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Title: Johnny Ludlow, Second Series
Author: Wood, Mrs. Henry
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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JOHNNY LUDLOW.

by

MRS. HENRY WOOD,

Author of "East Lynne," "The Channings," etc., etc.

SECOND SERIES



[Illustration]

+Thirty-third Thousand.+

London:
Richard Bentley and Son,
+Publishers in Ordinary to Her Majesty the Queen.+
1896.
(All rights reserved.)

London:
Printed by William Clowes and Sons, Limited,
Stamford Street and Charing Cross.



CONTENTS.


                                    PAGE
      I. LOST IN THE POST              1

     II. A LIFE OF TROUBLE            19

    III. HESTER REED'S PILLS          36

     IV. ABEL CREW                    56

      V. ROBERT ASHTON'S WEDDING-DAY  75

     VI. HARDLY WORTH TELLING         92

    VII. CHARLES VAN RHEYN           109

   VIII. MRS. TODHETLEY'S EARRINGS   133

     IX. A TALE OF SIN               153

      X. A DAY OF PLEASURE           231

     XI. THE FINAL ENDING TO IT      250

    XII. MARGARET RYMER              272

   XIII. THE OTHER EARRING           289

    XIV. ANNE                        310

     XV. THE KEY OF THE CHURCH       367

    XVI. THE SYLLABUB FEAST          387

   XVII. SEEN IN THE MOONLIGHT       408

  XVIII. ROSE LODGE                  427

    XIX. LEE, THE LETTER MAN         446



JOHNNY LUDLOW.



I.

LOST IN THE POST.


Many a true tale has been told of the disappearance of money in passing
through the post. Sometimes the loss is never cleared up, but remains
a mystery to the end. One of these losses happened to us, and the
circumstances were so curious that they would have puzzled a bench of
judges. It was a regular mystery, and could not be accounted for in any
way.

                 *       *       *       *       *

If you chanced to read the first series of these papers, it may scarcely
be necessary to recall certain points to your recollection--that Mr.
Todhetley, commonly called the Squire, had two estates. The chief one,
Dyke Manor, lay on the borders of Worcestershire and Warwickshire,
partly in both counties; the other, Crabb Cot, was a smaller place
altogether, and much nearer Worcester. Sometimes we stayed at one
place, sometimes at the other. By an arrangement with Mr. Brandon, my
guardian and the trustee to my property, I, Johnny Ludlow, lived with
the Todhetleys. Mrs. Todhetley, the Squire's present wife, was my
stepmother, my father having married her after my own mother's death.
After my father's death--which took place speedily--she became the
second wife of Squire Todhetley, and the stepmother of his only son and
heir, Joseph. Two children were subsequently born to them, Hugh and
Lena, to whom Joseph was of course half-brother. Joseph, unlike myself,
had been old enough to resent the advent of a stepmother when she came.
Indulged and haughty, he did not like the gentle control she brought;
though she was good as gold, as loving to him as he would let her be,
and kind to everybody. I don't say but that she was tall and thin as a
lamp-post, with a mild face, given to having aches in it, scanty light
hair, and kindly blue eyes; so she had not much to boast of in the way
of appearance. Joe and I grew up together like brothers. He was several
years the elder, and domineered over me absolutely. At school he was
always called "Tod;" and I fell into the same habit. Perhaps that is
sufficient explanation.

"And if you don't come back to-night, you had better send me a
five-pound note in a letter," said Mrs. Todhetley.

"All right," replied the Squire.

This was said on the platform of Timberdale Station. We were staying at
Crabb Cot, and were taking the train at Timberdale instead of that at
South Crabb. The Squire was going to Worcester, and was taking Tod and
myself with him. It was a fine morning in April, and Mrs. Todhetley
and little Hugh had come with us through the Ravine for the sake of
the walk. Our returning at night, or not, was left an open question,
contingent upon the Squire's business at Worcester being over.

"Bring me a whip, and a new bird-cage for my thrush, and a pot of
marmalade, papa," called out Hugh.

"What else would you like, sir?" retorted the Squire.

"You bring 'em, Joe."

"I dare say!" said Tod.

The train puffed off, drowning Hugh's further commands. We saw him throw
his cap at the train, and Mrs. Todhetley holding him back from running
after it.

"That young gentleman wants to be sent to school," remarked the Squire.
"I'm afraid you two boys make him worse than he would be."

We reached Worcester about twelve, and went to the Star and Garter. The
Squire had no end of matters on hand that day: but the two chief things
that had brought him to Worcester were--to draw some money from the
bank, and to negotiate with Mr. Prothero, a corn-dealer, for the sale of
a load of wheat. Mr. Prothero was a close man to deal with: he wanted
the wheat at one price, the Squire said it should only go at another: if
he held out, the Squire meant to hold out, even though it involved
staying the night in Worcester.

It was Wednesday; market-day. Not so large a market as the Saturday's,
but the town looked pretty full. The first thing the Squire did was to
go to the Old Bank. At the door he turned round and said there was no
need for three of us to crowd into the place. However, we were then
inside, and so went on with him.

He had something particular to say to Mr. Isaac, and asked for him. They
were talking together in private for a minute or two, and then the
Squire took out his cheque for fifty pounds, and laid it on the counter.

"How will you take it?" asked Mr. Isaac.

"In five-pound notes."

Mr. Isaac brought the money himself. The Squire put it in his
pocket-book, and we said good-morning, and departed. There were shops to
call at and people to see: and of course the market to walk through. You
wouldn't get the Squire to keep himself out of the market-house, when
in Worcester on market-day: he'd go about asking the price of butter and
fowls like any old woman. A little after four o'clock we got back to the
Star; and found Mr. Prothero had not made his appearance.

"Just like him!" cried the Squire. "His appointment was for four o'clock
sharp. He means to hold out against my price; that's what he thinks to
do. Let him! he won't get the wheat at less."

"I'd see him a jolly long way before he should have it at all," said
haughty Tod. "Do you hear, sir?"

"Hold your tongue, Joe," was the Squire's answer.

"Anyway, sir, Prothero gives you more trouble than all the rest of the
buyers put together. He's a stingy, close-fisted fellow."

"But his money's safe and sure. Prothero is a respectable man, Joe; his
word's as good as his bond."

Half-past four, and no Prothero. The Squire began to fume a little: if
he hated one thing more than another it was to be kept waiting.

"Look here, boys, I'll send that note to your mother," he said, taking
out his pocket-book. "There's not much chance of our going home to-night
at this rate. Ring, one of you, for some paper and envelopes."

Separating one of the notes from the roll Mr. Isaac had handed to him,
he gave it to me to put up. I asked him if I should take down the
number.

"I don't think it matters, Johnny."

But I took it down, perhaps through some unconscious instinct--for I
don't suppose I am more cautious than other people. In my pocket was a
letter from Anna Whitney: and I pencilled on it the number of the note.

"Write inside the envelope 'Not home till to-morrow,'" growled the
Squire, forgetting that it could not be there till the morning. But he
was in an ill-humour.

I wrote it at his bidding, enclosed the bank-note, and addressed the
letter to Mrs. Todhetley at Crabb Cot. Tod and I went out to post it,
and began laying plans as to how we should spend the evening at
Worcester.

The post-office is not far from the Star, as everybody knows: and
though we met a fellow who used to go to school with us, a doctor's son,
and stayed talking with him, not ten minutes elapsed before we were
back again. And behold in that short time there was a change in the
programme. Old Prothero had been in, the bargain about the wheat was
concluded, and the Squire intended to start for home as soon as dinner
was over. Tod resented the change.

"Johnny and I were going to that advertised _séance_--or whatever they
call the thing--on electro-biology, sir. It will be first-rate fun, they
say."

"Very sorry for you and Johnny. You'll have to go home instead. Prothero
has bought the wheat: and that's all I should have had to stay here
for."

"At his own price!" cried Tod, rather mockingly.

"No, Mr. Joe; at mine."

"Well, it's an awful sell for us," grumbled Tod. "It's not so often we
get a night at Worcester, that we should be done out of this chance."

"The fact is, I don't feel well," said the Squire, "and should most
likely have gone home, whether Prothero had come in or not. I'm afraid I
have caught cold, Joe."

There was not any more to be said. The Squire's colds were no joke: once
he caught one, he would be downright ill; laid up for days. We went back
by rail to Timberdale, and took a fly home.

The next morning the Squire did not get up. Sure enough he had a cold,
and was feverish. At breakfast Mrs. Todhetley said one of us should go
over to South Crabb and ask Mr. Cole to call and see him.

"Why, the pater hates doctors!" exclaimed Tod.

"I know he does," she answered. "But I feel sure that if he would only
take remedies for his colds in time, they would not be so bad as they
usually are, Joseph. Who's that?" she added--for she was seated where
she could not see out, and had heard the gate click.

It was the postman: so I opened the glass doors.

"Only one, sir," said he, handing me the letter we had posted at
Worcester the previous afternoon.

Mrs. Todhetley laughed as she opened it, saying it would have come
sooner had we brought it with us. Looking to see that the bank-note was
safe, she left it in the envelope on the breakfast-table.

"You may as well get it changed for me at Salmon's," she said, handing
it to Tod as we were going out, "and then I need not disturb your
father. But you must make haste back, for you know I want the money."

She had no money in the house except a few shillings: and this was why
the note was to be posted to her if we stayed at Worcester. You are
often run short of money in rural country places: it's quite different
from town, where the banks are at hand.

We went through North Crabb, and met the doctor coming out at his door.
Tod told him the Squire wanted some physicking.

"Caught a cold, has he?" cried Cole. "If he will only be reasonable and
keep himself warm in bed, we'll soon have that out of him."

Cole lived close upon South Crabb--I think I've said so before. A few
yards beyond his house the shops began. Salmon's was the fifth from the
corner: a double shop, grocer's and draper's. The savings' bank was at
Salmon's, and the post-office: he was the busiest tradesman in South
Crabb, rather conceited over it, but very intelligent. His brother was
in business at Timberdale. This is what occurred.

"Will you be good enough to change this five-pound note for me, Mr.
Salmon?" said Tod, laying the note down on the grocer's counter, on the
left of the door, behind which Salmon stood, his grey hair carefully
brushed and a white apron on.

Salmon took the note up for a moment, and then unlocked the inner drawer
of his till, where he kept his gold. He was counting out the five
sovereigns when he paused; put them down, and picked up the note again
quickly. I had seen his eyes fall on it.

"Where did you get this note from, sir?" asked he of Tod.

"From the Old Bank at Worcester."

"Well, it's one of them notes that was lost in the robbery at
Tewkesbury, unless I'm much mistaken," cried Salmon, beginning to
turn over the leaves of a small account-book that he fetched from the
post-office desk. "Ay, I thought I was right," he adds, running his
finger across some figures on one of the pages. "I had the numbers
correct enough in my head."

"You must be out of your mind, Salmon," retorted Tod, in his defiant
way. "That note was paid to my father yesterday at Worcester Old Bank."

"I don't think it was, sir."

"You don't think it was! Why, I was present. I saw Mr. Isaac count the
notes out himself. Ten; and that was one of them."

"Mr. Isaac never counted out this note," persisted Salmon.

He smoothed it out on the counter as he spoke. I had not noticed it
before: but it struck me now as I looked at it that it was _not_ the
note I had put into the envelope at Worcester. That was a new, crisp
note; this was not crisp, and it looked a little soiled. Tod turned
passionate over it: he was just like the Squire in some things.

"I don't understand your behaviour, Salmon. I can swear that this note
was one given with the other nine at the bank yesterday, and given by
Mr. Isaac."

Salmon shook his head. As much as to say he knew to the contrary.

"You'd better accuse Mr. Isaac of dealing in stolen notes--or me," cried
hot Tod.

"You'd neither of you be likely to deal in them, Mr. Todhetley. There's
a mistake somewhere. That's what it is. Mr. Isaac would be too glad to
get this note into his possession to pay it away again. No people are
more severe against money-robberies than bankers."

Salmon talked, and Tod talked; but they could not agree. The apprentice
behind the counter on the drapery side listened with admiration,
evidently not knowing which side to take. I spoke then, saying that the
note did not appear to be the same as the one I had enclosed in the
letter; and Tod looked as though he could have knocked me down for
saying it. I had changed my clothes and had not Anna Whitney's letter
with me.

"Tod, it is of no use your taking it up in this way. If the thing is so,
it _is_. And it can soon be proved. I say I don't think it is the same
note, or the same numbers."

"If I had taken down the numbers of a bank-note, I could remember what
they were; so would any one but a muff, Johnny," said he, sarcastically.

"I don't remember what they were. But I do seem to remember that they
were not these."

Tod flung out of the shop in a passion: to him it seemed impossible
that anything could be wrong with a note had direct from the bank. As
to its not being the same note, he scouted it utterly. Had it dropped
through the envelope and changed itself _en route_ from Worcester? he
sarcastically demanded--coming in again to ask it.

Salmon was quietly going over the circumstances of the Tewkesbury
robbery to me. About three weeks before, a butcher's shop was robbed in
Tewkesbury--the till carried off in open day. It had gold and silver in
it and two five-pound notes. The numbers of the notes happened to be
known, and notice of them was circulated, to put people on their guard
against taking them.

"Look here, Mr. Ludlow," said Salmon, showing me the numbers of the
stolen notes written down in his book, and comparing the one with the
bank-note we had taken to him. "It's the same, you see. Reason's reason,
sir."

"But I don't see how it's practicable," cried Tod, coming round the
least bit in the world, as he condescended to look himself at the
numbers.

"Well, sir, neither do I--the facts being as you state them,"
acknowledged Salmon. "But here's the proof to stagger us, you observe.
It's in black and white."

"There must be two notes with the same numbers," said Tod.

Salmon smiled: great in his assumption of superior knowledge.

"There never was yet, Mr. Todhetley."

"Who numbers the notes, I wonder? I suppose mistakes are not impossible
to those who do it, any more than to other people."

"No fear of that, sir, with their system. The note has been changed in
the post."

"Nonsense!" retorted Tod.

They'd have cavilled until night, with no result, one holding
out against the other. Tod brought away the note and the five
sovereigns--which Salmon offered. We could send over another note at
leisure, he said. I examined the envelope after we had hastened home:
it was the same we had posted at Worcester, and did not appear to have
been tampered with.

Getting Anna Whitney's letter out of my best clothes' pocket, I brought
it to Tod. The numbers were quite different from the note's. He stared
like one bewildered: his eyes passing from those on the letter to those
on the note.

"Johnny, this beats bull-baiting."

So it did--for mystification.

"Are you sure you copied the figures correctly, old fellow?"

"Now, Tod! Of course I did."

"Let us go up to the pater."

The pater was getting up, in defiance of old Cole and Mrs. Todhetley,
and was dressed, up to his coat. He had a fire in his room and his white
night-cap on. I told him about the note. Tod was outside, telling Mrs.
Todhetley. He did not receive the news kindly.

"The note I gave you to put into the envelope was one of those stolen
from the butcher at Tewkesbury! How dare you bring your rubbishing
stories to me, Mr. Johnny!"

I tried to explain how it was--that it was not the same note; as the
numbers proved. He would hear nothing at first, only went on at me,
stamping his slippers and nodding his head, the big white tassel of the
night-cap bobbing up and down. If Salmon dared to say he had sent him a
stolen note to change, he'd teach Salmon what slander meant the next
time the magistrates sat.

Tod came in then with Mrs. Todhetley. The Squire had talked himself
quiet, and I got a hearing: showing him the numbers I had taken down
outside Anna's letter and the numbers on the stolen bank-note. It
brought him to reason.

"Why, bless my heart! How can they have been changed, Johnny?"

Taking the packet of notes out of his pocket-book, he went over their
numbers. They were all consecutive, the nine of them; and so was the
tenth, the one I had taken down. He pushed his night-cap back and stared
at us.

"Did you two get larking yesterday and drop the letter on your way to
the post?"

"We took it straight to the post, sir, and put it safely in."

"I don't know that I'd answer for that," stormed the Squire. "Once
dropped in the street, there's no knowing who might pick it up, or what
tricks might be played with it. Hold your tongues, you two. How else
do you suppose it could have been done? We don't live in the days of
miracles."

Off went his night-cap, on went his coat. Ringing the bell, he ordered
the phaeton to be got ready on the instant, to take him to the station:
he was going to Worcester. Mrs. Todhetley quite implored him not to
go; as good as went down on her knees: he would increase his cold,
and perhaps be laid up. But he wouldn't listen. "Hang the cold!" he
said: "he had no cold; it was gone. People shouldn't have it to say
that tricks could be played on him with impunity, and stolen notes
substituted for honest ones."

"What a way he puts himself into!" laughed Tod, when he had ordered us
off to make ready.

"I know somebody else who does just the same."

"You'll get it presently, Johnny."

Away we went to the station, Bob and Blister spanking along and Tod
driving; the Squire, wrapped in about a dozen rugs and comforters,
sitting beside him. The groom, Dwarf Giles, was behind with me: he would
have to take the carriage back again. A train came up pretty soon, and
we reached Worcester.

Of all commotions, the Squire made the worst. When he got to the bank,
Mr. Isaac was out: would not be in till three o'clock: and that put the
finishing stroke to the pater's impatience. Next he went to the Star,
and told of the matter there, gathering half the house about him. The
post-office was taken next. They seemed to know nothing whatever about
the letter--and I don't think they did--had not particularly noticed it
in sorting: could not have seemed to see less had they been in a fog
at sea: except one thing, and that they'd swear to--that every letter
posted at the office the previous day, and all other days, had been
duly forwarded, untampered with, to its destination.

The first dawn of reason that fell over us was in the interview with Mr.
Isaac. It was pleasant to be with any one so cheerfully calm. Taking the
roll of five-pound notes in his hand, he pronounced them to be the same
he had given us on the previous day; and the number I had dotted down to
have been the one belonging to the tenth note.

"And is this one of those two stolen ones that were advertised?"
demanded the Squire, putting it into Mr. Isaac's hands.

Mr. Isaac spoke with a clerk for a minute--perhaps referring to the
numbers as Salmon had done--and came back saying that it was the note.
So there we were: the matter laid, so far, to rest. Nothing could be
more unsatisfactory. The Squire sat quite still, as if he had been
struck dumb.

"I'm sure I shall never see daylight out of this," cried the Squire, in
a sort of hopeless, mazy tone. "It's worse than conjuring."

Mr. Isaac was called away. The Squire fastened upon one of the old
clerks, and went over the matter with him. He could not readily
understand it.

"The note must have been changed, Mr. Todhetley," said he.

"Changed in the post?"

"Changed somewhere."

"But who did it?"

"That's the question."

The Squire could not tear himself away. Once out of the bank he would be
nonplussed. He began casting a doubt on the Worcester post-office; the
clerk retorted that there was a post-office at our end, Timberdale: and
at that the Squire fired up. Each would have held out for the good faith
of his respective post-office to the death. It put Tod and me in mind
of the fable of the crows, each old mother saying that her own crow
was the whitest. After glaring at one another for a bit through their
spectacles, they shook hands and parted.

We arrived home to a late dinner at Crabb Cot, just as wise as we had
left it in the morning. The Squire had an awful cold, though he wouldn't
admit it. At nine o'clock he virtually gave in, went up to bed, and said
Molly was to make him a basin of hot gruel, and we might put a drop of
brandy in it.

The mode of conveying the letters from Worcester was this. The
Timberdale bag, made up at the Worcester office, was brought out at
night by the late train, and dropped at the Timberdale Station. The
postmaster of Timberdale would be at the station to receive it, and
carry it home.

His name was Rymer. A man of acknowledged respectability in the place,
and of good connections, the son of a clergyman. He had been brought up
for a surgeon, but somehow never had the chance to pass; and, years and
years ago, opened a chemist and druggist's shop at Timberdale. Then he
added other things: stationery, Christmas cards, valentines, boys'
marbles, purses, and such like, which his wife attended to. In time he
had the post-office. As to suspecting Rymer of doing anything wrong with
the note, it was not to be thought of. He had two children: a son, who
never seemed to do any good for himself, and if placed away from home
would return to it again: and a daughter, a nice little girl of sixteen,
who was as useful amidst the drugs and the post-office work as her
father.

Timberdale had two letter-carriers. One for the place itself, the other
for the country round. This last had a regular journey of it, for the
farm-houses were scattered. There had always been talk that our two
houses--the Squire's and old Coney's--ought not to be put in the
Timberdale district of delivery, and why it was originally done nobody
could make out; seeing that we were ever so far off Timberdale, and in
Crabb parish. But people did not bestir themselves to alter it, and so
the old custom went on. The country postman was Lee: a trustworthy old
soul with shaky legs.

The next morning, Cole the surgeon came in, vexed. The Squire ought not
to have got up at all the day before, he said, much less have gone to
Worcester; and where was the use of his prescribing remedies if they
were not attended to? Upon that, the Squire (after retorting that he
should do as he pleased in spite of Cole and his remedies, and speaking
in a sort of hoarse and foggy voice) told about posting the bank-note to
Mrs. Todhetley, and what had come of it.

"Well, it's a strange thing," said Cole, when he had turned the news
over in his mind. "What do _you_ think, Johnny?"

He would often say to me when talking of things and people, "What do
_you_ think?" He had a theory that I saw more clearly than others, just
as Duffham at Church Dykely had. I had nothing particular to think about
this: it seemed a hopeless mystery.

"Lee's sure," said Cole, speaking of the postman; "so is Rymer. It could
have been in no other hands on this side the journey."

"The Worcester people say it was not tampered with on their side."

"Have you questioned Rymer about it?"

"Not yet," croaked the Squire. "I meant to have gone to him to-day."

"Which you will not do!" cried Mr. Cole. "But now, look here: I wouldn't
tell people at first that the exchanged note was one of those stolen
ones, if I were you: not even Rymer. No one likes to be mixed up in
robberies. You'd put folks on their guard at once; and any chance word
of enlightenment, that might otherwise be dropped, would be kept in."

We did not quite take him. "_I_ would not," repeated Cole.

"But we must inquire about it," said Tod. "What's to be said of the
note?"

"Say that the bank-note you put in was changed _en route_ for another
one: that the numbers did not tally. That's all you need say at first."

Tod could not see any reason in the argument; but the Squire took up the
idea eagerly, and ordered Tod to do as was suggested. He was unable to
go to Timberdale himself, but was far too impatient to let it rest until
another day, and so Tod was to be his deputy.

With at least a hundred suggestions and injunctions from the Squire--who
only ceased when his voice disappeared completely--we set off, taking
the way of the Ravine. It was a fine spring day: the trees were coming
into leaf, the thorns and other bushes were budding: violets and
primroses nestled at their feet. I picked some early cowslips for a
ball for Lena, and some double white violets for Mrs. Todhetley.

Past Timberdale Court went we; past the church; past Jael Batty's and
the other straggling cottages, and came to the village street. It was
paved: and you can't say that of all villages.

Mr. Rymer was behind his counter: a thin, delicate-faced man, with a
rather sad expression and mild brown eyes. In spite of his poor clothes
and his white apron and the obscure shop he had served in for twenty
years, his face had "gentleman" plainly stamped on it: but he gave you
the idea of being too meek-spirited; as if in any struggle with the
world he could never take his own part.

The shop was a double shop, resembling Salmon's at South Crabb in shape
and arrangements. The drugs and chemicals were on the left-hand side as
you entered; the miscellaneous wares on the other. Horse and cattle
medicines were kept with the drugs: and other things too numerous to
mention, such as pearl barley, pickles, and fish-sauce. The girl,
Margaret Rymer, was serving a woman with a pennyworth of writing-paper
when we went in, and a postage-stamp. Tod asked for Mr. Rymer.

He came forward from the little parlour, at one end of which was the
desk where he did his postal work.

Upon Tod's saying that we wished to speak with him privately, he took
us into the parlour. As we sat down opposite to him, I could not help
thinking what a nice face he had. It was getting very careworn. A
stranger would have given him more than his forty-five years: though
the bright brown hair was abundant still. Tod told his story. The
chemist looked thoroughly surprised, but open and upright as the day.
I saw at once that no fault attached to him.

"A bank-note exchanged as it passed through the post!" he exclaimed.
"But, Mr. Joseph Todhetley, the thing appears impossible."

"It appears so," said Tod. "I was just as unwilling to believe it at
first: but facts are facts."

"I cannot see the motive," said Rymer. "Why should one bank-note be
taken out of a letter, if another were substituted?"

Tod looked at me. Wanting to say that the other was a stolen note, and
was no doubt put in to be got rid of. But the Squire had bound us down.

"Had the note been simply abstracted from the letter, we should be at no
loss to understand that a thief had helped himself to it; but a thief
would not put another note of the same value in its place," went on
Rymer.

"Well, the facts are as I tell you, Mr. Rymer," returned Tod, impatient
at being trammelled and having to tell so lame a tale. "One bank-note
was taken out of the letter and another put in its place. We want you to
help us unravel the mystery."

"I will help you to the utmost of my power," was Rymer's answer.
"But--are you sure you have told me the circumstances correctly?"

"Quite sure," answered Tod. "The thing was done between Worcester
post-office and our house. How it was done, and by whom, is the
question."

"You enclosed the note in the letter yourself at Worcester on Wednesday
afternoon, and put it into the post-office: when we delivered the letter
at Crabb Cot yesterday morning, you found the note inside had been taken
out and another put in? These are the circumstances?"

"Precisely so. Except that it was not I who enclosed the note and took
down its number, but Johnny Ludlow. The Worcester office disclaims
all knowledge of the matter, and so we are thrown on this side of the
journey. Did you go to the station yourself for the letter-bag, Rymer?"

"I did, sir. I brought it home and sorted the letters at that desk,
ready for the two men to take out in the morning. I used to sort all the
letters in the morning, London and others: but lately I've done what we
call the local bags--which come in before bed-time--at night. It saves
time in the morning."

"Do you recollect noticing the letter for Crabb Cot?"

"I think I noticed it. Yes, I feel sure I did. You see, there's often
something or other for you, so that it's not remarkable. But I am sure I
did notice the letter."

"No one could have got to it in the night?"

"What--here?" exclaimed Rymer, opening his eyes in surprise that such a
question should be put. "No, certainly not. The letter-bags are locked
up in this desk, and I keep the key about me."

"And you gave them as usual to Lee in the morning?"

Mr. Rymer knitted his patient brow the least in the world, as if he
thought that Tod's pursuing these questions reflected some suspicion on
himself. He answered very meekly--going over the whole from the first.

"When I brought the Worcester bag in on Wednesday night, I was at home
alone: my wife and daughter happened to be spending the evening with
some friends, and the servant had asked leave to go out. I sorted the
letters, and locked them up as usual in one of the deep drawers of the
desk. I never unlocked it again until the last thing in the morning,
when the other letters that had come in were ready to go out, and the
two men were waiting for them. The letter would be in Lee's packet, of
course--which I delivered to him. But Lee is to be depended on: he would
not tamper with it. That is the whole history so far as I am connected
with it, Mr. Joseph Todhetley. I could not tell you more if I talked
till mid-day."

"What's that, Thomas? Anything amiss with the letters?" called out a
voice at this juncture, as the inner door opened, that shut out the
kitchen.

I knew it. Knew it for Mrs. Rymer's. I didn't like her a bit: and how a
refined man like Rymer (and he was so in all respects) could have made
her his wife seemed to me to be a seven days' wonder. She had a nose as
long as from Timberdale to Crabb Ravine; and her hair and face were red,
and her flounces gaudy. As common a woman as you'd see in a summer's
day, with a broad Brummagem accent. But she was very capable, and not
unkindly natured. The worst Timberdale said of her was, that she had
done her best to spoil that ugly son of hers.

Putting her head, ornamented with yellow curl-papers, round the
door-post, she saw us seated there, and drew it away again. Her sleeves
were rolled up, and she had on a coarse apron; altogether was not
dressed for company. Letting the door stand ajar, she asked again if
anything was amiss, and went on with her work at the same time: which
sounded like chopping suet. Mr. Rymer replied in a curt word or two,
as if he felt annoyed she should interfere. She would not be put off:
strong-minded women never are: and he had to give her the explanation.
A five-pound bank-note had been mysteriously lost out of a letter
addressed to Mrs. Todhetley. The chopping stopped.

"Stolen out of it?"

"Well--yes; it may be said so."

"But why do you call it mysterious?"

Mr. Rymer said why. That the bank-note had not, in one sense, been
stolen; since another of the same value had been substituted for it.

Chop, chop, chop: Mrs. Rymer had begun again vigorously.

"I'd like to know who's to make top or tail of such a story as that,"
she called out presently. "_Has_ anything been lost, or not?"

"Yes, I tell you, Susannah: a five-pound note."

Forgetting her curl-papers and the apron, Mrs. Rymer came boldly inside
the room, chopping-knife in hand, and requested further enlightenment.
We told her between us: she stood with her back against the door-post
while she listened.

"When do you say this took place, young gents?"

"On Wednesday night, or Thursday morning. When the letter reached us at
breakfast-time, the job was done."

She said no more then, but went back and chopped faster than ever. Tod
and I had got up to go when she came in again.

"The odd part about it is their putting in a note for the same value,"
cried she. "I never heard of such a thing as that. Why not spend the
other note, and make no bother over it?"

"You would be quite justified in doing so under the circumstances, Mr.
Todhetley," said the quieter husband.

"But we can't," returned Tod, hotly--and all but said more than he was
to say.

"Why not?" asked she.

"Because it's not ours; there, Mrs. Rymer."

"Well, I know what I'd say--if the chance was given me," returned she,
resenting Tod's manner. "That the note found in the letter was the one
put into it at Worcester. Changed in the post! It does not stand to
reason."

"But, my dear----" her husband was beginning.

"Now, Thomas Rymer, that's what I _think_: and so would you, if you had
a grain of sense beyond a gander's. And now good-morning, young gents:
my pudding won't get done for dinner at this rate."

Mr. Rymer came with us through the shop to the door. I shook hands with
him: and Tod's nose went up in the air. But I think it lies in what you
see a man is, by mind and nature, whether he is your equal, and you feel
proud to think he is so--not in the fact of his wearing an apron. There
are some lords in the land I wouldn't half care to shake hands with as
I would with Thomas Rymer.

"I hope you will pardon me for reverting to my first opinion, Mr.
Todhetley," he said, turning to Tod--"but indeed I think there must be
some mistake. Mrs. Rymer may be right--that the note found in the letter
was the one put into it."

Tod flung away. The facts he had obstinately refused to believe at
first, he had so fully adopted now, that any other opinion offended him.
He was in a passion when I caught him up.

"To think that the pater should have sent us there like two fools,
Johnny! Closing our mouths so that we could not speak the truth."

"Rymer only three parts believes it. His wife not at all."

"His wife be sugared! It's nothing to her. And all through the
suggestion of that precious calf, Cole. Johnny, I think I shall act on
my own judgment, and go back and tell Rymer the note was a stolen one."

"The pater told us not to."

"Stuff! Circumstances alter cases. He would have told it himself before
he had been with Rymer two minutes. The man's hands are partly tied, you
see; knowing only half the tale."

"Well, _I_ won't tell him."

"Nobody asked you. Here goes. And the Squire will say I've done right."

Rymer was standing at his door still. The shop was empty, and there were
no ears near. Tod lowered his voice, though.

"The truth is, Mr. Rymer, that the note, substituted in the letter for
ours, was one of those two lost by the butcher at Tewkesbury. I conclude
you heard of the robbery."

"One of those two!" exclaimed Rymer.

"Yes: Salmon at South Crabb recognized it yesterday when we were asking
him to give change for it."

"But why not have told me this at once, Mr. Joseph?"

"Because the Squire and Cole, laying their wise heads together this
morning, thought it might be better not to let that get abroad: it would
put people on their guard, they said. You see now where the motive lay
for exchanging the notes."

"Of course I do," said Mr. Rymer in his quiet way. "But it is very
unaccountable. I cannot imagine where the treason lies."

"Not on this side, seemingly," remarked Tod: "The letter appears to have
passed through no one's hands but Lee's: and he is safe."

"Safe and sure. It must have been accomplished at Worcester. Or--in the
railway train," he slowly added. "I have heard of such things."

"You had better keep counsel at present as to the stolen note, Mr.
Rymer."

"I will until you give me leave to speak. All I can do to assist in the
discovery is heartily at Squire Todhetley's service. I'd transport these
rogues, for my part."

We carried our report home--that the thing had not been, and could not
have been, effected on the Timberdale side, unless old Lee was to be
suspected: which was out of the question.

                 *       *       *       *       *

Time went on, and it grew into more of a mystery than ever. Not as to
the fact itself or the stolen note, for all that was soon known high and
low. The Worcester office exonerated itself from suspicion, as did the
railway letter-van. The van let off its resentment in a little private
sneering: but the office waxed hot, and declared the fraud must lie at
the door of Timberdale. And so the matter was given up for a bad job,
the Squire submitting to the loss of his note.

But a curious circumstance occurred, connected with Thomas Rymer. And,
to me, his behaviour had seemed almost curious throughout. Not at that
first interview--as I said, he was open, and, so to say, indifferent
then; but soon afterwards his manner changed.

On the day following that interview, the Squire, who was very restless
over it, wanting the thing to come to light in no time, sent me again to
Rymer's, to know if he had learned any news. Rymer said he had not; and
his manner was just what it had been the past day. I could have staked
my life, if necessary, that the man _believed_ what he said--that news
must be looked for elsewhere, not at Timberdale. I am sure that he
thought it impossible that the theft could have been effected after the
letters came into his hands. But some days later on, when the whole
matter had been disclosed, and the public knew as much about it as we
did, the Squire, well of his cold, thought he would have a talk with
Rymer himself, went over, and took me with him.

I shall not forget it. In Rymer's window, the chemical side, there was
a picture of a bullock eating up some newly-invented cattle-food and
growing fat upon it. It caught the Squire's eye. Whilst he stopped to
read the advertisement, I went in. The moment Rymer saw me--his daughter
called to him to come out of the parlour where he was at dinner--his
face turned first red, and then as pale as death.

"Mr. Todhetley thought he would like to come and see you, Mr. Rymer."

"Yes, yes," he said, in an agitated sort of tone, and then he stooped
to put some jars closer together under the counter; but I thought he
knew how white he was, and wanted to hide it.

When the Squire came in, asking first of all about the new cattle-food,
he noticed nothing. Rymer was very nearly himself then, and said he had
taken the agency, and old Massock had ordered some of it.

Then they talked about the note. Rymer's tone was quite different from
what it had been before; though whether I should have noticed it but
for his white face I can hardly tell. That had made me notice _him_.
He spoke in a low, timid voice, saying no more than he was obliged to
say, as if the subject frightened him. One thing I saw--that his hands
trembled. Some camomile blows lay on a white paper on the counter, and
he began doing them up with shaky fingers.

Was his wife given to eavesdropping? I should have thought not--she was
too independent for it. But there she was, standing just within the
little parlour, and certainly listening. The Squire caught sight of her
gown, and called out, "How d'ye do, Mrs. Rymer?" upon which she came
forward. There was a scared look on her face also, as if its impudence
had shrunk out of it. She did not stay an instant--just answered the
Squire, and went away again.

"We must come to the bottom of the business somehow, you know, Rymer,"
concluded the Squire, as he was leaving. "It would never do to let the
thief get off. What I should think is, that it must be the same fellow
who robbed the butcher----"

"No, no," hastily interrupted Rymer.

"_No!_ One of the gang, then. Any way, you'll help us all you can. I
should like to bring the lot to trial. If you get to learn anything,
send me word at once."

Rymer answered "Yes," and attended us to the door. Then the Squire went
back to the cattle-food; but we got away at last.

"Thomas Rymer breaks, Johnny, I think. He doesn't seem in spirits
somehow. It's hard for a man to be in a shop all day long, from year's
end to year's end, and never have an hour's holiday."

Ever after this, when the affair was spoken of with Rymer, he showed
more or less the same sort of shrinking--as if the subject gave him some
terrible pain. Nobody but myself noticed it; and I only because I looked
out for it. I believe he saw I thought something; for when he caught my
eye, as he did more than once, his own fell.

But some curious circumstances connected with him have to be told yet.
One summer evening, when it was getting towards dusk, he came over to
Crabb Cot to see the Squire. Very much to the pater's surprise, Rymer
put a five-pound note into his hand.

"Is the money found?" cried he, eagerly.

"No, sir, it is not found," said Rymer, in a subdued tone. "It seems
likely to remain a mystery to the last. But I wish to restore it myself.
It lies upon my conscience--being postmaster here--that such a loss
should have taken place. With three parts of the public, and more, it is
the Timberdale side that gets the credit of being to blame. And so--it
weighs heavily upon me. Though I don't see how I could have prevented
it: and I lie awake night after night, thinking it over."

The Squire stared for awhile, and then pushed back the note.

"Why, goodness, man!" cried he, when his amazement let him speak, "you
don't suppose I'd take the money from you! What in the world!--what
right have you to bear the loss? You must be dreaming."

"I should feel better satisfied," said poor Rymer, in his subdued voice
of pain. "Better satisfied."

"And how do you think _I_ should feel?" stamped the Squire, nearly
flinging the note into the fire. "Here, put it up; put it up. Why, my
good fellow, don't, for mercy's sake, let this bother take your senses
away. It's no more your fault that the letter was rifled than it was
mine. Well, this is a start--your coming to say this."

They went on, battling it out. Rymer praying him to take the note as if
he'd pray his life away; the Squire accusing the other of having gone
clean mad, to think of such a thing. I happened to go into the room in
the middle of it, but they had not leisure to look at me. It ended in
Rymer's taking back the note: it could not have ended in any other
manner: the Squire vowing, if he did not, that he should go before the
magistrates for lunacy.

"Get the port wine, Johnny."

Rymer declined to take any: his head was not accustomed to wine, he
said. The Squire poured out a bumper and made him drink it: telling him
he believed it was something of the kind his head wanted, or it would
never have got such a wild notion into it as the errand he had come upon
that evening.

A few minutes after Rymer had left, I heard the Squire shouting to me,
and went back to the room. He had in his hand a little thin note-case of
green leather, something like two leaves folded together.

"Rymer must have dropped this, Johnny, in putting it into his pocket.
The note is in it. You had better run after him."

I took it, and went out. But which way had Rymer gone? I could see far
along the solitary road, and it was light enough yet, but no one was in
view, so I guessed he was taking the short-cut through the Ravine,
braving the ghost, and I went across the field and ran down the zigzag
path. Wasn't it gloomy there!

Well, it was a surprise! Thinking himself alone, he had sat down on
the stump of a tree, and was sobbing with all his might: sobs that had
prevented his hearing me. There was no time for me to draw back, or for
him to hide his trouble. I could only hold out the green case and make
the best of it.

"I am afraid you are in some great trouble, Mr. Rymer?"

He got up and was quiet at once. "The best of us have trouble at times,
Master Johnny."

"What can I do for you?"

"Nothing. Nothing. Except forget that you have seen me giving way. It
was very foolish of me: but there are moments when--when one loses
self-control."

Either through his awkwardness or mine, the leaves of the case opened,
and the bank-note fluttered out. I picked it up and gave it to him. Our
eyes met in the gloom.

"I think you know," he whispered.

"I think I suspect. Don't be afraid: no one else does: and I'll never
drop a hint to mortal man."

Putting my hand into his that he might feel its clasp, he took it as it
was meant, and wrung it in answer. Had we been of the same age, I could
have felt henceforth like his brother.

"It will be my death-blow," he whispered. "Heaven knows I was not
prepared for it. I was unsuspicious as a child."

He went his way with his grief and his load of care, and I went mine, my
heart aching for him. I am older now than I was then: and I have learnt
to think that God sends these dreadful troubles to try us, that we may
fly from them to Him. Why else _should_ they come?

And I dare say you have guessed how it was. The time came when it was
all disclosed; so I don't break faith in telling it. That ill-doing son
of Rymer's had been the thief. He was staying at home at the time with
one of the notes stolen from Tewkesbury in his possession: some of his
bad companions had promised him a bonus if he could succeed in passing
it. It was his mother who surreptitiously got the keys of the desk for
him, that he might open it in the night: he made the excuse to her
that there was a letter in the Worcester bag for himself under a false
direction, which he must secure, unsuspected. To do Madam Rymer justice,
she thought no worse: and it was she who in her fright, when the
commotion arose about the Tewkesbury note, confessed to her husband that
she had let Ben have the keys that night. There could be no doubt in
either of their minds after that. The son, too, had decamped. It was
to look for our letter he had wanted the keys. For he knew it might
be coming, with the note in it: he was on the platform at Timberdale
railway-station in the morning--I saw him standing there--and must have
heard what Mrs. Todhetley said. And that was the whole of the mystery.

But I would have given the money from my own pocket twice over, to have
prevented it happening, for Thomas Rymer's sake.



II.

A LIFE OF TROUBLE.


Mrs. Todhetley says that you may sometimes read a person's fate in their
eyes. I don't know whether it's true. She holds to it that when the eyes
have a sad, mournful expression naturally, their owner is sure to have a
life of sorrow. Of course such instances may be found: and Thomas
Rymer's was one of them.

You can look back and read what was said of him: "A thin, delicate-faced
man, with a rather sad expression and mild brown eyes." The sad
expression was _in_ the eyes: that was certain: thoughtful, dreamy, and
would have been painfully sad but for its sweetness. But it is not given
to every one to discern this inward sadness in the look of another.

It was of no avail to say that Thomas Rymer had brought trouble upon
himself, and marred his own fortune. His father was a curate in
Warwickshire, poor in pence, rich in children. Thomas was apprenticed
to a doctor in Birmingham, who was also a chemist and druggist. Tom
had to serve in the shop, take out teeth, make up the physic, and go
round with his master to fevers and rheumatisms. Whilst he was doing
this, the curate died: and thenceforth Thomas would have to make his
own way in the world, with not a soul to counsel him.

Of course he might have made it. But Fate, or Folly, was against him.
Some would have called it fate, Mrs. Todhetley for one; others might
have said it was folly.

Next door to the doctor's was a respectable pork and sausage shop,
carried on by a widow, one Mrs. Bates. Rymer took to going in there
of an evening when he had the time, and sitting in the parlour behind
with Mrs. Bates and her two daughters. Failing money for theatres and
concerts, knowing no friends to drop in to, young fellows drift anywhere
for relaxation when work is done. Mrs. Bates, a good old motherly soul,
as fat as her best pig, bade him run in whenever he felt inclined. Rymer
liked her for her hearty kindness, and liked uncommonly the dish of hot
sausages, or chops, that would come on the table for supper. The worst
was, he grew to like something else--and that was Miss Susannah.

If it's true that people are attracted by their contrasts, there might
have been some excuse for Rymer. He was quiet and sensitive, with a
refined mind and person, and retiring manners. Susannah Bates was free,
loud, good-humoured, and vulgar. Some people, it was said, called her
handsome then; but, judging by what she was later, we thought it must
have been a very broad style of beauty. The Miss Bateses were intended
by their mother to be useful; but they preferred being stylish. They
played "Buy a broom" and other fashionable tunes on the piano, spent
time over their abundant hair, wore silks for best, carried a fan to
chapel on Sundays, and could not be persuaded to serve in the shop on
the busiest day. Good Mrs. Bates managed the shop herself with the help
of her foreman: a steady young man, whose lodgings were up a court hard
by.

Well, Tom Rymer, the poor clergyman's son, grew to be as intimate there
as if it were his home, and he and Susannah struck up a friendship that
continued all the years he was at the next door. Just before he was out
of his time, Mrs. Bates died.

The young foreman somehow contrived to secure the business for himself,
and married the elder Miss Bates off-hand. There ensued some frightful
squabbling between the sisters. The portion of money said to be due to
Miss Susannah was handed over to her with a request that she should find
herself another home. Rymer came of age just then, and the first thing
he did was to give her a home himself by making her his wife.

There was the blight. His prospects were over from that day. The little
money she had was soon spent: he must provide a living how he could.
Instead of qualifying himself for a surgeon, he took a situation as a
chemist and druggist's assistant: and, later, set up for himself in the
shop at Timberdale. For the first ten years of his married life, he was
always intending to pass the necessary examinations: each year saying it
should be done the next. But expenses came on thick and fast; and that
great need with every one, present wants, had to be supplied first. He
gave up the hope then: went on in the old jog-trot line, and subsided
into an obscure rural chemist and druggist.

The son, Benjamin, was intended for a surgeon. As a preliminary, he was
bound apprentice to his father in order to learn the mysteries of drugs
and chemicals. When out of his time, he was transferred to a chemist and
druggist's at Tewkesbury, who was also in practice as a medical man.
There, Mr. Benjamin fell in with bad companions; a lapse that, in course
of time, resulted in his coming home, changing the note in our letter
for the stolen one, and then decamping from Timberdale. What with the
blow the discovery itself was to Rymer, and what with the concealing of
the weighty secret--for he had to conceal it: he could not go and inform
against his own son--it pretty nearly did for him. Rymer tried to make
reparation in one sense of the word--by the bringing of that five-pound
bank-note to the Squire. For which the Squire, ignorant of the truth,
thought him a downright lunatic.

For some months, after that evening, Thomas Rymer was to be seen in
his shop as usual, growing to look more and more like a ghost. Which
Darbyshire, the Timberdale doctor, said was owing to liver, and
physicked him well.

But the physic did not answer. Of all obstinate livers, as Darbyshire
said, Rymer's was about the worst he had ever had to do with. Some days
he could not go into the shop at all, and Margaret, his daughter, had to
serve the customers. She could make up prescriptions just as well as he,
and people grew to trust her. They had a good business. It was known
that Rymer's drugs were genuine; had direct from the fountain-head. He
had given up the post-office, and the grocer opposite had taken to
it--Salmon, who was brother to Salmon of South Crabb. In this uncertain
way, a week ill, and a week tolerably well, Rymer continued to go on for
about two years.

                 *       *       *       *       *

Margaret Rymer stood behind the counter: a neat little girl in grey
merino. Her face was just like her father's; the same delicate features,
the sweet brown eyes, and the look of innate refinement. Margaret
belonged to his side of the house; there was not an atom of the
Brummagem Bateses in her. The Squire, who remembered her grandfather
the clergyman, said Margaret took after him. She was in her nineteenth
year now, and for steadiness you might have trusted her alone right
across the world and back again.

She stood behind the counter, making up some medicine. A woman in a
coarse brown cloak with a showy cotton handkerchief tied on her head was
waiting for it. It had been a dull autumn day: evening was coming on,
and the air felt chilly.

"How much be it, please, miss?" asked the woman, as Margaret handed her
the bottle of mixture, done up in white paper.

"Eighteenpence. Thank you."

"Be the master better?" the woman turned round from the door to inquire,
as if the state of Mr. Rymer's health had been an afterthought.

"I think he is a little. He has a very bad cold, and is lying in bed
to-day. Thank you for asking. Good-night."

When dusk came on, Margaret shut the street-door and went into the
parlour. Mrs. Rymer sat there writing a letter. Margaret just glanced
in.

"Mother, can you listen to the shop, please?"

"I can if I choose--what should hinder me?" responded Mrs. Rymer. "Where
are you off to, Margaret?"

"To sit with my father for a few minutes."

"You needn't bother to leave the shop for that. I dare say he's asleep."

"I won't stay long," said Margaret. "Call me, please, if any one comes
in."

She escaped up the staircase, which stood in the nook between the shop
and the parlour. Thomas Rymer lay back in the easy-chair by his bit of
bedroom fire. He looked as ill as a man could look, his face thin and
sallow, the fine nose pinched, the mild brown eyes mournful.

"Papa, I did not know you were getting up," said Margaret, in a soft low
tone.

"Didn't you hear me, child?" was his reply, for the room was over the
shop. "I have been long enough about it."

"I thought it was my mother moving about."

"She has not been here all the afternoon. What is she doing?"

"I think she is writing a letter."

Mr. Rymer groaned--which might have been caused by the pain that he
was always feeling. Mrs. Rymer's letters were few and far between, and
written to one correspondent only--her son Benjamin. That Benjamin was
random and must be getting a living in any chance way, or not getting
one at all, and that he had never been at home for between two and
three years, Margaret knew quite well. But she knew no worse. The
secret hidden between Mr. and Mrs. Rymer, that they never spoke of to
each other, had been kept from her.

"I wish you had not got up," said Margaret. "You are not well enough to
come down to-night."

He looked at her, rather quickly; and spoke after a pause.

"If I don't make an effort--as Darbyshire tells me--it may end in my
becoming a confirmed invalid, child. I must get down while I can."

"You will get better soon, papa; Mr. Darbyshire says so," she answered,
quietly swallowing down a sigh.

"Ay, I know he does. I hope it will be so, please God. My life has been
only a trouble throughout, Margaret; but I should like to struggle with
it yet for all your sakes."

Looking at him as he sat there, the firelight playing upon his worn face
with its subdued spirit, you might have seen it was true--that his life
had been a continuous trouble. Was he born to it? or did it only come
upon him through marrying Susannah Bates? On the surface of things, lots
seemed very unequally dealt out in this world. What had been the lot of
Thomas Rymer? The poor son of a poor curate, he had known little but
privation in his earlier years; then came the long drudgery of his
apprenticeship, then his marriage, and the longer drudgery of his
after-life. An uncongenial and unsuitable marriage--and he had felt it
to the backbone. From twenty to thirty years had Rymer toiled in a shop
late and early; never taking a day's rest or a day's holiday, for some
one must always be on duty, and he had no help or substitute. Even on
Sundays he must be at hand, lest his neighbours should be taken ill
and want drugs. If he went to church, there was no certainty that his
servant-maid--generally a stout young woman in her teens, with a black
face and rough hair--would not astonish the congregation by flying up
to his pew-door to call him out. Indeed the vision was not so very
uncommon. Where, then, could have been Rymer's pleasure in life? He
had none; it was all work. And upon the work came the trouble.

Just as the daughter, Margaret, was like her father, so the son,
Benjamin, resembled his mother. But for the difference of years, and
that his red hair was short and hers long, he might have put on a lace
cap, and sat for her portrait. He was the eldest of the children;
Margaret the youngest, those between had died. Seven years between
children makes a difference, and Margaret with her gentleness had always
been afraid of rough Benjamin.

But whether a child is ugly or handsome, it's all the same to the
parents, and for some years the only white spot in Thomas Rymer's life
had been the love of his little Benjamin. For the matter of that, as a
child, Ben was rather pretty. He grew up and turned out wild; and it
was just as great a blow as could have fallen upon Rymer. But when that
horrible thing was brought home to him--taking the bank-note out of the
letter, and substituting the stolen one for it--then Rymer's heart gave
in. Ever since that time it had been as good as breaking.

Well, that was Thomas Rymer's lot in life. Some people seem, on the
contrary, to have nothing but sunshine. Do you know what Mrs. Todhetley
says?--that the greater the cloud here, the brighter will be the
recompense hereafter. Looking at Thomas Rymer's face as the fire played
on it--its goodness of expression, almost that of a martyr; remembering
his prolonged battle with the world's cares, and his aching heart;
knowing how inoffensive he had been towards his fellow-creatures, ever
doing them a good turn when it lay in his power, and never an ill
one--one could only hope that his recompense would be of the largest.

"Had many people in this afternoon, Margaret?"

"Pretty well, papa."

Mr. Rymer sighed. "When I get stronger----"

"Margaret! Shop."

The loud coarse summons was Mrs. Rymer's. Margaret's spirit recoiled
from it the least in the world. In spite of her having been brought up
to the "shop," there had always been something in her innate refinement
that rebelled against it and against having to serve in it.

"A haperth o' liquorish" was the extensive order from a small child,
whose head did not come much above the counter. Margaret served it
at once: the liquorice, being often in demand, was kept done up in
readiness. The child laid down the halfpenny and went out with a bang.

"I may as well run over with the letter," thought Margaret--alluding to
an order she had written to London for some drug they were out of. "And
there's my mother's. Mother," she added, going to the parlour-door, "do
you want your letter posted?"

"I'll post it myself when I do," replied Mrs. Rymer. "Ain't it almost
time you had the gas lighted? That shop must be in darkness."

It was so, nearly. But the gas was never lighted until really needed, in
the interests of economy. Margaret ran across the road, put her letter
into the post in Salmon's window, and ran back again. She stood for
a moment at the door, looking at a huge lumbering caravan that was
passing--a ménage on wheels, as seen by the light within its small
windows. "It must be on its way to Worcester fair," she thought.

"Is it you, Margaret? How d'ye do?"

Some great rough man had come up, and was attempting to kiss her.
Margaret started back with a cry. She would have closed the door against
him; but he was the stronger and got in.

"Why, what possesses the child! Don't you know me?"

Every pulse in Margaret Rymer's body tingled to pain as she recognized
him. It was her brother Benjamin. Better, than this, that it had been
what she fancied--some rude stranger, who in another moment would have
passed on and been gone for ever. Benjamin's coming was always the
signal for discomfort at home, and Margaret felt half-paralyzed with
dismay.

"How are the old folk, Maggie?"

"Papa is very ill," she answered, her voice slightly trembling. "My
mother is well as usual. I think she was writing to you this afternoon."

"Governor ill! So I've heard. Upstairs a good deal, is he not?"

"Quite half his time, I think."

"Who attends here?"

"I do."

"You!--you little mite! Brought your knowledge of rhubarb to good use,
eh? What's the matter with papa?"

"He has not been well for a long while. I don't know what it is. Mr.
Darbyshire says"--she dropped her voice a little--"that he is sure
there's something on his mind."

"Poor old dad!--just like him! If a woman came in with a broken arm,
he'd take it to heart."

"Benjamin, I think it is _you_ that he has most at heart," the girl took
courage to say.

Mr. Benjamin laughed. "Me! He needn't trouble about me. I am as steady
as old Time, Maggie. I've come home to stay; and I'll prove to him that
I am."

"Come home to stay!" faltered Margaret.

"I can take care of things here. I am better able to do it than you."

"My father will not put me out of my place here," said Margaret,
steadily. "He has confidence in me; he knows I do things just as he
does."

"And for that reason he makes you his substitute! Don't assume, Miss
Maggie; you'd be more in your place stitching wristbands in the parlour
than as the presiding genius in a drug-shop. How d'ye do, mother?"

The sound of his voice had reached Mrs. Rymer. She did not believe her
own ears, and came stealing forth to look, afraid of what she might see.
To give Madam Rymer her due, she was quite as honest-natured as her
husband; and the matter of the bank-note, the wrong use made of the keys
she was foolish enough to lend surreptitiously to Mr. Benjamin, had
brought her no light shock at the time. Ill-conduct in the shape of
billiards, and beer, and idleness, she had found plenty of excuse for in
her son; but when it came to felony, it was another thing altogether.

"It _is_ him!" she muttered, as he saw her, and turned. "Where on earth
have you sprung from?" demanded Mrs. Rymer.

"Not from the skies, mother. Hearing the governor was on the sick list,
I thought I ought to come over and see him."

"None of your lies, Ben," said Mrs. Rymer. "_That_ has not brought you
here. You are in some disgraceful mess again."

"It _has_ brought me here--and nothing else," said Ben: and he spoke
truth. "Ashton of Timberdale----"

A faint groan--a crash as of breaking glass. When they turned to look,
there was Rymer, fallen against the counter in his shock of surprise and
weakness. His arm had thrown down an empty syrup-bottle.

And that's how Benjamin Rymer came home. His father and mother had never
seen him since before the discovery of the trouble; for as soon as he
had changed the bank-note in the letter, he was off. The affair had
frightened him a little--that is, the stir made over it, of which he
had contrived to get notice; since then he had been passably steady,
making a living for himself in Birmingham as assistant to a surgeon
and druggist. He had met Robert Ashton a short time ago (this was the
account he now gave), heard from that gentleman rather a bad account
of his father, and so thought it his duty to give up what he was
about, and come home. His duty! Ben Rymer's duty!!

Ben was a tall, bony fellow, with a passably liberal education. He
might not have been unsteady but for bad companions. Ben did not aid in
robbing the butcher's till--he had not quite come to that--neither was
he privy to it; but he did get persuaded into trying to dispose of one
of the stolen notes. It had been the one desperate act of his life, and
it had sobered him. Time, however, effaces impressions; from two to
three years had gone on since then; nothing had transpired, never so
much as a suspicion had fallen on Mr. Benjamin, and he grew bold and
came home.

Timberdale rubbed its eyes with astonishment that next autumn day, when
it woke up to see Benjamin Rymer in his father's shop, a white apron on,
and serving the customers who went in, as naturally as though he had
never left it. Where had he been all that while? they asked. Improving
himself in his profession, coolly avowed Ben with unruffled face.

And so the one chance--rest of mind--for the father's return to health
and life, went out. The prolonged time, passing without discovery,
giving a greater chance day by day that it might never happen, could but
have a beneficial effect on Mr. Rymer. But when Ben made his appearance,
put his head, so to say, into the very stronghold of danger, all his
sickness and his fear came back again.

Ben did not know why his father kept so poorly and looked so ill. Never
a word, in his sensitiveness, had Mr. Rymer spoken to his son of that
past night's work. Ben might suspect, but he did not know. Mr. Rymer
would come down when he was not fit to do so, and take up his place in
the shop on a stool. Ben made fun of it: in sport more than ill-feeling:
telling the customers to look at the old ghost there. Ben made himself
perfectly at home; would sometimes hold a levée in the shop if his
father was out of it, when he and his friends, young men of Timberdale,
would talk and laugh the roof off.

People talk of the troubles of the world, and say their name is legion:
poverty, sickness, disappointment, disgrace, debt, difficulty; but there
is no trouble the human heart can know like that brought by rebellious
children. To old Rymer, with his capacity for taking things to heart, it
had been as a long crucifixion. And yet--the instinctive love of a
parent cannot die out: recollect David's grief for wicked Absalom:
"Would God I had died for thee, O Absalom, my son, my son!"

Still, compared with what he used to be, Ben Rymer was steady. As the
winter approached, there set in another phase of the reformation; for he
pulled up even from the talking and laughing, and became as good as
gold. You might have thought he had taken his dead grandfather, the
clergyman, for a model, and was striving to walk in his steps. He went
to church, read his medical works, was pleasant at home, gentle with
Margaret, and altogether the best son in the world.

"Will it last, Benjamin?" his father asked him sorrowfully.

"It shall last, father; I promise it," was the earnestly-spoken answer.
"Forget the past, and I will never, I hope, try you again."

Ben kept his promise throughout the winter, and seemed likely to keep
it always. Mr. Rymer grew stronger, and was in business regularly, which
gave Ben more leisure for his books. It was thought that a good time had
set in for the Rymers; but, as Mrs. Todhetley says, you cannot control
Fate.

                 *       *       *       *       *

One day, when we were again staying at Crabb Cot, I had to call at the
shop for a box of "Household Pills," Rymer's own making. When any one
was ailing at home, Mrs. Todhetley would administer a dose of these
pills. But that Rymer was so conscientious a man, I should have thought
they were composed of bread and pepper. Mrs. Todhetley pinned her faith
to them, and said they did wonders.

Well, I had to go to Timberdale on other matters, and was told to call,
when there, for a box of these delectable Household Pills. Mr. Rymer and
his son stood behind the counter, the one making up his books, Ben
pounding something in a mortar. Winter was just on the turn, and the
trees and hedges were beginning to shoot into bud. Ben left his pounding
to get the pills.

"Is this Mr. Rymer's? Halloa, Ben! All right. How goes it, old boy?"

The door had been opened with a burst, and the above words met our
ears, in a tone not over-steady. They came from a man who wore sporting
clothes, and his hat very much on one side. Ben Rymer stared in
surprise; his mouth dropped.

But that it was early in the day, and one does not like to libel people,
it might have been thought the gentleman had taken a little too much of
something strong. He swaggered up to the counter, and held out his hand
to Ben. Ben, just then wrapping up the box of pills, did not appear to
see it.

"Had a hunt after you, old fellow," said the loud-voiced stranger. "Been
to Birmingham and all kinds of places. Couldn't think where you'd hid
yourself."

"You are back pretty soon," growled Ben, who certainly did not seem to
relish the visit.

"Been back a month. Couldn't get on in the New World; its folks are
too down for me. I say, I want a word with you. Can't say it here, I
suppose?"

"No," returned Ben, rather savagely.

"Just come out a bit, Ben," resumed the stranger, after a short pause.

"I can't," replied Ben--and his tone sounded more like I won't. "I have
my business to attend to."

"Bother business! Here goes, then: it's your fault if you make me
speak before people. Gibbs has come out of hiding, and is getting
troublesome----"

"If you will go outside and wait, I'll come to you," interrupted Ben at
this, very quickly.

The man turned and swaggered out. Ben gave me the pills with one hand,
and took off his apron with the other. Getting his hat, he was hastening
out, when Mr. Rymer touched his arm.

"Who is that man, Benjamin?"

"A fellow I used to know in Tewkesbury, father."

"What's his name?"

"Cotton. I'll soon despatch him and be back again," concluded Ben, as he
disappeared.

I put down half-a-crown for the pills, and Mr. Rymer left his place to
give me the change. There had been a sort of consciousness between us,
understood though not expressed, since the night when I had seen him
giving way to his emotion in Crabb Ravine. This man's visit brought the
scene back again. Rymer's eyes looked into mine, and then fell.

"Ben is all right now, Mr. Rymer."

"I could not wish him better than he is. It's just as though he were
striving to atone for the past. I thought it would have killed me at the
time."

"I should forget it."

"Forget it I never can. You don't know what it was, Mr. Johnny," he
continued in a sort of frightened tone, a red spot coming into his pale
thin cheeks, "and I trust you never will know. I never went to bed
at night but to lie listening for a summons at my door--the officers
searching for my son, or to tell me he was taken. I never rose in the
morning but my spirit fainted within me, as to what news the day might
bring forth."

Mr. Benjamin and his friend were pacing side by side in the middle
of the street when I went out, probably to be out of the reach of
eavesdroppers. They did not look best pleased with each other; seemed
to be talking sharply.

"I tell you I can't and I won't," Ben was saying, as I passed them in
crossing over. "What do you come after me for? When a fellow wants to
be on the square, you won't let him. As to Gibbs----"

The voices died out of hearing. I went home with the pills, and thought
no more about the matter.

Spring weather is changeable, as we English know only too well. In less
than a week, a storm of sleet and snow was drifting down. In the midst
of it, who should present himself at Crabb Cot at midday but Lee, the
letter-carrier. His shaky old legs seemed hardly able to bear him up
against the storm, as he came into the garden. I opened the door,
wondering what he wanted.

"Please can I see the Squire in private, sir?" asked Lee, who was
looking half angry, half rueful. Lee had never been in boisterous
spirits since the affair of the bank-note took place. Like a great many
more people, he grew fanciful with years, and could not be convinced
but that the suspicion in regard to it lay on _him_.

"Come in out of the storm, Lee. What's up?"

"Please, Mr. Ludlow, sir, let me get to see the Squire," was all his
answer.

The Squire was in his little room, hunting for a mislaid letter in the
piece of furniture he called his bureau. As I shut old Lee in, I heard
him, Lee, begin to say something about the bank-note and Benjamin Rymer.
An instinct of the truth flashed over me--as sure as fate something
connecting Ben with it had come out. In I shot again, to make one at
the conference. The Squire was looking too surprised to notice me.

"It was Mr. Rymer's son who took out the good note and put in the bad
one?" he exclaimed. "Take care what you say, Lee."

Lee stood near the worn hearthrug; his old hat, covered with
snow-flakes, held between his hands. The Squire had put his back
against the bureau and was staring at him through his spectacles, his
nose and face a finer red than ordinary.

The thing had been tracked home to Benjamin Rymer by the man Cotton, Lee
explained in a rambling sort of tale. Cotton, incensed at Rymer's not
helping him to some money--which was what he had come to Timberdale to
ask for--had told in revenge of the past transaction. Cotton had not
been connected with it, but knew of the part taken in it by Rymer.

"I don't believe a syllable of it," said the Squire, stoutly, flinging
himself into his bureau chair, which he twisted round to face the fire.
"You can sit down, Lee. Where did you say you heard this?"

Lee had heard it at the Plough and Harrow, where the man Cotton had been
staying. Jelf, the landlord, had been told it by Cotton himself, and
Jelf in his turn had whispered it to Lee. That was last night: and Lee
had come up with it now to Mr. Todhetley.

"I tell you, Lee, I don't believe a syllable of it," repeated the
Squire.

"It be true as gospel, sir," asserted Lee. "Last night, when I went in
to Jelf's for a drop of beer, being stiff all over with the cold, I
found Jelf in a passion because a guest had gone off without paying part
of his score, leaving nothing but a letter to say he'd send it. Cotton
by name, Jelf explained, and a sporting gent to look at. A good week,
Jelf vowed he'd been there, living on the best. And then Jelf said I had
no cause to be looked down upon any longer, for it was not me that had
done that trick with the bank-notes, but Benjamin Rymer."

"Now just stop, Lee," interrupted the Squire. "Nobody looked down upon
you for it, or suspected you: neither Jelf nor other people. I have told
you so times enough."

"But Jelf knows I thought they did, sir. And he told me this news to put
me a bit at my ease. He----"

"Jelf talks at random when his temper's up," cried the Squire. "If you
believe this story, Lee, you'll believe anything."

"Ben Rymer was staying at home at the time, sir," urged Lee, determined
to have his say. "If he is steady now, it's known what he was then. He
must have got access to the letters somehow, while they lay at his
father's that night, and opened yours and changed the note. Cotton says
Mr. Ben had had the stolen note hid about him for ever so long, waiting
an opportunity to get rid of it."

"Do you mean to accuse Mr. Ben of being one of the thieves who robbed
the butcher's till?" demanded the Squire, growing wrathful.

"Well, sir, I don't go as far as that. The man told Jelf that one of the
stolen notes was given to young Rymer to pass, and he was to have a
pound for himself if he succeeded in doing it."

The Squire would hardly let him finish.

"Cotton said this to Jelf, did he?--and Jelf rehearsed it to you?"

"Yes, sir. Just that much."

"Now look you here, Lee. First of all, to whom have you repeated this
tale?"

"Not to anybody," answered Lee. "I thought I'd better bring it up here,
sir, to begin with."

"And you'd better let it stop here to end with," retorted the Squire.
"That's my best advice to you, Lee. My goodness! Accuse a respectable
man's son of what might transport him, on the authority of a drunken
fellow who runs away from an inn without paying his bill! The likeliest
thing is that this Cotton did it himself. How else should he know about
it? Don't you let your tongue carry this further, Lee, or you may find
yourself in the wrong box."

Lee looked just a little staggered. A faint flush appeared in his
withered face. The Squire's colour was at its fiercest. He was hard at
the best of times to take in extraordinary tales, and utterly scouted
this one. There was no man he had a greater respect for than Thomas
Rymer.

"I hoped you might be for prosecuting, sir. It would set me right with
the world."

"You are a fool, Lee. The world has not thought you wrong yet.
Prosecute! I! Upon this cock-and-bull story! Mr. Rymer would prosecute
me in turn, I expect, if I did. You'd better not let this get to his
ears: you might lose your post."

"Mr. Rymer, sir, must know how wild his son has been."

"Wild! Most of the young men of the present day are that, as it seems to
me," cried the Squire, in his heat. "Mine had better not let me catch
_them_ at it, though. I'd warm their ears well beforehand if I thought
they ever would---- Do you hear, Mr. Johnny?"

I had been leaning on the back of a chair in the quietest corner for
fear of being sent away. When the Squire put himself up like this, he
would say anything.

"To be a bit wild is one thing, Lee; to commit felony quite another:
Rymer's son would be no more guilty of it than you would. It's out of
all reason. And do you take care of your tongue. Look here, man: suppose
I took this up, as you want me, and it was found to have been Cotton or
some other gaol-bird who did it, instead of young Rymer: where would you
be? In prison for defamation of character, if the Rymers chose to put
you there. Be wise in time, Lee, and say no more."

"It might have been as you say, sir--Cotton himself; though I'm sure
that never struck me," returned Lee, veering round to the argument. "One
thing that made me believe it, was knowing that Ben Rymer might easily
get access to the letters."

"And that's just the reason why you should have doubted it,"
contradicted the Squire. "He would be afraid to touch them because of
the ease with which he could do it. Forgive you for coming up, you say?"
added the Squire, as Lee rose with some humble words of excuse. "Of
course I will. But don't forget that a word of this, dropped abroad,
might put your place, as postman, in jeopardy."

"And that would never do," said Lee, shaking his head.

"_I_ should think not. It's cold to-day, isn't it?"

"Frightful cold, sir."

"And you could come through it with this improbable story! Use your
sense another time, Lee. Here, Johnny, take Lee into the kitchen, and
tell them to give him some cold beef and beer."

I handed him over, with the order, to Molly; who went into one of her
tantrums at it, for she was in the midst of pastry-making. The Squire
was sitting with his head bent, looking as perplexed as an owl, when I
got back to the room.

"Johnny--shut the door. Something has come into my mind. Do you
recollect Thomas Rymer's coming up one evening, and wanting to give me
a five-pound note?"

"Quite well, sir."

"Well; I--I am not so sure now that there's nothing in this fresh tale."

I sat down; and in a low voice told him all. Of the fit of sobbing in
which I had found Rymer that same night in the Ravine; and that I had
known all along it _was_ the son who had done it.

"Bless my heart!" cried the Squire, softly, very much taken aback. "It's
that, perhaps, that has been making Rymer so ill."

"He said it was slowly killing him, sir."

"Mercy on him!--poor fellow! An ill-doing scapegrace of a rascal!
Johnny, how thankful we ought to be when our sons turn out well, and
not ill! But I think a good many turn out ill nowadays. If you should
live to have sons, sir, take care how you bring them up."

"I think Mr. Rymer must have tried to bring Ben up well," was my answer.

"Yes; but did the mother?" retorted the Squire. "More responsibility
lies with them than with the father, Johnny; and she spoilt him. Take
care, sir, how you choose a wife when the time comes. And there was that
miserable lot the lad fell in with at Tewkesbury! Johnny, that Cotton
must be an awful blackguard."

"I hope he'll live to feel it."

"Look here, we must hush this up," cried the Squire, sinking his voice
and glancing round the room. "I wouldn't bring fresh pain on poor Rymer
for the world. You must forget that you've told me, Johnny."

"Yes, that I will."

"It's only a five-pound note, after all. And if it were fifty pounds, I
wouldn't stir in it. No, nor for five hundred; be hanged if I would!
It's not I that would bring the world about Thomas Rymer's ears. I
knew his father and respected him, Johnny; though his sermons were
three-quarters of an hour long, sometimes; and I respect Thomas Rymer.
You and I must keep this close. And I'll make a journey to Timberdale
when this snow-storm's gone, Johnny, and frighten Jelf out of his life
for propagating libellous tales."

That's where it ought to have ended. The worst is, "oughts" don't go for
much in the world; as perhaps every reader of this paper has learned to
know.

When Lee appeared the next morning with the letters as usual, I went out
to him. He dropped his voice to speak, as he put them in my hand.

"They say Benjamin Rymer is off, sir."

"Off where?"

"Somewhere out of Timberdale."

"Off for what?"

"I don't know, sir. Jelf accused me of having carried tales there, and
called me a jackass for my pains. He said that what he had told me
wasn't meant to be repeated again, and I ought not to have gone telling
it about, especially to the Rymers themselves; that it might not be
true----"

"As the Squire said yesterday, you know, Lee."

"Yes, sir. I answered Jelf that it couldn't have been me that had gone
talking to the Rymers, for I had not as much as seen them. Any way, he
said, somebody had, for they knew of it, and Benjamin had gone off in
consequence. Jelf's as cross over it as two sticks. It's his own fault;
why did he tell me what wasn't true?"

Lee went off--looking cross also. After breakfast I related this to the
Squire. He didn't seem to like it, and walked about thinking.

"Johnny, I can't stir in it, you see," he said presently. "If it got
abroad, people might talk about compromising a felony, and all that sort
of rubbish: and I am a magistrate. You must go. See Rymer: and make him
understand--without telling him in so many words, you know--that there's
nothing to fear from me, and he may call Ben back again. If the young
man has begun to lead a new life, Heaven forbid that I, having sons
myself, should be a stumbling-block in the way of it."

It was striking twelve when I reached Timberdale. Margaret said her
father was poorly, having gone out in the storm of the previous day and
caught a chill. He was in the parlour alone, cowering over the fire. In
the last few hours he seemed to have aged years. I shut the door.

"What has happened?" I whispered. "I have come on purpose to ask you."

"That which I have been dreading all along," he said in a quiet,
hopeless tone. "Benjamin has run away. He got some information, it
seems, from the landlord of the Plough and Harrow, and was off the next
hour."

"Well, now, the Squire sent me to you privately, Mr. Rymer, to say that
Ben might come back again. He has nothing to fear."

"The Squire knows it, then?"

"Yes. Lee came up about it yesterday: Jelf had talked to him. Mr.
Todhetley did not believe a word of it: he blew up Lee like anything
for listening to such a tale; he means to blow up Jelf for repeating
anything said by a vagabond like Cotton. Lee came round to his way of
thinking. Indeed there's nothing to be afraid of. Jelf is eating his
words. The Squire would not harm your son for the world."

Rymer shook his head. He did not doubt the Squire's friendly feeling,
but thought it was out of his hands. He told me all he knew about it.

"Benjamin came to me yesterday morning in a great flurry, saying
something was wrong, and he must absent himself. Was it about the
bank-note, I asked--and it was the first time a syllable in regard to it
had passed between us," broke off Rymer. "Jelf had given him a friendly
hint of what had dropped from the man Cotton--you were in the shop that
first day when he came in, Mr. Johnny--and Benjamin was alarmed. Before
I had time to collect my thoughts, or say further, he was gone."

"Where is he?"

"I don't know. I went round at once to Jelf, and the man told me all.
Jelf knows the truth; that is quite clear. He says he has spoken only to
Lee; is sorry now for having done that, and he will hush it up as far as
he can."

"Then it will be quite right, Mr. Rymer. Why should you be taking it in
this way?"

"I am ill," was all he answered. "I caught a chill going round to the
Plough and Harrow. So far as mental illness goes, we may battle with it
to the end, strength from above being given to us; but when it takes
bodily form--why, there's nothing for it but giving in."

Even while we spoke, he was seized with what seemed to be an ague. Mrs.
Rymer appeared with some scalding broth, and I said I would run for
Darbyshire.

                 *       *       *       *       *

A few days went on, and then news came up to Crabb Cot that Mr. Rymer
lay dying. Robert Ashton, riding back from the hunt in his scarlet coat
and white cords on his fine grey horse (the whole a mass of splashes
with the thaw) pulled up at the door to say How d'ye do? and mentioned
it amidst other items. It was just a shock to the Squire, and nothing
less.

"Goodness preserve us!--and all through that miserable five-pound note,
Johnny!" he cried in a wild flurry. "Where's my hat and top-coat?"

Away to Timberdale by the short cut through the Ravine, never heeding
the ghost--although its traditional time of appearing, the dusk of
evening, was drawing on--went the Squire. He thought Rymer must be ill
through fear of him; and he accused me of having done my errand of peace
badly.

It was quite true--Thomas Rymer lay dying. Darbyshire was coming out of
the house as the Squire reached it, and said so. Instead of being sorry,
he flew in a passion and attacked the doctor.

"Now look you here, Darbyshire--this won't do. We can't have people
dying off like this for nothing. If you don't cure him, you had better
give up doctoring."

"How d'you mean for nothing?" asked Darbyshire, who knew the Squire
well.

"It can't be for much: don't be insolent. Because a man gets a bit of
anxiety on his mind, is he to be let die?"

"I've heard nothing about anxiety," said Darbyshire. "He caught a chill
through going out that day of the snow-storm, and it settled on a vital
part. That's what ails him, Squire."

"And you can't cure the chill! Don't tell me."

"Before this time to-morrow, Thomas Rymer will be where there's neither
killing nor curing," was the answer. "I told them yesterday to send for
the son: but they don't know where he is."

The Squire made a rush through the shop and up to the bedroom, hardly
saying, "With your leave," or, "By your leave." Thomas Rymer lay in bed
at the far end; his white face whiter than the pillow; his eyes sunken;
his hands plucking at the counterpane. Margaret left the room when the
Squire went in. He gave one look; and knew that he saw death there.

"Rymer, I'd almost have given my own life to save you from this," cried
he, in the shock. "Oh, my goodness! what's to be done?"

"I seem to have been waiting for it all along; to have seen the exposure
coming," said Thomas Rymer, his faint fingers resting in the Squire's
strong ones. "And now that it's here, I can't battle with it."

"Now, Rymer, my poor fellow, couldn't you--_couldn't_ you make a bit of
an effort to live? To please me: I knew your father, mind. It can't be
right that you should die."

"It must be right; perhaps it is well. I can truly say with old
Jacob that few and evil have the days of my life been. Nothing but
disappointment has been my lot here; struggle upon struggle, pain upon
pain, sorrow upon sorrow. I think my merciful Father will remember it in
the last great account."

                 *       *       *       *       *

He died at five o'clock in the morning. Lee told us of it when he
brought up the letters at breakfast-time. The Squire let fall his knife
and fork.

"It's a shame and a sin, though, Johnny, that sons should inflict this
cruel sorrow upon their parents," he said later. "Rymer has been brought
down to the grave by his son before his hair was grey. I wonder how
_their_ accounts will stand at the great reckoning?"



III.

HESTER REED'S PILLS.


We were at our other and chief home, Dyke Manor: and Tod and I were
there for the short Easter holidays, which were shorter in those days
than they are in these.

It was Easter Tuesday. The Squire had gone riding over to old Jacobson's
with Tod. I, having nothing else to do, got the mater to come with me
for a practice on the church organ; and we were taking the round home
again through the village, Church Dykely.

Easter was very late that year. It was getting towards the end of April:
and to judge by the weather, it might have been the end of May, the days
were so warm and glorious.

In passing the gate of George Reed's cottage, Mrs. Todhetley stopped.

"How are the babies, Hester?"

Hester Reed, sunning her white cap and clean cotton gown in the garden,
the three elder children around, watering the beds with a doll's
watering-pot, and a baby hiding its face on her shoulder, dropped a
curtsy as she answered--

"They be but poorly, ma'am, thank you. Look up, Susy," turning the
baby's face upwards to show it: and a pale mite of a face it was, with
sleepy eyes. "For a day or two past they've not seemed the thing; and
they be both cross."

"I should think their teeth are troubling them, Hester."

"Maybe, ma'am. I shouldn't wonder. Hetty, she seems worse than Susy.
She's a-lying there in the basket indoors. Would you please spare a
minute to step in and look at her, ma'am?"

Mrs. Todhetley opened the gate. "I may as well go in and see, Johnny,"
she said to me in an undertone: "I fear both the children are rather
sickly."

The other baby, "Hetty," lay in the kitchen in a clothes-basket. It had
just the same sort of puny white face as its sister. These two were
twins, and about a year old. When they were born, Church Dykely went on
finely at Hester Reed, asking her if she would not have had enough with
one new child but she must go and set up two.

"It does seem very poorly," remarked Mrs. Todhetley, stooping over the
young mortal (which was not cross just now, but very still and quiet),
and letting it clasp its little fist round one of her fingers. "No doubt
it is the teeth. If the children do not get better soon, I think, were
I you, Hester, I should speak to Mr. Duffham."

The advice seemed to strike Hester Reed all of a heap. "Speak to Dr.
Duffham!" she exclaimed. "Why, ma'am, they must both be a good deal
worse than they be, afore we does that. I'll give 'em a dose o' mild
physic apiece. I dare say that'll bring 'em round."

"I should think it would not hurt them," assented Mrs. Todhetley. "They
both seem feverish; this one especially. I hear you have had Cathy
over," she went on, passing to another subject.

"Sure enough us have," said Mrs. Reed. "She come over yesterday was a
week and stayed till Friday night."

"And what is she doing now?"

"Well, ma'am, Cathy's keeping herself; and that's something. She has got
a place at Tewkesbury to serve in some shop; is quite in clover there,
by all accounts. Two good gownds she brought over to her back; and she's
pretty nigh as lighthearted as she was afore she went off to enter on
her first troubles."

"Hannah told me she was not looking well."

"She have had a nasty attack of--what was it?--neuralgy, I think she
called it, and been obliged to go to a doctor," answered Hester Reed.
"That's why they gave her the holiday. She was very well while she was
here."

I had stood at the door, talking to the little ones with their
watering-pot. As the mater was taking her final word with Mrs. Reed, I
went on to open the gate for her, when some woman whisked round the
corner from Piefinch Lane, and in at the gate.

"Thank ye, sir," said she to me: as if I had been holding it open for
her especial benefit.

It was Ann Dovey, the blacksmith's wife down Piefinch Cut: a smart young
woman, fond of fine gowns and caps. Mrs. Todhetley came away, and Ann
Dovey went in. And this is what passed at Reed's--as it leaked out to
the world afterwards.

The baby in the basket began to cry, and Ann Dovey lifted it out and
took it on her lap. She understood all about children, having been the
eldest of a numerous flock at home, and was no doubt all the fonder of
them because she had none of her own. Mrs. Dovey was moreover a great
gossip, liking to have as many fingers in her neighbours' pies as she
could conveniently get in.

"And now what's amiss with these two twins?" asked she in confidential
tones, bending her face forward till it nearly touched Mrs. Reed's, who
had sat down opposite to her with the other baby. "Sarah Tanken, passing
our shop just now, telled me they warn't the thing at all, so I thought
I'd run round."

"Sarah Tanken looked in while I was a-washing up after dinner, and saw
'em both," assented Mrs. Reed. "Hetty's the worst of the two; more peeky
like."

"Which _is_ Hetty?" demanded Ann Dovey; who, with all her neighbourly
visits, had not learnt to distinguish the two apart.

"The one that you be a-nursing."

"Did the mistress of the Manor look at 'em?"

"Yes; and she thinks I'd better give 'em both some mild physic.
Leastways, I said a dose might bring 'em round," added Hester Reed,
correcting herself, "and she said it might."

"It's the very thing for 'em, Hester Reed," pronounced Mrs. Dovey,
decisively. "There's nothing like a dose of physic for little ones; it
often stops a bout of illness. You give it to the two; and don't lose
no time. Grey powder's best."

"I've not got any grey powder by me," said Mrs. Reed. "It crossed my
mind to try 'em with one o' them pills I had from Abel Crew."

"What pills be they?"

"I had 'em from him for myself the beginning o' the year, when I was
getting the headache so much. They're as mild as mild can be; but they
did me good. The box is upstairs."

"How do you know they'd be the right pills to give to babies?" sensibly
questioned Mrs. Dovey.

"Oh, they be right enough for that! When little Georgy was poorly two or
three weeks back, I ran out to Abel Crew, chancing to see him go by the
gate, and asked whether one of his pills would do the child harm. He
said no, it would do him good."

"And did it get him round?"

"I never gave it. Georgy seemed to be so much pearter afore night came,
that I thought I'd wait till the morrow. He's a rare bad one to take
physic, he is. You may cover a powder in treacle that thick, Ann Dovey,
but the boy scents it out somehow, and can't be got to touch it. His
father always has to make him; I can't. He got well that time without
the pill."

"Well, I should try the pills on the little twins," advised Ann Dovey.
"I'm sure they want something o' the sort. Look at this one! lying
like a lamb in my arms, staring up at me with its poor eyes, and never
moving. You may always know when a child's ill by its quietness. Nothing
ailing 'em, they worry the life out of you."

"Both of them were cross enough this morning," remarked Hester Reed,
"and for that reason I know they be worse now. I'll try the pill
to-night."

Now, whether it was that Ann Dovey had any especial love for presiding
at the ceremony of administering pills to children, or whether she only
looked in again incidentally in passing, certain it was that in the
evening she was for the second time at George Reed's cottage. Mrs. Reed
had put the three elder ones to bed; or, as she expressed it, "got 'em
out o' the way;" and was undressing the twins by firelight, when Ann
Dovey tripped into the kitchen. George Reed was at work in the front
garden, digging; though it was getting almost too dark to see where he
inserted the spade.

"Have ye give 'em their physic yet?" was Mrs. Dovey's salutation.

"No; but I'm a-going to," answered Hester Reed. "You be just come in
time to hold 'em for me, Ann Dovey, while I go upstairs for the box."

Ann Dovey received the pair of babies, and sat down in the low chair.
Taking the candle, Mrs. Reed ran up to the room where the elder children
slept. The house was better furnished than cottages generally are, and
the rooms were of a fairly good size. Opposite the bed stood a high
deal press with a flat top to it, which Mrs. Reed made a shelf of, for
keeping things that must be out of the children's reach. Stepping on a
chair, she put her hand out for the box of pills, which stood in its
usual place near the corner, and went downstairs with it.

It was an ordinary pasteboard pill-box, containing a few pills--six or
seven, perhaps. Mrs. Dovey, curious in all matters, lifted the lid and
sniffed at the pills. Hester Reed was getting the moist sugar they were
to be administered in.

"What did you have these here pills for?" questioned Ann Dovey, as Mrs.
Reed came back with the sugar. "They bain't over big."

"For headache and pain in the side. I asked old Abel Crew if he could
give me something for it, and he gave me these pills."

Mrs. Reed was moistening a teaspoonful of the sugar, as she spoke, with
warm water. Taking out one of the pills she proceeded to crush it into
small bits, and then mixed it with the sugar. It formed a sort of paste.
Dose the first.

"That ain't moist enough, Hester Reed," pronounced Mrs. Dovey,
critically.

"No? I'll put a drop more warm water."

The water was added, and one of the children was fed with the delectable
compound--Hetty. Mrs. Dovey spoke again.

"Is it all for her? Won't a whole pill be too much for one, d'ye think?"

"Not a bit. When I asked old Abel whether one pill would be too much for
Georgy, he said, No--two wouldn't hurt him. I tell ye, Ann Dovey, the
pills be as mild as milk."

Hetty took in the whole dose by degrees. Susy had a similar one made
ready, and swallowed it in her turn. Then the two babies were conveyed
upstairs and put to bed side by side in their mother's room.

Mrs. Dovey, the ceremony being over, took her departure. George Reed
came in to his early supper, and soon afterwards he and his wife went
up to bed. Men who have to be up at five in the morning must go to rest
betimes. The fire and candle were put out, the doors locked, and the
cottage was steeped in quietness at a time when in larger houses the
evening was not much more than beginning.

How long she slept, Mrs. Reed could not tell. Whether it might be the
first part of the night, early or late, or whether morning might be
close upon the dawn, she knew not; but she was startled out of her
sleep by the cries of the babies. Awful cries, they seemed, coming from
children so young; and there could be no mistaking that each was in
terrible agony.

"Why, it's convulsions!" exclaimed George Reed, when he had lighted a
candle. "Both of them, too!"

Going downstairs as he was, he hastily lighted the kitchen fire and
put a kettle of water on. Then, dressing himself, he ran out for Mr.
Duffham. The doctor came in soon after George Reed had got back again.

Duffham was accustomed to scenes, and he entered on one now. Mrs. Reed,
in a state of distress, had put the babies in blankets and brought
them down to the kitchen fire; the three elder children, aroused
by the cries, had come down too, and were standing about in their
night-clothes, crying with fright. One of the babies was dead--Hetty.
She had just expired in her father's arms. The other was dying.

"What on earth have you been giving to these children?" exclaimed
Duffham, after taking a good look at the two.

"Oh, sir, what is it, please?" sobbed Mrs. Reed, in her terror.
"Convulsions?"

"Convulsions--no," said the doctor, in a fume. "It is something else, as
I believe--poison."

At which she set up a shriek that might have been heard out of doors.

"Well, Hetty was dead, I say;" and Duffham could not do anything to
save the other. It died whilst he stood there. Duffham repeated his
conjecture as to poison; and Mrs. Reed, all topsy-turvy though she was,
three-parts bereft of her senses, resented the implication almost
angrily.

"Poison!" cried she. "How can you think of such a thing, sir!"

"I tell you that to the best of my belief these children have both died
from some irritant poison," asserted Duffham, coolly imperative. "I ask
what you have been giving them?"

"They have not been well this three or four days past," replied she,
wandering from the point; not evasively, but in her mind's bewilderment.
"It must have been their teeth, sir; I thought they were cutting 'em
with fever."

"Did you give them any physic?"

"Yes, sir. A pill apiece when I put 'em to bed."

"Ah!" said Mr. Duffham. "What pill was it?"

"One of Abel Crew's."

This answer surprised him. Allowing that his suspicion of poison was
correct, he assumed that these pills must have contained it; and he had
never had cause to suppose that Abel Crew's pills were otherwise than
innocent.

Mrs. Reed, her voice broken by sobs, explained further in answer to his
questions, telling him how she had procured these pills from Abel Crew
some time before, and had given one of the said pills to each of the
babies. Duffham stood against the dresser, taking it all in with a
solemn face, his cane held up to his chin.

"Let me see this box of pills, Mrs. Reed."

She went upstairs to get it. A tidy woman in her ways, she had put the
box in its place again on the top of the press. Duffham took off the
lid, and examined the pills.

"Do you happen to have a bit of sealing-wax in the house, Reed?" he
asked presently.

George Reed, who had stood like a man bewildered, looking first on one,
then on the other of his dead little ones, answered that he had not. But
the eldest child, Annie, spoke up, saying that there was a piece in her
little work-box; Cathy had given it her last week when she was at home.

It was produced--part of a small stick of fancy wax, green and gold.
Duffham wrapped the pill-box up in the back of a letter that he took
from his pocket, and sealed it with a seal that hung to his watch-chain.
He put the parcel into the hand of George Reed.

"Take care of it," he said. "This will be wanted."

"There could not have been poison in them pills, sir," burst out Mrs.
Reed, her distress increasing at the possibility that he might be right.
"If there had been, they'd ha' poisoned me. One night I took three of
'em."

Duffham did not answer. He was nodding his head in answer to his own
thoughts.

"And who ever heard of Abel Crew mixing up poison in his pills?" went on
Mrs. Reed. "If you please, sir, I don't think he could do it."

"Well, that part of it puzzles me--how he came to do it," acknowledged
Duffham. "I like old Abel, and shall be sorry if it is proved that his
pills have done the mischief."

Mrs. Reed shook her head. She had more faith than that in Abel Crew.

                 *       *       *       *       *

Ever so many years before--for it was in the time of Sir Peter
Chavasse--there appeared one day a wanderer at Church Dykely. It was hot
weather, and he seemed to think nothing of camping out in the fields by
night, under the summer stars. Who he was, or what he was, or why he had
come, or why he stayed, nobody knew. He was evidently not a tramp, or a
gipsy, or a travelling tinker--quite superior to it all; a slender,
young, and silent man, with a pale and gentle face.

At one corner of the common, spreading itself between the village and
Chavasse Grange, there stood a covered wooden shed, formerly used to
impound stray cattle, but left to itself since the square space for
the new pound had been railed round. By-and-by it was found that the
wanderer had taken to this shed to sleep in. Next, his name leaked
out--"Abel Crew."

He lived how he could, and as simply as a hermit. Buying a penny loaf
at the baker's, and making his dinner of it with a handful of sorrel
plucked from the fields, and a drink from the rivulet that ran through
the wilderness outside the Chavasse grounds. His days were spent in
examining roots and wild herbs, now and then in digging one up; and his
nights chiefly in studying the stars. Sir Peter struck up a sort of
speaking acquaintanceship with him, and, it was said, was surprised
at his stock of knowledge and the extent of his travels; for he knew
personally many foreign places where even Sir Peter himself had never
been. That may have caused Sir Peter--who was lord of the manor and of
the common included--to tolerate in him what it was supposed he would
not in others. Anyway, when Abel Crew began to dig the ground about his
shed, and plant roots and herbs in it, Sir Peter let him do it and never
interfered. It was quite the opposite; for Sir Peter would sometimes
stand to watch him at his work, talking the while.

In the course of time there was quite an extensive garden round the
shed--comparatively speaking, you know, for we do not expect to see a
shed garden as large as that of a mansion. It was fenced in with a hedge
and wooden palings, all the work of Abel Crew's hands. Sir Peter was
dead then; but Lady Chavasse, guardian to the young heir, Sir Geoffrey,
extended to him the same favour that her husband had, and, if she did
not absolutely sanction what he was doing, she at any rate did not
oppose it. Abel Crew filled his garden with rare and choice and useful
field herbs, the valuable properties of which he alone understood;
and of ordinary sweet flowers, such as bees love to suck. He set up
bee-hives and sold the honey; he distilled lavender and bergamot for
perfumes; he converted his herbs and roots into medicines, which he
supplied to the poor people around, charging so small a price for them
that it could scarcely more than cover the cost of making, and not
charging at all the very poor. At the end of about ten years from
his first appearance, he took down the old shed, and built up a more
convenient cottage in its place, doing it all with his own pair of
hands. And the years went on and on, and Abel Crew and his cottage, and
his herbs, and his flowers, and his bees, and his medicines, were just
as much of an institution in the parish as was the Grange itself.

He and I became good friends. I liked him. You have heard how I take
likes and dislikes to faces, and I rarely saw a face that I liked as I
liked Abel Crew's. Not for its beauty, though it really was beautiful,
with its perfect shape and delicately carved features; but for its
unmistakable look of goodness and its innate refinement: perhaps also
for the deep, far-seeing, and often _sad_ expression that sat in the
earnest eyes. He was old now--sixty, I dare say; tall, slender, and very
upright still; his white hair brushed back from his forehead and worn
rather long. What his original condition of life might have been did not
transpire; he never talked of it. More than once I had seen him reading
Latin books; and though he fell into the diction of the country people
around when talking with them, he changed his tones and language when
conversing with his betters. A character, no doubt, he was, but a man to
be respected; a man of religion, too--attending church regularly twice
on a Sunday, wet or dry, and carrying his religion into the little
things of everyday life.

His style of dress was old-fashioned and peculiar. So far as I saw, it
never varied. A stout coat, waistcoat, and breeches every day, all of
one colour--drab; with leathern gaiters buttoned nearly to the knee. On
Sundays he wore a suit of black silk velvet, and a frilled shirt of fine
cambric. His breeches were tied at the knee with black ribbon, in which
was a plain, glistening steel buckle; buckles to match shone in his
shoes. His stockings were black, and in the winter he wore black-cloth
gaiters. In short, on Sundays Abel Crew looked like a fine old-fashioned
English gentleman, and would have been taken for one. The woman who got
up his linen declared he was more particular over his shirt-frills than
Sir Peter himself.

Strangers in the place would sometimes ask what he was. The answer was
not easy to give. He was a botanist and herbalist, and made pills, and
mixtures, and perfumes, and sold honey, and had built his cottage and
planted out his garden, and lived alone, cooking his food and waiting
on himself; doing all in fact with his own hands, and was very modest
always. On the other side, he had travelled in his youth, he understood
paintings, studied the stars, read his store of Latin and classical
books, and now and then bought more, and was as good a doctor as Duffham
himself. Some people said a better one. Certain it was, that more than
once when legitimate medical nostrums had failed--calomel and blisters
and bleeding--Abel Crew's simple decoctions and leaves had worked a
cure. Look at young Mrs. Sterling at the Court. When that first baby of
hers came to town--and a fine squalling young brat he was, with a mouth
like a crocodile's!--gatherings arose in her chest or somewhere, one
after another; it was said the agony was awful. Duffham's skill seemed
to have gone a blackberrying, the other doctor's also, for neither of
the two could do anything for her, and the Court thought she would have
died of it. Upon that, some relation of old Sterling's was summoned from
London--a great physician in great practice. He came in answer, and was
liberal with his advice, telling them to try this and to try the other.
But it did no good; and she only grew worse. When they were all in
despair, seeing her increasing weakness and the prolonged pain, the
woman who nursed her spoke of old Abel Crew; she had known him cure in
these cases when the doctor could not; and the poor young lady, willing
to catch at a straw, told them to send for Abel Crew. Abel Crew took
a prepared plaster of herbs with him, green leaves of some sort, and
applied it. That night the patient slept more easily than she had for
weeks; and in a short time was well again.

But, skilful though he seemed to be in the science of herbs, as remedies
for sickness and sores, Abel Crew never obtruded himself upon the
ailing, or took money for his advice, or willingly interfered with
the province of Duffham; he never would do it unless compelled in the
interests of humanity. The patients he chiefly treated were the poor,
those who could not have paid Duffham a coin worth thinking about.
Duffham knew this. And, instead of being jealous of him, as some medical
men might have been, or ridiculing him for a quack, Duffham liked and
respected old Abel Crew. He was simple in his habits still: living
chiefly upon bread and butter, with radishes or mustard and cress for
a relish, cooking vegetables for his dinner, but rarely meat: and his
drink was tea or spring water.

So that Abel Crew was rather a notable character amongst us; and when it
was known abroad that two of his pills had caused the death of Mrs.
Reed's twins, there arose no end of a commotion.

It chanced that the same night this occurred, just about the time in
fact that the unfortunate infants were taking down the pills under the
superintendence of their mother and the blacksmith's wife, Abel Crew met
with an accident; though it was curious enough that it should be so. In
taking a pan of boiling herbs off the fire, he let one of the handles
slip out of his fingers; it sent the pan down on that side, spilled a
lot of the stuff, and scalded his left foot on the instep. Therefore he
was about the last person to hear of the calamity; for his door was not
open as usual the following morning, and no one knocked to tell him of
it.

Duffham was the first. Passing by on his morning rounds, the doctor
heard the comments of the people, and it arrested him. It was so unusual
a thing for Abel Crew not to be about, and for his door to be closed,
that some of them had been arriving at a sensible conclusion--Abel Crew,
knowing the mischief his pills had done, was shutting himself up within
the house, unable to face his neighbours.

"Rubbish!" said Duffham. And he strode up the garden-path, knocked at
the door with his cane, and entered. Abel had dressed, but was lying
down on the bed again to rest his lame foot.

Duffham would have asked to look at it, but that he knew Abel Crew was
as good at burns and scalds as he himself was. It had been doctored at
once, and was now wrapped up in a handkerchief.

"The fire is nearly out of it," said Abel, "but it must have rest; by
to-night I shall be able to dress it with my healing-salve. I am much
obliged to you for coming in, sir: though in truth I don't know how you
could have heard of the accident."

"Ah! news flies," said Duffham, evasively, knowing that he had not heard
of the foot, or the neighbours either, and had come in for something
altogether different. "What is this about the pills?"

"About the pills?" repeated Abel Crew, who had got up out of respect,
and was putting on his coat. "What pills, sir?"

The doctor told him what had happened. Hester Reed had given one of his
pills to each of her babies, and both had died of it. Abel Crew listened
quietly; his face and his eyes fixed on Duffham.

"The children cannot have died of the pills," said he, speaking as
gently as you please. "Something else must have killed them."

"According to Hester Reed's account, nothing can have done it but the
pills," said Duffham. "The children had only taken their ordinary food
throughout the day, and very little of that. George Reed came running to
me in the night, but it was too late; one was dead before I got there.
There could be no mistaking the children's symptoms--that both were
poisoned."

"This is very strange," exclaimed Abel, looking troubled. "By what kind
of poison?"

"Arsenic, I think. I----"

But here they were interrupted. Dovey, the blacksmith, hearing of the
calamity, together with the fact that it was his wife who had assisted
in administering the suspected doses, deemed it his duty to look into
the affair a little, and to resent it. He had left his forge and a bar
of iron red-hot in it, and come tearing along in his leather apron, his
shirt-sleeves stripped up to the elbow, and his arms grimy. A dark-eyed,
good-natured little man in general, was Dovey, but exploding with rage
at the present moment.

"Now then, Abel Crew, what do you mean by selling pills to poison
people?" demanded he, pushing back the door with a bang, and stepping
in fiercely. Duffham, foreseeing there was going to be a contest, and
having no time to waste, took his departure.

"I have not sold pills to poison people," replied Abel.

"Look here," said Dovey, folding his black arms. "Be you going to eat
them pills, or be you not? Come!"

"What do you mean, Dovey?"

"What do I mean! Ain't my meaning plain? Do you own to having selled a
box of pills to Hester Reed last winter?--be you thinking to eat that
there fact, and deny of it? Come, Abel Crew!"

"I remember it well," readily spoke up Abel. "Mrs. Reed came here one
day, complaining that her head ached continually, and her side often had
a dull pain in it, and asked me to give her something. I did so; I gave
her a box of pills. It was early in January, I think. I know there was
ice on the ground."

"Then do you own to them pills," returned Dovey, more quietly, his
fierceness subdued by Abel's civility. "It were you that furnished 'em?"

"I furnished the box of pills I speak of, that Hester Reed had from me
in the winter. There's no mistake about that."

"And made 'em too?"

"Yes, and made them."

"Well, I'm glad to hear you say that; and now don't you go for to eat
your words later, Abel Crew. Our Ann, my wife, helped to give them there
two pills to the children; and I'm not a-going to let her get into
trouble over it. You've confessed to the pills, and I'm a witness."

"My pills did not kill the children, Dovey," said Abel, in a pleasant
tone, resting his lame foot upon an opposite chair.

"Not kill 'em?"

"No, that they did not. I've not made pills all these years to poison
children at last."

"But what done it if the pills didn't?"

"How can I say? 'Twasn't my pills."

"Dr. Duffham says it was the pills. And he----"

"Dr. Duffham says it was?"

"Reed telled me that the doctor asked outright, all in a flurry, what
his wife had gave the babies, and she said she had gave 'em nothing but
them there two pills of Abel Crew's. Duffham said the pills must have
had poison in 'em, and he asked for the box; and Hester Reed, she give
him the box, and he sealed it up afore their eyes with his own seal."

Abel nodded. He knew that any suspected medicine must in such a case be
sealed up.

"And now that I've got that there word from ye, I'll say good-day to
ye, neighbour, for I've left my forge to itself, and some red-hot iron
in it. And I hope with all my heart and mind,"--the blacksmith turned
round from the door to say more kindly, his good-nature cropping up
again,--"that it'll turn out it _warn't_ the pills, but some'at else:
our Ann won't have no cause to be in a fright then." Which was as much
as to say that Ann Dovey was frightened, you observe.

That same afternoon, going past the common, I saw Abel Crew in his
garden, sitting against the cottage wall in the sun, his foot resting on
a block of wood.

"How did it all happen, Abel?" I asked, turning in at the gate. "Did you
give Mrs. Reed the wrong pills?"

"No, sir," he answered, "I gave her the right pills; the pills I make
expressly for such complaints as hers. But if I had, in one sense, given
her the wrong, they could not have brought about any ill effect such as
this, for my pills are all innocent of poison."

"I should say it could not have been the pills that did the mischief,
after all, then."

"You might swear it as well, Master Johnny, with perfect safety. What
killed the poor children, I don't pretend to know, but my pills never
did. I tried to get down as far as Reed's to inquire particulars, and
found I could not walk. It was a bit of ill-luck, disabling myself just
at this time."

"Shall you have to appear at the inquest to-morrow?"

He lifted his head quickly at the question--as though it surprised him.
Perhaps not having cast his thoughts that way.

"Is there to be an inquest, Master Johnny?"

"I heard so from old Jones. He has gone over to see the coroner."

"Well, I wish the investigation was all over and done with," said he.
"It makes me uneasy, though I know I am innocent."

Looking at him sitting there in the sun, at his beautiful face with its
truthful eyes and its silver hair, it was next to impossible to believe
he could be the author of the two children's death. Only--the best of us
are liable to mistakes, and sometimes make them. I said as much.

"_I_ made none, Master Johnny," was his answer. "When my pills come to
be analyzed--as of course they must be--they will be found wholesome and
innocent."

                 *       *       *       *       *

The inquest did not take place till the Friday. Old Jones had fixed it
for the Thursday, but the coroner put it off to the next day. And by the
time Friday morning dawned, opinion had veered round, and was strongly
in favour of Abel Crew. All the parish had been to see him; and his
protestations, that he had never in his life put any kind of poison into
his medicines, made a great impression. The pills could not have been in
fault, said everybody. Dr. Duffham might have sealed them up as a matter
of precaution, but the mischief would not be found there.

In the middle of Church Dykely, next door to Perkins the butcher's,
stood the Silver Bear Inn; a better sort of public-house, kept by Henry
Rimmer. It was there that the inquest was held. Henry Rimmer himself and
Perkins the butcher were two of the jurymen. Dobbs the blacksmith was
another. They all dressed themselves in their Sunday-going clothes to
attend it. It was called for two in the afternoon; and soon after that
hour the county coroner (who had dashed up to the Silver Bear in a fast
gig, his clerk driving) and the jury trooped down to George Reed's
cottage and took a look at the two pale little faces lying there side by
side. Then they went back again, and the proceedings began.

Of course as many spectators went crowding into the room as it would
hold. Three or four chairs were there (besides those occupied by the
jury at the table), and a bench stood against the wall. The bench was
speedily fought for and filled; but Henry Rimmer's brother, constituting
himself master of the ceremonies, reserved the chairs for what he called
the "big people," meaning those of importance in the place. The Squire
was bowed into one; and to my surprise I had another. Why, I could not
imagine, unless it was that they remembered I was the owner of George
Reed's cottage. But I did not like to sit down when so many older
persons were standing, and I would not take the chair.

Some little time was occupied with preliminaries before what might be
called the actual inquest set in. First of all, the coroner flew into a
passion because Abel Crew had not put in an appearance, asking old Jones
if he supposed that was the way justice must be administered in England,
and that he ought to have had Crew present. Old Jones who was in a
regular fluster with it all, and his legs more gouty than ever, told the
coroner, calling him "his worship," that he had understood Crew meant to
be present. Upon which the coroner sharply answered that "understanding"
went for nothing, and Jones should know his business better.

However, in walked Abel Crew in the midst of the contest. His delayed
arrival was caused by his difficulty in getting his damaged foot there;
which had been accomplished by the help of a stick and somebody's arm.
Abel had dressed himself in his black velvet suit; and as he took off
his hat on entering and bowed respectfully to the coroner, I declare he
could not be taken for anything but a courtly gentleman of the old
school. Nobody offered him a chair. I wished I had not given up mine: he
should have had it.

Evidence was first tendered of the death of the children, and of the
terrible pain they had died in. Duffham and a medical man, who was a
stranger and had helped at the post-mortem, testified to arsenic being
the cause of death. The next question was, how had it been administered?
A rumour arose in the room that the pills had been analyzed; but the
result had not transpired. Every one could see a small paper parcel
standing on the table before the coroner, and knew by its shape that it
must contain the pill-box.

Hester Reed was called. She said (giving her evidence very quietly, just
a sob and a sigh every now and then alone betraying what she felt) that
she was the wife of George Reed. Her two little ones--twins, aged eleven
months and a half--had been ailing for a day or two, seemed feverish,
would not eat their food, were very cross at times and unnaturally still
at others, and she came to the conclusion that their teeth must be
plaguing them, and thought she would give them some mild physic. Mrs.
Todhetley, the Squire's lady at Dyke Manor, had called in on the Tuesday
afternoon, and agreed with her that some mild physic----

"Confine your statement to what is evidence," interrupted the coroner,
sternly.

Hester Reed, looking scared at the check, and perhaps not knowing what
was evidence and what not, went on the best way she could. She and Ann
Dovey--who had been neighbourly enough to look in and help her--had
given the children a pill apiece in the evening after they were
undressed, mashing the pill up in a little sugar and warm water. She
then put them to bed upstairs and went to bed herself not long after. In
the night she and her husband were awoke by the babies' screams, and
they thought it must be convulsions. Her husband lighted the fire and
ran for Dr. Duffham; but one had died before the doctor could get there,
and the other died close upon it.

"What food had you given them during the day?" asked the coroner.

"Very little indeed, sir. They wouldn't take it."

"What did the little that they did take consist of?"

"It were soaked bread, sir, with milk and some sprinkled sugar. I tried
them with some potato mashed up in a spoonful o' broth at midday--we'd
had a bit o' biled neck o' mutton for dinner--but they both turned from
it."

"Then all they took that day was bread soaked in milk and sweetened with
sugar?"

"Yes, it were, sir. But the bread was soaked in warm water and the milk
and sugar was put in afterwards. 'Twas but the veriest morsel they'd
take, poor little dears!"

"Was the bread--and the milk--and the sugar, the same that the rest of
your household used?"

"In course it were, sir. My other children ate plenty of it. _Their_
appetites didn't fail 'em."

"Where did you get the warm water from that you say you soaked the bread
in?"

"Out o' the tea-kettle, sir. The water was the same that I biled for our
tea morning and night."

"The deceased children, then, had absolutely no food given to them apart
from what you had yourselves?"

"Not a scrap, sir. Not a drop."

"Except the pills."

"Excepting them, in course, sir. None o' the rest of us wanted physic."

"Where did you procure these pills?"

She went into the history of the pills. Giving the full account of them,
as already related.

"By your own showing, witness, it must be three months, or thereabouts,
since you had that box from Abel Crew," spoke the coroner. "How do you
know that the two pills you administered to the deceased children came
from the same box?"

Hester Reed's eyes opened wide. She looked as surprised as though she
had been asked whether she had procured the two pills from the moon.

"Yes, yes," interposed one of the jury, "how do you know it was the same
box?"

"Why, gentlemen, I had no other box of pills at all, save that," she
said, when her speech came to her. "We've had no physic but that in the
cottage since winter, nor for ever so long afore. I'll swear it was the
same box, sirs; there can't be no mistake about it."

"Did you leave it about in the way of people?" resumed the coroner. "So
that it might be handled by anybody who might come into your cottage?"

"No, sir," she answered, earnestly. "I never kept the pill-box but in
one place, and that was on the top of the high press upstairs out of
harm's way. I put it there the first night Abel Crew gave it me, and
when I wanted to get a pill or two out for my own taking, I used to step
on a chair--for it's too high for me to reach without--and help myself.
The box have never been took from the place at all, sir, till Tuesday
night, when I brought it downstairs with me. When I've wanted to dust
the press-top, I've just lifted the pill-box with one hand and passed
the duster along under it with the other, as I stood on the chair. It's
the same box, sir; I'll swear to that much; and it's the same pills."

Strong testimony. The coroner paused a moment. "You swear that, you say?
You are quite sure?"

"Sir, I am sure and positive. The box was never took from its place
since Abel Crew gave it me, till I reached up for it on Tuesday evening
and carried it downstairs."

"You had been in the habit of taking these pills yourself, you say?"

"I took two three or four times when I first had 'em, sir; once I took
three; but since then I've felt better and not wanted any."

"Did you feel any inconvenience from them? Any pain?"

"Not a bit, sir. As I said to Ann Dovey that night, when she asked
whether they was fit pills to give the children, they seemed as mild as
milk."

"Should you know the box again, witness?"

"Law yes, sir, what should hinder me?" returned Hester Reed, inwardly
marvelling at what seemed so superfluous a question.

The coroner undid the paper, and handed the box to her. She was standing
close to him, on the other side his clerk--who sat writing down the
evidence. "Is this the box?" he asked. "Look at it well."

Mrs. Reed did as she was bid: turned it about and looked "well." "Yes,
sir, it is the same box," said she. "That is, I am nearly sure of it."

"What do you mean by _nearly_ sure?" quickly asked the coroner, catching
at the word. "Have you any doubt?"

"Not no moral doubt at all, sir. Only them pill-boxes is all so like one
another. Yes, sir, I'm sure it is the same box."

"Open it, and look at the pills. Are they, in your judgment, the same?"

"Just the same, sir," she answered, after taking off the lid. "One might
a'most know'em anywhere. Only----"

"Only what?" demanded the coroner, as she paused.

"Well, sir, I fancied I had rather more left--six or seven say. There's
only five here."

The coroner made no answer to that. He took the box from her and put on
the lid. We soon learnt that two had been taken out for the purpose of
being analyzed.

For who should loom into the room at that juncture but Pettipher, the
druggist from Piefinch Cut. He had been analyzing the pills in a hasty
way in obedience to orders received half-an-hour ago, and came to give
the result. The pills contained arsenic, he said; not enough to kill a
grown person, he thought, but enough to kill a child. As Pettipher was
only a small man (in a business point of view) and sold groceries as
well as drugs, and spectacles and ear-trumpets, some of us did not think
much of his opinion, and fancied the pills should have been analyzed by
Duffham. That was just like old Jones: giving work to the wrong man.

George Reed was questioned, but could tell nothing, except that he had
never touched either box or pills. While Ann Dovey was being called, and
the coroner had his head bent over his clerk's notes, speaking to him in
an undertone, Abel Crew suddenly asked to be allowed to look at the
pills. The coroner, without lifting his head, just pushed the box down
on the green cloth; and one of the jury handed it over his shoulder to
Abel Crew.

"This is not the box I gave Mrs. Reed," said Abel, in a clear, firm
tone, after diving into it with his eyes and nose. "Nor are these the
pills."

Up went the coroner's head with a start. He had supposed the request to
see the box came from a juryman. It might have been irregular for Abel
Crew to be allowed so much; but as it arose partly through the coroner's
own fault, he was too wise to make a commotion over it.

"What is that you say?" he asked, stretching out his hand for the box as
eagerly as though it had contained gold.

"That this box and these pills are not the same that I furnished to Mrs.
Reed, sir," replied Abel, advancing and placing the box in the coroner's
hand. "They are not indeed."

"Not the same pills and box!" exclaimed the coroner. "Why, man, you have
heard the evidence of the witness, Hester Reed; you may see for yourself
that she spoke nothing but truth. Don't talk nonsense here."

"But they are _not_ the same, sir," respectfully persisted Abel. "I know
my own pills, and I know my own boxes: these are neither the one nor the
other."

"Now that won't do; you must take us all for fools!" exploded the
coroner, who was a man of quick temper. "Just you stand back and be
quiet."

"Never a pill-box went out from my hands, sir, but it had my little
private mark upon it," urged Abel. "That box does not bear the mark."

"What is the mark, pray?" asked the coroner.

"Four little dots of ink inside the rim of the lid, sir; and four
similar dots inside the box near the edge. They are so faint that a
casual observer might not notice them; but they are always there. Of all
the pill-boxes now in my house, sir--and I suppose there may be two or
three dozen of them--you will not find one but has the mark."

Some whispering had been going on in different parts of the room; but
this silenced it. You might have heard a pin drop. The words seemed to
make an impression on the coroner: they and Abel Crew were both so
earnest.

"You assert also that the pills are not yours," spoke the coroner,
who was known to be fond of desultory conversations while holding his
inquests. "What proof have you of that?"

"No proof; that is, no proof that I can advance, that would satisfy the
eye or ear. But I am certain, by the look of them, that those were never
my pills."

All this took the jury aback; the coroner also. It had seemed to some of
them an odd thing that Hester Reed should have swallowed two or three of
the pills at once without their entailing an ache or a pain, and that
one each had poisoned the babies. Perkins the butcher observed to the
coroner that the box must have been changed since Mrs. Reed helped
herself from it. Upon which the coroner, after pulling at his whiskers
for a moment as if in thought, called out for Mrs. Reed to return.

But when she did so, and was further questioned, she only kept to what
she had said before, strenuously denying that the box _could_ have been
changed. It had never been touched by any hands but her own while it
stood in its place on the press, and had never been removed from it at
all until she took it downstairs on the past Tuesday night.

"Is the room where this press stands your own sleeping-room?" asked the
coroner.

"No, sir. It's the other room, where my three children sleep."

"Could these children get to the box?"

"Dear no, sir! 'Twould be quite impossible."

"Had any one an opportunity of handling the box when you took it down
on Tuesday night?" went on the coroner after a pause.

"Only Mrs. Dovey, sir. Nobody else was there."

"Did she touch it?"

"She laid hold of it to look at the pills."

"Did you leave her _alone_ with it?"

"No, sir. Leastways--yes, I did for a minute or so, while I went into
the back'us to get the sugar and a saucer and spoon."

"Had she the box in her hands when you returned?"

"Yes, sir, I think she had. I think she was still smelling at the pills.
I know the poor little innocents was lying one on one knee, and one on
t'other, all flat, and her two hands was lifted with the box in 'em."

"It was after that that you took the pills out of it to give the
children?"

"Yes, sir; directly after. But Ann Dovey wouldn't do nothing wrong to
the pills, sir."

"That will do," said the coroner in his curt way. "Call Ann Dovey."

Ann Dovey walked forward with a face as red as her new bonnet-strings.
She had heard the whole colloquy: something seemed, too, to have put her
out. Possessing scant veneration for coroners at the best of times, and
none for the jury at present assembled, she did not feel disposed to
keep down her temper.

The few first questions asked her, however, afforded no opportunity
for resentment, for they were put quietly, and tended only to extract
confirmation of Mrs. Reed's evidence, as to fetching the pill-box from
upstairs and administering the pills. Then the coroner cleared his
throat.

"Did you see the last witness, Hester Reed, go into the back kitchen for
a spoon and saucer?"

"I saw her go and fetch 'em from somewhere," replied Ann Dovey, who felt
instinctively the ball was beginning, and gave the reins to her temper
accordingly.

"Did you take charge of the pill-box while she was gone?"

"I had it in my hand, if you mean that."

"Did anybody come into the kitchen during that interval?"

"No they didn't," was the tart response.

"You were alone, except for the two infants?"

"I were. What of it?"

"Now, witness, did you do anything with that box? Did you, for instance,
exchange it for another?"

"I think you ought to be ashamed o' yourselves, all on you, to sit and
ask a body such a thing!" exploded Mrs. Dovey, growing every moment more
resentful, at being questioned. "If I had knowed the bother that was to
spring up, I'd have chucked the box, pills and all, into the fire first.
I wish I had!"

"Was the box, that you handed to Hester Reed on her return, the same box
she left with you? Were the pills the same pills?"

"Why, where d'ye think I could have got another box from?" shrieked Ann
Dovey. "D'you suppose, sir, I carry boxes and pills about with me? I
bain't so fond o' physic as all that comes to."

"Dovey takes pills on occasion for that giddiness of his; I've seen
him take 'em; mayhap you'd picked up a box of his," spoke Dobbs the
blacksmith, mildly.

That was adding fuel to fire. Two of a trade don't agree. Dovey and
Dobbs were both blacksmiths: the one in Church Dykely; the other in
Piefinch Cut, not much more, so to say, than a stone's-throw from each
other. The men were good friends enough; but their respective ladies
were apt to regard jealously all work taken to the rival establishment.
Any other of the jurymen might have made the remark with comparative
impunity; not so Dobbs. And, besides the turn the inquiry seemed to be
taking, Mrs. Dovey had not been easy about it in her mind from the
first; proof of which was furnished by the call, already mentioned,
made by her husband on Abel Crew.

"Dovey takes pills on occasion, do he!" she shrilly retorted. "And what
do you take, Bill Dobbs? Pints o' beer when you can get 'em. Who lamed
Poole's white horse the t'other day a-shoeing him?"

"Silence!" sternly interrupted the coroner. While Dobbs, conscious of
the self-importance imparted to him by the post he was now filling, and
of the necessity of maintaining the dignity of demeanour which he was
apt to put on with his best clothes, bore the aspersion with equanimity
and a stolid face.

"Attend to me, witness, and confine yourself to replying to the
questions I put to you," continued the coroner. "Did you take with you
any pills or pill-box of your own when you went to Mrs. Reed's that
evening?"

"No, I _didn't_," returned Ann Dovey, the emphasis culminating in a sob:
and why she should have set on to shiver and shake was more than the
jury could understand.

"Do you wear pockets?"

"What if I do?" she said, after a momentary pause. But her lips grew
white, and I thought she was trying to brave it out.

"Had you a pocket on that evening?"

"Heaven be good to me!" I heard her mutter under her breath. And if ever
I saw a woman look frightened nearly to death, Ann Dovey looked it then.

"Had you a pocket on that evening, witness?" repeated the coroner,
sharply.

"Y--es."

"What articles were in it? Do you recollect?"

"It were a key or two," came the answer at length, her very teeth
chattering and all the impudence suddenly gone out of her. "And my
thimble, sir;--and some coppers; and a part of a nutmeg;--and--and I
don't remember nothing else, sir."

"No box of pills? You are sure you had not that?"

"Haven't I said so, sir?" she rejoined, bursting into a flood of tears.
For which, and for the sudden agitation, nobody could see any reason:
and perhaps it was only that which made the coroner harp upon the same
string. Her demeanour had become suspicious.

"You had no poison of any kind in your pocket, then?"

But he asked the question in jest more than earnest. For when she went
into hysterics instead of replying, he let her go. He was used to seeing
witnesses scared when brought before him.

The verdict was not arrived at that day. When other witnesses had
been examined, the coroner addressed the jury. Ten of them listened
deferentially, and were quite prepared to return a verdict of
Manslaughter against Abel Crew; seemed red-hot to do it, in fact. But
two of them dissented. They were not satisfied, they said; and they held
out for adjourning the inquest to see if any more light could be thrown
upon the affair. As they evidently had the room with them, the coroner
yielded, and adjourned the inquest in a temper.

And then it was discovered that the name was not Crew but Carew. Abel
himself corrected the coroner. Upon that, the coroner sharply demanded
why he had lived under a false name.

"Nay, sir," replied Abel, as dignified as you please, "I have had no
intention of doing so. When I first came to this neighbourhood I gave my
name correctly--Carew: but the people at once converted it into Crew by
their mode of pronunciation."

"At any rate, you must have sanctioned it."

"Tacitly I have done so. What did it signify? When I have had occasion
to write my name--but that has been very rare--I have written it Carew.
Old Sir Peter Chavasse knew it was Carew, and used to call me so; as did
Sir Geoffry. Indeed, sir, I have had no reason to conceal my name."

"That's enough," said the coroner, cutting him short. "Stand back, Abel
Carew. The proceedings are adjourned to this day week."



IV.

ABEL CREW.


Things are done in remote country places that would not be done in
towns. Whether the law is understood by us, or whether it is not, it
often happens that it is very much exceeded, or otherwise not acted
upon. Those who have to exercise it sometimes show themselves as
ignorant of it as if they had lived all their lives in the wilds of
America.

Old Jones the constable was one of these. When not checked by his
masters, the magistrates, he would do most outrageous things--speaking
of the law and of common sense. And he did one in reference to Abel
Crew. I still say Crew. Though it had come out that his name was Carew,
we should be sure to call him Crew to the end.

The inquest might have been concluded at its first sitting, but
for the two who stood out against the rest of the jury. Perkins the
butcher and Dobbs the blacksmith. Truth to say, these two had plenty
of intelligence; which could not be said of all the rest. Ten of the
jury pronounced the case to be as clear as daylight: the infants had
been poisoned by Abel Crew's pills: and the coroner seemed to agree
with them--he hated trouble. But Dobbs and Perkins held out. They were
not satisfied, they said; the pills furnished by Abel Crew might not
have been the pills that were taken by the children; moreover, they
considered that the pills should be "more officially" analyzed.
Pettipher the druggist was all very well in his small way, but hardly
up, in their opinion, to pronouncing upon pills when a man's life or
liberty was at stake. They pressed for an adjournment, that the pills
might be examined by some competent authority. The coroner, as good as
telling them they were fools to their faces, had adjourned the inquest
in suppressed passion to that day week.

"And I've got to take care of you, Abel Crew," said old Jones,
floundering up on his gouty legs to Abel as the jury and crowd
dispersed. "You've got to come along o' me."

"To come where?" asked Abel, who was hobbling towards home on his
scalded foot, by the help of his stick and the arm of Gibbon the
gamekeeper.

"To the lock-up," said old Jones.

"To the lock-up!" echoed Abel Crew.

"In course," returned old Jones. "Where else but the lock-up? Did you
think it was to the pound?"

Abel Crew, lifting the hand that held his stick to brush a speck of dirt
off his handsome velvet coat, turned to the constable; his refined face,
a little paler than usual, gazing inquiringly at old Jones's, his silver
hair glistening in the setting sun.

"I don't understand you, Mr. Jones," he said calmly. "You cannot mean to
lock me up?"

"Well, I never!" cried old Jones, who had a knack of considering every
suspected person guilty, and treating them accordingly. "You have a
cheek, you have, Abel Crew! 'Not going to take me to the lock-up, Mr.
Jones,' says you! Where would you be took to?"

"But there's no necessity for it," said Abel. "I shall not run away. I
shall be in my house if I'm wanted again."

"I dare say you would!" said old Jones, ironically. "You might or you
mightn't, you know. You be as good as committed for the killing and
slaying o' them there two twins, and it's my business to see as you
_don't_ make your escape aforehand, Abel Crew."

Quite a company of us, sauntering out of the inquest-room, were
listening by this time. I gave old Jones a bit of my mind.

"He is not yet committed, Jones, therefore you have no right to take him
or to lock him up."

"You don't know nothing about it, Mr. Ludlow. I do. The crowner gave me
a hint, and I'm acting on it. 'Don't you go and let that man escape,'
says his worship to me: 'it'll be at your peril if you do.' '_I'll_ see
to him, your worship,' says I. And I be a-doing of it."

But it was hardly likely that the coroner meant Abel Crew to be confined
in that precious lock-up for a whole week. One night there was bad
enough. At least, I did not think he meant it; but the crowd, to judge
by their comments, seemed divided on the point.

"The shortest way to settle the question will be to ask the coroner,
old Jones," said I, turning back to the Silver Bear. "Come along."

"You'd be clever to catch him, Master Johnny," roared out old Jones
after me. "His worship jumped into his gig; it was a-waiting for him
when he come out; and his clerk druv him off at a slapping pace."

It was true. The coroner was gone; and old Jones had it all his own
way; for, you see, none of us liked to interfere with the edict of an
official gentleman who held sway in the county and sat on dead people.
Abel Crew accepted the alternative meekly.

"Any way, you must allow me to go home first to lock my house up, and to
see to one or two other little matters," said he.

"Not unless you goes under my own eyes," retorted old Jones. "You might
be for destroying your stock o' pills for fear they should bear evidence
again' you, Abel Crew."

"My pills are, of all things, what I would not destroy," said Abel.
"They would bear testimony for me, instead of against me, for they are
harmless."

So Abel Crew hobbled to his cottage on the common, attended by old Jones
and a tail of followers. Arrived there, he attended the first thing to
his scalded foot, dressing it with some of his own ointment. Then he
secured some bread and butter, not knowing what the accommodation at the
lock-up might be in the shape of eatables, and changed his handsome
quaint suit of clothes for those he wore every day. After that, he was
escorted back to the lock-up.

Now, the lock-up was in Piefinch Cut, nearly opposite to Dovey the
blacksmith's. The Squire remembered the time when the lock-up stood
alone; when Piefinch Cut had no more houses in it than Piefinch Lane now
has; but since then Piefinch Cut had been built upon and inhabited;
houses touching even the sacred walls of the lock-up. A tape-and-cotton
and sweetstuff shop supported it on one side, and a small pork-butcher's
on the other. Pettipher's drug shop, should anybody be curious on the
point, was next to the tape-and-cotton mart.

To see Abel Crew arriving in the custody of old Jones the constable, the
excited stragglers after them, astonished Piefinch Cut not a little.
Figg the pawnbroker--who was originally from Alcester--considered
himself learned in the law. Anyway, he was a great talker, and liked to
give his opinion upon every topic that might turn up. His shop joined
Dovey's forge: and when we arrived there, Figg was outside, holding
forth to Dovey, who had his shirt-sleeves rolled up above his elbows as
usual, his leather apron on. Mrs. Dovey stood listening behind, in the
smart gown and red-ribboned bonnet she had worn at the inquest.

"Why--what on earth!--have they been and gone and took up Crew?" cried
Figg in surprise.

"It is an awful shame of old Jones," I broke in; speaking more to Dovey
than Figg, for Figg was no favourite of mine. "A whole week of the
lock-up! Only think of it, Dovey!"

"But have they brought it in again' him, Master Johnny?" cried Dovey,
unfolding his grimy arms to touch his paper cap to me as he spoke.

"_No_; that's what they have not done. The inquest is adjourned for a
week; and I don't believe old Jones has a right to take him at all. Not
legally, you know."

"That's just what her brought word," said Dovey, with a nod in the
direction of his wife. "'Well, how be it turned, Ann?' says I to her
when her come back--for I'd a sight o' work in to-day and couldn't go
myself. 'Oh, it haven't turned no ways yet, Jack,' says her; 'it be put
off to next week.' There he goes! right in."

This last remark applied to Abel Crew. After fumbling in his pocket for
the two big keys, tied together with string, and then fumbling at the
latch, old Jones succeeded in opening the door. Not being much used, the
lock was apt to grow rusty. Then he stood back, and with a flourish of
hands motioned Abel in. He made no resistance.

"They must know for certain as 'twere his pills what done it," struck in
Mrs. Dovey.

"No, they don't," said I. "What's more, I do not think it was his pills.
Abel Crew says he never put poison in his pills yet, and I believe him."

"Well, and no more it don't stand to reason as he would, Mr. Ludlow,"
said Figg, a man whose self-complaisance was not to be put down by any
amount of discouragement. "I were just a-saying so to Dovey---- Why have
old Jones took him up?" went on Figg to Gibbon the gamekeeper, who came
striding by.

"Jones says he has the coroner's orders for it," answered Gibbon.

"Look here, I know a bit about law, and I know a man oughtn't to be shut
up till some charge is brought again' him," contended Figg. "Crew's
pills is suspected, but he have not been charged yet."

"Anyway, it's what Jones has gone and done," said Gibbon. "Perhaps he is
right. And a week's not much; it'll soon pass. But as to any pills of
Abel Crew's having killed them children, it's just preposterous to think
of it."

"What d'ye suppose did kill 'em, then, Richard Gibbon?" demanded Ann
Dovey, a hot flush on her face, her tone full of resentment.

"That's just what has to be found out," returned Gibbon, passing on his
way.

"If it hadn't been for Dobbs and Butcher Perkins holding out again' it,
Crew 'ud ha' been brought in guilty safe enough," said Ann Dovey. And
the tone was again so excited, so bitterly resentful against Dobbs and
Perkins, that I could not help looking at her in wonder. It sounded just
as though the non-committal of Abel were a wrong inflicted upon herself.

"No, he would not have been brought in guilty," I answered her; "he
would have been committed for trial; but that's a different thing. If
the matter could be sifted to the bottom, I know it would be found that
the mischief did not lie with Abel Crew's pills. There, Mrs. Dovey!"

She was looking at me out of the corners of her eyes--for all the world
as if she were afraid of me, or of what I said. I could not make her
out.

"Why should you wish so particularly to bring it home to Crew?" I
pointedly asked her; and Figg turned round to look at her, as if
seconding the question.

"Me want particular to bring it home to Crew!" she retorted, her voice
rising with temper; or perhaps with fear, for she trembled like an aspen
leaf. "I don't want to bring it home particular to him, Mr. Ludlow. It
were his pills, though, all the same, that did it."

And with that she whisked through the forge to her kitchen.

                 *       *       *       *       *

On the morning following I got old Jones to let me into the lock-up. The
place consisted of two rooms opening into one another, and a small
square space, no bigger than a closet, at the end of the passage, where
they kept the pen and ink. For that small space had a window in it,
looking on to the fields at the back; the two rooms had only skylights
in the roof. In the inner room a narrow iron bedstead stood against the
wall, a mattress and blanket on it. Abel was sitting on that when we
went in.

"You must have been lively here last night, Abel!"

"Yes, very, sir," answered he, with a half-smile. "I did not really mind
it; I am used to be alone. I could have done with fewer rats, though."

"Oh, are there rats here?"

"Lots of them, Master Johnny. I don't like rats. They came upon my face,
and all about me."

"Why does old Jones not set traps for them? He considers this place to
be under his special protection."

"There are too many for any trap to catch," answered Abel.

Old Jones had gone off to the desk in the closet, having placed some
bread and butter and milk on the shelf for Abel. His errand there was
to enter the cost of the bread in the account-book, to be settled for
later. A prisoner in the lock-up was commonly treated to bread and
water: old Jones had graciously allowed this one to pay for some butter
and milk out of his own pocket.

"I don't want to treat 'em harsher nor I be obliged, Master Ludlow," he
said to me, when coming in, in reference to the butter and the milk he
was carrying. "Abel Crew have been known as a decent man ever since he
come among us: and if he chooses to pay for the butter and the milk,
there ain't no law against his having 'em. 'Tain't as if he was a
burglar."

"No, he is not a burglar," I answered. "And you must mind that you do
not get into the wrong box about him. There's neither law nor justice in
locking him up, Jones, before he is charged."

"If I had never locked up nobody till they was charged, I should ha'
been in the wrong box many a time afore now," said old Jones, doggedly.
"Look at that there man last Christmas; what I caught prowling in the
grounds at Parrifer Hall, with a whole set of house-breaking things
concealed in his pockets! After I'd took him, and lodged him in here
safe, it was found that he was one o' the worst characters in the
county, only let out o' Worcester goal two days before. Suppose I'd
not took him, Master Johnny? where 'ud the spoons at Parrifer Hall ha'
been?"

"That was a different case altogether."

"_I_ know what I'm about," returned Jones. "The coroner, he just give me
a nod or two, looking at Crew as he give it. I knew what it meant, sir:
a nod's as good as a wink to a blind horse."

Anyway, Jones had him, here in the lock-up: and had gone off to enter
the loaf in the account-book; and I was sitting on the bench opposite
Abel.

"It is a wicked shame of them to have put you here, Abel."

"It is not legal--as I believe," he answered. "And I am sure it is not
just, sir. I swear those pills and that box produced at the inquest were
none of mine. They never went out of my hands. Old Jones thinks he is
doing right to secure me, I suppose, and he is civil over it; so I must
not grumble. He brought me some water to wash in this morning, and a
comb."

"But there's no _sense_ in it. You would not attempt to escape; you
would wait for the reassembling of the inquest."

"Escape!" he exclaimed. "I should be the first to remain for it. I am
more anxious than any one to have the matter investigated. Truth to say,
Master Johnny, my curiosity is excited. Hester Reed is so persistent in
regard to their being the pills and box that I gave her; and as she is a
truthful honest woman, one can't see where the mistake lies. There must
be a mystery in it somewhere."

"Suppose you are committed to take your trial? And found guilty?"

"That I shall be committed, I look upon as certain," he answered. "As to
being found guilty--if I am, I must bear it. God knows my innocence, and
I shall hope that in time He will bring it to light."

"All the same, Abel, they ought not to put you in here."

"That's true, sir."

"And then there will be the lying in prison until the assizes--two or
three good months to come! Don't go and die of it, Abel."

"No, I shall not do that," he answered, smiling a little. "The
consciousness of innocence will keep me up."

I sat looking at him. What light could get in through the dusty skylight
fell on his silver hair, which fell back from his pale face. He held his
head down in thought, only raising it to answer me. Some movement in the
closet betokened old Jones's speedy approach, and I hastened to assure
Abel that all sensible people would not doubt his innocence.

"No one need doubt it, Master Johnny," he answered firmly, his eye
kindling. "I never had a grain of arsenic in my house; I have never had
any other poison. There are herbs from which poison may be distilled,
but I have never gathered them. When it comes to people needing
poison--and there are some diseases of the human frame that it may be
good for--they should go to a qualified medical man, not to a herbalist.
No. I have never, never had poison or poisonous herbs withing my
dwelling; therefore (putting other reasons aside) it is _impossible_
that those pills can have been my pills. God hears me say it, and knows
that it is true."

Old Jones, balancing the keys in his hand, was standing within the
room, listening. Abel Crew was so respectable and courteous a prisoner,
compared with those he generally had in the lock-up, burglars, tipsy
men, and the like, returning him a "thank you" instead of an oath, that
he had already begun to regard him with some favour, and the assertion
seemed to make an impression on him.

"Look here," said he. "Whose pills could they have been, if they warn't
yours?"

"I cannot imagine," returned Abel Crew. "I am as curious about it as any
one else--Master Ludlow here knows I am. I dare say it will come out
sometime. They _could not_ have been made up by me."

"What was that you told the coroner about your pill-boxes being marked?"
asked old Jones.

"And so they are marked; all of them. The pill-box I saw there----"

"I mean the stock o' boxes you've got at home. Be they all marked?"

"Every one of them. When I have in a fresh lot of pill-boxes the first
thing I do, on bringing them home, is to mark them."

"Then look here. You just trust me with the key of your place, and tell
me where the boxes are to be found, and I'll go and secure 'em, and lay
'em afore the coroner. If they be all found marked, it'll tell in your
favour."

The advice sounded good, and Abel Crew handed over his key. Jones looked
solemn as he and I went away together.

"It's an odd thing, though, Master Johnny, ain't it, how the pison could
ha' got into them there pills," said he slowly, as he put the big key
into the lock of the outer door.

And we had an audience round us before the words were well spoken. To
see the lock-up made fast when there was a prisoner within it, was
always a coveted recreation in Piefinch Cut. Several individuals had
come running up; not to speak of children from the gutters. Dovey stood
gazing in front of his forge; Figg, who liked to be lounging about
outside when he had no customers transacting delicate negotiations
within, backed against his shop-window, and stared in concert with
Dovey. Jones flourishing the formidable keys, crossed over to them.

"How do he feel to-day?" asked Figg, nodding towards the lock-up.

"He don't feel no worse appariently than he do other days," replied old
Jones. "It be a regular odd thing, it be."

"What be odd?" asked Dovey.

"How the pison could ha' got into them there pills. Crew says he has
never had no pison in his place o' no kind, herbs nor else."

"And I would pledge my word that it is the truth," I put in.

"Well, and so I think it is," said Dovey. "Last night George Reed was in
here a-talking. He says he one day come across Abel Crew looking for
herbs in the copse behind the Grange. Crew was picking and choosing:
some herbs he'd leave alone, and some he dug up. Reed spied out a
fine-looking plant, and called to him. Up comes Crew, trowel in hand,
bends down to take a look, and then gives his head a shake. 'That won't
do for me,' says he, 'that plant has poisonous properties,' says he;
'and I never meddles with them that has,' says he. George Reed told us
that much in this here forge last night. Him and his wife have a'most
had words about it."

"Had words about what?" asked old Jones.

"Why, about them pills. Reed tells her that if it is the pills what
poisoned the young ones, she have made some mull o' the box Abel give
her and got it changed. But he don't believe as 'twere the pills at all.
And Hester Reed, she sticks to it that she never made no mull o' the
box, and that the pills is the same."

At this juncture, happening to turn my head, I saw Mrs. Dovey at the
door at the back of the forge, her face screwed round the doorpost,
listening: and there was a great fear on it. Seeing me looking at her,
she disappeared like a shot, and quietly closed the door. A thought
flashed across me.

"That woman knows more about it than she will say! And it is frightening
her. What can the mystery be?"

The children were buried on the Sunday afternoon, all the parish
flocking to the funeral; and the next morning Abel Crew was released.
Whether old Jones had become doubtful as to the legality of what he had
done, or whether he received a mandate from the coroner by the early
post, no one knew. Certain it was, that before nine o'clock old Jones
held the lock-up doors open, and Abel Crew walked out. It was thought
that some one must have written privately to the coroner--which was more
than likely. Old Jones was down in the mouth all day, as if he had had
an official blowing-up.

Abel and his stick went home. The rest and his own doctoring had very
nearly cured the instep. On the Saturday old Jones had made a descent
upon the cottage and cleared it of the pill-boxes. Jones found that
every box had Abel's private mark upon it.

"Well, this is a curious start, Crew!" exclaimed Mr. Duffham, meeting
him as he was turning in at his gate. "Now in the lock-up, and now out
of it! It may be old Jones's notion of law, but it is not mine. How have
you enjoyed it?"

"It would not have been so bad but for the rats, sir," replied Abel. "I
could see a few stars shining through the skylight."

                 *       *       *       *       *

The days went on to the Thursday, and it was now the evening before the
adjourned inquest. Tod and I, in consideration of the popular ferment,
had taken the Squire at a favourable moment, and extracted from him
another week's holiday. Opinions were divided: some believed in Crew,
others in the poisoned pills. As to Crew himself, he was out in his
garden as usual, attending to his bees, and his herbs and flowers, and
quietly awaiting the good or the ill luck that Fate might have in store
for him.

It was Thursday evening, I say; and I was taking tea with Duffham.
Having looked in upon him, when rushing about the place, he asked me
to stay. The conversation turned upon the all-engrossing topic; and I
chanced to mention that the behaviour of Ann Dovey puzzled me. Upon
that, Duffham said that it was puzzling him. He had been called in to
her the previous day, and found her in a regular fever, eyes anxious,
breath hysterical, face hectic. Since the day of the inquest she had
been more or less in this state, and the blacksmith told Duffham he
could not make out what had come to her. "Them pills have drove her mad,
sir," were Dovey's words; "she can't get 'em off her mind."

The last cup of tea was poured out, and Duffham was shaking round the
old black pot to see if he could squeeze out any more, when we received
an interruption. Dovey came bursting in upon us straight from his forge;
his black hair ruffled, his small dark face hot with flurry. It was a
singular tale he had come to tell. His wife had been making a confession
to him. Driven pretty nearly out of her mind by the weight of a secret,
she could hold it no longer.

To begin at the beginning. Dovey's house swarmed with black-beetles.
Dovey himself did not mind the animals, but Mrs. Dovey did; and no
wonder, when she could not step out of bed in the night without putting
her foot on one. But, if Dovey did not dislike black-beetles, there was
another thing he did dislike--hated in fact; and that was the stuff
called beetle-powder: which professed to kill them. Mrs. Dovey would
have scattered some on the floor every night; but Dovey would not allow
it. He forbid her to bring a grain of it into the house: it was nothing
but poison, he said, and might chance to kill themselves as well as the
beetles. Ann Dovey had her way in most matters, for Dovey was easy, as
men and husbands go; but when once he put his veto on a thing, she knew
she might as well try to turn the house round as turn him.

Now what did Ann Dovey do? On that very Easter Tuesday, as it chanced,
as soon as dusk had set in, off she went to Dame Chad's general shop in
Church Dykely, where the beetle-power was sold, and bought a packet of
it. It seemed to her, that of the choice between two evils--to put up
with the horrible black animals, or to disobey Dovey, the latter was the
more agreeable. She could easily shake some of the powder down lightly
of a night; the beetles would eat it up before morning, and Dovey would
never know it. Accordingly, paying for the powder--a square packet, done
up in blue paper, on which was labelled "Poison" in as large letters as
the printer could get into the space--she thrust it into the depths of
her gown-pocket--it was her holiday gown--and set off home again.
Calling in at George Reed's cottage on her way, she there assisted, as
it also chanced, in administering the pills to the unfortunate children.
And perhaps her motive for calling in was not so much from a love of
presiding at physic-giving, as that she might be able, when she got
home, to say "At Reed's," if her husband asked her where she had been.
It fell out as she thought. No sooner had she put foot inside the forge
than Dovey began, "Where'st been, Ann?" and she told him at Reed's,
helping with the sick little ones. Dovey's work was over for the
night; he wanted his supper; and she had no opportunity of using the
beetle-powder. It was left untouched in the pocket of her gown. The
following morning came the astounding news of the children's death; and
in the excitement caused by that, Mrs. Dovey lost sight of the powder.
Perhaps she thought that the general stir might cause Dovey to be more
wakeful than usual, and that she might as well let the powder be for a
short time. It was safe where it was, in her hung-up gown. Dovey never
meddled with her pockets: on or off, they were no concern of his.

But, on the Friday morning, when putting on this same holiday gown to
attend the inquest, to which she had been summoned, what was her horror
to find the packet burst, and her pocket filled with the loose powder.
Mrs. Dovey had no greater love for beetle-powder in itself than she had
for beetles, and visibly shuddered. She could not empty it out; there it
had to remain; for Dovey, excited by his wife's having to give evidence,
was in and out of her room like a dog in a fair; and she went off
perforce with the stuff in her pocket. And when during her examination
the questions took the turn they did take, and the coroner asked her
whether she had had any poison in her pocket that night at George
Reed's; this, with the consciousness of what had been that night
in her pocket, of what was in her pocket at that very moment, then
present, nearly frightened her into fits. From that hour, Ann Dovey had
lived in a state of terror. It was not that she believed any of the
beetle-powder _could_ have got inside the ill-fated young ones (though
she did not feel quite easy on the point), as that she feared the
accusation might be shifted off Crew's shoulders and on to hers. On this
Thursday evening she could hold out no longer; and disclosed all to
Dovey.

Dovey burst upon us in a heat. He was as straightforward a man as ever
lived, of an intensely honest nature, and could no more have kept it in,
now that he knew it, than he could have given up all righteous dealing
together. His chief concern was to tell the truth, and to restore peace
to his wife. He went through the narrative to Duffham without stopping;
and seemed not in the least to care for my being present.

"It ain't _possible_, sir, there ain't a moral _possibility_ that any o'
that there dratted powder could have come anigh the babies," wound up
Dovey. "I should be thankful, sir, if you'd come down and quieten her a
bit; her be in a fine way."

What with surprise, and what with the man's rapid speech, Duffham had
not taken in one-half of the tale. He had simply sat behind the teapot
and stared.

"My good fellow, I don't understand," he said. "A pocketful of poison!
What on earth made her take poison to George Reed's?"

So Dovey went over the heads of the story again.

"'Twas in her pocket, sir, our Ann's, it's true; but the chances are
that at that time the paper hadn't burst. None of it _couldn't_ ha' got
to them there two young ones."

To see the blacksmith's earnestness was good. His face was as eager, his
tone as imploring, as though he were pleading for his life.

"And it 'ud be a work of charity, sir, if you'd just step down and see
her. I'd pay handsome for the visit, sir; anything you please to charge.
She's like one going right out of her mind."

"I'll come," said Duffham, who had his curiosity upon the point.

And the blacksmith set off on the run home again.

"Well, this is a curious thing!" exclaimed Duffham, when he had gone.

"Could the beetle-powder have poisoned the children?" I asked.

"I don't know, Johnny. It is an odd tale altogether. We will go down and
inquire into it."

Which of course implied that he expected me to go with him. Nothing
loath was I; more eager than he.

Finishing what was left of the tea and bread-and-butter, we went on to
Piefinch Cut. Ann Dovey was alone, except for her husband and mother.
She flung herself on the sofa when she saw us--the blacksmith's house
was comfortably off for furniture--and began to scream.

"Now, just you stop that, Ann Dovey," said Duffham, who was always short
with hysterics. "I want to come to the bottom of this business; you
can't tell it me while you scream. What in the world possessed you to go
about with your pocket full of poison?"

She had her share of sense, and knew Duffham was not one to be trifled
with; so she told the tale as well as she could for sobbing.

"Have you mentioned this out of doors?" was the first question Duffham
asked when it was over.

"No," interposed Dovey. "I telled 'er afore I come to you not to be
soft enough for that. Not a soul have heard it, sir, but me and
her"--pointing to the old mother--"and you and Master Johnny. We don't
want all the parish swarming about us like so many hornets."

"Good," said Duffham. "But it is rather a serious thing, I fear.
Uncertain, at any rate."

"Be it, sir?" returned Ann, raising her heavy eyes questioningly. "Do
you think so?"

"Why, you see, the mischief must have lain between that beetle-powder
and Crew's pills. As Crew is so careful a man, I don't think it could
have been the pills; and that's the truth."

"But how could the beetle-powder have got anigh the children out of my
pocket, sir?" she asked, her eyes wild. "I never put my hand into my
pocket while I sat there; I never did."

"You can't be sure of that," returned Duffham. "We may put our hands
into our pockets fifty times a day without remembering it."

"D'you suppose, sir, I should take out some o' that there beetle-powder
and cram it down the poor innocents' throats?" she demanded, on the
verge of further screaming.

"Where is the powder?" questioned Duffham.

The powder was where it had been all along: in the gown-pocket. Want of
opportunity, through fear of Dovey's eyes, or dread of touching the
stuff, had kept her from meddling with it. When she took the gown off,
the night of the inquest, she hung it up on the accustomed hook, and
there it was still. The old mother went to the bedroom and brought it
forward, handling it gingerly: a very smart print gown with bright
flowers upon it.

Duffham looked round, saw a tin pie-dish, and turned the pocket inside
out into it. A speckled sort of powder, brown and white. He plunged his
fingers into it fearlessly, felt it, and smelt it. The blue paper it had
been sold in lay amidst it, cracked all across. Duffham took it up.

"Poison!" read out he aloud, gazing at the large letters through his
spectacles. "How came you to let it break open in your pocket, Ann
Dovey?"

"I didn't let it; it braked of itself," she sobbed. "If you saw the
black-beedles we gets here of a night, sir, you'd be fit to dance a
hornpipe, you would. The floor be covered with 'em."

"If the ceiling was covered with 'em too, I wouldn't have that there
dangerous stuff brought into the place--and so I've telled ye often,"
roared Dovey.

"It's frightful uncomfortable, is black-beedles; mother knows it," said
his wife, in a subdued voice--for Dovey in great things was master. "I
thought if I just sprinkled a bit on't down, it 'ud take 'em away, and
couldn't hurt nobody."

"And you went off on the sly that there Tuesday night and bought it," he
retorted; "and come back and telled me you had been to Reed's helping to
physic the babies."

"And so I had been there, helping to physic 'em."

"Did you go straight to Reed's from the shop--with this powder?" asked
Duffham.

"It was right at the bottom o' my pocket: I put it there as soon as Dame
Chad had served me with it," sobbed Ann Dovey. "And I can be upon my
Bible oath, Dr. Duffham, that I never touched it after; and I don't
believe it had then burst. A-coming hasty out of Reed's back-gate, for I
were in a hurry to get home, the pocket swung again' the post, and I
think the blue paper must ha' burst then. I never knowed it had burst,
for I'd never thought no more about the beedles till I put on the gownd
to go up to the inquest. Master Johnny, you be a-staring at me fearful,
but I'm telling nothing but the naked truth."

She did seem to be telling the truth. And as to my "staring at her
fearful," that was just her imagination. I was listening to the talk
from the elbow of the wooden chair, on which I had perched myself.
Duffham recommended Dovey to put the tin dish and its contents away
safely, so that it did not get near any food, but not to destroy the
stuff just yet. He talked a bit with Ann, left her a composing draught,
and came away.

"I don't see that the powder could have had anything to do with the
children's death," I said to him as we went along.

"Neither do I, Johnny!"

"Shall you have to declare this at the inquest to-morrow, Mr. Duffham?"

"I am sure I don't know," he answered, looking up at the sky through his
spectacles, just as a perplexed owl might do. "It might only serve to
complicate matters: and I don't think it's possible it could have been
the powder. On the other hand, if it be proved not to have been the
pills, we have only this poisonous powder to fall back upon. It is a
strange affair altogether, take it in all its bearings."

I did not answer. The evening star was beginning to show itself in the
sky.

"I must feel my way in this, Johnny: be guided by circumstances," he
resumed, when we halted at the stile that led across the fields to the
Manor. "We must watch the turn matters take to-morrow at the inquest.
Of course if I find it necessary to declare it, I shall declare it.
Meanwhile, lad, you had better not mention it to any one."

"All right, Mr. Duffham. Good-evening."

                 *       *       *       *       *

The jury went straggling into the Silver Bear by twos and threes. Up
dashed the coroner's gig, as before, he and his clerk seated side by
side. All the parish had collected about the doors, and were trying to
push into the inquest-room.

Gliding quietly in, before the proceedings were opened, came Abel Crew
in his quaint velvet suit, his silver hair gleaming in the sunlight, his
pale face calm as marble. The coroner ordered him to sit on a certain
chair, and whispered to old Jones. Upon which the constable turned his
gouty legs round, marched up, and stood guard over Crew, just as though
Abel were his prisoner.

"Do you see that, sir?" I whispered to Duffham.

"Yes, lad, and understand it. Crew's pills have been
analyzed--officially this time, as the jury put it--and found to contain
arsenic. Pettipher was right. The pills killed the children."

Well, you might have knocked me down with a feather. I had been fully
trusting in Crew's innocence.

About the first witness called, and sworn, was the professional man from
a distance who had analyzed the pills. He said that they contained
arsenic. Not in sufficient quantity to hurt a grown-up person; more than
sufficient to kill a little child. The coroner drew in his lips.

"I thought it must be so," he said, apparently for the benefit of
the jury. "Am I to understand that these were improper pills to send
out?--pills that no medical man would be likely to send?"

"Not improper at all, sir," replied the witness. "A medical man would
prescribe them for certain cases. Not for children: to an infant one
would be what it has been here--destruction."

I felt a nudge at my elbow, and turned to see the Squire's hot face
close to mine.

"Johnny, don't you ever stand up for that Crew again. He ought to be
hanged."

But the coroner, after a bit, seemed puzzled; or rather, doubtful. Led
to be so, perhaps, by a question put by one of the jury. It was Perkins
the butcher.

"If these pills were furnished by Abel Crew for Hester Reed, a growed
woman, and she went and gave one of her own accord to the two babies,
ought Crew to be held responsible for that?"

Upon which there ensued some cavilling. Some of the jury holding that he
was _not_ responsible; others that he was. The coroner reminded them of
what Hester Reed had stated in her evidence--that she had asked Crew's
opinion about the suitability of the pills for children, and he had told
her they were suitable.

Hester Reed was called. As the throng parted to make way for her to
advance, I saw Ann Dovey seated at the back of the room, looking more
dead than alive. Dovey stood by her, having made himself spruce for the
occasion. Ann would have gone off a mile in some opposite direction, but
old Jones's orders to all the witnesses of the former day, to appear
again, had been peremptory. They had been wanted before, he told them,
and might be wanted again.

"You need not look such a scarecrow with fright," I whispered in Ann
Dovey's ear, making my way to her side to reassure her, the woman was so
evidently miserable. "It was the pills that did the mischief, after
all--didn't you hear? Nothing need come out about your pocket and the
powder."

"Master Johnny, I'm just about skeered out o' my life, I am. Fit to go
and drown myself."

"Nonsense! It will be all right as far as you are concerned."

"I said it was Crew's pills, all along, I did; it couldn't have been
anything else, sir. All the same, I wish I was dead."

As good try to console a post, seemingly, as Ann Dovey. I went back to
my standing-place between the Squire and Duffham. Hester Reed was being
questioned then.

"Yes, sir, it were some weeks ago. My little boy was ailing, and I ran
out o' the house to Abel Crew, seeing the old gentleman go past the
gate, and asked whether I might give him one of them there same pills,
or whether it would hurt the child. Crew said I might give it freely; he
said two even wouldn't hurt him."

"And did you give the pill?" asked the coroner.

"No, sir. He's a rare bad one to give physic to, Gregory is, and I let
him get well without it."

"How old is he?"

"Turned of three, sir."

"You are absolutely certain, Mrs. Reed, that these pills, from which you
took out two to give the deceased children, were the very self-same
pills you had from Abel Crew?"

"I be sure and certain of it, sir. Nobody never put a finger upon the
box but me. It stood all the while in the corner o' the press-shelf in
the children's bedroom. Twice a week when I got upon a chair to dust
the shelf, I see it there. There was nobody in the house but me, except
the little ones. My husband don't concern himself with the places and
things."

Circumstantial evidence could not well go farther. Mrs. Reed was
dismissed, and the coroner told Abel Crew to come near the table. He
did as he was bid, and stood there upright and manly, a gentle look on
his face.

"You have heard the evidence, Abel Crew," said the coroner. "The pills
have been analyzed and found to contain a certain portion of arsenic--a
great deal more than enough to kill a child. What have you to say to
it?"

"Only this, sir; only what I said before. That the pills analyzed were
not my pills. The pills I gave to Mrs. Reed contained neither arsenic
nor any other poison."

"It is showing great obstinacy on your part to repeat that," returned
the coroner, impatiently. "Mrs. Reed swears that the pills were the same
pills; and she evidently speaks the truth."

"I am sure she thinks she speaks it," replied Abel, gently.
"Nevertheless, sir, I assure you she is mistaken. In some way the pills
must have been changed whilst in her possession, box and all."

"Why, man, in what manner do you suppose they could have been changed?"

"I don't know, sir. All I do know is, that the pills and the box
produced here last week were not, either of them, the pills and the box
she had from me. Never a box went out from me, sir, but had my private
mark on it--the mark I spoke of. Jones the constable searched my place
whilst I was detained in the lock-up, and took away all the pill-boxes
out of it. Let him testify whether he found one without the mark."

At this juncture a whole cargo of pill-boxes were shot out of a bag on
the table by old Jones, some empty, some filled with pills. The coroner
and jury began to examine them, and found the mark on all, lids and
boxes.

"And if you'd be so good as to cause the pills to be analyzed, sir, they
would be found perfectly free from poison," resumed Abel. "They are made
from herbs that possess healing properties, not irritant; a poisonous
herb, whether poisonous in itself, or one from which poison may be
extracted, I never plucked. Believe me, sir, for I am telling the truth;
the truth before Heaven."

The coroner said nothing for a minute or two: I think the words
impressed him. He began lifting the lid again from one or two of the
boxes.

"What are these pills for? All for the same disorder?"

"They were made up for different disorders, sir."

"And pray how do you distinguish them?"

"I cannot distinguish them now. They have been mixed. Even if returned
to me I could not use them. I have a piece of furniture at home, sir,
that I call my pill-case. It has various drawers in it, each drawer
being labelled with the sort of pills kept in it: camomile, dandelion,
and so on. Mr. Jones must be able to corroborate this."

Old Jones nodded. He had never seen nothing neater nor more exact in all
his life, than the keeping o' them there pills. He, Mr. Jones, had
tumbled the drawerfuls indiscriminately into his bag, and so mixed
them.

"And they will be so much loss to me," quietly observed Abel. "It does
not matter."

"Were you brought up to the medical profession?" cried the coroner--and
some of us thought he put the question in irony.

"No, sir," replied Abel, taking it seriously. "I have learnt the healing
art, as supplied by herbs and roots, and I know their value. Herbs will
cure sometimes where the regular doctor fails. I have myself cured cases
with them that the surgeons could not cure; cases that but for me, under
God, might never have been cured in this world. I make no boast of it;
any one else might do as much who had made herbs a study as I have."

"Are you making a fortune by it?" went on the coroner.

Abel shook his head.

"I have a small income of my own, sir, and it is enough for my simple
wants. What little money I make by my medicines, and honey, and that--it
is not much--I find uses for in other ways. I indulge in a new book now
and then; and there are many poor people around who need a bit of help
sometimes."

"You 'read' the stars, I am told, Abel Crew. What do you read in them?"

"The same that I read, sir, in all other of nature's works: God's
wonderful hand. His wisdom, His power, His providence."

Perhaps the coroner thought to bring Abel to ridicule in his replies:
if so, it was a mistake, for he seemed to be getting the worst of it
himself. At any rate, he quitted the subject abruptly, brushed his
energy up, and began talking to the jury.

The drift of the conversation was, so far as the room could hear
it, that Crew's pills, and only Crew's, could have been the authors
of the mischief to the two deceased children, whose bodies they were
sitting upon, and that Crew must be committed to take his trial for
manslaughter. "Hester Reed's evidence," he continued, "is so clear and
positive, that it quite puts aside any suspicion of the box of pills
having been changed----"

"The box had not my mark upon it, sir," respectfully spoke Abel Crew,
his tone anxious.

"Don't interrupt me," rebuked the coroner, sharply. "As to the box not
having what he calls his private mark upon it," he added to the jury,
"that in my opinion tells little. Because a man has put a mark on fifty
pill-boxes, he is not obliged to have put it on the fifty-first. An
unintentional omission is readily made. It appears to me----"

"Am I in time? Is it all over? Is Abel Crew found guilty?"

This unceremonious interruption to the official speech came from a
woman's voice. The door of the room was thrown open with a fling,
considerably discomposing those who had their backs against it and were
taken unawares, and they were pushed right and left by the struggles of
some one to get to the front. The coroner looked daggers; old Jones
lifted his staff; but the intruder forced her way forward with resolute
equanimity. Cathy Reed: we never remembered to call her Parrifer. Cathy
in her Sunday-going gown and a pink bonnet.

"How dare you?" cried the coroner. "What do you mean by this? Who are
you?"

"I have come rushing over from Tewkesbury to clear Abel Crew," returned
Cathy, recovering her breath after the fight. "The pills that killed the
children were my pills."

The commotion this avowal caused in the room was beyond describing. The
coroner stared, the jury all turned to look at the speaker, the crowd
trod upon one another.

"And sorry to my heart I am that it should have been so," went on Cathy.
"I loved those two dear little ones as if they were my own, and I'd
rather my pills had killed myself. Just look at that, please, Mr.
Coroner."

The ease with which Cathy spoke to the official gentleman, the coolness
with which she put down a pill-box on the green cloth before him, took
the room by surprise. As Ann Dovey remarked, later, "She must ha' learnt
that there manner in her travels with young Parrifer."

"What is this?" questioned the coroner, curtly, picking up the box.

"Perhaps you'll ask Mr. Crew whether he knows it, sir, before I say what
it is," returned Cathy.

The coroner had opened it. It contained seven pills; just the size of
the other pills, and looking exactly like them. On the lid and on the
box was the private mark spoken of by Abel Crew.

"That is my box, sir; and these--I am certain of it--are my pills,"
spoke Abel, earnestly, bending over the shoulder of the first juryman to
look into the box. "The box and the pills that I gave to Mrs. Reed."

"And so they are, Abel Crew," rejoined Cathy, emphatically. "The week
before last, which I was spending at home at father's, I changed the
one pill-box for the other, inadvertent, you see"--with a nod to the
coroner--"and took the wrong box away with me. And I wish both boxes
had been in the sea before I'd done it."

Cathy was ordered to give her account more clearly, and did so. She
had been suffering from illness, accompanied by neuralgia, and a
doctor at Tewkesbury had prescribed some pills for it, one to be taken
occasionally. The chemist who made them up told her they contained
arsenic. He was about to write the directions on the box, when Cathy,
who was in a hurry, snatched it from him, saying she could not wait for
that bother, flung down the money, and departed. This box of pills she
had brought with her on her visit to her father's, lest she should find
occasion to take one; and she had put it on the shelf of the press, side
by side with the other pill-box, to be out of the way of the children.
Upon leaving, she took up the wrong box inadvertently: carrying away
Abel Crew's pills, leaving her own. There lay the explanation of the
mystery of the fatal mistake. Mrs. Reed had not known that Cathy had any
pills with her; the girl, who was just as light-headed as ever, not
having chanced to mention it; and Cathy had the grace to dust the room
herself whilst she was there.

"When father and his wife sent me word about the death of the two little
twins, and that it was some pills of Abel Crew's that had done it, I
never once thought o' my pills," added Cathy. "They didn't as much as
come into my head. But late last night I got lent to me last Saturday's
_Worcester Herald_, and there I read the inquest, and what Crew had said
about the marks he put on his pill-boxes, and mother's evidence about
never having shifted the pill-box from its place on the press. 'Sure and
I couldn't have changed the boxes,' thought I to myself; and upstairs I
ran in a fright to look at the box I had brought away. Yes, there it
was--Abel Crew's box with the marks on it; and I knew then that I had
left my own pills at home here, and that they had killed the babies. As
soon as I could get away this morning--which was not as soon as I wanted
to--I started to come over. And that's the history--and the blessed
truth."

Of course it was the truth. Abel's beautiful face had a glow upon it.
"I knew I should be cleared in God's good time," he breathed. The Squire
pounced upon him, and shook both his hands as if he would never let them
go again. Duffham held out his.

So that was the end of the story. Cathy was reprimanded by the coroner
for her carelessness, and burst into tears in his face.

"And thee come off home wi' thee, and see me chuck that there powder
into the fire; and don't go making a spectacle o' th' self again," cried
Dovey, sharply, in his wife's ear. "Thee just let me catch thee bringing
in more o' the dratted stuff; that's all."

"I shall never look at a black-beedle again, Jack, without shivering,"
she answered; going in for a slight instalment of shivering there and
then. "It might ha' come to hanging. Leastways, that's what I've been
dreaming of."



V.

ROBERT ASHTON'S WEDDING-DAY.


The hall-clock was striking half-past five as we went out into the
sharp night-air: Mr. and Mrs. Todhetley, I, and Tod. We were spending
Christmas that year at Crabb Cot. Old Coney's dinner was fixed for six:
but country people don't observe the fashion of dashing in at the last
stroke of the hour. The weather was cold, and no mistake; the snow lay
on the ground; the stars shone like silver. This was Tuesday, New Year's
Day; and to-morrow, the second of January, Jane Coney would be married
to Robert Ashton of Timberdale. The Ashtons were to dine to-night at the
Farm, and we had been asked to meet them. If every one stood upon his
own level, we should shoot up some degrees over the Coneys' heads in the
scale of the world's ladder; for old Coney was only a plain farmer; and
you've learnt by this time what the Squire was. But the Coneys were
right-down good people, and made the best neighbours in the world.

We had only to cross the road slantwise, and old Coney had had it swept
for us. It was an old-fashioned farm-house, full of nooks and angles,
with one ugly, big room in it, oak-panelled. The cloth was laid there
for to-night, the breakfast would be for the morrow. Old Coney and Mrs.
Coney came out of the drawing-room to meet us: that was small and snug,
with a running pattern of pale roses on its white-watered walls. He was
jolly; she, plain, homely, and sensible.

Jane was quiet, like her mother; very well she looked, standing on the
carpet in her pretty blue silk dress. Her brother Tom, a tall, strong
young fellow with a red face, lifted her out of the way by the waist,
that he might shake hands all round. The eldest daughter, Mary West, was
staying there with her nurse and baby; she looked ill, and got up only
for a minute from her chair by the fire. Her husband was a lawyer, in
practice at Worcester. Another young lady was sitting near, with light
frizzed hair: Mrs. James Ashton.

Before we had settled down, wheels were heard. It was Robert Ashton's
dog-cart, bringing his two brothers, Charles and James; and Mary West's
husband. Miss Jane's cheeks turned as red as a rose for nothing: Robert
Ashton had not come with them.

I had better say who the Ashtons were. Old Ashton (the father) had
lived at Timberdale Court always. It was one of the best farms in all
Worcestershire. Old Ashton lived in good style, educated his children,
and started them well in life. Lucy, the only girl, married a Captain
Bird, who turned out to be a frightful scamp. Robert remained on the
farm with his father; Charles was a clergyman; James a doctor in
Worcester. Everybody respected Mr. Ashton. It was about three years
now since he died, and he left a good pot of money behind him. Robert
succeeded to the farm, and it was he who was to marry Jane Coney
to-morrow.

They went upstairs with their carpet-bags, having come direct from
Worcester by train; Robert Ashton's dog-cart had been waiting, as
arranged, at Timberdale Station to bring them on. Mrs. James Ashton came
over earlier in the day with Mrs. West. Robert and Charles Ashton were
both fine young men, but the doctor was slight and short. Now I hope all
that's clear; because it was necessary to say it.

What with talking and looking at the presents, the time passed. They
were laid out on a table against the wall, on a snow-white damask cloth
of rare beauty.

"Look here," whispered Mrs. Coney, taking up a scented blue-and-white
case of satin ribbon and beads for holding pocket-handkerchiefs. "Poor
Lucy Bird sent this. She must have made it herself, a thing like this,
bought, would be as much as fifteen or sixteen shillings. It came almost
anonymously: 'With best love and ever kind wishes for Robert and Jane,'
written on it; but we knew Lucy's handwriting."

"Where are they now?" asked Mrs. Todhetley, in the same mysterious
whisper.

"I fancy they are staying somewhere in Worcester. We should have liked
to have Lucy over for the wedding; but--you know how it is: we could not
ask him."

Mrs. Todhetley nodded. She wore her grey silk gown that night, which
always seemed to make her look taller and thinner than ever, and a white
lace cap with pink ribbons. A pink bow was in her light hair, and she
had put on her beautiful earrings.

There is some thorn in most families, and Lucy was the one in that of
Ashton. She was educated at the best school in Worcester, and came home
at eighteen brimful of romance. It lay in her nature. You'd hardly have
found so pretty and sentimental a girl in the county. Because her name
was Lucy Ashton, she identified herself with Scott's Lucy Ashton, and
looked out for a Master of Ravenswood. These sentimental girls sometimes
come to grief, for they possess only three parts of their share of plain
common-sense. The Master of Ravenswood came in the shape of Captain
Bird, a tall, dark man, with a flaming coat and fierce moustache. He
paid court to Lucy, and she fell in love with him before a week was
over. The Ashtons turned their backs upon him: there was something
in the man they did not like, in spite of the red coat and the black
moustache. But he won Lucy over--he had heard of her fortune, you
see--and she promised to marry him. She was a gentle, yielding, timid
girl then; but her love was strong, and she ran away. She ran away and
was married the same morning at St. Helen's church in Worcester, in
which parish Bird had been staying. It was the talk of the county; but
when the commotion had subsided, every one began to pity Lucy, saying
she would have plenty of time and cause for repentance. After all, he
was not a real captain now. He had sold out of the army; and there arose
a rumour that he had done something wrong and was obliged to sell out.

Mr. Ashton had loved Lucy better than all his children. He forgave the
marriage for Lucy's sake, and had them home on a visit, and presented
her with a handsome sum. But he made a great mistake--I've heard the
Squire say it often--in not settling it upon her. Bird spent it as soon
as he well could; and he would have spent some more that came to Lucy
when her father died, only that it was left in Robert Ashton's hands to
be paid to her quarterly. People called Bird a blackleg: said he was
about the worst man that ever stepped. Robert had offered Lucy a home at
Timberdale Court, but she would not leave her husband: she had married
him, she said, for better or worse. If he came to be transported--and he
was going on for it--the chances were that Lucy would follow him to Van
Diemen's Land.

"I say, there's six o'clock!" exclaimed Mr. Coney, as the hour struck.
"Jane, what have you done with Robert?"

"Not anything, papa. He said he should be here half-an-hour before
dinner."

"And it will soon be half-an-hour after it," returned old Coney. "If he
does not make haste, we shall sit down without him."

The clock on the mantelpiece went ticking on, and struck half-past six.
Dinner. The Squire led off the van with Mrs. Coney. Tod laid hold of
Jane.

"I'll take Robert's place whilst I can, Jenny."

The oak-room was a surprise. It looked beautiful. The dark walls were
quite covered with holly and ivy, mixed with the blossoms of laurustinus
and some bright flowers. Old Thomas (borrowed from us) and the maids
stood by the sideboard, which glittered with silver. The Coneys had
their stores as well as other people, and did things well when they
did them at all. On the table was a large codfish, garnished with
horse-radish and lemon. Our names were before our places, and we took
them without bustle, Robert Ashton's, next to Jane, being left vacant.

"For what----"

A faint shriek interrupted the Reverend Mr. Ashton, and the grace was
interrupted. Lifting his head towards the quarter whence the shriek
came, he saw his sister-in-law with a scared face.

"We are thirteen!" exclaimed Mrs. James Ashton. "I beg your pardon,
Charles--I beg everybody's pardon; but indeed we must not sit down
thirteen to dinner on New Year's Day. I would not for any money."

"What nonsense, my dear!" cried her husband, rather crossly. "Robert
will be here directly."

It was of no use. The ladies took her part, saying they ought not to sit
down. And there we all stood, uncertain what to do, the dinner hovering
in mid-air like Mahomet's coffin, and not to be eaten.

"There are two days in the year when it is not well to sit down
thirteen: New Year's Day and Christmas Day," said Mrs. Todhetley, and
the rest held with her.

"Are we all to go back to the drawing-room, and leave our dinner?"
demanded old Coney, in wrath. "Where the plague _is_ Robert? Look here:
those that won't sit down thirteen can go, and those that don't mind it
can stop."

"Hear, hear!" cried the Squire.

But Jane Coney went gliding to her mother's side. "I will wait for
Robert in the drawing-room, mamma, and you can sit down twelve. Yes,
please; it is best so. Indeed I could not eat anything if I stayed."

"Shall we send you some dinner in, child?" asked Mr. Coney.

"No, thank you, papa. I should like best to take it with Robert when he
comes."

"All right," said old Coney. "Johnny, you go over to that side, to make
the table even. We'll have the grace now, parson."

And the parson said it.

It was a dinner that pleased the Squire's heart. He had a mortal
objection to what he called kickshaws, meaning the superfluous dishes
you find at a modern entertainment. The Coneys never had kickshaws, only
a plain, substantial dinner, the best of its kind.

"Coney, I never taste such oyster-sauce as yours, go where I will,"
cried the Squire. "It can't be matched."

Old Coney winked, as much as to say he knew it. "The missis gives an eye
to that, you see, Squire," he answered, in a side whisper. "She had been
in the kitchen till you came."

The Squire took another ladleful. He went once or twice to every dish,
and drank champagne with all of us. But still Robert Ashton did not
come.

I slipped round to Mrs. Coney when the plum-pudding appeared, whispering
that I would take a slice to Jane.

"So you shall, Johnny," she said, giving me some on a plate, and putting
a mince-pie beside it. "She will have no luck unless she eats a little
of both pudding and pie on the first day of the year."

Jane sat in a low elbow-chair before the fire, her head leaning on her
hand, her hair a little tumbled. It was very pretty hair, dark chestnut,
and her eyes were hazel. Robert Ashton was fair-haired and blue-eyed;
Saxon all over, and very good-looking.

"I have brought you some pudding, Jane."

"Oh, Johnny! why did you leave the table? I can't eat it."

"But Mrs. Coney says you are to; and some mince-pie also, or you'll have
no luck."

As if in obedience she ate a little of the pudding, cut a quarter of the
mince-pie with her fork, and ate that.

"There, Johnny, that's quite enough for 'luck.' Go back now to your
dinner; I dare say you've not had any pudding yourself."

"I'll stay with you, and finish this: as it is going begging."

She neither said yes nor no. She was looking frightfully uneasy.

"Are you vexed that Robert Ashton's not here, Jane?"

"I am not vexed, because I know he would have been here if he could. I
think something has happened to him."

I stared at her. "What! because he is a little late in coming? Why,
Jane, you must be nervous."

She kept looking into the fire, her eyes fixed. I sat on a stool on the
other side of the hearth; the empty pudding-plate standing on the rug
between us, where I had put it.

"Robert was _sure_ to come for this dinner, Johnny, all being well, and
to be in time."

"Tell me what you fear, Jane--and why?"

"I think I will tell you," she said, after a pause. "I should like to
tell some one. I wish I had told Robert when he called this morning; but
I was afraid he would laugh at me. You will laugh too."

And Jane Coney told it. In a low, dread voice, her eyes staring into the
fire as before, just as though they could see through the blaze into the
future.

Early that morning she had had a dream; a disagreeable, ugly dream about
Robert Ashton. She thought he was in some frightful peril, that she
cried to him to avoid it, or it would stop their marriage. He seemed not
to take the least notice of her, but to go right on to it, and in the
alarm this brought her, she awoke. I listened in silence, saying nothing
to the end; no, nor then.

"The dream was so intensely _real_, Johnny. It seemed to be to-day; this
very day then dawning; and we both of us knew that it was; the one
before our marriage. I woke up in a fever; and but that it was night and
not day, should have had difficulty in persuading myself at first that
we were not really enacting the scene--it was, as I say, so vividly
real. And Robert went out to the peril, never heeding me."

"What was the peril?"

"That's what I can't tell. A consciousness lay upon me that it was
something very bad and frightful; but of its nature I saw nothing. I
did not go to sleep again: it must have been about six o'clock, but
the mornings are very dark, you know. I got up soon: what with this
dinner-party and other things, there has been a great deal to do to-day,
and I soon forgot my dream. Robert called after breakfast, and the sight
of him put me in mind of it. I felt a great inclination to tell him to
take especial care of himself; but he would only have laughed at me. He
drove away direct to the Timberdale Station, to take the train for
Worcester."

She did not say, though, what he had gone for to Worcester. To get the
ring and licence.

"I have not felt the smallest fear of the dream all along, Johnny, since
I awoke. Excepting for the few minutes Robert was here, I don't remember
even to have thought of it. But when his brothers and Mr. West came in
without him to-night, it flashed into my mind like a dart. I felt sure
then that something had happened. I dare say we shall never be married
now."

"Jane!"

"Well, Johnny Ludlow, I think it."

To me it seemed to be growing serious. There might be nothing at all in
what she had said; most people would have said there was nothing; but,
sitting there in the quiet room listening to her earnest voice, seeing
her anxious face, a feeling came over me that there _was_. What had
become of Robert Ashton? Where could he be?

"I wish you would give me that shawl of mamma's," she said, pointing to
one on a chair. "I feel cold."

She was shivering when I put it over her pretty white shoulders and
arms. And yet the fire was roaring to the very top of the grate.

"Alone here, while you were at dinner, I went over all sorts of
probabilities," she resumed, drawing the shawl round her as if she were
out in the snow. "Of course there are five hundred things that might
happen to him, but I can only think of one."

"Well?" for she had stopped. She seemed to be speaking very unwillingly.

"If he walked he would be almost sure to take the near way, across the
Ravine."

Was she ever coming to the point? I said nothing. It was better to let
her go on in her own way.

"I dare say you will say the idea is far-fetched, Johnny. What I think
is, that he may have fallen down the Ravine, in coming here."

Well, I did think it far-fetched. I'd as soon have expected her to say
fallen down the chimney.

"Those zigzag paths are not very safe in good weather, especially the
one on the Timberdale side," she went on. "With the snow on them,
perhaps ice, they are positively dangerous. One false step at the
top--and the fall might kill him."

Put in this way, it seemed feasible enough. But yet--somehow I did not
take to it.

"Robert Ashton is strong and agile, Jane. He has come down the zigzag
hundreds of times."

"I seem to see him lying there, at the bottom of the Ravine," she said,
staring as before into the fire. "I--wish--some of you would go and look
for him."

"Perhaps we had better. I'll make one. Who's this?"

It was Tom Coney. His mother had sent him to see after me. I thought I'd
tell him--keeping counsel about the dream--that Robert Ashton might have
come to grief in the Ravine.

"What kind of grief?" asked Tom.

"Turned a summersault down the zigzag, and be lying with a leg broken."

Tom's laugh displayed his small white teeth: the notion amused him
excessively. "What else would you like to suppose, Johnny?"

"At any rate, Jane thinks so."

She turned round then, the tears in her eyes, and went up to Tom in an
outburst of grief. It took him aback.

"Tom! Tom! if no one goes to see after him, I think I must go myself. I
cannot bear the suspense much longer!"

"Why, Jenny girl, what has taken you?"

_That_ had taken her. The fear that Robert Ashton might be lying
disabled, or dead, in the Ravine. Tom Coney called Tod quietly out of
the dining-room, and we started. Putting on our dark great-coats in
silence, we went out at the back-door, which was nearest the Ravine.
Jane came with us to the gate. I never saw eyes so eager as hers were,
as she gazed across the snow in the moonlight.

"Look here," said Tom, "we had better turn our trousers up."

The expedition was not pleasant, I can assure you, especially the going
down the zigzag. Jane was right about its being slippery: we had to hold
on by the trees and bushes, and tread cautiously. When pretty near the
bottom, Tod made a false step, and shot down into the snow.

"Murder!" he roared out.

"Any bones broken?" asked Tom Coney, who could hardly speak for
laughing. Tod growled, and shied a handful of snow at him.

But the slip brought home to us the probability of the fear about Robert
Ashton. To slip from where Tod did was fun; to slip from the top of the
opposite zigzag, quite another thing. The snow here at the bottom was up
to our calves, and our black evening trousers got rolled up higher. The
moonlight lay cold and white on the Ravine: the clustering trees, thick
in summer, were leafless now. Had any fellow been gazing down from the
top, we must have looked, to him, like three black-coated undertakers,
gliding along to a funeral.

"I'll tell you what," cried Tod: "if Ashton did lose his footing, he
wouldn't come to such mortal grief. The depth of snow would save him."

"I don't believe he did fall," said Tom Coney, stoutly. "Bob Ashton's as
sure-footed as a hare. But for Jane's being so miserable, I'd have said,
flatly, I wouldn't come out on any such wild-goose errand."

On we went, wading through the snow. Some of us looked round for the
ghost's light, and did not see it. But rumour said that it never came on
a bright moonlit night. Here we were at last!--at the foot of the other
zigzag. But Robert Ashton wasn't here. And, the best proof that he had
_not_ fallen, was the unbroken surface of the snow. Not so much as a
rabbit had scudded across to disturb it.

"I knew it," said Tom Coney. "He has not come to grief at all. It
stands to reason that a fellow must have heaps to do the day before his
wedding, if it's only in burning his old letters from other sweethearts.
Bob had a heap of them, no doubt; and couldn't get away in time for
dinner."

"We had better go on to the Court, and see," I said.

"Oh, that be hanged!" cried the other two in a breath.

"Well, I shall. It's not much farther. You can go back, or not, as you
like."

_This_ zigzag, though steeper than the one on our side, was not so
slippery. Perhaps the sun had shone on it in the day and melted the
snow. I went up it nearly as easily as in good weather. Tod and Coney,
thinking better of the turning back, came after me.

We should have been at Timberdale Court in five minutes, taking the
short-cut over hedges and ditches, but for an adventure by the way,
which I have not just here space to tell about. It had nothing to do
with Robert Ashton. Getting to the Court, we hammered at it till the
door was opened. The servant started back in surprise.

"Goodness me!" said she, "I thought it was master."

"Where is the master?" asked Tom.

"Not come home, sir. He has not been in since he left this morning."

It was all out. Instead of pitchpolling into Crabb Ravine and breaking
his limbs, Bob Ashton had not got back from Worcester. It was very
strange, though, what could be keeping him, and the Court was nearly in
a commotion over it.

When we got back to the Farm, they were laying the table for the
wedding-breakfast. Plenty of kickshaws now, and some lovely flowers. The
ladies, helping, had their gowns turned up. This helping had not been in
the evening's programme; but things seemed to have been turned upside
down, and they were glad to seize upon it. Jane and her sister, Mrs.
West, sat alone by the drawing-room fire, never saying a word to one
another.

"Johnny, I don't half like this," whispered Mrs. Todhetley to me.

"Like what, good mother?"

"This absence of Robert Ashton."

I don't know that I liked it either.

                 *       *       *       *       *

Morning came. In an uncertainty such as this, people go to each other's
houses indiscriminately. The first train came in from Worcester before
it was well light; but it did not bring Robert Ashton. As to the snow on
the ground, it was pretty well beaten now.

"He wouldn't travel by that slow parliamentary thing: he'll come by the
express to South Crabb Junction," said Tom Coney, thinking he would
cheer away the general disappointment. Jane we had not seen.

The express would be at the Junction between nine and ten. A whole lot
of us went down there. It was not farther off than Timberdale Station,
but the opposite way. I don't think one of us was more eager than
another, unless it was the Squire. The thing was getting serious, he
told us; and he went puffing about like a man looking for his head.

To witness the way he seized upon the doors when the express steamed in,
and put his old red nose inside all the carriages, looking for Robert
Ashton, was a rare sight. The guard laid hold of his arm, saying he'd
come to damage. But Robert Ashton was not in the train.

"He may come yet," said old Coney, looking fit to cry. "There'll be a
train in again at Timberdale. Or, he may drive over."

But every one felt that he would _not_ come. Something told us so. It
was only making believe to one another, saying he would.

"I shall go to Worcester by the next down train," said the Squire to old
Coney.

"The next does not stop here."

"They'd better stop it for me," said the Squire, defiantly. "You can't
come, Coney. You must remain to give Jane away."

"But if there's no bridegroom to give her to?" debated old Coney.

"There may be. You must remain on the strength of it."

The down train came up, and obeyed the signal to stop made by the
station-master. The Squire, Tod, and Tom Coney got in, and it steamed on
again.

"Now mind, I shall conduct this search," the Squire said to the others
with a frown. "You young fellows don't know your right hand from your
left in a business of this sort. We must go about it systematically, and
find out the different places that Robert Ashton went to yesterday, and
the people he saw." Tod and Tom Coney told us this later.

When they arrived at Worcester, the first man they saw at Shrubb Hill
Station was Harry Coles, who had been seeing somebody off by the
train, which was rather curious; for his brother, Fred Coles, was
Robert Ashton's great chum, and was to be groom's-man at the wedding.
Harry Coles said his brother had met Ashton by appointment the
previous day, and went with him to the Registrar's office for the
marriage licence--which was supplied to them by Mr. Clifton himself.
After that, they went to the jeweller's, and chose the wedding-ring.

"Well, what after that?" cried the impatient Squire.

Harry Coles did not know what. His brother had come back to their office
early in the afternoon--about one o'clock--saying Ashton was going, or
had gone, home.

"Can't you tell which he said--going, or gone?" demanded the Squire,
getting red.

"No, I can't," said Harry Coles. "I was busy with some estimates, and
did not pay particular attention to him."

"Then you ought to have paid it, sir," retorted the Squire. "Your
brother?--where is he?"

"Gone over to Timberdale ages ago. He started the first thing this
morning, Squire; a big coat thrown over his wedding toggery."

The Squire growled, as a relief to his feelings, not knowing what in the
world to do. He suddenly said he'd go to the Registrar's office, and
started for Edgar Street.

Mr. Clifton was not there, but a clerk was. Yes, Mr. Ashton of
Timberdale had been there the previous day, he said, in answer to the
Squire, and had got his licence. The governor (meaning Mr. Clifton, who
knew the Ashtons and the Coneys well) had joked a bit with young Ashton,
when he gave it. As to telling where Ashton of Timberdale and Mr. Coles
had gone to afterwards, the clerk did not know at all.

So there was nothing to be gathered at the Registrar's office, and the
Squire turned his steps up the town again, Tod and Coney following him
like two tame lambs; for he wouldn't let them make a suggestion or put
in a word edgeways. He was on his way to the jeweller's now: but as he
had omitted to ask Harry Coles which of the jewellers' shops the ring
was bought at, he took them all in succession, and hit upon the right
one after some difficulty.

He learnt nothing there, either. Mr. Ashton of Timberdale had bought the
ring and keeper, and paid for them, the master said. Of course every one
knew the young lady was Miss Jane Coney: he had brought one of her rings
as a guide for size: a chased gold ring, with small garnet stones in it.

"I am not asking for rings and stones," interrupted the Squire,
wrathfully. "I want to know if Mr. Ashton said where he was going to
afterwards?"

"He said never a word about it," returned the master. "When they went
out of here--young Fred Coles was with him--they took the way towards
the Hop Market."

The Squire went to the Crown next--the inn used by the Ashtons of
Timberdale. Robert Ashton had called in the previous day, about one
o'clock, the waiter said, taking a little bread-and-cheese, observing
that he had no time for anything else, and a glass of table-beer. Mr.
Coles had come down Broad Street with him, as far as the inn door, when
they shook hands and parted; Mr. Coles going back again. The waiter
thought Mr. Ashton was not in the house above five minutes at the most.

"And don't you know where he went to next?" urged the Squire.

"No," the waiter replied. The impression on his mind was, that Mr.
Ashton's business in Worcester was over, and that he was returning home
again.

The Squire moved slowly up Broad Street, more gloomy than an owl, his
hands in his pockets, his nose blue. He boasted of his systematic
abilities, as applied to seekings and searchings, but he knew no more
what to be at next than the man in the moon. Turning up the Cross, he
came to an anchor outside the linen-draper's shop; propping his back
against the window, as if the hanging silks had offended him. There he
stood staring up at St. Nicholas's clock opposite.

"Tom," said he, virtually giving in, "I think we had better talk to the
police. Here's one coming along now."

When the policeman was abreast, the Squire took his hands from his
pockets, and pinned the man by his button-hole.

"Mr. Ashton of Timberdale?--oh, he has got into trouble, sir," was the
man's ready answer. "He is before the magistrates now, on a charge
of----"

The railway omnibus, coming along at the moment, partially drowned the
word.

"Charge of _what_?" roared the Squire.

The policeman repeated it. The omnibus was making a frightful rattle,
and the Squire only just caught it now. With a great cry he dashed over
to the fly-stand, got into one, and ordered it to gallop away with him.
Tom Coney and Tod barely escaped having to hang on behind.

"Drive like mad!" stamped the Squire.

"Yes, sir," said the man, obeying. "Where to?"

"Go on, will you, sir! To the deuce."

"To the police-court," corrected Tom Coney.

Arrived there, the Squire left them to pay the fare, and fought his
way inside. The first thing his spectacles caught sight of distinctly
was the fair Saxon face and fine form of Robert Ashton, standing, a
prisoner, in the criminal dock.

                 *       *       *       *       *

At the Farm, things were in a state more easily imagined than described.
The carriages came bowling up, bringing the guests. The four bridesmaids
wore pale-blue silk, trimmed with white fur. Jane was dressed. In
passing her door, I saw her. They had sent me up to fetch something from
Tom's room.

"Is it not a mockery, Johnny?" she said, letting me enter. And her poor
pale face looked more fit for a burying than a wedding, and her eyes had
dark circles round them.

"If you mean your dress, Jane, I never saw anything less like a mockery,
or more like a princess's in a fairy tale."

It was of rich white silk; a delicate wreath of myrtle and
orange-blossoms on her chestnut hair. The veil lay upon the bed.

"You know what I mean, Johnny. There will be no wedding at North Crabb
Church to-day--and nothing can have been more foolish than to prepare me
for it. Oh, Johnny! if I could only go to sleep till ten years hence,
and never wake up between!"

Before the gate waited the carriages, their postillions in scarlet
jackets; the company, in their fine plumage, jostled each other in the
nooks and corners of the house; the maids, wearing a bright uniform
of purple gowns and white muslin aprons, ran about wildly. Every two
minutes, old Coney went up to a staircase window that faced Timberdale,
looking out to see whether Robert Ashton was coming--like Sister Anne,
in "Bluebeard."

Twelve o'clock! It was like a knell booming out; and the carriages went
away with the company. A fine ending to a wedding!

I was standing at the back-door, disconsolate as the moaning wind, when
the Timberdale Station fly came rattling along. A gentleman put his head
out of it, to tell the driver to stop. He got down, and came limping
up to me. It was Mr. West's partner, old Lawyer Cockermuth, who had
declined an invitation to the wedding, because of gout.

"Look here," said he, catching me by the shoulder, "I want to say
half-a-dozen words to Mr. Coney. Can you manage to bring him out to me,
or smuggle me into any little place where we can be alone? I suppose the
house is chock-full of wedding-people."

"You have brought bad news of Robert Ashton!" I said, in sudden
conviction. "What is it?"

"Well, so I _have_," he answered confidentially. "It will soon be known
to every one, but I should like to break it to Coney first. I've come
over to do it. Robert Ashton is in custody for murder!"

I felt my face turn as pale as a girl's. "For _murder_?"

Old Cockermuth's face grew long as he nodded. "He is in custody for
nothing less than the murder of his brother-in-law, Bird. Yesterday----"

A smothered cry behind us, and I turned sharply. There stood Jane. She
had seen Cockermuth's arrival, and came down, knowing he must have
brought bad news. The white robe and wreath were gone, and she wore an
everyday dress of violet merino.

"Now, my dear! my dear, be calm!" cried the old lawyer, in a fright.
"For goodness' sake shut us in somewhere, Johnny Ludlow! We shall have
the whole pack out upon us."

Some of the pack did come, before he could be shut up. And there we
were--hearing that Robert Ashton had been taken up for murder.

It appeared that, after quitting the Crown on the previous day, he met
his sister's husband, Captain Bird--from habit, people still accorded
him his title. Captain Bird told him Lucy was dangerously ill, and asked
him to go and see her. Robert went at once to their lodgings. What
exactly happened there, no one as yet knew; but Robert and Bird got
quarrelling. Robert did not come out again. In the morning (this
morning) the neighbours heard a hue-and-cry; and on the door being
opened by two policemen, Bird was found lying in the passage dead, as
was supposed, and Robert Ashton was given into custody for his murder.

Jane touched me on the arm, and I followed her into the large, empty
dining-room. That miserable breakfast! waiting for those who could not
sit down to it. The evergreens on the walls seemed to look faded; the
flowers on the table to have lost their first freshness.

"You see I was right, Johnny," she said. "That dream was a dream of
warning. And sent as one."

It did look like it. But dreams are things you can't lay hold of; no,
nor altogether believe in. Standing by the cold grate, she began to
shiver. In the confusion, the servants had let the fire go out.

"I would forget the dream, if I were you, Jane. Where's the use of
people having dreams----"

"Say warnings, Johnny."

"----if they cannot see how to make use of them? Call them warnings, an
you like the word better. They are of no good at all."

"Oh, Johnny, if I could only die! It was hard enough to bear when he was
only missing; but now----"

It was just as though she never meant to leave off shivering. I went to
hunt for some sticks, and saw our cook, Molly, in the kitchen amongst
the maids. Trust her for being in the thick of any gossip. Bringing the
sticks back, I pushed them in, and they soon crackled up into a blaze.
Jane sat down and watched them.

"I wouldn't be afraid, Jane, if I were you. There must be some
mistake."

"I'm not afraid--in one sense. That Robert has done nothing wrong
willingly, I know. But--he is rather passionate; and there's no telling
how they might provoke him. If there is much prolonged suspense; a
trial, or anything of that sort--well, I suppose I shall live through
it."

How hopeless she looked! her head bent, her eyes cast down. Just then
there was a cry outside for Jane. "Jane!"

"Go out, Johnny, and say I am all right. _Pray_ to them to leave me
alone. Tell mamma not to come in; I am easier by myself--and the fire's
burning up. They have gone calling upstairs; they wouldn't think I am
here."

Was there anything incoherent in her words? I looked at her narrowly. I
suppose that they sounded something like it.

"One has been coming to soothe me, and another has been coming; I
haven't known how to bear it. They mean it in kindness--great kindness;
but I would so much rather be alone. You go now, Johnny."

So I shut her in. And whispered to Mrs. Coney that she was praying to be
left.

I don't know how the day went on, except that it was miserably
uncomfortable. We had some cold beef in the everyday dining-room, and
old Coney, after saying he'd have given a thousand pounds out of his
pocket for it not to have happened, went and smoked a pipe with
Cockermuth in the best kitchen. Dusk began to come on.

Why! who was that--driving up in Robert Ashton's dog-cart? Robert!
Robert himself? Yes, it was; and the Squire, and Tod, and Tom Coney with
him. The dog-cart had gone to the station to wait for the Squire and the
other two: they came, bringing Robert Ashton.

"Is it all right, Mr. Ashton?"

"Quite right, Johnny. You did not think it could be wrong, did you?"

"You are out on bail?"

"Out for good. There has been no real damage done. I wonder where Jane
is?"

"I'll take you to her. She has been wishing she was dead."

No one in the house scented his presence. I opened the door of the large
oak-room. Jane was kneeling on the hearthrug, her face buried in the
cushion of the arm-chair. She started up at the noise, and stood like
one turned to stone.

"_Robert?_"

I do believe she thought it was not real--his ghost, or something. He
went up in silence, slightly smiling--he was always a quiet-mannered
man--and holding out his hand.

"It is I, myself, Jane. You look as though you doubted it."

With a great cry she fell forward. Robert caught her to his breast. I
was going away when he hastily called to me. For the first time in her
life she had fainted away. The thing had been too much for her.

"Get some water, Johnny. Don't call any one. She'll soon come to."

There was water on the table; wine too. He gave Jane some of both. And
then she listened to his story, leaning on his arm, and crying as softly
and peacefully as a little child.

Those outside were listening to the wonderful tale. When I went out,
they had gathered in the best kitchen, round the Squire, who had gone
there in search of old Coney. The Squire's glowing face was a sight
to be seen. Mrs. Coney had sat down on the mahogany bench; her hands
lifted. Coney stood with his pipe held at arm's-length. As to Mrs.
Todhetley, the tears were running down her cheeks in a stream.

It was quite true that Lucy Bird was very ill. Robert saw her in bed. As
he was leaving, Bird began upon the old grievance--that he should have
some of Lucy's money advanced in a lump. He wanted it for his cards and
dice, you see. Robert told him, No: as he had told him all along. An
associate of Bird's was there; a very bad man, named Dawler. They got
Robert to take a friendly glass of wine--which purported to be sherry:
and from that moment he lost all power, and partly consciousness. The
wine was drugged. Their object, no doubt, had been to partly stupefy
him, and so induce him to sign an undertaking to hand over the money to
Bird. But they had made the potion a trifle too strong, not calculating
the effect it would take on a young and habitually sober man. Robert
fell into a deep sleep, from which it was impossible to arouse him all
night: as to writing, his hands were as if dead. Late in the morning he
awoke; and, bit by bit, realized where he was and what had passed. He
was a little stupid even then, but sensible enough to remember that it
was his wedding-day, and to foresee that he might have some trouble to
get away from the house. On attempting to leave, Bird and Dawler placed
themselves in the passage to prevent him. There was a hot contest.
Robert Ashton, a stronger man than either of the others, but aware that
all his strength was not then at his own command, seized a knotted
stick, or club, that was lying in a corner, and lifted it to fight his
way through. Dawler struck at it, to get it out of his hand, and struck
it against Bird's head with frightful force. The fellow dropped as one
dead, and the door was burst open by the neighbours and policemen. The
excitement, perhaps the exertion, acting on Robert Ashton's only partly
recovered state, turned him stupid again: the people took him to be
drunk, and Dawler gave him in charge for murder.

That was the history. When the Squire had got into the police-court,
Robert Ashton (who was nearly himself again through the remedies the
doctor had given him in the police-station) was telling his tale. Dawler
was contradicting him, and swearing hard and fast that it was a case of
deliberate murder. The magistrates invited the Squire to a seat beside
them: and the first thing he did was to break into a hot tantrum, vowing
Robert Ashton couldn't be guilty. How it would have terminated no one
knew, but Lucy saved him.

Lucy saved him. A wan, haggard young woman wrapped in an old shawl,
staggered into the justice-room, to the front of the room. It was Lucy
Bird. She had come crawling through the streets to tell the truth.

"My brother Robert did not attempt to strike any one," she said in low,
weak, earnest tones. "He only held the club in his hand. I saw it all,
for I stood by. It was Dawler who threw his weight upon the club, and
struck down my husband. Robert fell too; pushed down by Dawler. This is
the sole truth, before Heaven!"

They believed her. The best was, that Bird was not dead at all, only
stunned; and the next to appear in court was himself, with a big
white plaister on his forehead. Discovering his wife's flight to the
magistrates, he thought it well to go after her: there was no knowing
what plots might be in the wind. He had the grace to acknowledge that
the blow was an accident. The whole bench shook hands with Robert
Ashton, telling Bird and the other man significantly that they had
better take care what they were about for the future: and the Squire
brought him home in triumph.

"But where is Robert?" asked old Coney and the rest. Why, in there with
Jane: where else should he be? They burst into the oak-room in a body,
and found him trying on the ring.

"Why shouldn't we have a dinner to-night?" asked old Coney. "Last
night's was only half a dinner, through one bother or another."

"Hear, hear!" cried the Squire. "Why not?"

The only thing against it was--as Mrs. Coney said--that no dinner was
prepared. Unless they could put up with a cold one.

"And glad to do so," spoke up everybody. So the cold meats were brought
from the larder, and the fowls from the breakfast-table, and laid in the
everyday dining-parlour. The ladies were in their ordinary gowns, and
there was no room for elbows, but we made up with laughter. Sixteen this
evening; Fred Coles being there, and old Cockermuth, who sat down in
spite of the gout. Afterwards we went off by the light of the stars to
summon the company to the morrow's wedding; it was good to go knocking
at the doors with the news. Whilst the servants at the Farm, with Molly
to help them, began cooking fresh fowls for the breakfast-table.

And that's about all. There was never a better wedding seen, and the
scarlet jackets of the post-boys dazzled one's eyes in the morning sun.
Robert Ashton was calm and quiet in church; Jane too, and not a bit
nervous. The chief speech at the breakfast was undertaken by the Squire,
so you may give a guess what it was like; but it didn't spoil the
wedding-cake.

Jane was shut up with her mother when the time came for starting, and
came out in a flood of tears. She was leaving her childhood's home, you
see. Robert would have hurried her straight to the carriage, but the
company wouldn't be done out of their leave-taking. I was the last.

"Thank you for all, Johnny," she cried, wringing my hand as she went
down the path. "They were all very kind to me yesterday, but it seemed
that you were kindest."

In the next minute, both of them, with the door shut, and the carriage
away towards South Crabb Junction. The people cheered, the cocks crew,
and the old shoes flew after them in a shower.



VI.

HARDLY WORTH TELLING.


You remember what I, Johnny Ludlow, said in the last paper--that on our
way to Timberdale Court we met with an adventure, which I had not then
time to tell of. It was this.

After our race through Crabb Ravine by moonlight, looking for Robert
Ashton, we went on to Timberdale Court as fast as the snowy ground would
admit of, Joseph Todhetley and Tom Coney rushing on in front, I after
them--they were older and stronger than I was. Not by the ordinary
highway, but over fields and hedges and ditches, straight as the crow
flies, wishing to save time. Instead of saving time, we lost it, for
though the road, had we taken it, was longer, the snow was beaten
there; whereas it was lying deep across the country and had to be waded
through. But you can't always bring common-sense to bear at the moment
it's wanted. And if we had looked like three undertakers at a funeral,
stalking after one another in the Ravine, with our dark coats showing
out against the white snow, I'm sure we must have looked still more
like it in the open ground.

At the far corner of the square meadow was a cow-shed, unused since the
autumn, when Ashton of Timberdale had caused the fields about here to
be ploughed. Beyond the shed, touching its walls, ran a brook; and it
brought us up. We had meant to take it at a flying leap; but the snow
had melted there, and the brook was swollen. It was not agreeable to run
the chance of pitching in, and it seemed that we should have to make for
the gate, lower down. Standing for a moment to reconnoitre, there broke
on our ears a low moan; and then another.

"I say," cried Tod, "is that the ghost?" I said in that last paper, as
any one may see, that we had looked out for the ghost in the Ravine. The
moaning came again.

"If I don't believe it is in the cow-shed!" exclaimed Tom Coney. And he
went round to the door and shook it open.

Pitch dark inside and the same moaning, soft and low. Tom Coney had some
lights in his pocket, and struck one. Well! we were astonished. On the
ground lay a woman--or girl--and a very little child. She had a young
face, with anxious eyes and feverish cheeks. She said she was dying,
and so answered our questions; but we had to kneel down to hear her.
She had walked across the country from somewhere in Gloucestershire,
carrying her baby of a fortnight old, but the weakness and fever
overtook her. Two nights ago she had crept into the shed, and lain
there, unsuspected, ever since.

"But why did you leave your home?" inquired Tod.

"I couldn't stay for the shame," was the nearly inaudible answer: and
but that our ears were good ones, we should not have caught it. If we
would but fetch her a drop of water for the love of Christ, she said, as
we got up.

It was impossible to help wondering whether God had not allowed Robert
Ashton to be lost on purpose to bring us round there. But for our
passing, both she and the baby must very soon have died, for the shed
was quite out of the reach of any road likely to be traversed. We must
have seemed to her like angels of mercy. Perhaps we were made use of as
such that night.

"Have you lain here all that time--two nights and days--without food?"
asked Tod, in his softest voice.

"Without food, sir, and without drink. Oh, for a drop of water! If you
could only bring it me, I should die easier."

We got some clean snow and moistened her lips with it. She gave a
sobbing cry as it trickled down her throat: Tom Coney said it was
choking, but I thought it was joy. To a poor creature in a burning
fever, lying without any sort of drink for days and nights, the fresh
cold snow must have tasted like dew from heaven. She motioned that the
baby should have some, but we were afraid: it looked to be dying.

What could be done with her? To carry her away was not practicable--and
she seemed too ill besides. Tom Coney offered to cover up the baby under
his coat and take it to the Court for food and shelter; but she clutched
it closer to her side as it lay on her arm, and faintly said it couldn't
do without her. Shutting the shed door again, we got quickly to
Timberdale Court, found Robert Ashton was not at home, as you heard, and
asked for the housekeeper, Mrs. Broom.

She was sitting in her little carpeted room, off the big kitchen, with
one of the maids. They were sewing white bows on a lot of caps, and
wondering what had become of the master. To be burst in upon by us, all
three telling the story at once of the woman and child, pretty nearly
scared good old Mother Broom's senses away.

"You are just playing a trick upon me, young gentlemen."

"It is as true as that we are here, Mrs. Broom; it is true as gospel.
They'll both be dead if something's not done for them."

"Well, I never heard of such a thing," she exclaimed, beginning to stir
about. "Lying in that cow-shed for two days without help! You ought to
have brought the poor baby away with you, sirs."

"She wouldn't let it come."

"I wouldn't have minded her saying that. A fortnight-old baby lying in
the shed in this cold!"

"I don't think it will make much difference in the long-run, whether the
baby stays in the shed or comes out of it," said Tom Coney. "If it sees
to-morrow's dawn, I shall wonder."

"Well, this _is_ a fine start!" cried Mother Broom. "And the master
never to have come home--that's another," she went on. For, what to do,
she didn't know the least in the world, and was like a woman with a lost
head.

We left the matter to her, carrying some things to the shed as we passed
it on our way home--blankets and a pillow, fresh water, milk-and-water
for the baby, and a candle and matches. One of the women-servants was to
come after us, with hot broth and wine.

When we reached Crabb Cot, the dismay there at hearing Robert Ashton had
not turned up, was diversified by this news, which we told of. Not that
they thought very much of it: the woman was only a poor tramp, they
said; and such things--fevers, and that--happen to poor tramps every
day.

"Do you think the baby's dying?" asked Charles Ashton, the parson.

"I'm nearly sure it is," said Tom Coney.

"That's a kind of woman, you know, that ought to be committed for
fourteen-days' hard labour," observed the Squire, fiercely, who was in
a frightfully cross mood with the various mishaps and uncertainties of
the evening. "Seems to be very sickly and humble, you say, Mr. Johnny!
Hold your tongue, sir; what should you know about it? These women
tramps bring death on their infants through exposure."

"And that's true," said old Coney. "I'd punish 'em, Squire, if I were a
magistrate like you."

But what do you think Parson Ashton did? When the dog-cart had taken him
and Mr. and Mrs. James Ashton to the Court--where they were to stay all
night--he started off for the shed, and did not come away from it until
he had baptized the baby.

We heard nothing more about it until the next day--and I don't suppose
any one has forgotten what sort of a miserable day that was, at old
Coney's Farm. How the wedding never took place, and Robert Ashton was
still missing, and Jane Coney was dressed in her bridal robes for
nothing, and the breakfast could not be eaten, and we guests staring in
each other's faces like so many helpless dummies. What news we had of
it then, came from Charles Ashton: he had been to the shed again that
morning. Whilst the carriages stood waiting at the gate, the post-boys'
scarlet jackets flaming in the sun, and the company indoors sat looking
hopelessly for the bridegroom, Parson Ashton talked about it in a corner
to Mrs. Coney and the Squire's wife: both of them in their grand silk
plumage then, one plum-coloured, the other sea-green, with feathers for
top-knots.

The little baby was dead, Charles Ashton said. The mother had been
removed to a shelter in Timberdale village, and was being cared for. The
doctor, called in to her, Darbyshire, thought she might get over it.

"You baptized the child, I hear, Charles?" said Mrs. Coney, to the
parson.

"Oh yes."

"What did you name it?"

"Lucy. Something in the mother's face put me in mind of my sister, and
it was the name I first thought of. I asked the mother what she would
have it called. Anything, she answered; it did not matter. Neither did
it, for the little thing was dying then. Hot-water bottles and other
remedies were tried last night as soon as they could be had, to get
warmth into the child--to renew its life, in fact; but nothing availed."

"Where was the woman taken to?"

"To Jael Batty's. Jael consented to take her in."

"I suppose it is but another case of the old, sad story?" groaned Mrs.
Todhetley.

"Nothing else. And she, poor thing, is not much more than a girl."

"Now, Charles, I tell you what. It may be all very consistent for you
clergymen--men of forgiveness, and that--to waste your compassion over
these poor stray creatures, but I think it might do more good sometimes
if you gave them blame," spoke Mrs. Coney, severely.

"There are times and seasons when you cannot express blame, however much
it may be deserved," he answered. "The worst of it in these cases is,
that we rarely know there exists cause for censure before it is too late
for any censure to avail, or avert the evil."

What with the astounding events of the day, connected with the
interrupted wedding, nothing more was said or thought of the affair.
Except by Jane. When she and I were in the big dining-room together--I
trying to blow up the fire, and she in full dread that Robert Ashton
would have to be tried for his life at the Worcester Spring Assizes, and
lie in prison until then--she suddenly spoke of it, interrupting the
noise made by the crackling of the wood.

"So that poor baby's dead, Johnny! What a happy fate--not to grow up to
trouble. Charles named it Lucy, I hear. I should like to see the poor
mother."

"See her for what, Jane?"

"She is in distress, and so am I. I don't suppose she has a corner to
turn to for comfort in the wide world. I have not."

It was not so very long after this that _her_ distress was over. Robert
Ashton arrived in triumph, and so put an end to it. One might suppose
Jane would no longer have remembered that other one's distress; what
with the impromptu dinner, where we had no room for our elbows, and the
laughter, and the preparations for the next day's wedding.

But the matter had taken hold of Jane Coney's mind, and she reverted to
it on the morrow before going away. When the wedding-breakfast was over,
and she--nevermore Jane Coney, but Jane Ashton--had changed her dress
and was saying good-bye to her mother upstairs, she suddenly spoke of
it.

"Mamma, I want to ask you to do something for me."

"Well, my dear?"

"Will you see after that poor young woman who was found in the shed?"

Naturally Mrs. Coney was taken by surprise. She didn't much like it.

"After that young woman, Jane?"

"Yes; for me."

"Mrs. Broom has seen to her," returned Mrs. Coney, in a voice that
sounded very frozen.

"Mother, dear," said Jane, "I was comparing myself with her yesterday;
wondering which of us was the worst off, the more miserable. I thought
I was. I almost felt that I could have changed places with her."

"Jane!" angrily interjected Mrs. Coney.

"I did. She knew the extent of her trouble, she could see all that it
involved; I did not see the extent of mine. I suppose it is always
thus--that other people's sorrows seem light when compared with our own.
The reason must no doubt be that we cannot realize theirs, whilst we
realize ours only too keenly."

"My dear, I don't care to talk of this."

"Nor I much--but hear me for a minute, mother. God has been so merciful
to me, and she is still as she was, that I--I should like to do what I
can for her when we come back again, and comfort and keep her."

"Keep her!"

"Keep her from want, I mean."

"But, child, she has been--you don't know what she has been," gravely
rebuked Mrs. Coney.

"I think I do, mother."

"She is a poor outcast, Jane; with neither home to go to, nor friends to
look upon her."

Jane burst into tears: they had been hardly kept down since she had
begun to speak.

"Just so, mother. But what was I yesterday? If Robert had been tried for
his life, and condemned, I should have felt like an outcast; perhaps
been looked upon as no better than one by the world."

"Goodness, Jane, I wish you'd exercise your common sense," cried Mrs.
Coney, losing patience. "I tell you she _is_ an outcast, and has
forfeited home and friends. She has been a great sinner."

"Mother, if she had a home and friends, there would be no need to
succour her. As to sin--perhaps we can save her from that for the
future. My gratitude for the mercy shown to _me_ is such that I feel as
if I could take her to my bosom; it seems to my mind that I ought to do
something for her, that she has been thrown in my way that I should do
it. Mother, it is my last petition to you: see after her a little for me
until we come back again."

"Very well, dear; as you make this point of it," concluded Mrs. Coney,
relenting just a little. And then Jane began to cry hysterically; and
Tom Coney knocked at the door, saying time was up.

Mrs. Coney was not a hard-hearted woman, just the opposite: but only
those who live in rural parts of the country can imagine the tricks and
turns of regular tramps, and what a bad lot some of them are. They
deceive you with no end of a plausible tale, and stare pitifully in your
face whilst they tell it. Not long before this, a case had happened
where both our house and the Coneys' had been taken in. A woman in
jagged widows' garments presented herself at the door of Crabb Cot and
asked to see the Squire. Her shoes wanted mending, and one side of her
face was bandaged up. Mrs. Todhetley went to her. Of all pitiable tales
that poor woman told the most: it would have melted a heart of stone.
She came from near Droitwich, she said: her husband had worked under Sir
John Pakington; that is, had been a labourer on part of his estate,
Westwood Park. She lost her husband and grown-up son the past autumn
with fever; she caught it herself, and was reduced to a skeleton, lost
her cottage home through the things being seized for rent, and went to
live with a married daughter in Oxfordshire. Cancer had appeared in her
cheek, the daughter could not keep her, for she and all her children
were down with sickness, and the husband had no work--and she, the
widow, was making her way by easy walking-stages to Worcester, there to
try and get into the infirmary. What she wanted at Crabb Cot was--not to
beg, either money or food: money she could do without, food she could
not eat--but to implore the gentleman (meaning the Squire) to give her
a letter to the infirmary doctors, so that they might take her in.

I can tell you that she took _us_ in--every one of us. The Squire,
coming up during the conference, surrendered without fight. Questions
were put to her about Droitwich and Ombersley, which she answered at
once. There could be no mistaking that she knew all the neighbourhood
about there well, and Sir John and Lady Pakington into the bargain. I
think it was that that threw us off our guard. Mrs. Todhetley, brimming
over with compassion, offered her some light refreshment, broth or milk.
She said she could not swallow either, "it went against her," but she'd
be thankful for a drink of water. Molly, the greatest termagant to
tramps and beggars in general, brought out a half-pint bottle of store
cordial, made by her own hands, of sweetened blackberry juice and spice,
for the woman to put in her pocket and sip, on her journey to Worcester.
Mrs. Todhetley gave her a pair of good shoes and some shillings, and two
old linen handkerchiefs for the face; and the Squire, putting on his
writing spectacles, wrote a letter to Mr. Carden, begging him to see if
anything, in the shape of medical aid, could be done for the bearer. The
woman burst into tears of thankfulness, and went away with her presents,
including the letter, Molly the cross-grained actually going out to open
the back-gate for her.

And now would anybody _believe_ that this woman had only then come out
of the Coneys' house--where she had been with the same tale and request,
and had received nearly the same relief? We never saw or heard of her
again. The note did not reach Mr. Carden; no such patient applied to the
infirmary. She was a clever impostor; and we got to think that the cheek
had only been rubbed up with a little blistering-salve. Many another
similar thing I could tell of--and every one of them true. So you must
not wonder at Mrs. Coney's unwillingness to interfere with this latest
edition in the tramp line.

But she had given her promise: perhaps, as Jane put it, she could not do
otherwise. And on the morning after the wedding she went over to
Timberdale. I was sliding in the Ravine--for there was ice still in that
covered spot, though the frost had nearly disappeared elsewhere--when I
saw Mrs. Coney come down the zigzag by the help of her umbrella, and her
everyday brown silk gown on.

"Are you here, Johnny! Shall I be able to get along?"

"If I help you, you will, Mrs. Coney."

"Take care. I had no idea it would be slippery here. But it is a
long way round to walk by the road, and the master has taken out the
pony-chaise."

"What wind is blowing you to Timberdale to-day?"

"An errand that I'm not at all pleased to go upon, Johnny; only Jane
made a fuss about it before leaving yesterday. If I told the master he
would be in a fine way. I am going to see the woman that you boys found
in the shed."

"I fancied Jane seemed to think a good deal about her."

"Jane did think a good deal about her," returned Mrs. Coney. "She has
not had the experience of this sort of people that I have, Johnny; and
girls' sympathies are so easily aroused."

"There was a romance about it, you see."

"Romance, indeed!" wrathfully cried Mrs. Coney. "That's what leads
girls' heads away: I wish they'd think of good plain sense instead. It
was nothing but romance that led poor Lucy Ashton to marry that awful
man, Bird."

"Why does Lucy not leave him?"

"Ah! it's easier to talk about leaving a man than to do it, once he's
your husband. You don't understand it yet, Johnny."

"And shall not, I suppose, until I am married myself. But Lucy has never
talked of leaving Bird."

"She won't leave him. Robert has offered her---- Goodness me, Johnny,
don't hurry along like that! It's nothing but ice here. If I were to get
a tumble, I might be lamed for life."

"Nonsense, Mrs. Coney! It would be only a Christmas gambol."

"It's all very well to laugh, Johnny. Christmas gambols mean fun to you
young fellows with your supple limbs; but to us fifty-year-old people
they may be something else. I wish I had tied some list round my boots."

We left the ice in the Ravine, and she came up the zigzag path easily to
the smooth road. I offered to take the umbrella.

"Thank you, Johnny; but I'd rather carry it myself. It's my best silk
one, and you might break it. I never dare trust my umbrellas to Tom: he
drives them straight out against trees and posts, and snaps the sticks."

She turned into Timberdale Court, and asked to see Mrs. Broom. Mrs.
Broom appeared in the parlour with her sleeves turned up to the elbow,
and her hands floury. She had been housekeeper during old Mr. Ashton's
time.

"Look here," said Mrs. Coney, dropping her voice a little: "I've come
to ask a word or two about that woman--from the shed, you know. Who is
she?--and what is she?"

But the dropping of Mrs. Coney's voice was as nothing to the dropping of
the housekeeper's face. The questions put her out uncommonly.

"I wish to my very heart, ma'am, that the woman--she's but a poor young
thing at best!--had chosen any part to fall ill in but this! It's like a
Fate."

"Like a what?" cried Mrs. Coney.

"And so it is. A Fate for this house. 'Tis nothing less."

"Why, what do you mean, Broom?"

Mother Broom bent her head forward, and said a word or two in Mrs.
Coney's ear. Louder, I suppose, than she thought for, if she had
intended me not to hear.

"Raves about Captain Bird!" repeated Mrs. Coney.

"He is all her talk, ma'am--George Bird. And considering that George
Bird, blackleg though he has turned out to be, married the young lady of
this house, Miss Lucy Ashton, why, it goes against the grain for me to
hear it."

Mrs. Coney sat down in a sort of bewilderment, and gave me the silk
umbrella. Folding her hands, she stared at Mother Broom.

"It seems as though we were always hearing fresh news about that man,
Broom; each time it is something worse than the last. If he took all the
young women within his reach, and--and--cut their heads off, it would be
only like him."

"'George!' she moans out in her sleep. That is, in her dreaming, or her
fever, or whatever it is. 'George, you ought not to have left me; you
should have taken care of me.' And then, ma'am, she'll be quiet a bit,
save for turning her head about; and begin again, 'Where's my baby?
where's my baby?' Goodness knows 'twould be sad enough to hear her if it
was anybody's name but Bird's."

"There might be worse names than his, in the matter of giving us pain,"
spoke Mrs. Coney. "As to poor Lucy--it is only another cross in her sad
life."

"I've not told this to anybody," went on Mother Broom. "Jael Batty's
three parts deaf, as the parish knows, and may not have caught Bird's
name. It will vex my master frightfully for Miss Lucy's sake. The baby
is to be buried to-day. Mr. Charles has stayed to do it."

"Oh, indeed!" snapped Mrs. Coney, and got up, for the baby appeared to
be a sore subject with her. "I suppose the girl was coming across the
country in search of Bird?"

Broom tossed her head. "Whether she was or not, it's an odd thing that
this house should be the one to have to succour her."

"I am going," said Mrs. Coney, "and I half wish I had never come in.
Broom, I am sorry to have hindered you. You are busy."

"I am making my raised pies," said Broom. "It's the second batch. What
with master's coming marriage, and one thing and another, I did not get
'em done before the new year. Your Molly says hers beat mine, Master
Ludlow; but I don't believe it."

"She does, does she! It's just like her boasting. Mrs. Todhetley often
makes the pork-pies herself."

"Johnny," said Mrs. Coney, as we went along, she in deep thought:
"that poor Lucy Bird might keep a stick for cutting notches--as it is
said some prisoners used to do, to mark their days--and notch off her
dreadful cares, that are ever recurring. Why, Johnny, what's that crowd
for?"

The church stood on the right between Timberdale Court and the village.
A regular mob of children seemed to be pressing round the gate of the
churchyard. I went to look, leaving Mrs. Coney standing.

Charles Ashton was coming out of the church in his surplice, and the
clerk, old Sam Mullet, behind him, carrying a little coffin. The grave
was in the corner of the burial-ground, and Mr. Ashton went straight to
it, and continued the service begun in the church. If it had been a
lord's child, he could not have done it all in better order.

But there were no mourners, unless old Mullet could be called one. He
put the coffin on the grass, and was in a frightful temper. I took off
my hat and waited: it would have looked so to run away when there was no
one else to stand there: and Mrs. Coney's face, as cross as old
Mullet's, might be seen peering through the hedge.

"It's come to a pretty pass, when tramps' brats have to be put in the
ground like honest folks's," grunted Sam, when Mr. Ashton had walked
away, and he began to fling in the spadefuls of earth. "What must he
needs go and baptize that there young atom for?--he ain't our parson; he
don't belong to we in this parish. I dun-no what the world be a-coming
to."

Mr. Ashton was talking to Mrs. Coney when I got up. I told him what a
way Sam Mullet was in.

"Yes," said he. "I believe what I did has not given satisfaction in all
quarters; so I waited to take the service myself, and save other people
trouble."

"In what name is the dead child registered, Charles?" asked Mrs. Coney.

"Lucy Bird."

"Lucy Bird! _Bird?_"

"It was the name the mother gave me in one of her lucid intervals,"
answered the clergyman, shortly.

He hastened away, saying he must catch a train, for that his own parish
was wanting him; but I fancied he did not care to be further questioned.
Mrs. Coney stood still to stare after him, and would have liked to ask
him how much and how little he knew.

Lucy Bird! It did sound strange to hear the name--as if it were the real
Lucy Bird we knew so well. I said so to Mrs. Coney.

"The impudence of the woman must pass all belief," she muttered to
herself. "Let us get on, Johnny? I would rather run a mile any other way
than go to see her."

Leaving me on the wooden bench outside Jael Batty's door, she went
in. It was remarkably lively: the farrier's shop opposite to look at,
five hay-ricks, and a heap of children who strolled after us from the
churchyard, and stayed to stare at me. Mrs. Coney came out again soon.

"It's of no use my remaining, Johnny. She can't understand a word said
to her, only lies there rambling, and asking people to bring her baby.
If she had any sense left in her, she might just go down on her knees in
thankfulness that it's gone. Jael Batty says she has done nothing else
but wail for it all the blessed morning."

"Well, it is only natural she should."

"Natural! Natural to mourn for that baby! Don't you say stupid things,
Johnny. It's a great mercy that it has been taken; and you must know
that as well as any one."

"I don't say it isn't; babies must make no end of noise and work; but
you see mothers care for them."

"Don't be a simpleton, Johnny. If you take to upholding tramps and
infants dying in sheds, goodness knows what you'll come to in time."

                 *       *       *       *       *

At the end of a fortnight, Ashton of Timberdale and his wife came home.
It was a fine afternoon in the middle of January, but getting dusk, and
a lot of us had gone over to the Court to see them arrive. Jane looked
as happy as a queen.

"Johnny," she whispered, whilst we were standing to take some tea that
Mother Broom (with a white cockade in her cap) brought in upon a silver
tray, "how about that poor woman? She is not dead, I hope?"

I told Jane that she was better. The fever had gone down, but she was so
weak and reduced that the doctor had not allowed her to be questioned.
We knew no more of who she was than we had known before. Mrs. Coney
overheard what I was saying, and took Jane aside.

There seemed to be a bit of a battle: Mrs. Coney remonstrating with a
severe face, Jane holding out and flushing a little. She was telling
Jane not to go to Jael Batty's, and representing why she ought not to
go. Jane said she must go--her heart was set upon it: and began to
re-tie her bonnet-strings.

"Mother dear, don't be angry with me in this the first hour of entering
on my new home--it would seem like a bad omen for me. You don't know how
strongly I have grown to think that my duty lies in seeing this poor
woman, in comforting her if I can. It cannot hurt me."

"What do you suppose Robert would say? It is to him you owe obedience
now, Jane, not to me."

"To him first, and to you next, my mother; and I trust I shall ever
yield it to you both. But Robert is quite willing that I should go: he
knows all I think about it."

"Jane, I wouldn't have said a word against it; indeed I had made up
my mind that it was a good wish on your part; but now that we have
discovered she is in some way connected with--with the Birds--why, I
don't think Robert will like you to meddle with it. I'm sure I shrink
from telling him."

Jane Coney--Ashton I mean: one can't get out of old names all at
once--looked down in distress, thinking of the pain it would cause her
husband for his sister's sake. Then she took her mother's hand.

"Tell Robert what you have told me, mamma. He will still let me go, I
think; for he knows how much I wish it."

They had their conference away from us; Mrs. Coney, Robert Ashton, and
Jane. Of course he was frightfully put out; but Jane was right--he said
she should go all the same. Mrs. Coney shut her lips tight, and made no
further comment.

"I promised her, you see, Mrs. Coney," he urged. "She has an idea in her
head that--I'm sure I scarcely know what it is, except that her going is
connected with Gratitude and Duty, and--and Heaven's blessing. Why, do
you know we might have stayed away another week, but for this? I could
have spared it; but she would come home."

"I never knew Jane take a thing up like this before," said Mrs. Coney.

"Any way, I suppose it is I who shall have to deal with it--for the sake
of keeping it from Lucy," was Robert's answer. "I wish with all my heart
Bird had been at the bottom of the sea before his ill-omened steps
brought him to Timberdale! There's not, as I believe, another such scamp
in the world."

Jane waited for nothing else. Shielded by the dusk of the evening, she
went hastening to Jael Batty's and back again.

"I'll go down for her presently," said Robert. But she was back again
before he started.

"I came back at once to set the misapprehension right," said
Jane, her eyes bright with eagerness, her cheeks glowing. "Mother
dear--Robert--Johnny--listen, all of you: that poor sick woman is
George Bird's sister."

"Jane!"

"Indeed she is. Captain Bird used to talk to Lucy of his little sister
Clara--I have heard you say so, Robert--in the old days when he first
came here. It is she who is lying at Jael Batty's--Clara Bird."

The company sat down like so many lambs, Mrs. Coney's mouth and eyes
alike opening. It sounded wonderful.

"But--Jane, child--there was still the baby!"

"Well--yes--I'm afraid so," replied Jane, in an uncomfortable hurry. "I
did not like to ask her about that, she cries so. But she is Clara Bird;
Captain Bird's sister, and Lucy's too."

"Well, I never!" cried Mrs. Coney, rubbing her face. "Poor misguided
young thing--left to the guardianship of such a man as that, he let her
go her own way, no doubt. This accounts for what Broom heard her say in
the fever--'George, you should have taken care of me.'"

"Is she being taken care of now in her sickness, down at Jael Batty's?"
spoke up Robert.

"Yes. For Jael, though three-parts deaf, is a kind and excellent nurse."

Robert Ashton wrote that night to Worcester; a sharp letter; bidding
Captain Bird come over and see to his sister. The poor thing took to
Jane wonderfully, and told her more than she'd have told any one else.

"I am twenty," she said, "and George is six-and-thirty; there is all
that difference between us. Our father and mother were dead, and I lived
with my aunt in Gloucestershire: where George lived, I did not know. He
had been adopted by a wealthy relative in London, and went into the
army. My mother had been a lady, but married beneath her, and it was
her family who took to George and brought him up a gentleman. Mine
was a hard, dull life. My aunt--she was my father's sister--counted
ever-so-many children, and I had to nurse and see to them. Her husband
was a master plumber and glazier. One day--it is fifteen months ago
now--I shall never forget it--my brother George arrived. I did not know
him: I had not seen him since I was thirteen, and then he was a fine
handsome gentleman in an officer's regimentals. He was rather shabby
now, and he had come to see if he could borrow money, but my aunt's
husband would not lend him any; he told him he had much ado to keep his
own family. I cried a good deal, and George said he would take me to
London to his wife. I think he did it to spite them, because of their
not lending the money, as much as to please me--he saw that I should be
a loss there. We went up--and oh how nice I thought his wife! She was a
kind, gentle lady, formerly Miss Lucy Ashton; but nearly always ailing,
and afraid of George. George had gay acquaintances, men and women, and
he let me go to theatres and balls with them. Lucy said it was wrong,
that they were not nice friends for me; but I grew to like the gaiety,
and she could do nothing. One night, upon going home from church, I
found both George and Lucy gone from the lodgings. I had been spending
the Sunday with some people they knew, the quietest of all their
friends. There lay a note on the table from Lucy, saying they were
obliged to leave London unexpectedly, and begging me to go at once--on
the morrow--back to Gloucestershire, for which she enclosed a sovereign.
I did not go: one invited me, and another invited me, and it was two
months, good, before I went down. Ah me! I heard no more of George; he
had got into some trouble in London, and was afraid to let it be known
where he was. I have never heard of him or his wife to this hour. My
aunt was glad to see me for the help I should be to her; but I felt ill
always and could not do so much as I used. I didn't know what ailed me;
I didn't indeed; I did not think it could be much; and then, when the
time went on and it all happened, and they knew, and I knew, I came away
with the baby because of the reproach and the shame. But George ought
not to have left me to myself in London."

And when Jane Ashton repeated all this to Robert, he said Bird deserved
to be hanged and quartered.

There came no answer from Captain Bird. Perhaps Ashton of Timberdale did
not really expect any would come.

But on the Sunday afternoon, from the train that passed Timberdale from
Worcester about the time folks came out of church, there descended a
poor, weak woman (looking like a girl too) in a worn shawl that was too
thin for the weather. She waited until the roads should be clear, as if
not wanting to be seen, and then wrapped the shawl close around her arms
and went out with her black veil down. It was Lucy Bird. And she was so
pretty still, in spite of the wan thin cheeks and the faded clothes!
There were two ways of getting to Jael Batty's from the station. She
took the long and obscure one, and in turning the corner of the lane
between the church and Timberdale Court, she met Robert Ashton.

But for her own movement, he might never have noticed her. It was
growing dusk; and when she saw him coming, she turned sharp off to a
stile and stood as if looking for something in the field. There's not
much to stare at in a ploughed field at dusk, as Ashton of Timberdale
knew, and he naturally looked at the person who had gone so fast to do
it. Something in the cut of the shoulders struck him as being familiar,
and he stopped.

"Lucy! Is it you?"

Of course it was no use her saying it was not. She burst into tears,
trembling and shaking. Robert passed round her his good strong arm. He
guessed what had brought her to Timberdale.

"Lucy, my dear, have you come over from Worcester?"

"Yes," she sobbed. "I shall be better in a minute, Robert. I am a little
tired, and the train shook me."

"You should have sent me word, and I would have had a fly at the
station."

Sent him word! It was good of Robert to pretend to say that; but he knew
that she wouldn't have presumed to do it. It was that feeling on Lucy's
part that vexed him so much. Since Bird had turned out the villain that
he had, Lucy acted, even to her own family, as though she had lost
caste, identifying herself with her husband, and humbling herself to
them. What though she was part and parcel with the fellow, as Robert
said, she was not responsible for his ill-doings.

"Lean on me, Lucy. You must have a good rest."

"Not that way," she said at the bottom of the lane, as he was turning
to the Court. "I am going to Jael Batty's."

"When you have had some rest and refreshment at home."

"I cannot go to your home, Robert."

"Indeed but you can; and will," he answered, leading her on.

"I would rather not. Your wife may not care to receive me."

"Come and try her."

"Robert, I am not fit to see any one: I am not indeed. My spirits are
low now, and I often burst into tears for nothing. I have been praying,
all the way over, not to meet you. After what was done to you at our
house but a week or two ago, I did not expect ever to have been noticed
by you again. Jane must hate me."

"Does she! Jane and I have been concocting a charming little plot
about you, Lucy. We are going to have your old room made ready, and the
sweet-scented lavender sheets put on the bed, and get you over to us.
For good, if you will stop; long enough to recruit your health if you
will not. Don't you remember how you used to talk in the holidays about
the home sheets; saying you only got them smelling of soap at school?"

A faint smile, like a shade, flitted over Lucy Bird's face at the
reminiscence.

"I should not know the feel of fine white linen sheets now: coarse
calico ones have had to content me this many a day. Let me turn, Robert!
For my own sake, I would rather not meet your wife. You cannot know how
I feel about seeing old friends; those who--who----"

Those who once knew me, she meant to say; but broke down with a sob.
Robert kept walking on. Lucy was a great deal younger than he, and had
been used to yield to him from the time she was a child. Well for her
would it have been, that she had yielded to his opinion when Captain
Bird came a-courting to Timberdale.

"You have company at your house, perhaps, Robert?"

"There's not a soul but Jane and me. The Coneys asked us to dine there
to-day, but we thought we'd have the first Sunday to ourselves. We went
to church this morning; and I came out after dinner to ask after old
Arkwright: they fear he is dying."

She made no further opposition, and Robert took her into the Court,
to the warm dining-room. Jane was not there. Robert put her into the
arm-chair that used to be their father's, and brought her a glass of
wine.

"No, thank you," she faintly said.

"You must take it, Lucy."

"I am afraid. My head is weak."

"A sign you want something good to strengthen it," he urged; and she
drank the wine.

"And now take off your bonnet, Lucy, and make yourself at home, whilst I
go to seek Jane," said he.

"Lucy is here," he whispered, when he had found his wife. "The merest
shadow you ever saw. A wan, faded thing that one's heart bleeds to look
upon. We must try and keep her for a bit, Jane."

"Oh, Robert, if we can! And nurse her into health."

"And deliver her from that brute she calls husband--as I should prefer
to put it, Jane. Her life with him must be something woeful."

When they got in, she was leaning forward in the chair, crying silently.
In the clear old room, with all its familiar features about her, memory
could only have its most painful sway. Her grand old father with his
grand old white hair used to sit where she was sitting; her brothers had
each his appointed place; and she was a lovely bright child amongst
them, petted by all; the sentimental girl with her head as brimful of
romance as ever the other Lucy Ashton's had been, when she went out to
her trysts with the Master of Ravenswood. Which had been the more bitter
fate in after-life--that Lucy's or this one's?

Mrs. Ashton went quietly up, put her arms round Lucy, and kissed her
many times. She untied the bonnet, which Lucy had not done, and gave it
with the shawl to Robert, standing behind. The bright hair fell down in
a shower--the bonnet had caught it--and she put her feeble hand up as if
to feel the extent of the disaster. It made her look so like the sweet
young sister they had all prized, that Robert turned to the window and
gave a few stamps, as if his boots were cold.

How she cried!--tears that came from the very heart. Putting her face
down on the arm of the chair, she let her grief have its way. Jane held
her hand and stroked it lovingly. Robert felt inclined to dash his
arms through the dark window-panes on which the fire-light played, in
imaginary chastisement of the scamp, Bird.

"Could you lend me a shawl of your own, Jane?" she asked, by-and-by,
when Robert said they would have tea in--and she glanced down at her
shabby brown gown. "I don't wish the servants to see me like this."

Jane flew out and brought one. A handsome cashmere of scarlet and
gold-colour, that her mother had given her before the wedding.

"Just for an hour or two, until I leave," said Lucy, as she covered
herself up in it.

"You will not go out of this house to-night, Lucy."

"I must, Robert. You can guess who it was I came to Timberdale to see."

"Of course I can. She is going on all right and getting stronger; so
there's no immediate haste about that. Mr. Bird would not--not come, I
suppose."

Lucy did not answer. Robert was right--Bird would not come: his young
sister might die where she was or be sheltered in the workhouse, for all
the concern he gave himself. For one thing, the man was at his wits' end
for money, and not too sure of his own liberty. But Lucy's conscience
had not let her be still: as soon as she had scraped together the means
for a third-class ticket, she came over.

"The poor girl has lain like a weight upon my mind, since the time when
we abandoned her in London," confessed Lucy.

"Why did you abandon her?"

"It was not my fault," murmured Lucy; and Robert felt vexed to have
asked the hasty question. "I hoped she went home, as I desired her;
but I did not feel sure of it, for Clara was thoughtless. And those
unsuspicious country girls cannot take care of themselves too well.
Robert, whatever has happened I regard as our fault," she added, looking
up at him with some fever in her eyes.

"As Mr. Bird's fault; not yours," corrected Robert--who, strange perhaps
to say, observed courtesy of speech towards Bird when talking with Lucy:
giving him in general a handle to his name. It might have sounded
ironical, but that he couldn't help. "Did you never write to ascertain
what had become of her, Lucy?"

"My husband would not let me. He is often in difficulties: and we never
have a settled home, or address. What will be done with her, Robert?"

"She will stay where she is until she is strong; Jane wishes it; and
then we shall see about the future. Something will turn up for her in
some place or other, I've little doubt."

Jane glanced at her husband and smiled. Robert had given her a promise
to help the girl to an honest living. But, as he frankly told his wife,
had he known it was a sister of Bird's, he might never have done so.

"About yourself, Lucy; that may be the better theme to talk of just
now," he resumed. "Will you remain here for good in your old home?"

The hot tears rushed to her eyes, the hot flush to her cheeks. She
looked deprecatingly at both, as if craving pardon.

"I cannot. You know I cannot."

"Shall I tell you what Bird is, Lucy? And what he most likely will be?"

"To what end, Robert?" she faintly asked. "I know it without."

"Then you ought to leave him--for your own sake. Leave him before you
are compelled to do so."

"Not before, Robert."

"But why?"

"Oh, Robert, don't you see?" she answered, breaking down. "He is my
husband."

And nothing else could they get from her. Though she cried and sobbed,
and did not deny that her life was a fear and a misery, yet she would go
back to him; go back on the morrow; it was her duty. In the moment's
anger Robert Ashton said he would wash his hands of her as well as of
Bird. But Jane and Lucy knew better.

"What can have induced you and Robert to take up this poor Clara in the
way you are doing--and mean to do?" she asked when she was alone with
Jane at the close of the evening.

"I--owe a debt of gratitude; and I thought I could best pay it in this
way," was Mrs. Ashton's timid and rather unwilling answer.

"A debt of gratitude! To Clara?"

"No. To Heaven."



VII.

CHARLES VAN RHEYN.


I shall always say it was a singular thing that I should chance to go
back to school that time the day before the quarter opened. Singular,
because I heard and saw more of the boy I am going to tell of than I
otherwise might have heard and seen. I was present at his arrival; and
I was present at his--well, let us say, at his departure.

The midsummer holidays were nearly up when Hugh was taken ill. Duffham
was uncertain what the illness was going to be: so he pitched upon
scarlatina. Upon that, the Squire and Mrs. Todhetley packed me back to
school there and then. Not from any fear of my taking it; I had had it,
and Tod too (and both of us were well again, I recollect, within a week
or so); but if once the disease had really shown itself, Dr. Frost would
not have liked us to return lest we might convey it to the school. Tod
was in Gloucestershire. He was written to, and told not to return home,
but to go straight to school.

Dr. Frost was surprised to see me. He said my coming back was quite
right; and I am sure he tried to put me at ease and make me comfortable.
Not a single boy had stayed the holidays that summer, and the doctor and
I were alone. The school would open the following day, when masters and
boys were alike expected to return. I had dinner with the doctor--he
usually dined late during the holidays--and we played at chess
afterwards.

Breakfast was just over the next morning when the letters came in.
Amongst them was one from France, bearing the Rouen post-mark. Now the
doctor, learned man though he was in classics and what not, could make
nothing of French. Carrying the letter to the window, turning its pages
over and back again, and staring at it through his spectacles, he at
last brought it to me.

"You are a pretty good French scholar, Johnny; can you read this? I
can't, I confess. But the paper's so thin, and the ink so pale, and the
writing so small, I could scarcely see it if it were English."

And I had to go over it twice before I could make it out. As he
said, the ink was pale, and it was a frightfully small and cramped
handwriting. The letter was dated Rouen, and was signed curtly, "Van
Rheyn," French fashion, without the writer's Christian name. Monsieur
Van Rheyn wrote to say that he was about to consign his son, Charles
Aberleigh Van Rheyn, to Dr. Frost's care, and that he would arrive
quickly after the letter, having already departed on his journey under
the charge of a "gentilhomme Anglais." It added that the son would bring
credentials with him; that he spoke English, and was of partly English
descent, through his mother, the late Madame Van Rheyn, _née_ Aberleigh.

"Rather a summary way of consigning a pupil to my charge," remarked Dr.
Frost. "Aberleigh?--Aberleigh?" he continued, as if trying to recollect
something, and bending his spectacles over the letter. "She must have
been one of the Aberleighs of Upton, I should think. Perhaps Hall knows?
I have heard her mention the Aberleighs."

Ringing the bell, the housekeeper was sent for. Dr. Frost asked her what
she knew of the Aberleighs of Upton.

"There's none of them left now to know, sir," answered Hall. "There
never was but two--after the old mother died: Miss Aberleigh and Miss
Emma Aberleigh. Good fortunes the young ladies had, sir, and both of
them, I remember, married on the same day. Miss Aberleigh to Captain
Scott, and Miss Emma to a French gentleman, Mosseer Van Rheyn."

"I should think, by the name, he was Dutch--or Flemish; not French,"
remarked the doctor.

"Anyway, sir, he was said to be French," returned Hall. "A dark sallow
gentleman who wore a braided coat. The young ladies never came back to
their home after the wedding-day, and the place was sold. Captain Scott
sailed with his wife for Injee, and Mosseer Van Rheyn took Miss Emma off
to his house in France."

"Do you recollect where his home was? In what part of France?"

"No, sir. And if I did, I should never be able to speak the name. Not
long ago I heard it said that poor Miss Emma was dead--Mrs. Van Rheyn
that is. A nice quiet girl, she was."

"Then I conclude the new pupil spoken of to me, must be the son of
Monsieur Van Rheyn and Miss Emma Aberleigh," remarked the doctor, when
Hall was dismissed. "You must help to make things pleasant for him,
Johnny: it will be a change at first from his own home and country. Do
you remember that other French boy we had here?"

I did. And the remembrance made me laugh. He used to lament every day
that he had not a plate of soup for dinner, and to say the meat was
tough.

Strolling out at the front iron gates in the course of the morning,
wondering how long the boys were going to be before some of them put in
an appearance, I caught sight of the first. He was walking up from the
Plough and Harrow Inn, and must have come by the omnibus that plied
backwards and forwards between the inn and the station. The Plough and
Harrow man-of-all-work followed behind, carrying a large trunk.

Of all queer figures that boy looked the queerest. I wondered who he
was, and whether he could really be coming as a pupil. His trousers and
vest were nankeen, his coat was a sort of open blouse, and flew out
behind him; the hat he wore was a tall chimney-pot with a wide brim. Off
went the hat with a bow and a flourish of the arm, as he reached me and
the gates.

"I ask your pardon, sir. This is, I believe, the pension of Dr. Frost?"

The French accent, though that was slight, the French manners, the
French turn of the words, told me who it was. For a minute or two I
really could not answer for staring at him. He seemed to have arrived
with a shaved head, as if just out of gaol, or of brain-fever.

The hair was cut as closely as it could be cut, short of shaving: his
face was red and round and covered with freckles: you could not have put
a pin's point between them. Really and truly it was the most remarkable
figure ever seen out of a picture. I could not guess his age exactly:
something perhaps between twelve and fourteen. He was slender and
upright, and to all appearance strong.

"I think you must be Charles Van Rheyn," I said then, holding out my
hand to welcome him. "Dr. Frost is expecting you."

He put his hand into mine after a moment's hesitation, not seeming quite
to understand that he might: but such a brightness came into his rather
large and honest grey eyes, that I liked him from that hour, in spite of
the clothes and the freckles and the shorn head. He had crossed to
Folkestone by the night boat, he said, had come on to London, and the
gentleman, who was his escort so far, had there put him into an early
train to come on to his destination.

Dr. Frost was at the window, and came to the door. Van Rheyn stood still
when within a yard of him, took his hat off with the most respectful
air, and bowed his head half-way to the ground. He had evidently been
brought up with a reverence for pastors and masters. The doctor shook
hands. The first thing Van Rheyn did on entering the reception-parlour,
was to produce from some inner pocket a large, square letter, sealed
with two flaming red seals and a coat of arms; which he handed to the
doctor. It contained a draft for a good sum of money in advance of the
first three months' payment, and some pages of closely-written matter in
the crabbed hand of Monsieur Van Rheyn. Dr. Frost put the pages aside to
await the arrival of the French master.

"My father was unable to remit the exact amount of money for the
trimestre, sir, not knowing what it would be," said young Van Rheyn.
"And there will be the extra expenses besides. He will arrange that with
you later."

"The end of the term would have been time enough to remit this," said
the doctor, smiling. "It is not our custom to receive payment in
advance."

"It is the custom in France, sir, I assure you. And, besides, I am to
you a stranger."

"Not altogether a stranger; I believe I know something of your mother's
family," said Dr. Frost. "How came your father to fix upon my school for
you?"

"My mother knew of your school, sir: she and my father used to talk of
placing me at it. And an English gentleman who came lately to Rouen
spoke of it--he said he knew you very well. That again put into my
father's head to send me."

It was the same Van Rheyn that they had thought--the son of Miss Emma
Aberleigh. She had been dead two years.

"Are you a Protestant or a Roman Catholic?" questioned Dr. Frost.

"I am Protestant, sir: the same that my mother was. We attended the
église of Monsieur le Pasteur Mons, of the Culte Evangélique."

The doctor asked him if he would take anything before dinner, and he
chose a glass of eau sucrée. The mal-de-mer had been rather bad, he
said, and he had not been able to eat since.

Evidently Hall did not approve of eau sucrée. She had never made eau
sucary, she said, when sent to for it. Bringing in the water and sugar,
she stood by to watch Van Rheyn mix it, her face sour, her lips drawn
in. I am sure it gave her pleasure, when he asked for a few drops of
orange-flower water, to be able to say there was not such a thing in the
house.

"This young gentleman is the son of the Miss Emma Aberleigh you once
knew, Hall," spoke the doctor, with a view no doubt to putting her on
good terms with the new pupil.

"Yes, sir," she answered crustily. "He favours his mamma about the
eyes."

"She must have had very nice eyes," I put in.

"And so she had," said Van Rheyn, looking at me gratefully. "Thank you
for saying so. I wish you could have known her!"

"And might I ask, sir, what has become of the other Miss Aberleigh?"
asked Hall of Van Rheyn. "The young lady who went off to Injee with her
husband on the wedding-day."

"You would say my Aunt Margaret," he rejoined. "She is quite well. She
and the major and the children will make the voyage to Europe next
year."

After the eau sucrée came to an end, the doctor turned him over to me,
telling me to take care of him till dinner-time, which that day would
be early. Van Rheyn said he should like to unpack his box, and we went
upstairs together. Growing confidential over the unpacking, he gave me
scraps of information touching his home and family, the mention of one
item leading to another.

His baptismal name in full, he said, was Charles Jean Aberleigh; his
father's was Jean Marie. Their home was a très joli château close to
Rouen: in five minutes you could walk there. It was all much changed
since his mother died (he seemed to have loved her with a fervent love
and to revere her memory); the last thing he did on coming away for
England was to take some flowers to her grave. It was thought in Rouen
that his father was going to make a second marriage with one of the
Demoiselles de Tocqueville, whom his Aunt Claribelle did not like. His
Aunt Claribelle, his father's sister, had come to live at the château
when his mother died; but if that Thérèsine de Tocqueville came into
the house she would quit it. The Demoiselles de Tocqueville had hardly
any _dot_,--which would be much against the marriage, Aunt Claribelle
thought, and bad for his father; because when he, Charles, should be the
age of twenty-one, the money came to him; it had been his mother's, and
was so settled: and his father's own property was but small. Of course
he should wish his father to keep always as much as he pleased, but Aunt
Claribelle thought the English trustees would not allow that. Aunt
Claribelle's opinion was, that his father had at length decided to send
him to a pension in England while he made the marriage; but he (Charles)
knew that his mother had wished him to finish his education in England,
and to go to one of the two colleges to which English gentlemen went.

"Here comes old Fontaine," I interrupted at this juncture, seeing his
arrival from the window.

Van Rheyn looked up from his shirts, which he was counting. He seemed to
have the tidiest ways in the world. "Who is it that you say? Fontaine?"

"Monsieur Fontaine, the French master. You can talk away with him in
your native tongue as much as you like, Van Rheyn."

"But I have come here to speak the English tongue, not the French,"
debated he, looking at me seriously. "My father wishes me to speak and
read it without any accent; and I wish it also."

"You speak it very well already."

"But you can hear that it is not my native tongue--that I am a
foreigner."

"Yes."

"Well, I must learn to speak it without that--as the English do. It will
be necessary."

I supposed he might allude to his future life. "What are you to be, Van
Rheyn?" I inquired.

"What profession, do you ask? I need not be any: I have enough fortune
to be a rentier--I don't know what you call that in English; it means a
gentleman who lives on his money. But I wish, myself, to be an English
priest."

"An English priest! Do you mean a parson?"

"Yes, I mean that. So you see I must learn the English tongue. My mother
used to talk to me about the priests in her land----"

"Parsons, Van Rheyn."

"I beg your pardon: I forget. And I fear I have caught up the French
names for things since my mother died. It was neither priest nor parson
she used to call the English ministers."

"Clergymen, perhaps."

"That was it. She said the clergymen were good men, and she should like
me to be one. In winter, when it was cold, and she had some fire in her
chamber, I used to sit up there with her, after coming home from classe,
and we talked together, our two selves. I should have much money, she
said, when I grew to be a man, and could lead an idle life. But she
would not like that: she wanted me to be a good man, and to go to heaven
when I died, where she would be; and she thought if I were a clergyman I
should have serious thoughts always. So I wish to be a clergyman."

He said all this with the utmost simplicity and composure, just as he
might have spoken of going for a ride. There could be no mistaking that
he was of a thoroughly straightforward and simple-minded nature.

"It might involve your living over here, Van Rheyn: once you were in
Orders."

"Yes, I know. Papa would not mind. England was mamma's country, and she
loved it. There was more peace in England than in France, she thought."

"I say, she must have been a good mother, Van Rheyn."

In a moment his grey eyes were shining at me through a mist of tears.
"Oh, she was so good, so good! You can never know. If she had lived I
should never have had sorrow."

"What did she die of?"

"Ah, I cannot tell. She was well in the morning, and she was dead at
night. Not that she was strong ever. It was one Dimanche. We had been to
the office, she and I----"

"What office?"

"Oh, pardon--I forget I am speaking English. I mean to church. Monsieur
Mons had preached; and we were walking along the street towards home
afterwards, mamma talking to me about the sermon, which had been a very
holy one, when we met the Aunt Claribelle, who had come into the town
for high mass at St. Ouen. Mamma asked her to come home and dine with
us; and she said yes, but she must first go to say bon-jour to old
Madame Soubitez. As she parted from us, there was suddenly a great
outcry. It was fête at Rouen that Sunday. Some bands of music were
to play on the estrade in the public garden, competing for a prize,
consequently the streets were crowded. We looked back at the noise, and
saw many horses, without riders, galloping along towards us; men were
running after them, shouting and calling; and the people, mad with
fright, tumbled over one another in the effort to get away. Later, we
heard that these horses, frightened by something, had broken out of an
hotel post-yard. Well, mamma gave just a cry of fear and held my hand
tighter, as we set off to run with the rest, the horses stamping wildly
after us. But the people pushed between us, and I lost her. She was at
home before me, and was sitting at the side of the fountain, inside the
château entrance-gate, when I got up, her face all white and blue, and
her neck and throat beating, as she clung to the nearest lion with both
hands. It alarmed me more than the horses had, for I had never seen her
look so. 'Come in, mamma,' I said, 'and take a little glass of cordial;'
but she could not answer me, she did not stir. I called one of the
servants, and by-and-by she got a little breath again, and went into
the house, leaning upon both of us, and so up to her chamber. Quite
immediately papa came home: he always went into town to his club on the
Sunday mornings, and he ran for Monsieur Petit, the médecin--the doctor.
By seven o'clock in the evening, mamma was dead."

"Oh dear! What was the cause?"

"Papa did not tell me. He and Monsieur Petit talked about the heart:
they said it was feeble. Oh, how we cried, papa and I! He cried for
many days. I hope he will not bring home Thérèsine de Tocqueville!"

The dinner-bell rang out, and we went down. Dr. Frost was putting up the
letter which old Fontaine had been translating to him. It was full of
directions about Van Rheyn's health. What he was to do, and what not to
do. Monsieur Van Rheyn said his son was not strong: he was not to be
allowed to do gymnastics or "boxing," or to play at rough games, or take
violent exercise of any kind; and a small glass of milk was to be given
him at night when he went to bed. If the clothes sent over with him were
not suitable to the school, or in accordance with the English mode, Dr.
Frost was prayed to be at the trouble of procuring him new ones. He was
to be brought well on in all the studies necessary to constitute the
"gentilhomme," and especially in the speaking and reading of English.

Dr. Frost directed his spectacles to Charles Van Rheyn, examining him
from top to toe. The round, red face, and the strongly-built frame
appeared to give nothing but indications of robust health. The doctor
questioned him in what way he was not strong--whether he was subject to
a cough, or to want of appetite, and other such items. But Van Rheyn
seemed to know nothing about it, and said he had always been quite
well.

"The father fears we should make him into a muscular Englishman, hence
these restrictions," thought Dr. Frost.

In the afternoon the fellows began to come in thick and threefold: Tod
amongst them, who arrived about tea-time. To describe their amazement
when they saw Van Rheyn is quite beyond me. It seemed that they never
meant to leave off staring. Some of them gave him a little chaff, even
that first night. Van Rheyn was very shy and silent. Entirely at his
ease as he had been with me alone, the numbers seemed to daunt him; to
strike him and his courage into himself.

                 *       *       *       *       *

On the whole, Van Rheyn was not liked. Once let a school set itself
against a new fellow at first--and Van Rheyn's queer appearance had done
that much for him--it takes a long time to bring matters round--if they
ever are brought round at all. When his hair began to sprout, it looked
exactly like pig's bristles. And that was the first nickname he got:
Bristles. The doctor had soon changed his style of coat, and he wore
jackets, as we did.

Charles Van Rheyn did not seem inclined to grow sociable. Shy and silent
as he had shown himself to them that first evening, so he remained.
True, he had no encouragement to be otherwise. The boys continually
threw ridicule on him, making him into an almost perpetual butt. Any
mistake in the pronunciation of an English word--Van Rheyn never made a
mistake as to its _meaning_--they hissed and groaned at. I shall never
forget one occasion. Being asked when that Indian lot intended to arrive
(meaning the Scotts), and whether they would make the voyage in a
palanquin (for the boys plied him with questions purposely) he answered,
"Not in a palanquin, but in a sheep"--meaning ship. The uproar at that
was so loud, that some of the masters looked in to know what was up.

Van Rheyn, too, was next door to helpless. He did not climb, or leap, or
even run. Had not been used to it, he said. What _had_ he been used to
do, then, he was asked one day. Oh, he had sat out in the garden with
his mother; and since her death, with Aunt Claribelle, and gone for an
airing in the carriage three times a week. Was he a girl? roared the
boys. Did he do patchwork? Not now; he had left off sewing when he was
nine, answered Van Rheyn innocently, unconscious of the storm of mockery
the avowal would invoke. "Pray, were you born a young lady?--or did
they change you at nurse?" shouted Jessup, who would have kept the
ball rolling till midnight. "I say, you fellows, he has come to the
wrong school: we don't take in girls, do we? Let me introduce this one
to you, boys--'Miss Charlotte.'" And, so poor Charley Van Rheyn got
that nickname as well as the other. Miss Charlotte!

Latin was a stumbling-block. Van Rheyn had learnt it according to
French rules and French pronunciation, and he could not readily get
into our English mode. "It was bad enough to have to teach a stupid
boy Latin," grumbled the under Latin master (under Dr. Frost), "but
worse to have to _un_-teach him." Van Rheyn was not stupid, however;
if he seemed so, it was because his new life was so strange to him.

One day the boys dared him to a game at leap-frog. Some of them were at
it in the yard, and Van Rheyn stood by, looking on.

"Why don't you go in for it?" suddenly asked Parker, giving him a push.
"There is to be a round or two at boxing this evening, why don't you go
in for _that_?"

"They never would let me do these rough things," replied Van Rheyn, who
invariably answered all the chaffing questions civilly and patiently.

"Who wouldn't? Who's 'they'?"

"My mother and my Aunt Claribelle. Also, when I was starting to come
here, my father said I was not to exert myself."

"All right, Miss Charlotte; but why on earth didn't the respectable old
gentleman send you over in petticoats? Never was such a thing heard of,
you know, as for a girl to wear a coat and pantaloons. It's not decent,
Miss Charlotte; it's not modest."

"Why do you say all this to me for ever? I am not a girl," said poor Van
Rheyn.

"No? Don't tell fibs. If you were not a girl you'd go in for our games.
Come! Try this. Leap-frog's especially edifying, I assure you: expands
the mind. _Won't_ you try it?"

Well, the upshot was, that they dared him to try it. A dozen, or so,
set on at him like so many wolves. What with that, and what with their
stinging ridicule, poor Van Rheyn was goaded out of his obedience to
home orders, and did try it. After a few tumbles, he went over very
tolerably, and did not dislike it at all.

"If I can only learn to do as the rest of you do, perhaps they will let
me alone," he said to me that same night, a sort of eagerness in his
bright grey eyes.

And gradually he did learn to go in for most of the games: running,
leaping, and climbing. One thing he absolutely refused--wrestling.

"Why should gentlemen, who were to be gentlemen all their lives, fight
each other?" he asked. "They would not have to fight as men; it was not
kind; it was not pleasant; it was hard."

The boys were hard on him for saying it, mocking him fearfully; but they
could not shake him there. He was of right blue blood; never caving-in
before them, as Bill Whitney expressed it one day; he was only quiet and
_endured_.

Whether the native Rouen air is favourable to freckles, I don't know;
but those on Van Rheyn's face gradually disappeared over here. His
complexion lost its redness also, becoming fresh and fair, with a
brightish colour on the cheeks. The hair, growing longer, turned out
to be of a smooth brown: altogether he was good-looking.

                 *       *       *       *       *

"I say, Johnny, do you know that Van Rheyn's ill?"

The words came from William Whitney. He whispered them in my ear as we
stood up for prayers before breakfast. The school had opened about a
month then.

"What's the matter with him?"

"Don't know," answered Bill. "He is staying in bed."

Cribbing some minutes from breakfast, I went up to his room. Van Rheyn
looked pale as he lay, and said he had been sick. Hall declared it was
nothing but a bilious attack, and Van Rheyn thought she might be right.

"Meaning that you have a sick headache, I suppose?" I said to him.

"Yes, the migraine. I have had it before."

"Well, look here, Charley," I went on, after thinking a minute; "if I
were you, I wouldn't say as much to any of them. Let them suppose you
are regularly ill. You'll never hear the last of it if they know you lie
in bed for only a headache."

"But I cannot get up," he answered; "my head is in much pain. And I have
fever. Feel my hand."

The hand he put out was burning hot. But that went with sick headaches
sometimes.

It turned out to be nothing worse, for he was well on the morrow; and I
need not have mentioned it at all, but for a little matter that arose
out of the day's illness. Going up again to see him after school in the
afternoon, I found Hall standing over the bed with a cup of tea, and a
most severe, not to say horror-struck expression of countenance, as she
gazed down on him, staring at something with all her eyes. Van Rheyn was
asleep, and looked better; his face flushed and moist, his brown hair,
still uncommonly short compared with ours, pushed back. He lay with his
hands outside the bed, as if the clothes were heavy--the weather was
fiery hot. One of the hands was clasping something that hung round his
neck by a narrow blue ribbon; it seemed to have been pulled by him out
of the opening in his night-shirt. Hall's quick eyes had detected what
it was--a very small flat cross (hardly two inches long), on which was
carved a figure of the Saviour, all in gold.

Now Hall had doubtless many virtues. One of them was docking us boys of
our due allowance of sugar. But she had also many prejudices. And, of
all her prejudices, none was stronger than her abhorrence of idols, as
exemplified in carved images and Chinese gods.

"Do you see that, Master Ludlow?" she whispered to me, pointing her
finger straight at the little cross of gold. "It's no better than a
relict of paganism."

Stooping down, she gently drew the cross out of Van Rheyn's hot clasped
hand, and let it lie on the sheet. A beautiful little cross; the face
of our Saviour--an exquisite face in its expression of suffering and
patient humility--one that you might have gazed upon and been the better
for. How they could have so perfectly carved a thing so small I knew
not.

"He must be one of them worshipping Romanics," said Hall, with horror,
snatching her fingers from the cross as if she thought it would give her
the ague. "Or else a pagan."

And the two were no doubt alike in Hall's mind.

"And he goes every week and says his commandments in class here,
standing up before all the school! I wonder what the doctor----"

Hall cut short her complaints. Van Rheyn had suddenly opened his eyes,
and was looking up at us.

"I find myself better," he said, with a smile. "The pain has nearly
departed."

"We wasn't thinking of pains and headaches, Master Van Rheyn, but of
_this_," said Hall, resentfully, taking the spoon out of the saucer, and
holding it within an inch of the gold cross. Van Rheyn raised his head
from the pillow to look.

"Oh, it is my little cross!" he said, holding it out to our view as far
as the ribbon allowed, and speaking with perfect ease and unconcern. "Is
it not beautiful?"

"Very," I said, stooping over it.

"Be you of the Romanic sex?" demanded Hall of Van Rheyn.

"Am I---- What is it Mrs. Hall would ask?" he broke off to question me,
in the midst of my burst of laughter.

"She asks if you are a Roman Catholic, Van Rheyn."

"But no. Why you think that?" he added to her. "My father is a Roman
Catholic: I am a Protestant, like my mother."

"Then why on earth, sir, do you wear such a idol as that?" returned
Hall.

"This? Oh, it is nothing! it is not an idol. It does me good."

"Good!" fiercely repeated Hall. "Does you good to wear a brazen image
next the skin!--right under the flannel waistcoat. I wonder what the
school will come to next?"

"Why should I not wear it?" said Van Rheyn. "What harm does it do me,
this? It was my poor Aunt Annette's. The last time we went to the Aunt
Claribelle's to see her, when the hope of her was gone, she put the
cross into my hand, and bade me keep it for her sake."

"I tell you, Master Van Rheyn, it's just a brazen image," persisted
Hall.

"It is a keepsake," dissented Van Rheyn. "I showed it to Monsieur Mons
one day when he was calling on mamma, and told him it was a gift to me
of the poor Tante Annette. Monsieur Mons thought it very pretty, and
said it would remind me of the great Sacrifice."

"But to wear it next your skin," went on Hall, not giving in. Giving in
on the matter of graven images was not in her nature. Or on any matter
as far as that went, that concerned us boys. "I've heard of poor
misdeluded people putting horse-hair next 'em. And fine torment it must
be!"

"I have worn it since mamma died," quietly answered Van Rheyn, who did
not seem to understand Hall's zeal. "She kept it for me always in her
little shell-box that had the silver crest on it; but when she died,
I said I would put the cross round my neck, for fear of losing it:
and Aunt Claribelle, who took the shell-box then, bought me the blue
ribbon."

"That blue ribbon's new--or almost new--if ever I saw new ribbon," cried
Hall, who was in a mood to dispute every word.

"Oh yes. It was new when I left Rouen. I have another piece in my trunk
to put on when this shall wear out."

"Well, it's a horrid heathenish thing to do, Master Van Rheyn; and,
though it may be gold, I don't believe Miss Emma Aberleigh would ever
have gave countenance to it. Leastways before she lived among them
foreign French folks," added Hall, virtually dropping the contest, as
Van Rheyn slipped the cross out of view within his night-shirt. "What
she might have come to, after she went off there, Heaven alone knows. Be
you going to drink this tea, sir, or be you not?"

Van Rheyn drank the tea and thanked her for bringing it, his gratitude
shining also out of his nice grey eyes. Hall took back the cup and
tucked him up again, telling him to get a bit more sleep and he would be
all right in the morning. With all her prejudices and sourness, she was
as good as gold when any of us were ill.

                 *       *       *       *       *

"Not bathe! Not bathe! I say, you fellows, here's a lark. Bristles
thinks he'd better not try the water."

It was a terribly hot evening, close upon sunset. Finding ourselves,
some half-dozen of us, near the river, Van Rheyn being one, the water
looked too pleasant not to be plunged into. The rule at Dr. Frost's was,
that no boy should be compelled to bathe against his inclination: Van
Rheyn was the only one who had availed himself of it. It was Parker who
spoke: we were all undressing quickly.

"What's your objection, Miss Charlotte? Girls bathe."

"They would never let me go into cold water at home," was the patient
answer. "We take warm baths there."

"Afraid of cold water? well I never! What an everlasting pussy-cat you
are, Miss Charlotte! We've heard that pussies don't like to wet their
feet."

"Our doctor at Rouen used to say I must not plunge into cold water,"
said poor Van Rheyn, speaking patiently as usual, though he must have
been nearly driven wild. "The shock would not be good for me."

"I say, who'll write off to Evesham for a pair of waterproofs to put
over his shoes? Just give us the measure of your foot, Miss Charlotte?"

"Let's shut him up in a feather-bed!"

"Why, the water's not cold, you donkey!" cried Bill Whitney, who had
just leaped in. "It's as warm as new milk. What on earth will you be fit
for, Bristles? You'll never make a man."

"Make a man! What are you thinking of, Whitney? Miss Charlotte has no
ambition that way. Girls prefer to grow up into young ladies, not into
men."

"Is it truly warm?" asked Van Rheyn, gazing at the river irresolutely,
and thinking that if he went in the mockery might cease.

I looked up at him from the water. "It is indeed, Van Rheyn. Quite
warm."

He knew he might trust me, and began slowly to undress. We had continued
to be the best of comrades, and I never went in for teasing him as the
rest did; rather shielded him when I could, and took his part.

By the time he was ready to go in--for he did nothing nimbly, and
undressing made no exception--some of us were ready to come out. One of
Dr. Frost's rules in regard to bathing was stringent--that no boy should
remain in the water more than three minutes at the very extent. He held
that a great deal of harm was done by prolonged bathing. Van Rheyn
plunged in--and liked it.

"It is warm and pleasant," he exclaimed. "This cannot hurt me."

"Hurt you, you great baby!" shouted Parker.

Van Rheyn had put his clothes in the tidiest manner upon the grass; not
like ours, which were flung down any way. His things were laid smoothly
one upon another, in the order he took them off, though I dare say I
should not have noticed this but for a shout from Jessup.

"Halloa! What's that?"

Those of us who were out, and in the several stages of drying or
dressing, turned round at the words. Jessup, buttoning his braces, was
standing by Van Rheyn's heap, looking down at it. On the top of the
flannel vest, exposed to full view, lay the gold cross with the blue
ribbon.

"What on earth _is_ it?" cried Jessup, picking it up; and at the moment
Van Rheyn, finding all the rest out of the water, came out himself. "Is
it a charm?"

"It is mine--it is my gold cross," spoke Van Rheyn, catching up one of
the wet towels. The bath this evening had been impromptu, and we had
only two towels between us, which Parker and Whitney had brought. In
point of fact, it had been against rules also, for we were not expected
to go into the river without the presence of a master. But just at this
bend it was perfectly safe. Jessup passed the blue ribbon round his
neck, letting the cross hang behind. This done, he turned himself about
for general inspection, and the boys crowded round to look.

"What do you say it is, Bristles?"

"My gold cross."

"You don't mean to tell us to our faces that you wear it?"

"I wear it always," freely answered Van Rheyn.

Jessup took it off his neck, and the boys passed it about from one to
another. They did not ridicule the cross--I think the emblem on it
prevented that--but they ridiculed Van Rheyn.

"A friend of mine went over to the tar-and-feather islands," said
Millichip, executing an aggravating war-dance round about Charley. "He
found the natives sporting no end of charms and amulets--nearly all the
attire they did sport--rings in the nose and chains in the ears. What
relation are those natives to you, Miss Charlotte?"

"Don't injure it, please," pleaded Van Rheyn.

"We've an ancient nurse at home who carries the tip of a calf's tongue
in her pocket for luck," shrieked Thorne. "And I've heard--I _have_
heard, Bristles--that any fellow who arms himself with a pen'orth of
blue-stone from the druggist's, couldn't have the yellow jaundice if he
tried. What might you wear this for, pray?"

"My Aunt Annette gave it me as a present when she was dying," answered
poor helpless Charley, who had never the smallest notion of taking chaff
otherwise than seriously, or of giving chaff back again.

He had dressed himself to his trousers and shirt, and stood with his
hand stretched out, waiting for his cross.

"In the _Worcester Journal_, one day last June, I read an advertisement
as big as a house, offering a child's caul for sale," cried Snepp. "Any
gentleman or lady buying that caul and taking it to sea, could never be
drowned. Bristles thinks as long as he wears this, he won't come to be
hanged."

"How's your grandmother, Miss Charlotte?"

"I wish you would please to let me alone," said he patiently. "My father
would not have placed me here had he known."

"Why don't you write and tell him, Bristles?"

"I would not like to grieve him," simply answered Charley. "I can bear.
And he does so much want me to learn good English."

"This cross is gold, I suppose?" said Bill Whitney, who now had it.

"Yes, it is gold," answered Van Rheyn.

"I wouldn't advise you to fall amongst thieves, then. They might ease
you of it. The carving must be worth something."

"It cost a great deal to buy, I have heard my aunt say. Will you be so
good as to give it me, that I may finish to dress myself?"

Whitney handed him the cross. Time was up, in fact; and we had to make a
race for the house. Van Rheyn was catching it hot and sharp, all the
way.

One might have thought that his very meekness, the unresisting spirit in
which he took things, would have disarmed the mockery. But it did not.
Once go in wholesale for putting upon some particular fellow in a
school, and the tyranny gains with use. I don't think any of them meant
to be really unkind to Van Rheyn; but the play had begun, and they
enjoyed it.

I once saw him drowned in tears. It was at the dusk of evening. Charley
had come in for it awfully at tea-time, I forget what about, and
afterwards disappeared. An hour later, going into Whitney's room for
something Bill asked me to fetch, I came upon Charles Van Rheyn--who
also slept there. He was sitting at the foot of his low bed, his cheek
leaning on one of his hands, and the tears running down swiftly. One
might have thought his heart was broken.

"What is the grievance, Charley?"

"Do not say to them that you saw me," returned he, dashing away his
tears. "I did not expect any of you would come up."

"Look here, old fellow: I know it's rather hard lines for you just now.
But they don't mean anything: it is done in sport, not malice. They
don't _think_, you see, Van Rheyn. You will be sure to live it down."

"Yes," he sighed, "I hope I shall. But it is so different here from what
it used to be. I had such a happy home; I never had one sorrow when my
mother was alive. Nobody cares for me now; nobody is kind to me: it is a
great change."

"Take heart, Charley," I said, holding out my hand. "I know you will
live it down in time."

Of all the fellows I ever met, I think he was the most grateful for a
word of kindness. As he thanked me with a glad look of hope in his eyes,
I saw that he had been holding the cross clasped in his palm; for it
dropped as he put his hand into mine.

"It helps me to bear," he said, in a whisper. "My mother, who loved me
so, is in heaven; my father has married Mademoiselle Thérèsine de
Tocqueville. I have no one now."

"Your father has not married that Thérèsine de Tocqueville?"

"Why, yes. I had the letter close after dinner."

So perhaps he was crying for the home unhappiness as much as for his
school grievances. It all reads strange, no doubt, and just the opposite
of what might be expected of one of us English boys. The French
bringing-tip is different from ours: perhaps it lay in that. On the
other hand, a French boy, generally speaking, possesses a very shallow
sense of religion. But Van Rheyn had been reared by his English mother;
and his disposition seemed to be naturally serious and uncommonly
pliable and gentle. At any rate, whether it reads improbable or
probable, it is the truth.

I got what I wanted for Billy Whitney, and went down, thinking what a
hard life it was for him--what a shame that we made it so. Indulged, as
Van Rheyn must have always been, tenderly treated as a girl, sheltered
from the world's roughness, all that coddling must have become to him as
second nature; and the remembrance lay with him still. Over here he was
suddenly cut off from it, thrown into another and a rougher atmosphere,
isolated from country, home, home-ties and associations; and compelled
to stand the daily brunt of this petty tyranny.

Getting Tod apart that night, I put the matter to him: what a shame it
was, and how sorry I felt for Charley Van Rheyn; and I asked him whether
he thought he could not (he having a great deal of weight in the school)
make things pleasanter for him. Tod responded that I should never be
anything but a muff, and that the roasting Van Rheyn got treated to was
superlatively good for him, if ever he was to be made into a man.

However, before another week ran out, Dr. Frost interfered. How he
obtained an inkling of the reigning politics we never knew. One Saturday
afternoon, when old Fontaine had taken Van Rheyn out with him, the
doctor walked into the midst of us, to the general consternation.

Standing in the centre of the schoolroom, with a solemn face, all of us
backing as much as the wall allowed, and the masters who chanced to be
present rising to their feet, the doctor spoke of Van Rheyn. He had
reason to suspect, he said, that we were doing our best to worry Van
Rheyn's life out of him: and he put the question deliberately to us (and
made us answer it), how we, if consigned alone to a foreign home, all
its inmates strangers, would liked to be served so. He did not wish, he
went on, to think he had pitiful, ill-disposed boys, lacking hearts and
common kindness, in his house: he felt sure that what had passed arose
from a heedless love of mischief; and it would greatly oblige him to
find from henceforth that our conduct towards Van Rheyn was changed: he
thought, and hoped, that he had only to express a wish upon the point,
to ensure obedience.

With that--and a hearty nod and smile around, as if he put it as a
personal favour to himself, and wanted us to see that he did, and was
not angry, he went out again. A counsel was held to determine whether we
had a sneak amongst us--else how could Frost have known?--that Charley
himself had not spoken, his worst enemy felt sure of. But not one could
be pitched upon: every individual fellow, senior and junior, protested
earnestly that he had not let out a syllable. And, to tell the truth, I
don't think we had.

However, the doctor was obeyed. From that day all real annoyance to
Charles Van Rheyn ceased. I don't say but what there would be a laugh at
him now and then, and a word of raillery, or that he lost his names of
Bristles and Miss Charlotte; but virtually the sting was gone. Charley
was as grateful as could be, and seemed to become quite happy; and upon
the arrival of a hamper by grande vitesse from Rouen, containing a huge
rich wedding-cake and some packets of costly sweetmeats, he divided the
whole amongst us, keeping the merest taste for himself. The school made
its comments in return.

"He's not a bad lot after all, that Van Rheyn. He will make a man yet."

                 *       *       *       *       *

"It isn't a bit of use your going in for this, Van Rheyn, unless you can
run like a lamplighter."

"But I can run, you know," responded Van Rheyn.

"Yes. But can you keep the pace up?"

"Why not?"

"We may be out for three or four hours, pelting like mad all the time."

"I feel no fear of keeping up," said Van Rheyn. "I will go."

"All right."

It was on a Saturday afternoon; and we were turning out for hare and
hounds. The quarter was hard upon its close, for September was passing.
Van Rheyn had never seen hare and hounds: it had been let alone during
the hotter weather: and it was Tod who now warned him that he might not
be able to keep up the running. It requires fleet legs and easy breath,
as every one knows; and Van Rheyn had never much exercised either.

"What is just the game?" he asked in his quaintly-turned phrase. And I
answered him--for Tod had gone away.

"You see those strips of paper that they have torn out of old copybooks,
and are twisting? That is for the scent. The hare fills his pockets with
it, and drops a piece of it every now and then as he runs. We, the
hounds, follow his course by means of the scent, and catch him if we
can."

"And then?" questioned Van Rheyn.

"Then the game is over."

"And what if you not catch him?"

"The hare wins; that's all. What he likes to do is to double upon us
cunningly and lead us home again after him."

"But in all that there is only running."

"We vault over the obstructions--gates, and stiles, and hedges. Or, if
the hedges are too high, scramble through them."

"But some hedges are very thick and close: nobody could get through
them," debated Van Rheyn, taking the words, as usual, too literally.

"Then we are dished. And have to find some other way onwards, or turn
back."

"I can do what you say quite easily."

"All right, Charley," I repeated: as Tod had done. And neither of us,
nor any one else, had the smallest thought that it was not all right.

Millichip was chosen hare. Snepp turned cranky over something or other
at the last moment, and backed out of it. He made the best hare in the
school: but Millichip was nearly as fleet a runner.

What with making the scent, and having it out with Snepp, time was
hindered; and it must have been getting on for four o'clock when we
started. Which docked the run considerably, for we had to be in at six
to tea. On that account, perhaps, Millichip thought he must get over
the ground the quicker; for I don't think we had ever made so swift a
course. Letting the hare get well on ahead, the signal was given, and we
started after him in full cry, rending the air with shouts, and rushing
along like the wind.

A right-down good hare Millichip turned out to be; doubling and twisting
and finessing, and exasperating the hounds considerably. About five
o'clock he had made tracks for home, as we found by the scent: but we
could neither see him nor catch him. Later, I chanced to come to grief
in a treacherous ditch, lost my straw hat, and tore the sleeve of my
jacket. This threw me behind the rest; and when I pelted up to the next
stile, there stood Van Rheyn. He had halted to rest his arms on it; his
breath was coming in alarming gasps, his face whiter than a sheet.

"Halloa, Van Rheyn! What's up? The pace is too much for you."

"It was my breath," said he, when he could answer. "I go on now."

I put my hand on him. "Look here: the run's nearly over: we shall soon
be at home. Don't go on so fast."

"But I want to be in at what they call the death."

"There'll be no death to-day: the hare's safe to win."

"I want to keep up," he answered, getting over the stile. "I said I
could keep up, and do what the rest did." And off he was again, full
rush.

Before us, on that side of the stile, was a tolerably wide field. The
pack had wound half over it during this short halt, making straight for
the entrance to the coppice at the other end. We were doing our best to
catch them up, when I distinctly saw a heavy stone flung into their
midst. Looking at the direction it came from, there crept a dirty
ragamuffin over the ground on his hands and knees. He did not see us two
behind; and he flung another heavy stone. Had it struck anyone's head it
would have done serious damage.

Letting the chase go, I stole across and pounced upon him before he
could get away. He twisted himself out of my hands like an eel, and
stood grinning defiance and whistling to his dog. We knew the young
scamp well: and could never decide whether he was a whole scamp, or
half a natural. At any rate, he was vilely bad, was the pest of the
neighbourhood, and had enjoyed some short sojourns in prison for
trespass. Raddy was the name he went by; we knew him by no other; and
how he got a living nobody could tell.

"What did you throw those stones for?"

"Shan't tell ye. Didn't throw 'em at you."

"You had better mind what you are about, Mr. Raddy, unless you want to
get into trouble."

"Yah--you!" grinned Raddy.

There was nothing to be made of him; there never was anything. I should
have been no match for Raddy in an encounter; and he would have killed
me without the slightest compunction. Turning to go on my way, I was in
time to see Van Rheyn tumble over the stile and disappear within the
coppice. The rest must have nearly shot out of the other end by that
time. It was a coppice that belonged to Sir John Whitney. Once through
it, we were on our own grounds, and within a field of home.

I went on leisurely enough: no good to try to catch them up now. Van
Rheyn would not do it, and he had more than half a field's start of me.
It must have been close upon six, for the sun was setting in a ball of
fire; the amber sky around it was nearly as dazzling as the sun, and
lighted up the field.

So that, plunging into the coppice, it was like going into a dungeon.
For a minute or two, with the reflection of that red light lingering in
my eyes, I could hardly see the narrow path; the trees were dark, thick,
and met overhead. I ran along whistling: wondering whether that young
Raddy was after me with his ugly dog; wondering why Sir John did not----

The whistling and the thoughts came to a summary end together. At the
other end of the coppice, but a yard or two on this side the stile that
divided it from the open field, there was Charles Van Rheyn on the
ground, his back against the trunk of a tree, his arms stretched up,
clasping it. But for that clasp, and the laboured breathing, I might
have thought he was dead. For his face was ghastly, blue round the
mouth, and wore the strangest expression I ever saw.

"Charley, what's the matter?"

But he could not answer. He was panting frightfully, as though every
gasp would be his last. What on earth was I to do? Down I knelt, saying
never another word.

"It--gives--me--much--hurt," said he, at length, with a long pause
between every word.

"What does?"

"Here"--pointing to his chest--towards the left side.

"Did you hurt yourself? Did you fall?"

"No, I not hurt myself. I fell because I not able to run more. It is the
breath. I wish papa was near me!"

Instinct told me that he must have assistance, and yet I did not like to
leave him. But what if delay in getting it should be dangerous? I rose
up to go.

"You--you are not going to quit me!" he cried out, putting his feeble
grasp on my arm.

"But, Charley, I want to get somebody to you," I said in an agony, "I
can't do anything for you myself: anything in the world."

"No, you stay. I should not like to be alone if I die."

The shock the word gave me I can recall yet. Die! If there was any fear
of _that_, it was all the more necessary I should make a rush for Dr.
Frost and Featherston. Never had I been so near my wits' end before, in
the uncertainty as to what course I ought to take.

All in a moment, there arose a shrill whistle on the other side the
stile. It was like a godsend. I knew it quite well for that vicious
young reptile's, but it was welcome to me as sunshine in harvest.

"There's Raddy, Van Rheyn. I will send him."

Vaulting over the stile, I saw the young man standing with his back
to me near the hedge, his wretched outer garment--a sack without
shape--hitched up, his hands in the pockets of his dilapidated trousers,
that hung in fringes below the knee. He was whistling to his dog in the
coppice. They must have struck through the tangles and briars higher up,
which was a difficult feat, and strictly forbidden by law. It was well
Sir John's agent did not see Mr. Raddy--whose eyes, scratched and
bleeding, gave ample proof of the trespass.

"Yah!" he shrieked out, turning at the sound of me, and grinning fresh
defiance.

"Raddy," I said, speaking in persuasive tones to propitiate him in my
great need, "I want you to do something for me. Go to Dr. Frost as
quickly as you are able, and say----"

Of all the derisive horrible laughs, his interruption was the worst and
loudest. It drowned the words.

"One of the school has fallen and hurt himself," I said, putting it in
that way. "He's lying here, and I cannot leave him. Hush, Raddy! I want
to tell you,"--advancing a step or two nearer to him and lowering my
voice to a whisper,--"I think he's dying."

"None o' yer gammon here; none o' yer lies"--and in proportion as I
advanced, he retreated. "You've got a ambush in that there coppy--all
the lot on you a-waiting to be down on me! Just you try it on!"

"I am telling you the truth, Raddy. There's not a soul in there but the
one I speak of. I say I fear he is dying. He is lying helpless. I will
pay you to go"--feeling in my pockets to see how much I had there.

Raddy displayed his teeth: it was a trick of his when feeling
particularly defiant. "What'll yer pay me?"

"Sixpence"--showing it to him. "I will give it you when you have taken
the message."

"Give it first."

Just for a moment I hesitated in my extremity, but I knew it would be
only the sixpence thrown away. Paid beforehand, Raddy would no more do
the errand than he'd fly. I told him as much.

"Then be dashed if I go!" And he passed off into a round of swearing.

Good Heavens! If I should not be able to persuade him! If Charles Van
Rheyn should die for want of help!

"Did you ever have anybody to care for, Raddy? Did you ever have a
mother?"

"Her's sent over the seas, her is; and I be glad on't. Her beated me,
her did: I wasn't a-going to stand that."

"If you ever had anybody you cared for the least bit in the world,
Raddy; if you ever did anybody a good turn in all your life, you will
help this poor fellow now. Come and look at him. See whether I dare
leave him."

"None o' yer swindles! Ye wants to get me in there, ye does. I warn't
borned yesterday."

Well, it seemed hopeless. "Will you go for the sixpence, if I give it to
you beforehand, Raddy?"

"Give it over, and see. Where the thunder have ye been?" dealing his dog
a savage kick, as it came up barking. "Be I to whistle all day?" Another
kick.

I had found two sixpences in my pocket; all its store. Bringing forth
one, I held it out to him.

"Now listen, Raddy. I give you this sixpence now. You are to run with
all your might to the house--and you can run, you know, like the wind.
Say that I sent you--you know my name, Johnny Ludlow--sent you to tell
them that the French boy is in the coppice dying;" for I thought it best
to put it strong. "Dr. Frost, or some of them, must come to him at once,
and they must send off for Mr. Featherston. You can remember that. The
French boy, mind."

"I could remember it if I tried."

"Well, I'll give you the sixpence. And look here--here's another
sixpence. It is all the money I have. That shall be yours also, when you
have done the errand."

I slipped one of the sixpences back into my pocket, holding out the
other. But I have often wondered since that he did not stun me with a
blow, and take the two. Perhaps he could not entirely divest himself of
that idea of the "ambush." I did not like the leering look on his false
face as he sidled cautiously up towards the sixpence.

"Take a look at him; you can see him from the stile," I said, closing my
hand over the sixpence while I spoke; "convince yourself that he is
there, and that no trickery is meant. And, Raddy," I added, slowly
opening the hand again, "perhaps you may want help one of these days
yourself in some desperate need. Do this good turn for him, and the like
will be done for you."

I tossed him the sixpence. He stole cautiously to the stile, making a
wide circuit round me to do it, glanced at Van Rheyn, and then made
straight off in the right direction as fast as his legs would carry him,
the dog barking at his heels.

Van Rheyn was better when I got back to him; his breathing easier, the
mouth less blue; and his arms were no longer clutching the tree-trunk.
Nevertheless, there was that in his face that gave me an awful fear and
made my breath for a moment nearly as short as his. I sat down beside
him, letting him lean against me, as well as the tree, for better
support.

"Are you afraid, Charley? I hope they'll not be long."

"I am not afraid with this," he answered with a happy smile--and,
opening his hand, I saw the little cross clasped in it.

Well, that nearly did for me. It was as though he meant to imply he knew
he was dying, and was not afraid to die. And he did mean it.

"You do not comprehend?" he added, mistaking the look of my face--which
no doubt was desperate. "I have kept the Saviour with me here, and He
will keep me with Him there."

"Oh--but, Charley! You _can't_ think you are going to die."

"Yes, I feel so," he answered quite calmly. "My mother said, that last
Sunday, might not be long after her. She drew me close to her, and held
my hand, and her tears were falling with mine. It was then she said it."

"Oh, Charley! how can I help you?" I cried out in my pain and dread. "If
I could only do something for you!"

"I would like to give you this," he said, half opening his hand again,
as it rested on his breast, just to show me the cross. "My mother has
seen how good you have always been for me: she said she should look
down, if permitted, to watch for me till I came. Would you please keep
it to my memory?"

The hardest task I'd ever had in my life was to sit there. To sit there
quietly--helpless. Dying! And I could do nothing to stay him! Oh,
why did they not come? If I could only have run somewhere, or done
something!

In a case like this the minutes seem as long as hours. Dr. Frost was up
sooner than could have been hoped for by the watch, and Featherston with
him. Raddy did his errand well. Chancing to see the surgeon pass down
the road as he was delivering the message at the house, he ran and
arrested him. He put his ill-looking face over the stile, as they came
up, and I flung him the other sixpence, and thanked him too. The French
master came running; others came: I hardly saw who they were, for my
eyes were troubled.

The first thing that Featherston did was to open Van Rheyn's things at
the throat, spread a coat on the ground and put his head flat down upon
it. But oh, there could be no mistake. He was dying: nearly gone. Dr.
Frost knelt down, the better to get at him, and said something that we
did not catch.

"Thank you, sir," answered Van Rheyn, panting again and speaking with
pain, but smiling faintly his grateful smile. "Do not be sorrowful. I
shall see my mother. Sir--if you please--I wish to give my cross to
Johnny Ludlow."

Dr. Frost only nodded in answer. His heart must have been full.

"Johnny Ludlow has been always good for me," he went on. "He will guard
it to my memory: a keepsake. My mother would give it to him--she has
seen that Johnny has stood by me ever since that first day."

Monsieur Fontaine spoke to him in French, and Van Rheyn answered in the
same language. While giving a fond message for his father, his voice
grew feeble, his face more blue, and the lids slowly closed over his
eyes. Dr. Frost said something about removing him to the house, but
Featherston shook his head. "Presently, presently."

"Adieu, sir," said Van Rheyn faintly to Dr. Frost, and partly opening
his eyes again, "Adieu, Monsieur Fontaine. Adieu, all. Johnny, say
my very best adieux to the boys; tell them it has been very pleasant
lately; say they have been very good comrades; and say that I shall see
them all again when they come to heaven. Will you hold my hand?"

Taking his left hand in mine--the other had the gold cross in it--I sat
on beside him. The dusk was increasing, so that we could no longer very
well see his features in the dark coppice. My tears were dropping fast
and thick, just as his tears had dropped that evening when I found him
sitting at the foot of his bed.

Well, it was over directly. He gave one long deep sigh, and then another
after an interval, and all was over. It seemed like a dream then in the
acting; it seems, looking back, like a dream now.

_He had died from the running at Hare and Hounds._ The violent exercise
had been too much for the heart. We heard later that the French family
doctor had suspected the heart was not quite sound; and that was the
reason of Monsieur Rheyn's written restrictions on the score of violent
exercise. But, as Dr. Frost angrily observed, why did the father not
distinctly warn him against that special danger: how was it to be
suspected in a lad of hearty and healthy appearance? Monsieur Van Rheyn
came over, and took what remained of Charles back to Rouen, to be laid
beside his late wife. It was a great blow to him to lose his only son.
And all the property went away from the Van Rheyn family to Mrs. Scott
in India.

The school went into a state that night, when we got in from the
coppice, and I gave them Van Rheyn's message. They knew something was up
with him, but never suspected it could be death.

"I say, though," cried Harry Parker, in a great access of remorse,
speaking up amidst the general consternation, "we would never have
worried him had we foreseen this. Poor Van Rheyn!"

And I have his gold cross by me this day. Sometimes, when looking at it,
a fancy comes over me that he, looking down from heaven, sees it too.



VIII.

MRS. TODHETLEY'S EARRINGS.


Again we had been spending the Christmas at Crabb Cot. It was January
weather, cold and bright, the sun above and the white snow on the
ground. Mrs. Todhetley had been over to Timberdale Court, to the
christening of Robert and Jane Ashton's baby: a year had gone by
since their marriage. The mater went to represent Mrs. Coney, who was
godmother. Jane was not strong enough to sit out a christening dinner,
and that was to be given later. After some mid-day feasting, the party
dispersed.

I went out to help Mrs. Todhetley from the carriage when she got back.
The Squire was at Pershore for the day. It was only three o'clock, and
the sun quite warm in spite of the snow.

"It is so fine, Johnny, that I think I'll walk to the school," she said,
as she stepped down. "It may not be like this to-morrow, and I must see
about those shirts."

The parish school was making Tod a set of new shirts; and some bother
had arisen about them. Orders had been given for large plaits in front,
when Tod suddenly announced that he would have the plaits small.

"Only---- Can I go as I am?" cried Mrs. Todhetley, suddenly stopping in
indecision, as she remembered her fine clothes: a silver-grey gown that
shone like silver, white shawl of china crape, and be-feathered bonnet.

"Why, yes, of course you can go as you are, good mother. And look all
the nicer for it."

"I fear the children will stare! But then--if the shirts get made wrong!
Well, will you go with me, Johnny?"

We reached the school-house, I waiting outside while she went in. It
was during that time of strike that I have told of before, when Eliza
Hoar died of it. The strike was in full swing still; the men looked
discontented, the women miserable, the children pinched.

"I don't know what in the world Joseph will say!" cried Mrs. Todhetley,
as we were walking back. "Two of the shirts are finished with the large
plaits. I ought to have seen about it earlier; but I did not think they
would begin them quite so soon. We'll just step into Mrs. Coney's,
Johnny, as we go home. I must tell her about the christening."

For Mrs. Coney was a prisoner from an attack of rheumatism. It had kept
her from the festivity. She was asleep, however, when we got in: and Mr.
Coney thought she had better not be disturbed, even for the news of the
little grandson's christening, as she had lain awake all the past night
in pain; so we left again.

"Why, Johnny! who's that?"

Leaning against the gate of our house, in the red light of the setting
sun, was an elderly woman, dark as a gipsy.

"A tramp," I whispered, noticing her poor clothes.

"Do you want anything, my good woman?" asked Mrs. Todhetley.

She was half kneeling in the snow, and lifted her face at the words: a
sickly face, that somehow I liked now I saw it closer. Her tale was
this. She had set out from her home, three miles off, to walk to
Worcester, word having been sent her that her daughter, who was in
service there, had met with an accident. She had not been strong of
late, and a faintness came over her as she was passing the gate. But
for leaning on it she must have fallen.

"You should go by train: you should not walk," said Mrs. Todhetley.

"I had not the money just by me, ma'am," she answered. "It 'ud cost two
shillings or half-a-crown. My daughter sent word I was to take the train
and she'd pay for it: but she did not send the money, and I'd not got it
just handy."

"You live at Islip, you say. What is your name?"

"Nutt'n, ma'am," said the woman, in the local dialect. Which name I
interpreted into Nutten; but Mrs. Todhetley thought she said Nutt.

"I think you are telling me the truth," said the mater, some hesitation
in her voice, though. "If I were assured of it I would advance you
half-a-crown for the journey."

"The good Lord above us knows that I'm telling it," returned the woman
earnestly, turning her face full to the glow of the sun. "It's more than
I could expect you to do, ma'am, and me a stranger; but I'd repay it
faithfully."

Well, the upshot was that she got the half-crown lent her; and I ran
in for a drop of warm ale. Molly shrieked out at me for it, refusing
to believe that the mistress gave any such order, and saying she was
not going to warm ale for parish tramps. So I got the ale and the tin,
and warmed it myself. The woman was very grateful, drank it, and
disappeared.

"Joseph, I am so very sorry! They have made two of your shirts, and the
plaits are the large ones you say you don't like."

"Then they'll just unmake them," retorted Tod, in a temper.

We were sitting round the table at tea, Mrs. Todhetley having ordered
some tea to be made while she went upstairs. She came down without her
bonnet, and had changed her best gown for the one she mostly wore at
home: it had two shades in it, and shone like the copper tea-kettle. The
Squire was not expected home yet, and we were to dine an hour later than
usual.

"That Miss Timmens is not worth her salt," fired Tod, helping himself to
some thin bread-and-butter. "What business has she to go and make my
shirts wrong?"

"I fear the fault lies with me, Joseph, not with Miss Timmens. I had
given her the pattern shirt, which has large plaits, you know, before
you said you would prefer---- Oh, we hardly want the lamp yet, Thomas!"
broke off the mater, as old Thomas came in with the lighted lamp.

"I'm sure we do, then," cried Tod. "I can't see which side's butter and
which bread."

"And I, not thinking Miss Timmens would put them in hand at once, did
not send to her as soon as you spoke, Joseph," went on the mater, as
Thomas settled the lamp on the table. "I am very sorry, my dear; but it
is only two. The rest shall be done as you wish."

Something, apart from the shirts, had put Tod out. I had seen it as soon
as we got in. For one thing, he had meant to go to Pershore: and the
pater, not knowing it, started without him.

"Let them unmake the two," growled Tod.

"But it would be a great pity, Joseph. They are very nicely done; the
stitching's beautiful. I really don't think it will signify."

"_You_ don't, perhaps. You may like odd things. A pig with one ear, for
example."

"A what, Joseph?" she asked, not catching the last simile.

"I said a pig with one ear. No doubt you do like it. You are looking
like one now, ma'am."

The words made me gaze at Mrs. Todhetley, for the tone bore some
personal meaning, and then I saw what Tod meant: an earring was absent.
The lamp-light shone on the flashing diamonds, the bright pink topaz of
the one earring; but the other ear was bare and empty.

"You have lost one of your earrings, mother!"

She put her hands to her ears, and started up in alarm. These earrings
were very valuable: they had been left to her, when she was a child, in
some old lady's will, and constituted her chief possession in jewellery
worth boasting of. Not once in a twelvemonth did she venture to put them
on; but she had got them out to-day for the christening.

Whether it was that I had gazed at the earrings when I was a little
fellow and sat in her lap, I don't know; but I never saw any that I
liked so well. The pink topaz was in a long drop, the slender rim of
gold that encircled it being set with diamonds. Mrs. Todhetley said they
were worth fifty guineas: and perhaps they were. The glittering white of
the diamonds round the pink was beautiful to look upon.

The house went into a commotion. Mrs. Todhetley made for her bedroom, to
see whether the earring had dropped on the floor or was lodging inside
her bonnet. She shook out her grey dress, hoping it had fallen amidst
the folds. Hannah searched the stairs, candle in hand; the two children
were made to stand in corners for fear they should tread on it. But the
search came to nothing. It seemed clear enough that the earring was not
in the house.

"Did you notice, Johnny, whether I had them both in my ears when we went
to the school?" the mater asked.

No, I did not. I had seen them sparkling when she got out of the
carriage, but had not noticed them after.

I went out to search the garden-path that she had traversed, and the
road over to the Coneys' farm. Tod helped me, forgetting his shirts and
his temper. Old Coney said he remarked the earrings while Mrs. Todhetley
was talking to him, and thought how beautiful they were. That is, he had
remarked _one_ of them; he was sure of that; and he thought if the other
had been missing, its absence would have struck him. But that was just
saying nothing; for he could not be certain that both were there.

"You may hunt till to-morrow morning, and get ten lanterns to it," cried
Molly, in her tart way, meeting us by the bay-tree, as we went stooping
up the path again: "but you'll be none the nearer finding it. That tramp
got's the earring, Master Joe."

"What tramp?" demanded Tod, straightening himself.

"A tramp that Master Johnny there must needs give hot ale to," returned
Molly. "_I_ know what them tramps are worth. They'd pull rings out of
ears with their own fingers, give 'em the chance: and perhaps this woman
did, without the missis seeing her."

Tod turned to me for an explanation. I gave it, and he burst into a
derisive laugh, meant for me and the mater. "To think we could be taken
in by such a tale as that!" he cried: "we should never see tramp, or
half-crown, or perhaps the earring again."

The Squire came home in the midst of the stir. He blustered a little,
partly at the loss, chiefly at the encouragement of tramps, calling it
astounding folly. Ordering Thomas to bring a lantern, he went stooping
his old back down the path, and across to Coney's and back again; not
believing any one had searched properly, and finally kicking the snow
about.

"It's a pity this here snow's on the ground, sir," cried Thomas. "A
little thing like an earring might easily slip into it in falling."

"Not a bit of it," growled the Squire. "That tramp has got the
earring."

"I don't believe the tramp has," I stoutly said. "I don't think she was
a tramp at all: and she seemed honest. I liked her face."

"There goes Johnny with his 'faces' again!" said the Squire, in laughing
mockery: and Tod echoed it.

"It's a good thing you don't have to buy folks by their faces, Johnny:
you'd get finely sold sometimes."

"And she had a true voice," I persisted, not choosing to be put down,
also thinking it right to assert what was my conviction. "A voice you
might trust without as much as looking at herself."

Well, the earring was not to be found; though the search continued more
or less till bed-time, for every other minute somebody would be looking
again on the carpets.

"It is not so much for the value I regret it," spoke Mrs. Todhetley, the
tears rising in her meek eyes: "as for the old associations connected
with it. I never had the earrings out but they brought back to me the
remembrance of my girlhood's home."

Early in the morning I ran down to the school-house. More snow had
fallen in the night. The children were flocking in. Miss Timmens had not
noticed the earrings at all, but several of the girls said they had.
Strange to say, though, most of them could not say for certain whether
they saw _both_ the earrings: they thought they did; but there it ended.
Just like old Coney!

"I am sure both of them were there," spoke up a nice, clean little girl,
from a back form.

"What's that, Fanny Fairfax?" cried Miss Timmens, in her quick way.
"Stand up. How are you sure of it?"

"Please governess, I saw them both," was the answer; and the child
blushed like a peony as she stood up above the others and said it.

"Are you sure you did?"

"Yes, I'm quite sure, please, governess. I was looking which o' the two
shined the most. 'Twas when the lady was stooping over the shirt, and
the sun came in at the window."

"What did they look like?" asked Miss Timmens.

"They looked----" and there the young speaker came to a standstill.

"Come, Fanny Fairfax!" cried Miss Timmens, sharply. "What d'you stop
for? I ask you what the earrings looked like. You must be able to tell
if you saw them."

"They were red, please, governess, and had shining things round them
like the ice when it glitters."

"She's right, Master Johnny," nodded Miss Timmens to me: "and she's a
very correct child in general. I think she must have seen both of them."

I ran home with the news. They were at breakfast still.

"What a set of muffs the children must be, not to have taken better
notice!" cried Tod. "Why, when I saw only the one earring in, it struck
my eye at once."

"And for that reason it is almost sure that both of them were in at the
school-house," I rejoined. "The children did not particularly observe
the two, but they would have remarked it directly had only one been in.
Old Coney said the same."

"Ay: it's that tramp that has got it," said the Squire. "While your
mother was talking to her, it must have slipped out of the ear, and she
managed to secure it. Those tramps lay their hands on anything; nothing
comes amiss to them; they are as bad as gipsies. I dare say this was a
gipsy--dark as she was. I'll be off to Worcester and see the police:
we'll soon have _her_ found. You had better come with me, Johnny; you'll
be able to describe her."

We went off without delay, caught a passing train, and were soon at
Worcester and at the police-station. The Squire asked for Sergeant
Cripp: who came to him, and prepared to listen to his tale.

He began it in his impulsive way; saying outright that the earring had
been stolen by a gipsy-tramp. I tried to say that it might have been
only lost, but the pater scoffed at that, and told me to hold my tongue.

"And now, Cripp, what's to be done?" he demanded, not having given the
sergeant an opportunity to put in a word edgeways. "We must get the
earring back; it is of value, and much prized, apart from that, by Mrs.
Todhetley. The woman must be found, you know."

"Yes, she must be found," agreed the sergeant. "Can you give me a
description of her?"

"Johnny--this young gentleman can," said the Squire, rubbing his brow
with his yellow silk handkerchief, for he had put himself into a heat,
in spite of the frosty atmosphere that surrounded us. "He was with Mrs.
Todhetley when she talked to the woman."

"A thin woman of middle height, stooped a good deal, face pale and
quiet, wrinkles on it, brown eyes," wrote the sergeant, taking down what
I said. "Black poke bonnet, clean cap border, old red woollen shawl with
the fringe torn off in places. Can't remember gown: except that it was
dark and shabby."

"And, of course, sir, you've no clue to her name?" cried the sergeant,
looking at me.

"Yes: she said it was Nutten--as I understood it; but Mrs. Todhetley
thought she said Nutt." And I went on to relate the tale the woman told.
Sergeant Cripp's lips extended themselves in a silent smile.

"It was well got up, that tale," said he, when I finished. "Just the
thing to win over a warm-hearted lady."

"But she could not have halted at the gate, expecting to steal the
earring?"

"Of course not. She was prowling about to see what she could steal,
perhaps watching her opportunity to get into the house. The earring fell
in her way, a more valuable prize than she expected, and she made off
with it."

"You'll be able to hunt her up if she's in Worcester, Cripp," put in the
pater. "Don't lose time."

"_If_ she's in Worcester," returned Mr. Cripp, with emphasis. "She's
about as likely to be in Worcester, Squire Todhetley, as I am to be at
this present minute in Brummagem," he familiarly added. "After saying
she was coming to Worcester, she'd strike off in the most opposite
direction to it."

"Where on earth are we to look for her, then?" asked the pater, in
commotion.

"Leave it to us, Squire. We'll try and track her. And--I hope--get back
the earring."

"And about the advertisement for the newspapers, Cripp? We ought to put
one in."

Sergeant Cripp twirled the pen in his fingers while he reflected. "I
think, sir, we will let the advertisement alone for a day or two," he
presently said. "Sometimes these advertisements do more harm than good:
they put thieves on their guard."

"Do they? Well, I suppose they do."

"If the earring had been simply lost, then I should send an
advertisement to the papers at once. But if it has been stolen by this
tramp, and you appear to consider that point pretty conclusive----"

"Oh, quite conclusive," interrupted the pater. "She has that earring as
sure as this is an umbrella in Johnny Ludlow's hand. Had it been dropped
anywhere on the ground, we must have found it."

"Then we won't advertise it. At least not in to-morrow's papers,"
concluded Sergeant Cripp. And telling us to leave the matter entirely in
his hands, he showed us out.

The Squire went up the street with his hands in his pockets, looking
rather glum.

"I'm not sure that he's right about the advertisement, Johnny," he said
at length. "I lay awake last night in bed, making up the wording of it
in my own mind. Perhaps he knows best, though."

"I suppose he does, sir."

And he went on again, up one street, and down another, deep in thought.

"Let's see--we have nothing to do here to-day, have we, Johnny?"

"Except to get the pills made up. The mother said we were to be sure and
not forget them."

"Oh, ay. And that's all the way down in Sidbury! Couldn't we as well get
them made up by a druggist nearer?"

"But it is the Sidbury druggist who holds the prescription."

"What a bother! Well, lad, let us put our best leg foremost, for I want
to catch the one-o'clock train, if I can."

Barely had we reached Sidbury, when who should come swinging along the
pavement but old Coney, in a rough white great-coat and top-boots. Not
being market-day, we were surprised to see him.

"I had to come in about some oats," he explained. And then the Squire
told him of our visit to the place, and the sergeant's opinion about the
advertisement.

"Cripp's wrong," said Coney, decisively. "Not advertise the
earring!--why, it is the first step that ought to be taken."

"Well, so I thought," said the pater.

"The thing's not obliged to have been stolen, Squire; it may have been
dropped out of the ear in the road, and picked up by some one. The
offering of a reward might bring it back again."

"And I'll be shot if I don't do it," exclaimed the pater. "I can see as
far through a millstone as Cripp can."

Turning into the Hare and Hounds, which was old Coney's inn, they sat
down at a table, called for pen and ink, and began to draw out an
advertisement between them. "Lost! An earring of great value, pink topaz
and diamonds," wrote the Squire on a leaf of his pocket-book; and when
he had got as far as that he looked up.

"Johnny, you go over to Eaton's for a sheet or two of writing-paper.
We'll have it in all three of the newspapers. And look here, lad--you
can run for the pills at the same time. Take care of the street slides.
I nearly came down on one just now, you know."

When I got back with the paper and pills, the advertisement was
finished. It concluded with an offer of £5 reward. Applications to be
made to Mr. Sergeant Cripp, or to Squire Todhetley of Crabb Cot. And,
leaving it at the offices of the _Herald_, _Journal_, and _Chronicle_,
we returned home. It would appear on the next day, Saturday; to the
edification, no doubt, of Sergeant Cripp.

"Any news of the earring?" was the Squire's first question when we got
in.

No, there was no news of it, Mrs. Todhetley answered. And she had sent
Luke Macintosh over to the little hamlet, Islip; who reported when he
came back that there was no Mrs. Nutt, or Nutten, known there.

"Just what I expected," observed the pater. "That woman was a thieving
tramp, and she has the earring."

                 *       *       *       *       *

Saturday passed over, and Sunday came. When the Worcester paper arrived
on Saturday morning the advertisement was in it as large as life, and
the pater read it out to us. Friday and Saturday had been very dull,
with storms of snow; on Sunday the sun shone again, and the air was
crisp.

It was about three o'clock, and we were sitting at the dessert-table
cracking filberts, for on Sundays we always dined early, after morning
service--when Thomas came in and said a stranger had called, and was
asking if he could see Mrs. Todhetley. But the mater, putting a shawl
over her head and cap, had just stepped over to sit a bit with sick Mrs.
Coney.

"Who is it, Thomas?" asked the Squire. "A stranger! Tell him to send his
name in."

"His name's Eccles, sir," said Thomas, coming back again. "He comes, he
says, from Sergeant Cripp."

"My goodness!--it must be about the earring," cried the Squire.

"That it is, sir," said old Thomas. "The first word he put to me was an
inquiry whether you had heard news of it."

I followed the pater into the study. Tod did not leave his filberts.
Standing by the fire was a tall, well-dressed man, with a black
moustache and blue silk necktie. I think the Squire was a little taken
aback at the fashionable appearance of the visitor. He had expected to
see an ordinary policeman.

"Have you brought tidings of Mrs. Todhetley's earring?" began the pater,
all in a flutter of eagerness.

"I beg a thousand pardons for intruding upon you on a Sunday," returned
the stranger, cool and calm as a cucumber, "but the loss of an hour is
sometimes most critical in these cases. I have the honour, I believe, of
speaking to Squire Todhetley?"

The Squire nodded. "Am I mistaken in supposing that you come about the
earring?" he reiterated. "I understood my servant to mention Sergeant
Cripp. But--you do not, I presume, belong to the police force?"

"Only as a detective officer," was the answer, given with a taking
smile. "A _private_ officer," he added, putting a stress upon the word.
"My name is Eccles."

"Take a seat, Mr. Eccles," said the Squire, sitting down himself, while
I stood back by the window. "I do hope you have brought tidings of the
earring."

"Yes--and no," replied Mr. Eccles, with another fascinating smile, as he
unbuttoned his top-coat. "We think we have traced it; but we cannot yet
be sure."

"And where is it?--who has it?" cried the Squire, eagerly.

"It is a very delicate matter, and requires delicate handling," observed
the detective, after a slight pause. "For that reason I have come over
to-day myself. Cripp did not choose to entrust it to one of his men."

"I am sure I am much obliged to him, and to you too," said the Squire,
his face beaming. "Where is the earring?"

"Before I answer that question, will you be so kind as to relate to me,
in a few concise words, the precise circumstances under which the
earring was lost?"

The pater entered on the story, and I helped him. Mr. Eccles listened
attentively.

"Exactly so," said he, when it was over. "Those are the facts Cripp gave
me; but it was only second-hand, you see, and I preferred to hear them
direct from yourselves. They serve to confirm our suspicion."

"But where is the earring?" repeated the pater.

"If it is where we believe it to be, it is in a gentleman's house at
Worcester. At least he may be called a gentleman. He is a professional
man: a lawyer, in fact. But I may not give names in the present stage of
the affair."

"And how did the earring get into his house?" pursued the Squire, all
aglow with interest.

"News reached us last evening," began Mr. Eccles, after searching in
his pockets for something that he apparently could not find: perhaps a
note-case--"reached us in a very singular way, too--that this gentleman
had been making a small purchase of jewellery in the course of
yesterday; had been making it in private, and did not wish it talked of.
A travelling pedlar--that was the description we received--had come in
contact with him and offered him an article for sale, which he, after
some haggling, purchased. By dint of questioning, we discovered this
article to be an earring: one earring, not a pair. Naturally Mr. Cripp's
suspicion was at once aroused: he thought it might be the very self-same
earring that you have lost. We consulted together, and the result is, I
decided to come over and see you."

"I'd lay all I've got it is the earring!" exclaimed the Squire, in
excitement. "The travelling pedlar that sold it must have been that
woman tramp."

"Well, no," returned the detective, quietly. "It was a man. Her husband,
perhaps; or some confederate of hers."

"No doubt of that! And how can we get back the earring?"

"We shall get it, sir, never fear; if it be the earring you have lost.
But, as I have just observed, it is a matter that will require extreme
delicacy and caution in the handling. First of all, we must assure
ourselves beyond doubt that the earring _is_ the one in question. To
take any steps upon an uncertainty would not do: this gentleman might
turn round upon us unpleasantly."

"Well, let him," cried the Squire.

The visitor smiled his candid smile again, and shook his head. "For
instance, if, after taking means to obtain possession of the earring,
we found it to be coral set with pearls, or opal set with emeralds,
instead of a pink topaz with diamonds, we should not only look foolish
ourselves, but draw down upon us the wrath of the present possessor."

"Is he a respectable man?" asked the pater. "I know most of the
lawyers----"

"He stands high enough in the estimation of the town, but I have known
him do some very dirty actions in his profession," interrupted Mr.
Eccles, speaking rapidly. "With a man like him to deal with, we must
necessarily be wary."

"Then what are you going to do?"

"The first step, Squire Todhetley, is to make ourselves sure that the
earring is the one we are in quest of. With this view, I am here to
request Mrs. Todhetley to allow me to see the fellow-earring. Cripp has
organized a plan by which he believes we can get to see the one I have
been telling you of; but it will be of no use our seeing it unless we
can identify it."

"Of course not. By all means. Johnny, go over and ask your mother to
come in," added the Squire, eagerly. "I'm sure I don't know where she
keeps her things, and might look in her places for ever without finding
it. Meanwhile, Mr. Eccles, can I offer you some refreshment? We have
just dined off a beautiful sirloin of beef: it's partly cold now, but
perhaps you won't mind that."

Mr. Eccles said he would take a little, as the Squire was so good as to
offer it, for he had come off by the first train after morning service,
and so lost his dinner. Taking my hat, I dashed open the dining-room
door in passing. Tod was at the nuts still, Hugh and Lena on either side
of him.

"I say, Tod, do you want to see a real live detective? There's one in
the study."

Who should be seated in the Coneys' drawing-room, her bonnet and shawl
on, and her veil nearly hiding her sad face, but Lucy Bird--Lucy Ashton
that used to be. It always gave me a turn when I saw her: bringing up
all kinds of ugly sorrows and troubles. I shook hands, and asked after
Captain Bird.

She believed he was very well, she said, but she had been spending the
time since yesterday at Timberdale Court with Robert and Jane. To-day
she had been dining with the Coneys--who were always kind to her, she
added, with a sigh--and she was now about to go off to the station to
take the train for Worcester.

The mater was in Mrs. Coney's bedroom with old Coney and Cole the
doctor, who was paying his daily visit. One might have thought they were
settling all the cases of rheumatism in the parish by the time they took
over it. While I waited, I told Mrs. Bird about the earring and the
present visit of Detective Eccles. Mrs. Todhetley came down in the midst
of it; and lifted her hands at the prospect of facing a detective.

"Dear me! Is he anything dreadful to look at, Johnny? Very rough? Has he
any handcuffs?"

It made me laugh. "He is a regular good-looking fellow--quite a
gentleman. Tall and slender, and well-dressed: gold studs and a blue
necktie. He has a ring on his finger and wears a black moustache."

Mrs. Bird suddenly lifted her head, and stared at me: perhaps the
description surprised her. The mater seemed inclined to question my
words; but she said nothing, and came away after bidding good-bye to
Lucy.

"Keep up your heart, my dear," she whispered. "Things may grow brighter
for you some time."

When I got back, Mr. Eccles had nearly finished the sirloin, some
cheese, and a large tankard of ale. The Squire sat by, hospitably
pressing him to take more, whenever his knife and fork gave signs of
flagging. Tod stood looking on, his back against the mantelpiece. Mrs.
Todhetley soon appeared with a little cardboard box, where the solitary
earring was lying on a bed of wool.

Rising from the table, the detective carried the box to the window, and
stood there examining the earring; first in the box, then out of it. He
turned it about in his hand, and looked at it on all sides; it took him
a good three minutes.

"Madam," said he, breaking the silence, "will you entrust this earring
to us for a day or two? It will be under Sergeant Cripp's charge, and
perfectly safe."

"Of course, of course," interposed the Squire, before any one could
speak. "You are welcome to take it."

"You see, it is possible--indeed, most probable--that only one of us may
be able to obtain sight of the other earring. Should it be Cripp, my
having seen this one will be nearly useless to him. It is essential that
he should see it also: and it will not do to waste time."

"Pray take charge of it, sir," said Mrs. Todhetley, mentally recalling
what I had said of his errand to her and Lucy Bird. "I know it will be
safe in your hands and Sergeant Cripp's. I am only too glad that there
is a probability of the other one being found."

"And look here," added the Squire to Eccles, while the latter carefully
wrapped the box in paper, and put it into his inner breast-pocket,
"don't you and Cripp let that confounded gipsy escape. Have her up and
punish her."

"Trust us for that," was the detective's answer, given with an emphatic
nod. "_She is already as good as taken_, and her confederate also.
There's not a doubt--I avow it to you--that the other earring is yours.
We only wait to verify it."

And, with that, he buttoned his coat, and bowed himself out, the Squire
himself attending him to the door.

"He is as much like a detective as I'm like a Dutchman," commented Tod.
"At least, according to what have been all my previous notions of one.
Live and learn."

"He seems quite a polished man, has quite the manners of society," added
the mater. "I do hope he will get back my poor earring."

"Mother, is Lucy Bird in more trouble than usual?" I asked.

"She is no doubt in deep distress of some kind, Johnny. But she is never
out of it. I wish Robert Ashton could induce her to leave that most
worthless husband of hers!"

The Squire, after watching off the visitor, came in, rubbing his hands
and looking as delighted as old Punch. He assumed that the earring was
as good as restored, and was immensely taken with Mr. Eccles.

"A most intelligent, superior man," cried he. "I suppose he is what is
called a gentleman-detective: he told me he had been to college. I'm
sure it seems quite a condescension in him to work with Cripp and the
rest."

And the whole of tea-time and all the way to church, the praises were
being rung of Mr. Eccles. I'm not sure but that he was more to us that
night than the sermon.

"I confess I feel mortified about that woman, though," confessed Mrs.
Todhetley. "You heard him say that she was as good as taken: they must
have traced the earring to her. I did think she was one to be trusted.
How one may be deceived in people!"

"I'd have trusted her with a twenty-pound note, mother."

"Hark at Johnny!" cried Tod. "This will be a lesson for you, lad."

                 *       *       *       *       *

Monday morning. The Squire and Tod had gone over to South Crabb. Mrs.
Todhetley sat at the window, adding up some bills, her nose red with the
cold: and I was boxing Hugh's ears, for he was in one of his frightfully
troublesome moods, when Molly came stealing in at the door, as covertly
as if she had been committing murder.

"Ma'am! ma'am!--there's that tramp in the yard!"

"What?" cried the mater, turning round.

"I vow it's her; I know the old red shawl again," pursued Molly, with as
much importance as though she had caught half the thieves in
Christendom. "She turned into the yard as bold as brass; so I just
slipped the bolt o' the door against her, and come away. You'll have her
took up on the instant, ma'am, won't you?"

"But if she has come back, I don't think she can be guilty," cried Mrs.
Todhetley, after a bewildered pause. "We had better see what she wants.
What do you say, Johnny?"

"Why, of course we had. I'll go to her, as Molly's afraid."

Rushing out of hearing of Molly's vindictive answer, I went round
through the snow to the yard, and found the woman meekly tapping at the
kitchen-door--the old red shawl, and the black bonnet, and the white
muslin cap border, all the same as before. Before I got quite up, the
kitchen-door was cautiously drawn open, and Mrs. Todhetley looked out.
The poor old woman dropped a curtsy and held out half-a-crown on the
palm of her withered hand.

"I've made bold to call at the door to leave it, lady. And I can never
thank you enough, ma'am," she added, the tears rising to her eyes; "my
tongue would fail if I tried it. 'Tis not many as would have trusted a
stranger; and, that, a poor body like me. I got over to Worcester quick
and comfortable, ma'am, thanks to you, and found my daughter better nor
I had hoped for."

The same feeling of reliance, of trust, arose within me as I saw her
face and heard her voice and words. If this woman was what they had been
fancying her, I'd never eat tarts again.

"Come in," said Mrs. Todhetley; and Molly, looking daggers as she heard
it, approached her mistress with a whisper.

"Don't, ma'am. It's all a laid-out plan. She has heard that she's
suspected, and brings back the half-crown, thinking to put us off the
scent."

"Step this way," went on Mrs. Todhetley, giving no heed to Molly, except
by a nod--and she took the woman into the little store-room where she
kept her jam-pots and things, and bade her go to the fire.

"What did you tell me your name was," she asked, "when you were here on
Friday?"

"Nutt'n, ma'am."

"Nutten," repeated the mater, glancing at me. "But I sent over to Islip,
and no one there knew anything about you--they denied that any one of
your name lived there."

"Why, how could they do that?" returned the woman, with every appearance
of surprise. "They must have mistook somehow. I live in the little
cottage, ma'am, by the dung-heap. I've lived there for five-and-twenty
year, and brought up my children there, and never had parish pay."

"And gone always by the name of Nutten?"

"Not never by no other, ma'am. Why should I?"

Was she to be believed? There was the half-crown in Mrs. Todhetley's
hand, and there was the honest wrinkled old face looking up at us
openly. But, on the other side, there was the assertion of the Islip
people; and there was the earring.

"What was the matter with your daughter, and in what part of Worcester
does she live?" queried the mater.

"She's second servant to a family in Melcheapen Street, ma'am, minds the
children and does the beds, and answers the door, and that. When I got
there--and sick enough my heart felt all the way, thinking what the
matter could be--I found that she had fell from the parlour window that
she'd got outside to clean, and broke her arm and scarred her face, and
frighted and shook herself finely. But thankful enough I was that 'twas
no worse. Her father, ma'am, died of an accident, and I can never abear
to hear tell of one."

"I--I lost an earring out of my ear that afternoon," said Mrs.
Todhetley, plunging into the matter, but not without hesitation. "I
think I must have lost it just about the time I was talking to you. Did
you pick it up?"

"No, ma'am, I didn't. I should have gave it to you if I had."

"You did not carry it off with you, I suppose!" interrupted wrathful
Molly; who had come in to get some eggs, under pretence that the
batter-pudding was waiting for them.

And whether it was Molly's sharp and significant tone, or our silence
and looks, I don't know; but the woman saw it all then, and what she was
suspected of.

"Oh, ma'am, were you thinking that ill of me?"--and the hands shook as
they were raised, and the white border seemed to lift itself from the
horror-stricken face. "Did you think I could do so ill a turn, and after
all the kindness showed me? The good Lord above knows I'm not a thief.
Dear heart! I never set eyes, lady, on the thing you've lost."

"No, I am _sure_ you didn't," I cried; "I said so all along. It might
have dropped anywhere in the road."

"I never see it, nor touched it, sir," she reiterated, the tears raining
down her cheeks. "Oh, ma'am, do believe me!"

Molly tossed her head as she went out with the eggs in her apron; but I
would sooner have believed myself guilty than that poor woman. Mrs.
Todhetley thought with me. She offered her some warm ale and a crust;
but the old woman shook her head in refusal, and went off in a fit of
crying.

"She knows no more of the earring than I know of it, mother."

"I feel sure she does not, Johnny."

"That Molly's getting unbearable. I wonder you don't send her away."

"She has her good points, dear," sighed Mrs. Todhetley. "Only think of
her cooking! and of what a thrifty, careful manager she is!"

The Squire and Tod got home for lunch. Nothing could come up to their
ridicule when they heard what had occurred, saying that the mother and I
were two muffs, fit to go about the world in a caravan as specimens of
credulity. Like Molly, they thought we ought to have secured the woman.

"But you see she was honest in the matter of the half-crown," debated
Mrs. Todhetley, in her mild way. "She brought that back. It does not
stand to reason that she would have dared to come within miles of the
place, if she had taken the earring."

"Why, it's just the thing she would do," retorted the Squire, pacing
about in a commotion. "Once she had got rid of the earring, she'd show
up here to throw suspicion off herself. And she couldn't come without
returning the half-crown: it must have gone nicely against the grain to
return _that_."

And Mrs. Todhetley, the most easily swayed spirit in the world, began to
veer round again like a weathercock, and fear we had been foolish.

"You should see her jagged-out old red shawl," cried Molly,
triumphantly. "All the red a'most washed out of it, and the edges in
tatters. _I_ know a tramp when I sees one: and the worst of all tramps
is them that do the tricks with clean hands and snow-white cap-borders."

The theme lasted us all the afternoon. I held my tongue, for it was of
no use contending against the stream. It was getting dusk when Cole
called in, on his way from the Coneys. The Squire laid the grievance
before him, demanding whether he had ever heard of two people so simple
as I and the mother.

"What did she say her name was?" asked Cole. "Nutten?--of Islip? Are you
sure she did not say Norton?"

"She said Nutt'n. We interpreted it into Nutten."

"Yes, Johnny, that's how she would say it. I'll lay a guinea it's old
Granny Norton."

"Granny Norton!" echoed the Squire. "She is respectable."

"Respectable, honest, upright as the day," replied Cole. "I have a great
respect for old Mrs. Norton. She's very poor now; but she was not always
so."

"She told us this morning that she lived in the cottage by the
dung-heap," I put in.

"Exactly: she does so. And a nice dung-heap it is; the disgrace of
Islip," added Cole.

"And you mean to say, Cole, that you know this woman--that she's not a
tramp, but Mrs. Norton?" spoke the pater.

"I know Mrs. Norton of Islip," he answered. "I saw her pass my window
this morning: she seemed to be coming from the railway-station. It was
no tramp, Squire."

"How was she dressed?" asked Mrs. Todhetley.

"Dressed? Well, her shawl was red, and her bonnet black. I've never seen
her dressed otherwise, when abroad, these ten years past."

"And--has she a daughter in service at Worcester?"

"Yes, I think so. Yes, I am sure so. It's Susan. Oh, it is the same
person: you need not doubt it."

"Then what the deuce did Luke Macintosh mean by bringing word back from
Islip that she was not known there?" fiercely demanded the Squire,
turning to me.

"But Luke said he asked for her by the name of Nutt--Mrs. Nutt. I
questioned him about it this afternoon, sir, and he said he understood
Nutt to have been the name we gave him."

This was very unsatisfactory as far as the earring went. (And we
ascertained later that poor Mrs. Norton _was_ Mrs. Norton, and had been
suspected wrongly.) For, failing the tramp view of the case, who could
have sold the earring to the professional gentleman in Worcester?

"Cripp knows what he is about; never fear," observed the Squire. "Now
that he has the case well in hand, he is sure to pull it successfully
through."

"Yes, you may trust Cripp," said the doctor. "And I hope, Mrs.
Todhetley, you will soon be gladdened by the sight of your earring
again." And Cole went out, telling us we were going to have a thaw.
Which we could have told him, for it had already set in, and the snow
was melting rapidly.

                 *       *       *       *       *

"To think that I should have done so stupid a thing. But I have been so
flustered this morning by that parson and his nonsense that I hardly
know what I'm about."

The speaker was Miss Timmens. She had come up in a passion, after twelve
o'clock school. Not with us, or with her errand--which was to bring one
of the new shirts to show, made after Tod's fancy--but with the young
parson. Upon arriving and unfolding the said shirt, Miss Timmens found
that she had brought the wrong shirt--one of those previously finished.
The thaw had gone on so briskly in the night that this morning the roads
were all mud and slop, and Miss Timmens had walked up in her pattens.

"He is enough to make a saint swear, with his absurdities and his
rubbish," went on Miss Timmens, turning from the table where lay the
unfolded shirt, and speaking of the new parson; between whom and
herself hot war waged. "You'd never believe, ma'am, what he did this
morning"--facing Mrs. Todhetley. "I had got the spelling-class up, and
the rest of the girls were at their slates and copies, and that, when in
he walked amidst the roomful. 'Miss Timmens,' says he to me, in the
hearing of them all, 'I think these children should learn a little
music. And perhaps a little drawing might not come amiss to those who
have talent for it.' 'Oh yes, of course,' says I, hardly able to keep my
temper, 'and a little dancing as well, and let 'em go out on the green
daily and step their figures to a fife and tambourine!' 'There's nothing
like education,' he goes on, staring hard at me, as if he hardly knew
whether to take my words for jest or earnest; 'and it is well to unite,
as far as we can, the ornamental with the useful, it makes life
pleasanter. It is quite right to teach girls to hem dusters and darn
stockings, but I think some fancy-work should be added to it: embroidery
and the like.' 'Oh, you great baby!' I thought to myself, and did but
just stop my tongue from saying it. 'Will embroidery and music and
drawing help these girls to scour floors, and cook dinners, and wash
petticoats?' I asked him. 'If I had a set of young ladies here, it would
be right for them to learn accomplishments; but these girls are to be
servants. And all I can say, sir, is, that if ever those new-fangled
notions are introduced, you'll have to find another mistress, for I'll
not stop to help in it. It would just lead many a girl to her ruin, sir;
that's what it would do, whoever lives to see it.' Well, he went away
with that, ma'am, but he had put my temper up--talking such dangerous
nonsense before the girls, their ears all agape to listen!--and when
twelve o'clock struck, I was not half through the spelling-class!
Altogether, it's no wonder I brought away the wrong shirt."

Miss Timmens, her errand a failure, began folding up the shirt in a
bustle, her thin face quite fiery with anger. Mrs. Todhetley shook her
head; she did not approve of nonsensical notions for these poor peasant
girls any more than did the rest of us.

"I'll bring up the right shirt this evening when school's over; and if
it suits we'll get on with the rest," concluded Miss Timmens, making her
exit with the parcel.

"What the world will come to later, Mr. Johnny, if these wild ideas get
much ground, puzzles me to think of," resumed Miss Timmens, as I went
with her, talking, along the garden-path. "We shall have no servants,
sir; none. It does not stand to reason that a girl will work for her
bread at menial offices when she has had fine notions instilled into
her. Grammar, and geography, and history, and botany, and music, and
singing, and fancy-work!--what good will they be of to her in making
beds and cleaning saucepans? The upshot will be that they won't make
beds and they won't clean saucepans; they'll be above it. The Lord
protect 'em!--for I don't see what else will; or what will become of
them. Or of the world, either, when it can get no servants. My goodness,
Master Johnny! what's that? Surely it's the lost earring?"

Close to the roots of a small fir-tree it lay: the earring that had
caused so much vexation and hunting. I picked it up: its pink topaz and
diamonds shone brightly as ever in the sun, and were quite uninjured.
Mrs. Todhetley remembered then, though it had slipped her memory before,
that in coming indoors after the interview with the woman at the gate,
she had stopped to shake this fir-tree, bowed down almost to breaking
with its weight of snow. The earring must have fallen from her ear then
into the snow, and been hidden by it.

Without giving himself time for a mouthful of lunch, the Squire tore
away to the station through the mud, as fast as his legs would carry
him, and thence to Worcester by train. What an unfortunate mistake it
would be should that professional gentleman have been accused, who had
bought something from the travelling pedlar!

"Well, Cripp, here's a fine discovery!" panted the Squire, as he went
bursting into the police-station and to the presence of Sergeant Cripp.
"The lost earring has turned up."

"I'm sure I am very glad to hear it," said the sergeant, facing round
from a letter he was writing. "How has it been found?"

And the Squire told him how.

"It was not stolen at all, then?"

"Not at all, Cripp. And the poor creature we suspected of taking it
proves to be a very respectable old body indeed, nothing of the tramp
about her. You--you have not gone any lengths yet with that professional
gentleman, I hope!" added the Squire, dropping his voice to a
confidential tone.

Cripp paused for a minute, as if not understanding.

"We have not employed any professional man at all in the matter," said
he; "have not thought of doing so."

"I don't mean that, Cripp. _You_ know. The gentleman you suspected of
having bought the earring."

Cripp stared. "I have not suspected any one."

"Goodness me! you need not be so cautious, Cripp," returned the Squire,
somewhat nettled. "Eccles made a confidant of me. He told me all about
it--except the name."

"What Eccles?" asked Cripp. "I really do not know what you are talking
of, sir."

"What Eccles--why, your Eccles. Him you sent over to me on Sunday
afternoon: a well-dressed, gentlemanly man, with a black moustache.
Detective Eccles."

"I do not know any Detective Eccles."

"Dear me, my good man, you must be losing your memory!" retorted the
Squire, in wrath. "He came straight to me from you on Sunday; you sent
him off in haste without his dinner."

"Quite a mistake, sir," said the sergeant. "It was not I who sent him."

"Why, bless my heart and mind, Cripp, you'll be for telling me next the
sun never shone! Where's your recollection gone to?"

"I hope my recollection is where it always has been, Squire. We must be
at cross-purposes. I do not know any one of the name of Eccles, and I
have not sent any one to you. As a proof that I could not have done it,
I may tell you, sir, that I was summoned to Gloucester on business last
Friday directly after I saw you, and did not get back here until this
morning."

The Squire rubbed his face, whilst he revolved probabilities, and
thought Cripp must be dreaming.

"He came direct from you--from yourself, Cripp; and he disclosed to me
your reasons for hoping you had found the earring, and your doubts of
the honesty of the man who had bought it--the lawyer, you remember. And
he brought back the other earring to you that you might compare them."

"Eh--what?" cried Cripp, briskly. "Brought away the other earring, do
you say, sir?"

"To be sure he did. What else did you send him for?"

"And he has not returned it to you?"

"Returned it! of course not. You hold it, don't you?"

"Then, Squire Todhetley, you have been cleverly robbed of this second
earring," cried Cripp, quietly. "_Dodged_ out of it, sir. The man who
went over to you must have been a member of the swell-mob. Well-dressed,
and a black moustache!"

"He was a college man, had been at Oxford," debated the unfortunate
pater, sitting on a chair in awful doubt. "He told me so."

"You did not see him there, sir," said the sergeant, with a suppressed
laugh. "I might tell you I had a duke for a grandmother; but it would be
none nearer the fact."

"Mercy upon us all!" groaned the Squire. "What a mortification it will
be if that other earring's gone! Don't you think some one in your
station here may have sent him, if you were out yourself?"

"I will inquire, for your satisfaction, Squire Todhetley," said the
sergeant, opening the door; "but I can answer for it beforehand that it
will be useless."

It was as Cripp thought. Eccles was not known at the station, and no one
had been sent to us.

"It all comes of that advertisement you put in, Squire," finished up
Cripp, by way of consolation. "The swell-mob would not have known there
was a valuable jewel missing but for that, or the address of those who
had missed it."

The pater came home more crestfallen than a whipped schoolboy, after
leaving stringent orders with Cripp and his men to track out the
swindler. It was a blow to all of us.

"I said he looked as much like a detective as I'm like a Dutchman,"
quoth Tod.

"Well, it's frightfully mortifying," said the Squire.

"And the way he polished off that beef, and drank down the ale! I wonder
he did not contrive to walk off with the silver tankard!"

"Be quiet, Joe! You are laughing, sir! Do you think it is a laughing
matter?"

"Well, I don't know," said bold Tod. "It was cleverly done."

Up rose the pater in a passion. Vowing vengeance against the swindlers
who went about the world, got up in good clothes and a moustache; and
heartily promising the absent and unconscious Cripp to be down upon him
if he did not speedily run the man to earth.

And that's how Mrs. Todhetley lost the other earring.



IX.

A TALE OF SIN.


+Part the first.+

If I don't relate this quite as usual, and it is found to be different
from what I generally write, it is because I know less about it than
others know. The history is Duffham's; not mine. And there are diaries
in it, and all kinds of foreign things. That is, foreign to me. Duffham
holds all the papers, and has lent them to me to use. It came about in
this way.

"Whilst you are picking up the sea-breezes, Johnny," he said, when
I called to tell him where I was going, "you can be getting on with
another paper or two for us, I hope; for we like your stories."

"But I am going away for a rest, Mr. Duffham; not to work. I don't want
to be ransacking memory for materials during any holiday, and then
weaving them into what you call a story. Much rest that would be!"

"I'll give you the materials for one," he said; "plenty of them: it
won't take much weaving; you'll have it all before your eyes. It will be
nothing but play-work to you; just a bit of copying."

"But I don't care to put fiction on paper and send it forth as though it
were true. What I tell of has mostly happened, you know."

Duffham laughed a little. "If everything told in print were as true as
this, Johnny Ludlow, the world would have witnessed some strange events.
Not that you'll find anything strange in this tale: it is quite
matter-of-fact. There's no romance about it; nothing but stern reality."

"Well, let me see the papers."

Duffham went out of the surgery, and came back with his spectacles on,
and carrying some papers tied up with pink tape.

"You'll find a sort of narrative begun, Johnny," he said, untying the
tape, "for I tried my own hand at it. But I found I could not get
on well. Writing manuscripts is not so much in my line as doctoring
patients."

"Why, here's Lady Chavasse's name in it!" I exclaimed, glancing over the
papers. "Is it about _her_?"

"You'll see who it's about and who it's not about, Johnny," he answered,
rolling them up again. "I should like you to retain the title I have put
to it."

"What is the title?"

Duffham undid the first sheet, and held it in silence for me to read. "A
Tale of Sin." It took me aback. Sundry considerations naturally struck
me.

"I say, Mr. Duffham, if it is about sin, and the people are still
living, how will they like to see it talked about in print?"

"You leave the responsibility to me," he said; "I'll take it on my own
shoulders. All you have to do is to put it into ship-shape, Johnny. That
is a matter of course."

And so I took the papers. But the tale is Duffham's; not mine.

                 *       *       *       *       *

To begin with, and make it explainable, we have to go ever so many years
back: but it won't be for long.

Duffham's predecessor as general practitioner at Church Dykely was a Mr.
Layne. Some of the poor would spell it without the "y," "Lane," but the
other was the proper way. This Mr. Layne was of rather good family,
whilst his wife was only a small working farmer's daughter. Mr. Layne
lived in a pretty red-brick house, opposite to Duffham's present
residence. It stood a yard or two back from the path, and had woodbines
and jessamine creeping up its walls; the door was in the middle,
a window on each side; and there was a side-door round the little
garden-path, that opened into the surgery. The house was his own.

Nearly a mile beyond the village, along the straight highway, stood the
gates and lodge of a fine place called Chavasse Grange, belonging to Sir
Peter Chavasse. He remained an old bachelor up to nearly the end of his
life. And then, when it seemed to be getting time for him to prepare for
the grave, he suddenly got married. The young lady was a Miss Gertrude
Cust: as might have been read in the newspapers of the day, announcing
the wedding.

But, when Sir Peter brought her home, the wonder to the neighbourhood
was, what could have induced the young lady to have him; for she turned
out to be a mere child in years, and very beautiful. It was whispered
that her family, high, poor, and haughty, had wished her to make a
different match; to a broken-down old nobleman, ten times richer than
Sir Peter; but that she hated the man. Sir Peter had five thousand
a-year, and his baronetcy was not of ancient creation. The new lady was
found to be very pleasant: she went into the village often, and made
acquaintance with everybody.

It was just about eight months after the marriage that Sir Peter died.
The death was sudden. Mr. Layne was sent for in haste to the Grange,
and found he was too late. Too late for Sir Peter: but Lady Chavasse,
overcome with grief and terror, was in great need of his services.

There was a baby expected at the Grange. Not yet: in three or four
months to come. And, until this child should be born, the baronetcy had
to lie in abeyance. If it proved to be a boy, he would take his father's
title and fortune; if a girl, both title and fortune would lapse to some
distant cousin; a young man, compared with Sir Peter; who was in the
navy, and was called Parker Chavasse.

And now we must give a line or two from one of the diaries I spoke of.
It is Mr. Layne's: and it appears to have been partly kept as a
professional note-book, partly as a private journal. At this time Mr.
Layne was a middle-aged man, with three young children, girls; he had
married later than some men do.


[_From an Old Note-book of Mr. Layne's._]

_May 18th._--Have had a fatiguing day. Upon getting home from my visit
to Lady Chavasse, there were five different messages waiting for me. It
never rains but it pours. Ten o'clock P.M., and I am dead tired; but I
must write my notes before going to bed.

I wish I could get some strength and spirit into Lady Chavasse. This
listlessness tells sadly against her. Over and over again it has been on
the tip of my tongue to say it may go hard with her unless she uses more
exertion; but I don't like to frighten her. Nearly four months now since
Sir Peter died, and she has never been out but to church--and to that
she goes in the pony-carriage. "My lady, you ought to walk; my lady, you
must walk," say I. And it is just as though I spoke to the post at the
lodge-gates.

I was much surprised by what she told me to-day--that there was no
settlement made on her at her marriage. "Do you think my baby will be a
boy, Mr. Layne?" she asked--as if it were possible for me to tell! "If
it is not," she went on, "I shall have to turn out of my home here, and
I have not another to go to in the wide world." And then it was, seeing
my surprise, that she said there had been no settlement. "It was not
my husband's intentional fault," she continued, "and I will never have
him blamed, come what will. Things were unpleasant at my home, and we
hurried on the marriage, he and I, so that he might take me out of it,
and there was no time to get a settlement drawn up, even had we, either
of us, thought of it, which we did not." Listening to this, the notion
struck me that it must have been something like a runaway marriage; but
I said nothing, only bade her take heart and hope for a boy. "I cannot
imagine any lot in life now so delightful as this would be--that I and
my baby-boy should live on in this charming place together--I training
him always for good," she continued--and a faint pink came into her
delicate cheek as she said it, a yearning look into her hazel eyes. "You
would help me to keep him in health and make him strong, would you not,
Mr. Layne?" I answered that I would do my best. Poor thing! she was only
eighteen yesterday, she told me. I hope she'll be able to keep the
place; I hope it won't go over her head to rough Parker Chavasse. And
a rough-mannered man he is: I saw him once.

Coming home I met Thompson. The lawyer stopped, ever ready for a chat. I
spoke about this expected child, and the changes its arrival might make.
"It's quite true that Lady Chavasse would have to turn out," said he.
"Every individual shilling is entailed. Books, plate, carriages--it all
goes with the title. I'm not sure but Sir Peter's old clothes have to be
thrown in too, so strict is the entail. No settlement on her, you say,
Layne? My good fellow, old Peter had nothing to settle. He had spent his
income regularly, and there lay nothing beyond it. I've heard that that
was one of the reasons why the Custs objected to the match." Well, it
seemed a curious position: I thought so as Thompson went off; but I
don't understand law, and can take his word for it. And now to bed.
If----

What's that? A carriage drawing up to the house, and the night-bell! I
am wanted somewhere as sure as a gun, and my night's rest is stopped,
I suppose. Who'd be a doctor? Listen! There's my wife opening the
street-door. What does she call out to me? Lady Chavasse not well? A
carriage waiting to take me to the Grange? Thank fortune at least that
I have not to walk there.

_May 22nd._--Four days, and nothing noted down. But I have been very
busy, what with Lady Chavasse and other patients. The doubt is over, and
over well. The little child is a boy, and a nice little fellow, too;
healthy, and likely to live. He was born on the 20th. Lady Chavasse, in
her gladness, says she shall get well all one way. I think she will: the
mind strangely influences the body. But my lady is a little hard--what
some might call unforgiving. Her mother came very many miles, posting
across country, to see her and be reconciled, and Lady Chavasse refused
to receive her. Mrs. Cust had to go back again as she came. I should not
like to see my wife treat her mother so.

_May 30th._--The child is to be named Geoffry Arthur. Sir Peter had a
dislike to his own name, and had said he hoped never to call a boy of
his by the same. Lady Chavasse, mindful of his every wish, has fixed on
the other two. I asked her if they were the names of relatives: she
laughed and said, No; she chose them because she thought them both
nice-sounding and noble names.


The above is all that need be copied from Mr. Layne: one has to be chary
of space. Little Sir Geoffry grew and thrived: and it was a pleasure,
people say, to see how happy his mother and he were, and how she devoted
herself to him. He had come to her in the midst of her desolation, when
she had nothing else to care for in life. It was already seen that he
would be much like his father, who had been a very good-looking man
in his day. Little Geoffry had Sir Peter's fair complexion and his
dark-blue eyes. He was a sweet, tractable child; and Lady Chavasse
thought him just an angel come down from heaven.

Time went on. When Geoffry was about seven years old--and a very
pretty boy, with fair curls--he went out surreptitiously on a fishing
expedition, fell into the pond, and was nearly drowned. It left a severe
cold upon him, which his nurse, Wilkins, said served him right. However,
from that time he seemed to be less strong; and at length Lady Chavasse
took him to London to show him to the doctors. The doctors told her he
ought to be, for a time, in a warmer climate: and she went with him into
Devonshire. But he still kept delicate. And the upshot was that Lady
Chavasse let the Grange for a long term to the Goldingham family, and
went away.

And so, many years passed. The Goldinghams lived on at the Grange: and
Lady Chavasse nearly slipped out of remembrance. Mr. Layne fell into ill
health as he grew older, and advertised for a partner. It was Duffham
who answered it (a youngish man then) and they went into arrangements.

It is necessary to say something of Mr. Layne's children. There were
four of them, girls. The eldest, Susan, married a Lieutenant Layne (some
distant relative, who came from the West Indies), and went with him to
India, where his regiment was serving, taking also her next sister,
Eleanor. The third, Elizabeth, was at home; the young one, Mary, born
several years after the others, was in a school as governess-pupil, or
under-teacher. It is not often that village practitioners can save
money, let alone make a fortune.

The next thing was, that Mr. Layne died. His death made all the
difference to his family. Mr. Duffham succeeded to the practice; by
arrangement he was to pay something yearly for five years to Mrs. Layne;
and she had a small income of her own. She would not quit the house; it
was hers now her husband was gone. Mr. Duffham took one opposite: a tall
house, with a bow-window to the parlour: before that, he had been in
apartments. Mary Layne came home about this time, and stayed there for
some weeks. She had been much overworked in the school, and Mrs. Layne
thought she required rest. She was a pleasing girl, with soft brown
eyes and a nice face, and was very good and gentle; thinking always of
others, never of self. Old Duffham may choose to deny it now he's grown
older, but he thought her superior then to the whole world.

Matters were in this state when news spread that the Goldinghams had
received notice to quit the Grange: Sir Geoffry, who would be of age the
following year, was coming home to it with his mother. Accordingly the
Goldinghams departed; and the place was re-embellished and put in order
for the rightful owner. He arrived in April with Lady Chavasse: and I'll
copy for you what Duffham says about it. Mr. Layne had then been dead
about two years.


[_From Mr. Duffham's Diary._]

_April 29th._--The new people--or I suppose I ought to say the old
people--reached the Grange yesterday, and I was called in to-day to the
lady's-maid--Wilkins. My lady I don't like; Sir Geoffry I do. He is a
good-looking, slight young man of middle height, with a fair refined
face and honest eyes, blue as they tell me Sir Peter's used to be.
An honourable, well-intentioned young fellow I am sure; affable and
considerate as his mother is haughty. Poor Layne used to cry her up; he
thought great things of her. I do not. It may be that power has made
her selfish, and foreign travel imperious; but she's both selfish and
imperious now. She is nice-looking still; and though she wants but a
year of forty, and her son is only one-and-twenty, they are almost
like brother and sister. Or would be, but for Sir Geoffry's exceeding
consideration for his mother; his love and deference for her are a
pattern to the young men of the present day. She has trained him to be
obedient, that's certain, and to love her too: and so I suppose she has
done her duty by him well. He came down the broad walk with me from the
hall-door, talking of his mother: I had happened to say that the place
must seem quite strange to Lady Chavasse. "Yes, it must," he answered.
"She has exiled herself from it for my sake. Mr. Duffham," he continued
warmly, "you cannot imagine what an admirable mother mine has been! She
resigned ease, rest, society, to devote herself to me. She gave me a
home-tutor, that she might herself watch over and train me; she went to
and fro between England and foreign places with me everlastingly; even
when I was at Oxford, she took a house a mile or two out, that we might
not be quite separated. I pray Heaven constantly that I may never cross
her in thought, word, or deed: but live only to repay her love." Rather
Utopian this: but I honour the young fellow for it. I've only seen him
for an hour at most, and am already wishing there were more like him in
the world. If his mother has faults, he does not see them; he will never
honour any other woman as he honours her. A contrast, this, to the
contempt, ingratitude, and disrespect that some sons think it manly to
show their best and truest earthly parent.

My lady is vexed, I can see, at this inopportune illness of her maid's;
for the Grange is all upside down with the preparations for the grand
_fête_ to be held on the 20th of next month, when Sir Geoffry will
come of age. Wilkins has been in the family for many years: she was
originally the boy's nurse: and is quite the right hand of Lady
Chavasse, so far as household management goes. Her illness just now
_is_ inopportune.


[_End, for the present, of Mr. Duffham's Diary._]

Nothing was talked of, in the village or out of it, but the grand doings
that were to usher in the majority of Sir Geoffry. As to Lady Chavasse,
few people had seen her. Her maid's illness, as was supposed, kept her
indoors; and some of the guests were already arriving at the Grange.

One morning, when it wanted about a week to the 20th, Mrs. Layne, making
a pillow-case at her parlour window, in her widow's cap and spectacles,
with the Venetian blind open to get all the light she could, was
startled by seeing Lady Chavasse's barouche draw up to her door, and
Lady Chavasse preparing to descend from it. Mrs. Layne instinctively
rose, as to a superior, and took her glasses off: it has been said she
was of a humble turn: and upon Lady Chavasse fixing her eyes upon her
in what seemed some surprise, dropped a curtsy, and thought to herself
how fortunate it was she happened to have put a clean new cap on. With
that, Lady Chavasse said something to the footman, who banged the
carriage-door to, and ordered the coachman across the road. Mrs. Layne
understood it at once: she had come to the house in mistake for
Duffham's. Of course, with that grand carriage to look at opposite, and
the gorgeous servants, and my lady, in a violet velvet mantle trimmed
with ermine, alighting and stepping in to Duffham's, Mrs. Layne let fall
her pillow-case, and did no more of it. But she was not prepared, when
Lady Chavasse came out again with Mr. Duffham, to see him escort
her over the road to her gate. Mrs. Layne had just time to open her
parlour-door, and say to the servant, "In the other room: show her
ladyship into the other room," before she went off into complete
bewilderment, and ran away with the pillow-case.

The other room was the best room. Mary Layne sat there at the old piano,
practising. She had seen and heard nothing of all this; and rose in
astonishment when the invasion took place. A beautiful lady, whom Mary
did not know or recognize, was holding out a delicately-gloved hand to
her, and saying that she resembled her father. It was Mary Layne's first
meeting with Lady Chavasse: she had just come home again from some heavy
place of teaching, finding her strength unequal to it.

"I should have known you, I think, for a daughter of Mr. Layne's had I
met you in the street," said Lady Chavasse, graciously.

Mary was blushing like anything. Lady Chavasse thought her an elegant
girl, in spite of the shabby black silk she was dressed in: very pretty
too. At least, it was a nice countenance; and my lady quite took to it.
Mrs. Layne, having collected her wits, and taken off her apron, came in
then: and Mary, who was humble-minded also, though not exactly in the
same way that her mother was, modestly retired.

My lady was all graciousness: just as much so that morning as she used
to be. Perhaps the sight of Mrs. Layne put her in mind of the old days
when she was herself suffering trouble in a widow's cap, and not knowing
how matters would turn out for her, or how they would not. She told Mrs.
Layne that she had, unthinkingly, bid her servants that morning drive to
_Mr. Layne's!_ and it was only when she saw Mrs. Layne at the window in
her widow's cap, that she remembered the mistake. She talked of her son
Geoffry, praising his worth and his goodness; she bade Mrs. Layne to the
_fête_ on the 20th, saying she must come and bring her two daughters,
and she would take no denial. And Mrs. Layne, curtsying again--which did
not become her, for she was short and stout--opened the front-door to
her ladyship with her own hands, and stood there curtsying until the
carriage had dashed away.

"We'll go on the 20th," she said to her daughters. "I didn't like to say
nay to her ladyship; and I should be glad to see what the young heir's
like. He was as pretty a boy as you'd wish to see. There'll no doubt be
some people there of our own condition that we can mix with, and it will
be in the open air: so we shan't feel strange."

But when the day arrived, and they had reached the Grange, it seemed
that they felt very strange. Whether amidst the crowds they did not find
any of their "own condition," or that none were there, Mrs. Layne did
not know. Once, they came near Lady Chavasse. Lady Chavasse, surrounded
by a bevy of people that Mrs. Layne took to be lords and ladies--and
perhaps she was right--bowed distantly, and waved her hand, as much as
to say, "Make yourselves at home, but don't trouble me:" and Mrs. Layne
curtsyed herself to a respectful distance. It was a fine bright day,
very warm; and she sat on a bench in the park with her daughters,
listening to the band, looking at the company, and wondering which was
the heir. Some hours seemed to pass in this way, and gradually the
grounds grew deserted. People were eating and drinking in a distant
tent--the lords and ladies Mrs. Layne supposed, and she did not presume
to venture amongst them. Presently a young man approached, who had
observed from a distance the solitary group. A fat old lady in widow's
mourning; and the younger ones in pretty white bonnets and new black
silks.

"Will you allow me to take you where you will find some refreshment?" he
said, raising his hat, and addressing Mrs. Layne.

She paused before answering, taken aback by his looks, as she described
it afterwards, for he put her in mind of Sir Peter. It was as nice a
face as Sir Peter's used to be, clean-shaved, except for the light
whiskers: and if those were not Sir Peter's kindly blue eyes, why,
her memory failed her. But the dress puzzled Mrs. Layne: he wore a
dark-blue frock-coat and grey trousers, a white waistcoat with a thin
gold chain passed across it and a drooping seal: all very nice and
gentlemanly certainly, but quite plain. What she had expected to see the
heir attired in, Mrs. Layne never afterwards settled with herself:
perhaps purple and miniver.

"I beg your pardon sir," she said, speaking at length, "but I think you
must be Sir Geoffry?"

"Yes, I am Sir Geoffry."

"Lord bless me!" cried Mrs. Layne.

She told him who she was, adding, as an apology for being found there,
that her ladyship had invited her and her girls, and wouldn't take a
denial. Geoffry held out his arm cordially to lead her to the tent, and
glanced behind at the "girls," remembering what his mother had said to
him of one of them: "a sweet-looking young woman, Geoffry, poor Layne's
daughter, quite an elegant girl." Yes, she was sweet-looking and elegant
also, Geoffry decided. The elder one was like her mother, short, stout,
and--Geoffry could not help seeing it--commonplace. He told Mrs. Layne
that he could remember her husband still: he spoke of a ride the doctor
had taken him, seated before him on his horse; and altogether in that
short minute or two won, by his true affability, the heart of the
doctor's widow.

The tent was crowded to confusion. Waiters were running about, and there
was much rattle of knives and forks. Sir Geoffry could find only two
places anywhere; at which he seated Mrs. Layne and her daughter
Elizabeth, according to precedence.

"I will find you a place in the other tent, if you will come with me,"
he said to Mary.

She wished to refuse. She had a suspicion that the other tent was the
one for the "lords and ladies," people who were altogether above her.
But Sir Geoffry was holding up the canvas for her to pass out, and she
was too timid to disobey. He walked by her side almost in silence,
speaking a courteous word or two only, to put her at her ease. The band
was playing "The Roast Beef of Old England."

But the other tent seemed in worse confusion as far as crowding went.
Some one turned on her seat to accost Sir Geoffry: a slight, upright
girl, with finely-carved features of that creamy white rarely seen, and
a haughty expression in her very light eyes.

"You are being waited for, Geoffry. Don't you know that you preside?"

"No; nonsense!" he answered. "There's to be nothing of that sort,
Rachel; no presiding. I am going to walk about and look out for stray
people. Some of the strangers will get nothing, if they are not seen
after. Could you make room for one by you?"

"Who is it?" she asked.

Sir Geoffry said a word in her ear, and she moved a few inches higher
up. He stepped back to Mary Layne. She had been looking at the young
lady, who was so richly dressed--in some thin material of shimmering
blue and lace--and who was so utterly at her ease as to be sitting
without her bonnet, which she had put at her feet.

"We have made a place for you," said Sir Geoffry. "I fear you will be
a little crowded. Miss Layne, Rachel."

Mary waited to thank him before taking it. Her cheeks were full of
blushes, her soft dark eyes went out to his. She felt ashamed that he
should take so much trouble for her, and strove to say so. Sir Geoffry
held her hand while he answered, his own eyes looking back again.

But Mary sat for some minutes before any one came to wait on her. The
young lady whom Sir Geoffry had called Rachel was busy with her own
plate, and did not observe. Presently, she looked round.

"Dear me! what are they about? Field!" she imperatively called to the
butler, who was passing. He turned at once.

"My lady?"

"Have the goodness to attend here," said Lady Rachel, indicating the
vacant space before Miss Layne. "This young lady has had nothing."

"So I really am amidst the lords and ladies," thought Mary, as the
butler presented her with a card of the dishes, made out in French, and
inquired what she would be pleased to take. She was inexperienced and
shy; and did not know where to look or what to say. Lady Rachel spoke to
her once or twice, and was civilly distant: and so the half-hour was got
over. When Sir Geoffry's health was proposed by Lord L., the young
baronet suddenly appeared in his rightful place at the head of the
table. He thanked them all very heartily in a few words; and said he
hoped he _should_ live long, as they had all just been wishing him, live
that he might repay his dear mother one tithe of the sacrifices she had
made, and the love she had lavished on him.

The cheers broke forth as he finished, his eyes wet with the sincerity
of his feeling, the music burst out with a crash, "See the conquering
hero comes," and Mary Layne felt every nerve thrill within her; as if
she would faint with the excess of unwonted emotion.


[_Mr. Duffham's Diary._]

_June 2nd._--The rejoicings are well over, and Sir Geoffry Chavasse is
his own master. In law, at any rate; but it strikes me he will never
know any will but his mother's. It's not that he possesses none of his
own--rather the contrary, I fancy; but in his filial love and reverence
he merges it in hers. It is, on the one hand, good to see; on the other,
one can but fancy his ideal of the fifth commandment is somewhat
exaggerated. Lady Chavasse on her part seems bound up in him. To him
there is no sign of imperiousness, no assertion of self-will: and, so
far as can be seen, she does not _exact_ deference. "Geoffry, would you
wish this?" she says. "Geoffry, would you like the other? My darling
Geoffry, don't you think it might be well to do so-and-so?" No. It is a
case of genuine filial respect and love; and one can but honour Lady
Chavasse for have gained it.

My lady has condescended to be almost confidential with me. The illness
of her maid has been a long and serious one, and I have had to be a good
deal at the Grange. "Sir Geoffry is engaged to be married, Mr. Duffham,"
she said to me yesterday, when our conversation had turned--as it often
does turn--on Sir Geoffry. I could not help showing some surprise: and,
one word leading to another, I soon grasped the whole case. Not so much
by what she directly said, as by the habit I have of putting two-and-two
together.

Conspicuous amidst the guests at the _fête_ on the 20th of May, was Lady
Rachel Derreston: a cold, self-possessed girl, with strictly classical
features, and the palest blue eyes I ever saw. It would be a very
handsome face--and indeed _is_ so--but for its cold, proud expression;
she is the daughter of one of Lady Chavasse's sisters, who married the
Earl of Derreston, and is now a very slenderly-portioned widow with some
expensive daughters. It is to this Lady Rachel that Sir Geoffry is
engaged. The engagement is not of his own seeking, or of hers; the two
mothers settled it between them when the children were young; they have
been brought up to look on each other as future husband and wife, and
have done so as a matter-of-course. Neither of them, by what I can
gather, has the slightest intention, or wish, to turn aside from
fulfilling the contract: they will ratify it in just the same business
manner and with the same calm feelings that they would take the lease
of a house. It is not their fault: they should not have been led into
it. Human nature is cross and contrary as a crab: had the two young
people been thrown together now for the first time, and been warned
_not_ to fall in love with each other, the chances are they would have
tumbled headlong into it before the week was out: as it is, they like
each other as cousins, or brother and sister, but they'll never
get beyond that. _I_ can see. The two old sisters have a private
understanding with each other--and my young Lady Rachel dutifully
falls in with it--that after the marriage Lady Chavasse shall still
live and rule at the Grange. Indeed she implied it when she let fall
the words, perhaps unthinkingly--"Geoffry would never marry to put me
out of my home here, Mr. Duffham." And I am sure that he never would.

Lady Rachel is here still. I often see her and Sir Geoffry together,
indoors or out; but I have never yet seen a symptom of courtship on
either side. They call each other "Geoffry" and "Rachel;" and are
as indifferently familiar as brother and sister. That they will be
sufficiently happy with a quiet, moonlight kind of happiness, is almost
sure. I find that I am not at liberty to mention this engagement
abroad: and that's why I say my lady has grown confidential with me.

_June 29th._--Wilkins continues very ill; and it puts my lady about
amazingly. The maid who has been taking Wilkins's duties, Hester Picker,
is a country girl of the locality, Goody Picker's daughter; her services
being as different from those of the easy, experienced Wilkins, as
darkness is from light. "She manages my hair atrociously," cried my lady
to me, one day, in her vexation; "she attempted to write a note for
me in answer to inquiries for the character of my late page, and the
spelling was so bad it could not be sent."

Lady Rachel has left. Sir Geoffry escorted her to her home (near Bath),
stayed two days there, and came back again. And glad to be back,
evidently: he does not care to be long separated from his mother. The
more I see of this young fellow, the more I like him. He has no bad
habits; does not smoke or swear: reads, rides, drives, loves flowers,
and is ever ready to do a good turn for rich or poor. "You appear to
have grown up quite strong, Sir Geoffry," I said to him to-day when we
were in the greenhouse, and he leaped on a ledge to do something or
other to the broken cord of the window. "Oh, quite," he answered. "I
think I am stronger and heartier than most men: and I owe thanks for
it to my mother. It was not only my health of body she cared for and
watched over, but of mind. She taught me to love rational pursuits; she
showed me how to choose the good, and reject the evil: it is she alone
who has made me what I am."

_July 5th._--Mary Layne is going to the Grange as companion to Lady
Chavasse. "Humble companion," as my lady takes care to put it. It has
been brought about in this way. Wilkins is slightly improving: but it
will be months before she can resume her duties about Lady Chavasse: and
my lady has at length got this opinion out of me. "Five or six months!"
she exclaimed in dismay. "But it is only what I have lately suspected.
Mr. Duffham, I have been thinking that I must take a companion; and now
this has confirmed it. A humble companion, who will not object to do my
hair on state occasions, and superintend Picker in trimming my dresses,
especially the lace; and who will write notes for me when I desire it,
and read to me when Sir Geoffry's not here; and sit with me if I wish
it. She wouldn't dine with us, of course; but I might sometimes let
her sit down to luncheon. In short, what I want is a well-educated,
lady-like young woman, who will make herself useful. Do you happen to
know of one?"

I mentioned Mary Layne. She has been wishing not to return to the
heavy work and confinement of a school, where she had to sit up late,
night after night, correcting exercises, and touching up drawings by
gas-light. My lady caught at it at once. "Mary Layne! the very thing. I
like the look of the girl much, Mr. Duffham; and of course she won't be
above doing anything required of her: Layne, the apothecary's daughter,
cannot be called a gentlewoman in position, you know."

She forgot I was an apothecary also; I'll give her that credit. But this
is a specimen of the way my lady's exclusive spirit peeps out.

And so it is settled. And if Miss Mary had been suddenly offered a
position in the Royal household, she could not have thought more of it.
"Mr. Duffham, I will try my very best to satisfy Lady Chavasse," says
she to me, in an ecstasy; "I will do anything and everything required of
me: who am I, that I should be above it?" And by the glistening of her
sweet brown eyes, and the rose-blush on her cheeks, it would seem that
she fancies she is going into fairy-land. Well, the Grange is a nice
place: and she is to have thirty guineas a-year. At the last school she
had twenty pounds: at the first ten.


[_End of the Diary for the present._]

Miss Layne entered the Grange with trepidation. She had never been
inside the house, and at first thought it was fairy-land realized and
that she was out of place in it. A broad flight of three or four steps
led up to the wide entrance-door; the brilliant colours from the painted
windows shone on the mosaic pavement of the hall; on the right were the
grand drawing-rooms; on the left the dining-room and Sir Geoffry's
library. Behind the library, going down a step or two was a low, shady
apartment, its glass doors opening to a small grass plat, round which
flowers were planted; and beyond it lay the fragrant herbary. This
little room was called the garden-room; and on the morning of Miss
Layne's arrival, after she had taken off her things, Hester Picker (who
thought almost as much of the old surgeon's daughter as she did of
my lady) curtsyed her into it, and said it was to be Miss Layne's
sitting-room, when she was not with my lady.

Mary Layne looked around. She thought it charming. It had an old Turkey
carpet, and faded red chairs, and a shabby checked cloth on the table,
with other ancient furniture; but the subdued light was grateful after
the garish July sun, and a sweetness came in from the herbs and flowers.
Mary stood, wondering what she had to do first, and not quite daring to
sit down even on one of the old red chairs. The Grange was the Grange,
and my lady was my lady; and they were altogether above the sphere in
which she had been brought up. She had a new lilac muslin dress on,
fresh and simple; her smooth brown hair had a bit of lilac ribbon in it;
and she looked as pretty and ladylike as a girl can look. Standing at
the back, there beyond the able, was she, when Sir Geoffry walked in at
the glass doors, his light summer coat thrown back, and a heap of
small paper packets in his hands, containing seeds. At first he looked
astonished: not remembering her.

"Oh, I beg your pardon!" he exclaimed, his face lighting up, as he took
off his straw hat. "Miss Mary Layne, I think. I did not know you at the
moment. My mother said she expected you to-day."

He came round to her with outstretched hand, and then put a chair for
her, just as though she had been a duchess--or Lady Rachel Derreston.
Mary did not take the chair: she felt strange in her new home, and as
yet very timid.

"I am not sure what Lady Chavasse would wish me to do," she ventured to
say, believing it might be looked upon as next door to a crime to be
seen idle, in a place where she was to receive thirty guineas a-year.
"There appears to be no work here."

"Get a book, and read!" cried Sir Geoffry. "I'll find you one as soon as
I have put up these seeds. A box of new novels has just come from town.
I hope you will make yourself at home with us, and be happy," he added,
in his kindness.

"Thank you, sir; I am sure I shall."

He was putting up the seeds, when Lady Chavasse entered. She had a way
of taking likes and dislikes, and she never scrupled to show either. On
this first day, it seemed that she did not know how to make enough of
Mary. She chose to forget that she was only to be the humble companion,
and treated her as a guest. She carried her in to take luncheon with
herself and Sir Geoffry; she made her play and sing; she showed her the
drawing-rooms and the flower-gardens, and finally took her out in the
barouche. She certainly did not ask her in to dinner, but said she
should expect her to come to the drawing-room afterwards, and spend the
evening. And Miss Layne, not ignorant of the customs obtaining in great
houses, dressed herself for it in her one evening dress of white spotted
muslin, and changed the lilac ribbon in her hair for blue.

So that, you perceive, the girl was inaugurated at the Grange as a young
lady, almost as an equal, and not as a servant--as Lady Chavasse's true
opinion would have classed her. That was mistake the first. For it led
Sir Geoffry to make a companion of Miss Layne; that is, to treat her as
though she belonged to their order; which otherwise he certainly would
not have done. Had Miss Layne been assigned her true place at first--the
place that Lady Chavasse meant her to fill, that of an inferior and
humble dependent--Sir Geoffry, out of simple respect to the girl and to
his mother, would have kept his distance.

As the time passed on they grew great friends. Lady Chavasse retained
her liking for Mary, and saw no harm in the growing intimacy with Sir
Geoffry. That was mistake the second. Both of them were drifting into
love; but Lady Chavasse dreamt it not. The social gulf that spread
itself between Sir Geoffry Chavasse, of Chavasse Grange, and Mary Layne,
daughter of the late hard-worked village apothecary, was one that Lady
Chavasse would have said (had she been asked to think about it) could
never be bridged over: and for this very reason she saw no danger in the
intercourse. She regarded Mary Layne as of a totally different caste
from themselves, and never supposed but Sir Geoffry did so too.

And so time went on, on the wings of love. There were garden walks
together and moonlight saunterings; meetings in my lady's presence,
meetings without it. Sir Geoffry, going in and out of the garden-parlour
at will, as he had been accustomed to do--for it was where all kinds of
things belonging to him were kept: choice seeds, his fishing-rods, his
collection of butterflies--would linger there by the hour together,
talking to Mary at her work. And, before either of them was conscious of
the danger, they had each passed into a dream that changed everything
about them to Paradise.

Of course, Sir Geoffry, when he awoke to the truth--that it was
love--ought to have gone away, or have contrived to get his mother to
dismiss Miss Layne. He did nothing of the sort. And for this, some
people--Duffham for one--held him even more to blame than for anything
that happened afterwards. But how could he voluntarily blight his new
happiness, and hers? It was so intense as to absorb every other feeling;
it took his common sense away from him. And thus they went dreaming on
together in that one spring-time (of the heart, not of the weather), and
never thought about drifting into shoals and pitfalls.

In the autumn my lady went to the seaside in Cornwall, taking Mary _as
her maid_, and escorted by her son. "Will you do for me what I want
while I am away? I do not care to be troubled with Picker," she
had said; and Mary replied, as in duty bound, that she would. It is
inconvenient to treat a maid as a lady, especially in a strange place,
and Mary found that during this sojourn Lady Chavasse did not attempt
it. To all intents and purposes Mary was the maid now; she did not sit
with her lady, she took her meals apart; she was, in fact, regarded as
the lady's-maid by all, and nothing else. Lady Chavasse even took to
calling her "Layne." This, the sudden dethroning of her social status,
was the third mistake; and this one, as the first, was my lady's. Sir
Geoffry had been led to regard her as a companion; now he saw her but as
a servant. But, servant or no servant, you cannot put love out of the
heart, once it has possession of it.

At the month's end they returned home: and there Mary found that she was
to retain this lower station: never again would she be exalted as she
had been. Lady Chavasse had tired of the new toy, and just carelessly
allowed her to find her own level. Except that Miss Layne sat in the
garden-parlour, and her meals were served there, she was not very much
distinguished from Hester Picker and the other servants; indeed, Picker
sometimes sat in the parlour too, when they had lace, or what not,
to mend for my lady. Geoffry in his heart was grieved at the changed
treatment of Miss Layne; he thought it wrong and unjust; and to make up
for the mistake, was with her a great deal himself.

Things were in this position when Lady Chavasse was summoned to Bath:
her sister, Lady Derreston, was taken ill. Sir Geoffry escorted her
thither. Picker was taken, not Miss Layne. In the countess's small
household, Mary, in her anomalous position--for she could not be
altogether put with the servants--would have been an inconvenience; and
my lady bade her make herself happy at the Grange, and left her a lot of
fine needlework to get through.

Leaving his mother in Bath, Sir Geoffry went to London, stayed a week
or so, and then came back to the Grange. Another week or two, and he
returned to Bath to bring his mother home. And so the winter set in, and
wore on. And now all that has to be told to the paper's end is taken
from diaries, Duffham's and others. But for convenience' sake, I put it
as though the words were my own, instead of copying them literally.

                 *       *       *       *       *

Spring came in early. February was not quite at an end, and the trees
were beginning to show their green. All the month it had been warm
weather; but people said it was too relaxing for the season, and they
and the trees should suffer for it later. A good deal of sickness was
going about; and, amongst others who had to give in for a time, was
Duffham himself. He had inflammation of the lungs. His brother Luke, who
was partner in a medical firm elsewhere, came to Church Dykely for a
week or two, to take the patients. Luke was a plain-speaking man of
forty, with rough hair and a good heart.

The afternoon after he arrived, an applicant came into the surgery with
her daughter. It was Mrs. Layne, but the temporary doctor did not know
her. Mrs. Layne never did look like a lady, and he did not mistake her
for one: he thought it some respectable countrywoman: she had flung a
very ancient cloak over her worn morning gown. She expressed herself
disappointed at not seeing Mr. Duffham, but opened the consultation with
the brother instead. Mrs. Layne took it for granted she was known, and
talked accordingly.

Her daughter, whom she kept calling Mary, and nothing else, had been
ailing lately; she, Mrs. Layne, could not think what was the matter with
her, unless it was the unusually warm spring. She grew thinner and
weaker daily; her cheeks were pale, her eyes seemed to have no life in
them: she was very low in spirits; yet, in spite of all this, Mary had
kept on saying it was "nothing." My Lady Chavasse--returning home from
London yesterday, whither she had accompanied her son a week or two
ago, and whom she had left there--was so much struck with the change she
saw in Mary, who lived with her as humble companion, Mrs. Layne added,
in a parenthesis, that she insisted on her seeing Dr. Duffham, that he
might prescribe some tonics. And accordingly Mary had walked to her
mother's this afternoon.

Mr. Luke Duffham listened to all this with one ear, as it were. He
supposed it might be the warm spring, as suggested. However, he took
Mary into the patients' room, and examined her; felt her pulse, looked
at her tongue, sounded her chest, with all the rest of it that doctors
treat their clients to; and asked her this, that, and the other--about
five-and-twenty questions, when perhaps five might have done. The upshot
of it all was that Mary Layne went off in a dead faint.

"What on earth can be the matter with her?" cried the alarmed mother,
when they had brought her round.

Mr. Luke Duffham, going back to the surgery with Mrs. Layne, shut the
doors, and told her what he thought it was. It so startled the old lady
that she backed against the counter and upset the scales.

"How dare you say so, sir!"

"But I am sure of it," returned Mr. Luke.

"Lord be good to me!" gasped Mrs. Layne, looking like one terrified
out of her seven senses. "The worst I feared was that it might be
consumption. A sister of mine died of it."

"Where shall I send the medicine to?" inquired the doctor.

"Anywhere. Over the way, if you like," continued Mrs. Layne, in her
perturbation.

"Certainly. Where to, over the way?"

"To my house. Don't you know me? I am the widow of your brother's late
partner. This unhappy child is the one he was fondest of; she is only
nineteen, much younger than the rest."

"Mrs. Layne!" thought Luke Duffham, in surprise, "I wish I had known; I
might have hesitated before speaking plainly. But where would have been
the good?"

The first thing Mrs. Layne did, was to shut her own door against Mary,
and send her back to the Grange in a shower of anger. She was an honest
old lady, of most irreproachable character; never needing, as she
phrased it, to have had a blush on her cheek, for herself or any one
belonging to her. In her indignation, she could have crushed Mary to
the earth. Whatever it might be that the poor girl had done, robbed a
church, or shot its parson, her mother deemed that she deserved hanging.

Mary Layne walked back to the Grange: where else had she to go?
Broken-hearted, humiliated, weak almost unto death, she was as a reed
in her mother's hands, yielding herself to any command given; and only
wishing she might die. Lady Chavasse, compassionating her evident
suffering, brought her a glass of wine with her own hand, and inquired
what Mr. Duffham said, and whether he was going to give her tonics.
Instead of answering, Mary went into another faint: and my lady thought
she had overwalked herself. "I wish I had sent her in the carriage,"
said she kindly. And while the wish was yet upon her lips, Mrs. Layne
arrived at the Grange, to request an audience of her ladyship.

Then was commotion. My lady talked and stormed, Mrs. Layne talked and
cried. Both were united in one thing--heaping reproaches on Mary. They
were in the grand drawing-room--where my lady had been sitting when Mrs.
Layne was shown in. Lady Chavasse sat back, furious and scornful, in
her pink velvet chair; Mrs. Layne stood; Mary had sunk on the carpet
kneeling, her face bent, her clasped hands raised as if imploring mercy.
This group was suddenly broken in upon by Sir Geoffry--who had but then
reached the Grange from town. They were too noisy to notice him. Halting
in dismay he had the pleasure of catching a sentence or two addressed to
the unhappy Mary.

"The best thing you can do is to find refuge in the workhouse," stormed
Lady Chavasse. "Out of my house you turn this hour."

"The best thing you can do is to go on the tramp, where you won't
be known," amended Mrs. Layne, who was nearly beside herself with
conflicting emotions. "Never again shall you enter the home that was
your poor dead father's. You wicked girl!--and you hardly twenty years
old yet! But, my lady, I can but think--though I know we are humble
people, as compared with you, and perhaps I've no right to say it--that
Sir Geoffry has not behaved like a gentleman."

"Hold your tongue, woman," said her ladyship. "Sir Geoffry----"

"Sir Geoffry is at least enough of a gentleman to take his evil deeds on
himself, and not shift them on to others," spoke the baronet, stepping
forward--and the unexpected interruption was startling to them all. My
lady pointed imperatively to the door, but he stood his ground.

It was no doubt a bitter moment for him; bringing home to him an awful
amount of self-humiliation: for throughout his life he had striven to do
right instead of wrong. And when these better men yield to temptation
instead of fleeing from it, the reacting sting is of the sharpest. The
wisest and strongest sometimes fall: and find too late that, though the
fall was so easy, the picking-up is of all things most difficult. Sir
Geoffry's face was white as death.

"Get up, Mary," he said gently, taking her hand to help her in all
respect. "Mrs. Layne," he added, turning to face the others; "my dear
mother--if I may dare still to call you so--suffer me to say a word. For
all that has taken place, I am alone to blame; on me only must it rest,
The fault----"

"Sin, sir," interrupted Mrs. Layne.

"Yes. Thank you. Sin. The sin lies with me, not with Mary. In my
presence reproach shall not be visited on her. She has enough trouble
to bear without that. I wish to Heaven that I had never--Mrs. Layne,
believe me," he resumed, after the pause, "no one can feel this more
keenly than I. And, if circumstances permit me to make reparation, I
will make it!"

Sir Geoffry wanted (circumstances permitting, as he shortly put it) to
marry Mary Layne; he _wished_ to do it. Taking his mother into another
room he told her this. Lady Chavasse simply thought him mad. She grew a
little afraid of him, lest he should set her and all high rules of
propriety at nought, and do it.

But trouble like this cannot be settled in an hour. Lady Chavasse, in
her great fear, conciliated just a little: she did not turn Miss Layne
out at once, as threatened, but suffered her to remain at the Grange for
the night.

"In any case, whatever may be the ending of this, it is not from my
family that risk of exposure must come," spoke Sir Geoffry, in a tone
of firmness. "It might leave me no alternative."

"No alternative?" repeated Lady Chavasse. "How?"

"Between my duty to you, and my duty to her," said Sir Geoffry. And my
lady's heart fainted within her at the suggested fear.

                 *       *       *       *       *

They were together in the library at Chavasse Grange, Lady Chavasse
and her only son Geoffry. It was early morning; they had sat in the
breakfast-room making a show of partaking of the morning meal, each of
them with that bitter trouble at the heart that had been known only--to
my lady, at least--since the previous day. But the farce of speaking in
monosyllables to one another could not be kept up--the trouble had to
be dealt with, and without delay; and when the poor meal could not be
prolonged by any artifice, Sir Geoffry held open the door for his mother
to pass through, and crossed the hall with her to the library. Shut
within its walls they could discuss the secret in safety; no eye to see
them, no ear to hear.

Sir Geoffry mechanically stirred the fire, and placed a chair for his
mother near it. The weather appeared to be changing. Instead of the
unseasonable relaxing warmth that had been upon the earth up to the
previous day, a cold north-east wind had set in, enough to freeze
people's marrow. The skies were grey and lowering; the trees shook and
moaned: winter was taking up his place again.

So much the better. Blue skies and brightness would hardly have
accorded with Sir Geoffry's spirit. He might have to endure many cruel
visitations ere he died, but never a one so cruel as this. No evil
that Heaven can send upon us, or man inflict, is so hard to bear as
self-reproach.

If ever a son had idolized a mother, it had surely been Geoffry
Chavasse. They had been knit together in the strongest bonds of filial
love. His whole thought from his boyhood had been her comfort: to have
sacrificed himself for her, if needs must, would have been a cheerful
task. When he came of age, not yet so very many months ago, he had
resolved that his whole future life should be devoted to promote her
happiness--as her life had been devoted to him in the days of his sickly
boyhood. Her wishes were his; her word his law; he would have died
rather than cause her a moment's pain.

And how had he, even thus early, fulfilled this? Look at him, as he
leans against the heavy framework of the window, drawn back from it that
the light may not fall on his subdued face. The brow is bent in grievous
doubt; the dark-blue eyes, generally so honestly clear, are hot with
trouble; the bright hair hangs limp. Yes; he would have died rather than
bring his mother pain: that was his true creed and belief; but, like
many another whose resolves are made in all good faith, he had signally
failed, even while he was thinking it, and brought pain to her in a
crushing heap. He hated himself as he looked at her pale countenance; at
the traces of tears in her heavy eyes. Never a minute's sleep had she
had the previous night, it was plainly to be seen; and, as for him, he
had paced his chamber until morning, not attempting to go to rest.
But there was a task close before him, heavier than any that had gone
before; heavier even than this silent repentance--the deciding _what_
was to be done in the calamity; and Sir Geoffry knew that his duty to
his mother and his duty to another would clash with each other. All the
past night he had been earnestly trying to decide which of the two might
be evaded with the least sin--and he thought he saw which.

Lady Chavasse had taken the chair he placed for her; sitting upright in
it, and waiting for him to speak. She knew, as well as he, that this
next hour would decide their fate in life: whether they should still
be together a loving mother and son; or whether they should become
estranged and separate for ever. He crossed to the fireplace and put his
elbow on the mantelpiece, shielding his eyes with his hand. Just a few
words, he said, of his sense of shame and sorrow; of regret that he
should have brought this dishonour on himself and his mother's home; of
hope that he might be permitted, by Heaven and circumstances, to work
out his repentance, in endeavouring daily, hourly constantly, to atone
to her for it--to her, his greatly-loved mother. And then--lifting his
face from the hand that had partially hidden it--he asked her to be
patient, and to hear him without interruption a little further. And Lady
Chavasse bowed her head in acquiescence.

"Nothing remains for me but to marry Miss Layne," he began: and my lady,
as she heard the expected avowal, bit her compressed lips "It is the
only course open to me; unless I would forfeit every claim to honour,
and to the respect of upright men. If you will give your consent to
this, the evil may be in a degree repaired; nothing need ever be known;
Mary's good name may be saved--mine, too, if it comes to that--and
eventually we may be all happy together----"

"Do not try me too much, Geoffry," came the low interruption.

"Mother, you signified that you would hear me to the end. I will not
try you more than I can help; but it is necessary that I should speak
fully. All last night I was walking about my room in self-commune;
deliberating what way was open, if any, that it would be practicable
to take--and I saw but this one. Let me marry her. It will be easy of
accomplishment--speaking in reference to appearances and the world.
She might go for a week or two to her mother's; for a month or two,
if it were thought better and less suspicious; there is no pressing
hurry. We could then be married quietly, and go abroad for a year or
so, or for longer; and come back together to the Grange, and be your
dutiful and loving children always, just as it was intended I and
Rachel should be. But that you have liked Mary Layne very much, I
might have felt more difficulty in proposing this."

"I have liked her as my servant," said Lady Chavasse, scornfully.

"Pardon me, you have liked her as a lady. Do you remember once
saying--it was when she first came--that if you had had a daughter you
could have wished her to be just like Mary Layne. Before I ever saw her,
you told me she was a sweet, elegant young woman; and--mother--she is
nothing less. Oh, mother, mother!" continued Sir Geoffry, with emotion,
"if you will but forget your prejudices for my sake, and consent to what
I ask, we would endeavour to be ever repaying you in love and services
during our after-life. I know what a great sacrifice it will be; but for
my sake I venture to crave it of you--for my sake."

A great fear lay upon Lady Chavasse: it had lain on her ever since the
previous day--that he might carry this marriage out of his own will. So
that she dared not answer too imperatively. She was bitterly hurt, and
caught her breath with a sob.

"Do you want to kill me, Geoffry?"

"Heaven knows that I wish I had been killed, before I brought this
distress upon you," was his rejoinder.

"I _am_ distressed. I have never felt anything like it since your father
died. No; not once when you, a child of seven, were given over in
illness, and it was thought you would not live till morning."

Sir Geoffry passed his hand hastily across his eyes, in which stood the
hot tears. His heart was sore, nearly unto breaking; his ingratitude to
his mother seemed fearfully great. He longed to throw himself at her
feet, and clasp her knees, and tell how deep for her was his love, how
true and deep it always would be.

"Though the whole world had united to deceive me, Geoffry, I could
never have believed that you would do so. Why did you pretend to be fond
of Rachel?"

"I never pretended to be fonder of Rachel than I was. I liked her as
a cousin, nothing more. I know it now. And--mother"--he added, with a
flush upon his face, and a lowering of the voice, "it is better and
safer that the knowledge should have come to me before our marriage
than after it."

"Nonsense," said Lady Chavasse. "Once married, a man of right principles
is always safe in them."

Sir Geoffry was silent. Not very long ago, he had thought himself safe
in his. With every word, it seemed that his shame and his sin came more
glaringly home to him.

"Then you mean to tell me that you do not like Rachel----"

"That I have no love for her. If--if there be any one plea that I can
put forth as a faint shadow of excuse for what has happened, it lies in
my love for another. Faint it is, Heaven knows: the excuse, not the
love. _That_ is deep enough: but I would rather not speak of it to
you--my mother."

"And that you never will love Rachel?" continued Lady Chavasse, as
though he had not interposed.

"Never. It is impossible that I can ever love any one but Mary Layne. I
am grateful, as things have turned out, that I did not deceive Rachel by
feigning what I could not feel. Neither does she love me. We were told
to consider ourselves betrothed, and did so accordingly; but, so far as
love goes, it has not been so much as mentioned between us."

"What else have you to say?" asked Lady Chavasse.

"I might say a great deal, but it would all come round to the same
point: to the one petition that I am beseeching you to grant--that you
will sanction the marriage."

Lady Chavasse's hands trembled visibly within their rich lace frills, as
they lay passive on her soft dress of fine geranium cashmere. Her lips
grew white with agitation.

"Geoffry!"

"My darling mother."

"I have heard you. Will you hear me?"

"You know I will."

"More than one-and-twenty years ago, my husband died within these walls;
and I--I was not eighteen, Geoffry--felt utterly desolate. But, as the
weeks went on, I said my child will be born, if God permit, and he will
bring me comfort. You were born, Geoffry; you did bring me comfort: such
comfort that I thought Heaven had come again. You best know, my son,
what our life has been; how we have loved each other: how pleasantly
time has flown in uninterrupted happiness. I have devoted myself, my
time, my energies, everything I possessed, to you, my best treasure; I
have given up the world for you, Geoffry; I had only you left in it. Is
it fitting that you should fling me from you now; that you should blight
my remaining days with misery; that you should ignore me just as though
I were already dead--and all for the sake of a stranger?"

"But----"

"I have not finished, Geoffry. For the sake of a stranger, whom a few
months ago neither you nor I had ever seen? If you think this--if you
deem that you would be acting rightly, and can find in your heart to
treat me so, why, you must do it."

"But what I wish and propose is quite different!" he exclaimed in agony.
"Oh, mother, surely you can understand me--and the dilemma I am placed
in?"

"I understand all perfectly."

"Ah yes!"

"Geoffry, there is no middle course. You must choose between me
and--_her_. Once she and I separate--it will be to-day--we can never
meet again. I will not tolerate her memory; I will never submit to the
degradation of hearing her named in my presence. Our paths lie asunder,
Geoffry, far as the poles: hers lies one way, mine another. You must
decide for yourself which of them you will follow. If it be mine, you
shall be, as ever, my dear and honoured son, and I will never, never
reproach you with your folly: never revert to it; never think of it.
If it be hers, why, then--I will go away somewhere and hide myself,
and leave the Grange free for you. And I--I dare say--shall not live
long to be a thorn in your remembrance."

She broke down with a flood of bitter sobs. Geoffry Chavasse had never
seen his mother shed such. The hour was as trying to her as to him. She
had loved him with a strangely selfish love, as it is in the nature of
mothers to do; and that she should have to bid him choose between her
and another--and one so entirely beneath her as Lady Chavasse considered
Mary Layne to be--was gall and wormwood. Never would she have stooped to
put the choice before him, even in words, but for her dread that he
might be intending to take it.

"It is a fitting end, Geoffry--that this worthless girl should supplant
me in your home and heart," she was resuming when her emotion allowed;
but Geoffry stood forward to face her, his agitation great as her own.

"An instant, mother: that you may fully understand me. The duty I owe
you, the allegiance and the love, are paramount to all else on earth.
In communing with myself last night, as I tell you I was, my heart and
my reason alike showed me this. If I must choose between you and Mary
Layne, there cannot be a question in my mind on which side duty lies.
In all honour I am bound to make her my wife, and I should do it in
all affection: but not in defiance of you; not to thrust rudely aside
the love and obligations of the past one-and-twenty years. _You_ must
choose for me. If you refuse your approval, I have no resource but to
yield to your decision; if you consent, I shall thank you and bless
you for ever."

A spasm of pain passed across the mouth of Lady Chavasse. She could not
help saying something that arose prominently in her mind though it
interrupted the question.

"And you can deem the apothecary Layne's daughter fit to mate with Sir
Geoffry Chavasse?"

"No, I do not. Under ordinary circumstances, I should never have thought
of such a thing. This unhappy business has a sting for me, mother, on
many sides. Will you give me your decision?" he added, after a pause.

"I have already given it, Geoffry--so far as I am concerned. You must
choose between your mother, between all the hopes and the home-interests
of one-and-twenty years, and this alien."

"Then I have no alternative."

She turned her gaze steadily upon him. A sob rose in his throat as he
took her hands, his voice was hoarse with emotion.

"To part from her will be like parting with life, mother. I can never
know happiness again in this world."

But the decision was irrevocable. What further passed between Sir
Geoffry and his mother in the remaining half-hour they spent together,
how much of entreaty and anguish was spoken on his side, how much of
passionate plaint and sorrow on hers, will never be known. But she was
obdurate to the last letter: and Sir Geoffry's lot in life was fixed.
Mary Layne was to be sacrificed: and, in one sense of the word, himself
also: and there might be no appeal.

Lady Chavasse exacted from him that he should quit the Grange at once
without seeing Miss Layne, and not return to it until Mary had left it
for ever. Anything he wished to say to her, he was to write. On Lady
Chavasse's part, she voluntarily undertook to explain to Miss Layne
their conversation faithfully, and its result; and to shield the young
lady's good name from the censure of the world. She would keep her for
some time longer at the Grange, be tender with her, honour her, drive
out with her in the carriage so that they might be seen together, subdue
her mother's anger, strive to persuade Mr. Luke Duffham that his opinion
had been mistaken, and, in any case, bind him down to secrecy: in
short, she would make future matters as easy as might be for Mary, as
tenaciously as though she were her own daughter. That she promised
this at the sacrifice of pride and of much feeling, was indisputable;
but she meant to keep her word.

However miserable a night the others had passed, it will readily be
imagined that Mary Layne had spent a worse. She made no pretence of
eating breakfast; and when it was taken away sat at her work in the
garden-parlour, trying to do it; but her cold fingers dropped the
needle every minute, her aching brow felt as though it were bursting.
Good-hearted Hester Picker was sorry to see her looking so ill, and
wished the nasty trying spring, hot one day, cold the next, would just
settle itself down.

Mary rose from her chair, and went upstairs to her own bedroom for a
brief respite: in her state of mind it seemed impossible to stay long
quiescent anywhere. This little incidental occurrence frustrated one
part of the understanding between Sir Geoffry and his mother--that he
should quit the house without seeing Miss Layne. In descending, she
chanced to cross the end of the corridor just as he came out of his
mother's room after bidding her farewell. The carriage waited at the
door, his coat was on his arm. Mary would have shrunk back again, but
he bade her wait.

"You must allow me to shake her hand, and say just a word of adieu,
mother; I am not quite a brute," he whispered. And Lady Chavasse came
out of her room, and tacitly sanctioned it.

But there was literally nothing more than a hand-shake. Miss Layne,
standing still in all humility, turned a little white, for she guessed
that he was being sent from his home through her. Sir Geoffry held her
hand for a moment.

"I am going away, Mary. My mother will explain to you. I have done my
best, and failed. Before Heaven, I have striven to the uttermost, for
your sake and for mine, to make reparation; but it is not to be. I leave
you to my mother; she is your friend; and you shall hear from me in a
day or two. I am now going to see Mrs. Layne. Good-bye: God bless you
always!"

But, ere Sir Geoffry reached the hall, Lady Chavasse had run swiftly
down, caught him, and was drawing him into a room. The fear had returned
to her face.

"I heard you say you were going to call on Mrs. Layne. Geoffry, this
must not be."

"_Not be!_" he repeated, in surprise. "Mother, I am obeying you in all
essential things; but you cannot wish to reduce me to an utter craven. I
owe an explanation to Mrs. Layne almost in the same degree that I owe it
to you; and I shall certainly not quit Church Dykely until I have given
it."

"Oh, well--if it must be," she conceded, afraid still. "You--you will
not be drawn in to act against me, Geoffry?"

"No power on earth could draw me to that. You have my first and best
allegiance; to which I bow before every other consideration, before
every interest, whether of my own or of others. But for that, should I
be acting as I am now? Fare you well, mother."

She heard the carriage-door closed; she heard Sir Geoffry's order to
the footman. Even for that order, he was cautious to give a plausible
excuse.

"Stop at Mrs. Layne's. I have to leave a message from her ladyship."

The wheels of the carriage crunched the gravel, bearing off Sir Geoffry
in the storm of sleet--which had begun to fall--and Lady Chavasse passed
up the stairs again. Taking the hand of Mary--who had stood above
like a statue--never moving--she led her, gently enough, into her
dressing-room, and put her in a comfortable chair by the fire; and
prepared for this second interview.

Briefly, Lady Chavasse recounted what she had to say. Sir Geoffry had
found himself obliged to choose between Miss Layne and her, his mother.
Mary Layne sat with her hands before her face, and acknowledged that, if
it came to such a choice, he had chosen rightly. And then, in forcible
language, because it came from her heart, my lady drew a picture of
the life-long happiness she and her son had enjoyed together, of her
devotion and sacrifices for him, of his deep love and reverence for her:
and she quietly asked Mary to put herself in imagination in her place,
and say what her feelings would have been had a stranger come in to mar
this. Had she any right to do this?--Lady Chavasse asked her--would she
be justified in destroying the ties of a life, in thrusting herself
between mother and son?--in invoking a curse, his mother's curse, on
him? My lady did not spare her: but she spoke in no angry tone, rather
in a piteous and imploring one: and Mary, feeling as if matters were
being put to her own better feeling, sobbed, and shook, and shrunk
within herself, and could have knelt at Lady Chavasse's feet for pardon
in her distress and humiliation.

And that was the end of the wretched business--as Duffham phrases it in
his diary--so far as the Grange and its people were concerned. Mary
Layne stayed, perforce, two or three weeks longer at the house, and my
lady made much of her: she took her out daily in her carriage; she said
to her friends, in the hearing of her servants and the sympathizing
Hester Picker, how vexatious it was that the relaxing, unseasonable
weather had brought out the delicacy that was latent in Miss Layne's
constitution, and that she feared she must let her go away somewhere for
a change. Mary submitted to all. She was in such a self-abased frame of
mind that had my lady desired her to immolate herself on a blazing pyre,
she would have gone to it meekly. My lady had interviews with Mrs.
Layne, and with Duffham (who had got well then), and with his brother
Luke. At the two or three weeks' end, Miss Elizabeth Layne came by
appointment to the Grange, and she and Mary were driven to the nearest
station in my lady's own carriage on their way to the seaside: or to
elsewhere, as it might be. And never an ill breath, in the Grange or out
of it, transpired to tarnish the fair fame of Mary Layne.

But my lady was not honest in one respect. The letter that arrived for
Mary from Sir Geoffry a day or two after his departure, was never given
to her. My lady knew she might trust her son implicitly; he could only
be straightforward and keep his word in all things; nevertheless,
she deemed the fire the safest place for the weighty epistle of many
sheets. On the other hand, Mary wrote to Sir Geoffry, saying that the
alternative he had chosen was the only one possible to him. Nothing, no
prayers of his, she said, would have induced her to put herself between
him and his mother, even had he so far forgotten his duty as to urge it.
It was a good and sensible letter, and none but a good and unselfish
girl could have written it.

So that ended the dream and the romance. And I hope the reader does not
forget that it is Duffham's diary that's telling all this, and not I.
For though dreams and romance seem to be in Duffham's line, they are not
in mine.


+Part the Second.+

Not very long after the time that Mary Layne quitted Chavasse
Grange--having closed all connection with it, never to be to it
henceforth but as an utter stranger--her eldest sister, Susan, the
wife of Captain Richard Layne, arrived in England from India with her
children, four little ones; the eldest seven years old, the youngest
eighteen months. The children had been ailing, and she brought them over
for a twelvemonth's change. Mrs. Layne was a good deal worn herself, for
the only nurse she had with her, a coloured woman, was sea-sick during
the voyage. Her sister Eleanor, who originally went out with her to
Calcutta, had made an excellent match; having married Allan McAlpin,
the younger partner in the staid old firm of McAlpin Brothers,
merchants of high standing, and wealthy men.

The first thing Mrs. Richard Layne did on arrival was to establish
herself in lodgings in Liverpool, the port she landed at (in order to
rest a week or two from the fatigues of the voyage) and send for her
mother and sister Elizabeth. In answer came a letter from her mother,
saying she was not equal to the journey and that Elizabeth was from
home. It contained Elizabeth's present address, and also one or two
items of news that startled young Mrs. Layne well-nigh out of her
senses. Leaving her children to their nurse's care, she started for the
address given, and found her two sisters, Elizabeth and Mary. The one
living in a chronic state of outpouring sarcasm and reproach; the other
meekly taking all as not a tithe of her just due.

After a day or two given to natural grief and lamentation, Mrs. Richard
Layne took matters into her own capable hands. She considered that a
more complete change would be good for Mary, and decided to convey
her to the Continent. She wrote a long and confidential letter to her
husband in India, of what she meant to do: and then she went back to
Liverpool with Elizabeth, to leave the latter in charge of her own
children and their coloured nurse, during her absence across the
Channel. Mrs. Layne then returned to Mary, and they started together
for France.

Shortly after this, old Mrs. Layne fell ill: and Elizabeth, when she
found she must go home in consequence, left a responsible English nurse
with the coloured woman and children. Not for several months afterwards
did Mrs. Richard Layne and Mary return from abroad; and at the end of
the twelvemonth they all went back to India--Mrs. Layne, her children,
the native nurse, and Mary. Mary accompanied them in the capacity of
governess.

After that a couple of years went on.

                 *       *       *       *       *

[_From Miss Mary Layne's Journal, written in Calcutta, at the house of
Captain Layne._]

_June 10th._--Cool of the evening. Susan came to the schoolroom in the
midst of the geography lesson this morning, and told me an old friend of
mine at home had called, and I was to come into the verandah to see her.
I never was more surprised. It was Jane Arkill; my chief friend in our
old school-days. She has married a Mr. Cale, a doctor, who has just come
out here to practise. Mrs. Cale says she shall never grow reconciled to
the heat of India. While she sat telling us home news, she alternately
wiped her pale face and stared at me, because I am so much altered.
She thinks she should not have known me. It is not that my features
have changed, she says, but that I have grown so much graver, and look
so old. When people talk like this, I long to tell them that things
have changed me; that I have passed through a fiery trial of sin and
suffering; that my life is one long crucifixion of inward, silent
repentance. When I first came out, two years ago, and people would say,
"It must be the climate that is making Miss Layne look so ill," it
seemed to me like the worst hypocrisy to let them think it was the
climate, and not to tell the truth. This feeling came back again to-day,
when Jane Arkill--I shall often forget to call her "Cale"--said my eyes
had grown to have a sad look in them; and Susan answered that young
ladies faded quickly in India; and that Mary _would_ apply herself too
closely to the children's studies in spite of remonstrance. Too closely?
Why, if I devoted every hour of my life, night and day, to these dear
children, I could never repay what their mother--or their father,
either--has done for me.

My mother is very well, Jane says, but lame, and cannot get about much:
she saw her only six weeks ago--for they came out by the overland
route. Only six weeks ago!--to hear that one has seen my dear mother so
recently as that, makes it seem almost as though _I_ had seen her but
yesterday. My darling mother!--whom my conduct so grieved and outraged
at the time, and who was so quick to forgive me and to do so much for
me. What a message she has sent me! "Give my love to dear Mary, and say
I hope she is happy with her sisters." Elizabeth, too, sent me her love.
"I saw your little Arthur, Mrs. Layne," Jane Cale then said to my
sister: "he is a sweet little fellow; your mother and Elizabeth are so
fond of him. They call him Baby Arthur." I felt my face growing whiter
than death: but Susan, who was never I believe put out in her life,
quietly sent me away with a message to the nurse--that she might bring
the children. When I got back, Captain Layne had come in and had the
baby on his shoulder: for nurse had made more haste than I. "None of
your children here are so fair as the little one your wife left in
England, Captain Layne," Jane Cale was saying, as she looked at them one
by one. "You mean little Arthur," returned the Captain, in his ready
kindness; "I hear he is fair." "Have you never seen him?" "No; how
should I have seen him?" asked Captain Layne, laughing: "he was born
over there, and my wife left him behind her as a legacy to her mother.
It is rather a hazard, Mrs. Cale, as perhaps you know, to bring out very
young infants to this country." Susan came to the rescue: she took the
baby and put him on his feet, that Mrs. Cale should see how well he
walked for his twelvemonth's age. But it did not answer. No doubt Jane
thought that the more she told them about Baby Arthur in England, the
better pleased they would be. How much difference was there, she asked,
between this child and little Arthur--eighteen months?--and how much
between Arthur and the one above him? "Oh," said the captain, "if it
comes to months, you must ask my wife. Come here, sir," he called to
Robert, who was tumbling over the little black bearer, "tell this lady
how old _you_ are, for I am sure I can't." "I'm over four," lisped
Bobby. "Ah, I see," said Jane Cale, "Baby Arthur is just between them."
"Exactly so," said Captain Layne: "Susan, I think these children may go
to their own quarters now." They went at once, for I have trained them
to be obedient, and I escaped with them. It is the first time any human
tongue has spoken to me of Baby Arthur. I think if Captain Layne had
looked at me I should have died: but he is ever kind. Never, by so
much as a word, or look, or tone, since the hour when I first set
foot on these shores, his wife's humbled sister, his children's meek
governess--and it is more than good of him to entrust their training
to _me_!--never has he betrayed that he as much as knew anything,
still less thought of it.

Oh, how events have been smoothed for me!--how much more than I deserve
have I to be thankful for!


[_Letter from Captain Layne's Wife to her Mother at Church Dykely._]

  _Calcutta, September 2nd._

MY DARLING MOTHER,

I am sitting down to answer your letter, which arrived by last mail:
for I am sure you must wonder at my long silence and think it an
age since I wrote. But the truth is, I have had a touch of my old
complaint--intermittent fever--and it left me very weak and languid. I
know you have an untiring correspondent in Eleanor. Perhaps that makes
me a little negligent in writing home, though I am aware it ought not
to do so.

We were truly glad to welcome Mrs. Cale, because she had so recently
come from you. I cannot say that I have seen much of her as yet, for it
was just after she got out that my illness began; and when I grew better
my husband sent me to the hills for a change. Mary went with me and the
children. She is the greatest comfort. Mother dear, in spite of what we
know of, I do not think Mary has her equal for true worth in this world.
You say that Mrs. Cale, in writing home to you, described Mary as being
so altered; so sad and subdued. Why, my dear mother, of course she is
sad: how could it be otherwise? I do not suppose, in her more recent
life, she has ever felt other than the most intense sadness of mind; no,
not for one minute: and it is only to be expected that this must in time
show itself in the countenance. I spoke to her about it one day; it is a
long, long time ago now; saying I did not like to see her retain so much
sadness. "It cannot be helped," she answered; "sadness must always
follow sin."

And now I must tell you, even at the risk of being misunderstood--though
I am sure you know me too well to fear I should seek to countenance or
excuse wrong-doing--that I think Mary takes an exaggerated view of the
past. She seems to think it can never be wiped out, never be palliated.
Of course, in one sense, it never can: but I _don't_ see why she need
continue to feel this intense humiliation, as if she ought to have a
cordon drawn round her gown to warn all good folks from its contact.
Look again at that persistent fancy of hers, always to wear black; it is
writing about her gown puts me in mind of it. Black, black, black: thin
silk when the heat will allow, oftener a dreary, rusty-black-looking
kind of soft muslin that is called here "black jaconite"--but I really
don't know whether that's the way to spell the thing. During the late
intense heat, we have talked her into a black-and-white muslin: that is,
white, with huge black spots upon it in the form of a melon. Only once
did I speak to her about wearing white as we do; I have never ventured
since. She turned away with a shiver, and said white was no longer for
her. Mother, dear, if any one ever lived to work out on earth their
repentance for sin, surely it is Mary. The more I see of her innate
goodness, the less can I understand the past. With her upright
principles and strict sense of conscientiousness--and you know that Mary
always had these, even as a child--I am unable to imagine how it could
have been that---- But I won't go into that. And it may be that the
goodness, so remarkable, would not have come out conspicuously but for
the trial.

Mrs. Cale gave us such a nice account of "Baby Arthur." She says he is
very fair and pretty. She has talked to other people about him--and of
course we cannot tell her not to talk. A brother-officer of my husband's
said to me yesterday:

"I hear your little boy at home is charming, Mrs. Layne. When shall you
have him out?"

"Not yet," I answered. "He was a very delicate baby, and I should not
like to risk it."

"Ah," said Major Grant, "that is why you left him in England."

"My mother takes great care of him," I went on; "it would break her
heart if I were to bring him away from her."

You will wonder at my writing all this: but it is so new a thing to hear
"Baby Arthur" made a topic of discussion, and all through Mrs. Cale!
Talking of children, Eleanor is, I think, getting somewhat over her
long-continued disappointment. Four years she has been married, and has
none. It is certainly a pity, when she and Allan McAlpin are so well
off. Not a family in Calcutta lives in better style than they--people
here talk of the house of McAlpin Brothers as we at home talk of
Rothschild's and Baring's. I am sure they must be very rich, and poor
Eleanor naturally thinks where is the use of the riches when there's
no child to leave them to. Eleanor said to me the other day when she
was here, "You might as well make over that child of yours to me,
Susan,"--meaning Baby Arthur; "he does you no good, and must be a
trouble to mamma and Elizabeth." Of course I laughed it off; saying that
you and Elizabeth would not part with him for untold gold. And I believe
it is so, is it not, dear mother? Do you remember when I first went
to your house with the poor little infant, after his birth on the
Continent, you took him out of my arms with an averted face, as if you
would rather have thrown him on the floor, and Elizabeth turned away and
groaned? "Mother," I said, "you may grow to love the child in time, and
then you will be more ready to forgive and forget." And that has come to
pass.

Mary has always been against our not telling the truth to Eleanor; she
says, even yet, that she feels like a hypocrite before her; but I feel
sure it was best and wisest. Eleanor is as sensitive in her way as Mary
is; Eleanor holds a high position in the place; she and her husband
are both courted, she for herself, he for his riches, for his high
commercial name, for his integrity; and I know she would have _felt_
the slur almost as keenly as Mary. It is true I do not like deliberate
deceit; but there was really no need to tell her--it would not have
answered any good end. Until Mrs. Cale talked, Eleanor scarcely
remembered that there was a Baby Arthur; and now she seems quite jealous
that he is mine and she cannot have him. I say to Eleanor that she must
be contented with the good she has; her indulgent husband, her position.
We poor officers' wives cannot compete with her in grandeur. By the way,
talking of officers, you will be glad to hear that my husband expects
his majority. It will be a welcome rise. For, with our little ones and
our expenses, it is rather difficult at times to make both ends meet. We
shall come into money some time from the West Indies; but until then
every pound of additional pay is welcome.

Mrs. Cale told us another item of news; that is, she recounted it amidst
the rest, little thinking what it was to us. That Sir G. C. is married,
and living with his wife at the Grange with Lady C. You have been
keeping the fact back, dear mother; either through not choosing to
mention their names, or out of consideration to Mary. But I can assure
you she was _thankful_ to hear of it; it has removed a little of the
abiding sting from her life. You cannot imagine how unselfish she is:
she looks upon herself as the sole cause of all that occurred. I mean
that she says it was through her going to the Grange. Had she not gone,
the peace of mother and son would never have been disturbed. _I_ think
Lady C. was _selfish_ and _wrong_; that she ought to have allowed Sir G.
to do as he wished. Mary says no; that Lady C.'s comfort and her
lifelong feelings were above every other consideration. She admires Lady
C. more than I do. However, she is truly glad to hear that the marriage
took place. Events have fallen now into their original course, and she
trusts that the bitter episode in which she took part may be gradually
forgotten at the Grange. The day we first heard of his marriage, I went
hastily--and I fear you will say rudely--into Mary's room at night when
she was preparing for rest, having omitted to tell her something I
wished changed in Nelly's studies for the morning. She was on her knees,
and rose up; the tears were literally streaming down her sweet face,
"Oh, Mary, what is the matter?" I asked, in dismay. "I was only praying
for God to bless them," she answered simply. Is she not a good,
unselfish girl?

I could fill pages with her praises. What she has been to my children,
during these two years she has had them in charge, I can never tell. She
insisted upon being regarded and treated wholly as a governess; but,
as my husband says, no real governess could be half so painstaking,
untiring, and conscientious. She has earned the respect of all Calcutta,
and she shrinks from it as if it were something to be shunned, saying,
"If people did but know!" Nelly, from being the only girl, and perhaps
also because she was the eldest and her papa loved her so, was the
most tiresome, spoiled little animal in the world; and the boys were
boisterous, and I am afraid frightfully impudent to the native
servants: but since Mary took them in hand they are altogether
different, fit to be loved. Richard often says he wishes he could
recompense her.

And now I must bring my letter to a close, or you will be tired. The
children all send love to grandmamma and Aunt Elizabeth: and (it is
Miss Nelly calls out this) to little brother Arthur. Nelly is growing
prettier every day: she is now going on for eleven. Young Richard
promises to be as tall and fine a man as his father. I believe he is
to be sent home next year to the school attached to King's College in
London. Little Allan is more delicate than I like to see him; Bobby, a
frightful Turk; baby, a dear little fellow. Master Allan's godfather,
Eleanor's husband, gave him a handsome present on his last birthday--a
railway train that would "go." He had sent for it from England: I am
sure it never cost less than five pounds; and the naughty child broke
it before the day was out. I felt so vexed; and downright ashamed to
confess it to Eleanor. The Ayah said he broke it for the purpose, "to
see what it was made of;" and, in spite of entreaties to the contrary,
Richard was on the point of whipping him for the mischief, and Allan was
roaring in anticipation, when Mary interposed, and begged to be let deal
with him for it. What she said, or what she did, I don't know, I'm sure
there was no whipping; but Master Allan was in a penitential and subdued
mood for days after it, voluntarily renouncing some pudding that he is
uncommonly fond of, because he had "not been good." Richard says that he
would rather trust his children to Mary, to be made what they ought to
be, than to any one under heaven. Oh, it is grievous--that her life
should have been blighted!

My best love to you and Elizabeth, dearest mother, in which Richard begs
to join; and believe me, your affectionate daughter,

  SUSAN LAYNE.


P.S.--I have never before written openly on these private matters: we
have been content tacitly to ignore them to each other, but somehow my
pen has run on incautiously. Please, therefore, to burn this letter when
you and Elizabeth shall have read it.[1]

     [1] But old Mrs. Layne did not burn the letter: or else it
     would never have found its way into Duffham's collection. She
     was content to put it off from day to day just as people do put
     things off; and it was never done.--J.L.


[_From Miss Mary Layne's Journal, about two years yet later._]

_October 9th._--I quite tremble at the untoward turn things seem to be
taking. To think that a noble gentleman should be casting his thoughts
on _me_! And he _is_ a gentleman, and a noble one also, in spite of that
vain young adjutant, St. George's, slighting remark when Mr. McAlpin
came in last night--"Here's that confounded old warehouseman!" It was
well the major did not hear him. He has to take St. George to task on
occasion, and he would have done it then with a will.

Andrew McAlpin is not an ordinary man. Head of a wealthy house, whose
integrity has never been questioned; himself of unsullied honour, of
handsome presence, of middle age, for surely, in his three-and-fortieth
year, he may be called it--owner of all these solid advantages, he has
actually turned his attentions upon me. Me! Oh, if he did but know!--if
he could but see the humiliation it brings to this already too
humiliated heart.

Has a glamour been cast over his sight--as they say in his own land? Can
he not see how I shrink from people when they notice me by chance more
than is usual? Does he not see how constantly I have tried to shrink
from _him_? If I thought that this had been brought about by any want
of precaution on my part, I should be doubly miserable. When I was
assistant-teacher at school in England, the French governess, poor old
Madame de Visme, confided to me something that she was in the habit
of doing; it was nothing wrong in itself, but totally opposed to the
arbitrary rules laid down, and, if discovered, might have caused her to
be abruptly dismissed. "But suppose it were found out, madame?" I said.
"Ah non, mon enfant," she answered; "je prends mes précautions." Since
then I have often thought of the words: and I say to myself, now as I
write, have I taken precautions--proper ones? I can hardly tell. For one
thing, I was at first, and for some time, so totally unprepared; it
would no more have entered my mind to suppose Mr. McAlpin would think of
paying attention to me, than that the empty-headed Lieutenant St.
George--who boasts that his family is better than anybody's in India,
and intends to wed accordingly if he weds at all--would pay it.

When it first began--and that is so long ago that I can scarcely
remember, nearly a year, though--Mr. McAlpin would talk to me about
the children. I felt proud to answer him, dear little things; and I
knew he liked them, and Allan is his brother's godchild, and Robert is
Eleanor's. I am afraid that is where I was wrong: when he came talking,
evening after evening, I should have been on my guard, and begged Susan
to excuse me from appearing as often as she would. The great evil lies
in my having consented to appear at all in company. For two years after
I came out--oh, more than that; it must have been nearly three--I
resolutely refused to join them when they were not alone. It was
Major Layne's fault that the rule was broken through. One day, when
invitations were out for an evening party, Susan came to me and said
that the major particularly requested I would appear at it. "The fact
is, Mary," she whispered, "there has been some talk at the mess: you are
very much admired--your face, I mean--and some of them began wondering
whether there was any _reason_ for your never appearing in society; and
whether you could really be my sister. Richard was not present--that
goes without saying--the colonel repeated it to him afterwards in a
joking way. But what the major says is this, Mary--that he knows India
and gossiping tongues better than you do, and he desires for all our
sakes, for yours of course especially, that you will now and then show
yourself with us. You are to begin next Tuesday evening. Richard _begs_
you will. And I have been getting you a black net dress, with a little
white lace for the body--you cannot say that's too fine." The words
"for all our sakes" decided it; and I said I would certainly obey
Major Layne. What else could I do?

That was the beginning of it. Though I go out scarcely ever with the
major and Susan, declining invitations on the plea of my duties as
governess, it has certainly grown into a habit with me to spend my
evenings with them when they are at home.

But I never supposed anything like this would come of it. It has always
seemed to me as if the world could see me a little as I see myself, and
not think of me as one eligible to be chosen. As soon as I suspected
that Mr. McAlpin came here for me, I strove to show him as plainly as I
might that he was making a mistake. And now this proves, as it seems to
me, how wrong it was not to tell my sad story to Eleanor, but to let her
think of me as one still worthy. Susan knows how averse I was to its
suppression; but she overruled me, and said Richard thought with her.
Eleanor would have whispered it to her husband, and he might have
whispered to his brother Andrew, and this new perplexity have been
spared. It is not for my own sake I am so sorry, but for his: crosses
and vexations are only my due, and I try to take them patiently; but I
grow hot with shame every time I think how he is deceived. Oh, if he
would only speak out, and end it! that I might thank him and tell him it
is impossible: I should like to say unfit. Susan might give him a hint;
but when I urge her to do so, she laughs at me and asks, How can she,
until he has spoken?

_October 25th._--It has come at last. Mr. McAlpin, one of the best men
amidst the honourable men of the world, has asked me to become his wife.
Whilst I was trying to answer him, I burst into tears. We were quite
alone. "Why do you weep?" he asked, and I answered that I thought it was
because of my gratitude to him for his kindness, and because I was so
unworthy of it. It was perhaps a hazardous thing to say--but I was
altogether confused. I must have explained myself badly, for he could
not or would not understand my refusal; he said he certainly should
decline to take it: I must consider it well--for a week--or a month--as
long as I liked, provided I said "Yes" at last. When the crying was
over, I felt myself again; and I told him, just as quietly and calmly as
I could speak, that I should never marry; never. He asked _why_, and as
I was hesitating what reason to give, and praying to be helped to speak
right in the emergency, we were interrupted.

Oh, if I could only tell him the naked truth, as I here write it!
That the only one living man it would be possible for me to marry is
separated from me wider than seas can part. The barrier was thrown up
between us years ago, never to be overstepped by either of us: whilst at
the same time it shut me out from my kind. For this reason I can never
marry, and never shall marry, so long as the world, for me, endures.

_November 19th._--This is becoming painful. Mr. McAlpin will not give
me up. He is all consideration and respect, he is not obtrusive, but
yet--he will not give me up. There can exist no good reason why I should
not have him, he says; and he is willing to wait for months and years.
Eleanor comes in with her remonstrances: "Whatever possesses you, Mary?
You must be out of your mind, child, to refuse Andrew McAlpin. For
goodness' sake, get a little common sense into your poor crotchety
head." Allan McAlpin, in his half-earnest, half-joking way, says to me,
"Miss Layne, _I_ make a perfect husband; ask Eleanor if I don't; and I
know Andrew will make a better." It is so difficult for me to parry
these attacks. The children even have taken it up: and Richard to-day in
the schoolroom called me Mrs. McAlpin. Susan has tried to shield me
throughout. The major says not a word one way or the other.

A curious idea has come across me once or twice lately--that it might be
almost better to give Mr. McAlpin a hint of the truth. Of course it is
_but_ an idea; one that can never be carried out; but I know that he
would be true as steel. I cannot bear for him to think me ungrateful:
and he must consider me both ungrateful and capricious. I respect him
and like him very much, and he sees this: if I were at liberty as others
are, I would gladly marry him: the great puzzle is, how to make him
understand that it is not possible. I suppose the consciousness of my
secret, which never leaves me, renders it more difficult for me to be
decisive than it would be if I possessed none. Not the least painful
part of it all is, that he brings me handsome presents, and will not
take them back again. He is nearly old enough to be my father, he says,
and so I must consider them as given to me in that light. How shall I
stop it?--how convince him?

_November 29th._--Well, I have done it. Last night there was a grand
dinner at the mess; some strangers were to join it on invitation; Susan
went to spend a quiet hour with the colonel's wife, and Mr. McAlpin came
in, and found me alone. What possessed me I cannot tell: but I began to
tremble all over. He asked what was the matter, and I took courage to
say that I always now felt distressed to see him come in, knowing he
came for my sake, and that I could not respond to him as he wished. We
had never had so serious a conversation as the one that ensued. He
begged me to at least tell him what the barrier was, and where it lay:
I thought he almost hinted that it was due to him. "There is some
particular barrier, I feel sure," he said, "although Eleanor tells me
there is none." And then I took some more courage, inwardly hoping to be
helped to speak for the best, and answered Yes, there _was_ a barrier;
one that could never be surmounted; and that I had tried to make him see
this all along. I told him how truly I esteemed him; how little I felt
in my own eyes at being so undeserving of the opinion of a good man; I
said I should thank him for it in my heart for ever. Did the barrier lie
in my loving another? he asked, and I hesitated there. I _had_ loved
another, I said: it was before I came out, and the circumstances
attending it were very painful; indeed, it was a painful story
altogether. It had blighted my life; it had isolated me from the world;
it entirely prevented me from ever thinking of another. I do believe he
gathered from my agitation something of the truth, for he was so kind
and gentle. Eleanor knew nothing of it, I said; Major and Mrs. Layne
had thought there was no need to tell her, and, of course, he would
understand that I was speaking to him in confidence. Yes, he answered,
in confidence that I should not find misplaced. I felt happier and
more at ease with him than I had ever done, for now I knew that
misapprehension was over; and we talked together on other matters
peacefully, until Major Layne entered and brought a shock with him.

A shock for me. One of the guests at the mess came with him: a naval
officer in his uniform: a big man of fifty or sixty years, with a stern
countenance and a cloud of untidy white hair. "Where's Susan?" cried the
major: "out? Come here, then, Mary: you must be hostess." And before I
knew what or who it was, I had been introduced to Admiral Chavasse. My
head was in a whirl, my eyes were swimming: I had not heard the name
spoken openly for years. Major Layne little thought he was related to
G. C.: Mr. McAlpin had no idea that this fine naval officer, Parker
Chavasse, could be cousin to one of whom I had been speaking covertly,
but had not named. The admiral is on cruise, has touched at Calcutta,
and his vessel is lying in Diamond Harbour.

_November 30th._--Oh dear! oh dear! That I should be the recipient of so
much goodness, and not be able to appreciate it!

A message came to the schoolroom this morning; Miss Layne was wanted
downstairs. It was Susan who sent, but I found Mr. McAlpin alone. He had
been holding a confidential interview with Susan: and Susan, hearing how
much I had said to him last night, confided to him all. Oh, and he was
willing to take me still; to take me as I am! I fell down at his feet
sobbing when I told him that it could not be.


[_Private Note from Major Layne's Wife to her Mother at Church Dykely._]

Just half-a-dozen lines, my dear mother, for your eye alone: I enclose
them in my ordinary letter, meant for the world in general as well as
you. Mr. McAlpin knows _all_; but he was still anxious to make her his
wife. He thinks her the best and truest girl, excellent among women.
Praise from him _is_ praise. It was, I am certain, a most affecting
interview; but they were alone. Mary's refusal--an absolute one--was
dictated by two motives. The one is that the old feelings hold still so
much sway in her heart (and, she says, always will) as to render the
idea of a union with any one else absolutely distasteful. The other
motive was consideration for Andrew McAlpin. "I put it to you what it
would be," she said to him, "if at any time after our marriage, whether
following closely upon it, or in years to come, this story of mine
should transpire? I should _die_ with shame, with grief for your sake:
and there could be no remedy. No, no; never will I subject you, or any
one else, to that frightful chance."

And, mother, she is right. In spite of Mr. McAlpin's present
disappointment, I know he thinks her so. It has but increased his
admiration for her. He said to me, "Henceforth I shall look upon her
as a dear younger sister, and give her still my heart's best love and
reverence."

And this is the private history of the affair: I thought I ought to
disclose it to you. Richard, while thinking she has done right, says it
is altogether an awful pity (he means inclusive of the past), for she's
a trump of a girl. And so she is.

  Ever yours, dear mother,
  SUSAN LAYNE.


+Part the Third.+

It was a lovely place, that homestead of Chavasse Grange, as seen in the
freshness of the summer's morning: and my Lady Chavasse, looking from
her window as she dressed, might be thinking so. The green lawn, its
dew-drops sparkling in the sun, was dotted with beds of many coloured
flowers; the thrush and blackbird were singing in the surrounding trees;
the far-off landscape, stretched around in the distance, was beautiful
for the eye to rest upon.

Nearly hidden by great clusters of roses, some of which he was plucking,
and talking at the same time to the head-gardener who stood by, was a
good-looking gentleman of some five-and-twenty years. His light morning
coat was flung back from the snowy white waistcoat, across which a gold
chain passed, its seal drooping; a blue necktie, just as blue as his
blue eyes, was carelessly tied round his neck. He might have been
known for a Chavasse by those self-same eyes, for they had been his
father's--Sir Peter's--before him.

"About those geraniums that you have put out, Markham," he was saying.
"How came you to do it? Lady Chavasse is very angry; she wanted them
kept in the pots."

"Well, Sir Geoffry, I only obeyed orders," replied the gardener--who was
new to the place. "Lady Rachel told me to do it."

"Lady Rachel did? Oh, very well. Lady Chavasse did not understand that,
I suppose."

Up went Lady Chavasse's window at this juncture. "Geoffry."

Sir Geoffry stepped out from the roses, and smiled as he answered her.

"Ask Markham about the geraniums, Geoffry--how he could dare to do such
a thing without orders."

"Mother, Rachel bade him do it. Of course she did not know that you
wished it not done."

"Oh," curtly replied Lady Chavasse. And she shut down the window again.

By this it will be seen that the wishes of the two ladies at Chavasse
Grange sometimes clashed. Lady Rachel, though perhaps regarded as second
in authority, was fond of having her own way, and took it when she
could. Lady Chavasse made a show of deferring to her generally; but
she had reigned queen so long that she found it irksome, not to say
humiliating, to yield the smallest point to her son's wife.

They were sitting down to breakfast when Sir Geoffry went in, in the
room that had once been the garden-parlour. It had been re-embellished
since those days, and made the breakfast-room. Lady Chavasse was but in
her forty-fourth year; a young woman, so to say, beautiful still, and
excellently-well preserved. She wore a handsome dress of green muslin,
with a dainty little cap of lace on her rich brown hair. Sir Geoffry's
wife was in white; she looked just the same as when she was Rachel
Derreston; her perfect features pale, and cold, and faultless.

Geoffry Chavasse laid a rose by the side of each as he sat down. _He_
was the only one changed; changed since the light-hearted days before
that episode of sin and care came to the Grange. It had soon passed away
again; but somehow it had left its mark on him. His face seemed to have
acquired a weary sort of look; and the fair bright hair was getting
somewhat thin upon the temples. Sir Geoffry was in Parliament; but he
had now paired off for the short remainder of the session. Sometimes
they were all in London: sometimes Sir Geoffry would be there alone; or
only with his wife: the Grange was their chief and usual home.

They began talking of their plans for the day. Sir Geoffry had to ride
over some portion of the estate; Lady Rachel thought she must write some
letters; Lady Chavasse, who said her head ached, intended to go out in
her new carriage.

It was ordered to the door in the course of the morning: this pretty toy
carriage, which had been a recent present from Geoffry to his mother.
Low and lightly built, it was something like a basket-chaise, but much
more elegant, and the boy-groom, in his natty postillion's dress, sat
the horse. Lady Chavasse, a light shawl thrown over her green muslin,
and a white bonnet on, stood admiring the turn-out, her maid, who had
come out with the parasol, by her side.

"Wilkins," said her ladyship, suddenly, "run and ask Lady Rachel whether
she is sure she would not like to go with me?"

The woman went and returned. "Lady Rachel's love and thanks, my lady,
but she would prefer to get her letters done."

So Lady Chavasse went alone, taking the road to Church Dykely. The
hedges were blooming with wild roses and woodbine, the sweet scent of
the hay filled the air, the sky was blue and cloudless. But the headache
was making itself sensibly felt; and my lady, remembering that she had
often had these headaches lately, began wondering whether Duffham the
surgeon could give her anything to cure them.

"Giles," she cried, leaning forward. And the groom turned and touched
his cap.

"My lady?"

"To Mr. Duffham's."

So in the middle of the village, at Mr. Duffham's door, Giles pulled up.
The surgeon, seeing who it was, came out, and handed his visitor
indoors.

Lady Chavasse had not enjoyed a gossip with Mr. Duffham since before her
last absence from home. She rather liked one in her coldly condescending
way. And she stayed with him in the surgery while he made up some
medicine for her, and told her all the village news. Then she began
talking about her daughter-in-law.

"Lady Rachel seems well, but there is a little fractiousness perceptible
now and then; and I fancy that, with some people, it denotes a state of
not perfect health. There are _no_ children, Mr. Duffham, you see. There
have been no signs of any."

"Time enough for that, my lady."

"Well--they have been married for--let me recollect--nearly fourteen
months. I do hope there will be children! I am anxious that there should
be."

The surgeon happened to meet her eyes as she spoke, and read the anxiety
seated in them.

"You see--if there were none, and anything happened to Sir Geoffry, it
would be the case of the old days--my case over again. Had my child
proved to be a girl, the Grange would have gone from us. You do not
remember that; you were not here; but your predecessor, Mr. Layne, knew
all about it."

Perhaps it was the first time for some three or more years past that
Lady Chavasse had voluntarily mentioned the name of Layne to the
surgeon. It might have been a slip of the tongue now.

"But nothing is likely to happen to Sir Geoffry, Lady Chavasse,"
observed Duffham, after an imperceptible pause. "He is young and
healthy."

"I know all that. Only it would be pleasant to feel we were on the safe
side--that there was a son to succeed. If anything did happen to him,
and he left no son, the Grange would pass away from us. I cannot help
looking to contingencies: it has been my way to do so all my life."

"Well, Lady Chavasse, I sincerely hope the son will come. Sir Geoffry is
anxious on the point, I dare say."

"He makes no sign of being so. Sir Geoffry seems to me to have grown a
little indifferent in manner of late, as to general interests. Yesterday
afternoon we were talking about making some improvements at the Grange,
he and I; Lady Rachel was indoors at the piano. I remarked that it would
cost a good deal of money, and the question was, whether it would be
worth while to do it. 'My successor would think it so, no doubt,' cried
Sir Geoffry. 'I hope that will never be Parker Chavasse; I should not
like him to reign here,' I said hastily. 'If it is, mother, I shall not
be alive to witness it,' was his unemotional answer."

"Lady Chavasse, considering the difference between the admiral's age and
Sir Geoffry's, I should say there are thirty chances against it," was
Duffham's reply, as he began to roll up the bottle of mixture in white
paper.

While he was doing this, a clapping of tiny hands attracted Lady
Chavasse's attention to the window, which stood open. A little boy had
run out of Mrs. Layne's door opposite, and stood on the pavement in
admiration of the carriage, which the groom was driving slowly about. It
was a pretty child of some three years old, or thereabouts, in a brown
holland pinafore strapped round the waist, his little arms and legs and
neck bare, and his light hair curling.

"Oh, g'andma, look! G'andma, come and look!" he cried--and the words
were wafted distinctly to Lady Chavasse.

"Who _is_ that child, Mr. Duffham? I have seen him sometimes before.
Stay, though, I remember--I think I have heard. He belongs to that
daughter of Mr. Layne's who married a soldier of the same name. A
lieutenant, or some grade of that kind, was he not?"

"Lieutenant Layne then: Captain Layne now," carelessly replied Mr.
Duffham. "Hopes to get his majority in time, no doubt."

"Oh, indeed. I sometimes wonder how people devoid of family connections
manage to obtain rapid promotion. The grandmother takes care of the
child, I suppose. Quite a charge for her."

Mr. Duffham, standing now by her side, glanced at Lady Chavasse. Her
countenance was open, unembarrassed: there was no sign of ulterior
thought upon it. Evidently a certain event of the past was not just then
in her remembrance.

"How is the old lady?" she asked.

"Middling. She breaks fast. I doubt, though, if one of her daughters
will not go before her."

Lady Chavasse turned quickly at the words.

"I speak of the one who is with her--Miss Elizabeth Layne," continued
Mr. Duffham, busily rolling up the bottle. "Her health is failing: I
think seriously; though she may linger for some time yet."

There was a pause. Lady Chavasse looked hard at the white knobs on
the drug-drawers. But that she began to speak, old Duffham might have
thought she was counting how many there were of them.

"The other one--Miss Mary Layne--is she still in that situation in
India? A governess, or something of the kind, we heard she went out to
be."

"Governess to Captain Layne's children. Oh yes, she's there. And likely
to be, the people over the way seem to say. Captain and Mrs. Layne
consider that they have a treasure in her."

"Oh, I make no doubt she would do her duty. Thank you; never mind
sealing it. I will be sure to attend to your directions, Mr. Duffham."

She swept out to the carriage, which had now drawn up, and stepped
over the low step into it. The surgeon put the bottle by her side, and
saluted her as she drove away. Across the road trotted the little fellow
in the pinafore.

"Did oo see dat booful tarriage, Mis'er Duffham? I'd like to 'ide in
it."

"You would, would you, Master Arthur," returned the surgeon, hoisting
the child for a moment on his shoulder, and then setting him on his feet
again, as Miss Layne appeared at the door. "Be off back: there's Aunt
Elizabeth looking angry. It's against the law, you know, sir, to run out
beyond the house."

And the little lad ran over at once, obediently.

Nearly three years back--not quite so much by two or three
months--Church Dykely was gratified by the intelligence that Captain
Layne's wife--then sojourning in Europe--was coming on a short visit
to her mother with her three or four weeks' old baby. Church Dykely
welcomed the news, for it was a sort of break to the monotonous,
jog-trot village life, and warmly received Mrs. Richard Layne and the
child on their arrival. The infant was born in France, where Mrs.
Richard Layne had been staying with one of her sisters--Mary--and
whence she had now come direct to her mother's; Mary having gone on to
Liverpool to join Mrs. Richard Layne's other children. The baby--made
much of by the neighbours--was to remain with old Mrs. Layne: Mrs.
Richard Layne did not deem it well to take so young a child to India, as
he seemed rather delicate. Church Dykely said how generous it was of her
to sacrifice her motherly feelings for the baby's good--but the Laynes
had always been unselfish. She departed, leaving the child. And Baby
Arthur, as all the place called him, lived and thrived, and was now
grown as fine a little fellow for his age as might be, with a generous
spirit and open heart. My Lady Chavasse (having temporarily forgotten
it when speaking with Mr. Duffham) had heard all about the child's
parentage just as the village had--that he was the son of Captain
Richard Layne and his wife Susan. Chavasse Grange generally understood
the same, including Sir Geoffry. There was no intercourse whatever
between the Layne family and the Grange; there had not been any since
Miss Mary Layne quitted it. My Lady Chavasse was in the habit of turning
away her eyes when she passed Mrs. Layne's house: and in good truth,
though perhaps her conscience reminded her of it at these moments, she
had three-parts forgotten the unpleasant episode of the past.

And the little boy grew and thrived: and became as much a feature
in Church Dykely as other features were--say the bridge over the
mill-stream, or the butcher's wife--and was no more thought of, in the
matter of speculation, than they were.

Miss Elizabeth Layne caught hold of the young truant's hand with a jerk
and a reprimand, telling him he would be run over some day. She had
occasion to tell it him rather often, for he was of a fearless nature.
Mr. Duffham nodded across the road to Miss Elizabeth.

"Are you better to-day?" he called out. People don't stand on ceremony
in these rural places.

"Not much, thank you," came the answer.

For Miss Elizabeth Layne had been anything but strong lately: her
symptoms being very like those that herald consumption.

                 *       *       *       *       *

The time rolled on, bringing its changes. You have already seen it
rolling on in Calcutta, for in this, the third part, we have had to go
back a year or two.

Elizabeth Layne died. Mrs. Layne grew very feeble, and it was thought
and said by every one that one of her daughters ought to be residing
with her. There was only one left unmarried--Mary. Mary received news in
India of this state of things at home, together with a summons from her
mother. Not at all a peremptory summons. Mrs. Layne wrote a few shaky
lines, praying her to come "if she would not mind returning to the
place:" if she did mind it, why, she, the mother, must die alone as she
best could. There was a short struggle in Mary Layne's heart; a quick,
sharp battle, and she gave in. Her duty to her mother lay before aught
else in God's sight; and she would yield to it. As soon as preparations
for her voyage could be made, she embarked for England.

It was autumn when she got home, and Church Dykely received her gladly.
Mary Layne had always been a favourite in the place, from the time her
father, the good-hearted, hard-working surgeon, had fondly shown her,
his youngest and fairest child, to the public, a baby of a few days old.
But Church Dykely found her greatly changed. They remembered her as a
blooming girl; she came back to them a grave woman, looking older than
her years, and with a pale sweet countenance that seemed never to have a
smile on it. She was only six-and-twenty yet.

Miss Layne took up her post at once by the side of her ailing mother.
What with attending her and attending to Baby Arthur--whom she took into
training at once, just as she had taken the children in India--she found
her time fully occupied. The boy, when she returned, was turned five.
She went out very rarely; never--except to church, or at dusk--when the
family were at the Grange, for she seemed to have a dread of meeting
them. Church Dykely wondered that Miss Layne did not call at the Grange,
considering that she had been humble companion there before she went
out, or that my lady did not come to see her; but supposed the lapse of
time had caused the acquaintanceship to fall through.

Mary had brought good news from India. Her sister Eleanor, Mrs. Allan
McAlpin, had a little girl, to the great delight of all concerned. Just
when they had given it up as hopeless, the capricious infant arrived.
Major Layne told his wife confidentially that Allan McAlpin was prouder
of that baby than any dog with two tails.

And henceforth this was to be Mary Layne's home, and this her
occupation--caring for her mother, so long as the old lady should be
spared, and gently leading to good the child, Arthur. Mrs. Layne,
lapsing into her dotage, would sit in her favourite place, the parlour
window, open when the weather allowed it, watching people as they
passed. Mary's smooth and bright brown hair might be seen in the
background, her head drooping over the book she was reading to Mrs.
Layne, or over her work when the old lady grew tired of listening, or
over Master Arthur's lessons at the table. Not only lessons to fit
him for this world did Mary teach him; but such as would stand him in
good aid when striving onwards for the next. Twice a day, morning and
evening, would she take the child alone, and talk to him of heaven, and
things pertaining to it. Aunt Elizabeth's lessons had been chiefly on
the score of behaviour: the other sort of instruction had been all
routine, at the best. Mary remedied this, and she had an apt little
scholar. Seated on her knee, his bright blue eyes turned up to her face,
the child would listen and talk, and say he would be a good boy always,
always. The tears wet his eyelashes at her Bible stories: he would put
his little face down on her bosom, and whisper out a sobbing wish that
Jesus would love _him_ as He had loved the little children on earth.
There is no safeguard like this seed sown in childhood: if withheld,
nothing can replace it in after-life.

They grew the best and greatest friends, these two. Whether Mary loved
him, or not, she did not say; she was ever patient and thoughtful with
him, with a kind of grave tenderness. But the child grew to love her
more than he had ever loved any one in his young life. One day, when
he did something wrong and saw how it grieved her, his repentant sobs
nearly choked him. It was very certain that Mary had found the way to
his heart, and might mould him for good or for ill.

The child was a chatterbox. Aunt Elizabeth used to say he ought to have
the tip of his tongue cut off. He seemed never tired of asking about
papa and mamma in India, and Allan and Bobby and the rest, and the
elephants and camels--and Dick the eldest, who was in London, at the
school attached to King's College.

"When will they come over to see us, Aunt Mary?" he questioned one day,
when he was on Mary's knee.

"If grandmamma's pretty well we, will have Dick down at Christmas."

"Is Dick to be a soldier like papa?"

"I think so."

"I shall be a soldier too."

There was an involuntary tightening of her hands round him--as if she
would guard him from _that_.

"I hope not, Arthur. One soldier in a family's enough: and that is to
be Richard."

"Is papa a very big, big brave man, with a flashing sword?"

"Major Layne is tall and very brave. He wears his sword sometimes."

"Oh, Aunt Mary, I should like to be a soldier and have a sword! When I
can write well enough I'll write a letter to papa to ask him. I'd like
to ride on the elephants."

"They are not as good to ride as horses."

"Is mamma as pretty as you?" demanded Master Arthur, after a pause.

"Prettier. I am pale and--" sad, she was going to say, but put another
word--"quiet."

"When you go back to India, Aunt Mary, shall you take me? I should like
to sail in the great ship."

"Arthur dear, I do not think I shall go back."

And so Miss Mary Layne--she was Miss Layne now--stayed on. Church Dykely
would see a slender, grave young lady, dressed generally in black silk,
whose sweet face seemed to have too careworn an expression for her
years. But if her countenance was worn and weary, her heart was not.
That seemed full of love and charity for all; of gentle compassion for
any wrong-doer, of sympathy for the sick and suffering. She grew to be
revered, and valued, and respected as few had ever been in Church
Dykely: certainly as none had, so young as she was. Baby Arthur,
clacking his whip as he went through the streets on his walks by the
nurse Betsy's side, his chattering tongue never still; now running into
the blacksmith's shed to watch the sparks; now perching himself on the
top of the village stocks; and now frightening Betsy out of her senses
by attempting to leap the brook--in spite of these outdoor attractions,
Baby Arthur was ever ready to run home to Aunt Mary, as though she were
his best treasure.

When Miss Layne had been about six months at her mother's, a piece of
munificent good fortune befel her--as conveyed to her in official and
unofficial communications from India. Andrew McAlpin--the head of the
great McAlpin house in Calcutta, who had respected Mary Layne above all
women, and had wished to marry her, as may be remembered--Andrew McAlpin
was dead, and had left some of his accumulated wealth to Mary. It would
amount to six hundred a-year, and was bequeathed to her absolutely: at
her own disposal to will away when she in turn should die. In addition
to this, he directed that the sum of one thousand pounds should be
paid to her at once. He also left a thousand pounds to Mrs. Richard
Layne--but that does not concern us. This good man's death brought great
grief to Mary. It had been the result of an accident: he lay ill only a
few weeks. As to the fortune--well, of course that was welcome, for Mary
had been casting many an anxious thought to the future on sundry scores,
and what little money she had been able to put by, out of the salary as
governess at Major Layne's, was now nearly exhausted. She thought she
knew why Mr. McAlpin had thus generously remembered her: and it was an
additional proof of the thoughtful goodness which had ever characterized
his life. Oh, if she could only have thanked him! if she had only known
it before he died! He had been in the habit of corresponding with her
since her return to Europe, for she and he had remained firm friends,
but the thought of ever benefiting by him in this way had never entered
her head. As how should it?--seeing that he was a strong man, and only
in the prime of life. She mourned his loss: she thought she could best
have spared any other friend; but all the regrets in the world would not
bring him back to life. He was gone. And Allan McAlpin was now sole head
of that wealthy house, besides inheriting a vast private fortune from
his brother. Eleanor McAlpin, once Eleanor Layne, might well wish for
more children amidst all her riches.

The first thing that Mary Layne did with some of this thousand
pounds--which had been conveyed to her simultaneously with the tidings
of the death--was to convey her mother to the seaside for a change,
together with Baby Arthur and the nurse, Betsy. Before quitting home
she held one or two interviews with James Spriggings, the house agent,
builder, and decorator, and left certain orders with him. On their
return, old Mrs. Layne did not know her house. It had been put into
substantial repair inside and out, and was now one of the prettiest, not
to say handsomest, in the village. All the old carpets were replaced by
handsome new ones, and a great deal of the furniture was new. Pillars
had been added to the rather small door, giving it an imposing
appearance, iron outside railings had taken the place of the old ones.
Mrs. Layne, I say, did not know her house again.

"My dear, why have you done it?" cried the old lady, looking about her
in amazement. "Is it not a waste of money?"

"I think not, mother," was the answer. "Most likely this will be my home
for life. Perhaps Arthur's home after me. At least it will be his until
he shall be of an age to go out in the world."

Mrs. Layne said no more. She had grown of late very indifferent to
outward things. Aged people do get so, and Mr. Duffham said her system
was breaking up. The seaside air had done her good; they had gone to it
in May, and came back in August. Mary added a third servant to the
household, and things went on as before in their quiet routine.

One afternoon in September, when they had been at home about a month,
Mary went out, and took Arthur. She was going to see a poor cottager who
had nursed herself, Mary, when she was a child, and who had recently
lost her husband. When they came to the gates of Chavasse Grange, past
which their road lay, Master Arthur made a dead standstill, and wholly
declined to proceed. The child was in a black velvet tunic, the tips of
his white drawers just discernible beneath it, and his legs bare, down
to the white socks: boys of his age were dressed so then. As bonny a lad
for his six years as could be seen anywhere, with a noble, fearless
bearing. Mary wore her usual black silk, a rich one too, with a little
crape on it; the mourning for Mr. McAlpin. Arthur was staring over the
way through the open gates of the Grange.

"I want to go in and see the peacock."

"Go in and see the peacock!" exclaimed Miss Layne, rather taken aback by
the demand. "What can you mean, Arthur? The peacock is up by the house."

"I know it is. We can go up there and see it, Aunt Mary."

"Indeed we cannot, Arthur. I never heard of such a thing."

"Betsy lets me go."

The confession involved all sorts of thoughts, and a flush crossed Miss
Layne's delicate face. The family were not at the Grange, as she knew:
they had gone up to London in January, when Parliament met, and had
never returned since: nevertheless she did not like to hear of this
intrusion into the grounds of the nurse and child. The peacock had been
a recent acquisition; or, as Arthur expressed it, had just "come to live
there." When he had talked of it at home, Mary supposed he had seen it
on the slopes in passing. These green slopes, dotted here and there with
shrubs and flowers, came down to the boundary wall that skirted the
highway. The avenue through the gates wound round abruptly, hiding
itself beyond the lodge.

"Come, my dear. It is already late."

"But, Aunt Mary, you _must_ see the peacock. He has got the most
splendid tail. Sometimes he drags it behind him on the grass, and
sometimes it's all spread out in a beautiful circle, like that fan you
brought home from India. Do come."

Miss Layne did not reply for the moment. She was inwardly debating upon
what plea she could forbid the child's ever going in again to see the
peacock: the interdiction would sound most arbitrary if she gave none.
All at once, as if by magic, the peacock appeared in view, strutting
down the slopes, its proud tail, in all its glory, spread out in the
rays of the declining sun.

It was too much for Arthur. With a shout of delight he leaped off the
low foot-path, flew across the road, and in at the gates. In vain Mary
called: in his glad excitement he did not so much as hear her.

There ensued a noise as of the fleet foot of a horse, and then a crash,
a man's shout, and a child's cry. What harm had been done? In dire fear
Mary Layne ran to see, her legs trembling beneath her.

Just at the sharp turn beyond the lodge, a group stood: Sir Geoffry
Chavasse had Arthur in his arms; his horse, from which he had flung
himself, being held and soothed by a mounted groom. The lodge children
also had come running out to look. She understood it in a moment: Sir
Geoffry must have been riding quickly down from the house, his groom
behind him, when the unfortunate little intruder encountered him just at
the turn, and there was no possibility of pulling up in time. In fact,
the boy had run absolutely on to the horse's legs.

She stood, white, and faint, and sick against the wall of the lodge: not
daring to look into the accident--for Mary Layne was but a true woman,
timid and sensitive; as little daring to encounter Sir Geoffry Chavasse,
whom she had not been close to but for a few months short of seven
years. That it should have occurred!--that this untoward thing should
have occurred!

"I wonder whose child it is?" she heard Sir Geoffry say--and the
well-remembered tones came home to her with a heart-thrill. "Poor
little fellow! could it have been my fault, or his? Dovey"--to the
groom--"ride on at once and get Mr. Duffham here. Never mind my horse;
he's all right now. You can lead him up to the house, Bill, my lad!"

The groom touched his hat, and rode past Mary on his errand. Sir Geoffry
was already carrying the child to the Grange; Bill, the eldest of the
lodge children, following with the horse. All in a minute, a wailing cry
burst from Arthur.

"Aunt Mary! Aunt Mary! Oh, please let her come! I want Aunt Mary."

And then it struck Sir Geoffry Chavasse that a gentleman's child, such
as this one by his appearance evidently was, would not have been out
without an attendant. He turned round, and saw a lady in black standing
by the lodge. The wailing cry began again.

"Aunt Mary! I want Aunt Mary."

There was no help for it. She came on with her agitated face, from which
every drop of blood had faded. Sir Geoffry, occupied with the child, did
not notice her much.

"I am so grieved," he began; "I trust the injury will be found not to be
very serious. My horse----"

He had lifted his eyes then, and knew her instantly. His own face turned
crimson; the words he had been about to say died unspoken on his lips.
For a moment they looked in each other's faces, and might have seen, had
the time been one of less agitation, how markedly sorrow had left its
traces there. The next, they remembered the present time, and what was
due from them.

"I beg your pardon: Miss Layne, I think?" said Sir Geoffry, contriving
to release one hand and raise his hat.

"Yes, sir," she answered, and bowed in return.

He sat down on the bank for a moment to obtain a better hold of the
child. Blood was dripping from one of the little velvet sleeves. Sir
Geoffry, carrying him as gently as was possible, made all haste to the
house. The window of what had been the garden-parlour stood open, and he
took him into it at once. Ah, how they both remembered it. It had been
refurnished and embellished now: but the room was the room still. Sir
Geoffry had returned home that morning. His wife and Lady Chavasse were
not expected for a day or two. Scarcely any servants were as yet in the
house; but the woman who had been left in charge, Hester Picker, came in
with warm water. She curtsied to Miss Layne.

"Dear little fellow!" she exclaimed, her tongue ready as of old. "How
did it happen, sir?"

"My horse knocked him down," replied Sir Geoffry. "Get me some linen,
Picker."

The boy lay on the sofa where he had been put, his hat off, and his
pretty light brown hair falling from his face, pale now. Apparently
there was no injury except to the arm. Sir Geoffry looked at Mary.

"I am a bit of a surgeon," he said. "Will you allow me to examine his
hurt as a surgeon would? Duffham cannot be here just yet."

"Oh yes, certainly," she answered.

"I must cut his velvet sleeve up."

And she bowed in acquiescence to that.

Hester Picker came in with the linen. Before commencing to cut the
sleeve, Sir Geoffry touched the arm here and there, as if testing where
the damage might lie. Arthur cried out.

"That hurts you," said Sir Geoffry.

"Not much," answered the little fellow, trying to be brave. "Papa's a
soldier, and I want to be a soldier, so I won't mind a little hurt."

"Your papa's a soldier? Ah, yes, I think I remember," said Sir Geoffry,
turning to Mary. "It is the little son of Captain Layne."

"My papa is Major Layne now," spoke up Arthur, before she could make any
answer. "He and mamma live in India."

"And so you want to be a soldier, the same as papa?" said Sir Geoffry,
testing the basin of water with his finger, which Picker was holding,
and which had been brought in very hot.

"Yes, I do. Aunt Mary there says No, and grandmamma says No; but--oh,
what's that?"

He had caught sight of the blood for the first time, and broke off with
a shuddering cry. Sir Geoffry was ready now, and had the scissors in his
hand. But before using them he spoke to Miss Layne.

"Will you sit here whilst I look at it?" he asked, putting a chair
with its face to the open window, and its back to the sofa. And she
understood the motive and thanked him: and said she would walk about
outside.

By-and-by, when she was tired of waiting, and all seemed very quiet, she
looked in. Arthur had fainted. Sir Geoffry was bathing his forehead with
eau-de-Cologne; Picker had run for something in a tumbler and wine stood
on the table.

"Was it the pain?--did it hurt him very badly?" asked Mary, supposing
that the arm had been bathed and perhaps dressed.

"I have not done anything to it; I preferred to leave it for Duffham,"
said Sir Geoffry--and at the same moment she caught sight of the velvet
sleeve laid open, and something lying on it that looked like a mass of
linen. Mary turned even whiter than the child.

"Do not be alarmed," said Sir Geoffry. "Your little nephew is only faint
from the loss of blood. Drink this," he added, bringing her a glass of
wine.

But she would not take it. As Sir Geoffry was putting it on the table,
Arthur began to revive. Young children are elastic--ill one minute, well
the next; and he began to talk again.

"Aunt Mary, are you there?"

She moved to the sofa, and took his uninjured hand.

"We must not tell grandmamma, Aunt Mary. It would frighten her."

"Bless his dear little thoughtful heart!" interjected Hester Picker.
"Here comes something."

The something proved to be a fly, and it brought Mr. Duffham. Before the
groom had reached the village, he overtook this said fly and the surgeon
in it, who was then returning home from another accident. Turning round
at the groom's news--"Some little child had run against Sir Geoffry's
horse, and was hurt"--he came up to the Grange.

When Mr. Duffham saw that it was _this_ child, he felt curiously taken
aback. Up the room and down the room looked he; then at Sir Geoffry,
then at Miss Layne, then at Hester Picker, saying nothing. Last of all
he walked up to the sofa and gazed at the white face lying there.

"Well," said he, "and what's this? And how did it happen?"

"It was the peacock," Arthur answered. "I ran away from Aunt Mary to
look at it, and the horse came."

"The dear innocent!" cried Hester Picker. "No wonder he ran. It's a love
of a peacock."

"Don't you think it was very naughty, young sir, to run from your aunt?"
returned Mr. Duffham.

"Yes, very; because she had told me not to. Aunt Mary, I'll never do it
again."

The two gentlemen and Hester Picker remained in the room; Mary again
left it. The arm was crushed rather badly; and Mr. Duffham knew it would
require care and skill to cure it.

"You must send to Worcester for its best surgeon to help you," said the
baronet, when the dressing was over. "I feel that I am responsible to
Major Layne."

Old Duffham nearly closed his eyelids as he glanced at the speaker. "I
don't think it necessary," he said; "no surgeon can do more than I can.
However, it may be satisfactory to Major Layne that we should be on the
safe side, so I'll send."

When the child was ready, Mary got into the fly, which had waited, and
Mr. Duffham put him to lie on her lap.

"I hope, Miss Layne, I may be allowed to call to-morrow and see how
he gets on," said Sir Geoffry, at the same time. And she did not feel
that it was possible for her to say No. Mr. Duffham mounted beside the
driver; to get a sniff, he said, of the evening air.

"How he is changed! He has suffered as I have," murmured Mary Layne
to herself, as her tears fell on Baby Arthur, asleep now. "I am very
thankful that he has no suspicion."

The child had said, "Don't tell grandmamma;" but to keep it from Mrs.
Layne was simply impossible. With the first stopping of the fly at the
door, out came the old lady; she had been marvelling what had become of
them, and was wanting her tea. Mr. Duffham took her in again, and said a
few words, making light of it, before he lifted out Baby Arthur.

A skilful surgeon was at the house the next day, in conjunction with Mr.
Duffham. The arm and its full use would be saved, he said; its cure
effected; but the child and those about him must have patience, for it
might be rather a long job. Arthur said he should like to write to his
papa in India, and tell him that it was his own fault for running away
from Aunt Mary; he could write letters in big text hand. The surgeon
smiled, and told him he must wait until he could use both arms again.

The doctors had not left the house many minutes when Sir Geoffry
Chavasse called, having walked over from the Grange. Miss Layne sent
her mother to receive him, and disappeared herself. The old lady, her
perceptions a little dulled with time and age, and perhaps also her
memory, felt somewhat impressed and flattered at the visit. To her it
almost seemed the honour that it used to be: that one painful episode of
the past seemed to be as much forgotten at the moment as though it had
never had place. She took Sir Geoffry upstairs.

Arthur was lying close to the window, in the strong light of the fine
morning. It was the first clear view Sir Geoffry had obtained of him.
The garden-parlour at the Grange faced the east, so that the room on the
previous evening, being turned from the setting sun, had been shady at
the best, and the sofa was at the far end of it. As Sir Geoffry gazed at
the child now, the face struck him as being like somebody's; he could
not tell whose. The dark blue eyes especially, turned up in all their
eager brightness to his, seemed quite familiar.

"He says I must not write to papa until I get well," said Arthur, who
had begun to look on Sir Geoffry as an old acquaintance.

"Who does?" asked the baronet.

"The gentleman who came with Mr. Duffham."

"He means the doctor from Worcester, Sir Geoffry," put in old Mrs.
Layne. She was sitting in her easy-chair near, as she had been
previously; her spectacles keeping the place between the leaves of the
closed Bible, which she had again taken on her lap; her withered hands,
in their black lace mittens and frilled white ruffles, were crossed
upon the Book. Every now and then she nodded with incipient sleep.

"I am so very sorry this should have happened," Sir Geoffry said,
turning to Mrs. Layne. "The little fellow was running up to get a look
at the peacock, it seems; and I was riding rather fast. I shall never
ride fast round that corner again."

"But, Sir Geoffry, they tell me that the child ran right against you at
the corner: that it was no fault of yours at all, sir."

"It was my fault, grandmamma," said Arthur. "And, Sir Geoffry, that's
why I wanted to write to papa; I want to tell him so."

"I think I had better write for you," said Sir Geoffry, looking down at
the boy with a smile.

"Will you? Shall you tell him it was my fault?"

"No. I shall tell him it was mine."

"But it was not yours. You must not write what is not true. If Aunt Mary
thought I could tell a story, or write one, oh, I don't know what she'd
do. God hears all we say, you know."

Sir Geoffry smiled--a sad smile--at the earnest words, at the eager look
in the bright eyes. Involuntarily the wish came into his mind that _he_
had a brave, fearless-hearted, right-principled son, such as this boy
evidently was.

"Then I think I had better describe how it happened, and let Major Layne
judge for himself whether it was my fast riding or your fast running
that caused the mischief."

"You'll tell about the peacock? It had its tail out."

"Of course I'll tell about the peacock. I shall say to Major Layne that
his little boy--I don't think I have heard your name," broke off Sir
Geoffry. "What is it?"

"It's Arthur. Papa's is Richard. My big brother's is Richard too; he is
at King's College. Which name do you like best?"

"I think I like Arthur best. It is my own name also."

"Yours is Sir Geoffry."

"And Arthur as well."

But at this juncture old Mrs. Layne, having started up from a nod,
interposed to put a summary stop to the chatter, telling Arthur crossly
that Mr. Duffham and the other doctor had forbid him to talk much. And
then she begged pardon of Sir Geoffry for saying it, but thought the
doctors wished the child to be kept quiet and cool. Sir Geoffry took the
opportunity to say adieu to the little patient.

"May I come to see the peacock when I get well, Sir Geoffry?"

"Certainly. You shall come and look at him for a whole day if grandmamma
will allow you to."

Grandmamma gave no motion or word of assent, but Arthur took it for
granted. "Betsy can bring me if Aunt Mary won't; Betsy's my nurse. I
wish I could have him before that window to look at while I lie here to
get well. I like peacocks and musical boxes better than anything in the
world."

"Musical boxes!" exclaimed Sir Geoffry. "Do you care for them?"

"Oh yes; they are beautiful. Do you know the little lame boy who can't
walk, down Piefinch Cut? His father comes to do grandmamma's garden. Do
you know him, Sir Geoffry? His name's Reuben."

"It's Noah, the gardener's son, sir," put in Mrs. Layne aside to Sir
Geoffry. "He was thrown downstairs when a baby, and has been a cripple
ever since."

But the eager, intelligent eyes were still cast up, waiting for the
answer. "Where _have_ I seen them?" mentally debated Sir Geoffry,
alluding to the eyes.

"I know the name?" he answered.

"Well, Reuben has got a musical box, and it plays three tunes. He is
older than I am: he's ten. One of them is 'The Blue Bells of Scotland.'"

Sir Geoffry nodded and went away. He crossed straight over to Mr.
Duffham's, and found him writing a letter in his surgery.

"I hope the child will do well," said the baronet, when he had shaken
hands. "I have just been to see him. What an intelligent, nice little
fellow it is."

"Oh, he will be all right again in time, Sir Geoffry," was the doctor's
reply, as he began to fold his letter.

"He is a pretty boy, too, very. His eyes are strangely like some one's I
have seen, but for the life of me I cannot tell whose!"

"_Really?_--do you mean it?" cried Mr. Duffham, speaking, as it seemed,
in some surprise.

"Mean what?"

"That you cannot tell."

"Indeed I can't. They puzzled me all the while I was there. Do you know?
Say, if you do."

"They are like your own, Sir Geoffry."

"Like my own!"

"They are your own eyes over again. And yours--as poor Layne used to
say, and as the picture in the Grange dining-room shows us also, for the
matter of that--are Sir Peter's. Sir Peter's, yours, and the child's:
they are all the same."

For a long space of time, as it seemed, the two gentlemen gazed at each
other. Mr. Duffham with a questioning and still surprised look: Sir
Geoffry in a kind of bewildered amazement.

"Duffham! you--you---- Surely it is not _that_ child!"

"Yes, it is."

He backed to a chair and stumbled into it, rather than sat down;
somewhat in the same manner that Mrs. Layne had backed against the
counter nearly seven years before and upset the scales. The old lady
seemed to have aged since quicker than she ought to have done: but her
face then had not been whiter than was Geoffry Chavasse's now.

"Good Heavens!"

The dead silence was only broken by these murmured words that fell from
his lips. Mr. Duffham finished folding his note, and directed it.

"Sir Geoffry, I beg your pardon! I beg it a thousand times. If I had had
the smallest notion that you were ignorant of this, I should never have
spoken."

Sir Geoffry took out his handkerchief and wiped his brow. Some moisture
had gathered there.

"How was I to suspect it?" he asked.

"I never supposed but that you must have known it all along."

"All along from when, Duffham?"

"From--from--well, from the time you first knew that a child was over
there."

Sir Geoffry cast his thoughts back. He could not remember anything about
the child's coming to Church Dykely. In point of fact, the Grange had
been empty at the time.

"I understood that the child was one of Captain and Mrs. Layne's," he
rejoined. "Every one said it; and I never had any other thought. Even
yesterday at the Grange you spoke of him as such, Duffham."

"Of course. Miss Layne was present--and Hester Picker--and the child
himself. I did not speak to deceive you, Sir Geoffry. When you said what
you did to me in coming away, about calling in other advice for the
satisfaction of Major Layne, I thought you were merely keeping up
appearances."

"And it _is_ so, then?"

"Oh dear, yes."

Another pause. Mr. Duffham affixed the stamp to his letter, and put the
paper straight in his note-case. Sir Geoffry suddenly lifted his hand,
as one whom some disagreeable reflection overwhelms.

"To think that I was about to write to Major Layne! To think that I
should have stood there, in the old lady's presence, talking boldly with
the child! She must assume that I have the impudence of Satan."

"Mrs. Layne is past that, Sir Geoffry. Her faculties are dulled:
three-parts dead. _That_ need not trouble you."

The baronet put aside his handkerchief and took up his hat to leave. He
began stroking its nap with his coat-sleeve.

"Does my mother know of this, do you think?"

"I am sure she neither knows nor suspects it. No one does, Sir Geoffry:
the secret has been entirely kept."

"The cost of this illness must be mine, you know, Duffham."

"I think not, Sir Geoffry," was the surgeon's answer. "It would not do,
I fear. There's no need, besides: Miss Layne is rich now."

"Rich! How is she rich?"

And Mr. Duffham had to explain. A wealthy gentleman in India, some
connection of the Laynes, had died and left money to Mary Layne. Six or
seven hundred a year; and plenty of ready means. Sir Geoffry Chavasse
went out, pondering upon the world's changes.

He did not call to see the invalid again; but he bought a beautiful
musical box at Worcester, and sent it in to the child by Duffham. It
played six tunes. The boy had never in his life been so delighted.
He returned his love and thanks to Sir Geoffry; and appended several
inquiries touching the welfare of the peacock.

The first news heard by Lady Chavasse and Lady Rachel on their coming
home, was of the accident caused to Major Layne's little son by Sir
Geoffry's horse. Hester Picker and the other servants were full of it.
It happened to be the day that Sir Geoffry had gone to Worcester after
the box, so he could not join in the narrative. A sweet, beautiful boy,
said Hester to my ladies, and had told them he meant to be a soldier
when he grew up, as brave as his papa. Lady Chavasse, having digested
the news, and taken inward counsel with herself, decided to go and see
him: it would be right and neighbourly, she thought. It might be that
she was wishing to bestow some slight mark of her favour upon the old
lady before death should claim her: and she deemed that the honour of a
call would effect this. In her heart she acknowledged that the Laynes
had behaved admirably in regard to the past; never to have troubled her
or her son by word or deed or letter; and in her heart she felt grateful
for it. Some people might have acted differently.

"I think I will go and see him too," said Lady Rachel.

"No, pray don't," dissented Lady Chavasse, hastily. "You already feel
the fatigue of your journey, Rachel: do not attempt to increase it."

And as Lady Rachel really was fatigued and did not care much about it,
one way or the other, she remained at home.

It was one of Mrs. Layne's worst days--one of those when she
seemed three-parts childish--when Lady Chavasse was shown into the
drawing-room. Mary was there. As she turned to receive her visitor, and
heard the maid's announcement "Lady Chavasse," a great astonishment
inwardly stirred her, but her manner remained quiet and self-possessed.
Just a minute's gaze at each other. Lady Chavasse was the same
good-looking woman as of yore; not changed, not aged by so much as a
day. Mary _was_ changed: the shy, inexperienced girl had grown into the
calm, self-contained woman; the woman who had known sorrow, who had its
marks impressed on her face. She had been pretty once, she was gravely
beautiful now. Perhaps Lady Chavasse had not bargained for seeing _her_;
Mary had certainly never thought thus to meet Lady Chavasse: but here
they were, face to face, and each must make the best of it. As they did;
and with easy courtesy, both being gentlewomen. Lady Chavasse held out
her hand, and Mary put hers into it.

After shaking hands with Mrs. Layne--who was too drowsy properly to
respond, and shut her eyes again--my lady spoke a few pleasant words of
regret for the accident, of her wish to see the little patient, of her
hope that Major and Mrs. Layne might not be allowed to think any care on
Sir Geoffry's part could have averted it. Mary went upstairs with her.
Lady Chavasse could only be struck with the improved appearance of the
house, quite suited now to be the abode of gentle-people; and with its
apparently well-appointed if small household.

The child lay asleep: his nurse, Betsy, sat sewing by his side. The girl
confessed that she had allowed him sometimes to run in and take a look
at the peacock. Lady Chavasse would not have him awakened: she bent and
kissed his cheek lightly: and talked to Mary in a whisper. It was just
as though there had been no break in their acquaintanceship, just as
though no painful episode, in which they were antagonistic actors, had
ever occurred between them.

"I hear you have come into a fortune, Miss Layne," she said, as she
shook hands with Mary again in the little hall before departure. For
Hester Picker had told of this.

"Into a great deal of money," replied Mary.

"I am glad to hear it: _glad_," came the parting response, whispered
emphatically in Mary's ear, and it was accompanied by a pressure of the
fingers.

Mr. Duffham was standing at his door, watching my lady's exit from Mrs.
Layne's house, his eyes lost in wonder. Seeing him, she crossed over,
and went in, Mr. Duffham throwing open the door of his sitting-room. She
began speaking of the accident to Major Layne's little son--what a pity
it was, but that she hoped he would do well. Old Duffham replied that he
hoped so too, and thought he would.

"Mrs. Layne seems to be growing very old," went on Lady Chavasse. "She
was as drowsy as she could be this afternoon, and seemed scarcely to
know me."

"Old people are apt to be sleepy after dinner," returned the doctor.

And then there was a pause. Lady Chavasse (as Duffham's diary expresses
it) seemed to be particularly absent in manner, as if she were thinking
to herself, instead of talking to him. Because he had nothing else to
say, he asked after the health of Lady Rachel. That aroused her at once.

"She is not strong. She is not strong. I am sure of it."

"She does not seem to ail much, that I can see," returned Duffham,
who often had to hear this same thing said of Lady Rachel. "She never
requires medical advice."

"I don't care: she is not strong. There are no children," continued
Lady Chavasse, dropping her voice to a whisper; and a kind of piteous,
imploring expression darkened her eyes.

"No."

"Four years married, going on for five, and no signs of any. No signs
of children, Mr. Duffham."

"I can't help it, my lady," returned Duffham.

"Nobody can help it. But it is an awful misfortune. It is beginning to
be a great trouble in my life. As the weeks and months and years pass
on--the _years_, Mr. Duffham--and bring no hope, my very spirit seems to
fail. 'Hope deferred maketh the heart sick.'"

"True."

"It has been the one great desire of my later years," continued Lady
Chavasse, too much in earnest to be reticent, "and it does not come. I
wonder which is the worst to be borne; some weighty misfortune that
falls and crushes, or a longed-for boon that we watch and pray for in
vain? The want of it, the eager daily strain of disappointment, has
become to me worse than a nightmare."

                 *       *       *       *       *

Little Arthur Layne, attended by Betsy, spent a day at the Grange on his
recovery, invited to meet the peacock. The ladies were very kind to him:
they could but admire his gentle manners, his fearless bearing. Sir
Geoffry played a game at ninepins with him on the lawn--which set of
ninepins had been his own when a child, and had been lying by ever
since. Betsy was told she might carry them home for Master Layne: Sir
Geoffry gave them to him.

After that, the intercourse dropped again, and they became strangers as
before. Except that Lady Chavasse would bow from her carriage if she saw
Mrs. or Miss Layne, and Sir Geoffry raise his hat. The little boy had
more notice: when they met him out, and were walking themselves, they
would, one and all, stop and speak to him.

So this episode of the accident seemed to fade into the past, as other
things had faded: and the time went on.


+Part the fourth.+

Autumn leaves were strewing the ground, autumn skies were overhead. A
ray of the sun came slanting into the library, passing right across the
face of Sir Geoffry Chavasse. The face had an older expression on it
than his thirty years would justify. It looked worn and weary, and the
bright hair, with its golden tinge, was less carefully arranged than it
used to be, as if exertion were becoming a burden, or that vanity no
longer troubled him; and his frame was almost painfully thin; and a low
hacking cough took him at intervals. It might have been thought that Sir
Geoffry was a little out of health, and wanted a change. Lady Chavasse,
his mother, had begun to admit a long-repressed doubt whether any change
would benefit him.

A common desk of stained walnut-wood was open on the table before
him: he had been reading over and putting straight some papers it
contained--notes and diaries, and so forth. Two or three of these he
tore across and threw into the fire. Out of a bit of tissue paper,
he took a curl of bright brown hair, recalling the day and hour when
he had surreptitiously cut it off, and refused to give it up again
to its blushing owner. Recalling also the happy feelings of that
time--surreptitiously still, as might be said, for what business had he
with them now? Holding the hair to his lips for a brief interval, he
folded it up again, and took out another bit of paper. This contained a
lady's ring of chased gold set with a beautiful and costly emerald.
In those bygone years he had bought the ring, thinking to give it in
payment of the stolen hair; but the young lady in her shyness had
refused so valuable a present. Sir Geoffry held the ring so that its
brightness glittered in the sun, and then wrapped it up again. Next
he unfolded a diary, kept at that past period, and for a short time
afterwards: then it was abruptly broken off, and had never since been
written in. He smiled to himself as he read a page here and there--but
the smile was full of sadness.

Lady Chavasse came into the room rather abruptly: Sir Geoffry shut
up the diary, and prepared to close and lock the desk. There was a
disturbed, restless, anxious look on my lady's face: there was a far
more anxious and bitter pain ever making havoc with her heart.

"Why, Geoffry! have you got out _that_ old desk?"

Sir Geoffry smiled as he carried it to its obscure place in a dark
corner of the library. When he was about twelve years old, and they were
passing through London, he went to the Lowther Arcade and bought this
desk, for which he had been saving up his shillings.

"I don't believe any lad ever had so valuable a prize as I thought I had
purchased in that desk, mother," was his laughing remark.

"I dare say it has a great deal of old rubbish in it," said Lady
Chavasse, slightingly.

"Not much else--for all the good it can ever be. I was only glancing
over the rubbish--foolish mementoes of foolish days. These days are
weary; and I hardly know how to make their hours fly."

Lady Chavasse sighed at the words. He used to go shooting in the
autumn--fishing--hunting once in a way, in the later season: he had not
strength for these sports now.

Opening the desk he commonly used, a very handsome one that had been
Lady Chavasse's present to him, he took a small book from it and put it
into his breast-pocket. Lady Chavasse, watching all his movements, as
she had grown accustomed to do, saw and knew what the book was--a Bible.
Perhaps nothing had struck so much on my lady's fears as the habit he
had fallen into of often reading the Bible. She had come upon him doing
it in all kinds of odd places. Out amidst the rocks at the seaside where
they had recently been staying--and should have stayed longer but that
he grew tired and wanted to come home; out in the seats of this garden,
amidst the roses, or where the roses had him with this small Bible. He
always slipped it away when she or any one else approached: but the
habit was casting on her spirit a very ominous shadow. It seemed to show
her that he knew he must be drawing near to the world that the Bible
tells of, and was making ready for his journey. How her heart ached,
ached always, Lady Chavasse would not have liked to avow.

"Where's Rachel?" he asked.

"On her sofa, upstairs."

Sir Geoffry stirred the fire mechanically, his thoughts elsewhere--just
as he had stirred it in a memorable interview of the days gone by.
Unconsciously they had taken up the same position as on that unhappy
morning: he with his elbow on the mantelpiece, and his face partly
turned from his mother; she in the same chair, and on the same red
square of the Turkey carpet. The future had been before them then: it
lay in their own hands, so to say, to choose the path for good or for
ill. Sir Geoffry had pointed out which was the right one to take, and
said that it would bring them happiness. But my lady had negatived it,
and he could only bow to her decree. And so, the turning tide was
passed, not seized upon, and they had been sailing on a sea tolerably
smooth, but without depth in it or sunshine on it. What had the voyage
brought forth? Not much. And it seemed, so far as one was concerned,
nearly at an end now.

"I fancy Rachel cannot be well, mother," observed Sir Geoffry, "She
would not lie down so much if she were."

"A little inertness, Geoffry, nothing more. About Christmas?" continued
Lady Chavasse. "Shall you be well enough to go to the Derrestons', do
you think?"

"I think we had better let Christmas draw nearer before laying out any
plans for it," he answered.

"Yes, that's all very well: but I am going to write to Lady Derreston
to-day, and she will expect me to mention it. Shall you like to go?"

A moment's pause, and then he turned to her: his clear, dark-blue eyes,
ever kind and gentle, looking straight into hers; his voice low and
tender.

"I do not suppose I shall ever go away from the Grange again."

She turned quite white. Was it coming so near as that? A kind of terror
took possession of her.

"Geoffry! _Geoffry!_"

"My darling mother, I will stay with you if I can; you know that. But
the fiat does not lie with you or with me."

Sir Geoffry went behind her chair, and put his arms round her playfully,
kissing her with a strange tenderness of heart that he sought to hide.

"It may be all well yet, mother. Don't let it trouble you before the
time."

She could not make any rejoinder, could not speak, and quitted the room
to hide her emotion.

In the after-part of the day the surgeon, Duffham, bustled in. His visit
was later than usual.

"And how are you, Sir Geoffry?" he asked, as they sat alone, facing each
other between the table and the fire.

"Much the same, Duffham."

"Look here, Sir Geoffry--you should rally both yourself and your
spirits. It's of no use _giving way_ to illness. There's a certain
listlessness upon you; I've seen it for some time. Shake it off."

"Willingly--if you will give me the power to do so," was Sir Geoffry's
reply. "The listlessness you speak of proceeds from the fact that my
health and energies fail me. As to my spirits, there's nothing the
matter with them."

Mr. Duffham turned over with his fingers a glass paper-weight that
happened to lie on the table, as if he wanted to see the fishing-boats
on the sea that its landscape represented, and then he glanced at Sir
Geoffry.

"Of course you wish to get well?"--with a slight emphasis on the "wish."

"Most certainly I wish to get well. For my mother's sake--and of course
also for my wife's, as well as for my own. I don't expect to, though,
Duffham."

"Well, that's saying a great deal," retorted Duffham, pretending to make
a mockery of it.

"I've not been strong for some time--as you may have seen, perhaps: but
since the beginning of May, when the intensely hot weather came in, I
have felt as--as----"

"As what, Sir Geoffry?"

"As though I should never live to see another May, hot or cold."

"Unreasonable heat has that effect on some people, Sir Geoffry. Tries
their nerves."

"I am not aware that it tries mine. My nerves are as sound as need be.
The insurance offices won't take my life at any price, Duffham," he
resumed.

"Have you tried them?"

"Two of the best in London. When I began to grow somewhat doubtful about
myself in the spring, I thought of the future of those near and dear
to me, and would have insured my life for their benefit. The doctors
refused to certify. Since then I have felt nearly sure in my own mind
that what must be will be. And, day by day, I have watched the shadow
drawing nearer."

The doctor leaned forward and spoke a few earnest words of
encouragement, before departing. Sir Geoffry was only too willing to
receive them--in spite of the inward conviction that lay upon him, Lady
Rachel Chavasse entered the library in the course of the afternoon.
She wore a sweeping silk, the colour of lilac, and gold ornaments. Her
face had not changed: with its classically-carved contour and its pale
coldness.

"Does Duffham think you are better, Geoffry?"

"Not much, I fancy."

"Suppose we were to try another change--Germany, or somewhere?" she
calmly suggested.

"I would rather be here than anywhere, Rachel."

"I should like you to get well, you know, Geoffry."

"I should like it too, my dear."

"Mamma has written to ask us to go into Somersetshire for Christmas,"
continued Lady Rachel, putting her foot, encased in its black satin shoe
and white silk stocking, on the fender.

"Ay. My mother was talking about it just now. Well, we shall see between
now and Christmas, Rachel. Perhaps they can come to us instead."

Lady Rachel turned her very light eyes upon her husband: eyes in which
there often sat a peevish expression. It was not discernible at the
present moment: they were coldly calm.

"Don't you think you shall be quite well by Christmas?"

"I cannot speak with any certainty, Rachel."

She stood a minute or two longer, and then walked round the room before
the shelves, in search of some entertaining book. It was quite evident
that the state of her husband did not bring real trouble to her heart.
Was the heart too naturally cold?--or was it that as yet no suspicion of
the seriousness of the case had penetrated to her? Something of both,
perhaps.

Selecting a book, she was leaving the library with it when Sir Geoffry
asked if she would not rather stay by the fire to read. But she said she
preferred to go to her sofa.

"Are you well, Rachel?" he asked.

"My back feels tired, always. I suppose we are something alike,
Geoffry--not over-strong," she concluded, with a smile.

That night Duffham made the annexed entry in his journal.

                 *       *       *       *       *

He does know the critical state he is in. Has known it, it seems, for
some time. I suspected he did. Sir Geoffry's one that you may read as a
book in his open candour. He would "get well if he could," he says, for
his mother's sake. As of course he would, were the result under his own
control: a fine young fellow of the upper ten, with every substantial
good to make life pleasant, and no evil habits or thoughts to draw him
backward, would not close his eyes on this world without a pang, and a
struggle to remain a while longer in it.

I cannot do more for him than I am doing. All the faculty combined
could not. Neither do I say, as he does, that he will not get better:
on the contrary, I think there's just a chance that he _will_: and I
honestly told him so. It's just a toss-up. He was always delicate until
he grew to manhood: then he seemed to become thoroughly healthy and
strong. Query: would this delicacy have come back again had his life
been made as happy as it might have been? My lady can debate that point
with herself in after-years: it may be that she'll have plenty of time
to do it in. Sir Geoffry's is one of those sensitive natures where the
mind seems almost wholly to influence the body; and that past trouble
was a sharp blow to him. Upright and honourable, he could not well bear
the remorse that fell upon him--it has been keenly felt, ay, I verily
believe, until this hour: another's life was blighted that his might be
aggrandized. _My own opinion is, that had he been allowed to do as he
wished, and make reparation, thereby securing his own happiness, he
might have thrown off the tendency to delicacy still and always; and
lived to be as old as his father, Sir Peter._ Should my lady ever speak
to me upon the subject, I shall tell her this. Geoffry Chavasse has
lived with a weight upon him. It was not so much that his own hopes were
gone and his love-dream wrecked, as that he had brought far worse than
this upon another. Yes; my lady may thank herself that his life seems to
have been wasted. Had there been children he might, in a degree, have
forgotten what went before, and the mind would no longer have preyed
upon the body. Has the finger of Heaven been in this? My pen ought to
have written "_specially_ in this:" for that Finger is in all things.

I hope he will get better. Yes, I _do_, in spite of a nasty doubt that
crops up in my mind as I say it. I love him as I did in the old days,
and respect him more. _Qui vivra verra_--to borrow a French phrase from
young Master Arthur over the way. And now I put up my diary for the
night.

                 *       *       *       *       *

Mrs. Layne was dead. Mary lived alone in her house now, with her
servants and Arthur.

Never a woman so respected as she; never a lady, high or low, so revered
and looked up to as Mary Layne. All the village would fly to her on an
emergency; and she had both counsel and help to give. The poor idolized
her. A noble, tender, good gentlewoman, with the characteristic humility
in her bearing that had been observable of late years, and the gentle
gravity on her thoughtful face. My lady, with all her rank and her show
and her condescension, had never been half so much respected as this.
The little boy--in knickerbockers now, and nine years old--was a great
favourite; he also got some honour reflected on him through Colonel
Layne. There had been a time of trouble in India, and Major Layne had
grandly distinguished himself and gained honour and promotion. The
public papers proclaimed his bravery and renown; and Arthur received his
share of reflected glory. As the boy passed on his pony, the blacksmith,
Dobbs, would shoot out from his forge to look after him, and say to the
stranger whose horse had cast a shoe, "There goes the little son of the
brave Colonel Layne: maybe you've heerd of his deeds over in Ingee."
Perhaps the blacksmith considered he had acquired a sort of right in
Arthur, since the pony--a sure-footed Welsh animal--was kept in the
stable that belonged to his forge, and was groomed by himself or son.
Miss Layne paid him for it; but, as the blacksmith said, it went again'
the grain; he'd ha' been proud to do aught for her and the little
gentleman without pay.

And somehow, what with one thing and another, my lady grew to think that
if anything removed her from Chavasse Grange, Mary would take her place
as best and chiefest in Church Dykely, and she herself would not be
missed. But it was odd the thought should dawn upon her. Previsions of
coming events steal into the minds of a great many of us; we know not
whence they arise, and at first look on them only as idle thoughts,
never recognizing them for what they are--advance shadows of the things
to be.

One sunshiny afternoon, close upon winter, Arthur and Mr. Duffham went
out riding. Mary watched them start; the doctor on his old grey horse
(that had been her father's), and Arthur on his well-groomed pony. The
lad sat well; as brave-looking a little gentleman, with his upright
carriage, open face, and nice attire--for Mary was particular there--as
had ever gratified a fond aunt's eye, or a blacksmith's heart.

Close by the gates of Chavasse Grange, they met Sir Geoffry and his
mother strolling forth. Mr. Duffham's hopes had not been fulfilled.
Outwardly there was not much change in the baronet, certainly none for
the better; inwardly there was a great deal. He _knew_ now how very
certain his fate was, and that it might not be delayed for any great
length of time; a few weeks, a few months: as God should will.

"Lady Rachel is not well," observed Sir Geoffry to the surgeon. "You
must see her, Duffham. I suppose you can't come in now?"

"Yes, I can: I'm in no hurry," was the doctor's answer.

"May I come too, and see the peacock, Sir Geoffry? I'll wait here,
though, if Mr. Duffham thinks I ought."

Of course the boy was told that the peacock would take it as a slight if
he did not pay him a visit, and they all turned up the avenue. Arthur
got off his pony and led it, and talked with Lady Chavasse.

"Why did you get off yet?" asked Sir Geoffry, turning to him.

"Lady Chavasse is walking," answered the boy, simply.

It spoke volumes for his innate sense of politeness. Sir Geoffry
remembered that _he_ had possessed the same when a child.

"Have you heard what papa has done?" asked Arthur, putting the question
generally. "It has been in all the newspapers, and he is full colonel
now. Did you read it, Sir Geoffry?"

"Yes, I read it, Arthur."

"And the Queen's going to thank papa when he comes to England, and to
make him Sir Richard. Everybody says so. Dobbs thinks papa will be made
general before he dies."

Dobbs was the blacksmith. They smiled at this. Not at the possibility
for Colonel Layne, but at Dobbs.

"And, with it all, Aunt Mary does not want me to be a soldier!" went on
the boy in rather an aggrieved tone. "Richard's enough, she says. Dick
gets on well at King's College: he is to go to Woolwich next. I don't
see the peacock!"

They had neared the house, but the gay plumaged bird, for which Arthur
retained his full admiration, was nowhere in sight. Servants came
forward and led the horses away. Mr. Duffham went on to see Lady Rachel:
Arthur was taken into the garden-parlour by Sir Geoffry.

"And so you would like to be a soldier:" he said, holding the boy before
him, and looking down at his bright, happy face.

"Oh, I should: very much. If papa says I'm not to be--or mamma--or Aunt
Mary--if they should tell me 'No, no, you _shall not_,' why, it would be
at an end, and I'd try and like something else."

"Listen, Arthur," said Sir Geoffry, in a low, earnest tone. "What you
are to be, and what you are not to be, lie alike in the will of God.
He will direct you aright, no doubt, when the time of choice shall
come----"

"And that's what Aunt Mary says," interrupted the lad. "She says----
There's the peacock!"

He had come round the corner, his tail trailing; the poor peahen
following humbly behind him, as usual. Arthur went outside the window.
The peacock had a most unsociable habit of stalking away with a harsh
scream if approached; Arthur knew this, and stayed where he was, talking
still with Sir Geoffry. When Lady Chavasse entered, he was deep in a
story of the musical box.

"Yes, a wicked boy went into Reuben Noah's, and broke his box for
the purpose. Aunt Mary is letting me get it mended for him with some
sixpences I had saved up. Reuben is very ill just now--in great pain;
and Aunt Mary has let me lend him mine--he says when he can hear the
music, his hip does not hurt him so much. You are not angry with me for
lending it, are you, Sir Geoffry?"

"My boy, I am pleased."

"Why should Sir Geoffry be angry--what is it to him?" cried Lady
Chavasse, amused with the chatter.

"Sir Geoffry gave it to me," said Arthur, looking at her with wide-open
eyes, in which the great wonder that any one should be ignorant of
that fact was expressed. "Reuben wishes he could get here to see the
peacock: but he can't walk, you know. I painted a beautiful one on paper
and took it to him. Aunt Mary said it was not much like a real peacock;
it was too yellow. Reuben liked it, and hung it up on his wall. Oh!"

For the stately peacock, stepping past the window as if the world
belonged to him, suddenly threw wide his tail in an access of vanity.
The tail had not long been renewed, and was in full feather. Arthur's
face went into a radiant glow. Lady Chavasse, smiling at the childish
delight, produced some biscuit that the peacock was inordinately fond
of, and bade him go and feed it.

"Oh, Geoffry," she exclaimed in the impulse of the moment, as the boy
vaulted away, "if you only had such a son and heir as that!"

"Ay. It might have been, mother. That child himself might have been Sir
Arthur after me, had you so willed it."

"Been Sir Arthur after you!" she exclaimed. "Are you in a dream,
Geoffry? _That_ child!"

"I have thought you did not know him, but I never felt quite sure. He
passes to the world for the son of Colonel Layne--as I trust he may so
pass always. Don't you understand?"

It was so comical a thing, bringing up thoughts so astounding, and the
more especially because she had never had the remotest suspicion of it,
that Lady Chavasse simply stared at her son in silence. All in a moment
a fiery resentment rose up in her heart: she could not have told at whom
or what.

"I will never believe it, Geoffry. It _cannot be_."

"It _is_, mother."

He was leaning against the embrasure of the window as he stood, watching
the boy in the distance throwing morsels of biscuit right into the
peacock's mouth, condescendingly held wide to receive them. Lady
Chavasse caught the strange sadness glistening in her son's eyes, and
somehow a portion of her hot anger died away.

"Yes: there was nothing to prevent it," sighed Sir Geoffry. "Had you
allowed it, mother, the boy might have been born my lawful son, my
veritable heir. Other sons might have followed him: the probability is,
there would have been half-a-dozen of them feeding the peacock now,
instead of--of--I was going to say--of worse than none."

Lady Chavasse looked out at the boy with eager, devouring eyes: and
whether there was more of longing in their depths, or of haughty anger,
a spectator could not have told. In that same moment a vision, so vivid
as to be almost like reality, stole before her mental sight--of the
half-dozen brave boys crowding round the peacock, instead of only that
one on whose birth so cruel a blight had been cast.

"A noble heir he would have made us, mother; one of whom our free land
might have been proud," spoke Sir Geoffry, in a low tone of yearning
that was mixed with hopeless despair. "He bears my name, Arthur. I
would give my right hand--ay, and the left too--if he could be Sir
Arthur after me!"

Arthur turned round. His cap was on the grass, his blue eyes were
shining.

"He is frightfully greedy and selfish, Lady Chavasse. He will not let
the peahen have a bit."

"A beautiful face," murmured Sir Geoffry. "And a little like what mine
must have been at his age, I fancy. Sometimes I have thought that you
would see the likeness, and that it might impart its clue."

"Since when have you known him?--known this?"

"Since the day after the accident, when my horse threw him down. Duffham
dropped an unintentional word, and it enlightened me. Some nights ago I
dreamt that the little lad was my true heir," added Sir Geoffry. "I saw
you kiss him in the dream."

"You must have been letting your thoughts run on it very much," retorted
Lady Chavasse, rather sharply.

"They are often running on it, mother: the regret for what might have
been and for what is, never seems to leave me," was his reply. "For
some moments after I awoke from that dream I thought it was reality: I
believe I called out 'Arthur.' Rachel started, and inquired between
sleeping and waking what the matter was. To find it was only a dream--to
remember that what _is_ can never be changed or redeemed in this world,
was the worst pain of all."

"You may have children yet," said Lady Chavasse, after a pause. "It is
not impossible."

"Well, I suppose not impossible," was the hesitating rejoinder.
"But----"

"But you don't think it. Say it out, Geoffry."

"I do not think it. My darling mother, don't you see how it is with me?"
he added, in an impulse of emotion--"that I am not to live. A very short
time now, and I shall be lying with my father."

A piteous cry broke from her. It had to be suppressed. The ungrateful
peacock, seeing no more dainty biscuit in store, had fluttered off with
a scream, putting his tail down into the smallest possible compass; and
Arthur came running back to the room. Mr. Duffham next appeared; his
face grave, his account of Lady Rachel evasive. He suspected some latent
disease of the spine, but did not wish to say so just yet.

The horse and pony were brought round. Arthur and the doctor mounted;
Arthur turning round to lift his cap to Lady Chavasse and Sir Geoffry as
he rode away. A noble boy in all his actions; sitting his pony like the
young chieftain he ought to have been but for my lady's adverse will.

But Mr. Duffham was by no means prepared for an inroad on his privacy
made that evening by my lady. She surprised him in his shabbiest
parlour, when he was taking his tea: the old tin teapot on the Japan
tray, and the bread-and-butter plate cracked across. Zuby Noah,
Duffham's factotum, was of a saving turn, and never would bring in
the best things except on Sundays. He had a battle with her over it
sometimes, but it did no good. Duffham thought Lady Chavasse had come
to hear about Lady Rachel, but he was mistaken.

She began with a despairing cry, by way of introduction to the
interview; Zuby might have heard it as she went along the kitchen
passage, but for her clanking pattens. The man-servant was out that
evening, and Zuby was in waiting. Duffham, standing on the old
hearthrug, found his arm seized by Lady Chavasse. He had never seen
her in agitation like this.

"Is it to be so really? Mr. Duffham, can _nothing_ be done? Is my son to
die before my very eyes, and not be saved?"

"Sit down, pray, Lady Chavasse!" cried Duffham, trying to hand her
into the chair that had the best-looking cushion on it, and wishing
he had been in the other room and had not slipped on his worn, old
pepper-and-salt coat.

"He ought not to die--to die and leave no children!" she went on, as if
she were a lunatic. "If there were but one little son--but one--to be
the heir! _Can't_ you keep him in life? there may be children yet, if he
only lives."

Her eyes were looking wildly into his; her fingers entwined themselves
about the old grey cuffs as lovingly as though they were of silk velvet.
No: neither Duffham nor any one else had ever seen her like this. It was
as though she thought it lay with Duffham to keep Sir Geoffry in life
and to endow Chavasse Grange with heirs.

"Lady Chavasse, I am not in the place of God."

"Don't you care for my trouble? Don't you _care_ for it?"

"I do care. I wish I could cure Sir Geoffry."

Down sat my lady in front of the fire, in dire tribulation. By the way
she stared at it, Duffham thought she must see in it a vision of the
future.

"We shall have to quit the Grange, you know, if he should die: I and
Lady Rachel. Better that I quitted it in my young life; that I had never
had a male child to keep me in it. I thought that would have been a
hardship: but oh, it would have been nothing to this."

"You shall take a cup of tea, Lady Chavasse--if you don't mind its being
poured out of this homely tea-pot," said Duffham. "Confound that Zuby!"
he cried, under his breath.

"Yes, I will take the tea--put nothing in it. My lips and throat are dry
with fever and pain. I wish I could die instead of Geoffry! I wish he
could have left a little child behind to bless me!"

Duffham, standing up whilst she took the tea, thought it was well that
these trials of awful pain did not fall often in a lifetime, or they
would wear out alike the frame and the spirit. She grew calm again. As
if ashamed of the agitation betrayed, her manner gradually took a sort
of hard composure, her face a defiant expression. She turned it on him.

"So, Mr. Duffham! It has been well done of you, to unite with Sir
Geoffry in deceiving me! That child over the way has never been Colonel
Layne's."

And then she went on in a style that put Duffham's back up. It was not
his place to tell her, he answered. At the same time he had had no
motive to keep it from her, and if she had ever put the question to him,
he should readily have answered it. Unsolicited, unspoken to, of course
he had held his peace. As to uniting with Sir Geoffry to deceive her,
she deceived herself if she thought anything of the kind. Since the
first moment they had spoken together, when the fact had become known to
Sir Geoffry, never a syllable relating to it had been mentioned between
them. And then, after digesting this for a few minutes in silence, she
went back to Sir Geoffry's illness.

"It is just as though a blight had fallen on him," she piteously
exclaimed, lifting her hand and letting it drop again. "A blight."

"Well, Lady Chavasse, I suppose something of the kind did fall upon
him," was Duffham's answer.

And _that_ displeased her. She turned her offended face to the doctor,
and inquired what he meant by saying it.

So Duffham set himself to speak out. He had said he would, if ever the
opportunity came. Reverting to what had happened some nine or more years
ago, he told her that in his opinion Sir Geoffry had never recovered it:
that the trouble had so fixed itself upon him as to have worked
insensibly upon his bodily health.

"Self-reproach and disappointment were combined, Lady Chavasse; for
there's no doubt that the young lady was very dear to him," concluded
Duffham. "And there are some natures that cannot pick up again after
such a blow."

She was staring at Duffham with open eyes, not understanding.

"You do not mean to say that--that the disappointment about _her_ has
killed Sir Geoffry?"

"My goodness, no!" cried Duffham, nearly laughing. "Men are made of
tougher stuff than to die of the thing called love, Lady Chavasse. What
is it Shakespeare says? 'Men have died, and worms have eaten them, but
not for love.' There is no question but that Sir Geoffry has always had
an inherent tendency to delicacy of constitution," he continued more
seriously: "my partner Layne told me so. It was warded off for a time,
and he grew into a strong, hearty man: it might perhaps have been
warded off for good. But the blight--as you aptly express it, Lady
Chavasse--came: and perhaps since then the spirit has not been able
to maintain its own proper struggle for existence--in which lies a
great deal, mind you; and now that the original weakness has shown
itself again, he cannot shake it off."

"But--according to that--he _is_ dying of the blight?"

"Well--in a sense, yes. If you like to put it so."

Her lips grew white. There rose before her mind that one hour of bitter
agony in her lifetime and her son's, when he had clasped his pleading
hands on hers, and told her in a voice hoarse with its bitter pain and
emotion that if she decided against him he could never know happiness
again in this world: that to part from one to whom he was bound by sweet
endearment, by every tie that ought to bind man to woman, would be like
parting with life. Entrenched in her pride, she had turned a deaf ear,
and rejected his prayer: and now there had come of it what had come.
Yes, as Lady Chavasse sat there, she had the satisfaction of knowing
that the work was hers.

"A warmer climate?--would it restore him?" she exclaimed, turning her
hot eyes on Mr. Duffham.

"Had it been likely to do so, Lady Chavasse, I should have sent him to
one long ago."

She gathered her mantle of purple velvet about her as she rose up, and
went out of the room in silence, giving Duffham her hand in token of
friendship.

Duffham opened the front-door, and was confronted by a tall
footman--with a gold-headed cane and big white silk calves--who had been
waiting in the air for his lady. She took the way to the Grange; the man
and his protecting cane stepping grandly after her.

                 *       *       *       *       *

"Sir Geoffry Chavasse."

Buried in her own reflections by the drawing-room fire, in the coming
dusk of the winter's evening, Miss Layne thought her ears must have
deceived her. But no. It was Sir Geoffry who advanced as the servant
made the announcement; and she rose to meet him. Strangely her heart
fluttered: but she had been learning a lesson in calmness for many
years; he had too, perhaps; and they shook hands quietly as other people
do. Sir Geoffry threw back his overcoat from his wasted form as he sat
down.

Wasted more than ever now. Some weeks have gone on since my lady's
impromptu visit to Mr. Duffham's tea-table; winter is merging into
spring; and the most sanguine could no longer indulge hope for Sir
Geoffry.

"You have heard how it is with me?" he began, looking at Mary, after
recovering his short breath.

"Yes," she faintly answered.

"I could not die without seeing you, Mary, and speaking a word of
farewell. It was in my mind to ask you to come to the Grange for
half-an-hour's interview; but I scarcely saw how to accomplish it: it
might have raised some speculation. So as the day has been fine and
mild, I came to you."

"You should have come earlier," she murmured. "It is getting late and
cold."

"I did come out earlier. But I have been with Duffham."

Moving his chair a little nearer to hers, he spoke to her long and
earnestly. In all that was said there seemed to be a solemn meaning--as
is often the case when the speaker is drawing to the confines of this
world and about to enter on the next. He referred a little to the past,
and there was some mutual explanation. But it seemed to be of the future
that Sir Geoffry had come chiefly to speak--the future of Baby Arthur.

"You will take care of him, Mary?--of his best interests?" And the tears
came into Mary Layne's eyes at the words. He could not really think it
necessary to ask it.

"Yes. To the very utmost of my power."

"I am not able to leave him anything. You know how things are with us
at the Grange. My wish would have been good----"

"It is not necessary," she interrupted. "All I have will be his, Sir
Geoffry."

"_Sir_ Geoffry! Need you keep up that farce, Mary, in this our last
hour? He seems to wish to be a soldier: and I cannot think but that the
profession will be as good for him as any other, provided you can _like_
it for him. You will see when the time comes: all that lies in the
future. Our lives have been blighted, Mary: and I pray God daily and
hourly that, being so, it may have served to expiate the sin--my sin, my
love, it was never yours--and that no shame may fall on him."

"I think it will not," she softly said, the painful tears dropping fast.
"He will always be regarded as Colonel Layne's son: the very few who
know otherwise--Mr. Duffham, Colonel and Mrs. Layne, and Lady Chavasse
now--will all be true to the end."

"Ay. I believe it too. I think the boy may have a bright and honourable
career before him: as much so perhaps as though he had been born my
heir. I think the regret that he was not--when he so easily might have
been--has latterly helped to wear me out, Mary."

"I wish you could have lived, Geoffry!" she cried from between her
blinding tears.

"I have wished it also," he answered, his tone full of pain. "But it was
not to be. When the days shall come that my mother is alone, except for
Lady Rachel, and grieving for me, I want you to promise that you will
sometimes see her and give her consolation. Something tells me that you
can do this, Mary, that she will take it from you--and I know that she
will need it sadly. Be kind to her when I am gone."

"Yes. I promise it."

"You are the bravest of us all, Mary. And yet upon you has lain the
greatest suffering."

"It is the suffering that has made me brave," she answered. "Oh,
Geoffry, I am getting to realize the truth that it is better to have too
much of suffering in this world than too little. It is a truth hard to
learn: but once learnt, it brings happiness in enduring."

Sir Geoffry nodded assent. He had learnt somewhat of it also--too late.

"I have begun a confidential letter to Colonel Layne, Mary, and shall
post it before I die. To thank him for----"

The words were drowned in a gleeful commotion--caused by the entrance of
Arthur. The boy came dashing in from his afternoon's study with the
curate, some books under his arm.

"I have not been good, Aunt Mary. He said I gave him no end of trouble;
and I'm afraid I did: but, you see, I bought the marbles going along,
instead of in coming back, as you told me, and---- Who's that!"

In letting his books fall on a side-table, he had caught sight of the
stranger--then standing up. The fire had burnt low, and just for the
moment even the young eyes did not recognize Sir Geoffry Chavasse. Mary
stirred the fire into a blaze, and drew the crimson curtains before the
window.

"What have you come for?" asked the little lad, as Sir Geoffry took his
hand. "Are you any better, sir?"

"I shall never be better in this world, Arthur. And so you gave your
tutor trouble this afternoon!"

"Yes; I am very sorry: I told him so. It was all through the marbles. I
couldn't keep my hands out of my pockets. Just look what beauties they
are!"

Out came a handful of "beauties" of many colours. But Mary, who was
standing by the mantelpiece, her face turned away, bade him put them up
again. Arthur began to feel that there was some kind of hush upon the
room.

"I have been talking to Miss Layne about your future--for, do you know,
Arthur, you are a favourite of mine," said Sir Geoffry. "Ever since the
time when my horse knocked you down--and might have killed you--I have
taken a very warm interest in your welfare. I have often wished that
you--that you"--he seemed to hesitate in some emotion--"were my own
little son and heir to succeed me; but of course that cannot be. I don't
know what profession you will choose, or may be chosen for you----"

"I should like to be a soldier," interrupted Arthur, lifting his
sparkling eyes to Sir Geoffry's.

"Your ideas may change before the time for choosing shall come. But a
soldier may be as brave a servant of God as of his queen: should you
ever become a soldier, will you remember this truth?"

"Yes," said Arthur, in a whisper, for the grave tones and manner
impressed him with some awe.

Sir Geoffry was sitting down and holding Arthur before him. To the
latter's intense surprise, he saw two tears standing on the wasted
cheeks. It made him feel a sort of discomfort, and he began, as a
relief, to play with the chain and seal that hung on the baronet's
waistcoat. A transparent seal, with a plain device on it.

"Should you like to have them when I am gone, Arthur--and wear them in
remembrance of me when you are old enough? I think it must be so: no one
can have a better right to them than my little friend who once nearly
lost his arm by my carelessness. I will see about it. But I have a
better present than that--which I will give you now."

Taking from his pocket the small Bible that had been his companion for
some months, he put it into Arthur's hands, telling him that he had
written his name in it. And the child, turning hastily to the fly-leaf,
saw it there: "Arthur Layne. From G. A. C." Lower down were the words:
"Come unto Me all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give
you rest."

"Jesus said that!" cried the boy, simply.

"Jesus Christ. My Saviour and yours--for I am sure you will let Him be
yours. Do not part with this Book, Arthur. Use it always: I have marked
many passages in it. Should it be your fate ever to encamp on the
battle-field, let the Book be with you: your guide and friend. In time
you will get to love it better than any book that is to be had in the
world."

The child had a tender heart, and began to cry a little. Sir Geoffry
drew him nearer.

"I have prayed to God to bless you, Arthur. But you know, my child, He
will only give His best blessing to those who seek it, who love and
serve Him. Whatsoever may be your lot in life, strive to do your duty in
it, as before God; loving Him, loving and serving your fellow-creatures;
trusting ever to Christ's atonement. These are my last solemn words to
you. Do you always remember them."

His voice faltered a little, and Arthur began to sob. "Oh, Sir Geoffry,
must you die?"

Sir Geoffry seemed to be breathing fast, as though agitation were
becoming too much for him. He bent his head and kissed the boy's face
fervently: his brow, his cheeks, his lips, his eyelids--there was not a
spot that Sir Geoffry did not leave a kiss upon. It quite seemed as
though his heart had been yearning for those kisses, and as though he
could not take enough of them.

"And now, Arthur, you must do a little errand for me. Go over to Mr.
Duffham, and tell him I am coming. Leave the Bible on the table here."

Arthur went out of the house with less noise than he had entered it. Sir
Geoffry rose.

"It is our turn to part now, Mary. I must be gone."

Her sweet face was almost distorted with the efforts she had been making
to keep down emotion before the child. She burst into tears, as her hand
met Sir Geoffry's.

"God bless you! God bless you always, my darling!" he murmured. "Take my
thanks, once for all, for the manner in which you have met the past;
there is not another woman living who would have done and borne as you
have. This is no doubt our last meeting on earth, Mary; but in eternity
we shall be together for ever. God bless you, and love you, and keep you
always!"

A lingering hand-pressure, a steady look into each other's eyes, reading
the present anguish there, reading also the future trust, and then their
lips met--surely there was no wrong in it!--and a farewell kiss of pain
was taken. Sir Geoffry went out, buttoning his overcoat across his
chest.

A fly was waiting before Mr. Duffham's house; the surgeon and Arthur
were standing by it on the pavement. Sir Geoffry got inside.

"Good-bye, Sir Geoffry!" cried the little lad, as Mr. Duffham, saying he
should be at the Grange in the morning, was about to close the door. "I
shall write and tell papa how good you've been, to give me your own
Bible. I can write small-hand now."

"And fine small-hand it is!" put in old Duffham in disparagement.

Sir Geoffry laid his hand gently on Arthur's head, and kept it there
for a minute. His lips were moving, but he said nothing aloud. Arthur
thought he had not been heard.

"Good-bye, Sir Geoffry," he repeated.

"Good-bye, my child."

                 *       *       *       *       *

Sir Geoffry lay back in an easy-chair in front of the fire in his
library. The end was near at hand now, but he was bearing up quite well
to the last. Lady Chavasse, worn almost to a shadow with grief and
uncertainty--for there were times yet when she actually entertained a
sort of hope--sat away in the shade; her eyes watching every change
in his countenance, her heart feeling ever its bitter repentance and
despair.

Repentance? Yes, and plenty of it. For she saw too surely what might
have been and what was--and knew that it was herself, herself only, who
had worked out this state of things. Her self-reproach was terrible; her
days and nights were one long dream of agony. Lady Rachel was not with
them very much. She lay down more than ever in her own room; and Lady
Chavasse had begun to learn that this almost continuous lying was
not caused by inert idleness, but of necessity. The Grange was a sad
homestead now.

The blaze from the fire flickered on Sir Geoffry's wasted face. _Hers_
was kept in the shadow, or it might have betrayed the bitterness of
her aching heart. He had been speaking of things that touched her
conscience.

"Yes, it was a sin, mother. But it might have been repaired; and, if
it had been, I believe God would have blessed us all. As it is--well,
we did not repair it, you and I; and so--and so, as I take it, there
has not been much of real blessing given to us here; certainly not of
heartfelt comfort. I seem to see all things clearly now--if it be not
wrong to say it."

Lady Chavasse saw them too--though perhaps not exactly in the way he
meant. Never was the vision, of what might have been, more vividly
before her than now as he spoke. She saw him, a hale happy man; his wife
Mary, their children, a goodly flock, all at the Grange, and herself
first amongst them, reigning paramount, _rejoicing_ in her good and
dutiful daughter-in-law. Oh, what a contrast between that vision and
reality! A repressed groan escaped her lips; she coughed to smother it.

"Mother!"

"Well, Geoffry?"

"You need not have suppressed my last letter to Mary--the letter of
explanation I wrote when I quitted her and the Grange. You might have
been sure of me--that I would be true to my word to you."

No answer. There was a great deal that she would not suppress, besides
the letter, if the time had to come over again. The log sparkled and
crackled and threw its jets of flame upwards; but no other noise
disturbed the room's stillness.

"Mother!"

"Well, Geoffry?"

"I should like the child, little Arthur, to have my watch and its
appendages. Have you any objection?"

"None."

"It will be looked upon, you know, as a token of remembrance to the
little fellow who had so sharp an illness through my horse."

"Yes."

"And--I have two desks, you know. The old one of common stained wood I
wish sent to Miss Layne, locked as it is. The key I will enclose in a
note. Let them be sent to her when I am dead."

"It shall be done, Geoffry."

"There's not much in the desk. Just a few odds and ends of papers;
mementoes of the short period when I was happy--though I ought not to
have been. Nothing of value; except a ring that I bought for her at
Worcester at the time, and which she would not take."

"I promise it, Geoffry. I will do all you wish."

"Thank you. You have ever been my loving friend, mother."

"_Ever_, Geoffry?"

"Well--you did for the best there, mother; though it was a mistake. You
acted for what you thought my welfare."

"Would you not like to see her, Geoffry?"

"I have seen her and bidden her farewell. It was the afternoon I went to
Duffham's and you said that I stayed out too late. And now I think I'll
lie down on the sofa, and get, if I can, a bit of sleep; I feel tired.
To-morrow I will talk about you and Rachel--and what will be best for
you both. I wish to my heart, for your sake and hers, that Rachel had
borne a son; I am thinking of you both daily, and of what you will do
when I am gone."

"I shall never know pleasure in life again, Geoffry," she cried, with a
heartbroken sob. "Life for me will be, henceforth, one of mortification
and misery."

"But it will not last for ever. Oh, mother! how merciful God is!--to
give us the blessed hope of an eternal life of perfect happiness, after
all the mistakes and tribulations and disappointments of this! My
darling mother! we shall all be there in sweet companionship for ever."

                 *       *       *       *       *

They buried Sir Geoffry Chavasse by the side of his father--and any one
who likes to go there may see his tomb against the graveyard wall of
Church Dykely. My Lady Chavasse arranged the funeral. The Earl of
Derreston and a Major Chavasse were chief mourners, with other grand
people. Duffham's diary gives the particulars, but there is no space
here to record them. Duffham was bidden to it; and brought Arthur
Layne in his hand to the Grange, in obedience to a private word of my
lady's--for she knew the dead, if he could look out of his coffin, would
like to see Arthur following. So the procession started, a long line;
the village gazing in admiration as it passed; and Dobbs the blacksmith
felt as proud as ever was the Grange peacock, when he saw Colonel
Layne's little son in a coach, amidst the gentlefolks. 'Twere out of
respect to the colonel's bravery, you might be sure, he told a select
audience: and p'r'aps a bit because o' that back accident to the child
hisself. And so, amidst pomps, and coaches, and comments, Geoffry
Chavasse was left in his last home.


[_Final matters extracted from Duffham's Diary._]

It is eighteen months now since Sir Geoffry died; and strange changes
have taken place. The world is always witnessing such: you go up, and I
go down.

Admiral Chavasse came home and took possession of the Grange. My lady
had previously quitted it. She did not quit Church Dykely. It seemed
indifferent to her where she settled down; and Lady Rachel Chavasse had
become used to my attendance, and wished to stay. There was a small
white villa to let on this side of the Grange, and they took it. Lady
Rachel lies down more than ever; when she goes out it is in a
Bath-chair. Old John Noah draws it. The spinal complaint is confirmed. I
can do her no good; but I go in once or twice a week, and have a gossip.
She is very fractious: and what with one thing and another, my Lady
Chavasse has a trying life of it. They keep three servants only; no
carriage--except the Bath-chair. What a change! what a change!

If ever there was a disappointed woman in this world, one who feels the
humiliation of her changed position keenly, whose whole life is a long
living repentance, it is Lady Chavasse. The picture of what might have
been is ever in her mind; the reality of what is, lies around her. To
judge by human fallibility, she has a long existence before her: not
quite fifty yet, and her health rude: but in spirit she is a bowed,
broken-down woman.

The Grange is let. Sir Parker Chavasse could not reconcile himself to
living in a rural district, and went back to his ship. At first he shut
the Grange up; now he has let it for a term to Mr. and Mrs. McAlpin,
formerly of Calcutta. They live there with their children; in as good a
style as ever the Chavasses did. Allan McAlpin has given up business,
and spends his large fortune like the gentleman he is. She is Mary
Layne's sister: a dainty and rather haughty woman. My lady looks out
surreptitiously from the corner of her window as Mrs. McAlpin's carriage
bowls along the road beyond the field. Colonel Layne's wife is also here
just now, on a visit at the Grange; her husband, Sir Richard Layne,
K.C.B., has returned to his duties in India. The whole county calls upon
them and seems proud to do it, forgetting perhaps that they were only
the daughters of my predecessor, Layne the apothecary. Yes! there are
strange ups and downs in this world: and Mary Layne, so despised once,
might not now be thought, even by my lady, so very unequal to Sir
Geoffry Chavasse.

_She_ does not go in for grandeur. But the village would like to lay its
hands under her feet. Never was there so good, so unselfish, so sweet
and humble-minded a woman as Mary. In a temporary indisposition that
attacked her a few weeks ago, Mr. Dobbs, struck with consternation,
gave, it as his opinion that Church Dykely "could afford to lose the
whole biling of 'em, better than her." Lady Chavasse has seen her merit
at last; and Mary's frequent presence in their house seems to bring
light to the two lonely women. Arthur goes there too; my lady loves him,
curious though the fact may sound. An incident occurred the other
evening.

Miss Layne and Arthur were at tea there, when I happened to go in with
some medicine. Mary had her work out, and sat talking in a low voice to
Lady Rachel on her sofa; Lady Chavasse was watching Arthur, playing on
the grass-plat. My lady rose up with a sudden cry:

"Take care of the wasp, Sir Arthur! Sir Arthur!"

I saw what painful reverie she had been lost in--the vision of that
which might have been. It is apt to steal on her at sunset. Becoming
conscious of the slip, she flushed slightly, and turned it off. Lady
Rachel laughed; she thought it a good joke. Mary was more silent than
usual that night, as I walked home by her and Arthur's side.

Here ends the history. Mary Layne lives on in her home, training Arthur,
helping the sick and suffering, keeping her face steadily turned to
another world. Never a one is there amidst us so respected as that good,
grave lady, who blighted her life in early womanhood, and who carries
its trace on her sad, sweet countenance, and its never-ceasing shame on
her sorrowing heart.

That's all at last. You must be glad of it. Old Duffham shall not lead
me blindfold into one of his spun-out histories again. The trouble I've
had to cut it down! What with the diaries and letters, it was twice as
long.

And he called it a tale of sin. I, Johnny Ludlow, think it is more like
a tale of suffering.



X.

A DAY OF PLEASURE.


We all liked Captain Sanker; a post-captain in the navy, ages since
on half-pay; who came into Worcestershire, and brought a letter of
introduction to the Squire. He was about a seventeenth cousin of the
Sankers of Wales, and a twenty-seventh of Mrs. Todhetley. The captain
and his wife and family, six children, had lived in Ireland and the
Channel Islands, and other cheap localities, making both ends of their
income meet as well as they could--and nobody need be told how poor is
the half-pay of naval officers, and what a fight and a struggle it is to
rub along. At last, through the death of a relative of Mrs. Sanker, they
dropped into quite a fortune, and came over to settle at Worcester.

A Dr. Teal, who had also recently come to Worcester, and was an old
friend of Captain Sanker, proposed it to them. He wrote a flaming
account of the pretty place that Worcester was, of the loveliness of the
surrounding country; and of the great advantage the college school would
be to the young Sankers, in giving them a free education if they could
be got into it. The prospect of a free education for his boys took with
the captain, and he lost no time in removing to Worcester, the Welsh
Sankers giving him an introduction to us. We grew pretty intimate:
calling on them when we went to Worcester for a day, and having them
over to spend days with us.

All the young Sankers were got into the college school by degrees, and
became four of the forty king's scholars. At that time--it is long past
now--the school was not thought much of, for the boys were taught little
but the classics, so entrance was easy: Latin, Greek, bad writing, and
the first rule in arithmetic: there it ended. Captain Sanker thought the
education first-rate, and had them all enrolled: Frederick, Daniel,
King, and Toby. As to Toby, I fancy his real name was Alfred, but I
never heard him called by it.

They had been in Worcester between one and two years, when Tod and I
went over to them on a visit. The captain had come to spend a summer's
day at Crabb Cot, and in his jolly, open-hearted fashion insisted on
taking us two back with him. He was a short, stout man, with grey hair,
and merry bright blue eyes all alight with smiles. The college school
would be breaking up for its long holidays in a week or so, and it would
have been better for us to have gone then; but the captain always did
things on impulse, and had no more forethought than young Toby. The
holidays were taken late that year, and would be very long, because
the college hall, which was the schoolroom, would be wanted for the
music-meeting in September.

The Sankers' was a funny household, and we pitched down amongst them
without ceremony on either side. The house was at the corner of an open
road, not very far from the cathedral. It was a commodious house as to
size; but all the rooms were in an everlasting litter, so that you could
never find a chair to sit down on. The captain was good-humoured always,
going in and out a hundred times a day. There seemed to be no fixed hour
for meals, and sometimes no meals to eat: Mrs. Sanker would forget
to order them. She was a little lady, who went about as if she were
dreaming, in a white petticoat and loose buff jacket; or else she'd be
sitting aloft in the turret, darning stockings and saying poetry. She
was the least excitable person I ever knew; all events, good and bad,
she took as a matter of course: had the house caught fire she would have
looked on quietly--as Nero did when Rome was burning. Why they called
the room the turret did not appear. It had a great high beam running
through it on the floor: and Mrs. Sanker would sit on that, reading
poetry to us or telling her dreams, her light hair all down.

At seven o'clock the boys had to be in school. Being summer weather,
that was no hardship. At nine they came in again with a rush, wild for
breakfast. If Mrs. Sanker was not down to give it them, the four boys
would begin and eat up the piles of bread-and-butter; upon which Hetta
Sanker would call them tigers, and go to the kitchen to tell the maids
to cut more. Which was the cook of the two servants and which the
housemaid, they did not themselves seem to know: both did the work
indiscriminately. Breakfast over, the boys went out again, Tod and I
with them. At ten they must be in school. At one they came home to
dinner; it might be ready, or it might not: if not, they'd go in and
polish off anything cold that might be in the larder. It didn't seem to
spoil their dinners. Afternoon school again until four o'clock; and then
at liberty for good. Tea was at any time; a scrambling sort of meal that
stayed on the table for hours, and was taken just as we chanced to go in
for it. Jam and boiled eggs would be on the table, with the loaf and
butter _ad libitum_. Sometimes toast and dripping, and there used to
be a scuffle for that. As to dinner, when Mrs. Sanker forgot it, the
servants would bring in a big dish of poached eggs, and we made it up
with bread-and-cheese. Or Dan or Toby would be sent tearing off to High
Street for a lot of penny pork-pies and apple-tarts. At night we had
prayers, which the captain read.

Now I dare say that to people accustomed to a domestic life like
clock-work, this would have been unbearable. I thought it delightful;
as did Tod. It was like a perpetual picnic. But it was from one of
these dinnerless episodes we found out that Captain Sanker had a
temper. Generally speaking, he took disasters with equanimity.

It was on a Thursday. We were to have had four ducks for dinner, which
the captain had bought at market the day before. Fine ducks that he
was proud of: he carried them home himself, and brought them into the
parlour to show us. On this day, Thursday, Tod and I had been into
the Town Hall in the morning, listening to a trial before the
magistrates--some fellow who had stolen his neighbour's clothes-props
and cut them up for firewood. We reached home just as the boys and
their books did, as hungry as they were. There was no cloth laid, and
Fred shouted out for Biddy, asking whether we were to dine to-day
or to-morrow. Biddy heard, and came rushing in with the cloth and
knife-tray.

"What's for dinner besides the four ducks?" asked Dan. "Any pudding?
Have you put plenty of stuffing?"

"Indeed then, and I don't think there's much for dinner," replied Biddy.
"I've been in the turret with the missis all the morning, helping to
stuff a pillow."

She laid the cloth, and Mrs. Sanker came mooning down in the short white
petticoat and buff jacket, darning a sock of Dan's. The dreadful truth
came out--busy over beds and pillows, nobody had thought of dinner,
and the ducks were hanging in the larder, uncooked. Before speechless
tongues could find words, Captain Sanker came in, bringing his friend
Dr. Teal to taste the ducks. All the Teals were as intimate at the house
as we were. Years before, when the captain was a middy, Dr. Teal had
been assistant-surgeon on the same ship.

"They've a cold dinner at Teal's to-day," said the captain to his wife,
as she was shaking hands with the doctor, "so he has come to share ours.
Fine ducks they are, Teal!"

Then the news had to be told. The ducks were not cooked: dinner
altogether had been forgotten.

I saw Captain Sanker's face turn white--quite white; but he did not say
a word. Dr. Teal--a scientific Scotchman, who walked with his nose in
the air and his spectacles turned to the skies, as if always looking for
a lunar rainbow--made the best of it. Laughing, he said he would come in
another day, and went out.

Then it began. Captain Sanker gave vent to passion in a way that
startled me, and made Tod stare. I don't believe he knew for a few
moments what he was doing or saying. Nora, the other servant--both
girls had come with them from Ireland, and were as thoughtless as their
mistress--came in with a dish of some hastily concocted pudding: a sort
of batter. The captain, who still had his stick in his hand, lifted it
and spattered the pudding all about the cloth. Then he stamped out of
the house with a bang.

"Sit down, dears," said Mrs. Sanker, not at all moved, as she began to
collect the pudding with a spoon. "Bring in the cheese, Nora, and do
some eggs. Here's a corner seat for you, Johnny; can you squeeze in?
The captain will have his dinner with the Teals, no doubt. He has been
tasting the doctor's port wine, I think; or he wouldn't have been so
put up."

And somehow we gathered, then or later, that the captain was easy as an
old glove at all times and over all crosses, unless he was a little "put
up" by artificial help. He told us himself one day (not, of course,
alluding to anything of this sort) that he had had naturally an awful
temper, would go into passions of absolute madness for a minute or two,
when he was younger; but that he had by much self-restraint chiefly if
not quite subdued it. It was true; and the temper never need be feared
now unless he took anything to excite him. Dan had the same temper; but
without the good-nature. And they said Hetta had; but we saw nothing of
it in her. Hetta was eighteen, a nice-looking girl, who was governess
to little Ruth, or pretended to be; but Ruth would manage to escape
her lessons five days in the week. It was all the same to Mrs. Sanker
whether she did them or whether she didn't.

At the time of this visit of ours to Worcester, the college school was
in a ferment. Between the Cathedral and St. Peter's Church was situated
a poor, back district called Frog Lane. It had been rechristened Diglis
Street, but was chiefly called by the old name still. Crowded dwellings,
narrow streets, noise and dirt--that's how the place struck me. The
inhabitants were chiefly workmen belonging to the glove and china
manufactories of the town. In this district was the parish school,
always filled with boys, sons of the working-men, and under the
superintendence of Mr. Jones, the portly parish clerk. Now there was
wont to spring up from time to time a tide of animosity between these
boys and the boys of the college school. Captain Sanker said it was the
fault of the college boys: had they let the St. Peter's boys alone, St.
Peter's boys would never have presumed to interfere with them: but the
college boys could be downright contemptuous and overbearing when they
pleased. They scornfully called the St. Peter's boys the Frogs, "charity
boys;" and the Frogs retorted by calling them the College Caws--after
the rooks that had their homes in the old trees of the college green and
kept up a perpetual cawing. The animosity generally ended in a grand
battle; and then hostilities would be dropped for months, perhaps years.
One of these quarrels was going on while we were at Worcester; it had
kept both schools in a ferment for some weeks, and there was every sign
of a culminating fight. Of course we went in heart and soul with the
king's scholars: but the boys on both sides held a code of honour--if
you can call it so--that no stranger must take part in the engagements.
The college boys were only forty, all told; the Frogs seemed to number
four times as many.

Skirmishes took place daily--the scene being the top of Edgar Street.
St. Peter's boys (let out of school at twelve, whereas the others did
not get out till one) would collect in the narrow neck of their district
opening on Edgar Street, and wait for the enemy. As soon as the college
boys' steps were heard racing under the dark gateway of Edgar Tower,
hisses and groans began. "Caw, caw, caw! Hiss, hiss, hiss! How's your
Latin to-day?--what birchings has you had? Call yourselves gents, does
you, you College Caws? You daren't come on fair, and fight it out with
us, you Caws. Caw, caw, caw!" Sometimes the college boys would pass on,
only calling back their contemptuous retorts; sometimes they'd halt, and
a fierce storm of abuse would be interchanged, to the edification of
Edgar Street in general and the clerks in Mr. Clifton's Registry Office.
"You beggarly Frogs! We don't care to soil our hands with you! Had you
been gentlemen, we'd have polished you off long ago, and sent you into
next week. Croak, Frogs! Croak!" Not a third of the college boys need
have taken Edgar Tower on their way home; through the cloisters and out
by St. Michael's churchyard would have been their direct way; but they
chose to meet the Frogs. Once in a way there'd be a single combat; but
as a rule nothing came of it but abuse. When that was exhausted, each
lot would rush home their separate ways: the Frogs back down Frog Lane;
the others up the steps, or onwards down Edgar Street, as their road
might lie, and remain apart till the same hour next day.

I have not said much yet about King Sanker. He was lame: something was
wrong with his knee. Gatherings would come in it, and then he'd be in
bed for weeks together. He was nearly thirteen then; next to Dan: and
Dan was over fourteen. King was a nice little fellow, with mild eyes as
blue as the captain's: Fred would order him to keep "out of the ruck" in
the skirmishes with the Frogs, and he generally did. If it came to a
fight, you see, King might have been hurt; he had no fighting in him,
was frightened at it, and he could not run much. King was just like his
mother in ideas: he would tell us his dreams as she did, and recite
pieces of poetry a mile long. Dan and King slept together in the room
next to ours; it was in the garret, close to the turret-room. King would
keep us awake singing; sometimes chants, sometimes hymns, sometimes
songs. They'd have let him try for the choir, but the head-master of
the college school thought his knee would not do for it.

It was Saturday, and a pouring wet afternoon. Our visit was drawing to
an end; on the following Wednesday we should bid the Sankers good-bye.
Captain Sanker, always trying to find out ways of making folk happy, had
devised a day of pleasure for the last day of our stay, Tuesday. We
were to go to Malvern; a whole lot of us: ourselves, and the Teals, and
the Squire, and Mrs. Todhetley, and take our dinner on the hill. It was
so settled; and the arrangements were planned and made.

But this was yet only Saturday. We dined at twelve: whether for any
one's convenience or that the servants made a mistake in an hour,
I don't remember. It happened to be a saint's day, so the boys had
no school; and, being wet, came home after morning service in the
cathedral. After a jolly dinner of peas and bacon and pancakes, we
looked at the skies for a bit, and then (all but Fred and Hetta) went
up to the turret-room. Dan said the rain had come to spite us; for the
whole school had meant to race to Berwick's Bridge after afternoon
service and hold a mock review in the fields there. It was coming down
in torrents, peppering the roof and the windows. Mrs. Sanker sat in the
middle of the old beam, mending one of Toby's shirts, "Lalla Rookh" open
on her knee, out of which she was singing softly; the floor was strewed
with patches, and scissors, and tapes, and the combs were out of one
side of her hair.

"Read it out loud to us, mamma," cried King.

"I can't spare time to read, King," she said. "Look here"--holding out
the work, all rags and tatters. "If I don't mend this, Toby won't have
a shirt to put on to-morrow."

"I shan't mind about that," said Toby.

"Oh, but, dear, I don't think you could go without a shirt. Has any one
seen my cotton?"

"Then say something over to us that you know, mamma," returned King, as
Toby found the cotton.

"Very well. I can do that and work too. Sit down, all of you."

We sat down, King and Toby on the floor before her, the rest of on the
beam on either side her. Dan, who did not care for poetry, got some
Brazil nuts out of his pocket and cracked them while he listened.

Mrs. Sanker might as well have read "Lalla Rookh." She began to recite
"The Friar of Orders Grey." But what with gazing up at the sky through
the rain to give it due emphasis, and shaking her head at pathetic
parts, the sewing did not get on. She had finished the verse--

    "Weep no more, lady, weep no more,
      Thy sorrow is in vain;
    For violets plucked, the sweetest showers
      Will ne'er make grow again,"

when King surprised us by bursting into tears. But as Mrs. Sanker took
no notice, I supposed it was nothing unusual.

"You young donkey!" cried Dan, when the poem was finished. "You'll never
be a man, King."

"It is such a nice verse, Dan," replied young King, meekly. "I whisper
it over sometimes to myself in bed. Mamma, won't you say the 'Barber's
Ghost'? Johnny Ludlow would like to hear that, I know."

We had the "Barber's Ghost," which was humorous, and we had other
things. After that, Mrs. Sanker told a dreadful story about a real
ghost, one that she said haunted her family, and another of a murder
that was discovered by a dream. Some of the young Sankers were the
oddest mixtures of timidity and bravery--personally brave in fighting;
frightfully timid as to being alone in the dark--and I no longer
wondered at it if she brought them up on these ghostly dishes.

"I should not like to have dreams that would tell me of murders," said
King, thoughtfully. "But I do dream very strange dreams sometimes.
When I awake, I lie and wonder what they mean. Once I dreamt I saw
heaven--didn't I, mamma? It was so beautiful."

"Ay; my family have always been dreamers," replied Mrs. Sanker.

Thus, what with ghosts and poetry and talking, the afternoon wore on
unconsciously. Dan suddenly started up with a shout--

"By Jove!"

The sun had come out. Come out, and we had never noticed it. It was
shining as brightly as could be on the slates of all the houses. The
rain had ceased.

"I say, we shall have the review yet!" cried Dan. "And, by Jupiter,
that's the college bell! Make a rush, you fellows, or you'll be marked
late. There's three o'clock striking."

The king's scholars thought it a great shame that they should have to
attend prayers in the cathedral morning and afternoon on saints' days,
instead of wholly benefiting by the holiday. They had to do it, however.
The three went flying out towards the cathedral, and I gave King my arm
to help him after them. Tod and I--intending to take part in the review
at Berwick's Bridge--went to college also, and sat behind the surpliced
king's scholars on the decani side, in the stalls next to the chanter.

But for a little mud, you'd hardly have thought there had been any rain
when we got out again; and the sun was glowing in the blue sky. Not a
single fellow was absent: even King limped along. We took the way by the
Severn, past the boat-house at the end of the college boundaries, and
went leisurely along the towing-path, intending to get into the fields
beyond Diglis Wharf, and so onwards.

I don't believe there was a thought in any one's mind that afternoon
of the enemy. The talk--and a good hubbub it was--turned wholly upon
soldiers and reviews. A regular review of the Worcestershire militia
took place once a year on Kempsey Ham, and some of the boys' heads got
a trifle turned with it. They were envying Lord Ward, now, as they
went along: saying they should like to be him, and look as well as he
did, and sit his horse as proudly.

"Of course he's proud," squeaked out the biggest Teal, whose voice
was uncertain. "Think of his money!--and his horses!--and see how
good-looking he is! If Lord Ward hasn't a right to be proud, I should
like to know who has. Why, he--oh, by George! I say, look here!"

Turning into the first field, we found we had turned into a company of
Frogs. All the whole lot, it seemed. Caws and croaks and hoots and
groans from either side rose at once on the air. Which army commenced
hostilities, I couldn't tell; the one was as eager for it as the other;
and in two minutes the battle had begun--begun in earnest. Up dashed the
senior boy.

"Look here," said he to me and Tod; "you understand our rules. You must
neither of you attempt to meddle in this. Stay and look on, if you
please; but keep at a sufficient distance where it may be seen that you
are simply spectators. These beggars shan't have it to say that we were
helped."

He dashed back again. Tod ground his teeth with the effort it took to
keep himself from going in to pummel some of the Frogs. Being upon
honour, he had to refrain; and he did it somehow.

The Frogs had the blazing sun in their eyes; our side had it at their
backs--which was against the Frogs. There were no weapons of any sort;
only arms and hands. It looked like the scrimmage of an Irish row.
Sometimes there was closing-in, and fighting hand to hand; sometimes the
forces were drawn back again, each to its respective ground. During the
first of these interludes, just as the sides were preparing to charge,
a big Frog, with broad awkward shoulders, a red, rugged face, and a
bleeding nose, came dashing forward alone into the ranks of the college
boys, caught up poor lame helpless King Sanker, bore him bravely right
through, and put him down in safety beyond, in spite of the blows freely
showered upon him. Not a soul on our side had thought of King; and the
college boys were too excited to see what the big Frog was about, or
they'd perhaps have granted him grace to pass unmolested. King sat
down on the wet grass for a bit, and gazed about him like a fellow
bewildered. Seeing me and Tod he came limping round to us.

"It was good-natured of that big Frog, wasn't it, Johnny Ludlow?"

"Very. He'd make a brave soldier. I mean a real soldier."

"Perhaps I should have been killed, but for him. I was frightened, you
see; and there was no way out. I couldn't have kept on my legs a minute
longer."

The battle raged. The cawing and the croaking, that had been kept up
like an array of trumpets, fell off as the fighting waxed hotter. The
work grew too fierce and real for abuse of tongue. We could hear the
blows dealt on the upturned faces. King, who had a natural horror of
fighting, trembled inwardly from head to foot, and hid his face behind
me. Tod was dancing with excitement, flinging his closed fists outward
in imaginary battle, and roaring out like a dragon.

I can't say who would have won had they been left alone. Probably the
Frogs, for there were a great many more of them. But on the other hand,
none of them were so old as some of the college boys. When the fight
was at the thickest, we heard a sudden shout from a bass, gruff,
authoritative voice: "Now then, boys, how dare you!" and saw a big,
portly gentleman in black clothes and a white necktie, appear behind
the Frogs, with a stout stick in his hand.

It was Clerk Jones, their master. His presence and his voice acted like
magic. Not a Frog of them all but dropped his blows and his rage. The
college boys had to drop theirs, as the enemy receded. Clerk Jones put
himself between the two sets of combatants.

The way he went on at both sides was something good to hear. Shaking his
stick at his own boys, they turned tail softly, and then rushed away
through the mud like wild horses, not waiting to hear the close: so the
college boys had the pepper intended for the lot. He vowed and declared
by the stick that was in his hand--and he had the greatest mind, he
interrupted himself to say, to put it about _their_ backs--that if ever
they molested his boys again, or another quarrel was got up, he would
appeal publicly to the dean and chapter. If one of the college boys made
a move in future to so much as cast an insulting look towards a boy in
St. Peter's School, that boy should go before the dean; and it would not
be his fault (the clerk's) if he was not expelled the cathedral. _He_
would take care, and precious good care, that his boys should preserve
civility henceforth; and it was no great favour to expect that the
college boys would do so. For his part he should feel ashamed in their
places to oppress lads in an inferior class of life to themselves; and
he should make it his business before he slept to see the head-master of
the college school, and report this present disgraceful scene to him:
the head-master could deal with it as he pleased.

Mr. Jones went off, flourishing his stick; and our side began to sum up
its damages: closed eyes, scratched faces, swollen noses, and torn
clothes. Dan Sanker's nose was as big as a beer barrel, and his
shirt-front hung in ribbons. Fred's eyes were black. Toby's jacket had
a sleeve slit up, and one of his boots had disappeared for good.

The spectacle we made, going home down the Gloucester Road, could not be
easily forgotten. Folks collected on the pavement, and came to the
windows and doors to see the sight. It was like an army of soldiers
returning from battle. Bleeding faces, black eyes, clothes tattered and
bespattered with mud. Farmers going back from market drew up their gigs
to the roadside, to stare at us while we passed. One little girl, in
a pony-chaise, wedged between a fat old lady in a red shawl and a
gentleman in top-boots, was frightened nearly into fits. She shrieked
and cried, till you might have heard her up at Mr. Allies's; and the old
lady could not pacify her. The captain was out when we got in: and Mrs.
Sanker took it all with her usual apathy, only saying we had better have
come straight home from college to hear some more poetry.

An awful fuss was made by the head-master. Especially as the boys had to
appear on Sunday at the cathedral services. Damages were visible on many
of them; and their white surplices only helped to show the faces off
the more. The chorister who took the solo in the afternoon anthem was
decorated with cuttings of sticking-plaster; he looked like a tattooed
young Indian.

The school broke up on the Monday: and on that day Mr. and Mrs.
Todhetley drove into Worcester, and put up at the Star and Garter. They
came to us in the afternoon, as had been agreed upon; dinner being
ordered by Captain Sanker for five o'clock. It was rather a profuse
dinner; fish and meat and pies and dessert, but quite a scramble of
confusion: which none of the Sankers seemed to notice or to mind.

"Johnny dear, is it _always_ like this?" Mrs. Todhetley could not help
asking me, in a whisper. "I should be in a lunatic asylum in a week."

We started for Malvern on Tuesday at eleven o'clock. The Squire drove
Bob and Blister in his high carriage: Dr. Teal, Captain Sanker, and Fred
sitting with him. There was no railroad then. The ladies and the girls
crammed themselves into a post-carriage from the Star, and a big
waggonette was lent by some friend of Dr. Teal for the rest. The boys
were losing the signs of their damages; nothing being very conspicuous
now but Dan's nose. It refused to go down at all in size, and in colour
was brighter than a rainbow. The Teals kept laughing at it, which made
Dan savage; once he burst out in a passion, wishing all the Frogs were
shot.

I remember that drive still. John Teal and I sat on the box of the
post-carriage, the post-boy riding his horses. I remember the different
features of the road as we passed them--not but that I knew them well
before; I remember the laden orchards, and the sweet scent of the
bean-fields, in flower then. Over the bridge from Worcester went we, up
the New Road and through St. John's, and then into the open country;
past Lower Wick, where Mrs. Sherwood lived, and on to Powick across its
bridge. I remember that a hearse and three mourning-coaches stood before
the Lion, the men refreshing themselves with drink; and we wondered who
was being buried that day. Down that steep and awkward hill next, where
so many accidents occurred before it was altered, and so on to the Link;
the glorious hills always before us from the turning where they had
first burst into view; their clumps of gorse and broom, their paths and
their sheep-tracks growing gradually plainer to the sight the nearer we
drew. The light and shade cast by the sun swept over them perpetually, a
landscape ever changing; the white houses of the village, nestling
amidst their dark foliage, looked fair for the eye to rest upon. Youth,
as we all get to learn when it has gone by, lends a charm that later
life cannot know: but never a scene that I have seen since, abroad or at
home, lies on my memory with half the beauty as does that old approach
to Malvern. Turning round to the left at the top of the Link, we drove
into Great Malvern.

The carriages were left at the Crown. An old pony was chartered for some
of the provisions, and we boys carried the rest. The people at St. Ann's
Well had been written to, and the room behind the well was in readiness
for us. Once the baskets were deposited there, we were at liberty till
dinner-time, and went on up the hill. Turning a corner which had hidden
the upper landscape from view, we came upon Dan Sanker, who had got on
first. He was standing to confront us, his face big with excitement, his
nose flaming.

"If you'll believe me, those cursed Frogs are here!"

In angry consternation--for the Frogs seemed to have no business to
be at Malvern--we rushed on, turned another corner, and so brought
ourselves into a wide expanse of upper prospect. Sure enough! About a
hundred of the Frogs in their Sunday clothes were trooping down the
hill. They had the start of us in arriving at Malvern, and had been to
the top already.

"I'll--be--jiggered!" cried Dan, savagely. "What a horrid lot they are!
Look at their sneaking tail-coats. Wouldn't I like to pitch into them!"

The college school wore the Eton jacket. Those preposterous coats, the
tails docked to the size of the boys, did not improve the appearance of
the Frogs. But as to pitching-in, Dan did not dare to do it after what
had passed. It was his nose that made him so resentful.

"I desire that you will behave as gentlemen," said Captain Sanker, who
was behind with the Squire, and bid us halt. "Those poor boys are here,
I see; but they will not, I am sure, molest you, neither must you molest
them. Civility costs nothing, remember. What are you looking so cross
for, Dan?"

"Oh, well, papa, it's like their impudence, to come here to-day!"
muttered Dan.

The captain laughed. "They may say it's like yours, to come, Dan: they
were here first. Go on, lads, and don't forget yourselves."

Tod's whistle below was heard just then; and Dan, not caring to show his
nose to the enemy, responded, and galloped back. We went on. The paths
there are narrow, you know, and we expected to have all the string of
Frogs sweeping past us, their coats brushing our jackets. But--perhaps
not caring to meet us any more than we cared to meet them--most of them
broke off on a detour down the steep of the hill, and so avoided us.
About half-a-dozen came on. One of them was a big-shouldered, awkward,
red-faced boy, taller than the rest of them and not unlike a real frog;
he walked with his cap in his hand, and his brown hair stood on end like
a porcupine's. Indisputably ugly was he, with a mouth as wide as a
frying-pan; but it was a pleasant and honest face, for all that. King
suddenly darted to him as he was passing, and pulled him towards Captain
Sanker, in excitement.

"Papa, this is the one I told you of; the one who saved me and didn't
mind the blows he got in doing it. I should have been knocked down, and
my knee trampled on, but for him."

Out went Captain Sanker's hand to shake the boy's. He did it heartily.
As to the Frog, he blushed redder than before with modesty.

"You are a brave lad, and I thank you heartily," said the captain,
wringing his hand as though he'd wring it off. "You do honour to
yourself, whoever you may be. There was not one of his own companions to
think of him, and save him, and you did it in the midst of danger. Thank
you, my lad."

The captain slid half-a-crown into his hand, telling him to get some
Malvern cakes. The boy stood back for us to go by. I was the last, and
he spoke as if he knew me.

"Good-day, Master Johnny."

Why, who was he? And, now I came to look at his freckled face, it seemed
quite familiar. His great wide mouth brought me remembrance.

"Why, it's Mark Ferrar! I didn't know you at first, Mark."

"We've come over here for the day in two vans," said Mark, putting
his grey cap on. "Eighty of the biggest of us; the rest are to come
to-morrow. Some gent that's visiting at St. Peter's parsonage has given
us the treat, sir."

"All right, Mark. I'm glad you thought of King Sanker on Saturday."

Ferrar touched his cap, and went vaulting down after his comrades. He
was related to Daniel Ferrar, the Squire's bailiff, of whom you have
heard before, poor fellow, and also to the Batleys of South Crabb. He
used to come over to Crabb, that's where I had seen him.

Some donkeys came running down the hill, their white cloths flying.
Captain Sanker stopped one and put King on him--for King was tired
already. We soon got to the top then, and to Lady Harcourt's Tower. Oh,
it was a glorious day! The great wide prospect around stood out in all
its beauty. The vale of Herefordshire on the one side with its rural
plains and woods basked in the sunshine, its crops of ruddy pears and
apples giving token of the perry and cider to come; on the other side
rose the more diversified landscape that has been so much told and
talked of. Over the green meadows and the ripening corn-fields lay
Worcester itself: the cathedral showing out well, and the summit of the
high church-spire of St. Andrew's catching a glint of the sunlight.
Hills caught the eye wherever it turned: Bredon Hill, Abberleigh Hills,
the Old Hills; homesteads lay upon their lands, half hidden by their
rick-yards and clustering trees; cattle and sheep browsed on the grass
or lay in the shade to shelter themselves from the midday sun. To the
right, on the verge of the horizon, far, far away, might be caught a
glimpse of something that sparkled like a bed of stars--the Bristol
Channel. It is not often you can discern that from Malvern, but this
day that I am telling of was one of the clearest ever seen there; the
atmosphere looking quite rarefied in spite of the sunlight.

King's donkey regaled himself with morsels of herbage, the donkey-boy
lay stretched beside him, and we boys raced about. When an hour or two
had passed, and we were as hot as fire and more hungry than hunters,
we bethought ourselves of dinner. King got on his donkey again, and
the rest of us whipped him up. When half-way down we saw Dr. Teal
gesticulating and shouting, telling us to come on and not keep dinner
waiting longer.

We had it in the room behind the well. It was a squeeze to sit round the
table. Cold meats, and salad, and pastry, and all sorts of good things.
Dan was next to me; he said he could hardly eat for thirst, and kept
drinking away at the bottled ale.

"My dear," said Mrs. Todhetley to him by-and-by, "don't you think you
had better drink some water instead--or lemonade? This bottled ale is
very strong."

"I am afraid it is," said Dan. "I'll go in for the tarts now."

The room was stuffy; and after dinner a table was carried out to a
sheltered place near the well: not much better than a little ledge of a
path, but where we could not be overlooked, and should be quite out of
the way of the hill-climbers. The bank rose perpendicularly above us,
banks descended beneath to goodness knew where; there we sat at dessert,
all sheltered. I think dark trees and shrubs overshaded us; but I am not
altogether sure.

How it came about, I hardly know: but something was brought up about
King's store of ballads, and he was asked to give us his favourite one,
"Lord Bateman," for the benefit of the company. He turned very shy, but
Captain Sanker told him not to be silly: and after going white and red
for a bit, he began. Perhaps the reader would like to hear it. I never
repeat it to myself, no, nor even a verse of it, but poor King Sanker
comes before me just as I saw him that day, his back to the ravine
below, his eyes looking at nothing, his thin hands nervously twisting
some paper about that had covered the basket of raspberries.

    Lord Bateman was a noble lord,
      A noble lord of high degree:
    He shipped himself on board a ship;
      Some foreign country he would see.

    He sailed east, he sailèd west,
      Until he came unto Turkey,
    Where he was taken, and put in prison
      Until his life was quite weary.

    In this prison there grew a tree:
      It grew so very stout and strong:
    And he was chained by the middle
      Until his life was almost gone.

    The Turk, he had one only daughter,
      The fairest creature eye e'er did see:
    She stole the keys of her father's prison,
      And said she'd set Lord Bateman free.

    "Have you got houses?--have you got lands
      Or does Northumberland belong to thee?
    And what would you give to the fair young I
      Who out of prison would set you free?"

    "Oh, I've got houses, and I've got lands,
      And half Northumberland belongs to me;
    And I'd give it all to the fair young lady
      That out of prison would set me free."

    Then she took him to her father's palace,
      And gave to him the best of wine;
    And every health that she drank to him
      Was "I wish, Lord Bateman, you were mine.

    "For seven long years I'll make a vow;
      And seven long years I'll keep it strong:
    If you will wed no other woman,
      I will wed no other man."

    Then she took him to her father's harbour,
      And gave to him a ship of fame;
    "Farewell, farewell to you, Lord Bateman;
      I fear I never shall see you again."

    When seven long years were gone and past,
      And fourteen days, well known to me;
    She packed up her gay gold and clothing,
      And said Lord Bateman she would see.

    When she came to Lord Bateman's castle,
      So boldly there she rang the bell:
    "Who's there, who's there?" cried the young proud porter:
      "Who's there, who's there, unto me tell?"

    "Oh, is this Lord's Bateman's castle?
      And is his lordship here within?"
    "Oh yes, oh yes," cried the young proud porter:
      "He has just now taken his young bride in."

    "Tell him to send me a slice of cake,
      And a bottle of the best of wine;
    And not to forget the fair young lady
      That did release him when close confined."

    Away, away went this young proud porter,
      Away, away, away went he;
    Until he came unto Lord Bateman,
      When on his bended knees fell he.

    "What news, what news, my young porter;
      What news, what news have you brought unto me?"
    "Oh, there is the fairest of all young ladies
      That ever my two eyes did see.

    "She has got rings on every finger,
      And on one of them she has got three;
    And she has as much gold round her middle
      As would buy Northumberland of thee.

    "She tells you to send her a slice of cake,
      And a bottle of the best of wine;
    And not to forget the fair young lady
      That did release you when close confined."

    Lord Bateman in a passion flew;
      He broke his sword in splinters three;
    "I'll give all my father's wealth and riches
      Now, if Sophia has crossed the sea."

    Then up spoke his young bride's mother--
      Who never was heard to speak so free:
    "Don't you forget my only daughter,
      Although Sophia has crossed the sea."

    "I own I've made a bride of your daughter
      She's none the better nor worse for me;
    She came to me on a horse and saddle,
      And she may go back in a carriage and three."

    Then another marriage was prepared,
      With both their hearts so full of glee:
    "I'll range no more to foreign countries,
      Since my Sophia has crossed the sea."

King stopped, just as shyly as he had begun. Some laughed, others
applauded him; and the Squire told us that the first time he had ever
heard "Lord Bateman" was in Sconton's show, on Worcester racecourse,
many a year ago.

After that, we broke up. I and some of the boys climbed up straight to
Lady Harcourt's Tower again. A few Frogs were about the hills, but they
did not come in contact with us. When we got back to St. Ann's the tea
was ready in the room.

"And I wish to goodness they'd have it," cried Dan, "for I'm as thirsty
as a fish. I've been asleep out there all the while on the bench in the
sun. Can't we have tea, mother?"

"As soon as ever the gentlemen come back," spoke up Mrs. Teal, who
seemed to like order. "They went down to look at the Abbey."

They were coming up then, puffing over the walk; Tod and Fred Sanker
with them. We sat down to tea; and it was half over when the two young
Sankers, King and Toby, were missed.

"Tiresome monkeys!" cried the captain. "I never came over here with a
party yet, but we had to spend the last hour or two hunting some of them
up. Well, I'll not bother myself over it: they shall find their way home
as they can."

Toby ran in presently. He had only been about the hills, he said, and
had not seen King.

"I dare say King's still in the place where we had dessert," said Hetta
Sanker, just then thinking of it. "He stayed behind us all, saying he
was tired. You boys can go and see."

I and Jim Teal ran off together. King was not there. One of the women at
the well said that when she went out for the chairs and things, just
before tea-time, nobody was there.

"Oh, he'll turn up presently," said the captain. And we went on with our
tea, and forgot him.

It was twilight when we got down to the village to start for home. The
Squire set off first: the same party with him as in the morning, except
that Mrs. Teal took her husband's place. When they were bringing out the
post-carriage, King was again thought of.

"He has stayed somewhere singing to himself," said Mrs. Sanker.

We went off in different directions, shouting our throats hoarse. Up as
far as St. Ann's, and along the hill underneath, and in all the corners
of the village: no King. It was getting strange.

"I should hope none of those impudent Frogs have made off with him!"
cried Toby Sanker.

"They are capable of anything, mind you," added Dan.

One vanload of Frogs had started; the other was getting ready to
start. The boys, gaping and listening about, saw and heard all our
consternation at the dilemma we were in. Mrs. Todhetley, who did not
understand the state of social politics, as between them and the
college school, turned and inquired whether they had seen King.

"A delicate lad, who walks lame," she explained. "We think he must have
fallen asleep somewhere on the hill: and we cannot start without him."

The Frogs showed themselves good-natured; and went tearing up towards
the hill to look for King. In passing the Unicorn, a pleasure-party
of young men and women, carrying their empty provision-baskets, came
running downwards, saying that they had heard groaning under a part of
the hill--and described where. I seemed to catch the right place, as if
by instinct, and was up there first. King was lying there; not groaning
then, but senseless or dead.

Looking upwards to note the position, we thought he must have fallen
down from the place where we had sat at dessert. Hetta Sanker said she
had left him there by himself, to rest.

"He must have dropped asleep, and fallen down," cried Dr. Teal.

King came to as they lifted him, and walked a few steps; but looked
around and fell aside as though his head were dazed. Dr. Teal thought
that there was not much the matter, and that he might be conveyed to
Worcester. Ferrar helped to carry him down the hill, and the other Frogs
followed. A fine fury their van-driver was in, at their having kept him
waiting!

King was made comfortable along the floor of the waggonette, upon some
rugs and blankets lent by the Crown; and so was taken home. When Captain
Sanker found what had happened, he grew excited, and went knocking at
half the doctors' doors in Worcester. Mr. Woodward was the first in,
then Dr. Malden and Mr. Carden came running together. By what the
captain had said, they expected to find all the house dead.

King seemed better in the morning. The injury lay chiefly in his head.
We did not hear what the doctors made of it. He was sensible, and talked
a little. When asked how he came to fall, all he said was that he "went
over and could not save himself."

Coming in, from carrying the news of how he was to the Squire and Mrs.
Todhetley at the Star, I found Mark Ferrar at the door.

"Mr. Johnny," said he, in a low voice, his plain face all concern, "how
did it happen? Sure he was not pushed over?"

"Of course not. Why do you ask it?"

Ferrar paused. "Master Johnny, when boys are lame they are more
cautious. He'd hardly be likely to slip."

"He might in walking. It's only a narrow ledge there. And his sister
says she thinks he went to sleep when she left him. She was the last who
saw him."

Mark's wide mouth went into all sorts of contortions, and the freckles
shone in the sun in his effort to get the next words out.

"I fancy it was me that saw him last, Master Johnny. Leastways, later
than his sister."

"Did you? How was that?"

"He must have seen me near the place, and he called to me. There was
nobody there but him, and some chairs and a table and glasses and
things. He asked me to sit down, and began telling me he had been
saying 'Lord Bateman' to them all. I didn't know what 'Lord Bateman'
meant, Master Johnny--and he said he would tell it me; he should not
mind then, but he had minded saying it to the company. It was poetry, I
found; but he stopped in the middle, and told me to go then, for he saw
some of them coming----"

"Some of what?" I interrupted.

"Well, I took it to mean some of his grown-up party, or else the college
boys. Anyway, he seemed to want me gone, sir, and I went off at once. I
didn't see him after that."

"He must have fallen asleep, and somehow slipped over."

"Yes, sir. What a pity he was left in that shallow place!"

King seemed to have all his wits about him, but his face had a white,
odd look in it. He lay in a room on the first floor, that belonged in
general to the two girls. When I said Mark Ferrar was outside, King
asked me to take him up. But I did not like taking him without speaking
to Captain Sanker; and I went to him in the parlour.

"The idea of a Frog coming into our house!" cried resentful Dan, as he
heard me. "It's like his impudence to stop outside it! What next? Let
him wait till King's well."

"You hold your tongue, Dan," cried the captain. "The boy shall go up,
whether he's a Frog, or whether he's one of you. Take him up, Johnny."

He did not look unlike a frog when he got into the room, with his wide,
red, freckled face and his great wide mouth--but, as I have said, it was
a face to be trusted. The first thing he did, looking at King, was to
burst into a great blubber of tears.

"I hope you'll get well," said he.

"I might have been as bad as this in the fight, but for your pulling me
out of it, Frog," said King, in his faint voice. And he did not call him
Frog in any contempt, but as though it were his name: he knew him by no
other. "Was that bump done in the battle?"

Mark had his cap off: on one side of his forehead, under the hair, we
saw a big lump the size of an egg. "Yes," he answered, "it was got in
the fight. Father thinks it never means to go down. It's pretty stiff
and sore yet."

King sighed. He was gazing up at the lump with his nice blue eyes.

"I don't think there'll be any fighting in heaven," said King. "And I
wrote out 'Lord Bateman' the other day, and they shall give it you to
keep. I didn't finish telling it to you. He owned half Northumberland;
and he married her after all. She had set him free from the prison, you
know, Frog."

"Yes," replied Frog, quite bewildered, and looking as though he could
not make top or tail of the story. "I hope you'll get well, sir. How
came you to fall?"

"I don't think they expect me to get well: they wouldn't have so many
doctors if they did. I shan't be lame, Frog, up there."

"Did you slip?--or did anybody push you?" went on Frog, lowering his
voice.

"Hush!" said King, glancing at the door. "If papa heard you say that,
he might go into a passion."

"But--was it a slip--or were you pushed over?" persisted Frog.

"My leg is always slipping: it has never been of much good to me,"
answered King. "When you come up there, and see me with a beautiful
strong body and straight limbs, you won't know me again at first.
Good-bye, till then, Frog; good-bye. It was very kind of you to carry
me out of the fight, and God saw you."

"Good-bye, sir," said Frog, with another burst, as he put out his hand
to meet poor King's white one. "Perhaps you'll get over it yet."

Tod and I took leave of them in the afternoon, and went up to the Star.
The Squire wanted to be home early. The carriage was waiting before the
gateway, the ostler holding the heads of Bob and Blister, when Captain
Sanker came up in dreadful excitement.

"He's gone," he exclaimed. "My poor King's gone. He died as the clock
was striking four."

And we had supposed King to be going on well! The Squire ordered the
horses to be put up again, and we went down to the house. The boys and
girls were all crying.

King lay stretched on the bed, his face very peaceful and looking less
white than I had sometimes seen it look in life. On the cheeks there
lingered a faint colour; his forehead felt warm; you could hardly
believe he was dead.

"He has gone to the heaven he talked of," said Mrs. Sanker, through her
tears. "He has been talking about it at intervals all day--and now he is
there; and has his harp amongst the angels."

And that was the result of our Day of Pleasure! The force of those
solemn words has rarely been brought home to hearts as it was to ours
then: "In the midst of life we are in death."



XI.

THE FINAL ENDING TO IT.


Of all the gloomy houses any one ever stayed in, Captain Sanker's was
the worst. Nothing but coffins coming into it, and all of us stealing
about on tip-toe. King lay in the room where he died. There was to be
an inquest: at which the captain was angry. But he was so excited and
sorrowful just then as to have no head at all.

Which might well be excused in him. Picture what it was! Three carriages
full of us had started on the Tuesday morning, expecting to have a day
of charming pleasure on the Malvern Hills in the July sunshine; no more
thinking of death or any other catastrophe, than if the world had never
contained such! And poor King--poor lame King, whose weakness made him
more helpless than were we strong ones, and who only on the previous
Saturday had been plucked out of the fight in Diglis Meadow and been
saved--King must fall asleep on a dangerous part of the hill and roll
down it and come home to die! "Better King than any of the rest of you,"
cried Mrs. Sanker, more than once, in her dreamy way, and with her eyes
dry, for she seemed tired of tears; "he could never have done battle
with the world as you will have to do it; and he was quite ready for
heaven."

Instead of going home with our people the day after the death, as Tod
did, I had to wait at Worcester for the inquest. When the beadle (or
whoever the officer might be; he had gold cord on his hat and white
ribbed stockings below his breeches: which stockings might have been
fellows to old Jones's of Church Dykely) came to Captain Sanker's to
make inquiries the night of the death, and heard that I had been first
up with King after his fall, he said I should have to give evidence. So
I stayed on with them--much to my uneasiness.

If I had thought the Sankers queer people before, I thought them queerer
now. Not one of the boys and girls, except Fred, cared to go alone by
the door of the room where King lay. And, talking of King, it was not
until I saw the name on the coffin-lid that I knew his name was not
King, but Kingsley. He looked as nice and peaceful as any dead lad with
a nice face could look; and yet they were afraid to pass by outside. Dan
and Ruth were the worst. I did not wonder at her--she was a little girl;
but I did at Dan. Fred told me that when they were children a servant
used to tell them stories of ghosts and dreams and banshees; Hetta and
he were too old to be frightened, but the rest had taken it all into
their nature. I privately thought that Mrs. Sanker was no better than
the fool of a servant, reciting to them her dreams and accounts of
apparitions.

King died on the Wednesday afternoon. On Thursday afternoon the inquest
took place. It was held at the Angel Inn, in Sidbury, and Mr. Robert
Allies was the foreman. Boys don't give evidence on inquests every day:
I felt shy and uncomfortable at having to do it; and perhaps that may be
the reason why the particulars remain so strongly on my memory. The time
fixed was three o'clock, but it was nearly four when they came down
to look at King: the coroner explained to the jury that he had been
detained. When they went back to the Angel Inn we followed them--Captain
Sanker, Fred, and I.

All sorts of nonsense ran about the town. It was reported that there
had been a fight with the Frogs on Malvern Hill, during which King
had been pitched over. This was only laughed at by those who knew how
foundationless it was. Not a shadow of cause existed for supposing it
to have been anything but a pure accident.

The coroner and jury sat at a long table covered with green baize. The
coroner had his clerk by him; and on one side Mr. Allies sat Captain
Chamberlain, on the other side Mr. Allcroft. Dr. Teal and Mr. Woodward
were present, and gave the medical evidence in a most learned manner.
Reduced to plainness, it meant that King had died of an injury to the
head.

When my turn came, what they chiefly asked me was, whether I had seen
or heard any quarrelling with St. Peter's boys that day at Malvern. None
whatever, I answered. Was I quite sure of that? pursued one--it was
Mr. Allcroft. I did not think there had been, or could have been, I
repeated: we and the charity boys had kept apart from each other all
day. Then another of the jury, Mr. Stone, put some questions, and then
Mr. Allen--I thought they were never going to believe me. So I said it
was the opposite of quarrelling, and told of Captain Sanker's giving one
of them half-a-crown because he had been kind to King on Saturday, and
of some of the boys--all who had not gone home in the first van--having
helped us to look for King at night. After they had turned me inside
out, the coroner could say that these questions were merely put for
form's sake and for the satisfaction of the public.

When the witnesses were done with, the coroner spoke to the jury. I
suppose it was his charge. It seemed all as plain as a turnpike, he
said: the poor little lame boy had slipped and fallen. The probability
was that he had dropped asleep too near the edge of the perpendicular
bank, and had either fallen over _in_ his sleep, or in the act of
awaking. He (the coroner) thought it must have been the former, as no
cry appeared to have been made, or heard. Under these circumstances, he
believed the jury could have no difficulty in arriving at their verdict.

The last word, "verdict," was still on his tongue, when some commotion
took place at the end of the room. A working-man, in his shirt-sleeves
and a leather apron on, was pushing in through the crowd at the door,
making straight for the table and the coroner. Some of the jury knew him
for John Dance, a glove-cutter at a Quaker gentleman's manufactory hard
by. He begged pardon of the gentlefolk for coming amid 'em abrupt like
that, he said, just as he was, but something had but now come to his
hearing about the poor little boy who had died. It made him fear he had
not fell of himself, but been flung over, and he had thought it his duty
to come and tell it.

The consternation this suggestion created, delivered in its homely
words, would not be easy to describe. Captain Sanker, who had been
sitting against the wall, got up in agitation. John Dance was asked his
grounds for what he said, and was entering into a long rigmarole of a
tale when the coroner stopped him, and bade him simply say how it had
come to his own knowledge. He answered that upon going home just now to
tea, from his work, his son Harry, who was in St. Peter's School, told
him of it, having been sent to do so by the master, Clerk Jones. His son
was with him, waiting to be questioned.

The boy came forward, very red and sheepish, looking as though he
thought he was going to be hung. He stammered and stuttered in giving
his answers to the coroner.

The tale he told was this. His name was Henry Dance, aged thirteen.
He was on the hill, not very far from St. Ann's Well, on the Tuesday
afternoon, looking about for Mark Ferrar. All on a sudden he heard some
quarrelling below him: somebody seemed to be in a foaming passion, and
little King the lame boy called out in a fright, "Oh, don't! don't!
you'll throw me over!" Heard then a sort of rustle of shrubs--as it
sounded to him--and then heard the steps of some one running away along
the path below the upright bank. Couldn't _see_ anything of this; the
bank prevented him; but did see the arm of the boy who was running as
he turned round the corner. Didn't see the boy; only saw his left arm
swaying; he had a green handkerchief in his hand. Could not tell whether
it was one of their boys (St. Peter's) or one of the college boys;
didn't see enough of him for that. Didn't know then that anything bad
had happened, and thought no more about it at all; didn't hear of it
till the next morning: he had been in the first van that left Malvern,
and went to bed as soon as he got home.

The account was listened to breathlessly. The boy was in a regular
fright while he told it, but his tones and looks seemed honest and true.

"How did you know it was King Sanker's voice you heard?" asked the
coroner.

"Please, sir, I didn't know it," was the answer. "When I came to hear of
his fall the next day, I supposed it must ha' been his. I didn't know
anybody had fell down; I didn't hear any cry."

"What time in the afternoon was this?"

"Please, sir, I don't know exact. We had our tea at four: it wasn't
over-long after that."

"Did you recognize the other voice?"

"No, sir. It was a boy's voice."

"Was it one you had ever heard before?"

"I couldn't tell, sir; I wasn't near enough to hear or to catch the
words. King Sanker spoke last, just as I got over the spot."

"You heard of the accident the next morning, you say. Did you hear of
it early?"

"It was afore breakfast, sir. Some of our boys that waited for the last
van telled me; and Ferrar, he telled me. They said they had helped to
look for him."

"And then it came into your mind, that it was King Sanker you had heard
speak?"

"Yes, sir, it did. It come right into my mind, all sudden like, that he
might have been throwed over."

"Well now, Mr. Harry Dance, how was it that you did not at once hasten
to report this? How is it that you have kept it in till now?"

Harry Dance looked too confused and frightened to answer. He picked at
the band of his grey cap and stood, first on one foot, then on the
other. The coroner pressed the question sharply, and he replied in
confusion.

Didn't like to tell it. Knew people were saying it might have been one
of their boys that had pitched him over. Was afraid to tell. Did say a
word to Mark Ferrar; not much: Ferrar wanted to know more, and what it
was he meant, but didn't tell him. That was yesterday morning. Had felt
uncomfortable ever since then, wanting to tell, but not liking to. This
afternoon, in school, writing their copies at the desk, he had told Tom
Wood'art, the carpenter's son, who sat next him; leastways, had said the
college boy had not fell of himself, but been pitched over; and Tom
Wood'art had made him tell it to another boy, Collins; and then the two
had went up to the desk and telled their master, Mr. Jones; and Mr.
Jones, after calling him up to ask about it, had ordered him home to
tell it all to his father; and his father said he must come and tell it
here.

The father, John Dance, spoke up again to confirm this, so far as his
part went. He was so anxious it should be told to the gentlemen at once,
he repeated, that he had come out all untidy as he was, not stopping to
put himself to rights in any way.

The next person to step forward was Mr. Jones, in his white cravat and
black clothes. He stated that the two boys, Thomas Woodward and James
Collins, had made this strange communication to him. Upon which he
had questioned Dance, and at once despatched him home to acquaint his
father.

"What sort of a boy is Harry Dance, Mr. Jones?" inquired the coroner. "A
truthful boy?--one to be depended on? Some boys, as I dare say you know,
are capable of romancing in the most unaccountable manner: inventing
lies by the bushel."

"The boy is truthful, sir; a sufficiently good boy," was the reply.
"Some of them are just what you describe; but Dance, so far as I
believe, may be relied upon."

"Well, now, if this is to be credited, it must have been one of St.
Peter's boys who threw the deceased over," observed a juryman at the
other end. "Did you do it yourself, Harry Dance? Stand straight, and
answer."

"No, sir; I shouldn't never like to do such a cowardly thing," was the
answer, given with a rush of fear--if the look of his face might be
trusted. "I was not anigh him."

"It must have been one of you. This is the result of that fight you two
sets of boys held on Saturday. You have been harbouring malice."

"Please, sir, I wasn't in the fight on Saturday. I had went over to
Clains on an errand for mother."

"That's true," said Clerk Jones. "Dance was not in the fight at all. As
far as I can ascertain, there was no ill-feeling displayed on either
side at Malvern; no quarrelling of any kind." And Captain Sanker, who
was standing up to listen, confirmed this.

"The natural deduction to be drawn is, that if the deceased was flung
over, it was by one of St. Peter's boys--though the probability is that
he did not intend to inflict much injury," observed one of the jury to
the rest. "Boys are so reprehensibly thoughtless. Come, Harry Dance! if
you did not give him a push yourself, you can tell, I dare say, who
did."

But Dance, with tears in his eyes, affirmed that he knew no more than
he had told: he had not the least notion who the boy was that had been
quarrelling with King. He saw none of the boys, St. Peter's boys or
college boys, about the hill at that time; though he was looking out for
them, because he wanted to find Ferrar: and he knew no more than the
dead what boy it was who had run away, for he saw nothing but his arm
and a green handkerchief.

"Did you find Ferrar after that?" resumed the coroner.

"Yes, sir; not long after. I found him looking for me round on t'other
side of St. Ann's Well."

"By the way--on which side of St. Ann's Well is situated the spot where
you heard the quarrel?"

"On the right-hand side, sir, looking _down_ the hill," said the boy.
And by the stress laid on the "down" I judged him to be given to
exactness. "I know the place, sir. If you take a sideway path from the
Well bearing down'ards, you come to it. It's shady and quiet there; a
place that nobody hardly finds out."

"Did you say anything to Ferrar, when you found him, of what you had
heard?"

"No, sir. I didn't think any more about it. I didn't think any harm had
been done."

"But you did mention it to Ferrar the next morning?"

"Yes, sir, I had heard of it, then."

"What did you say?"

"I only said I was afeard he might have been throwed over. Ferrar asked
me why, but I didn't like to say no more, for fear of doing mischief. It
wasn't me," added Dance, appealing piteously to the jury. "I wouldn't
have hurt a hair of his head: he was weak and lame."

"Is Ferrar here?" cried the coroner. "We must have him."

Ferrar was not there. And Mr. Jones, speaking up, said he had seen
nothing of Ferrar since the previous day. He was informed that he had
taken French leave to go off somewhere--which kind of leave, in point of
fact, he added, Master Ferrar was much in the habit of taking.

"But where has he gone?" cried the coroner. "You don't mean he has
decamped?"

"Decamped for the time being," said Mr. Jones. "He will no doubt put in
an appearance in a day or two."

Not one of the jury but pricked up his ears; not one, I could see it in
their faces, but was beginning to speculate on this absence of Ferrar's.
The coroner was staring straight before him, speculating too: and just
then Fred Sanker said something in a half-whisper.

"Ferrar was with my brother King at the spot where he fell from. As far
as we know he was the last person who ever saw him alive."

"And not here!" cried the coroner. "Why is he not? Where does the
neglect lie, I wonder? Gentlemen, I think we had better send round for
his father, and ask an explanation."

In a small town like Worcester (small in comparison with great capitals)
the inhabitants, rich and poor, mostly know one another, what they are,
and where their dwelling is. Old Ferrar lived within a stone's-throw of
the Angel; he was a china painter, employed by the Messrs. Chamberlain.
Some one ran for him; and he came; a tidy-looking man in a good coat,
with grey whiskers and grey hair. He bowed civilly to the room, and gave
his name as Thomas Ferrar.

As far as anything connected with what took place at Malvern he was in
total ignorance, he said. When his son Mark got home on the Tuesday
night, he had told him that Captain Sanker's little boy had fallen down
a part of the hill, and that he, Mark, had been one of those who helped
to find him. In the afternoon of the same day they heard the little boy
had died.

"Where is your son?" asked the coroner.

"I am not sure where he is," replied Thomas Ferrar. "When I and his
brother got home from the factory on Wednesday evening, my daughter
told me Mark had gone off again. Somebody had given him half-a-crown,
I believe. With that in his pocket, he was pretty sure to go off on
one of his rovings."

"He is in the habit of going off, then?"

"Yes, sir, he has done it on occasion almost ever since he could run
alone. I used to leather him well for it, but it was of no use; it
didn't stop it. It's his only fault. Barring that, he's as good and
upright a lad as anybody need have. He does not go off for the purpose
of doing harm: neither does he get into any."

"Where does he go to?"

"Always to one of two places; to South Crabb, or to his grandfather's
at Pinvin. It's generally to South Crabb, to see the Batleys, who are
cousins of my late wife's. They've boys and girls of Mark's own age,
and he likes to be there."

"You conclude, then, that he is at one of these places now?"

"Sure to be, sir; and I think it's sure to be South Crabb. He was at
Pinvin a fortnight ago; for I walked over on the Sunday morning and took
him with me. Mark is of a roving turn; he is always talking of wanting
to see the world. I don't believe he'll ever settle down to steady work
at home."

"Well, we want him here, Mr. Ferrar; and must have him too. Could you
send after him--and get him here by to-morrow?"

"I can send his brother after him, if you say it must be. The likelihood
is that he will come home of himself to-morrow evening."

"Ay, but we must have him here in the afternoon, you see. We want to
hear what he can tell us about the deceased. It is thought that he was
the last person with him before the fall. And, gentlemen," added the
coroner, turning to the jury, "I will adjourn proceedings to the same
hour to-morrow--three o'clock."

So the inquest was adjourned accordingly, and the room slowly cleared
itself. Very slowly. People stood in groups of threes and fours to talk
to each other. This new evidence was startling: and the impression it
made was, that one of the Frogs had certainly thrown King down.

The green handkerchief was mentioned. Coloured silk pocket-handkerchiefs
were much patronized by gentlemen then, and the one used by Dr. Teal
that day happened to be green. The doctor said he had missed his
handkerchief when they were down at the Abbey before tea, but could not
tell where he had left it. He found it in the room at St. Ann's when
they got up again, and supposed it had been there all along. So that
handkerchief was not much thought of: especially as several of the Frogs
had green neckerchiefs on, and might have taken them off, as it was
very hot. That a Frog had flung King over, appeared to be, to use the
coroner's words on another part of the subject, as plain as a turnpike.
The Sankers, one and all, adopted it as conclusive; Captain Sanker in
particular was nearly wild, and said bitter things of the Frogs. Poor
King still lay in the same room, and none of them, as before, cared to
go by the door.

It must have been in the middle of the night. Anyway, it looked
pitch-dark. I was asleep, and dreaming that we were sorting
handkerchiefs: all colours seemed to be there but a green one, and
that--the one being looked for--we could not find: when something
suddenly woke me. A hand was grasping at my shoulder.

"Halloa! who's there?"

"I say, Johnny, I can't stop in my bed; I've come to yours. If you mind
my getting in, I'll lie across the foot, and get to sleep that way."

The voice was Dan's, and it had no end of horror in it. He was standing
by the bed in his night-shirt, shivering. And yet the summer's night was
hot.

"Get in, if you like, Dan: there's plenty of room. What's the matter
with your own bed?"

"King's there," he said, in a dreadful whisper, as he crept trembling
in.

"King! Why, what do you mean?"

"He comes in and lies down in his place just as he used to lie,"
shivered Dan. "I asked Toby to sleep with me to-night, and Fred wouldn't
let him. Fred ought to be ashamed; it's all his ill-nature. He's bigger
than I am, one of the seniors, and he never cares whether he sleeps
alone or not."

"But, Dan, you should not get these fancies into your head about King.
You know it's not true."

"I tell you it is true. King's there. First of all, he stood at the foot
of the bed and looked at me; and then, when I hid my face, I found he
had got into it. He's lying there, just as he used to lie, his face
turned to the wall."

"To begin with, you couldn't see him--him, or any one else. It's too
dark."

"It's not dark. My room's lighter than this; it has a bigger window: and
the sky was bright and the stars were out. Anyway, Johnny, it was light
enough to see King--and there he was. Do you think I'd tell a lie over
it?"

I can't say I felt very comfortable myself. It's not pleasant to be woke
up with this kind of thing at the top of a house when somebody's lying
dead underneath. Dan's voice was enough to give one the shivers, let
alone his words. Some stars came out, and I could see the outline of the
furniture: or perhaps the stars had been shining all along; only, on
first awaking, the eye is not accustomed to the darkness.

"Try and go to sleep, Dan. You'll be all right in the morning."

To go to sleep seemed, however, to be far enough from Dan's thoughts.
After a bit of uneasy turning and trembling--and I'm sure any one would
have said his legs had caught St. Vitus's dance--he gave sleep up as
a bad job, and broke out now and again with all sorts of detached
comments. I could only lie and listen.

Wondered whether he should be seeing King always?--if so, would rather
be dead. Wished he had not gone to sleep on that confounded bench
outside St. Ann's Well--might have been at hand near King, and saved
him, if he had not. It was that beastly bottled ale that made him.
Wished bottled ale had not been invented. Wished he could wring Dance's
neck--or Ferrar's--or that Wood'arts, whichever of the lot it was that
had struck King. Knew it was one of the three. What on earth could have
taken the Frogs to Malvern that day?--Wished every Frog ever born was
hanged or drowned. Thought it must be Ferrar--else why had the fellow
decamped? Thought the whole boiling of Frogs should be driven from the
town--how dared they, the insolent charity beggars, have their school
near the college school? Wondered what would be done to Ferrar if it was
proved against him? Wished it had been Ferrar to fall down in place of
King. Wished it had been himself (Dan) rather than King. Poor King!--who
was always so gentle--and never gave offence to any of them--and was so
happy with his hymns and his fancies, and his poetry!--and had said
"Lord Bateman" for them that day when told to say it, and--and----

At this thought Dan broke fairly down and sobbed as though his heart
were breaking. I felt uncommonly sorry for him; he had been very fond of
King; and I was sorry for his superstition. What a mistake it seemed for
Mrs. Sanker to have allowed them to grow up in it.

At three o'clock the next day the inquest met again. The coroner and
jury, who seemed to have got thoroughly interested in the case now, kept
their time to a minute. There was much stir in the neighbourhood, and
the street was full before the Angel Inn. As to Frog Lane, it was said
the excitement there had never been equalled. The report that it was one
of St. Peter's boys who had done it, went echoing everywhere; no one
thought of doubting it. _I_ did not. Watching Harry Dance's face when he
had given his evidence, I felt sure that every word he said was true.
Some one _had_ flung King over: and that some one, there could be no
question of it, was one of those common adversaries, the Frogs. If King
must have gone to sleep that afternoon, better that Dan, as he had said,
or one of the rest of us, had stayed by to protect him!

Mark Ferrar had turned up. His brother found him at South Crabb. He came
to the inquest in his best clothes, those he had worn at Malvern. I
noticed then, but I had not remembered it, that he had a grass-green
neckerchief on, tied with a large bow and ends. His good-natured, ugly,
honest face was redder than ever as he stood to give his evidence. He
did not show any of the stammering confusion that Dance had done, but
spoke out with modest self-possession.

His name was Mark Ferrar, aged nearly fourteen (and looking ever so much
older), second son of Thomas Ferrar, china painter. He had seen the
deceased boy, King Sanker, at Malvern on Tuesday. When he and some more
of St. Peter's boys were coming down the hill they had met King and his
party. King spoke to him and told his father, Captain Sanker, that he
was the Frog--the college boys called them Frogs--who had picked him up
out of the fight on Saturday to save him from being crushed: and Captain
Sanker thanked him and gave him half-a-crown to spend in Malvern cakes.
Master Johnny Ludlow was with the Sankers, and saw and heard this. Did
not buy the Malvern cakes: had meant to, and treat the rest of the boys;
but dinner was ready near the foot of the hill when they got down,
and forgot it afterwards. After dinner he and a lot more boys went up
another of the beacons and down on the Herefordshire side. They got back
about four o'clock, and had bread-and-butter and cider for tea. Then he
and Harry Dance went up the hill again, taking two ways, to see which
would be at St. Ann's Well first. Couldn't see Dance when he got up,
thought he might be hiding, and went looking about for him. Went along a
side-path leading off from St. Ann's; 'twas sheltered, and thought Dance
might be there. Suddenly heard himself called to: looked onwards, and
saw the lame boy, King Sanker, there, and some chairs and glasses on a
table. Went on, and King asked him to sit down, and began talking to
him, saying he had had to say "Lord Bateman" before them all. He,
Ferrar, did not know what "Lord Bateman" was, and King said he would say
it to him. Began to say it; found it was poetry verses: King had said a
good many when he broke off in the middle of one, and told him to go
then, for they were coming. Did not know who "they" meant, did not see
or hear anybody himself; but went away accordingly. Went looking all
about for Dance again; found him by-and-by on a kind of plateau on the
other side of St. Ann's. They went up the hill together, and only got
down again when it was time to start for Worcester. He did not go in the
first van; there was no room; waited for the second. Saw the other party
starting: heard that some one was missing: found it was King; offered to
help to look for him. Was going up with the rest past the Unicorn, when
some people met them, saying they'd heard groans. Ran on, and found it
was King Sanker. He seemed to have fallen right down from the place
where he had been sitting in the afternoon, and where he, Ferrar, had
left him.

Such in substance was the evidence he gave. Some of it I could
corroborate, and did. I told of King's asking that Ferrar might go up
to him the next day, and of his promising him "Lord Bateman," which he
had got by him, written out.

But Ferrar was not done with. Important questions had to be asked him
yet. Sometimes it was the coroner who put them, sometimes one or other
of the jury.

"Did you see anything at all of the deceased after leaving him as you
have described, Mark Ferrar?"

"No, sir. I never saw him again till night, when we found him lying
under a part of the hill."

"When you quitted him at his bidding, did you see any boys about, either
college boys or St. Peter's boys?"

"No, sir, I did not see any; not one. The hills about there seemed as
lonely as could be."

"Which way did you take when you left him?"

"I ran straight past St. Ann's, and got on to the part that divides the
Worcestershire beacon from the next. Waiting for Dance, I sat down on
the slope, and looked at Worcester for a bit, trying how much of the
town I could make out, and how many of the churches, and that. As I was
going back toward St. Ann's I met Dance."

"What did Dance say to you?"

"He said he had been hunting for me, and wanted to know where I had hid
myself, and I said I had been hunting for him. We went on up the hill
then and met some more of our boys; and we stayed all together till it
was time to go down."

"Did Dance say that he had heard sounds of quarrelling?"

"No, sir, never a word."

"What communication did Dance make to you on the subject the following
morning?"

"Nothing certain, sir. Dance went home in the first van, and he didn't
hear about King Sanker till the morning. I was saying then how we found
him, and that he must have fell straight off from the place above. Dance
stopped me, and said was it sure that he fell--was it sure he had not
been pushed off? I asked why he said that, but he wouldn't answer."

"Did he refuse to answer?"

"I kept asking him to tell me, but he just said it was only a fancy that
came to him. He had interrupted so eager like, that I thought he must
have heard something. Later, I asked Master Johnny Ludlow whether the
boy had been pushed off, but he said no. I couldn't get it out of my
head, however."

"What clothes did you wear, witness, that day at Malvern?"

"These here that I've got on now, sir."

"Did you wear that same green neckerchief?"

"Yes, sir. My sister Sally bought it new for me to go in."

"Did you take it off at Malvern?"

"No, sir."

"Not at all?"

"No, sir. Some of them took their handkerchers off at dinner, because it
was hot, but I didn't."

"Why did you not?"

For the first time Ferrar hesitated. His face turned scarlet.

"Come, speak up. The truth, mind."

"Sally had told me not to mess my new silk handkercher, for I wasn't
likely to have another of one while; and I thought if I got untying and
re-tying of it, I should mess it." It seemed quite a task to Ferrar to
confess this. He feared the boys would laugh at him. But I think no one
doubted that it was the true reason.

"You did not take it off while you were sitting with the deceased?"

"No, sir. I never took it off all day."

"Take it off now."

Mark Ferrar looked too surprised to understand the order, and did
nothing. The coroner repeated it.

"Take off this here handkercher, sir? Now?"

"Yes. The jury wish to see it open."

Mark untied the bow and pulled it off, his very freckles showing out
red. It was a three-cornered silk neckerchief, as green as grass.

"Was this like the kerchief you saw being swung about, Harry Dance?"
asked the coroner, holding it up, and then letting it drop on the table.

Harry Dance gazed at it as it lay, and shook his head. "I don't think it
were the one, sir," he said.

"Why don't you think it?"

"That there looks smaller and brighter, and t'other was bigger and
darker. Leastways, I think it were."

"Was it more like this?" interrupted Dr. Teal, shaking out his
handkerchief from his pocket.

"I don't know, sir. It seemed like a big handkerchief, and was about
that there colour o' your'n."

Some inquiry was made at this point as to the neckerchiefs worn by the
other boys. It turned out that two or three had worn very large ones,
something the colour of Dr. Teal's. So that passed.

"One word, Harry Dance. Did you see Ferrar with his handkerchief off
that day?"

"I didn't notice, sir: I don't remember. Some of us took 'em off on the
hills--'twas very hot--and never put 'em on again all day."

The coroner and jury talked together, and then Harry Dance was told to
repeat the evidence he had given the day before. He went over it again:
the sounds of quarrelling, and the words in the voice he had supposed to
be King's: "Oh, don't--don't! you'll throw me over."

"Had Ferrar his neckerchief on when you met him soon after this?"
questioned Captain Chamberlain.

"I think he had, sir. I think if he had not I should ha' noticed it. I'm
nearly as sure as I can be that it wasn't off."

When Dance was done with, Mark Ferrar was begun upon again.

"What induced you to go off from your home on Wednesday evening without
notice?" asked the coroner.

"I went to South Crabb, sir."

"I don't ask you where you went, I ask why you went?"

"I go over there sometimes, sir. I told Sally I was going."

"Can't you understand my question? _Why_ did you go?"

"Nothing particular made me go, sir. Only that I had got some money; and
I was feeling so sorry that the little lame boy was dead, I couldn't
bear to be still."

"You have been punished often, Mark Ferrar, for going off on these
expeditions?" cried one of the jury.

"I used to be, sir. Father has leathered me for it at home, and Clerk
Jones at school. I can't do without going out a bit. I wish I was a
sailor."

"Oh, indeed! Well--is there one of your companions that you can suspect
of having harmed this poor little boy--accidentally or otherwise?"

"No, sir. It is being said that he was pushed over in ill-feeling, or
else by accident; but it don't seem likely."

"Did you push him over yourself?"

"Me!" returned Ferrar, in surprise. "Me push him over!"

"As far as we can learn yet, no one was with him there but you."

"I'd have saved him from it, sir, if I had been there, instead of
harming him. When he sent me away he was all right, and not sitting
anigh the edge. If it was me that had done it, sir, he'd not have asked
for me to go up to him in his room--and shook hands--and said I should
see him in heaven."

Mark Ferrar broke down at the remembrance, and sobbed like a child. I
don't think one single person present thought it was he, especially the
coroner and jury. But the question was--which of the other boys could it
have been?

Several of them were called before the coroner. One and all declared
they had done no harm to the deceased--had not been near him to do
it--would not have done it if they had been--did not know he had been
sitting in the place talked of--did not (most of them) know where the
spot was now. In short, they denied it utterly.

Mr. Jones stepped forward then. He told the coroner and jury that he had
done his best to come to the bottom of the affair, but could not find
out anything. He did not believe one of his boys had been in it; they
were mischievous enough, as he well knew, and sometimes deceitful
enough; but they all seemed to be, and he honestly believed _were_,
innocent of this.

The room was cleared while the jury deliberated. Their verdict was to
the effect that Kingsley Sanker had died from falling over a portion of
one of the Malvern hills; but whether the fall was caused by accident,
or not, there was not sufficient evidence to show.

It was late when it was over. Growing dusk. In turning out of the inn
passage to the street, I remember the great buzz around, and the people
pushing one's elbows; and I can't remember much more. If one Frog was
there, it seemed to me that there were hundreds.

I stayed at Captain Sanker's again that night. We all went up to bed
after supper and prayers--which the captain read. He said he could not
divest himself of the idea that it was a pure accident--for who would be
likely to harm a helpless lad?--and that what Dance heard must have been
some passing dispute connected with other people.

"Come along, Johnny: this one candle'll do for us both," cried Dan,
taking up a bed candlestick and waiting for me to follow him.

I kept close to him as we went by the room--_the_ room, you know--for
Dan was worse than any of them for passing it. He and King had been much
together. King followed him in age; they had always slept together and
gone to school together; the rest were older or younger--and naturally
Dan felt it most.

"I shan't be a minute, Johnny, and then you can take the candle," said
he, when we got to the top. "Come in."

Before I had well turned round, after getting in, I declare Dan had
rushed all his things off in a heap and leaped into bed. Poor King used
not to be so quick, and Dan always made him put the light out.

"Good-night, Dan."

"Good-night, Johnny. I hope I shall get to sleep."

He put his head under the bedclothes as I went away with the candle. I
was not long getting into bed either. The stars were bright in the sky.

Before there was time to get to sleep, Dan came bursting in, shivering
as on the past night, and asking to be let get into the bed. I did not
mind his being in the bed--liked it rather, for company--but I did
think it a great stupid pity that he should be giving way to these
superstitious fears as though he were a girl.

"Look here, Dan: I should be above it. One of the smallest of those
Frogs couldn't show out more silly than this."

"He's in my bed again, Johnny. Lying down. I can't sleep there another
night."

"You know that he is below in his coffin--with the room-door locked."

"I don't care--he's there in the bed. You had no sooner gone with the
light than King crept in and lay down beside me. He used to have a way
of putting his left arm over me outside the clothes, and he put it so
to-night."

"Dan!"

"I tell you he did. Nobody would believe it, but he did. I felt it like
a weight. It was heavy, just as dead arms are. Johnny, if this goes on,
I shall die. Have you heard what mamma says?"

"No. What?"

"She says _she_ saw King last night. She couldn't sleep; and by-and-by,
happening to look out of bed, she saw him standing there. He was looking
very solemn, and did not speak. She turned to awake papa, in spite of
the way he goes on ridiculing such things, but when she looked next King
had gone. I wish he was buried, Johnny; I shouldn't think he could come
back into the house then. Should you?"

"He's not in it now--in that sense. It's all imagination."

"Is it! I should like you to have been in my bed, instead of me; you'd
have seen whether it was imagination or not. Do you suppose his heavy
arm across me was fancy?"

"Well, he does not come in here. Let us go to sleep. Good-night, Dan."

Dan lay still for a good bit, and I was nearly asleep when he awoke me
sobbing. His face was turned the other way.

"I wish you'd kill me, Johnny."

"Kill you!"

"I don't care to live any longer without King. It is so lonely. There's
nobody now. Fred's getting to be almost a man, and Toby's a little
duffer. King was best. I've many a time snubbed him and boxed him, and I
always put upon him; and--and now he's gone. I wish I had fallen down
instead of him."

"You'll get over it, Dan."

"Perhaps. But it's such a thing to get over. And the time goes so
slowly. I wish it was this time next year!"

"Do you know what some of the doctors say?"

"What do they say?" returned Dan, putting the tip of his nose out of
bed.

"Dr. Teal told Captain Sanker of it; I was by and heard him. They think
that poor King would not have lived above another year, or so: that
there was no chance of his living to grow up. So you might have lost him
soon in any case, Dan."

"But he'd have been here till then; he wouldn't have died through
falling down Malvern Hill. Oh, and to think that I was rough with him
often!--and didn't try to help him when he wanted it! and laughed at his
poetry! Johnny, I wish you'd kill me! I wish it had been me to fall over
instead of him!"

There was not one of them that felt it as keenly as Dan did: but the
chances were that he would forget King the soonest. Dan was of that
impetuous warm nature that's all fire at first; and all forgetfulness
when the fire goes out.

I went home the next day to Crabb Cot. Mr. Coney came into Worcester to
attend the corn-market, and offered to drive me back in his gig. So I
took my leave of the Sankers, and my last look at poor King in his
coffin. He was to be buried on Monday in St. Peter's churchyard.

                 *       *       *       *       *

The next news we had from Worcester was that Mark Ferrar had gone to
sea. His people had wanted him to take up some trade at home; but Mark
said he was not going to stay there to be told every day of his life
that he killed King Sanker. For some of the Frogs had taken up the
notion that it must have been he--why else, they asked, did the coroner
and the rest of 'em want to see his green handkercher shook out? So his
father, who was just as much hurt at the aspersions as Mark, allowed him
to have his way and go to sea; in spite of Sally crying her eyes out,
and foretelling that he would come home drowned. Mark was sent to London
to some friend, who undertook to make the necessary arrangements; he was
bound apprentice to the sea, and shipped off in a trading vessel sailing
for Spain.

It was Michaelmas when we next went in to Worcester (save for a day at
the festival), driving in from Dyke Manor: the Squire, Mrs. Todhetley,
and I. You have heard the expedition mentioned before, for it was
the one when we hired the dairymaid, Grizzel, at St. John's mop. That
business over, we went down to Captain Sanker's and found them at home.

They were all getting pretty well over the death now, except Dan. Dan's
grief and nervousness were as bad as ever. Worse, even. Captain and Mrs.
Sanker enlarged upon it.

"Dan grieves after his brother dreadfully: they were always companions,
you see," said the captain. "He has foolish fancies also: thinks he sees
King continually. We have had to put him to sleep with Fred downstairs,
for nothing would persuade him that King, poor fellow, did not come
and get into his old place in bed. The night the poor lad was buried,
Dan startled the whole house up; he flew down the stairs crying and
shrieking, and saying that King was there. We don't know what to do: he
seems to get worse, rather than better. Did you notice how thin he has
become? You saw him as you came in."

"Like a bag of bones," said the Squire.

"Ay. Some days he is so nervous and ill he can't go to school. I never
knew such a thing, for my part. I was for trying flogging, but his
mother wouldn't have it."

"But--do you mean to tell us, Sanker, that he fancies he sees King's
_ghost_?" cried the Squire, in great amazement.

"Well, I suppose so," answered the captain. "He fancies he sees _him_:
and poor King, as far as this world's concerned, can be nothing but
a ghost now. The other evening, when Dan had been commanded to the
head-master's house for something connected with the studies and
detained till after dark, he came rushing in with a white face and his
hair all wet, saying he had met King under the elm-trees, as he was
running back through the green towards Edgar Tower. How can you deal
with such a case?"

"I should say flogging would be as good as anything," said the Squire,
decidedly.

"So I thought at first. He's too ill for it now. There's nothing,
hardly, left of him to flog."

"Captain Sanker, there is only one thing for you to do," put in Mrs.
Todhetley. "And that is, consult a clever medical man."

"Why, my dear lady, we have taken him to pretty nearly all the medical
men in Worcester," cried the captain. "He goes regularly to Dr.
Hastings."

"And what do the doctors say?"

"They think that the catastrophe of King's unhappy death has seized upon
the lad's mind, and brought on a sort of hypochondriacal affection. One
of them said it was what the French would call a _maladie des nerfs_.
Dan seems so full of self-reproach, too."

"What for?"

"Well, for not having made more of King when he was living. And also, I
think, for having suffered himself to fall asleep that afternoon on the
bench outside the Well: he says had he kept awake he might have been
with King, and so saved him. But, as I tell Dan, there's nothing to
reproach himself with in that: he could not foresee that King would meet
with the accident. The doctors say now that he must have change of air,
and be got away altogether. They recommend the sea."

"The sea! Do you mean sea-air?"

"No; the sea itself; a voyage: and Dan's wild to go. A less complete
change than that, they think, will be of little avail, for his illness
borders almost--almost upon lunacy. I'm sure, what with one thing and
another, we seem to be in for a peck of misfortunes," added the captain,
rumpling his hair helplessly.

"And shall you let him go to sea?"

"Well, I don't know. I stood out against it at first. Never meant to
send a son of mine to sea; that has always been my resolution. Look
at what I had to starve upon for ever so many years--a lieutenant's
half-pay--and to keep my wife and bring up my children upon it! You
can't imagine it, Squire; it's cruel. Dan's too old for the navy,
however; and, if he does go, it must be into the merchant service. I
don't like that, either; we regular sailors never do like it, we hold
ourselves above it; but there's a better chance of getting on in it and
of making money."

"I'm sure I am very sorry for it altogether," said Mrs. Todhetley. "A
sailor cannot have any comfort."

"I expect he'll have to go," said the captain, ruefully: "he must get
these ideas out of his head. It's such a thing, you see, for him to be
always fancying he sees King."

"It is a dreadful thing."

"My wife had a brother once who was always seeing odd colours wherever
he looked: colours and shadows and things. But that was not as bad as
this. His doctor called it nerves: and I conclude Dan takes after him."

"My dear, I think Dan takes after your side, not mine," calmly put in
Mrs Sanker, who had her light hair flowing and something black in it
that looked like a feather. "He is so very passionate, you know: and I
could not go into a passion if I tried."

"I suppose he takes after us both," returned Captain Sanker. "I know he
never got his superstitious fancies from me, or from any one belonging
to me. We may be of a passionate nature, we Sankers, but we don't see
ghosts."

In a week or two's time after that, Dan was off to sea. A large shipping
firm, trading from London to India, took him as midshipman. The ship was
called the _Bangalore_; a fine vessel of about fourteen hundred tons,
bound for some port out there. When Captain Sanker came back from
shipping him off, he was full of spirits, and said Dan was cured
already. No sooner was Dan amidst the bustle of London, than his fears
and fancies left him.

It was some time in the course of the next spring--getting on for
summer, I think--that Captain Sanker gave up his house in Worcester, and
went abroad, somewhere into Germany. Partly from motives of economy, for
they had no idea of saving, and somehow spent more than their income;
partly to see if change would get up Mrs. Sanker's health, which was
failing. After that, we heard nothing more of them: and a year or two
went on.

                 *       *       *       *       *

"Please, sir, here's a young man asking to see you."

"A young man asking to see me," cried the Squire--we were just finishing
dinner. "Who is it, Thomas?"

"I don't know, sir," replied old Thomas. "Some smart young fellow
dressed as a sailor. I've showed him into your room, sir."

"Go and see who it is, Johnny."

It was summer-time, and we were at home at Dyke Manor. I went on to the
little square room. You have been in it too. Opposite the Squire's old
bureau and underneath the map of Warwickshire on the wall, sat the
sailor. He had good blue clothes on and a turned-down white collar,
and held a straw hat in his hand. Where had I seen the face? A very
red-brown honest face, with a mouth as wide as Molly's rolling-pin.
Wider, now that it was smiling.

He stood up, and turned his straw hat about a little nervously. "You've
forgotten me, Master Johnny. Mark Ferrar, please, sir."

Mark Ferrar it was, looking shorter and broader; and I put out my hand
to him. I take my likes and dislikes, as you have already heard, and
can't help taking them; and Ferrar was one whom I had always liked.

"Please, sir, I've made bold to come over here," he went on. "Captain
Sanker's left Worcester, they tell me, and I can't hear where he is to
be found: and the Teals, they have left. I've brought news to him from
his son, Mr. Dan: and father said I had better come over here and tell
it, and maybe Squire Todhetley might get it sent to the captain."

"Have you seen anything of Mr. Dan, then?"

"I've been with him nearly all the time, Master Johnny. We served on the
same ship: he as middy and I as working apprentice. Not but what the
middies are apprenticed just as sure as we are. They don't do our rough
work, the cleaning and that, and they mess apart; but that's pretty nigh
all the difference."

"And how are you getting on, Mark?"

"First-rate, sir. The captain and officers are satisfied with me, and
when I've served my four years I shall go up to pass for second mate. I
try to improve myself a bit in general learning at odd moments too, sir,
seeing I didn't have much. It may be of use to me if I ever get up a bit
in life. Mr. Dan----"

"But look here, Ferrar," I interrupted, the recollection striking me.
"How came you and Mr. Dan to sail together? You were on a small
home-coasting barque: he went in an Indiaman."

"I was in the barque first of all, Master Johnny, and took a voyage to
Spain and back. But our owners, hearing a good report of me, that I was
likely to make a smart and steady sailor, put me on their big ship, the
_Bangalore_. In a day or two Mr. Dan Sanker came on board."

"And how is he getting on? Does he----"

"If you please, Master Johnny, I'd like to tell what I've got to tell
about him to the Squire," he interrupted. "It is for that, sir, I have
come all the way over here."

So I called the Squire in. The following was the condensed substance of
Ferrar's narrative. What with his way of telling it, and what with the
Squire's interruptions, it was rather long.

"Mr. Dan joined the _Bangalore_ the day we sailed, sir. When he saw
me as one of the sailors he started back as if I shocked him. But in
a week or two, when he had got round from his sea-sickness, he grew
friendly, and sometimes talked a bit. I used to bring up Master King's
death, and say how sorry I was for it--for you see, sir, I couldn't bear
that he should think it true that I had had a hand in it. But he seemed
to hate the subject; he'd walk away if I began it, and at last he said
he couldn't stand the talking about King; so I let it be. Our voyage was
a long one, for the ship went about from port to port. Mr. Dan----"

"What sort of a sailor did he make?" interrupted the Squire.

"Well, sir, he was a good smart sailor at his work, but he got to be
looked upon as rather a queer kind of young man. He couldn't bear to
keep his night watches--it was too lonely, he said; and several times he
fell into trouble for calling up the hands when there was nothing to
call them up for. At Hong Kong he had a fever, and they shaved his head;
but he got well again. One evening, after we had left Hong Kong and were
on our way to San Francisco, I was on deck--almost dark it was--when Mr.
Dan comes down the rigging all in a heap, just as if a wild-cat was
after him. 'There's King up there,' he says to me: and Mr. Conroy, do
what he would, couldn't get him up again. After that he went about the
ship peeping and peering, always fancying King was hiding somewhere and
going to pounce out upon him. The captain said his fever was coming
back: Mr. Dan said it was not fever, it was King. I told him one day
what I thought--that Master King had been flung down; that it was not an
accident--I felt as sure of it as though I had seen it done; and what I
said seemed to put him up, sir. Who did I fancy had done it, or would do
it? he asked me all in anger: and I said I did not know who, but if ever
I got back to Worcester I'd leave not a stone unturned to find out.
Well, sir, he got worse: worse in his fancies, and worse as to sickness.
He was seeing King always at night, and he had dysentery and ague, and
grew so weak that he could hardly stand. One of the cabin-boys took sick
and died on board. The night he lay below, dead, Mr. Dan burst into the
saloon saying it was King who was below, and that he'd never be got out
of the ship again. Mr. Conroy--he was the chief mate, sir--humoured him,
telling him not to fear, that if it was King he would be buried deep in
the sea on the morrow: but Mr. Dan said he'd not stop in the sea, any
more than he had stopped in his grave in St. Peter's churchyard at home;
he'd be back in the ship again."

"Dan Sanker must have been mad," observed the Squire.

"Yes, sir, I think he was; leastways not right. In a day or two he had
to be fastened down in his berth with brain-fever, and Mr. Conroy said
that as he had known me in the past days I had better be the one to sit
with him, for he couldn't be left. I was quite taken aback to hear what
he said in his mutterings, and hoped it wasn't true."

"Did he get well again?"

"Just for a day or two, sir. The fever left him, but he was in the
shockingest state of weakness you could imagine. The night before he
died----"

The Squire started up. "Dan Sanker's not dead, Ferrar!"

"Yes he is, sir. It's what I have come to tell of."

"Goodness bless me! Poor Dan dead! Only think of it, Johnny!"

But I was not surprised. From the moment Ferrar first spoke, an instinct
had been upon me that it was so. He resumed.

"Everything was done for him that could be, sir. We had a doctor on
board--a passenger going to California--but he could not save him. He
said when it came to such awful weakness as that, there could be no
saving. Mr. Conroy and the other officers were very kind to him--the
skipper too; but they could do nothing. All his fears seemed to be gone
then; we could hardly hear his whispers, but he was sensible and calm.
He said he knew God had forgave him for what he did, and would blot his
sin out, and King had forgave him too, and had come to tell him so: he
had been to him in the night and talked and smiled happily and said over
to him a verse of 'Lord Bateman'----"

"And you say he was in his senses, Ferrar?"

"Yes, sir, that he was. That night he made a confession, Mr. Conroy and
the doctor and me being by him. It was he that killed King."

"Bless my heart!" cried the Squire.

"He had seen me sitting with King that afternoon at Malvern, and heard
him saying the verses to me. It put his temper up frightful, sir, I
being one of their enemies the Frogs; but he says if he'd known it was
me that snatched King out of the fight on Saturday, he'd not have minded
so much. It must have been him that King saw coming, Master Johnny,"
added Ferrar, turning momentarily from the Squire to address me; "when
he broke off in the midst of 'Lord Bateman,' and told me, all in a
hurry, to go away. He waited till I was gone, and then rushed on to King
and began abusing him and knocking him about. King was unsteady through
his weak leg, and one of the knocks sent him over the bank. Dan says
he was frightened almost to death; he caught up Dr. Teal's green
handkercher from a chair and ran to the Well with it; he was too
frightened to go and see after King, thinking he had killed him; and he
sat down outside the Well and made as if he went to sleep. He never
meant to hurt King, he said; it was only passion; but he had drunk a lot
of strong ale and some wine upon it, and hardly knew what he was about.
He said there was never a minute since but what he had been sorry
for it, and he had been always seeing King. He asked me to show him
the verses that had been given to me, that King wrote out, 'Lord
Bateman'--for I had got them with me at sea, sir--and he kissed them
and held them to him till he died."

"Dear, dear!" sighed the Squire.

"And that's all, sir," concluded Ferrar. "Mr. Conroy wrote out a copy
of his confession, which I brought along with me to Worcester. Mr. Dan
charged me to tell his father, and my own folks, and any other friends I
liked that had thought me guilty, and I promised him. He was as placid
as a child all the day after that, and died at sundown, so happy and
peaceful that it was almost like heaven."

Ferrar broke off with a sob. Poor Dan!

And that was the final ending of the Day of Pleasure. He and King are
together again.



XII.

MARGARET RYMER.


They had gone through the snow to evening service at North Crabb, the
Squire, Mrs. Todhetley, and Tod, leaving me at home with one of my
splitting headaches. Thomas had come in to ask if I would have the lamp,
but I told him I would rather be without it. So there I sat on alone,
beside the fire, listening to Hannah putting the children to bed
upstairs, and looking sleepily out at the snowy landscape.

As the fire became dim, sending the room into gloom, the light outside
grew stronger. The moon was high; clear and bright as crystal; what with
that, and the perfectly white snow that lay on everything, the night
seemed nearly as light as day. The grass plat outside was a smooth white
plain, the clustering shrubs beyond it being also white.

I knew the fire wanted replenishing: I knew that if I sat on much
longer, I should fall asleep; but sit on I did, letting the fire go, too
listless to move. My eyes were fixed dreamily on the plain of snow, with
the still moonlight lying across it. The room grew darker, the landscape
lighter.

And asleep, in another minute, I should inevitably have been, but for a
circumstance that suddenly arose. All in a moment--I saw not how or
whence it came--a dark figure appeared on the grass plat, close before
the bank of shrubs, right in front of me; the figure of a man, wrapped
in a big great-coat. He was standing still and gazing fixedly at the
house. Gazing, as it seemed (though that was impossible) at _me_. I was
wide awake at once, and sitting bolt upright in the chair.

Yes, there could be no mistake; and it was no delusion. The man appeared
to be a tall man, strong and muscular, with a mass of hair on his face.
What could he want? Was it a robber reconnoitring the premises; peering
and peeping to ascertain whether all the world was at church, before he
broke in to rifle the house?

No one, void of such an experience, can imagine how dark he looked
standing there, amidst the whiteness of all the scene around. In one
sense, he stood out plainer than he could have done by daylight, because
the contrast was greater. But this sort of light did not show his
features, which were shrouded in obscurity.

Presently he moved. Looking to right and left, he took a step forward.
Evidently he was trying to see whether the parlour where I sat was empty
or occupied. Should I go out to him? Or should I fling up the window and
ask what he wanted? I was not frightened: don't let any one think that:
but watching him brought rather a creepy kind of sensation.

And, just then, as I left the chair quietly to open the window, I heard
the catch of the garden-gate, and some one came whistling up the path.
The man vanished as if by magic. Whilst I looked, he was gone. It seemed
to me that I did not take my eyes off him; but where he went to, or what
became of him, I knew not.

"Anybody at home?" called out Tom Coney, as he broke off his whistling
and opened the hall-door.

"All right, Tom. Come along."

And, to tell the truth, I was not sorry to see Tom's hearty face. He had
stayed away from evening service to sit with his mother.

"I say, Tom, did you see any fellow on the snow there, as you came in?"

"On the snow where?" asked Tom.

"There; just before the shrubs." And I pointed the spot out to him, and
told him what had happened. Tom, one of the most practical fellows
living, more so, I think, than even Tod, and with less imagination than
an ostrich, received the account with incredulity.

"You dropped asleep, Johnny, and fancied it."

"I did not drop asleep, and I did not fancy it. When you came into the
garden I was about to open the window and call to him."

"Those headaches are downright stupefying things, Johnny. Jane has them,
you know. One day I remember she fell asleep with a bad one, and woke up
and said the sofa was on fire."

"Tom, I tell you the man was there. A tall, strong-looking fellow, with
a beard. He was staring at the house with all his might, at this room,
as it seemed to me, wanting to come forward, I think, but afraid to. He
kept close to the laurels, as if he did not wish to be seen, forgetting
perhaps that they were white and betrayed him. When you opened the gate,
he was there."

"It's odd, then, where he could have put himself," said Tom Coney, not
giving in an inch. "I'll vow not a soul was there, man or woman, when I
came up the path."

"That's true. He vanished in a moment. Whilst I was looking at him he
disappeared."

"Vanished! Disappeared! You talk as though you thought it a ghost,
Johnny."

"Ghost be hanged! It was some ill-doing tramp, I expect, trying to look
if he might steal into the house."

"Much you know of the ways of tramps, Johnny Ludlow! Tramps don't come
showing themselves on snow-lighted, open lawns, in the face and eyes of
the front windows: they hide themselves in obscure hedges and byways.
It's a case of headachy sleep, young man, and nothing else."

"Look here, Tom. If the man was there, his footprints will be there; if
he was not, as you say, the snow will be smooth and level: come out and
see."

We went out at once, Tom catching up a stick in the hall, and crossed
the lawn. I was right, and Tom wrong. Sure enough, there were the
footprints, plenty of them, indented in the deep snow. Tom gave in then.

"I wish to goodness I had seen him! The fellow should not have got off
scot-free, I can tell him that. What tremendous feet he must have! Just
look at the size, Johnny. Regular crushers."

"Don't you go and say again I was asleep! He must have stepped back and
got away through these laurels; yes, here are the marks. I say,
Tom"--dropping my voice to a whisper--"perhaps he's here now."

"We'll soon see that," said Tom Coney, plunging amidst the laurels with
a crash, and beating about with the stick.

But there was no trace of him. Tom came out presently, covered with the
beaten snow, and we went indoors; he veering round partly to his first
opinion, and a little incredulous, in spite of the footprints.

"If any man was there, Johnny, how did he get away? I don't see, for my
part, what he could possibly want. A thief would have gone to work in a
different manner."

"Well, let it be so. I shall say nothing about it to them when they come
home. Mrs. Todhetley's timid, you know, she would fancy the man was
outside still, and be lying awake all night, listening for the smashing
in of doors and windows."

Cracking the fire into a blaze; as much of a blaze, that is, as its
dilapidated state allowed; I called Thomas to light the lamp and shut
the shutters. When I told him of the affair, bidding him not mention it,
he took a different view of it altogether, and put it down to the score
of one of the younger maid-servants.

"They've got sweethearts, Master Johnny, the huzzies have; lots of
sweethearts. One or the t'other of 'em is always a sidling sheepfaced up
to the house, as though he didn't dare to say his soul was his own."

They came in from church before the fire had burnt up, and the Squire
scolded me for letting it go so low. The coal we get in Worcestershire
is the Staffordshire coal; it does not burn up in a minute as London
coal does, but must have time.

Nothing of course was said about the man; I and Tom Coney--who stayed
supper--held our tongues, as agreed upon. But I told Tod in going up to
bed. He was sleepy, and did not think much of it. The fact was, as I
could plainly perceive, that to any of them, when related, it did not
seem to be much. They had not seen it as I had.

                 *       *       *       *       *

Timberdale Rectory, a cosy, old-fashioned house, its front walls covered
with ivy, stood by itself amidst pasture-land, a field's length from the
church. Mrs. Todhetley sent me there on the Monday morning, to invite
the Rector, Herbert Tanerton, and his wife to dine with us the next
evening, for we had a prime codfish sent as a present from London. The
Squire and Tod had gone out shooting. It was January weather; cold and
bright, with a frosty sky. Icicles drooped from the trees, and the snow
in Crabb Ravine was above my ankles. The mater had said to me, "I should
go the road way, Johnny;" but I did not mind the snow.

In Timberdale I met Margaret Rymer. She had her black cloak on, and her
natty little black bonnet; and the gentle and refined face under it,
with its mild brown eyes, put me more than ever in mind of her dead
father.

Does any one remember her? I told something about her and her people
early in this volume. When Thomas Rymer died, partly of a broken heart,
Benjamin had again gone off, and Margaret continued to keep the business
going. She understood the drugs thoroughly. During all the months that
had elapsed since, the son had not made his appearance at home.
Timberdale would say, "Why does not Benjamin come back to carry on
affairs in his father's place?" but it had no satisfactory answer.
Latterly, Timberdale had let Benjamin alone, and busied itself with
Margaret.

Six months ago, the Reverend Isaac Sale had come to Timberdale as
curate. He was a plain, dark little man of sterling worth, and some
thirty years of age--older than the Rector. Margaret Rymer met him at
the Sunday School, where she taught regularly, and he fell desperately
in love with her--if it's not wrong to say that of a parson. As a rule,
men and women like contrasts; and perhaps the somewhat abrupt-mannered
man with the plain and rugged features had been irresistibly attracted
by the delicate face of Margaret, and by her singularly gentle ways.
In position she was not his equal; but Mr. Sale made no secret of his
attachment, or that he wanted Margaret to be his wife. Mrs. Rymer
entirely opposed it: how was the business to be kept going without
Margaret, she demanded; or herself, either?

Mr. Sale had taken the curacy as a temporary thing. He was waiting for
some expected appointment abroad. When it fell to him, Margaret Rymer
would have to choose between sailing with him as his wife, or staying at
home and giving him up for good. So said Timberdale.

After standing to talk a bit with Margaret, who had come out on an
errand for her mother, I ran on to the Rectory. Mr. Tanerton and his
wife were in the snug little bow-windowed front-room. He, spare and
colourless, young yet, with cold grey eyes and thin light whiskers, sat
by the blazing fire of wood and coal, that went roaring and sparkling up
the chimney. Somehow Herbert Tanerton gave you the idea of being always
in a chill. Well meaning, and kind in the main, he was yet severe,
taking too much note of offences, and expecting all the world, and
especially his own flock, to be better than gold.

His wife, kind, genial, and open-hearted, sat at the window, stitching a
wristband for one of her husband's new shirts--he was as particular over
_them_ as he was over the parish sins--and glancing cheerfully out
between whiles at the snowy landscape. When she was Grace Coney, and
niece at the farm, we were very intimate; a nice, merry-hearted, capable
girl, rather tall and slender, with bright dark hazel eyes, and a wide
mouth that seemed always to be smiling to show its pretty white teeth.
Seeing me coming, she ran to open the porch-door. As yet, she and
Herbert had no children.

"Come in, Johnny! Is it not a lovely day? Herbert thinks it the coldest
morning we have had; but I tell him that is because he does not feel
very well. And he has been put out a little."

"What about?" I asked, as the Rector turned in his chair to shake hands
with me. For she had said all that in his hearing.

"Oh, there are one or two things. Sam Mullett----"

"Where's the use of talking of the stupid old man, Grace?" cried the
parson, crossly. "He is getting too old for his place."

"And Mr. Sale is going to leave," added Mrs. Tanerton, as I sat down by
the table, after delivering the invitation. "The appointment he expected
has been offered to him; it is a chaplaincy at the Bahama Islands. Mr.
Sale has known of it for a week, and never told Herbert until
yesterday."

"He spoke to me in the vestry after morning service," said the Rector,
in an injured tone. "And he said at the same time that he was not sure
he should accept it; it did not quite depend upon himself. I saw as
clearly what he meant to imply as though he had avowed it; that it
depended upon that girl, Margaret Rymer. It is a preposterous thing. The
idea of a clergyman and a gentleman wanting to marry _her_! She keeps a
chemist's shop!"

"It was her father who kept it," I said eagerly, for I liked Margaret
Rymer, and did not care to hear her disparaged. "And he was a gentleman
born."

"What has that to do with it?" retorted the parson, who was in one of
his most touchy humours. "Had her grandfather been a duke, it would make
no difference to what she is. Look at the mother!"

"Margaret is a lady in mind, in looks, and in manners," I persisted.
"If I loved Margaret Rymer, I would marry her, though I were an
archdeacon."

"That's just like you, Johnny Ludlow! you have no more sense than a
child in some things," said the parson, crustily. Grace glanced up from
her work and laughed; and looked as if she would like to take part with
me.

"I never could have suspected Sale of such folly," went on the Rector,
warming his hands over the blaze. "Grace, do you think that soup's
ready?"

"I will see," answered Grace, putting the wristband on the little
work-table; and she touched my shoulder playfully in passing.

Herbert Tanerton sat in silence; knitting his brow into lines. I took
the chair on the other side the fireplace opposite to him, thinking of
this and that, and fingering the tongs to help me: a habit I was often
scolded for at home--that of fingering things.

"Look here, Mr. Tanerton. If they go all the way out to settle at the
Bahamas, it will not signify there who Margaret has been here. Whether
she may have helped in her father's business, or whether she may have
been--as you said--a duke's granddaughter, and brought up accordingly,
it will be all one to the Bahamas. Mr. Sale need not say to the Bahamas,
'My wife used to sell pennyworths of rhubarb and magnesia.'"

"It is not that," crossly responded the Rector--"what people will think
or say; it is for Sale's own sake that I object. He cannot like the
connection. A clergyman should marry in his own sphere."

"I suppose men are differently constituted, clergymen as well as
others," said I, with deprecation, remembering that I was a plain,
inexperienced lad, and he was the Rector of Timberdale. "Some persons
don't care for social distinctions as others do, don't even see them:
perhaps Mr. Sale is one."

"He cares for probity and honour--he would not choose to ally himself to
crime, to disgrace," sternly spoke the Rector. "And he would do that in
marrying Margaret Rymer. Remember what the son did, that ill-doing
Benjamin," added he, dropping his voice. "You know all about it, Johnny.
The affair of the bank-note, I mean."

And if Herbert Tanerton had said to me the affair of the moon and
planets, I could not have been more surprised. "How did you get to know
of it?" I asked, when speech came to me.

"Mr. Rymer told me on his death-bed. I was attending him spiritually. Of
course, I have never spoken of it, even to my wife--I should not think
of speaking of it; but I consider that it lies in my duty to disclose
the facts to Mr. Sale."

"Oh no, don't--don't, please, Mr. Tanerton!" I cried out, starting up in
a sort of distress, for the words seemed to take hold of me. "No one
knows of it: no one but the Squire, and I, as you say, and Mrs. Rymer,
and you, and Ben himself; Jelf's dead, you know. It need never be
brought up again in this world; and I dare say it never will be. Pray
don't tell Mr. Sale--for Margaret's sake."

"But I have said that I consider it my duty to tell him," replied the
parson, steadily. "Here he comes!"

I turned to the window, and saw Sale trudging up to the parsonage
through the snowy field pathway, his black hair and red rugged face
presenting a sort of contrast to the white glare around. Ugly, he might
be called; but it was a face to be liked, for all that. And the ring of
his voice was true and earnest.

The affair of the bank-note had helped to kill Thomas Rymer, and sent
Mr. Ben off on his wanderings again. It was a bit of ill-luck for Ben,
for he had really pulled up, was reading hard at his medical books, and
become as steady as could be. Never since then--some ten months ago
now--had Ben been heard of; never had it been spoken of to man or woman.
_Need_ Herbert Tanerton disclose it to the curate? No: and I did not
think he would do it.

"We were just talking of you," was the Rector's greeting to Mr. Sale, as
the curate came into the room. "Bring a chair to the front of the fire:
Johnny, keep your seat. I'm sure it's cold enough to make one wish to be
in the fire to-day, instead of before it."

"What were you saying about me?" asked Mr. Sale, drawing forward the
chair to sit down, as bidden, and giving me a nod in his short way.

"Have you come to tell me your decision--to go or stay?" asked the
Rector, neglecting to answer the question.

"Not this morning. My decision is not yet made. I came to tell you how
very ill Jael Batty is. I'm not at all sure that she will get over this
bout."

"Oh," said the Rector, in a slighting tone, as if Jael Batty had no
right to intrude herself into more momentous conversation. "Jael Batty
is careless and indifferent in her duties, anything but what she ought
to be, and makes her deafness an excuse for not coming to church. I'll
try and get out to see her in the course of the day. She is always
having these attacks. What we were speaking of was your friendship with
Miss Rymer."

Herbert Tanerton, as I have said, meant to be kind, and I believe
he had people's welfare at heart; but he had a severe way of saying
things that seemed to take all the kindness out of his words. He was a
great stickler for "duty," and if once he considered it was his duty
to tell a fellow of his faults, tell he did, face to face, in the most
uncompromising manner. He had decided that it was his duty to hold
forth to Mr. Sale, and he plunged into the discourse without ceremony.
The curate did not seem in the least put out, but talked back again,
quietly and freely. I sat balancing the tongs over the fender and
listening.

"Miss Rymer is not my equal, you say," observed Sale. "I don't know
that. Her father was a curate's son: I am a curate's son. Circumstances,
it would seem, kept Mr. Rymer down in the world. Perhaps they will keep
me down--I cannot tell."

"But you are a gentleman in position, a clergyman; Rymer served
customers," retorted Mr. Tanerton, harping upon that _bête noire_ of
his, the chemist's shop. "Can't you perceive the difference? A gentleman
ought to be a gentleman."

"Thomas Rymer was a gentleman, as I hear, in mind and manners and
conduct; educated, and courteous, and----"

"He was one of the truest gentlemen I ever met," I could not help
putting in, though it interrupted the curate. "For my part, when
speaking with him I forgot the counter he served at."

"And a true Christian, I was about to say," added Mr. Sale.

There was a pause. Herbert Tanerton, who had been fidgeting in his
chair, spoke:

"Am I mistaken in assuming that your acceptance of this chaplaincy
depends upon Miss Rymer?"

"No, you are not mistaken," said Sale, readily. "It does depend upon
her. If she will go with me--my wife--I shall accept it; if she will
not, I remain at home."

"Margaret is as nice as her father was; she is exactly like him," I
said. "Were I you, Mr. Sale, I should just take her out of the place and
end it."

"But if she won't come with me?" returned he, with a half-smile.

"She is wanted at home," observed Herbert Tanerton, casting a severe
look at me with his cold light eyes. "That shop could not get on without
her." But Sale interrupted:

"I cannot imagine why the son is not at home to attend to things. It is
his place to be there doing it, not his sister's. He is inclined to be
wild, it is said, and given to roving."

"Wildness is not Benjamin Rymer's worst fault, or roving either," cried
the Rector, in his hardest voice, though he dropped it to a low key. And
forthwith he opened the ball, and told the unfortunate story in a very
few words. I let the tongs fall with a rattle.

"I would not have mentioned this," pursued he, "but that I consider
it lies in my duty to tell you of it. To any one else it would never
be allowed to pass my lips; it never has passed them since Mr. Rymer
disclosed it to me a day or two before he died. Margaret Rymer may be
desirable in herself; but there's her position, and--there's _this_. It
is for your own sake I have spoken, Mr. Sale."

Sale had sat still and quiet while he listened. There was nothing
outward to show that the tale affected him, but instinct told me that it
_did_. Just a question or two he put, as to the details, and then he
rose to leave.

"Will you not let it sway you?" asked the Rector, perseveringly, as he
held out his hand to his curate. And I was sure he thought he had been
doing him the greatest good in the world.

"I cannot tell," replied Mr. Sale.

He went out, walked across the garden, and through the gate to the
field, with his head down. A dreadful listlessness--as it seemed to
me--had taken the place of his brisk bearing. Just for a minute I stood
in the parlour where I was, feeling as though I had had a shower of
ice thrown down upon me and might never be warm again. Saying a short
good-morning, I rushed out after him, nearly upsetting Mrs. Tanerton in
the hall, and a basin of soup she was carrying in on a plate. How cruel
it seemed; how cruel! Why can't people let one another alone? He was
half-way across the field when I overtook him.

"Mr. Sale, I want to tell you--I ought to tell you--that the story, as
repeated to you by Mr. Tanerton, bears a worse aspect than the reality
would warrant. It is true that Benjamin Rymer did change the note in the
letter; but that was the best and the worst of it. He had become mixed
up with some reckless men when at Tewkesbury, and they persuaded him to
get the stolen note changed for a safe one. I am sure he repented of it
truly. When he came home later to his father's, he had left all his
random ways and bad companions behind him. Nobody could be steadier
than he was; kind to Margaret, considerate to his father and mother,
attentive to business, and reading hard all his spare time. It was only
through an ill fellow coming here to hunt him up--one Cotton, who was
the man that induced him to play the trick with the note--that he was
disturbed again."

"How disturbed?"

"He grew frightened, I mean, and went away. That fellow Cotton deserved
hanging. When he found that Ben Rymer would have nothing more to do with
him, or with the rest of the bad lot, he, in revenge, told Jelf, the
landlord of the Plough and Harrow (where Cotton ran up a score, and
decamped without paying), saying that it was Ben Rymer who had changed
the note--for, you see, it had always remained a mystery to Timberdale.
Jelf--he is dead now--was foolish enough to let Ben Rymer know what
Cotton had said, and Ben made off in alarm. In a week's time Mr. Rymer
was dead. He had been ailing in mind and body for a long while, and the
new fear finished him up."

A pause ensued. Sale broke it. "Did Miss Rymer know of this?"

"Of Ben and the bank-note? I don't believe she knows of it to this
hour."

"No, I feel sure she does not," added Sale, speaking more to himself
than to me. "She is truth and candour itself; and she has repeatedly
said to me she cannot tell why her brother keeps away; cannot imagine
why."

"You see," I went on, "no one knows of it, except myself, but Squire
Todhetley and Mr. Tanerton. We should never, never think of bringing it
up, any one of us; Mr. Tanerton only spoke of it, as he said, because he
thought he ought to tell you; he will never speak of it again. Indeed,
Mr. Sale, you need not fear it will be known. Benjamin Rymer is quite
safe."

"What sort of a man is he, this Benjamin?" resumed Sale, halting at the
outer gate of the field as we were going through it. "Like the father,
or like the mother?"

"Like the mother. But not as vulgar as she is. Ben has been educated;
she was not; and though he does take after her, there's a little bit of
his father in him as well. Which makes a great difference."

Without another word, Mr. Sale turned abruptly off to the right, as
though he were going for a country ramble. I shut the gate, and made the
best of my way home, bearing back the message from the Rector and
Grace--that they would come and help eat the codfish.

                 *       *       *       *       *

The Reverend Isaac Sale was that day sorely exercised in mind. The story
he had heard shook his equanimity to the centre. To marry a young lady
whose brother stood a chance of being prosecuted for felony looked like
a very black prospect indeed; but, on the other hand, Margaret at least
was innocent, and he loved and respected her with his whole heart and
soul. Not until the evening was his mind made up; he had debated the
question with himself in all its bearings (seated on the stump of a
snowy tree); and the decision he arrived at, was--to take Margaret all
the same. He _could not_ leave her.

About nine o'clock he went to Mrs. Rymer's. The shop was closed, and Mr.
Sale entered by the private door. Margaret sat in the parlour alone,
reading; Mrs. Rymer was out. In her soft black dress, with its white
frilling at the throat, Margaret did not look anything like her nearly
twenty years. Her mild brown eyes and tale-telling cheeks lighted up at
the entrance of the curate. Letting her nervous little hand meet his
strong one, she would have drawn a chair forward for him, but he kept
her standing by him on the hearthrug.

"I have come this evening to have some final conversation with you,
Margaret, and I am glad your mother is out," he began. "Will you hear
me, my dear?"

"You know I am always glad to hear you," she said in low, timid tones.
And Mr. Sale made no more ado, but turned and kissed her. Then he
released her hand, sat down opposite to her on the other side of the
hearth, and entered on his argument.

It was no more, or other, than she had heard from him before--the whole
sum and substance of it consisted of representations why he must accept
this chaplaincy at the Bahamas, and why she must accompany him thither.
In the midst of it Margaret burst into tears.

"Oh, Isaac, why prolong the pain?" she said. "You know I _cannot_ go: to
refuse is as painful to me as to you. Don't you see that I have no
alternative but to remain here?"

"No, I do not see it," replied Mr. Sale, stoutly. "I think your mother
could do without you. She is an active, bustling woman, hardly to
be called middle-aged yet. It is not right that you should sacrifice
yourself and your prospects in life. At least, it seems to me that it is
not."

Margaret's hand was covering her face; the silent tears were dropping.
To see him depart, leaving her behind, was a prospect intensely bitter.
Her heart ached when she thought of it: but she saw no hope of its being
otherwise.

"It is a week and a day since I told you that the promotion was at
length offered me," resumed Mr. Sale, "and we do not seem to be any
nearer a decision than we were then. I have kept it to myself and said
nothing about it abroad, waiting for you to speak to me, Margaret; and
the Rector--to whom I at length spoke yesterday--is angry with me, and
says I ought to have told him at once. In three days from this--on
Thursday next--I _must_ give an answer: accept the post, or throw it
up."

Margaret took her hand from her face. Mr. Sale could see how great was
the conflict at work within her.

"There is nothing to wait for, Isaac. I wish there was. You must go by
yourself, and leave me."

"I have told you that I will not. If you stay here, I stay."

"Oh, pray don't do that! It would be so intense a disappointment to you
to give it up."

"The greatest disappointment I have ever had in life," he answered. "You
must go with me."

"I wish I could! I wish I could! But it is impossible. My duty lies
here, Isaac. I wish you could see that fact as strongly as I see it. My
poor father always enjoined me to do my duty, no matter at what personal
cost."

"It is your brother's duty to be here, Margaret; not yours. Where is
he?"

"In London, I believe," she replied, and a faint colour flew into her
pale face. She put up her handkerchief to hide it.

It had come to Margaret's knowledge that during the past few months her
mother had occasionally written to Benjamin. But Mrs. Rymer would not
allow Margaret to write or give her his address. It chanced, however,
that about a fortnight ago Mrs. Rymer incautiously left a letter on
the table addressed to him, and her daughter saw it. When, some days
subsequently, Mr. Sale received the offer of the chaplaincy, and laid it
and himself before Margaret, urging her to accompany him, saying that he
could not go without her, she took courage to write to Benjamin. She
did not ask him to return and release her; she only asked him whether he
had any intention of returning, and if so, when; and she gave him in
simple words the history of her acquaintanceship with Mr. Sale, and said
that he wanted her to go out with him to the Bahamas. To this letter
Margaret had not received any answer. She therefore concluded that it
had either not reached her brother, or else that he did not mean to
return at all to Timberdale; and so she gave up all hopes of it.

"Life is not very long, Margaret, and God has placed us in it to do
the best we can in all ways; for Him first, for social obligations
afterwards. But He has not meant it to be all trial, all self-denial. If
you and I part now, the probability is that we part for ever. Amidst the
world's chances and changes we may never meet again, howsoever our wills
might prompt it."

"True," she faintly answered.

"And I say that you ought not to enforce this weighty penance upon me
and yourself. It is for your brother's sake, as I look upon it, that you
are making the sacrifice, and it is he, not you, who ought to be here.
Why did he go away?"

"I never knew," said Margaret, lifting her eyes to her lover's, and
speaking so confidingly and earnestly that, had he needed proof to
convince him she was ignorant of the story he had that day been regaled
with, it would have amply afforded it. "Benjamin was at home, and so
steady and good as to be a comfort to papa; when quite suddenly he left
without giving a reason. Papa seemed to be in trouble about it--it was
only a few days before he died--and I have thought that perhaps poor
Benjamin was unexpectedly called upon to pay some debt or other, and
could not find the money to do it. He had not always been quite so
steady."

"Well, Margaret, I think----"

A loud bang of the entrance-door, and a noisy burst into the room,
proclaimed the return of Mrs. Rymer. Her mass of scarlet curls garnished
her face on either side, and looked particularly incongruous with her
widow's cap and bonnet. Mr. Sale, rising to hand her a chair, broke off
what he had been about to say to Margaret, and addressed Mrs. Rymer
instead; simply saying that the decision, as to her going out with him,
or not going, could no longer be put off, but must be made.

"It has been made," returned Mrs. Rymer, disregarding the offered chair,
and standing to hold her boots, one after the other, to the fire.
"Margaret can't go, Mr. Sale; you know it."

"But I wish her to go, and she wishes it."

"It's a puzzle to me what on earth you can see in her," cried Mrs.
Rymer, flinging her grey muff on the table, and untying her black
bonnet-strings to tilt back the bonnet. "Margaret won't have any money.
Not a penny piece."

"I am not thinking about money," replied the curate; who somehow could
never keep his temper long in the presence of this strong-minded Amazon.
"It is Margaret that I want; not money."

"And it's Margaret, then, that you can't have," she retorted. "Who is to
keep the shop on if she leaves it?--it can't go to rack and ruin."

"I see you serving in it yourself sometimes."

"I can serve the stationery--and the pickles and fish sauce--and the
pearl barley," contended she, "but not the drugs. I don't meddle with
them. When a prescription comes in to be made up, if I attempted to do
it I might put opium for senna, and poison people. I have not learnt
Latin, as Margaret has."

"But, Mrs. Rymer----"

"Now we'll just drop the subject, sir, if it's all the same to you,"
loudly put in Mrs. Rymer. "I have told you before that Margaret must
stay where she is, and keep the business together for me and her
brother. No need to repeat it fifty times over."

She caught up her muff, and went out of the room and up the stairs as
she delivered this final edict. Mr. Sale rose.

"You see how it is," said Margaret, in a low tone of emotion, and
keeping her eyelids down to hide the tears. "You must go without me. I
cannot leave. I can only say, God speed you."

"There are many wrongs enacted in this world, and this is one," he
replied in a hard voice--not hard for her--as he took her hands in his,
and stood before her. "I don't know that I altogether blame you,
Margaret; but it is cruel upon you and upon me. Good-night."

He went out quite abruptly without kissing her, leaving her alone with
her aching heart.

                 *       *       *       *       *

Tuesday afternoon, and the ice and the snow on the ground still. We were
to dine at five o'clock--the London codfish and a prime turkey--and the
Coneys were coming in as well as the Rector and his wife.

But Mrs. Coney did not come; old Coney and Tom brought in word that she
was not feeling well enough; and the Tanertons only drove up on the
stroke of five. As I helped Grace down from the pony-chaise, muffled up
to the chin in furs, for the cold was enough to freeze an Icelander's
nose off, I told her her aunt was not well enough to come.

"Aunt Coney not well enough to come!" returned Grace. "What a pity! Have
I time to run in to see her before dinner, Johnny?"

"That you've not. You are late, as it is. The Squire has been telling us
all that the fish must be in rags already."

Grace laughed as she ran in; her husband followed her unwinding the
folds of his white woollen comforter. There was a general greeting and
much laughter, especially when old Coney told Grace that her cheeks were
as purple as his Sunday necktie. In the midst of it Thomas announced
dinner.

The codfish came up all right, and the oyster sauce was in Molly's best
style--made of cream, and plenty of oysters in it. The turkey was fine:
the plum-pudding better than good. Hugh and Lena sat at the table; and
altogether we had a downright merry dinner. Not a sober face amongst us,
except Herbert Tanerton's: as to his face--well, you might have thought
he was perpetually saying "For what we are going to receive----" It had
struck eight ever so long when the last nut was eaten.

"Will you run over with me to my aunt's, Johnny?" whispered Grace as she
passed my chair. "I should like to go at once, if you will."

So I followed her out of the room. She put her wraps on, and we went
trudging across the road in the moonlight, over the crunching snow.
Grace's foot went into a soft rut, and she gave a squeal.

"I shall have to borrow a shoe whilst this dries," said she. "Do you
care to come in, Johnny?"

"No, I'll go back. I can run over for you presently."

"Don't do that. One of the servants will see me safe across."

"All right. Tell Mrs. Coney what a jolly dinner it was. We were all
sorry she did not come."

Grace went in and shut the door. I was rushing back through our own
gate, when some tall fellow glided out of the laurels, and put his hand
on my arm. The moonlight fell upon his face and its reddish beard--and,
to my intense surprise, I recognized Benjamin Rymer. I knew him then for
the man who had been dodging in and out of the shrubs the night but one
before.

"I beg your pardon," he said. "It is, as I am well aware, a very unusual
and unceremonious way of accosting you, or any one else, but I want
particularly to speak with you, in private, Mr. Ludlow."

"You were here on Sunday night!"

"Yes. I saw the Squire and the rest of them go out to church, but I did
not see you go, and I was trying to ascertain whether you were at home
and alone. Tom Coney's coming in startled me and sent me away."

We had been speaking in a low key, but Ben Rymer dropped his to a lower,
as he explained. When he went away ten months before, it was in fear and
dread that the truth of the escapade he had been guilty of, in regard to
the bank-note, was coming out to the world, and that he might be called
upon to answer for it. His mother had since assured him he had nothing
to fear; but Ben was evidently a cautious man, and preferred to
ascertain that fact before showing himself openly at Timberdale. Knowing
I was to be trusted not to injure a fellow (as he was pleased to say),
he had come down here to ask me my opinion as to whether the Squire
would harm him, or not. There was no one else to fear now Jelf was dead.

"Harm you!" I exclaimed in my enthusiasm, my head full of poor, patient
Margaret; "why, the Squire would be the very one to hold you free of
harm, Mr. Rymer. I remember his saying, at the time, Heaven forbid that
he, having sons of his own, should put a stumbling-block in your path,
when you were intending to turn over a new leaf. He will help you on,
instead of harming you."

"It's very good of him," said Ben. "I was an awful fool, and nothing
else. That was the only dangerous thing I ever did, and I have been
punished severely for it. I believe it was nothing but the fear and
remorse it brought that induced me to pull up, and throw ill ways behind
me."

"I'm sure I am glad that you do," I answered, for something in Ben's
tone seemed to imply that the bad ways were thrown behind him for good.
"Are you thinking of coming back to Timberdale?"

"Not until I shall have passed for a surgeon--which will not be long
now. I have been with a surgeon in London as assistant, since I left
here. It was a letter from Margaret that induced me to come down.
She--do you know anything about her, Mr. Johnny?"

"I know that a parson wants her to go out with him to the Bahamas; he
is Tanerton's curate; and that the pills and powders stand in the way
of it."

"Just so. Is he a good fellow, this parson?"

"Good in himself. Not much to look at."

"Maggie shall go with him, then. I should be the last to stand willingly
in her way. You see, I have not known whether it was safe for me at
Timberdale: or I should never have left Maggie to the shop alone. Does
any one know of the past--my past--besides you and the Squire?"

"Yes; Herbert Tanerton knows of it; and--and the curate, Mr. Sale."
And I told him what had passed only on the previous day, softening the
Rector's speeches--and it seemed a curious coincidence, taken with
this visit of Ben's, that it should have passed. His mouth fell as he
listened.

"It is another mortification for me," he said. "I should like to have
stood as well as might be with Margaret's husband. Perhaps, knowing
this, he will not think more of her."

"I don't believe he will let it make any difference. I don't think he is
the man to let it. Perhaps--if you were to go to him--and show him how
straight things are with you now--and----"

I broke down in my hesitating suggestion. Ben was years older than I,
miles taller and broader, and it sounded like the mouse attempting to
help the lion.

"Yes, I will go to him," he said slowly. "It is the only plan. And--and
you think there's no fear that Herbert Tanerton will get talking to
others?"

"I'm sure there's none. He is indoors now, dining with us. I am sure you
are quite safe in all respects. The thing is buried in the past, and
even its remembrance will pass away. The old postman, Lee, thinks it was
Cotton; the Squire persuaded him into the belief at the time. Where _is_
Cotton?"

"Where all such rogues deserve to be--transported. But for him and his
friends I should never have done much that's wrong. Thank you for the
encouragement you give me."

He half put out his hand to endorse the thanks, and drew it back again;
but I put mine freely into his. Ben Rymer _was_ Ben Rymer, and no
favourite of mine to boot; but when a man has been down and is trying to
get up again, he deserves respect and sympathy.

"I was about here all last evening, hoping to get sight of you," he
remarked, as he went out at the gate. "I never saw such light nights in
all my life as these few last have been, what with the moon and the
snow. Good-night, Mr. Johnny. By the way, though, where does the curate
live?"

"At Mrs. Boughton's. Nearly the last house, you know, before you come to
the churchyard."

Ben Rymer went striding towards Timberdale, putting his coat-collar well
up, that he might not be recognized when going through the village, and
arrived at the curate's lodgings. Mr. Sale was at home, sitting by the
fire in a brown study, that seemed to have no light at all in it. Ben,
as I knew later, sat down by him, and made a clean breast of everything:
his temptation, his fall, and his later endeavours to do right.

"Please God, I shall get on in the world now," he said; "and I think
make a name in my profession. I don't wish to boast--and time of course
will alone prove it--but I believe I have a special aptitude for
surgery. My mother will be my care now; and Margaret--as you are good
enough to say you still wish for her--shall be your care in future.
There are few girls so deserving as she is."

"I know that," said the curate. And he shook Ben's hand upon it as
heartily as though it had been a duke royal's.

It was close upon ten when Ben left him. Mrs. Rymer about that same time
was making her usual preparations before retiring--namely, putting her
curls in paper by the parlour fire. Margaret sat at the table, reading
the Bible in silence, and so trying to school her aching heart. Her
mother had been cross and trying all the evening: which did not mend the
inward pain.

"What are you crying for?" suddenly demanded Mrs. Rymer, her sharp eyes
seeing a tear fall on the book.

"For nothing," faintly replied Margaret.

"_Nothing!_ Don't tell me. You are frizzling your bones over that
curate, Sale. I'm sure _he_ is a beauty to look at."

Margaret made no rejoinder; and just then the young servant put in her
head.

"Be there anything else wanted, missis?"

"No," snapped Mrs. Rymer. "You can be off to bed."

But, before the girl had shut the parlour-door, a loud ring came to the
outer one. Such late summonses were not unusual; they generally meant a
prescription to be made up. Whilst the girl went to the door, Margaret
closed the Bible, dried her eyes, and rose up to be in readiness.

But instead of a prescription, there entered Mr. Benjamin Rymer. His
mother stood up, staring, her hair a mass of white corkscrews. Ben
clasped Margaret in his arms, and kissed her heartily.

"My goodness _me_!" cried Mrs. Rymer. "Is it you, Ben?"

"Yes, it is, mother," said Ben, turning to her. "Maggie, dear, you look
as though you did not know me."

"Why, what on earth have you come for, in this startling way?" demanded
Mrs. Rymer. "I don't believe your bed's aired."

"I'll sleep between the blankets--the best place to-night. What have I
come for, you ask, mother? I have come home to stay."

Margaret was gazing at him, her mild eyes wide open, a spot of hectic on
each cheek.

"For your sake, Maggie," he whispered, putting his arm round her waist,
and bending his great red head (but not so red as his mother's) down on
her. "I shall not much like to lose you, though, my little sister. The
Bahamas are further off than I could have wished."

And, for answer, poor Margaret, what with one thing and another, sank
quietly down in her chair, and fainted. Ben strode into the shop--as
much at home amongst the bottles as though he had never quitted
them--and came back with some sal volatile.

                 *       *       *       *       *

They were married in less than a month; for Mr. Sale's chaplaincy would
not wait for him. The Rector was ailing as usual, or said he was, and
Charles Ashton came over to perform the ceremony. Margaret was in a
bright dark silk, a light shawl, and a plain bonnet; they were to go
away from the church door, and the boxes were already at the station.
Ben, dressed well, and looking not unlike a gentleman, gave her away;
but there was no wedding-party. Mrs. Rymer stayed at home in a temper,
which I dare say nobody regretted: she considered Margaret ought to have
remained single. And after a day or two spent in the seaport town they
were to sail from, regaling their eyes with the ships crowding the
water, the Reverend Isaac Sale and his wife embarked for their future
home in the Bahama Isles.



XIII.

THE OTHER EARRING.


"And if I could make sure that you two boys would behave yourselves
and give me no trouble, possibly I might take you this year just for a
treat."

"Behave ourselves!" exclaimed Tod, indignantly. "Do you think we are two
children, sir?"

"We would be as good as gold, sir," I added, turning eagerly to the
Squire.

"Well, Johnny, I'm not much afraid but that you would. Perhaps I'll
trust you both, then, Joe."

"Thank you, father."

"I shall see," added the pater, thinking it well to put in a little
qualification. "It's not quite a promise, mind. But it must be two or
three years now, I think, since you went to them."

"It seems like six," said Tod. "I know it's four."

We were talking of Worcester Races. At that period they used to take
place early in August. Dr. Frost had an unpleasant habit of reassembling
his pupils either the race-week or the previous one; and to get over to
the races was almost as difficult for Tod and for me as though they had
been run in California. To hear the pater say he might perhaps take us
this year, just as the Midsummer holidays were drawing to an end, and
say it voluntarily, was as good as it was unexpected. He meant it, too;
in spite of the reservation: and Dr. Frost was warned that he need not
expect us until the race-week was at its close.

The Squire drove into Worcester on the Monday, to be ready for the races
on Tuesday morning, with Tod, myself, and the groom--Giles; and put up,
as usual, at the Star and Garter. Sometimes he only drove in and back on
each of the three race-days; or perhaps on two of them: this he could do
very well from Crabb Cot, but it was a good pull for the horses from
Dyke Manor. This year, to our intense gratification, he meant to stay in
the town.

The Faithful City was already in a bustle. It had put on its best
appearance, and had its windows cleaned; some of the shop-fronts were
being polished off as we drove slowly up the streets. Families were,
like ourselves, coming in: more would come before night. The theatre
was open, and we went to it after dinner; and saw, I remember, "Guy
Mannering" (over which the pater went to sleep), and an after-piece with
a ghost in it.

The next morning I took the nearest way from the hotel to Sansome Walk,
and went up it to call on one of our fellows who lived near the top. His
friends always let him stay at home for the race-week. A maid-servant
came running to answer my knock at the door.

"Is Harry Parker at home?"

"No, sir," answered the girl, who seemed to be cleaning up for the races
on her own account, for her face and arms were all "colly." "Master
Harry have gone down to Pitchcroft, I think."

"I hope he has gone early enough!" said I, feeling disappointed. "Why,
the races won't begin for hours yet."

"Well, sir," she said, "I suppose there's a deal more life to be seen
there than here, though it is early in the day."

That might easily be. For of all solitary places Sansome Walk was, in
those days, the dreariest, especially portions of it. What with the
overhanging horse-chestnut trees, and the high dead wall behind those
on the one hand, and the flat stretch of lonely fields on the other,
Sansome Walk was what Harry Parker used to call a caution. You might
pass through all its long length from end to end and never meet a soul.

Taking that narrow by-path on my way back that leads into the Tything by
St. Oswald's Chapel, and whistling a bar of the sweet song I had heard
at the theatre overnight, "There's nothing half so sweet in life as
love's young dream," some one came swiftly advancing down the same
narrow path, and I prepared to back sideways to give her room to pass--a
young woman, with a large shabby shawl on, and the remains of faded
gentility about her.

It was Lucy Bird! As she drew near, lifting her sad sweet eyes to mine
with a mournful smile, my heart gave a great throb of pity. Faded, worn,
anxious, reduced!--oh, how unlike she was, poor girl, to the once gay
and charming Lucy Ashton!

"Why, Lucy! I did not expect to see you in Worcester! We heard you had
left it months ago."

"Yes, we left last February for London," she answered. "Captain Bird has
only come down for the races."

As she took her hand from under her shawl to respond to mine, I saw
that she was carrying some cheese and a paper of cold cooked meat. She
must have been buying the meat at the cook's shop, as the Worcester
people called it, which was in the middle of High Street. Oh! what a
change--what a change for the delicately-bred Lucy Ashton! Better that
her Master of Ravenswood had buried his horse and himself in the flooded
land, as the other one did, than have brought her to this.

"Where are you going to, down this dismal place, Lucy?"

"Home," she answered. "We have taken lodgings at the top of Sansome
Walk."

"At one of the cottages a little beyond it?"

"Yes, at one of those. How are you all, Johnny? How is Mrs. Todhetley?"

"Oh, she's first-rate. Got no neuralgia just now."

"Is she at Worcester?"

"No; at Dyke Manor. She would not come. The Squire drove us in
yesterday. We are at the Star."

"Ah! yes," she said, her eyes taking a dreamy, far-off look. "I remember
staying at the Star myself one race-week. Papa brought me. It was the
year I left school. Have you heard or seen anything of my brothers
lately, Johnny Ludlow?"

"Not since we were last staying at Crabb Cot. We went to Timberdale
Church one day and heard your brother Charles preach; and we dined once
with Robert at the Court, and he and his wife came once to dine with us.
But--have you not seen your brother James here?"

"No--and I would rather not see him. He would be sure to ask me painful
questions."

"But he is always about the streets here, seeing after his patients,
Lucy. I wonder you have not met him."

"We only came down last Saturday: and I go out as little as I can," she
said; a hesitation in her tone and manner that struck me. "I did think I
saw James's carriage before me just now as I came up the Tything. It
turned into Britannia Square."

"I dare say. We met it yesterday in Sidbury as we drove in."

"His practice grows large, I suppose. You say Charles was preaching at
Timberdale?" she added: "was Herbert Tanerton ill?"

"Yes. Ailing, that is. Your brother came over to take the duty for the
day. Will you call at the Star to see the Squire, Lucy? You know how
pleased he would be."

"N--o," she answered, her manner still more hesitating; and she seemed
to be debating some matter mentally. "I--I would have come after dark,
had Mrs. Todhetley been there. At least I think I would--I don't know."

"You can come all the same, Lucy."

"But no--that would not have done," she went on to herself, in a
half-whisper. "I might have been seen. It would never have done to risk
it. The truth is, Johnny, I ought to see Mrs. Todhetley on a matter of
business. Though even if she were here, I do not know that I might dare
to see her. It is--not exactly my own business--and--and mischief might
come of it."

"Is it anything I can say to her for you?"

"I--think--you might," she returned slowly, pausing, as before, between
her words. "I know you are to be trusted, Johnny."

"That I am. I wouldn't forget a single item of the message."

"I did not mean in that way. I shall have to entrust to you a private
matter--a disagreeable secret. It is a long time that I have wanted
to tell some of you; ever since last winter: and yet, now that the
opportunity has come that I may do it, I scarcely dare. The Squire is
hasty and impulsive, his son is proud; but I think I may confide in you,
Johnny."

"Only try me, Lucy."

"Well, I will. _I will._ I know you are true as steel. Not this morning,
for I cannot stop--and I am not prepared. Let me see: where shall we
meet again? No, no, Johnny, I cannot venture to the hotel: it is of no
use to suggest that."

"Shall I come to your lodgings?"

She just shook her head by way of dissent, and remained in silent
thought. I could not imagine what it was she had to tell me that
required all this preparation; but it came into my mind to be glad that
I had chanced to go that morning to Harry Parker's.

"Suppose you meet me in Sansome Walk this afternoon, Johnny Ludlow? Say
at"--considering--"yes, at four o'clock. That will be a safe hour, for
they will be on the racecourse and out of the way. People will, I mean,"
she added hastily: but somehow I did not think she had meant people.
"Can you come?"

"I will manage it."

"And, if you don't meet me at that time--it is just possible that I may
be prevented coming out--I will be there at eight o'clock this evening
instead," she continued. "That I know I can do."

"Very well. I'll be sure to be there."

Hardly waiting another minute to say good-morning, she went swiftly on.
I began wondering what excuse I could make for leaving the Squire's
carriage in the midst of the sport, and whether he would let me leave
it.

But the way for that was paved without any effort of mine. At the early
lunch, the Squire, in the openness of his heart, offered a seat in the
phaeton to some old acquaintance from Martley. Which of course would
involve Tod's sitting behind with me, and Giles's being left out
altogether.

"Catch me at it," cried Tod. "You can do as you please, Johnny: I shall
go to the course on foot."

"I will also," I said--though you, naturally, understand that I had
never expected to sit elsewhere than behind. And I knew it would be
easier for me to lose Tod in the crowd, and so get away to keep the
appointment, than it would have been to elude the Squire's questioning
as to why I could want to leave the carriage.

Lunch over, Tod said he would go to the Bell, to see whether the
Letstoms had come in; and we started off. No; the waiter had seen
nothing of them. Onwards, down Broad Street we went, took the Quay,
and so got on that way to Pitchcroft--as the racecourse is called. The
booths and shows were at this end, and the chief part of the crowd.
Before us lay stretched the long expanse of the course, green and level
as a bowling-green. The grand-stand (comparatively speaking a new
erection there) lay on the left, higher up, the winning-chair and
distance-post facing it. Behind the stand, flanking all that side of
Pitchcroft, the beautiful river Severn flowed along between its green
banks, the houses of Henwick, opposite, looking down upon it from their
great height, over their sloping gardens. It was a hot day, the blue sky
dark and cloudless.

"True and correct card of all the running horses, gentlemen: the names,
weights, and colours o' the riders!" The words, echoing on all sides
from the men who held these cards for sale, are repeated in my brain
now; as are other sounds and sights. I was somewhat older then than I
had been; but it was not very long since those shows, ranged round there
side by side, a long line of them, held the greatest attraction for me
in life. "Guy Mannering," the past night, had been very nice to see,
very enjoyable; but it possessed not the nameless charm of that first
"play" I went to in Scowton's Show on the racecourse. _That_ charm could
never come again. And I was but a lad yet.

The lightning with which the play opened had been real lightning to me;
the thunder, real thunder. The gentleman who stood, when the curtain
rose, gorgeously attired in a scarlet doublet slashed with gold
(something between a king and a bandit), with uplifted face of terror
and drawn sword, calling the war of the elements "tremendious," was to
me a greater potentate than the world could almost contain! The young
lady, his daughter, in ringlets and spangles, who came flying on in the
midst of the storm, and fell at his feet, with upraised arms and a
piteous appeal, "Alas! my father, and will you not consent to my
marriage with Alphonso?" seemed more lovely to me than the Sultanas
in the "Arabian Nights," or the Princesses in Fairyland. I sat there
entranced and speechless. A new world had opened to me--a world of
delight. For weeks and weeks afterwards, that play, with its wondrous
beauties, its shifting scenes, was present to me sleeping and waking.

The ladies in spangles, the gentlemen in slashed doublets, were on the
platforms of their respective shows to-day, dancing for the benefit of
Pitchcroft. Now and again a set would leave off, the music ceasing also,
to announce that the performance was about to commence. I am not sure
but I should have gone up to see one, but for the presence of Tod and
Harry Parker--whom we had met on the course. There were learned pigs,
and spotted calves, and striped zebras; and gingerbread and cake stalls;
and boat-swings and merry-go-rounds--which had made me frightfully sick
once when Hannah let me go in one. And there was the ever-increasing
throng, augmenting incessantly; carriages, horsemen, shoals of
foot-passengers; conjurers and fortune-tellers; small tables for the
game of "thimble-rig," their owners looking out very sharply for the
constables who might chance to be looking for _them_; and the movable
exhibitions of dancing dolls and Punch and Judy. Ay, the sounds and the
sights are in my brain now. The bands of the different shows, mostly
attired in scarlet and gold, all blowing and drumming as hard as they
could blow and drum; the shouted invitations to the admiring spectators,
"Walk up, ladies and gentlemen, the performance is just a-going to
begin;" the scraping of the blind fiddlers; the screeching of the
ballad-singers; the sudden uproar as a stray dog, attempting to cross
the course, is hunted off it; the incessant jabber and the Babel of
tongues; and the soft roll of wheels on the turf.

Hark! The bell rings for the clearing of the course. People know what it
means, and those who are cautious hasten at once to escape under the
cords on either side. The gallop of a horse is heard, its rider, in
his red coat and white smalls, loudly smacking his whip to effect the
clearance. The first race is about to begin. All the world presses
towards the environs of the grand-stand to get a sight of the
several horses entered for it. Here they come; the jockeys in their
distinguishing colours, trying their horses in a brisk canter, after
having been weighed in the paddock. A few minutes, and the start is
effected; they are off!

It is only a two-mile heat. The carriages are all drawn up against the
cords; the foot-passengers press it; horsemen get where they can. And
now the excitement is at its height; the rush of the racers coming in
to the winning-post breaks on the ear. They fly like the wind.

At that moment I caught sight of the sharply eager face of a
good-looking, dashing man, got up to perfection--you might have taken
him for a lord at least. Arm-in-arm with him stood another, well-got-up
also, as a sporting country gentleman; he wore a green cut-away coat,
top-boots, and a broad-brimmed hat which shaded his face. If I say
"got-up," it is because I knew the one, and I fancied I knew the other.
But the latter's face was partly turned from me, and hidden, as I have
said, by the hat. Both watched the swiftly-coming racehorses with
ill-concealed anxiety: and both, as well-got-up gentlemen at ease,
strove to appear indifferent.

"Tod, there's Captain Bird."

"Captain Bird! Where? You are always fancying things, Johnny."

"A few yards lower down. Close to the cords."

"Oh, be shot to the scoundrel, and so it is! What a swell! Don't bother.
Here they come."

"Blue cap wins!" "No! red sleeves gains on him!" "Yellow stripes is
first!" "Pink jacket has it!" "By Jove! the bay colt is distanced!"
"Purple wins by a neck!"

With a hubbub of these different versions from the bystanders echoing on
our ears, the horses flew past in a rush and a whirl. Black cap and
white jacket was the winner.

Amidst the crowding and the pushing and the excitement that ensued, I
tried to get nearer to Captain Bird. Not to see _him_: it was impossible
to look at him with any patience and contrast his dashing appearance
with that of poor, faded Lucy's: but to see the other man. For he put me
in mind of the gentleman-detective Eccles, who had loomed upon us at
Crabb Cot that Sunday afternoon in the past winter, polished off the
sirloin of beef, crammed the Squire with anecdotes of his college life,
and finally made off with the other earring.

You can turn back to the paper called "Mrs. Todhetley's Earrings," and
recall the circumstances. How she lost an earring out of her ear: a pink
topaz encircled with diamonds. It was supposed a tramp had picked it
up; and the Squire went about it to the police at Worcester. On the
following Sunday a gentleman called introducing himself as Mr. Eccles, a
private detective, and asking to look at the other earring. The Squire
was marvellously taken with him, ordered in the beef, not long gone out
from the dinner, and was as eager to entrust the earring to him as he
was to take it. That Eccles had been a gentleman once--at least, that he
had mixed with gentlemen, was easy to be seen: and perhaps had also been
an Oxford man, as he asserted; but he was certainly a swindler now. He
carried off the earring; and we had never seen him, or it, from that day
to this. But I did think I saw him now on the racecourse. In the side
face, and the tall, well-shaped figure of the top-booted country
gentleman, with the heavy bunch of seals hanging from his watch-chain,
who leaned on that man Captain Bird's arm, there was a great resemblance
to him. The other earring, lost first, was found in the garden under a
small fir-tree when the snow melted away, where it must have dropped
unseen from Mrs. Todhetley's ear, as she stopped in the path to shake
the snow from the tree.

But the rush of people sweeping by was too great. Captain Bird and he
were nowhere to be seen. In the confusion also I lost Tod and Harry
Parker. The country gentleman I meant to find if I could, and went
looking about for him.

The carriages were coming away from their standing-places near the ropes
to drive about the course, as was the custom in those days. Such a thing
as taking the horses out of a carriage and letting it stay where it was
until the end of the day was not known on Worcester racecourse. You
might count the carriages-and-four there then, their inmates exchanging
greetings with each other in passing, as they drove to and fro. It was a
sight to see the noblemen's turn-outs; the glittering harness, the array
of servants in their sumptuous liveries; for they came in style to the
races. The meeting on the course was the chief local event of the year,
when all the county assembled to see each other and look their best.

"Will you get up now, Johnny?"

The soft bowling of the Squire's carriage-wheels arrested itself, as he
drew up to speak to me. The Martley old gentleman sat with him, and
there was a vacant place by Giles behind.

"No, thank you, sir. I would rather be on foot."

"As you will, lad. Is your watch safe?"

"Oh yes."

"Where's Joe?"

"Somewhere about. He is with Harry Parker. I have only just missed
them."

"Missed them! Oh, and I suppose you are looking for them. A capital
race, that last."

"Yes, sir."

"Mind you take care of yourself, Johnny," he called back, as he touched
up Bob and Blister, to drive on. I generally did take care of myself,
but the Squire never forgot to remind me to do it.

The afternoon went on, and my search with it in the intervals of the
racing. I could see nothing of those I wanted to see, or of Tod and
Harry Parker. Our meeting, or not meeting, was just a chance, amidst
those crowds and crowds of human beings, constantly moving. Three
o'clock had struck, and as soon as the next race should be over--a
four-mile heat--it would be nearly time to think about keeping my
appointment with Lucy Bird.

And now once more set in all the excitement of the running. A good field
started for the four-mile heat, more horses than had run yet.

I liked those four-mile heats on Worcester racecourse: when we watched
the jockeys in their gay and varied colours twice round the course,
describing the figure of eight, and coming in, hot and panting, at the
end. The favourites this time were two horses named "Swallower" and
"Master Ben." Each horse was well liked: and some betters backed one,
some the other. Now they are off!

The running began slowly and steadily; the two favourites just ahead; a
black horse (I forget his name, but his jockey wore crimson and purple)
hanging on to them; most of the other horses lying outside. The two
kept together all the way, and as they came in for the final run the
excitement was intense.

"Swallower has it by a neck!" "No! Master Ben heads him!" "Ben wins!
Swallower loses!" "Swallower has it! Ben's jockey is beat!" and so on,
and so on. Amidst the shouts and the commotion the result was
announced--a dead heat.

So the race must be run again. I looked at my watch (which you may
be sure I had kept carefully buttoned up under my jacket), wondering
whether I could stay for it. That was uncertain; there was no knowing
how long an interval would be allowed for breathing-time.

Suddenly there arose a frightful commotion above all the natural
commotion of the course. People rushed towards one point; horsemen
galloped thither, carriages bowled cautiously in their wake. The centre
of attraction appeared to be on the banks of the river, just beyond the
grand-stand. What was it? What had occurred? The yells were deafening;
the pushing fearful. At last the cause was known: King Mob was ducking
some offender in the Severn.

To get near, so as to see anything of the fun, was impossible; it was
equally impossible to gather what he had done; whether picked a pocket,
or cheated at betting. Those are the two offences that on Pitchcroft
were then deemed deserving of the water. This time, I think, it was
connected with betting.

Soon the yells became louder and nearer. Execrations filled the air. The
crowd opened, and a wretched-looking individual emerged out of it on the
hard run, his clothes dripping, his hair hanging about his face like
rat's tails.

On he came, the mob shouting and hallooing in his wake, and brushed
close past me. Why! it was surely the country gentleman I had seen
with Bird! I knew him again at once. But whether it was the man Eccles
or not, I did not see; he tore by swiftly, his head kept down. A
broad-brimmed hat came flying after him, propelled by the feet of the
crowd. He stooped to catch it up, and then kept on his way right across
the course, no doubt to make his escape from it. Yes, it was the same
man in his top-boots. I was sure of that. Scampering close to his heels,
fretting and yelling furiously, was a half-starved white dog with a
tin kettle tied to its tail. I wondered which of the two was the more
frightened--the dog or the man.

And standing very nearly close to me, as I saw then, was Captain
Bird. Not running, not shouting; simply looking on with a countenance
of supreme indifference, that seemed to express no end of languid
contempt of the fun. Not a sign of recognition crossed his face as the
half-drowned wight swept past him: no one could have supposed he ever
set eyes on him before. And when the surging crowd had passed, he
sauntered away in the direction of the saddling-place.

But I lost the race. Though I stayed a little late, hoping to at last
see the horses come out for the second start, and to count how many of
the former field would compete for it, the minutes flew all too swiftly
by, and I had to go, and to put the steam on. Making a bolt across
Pitchcroft and up Salt Lane, went I, full split, over the Tything, and
so down to Sansome Walk. St. Oswald's clock was tinkling out four as I
reached it.

Lucy did not come. She had indicated the spot where the meeting should
be; and I waited there, making the best I could of it; cooling myself,
and looking out for her. At half-past four I gave her up in my own mind;
and when five o'clock struck, I knew it was useless to stay longer. So I
began to take my way back slower than I had come; and on turning out by
St. Oswald's, I saw the carriages and people flocking up on their way
from Pitchcroft. The first day's racing was over.

There was a crowd at the top of Salt Lane, and I had to wait before I
could get across. In the wake of a carriage-and-four that was turning
out of it came Captain Bird, not a feather of his plumage ruffled, not a
speck (except dust) on his superfine coat, not a wristband soiled. He
had not been ducked, if his friend had.

"How d'ye do, Master Ludlow?" said he, with a grandly patronizing air,
and a flourish of his cane, as if it were a condescension to notice me.
And I answered him civilly; though he must have been aware I knew what a
scamp he was.

"I wish he'd steal away to America some moonlight night," ran my
thoughts, "and leave poor Lucy in peace."

The Squire's carriage dashed up to the hotel as I reached it, Tod
sitting behind with Giles. I asked which of the two horses had won.
Swallower: won by half-a-neck. The Squire was in a glow of satisfaction,
boasting of the well-contested race.

And now, to make things intelligible, I must refer again for a minute or
two to that past paper. It may be remembered that when "Detective
Eccles" called on us that Sunday afternoon, asking to look at the
fellow-earring to the one lost, Mrs. Todhetley had gone in to the
Coneys', and the Squire sent me for her. When I arrived there, Lucy Bird
was in the drawing-room alone, the mater being upstairs with Mrs. Coney.
Poor Lucy told me she had been spending a day or two at Timberdale Court
(her happy childhood's home), and had come over to dine with Mr. and
Mrs. Coney, who were always kind to her, she added with a sigh; but she
was going back to Worcester by the next train. I told her what I had
come for--of the detective's visit and his request to see the other
earring. Mrs. Todhetley felt nervous at meeting a real live detective,
and asked me no end of questions as to what this particular one was
like. I said he was no tiger to be afraid of, and described him as well
as I could: a tall, slender, gentlemanly man, well-dressed; gold studs,
a ring on his finger, a blue necktie, and a black moustache. Lucy (I had
noticed at the time) seemed struck with the description; but she made no
remark. Before we turned in at our gate we saw her leave the Coneys'
house, and come stepping through the snow on her way to the station.
Since then, until now, we had not seen anything of Lucy Bird.

                 *       *       *       *       *

The stars flickered through the trees in Sansome Walk as I turned into
it. A fine trouble I had had to come! Some entertainment was in full
swing that evening at the Saracen's Head--a sort of circus, combined
with rope-dancing. Worcester would be filled with shows during the
race-week (I don't mean those on Pitchcroft), and we went to as many as
we could get money for. We had made the bargain with Harry Parker on the
course to go to this one, and during the crowded dinner Tod asked the
Squire's leave. He gave it with the usual injunctions to take care of
ourselves, and on condition that we left our watches at home. So, there
I was in a fix; neither daring to say at the dinner-table that I could
not go, nor daring to say what prevented it, for Lucy had bound me to
secrecy.

"What time is this thing going to be over to-night, Joe?" had questioned
the Squire, who was drinking port wine with some more old gentlemen at
one end of the table, as we rose to depart.

"Oh, I don't know," answered Tod. "About ten o'clock, I dare say."

"Well, mind you come straight home, you two. I won't have you getting
into mischief. Do you hear, Johnny?"

"What mischief do you suppose, sir, we are likely to get into?" fired
Tod.

"_I_ don't know," answered the Squire. "When I was a young lad--younger
than you--staying here for the races with my father--but we stayed at
the Hop-pole, next door, which was the first inn then--I remember we
were so wicked one night as to go about ringing and knocking at all the
doors----"

"You and your father, sir?" asked Tod, innocently.

"My father! no!" roared the Squire. "What do you mean, Joe? How dare
you! My father go about the town knocking at doors and ringing at bells!
How dare you suggest such an idea! We left my father, sir, at the hotel
with his friends at their wine, as you are leaving me with my friends
here now. It was I and half-a-dozen other young rascals who did it--more
shame for us. I can't be sure how many bell-wires we broke. The world
has grown wiser since then, though I don't think it's better; and--and
mind you walk quietly home. Don't get into a fight, or quarrel, or
anything of that kind. The streets are sure to be full of rough people
and pickpockets."

Harry Parker was waiting for us in the hotel gateway. He said he feared
we should be late, and thought we must have been eating dinner for a
week by the time we took over it.

"I'm not coming with you, Tod," I said; "I'll join you presently."

Tod turned round and faced me. "What on earth's that for, Johnny?"

"Oh, nothing. I'll come soon. You two go on."

"Suppose you don't get a place!" cried Parker to me.

"Oh, I shall get one fast enough: it won't be so crowded as all that."

"Now, look here, lad," said Tod, with his face of resolution; "you are
up to some dodge. What is it?"

"My head aches badly," I said--and that was true. "I can't go into that
hot place until I have had a spell of fresh air. But I shall be sure to
join you later, if I can."

My headaches were always allowed. I had them rather often. Not the
splitting, roaring pain that Tod would get in his head on rare
occasions, once a twelvemonth, or so, when anything greatly worried him;
but bad enough in all conscience. He said no more; and set off with
Harry Parker up the street towards the Saracen's Head.

The stars were flickering through the trees in Sansome Walk, looking as
bright as though it were a frosty night in winter. It was cool and
pleasant: the great heat of the day--which must have given me my
headache--had passed. Mrs. Bird was already at the spot. She drew me
underneath the trees on the side, looking up the walk as though she
feared she had been followed. A burst of distant music crashed out and
was borne towards us on the air: the circus band, at the Saracen's Head.
Lucy still glanced back the way she had come.

"Are you afraid of anything, Lucy?"

"There is no danger, I believe," she answered; "but I cannot help being
timid: for, if what I am doing were discovered, I--I--I don't know what
they would do to me."

"You did not come this afternoon."

"No. I was very sorry, but I could not," she said, as we paced slowly
about, side by side. "I had my shawl and bonnet on, when Edwards came
in--a friend of my husband's, who is staying with him. He had somehow
got into the Severn, and looked quite an object, his hair and clothes
dripping wet, and his forehead bruised."

"Why, Lucy, he was ducked!" I cried excitedly. "I saw it all. That is, I
saw the row; and I saw him when he made his escape across Pitchcroft. He
had on a smart green cut-away coat, and top-boots."

"Yes, yes," she said; "I was sure it was something of that kind. When
my husband came home later they were talking together in an undertone,
Edwards cursing some betting-man, and Captain Bird telling Edwards that
it was his own fault for not being more cautious. However, I could not
come out, Johnny, though I knew you were waiting for me. Edwards asked,
as impertinently as he dared, where I was off to. To buy some tea, I
answered, but that it did not matter particularly, as I had enough for
the evening. They think I have come out to buy it now."

"Do you mean to say, Lucy, that Captain Bird denies you free
liberty?--watches you as a cat does a mouse?"

"No, no; you must not take up wrong notions of my husband, Johnny
Ludlow. Bad though the estimation in which he is held by most people
is, he has never been really unkind to me. Trouble, frightful trouble
he does bring upon me, for I am his wife and have to share it, but
personally unkind to me he has never yet been."

"Well, I should think it unkind in your place, if I could not go out
when I pleased, without being questioned. What do they suspect you would
be after?"

"It is not Captain Bird; it is Edwards. As to what he suspects, I am
sure he does not know himself; but he seems to be generally suspicious
of every one, and he sees I do not like him. I suppose he lives in
general fear of being denounced to the police, for he is always doing
what he calls 'shady' things; but he must know that he is safe with us.
I heard him say to my husband the day before we left London, 'Why do you
take your wife down?' Perhaps he thinks my brothers might be coming to
call on me, and of course he does not want attention drawn to the place
he may chance to be located in, whether here or elsewhere."

"What is his name, Lucy?"

"His name? Edwards."

"It's not Eccles, is it?"

She glanced quickly round as we walked, searching my face in the dusk.

"Why do you ask that?"

"Because, when I first saw him to-day on the racecourse with Captain
Bird, he put me in mind of the fine gentleman who came to us that Sunday
at Crabb Cot, calling himself Detective Eccles, and carried off Mrs.
Todhetley's other earring."

Mrs. Bird looked straight before her, making no answer.

"_You_ must remember that afternoon, Lucy. When I ran over to old
Coney's for Mrs. Todhetley, you were there, you know; and I told you all
about the earrings and the detective officer, then making his dinner of
cold beef at our house while he waited for the mother to come home and
produce the earring. Don't you remember? You were just going back to
Worcester."

Still she said not a word.

"Lucy, I think it is the same man. Although his black moustache is gone,
I feel sure it is he. The face and the tall slender figure are just like
his."

"How singular!" she exclaimed, in a low tone to herself. "How strangely
things come about!"

"But _is_ it Eccles?"

"Johnny Ludlow," she said, catching my arm, and speaking in an excited,
breathless whisper, "if you were to bring harm on me--that is, on him or
on my husband through me, I should pray to die."

"But you need not be afraid. Goodness me, Lucy! don't you know that I
wouldn't bring harm on any one in the world, least of all on you? Why,
you said to me this morning that I was true as steel."

"Yes, yes," she said, bursting into tears. "We have always been good
friends, have we not. Johnny, since you, a little mite of a child in a
tunic and turned-down frill, came to see me one day at school, a nearly
grown-up young lady, and wanted to leave me your bright sixpence to
buy gingerbread? Oh, Johnny, if all people were only as loyal and
true-hearted as you are!"

"Then, Lucy, why need you doubt me?"

"Do you not see the shadows of those leaves playing on the ground cast
by the light of that gas-lamp?" she asked. "Just as many shadows, dark
as those, lie in the path of my life. They have taught me to fear an
enemy where I ought to look for a friend; they have taught me that life
is so full of unexpected windings and turnings, that we know not one
minute what new fear the next may bring forth."

"Well, Lucy, you need not fear me. I have promised you to say nothing of
having met you here; and I will say nothing, or of what you tell me."

"Promise it me again, Johnny. Faithfully."

Just a shade of vexation crossed me that she should think it needful to
reiterate this; but I would not let my face or voice betray it.

"I promise it again, Lucy. Faithfully and truly."

"Ever since last winter I have wanted to hold communication with one of
you at your home, and to restore something that had been lost. But it
had to be done very, very cautiously, without bringing trouble on me or
on any one connected with me. Many a solitary hour, sitting by myself in
our poor lodgings in London, have I deliberated whether I might venture
to restore this, and how it was to be done: many a sleepless night
have I passed, dwelling on it. Sometimes I thought I would send it
anonymously by the post, but it might have been stolen by the way;
sometimes it would occur to me to make a parcel of it and despatch it in
that way. I never did either. I waited until some chance should bring me
again near Mrs. Todhetley. But to-day I saw that it would be better to
trust you. She is true also, and kind; but she might not be able to keep
the secret from the Squire, and he--he would be sure to betray it,
though perhaps not intentionally, to all Timberdale, and there's no
knowing what mischief might come of it."

Light flashed upon me as she spoke. As surely as though it were already
before me in black and white, I knew what she was about to disclose.

"Lucy, it is the lost earring! The man staying with you _is_ Eccles."

"Hush!" she whispered in extreme terror, for a footstep suddenly sounded
close to us. Lucy glided behind the tree we were passing, which in a
degree served to hide her. How timid she was!--what induced it?

The intruder was a shop-boy with an apron on, carrying a basket of
grocery parcels to one of the few houses higher up. He turned his head
and gave us a good stare, probably taking us for a pair of lovers
enjoying a stolen ramble by starlight. Setting up a shrill whistle,
he passed on.

"I don't know what has come to me lately; my heart seems to beat at
nothing," said poor Mrs. Bird, coming from behind the tree with her hand
to her side. "And it was doubly foolish of me to go _there_; better that
I had kept quietly walking on with you, Johnny."

"What _is_ it that you are afraid of, Lucy?"

"Only of their seeing me; seeing me with you. Were they to do so, and it
were to come out that the earring had been returned, they would know I
had done it. They suspected me at the time--at least, Edwards did. For
it is the earring I am about to restore to you, Johnny."

She put a little soft white paper packet in my hand, that felt as if it
had wool inside it. I hardly knew whether I was awake or asleep. The
beautiful earring that we had given up for good, come back again! And
the sound of the drums and trumpets burst once more upon our ears.

"You will give it to Mrs. Todhetley when you go home, Johnny. And I must
leave it to your discretion to tell her what you think proper of whence
you obtained it. Somewhat of course you must tell her, but how much or
how little I leave with you. Only take care you bring no harm upon me."

"I am sure, Lucy, that Mrs. Todhetley may be trusted."

"Very well. Both of you must be secret as the grave. It is for my sake,
tell her, that I implore it. Perhaps she will keep the earring by her
for a few months, saying nothing, so that this visit of ours into
Worcestershire may be quite a thing of the past, and no suspicion,
in consequence of it, as connected with the earring, may arise in my
husband's mind. After that, when months have elapsed, she must contrive
to let it appear that the earring is then, in some plausible way or
other, returned to her."

"Rely upon it, we will take care. It will be managed very easily. But
how did you get the earring, Lucy?"

"It has been in my possession ever since the night of the day you lost
it; that Sunday afternoon, you know. I have carried it about with me
everywhere."

"Do you mean carried it upon you?"

"Yes; upon me."

"I wonder you never lost it--a little thing like this!" I said, touching
the soft packet that lay in my jacket pocket.

"I could not lose it," she whispered. "It was sewn into my clothes."

"But, Lucy, how did you manage to get it?"

She gave me the explanation in a few low, rapid words, glancing about
her as she did it. Perhaps I had better repeat it in my own way; and to
do that we must go back to the Sunday afternoon. At least, that will
render it more intelligible and ship-shape. But I did not learn one-half
of the details then; no, nor for a long time afterwards. And so, we go
back again in imagination to the time of that January day, when we were
honoured by the visit of "Detective Eccles," and the snow was lying on
the ground, and Farmer Coney's fires were blazing hospitably.

                 *       *       *       *       *

Lucy Bird quitted the warm fires and her kind friends, the Coneys, and
followed us out--me and Mrs. Todhetley--she saw us turn in at our own
gate, and then she picked her way through the snow to the station at
South Crabb. It was a long walk for her in that inclement weather; but
she had been away from home (if the poor lodgings they then occupied in
Worcester could be called home) two days, and was anxious to get back
again. During her brief absences from it, she was always haunted by the
fear of some ill falling on that precious husband of hers, Captain Bird;
but he was nothing but an ex-captain, as you know. All the way to the
station she was thinking about the earrings, and of my description of
Detective Eccles. The description was exactly that of her husband's
friend, Edwards, both as to person and dress; not that she supposed it
could be he. When she left Worcester nearly two days before, Edwards had
just arrived. She knew him to be an educated man, of superior manners,
and full of anecdote, when he chose, about college life. Like her
husband, he had, by recklessness and ill-conduct, sunk lower and lower
in the world, until he had to depend on "luck" or "chance" for a living.

Barely had Lucy reached the station, walking slowly, when the train shot
in. She took her seat; and, after a short halt the train moved on again.
At that moment there strode into the station that self-same man,
Edwards, who began shouting furiously for the train to stop, putting up
his hands, running and gesticulating. The train declined to stop; trains
generally do decline to stop for late passengers, however frantically
adjured; and Edwards was left behind. His appearance astonished Lucy
considerably. Had he, in truth, been passing himself off as a detective
officer to Squire Todhetley? If so, with what motive? Lucy could not see
any motive, and still thought it could not be; that Edwards must be over
here on some business of his own. The matter passed from her mind as she
drew near Worcester, and reached their lodgings, which were down
Lowesmoor way.

Experience had taught Lucy not to ask questions. She was either not
answered at all, or the answer would be sure to give her trouble.
Captain Bird had grown tolerably careless as to whether his hazardous
doings reached, or did not reach, the ears of his wife, but he did not
willingly tell her of them. She said not a word of having seen Edwards,
or of what she had heard about the loss of Mrs. Todhetley's earring, or
of the detective's visit to Crabb Cot. Lucy's whole life was one of
dread and fear, and she never knew whether any remark of hers might not
bear upon some dangerous subject. But while getting the tea, she did
just inquire after Edwards.

"Has Edwards left?" she asked carelessly.

"No," replied Captain Bird, who was stretched out before the fire in his
slippers, smoking a long pipe, and drinking spirits. "He is out on the
loose, though, somewhere, to-day."

It was late at night when Edwards entered. He was in a rage. Trains
did not run frequently on Sundays, and he had been kept all that time
at South Crabb Junction, waiting for one. Lucy went upstairs to bed,
leaving Edwards and her husband drinking brandy-and-water. Both of them
had had quite enough already.

The matter of the earrings and the doubt whether Mr. Edwards had been
playing at amateur detectiveship would have ended there, but for
the accident of Lucy's having to come downstairs again for the small
travelling-bag in which she had carried her combs and brushes. She had
put it just inside the little back parlour, where a bed on chairs had
been extemporized for Edwards, their lodgings not being very extensive.
Lucy was picking up the bag in the dark, when some words in the
sitting-room caught her ear; the door between the two rooms being partly
open. Before a minute elapsed she had heard too much. Edwards, in
a loud, gleeful, boasting tone, was telling how he had been acting
the detective, and done the old Squire and his wife out of the other
earring. Lucy, looking in through the opening, saw him holding it up;
she saw the colours of the long pink topaz, and the diamonds flash in
the candle-light.

"I thought I could relieve them of it," he said. "When I read that
advertisement in the paper, it struck me there might be a field open to
do a little stroke of business; and I've done it."

"You are a fool for your pains," growled Captain Bird. "There's sure to
be a row."

"The row won't touch me. I'm off to London to-morrow morning, and the
earring with me. I wonder what the thing will turn us in? Twenty pounds.
There, put it in the box, Bird, and get out the dice."

The dice on a Sunday night!

Lucy felt quite sick as she went back upstairs. What would be the end of
all this? Not of this one transaction in particular, but of all the
other disgraceful transactions with which her husband was connected? It
might come to some public exposure, some criminal trial at the Bar of
Justice; and of that she had a horrible dread ever haunting her like a
nightmare.

She undressed, and went to bed. One hour passed, two hours passed, three
hours passed. Lucy turned and turned on her uneasy pillow, feeling ready
to die. Besides her own anguish arising from _their_ share in it, she
was dwelling on the shameful wrong it did their kind friends at Crabb
Cot.

The fourth hour was passing. Captain Bird had not come up, and Lucy grew
uneasy on that score. Once, when he had taken too much (but as a general
rule the ex-captain's delinquencies did not lie in that direction), he
had set his shirt-sleeve on fire, and burnt his hands badly in putting
it out. Slipping out of bed, Lucy put on her slippers and the large old
shawl, and crept down to see after him.

Opening the sitting-room door very softly, she looked in. The candles
were alight still, but had burnt nearly down to the socket; the dice and
some cards were scattered on the table.

Edwards lay at full length on the old red stuff sofa; Captain Bird had
thrown himself outside the bed in the other room, the door of which was
now wide open, neither of them having undressed. That both were wholly
or partially intoxicated, Lucy felt not a doubt of.

Well, she could only leave them as they were. They would come to no harm
asleep. Neither would the candles: which must soon burn themselves out.
Lucy was about to shut the door again, when her eye fell on the little
pasteboard box that contained the earring.

Without a moment's reflection, acting on the spur of impulse, she softly
stepped to the table, lifted the lid, and took the earring out.

"I will remedy the wrong they have done Mrs. Todhetley," she said to
herself. "They will never suspect me."

Up in her room again, she lighted her candle and looked about for some
place to conceal the earring; and, just as the idea to secure it had
come unbidden to her, so did that of a safe place of concealment. With
feverish hands she undid a bit of the quilting of her petticoat, one
that she had but just made for herself out of an old merino gown,
slipped the earring into the wadding, and sewed it up again. It could
neither be seen nor suspected there; no, nor even felt, let the skirt be
examined as it might. That done, poor Lucy went to bed again and at
length fell asleep.

She was awakened by a commotion. It was broad daylight, and her husband
(not yet as sober as he might be) was shaking her by the arm. Edwards
was standing outside the door, calling out to know whether Mrs. Bird had
"got it."

"What is the matter, George?" she cried, starting up in a fright, and
for the moment completely forgetting where she was, for she had been
aroused from a vivid dream of Timberdale.

"Have you been bringing anything up here from the sitting-room, Lucy?"
asked Captain Bird.

"No, nothing," she replied promptly, and he saw that she spoke with
truth. For Lucy's recollection had not come to her; she remembered
nothing yet about the earring.

"There's something missing," said Captain Bird, speaking thickly.

"It has disappeared mysteriously off the sitting-room table. You are
sure you have not been down and collared it, Lucy?"

The earring and the theft--her own theft--flashed into her memory
together. Oh, if she could only avert suspicion from herself! And she
strove to call up no end of surprise in her voice.

"Why, how could I have been down, George? Did you not see that I was
fast asleep? What have you missed? Some money?"

"Money, no. It was--something of Edwards's. Had it close by him on the
table when he went to sleep, he says--he lay on the sofa last night, and
I had his bed--and this morning it was gone. I thought the house was on
fire by the way he came and shook me."

"I'll look for it when I come down, if you tell me what it is," said
poor Lucy. "How late I have slept! It must have been the cold journey."

"She has not got it," said Captain Bird, retreating to his friend
outside, and closing the door on Lucy. "Knows nothing about it. Was
asleep till I awoke her."

"Search the room, you fool," cried the excited Edwards. "I'd never trust
the word of a woman. No offence to your wife, Bird, but it is _not_ to
be trusted."

"Rubbish!" said Captain Bird.

"Either she or you must have got it. It could not disappear without
hands. The people down below have not been to our rooms, as you must
know."

"She or I--what do you mean by that?" retorted Captain Bird; and a short
sharp quarrel ensued. That the captain had not touched the earring,
Edwards knew full well. It was Edwards who had helped him to reach the
bed the previous night: and since then Bird had been in the deep sleep
of stupor. But Edwards did think the captain's wife had. The result was
that Captain Bird re-entered; and, ordering Lucy to lie still, he made
as exact a search of the room as his semi-sobered faculties allowed.
Lucy watched it from her bed. Amidst the general hunting and
turning-over of drawers and places, she saw him pick up her gown and
petticoats one by one and shake them thoroughly, but he found no signs
of the earring.

From that time to this the affair had remained a mystery. There had been
no one in the house that night, except the proprietor and his wife, two
quiet old people who never concerned themselves with their lodgers. They
protested that the street-door had been fast, and that no midnight
marauder could have broken in and slipped upstairs to steal a pearl
brooch (as Edwards put it) or any other article. So, failing other
sources of suspicion, Edwards continued to suspect Lucy. There were
moments when Bird did also: though he trusted her, in regard to it,
on the whole. At any rate, Lucy was obliged to be most cautious. The
quilted skirt had never been off her since, except at night: through
the warm genial days of spring and the sultry heat of summer she had
worn the clumsy wadded thing constantly: and the earring had never been
disturbed until this afternoon.

"You see how it is, Johnny," she said to me, with one of her long-drawn
sighs.

But at that moment the grocer's young man in the white apron came back
down the walk, swinging his empty basket by the handle; and he took
another good stare at us in passing.

"I mean as to the peril I should be in if you suffer the restoration of
the earring to transpire," she continued in a whisper, when he was at a
safe distance. "Oh, Johnny Ludlow! do you and Mrs. Todhetley take care,
for my poor sake."

"Lucy, you need not doubt either of us," I said earnestly. "We will be,
as you phrased it to-day, true as steel--and as cautious. Are you going
back? Let me walk up to the top with you."

"No, no; we part here. Seeing us together might arouse some suspicion,
and there is no absolute certainty that they may not come out, though I
don't think they will. Edwards is for ever thinking of that earring: he
does not feel safe about it, you perceive. Go you that way: I go this.
Farewell, Johnny Ludlow; farewell."

"Good-night, Lucy. I am off to the circus now."

She went with a brisk step up the walk. I ran out by St. Oswald's, and
so on to the Saracen's Head. The place was crammed. I could not get near
Tod and Harry Parker; but they whistled at me across the sawdust and the
fancy steeds performing on it.

                 *       *       *       *       *

We sat together in Mrs. Todhetley's bedroom at Dyke Manor, the door
bolted against intruders: she, in her astonishment at the tale I told,
hardly daring to touch the earring. It was Saturday morning; we had come
home from Worcester the previous evening; and should now be off to
school in an hour. Tod had gone strolling out with the Squire; which
gave me my opportunity.

"You see, good mother, how it all is, and the risk we run. Do you
know, I had half a mind to keep the earring myself for some months and
say never a word to you; only I was not sure of pitching on a safe
hiding-place. It would be so dreadful a thing for Lucy Bird if it were
to get known."

"Poor Lucy, poor Lucy!" she said, the tears on her light eyelashes. "Oh,
Johnny, if she could only be induced to leave that man!"

"But she can't, you know. Robert Ashton has tried over and over again to
get her back to the Court--and tried in vain. See how it glitters!"

I was holding the earring so that the rays of the sun fell upon it,
flashing and sparkling. It seemed more beautiful than it used to be.

"I am very, very glad to have it back, Johnny; the other was useless
without it. You have not," with a tone of apprehension in her voice,
"told Joseph?"

I shook my head. The truth was, I had never longed to tell anything so
much in my life; for what did I ever conceal from him? It was hard work,
I can assure you. The earring burning a hole in my pocket, and I not
able to show Tod that it was there!

"And now, mother, where will you put it?"

She rose to unlock a drawer, took from it a small blue box in the shape
of a trunk, and unlocked that.

"It is in this that I keep all my little valuables, Johnny. It will be
quite safe here. By-and-by we must invent some mode of 'recovering the
earring,' as poor Lucy said."

Lifting the lid of a little pasteboard box, she showed me the
fellow-earring, lying in a nest of cotton. I took it out.

"Put them both into your ears for a minute, good mother! Do!"

She smiled, hesitated; then took out the plain rings that were in her
ears, and put in those of the beautiful pink topaz and diamonds. Going
to the glass to look at herself, she saw the Squire and Tod advancing in
the distance. It sent us into a panic. Scuffling the earrings out of her
ears, she laid them together on the wool in the cardboard box, put the
lid on, and folded it round with white paper.

"Light one of the candles on my dressing-table, Johnny. We will seal it
up for greater security: there's a bit of red sealing-wax in the tray."
And I did so at her direction: stamping it with the seal that had been
my father's, and which with his watch they had only recently allowed me
to take into wearing.

"There," she said, "should any one by chance see that packet, though it
is not likely, and be curious to know what it contains, I shall say that
I cannot satisfy them, as it concerns Johnny Ludlow."

"Are you upstairs, Johnny? What in the world are you doing there?"

I went leaping down at Tod's call. All was safe now.

That's how the other earring came back. And "Eccles" had to be let off
scot free. But I was glad he had the ducking.



XIV.

ANNE.[2]

     [2] This paper, "Anne," ought to have been inserted before some
     of the papers which have preceded it, as the events it treats
     of took place at an earlier date.


+Part the first.+

"Why, what's the matter with _you_?" cried the Squire.

"Matter enough," responded old Coney, who had come hobbling into our
house, and sat down with a groan. "If you had the gout in your great
toe, Squire, as I have it in mine, you'd soon feel what the matter was."

"You have been grunting over that gout for days past, Coney!"

"So I have. It won't go in and it won't come out; it stops there on
purpose to torment me with perpetual twinges. I have been over to
Timberdale Parsonage this morning, and the walk has pretty nigh done for
me."

The Squire laughed. We often did laugh at Coney's gout: which never
seemed to be very bad, or to get beyond incipient "twinges."

"Better have stayed at home and nursed your gout than have pranced off
to Timberdale."

"But I had to go," said the farmer. "Jacob Lewis sent for me."

Mr. Coney spoke of Parson Lewis, Rector of Timberdale. At this time the
parson was on his last legs, going fast to his rest. His mother and old
Coney's mother had been first cousins, which accounted for the intimacy
between the parsonage and the farm. It was Eastertide, and we were
spending it at Crabb Cot.

"Do you remember Thomas Lewis, the doctor?" asked old Coney.

"Remember him! ay, that I do," was the Squire's answer. "What of him?"

"He has been writing to the parson to take a house for him; he and his
daughter are coming to live in old England again. Poor Lewis can't look
out for one himself, so he has put it upon me. And much I can get about,
with this lame foot!"

"A house at Timberdale?"

"Either in the neighbourhood of Timberdale or Crabb, Dr. Lewis writes:
or he wouldn't mind Islip. I saw his letter. Jacob says there's nothing
vacant at Timberdale at all likely to suit. We have been thinking of
that little place over here, that the people have just gone out of."

"What little place?"

"Maythorn Bank. 'Twould be quite large enough."

"And it's very pretty," added the Squire. "Thomas Lewis coming back!
Wonders will never cease. How he could reconcile himself to staying away
all his life, I can't tell. Johnny lad, he will like to see you. He and
your father were as thick as inkle weavers."

"Ay! Ludlow was a good friend to him while he was doing nothing," nodded
old Coney. "As to his staying away, I expect he could not afford to live
in England. He has had a legacy left him now, he tells the parson. What
are you asking, Johnny?"

"Did I ever know Dr Lewis?"

"Not you, lad. Thomas Lewis went abroad ages before you were born, or
thought of. Five-and-twenty years he must have been away."

"More than that," said the Squire.

This Thomas Lewis was half-brother to the Rector of Timberdale, but was
not related to the Coneys. He served his time, when a boy, to a surgeon
at Worcester. In those days young men were apprenticed to doctors just
as they were to other trades. Young Lewis was steady and clever; but so
weak in health that when he was qualified and ought to have set up on
his own account, he could not. People were wondering what would become
of him, for he had no money, when by one of those good chances that
rarely fail in time of need, he obtained a post as travelling companion
to a nobleman, rich and sickly, who was going to reside in the warmth
of the south of France. They went. It brought up Thomas Lewis's health
well; made quite another man of him; and when, a little later, his
patron died, he found that he had taken care of his future. He had left
the young surgeon a competency of two hundred a-year. Mr. Lewis stayed
on where he was, married a lady who had some small means, took a foreign
medical degree to become Dr. Lewis, and obtained a little practice
amidst the English that went to the place in winter. They had been
obliged to live frugally, though an income of from two to three hundred
a-year goes a great deal farther over the water than it does in England:
and perhaps the lack of means to travel had kept Dr. Lewis from visiting
his native land. Very little had been known of him at home; the letters
interchanged by him and the parson were few and far between. Now, it
appeared, the doctor had again dropped into a legacy of a few hundred
pounds, and was coming back with his daughter--an only child. The wife
was dead.

Maythorn Bank, the pretty little place spoken of by Mr. Coney, was
taken. It belonged to Sir Robert Tenby. A small, red-brick house,
standing in a flower-garden, with a delightful view from its windows
of the charming Worcestershire scenery and the Malvern Hills in the
distance. Excepting old Coney's great rambling farm-homestead close by,
it was the nearest house to our own. But the inside, when it came to be
looked at, was found to be in a state of dilapidation, not at all fit
for a gentleman's habitation. Sir Robert Tenby was applied to, and he
gave directions that it should be put in order.

Before this was completed, the Rector of Timberdale died. He had been
suffering from ailments and sorrow for a long while; and in the sweet
spring season, the season that he had loved above all other seasons,
when the May birds were singing and the May flowers were blooming, he
crossed the river that divides us from the eternal shores.

Mr. Coney had to see to the new house then upon his own responsibility;
and when it was finished and the workmen were gone out of it, he went
over to Worcester, following Dr. Lewis's request, and ordered in a
sufficiency of plain furniture. By the middle of June all was ready, a
maid-servant engaged, and the doctor and his daughter were at liberty to
come when they pleased.

We had just got home for the Midsummer holidays when they arrived.
Old Coney took me to the station to meet them; he said there might be
parcels to carry. Once, a French lady had come on a visit to the farm,
and she brought with her fifteen small hand-packages and a bandbox.

"And these people are French, too, you see, Johnny," reasoned old Coney.
"Lewis can't be called anything better, and the girl was born there.
Can't even speak English, perhaps. I'm sure he has had time to forget
his native tongue."

But they spoke English just as readily and fluently as we did; even the
young lady, Anne, had not the slightest foreign accent. And there were
no small packages; nothing but three huge trunks and a sort of large
reticule, which she carried herself, and would not give up to me. I
liked her looks the moment I saw her. You know I always take likes or
dislikes. A rather tall girl, light and graceful, with a candid face, a
true and sweet voice, and large, soft brown eyes that met mine frankly
and fearlessly.

But the doctor! He was like a shadow. A tall man, with stooping
shoulders, handsome, thin features, hollow cheeks, and scanty hair. But
every look and movement bespoke the gentleman; every tone of his low
voice was full of considerate courtesy.

"What a poor weak fellow!" lamented old Coney aside to me. "It's just
the Thomas Lewis of the years gone by; no health, no stamina. I'm afraid
he has only come home to die."

They liked the house, and liked everything in it; and he thanked old
Coney very earnestly for the trouble he had taken. I never saw a man,
as I learnt later, so considerate for the feelings of others, or so
grateful for any little service rendered to himself.

"It is delightful," said Miss Lewis, smiling at me. "I shall call it
our little château. And those hills in the distance are the beautiful
Malvern Hills that my father has so often told me of!"

"How well you speak English!" I said. "Just as we do."

"Do you suppose I could do otherwise, when my father and my mother were
English? It is in truth my native tongue. I think I know England better
than France. I have always heard so much of it."

"But you speak French as a native?"

"Oh, of course. German also."

"Ah, I see you are an accomplished young lady, Miss Lewis."

"I am just the opposite," she said, with a laugh. "I never learnt
accomplishments. I do not play; I do not sing; I do not draw; I do
not--but yes, I do dance: every one dances in France. Ours was not a
rich home, and my dear mother brought me up to be useful in it. I can
make my own dresses; I can cook you an omelette, or----"

"Anne, this is Mr. Todhetley," interrupted her father.

The Squire had come in through the open glass doors, round which the
jessamine was blooming. When they had talked a bit, he took me up to
Dr. Lewis.

"Has Coney told you who he is? William Ludlow's son. You remember
_him_?"

"Remember William Ludlow! I must forget myself before I could forget
him," was the doctor's answer, as he took both my hands in his and held
me before him to look into my eyes. The tears were rising in his own.

"A pleasant face to look at," he was pleased to say. "But they did not
name him William?"

"No. We call him Johnny."

"One generation passes away and another rises up in its place. How few,
how few of those I knew are now left to welcome me! Even poor Jacob has
not stayed."

Tears seemed to be the fashion just then. I turned away, when released,
and saw them in Miss Lewis's eyes as she stood against the window-sill,
absently playing with the white jessamine.

"When they begin to speak of those who are gone, it always puts me in
mind of mamma," she said in a whisper, as if she would apologize for the
tears. "I can't help it."

"Is it long since you lost her?"

"Nearly two years; and home has not been the same to papa since. I do
my best; but I am not my mother. I think it was that which made papa
resolve to come to England when he found he could afford it. Home is but
triste, you see, when the dearest one it contained has gone out of it."

It struck me that the house could not have had one dearer in it than
Anne. She was years and years older than I, but I began to wish she was
my sister.

And her manners to the servant were so nice--a homely country girl,
named Sally, engaged by Mr. Coney. Miss Lewis told the girl that she
hoped she would be happy in her new place, and that she would help her
when there was much work to do. Altogether Anne Lewis was a perfect
contrast to the fashionable damsels of that day, who could not make
themselves appear too fine.

The next day was Sunday. We had just finished breakfast, and Mrs.
Todhetley was nursing her toothache, when Dr. Lewis came in, looking
more shadowy than ever in his black Sunday clothes, with the deep band
on his hat. They were going to service at Timberdale, and he wanted me
to go with them.

"Of course I have not forgotten the way to Timberdale," said he; "but
there's an odd, shy feeling upon me of not liking to walk about the old
place by myself. Anne is strange to it also. We shall soon get used to
it, I dare say. Will you go, Johnny?"

"Yes, sir."

"Crabb Church is close by, Lewis," remarked the Squire, "and it's a
steaming hot day."

"But I must go to Timberdale this morning. It was poor Jacob's church,
you know for many years. And though he is no longer there, I should like
to see the desk and pulpit which he filled."

"Ay, to be sure," readily acquiesced the Squire. "I'd go with you
myself, Lewis, but for the heat."

Dr. Lewis said he should take the roadway, not the short cut through
Crabb Ravine. It was a good round, and we had to start early. I liked
Anne better than ever: no one could look nicer than she did in her
trim black dress. As we walked along, Dr. Lewis frequently halted to
recognize old scenes, and ask me was it this place, or that.

"That fine place out yonder?" he cried, stopping to point to a large
stone house half-a-mile off the road, partly hidden amidst its beautiful
grounds. "I ought to know whose it is. Let me see!"

"It is Sir Robert Tenby's seat--Bellwood. Your landlord, sir."

"Ay, to be sure--Bellwood. In my time it was Sir George's, though."

"Sir George died five or six years ago."

"Has Sir Robert any family? He must be middle-aged now."

"I think he is forty-five, or so. He is not married."

"Does he chiefly live here?"

"About half his time; the rest he spends at his house in London, He
lives very quietly. We all like Sir Robert."

We sat in the Rector's pew, having it to ourselves. Herbert Tanerton
did the duty, and gave a good sermon. Nobody was yet appointed to the
vacant living, which was in Sir Hubert Tenby's gift. Herbert, meanwhile,
took charge of the parish, and many people thought he would get it--as
he did, later.

The Bellwood pew faced the Rector's, and Sir Robert sat in it alone. A
fine-looking man, with greyish hair, and a homely face that you took to
at once. He seemed to pay the greatest attention to Herbert Tanerton's
sermon; possibly was deliberating whether he was worthy of the living,
or not. In the pew behind him sat Mrs. Macbean, an old lady who had
been housekeeper at Bellwood during two generations; and the Bellwood
servants sat further down.

We were talking to Herbert Tanerton outside the church after service,
when Sir Robert came up and spoke to the parson. He, Herbert, introduced
Dr. Lewis to him as the late Rector's brother. Sir Robert shook hands
with him at once, smiled pleasantly at Anne, and nodded to me as he
continued his way.

"Do you like your house?" asked Herbert.

"I shall like it by-and-by, no doubt," was the doctor's answer. "I
should like it now, but for the paint. The smell is dreadful."

"Oh, that will soon go off," cried Herbert.

"Yes, I hope so: or I fear it will make me ill."

In going back we took Crabb Ravine, and were at home in no time. They
asked me to stay dinner, and I did so. We had a loin of lamb, and a
raspberry tart, if any one is curious to know. Dr. Lewis had taken
a fancy to me: I don't know why, unless it was that he had liked my
father; and I'm sure I had taken one to them. But the paint did smell
badly, and that's the truth.

In all my days I don't think I ever saw a man so incapable as Dr. Lewis;
so helpless in the common affairs of life. What he would have done
without Anne, I know not. He was just fit to sit down and be led like a
child; to have said to him--Come here, go there; do this, do the other.
Therefore, when he asked me to run in in the morning and see if he
wanted anything, I was not surprised. Anne thought he might be glad of
my shoulder to lean upon when he walked about the garden.

It was past eleven when I arrived there, for I had to do an errand first
of all for the Squire. Anne was kneeling down in the parlour amidst a
lot of small cuttings of plants, which she had brought from France. They
lay on the carpet on pieces of paper. She wore a fresh white cotton
gown, with black spots upon it, and a black bow at the throat; and she
looked nicer than ever.

"Look here, Johnny; I don't know what to do. The labels have all come
off, and I can't tell which is which. I suppose I did not fasten them on
securely. Sit down--if you can find a chair."

The chairs and tables were strewed with books, most of them French, and
other small articles, just unpacked. I did not want a chair, but knelt
down beside her, asking if I could help. She said no, and that she hoped
to be straight by the morrow. The doctor had stepped out, she did not
know where, "to escape the smell of the paint."

I was deep in the pages of one of the books, "Les Contes de Ma Bonne,"
which Anne said was a great favourite of hers, though it was meant for
children; and she had her head, as before, bent over the green sprigs
and labels, when a shadow, passing the open glass doors, glanced in and
halted. I supposed it must be the doctor; but it was Sir Robert Tenby.
Up I started; Anne did the same quietly, and quietly invited him in.

"I walked over to see Dr. Lewis, and to ask whether the house requires
anything else done to it," he explained. "And I had to come early, as I
am leaving the neighbourhood this afternoon."

"Oh, thank you," said Anne, "it is very kind of you to come. Will you
please to sit down, sir?" hastily taking the books off a chair. "Papa is
out, but I think he will not be long."

"Are you satisfied with the house?" he asked.

"Quite so, sir; and I do not think it wants anything done to it at all.
I hope you will not suppose we shall keep it in this state," she added
rather anxiously. "When things are being unpacked, the rooms are sure to
look untidy."

Sir Robert smiled. "You seem very notable, Miss Lewis."

"Oh, I do everything," she answered, smiling back. "There is no one
else."

He had not taken the chair, but went out, saying he should probably meet
Dr. Lewis--leaving a message for him, about the house, in case he did
not.

"He is your great and grand man of the neighbourhood, is he not,
Johnny?" said Anne, as she knelt down on the carpet again.

"Oh, he is grand enough."

"Then don't you think he is, considering that fact, very pleasant and
affable? I'm sure he is as simple and free in manners and speech as we
are."

"Most grand men--if they are truly great--are that. Your upstarts assume
no end of airs."

"I know who will never assume airs, Johnny. He has none in him."

"Who's that?"

"Yourself."

It made me laugh. I had nothing to assume them for.

It was either that afternoon or the following one that Dr. Lewis came up
to the Squire and old Coney as they were talking together in the road.
He told them that he could not possibly stay in the house; he should be
laid up if he did; he must go away until the smell of the paint was
gone. That he was looking ill, both saw; and they believed he did not
complain without cause.

The question was, where could he go? Mr. Coney hospitably offered him
house-room; but the doctor, while thanking him, said the smell might
last a long time, and he should prefer to be independent. He had been
thinking of going with Anne to Worcester for a time. Did they know of
lodgings there?

"Better go to an hotel," said the Squire. "No trouble at an hotel."

"But hotels are not always comfortable. I cannot feel at home in them,"
argued the poor doctor. "And they cost too much besides."

"You might chance to hit upon lodgings where you wouldn't be any more
comfortable, Lewis. And they'd be very dull for you."

"There's Lake's boarding-house," put in old Coney, whilst the doctor was
looking blank and helpless.

"A boarding-house? Ay, that might do, if it's not a noisy one."

"It's not noisy at all," cried the Squire. "It's uncommonly well
conducted: sometimes there are not three visitors in the house. You and
Miss Lewis would be comfortable there."

And for Lake's boarding-house Dr. Lewis and Anne took their departure on
the very next day. If they had only foreseen the trouble their stay at
it would lead to!

                 *       *       *       *       *

Lake's boarding-house stood near the cathedral. A roomy house, with
rather shabby furniture in it: but in boarding-houses and lodgings
people don't, as a rule, look for gilded chairs and tables. Some years
before, Mrs. Lake, the wife of a professional man, and a gentlewoman,
was suddenly left a widow with four infant children, boys, and nothing
to keep them upon. What to do she did not know. And it often puzzles me
to think what such poor ladies _do_ do, left in similar straits.

She had her furniture; and that was about all. Friends suggested that
she should take a house in a likely situation, and try for some lady
boarders; or perhaps for some of the college boys, whose homes lay at a
distance. Not to make too long a story of it, it was what she did do.
And she had been in the house ever since, struggling on (for these
houses mostly do entail a struggle), sometimes flourishing in numbers,
sometimes down in the dumps with empty rooms. But she had managed to
bring the children up: the two elder ones were out in the world, the two
younger were still in the college school. Mrs. Lake was a meek little
woman, ever distracted with practical cares, especially as to stews and
gravies: Miss Dinah Lake (her late husband's sister, and a majestic lady
of middle age), who lived with her, chiefly saw to the company.

But now, would any one believe that Dr. Lewis was "that shy," as
their maid, Sally, expressed it--or perhaps you would rather call it
helpless--that he begged the Squire to let me go with him to Lake's.
Otherwise he should be lost, he said; and Anne, accustomed to French
ways and habits, could not be of much use to him in a strange
boarding-house: Johnny knew the house, and would feel at home there.

When Captain Sanker and his wife (if you have not forgotten them) first
came to Worcester, they stayed at Lake's while fixing on a residence,
and that's how we became tolerably well acquainted with the Lakes. This
year that I am now writing about was the one that preceded the accident
to King Sanker, told of earlier in the volume. And, in point of
rotation, this paper ought to have appeared first.

So I went with Dr. Lewis and Anne. It was late in the afternoon when we
reached Worcester, close upon the dinner-hour--which was five o'clock,
and looked upon as quite a fashionable hour in those days. The
dinner-bell had rung, and the company had filed in to dinner when we got
downstairs.

But there was not much company staying in the house. Mrs. Lake did
not appear at dinner, and Miss Dinah Lake took the head of the table.
It happened more often than not that Mrs. Lake was in the kitchen,
superintending the dinner and seeing to the ragouts and sauces;
especially upon the advent of fresh inmates, when the fare would be
unusually liberal. Mrs. Lake often said she was a "born cook;" which was
lucky, as she could not afford to keep first-rate servants.

Miss Dinah sat at the head of the table, in a rustling green gown and
primrose satin cap. Having an income of her own she could afford to
dress. (Mrs. Lake's best gown was black silk, thin and scanty.) Next to
Miss Dinah sat a fair, plump little woman, with round green eyes and a
soft voice: at any rate, a soft way of speaking: who was introduced to
us as Mrs. Captain Podd. She in turn introduced her daughters, Miss Podd
and Miss Fanny Podd: both fair, like their mother, and with the same
sort of round green eyes. A Mr. and Mrs. Mitchell completed the company;
two silent people who seemed to do nothing but eat.

Dr. Lewis sat by Mrs. Captain Podd: and very pleasant and attentive the
doctor found her. He was shy as well as helpless; but she talked to him
freely in her low soft voice and put him altogether at his ease. My
place chanced to be next to Miss Fanny Podd's: and she began at once to
put me at my ease, as her mother was putting the doctor.

"You are a stranger here, at the dinner-table," observed Miss Fanny;
"but we shall be good friends presently. People in this house soon
become sociable."

"I am glad of that."

"I did not quite hear your name. Did you catch mine? Fanny Podd."

"Yes. Thank you. Mine is Ludlow."

"I suppose you never were at Worcester before?"

"Oh, I know Worcester very well indeed. I live in Worcestershire."

"Why!" cried the young lady, neglecting her soup to stare at me, "we
heard you had just come over from living in France. Miss Dinah said
so--that old guy at the head of the table."

"Dr. and Miss Lewis have just come from France. Not I. I know Miss Dinah
Lake very well."

"Do you? Don't go and tell her I called her an old guy. Mamma wants to
keep in with Miss Dinah, or she might be disagreeable. What a stupid
town Worcester is!"

"Perhaps you do not know many people in it."

"We don't know any one. We had been staying last in a garrison town.
That was pleasant: so many nice officers about. You could not go to the
window but there'd be some in sight. Here nobody seems to pass but a
crew of staid old parsons."

"We are near the cathedral; that's why you see so many parsons. Are you
going to remain long in Worcester?"

"That's just as the fancy takes mamma. We have been here already six or
seven weeks."

"Have you no settled home?"

Miss Fanny Podd pursed up her lips and shook her head. "We like change
best. A settled home would be wretchedly dull. Ours was given up when
papa died."

Thus she entertained me to the end of dinner. We all left the table
together--wine was not in fashion at Lake's. Those who wanted any had
to provide it for themselves: but the present company seemed to be
satisfied with the home-brewed ale. Mrs. Captain Podd put her arm
playfully into that of Dr. Lewis, and said she would show him the way to
the drawing-room.

And so it went on all the evening: she making herself agreeable to
the doctor: Miss Podd to Anne; Fanny to me. Of course it was highly
good-natured of them. Mrs. Podd discovered that the doctor liked
backgammon; and she looked for a moment as cross as a wasp on finding
there was no board in the house.

"Quite an omission, my dear Miss Dinah," she said, smoothing away the
frown with a sweet smile. "I thought a backgammon-board was as necessary
to a house as chairs and tables."

"Mrs. Lake had a board once," said Miss Dinah; "but the boys got
possession of it, and somehow it was broken. We have chess--and
cribbage."

"Would you like a hand at cribbage, my dear sir?" asked Mrs. Podd of the
doctor.

"Don't play it, ma'am," said he.

"Ah"--with a little sigh. "Julia, love, would you mind singing one of
your quiet songs? Or a duet. Fanny, sweetest, try a quiet duet with your
sister. Go to the piano."

If they called the duet quiet, I wondered what they called noisy. You
might have heard it over at the cathedral. Their playing and singing was
of the style known as "showy." Some people admire it: but it is a good
thing ear-drums are not easily cracked.

The next day Mrs. Podd made the house a present of a backgammon-board:
and in the evening she and Dr. Lewis sat down to play. Our number had
decreased, for Mr. and Mrs. Mitchell had left; and Mrs. Lake dined with
us, taking the foot of the table. Miss Dinah always, I found, kept the
head.

"She is so much better calculated to preside than I am," whispered
meek Mrs. Lake to me later in the evening; as, happening to pass the
kitchen-door after dinner, I saw her in there, making the coffee. "What
should I do without Dinah!"

"But need you come out to make the coffee, Mrs. Lake?"

"My dear, when I leave it to the servants, it is not drinkable. I am
rather sorry Mrs. Podd makes a point of having coffee in an evening. Our
general rule is to give only tea."

"I wouldn't give in to Mrs. Podd."

"Well, dear, we like to be accommodating when we can. Being my cousin,
she orders things more freely than our ladies usually do. Dinah calls
her exacting; but----"

"Is Mrs. Podd your cousin?" I interrupted, in surprise.

"My first cousin. Did you not know it? Her mother and my mother were
sisters."

"The girls don't call you 'aunt.'"

"They do sometimes when we are alone. I suppose they think I am beneath
them--keeping a boarding-house."

I had not much liked the Podds at first: as the days went on I liked
them less. They were not sincere: I was quite sure of it; Mrs. Podd
especially. But the manner in which she had taken Dr. Lewis under her
wing was marvellous. He began to think he could not move without her: he
was as one who has found a sheet-anchor. She took trouble of all kinds
from him: her chief aim seemed to be to make his life pass pleasantly.
She would order a carriage and take him for a drive in it; she'd parade
the High Street on his arm; she sat with him in the Green within the
enclosure, though Miss Dinah told her one day she had not the right of
entrance to it; she walked him off to inspect the monuments in the
cathedral, and talked with him in the cloisters of the old days when
Cromwell stabled his horses there. After dinner they would play
backgammon till bed-time. And with it all, she was so gay and sweet and
gentle, that Dr. Lewis thought she must be a very angel come out of
heaven.

"Johnny, I don't like her," said Anne to me one day. "She seems to take
papa completely out of my hands. She makes him feel quite independent of
me."

"You like her as well as I do, Anne."

"This morning I found him in the drawing-room; alone, for a wonder: he
was gazing up in his abstracted way, as if wanting to discover what the
pinnacles of the cathedral were made of, which appear to be so close,
you know, from the windows of that room. 'Papa, you are lonely,' I said.
'Would you like to walk out?--or what would you like to do?' 'My dear,
Mrs. Podd will see to it all,' he answered; 'don't trouble yourself; I
am waiting for her.' It is just as though he had no more need of me."

Anne Lewis turned away to hide her wet eyelashes. For my part, I thought
the sooner Mrs. Captain Podd betook herself from Lake's boarding-house,
the better. It was too much of a good thing.

That same afternoon I heard some conversation not meant for me. Behind
the house was a square patch of ground called a garden, containing a few
trees and some sweet herbs. I was sitting on the bench there, underneath
the high, old-fashioned dining-room windows, thinking how hot the sun
was, wishing for something to do, and wondering when Dr. Lewis meant
to send me home. He and Mrs. Podd were out together; Anne was in the
kitchen, teaching Mrs. Lake some mysteries of French cookery. Miss Dinah
sat in the dining-room, in her spectacles, darning table-cloths.

"Oh, have you come in!" I suddenly heard her say, as the door opened.
And it was Mrs. Podd's voice that answered.

"The sun is so very hot: poor dear Dr. Lewis felt quite ill. He has gone
up to his room for half-an-hour to sit quietly in the shade. Where are
my girls?"

"I'm sure I don't know," replied Miss Dinah: and it struck me that her
tone of voice was rather crusty. "Mrs. Podd, I must again ask you when
you will let me have some money?"

"As soon as I can," said Mrs. Podd: who seemed by the sound, to have
thrown herself upon a chair, and to be fanning her face with a rustling
newspaper.

"But you have said that for some weeks. When is the 'soon' to be?"

"You know I have been disappointed in my remittances. It is really too
hot for talking."

"I know that you say you have. But we cannot go on without some money.
The expenses of this house are heavy: how are they to be kept up if our
guests don't pay us? Indeed you must let me have part of your account,
if not all."

"My dear sweet creature, the house is not yours," returned Mrs. Podd, in
her most honeyed accents.

"I manage it," said Miss Dinah, "and am responsible for getting in the
accounts. You know that our custom is to be paid weekly."

"Exactly, dear Miss Dinah. But I am sure that my cousin, Emma Lake,
would not wish to inconvenience me. I am indebted to her; not to you;
and I will pay her as soon as I can. My good creature, how _can_ you sit
stewing over that plain sewing this sultry afternoon?"

"I am obliged to," responded Miss Dinah. "We have not money to spend on
new linen: trouble enough, it is, I can assure you, to keep the old
decent."

"I should get somebody to help me. That young woman, Miss Lewis, might
do it: she seems to have been used to all kinds of work."

"I wish you would shut that door: you have left it open," retorted Miss
Dinah: "I don't like sitting in a draught, though it is hot. And I must
beg of you to understand, Mrs. Podd, that we really cannot continue to
keep you and your daughters here unless you can manage to give us a
little money."

By the shutting of the door and the silence that ensued, it was apparent
that Mrs. Podd had departed, leaving Miss Dinah to her table-cloths.
But now, this had surprised me. For, to hear Mrs. Captain Podd and her
daughters talk, and to see the way in which they dressed, one could not
have supposed they were ever at a fault for ready-cash.

At the end of ten days I went home. Dr. Lewis no longer wanted me: he
had Mrs. Podd. And I think it must have been about ten days after that,
that we heard the doctor and Anne were returning. The paint smelt still,
but not so badly as before.

They did not come alone. Mrs. Podd and her two daughters accompanied
them to spend the day. Mrs. Podd was in a ravishing new toilette; and I
hoped Lake's boarding-house had been paid.

Mrs. Podd went into raptures over Maythorn Bank, paint and all. It was
the sweetest little place she had ever been in, she said, and some
trifling, judicious care would convert it into a paradise.

I know who had the present care; and that was Anne. They got over about
twelve o'clock; and as soon as she had seen the ladies' things off, and
they were comfortably installed in the best parlour, its glass doors
standing open to the fragrant flower-beds, she put on a big apron in the
kitchen and helped Sally with the dinner.

"Need you do it, Anne?" I said, running in, having seen her crumbling
bread as I passed the window.

"Yes, I must, Johnny. Papa bade me have a nice dinner served to-day: and
Sally is inexperienced, you know: she knows nothing about the little
dishes he likes. To tell you the truth," added Anne, glancing meaningly
into my eyes for a moment, "I would rather be cooking here than talking
with them there."

"Are you sorry to leave Worcester?"

"Yes, and no," she answered. "Sorry to leave Mrs. Lake and Miss Dinah,
for I like them both: glad to be at home again and to have papa to
myself. I shall not cry if we never see Mrs. Podd again. Perhaps I
am mistaken: and I'm sure I did not think that the judging of others
uncharitably was one of my faults; but I cannot help thinking that she
has tried to estrange papa from me. I suppose it is her way: she cannot
have any real wish to do it. However, she goes back to-night, and then
it will be over."

"Who is at Lake's now?"

"No one--except the Podds. I am sorry, for I fear they have some
difficulty to make both ends meet."

                 *       *       *       *       *

Was it over! Anne Lewis reckoned without her host.

I was running into Maythorn Bank the next morning, when I saw the
shimmer of Anne's white garden-bonnet and her morning dress amidst the
raspberry-bushes, and turned aside to greet her. She had a basin in her
hand, picking the fruit, and the hot tears were running down her cheeks.
Conceal her distress she could not; any attempt would have been worse
than futile.

"Oh, Johnny, she is going to marry him!" cried she, with an outburst of
sobs.

"Going to marry him!--who? what?" I asked, taking the basin from her
hand: for I declare that the truth did not strike me.

"_She_ is. Mrs. Podd. She is going to marry papa."

For a moment she held her face against the apple-tree. The words
confounded me. More real grief I had never seen. My heart ached for her.

"Don't think me selfish," she said, turning presently, trying to
subdue the sobs, and wiping the tears away. "I hope I am not that: or
undutiful. It is not for myself that I grieve; indeed it is not; but
for him."

I knew that.

"If I could only think it would be for his happiness! But oh, I fear it
will not be. Something seems to tell me that it will not. And if--he
should be--uncomfortable afterwards--miserable afterwards!--I think the
distress would kill me."

"Is it _true_, Anne? How did you hear it?"

"_True!_ Too true, Johnny. At breakfast this morning papa said, 'We
shall be dull to-day without our friends, Anne.' I told him I hoped not,
and that I would go out with him, or read to him, or do anything else he
liked; and I reminded him of his small stock of choice books that he
used to be so fond of. 'Yes, yes, we shall be very dull, you and I alone
in this strange house,' he resumed. 'I have been thinking for some time
we should be, Anne, and so I have asked that dear, kind, lively woman
to come to us for good.' I did not understand him; I did not indeed,
Johnny; and papa went on to explain. 'You must know that I allude to
Mrs. Podd, Anne,' he said. 'When I saw her so charmed with this house
yesterday, and we were talking about my future loneliness in it--and
she lamented it, even with tears--one word led to another, and I felt
encouraged to venture to ask her to share it and be my wife. And so, my
dear, it is all settled; and I trust it will be for the happiness of us
all. She is a most delightful woman, and will make the sunshine of any
home.' I wish I could think it," concluded Anne.

"No; don't take the basin," I said, as she went to do so. "I'll finish
picking the raspberries. What are they for?"

"A pudding. Papa said he should like one."

"Why could not Sally pick them? Country girls are used to the sun."

"Sally is busy. Papa bade her clear out that room where our boxes were
put: we shall want all the rooms now. Oh, Johnny, I wish we had not left
France! Those happy days will never come again."

Was the doctor falling into his dotage? The question crossed my mind.
It might never have occurred to _me_; but one day at Worcester Miss
Dinah had asked it in my hearing. I felt very uncomfortable, could not
think of anything soothing to say to Anne, and went on picking the
raspberries.

"How many do you want? Are these enough?"

"Yes," she answered, looking at them. "I must fill the basin up with
currants."

We were bending over a currant-bush, Anne holding up a branch and I
stripping it, when footsteps on the path close by made us both look up
hastily. There stood Sir Robert Tenby. He stared at the distress on
Anne's face, which was too palpable to be concealed, and asked without
ceremony what was amiss.

It was the last feather that broke the camel's back. These words from a
stranger, and his evident concern, put the finishing touch to Anne's
state. She burst into more bitter tears than she had yet shed.

"Is it any trouble that I can help you out of?" asked Sir Robert, in the
kindest tones, feeling, no doubt, as sorry as he looked. "Oh, my dear
young lady, don't give way like this!"

Touched by his sympathy, her heart seemed to open to him: perhaps she
had need of finding consolation somewhere. Drying her tears, Anne told
her story simply: commenting on it as she had commented to me.

"It is for my father's sake that I grieve, sir; that I fear. I feel sure
Mrs. Podd will not make him really happy."

"Well, well, we must hope for the best," spoke Sir Robert, who looked a
little astonished at hearing the nature of the grievance, and perhaps
thought Anne's distress more exaggerated than it need have been. "Dr.
Lewis wrote to me last night about some alteration he wants to make in
the garden; I have come to speak to him about it."

"Alteration in the garden!" mechanically repeated Anne. "I have heard
nothing about it."

He passed into the house to the doctor. We picked on at the currants,
and then took them into the kitchen. Anne sat down on a chair to strip
them from their stalks. Presently we saw Sir Robert and the doctor at
one end of the garden, the latter drawing boundaries round a corner with
his walking-stick.

"Oh, I know," exclaimed Anne. "Yesterday Mrs. Podd suggested that a
summer-house in that spot would be a delightful improvement. But I
never, never could have supposed papa meant to act upon the suggestion."

Just so. Dr. Lewis wished to erect a summer-house of wood and
trellis-work, but had not liked to do it without first speaking to his
landlord.

As the days went on, Anne grew to feel somewhat reassured. She was very
busy, for all kinds of preparations had to be made in the house, and the
wedding was to take place at once.

"I think, perhaps, I took it up in a wrong light, Johnny," she said to
me one day, when I went in and found her sewing at some new curtains. "I
hope I did. It must have been the suddenness of the news, I suppose, and
that I was so very unprepared for it."

"How do you mean? In what wrong light?"

"No one seems to think ill of it, or to foresee cause for apprehension.
I am so glad. I don't think I can ever much like her: but if she makes
papa happy, it is all I ask."

"Who has been talking about it?"

"Herbert Tanerton for one. He saw Mrs. Podd at Worcester last week, and
thought her charming. The very woman, he said, to do papa good; lively
and full of resource. So it may all be for the best."

I should as soon have expected an invitation to the moon as to the
wedding. But I got it. Dr. Lewis, left to himself, was feeling helpless
again, and took me with him to Worcester on the eve of the happy day. We
put up at the Bell Hotel for the night; but Anne went direct to Lake's
boarding-house. I ran down there in the evening.

Whether an inkling of the coming wedding had got abroad, I can't say; it
was to be kept private, and had been, so far as any one knew; but Lake's
house was full, not a room to be had in it for love or money. Anne was
put in a sleeping-closet two yards square.

"It is not our fault," spoke Miss Dinah, openly. "We were keeping a room
for Miss Lewis; but on Monday last when a stranger came, wanting to be
taken in, Mrs. Podd told us Miss Lewis was going to the hotel with her
father."

"My dear love, I thought you were," chimed in Mrs. Podd, as she patted
Anne on the shoulder. "I must have mis-read a passage in your dear
papa's letter, and so caught up the misapprehension. Never mind; you
shall dress in my room if your own is not large enough. And I am sure
all young ladies ought to be obliged to me, for the new inmate is a
delightful man. My daughters find him charming."

"The room is quite large enough, thank you," replied Anne, meekly.

"Do you approve of the wedding, Miss Dinah?" I asked her later, when we
were alone in the dining-room. "Do you like it?"

Miss Dinah, who was counting a lot of glasses on the sideboard that the
maid had just washed and brought in, counted to the end, and then began
upon the spoons.

"It is the only way we can keep our girls in check," observed she;
"otherwise they'd break and lose all before them. I know how many
glasses have been used at table, consequently how many go out to be
washed, and the girl has to bring that same number in, or explain the
reason why. As to the spoons, they get thrown away with the dishwater
and sometimes into the fire. If they were silver it would be all the
same."

"Do you like the match, Miss Dinah?"

"Johnny Ludlow," she said, turning to face me, "we make a point in
this house of not expressing our likes and dislikes. Our position is
peculiar, you know. When people have come to years of discretion, and
are of the age that Mrs. Podd is, not to speak of Dr. Lewis's, we must
suppose them to be capable of judging and acting for themselves. We have
not helped on the match by so much as an approving word or look: on the
other hand, it has not lain in our duty or in our power to retard it."

Which was, of course, good sense. But for all her caution, I fancied she
could have spoken against it, had she chosen.

A trifling incident occurred to me in going back to the Bell. Rushing
round the corner into Broad Street, a tall, well-dressed man, sauntering
on before me, suddenly turned on his heel, and threw away his cigar. It
caught the front of my shirt. I flung it off again; but not before it
had burnt a small hole in the linen.

"I beg your pardon," said the smoker, in a courteous voice--and there
was no mistaking him for anything but a gentleman. "I am very sorry. It
was frightfully careless of me."

"Oh, it is nothing; don't think about it," I answered, making off at
full speed.

St. Michael's Church stood in a nook under the cathedral walls: it is
taken down now. It was there that the wedding took place. Dr. Lewis
arrived at it more like a baby than a bridegroom, helpless and nervous
to a painful degree. But Mrs. Podd made up for his deficiencies in her
grand self-possession; her white bonnet and nodding feather seemed to
fill the church. Anne wore grey silk; Julia and Fanny Podd some shining
pink stuff that their petticoats could be seen through. Poor Anne's
tears were dropping during the service; she kept her head bent down to
hide them.

"Look up, Anne," I said from my place close to her. "Take courage."

"I can't help it, indeed, Johnny," she whispered. "I wish I could. I'm
sure I wouldn't throw a damper on the general joy for the world."

The wedding-party was a very small one indeed; just ourselves and a
stern-looking gentleman, who was said to be a lawyer-cousin of the
Podds, and to come from Birmingham. All the people staying at Lake's
had flocked into the church to look on.

"Pray take my arm. Allow me to lead you out. I see how deeply you are
feeling this."

The ceremony seemed to be over almost as soon as it was begun--perhaps
the parson, remembering the parties had both been married before, cut it
short. And it was in the slight bustle consequent upon its termination
that the above words, in a low, tender, and most considerate tone, broke
upon my ear. Where had I heard the voice before?

Turning hastily round, I recognized the stranger of the night before. It
was to Anne he had spoken, and he had already taken her upon his arm.
Her head was bent still; the rebellious tears would hardly be kept back;
and a sweet compassion sat on every line of his handsome features as he
gazed down at her.

"Who is he?" I asked of Fanny Podd, as he walked forward with Anne.

"Mr. Angerstyne--the most fascinating man I ever saw in my life. The
Lakes could not have taken him in, but for mamma's inventing that little
fable of Anne's going with old Lewis to the Bell. Trust mamma for not
letting us two girls lose a chance," added free-speaking Fanny. "I may
take your arm, I suppose, Johnny Ludlow."

And after a plain breakfast in private, which included only the
wedding-party, Dr. and Mrs. Lewis departed for Cheltenham.


+Part the Second.+

"Johnny, what can I do? What do you _think_ I can do?"

In the pretty grey silk that she had worn at her father's wedding, and
with a whole world of perplexity in her soft brown eyes, Anne Lewis
stood by me, and whispered the question. As soon as the bride and
bridegroom had driven off, Anne was to depart for Maythorn Bank, with
Julia and Fanny Podd; all three of them to remain there for the few days
that Dr. and Mrs. Lewis purposed to be away. But now, no sooner had the
sound of the bridal wheels died on our ears, and Anne had suggested that
they should get ready for their journey home, than the two young ladies
burst into a laugh, and said, _Did_ she think they were going off to
that dead-alive place! Not if they knew it. And, giving her an emphatic
nod to prove they meant what they said, they waltzed to the other end of
the room in their shining pink dresses to talk to Mr. Angerstyne.

Consternation sat in every line of Anne's face. "I cannot go there
alone, or stay there alone," she said to me. "These things are not done
in France."

No: though Maythorn Bank was her own home, and though she was as
thoroughly English as a girl can be, it could not be done. French
customs and ideas did not permit it, and she had been brought up in
them. It was certainly not nice behaviour of the girls. They should have
objected before their mother left.

"_I_ don't know what you can do, Anne. Better ask Miss Dinah."

"Not go with you, after the arrangements are made--and your servant
Sally is expecting you all!" cried Miss Dinah Lake. "Oh, you must be
mistaken," she added; and went up to talk to them. Julia only laughed.

"Go to be buried alive at Maythorn Bank as long as mamma chooses to stay
away!" she cried. "You won't get either of us to do anything of the
kind, Miss Dinah."

"Mrs. Podd--I mean Mrs. Lewis--will be back to join you there in less
than a week," said Miss Dinah.

"Oh, will she, though! You don't know mamma. She may be off to Paris and
fifty other places before she turns her head homewards again. Anne Lewis
can go home by herself, if she wants to go: I and Fanny mean to stay
with you, Miss Dinah."

So Anne had to stay also. She sat down and wrote two letters: one to
Sally, saying their coming home was delayed; the other to Dr. Lewis,
asking what she was to do.

"And the gain is mine," observed Mr. Angerstyne. "What would the house
have been without you?"

He appeared to speak to the girls generally. But his eyes and his smile
evidently were directed to Anne. She saw it too, and blushed. Blushed!
when she had not yet known him four-and-twenty hours. But he was just
the fellow for a girl to fall in love with--and no disparagement to her
to say so.

"Who is he?" I that evening asked Miss Dinah.

"A Mr. Angerstyne," she answered. "I don't know much of him, except that
he is an independent gentleman with a beautiful estate in Essex, and a
fashionable man. I see what you are thinking, Johnny: that it is curious
a man of wealth and fashion should be staying at Lake's boarding-house.
But Mr. Angerstyne came over from Malvern to see Captain Bristow, the
old invalid, who keeps his room upstairs, and when here the captain
persuaded him to stay for a day or two, if we could give him a room.
That's how it was. Captain Bristow leaves us soon, and I suppose Mr.
Angerstyne will be leaving too."

I had expected to go home the following day; but that night up came two
of the young Sankers, Dan and King, and said I was to go and stay a bit
with them. Leave to do so was easily had from home; for just as our
school at old Frost's was reassembling, two boys who had stayed the
holidays were taken with bad throats, and we were not to go back till
goodness knew when. Tod, who was on a visit in Gloucestershire, thought
it would be Michaelmas.

Back came letters from Cheltenham. Mrs. Lewis told her girls they might
remain at Worcester if they liked. And Dr. Lewis wrote to Anne, saying
she must not go home alone; and he enclosed a note to Mrs. Lake, asking
her to be so kind as to take care of his daughter.

After that we had a jolly time. The Sankers and Lakes amalgamated well,
and were always at one another's houses. This does not apply to Mrs.
Lake and Miss Dinah: as Miss Dinah put it, they had no time for gadding
down to Sanker's. But Mr. Angerstyne (who had not left) grew quite
familiar there; the Sankers, who never stood on the slightest ceremony,
making no stranger of him. Captain Sanker discovered that two or three
former naval chums of his were known to Mr. Angerstyne; one dead old
gentleman in particular, who had been his bosom friend. This was quite
enough. Mr. Angerstyne had, so to say, the key of the house given him,
and went in and out of it at will.

Every one liked Mr. Angerstyne. And for all the pleasurable excursions
that now fell to our lot, we were indebted to him. Without being
ostentatious, he opened his purse freely; and there was a delicacy in
his manner of doing it that prevented its being felt. On the plea of
wanting, himself, to see some noted spot or place in the neighbourhood,
he would order a large post-carriage from the Star or the Crown, and
invite as many as it would hold to accompany him, and bring baskets of
choice fruit, or dainties from the pastry-cook's, to regale us on. Or he
would tell the Sankers that King looked delicate: poor lame King, who
was to die ere another year had flown. Down would come the carriage,
ostensibly to take King for a drive; and a lot of us reaped the benefit.
Mrs. Sanker was always of the party: without a chaperon, the young
ladies could not have gone. Generally speaking the Miss Podds would
come--_they_ took care of that: and Anne Lewis always came--which I
think Mr. Angerstyne took care of. The golden page of life was opening
for Anne Lewis: she seemed to be entering on an Elysian pathway, every
step of which was strewn with flowers.

One day we went to Holt Fleet. The carriage came down to the Sankers' in
the morning, Mr. Angerstyne in it, and the captain stepped out of doors,
his face beaming, to see the start. Once in a way he would be of the
party himself, but not often. Mr. Angerstyne handed Mrs Sanker in, and
then called out for me. I held back, feeling uncomfortable at being
always taken, and knowing that Fred and Dan thought me selfish for it.
But it was of no use: Mr. Angerstyne had a way of carrying out his own
will.

"Get up on the box, Johnny," he said to me. And, close upon my heels,
wanting to share the box with me, came Dan Sanker. Mr. Angerstyne pulled
him back.

"Not you, Dan. I shall take King."

"King has been ever so many times--little wretch!" grumbled Dan. "It's
my turn. It's not fair, Mr. Angerstyne."

"You, Dan, and Fred, and Toby, all the lot of you, shall have a carriage
to yourselves for a whole day if you like, but King goes with me," said
Mr. Angerstyne, helping the lad up.

He got in himself, took his seat by Mrs. Sanker, and the post-boy
touched up his horses. Mrs. Sanker, mildly delighted, for she liked
these drives, sat in her ordinary costume: a fancy shawl of some thick
kind of silk crape, all the colours of the rainbow blended into its
pattern, and a black velvet bonnet with a turned-up brim and a rose in
it, beneath which her light hair hung down in loose curls.

We stopped at Lake's boarding-house to take up the three girls; who got
in, and sat on the seat opposite Mrs. Sanker and Mr. Angerstyne: and
then the post-boy started for Holt Fleet. "The place is nothing,"
observed Captain Sanker, who had suggested it as an easy, pleasant drive
to Mr. Angerstyne; "but the inn is comfortable, and the garden's nice to
sit or stroll in."

We reached Holt Fleet at one o'clock. The first thing Mr. Angerstyne did
was to order luncheon, anything they could conveniently give us, and to
serve it in the garden. It proved to be ham and eggs; first-rate; we
were all hungry, and he bade them keep on frying till further orders. At
which the girl who waited on us laughed, as she drew the corks of some
bottled perry.

I saw a bit of by-play later on. Strolling about to digest the ham and
eggs, some in one part of the grounds, which in places had a wild and
picturesque aspect, some in another, Mr. Angerstyne suddenly seized
Anne, as if to save her from falling. She was standing in that high
narrow pathway that is perched up aloft and looks so dangerous,
steadying herself by a tree, and bending cautiously forwards to look
down. The path may be gone now. The features of the whole place may be
altered; perhaps even done away with altogether; for I am writing of
years and years ago. He stole up and caught her by the waist.

"Oh, Mr. Angerstyne!" she exclaimed, blushing and starting.

"Were you going to take a leap?"

"No, no," she smiled. "Would it kill me if I did?"

"Suppose I let you go--and send you over to try it?"

Ah, he would not do that. He was holding her all too safely. Anne made
an effort to free herself; but her eyelids drooped over her tell-tale
eyes, her conscious face betrayed what his presence was to her.

"How beautiful the river is from this, as we look up it!" she exclaimed.

"More than beautiful."

Julia Podd rushed up to mar the harmony. Never does a fleeting moment of
this kind set in but somebody does mar it. Julia flirted desperately
with Mr. Angerstyne.

"Mr. Angerstyne, I have been looking for you everywhere. Mrs. Sanker
wants to know if you will take us for a row on the water. The inn has a
nice boat."

"Mrs. Sanker does!" he exclaimed. "With pleasure. Are you fond of the
water, Miss Lewis?"

Anne made no particular reply. She stood at a little distance now,
apparently looking at the view; but I thought she wanted to hide her hot
cheeks. Mr. Angerstyne caught her hand in his, playfully put his other
hand within Miss Julia's arm, and so piloted them down. Ah, he might
flirt back again with Julia Podd, and did; with Fanny also; but it was
not to them his thoughts were given.

"Go on the water!" said Mrs. Sanker, who was sitting under the shade of
the trees, repeating one of her favourite ballads to King in a see-saw
tone. "_I!_ Julia Podd must have misunderstood me. To go on the water
might be nice for those who would like it, I said. I don't."

"Will you go?" asked Mr. Angerstyne, turning to Anne.

Anne shook her head, confessing herself too much of a coward. She had
never been on any water in her life until when crossing over from
France, and never wished to be. And Mr. Angerstyne ungallantly let the
boat alone, though Julia and Fanny told him they adored the water.

We sat down in the shade by Mrs. Sanker; some on the bench by her side,
some on the grass at her feet, and she recited for us the time-worn
ballad she had begun for King: just as the following year she would
recite things to us, as already told of, sitting on the floor beam of
the turret-room. It was called "Lord Thomas." Should you like to hear
it?

    Lord Thomas he was a bold forester,
      And a keeper of the king's deer;
    Fair Ellenor, she was a fair young lady,
      Lord Thomas he loved her dear.

    "Come, read me a riddle, dear mother," said he,
      "And riddle us both as one:
    Whether fair Ellen shall be mine--
      Or to bring the brown girl home?"

    "The brown girl she hath both houses and lands;
      Fair Ellenor, she has none:
    Therefore I'd advise thee, on my blessing,
      To bring the brown girl home."

    Then he decked himself and he dressed himself,
      And his merry men, all in green:
    And as he rode through the town with them
      Folks took him to be some king.

    When he came to fair Ellenor's bower
      So boldly he did ring;
    There was none so ready as fair Ellen herself
      To loose Lord Thomas in.

    "What news, what news, Lord Thomas,
      What news have you brought unto me?"
    "I'm come to invite you to my wedding;
      And that is bad news for thee."

    "Oh, now forbid," fair Ellenor said,
      "That any such thing should be done:
    For I thought to have been the bride myself,
      And that you would have been the bridegroom.

    "Come, read me a riddle, dear mother," said she,
      "And riddle us both as one:
    Whether I shall go to Lord Thomas's wedding,
      Or whether I shall tarry at home?"

    "There's one may be thy friend, I know;
      But twenty will be thy foe:
    Therefore I charge thee, on my blessing,
      To Lord Thomas's wedding don't go."

    "There's one will be my friend, I know,
      Though twenty should be my foe:
    Betide me life, or betide me death,
      To Lord Thomas's wedding I go."

    Then she went up into her chamber
      And dressed herself all in green:
    And when she came downstairs again,
      They thought it must be some queen.

    When she came to Lord Thomas's castle
      So nobly she did ring:
    There was none so ready as Sir Thomas himself
      To loose this lady in.

    Then he took her by her lily-white hand
      And led her across the hall;
    And he placed her on the daïs,
      Above the ladies all.

    "Is this your bride, Lord Thomas?
      I think she looks wondrous brown:
    You might have had as fair a young maiden
      As ever trod English ground."

    "Despise her not," said Lord Thomas;
      "Despise her not unto me;
    I love thy little finger, Ellen,
      Better than her whole body."

    The brown girl, having a knife in her hand,
      Which was both keen and sharp,
    Between the long ribs and the short,
      She pierced fair Ellenor's heart.

    "Oh, what's the matter?" Lord Thomas said,
      "I think you look pale and wan:
    You used to have as fine a colour
      As ever the sun shone on."

    "What, are you blind, now, Thomas?
      Or can't you very well see?
    Oh, can't you see, and oh, can't you see my own heart's blood
      Run trickling down to my knee?"

    Then Lord Thomas, he took the brown girl by the hand,
      And led her across the hall;
    And he took his own bride's head off her shoulders,
      And dashed it against the wall.

    Then Lord Thomas, he put the sword to the ground,
      The point against his heart:
    So there was an end of those three lovers,
      So sadly they did part!

       *       *       *       *       *

    Upon fair Ellenor's grave grew a rose,
      And upon Lord Thomas's a briar:
    And there they twixed and there they twined, till they came to
        the steeple-top;
      That all the world might plainly see, true love is never forgot.

"Oh, how delightful these old ballads are!" cried Anne, as Mrs. Sanker
finished.

"Delightful!" retorted Julia Podd. "Why, they are full of queer phrases
and outrageous metre and grammar!"

"My dears, it is, I suppose, how people wrote and spoke in those old
days," said Mrs. Sanker, who had given great force to every turn of the
song, and seemed to feel its disasters as much as though she had been
fair Ellen herself.

"Just so," put in Mr. Angerstyne. "The world was not full of learning
then, as it is now, and we accept the language--ay and like it, too--as
that of a past day. To me, these old ballads are wonderful: every one
has a life's romance in it."

And that day at Holt Fleet, the only time I, Johnny Ludlow, ever saw the
place, lives in my memory as a romance now.

                 *       *       *       *       *

As the days went on, there could be no mistake made by the one or two of
us who kept our eyes open. I mean, as to Mr. Angerstyne's liking for
Anne Lewis, and the reciprocal feelings he had awakened. With her, it
had been a case of love at first sight; or nearly so. And that, if you
may believe the learned in the matter, is the only love deserving the
name. Perhaps it had been so with him: I don't know.

Three parts of their time they talked together in French, for Mr.
Angerstyne spoke it well. And that vexed Julia and Fanny Podd; who
called themselves good French scholars, but who somehow failed to
understand. "They talk so fast; they do it on purpose," grumbled Fanny.
At German Mr. Angerstyne was not apt. He spoke it a very little, and
Anne would laughingly correct his mistakes, and repeat the German words
slowly over, that he might catch the accent, causing us no end of fun.
That was Anne's time of day, as Fanny Podd expressed it; but when it
came to the musical evenings, Anne was nowhere. The other two shone like
stars then, and did their best to monopolize Mr. Angerstyne.

That a fine gentleman, rich, and a man of the great world, should stay
dawdling on at a boarding-house, puzzled Miss Dinah, who knew what was
what. Of course it was no business of hers; she and Mrs. Lake were only
too glad to have one who paid so liberally. He would run upstairs to sit
with Captain Bristow; and twice a week he went to Malvern, sometimes not
getting back in time for dinner.

The college school had begun again, and I was back at Lake's. For Tom
and Alfred Lake, who had been away, were at home now: and nothing would
do but I must come to their house before I went home--to which I was
daily expecting a summons. As to the bride and bridegroom, we thought
they meant to remain away for good; weeks had elapsed since their
departure. No one regretted that: Julia and Fanny Podd considered
Maythorn Bank the fag-end of the world, and hoped they might never be
called to it. And Anne, living in the Elysian Fields, did not care to
leave them for the dreary land outside their borders.

One evening we were invited to a tea-dinner at Captain Sanker's. The
Miss Podds persisted in calling it a soirée. It turned out to be a
scrambling sort of entertainment, and must have amused Mr. Angerstyne.
Biddy had poured the bowl of sweet custard over the meat patties by
mistake, and put salt on the open tartlets instead of sugar. It seemed
nothing but fun to us all. The evening, with its mistakes, and its
laughter, and its genuine hospitality, came to an end, and we started to
go home under the convoy of Mr. Angerstyne, all the Sanker boys, except
Toby, attending us. It was a lovely moonlight night; Mrs. Lake, who had
come in at the tail of the soirée to escort the girls home, remarked
that the moon was never brighter.

"Why, just look there!" she exclaimed, as we turned up Edgar Street,
intending to take that and the steps homewards; "the Tower gates are
open!" For it was the custom to close the great gates of Edgar Tower at
dusk.

"Oh, I know," cried Fred Sanker. "The sub-dean gave a dinner to-night;
and the porter has left the gates wide for the carriages. Who is good
for a race round the green?"

It seemed that we all were, for the whole lot of us followed him in,
leaving Mrs. Lake calling after us in consternation. The old Tower
porter, thinking the Green was being charged by an army of ill-doers,
rushed out of his den, shouting to us to come back.

Much we heeded him! Counting the carriages (three of them) waiting
at the sub-dean's door, we raced onwards at will, some hither, some
thither. King went back to Mrs. Lake. The evening coolness felt
delicious after the hot and garish day; the moonlight brought out the
lights and shades of the queer old houses and the older cathedral.
Collecting ourselves together presently, at Fred Sanker's whoop, Mr.
Angerstyne and Anne were missing.

"They've gone to look at the Severn, I think," said Dan Sanker. "I heard
him tell her it was worth looking at in the moonlight."

Yes, they were there. He had Anne's arm tucked up under his, and his
head bent over her that she might catch his whispers. They turned round
at hearing our footsteps.

"Indeed we must go home, Mr. Angerstyne," said Julia Podd, who had
run down after me, and spoke crossly. "The college clock is chiming a
quarter to eleven. There's Mrs. Lake waiting for us under the Tower!"

"Is it so late?" he answered her, in a pleasant voice. "Time flies
quickly in the moonlight: I've often remarked it."

Walking forward, he kept by the side of Julia; Anne and I followed
together. Some of the boys were shouting themselves hoarse from the top
of the ascent, wanting to know if we were lost.

"Is it all settled, Anne?" I asked her, jestingly, dropping my voice.

"Is what settled?" she returned. But she understood; for her face looked
like a rose in the moonlight.

"You know. _I_ can see, if the others can't. And if it makes you happy,
Anne, I am very glad of it."

"Oh, Johnny, I hope--I hope no one else does see. But indeed you are
making more of it than it deserves."

"What does he say to you?"

"He has not _said_ anything. So you see, Johnny, you may be quite
mistaken."

It was all the same: if he had not said anything yet, there could be no
question that he meant soon to say it. We were passing the old elm-trees
just then; the moonlight, flickering through them on Anne's face,
lighted up the sweet hope that lay on it.

"Sometimes I think if--if papa should not approve of it!" she whispered.

"But he is sure to approve of it. One cannot help liking Mr. Angerstyne:
and his position is undeniable."

The sub-dean's dinner guests were gone, the three carriages bowling them
away; and the porter kept up a fire of abuse as he waited to watch us
through the little postern-door. The boys, being college boys, returned
his attack with interest. Wishing the Sankers good-night, who ran
straight down Edgar Street on their way home, we turned off up the
steps, and found Mrs. Lake standing patiently at her door. I saw Mr.
Angerstyne catch Anne's hand for a moment in his, under cover of our
entrance.

The morning brought news. Dr. and Mrs. Lewis were on their way to
Maythorn Bank, expected to reach it that evening, and the young ladies
were bidden to depart for it on the following day.

                 *       *       *       *       *

A wonderful change had taken place in Dr. Lewis. If they had doubted
before whether the doctor was not falling into his dotage they could not
doubt longer, for he was decidedly _in_ it. A soft-speaking, mooning
man, now; utterly lost in the shadow cast by his wife's importance. She
appeared to be smiling in face and gentle in accent as ever, but she
overruled every soul in the house: no one but herself had a will in it.
What little strength of mind he might have had, his new bride had taken
out of him.

Anne did not like it. Hitherto mistress of all things under her father,
she found herself passed over as a nonentity. She might not express an
opinion, or hazard a wish. "My dear, _I_ am here now," Mrs. Lewis said
to her once or twice emphatically. Anne was deposed; her reign was over.

One little thing, that happened, she certainly did not like. Though
humble-minded, entirely without self-assertion, sweet-tempered and
modest as a girl should be, she did not like this. Mrs. Lewis sent out
invitations for dinner to some people in the neighbourhood, strangers to
her until then; the table was too full by one, and she had told Anne
that she could not sit down. It was too bad; especially as Julia and
Fanny Podd filled two of the more important places, with bunches of
fresh sweet-peas in their hair.

"Besides," Mrs. Lewis had said to Anne in the morning, "we must have a
French side-dish or two, and there's no one but you understands the
making of them."

Whether having to play the host was too much for him, or that he did
not like the slight put upon his daughter, before the dinner was half
over, the doctor fell asleep. He could not be roused from it. Herbert
Tanerton, who had sat by Mrs. Lewis's side to say grace, thought it
was not sleep but unconsciousness. Between them the company carried
him into the other room; and Anne, hastening to send in her French
dishes, ran there to attend upon him.

"I hope and trust there's nothing amiss with his heart," said old Coney
doubtfully, in the bride's ear.

"My dear Mr. Coney, his heart is as strong as mine--believe me,"
affirmed Mrs. Lewis, flicking some crumbs off the front of her
wedding-dress.

"I hope it is, I'm sure," repeated Coney. "I don't like that blue tinge
round his lips."

They went back to the dinner-table when Dr. Lewis revived. Anne remained
kneeling at his feet, gently chafing his hands.

"What's the matter?" he cried, staring at her like a man bewildered.
"What are you doing?"

"Dear papa, you fell asleep over your dinner, and they could not wake
you. Do you feel ill?"

"Where am I?" he asked, as if he were speaking out of a dream. And she
told him what she could. But she had not heard those suspicious words of
old Coney's.

It was some minutes yet before he got much sense into him, or seemed
fully to understand. He fell back in the chair then, with a deep sigh,
keeping Anne's hand in his.

"Shall I get you anything, papa?" she asked. "You had eaten scarcely any
dinner, they say. Would you like a little drop of brandy-and-water?"

"Why was not your dress ready?"

"My dress!" exclaimed Anne.

"She said so to me, when I asked why you did not come to table. Not
made, or washed, or ironed; or something."

Anne felt rather at sea. "There's nothing the matter with my dresses,
papa," she said. "But never mind them--or me. Will you go back to
dinner? Or shall I get you anything here?"

"I don't want to go back; I don't want anything," he answered. "Go and
finish yours, my dear."

"I have had mine," she said, with a faint blush. For indeed her dinner
had consisted of some bread-and-butter in the kitchen, eaten over the
French stew-pans. Dr. Lewis was gazing out at the trees, and seemed to
be in thought.

"Perhaps you stayed away from home rather too long, papa," she
suggested. "You are not accustomed to travelling; and I think you are
not strong enough for it. You looked very worn when you first came home;
worn and ill."

"Ay," he answered. "I told her it did not do for me; but she laughed. It
was nothing but a whirl, you know. And I only want to be quiet."

"It is very quiet here, dear papa, and you will soon feel stronger. You
shall sit out of doors in the sun of a day, and I will read to you. I
wish you would let me get you----"

"Hush, child. I'm thinking."

With his eyes still fixed on the outdoor landscape, he sat stroking
Anne's hand abstractedly. Nothing broke the silence, except the faint
rattle of knives and forks from the dining-room.

"Mind, Anne, she made me do it," he suddenly exclaimed.

"Made you do what, papa?"

"And so, my dear, if I am not allowed to remedy it, and you feel
disappointed, you must think as lightly of it as you are able; and don't
blame me more than you can help. I'll alter it again if I can, be sure
of that; but I don't have a moment to myself, and at times it seems that
she's just my keeper."

Anne answered soothingly that all he did must be right, but had no time
to say more, for Mr. Coney, stealing in on tip-toe from the dining-room,
came to see after the patient. Anne had not the remotest idea what it
was that the doctor alluded to; but she had caught up one idea with
dread of heart--that the marriage had not increased his happiness.
Perhaps had marred it.

Maythorn Bank did not suit Mrs. Lewis. Ere she had been two weeks at it,
she found it insufferably dull; not to be endured at any price. There
was no fashion thereabout, and not much visiting; the neighbours were
mostly simple, unpretending people, quite different from the style of
company met with in garrison towns and pump-rooms. Moreover the few
people who might have visited Mrs. Lewis, did not seem to take to her,
or to remember that she was there. This did not imply discourtesy: Dr.
Lewis and his daughter had just come into the place, strangers, so to
say, and people could not practically recollect all at once that
Maythorn Bank was inhabited. Where was the use of dressing up in
peacock's plumes if nobody came to see her? The magnificent wardrobe,
laid in during her recent honeymoon, seemed as good as wasted.

"I can't stand this!" emphatically cried Mrs. Lewis one day to her
daughters. And Anne, chancing to enter the room unexpectedly at the
moment, heard her say it, and wondered what it meant.

That same afternoon, Dr. Lewis had another attack. Anne found him
sitting beside the pear-tree insensible, his head hanging over the arm
of the bench. Travelling had not brought this second attack on, that
was certain; for no man could be leading a more quiet, moping life than
he was. Save that he listened now and then to some book, read by Anne,
he had no amusement whatever, no excitement; he might have sat all day
long with his mouth closed, for all there was to open it for. Mrs.
Lewis's powers of fascination, that she had exercised so persistently
upon him as Mrs. Podd, seemed to have deserted her for good. She passed
her hours gaping, sleeping, complaining, hardly replying to a question
of his, if he by chance asked her one. Even the soft sweet voice that
had charmed the world mostly degenerated now into a croak or a scream.
Those very mild, not-say-boo-to-a-goose voices are sometimes only kept
for public life.

"I shall take you off to Worcester," cried Mrs. Lewis to him, when he
came out of his insensibility. "We will start as soon as breakfast's
over in the morning."

Dr. Lewis began to tremble. "I don't want to go to Worcester," said he.
"I want to stay here."

"But staying here is not good for you, my dear. You'll be better at Mrs.
Lake's. It is the remains of this paint that is making you ill. I can
smell it still quite strongly, and I decidedly object to stay in it."

"My dear, you can go; I shall not wish to prevent you. But, as to the
paint, I don't smell it at all now. You can all go. Anne will take care
of me."

"My dear Dr. Lewis, do you think I would leave you behind me? It _is_
the paint. And you shall see a doctor at Worcester."

He said he was a doctor himself, and did not need another; he once more
begged to be left at home in peace. All in vain: Mrs. Lewis announced
her decision to the household; and Sally, whose wits had been well-nigh
scared away by the doings and the bustle of the new inmates, was
gladdened by the news that they were about to take their departure.

    "Pourtant si le ciel nous protège,
    Peut-être encore le reverrai-je."

These words, the refrain of an old French song, were being sung by Anne
Lewis softly in the gladness of her heart, as she bent over the trunk
she was packing. To be going back to Worcester, where _he_ was, seemed
to her like going to paradise.

"What are you doing _that_ for?"

The emphatic question, spoken in evident surprise, came from her
stepmother. The chamber-door was open; Mrs. Lewis had chanced to look in
as she passed.

"What are you doing that for?" she stopped to ask. Anne ceased her song
at once and rose from her knees. She really did not know what it was
that had elicited the sharp query--unless it was the singing.

"You need not pack your own things. You are not going to Worcester. It
is intended that you shall remain here and take care of the house and of
Sally."

"Oh, but, Mrs. Lewis, I could not stay here alone," cried Anne, a
hundred thoughts rushing tumultuously into her mind. "It could not be."

"Not stay here alone! Why, what is to hinder it? Do you suppose you
would get run away with? Now, my dear, we will have no trouble, if you
please. You will stay at home like a good girl--therefore you may unpack
your box."

Anne went straight to her father, and found him with Herbert Tanerton.
He had walked over from Timberdale to inquire after the doctor's health.

"Could this be, papa?" she said. "That I am to be left alone here while
you stay at Worcester?"

"Don't talk nonsense, child," was the peevish answer. "My belief is that
you dream dreams, Anne, and then fancy them realities."

"But Mrs. Lewis tells me that I am not to go to Worcester--that I am to
stay at home," persisted Anne. And she said it before Mrs. Lewis: who
had come into the room then, and was shaking hands with the parson.

"I think, love, it will be so much better for dear Anne to remain here
and see to things," she said, in that sweet company-voice of hers.

"No," dissented the doctor, plucking up the courage to be firm. "If Anne
stays here, I shall stay. I'm sure I should be thankful if you'd let us
stay: we should have a bit of peace and quiet."

She did not make a fuss before the parson. Perhaps she saw that to hold
out might cause some unprofitable commotion. Treating Anne to a beaming
smile, she remarked that her dear papa's wish was of course law, and
bade her run and finish her packing.

And when they arrived the next day at Lake's, and Anne heard that Henry
Angerstyne was in truth still there and knew that she should soon be
in his presence, it did indeed seem to her that she had stepped into
paradise. She was alone when he entered. The others had sought their
respective chambers, leaving Anne to gather up their packages and
follow, and she had her bonnet untied and her arms full of things when
he came into the room. Paradise! she might have experienced some bliss
in her life, but none like unto this. Her veins were tingling, her
heart-blood leaping. How well he looked! how noble! how superior to
other men! As he caught her hand in his, and bent to whisper his low
words of greeting, she could scarcely contain within bounds the ecstasy
of her emotion.

"I am so glad you are back again, Anne! I could not believe the good
news when the letter came to Mrs. Lake this morning. You have been away
two weeks, and they have seemed like months."

"You did not come over: you said you should," faltered Anne.

"Ay. And I sprained my foot the day you left, and have had to nurse it.
It is not strong yet. Bad luck, was it not? Bristow has been worse, too.
Where are you going?"

"I must take these things up to papa and Mrs. Lewis. Please let me go."

But, before he would release her hand, he suddenly bent his head and
kissed her: once, twice.

"Pardon me, Anne, I could not help it; it is only a French greeting," he
whispered, as she escaped with her face rosy-red, and her heart beating
time to its own sweet music.

"What a stay Mr. Angerstyne is making!" exclaimed Fanny Podd, who had
run about to seek Miss Dinah, and found her making a new surplice for
Tom.

"Well, we are glad to have him," answered Miss Dinah, "and he has had a
sprained ankle. We know now what is detaining him in Worcestershire. It
seems that some old lady is lying ill at Malvern, and he can't get
away."

"Some old lady lying ill at Malvern!" retorted Fanny, who liked to take
Miss Dinah down when she could. "Why should that detain Mr. Angerstyne?
Who is the old lady?"

"She is a relation of his: his great-aunt, I think. And I believe she is
very fond of him, and won't let him go to any distance. All these visits
he makes to Malvern are to see her. She is very rich, and he will come
in for her money."

"I'm sure he's rich enough without it; he does not want more money,"
grumbled Fanny. "If the old lady would leave a little to those who need
it, she might do some good."

"She would have to be made of gold and diamonds if she left some to all
who need it," sighed Miss Dinah. "Mr. Angerstyne deserves to be rich, he
is so liberal with his money. Many a costly dainty he causes us to send
up to that poor sick Captain Bristow, letting him think it is all in the
regular fare."

"But I think it was fearfully sly of him never to tell us why he went so
much to Malvern--only you must always put in a good word for everybody,
Miss Dinah. I asked him one day what his attraction was, that he should
be perpetually running over there, and he gravely answered me that he
liked the Malvern air."

Just for a few days, Dr. Lewis seemed to get a little better. Mrs.
Lewis's fascinations had returned to her, and she in a degree kept him
alive. It might have been from goodness of heart, or it might have been
that she did not like to neglect him before people just yet, but she was
ever devising plans for his amusement--which of course included that of
herself and of her daughters. Mr. Angerstyne had not been more lavish of
money in coach hire than was Mrs. Lewis now. Carriages for the country
and flys for the town--that was the order of the day. Anne was rarely
invited to make one of the party: for her there never seemed room. What
of that?--when by staying at home she had the society of Mr. Angerstyne.

Whilst they were driving everywhere, or taking their pleasure in the
town, shopping and exhibiting their finery, of which they seemed to
display a new stock perpetually, Anne was left at liberty to enjoy her
dangerous happiness. Dangerous, if it should not come to anything: and
he had not spoken yet. They would sit together over their German, Anne
trying to beat it into him, and laughing with him at his mistakes. If
she went out to walk, she presently found herself overtaken by Mr.
Angerstyne: and they would linger in the mellow light of the soft autumn
days, or in the early twilight. Whatever might come of it, there could
be no question that for the time being she was living in the most
intense happiness. And about a fortnight of this went on without
interruption.

Then Dr. Lewis began to droop. One day when he was out he had another
of those attacks in the carriage. It was very slight, Mrs. Lewis said
when they got back again; he did not lose consciousness for more
than three or four minutes. But he continued to be so weak and ill
afterwards that a physician was called in--Dr. Malden. What he said
was known only to the patient and his wife, for nobody else was
admitted to the conference.

"I want to go home," the doctor said to Anne the next morning, speaking
in his usual querulous, faint tone, and as if his mind were half gone.
"I'm sure I did not smell any paint the last time; it must have been her
fancy. I want to go there to be quiet."

"Well, papa, why don't you say so?"

"But it's of no use saying so: she won't listen. I can't stand the
racket here, child, and the perpetual driving out: the wheels of the
carriages shake my head. And look at the expense! It frightens me."

Anne scarcely knew what to answer. She herself was powerless; and, so
far as she believed, her father was; utterly so. Powerless in the hands
of his new wife. Dr. Lewis glanced round the room as if to make sure
there were no eavesdroppers, and went on in a whisper.

"I'm terrified, Anne. I am being ruined. All my ready-money's gone; she
has had it all; she made me draw it out of the bank. And there, in that
drawer, are two rolls of bills; she brought them to me yesterday, and
there's nothing to pay them with."

Anne's heart fluttered. Was he only fancying these things in his
decaying mind? Or, were they true?

"September has now come in, papa, and your quarter's dividends will soon
be due, you know. Do not worry yourself."

"They have been forestalled," he whispered. "She owed a lot of things
before her marriage, and the people would have sued me had I not paid
them. I wish we were back in France, child! I wish we had never left
it!" And, but for one thing, Anne would have wished it, too.

                 *       *       *       *       *

One afternoon, when it was getting late, Anne went into High Street to
buy some ribbon for her hair. Mrs. Lewis and her party had gone over
to Croome, some one having given her an order to see the gardens
there. Lake's house was as busy as it could be, some fresh inmates of
consequence being expected that evening; Anne had been helping Miss
Dinah, and it was only at the last minute she could run out. In coming
back, the ribbon bought, close to the college gates she heard steps
behind her, and found her arm touched. It was by Mr. Angerstyne. For
the past two days--nearly three--he had been absent at Malvern. The
sight of him was as if the sun had shone.

"Oh!--is it you?--are you back again?" she cried, with as much quiet
indifference as she could put on.

"I have just arrived. My aunt is better. And how are you, Anne?"

"Very well, thank you."

"Need you go in yet? Let us take a short stroll. The afternoon is
delightful."

He called it afternoon, but it was getting on fast for evening: and he
turned in at the college gates as he spoke. So they wound round St.
Michael's Churchyard and passed on to the Dark Alley, and so down the
long flight of steps that leads from it, and on to the banks of the
Severn.

"How are you all going on at Lake's?" he asked presently, breaking the
silence.

"Just as usual. To-day is a grand field-day," Anne added gaily: "at
least, this evening is to be one, and we are not to dine until seven
o'clock."

"Seven? So much the better. But why?"

"Some people of importance are coming----"

Mr. Angerstyne's laugh interrupted her. She laughed also.

"They are Miss Dinah's words: 'people of importance.' They will arrive
late, so the dinner-hour is put off."

"Take care, Anne!"

A horse, towing a barge, was overtaking them. Mr. Angerstyne drew Anne
out of the way, and the dinner and the new guests were forgotten.

It was almost dusk when they returned. The figures on the college tower
were darkened, as they came through the large boat-house gateway: the
old elm-trees, filled with their cawing rooks, looked weird in the dim
twilight. Mr. Angerstyne did not turn to the Dark Alley again, but went
straight up to the Green. He was talking of his estate in Essex. It was
a topic often chosen by him; and Anne seemed to know the place quite
well by this time.

"You would like the little stream that runs through the grounds," he was
observing. "It is not, of course, like the grand river we have just
left, but it is pleasant to wander by, for it winds in and out in the
most picturesque manner possible, and the banks are overshadowed by
trees. Yes, Anne, you would like that."

"Are you going through the cloisters?--is it not too late?" she
interrupted, quite at a loss for something to say; not caring to answer
that she _should_ like to wander by the stream.

For he was crossing towards the little south cloister door: though
onwards through the Green would have been their more direct road.

"Too late? No. Why should it be? You are not afraid of ghosts, are you?"

Anne laughed. But, lest she should be afraid of ghosts, he put her hand
within his arm as they passed through the dark narrow passage beyond the
postern; and so they marched arm-in-arm through the cloisters.

"To sit by that winding stream on a summer's day listening to its
murmurs, to the singing of the birds, the sweet sighing of the trees; or
holding low converse with a cherished companion--yes, Anne, you would
like that. It would just suit you, for you are of a silent and dreamy
nature."

There might not be much actual meaning in the words if you sat down to
analyze them: but, to the inexperienced mind of Anne, they sounded very
like plain speaking. At any rate, she took them to be an earnest that
she _should_ sometime sit by that stream with him--his wife. The dusky
cloisters seemed to have suddenly filled themselves with refulgent
light; the gravestones over which she was passing felt soft as the mossy
glades of fairyland: ay, even that mysterious stone that bears on it
the one terrible word "Miserrimus." Heaven was above her, and heaven
beneath: there was no longer any prosaic earth for Anne Lewis.

"Good-night to you, gentlefolks."

The salutation was from the cloister porter; who, coming into close the
gates, met them as they were nearing the west door. Not another word had
passed until now: Mr. Angerstyne had fallen into silence. Anne could not
have spoken to gain the world.

"Good-night to you, my man," he answered.

Lake's was in a bustle when they reached it. The luggage of the new
people, who had just been shown to their chambers, was being taken in;
the carriage containing Dr. and Mrs. Lewis was then just driving up.
Anne felt alarmed as she caught sight of her father; he looked so very
ill. Mr. Angerstyne, in his ready, kindly way, waited to help him down
and give him his arm along the passage; he then ran up to his room,
remarking that he had letters to write.

The people assembled for dinner in full fig, out of deference to the
new-comers: who proved to be a Lady Knight, and a Mrs. and Miss Colter.
Anne wore her pretty grey bridesmaid's dress, and the ribbon, just
bought, in her hair. At the very last moment, Mr. Angerstyne came down,
his hands full of the letters he had been writing.

"Why, are _you_ here?" exclaimed Lady Knight: who seemed to be a chatty,
voluble woman. "I _am_ surprised."

Mr. Angerstyne, putting his letters on the side-table, until he could
take them to the post, turned round at the address. A moment's stare,
half doubt, half astonishment, and he went forward to shake Lady
Knight's hand.

"What brings you here?" she asked.

"I have been here some little time. Old Miss Gibson is at Malvern, so I
can't go far away."

There was no opportunity for more: dinner was waiting. Mr. Angerstyne
and Anne sat side by side that evening; Lady Knight was opposite. Miss
Dinah presided as usual, her best yellow cap perched on the top of her
curls.

During an interval of silence between the general bustle and rattle of
the dinner, for the two girls who waited (after their own fashion) had
both run away with the fish to bring in the meat, Lady Knight looked
across the table to put a question to Mr. Angerstyne.

"How is your wife?"

The silence dropped to a dead stillness. He appeared not to hear.

"How is your wife, Henry Angerstyne? Have you seen her lately?"

He could not pretend to be deaf any longer, and answered with angry
curtness:

"No, I have not. She is all right, I suppose."

By the way the whole table stared, you might have thought a bombshell
had fallen. Miss Dinah sat with her mouth open in sheer amazement, and
then spoke involuntarily.

"Are you really married, Mr. Angerstyne?"

"Of course he is married," said Lady Knight, answering Miss Dinah. "All
the world knows that. His wife is my cousin. I saw her at Lowestoft a
few weeks ago, Henry. She was looking prettier than ever."

"Ah, Mr. Angerstyne, how sly you were, not to tell us!" cried Mrs.
Lewis, playfully shaking her fan at him. "You---- Oh, goodness me!"

A loud crash! Jenny the maid had dropped a hot vegetable dish on the
floor, scattering the pieces and spilling the peas; and followed it up
with a shriek and a scream. That took off the attention; and Mr.
Angerstyne, coolly eating away at his bread, turned to make some passing
remark to Anne.

But the words he would have said were left unspoken. No ghost ever seen,
in cloisters or out of them, was whiter than she. Lips and fingers were
alike trembling.

"You should be more careful!" he called to the maid in a tone of
authority. "Ladies don't care to be startled in this way." Just as
though Anne had turned white from the noise of the broken dish!

Well, it had been a dreadful revelation for her. All the sunshine of
this world seemed to have gone out for ever; to have left nothing behind
it but a misty darkness. Rallying her pride and her courage, she went on
with her dinner, as the others did. Her head was throbbing, her brain on
fire; her mind had turned to chaos. She heard them making arrangements
for a picnic-party to the woods at Croome on the morrow; not in the
least understanding what was said or planned.

"You did surprise us!" observed Mrs. Lewis to Lady Knight, when they
were in the drawing-room after dinner, and Mr. Angerstyne had gone out
to post his letters. "What could have been his motive for allowing us to
think him a bachelor?"

"A dislike to mention her name," replied Lady Knight, candidly. "That
was it, I expect. He married her for her pretty face, and then found out
what a goose she was. So they did not get on together. She goes her way,
and he goes his; now and then they meet for a week or two, but it is not
often."

"What a very unsatisfactory state of things!" cried Miss Dinah, handing
round the cups of coffee herself for fear of another upset. "Is it her
fault or his?"

"Faults lie on both sides," said Lady Knight, who had an abrupt way
of speaking, and was as poor as a church mouse. "She has a fearfully
affronting temper of her own; those women with dolls' faces sometimes
have; and he was not as forbearing as he might have been. Any way, that
is the state of affairs between Mr. and Mrs. Angerstyne: and, apart from
it, there's no scandal or reproach attaching to either of them."

Anne, sitting in a quiet corner, listened to all this mechanically. What
mattered the details to her? the broad fact had been enough. The hum of
conversation was going on all around; her father, looking somewhat the
better for his dinner, was playing at backgammon with Tom Lake. She saw
nothing, knew nothing, until Mr. Angerstyne dropped into the seat beside
her.

"Shall you join this expedition to Croome to-morrow, Anne?"

Julia and Fanny were thumping over a duet, pedal down, and Anne barely
caught the low-spoken words.

"I do not know," she answered, after a brief pause. "My head aches."

"I don't much care about it myself; rather the opposite. I shall
certainly not go if you don't."

Why! he was speaking to her just as though nothing had occurred! If
anything could have added to her sense of shame and misery it was this.
It sounded like an insult, arousing all the spirit she possessed; her
whole nature rose in rebellion against his line of conduct.

"Why have you been talking to me these many weeks as you have been
talking, Mr. Angerstyne?" she asked in her straightforward simplicity,
turning her face to his.

"There has been no harm in it," he answered.

"_Harm!_" she repeated, from her wrung heart. "Perhaps not to you. There
has been at least no good in it."

"If you only knew what an interval of pleasantness it has been for me,
Anne! Almost deluding me into forgetting my odious chains and fetters?"

"Would a _gentleman_ have so amused himself, Mr. Angerstyne?"

But she gave him no opportunity of reply. Rising from her seat, and
drawing her slight form to its full height, she looked into his face
steadily, knowing not perhaps how much of scorn and reproach her gaze
betrayed, then crossed the room and sat down by her father. Once after
that she caught his eye: caught the expression of sorrow, of repentance,
of deep commiseration that shone in every line of his face--for she
could not altogether hide the pain seated in her own. And later, amidst
the bustle of the general good-nights, she found her hand pressed within
his, and heard his whispered, contrite prayer--

"Forgive me, Anne: forgive me!"

She lay awake all night, resolving to be brave, to make no sign; praying
Heaven to help her to bear the anguish of her sorely-stricken heart, not
to let the blow quite kill her. It seemed to her that she must feel it
henceforth during all her life.

And before the house was well up in the morning, a messenger arrived
post-haste from Malvern to summon Mr. Angerstyne to his aunt's dying
bed. He told Miss Dinah, when he shook hands with her at parting, that
she might as well send his traps after him, if she would be so kind, as
he thought he might not be able to return to Worcester again.

And that was the ending of Anne Lewis's love. Not a very uncommon
ending, people say. But she had been hardly dealt by.


+Part the Third.+

The blinds of a house closely drawn, the snow drifting against the
windows outside, and somebody lying dead upstairs, cannot be called a
lively state of things. Mrs. Lewis and her daughters, Julia and Fanny
Podd, sitting over the fire in the darkened dining-room at Maythorn
Bank, were finding it just the contrary.

When Dr. Lewis, growing worse and worse during their sojourn at Lake's
boarding-house at Worcester the previous autumn, had one day plucked
up courage to open his mind to his physician, telling him that he
was pining for the quiet of his own little cottage home, and that
the stir and racket at Lake's was more than he could bear, Dr. Malden
peremptorily told Mrs. Lewis that he must have his wish, _and go_. So
she had to give in, and prepared to take him; though it went frightfully
against the grain. That was in September, three months back; he had been
getting weaker and more imbecile ever since, and now, just as Christmas
was turned, he had sunk quietly away to his rest.

Anne, his loving, gentle daughter, had been his constant companion and
attendant. He had not been so ill as to lie in bed, but a great deal
had to be done for him, especially in the matter of amusing what poor
remnant of mind was left. She read to him, she talked to him, she
wrapped great-coats about him, and took him out to walk on sunshiny days
in the open walk by the laurels. It was well for Anne that she was thus
incessantly occupied, for it diverted her mind from the misery left
there by the unwarrantable conduct of Mr. Angerstyne. When a girl's
lover proves faithless, to dwell upon him and lament him brings to her
a sort of painful pleasure: but that negative indulgence was denied to
Anne Lewis: Henry Angerstyne was the husband of another, and she might
not, willingly, keep him in her thoughts. To forget him, as she strove
to do, was a hard and bitter task: but the indignation she felt at the
man's deceit and cruel conduct was materially helping her. Once, since,
she had seen his name in the _Times_: it was amongst the list of
visitors staying at some nobleman's country-house. Henry Angerstyne.
And the thrill that passed through her veins as the name caught her
eye, the sudden stopping and then rushing violently onwards of her
life's blood, convinced her how little she had forgotten him.

"But I shall forget him in time," she said to herself, pressing her hand
upon her wildly-beating heart. "In time, God helping me."

And from that moment she redoubled her care and thought for her father;
and he died blessing her and her love for him.

Anne felt the loss keenly; though perhaps not quite so much so as she
would have felt it had her later life been less full of suffering. It
seemed to be but the last drop added to her cup of bitterness. She knew
that to himself death was a release: he had ceased to find pleasure in
life. And now she was left amidst strangers, or worse than strangers;
she seemed not to have a friend to turn to in the wide world.

Dr. Lewis had died on Monday morning. This was Tuesday. Mrs. Lewis had
been seeing people to-day and yesterday, giving her orders; but never
once consulting Anne, or paying her the compliment to say, Would you
like it to be this way, or that?

"How on earth any human being could have pitched upon this wretched
out-of-the-world place, Crabb, to settle down in, puzzles me
completely," suddenly exclaimed Mrs. Lewis, bending forward to stir
the fire.

"He must have been a lunatic," acquiesced Julia, irreverently alluding
to the poor man who was lying in the room above.

"Not a decent shop in the place! Not a dressmaker who can cut out a
properly-fitting skirt! Be quiet, Fanny: you need not _dance_."

"One does not know what to do," grumbled Fanny, ceasing to shuffle, and
returning to her seat. "But I should like to know, mamma, about our
mourning."

"I think I shall go to Worcester to-day and order it," spoke up Mrs.
Lewis, briskly, after a pause. "Necessity has no law; and we cannot get
proper things unless I do. Yes, we will go: I don't mind the weather.
Julia, ring the bell."

Anne--poor Anne--came in to answer the bell. She had no choice: Sally
was out on an errand.

"Just see that we have a tray in with the cold meat, Anne, at half-past
twelve. We must go to Worcester about the mourning----"

"To Worcester!" involuntarily interrupted Anne, in her surprise.

"There's no help for it, though of course it's not the thing I would
choose to do," said Mrs. Lewis, coldly. "One cannot provide proper
things here: bonnets especially. I will get you a bonnet at the same
time. And we must have a bit of something, hot and nice, for tea, when
we come home."

"Very well," sighed Anne.

In the afternoon, Anne sat in the same room alone, busy over some black
work, on which her tears dropped slowly. When it was growing dusk, Mr.
Coney and the young Rector of Timberdale came in together. Herbert
Tanerton did not forget that his late stepfather and Dr. Lewis were
half-brothers. Anne brushed away the signs of her tears, laid down her
work, and stirred the fire into a blaze.

"Now, my lass," said the farmer, in his plain, homely way, but he always
meant kindly, "I've just heard that that stepmother of yours went off
to Worcester to-day with those two dandified girls of hers, and so
I thought I'd drop in while the coast was clear. I confess I don't
like her: and I say that somebody ought to look a bit to you and your
interests."

"And I, coming over upon much the same errand, met Mr. Coney at the
gate," added Herbert Tanerton, with a smile as near geniality as he ever
gave. "I wish to express my deep regret for your loss, Miss Lewis, and
to assure you of my true sympathy. You will think my visit a late one,
but I had a--a service this afternoon." He would not say a funeral.

"You are both very, very kind," said Anne, her eyes again filling, "and
I thank you for thinking of me. I feel isolated from all: this place at
best is strange to me after my life's home in France. It seems that I
have not a friend in the world."

"Yes, you have," said the farmer; "and if my wife had not been staying
with our sick daughter at Worcester, she'd have been in to tell you the
same. My dear, you are just going, please, to make a friend of _me_. And
you won't think two or three questions, that I should like to put,
impertinent, will you?"

"That I certainly will not," said Anne.

"Well, now, to begin with: Did your father make a will?"

"Oh yes. I hold it."

"And do you chance to know how the property is left?"

"To me. No name but my own is mentioned in it."

"Then you'll be all right," said Mr. Coney. "I feared he might have been
leaving somebody else some. You will have about two hundred and fifty
pounds a-year; and that's enough for a young girl. When your father
first came over, he spoke to me of his income and his means."

"I--I fear the income will be somewhat diminished from what it was,"
hesitated Anne, turning red at having to confess so much, because it
would tell against her stepmother. "My father has had to sell out a good
deal lately, to entrench upon his capital. I think the trouble it gave
him hastened his end."

"Sell out for what?" asked old Coney.

"For bills, and--and debts, that came upon him."

"Her bills? Her debts?"

Anne did not expressly answer, but old Coney caught up the truth, and
nodded his head in wrath. He as good as knew it before.

"Well, child, I suppose you may reckon, at the worst, on a clear two
hundred a-year, and you can live on that. Not keep house, perhaps; and
it would be very lonely for you also. You will have to take up your
abode with some pleasant family: many a one would be glad to have you."

"I should like to go back to France," sighed Anne, recalling the misery
that England had brought her: first in her new stepmother, then in Mr.
Angerstyne, and now in her father's death. "I have many dear friends in
France who will take every care of me."

"Well, I don't know," cried old Coney, with a blank look. "France may be
very well for some people; but I'd almost as lieve go to the gallows as
there. Don't you like England?"

"I should like it well, if I--if I could be happy in it," she answered,
turning red again at the thought of him who had marred her happiness.
"But, you see, I have no ties here."

"You must make ties, my lass."

"How much of the income ought I to pay over yearly to Mrs. Lewis, do you
think?" she questioned. "Half of it?"

"_Half!_ No!" burst forth old Coney, coughing down a strong word which
had nearly slipped out. "You will give her none. _None._ A pretty idea
of justice you must have, Anne Lewis."

"But it would be fair to give it her," argued Anne. "My father married
her."

"Oh, did he, though! She married him. _I_ know. Other folks know.
You will give her none, my dear, and allow her none. She is a hard,
scheming, deceitful brickbat of a woman. What made her lay hold of your
poor weakened father, and play off upon him her wiles and her guiles,
and marry him, right or wrong?" ran on old Coney, getting purple enough
for apoplexy. "She did it for a home; she did it that she might get her
back debts paid; that's what. She has had her swing as long as his poor
life lasted, and put you down as if you were a changeling; we have all
seen _that_. Now that her short day's over, she must go back again to
her own ways and means. Ask the parson there what he thinks."

The parson, in his cold sententious way, that was so much more
suited to an old bishop than a young rector, avowed that he thought
with Mr. Coney. He could not see that Mrs. Lewis's few months of
marriage entitled her (all attendant circumstances being taken into
consideration) to deprive Miss Lewis of any portion of her patrimony.

"You are sure you have got the will all tight and safe?" resumed Mr.
Coney. "I wouldn't answer for her not stealing it. Ah, you may laugh,
young lassie, but I don't like that woman. Miss Dinah Lake was talking
to me a bit the other day; she don't like her, either."

Anne was smiling at his vehement partisanship. She rose, unlocked a desk
that stood on the side-table, and brought out a parchment, folded and
sealed. It was subscribed, "Will of Thomas Lewis, M.D."

"Here it is," she said. "Papa had it drawn up by an English lawyer just
before we left France. He gave it to me, as he was apt to mislay things
himself, charging me to keep it safely."

"And mind you do keep it safely," enjoined old Coney. "It won't be
opened, I suppose, till after the funeral's over."

"But wait a minute," interposed the clergyman. "Does not marriage--a
subsequent marriage--render a will invalid?"

"Bless my heart, no: much justice there'd be in that!" retorted old
Coney, who knew about as much of law as he did of the moon. And Mr.
Tanerton said no more; he was not certain; and supposed the older and
more experienced man might be right.

Anne sighed as she locked up the will again. She was both just and
generous; and she knew she should be sure to hand over to Mrs. Lewis the
half of whatever income it might give her.

"Well, my girl," said the farmer, as they prepared to leave, "if you
want me, or anything I can do, you just send Sally over, and I'll be
here in a jiffy."

"It is to be at Timberdale, I conclude?" whispered Herbert Tanerton, as
he shook hands. Anne knew that he alluded to the funeral; and the colour
came up in her face as she answered--

"I don't know. My father wished it; he said he wished to lie beside his
brother. But Mrs. Lewis--here they come, I think."

They came in with snowy bonnets and red noses, stamping the slush
off their shoes. It was a good walk from the station. Mrs. Lewis had
expected to get a fly there; one was generally in waiting: but some one
jumped out of the train before she did, and secured it. It made her feel
cross and look cross.

"Such a wretched trapes!" she was beginning in a vinegar tone; but at
sight of the gentlemen her face and voice smoothed down to oil. She
begged them to resume their seats; but they said they were already
going.

"We were just asking about the funeral," the farmer stayed to say. "It
is to be at Timberdale?"

Up went Mrs. Lewis's handkerchief to her eyes. "Dear Mr. Coney, I think
not. Crabb will be better."

"But he wished to lie at Timberdale."

"Crabb will be so much cheaper--and less trouble," returned the widow,
with a sob. "It is as well to avoid useless expense."

"Cheaper!" cried old Coney, his face purple again with passion, so much
did he dislike her and her ways. "Not cheaper at all. _Dearer._ Dearer,
ma'am. Must have a hearse and coach any way: and Herbert Tanerton here
won't charge fees if it's done at Timberdale."

"Oh, just as you please, my dear sir. And if _he_ wished it, poor dear!
Yes, yes; Timberdale of course. Anywhere."

They got out before she had dried her eyes--or pretended at it. Julia
and Fanny then fetched in some bandboxes which had been waiting in the
passage. Mrs. Lewis forgot her tears, and put back her cloak.

"Which is Anne's?" she asked. "Oh, this one"--beginning to undo one of
the boxes. "My own will be sent to-morrow night. I bought yours quite
plain, Anne."

Very plain indeed was the bonnet she handed out. Plain and common,
and made of the cheapest materials; one that a lady would not like
to put upon her head. Julia and Fanny were trying theirs on at the
chimney-glass. Gay bonnets, theirs glistening with jet beads and black
flowers. The bill lay open on the table, and Anne read the cost: her
own, twelve shillings; the other two, thirty-three shillings each.
Mrs. Lewis made a grab at the bill, and crushed it into her pocket.

"I knew you would prefer it plain," said she. "For real mourning it is
always a mistake to have things too costly."

"True," acquiesced Anne; "but yet--I think they should be _good_."

It seemed to her that to wear this bonnet would be very like disrespect
to the dead. She silently determined to buy a better as soon as she had
the opportunity of doing so.

                 *       *       *       *       *

Of all days, for weather, the one of the funeral was about the worst.
Sleet, snow, rain, and wind. The Squire had a touch of lumbago; he could
not face it; and old Coney came bustling in to say that I was to attend
in his place. Anne wanted Johnny Ludlow to go all along, he added; her
father had liked him; only there was no room before in the coach.

"Yes, yes," cried the Squire, "Johnny, of course. He is not afraid of
lumbago. Make haste and get into your black things, lad."

Well, it was shivery, as we rolled along in the creaky old
mourning-coach, behind the hearse: Mr. Coney and the Podds'
lawyer-cousin from Birmingham on one side; I and Cole, the doctor,
opposite. The sleet pattered against the windows, the wind whistled in
our ears. The lawyer kept saying "eugh," and shaking his shoulders,
telling us he had a cold in his head; and looked just as stern as he
had at the wedding.

All was soon over: Herbert Tanerton did not read slowly to-day: and we
got back to Maythorn Bank. Cole had left us: he stopped the coach en
route, and cut across a field to see a patient: but Mr. Coney drew me
into the house with him after the lawyer.

"We will go in, Johnny," he whispered. "The poor girl has no relation or
friend to back her up, and I shall stay with her while the will's read."

Mrs. Lewis, in a new widow's cap as big as a house, and the two girls in
shining jet chains, were sitting in state. Anne came in the next minute,
her face pale, her eyes red. We all sat down; and for a short time
looked at one another in silence, like so many mutes.

"Any will to be read? I am told there is one," spoke the lawyer--who
had, as Fanny Podd whispered to me, a wife at home as sour as himself.
"If so, it had better be produced: I have to catch a train."

"Yes, there is a will," answered old Coney, glad to find that Anne, as
he assumed, had mentioned the fact. "Miss Lewis holds the will. Will you
get it, my dear?"

Anne unlocked the desk on the side-table, and put the will into Mr.
Coney's hand. Without saying with your leave or by your leave, he broke
the seals, and clapped on his spectacles.

"What's _that_?" Mrs. Lewis asked old Coney, from her seat on the sofa.

"Dr. Lewis's will, ma'am. Made in France, I believe: was it not, Miss
Anne?"

"My dear, sweet creature, it is so much waste paper," spoke Mrs. Lewis,
smiling sweetly upon Anne. "My deeply lamented husband's last will and
testament was made long since he left France."

Pulling up the sofa-cushion at her elbow, she produced another will, and
asked the lawyer if he would be good enough to unseal and read it. It
had been made, as the date proved, at Cheltenham, the day after she and
Dr. Lewis were married; and it left every earthly thing he possessed to
"his dear wife, Louisa Jane Lewis."

Old Coney's face was a picture. He stared alternately at the will in his
hands, at the one just read by the lawyer. Anne stood meekly by his
side; looking as if she did not understand matters.

"_That_ can't stand good!" spoke the farmer, in his honest indignation.
"The money can't go to you, ma'am"--turning his burly form about to
face Mrs. Lewis, and treading on my toes as he did it. "The money is
this young lady's; part of it comes from her own mother: it can't be
yours. Thomas Lewis must have signed the will in his sleep."

"Does a daughter inherit before a wife, dear sir?" cried Mrs. Lewis, in
a voice soft as butter. "It is the most just will my revered husband
could have made. I _need_ the money: I cannot keep on the house without
it. Anne does not need it: she has no house to keep."

"Look here," says old Coney, buttoning his coat and looking fiercely at
the company. "It's not my wish to be rude to-day, remembering what place
we came straight here from; but if you don't want to be put down as--as
schemers, you will not lose an hour in making over the half of that
income to Anne Lewis. It is what she proposed to do by _you_, madam,
when she thought all was left to her," he added, brushing past Mrs.
Lewis. "Come along, Johnny."

                 *       *       *       *       *

The time went on. Mrs. Lewis kept all the money. She gave notice to
leave the house at Midsummer: but she had it on her hands until then,
and told people she should die of its dulness. So far as could be known,
she had little, if any, income, except that which she inherited from Dr.
Lewis.

Anne's days did not pass in clover. Treated as of no moment, she was
made fully to understand that she was only tolerated in what was once
her own home; and she had to make herself useful in it from morning till
night, just like a servant. Remembering what had been, and what was,
Anne felt heart-broken, submitting patiently and unresistingly to every
trial; but a reaction set in, and her spirit grew rebellious.

"Is there any remedy, I wonder?" she asked herself one night in
her little chamber, when preparing for bed, and the day had been a
particularly trying day. She had ventured to ask for a few shillings
for some purpose or other, and was told she could not have them: being
Easter-Monday, Sally had had a holiday, and she had been kept at work
like a slave in the girl's place: Herbert Tanerton and his wife had come
to invite her for a day or two to Timberdale, and a denial was returned
to them without herself being consulted, or even allowed to see them.
Yes, it had been a trying day. And in France Easter had always been kept
as a _fête_.

"Is there not a remedy?" she debated, as she slowly undressed. "I have
no home but this; but--could I not find one?"

She knew that she had no means of living, except by her own exertions;
she had not even a rag to wear or a coin to spend, except what should
come to her by Mrs. Lewis's bounty. And, whether that lady possessed
bounty or not, she seemed never to possess ready-money. It appeared to
Anne that she had been hardly dealt by in more ways than one; that the
world was full of nothing but injustice and trouble.

"And I fancy," added Anne, thinking out her thoughts, "that they will be
glad to get rid of me; that they want me gone. So I dare say there will
be no objection made here."

With morning light, she was up and busy. It fell to her lot to prepare
the breakfast: and she must not keep the ladies waiting for it one
minute. This morning, however, she had to keep them waiting; but not
through any fault of hers.

They grew impatient. Five minutes past nine: ten minutes past nine: what
did Anne mean? Julia and Fanny were not much better dressed than when
they got out of bed; old jackets on, rough and rumpled hair stuck up
with hair-pins. In that respect they presented a marked contrast to
Anne, who was ever trim and nice.

"I'm sure she must be growing the coffee-berries!" cried Fanny, as she
flung the door open. "_Is_ that breakfast coming to-day, or to-morrow?"

"In two minutes," called back Anne.

"Oh, what a dreary life it is out here!" groaned Mrs. Lewis. "Girls, I
think we will go over to Worcester to-day, and arrange to stay a week at
Lakes. And then you can go to the subscription ball at the Town Hall,
that you are so wild over."

"Oh, do, do!" cried Julia, all animation now. "If I don't go to that
ball, I shall die."

"I shall run away, if we don't; I have said all along I would not miss
the Easter ball," spoke Fanny. "Mamma, I cannot _think_ why you don't
shut this miserable house up!"

"Will you find the rent for another?" coolly asked Mrs Lewis. "What
_can_ that girl be at with the coffee?"

It came in at last; and Anne was abused for her laziness. When she could
get a word in, she explained that Sally had had an accident with the
tea-kettle, and fresh water had to be boiled.

More indignation: Julia's egg turned out to be bad. What business had
Anne to boil bad eggs? Anne, saying nothing, took it away, boiled
another and brought it in. Then Mrs. Lewis fancied she could eat a thin
bit of toasted bacon; and Anne must go and do it at the end of a fork.
Altogether the breakfast was nearly at an end before she could sit down
and eat her own bread-and-butter.

"I have been thinking," she began, in a hesitating tone, to Mrs. Lewis,
"that I should like to go out. If you have no objection."

"Go out where?"

"Into some situation."

Mrs. Lewis, in the act of conveying a piece of bacon to her mouth, held
it suspended in mid-air, and stared at Anne in amazement.

"Into _what_?"

"A situation in some gentleman's family. I have no prospect before me;
no home; I must earn my own living."

"The girl's daft!" cried Mrs. Lewis, resuming her breakfast. "No home!
Why, you have a home here; your proper home. Was it not your father's?"

"Yes. But it is not mine."

"It is yours; and your days in it are spent usefully. What more can you
want? Now, Anne, hold your tongue, and don't talk nonsense. If you have
finished your breakfast you can begin to take the things away."

"Mamma, why don't you let her go?" whispered Fanny, as Anne went out
with some plates.

"Because she is useful to me," said Mrs. Lewis. "Who else is there to
see to our comforts? We should be badly off with that incapable Sally.
And who would do all the needlework? recollect how much she gets
through. No, as long as we are here, Anne must stay with us. Besides,
the neighbourhood would have its say finely if we let her turn out.
People talk, as it is, about the will, and are not so friendly as
they might be. As if they would like me to fly in the face of my dear
departed husband's wishes, and tacitly reproach his judgment!"

But Anne did not give up. When she had taken all the things away and
folded up the table-cloth, she came in again and spoke.

"I hope you will not oppose me in this, Mrs. Lewis. I should like to
take a situation."

"And, pray, what situation do you suppose you could take?" ironically
asked Mrs. Lewis. "You are not fitted to fill one in a gentleman's
family."

"Unless it be as cook," put in Julia.

"Or seamstress," said Fanny. "By the way, I want some more cuffs made,
Anne."

"I should like to try for a situation, notwithstanding my deficiencies.
I could do something or other."

"There, that's enough: must I tell you again not to talk nonsense?"
retorted Mrs. Lewis. "And now you must come upstairs and see to my
things, and to Julia's and Fanny's. We are going to Worcester by the
half-past eleven train--and you may expect us home to tea when you see
us."

They went off. As soon as their backs were turned, Anne came running
into our house, finding me and Mrs. Todhetley at the piano. It was
pleasant Easter weather, though March was not out: the Squire and Tod
had gone to Dyke Manor on some business, and would not be home till
late. Anne told all her doubts and difficulties to the mater, and asked
her advice, as to whether there would be anything wrong in her seeking
for a situation.

"No, my dear," said the mother, "it would be right, instead of wrong.
If----"

"If people treated me as they treat you, Anne, I wouldn't stay with them
a day," said I, hotly. "I don't like toads."

"Oh, Johnny!" cried Mrs. Todhetley. "Never call names, dear. No
obligation whatever, Anne, lies on you to remain in that home; and I
think you would do well to leave it. You shall stay and dine with me and
Johnny at one o'clock, Anne; and we will talk it over."

"I wish I could stay," said poor Anne; "I hardly knew how to spare these
few minutes to run here. Mrs. Lewis has left me a gown to unpick and
turn, and I must hasten to begin it."

"So would I begin it!" I cried, going out with her as far as the gate.
"And I should like to know who is a toad, if she's not."

"Don't you think I might be a nursery governess, Johnny?" she asked
me, turning round after going through the gate. "I might teach French,
and English, and German: and I am very fond of little children. The
difficulty will be to get an introduction. I have thought of one
person who might give it me--if I could only dare to ask him."

"Who's that?"

"Sir Robert Tenby. He is of the great world, and must know every one in
it. And he has always shown himself so very sociable and kind. Do you
think I might venture to apply to him?"

"Why not? He could not eat you for it."

She ran on, and I ran back. But, all that day, sitting over her work,
Anne was in a state of doubt, not able to make up her mind. It was
impossible to know how Sir Robert Tenby might take it.

"I have made you a drop of coffee and a bit of hot toast and butter,
Miss Anne," said Sally, coming in with a small tray. "Buttered it well.
She's not here to see it."

Anne laughed, and thanked her; Mrs. Lewis had left them only cold bacon
for dinner, and ordered them to wait tea until her return. But before
the refreshment was well disposed of, she and the girls came in.

"How soon you are back!" involuntarily cried Anne, hoping Mrs. Lewis
would not smell the coffee. "And how are they all at Lake's?"

Mrs. Lewis answered by giving a snappish word to Lake's, and ordered
Anne to get tea ready. Fanny whispered the information that they were
going to Worcester on the morrow to stay over the Easter ball; but _not
to Lake's_. Anne wondered at that.

Upon arriving at Lake's that morning, Miss Dinah had received them very
coolly; and was, as Mrs. Lewis remarked afterwards, barely civil. The
fact was, Miss Dinah, being just-minded, took up Anne's cause rather
warmly; and did not scruple to think that the beguiling poor weak-minded
Dr. Lewis out of the will he made, was just a piece of iniquity, and
nothing less. Perceiving Miss Dinah's crusty manner, Mrs. Lewis inquired
after Mrs. Lake. "Where's Emma?" she asked.

"Very much occupied to-day. Can I do anything for you?"

"We are thinking of coming to you to-morrow for a week, Dinah; I and my
two girls. They are wild to go to the Easter ball. Which rooms can you
give us?"

"Not any rooms," spoke Miss Dinah, decisively. "We cannot take you in."

"Not take me in! When the servant opened the door to us she said the
house was not full. I put the question to her."

"But we are expecting it to be full," said Miss Dinah, curtly. "The
Beales generally come over to the ball; and we must keep rooms for
them."

"You don't know that they are coming, I expect. And in a boarding-house
the rule holds good, 'First come, first served.'"

"A boarding-house holds its own rules, and is not guided by other
people's. Very sorry: but we cannot make room this time for you and your
daughters."

"I'll soon see that," retorted Mrs. Lewis, getting hot. "Where's Emma
Lake? I am her cousin, and shall insist on being taken in."

"She can't take you in without my consent. And she won't: that's more.
Look here, Mrs. Podd--I beg your pardon--the new name does not always
come pat to me. When you were staying here before, and kept us so long
out of our money, it put us to more inconvenience than you had any idea
of. We----"

"You were paid at last."

"Yes," said Miss Dinah; "with poor Dr. Lewis's money, I expect. We made
our minds up then, Mrs. Lewis, not to take you again. At least, _I_ did;
and Mrs. Lake agreed with me."

"You will not have to wait again: I have money in my pocket now. And the
girls must go to the ball on Thursday."

"If your pockets are all full of money, it can make no difference to me.
I'm sorry to say I cannot take you in, Mrs. Lewis: and now I have said
all I mean to say."

Mrs. Lewis went about the house, looking for Mrs. Lake, and did not find
her. She, not as strong-minded as Miss Dinah, had bolted herself into
the best bedroom, just then unoccupied. So Mrs. Lewis, not to be baffled
as to the ball, went out to look for other lodgings, and found them in
Foregate Street.

"But we shall be home on Saturday," she said to Anne, as they were
starting this second time for Worcester, on the Wednesday morning, the
finery for the ball behind them in two huge trunks. "I have to pay a
great deal for the rooms, and can't afford to stay longer than that.
And mind that you and Sally get the house in order whilst we are away;
it's a beautiful opportunity to clean it thoroughly down: and get on
as quickly as you can with the needlework."

                 *       *       *       *       *

"Why, my dear young lassie, I am not able to help you in such a thing as
this. You had better see the master himself."

Anne had lost no time. Leaving Sally to the cleaning, she dressed and
walked over on the Wednesday afternoon to Bellwood, Sir Robert Tenby's
seat. She explained her business to Mrs. Macbean, the old family
housekeeper, and asked whether she could help her into any good family.

"Nae, nae, child. I live down here all my days, and I know nothing of
the gentlefolks in the great world. The master knows them all."

"I did think once of asking if I might see Sir Robert; but my courage
fails me now," said Anne.

"And why should it?" returned the old lady. "If there's one man more
ready than another to do a kindness, or more sociable to speak with,
it's Sir Robert Tenby. He takes after his mother for that, my late dear
lady; not after his father. Sir George was a bit proud. I'll go and tell
Sir Robert what you want."

Sir Robert was in his favourite room; a small one, with a bright fire in
it, its purple chairs and curtains bordered with gold. It was bright
altogether, Anne thought as she entered: for he said he would see her.
The windows looked out on a green velvet lawn, with beds of early
flowers, and thence to the park; and, beyond all, to the chain of the
Malvern Hills, rising against the blue sky. The baronet sat near one of
the windows, some books on a small table at his elbow. He came forward
to shake hands with Anne, and gave her a chair opposite his own. And,
what with his good homely face and its smile of welcome, and his
sociable, unpretending words, Anne felt at home at once.

In her own quiet way, so essentially that of a lady in its unaffected
truth, she told him what she wanted: to find a home in some good family,
who would be kind to her in return for her services, and pay her as
much as would serve to buy her gowns and bonnets. Sir Robert Tenby, no
stranger to the gossip rife in the neighbourhood, had heard of the
unjust will, and of Anne's treatment by the new wife.

"It is, I imagine, impossible for a young lady to get into a good family
without an introduction," said Anne. "And I thought--perhaps--you might
speak for me, sir: you do know a little of me. I have no one else to
recommend me."

He did not answer for the moment: he sat looking at her. Anne blushed,
and went on, hoping she was not offending him.

"No one else, I mean, who possesses your influence, and mixes habitually
with the great world. I should not care to take service in an inferior
family: my poor father would not have liked it."

"Take service," said he, repeating the word. "It is as governess that
you wish to go out?"

"As nursery governess, I thought. I may not aspire to any better
position, for I know nothing of accomplishments. But little children
need to be taught French and German; I could do that."

"You speak French well, of course?"

"As a native. German also. And I think I speak good English, and could
teach it. And oh, sir, if you did chance to know of any family who would
engage me, I should be so grateful to you."

"French, English, and German," said he, smiling. "Well, I can't tell
what the great world, as you put it, may call accomplishments; but I
think those three enough for anybody."

Anne smiled too. "They are only languages, Sir Robert. They are not
music and drawing. Had my dear mamma suspected I should have to earn my
own living, she would have had me educated for it."

"I think it is a very hard thing that you should have to earn it," spoke
Sir Robert.

Anne glanced up through her wet eye-lashes: reminiscences of her mother
always brought tears. "There's no help for it, sir; I have not a
shilling in the world."

"And no home but one that you are ill-treated in--made to do the work of
a servant? Is it not so?"

Anne coloured painfully. How did he know this? Generous to Mrs. Lewis in
spite of all, she did not care to speak of it herself.

"And if people did not think me clever enough to teach, sir," she went
on, passing over his question, "I might perhaps go out to be useful in
other ways. I can make French cakes and show a cook how to make French
dishes; and I can read aloud well, and do all kinds of needlework. Some
old lady, who has no children of her own, might be glad to have me."

"I think many an old lady would," said he. The remark put her in
spirits. She grew animated.

"Oh, do you! I am so glad. If you should know of one, sir, would you
please to tell her of me?"

Sir Robert nodded, and Anne rose to leave. He rose also.

"If I could be so fortunate as to get into such a home as this, with
some kind old lady for my friend and mistress, I should be quite happy,"
she said, in the simplicity of her heart. "How pleasant this room is!
and how beautiful it is outside!"--pausing to look at the early flowers,
as she passed the window.

"Do you know Bellwood? Were you ever here before?"

"No, sir, never."

Sir Robert put on his hat and went out with her, showing her some pretty
spots about the grounds. Anne was enchanted, especially with the rocks
and the cascades. Versailles, she thought, could not be better than
Bellwood.

"And when you hear of anything, sir, you will please to let me know?"
she said, in parting.

"Yes. You had better come again soon. This is Wednesday: suppose you
call on Friday. Will you?"

"Oh, I shall be only too glad. I will be sure to come. Good-bye, Sir
Robert: and thank you very, very much."

She went home with a light heart: she had not felt so happy since her
father died.

"How good he is! how kind! a true gentleman," she thought. "And what a
good thing he fixed Friday instead of Saturday, for on Saturday they
will be at home. But it is hardly possible that he will have heard of
any place by that time, unless he has one in his eye."

It was Friday afternoon before Anne could get to Bellwood, and rather
late, also. She asked, as before, for Mrs. Macbean, not liking to ask
direct for Sir Robert Tenby. Sir Robert was out, but was expected in
every minute, and Anne waited in Mrs. Macbean's parlour.

"Do you think he has heard of anything for me?" was one of the first
questions she put.

"Eh, my dear, and how should I know?" was the old lady's reply. "He does
not tell me of his affairs. Not but what he talks to me a good deal, and
always like a friend: he does not forget that my late leddy, his mother,
made more of a friend of me than a servant. Many's the half-hour he
keeps me talking in his parlour; and always bids me take the easiest
seat there. I wish he would marry!"

"Do you?" replied Anne, mechanically: for she was thinking more of her
own concerns than Sir Robert's.

"Why, yes, that I do. It's a lonely life for him at best, the one he
leads. I've not scrupled to tell him, times and oft, that he ought to
bring a mistress home---- Eh, but there he is! That's his step."

As before, Anne went into the pretty room that Sir Robert, when alone,
mostly sat in. Three or four opened letters lay upon the table, and she
wondered whether they related to her.

"No, I have as yet no news for you," he said, smiling at her eager face,
and keeping her hand in his while he spoke. "You will have to come again
for it. Sit down."

"But if--if you have nothing to tell me to-day, I had better not take up
your time," said Anne, not liking to appear intrusive.

"My time! If you knew how slowly time some days seems to pass for me,
you would have no scruple about 'taking it up.' Sit here. This is a
pleasant seat."

With her eyes fixed on the outer landscape, Anne sat on and listened to
him. He talked of various things, and she felt as much at her ease (as
she told me that same evening) as though she had been talking with me.
Afterwards she felt half afraid she had been too open, for she told him
all about her childhood's home in France and her dear mother. It was
growing dusk when she got up to go.

"Will you come again on Monday afternoon?" he asked. "I shall be out in
the morning."

"If I can, sir. Oh yes, if I can. But Mrs. Lewis, who will be at home
then, does not want me to take a situation at all, and she may not let
me come out."

"I should come without telling her," smiled Sir Robert. "Not want you to
leave home, eh? Would you like to stay there to make the puddings? Ay, I
understand. Well, I shall expect you on Monday. There may be some news,
you know."

And, somehow, Anne took up the notion that there would be news, his tone
sounded so hopeful. All the way home her feet seemed to tread on air.

On the Sunday evening, when they were all sitting together at Maythorn
Bank, and Anne had no particular duty on hand, she took courage to
tell of what she had done, and that Sir Robert Tenby was so good as to
interest himself for her. Mrs. Lewis was indignant; the young ladies
were pleasantly satirical.

"As nursery governess: you!" mocked Miss Julia. "What shall you teach
your pupils? To play at cats' cradle?"

"Why, you know, Anne, you are not _fit_ for a governess," said Fanny.
"It would be quite--quite _wicked_ of you to make believe to be one. You
never learnt a note of music. You can't draw. You can't paint."

"You had better go to school yourself, first," snapped Mrs. Lewis. "I
will not allow you to take such a step: so put all thought of it out of
your head."

Anne leaned her aching brow upon her hand in perplexity. Was she so
unfit? Would it be wicked? She determined to put the case fully before
her kind friend, Sir Robert Tenby, and ask his opinion.

Providing that she could get to Sir Robert's. Ask leave to go, she dare
not; for she knew the answer would be a point-blank refusal.

But fortune favoured her. Between three and four o'clock on Monday
afternoon, Mrs. Lewis and her daughters dressed themselves and sailed
away to call on some people at South Crabb; which lay in just the
contrary direction to Bellwood. They left Anne a heap of sewing to do:
but she left the sewing and went out on her own score. I met her near
the Ravine. She told me what she had done, and looked bright and flushed
over it.

"Mrs. Lewis is one cat, and they are two other cats, Anne. Tod says so.
Good-bye. Good luck to you!"

"Eh, my dear, and I was beginning to think you didna mean to come," was
Mrs. Macbean's salutation. "But Sir Robert is nae back yet, he has been
out on horseback since the morning; and he said you were to wait for
him. So just take your bonnet off, and you shall have a cup of tea with
me!"

Nothing loth, Anne took off her outdoor things. "They will be home
before I am, and find me gone out," she reflected; "but they can't quite
kill me for it." The old lady rang her bell for tea, and thought what a
nice and pretty young gentlewoman Anne looked in her plain black dress
with its white frilling, and the handsome jet necklace that had been her
mother's.

But before the tea could be made, Sir Robert Tenby's horse trotted up,
and they heard him go to his sitting-room. Mrs. Macbean took Anne into
his presence, saying at the same time that she had been about to give
the young lady a cup of tea.

"I should like some tea, too," said Sir Robert; "Miss Lewis can take it
with me. Send it in."

It came in upon a waiter, and was placed upon the table. Anne, at his
request, put sugar and cream into his cup, handed it to him, and then
took her own. He was looking very thoughtful; she seemed to fancy he had
no good news for her, as he did not speak of it; and her heart went
down, down. In a very timid tone, she told him of the depreciating
opinion held of her talents at home, and begged him to say what _he_
thought, for she should not like to be guilty of undertaking any duty
she was not fully competent to fulfil.

"Will you take some more tea?" was all Sir Robert said in answer.

"No, thank you, sir."

"Another biscuit? No? We will send the tray away then."

Ringing the bell, a servant came in and removed the things. Sir Robert,
standing at the window, and looking down at Anne as she sat, began to
speak.

"I think there might be more difficulty in getting you a situation as
governess than we thought for; one that would be quite suited to you,
at least. Perhaps another kind of situation would do better for you."

Her whole face, turned up to him with its gaze of expectancy, changed to
sadness; the light in her eyes died away. It seemed so like the knell of
all her hopes. Sir Robert only smiled.

"If you could bring yourself to take it--and to like it," he continued.

"But what situation is it, sir?"

"That of my wife. That of Lady of Bellwood."

Just for a moment or two she simply stared at him. When his meaning
reached her comprehension, her face turned red and white with emotion.
Sir Robert took her hand and spoke more fully. He had learnt to like her
very very much, to esteem her, and wished her to be his wife.

"I am aware that there is a good deal of difference in our ages, my
dear; more than twenty years," he went on, while she sat in silence.
"But I think you might find happiness with me; I will do my very best to
insure it. Better be my wife than a nursery governess. What do you say?"

"Oh, sir, I do not know what to say," she answered, trembling a little.
"It is so unexpected--and a great honour--and--and I am overwhelmed."

"Could you like me?" he gently asked.

"I do like you, sir; very much. But this--this would be different.
Perhaps you would let me take until to-morrow to think about it?"

"Of course I will. Bring me your answer then. Bring it yourself,
whatever it may be."

"I will, sir. And I thank you very greatly."

All night long Anne Lewis lay awake. Should she take this good man for
her husband, or should she not? She did like him very much: and what a
position it would be for her; and how sheltered she would be henceforth
from the frowns of the world! Anne might never have hesitated, but for
the remains of her love for Mr. Angerstyne. That was passing away from
her heart day by day, as she knew; it would soon have passed entirely.
She could never feel that same love again; it was over and done with for
ever; but there was surely no reason why she should sacrifice all her
future to its remembrance. _Yes_: she would accept Sir Robert Tenby: and
would, by the help of Heaven, make him a true, faithful, good wife.

It was nearly dusk the next afternoon before she could leave the house.
Mrs. Lewis had kept her in sight so long that she feared she might not
find the opportunity that day. She ran all the way to Bellwood, anxious
to keep her promise: she could not bear to seem to trifle, even for a
moment, with this good and considerate man. Sir Robert was waiting for
her in a glow of firelight. He came forward, took both her hands in his,
and looked into her face inquiringly.

"Well?"

"Yes, sir, if you still wish to take me. I will try to be to you a
loving wife; obedient and faithful."

With a sigh of relief, he sat down on a sofa that was drawn to the fire
and placed her beside him, holding her hand still.

"My dear, I thank you: you have made me very happy. You shall _never_
have cause to repent it."

"It is so strange," she whispered, "that you should wait all these
years, with the world to choose from, and then think of _me_ at last! I
can scarcely believe it."

"Ay, I suppose it is strange. But I must tell you something, Anne. When
quite a youth, only one-and-twenty, there was a young lady whom I dearly
loved. She was poor, and not of much family, and my father forbade the
union. She married some one else, and died. It is for the love of her I
have kept single all these years. But I shall not make you the less good
husband."

"And I--I wish to tell you that _I_ once cared for some one," whispered
Anne, in her straightforward honesty. "It is all over and done with; but
I did like him very much."

"Then, my dear, we shall be even," he said, with a merry smile. "The one
cannot reproach the other. And now--this is the beginning of April;
before the month shall have closed you had better come to me. We have
nothing to wait for; and I do not like, now that you belong to me, to
leave you one moment longer than is needful with that lady whom you are
forced to call stepmother."

How Anne reached home that late afternoon she hardly knew: she knew
still less how to bring the news out. In the course of the following
morning she tried to do so, and made a bungle of it.

"Sir Robert not going to get you a situation as governess!" interrupted
Julia, before Anne had half finished. "Of course he is not. He knows you
are not capable of taking one. _I_ thought how much he was intending to
help you. You must have had plenty of _cheek_, Anne, to trouble him."

"I am going to be his wife instead," said poor Anne, meekly. "He has
asked me to be. And--and it is to be very soon; and he is coming to see
Mrs. Lewis this morning."

Mrs. Lewis, sitting back in an easy-chair, her feet on the fender,
dropped the book she was reading to stare at Anne. Julia burst into a
laugh of incredulity. Her mother echoed it, and spoke----

"You poor infatuated girl! This comes of being brought up on French
soup. But Sir Robert Tenby has no right to play jokes upon you. I shall
write and tell him so."

"I--think--he is there," stammered Anne.

There he was. A handsome carriage was drawing up to the gate, the
baronet's badge upon its panels. Sir Robert sat inside. A footman came
up the path and thundered at the door.

                 *       *       *       *       *

Not very long afterwards--it was in the month of June--Anne and her
husband were guests at a London crush in Berkeley Square. It was too
crowded to be pleasant. Anne began to look tired, and Sir Robert
whispered to her that if she had had enough of it, they would go home.
"Very gladly," she answered, and turned to say good-night to her
hostess.

"Anne! How are you?"

The unexpected interruption, in a voice she knew quite well, and which
sent a thrill through her, even yet, arrested Anne in her course. There
stood Henry Angerstyne, his hand held out in greeting, a confident
smile, as if assuming she could only receive him joyfully, on his
handsome face.

"I am so much surprised to see you here; so delighted to meet you once
again, Miss Lewis."

"You mistake, sir," replied Anne, in a cold, proud tone, drawing her
head a little up. "I am Lady Tenby."

Walking forward, she put her arm within her husband's, who waited for
her. Mr. Angerstyne understood it at once; it needed not the almost
bridal robes of white silk and lace to enlighten him. She was not
altered. She looked just the same single-minded, honest-hearted girl as
ever, with a pleasant word for all--except just in the moment when she
had spoken to him.

"I am glad of it: she deserves her good fortune," he thought heartily.
With all his faults, few men could be more generously just than Henry
Angerstyne.



XV.

THE KEY OF THE CHURCH.


"Johnny, you will have to take the organ on Sunday."

The words gave me a surprise. I turned short round on the music-stool,
wondering whether Mrs. Todhetley spoke in jest or earnest. But her
face was quite serious, as she sat, her hands on her lap, and her lame
finger--the fore-finger of the left hand--stretched out.

"I take the organ, good mother! What's that for?"

"Because I was to have taken it, Johnny, and this accident to my finger
will prevent it."

We had just got home to Dyke Manor from school for the Michaelmas
holidays. Not a week of them: for this was Wednesday afternoon, and we
should go back the following Monday. Mrs. Todhetley had cut her finger
very seriously in carving some cold beef on the previous day. Old
Duffham had put it into splints.

"Where's Mr. Richards?" I asked, alluding to the church organist.

"Well, it is rather a long tale, Johnny. A good deal of dissatisfaction
has existed, as you know, between him and the congregation."

"Through his loud playing."

"Just so. And now he has resigned in a huff. Mr. Holland called
yesterday morning to ask if I would help them at the pinch by taking
the organ for a Sunday or two, until matters were smoothed with
Richards, or some fresh organist was found; and I promised him I
would. In the evening, this accident happened to my finger. So you
must take it in my place, Johnny."

"And if I break down?"

"Not you. Why should you?"

"I am out of practice."

"There's plenty of time to get up your practice between now and Sunday.
Don't make objections, my dear. We should all do what little we can to
help others in a time of need."

I said no more. As she observed, there was plenty of time between now
and Sunday. And, not to lose time, I went off there and then.

The church stood in a lonely spot, as I think you know, and I took the
way across the fields to it. Whistling softly, I went along, fixing in
my mind upon the chants and hymns. Ours was rather a primitive service.
The organ repertoire included only about a dozen chants and double that
number of hymns. It had this advantage--that they were all familiar to
the congregation, who could join in the singing at will, and the singers
had no need to practise. Mr. Richards had lately introduced a different
style of music, and it was not liked.

"Let me see: I'll make it just the opposite of Richards's. For the
morning we will have the thirty-seventh psalm, 'Depend on God:' there's
real music in that; and 'Jerusalem the Golden.' And for the afternoon,
'Abide with me,' and the Evening Hymn. Mornington's Chant; and the Grand
Chant; and the---- Halloa, Fred! Is it you?"

A lithe, straight-limbed young fellow was turning out of the little
valley: on his way (as I guessed) from the Parsonage. It was Fred
Westerbrook: old Westerbrook's nephew at the Narrow Dyke Farm--or, as
we abbreviated it, the N. D. Farm.

"How are you, Johnny?"

His face and voice were alike subdued as he shook hands. I asked after
Mr. and Mrs. Westerbrook.

"They are both well, for anything I know," he answered. "The N. D. Farm
is no longer my home, Johnny."

Had he told me the Manor was no longer mine, I could not have been more
surprised.

"Why, how is that, Fred?"

"They have turned me out of it."

"What--this morning?"

"This morning--no. Two months ago."

"And why? I never thought it would come to that."

"Because they wanted to get rid of me, that's why. Gisby has been the
prime mover in it--the chief snake in the grass. He is worse than she
is."

"And what are you doing?"

"Nothing: except knocking about. I'd be off to America to-morrow and try
my luck there if I had a fifty-pound note in my pocket. I went up to the
farm last week, and made an appeal to my uncle to help me to it, and be
rid of me----"

"And would he?" I interrupted, too eager to let him finish.

"_Would he!_" repeated Fred, savagely. "He bade me go to a place
unmentionable. He threatened to drive me off the premises if ever I put
foot on them again."

"I am very sorry. What shall you do?" I asked.

"Heaven knows! Perhaps turn poacher."

"Nonsense, Fred!"

"_Is_ it nonsense!" he retorted, taking off his low-crowned hat and
passing his hand passionately over his wavy, auburn hair--about the
nicest hair I ever saw. People said Fred was proud of it. He was a
good-looking young fellow altogether; with a clear, fresh face, and
steady grey eyes.

"You don't know what it is to be _goaded_, Johnny," he said. "I can tell
you I am ripe for any mischief. And a man must live. But for one thing,
I swear I wouldn't keep straight."

I knew what thing he meant quite well. "What does she say about it?" I
asked.

"What can she say? My uncle has insulted her to her face, and made me
out at the Parsonage to be a downright scamp. Oh, I go in for all that's
bad, according to him, I assure you, Johnny Ludlow."

"Do you never see her?"

"It is chiefly by chance if I do. I have just been up there now, sitting
for half-an-hour with her in the old study. There was no opportunity for
a private word, though; the young ones were dodging around, playing at
'Salt Fish'--if you know the delectable game. Good-bye, Johnny lad."

He strode off with an angry fire in his eye. I felt very sorry for him.
We all liked Fred Westerbrook. He had his faults, I suppose, but he was
one of the most open-natured fellows in the world.

Dashing in at Clerk Bumford's for the key of the church, I sat down to
the organ: an antiquated instrument, whose bellows were worked by the
player's feet, as are some of the modern harmoniums; but, as far as tone
went, it was not bad--rather rich and sweet. All through the practice my
mind was running on Fred Westerbrook and his uncle. The parish had said
long ago they would come to a blow-up some time.

The N. D. Farm stood about three-quarters of a mile on the other side
the church, beyond Mr. Page's. It had a good house upon it, and
consisted of two or three hundred acres of land. But its owner, Mr.
Westerbrook, rented a great deal more land that lay contiguous to it,
which rendered it altogether one of the most considerable farms round
about. Up to fifty years of age, Mr. Westerbrook had not married. Fred,
his dead brother's son, had been adopted by him, and was regarded as his
heir. The farm had been owned by the Westerbrooks for untold-of years,
and it was not likely a stranger in blood and name would be allowed to
inherit it. So Fred had lived there as the son and heir, and been made
much of.

But, to the surprise of every one, Mr. Westerbrook took it into his
head to marry, although he was fifty years old. It was thought to be
a foolish act, and the parish talked freely. She was a widow without
children, of a grasping nature, and not at all nice in temper. A
high-spirited boy of fourteen, as Fred was, would be hardly likely to
get on with her. She interfered with him in the holidays, and thwarted
him, and told sneaking tales of him to his uncle. It went on pretty
smoothly enough, however, until Fred left school, which he did at
eighteen, to take up his abode at home for good and busy himself about
the farm. Upon the death of the bailiff some three years later, she sent
for one Gisby, from a distance, and got Mr. Westerbrook to instal him in
the bailiff's vacant place. This Gisby was a dark little man of middle
age, and was said to be distantly related to her. He proved to be an
excellent farmer and manager, and did his duty well; but from the first
he and Fred were just at daggers-drawn. Presuming upon his relationship
to the mistress, Gisby treated Fred in an off-hand manner, telling him
sometimes to do this and not to do the other, as he did the men. Of
course, Fred did not stand that, and offered to pitch him into next
week unless he kept his place better.

But, as the years went on, the antagonism against Fred penetrated to Mr.
Westerbrook. She was always at work with her covert whispers, as was
Gisby with his outspoken accusations of him, and with all sorts of tales
of his wrong-doing. They had the ear of the master, and Fred could not
fight against it. Perhaps he did not try to do so. Whispering, and
meanness, and underhand doing of any kind, were foreign to his nature;
he was rather too outspoken, and he turned on his enemies freely and
gave them plenty of abuse. It was Gisby who first told Mr. Westerbrook
of the intimacy, or friendship, or whatever you may please to call it,
though I suppose the right word would be _love_, between Fred and Edna
Blake. Edna was one of a large family, and had come, a year or two ago,
to live at the Parsonage, being niece to Mrs. Holland, the parson's
wife. Mrs. Holland was generally ill (and frightfully incapable), and
Edna had it all on her hands: the housekeeping, and the six unruly
children, and the teaching and the mending, and often the cooking. They
paid her twenty pounds a-year for it. But she was a charming girl, with
one of the sweetest faces ever seen, and the gentlest spirit. Fred
Westerbrook had found that out, and the two were deeply in love with one
another. Old Mr. Westerbrook went into one of his passions when he heard
of it, and swore at Fred. Edna was not his equal, he told him; Fred must
look higher: she had no money, and her friends, as was reported, were
only tradespeople. Fred retorted that Edna was a mine of wealth and
goodness in herself, and he had never troubled himself to ask what her
friends might be. However, to make short of the story, matters had grown
more unpleasant for Fred day by day, and this appeared to be the end of
it, turning him out of house and home. He was just twenty-four now. I
don't wish to imply that Fred was without faults, or that he did nothing
to provoke his uncle. He had been wild the last year or two, and tumbled
into a few scrapes; but the probability is that he would have kept
straight enough under more favourable circumstances. The discomfort at
home drove him out, and he got associating with anything but choice
company.

Making short work of my playing, I took the key back to Bumford's, and
ran home. Tod was in the dining-room with the mother, and I told them of
the meeting with Fred Westerbrook. Mrs. Todhetley seemed to know all
about it, and said Fred had been living at the Silver Bear.

"What an awful shame of old Westerbrook!" broke out Tod. "To turn a
fellow away from his home!"

"I am afraid there are faults on both sides," sighed Mrs. Todhetley, in
her gentle way. "Fred has not borne a good character of late."

"And who could expect him to bear a good one?" fired Tod. "If I were
turned out like a dog, should I care what I did? No! Old Westerbrook and
that precious wife of his ought to be kicked. As to Gisby, the sneak,
hanging would be too good for him."

"Don't, Joseph."

"_Don't!_" retorted Tod. "But I do. They deserve all the abuse that can
be given them. I can see her game. She wants Westerbrook to leave the
property to her: that's the beginning and the end of it; and to cut off
poor Fred with a shilling."

"Of course we are all sorry for Fred, Joseph," resumed the mother. "Very
sorry. I know I am. But he need not do reckless things, and lose his
good name."

"Bother his good name!" cried Tod. "Look at their interference about
Edna Blake. That news came out when we were at home at Midsummer. Edna
is as good as they are."

"It is a hopeless case, I fear, Joseph. Discarded by his uncle, all his
prospects are at an end. He has been all on the wrong track lately, and
done many a sad thing."

"I don't care what he has done. He has been driven to it. And I'll stand
up for him through thick and thin."

Tod flung out of the room with the last words. It was just like him,
putting himself into a way for nothing. It was like somebody else
too--his father. I began telling Mrs. Todhetley of the chants and hymns
I had thought of, asking her if they would do.

"None could be better, Johnny. And I only wish you might play for us
always."

A fine commotion arose next morning. We were at breakfast, when Thomas
came in to say old Jones, the constable, wanted to see the Squire
immediately. Old Jones was bade to enter; he appeared all on the shake,
and his face as white as a sheet. There had been murder done in the
night, he said. Master Fred Westerbrook had shot Gisby: and he had come
to get a warrant signed for Fred's apprehension.

"Goodness bless me!" cried the Squire, dropping his knife and fork, and
turning to face old Jones. "How on earth did it happen?"

"Well, your worship, 'twere a poaching affray," returned Jones. "Gisby
the bailiff have had his suspicions o' the game, and he went out last
night with a man or two, and met the fellows in the open field on this
side the copse. There they was, in the bright moonlight, as bold as
brass, with a bag o' game, Master Fred Westerbrook the foremost on 'em.
A fight ensued--Gisby don't want for pluck, he don't, though he be
undersized, and he attacked 'em. Master Fred up with his gun and shot
him."

"Is Gisby dead?"

"No, sir; but he's a-dying."

"What a fool that Fred Westerbrook must be!" stormed the Squire. "And
I declare I liked the young fellow amazingly! It was only last night,
Jones, that we were talking of him here, taking his part against his
uncle."

"He haven't been after much good, Squire, since he went to live at that
there Silver Bear. Not but what the inn's as respectable----"

"Respectable!--I should like to know where you would find a more
respectable inn, or one better conducted?" put in Tod, with scant
ceremony. "What do you mean, old Jones? A gentleman can take up his
abode at the Silver Bear, and not be ashamed of it."

"I have nothing to say again' it, sir; nor against Rimmer neither. It
warn't the inn I was reflecting on, but on Master Fred himself."

"Anyway, I don't believe this tale, Jones."

"Not believe it!" returned Jones, aghast at the bold assertion. "Why,
young Mr. Todhetley, the whole parish is a-ringing with it. There's
Gisby a-dying at Shepherd's--which was the place he were carried to,
being the nearest; and Shepherd himself saw young Mr. Fred fire off the
gun."

"What became of the rascally poachers?" asked the Squire. "Who were
they?"

"They got clean off, sir, every one on 'em. And they couldn't be
recognized; they had blackened their faces. Master Fred was the only one
who had not disguised hisself, which was just like his boldness. They
left the game behind 'em, your worship: a nice lot o' pheasants and
partridges. Pheasants too, the miscreants!--and October not in."

There was not much more breakfast for us. Tod rushed off, and I after
him. As Jones had said, the whole parish was ringing with the news,
and we found people standing about in groups to talk. The particulars
appeared to be as old Jones had related. Gisby, taking Shepherd--who was
herdsman on the N. D. Farm--with him, and another man named Ford, had
gone out to watch for poachers; had met half-a-dozen of them, including
Fred Westerbrook, and Fred had shot Gisby.

The Silver Bear stood in the middle of Church Dykely, next door to
Perkins the butcher's. It was kept by Henry Rimmer. We made for it,
wondering whether Rimmer could tell us anything. He was in the tap-room,
polishing the taps.

"Oh, it's true enough, young gentlemen!" he said, as we burst in upon
him with questions. "And a dreadful thing it is. One can't help pitying
young Mr. Westerbrook."

"Look here, Rimmer: do you believe he did it?"

"Why, in course he did, Master Johnny. There was no difficulty in
knowing him: he was the only one of 'em not disguised. Shepherd says the
night was as light as day. Gisby and him and Ford all saw young Mr.
Westerbrook, and knew him as soon as the lot came in sight."

"Was he at home here last evening?" asked Tod.

"He was at home here, sir, till after supper. He had been out in the
afternoon, and came in to his tea between five and six. Then he stayed
in till supper-time, and went out afterwards."

"Did he come in later?"

"No, never," replied Rimmer, lowering his voice, as a man sometimes does
when speaking very seriously. "He never came in again."

"They say Gisby can't recover. Is that true, or not?"

"It is thought he'll not live through the day, sir."

"And where can Westerbrook be hiding himself?"

"He's safe inside the hut of one or other of the poachers, I should
say," nodded the landlord. "Not that that would be safe for him, or for
them, if it could be found out who the villains were. I think I could
give a guess at two or three of them."

"So could I," said Tod. "Dick Standish was one, I know. And Jelf
another. Of course, their haunts will be searched. Don't you think,
Rimmer, Mr. Fred Westerbrook would rather make off, than run the risk of
concealing himself in any one of them?"

Rimmer shook his head. "I don't know about that, sir. He might not be
able to make off. It's thought he was wounded."

"Wounded!"

"Gisby fired his own gun in the act of falling, and Shepherd thinks the
charge hit young Mr. Westerbrook. The poachers were running off then,
and Shepherd saw them halt in a kind of heap like, and he is positive
that the one on the ground was Mr. Westerbrook. For that reason, sir, I
should say the chances are he is somewhere in the neighbourhood."

Of course it looked like it. Strolling away to pick up anything else
that people might be saying, we gave Fred our best wishes for his
escape--in spite of the shot--and for effectually dodging old Jones and
the rest of the Philistines. Tod made no secret of his sentiments.

"It's a thing that might have happened to you or to me, you see, Johnny,
were we turned out of doors and driven to bay as Fred has been."

By the afternoon, great staring hand-bills were posted about, written
in enormous text-hand, offering a reward of twenty pounds for the
apprehension of Frederick Westerbrook. When old Westerbrook was
incensed, he went in for the whole thing, and no mistake.

What with the bustle the place was in, and the excitement of the
chase--for all the hedges and ditches, the barns and the suspected
dwellings were being looked up by old Jones and a zealous crowd, anxious
for the reward--it was not until after dinner in the evening that I got
away to practice. Going along, I met Duffham, and asked after Gisby.

"I am on my way to Shepherd's now," he answered. "I suppose he is still
alive, as they have not sent me word to the contrary."

"Is he sure to die, Mr. Duffham?"

"I fear so, Johnny. I don't see much chance of saving him."

"What a dreadful thing for Fred Westerbrook! They may bring it in wilful
murder."

"That they will be sure to do. Good-evening, lad; I have no time to
linger with you."

Bumford was probably looking out for the fugitive (and the reward) on
his own score, as he was not to be seen; but I found the key inside the
knife-box on the kitchen dresser, his store-place for it, opened the
door, and went into the church.

On one side the church-door, as you entered, was an enclosed place
underneath the belfry, that did for the vestry and for Clerk Bumford's
den. He kept his store of candles in it, his grave-digging tools (for he
was sexton as well as clerk), his Sunday black gown, and other choice
articles. On the other side of the door, not enclosed, was the nook that
contained the organ. I sat down at once. But I had come too late; for in
half-an-hour's time the notes of the music and the keys were alike dim.
Just then Bumford entered.

"Oh, you be here, be you!" said he, treating me, as he did the rest of
the world, with slight ceremony. "I thought I heered the organ a-going,
so I come on to see."

"You were not indoors, Bumford, when I called for the key."

"I were only in the field at the back, a-getting up some dandelion
roots," returned old Bumford, in his usual resentful tone. "There ain't
no obligation in me to be shut in at home everlasting."

"Who said there was?"

"Ain't it a'most too dark for you?"

"Yes, I shall have to borrow one of your candles."

Bumford grunted at this. The candles were not strictly his; they were
paid for by the parish; but he set great store by them, and would have
denied me one if he could. Not seeing his way clear to doing this, he
turned away, muttering to himself. I took my fingers off the keys--for I
had been playing while I talked to him--and followed. Bumford went out
of the church, shutting the door with a bang, and I proceeded to search
for the candlestick.

That was soon found: it always stood on the shelf; but it had no candle
in it, and I opened the candle-box to take one out. All the light that
came in was from the open slits in the belfry above. The next thing was
to find the matches.

Groping about quietly with my hands on the shelf, for fear of knocking
down some article or another, and wondering where on earth the match-box
had gone to, I was interrupted by a groan. A dismal groan, coming from
the middle of the church.

It nearly made me start out of my skin. My shirt-sleeves went damp. Down
with us, the ghosts of the buried dead are popularly supposed to haunt
the churches at night.

"It must have been the pulpit creaking," said I, gravely to myself. "Oh,
here's the match----"

An awful groan! Another! Three groans altogether! I stood as still as
death; calling up the recollection that God was with me inside the
church as well as out of it. Frightened I was, and it is of no use to
deny it.

"I wonder what the devil is to be the ending of this!"

The unorthodox words burst upon my ears, bringing a reassurance, for
dead people don't talk, let alone their natural objection (as one must
suppose) to mention the arch-enemy. The tones were free and distinct;
and--I knew them for Fred Westerbrook's.

"Fred, is that you?" I asked in a half-whisper, as I went forward.

No sound; no answer.

"Fred! it's only I."

Not a word or a breath. I struck a match, and lighted a candle.

"You need not be afraid, Fred. Come along. I'll do anything I can for
you. Don't you know me?--Johnny Ludlow."

"For the love of Heaven, put that light out, Johnny!" he said, feeling
it perhaps useless to hold out, or else deciding to trust me, as he came
down the aisle in a stooping position, so that the pews might screen him
from the windows. And I put it out.

"I thought you had gone out of the church with old Bumford," said he. "I
heard you both come away from the organ, and then the door was slammed,
leaving the church to silence."

"I was searching after the candle and matches. When did you come here,
Fred? How did you get in?"

"I got in last night. Is there much of a row, Johnny?"

"Pretty well. How came you to do it?"

"To do what?"

"Shoot Gisby."

"It was not I that shot him."

"Not you!"

"Certainly not."

"But--people are saying it was you. You were with the poachers."

"I was with the poachers; and one of them, like the confounded idiot
that he was, pointed his gun and fired it. I recognized the cry for
Gisby's, and knew that the charge must have struck him. I never had a
gun in my hand at all, Johnny."

Well, I felt thankful for that. We sat down on the bench, and Fred told
his tale.

After supper the previous night, he strolled out and met some fellow
he knew, who lived two or three miles away. (A black sheep in public
estimation, like himself.) It was a beautiful night. Fred chose to see
him home, and stayed there, drinking a glass or two, till he knew not
what hour. Coming back across the fields, he fell in with the poachers.
Instead of denouncing them, he told them half in joke, half in earnest,
that he might be joining their band himself before the winter was over.
Close upon that, they fell in with the watchers, Gisby and the rest.
Fred knew he was recognized, for Gisby called out his name; and that,
Fred did not like: it made things look black against him. Gisby attacked
them; a scuffle ensued, and one of the poachers used his gun. Then the
poachers turned to run, Fred with them; a shot was fired after them and
hit one of their body--but not Fred, as Rimmer had supposed. The man
tripped as the shot struck him, and caused Fred to trip and fall; but
both were up, and off, the next moment. Where the rest escaped to, Fred
did not know; chance led him past the church: on the spur of the moment
he entered it for refuge, and had been there ever since.

"And it is a great and good thing you did enter it, Fred," I said
eagerly. "Gisby swears it was you who shot him, and he is dying; and
Shepherd swears it too."

"Gisby dying?"

"He is. I met Duffham as I came here; he told me there was little,
if any, chance of his life; he had been expecting news of his death
all the afternoon. They have posted handbills up, offering a reward of
twenty pounds for your apprehension, Fred; and--and I am afraid, and
so is Duffham, that they will try you for wilful murder. The whole
neighbourhood is being searched for you for miles round."

"Pleasant!" said Fred, after a brief silence. "I had meant to go out
to-night and endeavour to ascertain how the land lay. Of course I knew
that what could be put upon my back would be put; and there's no denying
that I was with the poachers. But I did not think matters would be as
bad as this. Hang it all!"

"But, Fred, how did you get in here?"

"Well," said he, "we hear talk of providential occurrences: there's
nothing Mr. Holland is fonder of telling us about in his sermons than
the guiding finger of God. If the means that enabled me to take refuge
here were not providential, Johnny, I must say they looked like it. When
I met you yesterday afternoon, you must remember my chancing to say
that the little Hollands were playing at 'Salt Fish' in the study, while
I sat there, talking to Edna?"

Of course I remembered it.

"Directly after I left you, Johnny," resumed Fred Westerbrook, "I put my
hand in my coat-tail pocket for my handkerchief, and found a large key
there. It was the key of the church, that the children had been hiding
at their play; and I understood in a moment that Charley, whose turn it
was to hide last, had made a hiding-place of my pocket. The parson keeps
one key, you know, and Bumford the other----"

"But, Fred," I interrupted, the question striking me, "how came the
young ones to let you come away with it?"

"Because, lad, their attention got diverted to something else. Ann
brought in the tea-things, with a huge plate of bread-and-treacle: they
screamed out in delight, and scuffled to get seats round the table.
Well, I let the key lie in my pocket," went on Fred, "intending to take
it back to-day. In the night, when flying from pursuit, not knowing who
or how many might be after me, I felt this heavy key strike against me
continually; and, in nearing the church, the thought flashed over me
like an inspiration: What if I open it and hide there? Just as young
Charley had hidden the key in my pocket, so I hid myself, by its means,
in the church."

Taking a minute to think over what he said, it did seem strange. One of
those curious things one can hardly account for; the means for his
preservation were so simply natural and yet almost marvellous. Perhaps
the church was the only building where he could have found secure
refuge. Private dwellings would refuse to shelter him, and other places
were sure to be searched.

"You are safe here, Fred. No one would ever think of seeking you here."

"Safe, yes; but for how long? I can't live without food for ever,
Johnny. As it is, I have eaten none since last night."

My goodness! A shock of remorse came over me. When I was at old
Bumford's knife-box, a loaf of bread stood on the dresser. If I had
only secured it!

"We must manage to bring you something, Fred. You cannot stir from
here."

Fred had taken the key out, having returned it to his pocket in the
night when he locked himself in. He sat looking at it as he balanced it
on his finger.

"Yes, you have served me in good need," he said to the key. "I shall
turn out for a stroll during some quiet hour of the night, Johnny. To
keep my restless legs curbed indoors for a whole day and night would be
quite beyond their philosophy."

"Well, take care of yourself, if you do. There's not a soul in the
place but is wild for the reward; and I dare say they will look for you
by night more than by day. How about getting you in something to eat?"

"_I_ don't know," he answered. "It would never do for you to be seen
coming in here at night."

I knew that. Old Bumford would be down on me if no one else was. I sat
turning over possibilities in my mind.

"I will come in betimes to-morrow morning under the plea of practising,
Fred, and bring what I can. You must do battle with your hunger until
then."

"I suppose I must, Johnny. Mind you lock the door when you come in, or
old Bumford might pounce upon us. When I heard you unlock it on coming
in this evening, I can tell you I shivered in my shoes. Fate is very
hard," he added, after a pause.

"Fate is?"

"Why, yes. I have been a bit wild lately, perhaps, savage too, but I
declare before Heaven that I have committed no crime, and did not mean
to commit any. And now, to have this serious thing fastened upon my
back! The world will say I have gone straight over to Satan."

I did not see how he would get it off his back either. Wishing him
good-night and a good heart, I turned to go.

"Wait a moment, Johnny. Let me go back to my hiding-place first."

He went swiftly up the aisle, lighter now than it had been, for the
moonlight was streaming in at the windows. Locking the church safely, I
crossed the graveyard to old Bumford's. He was seated at his round table
at supper: bread-and-cheese, and beer.

"Oh, Mr. Bumford, as I have to come into the church very early in the
morning, or I shall never get my music up for Sunday, I will take the
key home with me. Good-night."

He shouted out fifteen denials: How dared I think of taking the key out
of his custody! But I was conveniently deaf, rushed off, and left him
shouting.

"What a long practice you have been taking, Johnny!" cried Mrs.
Todhetley. "And how hot you look. You must have run very fast."

The Squire turned round from his arm-chair. "You've been joining in the
hunt after that scamp, Mr. Johnny;--you've not been in the church, sir,
all this time. I hear there's a fine pack out, scouring the hedges and
ditches."

"I got a candle from old Bumford's den," said I, evasively. And
presently I contrived to whisper unseen to Tod--who sat reading--to come
outside. Standing against the wall of the pigeon-house, I told him all.
For once in his life Tod was astonished.

"What a stunning thing!" he exclaimed. "Good luck, Fred! we'll help you.
I knew he was innocent, Johnny. Food? Yes, of course; we must get it for
him. Molly, you say? Molly be shot!"

"Well, you know what Molly is, Tod. Let half a grain of suspicion arise,
and it might betray him. If she saw us rifling her larder, she would go
straight to the Squire; and what excuse should we have?"

"Look here, Johnny. I'll go out fishing to-morrow, you understand, and
order her to make a lot of meat pasties."

"But he must have something to eat to-morrow morning, Tod: he might die
of hunger, else, before night."

Tod nodded. He had little more diplomacy than the Squire, and would have
liked to perch himself upon the highest pillar in the parish there and
then, and proclaim Fred Westerbrook's innocence.

We stole round to the kitchen. Supper was over, but the servants were
still at the table; no chance of getting to the larder then. Molly was
in one of her tempers, apparently blowing up Thomas. There might be more
chance in the morning.

                 *       *       *       *       *

Morning light. Tod went downstairs with the dawn, and I followed him.
Not a servant was yet astir. He laid hold of a great tray, lodged it on
the larder-floor, and began putting some things upon it--a cold leg of
mutton and a big round loaf.

"I can't take in all _that_, Tod. It is daylight, you know, and eyes may
be about: old Bumford's are sure to be. I can only take in what can be
concealed in my pockets."

"Oh, bother, Johnny! You'd half famish him."

"Better half famish him than betray him. Some slices of bread and meat
will be best--thick sandwiches, you know."

We soon cut into the mutton and the bread. Wrapping them in paper, I
stowed the thick slices away in my pockets, leaving the rest of the loaf
and meat on the shelves again.

"How I wish I could smuggle him in a bottle of beer!"

"And so you can, Johnny. Swear to old Bumford it is for your own
drinking."

"He would know better."

"Wrap a sheet of music round the bottle, then. He could make nothing of
that."

Hunting out a bottle, we went down to the cellar. Tod stooped to fill it
from the tap. I stood watching the process.

"I've caught you, Master Johnny, have I! What be you about there,
letting the ale run, I'd like to know?"

The words were Molly's. She had come down and found us out: suspecting
something, I suppose, from seeing the cellar-door open. Tod rose up.

"I am drawing some beer to take out with me. Is it any business of
yours? When it is, you may interfere."

I was nobody in the household--never turning upon them. She'd have gone
on at me for an hour, and probably walked off with the beer. Tod was
altogether different. He held his own authority, even with Molly. She
went up the cellar-stairs, grumbling to herself.

"I want a cork for this bottle," said bold Tod, following her. And
Molly, opening some receptacle of hers with a jerk, perforce found him
one.

"Oh, and I shall want some meat pasties made to-day, for I think of
going fishing," went on Tod. "Let them be ready by lunch-time. I have
cut myself some slices of meat to go on with--if you chance to miss any
mutton."

Molly, never answering, left her kitchen-grate, where she was beginning
to crack up the huge flat piece of coal that the fire had been raked
with the previous night, and stalked into the larder to see what
depredations had been done. We tied up the bottle in paper on the
parlour-table, and then wrapped it in a sheet of loose music. It looked
a pretty thick roll; but nobody would be likely to remark that.

"I have a great mind to go with you and see him, Johnny," said Tod, as
we went together down the garden-path.

"Oh, don't, Tod!" I cried. "For goodness' sake, don't. You know you
never do go in with me, and it might cause old Bumford to wonder."

"Then, I'll leave it till after dark to-night, Johnny. Go in then, I
shall."

Bumford was astir, but not down yet. I heard him coughing, through his
open casement; for I went with a purpose round the path by his house,
and called out to him. He looked out in his shirt-sleeves and a cotton
night-cap.

"You see how early I am this morning. I'll bring you the key when I
leave."

"Eugh!" growled Bumford. "No rights to ha' took it."

Locking the church-door securely after me, I went down the aisle,
calling softly to Fred. He came forward from a dark, high-walled pew
behind a pillar, where he had slept. You should have seen him devour the
bread and meat, if you'd like to know what hunger means, and drink the
bottle of beer. I sat down to practise. Had old Bumford not heard the
sound of the organ, he might have come thundering at the door to know
what I was about, and what the silence meant. Fred came with me, and we
talked whilst I played. About the first question he asked was whether
Gisby was dead; but I could not tell him. He said he had gone out
cautiously in the night and walked about the churchyard for an hour,
thinking over what he could do. "And I really had an unpleasant
adventure, Johnny," he added.

"What was it?"

"I was pacing the path under the hedge towards Bumford's, when all at
once there arose the sound of voices and steps on the other side of
it--fellows on the look-out for me, I suppose."

I held my breath. "What did you do?"

"Crouched down as well as I could--fortunately the hedge is high--and
came softly and swiftly over the grass and the graves to the porch. I
only slipped inside just in time, Johnny: before I could close the door,
the men were in the churchyard. The key has a trick of creaking harshly
when turned in the lock, you know; and I declare I thought they must
have heard it then, for it made a fearful noise, and the night was very
still!"

"And they did not hear it?"

"I suppose not. But it was some minutes, I can tell you, before my
pulses calmed down to their ordinary rate of beating."

He went on to say that the only plan he could think of was to endeavour
to get away from the neighbourhood, and go out of the country. To stand
his trial was not to be thought of. His word, that he had not been the
guilty man, had never even had a gun in his hand that night, would go
for nothing, against Gisby's word and Shepherd's. Whatever came of it,
he would have to be out of the church before Sunday. The great question
was: how could he get away unseen? I told him Tod was coming with me at
night, and we would consult together. Locking up the church again, and
the prisoner in it, I gladdened Bumford's heart by handing over the key,
and ran home to breakfast.

Life yet lingered in Gisby; but the doctors thought he could not live
through the day. The injury he had received was chiefly internal,
somewhere in the region of the lungs. Fresh parties went out with fresh
ardour to scour the country after Fred Westerbrook; and so the day
passed. Chancing to meet Shepherd late in the afternoon, he told me
Gisby still lived.

At sundown I went in to practise again, and took a big mould-candle with
me, showing it to Bumford, that he might not be uneasy on the score
of his stock in the vestry. As soon as dusk came on, and before the
tell-tale moon was much up, I left the organ, opened the church-door,
and stood at it, according to the plan concerted with Tod. He came
swiftly up with his basket of provisions which he had got together by
degrees during the day; and then we locked the door again. After Fred
had regaled himself, we consulted together. Fred was to steal out of
the church about one o'clock on Sunday morning, and make off across
the country. But to do this with safety it was necessary he should be
disguised. By that time the ardour of the night-searching might have
somewhat passed; and the hour, one o'clock in the morning, was as silent
and lonely a one as could be expected. It was most essential that he
should not be recognized by any person who might chance to meet him.

"But you must manage one thing for me," said Fred, after this was
settled. "I will not go away without seeing Edna. She can come in here
with you to-morrow night."

We both objected. "It will be very hazardous, Fred. Old Bumford would be
sure to see her: his eyes are everywhere."

"Tell him you want her to sing over the chants with you, Johnny. Tell
him anything. But go away for an indefinite period, without first seeing
her and convincing her that it is not guilt that sends me, I will not."

So there was no more to be said.

Getting provisions together seemed to have been easy compared with what
we should have to get up now--a disguise. A smock-frock, say, and the
other items of a day-labourer's apparel. But it was more easy to decide
than to procure them.

"Mack leaves belongings of his in the barn occasionally," said Tod to
me, as we walked home together. "We'll look to-morrow night."

It was our best hope. Failing that, there would be no possibility of
getting a smock-frock anywhere; and Fred would have to escape in his
coat turned inside out, or something of that sort. His own trousers,
braced up high, and plastered with mud at the feet, would do very well,
and his own wideawake hat, pulled low down on his face. There would be
no more trouble about provisions, for what Tod had taken in would be
enough.

                 *       *       *       *       *

Saturday. And Tod and I with our work before us. Gisby was sinking fast.

Late in the afternoon I went to the Parsonage, wondering how I should
get to see Edna Blake alone. But Fortune favoured me--as it seemed
to have favoured us throughout. The children were all at play in
the nearest field. Edna was in what they called the schoolroom in
her lilac-print dress, looking over socks and stockings, about a
wheelbarrow-full. I saw her through the window, and went straight in.
Her large dark eyes looked as sad and big as the hole she was darning;
and her voice had a hopeless ring in it.

"Oh, Johnny, how you startled me! Nay, don't apologize. It is my fault
for being so nervous and foolish. I can't think what has ailed me the
last few days: I seem to start at shadows. Have--have you come to tell
me anything?"

By the shrinking voice and manner, I knew what she feared--that Fred
Westerbrook was taken. Looking round the room, I asked whether what we
said could be heard.

"There's no one to hear," she answered. "Poor Mrs. Holland is in bed.
Mr. Holland is out; and Anne is shut up, cleaning the kitchen."

"Well, then," I said, dropping my voice, "I have brought you a message
from Fred Westerbrook."

Down went the socks in a heap. "Oh, Johnny!"

"Hush! No: he is not taken; he is in safe hiding. What's more, Edna, he
is no more guilty than I am. He met the poachers accidentally that night
just before the affray, and he never had a gun in his hands at all."

A prolonged, sobbing sigh, as if she were going to faint, and then a
glad light in her eyes. She took up her work again. I went over to the
seat next her, and told her all. She was darning all the while. With
such a heap of mending the fingers must not be idle.

"To America!" she repeated, in answer to what I said. "What is he going
to do for money to carry him there?"

"He talks of working his passage over. He has enough money about him, he
says, to take him to the coast. Unfortunately, neither Tod nor I can
help him in that respect. We have brought empty pockets from school, and
shall have no money before the time of going back again. Will you go in
and see him, Edna?"

"Yes," she said, after a minute's consideration. "And I will bring a
roll of music in my hand, as you suggest, Johnny, for the satisfaction
of Clerk Bumford's curiosity. I will be at the stile as near eight
o'clock as I can, if you will come out there to meet me: but it is
Saturday night, you know, when there's always a great deal to do."

Dinner was made later than usual that night at home: it had struck
half-past seven before we got out, having secured another bottle of
beer. The moon was rising behind the trees as we went into the barn.

Tod struck a match, and we looked about. Yes, Fortune was with us still.
Hanging on the shaft of the cart, was Mack's smock-frock. It was
anything but clean; but beggars can't be choosers. Next we descried a
cotton neckerchief and a pair of boots; two clumsy, clod-hopping boots,
with nails in the soles, and the outside leather not to be seen for
patches.

"They must do," said Tod, with a rueful look. "But just look at the
wretches, Johnny. I must smuggle these and the smock-frock into the
church-porch, whilst you go round to old B.'s for the key."

"I have the key. I flung him a shilling this morning instead of the key,
saying I might be wanting to practise at any hour to-day, and would give
it him back to-night."

Going by the most solitary way, I let Tod into the church, and went to
meet Edna Blake. She was already there, the roll of music in her hand.
Bumford shot out of his house, and crossed our path.

"Good-evening, Mr. Bumford!" said she, cheerily. "I am come to try the
hymns for to-morrow, with Johnny Ludlow."

"They'd need to be sum'at extra, they had, with all this here fuss of
practising," returned Bumford, ungraciously. "Is the parson at home,
Miss Blake?"

"Yes. He is in the little room, writing."

"'Cause I want to see him," said the clerk; and he stalked off.

"Do you know how Gisby is?" Edna asked me in a whisper.

"Dead by this time, I dare say. But I have not heard."

They were at the top of the church when we got in, laughing in covert
tones; I guessed it was over those dreadful boots. Edna stood by me
whilst I locked the door, and then we went at once to the organ and
began the hymn. Old Bumford could not be too far off yet to catch the
sounds. Presently Fred Westerbrook and Edna went into the aisle, and
paced it arm-in-arm. I kept on playing; Tod, not knowing what to do with
himself, whistled an accompaniment.

"How long shall I be away, Edna!" exclaimed Fred, in answer to her
question. "Why, how can I tell? It may be for years; it may be for ever.
I cannot come back, I suppose, whilst this thing is hanging over my
head."

She was in very low spirits, and the tears began to drop from her eyes.
Fred could see that much, as they paced through one of the patches of
moonlight.

"You may not succeed in getting away."

"No, I may not. And do you know, Edna, there are moments when I feel
half inclined not to attempt it, but to give myself up instead, and let
the matter take its course. If I do get away, and get on in the States,
so as to make myself a home, will you come out and share it with me?"

"Yes," she answered.

"I may do it. I think I shall. Few people know more about the
cultivation of land than I do, and I will take care to put my shoulder
to the wheel. Practical farmers get on well there if they choose, though
they have to rough it at first. Be very sure of one thing, Edna: all my
hopes and aims will be directed to one end--that of making a home for
you."

She could not speak for crying.

"It may not be a luxurious home, neither may I make anything of a
position. But if I make enough for comfort, you will come out to it?"

"I will," she said with a sob.

"My darling!"

Echo bore the words to us, softly though they were spoken. I played a
crashing chord or two, after the manner of Richards.

"You may not hear from me," continued Fred. "I must not give any clue to
where I am, and therefore cannot write--at least, not at present. Men
accused of murder can be brought home from any part of the world. Only
trust me, Edna. _Trust me!_ though it be for years."

No fear but she would. She put a small packet in his hand.

"You _must_ take it, Frederick. It is my last half-year's salary--ten
pounds--and I chance to have it by me: a loan, if you will; but take it
you shall. Knowing that you have a few pounds to help you away and to
fall back upon, will make things a little less miserable for me."

"But, Edna----"

"I declare I will throw it away if you do not take it," she returned,
warmly. "Do not be cruel to me, Frederick. If you knew how it will
lighten my doubts and fears, you would not for a moment hesitate."

"Be it so, Edna. It will help me onwards. Truth to say, I did not see
how I should have got along, even to the coast, unless I had begged on
my way. It is a loan, Edna, and I will contrive to repay it as soon as
may be."

So his boast of having money to take him to the coast had been all a
sham. Poor Fred! They began to take leave of one another, Edna sobbing
bitterly. I plunged into the "Hallelujah Chorus."

Tod let her out, and watched her safely across the churchyard. Then we
locked the door again for the dressing-up, I playing a fugue between
whiles. The first operation was that of cutting his hair short, for
which we had brought the mater's big scissors. No labourer would be
likely to possess Fred's beautiful hair, or wear it so long. Tod did it
well; not counting a few notches, and leaving him as good as none on his
head.

It was impossible to help laughing when we took a final look at him in
the moonlight, Fred turning himself about to be inspected: his hair,
clipped nearly to the roots, suggesting a suspicion that he had just
come out of prison; his trousers, not reaching to the ankle, showing off
the heavy, patched, disreputable boots; the smock-frock; and Mack's
spotted cotton neckerchief muffled round his chin!

"Your own mother wouldn't know you, Fred."

"What a figure I shall cut if I am dropped upon and brought back!"

"Take heart, man!" cried Tod. "Resolve to get off, and you will get
off."

"Yes, Fred, I think you will. You have been so _helped_ hitherto, that I
think you will be helped still."

"Thank you, Johnny. Thank you both. I _will_ take heart. And if I live
to return, I hope I shall thank you better."

Later we dared not stay; it was past nine now. I bade Fred good-bye, and
God-speed.

"Between half-past twelve and one, mind, will be your time; you'll hear
the clock strike," was Tod's parting injunction, given in a whisper.
"Good luck to you, old fellow! I hope and trust you'll dodge the enemy.
And as soon as you are clear of the churchyard, make off as if the
dickens were behind you."

"Here's the key, Mr. Bumford," I said, while Tod stole off with his
bundle the other way, Fred's boots, and hair, and all that. "You won't
be bothered for it next week, for I shall be off to school again."

"Thought you'd took up your lodging inside for the night," grunted
Bumford. "Strikes me, Master Ludlow, it's more play nor work with you."

"As it is with a good many of us, Bumford. Good-night!"

We walked home in the moonlight, silent enough, Tod handing me the
bundles to carry. The Squire attacked us, demanding whether we had
stayed out to look at the moon.

And I tossed and turned on my restless bed till the morning hours,
thinking of poor Fred Westerbrook, and of whether he would get away.
When sleep at last came, it brought me a very vivid dream of him. I
thought he did _not_ get away: he was unable to unlock the church-door.
Whether Tod and I had double-locked it in leaving, I knew not; but Fred
could not get it open. When Clerk Bumford entered the church in the
morning, and the early comers of the congregation with him, there stood
Fred, hopelessly waiting to be taken. I saw him as plainly in my dream
as I had ever seen him in reality: with the dirty smock-frock, and the
patched boots, and the clipped hair. Shepherd, who seemed to follow me
in, darted forward and seized him; and in the confusion I awoke. Just
for a minute I thought it was true--a scene actually enacted. Would it
prove so?



XVI.

THE SYLLABUB FEAST.


"You have gone and done a fine thing, Master Johnny Ludlow!"

The salutation came from Clerk Bumford. He was standing at the
church-door on Sunday morning, looking out as if he expected me, his
face pale and stern. I had run on betimes: in fact, before the bell
began.

"What have I done, Bumford?"

"Why, you just went and left this here church open last night! You never
locked it up! When I come in but now, I found the door right on the
latch; never as much as shut!"

Beginning to protest till all was blue that I _had_ shut and locked the
door--as I knew too well--caution pulled me up, and whispered me to take
the blame.

"I'm sure I thought I locked it, Bumford. I never left it unlocked
before, and I'll take care I never leave it so again."

"Such a thing as having the church open for a night was never heered
of," he grumbled, turning away to ring out the first peal of the bell.
"Why, I might have had all my store o' candles stole! there's nigh a
pound on 'em, in here. And my black gownd--and the parson's gownd--and
his surplice! Besides the grave-digging tools, and other odds and ends."

Shutting himself into his den underneath the belfry, and tugging away at
the cords, the bell tinkled out, warning the parish that it was time to
start for morning service. The bell-ringer was a poor old man named
Japhet, who was apt to be a little late. Upon which Bumford would begin
the ringing, and blow Japhet up when he came.

Not a soul was yet in church. I went down the middle aisle softly
calling Fred Westerbrook's name. He did not answer; and I hoped to my
heart he had got clear away. The open entrance-door seemed to indicate
that he had; and I thought he might have left it undone in case he had
to make a bolt back again. Nevertheless, I could not shake off the
remembrance of my unpleasant dream.

Of all troublesome idiots, that Bumford was the worst. When I went back,
after passing by all the remote nooks and corners, Japhet had taken his
place at the bell, and he was telling the parson of my sins.

"Right on the latch all the blessed night, your reverence," protested
Bumford. "We might have found the whole church ransacked this morning."

Mr. Holland, a mild man, with stout legs, and cares of his own, looked
at me with a half-smile. "How was it, Johnny?"

"I have assured Bumford, sir, that it shall not happen again. I
certainly thought I had locked it when I took him back the key. No harm
has come of it."

"But harm might ha' come," persisted Bumford. "Look at all them candles
in there! and the gownds and surplices! Pretty figures we should ha'
cut, saving his reverence's presence, with nothing to put upon our backs
this here blessed morning!"

"Talking of the key, I missed mine this morning," remarked Mr. Holland.
"Have you taken it away for any purpose, Bumford?"

"What, the t'other church-key!" exclaimed Bumford. "Not I, sir. I'd not
be likely to fetch that key when I've got my own--and without your
reverence's knowledge either!"

"Well, I cannot find it anywhere," said Mr. Holland. "It generally lies
on the mantelpiece at home, and it is not there this morning."

He went into the vestry with the last words. To hear that the church-key
generally lay on the mantelpiece, was nothing; for the parson's house
was not noticeable for order. There would have been none in it at all
but for Edna.

Close upon that, arrived Shepherd, a folded paper in his hand. It
contained a request that Gisby might be prayed for in the Litany.

"What, ain't he dead yet?" asked Bumford.

"No," returned Shepherd. "The doctors be afraid that internal
inflammation's a-setting in now. Any way, he is rare and bad, poor man."

Next came in my set of singers, chiefly boys and girls from the parish
school. But they sang better than such children generally sing; and
would have sung very well indeed with an organist who had his head on
his shoulders the proper way. Mrs. Todhetley had long taken pains with
them, but latterly it had all been upset by Richards's crotchets.

"Now, look here," said I, gathering them before me. "We are not going to
have any shrieking to-day. We sing to praise God, you know, and He is in
the church with you and hears you; He is not a mile or two away, that
you need shout out to be heard all that distance."

"Please, sir, Mr. Richards tells us to sing out loud: as loud as ever we
can. Some on us a'most cracks our voices at it."

"Well, never mind Mr. Richards to-day. I am going to play, and I tell
you to sing softly. If you don't, I shall stop the organ and let you
shout by yourselves. You won't like that. To shout and shriek in church
is more irreverent than I care to talk about."

"Please, sir, Mr. Richards plays the organ so loud that we can't help
it."

"I wish you'd let Mr. Richards alone. You won't hear the organ loud
to-day. Do you say your prayers when you go to bed at night?"

This question took them aback. But at last the whole lot answered that
they did.

"And do you say your prayers softly, or do you shout them out at the top
of your voices? To my mind, it is just as unseemly to shout when singing
in church, as it would be when praying. This church has been like
nothing lately but the ranter's chapel. There, take your seats, and look
out the places in your Prayer-books."

I watched the different groups walk into church. Our people were pretty
early. Tod slipped aside as they went up the aisle to whisper me a
question--Had Fred got clear away? I told him I thought so, hearing and
seeing nothing to the contrary. When the parson's children came in, Mrs.
Holland was with them, so that Edna Blake was enabled to join the
singers, as she did when she could. But it was not often Mrs. Holland
came to church. Edna had dark circles round her eyes. They looked out at
mine with a painful inquiry in their depths.

"Yes, I think it is all right," I nodded in answer.

"Mr. Holland has missed his church-key," she whispered. "Coming along to
church, Charley suddenly called out that he remembered hiding it in Mr.
Fred Westerbrook's coat-pocket. Mrs. Holland seemed quite put out about
it, and asked me how I could possibly have allowed _him_ to come into
the study and sit there."

"There's old Westerbrook, Edna! Just look! His face is fiercer than
usual."

Mrs. Westerbrook was with him, in a peach-coloured corded-silk gown. She
made a point of dressing well. But she was just one of those women that
no attire, good or bad, would set off: her face common, her figure
stumpy. And so, one after another, the congregation all came in, and the
service began. It caused quite a sensation when Mr. Holland made a
pause, after turning to the Litany, and read out the announcement: "Your
prayers are requested for Walter Gisby, who is dangerously ill." Men's
heads moved, and bonnets fluttered.

"How I wish you played for us always, Johnny!" cried Miss Susan Page,
looking in upon me to say it, as she passed out from her pew, when the
service was over.

"Why, my playing is nothing, Miss Susan!"

"Perhaps not. I don't know. But it has this effect, Johnny--it sends
us home with a feeling of peace in our hearts. What with Richards's
crashing and the singers' shouting, we are generally turned out in a
state of irritation."

After running through the voluntary, I found a large collection of
people in the churchyard. Old Westerbrook was holding forth on the
subject of Fred's iniquities to a numerous audience, the Squire making
one of them. Mrs. Westerbrook looked simply malicious.

"No, I do _not_ know where he is hiding," said the master of the N. D.
Farm in answer to a question. "I wish I did know: I would hang him with
all the pleasure in life. An ungrateful, reckless---- What's that,
Squire? You'd recommend me to increase the reward? Why, I _have_
increased it. I have doubled it. Old Jones has my orders to post up
fresh bills."

"If all's true that's reported, he can't escape very far; he had no
money in his pocket," put in young Mr. Stirling, of the Court, who
sometimes came over to our church. "By the way, who has been playing
to-day?"

"Johnny Ludlow."

"Oh, have you, Johnny?" he said, turning to me. "It was very pleasant.
And so was the singing."

"It would have been better had Mrs. Todhetley played--as she was to have
done," I said, wishing they wouldn't bring me up before people, and
knowing that my playing was just as simple as it could be, neither
florid nor flowery.

"_I_ have seen what Frederick Westerbrook was, this many a year past,"
broke in Mrs. Westerbrook in loud tones, as if resenting the drifting of
the conversation from Fred's ill-doings. "Mr. Westerbrook knows that I
have given him my opinion again and again. Only he would not listen."

"How could I believe that my own brother's son was the scamp you and
Gisby made him out to be?" testily demanded old Westerbrook, who in his
way was just as unsophisticated and straightforward as the Squire: and
would have been as good-natured, let alone. "I'm sure till the last year
or two Fred was as steady and dutiful as heart could wish."

"You had better say he is still," said she.

"But--hang it!--I don't say it, ma'am," fired old Westerbrook. "I should
be a fool to say it. Unfortunately, I _can't_ say it. I have lived to
find he is everything that's bad--and I say that hanging's too good for
him."

Mr. Holland came out of the church and passed us, halting a moment to
speak. "I am on my way to pray by poor Gisby," he said. "They have sent
for me."

"Gisby must need it," whispered Tod to me. "He has been a worse
sinner than Fred Westerbrook: full of hatred, malice, and all
uncharitableness."

And so he had been--in regard to Fred.

                 *       *       *       *       *

"Help! Thieves!--Robbers! Help!"

The shouts came from our yard, as we were sitting down to breakfast on
Monday morning, and we rushed out. There stood Mack, in the greatest
state of excitement possible; his eyes lifted, his arms at work, and his
breath gone. The servants ran out before we did.

"Why! what on earth's the matter, Ben Mack?" demanded the Squire. "Have
you gone mad?"

"We've had thieves in the barn, sir! Thieves! All my clothes is stole."

"What clothes?"

"Them what I left in't o' Saturday night, Squire. My smock-frock and my
boots, and my spotted cotton neck-handkecher. They be gone, they be."

"Nonsense!" said the Squire, whilst I and Tod kept our faces. "We have
not had thieves here, man."

"But, 'deed, and the things be gone, Squire. Clean gone! Not so much as
a shred on 'em left! Please come and see for yourself, sir."

He turned, and went striding across the yard. The Squire followed,
evidently at fault for comprehension; and the rest of us after him.

"It's a mercy as the horses and waggons bain't took!" cried Mack,
plunging into the barn. "And the harness! look at it, a-hanging up; and
that there wheelbarrer----"

"But what do you say _is_ taken, Mack?" interrupted the Squire, cutting
him short, and looking round the barn.

"All my traps, sir. My best smock-frock; and my boots, and my spotted
cotton neck-handkecher. A beautiful pair o' boots, Squire, that I
generally keeps here, in case I be sent off to Alcester, or Evesham, or
where not, and have to tidy myself up a bit."

Tod backed out of the barn doubled up. Nearly choking at the "beautiful"
boots.

"But why do you think they are stolen, Mack?" the Squire was asking.

"I left 'em safe here o' Saturday evening, sir, when I locked up the
barn. The things be all gone now; you may see as they be, Squire. There
bain't a vestige of 'em."

"Have any of the men moved them?"

"'Twas me as unlocked the barn myself but now, Squire. The key on't
was on the nail where I put it Saturday night. If any of the men had
unlocked it afore me this morning, they'd not ha' shut it up again.
We've all been away at work too on t'other side o' the land since we
come on at six o'clock. No, sir, it's thieves--and what will become of
me? A'most a new smock-frock, and the beautifulest pair o' strong boots:
they'd ha' lasted me for years."

Tod shrieked out at last, unable to help himself. Mack cast a
reproachful glance at him, as if he thought the merriment too cruel.

"You must have been drinking on Saturday, Ben Mack, and fancied you left
'em here," put in Molly, tartly.

"Me been a-drinking!" retorted poor bereaved Mack, ready to cry at the
aspersion. "Why, I'd never had a drop o' nothing inside my lips since
dinner-time, save a draught of skim milk as the dairy-maid gave me. They
was in that far corner, them boots; and the smock-frock was laid smooth
across the shaft of this here cart, the handkecher folded a-top on't."

"Well, well, we must inquire after the things," remarked the Squire,
turning to go back to breakfast. "I don't believe they are stolen, Mack:
they'll be found somewhere. If you had lost yourself, you could not have
made more noise over it. I'm sure I thought the ricks must be on fire."

Tod could hardly eat his breakfast for laughing. Every now and then he
came out with the most unexpected burst. The pater demanded what there
was to laugh at in Mack's having mislaid his clothes.

But, as the morning went on, the Squire changed his tone. When no trace
could be discovered of the articles, high or low, he took up the opinion
that we had been visited by tramps, and sent off for old Jones the
constable. Jones sent back his duty, and he would come across as soon as
he could, but he was busy organizing the search after Master
Westerbrook, and posting up the fresh bills.

"Johnny, we must dispose of that hair of Fred's in some way," Tod
whispered to me in the course of the morning. "To let any one come upon
it would never do: they might fish and ferret out everything. Come
along."

We went up, bolted ourselves in his room, and undid the hair. Fine,
silky hair, not quite auburn, not quite like chestnut, something between
the two, but as nice a colour as you would wish to see.

"Better burn it," suggested Tod.

"Won't it make an awful smell?"

"Who cares? You can go away if you don't like the smell."

"I shall save a piece for Edna Blake."

"Rubbish, Johnny! What good will it do her?"

"She may like to have it. Especially if she never sees him again."

"Make haste, then, and take a lock. It's quite romantic. I am going to
put a match to it."

I chose the longest piece I could see, put it into an envelope, and
fastened it up. Tod turned the hair into his wash-hand basin, and set it
alight: the grate was filled up with the summer shavings. A frizzling
and fizzing set in at once: and very soon a rare smell of singeing.

"Open the window, Johnny."

I had hardly opened it, when the handle of the door was turned and
turned, and the panel thumped at. Hannah's voice came shrieking through
the keyhole.

"Mr. Joseph!--Master Johnny! Are you both in there? What's the matter?"

"What should be the matter?" called back Tod, putting his hand over my
mouth that I should not speak. "Go back to your nursery."

"There's something burning! My goodness! it's just as if all the
blankets in the house were singeing! You've been setting your blankets
on fire, Mr. Joseph!"

"And if I have!" cried Tod, blowing away at the hair to make it burn the
quicker. "They are not yours."

"Good patience! you'll burn us all up, sir! Fire--fire!" shrieked out
Hannah, frightened beyond her wits. "For goodness' sake, Miss Lena, keep
away from the keyhole! Here, ma'am! Ma'am! Here's Mr. Joseph with all
his blankets on fire!"

Mrs. Todhetley ran up the stairs, and her terrified appeal came to our
ears through the door. Tod threw it open. The hair had burnt itself out.

"Why don't you go off for the parish engine?" demanded Tod of Hannah, as
they came sniffing in. "Well, where's the fire?"

"But, my dears, something must be singeing," said Mrs. Todhetley. "Where
is it?--what is it?"

"It can't be anything but the blankets," cried Hannah, choking and
stifling. "Miss Lena, then, don't I tell you to keep outside, out of
harm's way? Well, it is strong!"

Mrs. Todhetley put her hand on my arm. "Johnny, what is it? Where is the
danger?"

"There's no danger at all," struck in Tod. "