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´╗┐Title: Eli's Children - The Chronicles of an Unhappy Family
Author: Fenn, George Manville, 1831-1909
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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Eli's Children
The Chronicles of an Unhappy Family
By George Manville Fenn
Published by Chapman and Hall Ltd, 11 Henrietta Street, London WC.
This edition dated 1882.


PART ONE, CHAPTER ONE.



PART 1--THE RECTORY FOLK.

HOT WATER IN LAWFORD.

"Eh?  What?"

"I say, why don't you give it up quietly?"

"Speak up; I'm a little hard of hearing."

"I say, why don't you give it up quietly?" roared the speaker to a
little bent old man, with a weak, thin, piping voice, and a sharp look
that gave him somewhat the air of a very attenuated sparrow in a severe
frost, his shrunken legs, in tight yellow leather leggings, seeming to
help the idea.

"Don't shout at me like that, Master Portlock.  I arn't deaf, only a
trifle hard of hearing when I've got a cowd--just a trifle, you know."

"Have you got a cold?" asked the man addressed, a sturdy-looking,
fresh-coloured, middle-aged man, with a very bluff manner, and a look of
prosperity in his general appearance that made him seem thoroughly
adapted to his office.  In fact, he was just the man that a country
clergyman would be glad to elect at a vestry meeting for vicar's
churchwarden.  "Eh?"

"I--say--have--you--got--a--cold?  Hang him, how deaf he is!"

"Oh, no! oh, no!" chirped the little old man, sharply; "I'm not deaf.
Just a little thick i' the ears.  Yes; I've got a cowd.  It's settled
here--just here," he piped, striking himself upon his thin chest with
the hand that held his stick.  "A bad cowd--a nasty cowd as keeps me
awake all night, doing nowt but cough.  It's that stove, that's what it
is, Master Portlock."

"Nonsense, man!  It would keep the cold off."

"Eh?"

"I say it would keep the cold off."

"Nay, nay; not it.  A nasty, brimstone-smelling, choking thing, as sends
out a reek as settles on your chest.  Stove, indeed!  What do we want
with your noo-fangled stoves?  We never had no stoves before.  Here he
stops away from town all these years, only coming now and then, and now
all at once he's back at the Rectory, and nothing's right.  Mr Paulby
never said a word about no stoves."

"No; but see how damp the church was."

"Eh?"

"Eh?"

"Damp," roared the Churchwarden; "church--damp.  Cush--shuns--moul--
dee."

"Chah!  Nonsense, Master Portlock.  Damp?  Suppose it was?  A chutch
ought to be damp, and smell solemn like of owd age and venerations.
Mouldy?  Ay; why not?" he piped.  "'Mind ta chutch folk o' decay, and
what they're comin' to some day.  I once went to London, Master
Portlock--forty year ago now, sir--forty year ago.  It was cowd weather,
and I got 'most froze a' top o' the coach, and it was a 'mazin' plaace.
Ay, that it was.  But you've been there?"

"Ay, lots o' times in my life."

"Niver been in your life?  Then don't go.  Niver go if you can help it.
Owd Mr Burton paid for me to go, he did--owd vicar's father, you know--
and he said to me a did, `Mind ta go and see some o' the London
chutches, Warmoth,' he says; and I did, and bless thou, pretty places
they weer.  I niver see a playhouse, but Sammy Mason wint to one i'
London, and he towd me what it were like, and the chutch I went into i'
the City weer just like it.  Why, mun, theer were a big picter ower the
'mandments, and carpets on the floors, and all the pews was full o' red
cushions an' basses, just as if they was all squires' sittings, and
brass rails and red curtins an' grand candlesticks.  Then reight up i'
the gallery wheer the singers sit was a great thing all covered wi'
goolden pipes, an' a man i' the front sittin' lookin' at his self i' a
lookin' glass.  That was t' organ, you know, and eh, but it was a
straange sort o' plaace altogether to call a chutch."

"Not like our old barn, eh, Sammy?" shouted the Churchwarden.

"Nay, not a bit, Master Portlock," piped the old man.  "Gi'e me
whitewesh, and neat clean pews and a plait-straw cushion and bass.  Folk
don't go to sleep then, and snore through t' sarmunt.  If I had my way,
Master Portlock, I wouldn't hev a thing changed."

"No, I suppose not, Sam," said the Churchwarden, nodding.

"Sixty years have I been clerk o' t' owd chutch, and hae buried
generations of them as comed to the owd place--christened 'em, and
married 'em, and buried 'em, Master Portlock.  They didn't like me being
made clerk so young in them days.  Jacky Robinson, as wanted to be clerk
when father died, said I was nobbut a boy, but t' owd vicar said--owd
Master Willoughby, you didn't know him?"  The Churchwarden shook his
head.  "No; he died eight and fifty year ago.  He said, `No; let Sammy
Warmoth step into his father's shoes, same as him as is dead stepped
into his father's shoes.  I find,' he says, `there's been Warmoth's
clerks here for a hundred years at least;' and now, Master Portlock,
sir, I can say there's been Warmoths clerks here for a hundred and sixty
year, and if my life is spared I'll make it two hundred, for they can't
turn me out, and I wean't go."

"How old wert ta when you was made clerk, Sammy?" said the Churchwarden,
looking at the old man with a pitying smile.  "Thrutty-three, and I was
just married, Master Portlock, and thrutty-three and sixty makes
ninety-three, eh?"

"Fine owd age, Sam."

"Eh?"

"A fine owd age, I say."

"Chah!  Not it.  Read your Bible more, man.  Ninety-three's as good as
nowt to what men used to be.  Nay, nay, nay, I shan't give up.  Yow may
go and tell parson as theer's lots o' life in me yet, and that he'd best
go back again to London and foreign parts, and leave us alone here wi'
Mr Paulby.  He'll drive all the congregation over to the Dissenters,
they're talking a'ready o' building noo chapel for ta Wesley folk."

"Ay, they're going ahead, Sammy, but we don't care for the opposition
shop.  We've got the old established bank, eh?"

"That's a true word, Master Portlock," piped the old man, "and we can
pity 'em, wi' their plans and local preachers, a set o' nobodies, o'
sons o' Levi, takking off their aprons and running fro' behind their
counters to usurp the priest's office; but you mark my words, and you
may tell parson what I say; if he's coming down here thinking to do just
as he likes, he'll be driving all folk to chapel."

"No, no; not he, Sammy."

"Ay, but he will, altering ta chutch sarvice, an' upsetting all that's
owd--schoolmaster, and clerk, and chutch.  You tell him that he may keep
his man till I'm dead, and then put him in, for I nivver had a boy o' my
own to tak' my place."

"But he hasn't got a man."

"Eh?  Not got a man?  Good job too.  He don't want one?"

"No.  He isn't going to have a clerk any more."

"Eh?"

"I say you'll be the last clerk o' Lawford.  There'll nivver be
another."

"Nivver be another?  What dost ta mean?"

"Mr Mallow is going to do the service wi'out a clerk," roared the
Churchwarden.

"Do sarvice wi'out a clerk!" piped the old man, indignantly; "who's to
say t' `Amens'?"

"Congregation and singers."

"An' what 'bout t' 'sponses?" quavered the old clerk.

"People!"

They were standing in the churchyard, walled up high above the town
street, and as the Churchwarden spoke the old clerk placed his left hand
across the small of his back, and stamping his stick on the cobble
stones of the path, he made an effort to straighten himself up so as to
gaze at the venerable mouldering square-towered church, taking it in
from end to end with his pale grey eyes before resuming his former
attitude with his head on one side.

"Not going to have another clerk?" he quavered.

"No," roared the Churchwarden.

"No one to say t' amens and 'sponses?"

"No."

"Who's t' help him on wi' his gownd?"

The Churchwarden shook his head.

"Who's going to shut pulpit door?"

There was another shake of the Churchwarden's head.

"Then who'll gi'e out t' psalms?"

"Parson."

"Ah!" ejaculated the old man, staring down at his feet.

"Look here, Sammy," said the Churchwarden, kindly, and with his lips
close to the old man's ear; "Mr Mallow's a nice sort o' man, and means
kindly."

"No one to say t' amens?" said the old clerk, softly.

"He thinks you're getting too owd for the work."

"Nobbut t' people to say the 'sponses," continued the old clerk, without
seeming to hear the Churchwarden's words.

"He's been talking to us at sort o' meeting, and he wants to get up
testimonial for thee.  Says we owt to make un enew to mak' thee
comfortable to end o' thee days, and he'll give twenty pounds towards
it, and you're to have one of the Bede Houses."

"How's he going to bury them as dies?" piped the old man, suddenly.

The Churchwarden shook his head.

Old Sammy Warmoth took a couple of feeble steps towards the edge of the
path, and began to poke at the loose, friable earth of the grave nearest
to him with the long brass ferrule of his stick, taking two hands to the
task, and making quite a little hole.

"It's getten time I was put down theer," he said, in a low voice that
was very pathetic in its tones.  "There's a sight o' my owd friends I've
seen put down here, and its getten time for me to be put along wi' 'em,
sown a corruptible body to be raised an incorruptible, for I spose I'm
getten owd and good for nowt."

"Oh, nay, nay, Sammy," said the Churchwarden, warmly.  "Don't take on
about it.  Tak' my advice.  Don't be obstinit, but just go up and see
parson quiet like, an' say you give up, and tak' it kindly, an' I'll see
as you don't come to no wrong."

"No one to say t' amens," muttered the old man--"no one to say t'
'sponses--no one to gi'e out t' psalms.  Why," he cried, raising his
voice, "I b'lieve it now."

"Believe what, Sammy?"

"That he's goin' to have t' owd pews out, and put i' benches; and I said
when I heerd it as the dead wouldn't rest i' theer graves if he did."

"It's all true, Sammy.  They're going to spend three thousand pounds i'
doing up t' owd church, and young Lord Artingale's going to give us an
organ."

"Then I wean't go," cried the old man, stamping his stick down on the
stones.  "I'll nivver do it.  I've been here clerk and saxton these
sixty year, and I helps wi' ivvery grave even now.  It wean't do.  It's
a revvylootion, and a sweeping away of t' owd chutch, like they did
among the French, and I'll be one o' the faithful while I live."

"Nonsense, man; come, say thou'lt give up quiet like," said the
Churchwarden, soothingly.  "Eh?"

"Say thou'lt give up quietly."

"Nivver, nivver!" quavered the old man, angrily.  "It's as much my
chutch as his, and if he goes wrong wi' his new notions and idees, I'll
stand by mine.  There's nivver been a clerk o' Lawford as didn't die a
clerk, and dost ta think I'll be the first, Master Portlock?  Nivver.
I'll howd by chutch till t' last, say what thou will!"

"Poor owd boy!" said the Churchwarden, as he stood watching the
tottering figure descending the slope on the farther side of the
churchyard, till it seemed from where the gazer stood as if the old man
were sinking slowly into a grave.  First he disappeared to the middle,
then the path line was level with his shoulders, and a few moments more
and his head had gone.

"Poor owd boy!" said the Churchwarden, musingly.  "It can't be for long.
I'll ask parson to let him stop."



PART ONE, CHAPTER TWO.

THE RECTORY GIRLS.

"I love the country!  I love the country!"

"Hush, hush, Cynthy! don't be so childish; some one will hear you."

"No one is near us, Ju.  That's why I like being down here."

"But it is so childish to keep running up the banks and shouting like
that."

"Well, but that's what I like.  It's the country air makes one feel so
young, and I am so, so glad that we are going to stay at home.  I want
to know the people.  Oh, I was tired of the Continent.  I want to be
free."

"Now, Cynthy, what would papa say if he saw you climb up on that gate?"

"Don't know--don't care!"

"Well, then," said Julia Mallow, smiling, "what, would Lord Artingale
say?"

"That I was a jolly little girl, and come and sit beside me."

"Oh!  Cynthy!"

"And put his arm round my waist to keep me from falling off.  Oh, I say,
Ju, he did once, and it was so funny."

"Cynthy, I'm ashamed of you," cried her sister, and there was a slight
deepening of the colour in her sweet English face.

"Well, I am ashamed of myself," cried Cynthia, springing lightly off the
gate, and passing her arm round her sister as they walked on along the
rutty lane.  "But I do feel so happy, Ju.  So will you some day, when
you meet the special him.  Not Perry-Morton though.  Ha, ha, ha!  How
stupid papa is!  I say, Ju, though, who shall we go and see?  Papa says
we are to visit the people a great deal, and get them to know more of
us, but I shan't go near any of the horrid Dissenters."

"Don't call people horrid because they don't think the same as we do,
Cynthy."

"Well, but it is horrid.  Papa says it's dreadful, the opposition that
is in the town.  I heard him say to mamma yesterday that he couldn't
understand the people a bit, and that though he had now come to settle
down amongst them for good, only when we go to town for the season,
everybody seemed so independent, and they were all in opposition to
him."

"Yes, he was talking to Mr Paulby about it at dinner on Tuesday."

"Papa is going to improve everything, he says.  The place must have been
terribly neglected by Mr Paulby.  Oh, what a funny little man he is!"

"I think him very nice and genuine," said Julia, quietly.

"But you mustn't fall in love with him, Ju.  He's too old.  But I say,
what was the real reason of our being away from Lawford so much?"

"Money matters," said her sister.  "Papa got to be very much behindhand
through Frank and Cyril."

"Oh, I wish I were a man!" cried Cynthia, with her pretty fair young
face flushing.  "How I would have whipped those two fellows and made
good boys of them!  They've half broken poor mamma's heart."

"I'm afraid papa indulged them too much," said Julia, quietly, and the
two girls walked on for some little distance in silence, enjoying the
briskness of the morning air.

"Now where are we going?" cried Cynthia suddenly.  "Oh, I know.  Down
that lane leads to the ford, where the wheelwright's is.  Let's go and
see Polly Morrison."

"Shall we?" said her sister, smiling.

"Oh, yes.  It will be a parochial visit all the same.  Only fancy, Polly
with a baby!  What a little stupid she was to leave us to come back here
and marry a wheelwright!"

"I don't know," said Julia quietly; "perhaps she is very happy."

"Oh, of course.  People are when they get married.  Come along; I want
to see Polly's baby.  I wish she had not left us.  She was such a clever
maid."

"I was very glad she went," said Julia gravely.

"Glad?  Why?"

"Because of Cyril.  He was always following her about.  She complained
to me several times."

"Cyril is a wretch!" said Cynthia, with heightened colour.  "Papa ought
to whip him.  He always would look at pretty girls.  I say, Ju, did you
see Miss Portlock, the schoolmistress, on Monday?  Was she nice?"

"Yes, I thought her very nice and superior.  She is the churchwarden's
niece.  Hush! here is Mr Paulby."

"Good-morning, ladies," said a little plump man, raising his hat and
showing his slightly-bald head.  "What a lovely morning!  I think I dare
prophesy where you are going."

"If you prophesy Morrison's cottage, Mr Paulby, you are right," said
Cynthia, merrily.

"Then I am right," said the curate.  "I have just come from there, and
Mrs Morrison has been chatting about old times, and how she went all
over the Continent with you."

"She didn't tell you about Cyril, I know," said Cynthia to herself.

"I'm really very, very glad, ladies, that the rectory is inhabited
again," said the curate, "and I hope you will help me a great deal."

"That indeed we will, Mr Paulby," said Julia.

"Yes, and visit, and do needlework, and help in the schools, and
everything," said Cynthia, quickly.  "And now we must say good-morning,
Mr Paulby.  Come, Julia."

There was the customary hand-shaking and raising of the curate's hat,
and then they separated, the little plump rosy man looking very
thoughtful as he made some observation to himself, and that observation
was "Hah!" a remark that evidently meant a great deal.

"I'm not going to allow that, Ju," said Cynthia, decidedly.  "The little
man is quite smitten with you, and if Frank or Cyril were to know--"

"Don't be absurd!" said her sister, colouring a little.

"That would be as bad as Perry-Morton.  Oh, here we are.  Why, what a
pretty little place Polly has got!"

The sisters stopped at the road-side to gaze at the long low ivy-covered
cottage, with a broad patch of green in front, upon which was a lumber
of broken carts and waggons waiting to be doctored.  There was a shed at
one end, from which came the sound of sawing, for which job there was a
good-sized pit, while farther on the road dipped suddenly down and
passed through a little river, which foamed and bubbled and sparkled as
it turned the gravelly shallows into liquid silver in the morning sun.

"Oh, what a funny little thing!" cried Cynthia, as they were welcomed
into the neat cottage.  "Look at its little button-hole of a mouth.  Let
me take it, Polly."

The young mother, quite a rustic beauty, with a touch of refinement in
her appearance, picked up during her stay on the Continent as maid to
the rector's daughters, handed her plump little baby to the extended
arms; watchfully, though, and as if afraid the treasure might be dropped
upon the red-brick floor.

"And how are you, Polly?" said Julia, looking rather searchingly at the
young wife as she set chairs for her visitors.  "I hope you are very
happy?"

"Oh, as happy, Miss Julia, as the day is long, and I'm so busy that the
days are never long enough."

"Cooey, cooey, cooey, cooey!" cried Cynthia to the baby in a very
dove-like manner, as she kissed and fondled it, laughing merrily the
while.

"I was so surprised, Miss, to hear that you had come back to the
rectory."

"Not going to stop very long this time, Polly--I mean Mrs Morrison,"
said Cynthia, without raising her face from the baby.  "We are going to
town for the season.  Oh, you, you, you funny little thing!  There's a
wet mouth.  Oh, I say, Ju, I wonder whether I shall ever have a baby of
my own."

"Cynthia!" cried her sister, reproachfully.

"It would be such fun.  I say, Polly, is it good?"

"Oh, there never was such a good baby, Miss, and Tom worships it.  She's
as good as gold."

"She?" cried Cynthia.  "Is it a she?"

"Oh, yes, Miss," cried the young mother, proudly.

"How funny!" said Cynthia.  "It might be anything, it is so round and
soft."

"Would you mind feeling how heavy she grows, Miss Julia?" said the young
mother and the baby was duly handed to Julia, who held it to her cheek,
and then gazed lovingly at the little thing, her eyes wearing a curious
wistful aspect, full of tenderness, while the young mothers face lit up
with pleasure.

"Isn't it heavy, Miss?" she said.

"Wonderfully," replied Julia quietly, and with as much decision as if
her life had been spent in the management of babies.

"She don't know!" laughed Cynthia.  "I don't believe she ever had hold
of one before.  Here, give it to me."

"No; let it stay," said Julia softly, and to the young mother's great
satisfaction, for she seemed rather scared lest Cynthia should let it
fall in tossing it up and down.

"She gets heavier every day, Miss, and Tom says it's wonderful now for a
baby a month old."

"You must introduce us to your husband, Polly."

"Yes, Miss, I'll call him in.  Or no, Miss, not this morning," said the
young wife, rather hurriedly; "he is very busy."

"Some other time then," said Julia.  "I suppose you are very fond of it,
Polly?"

"Fond of it, Miss Julia?  Oh, you can't think how I love it."

"No," said Julia, softly, and looking curiously at the young mother, "I
suppose not."

"Oh, here is Budge," said little Mrs Morrison, as a heavy,
stolid-looking girl entered the room.  "She will take baby now, Miss.
There, Budge, take her in the kitchen, and don't go too near the fire."

"No, missus," said the girl, taking the well-wrapped-up baby in her red
arms, staring heavily the while at the visitors, and consequently nearly
bringing her charge to grief by stumbling over a stool.

"Oh, Budge!" cried little Mrs Morrison.

"I ain't hurt, missus," said the girl coolly, and she allowed herself to
be piloted out of the room by her mistress, when a chair was heard to
scroop.

"Oh, how funny it does seem!" cried Cynthia.

"Hush! don't talk like that," said her sister; "here she is."

Little Mrs Morrison came into the room again, looking very red-faced
and hot.

"What a funny little maid you have got, Polly!" cried Cynthia.

"Yes, Miss Cynthia; she is from the workhouse, and she is a little
clumsy, but she is very faithful, and so fond of baby."

"And what is to be its name?" cried Cynthia.

"Rose, Miss; and--and," stammered the young wife, looking very hard at
Julia.

"And what, Polly?"

"I--I had a sort of idea, Miss Julia, that--"

"That what, Polly?  Speak out!"

"Of asking you and Miss Cynthia if--"

"If what?"

"You wouldn't mind being little Rose's godmothers."

"Oh, no, Polly," said Julia, "I think not."

"Oh, yes, Ju, it would be good fun," cried Cynthia.

"I told Tom it would be too much to ask, Miss Julia; but he said you
could only say _no_."

"Of course," said Julia, thoughtfully.  "And he is very kind to you?"

"Oh, kind isn't the word, Miss Julia," cried the young wife.

"And are his relations kind to you too?"

"He has no relations, Miss, but one brother," replied Polly, "and he is
a good deal of trouble to him--I mean to us," she added, correcting
herself.

"Trouble to you, Polly?"

"Yes, Miss; he won't work, and he has taken to a gipsy sort of life, and
goes poaching, I'm afraid."

"That's _very_, very sad," said Julia, remembering that her father had
just been made chairman of the bench of magistrates.

"Yes, Miss, very, very sad, for we are always afraid of his getting into
trouble; but there, you know, Miss, what brothers are."

"Yes, yes," said Julia, hastily.  "I will think about what you said,
Polly," she added, rising, and holding out her hand, "and if papa does
not object, Cynthia and I will be godmothers to baby."

"Oh, if you would, Miss!" cried the young wife, flushing with pride; and
then, in a low voice, as Cynthia went on out of the room, "You always
were kind to me, Miss Julia, and more like a sister than a mistress.
May I kiss you, Miss?"

"Oh, yes, Polly," said Julia, kissing her smilingly.

"You always were kind to me, Miss, and there's nothing in life I
wouldn't do for you if you wanted it."

"Come, Ju," cried Cynthia, from without.

"Oh, thank you, Polly, I know you would."

"And you'd come and ask me, Miss, if you wanted help, wouldn't you?"

"Indeed I would, Polly; but why do you ask me in that strange way?"

"Because--because, Miss, I want to ask a favour of you now," cried the
young wife, desperately.

"What is it, Polly?" said Julia, showing deep interest now.

"Please, Miss, you--you remember when we were at Dinan."

"Yes, yes; what?" cried Julia.

"About Mr Cyril."

"Yes," cried Julia, catching her hand; "he has not dared?"

"He--he came here yesterday, Miss, while Tom was out," cried Polly,
bursting into tears, "and he came once before; and it frightens me,
Miss--it horrifies me; for Tom loves me so dearly, Miss; and it would
make him angry, and break his heart if he thought ill of me, Miss
Julia."

"But did you encourage him to come again?" cried Julia, angrily.

"No, Miss Julia, I nearly went on my knees to him, and begged him not to
come again, but he only laughed, and--and called me a little fool."

"You shall tell your husband, Polly," cried Julia, hotly.

"I--I was afraid, Miss Julia," sobbed Polly.  "I was afraid of making
mischief.  I dared not tell him.  If he thought Mr Cyril came here and
troubled me, he would be ready to kill him, Miss, and me too.  Oh, what
shall I do, what shall I do?"

"I'll tell papa," said Cynthia, who had come back unseen.  "I declare
it's shameful, and I--I wish my brothers were both dead.  Oh, Ju, papa
must know."

"No, no," said Julia, holding the sobbing little woman to her breast;
"Polly is right.  It would be making terrible mischief.  I'll speak to
Cyril myself, and if he will not listen to me, mamma shall try.  But,
Polly, you will tell me if he comes again?"

"Oh, yes, yes, Miss Julia," cried the young wife, gazing up passionately
in her visitor's face.

"And always tell me the whole truth?"

"Indeed--indeed I will.  Please, Miss Julia," she said simply, "I don't
think I ever told a lie."

"I don't believe you ever did, Polly," said Julia, kissing her, and
turning to the door to go.  "There, good-bye, and don't be low-spirited.
Cyril is soon going away again, and even if he is not, he shall not
trouble you."

"Thank you, Miss Julia, and you too, Miss Cynthia," said the young wife,
wiping her eyes; "and perhaps you will be at baby's christening?"

"If papa doesn't object, indeed we will," cried Julia, smiling, and the
sisters went back along the lane.

"I would--I would indeed," said the young mother, softly; "I'd do
anything to serve dear Miss Julia, and I hope and pray she may never
feel such trouble as I do now.  Oh, if only they had stopped away!"

She was standing in the little porch, listening to the regular harsh
sound of a saw in the work-shed, some fifty yards away, gazing after the
sisters, till a step coming in the other direction made her sharply turn
her head, and then, as she shrank back, her whole aspect seemed to
change.  She turned ghastly white, her eyes dilated, and she trembled
visibly, as if at the sight of some great horror.

It was nothing so very terrible approaching either, being only a tall,
well-built, handsome young man of six or seven and twenty, his hands in
the pockets of his loose jacket, and a cigar in his mouth.



PART ONE, CHAPTER THREE.

THE STATE OF LAWFORD.

Only some twenty years ago, but from the streets and surroundings of the
place the date might have been in the last century.  For Lawford was in
an out-of-the-way part of Lincolnshire towards which one of the main
northern lines had been running straight, but the company were beaten in
Parliament, and the iron road curved off, leaving Lawford where it was--
all behind.

When the new rector was appointed to the living he resolutely refused to
go without a fresh rectory was built, for the old house, with its low
rooms, was ten yards from the churchyard, which in the course of
centuries had gone up, while the old rectory seemed to have gone down,
so that you walked along a slope and then descended three steps into the
ancient, damp, evil-smelling place, which had more the aspect of a
furnished mausoleum than a house.

The consequence was that a grant was made for the building of a new
rectory, which was erected a mile and a half out of the town; and as the
living was rich, the Rev Eli Mallow borrowed a couple of thousand
pounds to have the house made handsomer, and to add conservatories and
greenhouses to the place, got it all in excellent order, and then went
on the Continent for a few years, when the old rectory did very well for
Mr Paulby, the curate who was left in charge.

Difficulties of pocket had certainly had something to do with the
absenteeism of the Rev Eli Mallow, but there had been other troubles
as well in connection with his sons, whom he had made several efforts to
start in life and get away from Lawford.  They were the sons of a
clergyman, but two more unclerical youths never troubled father, and so
unfortunate were his efforts, so persistently did the young men return
home to their fond and indulgent mother and their proud weak father,
that the Lawford people, famous among themselves for nick-naming those
that they did not like, called Frank Mallow, the elder brother, "The Bad
Shilling," while Cyril, consequent upon a visit to Australia, they named
"The Boomerang."

They were an old-fashioned people at Lawford, and the "owd rector" had
been old-fashioned too.  It was past the year of our Lord eighteen
hundred and forty, and Victoria was seated upon the throne, but the old
rector thought it no wrong to go to one of the inns and sit and drink
his mug of ale and chat and gossip with any townsman who came in.

As to the church, a colder, damper, more musty-smelling place could not
have been found.  Its glory was its whitewash, which was so rich and fat
and thick that every here and there it bore a crop of curious spindly
mushrooms, which grew and flourished and died, leaving great black
patches on the walls like hatchments to record their vegetable deaths,
till about once in a generation the whitewash brush came into use again,
and a new coat was laid on to moulder and grow damp, and fall in patches
of a goodly thickness upon the stained stone pave.

The worst of that whitewash was that it was not white, only a dirty wash
that covered the ceiling and face of the wall, great blank patches of
which used to be mentally studied by the schoolboys as maps of unknown
regions, for the moisture that streamed down from the roof soon marked
black rivers, while dark boundary lines seemed to be traced by cracks
and mould of strange continents, islands, and seas, upon which in
summer-time bluebottle flies and spiders made islands or cruising barks.

In the moist autumn times the place always broke out into a cold
perspiration, the wet standing in great tears upon the flat tombstones
and even upon the broad slab of old blackened oak that served for Sammy
Warmoth's desk, where his books, like those above his head, were
patterned on their covers with white mould-spots exhaling an odour of
mushrooms not fit to eat.

The pews were of dull white deal; the sacramental table was covered with
a ragged green baize in the sere and yellow leaf, and as worthy of being
called green as the church whitewash was of being termed white.  Taken
altogether, there was a strong suggestion on entering Lawford church of
going into a cellar without the sawdust, and wanting in the wine; and
old Mrs Marley, lately gone to her rest, and over whom as a very
ancient friend Sammy Warmoth had affectionately patted down the earth
with his spade, moistening it a little with his tears to make it stick,
afterwards building up her grave with a mound of the finest, most
velvety turf he could cut, that he protected with brambles from the
sheep--old Mrs Marley, when she was schoolmistress, always made a point
in winter of taking a large stone bottle of hot water with her to the
church, smuggling it regularly beneath her cloak, and pitying the
four-and-twenty blue-nosed little children, whom she led, because only
two could sit by her at a time and warm their hands.

Humphrey Bone, the schoolmaster, also made a point of taking a bottle to
church, but his was small, and he made occasions for bending his head
beneath the front of the pew and imbibing portions of its contents
through a very long turkey quill.

The church had remained _in statu quo_ during the Rector's stay abroad,
but now that he had returned, it was with ideas similar to the new
broom--he meant to sweep clean.  Perhaps the Rev Eli Mallow was a
little conscience-stricken for past neglect.  At all events the Rector
had now set himself to work on a general reform, but his absence had
embittered a by no means friendly people.

"Taking that great wage out of the place year after year," said
Tomlinson, one of the townspeople, "and leaving that curate to do all
the work on eighty pounds a year; I haven't patience with him."

Several other fellow-townsmen expressed their opinions that it was a
shame, and declared that they had not patience with the parson, and the
consequence was that he was so talked over, that when he came back and
set about his work of reformation he was met at his very first movement
by a hedge of thorns that regularly surrounded the church.  Every one of
these thorns was a prejudice which he had to fight.

"Church did very well for t' owd rector, and always has done," was the
cry; "why won't it do for he?"

"_Festina lente_," said the Reverend Eli to himself; and he set to work
slowly, cautiously, and well, making such advance in his undertaking
that plenty of money was promised, and he saw in the future a handsome,
well-warmed church, with all the surroundings for reverent worship.

"Poor old fellow!" he had said to himself as he listened to the clerk,
for the old man would utter the three first words of a response in a
shrill tenor, and then drop his voice, nothing, else being heard until
it came to the end, when to a new-comer his peculiar "_Hup-men_" was
almost startling in its strangeness.

"_Week, week, week; wubble, wubble, wubble_," the school-children always
declared he said, no matter what was the response; and then, after
giving out the psalm or hymn so that no one could hear, the poor old
fellow would sing in a shrill unmusical voice from behind a huge pair of
tortoiseshell framed spectacles, holding his great hymn-book with both
hands, and emphasising the words he sang by raising and lowering the
book; turning to right and left, singing to the people below his desk,
and then at the huge whitewashed beams of the ceiling, before turning
three parts round to send his voice into the chancel, for the benefit of
the old women from the Bede houses who sat there upon a very
uncomfortable bench.

"I dare say it is very wrong," said Lord Artingale, who had ridden over
from Gatton one Sunday to welcome the Mallows back to Lincolnshire, "but
much as I want to be reverent, I really don't think I could go to your
church again, Mr Mallow, without laughing in the middle of the
service."

The Rector looked grave, for poor old Warmoth was a great trouble to
him, and, as may be gathered, he had consulted the churchwardens on the
question of the alterations, and among other things suggested that the
old clerk should be asked to resign.

The effect we have seen, and that same day Portlock, the farmer, went up
and told the result of his chat with the old clerk.

"It is very provoking, Mr Portlock, very.  I want the old man to go
quietly--in fact, to resign," said the Rector.  "If I send him away the
people will say that he is ill-used."

"That they will, depend on't," replied the Churchwarden.  "Our folk take
a deal o' driving."

"Well, well; what is to be done?"

"Best let things bide as they are, sir; you wean't do any good by trying
to alter 'em."

"Oh, but that is absurd, Mr Portlock, highly absurd.  No, I regret it
very much, but he must go.  There, I will see him myself."

The Rector saw the old clerk sooner than he expected, for in crossing
the churchyard next day he met him going up to the church.

"Poor old fellow! ninety-three," said the Rector to himself, as he
looked curiously at the strange old figure tottering up the rough
cobble-stone path.

"Good-morning, Warmoth," he said.  "Here, give me your hand."

The old man stopped short, thumped his stick down, and peered up
fiercely.

"Nay, nay, nay," he groaned, "not so owd as all that, mester.  I can do
it yet.  Let me bide, I'm reight yet.  Yow want to get shut o' me--to
drift me off.  Yow thowt wi' your new ways that I wasn't good enew for
t' church, but revvylootion or no revvylootion, I stick to church as my
fathers did afore me.  When I'm down theer, and can howd out no more,
thou mun do thy worst."

"That's all put aside, Mr Warmoth," said the Rector, smiling.  "I do
want to make improvements here, but not to that extent.  I did not want
to hurt your feelings.  Come, shake hands."

"Nay; I'll not," cried the old man, fiercely, his bearing seeming to
have wonderfully altered now.  "Thou want'st to get round me wi' soft
words, but I'll howd thee off--I'll howd thee off.  There ain't every
servant of t' owd church like me, and I'll howd my own unto the last."

"My good old fellow, Heaven forbid that I should be guilty of so unkind
an act.  You shall stop on, Warmoth, till the last, for no act of mine
shall remove you from your post."

The old man's jaw fell, and he stepped back, slipped, and would have
fallen, but for the Rector's hands, to which the old fellow clung
spasmodically, his face working, his lips twitching in his efforts to
speak.  But for a long time no words would come, and then but two, twice
repeated, though with earnest emphasis--

"Bless thee!  Bless thee!"

Then, quickly snatching his hands away, the old man turned aside, leaned
his trembling arm against a tombstone which had gradually encroached
upon the path, and stood with his head bent down, trying to recover his
strength.

It was a strange contrast: the thin, sharply featured old man, and the
handsome portly figure of the Rector, as he stood there vexed with
himself at having, as he called it, been so weak as to give way at the
first difficulty that he had to encounter; and he afterwards came to the
conclusion that he might just as well have held out, for the people gave
him the credit of killing old Warmoth so as to have his way.

"Let me help you into the church to sit down for a bit," he said to the
trembling old man.

Old Warmoth turned and laid one hand upon the Rector's, gazing up in his
face, and there was a piteous smile upon his withered lips.

"I was afraid thou'd want me to go as soon as I heard thou was coming
back; and they said thou'dst get shut o' me.  But sixty year, sir!  It
would have killed me.  I couldn't have beared to go."

Two Sundays later the congregation had just left the church, and
Portlock was going up to the vestry, when he saw there was something
wrong in the clerk's seat.

"Why, Sammy, owd man," he cried, "what ails--"

He did not finish his broken sentence, but tore open the door of the
clerk's desk, the Rector coming forward to where the old man knelt in
his accustomed narrow place, his hands upon his book, his head upon his
breast, as he had knelt down after the sermon.

"He's like ice," whispered the Churchwarden, putting forth his great
strength, and lifting the old man bodily out, to lay him by the stove,
the Rector placing a cushion beneath his head.

The motion seemed to revive the old man for a moment, and he opened his
eyes, staring strangely at the Rector, who held one hand.

Then his lips moved, and in a voice hardly above a whisper they heard
him say--

"Bless--thou!--Bless--thou!--those words would--have killed me."

There was a pause, and the Churchwarden was hastening forth to fetch
help, when there arose in the now empty church a shrill "_Amen_."

It was the old clerk's last.



PART ONE, CHAPTER FOUR.

AT LAWFORD SCHOOL.

"Oh!" in a loud shrill voice; and then a general titter.

"Silence! who was that?"

"Please, Miss, Cissy Hudson, Miss.  Please, Miss, it's Mr Bone."

This last delivered in a chorus of shrill voices; and Sage Portlock
turned sharply from the semi-circle of children, one and all standing
with their toes accurately touching a thickly-chalked line, to see a
head thrust into the schoolroom, but with the edge of the door held
closely against the neck, pressing it upon the jamb, so that the entire
body to which the head belonged was invisible.

The head which had been thus suddenly thrust into the schoolroom was not
attractive, the face being red and deeply lined with marks not made by
age.  The eyes were dull and watery, there was a greyish stubble of a
couple of days' growth upon the chin, and the hair that appeared above
the low brow was rough, unkempt, and, if clean, did no justice to the
cleansing hand.

"How tiresome!" muttered Sage Portlock, moving towards the door, which
then opened, and a tall man, in a very shabby thin greatcoat which
reached almost to his heels, stumped into the room.

Stumped or thumped--either word will do to express the heavy way in
which Humphrey Bone, thirty years master of Lawford boys' school, drew
attention to the fact that he had one leg much shorter than the other,
the difference in length being made up by a sole of some five inches'
thickness, which sole came down upon the red-brick floor like the
modified blows of a pavior's rammer.

Such a clever man!  Such a good teacher! the Lawford people said.  There
was nothing against him but a drop of drink, and this drop of drink had
kept Humphrey Bone a poor man, dislocated his hip in a fall upon a dark
night, when the former doctor of the place had not discovered the exact
nature of the injury till it was too late, and the drop of drink in this
instance had resulted in the partaker becoming a permanent cripple.

Lawford was such a slow-moving place in those days, that it took its
principal inhabitants close upon twenty years to decide that a master
who very often went home helplessly intoxicated, and who had become a
hopeless moral wreck, living in a state of squalor and debt, could not
be a fitting person to train and set an example to the boys left in his
charge.  And at last, but in the face of great opposition from the
old-fashioned party arrayed against the Rev Eli Mallow and his
friends--the party who reiterated the cry that Humphrey Bone was such a
clever man, wrote such a copperplate-like hand, when his fingers were
not palsied, and measured land so well--it was decided that Humphrey
Bone should be called upon to resign at Christmas, and Luke Ross, the
son of the Lawford tanner, then training at Saint Chrysostom's College,
London, should take his place.

It was only natural that Sage Portlock, as she advanced to meet Humphrey
Bone, should think of the coming days after the holidays, when Mr Ross,
whom she had known so well from childhood, should be master of the
adjoining school, and that very unpleasant personage now present should
cease to trouble her with visits that were becoming more and more
distasteful and annoying.

"Mornin'!  Ink!" said Mr Bone, shortly.  "Ours like mud.  How are you?"

"Ink, Mr Bone?" said the young mistress, ignoring the husky inquiry
after her health.  "Yes; one of the girls shall bring some in."

This and the young mistress's manner should have made Mr Humphrey Bone
retire, but he stood still in the middle of the room, chuckling softly;
and then, to the open-eyed delight of the whole school, drew a
goose-quill from his breast, stripped off the plume from one side of the
shaft, and, with a very keen knife, proceeded to cut, nick, and shape
one of the pens for which he bore a great reputation, holding it out
afterwards for the young mistress to see.

"That beats training, eh?  Didn't teach you to make a pen like that at
Westminster, did they, eh?"

"No," said Sage, quietly; "we always used steel pens."

"Hah--yes?" ejaculated the old schoolmaster, with a laugh of derision.
"Steel pens--steel teaching--steel brains--they'll have steel machine
teachers soon, who can draw a goose like that on a black board with a
bit of chalk.  Faugh!"

He pointed to one of a series of woodcuts mounted on millboard and hung
against the whitewashed wall, stumped away three or four yards, and then
returned.

"New ways--new theories--new machines!  Wear the old ones out and chuck
'em away--eh?"

"I do not understand you, Mr Bone," said the young mistress, longing
for the interview to come to an end; but he went on, speaking angrily,
and ignoring her words--

"When old Widow Marley died, I said to Mallow and the rest of 'em,
`Knock a hole through the brick wall,' I said; `make one school of it;
mix 'em all up together, boys and gals.  Give me another ten a year, and
I'll teach the lot;' but they wouldn't do it.  Said they must have a
trained mistress; and here you are."

"Yes, I am here," said Sage Portlock, rather feebly, for she had nothing
else to say.

"Only the other day you were a thin strip of a girl.  Deny it if you
can!"

"I do not deny it, Mr Bone," said Sage, determining to be firm, and
speaking a little more boldly.

"No," he continued, in his husky tones, "you can't deny it.  Then you
leave Miss Quittenton's school, and your people send you to town for two
years to be trained; and now here you are again."

Sage Portlock bowed, and looked longingly at the door, hoping for some
interruption, but none came.

"And now--" began the old master.

"Mary Smith, take the large ink-bottle into the boys' school," said the
young mistress, quickly; and the girl went to the school cupboard, took
out the great wicker-covered bottle, and was moving toward the door,
when the old master caught her by the shoulder, and held her back.

"Stop!" he said sharply.  "Take it myself.  Ha! ha!"

Sage started and coloured, for the children were amused.

"Ha, ha!--Ha--ha--ha--ha--ha!"

The old man continued his hoarse cachinnation, ending by wiping his eyes
on a washed-out ragged old print cotton handkerchief.

"It makes me laugh," he said.  "Young Ross--him I taught to write--
evening lessons up at his father's house.  Young Luke Ross! warmed him
up like a viper in my breast to turn and sting me.  Ha, ha, ha!  Master
here!"

"For shame, Mr Bone," exclaimed the young mistress, indignantly.  "Mr
Ross never sought for the engagement.  It was only after Mr Mallow's
invitation that he accepted the post."

"Mr Mallow's invitation, eh?  The Rev Eli Mallow, eh?  Better look
after his sons.  Nice wild sons!  Nice old prophet he is.  Better look
after his boys."

"And only the other day when he was down, young Mr Ross said that he
was doubtful about taking the post, and thought of declining it after
all."

"Told you so, eh?  Ha--ha--ha!  Not he.  Sweet-hearting, eh?  Ha--ha--
ha!  Very well, when he comes, knock a hole through the wall, and make
one school of it, eh?  Get married.  Fine thing for the school.  Faugh!"
Sage Portlock's face was now scarlet, and she was about to utter some
indignant remonstrance against the old man's words, when, to her intense
relief, he took the ink-bottle roughly from the girl's hand, and stumped
with it to the door.

Before he reached it, however, there was a sharp rap.  It was opened,
the latch rattling viciously, and a common-looking woman, whose face
told its own tale that its owner had been working herself up ready for
the task in hand, entered, dragging behind her a freshly-washed girl of
eleven or twelve, whose face bore the marks of recent tears.

"Youkem here," exclaimed the woman, dragging in the unwilling child, and
finishing by giving her a rough shake.  "Youkem here, and I'll see as
you're reighted, Miss."

To Sage Portlock's great disgust, instead of the old schoolmaster
passing through the open door, he carefully closed it behind the woman,
set the ink-bottle down upon a form, and, taking out his knife, began to
remake the pen, well attent the while to what went on.

"Now, Miss, if you please," said the woman, "I want to know why my girl
was kep' in yesterday and punished.  I told my master last night I'd
come on wi' her this morning, and see her reighted; and, if _you_
please, I want to know what she's done."

"I am sorry to say, Mrs Searby--" began the young mistress.

"Oh, you needn't be sorry, Miss.  Strite up and down's my motto.  I want
to know what my 'Lizabeth's done.  There's no getting her to school
nowadays.  When Mrs Marley was alive all the gals loved to come to
school, but now they hates it, and all the noo-fangled ways."

As the woman spoke, she darted a glance at the old schoolmaster, who
chuckled softly, and shook his head.

"If you will allow me to speak--" began the young mistress.

"Oh, lor', yes, Miss, I'll allow yer to speak.  I don't forget my
position.  I'm only a humble woman, I am; but I says to my master only
last night, the trouble there is to get them gals to school now is
orful.  When Mrs Marley was alive--"

"Your daughter, Mrs Searby--" began the young mistress, again.

"Yes, Miss, my daughter went to Mrs Marley, she did, and there was
never no trouble with the gal then.  As I said to Mrs Marley, I said,
all she wants is properly putting forward, that's all she wants; for
there couldn't be a quicker gal wi' her book; but nowadays there's no
gettin' of her to come; and when she do come she don't larn a bit, with
the noo-fangled ways, and gettins up and sittins down, and holdin' out
their hands, and being drilled, and stood out, and kep' in for doing
nowt.  I say it isn't fair to a child, for as I said to Mrs Marley, I
said, and she said to me, all my gal wanted was putting forward, for a
quicker gal with her book there never was, and now there's no getting of
her to school of a morning, and never no getting her back when she does
come; and the boys as goes to Mr Bone a loving their master and their
books, and a getting on wonderful.  And now, if you please, Miss," said
the woman, with a derisive curtsey, and so far run down that she had to
keep taking up the tantalising iteration of uneducated people in a fit
of temper, "I want to know, if you please, what my gal has done."

"Your daughter was very rude, very inattentive, refused to learn the
lesson I set, and incited some of the older girls to insubordination,
Mrs Searby, so that I was compelled, most reluctantly, to punish her as
an example."

The old master went on carving the quill to pieces, making and remaking
it, till the amount of useful pen was getting very short, chuckling the
while, and evidently enjoying the sidewise compliments directed at him
and his old system by the irate woman.

"My gal not behaving herself!  Why, she's as good in school as her
brothers is.  She's the best o' gals at home; and poor old Mrs Marley,
who used to keep the school here, said as my gal was one of the best
behaved and nicest children she ever see."

"Then she must have altered very much in her opinion, Mrs Searby," said
a quiet, deep, rich voice; and the woman and the old schoolmaster
started to see the Rector standing in the open door.  "Mrs Marley
consulted me several times upon the advisability of expelling your child
from the school, and, for my part, I must say that she is the most
tiresome girl that attends the Sunday classes."

"My gracious, sir!" exclaimed the woman, curtseying humbly.

"Leave her a little more to Miss Portlock here, and don't interfere,"
continued the Rector.  "Elizabeth Searby, you had better go to your
class.  Mr Bone, I have been waiting in the boys' school to see you.
Mrs Searby's two sons are heading a sort of insurrection there, and the
boys, when I went in, were pelting each other with pieces of coke from
the stove."

"Let 'em," said Humphrey Bone, snapping his fingers in defiance, as Miss
Elizabeth Searby took the opportunity of her elders' backs being turned
to put out her tongue at them, as if for medical inspection, and then
sought her class, while her mother beat a hasty retreat from the
Rector's presence.

"Let 'em!" said Humphrey Bone again; "I've done with 'em all.  I defy
you all I've worked for this school," he cried, raising his voice, "for
thirty years, and trained boys to make good men.  As for you, Rev Eli
Mallow, head of the parish as you call yourself, you haven't."

"Don't be foolish, Humphrey Bone," said the Rector, with a grave smile.
"Don't try to quarrel about the past.  What I did was as my duty; and
when you are calm you must know that it was inevitable.  Forbearance has
its limits."

"Quarrel!  Forbearance!" cried the old schoolmaster, furiously.  "How
have you done your duty?  I'm not afraid of you; you shan't kill me like
you did old Warmoth; and I'll speak now."

"My duty?  Not so well as I should," said the old clergyman, sadly.  "We
all have our regrets, Bone, for the past."

"Yes, for what you've neglected," cried the master, furiously.  "You're
not pitched out of your living in your old age; I am.  I trained my boys
well.  How about the training of yours, Rev Eli--old prophet?  How
about your boys?  Say, if you can, they are not a disgrace."

The old clergyman started as if he had been stung; his handsome, florid
face turned deadly pale, but the next moment the hot flush of
indignation suffused his countenance, mounting right up amongst the
roots of his silver hair.

"How dare--" he began; but he checked himself by an effort, and the
colour faded slowly from his face.

"Bone," he said, sadly, "you are angry, and in no fit state, mental and
bodily, to talk about these matters.  I will forget what you have just
said.  Now, back to your school; but before you go, let me tell you that
I am not the enemy you seem to think.  I have here," he said, drawing a
blue envelope from his breast, "a list of contributions, which I am
getting towards a testimonial to our old schoolmaster for his long
services.  I hope to make it reach a handsome sum."

Humphrey Bone's lips were parted to speak, but these words disarmed him,
and, muttering and shaking his head, he turned and left the place.

"Poor fellow!" said the Rector, calmly.  "I fear that at times he hardly
knows what he says."

Sage Portlock looked at him wonderingly for a few moments, and he stood
gazing at her, his countenance growing less troubled the while; and no
wonder, for Sage Portlock's was a pleasant face.  She was not handsome,
but, at the same time, she was far from plain; and there was something
attractive about her broad forehead, with its luxuriant,
smoothly-braided hair crossing each temple--for young ladies in those
days had not taken to either cutting their hair short, or to wearing
fringes or hirsute hysterics on their fronts.  There was a pleasant
regularity in her by no means classical features; her eyes were large
and winning, and her well-cut mouth, if too large according to an
artists ideal, curved pleasantly, and displayed on parting the whitest
of teeth.

"Well, Miss Portlock," said the Rector, smiling, "what a bad mistress
you must be!"

"Indeed, sir," she exclaimed, colouring, "I try very hard to--"

"Of course--of course," he said, laughing, as he walked up the
schoolroom by her side.  "My dear child, it is the old story."

"But was Mrs Marley so good a mistress, sir?" asked Sage, eagerly.

"My dear Miss Portlock, she was one of the most amiable of old women;
but it was quite shocking to see the state of the school.  `Steeped in
ignorance' is about the best description I can give you of its
condition.  Such encounters as you have had this morning fall of
necessity to the lot you have embraced, and, as you see, one of my cloth
is not exempt from such troubles."

The old man started and frowned, for just then the door was once more
opened in reply to a summons, and the gentleman who had troubled Polly
entered the school, took off his hat politely to the mistress, replaced
it, and then, apparently feeling that he had done wrong, took it off
once more.

"I heard you had come to the school," he said, "and I thought I would
follow you."

"You might have known, Cyril, that I should not be long," said the
Rector coldly.  "Good-morning, Miss Portlock," and without another word
he went to the door, pausing to hold it open while the new-comer passed
out, saluting the mistress as he did so; and then Sage Portlock was left
to continue her task.



PART ONE, CHAPTER FIVE.

ONE OF THE BOYS.

"Mr Mallow seemed displeased with Mr Cyril," thought Sage Portlock, as
she went on with her duties.  "He must have done something to annoy his
father."

Her thoughts left the subject the next moment, as she casually glanced
at the window, through which the sun was streaming, for it was one of
those glorious days when the dying year seems to flicker up, as it were,
into a hectic glow, and for the time being it seems as if summer has
come again.

In the schoolroom there was the busy hum of some sixty girls, reading,
repeating, answering questions, and keeping up that eternal whispering
which it is so hard to check, and the sun's rays as they streamed across
the room made broad, bold bars full of dancing dust.  Outside there was
the pleasant country, and, in spite of herself, the thoughts of the
young mistress strayed away a couple of miles to her home, where on such
a day she knew that they would be busy gathering the late apples, those
great, red-streaked fellows, which would be laid in the rack and covered
with straw till Christmas.  The great baking-pear tree, too, would be
yielding its bushels of heavy hard fruit, and the big medlar tree down
by the gate--she seemed to see it, as she thought--would be one blaze of
orange and red and russet gold.

It would be delicious, she thought, to run home at once instead of being
busy there; but the next moment a calm, satisfied smile came across her
face, as she recalled the long tedious days she had passed the year
before at Westminster, and began thinking and wondering about some one
else.

"I wonder how he is getting on?" she thought; "and whether he will get
one of the highest certificates.  He tries so hard, I should think it is
almost certain."

There was a pause here--a busy pause, during which a change of duty was
instituted in two or three classes; but Sage Portlock's thoughts went
back soon after, in spite of herself, to the progress of Luke Ross at
the London training college.

As she thought her cheeks reddened slightly, and she could not help
recalling the spiteful words of the old master; and, as thoughts will,
hers bounded on ahead faster and faster, till in effect she did see the
day when her old friend and companion would be settled at Lawford, and
perhaps a closer connection than that of master and mistress of the
schools have come to pass.

Meanwhile the look of displeasure upon the Rev Eli Mallow's
countenance had grown deeper and more marked as he walked away from the
school with his son, and angry words had taken place.

"Why, what nonsense, father!" exclaimed the young man.  "I heard that
you had just entered the schoolroom, and I followed to speak to you,
that's all; and here you turn rusty about it.  Hang it all, a fellow
comes home for a little peace, and the place is made miserable."

"By you, Cyril," retorted his father, sharply.  "Home is a calm and
peaceful place till you come back, and then--I grieve to say it--trouble
is sure to begin."

"Why, what have I done now?"

"Done?" said his father, bitterly, as they walked up the long town
street.  "Why, given up another chance in life.  Here, at the expense of
a thousand pounds, you are started upon this Australian expedition, to
become a settler, but at the end of two years you are back home, with
the money gone, and as unsettled as ever."

"Well, we had all that over last night and the night before.  You need
not bring it up again.  That is not why you have turned rusty," said the
young man, sulkily.

"I think I will ask you to speak respectfully to me, Cyril," said his
father, with dignity.

"Respectfully!" said Cyril, with a mocking laugh.  "Why, I'm behaving
wonderfully.  If I had stayed out at the sheep farm for another year I
should have been a perfect boor."

"And I must request, finally, that you interfere no more in any of the
parish matters."

"Well, who has interfered, father?"

"To put it plainly, then, my boy, I insist upon your keeping away from
that school."

"And for goodness' sake, father, why?"

"I will tell you," said the old clergyman, with no small show of
excitement.  "I have been reviled this morning, and accused of being
wanting in duty, especially in the management of my sons."

"Who dared to be so insolent?" cried the young man.

"I was compared to Eli of old, my boy; and I fear only too justly."

"Let's see; Eli's sons were very naughty boys, weren't they?" said the
young man, laughing.

"Silence, sir!" cried his father, flushing; "these are not matters for
your idle jests.  I acknowledge that, for your poor mother's sake, I
have given way, and been weak and indulgent to the boy she, poor
invalid, has ever worshipped; but the time has come now for me to make a
stand, ere worse befall our house."

"Why, father, what do you mean?"

"This, my son," cried the old clergyman, sternly.  "You left home two
years ago, wild and fighting against restraint.  You have come back now
rougher in your ways--"

"No wonder.  You should have led such a life as I have amongst sheep
farmers and roughs, and you wouldn't wonder at my ways."

"And far less amenable to discipline."

"Why, what do you want, father?" cried the young man, impatiently.

"Strict obedience in all things, but more especially in those where any
lapse might reflect upon my conduct as the clergyman of this parish."

"Why, of course, father--what do you suppose a fellow is going to do?"

"Do you think I'm blind, Cyril?" said his father, sternly.

"Not I, father.  Why do you ask?"

"Answer me this question.  Why did you follow me to the school?"

"To have a chat with you.  It was precious dull at home."

"Very.  It must be," said the old clergyman, ironically.  "You have been
away from home two years, and after a few days' return, its calm and
peaceful life is found dull."

"Well, so it is; plaguy dull."

"Your mother has been confined to her couch ever since Cynthia was born,
Cyril.  I have never yet heard her complain of home being dull, or
repine at her lot."

"Ah, well, I know all that!  Poor mamma!" exclaimed the young man.

"And you make that pitiful excuse to me, Cyril," cried his father: "you
stoop to deceit already."

"Who does?" cried the young man fiercely.

"You do, sir, and I tell you this shall not be.  Sage Portlock is a
pure, sweet-minded girl, in whom both your sisters and I take the
greatest interest; and I tell you that, if not engaged, there is already
a very great intimacy existing between her and Luke Ross."

"Phew!" whistled Cyril.  "What, that young prig of a fellow!  I say,
father, he's turning schoolmaster, isn't he?"

"It is settled that he shall succeed Mr Bone as soon as he has finished
his training," said Mr Mallow, quietly.

"Poor old Bone!--dry Bone, as we used to call him, because he was such a
thirsty soul.  And so Luke Ross is to be the new man, eh?  I
congratulate Lawford," he added, with a sneer.

"You have never liked Luke Ross since he gave you so sound a thrashing,"
said his father, quietly.

"He?  Thrash me?  Absurd, father!  Pooh! the fellow is beneath my
notice."

"I think we understand each other now," said Mr Mallow, with quiet
firmness.  "While you stay here, Cyril, there is to be no trifling with
any one.  You can share our home for the present--that is, until you
obtain some engagement."

"Oh, hang engagements!" cried the young man, impatiently.  "You have
plenty of money, father, both in your own right and mamma's.  Why should
I be constantly driven from home to some menial work?"

"Because it is time that your spoiled life of indulgence should cease.
There is nothing degrading in work; it is idleness that degrades."

"Oh, yes; you've lectured me enough about that," said the young man,
rudely.

"And you may take it for granted that as soon as an opening can be made
for you--"

"Opening wanted for a pushing young man," cried Cyril, mockingly.

"I shall ask you to leave home and try to do your duty in this busy
world."

"Thanks, father," said the young man, roughly.  "What am I to be?"

"Three years ago I felt that I was doing wrong in keeping you in
idleness at home."

"Idle?  Why, I was always busy, father."

"Yes--hunting, shooting, fishing, and the like; but you did not stop
there."

"Oh, nonsense?"

"To-day I feel certain that I should be doing a great injustice to the
parish--to your mother--to your sisters--"

"Any one else?" said the young man, mockingly.

"To you," replied his father, sternly.

"Any one else?"

"And to Miss Portlock and Luke Ross by allowing you to stay here."

They had reached the rectory, and the Rev Eli Mallow, who had paused
with one hand upon the oaken bar to finish his sentence, now pushed open
the quaintly-made gate, held it for a moment as if for his son to
follow; but as he did not, the Rector allowed it to close, and, placing
his hands behind him, walked slowly up the well-kept gravel walk, too
intent upon his thoughts to give heed to his favourite flowers, or to
enter the conservatory, according to his custom, on his way to his own
snug room, whose walls were well stored with works on botany and his
favourite pursuit, gardening.

Cyril Mallow gave his long moustache a tug as he watched his father's
bent back till it disappeared amongst the choice shrubs and evergreens;
then, taking out his cigar-case, he selected one from its contents, bit
off the end viciously, and there was the petulance of a spoiled child in
his action as he struck one of the old-fashioned flat fusees upon the
rough oaken gate-post till he had torn the match to rags without
obtaining a light, another and another following before he could ignite
his cigar.

"Confound the place!" he exclaimed.  "It's as dull as ditch water.
Pretty state of affairs, indeed!  One can't look at a soul without being
jerked up short.  Luke Ross, eh?  I'd like to--"

He did not say what, but he gave his teeth a grind, and, thrusting his
hands deep down into his pockets, he walked on towards the fields beyond
the little town.

"I declare everybody's hard on me," he said aloud.  "Just because I'm a
bit unlucky and want change.  Here's the governor rolling in riches, and
might make me a handsome allowance, and yet I'm always to be driven out
into the world.  Hanged if it isn't too bad."

He leaped over a stile and strolled a little way on across a field,
beyond which was a patch of woodland, all aglow with the rich tints of
autumn, but Cyril Mallow saw them not, his thoughts being elsewhere.

"I won't stand it," he cried suddenly, as he stopped short.  "A man
can't always be in leading-strings, and I'm old enough now, surely, to
strike for my liberty, and--"

His hand went involuntarily to his vest pocket, from which he drew a
delicately-made lady's gold watch, whose presence was accounted for by
the fact that Cyril's own stout gold watch had passed into the hands of
a station shepherd out at a place called Bidgeewoomba, in Queensland,
and Cyril's indulgent mother had insisted upon his using hers until it
was replaced.

"Beastly dull place!" he muttered, gazing at the watch.  "It's of no use
to go across to the ford; `our master' will be coming in to dinner.
Little fool! why did she go and marry that great oaf?"

He turned the watch over and over, laughing unpleasantly.

"Pretty Polly!" he said out aloud, but ended by opening and snapping to
the back of the watch.

"Five minutes to twelve," he exclaimed, involuntarily.  "The children
will be coming out of school directly."

He made a sharp movement in the direction of the town--stopped short--
went on again--stopped to think of the words he had had with his father,
and then, with an impatient "pish!" thrust his hands into his pockets,
and walked quickly in the direction that he knew Sage Portlock would
take on leaving the school, bent on the mission of causing misery and
dissension between two young people just making their first start in
life, and sowing the seed of certain weeds that would spring up to the
overtopping of much goodly grain.

He paused again, hesitating as he neared the rectory gates, and for a
moment he seemed as if he would enter.

But just then the church clock struck twelve, and the deep-toned bell,
as it slowly gave forth, one by one, the tale of strokes announcing that
the day had climbed to its greatest height, seemed to bring before Cyril
Mallow the scene of the schoolgirls racing out, panting and eager, while
Sage Portlock was putting on that natty little hat and long silk scarf
she wore when going to and fro.

"Oh, what nonsense!" ejaculated Cyril.  "What harm?  Perhaps I shan't
see her after all."

He strode off hastily back towards the town, for it was now five minutes
past twelve, and just at this time Sage was locking the school door, and
enjoying the fresh air, as she thought of Luke Ross with a pleasant
little smile upon her lip, and a ruddy tint on the cheek; while just a
hundred and twenty miles away Luke Ross had shouldered a spade on his
way to the great garden for the hour's manual labour prescribed by the
rules of the training school; and, oddly enough, he was not thinking of
the piece of earth he was about, in company with many more, to dig, but
of Sage Portlock, and the pleasant days when he should be down in the
country once again.



PART ONE, CHAPTER SIX.

MAGISTERIAL FUNCTIONS.

People had always said that the Rev Eli Mallow was a most fortunate
man, but somehow fate gave him his share of reverses.  He had been born
with the customary number of bones in his vertebra, wonderfully joined
together after Dame Nature's regular custom and good style of
workmanship, with suitable muscle and nerve to give proper pliability.
The nurse who used to wash and wipe and then powder his delicate young
skin considered that he was a beautiful baby, and certainly he had grown
up into a very handsome man, an ornament, with his portly form and grey
head, to the county bench, to his seat on which he was warmly welcomed
back by his neighbours, for however unpopular he might be in the
dissent-loving town of Lawford, the Rev Eli Mallow was a favourite in
his part of the county.

The late Lord Artingale had always been one of the loudest in his
praise.

"He is a man of breed, sir," his lordship would say.  "There's blood and
bone in the man.  I wish we had more clergymen of his kind.  There'd be
less poaching in the country, I can tell you, and fewer empty bags."

For the Rev Eli Mallow worked by rule, that is to say, by law.
Secular and ecclesiastical law were to be obeyed to the letter, and he
was most exacting in carrying out what he considered to be his mission,
with the result that, however well he stood in favour with his friends,
his popularity did not increase.

He was not a bad man, for he was strictly moral and self-denying, fairly
charitable, had prayers morning and evening, always walked to church on
Sundays, kept a good table, and was proud of having the best horses in
the neighbourhood.  He did his duty according to his light, but that
light was rather a small one, and it illumined a very narrow part of the
great book of life.  There were certain things which he considered
duties, and his stern obedience to cut-and-dried law, rule, and
regulation made him seem harsher than he really was.

During his absence from Lawford something approaching to economy had
been practised, and his wife's and his own property had been nursed; but
now the family had returned there was no sign of saving, for, in
addition to being a clergyman, the Rector devoted himself largely to the
carrying out of what he called his _role_ as a country gentleman, and at
whatever cost to his pocket and general strain upon the property, this
he did well as a rule.  Now, for reasons of his own relating to his two
daughters, he was launching out to an extent that made a second visit to
the Continent a very probable matter before many years were past.

Breakfast was over at the rectory.  There had been words between master
and Mr Cyril, the butler said, and master had been very angry, but, as
was usually the case, Mr Cyril had come off victorious; and now, as it
was market-day at Lawford, the bays were at the door, champing their
bits, the butler and footman were in the hall waiting, and punctual to
the moment the young ladies came hurrying down the oak staircase just as
the Rev Eli received his gloves from the butler and put them on, the
domestic waiting to hand him his hat.  This was carefully placed upon
his head, and then there was a little ceremony gone through of putting
on the glossy black overcoat, as if it were some sacred garment.

The Rev Eli did justice to his clothes, looking a thoroughly noble
specimen of his class, and once ready he unbent a little and smiled at
his pretty, ladylike daughters, whom he followed down to the handsome
barouche, which it had always been a custom to have out on bench days,
the appearance of the stylish turn-out lending no little _eclat_ to the
magisterial proceedings.

It was certainly not a mile and a half to the market-place, but though
that distance might be traversed again and again upon ordinary days,
this was out of the question when the magistrates were about to sit.

So the steps were rattled down, the young ladies handed in, Cyril
Mallow, with a cigar in his mouth, watching the proceedings from his
bedroom window.  The Rev Eli followed and took his seat with dignity;
the steps were closed, the door shut, the footman mounted to the box
beside the coachman, both stretched their legs out rigidly, and set
their backs as straight as their master's, and away the carriage spun,
through the avenue, and out at the lodge gates, where the gardener's
wife was ready to drop a curtsey and close them afterwards, and then
away through the lanes by the longest way round, so as to pass
Portlock's farm and enter Lawford by the London road.

Market-day was a busy day at Lawford, and the ostler at the King's Head
had his hands full attending to the gigs of the farmers and the carts of
the clergy and gentry round.

The word "cart" seems more suggestive of the vehicle of the tradesman;
but it was the custom around Lawford for the clergy to use a capacious
kind of spring cart, neatly painted and padded within, but in other
respects built exactly on the model of an ordinary butcher's or grocer's
trap, save that it had a door and step behind for access to the back
seats, while, below the door, painted in regular tradesman style for the
evasion of tax, would be, in thin white letters, the owners name and
address, as in the case of the vicar of Slowby, whose cart was
lettered--

"Arthur Smith, Clerk, Slowby."

There were several such carts in the inn yard on this particular
morning, for the ladies of the clerical families generally shopped on
market-days, and fetched the magazines from the bookseller's if it was
near the first of the month.

The farmers' wives and daughters, too, put in a pretty good appearance
with their egg and butter baskets, which were carried in good old style
upon the woman's arm, irrespective of the fact that she was probably
wearing a velvet jacket, and had ostrich feathers in her bonnet.

Tomlinson, the draper, was answerable for the show, and he used to boast
that the Rector might preach as he liked against finery; his shop-window
could preach a far more powerful sermon in silence, especially with
bonnets for a text.

Some of the farmers had protested a little against the love of show
evinced by their wives and daughters, but in vain.  The weaker vessels
said that the egg and butter money was their own to spend as they
pleased, and they always had something nice to show for their outlay,
which was more than the husbands and fathers, who stayed at the King's
Head so long after the market ordinary, could say.

The Rev Eli Mallow was dropped at the town-hall, where a pretty good
group of people were assembled.  There were the rustic policemen from
the various outlying villages and a couple of Lord Artingale's keepers
in waiting ready to touch their hats.  Then the ladies went off in the
carriage to make a few calls before returning to pick up papa after the
magistrates' sitting was over.

The usual country town cases: Matthew Tomlin had been drunk and riotous
again; James Jellicoe had been trespassing in search of rabbits; Martha
Madden had assaulted Elizabeth Snowshall, and had said, so it was sifted
out after a great deal of volubility, that she would "do for her"--what
she would do for her not stated; a diminutive being, a stranger, who
gave his name as Simpkins, had torn up his clothes at the workhouse, and
now appeared, to the great delight of the spectators, in a peculiar
costume much resembling a sack; another assault case arising out of the
fact that Mrs Stocktle had "called" Mrs Stivvison,--spelt Stockton and
Stevenson,--with the result that their lawful protectors had been
dragged into the quarrel, and "Jack Stivvison had `leathered' Jem
Stocktle."

Upon these urgent cases the bench of magistrates, consisting of the Rev
Eli Mallow, chairman, the Rev Arthur Smith, Sir Joshua St. Henry, and
the Revds Thomas Hampson, James Lawrence Barton, and Onesimus
Leytonsby, solemnly adjudicated.

Then came the important case of the day; two men, who gave the names of
Robert Thorns and Jock Morrison, were placed at the table.

The first was a miserable, dirty-looking object, who seemed to have made
a vow somewhere or another never to wash, shave, or sleep in anything
but hay and straw, some of which was sticking still in his tangled hair;
the other was a different breed of rough.

Rough, certainly, a spectator who had judged the two idlers would have
said; but he was decidedly a country rough, and did not belong to town.
His big, burly look and length of limb indicated a man of giant
strength; at least six feet high, his chest was deep and broad, and in
his brown, half gipsy-looking face, liberally clothed with the darkest
of dark-brown beards, there shone a pair of fierce dark eyes.  Scraped
and sand-papered down, and clothed in brown velveteen, with cord
trousers and brown leather gaiters, he would have made a gamekeeper of
whose appearance any country magnate might have been proud.  As it was,
his appearance before the country bench of magistrates was enough to
condemn him for poaching.

There was something of the keeper, too, in his appearance, for he had on
a well-worn velveteen coat and low soft hat, but his big, soft hands
told the tale of what he was--a ne'er-do-well, who looked upon life as a
career in which no man was bound to work.

Such was Jock Morrison.

The case was plain against them, and they knew that they would have to
suffer, for Jock was pretty well known for these affairs.  Upon former
occasions his brother Tom, the wheelwright, had paid guineas to Mr
Ridley, the Lawford attorney, to defend him, but there were bounds to
brotherly help.

"I can't do it for ever," Tom Morrison had said to his young wife.
"I've give Jock every chance I could; now he must take care of himself."

Big Jock Morrison looked perfectly able to do that, as he now stood with
his hands in his pockets, staring about him in a cool defiant way.  It
seemed that he had been warned off Lord Artingale's ground several
times, but had been too cunning for the keepers, and had only been taken
red-handed the previous day, very early in the morning, so evidence
showed; and he and his companion had upon them a hare, a rabbit, and a
couple of pheasants, beside some wire snares and a little rusty
single-barrelled gun, whose barrel unscrewed into two pieces, and which,
so the head-keeper deposed, was detached from the stock and stowed away
in the inner pocket of the big prisoner's coat.

Gun, powder-flask, tin measure, and bag of shot, with game, placed upon
the table.

"And what did the prisoners say when you came upon them by--where did
you say, keeper?" said one magistrate.

"Runby Spinney, Sir Joshua, just where the Greenhurst lane crosses the
long coppice, Sir Joshua."

"And what did the prisoners say?" said the chairman stiffly.

"Said they was blackberrying, Sir."

"Oh!" said the chairman, and he appeared so stern that no one dared
laugh, though a young rustic-looking policeman at whom Jock Morrison
winked turned red in the face with his efforts to prevent an explosion.

"Did they make any--er--er--resistance, keeper?" said the chairman.

"The big prisoner, sir, said he'd smash my head if I interfered with
him."

"Dear me!  A very desperate character," said Sir Joshua.  "And did he?"

"No, Sir Joshua, we was too many for him.  There was me, Smith, Duggan,
and the two pleecemen, so they give in."

And so on, and so on.

Had the prisoners anything to say in their defence?

The dirty man had not, Jock Morrison had.  "Lookye here: he didn't take
the game, shouldn't ha' taken it, only they foun' 'em all lying aside
the road.  It was a fakement o' the keeper's, that's what it was.  They
was a pickin' blackberries, that's what him and his mate was a doin' of,
and as soon as the 'ops was ready they was a going down south to pick
'ops."

The magistrates' clerk, the principal solicitor in the town, smiled, and
said he was afraid they would miss the hop-picking that season, as it
was over.

There was a short conference on the bench, and then the Rev Eli Mallow
sentenced the prisoners to three months' imprisonment, and told them it
was very fortunate for them that they had not resisted the law.

"You arn't going to quod us for three months along o' them birds and
that hare, are you?" said Jock Morrison.

"Take them away, policeman."

"Hold hard a moment," said the big fellow, so fiercely that the sergeant
present drew back.  "Look here, parsons, you'll spoil our hop-picking."

"Take them away, constable," said the Rev Eli.  "The next case."

"Hold hard, d'ye hear!" cried the big ruffian, in a voice of thunder.
"I s'pose, parson," he continued, addressing the chairman, "if I say
much to you, I shall get it laid on thicker."

"My good fellow," said the Rev Eli, "you have been most leniently
dealt with.  I am sorry for you on account of your brother, a most
respectable man, who has always set you an admirable example, and--"

"I say," exclaimed Jock, "this arn't chutch, is it?"

There was a titter here, but the chairman continued:--

"I will say no more, as you seem in so hardened a frame of mind, only
that if you are violent you may be committed for trial."

"All right," said the great fellow, between his gritting teeth; "I don't
say no more, only--all right: come along, matey; we can do the three
months easy."

There was a bit of a bustle, and the prisoners were taken off.  The rest
of the cases were despatched.  The carriage called for the chairman, and
on the way back it passed the police cart, with the sergeant giving the
two poaching prisoners a ride, but each man had his ankle chained to a
big ring in the bottom of the vehicle, where they sat face to face, and
the sergeant and his man were driving the blackberry pickers to the
county gaol.

"What a dreadful-looking man!" said Julia, as in passing Jock Morrison
ironically touched his soft felt hat.

"Yes, my dear--poachers," said the Rev Eli calmly, as one who felt
that he had done his duty to society, and never for a moment dreaming
that he had been stirring Fate to play him another bitter turn.



PART ONE, CHAPTER SEVEN.

POLLY'S SURPRISE.

There was a dark shadow over Polly Morrison's mind, and she started and
shivered at every step when her husband was away at work, but only to
brighten up when the great sturdy fellow came in, smelling of wood, and
ready to crush her in his arms with one of his bear-like hugs.

Polly had been furtively gazing from the window several times on the
afternoon of that market-day, and turned hot and cold as she had heard
steps which might be those of some one coming there; but the cloud
passed away in the sunshine of Tom Morrison's happy smile, now that he
had come in, and she felt, as she expressed it, "oh! so safe."

"There, let me go, do, Tom," she cried, merrily.  "Oh, what a great
strong, rough fellow you are!"

"No, no; stop a minute," he said here.  "I oughtn't to be smiling, for
I've just heard something, Polly."

"Heard something, Tom!" she faltered, and she turned white with dread,
and shrank away.

"Here, I say," he cried, "you must get up your strength, lass.  Why,
what a shivering little thing thou art!"

"You--you frightened me, Tom," she gasped.

"Frightened you?  There, there, it's nothing to frighten thee.  I have
just heard about Jock."

"Oh! about Jock," cried Polly, drawing a breath full of relief.  "I hope
he has got off."

"Well, no, my lass, he hasn't, and I'm sorry and I'm not sorry, if thou
canst understand that.  I'm sorry Jock is to be punished, and I'm not
sorry if it will do him good.  Arn't you ashamed of having a husband
with such a bad brother?"

"Ashamed!  Oh, Tom!" she cried, throwing her arms about his neck.

"Well, if you are not, I am," said Tom, sadly; "and I can't help
thinking that if old Humphrey Bone had done his duty better by us, Jock
would have turned out a different man."

"But tell me, Tom, are they going to do anything dreadful to him?"

"Three months on bread and water, my lass," said Tom Morrison,--"bread
of repentance and water of repentance; and I hope they'll do him good,
but I'm afraid when he comes out he'll be after the hares and pheasants
again, and I'm always in a fret lest he should get into a fight with the
keepers.  But there, my lass, I can't help it.  I'd give him a share of
the business if he'd take to it, but he wean't.  I shan't fret, and if
people like to look down on me about it, they may."

"But they don't, Tom, dear," cried Polly, with her face all in dimples,
the great trouble of her life forgotten for the time.  "I've got such a
surprise for you."

"Surprise for me, lass?  What is it?  A custard for tea?"

"No, no; what a boy you are to eat!" cried Polly, merrily.

"Just you come and smell sawdust all day, and see if you don't eat,"
cried Tom.  "Here, what is it?"

"Oh, you must wait.  There, what a shame! and you haven't kissed baby."

She ran out to fetch the baby and hold it up to him to be kissed, while
she looked at him with all a young mother's pride in the little one, of
which the great sturdy fellow had grown so fond.

"It makes me so happy, Tom," she said, with the tears in her eyes.

"Happy, does it, lass?"

"Oh, yes.  So--so happy," she cried, nestling to him with her baby in
her arms, and sighing with her sense of safety and content, as the
strong muscles held her to the broad breast.  "I was afraid, Tom, that
you might not care for it--that you would think it a trouble, and--
and--"

"That you were a silly little wife, and full of foolish fancies," he
cried, kissing her tenderly.

"Yes, yes, Tom, I was," she cried, smiling up at him through her tears.
"But come--your tea.  Here, Budge."

Budge had been a baby herself once--a workhouse baby--and she looked it
still, at fourteen.  Not a thin starveling, but a sturdy workhouse baby,
who had thriven and grown strong on simple oatmeal fare.  Budge was
stout and rosy, and daily putting on flesh at Tom Morrison's cottage,
where her duty was to "help missus, and nuss the bairn."

But nearly always in Polly's sight; for the first baby was too sacred a
treasure in that cottage home to be trusted to any hands for long.

She was a good girl, though, was Budge; her two faults prominent being
that when she cried she howled--terribly, and that "the way"--to use Tom
Morrison's words--"she punished a quartern loaf was a sight to see."

Budge, fat, red-faced, and round-eyed, with her hair cut square at the
ends so that it wouldn't stay tucked behind her ears, but kept coming
down over her eyes, came running to take baby, and was soon planted on a
three-legged stool on the clean, red-tiled floor, where she began
shaking her head--and hair--over the baby, like a dark-brown mop, making
the little eyes stare up at it wonderingly; and now and then a faint,
rippling smile played round the lips, and brightened the eyes, to
Budge's great delight.

For just then Budge was hard pressed.  Workhouse matron teaching had
taught her that when she went out to service it would be rude to stare
at people when they were eating; and now there was the pouring out of
tea, and spreading of butter, and cutting of bread and bacon going on in
a way that was perfectly maddening to a hungry young stomach, especially
if that stomach happened to be large, and its owner growing.

Budge's stomach was large, and Budge was growing, so she was hard
pressed: and do what she would, she could not keep her eyes on the baby,
for, by a kind of attraction, they would wander to the tea-table, and
that loaf upon which Tom Morrison was spreading a thick coating of
yellow butter, prior to hacking off a slice.

Poor Budge's eyes dilated with wonder and joy as, when the slice was cut
off, nearly two inches thick, Tom stuck his knife into it, and held the
mass out to her, with--

"Here, lass, you look hungry.  Tuck that away."

Budge would have made a bob, but doing so would have thrown the baby on
the floor; so she contented herself with saying "Thanky, sir," and
proceeded to make semicircles round the edge of the slice, and to drop
crumbs on the baby's face.

"Well, lass," said Tom, as Polly handed him his great cup of tea, "about
the christening?  When's it to be?"

"On Sunday, Tom, and that's what I wanted to tell you--it's my
surprise."

"What's a surprise?"

"Why, about the godmothers, dear.  Why, I declare," she pouted, "you
don't seem to mind a bit."

"Oh, but I do," he said, "only I'm so hungry.  Well, what about the
godmothers?"

"Why, Miss Julia and Miss Cynthia have promised to stand.  Isn't it
grand?"

"Grand?  Oh, I don't know."

"Tom!"

"Well, I suppose it is grand, but I don't know.  It's all right if they
like it.  But about poor Jock?"

"Oh, that won't make any difference, dear.  They've promised, and I know
they won't go back.  They'll be the two godmothers, and you the
godfather."

"Of course," cried Tom, eating away; "two godmothers and a godfather,
eh, lass? that's right, isn't it?"

"Yes, Tom," said the little woman, eagerly attending to her husband's
wants, "and two godfathers and a godmother if it's a boy."

"It'll be a grand christening, won't it, Polly?" said Tom.

"Oh, no, dear.  Miss Julia and Miss Cynthia are the dearest and best of
girls, and they have no pride.  Miss Julia talked to me the other day
just like a friend."

"I say," cried Tom, eagerly.

"What, dear?"

"Why not do the thing in style while we're about it.  What do you say to
asking young Mr Cyril to be godfather?"

If Tom Morrison had looked up then he would have been startled at the
livid look in his young wife's face, but he was too intent upon his tea,
and Polly recovered herself and said--

"Oh, no, dear, that would not do, and the young ladies would not like
it.  Look here, Tom."

Polly tripped to a basket, from which she produced a white cloak and
hood, trimmed with swan's-down; and these she held up before her
husband, flushed and excited, as, in her girlish way, she wondered
whether he would like them.

Budge left off eating, and wished for a white dress on the spot, trimmed
with silk braid, like that.

"Say," said Tom, thickly, speaking with his mouth fall, "they're fine,
arn't they?--cost a lot o' money."

"No," said Polly, gleefully, "they cost nothing, Tom.  Miss Julia made
me a present of the stuff, and I made them."

"Did you, though?" he said, looking at her little fingers, admiringly.
"You're a clever girl, Polly; but I often wonder how it was you came to
take up with a rough chap like me."

Polly looked up in his steady, honest eyes, and rested one hand upon
his, and gazed lovingly at him, as he went on--

"My old woman said it was because I'd got a cottage, and an acre of land
of my own."

"Did she say so, Tom?"

"Yes," he said, taking her hand, patting it, and gazing up in the pretty
rustic face he called his own; "but I told her you were a silly little
girl, who would have me if I'd got a cottage and an acre less than
nothing to call my own."

"And you told the truth, Tom, dear," she whispered.  "Tom, you make me
so happy in believing in me like this."

"Tut, tut, my girl.  I'm not clever; but I knew you."

"And married me without anything, only enough to buy my wedding dress
and a little furniture."

"D'yer call that nothing?" said the hearty, Saxon-faced young fellow,
pointing to the baby; "because I don't.  And I say, Polly, dear," he
whispered, archly, "perhaps that's only the thin end of the wedge."

"Hush, Tom, for shame!" she said, trying to frown, and pointing to
Budge; while he took a tremendous bite of bread and bacon, and chuckled
hugely at his joke.

"The old lady used to have it that you were too fine for me, Polly, and
would have been setting your cap at one of the young gentlemen at the
rectory when you was abroad with them."

"Tom!" she panted, as his words seemed to stab her, and she ran out of
the room.

"Why, Polly, Polly," he cried, following her and holding her to his
breast, "what a touchy little thing thou art since baby came!  Why, as
if I didn't know that ever since you were so high you were my little
sweetheart, and liked great rough me better than the finest gentleman as
ever walked.  There, there, there!  I was a great lout to talk like that
to thee.  Come, wipe thy eyes."

"I can't bear it, Tom, if you talk like that," she sobbed, smiling at
him through her tears.  "There, it's all over now."

There was a little cold shiver at Polly Morrison's breast, though, all
the same, and it kept returning as she sat there over her work that
evening, rocking the cradle with one foot, and wondering whether she
could gain strength enough to tell her husband all about Cyril Mallow,
and the old days at Dinan.

But no, she could not, and they discussed, as Tom smoked his pipe, the
state of affairs at the rectory; how Mrs Mallow remained as great an
invalid as ever, and how they seemed to spare no expense, although
people had said they went abroad because they had grown so poor.

"Folk seem strange and sore against parson," said Tom at last.

"Then it's very cruel of them, for master is a real good man," cried
Polly.

"They don't like it about owd Sammy Warmoth.  They say he killed him,"
said Tom, between the puffs of his pipe.

"Such nonsense!" cried Polly; "and him ninety-three."

"Then they are taking sides against him for wanting to get rid of
Humphrey Bone."

"And more shame for them," cried Polly, indignantly.

"Well, I don't know," said Tom; "I've rather a liking for old Humphrey.
He taught me."

"He's a nasty wicked old man," cried Polly.  "He tried to kiss me one
day when he was tipsy."

"He did?" cried Tom, breaking his pipe in the angry rush that seemed to
come over him.

"Yes, Tom, and I boxed his ears," said the little woman, shivering
again, for the fit of jealous anger did not escape her searching eyes.

"That's right, lass.  I'm dead on for a new master now."

Then a discussion arose as to the baby's name, Tom wanting it to be
called after his wife, who was set upon Julia, and she carried the day.

"There," said Tom, "if anybody had told me a couple of years ago that
any bit of a thing of a girl was going to wheedle me, and twist me round
her finger, and do what she liked with me, I should have told him he
didn't know what he was talking about."

"And you don't mind, Tom, dear?"

"No," he said, smiling, "I don't mind, if it pleases thee, my lass."

"And it does, dear, very, very much," she said, kissing him.

But Polly Morrison did not feel happy, and several times that night
there was the little shiver of dread at her heart, and she wished she
could tell Tom all.



PART ONE, CHAPTER EIGHT.

THE BLACK SHADOW.

It was, as Julia Mallow said, a very pretty baby, that of Polly Morrison
and her husband, when she spoke to her invalid mother, lying so
patiently passive upon the couch in her own room; but that weak little
morsel of humanity had a part to play in the troubles of the Rev Eli
Mallow's life.  For hardly had the tiny babe sent to the care of Tom
Morrison and his young wife begun to smile upon them, than it was taken
suddenly ill.

No childish ailment this, brought on by careless attendance; but the
cold grey hand of death was laid upon the fragile form, its little
eyes--erst so bright and blue--sunken, and the tiny nose pinched and
blue.

Julia and Cynthia Mallow had been in to see her, and found the little
woman prostrate with grief, and then hurried to the town for medical
advice, though that of fifty doctors would have been in vain.

"Pray, pray, Tom, go and ask Budge not to cry," sobbed Polly, as her
husband knelt at her side; for ever and again, from below, came a long,
dismal cry, that almost resembled the howl of a dog in a state of
suffering.

Tom Morrison rose in a heavy, dull way, and slowly descended the stairs,
returning in a minute to resume his place beside his wife, turning his
eyes to hers, as they looked up to him in mute agony.

They could not speak, but they read each other's hearts, and knew full
well that nothing could be done; that the tiny life that had been given
to them to have in charge was passing fast away--so fast, and yet so
gently that neither knew it had gone till, alarmed by the slow dilation
of the little eyes, and their fixed and determinate look, Polly bent
over the waxen form in eager fear, caught it tightly to her breast, and
then sank back in her chair, crying--

"Tom, Tom, God has taken it away!"  An hour later, husband and wife were
sitting hand in hand by the little couch on which their darling lay, so
still and cold, its tiny face seeming restful, free from pain, and
almost wearing a smile, while on either hand, and covering its breast,
were the best of the simple, homely flowers the garden could produce.

There was a heavy, blank look upon the parents' faces; for even then
they could not realise their loss.  It was so sudden, seemed so strange;
and from time to time Polly got softly up, to lean down and hold her
cheek close to the little parted lips, to make sure that the infant did
not breathe; but there was no sign, and when she pressed her lips to the
white forehead, it was to find it cold as ice.

Budge had been silent for some time, going about the house on tiptoe,
and, like those above, too stunned to work; but her homely mind was busy
for a way to show her sympathy, and this she did by making and taking up
on the little tray two steaming cups of tea, each flanked by a goodly
slice.

Poor Budge! she had not calculated her strength aright; for on softly
entering the room, and setting down the tray, she turned her head, and
saw the simple flower-strewn bier, gave a long, loving look, and then,
sinking on her knees, with her hands to her eyes, burst forth into a
wild and passionate wail.

It was even ludicrous, but it touched the hearts of those who heard; for
with it came the passionate yearning of the desolate child for the love
and sympathy it had never known, but for which its young heart had
hungered so long.  It told of nights of misery, and a desire for a
something it felt it ought to possess but had never had, as now, raising
her hands, she wailed forth her prayer--

"Oh, please, God, let me die instead, let me die instead."

As she finished, there was another wild burst of hysterical sobbing, and
Polly had flung herself in the child's arms, clinging to her, kissing
her passionately, as she cried--

"Oh, Budge, my poor girl!  Oh, Budge, you'll break my heart!"

Tom Morrison could bear no more, but stumbled heavily from the room,
down-stairs, and out into his garden, where daybreak found him sitting,
with his face buried in his hands, on the bit of rustic seat beneath the
old weeping willow that grew in the corner, with its roots washed by the
river that formed one of the boundaries of the little freehold.

The sun was rising gloriously, and the east was one sheet of gold and
orange damask, shot with sapphire, as the sturdy workman rose.

"I must be a man over it--a man," he faltered, "for her sake."  And he
slowly strode into the house, and up-stairs, to find his wife kneeling
where he had left her, wakeful and watching, with poor Budge fast
asleep, with her head upon Polly's lap, and her two roughened hands
holding one of those of her mistress beneath her cheek.

The wheelwright walked up to the sleeping babe, and kissed it; then,
gently taking Budge's head, he placed it upon a pillow from the bed;
while, lastly, he raised poor Polly as though she had been a child,
kissed her cold lips, and laid her down, covering her with the clothes,
and holding one of her hands, as he bade her sleep; and she obeyed, that
is to say, she closed her heavy eyes.

In the course of the morning, stern, crotchety old Vinnicombe, the
Lawford doctor, sought out the stricken father, finding that he had not
been to his workshop, but was down his garden, where, after a few
preliminaries, he broke his news.

"What?" he said, starting.  "There, sir, I'm dazed like now; please, say
it again."

"I'm very sorry, Morrison--very," said the doctor, "for I respect you
greatly, and it must be a great grief to your poor little wife; but I
have seen him myself, as I did about Warner's child, and he is very much
cut up about it; but as to moving him, he is like iron."

"I can't quite understand it, sir," said Tom, flushing.  "Do you mean to
say, sir, that parson won't bury the child?"

"Well, it is like this, Morrison," said the doctor, quietly, "he is a
rigid disciplinarian--a man of High Church views, and he says it is
impossible for him to read the Burial Service over a child that was not
a Christian."

"That was not a Christian?" said Tom slowly.

"He says he condoles with you, and is very sorry; that the poor little
thing can be buried in the unconsecrated part of the churchyard; but he
can grant no more."

"Doctor," cried the wheelwright, fiercely, "I don't be--There, sir, I
beg your pardon," he continued, holding out his rough hand; "but it
seems too hard to believe that any one could speak like this.  The poor
little thing couldn't help it, sir; and we should have had it done next
Sunday.  Why, sir, the poor girl was only showing me the little--don't
take notice o' me, sir, please; I'm like a great girl now."

As he spoke, he sank down upon an upturned box, and, covering his face
with his hands, remained silent; but with his heaving shoulders telling
the story of his bitter emotion.

"Be a man, Morrison--be a man," said the doctor, kindly, as he laid his
hand upon the stricken fellow's shoulder.

"Yes, doctor," he said, rising and dashing away the signs of his
grief--"this is very childish, sir; but it's a bit upset me, and now
this news you bring me seems to make it worse.  I'll go up and see
parson.  He won't refuse when he knows all."

"Yes, go up and see him," said the doctor, kindly.  "Can I do anything
for you?"

"No, sir, thanky," said the wheelwright, meekly; "you couldn't do what I
wanted, sir--save that poor little thing's life.  There's nothing more."

"No," said the doctor; "our profession is powerless in such a case.  The
child was so young and tender that--"

"Don't say any more, sir, please," said Morrison, with his lip
quivering.  And then he turned away from the house, so as to avoid
Biggins the carpenter, who had just come in at the garden gate, and
walked on tiptoe along the gravel walk, up to the door, where he was met
by a neighbour, who led him up-stairs.

Biggins, the Lawford carpenter, was the newly-appointed sexton of the
church, and between him and Tom Morrison there was supposed to exist a
bitter hatred, because Biggins the carpenter had once undertaken to make
a wheelbarrow for the rectory garden, and Morrison had made a coffin for
one of the Searby children who died of a fit of measles.

The feud seemed to be a bitter one, for when he came out of the cottage
five minutes later, he turned down the garden, seeing which, the doctor
shook hands with Morrison, and at parting said--

"Let me give you something to do you good, Tom."

"What, sir, doctor's stuff?" said the wheelwright, with a look of
wonder.  "I want no physic."

"Yes, you do," said the doctor, smiling, as he laid the silver knob of
his stick on the stout fellow's breast--"yes, you do.  I can minister to
a mind diseased as well as to a body.  Look here, my lad, you must bear
your suffering like a man; so, now go and do this--"

Tom made an impatient movement to go, but the doctor stayed him.

"There is nothing like work at such a time as this," he said.  "Go and
see the parson, and then set to and work harder than ever you worked
before in your life.  It will give you ease."

"You're right, Mr Vinnicombe, you're right," said Tom, bluntly.
"Thanky, sir--thanky.  Good-bye."

As the doctor walked out of the gate, Biggins the carpenter, a
hard-faced man, who emitted a strong odour of glue from his garments,
walked up, tucking a piece of sandpaper upon which he had been writing,
and his square carpenter's pencil, that he had pointed with four chops
of his chisel before starting, into one of his pockets.

"Thy savoy cabbages look well, neighbour," he said quietly, as being the
most sympathetic thing he could think of at the moment.  Then he held
out his hand, shook the other's warmly, without a word, and then stood
by him, breathing heavily, and looking down at the ground.

Five minutes passed like this, without a word on either side, Morrison
manifesting no impatience, and Biggins showing no disposition to go; for
it was his way of showing sympathy to a friend in distress, and Morrison
felt it so to be, and thanked him in his heart.

At last the carpenter, who was used to funerals, and who was now next
door to being clerk, heaved a heavy sigh, stooped down, picked a strand
from the grass plot, and held it at arm's length, looking at it fixedly
for a minute or so, before saying, huskily--

"All flesh is grass, Tom Morrison--flowers of the field--cut down--
withered.  Amen."

He said it in a slow, measured way, and with a nasal twang, the last
word closing his disconnected speech after quite an interval; and then
the two men stood together for some minutes in silence.

At last Biggins spoke again, but without raising his eyes, looking down
at the garden path, as if for a place to plant the bent he had broken
from its roots.

"Poor wife!  She's terribly cut up, Tom."

There was another interval of silence, and then Biggins said, as if to
himself, and still gazing at the path--

"White cloth, and silver breastplate and nails?"

There was another pause, and then Tom said in a weary, dull way--

"As if it was one of your own, my lad--as if it was one of your own."

"Good-bye, Tom Morrison--good-bye, lad," said Biggins, holding out his
hand once more, but with his back half turned to his neighbour
"Good-bye," said Tom, squeezing the honest, hard fist held out to him in
a manly grip; and, with a sigh, Biggins was turning off, when a word
from the wheelwright arrested him.  "Come down here, lad, away from the
house," said Tom, huskily.

Biggins looked up now, his heavy face lighting up.  Tom Morrison wanted
him to do something for him.  He could do that, if he could not show
sympathy.

They walked down the neatly-kept garden, till they stood under the
willow tree, where, after a few minutes' silence, Tom Morrison said
huskily--

"They've made you saxon now, haven't they, Joe?"

"Yes, and ought to be clerk as well, but it don't seem like being saxon
in these newfangled days, when the ground's cut from under a man, and
there's no chance of putting in a simple, honest amen anywhere.  Ah, I
don't know what poor, dear old parson would have said to see the change.
He'd think we'd all gone over to Popery."

Tom waited till his friend, now suddenly grown voluble, had ceased.

"Joe Biggins," he said, "didst ever know old parson--God bless him!--to
refuse to bury any one out of the place because--because they wasn't
baptised?"

"Never," said Biggins--"never," energetically.

"He never had such a case, p'raps," said Tom.

"Oh, but he did," said Biggins--"even in my time.  Why, there was poor
Lizzy Baker's child.  You knew Sam Baker?"

Tom nodded.

"Well, when their little one died it hadn't been christened, I know.  I
remember father talking about it while he made the coffin, and I
recollect it so well because it was the first coffin I ever put the
nails in all by myself.  Let's see, that's a good fifteen year ago now,
Tom, that it be."

"And he buried it?"

"To be sure he did.  Why, I remember as well as if it had been
yesterday.  He says to my father, he says, `I never like to be too
partic'lar about these baptismal matters.  It's not 'cording to church
law, but I couldn't put such a sorrow on the poor father and mother as
to refuse the service, and I hope I'm right.'"

"He said so?" whispered the wheelwright, half turning away his face.

"I can't as a man, Tom, sweer to the zact words," said the carpenter,
earnestly; "but I'll sweer as they meant all that, long ago as it is."

"God bless him!" muttered Tom, with his lower lip working.

"Old parson wasn't particular about those sort o' things.  Don't you
remember about poor old Dick Granger?  To be sure--yes--we were boys
then, and went to Humphrey Bone.  Ay, and what a rage he do wax in again
parson now, toe be sewer.  I recklect father talking about it.  You
remember, sewer_ly_, old Granger went off his head, and drowned himself
in Cook's mill dam, and the jury said it was _felo de se_; and Johnson
up at the Red Cow was foreman, and wanted him to be buried at the cross
roads, with a stake druv through his heart.  Why, it's all come back
now.  I recklect it all; how old parson went to the poor old widow, and
talked to her; and there was a big funeral.  Everybody went to see poor
old Granger buried in the churchyard; and he was buried all regular, and
parson preached the next Sunday about brotherly love and Christian
charity.  Why, Tom, you and I was about seventeen then.  How time do
go!"

"Yes--I remember," said the wheelwright, bowing his head.

"Ah," said Biggins, "those were the days, Tom; even if one did get to
know some of poor old parson's sarmons.  We sang the old psalms and
hymns then, and Miss Jane used to practise twice a week with us boys at
the little organ that old Davy, Franklin's gardener, used to turn the
handle on.  There was no choral sarvice then, and white gowns for the
children.  Ah, a clerk's place was worth having then.  It wasn't many on
'em as could roll out _Amen_ like poor old Sammy Warmoth."

"Joe Biggins," said the wheelwright, checking the flood of
recollections--"doctor says Rev Mallow won't--won't--"

"Won't bury the little one?"  Tom's voice failed him, and he nodded
shortly.

"Phew!"

Biggins gave a low, sibilant whistle.  Then, flushing up, he exclaimed--

"Damn him!  No--I don't mean that.  Lord forgive me for speaking so of a
parson.  But, I say, Tom--oh, no, he can't mean it, lad.  Tell you what,
he's a queer one, and as proud as a peacock, and his boys arn't what
they should be.  You needn't tell him what I say, for I don't want to
offend nobody, that's my motter through life; but parson's a parson, and
he's bound to practise what he preaches.  You go and see him."

"I mean to."

"Shall I go with thee, lad?"

"No.  I'll go alone."

"P'raps you'd better, lad.  If he makes any bones about it, ask him as a
favour--don't be hot with him, Tom, but a bit humble.  I know thee don't
like to ask favours of any man; but do't for her sake, Tom--indoors."

Biggins pointed over his shoulder with his thumb, and the wheelwright
nodded.

"When is the best time to see him?" said Tom, after a few moments'
silence.

"Well, it's no good to go till 'bout two o'clock, after his lunch.  He
won't see me, even on parish matters, in the morning."

The wheelwright nodded, and, without another word, Biggins went away,
passing the cottage, with its drawn-down blinds, on tiptoe, and shaking
his fist at a boy who was whistling as he went along the road.



PART ONE, CHAPTER NINE.

ORTHODOX TO A DEGREE.

The Rev Lawrence Paulby looked rather aghast at the changes Mr Mallow
was effecting in the church, and sighed as he thought of the
heart-burnings that were ever on the increase; but he said nothing, only
went on with his daily routine of work, and did his best, to use his own
words, "for everybody's sake."

Joe Biggins, as we have learned, had succeeded old Sammy Warmoth as far
as a successor was wanted, and he now, in a most sheepish manner,
looking appealingly at the Curate, wandered about the church as a
verger, in a long black gown, and carrying a white wand, to his very
great disgust and the amusement of the schoolboys, several of whom had
tested its quality.  The little old organ had been brought down from the
loft where the singers used to sit, and placed in the chancel, where
there was no room for it, so a kind of arched cupboard had been built
expressly to contain it; and where the Rector's and churchwardens'
families used to sit, close up by the communion rails, was now occupied
by the surpliced choir, who weekly attempted a very bad imitation of a
cathedral service.  They chanted all the psalms to the Gregorian tones,
item, the responses and the amens; and beginning always very flat, they
gradually grew worse and worse, till, towards the close of the service,
they would be singing a long way on towards a semitone beneath the
organ, which always gave a toot to pitch the key for the Rector or
Curate to start in intoning his part.

The very first Sunday that this was tried, Mr Lawrence Paulby broke out
into a vexatious perspiration that made his head shine; for in spite of
all his practice at the schoolroom, no matter how he tried to draw their
attention to the coming task, dwelling as he did upon such words at the
end of a prayer as "Be with us all--ever--m--o--r--e," the chanted
"Amen," delivered out of tune by the inattentive young surpliced choir,
aided and abetted by the schoolmaster Bone's bass, was something so
shocking that, if it had been anything but a sacred service, it might
have been called a burlesque.

It did not matter whether he was himself intoning, or listening to Mr
Mallow's rich deep voice, the Curate always sat in agony lest any one
should laugh, a horror that he could not contemplate without a shudder,
and he wished in his heart that the Rector would take it into his head
to go again.

Parish business took the Curate over to the rectory on the morning
succeeding the death of Tom Morrison's little one.  He had been up to
town, and returned only late the past night, the result being that he
had not heard of the wheelwright's trouble, or he would at once have
called.

He was a very nervous man, and the probabilities were that had he known
what was about to happen, he would have stayed away.  He had expected to
be asked to stay lunch, and he had stayed.  Then conversation had ensued
on the forthcoming visitation of the bishop of the diocese.  Cyril
Mallow had made two or three remarks evidently intended to "chaff the
Curate," as he would have termed it, and to provoke a laugh from his
sisters; but in neither case was he successful, and as soon as lunch was
over, the Rector rose and led the way to his study, where he waved his
hand towards a chair.

The Curate had hardly taken his seat, feeling rather oppressed at his
principal's grand surroundings as contrasted with his own modest
apartments at the old rectory, when the butler entered softly to
announce that the wheelwright wished to see him.

The Curate rose to leave.

"No, no, sit still," said the Rector.  "That will do, Edwards; I will
ring," and the butler retired.

"I am glad you are here, Paulby; I was going to speak upon this
business.  You have heard of it, I suppose?"

"Heard?  Of what?" said the Curate.

"Morrison's child is dead," said the Rector.

"The baby!  God bless me!" ejaculated the Curate.  "I beg your pardon,
Mr Mallow," he continued, blushing like a girl.  "It was so shocking.
I was so surprised."

The Rector bowed gravely, and went and stood with his back to the
fireplace, and rang.

"You can show Mr Morrison in, Edwards," said the Rector, and poor Tom
Morrison was ushered in a few moments later, to stand bowing as the door
was closed; but in no servile way, for the sturdy British yeoman was
stamped in his careworn face, and he was one of the old stock of which
England has always felt so proud.

The Rector bowed coldly, and pointed to a seat--standing, however,
himself behind his writing-table.

"Ah, Morrison," exclaimed the Curate, after an apologetic glance at the
Rector, "I cannot tell you how I am shocked at this news.  I did not
know of it this morning, or I would have come down."

He held out his hand to the visitor as he spoke, an act Mr Mallow
forgot, and it was gratefully pressed.

Then feeling that he was not at home, Mr Paulby coughed, and resumed
his seat.

"I've come, sir," said the wheelwright, "about a little business."

He hesitated, and glanced at Mr Paulby as if he did not wish to speak
before him.

"I think, sir," said the Curate, respectfully, "Mr Morrison wishes to
speak to you in private."

"I believe it is on a church question," said the Rector, sternly.  "Mr
Morrison, you need not be afraid to speak before him."

"I'm not, sir, on my account," said the wheelwright, bluntly.  "I was
thinking of you, sir."

"What you have to say can be said before Mr Paulby.  It would be
affectation on my part not to own that I know the object of your visit."

"Well, sir, then, to be plain," said Tom, clearing his throat, but
speaking very humbly, "I thought I should like to know, sir, whether
what I heard from doctor was true."

"First let me say, Mr Morrison, that I heard with deep sorrow of the
affliction that has befallen you.  I am very, very sorry--"

"Thank you, sir, thank you," said Tom, with his under lip working.

"I say I am sorry that the chastening hand of the Lord has been laid
upon you so heavily.  But you must remember that it is not for us to
question these chastisements.  Whom the Lord loveth, he chasteneth.  I
hope your wife seeks for consolation in prayer."

"Yes, sir, I know all that--thank you, sir--yes, sir--poor lass!--yes,"
he said, or rather murmured, with his lower lip quivering at the
allusion to his wife.

The Curate fidgeted in his chair, and kept changing the crossing of his
knees, his fingers moving uneasily, as if they longed to go and lay
themselves on the poor fellow's shoulder while their owner said a few
kindly words.

"I intend to call upon your wife this afternoon," continued the Rector.

"No, sir--thank you, sir--please, don't--at least not yet," said Tom.
"The poor girl is so broken down, she could not bear it."

"The more need for me to come, Mr Morrison," said the Rector, with a
sad smile.  Then, seizing the opportunity to deliver the first thrust
after all his fencing, he continued, reproachfully, "I am sorry I did
not know, Morrison, how ill your infant was.  You should have sent to
me; it was your duty."

"Yes, sir, I suppose it was," said the wheelwright, humbly.  "But,
gentlemen," he continued, looking from one to the other, "I was in such
trouble--my poor wife--we thought of nothing but saving the poor child's
life."

"There is a life beyond the grave, Thomas Morrison," said the Rector,
whose voice grew firmer as he found that his visitor seemed awed at what
he said.  "The duty of man is to think of that before the world.  I am
sorry that you and your wife--such respectable, well-educated people--
should have put off your duty to your offspring so long, neglecting it
even at the very last, when I was but a few hundred yards from your
door.  I am grieved, deeply grieved.  It has been to me a terrible
shock, while you and your wife have incurred an awful responsibility by
wilfully excluding your first-born from the pale of Christ's Church."

The stricken man looked from one to the other--the tall, portly, calm
clergyman, standing behind his table, with one hand resting upon a large
open book, the other upon his heart, his eyes half closed, his face
stern and composed, and his words falling, when he spoke, in measured
cadence, as if they had been studied for the time.

The Curate uncrossed his legs, and set his knees very wide apart,
resting his elbows upon them, and joining his fingers very accurately,
as he bent down his head, till Tom Morrison could see nothing but his
broad, bald, shining crown.

"Not wilfully, sir--not wilfully," said the wheelwright, appealingly,
and his voice grew very husky.  "The poor girl, sir, had set her mind--
on the christening--Mr Paulby was to do it, sir, as he married us--next
Sunday; and now--"

The poor fellow's voice shook, and his face grew convulsed for a moment;
but he clenched his fists, set his teeth, and fought hard to control his
grief.  The Curate drew a long breath and bent down lower.

"But, sir," said Morrison, after a few moments' pause, during which the
library, with its rows of books, looked dim and misty, while the
clergyman before him stood as if of marble--"but, sir, I know I deserve
it--and I suppose I have neglected my duty; but the poor innocent little
one--don't say as it's true that you won't bury it in the churchyard."

The Rector sighed and coughed vaguely.  Then, in a low, sad voice, he
said--

"Morrison, I am grieved--deeply grieved and mine is a most painful duty
to perform; but I stand here the spiritual head of this parish, a lowly
servant of Christ's Church, and I must obey her laws."

"But, sir," said Tom, "that tiny child, so innocent and young--you
couldn't be doing wrong.  I beg your pardon, sir, I'm an ignorant man,
but don't--pray, don't say you won't bury it."

"Mr Morrison, you are not an ignorant man," said the Rector, sternly.
"You know the laws of the Church; you know your duty to that unfortunate
child--that you have wilfully excluded it from the fold of Christ's
flock.  I cannot, will not, disobey those laws in departing from my duty
as a clergyman."

The Curate moved his fingers about an inch apart, and then rejoined
them, in time to a deep sigh, but he did not raise his head; while Tom
Morrison stood, with brow contracted, evidently stricken by some
powerful emotion which he was struggling to master; and at last he did,
speaking calmly and with deep pathos in his appealing voice.

"Sir, I am a man, and rough, and able to fight hard and bear trouble;
but I have a wife who loved, almost worshipped--"

"Set not your affections upon things on earth," said the Rector, in a
low, stern voice, as if in warning to himself.

Tom paused a few moments, till the speaker had finished, and then he
went on--

"She almost worshipped that child--I ask you humbly, sir, for her sake,
don't say no.  At a time like this she is low, and weak, and ill.
Parson, if you say no, it will go nigh to break her heart."

"Morrison," said the Rector, slowly, with his eyes still half
closed--"as a man and a fellow-Christian, I sympathise with you deeply.
I am more grieved than I can express.  By your neglect you have thrown
upon me a painful duty.  The fold was open--always open--from the day of
its birth for the reception of your poor lamb, but in your worldliness
you turned your back upon it till it was too late.  I say it with bitter
sorrow--too late.  Let this be a lesson to you both for life.  It is a
hard lesson, but you must bear it.  I cannot do what you ask."

The wheelwright stood with the veins in his forehead swelling, and his
clenched fists trembled with the struggle that was going on within his
breast; but the face of his sorrowing wife seemed to rise before him,
and he gained the mastery once more, and turned to the silent Curate.

"Mr Paulby, sir, you married Mary and me, and, we seem to know you
here, sir, as our parson--"

The Rev Eli winced as he heard the emphasis on the _you_.

"Please help me, sir," continued Morrison, appealingly; "you've known me
many years, and I hope you don't think I'd be the man to wilfully refuse
to do my duty.  Will you say a word for me, sir?  You understand these
things more than me."

The Curate raised his head sharply, and as his eyes met those of the
suffering man, they were so full of sympathy, that the look was like
balm to the poor fellow, and he took heart of grace.

"I will, Morrison--I will," said he, huskily; and he turned to his
brother clergyman.

"Mr Mallow," he said, gently--and there was as much appeal in his voice
as in that of the suppliant before them--"forgive me for interfering
between you and one of your parishioners, but I do it in no meddling
spirit, only as a servant of our Great Master, when I ask you whether in
such a case as this the Church would wish us to adhere so strictly to
those laws made for our guidance so many years ago.  I think you might--
nay, as a Christian clergyman, I think you should--accede to our
suffering brothers prayer."

"God bless you, sir, for this!" ejaculated Morrison, in a broken voice.

The Rector turned slowly round, and his eyes opened widely now as they
fixed themselves upon the countenance of his curate.

For a few moments he did not speak, but panted as if his feelings were
too much for him.  Then, in a voice faltering from emotion, he
exclaimed--

"Mr Paulby, you astound me.  You, whom I received here with
testimonials that were unimpeachable, or I should not have trusted you
as I have,--you, a priest of the Church of England, to counsel me to go
in direct opposition to her laws!"

"I ask you, sir," said the Curate, gently, "to perform, at a suffering
father's prayer, the last duties to the dead, over the body of an
innocent babe, freshly come from its Maker's hands, freshly there
returned."

"Sir," exclaimed the Rector, and there was indignation now in his words,
"well may the enemies of the Church triumph and point to its decadence,
when there are those within the fold who openly, and in the presence of
back sliders, counsel their brother priests to disobey the sacred canons
of her laws.  I feel sure, however, that you have been led away by your
feelings, or you would not have spoken so."

"Yes," said the Curate, sadly.  "I was led away by my feelings."

"I knew you were, sir," said the Rector, sternly.  "Sir, it was time
that a party should arise in the Church, ready and strong, to repair the
broken gaps in the hedges, and to protect the sheep.  I grieve to find
that I have been away too long.  I thought, sir, you would have been
ready to stand fast in the faith, when assaulted by the worldly-minded
who would lead men astray; ready to--"

"Forget the dictates of humanity, for the hard and fast laws made by men
who lived in the days of persecution, and before the benignant,
civilising spread of education had made men to know more fully the
meaning of brotherly love."

"Sir--"

"I beg your pardon, Mr Mallow," said the Curate, whose face was now
flushed.  "You seem to forget that we do not live now in the days of the
faggot and the stake.  But, there," he said, gently, "I think you will
accede to the wishes of my poor friend."

"Sir," said the Rector, "I can only repeat that I am grieved beyond
measure at this expression of opinion.  What you ask of me is
impossible."

The wheelwright had listened with growing indignation to these words on
either side, and now, flushed and excited, he spoke out.

"You will not do this, then, sir?" he said, hoarsely.

"You have had my answer, Mr Morrison," was the cold reply, and he
walked towards the bell.

"Stop, sir--a minute," exclaimed Morrison, panting.  "You called me an
educated man time back?"

The Rector bowed coldly.

"You're not right about that, sir; but I have read a little, and so as
to behave as a decent man, as I thought, next Sunday, I read through the
christening service, and what it says about children who have been
baptised dying before they sin being certain to be saved."

"That is quite right," said the Rector, gravely; and he now seemed to
ignore the Curate's presence.

"And do you take upon yourself to say, sir, that, as my child was not
baptised, it goes to--the bad place?"

"I am not disposed to enter into a controversy with you.  My duty is to
obey the canons of the Church.  `He that believeth and is baptised shall
be saved: he that believeth not shall be damned,'" he added, only to
himself, but heard by the others.

"How could that tender child believe?" said Morrison, fiercely.

There was no reply.

"Mr Mallow, sir," exclaimed Morrison, difference of grade forgotten in
his excitement, "you refuse my child Christian burial, and you speak
those dreadful words.  I say, sir, do you wish me to believe that my
poor, tender infant, fresh given to us by God, has gone to everlasting
punishment for what it could not help--my neglect, as you call it?"

"I have told you that I cannot enter into a controversy with you; these
are matters such as you cannot understand."

"Then I swear--" roared Morrison.

"Stop!" exclaimed the Curate.  "Thomas Morrison, my good friend, you are
angry and excited now, and will be saying words that, when cooler, you
may repent."

"This is little better than an outrage," said the Rector, in whose
cheeks two angry spots now glowed.

"Allow me to speak, sir," said the Curate, firmly.  "I speak on behalf
of that fold whose fences you accused me of neglecting."

The Rector turned upon him wonderingly, while the wrath of the
wheelwright was quelled by the calm, stern words of the little man who
now stood before them.

"Morrison," he continued, "I have been a clergyman many years, and, God
helping me, it has been my earnest work to try and convince my people of
the love and tenderness of the Father of all for His children.  Whenever
a dogma of the Church has been likely to seem harsh to our present day
ideas, I have let it rest, knowing how much there is of that which is
just and good in our grand old religion.  Mr Mallow, as your
subordinate, sir, I may seem presumptuous.  You are an older man than I,
and perhaps a wiser, but I ask you, sir, with no irreverent feeling,
whether, if it were possible that He who said, `Suffer little children
to come unto Me, and forbid them not,' were holding your position here--
the God as man and teacher of the people of this parish--He would act as
you are acting?  Would He not deal with such a canon as He did with the
teachings of the Pharisees?  Why, sir, He took little children into His
arms, and blessed them, and said, `Of such is the kingdom of heaven.'"

He paused for a moment, while the Rector stood calm, stern, and cold,
with his eyes once more half closed, covered in his cold church armour,
and a pitying smile of contempt upon his lip; while Morrison stayed,
angry still, but with quivering lip, and his hand upon the door.

A dead silence fell upon the little group when Mr Paulby had done
speaking, and both the Curate and Tom Morrison watched the Rector,
expecting him to make some reply, but none came.

At last the silence was broken by the wheelwright, out of whose voice
every tinge of anger had now gone, and he spoke in tones which sounded
deep, and trembled exceedingly at first, but gained strength as he went
on:--

"Mr Paulby, sir," he said, "I thank you.  I can't say all I feel, sir,
but my poor wife and I thank you with all our hearts for what you've
just said for us.  I'm only a poor ignorant man, sir, but if I couldn't
feel that what you've said is just and true, I should be ready to do
what so many here have done--go to the chapel.  That wouldn't be like
the Morrisons though, sir.  We've been church-folk, sir, for a couple of
hundred years, and if you go round the churchyard, sir, you will see
stone after stone marked with the name of Morrison, sir; some just worn
out with age, and others growing plainer, till you come to that new one
out by the big tower, where my poor old father was laid five years ago.
There's generations and generations of my people, sir, lying sleeping
there--the whole family of the Morrisons, sir, save them as left their
bones in foreign lands, or were sunk in the deep seas, sir, fighting for
their country.  And now my little one is to be kept out.  Oh, parson,
it's too bad, and you'll repent all this.  Mr Paulby, sir, God bless
you for your words.  Good-bye!"

He strode out of the room, and the two clergymen stood listening to his
heavy feet as he crossed the hall and passed out of the house.  For a
few minutes neither spoke.

At length the Curate broke the silence.  The fire had gone out of his
voice, and the light from his eye, as he said in a low voice--

"Mr Mallow, I am very, very sorry that this should have occurred."

"And at a time when I am fighting so hard to win these erring people to
a better way, Mr Paulby," said the Rector, sternly.

"And I have tried so hard too, Mr Mallow," said the Curate,
plaintively.  "When they all seem bent on going to one or the other of
the chapels here."

"I do not wonder, sir," said the Rector, "but I do wonder that my own
curate should turn against me."

"No, do; not turn against you, sir.  I wished to help."

"Mr Paulby, I regret it much, but I shall be obliged to ask you to
resign."

"No, no, sir; I beg you will not," cried the Curate, excitedly.  "I have
grown to love the people here, and--"

"Mr Paulby," said the Rector, "our opinions upon the duties of a priest
are opposite.  You will excuse me--I wish to be alone."

The Curate stood for a moment or two with his hand extended, then he let
it fall to his side.

"As you will, sir," he said, sadly.  "But there, you will think about
this.  Let me come over to-morrow, and see you.  Will you be at home?
Let us talk the matter over."

No response.

"I spoke hotly, perhaps, sir.  I ought not to have done so, but I was
moved.  Forgive me if I was wrong--let us part friends."

Still no reply.

"I will leave you now, as you wish it, sir.  Drop me a line, and send it
by one of the school-children, and I will come over and see you."

The Rector might have been made of stone as he stood there motionless,
till, with a heavy sigh, his visitor slowly left the room, and trudged
across the fields to his gloomy little room in the old, half-buried
rectory.



PART ONE, CHAPTER TEN.

ANOTHER TROUBLE FOR DISCUSSION.

That night, just at dark, Joe Biggins walked on tiptoe along the little
gravel walk, bearing something beneath his arm; and, as he tapped at the
door, the wheelwright rose and led his sobbing wife to an inner room,
where he held her tenderly, with her head resting upon his breast, as
they stood listening to the opening door, the creaking stairs, and the
smothered, heavy step in the bedroom overhead.  Then, after a few
minutes, there was the sound of descending footsteps, the creaking of
the cottage stairs, a whisper or two in the little entry, the closing
door, the step upon the gravel, and all was still.

The sad hours glided by in the little darkened house, till Saturday
arrived.  There had been gossip enough in the place, and endless
messages, fraught with good feeling, had come to the stricken couple
from far and near; but there had been no sign from the rectory, and it
was the general belief that the wheelwright would take the infant to the
graveyard at the Wesleyan Chapel at Gatton.  For somehow the whole
affair had been well spread, and, as Humphrey Bone, the schoolmaster,
said with a hearty chuckle of delight, it was a glorious chance for the
Rector's enemies to blaspheme, and there and then, in the presence of
several witnesses, he took advantage of the glorious opportunity.

Both Julia and Cynthia had called and sympathised very warmly with their
old maid, to have the door opened to them by Tom Morrison himself, who
frowned when he saw who were the visitors; but as Julia laid her hand
upon his arm, and he saw Cynthia with her eyes overflowing, he drew
back, and somehow the wheelwright's heart was softened, and grew softer
still as he saw his young wife sobbing in Julia Mallow's arms.

Both Julia and her sister tried to mediate, but were sternly forbidden
to interfere, and though they tried again through the interposition of
Mrs Mallow, she shook her head.

"No, my dears," said the patient invalid, looking at her daughters with
her great wistful eyes, "it is of no use; papa will never give way upon
a matter of the Church.  He says--"

Mrs Mallow paused, for she felt that she ought not to repeat her
husband's words, which were to the effect that he had been neglectful
for years, and that now nothing should turn him from the path of duty.

Towards evening Joe Biggins went softly along the lane, and on seeing
him at the gate, Tom Morrison went to meet him, and returned his
friendly grip, the visitor standing afterwards, as before, perfectly
silent and looking down at the walk.

"You've come to say something to me," said Tom at last, in a quiet,
resigned way.

"Amen to that, Tom; I have," said the other, in a low voice.  "I thought
I should see you here.  About to-morrow aft'noon."

"Yes," said the wheelwright, quietly.

"I don't like troubling you about it, lad," said Biggins, "only I must.
I wanted to tell you, you know.  You see, I must be up at church, and if
you hear from parson, why, I shall meet you all right; if you don't hear
from him, there'll be the little mourning coach all ready waiting to
take you all to Gatton.  I've seen to everything.  That's all."

He was going off on tiptoe, but Morrison stopped him, to press his hand
with a strong man's hearty grip; and he walked with him to the gate.

"Call in when you go up to the church in the morning," he said, quietly;
and then they parted.

It was quite dark before the wheelwright had finished his work in the
garden, and went in to the evening meal, to be met by his wife's
searching look.

He shook his head sadly, as he bent down and kissed her.

"No, my lass," he said, "Joe brought no message."

Polly began to weep, the tears flowing fast, till she saw Budge's face
working, ready for a tremendous howl, when, mastering her emotion, she
sat down with her husband to the table where their evening meal was
spread.

An hour later, husband and wife, hand in hand, ascended to the death
chamber, where, with the moonlight full upon it, lay the tiny coffin,
bathed in a silvery flood of light.

Biggins had obeyed his friend's instructions, even as if it had been for
one of his own, and the simple silver ornamentation shone upon the
coarse white cloth.

The tear-blinded pair lingered for a few moments without approaching
their sacred dead; but at last they stood beside it, and the young
mother removed the lid that lightly pressed the flowers which covered
the tiny breast.

Their loving lips kissed, for the last time, the cold, waxen forehead;
and a groan escaped from Polly's heart as the lid was replaced closely,
this time by the father's hands.

"Hush, Polly," he whispered, "you said you would be strong."

"I will, I will," she sighed.  And they stood for a few moments, hand
clasped in hand, with the silence only broken by a smothered sob from
below.

At last, reverently taking the little coffin in his arms, Tom Morrison
bore it slowly down the stairs, followed by his weeping wife, who held
something white in her hands, and this she laid over the coffin like a
little pall.

Poor Budge was there, trying hard to keep down her grief, but a wail
would burst forth; and covering her mouth tightly with her hands, she
darted away into the back kitchen.

It was the little christening robe, that was to have been worn next day;
and drip after drip, to form dark spots in the moonlight, the hot,
burning tears of anguish fell from the mother's eyes as they slowly bore
the little burden out into the garden, down the neat path, and away to
the corner where the willow laved its long green branches in the brook--
a veritable stream of silver now, dancing and sparkling in the beams of
the broad-faced moon.

Where Tom Morrison stopped at last, beneath the willow, was his
evening's work--a small, dark trench, lying amidst the mellow,
sweet-scented, newly-turned earth; and here, upon his own land, he was
about to lay the dead--to be sown in corruption, to be raised in
incorruption--in soil unconsecrated, and without the rites of the
Church.

Unconsecrated?  No, it was consecrated by the loving tears that bedewed
the earth, and fell upon the little white coffin as it was tenderly
lowered to its resting-place; and, failing rites, the stricken pair
kneeled on either side in the soft mould, and, joining hands, prayed
that they might meet again.

Tom's words were few; but simple and earnest was his prayer as ever fell
from the lips of man; while, kneeling at the foot of the grave was poor
Budge, who only burst forth with a sob when all was over.  For the
mother stayed while the earth was reverently drawn over the cold bed,
till a little hillock of black soil lay silvered by the dropping
moonbeams falling through the willow boughs.

It was poor Budge who laid her offering--a bunch of daisies--upon the
little grave, while Tom led his trembling wife back to their desolate
home.

Joe Biggins, true to his word, called at the wheelwright's next morning
on his way to church, and on coming within sight of the house he took
off his hat to indulge in a good scratch, for he was puzzled on seeing
that the blinds were all drawn up.

Replacing his hat very carefully, he softly entered upon tip-toes, and
walked up the little path, where he was met by Tom Morrison, looking
pale and worn, but with a restful look in his face that had not been
there for days.

They shook hands warmly, for Joe Biggins had resolved never to think
about that coffin Tom Morrison had made again, and just then fresh steps
were heard, and they saw old Mr Vinnicombe coming up.

"I thought I'd call, Morrison," he said, "and ask you to let me be the
bearer of a message to the rectory.  Let's make a last appeal to the
bigot."

"Hush, sir!--don't call him names," said Tom.  "He thought he was right,
no doubt."

"Then you've heard from him."

"No, sir, no," said Tom, sadly; "but I forgive him all the same, though
I could never bear to go and hear him more."

The doctor and Biggins looked at each other, and the latter shook his
head till his white cravat crackled, for he was got up ready for his
verger's gown.

"Will you walk down the garden, doctor?" said the wheelwright, quietly.

They both followed him, wonderingly, till, nearing the willow, they
heard a low, wailing sob; and, drawing nearer, found poor Budge
crouching in a heap upon the ground, her face buried in her hands,
sobbing as if her desolate young heart would break.

They approached her unheard; and, at the scene before them, they
involuntarily took off their hats, and stood watching, as Tom bent over
the weeping girl.

"I did, oh, I did love you so!" they heard her sob in broken accents.
And then, as Tom touched her gently on the shoulder, she started up in a
frightened way, staring at him wildly, and, but for his firm grasp, she
would have fled.

By many a scene of sorrow had old Vinnicombe stood untouched, but his
eyes were moistened now, and a choking sensation seemed to affect his
throat, as Tom looked kindly down on the poor rough girl, and, bending
over her, lightly pressed his lips upon her brow.

"Thank you, my little lass.  Don't cry no more," he said.  "Poor baby's
happy now, and quite at rest."

There was silence for a moment or two in the little shady garden, for
the tinkling streamlet seemed to be at rest as well.  Then came the soft
buzzing of a bee seeking a fresh flower; from the fields beyond, a lark
shot up in the blue sky, lay-laden, and flashed a fount of sparkling
notes upon the morning air; a creamy white butterfly flitted through the
trees, poised itself for a moment, lit upon the bunch of daisies lying
on the little grave, and then rose and rose till hidden from their
sight, as they stood where the dark soil was dappled now with the
morning sunbeams glancing through the willow boughs.

"Yes," said Tom, with a smile, as the breeze brought a waft of flowery
scent to mingle with the newly-turned earth, "perhaps Parson Mallow is
quite right, but I feel as if my little one's at rest."



PART ONE, CHAPTER ELEVEN.

THE NEW MASTER FOR LAWFORD.

Oh, that bell!  A clanging, jangling, minor-sounding bell that always
sounded so harsh and melancholy at six o'clock, if the particular
morning happened to be dark, wet and wintry in chill December, and he
who heard it was rudely awakened from pleasant dreams of home and
country and those he loved, to the fact that if he got up then he would
have some time to wait, and that if he dropped asleep again he might
sleep too long.

The warm bed was very tempting as Luke Ross lay gazing at the spot where
he knew the window must be, but where there was no light of coming day,
and listened to the hissing, fluttering noise made by the gas-jets just
turned on to enable the students to dress and, such of them as had
beards, to shave, for it was in that happy, blissful time when the
natural growth of hair upon a man's chin was spoken of as "filthy," and,
if the beard was at all full, said to look "like some old Jew."

The warm bed, it is repeated, was very tempting; but after a few
minutes' hesitation, and just as that fatal drowsiness was coming on,
Luke Ross rose, tried to repress a shiver, failed, and began to dress
hastily by such light as came over the open partition from the corridor,
where the four gas-jets sang and sputtered and sent a blue glare into
the twenty-four dormitories--very prisonlike, with their sham stone
walls, narrow barred windows, and iron bedsteads--that this corridor
contained.

For some minutes the hissing of the gas was the only sound heard, till
the trickle of water into Luke Ross's basin, and sundry pantings, sighs,
and splashings, seemed to arouse others to their fate, when there was a
thud as of some one leaping out of bed, a loud yawn prolonged into a
shivering shudder, and an exclamation of "Oh, that blessed bell!"

A more thorough scene of discomfort than Saint Chrysostom's on a dark
winters morning--one of those mornings that might be midnight--it would
be impossible to conceive, and the students seemed to feel it, and try
to vent their feelings upon their fellows.

"Here, I say!" said a voice, "I know these beds are damp.  I've got my
hands covered with chilblains."

"Get out!" cried another--conversation being easy, from the fact that
every dormitory opened for a space of a couple of feet above its door on
to the passage.  "Damp don't give chilblains.  Oh, I say, how miserable
it is to have to shave with cold water in the dark!"

"Serve you right for having a beard!" cried another.

"Which you'd give your ears to own.  Oh, hang it! now I've cut myself.
Here, who's got a silk hat?  Pull us out a scrap of down, there's a good
fellow."

"Wipe it dry, and stick a bit of writing-paper against it."

"Will that stop it?"

"Yes."

"Mind and get your hair parted right, lads.  Examination day!"

"I'll give any fellow a penny to clean my boots."

"Why don't you let Tycho clean 'em?"

"Hot water, gentlemen! hot water!  Any gentleman who wants his boots
cleaned please to set them outside the door."

"There, get out.  It won't do, Tommy Smithers.  I'd swear to that squeak
of yours from a thousand."

"If you come that trick again, Tommy, we'll make you clean every pair of
boots in the corridor," shouted a fresh speaker, for by degrees the
yawning, and creaking of iron beds and thuds of bare feet upon bare
floors had grown frequent, with shuffling noises, and gurgling, and
splashing, the chinking of ewers against basins, the swishing of
tooth-brushes, and the stamping of chilblained feet being thrust into
hard, stout boots, and all done in a hurried, bustling manner, as if
those who dressed were striving by rapid movement to get some warmth
into their chilly frames.

Luke Ross was one of the first dressed: a well-built, dark-eyed,
keen-looking young man of five-and-twenty, with a good deal of decision
about his well-shaped mouth.

The noise and bustle was on the increase.  With numerous grumblings and
unsatisfied longings floating about his ears, he stood gazing at the
square patch of yellow light near his door, thinking of the trials of
the day to come, till, apparently brought back to the present by the
shudder of cold that ran through him, he turned and began to pace
rapidly up and down his little room, from the dark window covered with
soft pats of sooty snow to the dormitory door.

That brought no warmth, and, knowing from old experience that the fire
in the theatre stove would only be represented by so much smoke, he
began to beat his chest and sides in the familiar manner by flinging his
arms across and across to and fro.

This set off others, and then there was the stamping of feet and the
sound of blowing of hands to warm them, mingled with which was the
scuffling noise made by late risers who had lain until the last minute,
and were now hurrying to make up for lost time.

The clanging bell once more, giving five minutes' law for every student
to be in his place by ten minutes to seven, at which time, to the
moment, the little self-possessed principal would walk into the theatre,
with his intellectual head rigidly kept in place by the stiffest of
white cravats.

Upon this particular morning the vice-principal had the first lecture to
deliver, and the very last man had scuffled into his place, ink-bottle
and note-book in hand, and a buzz of conversation had been going on for
nearly a quarter of an hour before the little well-known comedy of such
mornings took place.

Then enter the vice-principal, looking very brisk and eager, but
particularly strained and squeezy about the eyes, and he had nearly
reached the table and was scanning the rows of desks and their
occupants, rising blue cold, tier above tier, into the semi-gloom
beneath the organ, when a broad face that was not blue, cold, nor red,
but of a yellowish white, stared him full in the eyes from the
whitewashed wall, and mutely reproached him for being late.

"Dear me!" he exclaimed, "that clock is not right!"

"Yes, sir, quite right," exclaimed half-a-dozen eager voices, and their
owners consulted their watches.

"Oh, dear me, no!" exclaimed the vice-principal, sharply; "nearly a
quarter of an hour fast."

No one dared to contradict now, and the lecture by gaslight, in the
cold, dark morning, went on till nearly eight, when those who assisted
at tables left to look after the urns and cut the bread-and-butter.

A dozen students hurried off for this task, glad of the chance of
feeling the fire in the great dining-hall; and, intent as he was upon
the business of the exciting day to come, Luke Ross was not above
sharing with his fellow-students, in providing a more palatable meal for
himself and the head of his table by washing the coarse salt butter free
of some of its brine.

The bell once more, and the rush of students into the dining-hall in
search of the warmth that a couple of cups of steaming hot coffee, fresh
from the tall block-tin urns, would afford.

The students assembled at the two long boards, and looked strikingly
like so many schoolboys of a larger growth; there was the sharp rapping
of a knife-handle upon a little square table in one corner, the rustling
noise of a hundred men rising to their feet, grace spoken by the
vice-principal, in a rich mellifluous voice, followed by a choral "Amen"
from all present, and then the rattling of coffee cups and the buzz of
conversation, as the great subject of the day--the examination--was
discussed, more than one intimating in a subdued voice that it was a
shame that there should have been any lecture on such a morning as this.

Breakfast at an end, there was the regular rush again, schoolboy like,
out into the passage, where a knot of students gathered round one of the
masters, who was giving a word or two of advice.

"Ah, Ross," he said, smiling, "I have been saying now what I ought to
have said before breakfast, that no man should eat much when he is going
in for his examination.  Brain grows sluggish when stomach is full."

"I'm afraid we have all been too anxious to eat much, sir," replied
Ross.

"I'm sure you have, Ross; but don't overdo it.  Slow and steady wins the
race, you know.  Ah, here comes some one who has made a good meal I'll
be bound.  Well, Smithers," he continued, as a remarkably fast-looking
young man came up, "have you had a good breakfast?"

"Yes, sir, as good as I could get."

"Thought so," said the assistant master, smiling.  "Well, what
certificate do you mean to take, eh?  First of the first?"

"Haven't been reading for honours, sir," said Smithers, grinning.

"No, indeed," said the assistant master, shaking his head.  "Ah,
Smithers, Smithers! why did you come here?"

"To be a Christian schoolmaster, sir," was the reply, given with mock
humility by about as unlikely a personage for the duty as ever entered
an institution's walls.

The bell once more; and at last, feeling like one in a dream, and as if,
in spite of a year's hard training and study, he was no wiser than when
he first commenced, Luke Ross was in his place with a red sheet of
blotting-paper before him, and the printed set of questions for the day.

The momentous time had come at last, a time which dealt so largely with
his future; and yet, in spite of all his efforts, his brain seemed
obstinately determined to dwell upon every subject but those printed
upon that great oblong sheet of paper.

He had no cause to trouble himself.  All he had to do was to acquit
himself as well as he could as a finale to his training; but in the
highly-strung nervous state to which constant study had brought him, it
seemed that his whole future depended upon his gaining one or other of
the educational prizes that would be adjudged, and that unless he were
successful, Sage Portlock, his old playmate and friend--now some one
very far dearer--and for whose sake he had striven so hard, would turn
from him with contempt.

At another time the questions before him would have been comparatively
easy, and almost, without exception, he could have written a sensible
essay upon the theme; but now Sage, his old home at Lawford, the school,
the troubles in the town and opposition to the Rector, and a dozen other
things, seemed to waltz through his brain.

He had several letters in his pocket, from Sage and from his father, and
they seemed to unfold themselves before him, so that he read again the
words that he knew by heart: how indignant the people were at the death
of poor old Sammy Warmoth and the appointment of Joe Biggins; the
terrible quarrel that there had been between Mr Mallow and the Curate
about the burial of Tom Morrison's child, and how the quarrel had been
patched up again because Mr Mallow had not liked Mr Paulby to leave
just when people were talking so about the little grave in Tom
Morrison's garden.  There was the question of the wretched attempt at
choral singing too on Sunday--singing that he was to improve as soon as
he was master; for Sage said it did not matter how well she taught the
girls, Humphrey Bone made his boys sing badly out of spite, so as to put
them out.

Then he had a good look at the examination paper, and tried to read, but
Humphrey Bone's threat to expose him and show him up as an ignoramus
before all the town,--a clod who ought to go back to his father's
tannery,--all duly related in one of her letters by Sage Portlock, came
dancing out of the page before him.

Again he cleared his head and took up his pen, but he felt that he could
not write.  And now came up the letter which told how Cyril Mallow had
come back from Queensland--handsome Cyril, whom he had severely punished
some time before, just, in fact, as he was about to sail for Australia.

Luke Ross did not know why he should feel uneasy about Cyril Mallow
being back; it was nothing to him.  He was a bit of a scamp, and so on,
but he was not so bad as Frank Mallow, who had been obliged to get off
to New Zealand after the scandal about a couple of the Gatton village
girls, and the fight with Lord Artingale's keepers, in which he was said
to have joined Jock Morris.  The Lawford people said it was from this
that the Rector became non-resident, as much as from having overrun the
constable.

It was tantalising to a degree, for, strive hard as he would, these
things seemed to dance before Luke Ross's eyes; while as to the
questions themselves, as he read them through and through, not one did
it seem that he could answer.

And so it was morning after morning during the few busy days that the
examination lasted.  Every night he went to bed almost in despair; every
morning he gazed blankly at the various questions.

But, in spite of his self-depreciation, first one and then another of
the masters, who gathered up the papers at each sitting's end, gave him
a friendly nod of approval, and glanced with interest at the
closely-written sheets.

"I've made a dismal failure, sir," he exclaimed at last, as night closed
in upon his fifth day's work.

The assistant master in whose hands lay the everyday subjects taught at
the institution laughed as he clapped the young man upon the shoulder.

"I wish every man in the college had made as great a failure, Ross," he
said.  "There, there, you are weary and nervous.  Get out of doors and
have a good blow and as much exercise as you can till you have regained
your tone.  I ought not to say so, perhaps, but, Ross, you might, if you
liked, look higher than a schoolmaster's life; that is, if you have any
ambition in your soul."

At that moment Luke Ross's highest ambition was to win Sage Portlock's
regard, and to acquit himself so creditably as the new master of Lawford
School, that there might be no room for that modern Shimei, Humphrey
Bone, to say hard words against his management and power of training the
young.  Later on circumstances caused him to undergo a complete
revolution of thought.



PART ONE, CHAPTER TWELVE.

A QUESTION OF INCOME.

They were busy times at Kilby, the farm occupied by the Portlocks, and
Sage was laughing and merry in her holiday enjoyment of domestic duties.

A few friends were expected next night, and busy preparations were being
made by Mrs Portlock and her niece, whose pleasant-looking, plump,
white arms were bloomed to the elbow with flour, to which was soon to be
added the golden-looking yolks of a dozen eggs, being beaten up in a
large white basin in the most unmerciful way by Mrs Portlock herself.

It was a comfortable-looking country kitchen where they were busy, in
thorough, old-fashioned style.  Not from necessity, for from the back
kitchen and room beyond came the sound of voices where the two maids
were engaged over other household duties.  In the low, wide window, in
spite of the season, were some brightly blooming geraniums, between
which could be seen the home close, dotted with sheep, and through which
field meandered the path leading down to the town.

"Don't forget the salt, Sage," said Mrs Portlock, "and put in a dash of
carb'nate.  For goodness' sake let's have the cake light, and--why, what
ails the girl now?"

Sage had darted back from the table, and torn off the large bibbed apron
she wore so roughly that she snapped one of the tape strings, before
hastily wiping the flour from her arms, and pulling down her pinned-up
sleeves.

The reason was plain enough, and to be seen through the geraniums, where
Luke Ross was making his way across the home close, looking fresh and
eager in the crisp January air, as he gazed straight before him at the
farm.

"There, get on with thy work, child," cried Mrs Portlock, in a
half-petulant, half-laughing way; "there's nothing to be ashamed of in
making a cake.  If you marry Luke Ross you won't have many cakes to
make," she added petulantly.

"Oh, for shame, aunt!  How can you?" cried Sage, looking conscious and
uncomfortable, as her cheeks turned scarlet.

"Because that's what he has come for, I'll be bound.  There, go and let
him in."

"Oh, no, aunt!  I'd--I'd rather not," faltered Sage.

"Such stuff, child!  Just as if I couldn't see you were longing to go.
There, if you don't run and open the door, I'll go myself, and tell him
you were ashamed."

"I'll go and open the door," said Sage, quietly; and there was a
curious, introspective look in her countenance, as, after waiting till
the imperative rap of the young man's knuckles was heard, she hastily
replaced the apron, turned up her sleeves, and floured her hands, before
going to let the visitor in.

"I'm not ashamed of making cakes, aunt," she said, quietly.

"Bless the girl, what a strange one she is!" muttered Mrs Portlock,
apostrophising the great eight-day clock, and then pausing in the
beating of eggs, to listen, with the greatest eagerness, as Luke Ross's
voice was heard at the door, and Sage's directly after, but in quite a
low buzz, for the intervening door was shut.

"I don't know what to say to it," said Mrs Portlock, querulously.
"He's very nice, and kind, and good-looking, but I'd a deal rather she
married a farmer.  Schoolmastering don't fill bacon-racks, nor the tub
with pickled pork."

The buzzing at the front door continued, and the increased current of
air made the fire to roar up the wide kitchen chimney.

"For goodness' sake, why don't they come in?" exclaimed Mrs Portlock.
"That girl will catch her death o' cold."

She made this remark also in confidence to the brass-dialled eight-day
clock, at the top of which a grotesque-looking human-faced sun was just
peering over an engraved arc, above which it revolved in company with
various other planets when the mechanism within properly worked; and,
after making the remark, Mrs Portlock's wooden spoon began once more to
batter the already well-beaten eggs, between pauses to listen what was
going on at the door.

"I hate such shilly-shallying ways," she muttered.  "He's come on
purpose to see us, so why does he loiter there at the door?  I'll be
bound to say if it was young Cyril Mallow he'd have been here by now."

The mention of this name made Mrs Portlock pause and rub her face
thoughtfully with one corner of her apron.

"I don't see why not," she muttered.  "I'm sure he likes her, or else he
wouldn't be so fond of coming out here to smoke a pipe with Joseph.  And
if they are gentry, why, gentry are only human flesh; and as to their
money, I'll be bound to say they're not so much better off than we are,
in spite of their show."

There was another fierce attack upon the golden fluid in the white
basin.

"He seems nice, does Cyril; very different to his brother.  Poor Rue,
she had an escape there; and I dare say this will only be a bit of a
flirtation with both of them.  I shall not interfere, and matters may go
as they like."

The eggs once more suffered from the severe attack.

"It's my belief Sage don't know her own mind," exclaimed Mrs Portlock.
"Here, Anne, bring some more coals to this fire; I want the oven to be
well hot."

Just then there was the sound of the closing door, and Luke Ross
entered, followed by Sage, looking more conscious than before.

"Morning, Mrs Portlock," cried the young man frankly.

"Good-morning, Luke," she replied.  "Why didn't you take him in the
parlour, Sage?  There's a good fire there."

"Because I begged to be allowed to come here, Mrs Portlock, so as not
interfere with the preparations.  My father said he would be glad to
come."

"Ah, that's right!" exclaimed Mrs Portlock.  "There, sit down by the
fire; you must want a bit o' lunch.  Sage!--why, bless the girl, I
didn't see her go."

"She has gone up-stairs, I think," said Luke.

"To put her hair straight or some nonsense, when we are that busy that
we shall never be ready in time."

"No, no, Mrs Portlock," said Luke, who looked hot and nervous, and
instead of taking a chair by the fire, he edged away to stand by the
crockery-covered dresser, with his back half turned from the light; "I
think she has gone up-stairs on account of what I wanted to say."

"There, there, there," said Mrs Portlock, labouring frantically now at
the egg-beating, "I think I know what's coming, and I'd a deal rather
you wouldn't say a word to me about it."

Luke Ross looked discomfited and troubled, and became exceedingly
interested for a moment in the little silk band of his soft felt hat.

"But surely, Mrs Portlock," he began at last, "you must have known that
I was deeply attached to Sage?"

"Well, yes, I suppose I did," replied Mrs Portlock; and this time some
of the yellow egg flew over the basin side; "but it's a very serious
matter."

"Indeed, yes," said Luke, quietly, "I look upon it as the turning-point
of my life."

"And I don't believe that Sage half knows her own mind yet.  She's too
young, and it's not as if she was my own child."

"But we can wait, Mrs Portlock," said Luke, gaining confidence, now
that he had made the first plunge.  "Of course we should have to wait
for some time."

"Won't say anything about it," cried Mrs Portlock, as the sturdy
red-faced servant-maid entered to pour a half-scuttle of coals on the
roaring fire.  "If you want to talk about it--"

Mrs Portlock here began to work viciously with a piece of nutmeg, the
eggs being considered enough beaten.

"I should be sorry to hurt your feelings about this matter, Mrs
Portlock," continued Luke; "but I have always thought you looked upon
Sage and me as being as good as engaged."

"Oh, I don't know!  I can't say!  There, I won't say anything about it.
Oh! here's Master, and you must talk to him."

Luke Ross's face wore a particularly troubled look, as a hearty, bluff
voice was just then heard bidding a dog lie down, and, directly after,
the kitchen door was thrown open, and the broad-shouldered bluff
Churchwarden, in his loose brown velveteen coat and cord breeches with
leather leggings, entered the room.  His clear blue eyes and crisp grey
hair made him look the very embodiment of health, and his face lit up
with a pleasant smile as he strode in with a double gun under his arm,
while his pockets had a peculiarly bulgy appearance at the sides.

"Ah, Luke, my lad! how are you?" he said, bluffly, as he held out his
hand.  "Glad to see you, my boy.  Why, you ought to have been out with
me for a run.  Thy face looks as pasty as owt."

"I should have liked the walk immensely," said Luke, brightening up at
the warmth of his reception, and he wrung the others hand.

"Schoolmastering don't improve thy looks, Luke, my lad," continued the
Churchwarden.  "Why, you are as pale as if you had been bled.  Hang that
London!  I don't care if I never see it again."

"There's worse places than London, Joseph," said Mrs Portlock, who had
a weakness for an occasional metropolitan trip.

"Tell me where they are, then," said the Churchwarden, "for I don't know
'em.  Got two hares," he said, standing the gun in the corner by the
dresser.

"Ah! we wanted a hare," said Mrs Portlock, busying herself over the
work her niece had left undone.

"There you are, then," said the Churchwarden, drawing them, one at a
time, from the inner pockets of his shooting-coat.

"But is that gun loaded, Joseph?" cried Mrs Portlock, who had been to
the dresser and started away.

"Yes, both barrels," said the Churchwarden, with a comical look at the
visitor.  "I wouldn't touch her if I were you."

"I touch the horrid thing?" cried Mrs Portlock.  "There, for goodness'
sake unload it, Joseph, before we have some accident."

"All right," said the Churchwarden, tossing the hares out into the stone
passage at the back, and taking up the gun just as Mrs Portlock had
raised the great white basin of well-beaten egg to pour into a flour
crater which she had prepared.  Stepping to the window, the head of the
house turned the fastening quietly, and opened the casement sufficiently
wide to allow of the protrusion of the barrels of the gun, when--

_Banff!  Banff_!

_Crash_!

All in rapid succession, for the double report so startled the good
housewife that she let the great white basin slip through her fingers to
be shattered to atoms on the red-brick floor, and spread its golden
treasure far and wide.

"Joseph!" exclaimed Mrs Portlock.

"Say, Luke, I've done it now," he cried.  "There's nothing the matter,
lass, only a basin broke."

"And a dozen eggs destroyed," cried Mrs Portlock, petulantly.

"Here, let's go into the parlour, Luke," continued the Churchwarden,
after a merry look at Sage, who had run down-stairs, looking quite pale.
"Sage, my dear, send Anne in with the bread and cheese, and a mug of
ale.  Luke Ross here will join me in a bit of lunch."  He led the way to
the parlour, Luke following him, after pausing a moment to obtain a look
from Sage; but she was too conscious to glance his way, and had begun
already to help Mrs Portlock, who looked the very picture of vexation
and trouble combined.

The parlour was a fine old oak-panelled, low-ceiled room, with dark
beams reflecting the flaming fire, whose ruddy light danced in the panes
of the corner cupboard and glistening sideboard and polished chairs.

"Sit down, my boy, sit down," cried the Churchwarden, as he stooped to
toss a piece of oak root on the flaming fire.  "What with
Christmas-keeping, I've hardly seen thee since you came back.  My word,
how time goes!  Only the other day thou wast a slip of a boy helping me
to pick the apples in the orchard and playing with Sage, and now thou'rt
a grown man."

The Churchwarden seated himself, took his tobacco-jar from a bracket,
his pipe from the chimney-piece, and proceeded to fill it.

"You won't smoke, I know.  Good job, too.  Bad habit, lad.  But what's
the matter--anything wrong?"

"Only in my own mind, sir," said Luke, rather excitedly, as he sat
opposite the farmer, tapping the table.

"Out with it, then, Luke, my boy, and I'll help thee if I can.  Want
some money?"

"Oh, no, sir," said Luke, flushing.  "The fact is, I have finished my
training, and I am now down home expecting to take the management of the
school as master."

"Ha! yes!" said the Churchwarden softly, leaning forward to light a
spill amongst the glowing logs.  "There's a bit o' trouble about that.
Half-a-dozen of 'em's taking Humphrey Bone's side against parson, and
they want me to join."

"But you will not, I hope, sir?" said Luke, anxiously.

"I should, my lad, but for Master Humphrey's drink.  He's not a man to
have the care of boys."

"No, sir, indeed," said Luke, who paused, while the ruddy servant lass
brought in a napkin-covered tray, with the bread and cheese, and a great
pewter tankard of home-brewed ale.

"Help thyself, lad," said the Churchwarden; "and now what is it?"

"I must speak out plainly, sir, or not at all," said Luke, excitedly.

"Surely, my lad," said the other, watching him keenly, as he poured out
some ale.

Luke hesitated for a few moments, and then tried to clear his voice, but
failed, and spoke huskily as he rose from his seat.

"Mr Portlock," he said, "you have known me from a boy."

"And always liked thee, my lad, and made thee welcome," still watching
him keenly.

"Always, Mr Portlock, and you will agree that it is not strange that
now I am grown a man I should love my little playmate Sage, whom I've
known ever since the day you called at our house with her and Rue--poor
little orphans, looking so pretty and helpless as they sat in black in
your gig."

"Ay! ay! that was a sad time, Luke Ross," said the Churchwarden,
thoughtfully.  "Poor little bairns! mother and father in one sad week,
Luke.  Hah! well, I've never had any of my own, and I never think of 'em
now but as if they had been born to me."

"No, sir, I know that," said Luke, smiling.

"And you want me to say thou mayst have Sage for thy wife.  That's the
plain English of it, lad, eh?"

"Yes, sir--yes, sir," cried Luke, excitedly; but delighted to have his
task cut short.

"Ha!" said the Churchwarden, thoughtfully.  "I expected as much.  I said
to myself that was what you would ask me when you came back."

"And you consent, sir?" cried Luke, joyously.

There was a moment's silence, while the Churchwarden crossed a sturdy,
well-shaped leg over the other, Luke gazing the while upon his lips,
until he spoke, and then sinking back, as if smitten, into his chair.

"No, my lad, I do not give my consent.  I like thee, Luke, almost as
well as if thou wast my own son, and I believe you'd make Sage a good
husband; but, to be plain with you, I don't like this schoolmastering
and mistress work."

"You don't like it, sir!"

"No, my lad.  It was against my wish that Sage took to it.  I would
rather have seen her making the bread-and-butter at home; and there was
no need for her to have gone into the world; and as you know, it was
then I set my face against your going in for it as well."

"Indeed, sir!"

"Yes, my lad.  You'd a deal better have been content to take up with
your father's honest old business of tanning.  There's a good trade to
be done."

"Yes, sir, but I felt myself so unsuited for the trade, and I liked
books."

"And didn't care about dirtying thy hands, Luke.  No, my lad, I think it
was a mistake."

"A mistake, sir?"

"Yes, and I'll show you.  Now, look here, my boy," continued the
Churchwarden, pointing with the waxy end of his pipe.  "No lad of spirit
thinks of taking help from his father, after his first start in the
world."

"Of course not, sir."

"And a lad of spirit don't go hanging on to his wife's people."

"No, sir."

"Then, look here, my boy.  What is your salary to be, if you get Lawford
School; I say, _if_ you get it?"

"Seventy pounds per annum, sir, with a house, and an addition for my
certificate, if I have been fortunate enough to win one."

"Seventy pounds a year, with a house, if you get the school, and some
more if you win a certificate, my lad; so that all your income is
depending upon ifs."

"I am sure of the school, sir," said Luke, warmly, as he coloured up.

"Are you, my lad?  I'm not," said the Churchwarden, drily.  "No, Luke
Ross, I like you, for I believe you to be a clever scholar, and--what to
my mind's ten thousand times better than scholarship--I know you to be a
true, good-hearted lad."

"I thank you, sir," said Luke, whose heart was sinking; and Portlock
went on--

"I'm not a poor man, Luke, and every penny I have I made with my own
hand and brain.  Sage is as good as my child, and when we old folks go
to sleep I dare say she and her sister will have a nice bit o' money for
themselves."

"I never thought of such a thing as money, sir," cried Luke, hotly.

"I don't believe you ever did, my boy," said the Churchwarden.  "But now
listen.  Sage is very young yet, and hardly knows her own mind.  I tell
you--there, there, let me speak.  I know she thinks she loves you.  I
tell you, I say, that I'd sooner see Sage your wife than that of any man
I know; but I'm not going to keep you both, and make you sacrifice your
independence, and I'm not going to have my child goto a life of drudgery
and poverty."

"But you forget, sir, we should be both having incomes from our
schools."

"No, I don't, boy.  While you were young.  How about the time when she
had children--how then?  And I don't believe in a man and his wife both
teaching schools.  A woman has got enough to do to make her husband's
home so snug that he shall think it, as he ought to do, the very best
place in the whole world, and she can't do that and teach school too.
Do you hear?"

"Yes, sir," said Luke, very humbly, though he did not approve of his old
friend's opinions.

"Then look here, Luke Ross, I like you, and when you can come to me and
say, `Joseph Portlock, I have a good permanent income of five hundred a
year,' Sage, if she likes, shall be your wife."

"Five hundred a year, sir!" faltered Luke, with a strange, unreal dread
seeming to rise before him like a mist of the possibility that before
then Sage's love might change.

"Yes, my lad, five hundred a year."

"Uncle," said Sage, opening the door, "Mr Mallow has called to see
you;" and a strange look passed between the two young men, as Cyril
Mallow entered the room.



PART ONE, CHAPTER THIRTEEN.

VISITORS AT THE FARM.

The morning of Mrs Portlock's party, and Uncle Joseph just returned
from his round in the farm, to look smilingly at the preparations that
were going on, and very tenderly at Sage, who looked downcast and
troubled.

"Well, girls," he cried, "how goes it?  Come, old lady, let it be a good
set-out, for Sage here won't have much more chance for helping you when
these holidays are over."

"I wish she'd give the school teaching up," said Mrs Portlock, rather
fretfully, as she sat gathering her apron into pleats.

"She can give it up if she likes," said the Churchwarden, heartily.
"It's her own whim."

"Well, don't you fidget, Joseph, for Sage and I will do our best."

"Of course you will, my dears," he said.  "Here, Sage, fill me the old
silver mug with ale out of number two."

"But it is not tapped, uncle."

"Ah!" he shouted, "who says it isn't tapped?  Why I drove the spigot in
night before last on purpose to have it fine.  And now, old woman, if
you want any lunch, have it, and then go and pop on your black silk and
bonnet, while I order round the chaise, and I'll drive you in to town."

"No, Joseph, no," exclaimed Mrs Portlock, who had now gathered the
whole of the bottom of her apron into pleats and let them go.  "I said
last night that I would not go with you any more unless you left the
whip at home.  I cannot bear to sit in that chaise and see you beat poor
Dapple as you do."

"But I must have a whip, old girl, or I can't drive."

"I'm sure the poor horse goes very well without."

"But not through the snow, my dear," said Sage's uncle, giving her
another of his droll looks.  "Really, old girl, I wouldn't answer for
our not being upset without a whip."

"But you wouldn't use it without you were absolutely obliged, Joseph?"

"On my honour as a gentleman," said Uncle Joseph; and his wife smiled
and went up-stairs to get dressed, while Sage took the keys to go down
to the cellar and draw the ale, as her uncle walked to the door, and she
heard him shouting his orders to Dicky Dykes to harness Dapple and bring
him round at once.

Sage stood in the low-ceiled, old-fashioned parlour, with the
quaintly-made silver tankard in her hand, waiting for her uncle to come
in.  There was a smile upon her lip, and as she listened now to the
Churchwarden's loud, hearty voice shouting orders to the different men
about the yard, and now to her aunt's heavy footsteps overhead, she was
gazing straight into the great glowing wood fire, whose ruddy flames
flickered and danced in the broad, blue-tiled chimney; and though it was
so cold that the frost was making silver filigree upon the window panes,
she felt all aglow, and kept on picturing in the embers the future that
might have place.

"By George!" roared the Churchwarden, coming in.  "Hallo! didn't kick
all the snow off.  Here, let's melt it before the tyrant comes down;"
and he shone all over his broad face, and his eyes twinkled with mirth,
as he held first one boot and then the other to the blaze.  "Now, the
ale, Sage, my pet.  Give's a kiss first, darling, to give it a flavour."

He hugged her to his side, and gave her a loud-sounding smack upon the
lips, holding her close to him as he smiled down in her eyes.

"And I used to grumble, my pet, because I had no children," he said,
tenderly, "little thinking I should have Sage and Rue to take care of
till--Oh!  I say.  Ha-ha-ha!  Look at the colour.  Poor little woman
then.  Was he coming to-day?"

"Please don't tease me, uncle dear," she whispered, as she laid her head
upon his shoulder, and hid her burning face.

"I won't then," he said; but she could feel him chuckling as he went on.
"I say though, Sage.  I've been thinking one ought to have asked him to
come and stay here for a few days.  Very hospitable, eh?  But hardly
conventual.  That's not right, is it, schoolmistress?  No, no; I mean
conventional.  No you don't.  I've got you tight," for Sage had tried to
run away.

"Then please don't tease me, uncle."

"But what will old Vinnicombe say?"

"Uncle dear," she whispered, appealingly.  "There then, my pet, I
won't," he said.  "What time do you expect Jack and Rue?"

"By about four o'clock, uncle dear."

"That's right, my pet, and now you must bustle.  See that there's plenty
of jolly good fires, for I hate people to come and find the place
chilly.  Let's give 'em a warm reception, and I'll see if I can't fill
up some of old Vinnicombe's wrinkles out of his face.  Let me see, I
want some more tobacco.  Hah!" he cried, after a deep draught, "that's
good ale.  Taste it, pet."

Sage took the tankard with a smile, raised the creaking lid, and put her
lips to it to please him.

"Fine, ain't it, lass?"

"Capital, uncle."

"I say, Sage, if that don't make old Vinnicombe smile I'm a Dutchman.
By the way, my dear, shall I ask Cyril Mallow to drop in?"

"Uncle!" cried Sage, turning pale.

"Well, why not?  He has no pride in him, not a bit.  And if he wants
gentlemen to meet, why, there's Paulby and Vinnicombe.  Hang it all, my
girl, if I liked to set up for a gentleman I dare say I could, after you
had toned me down and mended my manners, and oiled my axles with grammar
grease, eh?"

"Oh, no, no, uncle; don't think of it," she said, imploringly.

"Just as you like, my dear; 'tis your party like, and it's for you to
choose.  He is a bit cocky and priggish, and a bit gallant, but my
darling knows how to keep him in his place."

"Oh, yes, uncle, of course," said Sage, hastily; "but Rue will be here,
you know, and it might set her thinking of his brother Frank."

"Hah!  Yes; I had forgotten that," said the Churchwarden, thoughtfully.
"To be sure! she did think a little about him, didn't she?  Hullo!"

"I want Sage," cried Mrs Portlock down the stairs.

"Yes, aunt, dear."

"Hold that wrapper to the fire, my dear, ready for your uncle," and she
threw down a great white cashmere belcher to her niece.

"Here!  Hoi!  I say, old girl, I'm not going to wear that thing."

"Yes, dear, it's a very long drive, and the air is very cold."

The Churchwarden sank into a chair, and, raising the lid of the tankard,
gazed into it despondently.

"Tyranny, tyranny, tyranny!" he groaned.  "Oh! why did I ever marry such
a woman as this?"

"Now don't talk nonsense, Joseph," cried his wife, rustling down into
the room so wrapped up that she looked double her natural size, what
with cloak, and boa, and a large muff.  "Put it round your uncle's neck,
Sage, the frost is very severe."

The Churchwarden threw his head back ready for Sage to tie on the
wrapper, uttering a low moan the while, and then sighed as he stood up
and walked--at first slowly and then with alacrity--into the hall to put
on his hat.

"I can't get into my coat with this thing on," he roared.  "Come and
give us a lift."

Sage ran laughingly into the hall to help the greatcoat on to his broad
shoulders just as the four-wheeled chaise came crunching to the front
door, Dapple giving a loud snort or two, and stamping upon the frozen
gravel.

Just then the Churchwarden gave a comical look at his niece, rushed to
the corner by the eight-day clock, and made a great deal of rattling as
he took up the whip and gave it a sharp lash through the air, and a
crack on the broad balustrade.

Sage heard her aunt start, and her uncle chuckled.

"Now, old lady," he said.  "That's right, Sage, plenty of rugs, or we
shall have her frozen.  That's it, old girl, right leg first.  Hold his
head still, Dicky.  There you are; tuck that rug round you.  There,
that's better," he cried, taking his seat and fastening the apron.  "Let
him go, Dicky.  Tck!"

He started Dapple, and then stood up in the chaise with a quick motion,
raising the whip as he set his teeth, and seemed about to strike the cob
a tremendous blow, making Mrs Portlock jump and seize his arm, when he
subsided, looking round at Sage with a comical expression in his eye,
but pulled up short.

"Here.  Hi!  I say.  Yah! artful.  Here you, Luke Ross, you're three
hours before your time," he cried.

"Yes, sir.  I thought I might help a little, and--"

"You thought you might help a little, and--G'on with you--get out.
G'long!" and the Churchwarden flicked and lashed at Luke Ross, as he
stepped to the side of the chaise and shook hands, while Sage, with her
heart beating fast, drew back into the porch, seeing her uncle begin
poking at the new arrival with the butt of the whip-handle.

Then the cob was started again with another pretended furious cut, which
made Sage's aunt catch at her uncle's arm; and then as, frightened,
fluttering, and yet happy, she saw Luke coming towards her, the
Churchwarden's voice came roaring through the wintry air--

"Here!  I say, Luke Ross, remember what I said.  I mean it--seriously."

"Sage, my dear Sage!"  Those were the next words Sage Portlock heard, as
Luke took her hand to lead her, trembling and nervous, into the hall.

"I hardly hoped for such good fortune," he cried, as Sage gently
disengaged herself from his clasp, and stood gazing rather sadly in his
face; "but oh! pray, pray don't look at me like that, darling, I'm here
to go down on my knees to you, Sage.  There," he cried, "I will, to beg
pardon--to tell you I was a weak, jealous fool--that I know you could
not help Cyril Mallow coming and admiring you (he'd have been a fool if
he hadn't!)--that you're the best, and dearest, and truest, and
sweetest, and most innocent-hearted of girls--that I love you more
dearly than ever, and that I've been a miserable wretch ever since last
night."

"Don't do that, Luke," she said, as he literally went upon his knees;
"it hurts me."

"And I'd suffer anything sooner than give you a moment's pain," he
cried, springing to his feet; and they stood now in the middle of the
old parlour.  "But you haven't forgiven me, Sage," he said, piteously.

"Yes, Luke, I've forgiven you, but I want you to know and trust me
better.  Your words seemed so cruel to me, and if you knew me you would
not have said them.  I did not know that Cyril Mallow when he called did
so that he might see me, and we hardly exchanged a dozen words."

"And if you had exchanged a thousand, sweet, what then?" cried Luke,
proudly.  "I was a jealous idiot, and ought to have known better; but it
has been a lesson to me on my weakness, and now I am going to wait
patiently till I can say what your uncle wishes."

Sage was silent, for she was thinking it was her duty to tell him that,
after the sad little trouble that had come between them, it would be
better for them to be more distant for a time; but she could not say it
with his eyes looking appealingly at her.  She had felt so proud of him
for his manly bearing and straightforward honesty of purpose.  The words
would not come, and somehow the next minute she was sobbing in his arms
as he whispered those two words, but in such a tone--

"My darling!"

She started from him guiltily the next moment, and ran up-stairs, and
stayed till there was a fresh crunching of wheels and the trampling of a
horse's hoofs, when she came down again to welcome her sister and her
husband, John Berry--a bluff, middle-aged farmer to whom Rue had been
married some five years, and they had come now to spend a few days,
bringing their two little girls.

"Ah, Luke, my man of wisdom, how are you?  Sage, my dear, give us a
kiss.  Bless you, how well you look.  How am I?  Hearty, and so's Rue."

Sage was kissing her sister affectionately the next moment, heartily
glad to see her looking so rosy and well, but blushing redder as she
whispered merrily--

"Oh!  I am sorry we came and interrupted you.  You look so guilty,
Sagey.  When's it to be?"

"Not for years to come, dear," said Sage, as she busied herself with
Lotty and Totty, their two golden-haired little children, who were so
wrapped up that they were, as John said, warm as toasts.

He plumped himself into a chair directly, to take one on each knee.
Then Sage and Rue busied themselves in taking off pelisses and woollen
leggings, and reducing the little things into a less rounded shape,
while John sat as stolid and serious as a judge, evidently being very
proud of his two little ones, as he was of his handsome young wife.

"And now, John, you'd like a tankard of ale, wouldn't you?" cried Sage.

"Well, I don't know," said John, quietly; "a mug of squire's ale is
nice, if Luke there will have one too."

"Oh!  I'll join," said Luke, heartily; and, after drawing it, Sage went
up with Rue to her room, and she began to tease her about Luke, but
ended with an affectionate embrace.

"I'd marry him any time, dear," she said, "for I think he's a good
fellow, and if you are as happy as I am with dear old John you will be
satisfied."

"But uncle has said that it is not to be till Luke has five hundred a
year," said Sage, dreamily, "and that will not be for a long time; and--
and, Rue, dear," she faltered, "I--I don't think I feel quite happy
about it."

"Stuff and nonsense, Sagey!  Uncle will come round.  He wants to see us
quite happy."

"But you misunderstand me, dear," said Sage, thoughtfully.  "I mean that
I'm half afraid I'm not doing right in letting Luke Ross believe I love
him, because--because--"

"Because--because you are a goose," cried Rue, merrily.  "I felt just
the same about John, and was ready to break it off, and now I think him
the dearest and best fellow under the sun.  Sage, dear."

"Yes, Rue."

"You are in the sugar-plum stage just now, and don't know your own mind.
I like Luke Ross.  He's frank and straightforward.  Don't play with
him, for he's a man to be trusted, and you're lucky to have him care for
you."

"Yes, I suppose so," said Sage, dreamily; "but it is not to be for a
long time yet."

As she spoke she was thinking of the past, and her sister's love affair
with Frank Mallow, who used to follow her whenever she was out for a
walk; and then about the trouble at the rectory, when Frank Mallow went
off all on a sudden.  Of how poor Rue was nearly heartbroken, and used
to tell Sage that she would go after him if he sent for her; but he
never even wrote to her in spite of all his professions; and then they
learned how badly he had behaved; and after that Rue never mentioned his
name but in a quiet subdued way, and at her uncle's wish accepted John
Berry--a man of sterling qualities--and she had grown brighter and
happier ever since she had been his wife.

The final preparations were made and the table spread long before the
Churchwarden and his wife came back, with the chaise loaded up, and Mrs
Portlock protesting that she would never go again if Joseph took a whip.

The culprit chuckled as Sage helped him with his overcoat, shouting
orders all the while to Luke and John Berry, who were busy bringing in
the load of parcels till it seemed wonderful how they could all have
been packed into the chaise.

At last the final packet was in, and the cold air shut out; but hardly
had the door been closed, and they were standing laughing at Rue's
little girls, who were staggering in and out of the great parlour with
packets which they carried by the string, than the bell rang.

"Here's Vinnicombe!" cried Portlock, and the doctor, in a fur cap tied
down over his ears, blue spectacles over his eyes, and his tall lean
form muffled in a long thick greatcoat, came in, stamping his feet.

"Here, help me off with this coat, somebody," growled the doctor.  "How
do, girls?  Take away those children, or I shall tread on 'em.  Hate
youngsters running about under one's feet like black beetles.  What have
you got there?" he added, pointing to the parcels.

"Fal-lals and kickshaws.  The old woman's been pretty well emptying the
grocer's shop."

"Now, Joseph, that is really too bad," said Mrs Portlock, full of mild
indignation.  "Now you know you would persist in buying three-parts of
what is there."

"Humph!  Thought you fancied you were going to be snowed up," growled
the doctor, shaking himself free of his coat, and holding out first one
leg and then the other for Luke to pull off his goloshes.  "That's
right, Luke Ross; I don't see why you young fellows shouldn't wait on us
old ones.  I had lots of trouble with you, you young rascal; fetched out
of bed for you often."

"Well, doctor," cried Luke, "you see I'm willing enough," and his cheeks
flushed with pleasure to find that in spite of the Churchwarden's
serious treatment of his proposals, he was warmer than ever he had been
before.

"There, look sharp, girls," cried the Churchwarden.  "Come, old lady,
take off your things.  Sage, put the doctor in the chimney-corner to
thaw.  He'll soon come round."

Dr Vinnicombe shook his fist at the speaker, and let Sage lead him to
the glowing fire, while the next moment the Churchwarden was having what
he called "a glorious cuddle," four little chubby arms being fast about
his great neck, and a couple of pairs of little red lips kissing him all
over his rugged, ruddy face.



PART ONE, CHAPTER FOURTEEN.

THE BAD SHILLING.

Michael Ross, Luke's father, came soon after with a couple of
fellow-townsmen, and their chat about the state of affairs, social and
political, that is to say, the state of affairs in connection with the
rectory and the price of corn, was interrupted by the call for tea.

The warm fire and the pleasant social meal did make the doctor come
round, and very pleasant everything seemed as they afterwards sat about
the blazing fire.  Sage noted how happy and contented her sister was,
with her pretty young matronly face, as she sat by her husband's side
and seemed to glow with content, as first one little golden-haired
cherub and then the other was seated on Dr Vinnicombe's knee, the
soured old cynic telling them tales to which they all listened with
almost childish delight.

Luke's heart was full of joy, and he kept glancing across at Sage, who
avoided his gaze in a timid, cast-down manner; but it did not displease
him, for he thought she was all that was modest and sweet, and told
himself that he was proud indeed to have won such a woman for his future
wife.

Then there seemed to be a blank in the room, for Sage left with her
sister to put the little ones to bed, Rue sending the blood flushing
into her cheeks as she half mockingly said--

"How long will it be, Sage, before I am helping you to put a little Luke
and a little Sage to sleep?"

They were very silent directly after, and Sage felt a kind of wondering
awe as, in obedience to a word from their mother, the two little
white-robed things, with their fair hair like golden glories round their
heads, knelt at Aunty Sage's knee to lisp each a little simple prayer to
God to send his angels to watch round their couch that night; and then
back came Rue's merry words, and with them wondering awe, almost dread,
at the possibility of such as these at her feet ever calling her mother,
and looking to her for help.

They stayed for a few minutes to see the children sleep, with their rosy
little faces on the same pillow, and then, with their arms around each
other, Sage and Rue, happy girls at heart once more, descended to the
dining-room, where their aunt was telling Doctor Vinnicombe about her
troubles with her garden, while their uncle's face was full of
good-humoured crinkles as she spoke.

"Here, girls," he said, putting down his pipe, "come and comfort me
while I'm being flogged."

"I'm not flogging you, Joseph," said Mrs Portlock, speaking in a
serious, half-plaintive way; "but it will soon be time for Dicky to be
doing up my garden again, and I do say that it is a shame that in my own
ground you will be always planting seeds and things that have no
business there."

"Never put in anything that isn't useful," chuckled the Churchwarden,
with his arms round his nieces' waists as they stood by his side.

"Useful, yes; but you ought not to sow carrot-seed amongst my
mignonette, and plant potato-cuttings in amongst my tulips and
hearts-ease.  I declare, doctor, if my verbena-bed was not full of
cabbage plants one day, and when I pulled them up he had them set again,
and often and often I've allowed swedes, and mangolds, and rape to get
ever so big in the garden before I've known what they were."

"He's a terrible rascal, Mrs Portlock, that he is; and if I were you
I'd have a divorce," said the doctor.

"Ah, do, old lady," chuckled the Churchwarden, but he became serious
directly as his wife rose from her seat and went and stood behind his
chair, with her hands upon his shoulders.

"A divorce?" she said, smiling.  "Thirty years we've been man and wife,
Joseph;" and he leaned back his head and said softly--

"Ay, dear, and I worked five years till I was well enough off to give
you a good home, and please God we'll have thirty more years together--
here, or in the better world."

Luke Ross felt that the words were meant for him, and he tried to catch
Sage's eye, but she would not raise her face, and he sat thinking that
after all the farmer was right.

There was a dead silence in the room for some minutes, and then Dr
Vinnicombe exclaimed--

"Come, Churchwarden, here are Michael Ross and I famishing for a game at
whist."

"To be sure," cried the Churchwarden.  "Now, girls, let's have the
card-table.  My word, what a night!  It's a nipper indeed.  Let's have
another log on, old lady, and--What the dickens is the matter with those
dogs?"

For just then, as the flames and sparks were roaring up the chimney, the
two dogs in the yard set up a furious barking, growing so excited, and
tearing so at their chains, that the Churchwarden went out to the door,
opened it, and a rush of cold, searching wind roared into the room as he
shouted--

"Down, Don!  Quiet, Rover!  Who's there?"

"Port--lock, ahoy!" came in reply, and Rue turned pale, uttered a low
moan, and clung to her sister, who trembled in turn as another voice
shouted--

"Call off the dogs, Mr Portlock; it is only I."

"Sage," whispered Rue, with her face close to her sister's ear, "let us
go away."

"Why, it must be Mr Frank Mallow," cried Mrs Portlock, excitedly, and
she glanced in a frightened way at her nieces.

"Yes, that it is," she said, beneath her breath, as a tall, dark man
with a heavy beard entered the room, closely followed by Cyril Mallow.

"Beg pardon," he said, in a curious, half-cynical way.  "Didn't expect
to see me, I suppose.  Only got back this afternoon; thought I should
like to see all old friends."

"Hearty glad to see you back again," said the Churchwarden, frankly.
"Sit down, Mr Cyril," he continued, as the new-comer shook hands.
"Take a chair, Mr Frank.  It's like old times to see you here again."

"Hah! yes.  How well you look, farmer, and you too, Mrs Portlock.  Miss
Sage, I presume?  Why, what a change!  Grown from a slip of a girl to a
charming woman.  And how is Miss Rue Portlock?" he said, with mock
deference, as he fixed the pale, shrinking face with his dark eyes.

"I am quite well, Mr Frank," said Rue, making an effort to be composed,
but not taking the visitor's extended hand.  "John, dear," she
continued, turning to her husband, "this is Mr Frank Mallow, of whom
you have heard me speak."

"Ah! to be sure," said John Berry.  "Glad to know my little wife's
friends.  How are you, sir--how are you?"

Frank Mallow's eyes closed slightly, and he gazed in a half-curious,
contemptuous way at John Berry as he shook hands, and then turned to
Luke Ross.

"And is this Miss Sage's husband?" he said, laughingly, but in a
sarcastic way that turned Sage cold.

"Well, no; I am not Miss Portlock's husband, Mr Mallow," said Luke,
smiling, and taking the extended hand, his tone saying plainly enough
that he hoped soon to be.

"Ah, well, we all get married some time or other," said the visitor, in
a careless, unpleasant way.

"Have you got married then, my lad?" said the Churchwarden, reaching a
cigar-box from the fireplace cupboard.

"No, not yet," he replied, "not yet.  Cyril and I are particular, eh,
Cil, old man?  I've come over to fetch myself a wife perhaps.  Cigar?
Yes; thanks.  Take one, Cil?  Hah! how cosy this old room seems!  I've
spent some pleasant hours here."

"Ay, you've smoked many a pipe with me, Mr Frank.  That was when you
were in your farming days."

"Farming days?"

"Ay," chuckled the Churchwarden, "sowing thy wild oats, my lad."

"Ha, ha, ha!  Why, Portlock, you're as fond of a joke as ever.  Ladies,
I hope you won't mind so much smoking," he said, puffing away vigorously
all the same, while Luke Ross gazed uneasily from one brother to the
other, till he caught Cyril looking at him in a haughty, offended
manner, when in spite of himself his eyes fell.

"Old folks surprised to see you, eh, sir?" said the Churchwarden, to
break the blank in the conversation.

"Yes, preciously," was the short reply.

"Humph!"

Frank Mallow, who was staring at Rue, while his brother was trying to
catch her sister's eye, turned at this loud grunt and smiled.

"Oh, you're there!" he exclaimed.  "And how is Doctor Vinnicombe?"

"Doctor Vinnicombe is in very good health, and in the best of spirits,"
said the doctor, sarcastically, "for one of his old patients has come
back, evidently to pay a heavy bill that his father refused to
acknowledge."

"Glad to hear it," said Frank Mallow.

"And how have you got on, Mr Frank?" said the Churchwarden.  "I hope
you've made a better hit of it than Mr Cyril there, and after all the
teaching I gave him about sheep."

"Better hit?  Well, I hope so.  Nice fellow he was to come out to the
other side of the world, and never call upon his brother."

"You took precious good care not to let us know your address," retorted
Cyril.

"And what may you have been doing, Mr Frank?" said the Churchwarden,
who was beginning to have an uneasy idea that the visitors were not
adding to the harmony of the evening, and also recalling the ugly little
affairs that had to do with Frank's departure.

"Doing?"

"Yes; sir; did you try tillage?"

"Not I, farmer," exclaimed Frank Mallow, staring hard at Rue, who kept
her eyes fixed upon the carpet, or talked in a low voice to Sage, while
bluff John Berry listened eagerly for what seemed likely to be an
interesting narrative.

"Let's see, Mr Frank, you went to New Zealand?"

"Yes, but I did not stay there; I ran on to Australia, and tried the
diggings."

"And did you get any gold, sir?" said John Berry, eagerly.

"Pretty well," replied Frank Mallow; "enough to buy and stock a good
sheep farm; and now I'm as warm as some of them out there," he added,
with a coarse laugh, "and I've come back home for a wife to take care of
the house I've built."

"That's right, sir," said John Berry, nodding his head, and smiling at
Rue; "nothing like a good wife, sir, to keep you square."

"Then you are not going to stay?" said the Churchwarden.

"Stay! what here?  No thanky; I had enough of England when I was here.
Other side of the world for me."

The Churchwarden was right in his ideas, for, as the night wore on,
Frank Mallow seemed to be trying to pique Rue by his strange bantering
ways, while all the time he was so persevering in his free attentions to
Sage that Luke's face grew red, and a frown gathered upon his forehead.

Cyril saw it too, and as he found that his brother's conduct annoyed
both Sage and Luke, he increased his attentions, laughingly telling
Frank not to monopolise the ladies, but to leave a chance for some one
else.

"And they call themselves gentlemen!" thought Luke Ross, as he listened
gravely to all that was said, and tried to keep from feeling annoyed at
the free and easy way of the two brothers, who seemed to have put on
their Australian manners for the occasion, and refused to believe in
Mrs Portlock being troubled and her nieces annoyed.

They had the greater part of the conversation, and thoroughly spoiled
the evening, so that it was with a feeling of relief that Luke heard
Cyril Mallow say--

"Well, come along; we must get back.  Past twelve; and the governor
likes early hours in the country."

"Let him," said Frank Mallow, lighting his fourth cigar.

"But the mater said she should wait up to see you before she went to
bed," said Cyril.

"Poor old girl! then I suppose we must go," said Frank, rising.
"Ladies, I kiss your hands, as we say in the east.  Good-night!"

He shook hands all round, holding Rue Berry's hand very tightly for a
moment, at the same time that her brother had Sage's little trembling
fingers in his clasp.

"Good-night, gentlemen; you don't go our way."

The next minute Mrs Portlock uttered a sigh of relief, for the dogs
were barking at the visitors whom Churchwarden Portlock was seeing to
the gate.

"There's a something I like about that young fellow," said John Berry,
breaking the silence, as the sisters stood hand clasped in hand, with
Mrs Portlock looking at them in a troubled way.  "I've heard a good
deal of evil spoke of him, but a young fellow who is fond of his mother
can't be so very bad.  Good-night, doctor; good-night, Mr Ross;
good-night, Luke Ross.  I'll walk with you to the gate."

The "good-night" between Luke and Sage was not a warm one, for the girl
felt troubled and ill at ease, but Luke was quiet and tender.

"She's very tired," he said, "and I promised her--yes, I promised her--"

He did not say what he promised her, as he went thoughtfully home,
leaving his father and Doctor Vinnicombe to do all the talking; but as
they parted at the doctor's door in the High Street, the latter turned
sharply, and said--

"Good-night, Luke Ross.  I say, Michael Ross, I don't think you need
envy the parson his good fortune in the matter of boys."

"I don't envy him, Luke, my boy," said the little thin, dry old man, as
soon as they were out of hearing; "and if I were you, my boy, I'd have
precious little to do with these young fellows."

"Don't be alarmed, father," said Luke, laughing; "they would think it an
act of condescension to associate with me."

"No," he said to himself, as he stood at last in his clean,
plainly-furnished bedroom in the quaint little market-place, "I should
be insulting Sage if I thought she could care for any one but me."

But all the same Luke Ross's dreams were not of a very pleasant kind
that night; and those of the two sisters of a less happy character
still.



PART ONE, CHAPTER FIFTEEN.

THE PRODIGAL SONS.

To look at the red-brick gabled rectory, with its rose and
wistaria-covered trellis-work, the latter at its season one mass of
lovely pendent lavender racemes, and the former in some form or other
brightening the house with blossoms all the year round, it might have
been thought that it was the home of peace and constant content.  The
surrounding gardens were a model of beauty, the Rector sparing no
expense to make them perfect in their way; but he had long enough before
found that beauty of garden and choicest interior surroundings would not
bring him peace.

His first great trouble had been the illness of his wife, who, after the
birth of Cynthia, had for years and years been taken to this famous
specialist, to that celebrated physician, and from both to springs all
over the Continent, till, finding no relief, Mr Mallow had yielded to
the suffering woman's prayer.

"It is hopeless, dear," she had said, with a calm look of resignation in
her pensive eyes.  "Let us go home, and I will pray for strength to bear
my lot."

They returned then, and it was for her sake that the garden was made to
bloom with flowers, and the hothouses to produce the most delicious
fruits.  Their income was large from private resources, while the
Lawford living was good, so that all that money could bring to alleviate
the suffering woman's trouble was there, and the Rector was almost
constantly at her side.

But Fate, as has been said, who had endowed the Rev Eli Mallow with
wealth, a handsome presence, and with good intellect, had not been chary
in the matter of what commercial people term set-offs.  Trouble besides
his wife's sickness came upon him thickly, principally in the persons of
his handsome, manly-looking sons.

Frank had been a difficulty from childhood.  He had not been more spoilt
than most boys are, though certainly his invalid mother had been most
indulgent; but there was a moral bias by nature in his disposition,
which somehow seemed to make him, just as he was apparently
going straight for a certain goal, turn right off in a very
unpleasantly-rounded curve.

Quite early in his youth he had to be recalled, to save expulsion from a
certain school, on account of his heading a series of raids upon various
orchards, and in defiance of divers corrections on the principal's part.

He had to return home from his two next schools for various offences
against their rules, and finally his college career came to an end with
rustication.

Frank laughed, and said that he did not know how it was.  One thing, he
said, was evident: he was not cut out for the church, and he would not
go back to college when the term of his rustication was at an end.

A clerkship was obtained for him then, through great interest, in the
Treasury, and here for three or four years he got along pretty well, the
confinement not being great, and the number of friends he met with being
of a character to suit his taste.

There were bounds, though, even in those days, to the limits accorded to
a gentlemanly clerk of good birth, and when Frank took to absenting
himself from the office for a week at a time, matters became serious.

For the first time or two the plea of illness was accepted, but when
another absence occurred, also from illness, and Mr Frank Mallow was
seen by his superiors riding a showy-looking hack in the park, and was
known to have given a bachelors' party in the same week, to which
several fellow-clerks were invited, it became necessary to hint to the
peccant youth that the next time he was unwell, a certificate to that
effect would be necessary from some well-known medical man.

Frank was ill again, so he sent in word to the office, and stayed away
for another week, after which, on presenting himself, he received a
warning--one which he bore in mind for a couple of months, and then his
head must have once more been very bad, for there was a fresh absence,
and this endured so long that Frank's seat in the Treasury knew him no
more.

"Well, it don't matter, mother," he said.  "It was a wretched set-out,
and I was sick of the eternal copying."

"But it was such a pity, dear," his mother said, in a tone of
remonstrance.

"Pity?  Stuff!  Eighty pounds a year, and a rise of ten pounds annually!
Not bricklayer's wages, and all the time people think it's such a
tremendous thing to be a Treasury clerk."

"Poor papa is so vexed and grieved, for he took such pains to get you
the appointment."

"Then poor papa must get pleased again," said the young man, petulantly.
"I cannot, and I will not, stand a clerk's desk.  I'd sooner enlist."

"Frank!" cried his mother, reproachfully.

"Well, I declare I would, mother," he said, thrusting his hands into his
pockets, and walking up and down the room.

"To find freedom?" said his mother, with a smile.

"Oh!  I dare say there would be discipline to attend to, and officers to
obey; but there would be some change.  I should not have to be tied down
to a wretched writing-table, copy, copy, copy, the whole day long."

"Change?" said Mrs Mallow, and she gazed wistfully in her son's face.

"Yes, of course; one must have some excitement."

He stood gazing out of the window, and did not notice the strange
despairing look in his mother's eyes, one which seemed to tell of her
own weary hours--weary years, passed upon that couch, with no hope of
change save that of some day sinking into the eternal rest.  It was
evident that she was contrasting the selfishness of her son and his
position with her own, and she sighed as she closed her eyes and lay
there in silence for a time, uttering no reproach.

Then came the day when the Rector was goaded almost to madness by the
young man's follies, and the reports constantly reaching his ears of
Frank's exploits at the principal hotel in billiard-playing and various
unsavoury pursuits with one or other of the young farmers round.
Reports these that lost nothing doubtless in the telling, and which
never failed to reach the Rector in a way that seemed to suggest that he
was answerable for his son's misdoings.

Then followed other troubles, culminating in an affray with the keepers,
an affair which, from the family friendship with old Lord Artingale,
could easily have been hushed up; but the Rector jumped at the
opportunity he found in his son's dread and evident anxiety to get away
from the neighbourhood, so quite in a hurry Frank was shipped off to New
Zealand.

And there was peace at the Rectory?  Nothing of the kind.  There was the
misery of hearing endless little stories of Frank's "carryings on," as
they were termed; some bill was constantly being brought to the house,
with a request that the Rector would pay it, and, to hide his son's
disgrace, this he sometimes did.  But the annoyance was none the less,
and the Rector used to declare plaintively to his wife that if it were
not for Julia and Cynthia he would run right away.

"And for me, Eli," said the suffering woman, with a smile.

"And for you, dear," he said, tenderly, and there was peace until some
new peccadillo of the eldest son was discovered.

Then to the Rector's dismay he found that Cyril--his mother's darling--
seemed to have taken a leaf out of his brother's book.  If the younger
brother's career had been to run upon a tram-line laid down by his elder
brother, he could not have followed in the course more truly, and just
as the Rector was beginning to feel calmed down and happy in the society
of his two pretty daughters, troubles concerning Cyril kept cropping up.

"Nice chaps for a parson's sons," said Jabez Fullerton, the principal
draper at Lawford, who could afford to speak out, as Mrs Mallow and her
daughters sent to Swan and Edgar's for everything.  And he did speak
out; for, as deacon at his chapel and occasional preacher, he never lost
an opportunity of saying a few words by way of practice.

"Nice chaps for a parson's sons!  This is the sort of stuff they send to
college, and then send back to teach us, in their surplices which we
have to pay for the washing of, though we never go to church.  Nice
fellows they'll be to preach sermons--out of books too--read 'em.  We at
chapel never read our sermons, eh?"

There was a murmur of acquiescence here, and Mr Jabez Fullerton felt
happy.

Not that the Rev Eli Mallow had thought of making his sons clergymen
after testing them for a short time.  Cyril had, like his brother, been
to college, and with a view to his succeeding to the living of Lawford,
but, as in the case of Frank, the Rector soon gave him up in despair.

Matters grew worse; then worse still.  Expostulation, prayer, anger, all
were tried in vain, and, having to bear the trouble to a great extent in
silence, so as to hide it from the sick mother, who idolised Cyril, the
Rector was at times almost beside himself.

At last there came a crash, and the Rector determined to get this son
away before something worse should result.

Emigration was being much talked of just then, and plenty of young men
were going out to the various colonies to commence life as squatters
both in the far east and west.  A couple of the young farmers of the
neighbourhood of Lawford were about to start, and, after a stormy scene
with his father, Cyril came one day to propose that he should be
furnished with a little capital and an outfit, so that he could go and
try his luck in Australia.

For a few moments the Rev Eli Mallow was aghast at the idea.  He
wished Cyril to leave the town, but not to go abroad.

"I don't care where I go," said Cyril; "I'll either try Australia, or go
and hunt out Frank and chum with him."

"But we don't know where he is," said the Rector.

"New Zealand."

"Yes, but New Zealand is large."

"Not so large but what a fellow might find out Frank.  Everyone would
know him."

The Rector sighed, and wished his sons were not so popular with a
certain class, and then he thought over the position, and shrank from
giving his consent.  Knowing the mother's intense love for her son, he
felt that the parting would nearly break her heart, and after a few
moments' pause he said so.

"Oh, you need not fidget about that," said the young man.  "I've talked
to her about it for days past."

"And what does she say?"

"Well, it upset her a bit at first, but she soon came round, and she
thinks it would be the best thing I could do."

It was then with a sense of relief that made him feel ashamed, that the
father, after a liberal endowment of money, saw his son sent from
Liverpool, after the heartiest promises on the part of the young man to
do battle with life and make himself a name and a position in the
colony.

"If not for my sake, Cyril, for your mother's," the father had said, as
he held his son's hand upon the deck of the Great Central liner.

"Depend upon me this time, father," was the earnest reply, and Cyril
went his way across the sea, fully believing in himself that his wild
oats were sown, and that now he was about to make a position of
substantial basis for himself.

It was a strange thing, and as if a curious kind of clairvoyance made
him prophetic, for the Rev Eli Mallow went home, and that evening
busied himself over his next Sunday's sermon, involuntarily choosing the
parable of the Prodigal Son, and not waking up to the fact of what he
had done till he sat there in his study reading the manuscript over by
the light of his shaded lamp.

"Give me the portion of goods that falleth to me," he muttered in a low
voice, as, with the manuscript in his hand, he sat gazing straight
before him into the darker part of the room, and then became silent.

"And took his journey into a far country," he muttered again, in the
same dreamy abstracted manner, and then there was a longer pause,
followed by a deep sigh.

The Rev Eli Mallow rose slowly from his seat, and, with an agonised
look in his face, walked up and down the room for some time before
sinking back into his chair.

"And there wasted his substance with riotous living."

It did not seem to be his voice that spoke in the silence of that room;
but he knew it was his that exclaimed piteously as the king of old--"Ah,
Cyril, my son, my son!"  Again there was absolute silence in that room,
till, quoting once more from the parable which he had made the subject
of his discourse, the Rector said softly--

"Father, I have sinned against heaven and before thee, and am no more
worthy to be called thy son."

"Yes, and I should forgive him," he continued, after a pause.  "I do try
to practise as I preach.  Poor Cyril! poor wilful boy.  I pray heaven
that my thoughts have been doing thee wrong."

There was a gentle smile upon his lips then as he took the manuscript of
his sermon and tore it up into very small pieces before consigning it to
the waste-paper basket.

"No," he said, "I must not preach a sermon such as that: it is too
prophetic of my own position with my sons;" and as we know this prodigal
did return penniless, having worked his way back in a merchant brig, to
present himself one day at the rectory in tarry canvas trousers, with
blackened horny hands and a reckless defiant look in his eyes that
startled the quiet people of the place.

He made no reference as to his having wasted his substance; he talked
not of sin, and he alluded in nowise to forgiveness, to being made as
one of his father's hired servants, but took his place coolly enough
once more in the house, and if no fatted calf was killed, and no
rejoicings held, he was heartily welcomed and forgiven once again.

He was his mother's favourite, and truly, in spite of all, there was
forgiveness ready in the father's heart.  As there was also for Frank,
who after some years' silence had suddenly walked in at the rectory
gates, rough-looking and boisterous, but not in such a condition as his
brother, who had quite scandalised the men-servants, neatly clad in the
liveries, of which a new supply had come from London, greatly to the
disgust of Smithson in the market-place, who literally scowled at every
seam.



PART ONE, CHAPTER SIXTEEN.

AT THE KING'S HEAD.

"What I say is this," exclaimed Jabez Fullerton.  "Justice is justice,
and right is right."

"Hear, hear!" murmured several voices, as Mr Fullerton glanced round
the room, and drew himself up with the pride of a man who believed that
he had said something original.

"I hope I'm too good a Christian to oppose the parson," he continued,
"and I wouldn't if it had been Mr Paulby, but it's time we stopped
somewhere, gentlemen."

"Hear, hear!" again; and several of the gentlemen addressed took their
long pipes from their mouths to say it, and then, replacing them,
continued to smoke.

"Ever since parson has been back he has been meddling and interfering.
First he kills poor old Sammy Warmoth.  Broke his heart, he did.  Then
he makes Joe Biggins saxon, a man most unfitted for the post, gentlemen.
I say a man most unfitted for the post."

"Hear, hear!"

"Chap as is always looking at you as if he wanted to measure you for a
coffin," said Smithson, the tailor.

"Natural enough," said the Churchwarden, chuckling; "you always look at
our clothes, Smithson, eh?"

"Ay, I do, Master Portlock, sir; but I don't want you to die for it.  I
want you to live and grow stout, and want new suits, not a last one."

"Stiff, hard suit o' mourning, eh, Smithson, made o' wood?"

"Yes, sir, well seasoned; ellum, eh?"

There was a general laugh at this lugubrious joking, and Fullerton
tapped impatiently with his pipe-bowl upon the table.

"I say, gentlemen, a most unsuitable man," he continued.

"Who would you have had then?" said Churchwarden Portlock.

"Why Thomas Morrison, the wheelwright," said Fullerton, "if you must
have a churchman."

"Yes, a good man," was murmured in assent.

"Then he must be pulling the church all to pieces, and quarrelling with
the curate, and refusing to bury his dead.  We wouldn't have refused to
bury our dead at chapel, gentlemen."

"Not you," chuckled Portlock.  "You'd like to bury the lot of us, parson
and all."

"Gentlemen, this is begging the question," said Fullerton, with plump
dignity, and he settled his neck in his white cravat.  "What I say is,
that I have no enmity against the parson, nayther have you."

"Nay, nay," said Warton, the saddler, who had the rectory pair horse
harness on his mind, the new double set, that he saw, by the name on the
packing-case, came from Peak's; "we only pity him.  He has plenty of
trouble wi' those two boys of his.  I hear the Bad Shilling's come back
now."

"Ay, he's back," said Smithson.  "I've got a pair of his trousers to
mend.  One never gets anything to make.  Up at thy place last night,
wasn't he, Master Portlock?"

The Churchwarden nodded.

"Nice boys!" said Smithson.  "Dessay the father was like 'em, for the
girls really are nice, like their mother."

"Then he was twice as hard as he need be on Jock Morrison," continued
Fullerton, who would finish.  "Fancy sending a man to gaol for three
months just when his brother's got a death in the house."

"Fair play," cried Portlock.  "The bairn died afterwards."

"Well, maybe it did," said Fullerton, "but he needn't have been so hard
on the poor bairn's uncle.  Why not give him another chance?  He's no
worse in his way than the parson's boys are in theirs."

"Boys will be boys," said Smithson, who wondered whether that pair of
trousers to mend might result in an order for a suit.

Fullerton was impatient, and cut in almost before the tailor had
finished.

"Clergymen's all very well in their way, gentlemen, but the dismissing
of old schoolmasters and appointing of new ones don't seem to me to be
in their way, especially where there's governors to a school."

"Parson's a governor too," said Warton, the saddler.

"_Ex officio_?" said Tomlinson, the ironmonger, who kept the bank.

"Of course, of course," acquiesced Fullerton, who had not the least idea
of what _ex officio_ meant; "but I said it before, and I said it to
parson's own face, just the same as I'm saying it here behind his back,
and any man who likes can tell him what I said," and he looked round
defiantly as he spoke; "what I say is, that, whatever Humphrey Bone's
faults may be, he's as good a land measurer as ever stepped."

"Yes, he _is_ that," said a broad farmer-looking man.  "Joseph Portlock,
you said the very same thing to me yesternight."

"He's a first-class penman."

"Capital," said Tomlinson.

"And if you know a man with a clearer head for figures," continued
Fullerton, "I should be glad to see him."

"Capital man at ciphering," said Smithson, the tailor, whose yearly
accounts Humphrey Bone always made up.

"Then, what do you want?" said Fullerton, angrily.  "We've all got our
faults, and if Humphrey Bone does take a little too much sometimes,
hasn't he been master of Lawford school these thirty years?"

The latter part of Jabez Fullerton's argument was not very clear to his
fellow-townsmen assembled at their weekly social meeting at the King's
Head; but they all granted that they had their faults, and Jabez
Fullerton waved the spoon with which he had been stirring his
brandy-and-water in a very statesmanlike way.

"Look here," he said, "I never go to church, for chapel's good enough
for me; but all the same I don't bear enmity against the church, and
never would."

"But you did oppose the church rates, Fullerton," said Tomlinson, with a
chuckle.

"On principle, neighbour, on principle; I couldn't help that.  But in
this case what I say is, that though I'd be the last man in the world to
oppose parson, it would be a disgrace to the town if we let poor
Humphrey Bone be pitched out of the living, just because parson wants
the place for Churchwarden Ross's boy."

"Well, I don't know what to say about it," said Tomlinson, smoking
meditatively at his pipe.  "Michael Ross is a very good neighbour of
mine, and brings his money to our bank regular.  I should be sorry to
hurt his feelings, 'specially as his boy has been to London on purpose
to be trained."

"Let him get a school somewhere else.  There's always plenty on the way,
I'll be bound."

"Don't seem to me as the boys'll take to a lad as was brought up, as you
may say, among 'em," said Smithson.  "Bless my soul, gentlemen, I made
that boy his fust suit with three rows o' brass buttons, with marigolds
stamped on 'em.  Bottle-green the suit was, and the trousers buttoned
over the jacket.  You know, Fullerton; I had the cloth of you."

"Oh, yes, I know," said the draper suavely.

"Well," continued Smithson--

"Excuse me, Smithson," said Fullerton, "we're just discussing the
question of Mr Mallow carrying everything with a high hand, and turning
out old Humphrey Bone without our consent."

Smithson, the tailor, jumped up, scowled round at the assembled company,
stuck his hat upon his head with a bang, and walked straight out of the
room.

"He's huffed," said Fullerton, with a sidewise wag of the head, "but I
can't help his being offended.  When a man becomes a public man, he's
got a public man's dooty to do to his fellow townsfolk, and at times
like this he's bound to speak.  So what I say, gentlemen, is this; will
you all come to the meeting to-morrow, and back me up?"

No one spoke, and it was remarkable that every man present just then
seemed to feel his mouth dry, and reached out his hand for his glass.

"I say again, gentlemen," cried Fullerton, "will you all come and back
me up?"

Every man present seemed to consider that it was the duty of the others
to speak out and tackle Fullerton--so they mentally put it--and each
looked at the other in turn without avail, till the regards of all
present seemed to be concentrated upon Tomlinson, the ironmonger, who
after a little hesitation said--

"I don't think it was wise to upset Smithson.  It's like sending a man
over to the enemy."

"I hope he hasn't got a long bill against you for clothes, Fullerton,"
said Warton, the saddler, with a chuckle.  "You'll have it in before it
comes due."

"If I owed my tailor a bill I dare say I could pay it, Mr Warton," said
Fullerton, haughtily; "and I should be glad to know, gentlemen, whether
you mean to discuss the question of the appointment of a new master,
because if you don't I shall throw the whole matter up."

"Oh, no, no, no," came in a murmur; "don't do that, Fullerton," and an
appealing look was directed at Tomlinson, who drew a long breath,
refreshed himself, and went on.

"You see I don't think it would be wise to go and upset Mr Mallow if we
could help it," he said; "he's a very good customer of mine, and very
neighbourly.  I don't think he's a bad sort of man."

"Not a bad sort of man!" cried Fullerton, indignantly; "why, it's a
burning shame for him to have charge of this parish at all.  What's a
parson for?"

"Well," said Tomlinson, mildly, "I suppose to have the care of the
parish."

"Yes, and to rule and manage it," said Warton.

"Yes," cried Fullerton, "of course; and here's a man who can't manage
his own household, which is the wastefullest in the place."

"Might keep your family on what they waste, eh, Fullerton?" said Warton,
the saddler, with a chuckle, for he was a great friend of Smithson; and
it was a fact often commented upon by neighbours, that Fullerton's
domestic economy was of the most parsimonious character.

"I'm not the man to eat the parson's leavings," said Fullerton, angrily,
"nor yet the man to go cringing and touching my hat to him in hopes of
getting a harness-mending order."

Mr Warton refilled his pipe.

"I say," continued Fullerton, "that a man who can't rule his own sons
can't properly rule a parish."

"Nay, nay, nay," cried Tomlinson; "don't be too hard upon him, man.
He's a very good sort of fellow is Mallow, and I should be very sorry to
go against him."

"But you will go against him," said Fullerton, triumphantly; and he
looked very hard in the ironmonger's face.

Mr Tomlinson's pipe needed seeing to just then, and he let his eyes
rest upon the glowing fire therein, as he recalled certain little
speculative money transactions that had taken place between him and
Fullerton, and felt how awkward it might be if he offended his
fellow-townsman.

It would be very awkward to have to side against the Rector, but of two
evils Tomlinson felt bound to choose the least.

"I'm afraid that in this instance I must go against Mr Mallow," said
Tomlinson, deliberately; and Fullerton gave a triumphant glance round
the room.

"Hah!" he said to himself, "there's a wonderful power in money, and one
never knows what it will do."



PART ONE, CHAPTER SEVENTEEN.

THE GOVERNORS' MEETING.

Market morning again at Lawford, and the customary business going on.
There were a few pigs in the pens; a larger amount of butter than usual
at the cross, some of it holding a good two ounces of salt to the pound.
A sale by auction of some old furniture was to take place, and gigs,
cars, and carts were coming in.

The rectory carriage, with Julia and Cynthia Mallow looking sweet and
attractive enough to tempt the tradespeople who quarrelled with the
father to touch their hats, came in quite early, setting down the
Rector, who had to visit the bookseller's and order a new volume for the
society library, and soon after he was on his way to the chief point of
attraction that morning, to wit, the special meeting of the governors of
Lawford School, with the Rector in the chair.

The meeting, according to custom, had been called for the vestry-room,
which would only comfortably hold six, and then adjourned to the King's
Head, where the townspeople and those interested in the important event
were gathered in force.

Thirty years before, when Humphrey Bone obtained his appointment, only
three people were present--to wit, the then rector of the parish and a
couple of governors.  But there was no opposition in those days.
Dissent had not taken so strong a hold on the little town, and the
disposition for making a party fight over every trifling matter had not
grown into the ascendant.

On this particular day, however, though to a man every one present,
whether Nonconformist or supporter of Church and State, would have
stoutly denied that party feeling or local politics had anything to do
with his presence, it was very evident that there were two opposing
sides, and that the meeting was pretty evenly divided between the
supporters of the Rector, who believed in the time being come for the
appointment of a new master, and those who nailed their colours to the
mast old style, and openly declared that any change made must be for the
worse.

Humphrey Bone was there one of the first, making the boards echo with
his thick boot, and it was noticed that the said boot had been
thoroughly blacked, that Humphrey was well shaved, his hair had been
cut, and that he had on a clean white shirt.

Fullerton was there, too, talking to him aside, and Tomlinson, Smithson,
and Warton soon put in an appearance, one and all looking as important
and solemn as if the constitution of the country were at stake, in place
of so mild a question as that which was to be settled--whether Humphrey
Bone was to be superseded, or not.

The room was growing pretty full.  Michael Ross, the tanner, had
entered, followed by his son, who looked very pale and determined,
speaking in a quick, decided way to Portlock, the churchwarden, who came
up and shook hands with both his father and him in turn.

Then the Rector entered, followed by Cyril, who sauntered into the room
with a careless air, nodding at first one and then another, till his
eyes met those of Luke Ross, when he started slightly, but returned the
keen fixed gaze with one full of angry resentment before looking down.

Then there was a little bustle and settling down in seats as the Rector
took the chair.  The vestry clerk opened a big calf-skin covered book,
stuck a new quill pen behind his ear, and drew the ink a little nearer
to him, when there was a breathless pause, during which all who could
looked from Luke Ross, the young, to Humphrey Bone, the old, as if they
were the champions of the two causes assembled here, and as though they
were expected to come forward in front of the Rector's chair and do
battle manfully for the post.

Then the Rector quietly announced that the meeting that day was for the
purpose of confirming the appointment of the new master to the boys'
school, and also to accept the resignation of the late master, Mr
Humphrey Bone.

"Never resigned," shouted that individual; and he involuntarily wiped
his mouth, as if to remove all traces of his having been seeking for
support at the King's Head bar.

Mr Mallow frowned slightly, and there was a low buzz of satisfaction on
one side of the room.

"Didn't resign, and don't want to resign," said Humphrey Bone more
loudly, being encouraged by the looks of approbation he received.

"And to confirm the dismissal of Mr Humphrey Bone from the office of
master of the school," said the Rector, firmly.  "I beg pardon,
gentlemen, I was under the impression that Mr Bone had resigned.  I may
add, gentlemen, that the preliminaries have been settled at the former
meeting, and all that is requisite now is for a majority of the
governors to sign the minute that the clerk to the vestry will prepare.
If any gentleman has a remark or two he would like to make, we shall be
most happy to hear him."

"Yes, that's easy enough to say," whispered Warton to Smithson.  "He's
used to speaking in public.  I always feel as if my heart's getting into
my mouth."

"Mr Fullerton, I think, wishes to address you, gentlemen," said the
Rector, smiling and sitting down.

Mr Fullerton looked as if he would have liked to strangle the Rector
for that smile.  It was a perfectly innocent smile, in no wise directed
at the would-be speaker, but it seemed to Fullerton that the Rector was
ridiculing him, and it put him off his text for the moment, but he
recovered himself, and in a very florid speech, full of wanderings from
the point, opposed the appointment of a new master on the ground that
Humphrey Bone having been duly nominated and appointed, unless he had in
some special way become unfit for his post, the Rector had no right to
dismiss him.

Mr Bone uttered a very loud "Hear, hear!"

Two more of the townsmen, followers of Fullerton, rose in turn to speak,
but were silenced on the spot by the announcement of the Rector, that
this was not an ordinary meeting of ratepayers, but of the governors of
the school, who alone had a right to make any motion and speak to the
proposition before the meeting.

This being so, Tomlinson was forced into action by his neighbour, and in
smooth tones regretted that he was compelled to go in opposition to "our
worthy Rector," but, etcetera, etcetera, etcetera, he must object to the
appointment of so young a man as Mr Luke Ross to so important a post,
and after a long speech, in which he went round and round the subject a
dozen times, he ended by declaring that he should vote against the
appointment.

To his annoyance, the Rector, as the meeting went on, found himself
undoubtedly in the minority, and he felt bitterly the position in which
Luke Ross had been placed.

Just then, however, a couple of the governors, upon whom he knew that he
could depend, entered the room, and the tables, he felt, were turned.

Luke had been sitting, chafing at every word that had been said against
his appointment, and every now and then, as he met Cyril Mallow's eye,
it seemed to him to be full of triumph at his discomfiture.

Then, too, he kept glancing at Portlock, and as he did so the bluff,
wealthy farmer's words came back, mingled with the contempt he seemed to
feel for the pittance that was to be the young master's for the first
few years.

Five hundred a year--five hundred a year--seemed to keep repeating
itself to Luke Ross, as his eyes once more met those of Cyril Mallow,
whose countenance wore a decided sneer.

"Then now, gentlemen, I think," said the Rector, "we will proceed to
vote."

"Stop!" cried Luke Ross.

It was on the impulse of the moment.  He had had no such thought when he
entered the room.

"We will hear you, Mr Ross, after the voting is over," said the Rector,
quietly.

"No, sir," replied Luke, "I must ask you to hear me first.  I have
decided not to accept the post."

There was a dead silence in the room for a few moments after Luke Ross's
decisive words, a silence broken by Humphrey Bone, who relieved the
excitement under which he laboured by starting from his seat, and
bringing his thick-soled boot down with a tremendous clump upon the
floor.

"Do I understand you to say, Mr Ross, that you decline the post?"
exclaimed the Rector.

"Yes, sir, definitely," replied Luke.  "I could not, under the
circumstances, think of accepting the appointment."

There was another pause here, and then, led by Fullerton, the opposition
party broke into a loud cheer.

"Silence if you please, gentlemen," exclaimed the Rector, with a greater
show of indignation than any one present remembered him to have
displayed.  "This is no time for showing party feeling.  Of course, as
Mr Ross declines to accept the appointment--"

"But he don't," cried old Michael Ross, "he wants time to think it
over."

"Hush, father," exclaimed the young man, firmly, "I know my own mind.
Mr Mallow, I am sorry to have given all this trouble, and, as it were,
placed you in a false position; but until a few minutes back I did not
see this matter in the light I do now, and I definitely decline the
post."

"Your action does you great credit, young man," said Fullerton,
pompously; "and I am glad to congratulate my fellow-townsman, Michael
Ross, on the possession of such a son."

"Your compliment is misplaced, sir," said Luke, coldly, "for my action
in this matter is in nowise creditable to me.  But that is my affair,
and it need not be discussed."

Mr Fullerton scowled on receiving this snub, and he was about to make
some angry retort, but the Rector said at once--

"Then, gentlemen, we need say no more, unless you wish to discuss the
question of Mr Bone's dismissal."

"I claim," said Fullerton, "that he cannot be dismissed."

"A majority of the school governors have the power to dismiss him, Mr
Fullerton," replied the Rector, with dignity; and after a few more words
he left the chair, the meeting being declared adjourned until
application had been made to one of the institutions for another master.

"I am sorry to find that you have come to such a decision, Mr Ross,"
said the Rector, as he encountered Luke outside the inn.

"I was sorry to come to such a decision, sir," replied Luke; "but,
believe me that I have been in no way influenced by those who seem to be
in opposition to you, and I hope that you will persist in Humphrey
Bone's dismissal, and the appointment of another man."

The Rector bowed and walked on with his son, who raised his hat slightly
to Luke, that salute being returned as the young men's eyes met once
more, each reading in those of the other a growing dislike which must
some day ripen into enmity.

Then they passed on their several ways, both having the same object in
view.



PART ONE, CHAPTER EIGHTEEN.

DOUBTS.

It was nearly twelve o'clock, and in spite of her efforts, Sage
Portlock's thoughts had wandered a good deal from the work she had in
hand.  It was the morning upon which Luke Ross's appointment was to be
confirmed, and her face flushed as she thought of the time when he would
be conducting the next school, and the future looked very rosy and
bright, for she told herself that in secret she was very fond of Luke.

Julia and Cynthia Mallow had been there to take a class and chat with
her for a few minutes, Cynthia being ready with a sly allusion to the
business upon which papa had been left.

"We are going to pick up papa after he has fastened your schoolmaster,
Sage," she said; "but first of all we are going to drive over to the
farm and see Mrs Berry and the little ones.  When does she go away?"

"To-morrow, Miss Cynthia," said Sage, turning rather white, "and--and
she is not very well.  Would you mind not calling, Miss Julia?"

"Oh, no, certainly not," said Julia; "but I am sorry.  Give our kind
love to her, Sage, and say we will drive over to Lewby some day and see
her there."

"Thank you, Miss Julia," said Sage, and she gladly saw the school
visitors depart, with the intention of going on to the ford.

Sage sighed as she stood at the door and saw the sisters get into the
handsomely appointed carriage that was waiting, and then she wished that
she had asked them when they were going back to London, for it seemed to
her that both she and Rue would feel happier and more at ease if the
Mallow family were gone.

Then she recalled her last meeting with Luke at home, and his words upon
learning--short conversation interrupted by her aunt--that there was to
be no engagement until he had realised a better income than would accrue
from the schools.

"That does not matter," she said, brightening up.  "Luke is so brave and
determined, and has such spirit, that he will soon become rich enough
for us to marry, and, of course, we can wait."

There was no impatience in Sage's love for Luke Ross.  She told herself
that she was very fond of him, and some day they would be man and wife,
but when did not seem to her to matter, and she busied herself once
more, light-hearted enough, with the children.

Then came the beginning of another train of thought, and there was once
more a slight flush in her cheeks as her mind turned to Cyril Mallow,
his coming to the school with his father, his meeting and speaking to
her once or twice when she was leaving school, and then, too, of his
coming to the farm to sit, and smoke, and talk with her uncle.

The colour deepened in her cheeks a little more as she thought of all
this; but, directly after, she drove these thoughts away, and busied
herself with the conclusion of the morning lessons.

Twelve o'clock, and the buzz and hurry of the dismissal, and then the
pleasant scent of the cool outer air as the windows were thrown open,
and again the bright elasticity of feeling as, well wrapped in warm
furry jacket and with her natty little, not-too-fashionable hat setting
off the freshness of her complexion and youthful looks, she started for
her brisk walk along the lane and across the field to the farm.

She had to pass Mrs Searby's cottage on her way, where that worthy
woman with upturned sleeves was standing at the open door in converse
with another of the mothers whose children attended the school.

"Good-morning," said Sage, as she passed them, and the second woman
returned the salutation; but Miss Searby's mamma replied by giving her
an uncompromising stare, and saying aloud before the young mistress was
out of hearing--

"Ah, she's going to meet young Cyril Mallow.  Nice goings on, indeed,
for one like her."

Sage's cheeks turned scarlet as she hurried on, and a strange feeling of
shame and confusion troubled her.  It was nothing that she was perfectly
innocent of any such intent, she felt horribly guilty all the same, and
it was only by a great effort that she kept back the hot tears of
indignation.

Then her conscience smote her with the recollection that she had thought
a good deal of Cyril Mallow lately, and she asked herself whether she
was turning traitorous to Luke Ross, but only to indignantly repel the
self-inflicted charge.

It was monstrous, she told herself.  She was sure that she loved Luke
very dearly, as she always had from a child, when he had been like a
brother to her.  Some day when he had climbed higher she would be his
wife, for she was sure her uncle never meant all that he had said.  He
was too fond of her, and too eager to do all he could to make her happy.

"Such a shameful thing to say!  A wicked woman!" exclaimed Sage then;
"as if I ever thought--Oh!"

She quickened her steps with her face growing scarlet once more, the red
flush having died out to leave it pale, for there were footsteps behind
her coming on quickly, and it was Cyril Mallow, she felt, hurrying to
catch her; and that was why the spiteful woman had spoken in that bitter
way.

The steps were coming nearer in spite of Sage's efforts to get home
before she was overtaken.  _Pat, pat, pat, pat_! just as her heart was
beating with excitement.  She felt frightened, she hardly knew why, and
dreaded being overtaken by Cyril, who seemed to have obtained some power
over her that she could not understand.

He was very pleasant spoken, and frank, and manly-looking, but she did
not like him nor his ways, for she was sure that he was a bad son.

"I wonder whether he would try to improve if I asked him, and pointed
out how wrong it is of him to be so much trouble to his parents,"
thought Sage; and then she shivered with a strange kind of dread.

Why had she thought all that?  What was Cyril Mallow to her?  It was
only out of civility that he had spoken to her as he had, but she felt
that it was out of place, and that Mr Mallow would not have approved of
it at all, and--and it was very dreadful.

As a rule, Sage Portlock was a firm, determined girl, full of decision
and strength of character, but the words of the spiteful woman seemed to
have quite unnerved her, and with the sense of being very guilty, and of
having behaved treacherously to Luke Ross, she had hard work to keep
from starting off, and breaking into a run.

"And he is coming on so quickly," she thought.  "He will overtake me
before I get to the gate.  How dare he follow me about like this, and
why is not Luke here to protect me!"

Sage Portlock's excitement had thoroughly mastered her, and she uttered
quite a hysterical little cry, as the steps drew quite near now, and a
voice exclaimed--

"Why, Sage, I almost had to run."

"Luke!"

"Yes; Luke," he replied, smiling, as he took her hand in his.  "Who did
you think it was?"

"I--I--didn't know; I wanted to get home quickly," she faltered.  "I did
not know it was you."

"I know that," he said, drawing her hand through his arm, "or else you
would have stopped, wouldn't you?"

"Why, of course, Luke," she said, smiling in his face, and with a calm
feeling of rest and protection coming over her disturbed spirit.

"I'm glad I caught you," he said.  "Let's walk slowly, for I've a great
deal to say to you before you go in."

"But, first of all, tell me, Luke, dear," she cried eagerly, "is the
appointment confirmed?"

"No."

"No?  Not confirmed?  Then, that wicked old Bone--"

"That wicked old Bone of contention," he said, laughingly taking her up,
"has had very little to do with it.  At one time I thought that it would
be very cruel to take his post, but I do not think so now."

"But not confirmed, Luke?" she cried, stopping short and clinging to his
arm, the picture of bitter disappointment.  "Why, this is the meaning,
then, of the opposition uncle spoke of yesterday.  Who has dared to stop
you from having the school?"

"You," said Luke, as he gazed admiringly in her animated face.

"I, Luke?  I?" she exclaimed, in a puzzled way.

"Well, it is through you, dear," he said, smiling.

"But I have done nothing, Luke," she cried.  "You are teasing me!  Has
the meeting taken place?"

"Yes; I have just come from it."

"Well?  Mr Bone was there I know, for he gave the boys a holiday, so
that he might come."

"Yes, he was there, evidently looking upon me as the greatest enemy he
had in the world till he heard me decline the post."

"You?--you declined the post, Luke?"

"Yes, I declined the post."

"And you told me you loved me," she said, reproachfully, as she drew
back.

"As I do with all my heart," he cried, taking her hand, and drawing it
through his arm once more.  "Sage, dear, it is because I love you so
well that I have declined to take the school."

"When it was so near," she cried; and her tears seemed to have stolen
into her voice.  "And now you will go and take a school ever so far
away.  Oh, Luke," she cried, piteously, "it is too bad!"

"Hush, little one," he said, firmly.  "It is not like you to talk like
that.  I shall not take a school far away, though I shall have to leave
you.  Sage, dear, I have felt that I must give up present pleasure for a
future joy."

"I--I--don't understand you," she cried; "your talk is all a puzzle to
me."

"Is it, dear?  There, it shall not be long.  You know what your uncle
said to me the other day?"

"Oh, yes, Luke; but I don't think he quite meant it."

"I am sure he did mean it," he replied; "and he is quite right.  For the
past year I have been learning lessons of self-denial, and been taught
to place the schoolmaster's duty above questions of a pecuniary kind;
but your uncle has placed my position in a practical light, and, Sage,
dear, it is as if all the past teaching has been undone."

"Oh, Luke, Luke," she cried, "don't talk like that!"

"I must.  I have had another talk with your uncle.  This morning I
overtook him, and he asked me, as a man, whom he says he can trust, to
set aside all love-making, as he called it in his homely Saxon-English,
and to treat you only as a friend!  `Let matters stand for the present,
and see what a couple of years bring forth, if you are doing well,' he
said, `in your new position.'"

"In your new position, Luke?  Why, what do you mean?"

"Sage, dear, I have decided to set aside the idea of being the master of
a school."

"Oh, Luke!"

"And to read for the bar."

"Read for the bar?"

"Yes, read for the bar: become a barrister; and I shall work hard to win
a name."

"But the school, Luke--the training college.  It is not honest to take
advantage of their teaching, gain all you can, and then take to some
other career."

"You think that?" he said, smiling.  "Yes, of course," she said,
indignantly.  "The principal at Westminster spoke very warmly about two
of the students giving up their schools directly, and taking situations
as governesses in good families."

"I quite agree with her," said Luke, quietly; "and I have appraised the
cost to the institution at fifty pounds.  That sum I feel bound to send.
It is quite as much as so bad a master as I should have turned out is
worth."

"Oh, Luke, that is nonsense," she cried, as she looked proudly in his
face.

"Nay," he said, "it is truth.  And now listen to me.  This has all been
very sudden."

"Yes, and you never said a word to me."

"I came and told you as soon as I knew," retorted Luke, firmly.  "And
now I say once more this has been very sudden, but it is irrevocably in
obedience to your uncle's wishes.  I shall exact no promises from you,
tie you down in no way, but go away in perfect faith that in a few years
as the reward of my hard struggle, and when I can go and say to your
uncle, `See, here, I can command the income you said that I ought to
have!' you will be my little wife."

"But must you go away, Luke?" she said, with a pitiful look in her eyes.

"Yes, it is absolutely certain.  How could I climb up in the world if I
stayed here?"

"But I don't want you to go," she cried, excitedly.

"And I don't want to leave you," he said, fondly.

"I want you to stop and protect me, and take care of me and keep me for
yours, Luke."

"Don't--don't talk like that," he cried, speaking hoarsely, "or you will
make me forget my promise to your uncle.  Let us be firm and true, and
look the matter seriously in the face.  It is for our future, and I pray
and believe that I am acting wisely here."

"But you will be away," she said, with a piteous look in her eyes.
"There will be no one to take care of me when you are gone."

"Nonsense, little one," he exclaimed.  "There is your uncle.  What have
you to fear?  Only be true to me."

"Oh, yes, yes," she sobbed; "but you do not know, Luke.  I might be
tempted, I might be led away from you--I might--"

"Might!" he said, with scorn in his voice.  "My little Sage, whom I have
known from the day when she gave me first her innocent sisterly love,
could not be untrue to the man she has promised to wed.  Sage, dear," he
continued, holding her hands in his, and gazing in her agitated, tearful
face, "look at me--look me fully in the eyes."

"Yes, Luke," she said, hesitatingly; and her pretty, troubled face
looked so winning that it was all he could do to keep from clasping her
in his arms tightly to his own trusting breast.

"Now," he said, smiling, "you see me.  Can you doubt, dear, that I
should ever be untrue to you?"

"No, no! oh, no, Luke," she cried.

"Neither could I, dearest," he said, softly.  "I am a very plain,
unimpulsive man, wanting, perhaps, in the soft speech and ways that are
said to please women; but I think my heart is right, and that in spite
of my quiet ways I love you very, very dearly."

"I know, I know you do," sobbed the girl.

"Yes, and I trust you, my dear," he said.  "I know that you could never
give look or word to another that would cause me pain."

"No, no, dear Luke, I could not," she sobbed; "but I want you with me.
I cannot bear for you to leave me helpless here."

"Nonsense, my little pet," he said, tenderly.  "The years will soon slip
by, and then all will be well.  There, we understand each other, do we
not?"

"Yes, yes, Luke, I think so," she sobbed.

"One kiss, then, darling, the last I shall take, perhaps, for years, and
then--"

"Oh, no, not now--not now," she cried, hastily, as he sought to take her
in his arms in the sheltered lane.  "Uncle is coming with Mr Cyril
Mallow;" and then she moaned passionately to herself, "Him again!  Oh,
Luke, Luke, I wish that I was dead."



PART ONE, CHAPTER NINETEEN.

JULIA'S HORROR.

Two young men leaning over the park railings on a bright spring morning,
when the soot-blackened, well-worn grass that had been suffering from a
winter's chronic cold was beginning to put forth its tender green shoots
and dress itself for the season.

The rather muddy drive was on one side, the Serpentine on the other, and
indications that London was coming to town could be seen in the
increasing string of carriages.

One of the young men was undoubtedly dressed by Poole--well dressed; and
he looked worthy of his tailor's care.  Frank, manly, handsome, there
was a pleasant look in his grey eyes; and if his fair moustache had not
been quite so heavy, a well-cut firm mouth would have been better seen.
Perhaps that very glossy hat was worn a trifle too much on one side, and
with the well set up appearance it suggested military, but the gold
horse-shoe pin with diamond nails directly after hinted equine: the
result being a compromise, and the looker-on concluded cavalry.

The other was of a heavier build, and was decidedly not dressed by a
good tailor.  He was not shabby, but careless; and while his companion
was carefully gloved, he carried his hand-shoes in his hands, and
certainly his hat had not been touched by a brush that morning.

He was a good-looking, manly fellow, with very short hair and a very
long beard, thick enough to hide three parts of his chest.

The judge of human nature who had tried to read him at a glance, would,
if right, have said, "Good fellow, somewhat of a cynic, don't care a
_sou_ for appearances."

Two of the characters in this comedy, to wit, Henry Lord Artingale, man
of fashion with a good income; and James Magnus, artist of a manly
school, who had cut deeply his mark upon the time.

Another character was seated upon a bench some twenty yards away,
cutting his mark, not on the time, but upon the park seat, with an ugly,
sharp-pointed clasp-knife, which he closed with a snap, and then threw
one great leg over the newly-cut wood, as he seemed to feel more than
see the appearance of a policeman, who ran his eye shrewdly over the
fellow as if considering him a "party" likely to be "wanted."

Jock Morrison looked decidedly like the proverbial fish out of water as
he stared sullenly about, but not as one might stare who finds himself
in an incongruous position by accident.  About the only ill-dressed
person in his neighbourhood, Jock seemed in no wise abashed, nor yet the
worse for his course of imprisonment, his dark beard having rapidly
grown and got well over the blacking-brush stage so affected by the
Parisian "swell."  Far from seeming abashed, Jock Morrison was ready
with a cool, defiant look for every one not in the law, and as a rule
those who stared at the great swarthy fellow once were satisfied not to
repeat the look.

Jock was evidently in the park for a purpose, and every now and then his
eyes wandered over the lines of carriages, but without seeing that of
which he was in quest, and as soon as the policeman was gone he once
more opened his knife, and began to carve, handily enough, a new
design--this time a couple of hearts locked together after the
time-honoured fashion shown in a valentine.

"That's about as picturesque-looking a blackguard as I've seen for
months," said Magnus, looking across the road at where the fellow
lounged.  "I wonder whether he'd come and stand for me."

"H'm, yes," said his companion; "nice-looking youth."

"He'd make a splendid bull-fighter in a Spanish scene."

"H'm, bull-dog fighter, I should have said, Mag.  By the way, I'd have a
certificate from the baths and wash-houses before I admitted him to the
studio.  He looks disgustingly dirty."

"Yah! horrible!  Take me away, Harry.  I feel as if I were going to be
sick."

"Why, what's the matter now?"

"Talk about that great blackguard looking disgusting: here's my great
horror!"

"What, Perry-Morton?"

"Yes.  Look at his hideously fat, smooth face, and his long greasy hair
tucked behind his ears.  Look at his open throat, and--confound the
animal, yes--a crimson satin tie.  Harry, I shall be had up one of these
days for an atrocious assault upon that creature.  I shall lie in wait
for him like a bravo, and armed with a pair of new scissors I shall cut
his hair.  Is it possible to prevail upon him to go about clothed, and
in his right mind?"

"For shame, Jemmy! and you a brother artist."

"Brother artist be hanged!  You don't call that thing an artist."

"Why, my dear boy, he's acknowledged in society as the apostle of the
poet-painters' school."

"Good God!"

"My dear boy, do restrain yourself," laughed the other.

"I can't help it.  I do like a man to be a man, and for goodness' sake
look at that thing."

"That thing," as Magnus so contemptuously dubbed him, was certainly
striking in appearance, as the open carriage in which he was riding came
to a standstill, and he signed to the footman to let him out.  For as he
descended it was to stand upon a very thin pair of legs that in no sense
corresponded with his plump, white, boyish face.

It was a handsome, well-appointed carriage from whose front seat he had
alighted, the back being occupied by two ladies of between twenty and
thirty, who looked as if their costume had been copied from a
disinterred bas-relief; so cold and neutral were their lines that they
might have been lady visitors to the Grosvenor Gallery, instead of
maidens to whom the word "aesthetic" was hardly known.  For the
Graeco-Roman extended to their hair, which stood out from their
foreheads, looking singed and frizzed as if scorched by the burning
thoughts that were in their brains; for even in those days there were
ladies who delighted to belong to the pre-Raphaelic _cum_ fleshly school
of painting and poetry, and took pains to show by their uniform that
they were of the blessed.

As the footman folded the steps and closed the door, the gentleman--to
wit, Mr Perry-Morton, of Saint Agnes', Park Road--posed himself in an
artistic attitude with one arm upon the carriage-door, crossed one leg
over the other, and gazed in the faces of his sisters, one
delicately-gloved hand in correct harmony of tint playing with a cambric
handkerchief, specked with toy flowers of the same tone.

As he posed himself, so did the two ladies.  The nearer curled herself
gracefully, all but the legs, in a pantherine style in the corner of the
carriage, and looked at her brother sweetly through the frizz of hair,
as if she were asking him to see if there were a parting.  The further
drooped over florally in a manner that in another ordinary being would
have suggested crick in the neck, but here, as with her brother and
sister, everything was so deliriously unstudied--or well studied--that
she only gave the idea of a bending flower--say, a bud--or a pallid
virgin and martyr upon painted glass.

"Oh, Lord!" said Magnus, aloud.

"Hush! don't.  Come along, though.  Gently, man, or they'll see us, and
we shall have to talk to the girls."

"I'm an ostrich," said the artist; "my head is metaphorically buried in
sand.  Whatever my pursuers see, I am blind."

As it happened a group of people came along, and under their cover the
two young men escaped.

"He is an awful fool," said Artingale, "but the people believe in him."

"Bah! so they will in any lunatic who makes himself fashionably absurd.
I'll be reasonable, Harry, though that fellow has half driven me wild
with his airs and patronage.  He gave me a thumping price for one of my
pictures, for he's immensely rich.  Then he had the impudence to want me
to alter it--the composition of months of hard, honest study--and began
to lecture me on art."

"From his point of view."

"Yes, from his point of view.  But as I said, I will be reasonable.
There is a deal in this pre-Raphaelitism, and it has done its part in
reviving some of the best of the ancient art, and made its mark on our
schools of to-day.  But there it was not allowed to stop.  A pack of
idiots--there, I can call them nothing else--go into frantic worship of
all the worst portions of old art, and fall down and idolise things that
are ugly, ill-coloured, and grotesque."

"True, O magnate! and they'll grow worse."

"They imitate it in their paintings, drawing impossible trees,
landscapes, and houses for backgrounds, and people their foregrounds
with resurrections in pigment of creatures that seem as if they had been
dead and buried for a month, and clothe them in charnel-house garb."

"Bravo! charnel-house garb is good."

"Thankye, Polonius junior," said the artist; "I tell you, Harry, I get
out of patience with the follies perpetrated under the name of art, to
the exclusion of all that is natural and beautiful and pure.  Now I ask
you, my dear boy, would you like to see a sister of yours dressing up
and posing like those two guys of girls?"

"Haven't got a sister, worse luck, or you should have her, old fellow."

"Thanks.  Well, say, then, the woman you loved."

"Hush! stop here, old fellow.  Here they come."

"Who?  Those two stained-glass virgins?"

"No, no, be quiet; the Mallow girls."

There was so much subdued passion in the young man's utterance that the
artist glanced sidewise at him, to see that there was an intensity of
expression in his eyes quite in keeping with his words, and following
the direction of his gaze, he saw that it was fixed upon a barouche,
drawn by a fine pair of bays, which champed their bits and flecked their
satin coats with foam as they fretted impatiently at the restraint put
upon them, and keeping them dawdling in a line of slow-moving carriages
going east.

There was another line of carriages going west between the two young men
and the equipage in question, and Magnus could see that his companion
was in an agony of dread lest his salute should not be noticed, but,
just at the right moment, the occupants of the barouche turned in their
direction, acknowledged the raised hat of Lord Artingale, and, the pace
just then increasing, the carriage passed on.

"Feel better?" said Magnus, cynically.

"Better? yes," cried the young man, turning to him flushed and with a
gratified smile upon his face.  "There, don't laugh at me, old fellow, I
can't help it."

"I'm not going to laugh at you.  But you seem to have got it badly."

"Awfully," replied the other.

"Shouldn't have thought it of you, Harry.  So those are the Mallow
girls, eh?"

"Yes.  Isn't she charming?"

"What, that girl with the soft dreamy eyes?  Yes, she is attractive."

"No, man," cried Artingale, impatiently; "that's Julia.  I mean the
other."

"What, the fair-haired, bright-looking little maiden who looks as if she
paints?"

"Paints be hanged!" cried Artingale, indignantly, "it's her own sweet
natural colour, bless her."

"Oh, I say, my dear boy," said Magnus, with mock concern, "I had no idea
that you were in such a state as this."

"Chaff away, old fellow, I don't care.  Call me in a fool's paradise, if
you like.  I've flirted about long enough, but I never knew what it was
before."

"Then," said Magnus, seriously, "you are what they call--in love?"

"Don't I tell you, Mag, that I don't care for your chaff.  There, yes:
in love, if you like to call it so, for I've won the sweetest little
girl that ever looked truthfully at a man."

"And the lady--does she reciprocate, and that sort of thing?"

"I don't know: yes, I hope so.  I'm afraid to be sure; it seems so
conceited, for I'm not much of a fellow, you see."

"Let's see, it happened abroad, didn't it?"

"Well, yes, I suppose so.  I met them at Dinan, and then at Baden, and
afterwards at Rome and in Paris."

"Which means, old fellow, that you followed them all over the
Continent."

"Well, I don't know; I suppose so," said the young man, biting his
moustache.  "You see, Mag, I used to know Cynthia when she was little
and I was a boy--when the governor was alive, you know.  I was at
Harrow, too, with her brothers--awful cads though, by the by.  She can't
help that, Mag," he said, innocently.

"Why, Artingale, it makes you quite sheepish," laughed the artist.  "I
wish I could catch that expression for a Corydon."

"For a what?"

"Corydon--gentle shepherd, my boy."

"Get out!  Well, as I was telling you, old fellow, I met them abroad,
and now they've come back to England, and they've been down at the
rectory--Lawford Rectory, you know, six miles from my place.  And now
they've come up again."

"So it seems," said Magnus, drily.

"Chaff away, I don't mind," said Artingale.

"Not I; I won't chaff you, Harry," said the other, quietly.  "'Pon my
soul I should miss you, for you and I have been very jolly together; but
I wouldn't wish you a better fate than to have won some really sweet,
lovable girl.  It's a fate that never can be mine, as the song says, and
I won't be envious of others.  Come along."

"No, no, don't let's go, old fellow.  They'll only drive as far as the
corner, and then come back on this side.  Perhaps they'll stop to speak.
If they do, I'll introduce you to Julia; she's a very nice girl."

"But not so nice as, as--"

"Cynthia," said the other, innocently.  "No: of course not."

Magnus burst out laughing, and his friend looked at him inquiringly.

"I could not help it, old fellow," exclaimed Magnus; "you did seem so
innocent over it.  But never mind that.  Plunge head foremost into the
sweetest life idyll you can, and, worldly-minded old sinner as I am, I
will only respect you the more."

He spoke so sincerely, and in such a feeling tone, that the younger man
half turned and gazed at him, saying directly after--

"Thank you, old fellow; I'm not demonstrative, so just consider that I
have given you a hearty grip of the hand."

"All right," was the gruff reply.  "Hallo! here comes my brigand.  By
Jove, he's a fine-looking specimen of the _genus homo_.  He's six feet
two, if he's an inch."

Jock Morrison, who seemed at home beneath the trees, came slouching
along with his hands deep in his pockets, with a rolling gait, the whole
of one side at a time; there was an end of his loose cotton neckerchief
between his teeth, and a peculiar satisfied smile in his eye which
changed to a scowl of defiance as he saw that he was observed.

"I say, my man," said Magnus, "would you give me a sitting, if I paid
you?"

"Would I give you what?" growled the fellow.  "I don't let out cheers."

Before Magnus could explain himself, the man had turned impatiently
away, and gone on towards Kensington Gardens.

"Ha! ha! ha!" laughed Artingale.  "Our friend is not a model in any way.
Have a cigarette, old fellow?"

The artist took one, and they stood smoking for a few minutes, till
Artingale, who had been watchfully looking in the direction of the
Achilles statue, suddenly threw down his half-smoked cigarette, for the
Mallow carriage came into sight, and, as the young man had hoped, a
voice cried "stop!" and the coachman drew up by the rails.

"Ah, Harry!" cried Cynthia, leaning forward to shake hands, and looking
very bright and charming in the new floral bonnet that had caused her
such anxiety that morning; "I didn't know you had come up to town."

"Didn't you," he replied, earnestly.  "I knew you had.  I went over to
the rectory yesterday, and saw your brothers."

"Oh, Harry!" cried Cynthia, blushing with pleasure.

"It didn't matter; I drove over to do the horse good," said the young
man, shaking hands warmly with Julia in turn.  "Here, let me introduce
my friend Magnus.  Julia, this is James Magnus.  Cynthia, Magnus the
artist."

"Lord Artingale has often spoken of you, Mr Magnus," said Cynthia,
looking at him rather coquettishly, in fact as if she was better used to
London society than the quietude of a country rectory.  "He has promised
to bring me some day to see your pictures."

"I shall only be too proud to show you what I am doing," said the
artist, meeting frankly the bright eyes that were shooting at him, but
which gave him up directly as a bad mark, as he turned and began talking
to Julia Mallow, who seemed to have become singularly quiet and dreamy,
but who brightened up directly and listened eagerly, for she found that
Magnus could talk sensibly and well.

"Are you going to stay up long?" said Lord Artingale, gazing imploringly
in Cynthia's eyes.

"I don't know, indeed," she replied, pouting.  "Papa has brought mamma
to see a fresh physician, but is so cross and strange now.  He has been
reforming the parish, as he calls it."

"Yes; so I heard," said Lord Artingale, laughing.

"And that has meant quarrelling with all the stupid townspeople, and
setting them against us."

"Not against you, Cynthia," said the young man in a low voice.  "I don't
believe that."

"Don't talk nonsense, Harry," she replied, laughing; "not now.  But
really it is very unpleasant, you know, for it makes papa so cross."

"Of course it would," said Lord Artingale, sympathisingly.

"And he talks about being so poor, and says that we shall all be ruined,
and makes poor mamma miserable."

"But he is not in want of money, is he?" cried the young man, eagerly.

"Nonsense!  No: that's how he always talks when Frank and Cyril are at
home.  Oh, Harry, I'm afraid they are dreadful boys."

"Well, let's try and make them better, eh, Cynthia?"

"I said you were not to talk nonsense now," said Cynthia, shaking her
pretty little head at him.

"Oh, murder!" he exclaimed, suddenly.  "Hadn't you better drive on?
Here's Perry-Morton."

"No, no," exclaimed the younger girl, "it would look so rude.  You silly
thing, don't blush so," she whispered to her sister; "it looks so
strange."

"Good-morning--" said the subject of the thoughts of the group; and Mr
Perry-Morton descended poetically upon them, for he did not seem to walk
up like an ordinary being.  "Cynthia," he continued, with an air of
affectionate solicitude, and leaving out the full-stops he had placed
after his two first words, "you look too flushed this morning, my child.
Julia, is not the morning charming?  Did you notice the effect of light
and shade across the water?"

Julia Mallow, who looked troubled and bored, replied that she had not.

"You observed it, of course, Mr Magnus?" continued the new-comer, with
a sweet smile.

"No," said the gentleman addressed, shortly.  "I was talking to the
ladies."

"Ah! yes," said Mr Perry-Morton, sweetly; and he held his head on one
side, as if he were posing for a masculine Penseroso.  "But Nature will
appeal so to our inmost heart."

"Yes, she's a jolly nuisance sometimes," said Lord Artingale, but only
to evoke a pitying smile from Mr Perry-Morton, who, in spite of the
decidedly annoyed looks of Cynthia and her lover, leaned his arm upon
the carriage-door, and began talking to Julia, making James Magnus look
like _Harry Hotspur_ must have appeared when the "certain lord" came to
him, holding the "pouncet box, which ever and anon he gave his nose."

Cynthia Mallow made a pretty little grimace at Artingale, and, then
turning with a smile to the worshipper of Nature, she stretched out her
hand for the check-string so unmistakably that the gentlemen drew back,
and raised their hats as the carriage rejoined the stream.

"Won't you come and speak to the girls, Artingale?" said Mr
Perry-Morton in a softly imploring tone; and suppressing a sigh of
annoyance, the young man suffered himself to be led off with his
unwilling friend, while the carriage went slowly on towards Kensington
Gardens, stopping with the stream again and again.

"Julia," cried Cynthia, flushing with annoyance, as soon as they were
alone, "has papa gone mad?"

"Hush! the servants will hear you," said her sister, reprovingly.

"I can't help it, dear, it makes me so excited that I can't bear it.
How you can let that hateful creature come and patronise and monopolise,
and seem to constrict you as he does, like a horrible short fat snake, I
can't imagine.  Papa must be going mad to encourage it.  If he were as
rich as Cassius or Croesus, or whatever the man's name was, it ought to
be no excuse.  I declare if you do not pluck up spirit and make a fight,
I will.  You can't like him."

"Oh, no," cried her sister, with a look of revulsion.

"Then you must--you shall put a stop to his pretensions.  Why, I declare
to-day he behaved before Harry's friend as if he were engaged to you.  I
felt as if I'd have given my pearls to have been at liberty to box his
ears."

"I think him detestable," said Julia, sadly.

"Then you shall speak up, dear, or I will.  I declare I'll revolt, or
no--Harry shall shoot him.  I shall command him never to approach our
presence again till he has rid society of that dreadful monster with his
Nature worship and stuff.  Good gracious, Julia, what is the matter?"

The carriage had stopped, as the younger sister prattled on, close by
the railings near the Gardens, and Julia Mallow crouched shrinking in
the carriage, gazing with a horrified, fascinated fixity of eye at the
great half-gipsy-looking vagabond, who, with his folded arms resting
upon one of the iron posts, and his bearded chin upon them, was staring
at her in an insolent mocking fashion.

The spell only lasted for a few moments before the carriage went on, and
with a low hysterical cry, Julia caught at her sister's hand to whisper
hoarsely--

"Oh, Cynthia, that dreadful man again!"

------------------------------------------------------------------------

End of Volume One.



PART ONE, CHAPTER TWENTY.

JOCK MORRISON'S THREAT.

The visit to town was but a flying one upon this occasion.  The poverty
at the rectory did not seem to be extreme, for the horses and carriage
were sent up for the fortnight's stay, and Mrs Mallow had her interview
with the new specialist, who talked to her as some specialists do talk,
and then she returned to the house taken for the short stay, and her
girls had the use of the carriage.

It was a curious thing, and at first it had passed almost unnoticed, but
just before the Mallows left the rectory, undergoing a process of
smoking out, Frank and Cyril being the smoke producers, Jock Morrison,
whose three months had been over now for some time, appeared once more
in the neighbourhood of Lawford.

Julia and Cynthia met him one day by Tom Morrison's cottage, leaning
against the doorpost and talking to little Polly.

He had stared hard at them and then slouched away, Polly apologising for
his presence.

"You see, Miss Julia, Miss Cynthia, he's my husband's own brother, and
we don't want him to feel that we turn our backs upon him."

"No, of course not," said Cynthia, "but I wish he would keep away;" and
then they had a long chat with the little wife.  She looked very pretty
and pathetic in her deep mourning, and they parted very tenderly,
Julia's heart bleeding for the stricken woman.

"I'd have given anything to have asked her to show me where they buried
poor baby," said Cynthia, "but I dare not even allude to it."

"No, of course not," said Julia, with a shiver.  "It was very sad; I
can't bear to think of it at all.  Keep close to me, Cynthy," she
whispered.

They had suddenly come upon Jock Morrison, smoking his pipe as he sat
upon a stile by the side of the lane, and as they passed he stared hard
at Julia and laughed in a half-mocking way.

"How dare he stare at us like that!" said Cynthia haughtily, and then
she began chatting about Polly Morrison's trouble, and wishing that papa
had not been so strict, and the meeting was forgotten till, three days
later, when they reached London, and as they got out of the train, Julia
started, for there, leaning against a barrier with his hands in his
pockets, was Jock Morrison again.

The next day she saw him staring up at the house, and day after day
afterwards she was sure to encounter his bold fierce gaze somewhere or
another, till she grew quite nervous, telling her sister that she was
certain that the mail was meditating some form of revenge against their
father for sending him to prison.

"Nonsense!" cried Cynthia.  "Papa is a magistrate, and he would not
dare."

Back at Lawford, and they were free of the incubus, in fact Jock
Morrison passed out of mind; for in spite of his breathing out
threatenings of poverty, the Reverend Eli Mallow, now that he found his
eldest son had not come to him for money, had opened the rectory doors
to receive visitors.

"We must entertain a little while we are down here, my dear, for the
girls' sake.  Perhaps it is as well too for the boys."

"Yes, dear," said Mrs Mallow, looking up from her sofa with her
customary patient smile; and the company arrived, and was entertained in
a manner that made Fullerton hope that no one would suffer for it, that
was all he could say.

Among the guests who had been staying at the rectory were the
Perry-Mortons--_the_ Perry-Mortons in society meaning Mr Perry-Morton
and his two sisters, for though it was believed that they had, or had
had, a father and mother, the seniors were never even heard of, much
less seen.  Ill-natured people said that Perry-Morton the elder had been
a pawnbroker who had made money largely.  Be that as it may,
Perry-Morton the younger was very rich, and never mentioned any
relatives but his sisters.

Lord Artingale was there from Gatton every day, but his friend and
companion, James Magnus, was in the North sketching, so the young man,
having no restraining arm on which to lean, fell more in love as fast as
he could with little Cynthia.

Claudine Perry-Morton--by the way, there was a good deal of familiar
nicknaming at the house of the Perry-Mortons, Mr Perry-Morton having
been known to call Claudine--Bessy, and the younger sister--Faustine
Judy.  But that was in the privacy of their home life, and showed the
simplicity and deep affection of their natures.

Claudine Perry-Morton had made a dead set at the young nobleman, but
finding at once that her chance was _nil_, she graciously made way for
her sister, who sang "Jock of Hazeldine" at him, in a very deep
contralto voice, and with a graceful stoop over the piano; but Faustine
Perry-Morton was woman of the world enough to see that Lord Artingale's
thoughts ran in quite another direction, so she also resigned herself to
circumstances, and thought him a man of exceedingly low tastes.

So all the smiles and sweetness of the sisters were lavished upon the
rectory girls for their brother's sake.  Nothing particular was said,
but it soon became evident that Perry-Morton found favour with the
Rector, and it was quite understood that the wealthy visitor would,
sooner or later, propose for his elder daughter's hand.

She was nearly as bright at this time as her sister, and Artingale
declared that she was the dearest girl he knew, not from any amiable
passages between them, but because she laughingly helped him to pleasant
little _tete-a-tetes_ with her sister, especially when they were out
riding; horse exercise and good long gallops being a great deal in
vogue, when the weather was mild and clear.

Lord Artingale would canter over from Gatton, sending two or three or
more horses by his grooms, an arrangement highly approved of by Frank
and Cyril Mallow, who were very civil to him, though in private they
compared notes, and said that he would be an awful fool if he had not
borne a title and kept such good cigars.

Sometimes the Rector joined the equestrian parties upon a quiet cob, but
he generally turned homeward after two or three miles, either to make a
call or two at the outlying farms, or to meet the carriage.  Then, to
make things pleasant, poor Julia talked art on horseback with Mr
Perry-Morton, while her sister and Lord Artingale had a brisk canter
over some heath, and the groom behind sat and grinned.

"Talk about the guv'nor," said the last-named individual, as he returned
to the stables with the horses, and compared notes with Lord Artingale's
man, "he is a sight on horseback.  That there old cob holds him on
almost.  But if you want to see riding you should go behind that there
Perry-Morton."

This was in the midst of a chorus of hissing from the helpers, who were
rubbing down the horses after one of the morning rides.

"He do look a rum un," said one of the men.

"Look!" said the groom; "he _is_ a rum un.  He gets them little thin
legs of his one on each side of the horse, and keeps yer altering his
sterrups for ever so long.  Now they're too long, and now they're too
short, and when we starts he holds his reins one in each hand, and bends
forward so that if his horse didn't have on a martingale he'd always be
finding his nose between its ears."

"Can't he ride, then?"

"Ride!  Yes; like a sack o' sharps on a miller's pony.  It's freezing
work going out with him, worse than with the guv'nor, for he keeps his
'oss at a walk the whole time.  Lor', I'd give something to see him on
his lordship's _Mad Sal_."

But the groom was not destined to see Mr Perry-Morton upon that
greyhound-framed hunter, which was full of fire and fidget with every
one but Cynthia, who could have curbed her with a silken thread, for
that gentleman was an admirer of repose even on horseback, and would
only ride the quietest horse he could hire at the King's Head, although
Lord Artingale offered him the pick of his little stud.

Repose, too, gave him so many excellent opportunities for putting
forward his suit with Julia, upon whom he beamed in a mezzo-tinto style,
the lady hardly realising his meaning, only thinking him very absurd,
and laughingly telling her sister that she owed her a long debt of
gratitude for giving her so many opportunities for a long canter--one of
those delightful long canters from which Cynthia used to come back with
a delicious glow upon her cheeks, and with eyes that literally sparkled
with health and pleasure combined.

"Looking like a wild gal," Mr Jabez Fullerton said, as he stood at his
shop door.  "I declare it's immoral, that's what it is; a parson's
daughter gadding about like a jockey, Smithson; it's disgusting."

"Yes," said Mr Smithson, who was calculating how many yards, at how
much a yard, were in Cynthia's well-fitting riding-habit.

"There's a horse--look at it--for a young gal to ride!  Well, all I can
say is that I hope his lordship means to marry her.  I never saw such
goings on."

"That there habit do fit well though, I must say that," said Smithson.

"Fit?" said Fullerton.  "Hah!  The rectory's a disgrace!"

But it so happened that riding was not always the order of the day.
Long brisk walks were taken at times, much to the bemiring of Mr
Perry-Morton's patent leather shoes; and upon one of these occasions it
had been arranged that Julia and Cynthia were to make a call or two upon
some of the poor cottagers, who had been rather neglected during the
past two weeks.  Lord Artingale was going to ride over, and he and Mr
Perry-Morton were to bring forward the ladies to meet them, if the
Misses Perry-Morton could walk so far.

"Why, Julie, it's quite a treat to be alone once more," said Cynthia,
merrily, as they walked briskly along the sandy lanes, calling at first
one cottage and then another.

"Treat!" said her sister, smiling, "I thought--"

"Hush!  I won't be teased.  But, Julie dear, I won't be a hypocrite to
you.  I do tease him and laugh at him, but he _is_ nice, and I think I'm
beginning to like him ever so."

"I like him very, very much," said Julia, naively.  "He's a very
pleasant, manly fellow."

"Yes, isn't he, dear?  But, Julie, it's too bad, I know, of me to leave
you so long with that dreadful bore.  What does he say to you?"

"Say!" said Julia, with a smile; "really I hardly know.  Talks about art
and nature's colour, and asks me if I do not find a want of thoroughness
in our daily life."

"Thoroughness! why that's what his sisters are always talking about.  I
think it thorough nonsense.  Oh, I shall be so glad when they're gone."

"Yes, it will be nicer," said Julia, thoughtfully; "but papa seems to
like them very much."

"Yes, isn't it extraordinary?" cried Cynthia.  "He wants papa to take a
house in town, and to furnish it upon plans designed by him.  I heard
them talking about it, and papa seems to be guided by him in everything.
And what do you think?"

"I don't know, dear."

"I'm as good as certain that that wicked Cyril has been borrowing money
of Perry-Morton."

"Why do you think that?" said Julia, quickly.

"Because Cyril does not make fun of him a bit, but both he and Frank are
wonderfully civil."

Julia sighed.

"Hadn't we better turn back now, dear?"

"Oh, no! let's go as far as old Mrs Meadows's, poor old lady; she'll
think we are never coming again."

They walked a few hundred yards farther on, and sat for a quarter of an
hour to learn how the poor old lady's jyntes was uncommon painful just
now, thanky, and that she hadn't seen them since before Christmas, and
that it had been the mildest Christmas she had knowed this sixty year;
and then the old lady sent her visitors on their return walk, with the
cheerful announcement that a green Christmas "allers made a full
churchyard, my dears," which well she knowed it to be true.

"Oh, what a dreadful old woman, Julie," cried Cynthia, merrily.

"Poor old thing! but how well she is for eighty."

"No troubles but her jyntes to harass her," laughed Cynthia.

"How long will it be before we meet anybody?"

A much shorter time than they either of them anticipated, for as they
turned a bend in the road, two rough-looking men who had been leaning
against a gate came towards them, making no movement to let them pass,
but staring offensively.

"Don't be frightened, Julie," whispered Cynthia, with spirit, "I'm not
afraid."

She walked on boldly, and darted such an imperious look at the lesser of
the two men, that he slunk aside to let her pass, but the other, Jock
Morrison, stood his ground.  He stared in a peculiar, half-smiling way
at Julia, making her shrink aside, and following her up, as, turning
pale, her lips parting, and with dilated eyes, she felt as it were
fascinated by his gaze, shuddering the next moment as he exclaimed with
a coarse laugh--

"Bob, old matey, I mean to have this girl."



PART ONE, CHAPTER TWENTY ONE.

AT KILBY FARM.

"Well--well--well--well," said Mrs Portlock, folding her apron full of
pleats, as Luke Ross sat talking to her for a while, and ended by
telling her his intentions for the future.  "Barrister, eh?  Well, of
all the trades I ever heard tell of--but can barristers make a living?"

"Yes, and a good one, too," said Luke, laughing.

"Then you are not going to take to the school after all?"

"No, I have quite altered my plans, and I hope all will turn out for the
best."

"Ah, I hope so, I'm sure," said Mrs Portlock, smoothing down her black
silk dress, and then arranging a necklace of oblong amber beads, which
she wore on market-days, one which bore a striking resemblance to a
string of bilious beetles.  "But what does your father say?"

"I have not told him my plans yet, for they have only been made since
the governor's meeting."

"Well, Luke Ross," said Mrs Portlock, in a resigned fashion, "I'm sure
I don't wish you any harm."

"I'm sure you do not," he said, laughing.

"Indeed I do not," she continued: "but, for my part, I think you had a
great deal better have kept to your father's trade.  Such a business as
that is not to be picked up every day.  But there, I suppose you know
best."

"Of course he does," said the Churchwarden, who heard the latter part of
her sentence.  "You let Luke Ross alone for that.  His head's screwed on
the right way."

"Don't be so foolish, Joseph," cried Mrs Portlock.  "Do talk sense.
Has Mr Cyril Mallow gone?"

"Yes, he's gone back home," said the farmer.

"Why didn't you ask him to stay and have a bit of dinner with us?"

"Because I didn't want him, mother.  He only walked home with me to ask
about a bit o' rabbit shooting."

"But still, it would have been civil to ask him to stop.  It's
market-day, and there's the hare you shot on Friday, and a bit o'
sirloin."

"Tchah! he wouldn't have cared to stay.  He dines late and
fashionable-like at home."

"I'll be bound to say he'd have been very glad to stop," said Mrs
Portlock, bridling.  "Fashionable, indeed!  He got no fashionable
dinners when he was working his way home at sea, nor yet when he was out
in the bush."

"Where he had much better have stayed--eh, Luke?" said the farmer.  "He
does no good but idle about here."

"Idle, indeed!" cried Mrs Portlock, taking up the cudgels, rather
indignantly, on the young man's behalf.  "It might be idling if it was
Luke Ross here, but Mr Cyril Mallow's a gentleman and a gentleman's
son, and he has a right to work when he likes and leave off when he
likes."

"Oh! has he?" said the Churchwarden, smiling at their visitor, as much
as to say, `Now, just you listen.'  "Well, I'm not a learned man, like
Luke Ross here, who has got his Bible at his tongue's end."

"As every man who calls himself a good man ought to," said Mrs
Portlock, tartly.  "Sage!"

"Yes, aunt," came from the next room, where the speaker could hear every
word.

"Tell them to take the dinner in directly.  And, for my part, Joseph, I
think if you'd read your Bible a little more o' Sundays you'd be a
better man."

"You wouldn't like me so well if I was a better man, old lady," he
laughed; "but, as I was going to say, when I used to read of such things
I got it into my head that the first specimen of a man as was made was a
working man, to till the ground, and not idle and loaf about, and eat
the fruit and shoot the rabbits in the Garden of Eden."

"For shame, father, to talk in that way!" cried the lady.  "And I wonder
that you speak so disrespectfully of Mr Cyril Mallow.  For my part, I
think he's a very nice, gentlemanly young fellow, and it's too bad for
people to be always sneering about him as they are."

"And, for my part," said the Churchwarden, good-humouredly, "I'm a bit
of a Radical, and don't believe in taking off your hat to a man because
he happens to have a few thousand pounds more than one's got oneself.
If he's a wonderful clever chap, with more brains than I've got, why, I
do look up to him; but I'm not going down on my knees to a set of folks
who yawn through their lives, doing nothing, except telling you by word
and look that they are a better class of people than you are; and as for
Master Cyril Mallow, he's a well-built, strapping young fellow, who can
talk well, and shoot well, but if he had happened to be my sod, instead
of old Mallow's, I'd have licked him into a different shape to what he's
in now, ay, and his brother too, or I'd have known the reason why.
Dinner in, my lass?  That's well.  Come along, Luke.  Tchah! nonsense!
you shall stay.  You can tell the old man your reasons better when
you've got a bit of roast beef under your waistcoat, and some of my ale.
Why, Sage, lass, what ails you?  Your face is as white as a bit o'
dough."

"Oh, nothing, uncle, nothing," she replied, forcing a smile, as she
hurried to a tall press to get out a napkin for their visitor, and soon
after they were seated at the hospitable meal, which was more bounteous
on a market-day, the nearness of the farm to the town making it always
probable that the Churchwarden might bring up a friend.

But Luke Ross was the only stranger on that occasion, and he sat
opposite Sage, whose countenance, though less troubled than when she had
overheard her uncle's words, was lacking in its ordinary composure.

Luke saw this, and attributed it to their conversation, and the interest
she took in his affairs.  Her aunt saw it, too, and, with the idea of
comforting her niece, kept turning the conversation to the Rector and
his family, but not to do any good, for out of mere contrariety, and
with a twinkle in his eye as he glanced at Luke, the Churchwarden set to
and roundly abused the Rector and his sons for their ways.

"Come, Luke," he said, "you are not making half a meal.  I suppose by
and by, sir, you will be as fashionable as Master Cyril Mallow, and
won't eat a bit at dinner-time without calling it lunch.  Ha, ha, ha!"

"There, do have done, Joseph," cried Mrs Portlock.  "What have you got
to laugh at now?"

"I was thinking of the horse-whipping I gave the young dogs--ay, it's
twelve or fourteen years ago now--that night I caught them in the
orchard."

"There, do let bygones be bygones, Joseph," cried Mrs Portlock,
sharply.  "Boys will be boys.  I'll be bound to say you stole apples
yourself when you were young."

"Ay, that I did, and got thrashed for it, too.  But I must say that
Cyril Mallow don't bear any malice for what I did."

A regular duel was fought over that meal between the heads, Sage hardly
raising her eyes, but looking more and more troubled as the Mallow
attack and defence went on, while Luke Ross was so intent upon his own
thoughts that he hardly heard a word.

It was with quite a feeling of relief, then, that Sage heard her uncle
say--

"I like parson, not as a parson, but as a man: for the way in which he
has tended that poor sick woman 's an honour to him; but, as for his way
of bringing up children, why, if I had carried on my farm in such a
fashion I should have been in the Court o' Bankruptcy years ago.  Best
thing Mallow could do would be to put the fellow with me to learn
farming, and me have the right to do what I liked with him, and
five-and-twenty to two?  Is it, my dear?  I didn't know it was so late--
and make us truly thankful, Amen."

There was a general scrooping of chairs after this condensed grace, Sage
hurrying off to put on her hat and jacket, and her aunt running after
her to say, in a mysterious whispered confidence--

"Don't you take any notice of uncle, my dear.  He don't mean half he
says."

"You'll walk back with Sage, of course, Luke?" said the Churchwarden,
quietly, as he drew his chair to the fire for his after-dinner pipe.
"Well, my boy, I think you're right about what you settled; but I
suppose I had something to do with your altering your mind?"

"Yes, sir, I must own to that."

"Well," said the Churchwarden, thoughtfully, "I hope it's for the best;
I meant it to be.  You'll go back to London, then, soon?"

"Almost directly, sir, to begin working hard."

"That's right, my boy.  I believe in work.  Come over here whenever you
are down at Lawford.  I shall be very glad to see you, my lad, very."

Then, pulling out his watch, he consulted it, and went on chatting for a
few minutes as if to keep Luke from speaking about the subject near to
his heart, but at last he broke in--"I need hardly say, sir, that I go
meaning to work up to the point you named, and--"

"Yes, yes, yes, my lad; let that rest.  Let's see how things go.  You're
both young," he cried, pulling out his big silver watch once more.  "I
say, mother," he shouted, "tell Sage that Luke's waiting to walk back
with her.  She'll be late for school."

Then like a chill to Luke Ross came back Mrs Portlock's voice--

"Sage?  Oh, she went out by the back way ten minutes ago."



PART ONE, CHAPTER TWENTY TWO.

CYNTHIA'S KNIGHTS.

That was all--those few insolent, grossly-insulting words--and then the
big fellow stood staring after the frightened girls.

"Take my hand, Julia," whispered the younger sister; and if, as we read
in the old novelists, a glance would kill, the flash of indignant
lightning that darted from her bright eyes would have laid Jock Morrison
dead in the road.

But, powerful as are the effects of a lady's eyes, they had none other
here than to make the great picturesque fellow smile at her mockingly
before turning his hawk-like gaze on the frightened girl who clung to
her sister's hand as they hurried away.

"Has he gone, Cynthy?" whispered Julia, at the end of a few moments.

"I don't know.  I can't hear them, and I won't look back, or they'll
think we are afraid--and we are not."

"I am--horribly afraid," said Julia, in a choking voice.

"I'm not," said Cynthia.  "A nasty, rude, impudent pig that he is.  Oh,
if I were a man, I'd whip him till he lay down on the ground and begged
for mercy.  To insult two inoffensive girls like that!  Harry shall beat
him well, that he shall, or I'll never speak to him again."

"Make haste," whispered Julia.  "Let's run."

"I won't run," cried Cynthia.  "I wouldn't run away from the biggest man
that ever lived.  I never heard of such a thing.  Oh, how cross papa
will be."

"We had better not tell him," said Julia, faintly; and her face was
deadly pale.

"Not tell papa?  Why, you foolish little coward, Julie!  But only to
think of the insufferable impudence of the wretch.  I wish he had said
it to me."

"No, no: don't wish that," cried Julia, excitedly.  "It is too horrible.
Oh, Cynthy dear, I shall dream of that man."

"You shan't do anything of the kind," cried her sister, whose eyes
sparkled and face flushed with excitement.  "Such nonsense!  Two
unprotected maidens walking through the forest met a wicked ogre, and he
opened his ugly great mouth, and gaped as he showed his big white teeth
like a lion, and then he said, I am going to gobble up the prettiest of
those two little maids; and then they ran away, and a gallant knight
coming along, they fled to him for help, and fell upon their poor knees
in a wet place, and said, `Oh, brave and gallant paladin, go and smite
down that wicked ogre, and we will give you smiles, and gloves to wear
in your helm, and tie scarves round your waist, and if you will promise
not to eat us, you shall some day have one of us for a pet!'  And the
name of the gallant knight was Sir Perrino Mortoni, and--"

"Oh pray be quiet, Cynthy, I feel so upset you cannot tell."

"Stuff and nonsense!  Don't interrupt my story.  The ogre has gone."

"I shall always be afraid of meeting that man."

"What, after the gallant knight has killed him?  Oh, I see, you are
afraid that Sir Perrino would not slay him, but would bind him in
chains, and keep him at his castle for an artist's model.  Then we will
appeal to another knight, Lord Harry the Saucy, and he shall do the
deed.  Where is the gallant I wis not," she added, laughing.

"I know who he is," said Julia, who was trembling still.

"So do I," said Cynthia, merrily.  "Well, never mind, my darling sissy;
don't let a thing like that upset you.  Come: be brave.  They are gone
now, and we shall never see them again."

"Never see them again," said Julia, with a wild look in her eye.  "That
man will haunt me wherever I go."

"Will he, dear?" said Cynthia, merrily; "then the gallant knight shall
not quite kill him, though I don't believe in haunting ghosts.  Here
they are."

"Cynthia!" gasped Julia, with a cry of horror.

"I don't mean the ogres, you little coward; I mean the gallant knights."

"Why, we began to think we had missed you," cried Lord Artingale, who,
with Mr Perry-Morton, met them at a turn of the road, the latter
gentleman's patent leather shoes being a good deal splashed, in spite of
the care with which he had picked his way.

"Oh, Mr Perry-Morton," cried Cynthia, ignoring Artingale, and, with a
mischievous light in her eye, addressing their artistic friend, "my
sister has been so shamefully insulted by a great big man."

"Who? where? my dear Miss Julia?  Where is the scoundrel?" cried
Perry-Morton, excitedly.

"Just down the road a little way," said Cynthia.  "I hope you will go
and beat him well."

"A big scoundrel of a fellow?" cried Mr Perry-Morton.

"Yes, and he looks like a gipsy," said Cynthia, innocently.  "He said
something so insulting to my sister."

"Hush, pray, Cynthia," cried the latter, faintly.

"Oh, poor girl, she is going to faint.  Miss Mallow, pray look up.  I am
here.  Take my arm.  Let me hasten with you home.  This scoundrel shall
be pursued, and brought to justice."

"I am better now," said Julia, speaking more firmly.  "No, thank you,
Mr Perry-Morton, I can walk well enough."

"Oh, I cannot leave you like this, dear Miss Julia," whispered
Perry-Morton, while Cynthia's eyes were sparkling with malicious glee,
as she turned them upon Artingale, whose face, however, startled her
into seriousness, as he caught her arm, gripping it so hard that it gave
her pain.

"Tell me, Cynthia," he said, hoarsely, "what sort of a fellow was this?"

"A big, gipsy-looking man, and there was a dirty-looking fellow with
him," faltered the girl, for her lover's look alarmed her.  "But stop,
Harry; what are you going to do?"

"Break his cursed neck--if I can," cried Artingale, in a low, angry
growl.

"No, no: don't go," she whispered, catching at him.  "You may be hurt."

"One of us will be," he said, hoarsely.

"But, Harry, please!"

She looked at him so appealingly that he took her hands in his.

"Cynthia--my darling!" he whispered; and if they had been alone he would
have caught her in his arms.

But they were not alone, and bending down he whispered--

"You have made me so happy, but you would not have me be a cur.  Take
your sister home."

Without another word he turned and started off down the lane at a trot,
Cynthia watching him till he was out of sight.

"Oh, Harry!  If you are hurt!" she whispered to herself; and then,
recalling her sister's trouble, she ran to her side, where Perry-Morton
was making a pretence of affording support that was not required.

"We can soon get home, Mr Perry-Morton," said Cynthia, with the
malicious look coming back into her eyes, and chasing away one that was
very soft and sweet.  "Wouldn't you like to go after Lord Artingale?"

"What! and leave you two unprotected?" said the apostle, loudly.  "No, I
could not, to save my life."

He did not, but attended the ladies right up to the rectory, sending
their father into a fury, and then leading a party of servants to the
pursuit of the tramps, as they were dubbed, but only to meet Lord
Artingale at the end of a couple of hours returning unsuccessful from
his chase.

For he had not seen either of the fellows, from the fact that as soon as
the ladies had gone they had quietly entered the wood, to lie down
amongst the mossy hazel stubbs, from which post of vantage they had seen
the young man go by.

"Hadn't we better hook it, Jock?" said the lesser vagabond.

"Hook it?  No.  What for?  We haven't done nothing agen the lor."

There was hot indignation at the rectory, and Frank and Cyril went
straight to Tom Morrison's cottage, frightening the wheelwright's wife,
and making her look paler as she took refuge with Budge in the back,
only coming forward after repeated summonses, and then keeping the girl
with her, as she said, truthfully, that Jock Morrison had not been there
for days.

"What's the matter?" said Tom, coming from his workshop, and looking
sternly at the two visitors.

"Matter!" cried Frank, fiercely; "we want that brother of yours; he has
been insulting my sister."

"Then you had better find him and punish him," said Tom, coldly.

"Where is he?"

"You are a parson's sons," said Tom, bitterly, "and ought to know
Scripture.  `Am I my brother's keeper?'"

"Look here, you Tom Morrison," cried Frank, "no insolence; I've only
just come back home, but while I stay I'll not have my sisters insulted
by a blackguard family who have got a hold in the parish, and do it out
of spite because my father could not act as they wanted."

"Out of my place!" roared Tom, fiercely.  "How dare you bring up that,
you coward!"

"Tom!  Tom! oh, for my sake, pray!" cried Polly, throwing herself upon
his breast just as he was about to seize Cyril, who had stepped before
his brother.

"Well, for thy sake, yes," said Tom, passing his arm round his wife.
"Frank and Cyril Mallow, don't come to my place again, or there may be
mischief."

"Do you dare to threaten us, you dog?" cried Frank.

"He ought to know what a magistrate's power--" began Cyril, but he
glanced at Polly and checked himself.  "Here, come away, Frank.  Look
here, Tom Morrison, where is your brother Jock?"

"I don't know," said Tom, sternly, "and if I did I should not tell you.
This is my house, gentlemen, and I want neither truck nor trade with you
and yours."

"I'll have you both flogged," cried Frank.  "A pretty thing that two
ladies can't go along the lanes without being insulted!  By Gad, if--"

"Look here," said Tom Morrison, stoutly, "who are you and yours that
they are not to be spoken to?  How long is it since a respectable girl
couldn't hardly walk along one of our lanes for fear of being insulted
by the parson's sons?  I tell you--"

"Tom!  Tom!" moaned Polly, "I--I--"

"Hush, bairn!" he whispered, and Frank hustled his brother out of the
cottage, angrily threatening punishment to the brothers Morrison before
many days were over their heads, and went back to the rectory, where Mr
Perry-Morton informed Lord Artingale, in confidence, that he would have
liked to delete such creatures as that ruffian.  They were only blurs,
spots, and blemishes upon the face of this beautiful earth, marring its
serenity, and stealing space that was the inheritance of those who could
appreciate the gift.

"I can handle my fists," said Artingale, in reply, "for we had a good
fellow to teach us, and nothing would have given me greater pleasure
than to have had ten minutes' interview with that blackguard."

"It is very brave and bold of you," said Mr Perry-Morton, holding his
too fleshy head up with one white hand, as it drooped sidewise, and
supporting his elbow with another white hand, as he gazed at him with a
kindly, patronising, smiling pity, "but it would be better to hand him
over to the police."

"Oh, the police might have had him when I had done with him," said the
young man, nodding.  "I should have liked to have had my bit of
satisfaction first."

The sisters, that is to say, Mr Perry-Morton's sisters, wound their
arms round each other, the elder laying her head upon her sister's
shoulder, so that arms, hair, and dresses were intertwined and mingled
into a graceful whole.  Doubtless their legs would have been woven into
the figure, only they were required to stand on; and then with a series
of changes passing over their faces with beautiful regularity, and with
wonderful gradations by minor tones or tints, they suggested horror,
fear, dread, suffering, pity, pain, with a grand finale representing
wakeful repose, as they listened to Cynthia's history of the encounter,
while their brother, after gazing at them diagonally through his
eyelashes, softly crossed the room, touched the Rector upon the arm, and
pointed to the sisterly group with a smile of satisfied affection.

"Heaven has its reflections upon earth," he said softly, "and the poetic
mind reads rapture in angelic form," he added, with a fat smile of
serene satisfaction and repose.

"Quite so," said the Rector, and he balanced his double eyeglass upon
his nose; "but really, Mr Perry-Morton, I have so many troubles and
petty cares upon my mind, that this new one has filled me with
indignation, and I hardly know what I say or do.  Whether as clergyman
or county magistrate, I am sure no one could be so troubled as I have
been."

But the indignation even of a county magistrate availed nothing,
although it took the form of a hunt about the place with the resident
rural policeman, supplemented by the presence of two more resident rural
policemen from two neighbouring villages.  Lord Artingale's keepers,
too, were admonished to be on the look-out, but Jock Morrison was not
seen, though his companion was traced to one or two casual wards, and
then seemed to have made for London.



PART ONE, CHAPTER TWENTY THREE.

CLERICAL DIFFICULTIES.

The Fullerton party proved triumphant in the struggle which ensued, and
in spite of the Rector's efforts to produce a better state of things at
the boys' school, Mr Humphrey Bone kept on teaching in his good
old-fashioned way--good in the eyes of many of the Lawfordites--when he
was sober, but breaking out with a week's drinking fit from time to
time, when the school would be either closed or carried on by the
principal monitors, Sage Portlock going in from time to time at the
Rector's request when the noise became uproarious.

Those who had been the most determined on Bone's retention shut their
eyes to these little weaknesses on the master's part; and, if the boys
were not well taught, the tradesmen's accounts were written in a
copperplate hand, while the length and amount of the bill was made less
painful to its recipient by finding his name made to look quite handsome
with a wonderful flourish which literally framed it in curves--a
flourish which it had taken Mr Bone years to acquire.

The Rector resigned himself in disgust to the state of things, and
devoted his attention to the girls' school.

"It can't be helped, Miss Portlock," he said, with a smile; "if we
cannot make good boys in the place we must make super-excellent girls,
and by and by as they grow up they'll exercise their influence on the
young men."

He thought a great deal of his words as he went homewards, according to
his custom, with his hands behind his back, holding his walking-cane as
if it were a tail, thinking very deeply of his sons, and whether some
day good, true women would have an influence upon their lives and make
them better men.

The Rector never knew why the boys laughed at him, setting it down
entirely to their rudeness and Humphrey Bone's bad teaching, for no one
ever took the trouble to tell him it was on account of that thick black
stick he was so fond of carrying, depending from his clasped hands
behind.

Upon the present occasion, as he walked homeward, and in fact as he
would at any time when excited by his thoughts, he now and then gave the
stick a toss up, or a wag sideways, ending with a regular flourish,
after the manner of a cow in a summer pasture when much troubled by the
flies, adding thereby greatly to the resemblance borne by the stick to a
pendent tail.

The Rector was more than usually excited on the morning of his remark to
Sage Portlock.  There had been something tender and paternal in his way
of addressing her, and she had a good deal filled his thoughts of late.
There were several reasons for this.

He had had no right to plan out Sage's future, but somehow he had
thoroughly mapped it out long before.

He knew of Luke Ross's attachment to her, and from his position as
spiritual head of the parish, it was only natural that he should think
of the duty that so often fell to his lot--that of joining couples in
the "holy estate of matrimony."

But a short time back and in Sage's case it all came so natural and
easy.  Luke Ross had been trained, he was to have the boys' school, he
would soon marry her, the schoolhouses would be occupied, and the
schools be as perfect under such guidance as schools could be.

Everything had been gliding on beautifully towards a definite end, and
then there had come stumbling-blocks.  Luke Ross had gone back to town;
the girls' schoolhouse remained unoccupied, as Sage went home for the
present; Humphrey Bone was faster than ever in his post, and likely to
stay there, the opposition being so strong; and, worst problem of all to
solve, there was Cyril.

It was no wonder that the thick black stick was twitched and flourished
and tossed up and down, for the Rector's mind was greatly disturbed,
especially upon the last question--that of his son.

He had spoken severely without effect; he had tried appeal without
better success.  Cyril had not openly defied him, but had sat and
listened quietly to all his father had said, and then gone and acted
precisely as if nothing whatever had been spoken.

"She is so good, and sweet, and innocent a girl; so true, too, in her
attachment to Luke Ross, that I cannot speak to her," he said to
himself.  "Besides, she has given me no opening.  But it must be
stopped.  What shall I do?"

The Reverend Eli Mallow went on for a few yards deeply thoughtful, and
then the idea came.  He knew what he would do: speak to Mrs Portlock
first, or to the Churchwarden, and ask their advice and counsel upon the
matter.

"Yes," he said to himself, "it will be the best.  Such matters are
better checked in their incipient state.  I will go and see her at
once."

He faced round, glanced at his watch, saw that it was only eleven, and
walked sharply in the direction of Kilby Farm, to find the Churchwarden
away from home, but Mrs Portlock ready to receive him with a most
gracious smile.

"I'm sure you must be tired after your walk, Mr Mallow," she said.
"Sit down by the fire.  What cold weather we are having!  You'll take a
glass of my home-made wine and a bit of cake?"

The Rector would rather not, but Mrs Portlock insisted upon getting the
refreshments out of the fireside cupboard, extolling the wine the while.

"I'm sure you'd like it," she said.  "Your son had some only last night,
and he said it was better than any sherry he had ever tasted."

"My son--last night?" said the Rector, quickly.  "Which son?"

"Mr Cyril; he drank four glasses of it, and praised it most highly."

She poured out a glass, and the Rector drew it to him, and sat gazing at
the clear, amber liquid, hesitating as to how he should begin, while
Mrs Portlock stole a glance at the mirror to see if her cap was
straight, and wished she had known of her visitor's coming, so that she
might have put on a silk dress, and the cap with the maroon ribbons and
the gold acorn.

"Cyril said that he was down the town last night with Frank," said the
Rector to himself.  "He fears my words, and he is playing false, or he
would not have been ashamed to answer that he was here."

"How the time seems to fly, Mrs Portlock!" said the Rector at last,
biting his lip with annoyance at the want of originality of the only
idea he could set forth.

"Dear me, yes.  I was saying so only last week to Mr Cyril.  `Four
months,' I said, `since you came back;' and he looked up at Sage and
said that the time seemed to go like lightning."

"By the way, Mrs Portlock," said the Rector, hastily, "have you heard
from Luke Ross lately?"

"Oh, dear me, no," said the lady, rather sharply.  "I never call at the
Ross's now."

"I thought, perhaps, the young people might correspond."

"Oh, dear me, no; neither Mr Portlock nor myself could countenance such
a thing as that."

The Rector was at a loss to see the impropriety of such an intercourse,
but he said nothing--he merely bowed.

"That was only a boy-and-girl sort of thing.  Our Sage knew Luke Ross
from a boy, but now they are grown up, and as Joseph--Mr Portlock--said
they were too young to think about such things as that."

"But I understood that they were engaged," said the Rector, who felt
startled; and he gazed very anxiously in Mrs Portlock's face for her
reply.

"Oh, dear me, no, sir, nothing of the kind."

For want of something to say, the Rector sipped his wine.

"My husband very properly said that under the circumstances no
engagement ought to take place, and it was not likely.  For my part I
don't agree with the affair at all."

The Rector felt that his position was growing more unpleasant than ever.
He had come to say something, but that something would not be said; and
at last when he did speak his words were very different from what he had
intended they should be.

"My son, Cyril, has taken to coming here a good deal lately, Mrs
Portlock," he said.

"Well, yes, sir," she said, with a satisfied smile; "he has."

"I am sorry to have to speak so plainly about him, Mrs Portlock, but I
hope you will not encourage his visits.  Cyril has travelled a good
deal, and has imbibed, I am afraid, a great deal of careless freedom."

"Indeed?" said the lady, stiffly.

"I'm afraid that he is too ready to laugh and chat with any girl he
meets, and I should be sorry if--er--if--"

"If you mean by that, Mr Mallow, sir, that you don't consider our niece
good enough for your son," said Mrs Portlock, tartly, "please say so
downright."

"I did not wish to imply anything of the kind, Mrs Portlock," replied
the Rector, mildly.  "I wish merely to warn you against his foolish,
frivolous ways."

"If there's a difference at all it's on your side, Mr Mallow, sir,"
continued the lady.  "Mr Cyril has been a deal too idle and roving to
suit me, while our Sage--"

"Miss Portlock is a most estimable young lady, for whom I entertain the
highest respect, Mrs Portlock," said the Rector, warmly; "and it was on
her behalf, knowing as I do how foolish Cyril can be, that I came to
speak to you this morning."

"I don't know anything about his foolishness, Mr Mallow," said the
lady, who was growing irate; "but I've got to say this, that he comes
here just as if he means something, and if he does not mean anything he
had better stop away, and not behave like his brother Frank."

"Exactly so, my dear madam," cried the Rector, eagerly.  "I am going to
talk seriously to him."

This did not seem to meet the lady's ideas, and she looked hot and
annoyed, beginning to stir the fire with a good deal of noise, and
setting the poker down more loudly.

"I should be deeply grieved, I am sure, Mrs Portlock," began the
Rector; "it is far from my wish to--really, my dear madam, this is a
very unpleasant interview."

The lady said nothing; but she was so evidently of the same opinion that
the Rector was glad to rise and offer his hand in token of farewell.

She shook hands, and the visitor left, to hurry home with his black
stick hanging behind, and his soul hot within him as he mentally accused
Cyril by his folly of getting him into the unpleasant predicament from
which he had so lately escaped.



PART ONE, CHAPTER TWENTY FOUR.

"A ROW."

"Where are you going, Frank?"

"Don't know; perhaps as far as Lewby.  John Berry said he would be glad
to show me round his farm."

"Oh!" exclaimed Cyril, with a meaning look.

"Well, what do you mean by `Oh'?" said Frank, roughly.

"Nothing at all, my dear boy--nothing at all," said Cyril.

"I never grin like an idiot at you when you are going over to Kilby, do
I?"

"Oh, no: not at all.  It's all right, I suppose," laughed Cyril.  "But,
I say, hadn't you better be off amongst the blacks?  You have grown
rather uncivilised lately."

"Mind your own business," growled Frank Mallow.  "I say!"

"Well?"

"That blackguard regularly frightened Ju.  She hasn't looked the same
girl since."

"No," said Cyril.  "Pity the shooting season's over."

"Why?"

"We might have peppered the blackguard by accident if he had shown
himself here again."

"Master would like to see you, sir, in my mistress's room," said the
butler, entering the study where the young men were smoking.

"Oh, all right, I'll come," said Cyril, impatiently.  "Hang it, Frank,
if you were half a brother you'd go halves with me, and take me back to
your place.  I'm sick of this life.  There's a lecture about something,
I suppose."

"Caning, I should think," said Frank, with a sneering laugh.  "There, go
and get it over; and look here, I'll give up Lewby to-day, and drive
over with you to Gatley.  Let's get a game at billiards and dine with
Artingale.  It's no use to have a lord after your sister if you don't
make use of him."

"All right.  No.  I've an engagement to-night."

"Go and keep it then, and be hanged.  I shall go to Lewby," growled
Frank.

"Blackberrying?" sneered Cyril.  "I say, mind you don't `Rue' going."

"If you say that again, Cil, I'll get up and kick you," growled Frank.
"Every fellow isn't such a blackguard as you."

"Oh no," laughed Cyril, "especially not dear brother Frank.  There, I'm
off."

"You're a beauty, Cil!" growled Frank, and he lit a fresh cigar.
"Share!  Go halves with me!  Ha, ha, ha!  I dare say he would.  How
people do believe in stories of the gold mines.  I wonder whether
anything is to be made out of that poet fool."

"Want to talk to me, father?" said Cyril, entering the room where his
mother lay upon the couch, with a terrible look of anxiety upon her
pallid face.  "Oh, let's see; will my smoking worry you, mamma?"

"Always so thoughtful for me," said the fond mother to herself.  Then
aloud--

"I don't mind it, Cyril, but I don't think your father--"

She stopped short, for the Rector interrupted her, sternly.

"Is an invalid lady's room a suitable place for smoking pipes, Cyril?"

"Don't see that it matters what the place is so long as the invalid
don't mind.  But there, don't make a bother about it," he cried, tapping
the burning tobacco out on to the hob; "I can wait until I go down
again."

"Shall we go down, papa?" said Julia, rising with Cynthia from where
they sat in the window.

"No, my dears; you must hear what I am going to say, so you may as well
hear it now."

"Oh, no, Eli," moaned the invalid.

"Very well, my dears, you had better go," said the Rector, and he led
his daughters to the door, which he opened and closed after them with
quiet dignity.

"Row on!" muttered Cyril.  "Well, ma, dear, how are you?"

"Not--not quite so well, Cyril," she said, fondly; and her voice
trembled, as she dreaded a scene.  "Will you come and sit down here by
me?" she added, pointing to a chair.

"Yes, I may as well," he said, laughingly, "and you can take care of me,
for I see somebody means mischief."

The Rector bit his lips, for his was a painful task.  He wished to utter
a severe reprimand, and to appeal to the young man's sense of right and
wrong, while here at the outset was the mother bird spreading her
protecting wing before her errant chick, and ready, the Rector saw, to
stand up boldly in his defence.

"Let me punch up your pillow for you, dear," said Cyril, bending over
the couch, and raising the slight frame of the sick woman, whose arms
closed softly round the young man's neck, while he beat and turned the
soft down pillow, lowering the invalid gently back into her former
place, and kissing her tenderly upon the brow.

"That's better," he said.  "I hate a hot pillow, and it's so comfortable
when it's turned."

Mrs Mallow clung fondly to her son for a few moments, smiling
gratefully in his face; and the Rector sighed and again bit his lip as
he saw how moment by moment his task was growing more difficult.

"If he would only study her feelings in the broader things of life," he
said to himself; and he took a turn or two impatiently about the room.

"Now, governor, I'm ready," said Cyril, facing round suddenly, his
mother holding his hand between hers.  "What's the last thing I've done
amiss?"

"Heaven knows," cried the Rector, startling his wife by the way in which
he suddenly flashed into anger.  "The last thing that I have to complain
of is that I cannot trust my own son."

"Ah, you mean with money, father," said the young man, lightly.  "Well,
it does go rather fast."

"I mean my son's word," said the Rector, quickly.  "Cyril, last night
you told me a lie."

"Oh, no, no, no," cried the mother, quickly.  "It is some mistake, dear.
Cyril would not tell you what was not true."

The Rector, after years of patience, was so thoroughly out of temper
with the discovery of that day that he retorted hotly--

"A lie--I say he told me a deliberate lie."

"Nonsense!" said the young man.  "People tell lies when they are afraid
to tell the truth.  I'm not afraid to tell you anything."

"You told me last night, sir, that you had been down in the town with
Frank, whereas I find this morning that you had been at Kilby Farm."

"Ha, ha, ha!" laughed Cyril.  "Why, what a discovery, father.  You asked
me where I had been, and I told you--`down the town.'  So I had.  You
did not ask me whether I had been anywhere else, or I might have added,
to the Churchwarden's."

"And pray why did you go there, sir?" cried the Rector.

"Come, father, don't talk to me as if I were a naughty little boy about
to be sent to bed without his supper."

"Pray be calm, dear," cried Mrs Mallow.  "Cyril gives a very good
explanation.  Surely it was natural that he should walk over to Kilby."

"I say why did you go over there, sir?"

"To smoke a pipe with old Portlock, if you must know, and have a glass
of his home brewed ale.  It's dull enough here with the girls."

"It is false, sir," cried the Rector, excitedly.

"Well," said Cyril, coolly, "you may not find it dull, but I do."

"I say, sir, it is false that you merely went there to drink and smoke."

"Very well, father," said Cyril, in the most nonchalant way, as he lay
back in his chair and played with his mother's rings.  "Perhaps you
know, then, why I went."

"Oh, hush, Cyril, my boy," panted the invalid.  "Eli, my dear, pray be
calm.  This hurts me--hurts me more than I can tell you."

"I am sorry, my dear, very sorry," cried the Rector, excitedly; "but it
must be stopped.  I cannot allow matters to go on as they do.  It is
terrible.  I feel at every turn as if I were being disgraced.  I shiver
as I go down the town or make a call, for fear that I should have to
encounter some fresh disgrace brought upon us by our own boys."

"What's the matter with the governor, ma, dear?" said the young man,
mockingly.  "Has Frank been up to some fresh games?"

"Oh, hush, my dear boy," cried the poor woman, imploringly.

"I'll be as quiet as I can, dear," replied Cyril; "but there are bounds
to everything.  I am not a child."

"No, sir, but you act like one--like a disobedient child," cried his
father.  "No matter what is done for you, back you come home to idle and
lounge away your existence.  The idea of the nobility of labour never
seems to have dawned in your mind."

"Never," replied Cyril, calmly.  "Nobility of labour, indeed!  Why,
father, what's the good of quoting stuff like that to me out of one of
your old sermons?"

"You are utterly wasting your life, sir."

"Not I, father," retorted Cyril.  "I am rather enjoying it.  Let those
work who are obliged.  Why should I make myself a slave?  I like my
existence very well as it is, and don't mean to bother."

"It is disgraceful," cried the Rector, whose usually bland face was now
fierce with anger.

"Don't see it.  I don't spend much, nor yet get into debt.  You've got
plenty of money, so why should I trouble myself about work?"

"I'd forgive that," cried the Rector--"I'd forgive your idleness, but
when I find that you cannot be trusted, I am compelled to speak."

"But, my dear," remonstrated the invalid, "what has poor Cyril done?  He
did not like the wretched slavery out in the colony, and he could not
content himself with the drudgery of a clerk's desk.  Do not be so
severe.  Be patient, and he will succeed like Frank has done."

"What has he done?" cried the Rector.  "What is he doing but leading
such a life as must disgrace us all."

"Nonsense, father!" cried the young man.  "It is no nonsense, sir.
Months ago I spoke to you about your conduct, but it has been in vain.
People in all directions are noticing your behaviour towards Miss
Portlock.  Just, too, when your sisters are about to make excellent
matches."

"Miss Portlock!" cried Mrs Mallow, starting.  "Oh, Cyril!"

Cyril acted like an animal brought to bay.  He began to fight.  While
there was a chance of his father not being aware of his proceedings, he
fenced and parried.  Now he spoke out sharply--

"Well, what do people say about my behaviour with Miss Portlock?  She's
a very nice ladylike girl, well educated, and sweet and clever, and if I
like to chat with her, I shall."

"Oh, Cyril!" cried his mother again; and then she added, "Is this true?"

"True?  Is what true?  That I have been to Kilby sometimes to have a
chat with Sage Portlock?  Of course it is.  Why not?"

"You own to it, then?" said his father.  "Own to it, if you like to call
it so, sir.  And now, pray, where is the harm?"

Mrs Mallow withdrew her hand from her son's grasp, and looked in his
face with a terribly pained expression, for, with all her gentleness of
disposition, the sense of caste was in her very strongly; and with all
his failings, she had looked upon Cyril as a noble representative of the
mingled blood of the old family Mallows and the Heskeths from whom she
sprang.

"I am to understand, then," said the Rector, "that you propose honouring
us with a daughter chosen from the people here."

"I don't say yes, and I don't say no," replied Cyril, cavalierly.  "I
think I have heard you say often that Sage was a very nice girl."

"Sage?"

"Yes, Sage.  I think you had the pleasure of baptising her by her
herbaceous name, so you ought to know."

The Rector exchanged glances with his wife, whose face wore a very
pitiable look.

"I have--yes--certainly--often said that Miss Portlock was a very good,
sensible girl," he said at last.

"Well, then, what more do you want, sir?  I suppose you expect a man to
think about such things at some time in his life?"

"But have you proposed for her hand?" said his mother, faintly.

"Proposed for her hand?  Nonsense, mamma.  People of their class don't
understand things in that light."

This was a false move, and the Rector took advantage of the slip.

"People of that class, sir?  Then you acknowledge that you are degrading
yourself by these proceedings."

"Oh, I don't know about degrading myself, sir.  You know what they say.
If a lady marries her groom she descends to his level.  If a man marries
his cook he raises her to his."

"But does Mr Portlock--my Churchwarden--know of your intentions?"

"How can he," said Cyril, coolly, "when I have none?"

"But Mrs Portlock believes that you are paying your attentions to her
niece."

"Yes, I s'pose so," he replied.  "Terribly silly woman."

"Oh, Cyril, Cyril," said his mother, "this is very, very shocking."

"Stuff and nonsense, mamma.  Why, what a tremendous fuss about a little
bit of flirtation with a pretty little schoolmistress.  You nearly had
her sister for a daughter-in-law when Frank was after her."

"Frank saw the folly of his proceedings, and grew sensible," said the
Rector.

"Oh, did he!" muttered Cyril.

"The word flirtation, Cyril," said the Rector firmly, "is a disgrace to
our civilisation, and one that ought certainly to be heard from no
decent lips."

"Matter of opinion, of course," said Cyril; and he placed his hands
under his head and stared straight out of the window, while the Rector
and his wife exchanged glances.

"Cyril," said the former at last, after a struggle to keep down his
anger, "I will not quarrel with you."

"That's right, governor.  I hate quarrelling."

"But while you are under my roof I must be obeyed."

"Don't think any man has a more obedient son," replied Cyril.

"The time, however, has now come when some plan must be devised for you
to make a fresh start in life upon your own account."

"'Pon my word, father, I don't see it.  I'm very comfortable as I am."

"But I am not, sir," replied his father, firmly.  "For years past it has
been thrown in my teeth that I am rightly named Eli.  You know why.  It
is time, now, sir, that we took care not to be ashamed of the enemy in
the gate."

"Please don't preach, father," said the young man, in a tone of
protestation.

The Rector paid no attention to his words, but went on--

"Let me ask you first," he said, "one question."

"Go on," said the young man, for his father had stopped.

"Has Miss Portlock accepted your attentions?"

There was a pause here.  "I say, Cyril, has Miss Portlock accepted your
attentions?"

"Matter of confidence," replied the young man.  "Question I would rather
not answer."

"Then she has not," said the Rector, quickly, "and I am very, very
glad."

"Why, father?"

"Because, as I have told you before, she is receiving the attentions of
Mr Luke Ross."

"Oh, nonsense!" cried Cyril, flushing.  "That's all off now."

"I heard something of the kind; but what do you mean?  Have they
quarrelled?"

"Oh, no.  Old Portlock wouldn't have it: and quite right, too.  Girl
like that to be engaged to such a clod!"

"Cyril," said his father, angrily, "I would to heaven that I had as good
a son."

"Complimentary to your boys, sir.  Let's see, he threw you over very
shabbily about the school, didn't he?"

"He declined the post, certainly."

"Then even Mr Luke Ross is not perfect, sir."

"I am not going to criticise his conduct over that matter, sir, beyond
saying that he had no doubt good reasons for declining the post.  On
further consideration I think he was right, for unless he felt his heart
to be in his work, he would have been wrong to venture upon binding
himself to the school."

"Most worthy young man, I've no doubt," said Cyril, with a sneer.

"A young man for whom I entertain a great respect," retorted the Rector.

"One of those highly respectable young men who push their way on in the
world," sneered Cyril.

"And often become great with the poorest of means for pushing their
way," said the Rector, "while those well started miserably fail."

"Oh, yes; I know 'em," said Cyril.  "One reads of them in the nice
books.  Bah!  I haven't patience with the prigs; and as for this Luke
Ross," he cried, with the colour burning as two spots in his cheeks, "I
look upon him as one of the most contemptible cads under the sun.  You
talk of wishing that you had such a son, father!  Why the fellow is
utterly beneath our notice."

"Why?" said his father, in a sharp, incisive tone.

"Why?" replied Cyril.  "Because he is."

"A pitiful reply," said the Rector, angrily.  "Can you give me a better
reason for your dislike to Luke Ross?"

"Not I.  He is not worth it."

"Then I'll give you one," replied the Rector.  "The true one, Cyril,
though it cuts me to the heart to have to speak so to my son, and before
the mother who has worshipped him from his birth."

"Oh, Eli, pray, pray spare me this," cried Mrs Mallow, supplicatingly.

"No," he said, "I have been silent too long--I have given way too much.
It is time I spoke out with no uncertain sound.  Cyril, you hate this
man because he is your rival in the affections of a good, true girl.
Your anger has taught me so far, and I rejoice thereat.  Your suit has
been without success.  You teach me, too, that you would stop at
nothing, even blackening your rival's character, to gain your ends; but
this must not be.  I look upon Sage Portlock as in my charge, and I tell
you, once and for all, that you must stop this disgraceful pursuit.  I
say that it shall not go on."

"And how will you stop it, sir?" cried Cyril, springing to his feet,
while the mother lay back with clasped hands.

"I don't know yet, but stop it I will," cried Mr Mallow.  "You shall
disgrace your mother and sisters no longer--insult Miss Portlock no more
by your pursuit."

"Insult her?"

"Yes, sir, insult her.  She is too good and pure-hearted a girl for her
affections to be tampered with by such a heartless fellow as you."

"Eli, Eli," moaned Mrs Mallow, but her cry was unnoticed by the angry
men.

"Tampered with!  Heartless!  Bah!  You do not know what you are saying."

"I know, my son, that the time has come for me to strike.  You must
leave here, and at once.  Sage Portlock is not for you.  If you do not
know your position in life and your duty to your class, you must be
taught."

"Then hear me now," cried the young man, defiantly.  "Luke Ross is no
rival of mine, for he has never won Sage Portlock's heart.  That belongs
to me; and as to duty, caste, and the like, let them go to the devil.
Have her I will, in spite of you all, and--"

"Silence, sir!" cried the Rector, beside himself with passion--the rage
kept down for years; and he caught his son by the throat.  "Man grown--
no, you are a boy--a child, whom I ought to soundly thrash for your
disobedience and shame.  Son? you are no son of mine."

"Loose me, father," cried the young man.  "I will not bear this.  Loose
me, I tell you."

Father and son had forgotten themselves, and in those brief moments of
their struggle a strange blindness had come over them.  They swayed to
and fro, a little table covered with china was overset with a crash,
and, at last, getting one hand free, Cyril clenched his fist and struck
out fiercely, just as a wild and piercing scream rang through the room.



PART ONE, CHAPTER TWENTY FIVE.

WHERE CYRIL WENT.

Mrs Mallow's cry of horror as, after struggling for the first time for
many years into an upright posture, she fell back, fainting, had the
effect of bringing father and son back to their senses.  Another second
and Cyril's clenched hand would have struck down the author of his
birth; but at that cry his arm fell to his side, and he stood there
trembling with excitement as the Rector quitted his hold, and flung
himself upon his knees by the couch.

He rose again on the instant to obtain water and the pungent salts which
were close at hand, striving with all the skill born of so many years'
attendance in a sick room to restore the stricken woman to her senses.

Frank had already left the house, but the cry brought Julia and Cynthia
into the room.

"Oh, mamma, mamma!" wailed Julia, and she too busied herself in trying
to revive the stricken woman.

Not so Cynthia, who took in the situation at a glance, and burst into a
passion of sobs, which she checked directly, and with flushed face and
flashing eyes she crossed to her brother.

"This is your doing," she cried; "you will kill mamma before you've
done; and Harry might have been here and heard all this.  Cyril, I hate
you; you're as wicked as Frank;" and to her brother's utter astonishment
she struck him sharply in the face.

"Little fool!" he growled fiercely, as he caught her by the wrist, but
only to fling her off with a contemptuous laugh.  He made no motion to
help, but stood with frowning brow and bitter vindictive eye watching
his parents alternately; but though he went to and fro many times, and
passed close to his son, the Rector never once looked at him, seeming
quite to ignore his presence there.

Constant efforts had their due effect at last, for the unhappy mother
uttered a low wailing cry, and then, as her senses returned and she
realised her position, she began to sob bitterly, clinging to her
husband as he knelt by her, bending his face down upon her hands as he
held them tightly in his own.

From where Cyril stood he could see his father's face, that it was
deadly pale, and that his lips were moving rapidly as if in prayer, and
thus all stayed for some little time, till the laboured sobbing of the
invalid died off into an occasional catching sigh.

At last she unclosed her eyes, to fix them appealingly upon her son, her
lips moving, though no audible words followed; but the look of appeal
and the direction of her pathetically expressive eyes told her wishes as
she glanced from Cyril to the carpet beside her couch--told plainly
enough her wishes, and the young man read them aright--that he should
come there and kneel down at his father's side.

"Not I," he muttered.  "The old madman!  How dare he raise his hand to
me like that!"

He thrust his hands in his pockets and remained there with a look
mingled of contempt and pity upon his face as he watched the prostrate
figure of his father, while, as his mother's appealing eyes were
directed to him again and again, he merely replied to the dumbly-uttered
prayer by an impatient shake of the head.

At last the Rector raised his eyes, and as he met his wife's agonised
look, he smiled gently, and then bent over her and kissed her brow.

"It is passed, my love," he whispered.  "God forgive me, I did not think
I could have sunk so low."

Julia passed her arm round her sister, and drew her to the window, to
lay her head upon her shoulder and weep silently and long.

"Cyril," said the Rector, in a broken voice, as he rose and stood before
his son, "you have tried me hard, but I have done wrong.  My temper
gained the better of me, and I have been praying for strength to keep us
both from such a terrible scene again.  Come down with me to the study,
and let us talk of the future like sentient men.  God forgive me, my
boy; I must have been mad."

He held out his trembling hands, and Cyril saw that he was evidently
labouring under great emotion, as he absolutely humiliated himself
before his son, his every look seeming to ask the young man's
forgiveness for that which was past.  But Cyril's anger was, if not
hotter, more lasting than his father's, and rejecting the offer of peace
between them, he swung round upon his heels and strode out of the room.

For a few minutes there was absolute silence, as mother and father gazed
at the door through which the son had passed.  Then, with a piteous sob,
Mrs Mallow exclaimed--

"Oh, Eli, Eli, what have we done?"

"Commenced the reaping of the crop of weeds that are springing up in our
sons' neglected soil.  Laura, I have tried to be a good father to our
boys, but my weakness seems to stare me now in the face.  I have been
fond and indulgent, and now, Heaven help me, I have been weaker than
ever in trying to amend the past by an outbreak of foolish violence."

"Go to him; ask him to come back," sobbed the mother.

"Did I not humble myself to him enough?" said the Rector, with a
pathetic look at his wife.

"Yes, yes, you did," she wailed; "but this is all so dreadful.  Eli, it
will break my heart."

"And yet I ought to be strong and stern now, sweet wife," he said
tenderly.  "Authority has long been thrown to the winds.  Had I not
better strive hard to gather up the reins and curb his headlong course?"

"It will break my heart," the unhappy woman sobbed.  "It is so
dreadful--so horrible to me, love.  Eli, husband--my patient, loving
husband, bring him back to me or I shall die."

"I will fetch him back, Laura," said the Rector, softly, as he bent down
once more and kissed the cold, white forehead of his wife.

Then, rising with a sigh, he softly moved towards the door, turning once
to smile at the troubled face he left behind.

As he turned, the suffering woman held out her arms, and he walked back
quietly to sink upon his knees by her side.

"Pray," she said, softly.  "Pray for help and guidance in this storm."
And once more there was silence in the room.

"He is our boy," whispered Mrs Mallow, as the Rector rose.  "Be patient
with him, Eli, and all will yet be well.  Indeed, indeed, he is good and
true of heart.  See how tenderly he waits on me."

"Just for a minute, now and then," the Rector thought; "and only when it
does not clash with some selfish object of his own."  And then he fell
to thinking of his own years upon years of constant watchfulness and
care, and smiled sadly as he saw how that at times the little far
outshone the great.

But nothing in his countenance betokened aught but the tenderest
sympathy and love for her he was leaving behind, as, once more going to
the door, the Rector passed through, and descended to his study, leaving
Mrs Mallow weeping in her daughters' arms.

Here he shut himself in for a few minutes, and rapidly paced the floor,
holding his hands the while to his rugged brow.

"It is too much--it is too much!" he groaned, panting with the great
emotion to which his soul was prey.  "If it was not for my girls!  If it
was not for my girls!"

Then he threw himself into his chair, and sat leaning forward with his
fingers seeming to be driven into the soft padding of the arms, which he
clutched with fierce vehemence.

But by degrees the gust of passion passed over, leaving him calm and
cool as, once more rising, he smoothed his countenance, and went out of
the room in search of Cyril.

He was not in the dining-room, nor yet in the little room where he was
in the habit of sitting to read and smoke, while the state of the garden
was not such as to induce him to wander there.

The Rector went up softly to his son's room, but without finding him;
and at last he went into the dining-room and rang the bell.

"Where is Mr Cyril?" the Rector asked.

"He went out about half-an-hour ago, sir."

"With Mr Frank?"

"No, sir; Mr Frank went out before that."

"Did he say what time he would be back?"

"No, sir; but Williams came in just now, sir, with Lord Artingale's mare
for Miss Cynthia."

"Yes?"

"And said he met Mr Cyril in the lane leading to Kilby Farm."

"Indeed!"

"Yes, sir; and he was walking up and down as if he expected somebody to
come."



PART ONE, CHAPTER TWENTY SIX.

AN INTERRUPTION.

From the way in which people talk of the tender passion it might be
supposed to be one long dream of bliss; but a little examination of
other people's hearts, and the teachings of the knowledge thus obtained
with the experience of years, will go far to show that it is as often as
not very far from being a dream, being, in fact, a time of misery,
disappointment, and oftentimes of despair.

The earlier days of Sage Portlock's maidenhood had glided peacefully
away.  She had had her troubles and annoyances like the rest of the
world, but they were little, and barely ruffled the even current of her
life.

She had been troubled somewhat over her sister's love affair with Frank
Mallow, and had been Rue's confidante.  Now that stormy time had passed
away, and she had smiled over the wedding with John Berry, and
laughingly accepted her position of Aunt Sage to the two little children
that were born.

Luke Ross had been her playmate till a tenderer attachment had sprang up
as girlhood passed into womanhood, and the boy became a thoughtful man.
There was a thrill of pride ready to run through her, making the colour
suffuse her cheeks, as she knew that she was loved; and with the thought
came a proud elation that made her feel happier than she believed she
had ever felt before.

But that was all.  She loved Luke, she told herself, very dearly, and
some day she would be his wife; but she felt happy enough when he went
away to London, and somehow, though she used to consider that she was
the happiest of women, his calm, trusting letters did not seem to awaken
any echoes in her heart; while hers to him were pleasant little bits of
gossipping prattle, ending with "the dear love of yours very, very
affectionately, Sage."

Yes, she was very fond of Luke, she used to say to herself, and by and
by they would be so happy together; but she felt in no hurry for by and
by to come.  Existence was very pleasant as it was, and once she was
back in Lawford from the training institution and engaged in the school,
she seemed to wish for nothing more.

Luke Ross wrote, and twice during his absence there he came home, and
they had very pleasant walks and chats, and were very boy-and-girlish
together, laughing away till a serious fit would come on, when they
discussed the future, the cost of housekeeping, and she laughed merrily
again at the idea of being Luke's little housekeeper and wife.

But there was no passionate attachment on her side--no tears at meeting
or at parting.  All was wonderfully matter-of-fact.  She was very happy,
she felt, and she could see that Luke was, and what more could she
desire?

Then came the change, and Sage was face to face with the fact that she
had promised herself to a man for whom she had never entertained a
warmer feeling than that of friendship, or the love of a sister for
brother, and that at last she had found her fate.

Was it a feeling of rapturous delight?

Far from it; for from that day her nights were sleepless, and too often
her pillow was wet with the hot tears of her misery and distress.

On the day of the serious quarrel between father and son Sage was in
better spirits than she had been in for some days.  A letter had come
from Luke telling her of his progress in London; of his father's
willingness to make him a sufficient allowance for the object he had in
view, a matter which had been settled since he came up, and that he had
taken what his landlord called "chambers" in a legal part of town.

So light-hearted was Sage that day that she laughed over Luke's merry
description of his chambers as being so many square feet of emptiness,
with a cupboard in which he had to sleep.

He gave her a very graphic account of the way in which he had furnished
his rooms, of how he walked into Fleet-street every day to have a chop
for his dinner, and how the woman who made his bed prepared his
breakfast and tea, and then followed a sentence which made Sage laugh
merrily--a laugh that was repeated several times during school hours, to
the great astonishment of the girls.

"And it is wonderful what a very little while half-a-pound of tea seems
to last."

That was the sentence which amused her, and for a time Cyril Mallow
passed from her thoughts.

"What a little time it lasts!" she said merrily, as soon as the school
had been dismissed, and she was putting on her hat.  "Poor boy! of
course, he knows nothing at all about housekeeping; and only to think,"
she mused, "how dreadful it must be to go on living every day upon
chops."

She started for home, thinking a great deal of Luke, and telling herself
that the fancies that had of late come into her head were as foolish as
they were wicked, and that now they were dismissed for ever.

What would Mr Mallow himself think of her?  What would Mrs Mallow say?
She shivered, and felt that unless she sternly determined never to
think of Cyril again, she could not meet the Rector, who had always been
so kind and fatherly in his ways.

This had been a nasty dream--a day-dream that had come over her,
fostered by Cyril Mallow's looks and ways.  For he had followed her
about a great deal; watched for her so that they might meet, and had
constantly been coming up to the farm of an evening, where, though
ostensibly chatting with her uncle, she could not raise her eyes without
encountering his.

She could not have explained it to herself, but somehow Cyril Mallow had
seemed to influence her life, being, as it were, the very embodiment of
sin silently tempting her to break faith with Luke Ross, and think only
of him who had come between.

She told herself constantly, when the thoughts of Cyril Mallow intruded
themselves, that she loved Luke better than ever, and that the coming of
Cyril was hateful to her; but, all the same, there was a strange light
in her eyes whenever she thought of him, and her cheeks would burn and
her pulses flutter.

It was a strange way of hating, but she told herself that it was hate,
and on this particular day the coming of Luke's letter had seemed to
strengthen her, and she began planning what she would say in return; how
she would give him good advice about his housekeeping, say words of
encouragement to him about his studies, and praise his determination.
For was he not striving with all his might; had he not determined upon
this long struggle for position that he might win her?

And how could she do anything but love him?  Dear Luke!  Indeed she
would be true to him, and write him such encouraging letters--help him
all she could.  It was her duty now, for though they were not regularly
affianced with her friends' sanction, she told herself that her promise
to him was sacred.

"Yes," she said, half aloud, as she walked thoughtfully on, "I love Luke
very dearly, and that other was all a bad, feverish kind of dream, and
I'll never think about it more.  It was wicked of Mr Cyril, knowing
what he does, and weak of me, and never again--Oh!"

"Did I make you jump, Sage?" said a low voice; and Cyril came from the
gate over which he had been leaning, and jerked the stump of a cigar
away.

"I--I did not see you, Mr Cyril," she said, faintly, and the tears
sprang to her eyes.

"And I frightened the poor little thing, did I?  There, I'll be more
careful next time; but, oh, what a while you have been."

"Don't stop me, Mr Cyril," she said, with trembling voice; "I must
hurry home."

"Well, you shall directly; but, Sage, don't please be so hard and cruel
to me.  You know how humble and patient I have been, and yet you seem to
be one day warm, the next day cold, and the third day hot and angry with
me.  What have I done?"

"I do not understand you, Mr Cyril," she said, trying to speak sternly,
and walking on towards the farm.

"Then I will speak more plainly," he said, suddenly dropping the
bantering tone in which he had addressed her for one full of impassioned
meaning.  "Sage, I love you with all my heart, and when you treat me
with such cruel coldness, it makes me half mad, and I say to you as I
say now, what have I done?"

"Oh, hush! hush!" she panted.  "You must not speak to me like that.  Mr
Cyril, I beg--I implore you--never to address me again.  You know--you
must know--that I am engaged to Mr Ross."

"Engaged to Mr Ross!" he said, bitterly.  "It is not true.  There is no
engagement between you."

"It is true," she panted, hurrying on, and trembling for her weakness,
as she felt how strongly her heart was pleading for him, who kept pace
with her, and twice had laid his hand, as if to stop her, upon her arm.

"I have your aunt's assurance that it is not true," he continued; "and I
have hoped, Sage, I have dared to believe, that you were not really fond
of this man."

"Mr Cyril, I beg--I implore you to leave me," she cried.

"If I left you now," he said, hoarsely, "feeling what I feel, knowing
what I know, it would be to plunge into some miserable, reckless course
that might end who can say how?  What have I to live for if you refuse
me your love?"

"How can you be so cruel to me?" she cried, angrily.  "You insult me by
these words, Mr Cyril I am alone, and you take advantage of my
position.  You know I am engaged to Mr Ross."

"I do not," he retorted, passionately.  "I do not believe it; and I
never will believe it till I see you his wife.  His wife!" he continued.
"It is absurd.  You will never be Luke Ross's wife.  It is impossible."

"I will not--I cannot--talk to you," she cried, increasing her pace.  It
was on her lips to add, "I dare not"; but she checked herself in time,
as she glanced sidewise at him, for with a feeling of misery and
despair, strangely mingled with pleasure, she felt that all her good
resolutions were being swept away by her companion's words, and, in an
agony of shame and dread lest he should read her thoughts, she once more
hurried her steps.

"You cannot throw me off like that," he said, bitterly.  "I will not be
pitched over in this contemptuous manner.  Only the other day you looked
kindly and tenderly at me."

"Oh no, no, no," she cried, "it is not true."

"It is true enough," he said, sadly, "and I mean to be patient.  I
cannot believe you care for this man.  It is impossible, and I shall
wait."

"No, no, Mr Cyril," she pleaded.  "I can never listen to such words
again.  Think of your father and your mother.  Mr Mallow would never
forgive me if he knew I had listened to you like this."

"Let him remain unforgiving, then," cried Cyril.  "As for my mother, she
loves her son too well not to be ready to do anything to make him
happy."

"Pray, pray go," she moaned.

"No," he said, sternly, "I will not go.  You torture me by your
coldness, knowing what you do.  Do you wish to drive me to despair?"

"I wish you to go and forget me," she cried, with spirit.  "As a
gentleman, Mr Cyril, I ask you, is such a course as this manly?"

He was silent for a few moments, glancing at her sidewise the while.

"No," he said, "it is neither manly nor gentlemanly, but what can you
expect from a miserable wretch against whom all the world seems to turn?
Always unsuccessful--always hoping against hope, fighting against fate,
I find, now I come home, that the little girl I always thought of when
far away has blossomed into a beautiful woman.  How, I know not, but I
wake to the fact that she has made me love her--idolise her--think of
her as the very essence of my being."

"Mr Cyril," pleaded Sage; but he kept on.

"A new life appears to open out to me, and my old recklessness and
misery seem to drop away.  I waken to the fact that there is something
to live for--something to rouse me to new effort, and to work for as an
earnest man should work.  I did not seek her out; I did not strive to
love her," he continued, as if speaking to some one else; "but her love
seemed to come to me, to enweave itself with my every thought."

"I will not listen," panted Sage, but her heart whispered, "Luke never
spoke to me like that."

"I fought against it for a time," he went on, dreamily, "for I said to
myself this would be wronging her.  She is engaged to another, and I
should only make her unhappy and disturb the even tenor of her ways."

"Which you have done," she cried, in piteous tones.

"Do not blame me," he said, softly.  "I fought hard.  I swore I would
not think of you, and I crushed down what I told myself was my mad love
within my breast; but when, by accident, I found that I was wrong, and
that no engagement existed between you and Luke Ross--"

"But there is, there is," she cried.  "Once more, Mr Cyril, pray leave
me."

"A few mere words of form, Sage.  You do not love this man; and,
besides, your relatives have not given their consent.  Oh, listen to me.
Why should you condemn me to a life of reckless misery?  You know how I
have been drifting for years without an anchor to stay me.  You are that
anchor now.  Let me cling to you for my father's, my mother's sake; for
if you cast me off, continue this cruel wrong, you drive me once more
from home, to go floating aimlessly, without a chance of becoming a
better man.  You cannot be so harsh."

"I cannot listen to you," she murmured.  "I tell you," he cried, "that
if you cast me off you condemn me to a life of misery and despair.
Sage, dear Sage," he cried, catching her hand, "I have been wild and
foolish, but I have the making in me of a better man.  Help me to live
aright.  You are so good, and pure, and sweet--so wise and gentle.  Be
my guide and helpmate, and those at home will bless you.  Am I always to
plead in vain?"

"How can I look Luke Ross in the eyes again if I listen to such words as
these?"

"Luke Ross?  Am I to stand idly by and let Luke Ross, the cold, careless
cynic, snatch you from my arms?"

"How dare you speak of him like that?" she cried, angrily.  "He is all
that is wise and good."

"And worships you so dearly that he has gone away for three years, at
least, to prove to you his love."

"It is a great act of noble forbearance," she said, proudly, "and you
slander him by your words."

"I hope I do," he said; "but they were wrung from me by my misery and
suffering.  But no, I will not believe you can be so cruel to me.  I
know that I may hope."

They were nearing the gate leading into the great home field, and Sage,
trembling and agitated to a terrible degree, hurried on, feeling that,
once within sight of the house, Cyril Mallow would leave her.  Her mind
was confused, and the struggle going on between duty and inclination was
terrible; while the knowledge that she was so weak and yielding towards
her companion half maddened her for the time.

"Why do you hurry on so?" he pleaded.  "Am I to be driven away?  Am I to
leave home, and go anywhere that fate may drift me?"

"Oh, no, no, no," she moaned.  "This is too cruel to me.  Pray, pray
leave me now."

"Then I may hope?"

"No," she cried, with a fresh accession of strength, as she laid her
hand upon the gate; "I have promised to be Luke Ross's wife."

"His you shall never be," he said, in a hoarse whisper.  "You do not
love him, and you shall not fling yourself away.  Sage, you shall be
mine, and--"

"Well, young man, are you obliged to whisper what you say to my niece?
Come, Sage, my girl, it's time you were indoors."

"Uncle!" cried Sage, joyously, as she sprang to his side with a sigh of
relief.

"Yes, my girl," he said, coldly, "it is uncle;" and he stuck his thistle
staff down into the soft earth, and leaned his hands upon the round top.
"You can go on," he continued; "I'm not coming home yet."

"But, uncle," she cried, excitedly.

"Go home, my lass," he said, imperatively.

"Yes, dear," she half sobbed; "but you will not--"

"I say go home!" he shouted; and, with a low wail, she turned off, and
walked hurriedly towards the farm, her uncle standing watching her,
while Cyril Mallow coolly took a cigar-case from his breast pocket,
opened it, carefully selected a cigar, picking, choosing, and returning
one after the other till he had found one to his fancy, when he snapped
to the case once more and thrust it back in his pocket, afterwards
biting off the cigar-end and proceeding to light it with a fusee that
evinced a strong dislike to burst into sparks and then smoulder away.

As he did this, however, he kept glancing furtively at the Churchwarden,
who was watching the retiring form of Sage, her troubled mien winning a
glance or two from Cyril as well.

The cigar burned badly, and had to be lit again, this time being watched
by the Churchwarden with a kind of good-humoured contempt for the man
who could smoke those rolls of tobacco-leaf in place of an honest pipe.

At last the cigar drew freely, and the eyes of the two men met.

"I'm in for another row now," said Cyril, to himself.  "Awkward; very.
Never mind; I don't care."

"Now, young man," said Portlock, at last, in a very short, blunt
fashion, "it seems to me that you and I had better have a few words
together of a sort."

"When and where you please," said Cyril, carelessly.

"Let's walk along here, then," said the Churchwarden, pointing down the
lane with his thistle staff.

"Away from the farm, eh?" thought Cyril.  "All right, old friend."  Then
aloud, "Whichever way you please, sir."

"I didn't know things had gone so far as this," continued the
Churchwarden, leading the way.  "People say that you are the idlest chap
in these parts; but it seems to me that, with the work thou likest, thou
canst be as busy as the best."

Cyril flushed a little, and bit his lip, for he told himself that he was
a gentleman, and the farmer was making far too free in his way of
address; but he checked his annoyance, and said quietly--

"Perhaps, sir, you will kindly explain what you mean."  Then, after a
furtive glance at the stern, angry-looking man, he muttered to himself--

"You dare not strike me; and, as to your words, say what you like--
little Sage is mine."

"Now, sir," exclaimed Sage's uncle, after a few moments' pause, "will
you have the goodness to explain the meaning of the scene I have just
witnessed?"

"Explain, sir?" said Cyril, coolly; "surely it needs no explanation.  I
am young, and of one sex; Miss Portlock is young and of the other sex,
and a mutual attachment has sprung up."

"Mutual!"

"Well, yes; I hope so, sir.  Perhaps, though, I ought to be content with
alluding to my own feelings."

"Humph!  Your own feelings, eh?  And pray does Mr Cyril Mallow mean to
say that he has become attached to my niece?"

"Certainly he does, sir.  You are not surprised?"

"But I am surprised," said the farmer, angrily, "and I am very glad to
have witnessed what I did before the mischief went further.  Now, look
here, Mr Cyril Mallow, I am a man of business, and when I have an
unpleasant matter to tackle I go straight to it at once."

"A very good plan," said Cyril, calmly.

"I'm glad you think so, sir," said the Churchwarden, ironically.  "And
now, if you please, we'll walk straight up to the rectory."

"What for?" cried Cyril, who was startled by his words.

"What for?  Why to talk this matter over with your father."

"But suppose he does not approve of the engagement, Mr Portlock?" said
Cyril, who was taken somewhat aback by this very prompt way of treating
the affair.

"Approve?  Whoever thought he would approve, sir?  Of course he does
not, any more than I do.  What I want is for you to be given to
understand in a quiet way that it is time you gave up visiting at my
place, and hanging about to catch sight of my little girl, when she is
leaving or going to the school."

"Mr Portlock!" exclaimed Cyril, haughtily.

"Mr Cyril Mallow!" cried the Churchwarden.  "Now just look here, sir.
If I were one of your set, should you be making approaches to my niece
in the way you have?  Not you: it would not be considered proper.
Aunt's and uncle's consent would be asked first; but as I'm only a
farmer, I'm hardly worth notice.  It seems that my little lassie has
taken your fancy, and so you come running after her; but not a word to
me."

"But hear me a minute," protested Cyril.

"No, sir; nor yet half a minute.  A farmer's a man, if he is not what
you call a gentleman, and thinks as much of his people as the highest in
the land.  I dare say, in your high and mighty way, as our rector's son,
and a gentleman who has been at college, you think you are stooping to
notice my niece; so let me tell you, once for all, I don't think you
are; and, what's more, it will be a far better man than you have shown
yourself to be who gets my consent to make her his wife."

"I can assure you, Mr Portlock--" began Cyril; but the farmer would not
hear him.  He was thoroughly angry, and his face flushed up a deep red.

"And I can assure you, sir, that I want no such reckless, idling fellow
seeking after my niece.  We had bother enough when your brother was
after Sage's sister.  I tell you, then, plainly, once for all, that I
won't have it; so don't show your face at my place again."

He turned sharply round and strode off, leaving Cyril mortified and
angry; for, in his way, he had felt that he was stooping, and falling
away from his position, in noticing the little schoolmistress, so that
this sharp rebuff came like a rude shock to his feelings, and made the
end at which he aimed seem less likely to be achieved.

"Confound his insolence!" he cried, as he saw the broad back of the
farmer disappearing through his own gate.  "It is too bad to be borne."

But in a few minutes' time, as he walked slowly homeward, he began to
smile and think over his position.

"Let him talk and speak loud," he said.  "I thought he was going to
threaten me once.  What does it matter?  My father is dead against it,
and he and Master Portlock will make common cause against me.  But what
does it matter when Aunt Portlock is on my side, and little Sage is as
good as won?  Then, as to madame, my poor mother?  Pish! she will refuse
me nothing.  So, Master Churchwarden, I have three women on my side, and
the game is mine, do what you like."

He walked on a little way, amusing himself the while by thinking of the
divided sides, and how much stronger his must be.

"Let them fight us," he said, laughing.  "We shall be four to two, and
we must win; but stay, I had forgotten another enemy--Master Luke Ross.
Poor fellow!" he said, contemptuously, "his chance against me is about
the value of _nil_."



PART ONE, CHAPTER TWENTY SEVEN.

AFTER A PIPE.

Mrs Portlock was in the great kitchen of the farm as Sage hurried
through, and she stared with astonishment at the girl's excited way.

"Why, heyday!  Sage--" she began.

"Don't stop me, aunt," cried Sage, excitedly; and, running up-stairs,
she shut herself in the room, threw herself upon her knees by her bed,
and covered her face with her hands, sobbing as if her heart would
break.

"She's been having a quarrel with him," said Mrs Portlock to herself,
"or she wouldn't take on like that: They must be getting on then, or
they wouldn't quarrel."

Mrs Portlock paused here to go and scold one of the maids for picking
out all the big lumps of coal and leaving the small, but she came back
into the kitchen to think about her niece.

"He's a deal better than Luke Ross," she said to herself, "for Luke's
only a tradesman after all.  There's no mistake about it, he means our
Sage; and where, I should like to know, would he find a better girl?"

There was a pause here, during which Mrs Portlock indulged in a few
retrospects concerning Rue, and the time when she was in such trouble
about Frank.

"But Cyril is a better disposed young man than his brother, I am sure,"
she said, half aloud.  "He is his mother's favourite too.  I wonder what
Mrs Mallow will say!"

Mrs Portlock said this aloud, and then stopped short, alarmed at her
own words, for she called up the face of the calm, dignified Rector
entering the place, looking at her reproachfully, and ready to blame her
for her assumption in encouraging his son's visits.

"Oh, my gracious!" she ejaculated, half in horror, for her imagination
for the time began to run riot, and she saw that, even if Cyril Mallow
was very fond of Sage, and even if Sage returned his love, matters would
not run quite so smoothly as she had anticipated.

"I'm sure she's as good as he," she exclaimed, by way of indignant
protest to the accusations of her conscience; but, all the same, she was
now brought face to face with the consequences of her tacit
encouragement of Cyril Mallow's visits.

"And I'm sure we're as well off as they are," she added, after a pause.
But, all the same, her conscience would not be quieted, and Mrs
Portlock was on the point of going up to her niece's room, when, with a
fresh qualm of dread, though she hardly knew why, she saw her husband
come striding up toward the house.

Meanwhile Sage's breast was racked by conflicting emotions, chief
amongst which was that suggested by a self-accusation from her wounded
heart; and she knelt there, sobbing and praying for help, feeling that
she was intensely wicked, and that the hopeless misery of her case was
greater than she could bear.

Her mind was in a chaos, and she shuddered as she clung to the coverlet,
and dragged it over her drawn and excited face, as one moment it was the
stern, reproachful figure of Luke Ross asking her if this was her
faith--this the meaning of her tender, loving letters--this the reward
of his chivalrous determination to give up everything to the one idea of
making himself a worthy suitor with her relatives; the next it was
Cyril, gazing at her with despairing eyes, which seemed to say that if
she cast him off he should drift recklessly through the world, and come
to some bad end; while, did she bless him with her love, he would become
a worthy member of society, a happy man, and one of whom she could feel
so proud.

Then her heart began to plead for him so hard that she trembled, for she
seemed to be awakening, as it were, into a new life, and her dread
increased as she more fully realised the power Cyril Mallow had gained
over her.  She fought hard, and set up barrier after barrier, called up
by her intense desire to be honourable and true to her trust.  But as
fast as she set these up they seemed to be swept away; and, as the
excitement brought on by her misery increased, she felt ready to cry
aloud to Luke to come back to her and protect her from Cyril Mallow and
from her own weak self.

"Sage!  Sage!"

It was her uncle's voice calling up the stairs--a voice by which she
could interpret every mood of his spirit; and she knew now that he was
very angry.

"Sage!" came again in a voice of thunder, and so full of impatience that
she was forced to cross to the door, open it, and answer.

"I want my tea," came up in an angry roar.

It was in Sage's heart to say she was too unwell to come down, but in
her then agitated state she could only falter that she would not be a
minute, and, hastily bathing her eyes and smoothing her hair, she
descended, pale and trembling, to where her aunt was looking very white
and startled, and her uncle walking up and down the old-fashioned
parlour, impatient for his evening meal, one of which he would rarely
partake unless his niece was there to attend to his wants.

The Churchwarden's lips parted, and he was about to speak out angrily,
but the woe-begone looks of the girl silenced him.

"I'll have a cup of tea first, and do it over a pipe," he said to
himself.  Then aloud--

"Come, my girl, I'm hungry; it's past tea-time," and he took his place
at the foot of the table, the others seating themselves, after
exchanging a scared glance; and then the meal went on much as usual,
only that Mrs Portlock tried to calm herself by constant applications
to the teapot, while, in spite of her efforts, Sage could hardly partake
of a morsel, for the food seemed as if it would choke her.

"Come, come, lass, you don't eat," her uncle kept saying; and the poor
girl's struggles to keep back her tears were pitiable.

But at last the weary meal came to an end, and as the table was cleared
both aunt and niece grew hopeful, for the Churchwarden's brow was less
rugged as he went to the ledge where his pipe lay, took the tobacco-box
placed at his elbow by his niece, and calmly proceeded to fill his pipe.

"Don't look so frightened, Sage," whispered her aunt.  "He won't say any
more now."

"Yes, I shall," cried the farmer gruffly, for his hearing seemed to have
become preternaturally sharpened.  "Wait till the rooms clear."

The troubles of that one afternoon seemed to have wrought quite a change
in Sage, for as, according to her custom, she took a folded spill from
the mantelshelf, and lit it ready to hold to her uncle's pipe, her eyes
looked wild and dilated, while her usually rounded cheeks seemed quite
hollowed, giving her a wild, haggard aspect, such as is seen in one
newly risen from a bed of sickness.

"Yes, I'm going to talk seriously to both of you," continued the
Churchwarden; "but I'm not going into a passion, now.  That's over.  Get
your work, both of you, and sit down."

The trembling women obeyed, after exchanging quick glances; Mrs
Portlock's being accompanied by a movement of her lips, which Sage
interpreted to be "I can't help it."

The work-baskets were brought to the table, and as the Churchwarden sat
placidly smoking and staring at the fire, the sharp _twit_ of needle
against thimble was heard in the stillness, which was not otherwise
broken till the farmer took his pipe from his lips and uttered a stern--

"Now then."

Sage started quickly back from where her thoughts had wandered after
Cyril Mallow, whom in imagination she had just overtaken and brought
back from a wandering life, to bless him and make him happy, while Luke
Ross had forgiven her, and every one was going to be happy once again.

"Hold your tongue, mother," said the farmer, sharply.  "I've given you a
bit of my mind."

"Indeed, you have," she cried, querulously, "and, I must say, soon--"

"No, you mustn't," he shouted.  "I'm going to talk this time.  You
generally do all that; but it's my turn now."

"Oh, just as you like, Joseph," said Mrs Portlock, in an ill-used,
protesting tone; "but I must say--"

"No, you mustn't," he cried again, bringing his hand down heavily upon
the table with such an effect upon his wife, whose nerves were still
shaken by the verbal castigation she had received before tea, that she
started from her chair, hesitated a moment, and then ran sobbing out of
the room.

For a moment the Churchwarden sat frowning.  Then he half rose as if to
call her back, but directly after he subsided into his place, and sat
frowning sternly at his niece.

"Let her go," he said.  "I've said my mind to her.  Now I want to talk
to you."

Sage hesitated, with her work in her hand; then, letting it fall, she
went to the other side of the table and knelt down, resting her elbows
upon her uncle's knees, and gazing appealingly in his face.

The Churchwarden in his heart wanted to clasp her in his arms and kiss
her pale, drawn face, but he checked the desire, and, putting on a
judicial expression--

"Now," he exclaimed.  "So you are playing fast and loose with Luke
Ross?"

"No, uncle," she replied, softly.

"What do you call it, then?  Of course there is no engagement between
you, but Luke expects that some day you will be his wife."

"Yes, uncle."

"And as soon as his back is turned, I find you encouraging this fellow,
Cyril Mallow."

"No, indeed, uncle, I have not," cried Sage.

"I don't be--"

He stopped, for there was something in his niece's eyes which checked
him.

"Well, it looks very bad," he said; "and one thing is very evident--he,
after a fashion, thinks of you, and he has the impudence to say that you
care for him."

"Oh!"

It was more like a sigh than an ejaculation, and Sage's eyes seemed to
contract now with pain.

"I've given aunt a good talking to, for she's more to blame than you.
She thinks it a fine thing for the parson's boy to be coming hanging
about here after you, same as Frank did after Rue, and much good came of
it.  She had the impudence to tell me that he was a gentleman, while
Luke Ross was only a tradesman's son.  As if that had anything to do
with it.  `Look here,' I said to her: `whenever our girl weds, it shall
be to some one with a good income, but he shall be a man.'  Gentleman,
indeed!  If Cyril Mallow is a gentleman, let my niece marry a man who is
nothing of the sort."

Sage's eyes closed, and there was a pitiful, pained expression in her
face that told of the agony of her heart.  So troubled was her
countenance that her uncle was moved to pity, and spoke more tenderly.

"I don't like him well enough for you, my girl, even if there were no
Luke Ross in the way.  I've sent him off to work for thee, like Jacob
did for Rachel, and if he's the man I think him, some day he'll come
back in good feather, ready to ask thee to be his wife, and you'll
neither of you be the worse for a few years' wait."

Sage's eyes remained closed.  "I was going to scold thee," he said,
tenderly, "but my anger's gone, and I'll say but little more, only tell
me this--You don't care a bit for this young spark of the Rector's."

Sage's face contracted more and more, and the Churchwarden cried,
impatiently--"Well, girl, why don't you answer?"  She gazed up in his
face with a pleading expression of countenance that startled him, and he
placed his hands upon her shoulders, and looked fully in her eyes.

"Why, Sage!" he cried, "you don't mean--you don't say that you like him
instead of Luke?"

She covered her face with her hands, and burst out into a violent fit of
sobbing.

"I don't know, uncle.  I don't know."

"Don't know!" he cried, angrily.

"Pray ask me no more," she cried, as her uncle started from his seat,
thrusting back the chair in the act.  She crouched down upon the carpet,
weeping bitterly, for she did know now, though no pressure would have
torn the secret from her heart.



PART ONE, CHAPTER TWENTY EIGHT.

JOCK MUSES.

There was a troubled heart at the rectory as well as at the farm, where
Julia Mallow, in spite of having been so far a firm, matter-of-fact
girl, had found her meetings with the wheelwright's big ruffianly
brother make so strong an impression that although she made a brave
effort to cast it all aside as unworthy of her, she was always living
under the idea that this man was at her elbow, ready to meet her with
his intent, half-mocking gaze.

Once or twice she had nervously alluded to it when chatting with her
sister, but Cynthia had merrily told her not to be so silly, for papa
said the man must have just come out of prison, and spoken like that out
of spite.

"Depend upon it, Julie, you'll never see him again."

Julia said nothing, but went to the window of her room, and sat there
reading, and now and then lifting her eyes to gaze out at the pleasant
prospect right across the fields to the ridge about a quarter of a mile
away, beyond which the land sank at once towards Kilby Farm.

The next moment with a faint cry she shrank back, for even at that
distance she seemed to recognise the burly form of the rough fellow,
seen boldly standing out against the sky as he appeared to be crossing
the ridge.  Then as she gazed at the figure with starting eyes it went
over the edge of the hill and was gone.

"I shall never dare to go out alone," she said hoarsely.  "Heaven help
me!  What shall I do?"

This was quite a couple of months after the meeting in the lane, during
all which time the poor girl felt as if she were haunted by the fellow's
presence, and his words were always ringing in her ears.

The time had slipped away, and company had come and gone.  The
Perry-Mortons had been down for a second visit, ostensibly for
discussions with the Rector concerning the decorations of the town
house, but Cynthia read it--and told Lord Artingale her reading--that it
was to worm round poor Julia, and that was what papa meant.  Didn't he
think it was a shame?

Lord Artingale agreed with her that it was, and between them they
decided in alliance to do all they could to prevent it; but
unfortunately for Julia, this pair of egotists thought of little else
but themselves--thoughts that were varied by a little squabbling when
Cynthia showed what a peppery temper she possessed.

Julia was looking languidly forward to the middle of May, when the town
house was to be ready, and in busy London she felt that she should be
free from the haunting presence which afflicted her so sorely that she
even felt glad of Mr Perry-Morton's poetical rhapsodies as a kind of
protection, though there was something terrible in his presence.  In
fact, this gentleman showed his admiration in a way that was painful in
the extreme.  He said little, but he loved her with his eyes, and when
Mr Perry-Morton loved he did it in a sculpturesque manner, sitting or
standing in some wonderful position, at a short distance, and then
gloating--no, a Philistine would have gloated--he, one of the chosen of
the Raphaelistic brotherhood, dreamed over his beloved, mentally writing
fleshly poems the while--wondrous visions of rapt joyousness, mingled
with ethereal admiration.

But it wanted a month yet to the time for leaving the rectory, and
though Julia had not seen her horror again, she felt that he was near,
and that at some unexpected moment he would start up, perhaps when she
was alone.

Matters there as regarded Cyril were in abeyance.  He was, as he told
himself, playing a waiting game.  Sage would have a nice bit of money,
he knew, and he thought it would be a pity to spoil his prospects by
hurried play.

Besides, he was in no hurry, for he had the companionship of Frank, and
together they went a great deal to the King's Head, where there was an
old billiard-table.  At other times they drove over to Gatley, where
Lord Artingale placed everything he possessed at their service.  There
was a good billiard-table there, horses, and wine, and cigars to their
hearts' content.

Then each had a little private business to attend to, about which they
made no confidences, and rarely interfered with or joked each other, it
being a tacit arrangement that no questions should be asked if Frank was
going over to Lewby for a chat with John Berry, or Cyril had made up his
mind for a stroll down by the wheelwright's, where there were a few dace
to be whipped for in the stream.

Spring had come earlier that year, and while Luke Ross thought the
Temple gardens and the trees in Grey's Inn poor dejected-looking
affairs, down by Lawford everything was looking its best, for Spring's
children were hard at work striving to hide the rusty traces of the
wintry storms.

Early in April the banks and the edges of the woods were, alive with
flowers, glossy-leaved celandines showed their golden stars,
brightly-varnished arums peered up with their purple-spotted spathes and
leaves, the early purple orchids brightened the dark-green here and
there.  Clusters of soft pale lilac cuckoo-flowers were springing up
amongst the clumps of catkin-laden hazels, oak saplings with bark like
oxidised silver, and osiers with orange stems and polished silver buds,
while every bank and coppice was sprinkled with sulphur yellow where the
primroses bloomed.  There was mating and marrying going on in
feather-land to the blackbird's fluting, and the twittering of many
throats, and one soft, warm day, when the east wind had been driven back
by a balmy breathing from the west and south, Cynthia made a dash at her
sister, and laughingly passed the string of her hat over her head,
thrust a basket in her hand, and led her off to gather violets.

"Let's be little children once again, Julie," she cried.  "I want a
rest.  It has been nothing but spooning, and nonsense lately with Cyril
and the pretty schoolmistress."

"Papa has been in sad trouble about it lately, Cynthy," said Julia,
thoughtfully.

"Yes, but let's hope it is all over now; I think it is."

"I don't know," said Julia, thoughtfully.

"I think I do," cried Cynthia.  "Papa frightened him.  But how
wonderfully quiet our dear brother Frank is.  I hope he is not hatching
some mischief."

"Don't be uncharitable, Cynthia," said Julia, with a sad smile; "think
the best of your brothers."

"I do try to, Julie, but I'm afraid I'm not very fond of my brothers."

"Cynthia!"

"Well, I'm not, dear.  I feel quite ashamed of them sometimes.  It's
quite shocking the way they are imposing upon Harry, and he takes it all
so good-naturedly for my sake, but he don't like it I'm sure."

"You are making the worst of it, Cynthy."

"No, I'm not, for Harry--there, I won't talk about it; I'm tired of all
the nonsense, spooning and flirting with Harry and that fat-featured--
oh! why is it rude for a young lady to slap such a fellow's face, Julie?
If you marry that Perry-Morton I'll never speak to you again."

"I shall never marry Mr Perry-Morton," said Julia, dreamily.

"No, no; we don't want to marry any one at all," said Cynthia, merrily.
"Come and let's be children in the wood again.  It's heavenly out of
doors, dear.  Come along."

Heavenly it was, as they got out of the fields, and struck out through
the woods, where the soft moss was like a carpet beneath their feet, and
the air was redolent with scents and suggestions of the spring.  For it
was one of those days, of those very few days, that come early in the
year, when the senses seem to be appealed to, and, in a delicious calm,
the worries and cares of life roll away, and the spirit seems even
troubled with the sweet sense of joy.

The sisters had wandered far, and filled their baskets, but still there
were always fresh blossoms to pluck, odorous violets or primroses, and
delicate scraps of moss or early leaf.

Cynthia was a couple of score yards away from her sister, in the budding
copse, trilling a merry song, as if in answer to the birds, and Julia,
with a bright, happy flush upon her face, was still eagerly piling up
fresh sweets, when a clump of primroses, fairer than any she had yet
gathered, drew her a few yards further amongst the hazel stems.

She was in the act of stooping down to pick them when her flushed face
became like marble, her lips parted, her eyes dilated, and she stopped--
leaning forward--motionless--fascinated by what she saw.

And that was the face of Jock Morrison, as he lay amongst the leaves and
flowers, prone upon his chest, his arms folded before him, his chin
resting upon them, and his eyes literally seizing hers, not a yard away.

He did not speak or move, only crouched there, staring at her as if he
were some philosopher trying the effect of the stronger eye upon the
weaker.  Neither did Julia speak, but stood there bending down, her eyes
fixed, her body motionless, while you might have counted twenty.

"Julie!  Where are you?  Coo-ee!"  Cynthia's bright young voice broke
the spell, and Julia's eyes closed as she backed slowly away for a few
yards before she dare turn and run towards her sister.

"Oh, there you are, Julie.  If I did not think you were in the other
direction!  Why, what's the matter?  Are you ill?"

"No, no," said Julia, hastily; "I think I am hot; it is tiring out here.
Let us go home; I--I want to get back."

"Why, Julie, you don't come out enough; you are done up directly.
There, come along out into the fields, there's more fresh air there.  I
say, did I tell you that we are to go to town next week?"

"No," said Julia, who shivered at every sound in the copse, and glanced
from side to side, as if she expected to be seized at any moment.

"But we are, and I don't know but what I long to be up in London to get
away from Harry Artingale."

"To get away?" said Julia, making an effort to be composed, and
wondering why she had not told her sister what she had seen.

"Yes, I want to get away; for of course," she added, archly, "he will
have to stay down here."

She spoke loudly, and all that had been said and left unsaid appealed
very strongly to the senses of the great fellow in the copse.

Julia need not have felt afraid that he was about to rise up and seize
her; he remained perfectly still for a few moments, and then rolled over
upon his back, laughing heartily, but in a perfectly silent manner,
before having a struggle with himself to drag a short pipe and a
tobacco-pouch out of his pocket.

Filling his pipe quietly, he struck a match and lit it, placed his hands
beneath his head, and stared straight up through the tender green leaves
at the bare sky, while a robin came and perched upon a branch close by,
and kept watching the ruffian with his great round eyes.

"This is jolly," he said, in a bass growl; "better than having places of
your own, and being obliged to work."

Then he smoked for a few minutes before musing once more aloud.

"Women arn't much account," he said, oracularly; "and the younger and
prettier they are, the worse they are."

There was another interval of smoking.

"What a deal a fellow sees by just doing nothing but hang around.
Franky Mallow, eh?  Ah, he cuts me now.  If I was John Berry, farmer,
I'd cut him, that's what I'd do."

Another interval of smoking.

"Why don't young Serrol," (so he pronounced it) "go after the
schoolmissus now, I wonder?  Tired, I spose."

Another smoking interval.

"Hah, if it's because he prefers going down to the ford--"

He stopped short.

"I tell you what it is; if I thought--"

Another pause, during which Jock Morrison made his short pipe still
shorter by biting off a piece of the stem and spitting it out.

"Shall I tell Tom--shan't I tell Tom?  Tom don't like me, and tells me
to keep myself to myself.  He'd about smash him, that's what Tom would
do, if he knowed, and then he'd be miserable for ever and ever, amen, as
owd Sammy Warmoth used to say."

Another smoking fit.

"She's a good little lass, and the trouble she was in about her bairn
was terrible."

More smoking, and the robin looking wondering on.

"Polly don't like me, but she's a kind-hearted little lass, and has give
me many a hunk of bread and meat unknown to Tom, and I never see but
that she was as square as square."

Another long smoke.

"Master Serrol, eh?  Why, of course!  She must ha' knowed him when she
lived at parson's.  I'll tell Tom."

More smoking, and the pipe of tobacco burned out.

"No, I won't tell Tom," said the big fellow.  "If I did he wouldn't
believe me, and it would only make him and Polly miserable too, and I
don't want to do that.  I tell you what--if I see Master Serrol go down
there again when Tom's out of the way I'll pretty well break his neck."

He uttered a low chuckling laugh as he lay prone there, catching sight
now of the robin, and chirruping to it as it watched him from its perch.

"Pretty Dick!" he said.  "Going up to London, are they?  All right!
Anywheres'll do for me, parson.  I wonder whether Serrol and Frank'll go
too."

Jock Morrison did not pretty well break Cyril's neck, for a very few
days after Mr Paulby had the full management of Lawford Church again,
the family at the rectory being once more in town.

"It is worse for the boys," said the Rector, "but it will keep Cyril
away from her.  I must get him something to do."



PART ONE, CHAPTER TWENTY NINE.

MR AND THE MISSES PERRY-MORTON "AT HOME."

It was a lovely and sculpturesque attitude, that which was taken up by
the "stained-glass virgins," as James Magnus called them, on the night
of their first "at home" of the season, for at every opportunity, when
not otherwise engaged, they joined their hands together, raised them
over their left or right shoulder, as the case may be, and then drooped
a head against them till an ear just touched the finger-tips, so that
they seemed to be saying their prayers all on one side and writhing over
the _Amens_.

Claudine and Faustine Perry-Morton were thorough types of the ladies who
have of late taught society how to indulge in the reverent worship of
the human form.  Their hair was too fearful and wonderful to be
described.  The nearest approach possible is to compare it to the gum
mop of some Papuan belle, who had been chivied during her toilet in the
eucalyptus shade, and, consequently, had only managed to get the front
part done.

Since dress is made so great a feature in a modern lady's life, no
excuse is surely needed for saying a few words regarding the costume of
these gifted sisters.  A desire is felt to do justice to those robes,
but to give a perfect idea would be extremely difficult.

As it happened, the colour was but one, and it was that of the familiar
household tap-rooted vegetable botanically named _daucus_, but hight the
carrot, when seen reposing in sweetness in a dish.

These dresses were, of course, ingeniously contrived to keep on the
persons they enfolded, but their aspect was as if a length of many yards
of this ruddy orange saffron material had been taken, and one end
fastened to an ivory shoulder with a tin-tack of enormous size, the
other end being held under the foot of some one far away.
Parenthetically, let it be remembered that this is all surmise, as no
doubt the costumes were built by one of the highest authorities in
fashionable garb.  But to resume.

The ends of the dress being thus secured upon the shoulder and beneath a
distant foot, it seemed that the lady must then have commenced a slow
movement, revolving gently and winding herself in the web till it formed
a regular--or rather, irregular--spiral bandage from shoulder to ankle,
leaving the long thin arms bare, and, after being secured at the feet,
trailing far behind and spreading out like a fan.

Perry-Morton walked to the fireplace, laid his head sideways against a
large blue plate, which gave him the appearance of a well-fed saint with
an azure halo, closed his eyes like a vicious critic on varnishing day,
and uttered a low sigh full of rapture, after which he seemed to bless
his sisters for giving him a sensation that was perfectly new.

Of the decorations of that suite of rooms it is needless to speak.
Every visitor said they were perfect.  Even James Magnus told Lord
Artingale they were not half bad, "only there's too much suggestion of
the kitchen-dresser with the dinner-plates ranged all a-row."

Harry Artingale thought it a polished pantechnicon-inferno till the
Mallows were announced, and then it seemed transformed into a paradise
of delight, where every one walked on air, and the sweet essence of
pretty little Cynthia pervaded all.

For Mr Perry-Morton and the Misses Perry-Morton were "at home," and the
big butler was pretty well occupied in announcing the names called to
him by the footman, who stood down among the azaleas with which the hall
was half filled, ready to open the door and rearrange the roll of
horsehair matting which would keep getting out of place.

Lord Artingale and his artist friend arrived early, Magnus to be
button-holed and taken aside to see his picture hung with a gaslight and
reflector before it, to show it to the best advantage; and yet he was
not grateful, for when he returned to Harry Artingale he growled, as the
latter, who was very light-hearted and happy, said, "like a sore tom"--
cat, of course, understood.

Perry-Morton was standing with his blue china halo behind his head, and
with a fleshly poetic look in his eye; and his sisters were each posed
before a big Benares brown dish, etherealising her lambent curls and
pallid face into virgin and martyr beauty, when the butler announced the
Mallows, the girls looking very natural and charming, and Frank and
Cyril creating quite a sensation with their sunburnt, swarthy faces and
rugged bearing.

"Oh, Claudine," whispered Faustine, "look at Julia," and her sister
uttered a tragic.  "Ah!" as she advanced with her brother to receive the
new arrivals.

Certainly Julia looked deadly pale, for as she descended from the
carriage she had caught sight of a great burly fellow bearing a lantern,
which he ostentatiously held low, so that her little pale blue satin
rosetted shoes should not go astray from the carpeted path, and the
sight of his dark eyes had sent the blood rushing to her heart.  But
this pallor rather added to than took from her beauty, as, simply
dressed in the palest of pale blue satin, and her throat and arms
wreathed with lustrous pearls, she seemed to stand alone amidst the
throng of strangely grotesque costumes by which she was surrounded.

The sisters changed their key instanter upon seeing the effect produced
upon their brother, whose eyes half closed once more as he greeted his
guests.  In fact, he treated the Rector with such deference, that for a
moment it seemed as if he were going to sink upon his knees, and in true
patriarchal style ask for his blessing.

But he did not, neither did he raise Julia's hand to his lips.  He
merely beamed upon her rapturously, led her to a seat after the
congratulations of his sisters had had due course, and then, as a kind
of hum went through the rooms, proceeded to hover over his choice.

"A melody in heaven's own azure," whispered Perry-Morton.  "Julia, your
costume is perfection."

The pallor on poor Julia's cheeks had been giving place to a vivid
blush, but her host's words and manner once more drove the blood to her
heart, and she sank back upon the lounge, glad to use her fan, for she
thoroughly realised that she was looked upon by all present as the
future mistress of the place.

"Magnus, my dear boy," whispered Artingale, "have you any charity in
your nature?"

"Heaps.  Why?"

"Because I want you to go and cut that fellow out.  Julia really is a
nice girl."

"Don't be a fool," was the answer, given with such intensity that
Artingale was startled.

"Fool, be hanged!  I'm in earnest.  Wait a bit, and we'll go up to her
together, and then I'll be off and leave you.  You'd stand no end of a
chance, for Cynthia likes you ever so."

"Don't be an ass, Harry," said Magnus, "you seem to be happy enough.
Let the poor little body be."

"Well, I don't want to quarrel," said Artingale, "but if ever a fellow
was a fool or an ass I should think it would be when he turned up his
nose at the chance of winning a little woman who has not been spoiled by
the world."

"Oh, she's nice enough," said Magnus, gruffly.  "Are those two brothers
going to marry those stained-glass virgins?" he continued, as Cyril
joined Frank, who was bending impressively towards Faustine.

"I wish to heaven they would," said Artingale, earnestly.  "Hang the
brothers!  What a thing it is that pretty girls are obliged to have
brothers!  At last!--I'm off.  There's the telegram."

The message came along a beam of light, and that little bright beam
stretched from Cynthia Mallow's eye to that of the speaker; and the
message was,--

"_You dear stupid old goose, why don't you come_?"

For Artingale had held rather aloof until the fair young hostesses had
withdrawn.

"Why didn't you come before, sir?" said the lady, looking very severely
at her swain.

"I was afraid," he said.

"What, of me, sir?"

"No, no," he whispered, "I've been longing to get near you, but I dared
not.  Oh, my little darling, how beautiful you look to-night."

"For shame, Harry; now look here, sir; I will not permit you to be so
familiar.  The idea of addressing me in such a strain."

"There," he sighed, "now you are getting on stilts again, and we were so
happy down at Lawford."

"Yes, but that's country, and this is town.  We are in society now, sir,
and we must be very proper."

"There, my beautiful little tyrant," he whispered, "I am your slave.  I
won't rebel; only reward me sometimes for my patience with a kindly
look."

"Well, if you are very good, perhaps I will," said Cynthia.  "But you
did not tell me, Harry, why you were afraid.  Ah, that's right, that
tall thin ghost is going to sing, so we can talk."

In effect, a very cadaverous-looking lady, with an exceedingly startled
air, was led by Mr Perry-Morton to the piano, and after he had screwed
his eyes up, glanced round the room, and held up a white finger to
command silence, the thin lady, who evidently purposely lived upon an
unwholesome regimen, to keep herself graceful, fixed her eyes upon one
particular piece of blue china near the corner of the room, and began to
sing.

"Now, sir," whispered Cynthia, "you must not speak loud.  Tell me
quietly."

"May I sit down?"

"If that is enough room for you, sir.  Now go on."

Artingale would have thought the edge of a knife room enough, so that he
could be near Cynthia, so he sat down in a very uncomfortable position,
and received such a merry, mischievous look that he sighed with content.

"The fact is--oh, murder!"

"Hush, Harry!  What is the matter?"

"Would it look rude if I were to cork my ears with glove-fingers,
Cynthy?"

"Of course, sir!  For shame!  You have no soul for music."

"Not a bit," he whispered; "only when you warble one of those little
ballads of yours, I shut my eyes and wish you were a brook."

"Wish I were a what, you foolish boy?" whispered Cynthia, looking up at
the great _boy_ who towered over her.

"A brook, my darling, to go on for ever," he whispered back so
earnestly, that Cynthia felt a little thrill of pleasure run through
her, and her pretty face became slightly suffused.

"Now you are talking nonsense again," she said.  "Oh.  I do wish that
dreadful romance would end.  Harry, if you speak to me again like that,
I shall send you away.  Now, sir, why were you frightened?  Did I look
so fierce and majestic?"

"No: only more beautiful than ever."

"Harry!"

"Fact.  Well, I'll tell you: Claudine Perry-Morton was by you."

"Well, what of that, sir?"

"And I felt as if I dared not come near in case of an accident."

"An accident, Harry!  What, to the gas?  Oh fie! what a silly old joke;
you mean her hair would set it alight."

"No, I don't; I don't mind red hair.  After yours, it's the prettiest
there is."

"Don't stoop to compliments, sir.  Now tell me why you were afraid of an
accident?"

"Why I feel sure that some time or other she'll come undone.  Look at
her dress.  I wouldn't be there for the world."

"Harry!"

There was a very genuine blush as she looked at him reproachfully; but
her face softened directly as he whispered in such a low, earnest tone
that it thrilled her once more--

"Forgive me, darling, it was too bad, I know; there, we won't talk about
ourselves, I only want to be near you.  Let me take you down to supper."

"Would you like to?"

"Yes."

"Very much?"

"Darling!"

What wonderful emphasis an engaged couple can put into their words.
Evidently that last noun uttered by the young fellow opened out a vista
of future bliss to Cynthia, who answered him with a look which was a
perfect bond in its way, engrossed in parchment, sealed, signed,
witnessed, endorsed, and tied with dark-green silk in proper legal
style.

"I haven't been to dear Julie yet," he said.

"What a shame!  Go at once, sir."

"No, no; don't send me away at present."

"Well, you must go presently, Harry," she said, softly; "I'm so glad you
are fond of Julie."

"Bless her!  I love her very much," he said.  "She's the dearest,
sweetest, sisterly little body I ever met.  I always feel as if I should
like to kiss her when I shake hands, and her pretty little lips seem to
look up to one so naturally.  Cynthy, darling, I often wished I had a
sister, and--and now I'm to have one, am I not?"

"I don't know--perhaps," she said, looking down.

"I told Magnus one day I wished I had a sister for his sake.  Thank
goodness the song's done.  Let's clap our hands, for joy."

They clapped their hands, as did every one else, but of course not for
joy.

"I like Mr Magnus," said Cynthia, thoughtfully.

"He's the best and truest-hearted fellow in the world," cried Artingale,
enthusiastically.

"And if you had had a sister, what then, sir?"

"I should have made old Magnus marry her."

"Indeed, my lord bashaw!  And suppose the lady did not approve?"

"But she would approve.  No really sensible girl would refuse Magnus, if
she came to thoroughly know him."

There was silence here, during which a very-pale gentleman with a very
large aquiline nose, which seemed to be his feature, the rest of his
face merely representing base or pedestal, threw his long black hair
behind his ears, and recited a portion of one of Rosetti's poems.

"Harry," said Cynthia then, "go and see Julie now."

"Must I?"

"Please.  Poor girl, she is so unhappy; I'm in great trouble about her."

"Poor darling!" he replied.

"You know I told you about our being out in the woods collecting
flowers?"

"Yes."

"And how Julia came upon that great fellow lying amongst the moss and
primroses?"

"Yes; I wish I had been there!" and the young man's teeth gave a grit
together.  "But he did not say anything to her?"

"No; only stared in a way that frightened her horribly, and it seemed to
have such an effect upon her when she dragged herself away, that she was
quite ill, and it was hours before I found out what it was."

"Poor child!  But she must not think about it.  She may never see him
again."

"But she keeps seeing him, so she says.  He seems to haunt her.  She saw
him in the park again a few days ago."

"But did she see him, or was it fancy?"

"Oh, no, it was not fancy; I saw him too.  A great big leering fellow."

"Oh, but it must be stopped; your brothers and I must thrash him."

"And I half think she saw, or fancied she saw, him to-night, for she was
so bright and cheerful when we started, and when we came in she seemed
to have turned to stone."

"Well, poor child, she will soon have a manly protector now," he said,
rather bitterly, as he glanced at where Perry-Morton was hovering over
Julia, while the Rector stood by smiling rigid approval.

"Don't talk like that, Harry," said Cynthia, quietly; "you hurt me."

"Forgive me," he whispered, "but it makes me mad to see your people
ready to sell her to that man."

"Papa thinks it right, and for the best.  And it is not selling, Harry,
for papa is rich."

"But surely Julia cannot care for him?"

"She does not say so, but she loathes him, Harry."

"Then why in the name of common sense does she not strike against it, or
fall in love with some trump of a fellow who would stick up for her and
take her part?"

"I wish she would, Harry.  But, there, go to her now.  She is miserable.
Go and stay with her.  Send Mr Magnus to talk to me.  No, take him
with you, and let him chat to her about his pictures.  Here is Mr
Perry-Morton coming to beam on me, Harry."

"Yes."

"Don't you feel jealous?"

"Horribly," he said, with a look that contradicted his word; and getting
up, he went to where James Magnus was talking to a brother artist about
their host's last purchase, an early specimen of Burne Jones, full of
wonderful realistic trees, and a group of figures, who were evidently
all in pain.

"Here," he whispered, catching him by the sleeve, "I want to take you to
a lady."

"No, no--nonsense.  I don't like ladies, Harry."

"Don't be stupid.  I want you to come and chat with Julia Mallow, and
take her down to supper.  Why, what's the matter with you?"

"Nothing, nothing at all.  There--no.  Get some one else."

"Come along, old man.  Cynthia sent me.  And I say, talk about your
pictures to her.  Poor girl, she's miserable.  They are trying to hook
her on to Perry-Morton."

"Why, of course.  People say they are engaged."

"And I say she isn't.  She hates the fellow.  Why, Magnus, old fellow,
why not?"

"Why not what?"

"Oh, nothing.  Come along."  The artist, after a moment's further
hesitation, allowed himself to be led off, and the rest of that evening
passed very pleasantly to Julia, who listened eagerly to the quiet,
grave conversation of Lord Artingale's friend.

Like all evenings, this memorable one came to a close, amidst the
shouting of linkmen, for the carriage of Mr this, and my Lord that, and
the clattering of uneasy horses' feet on the paving fronting the poet's
home.  At last the cry arose--"Mr Mallow's carriage stops the way;" and
the voice of a footman, like that of an archangel of fashion, came from
inside the magnificent hall, where he stood amidst the flowers, with a
deep-voiced "Coming down."

There was a little craning forward of the heads of the two rows of
servants and idlers running from the kerb right up into the great hall,
forming a moving human wall on each side of the striped Edgington canopy
put up for the occasion.  The two policemen mildly suggested something
about keeping back, but the big burly fellow with a lantern stood his
ground, as he had stood it ever since the party had arrived.

The carriage steps were rattled down, the host came delicately tripping
like a fat faun in evening costume, and handed Cynthia in, Lord
Artingale being apparently quite content.  Frank and Cyril were by the
door waiting for a cab, there being some talk of calling at a club.

"Why didn't Artingale bring down Julia?" said Frank, scowling at James
Magnus.  "Perry-Morton ought to have handed her down."

"Oh, it's all right," said Cyril, whose face was flushed with champagne.
"Come along."

The brothers were moving off, but they stayed; for just then, as
Artingale's friend was handing Julia in, softening his voice
involuntarily as he bade her good night, an importunate linkman thrust
himself forward, ostensibly to hold his lantern to make the carriage
steps plainer, and to keep the ladies' dresses from the wheels.

James Magnus saw it, quick as was the act in the semi-darkness, for as
Julia was on the last step a great muscular, hand grasped her soft white
arm.

She turned sharply, and then uttered a cry of dread as she saw a brown
bearded face close to hers.

It was the work almost of a moment; then she sank back in her place in
the carriage; the Rector followed; the steps had been rattled up, the
door closed, the footman shouted "Home," and the horses sprang forward,
hiding from the frightened girl the struggle taking place in the little
crowd, as James Magnus seized the great ruffian by the throat.



PART ONE, CHAPTER THIRTY.

A LITTLE NARRATIVE.

"Really, Cynthy, it is not a pleasant thing to talk to you about."

"I insist upon knowing all, sir.  Please tell me, Harry."

"That first order would have been obeyed, Cynthy; but that last appeal
makes me try to tell you with all my heart."

"Now, Harry, once for all, I won't have it," said the little maiden,
holding up a tiny white warning finger, which, as they were alone in the
drawing-room, Lord Artingale seized and kissed.  "I want you to be
straightforward and sensible when you talk to me, sir, and if you do
really like me, don't pay me silly, sickly compliments."

"I'll never pay you another, Cynthy, as long as I live," he said,
eagerly; and the light-hearted girl burst into a merry fit of laughter.

"Oh, Harry, what a dear, stupid old boy you are.  There, now, that will
do--well, only one more.  Now be serious, and tell me, for really I am
in very, very great trouble."

"But would you like me to tell you all about it?"

"Every word, Harry," said Cynthia, with a quiet, earnest look, as she
laid her little white hand in his.

For, saving an occasional rebuff by teasing, Lord Artingale's love
affairs seemed to be progressing in the most unromantic fashion.
Cynthia had made a very pretty little confession to him; the Rector had
been appealed to, and had become for the moment a little less rigid; and
Mrs Mallow had sighed and then smiled.

"Well, dear.  No: let me hold your hand like that, I can talk so much
better."

"Oh, you foolish boy!"

It was very foolish, no doubt; but Cynthia let her hand rest where it
was.

"Well, it was like this," said Artingale.  "James Magnus saw that great
fellow with the lantern take hold of Julie's arm."

"Then you see now, sir, that it is not fancy."

"Not much fancy about it, certainly," said the young man, grimly,
"unless it's P.R. fancy."

"P.R. fancy, Harry; what's that?"

"Oh, nothing," he replied, hastily.  "It's a term they give to fighting.
Well, Magnus says he felt as if he could have killed the scoundrel."

"That's well," said Cynthia, flushing scarlet, and with her eyes
sparkling; "I like that."

"Do you?"

"Oh, yes," she whispered, nestling up to her companion, and letting him
draw her nearer, till her shiny little head rested against his breast.

"Yes, Harry, I like it--it sounds so brave and manly of him.  Harry,
dear, can't you make James Magnus fall in love with Julie?"

"No."

"You can't!"

"No, Cynthy.  Shall I tell you a secret?"

"I thought there were to be no secrets between us, Harry," said the
maiden, archly.

"Of course not.  Well, little one, I think--no, I'm almost sure--that he
has fallen in love with her already, without any making."

"Oh, Harry, dear, how delightful.  Here, I must go and tell her."

"Not for the world, darling."

"And pray why not, sir?"

"Because, Cynthy," he said, raising her little face so that he could
gaze seriously into her bright eyes, "because, dear, I should feel as if
I had been betraying the confidence of my best friend."

"But I should tell her, not you, Harry."

"Is there any difference?" he said, quietly.  "Isn't it all one now,
Cynthy?"

There was a slight pause, during which Cynthia's eyes drooped beneath
the searching gaze.  Then she raised them, and returned his look with
one so frank and full of loving trust that the young man's heart gave
one great throb, and the silence seemed likely to be lasting.

"Did James Magnus tell you he loved Julie, Harry?"

"No; but I feel sure he does."

"I'm so glad, Harry," said Cynthia, softly; "so very, very glad.  But
now tell me all.  I saw a sort of scuffle, and then we were out of
sight, with poor Julie in a dead faint."

"There isn't much to tell you, Cynthy, only that Magnus seized the
scoundrel by the throat as the carriage dashed off; then there was a
moment's struggle, and the fellow threw him by some clever wrestling
dodge, and he fell with his bare head a most awful crash upon the
kerbstone."

"Oh!"

"That made me feel mad, and I went at the fellow, but he was off like a
shot, dashed down the road through the gateway; and as I ran after him,
followed by a lot of people and two policemen, I saw him cross the road,
go right at the park railings, and he was over in a moment, and right
into the shrubs."

"And did you follow?" said Cynthia, excitedly.

"Didn't I!  But I couldn't get over so quickly as he did, and when I
dropped on the other side I was half hanging by one of the tails of my
coat, for a spike had gone through it."

"Oh, what fun," laughed Cynthia; "how droll you must have looked."

"I dare say I did," he said, good-humouredly; "but it gave the rascal
time to get a good start, and when I was free and ran on with the police
and two more men, the scoundrel had gone goodness knows where."

"And you did not catch him, then?"

"No, he had got clean away, Cynthy, and after we had been hunting for
above an hour we had to give it up."

"Oh, what a pity."

"Yes, wasn't it."

"I don't know, though," said Cynthia, softly; "if you had caught him he
might have hurt you, too, Harry."

"I'll give him leave to," said Artingale, "if I can only manage to make
my mark upon him."

"Oh, Harry, don't look like that; you frighten me."

"Do I?--there; but don't you be alarmed about me, little one, I can take
care of myself, and I don't mean to rest till I've paid that fellow my
debt."

"Paid your debt, Harry?" said Cynthia, with a look of alarm.

"Yes, little one; I owe him something for frightening you, too, down at
Lawford!--if it is the same man," he added.

"Oh, yes, Harry; I saw his face last night quite plainly," cried
Cynthia, excitedly.

"Then he has frightened little sister twice since.  I say, Cynthy, I may
call her little sister now?"

"Of course you may; but go on with what you are saying.  Oh, Harry,
dear," she whispered, "I wish I was as big and brave as you."

"And," he whispered, "I wish that you were always just as you are now,
so sweet and bright and loving."

"Well, sir, go on."

"That's about all," he said, "only that I owe my fine fellow for last
night's affair as well."

"And about Mr Magnus?"

"Well, I went back, of course, to Sunflower Oil soap."

"Went where?" cried Cynthia, in astonishment.  "Oh, I see, you had made
your hands dirty getting over the railings."

"No, no," said Artingale, laughing, "I mean I went back to
Perry-Morton's."

"Oh, what a shame, to call him such a name," said Cynthia, solemnly, but
with her eyes sparkling with delight.

"And there was poor Magnus lying on the sofa in the dining-room, and a
couple of doctors bandaging his head, after which he insisted upon being
taken back to his chambers, and that's about all."

"But you've been to see him this morning, Harry?"

"I sat up with him all night, and he grew quite delirious, and talked a
good deal about Julia."

"Oh!" and a pause.  "And is his hurt very bad, Harry?" said Cynthia,
looking now rather white.  "Will it kill him?"

"Oh, no," said Artingale, "he was a good deal hurt, and lost a lot of
blood, and--oh, what an idiot I am!"

"No, no, Harry.  I'm not so silly.  I'm not going to faint.  Hush,
here's Julia."

For just then the door opened, and, looking very pale and wistful, the
elder sister came into the room--smiling, though, as her eyes lit on the
young couple; and as Artingale jumped up to greet her, there was
something very loving and sisterly in the way in which she gazed in his
face, and let him lead her to the couch upon which they had been
sitting.

Here she inquired very anxiously after Mr Magnus, showing that she knew
a good deal about the previous night's affair; but Artingale noted her
shudder and look of horror when her assailant was mentioned.

"That fellow must be stopped," said the young man, as he went
thoughtfully away.  "Poor girl! she seems thoroughly afraid of him.  Oh,
hang it all, it must--it shall be stopped, or he'll drive the poor child
mad."



PART ONE, CHAPTER THIRTY ONE.

IN THE DEN.

You had to pass through James Magnus's studio to get to his
sitting-room, and through the latter to get to his bed-room, and the
task was not an easy one.  Lord Artingale knew his way by heart, but a
stranger would have been puzzled from the moment he entered the lobby or
hall.  For the place resembled a Wardour-street old curiosity shop more
than the abode of a well-known artist.  A woman with the bump of order
thoroughly developed would, if she had been placed in charge, have
immediately invested in a dozen dusters, a turk's-head, and a feather
brush, and gone to the attack, but only to sink down in utter despair.

Chaos seemed to have come back again at the abode of James Magnus, and
modern nature and art to have joined hands to cover the aforesaid chaos
with dust.  For there was dust everywhere; thick, black, sooty dust of
that peculiar kind that affects Fitzroy-square.  It was never removed,
save when a picture, chair, or "property" was taken from one part of the
place to another, and the dust thus set floating, floated and settled
upon something else.  Certainly there was some kind of order in the
sitting and bed-room, where the artists man attended, but it was mostly
disorder.

"I hate having my things moved," said Magnus.  "When I set to work, I
like to be able to begin at once, and not have to hunt for everything I
want."

"I think the place is just perfect," said Harry Artingale.  "One can get
plenty of tidiness everywhere else, Jemmy, and I like coming to the den
to be a beast."

So to make matters more comfortable Artingale, at first out of fun,
later on from habit, used to carefully place all his cigar ashes and
ends wherever he could find a ledge--on the chimney-pieces, on the tops
of upturned canvases, on the inner parts of their frames, and balance
soda-water and beer or hock corks upon the properties.

You entered the lobby or hall to be confronted by dusty busts and casts,
and you went thence into the studio to be confronted by more dusty busts
and casts.  There were life-sized plaster figures of plenty of
well-known antiques mixed up with a heterogeneous collection of artistic
odds and ends.  There were canvases new and old, with charcoal drawings,
sketches, and half-finished paintings, costumes of all kinds, savage
weapons, arms and armour, easels from the simplest to the most modern
with its screws, and racks and reflectors, and tubes for gas.  Rich
pieces of carpet partially covered the floor.  On one side stood a large
raised dais for sitters, and for non-sitters who wished to sit down
there were quaint old carven chairs.

The value of the contents of that studio must have been great, for James
Magnus earned a great deal of money, and never grudged spending it upon
what he called necessaries for his art.  Hence it was that handsome
vases and specimens of bronze and brass work were plentiful, but they
were stuck anywhere, and as often as not held empty or full paint tubes,
or served as supports to great palettes covered with pigments of every
hue.

The sitting-room was almost a repetition of the studio, but it was
thickly carpeted, and contained more furniture, with easy-chairs, a
dining-table of massive oak, and had a free and easy, chaotic comfort
about it that would make a bachelor feel quite at home.

The walls bore plenty of pictures, mostly from the brushes of brother
artists, and these, with the great full folios, formed a most valuable
collection.

It was here that Harry Artingale had taken most pains, as a very old
friend and constant companion, to embellish the room with his
cigar-ends.  Here, too, he had at odd times shown his own love and
reverence for art by improving some of the antique casts with whiskers
and moustachios.  There was a cast of Venus quite life-size, which,
evidently for decorous reasons, he had dressed in a seventeenth-century
brocade silk dress, from which she looked naively at a lay figure in
Spanish costume and mantilla; while close by there was an Apollo
Belvedere, half garbed in sixteenth-century armour, standing behind a
large pair of jack boots that could not be put on.

There were, in fact, a hundred playful little relics of Lord Artingale's
diversions when in idle mood; one of the latest being the boring of a
hole in a plaster Clytie's lips, for the insertion of a cigar, and
another the securing of a long clay pipe and a beer bock in the hands of
a Diana, from which a bow and arrow had been removed.

"You see, he is sech a gent for his larks," said Burgess, a nobly
bearded, herculean, ungrammatical being, who looked big and bold enough
to attack a Nemsean lion, or stride to an encounter in a Roman
amphitheatre, but who had about as much spirit as a mouse.

Burgess was Magnus's factotum, valet and houseman; and an excellent
cook.  He was not clever at cleaning, but the artist rather liked that,
especially as he could admirably make a bed, and in addition was one of
the noblest-looking and most patient models in London.

But now Burgess was developing a fresh facet in his many-sided
character, namely that of nurse; and he had shown a sleeplessness and
watchful care that were beyond praise.

"How is he, my lord?" he said, as he opened the door to Artingale, some
months after the occurrences in the last two chapters.

"Well, my lord--"

"Now look here, Burgess; haven't I told you a dozen times over to say
`sir' to me when I'm here?"

"Yes, sir, but these are serious times, and I only meant it out of
respect."

"I know--of course, Burgess; but isn't he better?"

"He says he is, sir; and the doctor--he's only just this minute gone,
sir."

"Yes, I know.  I saw his brougham."

"The doctor says he's better, sir, as he has for months; but he do keep
so low, and," continued the man in a despairing tone, "it ain't no
matter what I cook or make up, or try to tempt him with, he don't seem
to pick a bit."

"Poor fellow!" muttered Artingale, handing his overcoat and hat to the
man.

"I did think this morning that he was coming round, sir, for he has had
his colours and a canvas on the bed, and I had to prop him up.  I don't
know, sir, I--I--"

The great Hercules of a fellow's voice changed, and he turned aside to
hide the weak tears that gathered in his eyes, and began to trickle
slowly down his cheeks, though they had not far to go before they were
able to hide themselves in his beard.

"Oh, come, come, Burgess," cried Artingale, who felt touched at this
display of affection on the part of servant towards master, "it isn't so
bad as that."

The man hastily threw the light overcoat upon a chair, and turned
sharply round to catch the visitors arm, and gaze earnestly in his eyes.

"Do you--do you really think, sir, that poor master will get well?"

"Yes, yes, of course I do, Burgess.  I feel sure of it, my dear fellow.
There, shake hands, Burgess.  'Pon my soul I like you, I do indeed."

"And him a real true lord!" thought Burgess, as he gingerly held out a
great hand, which the other shook.

"Get well? of course he will, if it's only to help me break that
scoundrel's neck,--a blackguard!"

"I only wish I had my will of him, sir," cried Burgess, grinding his
teeth; "I'd serve him out."

"Would you?" said Artingale, smiling.  "What would you do?"

"I'd make him stand for the old man in the Laocoon sixteen hours a day
for stoodents.  He wouldn't want anything worse.  But please go in
gently, sir, and don't wake master if he's asleep."

"All right," was the reply; and the young man made his way carefully
amongst the artistic lumber, and through the studio into the
dining-room, at one corner of which was the artist's chamber.

Artingale sighed as he went silently across the thick carpet, for that
room was full of memories of numberless merry evenings, and as he paused
for a moment beside his friend's empty chair, a dull sense of pain
oppressed him, and he found himself wondering whether he was not taking
too sanguine a view of his old companion's state.

"Poor old chap!" he said.  "How nice it would be if that could come off.
Cynthy says it shall, and I don't see why it shouldn't.  Let's see; I'm
to give him Cynthy's love and this rosebud.  She said he would be sure
to find out that it was one that Julie had worn.  I wonder whether old
Mag does care for her; he's such a close old oyster, and never did make
up to women.  Well, for the matter of that, no more did I till I met
Cynthia--not much."

He went gently on to the door in the corner, and listened, but all was
very still, and he paused for a few minutes in a state of hesitation,
for which he could not account, and with one hand raised to open the
door.

"He must be asleep," he said to himself.

"Poor old boy, only to think of it.  One moment bright and happy and
full of life, and the next moment a helpless mass, with hardly the
strength to move.  Well, poor fellow, Cynthy is right.  If he does care
for Julie he has just gone the way to find a tender spot in her heart."

He took hold of the handle and turned it, to find that Burgess had been
so busy with a feather and the salad oil flask, that the door yielded
without a sound, and he glided into the darkened room.

It was handsomely furnished, but its occupant's profession could be seen
at every turn, for the rich litter of the studio that had overflowed
into the dining-room, had come in here, and covered walls and filled
corners with artistic trifles.

The room had been built for a smaller studio, and was lit from the roof,
blinds being contrived so as to draw like a Roman _velum_ across the
glass.

These were partly undrawn now, giving a weird effect to the half-dark
room, across whose gloom a boldly-defined broad bar of light, full of
tiny dancing motes, shone down upon the artist's bed.

The door was by the head of the couch, and the figure of its occupant
was hidden by the hangings, as well as by a carefully-arranged screen
covered with fantastic Japanese designs, but Artingale felt a strange
thrill run through him as he caught sight of the lower portion of the
bed, and took a couple of steps rapidly forward, but only to stop short
the next moment, as if paralysed by what he saw.



PART ONE, CHAPTER THIRTY TWO.

MAGNUS MAKES CONFESSION.

Not many moments before, Artingale had wonderingly asked himself whether
Magnus cared for her whom he regarded quite as a sister, and about whose
state he was troubled in no small degree.  The question was answered now
without room for a doubt.

Poor fellow!  It had been a terrible cut he had received upon his head
in the fall that night.  There had been concussion of the brain, with
fever and delirium, and for a long time his state had been very serious.
Then came some slight amendment, but only to be followed, for months,
by a depression which seemed to master the strong man's spirits; and
this, too, in spite of the efforts of the medical men, constant nursing,
and the companionship of Artingale, given to such an extent that Cynthia
had pouted, and then thrown her arms round "dear Harry's" neck, and told
him she loved him ten thousand times better for his devotion to his
friend.

Artingale had been with Magnus the night before, but had been kept away
that morning, and it was now close upon five o'clock when he stood as it
were petrified at the sight which met his eyes.

As has been said, the greater portion of the chamber was in a state of
semi-obscurity; but a broad band of light fell direct from the skylight
upon the bed where James Magnus had been propped up with pillows before
a dwarf easel and canvas, upon which, rapidly dashed in by his masterly
hand, showing in every line the inspiration that had been thrown upon
the canvas by the artist's mind, was the work upon which he had been
engaged.

Had been engaged, for, palette in one hand, brush in the other, he had
sunk back, his pallid face, with the hair cut closely now, giving him in
the gloom wherein he lay the aspect of some portrait by Rembrandt or
Velasquez, the stern lines cut by sickness softened by a contented
smile.

He must have fallen back as he was raising his hand to continue his
work, for the colour-charged brush in his thin white fingers had fallen
upon the white sheet, making a broad smear, and as he gazed Artingale
thought that he was dead.

It was but for an instant though, for the loose open collar of the shirt
was rising and falling gently at each respiration, and even as the young
man went over towards the bed a low sigh escaped from the invalid's
lips.

Satisfied upon that point, Artingale's eyes were turned upon the canvas
illumined by the soft white light; and for the moment, simple and
unfinished as the portrait was, he could almost have fancied that it was
Julia's self gazing up at him with a sweet pensive smile upon her lips,
but with the strange nameless horror in her appealing eyes.

It was wonderful.  He had often watched with interest the way in which
some face would grow up beneath the pencil of his friend, but in this
case there was the effort of genius at its best, and he stood there
gazing in rapt admiration at the portrait.

His question was answered, for no one but a man who loved could so
perfectly have reproduced those features from memory.

"I wish Cynthia could see it," he thought; and he took another step
forward.

That broke the sick man's slumber, for he started into wakefulness, and
made a snatch at the canvas, to hide it from his friend, two red spots
burning in his pallid cheeks, and a look of anger flashing from his
sunken eyes; but Artingale laid a hand upon his arm.

"Don't hide it, old fellow," he said.  "Why should you?"

Magnus looked at him as if in dread and shame.

"Why should you mind?" continued Artingale.  "I've never been ashamed to
confess to you.  But how wonderfully like."

Magnus still gazed at him in a troubled way, but he did not speak, and
the two men remained looking into each other's eyes as Artingale seated
himself upon the edge of the bed.

"Mag, old fellow," said Artingale at last, "I'm very, very glad."

"Why should you be?" said the other, in a low, weak voice.  "It is only
an empty dream."

"No, no.  Nonsense, man.  Why, come, with that idea in your brain you
ought to be up and doing."

"What!" said Magnus, bitterly; "trying to make her life unhappy by my
mad love?"

"Mad love!  Is it mad to love a beautiful woman with all your heart, as
I'm sure you do, with that confession before my eyes?"

"Yes, when she is engaged to be married to another."

"But that would never be if she knew of your love."

"Harry, my dear boy," said the artist sadly, "it comes very easy to you
to make sketches or build castles in the air.  You love little Cynthia,
and your love is returned."

"Yes; of course."

"And you both think how pleasant it would be for the sister of both to
become the wife of the friend."

"Yes.  Well, where's the madness?"

Magnus shook his head sadly.

"Why should I tell you?" he said.  "I have studied nature too long not
to know something of women.  Do you think I could see and converse
with--with--her without knowing something of her heart?"

"Her heart is untouched.  Of that I am sure," cried Artingale.

"I don't know that," said Magnus, sadly; "but this I do know--that no
word I could utter, no look I could give, would ever make it throb."

"Nonsense, man," said Artingale, merrily.  "Why, Mag, where's your
courage?  Up, lad, and try.  Don't lie there and let that piece of
imitation human being carry her off."

Magnus, who was very weak, lay back thinking.

"Why," continued Artingale, "you are bound to succeed.  What could be
better?  She was insulted, and you seized the scoundrel who insulted
her, and became seriously injured in her service.  Nothing could be more
fortunate."

"Have you found out anything more about that fellow?" said Magnus, at
last.

"No: nothing; and the police have given it up.  I want you to get well
and help me."

"Nothing more has been seen of him, then?"

"Indeed but there has," said Artingale; "he has turned up no less than
three times by the carriage when the girls have been out, and poor Julia
has been frightened almost into hysterics.  Come, you must get well,
Mag, for if ever poor girl wanted a stout protector, it is Julia
Mallow."

"Tell me about her engagement."

"What for?  To make you worse?"

"It will not make me worse, Harry.  Tell me.  She is engaged to
Perry-Morton, is she not?"

"Hang him!  Well, I suppose there is something of the kind.  My
respected papa-in-law-to-be seems to have run mad over the fellow, and
suffers himself to be regularly led by the nose.  But it can't last;
it's impossible.  No sane man could go on long without finding out what
an ass the fellow is, with his vain conceit and pretensions to art and
poetry.  It is all the Rector's doing, and he is everything; poor Mrs
Mallow, as you know, never leaves her couch."

"You said the other day that they were going back into the country."

"Yes, and I shall be obliged to go too."

Magnus smiled.

"Well, yes, of course," said Artingale, quickly, "I want to be near
Cynthy.  There, I'm not ashamed; I am very fond of the little girl.  I
must be, or I should never stand those brothers of hers."

"Anything fresh about them?" said Magnus, who seemed deeply interested
in the conversation.

"Fresh?  Yes--no--only the old game.  Being so near down there, my
people hear everything at Gatley, and though I don't encourage tattling,
I can't help hearing a lot about my beautiful brothers-in-law, and yours
too if you like."

"Don't be foolish.  Go on."

"Well, 'pon my soul, Mag, they're a pair of scamps, and once I've got my
little Cynthy, hang me if I don't cut them.  They haven't the decency to
wait till I am their brother, but are always borrowing money.  Sort of
blackmail for letting me court their sister," he added, bitterly.  "'Pon
my word, Mag, it would be a charity to get Julia away as well."

"It is a great pity," said Magnus, thoughtfully.  "What an anxiety to
the poor sick mother!"

"Who is quite an angel of goodness in her way, Mag, only too ready to
look over those two fellows' faults.  Bah!  I haven't patience with
them."

"Why does not the Rector get them away?"

"Get them away?  Well, he has, over and over again, but they always come
back.  The townspeople call them _The Bad Shilling_ and _The Boomerang_
on that account.  The Rector's a good old fellow, only obstinate and
weak, and with too big an idea of his sacred prerogative, which the
folks down there won't stand.  Here, get well, Mag, and come down and
help me rout the enemy."

"I wish I could," sighed Magnus.  "Only wants will, my lad.  If you are
using my billiard-table and horses it will keep those fellows off, but
mind they don't rook you."

"I thought you told me that Frank had made a lot of money at the gold
fields?"

"So he gives it out, but I don't believe it.  If he had he wouldn't be
borrowing of me and getting Perry-Morton to do bills for him."

"It seems strange."

"Strange! yes.  I believe it's all gammon.  Hang that fellow, I don't
like him at all.  Of course this is all in confidence, Mag."  Magnus
looked up at him with a smile.  "My people tell me that he is always
going over to Lewby, close by my place.  It's one of the farms that came
to me.  Nice jolly farmer fellow there.  Bluff chap, John Berry, with a
pretty little wife fifteen years younger; and it seems there was
something on between the lady and Master Frank before he went to the
antipodes."

"That's bad," said Magnus, frowning.

"Damn bad," said Artingale; "but I try to make it smooth by thinking he
is interceding for his brother."

"Interceding for his brother?  What do you mean?"

"Well, you see, Mrs Berry was Rue Portlock, and Cyril has been paying
attentions to her sister Sage."

"Rue?  Sage?"

"Yes; rum idea.  Two such pretty girls.  I call 'em the sweet herbs.
Quaint idea of their father."

"And Cyril is paying attentions to one of them?"

"Yes; little Sage.  She is the Lawford schoolmistress, and engaged to
some one else."

"Humph!  Better than paying attentions to a married lady, as his brother
does."

"Oh, bless him, he is not perfect.  Master Cyril has an affair on at the
ford just outside Lawford.  There is a pretty wheelwright's wife--no,
hang it, I mean the pretty wife of a wheelwright there.  She used to be
Julia's and Cynthia's maid, you know, and I hear that Master Cyril has
been seen hanging about."

"They seem to be a nice pair," said Magnus, gruffly.

"Beauties," said Artingale, sharply.  "Hang 'em, they shall have it
warmly when once I have got Cynthia away.  Of course I have to swallow
it all now.  There, you see how badly you're wanted.  It's an unhappy
family, and you would be doing a charitable act in giving Julia a good
husband."

"Let her marry Perry-Morton," said Magnus, changing his position with a
weary sigh.

"Bah! you need not mind that, my dear boy.  I feel certain that some
fine morning the Rector will prick Perry-Morton and find out what a bag
of wind he is.  Besides, see what allies you have--Cynthia, your humble
servant, and the lady's heart."

Magnus shook his head sadly.

"But I say you have, and that it is waiting to beat to any tune you like
to teach.  Come, the will has no end to do with the body.  Just swear
you will get well and come and help me put those big brothers in order,
and thrash the big rascal who--No, I say though, Magnus, 'pon my word, I
think you ought to bless that fellow, for he will frighten poor little
Julie right into your arms."

Whether it was his friend's encouraging words, and that hopes were
raised in the artist's breast, or whether it was simply the fact that he
was already mending fast, at all events James Magnus rapidly got better
now, and at the end of another two months he was about once more, though
still weak from his injury, and likely to be for months.



PART ONE, CHAPTER THIRTY THREE.

THE RECTOR GIVES WAY.

Cyril Mallow was right.  He had three women to fight upon his side, and
he was not long in bringing their power to bear.  Petted, spoiled son as
he was, literally idolised by the patient invalid, to whom his presence
formed the greater part of the sunshine of her life, he was not long in
winning her to his side.

"It is no light fancy, dear," he said tenderly, as he sat beside her
couch.  "She is to me the woman who will bless my life as you have
blessed my father's."

The sick woman shook her head mournfully.

"I repeat my words," he said: "as you have blessed my father's life.
Well, I have been restless and foolish, perhaps, but I am sobered down
now, and I mean to marry.  I cannot help it, mamma, and I am quite
prepared to have plenty of opposition to my proposal, and to be told
that I am marrying beneath me; all the same, I mean to marry Sage
Portlock, and I ask you to help me."

Mrs Mallow tried persuasion, pointed out how directly this would be in
opposition to his father's wishes, and how the Churchwarden had set his
face against it; but all she said only seemed to strengthen her son's
desire, and the natural consequence was that very soon Mrs Mallow began
to talk earnestly to the Rector, but for quite a month without any other
effect than angering him more against his son, whom he accused of
fighting against his sisters' prospects.

But when the father began to find that with patient pertinacity the son
was keeping up his pursuit of Sage, the words of his wife began to have
more effect, and one day, during a visit to the school, the old
gentleman found himself speaking to Sage with greater deference, and
thoughtfully musing over the possibility of her becoming his sons wife.

"It is terrible though," he mused; "just as his sisters are about to
make brilliant matches.  It is like degrading them."

That night, however, the Rector heard something about Cyril having been
seen a great deal down by the ford lately, and quick to take alarm,
warned as he had been by earlier escapades, he began to think more
seriously, and went down to the school a great deal more.

"Better that than disgrace," he said; "a fresh scandal would almost kill
her, poor sweet.  Ah, me! she has much to bear."

He sighed weakly and went to the school again, setting Sage Portlock in
a flutter by his quiet paternal ways, and he came away at last avowing
that if the object of his son's affections had been the daughter of a
brother clergyman, he would have been delighted to find in her the child
his son should bring to him to take a place within his heart.

Then he began thinking about Lord Artingale and Mr Perry-Morton, and he
grew angry; but again he was obliged to say to himself, It would settle
Cyril perhaps.  Better that than a fresh scandal.

He tried to find failings in Sage--seeing in her conduct cause of
offence--but without avail, for she gave him no hold whatever, and he
went away thinking of her deeply, and wondering what was to be the end.

Cyril Mallow smiled as he saw that he was right, and that it was only a
matter of time.  He liked Sage Portlock, and he told himself that he
loved her passionately, and that without her he should die, and then he
entered into pecuniary calculations.

"The old man must leave her at least half of what he has, and every one
in Lawford says he is well off, so that it will be a pleasant little bit
of revenge to spend the old hunks's money for the way in which he abused
me.  Then there is poor mamma's money.  That must come to me, so that we
shall be pretty well off.  Bah! it will all come right in time.  But I
hope Frank is not playing the fool about little Rue."

After the stern encounter with the Churchwarden, and the angry words
with his father, Cyril thought it prudent to keep away from Kilby Farm,
and ceased to watch for Sage as she was going to or leaving school; but
he rearranged his seat in the rectory pew, so that he could see her
where she sat in church, became more regular than ever in his
attendance, and sat through his father's sermons gazing pensively at the
young schoolmistress.

People said he was growing pale and thin, which was a fact easily
explicable, for he smoked from morning to night, and the healthy brown
of the last sea voyage was fading away consequent upon his indoor life.

"If I kick up a row I shall do no good," he argued, "so I may as well
wait.  I could persuade her to run away with me, but then we should be
confoundedly short of money till the old folks forgave us, and I'm sick
of that sort of thing.  No, I think the injured dodge is best, for it
pays all round."

He was quite right; and while he shut himself up with his brother in the
room devoted to their personal use, read _Bell's Life in London_, and
sent communications to one or two betting men in town whenever he had
the necessary funds at his disposal, everything was working steadily to
the end he sought to gain.

His quiet acceptance, as it seemed to the Rector and Portlock, of the
commands which he had received, gave him, in the eyes of the other
interested parties, an injured, martyrlike air, and, though she did not
meet him now, Sage's thoughts were none the less busy about him.  His
every word had impressed her deeply, and day by day, in spite of her
efforts to be true to her promise, she felt that she was falling more
and more away.

This was plainly shown in her letters to Luke Ross, to whom she wrote
weekly, hearing from him regularly in return.  But he noted the gradual
change in her communications.  They grew shorter by degrees; less full
of chatty little paragraphs about herself and her daily life.  Still she
did not fail to send to him once.  It had become a habit--a duty--and
while she did this she told herself that she was making a brave fight
against her weak heart, and hiding the truth from Luke, little thinking
that her notes laid her heart quite bare to the reader.

For it is a very strange thing how the feelings of a writer at the time
of writing infuse themselves in the words.  A note may contain only a
thousand, and those thousand words relate certain matters, but from one
writer they will seem to flow with affection, from another be calm,
cool, and simply matter-of-fact.  The sentences shall be almost the
same, the words be very little varied, and yet, even without endearing
expressions, one letter shall breathe and emanate affection, the other
be friendliness alone.

So, by slow degrees, it was with Sage's letters to her lover; and at
first, as the idea stole upon him that she was growing colder, Luke Ross
fought back the cruel thought, telling himself that he was wrong, and
that hard study was souring his disposition, making him exacting and
strange.

But as time went on he was obliged to realise the truth, and he wrote
reproachful letters, but only tore them up again, to write others in his
old, simple, confiding strain.

He longed to go down and see her more often, but kept putting it off
till she should express a wish for him to come, hinting at it, and
expecting that some such invitation would be contained in the next
letter; but he hoped against hope.

Then a week passed without any communication from Lawford, and Luke
packed up a few things in a bag, and started for his old home, but only
to return directly to his chambers.

"She is not ill," he said to himself.  "If she had been some one would
have written to tell me.  I'll wait."

He waited, and at the appointed time--at the end of another week--a
letter came, very similar to the last, and in which she said that she
would have written as usual, only that she was very busy.

"Very busy," said Luke to himself, as he sat in his dingy room, gazing
straight before him, through the dull window, at the smoky chimney-pots,
but seeing, as in a picture, the interior of Lawford Girls' School, with
its mistress moving from class to class.  "Very busy."

He sighed deeply, and went on with his reading.

From that time Sage's letters came fortnightly, Luke sending two for
one, but he made no complaint, keeping rigidly to his old stern
determination.

"I said I would place myself in a worthy position to win her," he said.
"That I will do.  What is more, I will be faithful, come what may--
faithful, even in my belief in her."

He sat, hot of eye and weary of brain, thinking whether he ought not to
go down and see why this gradual change was taking place, but in his
stern repression of self he felt that to go down unexpectedly would be
like mistrusting the woman he hoped to make his wife, and this he could
not bear.

Study--hard study--was Luke Ross's medicine for a mind diseased, and
whenever doubting thoughts and mistrust came hand in hand to torture him
he forced himself to attend to his studies, making, by prodigious
efforts, great advances in the learned treatises he was striving to
master, but only at the expense of his health.

"It is for Sage," he said, by way of encouragement, and when doubts
became very strong he held up the shield of his faith.

"No," he would say aloud, "writing is, perhaps, irksome to one who has
so much to do, but her heart is mine, and save from her own lips I would
never believe that she could let it stray."

In his stern determination to master the profession for which he was
reading, Luke Ross only allowed himself a very rare visit home; and
though he had felt frequent urgings of late he fought them down, setting
his teeth, and vowing that he would not go before the appointed time.

It was a terrible fight when once the dire attacks of doubt were made,
and repeated from day to day, for during the weeks of the past month
Sage's letters had grown more irregular still, as if she felt emboldened
to be more careless from that absence of reproach.  But the truth was
that every letter from London was read by Sage with bitter misery and
reproach, and her replies were often so blotted with tears that they
were destroyed instead of being posted, and it was only those which
escaped the fire which he received.

It only wanted a week of the time he had settled in his own mind, and in
spite of his efforts to be calm, it was almost more than he could do to
keep on with his task.  A strong feeling was urging him to go down at
once, see Sage, and learn the worst, for a fortnight had again passed
and no letter.

Twenty times over he threw his books aside and started up to go, but
upon each occasion the indomitable power of will that helped him to make
the great efforts to master his profession--a power of will that had
already stood him in such good stead during his stay at Saint
Chrysostom's--came to his aid, and he fought out the miseries of that
last week and won.  "I will--not--show--mistrust," he said, sternly, as
if addressing an unseen accuser of Sage; "I gave--her--my--love--and--
I--will--never--take--it--from--her.  If--she--cast--it--away--then--
the--act--is--hers--not--mine."

This, slowly repeated, with a pause between the words, became, as it
were, a formula impressed in his mind, and it seemed to him that he had
become Sage's advocate, bound to defend her against unseen accusers.

At last, having no longer any conscientious reasons for deferring his
visit, he hastily packed his bag and closed up his dreary little
chambers, feeling, as he went out into busy roaring Fleet-street, that
the rest was absolutely necessary, for his head throbbed and seemed
confused, troubled as it had been with conflicting emotions.

It was winter once more, but one of those mild seasons when balmy winds
from the west tempt the wild flowers into a belief that it is spring,
and sweetly-scented violets make the air redolent of their homely,
heart-appealing fragrance, when from amongst the dark dead leaves the
tender green of the crinkled primrose roots could be seen surrounding
here and there a pale sulphur blossom.

It was such a change from the smoke-haunted, soot-dotted city region of
the law, that fifteen-mile coach ride, after the run down by fast train,
that as Luke gazed over the flat landscape illumined by the mellow glow
of the wintry sun, and noted the silvery bronze of the young oak stems,
and the ruddy birch and ashes grey, he felt a joyous elasticity of
frame; his pulses throbbed with pleasure, and before they reached the
town he determined to alight and follow the mossy lane to the left, two
miles of whose windings would take him within a hundred yards of Kilby,
the time fitting so well that he knew he should intercept Sage as she
left the school, which would not break up for the holidays until the
following day.

Home again, after many months' absence--months of stern self-denial; and
as he leaped down from his seat on the coach, leaving his portmanteau
for delivery at the inn, he felt so boyish and light-hearted that he
began to run along the lane.

"What nonsense!" he said, half aloud.  "One shuts oneself up in that
little hole and reads and reads till one's brain gets clogged, and full
of unwholesome fancies.  What a brute I am to let such thoughts creep
in, when I'll wager anything that my darling is longing to see me back."

He stopped to pick a primrose, then another, and a violet.  Walked
rapidly on again, but paused to select a couple of bramble-leaves of a
most glorious deep green bronze.  Then there was a beautiful privet
spray, and another primrose or two, and by degrees, as he hurried on
with little pauses, a goodly wild bouquet had been culled, and he smiled
as he saw in imagination Sage's delight at his present.

"Heaven bless her!" he said, half aloud, and, all unpleasant suspicions
gone, he walked on with his eyes half closed, revelling in a kind of
day-dream full of delights, the only jarring thought being that he was
coming to see Sage before paying his duty to his father at home.

"He'll forgive me," he said.  "He knows how I love her.  Why, what a boy
I feel to-day!  It's this delicious air that has not been breathed by
two million sets of lungs."

"There's the farm," he said.  "How clean the windows must be to reflect
the setting sun like that.  Different to mine.  I wonder how Mrs
Portlock is, and what the old lady will say?"

He hurried on, eager to reach the narrow cross where the Kilby lane and
the one he was in intersected, and, once there, he meant to mount the
high bank, and wait by the old mossy oak pollard, watching for Sage's
steps, so as to give her a surprise by throwing the bouquet of wild
flowers at her feet, and then--

And then?--Alas! how pleasant is that habit of castle-building in the
air.  How brightly the edifices are raised, how quickly, how dismally
they fall!  Luke had planned all so well, and hurried on along the soft,
mossy border of the lane, heedless of the winter's dirt, till he reached
the cross, turned sharply, and then stopped short, uttering a low moan
as he reeled against the hedge, clutching at the thorns for a support.



PART ONE, CHAPTER THIRTY FOUR.

AN INVITATION.

Cyril Mallow's plan of playing what he called a waiting game had the
effect he anticipated, and when he thought that the time was ripe he
sent a very tenderly-worded letter, full of gentle reproach, to Sage,
telling her that he had fought, no one knew how hard, to master his
feelings, but that it was all in vain; that he could not bear his
existence there, and that he was going abroad--anywhere, he said--and he
wished it was out of the world.

It was just at a time when the Rector was in high glee, for there had
been no parish troubles for some time.  He was beginning to make the
people understand him, he told the curate, who bowed and said nothing,
though he did think about his efforts to preserve peace.  Julia and
Cynthia were staying in town with Claudine and Faustine Perry-Morton, an
act of kindness those ladies said, while their dear brother was forced
to be in Rome, where the new art society had invited him to be president
and inaugurate their proceedings.  Then, although Frank was still at
home, leading a life that, if he had been a poor man's son, would have
been called "loafing," there was hope for Cyril, and a chance for
weaning him from this attachment for Sage Portlock.  In fact, jumping at
a hint from the Rector, Lord Artingale had gone to Magnus and asked his
advice, which was freely given, with a good idea or two how to set about
it, and the result was that he had the pleasure of writing down to the
Rector that the Duke of Borwick had given him an excellent post for his
friend.

"It is only five hundred a year," wrote Lord Artingale, "but I dare say
something better will come."

The Rector took the letter into Mrs Mallow's room after reading it in
the grape house, where he had been busy trimming special bunches
intended for the invalid's use.

"He's a good fellow, Artingale, a thoroughly good fellow," he said.
"Sunshine at last for that unhappy boy."

"Our son, Eli," said Mrs Mallow, reproachfully.  "If he is unhappy, may
not we be to blame?"

The Rector's delight was of short duration, for Cyril's next move was to
tell his father flatly that he had not been consulted, and that he
should decline the post.

"But you must take it, Cyril," said his father.  "Why, my boy, I have
been so full of hope that since our last quarrel you had seen the folly
of your ways, and were becoming obedient, and willing to take your place
in the duties of the world."

"I have tried," said Cyril, mournfully.

"You have, I know, my boy," cried the Rector, "and conquered."

"Conquered!" said Cyril, tragically.  "No, father, I have obeyed you,
and kept away from Sage Portlock, but I am more than ever her slave."

He strode out of the room, leaving the Rector wishing that the Portlocks
had never come to Kilby, and that he had never made such a _protegee_ of
Sage, ending by going into Mrs Mallow's room to pour out his plaints in
her willing ear.

"What is to be done with the boy?" he said, dolefully.  "I will never
get into a passion with him again.  But what is to be done?  He has some
plan in view."

"Let me see him," said Mrs Mallow.  "Give me some latitude, dear, and I
will try to bring him to a better way of thinking."

"Do what you will," said the unhappy father, "only bring him to his
senses.  Here have I been almost on my knees to Artingale to get him
this post, and now he says that he will not have it."

"He would take it if we consented to his marrying Sage Portlock."

"But we can't, my dear.  It is impossible," cried the Rector.

Mrs Mallow was silent, and the Rector left the room.

Five minutes later, in obedience to her summons, Cyril was at his
mother's side, talking to her in a depressed but very determined way.

"Go back with Frank, Cyril!" she said, piteously.  "It would break my
heart."

"You said that it would break if I were to die."

"Yes," she faltered.

"Well, I shall die naturally or unnaturally if I stop here," he said
coldly.  "I cannot bear it any longer.  You know how I have tried."

Mrs Mallow laid her hand upon her side.

"Then you must fight against all that pain and suffering for my sake,
mamma dear," he said, bending over her, and kissing her tenderly.

"But you will take this post, Cyril?" she said, imploringly.

"What?" he cried, angrily.  "No, I am going back to the other side of
the world."

He strode out of the room, and for the next two or three days there was
misery in the house.  Cyril was ill, and kept his bed, and his fond
mother, who believed in him thoroughly, seeing nothing in his nature but
a little wilfulness, was in agony till, after a series of long
consultations with the Rector, the latter gave way.

"If we do consent, I am sure all will be well," said Mrs Mallow,
feebly.

"If I give way, will he promise to take the clerkship?" said the Rector.
"Artingale will never forgive me if it is thrown up.  He said that he
had to beg for it humbly, and that he would never have done it but for
me."

"I will undertake to say that he will," said Mrs Mallow.

Just then the Rector sniffed.  "What is it, dear?" exclaimed the
invalid.  "I smell burning," he said.  "Fire, dear?" she exclaimed,
excitedly, as she thought of her helpless condition.  "No, dear," he
said: "smoke."

"Then there must be fire," she cried, clinging to his hands.

"No, no," he said, trying to soothe her alarm.  "It is tobacco.  Surely
Cyril would not smoke up-stairs?"

"Oh, no, dear; and he is too ill," said the fond mother.  "Poor boy!"

"Then it must have been Frank down-stairs," said the Rector.  "But to go
back.  Now, look here, dear, can you guarantee that?"

"I am sure I can."

"But it is such a descent.  Think of Lord Artingale."

"Don't say that, dear," said Mrs Mallow.  "I have thought over it so
long.  You say yourself that she is a good, sweet girl, and I am sure
when I saw her I thought so, too.  Well, then, why should pride stand in
the way?"

"Yes, she is very nice," said the Rector, "and I am willing to forget
all about birth and position; but then there are our girls."

"But if it is to be the winning of our boy to the life we wish him to
lead?  I'm sure he loves her very dearly."

"Better than himself," said the Rector, bitterly.

"Oh, Eli, do not talk like that," sighed the invalid.  "For my sake and
his--let pride be set aside.  If Henry Artingale really cares for
Cynthia he will not mind, and as for Mr Perry-Morton, I heard when we
were in town that his father made an immense fortune in some very low
class trade.  Say _yes_, and let us hope that Sage--"

"Sage!" said the Rector.  "Bitter herb!  A pity it is not Rue.  Bitter
herbs for us to eat.  Heigho! nothing but troubles, I suppose.  Then you
quite adopt her now?"

"For my boy's sake--yes," said the invalid.  "Then you do give way?"

"For the last time--yes."

"And you will go and see the Portlocks?"

"Yes."

"And I may tell Cyril this?"

"Yes."

"God bless you, Eli!  You are always good to me," sobbed the poor woman;
and the tears stood in her husband's eyes as he knelt down and took her
in his arms.  At that time Mr Cyril Mallow, the sick, sat up in bed and
lit a fresh cigar before comfortably rearranging himself for a good skim
of the sporting papers.

About a couple of hours after, as the Churchwarden was returning from a
round amongst his sheep, he caught sight of the Rector coming to meet
him, when a long conversation took place, one that ended by the gate
leading into the home close.

"Well, parson," said Portlock, as they parted, "as I said before, I'll
make no promises but this--I won't be hard.  My niece's happiness is
what I wish to bring about before I die; and if she wants to have him,
and he really will steady down and make her a good husband, why, I
suppose it must be.  Now I must go away and think."

They shook hands and parted, the Rector going thoughtfully home with his
hands behind him, and his stick whisking right and left, tail fashion,
and up and down, while he talked to himself about his weakness in giving
way, and wondering what was to be the outcome of an arrangement that
seemed like breaking faith on his part with Luke Ross.

As he reached the gate he smelt the smoke of a cigar, and, in spite of
his knowledge of his son's ways, he could not help feeling surprised at
the sight of Cyril coolly walking up and down, the message he had had
from his mother having apparently effected a miraculous cure.

"Better, Cyril?" he said, drily.

"Yes, sir, I'm pretty well all right now," was the reply; and the Rector
sighed, and began to feel a strange sensation of regret stealing over
him, as once more he asked himself what was to be the end.

Meanwhile, the Churchwarden had gone on to the farm, and entered by the
kitchen door, where Mrs Portlock was busy dividing her attention
between scolding the maids and mincing meat for sausages.

He gave her a short nod, and went on into the parlour, treading upon the
mats so as to make no sound, and there finding Sage so preoccupied that,
as she sat with her back to him, she did not notice her uncle's
entrance.

Pen, ink, and paper were before her, and on her right an envelope.

This was directed in a plain, clear hand--so plain that the farmer could
easily read it from where he stood.

It bore the name of Luke Ross, and she had prepared the envelope before
writing her letter, for upon the sheet of paper was the date, and then
came the three words, "My dear Luke."

That was all, and the marks that followed upon the paper were made by
tears.

"It is like living a lie," he heard her say, with a passionate sigh; and
then she started up, for she became aware of her uncle's presence in the
room.

"Why, Sage, lass," he said, gently, "do you always cry over your letters
to Luke Ross?"

She looked piteously in his face, but said no word.

"Is it because he is so long away, my lass?  Well, well, we shall have
him back these holidays, and it won't be long."

He was watching her intently as he spoke, and he saw that not only did
she turn pale, but a spasm as of pain crossed her face.

"Thou dost not look well, my pet," he said, gently.  "There, there, put
the writing away, and come and sit by me while I have my pipe.  I don't
like my little one to be so dull.  Why, Sage, what's come of all the
songs?  You used to be always singing and making the house cheery.  I'm
thinking you work too hard."

"Oh, no, no, uncle," she cried, forcing a smile.

"Then you think too much, child.  You must have more change.  Parson
didn't come in here, did he, my lass?"

"No, uncle," she said, starting.

"No, I thought he wouldn't; but he came to meet me, and he brought a
message for thee, my girl."

"For me, uncle?" she cried, crimsoning to the parting of her hair.

"Ay, he did.  He says he has to be out a deal, and Mrs Mallow finds it
lonesome at times without her girls; and he said, as a favour, would you
mind going up and seeing her, and sitting with her and reading a bit?"

"Oh, no, uncle," faltered Sage, crimsoning more deeply, every trace of
emotion being duly noted by him who was probing her to the quick.  "But
would Mrs Mallow--?"

She paused without finishing her sentence.

"Like it?" he said, finishing the sentence for her.  "To be sure she
would, my pet.  What a one I am to deliver a message.  It was her who
asked the Rector to bid you come; and, as I thought you wouldn't mind, I
just said that you would go."

"Oh, uncle, but I--I dare not," cried Sage, excitedly.

"Stuff!  Tchah!  Nonsense, my dear.  What's to be afraid of!  They're
gentlepeople, I s'pose, but they're only human beings after all, and
you've nothing to be ashamed of, I'm sure.  I told parson you'd go on
this afternoon, as there was no school, and he said I was not to be
uneasy, for some one should see you home."

Sage's colour came and went as she sat there trembling, and painfully
conscious.

Some one should see her home--some one should see her home.  The words
kept repeating themselves in her ears till she felt giddy.

What did it all mean?  Why did her uncle speak to her in this gentle
way?  What more had passed between him and the Rector?

She gazed in his face at this, and a score more such questions repeated
themselves, while the answers seemed far away.

"Go up to the rectory to-day, uncle?" she faltered at last.  "I dare not
go."

"But I wish you to go," he said, decidedly, and Sage's heart gave one
great joyful throb.

Had it been left to her she would have stayed away, but her uncle wished
her to go--he literally bade her go.

The end of the matter was, that after being egged on by her aunt to
dress herself in the showiest things she possessed, and having the good
sense, in spite of the feeling of delirious joy that had taken
possession of her, to attire herself with great simplicity, she walked,
with fluttering heart, up to the rectory, where the Rev Eli Mallow
himself met her at the door with a paternal _empressement_ of manner
that was quite tender in its way, as he drew her hand through his arm,
and led her up-stairs to Mrs Mallow's room.



PART ONE, CHAPTER THIRTY FIVE.

WELCOMED.

Sage trembled as she accompanied the Rector, and in her agitation
everything seemed unreal and strange.  A mist floated before her eyes,
and the room seemed to be sailing round, till she felt herself led to a
chair, and a thin, soft, cool hand take hers, drawing her forward, till
she bent down, and felt a pair of lips press her cheek, and sigh gently.

"I am very glad to see you, Miss Portlock--I think I may call you Sage
now."

She answered something that was inaudible to herself, feeling angry the
while at what she called her awkwardness and confusion, as she longed
for confidence, and the power to be more at her ease, little thinking
that her timid, modest behaviour was winning a way for her rapidly in
the poor invalid's heart; while, in spite of the pride that interfered
somewhat with the Rector's generosity of feeling, he could not help
thinking that after all, with such a woman for his wife, a change for
the better must follow in his son.

By degrees Sage grew more composed, especially when the Rector patted
her gently on the arm, and asked her to excuse him while he wrote a
letter or two for that day's post; "to my daughters in town, my dear,"
he said; and she was left alone with Mrs Mallow, whose careworn but
sweetly-pensive face looked up, smiling tenderly in hers.

It was a delightful afternoon, and Sage would have been truly happy if
she could have stood out fully in the sunshine instead of in the shadow
cast across her thoughts by the remembrance of Luke Ross.

Nothing special was said, but it was quite patent to the visitor that
all objection to Cyril Mallow's attentions to her had been withdrawn on
either side, and that she had been asked up there that Mrs Mallow might
welcome her as her son's future wife.

Sage's heart beat fast, for she owned to it most fully now.  It was
wrong.  She was faithless, but she did love Cyril, and giving herself up
to the current of joyous thoughts, she allowed it to bear her softly on.

The interview grew more dream-like to her minute by minute as she
listened to the burden of Mrs Mallow's discourse, and fetched for her
books, pictures, little drawers, and folios, whose contents the fond
mother never wearied of displaying.  Always the same tune, "My sons,"
and ever something fresh to display.  Cyril's first copybook, his early
letters to her from school, the sketches Frank had made, a little piece
of poetry he had tried to write and never finished, broken toys, Cyril's
baby shoes, one after the other, an endless list of little trifles, all
of which had to be carefully returned to their places in the treasured
store.

Then the fond mother poured into the nowise unwilling ears anecdote
after anecdote of Cyril's goodness, the endless little attentions he had
paid her, and the presents he had brought again and again--anecdote and
present being of the most ordinary type, but gilded and burnished by
motherly love till they shone with glowing lustre in Sage's eyes.

It was a delicious time, and there was a soft, warm glow in her cheeks
as she entered so thoroughly into the mother's feelings, gaining
confidence by degrees, but only to blush with confusion, and then turn
pale with the pang she felt as Mrs Mallow drew her down into a close
embrace, and whispered, softly--

"Bless you, my child!  I am not surprised that Cyril should love you
with all his heart."

The tears of both were flowing, and the aching pain increased as Sage
thought that Luke Ross also loved her with all his heart.

But there was no time for such thoughts, for just then the door opened
softly, and the Rector entered, Sage starting up and looking confused;
but she was set at ease directly, for he took her tenderly in his arms
and kissed her, saying--

"God bless you, my child!  We must have no half welcome now.  I see you
have won poor mamma's heart, so I surrender mine.  There, there, my
dear; don't cry!  You have a pleasant little mission here."

Sage looked up at him wonderingly.

"To make three people very happy, my dear, and that I am sure you are
going to do."

"And so am I," said Mrs Mallow, fondly.  "Where is Cyril?  Ask him to
come to us now."

"I--I don't know," said the Rector, hesitatingly.  "I did look round,
but not seeing him, I thought he would be here."

"He did not know.  You did not tell him," said Mrs Mallow.

"That Sage would be here?  Oh, no.  I left him to find that out," said
the Rector, playfully.  "But I am not sorry, my dear, for I feel as if
we ought to monopolise some one's attentions ourselves to-day.  The next
time she comes we shall be set aside, being only the old folks."

He smiled at Sage, and in a timid way she smiled back at him; but the
same thought was in both their breasts, and each tried to read it
through the other's eyes.

The thought was of Luke Ross, which was agitating them both, for they
were thinking of the day when they would have to face him, and give
account of that which had been done; and as this dark shadow loomed up
in the distance, the question arose--

What shall I say?

Cyril did not put in an appearance that day, and Mr and Mrs Mallow had
their visitor entirely to themselves, with the result that when it was
time for her to go, all thoughts of pride and differences in caste were
gone, Mrs Mallow kissing her very affectionately.

"I can't come to you, my dear; but you will come to me often--very
often--promise me that."

The answer trembled upon Sage's lips.  It was "Yes," but she hardly
dared to utter it, and it was taken from her.

"I will say it," said the Rector.  "Yes; she will come very often.
Sage, my child, I never thought of this, but the future is hidden from
all our eyes.  You have been here to-day to see us in the character of
the woman our son has chosen for his wife.  Heaven's blessing be on you,
my child; he could not have made a worthier choice."

Sage placed her hands in his, and once more he drew her to his breast,
and kissed her broad white forehead.

"There," he said cheerily, and with a smile, "kiss mamma, and then I'll
trot down home with you, for it is too dark for you to go alone.  I
think, mamma, dear, we'll set aside all form and ceremony from now.
What do you say?"

"Oh yes, yes.  Let there be no scruples to keep you away, my dear.  Of
course," she added, smiling, "you will come to see this poor invalid.
Come and read to me as often as you can, for my daughters are beginning
to forsake me a great deal now.  Ah! you young people, you get strange
fancies in your heads.  You promise?"

She promised, and soon after the Rector was taking her home, chatting to
her pleasantly, as if there was to be no more constraint; but all the
same he could not help thinking about him who filled his companion's
thoughts, to the exclusion of Cyril.

How was Luke Ross to be met?

And at the same time, the fond mother, lying upon her couch, had her
shadows to darken the happy thoughts that were brightening her life.

Was it just to Sage Portlock to let her become the wife of such a son as
hers?

She trembled and grew agitated at the thoughts, which were cleared away
as Cyril suddenly entered the room.

"Here, I say," he cried, "what does this mean?"

"What does what mean?" said Mrs Mallow, smiling affectionately.

"They say down-stairs that Sage--Miss Portlock--has been here."

"Yes, my son, and she has just gone back with your father.  Come and sit
down by me, Cyril."

If her words were heard, they were not attended to, for Cyril darted
down the stairs and out of the house, leaving Mrs Mallow to sigh, and,
as a despondent fit came on, to wonder whether they had done right after
all.



PART ONE, CHAPTER THIRTY SIX.

AT THE TURNING.

Cyril had his run for nothing more than to accompany his father, whom he
met returning home.  But the Rector was in a most genial frame of mind,
and father and son came back to the rectory in the highest of spirits,
Cyril bounding up to his mother's room without a trace of illness left.

"Take the post?  That I will, and we'll forget all about the past," he
cried.  "I am glad you like her.  She's the dearest and best of girls,
and I love her.  There, I'm not ashamed to say so.  I do love her
dearly, and ten times more for her nice, modest, retiring ways.  Father,
I'm going to settle down with the best of wives, and--oh, hang it all, I
wish I'd known you were going to bring her here.  I say, what a good old
fellow you are!"

And plenty more in the same strain, so that as the question was
discussed the hours flew by, and Mrs Mallow, weary though she felt with
extra exertion, felt that happy days were coming once again, and she
went at last to her pillow to dream of the girl who was to bring peace
to her home, and restore her errant boy, bringing him from a reckless,
careless life to one that was to do honour to them all.

"Quite well, thank you!" said Cyril to himself, as he leaped out of bed
the next morning, and, after dressing, lit a cigar for what he called a
matutinal whiff, but really under the impression that he could think
better under its influence.

For there was a good deal to be thought about that day, and a good deal
to be done.

"I shall have to talk pretty seriously to Master Frank," he said.
"There must be no nonsense if Sage is to be my wife.  Let's see if he is
up.  No, I'll leave it for the present; I don't want him to turn nasty
if I can help it."

He knew, from the previous night's conversation, that the Churchwarden
had made no further objection to his suit, and, under the circumstances,
he felt that the proper course would be for him to go straight over to
Kilby Farm, and in a frank, manly way thank him, and talk to him of the
future.

"Hang it all, though," he cried, pettishly, "I hate the very idea.  It
makes a fellow seem such a fool.  _Ask papa_!  Hang papa.  I don't think
I shall go."

He went down to breakfast, and when it was over the Rector said--

"By the way, Cyril, I think I'd walk over and see Mr Portlock.  He
would like the attention, and it is your duty to pay him all respect."

"Oh, yes; of course, father," he said, impatiently.

"But don't go down to the school, Cyril," said the Rector, rather
anxiously.

"Oh, no; of course not," said the son.

"We need not mind what people say, but it is as well not to give them
cause for chattering.  There is nothing to be ashamed of, but while Sage
has the school we'll let matters go on as usual."

"But she must not stay there, father."

"Certainly not, Cyril.  I'll chat the matter over with Portlock, and see
about a fresh mistress as soon as possible."

"That's right," said Cyril; and before, his father could say more he was
gone.

"Get a new mistress--get a new master," muttered the Rector, tapping the
table with his well-pared finger-nails.  "Why, it is near the time when
Luke Ross will be back.  Tut--tut--tut!  It is a most unfortunate
affair."

It was so near the time that Luke Ross was already on his way to the
London terminus, and a few more hours would see him at Lawford.

"Well, well, I've nothing to do with that," said the Rector,
impatiently.  "Sage and he must settle the matter between them.  She
evidently never cared for him, and--tut--tut--tut!  Well, there, I've
done all for the best."

He went off to solace himself with a look at his flowers, and tried to
forget what entanglements might ensue; while Cyril, with his hands in
his pockets, smoked cigar after cigar, as he fidgeted about in his own
room, trying to screw his courage up to the proper point for a visit to
Kilby Farm, for, truth to tell, the nearer the necessity for an
interview with the Churchwarden, the less he felt disposed to undertake
the task.

"There," he said, impatiently, "morning's a bad time.  He's sure to be
busy.  I'll go after lunch."

Lunch-time came, and the Rector smilingly asked him how he got on with
Mr Portlock.

"Haven't been yet.  Going directly after lunch," he said shortly; and,
to prepare himself for his task, he paid a good deal of attention to the
sherry decanter, and, after lunch, smoked a couple more cigars, as he
hesitated and hung about.

"Well, I will go now," he exclaimed, and, rousing up his courage, he
went across the fields towards Kilby Farm, but turned off before he got
there, and went strolling along the lane.

"Hang the job," he muttered.  "I hate it, but I must go, though, I
suppose."

He turned back, and somehow began thinking of Luke Ross, who was
speeding light-hearted enough upon his journey.

"Poor cad!" he said, half aloud.  "How wild he will be!"

Once more he neared the farm, and once more he hesitated and turned off.

"I can't face the old boy alone," he cried, impatiently.  "What does it
matter?  He knows nothing of etiquette.  I shall go and meet Sage, and
then we can go in together.  It's all nonsense to be so formal."

He seemed to be quite relieved upon coming to this determination, and,
seating himself upon a gate, he sat swinging his legs to and fro,
whistling, and consulting the watch he carried from time to time, till,
coming to the conclusion that it was just about the right moment for
meeting Sage as she left the school, he leaped down and made off in the
direction of the town.

"What a good, obedient son I am," he said, with a mocking laugh.  "Here
I promised that I would not go to the school, and I have waited like a
lamb until she comes out.

"Well, the trouble's over, and I've won," he said, as he walked on.
"Has the game been worth the candle?  She's very nice, and the old folks
will come down handsomely, of course, and I shall have to go up to town
to this precious office.  Hang the office!  Well, it won't be so dull as
it is down here."

"Little wench is late," he muttered, gazing at his watch, and yawning.
"Hang it, I've smoked too much to-day.  Wonder whether she'll smell my
breath.  She's a nice little lassie after all.  Ha, ha, ha!  Poor old
Luke Ross--what a phiz he will pull when he finds that he has been cut
out!  There she comes!"  He hastened his steps as he caught sight of
Sage, and the next minute he was at her side.  "Why, Sage," he said,
"did I startle you?"

"Yes," she said, trembling.  "No, I am not startled;" and her blushing
confusion made her look so charming that a good deal of Cyril Mallow's
indifference was swept away.

"If I had only known that you were coming to our place last night!" he
said, tenderly.

"Didn't you go away on purpose to avoid me?" she said, with a touch of
coquetry.  "Go away?  For shame!" he said.  "When I have thought of
nothing, dreamed of nothing but you, Sage, all these long weary days.
Oh, my darling, now the difficulties are all over what am I to say?"

In her happiness and excitement there was a strange mixture of yielding
and confusion in Sage's manner; she glanced at him proudly, her heart
bounding with joy at his every word, and then she felt that she was
being unmaidenly, and tried to be more reserved.

But she could not help his drawing her hand through his arm, and though
she tried to pull it away from his grasp, he would hold it; and at last,
ready to cry hysterically--ready to laugh with joy, she walked on by his
side, feeling happier than she had ever felt before.

For Cyril Mallow knew how to woo, and as he lowered his voice to a low,
impassioned tone, he told her of his love, and how he was coming
straight on with her to the farm.  That he was the happiest of men, and
that if she was cold and distant to him now it would break his heart.
With all this breathed tenderly in her ears by one she really loved, it
was no wonder that she grew less distant, and ceased to try and draw her
hand away.  Indeed, somehow poor Sage did not in her agitation seem to
know it when a strong, firm arm was passed round her waist in the narrow
part of the lane, down between the banks, where no one was likely to
see.

All was a delicious dream, full of oblivion of the past, till in one
short moment, as with head drooping towards Cyril Mallow, she hung upon
his words, her heart throbbing, her humid eyes soft and liquid with the
light of her young love, she felt turned, as it were, to stone, and
stood with parted lips, staring at Luke Ross at the turning as he reeled
against the hedge.



PART ONE, CHAPTER THIRTY SEVEN.

LUKE ROSS'S RECEPTION.

It was as if nature sorrowed o'er the scene, for as the encounter took
place the rich, warm glow of the winter sunset passed away, and with the
black clouds rising in the west came a chilling wind, and a few
scattered drops of rain pattered amidst the fallen leaves where a short
half-hour before there were the warmth and suggestions of spring.  Now
it was winter--bitter, depressing winter--all around, and in the hearts
of those who stood there pale and grey as the gathering night.

Luke Ross was the first to recover himself as the giddy sensation passed
away.  The blood seemed to surge to his brain, and, with a cry of rage,
he dashed at Cyril, and seized him by the throat.

"How dare you!" he cried.  "You have insulted her."

Almost as he spoke his hands dropped to his side, and he stood
motionless, gazing, from one to the other, at Sage shrinking back, with
her hands covering her face; and Cyril, who had now got the better of
his surprise, standing in a menacing attitude, ready for his assailant.

For the moment, now, Luke seemed stunned; he could not realise the truth
of what he saw.  Either, he told himself, it was some mistake, or his
eyes deceived him, and he had not seen Sage Portlock--the woman who had
promised to be his wife--half embraced by Cyril Mallow, to whom she
seemed to cling.

At last he found his power of speech return, but so unreal did
everything seem that he hardly knew his own voice as he exclaimed--

"Sage, speak to me.  What does this mean?"

Her hands fell from her face, and she started violently at the bitter
tone of reproach in his words, gazing wildly in his face, her lips
parting, but no sound coming from them.

"Tell me that this is not true--that I was half blind--that you do not
care for him--Sage, Sage--my darling!"

There was a piteous appeal in his words that made her shiver; and her
eyes seemed rivetted to his, but she did not speak.

"Tell me, Sage!  For heaven's sake speak!" he cried, in a low, hoarse
moan.  "Sage--I cannot bear it.  Sage--come to me--my own."

He held out his hands to her as he spoke, and took a step towards her,
his anguished face working with the agony of his soul.

But as he gazed yearningly in her eyes with his, so full of love,
forgiveness, and tender appeal, she covered her face once more with her
hands, and seemed to cower in her abasement as she shrank away.

Cyril had been too much startled to speak at first; and the rude attack
had sent a thrill through his nerves that was not the feeling
experienced by the brave when suddenly moved to action; but now he began
to recover his equanimity, and, taking a step in front of Sage, he made
as if to take her hand.

"Really," he said, "my good fellow, you have no right to--"

"Stop!" cried Luke, in so fierce a voice that Cyril remained for the
time as if turned to stone, staring at the speaker, whose whole manner
changed.  He looked taller; the appealing gaze was gone, and his eyes
seemed to flash, while his chest heaved, and his hands clenched, as he
stood before them--no mean adversary for one who encountered him hand to
hand.

"Sage," he cried, and his voice was stern, fierce, and commanding.  "A
minute ago I could not believe this.  Tell me I was deceived.  No: not
now.  Come with me to the farm."

He tried to take one of her hands, but she shrank, shudderingly, away.

"You shall speak," he cried.

"Oh, come," said Cyril, in a blustering tone, "I'm not going to stand by
and listen to this.  Sage, dear, this man has no hold whatever upon you.
Come home with me."

"No hold?" cried Luke, quickly.  "Why--but no; I will not speak to him.
Sage, take my arm.  I will not reproach you now.  Come with me."

He caught her wrist, trembling the while with suppressed passion.  But,
with a quick flash of anger, she tore it away.

"Cyril," she cried, "protect me from this man."

Her words seemed to strike Luke Ross like blows, for he staggered back,
his lips parted, his face ashy grey, and a look of despairing horror
starting, as it were, from every feature; but as he saw Cyril Mallow
take her hand when Sage turned from him, Luke's whole aspect changed,
and, with a cry like that of some infuriated animal, he literally leaped
at Cyril's throat.

Sage shrieked, and then staggered to the bank, cowering against the
hedge, as, recovering himself from the attack, and driven to defend
himself, Cyril seized his assailant, and for the next few minutes there
was the sound of hard breathing, muttered ejaculations, the scuffling
noise of feet upon the gravelly road, and then a heavy fall, Luke Ross
being seen in the gathering gloom of the winter's evening to be above
his rival, who lay motionless, with Luke's knee upon his chest, his
hands upon his throat.

The sight before her nerved Sage to action, and she tottered to where
the two men were.

"Luke," she cried; "Luke, are you mad?  Oh, help, help, help!"

"Mad?  Am I mad?" he said, hoarsely, as Sage's shrieks rang out shrilly
on the evening air.  "Yes, I must be mad," he muttered, as he rose
slowly to his feet, and stood gazing down at his lost love, who now
threw herself frantically upon her knees, and raised Cyril's head upon
her arm.

"And I came back for this," said Luke, in a husky whisper--"for this!"

But she did not hear him; her mind being taken up with the horror of her
position.

"I came back for this," he continued, in the same low, husky tone.  "I
would not believe it true.  Oh, Sage, Sage!" he groaned aloud, "it is
more than I can bear."

He staggered away along the lane by which he had come, hatless, his coat
torn, his throat open, and the rain, that had now begun to fall, beating
upon his fevered head.  Footsteps were hurrying towards the spot where
he had encountered her he loved and his rival.  But he heard them not;
he only staggered on--on into the gathering night, with a vague feeling
that he must go away somewhere to find rest for his aching brain--
anywhere to be away from her.

One moment he stopped, for he heard Sage's voice raised in a loud cry;
but it was not repeated, and with a bitter laugh, he now tore on at
headlong speed, running not from pursuit, but from sheer desire for
action.  On and on, quite heedless of the direction he took, so that he
might get away--onward and onward through the wind and rain.



PART ONE, CHAPTER THIRTY EIGHT.

A WILLING INVALID.

The footsteps heard as Luke Ross hurried away were those of the
Churchwarden.  He had been round the farm according to his custom when
his after-dinner pipe was ended, and then spent his usual amount of time
over scraper and mat, getting rid of the superabundant earth that always
seemed to cling to his boots.

"Shortest day, mother," he said, entering the long parlour where Mrs
Portlock was seated watching the fire, with her knitting upon her knees.
"Be dusk directly.  Sage come in?"

"No, not yet.  It is hardly her time," was the reply.  "But you need not
fidget about her."

"Wasn't fidgeting about her," said the Churchwarden, shortly, for the
meaning tone in his wife's words annoyed him.  All that afternoon he had
been thinking of Luke Ross, and it had struck him that it was just upon
the young man's time for paying a visit home.

"And then we shall be having him up here, and he'll learn all about
Sage.  Hang me if I think that I ought to have listened to parson as I
did!"

These thoughts had come to him over and over again, troubling him more
than he cared to own, for there was something frank and manly about Luke
Ross that he had always liked, and in spite of his own uncompromising
refusal to sanction any engagement, he did not feel happy in his mind
about the treatment the young man had received.

"Look here, mother," he said, sharply, after standing at the front door
for a few minutes, watching for Sage's return, "this is your doing."

"What is my doing?" she replied; "but there, for goodness' sake, Joseph,
do come in or stop out.  You've done nothing but open and shut that
door."

The Churchwarden shut the front door with a bang, and strode up to the
fire.

"I say this is your doing about Sage, and I don't half like it after
all."

"There, there, there!" she cried.  "I wish to goodness you'd mind the
farm, and leave women and their ways alone.  What in the world do you
understand about such things?"

"I don't think we've been doing right," he said; "and I'm afraid that no
good will come of it."

"Stuff and nonsense, dear.  Why any one, with half an eye, could have
seen that the poor girl was fretting her heart out about young Mallow."

"She didn't fret her heart out about Luke Ross," said the Churchwarden,
sturdily.

"About him!" said Mrs Portlock, in a tone of contempt.  "How could she?
Cyril Mallow's worth a dozen of him."

"Proof of the pudding is in the eating," said the Churchwarden, kicking
at a piece of blazing coal with his boot toe.

"Yes, and a very unpleasant bit of pudding Mr Luke Ross would have been
to eat.  There, you hold your tongue, and let things go on.  You ought
to be very proud that matters have turned out as they have."

"Humph!  Well, I'm not a bit proud," he replied; "and I'm very sorry now
that I have let things go on so easily as I have.  You may see Luke Ross
when he comes down, for I won't."

"Oh!  I'll see him," she replied.  "That's easily done.  Why, Joseph,
you ought to be ashamed to think of them both on the same day.  Our Sage
will be his lordship's sister-in-law."

"Hang his lordship!  Well, perhaps I am, wife, and it's because I'm
afraid that Luke Ross is the better man of the two.  Why, look here,
it's getting quite dark, and that girl not home," he cried, angrily, as
he strode towards the front door.

"Do come and sit down," said Mrs Portlock.  "She's all right I tell
you.  I'll be bound to say that some one has gone to meet her and see
her home, and, look here, Joseph, don't be foolish when Mr Cyril comes,
but make yourself pleasant to him for Sage's sake.  She quite worships
him, poor girl."

"Hah!" said the Churchwarden, with a grim smile upon his lip.  "No one
ever worshipped me," and he opened the front door.

"Now don't keep letting in the cold wind, Joseph," cried Mrs Portlock,
and then, "Gracious!  What's that?"

She heard the faint scream of some one at a distance, but almost as it
reached her ears the Churchwarden had gone off at a heavy trot across
the home field, in the direction from whence the sound had come, and he
burst through the gate, to find Sage upon her knees, nursing Cyril
Mallow's bleeding head, as the sound of steps was heard from the side
lane.

"What's this?  Who did this?" cried the Churchwarden.  "Is he much
hurt?"

"I--I don't know," faltered Sage.  "Oh, uncle, uncle, is he killed?"

"Killed--no," said the Churchwarden, going down on one knee, "cut--
stunned.  How was it--a fall?"

"No, uncle," sobbed Sage, who was now half beside herself with
grief--"they--they fought."

"Who did?  Who has been here?"

"Don't--don't ask me," she sobbed.  "But I do ask you," cried the
Churchwarden, sharply.  "Why," he cried, struck as by a flash of
inspiration, "Luke Ross has come down?"

"Yes," moaned Sage, with a sigh of misery.

"And he did this?"

"Yes, uncle."

"Humph!  Then he's a plucked un!" muttered the Churchwarden, with a low
whistle.  "Well, anyhow we've got it over."

"Is--is he dead, uncle?" whispered Sage, hoarsely.

"Dead--no.  I tell you his head's too thick.  Well, you've done it,
young lady.  There, I'll stop with him while you run up and tell Tom
Loddon and Jack Rennie to bring the little stable door off the hinges.
We must get him up to the farm."

"Can't--can't I carry him, uncle?" said Sage, naively.

"Pish! what nonsense, girl.  I don't think I could carry him myself.
Let's try."

He placed his arms round Cyril's chest, and raised him into a sitting
posture, the act rousing Cyril from his swoon.

"That's better.  How do you feel now?" cried the Churchwarden.  "He'll
be able to walk, and it will do him good.  Come, Master Cyril, how do
you feel?"

"Sick--faint," he replied.  "Cowardly assault on a fellow."

He clung to the Churchwarden, for his head swam, but the sickness passed
off in a few minutes, and then, leaning heavily upon the Churchwarden's
strong arm, the injured man walked slowly across the field to where Mrs
Portlock was standing at the open door, Sage feeling sick and faint
herself, as she followed close behind, bearing both Cyril's and Luke
Ross's hats, that of the latter having been picked up by her without any
knowledge of what she had done.

"What is it?  What is the matter?" cried Mrs Portlock.

"Help with thy hands, wife, and let thy tongue rest," said the
Churchwarden, sharply; and in answer to the rebuke, Mrs Portlock did
help by drawing forward the great couch near the fire, and sending Sage
for some pillows, after which the latter supported Cyril, while Mrs
Portlock, with a good deal of notable quickness, bathed the cut at the
back of the injured man's head, afterwards cutting away a little of the
hair, and strapping it up with diachylon in quite a business-like way.

"Mother's good as a doctor over a job like this," said the Churchwarden,
cheerily.  "So am I.  Here's your physic, squire.  Sip that down."

The medicine was a good glass of brandy and water, of which Cyril
partook heartily; and then, in obedience to the tender request of Sage,
he lay down on the pillows, and half closed his eyes.

"Now, then," said the Churchwarden, bluffly, "what do you say?  Shall I
send over and tell them at the rectory you've had a tumble and cracked
your crown, or will you have a cup of tea with us and then walk up?  You
don't want a doctor."

Cyril opened his eyes languidly, and gazed at the Churchwarden.  Then he
let them rest on Mrs Portlock with a pitiful gaze, finally turning them
upon Sage, who was kneeling by him holding one hand.

Cyril Mallow's thoughts were that he should prefer to stay where he was,
tended by the women, and he said, faintly--

"Doctor--please."

"Nonsense, man," cried Portlock, bluffly.  "Why, wheres your heart?
Pluck up a bit.  You don't want a doctor for a bit of a crack like
that."

"Oh, uncle, you are cruel!" cried Sage.  "I am sure he is very much
hurt."

Her hand received a tender squeeze in response to this, and, in spite of
her present misery, Sage felt her heart begin to glow.

"Not I, my lass," said the Churchwarden, in his bluff way.  "Perhaps
some one else thinks that you are."

Sage sank lower, and hid her face upon Cyril's hand.

"Let us send one of the lads," said Mrs Portlock.

"All right," said the Churchwarden, good-humouredly.  "Send word up to
the rectory that Mr Cyril has had a bit of an accident--mustn't say
you've been fighting, eh?"

Cyril moaned softly, but did not speak.

"Say that he has had a bit of an accident, and that he won't be home for
an hour or two.  Would you like him to come round by the town and tell
Vinnicombe to come up?"

"Oh, yes, yes, uncle," cried Sage, pitifully; and the messenger was sent
off.

The doctor and the Rector arrived almost together about an hour later,
during which interval Portlock had made himself acquainted with the
circumstances of the struggle.

"And was Luke Ross hurt?" he asked.

"I--I think not, uncle," said Sage, colouring deeply, and then turning
pale.

"Humph!  Poor fellow!" said the Churchwarden.  "Sage, my lass, you've
behaved very badly to that young chap, and no good will come of it,
you'll see."

Mr Vinnicombe did not consider that there was much the matter, that was
evident; but he apparently did not care to tell his patient that this
was the case, and consequently it was arranged that Cyril should stop at
the farm, the best bed-room being appointed to his use; and he amended
so slowly that he quite fulfilled a prophecy enunciated by the
Churchwarden.

"Strikes me, mother," he said, "that yon chap will be so unwell that he
won't go away for a fortnight; and if you let Sage nurse him he'll stop
a month."

Sage, to Cyril's great disgust, was not allowed to nurse him; but he
stayed for a month all the same, fate having apparently arranged that,
if Luke Ross's cause was not hopeless before, it was now wrecked beyond
the slightest chance of being saved.



PART ONE, CHAPTER THIRTY NINE.

FULLERTON'S PROPHECY.

In a place like Lawford, where every one knew more of his or her
neighbours affairs than the individual could possibly know for him or
herself, the encounter near Kilby Farm soon had its place as the chief
item of news, and was dressed and garnished according to the taste of
those who related it.

The principal version was that, stung by a letter sent by Sage Portlock,
Luke Ross had come down from town and purposely left the coach at
Cross-lane, so that he could waylay and murder Cyril Mallow with a huge
hedge-stake which was picked up afterwards near the place.

For a short time the gossips were at fault for a reason, but they only
had to wait patiently for a while, and then it was known throughout the
place that Cyril Mallow was engaged to marry Sage--a matter so out of
all reason to the muddled intellect of Humphrey Bone, the old
schoolmaster, that he said it was enough to make widow Marly turn in her
grave.

Why, he did not explain.  It could not have been from jealous
disappointment, for widow Marly had had a very fair share of matrimonial
life, having married at the early age of sixteen, and being led twice
afterwards to the hymeneal altar before dying at a very good old age.

"But it's a wrong thing," he said, at the King's Head, during a course
of potations--"a wrong thing; and no good will come.  Two sorts, oil and
water, and they won't mix.  Tell parson I say so, some of you, if you
like.  It's his doing to get the girl's money, and it's a wrong thing."

In the midst of the many discussions in Lawford it was asked why Luke
Ross was not to be prosecuted for assaulting the parson's son.

"Nice sort of fellow," said Fullerton; "goes to learn to be a lawyer,
and comes down here and breaks the law."

"Ah! it's been a strange bad case," said Smithson, the tailor.

"Anybody seen owt of him since?" ventured Warton, the saddler.

There was silence for a few moments, and then Tomlinson spoke.

"I haven't seen him down," he said.  "In fact, I know he has not been,
for old Michael Ross has been up to see him and hear the rights of the
case."

"Yes?" said two or three, eagerly.

"Ah! he don't say anything about the rights and wrongs; only that he
doesn't think Joseph Portlock's girl behaved well to him."

"Oh!  I don't know," said Fullerton.  "What call had a girl like that to
consider herself bound to a wandering man who couldn't settle down like
a Christian?  I think she did quite right to give him up."

"And marry young Mallow?"

"But they are not married yet, my boy," said Fullerton, shaking his
head; "and it's my belief that they won't be.  He's a flyaway, wild,
scapegrace of a fellow.  It'll come to nought, but I do think young Ross
ought to be punished same as any other man.  Fair play and no favour for
me."

"Very good sentiment, Mr Fullerton," said Warton.

"Make it your own motto, then, Mr Warton," said Fullerton, proudly.
"As I says to Michael Ross, when I was talking to him, yesterday--no, it
was the day before yesterday--no, stop, it _was_ yesterday.  `I believe
in fair play,' I said.

"`So do I, Mr Fullerton,' he said; `but I don't think my poor boy has
got it here.'"

"Did he say that?" said Warton.

"Ay, that he did, and pst--here he is!"

There was a murmur in the inn room where the principal Lawford tradesmen
were assembled, as old Michael Ross, the tanner, came in, looking very
keen and dark, and as if close application to his trade had heightened
the colour of his skin.

The old man seemed nervous, and as if he feared that he would not be
counted welcome; but he soon found that if he would only discuss his
son's conduct no one would be looked upon as a more welcome addition to
the weekly meeting.

There was a pause for a few minutes, during which old Ross gave his
orders to the landlord, and lit his pipe, smoking afterwards in quiet
consciousness that he was being furtively glanced at by all assembled,
and that it was only with the expectation of hearing more that they were
so quiet of tongue.

"Been having a run up to London, Master Ross, I hear," said Warton, the
saddler, at last.

"Yes, Master Warton, yes; I've had a run up amongst the soot and smoke,"
said Michael Ross.

"And was strange and glad to get back again, I'll be bound," said
Tomlinson, while Fullerton lay back in his armed Windsor chair, staring
straight up at the ceiling, with the calm self-satisfaction of a man who
knew all that was being asked.

"Well, yes, neighbour," said Michael Ross, thoughtfully, "I must own
that I was glad to get back again.  London's a wearisome place, and the
din and rattle of the streets is enough to muddle any man's brains.  It
was quite a relief to turn down the narrow lane to my son's chambers,
and get out of the buzz and whirr.  My bark mill's nowt to it."

"Saw your son, did you?" said Warton.  "How's he getting on?"

"Oh, he's getting on right enough," said the old man, proudly.  "He's
getting on."

"Gotten to be a big loyer, eh?" said Smithson.  "Why, Master Ross, sir,
we shall hev to get him down here to take up our cases at County Court."

"Nay, nay, nay," said old Ross, chuckling.  "Not yet--not yet.  Theres a
deal to learn to get to be a big loyer; but my sons working away hard
now he's getting a bit over his trouble."

"Trouble?" said Fullerton, bringing his eyes down from the ceiling.  "He
hasn't got into trouble, I hope?"

"Nay, nay, only about the bit o' trouble down here."

"Not going to hev him before the magistrates, are they, Master Ross?"
said Warton.

"Magistrates?  What, my son?" said the old man, firing up.  "Not they.
He'd a deal better right to have some one else before them.  My son
never did no wrong."

"But they say he knocked young Cyril about with a hedge-stake," said
Smithson.

"Tchah!  Lies?" said the old man, angrily.  "I dare say he hit him.  So
would I if I'd been a young man, and come back and found my young lady
stole away like that.  Yes, I'd ha' done the same."

"Hah, yes," said Tomlinson, thoughtfully, as if he were going back to
past times.  "It is hard on a man.  But I don't know, Master Ross; if a
man's got a bad tooth it's best out, and it has saved your lad perhaps
from many a sore and aching time in the future."

"I'm not going to say anything against some people we know, and I'm not
going to say anything for them," said the old tanner, warmly.  "All I do
say is, that I don't think my son has had justice done him down here."

"Oh, don't say that, Master Ross," said Fullerton, importantly.  "I'm
sure the way in which he took our side over the school appointment was
noble.  He saw how unjust it was, and he drew back like a man."

"I don't know--I don't know," said Michael Ross, with a dry chuckle.
"I'm afraid there was something more than that at the bottom of it,
though he never owned it to me."

"Ah, well," said Fullerton; "it's very evident that he won't marry Sage
Portlock.  Poor girl, it's a sad fall away."

"Yes," said Tomlinson, smoothly, "it does seem strange."

"Well, for my part," said Warton, "I wonder at Joseph Portlock, though I
think it's his missus as is most to blame.  I don't believe as young
Cyril was much hurt."

"Not he," chuckled Smithson.  "And there he's been for the past month,
lying on the sofa, tended by those two women.  I hear the parson's been
every day, and they do say, that as soon as he gets better--"

"He's better now," said Warton.

"Well, then," chuckled Smithson, drawing one leg up under him upon his
chair from force of habit; "suppose we say much better--they're to be
married."

"Well, it caps me," said Warton; "I can't understand what it means."

"Money," said Fullerton.  "Some people keep up their grand houses and
gardeners and grape-vines, and get laying traps baited with pretty girls
for young lords and people from London, and after all are not so well
off as some who pay their twenty or thirty pound rent and have done with
it.  Joseph Portlock, I suppose, will leave all his money to those two
girls some day, and it will be a nice bit.  Pity he didn't keep Miss Rue
for the other boy, and then parson would have been happy."

"When's Frank going back?" said Smithson, the tailor, for reasons of his
own.

"I'd know; ask him," said Fullerton.  "He's always going over to Lewby,
so I hear."

"Well," said Warton, the saddler, "all I can say is, that if I was John
Berry he shouldn't be always coming over to my house."

"'Tain't our business," said Fullerton.  "I should say, though, that
Sage Portlock'll have a nice bit o' money."

"Ah, there's a many things done in this life for the sake of money,"
said Tomlinson, sententiously.

"But it looks bad for a young fellow to be lying about on sofas all day
long, coaxed and petted up by women, just because he has got a bit of a
crack on the head.  Doctor said to me, he said, when I asked him about
the cut, he said, laughing all the while, `It isn't as deep as a well,
nor as wide as a church door,' he said; `but 'twill serve--'twill
serve.'"

"What did he mean by that?" said Warton.

"I don't know," said Fullerton, sharply.  "I think it was some stuff or
another that he'd read in a book.  You know what a fellow he is for
giving you bits out of books.  Don't you remember that night at the
annual dinner?  He said, when they were talking about old Mrs Hagley
being a bit of a witch--"

"Ah, to be sure," said Smithson; "about the cellar."

"Yes," continued Fullerton; "he said, `I can call spirits from the vasty
deep.  Landlord, go down to the cellar and bring up a bottle of the best
French brandy.'"

"Ah, he's a queer fellow, is doctor," said Warton.  "They won't live
down here when they're married, will they?"

"Who?"

"Young Cyril Mallow and Joseph Portlock's girl."

"Oh, dear me, no," said Tomlinson.  "Young Cyril has got a post under
government, and it's settled that Miss Cynthia is to be married to Lord
Artingale, and a house has been taken for young Cyril up in Kensington."

"Hullo, old fox," cried Fullerton.

"Yoicks, yoicks, yoicks, gone away," shouted several, uproariously.

"Come, out with it," said Fullerton.  "I'll be bound to say you know all
about it."

"Well," said Tomlinson, with the calm reticence of one who felt himself
quite at home in the matter, "I did hear a little about it."

"From Joseph Portlock's wife, I'll be bound," said Fullerton.  "She's
been at your place three times lately."

"I'm not going to mention any names," said Tomlinson, with a sly,
smooth, fat smile, "but I think I may venture to say that there'll be a
wedding somewhere within six months, and that those who are married will
live in Kensington."

"Ay, parson knows how to play his cards," said Warton.  "I suppose the
eldest girl will marry that stout gentleman, Perry-Morton.  Parson
manages things well.  Fancy bagging Lord Artingale for a son-in-law.
Why, all Gatley belongs to him, and he's an uncommonly nice fellow too."

"Yes, his lordship's all very well; but as to young Cyril and Miss
Portlock, mark my words, no good'll come of it," said Fullerton,
emphatically.  "Mark my words: no good'll come of it."

"I should be sorry if it did not turn out well, and so would my son be,
I'm sure," said the old tanner.

"Why?" said Fullerton.

"Because Sage Portlock is a nice, superior sort of girl," said the old
man, "and it is always grievous to see those you like come in for
trouble."

"So it is," said Fullerton, "but trouble will come.  Here's two
clergyman's sons, who ought to be the very model of what young men
should be, and has any one of you a good word to say for them?"

"Well, for my part," said Smithson, "a man as can't wear a honestly
well-cut pair of trousers, made by a respectable tradesman, but must
send to London for everything, can't have much balance in his nature."

"Quite right," said Warton.  "Why, when old Mallow set up the carriage,
young Cyril--no, it was Frank--must go up to London to buy the harness,
and it had to come to me for repairs in less than a month."

"Well, for my part," said Tomlinson, "I wish Sage Portlock health and
happiness, and no disrespect to you, Master Ross, for every girl has a
right to choose her own master for life."

"I wish her health and happiness, too," said Fullerton, rising, "and I
wish she may get them.  Good night, gentlemen; I'm for home."

"Yes, it's time for home," said old Michael Ross, rising, and saying
good night; and the two neighbours walked down the street together.

"Married, eh?" said Fullerton, with a sneer.  "Well, just as they like;
but mark my words, Michael Ross, it means trouble."

"I hope not, I hope not," said the old tanner, sadly, "for I liked Sage
Portlock.  She's a very good girl."

"Bah! sir; nonsense! sir; women are not much good as a rule, and she's a
very bad specimen.  But, mark my words, sir, trouble, and misery, and
misfortune.  It will never be a happy match."

And the prophet of evil went his way, leaving old Michael Ross to stand
upon his own doorstep thinking.

"Poor lass, I liked Sage; and though she has broken with my poor boy,"
he said, "she's not a bad girl at heart.  Trouble, and misery, and
misfortune--and all to come upon her poor weak head.  Poor child--poor
child.  Luke will about break his heart.

"Trouble, and misery, and misfortune," he repeated, sadly.  "I hope not,
from my very heart, but I'm afraid Stephen Fullerton is right."



PART TWO, CHAPTER ONE.



PART 2--"FORSAKING ALL OTHER."

AFTER A LAPSE.

The Lawford people were disappointed, for the Rector thought it better,
and the Portlocks made no objection, that the wedding should be as
simple as possible, so there were no preparations to signify, only such
as were made in a quiet way, and Luke Ross read one morning in the
`Times' that Cyril Mallow, second son of the Rev Eli Mallow, had
espoused Sage, daughter of the late Elias Portlock, Esq, of Melby, and
niece of Joseph Portlock, Esq, the Hall, Kilby, Lawford.  He had a
letter afterwards from his father, giving him fuller information, and
saying that Lord Artingale was at the wedding, and Cyril Mallow's
sisters were the bridesmaids, and that the young married people went off
directly to Paris.  That Frank Mallow had not gone back to Australia,
and nobody knew when he would go.  That Portlock the churchwarden had
been very angry at having _Esquire_ put after his name in the
announcements; that he was very friendly when he met the tanner in the
market-place, and desired to be kindly remembered to Luke.

The letter concluded with a hope that Luke would soon come down, but he
was not to come unless he felt that he did not mind a bit; that they had
a very pleasant little body for schoolmistress now, and that Humphrey
Bone seemed just the same as ever, and that was all at present from
Luke's affectionate father, Michael Ross.

Not quite all at present, for there was a postscript stating that the
Rector was a good deal in trouble about his eldest girl, who seemed to
be getting in a bad way, but all the same, both she and her sister were
engaged to be married.

Luke Ross put the letter away in a drawer with a sigh, and turned to his
reading working as hard as man could work, for in this he found his only
relief from the troubled thoughts that oppressed him, while the change
that had taken place in him in a few months was almost startling.

As the time went on the Rector, far from feeling lighter in his burdens
now that he had Cyril comfortably settled down, had two new sources of
trouble: in his son Frank, who had made the rectory, or the town house
that had been taken and handsomely furnished, his home.  He said that he
was going back to Australia, but not yet.  Perhaps he should take a wife
back with him.

The Rector's other trouble was Julia, who had grown so pale and weak
that at last, partly in obedience to Mr Perry-Morton's desire, it was
settled that Sir Emerton Riffley should be consulted, and that eminent
and fashionable physician was asked to call.

Sir Emerton did call, and after a long visit, as he saw his patient had
no complaint to make, none to describe, he settled that it was want of
tone.

"There is a want of heart action, my dear madam," he said, though there
were times when poor Julia's heart beat at a fearful rate.

"But you don't think--"

"Oh, dear me, no!  Oh, de-_ar_ no!  A course of tonic medicine, a little
alteration in diet, and a short stay at the seaside will quite restore
us."

"Do you think Brighton?" said Mrs Mallow.

"Excellent," said Sir Emerton; "and it would benefit you as well."

"Or Bognor?"

"Nothing could be better."

"Perhaps Hastings?"

"My dear madam, if I had the choosing of a place for your daughter's
residence for the present, I should decidedly say Hastings," replied the
great physician, rising from the side table, where he had been writing
out a prescription precisely the same as that which he had written for
hundreds of other young ladies in his time; and then, after a very
courtly smile and bow, he left the drawing-room.  The Rector was
summoned, and the next day the family was staying at the "Queen's"
Hotel.

"There, Julia," cried Cynthia, when they had been down a few days, "I
think this is delicious, though we might just as well have stayed at
Lawford.  I don't know, though; I like the seaside, and we shall be as
free here as at home in the dear old woods."

Julia shuddered.

"Oh, you foolish girl!  There, don't think of that again.  Let's enjoy
ourselves while we can.  The Perry-Mortons will be here soon."

"Are they coming down?" said Julia, with a look of dismay.

"Yes.  Harry's aversion wrote to papa this morning, saying that they
should be at Hastings on Saturday, so we've three whole days clear.
What did Sage say in her letter?"

"Very little," replied Julia.  "She said that Cyril had had some little
trouble though at his office."

"I'm not surprised," said Cynthia, "but I hope he won't lose that."

"Hadn't we better turn back, Cynthia?" said her sister, with an uneasy
glance round.  "There are no people here."

"That's why I came," said Cynthia, merrily.  "I like getting away to
where we can be free.  Come along; I'll help you down."

She held out her hand, but Julia did not take it, and after threading
their way amongst the huge rocks and _debris_ fallen from the cliffs at
the eastern end of the town, they started onward, keeping close to the
water where they could, but oftener upon the shingle beneath the
towering cliffs, along whose giddy edges some children were playing, as
if safe as the gulls that softly winged their way above their heads.

"This is just what I like," said Cynthia.  "There, I've made one of my
feet wet.  Never mind; sea water does not give colds.  Isn't it a grand
bit of coast, Julie?  But, I say, suppose Bogey was to pop up now from
behind one of those great pieces of rock.  Oh, how stupid I am.  Julie:
darling sister, don't faint."

"No, no.  I am better," exclaimed Julia, across whose face a spasm of
dread had darted.

"It was dreadfully silly of me, dear, but don't you mind what I said.
Why, Julie, we are as safe here as if we were in our own rooms.  Nobody
could come down those cliffs, and I feel sure that you will never see
that creature again.  There, be a woman.  He could not tell that we were
down here.  Now, could he?"

"Cynthia," said Julia, after a few moments' pause, and as she spoke she
gazed straight out to sea, "shall you think me very weak and foolish if
I tell you what I think?"

"No, no, of course not," said Cynthia, glancing furtively about, "only
do try to be more firm."

"I do try," said Julia, with a catching of the breath, "so hard--so very
hard; but that man seems to be my fate, and I feel now that go where I
may, or do what I may, he is always close at hand watching for me.  Even
now I expect to see him waiting by some of these rocks."

"Nonsense! foolish girl," said Cynthia.

"And that, strive as I will, he will some day take me away."

"What!" cried Cynthia, laughing merrily, "take you away!"

"Yes, dear," said her sister, solemnly.  "I feel it.  I am sure of it."

"But oh, what nonsense, Julie!  You must not let him.  You give way to
such thoughts.  How can you be so foolish?"

"Is it foolish?  I strive against the thoughts till I feel half mad, but
I cannot get rid of them, and his words are ever ringing in my ears.
Oh, Cynthia, sometimes I feel as if it is in vain to fight against my
fate, and that I may as well be resigned."

"Oh, Julie, Julie, Julie!" cried the spirited little maiden.  "What am I
to do to you--what am I to say?  Shall I whip you, or scold you, or have
you sent to bed without any dinner?  It is too dreadful, and you shall
not give way like this.  Why, for shame!  I know somebody who is dying
of love for you."

"Don't name him, Cynthy dear; I detest the sight of him and his
sisters."

"No, no, I mean dear Harry's friend, Mr Magnus."

"Poor Mr Magnus!" said Julia, dreamily.  "I am very glad he is well
again."

"But he is not quite well yet, poor dear man.  I think a short stay at
Hastings would do him good," said Cynthia, archly.

"It was very brave and manly of him to do what he did," said Julia,
sadly.  "I can never thank him enough."

"Hush I walk faster; let's get beyond those rocks, Julie," cried her
sister, excitedly.  "He's coming now."

"Ah!"

Julia's breath came with a spasm of agony, and her features seemed
rigid.

"He hasn't seen us yet," whispered Cynthia, but with the same excitement
in her voice.  "Make haste."

They almost ran on now, till they were obliged to pause for breath.

"Don't look round," whispered Cynthia, "whatever you do."

"And we are farther than ever from the town!" moaned Julia, as she
clasped her hands.

"Well, what does that matter?" cried Cynthia.  "Why, Julie, how pale you
look!"

"Oh, pray come on faster--faster," whispered Julia.

"No, no, poor boy, I've led him dance enough.  He may catch me now.
Why, Julie," she cried, "I declare I've frightened you.  Oh, my dear
sissy, I did not mean your Bogey: I meant mine.  I wrote and told him we
should be walking along here about four o'clock, but, of course, I never
for a moment expected he would come."

Poor Julia held one hand across her eyes as she drew a long breath of
relief, and holding by her sister's arm she walked slowly on, with her
eyes closed, for they were now on a smooth stretch of sand.

"You must not be so ready to take alarm at nothing, dear.  Oh, I say,
Julie," Cynthia added, piteously, "let's turn back, or he won't see us.
No--yes.  Hark! it's all right; he has seen us.  I can hear his step.
Don't look round, Julie," she whispered, joyously.  "Oh, dear, why it's
you, Harry.  However did you come down?"

"Train, to be sure," cried the young man, heartily.  "Why, you both look
brown already.  So glad to see you looking better, Julia."

"Well, it was very nice of you to come, Harry.  But how's poor Mr
Magnus?"

"Heaps better.  I persuaded him to come down with me for a week.  I left
him at the hotel."

"Oh, you good boy," whispered Cynthia; and then they strolled gently on
till they were a long distance from the last houses in the town.  The
sun made the calm sea shimmer like damasked silver, and in the
transparent pools the water was many-tinted with the reflections from
the green and grey and yellow cliffs; and, as such people will, both
Cynthia and Harry grew more and more selfish, taking it as a matter of
course that Julia should grow fatigued and seat herself upon one of the
rocks that had fallen from above, to be ground, and beaten, and polished
smooth on one side, while the other was roughened with the limpets and
acorn barnacles that crusted it like a rugged bark.

In fact, they forgot Julia in the intense interest of their pursuit as
they wandered on, for Cynthia had to be helped from rock to rock, as
they went out as far as the water would allow, and she had to make
daring jumps of a few inches over rushing, gurgling streams of water
that ebbed and flowed amongst the stones.  Then the tiny point of her
pretty shoe was always poking itself inquiringly into crevices, out of
which Harry had to fish red anemones or unusually large limpets or
mussels.  Then _they_ had a mania for gathering enough periwinkles for
tea, Cynthia declaring that she would wriggle them out with a pin and
eat them.  But when about a dozen had been found, the search was given
up for some other pursuit; perhaps it was a well-ground oyster-shell,
all pearly, or a peculiar bit of seaweed; and once, close up under the
cliffs where the path was very narrow, and the sea right in, the rocks
were so rough and the way so awkward that Harry had to help little
Cynthia very much--so much, that if a boat had been passing its
occupants would have seen two handsome young faces in extremely close
proximity.  But no boat was passing to make Cynthia turn so scarlet as
she did, hence the marvel; and they went on in their love-dream a little
longer, thinking what a wonderfully bright and happy world this was, and
how beautiful sea, sky, rock, and beach had become, glorified as they
were by their young happy love, when Cynthia suddenly awoke.

"Oh, Harry!" she exclaimed, with the tears in her eyes, "how cruel, to
be sure.  Poor Julie!  Let's make haste back."

"Oh, yes.  She'll be rested by now."

"I was so thoughtless," half sobbed Cynthia.

"She is so nervous, and she will be thinking she sees that dreadful
man."

"Who is not likely to be here, my darling," said Artingale, smiling.

"No, but let's make haste back," cried Cynthia.

Artingale seemed disposed to loiter, but Cynthia was in earnest, and
they hurried back towards where they had left Julia seated on a rock,
one of the many scattered about.

It was time they did, for Artingale's words just uttered were not the
words of truth.



PART TWO, CHAPTER TWO.

THE STRAY LAMB.

"Don't be alarmed, Cynthia; these rocks are so much alike, and we
wandered a good way."

"But I am alarmed, Harry; I am sure it was here."

"It does look like the place, certainly," he said; "but there is another
heap further on."

"No, no, this must be the stone.  I remember that little pool of clear
water, and the patch of seaweed.  Oh, we ought not to have left her!"

Artingale could not endorse those words, for he thought it very pleasant
to have been alone with Cynthia for the past ten minutes--half an hour--
hour--or two hours--he had not the slightest idea how long it had been;
but the trouble and dread in her agitated young face were so marked that
he began to throw off the good-humoured carelessness he felt disposed to
show, and bestirred himself to find the missing girl.

"Give me your hand, pet," he said, "and let's get on to the next pile.
I am sure we shall find her there."

"No, no, Harry.  The more I look the more I feel sure it was here we
left her."

"Well, perhaps it was, little one," he said, looking down into the
earnest eyes, "and she has grown tired, and begun to walk back.  We
shall find her sitting down waiting for us."

Cynthia gave him her hand, and they ran for a short distance over the
shingle; but it was too rough to go far save at a walk, and then,
reaching another of the little wildernesses of masses of rock, the
result of a fall from the towering cliffs, they searched about for a few
minutes without result, and then walked a little way down towards the
sea, so as to command a view back towards the battery and the works at
the east end of the town.

There was a man tramping along with a shrimping net over his shoulder,
an old lady seated on the shingle under an umbrella, a girl with a
yellow-covered book perched upon a stone, and about twenty yards out an
elderly gentleman with his trousers tucked up, standing in the water
reading a newspaper; not a soul besides on that unfrequented part.

"Oh, Harry!" gasped Cynthia, who was ready to burst into tears.

"Why, you little goose," he said tenderly; "there's nothing to be afraid
of.  She isn't along here, that's certain."

"And yet you say there's nothing to be afraid of," half sobbed Cynthia.

"Why, of course not.  She hasn't gone back, or we should see her
somewhere.  We must have passed her.  I know she must have gone close up
to the cliff, so as to find a shady place.  All along here is so much
bigger and wilder than any one would think."

"She must have gone up on the cliff, Harry."

"Well, dear," he said, laughing, "you and Julie are the nearest approach
to little angels I ever knew, but even you two have no wings, and I
don't think Julie would get up the face of that cliff without."

"Oh, pray, Harry, don't talk so, now," she cried; "I'm afraid--I don't
know what to think."

"Don't be afraid, little one," he said, encouragingly, "we'll find her
directly."

"Is it possible that any of the cliff has fallen, and crushed her?" said
Cynthia, piteously.

He started, but spoke the next moment decisively.

"No.  Such a fall would have made a noise like thunder.  Depend upon it
she has changed her place, and we shall find her fast asleep: unless the
Red Rover, or some other dashing pirate, has landed, and carried her off
in his yacht."

"Oh, Harry, you make fun of it all," cried Cynthia, with a stamp of her
little foot, which crushed a tender, young, and unoffending mussel; "and
I feel now quite a chill of horror lest that dreadful man--Oh, look,
look, Harry!  Who is that?"

She grasped his arm convulsively, and pointed at a part of the cliff,
about a couple of hundred yards farther away from the town, where a
figure could be seen cautiously climbing from ledge to ledge along the
face of the stones, and in a position where a false step or a slip must
have meant his falling a battered and bleeding mass upon the shingle
beneath.

There was a fascination in the scene that held them breathless, and as
Cynthia's hand glided into his, and clung to him convulsively, Artingale
felt the little palm grow wet and cold.

It was a most daring proceeding, and such as none but the most reckless
would have attempted; but the man seemed to be coolly climbing on,
apparently without effort, though every here and there he had to cling
to the face of the rock, and remain motionless, as if to gather breath.

"By George!" exclaimed Artingale at last, as the man climbed nearer and
nearer to where the grass was just visible on the topmost edge, "he's a
plucky fellow, Cynthy.  I wouldn't do that for a good deal."

"But, Harry--don't you see--don't you see?"

"Only that he is close to the top, dear.  There, don't look if it makes
you giddy.  I'll tell you.  He's close up now, and he has got hold of
the grass and stuff.  Now he's over the top edge.  He's safe enough.
And, yes--there, you can look up now.  He's all right, and out of
sight."

"But, Harry, Harry," panted Cynthia, "didn't you see?  It was that man."

"What man?"

"The man who follows poor Julie."

"By Jove!" cried Artingale; and he started as if to try and follow the
man up the cliff.

"No, no," cried Cynthia, clinging to him; "don't leave me, Harry, don't
try to climb that dreadful cliff; come and find poor Julie.  Oh, Harry,
why did we go away?"

For answer, Artingale ground his teeth, and hurried his companion along
until they were in front of the rock on which they had left Julia
seated.

Mass after mass lay singly here; and nearer to the cliff huge pieces
were piled one upon the other in confusion just as they had fallen from
time to time on splitting off from the face of the precipice.

Helping his companion over some of the rough blocks, and threading his
way amongst others, Artingale uttered a cry of satisfaction.

"Here she is, Cynthy!" he exclaimed; and then he stopped short in alarm,
so strange and haggard did Julia appear.

She was seated upon a piece of rock at the foot of a large shelly mass,
her cheek resting on the stone, and her hands pressed to her face.

"Julie, dear Julie!" cried her sister, springing to her side; and as
Julia heard her voice she slowly lowered her hands, and displayed a
countenance alternately flushed and deadly pale, while her eyes looked
wild and strange.

"Has he gone?" she whispered, giving a frightened glance round.

"Oh, Julie, tell me, has that man been here--has he dared to speak to
you?" cried Cynthia, passionately.

"Yes; he came directly you had gone.  He was there, there," she
whispered, pointing towards the cliff.  "Take me away: please take me
away."

Her words and looks were those of some frightened child, and on
Artingale taking one of her hands she clung to him convulsively.

"But, Julie dear, tell me," cried Cynthia, whose face was flushed and
angry; "tell me--"

"No, no.  Not now.  Not now.  Let us get back to the hotel.  I dare not
stay here."

Artingale and Cynthia exchanged glances, as they led the frightened girl
out from amidst the piled-up rocks into the broad sunshine, and then
slowly along the sandy portions of the beach, with the result that she
gradually became more calm, but she checked at once the slightest effort
made by her sister to gain any information.  Even when, at a sign from
Cynthia, Artingale drew back, she did not speak, but turned timidly and
waited for him to come alongside.

"Don't leave me, Harry," she said plaintively; so he joined them again,
and walked with the sisters right up to the hotel, where Julia now
seemed to have grown more herself; but there was that in her countenance
which set Artingale thinking very deeply, and as soon as he had parted
from the sisters, he went straight to James Magnus, whom he found in his
room seated by the open window, and gazing out to sea.



PART TWO, CHAPTER THREE.

PLAYING DETECTIVE.

"I say, old fellow, I've got some news for you that ought to make you
well in half-an-hour," exclaimed Artingale.

"What's that?" said Magnus, eagerly.

"That scoundrel who gave you the ugly cut on the head is down here."

"Down here!" cried Magnus, with his pale face flushing.

"Yes; and he has seen and insulted Julia Mallow."

A deadly pallor came over the countenance of the artist once more, as he
rose from his chair, and caught his friend by the shoulder.

"Harry," he said hoarsely, "you found out my secret when I thought it
was hidden deeply away.  You are right; your news does give me strength,
and I shall live to kill that man."

"Well, old fellow, I would rather, for everybody's sake, that you were
not hung; but I don't wonder at what you say, for I feel just now as if
I could shove the beggar over the cliff.  But set aside talking, we must
act.  What is to be done?"

"Let us see Mr Mallow at once."

"Bah!  He would hem and haw, and look rigid, and say we had better leave
the matter to the police."

"Very well, then, in Heaven's name let us speak to the police."

"What about, my dear fellow?  What are we to say?  Don't you see that we
are helpless.  The man has kept outside the pale of the law; and
besides, suppose we have him caught--if we can--think of the unpleasant
_expose_, and how painful it would be to both of those poor girls.  No,
we can't do that.  It would be horrible, my dear fellow.  Suppose the
scoundrel is trapped, and--I only say suppose--gets some sharp,
unscrupulous lawyer to defend him.  It would be painful in the extreme."

Magnus began to walk up and down the room, looking agitated.

"What would you do?" he said at last.

"Well," said Artingale, after a pause, "I feel greatly disposed to take
the law in my, or our, own hands."

"Why do you say _our_?" asked Magnus, hoarsely.

"Because I look upon it as your case as much as mine.  Look here, old
fellow, Cynthia and I both think you are the man who would make Julia
happy, and if you don't win her it is your own fault."

"And Perry-Morton?"

"Hang Perry-Morton!  Confound him for a contemptible, colourless bit of
canvas--or, no, I ought to say brass, for the fellow has the impudence
of a hundred.  A man without a pretension to art in any way pretending
to be a patron and connoisseur, and, above all, to be my brother-in-law.
Hang the fellow!  I hate him; Cynthia hates him; and we won't have him
at any price.  No, dear boy, we want you, and if you don't go in and win
and wear Julia, why, it is your own fault."

Magnus turned to the window, and stood looking out dreamily.

"Faint heart never won fair lady, Mag," cried Artingale, merrily; "and
how you, who have always been like a Mentor to this wandering
Telemachus, can be such a coward about Julia, I can't conceive.  Not
afraid of the brothers, are you?"

"Pish!  Absurd!  How can she help her brothers!"

"Well, then, what is it?"  Magnus turned upon him slowly, and gazed at
him fixedly.

"Harry," he said, "you love Cynthia?"

"By George! yes, with all my heart," cried the young man,
enthusiastically.

"Yes," said Magnus, "I am sure you do.  Then it should be the easier for
you to think of a love where a man looks up so to the woman he worships
that he would sooner suffer than cause her a moment's pain, when,
knowing that she does not--that she cannot return his affection--"

"Hold hard.  Now look here, my dear Magnus, don't let sentiment take the
bit in its teeth and bolt with you, or else we shall have a smash.  Now
I say, look here, old man, why cannot Julia return your love?"

"It is impossible.  She is engaged."

"Bah! what has such an engagement to do with it?  I tell you I believe
that poor little Julia is perfectly heart-whole, and that the flower of
her affection--I say, that's pretty, isn't it?--I told you not to let
sentiment bolt with you, and I am talking like a valentine!  But
seriously, old fellow, I am sure that Julia detests Perry-Morton."

"How can you be sure?" said Magnus, gloomily.

"Very easily, my cynical old sage.  Don't sisters indulge in
confidences, and when one of the confidential sisters has a young man,
as people in the kitchen call it, doesn't she confide things to him?"

Magnus looked at him for a moment or two excitedly, but a gloom seemed
to settle upon him directly after, and he shook his head.

"No," he said, "it is hopeless; but all the same, Harry, we must, as you
say, put a stop to this annoyance.  What do you propose?"

"There are two courses open, as Parliamentary people say."

"Yes; go on.  You are so slow; you torture me."

"Well, not to torture you then, my dear boy, one course is to get a
private detective."

"No, no; absurd.  I'd sooner employ the genuine article."

"The other is to make private detectives of ourselves, and quietly keep
watch and ward over our treasures--eh?  `Our treasures' is good."

"Yes, that seems the wiser plan," said Magnus, thoughtfully.  "But it
will be hard to manage."

"Where there's a will there's a way, my dear boy.  You join with me, and
we'll manage it."

"You would not speak to Mr Mallow first?"

"No, my boy, we must take the matter in our own hands."

"And if we find this fellow annoying--the--the ladies?" said Magnus, in
a curiously hesitating way.

Artingale set his teeth hard, and spoke through them.

"The blackguard's too big to treat like a black beetle.  But let that
rest, and remember the saying attributed to the celebrated Mrs Glasse
of cookery fame--a saying, by the way, that I'm told is not to be found
in her book--let us first catch our hare, which in this case is a fox,
or rather I ought to say a wolf.  We'll decide afterwards how we will
cook him."

Magnus nodded, and walked up and down the room in a quick, nervous
fashion.

"That's right! that's capital," cried Artingale, merrily.  "I thought my
news would make that sluggish blood of yours begin to move.  By George,
there's nothing like a genuine love to make a man of you."

"Or a woman," said Magnus, gloomily.

"Get out!  Rubbish!  Come, come, no retrograde movements: forward's the
word.  Now the next thing is for the knight to meet the lady in whose
defence he was wounded.  I'll manage a meeting, or Cynthy will, and if
you don't make good use of your time I'll never forgive you.  We'll
speak to the Rector after you have won a little on poor Julia.  He's a
good fellow, and wants his girls to be happy.  But by Jove, Magnus,
there's nothing like a rattling good crack on the head."

"Why?"

"Excites sympathy.  Young lady finds out your value.  Why, my dear old
boy, you look a hundred pounds better.  Here, take your hat, and let's
go and have a ramble.  The sea air and a bit of exercise will beat all
the doctor's tonics."

Magnus said nothing, but taking the cigar offered to him, he lit up, and
the two young men strolled off together, along by the sea.

"Show me the place where you left Miss Mallow," said Magnus at last.

"All right," was the reply; "but wouldn't it be better if we went up the
cliff and walked along the edge?  I want to see where that scoundrel
came up; and we might meet him."

James Magnus looked intently in his friend's countenance, and could not
help noticing how hard and fixed the expression had become.

"It would not tire you too much?" he said.

"Oh no," replied Magnus, hastily, "let us do as you say."

Artingale noted the flush that came into his companion's face, and he
could see that it was more due to excitement and returning health than
to fever.  And then, saying little but thinking a great deal of their
plans, they strolled on and on, leaving town and castle behind, and
having the glistening, ever-changing sea on one side, the undulating
spread of well-wooded hills and valleys in the Sussex weald upon their
left; but far as eye could reach no sign of human being.

"These cliffs are much higher than I thought for," said Artingale at
last, as he stopped for a moment to gaze down at the beach.  "How little
the people look.  See there, Mag, those stones lying below, you would
not think they were as high as you?  Some of them weigh tons."

"Was it on one of those you left Miss Mallow seated?" said Magnus,
eagerly.

"Oh no, quite half a mile farther on, more or less.  I don't know,
though, seashore distances are deceitful.  That was the pile, I think,"
he continued, pointing, "there, below where you see that dark streak on
the face of the cliff."

"I see," said Magnus.  "Come along."

"All right, but don't walk so close to the edge.  You know, of course,
that a false step means death."

"Yes, I suppose so," replied Magnus, going close to where the weathered
cliff suddenly ceased and there was a perpendicular fall to the rough
stones beneath.  "It looks an awful depth," he continued, gazing down as
if fascinated.

"Awful!" cried Artingale, "but hang it all, Mag, come away.  You give a
fellow the creeps.  You are weak yet; suppose you turn giddy."

"No fear," said Magnus, quietly; "but do you know, Harry, whenever I
look over from a height I quite realise how it is that some people end
their wretched lives by jumping down.  There always seems to be a
something drawing you."

"Yes, I dare say," cried Artingale, with a shudder, "but if we are to
play amateur detectives here goes to begin.  Now then, young fellow,
move on.  It's agin the law to jump off these here places."

He spoke laughingly, and in supposed imitation of a constable, as he
took his friend by the wrist, and pulled him away from the giddy edge of
the cliff.  But the next moment he was serious.

"Why, you wretched old humbug," he cried, "what are you talking about?
I've a good mind to go back."

"No, no, let's go on," said Magnus smiling, "I was only speaking
scientifically."

"Indeed," said Artingale, gruffly; "then don't talk scientifically any
more."

They walked on for some little distance in silence, Artingale keeping on
the dangerous side, as if he doubted his friend's strength of mind, and
looking down from time to time for the spot where they had found Julia,
and the head of the cliff where Jock Morrison had made his ascent.

"What should we do if we met the fellow?" said Magnus suddenly.

"I don't know quite," said Artingale, shortly.  "Let's find him first.
Here, look here, Magnus, those are the stones!  No, no, those--the grey
blocks; and that is where the blackguard got up.  By George, however did
he manage it?  The place is enough to make one shudder--Eh?  What?"

Magnus had laid his hand upon his friend's shoulder, and was pointing to
where, about fifty yards away, a figure was lying, apparently asleep on
the short turf, not ten yards from the edge of the cliff; and in an
instant Artingale had sprung forward, recognising as he did the man of
whom they were in search.



PART TWO, CHAPTER FOUR.

LET SLEEPING DOGS LIE.

The two young men had no thought of the consequences that might ensue,
as they hurried over the short elastic turf towards where, almost a
giant among his kind, Jock Morrison lay prone upon his broad back, his
powerful arms crossed upon his chest, and his battered old soft felt hat
drawn over his face to shade it from the sun--rather a work of
supererogation, for the god of day would have had to work hard to tan it
of a richer brown.

Artingale was first, but Magnus was close behind, and as they saw the
man before them who had caused so much annoyance to, and so insulted
those they loved, the feeling of indignation in their breasts bubbled up
rapidly, and overflowed in hot passion before which that better part of
valour known as discretion was swept away.  Artingale looked upon the
great fellow as something to be soundly thrashed, but Magnus, in spite
of his weakness, seemed as if his rage had regularly mastered him.  He
saw in those brief instants, degrading as was the idea, a rival as well
as an enemy, and panting and excited he strove to be there first, so as
to seize the fellow by the throat, his weakness and suffering from his
late illness being forgotten in the one stern desire to grapple with
this man, and look at him face to face.

But Artingale was there first, and shouted to the fellow to get up, but
without eliciting any reply.

"Do you hear?  Get up!" cried Artingale.

Still the man did not stir, but Magnus noted a slight motion of the
hairs of his thick beard, as if his lips had twitched slightly.  In
other respects he was motionless, his arms folded across the deep chest
and the cap over his face.

"He's not asleep, he's shamming," cried Artingale angrily; and bending
down he snatched the hat from the fellow's face and sent it skimming
over the cliff, revealing a pair of fierce dark eyes glaring at him like
those of some wild beast.

"Now then, young gentlemen! what's the matter?" came now in a deep voice
like a growl.

"You scoundrel!" began Magnus, but he had over-rated his strength.  His
illness had told upon him terribly, and he could neither speak, move,
nor act, but pale and haggard stood there holding his hand pressed upon
his breast.

"Who are you calling names?" said the fellow fiercely.

"Leave him to me," cried Artingale.  "I'll talk to him."

"Oh, two of you, eh?" exclaimed Jack; "two of you to a man as is down.
Well, as I said before, and I say again, what's the matter?"

"Look here, you dog!" cried Artingale, planting his foot upon the man's
broad chest, but without eliciting a movement, "I know everything about
you, and where you come from."

"Oh, do you?" said the fellow with a chuckle.  "And so do I know you.
You're a game preserver from Lincolnshire."

"Never mind who or what I am," cried Artingale, who felt in his
excitement as if he had never spoken worse in his life; "but just you
listen to me, you scoundrel.  I know how you have followed and insulted
those two young ladies."

"What two young ladies?  I don't know anything about two young ladies."

"I know that you have watched for their coming, and, knowing that they
were unprotected, you have tried to alarm them into giving you money, I
suppose, and so far you have escaped the police."

"Ho!" said the fellow, making Artingale's foot rise and fall, as he
indulged in a rumbling chuckle; "it's a police case, then, after all?
Lawford magistrates?"

"No, not now," cried Artingale, angrily.  "Keep back, Magnus, I'll
manage him," he cried; "you're not fit.  I say, it is not a police case
now."

"Oh!" growled the fellow, laughing defiantly, "what may it be, then?"

"A thrashing, you dog, for if ever there was a time when a gentleman
might dirty his hands by touching a blackguard it is now."

"Ho! it's a leathering is it, your lordship!"

"Yes," cried Artingale, "it's a thrashing now, you great hulking brute;
and after that, if ever you dare approach those ladies again--if ever
you speak to them, or look at them, or annoy them, directly or
indirectly, either here or down at home, I'll half kill you, and hand
you over afterwards to the police."

"Ho, you will, will you?" said the fellow, mockingly.

"And I--I--" cried Magnus, bending down and approaching his pale,
passion-distorted face to that of the great robust scoundrel at his
feet.

"Yes, I see there's two," growled the fellow.  "And what'll you do?"

"_I'll shoot you like a dog_!"  There was something horrible in the
intensity of hatred and passion contained in the low, hissing voice in
which these few words were uttered; and as he lay there and heard them
the great ruffian's brown face became of a dirty grey.  But the look of
dread was gone on the instant, and his chest heaved as he indulged in a
mocking burst of laughter.

"All right," he said; "fire away, and if you do kill me, I'll come when
I'm a ghost and see you hung.  There, be off both of you.  This is free
land.  This isn't Lawford, and I haven't been taking any of your
lordship's rabbuds this time."

"What are you doing here?" said Artingale.

"Doing here!" said Jock, musingly; "why don't you know I'm a Lawford
man?"

"Yes; I know that," cried Artingale.

"Well, my parson's down here; I miss him when he comes away."

"Get up, you scoundrel!" cried Artingale, throwing off the brown velvet
coat he was wearing, and taking off his watch and chain.

"Not I," growled the fellow.  "There's lots o' room for you to pass,
man, and 'taint your path.  That's the gainest road back."

"Get up?" roared Artingale, rolling up his sleeves over his white arms.
"Do you hear?"

"Oh, ah!  I can hear," growled the fellow.

"Get up, then."

"Not I.  It's comfortable here."

"You cowardly ruffian, get up!" roared Artingale.

"Nay, it's not me as is the coward," said Jock, coolly.  "You're two to
one.  Besides, I don't want to hurt your lordship."

"Get up!" roared Artingale again, but Jock did not move, only lay there
gazing mockingly in his face, making the young man's blood seem to
seethe with rage.

"Get up!" he roared once more.

"Weant!"

As the word left the ruffian's lips, Artingale's passion knew no bounds,
and before his companion realised what he was about to do, he had given
Jock Morrison a tremendous kick in the ribs.

The effect was instantaneous.

With a roar like that of an angry bull, the fellow scrambled to his
feet, and as Magnus sprang forward to seize him, he struck the artist
full in the chest, sending him staggering back to fall heavily, _hors de
combat_, for he was as weak almost as a child.

It was the work of moments, for even as he struck Magnus he turned upon
Artingale, receiving two heavy, well-directed blows, dealt in good
scientific style right in the jaw and cheek, but making no more of them
than if they had been slaps from the open hand of a boy, as he caught
the young man in a tremendous grip like that of a wrestler, and swayed
and struggled with his adversary to and fro, roused now to a pitch of
rage that was murderous.

Artingale knew it.  He read it in the fierce eyes so close to his, as he
felt himself crushed against the great fellow's chest.  He read it in
the grinding teeth, and felt it in the hot breath that came full in his
face, and he put forth all his strength and all the cultured activity
gained in lessons of the best athletic school.  But it was all in vain,
for he felt as helpless as a boy in the giant's grip.

It was but the work of moments; a few struggles here and there, and the
knowledge forced upon him of the scoundrel's murderous aim before
Artingale felt himself swung from his feet as they neared the cliff, and
then, in spite of his manhood, he felt his blood turn cold.

He roused himself though for a supreme effort, and clutching his
adversary with all his might, he strove to recover his foot-hold.

But no--he was mastered.  He could do nothing but hold on with all his
might, as he mentally swore that Jock Morrison should share his fate.

Vain oath, vain effort!  There was a swing, a jerk, and what seemed to
be a paralysing blow upon his muscles, as he was forced away from his
hold, and the next instant he was falling headlong from the cliff-edge
into the void beneath.

------------------------------------------------------------------------

End of Volume Two.



PART TWO, CHAPTER FIVE.

WHAT PLAN NEXT?

James Magnus had just struggled to his knees, feeling half mad with rage
at his impotence, for it was only now that he fully realised how
terribly he had been reduced by his illness.  Here before him was the
man whom he had to thank for his sufferings, and against whom for other
reasons as well he nourished a bitter hatred; and yet, instead of being
able to seize him by the throat and force the scoundrel to his knees, he
was as helpless as a child.

"Dog! villain!" he panted, as he staggered up, and made at the fellow;
but Jock Morrison gave him a contemptuous look for answer, and turned to
him, but seemed to alter his mind, and as if alarmed at what he had
done, started off at a brisk trot; while after vainly looking round for
help, Magnus tottered towards the edge of the cliff, his eyes starting
and the great drops of perspiration gathering upon his face.

For a few moments he dared not approach the extreme verge, for
everything seemed to be swimming before his eyes, but at last,
horror-stricken, and trembling in every limb, he went down on hands and
knees, crept to the spot where Artingale had gone over, and peered down,
expecting to see the mangled remains of his poor friend lying upon the
stones beneath.

"Ahoy!" came from below, in the well-known voice of Artingale; and then,
as Magnus saw his friend some twenty feet below, trying to clamber back,
he uttered a low sigh, and sank back fainting upon the turf.

For in spite of Jock Morrison's murderous intent, fate had been kind to
Harry Artingale, who had been hurled over the edge in one of the few
places where instead of going down perpendicularly, the friable cliff
was broken up into ledges and slopes, upon one of which the young man
had fallen and clung for his life to the rugged pieces of stone,
slipping in a little avalanche of fragments some twenty or thirty feet
farther than his first fall of about ten.  Here he managed to check
himself, while one of the largest fragments of stone that he had started
in his course went on, and as he clung there he saw it leap, as it were,
from beside him, and a few seconds after there came up a dull crash from
where the stone had struck and splintered, two hundred feet below.

"I shall lose my nerve," he thought, "if I stop here;" and rousing
himself into action, he began to climb back, and was making his way up
the steep slope without much difficulty, when he saw his friend's
ghastly face for a moment, peering over the edge, and then it
disappeared.

"Poor old fellow, it has made him giddy," muttered Artingale, as he drew
himself up higher and higher, clinging close to the face of the slope
and placing his feet cautiously till he found himself with his hands
resting upon a ledge only a few feet below the top of the cliff.

If he could only get upon this ledge the rest would be easy, but unless
he could draw himself up by the strength of his muscles, he felt that he
must wait for help, and the task was one of no little difficulty, for
there was no firm hold for his hands.

He knew that if he waited for help he must lose his nerve by thinking of
his perilous position, while if he tried to draw himself up and did not
succeed in reaching the ledge he felt that he must fall.

He dared not pause to think of the consequences of that fall, for though
he had escaped so far, it was not likely that he would be so fortunate
again.

He was standing now with his feet on a piece of crumbling sandstone,
which was likely enough to give way if he tried to make a spring
upwards.

Still, there was nothing else to be done, and drawing in a deep breath,
he remained perfectly motionless before making the supreme effort.

His hands were only a few inches above his head, and he began searching
about with them now for a crevice into which he could thrust his
fingers, but the blind search was vain, and feeling that this was
hopeless, he let his eyes fall to scan the surface of the rock below his
chest for some fresh foothold; but there was none, unless he cut a niche
in the soft sandstone, and he had no knife.  If he climbed to the right
he would be in no better position; if to the left, he would be in a
worse; so once more drawing a long breath, he began cautiously to draw
himself up higher and higher by sheer force of muscle, till his eyes
were level with the edge of the shelf; then an inch or two higher, and
then he felt that his hands were giving way--that he was falling--that
all was over, and that he must dashed to pieces, when, in his agony, he
saw an opening, a mere crack, across the shelf, but it was sufficient
for him to force in the fingers of one hand with a desperate effort, and
then, how he knew not, he placed the other beside it.

He could cling here and force feet and knees against the face of the
rock, and in the struggle of the next few moments he raised himself
higher, scrambled on to the ledge, rose panting and with every nerve in
his body quivering, seized hold of a stone above him, thrust his feet
into a niche or two, gained the top of the cliff, and, unable to keep up
the tension longer, he loosed the strain upon his nerves and sank down
beside his friend, trembling in every limb.

This, however, did not last many moments, for, shaking off the feeling
of his own horror, Artingale rose, drew down and buttoned his
wristbands, looking pityingly the while at his friend, and then caught
up his coat and threw it on.

The next moment he was kneeling beside Magnus, who soon after opened his
eyes.

"Ah, Harry," he said, feebly, "you didn't know what a miserable reed you
had for a friend."

"Nonsense, man!  How are you?  Did the blackguard hurt you?"

"No, scarcely at all.  I'm weak as a rat.  But you!"

"Oh, I'm all right.  Only a little skin off my elbows and varnish off my
toes.  Which way did the brute go?"

"Over the hill yonder," said Magnus.  "Where he may go," said Artingale,
"for hang me if I go after him to-day.  Why, confound him, he's as
strong as a bull.  I couldn't have thought a man could be so powerful.
But let's get back, old fellow.  Can you walk?"

"Oh yes, I'm better now," said Magnus feebly; "but I shall never forgive
myself for failing you at such a pinch."

"Never mind the failing, Jemmy: but pinch it was; the blackguard nearly
broke my ribs.  One moment: let me look down."

He walked to the edge and looked over the cliff, realising more plainly
now the terrible risk he had run, for his escape had been narrow indeed,
and in spite of his attempt to preserve his composure, he could not help
feeling a peculiar moisture gathering in the palms of his hands.  But he
laughed it off as he took Magnus's arm, and drew it through his own,
saying,--

"It's a great blessing, my dear boy, that I took off this coat.  It
would have been completely spoiled."

"You had an awfully narrow escape."

"Yes; and it is almost a pity the brute did not kill me," said
Artingale, coolly.

"Harry!"

"Well, if he had, the police would have hunted the scoundrel down, then
he would have been hung, and little Julie could have rested in peace."

"And Cynthia?" said Magnus, with a sad smile.

"Ah, yes! poor little darling, she would have broken her heart.  But I
say, old fellow, it's a pity the scoundrel got away.  What are we to
do?"

"He must be taken," exclaimed Magnus, "at any cost.  It was a murderous
attempt on your life."

"Humph! yes, but he might swear that I tried to throw him over first.
It was a fight, old fellow, and I got the worst of it."

"But he must be taken."

"No," said Artingale, "I think not, old fellow; his is a peculiar case,
and we can't be going into witness-boxes and answering all sorts of
questions.  After to-day's adventure down below on the beach, I don't
see that we can move.  No, Magnus, there are things that must be hushed
up, and this is one of them.  But we must do something.  I declare I'll
mount a revolver, and have a shot at the brute if he annoys them again,
legal or illegal."

"Impossible," said Magnus, bitterly.

"By Jove; if he'd only go down home again and get up to some of his
poaching tricks.  I tell you what, Magnus, old man," he said, setting
his teeth, "I hope fate will never place me with my men down at Gatley,
going to meet a poaching party led by Jock Morrison.  If she does--
well--"

"Well what?"

"I hope I sha'n't have a gun in my hand."

"You must persuade Mr Mallow to leave here."

"What I just as he has come down for Julia's health.  No, my dear
fellow, you might just as well try to move a rock.  But I say, our first
attempt at playing detectives don't seem to have been much of a
success."

"No," said Magnus, dreamily.  "Let's get back."

"What are you thinking about, old man," said Artingale, after a pause.

"I was thinking whether the fellow could be bribed to go away."

"Oh, yes, easily," said Artingale, "and he'd go and come back next week,
and levy blackmail wherever the family went, while the very fact of his
having been paid off would give the affair an ugly look if ever we had
occasion to drag the scoundrel before the judge."

"Then what is to be done?" said Magnus, angrily, "the police must be
consulted."

"No: won't do," said Artingale, decisively.  "Wait a bit, Jemmy, and
I'll hit upon some plan.  Unfortunately, we live in these degraded times
when that fine old institution the press-gang is no more."

"This is no time for levity, Harry," said Magnus, bitterly.

"Levity!  My dear boy, my feelings towards that fellow are full of
anything but levity.  He nearly killed me, and that is no joke; and--oh!
horror of horror!  I did not expect this--here's Perry-Morton."

He was quite right, for the idol of the early masters' clique was
advancing to meet them after failing to see poor Julia, who with
throbbing pulses and cheeks now pale, now burning with fever, was
sobbing in her sister's arms.



PART TWO, CHAPTER SIX.

UNSELFISH PROCEEDINGS.

"Frightened away?  Not a doubt about it," said Artingale.  "I feel as if
I had been a martyr, and offered myself up as a sacrifice."

"Martyr--sacrifice!" cried Cynthia, looking at the speaker keenly, and
with her bright little face flushing.  "Now, Harry, I'll never forgive
you.  I'm sure you've been keeping something back.  There, see how
guilty you look!  Oh, shame! shame!"

Artingale protested that he had been silent only from the best motives,
was accused of deceit and want of confidence, and ended by making a full
confession of the whole incident, after which he had to take Cynthia and
show her the exact spot before his shuddering little companion
condescended to forgive.

"And when was this, sir?"

"This day month," said Artingale, humbly, "and we have not seen him
since.  Magnus and I have watched, and searched, and hunted, and done
everything possible; but, as I say, I think I have been the sacrifice.
He believes he killed me, and is afraid to show."

"Perhaps he has committed suicide out of remorse," said Cynthia.

"Just the sort of fellow who would," replied Artingale, with a dry look.

"Now you are laughing at me," cried Cynthia, pettishly.  "I declare,
Harry, I believe you are tired of me, and want to quarrel.  I've been
too easy with you, sir, and ought to have kept you at a distance."

More protesting and pardoning took place here, all very nice in their
way, but of no interest to any save the parties concerned.

"You must get Julie to come out more now," said Artingale.  "Tell her
there is nothing to mind."

"I can't make poor Julie out at all," said Cynthia thoughtfully.  "She
seems so strange and quiet.  That man must have frightened her
dreadfully."

"Did she tell you about it?"

"Very little, and if I press her she shudders, and seems ready to burst
out sobbing.  Then I have to comfort her by telling her that I am sure
she will never see him any more, and when I say this she looks at me so
strangely."

"What does mamma say?"

"Oh, only that Julie is foolish and hysterical.  She doesn't understand
her at all.  Poor mamma never did understand us girls, I'm sure," said
Cynthia, with a profound look of wisdom upon her little face.

"And papa?"

"Oh, poor dear papa thinks of nothing but seeing us married and--Oh,
Harry, I _am_ ashamed."

"What of?" he cried, catching her in his arms and kissing her tenderly.
"Why, Cynthy, I never knew before what a fine old fellow the pater is.
He is up to par in my estimation now."

"Is that meant for a joke, sir?" said Cynthia mockingly.

"Joke?--joke?  I don't know what you mean."

"Never mind now; but you need not be so pleased about what papa says.  I
think it's very cruel--wanting to get rid of us."

"I don't," exclaimed Artingale, laughing.

"Then you want to see poor Julie married to that dreadful Perry-Morton?"

"No, I don't; I want her to have dear old James Magnus.  I say, Cynthy.
We won't be selfish, eh?  We won't think about ourselves, will we?
Let's try and make other people happy."

"Yes, Harry, we will."

It was wonderful to see the sincerity with which these two young people
spoke, and how eagerly they set to making plans for other people's
happiness--a process which seemed to need a great deal of clinging
together for mutual support, twining about of arms, and looking long and
deeply into each other's eyes for counsel.  Then Artingale's hair was a
little too much over his forehead for the thoughts of Cynthia to flow
freely, and it had to be smoothed back by a little white hand with busy
fingers.  But that hair was obstinate, and it was not until the little
pinky fingers had several times been moistened between Cynthia's ruddy
lips and drawn over the objecting strands of hair that they could be
forced to retain the desired position.

After the performance of such a kindly service Artingale would have been
ungrateful if he had not thanked her in the most affectionate way his
brain could suggest, a proceeding of which, with all due modesty, the
young lady seemed highly to approve.

Then Harry's tie was not quite right, and the new collar stud had to be
admired, and a great deal more of this very unselfish _eau sucree_ had
to be imbibed before Julia again came on the _tapis_, her entrance being
heralded by a sister's sigh.

"Poor Julie!" said Cynthia.

"Oh, yes; poor Julia.  Now, look here, pet, I dare say it's very
shocking, and if it were known the Rector would be sure to give me my
_conge_."

"Oh, I would never think of telling him, Harry."

"That's right.  Well, as I was saying, if she marries Perry-Morton she
will be miserable."

"Horribly," assented Cynthia.  "And if she marries old Magnus she will
be very happy."

"But are you sure that Mr Magnus really loves her?"

"He worships her.  I'm sure of it."

"Then it would be wicked, wouldn't it, Harry, to keep them apart?"

"I should think it as bad as murder to keep us apart."

"Should you, Harry?"

"Yes."  And more unselfish proceedings.

"Then, as papa and mamma have made a mistake, don't you think we ought
to help them?"

"Yes," said Artingale, "but how?  Magnus hangs back.  He says he is sure
that Julia does not think of him in the slightest degree.  What do you
say?"

"I don't know what to say," cried Cynthia thoughtfully, "only that I am
sure she hates Perry-Morton.  She says she does."

"But does she show any liking for Magnus?"

"N-no, I'm afraid not.  But does that matter, dear?"

"Well, I should think not," replied Artingale thoughtfully.  "Magnus
loves her very much, and I'm sure no girl could help loving him in
return.  I almost feel jealous when he talks to you."

"No, you don't, Harry," retorted Cynthia, recommencing operations upon
the obstinate lock of hair.

"Then what is to be done?" said Artingale, at last, after another long
display of unselfishness.

"I'm sure I don't know, Harry.  It almost seems as if Julia was ready to
let herself go with the stream.  She is so quiet and strange and
reserved.  I don't know what to make of her.  She keeps fancying she
sees that man."

"But she don't see him."

"Oh no: it is impossible; but she is so changed.  I find her sometimes
sitting and thinking, looking straight before her as if she were in a
dream.  Bring Mr Magnus here more often."

"Here?"

"Well, no; to Lawford.  I'll coax papa into asking him.  Oh, I say, what
a capital idea!" cried Cynthia, clapping her hands.  "I have it.  Her
portrait!"

"Her portrait!" exclaimed Artingale, starting, as he recalled the scene
in his friend's studio.

"Yes; the very thing.  You take him down to Gatley, and papa shall ask
Mr Magnus over to Lawford to paint Julia's portrait, and then there
will be such long sittings, Harry; and Mr Magnus will have to look at
her so patiently, and move this hand there and that hand here, and get
her into quite the correct pose.  Oh, Harry, what fun!"

"Why, you cunning little witch," he exclaimed; "if Magnus does not jump
at the idea, he deserves to lose her."

Then there came a little more unselfishness and a little disinterested
proceeding, which was interrupted by the entrance of Julia herself,
looking very pale and sad.  There was a far-off, distant aspect about
her eyes, as of one who was thinking deeply of some great trouble, but
she smiled affectionately when Cynthia spoke, after which the
conspirators exchanged glances, and Artingale went away.



PART TWO, CHAPTER SEVEN.

AN OFFER DECLINED.

They were to be busy times at the Rectory that winter, for the servants
left in charge heard that there was to be a great deal of company.

The Gatley domestics too had to make preparations, for Lord Artingale
intended to entertain that season.  A room was set apart for Mr Magnus
the great artist.  Miss Mallow's brothers were expected to come over
from the Rectory to shoot, and Mr Cyril Mallow, it was anticipated,
would be asked to bring his young wife and stay there at the fine old
house--a fact, for Sage was a member now of the Mallow family, and Harry
Artingale liked her as much as he disliked her husband.

There was plenty of gossip rife in Lawford, and on the strength of old
Michael Ross saying, when he was told that Mr Magnus the painter was
coming down, that his son Luke knew him, having met him at a London
club, the report ran through the place that Luke Ross was getting to be
quite a big man, and had become a friend of Lord Artingale.

"Not that that's much," said Fullerton, at the King's Head, "for the
young lord isn't what his father was.  Old Lord Artingale wouldn't have
married one of Mallow's girls, I know, nor yet made boon companions of
those two sons and Luke Ross."

"I don't think you need put them all together," said Tomlinson, with a
sly laugh; "Luke Ross wouldn't be very good friends with the man who
stole his lass.  If he would he's not the Luke Ross that he was when he
was down here."

In due time the blinds went up at Gatley and at the Rectory, and the
tradespeople who had been ready to discuss the shortcomings of the
Rector were obsequious enough in soliciting his orders now the family
had returned.

They had made a long stay at Hastings, for the Rector fancied it did
Mrs Mallow good.  She seemed to smile more, and to look brighter, he
told himself, and he would stand and beam at her as he wheeled her couch
to the open window when it was fine, and watch her gazing at the sea
with the greatest of satisfaction.

Frank had made journeys to and from London, making at the latter place
Cyril's house at Kensington his head-quarters, and frequently being his
companion away from home.

Julia was no better, in spite of the opinion of the doctor, who said
that she had decidedly gained tone, and that the change now to her
native air would complete the cure; so the family returned to Lawford as
the winter drew near, and, as a matter of course, Lord Artingale soon
found his way back to Gatley.

There was some preparation too at Kilby, for Portlock said that it was
his turn to have the young folks to stay.

"They may go to the rectory as much as they like, mother,"--a title he
invariably gave Mrs Portlock, on the _lucus a non lucendo_
principle,--"but I mean to have them stay here; not that I'm
particularly fond of Master Cyril; but there, he's the little lassie's
husband, and it's all right."

"But you asked John Berry and Rue to come and bring the little ones,"
said Mrs Portlock.

"Well, I know that, old lady.  Isn't Kilby big enough to hold the lot?
Let's have the place made a bit cheerful; I like to hear a good hearty
shout of laughter now and then, and you've taken to do nothing else
lately but grumble softly and scold."

"It's a wicked story, Joseph, and you know it," cried Mrs Portlock, as
the Churchwarden turned away from her and winked at the cat; "and as for
noise, I'm sure you make enough in the house without wanting more."

"Never mind, let's have more; and Cyril Mallow can shoot down the
rabbits, for they're rather getting ahead."

As he spoke he had been filling his pipe, and he now took out a letter,
read it, and slowly folded it up for a pipe-light, saying to himself--

"He's no business to want me to lend him a hundred pound after what I so
lately did for them as a start."

James Magnus had been invited to take Julia's portrait, the Rector,
artfully prompted thereto by Cynthia, accompanying the commission by a
very warm invitation to stay at the rectory as much as he could while
the portrait was in progress, as he heard that Mr Magnus was coming
down to Gatley.

Artingale dropped in at his friends studio on the very day that he
received the Rector's letter--of course by accident, based upon a hint
from Cynthia; and found Magnus sitting thoughtfully by his easel,
pretending to paint, but doing nothing.

"Why, Mag, you look well enough and strong enough now to thrash Hercules
himself, in the person of our gipsy friend."

"Yes, I feel myself again," was the reply.  "By the way, Harry, I've had
an invitation to Lawford."

"Indeed!  I'm very glad.  I go down to-morrow."

"The Rector wishes me to paint his daughter's portrait."

"Not Cynthia's?"

"No, that of his daughter Julia."

"Why, Magnus," said Artingale, smiling to himself and laying his hand
upon his friend's arm, "could you wish for a greater pleasure?"

Magnus looked at him so fixedly for a few moments that Artingale felt
that he must be suspected; but it was not so, the artist only shook his
head, and there was a bitter look in his face, as he spoke again.

"Pleasure!" he said; "how can it be a pleasure to me?  Harry, my boy,
how can you be so thoughtless.  Do you think I could be guilty of so
dishonourable an act?"

"Dishonourable?"

"Yes," cried Magnus passionately.  "Should I not go there on false
pretences to try and win that poor girl from the man to whom she is
engaged?"

"But, my dear fellow, it is a folly of her father's invention; she
detests this Perry-Morton, as every right-thinking, matter-of-fact girl
would.  Why, the fellow dances attendance upon every woman of fashion,
and deserves to be encountered with any weapon one could seize.  Tell
me, do you think it right that she should marry such a man?"

"No: certainly not.  No more right than that she should be deluded into
marrying another man she did not love."

"But she would love you, Mag.  My dear fellow, don't refuse to go.
Accept the offer for Julia's sake--for Cynthia's and mine, if you like.
Don't be scrupulous about trifles.  I tell you she is a dear, sweet
girl, and I know your secret.  She is heart-whole now, but if she began
to learn that there was some one who really loved her, she would fly to
him like a young bird does to her mate."

"Very pretty sophistry, Harry Artingale.  When you have bad your fling
of life I should advise you to turn Jesuit."

"Don't talk stuff, my dear fellow.  Take my advice.  Go down with me at
once to Gatley, and make your hay while the sun shines.  I guarantee the
result."

"What, that I shall be kicked out as a scoundrel?"

"Nonsense! kicked out, indeed!  That you will win little Julia's heart."

"As I should deserve to be," continued Magnus, without heeding his
friend's words.  "No, Harry, I am not blind.  I can read Julia Mallow's
heart better, perhaps, than I can read my own, and I know that, whoever
wins her love, I shall not be the man.  As to her marriage with this
wretched butterfly of the day, I can say nothing--do nothing.  That
rests with the family."

"James Magnus," cried Artingale, angrily, "sophistry or no, I wouldn't
stand by and see the woman I loved taken from before my eyes by that
contemptible cad.  The world might say what it liked about honour and
dishonour, and perhaps it might blame you, while, at the same time, it
will praise up and deliver eulogies upon the wedding of that poor girl
to Perry-Morton.  But what is the opinion of such a world as that worth?
Come, come--take your opportunity, and win and wear her.  Hang it all,
Jemmy! don't say the young Lochinvar was in the wrong."

"You foolish, enthusiastic boy," said Magnus, smiling, "so you think I
study the sayings or doings of the fragment of our people that you call
the world?  No, I look elsewhere for the judgment, and, may be, most of
all in my own heart.  There, say no more about it.  I have made up my
mind."

"And I have made up mine," cried Artingale, sharply, "that you have not
the spirit of a man."

He left the studio hot and angry, went straight to his chambers, and
soon after he was on his way to Gatley, having determined to see Cynthia
at once for a fresh unselfish discussion upon Julia's state.



PART TWO, CHAPTER EIGHT.

A VISIT FROM BROTHER JOCK.

"Well," said Smithson, the tailor, as he looked up from a square patch
that he was inserting in the seat of a fellow-townsman's trousers, "the
parson has his faults, and as a family I don't like 'em, but when
they're down it do make a difference to the town."

This was as the cobble stones of the little place rattled to the beating
of horses' hoofs, while a bright-looking little equestrian party passed
along the main street; Cynthia mounted on a favourite mare belonging to
Lord Artingale, one which she was always pleading to ride, and one
whereon her slave loved to see her, though he always sent her over to
the rectory in fear and trembling, ordering the groom who took her to
give her a good gallop on the way to tame her down.

Not that there was the slightest disposition to vice in the beautiful
little creature, she was only spirited, or, as the people in his
lordship's stable said, "a bit larky," and when Cynthia was mounted
there was plenty of excuse for the young man's pride.

"I shall never have patience to ride an old plodding, humble-stumble
horse again, Harry," the little maiden used to say.  "It's like sitting
on air; and she is such a dear, and it's a shame to put two such great
bits in her mouth."

"It is only so that you might check her easily, Cynthy," said Artingale,
anxiously.  "You need not mind; with such a hand as yours at the rein
they don't hurt her mouth."

"But I'm sure they do, Harry," cried Cynthia; "and look how she champs
them up, and what a foam she makes, and when she snorts and throws up
her head it flies over my new riding-habit."

"Never mind, my beautiful little darling," he whispered; "you shall have
a new riding-habit every week if you like, only you must have the big
curb for Mad Sal.  Oh, I'd give something if Magnus could reproduce you
now with one instantaneous touch of his brush, and--"

"Hush! you silly boy," she whispered reprovingly, as the mare ambled on.
"This is not the time and place to talk such nonsense."

Nonsense or no, it produced a very satisfactory glow in the little
maiden's heart--a glow which shone in her soft cheeks, and made her eyes
flash as they rode on.

These riding parties were very frequent, Cyril and Frank joining;
sometimes John Magnus, but never upon the days when Julia was prevailed
upon to mount.

For Cyril was supposed to be staying with his young wife at the farm,
but he passed the greater part of his time at the rectory, when he was
not at Gatley with his brother.

It was a pleasant time, for the roads were hard that winter, the air
crisp and dry, giving a tone to the nerves and muscles, and an
elasticity to the mind, that made even quiet James Magnus look more like
himself, while there were times when Julia looked less dreamy and pale,
and as if the thoughts of her persecutor were less frequent in her
breast.

Sage and she had grown more intimate, as if there were feelings in
common between them, the quiet toleration of Cyril's wife ripening fast
into affection, so that, as Cynthia's time was so much taken up by Lord
Artingale, Julia and Sage were a good deal together, the latter being
her sister-in-law's companion in her visiting rounds, when, to the Rev
Lawrence Paulby's satisfaction, she tried to counteract some of the
prevalent ill-feeling against the Mallow family by calls here and there
amongst the parishioners.

One place where they often called was at the ford of the river, to have
a chat with little Mrs Morrison, where somehow there seemed to be quite
a magnetic attraction; Cyril's wife sitting down in the neatly-kept
little place to gaze almost in silence at the wheelwright's pretty young
wife, while, as if drawn there against her will, Julia would stop and
talk.

The river was very pretty just there even in winter, brawling and
babbling over the gravel before settling down calm and still as it
flowed slowly amongst the deep holes beneath the willow pollards, where
the big fish were known to lie.  And more than once sister and
sister-in-law came upon Cyril in one or other of the fields, trying
after the big jack that no one yet had caught.

"I know he's about here somewhere," said Cyril, over and over again.
"He lies in wait for the dace that come off the shallows, and I mean to
have him before I've done."

That was an artful jack though, for it must have understood Cyril Mallow
and his wiles, obstinately refusing to be caught.

Julia used to look very serious when she saw him there again and again,
but she felt afraid to speak, for the confidence that had existed
between her and her old maid seemed to have passed away, and when their
eyes met at times there was a curious shrinking look on either side; and
so the time went on.

One day Tom Morrison was busily at work at a piece of well-seasoned ash
with his spoke-shave.  The day was bright and keen and cold, but he was
stripped to shirt and trousers, the neck unfastened, sleeves rolled up,
and a look of calm satisfaction in his face as his muscles tightened and
he drew off the thin spiral shavings from the piece of wood.

In old days the workshop used to resound with snatches of song, or his
rather melodious whistling; but of late, since the loss of his little
one, he had grown cold and grave, working in a quiet, subdued manner;
and those who knew him said that he was nursing up his revenge against
the parson.

Fullerton gave him several jobs that should by rights have gone to
Biggins the carpenter, and he once went so far as to say--

"They tell me you never go to church now, Tom Morrison."

"Would you like it painted stone-colour or white, Mr Fullerton?" said
Tom Morrison, quietly.

"Oh--er--white," replied Fullerton, and he said no more upon that
occasion.

It was about a month later, over another job, that Fullerton ventured
another advance, and this time he said, as he was leaving the workshop,
and holding out his hand--

"Good-bye, Morrison.  Oh, by the way, we've got Samuel Mumbey, D.D., at
the chapel on Sunday.  Preaches twice.  We'll find you good seats if you
and Mrs Morrison will come.  Ours is a nice woshup, Morrison, a very
nice woshup, as you would say if you was to try."

"Thankye, sir," said Tom Morrison, stolidly, and again Fullerton said no
more till he was some distance away, when he rubbed his hands softly and
smiled a satisfied smile, saying to himself--

"I should like to save Tom Morrison and his wife from the pit."

Tom Morrison was hard at work, thinking sometimes of his pretty little
wife in the cottage, and how thin and careworn she had grown of late.
He wondered whether it was his fault, and because he had been so hard
and cold since he had lost his little child and quarrelled with the
Rector; whether, too, he ought not to try and bring back some of the
brightness to her face, when it seemed as if so much light as usual did
not shine in upon his work.

He raised his head, and found that there were a pair of thick arms
leaning on the window-sill, and a great bearded face resting upon them,
the owner's eyes staring hard at him.

"Hallo, Jock!" he said, quietly.

"What, Tommy!" was the deep-toned reply; and then there was a pause, as
Tom Morrison felt angry as he thought of his brothers ne'er-do-well
life, and then of his having been hard and cold of late, and this seemed
the time for beginning in another line.

"Long time since I've seen you, Jock," he said, quietly.

"Ay, 'tis, Tommy.  Working hard as usual."

"Ay, working hard, Jock," said Tom, resting his spoke-shave.  "Thou used
to be a good workman, Jock.  Why not take to it again?"

"Me?  Work?  Wheer?"

"I'll give you plenty to do, Jock, and find wage for it, lad, if thou'lt
drop being a shack and sattle down."

Jock Morrison laughed in a deep and silent manner.

"Nay, lad, nay," he said at last.  "Thankye kindly, Tom, all the same.
What's the good o' working?"

"To be respectable and save money."

"I don't want to be respectable.  I don't want to save money, lad.
There's plenty do that wi'out me."

"But how will it be when thou grows old and sick, lad?"

"Why then, Tommy, I shall die; just the same as you will.  I'm happy my
way, lad.  Thou'rt happy thy way.  Folk say I'm a shack, and a
blackguard, and a poacher.  Well, let 'em; I don't keer."

"Nay, don't say that, lad," said Tom Morrison; "I don't like it.  I'd
like to see thee tak' to work and be a man."

"Ha, ha, ha, Tom!  Why, I'm a bigger and a stronger man than thou art
anyways.  Nay, I don't keer for work.  Let them do it as likes.  I don't
want boxing up in a house or a shed.  I want to be in the free air, and
to come and go as I like.  I see no good in your ways.  Let me bide."

Tom looked at him in a dull, careworn way.

"Why, look ye here, lad," cried Jock.  "Here am I as blithe and hearty
as a bird, and here are you, plod, plod, plod, from day to day, round
and round, like old Michael Ross's blind horse in the bark mill.  I look
as hearty as a buck; you look ten years older, and as if life warn't
worth a gill o' ale."

"I wean't argue with you, Jock," said Tom, quietly.  "You must go your
own gate, I suppose, and I'll go mine."

"Ay, that's it, Tommy."

"But if ever you like to try being an honest man again, lad, I'm thy own
brother, and I'll give thee a lift best way I can for the old folks'
sake."

Jock Morrison left the window, and came like a modern edition of Astur
of the stately stride round to the door, walked in amongst the shavings
and sawdust, gave his brother a tremendous slap on the back, and then
seized his hand and stood shaking it for a good minute by the old Dutch
clock in the corner.

He did not speak, but half sat down afterwards upon the bench, watching
his brother as Tom resumed his work.

"How's little wife?" said Jock at last.

"Not hearty, Jock," said Tom Morrison.  "She's pined a deal lately.
Never got over losing the bairn."

There was a spell of silence here, and then Tom said quietly--

"Go in and have a crust o' bread and cheese, Jock, and a mug of ale.
The little lass has been baking this morning."

"Ay, I will," said Jock, and thrusting his hands down into his pockets,
he rolled like a great ship on a heaving sea out of the workshop, along
the road, and then through the little garden, and without ceremony into
the cottage, stooping his head as he passed in at the low door.



PART TWO, CHAPTER NINE.

A CRUEL CHARGE.

Polly was busy at needle-work, and as the great fellow strode in and
stood staring at her, she started up and seemed as if about to run away.

"You here, Jock, again?" she faltered.

"Ay! here I am again," he said, in a deep growl, as he fixed her with
his eye, while she trembled before him and his fierce look.

"I'm glad--to see you, Jock," she said, faintly, and she glanced towards
the door.

"That's a lie," he growled, and then he laughed grimly, but only for his
face to darken into a savage scowl.  "Tom said I was to come in, lass."

"Oh, you've seen Tom!" she said, as if relieved.

"Ay, and he said I was to have some bread and cheese and beer."

"Yes, Jock," she cried; "I'll get it out."

She had to pass him, and he caught her hand in his, towering over her
and making her shiver, as if fascinated by his gaze, as Julia Mallow had
been a score of times.

"Stop!" he said, in a low, deep voice.  "Wait a bit.  I don't want the
bread and cheese.  Look here, Polly."

"Yes, Jock, yes," she panted; "but don't hurt me."

"Hurt ye!" he growled; "I feel as if I could kill thee."

"Jock!"

"Look here, Polly.  I came to see Tom to-day to jump upon him, and call
him a fool, and give him back what he's given me for not settling down
and marrying and being respectable.  I was going to laugh at him, and
show him what his respectable married life was."

"I--I don't understand you, Jock," she said, faintly.

"It's a lie," he growled.  "I was going to laugh at him, but, damn it,
he's so good a chap I hadn't the heart to mak' him miserable any more
than he is about that poor bairn he thinks was his, and I--"

"How dare you!" cried Polly, flaming up, and trying to tear away her
hand; but he held it fast, and, in spite of her indignation, she cowered
before his fierce, almost savage looks.

"How dare I?" he growled.  "Didn't young Serrol run after you at the
house when you were at Mallow's?  Hasn't he been after you ever since?
Isn't he every day nearly hanging about the river there fishing, so as
to come and talk to thee?  Curse you!" he growled.  "This is a wife, is
it?  But, by God, it shan't go on, for I'll take him by the neck next
time he's fishing yonder by the willow stumps, and I'll howd him
underwater and drownd him as I would a pup."

"Oh, Jock, Jock, Jock," she cried, sinking on her knees.

"I will--I will, by God!" he cried, in a fierce growl; "and then you may
go and say I did it, when they find his cursed carcase, and get me hung
for drownding thy lover."

"It's a lie!" cried Polly, springing up and speaking passionately.
"Cyril Mallow is no lover of mine.  I hate and detest him, but never
dared tell poor Tom how he came and troubled me.  But I'll tell him now;
I'll confess all to him.  I'd sooner he killed me than you should insult
me with such lies."

She made a rush for the door, and had reached it, but, with an activity
not to be expected in his huge frame, Jock swept round one great arm,
seized her, and drew her back, quivering with indignation.

"Let me go," she cried, passionately.  "Tom!  Tom!"

"Howd thy noise," he growled, and once more she shrunk cowering from his
fierce eyes.  "Now then, say that again.  S'elp your God, Serrol Mallow
is nothing to thee, and never has been."

"I won't," she cried, passionately, and she flashed up once more and met
his gaze.  "How dare you ask me such a thing?"

"Say it, lass--say it out honest, lass--is what I say true?"

"No," she cried, gazing full in his eyes.  "It's a cruel, cruel lie.
Let me go.  I'll tell Tom now--every word--everything that man has said,
and--"

Jock let his great hand sink from Polly's little arm to her wrist, and
led her to a chair, she being helpless against his giant strength.

"Nay," he said, "thou shan't tell him.  It would half kill him first,
and then he'd go and kill parson's boy."

"Yes, yes; he would, he would," sobbed Polly.  "I dared not tell him,
and it's been breaking my heart.  But I won't bear it.  Go away from
here.  How dare you say such things to me?"

"Howd thy tongue, lass," said Jock, in a deep growl, and his strong will
mastered hers.  "Hearken to me, Polly.  I beg thy pardon, lass, and I
can read it in thy pretty eyes that all I said was a lie.  I beg thy
pardon, lass."

"How could you--how dare you?" sobbed Polly.  "Tom, Tom! come here--come
here!"

"Hush! he can't hear thee, lass," growled Jock.  "I've seen so much that
I thought thou wast playing a bad game against Tom; but I was wrong, my
little lass, and I say forgive me."

"Let me go and tell Tom all now," she sobbed.  "I shan't be happy till I
do."

"Dost want to mak' thyself happy," growled Jock, sinking into his old
Lincolnshire brogue, after losing much by absence in other
counties--"happy, half breaking.  Tom's heart, and getting murder done?
If thou dost--go!"

Polly bounded to the door to seek her husbands help, and tell him all,
Jock watching her the while; but as she reached the door her courage
failed, and she turned away with a piteous wail.

"Oh, God help me!" she cried; "what shall I do?"

"Come and sit down, lass, and dry thy eyes," said Jock, kindly.  "Say
thou forgives me.  I'm very sorry, lass.  I'm a down bad un, but I like
owd Tom.  He's a good 'un, is Tom."

"The best, the truest of men."

"And I'm glad he's got a good little true wife," growled Jock.  "There,
it's all right, ain't it, Polly?" he said, taking her little hand in his
and patting it.  "Say thou forgives me."

"But--but you don't believe me," sobbed Polly.

"But I do," he said, kissing her little hand in a quiet, reverential way
that ill accorded with his looks.  "Say thou forgives me, lass."

"I do forgive you, Jock," she said, wiping her eyes.  "Now let's call
dear Tom in and tell him all."

"Nay," said Jock, "he mustn't be told.  He's troubled enough as it is.
I'll mak' it reight."

"No, no, Jock," cried Polly, with her checks turning like ashes.

"What, are you afraid I shall drownd him?" he said, sharply.

"Yes!  Oh, it is so horrible!"

"Nay, I wean't drownd him if he'll keep away," said Jock, fiercely, "but
I'll hev a word wi' him when he least expects it."

"I--I thought," faltered Polly, "that when he was married he would keep
away."

"Nay, not he," growled Jock; "but I heven't done wi' him and his yet."

"But, Jock!"

"Get me some bread and cheese, lass," he growled, and she rose in a
timid way, and gazing at him fearfully, spread a cloth, and placed the
food before him.

"Now go and bathe thy pretty eyes," he said, as he sat down; "but stay a
moment, lass."

He took both her hands in his, and drew her to him, and kissed her
forehead.

"I beg thy pardon, Polly," he said once again; "and now go, and I
promise that he shall never trouble thee again."

"But, Jock!"

"Howd thy tongue, lass.  I wean't drown him, but if I don't scar him
from this lane my name's not Jock."

Polly left the kitchen, and the great fellow sat there eating heartily
for a time, and then Polly came back.

"Sometimes, lass," he said, "I think thou ought to hev towd Tom all;
sometimes I don't.  Wait a bit till that Serrol Mallow's gone again, and
then tell him all.  Hah! he's a nice 'un, and his brother too.  They're
gentlemen, they are.  I'm on'y a rough shack.  It mak's me laugh though,
Polly, it do.  I don't work, they say.  Well, I don't see as they do,
and as owd Bone used to mak' us read at school, nobody can't say as Jock
Morrison, bad as he is, ever goes neighing after his neighbour's wife.
Theer lass, theer lass, it's all put away, and I'm down glad as I was
wrong."

"And you will frighten him away, Jock?" said Polly, who looked very
bright and pretty now.

"That I will, Polly," said the great fellow, draining his mug; "and, my
lass, I don't know but what Tom's reight to sattle down wi' such a
pretty little lass as thou.  Mebbe I shall be doing something of the
sort myself.  Good-bye, lass, good-bye."

"When--when shall we see you again?" said Polly, in a timid way.

"Don't know, my lass, but I may be close at hand when no one sees me.
I'm a curus, hiding sort of a fellow.  Theer, good-bye."

He stooped and left the house, and Polly saw him go towards the
workshop, stop talking for a few minutes, and then go slowly rolling
along the lane.

"I'm afraid Jock's after no good, Polly, my little woman," said Tom
quietly that night.  "Ah, well, there's worse fellows than he."

"I like Jock better than ever I liked him before," cried Polly, with
animation.

"I wish you could like him into a better life," said Tom, thoughtfully.
"I wonder where the poor old chap has gone."

On a mission of his own.  That very afternoon Cynthia had tempted her
sister out of the solitude she so much affected now, by proposing a
ride; for Lord Artingale had sent the horses over with a note saying
that he had been called away to the county town, but would come over in
the evening.

Julia took some pressing, but she agreed at last, the horses were
brought round, and soon after the sisters mounted, and were cantering
along the pleasant sandy lanes, followed some fifty yards or so behind
by a well-mounted groom.

The sun shone brightly, and there was a deliciously fresh breeze, just
sufficient to make the exercise enjoyable.  The swift motion, with the
breeze fanning her face, seemed to brighten Julia's eyes and send a
flush into her cheeks, as they cantered on, Cynthia being full of merry
remarks, and gladly noticing her sister's change.

"Oh, if she would only pluck up a little spirit," thought Cynthia; and
then she began to wonder whether Artingale would bring over Magnus.

Then she began to make plans as to how she would bring them together,
and leave them pretty often alone.

One way and another, as they rode on and on, Miss Cynthia mentally
proved herself a very female Von Moltke in the art of warfare, and so
wrapt was she in her thoughts, that she paid no heed to the fidgeting of
the beautiful creature she was riding.

"Isn't your mare very tiresome, Cynthia?" said Julia.

"Only fresh, dear; I don't mind," was the reply.  "I can manage her."

They were now in one of the winding, hilly lanes running through a
series of the shaws or little woods common in that part of the country,
and intersected by narrow rides for the convenience of the shooting
parties and those who hunt.  Everything looked very beautiful, and with
her troubled breast feeling more at rest than it had for weeks, Julia
was really enjoying her ride.

"Why, this is what we ought often to do," thought Cynthia.  "Quiet,
mare!  Julia seems to feel safe from the ogre now she is well mounted.
How pretty she looks!"

Julia certainly did look very beautiful just then, though she might have
reciprocated the compliment.  Her dark blue habit fitted her to
perfection, her little glossy riding-hat was daintily poised upon her
well-shaped head, and she rode her mare gracefully and well.

"Shall I take up a link or two of her curb, ma'am?" said the groom,
cantering up, as Mad Sal seemed to be growing excited.

"Oh no, Thomas; she'll quiet down.  It would only make her more fidgety.
I'll give her a gallop."

If she had not decided to give it, Mad Sal would have taken it; for as
she spoke and loosened her rein, the graceful creature sprang off at a
gallop, and after a few strides began to go like the wind.

"Oh, Thomas, Thomas," cried Julia; "gallop!"

"Don't you be frightened, Miss," said the groom, smiling.  "Miss Cynthia
won't hurt.  I never see a lady as could go like her.  Shall I gallop
after her, miss?"

"Yes, yes, quickly," cried Julia, excitedly; and, knowing the country,
the groom turned his horse's head, put him at and leaped a low hedge
into a field between two patches of coppice, and went off hunting
fashion, to cut off a long corner round which he knew his young charge
would go.

Julia hesitated about following, and then kept on at an easy canter
along the road, following her sister's steps, till suddenly she turned
ghastly pale, as, about fifty yards in front, she saw a man force his
way through the low hedge, and then, evidently hot and panting with a
long run, come towards her.

She had but to lash her mare and dash by him.  She could have turned and
cantered off with ease.  But she did neither, merely sitting paralysed,
as it were, with her eyes fixed upon the great dark-bearded fellow, who
came boldly up, laid his hand upon the rein, and the mare stopped short.

"Why, my beauty," he said, in a low deep voice, as he passed his arm
through the rein, and placed his great hands upon the trembling girl's
waist, "I thought I was never going to see you again."

Julia did not answer, though her lips parted as if to utter a cry.

"There," he said, "don't look frightened.  I wouldn't hurt you for the
world.  I've got you safe, and the mare too.  I don't know which is the
prettiest.  There, you're all right; they won't be back this half-hour.
I've got you safe; jump?"

As he spoke he lifted her out of the saddle, and the next moment she was
clasped tight in the fellow's arms--the dove quite at the mercy of the
hawk.



PART TWO, CHAPTER TEN.

AT KILBY.

Winter came in early that year, but none the less fiercely.  Cyril and
his young wife stayed on, Sage eagerly agreeing to her aunt's proposal
that the visit should be prolonged, and consequently the rabbits on the
farm had a very hard time, especially when the snow came, and their
footprints could be tracked with ease.

John Berry brought his young wife and children, to the great delight of
the Churchwarden, of whom they made a perfect slave, for he was never
weary of petting them.

Lord Artingale came over once, and won golden opinions of Mrs Portlock
by what she called his condescension; and as to his nominee at the next
election, the Churchwarden was ready to support him through thick and
thin for the interest he took in Rue Berry's little children.

Harry Artingale was not the only gentleman visitor who found his way to
the farm, for Frank Mallow came one evening soon after the Berrys had
arrived, and that night, when Sage had gone up with her sister to her
room, Rue suddenly burst into a hysterical fit of weeping.

"Why, Rue, darling," exclaimed her sister, "what is it?"

"Nothing, nothing at all," she cried hastily, wiping her eyes and
cheering up.  "Only one of my foolish fits, Sagey.  There, there, good
night."

"But you are ill," said Sage, anxiously.

"Ill, dear?  No; it is only a little hysterical feeling that I have
sometimes," and wishing her sister good night in the most affectionate
manner, Sage left her bending over the little bedstead where her
children slept, and as Sage closed the door she saw Rue sinking down
upon her knees.

It was not a pleasant time, for Cyril had grown short and sulky whenever
Frank came, and seeing this, Frank laughed, and became unpleasantly
attentive to his brother's young wife.

"If he won't be polite to you, Sage, I will," he cried.  "I want you to
have pleasant memories of me when I am gone."

"But are you going soon?" she asked.

"Oh, yes, I shall go soon," he replied; "I'm tired of this narrow
country.  Ah, Portlock, you should come with me."

"No, no," exclaimed Mrs Portlock, excitedly.  "My husband could not
think of such a thing."

The Churchwarden, who was puffing away at his pipe when this was said,
gave Frank Mallow a peculiar look, to which that gentleman nodded and
stroked his dark beard.

"Well, I don't know, mother," he said; "farming's getting very bad here,
and those who emigrate seem to do very well."

"Oh, no, Joseph; I don't believe they do," cried Mrs Portlock, plaiting
away at her apron, so as to produce the effect since become fashionable
under the name of kilting.

"Why, look at young Luke Ross," said the Churchwarden; "he's emigrated
to London, and they say getting on wonderful."

"Home's quite good enough for me, Joseph," said Mrs Portlock, "and I
wouldn't go on any consideration."

Frank Mallow took up the ball here, but the Churchwarden saw that Sage
had turned pale and was bending over her work, so he stopped, and Frank
went on painting the pictures of Australian life in the most
highly-coloured style.

This visit became an extremely painful one to Sage, for, to Cyril's
great annoyance, Frank came more and more, bantering his brother on his
ill-humour, taking not the slightest notice of Mrs Berry, who had
turned very cold and reserved to him now, and evidently trying to pique
her by his attentions to Sage.

The latter began to look upon him with horror, and dreaded Cyril's
absences, which were very frequent, there always being something to
shoot over at Gatley, or a trip to make somewhere; and at last it became
almost a matter of course, as soon as Cyril had gone, for Frank to come
sauntering in to have a chat with the Churchwarden upon sheep.

As a rule the Churchwarden would be absent, and Mrs Portlock would
begin to exert herself to make the visitor's stay comfortable, always
contriving a little whispered conversation with him in the course of his
visit, and begging him not to induce Portlock to emigrate.  For it would
be such a pity at his age, she whispered.  And then, as soon as he got
free, he would begin chatting to Sage, who sat there afraid to seem
cold, but all the time being ill at ease, for a horrible suspicion had
come over her, and fight against it how she would, she could not drive
it away.

A great change had come over Rue, and it seemed to Sage so horrible,
that she reproached herself for harbouring the idea that her sister's
affection had come back for her old lover; that he was trying all he
could to win her from her duty as a wife and mother; and that she, Sage,
was being used as a blind to hide the real state of the case from her
aunt and uncle.  As for John Berry, there was no need to try and blind
him, for in his simple, honest fashion he had the fondest trust in his
wife; and if any one had hinted that she was falling away from him, if
it had been a man, he would have struck him down.

A fortnight passed, and the frost still lasted.  The Churchwarden, in
his genial hospitality, said that it was a glorious time, but to Sage it
was one of intense mental pain.  Cyril had gone back to London, but was
to come back and fetch her; but even if he had been there, Sage would
have shrunk from speaking to him, seeing what a horrible accusation she
would be making against her own sister and his brother; and she shrank
from it the more from a dread of saying or doing anything to estrange
Cyril, who had certainly been of late colder than his wont.

"Should she tell Julia?"

No, she seemed ill, and to avoid her now, and Sage was too proud to
attempt to force herself upon her sister-in-law if she wished to keep
away.

It was a terrible time for her, as she realised more and more, from
various little things she saw, that Frank Mallow had, from old
associations, regained his old power over Rue, and to her horror she
felt certain that they had had stolen interviews.

"What should she do?" she asked herself; and now she wished that Cyril
was back, for suddenly, just as Sage was praying that John Berry would
make up his mind to go home, he announced his intention of going alone.

"It's bitter cold there after the place has been shut up, Churchwarden,
and if thou does not mind I'll leave Rue and the little ones, and come
over and fetch them in about a week's time."

Frank glanced at Sage, and their eyes met, sending a thrill of horror
through the latter, as she felt more and more sure that her sister was
growing weaker; and Sage closed her eyes, and bitterly reproached her
husband for leaving her alone at such a time.

She formed a dozen plans, but rejected them all, and tried to invent
others.  She felt that she could not speak to her uncle and aunt; she
dared not accuse her sister, for she was not sure, and hour after hour
she was praying that she might have been deceived; but all the same she
felt bound to act, and finally she determined that she would never leave
Rue alone when Frank Mallow was in the house.

Sage's plan was good, but she could not keep to it; and one day, as she
was about to enter the dining-room, where she had left her sister alone
for a few moments, she heard her say, in a piteous voice--

"Oh, Frank, spare me!  I cannot--I dare not?"

"It is too late now," he said.  "All is arranged.  You must!"

Sage did not enter the room, but stood there trembling as she heard her
aunt go in by the farther door, and begin chattering to them both; but,
with her blood seeming to run cold, she hurried up to her own room, and
threw herself on her knees to pray for strength and wisdom at this
crisis.

If she told her uncle or her aunt, the consequences seemed to be
terrible.  If she spoke to Rue, she foresaw that her sister would deny
all.

She now determined what to do.  She would attack Frank himself, and
insist upon his leaving the house at once, never to return; but on going
down to put her plan into effect, she found that he was gone, and he did
not return.

To her surprise, Rue seemed to have grown calmer now, and as the evening
wore on she was almost cheerful, as if a load was off her mind.

Her equanimity almost disarmed Sage, and about eight o'clock, as they
were sitting with their aunt and uncle, listening to the roaring of the
wind, the precursor of a snow-storm, Sage sat quite still as her sister
rose and said that she wanted to go up and see if the children were
asleep.

Taking a candle, Rue lit it, and her face seemed very bright as she
stood for a moment looking at the little party in the room.

"Let me see," said the Churchwarden; "I forgot to tell you, my dear.  I
saw the parson this afternoon.  He had had a letter from Cyril."

"From Cyril?" cried Sage, eagerly.

"Yes, my dear; and he said it was just possible that he might be down
to-night."

"And he did not write and tell me," thought Sage, as her sister left the
room.

"It will be a roarer to-night," said the Churchwarden, as the wind
howled in the broad chimney, and the soft dull patting noise of falling
flakes could be heard upon the window-panes.  "Shouldn't wonder if we
had a power o' snow."

"And he did not write and say he was coming," thought Sage again, as a
curious pang seemed to be followed by a dull aching in her breast.

"Ah!" continued the Churchwarden, tapping his pipe on the great
dog-irons, and meditatively putting the burning wood together with his
boot, "I thought it was coming, mother.  We shall be snowed up safe.  If
Cyril Mallow is under a good roof anywhere, he'll stay there for the
night, if he's got the brains I give him the credit for."

Just then a curious wailing noise made by the wind fell upon Sage's ear,
and it seemed to her as if she had received a sudden shock, for from old
associations with this her youthful home she knew what caused that
sound--the side door had been opened and softly closed.

Sage sat there for a few moments motionless, and felt as if turned to
stone, for she knew, as surely as if she had seen it all, that her
sister had opened that door and had gone to join Frank Mallow somewhere
close at hand.

The terrible nightmare-like feeling passed off as quickly as it had
come, and, how she hardly knew, Sage left the room, went straight to the
side door, catching down her hat and cloak from the pegs, and passed out
into the bitter night.

The wind nearly snatched the cloak from her as she flung it on, and then
ran along the path towards the lane, for there were fresh footprints in
the newly-fallen snow; and so quickly did she run that at the end of ten
minutes she was within sight of a dark figure hurrying on before her
with bended head, and the driving snow rapidly making it invisible as it
hurried on.

The storm was rapidly increasing, and the wind and drifting snow
confused her; but she ran on now, and with a despairing cry flung her
arms round the figure, crying--

"Rue--sister!  Where are you going?  Oh, for heaven's sake, stop!"

"Sage!" she cried, hoarsely, and she struggled to free herself; but Sage
clung to her tightly, and she stumbled, slipping on the hard ground
beneath the snow, and sinking to her knees.

Sage knelt beside her upon the snow, and, clasping her waist, she
sobbed--

"Yes, yes, upon your knees, Rue--sister, pray, pray with me--for
strength.  God hear our cry, and save my sister from this sin!"

For a few moments, as she heard the passionate cry, Rue knelt there
trembling, but she began to struggle again.

"Don't stop me.  It is too late now.  I cannot help it, Sage; I must
go."

"You shall not go.  I know all.  He has tempted you to do this wrong,
and you are mad; but think--for God's sake, think.  It will break John's
heart."

"Oh, hush, hush!"  Rue cried, with a shiver.  "Hush, hush!  I must go
now!"

"You shall not; I will never leave you.  Rue, dear, there are two little
children lying there in their bed, silently calling you to come to them
and avoid this sin.  Sister--mother--wife, will you leave them for that
cruel, reckless man?"

"Oh, hush!" cried Rue, struggling with her fiercely.  "You do not know.
You cannot tell.  He's waiting for me, and I must--I will go."

"Never while I have breath," Sage panted, and then she uttered a shriek
of affright, for Rue made an effort to escape her, running for some
distance, and then falling heavily in the snow.

This was her last struggle, for as Sage overtook her, the weak woman
rose, and, trembling and moaning, to herself, she allowed her sister to
lead her back towards the farm.

How Sage managed to get her sister along she never afterwards knew, but
by degrees she did, and up to her room unheard, hiding away all traces
of the snowy cloaks and boots before summoning Mrs Portlock to her
help, for as soon as Rue reached the bedroom she threw herself upon her
knees by her sleeping children, moaning, sobbing, speaking incoherently,
and passing from one terrible hysterical fit into another that seemed
worse.

"Go and tell uncle she's better now," said Mrs Portlock, at last; "I
can hear him walking up and down like a wild beast.  There, there, now,
my child," she said soothingly to Rue, "try and be calm."

Sage went down to find the Churchwarden buttoned up and with the old
horn lanthorn lit, ready to walk over to the town and fetch Doctor
Vinnicombe.

"I'm afraid it's no use to put a horse to, my dear," he said; "the
snow's drifting tremendously."

"I don't think you need go, uncle," said Sage, and here she stopped
short and clung to him, for there was a sharp knocking at the front
door, and in her confused, excited state Sage's heart sank, for she felt
that it was Frank Mallow grown impatient, and come to insist upon Rue
keeping her word.

"There, there, my pretty, don't you turn silly too," said the
Churchwarden.  "By jingo, what a night!" he cried, as the outer door was
opened, and a rush of snow-laden wind swept into the hall and dashed
open the big parlour door.

The sound of a rough voice gave Sage relief, for it was John Berry who
had arrived.

The relief was but momentary, for Sage's conscience said that the
husband had gained some inkling of the intended flight, and had come to
stop it.

Just then the broad-shouldered, red-faced farmer entered the room.

"How are ye?" he cried in a bluff tone that set Sage's heart at rest for
the moment.  "I scarcely thought the mare would have got me through it,"
he continued.  "It's a strange rough night, master, and if you've any
sheep out, I'd have 'em seen to.  Eh? what?  My darling ill?" he cried,
as he heard the Churchwarden's announcement.  "Then thank the Lord I did
come."

"No, no; don't go to her now," panted Sage, as John Berry took off his
coat and threw it out into the hall.

"Not go up to her?  Nay, lass, that I will," he cried, and Sage followed
him up-stairs.

"Why, Rue, my lass," he cried, tenderly, "what's wrong wi' you?"

At the sound of his voice Rue started from the bed and flung herself
into his arms.

"Jack, Jack!" she cried, "take me--hold me--husband, dear.  God have
mercy on me!  I must be mad."

Sage stayed with them in obedience to a sign from John Berry, and stood
there trembling as she saw her sister's fair brown hair tumbled upon her
husband's breast, to which she clung in an agony of remorse.

Over and over again Rue kept raising her head, though to gaze piteously
at her sister, and then hide her face again.

A couple of hours went on like this, but when at last Sage found her
opportunity, and clasping her sister to her breast, whispered--"Rue, may
I trust you now?"

"Yes, oh, yes," she sobbed.  "I pray God I may never see his face
again."

"Then that is our secret, Rue," Sage whispered.  "It is for ever buried
in our breasts."

She left them after some hours, Rue lying upon the bed, sobbing at
times, and seemingly asleep, while John Berry sat beside her, holding
her little white hands.

Sage went down softly, but began to tremble as she heard voices in the
room; but summoning up her courage, she entered, to find Morrison, the
wheelwright, standing there, with the Churchwarden placing a glass of
hot spirits and water in his hand.

"Go back, go back, my darling," cried Mrs Portlock, excitedly.

"No, no, my dear," said the Churchwarden, firmly; "Sage is no coward,
and she must know.  My darling, try and be firm, and hope for the best.
The cart will be here directly, and were going to force our way through
and bring him in.  Yes, there it comes."

"What--what is it?" panted Sage.  "Is--is Frank--"

"Oh, pray be silent, Joseph," sobbed Mrs Portlock.

"Why?" said the Churchwarden, firmly.  "She must know the worst.  Get
hot water and blankets ready, my dear, and we'll soon bring him round.
Come, Morrison," and hurrying out, the door was pushed to, forcing back
with it a quantity of the soft white snow.

"For heaven's sake tell me, aunt!" sobbed Sage.

"But am I to?" said the old lady, trembling before her niece.

"Yes, yes," cried Sage.  "I must know.  Is he dead?"

"No, no, my darling," said Mrs Portlock, piteously.  "Tom Morrison was
going home, but he could not get round by the ford.  The cutting in Low
Lane was full, so he came round our way; and--oh, dear me! oh, dear me!"

"For heaven's sake, aunt, go on," cried Sage, half fiercely now.

"Yes, my darling," sobbed Mrs Portlock; "and they'll be here directly,
I hope and pray.  And he came upon Cyril."

"Cyril!" shrieked Sage.

"Lying buried in the snow, just at the corner where he fought Luke
Ross."

Sage stood gazing at her with a blank white face, shivering violently as
her aunt went on in a voice choked with tears.

"Tom Morrison tried to carry him on here, but he could not get him
through the snow, so he came for help, and--heaven be thanked, here they
are!"

The room seemed to swim round Sage as she heard the sound of voices
above the roaring of the wind, and going with her aunt and the two
affrighted servants to the door, they stood their ground in spite of the
beating and driving snow, till a stiffened white figure was borne into
the great parlour and laid before the fire, the Churchwarden giving
orders in all directions.

"We could never get Vinnicombe across to-night, so we must bring him
round ourselves.  Quick, every one.  Hot blankets, and let's get these
snowy things away.  Why in God's name don't some one shut that door?" he
roared, as the wind and snow followed them into the room, making the
fire roar furiously and the sparks stream up.

"Don't be downhearted," cried the Churchwarden, setting the example, as
John Berry came in to see what was the matter.

"Hey, and what is it?" he said, laying his hand upon the wheelwright's
arm.

"Mr Cyril Mallow, Master Berry; we found him in the snow."

It was just as Sage's heart gave a great bound of relief, for as the
mist cleared from her eyes and the giddiness passed away, she found
herself kneeling beside her husband's brother, frozen stiff where he had
been waiting for hours at the trysting-place.  And as Sage gazed with a
strange feeling of awe at the stern white features set in death, the
Churchwarden said softly, "Nay, Morrison, thou'rt wrong, my lad; it is
Mr Frank.  He must have been coming here."



PART TWO, CHAPTER ELEVEN.

LOVERS' WORDS.

Time flies.

Not an original remark this, but perfectly true.

Decorous mourning had been worn for Frank Mallow, the invalid mother had
grown more grey, and the lines in her forehead deeper, while as the
Rector thought of the fate of his firstborn, and shut his ears to little
bits of scandal that floated about, he sighed, and turned more and more
to his daughters, for Cyril, fortunately for himself, had quite forsaken
Lawford since his brother's death, having troubles of his own to contend
with, while his wife had hers.

Rue Berry's adventure remained a secret between the sisters, and though
at the weekly-meetings at the King's Head there were a good many nods
and shakes of the head as to the reason why, on the night of his death,
Frank Mallow had engaged a fly and pair of horses, such matter was never
openly discussed, Tomlinson sagely remarking that when a man died there
was a thick black mark ruled across the page of his ledger, and it was
not worth while to tot up an account that there was no one to pay.

Then, as time went on, the inquest was forgotten, and the tablet placed
in the church by the Rector, sacred to the memory of Frank, the beloved
son, etcetera, etcetera, only excited notice during one weekly meeting,
when Fullerton wondered what had become of the fortune Frank Mallow had
made in Australia.

His fellow-tradesmen wondered, and so did Cyril Mallow to such an extent
that he borrowed a hundred pounds from Portlock the churchwarden to pay
for investigations and obtain the money.

"Seed corn, mother," said Portlock, grimly; "seed corn for Cyril Mallow
to sow; but hang me, old lady, if I believe it will ever come to a
crop."

As soon as possible after the terrible shock Mrs Mallow had received,
the Rector took her abroad, and for eight months they were staying at
various German baths, changing from place to place, the Rector now and
then--handsome, grey-bearded, and the very beau ideal of an English
clergyman--drawing large congregations when he occupied the pulpit of
the chaplain at some foreign watering-place.

It was a pleasant time of calm for him, and he sighed as he thought of
returning to England; but this return was fast approaching for many
reasons.  One reason was the Bishop.  Certainly the Rev Lawrence
Paulby was indefatigable with the business of the church, but the Bishop
seemed to agree in spirit with the meeting at the King's Head, that it
was not quite right for one clergyman to draw fifteen hundred a year
from a parish and not do the duty, while another clergyman only drew
ninety pounds a year and did do the duty, and did it well.

Another reason was, both Lord Artingale and Perry-Morton had been over
again and again, and after a decent interval had pressed hard for their
marriages to take place.

The last visit had been to a popular place of resort, where poor Mrs
Mallow was, by the advice of the German physician, undergoing a process
of being turned into an aqueous solution; at least she was saturated
daily with an exceedingly nauseous water, and soaked in it hot for so
many hours per week as well.  The same great authority recommended it
strongly for Julia, who drank the waters daily to the sound of a band.
He also advised that the Fraulein Cynthia should take a lesser quantity
daily also, to the strains of the German band, at intervals of
promenading; but Cynthia merely took one sip and made a pretty grimace,
writing word afterwards that the "stuff" was so bad that if the servants
at home had been asked to use it to wash their hands there would have
been a revolt.

There were other reasons too for calling back the Rev Eli Mallow, and
he sighed, for it was very pleasant abroad, and he foresaw trouble upon
his return--parish trouble, the worry of the weddings, contact with
Cyril, with whom he had quarrelled bitterly by letter, refusing to
furnish him with money, a fact which came hard upon Churchwarden
Portlock, who bore it like a martyr, and smoked more pipes as, for some
strange reason, he raked up and dwelt strongly upon every scrap of
information he could obtain about the progress of Luke Ross in London,
even going over to the marketplace occasionally to have a pipe and a
chat with old Michael his father.

There was no help for it, and at last the luggage was duly packed, and
after poor Mrs Mallow had been carefully carried down, the family
started for home, and settled for the time being in one of a handsome
row of houses north of the park.

"Yes, my dear, it is--very expensive," said the Rector, in answer to a
remark, almost a remonstrance, from the invalid; "but we must keep up
appearances till the girls are married.  Then, my dear, we shall be
alone, and we will go down to the old home, and there will be nothing to
interfere with our quiet, peaceful journey to the end."

Mrs Mallow turned her soft pensive eyes up to him as he leaned over the
couch, and he bent down and kissed her tenderly.

"Well, my darling, who can say?" he whispered.  "If more trouble comes,
it is our fate, and we will try and bear the burden as best we can."

"But you will go down now and then to Lawford, Eli?" she said, and the
Rector sighed.

"Yes, my dear, I will," he said; "but at present we must stay in town."
And he placed his hands behind him and walked up and down the room,
wishing that he could understand the Lawford people, or that they could
understand him, and looking forward with anything but pleasurable
anticipations to his next visit.

Just then Julia, looking very pale and dreamy in her half-mourning,
entered the room, to come and sit with and read to the invalid, a
visitor being below, and her presence not being in any way missed.

Henry, Lord Artingale was the visitor, and as soon as she had left the
room Julia became one of the principal topics, for she had seemed of
late to have fallen into a dreamy state, now indifferent, now reckless,
and Cynthia declared pettishly that she gave her sister up in despair.

"I don't know what to make of her, Harry," said Cynthia one morning
after they had been back in town some time; "one day she will be bright
and cheerful, another she seems as if she were going melancholy mad."

"Oh, no; come, that's exaggeration, little one."

"It is not," cried Cynthia, "for she is wonderfully changed when we are
together."

"How changed?  Why, she looks prettier than ever."

"I mean in her ways," continued Cynthia.  "We used to be sisters indeed,
and never kept anything from one another.  Why, Harry, I don't believe
either of us had a thought that the other did not share, and now I seem
to be completely shut out from her confidence; and if it were not for
you, I believe I should break my heart."

Of course Harry Artingale behaved as a manly handsome young fellow
should behave under such circumstances.  He comforted and condoled with
the afflicted girl, who certainly did not look in the slightest degree
likely to break her heart.  He offered his manly bosom for her to rest
her weary head, and he removed the little pearly tears from under the
pretty fringed lids of her large bright eyes.  There were four of
them-- tears, not eyes--and Harry wiped them away without a
pocket-handkerchief, the remains of one damaged tear remaining on his
moustache when the process was over, and poor little Cynthia seemed much
better.

"Well," said Artingale, "there is one comfort, Cynthy: we did scare away
the big bogey.  She has not seen him any more?"

"No--no!" said Cynthia softly, "I suppose not.  She has never said
anything about him since we were at Hastings.  I have fancied sometimes
that she has seen him and been frightened; but she never mentions it,
and I have always thought it best never to say a word."

"Oh, yes, far the best," said Artingale, who was examining Cynthia's
curly hair with as much interest as if it was something he saw now for
the first time.  "Didn't you say, though, that you thought she saw him
that day the mare bolted with you?"

"Nonsense! she did not bolt with me, Harry.  Just as if I should let a
mare bolt with me.  Something startled her, and she leaped the hedge,
and as we were off the road, and it was a chance for a gallop, I let her
go across country.  But you know; I told you."

"Yes, dear," said Artingale, one of whose fingers was caught in a sunny
maze.  "But now, Cynthy, my pet, _revenons a nos moutons_."

"Very well, sir," she said shyly, "_revenons a nos moutons_."

"So the wedding is to be on the fourth?"

"Yes," said Cynthia, with a sigh, "on the fourth--not quite a month,
Harry.  Where's James Magnus?"

"Shut up in his studio, splashing the paint about like a madman.  He
never comes out hardly.  He has cut me, and spends most of his time with
that barrister fellow who was to have married Sage Portlock."

"Luke Ross!  Oh!  Are they friends?"

"Thick as thieves," said Artingale.  "I suppose they sit and talk about
disappointed love, and that sort of thing."

"Do they?" cried Cynthia.

"Oh, I don't know, of course.  By Jove, though, Cynthy, that Ross is a
splendid fellow; no one would ever have thought he was only a tanner's
son."

"I don't see what difference it makes whose son a man is," said Cynthia,
demurely.  "I've always noticed though that poor people's sons are very
clever, and noblemen's sons very stupid."

"Horribly," said Artingale, laughing.  "Why, you saucy little puss!"

Matters here not necessary for publication.

"I don't want to say unkind things," said Cynthia, pouting now, "but I'm
sure poor Sage Portlock would have been a great deal wiser if she had
married Luke Ross; and if you were in your right senses, Harry, you
would never think of marrying into such an unhappy family as ours."

"Oh, but then I've been out of my mind for long enough, Cynthy.  The
wise ones said I ran mad after the Rector's little daughter."

"When you might have made a most brilliant match or two, I heard," cried
Cynthia.

"Yes, pet, all right," he said, laughing; "but you're in for it.  I
won't be pitched over."

"I'm sure the state of Cyril's home is disgraceful."

"I dare say, my darling; but we are not going to live there."

"Don't be so stupid," cried Cynthia.  "But tell me, Harry, has James
Magnus cut you?"

"No.  Oh, no; only I am so much away now that instead of being regular
chums we don't often meet.  Hah! what jolly times I used to have with
him, to be sure!"

"I hate him," cried Cynthia, angrily.  "He's a great stupid coward."

"No, you don't, Cynthy; and you don't think he is a coward."

"Well, perhaps I don't hate him very much, and perhaps I don't think him
a very great coward; but, oh!  Harry, if I had been a man, do you think
I would have allowed that miserable--miserable--"

"Design for a wall-paper or fresco?" suggested Artingale.

"Yes, yes, yes," cried Cynthia, laughing and clapping her hands with
childlike delight.  "That's it: what a grand idea!  Oh, Harry, how
clever you are!"

She looked up at him admiringly, and he smiled, and--Well, of course,
that was sure to follow.  Young lovers are so very foolish, and it came
natural to them to tangle one another up in their arms, and for
Cynthia's nose to be hidden by Artingale's moustache.

Then they grew _sage_, as the French call it, once more, and Artingale
spoke--

"That's right, little pet, think so if you can; but I wish, for your
sake, I were--"

"Were what, sir?"

"Clever.  Do you know, Cynthy, I often think what a good job it was that
nature had the property valued before I was launched."

"Why, you dear stupid old boy, what do you mean?"

"What I say, pet: had me valued.  Then he said, `Well, he's got no
brains, and he'll never do any good for himself if he is left alone; so
I'll make him a lord and give him an income.'"

"Oh, Harry, what nonsense!"

"And then, to help me on a bit farther when I had grown to years of
indiscretion, she gave me, or is about to give me, the dearest and best
and sweetest and most beautiful of little women to be my wife."

Which was, of course, very stupid again; and more resulted, after which
Artingale said quietly--

"Cynthy, dear, you believe in me thoroughly?"

"Thoroughly, Harry."

"You know I love you with all my heart?"

"Yes, Harry," she replied, with her hands in his.

"Then you will not think me strange if I say to you I don't want to be
married yet?"

"N-no," said Cynthia, with just a suspicion of hesitation.

"Then I'm going to speak out plainly, darling.  I'm stupid in some
things, but I'm as sharp as a needle concerning anything about you, and
I couldn't help seeing that the Rector and mamma thought that our
wedding might take place at the same time as Julia's."

"Ye-es," faltered Cynthia.

"Well, then," said Artingale, "I would rather for several reasons it did
not."

He waited for a few moments, but Cynthia did not speak.

"I'm not going to talk nonsense about being like brothers," he
continued, "and loving James Magnus; but, Cynthy, dear, I never yet met
a man whom I liked half so well, and--and I'd do anything for poor old
Jemmy.  Well," he continued, "for one thing, it seems horrible to me to
make that the happiest day of my life which will be like that which
kills his last hope."

Cynthia did not speak, but nestled closely to him.

"Then it gives me a sensation like having a cold douche to think of
going up the church with that fellow, for I know he'll be dressed up
like a figure in an old picture, with his sisters and friends like so
many animated pre-Raphaelites in an idyllic procession attending the
funeral of a fay."

"I say, Harry," cried Cynthia, "that's not your language, sir.  Where
did you pick it up?"

"Oh, out of Perry-Morton's new poems, as he called them.  'Pon my word,
you know, I should feel as if it was a sort of theatrical performance.
Oh, Cynthy, I should like to have you in white, and take you by the
hand, and walk into some out-of-the-way little church in the country,
where there was a nice, pleasant old parson, who'd read the service and
say God bless us both; and then for us to go away--right away, where all
was green fields and flowers, and birds singing, and all the confounded
nonsense and fuss and foolery of a fashionable wedding was out of my
sight; and Cynthy, darling, let's make a runaway match of it, and go and
be married to-morrow--to-day--now; or let's wait till poor Julia has
been sold.  There, pet, hang it all! it makes me wild."

He jumped up and began to pace the room, and Cynthia went up to him and
put her arm through his.

"Harry, dear," she said softly, "you've made me very happy by what you
have told me.  Let's wait, dear.  I should not like to be married then.
I should like--should like--" she faltered, with her pretty little face
burning--"our wedding to be all happiness and joy; and on the day when
Julia is married to Perry-Morton, I shall cry ready to break my heart."



PART TWO, CHAPTER TWELVE.

LAMBENT LOVE.

A certain small world, of which Mr Perry-Morton was one of the shining
lights, was deeply agitated, moved to its very volcanic centre, and gave
vent to spasmodic utterances respecting the approaching marriage of
their apostle to Julia, eldest daughter of the Rev Eli Mallow, Rector
of Lawford.  There were no less than four paragraphs in as many papers
concerning the bride's _parure_ and _trousseau_, and the presents she
was receiving.

"But I thought it would have excited more notice," said the Rev Eli,
mildly, after a discussion with the invalid, wherein he had firmly
maintained his intention not to invite Cyril and his wife to the
wedding.

The papers devoted to art gave a description of the interior of Mr
Perry-Morton's new mansion in Westminster, and dwelt at great length
upon the artistic furnishing, and the additions being made of art
tapestry, carpets, and curtains manufactured by the well-known firm of
Gimpsley and Stough, from the designs of Smiless, A.R.A., and the
wealthy bridegroom himself.  The golden beetle conventionally treated
was the leading _motif_ in all the designs, and a yellow silk of a
special orange-golden hue had been prepared for the purpose, the aniline
dye being furnished by Judd, Son and Company.  The carpets were so
designed that on at-home nights the guests would be standing in the
midst of gorgeous bugs, as an American friend termed them--beetles whose
wings seemed to be moving beneath the feet of those who trod thereon.
But the great feature of the salon was the central ottoman, which was a
conventional rendering of a bank of flowers supporting golden beetles,
amidst which were a few places upon which the so-inclined might rest and
fancy the insects were alive.

Columns of chat were written in praise of Perry-Morton and his place,
and copies of the papers in which they were, somehow found their way
into a great many houses through the length and breadth of the land.

There was only one drawback to the joys of the stained-glass sisters, as
they showed their friends through the house, and posed in graceful
attitudes all over the carpets and against the hangings, in whose folds
they almost wrapped themselves in their sweetly innocent delight--there
was only one drawback, and that was, that another season was gliding by,
and they were still on the matrimonial house-agents' books--these two
eligible artistic _cottages ornees_ to let.

Stay: there was another drawback.  When dear Perry was married they
would have to go, for unless dearest Julia pressed them very, very much
indeed to continue their residence there, of course they could not stay.

These were busy times for Perry-Morton, who, in addition to the almost
herculean labours which he went through in planning and designing, so as
to make his home worthy of his goddess, had to beam every evening in
Parkleigh Gardens.

This beaming was a very beautiful performance.  Some men love with their
eyes and look languishing, dart passionate glances, or seem to ask
questions or sympathy from the fair one of their worship.  Others, more
manly and matter-of-fact, love with their tongues, and if clever in the
use of this speaking organ, these generally woo and win, for most women
love to be conquered by one who is their master in argument and
pleading.  There are others, again, who do not woo at all, but allow
themselves to be fished for, hooked, and--and--what shall we say?
There--cooked, for there is no more expressive way of describing their
fate.

But Perry-Morton was none of those.  He was like the Archduke in the
French comic opera, nothing unless he was original; and it was only
reasonable to suppose that he would bring his great artistic mind to
bear upon so important a part of his life as the choice of an Eve for
his modern-antique paradise.  He did his wooing, then, in a way of his
own, and came nightly to beam upon the object of his worship.

This he did in attitudes of his own designing, while Cynthia felt as if,
to use her own words, she should like to stick pins in the man's back.

For Perry-Morton's love seemed to emanate from him in a phosphorescent
fashion.  He became lambent with softly luminous smiles.  His plump face
shone with a calm ethereal satisfaction, and of all men in the world he
seemed most happy.

He did not trouble Julia much, only with his presence.  He would lay a
finger on the back of her chair, and pose himself like a sculptor's idea
of one of the fat gods in the Greek Pantheon--say Bacchus, before too
much grape-juice had begun to interfere with the proper working of his
digestive organs.  Or before the first wanderings of his very severe
attacks of D.T., which must have caused so much consternation and dismay
in Olympus' pleasant groves, and bothered Aesculapius, who applied
leeches, because he would not own to his ignorance of the new disease.

He never kissed Julia once, so Cynthia declared.  It is open to
doubt whether he ever pressed her hand.  His was the
kiss-the-hem-of-the-lady's-garment style of love, and he once terribly
alarmed Julia by gracefully reclining at her feet, with one arm resting
upon a footstool, and gazing blandly in her face.

At other times he seemed to love her from a distance--getting into
far-off corners of the room, and gazing from different points of view,
standing, sitting, lying on sofas--always gracefully and in the most
sculpturesque fashion.  In fact, Artingale in great disgust wondered why
he did not try standing on his head: but that was absurd.

As the day fixed for the wedding drew near, Perry-Morton was most
regular in his visits--most devoted, and his lambent softness seemed to
pervade the parental drawing-rooms.

Meanwhile Julia went about like one in a dream.  She was less hysterical
and timid than she had been for many weeks past, and finding that her
lover troubled her so little, she bore his presence patiently,
delighting him, as he confided to Cynthia, by her "heavenly calm."

"I don't think she's well," said Cynthia, shortly.

"Not well?" he said, with a pitying smile.  "My sweet Cynthia, you
cannot read her character as I read it.  Do you not see how, for months
past, our love has grown, rising like some lotus out from the cool
depths of an Eastern lake till it has reached the surface, where it is
about to unfold its petals to the glowing sun.  Ah, my sweet child, you
do not see how I have been forming her character, day by day, hour by
hour, till she has reached to this sweet state of blissful repose.  Look
at her now."

This conversation was going on in the back drawing-room, on the evening
preceding the wedding-day, every one being very tired of the visitors
and congratulations, and present-giving, the Rector especially, and he
confided to Mrs Mallow the fact that after all he would be very glad to
get away back to Lawford and be at peace.

"Yes," said Cynthia, rather ill-humouredly, for Harry had not been there
that evening, "I see her, and she looks very poorly."

"Poorly?  Unwell?  Nay," said Perry-Morton serenely, "merely in a
beatific state of repose.  Ah, Cynthia, my child, when she is my very
own, and Claudine has imparted to her some of the riches of her own
wisdom on the question of dress, I shall be a happy man."

Cynthia seemed to give every nerve in her little body a kind of snatch,
but the lover did not perceive it; he only closed his eyes, walked to
the half-pillar that supported the arch between the two rooms, leaned
his shoulder against it, crossed his legs, gazed at poor listless Julia
for a few moments from this point of view, and then turning his
half-closed eyes upon Cynthia, beckoned to her softly to come.

"Oh," whispered the latter to herself, as she drew a long breath between
her teeth, "I wish I were going to be married to him to-morrow instead
of Julia.  How I would bring him to his senses, or knock something into
his dreadful head, or--there, I suppose I must go.  Julia must be mad."

"Yes," she said, as she crossed to where her brother in prospective
stood.

"There," he said; "look now.  Could there be a sweeter ideal of perfect
repose?  Good--good night, dear Cynthia, I am going to steal away
without a word to a soul.  I would not break in upon her rapturous calm;
and the memory of her sweet face, as I see it now, will soothe me during
the long watches of the peaceful night.  Good night, Cynthia.  Ah, you
should have changed names.  Yonder is Cynthia in all her calm silvery
beauty.  Good night, sweet sister--good night--good night."

There was something very moonlike in his looks and ways as he softly
stole from the room and out of the house, leaving Cynthia motionless
with astonishment.

"I want to know," she said to herself at last, "whether those two are
really going to be married to-morrow, or whether it is only a dream.
But there, I wash my hands of it all; I feel to-night as if I hate
everybody--papa, mamma, Harry for not killing that horrible jelly-fish
of a creature.  Oh, he's dreadful!  And Julia, for letting herself be
led as she is, when she might have married dear James Magnus, and been
happy.  No! poor girl, I must not blame her.  She felt that she could
not love him, and perhaps she is right."

"Good night, Julia darling; I'm going to bed," she whispered, and,
seating herself by her sister, she clasped her waist, and placed her
lips against her cheek.

"To bed? so soon?" said Julia, dreamily.

"Soon!  It is past eleven.  Will you come and sit with me in my room, or
shall I come to you?"

Julia shook her head.

"Not to-night--not to-night," she said softly; and she clasped her
sister in her arms.  "Good night, Cynthia dear.  Think lovingly of me
always when I am gone."

"Lovingly, Julie, always," whispered Cynthia; "always, dear sister."

"Always--whatever comes?" whispered Julia.

"Always, whatever comes.  Shall I come and sit with you, Julie; only for
an hour?"

"No," said Julia, firmly, "not to-night.  Let us go to our rooms."

They went out of the drawing-room with their arms round each other's
waists, till they were about to part at Julia's door, when the final
words and appeals that Cynthia was about to speak died away upon her
lips, and she ran to her own chamber, sobbing bitterly, while, white as
ashes, and trembling in every limb, Julia entered hers.

"Poor, poor Julie!" sobbed Cynthia; and for a good ten minutes she wept,
her maid sniffing softly in sympathy till she was dismissed.

"Go away, Minson," cried Cynthia; "I don't want you any more."

"But won't you try on your dress again, miss?" said the maid in
expostulation.

"No, Minson, I only wish it was fresh mourning, I do," cried the girl,
passionately; and the maid withdrew, to meet Julia's maid on the stairs,
and learn that she never knew such a thing before in her life--a young
bride, and wouldn't try on her things.

Cynthia sat thinking for a few minutes, and then a bright look came into
her eyes.

"He didn't come to-night," she said.  "He was cross about Julie.  I
wonder whether I could see the bright end of a cigar if I looked out
over the gardens.  Oh, the cunning of some people, to give policemen
half-sovereigns not to take them for burglars, and lock them up."

As she spoke, Cynthia drew up her blind softly, and holding back the
curtain, ensconced herself in the corner, so that she could look down
into the gardens, her window being towards the park.

It was a soft, dark night, but the light of a lamp made the objects
below dimly distinct, and she rubbed the window-pane to gaze out more
clearly, saying laughingly to herself--

"I wonder whether Romeo will come!"

Directly after she pressed her face closer to the glass.

"There he is," she said, with a gleeful little laugh.  "No it isn't, I'm
sure.  What does it mean?  What is he doing there?"



PART TWO, CHAPTER THIRTEEN.

AN EVENTFUL NIGHT.

"I can't go, and I won't go," said Artingale.  "It's bad enough to have
to be at the church to-morrow and see that poor little lass sacrificed,
with everybody looking on smiling and simpering except, the bridesmaids,
who are all expected to shed six tears.

"Six tears each, and six bridesmaids; that's thirty-six tears.  I'd
almost bet a fiver that those two pre-Raphaelite angels will each be
provided with an antique lachrymatory designed by their dear brother,
and they'll drop their tears therein and stopper them up.

"Oh, dear!  This is a funny world, and I'm very fond of my pretty
Cynthy, who's a regular little trump; but I'm getting deuced hungry.
I'll go and hunt up old Mag, and we'll have a bit of dinner together,
and then go to the play.  Liven him up a bit, poor old man.  Hansom!"

A two-wheeled hawk swooped down, and carried him off to the studio of
James Magnus, where that gentleman was busy with a piece of crayon
making a design for a large cartoonlike picture, and after a good deal
of pressing he consented to go to the club and dine with his friend.

"I'm afraid you'll find me very dull company," said Magnus, sadly.

"Then I'll make you lively, my boy.  I'm off duty to-night, and I feel
like a jolly bachelor.  Champagne; coffee afterwards, and unlimited
cigars."

"What a boy you are, Harry!" said the artist, quietly.  "How you do seem
to enjoy life!"

"Well, why shouldn't I?  Plenty of troubles come that one must face; why
make others?"

"Is--is she to be married to-morrow, Harry?" said Magnus, quietly.

"I say, hadn't we better taboo that subject, old fellow?" said
Artingale, quickly.

"No.  Why should we?  Do you think I am not man enough to hear it
calmly?"  Artingale looked at him searchingly.  "Well, yes, I hope so;
and since you have routed out the subject, I suppose I must answer your
question.  Yes, she is, and more blame to you."

"We will not discuss that, Harry," said the other, sadly.  "I know well
enough that it was not in me to stir a single pulse in Julia Mallow's
veins, and I have accepted my fate.  Are you going to the wedding?"

"Yes: I feel that I must.  But I hate the whole affair.  I wish the
brute would break his neck.  Ready?"

"Yes," was the reply; and going out to the waiting hansom, they were
soon run down to the club, where the choicest little dinner Artingale
could select was duly placed before them.

But somehow, nothing was nice.  Artingale's hunger seemed to have
departed, and he followed his friend's example, and ate mechanically.
The dry sherry was declared to be watery, and the promised champagne,
though a choice brand and from a selected _cuvee_, was not able to
transmit its sparkle to the brains of those who partook.

Artingale talked hard and talked his best.  He introduced every subject
he could, but in vain, and at last, when the time had come for the
claret, he altered his mind.

"No, Mag," he exclaimed, "no claret to-night.  We want nothing calm and
cool, old fellow.  I feel as if I had not tasted a single glass of wine,
but as if you, you miserable old wet blanket, had been squeezing out
your drops into a tumbler and I had been drinking them.  What do you say
to a foaming beaker of the best black draught?"

"My dear Harry, I'm very sorry," said Magnus, laughing.  "There, I'll
try and be a little more lively."

"We will," exclaimed Artingale, "and another bottle of champagne will do
it."

Magnus smiled.

"Ah, smile away, my boy, but I'm going to give you a new sensation.
I've made a discovery of a new wine.  No well-known, highly-praised
brand made famous by advertisements, but a rich, pungent, powerful,
sparkling champagne, from a vineyard hardly known.  Here, waiter, bring
me a bottle of number fifty-three."

The wine was brought, and whether its virtues were exaggerated or no,
its effects were that for the next two hours life seemed far more
bearable to James Magnus, who afterwards enjoyed his coffee and cigar.

Then another cigar was partaken of, and another, after which it was
found to be too late for the projected visit to one of the theatres, and
Magnus proposed an adjournment to his own room.

To this, however, Artingale would not consent, and in consequence they
sat till long after ten, and then parted, each to his own chambers.

Artingale's way of going to his own chambers was to take a hansom, and
tell the man to drive him to the Marble Arch, and then along the
Bayswater-road until told to stop.

This last order came before Kensington Gardens were reached, when the
man was dismissed, and the fare wandered down the nearest turning, and
along slowly by the backs of the Parkleigh Gardens houses--or their
fronts, whichever the part was termed that faced north.

Up and down here he paraded several times--not a very wise proceeding,
seeing that he might have come sooner in the evening, and the doors
would have flown open at his summons.  But it has always been so from
the beginning.  A gentleman gets into a certain state, and then thinks
that he derives a great deal of satisfaction in gazing at the casket
which holds the jewel of his love.  When the custom first came in it is
of course impossible to say, but it is extremely probable that Jacob
used to parade about in the sand on moonlight nights, and watch the tent
that contained his Rachel, and no doubt the custom has followed right
away down the corridors of time.

When Artingale had finished the front of the house he went round to the
back, made his way by some mysterious means into the garden, where he
fancied he saw some one watching; and concluding that it would not be
pleasant to be seen, he beat a retreat, and after a glance up at
Cynthia's window, where he could see a light, he contented himself by
walking slowly back, so as to get to the other side of the lofty row of
houses.

"Just one walk up and down," he said to himself, "and then home to bed."

It was some distance round, and as he went along he made the following
original observation:--"This is precious stupid!"  And at the end of
another fifty yards--"But somehow I seem to like it.  Does one good.
'Pon my soul, I think the best thing a fellow can do is to fall in
love."

He sauntered on from gas-lamp to gas-lamp, till he was once more at the
front, or back, of the great houses, with their entrance-doors on his
right, and a great blank-looking wall on his left.

He went dreamily on along the pavement, past the furnished house that
the agent assured the Rector he had obtained dirt cheap, which no doubt
it was, but it was what a gold-miner would call wash dirt.  When about
midway, Artingale passed some one on the other side, close to the wall,
and walking in the opposite direction.

But the presence of some one else in the street did not attract
Artingale's attention, and he sauntered along until he reached the end,
and stopped.

"Now, then," he said, "home? or one more walk to the end and back?"

He hesitated for a moment, and then turned beneath the lamp-post, with a
smile at his own weakness, and walked slowly back.

"I should have made a splendid _Romeo_," he said.  "What a pity it is
that the course of my true love should run so jolly smooth.  Everything
goes as easy as possible for me.  Not a single jolly obstacle.  Might
have been married to-morrow morning if I had liked, and sometimes I wish
I had been going to act as principal; but it is best as it is."

He was nearing the Rector's residence once again.

"Now with some people," he continued, half aloud, "how different it is.
Everything goes wrong with them.  Look at poor old Magnus--The deuce!
Why, Mag!"

"I thought you had gone home!"

"I thought you had gone home!"

"I thought I would have a walk first," said Magnus, quietly.

"So did I, old fellow.  But oh, I say!"

"Don't laugh at me, Harry," said the artist, sadly.  "It is like saying
good-bye.  After to-morrow I shall settle down."

"I don't laugh at you, old fellow," said Artingale, taking the other's
arm.  "It's all right.  I might just as well ask you not to laugh at me.
Have a cigar?"

Magnus nodded, the case was produced, and they both lit up, and instead
of going straight back east, continued to promenade up and down, and
then right round the great block of houses over and over again, for
quite an hour, saying very little, but seeming as it were attracted to
the place, till coming to the front, for what Artingale vowed should be
the last time, he saw a couple of figures apparently leave one of the
doors, and go right on towards the other end.

"Somebody late," he said, feeling a kind of interest in the couple that
he could not account for.

"Yes," said Magnus, quickly, "very late.  Come along."

Artingale involuntarily quickened his steps, and they followed the two
figures without a word, seeing them sometimes more, sometimes less,
distinctly, according to the position they occupied relative to the
lamps.

Why they took so much interest in them was more than they could have
explained, for a couple of figures going late at night along a London
street is no such very great novelty; but still, they quickened their
steps, feeling ready at the slightest hint to have increased the pace to
a run.

There seemed no sufficient reason though for such a step, and they
continued to walk on fast, till they came to the end of the row of
houses; and turning sharply they were just in time to hear the jangling
noise of the door of a four-wheeled cab slammed to, then what sounded
like a faint wailing cry.

"There's something wrong, I think," said Artingale; but as he spoke the
glass was dragged up, the horse started off at a rapid trot, the cab
turned into the road by the Park railings, and was gone.

The two friends stood hesitating, and had they been alone, either would
have run after the cab.  But as they hesitated from a feeling that such
a proceeding would have been absurd, the vehicle was driven rapidly
away.

"What made you say there was something wrong?" said Magnus at last, in a
hoarse voice.

"I don't know, I can't tell: where did those people come from?  I hope
no one's ill."

"From one of the houses near Mr Mallow's," said Magnus.

"I think so; I couldn't be sure.  Let's walk back."

They hurried back past the series of blank doors, till they were about
half way along, when as they reached the Rector's they found that a
policeman had just come up, and he made them start by flashing his
lantern in their faces.

"Oh, it's you, sir," he said to Artingale.  "Were you coming back here?"

"No.  Why?"

"Because you left the door open."

"Then there is something wrong, Magnus.  Here, let's run after the cab."

"It's half a mile away by now," said the other hoarsely.  "You'd better
see, constable."

"It's a crack," said the policeman, excitedly, "and the chaps must be in
here.  Will you gents keep watch while I get help, and put some one on
at the other side in the Gardens?"

"Yes--no--yes," exclaimed Artingale.  "I'm afraid some one's ill.  We
saw two people come away hurriedly and take a cab at the end."

"They wouldn't have took a cab," said the constable.  "There's a doctor
at the end there close by.  We're too late, for a suverin.  Or no; stop.
There's something else up.  Look here, sir, I've had you hanging about
here and on the other side ever since the family has been in town.  Now
then, who are you?"

"There is my card, constable," said Artingale, shortly.  "You know why I
came."

"Yes, sir--my lord, I mean.  But why did that big hulking rough chap,
like a country gamekeeper, come?  He's been hanging about--"

"Stop!" cried Artingale.  "Was it a big black-bearded fellow above six
feet high?"

"That's the man, sir.  I set him down as from the country house, and
after one of the maids."

"When--when did you see him last?" cried Magnus.

"To-night, sir."

"To-night?"

"Yes, m'lord.  But while I'm stopping here they may be getting out at
the other side and be off."

"I'll watch here," said Artingale.

"Right, sir.  I'll soon have some one on at the other side.  You, sir,
watch at the area,"--to Magnus.  "If any one comes out and tries to run,
you lay hold and stick to 'im.  I'll soon be back."

"Quick, then; for heaven's sake, quick!" cried Artingale; and the man
went off at a run.

"Let's go after the cab, Harry," cried Magnus, excitedly.

"Let's run after the moon, man.  It would be madness.  If anything is
wrong they are far away by now.  But we don't know yet that anything is
wrong.  Wait a few minutes.  We shall soon find out."

"And meantime?" panted Magnus.

"We can do nothing but act like men, and remain calm.  Go to your post,"
exclaimed Artingale; and he spoke in a sharp, decisive way, that showed
that the service had missed a good officer.

Five minutes--ten minutes--a quarter of an hour of torture, during which
all inside was as still as death.  Then as Artingale stood in the open
doorway he fancied he heard a slight sound, and as he stood upon the
_qui vive_, ready to seize the first man who presented himself, he heard
steps outside, and saw that a policeman was coming.

Steps inside, too, and then from the hall a bull's-eye lantern flashed
upon him.

"All right, sir," said a familiar voice; and he saw that it was the
first policeman.  "The dining-room window was open facing the Park.  I
come in there.  I've got a man watching.  That you, sergeant?"

"Yes.  You stop here with this gentleman; get out your truncheon, and
don't miss 'em, whatever you do.  Roberts will be along here directly."

"What are you going to do first?" said Artingale.

"Rout up the butler and one or two more, sir, directly," said the
sergeant, opening his lantern; and as they entered the hall he made the
light play about the perfectly orderly place, before going softly into
the great dining-room.

"Don't quite understand it yet, sir," he said.  "The dining-room
shutters here had been opened from the inside.  Window was open.  Seen
anything?" he said to some one in the shadow.  "No."

"There's plate enough on that sideboard," continued the sergeant, "to
have made a pretty good swag, if it ain't 'lectrer."

"No, no, those are all silver.  It is a presentation set."

"Then we're in time," whispered the sergeant.  "I expect the servants
are in it."

A terrible dread was oppressing Artingale, but he did not speak, only
followed the sergeant as he tried the breakfast-room door, to find it
fast and the key outside; the library the same.

"All right there," he said softly.  "Joe, here.  Stand inside and keep
your eye on the staircase; we're going below."

The constable at the entrance obeyed his orders, and softly opening a
glass door, the sergeant, who seemed quite at home in the geography of
the place, led the way down a flight of well-whitened stone steps to the
basement, the bright light of his lantern playing upon a long row of
bells, and then upon a broad stone passage and several doors.

"Butler's pantry," he whispered, after a good look round.  "You stop
here, sir."

Artingale stopped short, guarding the foot of the steps, and the
sergeant tried the door, to find it fast, but as the handle rattled a
man's voice exclaimed, "Who's there?"

"Police!  Open quickly."

There was a scuffling noise, then the striking of a match, and a light
shone out from three panes of glass above the door.  The hurried sound
of some one putting on some clothes, and then a peculiar monitory
_click-click_!

"Mind what you're at with that pistol," said the sergeant gruffly.  "I
tell you it's the police.  Open the door."

"How do I know it's the police?" said the butler firmly.

"Come and see then, stupid."

"Open the door, Thompson," said Artingale.  "I'm here too."

"Oh, is it you, my lord?" said the butler, and he unlocked the door, to
be seen in his shirt and trousers, with a cocked pistol in his hand.
"I've got the plate here, my lord, and I did not know but what it was a
trick.  For God's sake, my lord, what's the matter?"

"Don't know yet," said the sergeant.  "But the plate's right, you say?"

"Yes; all but the things in the dining-room."

"They're safe too.  We found the front door open.  Now then, who sleeps
down here?"

"Under-butler, footman, and page," said the butler quickly; and taking a
chamber candlestick, he led the way to a smaller pantry where the light
showed a red-faced boy fast asleep with his mouth open.

"Where are the men?" said the sergeant laconically; and the butler led
the way to a closed door, which opened into a long stone-paved hall, in
the two recesses of which were a couple of turned-up bedsteads, in each
of which was a sleeping man, one of whom jumped up, however, as the
light fell upon his eyes.

"Get up, James," said the butler.  "Have either of you fellows been up
to any games?"

"No, sir.  We came to bed before you," was the reply.

"You'd better get up," said the butler.

Then following the sergeant the basement was searched, and they
reascended to the hall.

"I've been all about here," said the sergeant quietly.  "They must have
meant the jewels and things up-stairs.  Next thing is to go up and wake
your guv'ner."

"What, alone?" said the butler blankly.

"Come along, then, and I'll go with you."

"I'll come too, sergeant," said Artingale.  "Don't alarm the ladies if
you can help it."

And together they mounted the thickly-carpeted stairs.



PART TWO, CHAPTER FOURTEEN.

GONE!  WHERE?

If one could but bring oneself to the belief, there is only a slight
difference between day and night, and that difference is that in the
latter case there is an absence of light--that is all; but, somehow, we
people the darkness with untold horrors.  We ignore it, of course; we
should ridicule the impeachment, but the fact remains the same, that
probably nineteen people out of every twenty are afraid of being in the
dark--perhaps more so than they were when children.

Possibly we grow more nervous than when we were young, or gas may have
had something to do with it; certainly more people seem to burn lights
in their bedrooms than used to be the case before a gas-burner or two
had become the regular furniture of a well-ordered bedroom in town.

In our fathers' days, people who were invalids burned long, thin, dismal
rushlights in shades, with the candle itself in the middle of a cup of
water; or else they had a glass containing so much oil floating on
water, and a little wick upon its own raft, sailing about like a
miniature floating beacon in the oil.  But still these were the
exceptions, and a light in a bedroom was an uncommon thing.  At the same
time, though, it must be allowed that there is something fear-exciting
about the dark rooms, and that sounds that are unnoticed in the broad
daylight acquire a strange weirdness if heard when all else is still.
People have a bad habit of being taken ill in the night; burglars choose
"the sma'" hours for breaking into houses; sufferers from indigestion
select the darkness for their deeds of evil known as sleep-walking; and
the imps attendant on one's muscles prefer two or three o'clock in the
so-called morning for putting our legs on that rack known as the cramp.
It is perhaps after all excusable then for people to indulge, in
moderation, in a little nocturnal alarm; and it may also, for aught we
know, be good for us, and act as a safety-valve escape for a certain
amount of bad nerve-force.  No doubt Priam was terribly alarmed when his
curtains were drawn in the dead of the night--as much so, perhaps, as
the mobled queen; and therefore it was quite excusable for the Rector to
answer the summons of the head of his wedding staff of servants in a
state of no little excitement.

"Dreadful! extraordinary! most strange?" he faltered.  "You were
passing, Henry, eh?"

"Yes: Mr Magnus and I were going by, and we found the policeman had
discovered that the door was open."

"Then the place has been rifled," exclaimed the Rector; "and many of the
things are hired," he cried piteously.  "Everything will be gone!  What
is to be done?"

"Hush, Mr Mallow! we shall alarm the whole house," said Artingale,
hastily.  "I fancy I saw some one leave the place as we came up.  Will
you send and see if--if--"

He hesitated, for he saw Magnus with a face like ashes, standing holding
on by the balustrade.

"Yes, yes," exclaimed the Rector.  "Speak out, please.  Do you mean see
if all the servants are at home?"

"I don't know--I scarcely know what to say," whispered Artingale, going
close up to him.  "We want to avoid exposure, sir.  Go and knock at
Cynthia's door, and send her to see if her sister has been alarmed."

"There is no occasion to frighten her.  Let the place below be well
searched, and the servants examined."

Just then Mrs Mallow's voice was heard inquiring what was the matter,
and the Rector thrust his head inside the door to tell her that she was
not to be alarmed.

"Is any one ill?" said a voice just then, which made Artingale thrill,
and he ran to the door from which the voice had come.

"Dress yourself quickly, Cynthy," he whispered, "and go and tell Julie
not to be alarmed.  We--we are afraid there has been a burglary."

The door closed, and just then the Rector, who had been compelled to go
back to his room to quiet Mrs Mallow's fears, came back.

"I will speak to the young ladies," he said, looking pale and troubled,
and going along the landing, he tapped lightly at Julia's door.

"Julia, my dear!  Julia!"

He tapped again.

"Julia, my child!  Julia!"

Still no answer.

He tapped a little louder, a little louder still--but no answer; and
Artingale and Magnus exchanged glances.

"Dear me, it is most embarrassing.  How fast she sleeps," said the
Rector, looking round apologetically.  "Really, gentlemen, I do not
think we ought to disturb her."

All the same, urged by a strange feeling of alarm, he tapped again, but
still without result; and once more he looked round at the strange group
gathered upon the broad landing--the police in great-coats, and
lantern-bearing; the butler with his candlestick and pistol; the two
gentlemen in evening dress, with their light overcoats and crush hats in
hand.

Just then a door opened, and every one drew back to allow the pretty
little vision that burst upon their sight to pass them by.

The figure was that of Cynthia, with her crisp, fair hair lightly tied
back, so that it floated down loosely over the loose wide _peignoir_ of
creamy cashmere trimmed with blue, which formed a costume, as it swept
from her in graceful folds, far more becoming than the most ravishing
toilet from a Parisian _modiste_.  She held a little silver candlestick,
with bell glass to shade the light, and as she came forward, looking
very composed and firm, though rather pale, Artingale felt for the
moment as if he could have emulated Perry-Morton, and fallen down to
kiss her pretty little slipper-covered feet.

"Ah, my dear!" exclaimed the Rector, "I am glad you have come.  I cannot
make Julia hear."

Cynthia darted a quick glance at Artingale, full of dread and dismay,
and then without a word she passed on and laid her hand upon the china
knob of Julia's door.  Then she hesitated for a moment, but only for a
moment, before turning the handle and going in, the door swinging to
behind her.

Cynthia held her candle above her head and gave one glance round, the
light falling on Julia's wedding dress and veil; the wreath was on a
table, side by side with the jewels that had been presented to her.
Over other chairs and in half-packed trunks were travelling and other
costumes, with the endless little signs of preparation for leaving home.

Cynthia gave one glance round her with dilating eyes; ran into the
dressing-room and back looked at the unpressed bed, and then she let
fall the candlestick as she sank on her knees uttering a loud cry, and
covering her face with her hands.

It was no time for ceremony, and at the cry the Rector rushed in,
followed by Artingale, Magnus stopping at the door to keep back the
police and the servants, who would have entered too, both the men from
below having now joined the group.

As the Rector ran in with Artingale, Cynthia started up once more.

"Oh, papa! oh, Harry!" she cried, piteously, "Julie has gone!"

"Gone!" gasped the Rector.  "Gone!  Where?  Are you mad?"

"Mad? no, papa, but she is.  Oh, Harry!  I saw that dreadful man
to-night outside in the garden, after we had gone to bed; but I thought
she would be safe; and now I know it--I am quite sure.  Oh, Harry,
Harry! what shall we do?  He has taken her away!"



PART TWO, CHAPTER FIFTEEN.

THE BIRD AND THE SERPENT.

Unmistakably.  There could be no doubt of the fact; Julia Mallow had
fled from her home that night--half willingly, half forced, always drawn
as it were by the strange influence that the man who had been the evil
genius of her life had exercised over her.

For months past she had fought against it, and striven to nerve herself
to conquer the force that seemed to master her; but always in vain.  For
often, unseen except by her, Jock Morrison was on the watch, turning up
where least expected; and when not present in the flesh, seemingly
always there in spirit, and haunting her like her shadow.  Again and
again he had come upon her alone, taken her in his arms, and in his
coarse fashion told her that he loved her, and that she should belong to
him alone.  Nothing, he told her, should keep them apart, for if he
could not get her by fair means he would by foul; laughingly showing her
the great spring-bladed dagger-knife he carried, and saying that he kept
it sharp for any one who got in his way.

Julia trembled at the thought of seeing him; she shuddered and closed
her eyes when he appeared before her, and then grew nerveless and weak,
fascinated, as it were, like some bird before a serpent; and the
scoundrel knew it.  He felt the power of his words, and he repeated them
to his shivering victim, glorying the while in the power he felt that he
exercised over her.

Sometimes she had fancied that she was mastering her fear, but as she
overcame that dread, she found, to her horror, that there was another
occult influence at work which refused to be overcome; for as in the
solitude of her own chamber she strove with it, she found that she was
only riveting her chains more stoutly.  It was not love for him.  No,
that was impossible; for she shuddered and shrank from him as from some
monster.  But, to her horror, she found that her feelings towards the
great overmastering ruffian were something near akin.  The thoughts of
his great muscular figure, his bold bearing, and brown picturesque face
were always before her; and even when her own were closed, his fierce
black piercing eyes were fixed upon hers, reading her weakness,
insisting upon his mastery over her more powerfully even than his words,
though they were burned into her memory; and at last, after fighting
with all her mind against the current of what she felt to be her fate,
she had begun to drift.

Once she had allowed that terrible idea--that it was her fate--to obtain
entrance, and she was lost, for it produced a weak submission that
stifled every hope.  Drift, drift, drift--resigning herself to what she
thought was the inevitable.  Some day, she told herself, Jock would come
and order her to leave home and all she loved, and follow him
wheresoever he willed; and she would have to go.  He was her master, her
fate; and mingled with her horror of him there was that inexplicable
fascination that exercised upon her will the power of the mesmerist upon
his patient, and she could fight no more.  When it would be she knew
not, thought not; only she knew that the time would come, and when it
did she could no more resist, no more battle with it, than against that
other inevitable point that would end her weary life--when the angel of
death would overshadow her with his heavy wings, touch her with icy
finger, and bid her away.

Always brooding now over these two fixed points in her career--the
coming of Jock Morrison and the coming of the end; and so she drifted
on.  She heard the talk of the wedding that she knew would never be; for
if the day did come, and she were taken to the church, she felt that her
fate would pluck her from the very altar, or even from her husband's
arms.

She knew of the love of James Magnus, and she felt a curious kind of
pity for one whom she liked and esteemed; but she closed her eyes with a
weary smile as she thought of him, for she knew that she was drifting
away, and that even to look at him was to give him pain.

Drifting still when taken to see the talked-of home, asked opinions upon
decorations, and taken by father and sister where she was prepared to be
decked for the sacrifice.  Drifting, too, at party or ball, where she
met Perry-Morton, who always seemed to her like some nebulous mist, that
was absorbed and died away in the presence of the giant ever filling her
imagination.

Go where she would, she felt that she would see him somewhere, though
often it was but imagination.  Still it kept Jock Morrison always in her
mind, and he knew that he was secure of his prize, waiting patiently
till she came back from abroad.

At first she had felt a kind of sorrow for Perry-Morton, and wanted to
warn him of what her fate would be; but the pity gave place to contempt,
the contempt to disgust, the disgust to dread; for she felt that if she
warned him he would take steps to assert himself, and if he did, she
knew in her heart that her fate, as she called him, would not stop at
taking his life.

And so by slow degrees Julia drifted from active opposition into a
morbid belief that resistance was vain, nursing her horror in her own
racked breast, and waiting for the fulfilment of her fate.  As Cynthia
had complained, she had grown reticent, and made no confidante of her
sister; in fact, there were times, after seeing Morrison, when she felt
with a sigh that she should be glad when all was over, and she need
think no more.  For she was weary of thinking, weary of this keeping up
appearances, weary of Perry-Morton, of his sisters, of home, of her own
life.

There were times when she looked from her window longingly towards where
she knew the long lake lay in the hollow of the Park, and wondered
whether it would not be better to flee from the house some evening, go
down to the bridge, and throw herself in.  She shuddered as she formed
the idea; not from dread of death, which would have been like rest to
her; but because she felt that she would be only hastening her fate, and
that she did fear.  For so surely as she left the house to cross the
Park, so surely she knew that Jock Morrison would start up from the
grass and take her away.

And so it had come to the wedding-eve, and the great burly form had
shown itself in the garden.  She had seen it early in the evening, and
she had felt that it was there hour after hour, till Perry-Morton had
left, and she had gone to the window, drawn there in spite of herself.
Later on she had obeyed Jock's signals, feeling as if he were speaking
to her--telling her that the time had come, and dressing herself in her
plainest things, she had sat down and waited by the open window, acting
mechanically, till the deep voice came up to where she sat, bidding her
come down now.

She felt no emotion, for it was all as if she were in a dream.  She
obeyed, however, going out on to the landing, after closing her window,
to find that all was very silent in the house.  Then for a moment she
went and kneeled down upon the mat by her sister's door, laid her cheek
against it, sighed heavily and kissed the panel that separated them, and
slowly descended the stairs, entered the dining-room, and, still as if
drawn by her fate, unfastened the shutters and window, which latter was
thrown open, and Jock Morrison stepped boldly into the room.

"Good girl!" he said, clasping her in his embrace.  "I've got a cab
waiting, for you shall ride to-night.  Didn't you think it was time I
came?"

She did not answer, but acted still like one in a dream, as he watched
from the door, withdrawing more than once with a muttered oath as
Artingale and Magnus kept parading about the place.

He was about to start again and again, but he always seemed to hesitate
till their steps were heard once more, when he would close the door and
stand listening, with the trembling girl clasped tightly in his arms.

At last he seemed to be satisfied that the ground was clear, and with a
smile of triumph on his lip he stepped out, drawing Julia after him; but
as he reached the pavement he heard the steps of the two gentlemen once
more, and uttering a fierce oath he hurried his prize along faster and
faster, as he felt that their evasion had been seen.

"Quicker, my lass, quicker!" he said, gruffly; and she had to obey him.
But she was growing faint.  She held up, though, till she reached the
cab, into which he hurried her.  And now for the first time the reality
of her position seemed to force itself upon her, and she started up with
a wild cry.

Too late!  With one hand he thrust her back into the seat as with the
other he drew up the window, and her next feeble cry was drowned by the
noise of the jangling panes.

In his agony of grief and horror the Rector could hardly believe in the
possibility of that which Artingale reluctantly told; for when he
appealed to his child he could not get a word from her, but hysterical
cries for her sister, whom she accused herself of having neglected and
allowed to go.

It was impossible, the Rector declared, and after a long discussion he
insisted upon the matter being kept quiet, refusing to take any steps in
the way of pursuit till he had seen his son.

It would all come right, he was sure, he said; and finding that nothing
could be done, Artingale left the house, after hearing from the doctor,
who had been sent for, that he need be under no apprehension concerning
Cynthia.

"What next?" he said to Magnus.

"To find her," said the artist, "wherever she is, and to bring her
back--poor lost lamb!  Oh, Harry, they have driven the poor girl mad!"

"I'm with you, Magnus," said Artingale, "to the end.  Come on; we have
lost much valuable time, but I could not stir till I saw what her father
intended to do."

He hailed a cab.

"Scotland Yard!" he shouted, and the man drove on.  "If it costs me all
I've got I'll have her back.  I look upon her as a sister.  Poor girl!
poor girl! she must have been mad indeed."

"Harry," whispered Magnus, "what are you going to do?" and his voice
sounded hoarse and strange.

"Put the best dogs to be had upon the trail to run them down."

"And then?"

"Get the scoundrel transported for life.  And you?"

"I'm going with you to-night, or this morning, or whatever it is;
to-morrow I'm going to buy a pistol."

"And blow out your brains?" cried Artingale.  "Bah! what's the use of
that?"

"No," said Magnus, turning his haggard face to his friend, "to shoot him
as I would a rabid dog."

"And be put on your trial for murder.  No; my plan's best."

"Your plan!" said Magnus, fiercely.  "What can you do?  You forget the
circumstances of the case.  Before we can reach them the scoundrel will
have married her.  You cannot touch him."

Artingale ground his teeth as he seemed to realise the truth of what was
said.  Then, turning, he urged the man on to greater speed.

All was quiet and orderly in the great office at Whitehall, and a quiet,
thoughtful official heard their business, raised his eyebrows a little,
and then made a few notes.

"You will keep the matter as quiet as possible," said Artingale, "for
the sake of the young lady's family; but at all costs she must be
brought back."

"We'll soon find the scoundrel, my lord; but from your description he is
not a London man."

"London, no; he is one of those scoundrels who live more by poaching
than anything."

"All right, sir.  I'll take your address--and yours, sir.  Can I find
you here--at what time?"

"Time!" cried Artingale; "I have no time but for this affair.  I'll stay
here with you and your men--live here--sleep here.  Damme, I'll join the
force if it will help to bring the poor child back.  It is horribly bad!
She was to have been married this morning."

"All that can be done, sir, shall be done," said the officer, quietly.
"And now, gentlemen, if you'll take my advice you'll go home and have a
good sleep."

"What!" cried Artingale.  "Go and sleep?  No, I want to be at work."

"Exactly, sir; then go and have a rest, and be ready for when I want
you.  If you stop here you can do no good--only harm, by hindering me."

"But, damn it all!" cried Artingale, furiously, "you take it so coolly."

"The only way to win, sir--my lord, I mean.  But we are wasting time.
By now I should have had the telegraph at work, and the description
flying to every station in London."

"In God's name, then, go on," cried Artingale, "take no notice of us,
only let us stay."

The officer nodded, and in an incredibly short space of time it was
known all over London and the districts round of the elopement or
abduction, and a couple of the keenest officers were at work to track
the fugitives down.

It took some time; but a clever net was drawn all over London.  The
early morning trains were watched, the yards where the night cabs were
housed were visited; the various common lodging-houses had calls, and
every effort was made to trace Jock Morrison, and had he been a known
London bird the probabilities are that the police would have placed
their hands upon him; but they had to deal with a man whose life had
been one of practised cunning, and he had so made his plans that the
police were at fault.

They found the cabman in a very short time, and he testified to having
driven the great fellow and the lady with him to Charing Cross.

That was all.

The net spread over London missing that which it was intended to catch,
its meshes were lessened, and it was stretched out wider, and from every
police-station in the country, and in every provincial town, the
description of the fugitives went forth; but still they were not found.
So cleverly had the scoundrel made his plans that no tidings whatever
were obtained, and by degrees the pursuit waxed less hot.  First one and
then another _cause celebre_ took the attention of the police.  Then
Artingale grew less keen, for the months were gliding by, and he had
devoted himself heart and soul to the cause for long enough without
result.

Then more months passed, and still no news.  The strange disappearance
of Julia Mallow became almost historical, and it was only revived a
little as a topic of conversation, when it was announced that Mr
Perry-Morton had returned with his sisters from their long sojourn in
Venice, and soon after it was rumoured in paragraphs that the talented
leader of a certain clique was about to lead to the altar the daughter
of a most distinguished member of the artistic world.

Luke Ross had been consulted by Magnus and Lord Artingale, and had
helped them to the best of his power, counselling the enlistment of Tom
Morrison and his wife upon their side; but he could do no more, and the
matter was pushed from his mind by the hard study and work upon which he
was engaged, till he read in the morning papers the announcement of
Cynthia's marriage to Lord Artingale, quite two years after Julia's
disappearance, the Mallows having again been a long time abroad.

Then, saving to a few, Julia was as one that is dead.



PART TWO, CHAPTER SIXTEEN.

A MEETING--AND PARTING.

Three years passed away, and Julia's disappearance remained a mystery to
all, and it was calmly put away upon the dusty shelves of the past--by
all save one.

Father had mourned for her, and time had somewhat assuaged his grief;
mother had wept in silence upon her weary couch; sister talked less
often now of `poor Julia'; brother, when he was seen, never mentioned
her name.  The whole matter had grown misty and pale in the distance of
the bygone to all save James Magnus, and from that night he had never
rested.  Detectives had grown cold; other affairs had taken their
attention; but nothing had checked the cold, stern, haggard man whose
one aim in life now was to stand face to face with the ruffian who had
made his life a wreck.  Had Julia married Perry-Morton, he would have
borne it in silence; but this was an outrage to his feelings that he
could not bear, and taking sketching materials as an excuse, he had
started off to find them, though he rarely put brush to paper now, for
he was incessant in his searchings, and every likely nook and corner in
London and the great cities was visited by him in turn.

Now he was wandering in the country, having had news that seemed to
promise success; now away off to some out-of-the-way spot in the New
Forest, or Herefordshire, where gipsies made their home; always on the
scent, but never successful.  He had tracked out scores of burly
ruffians, but they were none of them the man he thought to meet.

Back again in London in the east, in the lowest purlieus of the south,
in common lodging-houses, on waste grounds where caravans were drawn up
for the winter; off to racecourses and fairs, and great markets where
such men as Jock Morrison were to be found, but always in vain.

Once he heard of him, as he thought, at Horncastle, at another time at
Newmarket, and again on Epsom Downs, but it was always some great idle
ruffian bearing a slight resemblance to Jock Morrison, never the man
himself.

And in all those solitary wanderings, James Magnus carried the pistol he
had bought, and practised with it in his lonely walks.  Hundreds upon
hundreds of times those chambers were discharged, his marks being trees,
fingerposts, saplings rising out of hedges; and though the artist seemed
day by day to grow thin, careworn, and weak, his nerves were as if of
steel, and each bullet flew upon its course with unerring aim.

"The law cannot touch him," he muttered, with a strange smile; "perhaps
a bullet can."

It was on a bright afternoon in May that, seeing no beauty in the
verdant spring and the return of sunny days, James Magnus, heartsick and
worn out, crawled back to his chambers to find Burgess anxiously
expecting him, for he had been away longer than was his wont.

"Oh, I am glad to see you back, sir," he said.  "Set down, sir, and let
me take off your dusty boots.  You look worn out.  Lord Harry has been
here--not an hour ago."

A faint smile came upon the face of Magnus, as he heard the name of his
friend, and taking up the card he rose to go.

"Going, sir, so soon?" exclaimed his man.

"Only to see Lord Artingale," said Magnus, wearily.  "I'll soon be
back."

On reaching his friend's house in Lowndes-square, the servant told him
that his lordship had gone into the Park with her ladyship.  They were
in the open carriage; and wondering at his own weariness, Magnus
followed, unconsciously walking straight to the very spot where, what
seemed a lifetime back, he and Artingale had leaned over the rail, and
first seen poor Julia's fate.

He did not recall the fact at first, but stood watching the carriages,
thinking how much he would like to meet his old friend; and his face lit
up with a smile that had been a stranger to it of late.

For a long time it seemed as if his journey had been in vain, and he was
listlessly scanning the long lines of vehicles, when suddenly he heard
his name uttered, and a carriage was drawn up close to the rails, with
Artingale and Cynthia therein, both looking, if not so young, as bright
and happy as ever.

"My dear old fellow," cried Artingale, grasping his friend's hand, as
Cynthia possessed herself of the other, "I can't tell you how glad I am
to see you.  But jump in, and we'll go home at once.  We'll have such a
dinner, and those dining-room curtains shall be incensed, and no
mistake, to-night."

"No, no, not now," said Magnus; and in spite of all his friend's
pressure he declined.

"Then I shall come with you," cried Artingale.  "Cynthy, may I go?"

"I suppose you must," she said merrily.  "Mr Magnus, you are the only
gentleman to whom I would give him up."

Then there was a pleasant chat for a time, the carriage drove on, and
Artingale and his friend were left standing by the Park rails.

"Not one word," said Magnus to himself; "Julia is indeed dead."

"Why, Mag, old man, this is the very spot where--"

"Hush!  Look!" cried Magnus, grasping his friend's arm.  "God, I thank
Thee.  At last--at last!"

Artingale followed the direction of his eyes, and started, for there, on
the other side of the drive, was the great picturesque ruffian, slowly
sauntering along, quite unchanged, and with the same defiant air.

Artingale restrained his friend, who was about to leap over the
railings.

"No, no," he whispered, "let's follow him, and see where he goes.  We
shall find her then."

It was a slow task, for Jock Morrison went first out on to the grass and
lay down for an hour, but the watchers did not quit their post for a
moment, but tracked him when he rose, step by step, and along the great
highway due east, till he turned up Grey's-inn-lane, and then up one of
the narrow courts.

It was as ill-favoured and vile as any there, and for the moment Magnus
thought he had missed his man, but as, in spite of the scowling looks
around, he hurried down the court, a heavy step on one of the staircases
acted as his guide; and, closely followed by Artingale, he bounded up to
the second landing, which he reached just as a door was slammed to, and
he turned a countenance upon his friend that made him shudder.

"At last, Harry," he said in a low whisper.  "At last!  God of heaven,
how I have prayed for this time!"

"Stop," cried Artingale, excitedly; "you shall not go in.  Give me that
pistol, Magnus.  You shall not go."

He clung to his friend's arm, but Magnus threw him off.

That there was no mistake was evident, for from beyond the filthy
paintless door came the hoarse bullying tones of the fellow's voice,
and, unable to contain himself longer, Magnus dashed open the door, and
stepped in.

He was greeted by a volley of oaths, and the great ruffian started up
from a bed upon the floor where he had evidently thrown himself down,
and as he did so, with a face like ashes and his teeth set, Magnus
covered him with his pistol.

Artingale was in the doorway, and saw it all, but stood paralysed at his
friend's act.  But another moment, and the bullet would have sped upon
its deadly errand, when, with a cry, a woman threw herself between them,
placing herself with her back against Jock's breast, and her arms thrown
up to screen his face, as, with flaming eyes, she faced the intruders
upon her home.

"Stand aside, Ju, I'm not afraid of his barker," roared the great
ruffian, with a blasphemy; but the woman clung to him and held him back
as the pistol dropped upon the floor, and Magnus staggered against his
friend.

The recognition was mutual, but the woman's face remained unchanged.  It
was filled with the passionate desire to protect the ruffian who treated
her a little worse than he would have treated his dog; and as he read
the history of her life in what he saw, Artingale stood speechless for a
few moments, while Jock swung his defender on one side, strode forward
quickly, and picking up the pistol, put it in his pocket.

"Julia," exclaimed Artingale, recovering himself and advancing, "do you
not know me?"

She looked at him fixedly for a few moments.  Her face began to quiver,
and her hand was slightly raised to take the one he extended; but she
became rigid directly after, and turned away to cling to Jock Morrison,
who, with his hands in his pockets, looked mockingly on.

"No," she said, in a sharp, harsh voice, as changed as was her thin,
worn, piteous face from that Artingale had known in better days.  "No,"
she said, "I do not know you; the Julia you knew is dead."

"Well," said the great fellow, roughly, "have you any more to say to my
wife?  Because if not, go."

Artingale felt like one in a dream, as he fell back, and the door
slammed to; then slowly descending, careless of the curious eyes and
scowling looks directed at them, he joined his friend, and they went
back to the studio, where Magnus threw himself wearily down and closed
his eyes.

"But I must do something," exclaimed Artingale; and, rushing out, he had
himself driven to Great Scotland Yard.

"What can you do, my lord?" said the officer he saw.  "From what you
say, the fellow has married her, and we can't undo that.  I'll take what
steps you like, my lord, but--"

_But_!  There was a volume in that one word, for when afterwards effort
after effort was made to win the wanderer back by father, mother,
sister, all was in vain.  She had spoken truly.  The Julia whom Harry
Artingale had known was dead.

It was close upon twelve that same night that, sick at heart, Artingale
returned to his friend's chambers, to find that Burgess had been busy
preparing supper, feeling sure that he would return.

"Where is your master?" said Artingale.

"He said he would go and lie down, sir, till you came.  He thought you
would be sure to come back to-night.  But oh, my lord--oh sir," cried
the poor fellow piteously, "can't you do something to make poor master
what he was?  This is weary work indeed!"

"I don't know, Burgess.  I can't say.  I'll try, but I hope he will be
better now."

"I hope and pray he may, sir," said the man, fervently; and Artingale
went on into the bedroom, to see that his friend had placed Julia's
picture on the easel at the farther side of the bed in full sight from
where he lay; and as the young man's eyes lighted upon the prostrate
figure, he uttered a cry which brought in the man.

"Quick, Burgess, quick!  The nearest doctor."

A fruitless errand: James Magnus, after his long and weary pilgrimage,
was resting peacefully where there is no dreaming of revenge.

Of a broken heart!  So it was said, for the secret was well kept.  There
are men who dare to make the rush headlong from this world.



PART THREE, CHAPTER ONE.



PART 3--THE BARRISTER'S DAY.

IN CHAMBERS.

"With a rum-tum, tum-tum, tiddy-iddy tum, tiddy-rum-tum, tiddy-iddy
bang!"

This was sung in a low-pitched, not unmusical voice, by a stunted,
thickly-set lad of seventeen or eighteen, being his version of the
well-known "March of the British Grenadiers"; and as he puffed forth the
air in imitation of a wind instrument, the musical youth paraded the
well-furnished office he occupied, with an enormous ebony ruler over his
shoulder, held sword-fashion, and the stove poker in his left hand
carried like a scabbard.

He was so far on the alert that he kept one eye upon a green
baize-covered inner door, evidently leading into a private room, but not
sufficiently watchful to see that another door had been opened, for as
he got through a second strain of the march he called, softly, in
imitation of a commanding officer, "Halt!--right about face.  Band to
the front!"  Then his jaw dropped, and he made a bound to his desk.

The reason of this change was that a stern, dry-looking, well-dressed
man stood there, with an umbrella in one hand, a blue bag in the other,
and he did not smile, but showed his teeth slightly, as he saw the lad's
confusion.

"Drilling, eh?" he said, shutting the door close behind him.  "Going to
join the army?"

"No, sir," said the boy, smartly.

"Of course not," said the visitor.  "Much too short."

"Please, sir, I can't help that," said the boy, whose face was now
scarlet; "and I shall grow."

"Only wiser, boy," said the visitor, "not taller.  Wiser; and then you
won't go and be shot at for a few pennies a day.  Mr Ross in?"

"Don't know, sir.  I'll see," said the boy.

"Yes, you do know," snarled the visitor; "and he is in, or else you
wouldn't have gone about on tiptoe.  Take in my card."

"Mr Swift, Cripple and Swift," read the boy.

"Yes, and be quick.  Time's money, boy."

"Yes, sir.  Take a chair, sir," said the lad, whose martial ardour had
cooled into business; and he opened the baize door, let it close behind
him, and knocked at the panel of an inner door, the knock sounding
muffled and distant to the visitor.

"Come in!"

The boy entered a handsomely-furnished room, in the middle of whose
Turkey carpet was a large, well-drawered writing-table, covered with
papers tied up in red and green tape.  On one side was a handsome,
polished wardrobe, half open, displaying, hanging from pegs, a couple of
barrister's gowns, looking in the dim interior like a couple of
old-fashioned clergymen hung up to dry, or for some other reason.

In another polished-wood cupboard, with glass doors partly covered with
blinds, were apparently a couple of stuffed barristers in their wigs,
gazing mournfully through the glass at the opening door of the office,
till a second inspection showed them to be wig-blocks, with their legal
horsehair burdens grey and stiff.

Cases full of thick volumes, a couple of busts of famous judges in their
wigs, and here and there an almanack, a pale blue sheet of paper,
printed with the dates of various judges' circuits, and, lastly, a tall
oaken case full of pigeon-holes stuffed to overflowing with legal
papers, formed the surroundings of him who said "Come in."

The speaker was in a dressing-gown and slippers, seated at the
writing-table, with his head resting upon his hands, evidently studying
intently the contents of certain sheets of paper, closely written in a
clear round hand, but with a broad margin, whereon from time to time the
reader made notes, by means of a gold pencil-case.

His face was bent so low that nothing but the broad forehead was visible
when he set one hand at liberty to write; but it could be seen that this
broad, open brow was lined by study, and the dark hair was cut off
closely to the reader's head.

He did not look up when the boy entered, but said, in a quick, decided
voice--

"Well, Dick?"

"Gentleman to see you, sir," said the boy; and he placed a card upon the
writing-table, at which card the reader glanced, but without changing
his position.

"H'm, Mr Swift," he said.  "Show him in."

The visitor needed scarcely any showing, for as the boy went back he was
ready to step in at once, and his stern, harsh, rather unpleasant face
seemed to wear a satisfied air as he took all in at a glance.

"Good morning, Mr Ross," he said, as the reader rose and showed the
face of Luke Ross, twelve years older, and pale and thin, but with his
dark eyes, rather deeply set, now full of vigorous intelligence, as he
seemed to look his visitor through and through, and motioned him to a
seat with a wave of a thin, delicate white hand, upon which shone a
heavy unornamented signet ring.

"I think you know our name, Mr Ross," said the visitor, with an air of
self-satisfaction, as he laid his blue bag across his knees.

"Perfectly well, Mr Swift," said Ross, quietly.  "I was against you in
that shipping case last week."

"Yes, sir, you were," said the visitor, with a smile that looked like a
snarl; "and you beat us, sir--beat Philliman--and that's why I have
come."

"Mr Philliman worked very hard for your client, Mr Swift," said Luke,
quietly.  "I presume that you bear no malice?" he added, with a smile.

"Malice, sir--malice, Mr Ross?  Ha, ha, ha!  That's very good, sir--
uncommonly good.  I'll tell Cripple as soon as I return."

"I know you'll excuse me, Mr Swift," said the young barrister, glancing
at his watch, "if I tell you that my time is very much occupied."

"Of course!  To be sure.  Yes, my dear sir," said the visitor, busily
opening his blue bag.  "I know it is.  But as it was our first affair
with you, I thought I would come on myself instead of sending our clerk.
There, sir," he exclaimed, drawing out a folded packet of papers, tied
up with tape, "I have come to show you how we bear malice, sir--our
first brief."

As he spoke he handed the papers to Luke Ross with the triumphant smile
of one who is conferring a great favour, and then, throwing himself back
in his chair, he looked quite disappointed as the barrister just glanced
at the endorsement on the brief, which, among other words, bore certain
hieroglyphics in a crabbed hand--"15 _gs_."

"I am sorry to have troubled you to come, Mr Swift," said Luke, in a
quiet, grave voice, that was very impressive, and, though low, seemed to
fill the room, "but I really must decline."

"Decline!" exclaimed the solicitor, flushing.  "Do you know, Mr Ross,
that this may mean an enormous number of briefs from our firm, sir--a
very fortune?"

Luke bowed.

"You are a young man, Mr Ross--excuse me for saying so, sir--just
making a name in your profession.  Do I understand you aright, sir?  Our
firm, sir, stands high."

"Perfectly aright, Mr Swift," replied Luke, in a voice that quite
seemed to silence the solicitor, who refreshed himself with a
hastily-taken pinch of snuff, and shut the lid of his box with a loud
snap.  "I know your firm well, sir; but, as you are aware," he added,
with a grave smile, "there are limits to even an enterprising
barrister's powers, and the profession has been kind enough to give me
more than I care to undertake."

"Ah, exactly, sir--of course--yes," said Mr Swift, smiling, and nodding
his head.  "Exactly so, my dear sir.  Will you allow me?"

Luke bowed, and before he had quite realised his visitor's intentions,
he had caught up a quill pen, and, rapidly dipping it, altered the
fifteen on the back of the brief with a couple of touches into
twenty-five, blotted it, and handed it to the young barrister, who
raised his hand not to take the brief, but to decline.

"I am sorry, Mr Swift," he said, "but I have sent back a couple of
briefs this morning marked precisely as you have endorsed that.  I am
obliged to decline.  Try Mr Norris, or Mr Henrich, on this staircase.
I am sure they will be glad to accept the brief."

The solicitor stared in astonishment, took out his snuff-box, put it
back again, and then exclaimed sharply--

"But I want _you_, sir, you."

"Then," said Luke, smiling, "I am afraid you will have to double the fee
upon the brief, Mr Swift.  So much work has come to me of late, that I
have been compelled to make that my fee."

"And with a refresher, sir?" said the solicitor, dropping the
patronising air for one of increased respect.

"And with a refresher, sir," replied the young barrister.

Mr Swift glanced from him to the brief he had been studying and back.

"Why, you are not in Regina _versus_ Finlayson, sir?" he said.  "Morley
and Shorter told me that they had given the brief to some one, endorsed
fifty."

"I am the humble individual, Mr Swift," said Luke, who in his calm,
grave way seemed to be amused.

Without another word the solicitor snatched up the quill, dipped it, and
dashing out the twenty-live guineas, rapidly wrote above it "50 _gs_."

"There, sir," he said, blotting it with a bang upon the writing-table,
"we must have you, sir.  We want to have you, Mr Ross.  You will take
this for us--it's for the prosecution, sir,--a most important case.  It
is, really, sir."

"It is astonishing how often the case is most important in the eyes of
the firm of solicitors, and how very ordinary it turns out, Mr Swift,
when it comes into court.  But there, Mr Swift, I'll do my best for
your client," and he rose.

The solicitor took the hint, and picked up his hat and blue bag.

"Thank you, Mr Ross; thank you, sir.  I am very, very glad.  Our first
brief, Mr Ross.  The first, sir, of many.  Good morning."

He shook hands with a look of the most profound veneration for the
eminent young legal light, whose brilliancy was beginning to be
discussed a good deal, both in and out of court.

"Good morning, Mr Swift," said Lake.  "I'll try and get you a verdict."

"You will, sir; I'm sure you will," said the solicitor, bowing as he
reached the door, and then hurrying back.  "One moment, Mr Ross--a word
from an old limb of the law, sir.  You are a young man, and not above
listening to advice."

"Certainly not," said Luke, smiling, "if it be good."

"'Tis good, sir.  Take it.  Do away with that boy, and have a quiet,
elderly clerk, sir.  Gives dignity to your office.  Good morning."

He nodded this time, and shut the door after him, carefully opened the
baize portal, and passed through that, to change his whole aspect as he
found a very tall, thin, cadaverous-looking man, in glossy black, and
with a heavy gold eyeglass swinging outside his buttoned-up surtout.

The countenance of the tall, thin man changed a little, too; but they
shook hands warmly.

"Won't do, Hampton, if you've come about the Esdaile case," he said.

"Never you mind what I've come about," said the tall man, with asperity.

"Oh, I don't, my dear sir, for we've got Ross for the prosecution."

"Con--Tut, tut, tut.  Oh, hang it, Swift, this is too bad."

"Ha, ha, ha!" laughed the solicitor.

"But, look here, honour bright?"

"Honour bright, my dear sir.  Go and ask him."

"I'll take your word, Swift.  Give me a pinch of snuff.  What, have you
endorsed the brief, eh?"

The solicitor whispered.

"Have you, though?  Well, I should have done the same.  It will be silk
one of these days."

"Safe, sir, safe," said the other; and they went out together, just as a
cab stopped at the end of the narrow lane, and, looking very thin and
old, and dry, but bright and active still, old Michael Ross stepped out;
and then, with a very shabby, long old carpet bag in one hand, and a
baggy green umbrella, with staghorn handle, in the other, trotted down
the incline into the Temple till he reached the staircase, at the foot
of which, on one of the door-posts, was painted a column of names.

"Hah!" said the old man, smiling, as he set down his bag, and balanced a
clumsy pair of glasses on his nose, holding them up with one hand.
"This is it.  Number nine.  Ground floor, Mr Sergeant Towle; Mr
Barnard, Q.C.  First floor, Mr Ross."

"Hah!" he muttered, with a chuckle, "first floor, Mr Ross.  I wonder
whether he's at home.

"No," he ejaculated.  "That's wrong.  Should be, `I wonder whether he's
in court.'"

The old man stopped short in the entry, with the door leading to Mr
Sergeant Towle's chambers before, and that leading to the chambers of
Mr Barnard, Q.C., behind, and drew forth his washed-out and faded red
cotton handkerchief.

"I wonder whether he'll be glad to see me," he said.  "I'm only a
shabby-looking old fellow, and I dare say I've brought the smell of the
tan-pits with me; and they tell me my son is getting to be quite a
famous lawyer--quite the gentleman, too.  Ah, it's a great change--a
great change.  And I didn't tell him I was coming; and p'raps it isn't
right to take him so by surprise.  He mightn't like it."

The old man rubbed his damp fingers on his handkerchief, and looked
about him in a troubled, helpless way.

"I feel always so mazed-like in this noisy London," he said, weakly;
"and if he was hurt about my coming it would about break my heart, that
it would."

The handkerchief was on its way up to his eyes, where the weak tears
were gathering, when there was the sound of voices in the chambers of
Mr Sergeant Towle, and, snatching up his bag, the old man trotted,
pretty nimbly, up the stone stairs to the first floor, where, upon the
pale drab door, there was the legend, "Mr Ross."

"Mr Ross," said the old man, chuckling to himself.  "Mr Ross.  That's
my son.  God bless him!  My son; and I'd have given a hundred golden
pounds if my dear old wife had been alive, and could have stood here and
seen his name writ large and famous on a door in London town like that."

He stood admiring it for some minutes, and then hesitated, as if
overcome by the importance of his son; but at last he raised the big
umbrella, and tapped gently with the staghorn beak.

It was a very modest knock, and it was not answered, so at the end of
five minutes he knocked again.

This time Mr Richard Dixie--Dicky Dix, as he was familiarly called--
verified the words of Mr Swift, the solicitor (Cripple and Swift, of
Gresham-street), by staring hard at the shabby-looking little old man
and his bag, and then coming a little way out to stare at the doorpost,
to the surprise of old Ross.

"It ain't broke," said the boy.

"What isn't broke, sir?" said the old man, humbly.

That `sir' was like so much nerve to one who did not need it; and,
turning sharply to the old man, he gave another glance at the shabby
bag.

"Then what do you want to come a banging at the door with your old
umbrelly for?"

"I didn't see the bell, sir," said the old man, humbly.  "Is--is your
master in?"

"Got anything to sell?" said the boy, sharply.

"To sell, sir?  Yes; a good deal.  The market's been very bad lately.
Is your master, Mr Ross, in?"

"No, he ain't," said the boy, sharply.  "Don't want any.  Take your bag
somewhere else.  We gets ours at the stationer's."

The old man stood aghast, for the boy gave his bag a kick and shut the
door to sharply, without another word.

"He's a quick, sharp boy," said the old man; "very impudent though.  A
regular London boy; and Luke's out.  Well, well, well, I've come a long
way to see him, and I can wait," and without another word, the old man
seated himself patiently at the foot of the next flight of stairs,
placing his bag beside him, and his green umbrella across his knees.



PART THREE, CHAPTER TWO.

IN TROUBLE.

"Sage?  What--down-stairs?" cried Mrs Portlock.  "Don't say they're in
trouble again, Joseph."

"Why not?" said the Churchwarden, slowly.  "Come along down, and make
the poor girl some warm tea.  She's been travelling all night, and has
brought the two little ones with her."

"I'll be down directly," said Mrs Portlock; "but what is the matter?"

"Trouble, trouble, trouble," said the Churchwarden, slowly.  "Hang the
laws.  I'd give something if I could take her away from him, and keep
her at home, children and all.  It would come a deal cheaper, old lady."

"Oh, but you are too hard on him, Joseph, indeed you are.  Cyril is
very, very fond of her and his children."

"Bah!  I never knew him fond of anything but himself, and what money he
could get."

"There, if you are in that kind of temper, Joseph, it is of no use for
me to speak to you.  I'll be down directly; but won't Sage come up?"

"No, I've made her lie down on the sofa by the fire.  She's worn out,
and the little ones are fast asleep.  I've told the girls to hurry on
the breakfast."

"But how foolish of her to travel in the night.  How did they come from
the station?"

"A man brought them in a cart.  Poor things! they are half perished."

"Dear, dear, dear, dear me," said Mrs Portlock, hastily dressing.
"What troubles there are in this world."

"Yes, if people make 'em."

"But what is wrong with Cyril?"

"Oh, nothing particular," said the Churchwarden, bitterly, "only he's in
trouble again."

"In trouble?"

"Yes, in trouble.  Don't shout about it and frighten the poor girl
more."

"But what does it mean?"

"Oh, some trouble over old Walker's affairs.  Sage says she is sure he
is innocent.  Heaven knows I hope he is."

"But what made her come down?"

"What made her come down, old lady?  Why, what was the poor wench to do,
a woman with a couple of little children?  There, it seems a sin to say
so, but it's a blessing the others died."

"Oh, for shame, Joseph!" cried Mrs Portlock, whose trembling old
fingers were in great trouble over various strings.

"I don't care," said the Churchwarden, whose hair was white now, but who
looked as sturdy and well as ever; "I wish she had never seen the
scoundrel."

"Joseph, if you talk like that, you'll break the poor girl's heart."

"I'm not going to talk to her like that, but I suppose I may to you.
Here have they been married close upon twelve years, and what have they
been but twelve years of misery?"

"There has been a deal of trouble certainly," sighed Mrs Portlock.
"What time is it now?"

"Half-past six.  Make haste.  He was held to be all that was steady and
right at that Government appointment, and six months after his marriage
they kicked him out."

"But Sage always said, dear, that they behaved very ill to Cyril."

"Of course she did, and she believed it, poor lass; but if half that I
heard of him was true, I'd have kicked him out at the end of three
months instead of six."

"It's very, very shocking," sighed Mrs Portlock, getting something in a
knot.

"Then he gets his mother's money; poor soul, she'd have sold herself for
that boy."

"Yes; she's very, very fond of him."

"There was enough for them to have lived in comfort to the end of their
days, if he hadn't bet and squandered the property all away."

"I'm afraid he was a little reckless," sighed Mrs Portlock.

"Reckless?  He was mad.  Then, when it was gone, it was money, money,
money: never a month passing but there was a letter from poor Sage,
begging for money."

"But she couldn't help it, dear."

"Think I don't know that," cried the Churchwarden, striding to and fro.
"He forced her to write, of course; and we sent it, but not for him.  If
it hadn't been for her and the bairns, not a penny of my hard savings
would he ever have seen."

"But he has been better lately."

"Better?  Ha, ha, ha!  So it seems.  Wait till we know all.  Five
thousand pounds gone in that wine merchant's business."

"Well, but, Joseph, dear, you would have left it to them after we were
dead.  Wasn't it better to give it to them at once?"

"Yes, if it was for their good," said the Churchwarden.  "What is it?
Four years ago, and Mallow said, `No,'--I remember his words as well as
if it were only yesterday--`No,' he said, `I think we've done enough.
My wife's money has all gone to him, and I will not impoverish myself
further.  I think it is your turn, now.'"

"Well, Joseph," said Mrs Portlock, who had nearly arrived at the stage
of dressing that calls for a cap, "that was only fair."

"Oh, yes, it was fair enough; and I wouldn't have grudged it if Cyril
had been like other men.  Five thousand pounds hard savings I paid down
that he might go into partnership with old Walker in that wine trade."

"Well, and I'm sure they seem to have done well for some time, Joseph;
and see what a nice present of wine Cyril sent you every Christmas.
Yes, for five Christmas presents, Joseph."

"Every one of which cost me a thousand pounds, old lady, and the
interest.  Dear presents--dear presents."

"But he was getting on well, Joseph, and he seemed so steady; and I'm
sure he was very fond of Sage."

"Fond of Sage!" cried the old farmer, bitterly.  "Don't tell me.  How
can a man be fond of his wife when he spends every penny he can get on
himself, and then turns the woman he swore to protect into a
begging-letter writer?"

"But what does it all mean?  Only the other day, dear," said Mrs
Portlock, whose hands trembled, and who seemed sadly agitated, "we heard
that old Mr Walker had died, and I thought it meant that now Cyril
would have the business all to himself."

"Yes, and he has had it all to himself," said the Churchwarden,
bitterly.  "But come down, and speak gently to her, poor darling.  Let's
do all we can to make the best of things."

The Churchwarden had let the angry excitement escape in the presence of
his wife, and there was a notable change in his manner as he softly
followed her down into the old parlour, where a bonny fire was blazing,
and Sage Mallow had changed her position to the easy-chair, so that her
little ones might enjoy the comfort of the broad old sofa, drawn, as it
was, before the glow.

They were fast asleep, the two pretty little girls, with their tangled
hair, in a close embrace, and warmly covered with a great rug, while
their mother lay back in the chair, looking twenty years older than on
the day she accompanied Cyril Mallow to the church.  Her face was
pinched and pale, and about her lips there was that strange compression
that tells of suffering, weariness, and an aching heart.

A sigh broke involuntarily from the Churchwarden's breast, as with
tender solicitude he went down on one knee, and drew a shawl over the
sleeping mother's arms.

It was softly done, but Sage started into wakefulness, and then, seeing
who was there, her dilate and frightened eyes softened with tears as she
threw her arms round his neck, and hid her face in his breast, sobbing
hysterically, but in a low, weary way.

"Oh, uncle, uncle!"

"My poor bairn, my dear bairn," he whispered, drawing her closer to his
breast, and softly caressing her hair.  "There, there, there, don't cry,
don't cry.  As long as there's a roof at Kilby, and we're alive, there's
a home for you, my darling, and the little ones.  So come, come, come,
cheer up!"

"But my husband," she said, wildly, as she looked up, and, for the first
time, saw that Mrs Portlock was present.  "Oh, auntie, auntie," she
wailed, almost in a whisper, as she cast an anxious glance at the
sleeping children, "I'm in such trouble, and such grief.  What shall I
do?"

She quitted her uncle's embrace now, to lay her head, with the weariness
of a sick child, upon the old lady's breast.

"There, there," whispered her aunt, with all the sharp jerkiness of
manner gone.  "Cheer up a bit, and well see what's to be done.  You did
quite right to come down.  Uncle and I will take care of you and the
bairns."

"But I must go back directly," said Sage, sitting up and smoothing her
hair.  "I came down to ask uncle and Mr Mallow to help us, but Mr
Mallow is so angry with Cyril that I am almost afraid to go."

"Oh, I'll go and have a talk to him, my darling," said the Churchwarden;
"and we'll see if we can't set things a bit right.  Ah, that's better,"
he cried, as one of the maids entered with a hot cup of tea.  "There, my
dear, drink that.  Don't wait, Anne."

The girl, who was staring open-mouthed, left the room, and, after some
persuasion, Sage drank the tea.

"I want to tell you, uncle," she cried, after holding her hands for a
few moments to her temples, as if her head was confused, and her
thoughts wandering away.  "I want to tell you all, but I seem to be
hearing the rattle of the train in my head, and jolting over the road in
that cart, with the children crying with the cold."

"But they are fast asleep, and comfortable now, my girl," said the
Churchwarden, soothingly.  "Suppose you have a nap, and tell us all your
trouble later on."

"No, no," she cried, "I must tell you now, for I want to get back to
Cyril."

She stared about so wildly that the Churchwarden and his wife exchanged
glances.

"Is Cyril at home, then?" said Portlock, as if to help her regain the
current of her thoughts.

"Home?" she cried.  "No: we have no home.  Everything has been seized
and sold; and we have been changing about from lodging to lodging, for
Cyril did not wish to be seen."

"Not wish to be seen?"

"No, uncle, dear.  He said the failure of the firm was so painful to him
since Mr Walker's death; and that the representatives of the poor old
man had forced the estate into bankruptcy, and were behaving very badly
to him."

"Humph!"

"People have behaved so very, very cruelly to him, and set about such
dreadful stories; but you will not believe them, dear?  He is my
husband, and he has been very, very unfortunate."

"Very, my dear," said her uncle, drily.

"He has tried so hard," cried Sage, excitedly, "and fought so bravely to
make a fortune; but the world has always been against him, do what he
would."

"Hah, yes," said the Churchwarden, with a sigh.  "But if people would be
content with a good living, and not want to make fortunes, what trouble
would be saved."

"Oh, don't: pray don't you turn against him, uncle, dear," sobbed Sage,
piteously.

"No, my child," said the Churchwarden, gazing tenderly in her sad, thin
face.  "I shall not turn against him for your sake.  But you had better
tell me all.  You say he is in trouble, but innocent?"

She gazed wildly from one to the other.

"I dare not," she moaned, as she covered her face with her hands, and
shuddered.

"Dare not?"

"Yes, I dare," she cried, proudly throwing up her head.  "It is not
true.  Cyril has his faults, but it is a cruel invention of spiteful
enemies.  It is a lie."

She stood up proudly defiant, ready to fight the world on her husband's
behalf, and seemed half angry with her uncle's want of enthusiasm as he
said, quietly--

"Tell me then, my dear.  What do they say?"

"That he has committed forgery, and robbed poor old Mr Walker, who,
they say, died of a broken heart at the disgrace of the failure."

"And where is Cyril, now?" said the Churchwarden, whose forehead had
grown full of deeper lines.

"Oh, uncle," Sage cried, throwing herself upon her knees, and shuddering
as she covered her face with her hands.  "He was sitting with me last
night, and--Oh, I cannot bear it, I cannot bear it," she wailed--"the
police came.  They said it was a warrant, and--oh, uncle, help me, pray
help me, for I have but you to cling to.  My husband is in prison now.
What shall I do?"



PART THREE, CHAPTER THREE.

LUKE ROSS HEARS NEWS.

Old Michael Ross sat very patiently outside his son's chambers, watching
the door, and finding enough satisfaction in reading over the name, `Mr
Ross,' again and again.

"It's not a grand place to look at," he said to himself; "but they tell
me he's growing quite a big man.  I read for myself what he says to the
judges in court sometimes; and it's a very great thing for my son to be
allowed to talk to them."

Then he had to move to allow some one to pass up, and soon after he had
again to move for some one to pass down, and each time he rose those who
passed looked keenly at the countrified old gentleman, with his carpet
bag and umbrella, but no one spoke.

"I did see how many people there are in London," said the old man to
himself.  "Three millions, I think it was; and yet what a strange dull
place it is, and how lonesome a man can feel.  Ah!" he said, sadly, "if
my son was to be vexed because I have come up, and not be glad to see
me, I think I should seem to be all alone in the world."

Just then the door opened, and the little clerk came out with a felt hat
stuck very much on one side of his head.

He started as he saw the old man seated patiently waiting, and after
closing the door he said, sharply--

"Now then, old chap, what are you stopping for?"

"I was waiting to see my--to see Mr Ross," said the old man, who seemed
quite humbled by the greatness of his son.

"Didn't I tell you he wasn't at home?" said the boy.

"Yes, sir; and I was going to wait till he returned."

"It's of no use to wait; he don't want to see you."

"Do you think not?" said the old man, humbly.

"I'm sure he don't.  What have you got to sell?"

"Skins, sir, skins, principally sheep," said the tanner, respectfully.

"Well, look here: just you be off.  The governor buys all his skins when
he wants 'em at the law stationers, but he hardly ever uses one.  It's
the solicitors who do that.  Now then, off you go."

Just then the door opened, and a well-known voice called "Dick" loudly,
the speaker coming out on to the stone landing, and then starting with
surprise.

"Why, father!" he exclaimed.  "You here?  I am glad to see you.  Really,
I _am_ glad to _see_ you."

The grave, stern way of speaking was gone, and it was Luke Ross of a
dozen years before who was shaking the old man by the hands, and then
patting him affectionately on the shoulders, the old man dropping
umbrella and bag, and the tears starting to his weak old eyes, as he saw
his son's genuine pleasure at the encounter.

"Come along in, father," continued Luke.

"Here, Dick, pick up those things and bring them in."

Dick screwed up his face and stared.

"I--I'll pick them up, Luke, my boy," quavered the old man, glancing at
the young clerk.

"No, no; he'll bring them in, father," said Luke, drawing the old man
into the office and into his private room, where he thrust him into the
most comfortable chair, and then stood over him smiling with pleasure,
seeming as if he could hardly make enough of the little, shrunken old
man.

"Just come up, I suppose?" cried Luke.

"Yes, my boy, yes," said old Michael, wiping his eyes; "but I've been
sitting out there on the stairs these two hours."

"Sitting out there!  Why didn't you ring?"

"I did knock, my boy, and that lad of yours said you were out, and told
me to go away; and if I had known you were in all the time, my boy, I
should have gone away thinking you didn't want to see your old father.
Did you tell him to say you were out, Luke?"

"The young scoundrel! no," cried Luke.

"I'm afraid he's a very wicked boy, then," piped the old man, "a very
wicked boy.  But are you glad to see me again, Luke?"

"Glad to see you, my dear old father?  Why, yes, yes, you know I am.
Come, come, come, or you'll make me weak too."

"Ye-ye--yes, my boy, it is weak," quavered the old fellow, wiping his
eyes hastily; "but I'm getting very old now, Luke.  I was a middle-aged
man when I married your dear mother, and I'm seventy-nine now, and not
so strong as I was, and--and I got fancying as I came up that now you
had grown to be such a great man you wouldn't want to see such a shabby
old fellow as I am at your chambers."

"For shame, father!" cried Luke, reproachfully.  "What cause have I ever
given you for thinking that?"

"None at all, my boy, none at all.  God bless you!  You're a good lad,
and I'm very proud of you, Luke, very proud of you, and--and I am so
glad to see you again.  Luke, my boy," he said, rising, and his
tremulous old hands played caressingly about his son's shoulders, "I'm a
very old fellow now, and I dare say this is the last time I shall come
to town."

"Oh, no, no, no, father, you'll make plenty of journeys up yet."

"No, my boy, no," said the old fellow, calmly; and he shook his head.
"It can't be; my next journey may be the long one, never to come back
again, my boy."

"Oh, father, come, come," cried Luke, "don't talk like that."

"Why not, my boy?" said the old man, smiling; "it must come to that
soon, and it never seems to trouble me now; but, Luke, my boy, would
you--would you mind this once if--if I--if I--you were a little boy
once, Luke, and I have always been so proud of you, and though you--you
have grown to be such a great man, you seem only my boy still, and I
should like to once more before I die."

"Like to what, father?" cried the young man, smiling at his elder's
affectionate earnestness.

"I should like to kiss you, my boy--for the last time," faltered the old
man, humbly.

"My dear old father!"

It was all that was heard save a muffled sob, as Luke strained the old
man to his breast, and position--the present--all was forgotten, as
father and son stood there feeling as if five-and-twenty years had
dropped away.

"Now," said Luke, as the old man, with a happy smile upon his face,
resumed his chair, the younger half seating himself upon the
writing-table before him.  "Now then, father," said Luke, merrily, "am I
glad to see you?"

"Yes, yes, my boy, I know you are;" and the old man took one of the
delicate white hands in his, and gazed round the room.  "I like your new
chambers, my boy.  Much better than the old ones.  The furniture's very
nice; but you never wrote to your poor old father for fifty or a hundred
pounds to buy it," he said, reproachfully.

"There was no need, father," said Luke, smiling.  "I am making a good
deal of money now."

"Are you though?  I'm glad of it.  You ought to: you're so clever; but
you never come down, my boy."

Luke's brow clouded.

"I haven't the heart, father," he said, after a pause.  "Come and see me
instead; and if I don't write so often as I should, it is really because
I spend so much time in study and hard work."

"Yes, of course, my boy, so you must.  But--but you haven't asked me why
I came up."

"To see me, of course," said Luke.

"Well, yes, my boy, I did; but you--you haven't the heart to come down?"

Luke shook his head.

"Do you--do you think,"--the old man held his son's hand in both his
own, and looked timidly in his face, "do you think about her still, my
boy?"

"Every day, father," said the young man, sternly.  "I always shall."

"Yes, yes, my boy.  That is why I came up.  I came to tell you, my boy:
she's in very great trouble."

"Trouble!" said Luke, quickly; and his voice sounded hoarse and
strange--"again?"

"Yes, yes, my boy.  I knew you would like to know."

Luke snatched his hand away, and paced up and down the room several
times before stopping in front of the old man once more.  "Has--has she
been down, father?"

"Yes, my boy, she came down with her two little girls."

"Did you see her?" said Luke, hoarsely.  "Yes, my boy.  I had to go to
Churchwarden Portlock about some skins, and he took me into the room
where she was, and she shook hands.  Poor girl, poor girl, she's strange
and changed."

"Changed, father?"

"Yes; old and careworn, and as if she'd suffered a deal of trouble."

Luke Ross's head went down upon his breast, and his voice was almost
inaudible as he said--

"What is her trouble now?"

"You have heard nothing, then, my boy?"

"No, father, nothing."

"Not that the wine merchant's business has all come to bankruptcy?"

"No, father; but I am not surprised.  He will always be a beggar.  That
is her trouble, then.  She is back home?"

"Oh, no, my boy; she is in London.  She would not leave her husband.
Churchwarden Portlock came up with her, for it is a terrible trouble
this time."

"Indeed, father!  Why?"

"They say he has committed forgery, my boy, and done no end of ill,
and--and--"

"And what, father?" cried Lake, whose eyes were flashing with eagerness.

"He has been cast into prison, my boy, and they say it is a terribly bad
case."



PART THREE, CHAPTER FOUR.

AN IMPORTANT BRIEF.

Luke Ross sat on the edge of his table for a few minutes gazing into
vacancy, and at times it was with a look akin to triumph that he
pondered upon the fall of the man who had been his one enemy--him who
had seemed to turn the whole current of his life.

But as the old man watched his countenance, a sadder, softer mood came
over it, and he said, as he turned once more to meet his father's eyes--

"Poor girl!  It is terrible, indeed."

"Very, very terrible, my boy; and they say poor Mrs Mallow is dying.
Surely our poor parson has much to bear--much, indeed, to bear."

There was a few minutes' silence, and then Luke turned to his father,
and his lips moved to speak, but no words came for a time.  At last he
said--

"Do you know where Mrs Cyril Mallow is staying, father?"

"Yes, my boy.  Portlock told me, and asked me to go and see them if I
came up."

"Go, then, father, and if you can help him, do so.  I cannot go, but
you--you could.  Help Mr Portlock if you can, and come to me for what
you require.  Poor girl," he added, to himself, "what a fate it is.
Poor girl--poor girl!"

"I--I didn't think you would take on about it quite so much, my boy; but
I thought I ought to tell you about it all."

"Yes, yes, father; it was quite right.  I am glad you came up."

"It's--it's all about money, my boy, that Cyril Mallow has got into
trouble."

"Yes, father, I suppose so," said Luke, whose thoughts were evidently in
another direction.

"I liked Sage Portlock--I always did like her, my boy; and as you are
getting on so well, and don't want the money I've scraped up for you, I
wouldn't mind helping her in her trouble."

"It's very good of you, father," said the young man, smiling sadly.

"But it would be like pouring money into a well if her husband gets hold
of it."

"If it is a case such as you describe, father," said Luke, thoughtfully,
"I doubt whether money would be of much good."

The old man looked very anxiously at his son, even with a kind of awe,
as if he were afraid of him.

"I don't like to ask him," he muttered, "I don't like to ask him;" and
he took out his old faded handkerchief and began nervously wiping his
hands upon it, till Luke, in his abstraction, turned his eyes upon him
with a vacant look that gradually became intense, as his father grew
more nervous and troubled of mien.

As the old man shrank and avoided the gaze which drew him back, as it
were, to look appealingly in the stern, searching eyes of his son, Luke
spoke to him with the sharpness of one trying to master an evading
witness, so that the old man started as the young barrister exclaimed--

"What is it, father?  You are keeping something back."

"I--I hardly liked to say it, my boy.  Don't be angry with me."

"Angry with you!  What nonsense, father.  But speak out.  What is it?
You want to say something to me."

"Ye-es, my boy, I do.  But give me your hand, and don't speak so sharp
and angrily to me.  I'm--I'm getting old and nervous now, and a very
little seems to upset me.  I don't even like to walk amongst the
tan-pits now, where I used to run without being a bit afraid.  Thank
you, my boy, thank you," he continued, nervously, as Luke caught and
held his hand.

"It's a way I have of speaking, father," he said.  "Angry?  With you?
Why my dear father, how could I be?"

"I--I don't know, my boy; but you promise me that you won't be angry?"

"Not a bit, father," cried Luke, with assumed cheeriness.  "There, dad,
I promise you I won't even be cross if you have been and married a young
wife."

"Me?  Married a young wife?  Ha! ha! ha!  That's very funny of you, my
boy, very funny; but I haven't done that, Luke; I haven't done that.  I
married at eight-and-thirty, Luke, and once was enough.  But you won't
be angry?"

"No, no, not a bit.  Now come, confess.  What is it?  I hope you haven't
been investing in some shaky company."

"Oh no, my boy, not I.  My bit of money has all been put in land, every
hundred I could spare out of the business.  But you said, my boy, you--
you wanted to help Mrs Cyril."

Luke's countenance changed again, but he nodded, and said hastily--

"Yes, father, of course.  What can I do?"

"She--she said--"

"Who?  Mrs Cyril Mallow?"

"Yes, my boy," said the old man, clinging to him.  "Mrs Cyril, she--she
asked me to come and see you."

"Sage--Mrs Mallow did?" cried Luke, sharply.

"You promised me, my boy, that you would not be cross with me," quavered
the old man.

"No, no, father, I am not cross, but you startled me by your words.  Did
she tell you to come to me?"

"Yes, my boy, she--she's sadly altered, Luke, and so sweet and so
humble.  She wanted to go down on her knees to me, my boy, but I
wouldn't let her."

"Tell me all, father," cried Luke.  "Why are you keeping this back?"

"I--I daren't tell you, my boy, at first; I dare not, indeed."

"Tell me now, quickly."

"She told me to come to you, my boy; she said she had heard what a great
counsel you had become."

Luke made an impatient movement.

"And she said that she had no one to appeal to in her sore distress."

"I am not her friend," said Luke, coldly.

"But you will be, my boy, when I tell you that, sobbing bitterly, she
asked me to come to you, and if you had one spark of feeling for her
left, to try and save her husband."

"She bade you come and say this, father?" cried Luke, with the beads of
perspiration standing upon his brow.

"Yes, my son, for the sake of old times when you were girl and boy
together."

Luke drew his hand away, and leaping from the edge of the table where he
had been sitting, began to pace the room once more, while the old man
sat rubbing his hands up and down his knees and gazing at him aghast.

Just then there was a sharp knock, and the boy entered.

"Engaged," said Luke, angrily.  "I can see no one;" and the boy
disappeared as if in alarm.

"I'm very, very sorry, my boy," faltered old Michael; "but--"

Luke stopped before him in his hurried walk.

"Tell me again, father.  Did Sage Mallow say those words?"

"Yes, my boy, almost word for word.  She said she was in despair, that
money could not help her, she wanted some one to save her husband."

"Not to help her," said Luke, bitterly, "but to save that man."

"Yes, my boy.  It's very shocking, for I'm afraid he's a dreadful scamp;
but you know what women are."

"Yes," said Luke, with a laugh that startled his father, "I know what
women are."

"The bigger scamp a man is the more they hold by him.  Perhaps it's
quite right, but it's very shocking."

"Help her to save him," muttered Luke.  "I can't do it.  I can--not do
it."

The old man had now rolled his handkerchief up into a ball, and was
pressing it and kneading it between his hands, as he gazed helplessly in
his son's face.

"I think if she had seen you, and asked you herself, you would have done
it, Luke, my boy.  She said that she believed you could save her
husband, and that if he was condemned--"

"I tell you if he were ten times condemned," cried Luke, "I could not do
it, father.  It is madness to ask me, of all men, to fight on his
behalf."

"He--he did behave very badly to you, my boy.  He's a bad one, I'm
afraid; but he is that poor creatures husband."

"The only enemy I ever had, and you ask me to save him.  It is not in
human nature to do it.  Why do you come and ask me such a thing?"

"You said you would not be angry with me, Luke; and she begged of me so
hard, for the sake of the very old times, she said; and then she broke
down, and said that if anything happened to her husband she should die."

Luke walked to the window, and stood gazing out at the narrow lane
below, with a great struggle going on in his breast.  In his heart there
was still left so tender an affection for Sage that he was ready to save
her.  For her sake he had given no thought to another of her sex,
eschewing society, and devoting himself constantly to his profession;
and now that his father had raised up before him, as it were, the face
of the suffering wife, piteous and appealing, as she sent to him her
message, asking, for the sake of old days, that he would come to her
help, he felt that he must go--must devote his powers to saving the man
she loved.

But it was impossible.  He could not.  He would not.  He was but a man,
he told himself, and this would be the work of an angel.  No; he hated
Cyril Mallow intensely, as the man who had robbed him of all he held
dear, at the same time that he despised him in his honourable heart as a
contemptible scoundrel who would sacrifice any one to gain his own ends.

Luke was not surprised to hear of Cyril being in fresh difficulties; he
was ready, also, to believe that he was guilty, and he was asked to
become this man's advocate, to bring to bear his twelve years' hard
study and self-denial to try and save him from some richly-merited
punishment.  It was too much.

As he stood there, gazing out of the window, he seemed to see Cyril's
mocking, handsome, triumphant face, as he made him also his slave--one
of those whose duty it was to try and drag him from the slough as soon
as ever he thought proper to step in--one of those who were to lie down,
that he might plant his foot upon the bended neck, step out into safety,
and leave the helper in the mire.

On the other hand, strive to exclude it as he would, there was Sage's
appealing face, not the sweet girlish countenance he knew, but a face
chastened by suffering, full of trust in him as in one who could and
would help her in this supreme time of her trouble.

He fought against it, but in vain.  He told himself that he should be
mad to take up such a cause; that men would sneer and say evil things of
him--that it was from no disinterested motives that he had done this
thing; but there was ever the appealing face, the soft pleading eyes
seeming to say to him, "I was weak and foolish, as well as cruel, in
choosing as I did, but I humble myself now into the very dust, and ask
you to forgive me and come to my help."

Her very words seemed to say as much, and a strange thrill of triumph
ran through him, as his eyes flashed, and for the moment he gloried in
Cyril Mallow's disgrace.

He put away the thoughts, though, as a shame unto him, and folding his
arms, he tried to master himself, to get his mental balance once again,
for it was terribly disturbed by the strange access of emotion that he
felt.

No, he said, when he went down to Kilby Farm on that
never-to-be-forgotten day, Sage Portlock's life and his own, that had
run on together for so long, had suddenly diverged, and they had been
growing farther and farther apart ever since.  He could not do this
thing.  It was impossible.  It was a fresh act of cruelty on Sage's
part, and come what might he would not degrade himself by fighting Cyril
Mallow's cause, only afterwards, if he saved him, to reap the
scoundrel's contempt.

"And I should deserve it," he said, half aloud.

"Yes, my boy," quavered old Michael, eagerly, as he caught his son's
words and interpreted them to his own wishes.  "God bless you, my boy, I
knew you would, and she said she knew your good and generous heart, and
that night by night she would teach her little ones to love and
reverence your name, as they knelt down and prayed for God's blessing on
him who saved their father from disgrace."

Luke Ross had opened his lips to stop his father's enthusiastic words,
when his excited fancy pictured before him the soft, sweet, careworn
face of Sage, his old love, bending over her innocent children, and
teaching them, as she held their little clasped hands, to join his name
in their trusting prayers, and he was conquered.

He dared not turn, for his face was convulsed, but, sinking sidewise
into a chair, he rested his head upon his arm, and, hearing his father
approach, motioned with the hand that was free, for him to keep back.

But the old man did not heed the sign.  He came forward and laid his
trembling hand upon his son's head.

"God bless you, my noble boy!" he said, fervently.  "I knew you would."

Neither spoke then for a time, and when Luke raised his face once more,
it was very pale, as if he were exhausted by the fight.

"Why, father," he said, cheerfully, "I'm behaving very badly to you.
You must want something to eat."

"No, my boy, I had something before I came in, for fear I should put you
out.  I don't want anything else."

"Till dinner-time, father," said Luke, smiling.  "You and I will dine
together and enjoy ourselves."

"But that poor woman, Luke?"

"We'll settle all that, father, after dinner.  You shall give me the
address, and I will either get a fresh solicitor to take the matter up
or consult with theirs."

"But won't you fight for them, my boy?"

"To be sure I will, father, and do my best.  But you don't understand
these matters; an attorney has to draw up the brief."

"Of course, yes, of course, my boy."

"He brings it to me like this," said Luke, taking up the one he had been
studying, "with all the principal points of the case neatly written out,
as a sort of history, giving me the particulars necessary, so that I can
master them in a quick, concise way."

"Yes, I see, my boy."

"A good lawyer will, in consultation with his client, clear away all
superfluous matter, leaving nothing but what is necessary for the
counsel to know."

"Yes, my sod, same as we first of all get rid of the refuse from a
skin."

"Exactly, father," said Luke, smiling; "for clients often think matters
of great moment that are worthless in a court of law."

"To be sure, yes; people will talk too much, my boy, I know," said the
old man.  "Why, Lukey, how I should like to hear you laying down the law
in your wig and gown, my boy.  How you must give it to 'em.  I've read
about you in the newspaper.  Old Mr Mallow always brings one to me when
he sees your name in, and shakes hands with me; and the tears come in
the old fellow's eyes as he says to me with a sigh, `Ah, Mr Ross, I
wish I had had such a son.'"

"Why, father," said Luke, smiling, and seeming himself once more, "it is
a good job that you don't live near me."

"Don't say that, my boy," said the old man, looking quite aghast.  "I--I
was thinking how nice it would be if I could get nearer to you."

"You'd spoil me with flattery," said Luke.

"Nay, nay, my boy," said the old man, seriously.  "I never told you
aught but the truth, and if I saw a fault I'd out with it directly."

"You always were the best of fathers," cried Luke, clasping the old
man's hand.

"And--and I thank God, my boy, for His blessings on my old age,"
quavered the old man, with the weak tears in his eyes--"You were always
the best of sons."

They sat hand clasped in hand for a few moments, and then the old man
said softly--

"God will bless you for your goodness to that poor woman, my boy.  I
know it has been a hard fight, but you have won.  It is heaping coals of
fire on your enemy's head to do good to him, and maybe afterwards Cyril
Mallow may repent.  But, Luke, my boy," he cried, cheerfully, "I'm a
stupid old man, only you must humour me."

"How, father?"

"Let me see you, just for a minute, in your wig and gown."

"Nonsense, father!"

"But I should like it, my boy."  Luke rose to humour him, putting on wig
and gown, and making the old man rub his hands with gratification as he
gazed at the clear, intelligent face, with its deeply set, searching
eyes.

"I'll be bound to say you puzzle and frighten some of them, my boy,"
said the old man.  "And that's a brief, is it?"

"Yes, father," said Luke, smiling down on the old man, so full of
childlike joy.

"Ah, yes," said the old man, putting on a pair of broad-rimmed
spectacles, and then reading--"Jones _versus_ Lancaster."

"Hah! yes, nicely written; better than this fifty gs.  What does that
mean?"

"Fifty guineas, father."

"Indeed!  And which was it, Jones or Lancaster, who stole the fifty
guineas?"

"Neither, father.  That is a common-pleas case of some importance, and
the fifty guineas is my fee."

"Your fee?" cried the old man.  "You don't mean to tell me that you get
fifty-two pounds ten shillings, my boy, for your fee?"

"Yes, father, I do now," said his son, smiling.

"Bless my soul!  Why, Luke, you ought to grow rich."

"Well, I suppose so, father; but I don't much care.  I should like to
grow famous, and make myself a name."

"And you will, my boy--you will," cried the old man, as Luke slipped off
his legal uniform, and replaced the wig and gown.

"Time proves all things, father."

"And may I look?  I won't tell.  Is this another brief?"

"Yes, father; I get plenty now."

"But--but--you are not paid fifty guineas a-piece for them, my boy?"

"Yes, father, I take nothing below that fee now, and even then I get
more than I can undertake."

The old man threw himself back in his chair, and, after a struggle, drew
out of his trousers pocket a reddish canvas bag, and untied the string
around the neck.

"Why, what are you going to do, father?" said Luke.

"I'm going to pay my son the fee for the brief in Cyril Mallow's case,
and I'm as proud as proud to have it to do."

"No, no," cried Luke; "that must not be."

"But I will, my boy, I will," said the old man.

"No, no, father, I could not take it.  You would hurt me if you pressed
it."

"But I've plenty of money, my boy."

"So have I, father, and I could not do my duty in that defence if it was
a matter of payment.  If I take that brief," he said, solemnly, "my
payment is Sage Mallow's thanks and her children's prayers."

The old man sat thinking for a few moments.

"You are right, my boy, you are right," he said, replacing his bag.
"And, of course, all I have is yours.  But you will take the brief,
Luke, my boy?"

"Yes, father, if I can I will."

"Then you will," cried the old man, joyously.

"Hah, let's look at that.  It's a big one, Luke;" and he picked up, with
his eyes sparkling with paternal pride, the brief brought in that
morning by Mr Swift.  "Hah! this has been altered," said the old man.
"It was twenty-five guineas, and that's crossed out, and they've written
fifty.  I'll bet twopence they offered you twenty-five first, and you
wouldn't take it."

"Quite right, father," said Luke, upon whom his father's enjoyment came
like so much sunshine in a dull life.

"Quite right, my boy, quite right.  Let 'em know your value.  You're a
man of business, Luke.  Now, what's this, my boy?"

"I really don't know, father, only that it is for the prosecution in an
important criminal case."

"Criminal case, eh?  And you haven't studied it, then?"

"Not yet.  I was going to finish Jones _versus_ Lancaster first."

"And this is _re_ Esdaile, eh?  What's that?  Esdaile, Esdaile, and Co.
Why, that's the name of the wine-merchants' firm where Cyril Mallow was
partner."

"_What_?" roared Luke.

He snatched the brief from his father's hand, tore it open, and as the
leaves fluttered in his trembling hand he sank back in a chair, looking
like one who had received some deadly blow.



PART THREE, CHAPTER FIVE.

A HARD DUTY.

Old Michael Ross was at his son's side on the instant.

"Are you ill, my boy?  Tell me what it is!  You frighten me, Luke!--you
frighten me!"

"I shall be better directly, father," panted Luke, with a strange look
in his face.

"But you are ill.  Let me send for brandy."

"No, no; I am better now!  It is nothing.  But tell me, father, I
thought that man became partner with a Mr Walker?"

"Yes, my boy; I believe it was a very old firm, trading as Esdaile and
Co.  No other names appeared."

"Good heavens!" muttered Luke, who kept glancing at the brief and
turning over its leaves.

"Why, Luke!" exclaimed the old man, excitedly, as the state of the case
flashed upon him.  "You are not already engaged in this affair?"

"I am, father," he said, with a strange pallor gathering in his face.
"I have undertaken the prosecution of Cyril Mallow on behalf, it seems,
of Mr Walker's executors, and I shall have to try and get him
convicted."

Father and son sat gazing blankly in each other's eyes, thinking of the
future; and as Luke pondered on the position into which he had been
thrown by fate, he saw that he should be, as it were, the hand of
Nemesis standing ready to strike the heartless spendthrift down--that he
was to be his own avenger of the wrongs that he had suffered from his
enemy, and that no greater triumph could be his than that of pointing
out, step by step, to the jury, the wrongdoings of this man, who would
be standing in the felon's dock quailing before him, looking in his eyes
for mercy, but finding none.

He shuddered at the picture, for soon fresh faces appeared there--that
of Sage, standing with supplicating hands and with her tearful, dilated
eyes, seeming to ask him for pity for her children's sake.  Then he saw
the white-haired rector gazing at him piteously, and the suffering
invalided mother who worshipped her son.  Both were there, asking him
what they had done that he should seek to convict him they loved.

He looked up, and saw that his father was watching him with troubled
face.

"This--this is very terrible, my boy," he said.  "I ought to have been
sooner.  But--but--must you take that side?"

"I have promised, father.  I would give anything to have been under the
same promise to you.  But I cannot, I will not stand up and accuse Cyril
Mallow.  Strive how I would, I should fight my hardest to get a verdict
against him, and I could not afterwards bear the thought.  I will get
off taking this brief.  Stay here while I go out."

He took his hat, and was driven to his solicitors, where he had an
interview with Mr Swift, and proposed that that gentleman should retire
the brief from his hands.

Mr Swift smiled, and shook his head.

"No, Mr Ross," he said; "I have given you your price, and after a chat
with my partner, he agreed that I had done right.  The matter is
settled, sir!  I could not hear of such a thing."

Luke was in no mood to argue with him then, but went back to his
chambers, dined with his father, and then sat up half the night studying
the brief, not with the idea of being for the prosecution, but so as to
know how Cyril Mallow stood.

It was a long brief, and terrible in its array of charges against Sage's
husband.  As he read on, Luke found that the executors of Cyril's
partner, the late Mr Walker, were determined upon punishing him who had
wrought his ruin.  The wine business had been a good and very lucrative
one until Mr Walker had been tempted into taking a partner, whose
capital had not been needed, the object really being to find a junior
who would relieve the senior from the greater part of the anxiety and
work.

Cyril then had been received into the partnership, and a great deal of
the management had after a short time been left to him, a position of
which he took advantage to gamble upon the Stock Exchange with the large
sums of money passing through their hands, with just such success as
might have been expected, and the discovery that Cyril had involved the
firm in bankruptcy broke Mr Walker's heart, the old man dying within a
week of the schedule being filed.

Worse was behind: the executors charged Cyril with having forged his
partner's name to bills, whereon he had raised money, signing not merely
the name of the firm, but his own and his partner's name, upon the
strength of which money had been advanced by two bill discounters, both
of whom were eager to have him punished.

In short, the more Luke Ross studied, the more he found that the black
roll of iniquity was unfolding itself, so that at last he threw down the
brief, heartsick with disgust and misery, feeling as he did that if
half, nay, a tithe of that which was charged against Cyril were true, no
matter who conducted prosecution or defence, the jury was certain to
convict him of downright forgery and swindling, and seven or ten years'
penal servitude would be his sentence.

It needed no dull, cheerless morning for Luke's spirits to be at the
lowest ebb when he met his father at breakfast, the old man looking very
weak, careworn, and troubled, as they sat over the barely-tasted meal.

Luke hardly spoke, but sat there thinking that he would make a fresh
appeal to Mr Swift to relieve him of so terrible a charge, and
expecting each moment that his father would again implore him to retire
from the prosecution and take up the defence.  At last the old man
spoke.

"I've been lying awake all night, thinking about that, my boy," he said,
"and I'm very, very sorry."

"Father," said Luke, "it seems almost more than one can bear."

"I said to myself that my boy was too noble not to forgive one who had
done wrong to him in the past, and I said, too, that it would be a fine
thing for him to show people how he was ready to go and fight on his old
rival's behalf."

"And I will, father, or retire from the case altogether," said Luke,
eagerly.

"No, my son, no," said the old man; "I have not long to live, and I
should not like that little time to be embittered by the thought that I
had urged my son to do a dishonourable act."

"Oh, no," cried Luke, "I will press them, and they will let me retire."

"But if they refused again, my boy, it would be dishonourable to draw
back after you had promised to do your best.  No, my boy, there is the
finger of God in it all, and you must go on.  Poor girl, poor girl! it
will be terrible for her, but we cannot fight against such things."

"But I could not plead my cause with her eyes reproaching me," said
Luke, half to himself.

"But you must, my boy," cried the old man.  "I lay awake all last night,
Luke, and I prayed humbly for guidance to do what was right, and it
seemed to me that the good counsel came."

"Father!" exclaimed Luke, gazing in the old man's face.

"It will be painful, my boy, but we must not shrink from our duty
because it is a difficult one to perform.  I am a weak old fellow, and
very ignorant, but I know that here my son will be a minister of justice
against a bad and wicked man.  For he is a bad--a wicked man, my boy,
who has stopped at nothing to gratify his own evil ends."

"But how can I proceed against him, father?"

"Because it is your duty; and, feeling what you do against him, you will
guard your heart lest you should strike too hard; and it is better so.
Luke, my boy, you will be just; while, if another man prosecutes him, he
will see in him only the forger and the cheat, and fight his best to get
him condemned."

It was true, and Luke sat back thinking.

"Yesterday, my boy, I prayed you to undertake this man's defence; I
withdraw it all now: take back every word, and I will go and tell poor
Sage Mallow why."

"No, no, father," cried Luke; "if I cannot defend, neither will I
prosecute."

"You must, my boy--you have given your word.  If you drew back now I
should feel that it would go worse against this man."

"But mine, father, should not be the hand to strike him down," cried
Luke.

"We are not our own masters here, my boy," said the old man, speaking in
a low and reverent tone.  "My Luke has never shrunk from his duty yet,
and never will."

Luke sank back in silence, and for a long time no word was spoken.  Then
he suddenly rose and rang the bell.

"See if Mr Serjeant Towle is in," he said to the boy, and upon the
report being received that the serjeant was within, Luke descended and
had ten minutes' conversation with that great legal luminary, who, after
a little consideration, said, as Luke rose to go--

"Well, yes, Ross, I will, if it's only for the sake of giving you a good
thrashing.  You are going on too fast, and a little check will do you
good.  If I take the brief I shall get him off.  Send his solicitors to
me."

Five minutes later Luke was with his father.

"Go and see Mrs Mallow at once, father," he said, "and bid her tell her
solicitors to wait upon Mr Serjeant Towle."

"Yes, my boy--Mr Serjeant Towle," said the old man, obediently.

"He will require an enormous fee, father, which you will pay."

"Yes, my boy, of course.  Is--is he a great man?"

"One of the leading counsel at the bar; and if Cyril Mallow can be got
off, Serjeant Towle is the man for the task."

"But, my boy--" began the old man.

"Don't hesitate, father, but go," cried Luke; and the old man hurried
off.



PART THREE, CHAPTER SIX.

THE CASE FOR THE PROSECUTION.

It was a strange stroke of fate that, in spite of several attempts to
evade the duty, circumstances so arranged themselves that Luke Ross
found himself literally forced, for his reputation's sake, to go on with
his obnoxious task, and at last the day of trial came.

Luke had passed a sleepless night, and he entered the court, feeling
excited, and as if all before him was a kind of dream.

For a few minutes he had not sufficient self-possession even to look
round the well of the building; and it was some time before he ventured
to scan the part that would be occupied by the spectators.  Here,
however, for the time being, his eyes remained riveted, as a choking
sensation attacked him, for, seated beside the sturdy, well-remembered
figure of the Churchwarden, was a careworn, youngish woman, so sadly
altered that Luke hardly recognised her as the Sage whose features were
so firmly printed on his memory.

She evidently did not see him, but was watching the jury-box, and
listening to some remarks made to her from time to time by her uncle.

Luke turned over his brief, and tried to think of what he could do to be
perfectly just, and yet spare the husband of the suffering woman before
him, and at whom he gazed furtively from time to time.

He saw her as through a mist, gazing wildly at the judge, and then at
the portly form and florid face of Serjeant Towle, who was now engaged
in an eager conversation with his junior; and the sight of the famous
legal luminary for the moment cleared away the misty dreaminess of the
scene.  Luke's pulses began to throb, and he felt like one about to
enter the arena for a struggle.  He had had many legal battles before,
from out of which, through his quickness in seizing upon damaging
points, he had come with flying colours; but he had never before been
opposed to so powerful an adversary as the Serjeant, and, for the
moment, a strong desire to commence the encounter came over him.

But this passed off, and the dreamy sensation came back, as he sat
gazing at Sage, thinking of their old childish days together, their
walks in the wold woodlands, flower-gathering, nutting, or staining
their hands with blackberries; of the many times when he climbed the
orchard trees to throw down the ripening pears to Sage, who spread her
pinafore to receive them.  In these dreamy thoughts the very sunshine
and sleepy atmosphere of the old place came back, and the sensation of
remembrance of the old and happy days became a painful emotion.

It must be a dream, he felt.  That could not be Sage seated there by the
sturdy, portly, grey-haired man, her uncle.  Even old Michael Ross
seemed to be terribly changed, making it impossible that the little,
thin, withered man seated behind Churchwarden Portlock could be the
quick, brisk tradesman of the past.

"Was it all true?"  Luke kept asking himself, "or was it, after all, but
a dream?"

Cyril Mallow's was the first case to be taken that morning, and the
preliminaries were soon settled; but all the while the dreaminess of the
scene seemed to Luke to be on the increase.  He tried to bring his
thoughts back from the past, but it was impossible; and when Mr Swift
the solicitor who had instructed him spoke, the words seemed to be a
confused murmur from far away.

Then the clerk of arraigns called the prisoner's name, and as Cyril
Mallow was placed at the bar, and Luke gazed at the face that had grown
coarse and common-looking in the past twelve years, the dreaminess
increased still more.

Luke was conscious of rising to bow to the court and say, "I am for the
prosecution, my lord"; and heard the deep, rolling, sonorous voice of
Mr Serjeant Towle reply, "I am for the defence, my lord"; and then
Luke's eyes rested upon Sage, who for the first time recognised him, and
was now leaning forward, looking at him with wild and starting eyes that
seemed to implore him to spare her husband, for the sake of their
childhood's days; and her look fascinated him so that he could not tear
his gaze away.

It must be a dream, or else he was ill, for there was now a strange
singing in his ears, as well as the misty appearance before his eyes,
through which he could see nothing but Sage Portlock, as his heart
persisted in calling her still.

"Was he to go on?" he asked himself, "to go wading on through this
terrible nightmare, planting sting after sting in that tender breast, or
should he give it up at once?"

He wanted to--he strove to speak, and say, "My lord, I give up this
prosecution," but his lips would not utter the words.  For he was in a
nightmare-like dream, and no longer a free agent.

And yet his nerves were so overstrung that he was acutely conscious of
the slightest sound in the court, as he rose now, the observed of all
present.

He heard the soft, subdued rustle made by people settling in their
places for the long trial; the catching, hysterical sigh uttered by the
prisoner's wife; and a quick, faint cough, or clearing of the throat, as
the prisoner leaned against the dock, and sought to get rid of an
unpleasant, nervous contraction of the throat.

Luke stood like one turned to stone, his eyes now fixed on vacancy, his
brief grasped in his hand, and his face deadly pale.  The moment had
arrived for him to commence the prosecution, but his thoughts were back
at Lawford, and, like a rapid panorama, there passed before his eyes the
old schoolhouses, and the figure of the bright, clever young mistress in
the midst of her pupils, while he seemed to hear their merry voices as
they darted out into the sunshine, dismissed for the day.

Then he was studying for the mastership, and was back at the training
college.  That was not the judge seated on his left, but the
vice-principal, and those were not spectators and reporters ranged
there, tier above tier, with open books and ready pencils, but
fellow-students; and he was down before them, at the great black board,
helpless and ashamed, for the judge--no, it was the vice-principal--had
called him down from his seat, and said--"In any right-angled triangle
the square of the sides subtending the right angle is equal to the
square of the sides containing the right angle.  Prove it."

Prove it!  And that forty-seventh problem of the first book of Euclid
that he knew so well had gone, as it were, right out of his memory,
leaving but a blank.

There was a faint buzz and rustle amongst the students as it seemed to
him in this waking nightmare, and the vice-principal said--"We are all
ready, Mr Ross."  Still not a word would come.  Some of the students
would be, he knew, pitying him, not knowing how soon their own turn
might come, while others he felt would be triumphant, being jealous of
his bygone success.

He knew that book so well, too; and somehow Sage Portlock had obtained a
seat amongst the students, and was waiting to hear him demonstrate the
problem, drawing it with a piece of chalk on the black board, and
showing how the angle ABC was equal to the angle DEF, and so on, and so
on.

"We are all ready, Mr Ross," came from the vice-principal again.  No,
it was from the judge, and it was not the theatre at Saint Chrysostom's,
but the court at the Old Bailey, where he was to prosecute Cyril Mallow,
his old rival, the husband of the woman he had loved, for forgery and
fraud; and his throat was dry, his tongue clave to the roof of his
mouth, and his thoughts were wandering away.

And yet his senses were painfully acute to all that passed.  He knew
that Serjeant Towle had chuckled fatly, after fixing his great double
eyeglass to gaze at him.  Then, as distinctly as if the words were
uttered in his ear, he heard one of the briefless whisper--

"He has lost his nerve."

There was an increase in the buzzing noise, and an usher called out
loudly, "Silence."

"Ross, Mr Ross!  For heaven's sake go on," whispered Mr Swift,
excitedly; and Luke felt a twitching at his gown.

But he could not master himself.  It was still all like a nightmare,
when he turned his eyes slowly on the judge, but in a rapt, vacant way,
for the old gentleman said kindly--"I am afraid you are unwell, Mr
Ross."  Luke was conscious of bowing slightly, and just then a
hysterical sigh from the overwrought breast of Sage struck upon his ear,
and he was awake once more.

The incident had been most painful, and to a man the legal gentlemen had
considered it a complete breakdown of one of the most promising of the
young legal stars, those who had been so far disappointed seeing in the
downfall of a rival a chance for themselves.

But the next minute all that had passed was looked upon as a slight
eccentricity on the part of a rising man.  Mr Swift, who had begun to
grind his teeth with annoyance, thrust both his hands into his great
blue bag, as if in search of papers, but so as to be able to conceal the
gratified rub he was giving them, as he heard Luke Ross in a clear
incisive tone, and with a gravity of mien and bearing beyond his years,
state the case for the prosecution in a speech that lasted quite a
couple of hours.  Too long, some said, but it was so masterly in its
perspicuity, and dealt so thoroughly with the whole case, that it was
finally declared to be the very perfection of forensic eloquence.

How his lips gave utterance to the speech Luke himself hardly knew, but
with his father's words upon his duty ringing in his ears, he carried
out that duty as if he had neither feeling against the prisoner, nor
desire to save him from his well-merited fate.  With the strict
impartiality of one holding the scales of justice poised in a hand that
never varied in its firmness for an instant, he laid bare Cyril Mallow's
career as partner in the wine firm, and showed forth as black an
instance of ingratitude, fraud, and swindling as one man could have
gathered into so short a space.

There was a murmur of applause as Luke took his seat.  Then his junior
called the first witness, and the trial dragged its slow length along;
while Luke sat, feeling that Sage would never forgive him for the words
that he had said.

Witness after witness, examination and cross-examination, till the
prosecution gave way to the defence, and Serjeant Towle shuffled his
gown over his shoulders, got his wig awry, and fought the desperate
cause with all his might.

But all in vain.  The judge summed up dead against the prisoner,
alluding forcibly to the kindly consideration of the prosecution; and
after stigmatising the career of Cyril Mallow as one of the basest,
blackest ingratitude, and a new example of the degradation to which
gambling would lead an educated man, he left the case in the jury's
hands, these gentlemen retiring for a few minutes, and then returning
with a verdict of guilty.

Sentence, fourteen years' penal servitude.  And, once more, as in a
dream, Luke saw Cyril Mallow's blotched face gazing at him full of
malice, and a look of deadly hatred in his eyes, before he was hurried
away.

He was then conscious of Mr Swift saying something to him full of
praise, and of Serjeant Towle leaning forward to shake hands, as he
whispered--

"You beat me, Ross, thoroughly.  We'll be on the same side next time."

But the dreaminess was once more closing in Luke Ross as with a mist,
and in it he saw a pale, agonised face gazing reproachfully in his
direction as its owner was being helped out of the court.

"God help me!" muttered Luke.  "I must have been mad.  She will think it
was revenge, when I would sooner have died than given her pain."



PART THREE, CHAPTER SEVEN.

AFTER THE SENTENCE.

There was nothing farther to detain Luke Ross, but he remained in his
seat for some time, studying the next case people said, but only that he
might dream on in peace, for in the midst of the business of the next
trial he found repose.  No one spoke to him, and he seemed by degrees to
be able to condense his thoughts upon the past.

And there he sat, trying to examine himself searchingly, probing his
every thought as he sought for condemnatory matter against himself.

He felt as if he had been acting all day under some strange influence,
moved by a power that was not his own, and that, as the instrument in
other hands, he had been employed to punish Cyril Mallow.

"They will all join in condemning me," he thought, "and henceforth I
shall go through life branded as one who hounded down his enemy almost
to the death."

At length he raised his eyes, and they rested upon the little, thin,
wistful countenance of his father, and there was a feeling of bitter
reproach for his neglect of one who had travelled all the previous day
so as to be present at the trial.

He made a sign to him as he rose, and the old man joined him in the
robing-room, where Mr Dick eyed him askance as he relieved his master
of his wig and gown; and then they returned to the chambers, where Luke
threw himself into a chair, and gazed helplessly at his father, till the
old man laid a hand, almost apologetically, upon his son's arm.

"You are tired out, my boy.  Come with me, and let us go somewhere and
dine."

"After I have disgraced myself like this, father?" groaned Luke.  "Are
you not ashamed of such a son?"

"Ashamed?  Disgraced?  My boy, what do you mean?  I never felt so proud
of you before.  It was grand!"

"Proud!" cried Luke, passionately, "when I seem to have stooped to the
lowest form of cowardly retaliation.  A rival who made himself my enemy
is grovelling in the mire, and I, instead of going to him like an
honourable, magnanimous man, to raise him up and let him begin a better
life, have planted my heel upon his face, and crushed him lower into the
slough."

"It was your duty, my boy, and you did that duty," cried the old man,
quickly.  "I will not hear you speak like that."

"And Sage--his wife," groaned Luke, not hearing, apparently, his
father's words.  "Father, the memory of my old love for her has clung to
me ever.  I have been true to that memory, loving still the sweet,
bright girl I knew before that man came between us like a black shadow
and clouded the sunshine of my life."

He stopped, and let his head rest upon his hand.

"My love for her has never failed, father, but is as fresh and bright
now as it was upon the day when I came up here to town ready for the
long struggle I felt that I should have before I could seek her for my
wife.  That love, I tell you, is as fresh and warm now as it was that
day, but it has always been the love of one suddenly cut off from me--
the love of one I looked upon as dead.  For that evening, when I met
them in the Kilby lane, Sage Portlock died to me, and the days I mourned
were as for one who had passed away."

"My boy, my boy, I know.  He did come between you, and seemed to blight
your life, but he is punished now."

"Punished?  No," said Luke, excitedly; "it is not the man I have
punished, but his wife.  Father, that sorrowing, reproachful look she
directed at me this morning will cling to me to my dying day.  I cannot
bear it.  I feel as if the memory would drive me mad."

He started up, and paced the room in an agony of mind that alarmed old
Michael, who sought in vain to utter soothing words.

At last, as if recalled to himself by the feeling that he was neglecting
the trembling old man before him, Luke made an effort to master the
thoughts that troubled him, and they were about to go out together, when
the boy announced two visitors, and Luke shrank back unnerved once more,
on finding that they were the Reverend Eli Mallow and his old
Churchwarden.

"I did not know his father was in town," said Luke, in a low voice.

"Yes, my boy, he sat back, poor fellow.  He looks very old and weak,"
said Michael Ross, in a quiet patronising way.  "He is a good deal
broken, my boy.  Speak kindly to him, pray."

"What do they want?" said Luke.  "Oh, father, what have I done that fate
should serve me such an ugly turn?"

"Your duty, my boy, your duty," whispered the old man; and the next
minute the visitors were in the room, finding, as they entered, that old
Michael was holding his son's arm in a tender, proud way that seemed to
fix the old Rector's eyes.

He was, indeed, old-looking and broken; sadly changed from the fine,
handsome, greyheaded man that Luke knew so well.

"I met Mr Mallow almost at your door," said Portlock, in his bluff,
firm way.  "We did not come together, but we both wanted to call."

Luke pointed to chairs, but the old Rector remained standing, gazing
reproachfully at Luke.

"Yes, I wanted to see you," he said; "I wanted to see and speak to the
man I taught when he was a boy, and in whom I took a great deal of
pride.  I was proud to see you progress, Luke Ross.  I used to read and
show the reports to your father when I saw them, for I said Luke Ross is
a credit to our town."

"And you said so to me often, Mr Mallow," cried old Michael.

"I did--I did," said the Rector; "and to-day in court I asked myself
what I had ever done to this man that he should strike me such a blow."

"Be just, for heaven's sake, Mr Mallow," cried Luke.  "I did not seek
the task I have fulfilled to-day."

"And I said to myself, as I saw my only son dragged away by his gaolers,
`I will go and curse this man--this cold-blooded wretch who could thus
triumph over us.'  I said I would show him what he has done--bruised my
heart, driven a suffering woman nearly mad, and made two little innocent
children worse than orphans."

"Mr Mallow, is this justice?" groaned Luke.

"No," said the old man, softly.  "I said it in mine haste, and as I
hurried here mine anger passed away; the scales dropped from mine eyes,
and I knew that it was no work of thine.  Truly, as Eli's sons of old
brought heaviness to their father's heart, so have my poor sons to mine;
and, Michael Ross," he cried, holding out his trembling hands, "I was so
proud of that boy--so proud.  He was his mother's idol, and, bad as he
would be at times, he was always good to her.  Can you wonder that she
loved him?  Oh, God help me! my boy--my boy!"

"It has been an agony to me ever since the brief was forced upon me, Mr
Mallow," said Luke, taking the old man's hand.  "Believe me, I could not
help this duty I had to do."

"God bless you, Luke Ross!" said the old man, feebly.  "Like Balaam of
old, I came to curse, and I stop to bless.  If I have anything to
forgive, I forgive you, as I hope to be forgiven.  You have been a good
son.  Michael Ross, you have never known what it is to feel as I do now.
But I must go back; I must go back to her at home.  She waits to know
the worst, and this last blow will kill her, gentlemen--my poor,
suffering angel of a wife--it will be her death."

"Will you not come and see Sage first?" said Portlock, with rough
sympathy.

"No, no, I think not.  The sight of my sad face would do her harm.  I'll
get home.  Keep her with you, Portlock.  God bless her!--a true, sweet
wife.  We came like a blight to her, Portlock.  Luke Ross, I ought not
to have allowed it, but I thought it was for the best--that it would
reform my boy.  My life has been all mistakes, and I long now to lie
down and sleep.  Keep her with you, Portlock, and teach her and her
little ones to forget us all."

He tottered to the door to go, but Luke stepped forward.

"He is not fit to go alone," he cried.  "Mr Portlock, what is to be
done?"

"I must take him home," he replied, sadly.  "I'd better take them all
home, but I have a message for you."

"For me?" cried Luke.  "Not from Mrs Cyril?"

"Yes, from Sage.  She wants to see you."

"I could not bear it," cried Luke.  "Heavens, man! have I not been
reproached enough?"

"It is not to reproach you, I think, Luke Ross," said Portlock, softly.
"She bade me say to thee, `Come to me, if you have any sympathy for my
piteous case.'"



PART THREE, CHAPTER EIGHT.

A FORLORN HOPE.

"Come to me if you have any sympathy for my piteous case!"

Sympathy!  In his bitter state of self-reproach, he would have done
anything to serve her.  He felt that he could forgive Cyril Mallow, aid
him in any way, even to compromising himself by helping him to escape.
But he shrank from meeting Sage: he felt that he could not meet her
reproachful eyes.

"You will come and see her?" said the Churchwarden.  "Ah, my lad, if we
could have looked into the future!"

His voice shook a little as he spoke, but he seemed to nerve himself,
and said again--"You will come and see her?"

"If it will be any good.  Yes," said Luke, slowly; and they proceeded
together to the hotel, where Sage was staying with her uncle, in one of
the streets leading out of the Strand.

The old Rector was so broken of spirit that he allowed Portlock to lead
him like a child, and, satisfied with the assurance that to-morrow he
should return home, he sat down in the room set apart, with old Michael
Ross, while, in obedience to a sign from Portlock, Luke followed him to
a room a few doors away.

The place was almost in shadow, for the gas had not been lit, and as
Luke entered, with his heart beating fast, a dark figure rose from an
easy-chair by the fire, and tottered towards the old farmer, evidently
not seeing Luke, who stayed back just within the door.

"He would not come," she cried.  "It was cruel of him.  I thought he had
a nobler heart, and in all these years would have forgiven me at last."

"Mr Ross is here, Sage," said Portlock, rather sternly.  "Shall I leave
you to speak to him alone?"

"No, no," she cried in a hoarse whisper, instead of her former
high-pitched querulous tone.  "I cannot--I dare not speak to him alone."

"If forgiveness is needed for the past, Mrs Mallow," said Luke, in a
grave, calm voice, for he had now mastered his emotion, "you have mine
freely given, and with it my true sympathy for your position."

She burst into a passionate fit of weeping, which lasted some minutes,
during which she stood hiding her face on her uncle's breast; then,
recovering herself, she hastily wiped away her tears, and drawing
herself up, stood holding out her hand for Luke to take.

He hesitated for a moment, and then, stepping forward, took it and
raised it to his lips, just touching it with grave respect, and then
letting it fall.

"I wished to say to you, Mr Ross, let the past be as it were dead, all
save our boy and girlhood's days."

"It shall be as you wish," he said, softly.

"You do not bear malice against me?"

"None whatever; but is not this better left, Mrs Mallow?  Why should we
refer so to the past?"

"Because," she said, "I am so alone now, so wanting in help.  You have
become a great and famous man, whose word is listened to with respect
and awe."

"This is folly," he said.

"Folly?  Did I not see judge, jury, counsellors hanging upon your lips?
did not your words condemn my poor husband this dreadful day?"

"I am afraid, Mrs Mallow," he said, sadly, "that it needed no
advocate's words to condemn your unhappy husband.  I would gladly have
avoided the task that was, to me, a terrible one; but my word was
passed, as a professional man, before I knew whom I had to prosecute.
Speaking now, solely from my knowledge of such matters, I am obliged to
tell you that nothing could have saved him."

"Hush!  Pray do not speak to me like that," she cried.  "He is my
husband.  I cannot--I will not think that he could do so great a wrong."

"Far be it from me," said Luke, gently, "to try and persuade you to
think ill of him.  I should think ill of you, Sage," he added, very
softly, "if you fell away from your husband in his sore distress."

"Heaven bless you for those words, Luke Ross!" she cried, as she caught
one of his hands and kissed it.  "God will reward you for what you have
done in coming to me now, wretched woman that I am, a miserable
convict's wife; but you will help me, will you not?"

"In any way," he said, earnestly.

She uttered a low sigh of relief, and stood with one hand pressed upon
her side, the other upon her brow, as if thinking; while Portlock sat
down by the fire, and, resting his elbows upon his knees, gazed
thoughtfully at the warm glow, but intent the while upon what was going
on.

"My uncle is very good to me," said Sage, at length, "and is ready to
find me what money is required for the object I have in hand; but I can
only obtain paid service, whereas I want the help of one who will work
for me as a friend."

She looked at him to see the effect of her words.

Luke bowed his head sadly.

"I want one who, for the sake of the past," she continued, speaking
excitedly, "and on account of his generous forgiveness of my cruelty and
want of faith, will strain every nerve in my behalf."

She paused again, unable to continue, though fighting vainly to find
words.

"I think I understand you," he replied.  "You want me, on the strength
of the legal knowledge you credit me with, to make some new effort on
your husband's behalf?"

"It is like madness to ask it," she said, "and I tremble as I say the
words to you whom he so injured; but, Luke, have pity on me.  He is my
husband," she cried, piteously, as she wrung her hands, and then, before
he could stay her, flung herself upon the carpet, and clung to his
knees.  "He is the father of my innocent children; for God's sake try
and save him from this cruel fate."

He remained silent, gazing down at the prostrate figure, as, after an
effort or two on his part to raise her, she refused to quit her
grovelling attitude, save only to shrink lower, and lay her cheek
against his feet.

"Mrs Mallow?" he said, at last.

"No, no!" she cried, passionately.  "Call me Sage again.  You have
forgiven the past."

"Sage Mallow!" he said, in a low, measured voice.

"You are going to retract your words," she cried, frantically, as she
started up.  "You are going to draw back."

"I have promised you," he said, quietly, "and my hands, my thoughts, all
I possess, are at your service."

"And you will save him?" she cried, joyously.

He remained silent.

"You will work for him--you will forgive him, and bring him back to me?"
she cried, piteously.  "Luke--Luke Ross--you will save him from this
fate?"

"I did not seek this interview," he said, sadly.  "Mrs Mallow, I would
have spared you this."

"What do you mean?" she cried.  "Will you not try?"

"It would be an act of cruelty," replied Luke, "to attempt to buoy you
up with promises that must crumble to the earth."

"You will not try," she cried, passionately.  "I will try.  I will try
every plan I can think of to obtain your husband's release, Mrs
Mallow," said Luke, gravely.  "Or get him a new trial?"

"Such a thing is impossible.  The most we dare hope for would be some
slight shortening of his sentence; but candour compels me to say that
nothing I can do will be of the slightest avail after such a trial as
Cyril Mallow has had."

Just then the old Churchwarden had thoughtfully raised the poker and
broken a lump of coal, with the result that the confined gas burst into
a bright light, filling the room with its cheerful glow, and Luke saw
that Sage was looking at him with flashing eyes, and a couple of scarlet
patches were burning in her cheeks.

She raised one hand slowly, and pointed to the door, speaking in a deep
husky voice, full of suppressed passion.

"And I believed in you," she said, wildly, "I thought you would be my
friend.  I said to myself, Luke Ross is true and noble, and good, and he
loved me very dearly, when I was too weak and foolish to realise the
value of this love.  I said I would beg of you to come to me and help me
in my sore distress, that I would humble myself to you, and that in the
nobleness of your heart you would forgive the past."

"As I have forgiven it, heaven knows," he said, gravely.

"And then," she cried, excitedly, "you come with your lips full of
promises, your heart full of gall, ready to cheer me with words of hope,
but only to fall away and leave me in despair."

"Do not misjudge me," he said, appealingly.

"Misjudge you!" she cried, with bitter contempt.  "How could I misjudge
such a man as you?  I see now how false you can be.  I see how you laid
calmly in wait all these years that you might have revenge.  You hurled
my poor husband to the earth that afternoon in the lane; now you have
crushed him down beneath your heel."

"Can you not be just?" he said.

"Just?" she cried, "to you?  I thought to teach my children to bless and
reverence your name as that of the man who had saved their father.  I
taught them to pray for you with their innocent little lips, and I sent
to you and humbled myself to ask you to defend my husband in his sore
need, but you refused--refused forsooth, because you were gloating over
the opportunity you would have for revenge.  The trial came, he was
condemned through your words, but I still believed you honest, and
trusted in you for help.  I sent to you once again to pray you to try
and restore my husband to me, but you coldly refuse, while your lips are
yet hot with promises and lies."

"Sage," he cried, passionately, "you tear my heart."

"I would tear it," she cried, fiercely, in her excitement, "coward that
you are--cruel coward, full of deceit and revenge.  Go: leave me, let me
never see you again, for I could not look upon you without loathing, and
I shudder now to think that I have ever touched your hands."

"Sage, my girl, Sage!" said the Churchwarden, as he rose and took her
hands, "this is madness, and to-morrow you will be sorry for what you
have said."

"Uncle," she cried wildly, as she clung to him, "I cannot bear his
presence here.  Send him from me, or I shall die."

She hid her face upon her uncle's shoulder, and he held out his right
hand, and grasped that of Luke.

"God bless you, my boy!" he said, with trembling voice.  "She is beside
herself with grief, and knows not what she says."

Luke returned the warm pressure of the old farmer's hand, and would have
gone, but Portlock held it still.

"I thank you for coming, Luke Ross," he said; "and I know you to be just
and true.  Would to heaven I had never made that great mistake!"

He said no more, but loosed their visitors hand, Luke standing gazing
sadly at the sobbing woman for a few moments, and then leaving the room
to seek old Michael, with whom he was soon on his way back to chambers,
faint and sick at heart.

Hardly had the sound of his footsteps passed from the stairs than, with
a wild cry, Sage threw herself upon her knees, sobbing wildly.

"Heaven forgive me!" she cried.  "What have I said?  Uncle, uncle, a
lying spirit has entered into my heart, making me revile him as I have--
Luke--so generous, and good, and true."



PART THREE, CHAPTER NINE.

BACK HOME.

In obedience to his promise, Luke.  Ross set earnestly to work to try
and obtain an alleviation of the stern sentence passed upon Cyril
Mallow.

It was an exceedingly awkward task to come from the prosecuting counsel,
but Luke did not shrink, striving with all his might, offending several
people high in position by his perseverance, and doing himself no little
injury; but he strove on, with the inevitable result that his
application came back from the Home Office with the information that the
Right Honourable the Secretary of State saw nothing in the sentence to
make him interfere with the just course of the law, adding, moreover,
his opinion that it was a very proper punishment for one whose education
and antecedents should have guided him to a better course.

These documents were sent by Luke, without word of comment, to Kilby
Farm, where he knew from his father that Sage was residing with her
children; and by return of post came a very brief letter from the
widowed wife, thanking him for what he had done, and ending with the
hope that he would forgive the words uttered during an agony of soul
that without some utterance would have driven the speaker mad.

"She did not mean it," said Luke, sadly, as he carefully folded and put
away the letter.  "She knows me better in her heart."

Then time went on, till a year had passed.  Luke had not been near
Lawford, for the place, in spite of its being the home of his birth, was
too full of sad memories to induce him to go down.  Besides, there was
the fact that Sage Mallow had, in defiance of looks askance from those
who had known her in her earlier days, permanently taken up her
residence there.

"I'd like to hear any one say a slighting word to thee, my bairn," said
Portlock, fiercely.  "It's no fault of thine that thy husband got into
trouble.  I'd live here, if it was only out of defiance to the
kind-hearted Christians, as they call themselves, who slight thee."

So Sage remained a fixture at the farm, settling down quite into her
former life, but no longer with the light elasticity of step, and the
rooms no more echoed with the ring of her musical voice.  Time had given
her an older and a sadder look, but her features had grown refined, and
there was a ladylike mien in every movement that made her aunt gaze upon
her with a kind of awe.

"Let her come back to the old nest again, mother," said Portlock.
"There's room enough for the lass, and as for the little ones--My word,
mother, it's almost like being grandfather and granny."

Many a heartache had Sage had about her dependent position, and the
heavy losses that had occurred to her uncle in the money she and her
husband had had; but Portlock, in his bluff way, made light of it.

"I dare say I can make some more, my bairn, and it will do for these two
young tyrants.  Hang me, what a slave they do make of me, to be sure!"

It was the faint wintry sunshine of Sage Mallow's life to see the
newly-born love of the old people for her children, whom they idolised,
and great was the jealousy of Rue whenever she came across to Kilby.
But it was no wonder, for they were as attractive in appearance as they
were pretty in their ways.  One was always out in the gig with the
Churchwarden, while the other was seriously devoting herself to domestic
duties and hindering Mrs Portlock, who bore the infliction with huge
delight.

"I never saw such bairns," cried the old lady.

"Nor anybody else," said Portlock, proudly.  "Let's see, mother, there's
a year gone by out of the fourteen.  Bless my soul, I wish it had been
twenty-one instead."

"For shame, Joseph!" cried Mrs Portlock.  "How can you!"

"Well, all I can say is that it's a blessing he was shut up where he
could do no further mischief."

"But it's so dreadful for the bairns."

"Tchah! not it.  They can't help it, bless 'em.  See how they've
improved since they have been down here."

"Well, yes, they have," said Mrs Portlock, "and Sage's a deal better."

"Better, poor lassie!  I should think she is.  Of course, she frets
after him a bit now and then, and feels the disgrace a good deal, but,
bless my soul, mother, she's like a new woman compared to what she was.
For my part, I hope they'll never let him out again."

"For shame, Joseph!" said Mrs Portlock.  "Mr Mallow was over here this
morning."

"Was he?  Ah, I'll be bound to say he wanted to take the bairns over to
the rectory."

"Yes, and he took them."

"Hah!" said the farmer, sharply.  "I'm very sorry for the poor old lady,
but I am glad that she is so ill that she can't bear to have them much."

"What a shame, Joseph!" cried Mrs Portlock, indignantly.  "How can you
say such a cruel thing!  Glad she is so ill!"

"I didn't mean I was glad she was ill," said the Churchwarden,
chuckling.  "I meant I was glad she was too ill to have the bairns."

"But it sounds so dreadful."

"Let it.  What do I care!  I don't want for us to be always squabbling
over those children.  They're my Sage's bairns, and consequently they're
ours."

"But they're Cyril Mal--"

"Tchah!  Don't mention his name," cried the Churchwarden.

"Fie, Joseph! you do make me jump so when you talk like that."

"Shouldn't mention that fellow's name then.  I told you not."

"Well, then, they are Mr and Mrs Mallow's children just as much as
ours, Joseph," said the old lady.

"No they ain't; they're mine, and there's an end of it.  I say, though,
old Michael Ross is ill."

"Ah! poor man.  I'm sorry; but he's very old, Joseph."

"Not he.  Young man yet," said the Churchwarden, who was getting touchy
on the score of age.  "I don't call a man old this side of a hundred.
Look at the old chaps in the Bible, as Sammy Warmoth used to say."

"Yes, Joseph, but they were great and good men."

"Oh, were they?" said the Churchwarden.  "I don't know so much about
that.  Some of 'em were; but others did things that the Lawford people
wouldn't stand if I were to try 'em on."

"But what is the matter with Michael Ross?"

"Break up.  I went in to see him, and the old man got me to write a
letter to Luke, asking him to come down and see him."

"And did you, Joseph?"

"Did I?  Why, of course I did.  Do you suppose I've got iron bowels,
woman, and no compassion in me at all?"

"I wish you wouldn't talk such nonsense, Joseph," said Mrs Portlock,
sharply.  "And do you think Luke Ross will come down?"

"Of course he will."

"He hasn't been down for a very long time now.  I suppose he has grown
to be such a great man that he is ashamed of poor old Lawford."

"Who's talking nonsense now?" cried the Churchwarden.  "Nice temptation
there is for him to come down here, isn't there?  Bless the lad, I
wonder he even cares to set foot in the place again."

"It would be unpleasant for him, I suppose, after all that has taken
place.  But you think he will come?"

"Sure to.  I told him it was urgent, and that I'd drive over to Morbro
and meet the train, so as to save him time.  He's a good man, is Luke
Ross, as old Michael said with tears in his eyes to-day, and he wants to
see him badly."

"Poor old man!"

"Tchah! don't call him old," cried the Churchwarden.  Then calming down
after a whiff or two of his pipe, "Luke Ross will be down here to-morrow
afternoon as sure as a gun.  Eh?  Why, Sage, my gal, I didn't see you
there."

"Did--did I hear you aright, uncle?" she said, faintly.  "Is old Mr
Ross ill?"

"Very ill, my dear," said the Churchwarden, sternly, "and Luke Ross is
coming down to see him, I should say."



PART THREE, CHAPTER TEN.

DOWN AT LAWFORD.

Portlock was right in saying that Luke would be down the next day, for,
reproaching himself for his neglect of his father, he hastened down to
find him somewhat recovered from the sudden attack that had prostrated
him, and the old man's face lit up as his son entered the room.

"Yes, my boy, better; yes, I'm better," he said, feebly; "but it can't
be for long, Luke; it can't be for long.  I'm very, very glad you have
come."

"But you are better," said Luke; "and good spirits have so much to do
with recovery."

"Well, yes, my boy, yes," said the old man; "and the sight of you again
seems to have given me strength.  You won't go back again yet, Luke?"

"I was going back to-morrow, father," he said; "but," he added, on
seeing the look of disappointment in the old man's face, "I will stay a
little longer."

"Do, my boy, do," cried the old man; "and when I go off to sleep, as I
shall soon--I sleep a great deal now, my boy--go and look round, and say
a word to our neighbours.  I often talk to them about you, Luke, and
tell them that though you have grown to be a great man you are not a bit
proud, and I should like them to see that you are not."

"That is soon done," said Luke, laughing.  "Why should I be proud?"

"Oh, you might be, my boy, but you are not.  Go and have a chat with
Tomlinson and Fullerton.  And, Luke, if you wouldn't mind, when you are
that way, I'd go in and see Humphrey Bone."

"Is he still master?" said Luke, thoughtfully, as the old days came
vividly back.

"No, my boy, not for these two years; and he's quite laid by.  An old
man before his time, Luke, and it is the drink that has done it.  I
don't judge him hardly though, for we never know what another's weakness
has been, and it is not for us to sit in judgment upon our brother's
faults.  Will you go and see him, Luke?"

"I will, father," said the younger man, smiling and feeling refreshed,
after his arduous daily toil and study of man's greed, rapacity, and
sin, with the simple, innocent kindness of his father's heart.

"That does me good, my boy, indeed it does," said the old man,
pathetically; and he held his son's hand against his true old breast.
"I'm very sorry for a great deal that I have done, my boy, and I like to
see you growing up free from many of the weaknesses and hard ways that
have been mine.  What I am obliged to leave undone, Luke, I want you to
do, for my time is very short, and I often lie here and think that I
should like to go before the Master feeling that I had tried to do my
best, and taught you, my boy, according to such knowledge of good as in
me lay."

"My dear old father!" cried Luke, tenderly; and the hard, worldly crust
that was gathering upon him seemed to melt away as he leaned over and
carefully smoothed and turned the old man's pillow with all the
gentleness of a woman's hand.  "Why, what is it?" he said, as the old
man uttered quite a sob, and the weak tears gathered in his eyes.

"Nothing, my boy, it is nothing," he said.  "It only made me think of
thirty years ago, when I was ill, and your mother used to turn my pillow
like that--just like that, my boy--and you are so much like her, Luke;
and as I lie here, a worn-out, trembling old man, and you come down--
you, my boy, who have grown so great, and who, they tell me, will some
day be Queen's Counsel, and perhaps Attorney-General, and then a Judge,
such a great man as you've become, Luke--I lie here thinking that you
can come down and tend to me like this, it makes me thank God that I
have such a son."

"Why, what have I done more than any other son would do?  And as to
becoming great, what nonsense!"

"But it isn't nonsense, Luke, my boy," quavered the old man.  "I've
heard all about it; and, Luke, when you are Queen's Counsel, nay boy,
give her good advice, for kings and queens have much to answer for, and
I should like her--God bless her!--to have a very long and happy reign."

"Indeed I will, father," said Luke, laughing, "if ever it falls to my
lot to be her adviser.  But there, you are getting too much excited.
Suppose you try and have a nap?"

"I will, my boy, I will, and you'll go round town a bit, and walk up and
see the parson.  He'll be strange and glad to see thee, and if you see
Mrs Cyril, say a kind word to the poor soul; she's been very good to
me, my boy, and comes and sits and talks to me a deal.  Don't think
about the past, my boy, but about the future.  Let's try and do all the
kindness we can, Luke, while we are here.  Life is very short, my boy--a
very, very little span."

"Father," said Luke, bending over the old man's pillow, "for your sake
and your kindly words, I'll do the best I can."

"Thank you, my boy, God bless you, I know you will," said the old man.
"For life is so short, Luke, my son.  Good-bye, my boy.  Do all the good
you can.  I'm going to sleep now.  God bless you, good-bye."

He closed his eyes, and drew a long breath, dropping off at once into a
calm and restful slumber, Luke staying by his side for a while.

Then taking out a blue official-looking document from his pocket, he
looked at it for a few moments before replacing it in his breast.

"Poor old man!" he said, softly.  "I wish I had told him what I was
about to do, it would have pleased him to know."

He got up and went softly down-stairs, to pause for a few minutes in the
homely, comfortably furnished room with its well-polished furniture,
every knob and handle seeming like familiar friends.  There was his
father's seat, his mother's, and the little Windsor arm-chair that had
been his own, religiously preserved, and kept as bright as beeswax and
sturdy country hands could make it.

"He has gone off to sleep," Luke said to the matronly housekeeper, who
never ventured to speak to him without a curtsey.

"No, Mr Luke, sir--I mean yes, Mr Luke, sir, I'll keep going up and
peeping at him, and take him his beef tea when he wakens.  Your coming,
sir, begging your pardon for taking the liberty of saying so, sir, have
done him a power of good."

Luke smiled and nodded--"so condescending and kind-like," the woman
afterwards told a neighbour--and walked out across the marketplace,
stopping to shake hands here and there with the tradesmen who came to
their doors, and at last making his way down towards the schools.

"They seem to esteem me a very great gun," he said, half in jest, half
bitterly, as he walked slowly on, passing men whom he remembered as
boys, and responding constantly to the salutations he received.

He had not intended to go that way, thinking he would send his missive
over to Kilby by post, and asking himself why he had not mentioned the
matter to Portlock as he drove him in that day; but somehow his
footsteps turned in the direction of the farm, and he had nearly reached
the turning indelibly marked in his memory as the one along which he had
come that cruel eve, when suddenly a merry shout from a childish voice
fell upon his ear.

He did not know why it should, but it seemed to thrill him as he went
on, to come in sight of two bright, golden-haired little girls, each
with her pinky fingers full of flowers, and her chubby face flushed with
exercise.

They stopped and gazed at him for a moment, and then ran back.

"I'm not one whom young folks take to," he said, bitterly; and then his
heart seemed to stand still, for he saw them run up to a pale,
graceful-looking woman, who bent down, and evidently said something to
the children, both of whom hesitated for a moment, and then came running
back.

"Sage," he said to himself, as he involuntarily stopped short.  "How
changed!"

Then, as he saw the children approach, an involuntary feeling of
repugnance came over him, and his heart seemed to shrink from the
encounter.

_His_ children.  So pretty, but with a something in their innocent faces
that reminded him terribly of their father.

He would have turned back, but he was spell-bound, and the next moment
the little things were at his side, the elder to take his hand and kiss
it, saying in her silvery, childish voice--

"I can't reach to kiss you more, for being so good to poor mamma."

"And I'll dive you my fowers, Mitter Luke," said the other little thing.
"Sagey pick all hertelf."

An agony of shame, of love, of regret and pleasure commingled seemed to
sweep across Luke Ross, as, with convulsed face, he went down on one
knee in the road and caught the little ones to his breast.

"My darlings!" he cried, hoarsely, as he kissed them passionately.

Then, with his eyes blinded by the hot tears of agony, he caught the
blue envelope from his breast and pressed it into the youngest little
one's hands.

"Take it to mamma, my child, and say Luke Ross prays that it may make
her happy."

Then, unable to command his feelings, he turned and walked away.



PART THREE, CHAPTER ELEVEN.

LUKE VISITS AN OLD FRIEND.

"Life is very short, my boy, a very little span," seemed to keep
repeating itself to Luke Ross's ears, as he walked briskly across the
fields trying to regain his composure, hardly realising that he was
going in the direction of the rectory, till he had nearly reached the
gates, when he paused, not daring to enter.

"It would be almost an insult after the part I was forced to play," he
said to himself, and he set off towards the town.

But somehow his father's words seemed to keep repeating themselves, and
he altered his mind, turned back, and went in.

"I go in all kindliness," he said to himself; "and perhaps the poor old
man would like to know what I have done."

The next minute he stopped short, hardly recognising in the bent, pallid
figure, with snowy hair, the fine, portly Rector of a dozen years ago.

"I beg your pardon; my sight is not so good as it was," said the old man
apologetically, as he shaded his eyes with a hand holding a trowel.

"It is Luke Ross, Mr Mallow.  I was down here for the first time for
some years, and I thought I would call."

The old man neither moved nor spoke for a few moments, but stood as if
turned to stone.

Then recovering himself, but still terribly agitated by the
recollections that the meeting brought up, he held out his hand.

"I am glad you came, Luke, very glad," he said.  "I--I call you Luke,"
he continued, smiling, "it seems so familiar.  Your visit, my boy,
honours me, and I am very, very glad you came."

There was a thoroughly genial warmth in the old man's greeting as he
passed his arm through that of his visitor, and led him into one of the
glass-houses that it was his joy to tend.

"I hear a good deal about you, Mr Ross, and go and chat with your
father about you.  But--but, my boy, you have seen him, have you not?"

"I was with him till he went to sleep, not an hour ago."

"That is well, that is well," said the Rector, who had fallen into the
old life habit of repeating himself.  "Stay with him awhile if you can,
Luke.  Life is very uncertain at his age, and I have my fears about
him--grave fears indeed."

"He is a great age, Mr Mallow," said Luke, "but he quite cheered up
when I came."

"He would," said the Rector, with his voice trembling, "he would, Luke
Ross, and--and I cannot help feeling how hard is my own lot compared to
his.  Luke Ross," he said, after an effort to recover his calmness, "I
have no son to be a blessing to me in my old age; three of my children
have quite passed away."

It seemed no time for words, and Luke felt that the greatest kindness on
his part would be to hold his peace.

The old Rector appeared to recover from his emotion soon after, as Luke
asked after Mrs Mallow.

"It would be foolish," said the Rector, "if I said not well.  Poor
thing; she is a sad invalid, but she bears it with exemplary patience,
Luke Ross.  See," he continued, pointing to a waxy-looking,
sweet-scented flower, "this is a plant I am trying to cultivate for her.
She is so fond of flowers.  It is hard work to get it to grow though.
It requires heat, and I find it difficult to keep it at the right
temperature."

Luke kept hoping that the old man would make some fresh allusion to his
son, and give an opportunity for introducing something the visitor
wished to say.

"I grow a great many grapes now," continued the Rector, "and I have so
arranged my houses that I have grapes from June right up to March."

"Indeed, sir," said Luke, as he noted more and more how the old man had
changed.  He had become garrulous, and prattled on with rather a vacant
smile upon his lip, as he led his visitor from place to place, pointing
out the various objects in which he took pride.

For a time Luke felt repelled by the old man's weakness, but as he found
that one idea ran through all this conversation, a sweet, tender
devotion for the suffering wife, respect took the place of the approach
to contempt.

"You will not mind, Luke Ross," he said, "if I stop to cut a bunch of
grapes for my poor wife, will you?"

"Indeed, no, sir," said Luke, narrowly watching him.

"She does not know that I have one in such a state of perfection," he
said, laughing, "for I've kept it a secret.  Poor soul! she is so fond
of grapes; and, do you know, Luke Ross, I'm quite convinced that there
is a great deal of nutriment and support in this fruit, for sometimes
when my poor darling cannot touch food of an ordinary kind she will go
on enjoying grapes, and they seem to support and keep her alive."

"It is very probable that it is as you say, sir."

"Yes, I think it is," said the old Rector, slowly drawing forward a pair
of steps, and planting them just beneath where a large bunch of grapes
hung, beautifully covered with violet bloom.  "There," he said, taking a
pair of pocket scissors from his vest, and opening them.  "Look at that,
Luke Ross, eh!  Isn't that fine?"

"As fine as we see in Covent-garden, sir."

"That they are, that they are, and I grow them entirely myself, Luke
Ross.  Nobody touches them but me.  I dress and prune my vines myself,
and thin the bunches.  No other hand touches them but mine.  Now for a
basket."

He took a pretty little wicker basket from a nail whereon it hung, and
then, with a pleasant smile upon his face, he snipped off half-a-dozen
leaves, which he carefully arranged in the bottom of the basket, so as
to form a bed for the bunch of grapes.

"So much depends upon the appearance of anything for an invalid, Luke
Ross," he said, smiling with pleasure as he went on.  "I have to make
things look very attractive sometimes if I want her to eat.  Now, then,
I think that we shall do."

"Shall I cut the bunch for you, Mr Mallow?" said Luke, as he saw, with
a feeling of apprehension, that the old man was about to mount the frail
steps.

"Cut--cut the bunch?" said the Rector, looking at him aghast, "Oh, dear
no; I could not let any one touch them but myself.  No--no disrespect,
my young friend," he said, apologetically, "but she is very weak, and I
have to tempt her to eat.  My dear boy--I mean my dear Mr Ross--if she
thought that any hand had touched them but mine she would not eat them;
and it is by these little things that I have been able to keep her alive
so long."

He sat down on the top of the steps as he spoke, and smiled blandly from
his throne.

"You will not feel hurt, Mr Ross?" he said, gently.  "I appreciate your
kindness.  You are afraid that I shall fall, but I am very cautious.
See how much time I take."

He smiled pleasantly as he went on with his task, rising carefully,
taking tightly hold of the stout wires that supported the vine, and
steadying himself on the top of the steps till he felt quite safe, when,
letting go his hold, he placed the basket tenderly beneath the perfect
bunch of grapes, raising it a little till the fruit lay in the bed of
leaves prepared for its repose, and then there was a sharp snip of the
scissors at the stalk, and the old man looked down with a sort of serene
joy in his countenance.

"Are they not lovely?" he said, as he carefully descended, until he
stood in safety upon the red-brick floor.

He held up the basket of violet-bloomed berries for his visitor to see,
smiling with pleasure as he saw the openly-displayed admiration for the
beautiful fruit.

"They make her so happy," said the old man, with tears standing in his
eyes.  "Don't think me weak, Mr Ross.  It is a sad thing, all these
many years, sir, to be confined to her couch, helpless, and dependent on
those who love her," said the old man, again dreamily, as he gazed down
at the grapes.

"Think you weak, Mr Mallow," cried Luke, with energy.  "No, sir; I
thank God that we have such men as you on earth."

The old man shook his head sadly.

"No, no--no, no," he said.  "A weak, foolish, indulgent man, Mr Ross,
whom his Master will weigh in the balance and find wanting.  But I have
tried to do my best--weakly, Mr Ross, but weakly.  I fear that my
trumpet has given forth but an uncertain sound."

Just then an idea seemed to strike the old man, who smiled pleasantly,
set his basket down, took another from a nail, and then snipped more
leaves, and gazed up at his bunches for a few moments, his handsome old
face being a study as his eyes wandered from cane to cane.

Suddenly his face lit up more and more, and he turned to Luke.

"You shall move the steps for me," he said.  "Just there, under that
large bunch."

Luke obeyed, wondering, and the old man then handed him the basket and
scissors.

"You shall cut that bunch for me, Mr Ross, please."

"Really, sir,--" began Luke.

"Please oblige me, Mr Ross.  You saw how I did it.  I will hold the
steps; you shall not fall."

Luke smiled as he thought of the risk; and then, to humour the old man,
he mounted, the Rector watching him intently.

"You will be very careful, Mr Ross," he said.  "Let the bunch glide, as
it were, into the leaves.  A little more to the right.  Now then cut--
cut!"

The scissors gave a sharp snip, and the second bunch reclined in its
green bed.

"I didn't think of it before," said the Rector, whose face glowed with
pleasure as Luke descended.  "They are not quite so fine as this bunch,"
he said, apologetically.

"Really, I hardly see any difference, Mr Mallow," replied Luke.

"Very little, Luke Ross.  Will you carry them home with you?  Your
father will be pleased with them, I know.  He likes my grapes, Mr
Ross."

Luke's answer was to grasp the old man's hand, which he retained as he
spoke.

"I thank you, Mr Mallow," he said.  "It was thoughtful and kind of you
to the poor old man.  Now, may I say something to you?  Forgive me if I
bring up painful things."

"It is something about Julia, or about my son," gasped the Rector.
"Tell me quickly--tell me the worst."

"Be calm, Mr Mallow," said Luke, quietly; "there is nothing wrong."

"Thank God!" said the old man, fervently, with a sigh that was almost a
groan.  "Thank God!"

"After some difficulty and long trying, I obtained a permit for two
visitors to see Cyril Mallow at Peatmoor, and that permit I have placed
this afternoon in Mrs Cyril's hands."

"Permission--to see my son?" faltered the old man.

"Yes, sir.  I thought that you would accompany your daughter-in-law to
see him."

The old man stood with his hands clasped, gazing sadly in his visitor's
face, but without speaking.

At last he shook his head sadly.

"No," he said, "I cannot go.  I should dread the meeting.  I think it
would kill me, Luke.  But if it were my duty, I would go.  I have one
here, though--one I cannot neglect.  It would take three or four days,
at least, to go and return.  I could not leave my dear wife as many
hours, or I should return and find her dead.  Go for me, Luke.  Take
that poor, suffering woman, and let her see him once again."

"I--I take her?" cried Luke, starting.  "Mr Mallow!"

"It would be an act of gentle charity," said the old man, "and I would
bless you for your love.  But I must go now, Luke Ross," he said, half
vacantly.  "My head is very weak now.  I am old, and I have had much
trouble.  You will give your father the grapes--with my love?"

He took up his own basket, and the sight of the soft violet fruit
appeared to soothe him, for he began to smile pleasantly, seeming quite
to have forgotten the allusion to the permit; and in this spirit he
walked with Luke to the gate, shook hands almost affectionately, and
they parted.



PART THREE, CHAPTER TWELVE.

A LONG SLEEP.

If the Rector was placid and calm once more, so was not Luke Ross, whose
pulses still throbbed more heavily than was their wont, as he thought of
the old man's words, and then, as it were to weave itself in with them,
came the recollection of that which his father had said--that life was
very short, and begging him to do all the good he could.

"It is impossible," he cried at last.  "I, too, could not bear it."

He strode onward, walking more rapidly, for a strange feeling of dread
oppressed him, and as he seemed to keep fighting against the possibility
of his acceding to the Rector's request, the words of the weak old man
he had left asleep kept recurring, bidding him try to do all the good he
could, for life was so very short.

"But he will forget by to-morrow that he asked me," said Luke, half
aloud.  "It is a mad idea, and I could not go."

As he reached the town, first one and then another familiar face
appeared, and more than one of their owners seemed disposed to stop and
speak, but Luke was too preoccupied, and he hurried on to his old home
to find the housekeeper waiting for him at the door.

"How is he?" he cried, quickly, for his conscience smote him for being
so long away.

"Sleeping as gently as a baby, sir," the woman said.  "Oh, what lovely
grapes, sir.  He will be so pleased with them.  The doctor came in soon
after you had gone out, and went and looked at him, but he said he was
not to be disturbed on any account, so that he has not had his beef
tea."

Luke found the table spread for his benefit as he crossed the room to go
gently up-stairs and bend over the bed, where, as the housekeeper had
said, old Michael Ross was sleeping as calmly as an infant.  So Luke
stole down once more to partake of the substantial meal prepared on his
special behalf, the housekeeper refusing to seat herself at the same
table with him.

"No, sir," she said, stiffly, "I know my duty to my betters too well for
that.  Michael Ross is an old neighbour, and knew my master well before
he died, poor man."

"Do you think one of us ought to sit with my father?" said Luke,
quickly, as the woman's last words seemed to raise up a fresh train of
troublous thought.

"I'll go and sit with him, sir, if you like," said the woman, "but both
doors are open, and the ceiling is so thin that you can almost hear him
breathe."

"Perhaps it is not necessary," said Luke, quickly.  "You'll excuse my
being anxious."

"As if I didn't respect you the more for it, Mr Luke, sir," said the
woman, warmly; "but as I was saying, I always had my meals with your
dear father, sir."

"Then why not sit down here?"

"Because things have changed, sir.  We all know how you have got to be a
famous man, and are rising still, sir; and we are proud of what you've
done, and so I'd rather wait upon you, if you please."

Luke partook of his meal mechanically, listening the while for any sound
from up-stairs, and twice over he rose and went up to find that the
sleep was perfectly undisturbed.

Then he reseated himself, and went on dreamily, thinking of the old
man's words.

"Life is very short, my boy.  Do all the good you can."

Over and over again he kept on repeating old Michael's words, when they
were not, with endless variations, repeating themselves.

Then came the possibility of his going down with Sage to see Cyril
Mallow.

"No; it is impossible," he said again.  "Why should I go?  What right
have I there?  I cannot--I will not--go."

He rose, and went up-stairs to rest himself by the old man's bed,
finding that he had not moved; and here Luke sat, thinking of the past,
of the change from busy London, his chambers, and the briefs he had to
read.  Then he went back again in the past, seeming to see in the
darkness of the room, partly illumined by a little shaded lamp, the
whole of his past career, till a feeling of anger seemed to rise once
more against Cyril Mallow, against Sage, and the fate that had treated
him so ill.

Just then the housekeeper came up and looked at the old man, nodding
softly, as if to say, "He is all right," and then she stole out again on
tiptoe.

Again the interweaving thoughts kept forming strange patterns before the
watcher's eyes, as hour after hour calmly glided by till close on
midnight.  Misery, despair, disappointment, seemed to pervade Luke's
brain, to the exclusion of all thought of his great success, and the
troubles that must fall into each life, and then came a feeling of calm
and repose, as he thought once more of the words of the patient old man
beside whose bed he was seated.

"I'll try, father," he suddenly said, "I'll try.  Self shall be
forgotten, for the sake of my promises to you."

He had risen with the intention of going down on his knees by the old
man's bed, when the housekeeper entered the room.

"I've brought you a cup of tea, sir," she whispered.  "It's just on the
stroke of two, sir, and I thought if you'd go to bed now I'd sit up with
him."

"I mean to sit up with him to-night," said Luke, quietly; "but ought he
to sleep so long as this at once?"

"Old people often do, sir, and it does 'em good.  If you lean over him,
sir, you can hear how softly he is a breath--Oh, Mr Luke, sir!"

"Quick! the doctor," cried Luke, excitedly.  "No; I'll go," and he
rushed to the door.

There was no need, for old Michael Ross was fast asleep--sleeping as
peacefully and well as those sleep who calmly drop into the gentle rest
prepared for the weary when the fulness of time has come.



PART THREE, CHAPTER THIRTEEN.

SOUNDS IN THE FOG.

A week had passed since old Michael Ross had been conveyed to his final
resting-place, followed by all the tradesmen of the place, and a goodly
gathering beside, for in the Woldshire towns a neighbour is looked upon
as a neighbour indeed.  While he lives he may be severely criticised,
perhaps hardly dealt with; but come sickness or sorrow, willing hands
are always ready with assistance; and when the saddest trial of all has
passed, there is always a display of general sympathy for the bereft.

On this occasion pretty well every shop was closed and blind drawn down.

And now the quaint country funeral was past, the cakes had been eaten,
and after seeing, as well as he could, to his father's affairs, Luke had
said his farewells to those who were only too eager to manifest their
hearty goodwill.

The vehicle that was to take him to the station was waiting at his door,
and he stepped in with his portmanteau, Portlock being the driver; and
then, with a rattle of hoofs and a whirr of wheels, they crossed the
marketplace, followed by a hearty cheer, while at door after door as
they passed there were townspeople waving hands and kerchiefs, till the
dog-cart was out of sight.

Luke could not help feeling moved at the manifestations of friendliness,
though, at the same time, he smiled, and thought of how strange these
quaint, old-style ways of the people, far removed from the civilising
influence of the railway, seemed to him after his long sojourn in the
metropolis.

As he thought, he recalled the solemn processions of hearses and
mourning coaches, with velvet and plumes, and trampling black,
long-tailed horses, common in London; and in his then mood he could not
help comparing them with the funeral of the week before, when six of his
fellow-townsmen lifted old Michael Ross's coffin by the handles, and
bore it between them, hanging at arm's length, through the town, with
the church choir, headed by their leader, singing a funeral hymn.

There seemed something far more touching and appealing to the senses in
these simple old country ways; and as Luke Ross pondered on them his
spirit was very low.

The Churchwarden respected his silence, and did not speak save to his
horse, a powerful beast that trotted sharply; and so they went on till
Luke was roused from his reverie by the sudden check by the roadside.

He might have been prepared for it if he had given the matter a thought,
but he had been too much wrapped up in his troubles to think that if
they were to pick up Mrs Cyril Mallow on the road it would probably be
at the end of this lane.

It came to him now, though, like a shock, as Portlock drew rein, and
Luke recalled like a flash how, all those years ago, he had leaped down
from the coach light-hearted and eager, to follow the course of the
lane, picking the scattered wild flowers as he went, till he came upon
the scene which seemed to blast his future life.

But there was no time for further thought, and he drove away these
fancies of the past as he leaped down and assisted Sage Mallow, who was
waiting closely veiled with her aunt, to mount into the seat beside her
uncle, while he took the back.

Then a brief farewell was taken, all present being too full of their own
thoughts to speak, and almost in silence they drove over to the county
town, where one of the old farmer's men had preceded them with the
luggage, and was in waiting to bring back the horse.

It was on a brilliant morning, a couple of days later, that the party of
three reached the old West of England city, from whence they would have
to hire a fly to take them across to the great prison at Peatmoor.  The
journey had been made almost in silence, Sage being still closely
veiled, and seeming to be constantly striving to hide the terrible
emotion from which she suffered.

At such times as they had stopped for refreshment Luke had seemed to
have completely set aside the past, treating her with a quiet deference,
and attending to her in a gentle, sympathetic way which set her at her
ease, while in her heart she thanked him for his kindness.

Their plans had been that Portlock was to-be their companion to the
prison gates, where he would wait with the fly while Luke escorted the
suffering woman within, of course leaving her to meet her husband.

As they drove on with the battered old horse that drew the fly,
surmounting slowly the successive hills that had to be passed before
they reached the bleak table-land overlooking the far-reaching sea where
the prison was placed, Luke Ross could not help thinking how strange it
was that, with all around so bright and fair in the morning sun, they
alone should be moody and sorrowful of heart.  He glanced at the
Churchwarden, who returned the gaze, but did not speak, only sank back
farther in his corner of the shabby vehicle.  He turned his eyes almost
involuntarily upon Sage, but there was no penetrating the thick crape
veil she wore, and had he met her gaze, the chances are that he would
have felt it better not to speak.

Sage was bearing up bravely, but Luke could see that from time to time
some throb of emotion shook her frame, and on one of these occasions he
softly opened the door of the fly, and, without stopping the driver,
leaped out to walk beside the horse up the steep moorland hill they were
ascending.

"Hard work for a horse, zir," said the man; "and these roads are so
awful bad.  Gove'ment pretends to make 'em wi' convict labour, but the
work is never half done."

"They might break the stones a little smaller," said Luke, absently.

"Smaller, zir!" said the driver, as the fly jolted on, "why they arn't
broke at all.  Fine view here, zir," he said as he stopped to let the
panting horse get its wind.

"Splendid," said Luke, as he gazed at the wide prospect of moorland and
sea.  There was scarcely a tree to be seen, but the great expanse was
dotted with huge blocks of grey granite, weather-stained, lichened, and
worn by centuries of battling with the storm.  The prevailing tint was
grey, but here and there were gorgeous patches of purple heather, golden
broom, and ruddy orange-yellow gorse, with creamy streaks of bog moss,
heath pools, and green clumps of water plants glistening in the sun.

On his left was the deep blue sea, dotted with white-sailed yachts and
trawlers, with luggers spreading each a couple of cinnamon-red sails,
and seeming to lie motionless upon the glassy surface, for the ripple
and heave were invisible from the great height at which they were.

"Ay, it's a fine view from up here, zir, and though I don't know much
about other counties, I don't s'pose there's many as can beat this."

"It is fine," said Luke, whose thoughts were changed by the brightness
of the scene, and the brisk, bracing air sent a thrill of pleasure
through his frame.

"They do say, zir, as you can zee a matter of forty mile from a bit
higher up yonder on a clear time," continued the man, who appeared glad
of a chance to talk; "but we shan't zee that, nor half on it, to-day,
zir, for there's a zea-fog coming on, a reg'lar thick one.  Look, zir,
you can zee it come sweeping along over the zea like zmoke."

"It is curious," said Luke, watching the strange phenomenon, as by
degrees it blotted out boat after boat, ship after ship, till it reached
the land, and seemed to begin ascending the slopes.

"Much as we shall do to reach the prison, zir, before it's on us," said
the man.  "You zee it's all up-hill, zir, or we could get on faster."

"But it will not matter, will it?" said Luke, "You know the road?"

"Oh, I know the way well enough, zir, but it comes on zo thick sometimes
that all you can do is to get down and lead the horse, feeling like, to
keep on the road."

"But they don't last long, I suppose?"

"Half-an-hour zome of 'em, zir, zome an hour, zome for a whole day.
There's no telling when a fog comes on how long it's going to be.  All
depends on the wind, zir."

"They are only inconvenient, these fogs, I suppose?" said Luke, as they
went on; "there is nothing else to mind."

"Lor', no, zir, nothing at all if zo be as you've brought a bit o' lunch
with you.  When I get into a thick one I generally dra' up to the zide
of the road and put on the horse's nose-bag, to let him amuse himself
while I have a pipe."

"And where does the prison lie now?" said Luke, after a pause.

"That's it, zir," said the man, pointing with his whip, "just where you
zee the fog crossing.  They'll be in it before us, and p'raps we shall
be in it when they're clear.  Perhaps you'll get inside, zir, now; I'm
going to trot the horse a bit."

"I'll get up beside you," said Luke, quietly; and he took his place by
the driver.

"Fine games there is up here zometimes, zir," said the man, who was glad
to find a good listener.  "The convicts are out in gangs all over the
moor, zir, working under the charge of warders.  Zome's chipping stone,
and zome's making roads; and now and then, zir, when there's a real
thick fog, zome of 'em makes a run for it, and no wonder.  I should if I
had a chance, for they have a hard time of it up there."

"And do they get away?"

"Not often, zir," said the driver, as, with a half-repressed shudder,
Luke listened to the man's words, for like a flash they had suggested to
him the possibility of Cyril Mallow trying to effect his escape.  "You
zee the warders look pretty zharp after them, and their orders are
strict enough.  Once they catch sight of a man running and he won't
surrender, they zhoot him down."

"So I have heard."

"Yes, zir, they zhoot un down like as if they were dogs.  They're bad
uns enough, I dessay, and deserves it, but zomehow it zeems to go again
the grain, zir, that it do, to zhoot 'em."

"Then you would not shoot one if you were a warder?" said Luke, hardly
knowing what he spoke.

"I wouldn't if I was a zojer, sir.  Poor beggars' liberty's sweet, and
may be if they got away they'd turn over a new leaf.  No, zir, I
wouldn't zhoot 'em, and I wouldn't let out to the warders which way a
runaway had gone.  I'd scorn it," said the man, giving his horse a
tremendous lash in his excitement.

"It does seem a cowardly thing to do."

"Cowardly, zir?  It's worse," said the man, indignantly.  "I call it the
trick of a zneak; but the people about here do it fast enough for the
zake of the reward."

"There, zir, I told you so," continued the man, after a quarter of an
hour's progress, during which he had been pointing out pieces of scenery
to inattentive ears.  "The fog'll be on uz in vive minutes more."

They were descending a sharp hill as the man spoke, and in half the time
he had named they were in the midst of a dense vapour, so thick that
Luke fully realised the necessity for stopping if they wished to avoid
an accident.

"I think we can get down here, zir, and across the next bit of valley,
and then it will perhaps be clearer as we get higher up.  Anyhow we'll
try."

Keeping the horse at a walk, he drove cautiously on, finished the
descent, went along a level for a short distance, and then they began
once more to ascend.

"I'll try it for two or three hundred yards, zir," said the man, "and
then if it don't get better we must stop and chance it."

What he meant by chancing it the driver did not explain, but as with
every hundred yards they went the fog seemed thicker, he suddenly drew
the rein and pulled his horse's nose-bag from beneath the seat.

"If you'll excuse me, zir, I'd get inside if I was you, and wait
patiently till the wind springs up.  These fogs are very raw and cold,
and rheumaticky to strangers, and you arn't got your great-coat on."

"Hush! man, what's that?" said Luke, excitedly, as just then came the
dull distant report of some piece.

"Zhooting," said the man, coolly, as he took out the horse's bit and
strapped on his nose-bag.

"Do you mean that shot was fired at a convict?" said Luke, hoarsely.

"Safe enough," said the man.

Luke leaped down.

"I think I'd draw up the windows, Mr Portlock," he said.  "The fog is
very dank and chilly now."

"Won't you come in?"

"Thanks, no.  Draw up the windows.  I'll stop and chat with the man.  I
dare say the mist will soon pass away."

As the windows were drawn up, Luke uttered a sigh of relief, for it was
horrible to him that Sage should hear what was going on, and just then
there was another report, evidently nearer.

"I thought they'd be at it," said the man.  "Mind me smoking, zir?"

"No: go on; but don't speak so loudly.  I don't want the lady inside to
hear."

"All right, zir.  Beg pardon," said the man, lighting his pipe.
"They're sure to make a bolt for it on a day like this.  Hear that, zir?
I hope they won't zhoot this way, for a rifle ball goes a long way
zometimes."

"Yes, I heard," said Luke, feeling an unwonted thrill of excitement in
his veins.  "That shot could not have been far off."

"Half a mile, or maybe a mile, zir," replied the man.  "It's very hard
to tell in a fog.  Zounds is deceiving.  There goes another.  It's hot
to-day, and no mistake."

Just then they heard a distant shout or two answered in another
direction, and once more all was still.

"Let's see, zir," said the driver, who stood leaning against his horse,
and puffing unconcernedly away, perfectly cool, while Luke's blood
seemed rising to fever heat; "it's just about zigs months since that I
was driving along here after a fog, and I come along a gang carrying one
of their mates on a roughly-made stretcher thing, with half-a-dozen
warders with loaded rifles marching un along.  The poor chap they was
carrying had made a bolt of it, zir, but they had zeen and fired at him;
but he kept on, and they didn't find him for three hours after, and then
they run right upon him lying by one of the little ztreams.  Poor chap,
he was bleeding to death, and that makes 'em thirsty, they zay.  Anyhow,
they found him scooping up the water with his hand, and drinking of it,
and as he come up alongside of me he zmiled up at me like, and then he
zhut his eyes."

"Did he die?" asked Luke, hoarsely.

"There was an inquest on him two days after, zir.  Lor! they think
nothing of shooting down a man."

The fog was now denser than ever--so thick, that from the horses head
where Luke stood the front of the fly was hardly visible.  He was
thinking with a chill of horror of the possibility of any such incident
occurring that day, when once more there was a shout and a shot,
followed by another; and, to Luke's horror, the window of the fly was
let down.

"Why, what do they find to shoot here?" said the Churchwarden, sharply;
"hares or wild deer?"

"Men, zir," said the driver, quickly; and as he spoke there was a loud
panting noise, and a dimly-seen figure darted out of the mist at right
angles to the road and dashed heavily against the horse, to fall back
with a heavy groan.



PART THREE, CHAPTER FOURTEEN.

THE CONVICT'S ESCAPE.

The quiet, half-asleep horse, dreamily hunting for grains of corn amidst
a great deal of chaff, threw up its head and made a violent plunge
forward, but was checked on the instant by the driver.

"What is it?" cried Portlock, leaping from the fly, as Sage uttered a
cry.

By this time Luke was trying to lift the man, who had fallen almost at
his feet, and drawing him away from the horse's hoofs, where he lay in
imminent danger of being kicked.

As far as Luke could see, he was a tall, gaunt, broad-shouldered fellow,
and it needed not the flyman's information for him to know that it was a
convict--his closely-cropped hair and hideous grey dress told that more
plainly than words could tell.

"What does it mean?" said the Churchwarden again.  "Some one hurt?"

As he spoke, Luke Ross, who had laid the man down, uttered an
exclamation of horror.  His hands were wet with blood.

"He is wounded!" said Luke, in a whisper, as he drew out his
handkerchief, and sank upon one knee.  "Don't let Mrs Mallow come
near."

His words of warning were too late, for just then the figure of Sage
Mallow seemed to loom out of the fog, coming timidly forward with
outspread hands like a person in the dark.

"He's hit hard," said the driver.  "Poor chap! there's no escape for
him."

"Let his head rest upon your arm," said Luke, hastily.  "Mr Portlock,
tear my handkerchief into three strips, and give me yours.  The poor
fellow is bleeding horribly."

"Who's that?  Where am I?  Stand back, cowards!  Fire, then, and be
damned."

A low, wailing cry of horror checked him, and Sage Mallow flung herself
upon her knees beside the injured man.

"Cyril!  Husband!" she cried, wildly.  The convict started violently,
and drew himself back.

"Sage!" he panted.  "You--here?"

"Yes--yes!" she cried.  "What is it?  Are you hurt?"

"Hurt?  Ha--ha--ha!"  He laughed a strange, ghastly laugh.  "I made a
bolt for it.  The brutes fired at me--shot me like a dog."

"Don't speak," said Luke, quickly.  "Lie still, and let me try to stop
this bleeding."

"Yes; stop it quick!" gasped the injured man.  "Yes, that's it--in the
chest--it felt red hot; but it did not stop me running, doctor.  Lucky
you were here."

Luke raised his face involuntarily, and the men were face to face.

"Luke Ross!" gasped Cyril; and for a few moments, as Sage and Luke knelt
on either side of the wounded man, he gazed from one to the other.

"Got a divorce?" he said, with a harsh laugh.  "Are you married?"

"No," cried Portlock, in a loud, emphatic voice.  "Sage was coming to
see you with me."

"Then--then," panted the wounded man, fiercely, "what does he do here?"

"I came at your father's wish, Cyril Mallow," said Luke, softly, for
somehow his own father's words seemed to be repeating themselves in his
ear.  "I obtained the order."

"For my release?" cried Cyril, wildly.  "For a visit," replied Luke.
"Now, take my advice.  Be silent; exertion makes your wound bleed more."

"Curse them! no wonder," groaned the unhappy man; and he drew his breath
with a low hiss.  "God! it's awful pain."

"Help me to lift him into the fly," whispered Luke to Portlock and the
driver.

"Cyril--speak to me," whispered Sage, piteously.  "You are not badly
hurt?"

"Murdered," he groaned.  "Oh, if I had but a rifle and strength."

"Hush!" said Luke, sternly, "you are wasting what you have left.  Are
you ready, driver?"

"There'll be no end of a row about it when the warders come, but I'll
chance it, zir.  Stop a moment, and I'll open the farther door.  It will
be easier to get him in."

"Who said warders?" panted Cyril, in excited tones.  "Are they here?"

"No, no.  Pray be silent," whispered Luke.  "Mrs Mallow, you must
rise."

"No, no, I will not leave him," cried Sage.

"We are going to try and get him down into the town, Sage dear," said
her uncle, gently; "to a doctor, girl."

She suffered her uncle to raise her up, and then the three men bent down
over Cyril to bear him to the carriage.

"Stop!" he said, faintly.  "I am not ready.  Something--under--my head--
the blood--"

Luke raised his head, and he breathed more freely, but lay with his eyes
closed, the lids quivering slightly, as Sage knelt beside him once
again, and wiped the clammy dew from his brow.

"It don't matter at present, gentlemen," said the driver.  "I couldn't
drive through this fog.  We should be upset."

Just then shouts were heard close at hand, and the injured man opened
his eyes and fixed them in the direction of the sound.

"Demons!" he muttered, just as there was another shot, and a loud shriek
as of some one in agony.

"Another down," panted Cyril, with great effort, as he seemed to be
listening intently.

"How long will it take us to get back to the town?" said Luke, quickly.

"Two hours, sir, if the fog holds up.  If it goes on like this no man
can say."

"Mr Portlock," said Luke, as he motioned to Sage to take his place in
supporting the wounded man's head, "what is to be done?  I am no
surgeon, and my bandaging is very rough.  He is bleeding to death, I am
sure," he whispered.  "We must have a surgeon.  Had I not better summon
help?"

"Where from?"

"From the prison.  A shout would bring the warders."

"I hear what you say," cried Cyril, fiercely.  "Sage, that man is going
to betray me to those blood-hounds."

"Luke!" cried Sage, who was almost mad with grief.

"There is no surgical help to be got but from the prison," said Luke,
calmly.  "I proposed to send for it by the warders."

"Too late," said the injured man, in a low voice.  "Fifty surgeons could
not save me now.  Let me be."

"What shall I do?" whispered Luke.

"Poor fellow!  We had better call the men."

"It would kill him," groaned Luke; and he stood hesitating, Cyril
watching him the while with a sneering laugh upon his lips.

"It's a sovereign reward, lawyer," he said, faintly.  "Are you going to
earn it?"

For answer Luke knelt down there in the mist, and poured a few drops of
spirit from his flask between the wounded man's lips.

He was about to rise, but Cyril uttered a painful sob and caught at his
hand.

"I didn't mean it," he whispered, "I'm a bad one, and the words came.
I'd say God bless you--but--no good--from me."

Luke's cold thin hand closed upon the labour-hardened palm of the
wounded man, and he remained there kneeling with Sage, who held the
other hand between both of hers, and gazed helplessly, and as if
stunned, at her husband's face.

"Glad--you came, Sage, once more," he said.  "Poor little widow!" he
added, with a curious laugh.

"Had we not better get the prison doctor to you, Mallow?" said Luke.

"No good," he replied.  "The game's up, man.  I know.  Sage--tell the
old lady I thought about her--a deal.  Have they found poor Ju?"

She stared at him still, for there was not one loving word to her--not
one question about his children.

"Poor thing!  Always petted me," he gasped--"poor mother!"

Just then there were voices heard close at hand, the trampling of feet;
and Cyril Mallow's eyes seemed to dilate.

"Hallo, here!" cried a rough voice, as four men seemed to appear
suddenly out of the cold grey mist.  "Seen anything of--Oh, here we are,
Jem; one of the wounded birds."

The speaker, who was in the uniform of a warder, strode up, and, bending
down, roughly seized Cyril by the shoulder.

"Didn't get off this time, 'Underd and seven," he said.  "Nice dance
you've--"

"Hands off, fellow!" cried Luke, indignantly.  "Do you not see that he
is badly hurt?"

"Who are you?" cried the warder, fiercely.  "Don't you resist the law.
Now then, 'Underd and seven, up with you.  No shamming, you know."

He caught the dying man's arm, as Cyril gazed defiantly in his face, and
made a snatch, as if to drag him up, when, exasperated beyond bearing at
the fellow's brutality, and on seeing Sage's weak effort to shield her
husband, Luke started up, and struck the ruffian so fierce a blow, full
on the cheek, that he staggered back a few steps, and nearly fell.

He was up again directly, as his three companions levelled their pieces,
and the sharp click, click of the locks were heard.

"Down with him, lads!" cried the warder.  "It's a planned thing.  They
were waiting with that fly."

The warders came on, but Luke did not shrink.

"You know," he said, firmly, "that your man exceeded his duty.  Here is
the Home Secretary's order for us to see this prisoner.  I shall report
to-day's proceedings, you may depend."

"We've got our duty to do, sir," said one of the men roughly.  But he
took the paper, and read it.

"Seems all right," he whispered.  "Keep quiet, Smith.  They couldn't get
away if they wanted."

"How long would it take to fetch the surgeon?" said Luke, sternly; "or
could we get him to the prison through the fog?"

"I think we could lead the horse," said the warder addressed, who began
to feel some misgivings about the day's work, as he truly read Cyril
Mallow's ghastly face.

"Luke--Luke Ross," said a faint voice that he did not seem to recognise,
and he turned and knelt down once more by the wounded man, the warders
closing in, to make sure that it was no trick.

"Ross--my hand," panted Cyril.  "Fog's--getting thick--and dark.
Smith--you fired--but--do you hear--I've got away."

There was a terrible pause here, and, to a man, the warders turned away,
for they saw what was coming now.

"Luke Ross--good fellow,"--panted the dying man--"Sage--my wife--little
ones."

His eyes seemed to give the meaning to his words, as, still heedless of
his wife's presence, he gazed in those of the man whose life he had
seemed to blast.

"Wife--little ones.  God for--"

"--Give you, Cyril Mallow," whispered Luke, bending lower, "as I do,
from my soul."



PART THREE, CHAPTER FIFTEEN.

WIDOWED INDEED.

"Better take the lady away, sir," said the warder whom Luke had last
addressed, and who had shown some rough feeling, as he beckoned him
aside.  "There'll be an inquest, of course, and I must have your card
and the names of the others.  There's sure to be a row, too, about your
hitting Smith."

Luke took out his card-case without a word.

"Lady his wife, sir?" said the man.

"Yes, and her uncle," replied Luke, giving the name of the hotel where
they were staying.  "I think we'll come on to the prison and see the
governor."

"As you like, sir," said the warder; "but if I might advise, I'd say
take the lady away at once, and cool down yourself before you come.  You
could do no good now."

"You are right, warder," said Luke, quietly, as he slipped a couple of
sovereigns into the man's hand.  "Send for the proper help, and--You
understand me.  He was a gentleman."

"You leave it to me, sir," said the warder; "I know he was, and a
high-spirited one, too.  Ah, there goes the fog."

And, as if by magic, the dense cloud of grey mist rolled away, and the
sun shone down brightly upon the little white cambric handkerchief wet
with tears, spread a few moments before over the blindly-staring eyes
looking heavenwards for the half-asked pardon.

Portlock was standing there, resting his hands upon his stout umbrella,
gazing at where his niece knelt as if in prayer by her husband's corpse,
and he started slightly as Luke laid a hand upon his shoulder.

"Let us go back," he whispered, and he pointed to Sage.

The old farmer went to her and took her hand.

"Sage, my child," he whispered, "come: let us go."

She looked up at him with a blank, woebegone aspect, and clung to his
hand.

"Not one loving word, uncle," she said, slowly, but in a voice that
reached no other ears.  "Not one word for me, or for my little orphans.
Oh, Cyril, Cyril," she moaned, as she bent over him, raising the
kerchief and kissing his brow, "did you love me as I loved you?"

She rose painfully as her uncle once more took her hand to lead her to
the fly, where he seated himself by her side, Luke taking his place by
the driver; and as they drove sadly back to the old cathedral town, the
fog that had been over the land appeared to cling round and overshadow
their hearts.

It seemed to Luke as he sat there thinking of Sage's sufferings that
Nature was cruel, and as if she was rejoicing over Cyril Mallow's death,
for the scene now looked so bright and fair.  He wished that the heavens
would weep, to be in unison with the unhappy woman's feelings, and that
all around should wear a mourning aspect in place of looking so bright
and gay.  Upon his right the deep blue sea danced in the brilliant
sunshine.  Far behind the grey fog was scudding over the high lands,
looking like a veil of silver ever changing in its hues.  Here and there
the glass of some conservatory flashed in the sun-rays and darted
pencils of glittering light.  The tints upon the hills, too, seemed
brighter than when they came, and he gazed at them with a dull, chilling
feeling of despair.

It seemed to him an insult to the suffering woman within the fly, and
with his heart throbbing painfully in sympathy with her sorrow, he
thought how strangely these matters had come about.

For the past three months this idea had been in his head: to obtain the
order for Sage to see her husband; but he had had great difficulty in
obtaining that he sought, and now that he had achieved his end, what had
it brought?  Sorrow and despair--a horror such as must cling even to her
dying day.

The driver respected his companion's silence for a time, but finding at
last that there was no prospect of Luke speaking, he ventured upon a
remark--

"Very horrid, zir, warn't it?"

"Terrible, my man, terrible," said Luke, starting from his reverie.

"I shall be called at the inquest, I s'pose.  This makes the third as
I've been had up to, and all for convicts zhot when trying to escape, I
don't think it ought to be 'lowed."

Luke was silent, and the man made no further attempts at conversation on
their way to the hotel.

The inquest followed in due course, and in accordance with the previous
examinations of the kind.  The convict who attempted to escape did it at
his own risk, his life being, so to say, forfeit to the laws, and after
the stereotyped examinations of witnesses, the regular verdict in such
cases was returned, the chaplain improving his discourse on the
following Sunday by an allusion to the escaped man's awful fate, and the
necessity for all present bearing their punishment with patience and
meekness to the end.

The warning had such a terrible effect upon the men that not a single
attempt to escape occurred afterwards for forty-eight hours, that is to
say, until the next sea-fog came over the land, when three men from as
many working parties darted off, and of these only one was recaptured,
so that the lesson taught by Cyril Mallow's death was without effect.

There was some talk of a prosecution of Luke for striking the warder,
but on the governor arriving at a knowledge of the facts, he concluded
that it would be better not to attack one so learned in the law; besides
which, the authorities were always glad to have anything connected with
one of their judicial murders put out of sight as soon as possible, lest
people of Radical instincts should make a stir in Parliament, and there
should be a great call for statistics, a Committee of Inquiry, and other
troublesome affairs.  Consequently no more was said, and Luke Ross,
after seeing Sage and her uncle to the station, returned to his solitary
chambers, and laboured hard at the knotty cases that were thrust
constantly into his hands.

For work was the opiate taken by Luke Ross to ease the mental pain he so
often suffered when he allowed his thoughts to dwell upon the past.  He
found in it relief, and, unconsciously, it brought him position and
wealth.

He had not revisited Lawford, but from time to time the solicitor there
who had the settlement of his father's affairs sent him statements,
accompanying them always with a little business-like chat, that he said
he thought his eminent fellow-townsman would like to have.

Luke used to smile at that constantly-recurring term, "eminent
fellow-townsman," which the old solicitor seemed very fond of using; but
he often used to sigh as well when he read of the changes that took
place as time glided on.  How that Fullerton had ceased to carp at
church matters, and raise up strife against church rates, being called
to his fathers, and lying very peacefully in his coffin when the man he
had so often denounced read the solemn service of the church, and stood
by as he was laid in that churchyard.

The Rector, too, Luke learned, had grown very old and broken of late,
and it was expected, people said, that poor Mrs Mallow could not last
much longer, for she had been smitten more sorely at the news of the
death of her erring son, the paralysis having taken a greater hold, and
weakened terribly her brain.

  "Old Mr Mallow goes a good deal to Kilby Farm," the solicitor said in
  one of his letters, "and the little grandchildren go about with him in
  the woods.  Portlock talks of giving up his farm and retiring, but
  he'll never do it as long as he lives, and so I tell him.

  "If there's any farther news I will save it, and send it with my
  next," he continued.  "But I should advise you to take Warton's offer
  for the house in the marketplace on a lease of seven (7), fourteen
  (14), or twenty-one (21) years, determinable on either side.  He will
  put in a new plate-glass front, and do all repairs himself.  He is a
  substantial man, Warton, and you could not do better with the
  property.--I am, dear sir, your obedient servant,

  "James Littler.

  "P.S.--I have directed this letter to your chambers in King's Bench
  Walk.  I little thought when I drew up the minutes of meeting deciding
  on your appointment as Master of Lawford School--an arrangement
  opposed, as you may remember, in meeting, by late Fullerton--I should
  ever have the honour of addressing you as an eminent counsel."

Luke wrote back by return:--

  "Dear Mr Littler,--Thank you for your kind management of my property.
  I hold Mr Warton in the greatest respect, and there is no man in
  Lawford I would sooner have for my tenant.  But there are certain
  reasons, which you may consider sentimental, against the arrangement.
  I wish the old house and its furniture to remain quite untouched, and
  widow Lane to stay there as long as she will.  She was very kind to my
  father in his last illness, and she has had her share of trouble.  I
  am sure he would have wished her to stay.

  "Very glad to hear of any little bits of news.  Yes, certainly, put my
  name down for what you think right for the coal fund and the other
  charity.--Very truly yours,

  "Luke Ross."



PART THREE, CHAPTER SIXTEEN.

AFTER FOUR YEARS.

Four years in the life of a busy man soon glide away, and after that
lapse there were certain little matters in connection with his late
father's property, that Luke seized upon as an excuse for going down to
Lawford once again.

He had one primary object for going, one that he had nursed now for
these four years, and had dwelt upon in the intervals of his busy toil.

In spite of all bitterness of heart, he had from time to time awakened
to the fact that the old love was not dead.  There had always been a
tiny spark hidden deeply, but waiting for a kindly breath to make it
kindle into a vivid flame.

His position |had led him into good society, and he had been frequently
introduced to what people who enjoyed such matters termed eligible
matches, but it soon became evident to all the matchmakers that the
successful barrister, the next man spoken of for silk, was not a
marrying man; in short, that he had no heart.

No heart!

Luke Ross knew that he had, and from time to time he would take out his
old love, and think over it and wonder.

"Four years since," he said, one evening, as he sat alone in his
solitary chambers.  "Why not?"

Then he fell into a fit of self-examination.

"Cyril Mallow seemed to ask me to be protector to his wife and children,
and I would have done anything I could, but Portlock and Cyril's father
have always met Littler with the same excuse.  `There is plenty for
them, and the offer would only give Mrs Cyril pain.'"

But why not now?

He sat thinking, gazing up at the bronzed busts of great legal
luminaries passed away, and at the dark shadows they cast upon the
walls.

"Do I love her?  Heaven knows how truly and how well."

He smiled then--a pleasant smile, which seemed to take away the hardness
from his thoughtful face.

But it was not of Sage he was thinking, but of her two little girls and
his meeting with them in the Kilby lane.

"God bless them!" he said, half aloud, "I love them with all my heart."

The next day he was on his way down to Lawford, a calm, stern,
middle-aged man, thinking of how the time had fled since, full of
aspirations, he had come up to fight the battle for success.  Sixteen
years ago now, and success was won; but he was not happy.  There was an
empty void in his breast that he had never filled, and as he lay back in
his corner of the carriage, he fell into a train of pleasanter thoughts.

The time had gone by for young and ardent love; but why should not he
and Sage be happy still for the remainder of their days?

And then, in imagination, he saw them both going hand in hand down-hill,
happy in the love of those two girls, whom he meant it to be his end and
aim to win more and more to himself.

"God bless them!" he said again, as he thought of the flowers the
younger one had offered him, of the kiss the other had imprinted upon
his hand; and at last, happier and brighter than he had felt for years,
he leaped out of the carriage and ordered a fly and pair to take him to
Kilby Farm.

His joyous feelings seemed even on the increase as he neared the place,
in spite of the tedious rate at which they moved, and turning at last
after the long ride into the Kilby lane, he came in sight of the snug
old farm just as the setting sun was gilding the windows.

The Churchwarden was at the door with a smile of welcome as Luke leaped
from the fly and warmly grasped his hand.

"I knew you would come," he said; "but how quick you have been.  When
did you get my letter?"

"Your letter?"

"Yes; asking you to come.  She begged me to write."

"Then it was inspiration that brought me here.  She will welcome me as I
wish," he cried.  "I have not had your letter.  Take me to her at once,
I have wasted too much time as it is."

"Heaven bless you for coming, Luke," said the old man, with trembling
voice.  "It was the mistake of my life that I did not let you wed."

"Never too late to mend," said Luke, smiling, and then he saw something
in the farmer's face that turned him ghastly white.

"Sage?" he gasped.  "Is she ill?"

"Ill?" faltered the farmer.  "I forgot you could not know.  Luke, my
boy! my poor bairn!  She cannot last the night."

"Stop that fly," panted Luke.  "A telegram--to London--to Sir Roland
Murray--I know his address--to come at once, at any cost.  Paper, man,
for God's sake--quick--pens--ink.  Moments mean life."

"Moments mean death, Luke Ross," said the Churchwarden, solemnly.  "My
boy, I have not spared my useless money.  It could not save her life.
She knows that you have come.  She heard the wheels."

Luke followed the old man to the upper chamber, fragrant with sweet
country scents, and then staggered to the bedside, to throw himself upon
his knees.

"Sage!  My love!" he panted, as he caught her hand.  "You must live to
bless me--my love, whom I have loved so long.  It is not too late--it is
not too--"

He paused as he too truly read the truth, and bent down to catch her
fleeting breath that strove to shape itself in words.

"I could not die until I saw you once again.  No; Luke--friend--
brother--it could not have been.  Quick," she cried.  "My children--
quick!"

The Churchwarden went softly from the room, while poor old Mrs Portlock
sank down in a chair by the window, and covered her face with her hands.

"I have been dying these two years, Luke," whispered Sage, faintly.
"Now, tell me that you forgive the past."

"Forgive?  It has been forgiven these many years," he groaned.  "But,
Sage, speak to me, my own old love."

She smiled softly in his face.

"No," she said, "not your love, Luke.  My children.  You will--for my
sake--Luke?"

He could not speak, but clasped the little ones to his breast--partly in
token of his silent vow--partly that they might not see Sage Mallow's
sun set, as the great golden orb sank in the west.

Death had his work to do at Lawford as elsewhere, and the sleepy little
town was always waking up to the fact that some indweller had passed
away.

It was about a week earlier that Polly Morrison sat waiting and working
by her one candle, which shed its light upon her pleasant, comely face.
The haggard, troubled look had gone, and though there were lines in her
forehead, they seemed less the lines of care than those of middle age.

Every now and then she looked up and listened for the coming step, but
there was only an occasional sough of the wind, and the hurried rush of
the waters over the ford, for the stream was high, and the swirling
pools beneath the rugged old willow pollards deep.

Polly heard the rush of the waters, and a shudder passed through her,
for she recalled Jock Morrison's threat about Cyril years ago.

This set her thinking of him and his end; from that she journeyed on in
thought to Sage Mallow, the pale, careworn widow, slowly sinking into
her grave; and this suggestive theme made the little matronly-looking
body drop her work into her lap, and sit gazing at the glowing wood
fire, wondering whether Mrs Mallow or Sage would die first, and whether
Miss Cynthia, as she always called her, was soon coming down to Gatley
so as to be near.

Then her thoughts in spite of herself went back to another death scene,
and the tears gathered in her eyes as she saw once more that early
Sunday morning, when the earth lay dark in a little mound beneath the
willow, where a religiously-tended little plot of flowers always grew.

"I wish Tom would come back," she said, plaintively.  "It is so lonely
when he has to go into town."

She made an effort to resume her work, and stitched away busily for a
time, but her nimble fingers soon grew slow, and dropped once more into
her lap, as the waters roared loudly once again, and she thought of
Cyril Mallow, then of Jock, lastly of Julia.

"I wonder where they are?" she said, softly.  "Sometimes I've thought it
might be my fault, though I don't see how--At last!"  There was a step
outside and with brightening face she snuffed the candle, and glanced at
the table to see that Tom's supper was as he liked it to be.

Then she stopped in alarm, gazing sharply at the door, for it was not
Tom's step, but a faintly heard hesitating pace, half drowned by the
rushing noise from the ford.

"Who can it be?" she muttered, and then her face turned ghastly white.

"Something has happened to Tom!"  She stood there as if paralysed, as a
faint tapping sounded on the door--the soft hesitating tap of some one's
fingers; and the summons set Polly trembling with dread.

"What can it be?" she faltered.  "Oh, for shame! what a coward I am!"
she cried, as she roused herself, and going to the door, her hand was on
the latch just as the summons was faintly repeated.

"Who's there?  What is it?" cried Polly, stoutly; but there was no
answer, and taking up the candle, she held it above her head and flung
open the door, to see a thin, ill-clad woman holding on by one of the
rough fir poles that formed the porch, gazing at her with wild, staring
eyes, her face cadaverous, thin, and pinched, and her pale lips parted
as if to speak.

"Miss Julia!" cried Polly, with a faint shriek, and setting down the
candle, she caught the tottering figure by the arm and drew her in, the
door swung to, and the wanderer was held tightly to her breast.

"Oh, my dear, my dear!" sobbed Polly.  "How could you--how could you?
Oh, that it should come to this!"

Her visitor did not answer, but seemed to yield herself to the
affectionate caresses that were showered upon her, a faint smile dawning
upon her thin lips, and her eyes half closing as from utter weariness
and pain.

"Why you're wet, and like ice!" cried Polly, as she realised the facts.
"Oh, my poor dear!  How thin!  How ill you look!  Oh, my dear, my dear!"

She burst into a piteous fit of sobbing, but her hands were busy all the
time, as she half led, half carried her visitor to Tom's big Windsor
chair, and then piled up some of the odd blocks of wood, of which there
were always an abundance from the shop.

"Oh, what shall I do?" muttered Polly; and then her ideas took the
customary womanly route for the panacea for all ills, a cup of tea,
which was soon made, and a few mouthfuls seemed to revive the fainting
woman.

"She ought to have the doctor," muttered Polly.  "Oh, if Tom would only
come!"  Then aloud--"Oh, Miss Julia, my dear, my dear!"

"Hush!" said her visitor, in a low, painful voice, as if repeating words
that she had learned by heart; "the Julia you knew is dead."

"Oh, no, no, my dear young mistress," sobbed Polly, and she went down
upon her knees, and threw her arms round the thin, cold figure in its
squalid clothes.  "Tom will be home directly, and he shall fetch the
doctor and master.  Oh, my dear, my dear! that it should come to this!
But tell me, have you left Jock Morrison?"

The wretched woman shuddered.

"They have taken him away," she whispered; "he was in trouble--with some
keepers--but he will be out some day, and I must go to him again.  He
will want me, Polly--and I must go!"

Polly Morrison gazed at her with horror, hardly recognising a lineament
of the girl in whose soft hair she had taken such pride, and whom she
had admired in her youth and beauty.

"But you must not go back," cried the little woman.  "There, there, let
your head rest back on the chair.  Let me go and fetch you a pillow."

"No, don't go, Polly," and the thin hands closed tightly about those so
full of ministering care.  "I'm tired--I've walked so far."

"Walked?  Miss Julia!"

"Hush!  Julia is dead," she moaned.  "Yes, walked.  It was in--
Hampshire, I think--weeks ago."

"And you walked?  Oh, my dear, my dear!" sobbed Polly.

"I was--so weary--so tired, Polly," moaned the wretched woman; "and--I
was--always thinking--of your garden--that little baby--so sweet--so
sweet."

"Oh, Miss Julia, Miss Julia, pray, pray don't!" sobbed Polly.

"Mine died--years ago--died too--they took it--took it away.  I thought
if I could get--get as far--you would--"

She stopped speaking, and raised herself in the chair, holding tightly
by Polly Morrison's hands, and gazing wildly round the room.

"Miss Julia!"

"Is it dreaming?" she cried, in a hoarse loud voice.  "No, no," she said
softly, and the slow, weary, hesitating syllables dropped faintly again
from her thin, pale lips.  "I--tried--so hard--I want to--to see--that
little little grave--Polly--the little one--asleep."

"Miss Julia!  Oh, my dear, my dear."

"For--I'm--I'm tired, dear.  Let--let me--see it, Polly--let me go--to
sleep."

"Miss Julia--Miss Julia!  Help!  Tom--Tom!  Quick--help!  Oh! my God!"

As wild and passionate a cry as ever rose to heaven for help, but it was
not answered.

And the Rev Lawrence Paulby stood amidst the crowd that thronged
Lawford churchyard,--a hushed, bare-headed crowd,--but his voice became
inaudible as he tried to repeat the last words of the service beside
poor Julia's grave.

------------------------------------------------------------------------

The End.





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