have stood here from sunset to sunrise."

"But you never have seen her, Robin?" returned Lionel, humouring his
grief.

"No; never. But it's no reason why I never may. Folks say there be some
of the dead that comes again, sir--not all."

"And if you did see her, what end would it answer?"

"She'd tell me who the wicked one was that put her into it," returned
Robin, in a low whisper; and there was something so wild in the man's
tone as to make Lionel doubt his perfect sanity. "Many a time do I hear
her voice a-calling to me. It comes at all hours, abroad and at home; in
the full sunshine, and in the dark night. 'Robin!' it says, 'Robin!' But
it never says nothing more."

Lionel laid his hand on the man's shoulder, and drew him with him. "I am
going your way, Robin; let us walk together."

Robin made no resistance; he went along with his head down.

"I heard a word said to-night, sir, as Miss Sibylla had come back," he
resumed, more calmly; "Mrs. Massingbird, that is. Somebody said they saw
her at the station. Have you seen her, sir?"

"Yes; I have," replied Lionel.

"Does she say anything about John Massingbird?" continued the man, with
feverish eagerness. "Is he dead? or is he alive?"

"He is dead, Robin. There has never been a doubt upon the point since
the news first came. He died by violence."

"Then he got his deserts," returned Robin, lifting his hand in the air,
as he had done once before when speaking upon the same subject. "And
Luke Roy, sir? Is he coming? I'm a-waiting for him."

"Of Luke, Mrs. Massingbird knows nothing. For myself, I think he is sure
to come home, sooner or later."

"Heaven send him!" aspirated Robin.

Lionel saw the man turn to his home, and very soon afterwards he was at
his mother's. Lady Verner had retired for the night. Decima and Lucy
were about retiring. They had risen from their seats, and Decima--who
was too cautious to trust it to servants--was taking the fire off the
grate. They looked inexpressibly surprised at the entrance of Lionel.

"I have come an a visit, Decima," began he, speaking in a gay tone. "Can
you take me in?"

She did not understand him, and Lionel saw by the questioning expression
of her face that Lady Verner had not made public the contents of his
note to her; he saw that they were ignorant of the return of Sibylla.
The fact that they were so seemed to rush over his spirit as a
refreshing dew. Why it should do so, he did not seek to analyse; and he
was all too self-conscious that he dared not.

"A friend has come unexpectedly on a visit, and taken possession of
Verner's Pride," he pursued. "I have lent it for a time."

"Lent it all?" exclaimed the wondering Decima.

"Lent it all. You will make room for me, won't you?"

"To be sure," said Decima, puzzled more than she could express. "But was
there no room left for you?"

"No," answered Lionel.

"What very unconscionable people they must be, to invade you in such
numbers as that! You can have your old chamber, Lionel. But I will just
go and speak to Catherine."

She hastened from the room. Lionel stood before the fire, positively
turning his back upon Lucy Tempest. Was his conscience already smiting
him? Lucy, who had stood by the table, her bed candle in her hand,
stepped forward and held out the other hand to Lionel.

"May I wish you good-night?" she said.

"Good-night," he answered, shaking her hand. "How is your cold?"

"Oh! it is so much better!" she replied, with animation. "All the
threatened soreness of the chest is gone. I shall be well by to-morrow.
Lady Verner said I ought to have gone to bed early, but I felt too well.
I knew Jan's advice would be good."

She left him, and Lionel leaned his elbow on the mantel-piece, his brow
contracting as does that of one in unpleasant thought. Was he recalling
the mode in which he had taken leave of Lucy earlier in the day?



CHAPTER XXXVII.

NEWS FOR LADY VERNER: AND FOR LUCY.


If he did not recall it then, he recalled it later, when he was upon his
bed, turning and tossing from side to side. His conscience was smiting
him--smiting him from more points than one. Carried away by the impulse
of the moment, he had spoken words that night, in his hot passion, which
might not be redeemed; and now that the leisure for reflection was come,
he could not conceal from himself that he had been too hasty. Lionel
Verner was one who possessed excessive conscientiousness; even as a boy,
had impetuosity led him into a fault--as it often did--his silent,
inward repentance would be always keenly real, more so than the case
deserved. It was so now. He loved Sibylla--there had been no mistake
there; but it is certain that the unexpected delight of meeting her, her
presence palpably before him in all its beauty, her manifested sorrow
and grief, her lonely, unprotected position, had all worked their effect
upon his heart and mind, had imparted to his love a false intensity.
However the agitation of the moment may have caused him to fancy it, he
did _not_ love Sibylla as he had loved her of old; else why should the
image of Lucy Tempest present itself to him surrounded by a halo of
regret? The point is as unpleasant for us to touch upon, as it was to
Lionel to think of: but the fact was all too palpable, and cannot be
suppressed. He did love Sibylla: nevertheless there obtruded the
unwelcome reflection that, in asking her to be his wife, he had been
hasty; that it had been better had he taken time for consideration. He
almost doubted whether Lucy would not have been more acceptable to him;
not loved _yet_ so much as Sibylla, but better suited to him in all
other ways; worse than this, he doubted whether he had not in honour
bound himself tacitly to Lucy that very day.

The fit of repentance was upon him, and he tossed and turned from side
to side upon his uneasy bed. But, toss and turn as he would, he could
not undo his night's work. There remained nothing for him but to carry
it out, and make the best of it; and he strove to deceive his conscience
with the hope that Lucy Tempest, in her girlish innocence, had not
understood his hinted allusions to her becoming his wife; that she had
looked upon his snatched caresses as but trifling pastime, such as he
might offer to a child. Most unjustifiable he now felt those hints,
those acts to have been, and his brow grew red with shame at their
recollection. One thing he did hope, hope sincerely--that Lucy did not
care for him. That she liked him very much, and had been on most
confidential terms with him, he knew; but he did hope her liking went no
deeper. Strange sophistry! how it will deceive the human heart! how
prone we are to admit it! Lionel was honest enough in his hope now: but,
not many hours before, he had been hugging his heart with the delusion
that Lucy did love him.

Towards morning he dropped into an uneasy sleep. He awoke later than his
usual hour from a dream of Frederick Massingbird. Dreams play us strange
fantasies. Lionel's had taken him to that past evening, prior to
Frederick Massingbird's marriage, when he had sought him in his chamber,
to offer a word of warning against the union. He seemed to be living the
interview over again, and the first words when he awoke, rushing over
his brain with minute and unpleasant reality, were those he had himself
spoken in reference to Sibylla:--"Were she free as air this moment, were
she to come to my feet, and say 'Let me be your wife,' I should tell her
that the whole world was before her to choose from, save myself. She can
never again be anything to me."

Brave words: fully believed in when they were spoken: but what did
Lionel think of them now?

He went down to breakfast. He was rather late, and found they had
assembled. Lady Verner, who had just heard for the first time of
Lionel's presence in the house, made no secret now of Lionel's note to
her. Therefore Decima and Lucy knew that the "invasion" of Verner's
Pride had been caused by Mrs. Massingbird.

She--Lady Verner--scarcely gave herself time to greet Lionel before she
commenced upon it. She did not conceal, or seek to conceal, her
sentiments--either of Sibylla herself, or of the step she had taken. And
Lionel had the pleasure of hearing his intended bride alluded to in a
manner that was not altogether complimentary.

He could not stop it. He could not take upon himself the defence of
Sibylla, and say, "Do you know that you are speaking of my future wife?"
No, for Lucy Tempest was there. Not in her presence had he the courage
to bring home to himself his own dishonour: to avow that, after wooing
her (it was very like it), he had turned round and asked another to
marry him. The morning sun shone into the room upon the snowy cloth,
upon the silver breakfast service, upon the exquisite cups of painted
porcelain, upon those seated round the table. Decima sat opposite to
Lady Verner, Lionel and Lucy were face to face on either side. The walls
exhibited a few choice paintings; the room and its appurtenances were in
excellent taste. Lady Verner liked things that pleased the eye. That
silver service had been a recent present of Lionel's, who had delighted
in showering elegancies and comforts upon his mother since his
accession.

"What could have induced her ever to think of taking up her residence at
Verner's Pride on her return?" reiterated Lady Verner to Lionel.

"She believed she was coming to her aunt. It was only at the station,
here, that she learned Mrs. Verner was dead."

"She did learn it there?"

"Yes. She learned it there."

"And she could come to Verner's Pride _after_ that? knowing that you,
and you alone, were its master?"

Lionel toyed with his coffee-cup. He wished his mother would spare her
remarks.

"She was so fatigued, so low-spirited, that I believed she was scarcely
conscious where she drove," he returned. "I am certain that the idea of
there being any impropriety in it never once crossed her mind."

Lady Verner drew her shawl around her with a peculiar movement. If ever
action expressed scorn, that one did--scorn of Sibylla, scorn of her
conduct, scorn of Lionel's credulity in believing in her. Lionel read it
all. Happening to glance across the table, he caught the eyes of Lucy
Tempest fixed upon him with an open expression of wonder. Wonder at
what? At his believing in Sibylla? It might be. With all Lucy's
straightforward plainness, she would have been one of the last to storm
Lionel's abode, and take refuge in it. A retort, defending Sibylla, had
been upon Lionel's tongue, but that gaze stopped it.

"How long does she purpose honouring Verner's Pride with her presence,
and keeping you out of it?" resumed Lady Verner.

"I do not know what her plans for the present may be," he answered, his
cheeks burning at the thought of the avowal he had to make--that her
future plans would be contingent upon his. Not the least painful of the
results which Lionel's haste had brought in its train, was the knowledge
of the shock it would prove to his mother, whom he so loved and
reverenced. Why had he not thought of it at the time?

Breakfast over, Lionel went out, a very coward. A coward, in so far as
that he had shrunk from making yet the confession. He was aware that it
ought to be done. The presence of Decima and Lucy Tempest had been his
mental excuse for putting off the unwelcome task.

But a better frame of mind came over him ere he had gone many paces from
the door; better, at any rate, as regarded the cowardice.

"A Verner never shrank yet from his duty," was his comment, as he bent
his steps back again. "Am I turning renegade?"

He went straight up to Lady Verner, and asked her, in a low tone, to
grant him a minute's private interview. They had breakfasted in the room
which made the ante-room to the drawing-room; it was their usual
morning-room. Lady Verner answered her son by stepping into the
drawing-room.

He followed her and closed the door. The fire was but just lighted,
scarcely giving out any heat. She slightly shivered, and requested him
to stir it. He did so mechanically--wholly absorbed by the revelation he
had to impart. He remembered how she had once fainted at nearly the same
revelation.

"Mother, I have a communication to make to you," he began with desperate
energy, "and I don't know how to do it. It will pain you greatly.
Nothing that I can think of, or imagine, would cause you so much pain."

Lady Verner seated herself in her low violet-velvet chair, and looked
composedly at Lionel. She did not dread the communication very much. He
was secure in Verner's Pride; what could there be that she need fear?
She no more cast a glance to the possibility of his marrying the widow
of Frederick Massingbird, than she would have done to his marrying that
gentleman's wife. Buried in this semi-security, the shock must be all
the greater.

"I am about to marry," said Lionel, plunging into the news headlong.
"And I fear that you will not approve my choice. Nay, I know you will
not."

A foreshadowing of the truth came across her then. She grew deadly pale,
and put up her hands, as if to ward off the blow. "Oh, Lionel! don't say
it! don't say it!" she implored. "I never can receive her."

"Yes, you will, mother," he whispered, his own face pale too, his tone
one of painful entreaty. "You will receive her for my sake."

"Is it--_she_?"

The aversion with which the name was avoided was unmistakable. Lionel
only nodded a grave affirmative.

"Have you engaged yourself to her?"

"I have. Last night."

"Were you mad?" she asked in a whisper.

"Stay, mother. When you were speaking against Sibylla at breakfast, I
refrained from interference, for you did not then know that defence of
her was my duty. Will you forgive me for reminding you that I cannot
permit it to be continued, even by you?"

"But do you forget that it is not a respectable alliance for you?"
resumed Lady Verner. "No, not a respectable--"

"I cannot listen to this; I pray you cease!" he broke forth, a blaze of
anger lighting his face. "Have you forgotten of whom you are speaking,
mother? Not respectable!"

"I say that it is not a respectable alliance for you--Lionel Verner,"
she persisted. "An obscure surgeon's daughter, he of not too good
repute, who has been out to the end of the world, and found her way back
alone, a widow, is _not_ a desirable alliance for a Verner. It would not
be desirable for Jan; it is terrible for you?"

"We shall not agree upon this," said Lionel, preparing to take his
departure. "I have acquainted you, mother, and I have no more to say,
except to urge--if I may do so--that you will learn to speak of Sibylla
with courtesy, remembering that she will shortly be my wife."

Lady Verner caught his hand as he was retreating.

"Lionel, my son, tell me how you came to do it," she wailed. "You cannot
_love_ her! the wife, the widow of another man! It must have been the
work of a moment of folly. Perhaps she drew you into it!"

The suggestion, "the work of a moment of folly," was so very close a
representation of what it had been, of what Lionel was beginning to see
it to have been now, that the rest of the speech was lost to him in the
echo of that one sentence. Somehow, he did not care to refute it.

"She will be my wife, respected and honoured," was all he answered, as
he quitted the room.

Lady Verner followed him. He went straight out, and she saw him walk
hastily across the courtyard, putting on his hat as he traversed it. She
wrung her hands, and broke into a storm of wailing despair, ignoring the
presence of Decima and Lucy Tempest.

"I had far rather that she had stabbed him!"

The words excited their amazement. They turned to Lady Verner, and were
struck with the marks of agitation on her countenance.

"Mamma, what are you speaking of?" asked Decima.

Lady Verner pointed to Lionel, who was then passing through the front
gates. "I speak _of him_," she answered: "my darling; my pride; my
much-loved son. That woman has worked his ruin."

Decima verily thought her mother must be wandering in her intellect.
Lucy could only gaze at Lady Verner in consternation.

"What woman?" repeated Decima.

"_She_. She who has been Lionel's bane. She who came and thrust herself
into his home last night in her unseemly conduct. What passed between
them Heaven knows; but she has contrived to cajole him out of a promise
to marry her."

Decima's pale cheek turned to a burning red. She was afraid to ask
questions.

"Oh, mamma! it cannot be!" was all she uttered.

"It _is_, Decima. I told Lionel that he could not love _her_, who had
been the wife of another man; and he did not refute it. I told him she
must have drawn him into it; and that he left unanswered. He replied
that she would be his wife, and must be honoured as such. Drawn in to
marry her! one who is so utterly unworthy of him! whom he does not even
love! Oh, Lionel, my son, my son!"

In their own grievous sorrow they noticed not the face of Lucy Tempest,
or what they might have read there.



CHAPTER XXXVIII.

THE MISSES WEST EN PAPILLOTES.


Lionel went direct to the house of Dr. West. It was early; and the
Misses West, fatigued with their night's pleasure, had risen in a
scuffle, barely getting down at the breakfast hour. Jan was in the
country attending on a patient, and, not anticipating the advent of
visitors, they had honoured Master Cheese with hair _en papillotes_.
Master Cheese had divided his breakfast hour between eating and staring.
The meal had been some time over, and the young gentleman had retired,
but the ladies sat over the fire in unusual idleness, discussing the
dissipation they had participated in. A scream from the two arose upon
the entrance of Lionel, and Miss Amilly flung her pocket-handkerchief
over her head.

"Never mind," said Lionel, laughing good-naturedly; "I have seen
curl-papers before, in my life. Your sitting here quietly, tells me that
you do not know what has occurred."

"What _has_ occurred?" interrupted Deborah, before he could continue.
"It--it"--her voice grew suddenly timid--"is nothing bad about papa?"

"No, no. Your sister has arrived from Australia. In this place of
gossip, I wonder the news has not travelled to Jan or to Cheese."

They had started up, poor things, their faces flushed, their eyelashes
glistening, forgetting the little episode of the mortified vanity, eager
to embrace Sibylla.

"Come back from Australia!" uttered Deborah in wild astonishment. "Then
where is she, that she is not here, in her own home?"

"She came to mine," replied Lionel. "She supposed Mrs. Verner to be its
mistress still. I made my way here last night to ask you to come up, and
found you were gone to Heartburg."

"But--she--is not remaining at it?" exclaimed Deborah, speaking with
hesitation, in her doubt, the flush on her face deepening.

"I placed it at her disposal until other arrangements could be made,"
replied Lionel. "I am at present the guest of Lady Verner. You will go
to Sibylla, will you not?"

Go to her? Ay! They tore the curl-papers out of their hair, and flung on
bonnets and shawls, and hastened to Verner's Pride.

"Say that I will call upon her in the course of the morning, and see how
she is after her journey," said Lionel.

In hurrying out, they encountered Jan. Deborah stopped to say a word
about his breakfast: it was ready, she said, and she thought he must
want it.

"I do," responded Jan. "I shall have to get an assistant, after all,
Miss Deb. I find it doesn't answer to go quite without meals and sleep;
and that's what I have done lately."

"So you have, Mr. Jan. I say every day to Amilly that it can't go on,
for you to be walked off your legs in this way. Have you heard the
cheering news, Mr. Jan? Sibylla's come home. We are going to her now, at
Verner's Pride?"

"I have heard it," responded Jan. "What took her to Verner's Pride?"

"We have yet to learn all that. You know, Mr. Jan, she never was given
to consider a step much, before she took it."

They tripped away, and Jan, in turning from them, met his brother. Jan
was one utterly incapable of finesse: if he wanted to say a thing, he
said it out plainly. What havoc Jan would have made, enrolled in the
corps of diplomatists!

"I say, Lionel," began he, "is it true that you are going to marry
Sibylla West?"

Lionel did not like the plain question, so abruptly put. He answered
curtly--

"I am going to marry Sibylla Massingbird."

"The old name comes the readiest," said Jan. "How did it come about,
Lionel?"

"May I ask whence you derived your information, Jan?" returned Lionel,
who was marvelling where Jan could have heard this.

"At Deerham Court. I have been calling in, as I passed it, to see Miss
Lucy. The mother is going wild, I think. Lionel, if it is as she says,
that Sibylla drew you into it against your will, don't you carry it out.
_I_'d not. Nobody should hook me into anything."

"My mother said that, did she? Be so kind as not to repeat it, Jan. I
am marrying Sibylla because I love her; I am marrying her of my own free
will. If anybody--save my mother--has aught of objection to make to it,
let them make it to me."

"Oh! that's it, is it?" returned Jan. "You need not be up, Lionel, it is
no business of mine. I'm sure you are free to marry her for me. I'll be
groomsman, if you like."

"Lady Verner has always been prejudiced against Sibylla," observed
Lionel. "You might have remembered that, Jan."

"So I did," said Jan; "though I assumed that what she said was sure to
be true. You see, I have been on the wrong scent lately. I thought you
were getting fond of Lucy Tempest. It has looked like it."

Lionel murmured some unintelligible answer, and turned away, a hot flush
dyeing his brow.

Meanwhile Sibylla was already up, but not down. Breakfast she would have
carried up to her room, she told Mrs. Tynn. She stood at the window,
looking forth; not so much at the extensive prospect that swept the
horizon in the distance, as at the fair lands immediately around. "All
his," she murmured, "and I shall be his wife at last!"

She turned languidly round at the opening of the door, expecting to see
her breakfast. Instead of which, two frantic little bodies burst in and
seized upon her. Sibylla shrieked--

"Don't, Deb! don't, Amilly! Are you going to hug me to death?"

Their kisses of welcome over, they went round about her, fondly
surveying her from all points with their tearful eyes. She was thinner;
but she was more lovely. Amilly expressed an opinion that the bloom on
her delicate wax face was even brighter than of yore.

"Of course it is, at the present moment," answered Sibylla, "when you
have been kissing me into a fever."

"She is not tanned a bit with her voyage, that I see," cried Deborah,
with undisguised admiration. "But Sibylla's skin never did tan. Child,"
she added, bending towards her, and allowing her voice to become grave,
"how could you think of coming to Verner's Pride? It was not right. You
should have come home."

"I thought Mrs. Verner was living still."

"And if she had been?--This is Mr. Lionel's house now; not hers. You
ought to have come home, my dear. You will come home with us now, will
you not?"

"I suppose you'll allow me to have some breakfast first," was Sibylla's
answer. Secure in her future position, she was willing to go home to
them temporarily now. "Why is papa gone away, Deborah?"

"He will be coming back some time, dear," was Deborah's evasive answer,
spoken soothingly. "But tell us a little about yourself, Sibylla. When
poor Frederick--"

"Not this morning, Deborah," she interrupted, putting up her hand. "I
will tell you all another time. It was an unlucky voyage."

"Have you realised John's money that he left? That he lost, I should
rather say."

"I have realised nothing," replied Sibylla--"nothing but ill luck. We
never got tidings of John in any way, beyond the details of his death;
we never saw a particle of the gold belonging to him, or could hear of
it. And my husband lost his desk the day we landed--as I sent you word;
and I had no money out there, and I have only a few shillings in my
pocket."

This catalogue of ills nearly stunned Deborah and Amilly West. They had
none too much of life's great need, gold, for themselves; and the burden
of keeping Sibylla would be sensibly felt. A tolerably good table it was
indispensable to maintain, on account of Jan, and that choice eater,
Master Cheese; but how they had to pinch in the matter of dress, they
alone knew. Sibylla also knew, and she read arightly the drooping of
their faces.

"Never mind, Deborah; cheer up, Amilly. It is only for a time. Ere very
long I shall be leaving you again."

"Surely not for Australia!" returned Deborah, the hint startling her.

"Australia? Well, I am not sure that it will be _quite_ so far,"
answered Sibylla, in a little spirit of mischief. And, in the bright
prospect of the future, she forgot past and present grievances, turned
her laughing blue eyes upon her sisters, and, to their great scandal,
began to waltz round and round the room.



CHAPTER XXXIX.

BROTHER JARRUM.


By the light of a single tallow candle which flared aloft on a shelf in
Peckaby's shop, consecrated in more prosperous days to wares, but bare
now, a large collected assemblage was regarding each other with looks of
eager interest. There could not have been less than thirty present, all
crammed together in that little space of a few feet square. The first
comers had taken their seats on the counters; the others stood as they
could. Two or three men, just returned from their day's labour, were
there; but the crowd was chiefly composed of the weaker sex.

The attention of these people was concentrated on a little man who faced
them, leaning against the wall at the back of the shop, and holding
forth in a loud, persuasive tone. If you object to the term "holding
forth," you must blame Mrs. Duff; it is borrowed from her. She informed
us, you may remember, that the stranger who met, and appeared to avoid,
Lionel Verner, was no other than a "missionary from Jerusalem," taken
with an anxiety for the souls of Deerham, and about to do what he could
to convert them--"Brother Jarrum."

Brother Jarrum had entered upon his work, conjointly with his entry upon
Peckaby's spare bedroom. He held nightly meetings in Peckaby's shop, and
the news of his fame was spreading. Women of all ages flocked in to hear
him--you know how impressionable they have the character of being. A
sprinkling of men followed out of curiosity, of idleness, or from
propensity to ridicule. Had Brother Jarrum proved to be a real
missionary from Jerusalem--though, so far as my knowledge goes, such
messengers from that city are not common--genuinely desirous of
converting them from wrath to grace, I fear his audience would, after
the first night or two, have fallen off considerably. _This_ missionary,
however, contrived both to keep his audience and to increase it; his
promises partaking more of the mundane nature than do such promises in
general. In point of fact, Brother Jarrum was an Elder from a place that
he was pleased to term "New Jerusalem"; in other words, from the Salt
Lake city.

It has been the fate of certain spots of England, more so than of most
other parts of the European world, to be favoured by periodical visits
from these gentry. Deerham was now suffering under the infliction, and
Brother Jarrum was doing all that lay in his power to convert half its
female population into Mormon proselytes. His peculiar doctrines it is
of no consequence to transcribe; but some of his promises were so rich
that it is a pity you should lose the treat of hearing them. They
commenced with--husbands to all. Old or young, married or single, each
was safe to be made the wife of one of these favoured prophets the
instant she set foot in the new city. This, of course, was a very grand
thing for the women--as you may know if you have any experience of
them--especially for those who were getting on the shady side of forty,
and had not changed their name. They, the women, gathered together and
pressed into Peckaby's shop, and stared at Brother Jarrum with eager
eyes, and listened with strained ears, only looking off him to cast
admiring glances one to another.

"Stars and snakes!" said Brother Jarrum, whose style of oratory was more
peculiar than elegant, "what flounders me is, that the whole lot of you
Britishers don't migrate of yourselves to the desired city--the promised
land--the Zion on the mountains. You stop here to pinch and toil and
care, and quarrel one of another, and starve your children through
having nothing to give 'em, when you might go out there to ease, to
love, to peace, to plenty. It's a charming city; what else should it be
called the City of the Saints for? The houses have shady veranders round
'em, with sweet shrubs a-creeping up, and white posts and pillows to
lean against. The bigger a household is, the more rooms it have got; not
a lady there, if there was a hundred of 'em in family, but what's got
her own parlour and bedroom to herself, which no stranger thinks of
going in at without knocking for leaf. All round and about these houses
is productive gardens, trees and flowers for ornament, and fruits and
green stuff to eat. There's trees that they call cotton wood, and firs,
and locusts, and balsams, and poplars, and pines, and acacias, some of
'em in blossom. A family may live for nothing upon the produce of their
own ground. Vegetables is to be had for the cutting; their own cows
gives the milk--such milk and butter as this poor place, Deerham, never
saw--but the rich flavour's imparted to 'em from the fine quality of the
grass; and fruit you might feed upon till you got a surfeit. Grapes and
peaches is all a-hanging in clusters to the hand, only waiting to be
plucked! Stars! my mouth's watering now at the thoughts of 'em! I--"

"Please, sir, what did you say the name of the place was again?"
interrupted a female voice.

"New Jerusalem," replied Brother Jarrum. "It's in the territory of Utah.
On the maps and on the roads, and for them that have not awoke to the
new light, it's called the Great Salt Lake City; but for us favoured
saints, it's New Jerusalem. It's Zion--it's Paradise--it's anything
beautiful you may like to call it. There's a ballroom in it."

This abrupt wind-up rather took some of the audience aback. "A
ballroom!"

"A ballroom," gravely repeated Brother Jarrum. "A public ballroom not
far from a hundred feet long; and we have got a theatre for the acting
of plays; and we go for rides in winter in sleighs. Ah! did you think it
was with us, out there, as it is with you in the old country?--one's
days to be made up of labour, labour, labour; no interlude to it but
starvation and the crying of children as can't get nursed or fed! We
like amusement; and we have it; dancing in particular. Our great prophet
himself dances; and all the apostles and bishops dance. They dance
themselves down."

The assemblage sat with open eyes. New wonders were revealed to them
every moment. Some of the younger legs grew restless at the mental
vision conjured up.

"It's part of our faith to dance," continued Brother Jarrum. "Why
shouldn't we? Didn't David dance? Didn't Jephthah dance? Didn't the
prodigal son dance? You'll all dance on to the last if you come to us.
Such a thing as old legs is hardly known among us. As the favoured
climate makes the women's faces beautiful, so it keeps the limbs from
growing old. The ballroom is hung with green branches and flags; you
might think it was a scene of trees lit with lamps; and you'd never tire
of listening to the music, or of looking at the supper-table. If you
could only see the suppers given, in a picture to-night, it 'ud spoil
your sleep, and you'd not rest till you had started to partake of 'em.
Ducks and turkeys, and oysters, and fowls, and fish, and meats, and
custards, and pies, and potatoes, and greens, and jellies, and coffee,
and tea, and cake, and drinks, and so many more things that you'd be
tired only of hearing me say the names. There's abundance for all."

Some commotion amid Brother Jarrum's hearers, and a sound as of licking
of lips. That supper account was a great temptation. Had Brother Jarrum
started then, straight off for the Salt Lake, the probability is that
three-parts of the room would have formed a tail after him.

"What's the drinks?" inquired Jim Clark, the supper items imparting to
his inside a curious feeling of emptiness.

"There's no lack of drinks in the City of the Saints," returned Brother
Jarrum. "Whisky's plentiful. Have you heard of mint julep? That _is_
delicious. Mint is one of the few productions not common out there, and
we are learning to make the julep with sage instead. You should see the
plains of sage! It grows wild."

"And there's ducks, you say?" observed Susan Peckaby. "It's convenient
to have sage in plenty where there's ducks," added she to the assembly
in general. "What a land it must be!"

"A land that's not to be ekalled! A land flowing with milk and honey!"
rapturously echoed Brother Jarrum. "Ducks is in plenty, and sage grows
as thick as nettles do here; you can't go out to the open country but
you put your foot upon it. Nature's generally in accordance with
herself. What should she give all them bushes of wild sage for, unless
she gave ducks to match?"

A problem that appeared indisputable to the minds of Brother Jarrum's
listeners. They sincerely wished themselves in New Jerusalem.

"Through the streets runs a stream of sparkling water, clear as
crystal," continued Brother Jarrum. "You have only got to stoop down
with a can on a hot summer's day, and take a drink of it. It runs on
both sides the streets for convenience; folks step out of their houses,
and draw it up with no trouble. You have not got to toil half a mile to
a spring of fresh water there! You'd never forget the silver lake at the
base of Antelope Island, once you set eyes on it."

Several haggard eyes were lifted at this. "Do silver grow there, like
the sage?"

"I spoke metaphorical," explained Brother Jarrum. "Would I deceive you?
No. It's the Great Salt Lake, that shines out like burnished silver, and
bursts on the sight of the new pilgrims when they arrive in bands at
the holy city--the emigrants from this land."

"Some do arrive then, sir?" timidly questioned Dinah Roy.

"Some!" indignantly responded Brother Jarrum. "They are arriving
continual. The very evening before I left, a numerous company arrived.
It was just upon sunset. The clouds was all of rose colour, tipped with
purple and gold, and there lay the holy city at their feet, in the
lovely valley I told you of last night, with the lake of glittering
silver in the distance. It is a sight for 'em, I can tell you! The
regular-built houses, inclosed in their gardens and buildings, like farm
homesteads, and the inhabitants turning out with fiddles, to meet and
welcome the travellers. Some of the pilgrims fainted with joy; some
shouted; lots danced; and sobs and tears of delight burst from all. If
the journey had been a little fatiguing--what of that, with that
glorious scene at the end of it?"

"And you see this?" cried a man, Davies, in a somewhat doubtful tone.

"I see it with my two eyes," answered Brother Jarrum. "I often see it.
We had had news in the city that a train of new-comers was approaching,
mostly English, and we went out to meet 'em. Not one of us saints,
hardly, but was expecting some friend by it--a sister, or a father, or a
sweetheart, maybe; and away we hurried outside the city. Presently the
train came in sight."

"They have railroads there, then?" spoke a man, who was listening with
eager interest. It was decent, civil Grind.

"Not yet; we shall have 'em shortly," said Brother Jarrum. "The train
consisted of carts, carriages, vehicles of all sorts; and some rode
mules, and some were walking on their legs. They were all habited
nicely, and singing hymns. A short way afore they arrive at the holy
city, it's the custom for the emigrants to make a halt, and wash and
dress themselves, so as to enter proper. Such a meeting! the kissing and
the greeting drownding the noise of the music, and the old men and the
little children dancing. The prophet himself came out, and shook hands
with 'em all, his brass band blowing in front of him, and he standing up
in his carriage. Where else would you travel to, I'd like to know, and
find such a welcome at the end of your journey? Houses, and friends,
and plenty, all got ready aforehand; and gentlemen waiting to marry the
ladies that may wish to enter the holy state!"

"There _is_ a plenty?" questioned again that unbelieving man, Davies.

"There's such a plenty that the new arrivals are advised to eat, for a
week or two, only half their fill," returned Brother Jarrum--"of fruits
in partic'lar. Some, that have gone right in at the good things without
mercy, have been laid up through it, and had to fine themselves down
upon physic for a week after. No; it's best to be a little sparing at
the beginning."

"What did he say just now about all the Mormons being beautiful?"
questioned a pretty-looking girl of her neighbours. And Brother Jarrum
caught the words, although they were spoken in an undertone.

"And so they are," said he. "The climate's of a nature that softens the
faces, keeps folks in health, and stops 'em from growing old. If you see
two females in the street, one a saint's wife, the t'other a new
arrival, you can always tell which is which. The wife's got a slender
waist, like a lady, with a delicate colour in her face, and silky hair;
the new-comer's tanned, and fat, and freckled, and clumsy. If you don't
believe me, you can ask them as have been there. There's something in
the dress they wear, too, that sets 'em off. No female goes out without
a veil, which hangs down behind. They don't want to hide their pretty
faces, not they."

Mary Green, a damsel of twenty, she who had previously spoken, really
did possess a pretty face; and a rapturous vision came over her at this
juncture, of beholding it shaded and set off by a white lace veil, as
she had often seen Miss Decima Verner's.

"Now, I can't explain to you why it is that the women in the city should
be fair to the eye, or why the men don't seem to grow old," resumed
Brother Jarrum. "It is so, and that's enough. People, learned in such
things, might tell the cause; but I'm not learned in 'em. Some says it's
the effect of the New Jerusalem climate; some thinks it's the fruits of
the happy and plentiful life we lead: my opinion is, it's a mixture of
both. A man of sixty hardly looks forty, out there. It's a great
favour!"

One of the ill-doing Dawsons, who had pushed his way in at the shop door
in time to hear part of the lavished praise on New Jerusalem,
interrupted at this juncture.

"I say, master, if this is as you're a-telling us, how is it that folks
talk so again' the Mormons? I met a man in Heartburg once, who had been
out there, and he couldn't say bad enough of 'em."

"Snakes! but that's a natural question of yours, and I'm glad to answer
it," replied Brother Jarrum, with a taking air of candour. "Those evil
reports come from our enemies. There's another tribe living in the Great
Salt Lake City besides ours; and that's the Gentiles. Gentiles is our
name for 'em. It's this set that spreads about uncredible reports, and
we'd like to sew their mouths up--"

Brother Jarrum probably intended to say "unaccredited." He continued,
somewhat vehemently--

"To sew their mouths up with a needle and thread, and let 'em be sewed
up for ever. They are jealous of us; that's what it is. Some of their
wives, too, have left 'em to espouse our saints, at which they naggar
greatly. The outrageousest things that enemies' tongues can be laid to,
they say. Don't you ever believe 'em; it flounders me to think as
anybody can. Whoever wants to see my credentials, they are at their beck
and call. Call to-morrow morning--in my room upstairs--call any other
morning, and my certificates is open to be looked at, with spectacles or
without 'em, signed in full, at the Great Salt Lake City, territory of
Utah, by our prophet, Mr. Brigham Young, and two of his councillors,
testifying that I am Elder Silas Jarrum, and that my mission over here
is to preach the light to them as are at present asleep in darkness, and
bring 'em to the community of the Latter Day Saints. _I'm_ no impostor,
I'm not; and I tell you that the false reports come from them
unbelieving Gentiles. Instead of minding their own affairs, they pass
their days nagging at the saints."

"Why don't they turn saints theirselves?" cried a voice sensibly.

"Because Satan stops 'em. You have heard of him, you know. He's busy
everywhere, as you've been taught by your parsons. I put my head inside
of your church door, last Sunday night, while the sermon was going on,
and I heard your parson tell you as Satan was the foundation of all the
ill that was in you. He was right there; though I'm no friend to parsons
in general. Satan is the head and tail of bad things, and he fills up
the Gentiles with proud notions, and blinds their eyes against us. No
wonder! If every soul in the world turned Latter Day Saint, and come
over to us at New Jerusalem, where 'ud Satan's work be? We are striving
to get you out of the clutches of Satan, my friends, and you must strive
for yourselves also. Where's the use of us elders coming among you to
preach and convert, unless you meet us half-way? Where's the good of
keeping up that 'Perpetual Emigration Fund Company,' if you don't reap
its benefit and make a start to emigrate? These things is being done for
you, not for us. The Latter Day Saints have got nothing mean nor selfish
about 'em. They are the richest people in the world--in generosity and
good works."

"Is servants allowed to dress in veils, out there?" demanded Mary Green,
during a pause of Brother Jarrum's, afforded to the audience that they
might sufficiently revolve the disinterested generosity of the Latter
Day Saint community.

"Veils! Veils, and feathers, too, if they are so minded," was Brother
Jarrum's answer; and it fell like a soothing sound on Mary Green's vain
ear. "It's not many servants, though, that you'd find in New Jerusalem."

"Ain't servants let go out to New Jerusalem?" quickly returned Mary
Green. She was a servant herself, just now out of place, given to spend
all her wages upon finery, and coming to grief perpetually with her
mistresses upon the score.

"Many of 'em goes out," was the satisfactory reply of Brother Jarrum.
"But servants here are not servants there. Who'd be a servant if she
could be a missis? Wouldn't a handsome young female prefer to be her
master's wife than to be his servant?"

Mary Green giggled; the question had been pointedly put to her.

"If a female servant _chooses_ to remain a servant, in course she can,"
Brother Jarrum resumed, "and precious long wages she'd get; eighty pound
a year--good."

A movement of intense surprise amid the audience. Brother Jarrum went
on--

"I can't say I have knowed many as have stopped servants, even at that
high rate of pay. My memory won't charge me with one. They have married
and settled, and so have secured for themselves paradise."

This might be taken as a delicate hint that the married state,
generally, deserved that happy title. Some of the experiences of those
present, however, rather tended to accord it a less satisfactory one,
and there arose some murmuring. Brother Jarrum explained--

"Women is not married with us for time, but for eternity--as I tried to
beat into you last night. Once the wife of a saint, their entrance into
paradise is safe and certain. We have not got a old maid among us--not a
single old maid!"

The sensation that this information caused, I'll leave you to judge;
considering that Deerham was famous for old maids, and that several were
present.

"No old maids, and no widders," continued Brother Jarrum, wiping his
forehead, which was becoming moist with the heat of argument. "We have
respect to our women, we have, and like to make 'em comfortable."

"But if their husbands die off?" suggested a puzzled listener.

"The husband's successor marries his widders," explained Brother Jarrum.
"Look at our late head and prophet, Mr. Joe Smith--him that appeared in
a vision to our present prophet, and pointed out the spot for the new
temple. He died a martyr, Mr. Joe Smith did--a prey to wicked murderers.
Were his widders left to grieve and die out after him? No. Mr. Brigham
Young, he succeeded to his honours, and he married the widders."

This was received somewhat dubiously; the assemblage not clear whether
to approve it or to cavil at it.

"Not so much to be his wives, you know, as to be a kind of ruling
matrons in his household," went on Brother Jarrum. "To have their own
places apart, their own rooms in the house, and to be as happy as the
day's long. They don't--"

"How they must quarrel, a lot of wives together!" interrupted a
discontented voice.

Brother Jarrum set himself energetically to disprove this supposition.
He succeeded. Belief is easy to willing minds.

"Which is best?" asked he.--"To be one of the wives of a rich saint,
where all the wives is happy, and honoured, and well dressed; or to toil
and starve, and go next door to naked, as a poor man's solitary wife
does here? I know which I should choose if the two chances was offered
me. A woman can't put her foot inside the heavenly kingdom, I tell you,
unless she has got a husband to lay hold of her hand and draw her in.
The wives of a saint are safe; paradise is in store for 'em; and that's
why the Gentiles' wives--them folks that's for ever riling at us--leave
their husbands to marry the saints."

"Does the saints' wives ever leave 'em to marry them others--the
Gentiles?" asked that troublesome Davies.

"Such cases have been heered of," responded Brother Jarrum, shaking his
head with a grave solemnity of manner. "They have braved the punishment
and done it. But the act has been rare."

"What is the punishment?" inquired somebody's wife.

"When a female belonging to the Latter Day Saints--whether she's married
or single--falls off from grace and goes over to them Gentiles, and
marries one of 'em, she's condemned to be buffeted by Satan for a
thousand years."

A pause of consternation.

"Who condemns her?" a voice, more venturesome than the rest, was heard
to ask.

"There's mysteries in our faith which can't be disclosed even to you,"
was the reply of Brother Jarrum. "Them apostate women are condemned to
it; and that's enough. It's not everybody as can see the truth.
Ninety-nine may see it, and the hundredth mayn't."

"Very true, very true," was murmured around.

"I think I see the waggins and the other vehicles arriving now!"
rapturously exclaimed Brother Jarrum, turning his eyes right up into his
head, the better to take in the mental vision. "The travellers, tired
with their journey, washed and shaved, and dressed, and the women's hair
anointed, all flagrant with oil and frantic with joy--shouting, singing,
and dancing to the tune of the advancing fiddles! I think I see the
great prophet himself, with his brass-band in front and his body-guard
around him, meeting the travellers and shaking their hands individ'ally!
I think I see the joy of the women, and the nice young girls, when they
are led to the hyminial halter in our temple by the saints that have
fixed on 'em, to be inducted into the safety of paradise! Happy those
that the prophet chooses for himself! While them other poor mistaken
backsliders shall be undergoing their thousand years of buffetings,
they'll reign triumphant, the saved saints of the Mil--"

How long Brother Jarrum's harangue might have rung on the wide ears of
his delighted listeners, it is not easy to say. But an interruption
occurred, to the proceeding's. It was caused by the entrance of
Peckaby; and the meeting was terminated somewhat abruptly. While Susan
Peckaby sat at the feet of the saint, a willing disciple of his
doctrine, her lord and master, however disheartening it may be to record
it, could not, by any means, be induced to open his heart and receive
the grace. He remained obdurate. Passively obdurate during the day; but
rather demonstratively obdurate towards night. Peckaby, a quiet, civil
man enough when sober, was just the contrary when _ivre_; and since he
had joined the blacksmith's shop, his evening visits to a noted
public-house--the Plough and Harrow--had become frequent. On his return
home from these visits, his mind had once or twice been spoken out
pretty freely as to the Latter Day Saint doctrine: once he had gone the
length of clearing the shop of guests, and marshalling the saint himself
to the retirement of his own apartment. However contrite he may have
shown himself for this the next morning, nobody desired to have the
scene repeated. Consequently, when Peckaby now entered, defiance in his
face and unsteadiness in his legs, the guests filed out of their own
accord; and Brother Jarrum, taking the flaring candle from the shelf,
disappeared with it up the stairs.

This has been a very fair specimen of Brother Jarrum's representations
and eloquence. It was only one meeting out of a great many. As I said
before, the precise tenets of his religious faith need not be enlarged
upon: it is enough to say that they were quite equal to his temporal
promises. You will, therefore, scarcely wonder that he made disciples.
But the mischief, as yet, had only begun to brew.



CHAPTER XL.

A VISIT OF CEREMONY.


Whatever may have been Lionel Verner's private sentiments, with regard
to his choice of a wife--whether he repented his hasty bargain or
whether he did not, no shade of dissatisfaction escaped him. Sibylla
took up her abode with her sisters, and Lionel visited her, just as
other men visit the young ladies they may be going to marry. The
servants at Verner's Pride were informed that a mistress for them was in
contemplation, and preparations for the marriage were begun. Not until
summer would it take place, when twelve months should have elapsed from
the demise of Frederick Massingbird.

Deerham was, of course, free in its comments, differing in no wise on
that score from other places. Lionel Verner was pitied, and Sibylla
abused. The heir of Verner's Pride, with his good looks, his manifold
attractions, his somewhat cold impassibility as to the tempting snares
laid out for him in the way of matrimony, had been a beacon for many a
young lady to steer towards. Had he married Lucy Tempest, had he married
Lady Mary Elmsley, had he married a royal princess, he and she would
both have been equally cavilled at. He, for placing himself beyond the
pale of competition; she, for securing the prize. It always was so, and
it always will be.

His choice of Mrs. Massingbird, however, really did afford some grounds
for grumbling. She was not worthy of Lionel Verner. So Deerham thought;
so Deerham said. He was throwing himself away; he would live to repent
it; she must have been the most crafty of women, so to have secured him!
Free words enough, and harshly spoken; but they were as water by the
side of those uttered by Lady Verner.

In the first bitter hour of disappointment, Lady Verner gave free speech
to harsh things. It was in her love for Lionel that she so grieved.
Setting aside the facts that Sibylla had been the wife of another man,
that she was, in position, beneath Lionel--which facts, however, Lady
Verner could not set aside, for they were ever present to her--her great
objection lay in the conviction that Sibylla would prove entirely
unsuited to him; that it would turn out an unhappy union. Short and
sharp was the storm with Lady Verner; but in a week or two she subsided
into quietness, buried her grief and resentment within her, and made no
further outward demonstration.

"Mother, you will call upon Sibylla?" Lionel said to her one day that he
had gone to Deerham Court. He spoke in a low, deprecating tone, and his
face flushed; he anticipated he knew not what torrent of objection.

Lady Verner met the request differently.

"I suppose it will be expected of me, that I should do so," she replied,
strangely calm. "How I dislike this artificial state of things! Where
the customs of society must be bowed to, by those who live in it; their
actions, good or bad, commented upon and judged! You have been
expecting that I should call before this, I suppose, Lionel?"

"I have been hoping, from day to day, that you would call."

"I will call--for your sake. Lionel," she passionately added, turning to
him, and seizing his hands between hers, "what I do now, I do for your
sake. It has been a cruel blow to me; but I will try to make the best of
it, for you, my best-loved son."

He bent down to his mother, and kissed her tenderly. It was his mode of
showing her his thanks.

"Do not mistake me, Lionel. I will go just so far in this matter as may
be necessary to avoid open disapproval. If I appear to approve it, that
the world may not cavil and you complain, it will be little more than an
appearance. I will call upon your intended wife, but the call will be
one of etiquette, of formal ceremony: you must not expect me to get into
the habit of repeating it. I shall never become intimate with her."

"You do not know what the future may bring forth," returned Lionel,
looking at his mother with a smile. "I trust the time will come when you
shall have learned to love Sibylla."

"I do not think that time will ever arrive," was the frigid reply of
Lady Verner. "Oh, Lionel!" she added, in an impulse of sorrow, "what a
barrier this has raised between us--what a severing for the future!"

"The barrier exists in your own mind only, mother," was his answer,
spoken sadly. "Sibylla would be a loving daughter to you, if you would
allow her so to be."

A slight, haughty shake of the head, suppressed at once, was the reply
of Lady Verner. "I had looked for a different daughter," she continued.
"I had hoped for Mary Elmsley."

"Upon this point, at any rate, there need be no misunderstanding,"
returned Lionel. "Believe me once for all, mother: I should never have
married Mary Elmsley. Had I and Sibylla remained apart for life,
separated as wide as the two poles, it is not Mary Elmsley whom I should
have made my wife. It is more than probable that my choice would have
pleased you only in a degree more than it does now."

The jealous ears of Lady Verner detected an undercurrent of meaning in
the words.

"You speak just as though you had some one in particular in your
thoughts!" she uttered.

It recalled Lucy, it recalled the past connected with her, all too
plainly to his mind; and he returned an evasive answer. He never
willingly recalled her: or it: if they obtruded themselves on his
memory--as they very often did--he drove them away, as he was driving
them now.

He quitted the house, and Lady Verner proceeded upstairs to Decima's
room--that pretty room, with its blue panels and hangings, where Lionel
used to be when he was growing convalescent. Decima and Lucy were in it
now. "I wish you to go out with me to make a call," she said to them.

"Both of us, mamma?" inquired Decima.

"Both," repeated Lady Verner. "It is a call of etiquette," she added, a
sound of irony mixing in the tone, "and, therefore, you must both make
it. It is to Lionel's chosen wife."

A hot flush passed into the face of Lucy Tempest; hot words rose to her
lips. Hasty, thoughtless, impulsive words, to the effect that _she_
could not pay a visit to the chosen wife of Lionel Verner.

But she checked them ere they were spoken. She turned to the window,
which had been opened to the early spring day, and suffered the cool air
to blow on her flushed face, and calmed down her impetuous thoughts. Was
_this_ the course of conduct that she had marked out for herself? She
looked round at Lady Verner and said, in a gentle tone, that she would
be ready at any hour named.

"We will go at once," replied Lady Verner. "I have ordered the carriage.
The sooner we make it--as we have to make it--the better."

There was no mistake about it. Lucy had grown to love Lionel Verner.
_How_ she loved him, esteemed him, venerated him, none, save her own
heart, could tell. Her days had been as one long dream of Eden. The very
aspect of the world had changed. The blue sky, the soft-breathing wind,
the scent of the budding flowers, had spoken a language to her, never
before learned: "Rejoice in us, for we are lovely!" It was the strange
bliss in her own heart that threw its rose hues over the face of nature,
the sweet, mysterious rapture arising from love's first dream; which can
never be described by mortal pen; and never, while it lasts, can be
spoken of by living tongue. _While it lasts_. It never does last. It is
the one sole ecstatic phase of life, the solitary romance stealing in
once, and but once, amidst the world's hard realities; the "fire filched
for us from heaven." Has it to arise yet for you--you, who read this? Do
not trust it when it comes, for it will be fleeting as a summer cloud.
Enjoy it, revel in it while you hold it; it will lift you out of earth's
clay and earth's evil with its angel wings; but trust not to its
remaining: even while you are saying, "I will make it mine for ever," it
is gone. It had gone for Lucy Tempest. And, oh! better for her, perhaps,
that it should go; better, perhaps, for all; for if that sweet glimpse
of paradise could take up its abode permanently in the heart, we should
never look, or wish, or pray for that better paradise which has to come
hereafter.

But who can see this in the sharp flood tide of despair? Not Lucy. In
losing Lionel she has lost all; and nothing remained for her but to do
battle with her trouble alone. Passionately and truly as Lionel had
loved Sibylla; so, in her turn, did Lucy love him.

It is not the fashion now for young ladies to die of broken hearts--as
it was in the old days. A little while given to "the grief that kills,"
and then Lucy strove to arouse herself to better things. She would go
upon her way, burying all feelings within her; she would meet him and
others with a calm exterior and placid smile; none should see that she
suffered; no, though her heart were breaking.

"I will forget him," she murmured to herself ten times in the day. "What
a mercy that I did not let him see I loved him! I never should have
loved him, but that I thought he--Psha! why do I recall it? I was
mistaken; I was stupid--and all that's left to me is to make the best of
it."

So she drove her thoughts away, as Lionel did. She set out on her course
bravely, with the determination to forget him. She schooled her heart,
and schooled her face, and believed she was doing great things. To
Lionel she cast no blame--and that was unfortunate for the forgetting
scheme. She blamed herself; not Lionel. Remarkably simple and
humble-minded, Lucy Tempest was accustomed to think of every one before
herself. Who was she, that she should have assumed Lionel Verner was
growing to love her? Sometimes she would glance at another phase of the
picture: That Lionel _had_ been growing to love her; but that Sibylla
Massingbird had, in some weak moment, by some sleight of hand, drawn him
to her again, extracted from him a promise that he could not retract.
She did not dwell upon this; she drove it from her, as she drove away,
or strove to drive away, the other thoughts; although the theory,
regarding the night of Sibylla's return, was the favourite theory of
Lady Verner. Altogether, I say, circumstances were not very favourable
towards Lucy's plan of forgetting him.

Lady Verner's carriage--the most fascinating carriage in all Deerham,
with its blue and silver appointments, its fine horses, all the present
of Lionel--conveyed them to the house of Dr. West. Lady Verner would not
have gone otherwise than in state, for untold gold. Distance allowing
her, for she was not a good walker, she would have gone on foot, without
attendants, to visit the Countess of Elmsley and Lady Mary; but not
Sibylla. You can understand the distinction.

They arrived at an inopportune moment, for Lionel was there. At least,
Lionel thought it inopportune. On leaving his mother's house he had gone
to Sibylla's. And, however gratified he may have been by the speedy
compliance of his mother with his request, he had very much preferred
not to be present himself, if the call comprised, as he saw it did
comprise, Lucy Tempest.

Sibylla was at home alone; her sisters were out. She had been leaning
back in an invalid chair, listening to the words of Lionel, when a
servant opened the door and announced Lady Verner. Neither had observed
the stopping of the carriage. Carriages often stopped at the house, and
visitors entered it; but they were most frequently professional visits,
concerning nobody but Jan. Lady Verner swept in. For her very life she
could not avoid showing hauteur in that moment. Sibylla sprung from her
chair, and stood with a changing face.

Lionel's countenance, too, was changing. It was the first time he had
met Lucy face to face in the close proximity necessitated by a room. He
had studiously striven not to meet her, and had contrived to succeed.
Did he call himself a coward for it? But where was the help?

A few moments given to greeting, to the assuming of seats, and they were
settled down. Lady Verner and Decima on a sofa opposite Sibylla; Lucy
in a low chair--what she was sure to look out for; Lionel leaning
against the mantel-piece--as favourite a position of his, as a low seat
was of Lucy's. Sibylla had been startled by their entrance, and her
chest was beating. Her brilliant colour went and came, her hand was
pressed upon her bosom, as if to still it, and she lay rather back in
her chair for support. She had not assumed a widow's cap since her
arrival, and her pretty hair fell around her in a shower of gold. In
spite of Lady Verner's prejudices, she could not help thinking her very
beautiful; but she looked suspiciously delicate.

"It is very kind of you to come to see me," said Sibylla, speaking
timidly across to Lady Verner.

Lady Verner slightly bowed. "You do not look strong," she observed to
Sibylla, speaking in the moment's impulse. "Are you well?"

"I am pretty well. I am not strong. Since I returned home, a little
thing seems to flutter me, as your entrance has done now. Lionel had
just told me you would call upon me, he thought. I was so glad to hear
it! Somehow I had feared you would not."

Candid, at any rate; and Lady Verner did not disapprove the apparent
feeling that prompted it; but how her heart revolted at hearing those
lips pronounce "Lionel" familiarly, she alone could tell. Again came the
offence.

"Lionel tells me sometimes I am so changed since I went out, that even
he would scarcely have known me. I do not think I am so changed as all
that. I had a great deal of vexation and trouble, and I grew thin. But I
shall soon be well again now."

A pause.

"You ascertained no certain news of John Massingbird, I hear," observed
Lady Verner.

"Not any. A gentleman there is endeavouring to trace out more
particulars. I heard--did Lionel mention to you--that I heard, strange
to say, of Luke Roy, from the family I was visiting--the Eyres?
Lionel"--turning to him--"did you repeat it to Lady Verner?"

"I believe not," replied Lionel. He could not say to Sibylla, "My mother
would tolerate no conversation on any topic connected with you."

Another flagging pause.

Lionel, to create a divertisement, raised a remarkably, fine specimen
of coral from the table, and carried it to his mother.

"It is beautiful," he remarked. "Sibylla brought it home with her."

Lady Verner allowed that it was beautiful.

"Show it to Lucy," she said, when she had examined it with interest.
"Lucy, my dear, do you remember what I was telling you the other
evening, about the black coral?"

Sibylla rose and approached Lucy with Lionel.

"I am so pleased to make your acquaintance," she said warmly. "You only
came to Deerham a short while before I was leaving it, and I saw
scarcely anything of you. Lionel has seen a great deal of you, I fancy,
though he will not speak of you. I told him one day it looked
suspicious; that I should be jealous of you, if he did not mind."

It was a foolish speech--foolish of Sibylla to give utterance to it; but
she did so in all singleness of heart, meaning nothing. Lucy was bending
over the coral, held by Lionel. She felt her own cheeks flush, and she
saw by chance, not by direct look, that Lionel's face had turned a deep
scarlet. Jealous of her! She continued to admire the coral some little
time longer, and then resigned it to him with a smile.

"Thank you, Mr. Verner. I am fond of these marine curiosities. We had a
good many of them at the rectory. Mr. Cust's brother was a sailor."

Lionel could not remember the time when she had called him "Mr. Verner."
It was right, however, that she should do so; but in his heart he felt
thankful for that sweet smile. It seemed to tell him that she, at any
rate, was heart-whole, that she certainly bore him no resentment. He
spoke freely now.

"You are not looking well, Lucy--as we have been upon the subject of
looks."

"I? Oh, I have had another cold since the one Jan cured. I did not try
his remedies in time, and it fastened upon me. I don't know which barked
the most--I or Growler."

"Jan says he shall have Growler here," remarked Sibylla.

"No, Sibylla," interposed Lionel; "Jan said he should like to have
Growler here, if it were convenient to do so, and my mother would spare
him. A medical man's is not the place for a barking dog; he might attack
the night applicants."

"Is it Jan's dog?" inquired Lucy.

"Yes," said Lionel. "I thought you knew it. Why, don't you remember,
Lucy, the day I--"

Whatever reminiscence Lionel may have been about to recall, he cut it
short midway, and subsided into silence. What was his motive? Did Lucy
know? She did not ask for the ending, and the rest were then occupied,
and had not heard.

More awkward pauses--as in these visits where the parties do not
amalgamate is sure to be the case, and then Lady Verner slightly bowed
to Lucy, as she might have done on their retiring from table, and rose.
Extending the tips of her delicately-gloved fingers to Sibylla, she
swept out of the room. Decima shook hands with her more cordially,
although she had not spoken half a dozen words during the interview, and
Sibylla turned and put her hand into Lucy's.

"I hope we shall be intimate friends," she said. "I hope you will be our
frequent guest at Verner's Pride."

"Thank you," replied Lucy. And perhaps the sudden flush on her face
might have been less vivid had Lionel not been standing there.

He attended them to the carriage, taking up his hat as he passed through
the vestibule; for really the confined space that did duty for hall in
Dr. West's house did not deserve the name. Lady Verner sat on one side
the carriage, Decima and Lucy on the seat opposite. Lionel stood a
moment after handing them in.

"If you can tear yourself away from the house for half an hour, I wish
you would take a drive with us," said Lady Verner, her tone of voice no
more pleasant than her words. Try as she would, she could not help her
jealous resentment against Sibylla from peeping out.

Lionel smiled, and took his seat by his mother, opposite to Lucy. He was
resolved to foster no ill-feeling by his own conduct, but to do all that
lay in his power to subdue it in Lady Verner. He had not taken leave of
Sibylla; and it may have been this, the proof that he was about to
return to her, which had excited the ire of my lady. She, his mother,
nothing to him; Sibylla all in all. Sibylla stood at the window, and
Lionel bent forward, nodded his adieu, and raised his hat.

The footman ascended to his place, and the carriage went on. All in
silence for some minutes. A silence which Lady Verner suddenly broke.

"What have you been doing to your cheeks, Lucy? You look as if you had
caught a fever."

Lucy laughed. "Do I, Lady Verner? I hope it is not a third cold coming
on, or Jan will grumble that I take them on purpose--as he did the last
lime."

She caught the eyes of Lionel riveted on her with a strangely perplexed
expression. It did not tend to subdue the excitement of her cheeks.

Another moment, and Decima's cheeks appeared to have caught the
infection. They had suddenly become one glowing crimson; a strange sight
on her delicately pale face. What could have caused it? Surely not the
quiet riding up to the carriage of a stately old gentleman who was
passing, wearing a white frilled shirt and hessian boots. He looked as
if he had come out of a picture-frame, as he sat there, his hat off and
his white hair flowing, courteously, but not cordially, inquiring after
the health of my Lady Verner.

"Pretty well, Sir Rufus. I have had a great deal of vexation to try me
lately."

"As we all have, my dear lady. Vexation has formed a large portion of my
life. I have been calling at Verner's Pride, Mr. Verner."

"Have you, Sir Rufus? I am sorry I was not at home."

"These fine spring days tempt me out. Miss Tempest, you are looking
remarkably well. Good-morning, Lady Verner. Good-morning."

A bow to Lady Verner, a sweeping bow to the rest collectively, and Sir
Rufus rode away at a trot, putting on his hat as he went. His groom
trotted after him, touching his hat as he passed the carriage.

But not a word had he spoken to Decima Verner, not a look had he given
her. The omission was unnoticed by the others; not by Decima. The
crimson of her cheeks had faded to an ashy paleness, and she silently
let fall her veil to hide it.

What secret understanding could there be between herself and Sir Rufus
Hautley?



CHAPTER XLI.

A SPECIAL VISION TOUCHING MRS. PECKABY.


Not until summer, when the days were long and the nights short, did the
marriage of Lionel Verner take place. Lady Verner declined to be present
at it: Decima and Lucy _were_. It was a grand ceremony, of course; that
is, it would have been grand, but for an ignominious interruption which
occurred to mar it. At the very moment they were at the altar, Lionel
placing the ring on his bride's finger, and all around wrapt in
breathless silence, in a transport of enthusiasm, the bride's-maids
uncertain whether they must go off in hysterics or not, there tore into
the church Master Dan Duff, in a state of extreme terror and ragged
shirt sleeves, fighting his way against those who would have impeded
him, and shouting out at the top of his voice: "Mother was took with the
cholic, and she'd die right off if Mr. Jan didn't make haste to her."
Upon which Jan, who had positively no more sense of what was due to
society than Dan Duff himself had, went flying away there and then,
muttering something about "those poisonous mushrooms." And so they were
made man and wife; Lionel, in his heart of hearts, doubting if he did
not best love Lucy Tempest.

A breakfast at Dr. West's: Miss Deborah and Miss Amilly not in the least
knowing (as they said afterwards) how they comported themselves at it;
and then Lionel and his bride departed. He was taking her to Paris,
which Sibylla had never seen.

Leaving them to enjoy its attractions--and Sibylla, at any rate, would
not fail to do so--we must give another word to that zealous missionary,
Brother Jarrum.

The seed, scattered broadcast by Brother Jarrum, had had time to
fructify. He had left the glowing promises of all that awaited them, did
they decide to voyage out to New Jerusalem, to take root in the
imaginations of his listeners, and absented himself for a time from
Deerham. This may have been crafty policy on Brother Jarrum's part; or
may have resulted from necessity. It was hardly likely that so talented
and enlightened an apostle as Brother Jarrum should confine his labours
to the limited sphere of Deerham: in all probability, they had to be put
in requisition elsewhere. However it may have been, for several weeks
towards the end of spring, Brother Jarrum was away from Deerham. Mr.
Bitterworth, and one or two more influential people, of whom Lionel was
one, had very strongly objected to Brother Jarrum's presence in it at
all; and, again, this may have been the reason of his quitting it.
However it was, he did quit it; though not without establishing a secret
understanding with the more faithful of his converts. With the exception
of these converts, Deerham thought he had left it for good; that it was,
as they not at all politely expressed it, "shut of him." In this Deerham
was mistaken.

On the very day of Lionel Verner's marriage, Brother Jarrum reappeared
in the place. He took up his abode, as before, in Mrs. Peckaby's spare
room. Peckaby, this time, held out against it. However welcome the four
shillings rent, weekly, was from Brother Jarrum, Peckaby assumed a
lordly indifference to it, and protested he'd rather starve, nor have
pison like him in the house. Peckaby, however, possessed a wife, who, on
occasion, wore, metaphorically speaking, his nether garments, and it was
her will and pleasure to countenance the expected guest. Brother Jarrum,
therefore, was received and welcomed.

He did not hold forth this time in Peckaby's shop. He did not in public
urge the delights of New Jerusalem, or the expediency of departure for
it. He kept himself quiet and retired, receiving visits in the privacy
of his chamber. After dark, especially, friends would drop in; admitted
without noise or bustle by Mrs. Peckaby; parties of ones, of twos, of
threes, until there would be quite an assembly collected upstairs; why
should not Brother Jarrum hold his levees as well as his betters?

That something unusual was in the wind, was very evident; some scheme,
or project, which it appeared expedient to keep a secret. Had Peckaby
been a little less fond Of the seductions of the Plough and Harrow, his
suspicions must have been aroused. Unfortunately, Peckaby yielded
unremittingly to that renowned inn's temptations, and spent every
evening there, leaving full sway to his wife and Brother Jarrum.

About a month thus passed on, and Lionel Verner and his wife were
expected home, when Deerham woke up one morning to a commotion. A
flitting had taken place from it in the night. Brother Jarrum had
departed, conveying with him a train of followers.

One of the first to hear of it was Jan Verner; and, curious to say, he
heard it from Mrs. Baynton, the lady at Chalk Cottage. Jan, who, let him
be called abroad in the night as he would, was always up with the sun,
stood one morning in his surgery, between seven and eight o'clock, when
he was surprised by the entrance of Mrs. Baynton--a little woman, with a
meek, pinched face, and gray hair. Since Dr. West's departure, Jan had
attended the sickly daughter, therefore he knew Mrs. Baynton, but he had
never seen her abroad in his life. Her bonnet looked ten years old. Her
daughters were named--at least, they were called--Flore and Kitty; Kitty
being the sickly one. To see Mrs. Baynton arrive thus, Jan jumped to the
conclusion that Kitty must be dying.

"Is she ill again?" he hastily asked, with his usual absence of
ceremony, giving the lady no time to speak.

"She's gone," gasped Mrs. Baynton.

"Gone--dead?" asked Jan, with wondering eyes.

"She's gone off with the Mormons."

Jan stood upright against the counter, and stared at the old lady. He
could not understand. "Who is gone off with the Mormons?" was his
rejoinder.

"Kitty is. Oh, Mr. Jan, think of her sufferings! A journey like that
before her! All the way to that dreadful place! I have heard that even
strong women die on the road of the hardships."

Jan had stood with open mouth. "Is she mad?" he questioned.

"She has not been much better than mad since--since--But I don't wish to
go into family troubles. Can you give me Dr. West's address? She might
come back for him."

Now Jan had received positive commands from that wandering physician not
to give his address to chance applicants, the inmates of Chalk Cottage
having come in for a special interdiction. Therefore Jan could only
decline.

"He is moving about from one place to another," said Jan. "To-day in
Switzerland, to-morrow in France; the next day in the moon, for what we
can tell. You can give me a letter, and I'll try and get it conveyed to
him somehow."

Mrs. Baynton shook her head.

"It would be too late. I thought if I could telegraph to him, he might
have got to Liverpool in time to stop Kitty. There's a large migration
of Mormons to take place in a day or two, and they are collecting at
Liverpool."

"Go and stop her yourself," said Jan sensibly.

"She'd not come back for me," replied Mrs. Baynton, in a depressed tone.
"What with her delicate health, and what with her wilfulness, I have
always had trouble with her. Dr. West was the only one--But I can't
refer to those matters. Flore is broken-hearted. Poor Flore! she has
never given me an hour's grief in her life. Kitty has given me little
else. And now to go off with the Mormons!"

"Who has she gone with?"

"With the rest from Deerham. They have gone off in the night. That
Brother Jarrum and a company of about five-and-twenty, they say."

Jan could scarcely keep from exploding into laughter. Part of Deerham
gone off to join the Mormons! "Is it a fact?" cried he.

"It is a fact that they are gone," replied Mrs. Baynton. "She has been
out several times in an evening to hear that Brother Jarrum, and had
become infected with the Mormon doctrine. In spite of what I or Flore
could say, she would go to listen to the man, and she grew to believe
the foolish things he uttered. And you can't give me Dr. West's
address?"

"No, I can't," replied Jan. "And I see no good that it would be to you,
if I could. He could not get to Liverpool in time, from wherever he may
be, if the flight is to take place in a day or two."

"Perhaps not," sighed Mrs. Baynton. "I was unwilling to come, but it
seemed like a forlorn hope."

She let down her old crape veil as she went out at the door; and Jan,
all curious for particulars, went abroad to pick up anything he could
learn.

About fifteen had gone off, exclusive of children. Grind's lot, as it
was called, meaning Grind, his wife, and their young ones; Davies had
gone, Mary Green had gone, Nancy from Verner's Pride had gone, and
sundry others whom it is not necessary to enumerate. It was said that
Dinah Roy made preparations to go, but her heart failed her at the last.
Some accounts ran that she did start, but was summarily brought up by
the appearance of her husband, who went after her. At his sight she
turned without a word, and walked home again, meekly submitting to the
correction he saw fit to inflict. Jan did not believe this. His private
opinion was, that had Dinah Roy started, her husband would have deemed
it a red-letter day, and never have sought to bring her back more.

Last, but not least, Mrs. Peckaby had _not_ gone. No: for Brother Jarrum
had stolen a march upon her. What his motive in doing this might be was
best known to himself. Of all the converts, none had been so eager for
the emigration, so fondly anticipative of the promised delights, as
Susan Peckaby; and she had made her own private arrangements to steal
off secretly, leaving her unbelieving husband to his solitary fate. As
it turned out, however, she was herself left; the happy company stole
off, and abandoned her.

Brother Jarrum so contrived it, that the night fixed for the exodus was
kept secret from Mrs. Peckaby. She did not know that he had even gone
out of the house, until she got up in the morning and found him absent.
Brother Jarrum's personal luggage was not of an extensive character. It
was contained in a blue bag; and this bag was likewise missing. Not,
even then, did a shadow of the cruel treachery played her darken the
spirit of Mrs. Peckaby. Her faith in Brother Jarrum was of unlimited
extent; she would as soon have thought of deceiving her own self, as
that he could deceive. The rumour that the migration had taken place,
the company off, awoke her from her happy security to a state of raving
torture. Peckaby dodged out of her way, afraid. There is no knowing but
Peckaby himself may have been the stumbling-block in the mind of Brother
Jarrum. A man so dead against the Latter Day Saints as Peckaby had shown
himself, would be a difficult customer to deal with. He might be capable
of following them and upsetting the minds of all the Deerham converts,
did his wife start with them for New Jerusalem.

All this information was gathered by Jan. Jan had heard nothing for many
a day that so tickled his fancy. He bent his steps to Peckaby's, and
went in. Jan, you know, was troubled neither with pride nor ceremony;
nobody less so in all Deerham. Where inclination took him, there went
Jan.

Peckaby, all black, with a bar of iron in his hand, a leather apron on,
and a broad grin upon his countenance, was coming out of the door as Jan
entered. The affair seemed to tickle Peckaby's fancy as much as it
tickled Jan's. He touched his hair. "Please, sir, couldn't you give her
a dose of jalap, or something comforting o' that sort, to bring her to?"
asked he, pointing with his thumb indoors, as he stamped across the road
to the forge.

Mrs. Peckaby had calmed down from the rampant state to one of
prostration. She sat in her kitchen behind the shop, nursing her knees,
and moaning. Mrs. Duff, who, by Jan's help, had survived the threatened
death fro "cholic," and was herself again, stood near the sufferer, in
company with one or two more cronies. All the particulars, Susan
Peckaby's contemplated journey, with the deceitful trick played her, had
got wind; and the Deerham ladies were in consequence flocking in.

"You didn't mean going, did you?" began Jan.

"Not mean going!" sobbed Susan Peckaby, rocking herself to and fro. "I
did mean going, sir, and I'm not ashamed to own to it. If folks is in
the luck to be offered a chance of paradise, I dun know many as ud say
they wouldn't catch at it."

"Paradise, was it?" said Jan. "What was it chiefly to consist of?"

"Of everything," moaned Susan Peckaby. "There isn't a thing you could
wish for under the sun, but what's to be had in plenty at New Jerusalem.
Dinners and teas, and your own cows, and big houses and parlours, and
gardens loaded with fruit, and garden stuff as decays for want o'
cutting, and veils when you go out, and evening dances, like the grand
folks here has, and new caps perpetual! And I have lost it! They be gone
and have left me!--oh, o-o-o-h!"

"And husbands, besides; one for everybody!" spoke up a girl. "You forget
that, Mrs. Peckaby."

"Husbands besides," acquiesced Susan Peckaby, aroused from her moaning.
"Every woman's sure to be chose by a saint as soon as she gets out.
There's not such a thing as a old maid there, and there needn't be no
widders."

Mrs. Duff turned up bar nose, and turned it wrathfully on the girl who
had spoken.

"If they call husbands their paradise, keep me away from 'em, say I. You
girls be like young bears--all your troubles have got to come. You just
try a husband, Bess Dawson; whether he's a saint, or whether he's a
sinner, let him be of a cranky temper, thwarting you at every trick and
turn, and you'll see what sort of a paradise marriage is! Don't you
think I'm right, sir?"

Jan's mouth was extended from ear to ear, laughing.

"I never tried it," said he. "Were you to have been espoused by Brother
Jarrum?" he asked, of Susan Peckaby.

"No, sir, I was not," she answered, in much anger. "I did not favour
Brother Jarrum. I'd prefer to pick and choose when I got there. But I
had a great amount of respect for Brother Jarrum, sir, which I'm proud
to speak to. And I don't believe that he has served me this shameful
trick of his own knowledge," she added, with emphasis. "I believe there
has been some unfortinate mistake, and that when he finds I'm not among
the company, he'll come back for me. I'd go after them, only that
Peckaby's on the watch. I never see such a altered man as Peckaby; it
had used to be as I could just turn him round my little finger, but he
won't be turned now."

She finished up with a storm of sobs. Jan, in an Ecstasy of mirth yet,
offered to send her some cordials from the surgery, by way of
consolation; not, however, the precise one suggested by Peckaby. But
cordials had no charm in that unhappy moment for Mrs. Peckaby's ear.

Jan departed. In quitting the door he encountered a stranger, who
inquired if that was Peckaby's shop. Jan fancied the man looked
something the cut of Brother Jarrum, and sent him in. His coat and boots
were white with dust. Looking round on the assembled women when he
reached the kitchen, the stranger asked which was Mrs. Peckaby. Mrs.
Peckaby looked up, and signified that she was.

"I have a message from the saint and elder, Brother Jarrum," he
mysteriously whispered in her ear. "It must be give to you in private."

Mrs. Peckaby, in a tremble of delight, led the stranger to a small shed
in the yard, which she used for washing purposes, and called the back
'us. It was the most private place she could think of, in her fluster.
The stranger, propping himself against a broken tub, proceeded, with
some circumlocution and not remarkable perspicuity of speech, to deliver
the message with which he was charged. It was to the effect that a
vision had revealed to Brother Jarrum the startling fact, that Susan
Peckaby was _not_ to go out with the crowd at present on the wing. A
higher destiny awaited her. She would be sent for in a different
manner--in a more important form; sent for special, on a quadruped. That
is to say, on a white donkey.[A]

    [Footnote A: A fact.]

"On a white donkey?" echoed the trembling and joyful woman.

"On a white donkey," gravely repeated the brother--for that he was
another brother of the community, there could be little doubt. "What the
special honour intended for you may be, me and Brother Jarrum don't
pertend to guess at. It's above us. May be you are fated to be chose by
our great prophet hisself. Any how, it's something at the top of the
tree."

"When shall I be sent for, sir?" eagerly asked Mrs. Peckaby.

"That ain't revealed neither. It may be next week--it mayn't be for a
year; you must always be on the look-out. One of these days or nights,
you'll see a white donkey a-standing at your door. It'll be the
messenger for you from New Jerusalem. You mount him without a minute's
loss of time, and come off."

But that Mrs. Peckaby's senses were exalted at that moment far above the
level of ordinary mortals', it might have occurred to her to inquire
whether the donkey would be endowed with the miraculous power of bearing
her over the sea. No such common question presented itself. She asked
another.

"Why couldn't Brother Jarrum have told me this hisself, sir? I have been
a'most mad this morning, ever since I found as they had gone."

The brother--this brother--turned up the whites of his eyes. "When
unknown things is revealed to us, and mysterious orders give, they never
come to us a minute afore the time," he replied. "Not till Brother
Jarrum was fixing the night of departure, did the vision come to him. It
was commanded him that it should be kept from you till the rest were
off, and then he were to send back a messenger to tell you--and many a
mile I've come! Brother Jarrum and me has no doubt that it is meant as a
trial of your faith."

Nothing could be more satisfactory to the mind of Mrs. Peckaby than this
explanation. Had any mysterious vision appeared to herself, showing her
that it was false, commanding her to disbelieve it, it could not have
shaken her faith. If the white donkey arrived at her door that very
night, she would be sure to mount him.

"Do you think it'll be very long, sir, that I shall have to wait?" she
resumed, feverishly listening for the answer.

"My impression is that it'll be very short," was the reply. "And it's
Brother Jarrum's also. Any way, you be on the look-out--always prepared.
Have a best robe at hand continual, ready to clap on the instant the
quadruped appears, and come right away to New Jerusalem."

In the openness of her heart, Mrs. Peckaby offered refreshment to the
brother. The best her house afforded: which was not much. Peckaby should
be condemned to go foodless for a week, rather than that _he_ should
depart fasting. The brother, however, declined: he appeared to be in a
hurry to leave Deerham behind him.

"I'd not disclose this to anybody if I was you," was his parting
salutation. "Leastways, not for a day or two. Let the ruck of 'em embark
first at Liverpool. If it gets wind, some of them may be for turning
crusty, because they are not favoured with special animals, too."

Had the brother recommended Susan Peckaby to fill the tub with water,
and stand head downwards in it for a day or two, she was in the mood to
obey him. Accordingly, when questioned by Mrs. Duff, and the other
curious ones, what had been the business of the stranger, she made a
great mystery over it, and declined to answer.

"It's good news, by the signs of your face," remarked Mrs. Duff.

"Good news!" rapturously repeated Susan Peckaby, "it's heaven. I say,
Mother Duff, I want a new gownd: something of the very best. I'll pay
for it by degrees. There ain't no time to be lost, neither; so I'll come
down at once and choose it."

"What _has_ happened?" was the wondering rejoinder of Mother Duff.

"Never you mind, just yet. I'll tell you about it afore the week's out."

And, accordingly, before the week was out, all Deerham was regaled with
the news; full particulars. And Susan Peckaby, a robe of purple, of the
stuff called lustre, laid up in state, to be donned when the occasion
came, passed her time, night and day, at her door and windows, looking
out for the white donkey that was to bear her in triumph to New
Jerusalem.



CHAPTER XLII.

A SURPRISE FOR MRS. TYNN.


In the commodious dressing-room at Verner's Pride, appropriated to its
new mistress, Mrs. Verner, stood the housekeeper, Tynn, lifting her
hands and her eyes. You once saw the chamber of John Massingbird, in
this same house, in a tolerable litter: but that was as nothing compared
with the litter in this dressing-room, piles and piles of it, one heap
by the side of another. Mary Tynn stood screwed against the wainscoting
of the wall: she had got in, but to get out was another matter: there
was not a free place where she could put her foot. Strictly speaking,
perhaps, it could not be called litter, and Mrs. Verner and her French
maid would have been alike indignant at hearing it so classed. Robes of
rich and rare texture; silks standing on end with magnificence; dinner
attire, than which nothing could be more exquisite; ball dresses in all
sorts of gossamer fabrics; under-skirts, glistening with their soft
lustre; morning costumes, pure and costly; shawls of Cashmere and other
_recherché_ stuffs, enough to stock a shop; mantles of every known make;
bonnets that would send an English milliner crazy; veils charming to
look upon; laces that might rival Lady Verner's embroideries, their
price fabulous; handkerchiefs that surely never were made for use;
dozens of delicately-tinted gloves, cased in ornamental boxes, costing
as much as they did; every description of expensive _chaussure_; and
trinkets, the drawn cheques for which must have caused Lionel Verner's
sober bankers to stare. Tynn might well heave her hands and eyes in
dismay. On the chairs, on the tables, on the drawers, on the floor, on
every conceivable place and space they lay; a goodly mass of vanity,
just unpacked from their cases.

Flitting about amidst them was a damsel of coquettish appearance, with a
fair skin, light hair, and her nose a turn-up. Her gray gown was
flounced to the waist, her small cap of lace, its pink strings flying,
was lodged on the back of her head. It was Mademoiselle Benoite, Mrs.
Verner's French maid, one she had picked up in Paris. Whatever other
qualities the damsel might lack, she had enough of confidence. Not many
hours yet in the house, and she was assuming more authority in it than
her mistress did.

Mr. and Mrs. Verner had returned the night before, Mademoiselle Benoite
and her packages making part of their train. A whole _fourgon_ could not
have been sufficient to convey these packages from the French capital to
the frontier. Phoeby, the simple country maid whom Sibylla had taken
to Paris with her, found her place a sinecure since the engagement of
Mademoiselle Benoite. She stood now on the opposite side of the room to
Tynn, humbly waiting Mademoiselle Benoite's imperious commands.

"Where on earth will you stow 'em away?" cried Tynn, in her wonder.
"You'll want a length of rooms to do it in."

"Where I stow 'em away!" retorted Mademoiselle Benoite, in her fluent
speech, but broken English. "I stow 'em where I please. Note you that,
Madame Teen. Par example! The château is grand enough."

"What has its grandeur got to do with it?" was Mary Tynn's answer. She
knew but little of French phrases.

"Now, then, what for you stand there, with your eyes staring and your
hands idle?" demanded Mademoiselle Benoite sharply, turning her attack
on Phoeby.

"If you'll tell me what to do, I'll do it," replied the girl. "I could
help to put the things up, if you'd show me where to begin."

"I like to see you dare to put a finger on one of these things!"
returned Mademoiselle Benoite. "You can confine your services to sewing,
and to waiting upon me; but not you dare to interfere with my lady's
toilette. Tiens, I am capable, I hope! I'd give up the best service
to-morrow where I had not sole power! Go you down to the office, and
order me a cup of chocolate, and wait you and bring it up to me. That
maudite drogue, that coffee, this morning, has made me as thirsty as a
panthère."

Phoeby, glancing across at Mrs. Tynn, turned somewhat hesitatingly to
pick her way out of the room. The housekeeper, though not half
understanding, contrived to make out that the morning coffee was not
approved of. The French mademoiselle had breakfasted with her, and, in
Mrs. Tynn's opinion, the coffee had been perfect, fit for the table of
her betters.

"Is it the coffee that you are abusing?" asked she. "What was the matter
with it?"

"Ciel! You ask what the matter with it!" returned Mademoiselle Benoite,
in her rapid tongue. "It was everything the matter with it. It was all
bad. It was drogue, I say; medicine. There!"

"Well, I'm sure!" resentfully returned the housekeeper. "Now, I happened
to make that coffee myself this morning--Tynn, he's particular in his
coffee, he is--and I put in--"

"I not care if you put in the whole canastre," vehemently interrupted
Mademoiselle Benoite. "You English know not to make coffee. All the two
years I lived in London with Madame la Duchesse, I never got one cup of
coffee that was not enough to choke me. And they used pounds of it in
the house, where they might have used ounces. Bah! You can make tea, I
not say no; but you cannot make coffee. Now, then! I want a great number
sheets of silk-paper."

"Silk-paper?" repeated Tynn, whom the item puzzled. "What's that?"

"You know not what silk-paper is!" angrily returned Mademoiselle
Benoite. "_Quelle ignorance!_" she apostrophised, not caring whether she
was understood or not. "_Ellé ne connait pas ce que c'est,
papier-de-soie!_ I must have it, and a great deal of it, do you hear? It
is as common as anything--silk-paper."

"Things common in France mayn't be common with us," retorted Mrs. Tynn.
"What is it for?"

"It is for some of these articles. If I put them by without the
paper-silk round them in the cartons, they'll not keep their colour."

"Perhaps you mean silver-paper," said Mary Tynn. "Tissue-paper, I have
heard my Lady Verner call it. There's none in the house, Madmisel
Bennot."

"Madmisel Bennot" stamped her foot. "A house without silk-paper in it!
When you knew my lady was coming home!"

"I didn't know she'd bring--a host of things with her that she has
brought," was the answering shaft lanced by Mrs. Tynn.

"Don't you see that I am waiting? Will you send out for some?"

"It's not to be had in Deerham," said Mrs. Tynn. "If it must be had, one
of the men must go to Heartburg. Why won't the paper do that was over 'em
before?"

"There not enough of that. And I choose to have fresh, I do."

"Well, you had better give your own orders about it," said Mary Tynn.
"And then, if there's any mistake, it'll be nobody's fault, you know."

Mademoiselle Benoite did not on the instant reply. She had her hands
full just then. In reaching over for a particular bonnet, she managed to
turn a dozen or two on to the floor. Tynn watched the picking up
process, and listened to the various ejaculations that accompanied it,
in much grimness.

"What a sight of money those things must have cost!" cried she.

"What that matter?" returned the lady's-maid. "The purse of a milor
Anglais can stand anything."

"What did she buy them for?" went on Tynn. "For what purpose?"

"_Bon!_" ejaculated Mademoiselle. "She buy them to wear. What else you
suppose she buy them for?"

"Why! she would never wear out the half of them in all her whole life!"
uttered Tynn, speaking the true sentiments of her heart. "She could
not."

"Much you know of things, Madame Teen!" was the answer, delivered in
undisguised contempt for Tynn's primitive ignorance. "They'll not last
her six months."

"Six months!" shrieked Tynn. "She couldn't come to an end of them
dresses in six months, if she wore three a day, and never put on a dress
a second time!"

"She want to wear more than three different a day sometimes. And it not
the mode now to put on a robe more than once," returned Mademoiselle
Benoite carelessly.

Tynn could only open her mouth. "If they are to be put on but once, what
becomes of 'em afterwards?" questioned she, when she could find breath
to speak.

"Oh, they good for jupons--petticoats, you call it. Some may be worn a
second time; they can be changed by other trimmings to look like new.
And the rest will be good for me: Madame la Duchesse gave me a great
deal. '_Tenez, ma fille_,' she would say, '_regardez dans ma garde-robe,
et prenez autant que vous voudrez._' She always spoke to me in French."

Tynn wished there had been no French invented, so far as her
comprehension was concerned. While she stood, undecided what reply to
make, wishing very much to express her decided opinion upon the
extravagance she saw around her, yet deterred from it by remembering
that Mrs. Verner was now her mistress, Phoeby entered with the
chocolate. The girl put it down on the mantel-piece--there was no other
place--and then made a sign to Mrs. Tynn that she wished to speak with
her. They both left the room.

"Am I to be at the beck and call of that French madmizel?" she
resentfully asked. "I was not engaged for that, Mrs. Tynn."

"It seems we are all to be at her beck and call, to hear her go on," was
Mrs. Tynn's wrathful rejoinder. "Of course it can't be tolerated. We
shall see in a day or two. Phoeby, girl, what could possess Mrs.
Verner to buy all them cart-loads of finery? She must have spent the
money like water."

"So she did," acquiesced Phoeby. "She did nothing all day long but
drive about from one place to another and choose pretty things. You
should see the china that's coming over!"

"I wonder Mr. Lionel let her," was the thoughtlessly-spoken remark of
Tynn. And she tried, when too late, to cough it down.

"He helped her, I think," answered Phoeby. "I know he bought some of
that beautiful jewellery for her himself, and brought it home. I saw him
kiss her, through the doorway, as he clasped that pink necklace on her
neck."

"Oh, well, I don't want to hear about that rubbish," tartly rejoined
Tynn. "If you take to peep through doorways, girl, you won't suit
Verner's Pride."

Phoeby did not like the rebuff. She turned one way, and Mrs. Tynn went
off another.

In the breakfast-room below, in her charming French morning costume,
tasty and elegant, sat Sibylla Verner. With French dresses, she seemed
to be acquiring French habits. Late as the hour was, the breakfast
remained on the table. Sibylla might have sent the things away an hour
ago; but she kept a little chocolate in her cup, and toyed with it. She
had never tasted chocolate for breakfast in all her life, previous to
this visit to Paris: now she protested she could take nothing else.
Possibly she may have caught the taste for it from Mademoiselle Benoite.
Her husband sat opposite to her, his chair drawn from the table, and
turned to face the room. A perfectly satisfied, happy expression
pervaded his face; he appeared to be fully contented with his lot and
with his bride. Just now he was laughing immoderately.

Perched upon the arm of a sofa, having there come to an anchor, his legs
hanging down and swaying about in their favourite fashion, was Jan
Verner. Jan had come in to pay them a visit and congratulate them on
their return. That is speaking somewhat figuratively, however, for Jan
possessed no notion of congratulating anybody. As Lady Verner sometimes
resentfully said, Jan had no more social politeness in him than a bear.
Upon entering, Sibylla asked him to take some breakfast. Breakfast!
echoed Jan, did she call that breakfast? He thought it was their
lunch--it was getting on for his dinner-time. Jan was giving Lionel a
history of the moonlight flitting, and of Susan Peckaby's expected
expedition to New Jerusalem on a white donkey.

"It ought to have been stopped," said Lionel, when his laughter had
subsided. "They are going out to misery, and to nothing else, poor
deluded creatures!"

"Who was to stop it?" asked Jan.

"Some one might have told them the truth. If this Brother Jarrum
represented things in rose-coloured hues, could nobody open to their
view the other side of the picture? I should have endeavoured to do it,
had I been here. If they chose to risk the venture after that, it would
have been their own fault."

"You'd have done no good," said Jan. "Once let 'em get the Mormon fever
upon 'em, and it must run its course. It's like the gold fever; nothing
will convince folks they are mistaken as to that, except the going out
to Australia to the diggings. That will."

A faint tinge of brighter colour rose to Sibylla's cheeks at this
allusion, and Lionel knit his brow. He would have avoided for ever any
chain of thought that led his memory to Frederick Massingbird: he could
not bear to think that his young bride had been another's before she was
his. Jan, happily ignorant, continued.

"There's Susan Peckaby. She has got it in her head that she's going
straight off to Paradise, once she is in the Salt Lake City. Well, now,
Lionel, if you, and all the world to help you, set yourselves on to
convince her that she's mistaken, you couldn't do it. They must go out
and find the level of things for themselves--there's no help for it."

"Jan, it is not likely that Susan Peckaby really expects a white donkey
to be sent for her!" cried Sibylla.

"She as fully expects the white donkey, as I expect that I shall go from
here presently, and drop in on Poynton, on my way home," earnestly said
Jan. "He has had a kick from a horse on his shin, and a nasty place it
is," added Jan in a parenthesis. "Nothing on earth would convince Susan
Peckaby that the donkey's a myth, or will be a myth; and she wastes all
her time looking out for it. If you were opposite their place now, you'd
see her head somewhere; poked out at the door, or peeping from the
upstairs window."

"I wish I could get them all back again--those who have gone from here!"
warmly spoke Lionel.

"I wish sometimes I had got four legs, that I might get over double
ground, when patients are wanting me on all sides," returned Jan. "The
one wish is just as possible as the other, Lionel. The lot sailed from
Liverpool yesterday, in the ship _American Star_. And I'll be bound,
what with the sea-sickness, and the other discomforts, they are wishing
themselves out of it already! I say, Sibylla, what did you think of
Paris?"

"Oh, Jan, it's enchanting! And I have brought the most charming things
home. You can come upstairs and see them, if you like. Benoite is
unpacking them."

"Well, I don't know," mused Jan. "I don't suppose they are what I should
care to see. What are the things?"

"Dresses, and bonnets, and mantles, and lace, and coiffures," returned
Sibylla. "I can't tell you half the beautiful things. One of my
_cache-peignes_ is of filigrane silver-work, with drops falling from it,
real diamonds."

"What d'ye call a _cache-peigne?_" asked Jan.

"Don't you know? An ornament for the hair, that you put on to hide the
comb behind. Combs are coming into fashion. Will you come up and see the
things, Jan?"

"Not I! What do I care for lace and bonnets?" ungallantly answered Jan.
"I didn't know but Lionel might have brought me some anatomical studies
over. They'd be in my line."

Sibylla shrieked--a pretty little shriek of affectation. "Lionel, why do
you let him say such things to me? He means amputated arms and legs."

"I'm sure I didn't," said Jan. "I meant models. They'd not let the
other things pass the customs. Have you brought a dress a-piece for Deb
and Amilly?"

"No," said Sibylla, looking up in some consternation. "I never thought
about it."

"Won't they be disappointed, then! They have counted upon it, I can tell
you. They can't afford to buy themselves much, you know; the doctor
keeps them so short," added Jan.

"I _would_ have brought them something, if I had thought of it; I would,
indeed!" exclaimed Sibylla, in an accent of contrition. "Is it not a
pity, Lionel?"

"I wish you had," replied Lionel. "Can you give them nothing of what you
have brought?"

"Well--I--must--consider," hesitated Sibylla, who was essentially
selfish. "The things are so beautiful, so expensive; they are scarcely
suited to Deborah and Amilly."

"Why not?" questioned Jan.

"You have not a bit of sense, Jan," grumbled Sibylla. "Things chosen to
suit me, won't suit them."

"Why not?" repeated Jan obstinately.

"There never was any one like you, Jan, for stupidity," was Sibylla's
retort. "I am young and pretty, and a bride; and they are two faded old
maids."

"Dress 'em up young, and they'll look young," answered Jan, with
composure. "Give 'em a bit of pleasure for once, Sibylla."

"I'll see," impatiently answered Sibylla. "Jan, how came Nancy to go off
with the Mormons? Tynn says she packed up her things in secret, and
started."

"How came the rest to go?" was Jan's answer. "She caught the fever too,
I suppose."

"What Nancy are you talking of?" demanded Lionel. "Not Nancy from here!"

"Oh, Lionel, yes! I forgot to tell you," said Sibylla. "She is gone
indeed. Mrs. Tynn is so indignant. She says the girl must be a fool!"

"Little short of it," returned Lionel. "To give up a good home here for
the Salt Lake! She will repent it."

"Let 'em all alone for _that_," nodded Jan, "I'd like to pay an hour's
visit to 'em, when they have been a month in the place--if they ever get
to it."

"Tynn says she remembers, when that Brother Jarrum was here in the
spring, that Nancy made frequent excuses for going to Deerham in the
evening," resumed Sibylla.

"She thinks it must have been to frequent those meetings in Peckaby's
shop."

"I thought the man, Jarrum, had gone off, leaving the mischief to die
away," observed Lionel.

"So did everybody else," said Jan. "He came back the day that you were
married. Nancy's betters got lured into Peckaby's, as well as Nancy," he
added. "That sickly daughter at Chalk Cottage, she's gone."

Lionel looked very much astonished.

"No!" he uttered.

"Fact!" said Jan. "The mother came to me the morning after the flitting,
and said she had been seduced away. She wanted to telegraph to Dr.
West--"

Jan stopped dead, remembering that Sibylla was present, as well as
Lionel. He leaped off the sofa.

"Ah, we shall see them all back some day, if they can only contrive to
elude the vigilance of the Mormons. I'm off, Lionel; old Poynton will
think I am not coming to-day. Good-bye, Sibylla."

Jan hastened from the room. Lionel stood at the window, and watched him
away. Sibylla glided up to her husband, nestling against him.

"Lionel, tell me. Jan never would, though I nearly teased his life out;
and Deborah and Amilly persisted that they knew nothing. _You_ tell me."

"Tell you what, my dearest?"

"After I came home in the winter, there were strange whispers about papa
and that Chalk Cottage. People were mysterious over it, and I never
could get a word of explanation. Jan was the worst; he was coolly
tantalising, and it used to put me in a passion. What was the tale
told?"

An involuntary darkening of Lionel's brow. He cleared it instantly, and
looked down on his wife with a smile.

"I know of no tale worth telling you, Sibylla."

"But there _was_ a tale told?"

"Jan--who, being in closer proximity to Dr. West than any one, may be
supposed to know best of his private affairs--tells a tale of Dr. West's
having set a chimney on fire at Chalk Cottage, thereby arousing the ire
of its inmates."

"Don't you repeat such nonsense to me, Lionel; you are not Jan," she
returned, in a half peevish tone. "I fear papa may have borrowed money
from the ladies, and did not repay them," she added, her voice sinking
to a whisper. "But I would not say it to any one but you. What do you
think?"

"If my wife will allow me to tell her what I think, I should say that it
is her duty--and mine now--not to seek to penetrate into any affairs
belonging to Dr. West which he may wish to keep to himself. Is it not
so, Sibylla mine?"

Sibylla smiled, and held up her face to be kissed. "Yes, you are right,
Lionel."

Swayed by impulse, more than by anything else, she thought of her
treasures upstairs, in the process of dis-interment from their cases by
Benoite, and ran from him to inspect them. Lionel put on his hat, and
strolled out of doors.

A thought came over him that he would go and pay a visit to his mother.
He knew how exacting of attention from him she was, how jealous, so to
speak, of Sibylla's having taken him from her. Lionel hoped by degrees
to reduce the breach. Nothing should be wanting on his part to effect
it; he trusted that nothing would be wanting on Sibylla's. He really
wished to see his mother after his month's absence; and he knew she
would be pleased at his going there on this, the first morning of his
return. As he turned into the high road, he met the vicar of Deerham,
the Reverend James Bourne.

They shook hands, and the conversation turned, not unnaturally, on the
Mormon flight. As they were talking of it, Roy, the ex-bailiff, was
observed crossing the opposite field.

"My brother tells me the report runs that Mrs. Roy contemplated being of
the company, but was overtaken by her husband and brought back,"
remarked Lionel.

"How it may have been, about his bringing her back, or whether she
actually started, I don't know," replied Mr. Bourne, who was a man with
a large pale face and iron-gray hair. "That she intended to go, I have
reason to believe."

He spoke the last words significantly, lowering his voice. Lionel looked
at him.

"She paid me a mysterious visit at the vicarage the night before the
start," continued the clergyman. "A very mysterious visit, indeed, taken
in conjunction with her words. I was in my study, reading by
candle-light, when somebody came tapping at the glass door, and stole
in. It was Mrs. Roy. She was in a state of tremor, as I have heard it
said she appeared the night the inquiry was held at Verner's Pride,
touching the death of Rachel Frost. She spoke to me in ambiguous terms
of a journey she was about to take--that she should probably be away for
her whole life--and then she proceeded to speak of that night."

"The night of the inquiry?" echoed Lionel.

"The night of the inquiry--that is, the night of the accident," returned
Mr. Bourne. "She said she wished to confide a secret to me, which she
had not liked to touch upon before, but which she could not leave the
place without confiding to some one responsible, who might use it in
case of need. The secret she proceeded to tell me was--that it was
Frederick Massingbird who had been quarrelling with Rachel that night by
the Willow Pool. She could swear it to me, she said, if necessary."

"But--if that were true--why did she not proclaim it at the time?" asked
Lionel, after a pause.

"It was all she said. And she would not be questioned. 'In case o' need,
sir, in case anybody else should ever be brought up for it, tell 'em
that Dinah Roy asserted to you with her last breath in Deerham, that Mr.
Fred Massingbird was the one that was with Rachel.' Those were the words
she used to me; I dotted them down after she left. As I tell you, she
would not be questioned, and glided out again almost immediately."

"Was she wandering in her mind?"

"I think not. She spoke with an air of truth. When I heard of the flight
of the converts the next morning, I could only conclude that Mrs. Roy
had intended to be amongst them. But now, understand me, Mr. Verner,
although I have told you this, I have not mentioned it to another living
soul. Neither do I intend to do so. It can do no good to reap up the sad
tale; whether Frederick Massingbird was or was not with Rachel that
night; whether he was in any way guilty, or was purely innocent, it
boots not to inquire now."

"It does not," warmly replied Lionel. "You have done well. Let us bury
Mrs. Roy's story between us, and forget it, so far as we can."

They parted. Lionel took his way to Deerham Court, absorbed in thought.
His own strong impression had been, that Mr. Fred Massingbird was the
black sheep with regard to Rachel.



CHAPTER XLIII.

LIONEL'S PRAYER FOR FORGIVENESS.


Lady Verner, like many more of us, found that misfortunes do not come
singly. Coeval almost with that great misfortune, Lionel's marriage--at
any rate, coeval with his return to Verner's Pride with his
bride--another vexation befell Lady Verner. Had Lady Verner found real
misfortunes to contend with, it is hard to say how she would have borne
them. Perhaps Lionel's marriage to Sibylla was a real misfortune; but
this second vexation assuredly was not--at any rate to Lady Verner.

Some women--and Lady Verner was one--are fond of scheming and planning.
Whether it be the laying out of a flower-bed, or the laying out of a
marriage, they must plan and project. Disappointment with regard to her
own daughter--for Decima most unqualifyingly disclaimed any match-making
on her own score--Lady Verner had turned her hopes in this respect on
Lucy Tempest. She deemed that she should be ill-fulfilling the
responsibilities of her guardianship, unless when Colonel Tempest
returned to England, she could present Lucy to him a wife, or, at least,
engaged to be one. Many a time now did she unavailingly wish that Lionel
had chosen Lucy, instead of her whom he had chosen. Although--and mark
how we estimate things by comparison--when, in the old days, Lady Verner
had fancied Lionel was growing to like Lucy, she had told him
emphatically it "would not do." Why would it not do? Because, in the
estimation of Lady Verner, Lucy Tempest was less desirable in a social
point of view than the Earl of Elmsley's daughter, and upon the latter
lady had been fixed her hopes for Lionel.

All that was past and gone. Lady Verner had seen the fallacy of
sublunary hopes and projects. Lady Mary Elmsley was rejected--Lionel had
married in direct defiance of everybody's advice--and Lucy was open to
offers. Open to offers, as Lady Verner supposed; but she was destined to
find herself unpleasantly disappointed.

One came forward with an offer to her. And that was no other than the
Earl of Elmsley's son, Viscount Garle. A pleasant man, of
eight-and-twenty years; and he was often at Lady Verner's. He had been
intimate there a long while, going in and out as unceremoniously as did
Lionel or Jan. Lady Verner and Decima could tell a tale that no one else
suspected. How, in the years gone by--some four or five years ago
now--he had grown to love Decima with his whole heart; and Decima had
rejected him. In spite of his sincere love; of the advantages of the
match; of the angry indignation of Lady Verner; Decima had steadfastly
rejected him. For some time Lord Garle would not take the rejection; but
one day, when my lady was out, Decima spoke with him privately for five
minutes, and from that hour Lord Garle had known there was no hope; had
been content to begin there and then, and strive to love her only as a
sister. The little episode was never known; Decima and Lady Verner had
kept counsel, and Lord Garle had not told tales of himself. Next to
Lionel, Lady Verner liked Lord Garle better than any one--ten times
better than she liked unvarnished Jan; and he was allowed the run of the
house as though he had been its son. The first year of Lucy's
arrival--the year of Lionel's illness, Lord Garle had been away from the
neighbourhood; but somewhere about the time of Sibylla's return, he had
come back to it. Seeing a great deal of Lucy, as he necessarily did,
being so much at Lady Verner's, he grew to esteem and love her. Not with
the same love he had borne for Decima--a love, such as that, never comes
twice in a lifetime--but with a love sufficiently warm, notwithstanding.
And he asked her to become his wife.

_There_ was triumph for Lady Verner! Next to Decima--and all hope of
that was dead for ever--she would like Lord Garle to marry Lucy. A real
triumph, the presenting her to Colonel Tempest on his return, my Lady
Viscountess Garle! In the delight of her heart she betrayed something of
this to Lucy.

"But I am not going to marry him, Lady Verner," objected Lucy.

"You are not going to marry him, Lucy? He confided to me the fact of his
intention this morning before he spoke to you. He _has_ spoken to you,
has he not?"

"Yes," replied Lucy; "but I cannot accept him."

"You--cannot! What are you talking of?" cried Lady Verner.

"Please not to be angry, Lady Verner! I could not marry Lord Garle."

Lady Verner's lips grew pale. "And pray why can you not?" she demanded.

"I--don't like him," stammered Lucy.

"Not like him!" repeated Lady Verner. "Why, what can there be about Lord
Garle that you young ladies do not like?" she wondered; her thoughts
cast back to the former rejection by Decima. "He is good-looking, he is
sensible; there's not so attractive a man in all the county, Lionel
Verner excepted."

Lucy's face turned to a fiery glow. "Had I known he was going to ask me,
I would have requested him not to do so beforehand, as my refusal has
displeased you," she simply said. "I am sorry you should be vexed with
me, Lady Verner."

"It appears to me that nothing but vexation is to be the portion of my
life!" uttered Lady Verner. "Thwarted--thwarted always!--on all sides.
First the one, then the other--nothing but crosses and vexations! What
did you say to Lord Garle?"

"I told Lord Garle that I could not marry him; that I should never like
him well enough--for he said, if I did not care for him now, I might
later. But I told him no; it was impossible. I like him very well as a
friend, but that is all."

"_Why_ don't you like him?" repeated Lady Verner.

"I don't know," whispered Lucy, standing before Lady Verner like a
culprit, her eyes cast down, and her eyelashes resting on her hot
crimsoned face.

"Do you _both_ mean to make yourselves into old maids, you and Decima?"
reiterated the angry Lady Verner. "A pretty pair of you I shall have on
my hands! I never was so annoyed in all my life."

Lucy burst into tears. "I wish I could go to papa in India!" she said.

"Do you know what you have rejected?" asked Lady Verner. "You would have
been a peeress of England. His father will not live for ever."

"But I should not care to be a peeress," sobbed Lucy. "And I don't like
him."

"Mamma, please do not say any more," pleaded Decima. "Lucy is not to
blame. If she does not like Lord Garle she could not accept him."

"Of course she is not to blame--according to you, Miss Verner! You were
not to blame, were you, when you rejected--some one we knew of? Not the
least doubt that you will take her part! Young Bitterworth wished to
have proposed to you; you sent him away--as you send all--and refuse to
tell me your motive! Very dutiful you are, Decima!"

Decima turned away her pale face. She began to think Lucy would do
better without her advocacy than with it.

"I cannot allow it to end thus," resumed Lady Verner to Lucy. "You must
reconsider your determination and recall Lord Garle."

The words frightened Lucy.

"I never can--I never can, Lady Verner!" she cried. "Please not to press
it; it is of no use."

"I must press it," replied Lady Verner. "I cannot allow you to throw
away your future prospects in this childish manner. How should I answer
for it to Colonel Tempest?"

She swept out of the room as she concluded, and Lucy, in an
uncontrollable fit of emotion, threw herself on the bosom of Decima, and
sobbed there. Decima hushed her to her soothingly, stroking her hair
from her forehead with a fond gesture.

"What is it that has grieved you lately, Lucy?" she gently asked. "I am
sure you have been grieving. I have watched you. Gay as you appear to
have been, it is a false gaiety, seen only by fits and starts."

Lucy moved her face from the view of Decima. "Oh, Decima! if I could but
go back to papa!" was all she murmured. "If I could but go away, and be
with papa!"

This little episode had taken place the day that Lionel Verner and his
wife returned. On the following morning Lady Verner renewed the contest
with Lucy. And they were deep in it--at least my lady was, for Lucy's
chief part was only a deprecatory silence, when Lionel arrived at
Deerham Court, to pay that visit to his mother which you have heard of.

"I insist upon it, Lucy, that you recall your unqualified denial," Lady
Verner was saying. "If you will not accept Lord Garle immediately, at
any rate take time for consideration. I will inform Lord Garle that you
do it by my wish."

"I cannot," replied Lucy in a firm, almost a vehement tone. "I--you must
not be angry with me, Lady Verner--indeed, I beg your pardon for saying
it--but I will not."

"How dare you, Lucy--"

Her ladyship stopped at the sudden opening of the door, turning angrily
to see what caused the interruption. Her servant appeared.

"Mr. Verner, my lady."

How handsome he looked as he came forward! Tall, noble, commanding.
Never more so; never so much so in Lucy's sight. Poor Lucy's heart was
in her mouth, as the saying runs, and her pulses quickened to a pang.
She did not know of his return.

He bent to kiss his mother. He turned and shook hands with Lucy. He
looked gay, animated, happy. A joyous bridegroom, beyond doubt.

"So you have reached home, Lionel?" said Lady Verner.

"At ten last night. How well you are looking, mother mine!"

"I am flushed just now," was the reply of Lady Verner, her accent a
somewhat sharp one from the remembrance of the vexation which had given
her the flush. "How is Paris looking? Have you enjoyed yourself?"

"Paris is looking hot and dusty, and we have enjoyed ourselves much,"
replied Lionel. He answered in the plural, you observe; my lady had put
the question in the singular. Where is Decima?"

"Decima is sure to be at some work or other for Jan," was the answer,
the asperity of Lady Verner's tone not decreasing. "He turns the house
nearly upside down with his wants. Now a pan of broth must be made for
some wretched old creature; now a jug of beef tea; now a bran poultice
must be got; now some linen cut up for bandages. Jan's excuse is that he
can't get anything done at Dr. West's. If he is doctor to the parish, he
need not be purveyor; but you may just as well speak to a post as speak
to Jan. What do you suppose he did the other day? Those improvident
Kellys had their one roomful of things taken from them by their
landlord. Jan went there--the woman's ill with a bad breast, or
something--and found her lying on the bare boards; nothing to cover her,
not a saucepan left to boil a drop of water. Off he comes here at the
pace of a steam engine, got an old blanket and pillow from Catherine,
and a tea-kettle from the kitchen. Now, Lionel, would you believe what I
am going to tell you? No! No one would. He made the pillow and blanket
into a bundle, and walked off with it under his arm; the kettle--never
so much as a piece of paper wrapped round it--in his other hand! I felt
ready to faint with shame when I saw him crossing the road opposite,
that spectacle, to get to Clay Lane, the kettle held out a yard before
him to keep the black off his clothes. He never could have been meant to
be your brother and my son!"

Lucy laughed at the recollection. She had had the pleasure of beholding
the spectacle. Lionel laughed now at the description. Their mirth did
not please Lady Verner. She was serious in her complaint.

"Lionel, you would not have liked it yourself. Fancy his turning out of
Verner's Pride in that guise, and encountering visitors! I don't know
how it is, but there's some deficiency in Jan; something wanting. You
know he generally chooses to come here by the back door: this day,
because he had got the black kettle in his hand like a travelling
tinker, he must go out by the front. He did! It saved him a few steps,
and he went out without a blush. Out of my house, Lionel! Nobody ever
lived, I am certain, who possessed so little innate notion of the
decencies of life as Jan. Had he met a carriage full of visitors in the
courtyard, he would have swung the kettle back on his arm, and gone up
to shake hands with them. I had the nightmare that night, Lionel. I
dreamt a tall giant was pursuing me, seeking to throw some great machine
at me, made of tea-kettles."

"Jan is an odd fellow," assented Lionel.

"The worst is, you can't bring him to see, himself, what is proper or
improper," resumed Lady Verner. "He has no sense of the fitness of
things. He would go as unblushingly through the village with that black
kettle held out before him, as he would if it were her Majesty's crown,
borne on a velvet cushion."

"I am not sure but the crown would embarrass Jan more than the kettle,"
said Lionel, laughing still.

"Oh, I dare say; it would be just like him. Have you heard of the
disgraceful flitting away of some of the inhabitants here to go after
the Mormons?" added my lady.

"Jan has been telling me of it. What with one thing and another, Deerham
will rise into notoriety. Nancy has gone from Verner's Pride."

"Poor deluded woman!" ejaculated Lady Verner.

"There's a story told in the village about that Peckaby's wife--Decima
can tell it best, though. I wonder where she is?"

Lucy rose. "I will go and find her, Lady Verner."

No sooner had she quitted the room, than Lady Verner turned to Lionel,
her manner changing. She began to speak rapidly, with some emotion.

"You observed that I looked well, Lionel. I told you I was flushed. The
flush was caused by vexation, by anger. Not a week passes but something
or other occurs to annoy me. I shall be worried into my grave."

"What has happened?" inquired Lionel.

"It is about Lucy Tempest. Here she is, upon my hands, and of course I
am responsible. She has no mother, and I am responsible to Colonel
Tempest and to my own conscience for her welfare. She will soon be
twenty years of age--though I am sure nobody would believe it, to look
at her--and it is time that her settlement in life should, at all
events, be thought of. But now, look how things turn out! Lord
Garle--than whom a better _parti_ could not be wished--has fallen in
love with her. He made her an offer yesterday, and she won't have him."

"Indeed!" replied Lionel, constrained to say something, but wishing Lady
Verner would entertain him with any other topic.

"We had quite a scene here yesterday. Indeed, it has been renewed this
morning, and your coming in interrupted it. I tell her that she must
have him: at any rate, must take time to consider the advantages of the
offer. She obstinately protests that she will not. I cannot think what
can be her motive for rejection; almost any girl in the county would
jump at Lord Garle."

"I suppose so," returned Lionel, pulling at a hole in his glove.

"I must get you to speak to her, Lionel. Ask her why she declines. Show
her--"

"I speak to her!" interrupted Lionel in a startled tone. "I cannot speak
to her about it, mother. It is no business of mine."

"Good heavens, Lionel! are _you_ going to turn disobedient?--And in so
trifling-a matter as this!--trifling so far as you are concerned. Were
it of vital importance to you, you might run counter to me; it is only
what I should expect."

This was a stab at his marriage. Lionel replied by disclaiming any
influence over Miss Tempest. "Where your arguments have failed, mine
would not be likely to succeed."

"Then you are mistaken, Lionel. I am certain that you hold a very great
influence over Lucy. I observed it first when you were ill, when she and
Decima were so much with you. She has betrayed it in a hundred little
ways; her opinions are formed upon yours; your tastes unconsciously bias
hers. It is only natural. She has no brother, and no doubt has learned
to regard you as one."

Lionel hoped in his inmost heart that she did regard him only as a
brother. Lady Verner continued--

"A word from you may have great effect upon her; and I desire, Lionel,
that you will, in your duty to me, undertake that word. Point out to her
the advantages of the match; tell her that you speak to her as her
father; urge her to accept Lord Garle; or, as I say, not to summarily
reject him without consideration, upon the childish plea that she 'does
not like him.' She was terribly agitated last night; nearly went into
hysterics, Decima tells me, after I left her; all her burden being that
she wished she could go away to India."

"Mother--you know how pleased I should be to obey any wish of yours; but
this is really not a proper business for me to interfere with," urged
Lionel, a red spot upon his cheek.

"Why is it not?" pointedly asked Lady Verner, looking hard at him and
waiting for an answer.

"I do not deem it to be so. Neither would Lucy consider my interference
justifiable."

"But, Lionel, you take up wrong notions! I wish you to speak in my
place, just as if you were her father; in short, acting for her father.
As to what Lucy may consider or not consider in the matter, that is of
very little consequence. Lucy is so perfectly unsophisticated, so simple
in her ideas, that were I to desire my maid Thérèse to give her a
lecture, she would receive it as something proper."

"I should be most unwilling to----"

"Hold your tongue, Lionel. You must do it. Here she is."

"I could not find Decima, Lady Verner," said Lucy, entering. "When I
had been all over the house for her, Catherine told me Miss Decima had
gone out. She has gone to Clay Lane on some errand for Jan."

"Oh, of course for Jan!" resentfully spoke Lady Verner. "Nothing else, I
should think, would take her to Clay Lane. You see, Lionel!"

"There's nothing in Clay Lane that will hurt Decima, mother."

Lady Verner made no reply. She walked to the door, and stood with the
handle in her hand, turning round to speak.

"Lucy, I have been acquainting Lionel with this affair between you and
Lord Garle. I have requested him to speak to you upon the point; to
ascertain your precise grounds of objection, and--so far as he can--to
do away with them. Try your best, Lionel."

She quitted the room, leaving them standing opposite each other.
Standing like two statues. Lionel's heart smote him. She looked so
innocent, so good, in her delicate morning dress, with its gray ribbons
and its white lace on the sleeves, open to the small fair arms! Simple
as the dress was, it looked, in its exquisite taste, worth ten of
Sibylla's elaborate French costumes. Her cheeks were glowing, her hands
were trembling, as she stood there in her self-consciousness.

Terribly self-conscious was Lionel. He strove to say something, but in
his embarrassment could not get out a single word. The conviction of the
grievous fact, that she loved him, went right to his heart in that
moment, and seated itself there. Another grievous fact came home to him;
that she was more to him than the whole world. However he had pushed the
suspicion away from his mind, refused to dwell on it, kept it down, it
was all too plain to him now. He had made Sibylla his wife. He stood
there, feeling that he loved Lucy above all created things.

He crossed over to her, and laid his hand fondly and gently on her head,
as he moved to the door. "May God forgive me, Lucy!" broke from his
white and trembling lips. "My own punishment is heavier than yours."

There was no need of further explanation on either side. Each knew that
the love of the other was theirs, the punishment keenly bitter, as
surely as if a hundred words had told it. Lucy sat down as the door
closed behind him, and wondered how she should get through the long
dreary life before her.

And Lionel? Lionel went out by Jan's favourite way, the back, and
plunged into a dark lane where neither ear nor eye was on him. He
uncovered his head, he threw back his coat, he lifted his breath to
catch only a gasp of air. The sense of dishonour was stifling him.



CHAPTER XLIV.

FARMER BLOW'S WHITE-TAILED PONY.


Lionel Verner was just in that frame of mind which struggles to be
carried out of itself. No matter whether by pleasure or pain, so that it
be not that particular pain from which it would fain escape, the mind
seeks yearningly to forget itself, to be lifted out anywhere, or by any
means, from its trouble. Conscience was doing heavy work with Lionel. He
had destroyed his own happiness--that was nothing; he could battle it
out, and nobody be the wiser or the worse, save himself; but he had
blighted Lucy's. _There_ was the sting that tortured him. A man of
sensitively refined organisation, keenly alive to the feelings of
others--full of repentant consciousness when wrong was worked through
him, he would have given his whole future life and all its benefits, to
undo the work of the last few months. Either that he had never met Lucy,
or that he had not married Sibylla. _Which_ of those two events he would
have preferred to recall, he did not trust himself to think; whatever
may have been his faults, he had, until now, believed himself to be a
man of honour. It was too late. Give what he would, strive as he would,
repent as he would, the ill could neither be undone nor mitigated; it
was one of those unhappy things for which there is no redress; they must
be borne, as they best can, in patience and silence.

With these thoughts and feelings full upon him, little wonder was there
that Lionel Verner, some two hours after quitting Lucy, should turn into
Peckaby's shop. Mrs. Peckaby was seated back from the open door, crying,
and moaning, and swaying herself about, apparently in terrible pain,
physical or mental. Lionel remembered the story of the white donkey, and
he stepped in to question her; anything for a minute's divertisement;
anything to drown the care that was racking him. There was a subject on
which he wished to speak to Roy, and that took him down Clay Lane.

"What's the matter, Mrs. Peckaby?"

Mrs. Peckaby rose from her chair, curtseyed, and sat down again. But for
the state of tribulation she was in, she would have remained standing.

"Oh, sir, I have had a upset," she sobbed. "I see the white tail of a
pony a-going by, and I thought it might be some'at else. It did give me
a turn!"

"What did you think it might be?"

"I thought it might be the tail of a different sort of animal. I be
a-going a far journey, sir, and I thought it was, may be, the quadruple
come to fetch me. I'm a-going to New Jerusalem on a white donkey."

"So I hear," said Lionel, suppressing a smile, in spite of his heavy
heart. "Do you go all the way on the white donkey, Mrs. Peckaby?"

"Sir, that's a matter that's hid from me," answered Mrs. Peckaby. "The
gentleman that was sent back to me by Brother Jarrum, hadn't had
particulars revealed to him. There's difficulties in the way of a animal
on four legs which can't swim, doing it all, that I don't pretend to
explain away. I'm content, when the hour comes, sir, to start, and
trust. Peckaby, he's awful sinful, sir. Only last evening, when I was
saying the quadruple might have mirac'lous parts give to it, like
Balum's had in the Bible, Peckaby he jeered, and said he'd like to see
Balum's or any other quadruple, set off to swim to America--that he'd
find the bottom afore he found the land. I wonder the kitchen ceiling
don't drop down upon his head! For myself, sir, I'm rejoiced to trust,
as I says; and as soon as the white donkey do come, I shall mount him
without fear."

"What do you expect to find at New Jerusalem?" asked Lionel.

"I could sooner tell you, sir, what I don't expect; it 'ud take up less
time. There's a'most everything good at New Jerusalem that the world
contains--Verner's Pride's a poor place to it, sir--saving your presence
for saying so. I could have sat and listened to Brother Jarrum in this
here shop for ever, sir, if it hadn't been that the longing was upon me
to get there. In this part o' the world we women be poor, cast down,
half-famished, miserable slaves; but in New Jerusalem we are the wives
of saints, well cared for, and clothed and fed, happy as the day's long,
and our own parlours to ourselves, and nobody to interrupt us. Yes,
Peckaby, I'm a-telling his honour, Mr. Verner, what's a-waiting for me
at New Jerusalem! And the sooner I'm on my road to it, the better."

The conclusion was addressed to Peckaby himself. Peckaby had just come
in from the forge, grimed and dirty. He touched his hair to Lionel, an
amused expression playing on his face. In point of fact, this New
Jerusalem vision was affording the utmost merriment to Peckaby and a few
more husbands. Peckaby had come home to his tea, which meal it was the
custom of Deerham to enjoy about three o'clock. He saw no signs of its
being in readiness; and, but for the presence of Mr. Verner, might
probably have expressed his opinion demonstratively upon the point.
Peckaby, of late, appeared to have changed his nature and disposition.
From being a timid man, living under wife-thraldom, he had come to
exercise thraldom over her. How far Mrs. Peckaby's state of low spirits,
into which she was generally sunk, may have explained this, nobody knew.

"I have had a turn, Peckaby. I caught sight of a white tail a-going by,
and I thought it might be the quadruple a-coming for me. I was shook, I
can tell you. 'Twas more nor an hour ago, and I've been able to do
nothing since, but sit here and weep; I couldn't redd up after that."

"Warn't it the quadrepid?" asked Peckaby in a mocking tone.

"No, it weren't," she moaned. "It were nothing but that white pony of
Farmer Blow's."

"Him, was it," said Peckaby, with affected scorn. "He is in the forge
now, he is; a-having his shoes changed, and his tail trimmed."

"I'd give a shilling to anybody as 'ud cut his tail off;" angrily
rejoined Mrs. Peckaby. "A-deceiving of me, and turning my inside all of
a quake! Oh, I wish it 'ud come! The white donkey as is to bear me to
New Jerusalem!"

"Don't you wish her joy of her journey, sir?" cried the man
respectfully, a twinkle in his eye, while she rocked herself too and
fro. "She have got a bran new gownd laid up in a old apron upstairs,
ready for the start. She, and a lot more to help her, set on and made it
in a afternoon, for fear the white donkey should arrive immediate. I
asks her, sir, how much back the gownd'll have left in him, by the time
she have rode from here to New Jerusalem."

"Peckaby, you are a mocker!" interposed his lady, greatly exasperated.
"Remember the forty-two as was eat up by bears when they mocked at
Elisher!"

"Mrs. Peckaby," said Lionel, keeping his countenance, "don't you think
you would have made more sure of the benefits of the New Jerusalem, had
you started with the rest, instead of depending upon the arrival of the
white donkey?"

"They started without her, sir," cried the man, laughing from ear to
ear. "They give her the slip, while she were a-bed and asleep."

"It were revealed to Brother Jarrum so to do, sir," she cried eagerly.
"Don't listen to _him_. Brother Jarrum as much meant me to go, sir, and
I as much thought to go, as I mean to go to my bed this night--always
supposing the white donkey don't come," she broke off in a different
voice.

"Why did you not go, then?" demanded Lionel.

"I'll tell you about it, sir. Me and Brother Jarrum was on the best of
terms--which it's a real gentleman he was, and never said a word nor
gave a look as could offend me. I didn't know the night fixed for the
start; and Brother Jarrum didn't know it; in spite of Peckaby's
insinuations. On that last night, which it was Tuesday, not a soul came
near the place but that pale lady where Dr. West attended. She stopped a
minute or two, and then Brother Jarrum goes out, and says he might be
away all the evening. Well, he was; but he came in again; I can be on my
oath he did; and I give him his candle and wished him a good-night.
After that, sir, I never heard nothing till I got up in the morning. The
first thing I see was his door wide open, and the bed not slept in. And
the next thing I heard was, that the start had took place; they
a-walking to Heartburg, and taking the train there. You might just have
knocked me down with a puff of wind."

"Such a howling and screeching followed on, sir," put in Peckaby. "I
were at the forge, and it reached all the way to our ears, over there.
Chuff, he thought as the place had took fire and the missis was
a-burning."

"But it didn't last; it didn't last," repeated Mrs. Peckaby. "Thanks
be offered up for it, it didn't last, or I should ha' been in my
coffin afore the day were out! A gentleman came to me: a Brother
he were, sent express by Brother Jarrum; and had walked afoot all
the way from Heartburg. It had been revealed to Brother Jarrum, he
said, that they were to start that partic'lar night, and that I was
to be left behind special. A higher mission was--What was the word?
resigned?--no--reserved--reserved for me, and I was to be conveyed
special on a quadruple, which was a white donkey. I be to keep myself
in readiness, sir, always a-looking out for the quadruple's coming and
stopping afore the door."

Lionel leaned against the counter, and went into a burst of laughter.
The woman told it so quaintly, with such perfect good faith in the
advent of the white donkey! She did not much like the mirth. As to that
infidel Peckaby, he indulged in sundry mocking doubts, which were, to
say the least of them, very mortifying to a believer.

"What's your opinion, sir?" she suddenly asked of Lionel.

"Well," said Lionel, "my opinion--as you wish for it--Would incline to
the suspicion that your friend, Brother Jarrum, deceived you. That he
invented the fable of the white donkey to keep you quiet while he and
the rest got clear off."

Mrs. Peckaby Went into a storm of shrieking sobs. "It couldn't be! it
couldn't be! Oh, sir, you be as cruel as the rest! Why should Brother
Jarrum take the others, and not take me?"

"That is Brother Jarrum's affair," replied Lionel. "I only say it looks
like it."

"I telled Brother Jarrum, the very day afore the start took place, that
if he took off _my_ wife, I'd follor him on and beat every bone to smash
as he'd got in his body," interposed Peckaby, glancing at Lionel with a
knowing smile. "I did, sir. Her was out"--jerking his black thumb at his
wife--"and I caught Brother Jarrum in his own room and shut the door on
us both, and there I telled him. He knew I meant it, too, and he didn't
like the look of a iron bar I happened to have in my hand. I saw that.
Other wives' husbands might do as they liked; but I warn't a-going to
have mine deluded off by them Latter Day Saints. Were I wrong, sir?"

"I do not think you were," answered Lionel.

"I'd Latter Day 'em! and saint 'em too, if I had my will!" continued
wrathful Peckaby. "Arch-deceiving villuns!"

"Well, good-day, Mrs. Peckaby," said Lionel, moving to the door. "I
would not spend too much time were I you, looking out for the white
donkey."

"It'll come! it'll come!" retorted Mrs. Peckaby, in an ecstasy of joy,
removing her hands from her ears, where she had clapped them during
Peckaby's heretical speech. "I am proud, sir, to know as it'll come, in
spite of opinions contrairey and Peckaby's wickedness; and I'm proud to
be always a-looking out for it."

"This is never it, is it, drawing up to the door now?" cried Lionel,
with gravity.

Something undoubtedly was curveting and prancing before the door;
something with a white flowing tail. Mrs. Peckaby caught one glimpse,
and bounded from her seat, her chest panting, her nostrils working. The
signs betrayed how implicit was the woman's belief; how entirely it had
taken hold of her.

Alas! for Mrs. Peckaby. Alas! for her disappointment. It was nothing but
that deceiving animal again, Farmer Blow's white pony. Apparently the
pony had been so comfortable in the forge, that he did not care to leave
it. He was dodging about and backing, wholly refusing to go forward, and
setting at defiance a boy who was striving to lead him onwards. Mrs.
Peckaby sat down and burst into tears.



CHAPTER XLV.

STIFLED WITH DISHONOUR.


"Now, then," began Peckaby, as Lionel departed, "what's the reason my
tea ain't ready for me."

"Be you a man to ask?" demanded she. "Could I redd up and put on
kettles, and, see to ord'nary work, with my inside turning?"

Peckaby paused for a minute. "I've a good mind to wallop you!"

"Try it," she aggravatingly answered. "You have not kep' your hands off
me yet to be let begin now. Anybody but a brute 'ud comfort a poor woman
in her distress. You'll be sorry for it when I'm gone off to New
Jerusalem."

"Now, look here, Suke," said he, attempting to reason with her. "It's
quite time as you left off this folly; we've had enough on't. What do
you suppose you'd do at Salt Lake? What sort of a life 'ud you lead?"

"A joyful life!" she responded, turning her glance sky-ward. "Brother
Jarrum thinks as the head saint, the prophet hisself, has a favour to
me! Wives is as happy there as the day's long."

Peckaby grinned; the reply amused him much. "You poor ignorant creatur,"
cried he, "you have got your head up in a mad-house; and that's about
it. You know Mary Green?"

"Well?" answered she, looking surprised at this _divertissement_.

"And you know Nancy from Verner's Pride as is gone off," he continued,
"and you know half a dozen more nice young girls about here, which you
can just set on and think of. How 'ud you like to see me marry the whole
of 'em, and bring 'em home here? Would the house hold the tantrums you'd
go into, d'ye think?"

"You hold your senseless tongue, Peckaby! A man 'ud better try and bring
home more nor one wife here! The law 'ud be on to him."

"In course it would," returned Peckaby! "And the law knowed what it was
about when it made itself into the law. A place with more nor one wife
in it 'ud be compairable to nothing but that blazing place you've heerd
on as is under our feet, or the Salt Lake City."

"For shame, you wicked man!"

"There ain't no shame, in saying that; it's truth," composedly answered
Peckaby. "Brother Jarrum said, didn't he, as the wives had a parlour
a-piece. Why do they? 'Cause they be obleeged to be kep' apart, for fear
o' damaging each other, a-tearing and biting and scratching, and
a-pulling of eyes out. A nice figure you'd cut among 'em! You'd be
a-wishing yourself home again afore you'd tried it for a day. Don't you
be a fool, Susan Peckaby."

"Don't you!" retorted she. "I wonder you ain't afraid o' some judgment
falling on you. Lies is sure to come home to people."

"Just take your thoughts back to the time as we had the shop here, and
plenty o' custom in it. One day you saw me just a-kissing of a girl in
that there corner--leastways you fancied as you saw me," corrected
Peckaby, coughing down his slip. "Well, d'ye recollect the scrimmage?
Didn't you go a'most mad, never keeping' your tongue quiet for a week,
and the place hardly holding of ye? How 'ud you like to have eight or
ten more of 'em, my married wives, like you be, brought in here?"

"You _are_ a fool, Peckaby. The cases is different."

"Where's the difference?" asked Peckaby. "The men be men, out there; and
the women be women. I might pertend as I'd had visions and revelations
sent to me, and dress myself up in a black coat and a white
neck-an-kecher, and suchlike paycock's plumes--I might tar and feather
myself if I pleased, if it come to that--and give out as I was a prophit
and a Latter Day Saint; but where 'ud be the difference, I want to know?
I should just be as good and as bad a man as I be now, only a bit more
of a hypocrite. Saints and prophits, indeed! You just come to your
senses, Susan Peckaby."

"I haven't lost 'em yet," answered she, looking inclined to beat him.

"You have lost 'em; to suppose as a life, out with them reptiles, could
be anything but just what I telled you--a hell. It can't be otherways.
It's again human female natur. If you went angry mad with jealousy, just
at fancying you see a innocent kiss give upon a girl's face, how 'ud you
do, I ask, when it come to wives? Tales runs as them 'saints' have got
any number a-piece, from four or five, up to seventy. If you don't come
to your senses, Mrs. Peckaby, you'll get a walloping, to bring you to
'em; and that's about it. You be the laughing-stock o' the place as it
is."

He swung out at the door, and took his way towards the nearest
public-house, intending to solace himself with a pint of ale, in lieu of
tea, of which he saw no chance. Mrs. Peckaby burst into a flood of
tears, and apostrophised the expected white donkey in moving terms: that
he would forthwith appear and bear her off from Peckaby and trouble, to
the triumphs and delights of New Jerusalem.

Lionel, meanwhile, went to Roy's dwelling. Roy, he found, was not in it.
Mrs. Roy was; and, by the appearance of the laid-out tea-table, she was
probably expecting Roy to enter. Mrs. Roy sat doing nothing, her arms
hung listlessly down, her head also; sunk apparently in that sad state
of mind--whatever may have been its cause--which was now habitual to
her. By the start with which she sprang from her chair, as Lionel Verner
appeared at the open door, it may be inferred that she took him for her
husband. Surely nobody else could have put her in such tremor.

"Roy's not in, sir," she said, dropping a curtsey, in answer to Lionel's
inquiry. "May be, he'll not be long. It's his time for coming home, but
there's no dependence on him."

Lionel glanced round. He saw that the woman was alone, and he deemed it
a good opportunity to ask her about what had been mentioned to him, two
or three hours previously, by the Vicar of Deerham. Closing the door,
and advancing towards her, he began.

"I want to say a word to you, Mrs. Roy. What were your grounds for
stating to Mr. Bourne that Mr. Frederick Massingbird was with Rachel
Frost at the Willow Pool the evening of her death?"

Mrs. Roy gave a low shriek of terror, and flung her apron over her face.
Lionel ungallantly drew it down again. Her countenance was turning livid
as death.

"You will have the goodness to answer me, Mrs. Roy."

"It were just a dream sir," she said, the words issuing in unequal jerks
from her trembling lips, "I have been pretty nigh crazed lately. What
with them Mormons, and the uncertainty of fixing what to do--whether to
believe 'em or not--and Roy's crabbed temper, which grows upon him, and
other fears and troubles, I've been a-nigh crazed. It were just a dream
as I had, and nothing more; and I be vexed to my heart that I should
have made such a fool of myself, as to go and say what I did to Mr.
Bourne."

One word above all others, caught the attention of Lionel in the answer.
It was "fears." He bent towards her, lowering his voice.

"What are these fears that seem to pursue you? You appear to me to have
been perpetually under the influence of fear since that night. Terrified
you were then; terrified you remain. What is the cause?"

The woman trembled excessively.

"Roy keeps me in fear, sir. He's for ever a-threatening. He'll shake me,
or he'll pinch me, or he'll do for me, he says. I'm in fear of him
always."

"That is an evasive answer," remarked Lionel. "Why should you fear to
confide in me? You have never known me to take an advantage to anybody's
injury. The past is past. That unfortunate night's work appears now to
belong wholly to the past. Nevertheless, if you can throw any light
upon it, it is your duty to do so. I will keep the secret."

"I didn't know a thing, sir, about the night's work. I didn't," she
sobbed.

"Hush!" said Lionel. "I felt sure at the time that you did know
something, had you chosen to speak. I feel more sure of it now."

"No, I don't, sir; not if you pulled me in pieces for it. I had a horrid
dream, and I went straight off, like a fool, to Mr. Bourne and told it,
and--and--that was all, sir."

She was flinging her apron up again to hide her countenance, when, with
a faint cry, she let it fall, sprung from her seat, and stood before
Lionel.

"For the love of heaven, sir, say nothing to _him_!" she uttered, and
disappeared within an inner door. The sight of Roy, entering, explained
the enigma; she must have seen him from the window. Roy took off his cap
by way of salute.

"I hope I see you well, sir, after your journey."

"Quite well. Roy, some papers have been left at Verner's Pride for my
inspection, regarding the dispute in Farmer Hartright's lease. I do not
understand them. They bear your signature, not Mrs. Verner's. How is
that?"

Roy stopped a while--to collect his thoughts, possibly. "I suppose I
signed it for her, sir."

"Then you did what you had no authority to do. You never received power
to sign from Mrs. Verner."

"Mrs. Verner must have give me power, sir, if I _have_ signed. I don't
recollect signing anything. Sometimes, when she was ill, or unwilling to
be disturbed, she'd say, 'Roy, do this,' or, 'Roy, do the other.' She--"

"Mrs. Verner never gave you authority to sign," impressively repeated
Lionel. "She is gone, and therefore cannot be referred to; but you know
as well as I do, that she never did give you such authority. Come to
Verner's Pride to-morrow morning at ten, and see these papers."

Roy signified his obedience, and Lionel departed. He bent his steps
towards home, taking the field way; all the bitter experiences of the
day rising up within his mind. Ah! try as he would, he could not deceive
himself; he could not banish or drown the one ever-present thought. The
singular information imparted by Mr. Bourne; the serio-comic tribulation
of Mrs. Peckaby, waiting for her white donkey; the mysterious behaviour
of Dinah Roy, in which there was undoubtedly more than met the ear; all
these could not cover for a moment the one burning fact--Lucy's love,
and his own dishonour. In vain Lionel flung off his hat, heedless of any
second sun-stroke, and pushed his hair from his heated brow. It was of
no use; as he had felt when he went out from the presence of Lucy, so he
felt now--_stifled_ with dishonour.

Sibylla was at a table, writing notes, when he reached home. Several
were on it, already written, and in their envelopes. She looked up at
him.

"Oh, Lionel, what a while you have been out! I thought you were never
coming home."

He leaned down and kissed her. Although his conscience had revealed to
him, that day, that he loved another better, _she_ should never feel the
difference. Nay, the very knowledge that it was so would render him all
the more careful to give her marks of love.

"I have been to my mother's, and to one or two more places. What are you
so busy over, dear?"

"I am writing invitations," said Sibylla.

"Invitations! Before people have called upon you?"

"They can call all the same. I have been asking Mary Tynn how many beds
she can, by dint of screwing, afford. I am going to fill them all. I
shall ask them for a month. How grave you look, Lionel!"

"In this first early sojourn together in our own house, Sibylla, I think
we shall be happier alone."

"Oh, no, we should not. I love visitors. We shall be together all the
same, Lionel."

"My little wife," he said, "if you cared for me as I care for you, you
would not feel the want of visitors just now."

And there was no sophistry in this speech. He had come to the conviction
that Lucy ought to have been his wife, but he did care for Sibylla very
much. The prospect of a house full of guests at the present moment,
appeared most displeasing to him, if only as a matter of taste.

"Put it off for a few weeks, Sibylla."

Sibylla pouted. "It is of no use preaching, Lionel. If you are to be a
preaching husband, I shall be sorry I married you. Fred was never that."

Lionel's face turned blood-red. Sibylla put up her hand, and drew it
carelessly down.

"You must let me have my own way for this once," she coaxingly said.
"What's the use of my bringing all those loves of things from Paris, if
we are to live in a dungeon, and nobody's to see them? I must invite
them, Lionel."

"Very well," he answered, yielding the point. Yielding it the more
readily from the consciousness above spoken of.

"There's my dear Lionel! I knew you would never turn tyrant. And now I
want something else."

"What's that?" asked Lionel.

"A cheque."

"A cheque? I gave you one this morning, Sibylla."

"Oh! but the one you gave me is for housekeeping--for Mary Tynn, and all
that. I want one for myself. I am not going to have my expenses come out
of the housekeeping."

Lionel sat down to write one, a good-natured smile on his face. "I'm
sure I don't know what you will find to spend it in, after all the
finery you bought in Paris," he said, in a joking tone. "How much shall
I fill it in for?"

"As much as you will," replied Sibylla, too eagerly. "Couldn't you give
it me in blank, and let me fill it in?"

He made no answer. He drew it for £100, and gave it her.

"Will that do, my dear?"

She drew his face down again caressingly. But, in spite of the kisses
left upon his lips, Lionel had awoke to the conviction, firm and
undoubted, that his wife did not love him.



CHAPTER XLVI.

SHADOWED-FORTH EMBARRASSMENT.


The September afternoon sun streamed into the study at Verner's Pride,
playing with the bright hair of Lionel Verner. His head was bending
listlessly over certain letters and papers on his table, and there was a
wearied look upon his face. Was it called up by the fatigue of the day?
He had been out with some friends in the morning; it was the first day
of partridge shooting, and they had bagged well. Now Lionel was home
again, had changed his attire, and was sitting down in his study--the
old study of Mr. Verner. Or, was the wearied look, were the indented
upright lines between the eyes, called forth by inward care?

Those lines were not so conspicuous when you last saw him. Twelve or
fourteen months have elapsed since then. A portion of that time only had
been spent at Verner's Pride. Mrs. Verner was restless; ever wishing to
be on the wing; living but in gaiety. Her extravagance was something
frightful, and Lionel did not know how to check it. There were no
children; there had been no signs of any; and Mrs. Verner positively
made the lack into a sort of reproach, a continual cause for
querulousness.

She had filled Verner's Pride with guests after their marriage--as she
had coveted to do. From that period until early spring she had kept it
filled, one succession of guests, one relay of visitors arriving after
the other. Pretty, capricious, fascinating, youthful, Mrs. Verner was of
excessive popularity in the country, and a sojourn at Verner's Pride
grew to be eagerly sought. The women liked the attractive master; the
men bowed to the attractive mistress; and Verner's Pride was never free.
On the contrary, it was generally unpleasantly crammed; and Mrs. Tynn,
who was a staid, old-fashioned housekeeper, accustomed to nothing beyond
the regular, quiet household maintained by the late Mr. Verner, was
driven to the verge of desperation.

"It would be far pleasanter if we had only half the number of guests,"
Lionel had said to his wife in the winter. He no longer remonstrated
against _any_: he had given that up as hopeless. "Pleasanter for them,
pleasanter for us, pleasanter for the servants."

"The servants!" slightingly returned Sibylla. "I never knew before that
the pleasure of servants was a thing to be studied."

"But their comfort is. At least, I have always considered so, and I hope
I always shall. They complain much, Sibylla."

"Do they complain to you?"

"They do. Tynn and his wife say they are nearly worked to death. They
hint at leaving. Mrs. Tynn is continually subjected also to what she
calls insults from your French maid. That of course I know nothing of;
but it might be as well for you to listen to her on the subject."

"I cannot have Benoite crossed. I don't interfere in the household
myself, and she does it for me."

"But, my dear, if you would interfere a little more, just so far as to
ascertain whether these complaints have grounds, you might apply a
remedy."

"Lionel, you are most unreasonable! As if I could be worried with
looking into things! What are servants for? You must be a regular old
bachelor to think of my doing it."

"Well--to go to our first point," he rejoined. "Let us try half the
number of guests, and see how it works. If you do not find it better,
more agreeable in all ways, I will say no more about it."

He need not have said anything, then. Sibylla would not listen to it. At
any rate, would not act upon it. She conceded so far as to promise that
she would not invite so many next time. But, when that next time came,
and the new sojourners arrived, they turned out to be more. Beds had to
be improvised in all sorts of impossible places; the old servants were
turned out of their chambers and huddled into corners; nothing but
confusion and extravagance reigned. Against some of the latter, Mrs.
Tynn ventured to remonstrate to her mistress. Fruits and vegetables out
of season; luxuries in the shape of rare dishes, many of which Verner's
Pride had never heard of, and did not know how to cook, and all of the
most costly nature, were daily sent down from London purveyors. Against
this expense Mary Tynn spoke. Mrs. Verner laughed good-naturedly at her,
and told her it was not her pocket that would be troubled to pay the
bills. Additional servants were obliged to be had; and, in short, to use
an expression that was much in vogue at Deerham about that time,
Verner's Pride was going the pace.

This continued until early spring. In February Sibylla fixed her heart
upon a visit to London. "Of course," she told Lionel, "he would treat
her to a season in town." She had never been to London in her life to
stay. For Sibylla to fix her heart upon a thing, was to have it; Lionel
was an indulgent husband.

To London they proceeded in February. And there the cost was great.
Sibylla was not one to go to work sparingly in any way; neither, in
point of fact, was Lionel. Lionel would never have been unduly
extravagant; but, on the other hand, he was not accustomed to spare. A
furnished house in a good position was taken; servants were imported to
it from Verner's Pride; and there Sibylla launched into all the follies
of the day. At Easter she "set her heart" upon a visit to Paris, and
Lionel acquiesced. They remained there three weeks; Sibylla laying in a
second stock of _toilettes_ for Mademoiselle Benoite to rule over; and
then they went back to London.

The season was prolonged that year. The House sat until August, and it
was not until the latter end of that month that Mr. and Mrs. Verner
returned to Verner's Pride. Though scarcely home a week yet, the house
was filled again--filled to overflowing; Lionel can hear sounds of
talking and laughter from the various rooms, as he bends over his table.
He was opening his letters, three or four of which lay in a stack. He
had gone out in the morning before the post was in.

Tynn knocked at the door and entered, bringing a note.

"Where's this from?" asked Lionel, taking it from the salver. Another
moment, and he had recognised the handwriting of his mother.

"From Deerham Court, sir. My lady's footman brought it. He asks whether
there is any answer."

Lionel opened the note, and read as follows:--

    "MY DEAR LIONEL,--I am obliged to be a beggar again. My
    expenses seem to outrun my means in a most extraordinary sort
    of way. Sometimes I think it must be Decima's fault, and tell
    her she does not properly look after the household. In spite
    of my own income, your ample allowance, and the handsome
    remuneration received for Lucy, I cannot make both ends meet.
    Will you let me have two or three hundred pounds?

    "Ever your affectionate mother,

    "LOUISA VERNER."

"I will call on Lady Verner this afternoon, Tynn."

Tynn withdrew with the answer. Lionel leaned his brow upon his hand; the
weary expression terribly plain just then.

"My mother shall have it at once--no matter what my own calls may be,"
was his soliloquy. "Let me never forget that Verner's Pride might have
been hers all these years. Looking at it from our own point of view, my
father's branch in contradistinction of my uncle's, it ought to have
been hers. It might have been her jointure-house now, had my father
lived, and so willed it. I am _glad_ to help my mother," he continued,
an earnest glow lighting his face. "If I get embarrassed, why, I must
get embarrassed; but she shall not suffer."

That embarrassment would inevitably come, if he went on at his present
rate of living, he had the satisfaction of knowing beyond all doubt.
That was not the worst point upon his conscience. Of the plans and
projects that Lionel had so eagerly formed when he came into the estate,
some were set afloat, some were not. Those that were most wanted--that
were calculated to do the most real good--lay in abeyance; others, that
might have waited, were in full work. Costly alterations were making in
the stables at Verner's Pride, and the working man's institute at
Deerham--reading-room, club, whatever it was to be--was progressing
swimmingly. But the draining of the land near the poor dwellings was not
begun, and the families, many of them, still herded in consort--father
and mother, sons and daughters, sleeping in one room--compelled to it by
the wretched accommodation of the tenements. It was on this last score
that Lionel was feeling a pricking of conscience. And how to find the
money to make these improvements now, he knew not. Between the building
in progress and Sibylla, he was drained.

A circumstance had occurred that day to bring the latter neglect
forcibly to his mind. Alice Hook--Hook the labourer's eldest
daughter--had, as the Deerham phrase ran, got herself into trouble. A
pretty child she had grown up amongst them--she was little more than a
child now--good-tempered, gay-hearted. Lionel had heard the ill news the
previous week on his return from London. When he was out shooting that
morning he saw the girl at a distance, and made some observation to his
gamekeeper, Broom, to the effect that it had vexed him.

"Ay, sir, it's a sad pity," was Broom's answer; "but what else can be
expected of poor folks that's brought up to live as they do--like pigs
in a sty?"

Broom had intended no reproach to his master; such an impertinence would
not have crossed his mind; but the words carried a sting to Lionel. He
knew how many, besides Alice Hook, had had their good conduct undermined
through the living "like pigs in a sty." Lionel had, as you know, a
lively conscience; and his brow reddened with self-reproach as he sat
and thought these things over. He could not help comparing the contrast:
Verner's Pride, with its spacious bedrooms, one of which was not deemed
sufficient for the purposes of retirement, where two people slept
together, but a dressing-closet must be attached; and those poor Hooks,
with their growing-up sons and daughters, and but one room, save the
kitchen, in their whole dwelling!

"I will put things on a better footing," impulsively exclaimed Lionel.
"I care not what the cost may be, or how it may fall upon my comforts,
do it I will. I declare, I feel as if the girl's blight lay at my own
door!"

Again he and his reflections were interrupted by Tynn.

"Roy has come up, sir, and is asking to see you."

"Roy! Let him come in," replied Lionel. "I want to see him."

It frequently happened, when agreements, leases, and other deeds were
examined, that Roy had to be referred to. Things would turn out to have
been drawn up, agreements made, in precisely the opposite manner to that
expected by Lionel. For some of these Roy might have received sanction;
but, for many, Lionel felt sure Roy had acted on his own responsibility.
This chiefly applied to the short period of the management of Mrs.
Verner; a little, very little, to the latter year of her husband's life.
Matiss was Lionel's agent during his absences; when at home, he took all
management into his own hands.

Roy came in. The same ill-favoured, hard-looking man as ever. The
ostensible business which had brought him up to Verner's Pride, proved
to be of a very trivial nature, and was soon settled. It is well to say
"ostensible," because a conviction arose in Lionel's mind afterwards
that it was but an excuse: that Roy made it a pretext for the purpose of
obtaining an interview. Though why, or wherefore, or what he gained by
it, Lionel could not imagine. Roy merely wanted to know if he might be
allowed to put a fresh paper on the walls of one of his two upper rooms.
He'd get the paper at his own cost, and hang it at his own leisure, if
Mr. Verner had no objection.

"Of course I can have no objection to it," replied Lionel. "You need not
have lost an afternoon's work, Roy, to come here to inquire that. You
might have asked me when I saw you by the brick-field this morning. In
fact, there was no necessity to mention it at all."

"So I might, sir. But it didn't come into my mind at the moment to do
so. It's poor Luke's room, and the missis, she goes on continual about
the state it's in, if he should come home. The paper's all hanging off
it in patches, sir, as big as my two hands. It have got damp through not
being used."

"If it is in that state, and you like to find the time to hang the
paper, you may purchase it at my cost," said Lionel, who was of too just
a nature to be a hard landlord.

"Thank ye, sir," replied Roy, ducking his head. "It's well for us, as I
often says, that you be our master at last, instead of the Mr.
Massingbirds."

"There was a time when you did not think so, Roy, if my memory serves me
rightly," was the rebuke of Lionel.

"Ah, sir, there's a old saying, 'Live and learn.' That was in the days
when I thought you'd be a over strict master; we have got to know better
now, taught from experience. It was a lucky day for the Verner Pride
estate when that lost codicil was brought to light! The Mr. Massingbirds
be dead, it's true, but there's no knowing what might have happened; the
law's full of quips and turns. With the codicil found, you can hold your
own again' the world."

"Who told you anything about the codicil being found?" demanded Lionel.

"Why, sir, it was the talk of the place just about the time we heard of
Mr. Fred Massingbird's death. Folks said, whether he had died, or
whether he had not, you'd have come in all the same. T'other day, too, I
was talking of it to Lawyer Matiss, and he said what a good thing it
was, that that there codicil was found."

Lionel knew that a report of the turning up of the codicil had travelled
to Deerham. It had never been contradicted. But he wondered to hear Roy
say that Matiss had spoken of it. Matiss, himself, Tynn, and Mrs. Tynn,
were the only persons who could have testified that the supposed codicil
was nothing but a glove. From the finding of that, the story had
originally got wind.

"I don't know why Matiss should have spoken to you on the subject of the
codicil," he remarked to Roy.

"It's not much that Matiss talks, sir," was the man's answer. "All he
said was as he had got the codicil in safe keeping under lock and key.
Just put to Matiss the simplest question, and he'll turn round and ask
what business it is of yours."

"Quite right of him, too," said Lionel. "Have you any news of your son
yet, Roy?"

Roy shook his head. "No, sir. I'm a-beginning to wonder now whether
there ever will be news of him."

After the man had departed, Lionel looked at his watch. There was just
time for a ride to Deerham Court before dinner. He ordered his horse,
and mounted it, a cheque for three hundred pounds in his pocket.

He rode quickly, musing upon what Matiss had said about the codicil--as
stated by Roy. Could the deed have been found?--and Matiss forgotten to
acquaint him with it. He turned his horse down the Belvedere Road,
telling his groom to wait at the corner, and stopped before the lawyer's
door. The latter came out.

"Matiss, is that codicil found?" demanded Lionel, bending down his head
to speak.

"What codicil, Mr. Verner?" returned Matiss, looking surprised.

"_The_ codicil. The one that gave me the estate. Roy was with me just
now, and he said you stated to him that the codicil was found--that it
was safe under lock and key."

The lawyer's countenance lighted up with a smile. "What a meddler the
fellow is! To tell you the truth, sir, it rather pleases me to mislead
Roy, and put him on the wrong scent. He comes here, pumping, trying to
get what he can out of me: asking this, asking that, fishing out
anything there is to fish. I recollect, he did say something about the
codicil, and I replied, 'Ay, it was a good thing it was found, and safe
under lock and key.' He tries at the wrong handle when he pumps at me."

"What is his motive for pumping at all?" returned Lionel.

"There's no difficulty in guessing at that, sir. Roy would give his two
ears to get into place again; he'd like to fill the same post to you
that he did to the late Mr. Verner. He thinks if he can hang about here
and pick up any little bit of information that may be let drop, and
carry it to you, that it might tell in his favour. He would like you to
discover how useful he could be. That is the construction I put upon
it."

"Then he wastes his time," remarked Lionel, as he turned his horse. "I
would not put power of any sort into Roy's hands, if he paid me in
diamonds to do it. You can tell him so, if you like, Matiss."

Arrived at Deerham Court, Lionel left his horse with his groom, and
entered. The first person to greet his sight in the hall was Lucy
Tempest. She was in white silk; a low dress, somewhat richly trimmed
with lace, and pearls in her hair. It was the first time that Lionel had
seen her since his return from London. He had been at his mother's once
or twice, but Lucy did not appear. They met face to face. Lucy's turned
crimson, in spite of herself.

"Are you quite well?" asked Lionel, shaking hands, his own pulses
beating. "You are going out this evening, I see?"

He made the remark as a question, noticing her dress; and Lucy,
gathering her senses about her, and relapsing into her calm composure,
looked somewhat surprised.

"We are going to dinner to Verner's Pride; I and Decima. Did you not
expect us?"

"I--did not know it," he was obliged to answer. "Mrs. Verner mentioned
that some friends would dine with us this evening, but I was not aware
that you and Decima were part of them. I am glad to hear it."

Lucy continued her way, wondering what sort of a household it could be
where the husband remained in ignorance of his wife's expected guests.
Lionel passed on to the drawing-room.

Lady Verner sat in it. Her white gloves on her delicate hands as usual,
her essence bottle and laced handkerchief beside her, Lionel offered her
his customary fond greeting, and placed the cheque in her hands.

"Will that do, mother mine?"

"Admirably, Lionel. I am so much obliged to you. Things get behind-hand
in the most unaccountable manner, and then Decima comes to me with a
long face, and says here's this debt and that debt. It is quite a marvel
to me how the money goes. Decima would like to put her accounts into my
hands that I may look over them. The idea of my taking upon myself to
examine accounts! But how it is she gets into such debt, I cannot
think."

Poor Decima knew only too well. Lionel knew it also; though, in his fond
reverence, he would not hint at such a thing to his mother. Lady
Verner's style of living was too expensive, and that was the cause.

"I met Lucy in the hall, dressed. She and Decima are coming to dine at
Verner's Pride, she tells me."

"Did you not know it?"

"No. I have been out shooting all day. If Sibylla mentioned it to me, I
forgot it."

Sibylla had not mentioned it. But Lionel would rather take any blame to
himself than suffer a shade of it to rest upon her.

"Mrs. Verner called yesterday, and invited us. I declined for myself. I
should have declined for Decima, but I did not think it right to deprive
Lucy of the pleasure, and she could not go alone. Ungrateful child!"
apostrophised Lady Verner. "When I told her this morning I had accepted
an invitation for her to Verner's Pride, she turned the colour of
scarlet, and said she would rather remain at home. I never saw so
unsociable a girl; she does not care to go out, as it seems to me. I
insisted upon it for this evening."

"Mother, why don't _you_ come?"

Lady Verner half turned from him.

"Lionel, you must not forget our compact. If I visit your wife now and
then, just to keep gossiping tongues quiet, from saying that Lady Verner
and her son are estranged, I cannot do it often."

"Were there any cause why you should show this disfavour to Sibylla--"

"Our compact, our compact, my son! You are not to urge me upon this
point, do you remember? I rarely break my resolutions, Lionel."

"Or your prejudices either, mother."

"Very true," was the equable answer of Lady Verner.

Little more was said. Lionel found the time drawing on, and left. Lady
Verner's carriage was already at the door, waiting to convey Decima and
Lucy Tempest to the dinner at Verner's Pride. As he was about to mount
his horse, Peckaby passed by, rolling a wheel before him. He touched his
cap.

"Well," said Lionel, "has the white donkey arrived yet?"

A contraction of anger, not, however, unmixed with mirth, crossed the
man's face.

"I wish it would come, sir, and bear her off on't!" was his hearty
response. "She's more a fool nor ever over it, a-whining and a-pining
all day long, 'cause she ain't at New Jerusalem. She wants to be in
Bedlam, sir; that's what she do! it 'ud do her more good nor t'other."

Lionel laughed, and Peckaby struck his wheel with such impetus that it
went off at a tangent, and he had to follow it on the run.



CHAPTER XLVII.

THE YEW-TREE ON THE LAWN.


The rooms were lighted at Verner's Pride; the blaze from the chandeliers
fell on gay faces and graceful forms. The dinner was over, its scene "a
banquet hall deserted"; and the guests were filling the drawing-rooms.

The centre of an admiring group, its chief attraction, sat Sibylla, her
dress some shining material that glimmered in the light, and her hair
confined with a band of diamonds. Inexpressibly beautiful by this light
she undoubtedly was, but she would have been more charming had she less
laid herself out for attraction. Lionel, Lord Garle, Decima, and young
Bitterworth--he was generally called young Bitterworth, in
contradistinction to his father, who was "old Bitterworth"--formed
another group; Sir Rufus Hautley was talking to the Countess of Elmsley;
and Lucy Tempest sat apart near the window.

Sir Rufus had but just moved away from Lucy, and for the moment she was
alone. She sat within the embrasure of the window, and was looking on
the calm scene outside. How different from the garish scene within! See
the pure moonlight, side by side with the most brilliant light we
earthly inventors can produce, and contrast them! Pure and fair as the
moonlight looked Lucy, her white robes falling softly round her, and her
girlish face wearing a thoughtful expression. It was a remarkably light
night; the terrace, the green slopes beyond it, and the clustering trees
far away, all standing out clear and distinct in the moon's rays.
Suddenly her eye rested on a particular spot. She possessed a very clear
sight, and it appeared to detect something dark there; which dark
something had not been there a few moments before.

Lucy strained her eyes, and shaded them, and gazed again. Presently she
turned her head, and glanced at Lionel. An expression in her eyes seemed
to call him, and he advanced.

"What is it, Lucy? We must have a set of gallant men here to-night, to
leave you alone like this!"

The compliment fell unheeded on her ear. Compliments from _him_! Lionel
only so spoke to hide his real feelings.

"Look on the lawn, right before us," said Lucy to him, in a low tone.
"Underneath the spreading yew-tree. Do you not fancy the trunk looks
remarkably dark and thick?"

"The trunk remarkably dark and thick!" echoed Lionel. "What do you mean,
Lucy?" For he judged by her tone that she had some hidden meaning.

"I believe that some man is standing there. He must be watching this
room."

Lionel could not see it. His eyes had not been watching so long as
Lucy's, consequently objects were less distinct. "I think you must be
mistaken, Lucy," he said. "No one would be at the trouble of standing
there to watch the room. It is too far off to see much, whatever may be
their curiosity."

Lucy held her hands over her eyes, gazing attentively from beneath them.
"I feel convinced of it now," she presently said. "There is some one,
and it looks like a man, standing behind the trunk, as if hiding
himself. His head is pushed out on this side, certainly, as though he
were watching these windows. I have seen the head move twice."

Lionel placed his hands in the same position, and took a long gaze. "I
do think you are right, Lucy!" he suddenly exclaimed. "I saw something
move then. What business has any one to plant himself there?"

He stepped impulsively out as he spoke--the windows opened to the
ground--crossed the terrace, descended the steps, and turned on the
lawn, to the left hand. A minute, and he was up at the tree.

But he gained no satisfaction. The spreading tree, with its imposing
trunk--which trunk was nearly as thick as a man's body--stood all
solitary on the smooth grass, no living thing being near it.

"We must have been mistaken, after all," thought Lionel.

Nevertheless, he stood under the tree, and cast his keen glances around.
Nothing could he see; nothing but what ought to be there. The wide lawn,
the sweet flowers closed to the night, the remoter parts where the trees
were thick, all stood cold and still in the white moonlight. But of
human disturber there was none.

Lionel went back again, plucking a white geranium blossom and a sprig
of sweet verbena on his way. Lucy was sitting alone, as he had left her.

"It was a false alarm," he whispered. "Nothing's there, except the
tree."

"It was not a false alarm," she answered. "I saw him move away as you
went on to the lawn. He drew back towards the thicket."

"Are you sure?" questioned Lionel, his tone betraying that he doubted
whether she was not mistaken.

"Oh, yes, I am sure," said Lucy. "Do you know what my old nurse used to
tell me when I was a child?" she asked, lifting her face to his. "She
said I had the Indian sight, because I could see so far and so
distinctly. Some of the Indians have the gift greatly, you know. I am
quite certain that I saw the object--and it looked like the figure of a
man--go swiftly away from the tree across the grass. I could not see him
to the end of the lawn, but he must have gone into the plantation. I
dare say he saw you coming towards him."

Lionel smiled. "I wish I had caught the spy. He should have answered to
me for being there. Do you like verbena, Lucy?"

He laid the verbena and geranium on her lap, and she took them up
mechanically.

"I do not like spies," she said, in a dreamy tone. "In India they have
been known to watch the inmates of a house in the evening, and to
bow-string one of those they were watching before the morning. You are
laughing! Indeed, my nurse used to tell me tales of it."

"We have no spies in England--in that sense, Lucy. When I used the word
spy, it was with no meaning attached to it. It is not impossible but it
may be a sweetheart of one of the maid-servants, come up from Deerham
for a rendezvous. Be under no apprehension."

At that moment, the voice of his wife came ringing through the room.
"Mr. Verner!"

He turned to the call. Waiting to say another word to Lucy, as a thought
struck him. "You would prefer not to remain at the window, perhaps. Let
me take you to a more sheltered seat."

"Oh, no, thank you," she answered impulsively. "I like being at the
window. It is not of myself that I am thinking." And Lionel moved away.

"Is it not true that the fountains at Versailles played expressly for
me?" eagerly asked Sibylla, as he approached her. "Sir Rufus won't
believe that they did. The first time we were in Paris, you know."

Sir Rufus Hautley was by her side then. He looked at Lionel. "They never
play for private individuals, Mr. Verner. At least, if they do, things
have changed."

"My wife thought they did," returned Lionel, with a smile. "It was all
the same."

"They did, Lionel, you know they did," vehemently asserted Sibylla. "De
Coigny told me so; and he held authority in the Government."

"I know that De Coigny told you so, and that you believed him," answered
Lionel, still smiling. "I did not believe him."

Sibylla turned her head away petulantly from her husband. "You are
saying it to annoy me. I'll never appeal to you again. Sir Rufus, they
did play expressly for me."

"It may be bad taste, but I'd rather see the waterworks at St. Cloud
than at Versailles," observed a Mr. Gordon, some acquaintance that they
had picked up in town, and to whom it had been Sibylla's pleasure to
give an invitation. "Cannonby wrote me word last week from Paris----"

"Who?" sharply interrupted Sibylla.

Mr. Gordon looked surprised. Her tone had betrayed something of eager
alarm, not to say terror.

"Captain Cannonby, Mrs. Verner. A friend of mine just returned from
Australia. Business took him to Paris as soon as he landed."

"Is he from the Melbourne port? Is his Christian name Lawrence?" she
reiterated breathlessly.

"Yes--to both questions," replied Mr. Gordon.

Sibylla shrieked, and lifted her handkerchief to her face. They gathered
round her in consternation. One offering smelling-salts, one running for
water. Lionel gently drew the handkerchief from her face. It was white
as death.

"What ails you, my dear?" he whispered.

She seemed to recover her equanimity as suddenly as she had lost it, and
the colour began to appear in her cheeks again.

"His name--Cannonby's--puts me in mind of those unhappy days," she said,
not in the low tone used by her husband, but aloud--speaking, in fact,
to all around her. "I did not know Captain Cannonby had returned. When
did he come, Mr. Gordon?"

"About eight or nine days ago."

"Has he made his fortune?"

Mr. Gordon laughed. "I fancy not. Cannonby was always of a roving
nature. I expect he got tired of the Australian world before fortune had
time to find him out."

Sibylla was soon deep in her flirtations again. It is not erroneous to
call them so. But they were innocent flirtations--the result of vanity.
Lionel moved away.

Another commotion. Some great long-legged fellow, without ceremony or
warning, came striding in at the window close to Lucy Tempest. Lucy's
thoughts had been buried--it is hard to say where, and her eyes were
strained to the large yew-tree upon the grass. The sudden entrance
startled her, albeit she was not of a nervous temperament. With Indian
bow-strings in the mind, and fancied moonlight spies before the sight, a
scream was inevitable.

Whom should it be but Jan! Jan, of course. What other guest would be
likely to enter in that unceremonious fashion? Strictly speaking, Jan
was not a guest--at any rate, not an invited one.

"I had got a minute to spare this evening, so thought I'd come up and
have a look at you," proclaimed unfashionable Jan to the room, but
principally addressing Lionel and Sibylla.

And so Jan had come, and stood there without the least shame, in drab
trousers, and a loose, airy coat, shaking hands with Sir Rufus, shaking
hands with anybody who would shake hands with him. Sibylla looked
daggers at Jan, and Lionel cross. Not from the same cause. Sibylla's
displeasure was directed to Jan's style of evening costume; Lionel felt
vexed with him for alarming Lucy. But Lionel never very long retained
displeasure, and his sweet smile stole over his lips as he spoke.

"Jan, I shall be endorsing Lady Verner's request--that you come into a
house like a Christian--if you are to startle ladies in this fashion."

"Whom did I startle?" asked Jan.

"You startled Lucy."

"Nonsense! Did I, Miss Lucy?"

"Yes, you did a little, Jan," she replied.

"What a stupid you must be!" retorted gallant Jan. "I should say you
want doctoring, if your nerves are in that state. You take--"

"Oh, Jan, that will do," laughed Lucy. "I am sure I don't want medicine.
You know how I dislike it."

They were standing together within the large window, Jan and Lionel,
Lucy sitting close to them. She sat with her head a little bent,
scenting her verbena.

"The truth is, Jan, I and Lucy have been watching some intruder who had
taken up his station on the lawn, underneath the yew-tree," whispered
Lionel. "I suppose Lucy thought he was bursting in upon us."

"Yes, I did really think he was," said Lucy, looking up with a smile.

"Who was it?" asked Jan.

"He did not give us the opportunity of ascertaining," replied Lionel. "I
am not quite sure, mind, that I did see him; but Lucy is positive upon
the point. I went to the tree, but he had disappeared. It is rather
strange why he should be watching."

"He was watching this room attentively," said Lucy, "and I saw him move
away when Mr. Verner went on the lawn. I am sure he was a spy of some
sort."

"I can tell you who it was," said Jan. "It was Roy."

"Roy!" repeated Lionel. "Why do you say this?"

"Well," said Jan, "as I turned in here, I saw Roy cross the road to the
opposite gate. I don't know where he could have sprung from, except from
these grounds. That he was neither behind me nor before me as I came up
the road, I can declare."

"Then it was Roy!" exclaimed Lionel. "He would have had about time to
get into the road, from the time we saw him under the tree. That the
fellow is prying into my affairs and movements, I was made aware of
to-day; but why he should watch my house I cannot imagine. We shall have
an account to settle, Mr. Roy!"

Decima came up, asking what private matter they were discussing, and
Lionel and Lucy went over the ground again, acquainting her with what
had been seen. They stood together in a group, conversing in an
undertone. By and by, Mrs. Verner passed, moving from one part of the
room to another, on the arm of Sir Rufus Hautley.

"Quite a family conclave," she exclaimed, with a laugh. "Decima, however
much you may wish for attention, it is scarcely fair to monopolise that
of Mr. Verner in his own house. If he forgets that he has guests
present, you should not help him in the forgetfulness."

"It would be well if all wished for attention as little as does Miss
Verner," exclaimed Lord Garle. His voice rung out to the ends of the
room, and a sudden stillness fell upon it; his words may have been taken
as a covert reproof to Mrs. Verner. They were not meant as such. There
was no living woman of whom Lord Garle thought so highly as he thought
of Decima Verner; and he had spoken in his mind's impulse.

Sibylla believed he had purposely flung a shaft at her. And she flung
one again--not at him, but at Decima. She was of a terribly jealous
nature, and could bear any reproach to herself, better than that another
woman should be praised beside her.

"When young ladies find themselves neglected, their charms wasted on the
desert air, they naturally do covet attention, although it be but a
brother's."

Perhaps the first truly severe glance that Lionel Verner ever gave his
wife he gave her then. Disdaining any defence off his sister, he stood,
haughty, impassive, his lips drawn in, his eyes fixed sternly on
Sibylla. Decima remained quiet under the insult, save that she flushed
scarlet. Lord Garle did not. Lord Garle spoke up again, in the
impetuosity of his open, honest nature.

"I can testify that if Miss Verner is neglected, it is her own fault
alone. You are mistaken in your premises, Mrs. Verner."

The tone was pointedly significant, the words were unmistakably clear,
and the room could not but become enlightened to the fact that Miss
Verner might have been Lady Garle. Sibylla laughed a little laugh of
disbelief, as she went onwards with Sir Rufus Hautley; and Lionel
remained enshrined in his terrible mortification. That his wife should
so have forgotten herself!

"I must be going off," cried Jan, good-naturedly interrupting the
unpleasant silence.

"You have not long come," said Lucy.

"I didn't leave word where I was coming, and somebody may be going dead
while they are scouring the parish for me. Good-night to you all;
good-night, Miss Lucy."

With a nod to the room, away went Jan as unceremoniously as he had come;
and, not very long afterwards, the first carriage drew up. It was Lady
Verner's. Lord Garle hastened to Decima, and Lionel took out Lucy
Tempest.

"Will you think me very foolish, if I say a word of warning to you?"
asked Lucy, in a low tone to Lionel, as they reached the terrace.

"A word of warning to me, Lucy!" he repeated. "Of what nature?"

"That Roy is not a good man. He was greatly incensed at your putting him
out of his place when you succeeded to Verner's Pride, and it is said
that he cherishes vengeance. He may have been watching to-night for an
opportunity to injure you. Take care of him."

Lionel smiled as he looked at her. Her upturned face looked pale and
anxious in the moonlight. Lionel could not receive the fear at all: he
would as soon have thought to dread the most improbable thing
imaginable, as to dread this sort of violence, whether from Roy, or from
any one else.

"There's no fear whatever, Lucy."

"I know you will not see it for yourself, and that is the reason why I
am presumptive enough to suggest the idea to you. Pray be cautious! pray
take care of yourself!"

He shook his head laughingly as he looked down upon her. "Thank you
heartily all the same for your consideration, Lucy," said he, and for
the very life of him he could not help pressing her hand warmer than was
needful as he placed her in the carriage.

They drove away. Lord Garle returned to the room; Lionel stood against
one of the outer pillars, looking forth on the lovely moonlight scene.
The part played by Roy--if it was Roy--in the night's doings disturbed
him not; but that his wife had shown herself so entirely unlike a lady
did disturb him. In bitter contrast to Lucy did she stand out to his
mind that night. He turned away, after some minutes, with an impatient
movement, as if he would fain throw remembrance and vexation from him,
Lionel had himself chosen his companion in life, and none knew better
than he that he must abide by it; none could be more firmly resolved to
do his full duty by her in love. Sibylla was standing outside the window
alone. Lionel approached her, and gently laid his hand upon her
shoulder.

"Sibylla, what caused you to show agitation when Cannonby's name was
mentioned?"

"I told you," answered Sibylla. "It is dreadful to be reminded of that
miserable time. It was Cannonby, you know, who buried my husband."

And before Lionel could say more, she had shaken his hand from her
shoulder, and was back amidst her guests.



CHAPTER XLVIII.

MR. DAN DUFF IN CONVULSIONS.


Jan had said somebody might be going dead while the parish was being
scoured for him; and, in point of fact, Jan found, on reaching home,
that that undesirable consummation was not unlikely to occur. As you
will find also, if you will make an evening call upon Mrs. Duff.

Mrs. Duff stood behind her counter, sorting silks. Not rich piece silks
that are made into gowns; Mrs. Duff's shop did not aspire to that
luxurious class of goods; but humble skeins of mixed sewing-silks, that
were kept tied up in a piece of wash-leather. Mrs. Duff's head and a
customer's head were brought together over the bundle, endeavouring to
fix upon a skein of a particular shade, by the help of the one
gas-burner which flared away overhead.

"Drat the silk!" said Mrs. Duff at length. "One can't tell which is
which, by candle-light. The green looks blue, and the blue looks green.
Look at them two skeins, Polly; which _is_ the green?"

Miss Polly Dawson, a showy damsel with black hair and a cherry-coloured
net at the back of it--one of the family that Roy was pleased to term
the ill-doing Dawsons, took the two skeins in her hand.

"Blest if I can tell!" was her answer. "It's for doing up mother's green
silk bonnet, so it won't do to take blue. You be more used to it nor me,
Mrs. Duff."

"My eyes never was good for sorting silks by this light," responded Mrs.
Duff. "I'll tell you what, Polly; you shall take 'em both. Your mother
must take the responsibility of fixing on one herself; or let her keep
'em till the morning and choose it then. She should have sent by
daylight. You can bring back the skein you don't use to-morrow; but mind
you keep it clean."

"Wrap 'em up," curtly returned Miss Polly Dawson.

Mrs. Duff was proceeding to do so, when some tall thin form, bearing a
large bundle, entered the shop in a fluster. It was Mrs. Peckaby. She
sat herself down on the only stool the shop contained, and let the
bundle slip to the floor.

"Give a body leave to rest a bit, Mother Duff! I be turned a'most inside
out."

"What's the matter?" asked Mrs. Duff, while Polly Dawson surveyed her
with a stare.

"There's a white cow in the pound. I can't tell ye the turn it give me,
coming sudden upon it. I thought nothing less, at first glance, but it
was the white quadruple."

"What! hasn't that there white donkey come yet?" demanded Polly Dawson;
who, in conjunction with sundry others of her age and sex in the
village, was not sparing of her free remarks to Mrs. Peckaby on the
subject, thereby aggravating that lady considerably.

"You hold your tongue, Polly Dawson, and don't be brazen, if you can
help it," rebuked Mrs. Peckaby. "I was so took aback for the minute,
that I couldn't neither stir nor speak," she resumed to Mrs. Duff. "But
when I found it was nothing but a old strayed wretch of a pounded cow, I
a'most dropped with the disappointment. So I thought I'd come back here
and take a rest. Where's Dan?"

"Dan's out," answered Mrs. Duff.

"Is he? I thought he might have took this parcel down to Sykes's, and
saved me the sight o' that pound again and the deceiver in it. It's just
my luck!"

"Dan's gone up to Verner's Pride," continued Mrs. Duff. "That fine
French madmizel, as rules there, come down for some trifles this
evening, and took him home with her to carry the parcel. It's time he
was back, though, and more nor time. 'Twasn't bigger, neither, nor a
farthing bun, but 'twas too big for _her_. Isn't it a-getting the season
for you to think of a new gownd, Mrs. Peckaby?" resumed Mother Duff,
returning to business. "I have got some beautiful winter stuffs in."

"I hope the only new gownd as I shall want till I gets to New Jerusalem,
is the purple one I've got prepared for it," replied Mrs. Peckaby. "I
don't think the journey's far off. I had a dream last night as I saw a
great crowd o' people dressed in white, a-coming out to meet me. I look
upon it as it's a token that I shall soon be there."

"I wouldn't go out to that there New Jerusalem if ten white donkeys
come to fetch me!" cried Polly Dawson, tossing her head with scorn. "It
_is_ a nice place, by all that I have heard! Them saints--"

A most appalling interruption. Snorting, moaning, sobbing, his breath
coming in gasps, his hair standing up on end, his eyes starting, and his
face ghastly, there burst in upon them Master Dan Duff. That he was in
the very height of terror, there could be no mistaking. To add to the
confusion, he flung his arms out as he came in, and his hand caught one
of the side panes of glass in the bow window and shattered it, the
pieces falling amongst the displayed wares. Dan leaped in, caught hold
of his mother with a spasmodic howl, and fell down on some bundles in a
corner of the small shop.

Mrs. Duff was dragged down with him. She soon extricated herself, and
stared at the boy in very astonishment. However inclined to play tricks
out of doors, Mr. Dan never ventured to play them, in. Polly Dawson
stared. Susan Peckaby, forgetting New Jerusalem for once, sprang off her
stool and stared. But that his terror was genuine, and Mrs. Duff saw
that it was, Dan had certainly been treated then to that bugbear of his
domestic life--a "basting."

"What has took you now?" sharply demanded Mrs. Duff, partly in
curiosity, partly in wrath.

"I see'd a dead man," responded Dan, and he forthwith fell into
convulsions.

They shook him, they pulled him, they pinched him. One laid hold of his
head, another of his feet; but, make nothing of him, could they. The
boy's face was white, his hands and arms were twitching, and froth was
gathering on his lips. By this time the shop was full.

"Run across, one of you," cried the mother, turning her face to the
crowd, "and see if you can find Mr. Jan Verner."



CHAPTER XLIX.

"I SEE'D A DEAD MAN!"


Jan Verner was turning in at his own door--the surgery--at a swinging
pace. Jan's natural pace was a deliberate one; but Jan found so much to
do, now he was alone in the business, that he had no resource but to
move at the rate of a steam engine. Otherwise he would never have got
through his day's work. Jan had tried one assistant, who had proved to
be more plague than profit, and Jan was better without him. Master
Cheese, promoted now to tail-coats and turn-up collars, was coming on,
and could attend to trifling cases. Master Cheese wished to be promoted
also to "Mister" Cheese; but he remained obstinately excessively short,
and people would still call him "Master." He appeared to grow in breadth
instead of height, and underwent, in consequence, a perpetual inward
mortification. Jan would tell him he should eat less and walk more; but
the advice was not taken.

Jan Verner was turning into the surgery at a swinging pace, and came in
violent contact with Master Cheese, who was coming out at another sharp
pace. Jan rubbed his chest, and Cheese his head.

"I say, Jan," said he, "can't you look where your going?"

"Can't _you_ look?" returned Jan. "Where are you off to?"

"There's something the matter at Duff's. About a dozen came here in a
body, wanting you. Bob says Dan Duff was dying."

Jan turned his eyes on Bob, the surgery-boy. Bob answered the look--

"It's what they said, sir. They said as Dan Duff was a-dying and
a-frothing at the mouth. It's about five minutes ago, sir."

"Did you go over?" asked Jan of Cheese. "I saw a crowd round Mrs. Duff's
door."

"No, I didn't. I am going now. I was indoors, having my supper."

"Then you need not trouble yourself," returned Jan. "Stop where you are,
and digest your supper."

He, Jan, was speeding off, when a fresh deputation arrived. Twenty
anxious faces at the least, all in a commotion, their tongues going
together. "Dan was frothing dreadful, and his legs was twitchin' like
one in the epilepsies."

"What has caused it?" asked Jan. "I saw him well enough an hour or two
ago."

"He see a dead man, sir; as it's said. We can't come to the bottom of
it, 'cause of his not answering no questions. He be too bad, he be."

"He did see a dead man," put in Polly Dawson, who made one of the
deputation, and was proud of being able to add her testimony to the
asserted fact. "Leastways, he said he did. I was a-buying some silk,
sir, in at Mother Duff's shop, and Susan Peckaby was in there too, she
was, a-talking rubbish about her white donkey, when Dan flounders in
upon us in a state not to be told, a-frightening of us dreadful, and
a-smashing in the winder with his arm. And he said he'd seen a dead
man."

Jan could not make sense of the tale. There was nobody lying dead in
Deerham, that he knew of. He pushed the crowd round the door right and
left to get space to enter. The shop was pretty full already, but
numbers pushed in after Jan. Dan had been carried into the kitchen at
the back of the shop, and was laid upon the floor, a pillow under his
head. The kitchen was more crowded than the shop; there was not
breathing space; and room could hardly be found for Jan.

The shop was Mrs. Duff's department. If she chose to pack it full of
people to the ceiling, it was her affair: but Jan made the kitchen,
where the boy lay, his.

"What's the matter with him, sir?" was the eager question to Jan, the
moment he had cast his eyes on the invalid.

"I may be able to ascertain as soon as I have elbow room," replied Jan.
"Suppose you give it me. Mrs. Duff may stop, but nobody else."

Jan's easy words carried authority in their tone, and the company turned
tail and began to file out.

"Couldn't you do with me in, as well as his mother, sir?" asked Susan
Peckaby. "I was here when he came in, I was; and I knowed what it was
a'most afore he spoke. He have been frightened by that thing in the
pound. Only a few minutes afore, it had turned my inside almost out."

"No, I can't," answered Jan. "I must have the room clear. Perhaps I
shall send away his mother."

"I should ha' liked to know for sure," meekly observed Susan Peckaby,
preparing to resign herself to her fate. "I hope you'll ask him, sir,
when he comes to, whether it were not that thing in the pound as
frightened him. I took it for some'at else, more's the grief! but it
looks, for all the world, like a ghost in the moonlight."

"What is in the pound?" demanded Jan.

"It's a white cow," responded Susan Peckaby. "And it strikes me as it's
Farmer Blow's. He have got a white cow, you know, sir, like he have got
a white pony, and they be always a-giving me a turn, one or t'other of
'em. I'd like old Blow to be indicted for a pest, I would! a-keeping
white animals to upset folks. It's not a week ago that I met that cow in
the road at dusk--strayed through a gap in the hedge. Tiresome beast,
a-causing my heart to leap into my mouth!"

"If Dan have put himself into this state, and done all this damage,
through nothing but seeing of a white cow, won't I baste him!"
emphatically rejoined Mrs. Duff.

Jan at length succeeded in getting the kitchen clear. But for some time,
in spite of all his skill and attention--and he spared neither--he could
make no impression upon the unhappy Dan. His mother's bed was made ready
for him--Dan himself sharing the accommodation of a dark closet in an
ordinary way, in common with his brothers--and Jan carried him up to it.
There he somewhat revived, sufficiently to answer a question or two
rationally. It must be confessed that Jan felt some curiosity upon the
subject; to suppose the boy had been thrown into that state, simply by
seeing a white cow in the pound, was ridiculous.

"What frightened you?" asked Jan.

"I see'd a dead man," answered the boy. "Oh, lor!"

"Well?" said Jan, with composure, "he didn't eat you. What is there in a
dead man to be alarmed at? I have seen scores--handled 'em too. What
dead man was it?"

The boy pulled the bed-clothes over him, and moaned. Jan pulled them
down again.

"Of course you can't tell! There's no dead man in Deerham. Was it in the
churchyard?"

"No."

"Was it in the pound?" asked Jan triumphantly, thinking he had got it
right this time.

"No."

The answer was an unexpected one.

"Where was it, then?"

"Oh-o-o-o-oh!" moaned the boy, beginning to shake and twitch again.

"Now, Dan Duff, this won't do," said Jan. "Tell me quietly what you saw,
and where you saw it."

"I see'd a dead man," reiterated Dan Duff. And it appeared to be all he
was capable of saying.

"You saw a white cow on its hind legs," returned Jan. "That's what you
saw. I am surprised at you, Dan Duff. I should have thought you more of
a man."

Whether the reproof overcame Master Duff's nerves again, or the
remembrance of the "dead man," certain it was, that he relapsed into a
state which rendered it imprudent, in Jan's opinion, to continue for the
present the questioning. One more only he put--for a sudden thought
crossed him, which induced it.

"Was it in the copse at Verner's Pride?"

"'Twas at the Willow Pool; he was a-walking round it. Oh-o-o-o-o-oh!"

Jan's momentary fear was dispelled. A night or two back there had been a
slight affray between Lionel's gamekeeper and some poachers: and the
natural doubts arose whether anything fresh of the same nature had taken
place. If so, Dan Duff might have come upon one of them lying, dead or
wounded. The words--"walking round the pool"--did away with this. For
the present, Jan departed.

But, if Dan's organs of disclosure are for the present in abeyance,
there's no reason why we should not find out what we can for ourselves.
You may be very sure that Deerham would not fail to do it.

The French madmizel--as Mrs. Duff styled her, meaning, of course,
Mademoiselle Benoite--had called in at Mrs. Duff's shop and made a
purchase. It consisted--if you are curious to know--of pins and needles,
and a staylace. Not a parcel that would have weighed her down,
certainly, had she borne it herself; but it pleased her to demand that
Dan should carry it for her. This she did, partly to display her own
consequence, chiefly that she might have a companion home, for
Mademoiselle Benoite did not relish the walk alone by moonlight to
Verner's Pride. Of course young Dan was at the beck and call of Mrs.
Duff's customers, that being, as mademoiselle herself might have said,
his _spécialité_. Whether a customer bought a parcel that would have
filled a van, or one that might have gone inside a penny thimble, Master
Dan was equally expected to be in readiness to carry the purchase to its
destination at night, if called upon. Master Dan's days being connected
now with the brick-fields, where his _spécialité_ appeared to be, to put
layers of clay upon his clothes.

Accordingly, Dan started with Mademoiselle Benoite. She had been making'
purchases at other places, which she had brought away with her--shoes,
stationery, and various things, all of which were handed over to the
porter, Dan. They arrived at Verner's Pride in safety, and Dan was
ordered to follow her in, and deposit his packages on the table of the
apartment that was called the steward's room.

"One, two, three, four," counted Mademoiselle Benoite, with French
caution, lest he should have dropped any by the way. "You go outside
now, Dan, and I bring you something from my pocket for your trouble."

Dan returned outside accordingly, and stood gazing at the laundry
windows, which were lighted up. Mademoiselle dived in her pocket, took
something from thence, which she screwed carefully up in a bit of
newspaper, and handed it to Dan. Dan had watched the process in a glow
of satisfaction, believing it could be nothing less than a silver
sixpence. How much more it might prove, Dan's aspirations were afraid to
anticipate.

"There!" said Mademoiselle, when she put it into his hand. "Now you can
go back to your mother."

She shut the door in his face somewhat inhospitably, and Dan eagerly
opened his _cadeau_. It contained--two lumps of fine white sugar.

"Mean old cat!" burst forth Dan. "If it wasn't that mother 'ud baste me,
I'd never bring a parcel for her again, not if she bought up the shop.
Wouldn't I like to give all the French a licking?"

Munching his sugar wrathfully, he passed across the yard, and out at the
gate. There he hesitated which way home he should take, as he had
hesitated that far gone evening, when he had come up upon the errand to
poor Rachel Frost. More than four years had elapsed since then, and Dan
was now fourteen; but he was a young and childish boy of his age, which
might be owing to the fact of his being so kept under by his mother.

"I have a good mind to trick her!" soliloquised he; alluding, it must be
owned, to that revered mother. "She wouldn't let me go out to Bill
Hook's to-night; though I telled her as it wasn't for no nonsense I
wanted to see him, but about that there gray ferret. I will, too! I'll
go back the field way, and cut down there. She'll be none the wiser."

Now, this was really a brave resolve for Dan Duff. The proposed road
would take him past the Willow Pool; and he, in common with other
timorous spirits, had been given to eschew that place at night, since
the end of Rachel. It must be supposed that the business touching the
gray ferret was one of importance, for Dan to lose sight of his usual
fears, and turn towards that pool.

Not once, from that time to this, had Dan Duff taken this road alone at
night. From that cause probably, no sooner had he now turned into the
lane, than he began to think of Rachel. He would have preferred to think
of anything else in the world; but he found, as many others are obliged
to find, that unpleasant thoughts cannot be driven away at will. It was
not so much that the past night of misfortune was present to him, as
that he feared to meet the ghost of Rachel.

He went on, glancing furtively on all sides, his face and his hair
growing hotter and hotter. There, on his right, was the gate through
which he had entered the field to give chase to the supposed cat; there,
on the left, was the high hedge; before him lay the length of lane
traversed that evening by the tall man, who had remained undiscovered
from that hour to this. Dan could see nothing now; no tall man, no cat;
even the latter might have proved a welcome intruder. He glanced up at
the calm sky, at the bright moon riding overhead. The night was
perfectly still; a lovely night, could Dan only have kept the ghosts out
of his mind.

Suddenly a horse, in the field on the other side the hedge, set up a
loud neigh, right in Dan's ear. Coming thus unexpectedly, it startled
Dan above everything. He half resolved to go back, and turned round and
looked the way he had come. But he thought of the gray ferret, and
plucked up some courage and went on again, intending, the moment he came
in sight of the Willow Pool, to make a dash past at his utmost speed.

The intention was not carried out. Clambering over the gate which led to
the enclosure, a more ready way to Dan than opening it, he was brought
within view of the pool. There it was, down in the dreary lower part,
near the trees. The pool itself was distinct enough, lying to the right,
and Dan involuntarily looked towards it. Not to have saved his life,
could Dan have helped looking.

Susan Peckaby had said to Jan, that her heart leaped into her mouth at
the sight of the white cow in the pound. Poor Dan Duff might have said
that his heart leaped right out of him, at sight now of the Willow
Pool. For there was some shadowy figure moving round it.

Dan stood powerless. But for the gate behind him he would have turned
and ran; to scramble back over that, his limbs utterly refused. The
delay caused him, in spite of his fear, to discern the very obvious
fact, that the shadowy figure was not that of a woman habited in
white--as the orthodox ghost of Rachel ought to have been--but a man's,
wearing dark clothes. There flashed into Dan's remembrance the frequent
nightly visits of Robin Frost to the pond, bringing with it a ray of
relief.

Robin had been looked upon as little better than a lunatic since the
misfortune; but, to Dan Duff, he appeared in that moment worth his
weight in gold. Robin's companionship was as good as anybody's to ward
off the ghostly fears, and Dan set off, full speed, towards him. To go
right up to the pond would take him a few yards out of his way to Bill
Hook's. What of that? To exchange words with a human tongue, Dan, in
that moment of superstitious fright, would have gone as many miles.

He had run more than half the intervening distance, when he brought
himself to a halt. It had become evident to Dan's sight that it was not
Robin Frost. Whoever it might be, he was a head and shoulders taller
than Robin; and Dan moved up more quietly, his eyes strained forward in
the moonlight. A suspicion came over him that it might be Mr. Verner;
Dan could not, at the moment, remember anybody else so tall, unless it
was Mr. Jan. The figure stood now with its back to him; apparently
gazing into the pool. Dan advanced with slow steps; if it was Mr.
Verner, he would not presume to intrude upon him; but when he came
nearly close, he saw that it bore no resemblance to the figure of Mr.
Verner. Slowly, glidingly, the figure turned round; turned its face
right upon Dan, full in the rays of the bright moon; and the most awful
yell you ever heard went forth upon the still night air.

It came from Dan Duff. What could have been its meaning? Did he think he
saw the ghost, which he had been looking out for the last
half-hour--poor Rachel's?--saw it beyond this figure which had turned
upon him? Dan alone knew. That he had fallen into the most appalling
terror, was certain. His eyes were starting, the drops of perspiration
poured off him, and his hair rose up on end. The figure--just as if it
had possessed neither sight nor hearing, neither sense nor sympathy for
human sound--glided noiselessly away; and Dan went yelling on.

Towards home now. All thought of Bill Hook and the gray ferret was gone.
Away he tore, the nearest way, which took him past the pound. He never
saw the white cow: had the cow been a veritable ghost, Dan had not seen
it then. The yells subsiding into moans, and the perspiration into fever
heat, he gained his mother's, and broke the window, as you have heard,
in passing in.

Such were the particulars; but as yet they were not known. The first
person to elicit them was Roy the bailiff.

After Jan Verner had departed, saying he should be back by and by, and
giving Mrs. Duff strict orders to keep the boy quiet, to allow nobody
near him but herself, and, above all, no questioning, Mrs. Duff quitted
him, "that he might get a bit o' sleep," she said. In point of fact,
Mrs. Duff was burning to exercise her gossiping powers with those other
gossipers below. To them she descended; and found Susan Peckaby holding
forth upon the subject of the white cow.

"You be wrong, Susan Peckaby," said Mrs. Duff, "It warn't the white cow
at all; Dan warn't a-nigh the pound. He told Mr. Jan so."

"Then what was it?" returned Susan Peckaby.

One of the present auditors was Roy the bailiff. He had only recently
pushed in, and had stood listening in silence, taking note of the
various comments and opinions. As silently, he moved behind the group,
and was stealing up the stairs. Mrs. Duff placed herself before him.

"Where be you a-going, Mr. Roy? Mr. Jan said as not a soul was to go
a-nigh him to disturb him with talk. A nice thing, it 'ud be, for it to
settle on his brain!"

"I ain't a-going to disturb him," returned Roy. "I have seen something
myself to-night that is not over-kind. I'd like to get a inkling if it's
the same that has frightened him."

"Was it in the pound?" eagerly asked Mrs. Peckaby.

"The pound be smoked!" was the polite answer vouchsafed by Roy. "Thee'll
go mad with th' white donkey one of these days."

"There can't be any outlet to it, but one," observed Mrs. Chuff, the
blacksmith's wife, giving her opinion in a loud key. "He must ha' seen
Rachel Frost's ghost."

"Have _you_ been and seen that to-night, Mr. Roy?" cried Susan Peckaby.

"Maybe I have, and maybe I haven't," was Roy's satisfactory reply, "All
I say is, I've seen something that I'd rather not have seen; something
that 'ud have sent all you women into fits. 'Twarn't unlike Rachel, and
'twere clothed in white. I'll just go and take a look at Dan, Mother
Duff. No fear o' my disturbing him."

Mother Duff, absorbed with her visitors, allowed him to go on without
further impediment. The first thing Roy did upon getting upstairs, was
to shut the chamber door; the next, to arouse and question the suffering
Dan. Roy succeeded in getting from him the particulars already related,
and a little more; insomuch that Dan mentioned the name which the dead
man had borne in life.

Roy sat and stared at him after the revelation, keeping silence. It may
have been that he was digesting the wonder; it may have been that he was
deliberating upon his answer.

"Look you here, Dan Duff," said he, by and by, holding the shaking boy
by the shoulder. "You just breathe that name again to living mortal, and
see if you don't get hung up by the neck for it. 'Twas nothing but
Rachel's ghost. Them ghosts takes the form of anything that it pleases,
'em to take; whether it's a dead man's, or whether it's a woman's, what
do they care? There's no ghost but Rachel's 'ud be a-hovering over that
pond. Where be your senses gone, not to know that?"

Poor Dan's senses appeared to be wandering somewhere yet; they certainly
were not in him. He shook and moaned, and finally fell into the same
sort of stupor as before. Roy could make nothing further of him, and he
went down.

"Well," said he to the assemblage, "I've got it out of him. The minute
he saw me, he stretched his arm out--'Mr. Roy,' says he, 'I'm sick to
unburden myself to somebody'; and he up and told. He's fell off again
now, like one senseless, and I question if he'd remember telling me."

"And what was it? And what was it?" questioned the chorus. "Rachel's
ghost?"

"It was nothing less, you may be sure," replied Roy, his tone expressive
of contempt that they should have thought it could be anything less.
"The young idiot must take and go by the pond on this bright night, and
in course he saw it. Right again' his face, he says, it appeared; there
wasn't no mistaking of it. It was a-walking round and round the pool."

Considerable shivering in the assembly. Polly Dawson, who was on its
outskirts, shrieked, and pushed into its midst, as if it were a safer
place. The women drew into a closer circle, and glanced round at an
imaginary ghost behind their shoulders.

"Was it that as you saw yourself to-night, Mr. Roy?"

"Never mind me," was Roy's answer. "I ain't one to be startled to death
at sight of a sperit, like boys and women is. I had my pill in what I
saw, I can tell ye. And my advice to ye all is, keep within your own
doors after nightfall."

Without further salutation, Roy departed. The women, with one accord,
began to make for the staircase. To contemplate one who had just been in
actual contact with the ghost--which some infidels had persistently
asserted throughout was nothing but a myth--was a sight not to be
missed. But they were driven back again. With a succession of yells, the
like of which had never been heard, save at the Willow Pond that night,
Dan appeared leaping down upon them, his legs naked and his short shirt
flying behind him. To be left alone, a prey to ghosts or their
remembrances, was more than the boy, with his consciousness upon him,
could bear. The women yelled also, and fell back one upon another; not a
few being under the impression that it was the ghost itself.

What was to be done with him? Before the question was finally decided,
Mrs. Bascroft, the landlady of the Plough and Harrow, who had made one
of the company, went off to her bar, whence she hastened back again with
an immense hot tumbler, three parts brandy, one part water, the whole of
which was poured down the throat of Dan.

"There's nothing like it for restoring folks after a fright," remarked
Mrs. Bascroft.

The result of the dose was, that Dan Duff subsided into a state of real
stupor, so profound and prolonged that even Jan began to doubt whether
he would awake from it.



CHAPTER L.

MR. AND MRS. VERNER.


Lionel Verner sat over his morning letters, bending upon one of them a
perplexed brow. A claim which he had settled the previous spring--at
least, which he believed had been settled--was now forwarded to him
again. That there was very little limit to his wife's extravagance, he
had begun to know.

In spite of Sibylla's extensive purchases made in Paris at the time of
their marriage, she had contrived by the end of the following winter to
run up a tolerable bill at her London milliner's. When they had gone to
town in the early spring, this bill was presented to Lionel. Four
hundred and odd pounds. He gave Sibylla a cheque for its amount, and
some gentle, loving words of admonition at the same time--not to spend
him out of house and home.

A second account from the same milliner had arrived this morning--been
delivered to him with other London letters. Why it should have been sent
to him, and not to his wife, he was unable to tell--unless it was meant
as a genteel hint that payment would be acceptable. The whole amount was
for eleven hundred pounds, but part of this purported to be "To bill
delivered"--four hundred and odd pounds--the precise sum which Lionel
believed to have been paid. Eleven hundred pounds! and all the other
claims upon him! No wonder he sat with a bent brow. If things went on at
this rate, Verner's Pride would come to the hammer.

He rose, the account in his hand, and proceeded to his wife's
dressing-room. Among other habits, Sibylla was falling into that of
indolence, scarcely ever rising to breakfast now. Or, if she rose, she
did not come down. Mademoiselle Benoite came whisking out of a side room
as he was about to enter.

"Madame's toilette is not made, sir," cried she, in a tart tone, as if
she thought he had no right to enter.

"What of that?" returned Lionel. And he went in.

Just as she had got out of bed, save that she had a blue quilted silk
dressing-gown thrown on, and her feet were thrust into blue quilted
slippers, sat Sibylla, before a good fire. She leaned in an easy-chair,
reading; a miniature breakfast service of Sèvres china, containing
chocolate, on a low table at her side. Some people like to read a word
or two of the Bible, as soon as conveniently may be, after getting up in
the morning. Was that good book the study of Sibylla? Not at all. Her
study was a French novel. By dint of patience, and the assistance of
Mademoiselle Benoite in the hard words and complicated sentences, Mrs.
Verner contrived to arrive tolerably well at its sense.

"Good gracious!" she exclaimed, when Lionel appeared, "are you not gone
shooting with the rest?"

"I did not go this morning," he answered, closing the door and
approaching her.

"Have you taken breakfast?" she asked.

"Breakfast has been over a long while. Were I you, Sibylla, when I had
guests staying in the house, I should try and rise to breakfast with
them."

"Oh, you crafty Lionel! To save you the trouble of presiding. Thank
you," she continued good-humouredly, "I am more comfortable here. What
is this story about a ghost? The kitchen's in a regular commotion,
Benoite says."

"To what do you allude?" asked Lionel.

"Dan Duff is dying, or dead," returned Sibylla. "Benoite was in Deerham
last night, and brought him home to carry her parcels. In going back
again, he saw, as he says, Rachel Frost's ghost, and it terrified him
out of his senses. Old Roy saw it too, and the news has travelled up
here."

Sibylla laughed as she spoke. Lionel looked vexed.

"They are very stupid," he said. "A pity but they kept such stories to
themselves. If they were only as quiet as poor Rachel's ghost is, it
might be better for some of them."

"Of course _you_ would wish it kept quiet," said Sibylla, in a tone full
of significance. "I like to hear of these frights--it is good fun."

He did not fathom in the remotest degree the meaning of her tone. But he
had not gone thither to dispute about ghosts.

"Sibylla," he gravely said, putting the open account into her hand, "I
have received this bill this morning."

Sibylla ran her eyes over it with indifference; first at the bill's
head, to see whence it came, next at its sum total.

"What an old cheat! Eleven hundred pounds! I am sure I have not had the
half."

Lionel pointed to the part "bill delivered." "Was that not paid in the
spring?"

"How can I recollect?" returned Sibylla, speaking as carelessly as
before.

"I think you may recollect if you try. I gave you a cheque for the
amount."

"Oh, yes, I do recollect now. It has not been paid."

"But, my dear, I say I gave the cheque for it."

"I cashed the cheque myself. I wanted some money just then. You can't
think how fast money goes in London, Lionel."

The avowal proved only what he suspected. Nevertheless it hurt him
greatly--grieved him to his heart's core. Not so much the spending of
the money, as the keeping the fact from him. What a lack of good
feeling, of confidence, it proved.

He bent towards her, speaking gently, kindly. Whatever might be her
faults to him, her provocations, he could never behave otherwise to her
than as a thorough gentleman, a kind husband.

"It was not right to use that cheque, Sibylla. It was made out in Madame
Lebeau's name, and should have been paid to her. But why did you not
tell me?"

Sibylla shrugged her shoulders in place of answer. She had picked up
many such little national habits of Mademoiselle Benoite's. Very
conspicuous just then was the upright line on Lionel's brow.

"The amount altogether is, you perceive, eleven hundred pounds," he
continued.

"Yes," said Sibylla. "She's a cheat, that Madame Lebeau. I shall make
Benoite write her a French letter, and tell her so."

"It must be paid. But it is a great deal of money. I cannot continue to
pay these large sums, Sibylla. I have not the money to do it with."

"Not the money! When you know you are paying heaps for Lady Verner!
Before you tell me not to spend, you should cease supplying her."

Lionel's very brow flushed. "My mother has a claim upon me only in a
degree less than you have," he gravely said. "Part of the revenues of
Verner's Pride ought to have been hers years ago; and they were not."

"If my husband had lived--if he had left me a little child--Verner's
Pride would have been his and mine, and never yours at all."

"Hush, Sibylla! You don't know how these allusions hurt me," he
interrupted, in a tone of intense pain.

"They are true," said Sibylla.

"But not--forgive me, my dear, for saying it--not the less unseemly."

"Why do you grumble at me, then?"

"I do not grumble," he answered in a kind tone. "Your interests are
mine, Sibylla, and mine are yours. I only tell you the fact--and a fact
it is--that our income will not stand these heavy calls upon it. Were I
to show you how much you have spent in dress since we were married--what
with Paris, London, and Heartburg--the sum total would frighten you."

"You should not keep the sum total," resentfully spoke Sibylla. "Why do
you add it up?"

"I must keep my accounts correctly. My uncle taught me that."

"I am sure he did not teach you to grumble at me," she rejoined. "I look
upon Verner's Pride as mine, more than yours; if it had not been for the
death of my husband, you would never have had it."

Inexpressibly vexed--vexed beyond the power to answer, for he would not
trust himself to answer--Lionel prepared to quit the room. He began to
wish he had not had Verner's Pride, if this was to be its domestic
peace. Sibylla petulantly threw the French book from her lap upon the
table, and it fell down with its page open.

Lionel's eyes caught its title, and a flush, not less deep than the
preceding flush, darkened his brow. He laid his open palm upon the page
with an involuntary movement, as if he would guard it from the eyes of
his wife. That she should be reading that notorious work!

"Where did you get this?" he cried. "It is not a fit book for you."

"There's nothing-the matter with the book as far as I have gone."

"Indeed you must not read it! Pray don't, Sibylla! You will be sorry for
it afterwards."

"How do you know it is not a fit book?"

"Because I have read it."

"There! _You_ have read it! And you would like to deny the pleasure to
me! Don't say you are never selfish."

"Sibylla! What is fit for me to read may be most unfit for you. I read
the book when I was a young man; I would not read it now. Is it
Benoite's?" he inquired, seeing the name in the first page.

"Yes, it is."

Lionel closed the book. "Promise me, Sibylla, that you will not attempt
to read more of it. Give it her back at once, and tell her to send it
out of the house, or to keep it under lock and key while it remains
within it."

Sibylla hesitated.

"Is it so very hard a promise?" he tenderly asked. "I would do a great
deal more for you."

"Yes, Lionel, I will promise," she replied, a better feeling coming over
her. "I will give it her back now. Benoite!"

She called loudly. Benoite heard, and came in.

"Mr. Verner says this is not a nice book. You may take it away."

Mademoiselle Benoite advanced with a red face, and took the book.

"Have you any more such books?" inquired Lionel, looking at her.

"No, sir, I not got one other," hardily replied she.

"Have the goodness to put this one away. Had your mistress been aware of
the nature of the book, she had not suffered you to produce it."

Mademoiselle went away, her skirts jerking. Lionel bent down to his
wife.

"You know that it _pains_ me to find fault, Sibylla," he fondly
whispered. "I have ever your welfare and happiness at heart. More
anxiously, I think, than you have mine."



CHAPTER LI.

COMMOTION IN DEERHAM.


Lionel Verner was strolling out later in the day, and met the
shooting-party coming home. After congratulating them on their good
sport, he was turning home with them, when the gamekeeper intimated that
he should be glad to speak a word to him in private. Upon which, Lionel
let the gentlemen go on.

"What is it, Broom?" asked he.

"I'm much afeared, sir, if thing's are not altered, that there'll be
murder committed some night," answered Broom, without circumlocution.

"I hope not," replied Lionel. "Are you and the poachers again at issue?"

"It's not about the poachers, hang 'em! It's about Robin Frost, sir.
What on earth have come to him I can't conceive. This last few nights he
have took to prowling out with a gun. He lays himself down in the copse,
or a ditch, or the open field--no matter where--and there he stops, on
the watch, with his gun always pointed."

"On the watch for what?" asked Lionel.

"He best knows himself, sir. He's going quite cracked, it's my belief;
he have been half-way to it this long while. Sometimes he's trailing
through the brushwood on all fours, the gun ever pointed; but mostly
he's posted on the watch. He'll get shot for a poacher, or some of the
poachers will shoot him, as sure as it's a gun that he carries."

"What can be his motive?" mused Lionel.

"I'm inclined to think, sir, though he is Robin Frost, that he's after
the birds," boldly returned Broom.

"Then rely upon it that you think wrong, Broom," rebuked Lionel, "Robin
Frost would no more go out poaching, than I should go out thieving."

"I saw him trailing along last night in the moonlight, sir. I saw his
old father come up and talk to him, urging him to go home, as it seemed
to me. But he couldn't get him; and the old man had to hobble back
without Robin. Robin stopped in his cold berth on the ground."

"I did not think old Matthew was capable of going out at night."

"He did last night, sir; that's for certain. It was not far; only down
away by the brick-kilns. There's a tale going abroad that Dan Duff was
sent into mortal fright by seeing something that he took to be Rachel's
ghost; my opinion is, that he must have met old Frost in his white
smock-frock, and took him for a ghost. The moon did cast an uncommon
white shade last night. Though old Frost wasn't a-nigh the Willow Pool,
nor Robin neither, and that's where they say Dan Duff got his fright.
Formerly, Robin was always round that pool, but lately he has changed
his beat. Anyhow, sir, perhaps you'd be so good as drop a warning to
Robin of the risk he runs. He may mind you."

"I will," said Lionel.

The gamekeeper touched his hat, and walked away. Lionel considered that
he might as well give Robin the warning then; and he turned towards the
village. Before fairly entering it, he had met twenty talkative persons,
who gave him twenty different versions of the previous night's doings,
touching Dan Duff.

Mrs. Duff was at her door when Lionel went by. She generally was at her
door, unless she was serving customers. He stopped to accost her.

"What's the truth of this affair, Mrs. Duff?" asked he. "I have heard
many reports of it?"

Mrs. Duff gave as succinct an account as it was in her nature to give.
Some would have told it in a third of the time: but Lionel had patience;
he was in no particular hurry.

"I have been one of them to laugh at the ghost, sir a-saying that it
never was Rachel's, and that it never walked," she added. "But I'll
never do so again. Roy, he see it, as well as Dan."

"Oh! he saw it, too, did he," responded Lionel, with a good-natured
smile of mockery. "Mrs. Duff, you ought to be too old to believe in
ghosts," he more seriously resumed. "I am sure Roy is, whatever he may
choose to say."

"If it was no ghost, sir, what could have put our Dan into that awful
fright? Mr. Jan doesn't know as he'll overget it at all. He's a-lying
without a bit of conscientiousness on my bed, his eyes shut, and his
breath a-coming hard."

"Something frightened him, no doubt. The belief in poor Rachel's ghost
has been so popular, that every night fright is attributed to that. Who
was it went into a fainting fit in the road, fancying Rachel's ghost was
walking down upon them; and it proved afterwards to have been only the
miller's man with a sack of flour on his back?"

"Oh, that!" slightingly returned Mrs. Duff. "It was that stupid Mother
Grind, before they went off with the Mormons. She'd drop at her shadder,
sir, she would."

"So would some of the rest of you," said Lionel. "I am sorry to hear
that Dan is so ill."

"Mr. Jan's in a fine way over him, sir. Mrs. Bascroft gave him just a
taste of weak brandy and water, and Mr. Jan, when he come to know it,
said we might just as well have give him pison; and he'd not answer for
his life or his reason. A pretty thing it'll be for Deerham, if there's
more lives to be put in danger, now the ghost have took to walk again!
Mr. Bourne called in just now, sir, to learn the rights of it. He went
up and see Dan; but nothing could he make of him. Would you be pleased
to go up and take a look at him, sir?"

Lionel declined, and wished Mrs. Duff good-day.

He could do the boy no good, and had no especial wish to look at him,
although he had been promoted to the notoriety of seeing a ghost. A few
steps farther he encountered Jan.

"What is it that's the matter with the boy?" asked Lionel.

"He had a good fright; there's no doubt about that," replied Jan. "Saw a
white cow on its hind legs, it's my belief. That wouldn't have been
much. The boy would have been all right by now, but the women drenched
him with brandy, and made him stupidly drunk. He'll be better this
evening. I can't stop, Lionel; I am run off my legs to-day."

The commotion in the village increased as the evening approached. Jan
knew that young Dan would be well--save for any little remembrance of
the fright which might remain--when the fumes of the brandy had gone
off; But he wisely kept his own counsel, and let the public think he was
in danger. Otherwise, a second instalment of the brandy might have been
administered behind Jan's back. To have a boy dying of fright from
seeing a ghost was a treat in the marvellous line, which Deerham had
never yet enjoyed. There had been no agitation like unto it, since the
day of poor Rachel Frost.

Brave spirits, some of them! They volunteered to go out and meet the
apparition. As twilight approached you could not have got into Mrs.
Duff's shop, for there was the chief gathering. Arguments were being
used to prove that, according to all logic, if a ghost appeared one
night, it was safe to appear a second.

"Who'll speak up to go and watch for it?" asked Mrs. Duff. "I can't. I
can't leave Dan. Sally Green's a-sitting up by him now; for Mr. Jan says
if he's left again, he shall hold me responsible. It don't stand to
reason as I can leave Sally Green in charge of the shop, though I can
leave her a bit with Dan. Not but what I'd go alone to the pond, and
stop there; _I_ haven't got no fear."

It singularly happened that those who were kept at home by domestic or
other duties, had no fear; they, to hear them talk, would rather have
enjoyed an encounter _solus_ with the ghost, than not. Those who could
plead no home engagement professed themselves willing to undertake the
expedition in company; but freely avowed they would not go alone for the
world.

"Come! who'll volunteer?" asked Mrs. Duff. "It 'ud be a great
satisfaction to see the form it appears in, and have that set at rest.
Dan, he'll never be able to tell, by the looks of him now."

"I'll go for one," said bold Mrs. Bascroft. "And them as joins me shall
each have a good stiff tumbler of some'at hot afore starting, to prime
'em again' the cold."

Whether it was the brave example set, or whether it was the promise
accompanying it, certain it was, that there was no lack of volunteers
now. A good round dozen started, filling up the Plough and Harrow bar,
as Mrs. Bascroft dealt out her treat with no niggard hand.

"What's a-doing now?" asked Bascroft, a stupid-looking man with red hair
combed straight down his forehead, and coloured shirt-sleeves, surveying
the inroad on his premises with surprise.

"Never you mind," sharply reproved his better half. "These ladies is my
visitors, and if I choose to stand treat round, what's that to you? You
takes _your_ share o' liquor, Bascroft."

Bascroft was not held in very great estimation by the ladies generally,
and they turned their backs upon him.

"We are a-going out to see the ghost, if you must know, Bascroft," said
Susan Peckaby, who made one of the volunteers.

Bascroft stared. "What a set of idiots you must be!" grunted he. "Mr.
Jan says as Dan Duff see nothing but a white cow; he telled me so
hisself. Be you a-thinking to meet that there other white animal on your
road, Mrs. Peckaby?"

"Perhaps I am," tartly returned Mrs. Peckaby.

"One 'ud think so. _You_ can't want to go out to meet ghostesses; you
be a-going out to your saints at New Jerusalem. I'd whack that there
donkey for being so slow, when he did come, if I was you."

Hastening away from Bascroft and his aggravating tongue, the expedition,
having drained their tumblers, filed out. Down by the pound--relieved
now of its caged inmate--went they, on towards the Willow Pond. The
tumblers had made them brave. The night was light, as the preceding one
had been; the ground looked white, as if with frost, and the air was
cold. The pond in view, they halted, and took a furtive glance,
beginning to feel somewhat chill. So far as these half glances allowed
them to judge, there appeared to be nothing near to it, nothing upon its
brink.

"It's of no good marching right up to it," said Mrs. Jones, the baker's
wife. "The ghost mightn't come at all, if it saw all us there. Let's get
inside the trees."

Mrs. Jones meant inside the grove of trees. The proposition was most
acceptable, and they took up their position, the pond in view, peeping
out, and conversing in a whisper. By and by they heard the church clock
strike eight.

"I wish it'ud make haste," exclaimed Susan Peckaby, with some
impatience. "I don't never like to be away from home long together, for
fear of that there blessed white animal arriving."

"He'd wait, wouldn't he?" sarcastically rejoined Polly Dawson.
"He'd----"

A prolonged hush--sh--sh! from the rest restored silence. Something was
rustling the trees at a distance. They huddled closer together, and
caught hold one of another.

Nothing appeared. The alarm went off. And they waited, without result,
until the clock struck nine. The artificial strength within them had
cooled by that time, their ardour had cooled, and they were feeling
chill and tired. Susan Peckaby was upon thorns, she said, and urged
their departure.

"_You_ can go if you like," was the answer. "Nobody wants to keep you."

Susan Peckaby measured the distance between the pond and the way she had
to go, and came to the determination to risk it.

"I'll make a rush for it, I think," said she. "I sha'n't see nothing.
For all I know, that quadruple may be right afore our door now. If
he----"

Susan Peckaby stopped, her voice subsiding into a shriek. She, and those
with her, became simultaneously aware that some white figure was bearing
down upon them. The shrieks grew awful.

It proved to be Roy in his white fustian jacket. Roy had never had the
privilege of hearing a dozen women shriek in concert before; at least,
like this. His loud derisive laugh was excessively aggravating. What
with that, what with the fright his appearance had really put them in,
they all tore off, leaving some hard words for him; and never stopped to
take breath until they burst into the shop of Mrs. Duff.

It was rather an ignominious way of returning, and Mrs. Duff did not
spare her comments. If she had went out to meet the ghost, sh'd ha'
stopped till the ghost came, _she_ would! Mrs. Jones rejoined that them
watched-for ghosts, as she had heered, never did come--which she had
said so afore she went out!

Master Dan, considerably recovered, was downstairs then. Rather pale and
shaky, and accommodated with a chair and pillow, in front of the kitchen
fire. The expedition pressed into the kitchen, and five hundred
questions were lavished upon the boy.

"What was it dressed in, Dan? Did you get a good sight of her face, Dan?
Did it look just as Rachel used to look? Speak up, Dan."

"It warn't Rachel at all," replied Dan.

This unexpected assertion brought a pause of discomfiture. "He's head
ain't right yet," observed Mrs. Duff apologetically; "and that's why
I've not asked him nothing."

"Yes, it is right, mother," said Dan. "I never see Rachel last night. I
never said as I did."

Another pause--spent in contemplating Dan. "I knowed a case like this,
once afore," observed old Miss Till, who carried round the milk to
Deerham. "A boy got a fright, and they couldn't bring him to at all.
Epsum salts did it at last. Three pints of 'em they give, I think it
was, and that brought his mind round."

"It's a good remedy," acquiesced Mrs. Jones. "There's nothing like
plenty of Epsum salts for boys. I'd try 'em on him, Mother Duff."

"Dan, dear," said Susan Peckaby insinuatingly--for she had come in along
with the rest, ignoring for the moment what might be waiting at her
door--"was it in the pound as you saw Rachel's ghost?"

"'Twarn't Rachel's ghost as I did see," persisted Dan.

"Tell us who it was, then?" asked she, humouring him.

The boy answered. But he answered below his breath; as if he scarcely
dared to speak the name aloud. His mother partially caught it.

"Whose?" she exclaimed, in a sharp voice, her tone changing. And Dan
spoke a little louder.

"It was Mr. Frederick Massingbird's!"



CHAPTER LII.

MATTHEW FROST'S NIGHT ENCOUNTER.


Old Matthew Frost sat in his room at the back of the kitchen. It was his
bedroom and sitting-room combined. Since he had grown feeble, the bustle
of the kitchen and of Robin's family disturbed him, and he sat much in
his chamber, they frequently taking his dinner in to him.

A thoroughly comfortable arm-chair had Matthew. It had been the gift of
Lionel Verner. At his elbow was a small round table, of very dark wood,
rubbed to brightness. On that table Matthew's large Bible might
generally be found open, and Matthew's spectacled eyes bending over it.
But the Bible was closed to-day. He sat in deep thought. His hands
clasped upon his stick, something after the manner of old Mr. Verner;
and his eyes fixed through the open window at the September sun, as it
played on the gooseberry and currant bushes in the cottage garden.

The door opened, and Robin's wife--her hands and arms white, for she was
kneading dough--appeared, showing in Lionel; who had come on after his
conversation with Mrs. Duff, as you read of in the last chapter; for it
is necessary to go back a few hours. One cannot tell two portions of a
history at one and the same time. The old man rose, and stood leaning on
his stick.

"Sit down, Matthew," said Lionel, in a kindly tone. "Don't let me
disturb you." He made him go into his seat again, and took a chair
opposite to him.

"The time's gone, sir, for me to stand afore you. That time must go for
us all."

"Ay, that it must, Matthew, if we live. I came in to speak to Robin. His
wife says she does not know where he is."

"He's here and there and everywhere," was old Matthew's answer. "One
never knows how to take him, sir, or when to see him. My late master's
bounty to me, sir, is keeping us in comfort, but I often ask Robin what
he'll do when I am gone. It gives me many an hour's care, sir. Robin, he
don't earn the half of a living now."

"Be easy, Matthew," was Lionel's answer. "I am not sure that the
annuity, or part of it, will not be continued to Robin. My uncle left it
in my charge to do as I should see fit. I have never mentioned it, even
to you; and I think it might be as well for you not to speak of it to
Robin. It is to be hoped that he will get steady and hard-working again;
were he to hear that there was a chance of his being kept without work,
he might never become so."

"The Lord bless my old master!" aspirated Matthew, lifting his hands.
"The Lord bless you, sir! There's not many gentlemen would do for us
what him and you have."

Lionel bent his head forward, and lowered his voice to a whisper.
"Matthew, what is this that I hear, of Robin's going about the grounds
at night with a loaded gun?"

Matthew flung up his hands. Not with the reverence of the past minute,
but with a gesture of despair. "Heaven knows what he does it for, sir!
I'd keep him in; but it's beyond me."

"I know you would. You went yourself after him last night, Broom tells
me."

Matthew's eyes fell. He hesitated much in his answer. "I--yes, sir--I--I
couldn't get him home. It's a pity."

"You got as far as the brick-kilns, I hear. I was surprised. I don't
think you should be out at night, Matthew."

"No, sir, I am not a-going again."

The words this time were spoken readily enough. But, from some cause or
other, the old man was evidently embarrassed. His eyes were not lifted,
and his clear face had gone red. Lionel searched his imagination for a
reason, and could only connect it with his son.

"Matthew," said he, "I am about to ask you a painful question. I hope
you will answer it. Is Robin perfectly sane?"

"Ay, sir, as sane as I am. Unsettled he is, ever dwelling on poor
Rachel, ever thinking of revenge; but his senses be as much his as they
ever were. I wish his mind could be set at rest."

"At rest in what way?"

"As to who it was that did the harm to Rachel. He has had it in his head
for a long while, sir, that it was Mr. John Massingbird; but he can't be
certain, and it's the uncertainty that keeps his mind on the worrit."

"Do you know where he picked up the notion that it was Mr. John
Massingbird?" inquired Lionel, remembering the conversation on the same
point that Robin had once held with him, on that very garden bench, in
the face of which he and Matthew were now sitting.

Old Matthew shook his head. "I never could learn, sir. Robin's a dutiful
son to me, but he'd never tell me that. I know that Mr. John Massingbird
has been like a pill in his throat this many a day. Oftentimes have I
felt thankful that he was dead, or Robin would surely have gone out to
where he was, and murdered him. Murder wouldn't mend the ill, sir--as I
have told him many a time."

"Indeed it would not," replied Lionel. "The very fact of Mr. John
Massingbird's being dead, should have the effect of setting Robin's mind
at rest--if it was to him that his suspicions were directed. For my
part, I think Robin is wrong in suspecting him."

"I think so too, sir. I don't know how it is, but I can't bring my mind
to suspect him more than anybody else. I have thought over things in
this light, and I have thought 'em over in that light; and I'd rather
incline to believe that she got acquainted with some stranger, poor
dear! than that it was anybody known to us. Robin is in doubt; he has
had some cause given him to suspect Mr. John Massingbird, but he is not
sure, and it's that doubt, I say, that worrits him."

"At any rate, doubt or no doubt, there is no cause for him to go about
at night with a gun. What does he do it for?"

"I have asked him, sir, and he does not answer. He seems to me to be on
the watch."

"On the watch for what?" rejoined Lionel.

"I'm sure I don't know," said old Matthew. "If you'd say a word to him,
sir, it might stop it. He got a foolish notion into his mind that poor
Rachel's spirit might come again, and he'd used to be about the pond
pretty near every moonlight night. That fancy passed off, and he has
gone to his bed at night as the rest of us have, up to the last week or
so, when he has taken to go out again, and to carry a gun."

"It was a foolish notion," remarked Lionel. "The dead do not come again,
Matthew."

Matthew made no reply.

"I must try and come across Robin," said Lionel, rising. "I wish you
would tell him to come up to me, Matthew."

"Sir, if you desire that he shall wait upon you at Verner's Pride, he
will be sure to do so," said the old man, leaning on his stick as he
stood. "He has not got to the length of disobeying an order of yours.
I'll tell him."

It happened that Lionel did "come across" Robin Frost. Not to any
effect, however, for he could not get to speak to him. Lionel was
striking across some fields towards Deerham Court, when he came in view
of Roy and Robin Frost leaning over a gate, their heads together in
close confab. It looked very much as though they were talking secrets.
They looked up and saw him; but when he reached the place, both were
gone. Roy was in sight, but the other had entirely disappeared. Lionel
lifted his voice.

"Roy, I want you."

Roy could not fain deafness, although there was every appearance that he
would like to do it. He turned and approached, putting his hand to his
hat in a half surly manner.

"Where's Robin Frost?"

"Robin Frost, sir? He was here a minute or two agone. I met him
accidental, and I stopped him to ask what he was about, that he hadn't
been at work this three days. He went on his way then, down the gap. Did
you want him, sir?"

Lionel Verner's perceptive faculties were tolerably developed. That Roy
was endeavouring to blind him, he had no doubt. They had not met
"accidental," and the topic of conversation had not been Robin's
work--of that he felt sure. Roy and Robin Frost might meet and talk
together all day long. It was nothing to him. Why they should strive to
deceive him was the only curious part about it. Both had striven to
avoid meeting him; and Roy was talking to him now unwillingly. In a
general way, Robin Frost was fond of meeting and receiving a word from
Mr. Verner.

"I shall see him another time," carelessly remarked Lionel. "Not so
fast, Roy"--for the man was turning away--"I have not done with you.
Will you be good enough to inform me what you were doing in front of my
house last night?"

"I wasn't doing anything, sir. I wasn't there."

"Oh, yes, you were," said Lionel. "Recollect yourself. You were posted
under the large yew tree on the lawn, watching my drawing-room windows."

Roy looked up at this, the most intense surprise in his countenance. "I
never was on your lawn last night, sir; I wasn't near it. Leastways not
nearer than the side field. I happened to be in that, and I got through
a gap in the hedge, on to the high road."

"Roy, I believe that you _were_ on the lawn last night, and watching the
house," persisted Lionel, looking fixedly at his countenance. For the
life of him he could not tell whether the man's surprise was genuine,
his denial real. "What business had you there?"

"I declare to goodness, if it was the last word I had to speak, that I
was not on your lawn, sir--that I did not watch the house. I did not go
near the house. I crossed the side field, cornerwise, and got out into
the road; and that's the nearest I was to the house last night."

Roy spoke unusually impressive for him, and Lionel began to believe
that, so far, he was telling truth. He did not make any immediate reply,
and Roy resumed.

"What cause have you got to accuse me, sir? I shouldn't be likely to
watch your house--why should I?"

"Some man was watching it," replied Lionel. "As you were seen in the
road shortly afterwards, close to the side field, I came to the
conclusion that it was you."

"I can be upon my oath that it wasn't, sir," answered Roy.

"Very well," replied Lionel, "I accept your denial. But allow me to give
you a recommendation, Roy--not to trouble yourself with my affairs in
any way. They do not concern you; they never will concern you;
therefore, don't meddle with them."

He walked away as he spoke. Roy stood and gazed after him, a strange
expression on his countenance. Had Lucy Tempest seen it, she might have
renewed her warning to Lionel. And yet she would have been puzzled to
tell the meaning of the expression, for it did not look like a
threatening one.

Had Lionel Verner turned up Clay Lane, upon leaving Matthew Frost's
cottage, instead of down it, to take a path across the fields at the
back, he would have encountered the Vicar of Deerham. That gentleman was
paying parochial visits that day in Deerham, and in due course he came
to Matthew Frost's. He and Matthew had long been upon confidential
terms; the clergyman respected Matthew, and Matthew revered his pastor.

Mr. Bourne took the seat which Lionel had but recently vacated. He was
so accustomed to the old man's habitual countenance that he could detect
every change in it; and he saw that something was troubling him.

"I am troubled in more ways than one, sir," was the old man's answer.
"Poor Robin, he's giving me trouble again; and last night, sir, I had a
sort of fright. A shock, it may be said. I can't overget it."

"What was its nature?" asked Mr. Bourne.

"I don't much like to speak of it, sir; and, beside yourself, there's
not a living man that I'd open my lips to. It's an unpleasant thing to
have upon the mind. Mr. Verner, he was here but a few minutes a-gone,
and I felt before him like a guilty man that has something to conceal.
When I have told it to you, sir, you'll be hard of belief."

"Is it connected with Robin?"

"No, sir. But it was my going after Robin that led to it, as may be
said. Robin, sir, has took these last few nights to go out with a gun.
It has worrited me so, sir, fearing some mischief might ensue, that I
couldn't sleep; and last evening, I thought I'd hobble out and see if I
couldn't get him home. Chuff, he said as he had seen him go toward the
brick-field, and I managed to get down; and, sure enough, I came upon
Robin. He was lying down at the edge of the field, watching, as it
seemed to me. I couldn't get him home, sir. I tried hard, but 'twas of
no use. He spoke respectful to me, as he always does: 'Father, I have
got my work to do, and I must do it. You go back home, and go to sleep
in quiet.' It was all I could get from him, sir, and at last I turned to
go back----"

"What was Robin doing?" interrupted Mr. Bourne.

"Sir, I suppose it's just some fancy or other that he has got into his
head, as he used to get after the poor child died. Mr. Verner has just
asked me whether he is sane, but there's nothing of that sort wrong
about him. You mind the clump of trees that stands out, sir, between
here and the brick-field, by the path that would lead to Verner's
Pride?" added old Matthew in an altered tone.

"Yes," said Mr. Bourne.

"I had just got past it, sir, when I saw a figure crossing that bare
corner from the other trees. A man's shape, it looked like. Tall and
shadowy it was, wearing what looked like a long garment, or a woman's
riding-habit, trailing nearly on the ground. The very moment my eyes
fell upon it, I felt that it was something strange, and when the figure
passed me, turning its face right upon me--I _saw_ the face, sir."

Old Matthew's manner was so peculiar, his pause so impressive, that Mr.
Bourne could only gaze at him, and wait in wonder for what was coming.

"Sir, it was the face of one who has been dead these two years past--Mr.
Frederick Massingbird."

If the rector had gazed at old Matthew before, he could only stare now.
That the calm, sensible old man should fall into so extraordinary a
delusion, was incomprehensible. He might have believed it of Deerham in
general, but not of Matthew Frost.

"Matthew, you must have been deceived," was his quiet answer.

"No, sir. There never was another face like Mr. Frederick Massingbird's.
Other features may have been made like his--it's not for me to say they
have not--but whose else would have the black mark upon it? The
moonlight was full upon it, and I could see even the little lines
shooting out from the cheek, so bright was the night. The face was
turned right upon me as it passed, and I am as clear about its being his
as I am that it was me looking at it."

"But you know it is a thing absolutely impossible," urged Mr. Bourne. "I
think you must have dreamt this, Matthew."

Old Matthew shook his head. "I wouldn't have told you a dream, sir. It
turned me all in a maze. I never felt the fatigue of a step all the way
home after it. When I got in, I couldn't eat my supper; I couldn't go to
bed. I sat up thinking, and the wife, she came in and asked what ailed
me that I didn't go to rest. I had got no sleep in my eyes, I told her,
which was true; for, when I did get to bed, it was hours afore I could
close 'em."

"But, Matthew, I tell you that it is impossible. You must have been
mistaken."

"Sir, until last night, had anybody told me such a thing, I should have
said it was impossible. You know, sir, I have never been given to such
fancies. There's no doubt, sir; there's _no doubt_ that it was the
spirit of Mr. Frederick Massingbird."

Matthew's clear, intelligent eye was fixed firmly on Mr. Bourne's--his
face, as usual, bending a little forward. Mr. Bourne had never believed
in "spirits"; clergymen, as a rule, do not. A half smile crossed his
lips.

"Were you frightened?" he asked.

"I was not frightened, sir, in the sense that you, perhaps, put the
question. I was surprised, startled. As I might have been surprised and
startled at seeing anybody I least expected to see--somebody that I had
thought was miles away. Since poor Rachel's death, sir, I have lived, so
to say, in communion with spirits. What with Robin's talking of his hope
to see _hers_, and my constantly thinking of her; knowing also that it
can't be long, in the course of nature, before I am one myself, I have
grown to be, as it were, familiar with the dead in my mind. Thus, sir,
in that sense, no fear came upon me last night. I don't think, sir, I
should feel fear at meeting or being alone with a spirit, any more than
I should at meeting a man. But I was startled and disturbed."

"Matthew," cried Mr. Bourne, in some perplexity, "I had always believed
you superior to these foolish things. Ghosts might do well enough for
the old days, but the world has grown older and wiser. At any rate, the
greater portion of it has."

"If you mean, sir, that I was superior to the belief in ghosts, you are
right. I never had a grain of faith in such superstition in my life; and
I have tried all means to convince my son what folly it was of him to
hover round about the Willow Pond, with any thought that Rachel might
'come again.' No, sir, I have never been given to it."

"And yet you deliberately assure me, Matthew, that you saw a ghost last
night!"

"Sir, that it was Mr. Frederick Massingbird, dead or alive, that I saw,
I must hold to. We know that he is dead, sir, his wife buried him in
that far land; so what am I to believe? The face looked ghastly white,
not like a person's living."

Mr. Bourne mused. That Frederick Massingbird was dead and buried, there
could not be the slightest doubt. He hardly knew what to make of old
Matthew. The latter resumed.

"Had I been flurried or terrified by it, sir, so as to lose my presence
of mind, or if I was one of those timid folks that see signs in dreams,
or take every white post to be a ghost, that they come to on a dark
night, you might laugh at and disbelieve me. But I tell it to you, sir,
as you say, deliberately; just as it happened. I can't have much longer
time to live, sir; but I'd stake it all on the truth that it was the
spirit of Mr. Frederick Massingbird. When you have once known a man,
there are a hundred points by which you may recognise him, beyond
possibility of being mistaken. They have got a story in the place, sir,
to-day--as you may have heard--that my poor child's ghost appeared to
Dan Duff last night, and that the boy has been senseless ever since. It
has struck me, sir, that perhaps he also saw what I did."

Mr. Bourne paused. "Did you say anything of this to Mr. Verner?"

"Not I, sir. As I tell you, I felt like a guilty man in his presence,
one with something to hide. He married Mr. Fred's widow, pretty
creature, and it don't seem a nice thing to tell him. If it had been the
other gentleman's spirit, Mr. John's, I should have told him at once."

Mr. Bourne rose. To argue with old Matthew in his present frame of mind,
appeared to be about as useless a waste of time as to argue with Susan
Peckaby on the subject of the white donkey. He told him he would see him
again in a day or two, and took his departure.

But he did not dismiss the subject from his thoughts. No, he could not
do that. He was puzzled. Such a tale from one like old Matthew--calm,
pious, sensible, and verging on the grave, made more impression on Mr.
Bourne than all Deerham could have made. Had Deerham come to him with
the story, he would have flung it to the winds.

He began to think that some person, from evil design or love of
mischief, must be personating Frederick Massingbird. It was a natural
conclusion. And Matthew's surmise, that the same thing might have
alarmed Dan Duff, was perfectly probable. Mr. Bourne determined to
ascertain the latter fact, as soon as Dan should be in a state of
sufficient convalescence, bodily and mentally, to give an account. He
had already paid one visit to Mrs. Duff's--as that lady informed Lionel.

Two or three more visits he paid there during the day, but not until
night did he find Dan revived. In point of fact, the clergyman
penetrated to the kitchen just after that startling communication had
been made by Dan. The women were standing in consternation when the
vicar entered, one of them strongly recommending that the copper furnace
should be heated, and Dan plunged into it to "bring him round."

"How is he now?" began Mr. Bourne. "Oh! I see; he is sensible."

"Well, sir, I don't know," said Mrs Duff. "I'm afraid as his head's
a-going right off. He persists in saying now that it wasn't the ghost of
Rachel at all--but somebody else's."

"If he was put into a good hot furnace, sir, and kep' at a even heat up
to biling pint for half an hour--that is, as near biling as his skin
could bear it--I know it 'ud do wonders," spoke up Mrs. Chuff. "It's a
excellent remedy, where there's a furnace convenient, and water not
short."

"Suppose you allow me to be alone with him for a few minutes," suggested
Mr. Bourne. "We will try and find out what will cure him; won't we,
Dan?"

The women filed out one by one. Mr. Bourne sat down by the boy, and took
his hand. In a soothing manner he talked to him, and drew from him by
gentle degrees the whole tale, so far as Dan's memory and belief went.
The boy shook in every limb as he told it. He could not boast immunity
from ghostly fears as did old Matthew Frost.

"But, my boy, you should know that there are no such things as ghosts,"
urged Mr. Bourne. "When once the dead have left this world, they do not
come back to it again."

"I see'd it, sir," was Dan's only argument--an all sufficient one with
him. "It was stood over the pool, it was, and it turned round right upon
me as I went up. I see the porkypine on his cheek, sir, as plain as
anything."

The same account as old Matthew's!

"How was the person dressed?" asked Mr. Bourne. "Did you notice?"

"It had got on some'at long--a coat or a skirt, or some'at. It was as
thin as thin, sir."

"Dan, shall I tell you what it was--as I believe? It was somebody
dressed up to frighten you and other timid persons."

Dan shook his head. "No, sir, 'twasn't. 'Twas the ghost of Mr. Frederick
Massingbird."



CHAPTER LIII.

MASTER CHEESE'S FRIGHT--OTHER FRIGHTS.


Strange rumours began to be rife in Deerham. The extraordinary news told
by Dan Duff would have been ascribed to some peculiar hallucination of
that gentleman's brain, and there's no knowing but that the furnace
might have been tried as a cure, had not other testimony arisen to
corroborate it. Four or five different people, in the course of as many
days--or rather nights--saw, or professed to have seen, the apparition
of Frederick Massingbird.

One of them was Master Cheese. He was one night coming home from paying
a professional visit--in slight, straightforward cases Jan could trust
him--when he saw by the roadside what appeared to be a man standing up
under the hedge, as if he had taken his station there to look at the
passers-by.

"He's up to no good," quoth Master Cheese to himself. "I'll go and
dislodge the fellow."

Accordingly Master Cheese turned off the path where he was walking, and
crossed the waste bit--only a yard or two in breadth--that ran by the
side of the road. Master Cheese, it must be confessed, did not want for
bravery; he had a great deal rather face danger of any kind than hard
work; and the rumour about Fred Massingbird's ghost had been rare nuts
for him to crack. Up he went, having no thought in his head at that
moment of ghosts, but rather of poachers.

"I say, you fellow----" he was beginning, and there he stopped dead.

He stopped dead, both in step and tongue. The figure, never moving,
never giving the faintest indication that it was alive, stood there like
a statue. Master Cheese looked in its face, and saw the face of the late
Frederick Massingbird.

It is _not_ pleasant to come across a dead man at moonlight--a man whose
body has been safely reposing in the ground ever so long ago. Master
Cheese did not howl as Dan Duff had done. He set off down the road--he
was too fat to propel himself over or through the hedge, though that was
the nearest way--he took to his heels down the road, and arrived in an
incredibly short space of time at home, bursting into the surgery and
astonishing Jan and the surgery boy.

"I say, Jan, though, haven't I had a fright?"

Jan, at the moment, was searching in the prescription-book. He raised
his eyes, and looked over the counter. Master Cheese's face had turned
white, and drops of wet were pouring off it--in spite of his bravery.

"What have you been at?" asked Jan.

"I saw the thing they are talking about, Jan. It _is_ Fred
Massingbird's."

Jan grinned. That Master Cheese's fright was genuine, there could be no
mistaking, and it amused Jan excessively.

"What had you been taking?" asked he, in his incredulity.

"I had taken nothing," retorted Master Cheese, who did not like the
ridicule. "I had not had the opportunity of taking anything--unless it
was your medicine. Catch me tapping that! Look here, Jan. I was coming
by Crow Corner, when I saw a something standing back in the hedge. I
thought it was some poaching fellow hiding there, and went up to
dislodge him. Didn't I wish myself up in the skies? It was the face of
Fred Massingbird."

"The face of your fancy," slightingly returned Jan.

"I swear it was, then! There! There's no mistaking _him_. The hedgehog
on his cheek looked larger and blacker than ever."

Master Cheese did not fail to talk of this abroad; the surgery boy, Bob,
who had listened with open ears, did not fail to talk of it, and it
spread throughout Deerham; additional testimony to that already
accumulated. In a few days' time, the commotion was at its height;
nearly the only persons who remained in ignorance of the reported facts
being the master and mistress of Verner's Pride, and those connected
with them, relatives on either side.

That some great internal storm of superstition was shaking Deerham,
Lionel knew. In his happy ignorance, he attributed it to the rumour
which had first been circulated, touching Rachel's ghost. He was an
ear-witness to an angry colloquy at home. Some indispensable trifle for
his wife's toilette was required suddenly from Deerham one evening, and
Mademoiselle Benoite ordered that it should be sent for. But not one of
the maids would go. The Frenchwoman insisted, and there ensued a stormy
war. The girls, one and all, declared they'd rather give up their
service, than go abroad after nightfall.

When the fears and the superstitions came palpably in Lionel's way, he
made fun of them--as Jan might have done. Once or twice he felt half
provoked; and asked the people, in a tone between earnest and jest,
whether they were not ashamed of themselves. Little reply made they; not
one of them but seemed to shrink from mentioning to Lionel Verner the
name that the ghost had borne in life.

On nearly the last evening that it would be light during this moon, Mr.
Bourne started from home to pay a visit to Mrs. Hook, the labourer's
wife. The woman had been ailing for some time; partly from natural
illness, partly from chagrin--for her daughter Alice was the talk of the
village--and she had now become seriously ill. On this day Mr. Bourne
had accidentally met Jan; and, in conversing upon parish matters, he had
inquired after Mrs. Hook.

"Very much worse," was Jan's answer. "Unless a change takes place,
she'll not last many days."

The clergyman was shocked; he had not deemed her to be in danger. "I
will go and see her to-day," said he. "You can tell her that I am
coming."

He was a conscientious man; liking to do his duty, and especially kind
to those that were in sickness or trouble. Neither did he willingly
break a specific promise. He made no doubt that Jan delivered the
message, and therefore he went; though it was late at night when he
started, other duties having detained him throughout the day.

His most direct way from the vicarage to Hook's cottage, took him past
the Willow Pond. _He_ had no fear of ghosts, and therefore he chose it,
in preference to going down Clay Lane, which was farther round. The
Willow Pool looked lonely enough as he passed it, its waters gleaming in
the moonlight, its willows bending. A little farther on, the clergyman's
ears became alive to the sound of sobs, as from a person in distress.
There was Alice Hook, seated on a bench underneath some elm-trees,
sobbing enough to break her heart.

However the girl might have got herself under the censure of the
neighbourhood, it is a clergyman's office to console, rather than to
condemn. And he could not help liking pretty Alice; she had been one of
the most tractable pupils in his Sunday-school. He addressed her as
soothingly, as considerately, as though she were one of the first ladies
in his parish; harshness would not mend the matter now. Her heart opened
to the kindness.

"I've broke mother's heart, and killed her!" cried she, with a wild
burst of sobs. "But for me, she might have got well."

"She may get well still, Alice," replied the vicar. "I am going on to
see her now. What are you doing here?"

"I am on my way, sir, to get the fresh physic for her. Mr. Jan, he said
this morning as somebody was to go for it; but the rest have been out
all day. As I came along, I got thinking of the time, sir, when I could
go about by daylight with my head up, like the best of 'em; and it
overcame me."

She rose up, dried her eyes with her shawl, and Mr. Bourne proceeded
onwards. He had not gone far, when something came rushing past him from
the opposite direction. It seemed more like a thing than a man, with its
swift pace--and he recognised the face of Frederick Massingbird.

Mr. Bourne's pulses stood still, and then gave a bound onwards.
Clergyman though he was, he could not, for his life, have helped the
queer feeling which came over him. He had sharply rebuked the
superstition in his parishioners; had been inclined to ridicule Matthew
Frost; had cherished a firm and unalterable belief that some foolish
wight was playing pranks with the public; but all these suppositions and
convictions faded in this moment; and the clergyman felt that that which
had rustled past was the veritable dead and-gone Frederick Massingbird,
in the spirit or in the flesh.

He shook the feeling off--or strove to shake it. That it was Frederick
Massingbird in the flesh he did not give a second supposition to; and
that it could be Frederick Massingbird in the spirit, was opposed to
every past belief of the clergyman's life. But he had never seen such a
likeness; and though the similarity in the features might be accidental,
what of the black star?

He strove to shake the feeling off; to say to himself that some one,
bearing a similar face, must be in the village; and he went on to his
destination. Mrs. Hook was better; but she was lying in the place
unattended, all of them out somewhere or other. The clergyman talked to
her and read to her; and then waited impatiently for the return of
Alice. He did not care to leave the woman alone.

"Where are they all?" he asked, not having inquired before.

They were gone to the wake at Broxley, a small place some two miles
distant. Of course! Had Mr. Bourne remembered the wake, he need not have
put the question.

An arrival at last. It was Jan. Jan, attentive to poor patients as he
was to rich ones, had come striding over, the last thing. They asked him
if he had seen anything of Alice in his walk. But Jan had come across
from Deerham Court, and that would not be the girl's road. Another
minute, and the husband came in. The two gentlemen left together.

"She is considerably better, to-night," remarked Jan. "She'll get about
now, if she does not fret too much over Alice."

"It is strange where Alice can have got to," remarked Mr. Bourne. Her
prolonged absence, coupled with the low spirits the girl appeared to be
in, rather weighed upon his mind. "I met her as I was coming here an
hour ago," he continued. "She ought to have been home long before this."

"Perhaps she has encountered the ghost," said Jan, in a joke.

"I saw it to-night, Jan."

"Saw what?" asked Jan, looking at Mr. Bourne.

"The--the party that appears to be personating Frederick Massingbird."

"Nonsense!" uttered Jan.

"I did. And I never saw such a likeness in my life."

"Even to the porcupine," ridiculed Jan.

"Even to the porcupine," gravely replied Mr. Bourne. "Jan, I am not
joking. Moreover, I do not consider it a subject for a joke. If any one
is playing the trick, it is an infamous thing, most disrespectful to
your brother and his wife. And if not----"

"If not--what?" asked Jan.

"In truth, I stopped because I can't continue. Frederick Massingbird's
spirit it cannot be--unless all our previous belief in the
non-appearance of spirits is to be upset--and it cannot be Frederick
Massingbird in life. He died in Australia, and was buried there. I am
puzzled, Jan."

Jan was not. Jan only laughed. He believed there must be something in
the moonlight that deceived the people, and that Mr. Bourne had caught
the infection from the rest.

"Should it prove to be a trick that any one is playing," resumed the
clergyman, "I shall----"

"Hollo!" cried Jan. "What's this? Another ghost?"

They had nearly stumbled over something lying on the ground. A woman,
dressed in some light material. Jan stooped.

"It's Alice Hook!" he cried.

The spot was that at which Mr. Bourne had seen her sitting. The empty
bottle for medicine in her hand told him that she had not gone upon her
errand. She was insensible and cold.

"She has fainted," remarked Jan. "Lend a hand, will you, sir?"

Between them they got her on the bench, and the stirring revived her.
She sighed once or twice, and opened her eyes.

"Alice, girl, what is it? How were you taken ill?" asked the vicar.

She looked up at him; she looked at Jan. Then she turned her eyes in an
opposite direction, glanced fearfully round, as if searching for some
sight that she dreaded; shuddered, and relapsed into insensibility.

"We must get her home," observed Jan.

"There are no means of getting her home in her present state, unless she
is carried," said Mr. Bourne.

"That's easy enough," returned Jan. And he caught her up in his long
arms, apparently having to exert little strength in the action. "Put
her petticoats right, will you?" cried he, in his unceremonious fashion.

The clergyman put her things as straight as he could, as they hung over
Jan's arm. "You'll never be able to carry her, Jan," said he.

"Not carry her!" returned Jan. "I could carry you, if put to it."

And away he went, bearing his burden as tenderly and easily as though it
had been a little child. Mr. Bourne could hardly keep pace with him.

"You go on, and have the door open," said Jan, as they neared the
cottage. "We must get her in without the mother hearing, upstairs."

They had the kitchen to themselves. Hook, the father, a little the worse
for what he had taken, had gone to bed, leaving the door open for his
children. They got her in quietly, found a light, and placed her in a
chair. Jan took off her bonnet and shawl--he was handy as a woman; and
looked about for something to give her. He could find nothing except
water. By and by she got better.

Her first movement, when she fully recovered her senses, was to clutch
hold of Jan on the one side, of Mr. Bourne on the other.

"Is it gone?" she gasped, in a voice of the most intense terror.

"Is what gone, child?" asked Mr. Bourne.

"The ghost," she answered. "It came right up, sir, just after you left
me. I'd rather die than see it again."

She was shaking from head to foot. There was no mistaking that her
terror was intense. To attempt to meet it with confuting arguments would
have been simply folly, and both gentlemen knew that it would. Mr Bourne
concluded that the same sight, which had so astonished him, had been
seen by the girl.

"I sat down again after you went, sir," she resumed, her teeth
chattering. "I knew there was no mighty hurry for my being back, as you
had gone on to mother, and I sat on ever so long, and it came right up
again me, brushing my knees with its things as it passed. At the first
moment I thought it might be you coming back, to say something to me,
sir, and I looked up. It turned its face upon me, and I never remember
nothing after that."

"Whose face?" questioned Jan.

"The ghost's, sir. Mr. Fred Massingbird's."

"Bah!" said Jan. "Faces look alike in the moonlight."

"Twas his face," answered the girl, from between her shaking lips. "I
saw its every feature, sir."

"Porcupine and all?" retorted Jan, ironically.

"Porkypine and all, sir. I'm not sure that I should have knowed it at
first, but for the porkypine."

What were they to do with the girl? Leave her there, and go? Jan, who
was more skilled in ailments than Mr. Bourne, thought it possible that
the fright had seriously injured her.

"You must go to bed at once," said he. "I'll just say a word to your
father."

Jan was acquainted with the private arrangements of the Hooks'
household. He knew that there was but one sleeping apartment for the
whole family--the room above, where the sick mother was lying. Father,
mother, sons, and daughters all slept there together. The "house"
consisted of the kitchen below and the room above it. There were many
such on the Verner estate.

Jan, carrying the candle to guide him, went softly up the creaky
staircase. The wife was sleeping. Hook was sleeping, too, and snoring
heavily. Jan had something to do to awake him; shaking seemed useless.

"Look here," said he in a whisper, when the man was aroused, "Alice has
had a fright, and I think she may perhaps be ill through it; if so, mind
you come for me without loss of time. Do you understand, Hook?"

Hook signified that he did.

"Very well," replied Jan. "Should----"

"What's that! what's that?"

The alarmed cry came from the mother. She had suddenly awoke.

"It's nothing," said Jan. "I only had a word to say to Hook. You go to
sleep again, and sleep quietly."

Somehow Jan's presence carried reassurance with it to most people. Mrs.
Hook was contented. "Is Ally not come in yet?" asked she.

"Come in, and downstairs," replied Jan. "Good-night. Now," said he to
Alice, when he returned to the kitchen, "you go on to bed and get to
sleep; and don't get dreaming of ghosts and goblins."

They were turning out at the door, the clergyman and Jan, when the girl
flew to them in a fresh attack of terror.

"I daren't be left alone," she gasped. "Oh, stop a minute! Pray stop,
till I be gone upstairs."

"Here," said Jan, making light of it. "I'll marshal you up."

He held the candle, and the girl flew up the stairs as fast as young
Cheese had flown from the ghost. Her breath was panting, her bosom
throbbing. Jan blew out the candle, and he and Mr. Bourne departed,
merely shutting the door. Labourers' cottages have no fear of midnight
robbers.

"What do you think now?" asked Mr. Bourne, as they moved along.

Jan looked at him. "_You_ are not thinking, surely, that it is Fred
Massingbird's ghost!"

"No. But I should advise Mr. Verner to place a watch, and have the thing
cleared up--who it is, and what it is."

"Why, Mr. Verner?"

"Because it is on his land that the disturbance is occurring. This girl
has been seriously frightened."

"You may have cause to know that, before many hours are over," answered
Jan.

"Why! you don't fear that she will be seriously ill?"

"Time will show," was all the answer given by Jan. "As to the ghost,
I'll either believe in him, or disbelieve him, when I come across him.
If he were a respectable ghost, he'd confine himself to the churchyard,
and not walk in unorthodox places, to frighten folks."

They looked somewhat curiously at the seat near which Alice had fallen;
at the Willow Pond, farther on. There was no trace of a ghost about
then--at least, that they could see--and they continued their way. In
emerging upon the high road, whom should they meet but old Mr.
Bitterworth and Lionel, arm in arm. They had been to an evening meeting
of the magistrates at Deerham, and were walking home together.

To see the vicar and surgeon of a country village in company by night,
imparts the idea that some one of its inhabitants may be in extremity.
It did so now to Mr. Bitterworth--

"Where do you come from?" he asked.

"From Hook's," answered Jan. "The mother's better to-night; but I have
had another patient there. The girl, Alice, has seen the ghost, or
fancied that she saw it, and was terrified, literally, out of her
senses."

"How is she going on?" asked Mr. Bitterworth.

"Physically, do you mean, sir?"

"No, I meant morally, Jan. If all accounts are true, the girl has been
losing herself."

"Law!" said Jan. "Deerham has known that this many a month past. I'd try
and stop it, if I were Lionel."

"Stop what?" asked Lionel.

"I'd build 'em better dwellings," composedly went on Jan. "They might be
brought up to decency then."

"It's true that decency can't put its head into such dwellings as that
of the Hooks'," observed the vicar. "People have accused me of showing
leniency to Alice Hook, since the scandal has been known; but I cannot
show harshness to her when I think of the home the girl was reared in."

The words pricked Lionel. None could think worse of the homes than he
did. He spoke in a cross tone; we are all apt to do so, when vexed with
ourselves. "What possesses Deerham to show itself so absurd just now?
Ghosts! They only affect fear, it is my belief."

"Alice Hook did not affect it, for one," said Jan. "She may have been
frightened to some purpose. We found her lying on the ground,
insensible. They are stupid, though, all the lot of them."

"Stupid is not the name for it," remarked Lionel. "A little
superstition, following on Rachel's peculiar death, may have been
excusable, considering the ignorance of the people here, and the
tendency to superstition inherent in human nature. But why it should
have been revived now, I cannot imagine."

Mr. Bitterworth and Jan had walked on. The vicar touched Lionel on the
arm, not immediately to follow them.

"Mr. Verner, I do not hold good with the policy which seems to prevail,
of keeping this matter from you," he said, in a confidential tone. "I
cannot see the expediency of it in any way. It is not Rachel's Frost's
ghost that is said to be terrifying people."

"Whose then?" asked Lionel.

"Frederick Massingbird's."

Lionel paused, as if his ears deceived him.

"_Whose_?" he repeated.

"Frederick Massingbird's."

"How perfectly absurd!" he presently exclaimed.

"True," said Mr. Bourne. "So absurd that, were it not for a circumstance
which has happened to-night, I scarcely think I should have brought
myself to repeat it. My conviction is, that some person bearing an
extraordinary resemblance to Frederick Massingbird is walking about to
terrify the neighbourhood."

"I should think there's not another face living, that bears a
resemblance to Fred Massingbird's," observed Lionel. "How have you heard
this?"

"The first to tell me of it was old Matthew Frost. He saw him plainly,
believing it to be Frederick Massingbird's spirit--although he had never
believed in spirits before. Dan Duff holds to it that _he_ saw it; and
now Alice Hook; besides others. I turned a deaf ear to all, Mr. Verner;
but to-night I met one so like Frederick Massingbird that, were
Massingbird not dead, I could have sworn it was himself. It was
wondrously like him, even to the mark on the cheek."

"I never heard such a tale!" uttered Lionel.

"That is precisely what I said--until to-night. I assure you the
resemblance is so great, that if we have all female Deerham in fits, I
shall not wonder. It strikes me--it is the only solution I can come
to--that some one is personating Frederick Massingbird for the purpose
of a mischievous joke--though how they get up the resemblance is another
thing. Let me advise you to see into it, Mr. Verner."

Mr. Bitterworth and Jan were turning round in front, waiting; and the
vicar hastened on, leaving Lionel glued to the spot where he stood.



CHAPTER LIV.

MRS. DUFF'S BILL.


Peal! peal! peal! came the sound of the night-bell at Jan's window as he
lay in bed. For Jan had caused the night-bell to be hung there since he
was factotum. "Where's the good of waking up the house?" remarked Jan;
and he made the alteration.

Jan got up with the first sound, and put his head out at the window.
Upon which, Hook--for he was the applicant--advanced. Jan's window
being, as you may remember, nearly on a level with the ground, presented
favourable auspices for holding a face to face colloquy with night
visitors.

"She's mortal bad, sir," was Hook's salutation.

"Who is?" asked Jan. "Alice, or the missis?"

"Not the missis, sir. The other. But I shouldn't ha' liked to trouble
you, if you hadn't ordered me."

"I won't be two minutes," said Jan.

It seemed to Hook that Jan was only one, so speedily did he come out. A
belief was popular in Deerham that Mr. Jan slept with his clothes on; no
sooner would a night summons be delivered to Jan, than Jan was out with
the summoner, ready for the start. Before he had closed the surgery
door, through which he had to pass, there came another peal, and a woman
ran up to him. Jan recognised her for the cook of a wealthy lady in the
Belvedere Road, a Mrs. Ellis.

"Law, sir! what a provident mercy that you are up and ready!" exclaimed
she. "My mistress is attacked again."

"Well, you know what to do," returned Jan. "You don't want me."

"But she do want you, sir. I have got orders not to go back without
you."

"I suppose she has been eating cucumber again," remarked Jan.

"Only a bit of it, sir. About the half of a small one, she took for her
supper. And now the spasms is on her dreadful."

"Of course they are," replied Jan. "She knows how cucumber serves her.
Well, I can't come. I'll send Mr. Cheese, if you like. But he can do no
more good than you can. Give her the drops and get the hot flannels;
that's all."

"You are going out, sir!" cried the woman, in a tone that sounded as if
she would like to be impertinent. "_You_ are come for him, I suppose?"
turning a sharp tongue upon Hook.

"Yes, I be," humbly replied Hook. "Poor Ally--"

The woman set up a scream. "You'd attend _her_, that miserable castaway,
afore you'd attend my mistress!" burst out she to Jan. "Who's Ally Hook,
by the side of folks of standing?"

"If she wants attendance, she must have it," was the composed return of
Jan. "She has got a body and a soul to be saved, as other folks have.
She is in danger; your mistress is not."

"Danger! What has that got to do with it?" angrily answered the woman.
"You'll never get paid there, sir."

"I don't expect it," returned Jan. "If you'd like Cheese, that's his
window," pointing to one in the house. "Throw a handful of gravel up,
and tell them I said he was to attend."

Jan walked off with Hook. He heard a crash of gravel behind him; so
concluded the cook was flinging at Mr. Cheese's window in a temper. As
she certainly was, giving Mr. Jan some hard words in the process. Just
as Lady Verner had never been able to inculcate suavity on Jan, so Dr.
West had found it a hopeless task to endeavour to make Jan understand
that, in medical care, the rich should be considered before the poor.
Take, for example, that _bête noire_ of Deerham just now, Alice Hook,
and put her by the side of a born duchess; Jan would have gone to the
one who had most need of him, without reference to which of the two it
might be. Evidently there was little hope for Jan.

Jan, with his long legs, outstripped the stooping and hard-worked
labouring man. In at the door and up the stairs he went, into the
sleeping room.

Did you ever pay a visit to a room of this social grade? If not, you
will deem the introduction of this one highly coloured. Had Jan been a
head and shoulders shorter, he might have been able to stand up in the
lean-to attic, without touching the lath and plaster of the roof. On a
low bedstead, on a flock mattress, lay the mother and two children,
about eight and ten. How they made room for Hook also, was a puzzle.
Opposite to it, on a straw mattress, slept three sons, grown up, or
nearly so; between these beds was another straw mattress where lay Alice
and her sister, a year younger; no curtains, no screens, no anything.
All were asleep, with the exception of the mother and Alice; the former
could not rise from her bed; Alice appeared too ill to rise from hers.
Jan stooped his head and entered.

A few minutes, and he set himself to arouse the sleepers. They might
make themselves comfortable in the kitchen, he told them, for the rest
of the night: he wanted room in the place to turn himself round, and
they must go out of it. And so he bundled them out. Jan was not given to
stand upon ceremony. But it is not a pleasant room to linger in, so we
will leave Jan to it.

It was pleasanter at Lady Verner's. Enough of air, and light, and
accommodation there. But even in that desirable residence it was not all
_couleur de rose_. Vexations intrude into the most luxurious home,
whatever may be the superfluity of room, the admirable style of the
architecture; and they were just now agitating Deerham Court.

On the morning which rose on the above night--as lovely a morning as
ever September gave us--Lady Verner and Lucy Tempest received each a
letter from India. Both were from Colonel Tempest. The contents of Lady
Verner's annoyed her, and the contents of Lucy's annoyed _her_.

It appeared that some considerable time back, nearly, if not quite,
twelve months, Lucy had privately written to Colonel Tempest, urgently
requesting to be allowed to go out to join him. She gave no reason or
motive for the request, but urged it strongly. That letter, in
consequence of the moving about of Colonel Tempest, had only just
reached him; and now had arrived the answer to it. He told Lucy that he
should very shortly be returning to Europe; therefore it was useless for
her to think of going out.

So far, so good. However Lucy might have been vexed or disappointed at
the reply--and she was both; still more at the delay which had taken
place--there the matter would have ended. But Colonel Tempest, having no
idea that Lady Verner was a stranger to this request; inferring, on the
contrary, that she was a party to it, and must, therefore, be growing
tired of her charge, had also written to her an elaborate apology for
leaving Lucy so long upon her hands, and for being unable to comply with
her wish to be relieved of her. This enlightened Lady Verner as to what
Lucy had done.

She was very angry. She was worse than angry; she was mortified. And she
questioned Lucy a great deal more closely than that young lady liked, as
to what her motive could have been, and why she was tired of Deerham
Court.

Lucy, all self-conscious of the motive by which she had been really
actuated, stood before her like a culprit. "I am not tired of Deerham
Court, Lady Verner. But I wished to be with papa."

"Which is equivalent to saying that you wish to be away from me,"
retorted my lady. "I ask you why?"

"Indeed, Lady Verner, I am pleased to be with you; I like to be with
you. It was not to be away from you that I wrote. It is a long while
since I saw papa; so long, that I seem to have forgotten what he is
like."

"Can you assure me, in all open truth, that the wish to be with Colonel
Tempest was your sole reason for writing, unbiassed by any private
feeling touching Deerham?" returned Lady Verner, searching her face
keenly. "I charge you answer me, Lucy."

Lucy could not answer that it was her sole reason, unless she told an
untruth. Her eyes fell under the gaze bent upon her.

"I see," said Lady Verner. "You need not equivocate more. Is it to me
that you have taken a dislike? or to any part of my arrangements?"

"Believe me, dear Lady Verner, that it is neither to you nor to your
home," she answered, the tears rising to her eyes. "Believe me, I am as
happy here as I ever was; on that score I have no wish to change."

It was an unlucky admission of Lucy's, "on that score." Of course, Lady
Verner immediately pressed to know on what other score the wish might be
founded. Lucy pleaded the desire to be with her father, which Lady
Verner did not believe; and she pleaded nothing else. It was not
satisfactory to my lady, and she kept Lucy the whole of the morning,
harping upon the sore point.

Lionel entered, and interrupted the discussion. Lady Verner put him in
possession of the facts. That for some cause which Lucy refused to
explain, she wanted to leave Deerham Court; had been writing, twelve
months back, to Colonel Tempest, to be allowed to join him in India; and
the negative answer had arrived but that morning. Lady Verner would like
the motive for her request explained; but Lucy was obstinate, and would
not explain it.

Lionel turned his eyes on Lucy. If she had stood self-conscious before
Lady Verner, she stood doubly self-conscious now. Her eyelashes were
drooping, her cheeks were crimson.

"She says she has no fault to find with me, no fault to find with the
arrangements of my house," pursued Lady Verner. "Then I want to know
what else it is that should drive her away from Deerham. Look at her,
Lionel! That is how she stands--unable to give me an answer."

Lady Verner might equally well have said, Look at Lionel. _He_ stood
self-conscious also. Too well he knew the motive--absence from
him--which had actuated Lucy. From him, the married man; the man who had
played her false; away, anywhere, from witnessing the daily happiness of
him and his wife. He read it all, and Lucy saw that he did.

"It were no such strange wish, surely, to be where my dear papa is!" she
exclaimed, the crimson of her cheeks turning to scarlet.

"No," murmured Lionel, "no such strange wish. I wish _I_ could go to
India, and free the neighbourhood of my presence!"

A curious wish! Lady Verner did not understand it. Lionel gave her no
opportunity to inquire its meaning, for he turned to quit the room and
the house. She rose and laid her hand upon his arm to detain him.

"I have an engagement," pleaded Lionel.

"A moment yet. Lionel, what _is_ this nonsense that is disturbing the
equanimity of Deerham? About a ghost!"

"Ah, what indeed?" returned Lionel, in a careless tone, as if he would
make light of it. "You know what Deerham is, mother. Some think Dan Duff
saw his own shadow; some, a white cow in the pound. Either is sufficient
marvel for Deerham."

"So vulgar a notion!" reiterated Lady Verner, resuming her seat, and
taking her essence bottle in her delicately gloved hand. "I wonder you
don't stop it, Lionel."

"I!" cried Lionel, opening his eyes in considerable surprise. "How am I
to stop it?"

"You are the Lord of Deerham. It is vulgar, I say, to have such a report
afloat on your estate."

Lionel smiled. "I don't know how you are to put away vulgarity from
stargazers and villagers. Or ghosts either--if they once get ghosts in
their heads."

He finally left the Court, and turned towards home. His mother's words
about the ghost had brought the subject to his mind; if, indeed, it had
required bringing; but the whispered communication of the vicar the
previous night had scarcely been out of his thoughts since. It troubled
him. In spite of himself, of his good sense and reason, there was an
undercurrent of uneasiness at work within him. Why should there be?
Lionel could not have explained had he been required to do it. That
Frederick Massingbird was dead and buried, there could be no shade of
doubt; and ghosts had no place in the creed of Lionel Verner. All true;
but the consciousness of uneasiness was there, and he could not ignore
it.

In the last few days, the old feeling touching Lucy had been revived
with unpleasant force. Since that night which she had spent at his
house, when they saw, or fancied they saw, a man hiding himself under
the tree, he had thought of her more than was agreeable; more than was
right, he would have said, but that he saw not how to avoid it. The
little episode of this morning at his mother's house had served to open
his eyes most completely, to show him how intense was his love for Lucy
Tempest. It must be confessed that his wife did little towards striving
to retain his love.

He went along, thinking of these things. He would have put them from
him; but he could not. The more he tried, the more unpleasantly vivid
they became. "Tush!" said Lionel. "I must be getting nervous! I'll ask
Jan to give me a draught."

He was passing Dr. West's as he spoke, and he turned into the surgery.
Sitting on the bung of a large stone jar was Master Cheese, his attitude
a disconsolate one, his expression of countenance rebellious.

"Is Mr. Jan at home?" asked Lionel.

"No, he's not at home, sir," replied Master Cheese, as if the fact were
some personal grievance of his own. "Here's all the patients, all the
making up of the physic left in my charge, and I'd like to know how I am
to do it? I can't go out to fifty folks at a time?"

"And so you expedite the matter by not going to one! Where is Mr. Jan?"

"He was fetched out in the night to that beautiful Ally Hook," grumbled
Master Cheese. "It's a shame, sir, folks are saying, for him to give his
time to _her_. I had to leave my warm bed and march out to that fanciful
Mother Ellis, through it, who's always getting the spasms. And I had
about forty poor here this morning, and couldn't get a bit of
comfortable breakfast for 'em. Miss Deb, she never kept my bacon warm,
or anything; and somebody had eaten the meat out of the veal pie when I
got back. Jan _will_ have those horrid poor here twice a week, and if I
speak against it, he tells me to hold my tongue."

"But is Mr. Jan not back yet from Hook's?"

"No, sir, he's not," was the resentful response. "He has never come back
at all since he went, and that was at four o'clock this morning. If he
had gone to cut off all the arms in the house, he couldn't have been
longer! And I wish him joy of it! He'll get no breakfast. They have got
nothing for themselves but bread and water."

Lionel left his draught an open question, and departed. As he turned
into the principal street again, he saw Master Dan Duff at the door of
his mother's shop. A hasty impulse prompted Lionel to question the boy
of what he saw that unlucky night; or believed he saw. He crossed over;
but Master Dan retreated inside the shop. Lionel followed him.

"Well, Dan! Have you overcome the fright of the cow yet?"

"'Twarn't a cow, please, sir," replied Dan, timidly. "'Twere a ghost."

"Whose ghost?" returned Lionel.

Dan hesitated. He stood first on one leg, then on the other.

"Please, sir, 'twarn't Rachel's," said he, presently.

"Whose then?" repeated Lionel.

"Please, sir, mother said I warn't to tell you. Roy, he said, if I told
it to anybody, I should be took and hanged."

"But I say that you are to tell me," said Lionel. And his pleasant tone,
combined, perhaps, with the fact that he was Mr. Verner, effected more
with Dan Duff than his mother's sharp tone or Roy's threatening one.

"Please, sir," glancing round to make sure that his mother was not
within hearing, "'twere Mr. Fred Massingbird's. They can't talk me out
on't, sir. I see'd the porkypine as plain as I see'd him. He were--"

Dan brought his information to a summary standstill. Bustling down the
stairs was that revered mother. She came in, curtseying fifty times to
Lionel. "What could she have the honour of serving him with?" He was
leaning over the counter, and she concluded he had come to patronise the
shop.

Lionel laughed. "I am a profitless customer, I believe, Mrs. Duff. I was
only talking to Dan."

Dan sidled off to the street door. Once there, he took to his heels, out
of harm's way. Mr. Verner might begin telling his mother more
particulars, and it was as well to be at a safe distance.

Lionel, however, had no intention to betray trust. He stood chatting a
few minutes with Mrs. Duff. He and Mrs. Duff had been great friends when
he was an Eton boy; many a time had he ransacked her shop over for flies
and gut and other fishing tackle, a supply of which Mrs. Duff professed
to keep. She listened to him with a somewhat preoccupied manner; in
point of fact, she was debating a question with herself.

"Sir," said she, rubbing her hands nervously one over the other, "I
should like to make bold to ask a favour of you. But I don't know how it
might be took. I'm fearful it might be took as a cause of offence."

"Not by me. What is it?"

"It's a delicate thing, sir, to have to ask about," resumed she. "And I
shouldn't venture, sir, to speak to _you_, but that I'm so put to it,
and that I've got it in my head it's through the fault of the servants."

She spoke with evident reluctance. Lionel, he scarcely knew why, leaped
to the conclusion that she was about to say something regarding the
subject then agitating Deerham--the ghost of Frederick Massingbird.
Unconsciously to himself, the pleasant manner changed to one of
constraint.

"Say what you have to say, Mrs. Duff."

"Well, sir--but I'm sure I beg a hundred thousand pardings for
mentioning of it--it's about the bill," she answered, lowering her
voice. "If I could be paid, sir, it 'ud be the greatest help to me. I
don't know hardly how to keep on."

No revelation touching the ghost could have given Lionel the surprise
imparted by these ambiguous words. But his constraint was gone.

"I do not understand you, Mrs. Duff. What bill?"

"The bill what's owing to me, sir, from Verner's Pride. It's a large sum
for me, sir--thirty-two pound odd. I have to keep up my payments for my
goods, sir, whether or not, or I should be a bankrupt to-morrow. Things
is hard upon me just now, sir; though I don't want everybody to know
it. There's that big son o' mine, Dick, out o' work. If I could have the
bill, or only part of it, it 'ud be like a God-send."

"Who owes you the bill?" asked Lionel.

"It's your good lady, sir, Mrs. Verner."

"_Who?_" echoed Lionel, his accent quite a sharp one.

"Mrs. Verner, sir."

Lionel stood gazing at the woman. He could not take in the information;
he believed there must be some mistake.

"It were for things supplied between the time Mrs. Verner came home
after your marriage, sir, and when she went to London in the spring. The
French madmizel, sir, came down and ordered some on 'em; and Mrs. Verner
herself, sir, ordered others."

Lionel looked around the shop. He did not disbelieve the woman's words,
but he was in a maze of astonishment. Perhaps a doubt of the Frenchwoman
crossed his mind.

"There's nothing here that Mrs. Verner would wear!" he exclaimed.

"There's many odds and ends of things here, sir, as is useful to a
lady's tilette--and you'd be surprised, sir, to find how such things
mounts up when they be had continual. But the chief part o' the bill,
sir, is for two silk gownds as was had of our traveller. Mrs. Verner,
sir, she happened to be here when he called in one day last winter, and
she saw his patterns, and she chose two dresses, and said she'd buy 'em
of me if I ordered 'em. Which in course I did, sir, and paid for 'em,
and sent 'em home. I saw her wear 'em both, sir, after they was made up,
and very nice they looked."

Lionel had heard quite enough. "Where is the bill?" he inquired.

"It have been sent in, sir, long ago. When I found Mrs. Verner didn't
pay it afore she went away, I made bold to write and ask her. Miss West,
she gave me the address in London, and said she wished she could pay me
herself. I didn't get a answer, sir, and I made bold to write again, and
I never got one then. Twice I have been up to Verner's Pride, sir, since
you come home this time, but I can't get to see Mrs. Verner. That French
madmizel's one o' the best I ever see at putting folks off. Sir, it goes
again the grain to trouble you; and if I could have got to see Mrs.
Verner, I never would have said a word. Perhaps if you'd be so good as
to tell her, sir, how hard I'm put to it, she'd send me a little."

"I am sure she will," said Lionel. "You shall have your money to-day,
Mrs. Duff."

He turned out of the shop, a scarlet spot of emotion on his cheek.
Thirty-two pounds owing to poor Mrs. Duff! Was it _thoughtlessness_ on
Sibylla's part? He strove to beat down the conviction that it was a less
excusable error.

But the Verner pride had been wounded to its very core.



CHAPTER LV.

SELF WILL.


Gathered before a target on the lawn, in their archery costume gleaming
with green and gold, was a fair group, shooting their arrows in the air.
Far more went into the air than struck the target. They were the
visitors of Verner's Pride; and Sibylla, the hostess, was the gayest,
the merriest, the fairest among them.

Lionel came on to the terrace, descended the steps, and crossed the lawn
to join them--as courtly, as apparently gay, as if that bill of Mrs.
Duff's was not making havoc of his heartstrings. They all ran to
surround him. It was not often they had so attractive a host to
surround; and attractive men are, and always will be, welcome to women.
A few minutes, a quarter of an hour given to them, an unruffled
smoothness on his brow, a smile upon his lips, and then he contrived to
draw his wife aside.

"Oh, Lionel, I forgot to tell you," she exclaimed. "Poynton has been
here. He knows of the most charming pair of gray ponies, he says. And
they can be ours if secured at once."

"I don't want gray ponies," replied Lionel.

"But I do," cried Sibylla. "You say I am too timid to drive. It is all
nonsense; I should soon get over the timidity. I _will_ learn to drive,
Lionel. Mrs. Jocelyn, come here," she called out.

Mrs. Jocelyn, a young and pretty woman, almost as pretty as Sibylla,
answered to the summons.

"Tell Mr. Verner what Poynton said about the ponies."

"Oh, you must not miss the opportunity," cried Mrs. Jocelyn to Lionel.
"They are perfectly beautiful, the man said. Very dear, of course; but
you know nobody looks at money when buying horses for a lady. Mrs.
Verner must have them. You might secure them to-day."

"I have no room in my stables for more horses," said Lionel, smiling at
Mrs. Jocelyn's eagerness.

"Yes, you have, Lionel," interposed his wife. "Or, if not, room must be
made. I have ordered the ponies to be brought."

"I shall send them back," said Lionel, laughing.

"Don't you wish your wife to take to driving, Mr. Verner? Don't you like
to see a lady drive? Some do not."

"I think there is no necessity for a lady to drive, while she has a
husband at her side to drive for her," was the reply of Lionel.

"Well--if I had such a husband as you to drive for me, I don't know but
I might subscribe to that doctrine," candidly avowed Mrs. Jocelyn. "_I_
would not miss these ponies, were I Mrs. Verner. You can drive them, you
know. They are calling me. It is my turn, I suppose."

She ran back to the shooting, Sibylla was following her, but Lionel
caught her hand and drew her into a covered walk. Placing her hand
within his arm, he began to pace it.

"I must go back, too, Lionel."

"Presently. Sibylla, I have been terribly vexed this morning."

"Oh, now Lionel, don't you begin about 'vexing,'" interrupted Sibylla,
in the foolish, light, affected manner, which had grown worse of late,
more intolerable to Lionel. "I have ordered the ponies. Poynton will
send them in; and if there's really not room in the stables, you must
see about it, and give orders that room must be made."

"I cannot buy the ponies," he firmly said. "My dear, I have given in to
your every wish, to your most trifling whim; but, as I told you a few
days ago, these ever-recurring needless expenses I cannot stand.
Sibylla"--and his voice grew hoarse--"do you know that I am becoming
embarrassed?"

"I don't care if you are," pouted Sibylla. "I must have the ponies."

His heart ached. Was this the loving wife--the intelligent companion for
whom he had once yearned?--the friend who should be as his own soul? He
had married the Sibylla of his imagination; and he woke to find
Sibylla--what she was. The disappointment was heavy upon him always; but
there were moments when he could have cried out aloud in its sharp
bitterness.

"Sibylla, you know the state in which some of my tenants live; the
miserable dwellings they are forced to inhabit. I must change this state
of things. I believe it to be a duty for which I am accountable to God.
How am I to set about it if you ruin me?"

Sibylla put her fingers to her ears. "I can't stand to listen when you
preach, Lionel. It is as bad as a sermon."

[Illustration: Sibylla put her fingers to her ears.]

It was ever thus. He could not attempt to reason with her. Anything like
sensible conversation she could not, or would not, hold. Lionel,
considerate to her as he ever was, felt provoked.

"Do you know that this unfortunate affair of Alice Hook's is laid
remotely to me?" he said, with a sternness, which he could not help, in
his tone. "People are saying that if I gave them decent dwellings,
decent conduct would ensue. It is so. God knows that I feel its truth
more keenly than my reproachers."

"The dwellings are good enough for the poor."

"Sibylla! You cannot think it. The laws of God and man alike demand a
change. Child," he continued in a softer tone, as he took her hand in
his, "let us bring the case home to ourselves. Suppose that you and I
had to sleep in a room a few feet square, no chimney, no air, and that
others tenanted it with us? Girls and boys growing up--nay, grown up,
some of them; men and women as we are, Sibylla. The beds huddled
together, no space between them; sickness, fever----"

"I am only shutting my ears," interrupted Sibylla. "You pretend to be so
careful of me--you would not even let me go to that masked ball in
Paris--and yet you put these horrid pictures into my mind! I think you
ought to be ashamed of it, Lionel. People sleeping in the same room with
us!"

"If the picture be revolting, what must be the reality?" was his
rejoinder. "_They_ have to endure it."

"They are used to it," retorted Sibylla. "They are brought up to nothing
better."

"Just so. And therefore their perceptions of right and wrong are
deadened. The wonder is, not that Alice Hook has lost herself, but
that----"

"I don't want to hear about Alice Hook," interrupted Sibylla. "She is
not very good to talk about."

"I have been openly told, Sibylla, that the reproach should lie at my
door."

"I believe it is not the first reproach of the kind that has been cast
on you," answered Sibylla, with cutting sarcasm.

He did not know what she meant, or in what sense to take the remark; but
his mind was too preoccupied to linger on it. "With these things staring
me in the face, how can I find money for superfluous vanities? The time
has come when I am compelled to make a stand against it. I will, I must,
have decent dwellings on my estate, and I shall set about the work
without a day's loss of time. For that reason, if for no other, I cannot
buy the ponies."

"I have bought them," coolly interrupted Sibylla.

"Then, my dear, you must forgive me if I countermand the purchase. I am
resolute, Sibylla," he continued, in a firm tone. "For the first time
since our marriage, I must deny your wish. I cannot let you bring me to
beggary, because it would also involve you. Another year or two of this
extravagance, and I should be on the verge of it."

Sibylla flung his arms from her. "Do you want to keep me as a beggar? I
will have the ponies!"

He shook his head. "The subject is settled, Sibylla. If you cannot think
for yourself, I must think for you. But it was not to speak of the
ponies that I brought you here. What is it that you owe to Mrs. Duff?"

Sibylla's colour heightened. "It is no business of yours, Lionel, what I
owe her. There may be some trifle or other down in her book. It will be
time enough for you to concern yourself with my little petty debts when
you are asked to pay them."

"Then that time is the present one, with regard to Mrs. Duff. She
applied to me for the money this morning. At least, she asked if I would
speak to you--which is the same thing. She says you owe her thirty-two
pounds. Sibylla, I had far rather been stabbed than have heard it."

"A fearful sum, truly, to be doled out of your coffers!" cried Sibylla,
sarcastically. "You'll never recover it, I should think!"

"Not that--not that," was the reply of Lionel, his tone one of pain.
"Sibylla! have you _no_ sense of the fitness of things? Is it seemly for
the mistress of Verner's Pride to keep a poor woman, as Mrs. Duff is,
out of her money; a humble shopkeeper who has to pay her way as she
goes on?"

"I wish Fred had lived! He would never have taken me to task as you do."

"I wish he had!" was the retort in Lionel's heart; but he bit his lips
to silence, exchanging the words, after a few minutes' pause, for
others.

"You would have found Frederick Massingbird a less indulgent husband to
you than I have been," he firmly said. "But these remarks are
profitless, and will add to the comfort of neither you nor me. Sibylla,
I shall send, in your name, to pay this bill of Mrs. Duff's. Will you
give it me?"

"I dare say Benoite can find it, if you choose to ask her."

"And, my dear, let me beg of you not to contract these paltry debts.
There have been others, as you know. I do not like that Mrs. Verner's
name should be thus bandied in the village. What you buy in the village,
pay for at once."

"How can I pay while you stint me?"

"Stint you!" repeated Lionel, in amazement. "_Stint_ you!"

"It's nothing but stinting--going on at me as you do!" she sullenly
answered. "You would like to deprive me of the horses I have set my mind
upon! You know you would!"

"The horses you cannot have, Sibylla," he answered, his tone a decisive
one. "I have already said it."

It aroused her anger. "If you don't let me have the horses, and all
other things I want, I'll go where I can have them."

What did she mean? Lionel's cheek turned white with the taunt the words
might be supposed to imply. He held her two hands in his, pressing them
nervously.

"You shall not force me to quarrel with you, Sibylla," he continued,
with emotion. "I have almost registered a vow that no offensive word or
conduct on your part shall make me forget myself for a moment; or render
me other than an ever considerate, tender husband. It may be that our
marriage was a mistake for both of us; but we shall do well to make the
best of it. It is the only course remaining."

He spoke in a strangely earnest tone; one of deep agitation. Sibylla was
aroused. She had believed that Lionel blindly loved her. Otherwise she
might have been more careful to retain his love--there's no knowing.

"How do you mean that our marriage was a mistake for both of us?" she
hastily cried.

"You do your best to remind me continually that it must be so," was his
reply.

"Psha!" returned Sibylla. And Lionel, without another word, quitted her
and walked away. In these moments, above all others, would the image of
Lucy Tempest rise up before his sight. Beat it down as he would, it was
ever present to him. A mistake in his marriage! Ay; none save Lionel
knew how fatal a one.

He passed on direct to the terrace, avoiding the lawn, traversed it, and
went out at the large gates. Thence he made his way to Poynton's, the
veterinary surgeon, who also dealt in horses. At least, dealt in them so
far as that he would buy and sell when employed to do so.

The man was in his yard, watching a horse go through his paces. He came
forward to meet Lionel.

"Mrs. Verner has been talking to you about some ponies, she tells me,"
began Lionel. "What are they?"

"A very handsome pair, sir. Just the thing for a lady to drive. They are
to be sold for a hundred and fifty pounds. It's under their value."

"Spirited?"

"Yes. They have their mettle about them. Good horses always have, you
know, sir. Mrs. Verner has given me the commission."

"Which I am come to rescind," replied Lionel, calling up a light smile
to his face. "I cannot have my wife's neck risked by her attempting to
drive spirited ponies, Poynton. She knows nothing of driving, is
constitutionally timid, and--in short, I do not wish the order
executed."

"Very well, sir," was the man's reply. "There's no harm done. I was at
Verner's Pride with that horse that's ill, and Mrs. Verner spoke to me
about some ponies. It was only to-day I heard these were in the market,
and I mentioned them to her. But, for all I know, they may be already
sold."

Lionel turned to walk out of the yard. "After Mrs. Verner shall have
learned to drive, then we shall see; perhaps we may buy a pair," he
remarked. "My opinion is that she will not learn. After a trial or two
she will give it up."

"All right, sir."



CHAPTER LVI.

A LIFE HOVERING IN THE BALANCE.


Jan was coming up the road from Deerham with long strides, as Lionel
turned out of Poynton's yard. Lionel advanced leisurely to meet him.

"One would think you were walking for a wager, Jan!"

"Ay," said Jan. "This is my first round to-day. Bitterworths have sent
for me in desperate haste. Folks always get ill at the wrong time."

"Why don't you ride?" asked Lionel, turning with Jan, and stepping out
at the same pace.

"There was no time to get the horse ready. I can walk it nearly as fast.
I have had no breakfast yet."

"No breakfast!" echoed Lionel.

"I dived into the kitchen and caught up a piece of bread out of the
basket. Half my patients must do without me to-day. I have only just got
away from Hook's."

"How is the girl?"

"In great danger," replied Jan.

"She is ill, then?"

"So ill, that I don't think she'll last the day out. The child's dead. I
must cut across the fields back there again, after I have seen what's
amiss at Bitterworth's."

The words touching Alice Hook caused quite a shock to Lionel. "It will
be a sad thing, Jan, if she should die!"

"I don't think I can save her. This comes of the ghost. I wonder how
many more folks will get frightened to death."

Lionel paused. "Was it really that alone that frightened the girl, and
caused her illness? How very absurd the thing sounds! And yet serious."

"I can't make it out," remarked Jan. "Here's Bourne now, says he saw it.
There's only one solution of the riddle that I can come to."

"What's that?" asked Lionel.

"Well," said Jan, "it's not a pleasant one."

"You can tell it me, Jan, pleasant or unpleasant."

"Not pleasant for you, I mean, Lionel. I'll tell you if you like."

Lionel looked at him.

"Speak!"

"I think it must be Fred Massingbird himself."

The answer appeared to take Lionel by surprise. Possibly he had not
admitted the doubt.

"Fred Massingbird himself; I don't understand you, Jan."

"Fred himself, in life," repeated Jan. "I fancy it will turn out that he
did not die in Australia. He may have been very ill perhaps, and they
fancied him dead; and now he is well, and has come over."

Every vestige of colour forsook Lionel's face.

"Jan!" he uttered, partly in terror, partly in anger. "Jan!" he repeated
from between his bloodless lips. "Have you thought of the position in
which your hint would place my wife?--the reflection it would cast upon
her? How dare you?"

"You told me to speak," was Jan's composed answer. "I said you'd not
like it. Speaking of it, or keeping silence, won't make it any the
better, Lionel."

"What could possess you to think of such a thing?"

"There's nothing else that I can think of. Look here! _Is_ there such a
thing as a ghost? Is that probable?"

"Nonsense! No," said Lionel.

"Then what can it be, unless it's Fred himself? Lionel, were I you, I'd
look the matter full in the face. It is Fred Massingbird, or it is not.
If not, the sooner the mystery is cleared up the better, and the fellow
brought to book and punished. It's not to be submitted to that he is to
stride about for his own pastime, terrifying people to their injury. Is
Alice Hook's life nothing? Were Dan Duff's senses nothing?--and, upon my
word, I once thought there was good-bye to them."

Lionel did not answer. Jan continued.

"If it is Fred himself, the fact can't be long concealed. He'll be sure
to make himself known. Why he should not do it at once, I can't imagine.
Unless--"

"Unless what?" asked Lionel.

"Well, you are so touchy on all points relating to Sibylla, that one
hesitates to speak," continued Jan. "I was going to say, unless he fears
the shock to Sibylla; and would let her be prepared for it by degrees."

"Jan," gasped Lionel, "it would kill her."

"No, it wouldn't," dissented Jan. "She's not one to be killed by emotion
of any sort. Or much stirred by it, as I believe, if you care for my
opinion. It would not be pleasant for you or for her, but she'd not die
of it."

Lionel wiped the moisture from his face. From the moment Jan had first
spoken, a conviction seemed to arise within him that the suggestion
would turn out to be only too true a one--that the ghost, in point of
fact, was Frederick Massingbird in life.

"This is awful!" he murmured. "I would sacrifice my own life to save
Sibylla from pain."

"Where'd be the good of that?" asked practical Jan. "If it is Fred
Massingbird in the flesh, she's his wife and not your's; your
sacrificing yourself--as you call it, Lionel--would not make her any the
less or the more so. I am abroad a good deal at night, especially now,
when there's so much sickness about, and I shall perhaps come across the
fellow. Won't I pin him if I get the chance."

"Jan," said Lionel, catching hold of his brother's arm to detain him as
he was speeding away, for they had reached the gate of Verner's Pride,
"be cautious that not a breath of this suspicion escapes you. For my
poor wife's sake."

"No fear," answered Jan. "If it gets about, it won't be from me, mind. I
am going to believe in the ghost henceforth, you understand. Except to
you and Bourne."

"If it gets about," mechanically answered Lionel, repeating the words
which made most impression upon his mind. "You think it will get about?"

"Think! It's safe to," answered Jan. "Had old Frost and Dan Duff and
Cheese not been great gulls, they'd have taken it for Fred himself; not
his ghost. Bourne suspects. From a hint he dropped to me just now at
Hook's, I find he takes the same view of the case that I do."

"Since when have you suspected this, Jan?"

"Not for many hours. Don't keep me, Lionel. Bitterworth may be dying,
for aught I know, and so may Alice Hook."

Jan went on like a steam-engine. Lionel remained, standing at his
entrance-gate, more like a prostrate being than a living man.

Thought after thought crowded upon him. If it was really Frederick
Massingbird in life, how was it that he had not made his appearance
before? Where had he been all this while? Considerably more than two
years had elapsed since the supposed death. To the best of Lionel's
recollection, Sibylla had said Captain Cannonby _buried_ her husband;
but it was a point into which Lionel had never minutely inquired. Allow
that Jan's suggestion was correct--that he did not die--where had he
been since? What had prevented him from joining or seeking his wife?
What prevented him doing it now? From what motive could he be in
concealment in the neighbourhood, stealthily prowling about at night?
Why did he not appear openly? Oh, it could not--it could not be
Frederick Massingbird!

Which way should he bend his steps? Indoors, or away? Not indoors! He
could scarcely _bear_ to see his wife, with this dreadful uncertainty
upon him. Restless, anxious, perplexed, miserable, Lionel Verner turned
towards Deerham.

There are some natures upon whom a secret, awful as this, tells with
appalling force, rendering it next to impossible to keep silence. The
imparting it to some friend, the speaking of it, appears to be a matter
of dire necessity. It was so in this instance to Lionel Verner.

He was on his way to the vicarage. Jan had mentioned that Mr. Bourne
shared the knowledge--if knowledge it could be called; and he was one in
whom might be placed entire trust.

He walked onwards, like one in a fever dream, nodding mechanically in
answer to salutations; answering he knew not what, if words were spoken
to him. The vicarage joined the churchyard, and the vicar was standing
in the latter as Lionel came up, watching two men who were digging a
grave. He crossed over the mounds to shake hands with Lionel.

Lionel drew him into the vicarage garden, amidst the trees. It was shady
there; the outer world shut out from eye and ear.

"I cannot beat about the bush; I cannot dissemble," began Lionel, in
deep agitation. "Tell me your true opinion of this business, for the
love of Heaven! I have come down to ask it of you."

The vicar paused. "My dear friend, I feel almost afraid to give it to
you."

"I have been speaking with Jan. He thinks it may be Frederick
Massingbird--not dead, but alive."

"I fear it is," answered the clergyman. "Within the last half-hour I
have fully believed that it is."

Lionel leaned his back against a tree, his arms folded. Tolerably calm
outwardly; but he could not get the healthy blood back to his face. "Why
within the last half-hour more than before?" he asked. "Has anything
fresh happened?"

"Yes," said Mr. Bourne. "I went down to Hook's; the girl's not expected
to live the day through--but that you may have heard from Jan. In coming
away, your gamekeeper met me. He stopped, and began asking my advice in
a mysterious manner--whether, if a secret affecting his master had come
to his knowledge, he ought, or ought not, to impart it to his master. I
felt sure what the man was driving at--that it could be no other thing
than this ghost affair--and gave him a hint to speak out to me in
confidence; which he did."

"Well?" rejoined Lionel.

"He said," continued Mr. Bourne, lowering his voice, "that he passed a
man last night who, he was perfectly certain, was Frederick Massingbird.
'Not Frederick Massingbird's ghost, as foolish people were fancying,'
Broom added, 'but Massingbird himself.' He was in doubt whether or not
it was his duty to acquaint Mr. Verner; and so he asked me. I bade him
not acquaint you," continued the vicar, "but to bury the suspicion
within his own breast, breathing a word to none."

Evidence upon evidence! Every moment brought less loop-hole of escape
for Lionel. "How can it be?" he gasped. "If he is not dead, where can he
have been all this while?"

"I conclude it will turn out to be one of those every-day occurrences
that have little marvel at all in them. My thoughts were busy upon it,
while standing over the grave yonder. I suppose he must have been to the
diggings--possibly laid up there by illness; and letters may have
miscarried."

"You feel little doubt upon the fact itself--that it is Frederick
Massingbird?"

"I feel none. It is certainly he. Won't you come in and sit down?"

"No, no," said Lionel; and, drawing his hand from the vicar's, he went
forth again, he, and his heavy weight. Frederick Massingbird alive!



CHAPTER LVII.

A WALK IN THE RAIN.


The fine September morning had turned to a rainy afternoon. A heavy mist
hung upon the trees, the hedges, the ground--something akin to the mist
which had fallen upon Lionel Verner's spirit. The day had grown more
like a November one; the clouds were leaden-coloured, the rain fell.
Even the little birds sought the shelter of their nests.

One there was who walked in it, his head uncovered, his brow bared. He
was in the height of his fever dream. It is not an inapt name for his
state of mind. His veins coursed as with fever; his thoughts took all
the vague uncertainty of a dream. Little heeded he that the weather had
become chilly, or that the waters fell upon him!

What must be his course? What ought it to be? The more he dwelt on the
revelation of that day, the deeper grew his conviction that Frederick
Massingbird was alive, breathing the very air that he breathed. What
ought to be his course? If this were so, his wife was--not his wife.

It was obvious that his present, immediate course ought to be to solve
the doubt--to set it at rest. But how? It could only be done by
unearthing Frederick Massingbird; or he who bore so strange a
resemblance to him. And where was he to be looked for? To track the
hiding-place of a "ghost" is not an easy matter; and Lionel had no clue
where to find the track of this one. If staying in the village, he must
be concealed in some house; lying _perdu_ by day. It was very strange
that it should be so; that he should not openly show himself.

There was another way by which perhaps the doubt might be solved--as it
suddenly occurred to Lionel. And that was through Captain Cannonby. If
this gentleman really was with Frederick Massingbird when he died, and
saw him buried, it was evident that it could not be Frederick come back
to life. In that case, who or what it might be, Lionel did not stay to
speculate; his business lay in ascertaining by the most direct means in
his power, whether it was, or was not, Frederick Massingbird. How was it
possible to do this? how could it be possible to set the question at
rest?

By a very simple process, it may be answered--the waiting for time and
chance. Ay, but do you know what that waiting involves, in a case like
this? Think of the state of mind that Lionel Verner must live under
during the suspense!

He made no doubt that the man who had been under the tree on the lawn a
few nights before, watching his window, whom they had set down as being
Roy, was Frederick Massingbird. And yet, it was scarcely believable.
Where now was Lionel to look for him? He could not, for Sibylla's sake,
make inquiries in the village in secret or openly; he could not go to
the inhabitants and ask--have you seen Frederick Massingbird? or say to
each individual, I must send a police officer to search your house, for
I suspect Frederick Massingbird is somewhere concealed, and I want to
find him. For _her_ sake he could not so much as breathe the name, in
connection with his being alive.

Given that it was Frederick Massingbird, what could possibly prevent his
making himself known? As he dwelt upon this problem, trying to solve it,
the idea taken up by Lucy Tempest--that the man under the tree was
watching for an opportunity to harm him--came into his mind. _That_,
surely, could not be the solution! If he had taken Frederick
Massingbird's wife to be his wife, he had done it in all innocence.
Lionel spurned the notion as a preposterous one; nevertheless, a
remembrance crossed him of the old days when the popular belief at
Verner's Pride had been, that the younger of the Massingbirds was of a
remarkably secretive and also of a revengeful nature. But all that he
barely glanced at; the terrible fear touching Sibylla absorbed him.

He was leaning against a tree in the covered walk near Verner's Pride,
the walk which led to the Willow Pond, his head bared, his brow bent
with the most unmistakable signs of care, when something not unlike a
small white balloon came flying down the path. A lady, with her silk
dress turned over her shoulders, leaving only the white lining exposed
to view. She was face to face with Lionel before she saw him.

"Lucy!" he exclaimed, in extreme surprise.

Lucy Tempest laughed, and let her dress drop into a more dignified
position. "I and Decima went to call on Mrs. Bitterworth," she
explained, "and Decima is staying there. It began to rain as I came
out, so I turned into the back walk and put my dress up to save it. Am I
not economical, Mr. Verner?"

She spoke quickly. Lionel thought it was done with a view to hide her
agitation. "You cannot go home through this rain, Lucy. Let me take you
indoors; we are close to Verner's Pride."

"No, thank you," said Lucy hastily, "I must go back to Lady Verner. She
will not be pleased at Decima's staying out, therefore I must return.
Poor Mrs. Bitterworth has had an attack of--what did they call
it?--spasmodical croup, I think. She is better now, and begged Decima to
stay with her the rest of the day; Mr. Bitterworth and the rest of them
are out. Jan says it is highly dangerous for the time it lasts."

"She has had something of the same sort before, I remember," observed
Lionel. "I wish you would come in, Lucy. If you must go home, I will
send you in the carriage; but I think you might stay and dine with us."

A soft colour mantled in Lucy's cheeks. She had never made herself a
familiar acquaintance at Lionel Verner's. He had observed it, if no one
else had. Sibylla had once said to her that she hoped they should be
great friends, that Verner's Pride would see a great deal of her. Lucy
had never responded to the wish. A formal visit with Decima or Lady
Verner when she could not help herself; but alone, in a social manner,
she had never put her foot over the threshold of Verner's Pride.

"You are very kind. I must go home at once. The rain will not hurt me."

Lionel, self-conscious, did not urge it further. "Will you remain here,
then, under the trees, while I go home and get an umbrella?"

"Oh, dear, no, I don't want an umbrella; thank you all the same. I have
my parasol, you see."

She took her dress up again as she spoke; not high, as it was
previously, but turning it a little. "Lady Verner scolds me so if I
spoil my things," she said, in a tone of laughing apology. "She buys me
very good ones, and orders me to take care of them. Good-bye, Mr.
Verner."

Lionel took the hand in his which she held out. But he turned with her,
and then loosed it again.

"You are not coming with me, Mr. Verner?"

"I shall see you home."

"But--I had rather you did not. I prefer--not to trouble you."

"Pardon me, Lucy. I cannot suffer you to go alone."

It was a calm reply, quietly spoken. There were no fine phrases of its
being "no trouble," that the "trouble was a pleasure," as others might
indulge in. Fine phrases from them! from the one to the other! Neither
could have spoken them.

Lucy said no more, and they walked on side by side in silence, both
unpleasantly self-conscious. Lionel's face had resumed its strange
expression of care. Lucy had observed it when she came up to him; she
observed it still.

"You look as though you had some great trouble upon you, Mr. Verner,"
she said, after a while.

"Then I look what is the truth. I have one, Lucy."

"A heavy one?" asked Lucy, struck with his tone.

"A grievously heavy one. One that does not often fall to the lot of
man."

"May I know it?" she timidly said.

"No, Lucy. If I could speak it, it would only give you pain; but it is
of a private nature. Possibly it may be averted; it is at present a
suspected dread, not a confirmed one. Should it become confirmed, you
will learn it in common with all the world."

She looked up at him, puzzled; sympathy in her mantling blush, in her
soft, dark, earnest eyes. He could not avoid contrasting that truthful
face with another's frivolous one; and I can't help it if you blame him.
He did his best to shake off the feeling, and looked down at her with a
careless smile.

"Don't let it give you concern, Lucy. My troubles must rest upon my own
head.".

"Have you seen any more of that man who was watching? Roy."

"No. But I don't believe now that it was Roy. He strongly denies it, and
I have had my suspicions diverted to another quarter."

"To one who may be equally wishing to do you harm?"

"I cannot say. If it be the party I--I suspect, he may deem that I have
done him harm."

"You!" echoed Lucy. "And have you?"

"Yes. Unwittingly. It seems to be my fate, I think, to work harm
upon--upon those whom I would especially shield from it."

Did he allude to her? Lucy thought so, and the flush on her cheeks
deepened. At that moment the rain began to pour down heavily. They were
then passing the thicket of trees where those adventurous ghost-hunters
had taken up their watch a few nights previously, in view of the Willow
Pond. Lucy stepped underneath their branches.

"Now," said Lionel, "should you have done well to accept my offer of
Verner's Pride as a shelter, or not?"

"It may only be a passing storm," observed Lucy. "The rain then was
nothing."

Lionel took her parasol and shook the wet off it. He began to wonder how
Lucy would get home. No carriage could be got to that spot, and the
rain, coming down now, was not, in his opinion, a passing storm.

"Will you promise to remain here, Lucy, while I get an umbrella?" he
presently asked.

"Why! where could you get an umbrella from?"

"From Hook's, if they possess such a thing. If not, I can get one from
Broom's."

"But you would get so wet, going for it!"

Lionel laughed as he went off.

"I don't wear a silk dress; to be scolded for it, if it gets spoiled."

Not ten steps had he taken, however, when who should come striding
through an opening in the trees, but Jan. Jan was on his way from Hook's
cottage, a huge brown cotton umbrella over his head, more useful than
elegant.

"What, is that you, Miss Lucy! Well, I should as soon have thought of
seeing Mrs. Peckaby's white donkey!"

"I am weather-bound, Jan," said Lucy. "Mr. Verner was about to get me an
umbrella."

"To see if I could get one," corrected Lionel. "I question if the Hooks
possess such a commodity."

"Not they," cried Jan. "The girl's rather better," added he
unceremoniously. "She may get through it now; at least there's a shade
of a chance. You can have my umbrella, Miss Lucy."

"Won't you let me go with you, Jan?" she asked.

"Oh, I can't stop to take you to Deerham Court," was Jan's answer, given
with his accustomed plainness. "Here, Lionel!"

He handed over the umbrella, and was walking off.

"Jan, Jan, you will get wet," said Lucy.

It amused Jan. "A wetting more or less is nothing to me," he called out,
striding on.

"Will you stay under shelter a few minutes yet, and see whether it
abates?" asked Lionel.

Lucy looked up at the skies, stretching her head beyond the trees to do
so.

"Do you think it will abate?" she rejoined.

"Honestly to confess it, I think it will get worse," said Lionel. "Lucy,
you have thin shoes on! I did not see that until now."

"Don't you tell Lady Verner," replied Lucy, with the pretty dependent
manner which she had brought from school with her, and which she
probably would never lose. "She would scold me for walking out in them."

Lionel smiled, and held the great umbrella--large enough for a
carriage--close to the trees, that it might shelter her as she came
forth.

"Take my arm, Lucy."

She hesitated for a single moment--a hesitation so temporary that any
other than Lionel could not have observed it, and then took his arm. And
again they walked on in silence. In passing down Clay Lane--the way
Lionel took--Mrs. Peckaby was standing at her door.

"On the look-out for the white donkey, Mrs. Peckaby?" asked Lionel.

The husband inside heard the words, and flew into a tantrum.

"She's never on the look-out for nothing else, sir, asking pardon for
saying it to you."

Mrs. Peckaby clasped her hands together.

"It'll come!" she murmured. "Sometimes, sir, when my patience is well
nigh exhausted, I has a vision of the New Jerusalem in the night, and is
revived. It'll come, sir, the quadruple'll come!"

"I wonder," laughed Lucy, as they walked on, "whether she will go on to
the end of her life expecting it?"

"If her husband will allow her," answered Lionel. "But by what I have
heard since I came home, his patience is--as she says by her own with
reference to the white 'quadruple'--well nigh exhausted."

"He told Decima, the other day, that he was sick of the theme and of her
folly, and he wished the New Jerusalem had her and the white donkey
together. Here we are!" added Lucy, as they came in front of Deerham
Court. "Lionel, please, let me go in the back way--Jan's way. And then
Lady Verner will not see me. She will say I ought not to have come
through the rain."

"She'll see the shoes and the silk dress, and she'll say you should have
stopped at Verner's Pride, as a well-trained young lady ought," returned
Lionel.

He took her safely to the back door, opened it, and sent her in.

"Thank you very much," said she, holding out her hand to him. "I have
given you a disagreeable walk, and now I must give you one back again."

"Change your shoes at once, and don't talk foolish things," was Lionel's
answer.



CHAPTER LVIII.

THE THUNDER-STORM.


A wet walk back Lionel certainly had; but, wet or dry, it was all the
same in his present distressed frame of mind. Arrived at Verner's Pride,
he found his wife dressed for dinner, and the centre of a host of guests
gay as she was. No opportunity, then, to question her about Frederick
Massingbird's death, and how far Captain Cannonby was cognisant of the
particulars.

He had to change his own things. It was barely done by dinner-time; and
he sat down to table, the host of many guests. His brow was smooth, his
speech was courtly; how could any of them suspect that a terrible dread
was gnawing at his heart? Sibylla, in a rustling silk dress and a
coronet of diamonds, sat opposite to him, in all her dazzling beauty.
Had she suspected what might be in store for her, those smiles would not
have chased each other so incessantly on her lips.

Sibylla went up to bed early. She was full of caprices as a wayward
child. Of a remarkably chilly nature--as is the case, sometimes, where
the constitution is delicate--she would have a fire in her dressing-room
night and morning all the year round, even in the heat of summer. It
pleased her this evening to desert her guests suddenly; she had the
headache, she said.

The weather on this day appeared to be as capricious as Sibylla, as
strangely curious as the great fear which had fallen upon Lionel. The
fine morning had changed to the rainy, misty, chilly afternoon; the
afternoon to a clear, bright evening; and that evening had now become
overcast with portentous clouds.

Without much warning the storm burst forth; peals of thunder
reverberated through the air, flashes of forked lightning played in the
sky. Lionel hastened upstairs; he remembered how these storms terrified
his wife.

She had knelt down to bury her head amidst the soft cushions of a chair
when Lionel entered her dressing-room. "Sibylla!" he said.

[Illustration: "Sibylla!" he said.]

Up she started at the sound of his voice, and flew to him. There lay her
protection; and in spite of her ill-temper and her love of aggravation,
she felt and recognised it. Lionel held her in his sheltering arms,
bending her head down upon his breast, and drawing his coat over it, so
that she might see no ray of light--as he had been wont to do in former
storms. As a timid child was she at these times, humble, loving, gentle;
she felt as if she were on the threshold of the next world, that the
next moment might be her last. Others have been known to experience the
same dread in a thunder-storm; and, to be thus brought, as it were, face
to face with death, takes the spirit out of people.

He stood, patiently holding her. Every time the thunder burst above
their heads, he could feel her heart beat against his. One of her arms
was round him; the other he held; all wet it was with fear. He did not
speak; he only clasped her closer every now and then, that she might be
reminded of her shelter.

Twenty minutes or so, and the violence of the storm abated. The
lightning grew less frequent, the thunder distant and more distant. At
length the sound wholly ceased, and the lightning subsided into that
harmless sheet lightning which is so beautiful to look at in the far-off
horizon.

"It is over," he whispered.

She lifted her head from its resting place. Her blue eye was bright with
excitement, her delicate cheek was crimson, her golden hair fell in a
dishevelled mass around. Her gala robes had been removed, with the
diamond coronet, and the storm had surprised her writing a note in her
dressing-gown. In spite of the sudden terror which overtook her, she did
not forget to put the letter--so far as had been written of it--safely
away. It was not expedient that her husband's eyes should fall upon it.
Sibylla had many answers to write now to importunate creditors.

"Are you sure, Lionel?"

"Quite sure. Come and see how clear it is. You are not alarmed at the
sheet lightning."

He put his arm round her, and led her to the window. As he said, the sky
was clear again. Nearly all traces of the storm had passed away; there
had been no rain with it; and, but for the remembrance of its sound in
their ears, they might have believed that it had not taken place. The
broad lands of Verner's Pride lay spreading out before them, the lawns
and the terrace underneath; the sheet-lightning illumined the heavens
incessantly, rendering objects nearly as clear as in the day.

Lionel held her to his side, his arm round her. She trembled
still--trembled excessively; her bosom heaved and fell beneath his hand.

"When I die, it will be in a thunder-storm," she whispered.

"You foolish girl!" he said, his tone half a joking one, wholly tender.
"What can have given you this excessive fear of thunder, Sibylla?"

"I was always frightened at a thunder-storm. Deborah says mamma was. But
I was not so _very_ frightened until a storm I witnessed in Australia.
It killed a man!" she added, shivering and nestling nearer to Lionel.

"Ah!"

"It was only a few days before Frederick left me, when he and Captain
Cannonby went away together," she continued. "We had hired a carriage,
and had gone out of the town ever so far. There was something to be seen
there; I forget what now; races perhaps. I know a good many people went;
and an awful thunder-storm came on. Some ran under the trees for
shelter; some would not; and the lightning killed a man. Oh, Lionel, I
shall never forget it! I saw him carried past; I saw his face! Since
then I have felt ready to die myself with the fear."

She turned her face, and hid it upon his bosom. Lionel did not attempt
to soothe the _fear_; he knew that for such fear time alone is the only
cure. He whispered words of soothing to _her_; he stroked fondly her
golden hair. In these moments, when she was gentle, yielding, clinging
to him for protection, three parts of his old love for her would come
back again. The lamp, which had been turned on to its full blaze of
light, was behind them, so that they might have been visible enough to
anybody standing in the nearer portion of the grounds.

"Captain Cannonby went away with Frederick Massingbird," observed
Lionel, approaching by degrees to the questions he wished to ask. "Did
they start together?"

"Yes. Don't talk about it, Lionel."

"My dear wife, I must talk about it," he gravely answered. "You have
always put me off in this manner, so that I know little or nothing of
the circumstances. I have a reason for wishing to become cognisant of
those past particulars. Surely," he added, a shade of deeper feeling in
his tone, "at this distance of time it cannot be so very painful to your
feelings to speak of Frederick Massingbird. _I_ am by your side."

"What is the reason that you wish to know?"

"A little matter that regarded him and Cannonby. Was Cannonby with him
when he died?"

Sibylla, subdued still, yielded to the wish as she would probably have
yielded at no other time.

"Of course he was with him. They were but a day's journey from
Melbourne. I forget the name of the place; a sort of small village or
settlement, I believe, where the people halted that were going to, or
returning from, the diggings. Frederick was taken worse as they got
there, and in a few hours he died."

"Cannonby remaining with him?"

"Yes. I am sure I have told you this before, Lionel. I told it to you on
the night of my return."

He was aware she had. He could not say: "But I wish to press you upon
the points; to ascertain beyond doubt that Frederick Massingbird did
really die; that he is not living." "Did Cannonby stay until he was
buried?" he asked aloud.

"Yes."

"You are sure of this?"

Sibylla looked at him curiously. She could not think why he was
recalling this; why want to know it?

"I am sure of it only so far as that Captain Cannonby told me so,"
replied Sibylla.

The reservation struck upon him with a chill; it seemed to be a
confirmation of his worst fears. Sibylla continued, for he did not
speak--

"Of course he stayed with him until he was buried. When Captain Cannonby
came back to me at Melbourne, he said he had waited to lay him in the
ground. Why should he have said it, if he did not?"

"True," murmured Lionel.

"He said the burial-service had been read over him. I remember that,
well. I reproached Captain Cannonby with not having come back to me
immediately, or sent for me that I might at least have seen him dead, if
not alive. He excused himself by saying that he did not think I should
like to see him; and he had waited to bury him before returning."

Lionel fell into a reverie. If this, that Captain Cannonby had stated,
was correct, there was no doubt that Frederick Massingbird was safely
dead and buried. But he could not be sure that it was correct; Captain
Cannonby may not have relished waiting to see a dead man buried;
although he had affirmed so much to Sibylla. A thousand pounds would
Lionel have given out of his pocket at that moment, for one minute's
interview with Captain Cannonby.

"Lionel!"

The call came from Sibylla with sudden intensity, half startling him.
She had got one of her fingers pointed to the lawn.

"Who's that--peeping forth from underneath the yew-tree?"

The same place, the same tree which had been pointed to by Lucy Tempest!
An impulse, for which Lionel could not have accounted, caused him to
turn round and put out the lamp.

"Who can it be?" wondered Sibylla. "He appears to be watching us. How
foolish of any of them to go out! _I_ should not feel safe under a tree,
although that lightning is only sheet-lightning."

Every perceptive faculty that Lionel Verner possessed was strained upon
the spot. He could make out a tall man; a man whose figure bore--unless
his eyes and his imagination combined to deceive him--a strong
resemblance to Frederick Massingbird's. Had it come to it? Were he and
his rival face to face; was she, by his own side now, about to be
bandied between them?--belonging, save by the priority of the first
marriage ceremony, no more to one than to the other? A stifled cry,
suppressed instantly, escaped his lips; his pulses stood still, and then
throbbed on with painful violence.

"Can you discern him, Lionel?" she asked. "He is going away--going back
amidst the trees. Perhaps because he can't see us any longer, now you
have put the light out. Who is it? Why should he have stood there,
watching us?"

Lionel snatched her to him with an impulsive gesture. He would have
sacrificed his life willingly, to save Sibylla from the terrible
misfortune that appeared to be falling upon her.



CHAPTER LIX.

A CASUAL MEETING ON THE RIVER.


A merry breakfast-table. Sibylla, for a wonder, up, and present at it.
The rain of the preceding day, the storm of the night had entirely
passed away, and as fine a morning as could be wished was smiling on the
earth.

"Which of you went out before the storm was over, and ventured under the
great yew-tree?"

It was Mrs. Verner who spoke. She looked at the different gentlemen
present, and they looked at her. They did not know what she meant.

"You _were_ under it, one of you," persisted Sibylla.

All, save one, protested that they had neither been out nor under the
tree. That one--it happened to be Mr. Gordon, of whom casual mention has
been made--confessed to having been on the lawn, so far as crossing it
went; but he did not go near the tree.

"I went out with my cigar," he observed, "and had strolled some distance
from the house when the storm came on. I stood in the middle of a field
and watched it. It was grandly beautiful."

"I wonder you were not brought home dead!" ejaculated Sibylla.

Mr. Gordon laughed. "If you once witnessed the thunder-storms that we
get in the tropics, Mrs. Verner, you would not associate these with
danger."

"I have seen dreadful thunder-storms, apart from what we get here, as
well as you, Mr. Gordon," returned Sibylla.

"Perhaps you will deny that anybody's ever killed by them in this
country. But why did you halt underneath the yew-tree?"

"I did not," he repeated. "I crossed the lawn, straight on to the upper
end of the terrace. I did not go near the tree."

"Some one did, if you did not. They were staring right up at my
dressing-room window. I was standing at it with Mr. Verner."

Mr. Gordon shook his head. "Not guilty, so far as I am concerned, Mrs.
Verner. I met some man, when I was coming home, plunging into the
thicket of trees as I emerged from them. It was he, possibly."

"What man?" questioned Sibylla.

"I did not know him. He was a stranger. A tall, dark man with stooping
shoulders, and something black upon his cheek."

"Something black upon his cheek;" repeated Sibylla, thinking the words
bore an odd sound.

"A large black mark it looked like. His cheek was white--sallow would be
the better term--and he wore no whiskers, so it was a conspicuous
looking brand. In the moment he passed me, the lightning rendered the
atmosphere as light as----"

"Sibylla!" almost shouted Lionel, "we are waiting for more tea in this
quarter. Never mind, Gordon."

They looked at him with surprise. He was leaning towards his wife; his
face crimson, his tones agitated. Sibylla stared at him, and said, if he
called out like that, she would not get up another morning. Lionel
replied, talking fast; and just then the letters were brought in.
Altogether, the subject of the man with the mark upon his cheek dropped
out of the discussion.

Bread fast over, Lionel put his arm within Mr. Gordon's and drew him
outside upon the terrace. Not to question him upon the man he had
seen--Lionel would have been glad that that encounter should pass out of
Mr. Gordon's remembrance, as affording less chance of Sibylla's hearing
of it again--but to get information on another topic. He had been
rapidly making up his mind during the latter half of breakfast, and had
come to a decision.

"Gordon, can you inform me where Captain Cannonby is to be found?"

"Can you inform me where the comet that visited us last year may be met
with this?" returned Mr. Gordon. "I'd nearly as soon undertake to find
out the locality of the one as of the other. Cannonby did go to Paris;
but where he may be now, is quite another affair."

"Was he going there for any length of time?"

"I fancy not. Most likely he is back in London by this time. Had he told
me he was coming back, I should have paid no attention to it. He never
knows his own mind two hours together."

"I particularly wish to see him," observed Lionel. "Can you give me any
address where he may be found in London?--if he has returned?"

"Yes. His brother's in Westminster. I can give you the exact number and
address by referring to my notebook. When Cannonby's in London, he makes
it his headquarters. If he is away, his brother may know where he is."

"His brother may be out of town also. Few men are in it at this season."

"If they can get out. But Dr. Cannonby can't. He is a physician, and
must stop at his post, season or no season."

"I am going up to town to-day," remarked Lionel, "and----"

"You are! For long?"

"Back to-morrow, I hope; perhaps to-night. If you will give me the
address, I'll copy it down."

Lionel wrote it down; but Mr. Gordon told him there was no necessity;
any little ragged boy in the street could direct him to Dr. Cannonby's.
Then he went to make his proposed journey known to Sibylla. She was
standing near one of the terrace pillars, looking up at the sky, her
eyes shaded with her hand. Lionel drew her inside an unoccupied room.

"Sibylla, a little matter of business is calling me to London," he said.
"If I can catch the half-past ten train, I may be home again to-night,
late."

"How sudden!" cried Sibylla. "Why didn't you tell me? What weather shall
we have to-day, do you think?"

"Fine. But it is of little consequence to me whether it be fine or wet."

"Oh! I was not thinking of you," was the careless reply. "I want it to
be fine for our archery."

"Good-bye," he said, stooping to kiss her. "Take care of yourself."

"Lionel, mind, I shall have the ponies," was her answer, given in a
pouting, pretty, affected manner.

Lionel smiled, shook his head, took another kiss, and left her. Oh, if
he could but shield her from the tribulation that too surely seemed to
be ominously looming!

The lightest and fleetest carriage he possessed had been made ready, and
was waiting for him at the stables. He got in there, and drove off with
his groom, saying farewell to none, and taking nothing with him but an
overcoat. As he drove past Mrs. Duff's shop, the remembrance of the bill
came over him. He had forwarded the money to her the previous night in
his wife's name.

He caught the train; was too soon for it; it was five minutes behind
time. If those who saw him depart could but have divined the errand he
was bent on, what a commotion would have spread over Deerham! If the
handsome lady, seated opposite to him, the only other passenger in that
compartment, could but have read the cause which rendered him so
self-absorbed, so insensible to her attractions, she would have gazed at
him with far more interest.

"Who is that gentleman?" she privately asked of the guard when she got
the opportunity.

"Mr. Verner, of Verner's Pride."

He sat back on his seat, heeding nothing. Had all the pretty women of
the kingdom been ranged before him, in a row, they had been nothing to
Mr. Verner then. Had Lucy Tempest been there, he had been equally
regardless of her. If Frederick Massingbird were indeed in life,
Verner's Pride was no longer his. But it was not of that he thought; it
was of the calamity that would involve his wife. A calamity which, to
the refined, sensitive mind of Lionel Verner, was almost worse than
death itself.

What would the journey bring forth for him? Should he succeed in seeing
Captain Cannonby? He awaited the fiat with feverish heat; and wished the
fast express engine would travel faster.

The terminus gained at last, a hansom took him to Dr. Cannonby's. It was
half-past two o'clock. He leaped out of the cab and rang, entering the
hall when the door was opened.

"Can I see Dr. Cannonby?"

"The doctor's just gone out, sir. He will be home at five."

It was a sort of checkmate, and Lionel stood looking at the servant--as
if the man could telegraph some impossible aerial message to his master
to bring him back then.

"Is Captain Cannonby staying here?" was his next question.

"No, sir. He was staying here, but he went away this morning."

"He is home from Paris then?"

"He came back two or three days ago, sir," replied the servant.

"Do you know where he is gone?"

"I don't, sir. I fancy it's somewhere in the country."

"Dr. Cannonby would know?"

"I dare say he would, sir. I should think so."

Lionel turned to the door. Where was the use of his lingering? He looked
back to ask a question.

"You are sure that Captain Cannonby has gone out of town?"

"Oh, yes, sir."

He descended the steps, and the man closed the door upon him. Where
should he go? What should he do with himself for the next two and a half
mortal hours? Go to his club? Or to any of the old spots of his London
life? Not he; some familiar faces might be in town; and he was in no
mood for familiar faces then.

Sauntering hither, sauntering thither, he came to Westminster Bridge.
One of the steamers was approaching the pier to take in passengers, on
its way down the river. For want of some other mode in which to employ
his time, Lionel went down to the embarking place, and stepped on board.

Does _any_thing in this world happen by chance? What secret unknown
impulse could have sent Lionel Verner on board that steamer? Had Dr.
Cannonby been at home he would not have gone near it; had he turned to
the right hand instead of to the left, on leaving Dr. Cannonby's house,
the boat would never have seen him.

It was not crowded, as those steamers sometimes are crowded, suggesting
visions of the bottom of the river. The day was fine; warm for
September, but not too hot; the gliding down the stream delightful. With
a heart at ease, Lionel would have found it so; as it was, he could
scarcely have told whether he was going down the stream or up, whether
it was wet or dry. He could see but one thing--the image of Frederick
Massingbird.

As the boat drew up to the Temple Pier, the only person waiting to
embark was a woman; a little body in a faded brown silk dress. Whether,
seeing his additional freight was to be so trifling, the manager of the
steamer did not take the usual care to bring it alongside, certain it
is, that in some way the woman fell, in stepping on board; her knees on
the boat, her feet hanging down to the water. Lionel, who was sitting
near, sprang forward and pulled her out of danger.

"I declare I never ought to come aboard these nasty steamers!" she
exclaimed, as he placed her in a seat. "I'm greatly obliged to you, sir;
I might have gone in, else; there's no saying. The last time I was
aboard one I was in danger of being killed. I fell through the
port-hole, sir."

"Indeed!" responded Lionel, who could not be so discourteous as not to
answer. "Perhaps your sight is not good?"

"Well, yes it is, sir, as good as most folks, at middle age. I get timid
aboard 'em, and it makes me confused and awkward, and I suppose I don't
mind where I put my feet. This was in Liverpool, sir, a week or two ago.
It was a passenger-ship just in from Australia, and the bustle and
confusion aboard was dreadful--they say it's mostly so with them vessels
that are coming home. I had gone down to meet my husband, sir; he has
been away four years--and it's a pity he ever went, for all the good he
has done. But he's back safe himself, so I must not grumble."

"That's something," said Lionel.

"True, sir. It would have been a strange thing if I had lost my life
just as he had come home. And I should, but for a gentleman on board. He
seized hold of me by the middle, and somehow contrived to drag me up
again. A strong man he must have been! I shall always remember him with
gratitude, I'm sure; as I shall you, sir. His name, my husband told me
afterwards, was Massingbird."

All Lionel's inertness was gone at the sound of the name. "Massingbird?"
he repeated.

"Yes, sir. He had come home in the ship from the same port as my
husband--Melbourne. Quite a gentleman, my husband said he was, with
grand relations in England. He had not been out there over long--hardly
as long as my husband, I fancy--and my husband don't think he has made
much, any more than himself has."

Lionel had regained all his outward impassiveness. He stood by the
talkative woman, his arms folded. "What sort of a looking man was this
Mr. Massingbird?" he asked. "I knew a gentleman once of that name, who
went to Australia."

The woman glanced up at him, measuring his height. "I should say he was
as tall as you, sir, or close upon it, but he was broader made, and had
got a stoop in the shoulders. He was dark; had dark eyes and hair, and a
pale face. Not the clear paleness of your face, sir, but one of them
sallow faces that get darker and yellower with travelling; never red."

Every word was as fresh testimony to the suspicion that it was Frederick
Massingbird. "Had he a black mark upon his cheek?" inquired Lionel.

"Likely he might have had, sir, but I couldn't see his cheeks. He wore a
sort of fur cap with the ears tied down. My husband saw a good bit of
him on the voyage, though he was only a middle-deck passenger, and the
gentleman was a cabin. His friends have had a surprise before this," she
continued, after a pause. "He told my husband that they all supposed him
dead; had thought he had been dead these two years past and more; and he
had never sent home to contradict it."

Then it _was_ Frederick Massingbird! Lionel Verner quitted the woman's
side, and leaned over the rail of the steamer, apparently watching the
water. He could not, by any dint of reasoning or supposition, make out
the mystery. How Frederick Massingbird could be alive; or, being alive,
why he had not come home before to claim Sibylla--why he had not claimed
her before she left Australia--why he did not claim her now he was come.
A man without a wife might go roving where he would and as long as he
would, letting his friends think him dead if it pleased him; but a man
with a wife could not in his sane senses be supposed to act so. It was a
strange thing, his meeting with this woman--a singular coincidence; one
that he would hardly have believed, if related to him, as happening to
another.

It was striking five when he again knocked at Dr. Cannonby's. He wished
to see Captain Cannonby still; it would be the crowning confirmation.
But he had no doubt whatever that that gentleman's report would be: "I
saw Frederick Massingbird die--as I believed--and I quitted him
immediately. I conclude that I must have been in error in supposing he
was dead."

Dr. Cannonby had returned, the servant said. He desired Lionel to walk
in, and threw open the door of the room. Seven or eight people were
sitting in it, waiting. The servant had evidently mistaken him for a
patient, and placed him there to wait his turn with the rest. He took
his card from his pocket, wrote on it a few words, and desired the
servant to carry it to his master.

The man came back with an apology. "I beg your pardon, sir. Will you
step this way?"

The physician was bowing a lady out as he entered the room--a room lined
with books, and containing casts of heads. He came forward to shake
hands, a cordial-mannered man. He knew Lionel by reputation, but had
never seen him.

"My visit was not to you, but to your brother," explained Lionel. "I was
in hopes to have found him here."

"Then he and you have been playing at cross-purposes to-day," remarked
the doctor, with a smile. "Lawrence started this morning for Verner's
Pride."

"Indeed," exclaimed Lionel. "Cross-purposes indeed!" he muttered to
himself.

"He heard some news in Paris which concerned you, I believe, and
hastened home to pay you a visit."

"Which concerned me!" repeated Lionel.

"Or rather Mrs. Massingbird--Mrs. Verner, I should say."

A sickly smile crossed Lionel's lips. Mrs. Massingbird! Was it already
known? "Why," he asked, "did you call her Mrs. Massingbird?"

"I beg your pardon for my inadvertence, Mr. Verner," was the reply of
Dr. Cannonby. "Lawrence knew her as Mrs. Massingbird, and on his return
from Australia he frequently spoke of her to me as Mrs. Massingbird, so
that I got into the habit of thinking of her as such. It was not until
he went to Paris that he heard she had exchanged the name for that of
Verner."

A thought crossed Lionel that _this_ was the news which had taken
Captain Cannonby down to him. He might know of the existence of
Frederick Massingbird, and had gone to break the news to him, Lionel;
to tell him that his wife was not his wife.

"You do not know precisely what his business was with me?" he inquired,
quite wistfully.

"No, I don't. I don't know that it was much beyond the pleasure of
seeing you and Mrs. Verner."

Lionel rose. "If I----"

"But you will stay and dine with me, Mr. Verner?"

"Thank you, I am going back at once. I wished to be home this evening if
possible, and there's nothing to hinder it now."

"A letter or two has come for Lawrence since the morning," observed the
doctor, as he shook hands. "Will you take charge of them for him?"

"With pleasure."

Dr. Cannonby turned to a letter rack over the mantel-piece, selected
three letters from it, and handed them to Lionel.

Back again all the weary way. His strong suspicions were no longer
suspicions now, but confirmed certainties. The night grew dark; it was
not darker than the cloud which had fallen upon his spirit.

Thought was busy in his brain. How could it be otherwise? Should he get
home to find the news public property? Had Captain Cannonby made it
known to Sybilla? Most fervently did he hope not. Better that he,
Lionel, should be by her side to help her to bear it when the dreadful
news came out. Next came another thought. Suppose Frederick Massingbird
should have discovered himself? should have gone to Verner's Pride to
take possession? _his_ home now; his wife. Lionel might get back to find
that he had no longer a place there.

Lionel found his carriage waiting at the station. He had ordered it to
be so. Wigham was with it. A very coward now, he scarcely dared ask
questions.

"Has Captain Cannonby arrived at the house to-day, do you know, Wigham?"

"Who, sir?"

"A strange gentleman from London. Captain Cannonby."

"I can't rightly say, sir. I have been about in the stables all day. I
saw a strange gentleman cross the yard just at dinner-time, one I'd
never seen afore. May be it was him."

A feeling came over Lionel that he could not see Captain Cannonby before
them all. Better send for him to a private room, and get the
communication over. What his after course would be was another matter.
Yes; better in all ways.

"Drive round to the yard, Wigham," he said, as the coachman was about to
turn on to the terrace. And Wigham obeyed.

He stepped out. He went in at the back door, almost as if he were
slinking into the house, stealthily traversed the passages, and gained
the lighted hall. At the very moment that he put his feet on its
tessellated floor, a sudden commotion was heard up the stairs. A door
was flung open, and Sibylla, with cheeks inflamed and breath panting,
flew down, her convulsive cries echoing through the house. She saw
Lionel, and threw herself into his arms.

"Oh, Lionel, what is this wicked story?" she sobbed. "It is not true! It
cannot be true that I am not your wife, that----"

"Hush, my darling!" he whispered, placing his hand across her mouth. "We
are not alone!"

They certainly were not! Out of the drawing-rooms, out of the
dining-room, had poured the guests; out of the kitchen came peeping the
servants. Deborah West stood on the stair like a statue, her hands
clasped; and Mademoiselle Benoite frantically inquired what anybody had
been doing to her mistress. All stared in amazement. She, in that
terrible state of agitation; Lionel supporting her with his white and
haughty face.

"It is nothing," he said, waving them off. "Mrs. Verner is not well.
Come with me, Sibylla."

Waving them off still, he drew her into the study, closed the door, and
bolted it. She clung to him like one in the extremity of terror, her
throat heaving convulsively.

"Oh, Lionel! is it true that he is come back? That he did not die? What
will become of me? Tell me that they have been deceiving me; that it is
not true!"

[Illustration: "Tell me that it is not true!"]

He could not tell her so. He wound his arms tenderly round her and held
her face to his breast, and laid his own down upon it. "Strive for
calmness," he murmured, his heart aching for her. "I will protect you so
long as I shall have the power."



CHAPTER LX.

MISS DEB'S DISBELIEF.


Miss Deborah West did not believe in ghosts. Miss Deb, setting aside a
few personal weaknesses and vanities, was a strong-minded female, and no
more believed in ghosts than she did in Master Cheese's delicate
constitution, which required to be supplied with an unlimited quantity
of tarts and other dainties to keep up his strength between meals. The
commotion respecting Frederick Massingbird, that his ghost had arrived
from Australia, and "walked," reached the ears of Miss Deb. It reached
them in this way.

Miss Deb and her sister, compelled to economy by the scanty allowance
afforded by Dr. West, had no more helpmates in the household department
than were absolutely necessary, and the surgery boy, Bob, found himself
sometimes pressed into aiding in the domestic service. One evening Miss
Deb entered the surgery, and caught Master Cheese revelling in a hatful
of walnuts by gaslight. This was the evening of the storm, previously
mentioned.

"Where's Bob?" asked she. "I want a message taken to Mrs. Broom's about
those pickled mushrooms that she is doing for me."

"Bob's out," responded Master Cheese. "Have a walnut, Miss Deb?"

"I don't mind. Are they ripe?" answered Miss Deb.

Master Cheese, the greediest chap alive, picked out the smallest he
could find, politely cracked it with his teeth, and handed it to her.

"You'll not get Bob over to Broom's at this hour," cried he. "Jan can't
get him to Mother Hook's with her medicine after dark. Unless it's made
up so that he can take it by daylight, they have to send for it."

"What's that for?" asked Miss Deb.

Master Cheese cracked on at his walnuts. "You have not heard the tale
that's going about, I suppose, Miss Deb?" he presently said.

"I have not heard any tale," she answered.

"And I don't know that I must tell it you," continued Master Cheese,
filling his mouth with five or six quarters at once, unpeeled. "Jan
ordered me to hold my tongue indoors."

"It would be more respectful, Master Cheese, if you said Mr. Jan,"
rebuked Miss Deborah. "I have told you so often."

"Who cares?" returned Master Cheese. "Jan doesn't. The fact is, Miss
Deb, that there's a ghost about at night just now."

"Have they got up that folly again? Rachel Frost rests a great deal
quieter in her grave than some of you do in your beds."

"Ah, but it's not Rachel's this time," significantly responded Master
Cheese. "It's somebody else's."

"Whose is it, then?" asked Miss Deb, struck with his manner.

"I'll tell you if you won't tell Jan. It's--don't start, Miss Deb--it's
Fred Massingbird's."

Miss Deb did not start. She looked keenly at Master Cheese, believing he
might be playing a joke upon her. But there were no signs of joking in
his countenance. It looked, on the contrary, singularly serious, not to
say awe-struck, as he leaned forward to bring it nearer Miss Deborah's.

"It is a fact that Fred Massingbird's ghost is walking," he continued.
"Lots have seen it. I have seen it. You'd have heard of it, as everybody
else has, if you had not been Mrs. Verner's sister. It's an unpleasantly
queer thing for her, you know, Miss Deb."

"What utter absurdity!" cried Deborah.

"Wait till you see it, before you say it's absurdity," replied Master
Cheese. "If it's not Fred Massingbird's ghost, it is somebody's that's
the exact image of him."

Miss Deborah sat down on a stone jar, and got Master Cheese to tell her
the whole story. That he should put in a few exaggerations, and so
increase the marvel, was only natural. But Deborah West heard sufficient
to send her mind into a state of uneasy perplexity.

"You say Mr. Jan knows of this?" she asked.

"There's nobody about that doesn't know of it except you and the folks
at Verner's Pride," responded Master Cheese. "I say, don't you go and
tell Jan that you made me betray it to you, Miss Deb! You'll get me into
a row if you do."

But this was the very thing that Miss Deb resolved to do. Not to get
Master Cheese into a "row," but that she saw no other way of allaying
her uncertainty. Ghosts were utterly excluded from Deborah West's creed;
and why so many people should be suddenly testifying that Frederick
Massingbird's was to be seen, she could not understand. That there must
be something in it more than the common absurdity of such tales, the
state of Alice Hook appeared to testify.

"Can Bob be spared to go over to Broom's in the morning?" she asked,
after a long pause of silence, given apparently to the contemplation of
Master Cheese's intense enjoyment of his walnuts; in reality, to deep
thought.

"Well, I don't know," answered the young gentleman, who never was ready
to accord the services of Bob indoors, lest it might involve any little
extra amount of exertion for himself. "There's a sight of medicine to be
taken out just now. Jan's got a great deal to do, and _I_ am nearly
worked off my legs."

"It looks like it," retorted Miss Deborah. "Your legs will never be much
the worse for the amount of work _you_ do. Where's Mr. Jan?"

"He went out to go to Hook's," replied Master Cheese, a desperately hard
walnut proving nearly too much for his teeth. "He'll take a round, I
dare say, before he comes in."

Deborah returned indoors. Though not much inclined to reticence in
general, she observed it now, saying nothing to Amilly. The storm came
on, and they sat and watched it. Supper time approached, and Master
Cheese was punctual. He found some pickled herrings on the table, of
which he was uncommonly fond, and ate them as long as Miss West would
supply his plate. The meal was over when Jan came in.

"Don't trouble to have anything brought back for me," said he. "I'll eat
a bit of bread and cheese." He was not like his assistant; his growing
days were over.

Master Cheese went straight up to bed. He liked to do so as soon as
supper was over, lest any summons came, and he should have to go out.
Easy Jan, no matter how tired he might be, would attend himself, sooner
than wake up Master Cheese--a ceremony more easy to attempt than to
accomplish. Fortifying himself with about a pound of sweet cake, which
he kept in his box, as dessert to the herrings, and to refresh his
dreams, Master Cheese put himself into bed.

Jan meanwhile finished his bread and cheese, and rose. "I wonder whether
I shall get a whole night of it tonight?" said he, stretching himself.
"I didn't have much bed last night."

"Have you to go out again, Mr. Jan?"

"No. I shall look to the books a bit, and then turn in. Good night, Miss
Deborah; good-night, Miss Amilly."

"Good-night," they answered.

Amilly drew to the fire. The chilly rain of the afternoon had caused
them to have one lighted. She put her feet on the fender, feeling the
warmth comfortable. Deborah sent the supper-tray away, and then left the
room. Stealing out of the side door quietly, she tripped across the
narrow path of wet gravel, and entered the surgery. Jan had got an
account-book open on the counter, and was leaning over it, a pen in his
hand.

"Don't be frightened, Mr. Jan; it's only me," said Deborah, who did not
at all times confine herself to the rules of severe grammar. "I'll shut
the door, if you please, for I want to say a word to yourself alone."

"Is it more physic that you want?" asked Jan. "Has the pain in the side
come again?"

"It is not about pains or physic," she answered, drawing nearer to the
counter. "Mr. Jan"--dropping her voice to a confidential whisper--"would
you be so good as to tell me the truth of this story that is going
about?"

Jan paused. "What story?" he rejoined.

"This ghost story. They are saying, I understand, that--that--they are
saying something about Frederick Massingbird."

"Did Cheese supply you with the information?" cried Jan, imperturbable
as ever.

"He did. But I must beg you not to scold him for it--as he thought you
might do. It was I who drew the story from him. He said you cautioned
him not to speak of it to me or Amilly. I quite appreciate your motives,
Mr. Jan, and feel that it was very considerate of you. But now that I
have heard it, I want to know particulars from somebody more reliable
than Master Cheese."

"I told Lionel I'd say nothing to any soul in the parish," said Jan,
open and single-minded as though he had been made of glass. "But he'd
not mind my making you an exception--as you have heard it. You are
Sibylla's sister."

"_You_ don't believe in its being a ghost?"

Jan grinned. "I!" cried he. "No, I don't."

"Then what do you suppose it is that's frightening people? And why
should they be frightened?"

Jan sat himself down on the counter, and whirled his legs over to the
other side, clearing the gallipots; so that he faced Miss Deborah. Not
to waste time, he took the mortar before him. And there he was at his
ease; his legs hanging, and his hands pounding.

"What should you think it is?" inquired he.

"How can I think, Mr. Jan? Until an hour or two ago, I had not heard of
the rumour. I suppose it is somebody who walks about at night to
frighten people. But it is curious that he should look like Frederick
Massingbird. Can you understand it?"

"I am afraid I can," replied Jan, pounding away.

"Will you tell me, please, what you think."

"Can't you guess at it, Miss Deb?"

Miss Deb looked at him, beginning to think his manner as mysterious as
Master Cheese's had been.

"I can't guess at it at all," she presently said. "Please to tell me."

"Then don't you go and drop down in a fit when you hear it," was the
rejoinder of Jan. "I suppose it is Fred himself."

The words took her utterly by surprise. Not at first did she understand
their meaning. She stared at Jan, her eyes and her mouth gradually
opening.

"Fred himself?" she mechanically uttered.

"I suppose so. Fred himself. Not his ghost."

"Do you mean that he has come to life again?" she rapidly rejoined.

"Well, you can call it so if you like," said Jan. "I expect that, in
point of fact, he has never been dead. The report of his death must have
been erroneous; one of those unaccountable mistakes that do sometimes
happen to astonish the world."

Deborah West took in the full sense of the words, and sunk down on the
big stone jar. She turned all over of a burning heat; she felt her hands
beginning to twitch with emotion.

"You mean that he is alive?--that he has never been dead?" she gasped.

Jan nodded.

"Oh, Mr. Jan! Then, what is--what is Sibylla?"

"Ah," said Jan, "that's just it. She's the wife of both of 'em--as you
may say."

For any petty surprise or evil, Miss Deborah would have gone off in a
succession of screams, of pseudo-faints. _This_ evil was all too real,
too terrible. She sat with her trembling hands clasped to pain, looking
hopelessly at Jan.

He told her all he knew; all that was said by others.

"Dan Duff's nothing," remarked he; "and Cheese is nothing; and others,
who confess to have seen it, are nothing: and old Frost's not much. But
I'd back Bourne's calmness and sound sense against the world, and I'd
back Broom's."

"And they have both seen it?"

"Both," replied Jan. "Both are sure that it is Frederick Massingbird."

"What will Mr. Verner do?" she asked, looking round with a shudder, and
not speaking above her breath.

"Oh, that's his affair," said Jan. "It's hard to guess what he may do;
he is one that won't be dictated to. If it were some people's case,
they'd say to Sibylla, 'Now you have got two husbands, choose which
you'll have, and keep to him.'"

"Good heavens, Mr. Jan!" exclaimed Miss Deb, shocked at the loose
sentiments the words appeared to indicate. "And suppose she should
choose the second? Have you thought of the sin? The second _can't_ be
her husband; it would be as bad as those Mormons."

"Looking at it in a practical point of view, I can't see much
difference, which of the two she chooses," returned Jan. "If Fred was
her husband once, Lionel's her husband now; practically I say you know,
Miss Deb."

Miss Deb thought the question was going rather into metaphysics, a
branch of science which she did not understand, and so was content to
leave the controversy.

"Any way, it is dreadful for her," she said, with another shiver. "Oh,
Mr. Jan, do you think it can really be true?"

"_I_ think that there's not a doubt of it," he answered, stopping in his
pounding. "But you need not think so, Miss Deb."

"How am I to help thinking so?" she simply asked.

"You needn't think either way until it is proved. As I suppose it must
be, shortly. Let it rest till then."

"No, Mr. Jan, I differ from you. It is a question that ought to be
sought out and probed; not left to rest. Does Sibylla know it?"

"Not she. Who'd tell her? Lionel won't, I know. It was for her sake that
he bound me to silence."

"She ought to be told, Mr. Jan. She ought to leave her husband--I mean,
Mr. Lionel--this very hour, and shut herself up until the doubt is
settled."

"Where should she shut herself?" inquired Jan, opening his eyes. "In a
convent? Law, Miss Deb! If somebody came and told me I had got two
wives, should you say I ought to make a start for the nearest monastery?
How would my patients get on?"

Rather metaphysical again. Miss Deb drew Jan back to plain details--to
the histories of the various ghostly encounters. Jan talked and pounded;
she sat on her hard seat and listened, her brain more perplexed than it
could have been with any metaphysics known to science. Eleven o'clock
disturbed them, and Miss Deborah started as if she had been shot.

"How could I keep you until this time!" she exclaimed. "And you scarcely
in bed for some nights!"

"Never mind, Miss Deb," answered good-natured Jan. "It's all in the
day's work."

He opened the door for her, and then bolted himself in for the night.
For the night, that is, if Deerham would allow it to him. Hook's
daughter was slowly progressing towards recovery, and Jan would not need
to go to her.

Amilly was nodding over the fire, or, rather, where the fire had been,
for it had gone out. She inquired with wonder what her sister had been
doing, and where she had been. Deborah replied that she had been busy;
and they went upstairs to bed.

But not to sleep--for one of them. Deborah West lay awake through the
live-long night, tossing from side to side in her perplexity and
thought. Somewhat strict in her notions, she deemed it a matter of stern
necessity, of positive duty, that Sibylla should retire, at any rate for
a time, from the scenes of busy life. To enable her to do this, the news
must be broken to her. But how?

Ay, how? Deborah West rose in the morning with the difficulty unsolved.
She supposed she must do it herself. She believed it was as much a duty
laid upon her, the imparting these tidings to Sibylla, as the separating
herself from all social ties, the instant it was so imparted, would be
the duty of Sibylla herself. Deborah West went about her occupations
that morning, one imperative sentence ever in her thoughts: "It must be
done! it must be done!"

She carried it about with her, ever saying it, through the whole day.
She shrank, both for Sibylla's sake and her own, from the task she was
imposing upon herself; and, as we all do when we have an unpleasant
office to perform, she put it off to the last. Early in the morning she
had said, I will go to Verner's Pride after breakfast and tell her;
breakfast over, she said, I will have my dinner first and go then.

But the afternoon passed on, and she did not go. Every little trivial
domestic duty was made an excuse for delaying it. Miss Amilly, finding
her sister unusually bad company, went out to drink tea with some
friends. The time came for ordering in tea at home, and still Deborah
had not gone.

She made the tea and presided at the table. But she could eat
nothing--to the inward gratification of Master Cheese. There happened to
be shrimps--a dish which that gentleman preferred, if anything, to
pickled herrings; and by Miss Deborah's want of appetite he was able to
secure her share and his own, including the heads and tails. He would
uncommonly have liked to secure Jan's share also; but Miss Deborah
filled a plate and put them aside, against Jan came in. Jan's pressure
of work caused him of late to be irregular at his meals.

Scarcely was the tea over, and Master Cheese gone, when Mr. Bourne
called. Deborah, the one thought uppermost in her mind, closed the door,
and spoke out what she had heard. The terrible fear, her own distress,
Jan's belief that it was Fred himself, Jan's representation that Mr.
Bourne also believed it. Mr. Bourne, leaning forward until his pale face
and his iron-gray hair nearly touched hers, whispered in answer that he
did not think there was a doubt of it.

Then Deborah did nerve herself to the task. On the departure of the
vicar, she started for Verner's Pride and asked to see Sibylla. The
servants would have shown her to the drawing-room, but she preferred to
go up to Sibylla's chamber. The company were yet in the dining-room.

How long Sibylla kept her waiting there, she scarcely knew. Sibylla was
not in the habit of putting herself to inconvenience for her sisters.
The message was taken to her--that Miss West waited in her chamber--as
she entered the drawing-room. And there Sibylla let her wait. One or two
more messages to the same effect were subsequently delivered. They
produced no impression, and Deborah began to think she should not get to
see her that night.

But Sibylla came up at length, and Deborah entered upon her task.
Whether she accomplished it clumsily, or whether Sibylla's
ill-disciplined mind was wholly in fault, certain it is that there
ensued a loud and unpleasant scene. The scene to which you were a
witness. Scarcely giving herself time to take in more than the bare fact
hinted at by Deborah--that her first husband was believed to be
alive--not waiting to inquire a single particular, she burst out of the
room and went shrieking down the stairs, flying into the arms of Lionel,
who at that moment had entered.



CHAPTER LXI.

MEETING THE NEWS.


Lionel Verner could not speak comfort to his wife; or, at the best,
comfort of a most negative nature. He held her to him in the study, the
door locked against intruders. They were somewhat at cross-purposes.
Lionel supposed that the information had been imparted to her by Captain
Cannonby; he never doubted but that she had been told Frederick
Massingbird had returned and was on the scene; that he might come in any
moment--even that very present one as they spoke--to put in his claim
to her. Sibylla, on the contrary, did not think (what little she was
capable of thinking) that Lionel had had previous information of the
matter.

"What am I to do?" she cried, her emotion becoming hysterical. "Oh,
Lionel! don't you give me up!"

"I would have got here earlier had there been means," he soothingly
said, wisely evading all answer to the last suggestion. "I feared he
would be telling you in my I absence; better that you should have heard
of it from me."

She lifted her face to look at him. "Then you know it!"

"I have known it this clay or two. My journey to-day--"

She broke out into a most violent fit of emotion, shrieking, trembling,
clinging to Lionel, calling out at the top of her voice that she would
not leave him. All his efforts were directed to stilling the noise. He
implored her to be tranquil, to remember there were listeners around; he
pointed out that, until the blow actually fell, there was no necessity
for those listeners to be made cognisant of it. All that he _could_ do
for her protection and comfort, he would do, he earnestly said. And
Sibylla subsided into a softer mood, and cried quietly.

"I'd rather die," she sobbed, "than have this disgrace brought upon me."

Lionel put her into the large arm-chair, which remained in the study
still, the old arm-chair of Mr. Verner. He stood by her and held her
hands, his pale face grave, sad, loving, bent towards her with the most
earnest sympathy. She lifted her eyes to it, whispering--

"Will they say you are not my husband?"

"Hush, Sibylla! There are moments, even yet, when I deceive myself into
a fancy that it may be somewhat averted. _I cannot_ understand how he
can be alive. Has Cannonby told you whence the error arose?"

She did not answer. She began to shake again; she tossed back her golden
hair. Some blue ribbons had been wreathed in it for dinner; she pulled
them out and threw them on the ground, her hair partially falling with
their departure.

"I wish I could have some wine?"

He moved to the door to get it for her. "Don't you let _her_ in,
Lionel," she called out as he unlocked it.

"Who?"

"That Deborah. I hate her now," was the ungenerous remark.

Lionel opened the door, called to Tynn, and desired him to bring wine.
"What time did Captain Cannonby get here?" he whispered, as he took it
from the butler.

"Who, sir?" asked Tynn.

"Captain Cannonby."

Tynn paused, like one who does not understand. "There's no gentleman
here of that name, sir. A Mr. Rushworth called to-day, and my mistress
asked him to stay dinner. He is in the drawing-room now. There is no
other stranger."

"Has Captain Cannonby not been here at all?" reiterated Lionel. "He left
London this morning to come."

Tynn shook his head to express a negative. "He has not arrived, sir."

Lionel went in again, his feelings undergoing a sort of revulsion, for
there now peeped out a glimmer of hope. So long as the nearly certain
conviction on Lionel's mind was not confirmed by positive testimony--as
he expected Captain Cannonby's would be--he could not entirely lose
sight of all hope. That he most fervently prayed the blow might not
fall, might even now be averted, you will readily believe. Sibylla had
not been to him the wife he had fondly hoped for; she provoked him every
hour in the day; she appeared to do what she could, wilfully to estrange
his affection. He was conscious of all this; he was all too conscious
that his inmost love was another's, not hers. But he lost sight of
himself in anxiety for her; it was for her sake he prayed and hoped.
Whether she was his wife by law or not; whether she was loved or hated,
Lionel's course of duty lay plain before him now--to shield her, so far
as he might be allowed, in all care and tenderness. He would have shed
his last drop of blood to promote her comfort; he would have sacrificed
every feeling of his heart for her sake.

The wine in his hand, he turned into the room again. A change had taken
place in her aspect. She had left the chair, and was standing against
the wall opposite the door, her tears dried, her eyes unnaturally
bright, her cheeks burning.

"Lionel," she uttered, a catching of the breath betraying her emotion,
"if _he_ is alive, whose is Verner's Pride?"

"His," replied Lionel, in a low tone.

She shrieked out, very much after the manner of a petulant child. "I
won't leave it!--I won't leave Verner's Pride! You could not be so cruel
as to wish me. Who says he is alive? Lionel, I ask you who it is that
says he is alive?"

"Hush, my dear! This excitement will do you a world of harm, and it
cannot mend the matter, however it may be. I want to know who told you
of this, Sibylla. I supposed it to be Cannonby; but Tynn says Cannonby
has not been here."

The question appeared to divert her thoughts into another channel.
"Cannonby! What should bring him here? Did you expect him to come?"

"Drink your wine, and then I will tell you," he said, holding the glass
towards her.

She pushed the wine from her capriciously. "I don't want wine now. I am
hot. I should like some water."

"I will get it for you directly. Tell me, first of all, how you came to
know of this?"

"Deborah told me. She sent for me out of the drawing-room where I was so
happy, to tell me this horrid tale. Lionel"--sinking her voice again to
a whisper--"is--he--here?"

"I cannot tell you--"

"But you must tell me," she passionately interrupted. "I will know. I
have a right to know it, Lionel."

"When I say I cannot tell you, Sibylla, I mean that I cannot tell you
with any certainty. I will tell you all I do know. Some one is in the
neighbourhood who bears a great resemblance to him. He is seen sometimes
at night; and--and--I have other testimony that he has returned from
Australia."

"What will be done if he comes here?"

Lionel was silent.

"Shall you fight him?"

"Fight him!" echoed Lionel. "No."

"You will give up Verner's Pride without a struggle! You will give up
me! Then, are you a coward, Lionel Verner?"

"You know that I would give up neither willingly, Sibylla."

Grievously pained was his tone as he replied to her. She was meeting
this as she did most other things--without sense or reason; not as a
thinking, rational being. Her manner was loud, her emotion violent; but
deep and true her grief was _not_. Depth of feeling, truth of nature,
were qualities that never yet had place in Sibylla Verner. Not once,
throughout all their married life, had Lionel been so painfully
impressed with the fact as he was now.

"Am I to die for the want of that water?" she resumed. "If you don't
get it for me I shall ring for the servants to bring it."

He opened the door again without a word. He knew quite well that she had
thrown in that little shaft about ringing for the servants, because it
would not be pleasant to him that the servants should intrude upon them
then. Outside the door, about to knock at it, was Deborah West.

"I must go home," she whispered. "Mr. Verner, how sadly she is meeting
this!"

The very thought that was in Lionel's heart. But not to another would he
cast a shade of reflection on his wife.

"It is a terrible thing for any one to meet," he answered. "I could have
wished, Miss West, that you had not imparted it to her. Better that I
should have done it, when it must have been done."

"I did it from a good motive," was the reply of Deborah, who was looking
sadly down-hearted, and had evidently been crying. "She ought to leave
you until some certainty shall be arrived at."

"Nonsense! No!" said Lionel. "I beg you--I _beg_ you, Miss West, not
to say anything more that can distress or disturb her. If
the--the--explosion comes, of course it must come; and we must all meet
it as we best may, and see then what is best to be done."

"But it is not right that she should remain with you in this
uncertainty," urged Deborah, who could be obstinate when she thought she
had cause. "The world will not deem it to be right. You should remember
this."

"I do not act to please the world. I am responsible to God and my
conscience."

"Responsible to--Good gracious, Mr. Verner!" returned Deborah, every
line in her face expressing astonishment. "You call keeping her with you
acting as a responsible man ought! If Sibylla's husband is living, you
must put her away from your side."

"When the time shall come. Until then, my duty--as I judge it--is to
keep her by my side; to shelter her from harm and annoyance, petty as
well as great."

"You deem _that_ your duty!"

"I do," he firmly answered. "My duty to her and to God."

Deborah shook her head and her hands. "It ought not to be let go on,"
she said, moving nearer to the study door. "I shall urge the leaving you
upon her."

Lionel calmly laid his hand upon the lock. "Pardon me, Miss West. I
cannot allow my wife to be subjected to it."

"But if she is not your wife?"

A streak of red came into his pale face. "It has yet to be proved that
she is not. Until that time shall come, Miss West, she _is_ my wife, and
I shall protect her as such."

"You will not let me see her?" asked Deborah, for his hand was not
lifted from the handle.

"No. Not if your object be the motives you avow. Sleep a night upon it,
Miss West, and see if you do not change your mode of thinking and come
over to mine. Return here in the morning with words of love and comfort
for her, and none will welcome you more sincerely than I."

"Answer me one thing, Mr. Verner. Do you believe in your heart that
Frederick Massingbird is alive and has returned?"

"Unfortunately I have no resource but to believe it," he replied.

"Then, to your way of thinking I can never come," returned Deborah in
some agitation. "It is just sin, Mr. Verner, in the sight of Heaven."

"I think not," he quietly answered. "I am content to let Heaven judge
me, and the motives that actuate me; a judgment more merciful than
man's."

Deborah West, in her conscientious, but severe rectitude, turned to the
hall door and departed, her hands uplifted still. Lionel ordered Tynn to
attend Miss West home. He then procured some water for his wife and
carried it in, as he had previously carried in the wine.

A fruitless service. Sibylla rejected it. She wanted neither water nor
anything else, were all the thanks Lionel received, querulously spoken.
He laid the glass upon the table, and, sitting down by her side in all
patience, he set himself to the work of soothing her, gently and
lovingly as though she had been what she was showing herself--a wayward
child.



CHAPTER LXII.

TYNN PUMPED DRY.


Miss West and Tynn proceeded on their way. The side path was dirty, and
she chose the middle of the road, Tynn walking a step behind her.
Deborah was of an affable nature, Tynn a long-attached and valued
servant, and she chatted with him familiarly. Deborah, in her simple
good heart, could not have been brought to understand why she should not
chat with him. Because he was a servant and she a lady, she thought
there was only the more reason why she should, that the man might not be
unpleasantly reminded of the social distinction between them.

She pressed down, so far as she could, the heavy affliction that was
weighing upon her mind. She spoke of the weather, the harvest, of Mrs.
Bitterworth's recent dangerous attack, of other trifling topics patent
at the moment to Deerham. Tynn chatted in his turn, never losing his
respect of words and manner; a servant worth anything never does. Thus
they progressed towards the village, utterly unconscious that a pair of
eager eyes were following, and an evil tongue was casting anathemas
towards them.

The owner of the eyes and tongue was wanting to hold a few words of
private colloquy with Tynn. Could Tynn have seen right round the corner
of the pillar of the outer gate when he went out, he would have detected
the man waiting there in ambush. It was Giles Roy. Roy was aware that
Tynn sometimes attended departing visitors to the outer gate. Roy had
come up, hoping that he might so attend them on this night. Tynn did
appear, with Miss West, and Roy began to hug himself that fortune had so
far favoured him; but when he saw that Tynn departed with the lady,
instead of only standing politely to watch her off, Roy growled out
vengeance against the unconscious offenders.

"He's a-going to see her home belike," snarled Roy in soliloquy,
following them with angry eyes and slow footsteps. "I must wait till he
comes back--and be shot to both of 'em!"

Tynn left Miss West at her own door, declining the invitation to go in
and take a bit of supper with the maids, or a glass of beer. He was
trudging back again, his arms behind his back, and wishing himself at
home, for Tynn, fat and of short breath, did not like much walking,
when, in a lonely part of the road, he came upon a man sitting astride
upon a gate.

"Hollo! is that you, Mr. Tynn? Who'd ha' thought of seeing you out
to-night?"

For it was Mr. Roy's wish, from private motives of his own, that Tynn
should not know he had been looked for, but should believe the
encounter to be accidental. Tynn turned off the road, and leaned his
elbow upon the gate, rather glad of the opportunity to stand a minute
and get his breath. It was somewhat up-hill to Verner's Pride, the whole
of the way from Deerham.

"Are you sitting here for pleasure?" asked he of Roy.

"I'm sitting here for grief," returned Roy; and Tynn was not sharp
enough to detect the hollow falseness of his tone. "I had to go up the
road to-night on a matter of business, and, walking back by Verner's
Pride, it so overcame me that I was glad to bring myself to a anchor."

"How should walking by Verner's Pride overcome you?" demanded Tynn.

"Well," said Roy, "it was the thoughts of poor Mr. and Mrs. Verner did
it. He didn't behave to me over liberal in turning me from the place I'd
held so long under his uncle, but I've overgot that smart; it's past and
gone. My heart bleeds for him now, and that's the truth."

For Roy's heart to "bleed" for any fellow-creature was a marvel that
even Tynn, unsuspicious as he was, could not take in. Mrs. Tynn
repeatedly assured him that he had been born into the world with one
sole quality--credulity. Certainly Tynn was unusually inclined to put
faith in fair outsides. Not that Roy could boast much of the latter
advantage.

"What's the matter with Mr. Verner?" he asked of Roy.

Roy groaned dismally. "It's a thing that is come to my knowledge," said
he--"a awful misfortin that is a-going to drop upon him. I'd not say a
word to another soul but you, Mr. Tynn; but you be his friend if anybody
be, and I feel that I must either speak or bust."

Tynn peered at Roy's face. As much as he could see of it, for the night
was not a very clear one.

"It seems quite a providence that I happened to meet you," went on Roy,
as if any meeting with the butler had been as far from his thoughts as
an encounter with somebody at the North Pole. "Things does turn out
lucky sometimes."

"I must be getting home," interposed Tynn. "If you have anything to say
to me, Roy, you had better say it. I may be wanted."

Roy--who was standing now, his elbow leaning on the gate--brought his
face nearer to Tynn's. Tynn was also leaning on the gate.

"Have you heered of this ghost that's said to be walking about Deerham?"
he asked, lowering his voice to a whisper. "Have you heered whose they
say it is?"

Now, Tynn had heard. All the retainers, male and female, at Verner's
Pride had heard. And Tynn, though not much inclined to give credence to
ghosts in a general way, had felt somewhat uneasy at the ale. More on
his mistress's account than on any other score; for Tynn had the sense
to know that such a report could not be pleasing to Mrs. Verner, should
it reach her ears.

"I can't think why they do say it," replied Tynn, answering the man's
concluding question. "For my own part, I don't believe there's anything
in it. I don't believe in ghosts."

"Neither didn't a good many more, till now that they have got orakelar
demonstration of it," returned Roy. "Dan Duff see it, and a'most lost
his senses; that girl of Hook's see it, and you know, I suppose, what it
did for _her_; Broom see it; the parson see it; old Frost see it; and
lots more. Not one on 'em but 'ud take their Bible oath, if put to it,
that it is Fred Massingbird's ghost."

"But it is not," said Tynn. "It can't be. Leastways I'll never believe
it till I see it with my own eyes. There'd be no reason in its coming
now. If it wanted to come at all, why didn't it come when it was first
buried, and not wait till over two years had gone by?"

"That's the point that I stuck at," was Roy's answer. "When my wife came
home with the tales, day after day, that Fred Massingbird's spirit was
walking--that this person had seen it, and that person had seen
it--'Yah! Rubbish!' I says to her. 'If his ghost had been a-coming, it
'ud have come afore now.' And so it would."

"Of course," answered Tynn. "_If_ it had been coming. But I have not
lived to these years to believe in ghosts at last."

"Then, what do you think of the parson, Mr. Tynn?" continued Roy, in a
strangely significant tone. "And Broom--he have got his senses about
him? How d'ye account for their believing it?"

"I have not heard them say that they do believe it," responded Tynn,
with a knowing nod. "Folks may go about and say that I believe it,
perhaps; but that wouldn't make it any nearer the fact. And what has
all this to do with Mr. Verner?"

"I am coming to it," said Roy. He took a step backward, looked carefully
up and down the road, lest listeners might be in ambush; stretched his
neck forward, and in like manner surveyed the field On either side the
hedge. Apparently it satisfied him, and he resumed his close proximity
to Tynn and his meaning whisper. "Can't you guess the riddle, Mr. Tynn?"

"I can't in the least guess what you mean, or what you are driving at,"
was Tynn's response. "I think you must have been having a drop of drink,
Roy. I ask what this is to my master, Mr. Verner?"

"Drink be bothered! I've not had a sup inside my mouth since midday,"
was Roy's retort. "This secret has been enough drink for me, and meat,
too. You'll keep counsel, if I tell it you, Mr. Tynn? Not but what it
must soon come out."

"Well?" returned Tynn, in some surprise.

"It's Fred Massingbird fast enough. But it's not his ghost."

"What on earth do you mean?" asked Tynn, never for a moment glancing at
the fact of what Roy tried to imply.

"_He_ is come back: Frederick Massingbird. He didn't die, over there."

A pause, devoted by Tynn to staring and thinking. When the full sense of
the words broke upon him, he staggered a step or two away from the
ex-bailiff.

"Heaven help us, if it's true!" he uttered. "Roy! it _can't_ be!"

"It _is_," said Roy.

They stood looking at each other by starlight. Tynn's face had grown hot
and wet, and he wiped it. "It can't be," he mechanically repeated.

"I tell you it _is_, Mr. Tynn. Now never you mind asking me how I came
to the bottom of it," went on Roy in a sort of defiant tone. "I did come
to the bottom of it, and I do know it; and Mr. Fred, he knows that I
know it. It's as sure that he is back, and in the neighbourhood, as that
you and me is here at this gate. He is alive and he is among us--as
certain as that you are Mr. Tynn, and I be Giles Roy."

There came flashing over Tynn's thoughts the scene of that very evening.
His mistress's shrieks and agitation when she broke from Miss West; the
cries and sobs which had penetrated to their ears when she was shut
afterwards in the study with her husband. The unusual scene had been
productive of gossiping comment among the servants and Tynn had believed
something distressing must have occurred. Not this; he had never glanced
a suspicion at this. He remembered the lines of pain which shone out at
the moment from his master's pale face, in spite of its impassiveness;
and somehow that very face brought conviction to Tynn now, that Roy's
news was true. Tynn let his arms fall on the gate again with a groan.

"Whatever will become of my poor mistress?" he uttered.

"She!" slightingly returned Roy. "She'll be better off than him."

"Better off than who?"

"Than Mr. Verner. She needn't leave Verner's Pride. He must."

To expect any ideas but coarse ones from Roy, Tynn could not. But his
attention was caught by the last suggestion.

"Leave Verner's Pride?" slowly repeated Tynn. "Must he?--good heavens!
must my master be turned from Verner's Pride?"

"Where'll be the help for it?" asked Roy, in a confidential tone. "I
tell you, Mr. Tynn, my heart's been a-bleeding for him ever since I
heard it. _I_ don't see no help for his turning out. I have been
a-weighing it over and over in my mind, and I don't see none. Do you?"

Tynn looked very blank. He was feeling so. He made no answer, and Roy
continued, blandly confidential still.

"If that there codicil, that was so much talked on, hadn't been lost,
he'd have been all right, would Mr. Verner. No come-to-life-again Fred
Massingbird needn't have tried at turning him out. Couldn't it be hunted
for again, Mr. Tynn?"

Roy turned the tail of his eye on Tynn. Would his pumping take effect?
Mrs. Tynn would have told him that her husband might be pumped dry, and
never know it. She was not far wrong. Unsuspicious Tynn went headlong
into the snare.

"Where would be the good of hunting for it again--when every conceivable
place was hunted for it before?" he asked.

"Well, it was a curious thing, that codicil," remarked Roy. "Has it
_never_ been heered on?"

Tynn shook his head. "Never at all. What an awful thing this is, if it's
true!"

"It is true, I tell ye," said Roy. "You needn't doubt it. There was a
report a short while agone that the codicil had been found, and Matiss
had got it in safe keeping. As I sat here, afore you come up, I was
thinking how well it 'ud have served Mr. Verner's turn just now, if it
_was_ true."

"It is not true," said Tynn. "All sorts of reports get about. The
codicil has never been found, and never been heard of."

"What a pity!" groaned Roy, with a deep sigh. "I'm glad I've told it
you, Mr. Tynn! It's a heavy secret for a man to carry about inside of
him. I must be going."

"So must I," said Tynn. "Roy, are you sure there's no mistake?" he
added. "It seems a tale next to impossible."

"Well, now," said Roy, "I see you don't half believe me. You must wait a
few days, and see what them days 'll bring forth. That Mr. Massingbird's
back from Australia, I'll take my oath to. _I_ didn't believe it at
first; and when young Duff was a-going on about the porkypine, I shook
him, I did, for a little lying rascal. I know better now."

"But how do you know it?" debated Tynn.

"Now, never you mind. It's my business, I say, and nobody else's. You
just wait a day or two, that's all, Mr. Tynn. I declare I am as glad to
have met with you to-night, and exchanged this intercourse of opinions,
as if anybody had counted me out a bag o' gold."

"Well, good-night, Roy," concluded Tynn, turning his steps towards
Verner's Pride. "I wish I had been a hundred miles off, I know, before I
had heard it."

Roy slipped over the gate; and there, out of sight, he executed a kind
of triumphant dance.

"Then there is no codicil!" cried he. "I thought I could wile it out of
him! That Tynn's as easy to be run out as is glass when it's hot."

And, putting his best leg forward, he made his way as fast as he could
make it towards his home.

Tynn made _his_ way towards Verner's Pride. But not fast. The
information he had received filled his mind with the saddest trouble,
and reduced his steps to slowness. When any great calamity falls
suddenly upon us, or the dread of any great calamity, our first natural
thought is, how it may be mitigated or averted. It was the thought that
occurred to Tynn. The first shock over, digested, as may be said, Tynn
began to deliberate whether he could do anything to help his master in
the strait; and he went along, turning all sorts of suggestions over in
his mind. Much as Sibylla was disliked by the old servant--and she had
contrived to make herself very much disliked by them all--Tynn could not
help feeling warmly the blow that was about to burst upon her head. Was
there anything earthly he could do to avert it?--to help her or his
master?

He did not doubt the information. Roy was not a particularly reliable
person; but Tynn could not doubt that this was true. It was the most
feasible solution of the ghost story agitating Deerham; the only
solution of it, Tynn grew to think. If Frederick Massingbird----

Tynn's reflections came to a halt. Vaulting over a gate on the other
side the road--the very gate through which poor Rachel Frost had glided
the night of her death, to avoid meeting Frederick Massingbird and
Sibylla West--was a tall man. He came, straight across the road, in
front of Tynn, and passed through a gap of the hedge, on to the grounds
of Verner's Pride.

But what made Tynn stand transfixed, as if he had been changed into a
statue? What brought a cold chill to his heart, a heat to his brow? Why,
as the man passed him, he turned his face full on Tynn; disclosing the
features, the white, whiskerless cheek, with the black mark upon it, of
Frederick Massingbird. Recovering himself as best he could, Tynn walked
on, and gained the house.

Mrs. Verner had gone to her room. Mr. Verner was mixing with his guests.
Some of the gentlemen were on the terrace smoking, and Tynn made his way
on to it, hoping he might get a minute's interview with his master. The
impression upon Tynn's mind was that Frederick Massingbird was coming
there and then, to invade Verner's Pride: it appeared to Tynn to be his
duty to impart what he had heard and seen at once to Mr. Verner.

Circumstances favoured him. Lionel had been talking with Mr. Gordon at
the far end of the terrace, but the latter was called to from the
drawing-room windows and departed in answer to it. Tynn seized the
opportunity; his master was alone.

Quite alone. He was leaning over the outer balustrade of the terrace,
apparently looking forth in the night obscurity on his own lands,
stretched out before him. "Master!" whispered Tynn, forgetting ceremony
in the moment's absorbing agitation, in the terrible calamity that was
about to fall, "I have had an awful secret made known to me to-night. I
must tell it you, sir."

"I know it already, Tynn," was the quiet response of Lionel.

Then Tynn told--told all he had heard, and how he had heard it; told how
he had just _seen_ Frederick Massingbird. Lionel started from the
balustrade.

"Tynn! You saw him! Now?"

"Not five minutes ago, sir. He came right on to these grounds through
the gap in the hedge. Oh, master! what will be done?" and the man's
voice rose to a wail in its anguish. "He may be coming on now to put in
his claim to Verner's Pride; to--to--to--all that's in it!"

But that Lionel was nerved to self-control, he might have answered with
another wail of anguish. His mind filled up the gap of words, that the
delicacy of Tynn would not speak. "He may be coming to claim Sibylla."



CHAPTER LXIII.

LOOKING OUT FOR THE WORST.


The night passed quietly at Verner's Pride. Not, for all its inmates,
pleasantly. Faithful Tynn bolted and barred the doors and windows with
his own hand, as he might have done on the anticipated invasion of a
burglar. He then took up his station to watch the approaches to the
house, and never stirred until morning light. There may have run in
Tynn's mind some vague fear of violence, should his master and Frederick
Massingbird come in contact.

How did Lionel pass it? Wakeful and watchful as Tynn. He went to bed;
but sleep, for him, there was none. His wife, by his side, slept all
through the night. Better, of course, for her that it should be so; but,
that her frame of mind could be sufficiently easy to admit of sleep, was
a perfect marvel to Lionel. Had he needed proof to convince him how
shallow was her mind, how incapable she was of depth of feeling, of
thought, this would have supplied it. She slept throughout the night.
Lionel never closed his eyes; his brain was at work, his mind was
troubled, his heart was aching. Not for himself. His position was
certainly not one to be envied; but, in his great anxiety for his wife,
self passed out of sight. To what conflict might she not be about to be
exposed! to what unseemly violence of struggle, outwardly and inwardly,
might she not expose herself! He knew quite well that, according to the
laws of God and man, she was Frederick Massingbird's wife; not his. He
should never think--when the time came--of disputing Frederick
Massingbird's claim to her. But, what would she do?--how would she act?
He believed in his heart, that Sibylla, in spite of her aggravations
shown to him, and whatever may have been her preference for Frederick
Massingbird in the early days, best cared for him, Lionel, now. He
believed that she would not willingly return to Frederick Massingbird.
Or, if she did, it would be for the sake of Verner's Pride.

He was right. Heartless, selfish, vain, and ambitious, Verner's Pride
possessed far more attraction for Sibylla than did either Lionel or
Frederick Massingbird. Allow her to keep quiet possession of that, and
she would not cast much thought to either of them. If the conflict
actually came, Lionel felt, in his innate refinement, that the proper
course for Sibylla to adopt would be to retire from all social ties,
partially to retire from the world--as Miss West had suggested she
should do now in the uncertainty. Lionel did not wholly agree with Miss
West. He deemed that, in the uncertainty, Sibylla's place was by his
side, still his wife; but, when once the uncertainty was set at rest by
the actual appearance of Frederick Massingbird, then let her retire. It
was the only course that he could pursue, were the case his own. His
mind was made up upon one point--to withdraw himself out of the way when
that time came. To India, to the wilds of Africa--anywhere, far, far
away. Never would he remain to be an eye-sore to Sibylla or Frederick
Massingbird--inhabiting the land that they inhabited, breathing the air
that sustained life in them. Sibylla might rely on one thing--that when
Frederick Massingbird did appear beyond doubt or dispute, that very hour
he said adieu to Sibylla. The shock soothed--and he would soothe it for
her to the very utmost of his power--he should depart. He would be no
more capable of retaining Sibylla in the face of her husband, than he
could have taken her, knowingly, from that husband in his lifetime.

But where _was_ Frederick Massingbird? Tynn's opinion had been--he had
told it to his master--that when he saw Frederick Massingbird steal into
the grounds of Verner's Pride the previous evening, he was coming on to
the house, there and then. Perhaps Lionel himself had entertained the
same conviction. But the night had passed, and no Frederick Massingbird
had come. What could be the meaning of it? What could be the meaning of
his dodging about Deerham in this manner, frightening the
inhabitants?--of his watching the windows of Verner's Pride? Verner's
Pride was his; Sibylla was his; why, then, did he not arrive to assume
his rights?

Agitated with these and many other conflicting thoughts, Lionel lay on
his uneasy bed, and saw in the morning light. He did not rise until his
usual hour; he would have risen far earlier but for the fear of
disturbing Sibylla. To lie there, a prey to these reflections, to this
terrible suspense, was intolerable to him, but he would not risk waking
her. The day might prove long enough and bad enough for her, without
arousing her to it before her time. He rose, but she slept on still.
Lionel did wonder how she could.

Not until he was going out of the room, dressed, did she awake. She
awoke with a start. It appeared as if recollection, or partial
recollection, of the last night's trouble flashed over her. She pushed
aside the curtain, and called to him in a sharp tone of terror.

"Lionel!"

He turned back. He drew the curtain entirely away, and stood by her
side. She caught his arm, clasping it convulsively.

"Is it a dreadful dream, or is it true?" she uttered, beginning to
tremble. "Oh, Lionel, take care of me! Won't you take care of me?"

"I will take care of you as long as I may," he whispered tenderly.

"You will not let him force me away from you? You will not give up
Verner's Pride? If you care for me, you will not."

"I do care for you," he gently said, avoiding a more direct answer. "My
whole life is occupied in caring for you, in promoting your happiness
and comfort. How I _have_ cared for you, you alone know."

She burst into tears. Lionel bent his lips upon her hot face. "Depend
upon my doing all that I can do," he said.

"Are you going to leave me by myself?" she resumed in fear, as he was
turning to quit the room. "How do I know but he may be bursting in upon
me?"

"Is that all your faith in me, Sibylla? He shall not intrude upon you
here; he shall not intrude upon you anywhere without warning. When he
does come, I shall be at your side."

Lionel joined his guests at breakfast. His wife did not. With smiling
lips and bland brow, he had to cover a mind full of intolerable
suspense, an aching heart. A minor puzzle--though nothing compared to
the puzzle touching the movements of Frederick Massingbird--was working
within him, as to the movements of Captain Cannonby. What could have
become of that gentleman? Where could he be halting on his journey? Had
his halt anything to do with them, with this grievous business?

To Lionel's great surprise, just as they were concluding breakfast, he
saw the close carriage driven to the door, attended by Wigham and
Bennet. You may remember the latter name. Master Dan Duff had called him
"Calves" to Mr. Verner. If Verner's Pride could not keep its masters, it
kept its servants. Lionel knew he had not ordered it; and he supposed
his wife to be still in bed. He went out to the men.

"For whom is the carriage ordered, Bennet?"

"For my mistress, I think, sir."

And at that moment Lionel heard the steps of his wife upon the stairs.
She was coming down, dressed. He turned in, and met her in the hall.
"Are you going out?" he cried, his voice betokening surprise.

"I can't be worried with this uncertainty," was Sibylla's answer, spoken
anything but courteously. "I am going to make Deborah tell me all she
knows, and where she heard it."

"But----"

"I won't be dictated to, Lionel," she querulously stopped him with. "I
will go. What is it to you?"

He turned without a remonstrance, and attended her to the carriage,
placing her in it as considerately as though she had met him with a
wife's loving words. When she was seated, he leaned towards her. "Would
you like me to accompany you, Sibylla?"

"I don't care about it."

He closed the door in silence, his lips compressed. There were times
when her fitful moods vexed him above common. This was one. When they
knew not but the passing hour might be the last of their union, the last
they should ever spend together, it was scarcely seemly to mar its
harmony with ill temper. At least, so felt Lionel. Sibylla spoke as he
was turning away.

"Of course, I thought you would go with me. I did not expect you would
grumble at me for going."

"Get my hat, Bennet," he said. And he stepped in and took his seat
beside her.

Courteously, and smiling as though not a shade of care were within ages
of him, Lionel bowed to his guests as the carriage passed the
breakfast-room windows. He saw that curious faces were directed to him;
he felt that wondering comments, as to their early and sudden drive,
were being spoken; he knew that the scene of the past evening was
affording food for speculation. He could not help it; but these minor
annoyances were as nothing, compared to the great trouble that absorbed
him. The windows passed, he turned to his wife.

"I have neither grumbled at you for going, Sibylla, nor do I see cause
for grumbling. Why should you charge me with it?"

"There! you are going to find fault with me again! Why are you so
cross?"

Cross! He cross! Lionel suppressed at once the retort that was rising to
his lips; as he had done hundreds of times before.

"Heaven knows, nothing was further from my thoughts than to be 'cross,'"
he answered, his tone full of pain. "Were I to be cross to you, Sibylla,
in--in--what may be our last hour together, I should reflect upon myself
for my whole life afterwards."

"It is not our last hour together!" she vehemently answered. "Who says
it is?"

"I trust it is not. But I cannot conceal from myself the fact that it
maybe so. Remember," he added, turning to her with a sudden impulse, and
clasping both her hands within his in a firm, impressive
grasp--"remember that my whole life, since you became mine, has been
spent for you; in promoting your happiness; in striving to give you more
love than has been given to me. I have never met you with an unkind
word; I have never given you a clouded look. You will think of this
when we are separated. And, for myself, its remembrance will be to my
conscience as a healing balm."

Dropping her hands, he drew back to his corner of the chariot, his head
leaning against the fair, white watered silk, as if heavy with
weariness. In truth, it was so; heavy with the weariness caused by
carking care. He had spoken all too impulsively; the avowal was wrung
from him in the moment's bitter strife. A balm upon his conscience that
he had done his duty by her in love? Ay. For the love of his inmost
heart had been another's--not hers.

Sibylla did not understand the allusion. It was well. In her weak and
trifling manner, she was subsiding into tears when the carriage suddenly
stopped. Lionel, his thoughts never free, since a day or two, of
Frederick Massingbird, looked up with a start, almost expecting to see
him.

Lady Verner's groom had been galloping on horseback to Verner's Pride.
Seeing Mr. Verner's carriage, and himself inside it, he had made a sign
to Wigham, who drew up. The man rode up to the window, a note in his
hand.

"Miss Verner charged me to lose no time in delivering it to you, sir.
She said it was immediate. I shouldn't else have presumed to stop your
carriage."

He backed his horse a step or two, waiting for the answer, should there
be any. Lionel ran his eyes over the contents of the note.

"Tell Miss Verner I will call upon her shortly, Philip."

And the man, touching his hat, turned his horse round, and galloped back
towards Deerham Court.

"What does she want? What is it?" impatiently asked Sibylla.

"My mother wishes to see me," replied Lionel.

"And what else? I know _that's_ not all," reiterated Sibylla, her tone a
resentful one. "You have always secrets at Deerham Court against me."

"Never in my life," he answered. "You can read the note, Sibylla."

She caught it up, devouring its few lines rapidly. Lionel believed it
must be the doubt, the uncertainty, that was rendering her so irritable;
in his heart he felt inclined to make every allowance for her; more,
perhaps, than she deserved. There were but a few lines:--

    "Do come to us at once, my dear Lionel! A most strange report
    has reached us, and mamma is like one bereft of her senses.
    She wants you here to contradict it; she says she knows it
    cannot have any foundation.

    DECIMA."

Somehow the words seemed to subdue Sibylla's irritation. She returned
the note to Lionel, and spoke in a hushed, gentle tone. "Is it _this_
report that she alludes to, do you think, Lionel?"

"I fear so. I do not know what other it can be. I am vexed that it
should already have reached the ears of my mother."

"Of course!" resentfully spoke Sibylla. "You would have spared _her_!"

"I would have spared my mother, had it been in my power. I would have
spared my wife," he added, bending his grave, kind face towards her,
"that, and all other ill."

She dashed down the front blinds of the carriage, and laid her head upon
his bosom, sobbing repentantly.

"You would bear with me, Lionel, if you knew the pain I have
here"--touching her chest. "I am sick and ill with fright."

He did not answer that he _did_ bear with her--bear with her most
patiently--as he might have done. He only placed his arm round her that
she might feel its shelter; and, with his gentle fingers, pushed the
golden curls away from her cheeks, for her tears were wetting them.

She went into her sister's house alone. She preferred to do so. The
carriage took Lionel on to Deerham Court. He dismissed it when he
alighted; ordering Wigham back to Miss West's, to await the pleasure of
his mistress.



CHAPTER LXIV.

ENDURANCE.


Lionel had probably obeyed the summons sooner than was expected by Lady
Verner and Decima; sooner, perhaps, than they deemed he could have
obeyed it. Neither of them was in the breakfast-room: no one was there
but Lucy Tempest.

By the very way in which she looked at him--the flushed cheeks, the
eager eyes--he saw that the tidings had reached her. She timidly held
out her hand to him, her anxious gaze meeting his. Whatever may have
been the depth of feeling entertained for him, Lucy was too
single-minded not to express all she felt of sympathy.

"Is it true?" were her first whispered words, offering no other
salutation.

"Is what true, Lucy?" he asked. "How am I to know what you mean?"

They stood looking at each other. Lionel waiting for her to speak; she
hesitating. Until Lionel was perfectly certain that she alluded to that
particular report, he would not speak of it. Lucy moved a few steps from
him, and stood nervously playing with the ends of her waist-band, the
soft colour rising in her cheeks.

"I do not like to tell you," she said simply. "It would not be a
pleasant thing for you to hear, if it be not true."

"And still less pleasant for me, if it be true," he replied, the words
bringing him conviction that the rumour they had heard was correct. "I
fear it is true, Lucy."

"That--some one--has come back?"

"Some one who was supposed to be dead."

The avowal seemed to take from her all hope. Her hands fell listlessly
by her side, and the tears rose to her eyes. "I am so sorry!" she
breathed. "I am so sorry for you, and for--for----"

"My wife. Is that what you were going to say?"

"Yes, it is. I did not like much to say it. I am truly grieved. I wish I
could have helped it!"

"Ah! you are not a fairy with an all-powerful wand yet, Lucy, as we read
of in children's books. It is a terrible blow, for her and for me. Do
you know how the rumour reached my mother?"

"I think it was through the servants. Some of them heard it, and old
Catherine told her. Lady Verner has been like any one wild; but for
Decima, she would have started----"

Lucy's voice died away. Gliding in at the door, with a white face and
drawn-back lips, was Lady Verner. She caught hold of Lionel, her eyes
searching his countenance for the confirmation of her fears, or their
contradiction. Lionel took her hands in his.

"It is true, mother. Be brave, for my sake."

With a wailing cry she sat down on the sofa, drawing him beside her.
Decima entered and stood before them, her hands clasped in pain. Lady
Verner made him tell her all the particulars; all he knew, all he
feared.

"How does Sibylla meet it?" was her first question when she had listened
to the end.

"Not very well," he answered, after a momentary hesitation. "Who could
meet it well?" "Lionel, it is a judgment upon her. She--"

Lionel started up, his brow flushing.

"I beg your pardon, mother. You forget that you are speaking of my wife.
She _is_ my wife," he more calmly added, "until she shall have been
proved not to be."

No. Whatever may have been Sibylla's conduct to him personally, neither
before her face nor behind her back, would Lionel forget one jot of the
respect due to her. Or suffer another to forget it; although that other
should be his mother.

"What shall you do with her, Lionel?"

"Do with her?" he repeated, not understanding how to take the question.

"When the man makes himself known?"

"I am content to leave that to the time," replied Lionel, in a tone that
debarred further discussion.

"I knew no good would come of it," resumed Lady Verner, persistent in
expressing her opinion. "But for the wiles of that girl you might have
married happily, might have married Mary Elmsley."

"Mother, there is trouble enough upon us just now without introducing
old vexations," rejoined Lionel. "I have told you before that had I
never set eyes upon Sibylla after she married Frederick Massingbird,
Mary Elmsley would not have been my wife."

"If he comes back, he comes back to Verner's Pride?" pursued Lady Verner
in a low tone, breaking the pause which had ensued.

"Yes. Verner's Pride is his."

"And what shall you do? Turned, like a beggar, out on the face of the
earth?"

Like a beggar? Ay, far more like a beggar than Lady Verner, in her worst
apprehension, could picture.

"I must make my way on the earth as I best can," he replied in answer,
"I shall leave Europe--probably for India. I may find some means,
through my late father's friends, of getting my bread there."

Lady Verner appeared to appreciate the motive which no doubt dictated
the suggested course. She did not attempt to controvert it; she only
wrung her hands in passionate wailing.

"Oh, that you had not married her! that you had not subjected yourself
to this dreadful blight!"

Lionel rose. There were limits of endurance even for his aching heart.
Reproaches in a moment of trouble are as cold iron entering the soul.

"I will come in another time when you are more yourself, mother," was
all he said. "I could have borne sympathy from you this morning, better
than complaint."

He shook hands with her. He laid his hand in silence on Decima's
shoulder with a fond pressure as he passed her; her face was turned from
him, the tears silently streaming down it. He nodded to Lucy, who stood
at the other end of the room, and went out. But, ere he was half-way
across the ante-room, he heard hasty footsteps behind him. He turned to
behold Lucy Tempest, her hands extended, her face streaming down with
tears.

"Oh, Lionel, please not to go away thinking nobody sympathises with you!
I am so grieved; I am so sorry! If I can do anything for you, or for
Sibylla, to lighten the distress, I will do it."

He took the pretty, pleading hands in his, bending his face until it was
nearly on a level with hers. But that emotion nearly over-mastered him
in the moment's anguish, the very consciousness that he might be free
from married obligations, would have rendered his manner cold to Lucy
Tempest. Whether Frederick Massingbird was alive or not, _he_ must be a
man isolated from other wedded ties, so long as Sibylla remained on the
earth. The kind young face, held up to him in its grief, disarmed his
reserve. He spoke out to Lucy as freely as he had done in that long-ago
illness, when she was his full confidante. Nay, whether from her looks,
or from some lately untouched chord in his memory reawakened, that old
time was before him now, rather than the present, as his next words
proved.

"Lucy, with one thing and another, my heart is half broken. I wish I had
died in that illness. Better for me! Better--perhaps--for you."

"Not for me," said she, through her tears. "Do not think of me. I wish I
could help you in this great sorrow!"

"Help from you of any sort, Lucy, I forfeited in my blind wilfulness,"
he hoarsely whispered. "God bless you!" he added, wringing her hands to
pain. "God bless you for ever!"

She did not loose them. He was about to draw his hands away, but she
held them still, her tears and sobs nearly choking her.

"You spoke of India. Should it be that land that you choose for your
exile, go to papa. He may be able to do great things for you. And, if in
his power, he _would_ do them, for Sir Lionel Verner's sake. Papa longs
to know you. He always says so much about you in his letters to me."

"You have never told me so, Lucy."

"I thought it better not to talk to you too much," she simply said. "And
you have not been always at Deerham."

Lionel looked at her, holding her hands still. She knew how futile it
was to affect ignorance of truths in that moment of unreserve; she knew
that her mind and its feelings were as clear to Lionel as though she had
been made of glass, and she spoke freely in her open simplicity. She
knew, probably, that his deepest love and esteem were given to her.
Lionel knew it, if she did not; knew it to his very heart's core. He
could only reiterate his prayer, as he finally turned from her--"God
bless you, Lucy, for ever, and for ever!"



CHAPTER LXV.

CAPTAIN CANNONBY.


Deerham abounded in inns. How they all contrived to get a living, nobody
could imagine. That they did jog along somehow, was evident; but they
appeared to be generally as void of bustle as were their lazy
sign-boards, basking in the sun on a summer's day. The best in the
place, one with rather more pretension to superiority than the rest, was
the Golden Fleece. It was situated at the entrance to Deerham, not far
from the railway station; not far either from Deerham Court; in fact,
between Deerham Court and the village.

As Lionel approached it, he saw the landlord standing at its
entrance--John Cox. A rubicund man, with a bald head, who evidently did
justice to his own good cheer, if visitors did not. Shading his eyes
with one hand, he had the other extended in the direction of the
village, pointing out the way to a strange gentleman who stood beside
him.

"Go as straight as you can go, sir, through the village, and for a
goodish distance beyond it," he was saying, as Lionel drew within
hearing. "It will bring you to Verner's Pride. You can't mistake it;
it's the only mansion thereabouts."

The words caused Lionel to cast a rapid glance at the stranger. He saw a
man of some five-and-thirty or forty years, fair of complexion once, but
bronzed now by travel, or other causes. The landlord's eyes fell on
Lionel.

"Here is Mr. Verner!" he hastily exclaimed. "Sir"--saluting
Lionel--"this gentleman was going up to you at Verner's Pride."

The stranger turned, holding out his hand in a free and pleasant manner
to Lionel. "My name is Cannonby."

"I could have known it by the likeness to your brother," said Lionel,
shaking him by the hand. "I saw him yesterday. I was in town, and he
told me you were coming. But why were you not with us last night?"

"I turned aside on my journey to see an old military friend--whom, by
the way, I found to be out--and did not get to Deerham until past ten,"
explained Captain Cannonby. "I thought it too late to invade you, so put
up here until this morning."

Lionel linked his arm within Captain Cannonby's, and drew him onwards.
The moment of confirmation was come. His mind was in too sad a state to
allow of his beating about the bush; his suspense had been too sharp and
urgent for him to prolong it now. He plunged into the matter at once.

"You have come to bring me some unpleasant news, Captain Cannonby.
Unhappily, it will be news no longer. But you will give me the
confirming particulars."

Captain Cannonby looked as if he did not understand. "Unpleasant news?"
he repeated.

"I speak"--and Lionel lowered his voice--"of Frederick Massingbird. You
know, probably, what I would ask. How long have you been cognisant of
these unhappy facts?"

"I declare, Mr. Verner, I don't know what you mean," was Captain
Cannonby's answer, given in a hearty tone. "To what do you allude?"

Lionel paused. Was it possible that he--Captain Cannonby--was in
ignorance? "Tell me one thing," he said. "Your brother mentioned that
you had heard, as he believed, some news connected with me and--and my
wife, in Paris, which had caused you to hurry home, and come down to
Verner's Pride. What was that news?"

"The news I heard was, that Mrs. Massingbird had become Mrs. Verner. I
had intended to find her out when I got to Europe, if only to apologise
for my negligence in not giving her news of John Massingbird or his
property--which news I could never gather for myself--but I did not know
precisely where she might be. I heard in Paris that she had married you,
and was living at Verner's Pride."

Lionel drew a long breath. "And that was all?"

"That was all."

Then he was in ignorance of it! But, to keep him in ignorance was
impossible. Lionel must ask confirmation or non-confirmation of the
death. With low voice and rapid speech he mentioned the fears and the
facts. Captain Cannonby gathered them in, withdrew his arm from
Lionel's, and stood staring at him.

"Fred Massingbird alive, and come back to England!" he uttered, in
bewildered wonder.

"We cannot think otherwise," replied Lionel.

"Then, Mr. Verner, I tell you that it cannot be. It _cannot_ be, you
understand. I saw him die. I saw him laid in the grave."

They had not walked on. They stood there, looking at each other,
absorbed in themselves, oblivious to the attention that might be fixed
on them from any stray passers-by. At that moment there were no
passers-by to fix it; the bustle of Deerham only began with the houses,
and those they had not yet reached.

"I would give all my future life to believe you," earnestly spoke
Lionel; "to believe that there can be no mistake--for my wife's sake."

"There is no mistake," reiterated Captain Cannonby. "I saw him dead; I
saw him buried. A parson, in the company halting there, read the burial
service over him."

"You may have buried him, fancying he was dead," suggested Lionel,
giving utterance to some of the wild thoughts of his imaginings.
"And--forgive me for bringing forward such pictures--the mistake may
have been discovered in time--and--"

"It could not be," interrupted Captain Cannonby. "I am quite certain he
was dead. Let us allow, if you will, for argument's sake, that he was
not dead when he was put into the ground. Five minutes' lying there,
with the weight of earth upon him, would have effectually destroyed
life; had any been left in him to destroy. There was no coffin, you must
remember."

"No?"

"Parties to the gold-fields don't carry a supply of coffins with them.
If death occurs _en route_, it has to be provided for in the simplest
and most practical form. At least, I can answer that such was the case
with regard to Fred Massingbird. He was buried in the clothes he wore
when he died."

Lionel was lost in abstraction.

"He died at early dawn, just as the sun burst out to illumine the
heavens, and at midday he was buried," continued Captain Cannonby. "I
saw him buried. I saw the earth shovelled in upon him; nay, I helped to
shovel it. I left him there; we all left him, covered over; at rest for
good in this world. Mr. Verner, dismiss this great fear; rely upon it
that he was, and is, dead."

"I wish I could rely upon it!" spoke Lionel. "The fear, I may say the
certainty, has been so unequivocally impressed upon my belief, that a
doubt must remain until it is explained who walks about, bearing his
outward appearance. He was a very remarkable-looking man, you know. The
black mark on his cheek alone would render him so."

"And that black mark is visible upon the cheek of the person who is seen
at night?"

"Conspicuously so. This ghost--as it is taken for--has nearly frightened
one or two lives away. It is very strange."

"Can it be anybody got up to personate Fred Massingbird?"

"Unless it be himself, that is the most feasible interpretation,"
observed Lionel. "But it does not alter the mystery. It is not only in
the face and the black mark that the likeness is discernible, but in
the figure also. In fact, in all points this man bears the greatest
resemblance to Frederick Massingbird--at least, if the eyes of those who
have seen him may be trusted. My own butler saw him last night; the man
passed close before him, turning his face to him in the moment of
passing. He says there can be no doubt that it is Frederick
Massingbird."

Captain Cannonby felt a little staggered. "If it should turn out to be
Frederick Massingbird, all I can say is that I shall never believe
anybody's dead again. It will be like an incident in a drama. I should
next expect my old father to come to life, who has lain these twelve
years past at Kensal Green Cemetery. Does Mrs. Verner know of this?"

"She does, unfortunately. She was told of it during my absence
yesterday. I could have wished it kept from her, until we were at some
certainty."

"Oh, come, Mr. Verner, take heart!" impulsively cried Captain Cannonby,
all the improbabilities of the case striking forcibly upon him. "The
thing is not possible; it is not indeed."

"At any rate, your testimony will be so much comfort for my wife,"
returned Lionel gladly. "It has comforted me. If my fears are not
entirely dispelled, there's something done towards it."

Arrived at the Belvedere Road, Lionel looked about for his carriage. He
could not see it. At that moment Jan turned out of the surgery. Lionel
asked him if he had seen Sibylla.

"She is gone home," replied Jan. "She and Miss Deb split upon some rock,
and Sibylla got into her carriage, and went off in anger."

He was walking away with his usual rapid strides, on his way to some
patient, when Lionel caught hold of him. "Jan, this is Captain Cannonby.
The friend who was with Frederick Massingbird when he died. He assures
me that he is dead. Dead and buried. My brother, Captain Cannonby."

"There cannot be a doubt of it," said Captain Cannonby, alluding to the
death. "I saw him die; I helped to bury him."

"Then who _is_ it that walks about, dressed up as his ghost?" debated
Jan.

"I cannot tell," said Lionel, a severe expression arising to his lips.
"I begin to think with Captain Cannonby; that there can be no doubt that
Frederick Massingbird is dead; therefore, he, it is not. But that it
would be undesirable, for my wife's sake, to make this doubt public, I
would have every house in the place searched. Whoever it may be, he is
concealed in one of them."

"Little doubt of that," nodded Jan. "I'll pounce upon him, if I get the
chance."

Lionel and Captain Cannonby continued their way to Verner's Pride. The
revived hope in Lionel's mind strengthened with every step they took. It
did seem impossible, looking at it from a practical, matter-of-fact
point of view, that a man buried deep in the earth, and supposed to be
dead before he was placed there, could come to life again.

"What a relief for Sibylla!" he involuntarily cried, drawing a long,
relieved breath on his own score. "This must be just one of those cases,
Captain Cannonby, when good Catholics, in the old days, made a vow to
the Virgin of so many valuable offerings, should the dread be removed
and turn out to have been no legitimate dread at all."

"Ay. I should like to be in at the upshot."

"I hope you will be. You must not run away from us immediately. Where's
your luggage?"

Captain Cannonby laughed. "Talk to a returned gold-digger of his
'luggage'! Mine consists of a hand portmanteau, and that is at the
Golden Fleece. I can order it up here if you'd like me to stay with you
a few days. I should enjoy some shooting beyond everything."

"That is settled, then," said Lionel. "I will see that you have your
portmanteau. Did you get rich at the diggings?"

The captain shook his head. "I might have made something, had I stuck at
it. But I grew sick of it altogether. My brother, the doctor, makes a
sight of money, and I can get what I want from him," was the candid
confession.

Lionel smiled. "These rich brothers in reserve are a terrible drag upon
self-exertion. Here we are!" he added, as they turned in at the gates.
"This is Verner's Pride."

"What a fine place!" exclaimed Captain Cannonby, bringing his steps to a
halt as he gazed at it.

"Yes, it is. Not a pleasant prospect, was it, to contemplate the being
turned out of it by a dead man."

"A dead--You do not mean to say that Frederick Massingbird--if in
life--would be the owner of Verner's Pride?"

"Yes, he would be. I was its rightful heir, and why my uncle willed it
away from me, to one who was no blood relation, has remained a mystery
to this day. Frederick Massingbird succeeded, to my exclusion. I only
came into it at his death."

Captain Cannonby appeared completely thunderstruck at the revelation.
"Why, then," he cried, after a pause, "this may supply the very
motive-power that is wanting, for one to personate Fred Massingbird."

"Scarcely," replied Lionel. "No ghost, or seeming ghost, walking about
in secret at night, could get Verner's Pride resigned to him. He must
come forward in the broad face of day, and establish his identity by
indisputable proof."

"True, true. Well, it is a curious tale! I should like, as I say, to
witness the winding-up."

Lionel looked about for his wife. He could not find her. But few of
their guests were in the rooms; they had dispersed somewhere or other.
He went up to Sibylla's dressing-room, but she was not there.
Mademoiselle Benoite was coming along the corridor as he left it again.

"Do you know where your mistress is?" he asked.

"_Mais certainement_," responded mademoiselle. "Monsieur will find madam
at the archerie."

He bent his steps to the targets. On the lawn, flitting amidst the other
fair archers, in her dress of green and gold, was Sibylla. All traces of
care had vanished from her face, her voice was of the merriest, her step
of the fleetest, her laugh of the lightest. Truly, Lionel marvelled.
There flashed into his mind the grieving face of another, whom he had
not long ago parted from; grieving for their woes. Better for his mind's
peace that these contrasts had not been forced so continually upon him.

Could she, in some unaccountable manner, have heard the consoling news
that Cannonby brought? In the first moment, he thought it must be so: in
the next, he knew it to be impossible. Smothering down a sigh, he went
forward, and drew her apart from the rest; choosing that covered walk
where he had spoken to her a day or two previously, regarding Mrs.
Duff's bill. Taking her hands in his, he stood before her, looking with
a reassuring smile into her face.

"What will you give me for some good news, Sibylla?"

"What about?" she rejoined.

"Need you ask? There is only one point upon which news could greatly
interest either of us, just now. I have seen Cannonby. He is here,
and--"

"Here! At Verner's Pride?" she interrupted. "Oh, I shall like to see
Cannonby; to talk over old Australian times with him."

Who was to account for her capricious moods? Lionel remembered the
evening, during the very moon not yet dark to the earth, when Sibylla
had made a scene in the drawing-room, saying she could not bear to hear
the name of Cannonby, or to be reminded of the past days in Melbourne.
She was turning to fly to the house, but Lionel caught her.

"Wait, wait, Sibylla! Will you not hear the good tidings I have for you?
Cannonby says there cannot be a doubt that Frederick Massingbird is
dead. He left him dead and buried, as he told you in Melbourne. We have
been terrified and pained--I trust--for nothing."

"Lionel, look here," said she, receiving the assurance in the same
equable manner that she might have heard him assert it was a fine day,
or a wet one, "I have been making up my mind not to let this bother
worry me. That wretched old maid Deborah went on to me with such rubbish
this morning about leaving you, about leaving Verner's Pride, that she
vexed me to anger. I came home and cried; and Benoite found me lying
upon the sofa; and when I told her what it was, she said the best plan
was, not to mind, to meet it with a laugh, instead of tears--"

"Sibylla!" he interposed in a tone of pain. "You surely did not make a
confidante of Benoite!"

"Of course I did," she answered, looking as if surprised at his
question, his tone. "Why not? Benoite cheered me up, I can tell you,
better than you do. 'What matter to cry?' she asked. 'If he does come
back, you will still be the mistress of Verner's Pride.' And so I
shall."

Lionel let go her hands. She sped off to the house, eager to find
Captain Cannonby. He--her husband--leaned against the trunk of a tree,
bitter mortification in his face, bitter humiliation in his heart. Was
this the wife to whom he had bound himself for ever? Well could he echo
in that moment Lady Verner's reiterated assertion, that she was not
worthy of him. With a stifled sigh that was more like a groan, he turned
to follow her.

"Be still, be still!" he murmured, beating his hand upon his bosom, that
he might still its pain. "Let me bear on, doing my duty by her always in
love!"

That pretty Mrs. Jocelyn ran up to Lionel, and intercepted his path.
Mrs. Jocelyn would have liked to intercept it more frequently than she
did, if she had but received a little encouragement. She tried hard for
it, but it never came. One habit, at any rate, Lionel Verner had not
acquired, amid the many strange examples of an artificial age--that of
not paying considerate respect, both in semblance and reality, to other
men's wives.

"Oh, Mr. Verner, what a truant you are! You never come to pick up our
arrows."

"Don't I?" said Lionel, with his courteous smile. "I will come presently
if I can. I am in search of Mrs. Verner. She is gone in to welcome a
friend who has arrived."

And Mrs. Jocelyn had to go back to the targets alone.



CHAPTER LXVI.

"DON'T THROTTLE ME, JAN!"


There was a good deal of sickness at present in Deerham: there generally
was in the autumn season. Many a time did Jan wish he could be master of
Verner's Pride just for twelve months, or of any other "Pride" whose
revenues were sufficient to remedy the evils existing in the poor
dwellings: the ill accommodation, inside; the ill draining, out. Jan,
had that desirable consummation arrived, would not have wasted time in
thinking over it; he would have commenced the work in the same hour with
his own hands. However, Jan, like most of us, had not to do with things
as they might be, but with things as they were. The sickness was great,
and Jan, in spite of his horse's help, was, as he often said, nearly
worked off his legs.

He had been hastening to a patient when encountered by Lionel and
Captain Cannonby. From that patient he had to hasten to others, in a
succession of relays, as it were, all day long; sometimes his own legs
in requisition, sometimes the horse's. About seven o'clock he got home
to tea, at which Miss Deborah made him comfortable. Truth to say, Miss
Deborah felt rather inclined to pet Jan as a son. He had gone there a
boy, and Miss Deb, though the years since had stolen on and on, and had
changed Jan into a man, had not allowed her ideas to keep pace with
them. So do we cheat ourselves! There were times when a qualm of
conscience came over Miss Deb. Remembering how hard Jan worked, and that
her father took more than the lion's share of the profits, it appeared
to her scarcely fair. Not that she could alter it, poor thing! All she
could do was to be as economical as possible, and to study Jan's
comforts. Now and again she had been compelled to go to Jan for money,
over and above the stipulated sum paid to her. Jan gave it as freely and
readily as he would have filled Miss Amilly's glass pot with castor oil.
But Deborah West knew that it came out of Jan's own pocket; and, to ask
for it, went terribly against her feelings and her sense of justice.

The tea was over. But she took care of Jan's--some nice tea, and toasted
tea-cakes, and a plate of ham. Jan sat down by the fire, and, as Miss
Deb said, took it in comfort. Truth to say, had Jan found only the
remains of the teapot, and stale bread-and-butter, he might have thought
it comfortable enough for him; he would not have grumbled had he found
nothing.

"Any fresh messages in, do you know, Miss Deb?" he inquired.

"Now, do pray get your tea in peace, Mr. Jan, and don't worry yourself
over 'fresh messages,'" responded Miss Deb. "Master Cheese was called
out to the surgery at tea-time, but I suppose it was nothing particular,
for he was back again directly."

"Of course!" cried Jan. "_He'd_ not lose his tea without a fight for
it."

Jan finished his tea and departed to the surgery, catching sight of the
coat-tails of Mr. Bitterworth's servant leaving it. Master Cheese was
seated with the leech basin before him. It was filled with Orleans
plums, of which he was eating with uncommon satisfaction. Liking
variations of flavour in fruit, he occasionally diversified the plums
with a sour codlin apple, a dozen or so of which he had stowed away in
his trousers' pockets. Bob stood at a respectful distance, his eyes
wandering to the tempting collation, and his mouth watering. Amongst the
apples Master Cheese had come upon one three parts eaten away by the
grubs, and this he benevolently threw to Bob. Bob had disposed of it,
and was now vainly longing for more.

"What did Bitterworth's man want?" inquired Jan of Master Cheese.

"The missis is took bad again, he says," responded that gentleman, as
distinctly as he could speak for the apples and the plums: "croup, or
something. Not as violent as it was before. Can wait."

"You had better go up at once," was Jan's reply.

Master Cheese was taken aback. "_I_ go up!" he repeated, pulling a face
as long as his arm. "All that way! I had to go to Baker's and to Flint's
between dinner and tea."

"And to how many Bakers and Flints do I have to go between dinner and
tea?" retorted Jan. "You know what to give Mrs. Bitterworth. So start."

Master Cheese felt aggrieved beyond everything. For one thing, it might
be dangerous to leave those cherished plums in the leech basin, Bob
being within arm's length of them; for another, Master Cheese liked his
ease better than walking. He cast some imploring glances at Jan, but
they produced no effect, so he had to get his hat. Vacillating between
the toll that might be taken of the plums if he left them, and the
damage to his hair if he took them, he finally decided on the latter
course. Emptying the plums into his hat, he put it on his head. Jan was
looking over what they termed the call-book.

"Miss Deb says you were called out at tea-time," observed Jan, as Master
Cheese was departing. "Who was it?"

"Nobody but old Hook. The girl was worse."

"What! Alice? Why have you not got it down here?" pointing to the book.

"Oh, they are nobody," grumbled Master Cheese. "I wonder the paupers are
not ashamed to come here to our faces, asking for attendance and physic!
I They know they'll never pay."

"That's my business," said Jan, "Did he say she was very ill?"

"'Took dangerous,' _he_ said," returned Master Cheese. "Thought she'd
not live the night out."

Indefatigable Jan put on his hat, and went out with Master Cheese.
Master Cheese turned leisurely towards Mr. Bitterworth's; Jan cut across
the road at a strapping pace, and took the nearest way to Hook's
cottage. It led him past the retired spot where he and the Reverend Mr.
Bourne had found Alice lying that former night.

Barely had Jan gained it when some tall, dark form came pushing through
the trees at right angles, and was striding off to the distance. One
single moment's indecision--for Jan was not sure at first in the
uncertain light--and then he put his long legs to their utmost speed,
bore down, and pinned the intruder.

"Now, then!" said Jan, "ghost or no ghost, who are you?"

He was answered by a laugh, and some joking words--

"Don't throttle me quite, Jan. Even a ghost can't stand that."

The tone of the laugh, the tone of the voice, fell upon Jan Verner's
ears with the most intense astonishment. He peered into the speaker's
face with his keen eyes, and gave vent to an exclamation. In spite of
the whiskerless cheeks, the elaborate black mark, in spite of the
strange likeness to his brother, Jan recognised the features, not of
Frederick, but of John Massingbird.



CHAPTER LXVII.

DRESSING UP FOR A GHOST.


And so the mystery was out. And the ghost proved to be no ghost at
all--to be no husband of Sibylla--come to disturb the peace of her and
of Lionel; but _John_ Massingbird in real flesh and blood.

There was so much explanation to ask and to be given, that Jan was
somewhat hindered on his way to Hook's.

"I can't stop," said he, in the midst of a long sentence of John's.
"Alice Hook may be dying. Will you remain here until I come back?"

"If you are not long," responded John Massingbird. "I intend this to be
the last night of my concealment, and I want to go about, terrifying the
natives. The fun it has been!"

"Fun, you call it?" remarked Jan. "If Hook's girl does die, it will lie
at your door."

"_She_ won't die," lightly answered John. "I'll send her a ten-pound
note to make amends. Make you haste, Jan, if I am to wait."

Jan sped off to Hook's. He found the girl very ill, but not so much so
as Cheese had intimated. Some unseemly quarrel had taken place in the
cottage, which had agitated her.

"There's no danger," mentally soliloquised Jan, "but it has thrown her
back a good two days."

He found John Massingbird--restless John!--restless as ever!--pacing
before the trees with hasty strides, and bursting into explosions of
laughter.

"Some woman was coming along from one of the cottages by Broom's and I
appeared to her, and sent her on, howling," he explained to Jan. "I
think it was Mother Sykes. The sport this ghost affair has been!"

He sat down on a bench, held his sides, and let his laughter have vent.
Laughter is contagious, and Jan laughed with him, but in a quieter way.

"Whatever put it into your head to personate Frederick?" inquired Jan.
"Was it done to frighten the people?"

"Not at first," answered John Massingbird.

"Because, if to frighten had been your motive, you need only have
appeared in your own person," continued Jan. "You were thought to be
dead, you know, as much as Fred was. Fred _is_ dead, I suppose?"

"Fred is dead, poor fellow, safe enough. I was supposed to be dead, but
I came to life again."

"Did you catch Fred's star when he died?" asked Jan, pointing to the
cheek.

"No," replied John Massingbird, with another burst of laughter, "I get
that up with Indian-ink."

Bit by bit, Jan came into possession of the details. At least, of as
much of them as John Massingbird deemed it expedient to furnish. It
appeared that his being attacked and robbed and left for dead, when
travelling down to Melbourne, was perfectly correct. Luke Roy quitted
him, believing he was dead. Luke would not have quitted him so hastily,
but that he wished to be on the track of the thieves, and he hastened to
Melbourne. After Luke's departure, John Massingbird came, as he phrased
it, to life again. He revived from the suspended animation, or swoon,
which, prolonged over some hours, had been mistaken for death. The
bullet was extracted from his side, and he progressed pretty rapidly
towards recovery.

Luke meanwhile had reached Melbourne; and had come in contact with a
family of the name of Eyre. Luke--if you have not forgotten--had said to
Mr. Eyre that he had obtained a clue to the men who robbed his master;
such, at least, was the information given by that gentleman to Sibylla
Massingbird, on her subsequent sojourn at his house. He, Mr. Eyre, had
said that Luke had promised to return the following day and inform him
how he sped in the search, but that Luke never did return; that he had
never seen him afterwards. All true. Luke found the clue, which he
thought he had gained, to be no clue at all; but he heard news that
pleased him better than fifty clues would have done--that his master,
Mr. Massingbird, was alive. One who had travelled down to Melbourne from
where John was lying, gave him the information. Without waiting to break
bread or draw water, without giving another thought to Mr. Eyre, Luke
started off there and then, to retrace his steps to John Massingbird.
John was nearly well then, and they returned at once to the diggings. In
his careless way, he said the loss must be given up for a bad job; they
should never find the fellows, and the best plan was to pick up more
gold to replace that gone. Luke informed him he had written home to
announce his death. John went into a fit of laughter, forbade Luke to
contradict it, and anticipated the fun he should have in surprising
them, when he went home on the accumulation of his fortune. Thus he
stopped at the diggings, remaining in complete ignorance of the changes
which had taken place; the voyage of Frederick and his wife to
Melbourne, the death of Mr. Verner, the subsequent death of Frederick;
and above all--for that would have told most on John--of the strange
will left by Mr. Verner, which had constituted him the inheritor of
Verner's Pride.

But fortune did not come in the rapid manner fondly expected by John.
The nuggets seemed shy. He obtained enough to rub along with, and that
was all. The life did not ill suit him. To such a man as Lionel Verner,
of innate refinement, just and conscientious, the life would have been
intolerable, almost worse than death. John was not overburdened with any
one of those qualities, and he rather liked the life than not. One thing
was against him: he had no patience. Roving about from place to place,
he was satisfied nowhere long. It was not only that he perpetually
changed the spot, or bed, of work, but he changed from one settlement
to another. This was the reason probably that Captain Cannonby had never
met with him; it was more than probable that it was the cause of his
non-success. Luke Roy was not so fond of roving. He found a place likely
to answer his expectations, and he remained at it; so that the two
parted early, and did not again meet afterwards.

Suddenly John Massingbird heard that he had been left heir to Verner's
Pride. He had gone down to Melbourne; and some new arrival from
England--from the county in which Verner's Pride was situated--mentioned
this in his hearing. The stranger was telling the tale of the
unaccountable will of Mr. Verner, of the death of John and Frederick
Massingbird, and of the _consequent_ accession of Lionel Verner; telling
it as a curious bit of home gossip, unconscious that one of his
listeners was the first-named heir--the veritable John Massingbird.

Too much given to act upon impulse, allowing himself no time to
ascertain or to inquire whether the story might be correct or not, John
Massingbird took a berth in the first ship advertised for home. He
possessed very little more money than would pay for his passage; he gave
himself no concern how he was to get back to Australia, or how exist in
England, should the news prove incorrect, but started away off-hand.
Providing for the future had never been made a trouble by John
Massingbird.

He sailed, and he arrived safely. But, once in England, it was necessary
to proceed rather cautiously; and John, careless and reckless though he
was, could not ignore the expediency of so acting. There were certain
reasons why it would not be altogether prudent to show himself in the
neighbourhood of Verner's Pride, unless his pocket were weighty enough
to satisfy sundry claims which would inevitably flock in upon him. Were
he sure that he was the legitimate master of Verner's Pride, he would
have driven up in a coach-and-six, with flying flags and streamers to
the horses' heads, and so have announced his arrival in triumph. _Not_
being sure, he preferred to feel his way, and this could not be done by
arriving openly.

There was one place where he knew he could count upon being sheltered,
while the way was "felt;" and this was Giles Roy's. Roy would be true to
him; would conceal him if need were; and help him off again, did
Verner's Pride, for him, prove a myth. This thought John Massingbird
put in practice, arriving one dark night at Roy's, and startling Mrs.
Roy nearly to death. Whatever fanciful ghosts the woman may have seen
before, she never doubted that she saw a real ghost now.

His first question, naturally, was about the will. Roy told him it was
perfectly true that a will had been made in his favour; but the will had
been superseded by a codicil. And he related the circumstance of that
codicil's mysterious loss. Was it found? John eagerly asked. Ah! there
Roy could not answer him; he was at a nonplus; he was unable to say
whether the codicil had been found or not. A rumour had gone about
Deerham, some time subsequently to the loss, that it _had_ been found,
but Roy had never come to the rights of it. John Massingbird stared as
he heard him say this. Then, couldn't he tell whether he was the heir or
not? whether Lionel Verner held it by established right or by wrong? he
asked. And Roy shook his head--he could not.

Under these uncertainties, Mr. John Massingbird did not see his way
particularly clear. Either to stop, or to go. If he stopped, and showed
himself, he might be unpleasantly assured that the true heir of Verner's
Pride inhabited Verner's Pride; if he went back to Australia, the no
less mortifying fact might come out afterwards, that he was the heir to
Verner's Pride, and had run away from his own.

What was to be done? Roy suggested perhaps the best plan that could be
thought of--that Mr. Massingbird should remain in his cottage in
concealment, while he, Roy, endeavoured to ascertain the truth regarding
the codicil. And John Massingbird was fain to adopt it. He took up his
abode in the upper bedroom, which had been Luke's, and Mrs. Roy, locking
her front door, carried his meals up to him by day, Roy setting himself
to ferret out--as you may recollect--all he could learn about the
codicil. The "all" was not much. Ordinary gossipers knew no more than
Roy, whether the codicil had been found or not; and Roy tried to pump
Matiss, by whom he was baffled--he even tried to pump Mr. Verner. He
went up to Verner's Pride, ostensibly to ask whether he might paper
Luke's old room at his own cost. In point of fact, the paper was in a
dilapidated state, and he did wish to put it decent for John
Massingbird; but he could have done it without speaking to Mr. Verner.
It was a great point with Roy to find favour in the sight of Mr.
Massingbird, his possible future master. Lionel partially saw through
the man; he believed that he had some covert motive in seeking the
interview with him, and that Roy was trying to pry into his affairs. But
Roy found himself baffled also by Mr. Verner, as he had been by Matiss,
in so far as that he could learn nothing certain of the existence or
non-existence of the codicil.

Two days of the condemned confinement were sufficient to tire out John
Massingbird. To a man of active, restless temperament, who had lived
almost day and night under the open skies, the being shut up in a small,
close room was well-nigh unbearable. He could not stamp on its floor
(there was no space to _walk_ on it), lest any intrusive neighbour
below, who might have popped in, unwanted, should say, "Who have ye got
up aloft?" He could not open the window and put his head out, to catch a
breath of fresh air, lest prying eyes might be cast upon him.

"I can't stand this," he said to Roy. "A week of it would kill me. I
shall go out at night."

Roy opposed the resolve so far as he dared--having an eye always to the
not displeasing his future master. He represented to John Massingbird
that he would inevitably be seen; and that he might just as well be seen
by day as by night. John would not listen to reason. That very night, as
soon as dark came on, he went out, and _was_ seen. Seen by Robin Frost.

Robin Frost, whatever superstitions or fond feelings he may have
cherished regarding the hoped-for reappearance of Rachel's spirit, was
no believer in ghosts in a general point of view. In fact, that it was
John Massingbird's ghost never once entered Robin's mind. He came at
once to the more sensible conclusion that some error had occurred with
regard to his reported death, and that it was John Massingbird himself.

His deadly enemy. The only one, of all the human beings upon earth, with
whom Robin was at issue. For he believed that it was John Massingbird
who had worked the ill to Rachel. Robin, in his blind vengeance, took to
lying in wait with a gun: and Roy became cognisant of this.

"You must not go out again, sir," he said to John Massingbird; "he may
shoot you dead."

Curious, perhaps, to say, John Massingbird had himself come to the same
conclusion--that he must not go out again. He had very narrowly escaped
meeting one who would as surely have known him, in the full moonlight,
as did Robin Frost; one whom it would have been nearly as inconvenient
to meet, as it was Robin. And yet, stop in perpetual confinement by day
and by night, he could not; he persisted that he should be dead--almost
better go back, unsatisfied, to Australia.

A bright idea occurred to John Massingbird. He would personate his
brother. Frederick, so far as he knew, had neither creditors nor enemies
round Deerham; and the likeness between them was so great, both in face
and form, that there would be little difficulty in it. When they were at
home together, John had been the stouter of the two: but his wanderings
had fined him down, and his figure now looked exactly as Frederick's did
formerly. He shaved off his whiskers--Frederick had never worn any; or,
for the matter of that, had had any to wear--and painted an imitation
star on his cheek with Indian-ink. His hair, too, had grown long on the
voyage, and had not yet been cut; just as Frederick used to wear his.
John had favoured a short crop of hair; Frederick a long one.

These little toilette mysteries accomplished, so exactly did he look
like his brother Frederick, that Roy started when he saw him; and Mrs.
Roy went into a prolonged scream that might have been heard at the
brick-fields. John attired himself in a long, loose dark coat which had
seen service at the diggings, and sallied out; the coat which had been
mistaken for a riding habit.

He enjoyed himself to his heart's content, receiving more fun than he
had bargained for. It had not occurred to him to personate Frederick's
_ghost_; he had only thought of personating Frederick himself; but to
his unbounded satisfaction, he found the former climax arrived at. He
met old Matthew Frost; he frightened Dan Duff into fits; he frightened
Master Cheese; he startled the parson; he solaced himself by taking up
his station under the yew-tree on the lawn at Verner's Pride, to
contemplate that desirable structure, which perhaps was his, and the
gaiety going on in it. He had distinctly seen Lionel Verner leave the
lighted rooms and approach him; upon which he retreated. Afterwards, it
was rather a favourite night-pastime of his, the standing under the
yew-tree at Verner's Pride. He was there again the night of the storm.

All this, the terrifying people into the belief that he was Frederick's
veritable ghost, had been the choicest sport to John Massingbird. The
trick might not have availed with Robin Frost, but they had found a
different method of silencing him. Of an easy, good-tempered nature, the
thought of any real damage from consequences had been completely passed
over by John. If Dan Duff did go into fits, he'd recover from them; if
Alice Hook was startled into something worse, she was not dead. It was
all sport to free-and-easy John; and, but for circumstances, there's no
knowing how long he might have carried this game on. These circumstances
touched upon a point that influences us all, more or less--pecuniary
consideration. John was minus funds, and it was necessary that something
should be done; he could not continue to live upon Roy.

It was Roy himself who at length hit upon the plan that brought forth
the certainty about the codicil. Roy found rumours were gaining ground
abroad that it was not Frederick Massingbird's ghost, but Frederick
himself; and he knew that the explanation must soon come. He determined
to waylay Tynn and make an apparent confidant of him; by these means he
should, in all probability, arrive at the desired information. Roy did
so; and found that there was no codicil. He carried his news to John
Massingbird, advising that gentleman to go at once and put in his claim
to Verner's Pride. John, elated with the news, protested he'd have one
more night's fun first.

Such were the facts. John Massingbird told them to Jan, suppressing any
little bit that he chose, here and there. The doubt about the codicil,
for instance, and its moving motive in the affair, he did not mention.

"It has been the best fun I ever had in my life," he remarked. "I never
shall forget the parson's amazed stare, the first time I passed him. Or
old Tynn's, either, last night. Jan, you should have heard Dan Duff
howl!"

"I have," said Jan. "I have had the pleasure of attending him. My only
wonder is that he did not put himself into the pool, in his fright: as
Rachel Frost did, time back."

John Massingbird caught the words up hastily, "How, do you know that
Rachel put herself in? She may have been put in."

"For all I know, she may. Taking circumstances into consideration,
however, I should say it was the other way."

"I say, Jan," interrupted John Massingbird, with another explosion,
"didn't your Achates, Cheese, arrive at home in a mortal fright one
night?"

Jan nodded.

"I shall never forget him, never. He was marching up, all bravely, till
he saw my face. Didn't he turn tail! There has been one person above all
others, Jan, that I have wanted to meet, and have not--your brother
Lionel."

"He'd have pinned you," said Jan.

"Not he. You would not have done it to-night, but that I _let_ you do
it. No chance of anybody catching me, unless I chose. _I_ was on the
look-out for all I met, for all to whom I chose to show myself: _they_
met me unawares. Unprepared for the encounter, while they were
recovering their astonishment, I was beyond reach. Last night I had been
watching over the gate ever so long, when I darted out in front of Tynn,
to astonish him. Jan"--lowering his voice--"has it put Sibylla in a
fright?"

"I think it has put Lionel in a worse," responded Jan.

"For fear of losing her?" laughed John Massingbird. "Wouldn't it have
been a charming prospect for some husbands, who are tired of their
wives! Is Lionel tired of his?"

"Can't say," replied Jan. "There's no appearance of it."

"I should be, if Sibylla had been my wife for two years," candidly
avowed John Massingbird. "Sibylla and I never hit it off well as
cousins. I'd not own her as wife, if she were dowered with all the gold
mines in Australia. What Fred saw in her was always a puzzle to me. _I_
knew what was going on between them, though nobody else did. But, Jan,
I'll tell you what astonished me more than everything else when I
learned it--that Lionel should have married her subsequently. I never
could have imagined Lionel Verner taking up with another man's wife."

"She was his widow," cried literal Jan.

"All the same. 'Twas another man's leavings. And there's something about
Lionel Verner, with his sensitive refinement, that does not seem to
accord with the notion. Is she healthy?"

"Who? Sibylla? I don't fancy she has much of a constitution."

"No, that she has not! There are no children, I hear. Jan, though, you
need not have pinched so hard when you pounced upon me," he continued,
rubbing his arm. "I was not going to run away."

"How did I know that?" said Jan.

"It's my last night of fun, and when I saw YOU I said to myself, 'I'll
be caught.' How are old Deb and Amilly?"

"Much as usual. Deb's in a fever just now. She has heard that Fred
Massingbird's back, and thinks Sibylla ought to leave Lionel on the
strength of it."

John laughed again. "It must have put others in a fever, I know, besides
poor old Deb. Jan, I can't stop talking to you all night, I should get
no more fun. I wish I could appear to all Deerham collectively, and send
it into fits after Dan Duff! To-morrow, as soon as I genteelly can after
breakfast, I go up to Verner's Pride and show myself. One can't go at
six in the morning."

He went off in the direction of Clay Lane as he spoke, and Jan turned to
make the best of his way to Verner's Pride.



CHAPTER LXVIII.

A THREAT TO JAN.


They had dined unusually late at Verner's Pride that evening, and Lionel
Verner was with his guests, making merry with the best heart he had.
Now, he would rely upon the information given by Captain Cannonby; the
next moment he was feeling that the combined testimony of so many
eye-witnesses must be believed, and that it could be no other than
Frederick Massingbird. Tynn had been with the man face to face only the
previous night; Roy had distinctly asserted that he was back, in life,
from Australia. Whatever _his_ anxiety may have been, his wife seemed at
rest. Full of smiles and gaiety, she sat opposite to him, glittering
gems in her golden hair, shining forth from her costly robes.

"Not out from dinner!" cried Jan, in his astonishment, when he arrived,
and Tynn denied him to Lionel. "Why, it's my supper-time! I must see
him, whether he's at dinner or not. Go and say so, Tynn. Something
important, tell him."

The message brought Lionel out. Thankful, probably, to get out. The
playing the host with a mind ill at ease, how it jars upon the troubled
and fainting spirit! Jan, disdaining the invitation to the drawing-room,
had hoisted himself on the top of an old carved ebony cabinet that stood
in the hall, containing curiosities, and sat there with his legs
dangling. He jumped off when Lionel appeared, wound his arm within his,
and drew him out on the terrace.

"I have come to the bottom of it, Lionel," said he, without further
circumlocution. "I dropped upon the ghost just now and pinned him. It is
not Fred Massingbird."

Lionel paused, and then drew a deep breath; like one who has been
relieved from some great care.

"Cannonby said it was not!" he exclaimed. "Cannonby is here, Jan, and he
assures me Frederick Massingbird is dead and buried. Who is it, then?
Have you found it out?"

"I pinned him, I say," said Jan. "I was going down to Hook's, and he
crossed my path. He--"

"It is somebody who has been doing it for a trick?" interrupted Lionel.

"Well--yes--in one sense. It is not Fred Massingbird, Lionel; he is
dead, safe enough; but it is somebody from a distance; one who will
cause you little less trouble. Not any less, in fact, putting Sibylla
out of the question."

Lionel stopped in his walk--they were pacing the terrace--and looked at
Jan with some surprise; a smile, in his new security, lightening his
face.

"There is nobody in the world, Jan, dead or alive, who could bring
trouble to me, save Frederick Massingbird. Anybody else may come, so
long as he does not."

"Ah! You are thinking only of Sibylla."

"Of whom else should I think?"

"Yourself," replied Jan.

Lionel laughed in his gladness. _How_ thankful he was for his wife's
sake ONE alone knew. "I am nobody, Jan. Any trouble coming to me I can
battle with."

"Well, Lionel, the returned man is John Massingbird."

"John--Mass--ingbird!"

Of all the birds in the air and the fishes in the sea--as the children
say--he was the very last to whom Lionel Verner had cast a thought. That
it was John who had returned, had not entered his imagination. He had
never cast a doubt on the fact of his death. Bringing the name out
slowly, he stared at Jan in very astonishment.

"Well," said he presently, "John is not Frederick."

"No," assented Jan. "He can put in no claim to your wife. But he can to
Verner's Pride."

The words caused Lionel's heart to go on with a bound. A great evil for
him; there was no doubt of it; but still slight, compared to the one he
had dreaded for Sibylla.

"There is no mistake, I suppose, Jan?"

"There's no mistake," replied Jan. "I have been talking to him this
half-hour. He is hiding at Roy's."

"Why should he be in hiding at all?" inquired Lionel.

"He had two or three motives he said;" and Jan proceeded to give Lionel
a summary of what he had heard. "He was not very explicit to me,"
concluded Jan. "Perhaps he will be more so to you. He says he is coming
to Verner's Pride to-morrow morning at the earliest genteel hour after
breakfast."

"And what does he say to the fright he has caused?" resumed Lionel.

"Does nothing but laugh over it. Says it's the primest fun he ever had
in his life. He has come back very poor, Lionel."

"Poor? Then, were Verner's Pride and its revenues not his, I could have
understood why he should not like to show himself openly. Well! well!
compared to what I feared, it is a mercy. Sibylla is free; and I--I must
make the best of it. He will be a more generous master of Verner's
Pride--as I believe--than Frederick would ever have been."

"Yes," nodded Jan. "In spite of his faults. And John Massingbird used to
have plenty."

"I don't know who amongst us is without them, Jan. Unless--upon my word,
old fellow, I mean it!--unless it is you."

Jan opened his great eyes with a wondering stare. It never occurred to
humble-minded Jan that there was anything in _him_ approaching to
goodness. He supposed Lionel had spoken in joke.

"What's that?" cried he.

Jan alluded to a sudden burst of laughter, to a sound of many voices, to
fair forms that were flitting before the windows. The ladies had gone
into the drawing-room. "What a relief it will be for Sibylla!"
involuntarily uttered Lionel.

"She'll make a face at losing Verner's Pride," was the less poetical
remark of Jan.

"Will he turn us out at once, Jan?"

"He said nothing to me on that score, nor I to him," was the answer of
Jan. "Look here, Lionel. Old West's a screw, between ourselves; but what
I do earn is my own; so don't get breaking your rest, thinking you'll
not have a pound or two to turn to. If John Massingbird does send you
out, I can manage things for you, if you don't mind living quietly."

Honest Jan! His notions of "living quietly" would have comprised a
couple of modest rooms, cotton umbrellas like his own, and a mutton chop
a day. And Jan would have gone without the chop himself, to give it to
Lionel. To Sibylla, also. Not that he had any great love for that lady,
in the abstract; but, for Jan to eat chops, while anybody, no matter how
remotely connected with him, wanted them, would have been completely out
of Jan's nature.

A lump was rising in Lionel's throat. _He_ loved Jan, and knew his
worth, if nobody else did. While he was swallowing it down, Jan went on,
quite eagerly.

"Something else might be thought of, Lionel. I don't see why you and
Sibylla should not come to old West's. The house is large enough; and
Deb and Amilly couldn't object to it for their sister. In point of
right, half the house is mine: West said so when I became his partner;
and I paid my share for the furniture. He asked if I'd not like to
marry, and said there was the half of the house; but I told him I'd
rather be excused. I might get a wife, you know, Lionel, who'd be for
grumbling at me all day, as my mother does. Now, if you and Sibylla
would come there, the matter as to your future would be at rest. I'd
divide what I get between you and Miss Deb. Half to her for the extra
cost you'd be to the housekeeping; the other half for pocket-money for
you and Sibylla. I think you might make it do, Lionel: my share is quite
two hundred a year. My own share I mean; besides what I hand over to
Miss Deb, and transmit to the doctor, and other expenses. Could you
manage with it?"

"Jan!" said Lionel, from between his quivering lips. "Dear Jan,
there's--"

They were interrupted. Bounding out at the drawing-room window, the very
window at which Lucy Tempest had sat that night and watched the
yew-tree, came Sibylla, fretfulness in the lines of her countenance,
complaint in the tones of her voice.

"Mr. Jan Verner, I'd like to know what right you have to send for Lionel
from the room when he is at dinner? If he _is_ your brother, you have no
business to forget yourself in that way. He can't help your being his
brother, I suppose; but you ought to know better than to presume upon
it."

"Sibylla!--"

"Be quiet, Lionel. I _shall_ tell him of it. Never was such a thing
heard of, as for a gentleman to be called out for nothing, from his
table's head! You do it again, Jan, and I shall order Tynn to shut the
doors to you of Verner's Pride."

Jan received the lecture with the utmost equanimity, with imperturbable
good nature. Lionel wound his arms about his wife, gravely and gently;
whatever may have been the pain caused by her words, he suppressed it.

"Jan came here to tell me news that quite justified his sending for me,
wherever I might be, or however occupied, Sibylla. He has succeeded in
solving to-night the mystery which has hung over us; he has discovered
who it is that we have been taking for Frederick Massingbird."

"It is not Frederick Massingbird," cried Sibylla, speaking sharply.
"Captain Cannonby says that it cannot be."

"No, it is not Frederick Massingbird--God be thanked!" said Lionel.
"With that knowledge, we can afford to hear who it is bravely; can we
not, Sibylla?"

"But why don't you tell me who it is?" she retorted, in an impatient,
fretful tone, not having the discernment to see that he wished to
prepare her for what was coming. "Can't you speak, Jan, if he won't?
People have no right to come, dressed up in other people's clothes and
faces, to frighten us to death. He ought to be transported! Who is it?"

"You will be startled, Sibylla," said Lionel. "It is one whom we have
believed to be dead; though it is not Frederick Massingbird."

"I _wish_ you'd tell--beating about the bush like that! You need not
stare so, Jan. I don't believe you know."

"It is your cousin, Sibylla; John Massingbird."

A moment's pause. And then, clutching at the hand of Lionel--

"Who?" she shrieked.

"Hush, my dear. It is John Massingbird."

"Not dead! Did he not die?"

"No. He recovered, when left, as was supposed, for dead. He is coming
here to-morrow morning, Jan says."

Sibylla let fall her hands. She staggered back to a pillar and leaned
against it, her upturned face white in the starlight.

"Is--is--is Verner's Pride yours or his?" she gasped in a low tone.

"It is his."

"His! Neither yours nor mine?"

"It is only his, Sibylla."

She raised her hands again; she began fighting with the air, as if she
would beat off an imaginary John Massingbird. Another minute, and her
laughter and her cries came forth together, shriek upon shriek. She was
in strong hysterics. Lionel supported her, while Jan ran for wate