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Title: Johnny Ludlow, Third 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.

THIRD SERIES

[Illustration]


JOHNNY LUDLOW

by

MRS. HENRY WOOD

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

THIRD SERIES.



+Twenty-Third Thousand+

+London:+
Macmillan and Co., Limited.
New York: the Macmillan Company.
1899.

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



CONTENTS

                                             PAGE

  THE MYSTERY OF JESSY PAGE                     1

  CRABB RAVINE                                 43

  OUR VISIT                                    87

  JANET CAREY                                 112

  DR. KNOX                                    135

  HELEN WHITNEY'S WEDDING                     158

  HELEN'S CURATE                              180

  JELLICO'S PACK                              203

  CAROMEL'S FARM                              223

  CHARLOTTE AND CHARLOTTE                     244

  THE LAST OF THE CAROMELS                    267

  A DAY IN BRIAR WOOD                         290

  THE STORY OF DOROTHY GRAPE: DISAPPEARANCE   313

  THE STORY OF DOROTHY GRAPE: IN AFTER YEARS  335

  LADY JENKINS: MINA                          359

  LADY JENKINS: DOUBT                         382

  LADY JENKINS: MADAME                        406

  LADY JENKINS: LIGHT                         429

  THE ANGELS' MUSIC                           452



    "God sent his Singers upon earth
    With songs of sadness and of mirth,
    That they might touch the hearts of men,
    And bring them back to heaven again."
                                   LONGFELLOW.



JOHNNY LUDLOW



THE MYSTERY OF JESSY PAGE.


I.

Our old grey church at Church Dykely stood in a solitary spot. Servant
maids (two of ours once, Hannah and Molly), and silly village girls went
there sometimes to watch for the "shadows" on St. Mark's Eve, and owls
had a habit of darting out of the belfry at night. Within view of the
church, though at some distance from it, stood the lonely, red-brick,
angular dwelling-house belonging to Copse Farm. It was inhabited by Mr.
Page, a plain worthy widower, getting in years; his three daughters
and little son. Abigail and Susan Page, two experienced, sensible,
industrious young women, with sallow faces and bunches of short dark
curls, were at this period, about midway between twenty and thirty:
Jessy, very much younger, was gone out to get two years' "finishing" at
a plain boarding-school; Charles, the lad, had bad health and went to
school by day at Church Dykely.

Mr. Page fell ill. He would never again be able to get about much. His
two daughters, so far as indoor work and management went, were hosts in
themselves, Miss Abigail especially; but they could not mount a horse to
superintend out-of-doors. Other arrangements were made. The second son
of Mr. Drench, a neighbouring farmer and friend, came to the Copse
Farm by day as overlooker. He was paid for his services, and he gained
experience.

No sooner had John Drench, a silent, bashful young farmer, good-looking
and fairly-well educated, been installed in his new post, than he began
to show a decided admiration for Miss Susan Page--who was a few months
younger than himself. The slight advances he made were favourably
received; and it was tacitly looked upon that they were "as good as
engaged." Things went on pleasantly through the spring, and might have
continued to go on so, but for the coming home at Midsummer of the
youngest daughter, Jessy. That led to no end of complications and
contrariety.

She was the sweetest flower you ever saw; a fair, delicate lily, with a
mild countenance, blue eyes, and golden hair. Jessy had never been very
strong; she had always been very pretty; and the consequence was that
whilst her sisters had grown up to be useful, not to be idle a minute
throughout the long day, Jessy had been petted and indulged, and
was little except being ornamental. The two years' schooling had not
improved her taste for domestic occupation. To tell the truth, Jessy was
given to being uncommonly idle.

To John Drench, who had not seen her since her early girlhood, she
appeared as a vision of beauty. "It was like an angel coming in at the
door," he said of the day she first came home, when telling the tale to
a stranger in after years. "My eyes were fairly dazzled."

Like an angel! And unfortunately for John Drench, his heart was dazzled
as well as his eyes. He fell desperately in love with her. It taught
him that what he had felt for Miss Susan was not love at all; only
esteem, and the liking that so often arises from companionship. He was
well-meaning, but inexperienced. As he had never spoken to Susan, the
utmost sign he had given being a look or a warmer handshake than usual,
he thought there would be no difficulty in transferring his homage to
the younger sister. Susan Page, who really loved him, and perhaps looked
on with the keen eyes of jealousy, grew at last to see how matters were.
She would have liked to put him in a corn-sack and give him a good
shaking by way of cure. Thus the summer months went over in some silent
discomfort, and September came in warm and fine.

Jessy Page stood at the open parlour window in her airy summer muslin,
twirling a rose in her hand, blue ribbons falling from her hair: for
Jessy liked to set herself off in little adornments. She was laughing at
John Drench outside, who had appeared covered with mud from the pond,
into which he had contrived partially to slip when they were dragging
for eels.

"I think your picture ought to be taken, just as you look now, Mr.
John."

He thought _hers_ ought to be: the bright fair face, the laughing blue
eyes, the parted lips and the pretty white teeth presented a picture
that, to him, had never had its equal.

"Do you, Miss Jessy? That's a fine rose," he shyly added. He was always
shy with her.

She held it out. She had not the least objection to be admired, even by
John Drench in an unpresentable state. In their hearts, women have all
desired men's flattery, from Eve downwards.

"These large roses are the sweetest of any," she went on. "I plucked it
from the tree beyond the grass-plat."

"You are fond of flowers, I've noticed, Miss Jessy."

"Yes, I am. Both for themselves and for the language they symbolise."

"What language is it?"

"Don't you know? I learnt it at school. Each flower possesses its own
meaning, Mr. John Drench. This, the rose, is true love."

"True love, is it, Miss Jessy!"

She was lightly flirting it before his face. It was too much for him,
and he took it gently from her. "Will you give it me?" he asked below
his breath.

"Oh, with great pleasure." And then she lightly added, as if to damp the
eager look on his face: "There are plenty more on the same tree."

"An emblem of true love," he softly repeated. "It's a pretty thought. I
wonder who invented----"

"Now then, John Drench, do you know that tea's waiting. Are you going to
sit down in those muddy boots and leggings?"

The sharp words came from Susan Page. Jessy turned and saw her sister's
pale, angry face. John Drench disappeared, and Miss Susan went out
again, and banged the door.

"It is high time Jessy was put to some regular employment," cried
Susan, bursting into the room where Miss Page sat making the tea. "She
idles away her time in the most frivolous and wasteful manner, never
doing an earthly thing. It is quite sinful."

"So it is," acquiesced Miss Page. "Have you a headache, Susan? You look
pale."

"Never mind my looks," wrathfully retorted Susan. "We will portion out
some share of work for her from to-day. She might make up the butter,
and undertake the pies and puddings, and do the plain sewing."

William Page, a grey-haired man, sitting with a stick by his side,
looked up. "Pretty creature!" he said, for he passionately loved his
youngest daughter. "I'll not have her hard-worked, Susan."

"But you'd not have her sit with her hands before her from Monday
morning till Saturday night, I suppose, father!" sharply returned Miss
Susan. "She'll soon be nineteen."

"No, no; idleness brings nothing but evil in its train. I didn't mean
that, Susan. Let the child do what is suitable for her. Where's John
Drench?"

"In a fine mess--up to his middle in mud," was Miss Susan's tart answer.
"One would think he had been trying to see how great an object he could
make of himself."

John Drench came in, somewhat improved, his coat changed and the rose in
his button-hole. He took his seat at the tea-table, and was more shy and
silent than ever. Jessy sat by her father, chattering gaily, her blue
ribbons flickering before his loving eyes.

But the butter-making and the other light work was fated not to be
inaugurated yet for Jessy. Charles Page, a tiresome, indulged lad of
twelve, became ill again: he was subject to attacks of low fever and
ague. Mr. Duffham, peering at the boy over his gold-headed cane, said
there was nothing for it but a dose of good seaside air. Mr. Page,
anxious for his boy, began to consult with his daughters as to how it
might be obtained. They had some very distant connections named Allen,
living at Aberystwith. To them Miss Page wrote, asking if they could
take in Charles and one of his sisters to live with them for a month or
so. Mrs. Allen replied that she would be glad to have them; since her
husband's death she had eked out a scanty income by letting lodgings.

It was Jessy who went with him. The house and farm could not have spared
Abigail; Susan said neither should it spare her. Jessy, the idle and
useless one had to go. Miss Susan thought she and John Drench were well
rid of the young lady.

September was in its second week when they went; November was at its
close when they returned. The improvement in Charles had been so marked
and wonderful--as Mrs. Allen and Jessy both wrote to say--that Mr.
Duffham had strongly urged his staying as long as the weather remained
fine. It was a remarkably fine late autumn that year, and they stayed
until the end of November.

Charles came home well and strong. Jessy was more beautiful than ever.
But there was some change in her. The light-hearted, talking, laughing
girl had grown rather silent: she was often heard singing snatches of
love songs to herself in a low voice, and there was a light in her eyes
as of some intense, secret happiness that might not be told. John
Drench, who had begun to show signs of returning to his old allegiance
(at least, Miss Susan so flattered herself), fell a willing captive
again forthwith, and had certainly neither eyes nor ears for any one but
Jessy. Susan Page came to the conclusion that a shaking in a sack would
be far too good for him.

                 *       *       *       *       *

The way of dressing the churches for Christmas in those past days was
quite different from the new style of "decoration" obtaining now. Sprays
of holly with their red berries, of ivy with its brown clusters, were
stuck, each alternately into the holes on the top of the pews. It was a
better way than the present one, far more effective--though I, Johnny
Ludlow, shall be no doubt laughed at for saying so. Your woven wreaths
tied round the pulpit and reading-desk; your lettered scrolls; your
artificial flowers, may be talked of as "artistic," but for effect they
all stand absolutely as nothing, in comparison with the more simple and
natural way, and they are, perhaps, the least bit tawdry. If you don't
believe me, pay a visit to some rural church next Christmas morning--for
the old fashion is observed in many a country district still--and judge
for yourselves. With many another custom that has been changed by the
folly and fashion of these later days of pretension, and not changed for
the better, lies this one. That is my opinion, and I hold to it.

The dressing in our church was always done by the clerk, old Bumford.
The sexton (called familiarly with us the grave-digger) helped him when
his health permitted, but he was nearly always ill, and then Bumford
himself had to be grave-digger. It was not much trouble, this manner of
decoration, and it took very little time. They had only to cut off the
sprays almost of the same size, trim the ends, and lodge them in the
holes. In the last century when a new country church was rebuilt (though
that did not happen often), the drilling of these holes in the woodwork
of the pews, for the reception of the "Christmas," was as much a matter
of course as were the pews themselves. Our Christmas was supplied by Mr.
Page with a liberal hand; the Copse Farm abounded with trees of holly
and ivy; one of his men, Leek, would help Bumford to cut it, and to cart
it in a hand-truck to the church. It took a good deal to do all the
pews.

On this Christmas that I am telling you of, it fell out that Clerk
Bumford and the sexton were both disabled. Bumford had rheumatic gout so
badly that getting him into church for the morning service the past
three Sundays had been a marvel of dexterity--while the sexton was in
bed with what he called catarrh. At first it seemed that we should
not get the church dressed at all: but the Miss Pages, ever ready and
active in a good work, came to the rescue, and said they would do it
themselves, with John Drench's help. The Squire was not going to be
behind-hand, and said we boys, for Tod and I were just home for the
holidays, should help too.

And when Christmas Eve came, and Leek had wheeled up the holly, and we
were all in the cold church (not I think that any of us cared whether it
was cold or warm), we enjoyed the work amazingly, and decided that old
Bumford should never be let do it again, gout or no gout.

Jessy Page was a picture to look at. The two elder ladies had on tight
dark cloth dresses, like a riding-habit cut short, at the ankles: Jessy
was in a bright blue mantle edged with swans-down, and a blue bonnet on
her pretty head. She came in a little late, and Miss Susan blew her up
sharply, for putting on that "best Sunday cape" to dress a church in:
but Jessy only laughed good-naturedly, and answered that she would take
care not to harm it. Susan Page, trimming the branches, had seen John
Drench's eyes fixed on the girl: and her knife worked away like mad in
her vexation.

"Look here," said Jessy: "we have never had any Christmas over the
pulpit; I think old Bumford was afraid to get up to do it; let us put
some. It would hide that ugly nail in the wall."

"There are no holes up in the wall," snapped Miss Susan.

"I meant a large bunch; a bunch of holly and ivy mixed, Susan. John
Drench could tie it to the nail: it would look well."

"I'll do it, too," said John. "I've some string in my pocket. The parson
won't know himself. It will be as good as a canopy over him."

Miss Page turned round: she and Charley had their arms full of the
branches we had been cutting.

"Put a bunch there, if you like, but let us finish the pews first," she
said. "If we go from one thing to another we shall not finish while it's
daylight."

It was good sense: she rarely spoke anything else. Once let darkness
overtake us, and the dressing would be done for. The church knew nothing
about evening service, and had never felt the want of means to light
itself up.

"I shall pick out the best sprays in readiness," whispered Jessy to me,
as we sat together on the bench by the big christening bowl, she
choosing branches, I trimming them. "Look at this one! you could not
count the berries on it."

"Did you enjoy your visit to Aberystwith, Jessy?"

I wondered what there was in my simple question to move her. The branch
of holly went anywhere; her hands met in a silent clasp; the expression
of her face changed to one of curious happiness. In answering, her voice
fell to a whisper.

"Yes, I enjoyed it."

"What a long time you stayed away! An age, Mrs. Todhetley says."

"It was nearly eleven weeks."

"Eleven weeks! How tedious!"

Her face was glowing, her eyes had a soft light in them. She caught up
some holly, and began scattering its berries.

"What did you do with yourself, Jessy?"

"I used to sit by the sea--and to walk about. It was very fine. They
don't often have it like that in November, Mrs. Allen said."

"Did Mrs. Allen sit and walk with you?"

"No. She had enough to do with the house and her lodgers. We only saw
her at meal times."

"The Miss Allens, perhaps?"

"There are no Miss Allens. Only one little boy."

"Why, then, you had no one but Charley!"

"Charley? Oh, he used to be always about with little Tom Allen--in a
boat, or something of that sort. Mrs. Allen thought the sea breezes must
be so good for him."

"Well, you must have been very dull!"

Jessy looked rather foolish. She was a simple-minded girl at the best.
The two elder sisters had all the strong sense of the family, she the
simplicity. Some people called Jessy Page "soft": perhaps, contrasted
with her sisters, she was so: and she was very inexperienced.

The dusk was gathering, and Charley had gone out tired, when John Drench
got into the pulpit to tie the bunch of holly to the wall above it. Tod
was with him. Drench had his hands stretched out, and we stood watching
them in a group in the aisle below, when the porch-door was burst open,
and in leaped Charles.

"Jessy! I say! Where's Jessy?"

"I am here," said Jessy, looking round. "What do you want?"

"Here's Mr. Marcus Allen."

Who Mr. Marcus Allen might be, Charles did not say. Jessy knew: there
was no doubt of that. Her face, just then close to mine, had flushed as
red as a June rose.

A tall, dark, imposing man came looming out of the dusk. His handsome,
furred great-coat was open, his waistcoat was of crimson velvet; he wore
two chains, three rings, and an eye-glass. And I'll leave you to judge
of the effect this vision of grandeur made, dropping down on us plain
church-dressers in our every-day clothes. John Drench leaned over the
pulpit cushion, string in hand; the two Miss Pages stood staring; Jessy
turned white and red with the unexpected amazement. It was to her he
approached, and spoke.

"How do you do, Miss Jessy?"

She put her hand out in answer to his; but seemed to have been struck as
dumb as the old stone image on the monument against the wall.

"These are your sisters, I presume, Miss Jessy? Will you do me the
honour of introducing me to them?"

"Mr. Marcus Allen," murmured Jessy. "My sister Abigail; my sister
Susan."

Mr. Marcus Allen, bowing over his hat, said something about the pleasure
it gave him to make their acquaintance personally, after hearing so much
of them from Miss Jessy at Aberystwith, and begged to be allowed to
shake their hands. Miss Page, when the hand-shaking was over, said in
her straightforward way that she did not know who he was, her young
sister never having mentioned him. Jessy, standing like a little
simpleton, her eyes bent down on the aisle bricks, murmured in confusion
that she "forgot it." John Drench had his face over the cushion all that
time, and Tod's arms began to ache, holding up the bunch of green.

Mr. Marcus Allen, it turned out, was related in some way to the Allens
of Aberystwith: he happened to go to the town soon after Jessy Page and
her brother went there, and he stayed until they left it. Not at the
Allens' house: he had lodgings elsewhere. Mrs. Allen spoke of him to
Jessy as a "grand gentleman, quite above them." An idea came over me, as
we all now stood together, that he had been Jessy's companion in the
walking and the sitting by the sea.

"I told Miss Jessy that I should be running down some day to renew my
acquaintanceship with her and make that of her family," said Mr. Marcus
Allen to Miss Page. "Having no particular engagement on my hands this
Christmas time, I came."

He spoke in the most easy manner conceivable: his accent and manner were
certainly those of a gentleman. As to the fashionable attire and the
rings and chains, rather startling though they looked to us in the
dark church on that dark and busy evening, they were all the rage for
dandies in the great world then.

Noticing the intimation that he had come purposely to see them, Miss
Page supposed that she ought, in hospitably good manners, to invite him
to stay a day or two at the farm, but doubted whether so imposing a
gentleman would condescend to do so. She said nothing about it then, and
we all went out of the church together; except John Drench, who stayed
behind with Leek to help clear up the litter for the man to carry away.
It was light outside, and I took a good look at the stranger: a handsome
man of seven-or-eight-and-twenty, with hard eyes, and black whiskers
curled to perfection.

"In what way is he related to the Allens of Aberystwith, Jessy?"
questioned Miss Page, drawing her sister away, as we went through the
coppice.

"I don't quite know, Abigail. He is some distant cousin."

"How came you never to speak of him?"

"I--I did not remember to do so."

"Very careless of you, child. Especially if he gave you cause to suppose
he might come here. I don't like to be taken by surprise by strangers;
it is not always convenient."

Jessy walked along in silence, meek as a lamb.

"What is he?--in any profession, or trade?"

"Trade? Oh, I don't think he does anything of that kind, Abigail. That
branch of the family would be above it, Mrs. Allen said. He has a large
income, she says; plenty of money."

"I take it, then, that he is above _us_," reasoned Miss Page.

"Oh dear, yes: in station. Ever so much."

"Then I'm sure I don't care to entertain him."

Miss Page went straight into the best kitchen on arriving at home. Her
father sat in the large hearth corner, smoking his pipe. She told him
about the stranger, and said she supposed they must ask him to stay over
the morrow--Christmas-Day.

"Why shouldn't we?" asked Mr. Page.

"Well, father, he seems very grand and great."

"Does he? Give him the best bedroom."

"And our ways are plain and simple, you know," she added.

"He must take us as he finds us, Abigail. Any friend of Mrs. Allen's is
welcome: she was downright kind to the children."

We had a jolly tea. Tod and I had been asked to it beforehand.
Pork-pies, Miss Susan's making, hot buttered batch-cakes, and lemon
cake and jams. Mr. Marcus Allen was charmed with everything: he was a
pleasant man to talk to. When we left, he and Mr. Page had gone to the
best kitchen again, to smoke together in the wide chimney corner.

                 *       *       *       *       *

You Londoners, who go in for your artistic scrolls and crosses, should
have seen the church on Christmas morning. It greeted our sight, as we
entered from the porch, like a capacious grove of green, on which the
sun streamed through the south windows. Old Bumford's dressing had never
been as full and handsome as this of ours, for we had rejected all
niggardly sprays. The Squire even allowed that much. Shaking hands with
Miss Page in the porch after service, he told her that it cut Clerk
Bumford out and out. Mr. Marcus Allen, in fashionable coat, with the
furred over-coat flung back, light gloves, and big white wristbands, was
in the Pages' pew, sitting between old Page and Jessy. He found all the
places for her in her Prayer-book (a shabby red one, some of the leaves
loose); bowing slightly every time he handed her the book, as if she had
been a princess of the blood royal. Such gallantry was new in our parts:
and the congregation were rather taken off their devotions watching it.
As to Jessy, she kept flushing like a rose.

Mr. Marcus Allen remained more than a week, staying over New-Year's Day.
He made himself popular with them all, and enjoyed what Miss Abigail
called their plain ways, just as though he had been reared to them. He
smoked his pipe in the kitchen with the farmer; he drove Miss Susan to
Alcester in the tax-cart; he presented Miss Abigail with a handsome
work-box; and gave Charley a bright half-sovereign for bullseyes. As to
Jessy, he paid her no more attention than he did her sisters; hardly as
much: so that if Miss Susan had been entertaining any faint hope that
his object in coming to the Copse was Jessy, and that in consequence
John Drench might escape from bewitching wiles, she found the hope
fallacious. Mr. Marcus Allen had apparently no more thought of Jessy
than he had of Sally, the red-armed serving-girl. "But what in the world
brought the man here at all?" questioned Miss Susan of her sister. "He
wanted a bit of country holiday," answered Miss Page with her common
sense.

One day during the week the Squire met them abroad, and gave an
impromptu invitation to the Manor for the evening. Only the three Miss
Pages came. Mr. Marcus Allen sent his compliments, and begged to be
excused on the score of headache.

One evening at dusk we met him and Jessy. She had been out on some
errand, and he overtook her in the little coppice path between the
church and the farm. Tod, dashing through it to get home for dinner, I
after him, nearly dashed right upon them. Mr. Marcus Allen had his face
inside her bonnet, as if he were speaking in the ear of a deaf old lady
of seventy. Tod burst out laughing when we got on.

"That fellow was stealing a sly kiss in the dark, Johnny."

"Like his impudence."

"Rubbish," retorted Tod. "It's Christmas-tide, and all fair. Didn't you
see the bit of mistletoe he was holding up?" And Tod ran on, whistling a
line of a song that the Squire used to sing in his young days:

    "We all love a pretty girl, under the rose."

Mr. Marcus Allen left the Copse Farm with hearty thanks for its
hospitality. He promised to come again in the summer, when the fields
should be sweet with hay and the golden corn was ripening.

No sooner had he gone than John Drench asked Jessy to promise to be his
wife. Whether he had felt any secret jealousy of Mr. Marcus Allen and
his attractions, and deemed it well to secure Jessy as soon as the coast
was clear, he spoke out. Jessy did not receive the honour kindly. She
tossed her pretty head in a violent rage: the idea, she said, of her
marrying _him_. Jessy had never flirted with John Drench since the
Aberystwith journey, or encouraged him in any way--that was certain.
Unpleasantness ensued at the farm. Mr. Page decidedly approved of the
suitor: he alone had perceived nothing of Susan's hopes: and, perhaps
for the first time in his life, he spoke sharply to Jessy. John Drench
was not to be despised, he told her; his father was a wealthy man, and
John would have a substantial portion; more than double enough to put
him into the largest and best farm in the county: Mr. Drench was only
waiting for a good one to fall in, to take it for him. No: Jessy would
not listen. And as the days went on and John Drench, _as she said_,
strove to further his suit on every opportunity, she conceived, or
professed, a downright aversion to him. Sadly miserable indeed she
seemed, crying often; and saying she would rather go out as lady's-maid
to some well-born lady than stay at home to be persecuted. Miss Susan
was in as high a state of rapture as the iniquity of false John Drench
permitted; and said it served the man right for making an oaf of
himself.

"Let be," cried old Page of Jessy. "She'll come to her senses in time."
But Miss Abigail, regarding Jessy in silence with her critical eyes,
took up the notion that the girl had some secret source of discomfort,
with which John Drench had nothing to do.

It was close upon this, scarcely beyond the middle of January, when one
Monday evening Duffham trudged over from Church Dykely for a game at
chess with the Squire. Hard weather had set in; ice and snow lay on
the ground. Mrs. Todhetley nursed her face by the fire, for she had
toothache as usual; Tod watched the chess; I was reading. In the midst
of a silence, the door opened, and old Thomas ushered in John Drench, a
huge red comforter round his neck, his hat in his hand.

"Good-evening, Squire; good-evening, ma'am," said he in his shy way,
nodding separately to the rest of us, as he unwound the comforter. "I've
come for Miss Jessy, please."

"Come for Miss Jessy!" was the Squire's surprised echo. "Miss Jessy's
not here. Take a seat, Mr. John."

"Not here?" cried Drench, opening his eyes in something like fear, and
disregarding the invitation to sit down. "Not here! Why where can she
have got to? Surely she has not fallen down in the snow and ice, and
disabled herself?"

"Why did you think she was here?"

"I don't know," he replied, after a pause, during which he seemed to be
lost. "Miss Jessy was not at home at tea: later, when I was leaving for
the night, Miss Abigail asked me if I would come over here first and
fetch Jessy. I asked no questions, but came off at once."

"She has not been here," said Mrs. Todhetley. "I have not seen Jessy
Page since yesterday afternoon, when I spoke to her coming out of
church."

John Drench looked mystified. That there must have been some
misapprehension on Miss Page's part; or else on his, and he had come to
the wrong house; or that poor Jessy had come to grief in the snow on her
way to us, seemed certain. He drank a glass of ale, and went away.

They were over again at breakfast time in the morning, John Drench and
Miss Abigail herself, bringing strange news. The latter's face turned
white as she told it. Jessy Page had not been found. John Drench and two
of the men had been out all night in the fields and lanes, searching for
her. Miss Abigail gave us her reasons for thinking Jessy had come to
Dyke Manor.

On the Sunday afternoon, when the Miss Pages went home from church,
Jessy, instead of turning indoors with them, continued her way onwards
to the cottage of a poor old woman named Matt, saying Mrs. Todhetley had
told her the old granny was very ill. At six o'clock, when they had
tea--tea was always late on Sunday evenings, as Sally had leave to stay
out gossiping for a good hour after service--it was discovered that
Jessy had not come in. Charley was sent out after her, and met her at
the gate. She had a scolding from her sister for staying out after dark
had fallen; but all she said in excuse was, that the old granny was
so very ill. That passed. On the Monday, soon after dinner, she came
downstairs with her things on, saying she was going over to Dyke Manor,
having promised Mrs. Todhetley to let her know the real state of Granny
Matt. "Don't thee get slipping in the snow, Jessy," said Mr. Page to
her, half jokingly. "No danger, father," she replied: and went up and
kissed him. As she did not return by tea-time, Miss Page took it for
granted she was spending the evening with us. Since that, she had not
been seen.

It seemed very odd. Mrs. Todhetley said that in talking with Jessy in
the porch, she had incidentally mentioned the sickness of Granny Matt.
Jessy immediately said she would go there and see her; and if she found
her very ill would send word to Dyke Manor. Talk as they would, there
was no more to be made of it than that: Jessy had left home to come to
us, and was lost by the way.

Lost to her friends, at any rate, if not to herself. John Drench and
Miss Page departed; and all day long the search after Jessy and the
speculation as to what had become of her continued. At first, no one had
glanced at anything except some untoward accident as the sole cause, but
gradually opinions veered round to a different fear. They began to think
she might have run away!

Run away to escape Mr. John Drench's persevering attentions; and to seek
the post of lady's-maid--which she had been expressing a wish for. John
stated, however, that he had _not_ persecuted her; that he had resolved
to let a little time go by in silence, and then try his luck again.
Granny Matt was questioned, and declared most positively that the young
lady had not stayed ten minutes with her; that it was only "duskish"
when she went away. "Duskish" at that season, in the broad open country,
with the white snow on the ground, would mean about five o'clock. What
had Jessy done with herself during the other hour--for it was past six
when she reached home,--and why should she have excused her tardiness by
implying that Granny Matt's illness had kept her?

No one could fathom it. No one ever knew. Before that first day of
trouble was over, John Drench suggested worse. Deeply mortified at its
being said that she might have run away from him, he breathed a hasty
retort--that it was more likely she had been run away with by Mr. Marcus
Allen. Had William Page been strong enough he had certainly knocked him
down for the aspersion. Susan heard it with a scared face: practical
Miss Abigail sternly demanded upon what grounds he spoke. Upon no
grounds in particular, Drench honestly answered: it was a thought that
came into his mind and he spoke it on the spur of the moment. Any way,
it was most unjust to say he had sent her.

The post-mistress at the general shop, Mrs. Smail, came forward with
some testimony. Miss Jessy had been no less than twice to the shop
during the past fortnight, nay, three times, she thought, to inquire
after letters addressed J. P. The last time she received one. Had she
been negotiating privately for the lady's-maid's situation, wondered
Abigail: had she been corresponding with Mr. Marcus Allen, retorted
Susan, in her ill-nature; for she did not just now hold Jessy in any
favour. Mrs. Smail was asked whether she had observed, amongst the
letters dropped into the box, any directed to Mr. Marcus Allen. But
this had to be left an open question: there might have been plenty
directed to him, or there might not have been a single one, was the
unsatisfactory answer: she had "no 'call' to examine the directions,
and as often did up the bag without her spectacles as with 'em."

All this, put together, certainly did not tend to show that Mr. Marcus
Allen had anything to do with the disappearance. Jessy had now and
then received letters from her former schoolfellows addressed to the
post-office--for her sisters, who considered her but a child, had an
inconvenient habit of looking over her shoulder while she read them. The
whole family, John Drench included, were up to their ears in agony: they
did not know in what direction to look for her; were just in that state
of mind when straws are caught at. Tod, knowing it could do no harm,
told Miss Abigail about the kiss in the coppice. Miss Abigail quite
laughed at it: kisses under the mistletoe were as common as blackberries
with us, and just as innocent. She wrote to Aberystwith, asking
questions about Marcus Allen, especially as to where he might be found.
In answer, Mrs. Allen said she had not heard from him since he left
Aberystwith, early in December, but had no doubt he was in London at his
own home: she did not know exactly where that was, except that it was
"somewhere at the West End."

This letter was not more satisfactory than anything else. Everything
seemed vague and doubtful. Miss Page read it to her father when he was
in bed: Susan had just brought up his breakfast, and he sat up with the
tray before him, his face nearly as white as the pillow behind him. They
could not help seeing how ill and how shrunken he looked: Jessy's loss
had told upon him.

"I think, father, I had better go to London, and see if anything's to be
learnt there," said Miss Page. "We cannot live on, in this suspense."

"Ay; best go," answered he, "_I_ can't live in it, either. I've had
another sleepless night: and I wish that I was strong to travel. I
should have been away long ago searching for the child----."

"You see, father, we don't know where to seek her; we've no clue,"
interrupted Abigail.

"I'd have gone from place to place till I found her. But now, I'll tell
ye, Abigail, where you must go first--the thought has been in my mind
all night. And that is to Madame Caron's."

"To Madame Caron's!" echoed both the sisters at once. "Madame Caron's!"

"Don't either of you remember how your mother used to talk of her? She
was Ann Dicker. She knows a sight of great folks now--and it may be that
Jessy's gone to her. Bond Street, or somewhere near to it, is where she
lives."

In truth they had almost forgotten the person mentioned. Madame Caron
had once been plain Ann Dicker, of Church Dykely, intimate with William
Page and his wife. She went to London when a young woman to learn the
millinery and dress-making; married a Frenchman, and rose by degrees to
be a fashionable court-milliner. It struck Mr. Page, during the past
night-watch, that Jessy might have applied to Madame Caron to help her
in getting a place as lady's-maid.

"It's the likeliest thing she'd do," he urged, "if her mind was bent
that way. How was she to find such a place of herself?--and I wish we
had all been smothered before we'd made her home here unhappy, and put
her on to think of such a thing."

"Father, I don't think her home was made unhappy," said Miss Page.

To resolve and to do were one with prompt Abigail Page. Not a moment
lost she, now that some sort of clue was given to act upon. That same
morning she was on her way to London, attended by John Drench.

                 *       *       *       *       *

A large handsome double show-room. Brass hooks on the walls and slender
bonnet-stands on the tables, garnished with gowns and mantles and
head-gear and fal-lals; wide pier-glasses; sofas and chairs covered
with chintz. Except for these articles, the room was empty. In a small
apartment opening from it, called "the trying-on room," sat Madame Caron
herself, taking a comfortable cup of tea and a toasted muffin, after the
labours of the day were over. Not that the labours were great at that
season: people who require court millinery being for the most part out
of town.

"You are wanted, if you please, madame, in the show-room," said a page
in buttons, coming in to disturb the tea.

"Wanted!--at this hour!" cried Madame Caron, as she glanced at the
clock, and saw it was on the stroke of six. "Who is it?"

"It's a lady and gentleman, madame. They look like travellers."

"Go in and light the gas," said madame.

"Passing through London and requiring things in a hurry," thought she,
mentally running through a list of some of her most fashionable
customers.

She went in with a swimming curtsy--quite that of a Frenchwoman--and the
parties, visitors and visited, gazed at each other in the gaslight.
_They_ saw a very stylish lady in rich black satin that stood on end,
and lappets of point lace: _she_ saw two homely country people, the one
in a red comforter, muffled about his ears, the other in an antiquated
fur tippet that must originally have come out of Noah's ark.

"Is it--Madame Caron?" questioned Miss Abigail, in hesitation. For,
you see, she doubted whether it might not be one of Madame Caron's
duchesses.

"I have the honour to be Madame Caron," replied the lady with her
grandest air.

Thus put at ease in regard to identity, Miss Page introduced
herself--and John Drench, son of Mr. Drench of the Upland Farm. Madame
Caron--who had a good heart, and retained amidst her grandeur a vivid
remembrance of home and early friends--came down from her stilts on the
instant, took off with her own hands the objectionable tippet, on the
plea of heat, conducted them into the little room, and rang for a fresh
supply of tea and muffins.

"I remember you so well when you were a little thing, Abigail," she
said, her heart warming to the old days. "We always said you would grow
up like your mother, and so you have. Ah, dear! that's something like a
quarter-of-a-century ago. As to you, Mr. John, your father and I were
boy and girl sweethearts."

Over the refreshing tea and the muffins, Abigail Page told her tale. The
whole of it. Her father had warned her not to hint a word against Jessy;
but there was something in the face before her that spoke of truth
and trust; and, besides, she did not see her way clear _not_ to speak
of Marcus Allen. To leave him out altogether would have been like
bargaining for a spring calf in the dark, as she said later to John
Drench.

"I have never had a line from Jessy in all my life: I have neither seen
her nor heard of her," said madame. "As to Mr. Marcus Allen, I don't
know him personally myself, but Miss Connaway, my head dressmaker, does:
for I have heard her speak of him. I can soon find out for you where he
lives."

Miss Page thought she should like to see the head dressmaker, and a
message was sent up for her. A neat little middle-aged woman came down,
and was invited to the tea-table. Madame turned the conversation on Mr.
Marcus Allen; telling Miss Connaway that these country friends of hers
knew him slightly, and would be glad to get his address to call upon
him; but she did not say a syllable about Jessy.

Mr. Marcus Allen had about two hundred a year of his own, and was an
artist in water-colours. The certain income made him idle; and he played
just as much as he worked. The few pictures he completed were good, and
sold well. He shared a large painting-room somewhere with a brother
artist, but lived in chambers. All this Miss Connaway told readily; she
had known him since he was a child.

Late though it was, Miss Abigail and her cavalier proceeded to Marcus
Allen's lodgings; or "chambers," as they were ostentatiously called, and
found him seated at dinner. He rose in the utmost astonishment at seeing
them; an astonishment that looked thoroughly genuine.

Jessy missing! Jessy left her home! He could but reiterate the words in
wondering disbelief. Abigail Page felt reassured from that moment; even
jealous John Drench in his heart acquitted him. He had not written to
Jessy, he said; he had nothing to write to her about, therefore it could
not have been his letter she went to receive at the post-office; and
most certainly she had not written to him. Miss Abigail--willing perhaps
to offer some excuse for coming to him--said they had thought it
possible Jessy might have consulted him about getting a lady's-maid's
place. She never had consulted him, he answered, but had once told him
that she intended to go out as one. He should imagine, he added, it was
what she had done.

Mr. Marcus Allen pressed them to sit down and partake of his dinner,
such as it was; he poured out glasses of wine; he was altogether
hospitable. But they declined all. He then asked how he could assist
them; he was most anxious they should find her, and would help in any
way that lay in his power.

"He knows no more about her than we know," said John Drench as they
turned out into the lighted streets, on their way back to the inn they
had put up at, which had been recommended to them by Mr. Page. "I'm
sorry I misjudged him."

"I am sorry too, John Drench," was Miss Abigail's sorrowful answer. "But
for listening to the words you said, we should never have had such a
wicked thought about her, poor child, and been spared many a bitter
moment. Where in the wide world are we to look for her now?"

The wide world did not give any answer. London, with its teeming
millions, was an enormous arena--and there was no especial cause for
supposing Jessy Page had come to it.

"I am afraid it will be of no use to stay here any longer," said Miss
Abigail to John Drench, after another unsatisfactory day had gone by,
during which Marcus Allen called upon them at the inn and said he had
spoken to the police. It was John Drench's own opinion.

"Why, you see, Miss Abigail, that to look for her here, not knowing
where or how, is like looking for a needle in a bottle of hay," said
John.

They reached home none too soon. Two unexpected events were there to
greet them. The one was Mr. Page who was lying low in an attack of
paralysis; the other was a letter from Jessy.

It gave no clue to where she was. All she said in it was that she had
found a situation, and hoped to suit and be happy in it; and she sent
her love to all.

And the weeks and the months went on.


II.

Snow was falling. At one of the windows of the parlour at Copse Farm,
stood Susan Page, her bunch of short dark curls fastened back with a
comb on both sides of her thin face, her trim figure neat in a fine
crimson merino gown. Her own portion of household-work was already done,
though it was not yet mid-day, and she was about to sit down, dressed
for the day, to some sewing that lay on the work-table.

"I was hoping the snow was over: the morning looked so clear and
bright," she said to herself, watching the large flakes. "Leek will have
a job to get the truck to the church."

It was a long, narrow room. At the other end, by the fire, sat Mr. Page
in his arm-chair. He had dropped asleep, his cheek leaning on his hand.
As Miss Susan sat down and took up her work, a large pair of scissors
fell to the ground with a crash. She glanced round at her father, but he
did not wake. That stroke of a year ago had dulled his faculties.

"I should uncommonly like to know who did this--whether Sally or the
woman," she exclaimed, examining the work she had to do. One of Mr.
Page's new shirts had been torn in the washing, and she was about to
mend the rent. "That woman has a heavy hand: and Sally a careless one.
It ought not to have been ironed."

The door opened, and John Drench came in. When he saw that Mr. Page
was asleep, he walked up the room towards Miss Susan. In the past
twelvemonth--for that amount of time had rolled on since the trouble
about Jessy and her mysterious disappearance--John Drench had had time
to return to his first allegiance (or, as Miss Susan mentally put it,
get over his folly); and he had decidedly done it.

"Did you want anything?" asked Susan in a cold tone. For she made a
point of being short with him--for his own benefit.

"I wanted to ask the master whether he'd have that ditch made, that he
was talking about," was the answer. "There's no hurry about it: not much
to be done anywhere while this weather lasts."

She made no reply. John Drench stood, waiting for Mr. Page to wake,
looking alternately at the snow and at Miss Susan's steel thimble and
nimble fingers. Very deftly was she doing the work, holding the linen
gingerly, that the well-ironed bosom and wristbands might not get
creased and unfit the shirt for wear. He was thinking what a good wife
she would make: for there was nothing, in the shape of usefulness, that
Susan Page could not put her hand to, and put it well.

"Miss Susan, I was going to ask you a question," he began, standing
uncomfortably on one leg. "I've been wanting to do it for a good bit
now, but----"

"Pick up my cotton," said Miss Susan tartly, dropping a reel purposely.

"But I believe I have wanted courage," resumed he after doing as he was
bid. "It _is_ a puzzling task to know how to do it for the best, and
what to say. If you----"

Open flew the door, and in came Miss Page, in her white kitchen apron.
Her sleeves were rolled above her elbows, her floured hands were lightly
wiped. John Drench, interrupted, thought he should never have pluck to
speak again.

"Susan, do you know where that old red receipt-book is?" she asked, in a
low tone, glancing at her sleeping father. "I am not certain about the
proportions for the lemon cake."

"The red receipt-book?" repeated Susan. "I have not seen it for ever so
long."

"Nor I. I don't think I have had occasion to use it since last
Christmas-Eve. I know I had to look at it then for the lemon-cake. Sally
says she's sure it is somewhere in this room."

"Then you had better send Sally to find it, Abigail."

Instead of that, Miss Page began searching herself. On the book-shelves;
on the side-board; in all the nooks and corners. It was found in the
drawer of an unused table that stood against the wall.

"Well, I declare!" she exclaimed, as she drew it out. "I wonder who put
it in here?"

In turning over the leaves to look for what she wanted, a piece of
paper, loosely folded, fell to the ground. John Drench picked it up.

"Why!" he said, "it is a note from Jessy."

It was the letter written to them by Jessy, saying she had found a
situation and hoped to suit and be happy in it. The _one_ letter: for no
other had ever come. Abigail, missing the letter months ago, supposed it
had got burnt.

"Yes," she said with a sigh, as she glanced over the few lines now,
standing by Susan's work-table, "it is Jessy's letter. She might have
written again. Every morning of my life for weeks and weeks, I kept
looking for the letter-man to bring another. But the hope died out at
last, for it never came."

"She is a heartless baggage!" cried Miss Susan. "In her grand
lady's-maid's place, amongst her high people, she is content to forget
and abandon us. I'd never have believed it of her."

A pause ensued. The subject was a painful one. Mortifying too: for no
one likes to be set at nought and forgotten by one that they have loved
and cherished and brought up from a little child. Abigail Page had tears
in her eyes.

"It's just a year ago to-day that she came into the church to help us to
dress it," said John Drench, his tender tone of regret grating on Miss
Susan's ear. "In her blue mantle she looked sweeter and brighter than a
fairy."

"Did you ever see a fairy, pray?" asked Miss Susan, sharply taking him
up. "She acted like a fairy, didn't she?"

"Best to forget her," interposed Abigail, suppressing a sigh. "As
Susan says, she is heartless. Almost wicked: for what is worse than
ingratitude? Never to write: never to let us know where her situation is
and with what people: never to ask or care whether her poor father, who
had nothing but love for her, is living or dead? It's best to forget
her."

She went out of the room with the note and receipt-book as she spoke,
softly closing the door behind her, as one does who is feeling trouble.
Miss Susan worked on with rapid and angry stitches; John Drench looked
out on the low-lying snow. The storm had passed: the sky was blue again.

Yes. Christmas-Eve had come round, making it just a year since Jessy in
her pretty blue mantle had chosen the sprays of holly in the church.
They had never had from her but that one first unsatisfactory letter:
they knew no more how she went, or why she went, or where she was, than
they had known then. Within a week or two of the unsatisfactory journey
to London of Miss Abigail and John Drench, a letter came to the farm
from Mr. Marcus Allen, inquiring after Jessy, expressing hopes that she
had been found and was at home again. It was not answered: Miss Page,
busy with her father's illness, neglected it at first, and then thought
it did not matter.

Mr. Page had recovered from his stroke: but he would never be good for
anything again. He was very much changed; would sit for hours and never
speak: at times his daughters thought him a little silly, as if his
intellect were failing. Miss Page, with John Drench's help, managed the
farm: though she always made it a point of duty to consult her father
and ask for his orders. In the month of June they heard again from Mr.
Marcus Allen. He wrote to say that he was sorry not to fulfil his
promise (made in the winter's visit) of coming to stay with them during
the time of hay-making, but he was busy finishing a painting and could
not leave it: he hoped to come at some other time. And this was now
December.

Susan Page worked on: John Drench looked out of the window. The young
lady was determined not to break the silence.

"The Dunn Farm is to let," said he suddenly.

"Is it?" slightingly returned Miss Susan.

"My father has some thoughts of taking it for me. It's good land."

"No better than other land about here."

"It's very good, Susan. And just the place I should like. There's an
excellent house too, on it."

Susan Page began rummaging in the deep drawer of the work-table for her
box of buttons. She had a great mind to hum a tune.

"But I couldn't take it, or let father take it for me, unless you'd
promise to go to it with me, Susan."

"Promise to go to it with you, John Drench!"

"I'd make you as good a husband as I know how. Perhaps you'll think of
it."

No answer. She was doubling her thread to sew on the button.

"_Will_ you think of it, Miss Susan?"

"Well--yes, I will," she said in a softer tone, "And if I decide to
bring my mind to have you, John Drench, I'll hope to make you a good and
faithful wife."

He held out his hand to shake hers upon the bargain. Their eyes met in
kindliness: and John Drench knew that the Dunn Farm would have its
mistress.

                 *       *       *       *       *

We were going to dress the church this year as we did the last. Clerk
Bumford's cough was bad, and the old sexton was laid by as usual. Tod
and I got to the church early in the afternoon, and saw the Miss Pages
wading their way through the coppice, over their ankles in snow: the one
lady having finished her cake-making and the other her shirt-mending.

"Is Leek not here yet?" cried they in surprise. "We need not have made
so much haste."

Leek with his large truck of holly was somewhere on the road. He had
started, as Miss Page said, while they were at dinner. And he was not to
be seen!

"It is all through his obstinacy," cried Susan. "I told him he had
better take the highway, though it was a little further round; but he
said he knew he could well get through the little valley. That's where
he has stuck, truck and all."

John Drench came up as she was speaking. He had been on some errand to
Church Dykely; and gave a bad account of the snow on the roads. This was
the third day of it. The skies just now were blue as in spring; the sun,
drawing towards the west, was without a cloud. After waiting a few
minutes, John Drench started to meet Leek and help him on; and we cooled
our heels in the church-porch, unable to get inside. As it was supposed
Leek would be there sooner than any one else, the key of the church had
been given to him that he might get the holly in. There we waited in the
cold. At last, out of patience, Tod went off in John Drench's wake, and
I after him.

It was as Miss Susan surmised. Leek and his truck had stuck fast in the
valley: a low, narrow neck of land connecting a byeway to the farm with
the lane. The snow was above the wheels: Leek could neither get on nor
turn back. He and John Drench were hard at work, pulling and pushing;
and the obstinate truck refusing to move an inch. With the help of our
strength--if mine was not worth much, Tod's _was_--we got it on. But
all this caused ever so much delay: and the dressing was begun when it
ought to have been nearly finished. I could not help thinking of the
other Christmas-Eve; and of pretty Jessy who had helped--and of Miss
Susan scolding her for coming in her best blue mantle--and of the sudden
looming upon us of the stranger, Marcus Allen. Perhaps the rest were
thinking about it as I was. One thing was certain--that there was no
liveliness in this year's dressing; we were all as silent as mutes and
as dull as ditch-water. Charley Page, who had made enough noise last
year, was away this. He went to school at Worcester now, and had gone to
spend the Christmas with some people in Gloucestershire, instead of
coming home.

The work was in progress, when who should look in upon us but Duffham.
He was passing by to visit some one ill in the cottages. "Rather late,
shan't you be?" cried he, seeing that there was hardly any green up yet.
And we told him about the truck sticking in the snow.

"What possessed Leek to take it through the valley?" returned Duffham.

"Because he is fonder of having his own way than a mule," called out
Miss Susan from the aisle.

Duffham laughed. "Don't forget the gala bunch over the parson's head; it
looked well last year," said he, turning to go out. And we told him
there was no danger of forgetting it: it was one of our improvements on
old Bumford's dressing.

Darkness overtook us before half the work was done. There was nothing
for it but to get candles from the Copse Farm to finish by. No one
volunteered to fetch them: a walk through the snow did not look lively
in prospective to any one of us, and Leek had gone off somewhere. "I
suppose it must be me," said John Drench, coming out from the holly to
start: when Miss Page suddenly bethought herself of what the rest of
us were forgetting--that there might be candles in the church. On a
winter's afternoon, when it grew dark early and the parson could not see
through his spectacles to finish his sermon, Clerk Bumford would go
stumping into the place under the belfry, and re-appear with a lighted
candle and hand it up to the pulpit. He ought to have a stock of candles
in store.

John Drench struck some matches, and we went to explore Bumford's
den--a place dimly lighted by the open slits in the belfry above. The
first thing seen was his black gown hanging up, next a horn lantern on
the floor and the grave-digging tools, then an iron candlestick with a
candle end in it, then a stick half-a-mile long that he menaced the boys
with if they laughed in church; and next a round tin candlebox on a nail
in the wall. It was a prize.

There were ten candles in it. Leaving one, in case it should be wanted
on the morrow afternoon, the nine others were lighted. One was put
into the iron candlestick, the rest we stuck upright in melted tallow,
wherever one was wanted: how else could they be set up? It was a grand
illumination: and we laughed over Clerk Bumford's dismay when he should
find his store of candles gone.

_That_ took time: finding the candles, and dropping the tallow, and
talking and laughing. In the midst of it the clock struck five. Upon
that, Miss Abigail told us to hinder no more time, or the work would not
be done by midnight. So we set to with a will. In a couple of hours all
the dressing was finished, and the branches were ready to be hung over
the pulpit. John Drench felt for the string. He seemed to take his time
over it.

"Where on earth is it?" cried he, searching his pockets. "I'm sure I
brought some."

He might have brought it; but it was certain he had not got it then.
Miss Abigail, who had no patience with carelessness, told him rather
sharply that if he had put it in his pockets at all, there it would be
now.

"Well, I did," he answered, in his quiet way. "I put it in on purpose.
I'm sure I don't know where it can have got to."

And there we were: at a standstill for a bit of string. Looking at one
another like so many helpless noodles, and the flaring candles coming to
an end! Tod said, tear a strip off the tail of Bumford's gown; he'd
never miss it: for which Miss Abigail gave it him as sharply as if he
had proposed to tear it off the parson's.

"I might get a bit of string at old Bumford's," I said. "In a few
minutes I'll be back with it."

It was one of the lightest nights ever seen: the air clear, the moon
bright, the ground white with snow. Rushing round the north and
unfrequented side of the church, where the grass on the graves was long
and no one ever walked, excepting old Bumford when he wanted to cut
across the near way to his cottage, I saw something stirring against the
church wall. Something dark: that seemed to have been looking in at
the window, and now crouched down with a sudden movement behind the
buttress, as if afraid of being seen.

"Is that you, Leek?" I called out.

There was no answer: no movement: nothing but a dark heap lying low. I
thought it might be a fox; and crossed over to look.

Well--I had had surprises in my life, but never one that so struck upon
me as this. Foxes don't wear women's clothes: this thing did. I pulled
aside the dark cloak, and a face stood out white and cold in the
moonlight--the face of Jessy Page.

You may fancy it is a slice of romance this; made up for effect out of
my imagination: but it is the real truth, as every one about the place
can testify to, and its strangeness is talked of still. Yet there are
stranger coincidences in life than this. On Christmas-Eve, a year
before, Jessy Page had been helping to dress the church, in her fine
blue mantle, in her beauty, in her light-hearted happiness: on this
Christmas-Eve when we were dressing it again, she re-appeared. But how
changed! Wan, white, faint, wasted! I am not sure that I should have
known her but for her voice. Shrinking, as it struck me, with shame and
fear, she put up her trembling hands in supplication.

"Don't betray me!--don't call!" she implored in weak, feverish, anxious
tones. "Go away and leave me. Let me lie here unsuspected until they
have all gone away."

What ought I to do? I was just as bewildered as it's possible for a
fellow to be. It's no exaggeration to say that I thought her dying: and
it would never do to leave her there to die.

The stillness was broken by a commotion. While she lay with her thin
hands raised, and I was gazing down on her poor face, wondering what to
say, and how to act, Miss Susan came flying round the corner after me.

"Johnny Ludlow! Master Johnny! Don't go. We have found the string under
the unused holly. Why!--what's that?"

No chance of concealment for Jessy now. Susan Page made for the
buttress, and saw the white face in the moonlight.

"It's Jessy," I whispered.

With a shriek that might have scared away all the ghosts in the
churchyard, Susan Page called for Abigail. They heard it through the
window, and came rushing out, thinking Susan must have fallen at least
into the clutches of a winter wolf. Miss Susan's voice trembled as she
spoke in a whisper.

"Here's Jessy--come back at last!"

Unbelieving Abigail Page went down on her knees in the snow to trace the
features, and convince herself. Yes, it was Jessy. She had fainted now,
and lay motionless. Leek came up then, and stood staring.

Where had she come from?--how had she got there? It was just as though
she had dropped from the skies with the snow. And what was to be done
with her?

"She must--come home," said Abigail.

But she spoke hesitatingly, as though some impediment might lie in the
way: and she looked round in a dreamy manner on the open country, all so
white and dreary in the moonlight.

"Yes, there's no other place--of course it must be the farm," she added.
"Perhaps you can bring her between you. But I'll go on and speak to my
father first."

It was easy for one to carry her, she was so thin and light. John Drench
lifted her and they all went off: leaving me and Leek to finish up in
the church, and put out the candles.

William Page was sitting in his favourite place, the wide chimney-corner
of the kitchen, quietly smoking his pipe, when his daughter broke in
upon him with the strange news. Just in the same way that, a year
before, she had broken in upon him with that other news--that a
gentleman had arrived, uninvited, on a visit to the farm. This news
was more startling than that.

"Are they bringing her home?--how long will they be?" cried the old man
with feverish eagerness, as he let fall his long churchwarden pipe, and
broke it. "Abigail, will they be long?"

"Father, I want to say something: I came on to say it," returned Miss
Page, and she was trembling too. "I don't like her face: it is wan, and
thin, and full of suffering: but there's a look in it that--that seems
to tell of shame."

"To tell of what?" he asked, not catching the word.

"May Heaven forgive me if I misjudge her! The fear crossed me, as I saw
her lying there, that her life may not have been innocent since she left
us: why else should she come back in this most strange way? Must we take
her in all the same, father?"

"Take her in!" he repeated in amazement. "YES. What are you thinking of,
child, to ask it?"

"It's the home of myself and Susan, father: it has been always an honest
one in the sight of the neighbours. Maybe, they'll be hard upon us for
receiving her into it."

He stared as one who does not understand, and then made a movement with
his hands, as if warding off her words and the neighbours' hardness
together.

"Let her come, Abigail! Let her come, poor stray lamb. Christ wouldn't
turn away a little one that had strayed from the fold: should her own
father do it?"

And when they brought her in, and put her in an easy-chair by the
sitting-room fire, stirring it into a blaze, and gave her hot tea and
brandy in it, William Page sat down by her side, and shed fast tears
over her, as he fondly stroked her hand.

                 *       *       *       *       *

Gay and green looked the church on Christmas morning, the sun shining
in upon us as brightly as it shone a year before. The news of Jessy
Page's return and the curious manner of it, had spread; causing the
congregation to turn their eyes instinctively on the Pages' pew. Perhaps
not one but recalled the last Christmas--and the gallant stranger who
had sat in it, and found the places in the Prayer-book for Jessy. Only
Mr. Page was there to-day. He came slowly in with his thick stick--for
he walked badly since his illness, and dragged one leg behind the other.
Before the thanksgiving prayer the parson opened a paper and read out a
notice. Such things were uncommon in our church, and it caused a stir.

"William Page desires to return thanks to Almighty God for a great mercy
vouchsafed to him."

We walked to the Copse Farm with him after service. Considering that he
had been returning thanks, he seemed dreadfully subdued. He didn't know
how it was yet; where she had been, or why she had come home in the
manner she did, he told the Squire; but, anyway, she had come. Come to
die, it might be; but _come home_, and that was enough.

Mrs. Todhetley went upstairs to see her. They had given her the best
bed, the one they had given to Marcus Allen. She lay in it like a lily.
It was what Mrs. Todhetley said when she came down: "like a lily, so
white and delicate." There was no talking. Jessy for the most part kept
her eyes shut and her face turned away. Miss Page whispered that they
had not questioned her yet; she seemed too weak to bear it. "But what do
you _think_?" asked Mrs. Todhetley in return. "I am afraid to think,"
was all the answer. In coming away, Mrs. Todhetley stooped over the bed
to kiss her.

"Oh don't, don't!" said Jessy faintly: "you might not if you knew all. I
am not worth it."

"Perhaps I should kiss you all the more, my poor child," answered Mrs.
Todhetley. And she came downstairs with red eyes.

But Miss Susan Page was burning with impatience to know the ins and outs
of the strange affair. Naturally so. It had brought more scandal and
gossip on the Copse Farm than even the running away of the year before.
That was bad enough: this was worse. Altogether Jessy was the home's
heartsore. Mr. Page spoke of her as a lamb, a wanderer returned to the
fold, and Susan heard it with compressed lips: in her private opinion,
she had more justly been called an ungrateful girl.

"Now, then, Jessy; you must let us know a little about yourself," began
Susan on this same afternoon when she was with her alone, and Jessy lay
apparently stronger, refreshed with the dinner and the long rest.
Abigail had gone to church with Mr. Page. Susan could not remember that
any of them had gone to church before on Christmas-Day after the morning
service: but there was no festive gathering to keep them at home to-day.
Unconsciously, perhaps, Susan resented the fact. Even John Drench was
dining at his father's. "Where have you been all this while in London?"

Jessy suddenly lifted her arm to shade her eyes; and remained silent.

"It _is_ in London, I conclude, that you have been? Come: answer me."

"Yes," said Jessy faintly.

"And _where_ have you been? In what part of it?--who with?"

"Don't ask me," was the low reply, given with a suppressed sob.

"Not ask you! But we must ask you. And you must answer. Where have you
been, and what have you been doing?"

"I--can't tell," sobbed Jessy. "The story is too long."

"Story too long!" echoed Susan quickly, "you might say in half-a-dozen
words--and leave explanations until to-morrow. Did you find a place in
town?"

"Yes, I found a place."

"A lady's-maid's place?--as you said."

Jessy turned her face to the wall, and never spoke.

"Now, this won't do," cried Miss Susan, not choosing to be thwarted: and
no doubt Jessy, hearing the determined tone, felt something like a reed
in her hands. "Just you tell me a little."

"I am very ill, Susan; I can't talk much," was the pleading excuse. "If
you'd only let me be quiet."

"It will no more hurt you to say in a few words where you have been than
to make excuses," persisted Miss Susan, giving a flick to the skirt
of her new puce silk gown. "Your conduct altogether has been most
extraordinary, quite baffling to us at home, and I must hear some
explanation of it."

"The place I went to was too hard for me," said Jessy after a pause,
speaking out of the pillow.

"Too hard!"

"Yes; too hard. My heart was breaking with its hardness, and I couldn't
stop in it. Oh, be merciful to me, Susan! don't ask any more."

Susan Page thought that when mysterious answers like these were creeping
out, there was all the greater need that she should ask for more.

"Who found you the place at first, Jessy?"

Not a word. Susan asked again.

"I--got it through an advertisement," said Jessy at length.

Advertisements in those days, down in our rural district, were looked
upon as wonderful things, and Miss Susan opened her eyes in surprise. A
faint idea was upon her that Jessy could not be telling the truth.

"In that letter that you wrote to us; the only one you did write; you
asserted that you liked the place."

"Yes. That was at first. But afterwards--oh, afterwards it got cruelly
hard."

"Why did you not change it for another?"

Jessy made no answer. Susan heard the sobs in her throat.

"Now, Jessy, don't be silly. I ask why you did not get another place, if
you were unable to stay in that one?"

"I couldn't have got another, Susan. I would never have got another."

"Why not?" persisted Susan.

"I--I--don't you see how weak I am?" she asked with some energy, lifting
her face for a moment to Susan.

And its wan pain, its depth of anguish, disarmed Susan. Jessy looked
like a once fair blossom on which a blight had passed.

"Well, Jessy, we will leave these matters until later. But there's one
thing you must answer. What induced you to take this disreputable mode
of coming back?"

A dead silence.

"Could you not have written to say you were coming, as any sensible girl
would, that you might have been properly met and received? Instead of
appearing like a vagabond, to be picked up by anybody."

"I never meant to come home--to the house."

"But _why_?" asked Susan.

"Oh, because--because of my ingratitude in running away--and never
writing--and--and all that."

"That is, you were ashamed to come and face us."

"Yes, I was ashamed," said Jessy, shivering.

"And no wonder. Why did you go?"

Jessy gave a despairing sigh. Leaving that question in abeyance, Susan
returned to the former one.

"If you did not mean to come home, what brought you down here at all?"

"It didn't matter where I went. And my heart was yearning for a look at
the old place--and so I came."

"And if we had not found you under the church wall--and we never should
but for Johnny Ludlow's running out to get some string--where should you
have gone, pray?"

"Crawled under some haystack, and let the cold and hunger kill me."

"Don't be a simpleton," reproved Susan.

"I wish it had been so," returned Jessy. "I'd rather be dying there in
quiet. Oh, Susan, I am ill; I am indeed! Let me be at peace!"

The appeal shut up Susan Page. She did not want to be too hard upon her.

Mr. Duffham came in after church. Abigail had told him that she did not
like Jessy's looks; nor yet her cough. He went up alone, and was at the
bedside before Jessy was aware. She put up her hand to hide her face,
but not in time: Duffham had seen it. Doctors don't get shocks in a
general way: they are too familiar with appearances that frighten other
people: but he started a little. If ever he saw coming death in a face,
he thought he saw it in that of Jessy Page.

He drew away the shading hand, and looked at her. Duffham was pompous on
the whole and thought a good deal of his gold-headed cane, but he was a
tender man with the sad and sick. After that, he sat down and began
asking her a few things--where she had been, and what she had done. Not
out of curiosity, or quite with the same motive that Miss Susan had just
asked; but because he wished to find out whether her illness was more on
the body or the mind. She would not answer. Only cried softly.

"My dear," said Duffham, "I must have you tell me a little of the past.
Don't be afraid: it shall go no further. If you only knew the strange
confidences that are sometimes placed in me, Jessy, you would not
hesitate."

No, she would not speak of her own accord, so he began to pump her.
Doing it very kindly and soothingly: had Jessy spent her year in London
robbing all the banks, one might have thought she could only have
yielded to his wish to come to the bottom of it. Duffham listened to her
answers, and sat with a puzzled face. She told him what she had told
Susan: that her post of lady's-maid had been too hard for her and worn
her to what she was; that she had shrunk from returning home on account
of her ingratitude, and should not have returned ever of her own will.
But she had yearned for a sight of the old place, and so came down by
rail, and walked over after dark. In passing the church she saw it
lighted up; and lingered, peeping in. She never meant to be seen; she
should have gone away somewhere before morning. Nothing more.

Nothing more! Duffham sat listening to her. He pushed back the pretty
golden hair (no more blue ribbons in it now), lost in thought.

"_Nothing_ more, Jessy? There must have been something more, I think, to
have brought you into this state. What was it?"

"No," she faintly said: "only the hard work I had to do; and the thought
of how I left my home; and--and my unhappiness. I was unhappy always,
nearly from my first entering. The work was hard."

"What was the work?"

"It was----"

A long pause. Mr. Duffham, always looking at her, waited.

"It was sewing; dress-making. And--there was sitting up at nights."

"Who was the lady you served? What was her name?"

"I can't tell it," answered Jessy, her cheeks flushing to a wild hectic.

The surgeon suddenly turned the left hand towards him, and looked at the
forefinger. It was smooth as ivory.

"Not much sign of sewing there, Jessy."

She drew it under the clothes. "It is some little time since I did any;
I was too ill," she answered. "Mr. Duffham, I have told you all there is
to tell. The place was too hard for me, and it made me ill."

It was all she told. Duffham wondered whether it was, in substance, all
she had to tell. He went down and entered the parlour with a grave face:
Mr. Page, his daughters, and John Drench were there. The doctor said
Jessy must have perfect rest, tranquillity, and the best of nourishment;
and he would send some medicine. Abigail put a shawl over her head, and
walked with him across the garden.

"You will tell _me_ what your opinion is, Mr. Duffham."

"Ay. It is no good one, Miss Abigail."

"Is she very ill?"

"Very. I do not think she will materially rally. Her chest and lungs are
both weak."

"Her mother's were before her. As I told you, Jessy looks to me just as
my mother used to look in her last illness."

Mr. Duffham went through the gate without saying more. The snow was
sparkling like diamonds in the moonlight.

"I think I gather what you mean," resumed Abigail. "That she is, in
point of fact, dying."

"That's it. As I truly believe."

They looked at each other in the clear light air. "But not--surely, Mr.
Duffham, not immediately?"

"Not immediately. It may be weeks off yet. Mind--I don't assert that she
is absolutely past hope; I only think it. It is possible that she may
rally, and recover."

"It might not be the happier for her," said Abigail, under her breath.
"She is in a curiously miserable state of mind--as you no doubt saw. Mr.
Duffham, did she tell you anything?"

"She says she took a place as lady's-maid; that the work proved too hard
for her; and that, with the remorse for her ingratitude towards her
home, made her ill."

"She said the same to Susan this afternoon. Well, we must wait for more.
Good-night, Mr. Duffham: I am sure you will do all you can."

Of course Duffham meant to do all he could; and from that time he began
to attend her regularly.

Jessy Page's coming home, with, as Miss Susan had put it, the vagabond
manner of it, was a nine days' wonder. The neighbours went making calls
at the Copse Farm, to talk about it and to see her. In the latter hope
they failed. Jessy showed a great fear of seeing any one of them; would
put her head under the bed-clothes and lie there shaking till the house
was clear; and Duffham said she was not to be crossed.

Her sisters got to know no more of the past. Not a syllable. They
questioned and cross-questioned her; but she only stuck to her text. It
was the work that had been too much for her; the people she served were
cruelly hard.

"I really think it must be so; that she has nothing else to tell,"
remarked Abigail to Susan one morning, as they sat alone at breakfast,
"But she must have been a downright simpleton to stay."

"I can't make her out," returned Susan, hard of belief. "Why should
she not say where it was, and who the people are? Here comes the
letter-man."

The letter-man--as he was called--was bringing a letter for Miss Page.
Letters at the Copse Farm were rare, and she opened it with curiosity.
It proved to be from Mrs. Allen of Aberystwith; and out of it dropped
two cards, tied together with silver cord.

Mrs. Allen wrote to say that her distant relative, Marcus, was married.
He had been married on Christmas-Eve to a Miss Mary Goldbeater, a great
heiress, and they had sent her cards. Thinking the Miss Pages might like
to see the cards (as they knew something of him) she had forwarded them.

Abigail took the cards up. "Mr. Marcus Allen. Mrs. Marcus Allen." And on
hers was the address: "Gipsy Villas, Montgomery Road, Brompton." "I
think he might have been polite enough to send us cards also," observed
Abigail.

Susan put the cards on the waiter when she went upstairs with her
sister's tea. Jessy, looking rather more feverish than usual in a
morning, turned the cards about in her slender hands.

"I have heard of her, this Mary Goldbeater," said Jessy, biting her
parched lips. "They say she's pretty, and--and very rich."

"Where did you hear of her?" asked Susan.

"Oh, in--let me think. In the work-room."

"Now what do you mean by that?" cried Miss Susan. "A work-room implies a
dressmaker's establishment, and you tell us you were a lady's-maid."

Jessy seemed unable to answer.

"I don't believe you were at either the one place or the other. You are
deceiving us, Jessy."

"No," gasped Jessy.

"Did you ever see Mr. Marcus Allen when you were in town?"

"Mr. Marcus Allen?" repeated Jessy after a pause, just as if she were
unable to recall who Mr. Marcus Allen was.

"The Mr. Marcus Allen you knew at Aberystwith; he who came here
afterwards," went on Susan impatiently. "Are you losing your memory,
Jessy?"

"No, I never saw the Marcus Allen I knew here--and there," was Jessy's
answer, her face white and still as death.

"Why!--Did you know any other Marcus Allen, then?" questioned Susan, in
surprise. For the words had seemed to imply it.

"No," replied Jessy. "No."

"She seems queerer than usual--I hope her mind's not going," thought
Susan. "Did you ever go to see Madame Caron, Jessy, while you were in
London?"

"Never. Why should I? I didn't know Madame Caron."

"When Marcus Allen wrote to excuse himself from visiting us in the
summer, he said he would be sure to come later," resumed Susan. "I
wonder if he will keep his promise."

"No--never," answered Jessy.

"How do you know?"

"Oh--I don't think it. He wouldn't care to come. Especially now he's
married."

"And you never saw him in town, Jessy? Never even met him by chance?"

"I've told you--No. Do you suppose I should be likely to call upon
Marcus Allen? As to meeting him by chance, it is not often I went out, I
can tell you."

"Well, sit up and take your breakfast," concluded Susan.

A thought had crossed Susan Page's mind--whether this marriage of Marcus
Allen's on Christmas-Eve could have had anything to do with Jessy's
return and her miserable unhappiness. It was only a thought; and she
drove it away again. As Abigail said, she had been inclined throughout
to judge hardly of Jessy.

                 *       *       *       *       *

The winter snow lay on the ground still, when it became a question not
of how many weeks Jessy would live, but of days. And then she confessed
to a secret that pretty nearly changed the sober Miss Pages' hair from
black to grey. Jessy had turned Roman Catholic.

It came out through her persistent refusal to see the parson, Mr.
Holland, a little man with shaky legs. He'd go trotting up to the Copse
Farm once or twice a-week; all in vain. Miss Abigail would console him
with a good hot jorum of sweet elder wine, and then he'd trot back
again. One day Jessy, brought to bay, confessed that she was a Roman
Catholic.

There was grand commotion. John Drench went about, his hands lifted in
the frosty air; Abigail and Susan Page sat in the bedroom with
(metaphorically speaking) ashes on their heads.

People have their prejudices. It was not so much that these ladies
wished to cast reflection on good Catholics born and bred, as that Jessy
should have abandoned her own religion, just as though it had been an
insufficient faith. It was the slight on it that they could not bear.

"Miserable girl!" exclaimed Miss Susan, looking upon Jessy as a
turncoat, and therefore next door to lost. And Jessy told, through her
sobs, how it had come to pass.

Wandering about one evening in London when she was very unhappy, she
entered a Catholic place of worship styled an "Oratory."--The Miss
Pages caught up the word as "oratorio," and never called it anything
else.--There a priest got into conversation with Jessy. He had a
pleasant, kindly manner that won upon her and drew from her the fact
that she was unhappy. Become a Catholic, he said to her; it would bring
her back to happiness: and he asked her to go and see him again. She
went again; again and again. And so, going and listening to him, she at
length _did_ turn, and was received by him into his church.

"Are you the happier for it?" sharply asked Miss Abigail.

"No," answered Jessy with distressed eyes. "Only--only----"

"Only what, pray?"

"Well, they can absolve me from all sin."

"Oh, you poor foolish misguided child!" cried Abigail in anguish; "you
must take your sins to the Saviour: He can absolve you, and He alone.
Do you want any third person to stand between you and Him?"

Jessy gave a sobbing sigh. "It's best as it is, Abigail. Anyway, it is
too late now."

"Stop a bit," cried sharp Miss Susan. "I should like to have one thing
answered, Jessy. You have told us how hard you were kept to work: if
that was so, pray how did you find leisure to be dancing abroad to
Oratorios? Come?"

Jessy could not, or would not, answer.

"Can you explain that!" said Miss Susan, some sarcasm in her tone.

"I went out sometimes in an evening," faltered Jessy. And more than that
could not be drawn from her.

They did not tell Mr. Page: it would have distressed him too much. In a
day or two Jessy asked to see a priest. Miss Abigail flatly refused, on
account of the scandal. As if their minister was not good enough!

One afternoon I was standing by Jessy's bed--for Miss Abigail had let me
go up to see her. Mrs. Todhetley, that first day, had said she looked
like a lily: she was more like one now. A faded lily that has had all
its beauty washed out of it.

"Good-bye, Johnny Ludlow," she said, opening her eyes, and putting out
her feeble hand. "I shall not see you again."

"I hope you will, Jessy. I'll come over to-morrow."

"Never again in this world." And I had to lean over to catch the words,
and my eyes were full.

"In the next world there'll be no parting, Jessy. We shall see each
other there."

"I don't know," she said. "You will be there, Johnny; I can't tell
whether I shall be. I turned Roman Catholic, you see; and Abigail won't
let a priest come. And so--I don't know how it will be."

The words struck upon me. The Miss Pages had kept the secret too closely
for news of it to have come abroad. It seemed worse to me to hear
it than to her to say it. But she had grown too weak to feel things
strongly.

"Good-bye, Johnny."

"Good-bye, Jessy dear," I whispered. "Don't fear: God will be sure to
take you to heaven if you ask Him."

Miss Abigail got it out of me--what she had said about the priest. In
fact, I told. She was very cross.

"There; let it drop, Johnny Ludlow. John Drench is gone off in the gig
to Coughton to bring one. All I hope and trust is, that they'll not be
back until the shades of night have fallen upon the earth! I shouldn't
like a priest to be seen coming into _this_ door. Such a reproach on
good Mr. Holland! I'm sure I trust it will never get about!"

We all have our prejudices, I repeat. And not a soul amongst us for
miles round had found it necessary to change religions since the
Reformation.

Evening was well on when John Drench brought him in. A mild-faced man,
wearing a skull-cap under his broad-brimmed hat. He saw Jessy alone.
Miss Page would not have made a third at the interview though they had
bribed her to it--and of course they wouldn't have had her. It was quite
late when he came down. Miss Page stopped him as he was going out, after
declining refreshment.

"I presume, sir, she has told you all about this past year--that has
been so mysterious to us?"

"Yes; I think all," replied the priest.

"Will you tell me the particulars?"

"I cannot do that," he said. "They have been given to me under the seal
of confession."

"Only to me and to her sister Susan," pleaded Abigail. "We will not even
disclose it to our father. Sir, it would be a true kindness to us, and
it can do her no harm. You do not know what our past doubts and distress
have been."

But the priest shook his head. He was very sorry to refuse, he said, but
the tenets of his Church forbade his speaking. And Miss Page thought he
_was_ sorry, for he had a benevolent face.

"Best let the past lie," he gently added. "Suffice it to know that she
is happy now, poor child, and will die in peace."

                 *       *       *       *       *

They buried her in the churchyard beside her mother. When the secret got
about, some said it was not right--that she ought to have been taken
elsewhere, to a graveyard devoted to the other faith. Which would just
have put the finishing stroke on old Page--broken all that was left of
his heart to break. The Squire said he didn't suppose it mattered in
the sight of God: or would make much difference at the Last Day.

And that ended the life of Jessy Page: and, in one sense, its episode of
mystery. Nothing more was ever heard or known of where she had been or
what she had done. Years have gone by since then; and William Page is
lying beside her. Miss Page and Charley live on at the Copse Farm; Susan
became Mrs. John Drench ages ago. Her husband, a man of substance now,
was driving her into Alcester last Tuesday (market-day) in his
four-wheeled chaise, two buxom daughters in the back seat. I nodded to
them from Mr. Brandon's window.

The mystery of Jessy Page (as we grew to call it) remained a mystery. It
remains one to this day. What the secret was--if there was a secret--why
she went in the way she did, and came back in what looked like shame and
fear and trembling, a dying girl--has not been solved. It never will be
in this world. Some old women put it all down to her having changed her
religion and been afraid to tell: while Miss Abigail and Miss Susan have
never got rid of a vague doubt, touching Marcus Allen. But it may be
only their fancy; they admit that, and say to one another when talking
of it privately, that it is not right to judge a man without cause. He
keeps a carriage-and-pair now; and gives dinners, and has handsome
daughters growing up; and is altogether quite up to the present style of
expensive life in London.

And I never go into church on a Christmas morning--whether it may be
decorated in our simple country fashion, or in accordance with your new
"artistic" achievements--but I think of Jessy Page. Of her sweet face,
her simplicity, and her want of guile: and of the poor wreck that came
back, broken-hearted, to die.



CRABB RAVINE.


I.

"Yes! Halloa! What is it?"

To be wakened up short by a knocking, or some other noise, in the night,
is enough to make you start up in bed, and stare round in confusion. The
room was dark, barring the light that always glimmers in at the window
on a summer's night, and I listened and waited for more. Nothing came:
it was all as silent as the grave.

We were staying at Crabb Cot. I had gone to bed at half-past nine, dead
tired after a day's fishing. The Squire and Tod were away: Mrs.
Todhetley went over to the Coneys' after tea, and did not seem in a
hurry to come back. They fried one of the fish I had caught for my
supper; and after that, there being no one to speak to, I went to bed.

It was a knocking that had wakened me out of my sleep: I was sure of
that. And it sounded exactly as though it were at the window--which was
very improbable. Calling out again to know who was there, and what
was wanted--though not very loudly, for the children slept within
earshot--and getting no answer, I lay down again, and was all but asleep
when the noise came a second time.

It was at the dining-room window, right underneath mine. There could be
no mistake about it. The ceilings of the old-fashioned house were low;
the windows were very near each other, and mine was down at the top. I
thought it time to jump out of bed, and take a look out.

Well, I was surprised! Instead of its being the middle of the night,
it must be quite early still; for the lamp was yet alight in the
dining-room. It was a cosy kind of room, with a bow window jutting on to
the garden, of which the middle compartment opened to the ground, as
French windows do. My window was a bow also, and close above the other.
Throwing it up, I looked out.

There was not a soul to be seen. Yet the knocking could not have been
from within, for the inside shutters were closed: they did not reach to
the top panes, and the lamplight shone through them on the mulberry
tree. As I leaned out, wondering, the crazy old clock at North Crabb
Church began to tell the hour. I counted the strokes, one by one--ten of
them. Only ten o'clock! And I thought I had been asleep half the night.

All in a moment I caught sight of some one moving slowly away. He was
keeping in the shade; close to the shrubs that encircled the lawn, as if
not caring to be seen. A short, thin man, in dark clothes and round
black felt hat. Who he was, and what he wanted, was more than I could
imagine. It could not be a robber. Robbers don't come knocking at houses
before people have gone to bed.

The small side-gate opened, and Mrs. Todhetley came in. Old Coney's farm
was only a stone's-throw off, and she had run home alone. We people
in the country think nothing of being abroad alone at night. The man
emerged from the shade, and placed himself right in her path, on the
gravel walk. They stood there together. I could see him better now:
there was no moon, but the night was light; and it flashed into my mind
that he was the same man I had seen Mrs. Todhetley with in the morning,
as I went across the fields, with my rod and line. She was at the stile,
about to descend into the Ravine, when he came up from it, and accosted
her. He was a stranger; wearing a seedy, shabby black coat; and I had
wondered what he wanted. They were still talking together when I got out
of sight, for I turned to look.

Not long did they stand now. The gentleman went away; she came hastening
on with her head down, a soft wool kerchief thrown over her cap. In all
North Crabb, no one was so fearful of catching face-ache as Mrs.
Todhetley.

"Who was it?" I called out, when she was under the window: which seemed
to startle her considerably, for she gave a spring back, right on to the
grass.

"Johnny! how you frightened me! What are you looking out at?"

"At that fellow who has just taken himself off. Who is he?"

"I do believe you have on nothing but your nightshirt! You'll be sure to
take cold. Shut the window down, and get into bed."

Four times over, in all, had I to ask about the man before I got an
answer. Now it was the nightshirt, now catching cold, now the open
window and the damp air. She always wanted to be as tender with us as
though we were chickens.

"The man that met me in the path?" she got to, at length. "He made some
excuse for being here: was not sure whose house it was, I think he said:
had turned in by mistake to the wrong one."

"That's all very fine; but, not being sure, he ought to mind his
manners. He came rapping at the dining-room window like anything, and it
woke me up. Had you been at home, sitting there, good mother, you might
have been startled out of your seven senses."

"So I should, Johnny. The Coneys would not let me come away: they had
friends with them. Good-night, dear. Shut down that window."

She went on to the side-door. I put down the window, opened it at the
top, and let the white curtain drop before it. It was an hour or two
before I got to sleep again, and I had the man and the knocking in my
thoughts all the time.

"Don't say anything about it in the house, Johnny," Mrs. Todhetley said
to me, in the morning. "It might alarm the children." So I promised her
I would not.

Tod came home at mid-day, not the Squire: and the first thing I did was
to tell him. I wouldn't have broken faith with the mother for the world;
not even for Tod; but it never entered my mind that she wished me to
keep it a close secret, excepting from those, servants or others, who
might be likely to repeat it before Hugh and Lena. I cautioned Tod.

"Confound his impudence!" cried Tod. "Could he not be satisfied with
disturbing the house at the door at night, but he must make for the
window? I wish I had been at home."

Crabb Ravine lay to the side of our house, beyond the wide field. It
was a regular wilderness. The sharp descent began in that three-cornered
grove, of which you've heard before, for it was where Daniel Ferrar
hanged himself; and the wild, deep, mossy dell, about as wide as an
ordinary road, went running along below, soft, green and damp. Towering
banks, sloping backwards, rose on either side; a mass of verdure in
summer; of briars, brown and tangled, in winter. Dwarf shrubs, tall
trees, blackberry and nut bushes, sweet-briar and broom clustered there
in wild profusion. Primroses and violets peeped up when spring came in;
blue bells and cowslips, dog-roses, woodbine, and other sweet flowers,
came later. Few people would descend except by the stile opposite our
house and the proper zigzag path leading down the side bank, for a fall
might have broken limbs, besides bringing one's clothes to grief.
No houses stood near it, except ours and old Coney's; and the field
bordering it just here on this side belonged to Squire Todhetley. If you
went down the zigzag path, turned to the right, walked along the Ravine
some way, and then up another zigzag on the opposite side, you soon came
to Timberdale, a small place in itself, but our nearest post-town. The
high-road to Timberdale, winding past our house from South Crabb, was
twice the distance, so that people might sometimes be seen in the Ravine
by day; but no one cared to go near it in the evening, as it had the
reputation of being haunted. A mysterious light might sometimes be
observed there at night, dodging about the banks, where it would be
rather difficult for ordinary human beings to walk: some said it was a
will-o'-the-wisp, and some said a ghost. It was difficult to get even a
farm-servant to go the near way to Timberdale after dark.

One morning, when I was running through the Ravine with Tod in search of
Tom Coney, we came slap against a man, who seemed to be sneaking there,
for he turned short off, into the underwood, to hide himself. I knew him
by his hat.

"Tod, that's the man," I whispered.

"What man, Johnny?"

"The one who came knocking at the window three nights ago."

"Oh!" said Tod, carelessly. "He looks like a fellow who comes out with
begging petitions."

It might have been an hour after that. We had come up from the Ravine,
on our side of it, not having seen or spoken to a soul, except Luke
Mackintosh. Tod told me to stay and waylay Coney if he made his
appearance, whilst he went again to the farm in search of him.
Accordingly, I was sitting on the fence (put there to hinder the cattle
and sheep from getting over the brink of the Ravine), throwing stones
and whistling, when I saw Mrs. Todhetley cross the stile to go down the
zigzag. She did not see me: the fence could hardly be gained for trees,
and I was hidden.

Just because I had nothing to do, I watched her as she went; tall, thin,
and light in figure, she could spin along nearly as quick as we. The
zigzag path went in and out, sloping along the bank until it brought
itself to the dell at a spot a good bit beyond me as I looked down,
finishing there with a high, rough step. Mrs. Todhetley took it with a
spring.

What next! In one moment the man with the black coat and hat had
appeared from somewhere, and placed himself in front of her parasol.
Before I could quit the place, and leap down after her, a conviction
came over me that the meeting was not accidental: and I rubbed my eyes
in wonder, and thought I must be dreaming.

The summer air was clear as crystal; not a bee's hum just then disturbed
its stillness. Detached words ascended from where they stood; and now
and again a whole sentence. She kept looking each way as if afraid to be
seen; and so did he, for that matter. The colloquy seemed to be about
money. I caught the word two or three times; and Mrs. Todhetley said it
was "impossible." "I must, and I will have it," came up distinctly from
him in answer.

"What's _that_, Johnny?"

The interruption came from Tod. All my attention absorbed in them, he
stood at my elbow before I knew he was near. When I would have answered,
he suddenly put his hand upon my mouth for silence. His face had a proud
anger on it as he looked down.

Mrs. Todhetley seemed to be using entreaty to the man, for she clasped
her hands in a piteous manner, and then turned to ascend the zigzag. He
followed her, talking very fast. As to me, I was in a regular sea of
marvel, understanding nothing. Our heads were hardly to be distinguished
from the bushes, even if she had looked up.

"No," she said, turning round upon him; and they were near us then, half
way up the path, so that every word was audible. "You must not venture
to come to the house, or near the house. I would not have Mr. Todhetley
know of this for the world: for your sake as well as for his."

"Todhetley's not at home," was the man's answer: and Tod gave a growl as
he heard it.

"If he is not, his son is," said Mrs. Todhetley. "It would be all the
same; or worse."

"His son's here," roared out passionate Tod. "What the deuce is the
meaning of this, sir?"

The man shot down the path like an arrow. Mrs. Todhetley--who had been
walking on, seeming not to have caught the words, or to know whose the
voice was, or where it came from--gazed round in all directions, her
countenance curiously helpless. She ran up the rest of the zigzag, and
went swiftly home across the field. Tod disentangled himself from the
brambles, and drew a long breath.

"I think it's time we went now, Johnny." It was not often he spoke in
that tone. He had always been at war tacitly with Mrs. Todhetley, and
was not likely to favour her now. Generous though he was by nature,
there could be no denying that he took up awful prejudices.

"It is something about money, Tod."

"I don't care what it is about--the fellow has no business to be
prowling here, on my father's grounds; and he _shan't_ be, without my
knowing what it's for. I'll watch madam's movements."

"What do you think it can mean?"

"Mean! Why, that the individual is some poor relation of hers, come to
drain as much of my father's money out of her as he can. _She_ is the
one to blame. I wonder how she dare encourage him!"

"Perhaps she can't help herself."

"Not help herself? Don't show yourself a fool, Johnny. An honest-minded,
straightforward woman would appeal to my father in any annoyance of
this sort, or to me, in his absence, and say 'Here's So-and-so come down
upon us, asking for help, can we give it him?'--and there's no doubt the
Squire _would_ give it him; he's soft enough for anything."

It was of no use contending. I did not see it quite in that light, but
Tod liked his own opinion. He threw up his head with a haughty jerk.

"You have tried to defend Mrs. Todhetley before, in trifling matters,
Johnny; don't attempt it now. Would any good woman, say any _lady_, if
you will, subject herself to this kind of thing?--hold private meetings
with a man--allow him to come tapping at her sitting-room window at
night? No; not though he were her own brother."

"Tod, it may be her brother. She would never do anything wrong
willingly."

"Shut up, Johnny. She never had a brother."

Of course I shut up forthwith, and went across the field by Tod's side
in silence, his strides wide and indignant, his head up in the air. Mrs.
Todhetley was hearing Lena read when we got in, and looked as if she had
never been out that morning.

                 *       *       *       *       *

Some days went on. The man remained near, for he was seen occasionally,
and the servants began to talk. One remarked upon him, wondering who he
was; another remarked upon him, speculating on what he did there. In a
quiet country place, a dodging stranger excites curiosity, and this one
dodged about as much as ever the ghostly light did. If you caught sight
of him in the three-cornered plantation, he vanished forthwith to appear
next in the Ravine; if he stood peering out from the trees on the bank,
and found himself observed, the next minute he'd be crouching amongst
the broom on the other side.

This came to be observed, and was thought strange, naturally; Hannah,
who was often out with Hugh and Lena, often saw him, and talked to the
other servants. One evening, when we were finishing dinner, the glass
doors of the bow-window being open, Hannah came back with the children.
They ran across the grass-plat after the fawn--one we had, just
then--and Hannah sat down in the porch of the side-door to wait. Old
Thomas had just drawn the slips from the table, and went through the
passage to the side-door to shake them.

"I say," cried Hannah's voice, "I saw that man again."

"Where?" asked Thomas, between his shakes of the linen.

"In the old place--the Ravine. He was sitting on the stile at the top of
the zigzag, as cool as might be."

"Did you speak to him? I should, if I came across the man; and ask what
his business might be in these parts."

"I didn't speak to him," returned Hannah. "I'd rather not. There's no
knowing the answer one might get, Thomas, or what he's looking after. He
spoke to the children."

"What did he say to them?"

"Asked if they'd go away with him to some beautiful coral islands over
the sea, and catch pretty birds, and parrots, and monkeys. He called
them by their names, too--'Hugh' and 'Lena.' I should like to know how
he got hold of _them_."

"I can't help thinking that he belongs to them engineering folk who come
spying for no good on people's land: the Squire won't like it if they
cut a railroad through here," said Thomas; and the supposition did not
appear to please Hannah.

"Why you must be as silly as a turkey, old Thomas! Engineers have no
need to hide themselves as if they were afraid of being took up for
murder. He has about as much the cut of an engineer as you have, and no
more: they don't go about looking like Methodist parsons run to seed.
_My_ opinion is that he's something of that sort."

"A Methodist parson!"

"No; not anything half so respectable. If I spoke out my thoughts,
though, I dare say you'd laugh at me."

"Not I," said Thomas. "Make haste. I forgot to put the claret jug on the
table."

"Then I've got it in my head that he is one of them seducing Mormons.
They appear in neighbourhoods without the smallest warning, lie partly
concealed by day, and go abroad at night, persuading all the likely
women and girls to join their sect. My sister told me about it in a
letter she wrote me only three days ago. There has been a Mormon down
there; he called himself a saint, she says; and when he went finally
away he took fifteen young women with him. Fifteen, Thomas! and after
only three weeks' persuasion! It's as true as that you've got that
damask cloth in your hand."

Nothing further was heard for a minute. Then Thomas spoke. "Has the man
here been seen talking with young women?"

"Who is to know? They take care _not_ to be seen; that's their craft.
And so you see, Thomas, I'd rather steer clear of the man, and not give
him the opportunity of trying his arts on me. I can tell him it's not
Hannah Baber that would be cajoled off to a barbarous desert by a man
who had fifteen other wives beside! Lord help the women for geese! Miss
Lena" (raising her voice), "don't you tear about after the fawn like
that; you'll put yourself into a pretty heat."

"I'd look him up when I came home, if I were the Squire," said Thomas,
who evidently took it all gravely in. "We don't want a Mormon on the
place."

"If he were not a Mormon, which I'm pretty sure he is, I should say he
was a kidnapper of children," went on Hannah. "After we had got past him
over so far, he managed to 'tice Hugh back to the stile, gave him a
sugar-stick, and said he'd take him away if he'd go. It struck me he'd
like to kidnap him."

Tod, sitting at the foot of the table in the Squire's place, had
listened to all this deliberately. Mrs. Todhetley, opposite to him, her
back to the light, had tried, in a feeble manner, once or twice, to
drown the sounds by saying something. But when urgently wanting to
speak, we often can't do so; and her efforts died away helplessly. She
looked miserably uncomfortable, and seemed conscious of Tod's feeling in
the matter; and when Hannah wound up with the bold assertion touching
the kidnapping of Hugh, she gave a start of alarm, which left her face
white.

"Who is this man that shows himself in the neighbourhood?" asked Tod,
putting the question to her in a slow, marked manner, his dark eyes,
stern then, fixed on hers.

"Johnny, those cherries don't look ripe. Try the summer apples."

It was of no use at any time trying to put aside Tod. Before I had
answered her that the cherries were ripe enough for me, Tod began at her
again.

"Can you tell me who he is?"

"Dear me, no," she faintly said. "I can't tell you anything about it."

"Nor what he wants?"

"No. Won't you take some wine, Joseph?"

"I shall make it my business to inquire, then," said Tod, disregarding
the wine and everything else. "The first time I come across the man,
unless he gives me a perfectly satisfactory answer as to what he may be
doing here on our land, I'll horse-whip him."

Mrs. Todhetley put the trembling fingers of her left hand into the
finger-glass, and dried them. I don't believe she knew what she was
about more than a baby.

"The man is nothing to you, Joseph. Why should you interfere with him?"

"I shall interfere because my father is not here to do it," he answered,
in his least compromising of tones. "An ill-looking stranger has no
right to be prowling mysteriously amongst us at all. But when it comes
to knocking at windows at night, to waylaying--people--in solitary
places, and to exciting comments from the servants, it is time some one
interfered to know the reason of it."

I am sure he had been going to say _you_; but with all his prejudice
he never was insolent to Mrs. Todhetley, when face to face; and he
substituted "people." Her pale blue eyes had the saddest light in them
you can well conceive, and yet she tried to look as though the matter
did not concern her. Old Thomas came in with the folded damask slips,
little thinking he and Hannah had been overheard, put them in the
drawer, and set things straight on the sideboard.

"What time tea, ma'am?" he asked.

"Any time," answered Mrs. Todhetley. "I am going over to Mr. Coney's,
but not to stay. Or perhaps you'll go for me presently, Johnny, and ask
whether Mrs. Coney has come home," she added, as Thomas left the room.

I said I'd go. And it struck me that she must want Mrs. Coney very
particularly, for this would make the fifth time I had gone on the same
errand within a week. On the morning following that rapping at the
window, Mrs. Coney had news that Mrs. West, her married daughter, was
ill, and she started at once by the rail to Worcester to visit her.

"I think I'll go and look for the fellow now," exclaimed Tod, rising
from his seat and making for the window. But Mrs. Todhetley rose too, as
one in mortal fright, and put herself in his way.

"Joseph," she said, "I have no authority over you; you know that I have
never attempted to exercise any since I came home to your father's
house; but I must ask you to respect my wishes now."

"What wishes?"

"That you will refrain from seeking this stranger: that you will not
speak to or accost him in any way, should you and he by chance meet. I
have good reasons for asking it." Tod stood stock-still, neither saying
Yes nor No; only biting his lips in the anger he strove to keep down.

"Oh, very well," said he, going back to his seat. "Of course, as you put
it in this light, I have no alternative. A night's delay cannot make
much difference, and my father will be home to-morrow to act for
himself."

"You must not mention it to your father, Joseph. You must keep it _from_
him."

"I shall tell him as soon as he comes home."

"Tell him what? What is it that you suspect? What would you tell him?"

Tod hesitated. He had spoken in random heat; and found, on
consideration, he was without a case. He could not complain to his
father of _her_: in spite of his hasty temper, he was honourable as the
day. Her apparent intimacy with the man would also tie his tongue as to
_him_, whomsoever he might be.

"You must be quite aware that it is not a pleasant thing, or a proper
thing, to have this mysterious individual encouraged here," he said,
looking at her.

"And you think I encourage him, Joseph?"

"Well, it seems that you--that you must know who he is. I saw you
talking with him one day in the Ravine," continued Tod, disdaining not
to be perfectly open, now it had come to an explanation. "Johnny was
with me. If he is a relative of yours, why, of course----"

"He is no relative of mine, Joseph." And Tod opened his eyes wide to
hear the denial. It was the view he had taken all along.

"Then why do you suffer him to annoy you?--and I am sure he does do it.
Let me deal with him. I'll soon ascertain what his business may be."

"But that is just what you must not do," she said, seeming to speak out
the truth in very helplessness, like a frightened child. "You must leave
him in my hands, Joseph: I shall be able, I dare say, to--to--get rid of
him shortly."

"_You_ know what he wants?"

"Yes, I am afraid I do. It is quite my affair; and you must take no more
notice of it: above all, you must not say anything to your father."

How much Tod was condemning her in his heart perhaps he would not have
cared to tell; but he could but be generous, even to his step-mother.

"I suppose I must understand that you are in some sort of trouble?"

"Indeed I am."

"If it is anything in which I can help you, you have only to ask me to
do it," he said. But his manner was lofty as he spoke, his voice had a
hard ring in it.

"Thank you very much, Joseph," was the meek, grateful answer. "If you
will only take no further notice, and say nothing to your father when he
comes home, it will be helping me sufficiently."

Tod strolled out; just as angry as he could be; and I ran over to the
farm. Jane Coney had received a letter from her mother by the afternoon
post, saying she might not be home for some days to come.

"Tell Mrs. Todhetley that I am sorry to have to send her bad news over
and over again," said Jane Coney, who was sitting in the best kitchen,
with her muslin sleeves turned up, and a big apron on, stripping fruit
for jam. The Coneys had brought up their girls sensibly, not to be
ashamed to make themselves thoroughly useful, in spite of their
education, and the fair fortune they would have. Mary was married; Jane
engaged to be. I sat on the table by her, eating away at the fruit.

"What is it Mrs. Todhetley wants with my mother, Johnny?"

"As if I knew!"

"I think it must be something urgent. When she came in, that morning,
only five minutes after mamma had driven off, she was so terribly
disappointed, saying she would give a great deal to have spoken to her
first. My sister is not quite so well again; that's why mamma is staying
longer."

"I'll tell her, Jane."

"By the way, Johnny, what's this they are saying--about some strange man
being seen here? A special constable, peeping after bad characters?"

"A special constable?"

Jane Coney laughed. "Or a police-officer in disguise. It is what one of
our maids told me."

"Oh," I answered, carelessly, for somehow I did not like the words; "you
must mean a man that is looking at the land; an engineer."

"Is that all?" cried Jane Coney. "How foolish people are!"

It was a sort of untruth, no doubt; but I should have told a worse in
the necessity. I did not like the aspect of things; and they puzzled my
brain unpleasantly all the way home.

Mrs. Todhetley was at work by the window when I got there. Tod had not
made his re-appearance; Hugh and Lena were in bed. She dropped her work
when I gave the message.

"Not for some days to come yet! Oh, Johnny!"

"But what do you want with her?"

"Well, I do want her. I want a friend just now, Johnny, that's the
truth; and I think Mrs. Coney would be one."

"Joe asked if he could help you; and you said 'No.' Can I?"

"Johnny, if you could, there's no one in the world I'd rather ask. But
you cannot."

"Why?"

"Because"--she smiled for a moment--"you are not old enough. If you
were--of age, say--why then I would."

I had hold of the window-frame, looking at her, and an idea struck me.
"Do you mean that I should be able then to command money?"

"Yes, that's it, Johnny."

"But, perhaps--if I were to write to Mr. Brandon----"

"Hush!" she exclaimed in a sort of fright. "You must not talk of this,
Johnny; you don't know the sad mischief you might do. Oh, if I can only
keep it from you all! Here comes Joseph," she added in a whisper; and
gathering up her work, went out of the room.

"Did I not make a sign to you to come after me?" began Tod, in one of
his tempers.

"But I had to go over to the Coneys'. I've only just got back again."

He looked into the room and saw that it was empty. "Where's madam gone?
To the Ravine after her friend?"

"She was here sewing not a minute ago."

"Johnny, she told a lie. Did you notice the sound of her voice when she
said the fellow was no relative of hers?"

"Not particularly."

"I did, then. At the moment the denial took me by surprise; but I
remembered the tone later. It had an untrue ring in it. Madam told a
lie, Johnny, as sure as that we are here. I'd lay my life he _is_ a
relative of hers, or a connection in some way. I don't think now it
is money he wants; if it were only that, she'd get it, and send him
packing. It's worse than that: disgrace, perhaps."

"What sort of disgrace can it be?"

"I don't know. But if something of the sort is not looming, never trust
me again. And here am I, with my hands tied, forbidden to unravel it.
Johnny, I feel just like a wild beast barred up in a cage."

Had he been a real wild beast he could not have given the window-frame a
much worse shake, as he passed through in his anger to the bench under
the mulberry-tree.

When you have to look far back to things, recollection sometimes gets
puzzled as to the order in which they happened. How it came about I am
by no means clear, but an uncomfortable feeling grew up in my mind about
Hugh. About both the children, in fact, but Hugh more than Lena. Mrs.
Todhetley seemed to dread Hugh's being abroad--and I'm sure I was not
mistaken in thinking it. I heard her order Hannah to keep the children
within view of the house, and not to allow Hugh to stray away from her.
Had it been winter weather I suppose she'd have kept them indoors
altogether; there could be no plea for it under the blue sky and the hot
summer sun.

The Squire came home; he had been staying some time with friends in
Gloucestershire; but Mrs. Coney did not come--although Mrs. Todhetley
kept sending me for news. Twice I saw her talking to the strange man;
who I believed made his abode in the Ravine. Tod watched, as he had
threatened to do; and would often appear with in-drawn lips. There was
active warfare between him and his step-mother: at least if you can say
that when both kept silence. As to the Squire, he observed nothing, and
knew nothing: and no one enlightened him. It seems a long time, I dare
say, when reading of this, as if it had extended over a month of
Sundays; but I don't think it lasted much more than a fortnight in all.

One evening, quite late, when the sun was setting, and the Squire was
smoking his pipe on the lawn, talking to me and Tod, Lena and her mother
came in at the gate. In spite of the red rays lighting up Mrs.
Todhetley's face, it struck me that I had never seen it look more
careworn. Lena put her arms on Tod's knee, and began telling about a
fright she had had: of a big toad that leaped out of the grass, and made
her scream and cry. She cried "because nobody was with her."

"Where was mamma?" asked Tod; but I am sure he spoke without any
ulterior thought.

"Mamma had gone to the zigzag stile to talk to the man. She told me to
wait for her."

"What man?" cried the Squire.

"Why, the man," said Lena logically. "He asks Hugh to go with him over
the sea to see the birds and the red coral."

If any one face ever turned whiter than another, Mrs. Todhetley's did
then. Tod looked at her, sternly, ungenerously; and her eyes fell. She
laid hold of Lena's hand, saying it was bed-time.

"What man is the child talking about?" the Squire asked her.

"She talks about so many people," rather faintly answered Mrs.
Todhetley. "Come, Lena dear; Hannah's waiting for you. Say good-night."

The Squire, quite unsuspicious, thought no more. He got up and walked
over to the beds to look at the flowers, holding his long churchwarden
pipe in his mouth. Tod put his back against the tree.

"It is getting complicated, Johnny."

"What is?"

"What is! Why, madam's drama. She is afraid of that hinted scheme of her
friend's--the carrying-off Master Hugh beyond the seas."

He spoke in satire. "Do you think so?" I returned.

"Upon my honour I do. She must be an idiot! I should like to give her a
good fright."

"Tod, I think she is frightened enough without our giving her one."

"I think she is. She must have caught up the idea from overhearing
Hannah's gossip with old Thomas. This afternoon Hugh was running through
the little gate with me; madam came flying over the lawn and begged me
not let him out of my hand, or else to leave him indoors. But for being
my father's wife, I should have asked her if her common-sense had gone
wool-gathering."

"I suppose it has, Tod. Fancy a kidnapper in these days! The curious
thing is, that she should fear anything of the sort."

"If she really does fear it. I tell you, Johnny, the performance is
growing complicated; somewhat puzzling. But I'll see it played out if I
live."

The week went on to Friday. But the afternoon was over, and evening set
in, before the shock fell upon us: _Hugh was missing_.

The Squire had been out in the gig, taking me; and it seems they had
supposed at home that Hugh was with us. The particulars of Hugh's
disappearance, and what had happened in the day, I will relate further
on.

The Squire thought nothing: he said Hugh must have got into Coney's
house or some other neighbour's house: and sat down to dinner, wondering
why so much to-do was made. Mrs. Todhetley looked scared to death; and
Tod tore about as if he were wild. The servants were sent here, the
outdoor men there: it was like a second edition of that day in
Warwickshire when we lost Lena: like it, only worse, more commotion.
Hannah boldly said to her mistress that the strange man must have
carried off the boy.

Hour after hour the search continued. With no result. Night came on,
with a bright moon to light it up. But it did not light up Hugh.

Mrs. Todhetley, a dark shawl over her head, and I dare say a darker fear
upon her heart, went out for the second or third time towards the
Ravine. I ran after her. We had nearly reached the stile at the zigzag,
when Tod came bounding over it.

"Has not the time for shielding this man gone by, think you?" he asked,
placing himself in Mrs. Todhetley's path, and speaking as coolly as he
was able for the agitation that shook him. And why Tod, with his known
carelessness, should be so moved, I could not fathom.

"Joseph, I do not suppose or think the man knows anything of Hugh; I
have my reasons for it," she answered, bearing on for the stile, and
leaning over it to look down into the dark Ravine.

"Will you give me permission to inquire that of himself?"

"You will not find the man. He is gone."

"Leave the finding him to me," persisted Tod. "Will you withdraw the
embargo you laid upon me?"

"No, no," she whispered, "I cannot do it."

The trees had an uncommonly damp feel in the night-air, and the
place altogether looked as weird as could be. I was away then in the
underwood; she looked down always into the Ravine and called Hugh's name
aloud. Nothing but an echo answered.

"It has appeared to me for several days that you have feared something
of this," Tod said, trying to get a full view of her face. "It might
have been better for--for all of us--if you had allowed me at first to
take the affair in hand."

"Perhaps I ought; perhaps I ought," she said, bursting into tears.
"Heaven knows, though, that I acted from a good motive. It was not to
screen myself that I've tried to keep the matter secret."

"Oh!" The sarcasm of Tod's short comment was like nothing I ever heard.
"To screen me, perhaps?" said he.

"Well, yes--in a measure, Joseph," she patiently answered. "I only
wished to spare you vexation. Oh, Joseph! if--if Hugh cannot be found,
and--and all has to come out--who he is and what he wants here--remember
that I wished nothing but to spare others pain."

Tod's eyes were blazing with angry, haughty light. Spare _him_! He
thought she was miserably equivocating; he had some such idea as that
she sought (in words) to make him a scape-goat for her relative's sins.
What he answered I hardly know; except that he civilly dared her to
speak.

"Do not spare _me_: I particularly request you will not," he scornfully
retorted. "Yourself as much as you will, but not me."

"I have done it for the best," she pleaded. "Joseph, I have done it all
for the best."

"Where is this man to be found? I have been looking for him these
several hours past, as I should think no man was ever looked for yet."

"I have said that I think he is not to be found. I think he is gone."

"Gone!" shouted Tod. "Gone!"

"I think he must be. I--I saw him just before dinner-time, here at this
very stile; I gave him something that I had to give, and I think he left
at once, to make the best of his way from the place."

"And Hugh?" asked Tod savagely.

"I did not know then that Hugh was missing. Oh, Joseph, I can't tell
what to think. When I said to him one day that he ought not to talk
nonsense to the children about corals and animals--in fact, should not
speak to them at all--he answered that if I did not get him the money he
wanted he'd take the boy off with him. I knew it was a jest; but I could
not help thinking of it when the days went on and on, and I had no money
to give him."

"_Of course_ he has taken the boy," said Tod, stamping his foot. And the
words sent Mrs. Todhetley into a tremor.

"Joseph! Do you think so?"

"Heaven help you, Mrs. Todhetley, for a--a simple woman! We may never
see Hugh again."

He caught up the word he had been going to say--fool. Mrs. Todhetley
clasped her hands together piteously, and the shawl slipped from her
shoulders.

"I think, madam, you must tell what you can," he resumed, scarcely
knowing which to bring uppermost, his anxiety for Hugh or his lofty,
scornful anger. "_Is_ the man a relative of yours?"

"No, not of mine. Oh, Joseph, please don't be angry with me! Not of
mine, but of yours."

"Of mine!" cried proud Tod. "Thank you, Mrs. Todhetley."

"His name is Arne," she whispered.

"What!" shouted Tod.

"Joseph, indeed it is. Alfred Arne."

Had Tod been shot by a cannon-ball, he could hardly have been more
completely struck into himself; doubled up, so to say. His mother had
been an Arne; and he well remembered to have heard of an ill-doing
mauvais sujet of a half-brother of hers, called Alfred, who brought
nothing but trouble and disgrace on all connected with him. There ensued
a silence, interrupted only by Mrs. Todhetley's tears. Tod was looking
white in the moonlight.

"So it seems it _is_ my affair!" he suddenly said; but though he drew up
his head, all his fierce spirit seemed to have gone out of him. "You can
have no objection to speak fully now."

And Mrs. Todhetley, partly because of her unresisting nature, partly in
her fear for Hugh, obeyed him.

"I had seen Mr. Arne once before," she began. "It was the year that I
first went home to Dyke Manor. He made his appearance there, not openly,
but just as he has made it here now. His object was to get money from
the Squire to go abroad with. And at length he did get it. But it put
your father very much out; made him ill, in fact; and I believe he took
a sort of vow, in his haste and vexation, to give Alfred Arne into
custody if he ever came within reach of him again. I think--I fear--he
always has something or other hanging over his head worse than debt; and
for that reason can never show himself by daylight without danger."

"Go on," said Tod, quite calmly.

"One morning recently I suddenly met him. He stepped right into my
path, here at this same spot, as I was about to descend the Ravine, and
asked if I knew him again. I was afraid I did. I was afraid he had come
on the same errand as before: and oh, Joseph, how thankful I felt that
you and your father were away! He told me a long and pitiful tale, and I
thought I ought to try and help him to the money he needed. He was
impatient for it, and the same evening, supposing no one was at home but
myself, he came to the dining-room window, wishing to ask if I had
already procured the money. Johnny heard him knock."

"It might have been better that we had been here," repeated Tod. "Better
that we should have dealt with him than you."

"Your father was so thankful that you were at school before, Joseph; so
thankful! He said he would not have you know anything about Alfred Arne
for the world. And so--I tried to keep it this time from both you and
him, and, but for this fear about Hugh, I should have done it."

Tod did not answer. He looked at her keenly in the twilight of the
summer's night, apparently waiting for more. She continued her
explanation; not enlarging upon things, suffering, rather, inferences
to be drawn. The following was its substance:--

Alfred Arne asked for fifty pounds. He had returned to England only a
few months before, had got into some fresh danger, and had to leave it
again, and to hide himself until he did so. The fifty pounds--to get him
off, he said, and start him afresh in the colonies--he demanded not as a
gift, but a matter of right: the Todhetleys, being his near relatives,
must help him. Mrs. Todhetley knew but of one person she could borrow
it from privately--Mrs. Coney--and _she_ had gone from home just as she
was about to be asked for it. Only this afternoon had Mrs. Todhetley
received the money from her and paid it to Alfred Arne.

"I would not have told you this, but for being obliged, Joseph," she
pleaded meekly, when the brief explanation was ended. "We can still keep
it from your father; better, perhaps, that you should know it than he:
you are young and he is not."

"A great deal better," assented Tod. "You have made yourself responsible
to Mrs. Coney for the fifty pounds?"

"Don't think of that, Joseph. She is in no hurry for repayment, and will
get it from me by degrees. I have a little trifle of my own, you know,
that I get half-yearly, and I can economize in my dress. I did so hope
to keep it from you as well as from your father."

I wondered if Tod saw all the patient, generous, self-sacrificing
spirit. I wondered if he was growing to think that he had been always on
the wrong tack in judging harshly of his stepmother. She turned away,
thinking perhaps that time was being lost. I said something about Hugh.

"Hugh is all right, Johnny; he'll be found now," Tod answered in a
dreamy tone, as he looked after her with a dreamy look. The next moment
he strode forward, and was up with Mrs. Todhetley.

"I beg your pardon for the past, mother; I beg it with shame and
contrition. Can you forgive me?"

"Oh, pray don't, dear Joseph! I have nothing to forgive," she answered,
bursting into fresh tears as she took his offered hand. And that was the
first time in all his life that Tod, prejudiced Tod, had allowed himself
to call her "mother."


II.

I never saw anything plainer in my life. It was not just opposite to
where I stood, but lower down towards the end of the Ravine. Amongst the
dark thick underwood of the rising bank it dodged about, just as if some
one who was walking carried it in his hand lifted up in front of him. A
round white light, exactly as the ghost's light was described to be. One
might have fancied it the light of a wax-candle, only that a candle
would flicker itself dim and bright by turns in the air, and this was
steady and did not.

If a ghost was carrying it, he must have been pacing backwards and
forwards; for the light confined itself to the range of a few yards.
Beginning at the environs of the black old yew-tree, it would come on
amidst the broom and shrubs to the group of alders, and then go back
again Timberdale way, sometimes lost to sight for a minute, as if hidden
behind a thicker mass of underwood, and then gleaming out afresh further
on in its path. Now up, now down; backwards and forwards; here, there,
everywhere; it was about as unaccountable a sight as any veritable ghost
ever displayed, or I, Johnny Ludlow, had chanced to come upon.

The early part of the night had been bright. It was the same night,
spoken of in the last chapter, when Hugh was being searched for. Up to
eleven o'clock the moon had shone radiantly. Since then a curious sort
of darkness had come creeping along the heavens, and now, close upon
twelve, it overshadowed the earth like a pall. A dark, black canopy,
which the slight wind, getting up, never stirred, though it sighed and
moaned with a weird unpleasant sound down the Ravine. I did not mind
the light myself; don't think I should much have minded the ghost: but
Luke Mackintosh, standing by me, did. Considering that he was a good
five-and-twenty years of age, and had led an out-of-door life, it may
sound queer to say it, but he seemed timid as a hare.

"I don't like it, Master Johnny," he whispered, as he grasped the fence
with an unsteady hand, and followed the light with his eyes. What with
the trees around us, and the pall overhead, it was dark enough, but I
could see his face, and knew it had turned white.

"I believe you are afraid, Luke!"

"Well, sir, so might you be if you knowed as much of that there light
as I do. It never comes but it bodes trouble."

"Who brings the light?"

"It's more than I can say, sir. They call it here the ghost's light.
And folks say, Master Johnny, that when it's seen, there's sure to be
some trouble in the air."

"I think we have trouble enough just now without the light, Luke; and
our trouble was with us before we saw that."

The Ravine lay beneath us, stretching out on either hand, weird,
lonesome, dreary, the bottom hidden in gloom. The towering banks,
whether we looked down the one we leaned over, or to the other opposite,
presented nothing to the eye but darkness: we knew the masses of trees,
bushes, underwood were there, but could not see them: and the spot
favoured by the restless light was too wild and steep to be safe for the
foot of man. Of course it was a curious speculation what it could be.

"Did you ever see the light before, Mackintosh?"

"Yes," he answered, "half-a-dozen times. Do you mind, Master Johnny, my
getting that there bad cut in the leg with my reaping-hook awhile agone?
Seven weeks I lay in Worcester Infirmary: they carried me there on a
mattress shoved down in the cart."

"I remember hearing of it. We were at Dyke Manor."

Before Luke went on, he turned his face to me and dropped his voice to
a deeper whisper.

"Master Ludlow, as true as us two be a-standing here, I saw the ghost's
light the very night afore I got the hurt. I was working for Mr. Coney
then, it was before I came into the Squire's service. Young Master
Tom, he came out of the kitchen with a letter when we was at our
seven-o'clock supper, and said I were to cut off to Timberdale with it
and to look sharp, or the letter-box 'ud be shut. So I had to do it,
sir, and I came through this here Ravine, a-whistling and a-holding my
head down, though I'd rather ha' went ten mile round. When I got out of
it on t'other side, on top of the zigzag, I chanced to look back over
the stile, and there I see the light. It were opposite then, on _this_
side, sir, and moving about in the same see-saw way it be now, for I
stood and watched it."

"I wonder you plucked up the courage to stand and watch it, Luke?"

"I were took aback, sir, all in a maze like: and then I started off full
pelt, as quick as my heels 'ud carry me. That was the very blessed night
afore I got the hurt. When the doctors was a-talking round me at the
infirmary, and I think they was arguing whether or not my leg must come
off, I telled 'em that I was afeared it wouldn't much matter neither
way, for I'd seen the ghost's light the past night and knowed my fate.
One of them, a young man he was, burst out laughing above my face as I
lay, and t'other next him, a grave gentleman with white hair, turned
round and hushed at him. Master Ludlow, it's all gospel true."

"But you got well, Luke."

"But I didn't think to," argued Luke. "And I see the light."

As he turned his face again, the old church clock at Timberdale struck
twelve. It seemed to come booming over the Ravine with quite a warning
sound, and Luke gave himself a shake. As for me, I could only wish one
thing--that Hugh was found.

Tod came up the zigzag path, a lantern in his hand; I whistled to let
him know I was near. He had been to look in the unused little shed-place
nearly at the other end of the Ravine; not for Hugh, but for the man,
Alfred Arne. Tod came up to us, and his face, as the lantern flashed
upon it, was whiter and graver than that of Luke Mackintosh.

"Did you see that, sir?" asked Luke.

"See what?" cried Tod, turning sharply. He thought it might be some
trace of Hugh.

"That there ghost light, sir. It's showing itself to-night."

Angry, perplexed, nearly out of his mind with remorse and fear, Tod gave
Luke a word of a sort, ordering him to be silent for an idiot, and put
the lantern down. He then saw the moving light, and let his eyes rest on
it in momentary curiosity.

"It's the ghost light, sir," repeated Luke, for the man seemed as if he
and all other interests were lost in that.

"The deuce take the ghost's light, and you with it," said Tod
passionately. "Is this a time to be staring at ghosts' lights? Get you
into Timberdale, Mackintosh, and see whether the police have news of the
child."

"Sir, I'd not go through the Ravine to-night," was Luke's answer. "No,
not though I knowed I was to be killed at to-morrow's dawn for
disobeying the order."

"Man, what are you afraid of?"

"Of that," said Luke, nodding at the light. "But I don't like the Ravine
in the night at no time."

"Why, that's nothing but a will-o'-the-wisp," returned Tod,
condescending to reason with him.

Luke shook his head. There was the light; and neither his faith in it
nor his fear could be shaken. Tod had his arms on the fence now, and was
staring at the light as fixedly as Luke had done.

"Johnny."

"What?"

"That light is carried by some one. It's being lifted about."

"How could any one carry it _there_?" I returned. "He'd pitch head over
heels down the Ravine. No fellow could get to the place, Tod, let alone
keep his footing. It's where the bushes are thickest."

Tod caught up the lantern. As its light flashed on his face, I could see
it working with new eagerness. He was taking up the notion that Hugh
might have fallen on that very spot, and that some one was waving a
light to attract attention. As to ghosts, Tod would have met an army of
them without the smallest fear.

He went back down the Ravine, and we heard him go crashing through the
underwood. Luke never spoke a word. Suddenly, long before Tod could get
to it, the light disappeared. We waited and watched, but it did not come
again.

"It have been like that always, Master Johnny," whispered Luke, taking
his arms off the fence. "Folks may look as long as they will at that
there light; but as soon as they go off, a-trying to get to see what it
is, it takes itself away. It will be seen no more to-night, sir."

He turned off across the meadow for the high-road, to go and do Tod's
bidding at Timberdale, walking at a sharp pace. Any amount of exertion
would have been welcome to Mackintosh, as an alternative to passing
through the Ravine.

It may be remembered that for some days we had been vaguely uneasy about
Hugh, and the uneasiness had penetrated to Mrs. Todhetley. Tod had made
private mockery of it to me, thinking she must be three parts a fool to
entertain any such fear. "I should like to give madam a fright," he said
to me one day--meaning that he would like to hide little Hugh for a
time. But I never supposed he would really do it. And it was only
to-night--hours and hours after Hugh disappeared, that Tod avowed to me
the part he had taken in the loss. To make it clear to the reader, we
must go back to the morning of this same day--Friday.

After breakfast I was shut up with my books, paying no attention to
anything that might be going on, inside the house or out of it. Old
Frost gave us a woeful lot to do in the holidays. The voices of the
children, playing at the swing, came wafting in through the open window;
but they died away to quietness as the morning went on. About twelve
o'clock Mrs. Todhetley looked in.

"Are the children here, Johnny?"

She saw they were not, and went away without waiting for an answer. Lena
ran up the passage, and I heard her say papa had taken Hugh out in the
pony-gig. The interruption served as an excuse for putting up the books
for the day, and I went out.

Of all young ragamuffins, the worst came running after me as I went
through the fold-yard gate. Master Hugh! Whether he had been in the
green pond again or over the house-roof, he was in a wonderful state;
his blue eyes not to be seen for mud, his straw-hat bent, his brown
holland blouse all tatters and slime, and the pretty fair curls that
Hannah was proud of and wasted her time over, a regular mass of tangle.

"Take me with you, Johnny!"

"I should think I would, like that! What have you been doing with
yourself?"

"Playing with the puppy. We fell down in the mud amongst the ducks.
Joe says I am to stop in the barn and hide myself. I am afraid to go
indoors."

"You'll catch it, and no mistake. Come, be off back again."

But he'd not go back, and kept running by my side under the high hedge.
When we came to the gate at the end of the field, I stood and ordered
him to go. He began to cry a little.

"Now, Hugh, you know you cannot go with me in that plight. Walk yourself
straight off to Hannah and get her to change the things before your
mamma sees you. There; you may have the biscuit: I don't much care for
it."

It was a big captain's biscuit that I had caught up in going through the
dining-room. He took that readily enough, the young cormorant, but he
wouldn't stir any the more for it: and I might have had the small object
with me till now, but for the appearance of the Squire's gig in the
lane. The moment Hugh caught sight of his papa, he turned tail and
scampered away like a young wild animal. Remembering Mrs. Todhetley's
foolish fear, I mounted the gate and watched him turn safely in at the
other.

"What are you looking at, Johnny?" asked the Squire, as he drove
leisurely up.

"At Hugh, sir. I've sent him indoors."

"I'm going over to Massock's, Johnny, about the bricks for that cottage.
You can get up, if you like to come with me."

I got into the gig at once, and we drove to South Crabb, to Massock's
place. He was not to be seen; his people thought he had gone out for the
day. Upon that, the Squire went on to see old Cartwright, and they made
us stop there and put up the pony. When we reached home it was past
dinner-time. Mrs. Todhetley came running out.

"Couldn't get here before: the Cartwrights kept us," called out the
Squire. "We are going to catch it, Johnny," he whispered to me, with a
laugh: "we've let the dinner spoil."

But it was not the dinner. "Where's Hugh?" asked Mrs. Todhetley.

"I've not seen Hugh," said the Squire, flinging the reins to Luke
Mackintosh, who had come up. Luke did all kinds of odd jobs about the
place, and sometimes helped the groom.

"But you took Hugh out with you," she said.

"Not I," answered the Squire.

Mrs. Todhetley's face turned white. She looked from one to the other of
us in a helpless kind of manner. "Lena said you did," she returned, and
her voice seemed to fear its own sound. The Squire talking with
Mackintosh about the pony, noticed nothing particular.

"Lena did? Oh, ay, I remember. I let Hugh get up at the door and drove
him round to the fold-yard gate. I dropped him there."

He went in as he spoke: Mrs. Todhetley seemed undecided whether to
follow him. Tod had his back against the door-post, listening.

"What are you alarmed at?" he asked her, not even attempting to suppress
his mocking tone.

"Oh, Johnny!" she said, "have _you_ not seen him?"

"Yes; and a fine pickle he was in," I answered, telling her about it.
"I dare say Hannah has put him to bed for punishment."

"But Hannah has not," said Mrs. Todhetley. "She came down at four
o'clock to inquire if he had come in."

However, thinking that it might possibly turn out to be so, she ran in
to ascertain. Tod put his hand on my shoulder, and walked me further
off.

"Johnny, did Hugh really not go with you?"

"Why, of course he did not. Should I deny it if he did?"

"Where the dickens can the young idiot have got to?" mused Tod.
"Jeffries vowed he saw him go off with you down the field, Johnny."

"But I sent him back. I watched him in at the fold-yard gate. You don't
suppose I could take him further in that pickle!"

Tod laughed a little at the remembrance. Mrs. Todhetley returned, saying
Hugh was not to be found anywhere. She looked ready to die. Tod was
inwardly enjoying her fright beyond everything: it was better than a
play to him. His particularly easy aspect struck her.

"Oh, Joseph!" she implored, "if you know where he is, pray tell me."

"How should I know?" returned Tod. "I protest on my honour I have not
set eyes on him since before luncheon to-day."

"_Do_ you know where he is, Tod?" I asked him, as she turned indoors.

"No; but I can guess. He's not far off. And I really did think he was
with you, Johnny. I suppose I must go and bring him in, now; but I'd
give every individual thing my pockets contain if madam had had a few
hours' fright of it, instead of a few minutes'."

The dinner-bell was ringing, but Tod went off in an opposite direction.
And I must explain here what he knew of it, though he did not tell me
then. Walking through the fold-yard that morning, he had come upon
Master Hugh, just emerging from the bed of green mud, crying his eyes
out, and a piteous object. Hannah had promised Hugh that the next time
he got into this state she would carry him to the Squire. Hugh knew
she'd be sure to keep her word, and that the upshot would probably be
a whipping. Tod, after gratifying his eyes with the choice spectacle,
and listening to the fears of the whipping, calmly assured the young
gentleman that he was "in for it," at which Hugh only howled the more.
All in a moment it occurred to Tod to make use of this opportunity to
frighten Mrs. Todhetley. He took Hugh off to the barn, and told him
that if he'd hide himself there until the evening, he'd not only get him
off his whipping, but give him all sorts of good things besides. Hugh
was willing to promise, but said he wanted his dinner, upon which Tod
went and brought him a plate of bread-and-butter, telling Molly, who
cut it, that it was for himself. Tod left him devouring it in the dark
corner behind the waggon, particularly impressing upon him the fact
that he was to keep close and make no sign if his mamma, or Hannah, or
anybody else, came to look for him. One of the men, Jeffries, was at
work in the barn, and Tod, so to say, took him into confidence, ordering
him to know nothing if Master Hugh were inquired for. As Hannah and
Jeffries were at daggers drawn, and the man supposed this hiding was to
spite her, he entered into it with interest.

There were two barns at Crabb Cot. One some way down the road in front
of the house was the store barn, and you've heard of it before in
connection with something seen by Maria Lease. It was called the yellow
barn from the colour of its outer walls. The other, of red brick, was
right at the back of the fold-yard, and it was in this last that Tod
left Hugh, all safe and secure, as he thought, until told he might come
out again.

But now, when Tod went into the dining-room to luncheon at half-past
twelve--we country people breakfast early--at which meal he expected the
hue and cry after Hugh to set in, for it was the children's dinner,
he found there was a hitch in the programme. Mrs. Todhetley appeared
perfectly easy on the score of Hugh's absence, and presently casually
mentioned that he had gone out with his papa in the pony-gig. Tod's
lips parted to say that Hugh was not in the pony-gig, but in a state
of pickle instead. Prudence caused him to close them again. Hannah,
standing behind Lena's chair, openly gave thanks that the child was got
rid of for a bit, and said he was "getting a'most beyond her." Tod bit
his lips with vexation: the gilt was taken off the gingerbread. He went
to the barn again presently, and then found that Hugh had left it.
Jeffries said he saw him going towards the lane with Master Ludlow, and
supposed that the little lad had taken the opportunity to slip out of
the barn when he (Jeffries) went to dinner, at twelve o'clock. And thus
the whole afternoon had gone peaceably and unsuspiciously on; Mrs.
Todhetley and Hannah supposing Hugh was with the Squire, Tod supposing
he must be somewhere with me.

And when we both appeared at home without him, Tod took it for granted
that Hugh had gone back to his hiding-place in the barn, and a qualm of
conscience shot through him for leaving the lad there so many hours
unlooked after. He rushed off to it at once, while the dinner-bell was
ringing. But when he got there, Jeffries declared Hugh had not been back
to it at all. Tod, in his hot way, retorted on Jeffries for saying so;
but the man persisted that he could not be mistaken, as he had never
been away from the barn since coming back from dinner.

And then arose the commotion. Tod came back with a stern face, almost as
anxious as Mrs. Todhetley's. Hugh had not been seen, so far as could be
ascertained, since I watched him in at the fold-yard gate soon after
twelve. That was nearly seven hours ago. Tod felt himself responsible
for the loss, and sent the men to look about. But the worst he thought
then was, that the boy, whose fears of showing himself in his state of
dilapidation Tod himself had mischievously augmented, had lain down
somewhere or other and dropped asleep.

It had gone on, and on, and on, until late at night, and then had
occurred that explanation between Tod and his step-mother told of in the
other paper. Tod was all impulse, and pride, and heat, and passion; but
his heart was made of sterling gold, just like the Squire's. Holding
himself aloof from her in haughty condemnation, in the matter of the
mysterious stranger, to find now that the stranger was a man called
Alfred Arne, _his_ relative, and that Mrs. Todhetley had been generously
taking the trouble upon herself for the sake of sparing him and his
father pain, completely turned Tod and his pride over.

He had grown desperately frightened as the hours went on. The moon-lit
night had become dark, as I've already said, and the men could not
pursue their search to much effect. Tod did not cease his. He got a
lantern, and went rushing about as if he were crazy. You saw him come up
with it from the Ravine, and now he had gone back on a wild-goose chase
after the ghost light. Where was Hugh? Where could he be? It was not
likely Alfred Arne had taken him, because he had that afternoon got from
Mrs. Todhetley the fifty pounds he worried for, and she thought he had
gone finally off with it. It stood to reason that the child would be
an encumbrance to him. On the other hand, Tod's theory, that Hugh had
dropped asleep somewhere, seemed, as the hours crept on, less and less
likely to hold water, for he would have wakened up and come home long
ago. As to the Ravine, in spite of Tod's suspicions that he might be
there, I was sure the little fellow would not have ventured into it.

I stood on, in the dark night, waiting for Tod to come back again. It
felt awfully desolate now Luke Mackintosh had gone. The ghost light
did not show again. I rather wished it would, for company. He came at
last--Tod, not the ghost. I had heard him shouting, and nothing answered
but the echoes. A piece of his coat was torn, and some brambles were
sticking to him, and the lantern was broken; what dangerous places he
had pushed himself into could never be told.

"I wonder you've come out with whole limbs, Tod."

"Hold your peace, Johnny," was all the retort I got; and his voice rose
nearly to a shout in its desperate sorrow.

                 *       *       *       *       *

Morning came, but no news with it, no Hugh. Tod had been about all
night. With daylight, the fields, and all other seemingly possible
places, were searched. Tom Coney went knocking at every house in North
and South Crabb, and burst into cottages, and turned over, so to say,
all the dwellings in that savoury locality, Crabb Lane, but with no
result. The Squire was getting anxious; but none of us had ventured to
tell him of our especial cause for anxiety, or to speak of Alfred Arne.

It appeared nearly certain now, to us, that he had gone with Alfred
Arne, and, after a private consultation with Mrs. Todhetley, Tod and I
set out in search of the man. She still wished to spare the knowledge of
his visit to the Squire, if possible.

We had not far to go. Mrs. Todhetley's fears went ranging abroad to
London, or Liverpool, or the Coral Islands beyond the sea, of which Arne
had talked to Hugh: but Arne was found at Timberdale. In an obscure
lodging in the further outskirts of the place, the landlord of which, a
man named Cookum, was a bad character, and very shy of the police, Arne
was found. We might have searched for him to the month's end, but for
Luke Mackintosh. When Luke arrived at Timberdale in the middle of the
night, ordered there by Tod to make inquiries at the police-station, he
saw a tipsy man slink into Cookum's house, and recognized him for the
one who had recently been exciting speculation at home. Luke happened to
mention this to Tod, not connecting Hugh with it at all, simply as a bit
of gossip: of course it was not known who Arne was, or his name, or what
he had been waiting for.

We had a fight to get in. Cookum came leaping down the crazy stairs, and
put himself in our way in the passage, swearing we should not go on. Tod
lifted his strong arm.

"I mean to go on, Cookum," he said, in a slow, quiet voice that had
determination in every tone of it. "I have come to see a man named Arne.
I don't want to do him any ill, or you either; but, see him, I will. If
you do not move out of my way I'll knock you down."

Cookum stood his ground. He was short, slight, and sickly, with a puffy
face and red hair; a very reed beside Tod.

"There ain't no man here of that name. There ain't no man here at all."

"Very well. Then you can't object to letting me see that there is not."

"I swear that you shan't see, master. There!"

Tod flung him aside. Cookum, something like an eel, slipped under Tod's
arm, and was in front of him again.

"I don't care to damage you, Cookum, as you must see I could do, and
force my way in over your disabled body; you look too weak for it. But
I'll either go in _so_, or the police shall clear an entrance for me."

The mention of the police scared the man; I saw it in his face. Tod kept
pushing on and the man backing, just a little.

"I won't have no police here. What is it you want?"

"I have told you once. A man named Arne."

"I swear then that I never knowed a man o' that name; let alone having
him in my place."

And he spoke with such passionate fervour that it struck me Arne did not
go by his own name: which was more than probable. They were past the
stairs now, and Cookum did not seem to care to guard them. The nasty
passage, long and narrow, had a door at the end. Tod thought that must
be the fortress.

"You are a great fool, Cookum. I've told you that I mean no harm to you
or to any one in the place; so to make this fuss is needless. You may
have a band of felons concealed here, or a cart-load of stolen goods;
they are all safe for me. But if you force me to bring in the police it
might be a different matter."

Perhaps the argument told on the man; perhaps the tone of reason it was
spoken in; but he certainly seemed to hesitate.

"You can't prove that to me, sir: not that there's any felons or things
in here. Show me that you don't mean harm, and you shall go on."

"Have you a stolen child here?"

Cookum's mouth opened with genuine surprise. "A stolen child!"

"We have lost a little boy. I have reason to think that a man who was
seen to enter this passage in the middle of the night knows something of
him, and I have come to ask and see. Now you know all. Let me go on."

The relief on the man's face was great. "Honour bright, sir."

"Don't stand quibbling, man," roared Tod passionately. "YES!"

"I've got but one man in all the place. He have no boy with him, he
haven't."

"But he may know something of one. What's his name?"

"All the name he've given me is Jack."

"I dare say it's the same. Come! you are wasting time."

But Cookum, doubtful still, never moved. They were close to the door
now, and he had his back against it. Tod turned his head.

"Go for the two policemen, Johnny. They are both in readiness, Cookum.
I looked in at the station as I came by, to say I might want them."

Before I could get out, Cookum howled out to me _not_ to go, as one in
mortal fear. He took a latch-key from his pocket, and put it into the
latch of the door, which had no other fastening outside, not even a
handle. "You can open it yourself," said he to Tod, and slipped away.

It might have been a sort of kitchen but that it looked more like a
den, with nothing to light it but a dirty sky-light above. The floor
was of red brick; a tea-kettle boiled on the fire; there was a smell
of coffee. Alfred Arne stood on the defensive against the opposite
wall, a life-preserver in his hand, and his thin hair on end with
fright.

"I am here on a peaceable errand, if you will allow it to be so," said
Tod, shutting us in. "Is your name Arne?"

Arne dropped the life-preserver into the breast-pocket of his coat, and
came forward with something of a gentleman's courtesy.

"Yes, my name is Arne, Joseph Todhetley. And your mother--as I make no
doubt you know--was a very near relative of mine. If you damage me, you
will bring her name unpleasantly before the public, as well as your own
and your father's."

That he thought our errand was to demand back the fifty pounds, there
could be no doubt: perhaps to hand him into custody if he refused to
give it up.

"I have not come to damage you in any way," said Tod in answer. "Where's
Hugh?"

Arne looked as surprised as the other man had. "Hugh!"

"Yes, Hugh: my little brother. Where is he?"

"How can I tell?"

Tod glanced round the place; there was not any nook or corner capable
of affording concealment. Arne gazed at him. He stood on that side the
dirty deal table, we on this.

"We have lost Hugh since mid-day yesterday. Do you know anything of
him?"

"Certainly _not_," was the emphatic answer, and I at least saw that it
was a true one. "Is it to ask that, that you have come here?"

"For that, and nothing else. We have been up all night searching for
him."

"But why do you come after him here? I am not likely to know where he
is."

"I think you are likely."

"Why?"

"You have been talking to the boy about carrying him off with you to see
coral islands. You hinted, I believe, to Mrs. Todhetley that you might
really take him, if your demands were not complied with."

Arne slightly laughed. "I talked to the boy about the Coral Islands
because it pleased him. As to Mrs. Todhetley, if she has the sense of a
goose, she must have known I meant nothing. Take off a child with me!
Why, if he were made a present to me, I should only drop him at his own
door at Crabb Cot, as they drop the foundlings at the gate of the Maison
Dieu in Paris. Joseph Todhetley, I _could not_ be encumbered with a
child: the life of shifts and concealment I have to lead would debar
it."

I think Tod saw he was in earnest. But he stood in indecision: this
dashed out his great hope.

"I should have been away from here last night, but that I got a drop too
much and must wait till dark again," resumed Arne. "The last time I saw
Hugh was on Thursday afternoon. He was in the meadow with _you_."

"I did not see you," remarked Tod.

"I saw you, though. And that is the last time I saw him. Don't you
believe me? You may. I like the little lad, and would find him for you
if I could, rather than help to lose him. I'd say take my honour upon
this, Joseph Todhetley, only you might retort that it has not been worth
anything this many a year."

"And with justice," said Tod, boldly.

"True. The world has been against me and I against the world. But it has
not come yet with me to stealing children. With the loan of the money
now safe in my pocket, I shall make a fresh start in life. A precious
long time your step-mother kept me waiting for it."

"She did her best. You ought not to have applied to her at all."

"I know that: it should have been to the other side of the house. She
prevented me: wanting, she said, to spare you and your father."

"The knowledge of the disgrace. Yes."

"There's no need to have recourse to hard names, Joseph Todhetley. What
I am, I am, but you have not much cause to grumble, for I don't trouble
you often. As many thousand miles away as the seas can put between me
and England, I'm going now: and it's nearly as many chances to one
against your ever seeing me again."

Tod turned to depart: the intensely haughty look his face wore at odd
moments had been upon it throughout the interview. Had he been a woman
he might have stood with his skirts picked up, as if to save them
contamination from some kind of reptile. He stayed for a final word.

"Then I may take your answer in good faith--that you know nothing of
Hugh?"

"Take it, or not, as you please. If I knew that I was going to stand
next minute in the presence of Heaven, I could not give it more
truthfully. For the child's own sake, I hope he will be found. Why
don't you ask the man who owns the rooms?--he can tell you I have had
no boy here. If you choose to watch me away to-night, do so; you'll
see I go alone. A child with me! I might about as well give myself up
to the law at once, for I shouldn't long remain out of its clutches,
Joseph Todhetley."

"Good-morning," said Tod shortly. I echoed the words, and we were
civilly answered. As we went out, Arne shut the door behind us. In the
middle of the passage stood Cookum.

"Have you found he was who you wanted, sir?"

"Yes," answered Tod, not vouchsafing to explain. "Another time when I
say I do not wish to harm you, perhaps you'll take my word."

Mrs. Todhetley, pale and anxious, was standing under the mulberry-tree
when we got back. She came across the grass.

"Any news?" cried Tod. As if the sight of her was not enough, that he
need have asked!

"No, no, Joseph. Did you see him?"

"Yes, he had not left. He knows nothing of Hugh."

"I had no hope that he did," moaned poor Mrs. Todhetley. "All he wanted
was the money."

We turned into the dining-room by the glass-doors, and it seemed to
strike out a gloomy chill. On the wall near the window, there was a
chalk drawing of Hugh in colours, hung up by a bit of common string. It
was only a rough sketch that Jane Coney had done half in sport; but it
was like him, especially in the blue eyes and the pretty light hair.

"Where's my father?" asked Tod.

"Gone riding over to the brick-fields again," she answered: "he cannot
get it out of his mind that Hugh must be there. Joseph, as Mr. Arne
has nothing to do with the loss, we can still spare your father the
knowledge that he has been here. Spare it, I mean, for good."

"Yes. Thank you."

Hugh was uncommonly fond of old Massock's brick-fields; he would go
there on any occasion that offered, had once or twice strayed there a
truant; sending Hannah, for the time being, into a state of mortal
fright. The Squire's opinion was that Hugh must have decamped there some
time in the course of the Friday afternoon, perhaps followed the gig;
and was staying there, afraid to come home.

"He might have hung on to the tail of the gig itself, and I and Johnny
never have seen him, the 'cute Turk," argued the Squire.

Which I knew was just as likely as that he had, unseen, hung on to the
moon. In the state he had brought his clothes to, he wouldn't have gone
to the brick-fields at all. The Squire did not seem so uneasy as he
might have been. Hugh would be sure to turn up, he said, and should get
the soundest whipping any young rascal ever had.

But he came riding back from the brick-fields as before--without him.
Tod, awfully impatient, met him in the road by the yellow barn. The
Squire got off his horse there, for Luke Mackintosh was at hand to take
it.

"Father, I cannot think of any other place he can have got to: we have
searched everywhere. Can you?"

"Not I, Joe. Don't be down-hearted. He'll turn up; he'll turn up.
Halloa!" broke off the Squire as an idea struck him, "has this barn been
searched?"

"He can't be in there, sir; it's just a moral impossibility that he
could be," spoke up Mackintosh. "The place was empty, which I can be
upon my oath, when I locked it up yesterday afternoon, after getting
some corn out; and the key have never been out o' my trousers' pocket
since. Mr. Joseph, he was inside with me at the time, and knows it."

Tod nodded assent, and the Squire walked away. As there was no other
accessible entrance to the front barn, and the windows were ever so
many yards from the ground, they felt that it must be, as the man said,
a "moral impossibility."

The day went on, it was Saturday, remember, and the miserable hours went
on, and there came no trace of the child. The Ravine was again searched
thoroughly: that is, as thoroughly as its overgrown state permitted. It
was like waste of time; for Hugh would not have hidden himself in it;
and if he had fallen over the fence he would have been found before from
the traces that must have been left in the bushes. The searchers would
come in, one after another, now a farm-servant, now one of the police,
bringing no news, except of defeat, but hoping some one else had brought
it. Every time that Tod looked at the poor mild face of Mrs. Todhetley,
always meek and patient, striving ever to hide the anguish that each
fresh disappointment brought, I know he felt ready to hang himself. It
was getting dusk when Maria Lease came up with a piece of straw hat that
she had found in the withy walk. But both Mrs. Todhetley and Hannah,
upon looking at it, decided that the straw was of finer grain than
Hugh's.

That afternoon they dragged the pond, but there was nothing found in it.
We could get no traces anywhere. No one had seen him, no one heard of
him. From the moment when I had watched him into the fold-yard gate, it
seemed that he had altogether vanished from above ground. Since then all
scent of him was missing. It was very strange: just as though the boy
had been spirited away.

Sunday morning rose. As lovely a Sunday as ever this world saw, but all
sad for us. Tod had flung himself back in the pater's easy-chair, pretty
near done over. Two nights, and he had not been to bed. In spite of his
faith in Alfred Arne's denial, he had chosen to watch him away in the
night from Timberdale; and he saw the man steal off in the darkness on
foot and alone. The incessant hunting about was bringing its reaction on
Tod, and the fatigue of body and mind began to show itself. But as to
giving in, he'd never do that, and would be as likely as not to walk and
worry himself into a fever.

The day was warm and beautiful; the glass-doors stood open to the sweet
summer air. Light fleecy clouds floated over the blue sky, the sun shone
on the green grass of the lawn and sparkled amidst the leaves of the
great mulberry-tree. Butterflies flitted past in pairs, chasing each
other; bees sent forth their hum as they sipped the honey-dew from the
flowers; the birds sang their love-songs on the boughs: all seemed
happiness outside, as if to mock our care within.

Tod lay back with his eyes closed: I sat on the arm of the old red sofa.
The bells of North Crabb Church rang out for morning service. It was
rather a cracked old peal, but on great occasions the ringers assembled
and did their best. The Bishop of Worcester was coming over to-day to
preach a charity sermon: and North Crabb never had anything greater than
that. Tod opened his eyes and listened in silence.

"Tod, do you know what it puts me in mind of?"

"Don't bother. It's because of the bishop, I suppose."

"I don't mean the bells. It's like the old fable, told of in 'The
Mistletoe Bough,' enacted in real life. If there were any deep chest
about the premises----"

"Hold your peace, Johnny!--unless you want to drive me mad. If we come
upon the child like _that_, I'll--I'll----"

I think he was going to say shoot himself, or something of that sort,
for he was given to random speech when put to it. But at that moment
Lena ran in dressed for church, in her white frock and straw hat with
blue ribbons. She threw her hands on Tod's knee and burst out crying.

"Joe, I don't want to go to church; I want Hugh."

Quite a spasm of pain shot across his face, but he was very tender with
her. In all my life I had never seen Tod so gentle as he had been at
moments during the last two days.

"Don't cry, pretty one," he said, pushing the fair curls from her face.
"Go to church like a good little girl; perhaps we shall have found him
by the time you come home."

"Hannah says he's lying dead somewhere."

"Hannah's nothing but a wicked woman," savagely answered Tod. "Don't you
mind her."

But Lena would not be pacified, and kept on sobbing and crying, "I want
Hugh; I want Hugh."

Mrs. Todhetley, who had come in then, drew her away and sat down with
the child on her knee, talking to her in low, soothing tones.

"Lena, dear, you know I wish you to go with Hannah to church this
morning. And you will put papa's money into the plate. See: it is a
golden sovereign. Hannah must carry it, and you shall put it in."

"Oh, mamma! will Hugh never come home again? Will he die?"

"Hush, Lena," she said, as Tod bit his lip and gave his hair a dash
backwards. "Shall I tell you something that sounds like a pretty story?"

Lena was always ready for a story, pretty or ugly, and her blue eyes
were lifted to her mother's brightly through the tears. At that moment
she looked wonderfully like the portrait on the wall.

"Just now, dear, I was in my room upstairs, feeling very, very unhappy;
I'm not sure but I was sobbing nearly as much as you were just now. 'He
will never come back,' I said to myself; 'he is lost to us for ever.'
At that moment those sweet bells broke out, calling people to Heaven's
service, and I don't know why, Lena, but they seemed to whisper a great
comfort to me. They seemed to say that God was over us all, and saw our
trouble, and would heal it in His good time."

Lena stared a little, digesting what she could of the words. The tears
were nowhere.

"Will He send Hugh back?"

"I can't tell, darling. He can take care of Hugh, and bless him, and
keep him, wherever he may be, and I know He _will_. If He should have
taken him to heaven above the blue sky--oh then, Hugh must be very
happy. He will be with the angels. He will see Jesus face to face; and
you know how _He_ loved little children. The bells seemed to say all
this to me as I listened to them, Lena."

Lena went off contented: we saw her skipping along by Hannah's side,
who had on a new purple gown and staring red and green trimmings to her
bonnet. Children are as changeable as a chameleon, sobbing one minute,
laughing the next. Tod was standing now with his back to the window, and
Mrs. Todhetley sat by the table, her long thin fingers supporting her
cheek; very meek, very, very patient. Tod was thinking so as he glanced
at her.

"How you must hate me for this!" he said.

"Oh, Joseph! Hate you?"

"The thing is all my fault. A great deal has been my fault for a long
while; all the unpleasantness and the misunderstanding."

She got up and took his hand timidly, as if she feared he might think
it too great a liberty. "If you can only understand me for the future,
Joseph; understand how I wish and try to make things pleasant to you, I
shall be fully repaid: to you most especially in all the house, after
your father. I have ever striven and prayed for it."

He answered nothing for the moment; his face was working a little, and
he gave her fingers a grip that must have caused pain.

"If the worst comes of this, and Hugh never is amongst us again, I will
go over the seas in the wake of the villain Arne," he said in a low,
firm tone, "and spare you the sight of me."

Tears began to trickle down her face. "Joseph, my dear--if you will let
me call you so--this shall draw us near to each other, as we never might
have been drawn without it. You shall not hear a word of reproach from
us, or any word but love; there shall never be a thought of reproach in
my heart. I have had a great deal of sorrow in my life, Joseph, and have
learnt patiently to bear, leaving all things to Heaven."

"And if Hugh is dead?"

"What I said to Lena, I meant," she softly whispered. "If God has taken
him he is with the angels, far happier than he could be in this world of
care, though his lot were of the brightest."

The tears were running down her cheeks as she went out of the room. Tod
stood still as a stone.

"She is made of gold," I whispered.

"No, Johnny. Of something better."

The sound of the bells died away. None of us went to church; in the
present excitement it would have been a farce. The Squire had gone
riding about the roads, sending his groom the opposite way. He
telegraphed to the police at Worcester; saying, in the message, that
these country officers were no better than dummies; and openly lamented
at home that it had not happened at Dyke Manor, within the range of old
Jones the constable.

Tod disappeared with the last sound of the bells. Just as the pater's
head was full of the brick-fields, his was of the Ravine; that he had
gone off to beat it again I was sure. In a trouble such as this you want
incessantly to be up and doing. Lena and Hannah came back from church,
the child calling for Hugh: she wanted to tell him about the gentleman
who had preached in big white sleeves and pretty frills on his wrists.

Two o'clock was the Sunday dinner-hour. Tod came in when it was
striking. He looked dead-beat as he sat down to carve in his father's
place. The sirloin of beef was as good as usual, but only Lena seemed to
think so. The little gobbler ate two servings, and a heap of raspberry
pie and cream.

How it happened, I don't know. I was just as anxious as any of them,
and yet, in sitting under the mulberry-tree, I fell fast asleep, never
waking till five. Mrs. Todhetley, always finding excuses for us, said it
was worry and want of proper rest. She was sitting close to the window,
her head leaning against it. The Squire had not come home. Tod was
somewhere about, she did not know where.

I found him in the yard. Luke Mackintosh was harnessing the pony to
the gig, Tod helping him in a state of excitement. Some man had come in
with a tale that a tribe of gipsies was discovered, encamped beyond the
brick-fields, who seemed to have been there for a week past. Tod jumped
to the conclusion that Hugh was concealed with them, and was about to go
off in search.

"Will you come with me, Johnny? Luke must remain in case the Squire
rides in."

"Of course I will. I'll run and tell Mrs. Todhetley."

"Stay where you are, you stupid muff. To excite her hopes, in the
uncertainty, would be cruel. Get up."

Tod need not have talked about excited hopes. He was just three parts
mad. Fancy his great strong hands shaking as he took the reins! The pony
dashed off in a fright with the cut he gave it, and brought us cleverly
against the post of the gate, breaking the near shaft. Over _that_, but
for the delay, Tod would have been cool as an orange.

"The phaeton now, single horse," he called out to Mackintosh.

"Yes, sir. Bob, or Blister?"

Tod stamped his foot in a passion. "As if it mattered! Blister; he is
the more fiery of the two."

"I must get the harness," said Mackintosh. "It is in the yellow barn."

Mackintosh went round on the run to gain the front barn; the harness,
least used, was kept there, hung on the walls. Tod unharnessed the pony,
left me to lead him to the stable, and went after the man. In his state
of impatience and his strength, he could have done the work of ten men.
He met Mackintosh coming out of the barn, without the harness, but with
a white face. Since he saw the ghost's light on Friday night the man had
been scared at shadows.

"There's sum'at in there, master," said he, his teeth chattering.

"What?" roared Tod, in desperate anger.

"There _is_, master. It's like a faint tapping."

Tod dashed in, controlling his hands, lest they might take French leave
and strike Luke for a coward. He was seeking the proper set of harness,
when a knocking, faint and irregular, smote his ear. Tod turned to look,
and thought it came from the staircase-door. He went forward and opened
it.

Lying at the foot of the stairs was Hugh. Hugh! Low, and weak, and
faint, there he lay, his blue eyes only half opened, and his pretty
curls mingling with the dust.

"Hugh! is it you, my darling?"

Tod's gasp was like a great cry. Hugh put up his little feeble hand, and
a smile parted his lips.

"Yes, it's me, Joe."

The riddle is easily solved. When sent back by me, Hugh saw Hannah in
the fold-yard; she was, in point of fact, looking after him. In his
fear, he stole round to hide in the shrubbery, and thence got to the
front of the house, and ran away down the road. Seeing the front
barn-door open, for it was when Luke Mackintosh was getting the corn,
Hugh slipped in and hid behind the door. Luke went out with the first
lot of corn, and the senseless child, hearing Tod's voice outside, got
into the place leading to the stairs, and shut the door. Luke, talking
to Tod, who had stepped inside the barn, saw the door was shut and
slipped the big outside bolt, _never remembering that it was not he who
had shut it_. Poor little Hugh, when their voices had died away, ran
upstairs to get to the upper granary, and found its door fastened.
And there the child was shut up beyond reach of call and hearing. The
skylight in the roof, miles, as it seemed, above him, had its ventilator
open. He had called and called; but his voice must have been lost amidst
the space of the barn. It was too weak to disturb a rat now.

Tod took him up in his arms, tenderly as if he had been a new-born baby
that he was hushing to the rest of death.

"Were you frightened, child?"

"I was till I heard the church-bells," whispered Hugh. "I don't know how
long it was--oh, a great while--and I had ate the biscuit Johnny gave me
and been asleep. I was not frightened then, Joe; I thought they'd come
to me when church was over."

I met the procession. What the dirty object might be in Tod's arms was
quite a mystery at first. Tod's eyes were dropping tears upon it, and
his breath seemed laboured. Luke brought up the rear a few yards behind,
looking as if he'd never find his senses again.

"Oh, Tod! will he get over it?"

"Yes. Please God."

"Is he injured?"

"No, no. Get out of my way, Johnny. Go to the mother now, if you like.
Tell her he has only been shut up in the barn and I'm coming in with
him. The dirt's nothing: it was on him before."

Just as meek and gentle she stood as ever, the tears rolling down her
face, and a quiet joy in it. Tod brought him in, laying him across her
knee as she sat on the sofa.

"There," he said. "He'll be all right when he has been washed and had
something to eat."

"God bless you, Joseph!" she whispered.

Tod could say no more. He bent to kiss Hugh; lifted his face, and kissed
the mother. And then he went rushing out with a burst of emotion.



OUR VISIT.


I.

We went down from Oxford together, I and Tod and William Whitney;
accompanying Miss Deveen and Helen and Anna Whitney, who had been there
for a few days. Miss Deveen's carriage was waiting at the Paddington
Station; they got into it with Tod, and William and I followed in a cab
with the luggage. Miss Deveen had invited us all to stay with her.

Miss Cattledon, the companion, with her tall, thin figure, her
pinched-in waist and her creaking stays, stood ready to receive us when
we reached the house. Miss Deveen held out her hand.

"How have you been, Jemima? Taking care of yourself, I hope?"

"Quite well, thank you, Miss Deveen; and very glad to see you at home
again," returned Cattledon. "This is my niece, Janet Carey."

A slight, small girl, with smooth brown hair and a quiet face that
looked as if it had just come out of some wasting illness, was hiding
herself behind Cattledon. Miss Deveen said a few pleasant words of
welcome, and took her hand. The girl looked as shy and frightened as
though we had all been a pack of gorillas.

"Thank you, ma'am; you are very kind," she said in a tremble; and her
voice, I noticed, was low and pleasant. I like nice voices, whether in
man or woman.

"It wants but half-an-hour to dinner-time," said Miss Deveen, untying
the strings of her bonnet. "Miss Cattledon, will you show these young
friends of ours the rooms you have appropriated to them."

My room and Tod's--two beds in it--was on the second floor; Helen and
Anna had the best company room below, near Miss Deveen's; Bill had a
little one lower still, half-way up the first flight of stairs. Miss
Cattledon's room, we found out, was next to ours, and her niece slept
with her.

Tod threw himself full length on his counterpane--tired out, he said.
Certain matters had not gone very smoothly for him at Oxford, and the
smart remained.

"You'll be late, Tod," I said when I was ready.

"Plenty of time, Johnny. I don't suppose I shall keep dinner waiting."

Miss Deveen stood at the door of the blue room when I went down: that
pretty sitting-room, exclusively hers, that I remembered so well. She
had on a purple silk gown, with studs of pale yellow topaz in its white
lace front, studs every whit as beautiful as the emeralds made free with
by Sophie Chalk.

"Come in here, Johnny."

She was beginning to talk to me as we stood by the fire, when some one
was heard to enter the inner room; Miss Deveen's bed-chamber, which
opened from this room as well as from the landing. She crossed over into
it, and I heard Cattledon's voice.

"It is so very kind of you, Miss Deveen, to have allowed me to bring my
niece here! Under the circumstances--with such a cloud upon her----"

"She is quite welcome," interrupted Miss Deveen's voice.

"Yes, I know that; I know it: and I could not go down without thanking
you. I have told Lettice to take some tea up to her while we dine. She
can come to the drawing-room afterwards if you have no objection."

"Why can't she dine with us?" asked Miss Deveen.

"Better not," said Cattledon. "She does not expect it; and with so many
at table----"

"Nonsense!" came Miss Deveen's quick, decisive interruption. "Many at
table! There are sufficient servants to wait on us, and I suppose you
have sufficient dinner. Go and bring her down."

Miss Deveen came back, holding out her hand to me as she crossed the
room. The gong sounded as we went down to the drawing-room. They all
came crowding in, Tod last; and we went in to dinner.

Miss Deveen, with her fresh, handsome face and her snow-white hair, took
the head of the table. Cattledon, at the foot, a green velvet ribbon
round her genteel throat, helped the soup. William Whitney sat on Miss
Deveen's right, I on her left. Janet Carey sat next to him--and this
brought her nearly opposite me.

She had an old black silk on, with a white frill at the throat--very
poor and plain as contrasted with the light gleaming silks of Helen
and Anna. But she had nice eyes; their colour a light hazel, their
expression honest and sweet. It was a pity she could not get some colour
into her wan face, and a little courage into her manner.

After coffee we sat down in the drawing-room to a round game at cards,
and then had some music; Helen playing first. Janet Carey was at the
table, looking at a view in an album. I went up to her.

Had I caught her staring at some native Indians tarred and feathered,
she could not have given a worse jump. It might have been fancy, but I
thought her face turned white.

"Did I startle you, Miss Carey? I am very sorry."

"Oh, thank you--no. Every one is very kind. The truth is"--pausing a
moment and looking at the view--"I knew the place in early life, and was
lost in old memories. Past times and events connected with it came back
to me. I recognized the place at once, though I was only ten years old
when I left it."

"Places do linger on the memory in a singularly vivid manner sometimes.
Especially those we have known when young."

"I can recognize every spot in this," she said, gazing still at the
album. "And I have not seen it for fifteen years."

"Fifteen. I--I understood you to say you were ten years old when you
left it."

"So I was. I am twenty-five now."

So much as that! So much older than any of us! I could hardly believe
it.

"I should not have taken you for more than seventeen, Miss Carey."

"At seventeen I went out to earn my own living," she said, in a sad
tone, but with a candour that I liked. "That is eight years ago."

Helen's music ceased with a crash. Miss Deveen came up to Janet Carey.

"My dear, I hear you can sing: your aunt tells me so. Will you sing a
song, to please me?"

She was like a startled fawn: looking here, looking there, and turning
white and red. But she rose at once.

"I will sing if you wish it, madam. But my singing is only plain
singing: just a few old songs. I have never learnt to sing."

"The old songs are the best," said Miss Deveen. "Can you sing that sweet
song of all songs--'Blow, blow, thou wintry wind'?"

She went to the piano, struck the chords quietly, without any flourish
or prelude, and began the first note.

Oh the soft, sweet, musical voice that broke upon us! Not a powerful
voice, that astounds the nerves like an electric machine; but one of
that intense, thrilling, plaintive harmony which brings a mist to the
eye and a throb to the heart. Tod backed against the wall to look at
her; Bill, who had taken up the cat, let it drop through his knees.

You might have heard a pin drop when the last words died away: "As
friends remembering not." Miss Deveen broke the silence: praising her
and telling her to go on again. The girl did not seem to have the least
notion of refusing: she appeared to have lived under submission. I think
Miss Deveen would have liked her to go on for ever.

"The wonder to me is that you can remember the accompaniment to so many
songs without your notes," cried Helen Whitney.

"I do not know my notes. I cannot play."

"Not know your notes!"

"I never learnt them. I never learnt music. I just play some few chords
by ear that will harmonize with the songs. That is why my singing is so
poor, so different from other people's. Where I have been living they
say it is not worth listening to."

She spoke in a meek, deprecating manner. I had heard of
self-depreciation: this was an instance of it. Janet Carey was one of
the humble ones.

The next day was Good Friday. We went to church under lowering clouds,
and came home again to luncheon. Cattledon's face was all vinegar when
we sat down to it.

"There's that woman downstairs again!--that Ness!" she exclaimed with
acrimony. "Making herself at home with the servants!"

"I'm glad to hear it," smiled Miss Deveen. "She'll get some dinner, poor
thing."

Cattledon sniffed. "It's not a month since she was here before."

"And I'm sure if she came every week she'd be welcome to a meal," spoke
Miss Deveen. "Ah now, young ladies," she went on in a joking tone, "if
you wanted your fortunes told, Mrs. Ness is the one to do it."

"Does she tell truth?" asked Helen eagerly.

"Oh, very true, of course," laughed Miss Deveen. "She'll promise you
a rich husband apiece. Dame Ness is a good woman, and has had many
misfortunes. I have known her through all of them."

"And helped her too," resentfully put in Cattledon.

"But does she _really_ tell fortunes?" pursued Helen.

"She thinks she does," laughed Miss Deveen. "She told mine once--many a
year ago."

"And did it come true?"

"Well, as far as I remember, she candidly confessed that there was not
much to tell--that my life would be prosperous but uneventful."

"I _don't_ think, begging your pardon, Miss Deveen, that it is quite a
proper subject for young people," struck in Cattledon, drawing up her
thin red neck.

"Dear me, no," replied Miss Deveen, still laughing a little. And the
subject dropped, and we finished luncheon.

The rain had come on, a regular downpour. We went into the
breakfast-room: though why it was called that, I don't know, since
breakfast was never taken there. It was a fair-sized, square room, built
out at the back, and gained by a few stairs down from the hall and a
passage. Somehow people prefer plain rooms to grand ones for everyday
use: perhaps that was why we all took a liking to this room, for it was
plain enough. An old carpet on the floor, chairs covered with tumbled
chintz, and always a good blazing fire in the grate. Miss Deveen would
go in there to write her business letters--when she had any to write; or
to cut out sewing with Cattledon for the housemaids. An old-fashioned
secretary stood against the wall, in which receipts and other papers
were kept. The French window opened to the garden.

"Pour, pour, pour! It's going to be wet for the rest of the day," said
Tod gloomily.

Cattledon came in, equipped for church in a long brown cloak, a pair
of clogs in her hand. Did none of us intend to go, she asked. Nobody
answered. The weather outside was not tempting.

"You must come, Janet Carey," she said very tartly, angry with us all,
I expect. "Go and put on your things."

"No," interposed Miss Deveen. "It would not be prudent for your niece
to venture out in this rain, Jemima."

"The church is only over the way."

"But consider the illness she has only just recovered from. Let her stay
indoors."

Cattledon went off without further opposition, Janet kneeling down
unasked, to put on her clogs, and then opening her umbrella for her in
the hall. Janet did not come in again. Miss Deveen went out to sit with
a sick neighbour: so we were alone.

"What a cranky old thing that Cattledon is!" cried Bill, throwing down
his newspaper. "She'd have walked that girl off in the wet, you see."

"How old is Cattledon?" asked Tod. "Sixty?"

"Oh, you stupid fellow!" exclaimed Helen, looking up from the stool on
the hearthrug, where she was sitting, nursing her knees. "Cattledon
sixty! Why, she can't be above forty-five."

It was disrespectful no doubt, but we all called her plain "Cattledon"
behind her back.

"That's rather a queer girl, that niece," said Tod. "She won't speak to
one: she's like a frightened hare."

"I like her," said Anna. "I feel very sorry for her. She gives one the
idea of having been always put upon: and she looks dreadfully ill."

"I should say she has been kept in some Blue Beard's cupboard, amongst a
lot of hanging wives that have permanently scared her," remarked Bill.

"It's Cattledon," said Tod; "it's not the wives. She puts upon the
girl and frightens her senses out of her. Cattledon's a cross-grained,
two-edged----"

He had to shut up: Janet Carey was coming in again. For about five
minutes no one spoke. There seemed to be nothing to say. Bill played
at ball with Miss Deveen's red penwiper: Anna began turning over the
periodicals: Helen gave the cat a box when it would have jumped on her
knee.

"Well, this is lively!" cried Tod. "Nothing on earth to do; I wonder why
the rain couldn't have kept off till to-morrow?"

"I say," whispered Helen, treason sparkling from her bright eyes, "let
us have up that old fortune-teller! I'll go and ask Lettice."

She whirled out of the room, shutting the tail of her black silk dress
in the door, and called Lettice. A few minutes, and Mrs. Ness came in,
curtsying. A stout old lady in a cotton shawl and broad-bordered cap
with a big red bow tied in front.

"I say, Mrs. Ness, can you tell our fortunes?" cried Bill.

"Bless you, young gentlefolks, I've told a many in my time. I'll tell
yours, if you like to bid me, sir."

"Do the cards tell true?"

"I believe they does, sir. I've knowed 'em to tell over true now and
again--more's the pity!"

"Why do you say more's the pity?" asked Anna.

"When they've fortelled bad things, my sweet, pretty young lady. Death,
and what not."

"But how it must frighten the people who are having them told!" cried
Anna.

"Well, to speak the truth, young gentlefolks, when it's very bad, I
generally softens it over to 'em--say the cards is cloudy, or some'at
o' that," was the old woman's candid answer. "It don't do to make
folks uneasy."

"Look here," said Helen, who had been to find the cards, "I should not
like to hear it if it's anything bad."

"Ah, my dear young lady, I don't think _you_ need fear any but a
good fortune, with that handsome face and them bright eyes of yours,"
returned the old dame--who really seemed to speak, not in flattery, but
from the bottom of her heart. "I don't know what the young lords 'ud be
about, to pass _you_ by."

Helen liked that; she was just as vain as a peacock, and thought no
little of herself. "Who'll begin?" asked she.

"Begin yourself, Helen," said Tod. "It's sure to be something good."

So she shuffled and cut the cards as directed: and the old woman,
sitting at the table, spread them out before her, talking a little bit
to herself, and pointing with her finger here and there.

"You've been upon a journey lately," she said, "and you'll soon be going
upon another." I give only the substance of what the old lady said,
but it was interspersed freely with her own remarks. "You'll have a
present before many days is gone; and you'll--stay, there's that black
card--you'll hear of somebody that's sick. And--dear me! there's an
offer for you--an offer of marriage,--but it won't come to anything.
Well, now, shuffle and cut again, please."

Helen did so. This was repeated three times in all. But, so far as we
could understand it, her future seemed to be very uneventful--to have
nothing in it--something like Miss Deveen's.

"It's a brave fortune, as I thought, young lady," cried Mrs. Ness. "No
trouble or care in store for you."

"But there's _nothing_," said Helen, too intently earnest to mind any of
us. "When am I to be married?"

"Well, my dear, the cards haven't told so much this time. There'll be an
offer, as I said--and I think a bit of trouble over it; but----"

"But you said it would not come to anything," interrupted Helen.

"Well, and no more it won't: leastways, it seemed so by the cards; and
it seemed to bring a bother with it--old folks pulling one way maybe,
and young 'uns the other. You'll have to wait a bit for the right
gentleman, my pretty miss."

"What stupid cards they are!" cried Helen, in dudgeon. "I dare say it's
all rubbish."

"Any ways, you've had nothing bad," said the old woman. "And that's a
priceless consolation."

"It's your turn now, Anna."

"I won't have mine told," said Anna. "I'm afraid."

"Oh, you senseless donkey!" cried Bill. "Afraid of a pack of cards!" So
Anna laughed, and began.

"Ah, there's more here," said the old woman as she laid them out. "You
are going through some great ceremony not long first. See here--crowds
of people--and show. Is it a great ball, I wonder?"

"It may be my presentation," said Anna.

"And here's the wedding-ring!--and there's the gentleman! See! he's
turning towards you; a dark man it is; and he'll be very fond of you,
too!--and----"

"Oh, don't go on," cried Anna, in terrible confusion as she heard all
this, and caught Tod's eye, and saw Bill on the broad laugh. "Don't,
pray don't; it must be all nonsense," she went on, blushing redder than
a rose.

"But it's true," steadily urged the old lady. "There the wedding is. I
don't say it'll be soon; perhaps not for some years; but come it will
in its proper time. And you'll live in a fine big house; and--stay a
bit--you'll----"

Anna, half laughing, half crying, pushed the cards together. "I won't be
told any more," she said; "it must be all a pack of nonsense."

"Of course it is," added Helen decisively. "And why couldn't you have
told me all that, Mrs. Ness?"

"Why, my dear, sweet young lady, it isn't me that tells; it's the
cards."

"I don't believe it. But it does to while away a wet and wretched
afternoon. Now, Miss Carey."

Miss Carey looked up from her book with a start. "Oh, not me! Please,
not me!"

"Not you!--the idea!" cried Helen. "Why, of course you must. I and my
sister have had our turn, and you must take yours."

As if further objection were out of the question, Miss Carey stood
timidly up by the table and shuffled the cards that Dame Ness handed to
her. When they were spread out, the old woman looked at the cards longer
than she had looked for either Helen or Anna, then at the girl, then at
the cards again.

"There has been sickness and trouble;--and distress," she said at
length, "And--and--'tain't over yet. I see a dark lady and a fair man:
they've been in it, somehow. Seems to ha' been a great trouble"--putting
the tips of her forefingers upon two cards. "Here you are, you see,
right among it,"--pointing to the Queen of Hearts. "I don't like the
look of it. And there's money mixed up in the sorrow----"

A low, shuddering cry. I happened to be looking from the window at the
moment, and turned to see Janet Carey with hands uplifted and a face of
imploring terror. The cry came from her.

"Oh don't, don't! don't tell any more!" she implored.
"I--was--not--guilty."

Down went her voice by little and little, down fell her hands; and down
dropped she on the chair behind her. The next moment she was crying and
sobbing. We stood round like so many helpless simpletons, quite put down
by this unexpected interlude. Old Dame Ness stared, slowly shuffling the
cards from hand to hand, and could not make it out.

"Here, I'll have my fortune told next, Mother Ness," said Bill Whitney,
really out of good nature to the girl, that she might be left unobserved
to recover herself. "Mind you promise me a good one."

"And so I will then, young gentleman, if the cards 'll let me," was the
hearty answer. "Please shuffle 'em well, sir, and then cut 'em into
three."

Bill was shuffling with all his might when we heard the front-door open,
and Cattledon's voice in the hall. "Oh, by George, I say, what's to be
done?" cried he. "She'll be fit to smother us. That old parson can't
have given them a sermon."

Fortunately she stayed on the door-mat to take off her clogs. Dame Ness
was smuggled down the kitchen stairs, and Bill hid the cards away in his
pocket.

And until then it had not occurred to us that it might not be quite the
right thing to go in for fortune-telling on Good Friday.


II.

On Easter Tuesday William Whitney and Tod went off to Whitney Hall for
a few days: Sir John wrote for them. In the afternoon Miss Deveen took
Helen in the carriage to make calls; and the rest of us went to the
Colosseum, in the Regent's Park. Cattledon rather fought against the
expedition, but Miss Deveen did not listen to her. None of us--except
herself--had seen it before: and I know that I, for one, was delighted
with it.

The last scene of the performance was over. If I remember rightly, at
this distance of time, it was the representation of the falling of an
avalanche on a Swiss village, to bury it for ever in the snow; and we
saw the little lighted church to which the terrified inhabitants were
flying for succour, and heard the tinkling of its alarm bell. As we
pushed out with the crowd, a policeman appeared in our way, facing us,
a tall, big, fierce-looking man; not to impede the advance of the
throng, but to direct its movements. Janet Carey seized my arm, and I
turned to look at her. She stood something like a block of stone; her
face white with terror, her eyes fixed on the policeman. I could not
get her on, and we were stopping those behind. Naturally the man's
eyes fell on her; and with evident recognition.

"Oh, it's you here, is it, Miss Carey!"

The tone was not exactly insolent: but it was cool and significant,
wanting in respect. When I would have asked him how he dared so to
address a young lady, the words were arrested by Janet. I thought she
had gone mad.

"Oh, get me away, Mr. Ludlow, for Heaven's sake! Don't let him take me!
Oh what shall I do? what shall I do?"

"What you've got to do is to get for'ard out o' this here passage and
not block up the way," struck in the policeman. "I bain't after you now;
so you've no call to be afeared this time. Pass on that way, sir."

I drew her onwards, and in half-a-minute we were in the open air, clear
of the throng. Cattledon, who seemed to have understood nothing, except
that we had stopped the way, shook Janet by the arm in anger, and asked
what had come to her.

"It was the same man, aunt, that Mrs. Knox called in," she gasped. "I
thought he had come to London to look for me."

Miss Cattledon's answer was to keep hold of her arm, and whirl her along
towards the outer gates. Anna and I followed in wonder.

"What is it all, Johnny?" she whispered.

"Goodness knows, Anna. I----"

Cattledon turned her head, asking me to go on and secure a cab. Janet
was helped into it and sat back with her eyes closed, a shiver taking
her every now and then.

Janet appeared at dinner, and seemed as well as usual. In the evening
Helen tore the skirt of her thin dress: and before she was aware, the
girl was kneeling by the side of her chair with a needle and thread,
beginning to mend it.

"You are very kind," said Helen heartily, when she saw what Janet was
doing.

"Oh no," answered Janet, with an upward, humble glance from her nice
eyes.

But soon after that, when we were describing to Helen and Miss Deveen
the sights at the Colosseum, and the silence of the buried village after
the avalanche had fallen, Janet was taken with an ague fit. The very
chair shook; it seemed that she must fall out of it. Anna ran to hold
her. Miss Deveen got up in consternation.

"That Colosseum has been too much for her: there's nothing so fatiguing
as sightseeing. I did wrong in letting Janet go, as she is still weak
from her illness. Perhaps she has taken cold."

Ringing the bell, Miss Deveen told George to make some hot wine and
water. When it was brought in, she made Janet drink it, and sent her
upstairs to bed, marshalled by Cattledon.

The next morning, Wednesday, I was dressing in the sunshine that
streamed in at the bedroom windows, when a loud hulla-balloo was set up
below, enough to startle the king and all his men.

"Thieves! robbers! murder!"

Dashing to the door, I looked over the balustrades. The shrieks and
calls came from Lettice Lane, who was stumbling up the stairs from the
hall. Cattledon opened her door in her night-cap, saw me, and shut it
again with a bang.

"Murder! robbers! thieves!" shrieked Lettice.

"But what is it, Lettice?" I cried, leaping down.

"Oh, Mr. Johnny, the house is robbed!--and we might just as well all
have been murdered in our beds!"

Every one was appearing on the scene. Miss Deveen came fully
dressed--she was often up before other people; Cattledon arrived in
a white petticoat and shawl. The servants were running up from the
kitchen.

Thieves had broken in during the night. The (so-called) breakfast-room
at the back presented a scene of indescribable confusion. Everything
in it was turned topsy-turvy, the secretary had been ransacked; the
glass-doors stood open to the garden.

It seemed that Lettice, in pursuance of her morning's duties, had gone
to the room, and found it in this state. Lettice was of the excitable
order, and went into shrieks. She stood now, sobbing and shaking, as she
gave her explanation.

"When I opened the door and saw the room in this pickle, the window
standing open, my very blood seemed to curdle within me. For all I knew
the thieves might have done murder. Just look at the place, ma'am!--look
at your secretary!"

It's what we were all looking at. The sight was as good as moving house.
Chairs and footstools lay upside down, their chintz covers untied
and flung off; the hearthrug was under the table; books were open,
periodicals scattered about; two pictures had been taken from the wall
and lay face downwards; every ornament was moved from the mantelpiece.
The secretary stood open; all its papers had been taken out, opened, and
lay in a heap on the floor; and Janet Carey's well-stocked work-box was
turned bottom upwards, its contents having rolled anywhere.

"This must be your work, George," said Miss Cattledon, turning on the
servant-man with a grim frown.

"Mine, ma'am!" he answered, amazed at the charge.

"Yes, yours," repeated Cattledon. "You could not have fastened the
shutters last night; and that is how the thieves have got in."

"But I did, ma'am. I fastened them just as usual."

"Couldn't be," said Cattledon decisively, who had been making her way
over the _débris_ to examine the shutters. "They have not been forced in
any way: they have simply been opened. The window also."

"And neither window nor shutters could be opened from the outside
without force," remarked Miss Deveen. "I fear, George, you must have
forgotten this room when you shut up last night."

"Indeed, ma'am, I did not forget it," was the respectful answer. "I
assure you I bolted the window and barred the shutters as I always do."

Janet Carey, standing in mute wonder like the rest of us, testified to
this. "When I came in here last night to get a needle and thread to mend
Miss Whitney's dress, I am sure the shutters were shut: I noticed that
they were."

Cattledon would not listen. She had taken up her own opinion of George's
neglect, and sharply told Janet not to be so positive. Janet looked
frightfully white and wan this morning, worse than a ghost.

"Oh, goodness!" cried Helen Whitney, appearing on the scene. "If ever I
saw such a thing!"

"I never did--in all my life," cried Cattledon.

"Have you lost any valuables from the secretary, Miss Deveen?"

"My dear Helen, there were no valuables in the secretary to lose," was
Miss Deveen's answer. "Sometimes I keep money in it--a little: but last
night there happened to be none. Of course the thieves could not know
that, and must have been greatly disappointed. If they did not come in
through the window--why, they must have got in elsewhere."

Miss Deveen spoke in a dubious tone, that too plainly showed her own
doubts on the point. George felt himself and his word reflected upon.

"If I had indeed forgotten this window last night, ma'am--though for me
to do such a thing seems next door to impossible--I would confess to it
at once. I can be upon my oath, ma'am, if put to it, that I made all
secure here at dusk."

"Then, George, you had better look to your other doors and windows," was
the reply of his mistress.

The other doors and windows were looked to: but no trace could be found
of how the thieves got in. After breakfast, we succeeded in putting the
room tolerably straight. The letters and bills took most time, for every
one was lying open. And after it was all done, Miss Deveen came to the
conclusion that nothing had been taken.

"Their object must have been money," she observed. "It is a good thing I
happened to carry my cash-box upstairs yesterday. Sometimes I leave it
here in the secretary."

"And was much in it?" one of us asked.

"Not very much. More, though, than one cares to lose: a little gold and
a bank-note."

"A bank-note!" echoed Janet, repeating the words quickly. "_Is_ it
safe?--are you sure, ma'am, the note is safe?"

"Well, I conclude it is," answered Miss Deveen with composure. "I saw
the cash-box before I came down this morning. I did not look inside it."

"Oh, but you had better look," urged Janet, betraying some excitement.
"Suppose it should be gone! Can _I_ look, ma'am?"

"What nonsense!" exclaimed Helen. "If the cash-box is safe, the money
must be safe inside it. The thieves did not go into Miss Deveen's room,
Janet Carey."

The servants wanted the police called in; but their mistress saw no
necessity for it. Nothing had been carried off, she said, and therefore
she should take no further trouble. Her private opinion was that George,
in spite of his assertions, must have forgotten the window.

It seemed a curious thing that the thieves had not visited other rooms.
Unless, indeed, the door of this one had been locked on the outside, and
they were afraid to risk the noise of forcing it: and no one could tell
whether the key had been turned, or not. George had the plate-basket in
his bed-chamber; but on the sideboard in the dining-room stood a silver
tea-caddy and a small silver waiter: how was it they had not walked off
with these two articles? Or, as the cook said, why didn't they rifle her
larder? She had various tempting things in it, including a fresh-boiled
ham.

"Janet Carey has been ill all the afternoon," observed Anna, when I and
Helen got home before dinner, for we had been out with Miss Deveen. "I
think she feels frightened about the thieves, for one thing."

"Ill for nothing!" returned Helen slightingly. "Why should she be
frightened any more than we are? The thieves did not hurt her. I might
just as well say I am ill."

"But she has been really ill, Helen. She has a shivering-fit one
minute and is sick the next. Cattledon says she must have caught cold
yesterday, and is cross with her for catching it."

"Listen," said Helen, lowering her voice. "I can't get it out of my head
that that old fortune-teller must have had to do with it. She must have
seen the secretary and may have taken note of the window fastenings. I
am in a state over it: as you both know, it was I who had her up."

Janet did not come down until after dinner. She was pale and quiet, but
not less ready than ever to do what she could for every one. Helen had
brought home some ferns to--transfer, I think she called it. Janet at
once offered to help her. The process involved a large hand-basin full
of water, and Miss Deveen sent the two girls into the breakfast-parlour,
not to make a mess in the drawing-room.

"Well, my dears," said Miss Deveen, when she had read the chapter before
bed-time, "I hope you will all sleep well to-night, and that we shall
be undisturbed by thieves. Not that they disturbed us last night," she
added, laughing. "Considering all things, I'm sure they were as polite
and considerate thieves as we could wish to have to do with."

Whether the others slept well I cannot say: I know I did. So well that I
never woke at all until the same cries from Lettice disturbed the house
as on the previous morning. The thieves had been in again.

Downstairs we went, as quickly as some degree of dressing allowed, and
found the breakfast-room all confusion, the servants all consternation:
the window open as before; the furniture turned about, the ornaments and
pictures moved from their places, the books scattered, the papers of
the secretary lying unfolded in a heap on the carpet, and a pair of
embroidered slippers of Helen Whitney's lying in the basin of water.

"What an extraordinary thing!" exclaimed Miss Deveen, while the rest of
us stood in silent amazement.

Lettice's tale was the same as the previous one. Upon proceeding to
the room to put it to rights, she found it thus, and its shutters and
glass-doors wide open. There was no trace, except here, of the possible
entrance or exit of thieves: all other fastenings were secure as they
had been left over-night; other rooms had not been disturbed; and, more
singular than all, nothing appeared to have been taken. What could the
thieves be seeking?

"Shall you call in the police now, ma'am?" asked Cattledon, her tone
implying that they ought to have been called in before.

"Yes, I shall," emphatically replied Miss Deveen.

"Oh!" shrieked Helen, darting in, after making a hasty and impromptu
toilet, "look at my new slippers!"

After finishing the ferns last night they had neglected to send the
basin away. The slippers were rose-coloured, worked with white flowers
in floss silk; and the bits of loose green from the ferns floated over
them like green weeds on a pond. Helen had bought them when we were out
yesterday.

"My beautiful slippers!" lamented Helen. "I wish to goodness I had not
forgotten to take them upstairs. What wicked thieves they must be! They
ought to be hung."

"It's to know, mum, whether it _was_ thieves," spoke the cook.

"Why, what else can it have been, cook?" asked Miss Deveen.

"Mum, I don't pretend to say. I've knowed cats do queer things. We've
two on 'em--the old cat and her kitten."

"Did you ever know cats unlock a secretary and take out the papers,
cook?" returned Miss Deveen.

"Well, no, mum. But, on the other hand, I never knowed thieves break
into a house two nights running, and both times go away empty-handed."

The argument was unanswerable. Unless the thieves had been disturbed on
each night, how was it they had taken nothing?

Miss Deveen locked the door upon the room just as it was; and after
breakfast sent George to the nearest police-station. Whilst he was gone
I was alone in the dining-room, stooping down to hunt for a book in the
lowest shelf of the book-case, when Janet Carey came in followed by
Cattledon. I suppose the table-cover hid me from them, for Cattledon
began to blow her up.

"One would think you were a troubled ghost, shaking and shivering in
that way, first upstairs and then down! The police coming!--what if they
are? They are not coming after you this time. There's no money missing
now."

Janet burst into tears. "Oh, aunt, why do you speak so to me? It is as
though you believe me guilty!"

"Don't be a simpleton, Janet," rebuked Cattledon, in softer tones. "If
I did not know you were not, and could not, be guilty, should I have
brought you here under Miss Deveen's roof? What vexes me so much is to
see you look as though you were guilty--with your white face, and your
hysterics, and your trembling hands and lips. Get a little spirit into
yourself, child: the police won't harm you."

Catching up the keys from the table, she went out again, leaving Janet
sobbing. I stood forward. She started when she saw me, and tried to dry
her eyes.

"I am sorry, Miss Carey, that all this bother is affecting you. Why are
you so sad?"

"I--have gone through a great deal of trouble lately;--and been ill,"
she answered, with hesitation, arresting her tears.

"Can I do anything for you?--help you in any way?"

"You are very kind, Mr. Ludlow; you have been kind to me all along.
There's nothing any one can do. Sometimes I wish I could die."

"Die!"

"There is so much unhappiness in the world!"

George's voice was heard in the hall with the policeman. Janet vanished.
But whether it was through the floor or out at the door, I declare I did
not see then, and don't quite know to this day.

I and Cattledon were allowed to assist at the conference between Miss
Deveen and the policeman: a dark man with a double chin and stripes on
his coat-sleeve. After hearing particulars, and examining the room and
the mess it was in, he inquired how many servants were kept, and whether
Miss Deveen had confidence in them. She told him the number, and said
she had confidence in all.

He went into the kitchen, put what questions he pleased to the servants,
looked at the fastenings of the doors generally, examined the outside
of the window and walked about the garden. George called him Mr.
Stone--which appeared to be his name. Mr. Stone had nothing of a report
to bring Miss Deveen.

"It's one of two things, ma'am," he said. "Either this has been done by
somebody in your own house; or else the neighbours are playing tricks
upon you. I can't come to any other conclusion. The case is peculiar,
you see, in-so-far as that nothing has been stolen."

"It is very peculiar indeed," returned Miss Deveen.

"I should have said--I should feel inclined to say--that the culprit is
some one in the house----"

"It's the most unlikely thing in the world, that it should have been any
one in the house," struck in Miss Deveen, not allowing him to go on. "To
suspect any of the young people who are visiting me, would be simply an
insult. And my servants would no more play the trick than I or Miss
Cattledon would play it."

"Failing indoors then, we must look out," said Mr. Stone, after
listening patiently. "And that brings up more difficulty, ma'am. For
I confess I don't see how they could get the windows and shutters open
from the outside, and leave no marks of damage."

"The fact of the window and shutters being wide open each morning, shows
how they got out."

"Just so," said Mr. Stone; "but it does not show how they got in. Of
course there's the possibility that they managed to secrete themselves
in the house beforehand."

"Yesterday I thought that might have been the case," remarked Miss
Deveen; "to-day I do not think so. It seems that, after what occurred,
my servants were especially cautious to keep their doors and windows not
only closed, but bolted all day yesterday, quite barring the possibility
of any one's stealing in. Except, of course, down the chimneys."

Mr. Stone laughed. "They'd bring a lot of soot with 'em that way."

"And spoil my hearthrugs. No; that was not the way of entrance."

"Then we come to the question--did one of the servants get up and admit
'em?"

"But that would be doubting my servants still, you see. It really seems,
Mr. Stone, as though you could not help me."

"Before saying whether I can or I can't, I should be glad, ma'am, to
have a conversation with you alone," was the unexpected answer.

So we left him with Miss Deveen. Cattledon's stays appeared to resent
it, for they creaked alarmingly in the hall, and her voice was tart.

"Perhaps the man wants to accuse you or me, Mr. Johnny!"

We knew later, after the upshot came, what it was he did want; and I may
as well state it at once. Stone had made up his mind to watch that night
in the garden; but he wished it kept secret from every one, except Miss
Deveen herself, and he charged her strictly not to mention it. "How will
it serve you, if, as you say, they do not come in that way?" she had
asked. "But the probability is they come out that way," he answered. "At
any rate, they fling the doors open, and I shall be there to drop upon
them."

Janet Carey grew very ill as the day went on. Lettice offered to sit up
with her, in case she wanted anything in the night. Janet had just the
appearance of somebody worn out.

We went to bed at the usual time, quite unconscious that Mr. Stone had
taken up his night watch in the summer-house at the end of the garden.
The nights were very bright just then; the moon at about the full.
Nothing came of it: neither the room nor the window was disturbed.

"They scented my watch," remarked the officer in private next morning
to Miss Deveen. "However, ma'am, I don't think it likely you will be
troubled again. Seeing you've put it into our hands, they'll not dare to
risk further annoyance."

"I suppose not--if they know it," dubiously spoke Miss Deveen.

He shook his head. "They know as much as that, ma'am. Depend upon it
their little game is over."

Mr. Stone was mistaken. On the following morning, the breakfast-room was
found by Lettice in exactly the same state of confusion. The furniture
dragged about, the ornaments moved from the mantelpiece, the bills and
papers opened, as before. Miss Deveen was very silent over it, and
said in the hearing of the servants that she should have to carry the
grievance to Scotland Yard.

And I'm sure I thought she set out to do it. The carriage came to the
door in the course of the morning. Miss Deveen, who was ready dressed,
passed over the others, and asked me to go with her.

"Do you know what I'm going to do, Johnny?" she questioned, as George
took his place on the box and the fat old coachman gave the word to his
horses.

"I think I do, Miss Deveen. We are going to Scotland Yard."

"Not a bit of it, Johnny," she said. "My opinion has come round to Mr.
Policeman Stone's--that we must look indoors for the disturber. I have
brought you out with me to talk about it. It is a great mystery--for I
thought I could have trusted the servants and all the rest of you with
my life."

It was a mystery--and no mistake.

"A great mystery," repeated Miss Deveen; "a puzzle; and I want you
to help me to unravel it, Johnny. I intend to sit up to-night in the
breakfast-room. But not being assured of my nerves while watching in
solitude for thieves, or ghosts, or what not, I wish you to sit up with
me."

"Oh, I shall like it, Miss Deveen."

"I have heard of houses being disturbed before in a similar manner," she
continued. "There was a story in the old days of the Cock-Lane ghost: I
think that was something of the same kind, but my memory is rather
cloudy on the point. Other cases I know have been traced to the sudden
mania, solely mischievous or otherwise, of some female inmate. I hope it
will not turn out to have been Lettice herself."

"Shall I watch without you, Miss Deveen?"

"No, no; you will bear me company. We will make our arrangements now,
Johnny--for I do not intend that any soul shall know of this; not even
Miss Cattledon. You will keep counsel, mind, like the true and loyal
knight you are."

                 *       *       *       *       *

The house had gone to rest. In the dark breakfast-room sat Miss Deveen
and I, side by side. The fire was dying away, and it gave scarcely any
light. We sat back against the wall between the fireplace and the door,
she in one armchair, I in another. The secretary was opposite the fire,
the key in the lock as usual; the window, closed and barred, lay to the
left, the door to the right, a table in the middle. An outline of the
objects was just discernible in the fading light.

"Do you leave the key in the secretary as a rule, Miss Deveen?" I asked
in a whisper.

"Yes. There's nothing in it that any one would care to look at," she
replied in the same cautious tone. "My cash-box is generally there, but
that is always locked. But I think we had better not talk, Johnny."

So we sat on in silence. The faint light of the fire died away, giving
place to total darkness. It was weary watching there, hour after hour,
each hour seeming an age. Twelve o'clock struck; one; two! I'd have
given something to be able to fall asleep. Just to speak a word to Miss
Deveen would be a relief, and I forgot her injunctions.

"Are you thinking of ghosts, Miss Deveen?"

"Just then I was thinking of God, Johnny. How good it is to know that He
is with us in the dark as in the light."

Almost with the last word, my ears, younger and quicker than Miss
Deveen's, caught the sound of a faint movement outside--as though steps
were descending the stairs. I touched Miss Deveen's arm and breathed a
caution.

"I hear something. I think it is coming now."

The door softly opened. Some white figure was standing there--as might
be seen by the glimmer of light that came in through the passage window.
Who or what it was, we could not gather. It closed the door behind it,
and came slowly gliding along the room on the other side the table,
evidently feeling its way as it went, and making for the window. We sat
in breathless silence. Miss Deveen had caught my hand and was holding it
in hers.

Next, the shutters were unfastened and slowly folded back; then the
window was unbolted and its doors were flung wide. This let in a flood
of moonlight: after the darkness the room seemed bright as day. And the
white figure doing all this was--Janet Carey in her nightgown, her feet
bare.

Whether Miss Deveen held my hand the tighter, or I hers, I dare say
neither of us could tell. Janet's eyes turned on us, as we sat: and I
fully expected her to go into a succession of shrieks.

But no. She took no manner of notice. It was just as though she did not
see us. Steadily, methodically as it seemed, she proceeded to search the
room, apparently looking for something. First, she took the chintz cover
off the nearest chair, and shook it out; turned over the chair and felt
it all over; a small round stand was served the same; a blotting-case
that happened to lie on the table she carried to the window, knelt down,
and examined it on the floor by the moonlight, passing her fingers over
its few pages, unfolding a letter that was inside and shaking it out
to the air. Then all that was left on the floor, and she turned over
another chair, and so went on.

I felt as cold as charity. Was it her ghost that was doing this? How was
it she did not see us sitting there? Her eyes were open enough to see
anything!

Coming to the secretary, she turned the key, and began her search in it.
Pulling out one drawer first, she opened every paper it contained, shook
them one by one, and let them drop on the floor. As she was commencing
at the next drawer, her back towards us, Miss Deveen whispered to me.

"We will get away, Johnny. You go on first. No noise, mind."

We got out without being seen or heard. At least, there was no outcry;
no sign to tell we had been. Miss Deveen drew me into the dining-room;
her face, as it caught the glimmer, entering by the fan-light over the
hall-door, looked deadly pale.

"I understand it all, Johnny. She is doing it in her sleep."

"In her sleep?"

"Yes. She is unconscious. It was better to come away. As she came round
to search our part of the room, she might have found us, and awoke. That
would have been dangerous."

"But, Miss Deveen, what is she searching for?"

"I know. I see it all perfectly. It is for a bank-note."

"But--if she is really asleep, how can she go about the search in that
systematic way? Her eyes are wide open: she seems to examine things as
though she _saw_ them."

"I cannot tell you how it is, Johnny. They do seem to see things,
though they are asleep. What's more, when they awake there remains no
consciousness of what they have done. This is not the first case of
somnambulism I have been an eye-witness to. She throws the window and
shutters open to admit the light."

"How can she have sense to know in her sleep that opening them will
admit it?"

"Johnny, though these things _are_, I cannot explain them. Go up to your
bed now and get to sleep. As I shall go to mine. You shall know about
Janet in the morning. She will take no harm if left alone: she has taken
none hitherto. Say nothing to any one."

It was the solution of the great puzzle. Janet Carey had done it all in
her sleep. And what she had been searching for was a bank-note.

In the situation where Janet had been living as nursery-governess, a
bank-note had disappeared. Janet was suspected and _accused_ of taking
it. Constitutionally timid and nervous, her spirits long depressed by
circumstances, the accusation had a grave effect upon her. She searched
the house for it incessantly, almost night and day, just as we had seen
her searching the parlour at Miss Deveen's in her sleep, and then fell
into a fever--which was only saved by great care from settling on the
brain. When well enough, Miss Cattledon had her removed to London to
Miss Deveen's; but the stigma still clung to her, and the incipient
fever seemed still to hover about her. The day William Whitney left, she
moved from Miss Cattledon's chamber to the one he had occupied: and that
night, being unrestrained, she went down in her sleep to search. The
situation of the room in which the note had been lost was precisely
similar to this breakfast-room at Miss Deveen's--in her troubled sleep,
poor girl, she must have taken it for the same room, and crept down,
still asleep, to renew the endless search she had formerly made when
awake. The night the policeman was watching in the summer-house,
Lettice sat up with Janet; so that night nothing occurred. Lettice said
afterwards that Miss Carey twice got out of bed in her sleep and seemed
to be making for the door, but Lettice guided her back to bed again. And
so there was the elucidation: and Janet was just as unconscious of what
she had done as the bed-post.

Miss Deveen's medical man was called in, for brain-fever, escaped,
appeared to be fastening on Janet in earnest now. He gave it as his
opinion that she was no natural sleep-walker, but that the mind's
disturbance had so acted on the brain and system, coupled with her
fright at meeting the policeman at the Colosseum, as to have induced the
result. At any rate, whatever may have caused it, and strange though it
was, I have only given facts. And in the next paper we shall hear more
about the bank-note.



JANET CAREY.


I.

It was a summer's evening, some two years or so previous to the events
told of in the last chapter, and the sun was setting in clouds of
crimson and gold. On the green lawn at the back of Rose Villa--a pretty
detached house, about twenty minutes' walk from the town of Lefford--sat
a lady in a gay dress. She was dark and plain, with crinkled black hair,
and a rough voice. A girl of twelve, fair, pretty, and not in the least
like her, sat on the same bench. Three younger girls were scampering
about at some noisy play; and a boy, the youngest of all, lay on the
grass, whistling, and knotting a whip-cord. The sun's slanting rays
tinted all with a warm hue.

"Get up, Dicky," said the lady to the boy.

Dicky, aged five, whistled on, without taking any notice.

"Did you hear mamma tell you to get up, Dicky?" spoke the fair girl by
her mother's side. "Get up, sir."

"Shan't," said Dicky.

"_You_ go in for me, Mina," said Mrs. Knox. "I want to know the time.
Arnold took my watch into town this morning to have the spring mended."

Mina seemed in no more hurry to obey than Dicky was. Just then a low
pony-chaise, driven by a boy-groom, rattled out from the stable-yard at
the side of the house. Mina looked across at it.

"It must be about a quarter-past eight," she said. "You told James not
to be later than that in going to the station."

"You might go and see," spoke Mrs. Knox: "James is not sure to be to
time. How _glad_ I shall be when that governess is here to take the
trouble of you children off me!" she added, fretfully. Mina did not take
the hint about going in: she made off to her sisters instead.

This house had once been a doctor's residence. Soon after Thomas
Knox, surgeon and apothecary, set up in practice at Lefford, now
five-and-twenty years ago, he married Mary Arnold. Rose Villa was hers,
and some money besides, and they came to live at it, Mr. Knox keeping on
his surgery in Lefford. They had one son, who was named Arnold. When
Arnold was ten years old, his mother died. A year later his father
married a second wife, Miss Amelia Carey: after which these five other
young ones came to town. Arnold was to be a doctor like his father. His
studies were in progress, when one morning a letter came to him in
London--where he was walking Bartholomew's Hospital under that clever
man, William Lawrence--saying that his father was alarmingly ill. Arnold
reached Lefford just in time to see him die. The little one, Dicky, was
a baby then in long-clothes. Arnold was only nineteen. No chance that he
could set up in, and keep together the practice, which fell through.
So he went back to London to study on, and pass, and what not; and
by-and-by he came down again Dr. Knox: for he had followed the fashion
just then getting common, of taking the M.D. degree. Arnold Knox had
his share of good plain sense, and of earnestness too; but example is
catching, and he only followed that of his fellow-students in going in
thus early for the degree. He arrived at Lefford "Dr. Knox." Mr. Tamlyn
laughed at him, before his face and behind his back, asking him what
experience he had had that he should hasten to tack on M.D. to his name:
why, not more experience than a country apothecary's apprentice. Arnold,
feeling half ashamed of himself, for he was very modest, pleaded the new
custom. Custom! returned old Tamlyn; in _his_ days medical men had
_worked_ for their honours before taking them. Arnold engaged himself as
assistant to Mr. Tamlyn, who had dropped into the best part of Dr.
Knox's practice since that gentleman's death, in addition to his own.

Meanwhile, Mrs. Knox, the widow, had continued to live at Rose Villa.
It belonged to Arnold, having descended to him in right of his mother.
Mr. Knox had bequeathed by will five hundred pounds to Arnold for the
completion of his studies; and all the rest of his money to his wife and
second family. Lefford talked of it resentfully, saying it was an unjust
will: for a good portion of the money had been Mary Arnold's and ought
to have gone to her son. It was about three hundred and fifty pounds
a-year in all; and Mrs. Knox bewailed and bemoaned her hard fate at
having to bring up her children upon so little. She was one of those who
_must_ spend; and her extravagance had kept her husband poor, in spite
of his good practice.

Never a hint did she offer her step-son of paying him rent for his
house; never a word of thanks did she tender for the use of it.

Arnold said nothing: he was thoroughly warm-hearted and generous,
considering every one before himself, and he would not have hurt her
feelings or cramped her pocket for the world. As long as he did not want
the house, she and his half-sisters and brother were welcome to it. When
he came back from London he naturally went to it; it was his home; and
Mrs. Knox did not at all like the addition he made to her housekeeping
expenses: which could not be very much amongst the nine others to
provide for. The very day after Arnold's bargain was made with Mr.
Tamlyn, she asked him how much he was going to pay her for his board.
Half his salary, Arnold promptly replied; seventy-five pounds a-year.
And Mrs. Knox would have liked to say it was not enough.

"Seventy-five pounds a-year!" cackled Lefford, when it got hold of the
news. "Why, it won't cost her half that. And she using his house and
enjoying all the money that was his poor mother's! Well, she has a
conscience, that Widow Knox!"

The arrangement had continued until now. Three years had elapsed since
then, and Arnold was four-and-twenty. Mrs. Knox found herself often in
money difficulties; when she would borrow from Arnold, and never think
of repaying him. She was now going to increase expenses by taking a
nursery-governess. Awfully tiresome those children were, and Mrs. Knox
said they wore her out. She should have managed the little brats better:
not indulged and neglected them by turns. One hour she'd let them
run wild, the next hour was shrieking at them in words next door to
swearing.

The governess engaged was a distant relative of her own, a Miss Janet
Carey. She was an orphan, and had for a year or two been teacher in a
boys' preparatory school, limited to thirty pupils. Mrs. Knox wrote to
offer her twelve pounds a-year and a "very comfortable home at Rose
Villa; to be as one of the family." It must have sounded tempting to
Miss Carey after the thirty little boys, and she gratefully accepted it.
Mrs. Knox had never seen her; she pictured to herself a tall, bony young
woman with weak eyes, for that had been the portrait of her second
cousin, Miss Carey's father.

"Crack! crack! Tally-ho! tally-ho!" shouted Dicky, who had completed his
whip, and got up to stamp and smack it. "Yo-ho! Tally-ho, tally-ho!"

"Oh, do for goodness' sake be quiet, Dick!" screamed Mrs. Knox. "I can't
have that noise now: I told you I had a headache. Do you hear me, then!
Mina, come and take away this horrible whip."

Mina came running at the call. Master Dicky was so much given way to as
a general rule, that to thwart him seemed to his sisters something
delightful. Dicky dodged out of harm's way amongst the shrubs; and
Mina was about to go after him, when some one came through the open
glass-doors of what was called the garden-room.

"Here's Arnold," she cried.

Dr. Knox was a tall, strongly built, fair man, looking older than his
four-and-twenty years. Nobody could help liking his thin face, for it
was a _good_ face, full of sense and thought, but it was not a handsome
one. His complexion was sallow, and his light hair had a habit of
standing up wild.

"You are home betimes," remarked Mrs. Knox.

"Yes; there was nothing more to do," he answered, sitting down in a
rustic garden-chair. "I met James in the pony-chaise: where's he gone?"

"Why, Arnold, don't you know that the governess is coming this evening?"
cried the second girl, Lotty, who was fanning her hot face with a
cabbage-leaf. "James has gone to the station for her."

"I forgot all about the governess," said Dr. Knox. "Lotty, what a heat
you are in!"

"We have been running races," said the child; "and the sun was blazing."

Dicky came tearing up. Something had happened to the whip.

"Look at it, Arnold," he said, throwing his arms and the whip on the
doctor's knees. "The lash won't stay on."

"And you want me to mend it, I suppose."

"Yes. Do it now."

"Is that the way to ask?"

"Please do it now, Arnold."

"If I can. But I fear I can't, Dicky."

"No! You can mend arms and legs."

"Sometimes. Have you a strip of leather? Or some twine?"

Dicky pulled a piece of string out of some unfathomable pocket. He was
not promoted to trousers yet, but wore white drawers reaching to the
knee and a purple velvet tunic. Dr. Knox took out his penknife.

"What's the matter with that young Tamlyn again?" asked Mrs. Knox in a
fretful tone.

"With Bertie?" returned Dr. Knox, rather carelessly, for he was intent
on the whip. "It is one of the old attacks."

"Of course! I knew it was nothing more," spoke Mrs Knox in resentment.
"There was to have been a party at Mrs. Green's this evening. Just as I
was ready to start for it, her footman came to say it was put off on
account of Miss Tamlyn, who could not come because Master Albert was
ill."

"Miss Tamlyn would not leave Bertie when he is ill for all the parties
in Christendom, mother."

"Miss Tamlyn is welcome to stay with him. But that's no reason why Mrs.
Green should have put the rest of us off. Who's Bessy Tamlyn, that she
should be considered before every one?--stupid old maid!"

Mrs. Knox pushed up her lace sleeves in wrath, and jingled her
bracelets. Evening parties made the solace of her life.

The wheels of the returning chaise were heard, and the children went
rushing round to the front of the house to look at the new governess.
They brought Janet Carey back to the lawn. Mrs. Knox saw a small, slight
young girl with a quiet, nice face and very simple manners. Dr. Knox
rose. Mrs. Knox did not rise. Expecting to see a kind of dark strong
giantess, she was struck with astonishment and remained sitting.

"You are surely not Matthew Carey's daughter?"

"Yes, madam, I am," was the young lady's answer, as a blush stole into
the clear, meek face.

"Dear me! I should never have thought it. Mat Carey was as tall and big
as a lamp-post. And--why!--you told me you were twenty-three!"

"I was twenty-three last March."

"Well, I trust you will be found competent to manage my children. I had
no idea you were so young-looking."

The tone expressed a huge doubt of it. The ill-trained youngsters stood
staring rudely into Miss Carey's face. Dr. Knox, pushing some of them
aside, held out his hand with a smile of welcome.

"I hope you will be able to feel at home here, Miss Carey," he said:
"the children must not be allowed to give you too much trouble. Have you
had a pleasant journey?"

"Take Miss Carey to her room, Mina," sharply struck in Mrs. Knox, not at
all pleased that her step-son should presume to say so much: as if
the house were his. And Mina, followed by the shy and shrinking young
governess, went indoors and up to the roof, and showed her a little
comfortless chamber there.

                 *       *       *       *       *

(But the reader must understand that in writing this paper, I, Johnny
Ludlow, am at a disadvantage. Not having been present myself at Lefford,
I can only relate at second hand what happened at Mrs. Knox's.)

                 *       *       *       *       *

The time went on. Janet Carey proved herself equal to her work: although
Mrs. Knox, judging by her young look and gentle manners, had been struck
by a doubt of her capacity, and politely expressed it aloud. Janet's
duties were something like the labours of Hercules: at least, as varied.
Teaching was only one of them. She helped to dress and undress the
children, or did it entirely if Sally the housemaid forgot to attend;
she kept all the wardrobes and mended the clothes and the socks. She had
to be in all places at once. Helping Mrs. Knox in the parlour, taking
messages to the kitchen, hearing the girls' lessons, and rushing out to
the field to see that Dicky was not worrying the pony or milking the cow
on his own account. It was not an orderly household; two maids were kept
and James. Mrs. Knox had no talent for management, and was frightfully
lazy besides; and Janet, little foreseeing what additional labour
she would bring on herself, took to remedy as far as she could the
shortcomings and confusion. Mrs. Knox saw her value, and actually
thanked her. As a reward, she made Janet her own attendant, her
secretary, and partly her housekeeper. Mrs. Knox's hair, coarse and
stiff, was rather difficult hair to manage; in the morning it was let go
anyhow, and Janet dressed it in the afternoon. Janet wrote Mrs. Knox's
letters; kept her accounts; paid the bills--paid them, that is, when she
could get the money. Janet, you perceive, was made Jack-of-all-trades at
Rose Villa. She was conscious that it was hardly fair, but she did it
cheerfully; and, as Mrs. Knox would say, it was all in the day's work.

The only one who showed consideration for Miss Carey was Dr. Knox. He
lectured the children about giving her so much unnecessary trouble: he
bribed Dicky with lozenges and liquorice from the surgery drawers not to
kick or spit at her; and he was, himself, ever kind and considerate to
her. They only met at dinner and tea, for Dr. Knox snatched a scrambling
breakfast (the servants never got it ready for him in time), and went
off betimes to Lefford. Now and then he would come home tolerably early
in the evening, but he had a great deal to do, and it did not happen
often. Mr. Tamlyn was the parish doctor, and it gave Dr. Knox an
incessant round of tramping: for the less pleasant division of the daily
professional work was turned over to him.

They got to have a fellow-feeling for one another--Janet and Dr. Knox--a
kind of mutual, inward sympathy. Both of them were overworked; in
the lot of each was less of comfort than might have been. Dr. Knox
compassionated Janet's hard place and the want of poetry in her life.
Janet felt hurt to see him made so little of at home, and she knew about
the house being his property, and the seventy-five pounds a-year he paid
for the liberty of living in it,--and she knew that most of the income
enjoyed by Mrs. Knox ought to have been Arnold's income. His breakfast
was scanty; a cup of coffee, taken standing, and some bread-and-butter,
hurriedly eaten. Or he would be off by cockcrow without chance of
breakfast, unless he cut a slice of bread in the pantry: or perhaps
would have to be out all night. Sometimes he would get home to dinner;
one o'clock; more often it was two o-clock, or half-past, or three.
In that case, Sally would bring in a plate of half-cold scraps for
him--anything that happened to be left. Once, when Janet was carving a
leg of mutton, she asked leave to cut off a slice or two that they might
be kept warm for the doctor; but Mrs. Knox blew her up--a fine trouble
_that_ would be! As to tea, the chances were, if he came in to it at
all, that the teapot would be drained: upon which, some lukewarm water
would be dashed in, and the loaf and butter put before him. Dr. Knox
took it all quietly: perhaps he saw how useless complaint would be.

Mr. Tamlyn's was a large, handsome, red-brick house, standing in a
beautiful garden, in the best and widest street of Lefford. The surgery,
built on the side of the house, consisted of two rooms: one containing
the drugs and the scales, and so on; the other where the better class of
patients waited. Mr. Tamlyn's wife was dead, and he had one son, who was
a cripple. Poor Bertie was thrown down by his nurse when he was a child;
he had hardly ever been out of pain since; sometimes the attacks were
very bad. It made him more cross and fractious than a stranger would
believe; rude, in fact, and self-willed. Mr. Tamlyn just worshipped
Bertie. He only lived to one end--that of making money for Bertie, after
he, himself, should be gone. Miss Bessy, Mr. Tamlyn's half-sister, kept
his house, and she was the only one who tried to keep down Bertie's
temper. Lefford thought it odd that Mr. Tamlyn did not raise Dr. Knox's
salary: but it was known he wanted to put by what he could for Bertie.

The afternoon sun streamed full on the surgery-window, and Dr. Knox, who
had just pelted back from dinner, stood behind the counter, making up
bottles of physic. Mr. Tamlyn had an apprentice, a young fellow named
Dockett, but he could not be trusted with the physic department yet, as
he was apt to serve out calomel powder for camomile flowers. Of the
three poor parish patients, waiting for their medicine, two sat and one
stood, as there was not a third chair. The doctor spoke very kindly to
them about their ailments; he always did that; but he did not seem well
himself, and often put his hand to his throat and chest.

The physic and the parish patients done with, he went into the other
room, and threw himself into the easy-chair. "I wonder what's the matter
with me?" he said to himself: and then he got up again, for Mr. Tamlyn
was coming in. He was a short man with a grey face, and iron grey hair.

"Arnold," said he, "I wish you'd take my round this afternoon. There are
only three or four people who need be seen, and the carriage is at the
door."

"Is Bertie worse than usual?" asked Arnold; who knew that every
impediment in Mr. Tamlyn's way was caused by Bertie.

"He is in a great deal of pain. I really don't care to leave him."

"Oh, I'll go with pleasure," replied Arnold, passing into the surgery to
get his hat.

Mr. Tamlyn walked with him across the flagged court to the gate, talking
of the sick people he was going to see. Arnold got into the brougham and
was driven away. When he returned, Mr. Tamlyn was upstairs in Bertie's
sitting-room. Arnold went there.

"Anything more come in?" he asked. "Or can the brougham be put up?"

"Dear me, yes; here's a note from Mrs. Stephenson," said Mr. Tamlyn,
replying to the first question. And he spoke testily: for Mrs.
Stephenson was a lady of seventy, who always insisted on his own
attendance, objecting to Dr. Knox on the score of his youth. "Well, you
must go for once, Arnold. If she grumbles, tell her I was out."

On a sofa in the room lay Albert Tamlyn; a lad of sixteen with a fretful
countenance and rumpled hair. Miss Tamlyn, a pleasant-looking lady of
thirty-five, sat by the sofa at work. Arnold Knox went up to the boy,
speaking with the utmost gentleness.

"Bertie, my boy, I am sorry you are in pain to-day."

"Who said I was in pain?" retorted Bertie, ungraciously, his voice as
squeaky as a penny trumpet.

"Why, Bertie, you know you are in great pain: it was I who told Dr. Knox
so," interposed the father.

"Then you had no business to tell him so," shrieked Bertie, with a
hideous grin of resentment. "What is it to him?--or to you?--or to
anybody?"

"Oh, Bertie, Bertie!" whispered Miss Tamlyn. "Oh, my boy, you should not
give way like this."

"You just give your tongue a holiday, Aunt Bessy," fired Bertie. "I
can't be bothered by you all in this way."

Dr. Knox, looking down at him, saw something wrong in the position he
was lying in. He stooped, lifted him quietly in his strong arms, and
altered it.

"There, Bertie, you will be better now."

"No, I'm not better, and why d'you interfere?" retorted Bertie in his
temper, and burst out crying. It was weary work, waiting on that lad;
the house had a daily benefit of it. He had always been given way to:
his whims were studied, his tempers went unreproved, and no patience was
taught him.

Dr. Knox drove to Mrs. Stephenson's. He dismissed the carriage when he
came out; for he had some patients to see on his own score amongst the
poor, and went on to them. They were at tea at Mr. Tamlyn's when he got
back. He looked very ill, and sat down at once.

"Are you tired, Arnold?" asked the surgeon.

"Not very; but I feel out of sorts. My throat is rather painful."

"What's the matter with it?"

"Not much, I dare say. A little ulcerated perhaps."

"I'll have a look at it presently. Bessy, give Dr. Knox a cup of tea."

"Thank you, I shall be glad of it," interposed the doctor. It was not
often he took a meal in the house, not liking to intrude on them. When
he went up this evening he had thought tea was over.

"We are later than usual," said Miss Tamlyn, in answer to some remark he
made. "Bertie dropped asleep."

Bertie was awake, and eating relays of bread-and-butter as he lay,
speaking to no one. The handsome sitting-rooms downstairs were nearly
deserted: Mr. Tamlyn could not bear even to take his meals away from
Bertie.

It was growing dusk when Dr. Knox went home. Mr. Tamlyn told him to take
a cooling draught and to go to bed early. Mrs. Knox was out for the
evening. Janet Carey sat at the old piano in the schoolroom, singing
songs to the children to keep them quiet. They were crowding round her,
and no one saw him enter the room.

Janet happened to be singing the very song she sang later to us that
night at Miss Deveen's--"Blow, blow, thou wintry wind." Although she had
now been at Rose Villa nearly a twelvemonth, for early summer had come
round again, Dr. Knox had never heard her sing. Mrs. Knox hated singing
altogether, and especially despised Janet's: it was only when Janet was
alone with the children that she ventured on it, hoping to keep them
still. Arnold Knox sat in utter silence; entranced; just as we were at
Miss Deveen's.

"You sing 'I've been roaming,' now," called out Dicky, before the song
was well over.

"No, not that thing," dissented Mina. "Sing 'Pray, Goody,' Janet." They
had long since called her by her Christian name.

The whole five (the other three taking sides), not being able to agree,
plunged at once into a hot dispute. Janet in vain tried to make peace by
saying she would sing both songs, one after the other: they did not
listen to her. In the midst of the noise, Sally looked in to say James
had caught a magpie; and the lot scampered off.

Janet Carey heaved a sad sigh, and passed her hand over her weary brow.
She had had a tiring day: there were times when she thought her duties
would get beyond her. Rising to follow the rebellious flock, she caught
sight of Dr. Knox, seated back in the wide old cane chair.

"Oh! I--I beg your pardon. I had no idea any one was here."

He came forward smiling; Janet had sat down again in her surprise.

"And though I am here? Why should you beg my pardon, Miss Carey?"

"For singing before you. I did not know--I am very sorry."

"Perhaps you fancy I don't like singing?"

"Mine is such poor singing, sir. And the songs are so old. I can't play:
I often only play to them with one hand."

"The singing is so poor--and the songs are so old, that I was going to
ask of you--to beg of you--to sing one of them again for me."

She stood glancing up at him with her nice eyes, as shy as could be,
uncertain whether he was mocking her.

"Do you know, Miss Carey, that I never ask a young lady for a song now.
I don't care to hear the new songs, they are so poor and frivolous: the
old ones are worth a king's ransom. _Won't_ you oblige me?"

"What shall I sing?"

"The one you have just sung. 'Blow, blow, thou wintry wind.'"

He drew a chair close, and listened; and seemed lost in thought when it
was over. Janet could not conveniently get up without pushing the stool
against him, and so sat in silence.

"My mother used to sing that song," he said, looking up. "I can recall
her every note as well as though I had heard her yesterday. 'As friends
remembering not'! Ay: it's a harsh world--and it grows more harsh and
selfish day by day. I don't think it treats _you_ any too well, Miss
Carey."

"Me, sir?"

"Who remembers you?"

"Not many people. But I have never had any friends to speak of."

"Will you give me another song? The one I heard Mina ask you for--'Pray,
Goody.' My mother used to sing that also."

"I don't know whether I must stay. The children will be getting into
mischief."

"Never mind the children. I'll take the responsibility."

Janet sang the song. Before it was finished the flock came in again.
Dicky had tried to pull the magpie's feathers out, so James had let it
fly.

After this evening, it somehow happened that Dr. Knox often came home
early, although his throat was well again. He liked to make Miss Carey
sing; and to talk to her; and to linger in the garden with her and the
children in the twilight. Mrs. Knox was rarely at home, and had no idea
how sociable her step-son was becoming. Lefford and its neighbourhood
followed the unfashionable custom of giving early soirées: tea at six,
supper at nine, at home by eleven. James used to go for his mistress; on
dark nights he took a lighted lantern. Mrs. Knox would arrive at home,
her gown well pinned up, and innocent of any treasonable lingerings
out-of-doors or in. It was beyond Janet's power to get Mina and Lotty to
bed one minute before they chose to go: though her orders from Mrs. Knox
on the point were strict. As soon as their mother's step was heard they
would make a rush for the stairs. Janet had to follow them, as that
formed part of her duty: and by the time Mrs. Knox was indoors, the
rooms were free, and Arnold was shut up in his study with his medical
books and a skeleton.

For any treason that met the eye or the ear, Mrs. Knox might have
assisted at all the interviews. The children might have repeated every
word said to one another by the doctor and Janet, and welcome. The
talk was all legitimate: of their own individual, ordinary interests,
perhaps; of their lost parents; their past lives; the present daily
doings; or, as the Vicar of Wakefield has it, of pictures, taste,
Shakespeare, and the musical glasses. Dr. Knox never said such a thing
to her as, miss, I am in love with you; Janet was the essence of
respectful shyness, and called him sir.

One evening something or other caused one of the soirées to break up
midway, and Mrs. Knox came home by twilight in her pink gauze gown.
Instead of ringing at the front-door, she came round the garden to the
lawn, knowing quite well the elder children were not gone to bed, and
would probably be in the garden-room. Very softly went she, intending to
surprise them. The moon shone full on the glass-doors.

The doors were shut. And she could see no children. Only Janet Carey
sitting at the piano, and Dr. Knox sitting close by her, his eyes
resting on her face, and an unmistakable look of--say friendship--in
them. Mrs. Knox took in the whole scene by the light of the one candle
standing on the table.

She let go the pink skirt and burst open the doors. Imagination is apt
to conjure up skeletons of the future; a whole army of skeletons rushed
into hers, any one of them ten times more ugly than that real skeleton
in the doctor's study. A vision of his marrying Janet and taking
possession of the house, and wanting all his money for himself instead
of paying the family bills with it, was the worst.

Before a great and real dread, passion has to be silent. Mrs. Knox felt
that she should very much like to buffet both of them with hands and
tongue: but policy restrained her.

"Where are the children?" she began, as snappish as a fox; but that was
only usual.

Janet had turned round on the music-stool; her meek hands dropping on
her lap, her face turning all the colours of the rainbow. Dr. Knox just
sat back in his chair and carelessly hummed to himself the tune Janet
had been singing.

"Mina and Lotty are at Mrs. Hampshire's, ma'am," answered Janet. "She
came to fetch them just after you left, and said I might send in for
them at half-past nine. The little ones are in bed."

"Oh," said Mrs. Knox. "It's rather early for you to be at home; is it
not, Arnold?"

"Not particularly, I think. My time for coming home is always uncertain,
you know."

He rose, and went to his room as he spoke. Janet got out the basket of
stockings; and Mrs. Knox sat buried in a brown study.

After this evening things grew bad for Miss Carey. Mrs. Knox watched.
She noted her step-son's manner to Janet, and saw that he liked her ever
so much more than was expedient. What to do, or how to stop it, she did
not know, and was at her wits' end. To begin with, there was nothing to
stop. Had she put together a whole week's looks and words of Arnold's,
directed to Janet, she could not have squeezed one decent iota of
complaint out of the whole. Neither dared she risk offending Arnold.
What with the perpetual soirées out, and the general daily improvidence
at home, Mrs. Knox was never in funds, and Arnold found oceans of
household bills coming in to him. Tradesmen were beginning, as a rule
now, to address their accounts to Dr. Knox. Arnold paid them; he was
good-natured, and sensitively averse to complaining to his step-mother;
but he thought it was hardly fair. What on earth she did with her income
he could not imagine: rather than live in this chronic state of begging,
she might have laid down the pony-carriage.

Not being able to attack the doctor, Mrs. Knox vented all her venom on
Miss Carey. Janet was the dray horse of the family, and therefore could
not be turned away: she was too useful to Mrs. Knox to be parted with.
Real venom it was; and hard to be borne. Her work grew harder, and she
was snubbed from morning till night. The children's insolence to her was
not reproved; Mina took to ordering her about. Weary and heart-sick grew
she: her life was no better than Cinderella's: the only ray of comfort
in it being the rare snatches of intercourse with Dr. Knox. He was like
a true friend to her, and ever kind. He might have been kinder had
he known what sort of a life she really led. But Mrs. Knox was a
diplomatist, and the young fry did not dare to worry people very much,
or to call names before their big brother Arnold.


II.

"Has Dr. Knox come in, Mr. Dockett?"

Mr. Dockett, lounging over the counter to tease the dog, brought himself
straight with a jerk, and faced his master, Mr. Tamlyn.

"Not yet, sir."

"When he comes in, ask him if he'll be so kind as step to me in the
dining-room."

Mr. Tamlyn shut the surgery-door, and the apprentice whistled to the
dog, which had made its escape. Presently Dr. Knox came across the
court-yard and received the message.

"Mr. Tamlyn wants you, sir, please. He is in the dining-room."

"Have you nothing to do, Dockett? Just set on and clean those scales."

The dining-room looked out on the garden and on the playing fountain. It
was one of the prettiest rooms in Lefford; with white-and-gold papered
walls, and mirrors, and a new carpet. Mr. Tamlyn liked to have things
nice at home, and screwed the money out of the capital put by for
Bertie. He sat at the table before some account-books.

"Sit down, Arnold," he said, taking off his spectacles. "I have some
news for you: I hope it won't put you out too much."

It did put Dr. Knox out very considerably, and it surprised him
even more. For some time past now he had been cherishing a private
expectation that Mr. Tamlyn would be taking him into partnership, giving
him probably a small share only at first. Of all things it seemed the
most likely to Dr. Knox: and, wanting in self-assertion though he was,
it seemed to him that it would be a _right_ thing to do. Mr. Tamlyn
had no one to succeed him: and all the best part of his practice was
formerly Mr. Knox's. Had Arnold only been a little older when his father
died, he should have succeeded to it himself: there would have been
little chance of Mr. Tamlyn's getting any of it. In justice, then, if
Mr. Tamlyn now, or later, took a partner at all, it ought to be Arnold.
But for looking forward to this, Dr. Knox had never stayed on all this
time at the paltry salary paid him, and worked himself nearly to a
skeleton. As old Tamlyn talked, he listened as one in a dream, and he
learnt that his own day-dream was over.

Old Tamlyn was about to take a partner: some gentleman from London, a
Mr. Shuttleworth. Mr. Shuttleworth was seeking a country practice, and
would bring in three thousand pounds. Arnold's services would only be
required to the end of the year, as Mr. Shuttleworth would join on the
first of January.

"There won't be room for three of us, Arnold--and Dockett will be coming
on," said Mr. Tamlyn. "Besides, at your age, and with your talents, you
ought to be doing something better for yourself. Don't you see that you
ought?"

"I have seen it for some time. But--the truth is," added Arnold, "though
I hardly like to own to it now, I have been cherishing a hope of this
kind for myself. I thought, Mr. Tamlyn, you might some time offer it to
me."

"And so I would, Arnold, and there's no one I should like to take as
partner half so well as yourself, but you have not the necessary funds,"
said the surgeon with eagerness. "I see what you are thinking,
Arnold--that I might have taken you without premium: but I must think of
my poor boy. Shuttleworth brings in three thousand: I would have taken
you with two."

"I could not bring in two hundred, let alone two thousand," said Dr.
Knox.

"There's where it is. To tell you the truth, Arnold, I am getting tired
of work; don't seem so much up to it as I was. Whoever comes in will
have to do more even than you have done, and of course will expect to
take at least a half-share of the yearly profits. I should not put by
much then: I could not alter my style of living, you know, or put down
the carriages and horses, or anything of that sort: and I must save for
poor Bertie. A sum of three thousand pounds means three thousand to me."

"Are the arrangements fully made?" asked Dr. Knox.

"Yes. Mr. Shuttleworth came down to Lefford yesterday, and has been
going into the books with me this morning. And, by the way, Arnold, I
hope you will meet him here at dinner to-night. I should not a bit
wonder, either, but he might tell you of some opening for yourself: he
seems to know most of the chief medical men in London. He is selling a
good practice of his own. It is his health that obliges him to come to
the country."

"I hope you will suit one another," said Dr. Knox; for he knew that it
was not every one who could get on with fidgety old Tamlyn.

"We are to give it a six months' trial," said Tamlyn. "He would not bind
himself without that. At the end of the six months, if both parties are
not satisfied, we cancel the agreement: he withdraws his money, and I am
at liberty to take a fresh partner. For that half-year's services he
will receive his half-share of profits: which of course is only fair.
You see I tell you all, Arnold."

Dr. Knox dined with them, and found the new man a very pleasant fellow,
but quite as old as Tamlyn. He could not help wondering how he would
relish the parish work, and said so in a whisper to Mr. Tamlyn while
Shuttleworth was talking to Bertie.

"Oh, he thinks it will be exercise for him," replied the surgeon. "And
Dockett will be coming on, you know."

It was a dark night, the beginning of November, wet and splashy. Mrs.
Knox had a soirée at Rose Villa; and when the doctor reached home he
met the company coming forth with cloaks and lanterns and clogs.

"Oh, it's you, Arnold, is it!" cried Mrs. Knox. "Could you not have come
home for my evening? Two of the whist-tables had to play dummy: we had
some disappointments."

"I stayed to dine with Mr. Tamlyn," said Arnold.

Sitting together over the fire, he and she alone, Mrs. Knox asked him
whether he would not give her a hundred pounds a-year for his board,
instead of seventy-five. Which was uncommonly cool, considering what he
paid for her besides in housekeeping bills. Upon which, Arnold told her
he should not be with her beyond the close of the year: he was going to
leave Lefford. For a minute, it struck her dumb.

"Good Heavens, Arnold, how am I to keep the house on without your help?
I must say you have no consideration. Leave Lefford!"

"Mr. Tamlyn has given me notice," replied Arnold. "He is taking a
partner."

"But--I just ask you--how am I to pay my way?"

"It seems to me that your income is quite sufficient for that, mother.
If not--perhaps--if I may suggest it--you might put down the
pony-chaise."

Mrs. Knox shrieked out that he was a cruel man. Arnold, who never cared
to stand scenes, lighted his candle and went up to bed.

Shuttleworth had taken rather a fancy to Dr. Knox; perhaps he
remembered, too, that he was turning him adrift. Anyway, he bestirred
himself, and got him appointed to a medical post in London, where Arnold
would receive two hundred a-year, and his board.

"I presume you know that I am about to run away, Miss Carey," said Dr.
Knox, hastening up to join her one Sunday evening when they were coming
out of church at Lefford.

"As if every one did not know that!" cried Mina. "Where's mamma, Arnold?
and Lotty?"

"They are behind, talking to the Parkers."

The Parkers were great friends of Mina's, so she ran back. The doctor
and Janet walked slowly on.

"You will be glad to leave, sir," said Janet, in her humble fashion.
"Things have not been very comfortable for you at home--and I hear you
are taking a much better post."

"I shall be sorry to leave for one thing--that is, because I fear things
may be more uncomfortable for you," he spoke out bravely. "What Rose
Villa will be when all restraint is taken from the children, and with
other undesirable things, I don't like to imagine."

"I shall do very well," said Janet, meekly.

"I wonder you put up with it," he exclaimed. "You might be ten thousand
times better and happier elsewhere."

"But I fear to change: I have no one to recommend me or to look out for
me, you know."

"There's that lady I've heard you speak of--your aunt, Miss Cattledon."

"I could not think of troubling her. My mother's family do not care to
take much notice of me. They thought my father was not my mother's equal
in point of family, and when she married him, they turned her off, as it
were. No, sir, I have only myself to look to."

"A great many of us are in the same case," he said. "Myself, for
instance. I have been indulging I don't know what day-dreams for some
time past: one of them that Mr. Tamlyn would give me a share in his
practice: and--and there were others to follow in due course. Vain
dreams all, and knocked on the head now."

"You will be sure to get on," said Janet.

"Do you think so?" he asked very softly, looking down into Janet's nice
eyes by the gaslight in the road.

"At least, I hope you will."

"Well, I shall try for it."

"Arnold!--come back, Arnold; I want you to give me your arm up the
hill," called out Mrs. Knox.

Dr. Knox had to enter on his new situation at quarter-day, the
twenty-fifth of December; so he went up to London on Christmas-Eve.
Which was no end of a blow to old Tamlyn, as it left all the work on his
own shoulders for a week.


III.

From two to three months passed on. One windy March day, Mrs. Knox sat
alone in the garden-room, worrying over her money matters. The table,
drawn near the fire, was strewed with bills and tradesmen's books; the
sun shone on the closed glass-doors.

Mrs. Knox's affairs had been getting into an extremely hopeless
condition. It seemed, by the accumulation of present debts, that
Arnold's money must have paid for everything. Her own income, which came
in quarterly, appeared to dwindle away, she knew not how or where. A
piteous appeal had gone up a week ago to Arnold, saying she should be in
prison unless he assisted her, for the creditors were threatening to
take steps. Arnold's answer, delivered this morning, was a fifty-pound
note enclosed in a very plain letter. It had inconvenienced him to send
the money, he said, and he begged her fully to understand that it was
the _last_ he should ever send.

So there sat Mrs. Knox before the table in an old dressing-gown, and her
black hair more dishevelled than a mop. The bills, oceans of them, and
the fifty-pound note lay in a heap together. Master Dicky had been
cutting animals out of a picture-book, leaving the scraps on the cloth
and the old carpet. Lotty had distributed there a few sets of dolls'
clothes. Gerty had been tearing up a newspaper for a kite-tail. The
fifty pounds would pay about a third of the debts, and Mrs. Knox was
trying to apportion a sum to each of them accordingly.

It bothered her finely, for she was no accountant. She could manage
to add up without making very many mistakes; but when it came to
subtraction, her brain went into a hopeless maze. Janet might have
done it, but Mrs. Knox was furious with Janet and would not ask her.
Ill-treated, over-worked, Janet had plucked up courage to give notice,
and was looking out for a situation in Lefford. Just now, Janet was in
the kitchen, ironing Dick's frilled collars.

"Take fifty-three from fourteen, and how much _does_ remain?" groaned
Mrs. Knox over the shillings. At that moment there was a sound of
carriage-wheels, and a tremendous ring at the door. Sally darted in.

"Oh, ma'am, it's my Lady Jenkins! I knew her carriage at a distance. It
have got red wheels!"

"Oh, my goodness!" cried Mrs. Knox, starting up. "Don't open the door
yet, Sally: let me get upstairs first. Her ladyship's come to take me a
drive, I suppose. Go and call Miss Carey--or stay, I'll go to her."

Mrs. Knox opened one of the glass-doors, and whisked round to the
kitchen. She bade Janet leave the ironing and go to do her books and
bills: hastily explaining that she wanted to know how far fifty pounds
would go towards paying a fair proportion off each debt. Janet was to
make it all out in figures.

"Be sure and take care of the note--I've left it somewhere," called back
Mrs. Knox as she escaped to the stairs in hurry and confusion; for my
Lady Jenkins's footman was working both bell and knocker alarmingly.

Janet only half comprehended. She went round to the garden-room, shut
the glass-doors, and began upon the bills and books. But first of all,
she looked out for the letters that were lying about, never supposing
that the special charge had reference to anything else: at least, she
said so afterwards: and put them inside Mrs. Knox's desk. From first to
last, then and later, Janet Carey maintained that she did not see any
bank-note.

                 *       *       *       *       *

Mrs. Knox dressed herself with Sally's help, and went out with my Lady
Jenkins--the ex-Mayor of Lefford's wife. The bills and the calculations
made a long job, and Janet's mind was buried in it, when a startling
disturbance suddenly arose in the garden: Dicky had climbed into the
mulberry-tree and fallen out of it. The girls came, dashing open the
glass-doors, saying he was _dead_. Janet ran out, herself nearly
frightened to death.

Very true. If Dicky was not dead, he looked like it. He lay white and
cold under the tree, blood trickling down his face. James galloped off
for Mr. Tamlyn. The two maids and Janet carried Dicky into the kitchen,
and put him on the ironing-board, with his head on an old cushion. That
revived him; and when Mr. Shuttleworth arrived, for Tamlyn was out,
Dicky was demanding bread-and-treacle. Shuttleworth put some diachylon
plaster on his head, ordered him to bed, and told him not to get into
trees again.

Their fears relieved, the maids had time to remember common affairs.
Sally found all the sitting-room fires out, and hastened to light them.
As soon as Janet could leave Dicky, who had persisted in going to bed in
his boots, she went back to the accounts. Mrs. Knox came in before they
were done. She blew up Janet for not being quicker, and when she had
recovered the shock of Dicky's accident, she blew her up for that.

"Where's the note?" she snapped.

"What note, ma'am?" asked Janet.

"The bank-note. The bank-note for fifty pounds that I told you to take
care of."

"I have not seen any bank-note," said Janet.

Well, that began the trouble. The bank-note was searched for, and there
was neither sign nor symptom of it to be found. Mrs. Knox accused Janet
Carey of stealing it, and called in a policeman. Mrs. Knox made her tale
good to the man, representing Janet as a very black girl indeed; but the
man said he could not take her into custody unless Mrs. Knox would
charge her formally with the theft.

And that, Mrs. Knox hesitated to do. She told the policeman she would
take until the morrow to consider of it. The whole of that evening, the
whole of the night, the whole of the next morning till midday, Janet
spent searching the garden-room. At midday the policeman appeared again,
and Janet went into a sort of fit.

When Mr. Shuttleworth was sent for to her, he said it was caused by
fright, and that she had received a shock to the nervous system. For
some days she was delirious, on and off; and when she could escape
Sally's notice, who waited on her, they'd find her down in the
garden-room, searching for the note, just as we afterwards saw her
searching for it in her sleep at Miss Deveen's. It chanced that the two
rooms resembled each other remarkably: in their situation in the houses,
in their shape and size and building arrangements, and in their opening
by glass-doors to the garden. Janet subsided into a sort of wasting
fever; and Mrs. Knox thought it time to send for Miss Cattledon. The
criminal proceedings might wait, she told Janet: like the heartless
woman that she was! Not but that the loss of the money had thrown her
flat on her beam-ends.

Miss Cattledon came. Janet solemnly declared, not only that she had not
the bank-note, but that she had never seen the note: never at all. Mrs.
Knox said no one but Janet could have taken it, and but for her illness,
she would be already in prison. Miss Cattledon told Mrs. Knox she ought
to be ashamed of herself for suspecting Janet Carey, and took Janet off
by train to Miss Deveen's. Janet arrived there in a shivering-fit, fully
persuaded that the Lefford policemen were following her by the orders of
Mrs. Knox.

And for the result of it all we must go on to the next paper.



DR. KNOX.


  "MY DEAR ARNOLD,

  "Come down to Lefford without delay if you can: I want to see you
  particularly. I am in a peck of trouble.

  "Ever your friend,
  "RICHARD TAMLYN."

The above letter reached Dr. Knox in London one morning in April. He
made it right with the authorities to whom he was subject, and reached
Lefford the same afternoon.

Leaving his bag at the station, he went straight to Mr. Tamlyn's house;
every other person he met halting to shake hands with him. Entering the
iron gates, he looked up at the windows, but saw no one. The sun shone
on the pillared portico, the drawing-room blinds beside it were down.
Dr. Knox crossed the flagged courtyard, and passed off to enter by the
route most familiar to him, the surgery, trodden by him so often in the
days not long gone by. Mr. Dockett stood behind the counter, compounding
medicines, with his coat-cuffs and wristbands turned up.

"Well, I never!" exclaimed the young gentleman, dropping a bottle in his
astonishment as he stared at Dr. Knox. "You are about the last person I
should have expected to see, sir."

By which remark the doctor found that Mr. Tamlyn had not taken his
apprentice into his confidence. "Are you all well here?" he asked,
shaking hands.

"All as jolly as circumstances will let us be," said Mr. Dockett. "Young
Bertie has taken a turn for the worse."

"Has he? I am sorry to hear that. Is Mr. Tamlyn at home? If so, I'll in
and see him."

"Oh, he's at home," was the answer. "He has hardly stirred out-of-doors
for a week, and Shuttleworth says he's done to death with the work."

Going in as readily as though he had not left the house for a day, Dr.
Knox found Mr. Tamlyn in the dining-room: the pretty room that looked
to the garden and the fountain. He was sitting by the fire, his hand
rumpling his grey hair: a sure sign that he was in some bother or
tribulation. In the not quite four months that had passed since Dr. Knox
left him, he had changed considerably: his hair was greyer, his face
thinner.

"Is it you, Arnold? I am glad. I thought you'd come if you could."

Dr. Knox drew a chair near the fire, and sat down. "Your letter gave me
concern," he said. "And what do you mean by talking about a peck of
trouble?"

"A peck of trouble!" echoed Mr. Tamlyn. "I might have said a bushel. I
might have said a ton. There's trouble on all sides, Arnold."

"Can I help you out of it in any way?"

"With some of it, I hope you can: it's why I sent for you. But not with
all: not with the worst. Bertie's dying, Arnold."

"I hope not!"

"As truly as that we are here talking to one another, I believe him to
be literally dying," repeated the surgeon, solemnly, his eyes filling
and his voice quivering with pain. "He has dropped asleep, and Bessy
sent me out of the room: my sighs wake him, she says. I can't help
sighing, Arnold: and sometimes the sigh ends with a groan, and I can't
help that."

Dr. Knox didn't see his way clear to making much answer just here.

"I've detected the change in him for a month past; in my inward heart I
felt sure he could not live. Do you know what your father used to say,
Arnold? He always said that if Bertie lived over his sixteenth or
seventeenth year, he'd do; but the battle would be just about that time.
Heaven knows, I attached no importance to the opinion: I have hardly
thought of it: but he was right, you see. Bertie would be seventeen next
July, if he were to live."

"I'm sure I am very grieved to hear this--and to see your sorrow," spoke
Arnold.

"He is _so_ changed!" resumed Mr. Tamlyn, in a low voice. "You remember
how irritable he was, poor fellow?--well, all that has gone, and he is
like an angel. So afraid of giving trouble; so humble and considerate to
every one! It was this change that first alarmed me."

"When did it come on?"

"Oh, weeks ago. Long before there was much change for the worse
to be _seen_ in him. Only this morning he held my hand, poor lad,
and--and----" Mr. Tamlyn faltered, coughed, and then went on again more
bravely. "He held my hand between his, Arnold, and said he thought God
had forgiven him, and how happy it would all be when we met in heaven.
For a long while now not a day has passed but he has asked us to
forgive him for his wicked tempers--that's his word for it, wicked--the
servants, and all."

"Is he in much pain?"

"Not much now. He has been in a great deal at times. But it made no
difference, pain or no pain, to his sweetness of temper. He will lie
resigned and quiet, the drops pouring down his face with the agony,
never an impatient word escaping him. One day I heard him tell Bessy
that angels were around him, helping him to bear it. We may be sure,
Arnold, when so extraordinary a change as that takes place in the
temperament, the close of life is not far off."

"Very true--as an ordinary rule," acquiesced Dr. Knox. "And now, how can
I help you in this trouble?"

"In this trouble?--not at all," returned Mr. Tamlyn, rousing himself,
and speaking energetically, as if he meant to put the thought behind
him. "_This_ trouble no earthly being can aid me in, Arnold; and I don't
think there's any one but yourself I'd speak to of it: it lies too deep,
you see; it wrings the soul. I could die of this trouble: I only fret at
the other."

"And what is the other?"

"Shuttleworth won't stay."

"Won't he!"

"Shuttleworth says the kind of practice is not what he has been
accustomed to, and the work's too hard, and he does not care how soon he
leaves it. And yet Dockett has come on surprisingly, and takes his share
now. The fact is, Arnold, Shuttleworth is just as lazy as he can hang
together: he'd like to treat a dozen rose-water patients a-day, and go
through life easily. My belief is, he means to do it."

"But that will scarcely bring grist to his mill, will it?" cried Dr.
Knox.

"His mill doesn't want grist; there's the worst of it," said Tamlyn.
"The man was not badly off when he came here: but since then his only
brother must go and die, and Shuttleworth has come into all his money.
A thousand a-year, if it's a penny."

"Then, I certainly don't wonder at his wanting to give up the practice,"
returned the doctor, with a smile.

"That's not all," grumbled old Tamlyn. "He wants to take away Bessy."

"To take away Bessy!"

"The two have determined to make themselves into one, I believe. Bessy
only hesitated because of leaving poor Bertie. That impediment will not
be in her way long."

He sighed as he spoke. Dr. Knox did not yet see what he was wanted for:
and asked again.

"I've been leading up to it," said Mr. Tamlyn. "You must come back to
me, Arnold."

"On the same terms as before?" inquired the doctor, after a pause.

"Nonsense. You'd say 'No,' off-hand, if I proposed _them_. In
Shuttleworth's place."

"Of course, Mr. Tamlyn, I could not come--I would not come unless it
were made worth my while. If it were, I should like it of all things."

"Yes, just so; that's what I mean. Don't you like your post in London?"

"I like it very well, indeed. And I have had no doubt that it will lead
to something better. But, if I saw a fair prospect before me here, I
should prefer to come back to Lefford."

"_That_ shall be made fair enough. Things have changed with me, Arnold:
and I shouldn't wonder but you will some time, perhaps not very far
distant, have all my practice in your own hands. I feel to be getting
old: spirits and health are alike broken."

"Nay, not old yet, Mr. Tamlyn. You may wait a good twenty years for
that."

"Well, well, we'll talk further at another interview. My mind's at rest
now, and that's a great thing. If you had refused, Arnold, I should have
sold my practice for an old song, and gone clean away: I never could
have stood being associated with another stranger. You are going up
home, I conclude. Will you come in this evening?"

"Very well," said Dr. Knox, rising. "Can I go up and see Bertie?"

"Not now; I'd not have him awakened for the world; and I assure you the
turning of a straw seems to do it. You shall see him this evening: he is
always awake and restless then."

Calling for his bag at the station, Dr. Knox went on to Rose Villa. They
were at tea. The children rose up with a shout: his step-mother looked
as though she could not believe her eyesight.

"Why, Arnold! Have you come home to stay?"

"Only for a day or two," he answered. "I thought I should surprise you,
but I had not time to write."

Shaking hands with her, kissing the children, he turned to some one
else, who was seated at the tea-table and had not stirred. His hand was
already out, when she turned her head, and he drew back his hand and
himself together.

"Miss Mack, my new governess," spoke Mrs. Knox.

"I beg your pardon," said Dr. Knox to Miss Mack, who turned out to be
a young person in green, with stout legs and slippers down at heel. "I
thought it was Miss Carey," he added to his step-mother. "Where is Miss
Carey?"

Which of the company, Miss Mack excepted, talked the fastest, and which
the loudest, could not have been decided though a thousand-pound wager
rested on it. It was a dreadful tale to tell. Janet Carey had turned out
to be a thief; Janet Carey had gone out of her mind nearly with fever
and fear when she knew she was to be taken to prison and tried: tried
for stealing the money; and Janet's aunt had come down and carried her
away out of the reach of the policemen. Dr. Knox gazed and listened, and
felt his blood turning cold with righteous horror.

"Be silent," he sternly said. "There must have been some strange
mistake. Miss Carey was good and upright as the day."

"She stole my fifty pounds," said Mrs. Knox.

"_What?_"

"She stole my fifty-pound note. It was the one you sent me, Arnold."

His face reddened a little. "That note? Well, I do not know the
circumstances that led you to accuse Miss Carey; but I know they were
mistaken ones. I will answer for Janet Carey with my life."

"She took that note; it could not have gone in any other manner,"
steadily persisted Mrs. Knox. "You'll say so yourself, Arnold, when you
know all. The commotion it has caused in the place, and the worry it has
caused me are beyond everything. Every day some tradesman or other comes
here to ask whether the money has been replaced--for of course they know
I can't pay them under such a loss, until it is; and I must say they
have behaved very well. I never liked Janet Carey. Deceitful minx!"

With so many talking together, Dr. Knox did not gather a very clear
account of the details. Mrs. Knox mixed up surmises with facts in a
manner to render the whole incomprehensible. He said no more then.
Later, Mrs. Knox saw that he was preparing to go out. She resented it.

"I think, Arnold, you might have passed this one evening at home: I want
to have a talk with you about money matters. What I am to do is more
than I know, unless Janet Carey or her friends can be made to return the
money."

"I am going down to Tamlyn's, to see Bertie."

Dr. Knox let himself out at the street-door, and was walking down the
garden-path, when he found somebody come flying past. It was Sally the
housemaid, on her way to open the gate for him. Such an act of attention
was unusual and quite unnecessary; the doctor thanked her, but told her
she need not have taken the trouble.

"I--I thought I'd like to ask you, sir, how that--that poor Miss Carey
is," said Sally, in a whisper, as she held the gate back, and her breath
was so short as to hinder her words. "It was London she was took to,
sir; and, as you live in the same town, I've wondered whether you might
not have come across her."

"London is a large place," observed Dr. Knox. "I did not even know Miss
Carey was there."

"It was a dreadful thing, sir, poor young lady. Everybody so harsh, too,
over it. And I--I--I _can't_ believe but she was innocent."

"It is simply an insult on Miss Carey to suppose otherwise," said Dr.
Knox. "Are you well, Sally? What's the matter with your breath?"

"Oh, it's nothing but a stitch that takes me, thank you, sir," returned
Sally, as she shut the gate after him and flew back again.

But Dr. Knox saw it was no "stitch" that had stopped Sally's breath and
checked her utterance, but genuine agitation. It set him thinking.

                 *       *       *       *       *

No longer any sitting up for poor Bertie Tamlyn in this world! It was
about eight o'clock when Dr. Knox entered the sick-chamber. Bertie lay
in bed; his arms thrown outside the counterpane beside him, as though
they were too warm. The fire gave out its heat; two lamps were burning,
one on the mantelpiece, one on the drawers at the far end of the room.
Bertie had always liked a great deal of light, and he liked it still.
Miss Tamlyn met Dr. Knox at the door, and silently shook hands with him.

Bertie's wide-open eyes turned to look, and the doctor approached the
bed; but he halted for one imperceptible moment in his course. When Mr.
Tamlyn had said Bertie was dying, Arnold Knox had assumed it to mean,
not that he was actually dying at that present time, but that he would
not recover! But as he gazed at Bertie now in the bright light, he
saw something in the face that his experienced medical eye could not
mistake.

He took the wasted, fevered hand in his, and laid his soothing fingers
on the damp brow. Miss Tamlyn went away for a minute's respite from the
sick-room.

"Bertie, my boy!"

"Why didn't you come before, Arnold?" was the low, weak answer; and the
breath was laboured and the voice down nowhere. "I have wanted you. Aunt
Bessy would not write; and papa thought you would not care to come down
from London, just for me."

"But I would, Bertie--had I known you were as ill as this."

Bertie's hands were restless. The white quilt had knots in it as big as
peas, and he was picking at them. Dr. Knox sat down by the low bed.

"Do you think I am dying?" suddenly asked Bertie.

It took the doctor by surprise. One does not always know how to answer
such home questions.

"I'll tell you more about it when I've seen you by daylight, Bertie. Are
you in any pain?"

"Not a bit now: that's gone. But I'm weak, and I can't stir about
in bed, and--and--they all look at me so. This morning papa and
Shuttleworth brought in Dr. Green. Any way, you must know that I shall
not get to be as well as I used to be."

"What with one ailment and another, with care, and pain, and sorrow, and
wrong, it seems to me, Bertie, that very few of us are well for long
together. There's always something in this world: it is only when we go
to the next that we can hope for rest and peace."

Bertie lifted his restless hands and caught one of Dr. Knox's between
them. He had a yearning, imploring look that quite pained the doctor.

"I want you to forgive me, Arnold," he said, the tears running down.
"When I remember how wicked I was, my heart just faints with shame.
Calling all of you hideous names!--returning bitter words for kind ones.
When we are going to die the past comes back to us. Such a little while
it seems to have been now, Arnold! Why, if I had endured ten times as
much pain, it would be over now. You were all so gentle and patient with
me, and I never cared what trouble I gave, or what ill words I returned.
And now the time is gone! Arnold, I want you to forgive me."

"My dear boy, there's nothing to forgive. If you think there is, why
then I forgive you with all my heart."

"Will God ever forgive me, do you think?"

"Oh, my boy, yes," said the doctor, in a husky tone. "If we, poor
sinful mortals, can forgive one another, how much more readily will He
forgive--the good Father in heaven of us all!"

Bertie sighed. "It would have been so easy for me to have tried for a
little patience! Instead of that, I took pleasure in being cross and
obstinate and wicked! If the time would but come over again! Arnold, do
you think we shall be able to do one another good in the next world?--or
will the opportunity be lost with this?"

"Ah, Bertie, I cannot tell," said Dr. Knox. "Sometimes I think that just
because so few of us make use of our opportunities here, God will,
perhaps, give us a chance once again. I have not been at very many
death-beds yet, but of some of those the recollection of opportunities
wasted has made the chief sting. It is only when life is closing that we
see what we might have been, what we might have done."

"Perhaps He'll remember what my pain has been, Arnold, and how hard it
was to bear. I was not like other boys. They can run, and climb, and
leap, and ride on horseback, and do anything. When I've gone out, it has
been in a hand-carriage, you know; and I've had to lie and lie on the
sofa, and just look up at the blue sky, or on the street that tired me
so: or else in bed, where it was worse, and always hot. I hope He will
recollect how hard it was for me."

"He saw how hard it was for you at the time, Bertie; saw it always."

"And Jesus Christ forgave all who went to Him, you know, Arnold; every
one; just for the asking."

"Why, yes, of course He did. As He does now."

Mr. Tamlyn came into the room presently: he had been out to a patient.
Seeing that Bertie was half asleep, he and Dr. Knox stood talking
together on the hearthrug.

"What's that?" cried the surgeon, suddenly catching sight of the
movement of the restless fingers picking at the counterpane.

Dr. Knox did not answer.

"A trick he always had," said the surgeon, breaking the silence, and
trying to make believe to cheat himself still. "The maids say he wears
out all his quilts."

Bertie opened his eyes. "Is that you, papa? Is tea over?"

"Why, yes, my boy; two or three hours ago," said the father, going
forward. "Why? Do you wish for some tea?"

"Oh, I--I thought Arnold would have liked some."

He closed his eyes again directly. Dr. Knox took leave in silence,
promising to be there again in the morning. As he was passing the
dining-room downstairs, he saw Mr. Shuttleworth, who had just looked in.
They shook hands, began to chat, and Dr. Knox sat down.

"I hear you do not like Lefford," he said.

"I don't dislike Lefford: it's a pretty and healthy place," was Mr.
Shuttleworth's answer. "What I dislike is my position in it as Tamlyn's
partner. The practice won't do for me."

"A doubt lay on my mind whether it would suit you when you came down to
make the engagement," said Dr. Knox. "Parish work is not to every one's
taste. And there's a great deal of practice besides. But the returns
from that must be good."

"I wouldn't stay in it if it were worth a million a-year," cried Mr.
Shuttleworth. "Dockett takes the parish; I make him; but he is not up to
much yet, and of course I feel that I am responsible. As to the town
practice, why, I assure you nearly all of it has lain on me. Tamlyn,
poor fellow, can think of nothing but his boy."

"He will not have him here long to think of, I fear."

"Not very long; no. I hear, doctor, he is going to offer a partnership
to you."

"He has said something about it. I shall take it, if he does. Lefford is
my native place, and I would rather live here than anywhere. Besides, I
don't mind work," he added, with a smile.

"Ah, you are younger than I am. But I'd advise you, as I have advised
Tamlyn, to give up the parish. For goodness' sake do, Knox. Tamlyn
says that at one time he had not much else _but_ the parish, but it's
different now. Your father had all the better practice then."

"Shall you set up elsewhere?"

"Not at present," said Mr. Shuttleworth. "We--I--perhaps you have heard,
though--that I and Bessy are going to make a match of it? We shall
travel for a few months, or so, and then come home and pitch our tent in
some pleasant sea-side place. If a little easy practice drops in to me
there, well and good: if not, we can do without it. Stay and smoke a
cigar with me?"

Arnold looked at his watch, and sat down again. He wanted to ask Mr.
Shuttleworth about Miss Carey's illness.

"The cause of her illness was the loss of that bank-note," said the
surgeon. "They accused her of stealing it, and wanted to give her into
custody. A little more, and she'd have had brain-fever. She was a timid,
inexperienced girl, and the fright gave her system a shock."

"Miss Carey would no more steal a bank-note than you or I would steal
one, Shuttleworth."

"Not she. I told Mrs. Knox so: but she scoffed at me."

"That Miss Carey is innocent as the day, that she is an upright, gentle,
Christian girl, I will stake my life upon," said Dr. Knox. "How the note
can have gone is another matter."

"Are you at all interested in finding it out?" questioned Mr.
Shuttleworth.

"Certainly I am. Every one ought to be, I think."

The surgeon took his cigar from his mouth. "I'll tell you my opinion, if
you care to know it," he said. "The note was burnt."

"Burnt!"

"Well, it is the most likely solution of the matter that I can come to.
Either burnt, or else was blown away."

"But why do you say this?" questioned Dr. Knox.

"It was a particularly windy day. The glass-doors of the room were left
open while the house ran about in a fright, attending to the child,
young Dick. A flimsy bit of bank-paper, lying on the table, would get
blown about like a feather in a gale. Whether it got into the fire,
caught by the current of the chimney, or whether it sailed out-of-doors
and disappeared in the air, is a question I can't undertake to solve.
Rely upon it, Knox, it was one of the two: and I should bet upon the
fire."

It was just the clue Dr. Knox had been wishing for. But he did not think
the whole fault lay with the wind: he had another idea.

                 *       *       *       *       *

Lefford had a shock in the morning. Bertie Tamlyn was dead. The news
came to Dr. Knox in a note from Mr. Tamlyn, which was delivered whilst
he was dressing. "You will stay for the funeral, Arnold," were the
concluding words. And as Dr. Knox wanted to be at home a little longer
on his own account, he wrote to London to say that business was
temporarily detaining him. He then went to see what he could do for Mr.
Tamlyn, and got back to Rose Villa for dinner.

Watching for an opportunity--which did not occur until late in the
afternoon--Dr. Knox startled the servants by walking into the kitchen,
and sitting down. Mrs. Knox had gone off in the pony-chaise; the
children were out with the new governess. The kitchen and the servants
were alike smartened-up for the rest of the day. Eliza, the cook, was
making a new pudding-cloth; Sally was ironing.

"I wish to ask you both a few questions," said Dr. Knox, taking out his
note-book and pencil. "It is not possible that Miss Carey can be allowed
to lie under the disgraceful accusation that was brought against her,
and I am about to try and discover what became of the bank-note. Mrs.
Knox was not in the house at the time, and therefore cannot give me the
details."

Eliza, who had risen and stood, work in hand, simply stared at the
doctor in surprise. Sally dropped her iron on the blanket.

"_We_ didn't take the note, sir," said Eliza, after a pause. "We'd not
do such a thing."

"I'm sure I didn't; I'd burn my hands off first," broke in Sally, with
a burst of tears.

"Of course you would not," returned Dr. Knox in a pleasant tone. "The
children would not. Mrs. Knox would not. But as the note undoubtedly
disappeared, and without hands, we must try and discover where the
mystery lies and how it went. I dare say you would like Miss Carey to be
cleared."

"Miss Carey was a downright nice young lady," pronounced the cook.
"Quite another sort from this one we've got now."

"Well, give me all the particulars as correctly as you can remember,"
said the doctor. "We may get some notion or other out of them."

Eliza plunged into the narration. She was fond of talking. Sally stood
over her ironing, sniffing and sighing. Dr. Knox listened.

"Mrs. Knox left the note on the table--which was much strewed with
papers--when she went out with Lady Jenkins, and Miss Carey took her
place at the accounts," repeated Dr. Knox, summing up the profuse
history in a few concise words. "While----"

"And Miss Carey declared, sir, that she never saw the note; never
noticed it lying there at all," came Eliza's interruption.

"Yes, just so. While Miss Carey was at the table, the alarm came that
Master Dick had fallen out of the tree, and she ran to him----"

"And a fine fright that fall put us into, sir! We thought he was dead.
Jim went galloping off for the doctor, and me and Sally and Miss Carey
stayed bathing his head on that there very ironing-board, a-trying to
find out what the damage was."

"And the children: where were they?"

"All round us here in the kitchen, sir, sobbing and staring."

"Meanwhile the garden-room was deserted. No one went into it, as far as
you know."

"Nobody at all, sir. When Sally ran in to look at the fire, she found it
had gone clean out. The doctor had been there then, and Master Richard
was in bed. A fine pickle Sally found the room in, with the scraps of
paper, and that, blown about the floor. The glass-doors was standing
stark staring open to the wind."

"And, I presume, you gathered up some of these scraps of paper, and
lighted the fire with them, Sally?"

Dr. Knox did not appear to look at Sally as he spoke, but he saw and
noted every movement. He saw that her hand shook so that she could
scarcely hold the iron.

"Has it never struck you, Sally, that you might have put the bank-note
into the grate with these scraps of paper, and burnt it?" he continued.
"Innocently, of course. That is how I think the note must have
disappeared. Had the wind taken it into the garden, it would most
probably have been found."

Sally flung her apron over her face and herself on to a chair, and burst
into a howl. Eliza looked at her.

"If you think there is a probability that this was the case, Sally, you
must say so," continued Dr. Knox. "You will never be blamed, except for
not having spoken."

"'Twas only yesterday I asked Sally whether she didn't think this was
the way it might have been," said the cook in a low tone to Dr. Knox.
"She have seemed so put out, sir, for a week past."

"I vow to goodness that I never knew I did it," sobbed Sally. "All the
while the bother was about, and Miss Carey, poor young lady, was off her
head, it never once struck me. What Eliza and me thought was, that some
tramps must have come round the side of the house and got in at the open
glass-doors, and stole it. The night after Miss Carey left with her
aunt, I was thinking about her as I lay in bed, and wondering whether
the mistress would send the police after her or not, when all of a
sudden the thought flashed across me that it might have gone into the
fire with the other pieces of paper. Oh mercy, I wish I was somewhere!"

"What became of the ashes out of the grate?--the cinders?" asked Dr.
Knox.

"They're all in the ash-place, sir, waiting till the garden's ready for
them," sobbed Sally.

                 *       *       *       *       *

With as little delay as possible, Dr. Knox had the cinders carefully
sifted and examined, when the traces of what had once undoubtedly been
a bank-note were discovered. The greater portion of the note had been
reduced to tinder, but a small part of it remained, enough to show what
it had been, and--by singular good fortune--its number. It must have
fallen out of the grate partly consumed, while the fire was lighting up,
and been swept underneath by Sally with other remnants, where it had
lain quietly until morning and been taken away with the ashes.

The traces gathered carefully into a small box and sealed up, Dr. Knox
went into the presence of his step-mother.

"I think," he said, just showing the box as it lay in his hand, "that
this proof will be accepted by the Bank of England; in that case they
will make good the money to me. One question, mother, I wish to ask you:
how could you possibly suspect Miss Carey?"

"There was no one else for me to suspect," replied Mrs. Knox in fretful
tones; for she did not at all like this turn in the affair.

"Did you _really_ suspect her?"

"Why, of course I did. How can you ask such foolish questions?"

"It was a great mistake in any case to take it up as you did. I am not
alluding to the suspicion now; but to your harsh and cruel treatment."

"Just mind your own business, Arnold. It's nothing to you."

"For my own part, I regard it as a matter that we must ever look back
upon with shame."

"There, that's enough," said Mrs. Knox. "The thing is done with, and it
cannot be recalled. Janet Carey won't die of it."

Dr. Knox went about Lefford with the box in his hand, making things
right. He called in at the police-station; he caused a minute account to
be put in the _Lefford News_; he related the details to his private
friends. Not once did he allude to Janet Carey, or mention her name: it
was as though he would proudly ignore the stigma cast on her and assume
that the world did the same. The world did: but it gave some hard words
to Mrs. Knox.

Mr. Tamlyn had not much sympathy for wonders of any kind just then. Poor
Bertie, lying cold and still in the chamber above, took up all his
thoughts and his grief. Arnold spent a good deal of time with him, and
took his round of patients.

It was the night before the funeral, and they were sitting together at
twilight in the dining-room. Dr. Knox was looking through the large
window at the fountain in the middle of the grass-plat: Mr. Tamlyn had
his face buried; he had not looked up for the last half-hour.

"When is the very earliest time that you can come, Arnold?" he began
abruptly.

"As soon as ever they will release me in London. Perhaps that will be in
a month; perhaps not until the end of June, when the six months will be
up."

Mr. Tamlyn groaned. "I want you at once, Arnold. You are all I have
now."

"Shuttleworth must stay until I come."

"Shuttleworth's not you. You must live with me, Arnold?"

"Live with you?"

"Why, of course you must. What am I to do in this large house by myself
now _he_ is gone? Bessy will be gone too. I couldn't stand it."

"It would be much more convenient for me to be here, as far as the
practice is concerned," remarked Dr. Knox, after reflection.

"And more sociable. Do you never think of marriage, Arnold?"

Dr. Knox turned a little red. "It has been of no use for me to think of
it hitherto, you know, sir."

"I wish you would. Some nice, steady girl, who would make things
pleasant here for us in Bessy's place. There's room for a wife as well
as for you, Arnold. Think of these empty rooms: no one but you and me in
them! And you know people like a married medical man better than a
single one."

The doctor opened his lips to speak, but his courage failed him; he
would leave it to the last thing before he left on the morrow, or else
write from London. Tamlyn mistook his silence.

"You'll be well enough off to keep two wives, if the law allowed it, let
alone one. From the day you join me, Arnold, half the profits shall be
yours--I'll have the deed made out--and the whole practice at my death.
I've no one to save for, now Bertie's gone."

"He is better off; he is in happiness," said Dr. Knox, his voice a
little husky.

"Ay. I try to let it console me. But I've no one but you now, Arnold.
And I don't suppose I shall forget you in my will. To confess the truth,
turning you away to make room for Shuttleworth has lain on my
conscience."

When Arnold reached home that night, Mrs. Knox and her eldest daughter
were alone; she reading, Mina dressing a doll. Lefford was a place that
went in for propriety, and no one gave soirées while Bertie Tamlyn lay
dead. Arnold told Mrs. Knox of the new arrangement.

"Good gracious!" she exclaimed. "Coming back to Lefford! Well, I shall
be glad to have you at home again," she added, thinking of the household
bills.

"Mr. Tamlyn proposes that I shall live with him," said Dr. Knox.

"But you will never be so stupid as to do that!"

"I have promised to do it. It will be much more convenient."

Mrs. Knox looked sullen, and bit her lips. "How large a share are you to
have?"

"I go in as full partner."

"Oh, I am so glad!" cried out Miss Mina--for they all liked their
good-natured brother. "Arnold, perhaps you'll go and get married now!"

"Perhaps I may," he answered.

Mrs. Knox dropped her book in the sudden fright. If Arnold married, he
might want his house--and turn her out of it! He read the fear in her
face.

"We may make some arrangement," said he quietly. "You shall still occupy
it and pay me a small nominal rent--five pounds a-year, say--which I
shall probably return in toys for the children."

The thought of his marriage had always lain upon her with a dread. "Who
is the lady?" she asked.

"The lady? Oh, I can't tell you, I'm sure. I have not asked any one
yet."

"Is that all!"

"Quite all--at present."

"I think," said Mrs. Knox slowly, as if deliberating the point with
herself, and in the most affectionate of tones, "that you would be
happier in a single life, Arnold. One never knows what a wife is till
she's tried."

"Do you think so? Well, we must leave it to the future. What will be,
will be."


IV.

And now I am taking up the story for myself; I, Johnny Ludlow. Had I
gone straight on with it after that last night of Janet's sleep-walking
at Miss Deveen's, you would never have understood.

It was on the Saturday night that Janet was found out--as any one must
remember who took the trouble to count up the nights and days. On the
Sunday morning early, Miss Deveen's doctor was sent for. Dr. Galliard
happened to be out of town, so Mr. Black attended for him. Cattledon was
like vinegar. She looked upon Janet's proceedings as a regular scandal,
and begged Miss Deveen's pardon for having brought her niece into the
house. Upon which she was requested not to be silly.

Miss Deveen told the whole tale of the lost bank-note, to me and to
Helen and Anna Whitney: at least, as much as she knew of it herself.
Janet was innocent as a child; she felt sure of that, she said, and
much to be pitied; and that Mrs. Knox, of Lefford, seemed to be a most
undesirable sort of person. To us it sounded like a romance, or a story
out of a newspaper police-report.

Monday came in; a warm, bright April day. I was returning to Oxford in
the evening--and why I had not returned in the past week, as ought to
have been the case, there's no space to tell here. Miss Deveen said we
might go for a walk if we liked. But Helen and Anna did not seem to care
about it; neither did I, to say the truth. A house with a marvel in it
has attractions; and we would by far rather have gone upstairs to see
Janet. Janet was better, quite composed, but weak, they said: she was up
and dressed, and in Miss Deveen's own blue-room.

"Well, do you mean to go out, or not, you young people?" asked Miss
Deveen. "Dear me, here are visitors!"

George came in bringing a card. "Dr. Knox."

"Why!--it must be some one from that woman at Lefford!" exclaimed Miss
Deveen, in an undertone to me. "Oh no; I remember now, Johnny; Dr. Knox
was the step-son; _he_ was away, and had nothing to do with it. Show Dr.
Knox in, George."

A tall man in black, whom one might have taken anywhere for a doctor,
with a grave, nice face, came in. He said his visit was to Miss Carey,
as he took the chair George placed near his mistress. Just a few words,
and then we knew the whole, and saw a small sealed-up box in his hand,
which contained the remains of the bank-note.

"I am more glad than if you brought Janet a purse of gold!" cried Miss
Deveen, her eyes sparkling with pleasure. "Not that I think any one
could have doubted her, Dr. Knox--not even your step-mother, in her
heart,--but it is satisfactory to have it cleared up. It has made Miss
Carey very ill; but this will set her at rest."

"Your servant told me Miss Carey was ill," he said. "It was for her I
asked."

With a face of concern, he listened to what Miss Deveen had to say of
the illness. When she spoke of Janet's fright at seeing the policeman at
the Colosseum, his brow went red and he bit his lips. Next came the
sleep-walking: she told it all.

"Her brain and nerves must have been overstrained to an alarming
degree," he observed, after a short silence. "Mr. Shuttleworth, who
attended her at the time, spoke to me of the shock to the system. But I
hoped she had recovered."

"She would never have recovered, Dr. Knox, as long as the dread lay
upon her that she was to be criminally prosecuted: at least, that is my
opinion," said Miss Deveen. "I believe the chief thing that ails her is
_fright_. Not a knock at the door, not the marching past the house of a
policeman, not the sudden entrance of a servant into the room, but has
brought to her a shock of agonizing fear. It is a mercy that she has
escaped brain-fever. After all, she must possess a good constitution.
The sight of that Lefford man at the Colosseum did great mischief."

"It was unfortunate that he should happen to be there," said Dr. Knox:
"and that the man should have dared to accost her with his insolence!
But I shall inquire into it."

"What you have in that box will be the best medicine for her," said Miss
Deveen. "It will speedily effect a cure--or call me an untrue prophet.
Dear me! how strangely things come out!"

"May I be allowed to see Miss Carey?" asked Dr. Knox. "And to--to tell
her the story of her clearance in my own way?"

Miss Deveen made no reply. She looked at Dr. Knox, and seemed to
hesitate.

"I think it may be better for Miss Carey that I should, madam. For more
reasons than one."

"And really I don't see why you should not," said Miss Deveen,
heartily. "I hesitated because Mr. Black forbade the admission of
strangers. But--perhaps you are not a stranger to her?"

"Oh dear, no: I and Miss Carey are old friends," he answered, a curious
smile lighting up his face. "And I should also wish to see her in my
medical capacity."

But the one to put in her word against this, was Cattledon. She came
down looking green, and protesting in Miss Deveen's ear that no male
subject in her Majesty's dominions, save and except Mr. Black, ought to
be admitted to the blue-room. Janet had no full dress on; nothing but
skirts and a shawl.

"Oh, nonsense!" cried Miss Deveen. "Why, Dr. Knox might have seen her
had she been in bed: he is a physician." And she took him up herself to
the blue-room.

"Of all old maids that Cattledon's the worst!" nodded Helen Whitney.

Miss Deveen went in alone, leaving him outside the door. Janet sat in an
armchair by the fire, muffled in an old brown shawl of Cattledon's.

"And how do you feel now, my dear?" said Miss Deveen, quietly. "Better,
I see. And oh, I have such pleasant news for you: an old friend of yours
has called to see you; and I think--I think--he will be able to cure you
sooner than Mr. Black. It is Dr. Knox, my dear: not of Lefford now, you
know: of London."

She called the doctor in, and Janet's pale cheeks took a tint of
crimson. Janet's face had never been big: but as he stood looking at
her, her hand in his, he was shocked to see how small it had become.
Miss Deveen shut the door upon them. She hoped with all her heart he was
not going to spare that woman at Lefford.

"Janet, my dear," he said in a fatherly kind of way as he drew a chair
near her and kept her hand, "when that trouble happened at home, how was
it you did not write to me?"

"Write to _you_! Oh, sir, I could not do such a thing," answered Janet,
beginning to tremble.

"But you might have known I should be your friend. You might also have
known that I should have been able to clear you."

"I did once think of writing to you, Dr. Knox: just to tell you that I
had not indeed touched the bank-note," faltered Janet. "As the money
came from you, I should have liked to write so much. But I did not
dare."

"And you preferred to suffer all these weeks of pain, and the fright
brought upon you by Mrs. Knox--for which," said he deliberately, "I
shall never forgive her--rather than drop me a few lines! You must never
be so foolish again, Janet. I should have gone to Lefford at once and
searched out the mystery of the note--and found it."

Janet moved her lips and shook her head, as much as to say that he could
never have done that.

"But I have done it," said he. "I have been down to Lefford and found it
all out, and have brought the bank-note up with me--what remains of it.
Sally was the culprit."

"Sally!" gasped Janet, going from red to white.

"Sally--but not intentionally. She lighted the fire that afternoon with
the note and some more scraps. The note fell out, only partly burnt; and
I am going to take it to the bank that they may exchange it for a whole
one."

"And--will--they?" panted Janet.

"Of course they will; it is in the regular course of business that they
should," affirmed Dr. Knox, deeming it best to be positive for her sake.
"Now, Janet, if you are to tremble like this, I shall go away and send
up Miss Cattledon--and she does not look as if she had a very amiable
temper. Why, my dear child, you ought to be glad."

"Oh, so I am, so I am!" she said, breaking into sobs. "And--and does
every one in Lefford know that I was innocent?"

"No one in Lefford believed you guilty. Of course, it is all known, and
in the newspapers too--how Sally lighted the fire with a fifty-pound
bank-note, and the remains were fished out of the ashes."

"Mrs. Knox--Mrs. Knox----" She could not go on for agitation.

"As to Mrs. Knox, I am not sure but we might prosecute her. Rely upon
one thing, Janet: that she will not be very well welcomed at her beloved
soirées for some long time to come."

Janet looked at the fire and thought. Dr. Knox kept silence, that she
might recover herself after the news.

"I shall get well now," she said in a half-whisper. "I shall
soon"--turning to him--"be able to take another situation. Do you think
Mrs. Knox will give me a recommendation?"

"Yes, that she will--when it's wanted," said he, with a queer smile.

She sat in silence again, a tinge of colour in her face, and seeing
fortunes in the fire. "Oh, the relief, the relief!" she murmured,
slightly lifting her hands. "To feel that I may be at peace and fear
nothing! I am very thankful to you, Dr. Knox, for all things."

"Do you know what I think would do you good?" said Dr. Knox suddenly.
"A drive. The day is so fine, the air so balmy: I am sure it would
strengthen you. Will you go?"

"If you please, sir. I do feel stronger, since you told me this."

He went down and spoke to Miss Deveen. She heartily agreed: anything
that would benefit the poor girl, she said; and the carriage was coming
round to the door, for she had been thinking of going out herself.
Cattledon could not oppose them, for she had stepped over to the
curate's.

"Would you very much mind--would you pardon me if I asked to be allowed
to accompany her alone?" said Dr. Knox, hurriedly to Miss Deveen, as
Janet was coming downstairs on Lettice's arm, dressed for the drive.

Miss Deveen was taken by surprise. He spoke as though he were flurried,
and she saw the red look on his face.

"I can take care of her as perhaps no one else could," he added with a
smile. "And I--I want to ask her a question, Miss Deveen."

"I--think--I--understand you," she said, smiling back at him. "Well, you
shall go. Miss Cattledon will talk of propriety, though, when she comes
home, and be ready to snap us all up."

And Cattledon was so. When she found Janet had been let go for a slow
and easy drive, with no escort but Dr. Knox inside and the fat coachman
on the box, she conjectured that Miss Deveen must have taken leave of
her senses. Cattledon took up her station at the window to wait for
their return, firing out words of temper every other second.

The air must have done Janet good. She came in from the carriage on Dr.
Knox's arm, her cheeks bright, her pretty eyes cast down, and looking
quite another girl.

"Have you put your question, Dr. Knox?" asked Miss Deveen, meeting him
in the hall, while Janet came on.

"Yes, and had it answered," he said brightly. "Thank you, dear Miss
Deveen; I see we have your sympathies."

She just took his hand in hers and squeezed it. It was the first day she
had seen him, but she liked his face.

Cattledon began upon Janet at once. If she felt well enough to start off
on promiscuous drives, she must be well enough to see about a situation.

"I have been speaking to her of one, Miss Cattledon," said Dr. Knox,
catching the words as he came in. "I think she will accept it."

"Where is it?" asked Cattledon.

"At Lefford."

"She shall never go back to Rose Villa with my consent, sir. And I think
you ought to know better than to propose it to her."

"To Rose Villa! Certainly not: at least at present. Rose Villa will be
hers, though; the only little settlement that can be made upon her."

The words struck Cattledon silent. But she could see through a brick
wall.

"Perhaps _you_ want her, young man?"

"Yes, I do. I should have wanted her before this, but that I had no home
to offer her. I have one now; and good prospects too. Janet has had it
all explained to her. Perhaps you will allow me to explain it to you,
Miss Cattledon."

"I'm sure it's more than Janet Carey could have expected," said
Cattledon, growing pacified as she listened. "She's a poor thing. I
hope she will make a good wife."

"I will risk it, Miss Cattledon."

"And she shall be married from my house," struck in Miss Deveen.
"Johnny, if you young Oxford blades can get here for it, I will have you
all to the wedding."

And we did get there for it: I, and Tod, and William Whitney, and saw
the end, so far, of Janet Carey.



HELEN WHITNEY'S WEDDING.


I.

"What a hot day it is going to be!" cried the Squire, flinging back his
thin light coat, and catching the corner of the breakfast-cloth with it,
so that he upset the salt-cellar. "Yesterday was about the hottest day
_I_ ever felt, but to-day will be worse."

"And all the jam-making about!" added Mrs. Todhetley.

"You need not go near the jam-making."

"I must to-day. Last year Molly made a mistake in the quantity of sugar:
and never could be brought to acknowledge it."

"Molly---- There's the letter-man," broke off the Squire. "Run, lad."

I went through the open glass-doors with all speed. Letters were not
everyday events with us. In these fast and busy days a hundred letters
are written where one used to be in those. It was one only that the man
handed me now.

"That's all this morning, Mr. Johnny."

I put it beside the Squire's plate, telling him it was from Sir John
Whitney. There was no mistaking Sir John's handwriting: the popular
belief was that he used a skewer.

"From Whitney, is it," cried he. "Where are my spectacles? What's the
postmark! Malvern? Oh, then, they are there still."

  "_Belle Vue Hotel, Malvern._

  "DEAR TODHETLEY,

  "Do take compassion upon a weary man, and come over for a day or
  two. A whole blessed week this day have I been here with never a
  friend to speak to, or to make up a rubber in the evening.
  Featherston's a bad player, as you know, but I wish I had him here.
  I and my wife might take double dummy, for all the players we can
  get. Helen is engaged to be married to Captain Foliott, Lord
  Riverside's nephew; and nobody has any time to think of me and my
  whist-table. Bring the boys with you: Bill is as moped as I am. We
  are at the Belle Vue, you see. The girls wanted to stand out for the
  Foley Arms: it's bigger and grander: but I like a place that I have
  been used to.

  "From your old friend,
  "JOHN WHITNEY."

The little Whitneys had caught scarlatina, all the fry of them.
Recovered now, they had been sent to a cottage on the estate for change;
and Sir John, his wife, William, Helen, and Anna went for a week to
Malvern while the Hall was cleaned. This news, though, of Helen's
engagement, took us by surprise.

"How very sudden!" cried the mater.

Tod was leaning back in his chair, laughing. "I _told_ her I knew there
was something up between her and that Captain Foliott!"

"Has she known him before?" asked the mater.

"Known him, yes," cried Tod. "She saw a good deal of him at Cheltenham.
As if she would engage herself to any one after only a week's
acquaintanceship!"

"As if Sir John would let her!" put in the Squire. "I can't answer for
what Miss Helen would do." And Tod laughed again.

When the children were taken ill, Helen and Anna, though they had had
the malady, were packed off to Sir John's sister, Miss Whitney, who
lived at Cheltenham, and they stayed there for some weeks. After that,
they came to us at Dyke Manor for three days, and then went with their
father and mother to Malvern. Helen was then full of Captain Foliott,
and talked of him to us in private from morning till night. She had met
him at Cheltenham, and he had paid her no end of attention. Now, as it
appeared, he had followed her to Malvern, and asked for her of Sir John.

"It seems to be a good match--a nephew of Lord Riverside's," observed
the Squire. "Is he rich, I wonder?--and is the girl over head and ears
in love with him?"

"Rich he may be: but in love with him she certainly is not," cried Tod.
"She was too ready to talk of him for that."

The remark was amusing, coming from Tod. How had he learnt to be so
worldly-wise?

"Shall you go to Malvern, father?"

"_Shall I go!_" repeated the Squire, astonished at the superfluous
question. "Yes. And start as soon as ever I have finished my breakfast
and changed my coat. You two may go also, as you are invited."

We reached Malvern in the afternoon. Sir John and Lady Whitney were
alone, in one of the pleasant sitting-rooms of the Belle Vue Hotel, and
welcomed us with outstretched hands.

"The girls and William?" cried Sir John, in answer to inquiries. "Oh,
they are out somewhere--with Foliott, I conclude; for I'm sure he sticks
to Helen like her shadow. Congratulate me, you say? Well, I don't know,
Todhetley. It's the fashion, of course, to do it; but I'm not sure but
we should rather be condoled with. No sooner do our girls grow up and
become companionable, and learn not to revoke at whist when they can be
tempted into taking a hand, than they want to leave us! Henceforth they
must belong to others, not to us; and we, perhaps, see them no oftener
than we see any other stranger. It's one of the crosses of life."

Sir John blew his old red nose, so like the Squire's, and my lady rubbed
her eyes. Both felt keenly the prospect of parting with Helen.

"But you like him, don't you?" asked the Squire.

"As to liking him," cried Sir John, and I thought there was some
hesitation in his tone; "I am not in love with him: I leave that to
Helen. We don't all see with our children's eyes. He is well enough, I
suppose, as Helen thinks so. But the fellow does not care for whist."

"I think we play too slow a game for him," put in Lady Whitney. "He
chanced to say one evening that Lord Riverside is one of the first hands
at whist; and I expect Captain Foliott has been in the habit of playing
with him."

"Anyway, you are satisfied with the match, as a match, I take it?"
observed the Squire.

"I don't say but that I am," said Sir John. "It might be better, of
course; and at present their means will not be large. Foliott offers to
settle an estate of his, worth about ten thousand pounds, upon Helen;
and his allowance from his uncle Foliott is twelve hundred a-year. They
will have to get along on that at present."

"And the captain proposes," added Lady Whitney, "that the three thousand
pounds, which will come to Helen when she marries, shall be invested in
a house: and we think it would be wise to do it. But he feels quite
certain that Mr. Foliott will increase his allowance when he marries;
probably double it."

"It's not Lord Riverside, then, who allows him the income?"

"Bless you, Todhetley, no!" spoke Sir John in a hurry. "He says
Riverside's as poor as a church mouse, and vegetates from year's end to
year's end at his place in Scotland. It is Foliott the mine-owner down
in the North. Stay: which is it, Betsy?--mine-owner, or mill-owner?"

"Mill-owner, I think," said Lady Whitney. "He is wonderfully rich,
whichever it is; and Captain Foliott will come into at least a hundred
thousand pounds at his death."

Listening to all this as I stood on the balcony, looking at the
beautiful panorama stretched out below and beyond, for they were talking
at the open window, I dreamily thought what a good thing Helen was going
to make of it. Later on, all this was confirmed, and we learnt a few
additional particulars.

Mr. Foliott, mill-owner and millionaire, was a very great man in
the North; employing thousands of hands. He was a good man, full of
benevolence, always doing something or other to benefit his townspeople
and his dependents. But his health had been failing of late, and he had
now gone to the Cape, a sea-voyage having been advised by his doctors.
He had never married, and Captain Foliott was his favourite nephew.

"It's not so bad, after all, is it, Johnny?"

The words were whispered over my shoulder, and I started back to see
Helen's radiant face. She and Anna had come in unheard by me, and had
caught the thread of conversation in the room.

"I call it very good, Helen. I hope he is good too."

"You shall see," she answered. "He is coming up with William."

Her dark brown eyes were sparkling, a bright colour glowed on her
cheeks. Miss Helen Whitney was satisfied with her future bridegroom, and
no mistake. She had forgotten all about her incipient liking for poor
Slingsby Temple.

"What regiment is Captain Foliott in, Helen?"

"Not in any. He has sold out."

"Sold out!"

"His mother and his uncle made him do it. The detachment was ordered to
India, and they would not let him go; would not part with him; begged
and prayed of him to sell out. Nothing ever vexed him so much in his
life, he says; but what could he do? His mother has only him: and on Mr.
Foliott he is dependent for riches."

"Entirely dependent?"

"For _riches_, I said, Johnny. He has himself a small competence. Ten
thousand pounds nearly comprises it. And that is to be settled on me."

A slight bustle in the room, and we both looked round. Bill Whitney was
noisily greeting Tod. Some one else had followed Bill through the door.

A rather tall man, with reddish hair and drooping, reddish whiskers,
bold handsome features, and a look I did not like in his red-brown eyes.
Stepping over the window-sill from the balcony, they introduced me to
him, Captain Richard Foliott.

"I have heard much of Johnny Ludlow," said he, holding out his hand with
a cordial smile, "and I am glad to know him. I hope we shall soon be
better acquainted."

I shook his hand and answered in kind. But I was not drawn to him; not a
bit; rather repelled. The eyes were not nice: or the voice, either. It
had not a true ring in it. Undeniably handsome he was, and I thought
that was the best that could be said.

"Look here: we are going for a stroll," said Sir John; "you young people
can come, or not, as you please. But if you go up the hill, remember
that we dine at six o'clock. Once you get scampering about up there, you
forget the time."

He went out with the Squire. Lady Whitney had a letter to write and sat
down to do it; the rest of us stood, some on the balcony, some in the
room. Helen, Tod, and Captain Foliott were apparently trying which could
talk the fastest.

"Why do you look at me so earnestly?" suddenly demanded the latter.

It was to me he spoke. I laughed, and apologized; saying that his face
put me in mind of some other face I had seen, but I could not remember
whose. This was true. It was true also that I had been looking at him
more fixedly than the strict rules of etiquette might require: but I had
not an idea that he was observing me.

"I thought you might be wishing to take my portrait," said the captain,
turning away to whisper to Helen.

"More likely to take your _character_," jestingly struck in Bill, with
more zeal than discretion. "Johnny Ludlow sees through everybody; reads
faces off like a book."

Captain Foliott wheeled sharply round at the words, and stood before me,
his eyes gazing straight into mine.

"Can you read my face?" he asked. "What do you see there?"

"I see that you have been a soldier: your movements tell me that:
right-about, face; quick march," answered I, turning the matter off with
a jest. Tod opportunely struck in.

"How _could_ you leave the army?" he asked with emphasis. "I only wish I
had the chance of joining it." Though he knew that he had better not let
the Squire hear him say so.

"It was a blow," acknowledged Foliott. "One does meet with raps in this
world. But, you see, it was a case of--of the indulgence of my own
gratification weighed in the scale against that of my mother: and I let
my side go up. My uncle also came down upon me with his arguments and
his opposition, and altogether I found myself nowhere. I believe he and
she are equally persuaded that nobody ever comes out of India alive."

"Who will take my letter to the post?" called out Lady Whitney. All of
us volunteered to do it, and went out together. We met Sir John and the
Squire strolling about the village rubbing their red faces, and saying
how intensely hot it was.

They left us to regale ourselves at the pastry-cook's, and sauntered on
towards the dark trees shading that deep descent on which the hotel
windows looked out. We found them sitting on one of the benches there.

"Well, Foliott!" cried Sir John. "You'd not have found it hotter than
this in India."

"Not so hot, Sir John. But I like heat."

"How do-you-do?" struck in a big, portly gentleman, who was sitting on
the same bench as the Squire and Sir John, and whose face was even
redder than theirs. "Did not expect to meet you here."

Captain Foliott, who was the one addressed, wheeled round to the speaker
in that sharp way of his, and was evidently taken by surprise. His
manner was cold; never a smile sat on his face as he answered--

"Oh, is it you, Mr. Crane! Are you quite well? Staying at Malvern?"

"For an hour or two. I am passing a few days at Worcester, and my
friends there would not let me go on without first bringing me to see
Malvern."

The stranger spoke like a gentleman and looked like one, looked like
a man of substance also (though Foliott did draw down his lips that
same evening and speak of him as "nobody"); and Sir John, in his
old-fashioned cordiality, begged of Captain Foliott to introduce his
friend. Captain Foliott did it with a not very ready grace. "Mr. Crane,
Sir John Whitney; Mr. Todhetley."

"A beautiful place this, sirs," cried he.

"Yes, only it's too hot to walk about to-day," answered they. "Have you
been up the hill?"

"No, I can't manage that: but my friends are gone up. Have you heard
lately from your uncle, Captain Foliott?" added Mr. Crane.

"Not very lately."

"I hear the outward voyage did him a world of good."

"I believe it did."

As if the questions of the stranger worried him, Captain Foliott
strolled away towards the abbey: the two girls, Tod, and William
following him. I stayed where I was: not liking the heat much more than
the Squire did.

"You know Mr. Foliott of Milltown?" observed Sir John to the stranger.

"I know him very well indeed, sir. I am a mill-owner myself in the same
place: but not as large a one as he is."

"He is uncommonly rich, we hear."

"Ay, he is. Could buy up pretty well half the world."

"And a good man into the bargain?"

"Downright good. Honest, upright, liberal; a true Christian. He does an
immense deal for his fellow-men. Nobody ever asks him to put his hand in
his pocket in vain."

"When is he expected home?"

"I am not sure when. That will depend, I expect, upon how he feels. But
we hear the outward voyage has quite set him up."

"Captain Foliott often talks of his uncle. He seems to think there's
nobody like him."

"He has cause to think it. Yes, I assure you, sirs, few men in the
world can come up to George Foliott, the mill-owner, for probity and
goodness."

How much more he might have said in Mr. Foliott's praise was cut short
by the hasty appearance of two young men, evidently the friends of Mr.
Crane. They laughed at the speed they had made down the hill, told him
the carriage was ready, and that they ought to start at once to reach
Worcester by dinner-time. So the portly old gentleman wished us good-day
and departed. Running up the bank, I saw them drive off from the Crown
in a handsome two-horse phæton.

It was on the day following this, that matters were finally settled with
regard to Helen's marriage. Captain Foliott made good his wish--which,
as it appeared, he had been harping upon ever since the proposal was
first made: namely, that they should be married immediately, and not
wait for the return of Mr. Foliott to England. Sir John had held out
against it, asking where the hurry was. To this Captain Foliott had
rejoined by inquiring what they had to wait for, and where was the need
of waiting, and the chances were that his uncle would stay away for a
year. So at last, Sir John, who was a simple-minded man, and as easily
persuaded as a duck is to water, gave in; and the wedding was fixed to
take place the next month, September, at Whitney.

We made the most of this, our one entire day at Malvern, for we should
disperse the next. The Whitneys to Whitney Hall, the house now being in
apple-pie order for them; ourselves back to Dyke Manor; Captain Foliott
to get the marriage-settlement prepared. Helen's three thousand pounds,
all she would have at present, was not to be settled at all, but
invested in some snug little house that they would fix upon together
after the marriage, so that Captain Foliott's lawyers took the
preparation of the deeds of settlement on themselves, saving trouble to
Sir John. Three parts of the day we spent roaming the hill: and I must
say Foliott made himself as delightful as sun in harvest, and I told
myself that I must have misjudged his eyes in thinking they were not
nice ones.

But the next morning we received a shock. How swimmingly the world would
go on without such things, I leave those who have experienced them to
judge. It came when we were at the breakfast-table, in the shape of a
letter to Lady Whitney. Scarlatina--which was supposed to have been
cleaned and scrubbed out--had come into the Hall again, and the
kitchen-maid was laid up with it.

Here was a pretty kettle of fish! Whether Sir John or my lady looked the
most helplessly bewildered, might have puzzled a juror to decide. Back
to the Hall they could not go; and what was to be done? The Squire,
open-handed and open-hearted, pressed them to accompany us and take up
their quarters at Dyke Manor; and for a minute or two I thought they
would have done it; but somebody, Helen, I think, suggested a furnished
house in London, and that was finally decided upon. So to London they
would go, hire the first suitable house that offered, and the marriage
would take place there instead of at home. Captain Foliott, coming in
after breakfast from his hotel, the Foley Arms, stared at the change of
programme.

"I wouldn't go to London," said he, emphatically. "London at this season
of the year is the most wretched wilderness on the face of the whole
earth. Not a soul in it."

"The more room for us, Foliott," cried Sir John. "What will it matter to
us whether the town is empty or full?"

"I would strongly advise you, Sir John, not to go. Lady Whitney will not
like it, I am certain. As Mr. Todhetley has been good enough to offer
you his hospitality----"

"Put, bless my heart," interrupted Sir John in a heat, "you don't
suppose, do you, that I could trespass upon an old friend for weeks and
weeks--a regular army of us! Were it a matter of a few days, I wouldn't
say nay; but who is to foresee how long it may be before we can get into
our own house? You've not a bit of thought, Foliott."

"Why not go to your sister's at Cheltenham, sir?" was all the captain
said to this.

"Because I don't choose to go to my sister's at Cheltenham," retorted
Sir John, who could be as obstinate as the Squire when he liked. "And
why should we go to Cheltenham more than to London? Come?"

"I thought it would be less trouble for you, sir. Cheltenham is close at
hand."

"And London is not far off. As to its being empty, I say that's so much
the better: we shall more readily find a furnished house in it. To
London we go to-day."

With Sir John in this resolute mood, there was no more to be said. And
the notion became quite agreeable, now that they were growing reconciled
to it.

"All things are directed for the best," concluded Lady Whitney in
her simple faith. "I hardly see how we should have procured Helen's
trousseau down at Whitney: there will be no difficulty in London."

"You are right, my dear lady, and I am wrong," conceded Captain Foliott,
with a good-natured smile. "To us young men of fashion," he added, the
smile deepening to a laugh, "London between August and April is looked
upon as a nightmare. But circumstances alter cases; and I see that it
will be the best and most convenient place for you."

Drawing Helen aside as he spoke, and taking a small morocco case from
his pocket, he slipped upon her finger his first and parting gift: a
magnificent hoop of diamonds.

"I should like you to wear it always, my love," he whispered. "As
the pledge of your engagement now; later, as the guard of your
wedding-ring."


II.

"I shall go up in the smoking-carriage, Johnny."

"Shall you! You'll smell finely of smoke when we get there."

"Not I. I'll give my coat a shake at the end of the journey. By Jove!
I shall be left behind, if I don't take care."

Tod was right. The train was already on the move. He dashed into the
smoking-compartment; the porter closed the doors, and we were off.

Off to London. He and I were going up to Helen Whitney's wedding, to
which we had been invited when staying at Malvern some weeks ago. The
Squire declined for himself, though Sir John had wanted him also. This
was Monday; the wedding was to be on Thursday; and on the Saturday Anna
and William were to go back with us to Dyke Manor.

It was September weather, and a glorious day. Now, as the train steamed
away on its windings and turnings, the Malvern Hills would glide into
view; and now be lost again. But the beautiful landscape was always to
be seen, with its woods and dales and fertile plains; and there was not
a cloud in the deep blue sky to obscure the sun.

I had the carriage to myself; and pictured Tod one of a crowd of
smokers. At Oxford he came back to the carriage, and got in.

"Had enough smoke, Tod?"

"Just for now, lad," he shortly answered; and began to whistle softly
and pull at his whiskers. By which I knew he had something on his mind.

"I say, Johnny, I am in a dilemma," he began abruptly, when we were
going on again, bending towards me from the opposite seat till his face
nearly touched mine.

"What about? What is it?"

"Look here. When I got into the smoking-carriage it was full, all but
one seat, which I took--and that was a corner one, which they had been
polite enough to leave. The carriage was dark with smoke: pipes had been
going, I expect, all the way from Worcester. I lighted mine, saying
nothing, and nobody said anything to me. The man opposite to me and the
one next me had a hot discussion on hand, touching a racehorse; not
quarrelling, but talking loudly, so that they made a tolerable noise. At
the other end of the carriage sat two men facing one another, just as
you and I sit now; and one of them I'll vow was an Oxford man: I could
tell him by his cut. They were talking together also, but rather in an
undertone. All at once, when we were nearing Oxford, there was a lull at
my end, and I heard a bit of what they were saying. The first word that
particularly caught my ear was Foliott. 'What plant is Foliott up to
now, I wonder?' cried one. 'Don't know,' said the other; 'nothing good,
we may be sure of. A rumour reached me that he was going to be married.'
'What a chance for the girl!' cried the first. 'Poor thing! But it may
not be true,' he went on, knocking the ashes out of his pipe: 'who would
marry such a scamp as that?' Now, Johnny," broke off Tod, "the question
is, were they speaking of this Foliott? This man that we are now on our
way to see married to Helen?"

"Was that all you heard, Tod?"

"Every word. The train began to slacken speed then for the Oxford
station, and the two men stood up to reach their overcoats and
hand-bags, for they got out there. I had half a mind to stop them and
ask what Foliott they had been speaking of; but I did not much like to,
and while I hesitated they disappeared. They might just have told me to
mind my own business if I had spoken; so perhaps it comes to the same."

"Foliott is not an absolutely uncommon name, Tod. There may be plenty of
Foliotts about."

"Just so, lad. But, on the other hand, it may be the one we know of,
Richard Foliott. One point coincides--he is going to be married."

I sat back on the seat, revolving probabilities, and thinking of many
things. That instinctive dislike I had taken to Captain Foliott's eyes,
or to himself, or to both, flashed over me with vivid force. The fine
scenery we were just then whirling past, and on which my eyes seemed to
be fixed, might have been a sandy desert, for all I saw of it.

"The worst is, the dilemma it puts one in," continued Tod. "To speak
of this to the Whitneys, or not to speak?--that's the question. If it
should turn out to be another Foliott, they might never forgive me.
_He_ never would."

"But then--Helen's whole future may be at stake. It may be in peril."

Tod pulled at his whiskers again. I read the name of the station we were
flashing past.

"I hate a doubt of this sort," cried Tod impatiently, "where one can't
see how one's duty lies. It bothers the mind. I think I'll let it go,
Johnny."

"But, if it should turn out, when too late, that he is a scamp: and, for
the want of a word, you have let him--let him make havoc of Helen's
life!"

"What could I say?" he asked irritably. "That I overheard two fellows,
in the smoking-compartment of a railway train, saying that one Foliott
was a scamp. Sir John would naturally ask me what grounds I had for
assuming that it was their Foliott. Well, I have no grounds. And how
small I should look!"

"There are slight grounds, at any rate, Tod. The name is his, Foliott;
and both are going to be married."

"All the same, I don't see that I can speak."

"Put it in this light, Tod," I said. "You don't speak; and they get
married; and then something or other bad turns up about Foliott; and Sir
John finds out that it was in your power to warn him in time, and you
did not. What will he say then?"

"I'm sure I don't know," grunted Tod. "I wish I could see on which side
land lies."

All the rest of the way to London we continued to discuss it by fits
and starts, and at last hit upon a good thought--to tell the whole to
William Whitney. It was the best thing to do, so far as we could see.
It might all end in smoke, or--it might not.

The Whitneys had found a furnished house in Gloucester Place, near
Portman Square. The maid who had taken the illness was soon well again,
and the Hall was being regularly fumigated now, preparatory to their
return. In Gloucester Place they were within a short drive of Miss
Deveen's, a fact which had guided them to the locality. Indeed, it was
only a walk for the younger of us.

Not until night did we get any chance of a private talk with William.
Our bedrooms opened into one another; and after we went up for good, he
sat down in our room.

"You won't be affronted, Bill, at something I am about to say?" struck
in Tod, by way of prelude.

"Affronted!" cried Bill. "I! What on earth do you ask that stupid
question for?"

"In coming up to-day, I heard a few words in the train," went on Tod.
"Two fellows were talking, and they brought up a man's name in a
disparaging manner. It is a friend of yours, Bill; and Johnny and I
had a precious discussion, I can tell you, as to whether we should
repeat it to you or not."

"Was it my name?" asked Bill. "What could they have to say against me?"

"No, no; they'd have got an answer from me had it been yours. First of
all, we thought of mentioning it to Sir John; but I did not like to, and
that's the truth. So we just concluded to put it before you, as one of
ourselves, and you can tell him if you like."

"All right," said Bill. "Go ahead."

Tod told him all from beginning to end. Not that it was very much to
tell: but he brought in our own conversation; the delicacy we felt in
speaking at all, and the arguments for and against. Bill was not in the
least put out; rather wondered, I thought, that we should be.

"It can't be Dick Foliott, you know," said he. "There's not anything
against him; impossible that there should be."

"I am glad you say so," cried Tod, relieved. "It was only for Helen's
sake we gave a thought to it."

"The name was the same, you see--Foliott," I put in. "And that man is
going to be married as well as this one."

"True," answered Bill, slowly. "Still I feel sure it is quite impossible
that it can be Foliott. If--if you think I had better mention it, I
will. I'll mention it to himself."

"I should," said I eagerly, for somehow my doubts of the man were
growing larger. "Better be on the safe side. You don't know much about
him, after all, Bill."

"Not know much about him! What do you mean, Johnny? We know enough. He
is Riverside's nephew, a very respectable old Scotch peer, and he is
Foliott the mill-owner's nephew; and I'm sure _he_ is to be respected,
if it's only for the money he has made. And Dick has a very fair income
of his own, and settles ten thousand pounds upon Helen, and will come
into a hundred thousand by-and-by, or more. What would you have?"

I could not say what I would have; but the uneasiness lay on my mind.
Tod spoke.

"The men alluded to conduct, I expect, Bill; not to means. They spoke of
that Foliott as an out-and-out scamp, and called the girl he was going
to marry 'Poor thing,' in a piteous tone. You wouldn't like that applied
to Helen."

"By Jove, no. Better be on the safe side, as Johnny says. We'll say
nothing to my father at present; but you and I, Tod, will quietly repeat
to Foliott what you heard, and we'll put it to him, as man to man, to
tell us in all honour whether the words could have related to himself.
Of course the idea is altogether absurd; we will tell him that, and beg
his pardon."

So that was resolved upon. And a great relief it was. To decide upon a
course of action, in any unpleasant difficulty, takes away half its
discomfort.

Captain Foliott had come to London but once since they met at Malvern.
His stay was short; three days; and during those days he was so busy
that Gloucester Place only saw him in the evenings. He had a great deal
to do down in the North against his marriage, arranging his property
preparatory to settling it on Helen, and seeing to other business
matters. But the zeal he lacked in personal attention, he made up by
letter. Helen had one every morning as regularly as the post came in.

He was expected in town on the morrow, Tuesday: indeed, Helen had
thought he might perhaps have come to-day. Twelve o'clock on Wednesday,
at Gloucester Place, was the hour fixed for signing the deeds of
settlement: and by twelve o'clock on Thursday, the following day, all
going well, he and Helen would be man and wife.

Amidst the letters waiting on the breakfast-table on Tuesday morning was
one for Helen. Its red seal and crest told whence it came.

"Foliott always seals his letters to Helen," announced Bill for our
information. "And what ill news has that one inside it?" continued he to
his sister. "You look as cross as two sticks, Nelly."

"Just mind your own business," said Helen.

"What time will Captain Foliott be here to-day, my dear?" questioned her
mother.

"He will not be here at all to-day," answered Helen, fractiously. "It's
too bad. He says it is impossible for him to get away by any train, in
time to see us to-night; but he will be here the first thing in the
morning. His mother is worse, and he is anxious about her. People always
fall ill at the wrong time."

"Is Mrs. Foliott coming up to the wedding?" I asked.

"No," said Lady Whitney. "I of course invited her, and she accepted the
invitation; but a week ago she wrote me word she was not well enough to
come. And now, children, what shall we set about first? Oh dear! there
is such a great deal to do and to think of to-day!"

But we had another arrival that day, if we had not Captain Foliott. That
was Mary Seabright, who was to act as bridesmaid with Anna. Brides did
not have a string of maids in those days, as some have in these. Leaving
them to get through their multiplicity of work--which must be connected,
Bill thought, with bonnets and wedding-cake--we went up with Sir John in
a boat to Richmond.

That evening we all dined at Miss Deveen's. It was to be one of the
quietest of weddings; partly by Captain Foliott's express wish, chiefly
because they were not at home at the Hall. Miss Deveen and Miss
Cattledon were to be the only guests besides ourselves and Mary
Seabright, and a Major White who would go to the church with Foliott.
Just twelve of us, all told.

"But where's the bridegroom?" asked Miss Deveen, when we reached her
house.

"He can't get up until late to-night; perhaps not until to-morrow
morning," pouted Helen.

The dinner-table was a downright merry one, and we did not seem
to miss Captain Foliott. Afterwards, when Sir John had made up his
whist-table--with my lady, Miss Deveen, and the grey-haired curate, Mr.
Lake, who had dropped in--we amused ourselves with music and games in
the other room.

"What do you think of the bridegroom, Johnny Ludlow?" suddenly demanded
Miss Cattledon, who had sat down by me. "I hear you saw him at
Malvern."

"Think of him! Oh, he--he is a very fine man; good-looking, and all
that."

"That I have seen for myself," retorted Cattledon, pinching her hands
round her thin waist. "When he was staying in London, two or three weeks
ago, we spent an evening in Gloucester Place. Do you _like_ him?"

She put the "like" so very pointedly, staring into my face at the time,
that I was rather taken aback. I did _not_ like Captain Foliott: but
there was no particular necessity for telling her so.

"I like him--pretty well, Miss Cattledon."

"Well, I do not, Johnny Ludlow. I fancy he has a temper; I'm sure he is
not good-natured; and I--I don't think he'll make a very good husband."

"That will be a pity. Helen is fond of him."

Miss Cattledon coughed significantly. "Is she? Helen is fond of him
in-so-far as that she is eager to be married--all girls are--and the
match with Captain Foliott is an advantageous one. But if you think she
cares for him in any other way, Johnny Ludlow, you are quite mistaken.
Helen Whitney is no more in love with Captain Foliott than you are in
love with me."

At which I laughed.

"Very few girls marry for love," she went on. "They fall in love,
generally speaking, with the wrong person."

"Then what do they marry for?"

"For the sake of being married. With the fear of old-maidism staring
them in the face, they are ready, silly things, to snap at almost any
offer they receive. Go up to Helen Whitney now, tell her she is destined
to live in single blessedness, and she would be ready to fret herself
into a fever. Every girl would not be, mind you: but there are girls and
girls."

Well, perhaps Miss Cattledon was not far wrong. I did not think as she
did then, and laughed again in answer: but I have learned more of the
world and its ways since.

In every corner of the house went Helen's eyes when we got back to
Gloucester Place, but they could not see Captain Foliott. She had been
hoping against hope.


III.

Wednesday. Young women, bringing in huge band-boxes, were perpetually
ringing at the door, and by-and-by we were treated to a sight of the
finery. Sufficient gowns and bonnets to set up a shop were spread out in
Helen's room. The wedding-dress lay on the bed: a glistening white silk,
with a veil and wreath beside it. Near to it was the dress she would go
away in to Dover, the first halting-place on their trip to Paris: a
quiet shot-silk, Lady Whitney called it, blue one way, pink another.
Shot, or not shot, it was uncommonly pretty. Straw bonnets were the mode
in those days, and Helen's, perched above her travelling-dress, had
white ribbons on it and a white veil--which was the mode for brides
also. I am sure Helen, in her vanity, thought more of the things than
of the bridegroom.

But she thought of him also. Especially when the morning went on and did
not bring him. Twelve o'clock struck, and Sir John Whitney's solicitor,
Mr. Hill, who had come up on purpose, was punctual to his appointment.
Sir John had thought it right that his own solicitor should be present
at the reading and signing of the settlements, to see that they were
drawn up properly.

So there they sat in the back-parlour, which had been converted into
a business room for the occasion, waiting for Captain Foliott and the
deed with what patience they had. At one o'clock, when they came in to
luncheon, Sir John was looking a little blue; and he remarked that
Captain Foliott, however busy he might have been, should have stretched
a point to get off in time. Appointments, especially important ones,
ought to be kept.

For it was conclusively thought that the delay was caused by the
captain's having been unable to leave the previous day, and that he was
travelling up now.

So Mr. Hill waited, and Sir John waited, and the rest of us waited,
Helen especially; and thus the afternoon passed in waiting. Helen was
more fidgety than a hen with one chick: darting to the window every
instant, peeping down the staircase at the sound of every ring.

Dinner-time; and no appearance of Captain Foliott. After dinner; and
still the same. Mary Seabright, a merry girl, told Helen that her lover
was like the knight in the old ballad--he loved and he rode away. There
was a good deal of laughing, and somebody called for the song, "The
Mistletoe Bough." Of course it was all in jest: as each minute passed,
we expected the next would bring Captain Foliott.

Not until ten o'clock did Mr. Hill leave, with the understanding that
he should return the next morning at the same hour. The servants were
beginning to lay the breakfast-table in the dining-room, for a lot of
sweet dishes had been brought in from the pastry-cook's, and Lady
Whitney thought they had better be put on the table at once. In the
afternoon we had tied the cards together--"Mr. and Mrs. Richard
Foliott"--with white satin ribbon, sealed them up in their envelopes
with white wax, and directed them ready for the post on the morrow.

At twelve o'clock a move was made to go upstairs to bed; and until that
hour we had still been expecting Captain Foliott.

"I feel positive some dreadful accident has happened," whispered Helen
to me as she said good-night, her usually bright colour faded to
paleness. "If I thought it was carelessness that is causing the delay,
as they are cruelly saying, I--I should never forgive him."

"Wait a minute," said Bill to me aside, touching Tod also. "Let them go
on."

"Are you not coming, William?" said Lady Whitney.

"In two minutes, mother."

"I don't like this," began Bill, speaking to us both over our
bed-candles, for the other lights were out. "I'll be hanged if I think
he means to turn up at all!"

"But why should he not?"

"Who is to know? Why has he not turned up already? I can tell you that
it seems to me uncommonly strange. Half-a-dozen times to-night I had a
great mind to call my father out and tell him about what you heard in
the train, Tod. It is so extraordinary for a man, coming up to his
wedding, not to appear: especially when he is bringing the settlements
with him."

Neither of us spoke. What, indeed, could we say to so unpleasant a
topic? Bill went on again.

"If he were a man in business, as his uncle, old Foliott, is, I could
readily understand that interests connected with it might detain him
till the last moment. But he is not; he has not an earthly thing to do."

"Perhaps his lawyers are in fault," cried Tod. "If they are backward
with the deeds of settlement----"

"The deeds were ready a week ago. Foliott said so in writing to my
father."

A silence ensued, rendering the street noises more audible. Suddenly
there came a sound of a horse and cab dashing along, and it pulled up
at our door. Foliott, of course.

Down we went, helter-skelter, out on the pavement. The servants, busy in
the dining-room still, came running to the steps. A gentleman, getting
out of the cab with a portmanteau, stared, first at us, then at the
house.

"This is not right," said he to the driver, after looking about him.
"It's next door but one."

"This is the number you told me, sir."

"Ah, yes. Made a mistake."

But so sure did it seem to us that this late and hurried traveller must
be, at least, some one connected with Captain Foliott, if not himself,
that it was only when he and his luggage had disappeared within the next
house but one, and the door was shut, and the cab gone away, that we
realized the disappointment, and the vague feeling of discomfort it left
behind. The servants went in. We strolled to the opposite side of the
street, unconsciously hoping that luck might bring another cab with the
right man in it.

"Look there!" whispered Bill, pointing upwards.

The room over the drawing-room was Lady Whitney's; the room above that,
the girls'. Leaning out at the window, gazing now up the street, now
down, was Helen, her eyes restless, her face pale and woe-begone in the
bright moonlight.

It was a sad night for Helen Whitney. She did not attempt to undress,
as we knew later, but kept her post at that weary window. Every cab or
carriage that rattled into view was watched by her with eager, feverish
anxiety. But not one halted at the house, not one contained Captain
Foliott. Helen Whitney will never forget that unhappy night of
tumultuous feeling and its intolerable suspense.

But here was the wedding-morning come, and no bridegroom. The
confectioners were rushing in with more dishes, and the dressmakers
appearing to put the finishing touches to Helen. Lady Whitney was just
off her head: doubtful whether to order all the paraphernalia away,
or whether Captain Foliott might not come yet. In the midst of the
confusion a little gentleman arrived at the house and asked for Sir
John. Sir John and he had a long conference, shut in alone: and when
they at length came out Sir John's nose was a dark purple. The visitor
was George Foliott, the mill-owner: returned since some days from the
Cape.

And the tale he unfolded would have struck dismay to the nose of many
a wiser man than was poor Sir John. The scamp spoken of in the train
was Richard Foliott; and a nice scamp he turned out to be. Upon Mr.
Foliott's return to Milltown the prospective wedding had come to his
ears, with all the villainy encompassing it; he had at once taken
means to prevent Mr. Richard's carrying it out, and had now come up to
enlighten Sir John Whitney.

Richard Foliott had been a scamp at heart from his boyhood; but he had
contrived to keep well before the world. Over and over again had Mr.
Foliott paid his debts and set him on his legs again. Captain Foliott
had told the Whitneys that he quitted the army by the wish of his
friends: he quitted it because he dared not stay in. Before Mr. Foliott
departed for the Cape he had thrown Richard off; had been obliged to do
it. His fond foolish mother had reduced herself to poverty for him. The
estate, once worth ten thousand pounds, which he had made a pretence of
settling upon Helen, belonged to his mother, and was mortgaged about a
dozen deep. He dared not go much abroad for fear of arrest, especially
in London. This, and a great deal more, was disclosed by Mr. Foliott to
Sir John; who sat and gasped, and rubbed his face, and wished his old
friend Todhetley was at hand, and thanked God for Helen's escape.

"He will never be any better," affirmed Mr. Foliott, "be very sure of
that. He is innately bad, and the pain he has inflicted upon me for
years has made me old before my time. But--forgive me, Sir John, for
saying so--I cannot think you exercised discretion in accepting him so
easily for your daughter."

"I had no suspicion, you see," returned poor Sir John. "How could I have
any? Being your nephew, and Lord Riverside's nephew--"

"Riverside's nephew he called himself, did he! The old man is ninety, as
I dare say you know, and never stirs from his home in the extreme north
of Scotland. Some twenty years ago, he fell in with the sister of
Richard's mother (she was a governess in a family up there), and married
her; but she died within the year. That's how he comes to be Lord
Riverside's 'nephew.' But they have never met in their lives."

"Oh dear!" bemoaned Sir John. "What a villain! and what a blessed
escape! He made a great point of Helen's bit of money, three thousand
pounds, not being tied up before the marriage. I suppose he wanted to
get it into his own hands."

"Of course he did."

"And to pay his debts with it; as far as it would go."

"_Pay his debts with it!_" exclaimed Mr. Foliott. "Why, my good sir, it
would take thirty thousand to pay them. He would just have squandered it
away in Paris, at his gaming-tables, and what not; and then have asked
you to keep him. Miss Whitney is well quit of him: and I'm thankful I
came back in time to save her."

Great news to disclose to Helen! Deeply mortifying to have ordered
a wedding-breakfast and wedding things in general when there was no
wedding to be celebrated! The tears were running down Lady Whitney's
homely cheeks, as Miss Deveen drove up.

Mr. Foliott asked to see Helen. All he said to her we never knew--but
there's no doubt he was as kind as a father.

"He is a wicked, despicable man," sobbed Helen.

"He is all that, and more," assented Mr. Foliott. "You may be thankful
your whole life long for having escaped him. And, my dear, if it will at
all help you to bear the smart, I may tell you that you are not the
first young lady by two or three he has served, or tried to serve, in
precisely the same way. And to one of them he behaved more wickedly than
I care to repeat to you."

"But," ruefully answered poor Helen, quietly sobbing, "I don't suppose
it came so near with any of them as the very morning."

And that was the end of Helen Whitney's wedding.



HELEN'S CURATE.


I.

A summons from Mr. Brandon meant a summons. And I don't think I should
have dared to disobey one any more than I should those other summonses
issued by the law courts. He was my guardian, and he let me know it.

But I was hardly pleased that the mandate should have come for me just
this one particular day. We were at Crabb Cot: Helen, Anna, and William
Whitney had come to it for a week's visit; and I did not care to lose a
day with them. It had to be lost, however. Mr. Brandon had ordered me to
be with him as early as possible in the morning: so that I must be off
betimes to catch the first train.

It was a cold bleak day towards the end of February: sleet falling now
and then, the east wind blowing like mad, and cutting me in two as I
stood at the hall-door. Nobody else was down yet, and I had swallowed my
breakfast standing.

Shutting the door after me, and making a rush down the walk between the
evergreens for the gate, I ran against Lee, the Timberdale postman, who
was coming in, with the letters, on his shaky legs. His face, shaded by
its grey locks, straggling and scanty, had a queer kind of fear upon it.

"Mr. Johnny, I'm thankful to meet you; I was thinking what luck it would
be if I could," said he, trembling. "Perhaps you will stand my friend,
sir. Look here."

Of the two letters he handed to me, one was addressed to Mrs. Todhetley;
the other to Helen Whitney. And this last had its envelope pretty nearly
burnt off. The letter inside could be opened by anybody, and some of the
scorched writing lay exposed.

"If the young lady would only forgive me--and hush it up, Mr. Johnny!"
he pleaded, his poor worn face taking a piteous hue. "The Miss Whitneys
are both very nice and kind young ladies; and perhaps she will."

"How was it done, Lee?"

"Well, sir, I was lighting my pipe. It is a smart journey here, all the
way from Timberdale--and I had to take the long round to-day instead of
the Ravine, because there was a newspaper for the Stone House. The east
wind was blowing right through me, Mr. Johnny; and I thought if I had
a bit of a smoke I might get along better. A spark must have fallen on
the letter while I was lighting my pipe, and I did not see it till the
letter was aflame in my hand. If--if you could but stand my friend, sir,
and--and perhaps give the letter to the young lady yourself, so that the
Squire does not see it--and ask her to forgive me."

One could only pity him, poor worn man. Lee had had pecks of trouble,
and it had told upon him, making him old before his time. Now and then,
when it was a bad winter's morning, and the Squire caught sight of him,
he would tell him to go into the kitchen and get a cup of hot coffee.
Taking the two letters from him to do what I could, I carried them
indoors.

Putting Helen's with its tindered cover into an envelope, I wrote a line
in pencil, and slipped it in also.

  "DEAR HELEN,

  "Poor old Lee has had a mishap and burnt your letter in lighting his
  pipe. He wants you to forgive it and not to tell the Squire. No real
  damage is done, so please be kind.

  "J. L."

Directing this to her, I sent it to her room by Hannah, and made a final
start for the train.

And this was what happened afterwards.

Hannah took the letter to Helen, who was in the last stage of dressing,
just putting the finishing touches to her hair. Staring at the state her
letter was in, she read the few words I had written, and then went into
a passion at what Lee had done. Helen Whitney was as good-hearted a girl
as ever lived, but hot and hasty in temper, saying anything that came
uppermost when put out. She, by the help of time, had got over the
smart left by the summary collapse of her marriage, and had ceased to
abuse Mr. Richard Foliott. All that was now a thing of the past. And,
not having had a spark of love for him, he was the more easily
forgotten.

"The wicked old sinner!" she burst out: and with emphasis so startling,
that Anna, reading by the window, dropped her Prayer-book.

"Helen! What is the matter?"

"_That's_ the matter," flashed Helen, showing the half-burnt envelope
and scorched letter, and flinging on the table the piece of paper I had
slipped inside. Anna took the letter up and read it.

"Poor old man! It was only an accident, Helen; and, I suppose, as Johnny
says, no real damage is done. You must not say anything about it."

"Must I not!" was Helen's tart retort.

"Who is the letter from?"

"Never you mind."

"But is it from home?"

"It is from Mr. Leafchild, if you must know."

"Oh," said Anna shortly. For that a flirtation, or something of the
kind, had been going on between Helen and the curate, Leafchild, and
that it would not be likely to find favour at Whitney Hall, she was
quite aware of.

"Mr. Leafchild writes about the school," added Helen, after reading the
letter; perhaps tendering the information as an apology for its having
come at all. "Those two impudent girls, Kate and Judith Dill, have been
setting Miss Barn at defiance, and creating no end of insubordination."

With the last word, she was leaving the room; the letter in her pocket,
the burnt envelope in her hand. Anna stopped her.

"You are not going to show that, are you, Helen? Please don't."

"Mr. Todhetley ought to see it--and call Lee to account for his
carelessness. Why, he might have altogether burnt the letter!"

"Yes; of course it was careless. But I dare say it will be a lesson to
him. He is very poor and old, Helen. Pray don't tell the Squire; he
might make so much commotion over it, and then you would be sorry.
Johnny asks you not."

Helen knitted her brow, but put the envelope into her pocket with the
letter: not conceding with at all a good grace, and went down nodding
her head in semi-defiance. The cream of the sting lay no doubt in the
fact that the letter was Mr. Leafchild's, and that other eyes than her
own might have seen it.

She did not say anything at the breakfast-table, though Anna sat upon
thorns lest she should: Helen was so apt to speak upon impulse. The
Squire talked of riding out; Whitney said he would go with him: Tod
seemed undecided what he should do. Mrs. Todhetley read to them the
contents of her letter--which was from Mary Blair.

"I shall go for a walk," announced Helen, when the rest had dispersed.
"Come and get your things on, Anna."

"But I don't care to go out," said Anna. "It is a very disagreeable day.
And I meant to help Mrs. Todhetley with the frock she is making for
Lena."

"You can help her when you come back. I am not going through that Crabb
Ravine by myself."

"Through Crabb Ravine!"

"Yes. I want to go to Timberdale."

It never occurred to Anna that the errand to Timberdale could have any
connection with the morning's mishap. She put her things on without more
ado--Helen always domineered over her, just as Tod did over me--and the
two girls went out together.

"Halloa!" cried Tod, who was standing by the pigeon-house. "Where are
you off to?"

"Timberdale," replied Helen. And Tod turned and walked with them.

They were well through the Ravine, and close on to the entrance of
Timberdale, before Helen said a word of what she had in her mind.
Pulling the burnt envelope and the letter out then, she showed them to
Tod.

"What do you think of that for a piece of carelessness!" she asked: and
forthwith told him the whole story. Tod, hasty and impulsive, took the
matter up as warmly as she had done.

"Lee ought to be reported for this--and punished. There might have been
a bank-note in the letter."

"Of course there might," assented Helen. "And for Johnny Ludlow to want
to excuse him, and ask me to hush it up!"

"Just like Johnny! In such things he is an out-and-out muff. How would
the world go on, I wonder, if Johnny ruled it? You ought to have shown
it to the Squire at once, Helen."

"So I should but for Johnny and Anna. As they had asked me not to, I did
not quite like to fly in their faces. But I am going to show it to your
postmaster at Timberdale."

"Oh, Helen!" involuntarily breathed Anna. And Tod looked up.

"Don't mind her," said Helen. "She and Johnny are just alike--making
excuses for every one. Rymer the chemist is postmaster, is he not?"

"Rymer's dead--don't you remember that, Helen? Before he died, he gave
up the post-office business. Salmon, the grocer opposite, took to it."

This Salmon was brother to the Salmon (grocer and draper) at South
Crabb. Both were long-headed men, and flourishing tradesmen in their
small way.

"Poor old Lee!" cried Tod, with a shade of pity. "He is too ailing and
feeble; we have often said it. But of course he must be taught not to
set fire to the letters."

Anna's eyelashes were wet. "Suppose, by your complaining, you should get
him turned out of his post?" she suggested, with the timid deference she
might have observed to a royal duke--but in the presence of those two
she always lost her courage. Tod answered her gently. When he was gentle
to any one, it was to her.

"No fear of that, Anna. Salmon will blow old Lee up, and there'll be an
end of it. Whose letter was it, Helen?"

"It was from Mr. Leafchild--about our schools," answered Helen, turning
her face away that he might not see its sudden rush of colour.

Well, they made their complaint to Salmon; who was properly indignant
and said he would look into it, Tod putting in a word for the offender,
Lee. "We don't want him reported to headquarters, or anything of that
kind, you know, Salmon. Just give him a reprimand, and warn him to be
cautious in future."

"I'll see to him, sir," nodded Salmon.

(The final result of the burning of this letter of Helen Whitney's, and
of another person's letter that got burnt later, was recorded in the
last Series, in a paper called "Lee the Letter-Man."

It may be as well to remind the reader that these stories told by
"Johnny Ludlow" are not always placed consecutively as regards the time
of their occurrence, but go backwards or forwards indiscriminately.)

Being so near, Helen and Anna thought they would call on Herbert
Tanerton and Grace at the Rectory; next, they just looked in at
Timberdale Court--Robert Ashton's. Altogether, what with one delay and
another, they arrived at home when lunch was nearly over. And who should
be sitting there, but Sir John Whitney! He had come over unexpectedly to
pass an hour or two.

Helen Whitney was very clever in her way: but she was apt to be
forgetful at times, as all the rest of us are. One thing she had totally
and entirely forgotten to-day--and that was to ask Tod not to speak of
the letter. So that when the Squire assailed them with reproaches for
being late, Tod, unconscious that he was doing wrong, blurted out the
truth. A letter from Mr. Leafchild to Helen had been partly burnt by old
Lee, and they had been to Timberdale to complain to Salmon.

"A letter from Leafchild to Helen!" cried Sir John. "That must be a
mistake. Leafchild would not presume to write to Helen."

She grew white as snow. Sir John had turned from the table to face her,
and she dared not run away. The Squire was staring and frowning at the
news of old Lee's sin, denouncing him hotly, and demanding to see the
letter.

"Yes, where is this letter?" asked Sir John. "Let me see it, Helen."

"It--it was about the schools, papa."

"About the schools! Like his impudence! What have you to do with the
schools? Give me the letter."

"My gracious me, burn a letter!" cried the Squire. "Lee must be in his
dotage. The letter, my dear, the letter; we must see it."

Between them both, Helen was in a corner. She might have been capable of
telling a white fib and saying she had not the letter, rather than let
her father see it. Anna, who knew she had it in her pocket, went for
nobody; but Tod knew it also. Tod suspecting no complications, was
holding out his hand for her to produce it. With trembling lips, and
fingers that shook in terror, she slowly drew it forth. Sir John took
the letter from her, the Squire caught hold of the burnt envelope.

There was not a friendly hole in the floor for Helen to drop through.
She escaped by the door to hide herself and her hot cheeks. For this was
neither more nor less than a love-letter from the curate, and Sir John
had taken it to the window to read it in the stronger light.

"Bless my heart and mind!" cried he when he had mastered its contents,
just such an exclamation as the Squire would have made. "He--he--I
believe the fellow means to make love to her! What a false-hearted
parson he must be! Come here, Todhetley."

To see the two old heads poring over the letter together through their
spectacles was something good, Tod said, when he told me all this later.
It was just a love-letter and nothing less, but without a word of love
in it. But not a bad love-letter of its kind; rather a sensible one.
After telling Helen about the tracasserie in the parish school (which
must have afforded him just the excuse for writing that he may have
wanted), the curate went on to say a little bit about their mutual
"friendship," and finished up by begging Helen to allow him to speak
to Sir John and Lady Whitney, for he could not bear to think that by
keeping silent they were deceiving them. "As honourable a letter in
its way as you could wish to hear read," observed Tod; for Sir John
and the Squire had read it aloud between them for the benefit of the
dining-room.

"This comes of having grown-up daughters," bewailed poor Sir John.
"Leafchild ought to be put in the pillory. And where's Helen got to?
Where is that audacious girl?"

Poor Helen caught it hot and strong--Sir John demanding of her, for one
thing, whether she had not had enough of encouraging disreputable young
sparks with that Richard Foliott. Poor Helen sobbed and hid her head,
and finally took courage to say that Mr. Leafchild was a saint on
earth--not to be as much as named in the same sentence with Richard
Foliott. And when I got home at night, everybody, from Helen downwards,
was in the dumps, and Sir John had gone home to make mincemeat of the
curate.

Buttermead was one of those straggling parishes that are often found in
rural districts. Whitney Hall was situated in it, also the small village
of Whitney, also that famous school of ours, Dr. Frost's, and there was
a sprinkling of other good houses. Some farm homesteads lay scattered
about; and the village boasted of a street and a half.

The incumbent of Buttermead, or Whitney, was the Reverend Matthew
Singleton: his present curate was Charles Leafchild. Mr. Leafchild,
though eight-and-twenty years of age, was only now ordained deacon, and
this year was his first in the ministry. At eighteen he had gone out to
the West Indies, a post having been found for him there. He did not go
by choice. Being a steady-minded young fellow, religiously inclined, he
had always wished to be a parson; but his father, Dr. Leafchild, a great
light among Church dignitaries, and canon residentiary of a cathedral in
the North, had set his face against the wish. The eldest son was a
clergyman, and of his preferment Dr. Leafchild could take tolerable
care, but he did not know that he could do much in that way for his
younger sons, and so Charles's hopes had to go to the wall. Spiritual
earnestness, however, at length made itself heard within him to
some purpose; and he resolved, come what might, that he would quit
money-making for piety. The West Indian climate did not agree with
him; he had to leave it for home, and then it was that he made the
change. "You would have been rich in time had you stuck to your post,"
remonstrated the Reverend Doctor to him: "now you may be nothing but a
curate all your life." "True, father," was the answer, "but I shall hope
to do my duty as one." So Charles Leafchild made himself into a parson,
and here he was at Buttermead, reading through his first year, partially
tabooed by his family, and especially by that flourishing divine, the
head of it.

He was a good-looking young man, as men go. Rather tall than not, with
a pale, calm face, brown hair that he wore long, and mild brown eyes
that had no end of earnestness in their depths. A more self-denying man
could not be found; though as a rule young men are not famous for great
self-denial. The small stipend given by Mr. Singleton had to suffice for
all his wants. Leafchild had never said what this stipend was; except
that he admitted one day it was not _more_ than seventy pounds: how much
less than that, he did not state.

Just a few roods out of the village stood a small dwelling called
Marigold Cottage. A tidy woman named Bean lived in it with her
two daughters, one of whom was the paid mistress of the national
girls'-school. Mr. Leafchild lodged here, as the late curate had before
him, occupying the spare sitting-room and bedroom. And if Mrs. Bean was
to be believed--and she had been a veracious woman all her life--three
days out of the seven, at least, Mr. Leafchild went without meat at
his dinner, having given it away to some sick or poor creature, who
wanted it, he considered, more than he did. A self-denying, earnest,
gentle-minded man; that's what he was: and perhaps it may be forgiven
to Helen Whitney that she fell in love with him.

When Helen went home from London, carrying with her the mortification
that came of her interrupted marriage and Captain Foliott's delinquency,
she began to do what she had never done in her life before, busy herself
a little in the parish: perhaps as a safety-valve to carry off her
superfluous anger. The curate was a middle-aged man with a middle-aged
wife and two babies, and Helen had no scruple in going about with him,
here, there, and everywhere. To the schools, to the church, to practise
the boys, to visit the poor, went she. But when in a few months that
curate's heart was made glad by a living--two hundred a-year and a
five-roomed Vicarage--and Mr. Leafchild came in his place, it was a
little different. She did not run about with the new curate as she had
with the old, but she did see a good deal of him, and he of her. The
result was they fell in love with one another. For the first time in her
life the uncertain god, Cupid, had pierced the somewhat invulnerable
heart of Helen Whitney.

But now, could anything be so inappropriate, or look more hopeless?
Charles Leafchild, B.A., curate of Buttermead, positively only yet
reading for his full title, scantily paid, no prospect of anything
better, lacking patronage; and Miss Helen Whitney, daughter of Sir John
Whitney, baronet! Looking at it from a practical point of view, it
seemed that he might just as well have expected to woo and wed one of
the stars in the sky.

On the bleak February morning that followed Helen's expedition to
Timberdale, Mr. Leafchild came down from his chamber and entered his
sitting-room. The fire, a small one, for Mrs. Bean had received a
general caution to be sparing of his coal, burnt brightly in the grate.
He stood over it for a minute or two, rubbing his slender hands at the
blaze: since he left the West Indies he had felt the cold more keenly
than formerly. Then he turned to the breakfast-table, and saw upon it,
a small portion of cold neck of mutton, an uncut loaf, and a pat of
butter. His tea stood there, already made.

"If I leave the meat, it will do for dinner," he thought: and proceeded
to make his meal of bread-and-butter. Letty Bean, who chiefly waited on
him, came in.

"A letter for you, sir," she said, handing him a note.

He took it, looked at the handwriting, which was thick and sprawly and
not familiar to him, and laid it beside his plate.

"Sir John Whitney's footman brought it, sir," continued Letty,
volunteering the information: and a hot colour flushed the curate's face
as he heard it. He opened it then. Short and peremptory, it merely
requested the Reverend Charles Leafchild to call upon Sir John Whitney
that morning at Whitney Hall.

"Is the man waiting for an answer, Letty?"

"No, sir. He went away as soon as he gave it me."

Mr. Leafchild half suspected what had occurred--that Sir John must, in
some way, have become acquainted with the state of affairs. He judged
so by the cold, haughty tone of the note: hitherto Sir John had always
shown himself friendly. Far from being put out, Mr. Leafchild hoped it
was so, and went on with his breakfast.

Another interruption. Mrs. Bean this time. She wore a mob cap and had
lost her teeth.

"Here's that tipsy Jones come to the door, sir. He says you told him to
come."

"Ah yes, I did; let him come in," said the curate. "Is he tipsy this
morning?"

"No, sir, only shaky. And what shall I order you for dinner, sir,
to-day? I may as well ask, as I am here."

"That will do," he answered, pointing to the cold meat. "And please mash
the potatoes."

Jones came in. The man was not an incorrigibly bad doer, but weak and
irresolute. If he worked two days, he idled and drank three, and his
wife and children suffered. Mr. Leafchild, who felt more sorrow for him
than anger, invited him to a seat by the fire, and talked to him long
and persuasively, almost as one brother might talk to another, and gave
him a hot cup of tea. Jones went away great in promises and penitence:
and about eleven o'clock the curate betook himself to the Hall.

Of all men living, the Squire perhaps excepted, Sir John was about the
worst to carry out any troublesome negotiation. He was good-hearted,
irresolute, and quick-tempered.

When Mr. Leafchild was shown in, Sir John utterly forgot certain
speeches he had conned over in his mind, broke down, went into a
passion, and told the curate he was a designing, impudent villain.

Though his love for Helen, and that was intense, caused him to feel
somewhat agitated in the presence of Helen's father, Mr. Leafchild's
manner was quiet and calm, a very contrast to that of Sir John. After a
little while, when the baronet had talked himself cool, Mr. Leafchild
entered into a history of the affair: telling how he and Miss Whitney
had met without any intention of any kind, except of that which might be
connected with the parish interests, and how with as little intention,
a mutual liking--nay, a _love_--had sprung up.

"Yes, that's all very fine," said Sir John, shuffling about his steel
spectacles that were perched on his old red nose. "You knew she was my
daughter; you knew well what you were about."

The young man reddened at the reproach.

"Sir, indeed you misjudge me. I never thought of such a thing as falling
in love with Miss Whitney until the love had come. Had she been the most
obscure of young women, it would have been all the same."

"Then you are an idiot for your pains," retorted Sir John. "Why,
goodness gracious me! have you not _one_ single atom of common sense?
Can't you see how unfitting it is?"

"My family is a very good one; in point of fact, as good as yours, Sir
John--if you will pardon me for saying so thus pointedly," urged the
curate in his gentle voice. "And though----"

"Oh, bother!" interrupted Sir John, having no counter argument
particularly at hand. "That goes for nothing. What are your prospects?"

"They are not great. Perhaps I ought to say that I have no prospects as
yet. But, sir----"

"Now come! that's honest. No prospects! And yet you must go making love
to my daughter."

"I have not done that, sir, in one sense--'made love.' Hardly a word,
I think, has passed between myself and Miss Whitney that you might not
have heard. But we have, notwithstanding, been fully aware of the state
of each other's heart----"

"The state of each other's fiddlestick," spluttered Sir John. "A nice
pair of you, I must say! And pray, what did you think it would come to?"

"What Miss Whitney may have thought I have not presumed to ask. For
myself, I confess I am cherishing hopes for the future. It is some
little time now since I have been wishing to speak to you, Sir John: and
I intended, if you were so kind as not to entirely reject me, to write
to my father, Dr. Leafchild, and lay the whole case before him. I think
he can help me later if he will; and I certainly believe he will be only
too glad to do it."

"Help you to what?"

"To a living."

"And, bless my heart and mind, how long do you suppose you might have to
wait? A dozen years. Twenty years, for all you know. The curate who was
here before you, poor Bell, had been waiting more than twenty years for
one. It came to him last year, and he was forty-seven years old."

Mr. Leafchild could say nothing to this.

"And a fine living it is, now he has it!" went on Sir John. "No, no,
sir: Helen Whitney cannot be dragged into that kind of fate."

"I should be the last to drag her, or wish to drag her into it. Believe
that, Sir John. But, if I had a good living given to me, then I should
like her to share it. And I think that my father would perhaps allow me
some private means also, for Helen's sake. He has money, and could do
it."

"But all those fancies and notions are just so many vapours, clouds up
in the sky, and no better, don't you see! You young men are sanguine and
foolish; you lose sight of facts in fallacies. We must look at what is,
not at what might be. Why, you are not yet even a priest!"

"No. I shall be ordained to that in a few months' time."

"And then, I suppose, you will either remain here, or get a curacy
elsewhere. And your income will be that of a curate--a hundred pounds
a-year, all told. Some curates get but fifty."

"True. We are poorly paid."

"And that may go on till you are forty or fifty years of age! And yet,
in the face of it, you ask me to let you have my daughter. Now, Mr.
Leafchild, you are either a simpleton yourself, or you must think I am
one," added Sir John, rising to end the interview, which had been to him
one of thorough discomfort. "And I'm sure I hope you'll pick up a little
common sense, young man, and I shall order Miss Helen to pick some up
too. There, that's all."

"I trust you are not angry with me, sir," said the curate mildly, for
Sir John was holding out his hand to be shaken.

"Well, yes, I am. Anything like this causes one such worry, you know.
I'm sure I and my wife have had no sleep all night. You must not think
any more of Helen. And now good-morning."

As Mr. Leafchild walked back to his lodgings at Dame Bean's, his hopes
seemed to be about as dull as the wintry sky on which his nice brown
eyes were fixed. His whole happiness, socially speaking, lay in Helen;
hers lay with him; but only separation seemed to be looming in the air.
Suddenly, when he was close to Marigold Cottage, a little rift broke in
the leaden clouds, and a bit of pale blue sky shone forth.

"I will take that as an omen for good; pray God it may be so!" spoke the
curate gladly and reverently, as he lifted his hat. "And--come what may,
in storm and in tempest, God is over all."

Helen went home in the dumps and to sundry edifying lectures. An embargo
was laid on her parish work, and she only saw the curate at church. One
month, two months passed over thus, and she grew pale and thin. Sir John
was cross, Lady Whitney uncomfortable; they were both simple-minded
people, caring more for their children's happiness than for their
grandeur. The former told the Squire in confidence that if the young
fellow could get a decent living, he was not sure but he'd give in, and
that he liked him ten thousand times better than he had ever liked that
Foliott.

They met one day by accident. Helen was out moping in the long broad
walk: which was beginning to be shady now, for May was all but in, and
the trees were putting on their foliage. At the end of it she came to
a standstill, leaning on the gate. The waters of the lake, out yonder,
were blue as the unruffled sky. With a faint cry, she started aside, for
Charles Leafchild stood before her.

Being a parson, and tacitly on honour to Sir John, he might have been
expected to pass on his way without stopping; but Helen's hand was
already stretched out over the gate. He could but shake it.

"You are not looking well," he said after a moment's silence. "I am
sorry to see it."

What with his unexpected presence, and what with her mind's general
discomfort, Helen burst into tears. Mr. Leafchild kept her hand in his.

"I have a bad headache to-day," said Helen, by way of excuse for her
tears. "It has been gloomy weather lately."

"Gloomy within and without," he assented, giving a meaning to her words
that she had not meant to imply. "But in every cloud, you know, however
dark it may be, there is always a silver lining."

"We can't always see it," returned Helen, drying her tears.

"No; we very often cannot. But we may trust that it is there--and be
patient."

"I think it sometimes happens that we never see it--that all is gloomy
to the end, the end of life. What then?"

"Then we may be sure that it is best for us it should be so. God directs
all things."

Helen sighed: she had not learnt the love and faith and submission that
made up the sum of Mr. Leafchild's life, bringing into it so strange a
peace.

"Is it true that you are going to leave?" she asked. "We heard it
mentioned."

"Yes: when I shall be fully ordained. Mr. Singleton has to take his
nephew. It was an old promise--that he should come to him for his first
year, just as I have. I think I shall go to Worcester."

"To Worcester?"

"I have been offered a curacy there by one of the minor canons whose
living is in the town, and I feel inclined to take it. The parish is
large and has a good many of the very poor in it."

Helen made a face. "But would you like that? You might be frightfully
overworked."

"It is what I should like. As to the work--it is done for our Master."

He shook hands with her again, and left, the cheery smile still on his
face, the thoughtful light in his steadfast eyes. And never a word of
love, you see, had passed.

It was, I take it, about a fortnight after this, that there went walking
one afternoon to Whitney Hall, a tall, portly, defiant-looking gentleman
in gold-rimmed spectacles and a laced-up clerical hat. By the way he
turned his head here and there, and threw his shoulders about as he
strode along, you might have taken him for a bishop at least, instead of
a canon--but canons in those days were a great deal more self-important
than bishops are in these. It was the Reverend Dr. Leafchild. A real
canon was he, a great man in his own cathedral, and growing rich on his
share of its substantial revenues: your honorary canons with their empty
title and non-stipends had not sprung into fashion then. In his pompous
manner, and he had been born pompous, Dr. Leafchild asked to see Sir
John Whitney.

After Mr. Leafchild's interview with Sir John in February, he had
written to his father and told him all about it, asking him whether he
thought he could not help him later to a living, so that he might have a
chance of winning Helen. But for Helen's being a baronet's daughter and
the connection one that even the canon might be proud of, he would have
turned a deaf ear: as it was, he listened. But Dr. Leafchild never did
things in a hurry; and after some correspondence with his son (and a
great deal of grumbling, meant for his good), he had now come into
Worcestershire for the purpose of talking over the affair with Sir John.

The upshot was, that Sir John gave in, and sanctioned the engagement.
There was an excellent living somewhere down in the North--eight hundred
pounds a-year, a handsome house, and some land--the next presentation to
which the canon could command. He had intended it for his eldest son;
but he, by some lucky chance, had just obtained a better preferment, and
the doctor could promise it to Charles. The present incumbent was old
and ailing; therefore, in all probability, it would very speedily fall
in. The canon added that he might settle on the young people a small sum
at their marriage, say a hundred a-year, or so; and he also hinted that
Charles might stand a chance of better preferment later--say a snug
canonry. So Sir John shook hands heartily upon the bargain, invited the
canon to stay dinner, and sent for Charles.

For the next six weeks who so happy as the curate and Helen? They came
over to us at Dyke Manor (for we had gone back there) for a day or two,
and we learnt to like him with our whole hearts. What a good, earnest,
warm-natured man he was; and oh, how unselfish!

I remember one evening in particular when they were out together, pacing
the field-path. Helen had his arm, and he was talking to her in what
seemed an uncommonly solemn manner: for his hand was lifted now and then
in earnestness, and both were gazing upwards. It was a beautiful sky:
the sun had set in splendour, leaving crimson and gold clouds behind it,
the evening star twinkled in the deepening canopy. Mrs. Todhetley sent
me to them. A poor woman had come up for broth for her sick son, one of
our labourers. She was in great distress: a change had taken place in
him for the worse, he was calling for the clergyman to come to him
before he died: but Mr. Holland was out that evening--gone to Evesham.

"Johnny, I--I think Mr. Leafchild would go," said the mater. "Do you
mind asking him?"

Hardly any need to ask. At the first word he was hastening to the woman
and walking away with her. Helen's eyes, gazing at the sky still, were
wet with tears.

"Is it not beautiful, Johnny?"

"Very." It was a glorious sunset.

"But I never saw it as I see it now. He is teaching me many things. I
cannot hope to be ever as he is, Johnny, not half as good; but I think
in time he will make me a little like him."

"You have a happy life before you."

"Yes--I hope so," she said hesitatingly. "But sometimes a feeling makes
itself heard within me--that one who is so entirely fitted for the next
world may not long be left in this."


II.

It was autumn weather--October. A lot of us were steaming over to
Worcester in the train. Miss Whitney from Cheltenham, and a friend
of hers--a maiden lady as ancient as herself, one Miss Conaway, of
Devonshire--were staying at the Hall. Miss Conaway did not know
Worcester, and was now being taken to see it--especially the cathedral.
Lady Whitney, Helen, Anna, and I made up the party, and we filled
the carriage. My being with them arose from chance: I had come over
accidentally that morning to Whitney Hall. Of course Helen hoped to see
something besides the cathedral her curate. For in June Mr. Leafchild,
then in priest's orders, entered on his new curacy at Worcester, there
to stay until the expected living should fall in.

"How is he?" I asked Helen, bending over the arm of the seat that
divided us.

"Working himself to death," she whispered back to me, her tone a cross
one.

"He said he was glad there would be plenty of work, you know. And it is
a large parish."

"But he need not let it put _everything_ else out of his head."

"Meaning you?"

"I have not heard from him for more than a week. Papa had a letter from
Dr. Leafchild this morning. He said in it that Charles, when he last
wrote, complained of being poorly."

"A great many curates do get very overtaxed."

"Oh, and what do you think?" went on Helen. "He is actually beginning to
have scruples about taking that living, on the score that there'll be
hardly any work to do."

"But--he will take it!"

"Yes, I suppose he _will_, because of me; but it will go against the
grain, I fancy. I do think one may have too strict a conscience."

It was past one o'clock when we reached Worcester. Lady Whitney
complained in the train of having started too late. First of all there
was luncheon to be taken at the Star: that brought it to past two. Then
various other things had to be done: see the cathedral, and stay the
afternoon service, go over the china works at Diglis, and buy a bundle
of articles at the linen-draper's. All these duties over, they meant to
invade Mr. Leafchild's lodgings in Paradise Row.

They took the draper's to begin with, the whole of them trooping in, one
after another, like sheep into a pen: and I vow that they only came out
again when the bell was going for three-o'clock service. Helen was not
in a genial mood: at this rate there would not be much time left for
visiting the curate.

"It was Aunt Ann's fault," she grumbled to me--"and mamma's. They were
a good half-hour looking at the stuff for the children's winter frocks.
Aunt Ann maintained that cashmere was best, mamma held to merino. All
the shelves they had taken down! I would not be a linen-draper's shopman
for the world."

Just in time, were we, to get into our seats before the procession of
clergy and choristers came in. The chanter that afternoon was Mr.
Leafchild's rector: I knew him to speak to. But there's no space to
linger upon details.

A small knot of people, ourselves and others, had collected in the
transept after service, waiting for one of the old bedesmen to do the
honours of the cathedral, when the chanter came down the steps of the
south aisle, after disrobing in the vestry.

"Do you know who he is?" I said to Helen, who was standing with me a
little apart.

"No--how should I know? Except that he must be one of the minor canons."

"He is Mr. Leafchild's rector."

"Is he?" she eagerly cried, the colour coming into her face. And just
then he chanced to look our way, and nodded to me. I went up to him to
speak.

"This is a terrible thing about Leafchild," he exclaimed in a minute or
two.

"What is it?" I asked, my breath stopping.

Helen, who had slowly paced after me on the white flags, stood stock
still and turned as pale as you please.

"Have you not heard of his illness? Perhaps not, though: it has been so
sudden. A few days ago he was apparently as well as I am now. But it was
only last night that the doctors began to apprehend danger."

"Is it fever?"

"Yes. A species of typhoid, I believe. Whether caught in his
ministrations or not, I don't know. Though I suppose it must have been.
He is lying at his lodgings in Paradise Row. Leafchild has not seemed in
good condition lately," continued the clergyman. "He is most unremitting
in his work, fags himself from morning till night, and lives anyhow: so
perhaps he was not fortified to resist the attack of an enemy. He is
very ill: and since last night he has been unconscious."

"He is _dangerously_ ill, did you say?" spoke poor Helen, biting her
lips to hide their tremor.

"Almost more than dangerous: I fear there is little hope left," he
answered, never of course suspecting who Helen was. "Good-afternoon."

She followed him with her eyes as he turned to the cloister-door: and
then moved away towards the north entrance, looking as one dazed.

"Helen, where are you going?"

"To see him."

"Oh, but it won't do. It won't, indeed, Helen."

"_I am going to see him_," she answered, in her most wilful tone. "Don't
you hear that he is dying? I know he is; I feel it instinctively as a
sure and certain fact. If you have a spark of goodness you'll come with
me, Johnny Ludlow. It's all the same--whether you do or not."

I looked around for our party. They had disappeared up the other aisle
under convoy of the bedesman, leaving Helen and myself to follow at our
leisure; or perhaps not noticing our absence. Helen, marching away with
quick steps, passed out at the grand entrance.

"It is not _safe_ for you to go, Helen," I remonstrated, as we went
round the graveyard and so up High Street. "You would catch the fever
from him."

"_I_ shall catch no fever."

"He caught it."

"I wish you'd be quiet. Can't you _see_ what I am suffering?"

The sweetest sight to me just then would have been Lady Whitney, or any
one else holding authority over Helen. I seemed responsible for any ill
that might ensue: and yet, what could I do?

"Helen, pray listen to a word of reason! See the position you put me in.
A fever is not a light thing to risk."

"I don't believe that typhoid fever is catching. He did not say typhus."

"Of course it's catching."

"Are you afraid of it?"

"I don't know that I am afraid. But I should not run into it by choice.
And I'm sure you ought not to."

We were just then passing that large druggist's shop that the Squire
always called Featherstonhaugh's--just because Mr. Featherstonhaugh once
kept it. Helen darted across the street and into it.

"A pound of camphor," said she, to the young man behind the right-hand
counter.

"A pound of camphor!" he echoed. "Did you say _a pound_, ma'am?"

"Is it too much?" asked Helen. "I want some to put about me: I am going
to see some one who is ill."

It ended in his giving her two ounces. As we left the shop she handed
part of it to me, stowing the rest about herself. And whether it was
thanks to the camphor, I don't know, but neither of us took any harm.

"There. You can't grumble now, Johnny Ludlow."

Paradise Row, as every one knows, is right at the other end of the town,
past the Tything. We had nearly reached the house when a gentleman, who
looked like a doctor, came out of it.

"I beg your pardon," said Helen, accosting him as he met us, and
coughing to hide her agitation, "but we think--seeing you come out of
the house--that you may be attending Mr. Leafchild. Is he better?"

The doctor looked at us both, and shook his head as he answered--

"Better in one sense of the word, in so far as that he is now conscious;
worse in another. He is sinking fast."

A tremor shook Helen from head to foot. She turned away to hide it. I
spoke.

"Do you mean--dying?"

"I fear so."

"Are his friends with him?"

"Not any of them. His father was sent to yesterday, but he has not yet
come. We did not write before, not having anticipated danger."

"Why don't they have Henry Carden to him?" cried Helen in passionate
agitation as the doctor walked away. "_He_ could have cured him."

"No, no, Helen; don't think that. Other men are just as clever as Henry
Carden. They have only one treatment for fever."

A servant-girl answered the door, and asked us into the parlour. She
took us for the relations from the north. Mr. Leafchild was lying in a
room near--a comfortable bed-chamber. Three doctors were attending him,
she said; but just now the nurse was alone with him. Would we like to go
in? she added: we had been expected all day.

"Come with me, Johnny," whispered Helen.

He was lying in bed, white and still, his eyes wide open. The nurse, a
stout old woman in light print gown and full white apron, stood at a
round table in the corner, noiselessly washing a wine-glass. She turned
her head, curtsied, and bustled out of the room.

But wasn't he weak, as his poor thin hands clasped Helen's! His voice
was hollow as he tried to speak to her. The bitter tears, running down
her checks, were dropping on to the bed-clothes.

"You should not have come", he managed to say. "My love, my love!"

"Is there no hope?" she sobbed. "Oh, Charles, is there _no_ hope?"

"May God soothe it to you! May He have you always in His good keeping!"

"And is it no trouble to you to die?" she went on, reproach in her
anguished tone. "Have you no regret for the world, and--and for those
you leave behind?"

"It is God's will," he breathed. "To myself it is no trouble, for He has
mercifully taken the trouble from me. I regret you, my Helen, I regret
the world. Or, rather, I should regret it, but that I know I am going to
one brighter and better. You will come to me there, my dear one, and we
shall live together for ever."

Helen knelt down by the bed; he was lying close on the edge of it; and
laid her wet face against his. He held her to him for a moment, kissed
her fervently, and then motioned to me to take her away.

"For your own sake, my dear," he whispered. "You are in danger here.
Give my dear love to them all."

Helen just waved her hand back at me, as much as to say, Don't _you_
interfere. But at that moment the fat old nurse bustled in again, with
the announcement that two of the doctors and Mr. Leafchild's rector were
crossing the road. That aroused Helen.

One minute's close embrace, her tears bedewing his dying cheeks, one
lingering hand-clasp of pain, and they parted. Parted for all time. But
not for eternity.

"God be with you ever!" he breathed, giving her his solemn blessing.
"Farewell, dear Johnny Ludlow!"

"I am so sorry! If you could but get well!" I cried, my eyes not much
dryer than Helen's.

"I shall soon be well: soon," he answered with a sweet faint smile, his
feeble clasp releasing my hand, which he had taken. "But not here. Fare
you well."

Helen hid herself in a turn of the passage till the doctors had gone in,
and then we walked down the street together, she crying softly. Just
opposite Salt Lane, a fly passed at a gallop. Dr. Leafchild sat in it
muffled in coats, a cloud of sorrow on his generally pompous face.

                 *       *       *       *       *

And that was the abrupt end of poor Charles Leafchild, for he died at
midnight, full of peace. God's ways are not as our ways; or we might
feel tempted to ask why so good and useful a servant should have been
taken.

And so, you perceive, there was another marriage of Helen Whitney
frustrated. Fortune seemed to be against her.



JELLICO'S PACK.


I.

The shop was not at all in a good part of Evesham. The street was narrow
and dirty, the shop the same. Over the door might be seen written
"Tobias Jellico, Linen-draper and Huckster." One Monday--which is
market-day at Evesham, as the world knows--in going past it with Tod and
little Hugh, the child trod on his bootlace and broke it, and we turned
in to get another. It was a stuffy shop, filled with bundles as well as
wares, and behind the counter stood Mr. Jellico himself, a good-looking,
dark man of forty, with deep-set blue eyes, that seemed to meet at the
nose, so close were they together.

The lace was a penny, he said, and Tod laid down sixpence. Jellico
handed the sixpence to a younger man who was serving lower down, and
began showing us all kinds of articles--neckties, handkerchiefs,
fishing-lines, cigar-lights, for he seemed to deal in varieties. Hugh
had put in his bootlace, but we could not get away.

"I tell you we don't want anything of this," said Tod, in his haughty
way, for the persistent fellow had tired him out. "Give me my change."

The other man brought the change wrapped up in paper, and we went on to
the inn. Tod had ordered the pony to be put in the chaise, and it stood
ready in the yard. Just then a white-haired, feeble old man came into
the yard, and begged. Tod opened the paper of half-pence.

"The miserable cheat," he called out. "If you'll believe me, Johnny,
that fellow has only given me fourpence in change. If I had time I'd go
back to him. Sam, do you know anything of one Jellico, who keeps a fancy
shop?" asked he of the ostler.

"A fancy shop, sir?" echoed Sam, considering.

"Sells calico and lucifer-matches."

"Oh, I know Mr. Jellico!" broke forth Sam, his recollection coming to
him. "He has got a cousin with him, sir."

"No doubt. It was the cousin that cheated me. Mistakes are mistakes, and
the best of us are liable to them; but if that was a mistake, I'll eat
the lot."

"It's as much of a leaving-shop as a draper's, sir. Leastways, it's said
that women can take things in and borrow money on them."

"Oh!" said Tod. "Borrow a shilling on a Dutch oven to-day, and pay two
shillings to-morrow to get it out."

"Anyway, Mr. Jellico does a fine trade, for he gives credit," concluded
Sam.

But the wrong change might have been a mistake.

In driving home, Tod pulled up at George Reed's cottage. Every one must
remember hearing where that was, and of Reed's being put into prison by
Major Parrifer. "Get down, Johnny," said he, "and see if Reed's there.
He must have left work."

I went up the path where Reed's children were playing, and opened the
cottage door. Mrs. Reed and two neighbours stood holding out something
that looked like a gown-piece. With a start and a grab, Mrs. Reed caught
the stuff, and hid it under her apron, and the two others looked round
at me with scared faces.

"Reed here? No, sir," she answered, in a sort of flurry. "He had to go
over to Alcester after work. I don't expect him home much afore ten
to-night."

I shut the door, thinking nothing. Reed was a handy man at many things,
and Tod wanted him to help with some alteration in the pheasantry at the
Manor. It was Tod who had set it up--a long, narrow place enclosed with
green trellised work, and some gold and silver pheasants running about
in it. The Squire had been against it at first, and told Tod he wouldn't
have workmen bothering about the place. So Tod got Reed to come in of an
evening after his day's work, and in a fortnight the thing was up. Now
he wanted him again to alter it: he had found out it was too narrow.
That was one of Tod's failings. If he took a thing into his head it
must be done off-hand. The Squire railed at him for his hot-headed
impatience: but in point of fact he was of just the same impatient turn
himself. Tod had been over to Bill Whitney's and found their pheasantry
was twice as wide as his.

"Confound Alcester," cried Tod in his vexation, as he drove on home. "If
Reed could have come up now and seen what it is I want done, he might
have begun upon it to-morrow evening."

"The pater says it is quite wide enough as it is, Tod."

"You shut up, Johnny. If I pay Reed out of my own pocket, it's nothing
to anybody."

On Tuesday he sent me to Reed's again. It was a nice spring afternoon,
but I'm not sure that I thanked him for giving me that walk. Especially
when upon lifting the latch of the cottage door, I found it fastened.
Down I sat on the low bench outside the open window to wait--where Cathy
had sat many a time in the days gone by, making believe to nurse the
children, and that foolish young Parrifer would be leaning against the
pear-tree on the other side the path. I had to leave my message with
Mrs. Reed; I supposed she had only stepped into a neighbour's, and might
be back directly, for the two little girls were playing at "shop" in the
garden.

Buzz, buzz: hum, hum. Why, those voices were in the kitchen! The lower
part of the casement was level with the top of my head; I turned round
and raised my eyes to look.

Well! surprises, it is said, are the lot of man. It _was_ his face,
unless my sight deceived itself. The same blue eyes that were in the
shop at Evesham the day before, were inside Mrs. Reed's kitchen now: Mr.
Tobias Jellico's. The place seemed to be crowded with women. He was
smiling and talking to them in the most persuasive manner imaginable,
his hands waving an accompaniment, on one of which glittered a ring with
a yellow stone in it, a persuasive look on his rather well-featured
face.

They were a great deal too agreeably engrossed to see me, and I looked
on at leisure. A sort of pack, open, rested on the floor; the table was
covered with all kinds of things for women's dress; silks, cottons,
ribbons, mantles; which Mrs. Reed and the others were leaning over and
fingering.

"Silks ain't for the like of us; I'd never have the cheek to put one
on," cried a voice that I knew at once for shrill Peggy Dickon's. Next
to her stood Ann Dovey, the blacksmith's wife; who was very pretty, and
vain accordingly.

"What kind o' stuff d'ye call this, master?" Ann Dovey asked.

"That's called laine," answered Jellico. "It's all pure wool."

"It's a'most as shiny as silk. I say, Mrs. Reed, d'ye think this 'ud
wear?"

"It would wear for ever," put in Jellico. "Ten yards of it would make as
good a gown as ever went on a lady's back; and the cost is but two
shillings a yard."

"Two shillings! Let's see--what 'ud that come to? Why, twenty, wouldn't
it? My patience, I shouldn't never dare to run up that score for one
gownd."

Jellico laughed pleasantly. "You take it, Mrs. Dovey. It just suits your
bright cheeks. Pay me when you can, and how you can: sixpence a-week, or
a shilling a-week, or two shillings, as you can make it easy. It's like
getting a gown for nothing."

"So it is," cried Ann Dovey, in a glow of delight. And by the tone, Mr.
Jellico no doubt knew that she had as good as yielded to the temptation.
He got out his yard measure.

"Ten yards?" said he.

"I'm a'most afeard. Will you promise, sir, not to bother me for the
money faster than I can pay it?"

"You needn't fear no bothering from me; only just keep up the trifle
you've got to pay off weekly."

He measured off the necessary length. "You'll want some ribbon to trim
it with, won't you?" said he.

"Ribbin--well, I dun know. Dovey might say ribbin were too smart for
me."

"Not a bit on't, Ann Dovey," spoke up another woman--and _she_ was our
carter's wife, Susan Potter. "It wouldn't look nothing without some
ribbin. That there narrer grass-green satin 'ud be nice upon't."

"And that grass-green ribbon's dirt cheap," said Jellico. "You'd get
four or five yards of it for a shilling or two. Won't _you_ be tempted
now?" he added to Susan Potter. She laughed.

"Not with them things. I shouldn't never hear the last on't if Potter
found out I went on tick for finery. He's rough, sir, and might beat me.
I'd like a check apron, and a yard o' calico."

"Perhaps I might take a apron or two, sir, if you made it easy," said
Mrs. Dickon.

"Of course I'll make it easy; and a gown too if you'll have it. Let me
cut you off the fellow to this of Mrs. Dovey's."

Peggy Dickon shook her head. "It ain't o' no good asking me, Mr.
Jellico. Ann Dovey can buy gownds; she haven't got no children; I've
a bushel on 'em. No; I don't dare. I wish I might! Last year, up at
Cookhill Wake, I see a sweet gownd, not unlike this, what had got green
ribbins upon it," added the woman longingly.

Being (I suppose) a kind of Mephistopheles in his line, Mr. Tobias
Jellico accomplished his wish and cut off a gown against her judgment.
He sold other gowns, and "ribbins," and trumpery; the yard measure had
nearly as little rest as the women's tongues. Mrs. Reed's turn to be
served seemed to come last; after the manner of her betters, she yielded
precedence to her guests.

"Now for me, sir," she said. "You've done a good stroke o' business here
to-day, Mr. Jellico, and I hope you won't objec' to change that there
gownd piece as I bought last Monday for some'at a trifle stronger. Me
and some others have been a-looking at it, and we don't think it'll
wear."

"Oh, I'll change it," readily answered Jellico. "You should put a few
more shillings on, Mrs. Reed: better have a good thing when you're about
it. It's always cheaper in the end."

"Well, I suppose it is," she said. "But I'm a'most frightened at the
score that'll be running up."

"It's easily wiped off," answered the man, pleasantly. "Just a shilling
or two weekly."

There was more chaffering and talking; and after that came the chink of
money. The women had each a book, and Jellico had his book, and they
were compared with his, and made straight. As he came out with the pack
on his back, he saw me sitting on the bench, and looked hard at me:
whether he knew me again, I can't say.

Just then Frank Stirling ran by, turning down Piefinch Lane. I went
after him: the women's tongues inside were working like so many
steam-engines, and it was as well to let them run down before speaking
to Mrs. Reed.

Half-way down Piefinch Lane on the left, there was a turning, called
Piefinch Cut. It had grown into a street. All kinds of shops had been
opened, dealing in small wares: and two public-houses. A pawnbroker from
Alcester had opened a branch establishment here--which had set the world
gaping more than they would at a wild-beast show. It was managed by a
Mr. Figg. The three gilt balls stood out in the middle of the Cut; and
the blacksmith's forge, to which Stirling was bound, was next door. He
wanted something done to a piece of iron. While we were standing amidst
the sparks, who should go into the house the other side the way but
Jellico and his pack!

"Yes, he should come into mine, he should, that fellow," ironically
observed John Dovey: who was a good-natured, dark-eyed little man, with
a tolerable share of sense. "I'd be after trundling him out again, feet
foremost."

"Is he a travelling hawker?" asked Stirling.

"He's a sight worse, sir," answered Dovey. "If you buy wares off a
hawker you must pay for 'em at the time: no money, no goods. But this
fellow seduces the women to buy his things on tick, he does: Tuesday
arter Tuesday he comes prowling into this here Cut, and does a roaring
trade. His pack'll walk out o' that house a bit lighter nor it goes in.
Stubbs's wife lives over there; Tanken's wife, she lives there; and
there be others. If I hadn't learnt that nobody gets no good by
interfering atween men and their wives, I'd ha' telled Stubbs and Tanken
long ago what was going on."

It had been on the tip of my tongue to say where I had just seen
Jellico, and the trade he was doing. Remembering in time that Mrs. Dovey
had been one of the larger purchasers, I kept the news in.

"His name's Jellico," continued Dovey, as he hammered away at Stirling's
iron. "He have got a fine shop somewhere over at Evesham. It's twelve or
fifteen months now, Master Johnny, since he took to come here. When
first I see him I wondered where the deuce the hawker's round could be,
appearing in the Cut so quick and reg'lar; but I soon found he was no
reg'lar hawker. Says I to my wife, 'Don't you go and have no dealings
with that there pest, for I'll not stand it, and I might be tempted to
stop it summary.' 'All right, Jack,' says she; 'when I want things I'll
deal at the old shop at Alcester.' But there's other wives round about
us doing strokes and strokes o' trade with him; 'tain't all of 'em,
Master Ludlow, as is so sensible as our Ann."

Considering the stroke of trade I had just seen done by Ann Dovey, it
was as well not to hear this.

"If he's not a hawker, what is he?" asked Stirling, swaying himself on
a beam in the roof; and I'm sure I did not know either.

"It's a cursed system," hotly returned John Dovey; "and I say that afore
your faces, young gents. It may do for the towns, if they chooses to
have it--that's their business; but it don't do for us. What do our
women here want o' fine shawls and gay gownds?--decking theirselves out
as if they was so many Jezebels? But 'tain't that. Let 'em deck, if
they've got no sense to see how ill it looks on their sun-freckled faces
and hands hard wi' work; it's the ruin it brings. Just you move on
t'other side, Master Ludlow, sir; you be right in the way o' the sparks.
There's a iron pot over there as does for sitting on."

"I'm all right, Dovey. Tell us about Jellico."

Jellico's system, to give Dovey's explanation in brief, was this: He
brought over a huge pack of goods every Tuesday afternoon in a pony-gig
from his shop at Evesham. He put up the pony, and carried the pack on
his round, tempting the women right and left to buy. Husbands away at
work, and children at school, the field was open. _He asked for no
ready money down._ The purchases were entered in a book, to be paid off
by weekly instalments. The payments had to be kept up; Jellico saw to
that. However short the household had to run of the weekly necessaries,
Jellico's money had to be ready for him. It was an awful tax, just as
Dovey described it, and drifted into at first by the women without
thought of ill. The debt in itself was bad enough; but the fear lest it
should come to their husbands' ears was almost worse. As Dovey described
all this in his homely, but rather flowery language, it put me in
mind of those pleasure-seekers that sail too far over a sunny sea in
thoughtlessness, and suspect no danger till their vessel is right upon
the breakers.

"There haven't been no blow-ups yet to speak of," said the blacksmith.
"But they be coming. I could just put my finger upon half-a-dozen women
at this blessed minute what's wearing theirselves to shadders with the
trouble. They come here to Figg's in the dusk o' evening wi' things hid
under their aprons. The longer Jellico lets it go on, the worse it gets,
for they _will_ be tempted, the she-creatures, buying made flowers for
their best bonnets to-day, and ribbuns for their Sunday caps to-morrow.
If Jellico lets 'em, that is. He knows pretty sure where he may trust
and where he mayn't. 'Tain't he as will let his pocket suffer in the
long run. He knows another thing--that the further he staves off any big
noise the profitabler it'll be for him. Once let that come, and Master
Jellico might get hunted out o' the Cut, and his pack and its finery
kicked to shreds."

"But why are the women such simpletons, Dovey?" asked Frank Stirling.

"You might as well ask why folks eats and drinks, sir," retorted Dovey,
his begrimed eyes lighted with the flame. "A love o' their faces is just
born with the women, and it goes with 'em to the grave. Set a parcel o'
finery before 'em and the best'll find their eyes a-longing, and their
mouths a-watering. It's said Eve used to do up her hair looking into a
clear pool."

"Putting it in that light, Dovey, I wonder all the women here don't go
in for Mr. Jellico's temptations."

"Some on 'em has better sense; and some has husbands what's up to the
thing, and keeps the reins tight in their own hands," complacently
answered the unconscious Dovey.

"Up to the thing!" repeated Stirling; "I should think all the men are up
to it, if Jellico is here so constantly."

"No, sir, they're not. Most of 'em are at work when he comes. They may
know some'at about him, but the women contrives to deceive 'em, and they
suspects nothing. The fellow with the pack don't concern them or their
folk at home, as they supposes, an' so they never bothers theirselves
about him or his doings. I'd like to drop a hint to some of 'em to go
home unexpected some Tuesday afternoon; but maybe it's best let alone."

"I suppose your wife is one of the sensible ones, Dovey?" And I kept my
countenance as I said it.

"She daredn't be nothing else, Master Johnny. I be a trifle loud if I'm
put out. Not she," emphatically added Dovey, his strong, bared arm
dealing a heavy blow on the anvil, and sending up a whole cloud of
sparks. "I'd never get put in jail for her, as she knows; I'd shave her
hair off first. Run up a score with that there Jellico? No, she'd not
be such a idiot as that. You should hear how she goes on again her
neighbours that does run it, and the names she calls 'em."

Poor John Dovey! Where ignorance is bliss----

"Why, if I thought my wife could hoodwink me as some of 'em does their
men, I'd never hold up my head of one while, for shame; no, not in my
own forge," continued Dovey. "Ann's temper's a bit trying sometimes, and
wants keeping in order; but she'd be above deceit o' that paltry sort.
She don't need to act it, neither; I give her a whole ten shillings
t'other day, and she went and laid it out at Alcester."

No doubt. Any amount of shillings would soon be sacrificed to Ann's
vanity.

"How much longer is that thing going to take, Dovey?" interposed
Stirling.

"Just about two minutes, sir. 'Twere a cranky---- There he goes."

The break in Dovey's answer was caused by the appearance of Jellico. He
came out, shouldering his pack. The blacksmith looked after him down the
Cut, and saw him turn in elsewhere.

"I thought 'twas where he was going," said he; "'tain't often he passes
that there dwelling. Other houses seem to have their days, turn and turn
about; but that 'un gets him constant."

"It's where Bird's wife lives, is it not, Dovey?"

"It's where she lives, fast enough, sir. And Bird, he be safe at his
over-looking work, five miles off, without fear of his popping in home
to hinder the dealing and chaffering. But she'd better mind--though Bird
do get a'most three pound a-week, he have got means for every sixpence
of it, with his peck o' childern, six young 'uns of her'n, and six
of his first wife's, and no more'n one on 'em yet able to earn a
penny-piece. If Bird thought she was running up a score with Jellico,
he'd give her two black eyes as soon as look at her."

"Bird's wife never seems to have any good clothes at all; she looks as
if she hadn't a decent gown to her back," said Frank.

"What she buys is mostly things for the little 'uns: shimmys and
pinafores, and that," replied Dovey. "Letty Bird's one o' them that's
more improvidenter than a body of any sense 'ud believe, Master
Stirling; she never has a coin by the Wednesday night, she hasn't. The
little 'uns 'ud be a-rolling naked in the gutter, but for what she gets
on tick off Jellico; and Bird, seeing 'em naked, might beat her for
that. That don't mend the system; the score's a-being run up, and it'll
bring trouble sometime as sure as a gun. Beside that, if there was no
Jellico to serve her with his poison, she'd _have_ to save enough for
decent clothes. Don't you see how the thing works, sir?"

"Oh, I see," carelessly answered Stirling. "D'ye call the pack's wares
poison, Dovey?"

"Yes, I do," said Dovey, stoutly, as he handed Frank his iron. "They'll
poison the peace o' many a household in this here Cut. You two young
gents just look out else, and see."

We came away with the iron. At the end of Piefinch Lane, Frank Stirling
took the road to the Court, and I turned into Reed's. The wife was by
herself then, giving the children their early tea.

"Reed shall come up to the Manor as soon as he gets home, sir," she
said, in answer to Tod's message.

"I was here before this afternoon, Mrs. Reed, and couldn't get in. You
were too busy to hear me at the door."

The knife halted in the bread she was cutting, and she glanced up for a
moment; but seemed to think nothing, and finished the slice.

"I've been very busy, Master Ludlow. I'm sorry you've had to come twice,
sir."

"Busy enough, I should say, with Jellico's pack emptied on the table,
and you and the rest buying up at steam pace."

The words were out of my lips before I saw her startled gesture of
caution, pointing to the children: it was plain they were not to know
anything about Jellico. She had an honest face, but it turned scarlet.

"Do you think it is a good plan, Mrs. Reed, to get things upon trust,
and have to make up money for them weekly?" I could not help saying to
her as she came to the door.

"I'm beginning to doubt whether it is, sir."

"If Reed thought he had a debt hanging over him, that might fall at any
moment----"

"For the love of mercy, sir, don't say nothing to Reed!" came the
startled interruption. "You won't, will you, Master Johnny?"

"Not I. Don't fear. But if I were you, Mrs. Reed, for my own sake I
should cut all connection with Jellico. Better deal at a fair shop."

She nodded her head as I went through the gate; but her face had now
turned to a sickly whiteness that spoke of terror. Was the woman so deep
in the dangerous books already?

Reed came up in the evening, and Tod showed him what he wanted done. As
the man was measuring the trellis-work, Hannah happened to pass. She
asked him how he was getting on.

"Amongst the middlings," answered Reed, shortly. "I was a bit put out
just now."

"What by?" asked Hannah, who said anything she chose before me without
the smallest ceremony: and Tod had gone away.

"As I was coming up here, Ingram stops me, and asks if I couldn't let
him have the bit of money I owed him. I stared at the man: what money
was I likely to owe him----"

"Ingram the cow-keeper?" interrupted Hannah.

"Ingram the cow-keeper. So, talking a bit, I found there was a matter of
six shillings due to him for the children's milk: it was ever so long
since my wife had paid. Back I went to her at once to know the reason
why--and it was that made me late in coming up here, Master Johnny."

"I suppose he had sold her skim milk for new, and she thought she'd make
him wait for his money," returned Hannah.

"All she said to me was that she didn't think it had been running so
long; Ingram had said to me that she always told him she was short of
money and couldn't pay," answered Reed. "Anyway, I don't think she'll
let it run on again. It put me out, though. I'd rather go off into the
workhouse, or die of starvation, than I'd let it be said in the place my
wife didn't pay as she went on."

_I_ saw through the difficulty, and should have liked to give Reed a
hint touching Jellico.

Now it was rather strange that, all in two days, Jellico and the
mischief he was working should be thus brought before me in three or
four ways, considering that I had never in my life before heard of the
man. But it chanced to be so. I don't want to say anything about the man
personally, good or bad; the mischief lay in the system. That Jellico
sold his goods at a nice rate for dearness, and used persuasion with the
women to buy them, was as plain as the sun at noonday; but in these
respects he was no worse than are many other people in trade. He went
to the houses in turn, and the women met him; it might be several weeks
before the meeting was held at Mrs. Reed's again. Ann Dovey could not
enjoy the hospitality of receiving him at hers, as her husband's work
lay at home. But she was a constant visitor to the other places.

And the time went on; and Mr. Jellico's trade flourished. But we heard
nothing more about it at Dyke Manor, and I naturally forgot it.


II.

"Just six shillings on it, Mr. Figg! That's all I want to-day, but I
can't do without that."

That so well-conducted and tidy a woman as George Reed's wife should be
in what the Cut called familiarly the "pawnshop," would have surprised
every one not in the secret. But she it was. Mr. Figg, a little man with
weak eyes and a few scattered locks of light hair, turned over the
offered loan with his finger and thumb. A grey gown of some kind of
woollen stuff.

"How many times have this here gownd been brought here, Mrs. Reed?"
asked he.

"I haven't counted 'em," she sighed. "Why? What's that got to do with
it?"

"'Cause it's a proof as it must be getting the worse for wear," was the
answer, given disparagingly.

"It's just as good as it was the day I had it out o' Jellico's pack,"
said Mrs. Reed, sadly subdued, as of late she had always seemed.

Mr. Figg held up the gown to the light, seeking for the parts in it most
likely to be worn. "Look here," said he. "What d'ye call that?"

There was a little fraying certainly in places. Mrs. Reed had eyes and
could see it. She did not answer.

"It don't stand to reason as a gownd will wear for ever and show no
marks. You puts this here gownd in of a Wednesday morning, or so, and
gets it out of a Saturday night to wear Sundays. Wear and tear _is_ wear
and tear."

Mrs. Reed could not deny the accusation. All the available articles her
home contained; that is, the few her husband was not likely to observe
the absence of; together with as much of her own wardrobe as she could
by any shift do without, were already on a visit to Mr. Figg; which
visit, according to the present look-out, promised to be permanent. This
gown was obliged to be taken out periodically. Had she not appeared
decent on Sundays, her husband would have demanded the reason why.

"You've gave me six shillings on it before," she argued.

"Can't again. Don't mind lending five; next week it'll be but four. It
wasn't never worth more nor ten new," added Mr. Figg loudly, to drown
remonstrances.

"Why, I gave Jellico double that for it! Where's the use of you running
things down?"

As Jellico was in one sense a friend of Mr. Figg's--for he was certainly
the cause of three parts of his pledges being brought to him--the
pawnbroker let the question pass. Mrs. Reed went home with her five
shillings, her eyes taking quite a wild look of distress and glancing
cornerwise on all sides, as if she feared an ambush.

It had not been a favourable year; weather had been bad, strikes were
prevalent, money was dear, labour scarce. Men were ready to snatch the
work out of each other's hands; some were quite unemployed, others less
than they used to be. Of course the homes in Piefinch Cut, and similar
small homes not in the Cut, went on short-commons. And if the women had
been scarcely able to get on before and stave off exposure, any one may
see that that was a feat impracticable now. One of them, Hester Reed,
thought the doubt and difficulty and remorse and dread would kill her.

Dread of her husband's discovering the truth, and dread of his being
called upon to answer for the debt. Unable to keep up her weekly
interest and payments to Mr. Jellico for some time now, the main debt
had only accumulated. She owed him two pounds nineteen shillings. And
two pounds nineteen shillings to a labourer's wife seems as a wide gulf
that can never be bridged over while life shall last. Besides this,
she had been obliged to go into debt at the general shop; _that_ had
added itself up now to eight-and-twenty shillings, and the shop was
threatening procedure. There were other little odds and ends of
liabilities less urgent, a few shillings in all. To those not acquainted
with the simple living of a rural district, this may not sound so very
overwhelming: those who are, know what it means, and how awful was the
strait to which Mrs. Reed (with other wives) had reduced herself.

She had grown so thin as hardly to be able to keep her clothes upon her.
Sleeping and waking, a dead wall crowded with figures, as a huge sum,
seemed to be before her eyes. Lately she had taken to dreaming of
hanging feet downwards over a precipice, held up only by the grasp of
her hands on the edge. Nearly always she awoke with the horror: and it
would seem to her that it was worse to wake up to life and its cares,
than to fall down to death and be at rest from them. Her husband,
perceiving that she appeared very ill, told her she had better speak to
Dr. Duffham.

Carrying home the five shillings in her hand, Mrs. Reed sat down in her
kitchen and wiped her face, damp with pallor. She had begun to ask--not
so much what the ending would be, but how soon it would come. With the
five shillings in her hand she must find food and necessaries until
Saturday night; there was no more credit to be had. And this was only
Wednesday morning. With credit stopped and supplies stopped, her husband
would naturally make inquiries, and all must come out. Hester Reed
wondered whether she should die of the shame--if she had to stay and
face it. Three of the shillings must be paid that afternoon to Ingram
the milkman; he would not be quiet any longer: and the woman cast her
aching eyes round her room, and saw nothing that it was possible to take
away and raise money on.

She had the potatoes on the fire when the children ran in, little
toddling things, from school. Some rashers of bacon lay on the table
ready to be toasted. Reed, earning pretty good wages, had been
accustomed to live well: with careful management he knew they might do
so still. Little did he suspect the state things had got into.

"Tatty dere, mov'er," began the eldest, who was extremely backward in
speaking.

"Tatty dere" meant "Cathy's there;" and the mother looked up from the
bacon. Cathy Parrifer (though nobody called her by her new name, but
Cathy Reed still) stood at the outer gate, in tatters as usual, talking
to some man who had a paper in his hand. Mrs. Reed's heart leaped into
her mouth: she lived in dread of everything. A stranger approaching the
place turned her sick. And now the terror, whose shadow had been so long
looming, was come in reality. Catherine came bounding up the garden to
tell the tale: the man, standing at the gate, was waiting to see her
father come home to dinner to serve him with a summons for the county
court. Mrs. Reed knew at once what it was for: the eight-and-twenty
shillings owing at the general shop. Her face grew white as she sank
into a chair.

"Couldn't you get him to leave the paper with me, Cathy?" she whispered,
insane ideas of getting up the money somehow floating into her brain.

"He won't," answered Cathy. "He means to give that to father personally,
he says, if he stays till night."

Just as many another has felt, in some apparently insurmountable
obstacle, that seemed to be turning their hair grey in the little space
of time that you can peel an apple, felt Mrs. Reed. Light seemed to be
closing, shame and misery and blackness to be opening. Her hands seemed
powerless to put the bacon into the Dutch oven.

But there ensued a respite. A very short one, but still a respite. While
the summons-server was loitering outside, Reed came in through the
back-garden, having got over the stile in Piefinch Lane. It was not
often he chose that way; accident caused him to do it to-day. Mrs. Reed,
really not knowing what she did or said, told Cathy there'd be a morsel
of dinner for her if she liked to stop and eat it. As Cathy was not in
the luck of such offers every day, she remained: and in her good-nature
talked and laughed to divert any suspicion.

But the man at the gate began to smell a rat; perhaps the bacon as well.
Dinner-hour almost over, and no George Reed had come home! He suddenly
thought of the back-entrance, and walked up the front-path to see. Paper
in hand, he gave a thump at the house-door. Reed was about to leave
then: and he went down the path by the man's side, opening the paper.
Mrs. Reed, more like a ghost than a woman, took a glance through the
window.

"I can't face it, Catherine. When I'm gone, you'd better come home here
and do what you can for the children. Tell him all; it's of no good
trying to hide it any longer."

She took her worn old shawl from a press and put her bonnet on; and then
stooped to kiss her children, saying good-bye with a burst of grief.

"But where are you going?" cried the wondering Cathy.

"Anywhere. If I am tempted to do anything desperate, Cathy, tell father
not to think too bad of me, as he might if I was living."

She escaped by the back-door. Catherine let her go, uncertain what to
be at for the best. Her father was striding back to the house up the
garden-path, and the storm was coming. As a preliminary van-guard,
Cathy snatched up the youngest girl and held her on her lap. The
summons-server was calling after Reed, apparently giving some
instructions, and that took up another minute or two; but he came in at
last.

Cathy told as much of the truth as she dared; her father was too angry
for her to venture on all. In his passion he said his wife might go and
be hanged. Cathy answered that she had as good as said it was something
of that she meant to go and do.

But talking and acting are two things; and when it came to be put to
the test, Hester Reed found herself no more capable of entering upon
any desperate course than the rest of us are. And, just as I had been
brought in accidentally to see the beginning, so was I accidentally
brought in at the ending.

We were at home again for the holidays, and I had been over for an
afternoon to the Stirlings'. Events in this world happen very strangely.
Upon setting out to walk back in the cool of the late summer's evening,
I took the way by Dyke Brook instead of either of the two ordinary
roads. Why I chose it I did not know then; I do not now; I never shall
know. When fairly launched into the fields, I asked myself why on earth
I had come that way, for it was the loneliest to be found in the two
counties.

Turning sharp round the dark clump of trees by Dyke Brook (which just
there is wide enough for a pond and as deep as one), I came upon
somebody in a shabby grey straw bonnet, standing on its brink and
looking down into the water.

"Halloa, Mrs. Reed! Is that you?"

Before I forget the woe-stricken face she turned upon me, the start she
gave, I must lose memory. Down she sat on the stump of a tree, and burst
into sobs.

"What is it?" I asked, standing before her.

"Master Johnny, I've been for hours round it, round and round, wanting
the courage to throw myself in; and I haven't done it."

"Just tell me all about the trouble," I said, from the opposite stump,
upon which I took my seat.

And she did tell me. Alone there for so many hours, battling with
herself and Death (it's not wrong to say so), my coming seemed to unlock
all the gates of reticence, and she disclosed to me what I've written
above.

"God knows I never thought to bring it to such a pass as this," she
sobbed. "I went into it without any sense of doing harm. One day, when
I happened to be at Miles Dickon's, Jellico came in with his pack, and
I was tempted to buy some ribbon. I said he might come and show me his
things the next week, and he did, and I bought a gownd and a shawl. I
know now how wrong and blind I was: but it seemed so easy, just to pay
a shilling or two a-week; like having the things for nothing. And from
that time it went on; a'most every Tuesday I took some trifle of him,
maybe a bit o' print for the little ones, or holland for pinafores; and
I gave Cathy a cotton gownd, for she hadn't one to her back. I didn't
buy as some of 'em did, for the sake of show and bedeckings, but useful
things, Master Johnny," she added, sobbing bitterly. "And this has come
of it! and I wish I was at rest in that there blessed water."

"Now, Mrs. Reed! Do you suppose you would be at _rest_?"

"Heaven have mercy on me! It's the thought o' the sin, and of what might
come after, that makes me hold back from it."

Looking at her, shading her eyes with her hand, her elbow on her lap,
and her face one of the saddest for despair I ever saw, I thought of the
strange contrasts there are in the world. For the want of about five
pounds this woman was seeking to end her life; some have done as much
for five-and-twenty thousand.

"I've not a friend in the whole world that could help me," she said.
"But it's not that, Master Johnny; it's the shame on me for having
brought things to such a pass. If the Lord would but be pleased to take
me, and save me from the sin of lifting a hand against my own life!"

"Look here, Mrs. Reed. As to what you call the shame, I suppose we all
have to go in for some sort or another of that kind of thing as we jog
along. As you are _not_ taken, and don't seem likely to be taken, I
should look on that as an intimation that you must live and make the
best of things."

"Live! how, sir? I can't never show myself at home. Reed, he'll have to
go to jail; the law will put him there. I'd not face the world, sir,
knowing it was all for my thoughtless debts."

Could I help her? Ought I to help her? If I went to old Brandon and
begged to have five pounds, why, old Brandon in the end would give it
me, after he had gone on rather hotly for an hour. If I did not help
her, and any harm came to her, what should I----

"You promise me never to think about pools again, Mrs. Reed, except in
the way of eels, and I'll promise to see you through this."

She looked up, more helpless than before. "There ain't nothing to be
done for me, Master Johnny. There's the shame, and the talkin' o' the
neighbours----"

"Yes, you need mind _that_. Why, the neighbours are all in the same
boat!"

"And there's Reed, sir; he'd never forgive me. He'd----"

Of all cries, she interrupted herself with about the worst: something
she saw behind me had frightened her. In another moment she had darted
to the pond, and Reed was holding her back from it.

"Be thee a born fool?" roared Reed. "Dost think thee'st not done enough
harm as it is, but thee must want to cap it by putting theeself in
there? That would mend it, that would!"

She released herself from him, and slipped on the grass, Reed standing
between her and the pond. But he seemed to think better of it, and
stepped aside.

"Jump in, an' thee likes to," said he, continuing to speak in the
familiar home manner. "I once see a woman ducked in the Severn for
pocket-picking, at Worcester races, and she came out all the cooler and
better for't."

"I never thought to bring trouble on you or anybody, George," she
sobbed. "It seems to have come on and on, like a great monster growing
bigger and bigger as you look at him, till I couldn't get away from it."

"Couldn't or wouldn't, which d'ye mean?" retorted Reed. "Why you women
were ever created to bother us, hangs me. I hope you'll find you can
keep the children when I and a dozen more of us are in jail. 'Twon't be
my first visit there."

"Look here, Reed; I've promised to set it right for her. Don't worry
over it."

"I'll not accept help from anybody; not even from you, Master Johnny.
What she has done she must abide by."

"The bargain's made, Reed; you can't break it if you would. Perhaps a
great trouble may come to me some time in my life that I may be glad to
be helped out of. Mrs. Reed will get the money to-morrow, only she need
not tell the parish where she found it."

"Oh, George, let it be so!" she implored through her tears. "If Master
Johnny's good enough to do this, let him. I might save up by little and
little to repay him in time. If you went to jail through me!--I'd rather
die!"

"Will you let it be a lesson to you--and keep out of Jellico's clutches
in future?" he asked, sternly.

"It's a lesson that'll last me to the end of my days," she said, with a
shiver. "Please God, you let Master Johnny get me out o' this trouble,
I'll not fall into another like it."

"Then come along home to the children," said he, his voice softening a
little. "And leave that pond and your folly behind you."

I was, of course, obliged to tell the whole to Mr. Brandon and the
Squire, and they both pitched into me as fiercely as tongues could
pitch. But neither of them was really angry; I saw that. As to the
five pounds, I only wish as much relief could be oftener given with as
little money.



CAROMEL'S FARM.


I.

You will be slow to believe what I am about to write, and say it savours
of romance instead of reality. Every word of it is true. Here truth was
stranger than fiction.

Lying midway between our house, Dyke Manor, and Church Dykely, was a
substantial farm belonging to the Caromels. It stood well back from the
road a quarter-of-a-mile or so, and was nearly hidden by the trees
that surrounded it. An avenue led to the house; which was a rambling,
spacious, very old-fashioned building, so full of queer angles inside,
nooks and corners and passages, that you might lose your way in them and
never find it again. The Caromels were gentlemen by descent; but their
means had dwindled with years, so that they had little left besides this
property. The last Caromel who died, generally distinguished as "Old
Caromel" by all the parish, left two sons, Miles and Nash. The property
was willed to the elder, Miles: but Nash continued to have his home with
him. As to the house, it had no particular name, but was familiarly
called "Caromel's Farm."

Squire Todhetley had been always intimate with them; more like a brother
than anything else. Not but that he was considerably their senior. I
think he liked Nash the best: Nash was so yielding and easy. Some said
Nash was not very steady in private life, and that his brother, Miles,
stern and moral, read him a lecture twice a-week. But whether it was so
no one knew; people don't go prying into their neighbours' closets to
look up their skeletons.

At the time I am beginning to tell of, old Caromel had been dead about
ten years; Nash was now five-and-thirty, Miles forty. Miles had married
a lady with a good fortune, which was settled upon herself and her
children; the four of them were girls, and there was no son.

At the other end of Church Dykely, ever so far past Chavasse Grange,
lived a widow lady named Tinkle. And when the world had quite done
wondering whether Nash Caromel meant to marry (though, indeed, what
had he to marry upon?), it was suddenly found out that he wanted Mrs.
Tinkle's daughter, Charlotte. The Tinkles were respectable people, but
not equal to the Caromels. Mrs. Tinkle and her son farmed a little land,
she had also a small private income. The son had married well. Just now
he was away; having gone abroad with his wife, whose health was failing.

Charlotte Tinkle was getting on towards thirty. You would not have
thought it, to look at her. She had a gentle face, a gentle voice, and
a young, slender figure; her light brown hair was always neat; and she
possessed one of those inoffensive natures that would like to be at
peace with the whole world. It was natural that Mrs. Tinkle should wish
her daughter to marry, if a suitable person presented himself--all
mothers do, I suppose--but to find it was Nash Caromel took her aback.

"You think it will not do," observed the Squire, when Mrs. Tinkle was
enlarging on the grievance to him one day that they met in a two-acre
field.

"How can it do?" returned poor Mrs. Tinkle, in a tone between wailing
and crying. "Nash Caromel has nothing to keep her on, sir, and no
prospects."

"That's true," said the pater. "At present he has thoughts of taking a
farm."

"But he has no money to stock a farm. And look at that tale, sir, that
was talked of--about that Jenny Lake. Other things have been said also."

"Oh, one must not believe all one hears. For myself, I assure you, Mrs.
Tinkle, I know no harm of Nash. As to the money to stock a farm, I
expect his brother could help him to it, if he chose."

"But, sir, you would surely not advise them to marry upon an
uncertainty!"

"I don't advise them to marry at all; understand that, my good lady; I
think it would be the height of imprudence. But I can't prevent it."

"Mr. Todhetley," she answered, a tear rolling down her thin cheeks, on
which there was a chronic redness, "I am unable to describe to you how
much my mind is set against the match: I seem to foresee, by some subtle
instinct, that no good would ever come of it; nothing but misery for
Charlotte. And she has had so peaceful a home all her life."

"Tell Charlotte she can't have him--if you think so strongly about it."

"She won't listen--at least to any purpose," groaned Mrs. Tinkle. "When
I talk to her she says, 'Yes, dear mother; no, dear mother,' in her
dutiful way: and the same evening she'll be listening to Nash Caromel's
courting words. Her uncle, Ralph Tinkle, rode over from Inkberrow to
talk to her, for I wrote to him: but it seems to have made no permanent
impression on her. What I am afraid of is that Nash Caromel will marry
her in spite of us."

"I should like to see my children marry in spite of me!" cried the
Squire, giving way to one of his hot fits. "I'd 'marry' them! Nash can't
take her against her will, my dear friend: it takes two people, you
know, to complete a bargain of that sort. Promise Charlotte to shake her
unless she listens to reason. Why should she not listen! She is meek and
tractable."

"She always has been. But, once let a girl be enthralled by a
sweetheart, there's no answering for her. Duty to parents is often
forgotten then."

"If---- Why, mercy upon us, there _is_ Charlotte!" broke off the Squire,
happening to lift his eyes to the stile. "And Nash too."

Yes, there they were: standing on the other side the stile in the
cross-way path. "Halloa!" called out Mr. Todhetley.

"I can't stay a moment," answered Nash Caromel, turning his good-looking
face to speak: and it cannot be denied it was a good-looking face, or
that he was an attractive man. "Miles has sent me to that cattle sale up
yonder, and I am full late."

With a smile and a nod, he stepped lightly onwards, his slender supple
figure, of middle height, upright as a dart; his fair hair waving
in the breeze. Charlotte Tinkle glanced shyly after him, her cheeks
blushing like a peony.

"What's this I hear, young lady?--that you and Mr. Nash yonder want to
make a match of it, in spite of pastors and masters?" began the Squire.
"Is it true?"

Charlotte stood like a goose, making marks on the dusty path with the
end of her large grass-green parasol. Parasols were made for use then,
not show.

"Nash has nothing, you know," went on the Squire. "No money, no house,
no anything. There wouldn't be common sense in it, Charlotte."

"I tell him so, sir," answered Charlotte, lifting her shy brown eyes for
a moment.

"To be sure; that's right. Here's your mother fretting herself into
fiddlestrings for fear of--of--I hardly know what."

"Lest you should be tempted to forget your duty to me, Lottie," struck
in the mother. "Ah, my dear! you young people little think what trouble
and anxiety you bring upon us."

Charlotte Tinkle suddenly burst into tears, to the surprise of her
beholders. Drying them up as soon as she could, she spoke with a sigh.

"I hope I shall never bring trouble upon you, mother, never; I wouldn't
do it willingly for the world. But----"

"But what, child?" cried the mother, for Charlotte had come to a
standstill.

"I--I am afraid that parents and children see with different eyes--just
as though things were for each a totally opposite aspect," she went on
timidly. "The difficulty is how to reconcile that view and this."

"And do you know what my father used to say to me in my young days?" put
in the Squire. "'Young folks think old folks fools, but old folks know
the young ones to be so.' There was never a truer saying than that, Miss
Charlotte."

Miss Charlotte only sighed in answer. The wind, high that day, was
taking her muslin petticoats, and she had some trouble to keep them
down. Mrs. Tinkle got over the stile, and the Squire turned back towards
home.

A fortnight or so had passed by after this, when Church Dykely woke one
morning to an electric shock; Nash Caromel and Charlotte had gone and
got married. They did it without the consent of (as the Squire had put
it) pastors and masters. Nash had none to consult, for he could not be
expected to yield obedience to his brother; and Charlotte had asked Mrs.
Tinkle, and Mrs. Tinkle had refused to countenance the ceremony, though
she did not actually walk into the church to forbid it.

Taking a three weeks' trip by way of honeymoon, the bride and bridegroom
came back to Church Dykely. Caromel's Farm refused to take them in; and
Miles Caromel, indignant to a degree, told his brother that "as he
had made his bed, so must he lie upon it," which is a very convenient
reproach, and often used.

"Nash is worse than a child," grumbled Miles to the Squire, his tones
harder than usual, and his manner colder. "He has gone and married this
young woman--who is not his equal--and now he has no home to give her.
Did he suppose that we should receive him back here?--and take her in as
well? He has acted like an idiot."

"Mrs. Tinkle will not have anything to do with them, I hear," returned
the Squire: "and Tinkle, of Inkberrow, is furious."

"Tinkle of Inkberrow's no fool. Being a man of substance, he thinks they
may be falling back upon him."

Which was the precise fear that lay upon Miles himself. Meanwhile Nash
engaged sumptuous lodgings (if such a word could be justly applied
to any rooms at Church Dykely), and drove his wife out daily in the
pony-gig that was always looked upon as his at Caromel's Farm.

Nash was flush of money now, for he had saved some; but he could not go
on living upon it for ever. After sundry interviews with his brother,
Miles agreed to hand him over a thousand pounds: not at all too large
a sum, considering that Nash had given him his services, such as they
were, for a number of years for just his keep as a gentleman and a bonus
for pocket-money. A thousand pounds would not go far with such a farm
as Nash had been used to and would like to take, and he resolved to
emigrate to America.

Mrs. Tinkle (the Squire called her simple at times) was nearly wild when
she heard of it. It brought her out of her temper with a leap.
Condoning the rebellious marriage, she went off to remonstrate with
Nash.

"But now, why need you put yourself into this unhappy state?" asked
Nash, when he had heard what she had to say. "Dear Mrs. Tinkle, do admit
some common sense into your mind. I am not taking Charlotte to the
'other end of the world,' as you put it, but to America. It is only a
few days' passage. Outlandish foreigners! Not a bit of it. The people
are, so to speak, our own countrymen. Their language is ours; their laws
are, I believe, much as ours are."

"You may as well be millions of miles away, practically speaking,"
bewailed Mrs. Tinkle. "Charlotte will be as much lost to me there as she
would be at the North Pole. She is my only daughter, Nash Caromel, she
has never been away from me: to part with her will be like parting with
life."

"I am very sorry," said poor Nash, who was just a woman when any appeal
was made to his feelings. "Live with you? No, that would not do: but,
thank you all the same for offering it. Nothing would induce me to
spunge upon you in that way: and, were I capable of it, your son Henry
would speedily turn us out when he returned. I must get a home of my
own, for Charlotte's sake as well as for mine: and I know I can do that
in America. Land, there, may be had for an old song; fortunes are made
in no time. The probability is that before half-a-dozen years have gone
over our heads, I shall bring you Charlotte home a rich woman, and we
shall settle down here for life."

There isn't space to pursue the arguments--which lasted for a week or
two. But they brought forth no result. Nash might have turned a post
sooner than the opinions of Mrs. Tinkle, and she might as well have
tried to turn the sun as to stop his emigrating. The parish looked upon
it as not at all a bad scheme. Nash might get on well over there if he
would put off his besetting sin, indolence, and not allow the Yankees to
take him in.

So Nash Caromel and Charlotte his wife set sail for New York; Mrs.
Tinkle bitterly resenting the step, and wholly refusing to be
reconciled.


II.

About five years went by. Henry Tinkle's wife had died, leaving him a
little girl, and he was back with the child at his mother's: but that
has nothing to do with us. A letter came from the travellers now and
then, but not often, during the first three years. Nash wrote to
Caromel's Farm; Charlotte to the parson's wife, Mrs. Holland, with
whom she had been very friendly. But none of the letters gave much
information as to personal matters; they were chiefly filled with
descriptions of the new country, its manners and customs, and especially
its mosquitoes, which at first nearly drove Mrs. Nash Caromel mad. It
was gathered that Nash _did not prosper_. They seemed to move about from
place to place, making New York a sort of standing point to return to
occasionally. For the past two years no letters at all had come, and it
was questioned whether poor Nash and his wife had not dropped out of the
world.

In the midst of this uncertainty, Miles Caromel, who had been seriously
ailing for some months, died. And to Nash, if he were still in
existence, lapsed the Caromel property.

Old Mr. Caromel's will had been a curious one. He bequeathed Caromel
Farm, with all its belongings, the live stock, the standing ricks, the
crops, the furniture, and all else that might be in or upon it, to his
son Miles, and to Miles's eldest son after him. If Miles left no son,
then it was to go to Nash (with all that might then be upon it, just as
before), and so on to Nash's son. But if neither of them had a son,
and Nash died during Miles's lifetime--in short, if there was no male
inheritor living, then Miles could dispose of the property as he
pleased. As could Nash also under similar circumstances.

The result of this odd will was, that Nash, if living, came into the
farm and all that was upon it. If Nash had, or should have, a son,
it must descend to said son; if he had not, the property was his
absolutely. But it was not known whether Nash was living; and, in the
uncertainty, Miles made a will conditionally, bequeathing it to his wife
and daughters. It was said that possessing no son had long been a thorn
in the shoes of Miles Caromel; that he had prayed for one, summer and
winter.

But now, who was to find Nash? How could the executors let him know of
his good luck? The Squire, who was one of them, talked of nothing else.
A letter was despatched to Nash's agents in New York, Abraham B. Whitter
and Co., and no more could be done.

In a shorter time than you would have supposed possible, Nash arrived at
Church Dykely. He chanced to be at these same agents' house in New York,
when the letter got there, and he came off at full speed. So the will
made by Miles went for nothing.

Nash Caromel was a good bit altered--looked thinner and older: but he
was evidently just as easy and persuadable as he used to be: people
often wondered whether Nash had ever said No in his whole life. He did
not tell us much about himself, only that he had roamed over the world,
hither and thither, from country to country, and had been lately for
some time in California. Charlotte was at San Francisco. When Nash took
ship from thence for New York, she was not well enough to undertake the
voyage, and had to stay behind. Mrs. Tinkle, who had had time, and to
spare, to get over her anger, went into a way at this last item of news;
and caught up the notion that Charlotte was dead. For which she had no
grounds whatever.

Charlotte had no children; had not had any; consequently there was every
probability that Caromel's Farm would be Nash's absolutely, to will away
as he should please. He found Mrs. Caromel (his brother's widow) and
her daughters in it; they had not bestirred themselves to look out
for another residence. Being very well off, Mrs. Caromel having had
several substantial windfalls in the shape of legacies from rich
uncles and aunts, they professed to be glad that Nash should have the
property--whatever they might have privately felt. Nash, out of a
good-natured wish not to disturb them too soon, bade them choose their
own time for moving, and took up his abode at Nave, the lawyer's.

There are lawyers and lawyers. I am a great deal older now than I was
when these events were enacted, and have gained my share of worldly
wisdom; and I, Johnny Ludlow, say that there are good and honest lawyers
as well as bad and dishonest. My experience has lain more amidst the
former class than the latter. Though I have, to my cost, been brought
into contact with one or two bad ones in my time; fearful rogues.

One of these was Andrew Nave: who had recently, so to say, come, a
stranger, to settle at Church Dykely. His name might have had a "K"
prefixed, and been all the better for it. Of fair outward show, indeed
rather a good-looking man, he was not fair within. He managed to hold
his own in the parish estimation, as a rule: it was only when some
crafty deed or other struggled to the surface that people would say,
"What a sharper that man is!"

The family lawyer of the Caromels, Crow, of Evesham, chanced to be ill
at this time, and gone away for change of air, and Nave rushed up to
greet Nash on his return, and to offer his services. And the fellow was
so warm and hearty, so fair-speaking, so much the gentleman, that easy
Nash, to whom the man was an entire stranger, and who knew nothing of
him, bad or good, clasped the hand held out to him, and promised Knave
his patronage forthwith. If I've made a mistake in spelling the name,
it can go.

To begin with, Nave took him home. He lived a door or two past
Duffham's: a nice house, well kept up in paint. Some five years before,
the sleepy old lawyer, Wilkinson, died in that house, and Nave came down
from London and took to the concern. Nave thought that he was doing a
first-rate stroke of business now by securing Nash Caromel as an inmate,
the solicitorship to the Caromel property being worth trying for: though
he might not have been so eager to admit Nash had he foreseen all that
was to come of it.

Not caring to trouble Mrs. Caromel with his company, Nash accepted
Nave's hospitality; but, liking to be independent, he insisted upon
paying for it, and mentioned a handsome weekly sum. Nave made a show of
resistance--which was all put on, for he was as fond of shillings as he
was of pounds--and then gave in. So Nash, feeling free, stayed on at his
ease.

When Nave had first come to settle at Church Dykely with his daughter
Charlotte, he was taken for a widower. It turned out, however, that
there was a Mrs. Nave living somewhere with the rest of the children,
she and her husband having agreed to what was called an amicable
separation, for their tempers did not agree. This eldest daughter,
Charlotte, a gay, dashing girl of two-and-twenty then, was the only
creature in the world, it was said, for whom Nave cared.

Mrs. Caromel did not appear readily to find a place to her liking.
People are particular when about to purchase a residence. She made
repeated apologies to Nash for keeping him out of his home, but he
assured her that he was in no hurry to leave his present quarters.

And that was true. For Charlotte Nave was casting her glamour over him.
She liked to cast that over men; and tales had gone about respecting
her. Nothing very tangible: and perhaps they would not have held water.
She was a little, fair, dashing woman, swaying about her flounces as she
walked, with a great heap of beautiful hair, bright as gold. Her blue
eyes had a way of looking into yours rather too freely, and her voice
was soft as a summer wind. A dangerous companion was Miss Nave.

Well, they fell in love with one another, as was said; she and Nash.
Nash forgot his wife, and she her old lovers. Being now on the road to
her twenty-eighth year, she had had her share of them. Once she had been
mysteriously absent from home for two weeks, and Church Dykely somehow
took up the idea that she and one of her lovers (a young gentleman who
was reading law with Nave) were taking a fraternal tour together as far
as London to see the lions. But it turned out to be a mistake, and no
one laughed at the notion more than Charlotte when she returned. She
wished she had been on a tour--and seeing lions, she said, instead of
moping away the whole two weeks at her aunt's, who had a perpetual
asthma, and lived in a damp old house at Chelsea.

But that is of the past, and Nash is back again. The weeks went on.
Autumn weather came in. Mrs. Caromel found a place to suit her at
Kempsey--one of the prettiest of the villages that lie under the wing
of Worcester. She bought it; and removed to it with her private goods
and chattels. Nash, even now, made no haste to quit the lawyer's house
for his own. Some said it was he who could not tear himself away from
Charlotte; others said Miss Charlotte would not let him go; that she
held him fast by a silken cord. Anyhow, they were always together,
out-of-doors and in; she seemed to like to parade their friendship
before the world, as some girls like to lead about a pet monkey.
Perhaps Nash first took to her from her name being the same as his
wife's.

One day in September, Nash walked over to the Manor and had a long talk
in private with the Squire. He wanted to borrow twelve hundred pounds.
No ready money had come to him from his brother, and it was not a
favourable time for selling produce. The Squire cheerfully agreed to
lend it him: there was no risk.

"But I'd counsel you to remember one thing, Nash Caromel--that you have
a wife," said he, as they came out of the room when Nash was going away.
"It's time you left off dallying with that other young woman."

Nash laughed a laugh that had an uneasy sound in it. "It is nothing,
Todhetley."

"Glad to hear you say so," said the pater. "She has the reputation of
being a dangerous flirt. _You_ are not the first man she has entangled,
if all tales be true. Get out of Nave's house and into your own."

"I will," acquiesced Nash.

Perhaps that was easier said than done. It happened that the same
evening I overheard a few words between the lawyer and Nash. They were
not obliged to apply to Miss Nave: but, the chances were that they did.

The Squire sent me to Nave's when dinner was over, to take a note
to Nash. Nave's smart waiting-maid, in a muslin apron and cherry
cap-strings, was standing at the door talking and laughing with some
young man, under cover of the twilight. She was as fond of finery as
her mistress; perhaps as fond of sweethearts.

"Mr. Caromel? Yes, sir, he is at home. Please to walk in."

Showing me to a sitting-room on the left of the passage--the lawyer's
offices were on the right--she shut me in, and went, as I supposed, to
tell Caromel. At the back of this room was the dining-room. I heard the
rattle of glasses on the table through the unlatched folding-doors, and,
next, the buzz of voices. The lawyer and Nash were sitting over their
wine.

"You must marry her," said Nave, concisely.

"I wish I could," returned Nash; and his wavering, irresolute tone was
just a contrast to the other's keen one. "I want to. But how can I? I'm
heartily sorry."

"And as soon as may be. _You must._ Attentions paid to young ladies
cannot be allowed to end in smoke. And you will find her thousand pounds
useful."

"But how _can_ I, I say?" cried Nash ruefully. "You know how
impracticable it is--the impediment that exists."

"Stuff and nonsense, Caromel! Where there's a will there's a way.
Impediments only exist to be got over."

"It would take a cunning man to get over the one that lies between me
and her. I assure you, and you may know I say it in all good faith, that
I should ask nothing better than to be a free man to-morrow--for this
one sole cause."

"Leave things to me. For all you know, you are free now."

The opening of their door by the maid, who had taken her own time to do
it, and the announcement that I waited to see Mr. Caromel, stopped the
rest. Nash came in, and I gave him the note.

"Wants to see me before twelve to-morrow, does he?--something he forgot
to say," cried he, running his eyes over it. "Tell the Squire I will be
there, Johnny."

Caromel was very busy after that, getting into his house--for he took
the Squire's advice, and did not linger much longer at Nave's. And I
think two or three weeks only had passed, after he was in it, when news
reached him of his wife's death.

It came from his agent in New York, Abraham B. Whitter, who had received
the information from San Francisco. Mr. Whitter enclosed the San
Francisco letters. They were written by a Mr. Munn: one letter to
himself, the other (which was not as yet unsealed) to Nash Caromel.

We read them both: Nash brought them to the Squire before sending them
to Mrs. Tinkle--considerate as ever, he would not let her see them until
she had been prepared. The letters did not say much. Mrs. Nash Caromel
had grown weaker and weaker after Nash departed from San Francisco for
New York, and she finally sank under low fever. A diary, which she had
kept the last few weeks of her life, meant only for her husband's own
eye, together with a few letters and sundry other personal trifles,
would be forwarded the first opportunity to Abraham B. Whitter and Co.,
who would hold the box at Mr. Caromel's disposal.

"Who is he, this Francis Munn, who writes to you?" asked the Squire.
"A friend of your wife's?--she appears to have died at his house."

"A true friend of hers and of mine," answered Nash. "It was with Mr. and
Mrs. Munn that I left Charlotte, when I was obliged to go to New York.
She was not well enough to travel with me."

"Well--look here, Caromel--don't go and marry that other Charlotte,"
advised the Squire. "She is as different from your wife as chalk is from
cheese. Poor thing! it was a hard fate--dying over there away from
everybody!"

But now--would any one believe it?--instead of taking the Squire's
advice and not marrying her at all, instead even of allowing a decent
time to elapse, in less than a week Nash went to church with Charlotte
the Second. Shame, said Parson Holland under his breath; shame, said the
parish aloud; but Nash Caromel heeded them not.

We only knew it on the day before the wedding was to be. On Wednesday
morning, a fine, crisp, October day, a shooting party was to meet at old
Appleton's, who lived over beyond Church Dykely. The Squire and Tod
started for it after an early breakfast, and they let me go part of the
way with them. Just after passing Caromel's Farm, we met Pettipher the
postman.

"Anything for the Manor?" asked the pater.

"Yes, sir," answered the man; and, diving into his bundle, he handed a
letter.

"This is not mine," said the Squire, looking at the address; "this is
for Mr. Caromel."

"Oh! I beg your pardon, sir; I took out the wrong letter. This is
yours."

"What a thin letter!--come from foreign parts," remarked the pater,
reading the address, "Nash Caromel, Esq." "I seem to know the
handwriting: fancy I've seen it before. Here, take it, Pettipher."

In passing the letter to Pettipher, which was a ship's letter, I looked
at the said writing. Very small poor writing indeed, with long angular
tails to the letters up and down, especially the capitals. The Squire
handed me his gun and was turning to walk on, opening his letter as he
did so; when Pettipher spoke and arrested him.

"Have you heard what's coming off yonder, to-morrow, sir?" asked he,
pointing with his thumb to Caromel's Farm.

"Why no," said the Squire, wondering what Pettipher meant to be at.
"What should be coming off!"

"Mr. Caromel's going to bring a wife home. Leastways, going to get
married."

"I don't believe it," burst forth the pater, after staring angrily at
the man. "You'd better take care what you say, Pettipher."

"But it's true, sir," reasoned Pettipher, "though it's not generally
known. My niece is apprentice to Mrs. King the dressmaker, as perhaps
you know, sir, and they are making Miss Nave's wedding-dress and bonnet.
They are to be married quite early, sir, nine o'clock, before folks are
about. Well yes, sir, it is _not_ seemly, seeing he has but now heard of
his wife's death, poor Miss Charlotte Tinkle, that grew up among us--but
you'll find it's true."

Whether the Squire gave more hot words to Nash Caromel, or to Charlotte
the Second, or to Pettipher for telling it, I can't say now. Pettipher
touched his hat, said good-morning, and turned up the avenue to
Caromel's Farm to leave the letter for Nash.

And, married they were on the following morning, amidst a score or two
of spectators. What was agate had slipped out to others as well as
ourselves. Old Clerk Bumford looked more fierce than a raven when he saw
us flocking into the church, after Nash had fee'd him to keep it quiet.

As the clock struck nine, the party came up. The bride and one of her
sisters, both in white silk; Nave and some strange gentleman, who might
be a friend of his; and Caromel, pale as a ghost. Charlotte the Second
was pale too, but uncommonly pretty, her mass of beautiful hair shining
like threads of gold.

The ceremony over, they filed out into the porch; Nash leading his
bride, and Nave bringing up the rear alone; when an anxious-looking
little woman with a chronic redness of face was seen coming across the
churchyard. It was Mrs. Tinkle, wearing the deep mourning she had put on
for Charlotte. Some one had carried her the tidings, and she had come
running forth to see whether they _could_ be true.

And, to watch her, poor thing, with her scared face raised to Nash, and
her poor hands clasped in pain, as he and his bride passed her on the
pathway, was something sad. Nash Caromel's face had grown white again;
but he never looked at her; never turned his eyes, fixed straight out
before him, a hair's point to the right or left.

"May Heaven have mercy upon them--for surely they'll need it!" cried the
poor woman. "No luck can come of such a wedding as this."


III.

The months went on. Mrs. Nash was ruling the roast at Caromel's Farm,
being unquestionably both mistress and master. Nash Caromel's old easy
indolence had grown now to apathy. It almost seemed as though the farm
might go as it liked for him; but his wife was energetic, and she kept
servants of all kinds to their work.

Nash excused himself for his hasty wedding when people reproached
him--and a few had done that on his return from the honeymoon. His first
wife had been dead for some months, he said, and the farm wanted a
mistress. She had only been dead to him a week, was the answer he
received to this: and, as to the farm, he was quite as competent to
manage that himself without a mistress as with one. After all, where was
the use of bothering about it when the thing was done?--and the offence
concerned himself, not his neighbours. So the matter was condoned at
length; Nash was taken into favour again, and the past was dropped.

But Nash, as I have told you, grew apathetic. His spirits were low; the
Squire remarked one day that he was like a man who had some inward care
upon him. Mrs. Nash, on the contrary, was cheerful as a summer's day;
she filled the farm with visitors, and made the money fly.

All too soon, a baby arrived. It was in May, and he must have travelled
at railroad speed. Nurse Picker, called in hastily on the occasion,
could not find anything the matter with him. A beautiful boy, she said,
as like his father, Master Nash (she had known Nash as a boy), as one
pea was like another. Mrs. Nash told a tale of having been run after by
a cow; Duffham, when attacked by the parish on the point, shut his lips,
and would say never a word, good or bad. Anyway, here he was; a fine
little boy and the son and heir: and if he had mistaken the proper time
to appear, why, clearly it must be his own fault or the cow's: other
people were not to be blamed for it. Mrs. Nash Caromel, frantic with
delight at its being a boy, sent an order to old Bumford to set the
bells a-ringing.

But now, it was a singular thing that the Squire should chance to
be present at the delivery of another of those letters that bore
the handwriting with the angular tails. Not but that very singular
coincidences do take place in this life, and I often think it would not
hurt us if we paid more heed to them. Caromel's Farm was getting rather
behind-hand with its payments. Whether through its master's apathy or
its mistress's extravagance, ready money grew inconveniently short, and
the Squire could not get his interest paid on the twelve hundred pounds.

"I'll go over and jog his memory," said he one morning, as we got up
from breakfast. "Put on your cap, Johnny."

There was a pathway to Caromel's across the fields, and that was the way
we took. It was a hot, lovely day, early in July. Some wheat on the
Caromel land was already down.

"Splendid weather it has been for the corn," cried the Squire, turning
himself about, "and we shall have a splendid harvest. Somehow I always
fancy the crops ripen on this land sooner than on any other about here,
Johnny."

"So they do, sir."

"Fine rich land it is; shouldn't grumble if it were mine. We'll go in at
this gate, lad."

"This gate" was the side-gate. It opened on a path that led direct to
the sitting-room with glass-doors. Nash was standing just inside the
room, and of all the uncomfortable expressions that can sit on a man's
face, the worst sat on his. The Squire noticed it, and spoke in a
whisper.

"Johnny, lad, he looks just as though he had seen a ghost."

It's just what he did look like--a ghost that frightened him. We were
close up before he noticed us. Giving a great start, he smoothed his
face, smiled, and held out his hand.

"You don't look well," said the Squire, as he sat down. "What's amiss?"

"Nothing at all," answered Nash. "The heat pothers me, as usual: can't
sleep at night for it. Why, here's the postman! What makes him so late,
I wonder?"

Pettipher was coming straight down to the window, letters in hand.
Something in his free, onward step seemed to say that he must be in the
habit of delivering the letters to Nash at that same window.

"Two, sir, this morning," said Pettipher, handing them in.

As Nash was taking the letters, one of them fell, either by his own
awkwardness or by Pettipher's. I picked it up and gave it to him,
address upwards. The Squire saw it.

"Why, that's the same handwriting that puzzled me," cried he, speaking
on the impulse of the moment. "It seemed familiar to me, but I could not
remember where I had seen it. It's a ship letter, as was the other."

Nash laughed--a lame kind of laugh--and put both letters into his
pocket. "It comes from a chum of mine that I picked up over yonder,"
said he to the Squire, nodding his head towards where the sea might be
supposed to lie. "I don't think you could ever have been familiar with
it."

They went away to talk of business, leaving me alone. Mrs. Nash Caromel
came in with her baby. She wore a white dress and light green ribbons, a
lace cap half shading her bright hair. Uncommonly pretty she looked--but
I did not like her.

"Is it you, Johnny Ludlow?" said she, pausing a moment at the door, and
then holding out her hand. "I thought my husband was here alone."

"He is gone into the library with the Squire."

"Sit down. Have you seen my baby before? Is he not a beauty?"

It was a nice little fellow, with fat arms and blue knitted shoes, a
good deal like Nash. They had named him Duncan, after some relative of
hers, and the result was that he was never called anything but "Dun."
Mrs. Caromel was telling me that she had "short-coated" him early, as it
was hot weather, when the others appeared, and the Squire marched me
off.

"Johnny," said he, thoughtfully, as we went along, "how curiously Nash
Caromel is altered!"

"He seems rather--_down_, sir," I answered, hesitating for a word.

"Down!" echoed the Squire, slightingly; "it's more than that. He seems
lost."

"Lost, sir?"

"His mind does. When I told him what I had come about: that it was time,
and long ago, too, that my interest was paid, he stared at me more like
a lunatic than a farmer--as if he had forgotten all about it, interest,
and money, and all. When his wits came to him, he said it ought to have
been paid, and he'd see Nave about it. Nave's his father-in-law, Johnny,
and I suppose will take care of his interests; but I know I'd as soon
entrust my affairs to Old Scratch as to him."

The Squire had his interest paid. The next news we heard was that
Caromel's Farm was about to give an entertainment on a grand scale; an
afternoon fête out-of-doors, with a sumptuous cold collation that you
might call by what name you liked--dinner, tea, or supper--in the
evening. An invitation printed on a square card came to us, which we all
crowded round Mrs. Todhetley to look at. Cards had not come much into
fashion then, except for public ceremonies, such as the Mayor's Feast at
Worcester. In our part of the world we were still content to write our
invitations on note-paper.

The mother would not go. She did not care for fêtes, she said to us. In
point of fact she did not like Mrs. Nash Caromel any better than she had
liked Charlotte Nave, and she had never believed in the cow. So she sent
a civil note of excuse for herself. The Squire accepted, after some
hesitation. He and the Caromels had been friends for so many years that
he did not care to put the slight of a refusal upon Nash; besides, he
liked parties, if they were jolly.

But now, would any rational being believe that Mrs. Nash had the cheek
to send an invitation to Mrs. Tinkle and her son Henry? It was what
Harry Tinkle called it--cheek. When poor Mrs. Tinkle broke the red seal
of the huge envelope, and read the card of invitation, from Mr. and Mrs.
Caromel, her eyes were dim.

"I think they must have sent it as a cruel joke," remarked Mrs. Tinkle,
meeting the Squire a day or two before the fête. "She has never spoken
to me in her life. When we pass each other she picks up her skirts as if
they were too good to touch mine. Once she laughed at me, rudely."

"Don't believe she knows any better," cried the Squire in his hot
partisanship. "Her skirts were not fit to touch your own Charlotte's."

"Oh, Charlotte! poor Charlotte!" cried Mrs. Tinkle, losing her
equanimity. "I wish I could hear the particulars of her last moments,"
she went on, brushing away the tears. "If Mr. Caromel has had
details--and that letter, telling of her death, promised them, you
know--he does not disclose them to me."

"Why don't you write a note and ask him, Mrs. Tinkle?"

"I hardly know why," she answered. "I think he cannot have heard, or he
would surely tell me; he is not bad-hearted."

"No, only too easy; swayed by anybody that may be at his elbow for the
time being," concluded the Squire. "Nash Caromel is one of those people
who need to be kept in leading-strings all their lives. Good-morning."

It was a fête worth going to. The afternoon as sunny a one as ever
August turned out, and the company gay, if not numerous. Only a
sprinkling of ladies could be seen; but amongst them was Miles Caromel's
widow, with her four daughters. Being women of consideration, deserving
the respect of the world, their presence went for much, and Mrs. Nash
had reason to thank them. They scorned and despised her in their hearts,
but they countenanced her for the sake of the honour of the Caromels.

Archery, dancing, promenading, and talking took up the afternoon, and
then came the banquet. Altogether it must have cost Caromel's Farm a
tidy sum.

"It is well for you to be able to afford this," cried the Squire
confidentially to Nash, as they stood together in one of the shady
paths beyond the light of the coloured lanterns, when the evening was
drawing to an end. "Miles would never have done it."

"Oh, I don't know--it's no harm once in a way," answered Nash, who had
exerted himself wonderfully, and finished up by drinking his share of
wine. "Miles had his ways, and I have mine."

"All right: it is your own affair. But I wouldn't have done one thing,
my good friend--sent an invitation to your mother-in-law."

"What mother-in-law?" asked Nash, staring.

"Your ex-mother-in-law, I ought to have said--Mrs. Tinkle. I wouldn't
have done it, Caromel, under the circumstances. It pained her."

"But who did send her an invitation? Is it likely? I don't know what you
are talking about, Squire."

"Oh, that's it, is it?" returned the Squire, perceiving that the act was
madam's and not his. "Have you ever had those particulars of Charlotte's
death?"

Nash Caromel's face changed from red to a deadly pallor: the question
unnerved him--took his wits out of him.

"The particulars of Charlotte's death," he stammered, looking all
abroad. "What particulars?"

"Why, those promised you by the man who wrote from San Francisco--Munn,
was his name? Charlotte's diary, and letters, and things, that he was
sending off to New York."

"Oh--ay--I remember," answered Nash, pulling his senses together. "No,
they have not come."

"Been lost on the way, do you suppose? What a pity!"

"They may have been. I have not had them."

Nash Caromel walked straight away with the last words. Either to get rid
of the subject, or to join some people who had just then crossed the top
of the path.

"Caromel does not like talking of her: I can see that, Johnny," remarked
the Squire to me later. "I don't believe he'd have done as he did, but
for this second Charlotte throwing her wiles across his path. He fell
into the snare and his conscience pricks him."

"I dare say, sir, it will come right with time. She is very pretty."

"Yes, most crooked things come straight with time," assented the Squire.
"Perhaps this one will."

Would it, though!

The weeks and the months went on. Caromel's Farm seemed to prosper, its
mistress being a most active manager, ruling with an apparently soft
will, but one firm as iron; and little Dun grew to be about fifteen
months old. The cow might have behaved ungenteelly to him, as Miss
Bailey's ghost says to Captain Smith, but it had not hurt the little
fellow, or his stout legs either, which began now to be running him into
all kinds of mischief. And so the time came round again to August--just
a year after the fête, and nearly twenty-two months after Nash's second
marriage.

One evening, Tod being out and Mrs. Todhetley in the nursery, I was
alone with the Squire in the twilight. The great harvest moon was rising
behind the trees; and the Squire, talking of some parish grievance that
he had heard of from old Jones the constable, let it rise: while I was
wishing he would call for lights that I might get on with "The Old
English Baron," which I was reading for about the seventeenth time.

"And you see, Johnny, if Jones had been firm, as I told him this
afternoon, and taken the fellow up, instead of letting him slope off and
be lost, the poachers---- Who's this coming in, lad?"

The Squire had caught sight of some one turning to the door from the
covered path. I saw the fag-end of a petticoat.

"I think it must be Mrs. Scott, sir. The mother said she had promised to
come over one of these first evenings."

"Ay," said the Squire. "Open the door for her, Johnny."

I had the front-door open in a twinkling, and saw a lady with a
travelling-cloak on her arm. But she bore no resemblance to Mrs. Scott.

"Is Mr. Todhetley at home?"

The soft voice gave me a thrill and a shock, though years had elapsed
since I heard it. A confused doubt came rushing over me; a perplexing
question well-nigh passed my lips: "Is it a living woman or a dead one?"
For there, before me, stood Nash Caromel's dead wife, Charlotte the
First.



CHARLOTTE AND CHARLOTTE.


I.

People are apt to say, when telling of a surprise, that a feather would
have knocked them down. I nearly fell without the feather and without
the touch. To see a dead woman standing straight up before me, and to
hear her say "How are you, and is the Squire at home?" might have upset
the balance of a giant.

But I could not be mistaken. There, waiting at the front-door to come
in, her face within an inch of mine, was Nash Caromel's first wife,
Charlotte Tinkle; who for some two years now had been looked upon as
dead and buried over in California.

"Is Mr. Todhetley at home!" she repeated. "And can I see him?"

"Yes," I answered, coming partially out of my bewilderment. "Do you mind
staying here just a minute, while I tell him?"

For, to hand in a dead woman, might take him aback, as it had taken me.
The pater stood bolt upright, waiting for Mrs. Scott (as he had supposed
it to be) to enter.

"It is not Mrs. Scott," I whispered, shutting the door and going close
up to him. "It--it is some one else. I hardly like to tell you, sir; she
may give you a fright."

"Why, what does the lad mean?--what are you making a mystery of now,
Johnny?" cried he, staring at me. "Give me a fright! I should like to
see any woman give me that. Is it Mrs. Scott, or is it not?"

"It is some one we thought dead, sir."

"Now, Johnny, don't be a muff. Somebody you thought dead! What on
earth's come to you, lad? Speak out!"

"It is Nash Caromel's first wife, sir: Charlotte Tinkle."

The pater gazed at me as a man bereft of reason. I don't believe he
knew whether he stood on his head or his heels. "Charlotte Tinkle!" he
exclaimed, backing against the curtain. "What, come to life, Johnny?"

"Yes, sir, and she wants to see you. Perhaps she has never been dead."

"Bless my heart and mind! Bring her in."

The first thing Charlotte the First did when she came in and the Squire
clasped her by her two hands, was to burst into a fit of sobbing. Some
wine stood on the sideboard; the Squire poured her out a glass, and she
untied the strings of her bonnet as she sat down.

"If I might take it off for a minute?" she said. "I have had it on all
the way from Liverpool."

"Do so, my dear. Goodness me! I think I must be in a dream. And so you
are not dead!"

"Yes, I knew it was what you must have all been thinking," she answered,
stifling her sobs. "Poor Nash!--what a dreadful thing it is! I cannot
imagine how the misconception can have arisen."

"What misconception?" asked the pater, whose wits, once gone a
wool-gathering, rarely came back in a hurry.

"That I had died."

"Why, that friend of yours with whom you were staying--Bunn--Munn--which
was it, Johnny?--wrote to tell your husband so."

Mrs. Nash Caromel, sitting there in the twilight, her brown hair as
smooth as ever and her eyes as meek, looked at the Squire in surprise.

"Oh no, that could not have been; Mr. Munn would not be likely to write
anything of the sort. Impossible."

"But, my dear lady, I read the letter. Your husband brought it to me as
soon as it reached him. You remained at San Francisco, very ill after
Nash's departure, and you got no better, and died at last of low fever."

She shook her head. "I was very poorly indeed when Nash left, but I grew
better shortly. I had no low fever, and I certainly did not die."

"Then why did Munn write it?"

"He did not write it. He could not have written it. I am quite certain
of that. He and his wife are my very good and dear friends, and most
estimable people."

"The letter certainly came to your husband," persisted the Squire. "I
read it with my own eyes. It was dated San Francisco, and signed Francis
Munn."

"Then it was a forgery. But why any one should have written it, or
troubled themselves about me and my husband at all, I cannot imagine."

"And then, Nash--Nash---- Good gracious, what a complication!" cried the
Squire, breaking off what he meant to say, as the thought of Charlotte
Nave crossed his mind.

"I know," she quietly put in: "Nash has married again."

It was a complication, and no mistake, all things considered. The Squire
rubbed up his hair and deliberated, and then bethought himself that it
might be as well to keep the servants out of the room. So I went to tell
old Thomas that the master was particularly engaged with a friend, and
no one was to come in unless rung for. Then I ran upstairs to whisper
the news to the mother--and it pretty nearly sent her into a fit of
hysterics.

Charlotte Caromel was entering on her history to the Squire when I got
back. "Yes," she said, "I and my husband went to California, having
found little luck in America. Nash made one or two ventures there also,
but nothing seemed to succeed; not as well even as it did in America,
and he resolved to go back there, and try at something or other again.
He sailed for New York, leaving me in San Francisco with Francis Munn
and his wife; for I had been ill, and was not strong enough for the
tedious voyage. The Munns kept a dry-goods store at San Francisco,
and----"

"A dry-goods store!" interrupted the Squire.

"Yes. You cannot afford to be fastidious over there; and to be in trade
is looked upon as an honour, rather than the contrary. Francis Munn
was the youngest son of a country gentleman in England; he went to
California to make his fortune at anything that might turn up; and it
ended in his marrying and keeping a store. They made plenty of money,
and were very kind to me and Nash. Well, Nash started for New York,
leaving me with them, and he wrote to me soon after his arrival there.
Things were looking gloomy in the States, he said, and he felt inclined
to take a run over to England, and ask his brother Miles to help him
with some money. I wrote back a letter in duplicate, addressing one to
the agents' in New York, the other to Caromel's Farm--not knowing, you
perceive, in which place he might be. No answer reached me--but people
think little of the safety of letters out there, so many seem to
miscarry. We fancied Nash might be coming back to San Francisco and did
not trouble himself to write: like me, he is not much of a scribe. But
the months went on, and he did not come; he neither came nor wrote."

"What did you think hindered him?"

"We did not know what to think--except, as I say, that the letters had
miscarried. One day Mr. Munn brought in a file of English newspapers for
me and his wife to read: and in one of them I saw an announcement that
puzzled me greatly--the marriage of one Nash Caromel, of Caromel's Farm,
to Charlotte Nave. Just at first it startled me; I own that; but I
felt so sure it could not be my Nash, my husband, that I remained only
puzzled to know what Nash Caromel it could be."

"There is only one Nash Caromel," growled the Squire, half inclined to
tell her she was a simpleton--taking things in this equable way.

"I only knew of him; but I thought he must have some relative, a cousin
perhaps, of the same name, of whom I had not heard. However," continued
Charlotte, "I wrote then to Caromel's Farm, telling Nash what we had
read, and asking him what it meant, and where he was. But that letter
shared the fate of the former one, and obtained no reply. In the course
of time we saw another announcement--The wife of Nash Caromel of a son.
Still I did not believe it could be my Nash, but I could see that Mr.
Munn did believe it was. At least he thought there was something strange
about it all, especially our not hearing from Nash: and at length I
determined to come home and see about it."

"You must have been a long time coming," remarked the Squire. "The child
is fifteen months old."

"But you must remember that often we did not get news until six months
after its date. And I chose a most unfortunate route--overland from
California to New York."

"What on earth---- Why, people are sometimes a twelvemonth or so doing
that!" cried the Squire. "There are rocky mountains to scale, as I've
heard and read, and Red Indians to encounter, and all sorts of horrors.
Those who undertake it travel in bands, do they not? and are called
pilgrims, and some of them don't get to the end of the journey alive."

"True," she sighed. "I would never have attempted it had I known what it
would be: but I did so dread the sea. Several of us were laid up midway,
and had to be left behind at a small settlement: one or two died. It was
a long, long time, and only after surmounting great discomforts and
difficulties, we reached New York."

"Well?" said the Squire. It must be remembered that they were speaking
of days now gone by, when the journey was just what she described it.

"I could hear nothing of my husband in New York," she resumed, "except
that Abraham Whitter believed him to be at home here. I took the steamer
for Liverpool, landed at dawn this morning, and came on by rail. And I
find it is my husband who is married. And what am I to do?"

She melted away into tears again. The Squire told her that she must
present herself at the farm; she was its legal mistress, and Nash
Caromel's true wife. But she shook her head at this: she wouldn't bring
any such trouble upon Nash for the world, as to show him suddenly that
she was living. What he had done he must have done unwittingly, she
said, believing her to be dead, and he ought not to suffer for it more
than could be helped. Which was a lenient way of reasoning that put the
Squire's temper up.

"He deserves no quarter, ma'am, and _I_ will not give it him if you do.
Within a week of the time he heard of your death he went and took that
Charlotte Nave. Though I expect it was she who took him--brazen hussy!
And I am glad you have come to put her out!"

But, nothing would induce Charlotte the First to assume this view, or to
admit that blame could attach to Nash. Once he had lost her by death, he
had a right to marry again, she contended. As to the haste--well, she
had been dead (as he supposed) a great many months when he heard of it,
and that should be considered. The Squire exploded, and walked about
the room, and rubbed his hair the wrong way, and thought her no better
than an imbecile.

Mrs. Todhetley came in, and there was a little scene. Charlotte declined
our offer of a bed and refreshment, saying she would like to go to her
mother's for the night: she felt that she should be received gladly,
though they had parted in anger and had held no communication with one
another since.

Gladly? ay, joyfully. Little doubt of that. So the Squire put on his
hat, and she her bonnet, and away they started, and I with them.

We took the lonely path across the fields: her appearance might have
raised a stir in the highway. Charlotte was but little altered, and
would have been recognized at once. And I have no space to tell of the
scene at Mrs. Tinkle's, which was as good as a play, or of the way they
rushed into one another's arms.

"Johnny, there's something on my mind," said the Squire in a low tone as
we were going back towards home: and he was looking grave and silent as
a judge. "Do you remember those two foreign letters we chanced to see of
Nash Caromel's, with the odd handwriting, all quavers and tails?"

"Yes, I do, sir. They were ship letters."

"Well, lad, a very ugly suspicion has come into my head, and I can't
drive it away. I believe those two letters were from Charlotte--the two
she speaks of--I believe the handwriting which puzzled me was hers. Now,
if so, Nash went to the altar with that other Charlotte, knowing this
one was alive: for the first letter came the day before the marriage."

I did not answer. But I remembered what I had overheard Nave the lawyer
say to Nash Caromel: "You must marry her: where there's a will there's
a way"--or words to that effect. Had Nave concocted the letters which
pretended to tell of Mrs. Nash Caromel's death, and got them posted to
Nash from New York?

With the morning, the Squire was at Caromel's Farm. The old-fashioned
low house, the sun shining on its quaint windows, looked still and quiet
as he walked up to the front-door across the grass-plat, in the middle
of which grew a fine mulberry-tree. The news of Charlotte's return, as
he was soon to find, had travelled to it already; had spread to the
village. For she had been recognized the night before on her arrival;
and her boxes, left in charge of a porter, bore her full name, Mrs. Nash
Caromel.

Nash stood in that little library of his in a state of agitation not to
be described; he as good as confessed, when the Squire tackled him, that
he _had_ known his wife might have been alive, and that it was all
Nave's doings. At least he suspected that the letter, telling of her
death, might be a forgery.

"Anyway, you had a letter from her the day before you married, so you
must have known it by that," cried the Squire; who had so much to do
always with the Caromel family that he deemed it his duty to interfere.
"What on earth could have possessed you?"

"I--was driven into a corner," gasped Nash.

"I'd be driven into fifty corners before I'd marry two wives," retorted
the Squire. "And now, sir, what do you mean to do?"

"I can't tell," answered Nash.

"A pretty kettle of fish this is! What do you suppose your father would
have said to it?"

"I'm sure I can't tell," repeated Nash helplessly, biting his lips to
get some life into them.

"And what's the matter with your hands that they are so hot and white?"

Nash glanced at his hands, and hid them away in his pockets. He looked
like a man consumed by inward fever.

"I have not been over well for some time past," said he.

"No wonder--with the consciousness of this discovery hanging over your
head! It might have sent some men into their graves."

Nash drummed upon the window pane. What in the world to do, what to say,
evidently he knew not.

"You must put away this Jez--this lady," went on the Squire. "It was she
who bewitched you; ay, and set herself out to do it, as all the parish
saw. Let her go back to her father: you might make some provision for
her: and instal your wife here in her proper place. Poor thing! she is
so meek and patient! She won't hear a word said against you; thinks you
are a saint. _I_ think you a scoundrel, Nash: and I tell you so to your
face."

The door had slowly opened; somebody, who had been outside, listening,
put in her head. A very pretty head, and that's the truth, surmounting
a fashionable morning costume of rose-coloured muslin, all flounces and
furbelows. It was Charlotte the Second. The Squire had called her a
brazen hussy behind her back; he had much ado this morning not to call
her so to her face.

"What's that I hear you saying to my husband, Mr. Todhetley--that he
should discard me and admit that creature here! How dare you bring your
pernicious counsels into this house?"

"Why, bless my heart, he is her husband, madam; he is not yours. You'd
not stay here yourself, surely!"

"This is my home, and he is _my_ husband, and my child is his heir; and
that woman may go back over the seas whence she came. Is it not so,
Nash? Tell him."

She put her hand on Nash's shoulder, and he tried to get out something
or other in obedience to her. He was as much under her finger and thumb
as Punch in the street is under the showman's. The Squire went into a
purple heat.

"You married him by craft, madam--as I believe from my very soul: you
married him, knowing, you and your father also, that his wife was alive.
He knew it, too. The motive must have been one of urgency, I should say,
but I've nothing to do with that----"

"Nor with any other business of ours," she answered with a brazen face.

"This business is mine, and all Church Dykely's," flashed the Squire.
"It is public property. And now, I ask you both, what you mean to do in
this dilemma you have brought upon yourselves? His wife is waiting to
come in, and you cannot keep her out."

"She shall never come in; I tell you that," flashed Charlotte the
Second. "She sent word to him that she was dead, and she must abide
by it; from that time she was dead to him, dead for ever. Mr. Caromel
married me equally in the eyes of the world: and here I shall stay with
him, his true and lawful wife."

The Squire rubbed his face; the torrent of words and the heat made it
glisten.

"Stay here, would you, madam! What luck do you suppose would come of
that?"

"Luck! I have quite as much luck as I require. Nash, why do you not
request this--this gentleman to leave us?"

"Why, he _dare_ not keep you here," cried the Squire, passing over the
last compliment. "He would be prosecuted for--you know what."

"Let him be prosecuted! Let the wicked woman do her worst. Let her bring
an action, and we'll defend it. I have more right to him than she has.
Mr. Caromel, _do_ you wish to keep up this interview until night?"

"Perhaps you had better go now, Squire," put in the man pleadingly.
"I--I will consult Nave, and see what's to be done. She may like to go
back to California, to the Munns; the climate suited her: and--and an
income might be arranged."

This put the finishing stroke to the Squire's temper. He flung out of
the room with a few unorthodox words, and came home in a tantrum.

We had had times of commotion at Church Dykely before, but this affair
capped all. The one Mrs. Nash Caromel waiting to go into her house, and
the other Mrs. Nash Caromel refusing to go out of it to make room for
her. The Squire was right when saying it was public property: the public
made it theirs. Tongues pitched into Nash Caromel in the fields and in
the road: but some few of us pitied him, thinking what on earth we could
do ourselves in a like position. While old Jones the constable stalked
briskly about, expecting to get a warrant for taking up the master of
Caromel's Farm.

But the great drawback to instituting legal proceedings lay with Mrs.
Nash Caromel the First. She declined to prosecute. Her husband might
refuse to receive her; might hold himself aloof from her; might keep his
second wife by his side; but she would never hurt a hair of his head.
Heaven might bring things round in its own good time, she said;
meanwhile she would submit--and bear.

And she held to this, driving indignant men distracted. They argued,
they persuaded, they remonstrated; it was said that one or two
strong-minded ones _swore_. All the same. She stayed on at her mother's,
and would neither injure her husband herself, nor let her family injure
him. Henry Tinkle, her brother, chanced to be from home (as he was when
she had run away to be married), or he might have acted in spite of her.
And, when this state of things had continued for two or three weeks, the
world began to call it a "crying scandal." As to Nash Caromel, he did
not show his face abroad.

"Not a day longer shall the fellow retain my money," said the pater,
speaking of the twelve hundred pounds he had lent to Nash: and in fact
the term it had been lent for was already up. But it is easier to make
such a threat than to enforce it; and it is not everybody who can
extract twelve hundred pounds at will from uncertain coffers. Any way
the Squire found he could not. He wrote to Nash, demanding its return;
and he wrote to Nave.

Nash did not answer him at all. Nave's clerk sent a semi-insolent
letter, saying Mr. Caromel should be communicated with when occasion
offered. The Squire wrote in a rage to his lawyer at Worcester, bidding
him enforce the repayment.

"You two lads can take the letter to the post," said he.

But we had not got many yards from home when we heard the Squire coming
after us. We all walked into Church Dykely together; and close to the
post-office, which was at Dame Chad's shop, we met Duffham. Of course
the Squire, who could not keep anything in had he been bribed to do it,
told Duffham what steps he was about to take.

"Going to enforce payment," nodded Duffham. "The man deserves no
quarter. But he is ill."

"Serve him right. What's the matter with him?"

"Nervous fever. Has fretted or frightened himself into it. Report says
that he is very ill indeed."

"Don't you attend him?"

"Not I. I did not please madam at the time the boy was born--would not
give in to some of her whims and fancies. They have called in that new
doctor who has settled in the next parish, young Bluck."

"Why, he is no better than an apothecary's boy, that young Bluck!
Caromel can't be very ill, if they have him."

"So ill, that, as I have just heard, he is in great danger--likely to
die," replied Duffham, tapping his cane against the ledge of Dame Chad's
window. "Bluck's young, but he is clever."

"Bless my heart! Likely to die! What, Nash Caromel! Here, you lads, if
that's it, I won't annoy him just now about the money, so don't post the
letter."

"It is posted," said Tod. "I have just put it in."

"Go in and explain to Dame Chad, and get it out again. Or, stay; the
letter can go, and I'll write and say it's not to be acted on until
he is well again. Nervous fever! I'm afraid his conscience has been
pricking him."

"I hope it has," said Duffham.


II.

A few days went on. Nash Caromel lay in the greatest danger. Nave was at
the farm day and night. A physician was called in from a distance to aid
young Bluck; but it was understood that there remained very little hope
of recovery. We began to feel sorry for Nash and to excuse his offences,
the Squire especially. It was all that strong-minded young woman's
doings, said he; she had drawn him into her toils, and he had not had
the pluck, first or last, to escape from them.

But a change for the better took place; Nash passed the crisis, and
would probably, with care, recover. I think every one felt glad; one
does not wish a fellow quite to die, though he has misinterpreted the
laws on the ticklish subject of matrimony. And the Squire felt vexed
later when he learned that his lawyer had disregarded his countermanding
letter and sent a peremptory threat to Nash of enforcing instant
proceedings, unless the money was repaid forthwith. That was not the
only threat conveyed to Caromel's Farm. Harry Tinkle returned; and,
despite his sister's protestations, took the matter into his own hands,
and applied for the warrant that had been so much talked about. As
soon as Nash Caromel could leave his bed, he would be taken before the
magistrates.

Soon a morning came that we did not forget in a hurry. While dressing
with the window open to the white flowers of the trailing jessamine and
the sweet perfume of the roses, blooming in the warm September air, Tod
came in, fastening his braces.

"I say, Johnny, here's the jolliest lark! The pater----"

And what the lark was, I don't know to this day. At that moment the
passing-bell tolled out--three times three; its succession of quick
strokes following it. The wind blew in our direction from the church,
and it sounded almost as though it were in the room.

"Who can be dead?" cried Tod, stretching his neck out at the window to
listen. "Was any one ill, Jenkins?" he called to the head-gardener, then
coming up the path with a barrow; "do you know who that bell's tolling
for?"

"It's for Mr. Caromel," answered Jenkins.

"What?" shouted Tod.

"It's tolling for Mr. Caromel, sir. He died in the night."

It was a shock to us all. The Squire, pocketing his indignation against
madam and the Nave family in general, went over to the farm after
breakfast, and saw Miss Gwendolen Nave, who was staying with her sister.
They called her Gwinny.

"We heard that he was better--going on so well," gasped the Squire.

"So he was until a day or two ago," said Miss Gwinny, holding her
handkerchief to her eyes. "Very well indeed until then--when it turned
to typhus."

"Goodness bless me!" cried the Squire, an unpleasant feeling running
through him. "Typhus!"

"Yes, I am sorry to say."

"Is it safe to be here? Safe for you all?"

"Of course it is a risk. We try not to be afraid, and have sent as many
out of the house as we could. I and the old servant Grizzel alone remain
with Mrs. Caromel. The baby has gone to papa's."

"Dear me, dear me! I was intending to ask to look at poor Nash; we have
known each other always, you see. But, perhaps it would not be prudent."

"It would be very imprudent, Mr. Todhetley. The sickness was of the
worst type; it might involve not only your own death, but that of
others to whom you might in turn carry it. You have a wife and children,
sir."

"Yes, yes, quite right," rejoined the Squire. "Poor Nash! How is--your
sister?" He would not, even at that trying moment for them, call her
Mrs. Caromel.

"Oh, she is very ill; shocked and grieved almost to death. For all we
know, she has taken the fever and may follow her husband; she attended
upon him to the last. I hope that woman, who came here to disturb the
peace of a happy family, that Charlotte Tinkle, will reap the fruit of
what she has sown, for it is all owing to her."

"People do mostly reap the fruit of their own actions, whether they are
good or bad," observed the Squire to this, as he got up to leave. But he
would not add what he thought--that it was another Charlotte who ought
to reap what she had sown. And who appeared to be doing it.

"Did the poor fellow suffer much?"

"Not at the last," said Miss Gwinny. "His strength was gone, and he lay
for many hours insensible. Up to yesterday evening we thought he might
recover. Oh, it is a dreadful calamity!"

Indeed it was. The Squire came away echoing the words in his heart.

Three days later the funeral took place: it would not do to delay it
longer. The Squire went to it: when a man was dead, he thought animosity
should cease. Harry Tinkle would not go. Caromel, he said, had escaped
him and the law, to which he had rendered himself amenable, and nobody
might grumble at it, for it was the good pleasure of Heaven, but he
would not show Caromel respect, dead or living.

All the parish seemed to have been bidden to the funeral. Some went,
some did not go. It looked a regular crowd, winding down the lawn and
down the avenue. Few ventured indoors; they preferred to assemble
outside: for an exaggerated fear of Caromel's Farm and what might be
caught in it, ran through the community. So, when the men came out of
the house, staggering under the black velvet pall with its deep white
border, followed by Lawyer Nave, the company fell up into line behind.

Little Dun would have been the legal heir to the property had there been
no Charlotte the First. That complication stood in his way, and he could
no more inherit it than I could. Under the peculiar circumstances _there
was no male heir living_, and Nash Caromel, the last of his name, had
the power to make a will. Whether he had done so, or not, was not known;
but the question was set at rest after the return from the funeral. Nave
had gone strutting next the coffin as chief mourner, and he now produced
the will. Half-a-dozen gentlemen had entered, the Squire one of them.

It was executed, the will, all in due form, having been drawn up by a
lawyer from a distance; not by Nave, who may have thought it as well to
keep his fingers out of the pie. A few days after the return of
Charlotte the First, when Nash first became ill, the strange lawyer was
called in, and the will was made.

Caromel's Farm and every stick and stone upon it, and all other
properties possessed by Nash, were bequeathed to the little boy, Duncan
Nave (as it was worded), otherwise Duncan Nave Caromel. Not to him
unconditionally, but to be placed in the hands of trustees for his
ultimate benefit. The child's mother (called in the will Charlotte Nave,
otherwise Charlotte Caromel) was to remain at the farm if she pleased,
and to receive the yearly income derived from it for the mutual
maintenance of herself and child. When the child should be twenty-one,
he was to assume full possession, but his mother was at liberty to
continue to have her home with him. In short, they took all; Charlotte
Tinkle, nothing.

"It is a wicked will," cried one of the hearers when they came out from
listening to it.

"And it won't prosper them; you see if it does," added the Squire. "She
stands in the place of Charlotte Tinkle. The least Caromel could have
done, was to divide the property between them."

So that was the apparent ending of the Caromel business, which had
caused the scandal in our quiet place, and a very unjust ending it was.
Charlotte Tinkle, who had not a sixpence of her own in the world,
remained on with her mother. She would come to church in her widow's
mourning, a grievous look of sorrow upon her meek face; people said she
would never get over the cruelty of not having been sent for to say
farewell to her husband when he was dying.

As for Charlotte Nave, she stayed on at the farm without let or
hindrance, calling herself, as before, Mrs. Nash Caromel. She appeared
at church once in a way; not often. Her widow's veil was deeper than the
other widow's, and her goffered cap larger. Nobody took the fever: and
Nave the lawyer sent back the Squire's twelve hundred pounds within
a month of Nash's death. And that, I say, was the ending, as we all
supposed, of the affair at Caromel's Farm.

But curious complications were destined to crop up yet.


III.

Nash Caromel died in September. And in how short, or long, a time it was
afterwards that a very startling report grew to be whispered, I cannot
remember; but I think it must have been at the turn of winter. The two
widows were deep in weeds as ever, but over Charlotte Nave a change had
come. And I really think I had better call them in future Charlotte
Tinkle and Charlotte Nave, or we may get in a fog between the two.

Charlotte Nave grew pale and thin. She ruled the farm, as before,
with the deft hand of a capable woman, but her nature appeared to be
changing, her high spirits to have flown for ever. Instead of filling
the house with company, she secluded herself in it like a hermit, being
scarcely ever seen abroad. Ill-natured people, quoting Shakespeare, said
the thorns, which in her bosom lay, did prick and sting her.

It was reported that the fear of the fever had taken a haunting hold
upon her. She could not get rid of it. Which was on-reasonable, as Nurse
Picker phrased it; for if she'd ha' been to catch it, she'd ha' caught
it at the time. It was not for herself alone she feared it, but for
others, though she did fear it for herself still, very much indeed. An
impression lay on her mind that the fever was not yet out of the house,
and never would be out of it, and that any fresh person, coming in to
reside, would be liable to take it. More than once she was heard to say
she would give a great deal not to be tied to the place--but the farm
could not get on without a head. Before Nash died, when it was known the
disorder had turned to typhus, she had sent all the servants (except
Grizzel) and little Dun out of the house. She would not let them come
back to it. Dun stayed at the lawyer's; the servants in time got other
situations. The gardener's wife went in by day to help old Grizzel with
the work, and some of the out-door men lived in the bailiff's house.
Nave let out one day that he had remonstrated with his daughter in vain.
Some women are cowards in these matters; they can't help being so; and
the inward fear, perpetually tormenting them, makes a havoc of their
daily lives. But in this case the fear had grown to an exaggerated
height. In short, not to mince the matter, it was suspected her brain,
on that one point, was unhinged.

Miss Gwinny could not leave her. Another sister, Harriet Nave, had come
to her father's house, to keep it and take care of little Dun. Dun
was allowed to go into the grounds of the farm and to play under the
mulberry-tree on the lawn; and once or twice on a wet day, it was said,
his mother had taken him into the parlour that opened with glass-doors,
but she never let him run the risk of going in farther. At last old
Nave, as was reported, consulted a mad doctor about her, going all the
way to Droitwich to do it.

But all this had nothing to do with the startling rumour I spoke of.
Things were in this condition when it first arose. It was said that Nash
Caromel "came again."

At first the whisper was not listened to, was ridiculed, laughed at: but
when one or two credible witnesses protested they had seen him, people
began to talk, and then to say there must be something in it.

A little matter that had occurred soon after the funeral, was remembered
then. Nash Caromel had used to wear on his watch-chain a small gold
locket with his own and his wife's hair in it. I mean his real wife.
Mrs. Tinkle wrote a civil note to the mistress of Caromel's Farm asking
that the locket might be restored to her daughter--whose property it in
fact was. She did not receive any answer, and wrote again. The second
letter was returned to Mrs. Tinkle in a blank envelope with a wide black
border.

Upon this, Harry Tinkle took up the matter. Stretching a point for his
sister, who was pining for the locket and Nash's bit of hair in it,
for she possessed no memento at all of her husband, he called at the
farm and saw the lady. Some hard words passed between them: she was
contemptuously haughty; and he was full of inward indignation, not only
at the general treatment accorded to his sister, but also at the unjust
will. At last, stung by some sneering contumely she openly cast upon his
sister, he retorted in her own coin--answering certain words of hers--

"I hope his ghost will haunt you, you false woman!" Meaning, you know,
the ghost of the dead man.

People recalled these words of Harry Tinkle's now, and began to look
upon them (spoken by one of the injured Tinkles) in the light of
prophecy. What with this, and what with their private belief that Nash
Caromel's conscience would hardly allow him to rest quietly in his
grave, they thought it very likely that his ghost _was_ haunting her,
and only hoped it would not haunt the parish.

Was this the cause of the change apparent in her? Could it be that Nash
Caromel's spirit returned to the house in which he died, and that she
could not rest for it? Was this the true reason, and not the fever, why
she kept the child and the servants out of the house?--lest they should
be scared by the sight? Gossips shivered as they whispered to one
another of these unearthly doubts, which soon grew into a belief. But
you must understand that never a syllable had been heard from herself,
or a hint given, that Caromel's Farm was troubled by anything of the
kind; neither did she know, or was likely to hear, that it was talked of
abroad. Meanwhile, as the time slipped on, every now and then something
would occur to renew the report--that Nash Caromel had been seen.

One afternoon, during a ride, the Squire's horse fell lame. On his
return he sent for Dobbs, the blacksmith and farrier. Dobbs promised to
be over about six o'clock; he was obliged to go elsewhere first. When
six o'clock struck, the Squire, naturally impatient, began to look out
for Dobbs. And if he sent Thomas out of the room once during dinner, to
see whether the man had arrived, he sent him half-a-dozen times.

Seven o'clock, and no Dobbs. The pater was in a fume; he did nothing
but walk to and fro between the house and the stables, and call Dobbs
names as he looked out for him. At last, there came a rush across the
fold-yard, and Dobbs appeared, his face looking very peculiar, and his
hair standing up in affright, like a porcupine's quills.

"Why, what on earth has taken you?" began the Squire, surprised out of
the reproach that had been upon his tongue.

"I don't know what has taken me," gasped Dobbs. "Except that I've seen
Mr. Nash Caromel."

"What?" roared the Squire, his surprise changing to anger.

"As true as I'm a living man, I've seen him, sir," persisted Dobbs,
wiping his face with a blue cotton handkerchief. "I've seen his shadow."

"Seen the Dickens!" retorted the Squire, slightingly. "One would think
_he_ was after you, by the way you flew up here. I wonder you are not
ashamed of yourself, Dobbs."

"Being later than I thought to be, sir, I took the field way; it's a bit
shorter," went on Dobbs, attempting to explain. "In passing through that
little copse at the back of Caromel's Farm, I met a curious-looking
shadow of a figure that somehow startled me. May I never stir from this
spot, sir, if it was not Caromel himself."

"You have been drinking, Dobbs."

"A strapping pace I was going at, knowing I was being waited for here,"
continued Dobbs, too much absorbed in his story to heed the sarcasm. "I
never saw Mr. Nash Caromel plainer in his lifetime than I saw him then,
sir. Drinking? No, that I had not been, Squire; the place where I went
to is teetotal. It was up at the Glebe, and they don't have nothing
stronger in their house than tea. They gave me two good cups of that."

"Tea plays some people worse tricks than drink, especially if it is
green," observed the Squire: and I am bound to confess that Dobbs,
apart from his state of fright, seemed as sober as we were. "I wouldn't
confess myself a fool, Dobbs, if I were you."

Dobbs put out his brawny right arm. "Master," said he, with quite a
solemn emphasis, "as true as that there moon's a-shining down upon us,
I this night saw Nash Caromel. I should know him among a thousand.
And I thought my heart would just ha' leaped out of me."

To hear this strong, matter-of-fact man assert this, with his sturdy
frame and his practical common sense, sounded remarkable. Any one
accustomed to seeing him in his forge, working away at his anvil, would
never have believed it of him. Tod laughed. The Squire marched off to
the stables with an impatient word. I followed with Dobbs.

"The idea of your believing in ghosts and shadows, Dobbs!"

"Me believe in 'em, Master Johnny! No more I did; I'd have scorned it.
Why, do you remember that there stir, sir, about the ghost that was said
to haunt Oxlip Dell? Lots of people went into fits over that, a'most
lost their heads; but I laughed at it. Now, I never put credit in
nothing of the kind; but I have seen Mr. Caromel's ghost to-night."

"Was it in white?"

"Bless your heart, sir, no. He was in a sort o' long-skirted dark cloak
that seemed to wrap him well round; and his head was in something black.
It might ha' been a cap; I don't know. And here we are at the stable, so
I'll say no more: but I can't ever speak anything truer in my life than
I've spoke this, sir."

All this passed. In spite of the blacksmith's superstitious assertion,
made in the impulse of terror, there lay on his mind a feeling of shame
that he should have betrayed fear to us (or what bordered upon it) in an
unguarded moment; and this caused him to be silent to others. So the
matter passed off without spreading further.

Several weeks later, it cropped up again. Francis Radcliffe (if the
reader has not forgotten him, and who had not long before been delivered
out of his brother's hands at Sandstone Torr) was passing along at the
back of Caromel's Farm, when he saw a figure that bore an extraordinary
resemblance to Nash Caromel. The Squire laughed well when told of it,
and Radcliffe laughed too. "But," said he, "had Nash Caromel not been
dead, I could have sworn it was he, or his shadow, before any justice of
the peace."

His shadow! The same word that Dobbs had used. Francis Radcliffe told
this story everywhere, and it caused no little excitement.

"What does this silly rumour mean--about Nash Caromel being seen?"
demanded the Squire one day when he met Nave, and condescended to stop
to speak to him.

And Nave, hearing the question, turned quite blue: the pater told us so
when he came home. Just as though Nave saw the apparition before him
then, and was frightened at it.

"The rumour is infamous," he answered, biting his cold lips to keep down
his passion. "Infamous and ridiculous both. Emanating from idle fools. I
think, sir, as a magistrate, you might order these people before you and
punish them."

"Punish people for thinking they see Caromel's ghost!" retorted the
Squire. "Bless my heart! What an ignorant man (for a lawyer) you must
be! No act has been passed against seeing ghosts. But I'd like to know
what gives rise to the fancy about Caromel."

The rumour did not die away. How could it, when from time to time the
thing continued to be seen? It frightened Mary Standish into a fit.
Going to Caromel's Farm one night to beg grace for something or other
that her ill-doing husband, Jim, then working on the farm, had done or
left undone, she came upon a wonderfully thin man standing in the nook
by the dairy window, and took him to be the bailiff, who was himself
no better than a walking lamp-post. "If you please, sir," she was
beginning, thinking to have it out with him instead of Mrs. Caromel,
"if you please, sir----"

When, upon looking into his pale, stony face, she saw the late master.
He vanished into air or into the wall, and down fell Mary Standish in a
fainting-fit. The parish grew uneasy at all this--and wondered what had
been done to Nash, or what he had done, that he could not rest.

One night I was coming, with Tod, across from Mrs. Scott's, who lived
beyond Hyde Stockhausem's. We took the field way from Church Dykely, as
being the shortest route, and that led us through the copse at the back
of Caromel's Farm. It was a very light night, though not moonlight; and
we walked on at a good rate, talking of a frightful scrape Sam Scott
had got into, and which he was afraid to tell his mother of. All in a
moment, just in the middle of the copse, we came upon a man standing
amongst the trees, his face towards us. Tod turned and I turned; and we
both saw Nash Caromel. Now, of course, you will laugh. As the Squire did
when we got home (in a white heat) and told him: and he called us a
couple of poltroons. But, if ever I saw the face of Nash Caromel, I saw
it then; and if ever I saw a figure that might be called a shadow, it
was his.

"Fine gentlemen, both of you!" scoffed the Squire. "Clear and sensible!
Seen a ghost, have you, and confess to it! Ho, ho! Running through the
back copse, you come upon somebody that you must take for an apparition!
Ha, ha! Nice young cowards! I'd write an account of it to the Worcester
papers if I were you. A ghost, with glaring eyes and a white face!
Death's head upon a mopstick, lads! I shouldn't have wondered at Johnny;
but I do wonder at you, Joe," concluded the Squire, smoothing down.

"I am no more afraid of ghosts than you are, father," quietly answered
Joe. "I was not afraid when we saw--what we did see; I can't answer for
Johnny. But I do declare, with all my senses (which you are pleased to
disparage) about me, that it was the form and face of Nash Caromel, and
that 'it' (whatever it might be) seemed to vanish from our sight as we
looked."

"Johnny calls it a shadow," mocked the Squire, amiably.

"It looked shadowy," said Tod.

"A tree-trunk, I dare be bound, lads, nothing else," nodded the Squire.
And you might as well have tried to make an impression on a post.


IV.

September came in: which made it a year since Nash died. And on one of
its bright days, when the sun was high, and the blue sky cloudless,
Church Dykely had a stir given it in the sight of the mistress of
Caromel's Farm. She and her father were in a gig together, driving off
on the Worcester road: and it was so very rare a thing to see her abroad
now, that folks ran to their windows and doors to stare. Her golden
hair, what could be seen of it for her smart blue parasol, shone in the
sunlight; but her face looked white and thin through the black crape
veil.

"Just like a woman who gets disturbed o' nights," pronounced Sam Rimmer,
thinking of the ghostly presence that was believed to haunt the house.

Before that day's beautiful sun had gone down to light the inhabitants
of the other hemisphere, ill-omened news reached Church Dykely. An
accident had happened to the horse and gig. It was said that both Nave
and his daughter were dreadfully injured; one of them nearly killed.
Miss Gwinny, left at home to take care of Caromel's Farm, posted off to
the scene of damage.

Holding Caromel's Farm in small respect now, the Squire yet chose to
show himself neighbourly; and he rose up from his dinner to go there and
inquire particulars. "You may come with me, lads, if you like," said he.
Tod laughed.

"He's afraid of seeing Caromel," whispered he in my ear, as we took down
our hats.

And, whether the Squire was afraid of it or not, he did see him. It was
a lovely moonlight night, bright and clear as the day had been. Old
Grizzel could not tell us much more of the accident than we had heard
before; except that it was quite true there had been one, and that Miss
Gwinny had gone. And, by the way Grizzel inwardly shook and shivered
while she spoke, and turned her eyes to all corners in some desperate
fear, one might have thought she had been pitched out of a gig herself.

We had left the door--it was the side-entrance--when the Squire turned
back to put some last query to her. Tod and I went on. The path was
narrow, the overhanging trees on either side obscured the moonlight,
making it dark. Chancing to glance round, I noticed the Squire, at the
other end of the path, come soberly after us. Suddenly he seemed to
halt, to look sideways at the trees, and then he came on with a bound.

"Boys! Boys!" cried he, in a half-whisper, "come on. There's Caromel
yonder."

And to see the pater's face in its steaming consternation, and to watch
him rush on to the gate, was better than a play. Seen Caromel! It was
not so long since he had mocked at us for saying it.

Through the gate went he, bolt into the arms of some unexpected figure,
standing there. We peered at it in the uncertain lights cast by the
trees, and made it out to be Dobbs, the blacksmith.

Dobbs, with a big coat on, hiding his shirt-sleeves and his leather
apron: Dobbs standing as silent as the grave: arms folded, head bent:
Dobbs in stockinged feet, without his shoes.

"Dobbs, my good fellow, what on earth do you put yourself in people's
way for, standing stock-still like a Chinese image?" gasped the Squire.
"Dobbs--why, you have no boots on."

"Hush!" breathed Dobbs, hardly above his breath. "I ask your pardon,
Squire. Hush, please! There's something uncanny in this place; some ugly
mystery. I mean to find it out if I can, sirs, and this is the third
night I've come here on the watch. Hark!"

Sounds, as of a woman's voice weeping and wailing, reached us faintly
from somewhere--down beyond the garden trees. The pater looked regularly
flustered.

"Listen!" repeated Dobbs, raising his big hand to entreat for silence.
"Yes, Squire; I don't know what the mystery is; but there is something
wrong about the place, and I can't sleep o' nights for it. Please
hearken, sirs."

The blacksmith was right. Wrong and mystery, such as the world does not
often hear of, lay within Caromel's Farm. Curious mystery; wicked wrong.
Leaning our arms on the gate, watching the moonlight flickering on the
trees, we listened to Dobbs's whispered revelation. It made the Squire's
hair stand on end.



THE LAST OF THE CAROMELS.


I.

When a house is popularly allowed to be haunted, and its inmates grow
thin and white and restless, it is not the best place in the world for
children: and this was supposed by Church Dykely to be the reason why
Mrs. Nash Caromel the Second had never allowed her child to come home
since the death of its father. At first it was said that she would not
risk having him lest he should catch the fever Nash had died of: but,
when the weeks went on, and the months went on, and years (so far as
could be seen) were likely to go on, and still the child was kept away,
people put it down to the other disagreeable fact.

Any way, Mrs. Nash Caromel--or Charlotte Nave, as you please--did not
have the boy home. Little Dun was kept at his grandfather's, Lawyer
Nave; and Miss Harriet Nave took care of him: the other sister, Gwinny,
remaining at Caromel's Farm. Towards the close of spring, the spring
which followed the death of Nash, when Dun was about two years old, he
caught whooping-cough and had it badly. In August he was sent for change
of air to a farm called the Rill, on the other side of Pershore, Miss
Harriet Nave taking the opportunity to go jaunting off elsewhere. The
change of air did the child good, and he was growing strong quickly,
when one night early in September croup attacked him, and he lay in
great danger. News of it was sent to his mother in the morning. It drove
her nearly wild with fear, and she set off for the Rill in a gig, her
father driving it: as already spoken of. So rare was the sight of her
now, for she kept indoors at Caromel's Farm as a snail keeps to its
shell, that no wonder Church Dykely thought it an event, and talked of
it all the day.

Mr. Nave and his daughter reached the Rill--which lay across country,
somewhere between Pershore and Wyre--in the course of the morning, and
found little Dun gasping with croup, and inhaling steam from a kettle.
Moore told us there was nothing half so sweet in life as love's young
dream; but to Charlotte Nave, otherwise Caromel, there was nothing sweet
at all except this little Dun. He was the light of her existence; the
apple of her eye, to put it poetically. She sat down by the bed-side,
her pale face (so pale and thin to what it used to be) bent lovingly
upon him, and wiping away the tears by stealth that came into her eyes.
In the afternoon Dun was better; but the doctor would not say he was out
of danger.

"If I could but stay here for the night! I can't bear to leave him,"
Charlotte snatched an opportunity to say to her father, when their
friends, the farmer and his wife, were momentarily occupied.

"But you can't, you know," returned Lawyer Nave. "You must be home by
sunset."

"By sunset? Nay, an hour after that would do."

"No, it will not do. Better be on the safe side."

"It seems _cruel_ that I should have to leave him," she exclaimed, with
a sob.

"Nonsense, Charlotte! The child will do as well without you as with you.
You may see for yourself how much better he is. The farm cannot be left
to itself at night: remember that. We must start in half-an-hour."

No more was said. Nave went to see about getting ready the gig;
Charlotte, all down in the dumps, stayed with the little lad, and let
him pull about as he would her golden hair, and drank her tea by his
side. Mr. and Mrs. Smith (good hospitable people, who had stood by
Charlotte Nave through good report and ill report, believing no ill of
her) pressed her to stay all night, promising, however, that every care
should be taken of Duncan, if she did not.

"My little darling must be a good child and keep warm in bed, and when
mamma comes in the morning he will be nearly well," breathed Charlotte,
showering tears and kisses upon him when the last moment had come. And,
with that, she tore herself away.

"Such a pity that you should have to go!" said Mrs. Smith, stepping to
the door with her. "I think Gwendolen and old Grizzel might have been
left for one night: they'd not have run away, nor the house neither.
Come over as soon as you can in the morning, my dear; and see if you
can't make arrangements to stay a day or two."

They were starting from the back-door, as being the nearest and
handiest; Nave, already in the gig, seemed in a rare hurry to be off.
Mr. Smith helped Charlotte up: and away the lawyer drove, across the
fold-yard, one of the farm-boys holding the outer gate open for them.
The sun, getting down in the west, shone right in their eyes.

"Oh dear, I have left my parasol!" cried Charlotte, just as they reached
the gate. "I must have it: my blue parasol!" And Nave, giving an angry
growl to parasols in general, pulled the horse up.

"You need not get out, hindering time!" growled he. "Call out for it.
Here, Smith! Mrs. Caromel has forgotten her blue parasol." But the
farmer, then nearing the house, did not hear.

"I'll run for it, ma'am," said the lad. And he set off to do so, leaving
the gate to itself. Charlotte, who had been rising to get out, looked
back to watch him; the lawyer looked back to shout again, in his
impatience, to Mr. Smith. Their faces were both turned from the side
where the gate was, and they did not see what was about to happen.

The gate, swinging slowly and noiselessly forward, touched the horse,
which had been standing sideways, his head turned to see what the
stoppage might be about.

Touched him, and startled him. Bounding upwards, he tore forward down
the narrow lane on which the gate opened; tried to scale a bank, and
pitched the lawyer and Charlotte out of the gig.

The farmer, and as many of his people as could be gathered at the
moment, came running down, some of them armed with pitchforks. Nave was
groaning as he lay; Charlotte was insensible. Just at first they thought
her dead. Both were carried back to the Rill on hurdles, and the doctor
was sent for. After which, Mr. Smith started off a man on horseback to
tell the ill-news of the accident at Caromel Farm.

Ill-news. No doubt a bad and distressing accident. But now, see how
curiously the "power that shapes our ends" brings things about. But for
that accident, the mystery and the wrong being played out at Caromel's
Farm might never have had daylight thrown upon it. The accident, like a
great many other accidents, must have been sent to this wise and good
end. At least, so far as we, poor blind mortals that we all are, down
here, might presume to judge.

The horseman, clattering in at a hard pace to Caromel's Farm, delivered
to Miss Gwendolen Nave, and to Grizzel, the old family servant, the
tidings he was charged with--improving upon them as a thing of course.

Lawyer Nave, he were groaning awful, all a-bleeding, and unable to move
a limb. The young lady, she were dead; leastways, looked like it.

With a scream and a cry, Gwendolen gave orders for her own departure.
Seeking the bailiff, she bade him drive her over in the tax-cart, there
being no second gig.

"Now mind, Grizzel," she said, laying hold of the old woman's arm after
flinging on her bonnet and shawl anyhow, "you will lock all the doors as
soon as I am gone, and take out the keys. Do you hear?"

"I hear, Miss Gwinny. My will's good to do it: you know that."

"Take care that you _do_ do it."

Fine tidings to go flying about Church Dykely in the twilight! Lawyer
Nave half killed, his daughter quite. The news reached us at Dyke
Manor; and Squire Todhetley, though holding Caromel's Farm in little
estimation, thought it only neighbourly to walk over there and inquire
how much was true, how much not. You remember what happened. That in
leaving the farm after interviewing Grizzel, we found ourselves in
contact with Dobbs the blacksmith. Dobbs standing stock-still, like a
marble pillar, outside the gate under the dark, overhanging trees; Dobbs
standing on the watch, in a stealthy, mysterious manner, without his
boots.

"But what on earth are you here for, Dobbs?" reiterated the Squire.
"Where are your boots?"

And all Dobbs did for answer, was to lay his hand respectfully on the
Squire's coat-sleeve to begin with, so as to prevent his running away.
Then he entered upon his whispered tale. Leaning our arms upon the low
gate, we listened to it, and to the curious sound of weeping and wailing
that stole faintly on our ears from amongst the garden trees. The scene
altogether looked weird enough in the moonlight, flickering through the
rustling leaves.

Dobbs, naturally an unbeliever in ghosts, had grown to think that this
ghost, so long talked of, was no ghost at all, but some one got up to
resemble one by Caromel's Farm, for some mysterious purpose of its own.
Remembering his attack of fright, and resenting it excessively, Dobbs
determined if possible to unearth the secret: and this was the third
night he had come upon the watch.

"But why stand without your boots?" whispered the Squire, who could not
get over the shoeless feet.

"That I may make no noise in running to pounce upon him, sir," Dobbs
whispered back. "I take 'em off and hide 'em in the copse behind here.
They be just at your back, Master Johnny."

"Pounce upon whom?" demanded the Squire. "Can't you speak plainly?"

"That's what I'd like to know," breathed Dobbs. "I feel nearly sure,
Squire, that the--the thing looking like Nash Caromel is not Nash
Caromel. Nor his ghost, either."

"I never saw two faces more alike, and I have just seen it now," put in
the Squire. "At least, as much as a shadow can look like a face."

"Ay," assented Dobbs. "I'm as sure, sir, as I am of my own forge, that
it is a likeness got up by Nave to scare us. And I'll _eat_ the forge,"
added Dobbs with emphasis, "if there's not something worse than ghosts
at Caromel's Farm--though I can't guess what it is."

"What a villain he must be: and Nave, too!" cried the Squire, rubbing
his red nose, while Tod simply stared at the man. "But, look here,
Dobbs--how could any man put on the face of Nash Caromel?"

"I don't know how he does it, Squire, or what he does, but I'm good to
find out," returned the blacksmith. "And if--just hark there again,
sirs!"

The same faint sounds of wailing, of entreaty in a woman's voice, rose
again upon the air. Dobbs, with a gesture to ask for silence, went
noiselessly down the dark path in his brown woollen stockings, that
looked thick enough for boots. Tod, eager for any adventure, stole after
him, and I brought up the rear. The Squire remained where he was, and
held the gate open, expecting perhaps that we might want to make a rush
through it as he had just done.

Two minutes more, and the mystery was solved. Near the house, under the
shade of the closely intersecting trees, stood old Grizzel and the
figure people had taken to be the ghost of Nash Caromel. It was
Grizzel's voice we heard, full of piteous entreaty to him not to do
something.

"Just for this night, master, for the love of Heaven! Don't do it, just
this night that I'm left in charge! They've trusted me, you see!"

The words seemed to make no impression. Pushing her hands back, the
figure was turning impatiently away, when Dobbs seized upon it.

But, in sheer astonishment, or perhaps in terror, Dobbs let go again to
step backwards; and the prize might have escaped but for the strong arms
of Tod. It was indeed Nash Caromel. Not his ghost, but himself.

Nash Caromel worn to the veriest shadow mortal eyes ever gazed upon. The
Squire came up; we all went into the house together, and explanation
ensued.

Nash had not died. When the fever, of which it was feared he would die,
reached its crisis, he awoke to life, not to death. But, terrified
at his position--the warrant, applied for by Henry Tinkle, being out
against him--overwhelmed with a sense of shame, he had feigned death as
the only chance of escaping disgrace and punishment. The first thought
perhaps was Nave's; indeed there was no doubt of it--or his and his
daughter's combined. They wanted to keep the income, you see. Any way,
they carried the thought out, and had successfully contrived to deceive
doctors, undertakers, and the world. Nash, weak as a rat, had got out of
bed to watch his own funeral procession wind down the avenue.

And there, in the upper rooms of the house, he had since lived until
now, old Grizzel sharing the secret. But a grievous complaint, partly
brought on by uneasiness of mind, partly inherited from his father, who
had died of it, had speedily attacked Nash, one for which there was no
cure. It had worn him to a shadow.

He had walked in the garden sometimes. He had come out in the twilight
of the evening or at night; he had now and then passed through the gate
and crossed over to the copse; simply because to live entirely without
fresh air, to remain inactive indoors, was intolerable to him. His wife
and her sister did their best to prevent it. Nave came in the daytime
and would blow him up by the hour together; but they could not always
keep him in. At last they grew alarmed. For, when they attempted to use
force, by locking the doors, he told them that unless he was allowed his
way in this, he would declare himself to the world. Life could not have
been a bed of roses for any of them.

To look at him, as he sat there to-night by the kitchen fire, his cheeks
white and hollow, his sunken eyes encased in dark rims, and his thin
lips on the shiver, you'd hardly have given him a week of life. A great
pity sat in the blacksmith's face.

"Don't reproach yourself, Dobbs: it's the best thing that could have
happened to me," spoke Nash Caromel, kindly. "I am not sure but I should
have gone out this very night and declared myself. Grizzel thought it,
and put herself into a paroxysm of fear. Nobody but myself knows the
yearning to do it that has been upon me. You won't go and tell it out in
the market-place, will you, Dobbs?"

"I'll not tell on't to a single soul, sir," said Dobbs, earnestly,
standing straight in his brown stockings. "Nobody shall know on't from
me. And I'm as glad as glad can be that you be alive and did not die in
that fever."

"We are all safe and sure, Caromel; not a hint shall escape us," spoke
the Squire from the midst of his astonishment.

"The first thing must be to get Duffham here."

"Duffham can't do any good; things have gone too far with me," said poor
Nash. "Once this disorder lays regular hold of a man, there's no hope
for him: you know that, Todhetley."

"Stuff!" said the pater. "I don't believe it has gone too far, only
you've got moped here and think so. We'll have Duffham here at once. You
boys can go for him."

"No," dissented Caromel. "Duffham may tell the tale abroad. I'd rather
die in peace, if I can."

"Not he. Duffham! Why, you ought to know him better. Duffham will be as
secret as ourselves. Do you suppose that he, a family doctor, has not
many a weighty secret to keep? Come, be off, lads: and, mind, we trust
_you_."

Nash Caromel sighed, and said no more. He had been wanting badly enough
to see a friend or two, but not to be shown up to the parish. We went
out with Dobbs, who rushed into the copse to find his shoes.

This discovery might never have ensued, I take it, had Charlotte
Nave and the lawyer not been upset in the gig. They would have stood
persistently in his light--perhaps have succeeded in locking him in by
force! As it was, we had it all our own way.

"How could you lend yourself to so infamous a deception?" cried the
Squire to old Grizzel, following her into the pantry to ask it, when she
returned from bolting the door after us. "I'm not at all sure that you
could not be punished for it. It's--it's a conspiracy. And you, of all
people, old Grizzel, to forget the honour of the Caromels! Why, you
lived with his father!--and with his brother. All these years!"

"And how could I tell again him when I was asked not to?" contended
Grizzel, the tears dropping on to a tin saucepan she was rubbing out.
"Master Nash was as dear to me as the others were. Could it be me to
speak up and say he was not in the coffin, but only old things to make
up weight! Could it be me to tell he was alive and hiding up aloft here,
and so get him put in prison? No, sir; the good name of the Caromels was
much to me, but Master Nash was more."

"Now, come, old woman, where's the use of crying like that? Well, yes;
you have been faithful, and it's a great virtue. And--and there's a
shilling or two for you."

"Have you been blowing her up?" asked Nash, as the Squire went back to
him, and sat down on the other side the wide kitchen hearth, the fire
throwing its glow upon the bricks, square and red and shining, and upon
Nash Caromel's wan face, in which it was not very difficult to read
death. He had put his out-of-door coat off, a long brown garment, and
sat in a grey suit. Tho Squire's belief was that he wouldn't have minded
getting into the fire itself; he sat there shivering and shaking, and
seeming to have no warmth left in him. The room was well guarded from
outer observation. The shutters were up, and there was not a chink in
them.

"I have," said the Squire, in answer. "Told her she did not show
much regard for the honour of the family--lending herself to such a
deception!"

"Poor old Grizzel!" sighed Nash, with a half-smile. "She has lived upon
thorns, fearing I should be discovered. As to the family honour,
Todhetley, the less said about that the better."

"How _could_ you do it, Caromel?"

"I don't know," answered Nash, with apathy, bringing his face closer to
the blaze. "I let it be done, more than did it. All I did, or could do,
was just to lie still in my bed. The fever had left me weaker than a
child----"

"Did it really turn to typhus?" interrupted the Squire.

"No, it didn't. They said so to scare people away. I was weaker than
a child," continued Nash, "both in mind and body. And when I grew
stronger--what was done could not be undone. Not that I seek to defend
or excuse myself. Don't think that."

"And, in the name of all that's marvellous, what could have put so
monstrous an idea into their heads?" demanded the Squire, getting up to
face the kitchen.

"Well, I have always fancied that business at Sandstone Torr did,"
replied Nash, who had no idea of reticence now, but spoke out as freely
as you please. "It had come to light, you know, not long before. Stephen
Radcliffe had hidden his brother in the old tower, passing him off to
the world as dead; and so, I suppose, it was thought that I could be
hidden and passed off as dead."

"But Stephen Radcliffe never got up a mock funeral. His tale was that
Frank had died in London. You were bold people. What will Parson Holland
say, when he comes to learn that he read the burial-service over a box
of rubbish?"

"I don't know," was the helpless reiteration of poor Nash. "The trouble
and worry of it altogether, the discomforts of my position, the
constant, never-ceasing dread of discovery have--have been to me what
you cannot realize. But for going out of the house at night and striding
about in the fresh, free air, I should have become mad. It was a _taste_
of freedom. Neither could I always confine myself to the walks in the
garden; whether I would nor not, my feet would carry me beyond it and
into the shaded copse."

"Frightening people who met you!"

"When I heard footsteps approach I hid myself--though not always quite
in time. I was more put out at meeting people than they were at meeting
me."

"I wonder your keepers here ever let you get out!" cried the Squire,
musingly.

"They tried hard to keep me in: and generally succeeded. It was only by
fits and starts I gained my way. They were afraid, you see, that I
should carry out my threat of disclosing myself but for being yielded to
now and then."

But the Squire did not get over the discovery. He strode about the
large kitchen, rubbing his face, giving out sundry Bless my hearts! at
intervals. The return to life of Charlotte Tinkle had been marvellous
enough, but it was nothing to this.

Meanwhile we were on our road to Duffham's. Leaving Dobbs at his own
forge, we rushed on, and found the doctor in his little parlour at
supper; pickled eels and bread-and-cheese: the eels in the wide stone
jar they were baked in--which was Nomy's way of serving pickled fish.

"Will you sit down and take some?" asked Duffham, pointing to the jar:
out of which he took the pieces with a fork as he wanted them.

"I should like to, but there's no time for it," answered Tod, eyeing the
jar wistfully.

Pickled eels are a favourite dish in our parts: and you don't often eat
anything as good.

"Look here, Duffham," he went on: "we want you to go with us and
see--see somebody: and to undertake not to tell tales out of school. The
Squire has answered for it that you will not."

"See who?" asked Duffham, going on with his supper.

"A ghost," said Tod, grimly. "A dead man."

"What good can I do _them_?"

"Well, the man has come to life again. Not for long, though, I should
say, judging by his looks. You are not to go and tell about it, mind."

"Tell what?"

"That he is alive, instead of being, as is supposed, under a gravestone
in yonder churchyard. I am not sure but that you went to his funeral."

Tod's significant tone, half serious, half mocking, attracted Duffham's
curiosity more even than the words. But he still went on with his eels.

"Who is it?"

"Nash Caromel. There. Don't fall off in a faint. Caromel has come to
life."

Down went Duffham's fork. "Why--what on earth do you mean?"

"It is not a joke," said Tod. "Nash Caromel has been alive all this
time, concealed in his house--just as Francis Radcliffe was concealed
in the tower. The Squire is with him now--and he is very ill."

Duffham appealed to me. "Is this true, Johnny Ludlow?"

"Yes, sir, it is. We found him out to-night. He looks as if he were
dying. Dobbs is sure he is. You never saw anything so like a ghost."

Leaving his eels now, calling out to old Nomy that she might take away
the supper, Duffham came off with us at once. Dobbs ran up as we passed
his forge, and went with us to the turning, talking eagerly.

"If you can cure him, Mr. Duffham, sir, I should take it as a great
favour, like, showed to myself," spoke the blacksmith. "I'd not have
pounced upon him for all the world, to give him pain, in the state he's
in. He looks as if he were dying."

They were in the kitchen still, when Grizzel opened the door to us, the
fire bigger and hotter than ever. The first thing Duffham did was to
order Caromel to bed, and to have a good fire lighted in his room.

But there was no hope for Nash Caromel. The Squire told us so going home
that night. Duffham thought about ten days more would see the end of
him.


II.

"And how have things gone during my short absence, Grizzel?" demanded
Miss Gwinny Nave, alighting from the tax-cart the following morning,
upon her return to Caromel's Farm.

"Oh, pretty well," answered Grizzel, who in her heart detested Miss
Gwinny and all the Naves. "The master seems weaker. He have took to his
bed, and got a fire in his room."

"When did he do that?"

"He came down last night after you went, Miss Gwinny, and sat over
this here kitchen fire for ever so long. Then he went up to bed, and I
lighted him a fire and took him up some hot arrowroot with a wine glass
o' brandy in it. Shivering with cold, he was."

"And he has not got up this morning?"

"No; and he says he does not mean to get up. 'I've taken to my bed for
good, Grizzel,' he says to me this morning when I went in to light the
fire again and see what he'd eat for breakfast. And I think he has, Miss
Gwinny."

Which information considerably lightened the doubt which was tormenting
Miss Nave's mind. She wanted, oh how badly, and _was_ wanted, to remain
at the Rill, being sorely needed there; but she had not seen her way
clear to do it. If Nash was indeed confined to his bed, she might
perhaps venture to leave him for a day or two to Grizzel.

But, please don't think old Grizzel mean for keeping in what had taken
place: she was only obeying orders. Duffham and the Squire had laid
their heads together and then talked to Caromel; and it was agreed that
for the present nothing should be disclosed. They gave their orders to
Grizzel, and her master confirmed them.

"And what news have you brought from the Rill, ma'am?" questioned
Grizzel, who was making a custard pudding at the kitchen table. "I hope
you found things better than you feared."

"They could not well be worse," sighed Miss Gwinny, untying her bonnet.
She had not the beauty of Charlotte. Her light complexion was like
brick-dust, and her hair was straw-coloured. Not but that she was proud
of her hair, wearing it in twists, with one ringlet trailing over the
left shoulder. "Your mistress lies unconscious still; it is feared the
brain is injured; and papa's leg is broken in two places."

"Alack a-day?" cried Grizzel, lifting her hands in consternation. "Oh,
but I am sorry to hear it, Miss Gwendolen! And the pretty little boy?"

Miss Gwendolen shook her head. "The croup came on again last night worse
than ever," she said, with a rising sob. "They don't know whether they
will save him."

Grizzel brushed away some tears as she began to beat up her eggs. She
was a tender-hearted old thing, and loved little Dun. Miss Nave put
aside her bonnet and shawl, and turned to the staircase to pay a visit
to Nash. But she looked back to ask a question.

"Then, I am to understand that you had no trouble with the master last
night, Grizzel? He did not want to force himself out?"

"The time for that has gone by, ma'am, I think," answered Grizzel,
evasively; not daring and not wishing to confess that he had forced
himself out, and what the consequences were. "He seems a deal weaker
to-day, Miss Gwinny, than I've ever seen him."

And when Miss Gwinny got into Nash's room she found the words true.
Weak, inert, fading, there lay poor Nash. With the discovery, all
struggle had ceased; and it is well known that to resign one's self to
weakness quietly, makes weakness ten times more apparent. One thing
struck her greatly: the hollow sound in the voice. Had it come on
suddenly? If not, how was it she had never noticed it before? It struck
her with a sort of unpleasant chill: for she believed that peculiar
hollowness is generally the precursor of death.

"You are feeling worse, Nash, Grizzel says," she observed; and she
thought she had never seen him looking half so ill.

"Oh, I am all right, Gwendolen," answered he. "What of Charlotte and the
child?"

Sitting down on the edge of the large bed, Gwendolen told him all there
was to tell. Her papa would get well in time, though he could not be
moved yet awhile; but Charlotte and the child were lying in extreme
danger.

"Dear me! dear me!" he said, and began to cry, as Grizzel had begun.
When a man is reduced, as Nash was, faint in mind and in body, the tears
are apt to lie near the eyes.

"And there's nobody to attend upon them but Mrs. Smith and her
maids--two of the stupidest country wenches you ever saw," said
Gwendolen. "I did not know how to come away this morning. The child is
more than one person's work."

"Why did you come?"

"Because I could not trust you; you know that, Nash. You want to be up
to your tricks too often."

"My tricks!"

"Yes. Going out of doors at night. I'm sure it is a dreadful
responsibility that's thrown upon me. And all for your own sake!"

"You need no longer fear that--if you call my going out the
responsibility. I shall never get out of this bed again, Gwinny."

"What makes you think so?"

"Look at me," answered Nash. "See if you think it likely. I do not."

She shook her head doubtingly. He certainly did look too ill to
stir--but she remembered the trouble there had been with him; the
fierce, wild yearning for exit, that could not be controlled.

"Are you not satisfied? Listen, then: I give you my solemn word of
honour not to go out of doors; not to attempt to do so. You must go back
to Charlotte and the boy."

"I'll see later," decided Gwinny. "I shall stay here till the afternoon,
at any rate."

And when the afternoon came she took her departure for the Rill.
Convinced by Nash's state that he could not quit his bed, and satisfied
at length by his own solemn and repeated assurances that he would not,
Gwinny Nave consigned him to the care of Grizzel, and quitted Caromel's
Farm.

Which left the field open again, you perceive. And the Squire and
Duffham were there that evening as they had been the previous one.

It was a curious time--the few days that ensued. Gwendolen Nave came
over for an hour or two every other day, but otherwise Caromel's Farm
was a free house. Her doubts and fears were gone, for Nash grew worse
very rapidly; and, though he sat up in his room sometimes, he could
hardly have got downstairs though the house were burning--as Grizzel put
it. And he seemed so calm, so tranquil, so entirely passive under his
affliction, so resigned to his enfeebled state, so averse to making
exertion of any kind, that Miss Gwinny could not have felt much easier
had he been in the burial-ground where Church Dykely supposed him to be.

What with his past incarceration, which had endured twelve months, and
what with the approach of death, which he had seen looming for pretty
nearly half that time, Nash Caromel's conscience had come back to him.
It was pricking him in more corners than one. As his love for Charlotte
Nave weakened--and it had been going down a long time, for he saw what
the Naves were now, and what they had done for him--his love for
Charlotte Tinkle came back, and he began to wish he could set wrongs to
rights. That never could be done; he had put it out of his power; but he
meant to make some little reparation, opportunity being allowed him.

"I want to make a will, Todhetley," he said one evening to the Squire,
as he sat by the fire, dressed, a huge carriage-rug thrown on his knees
for warmth. "I wonder if my lawyer could be induced to come to me?"

"Do you mean Nave?" retorted the Squire, who could not for the life of
him help having a fling at Caromel once in a way. "He has been your
lawyer of late years."

"You know I don't mean Nave; and if I did mean him he could not come,"
said poor Nash. "I mean our family lawyer, Crow. Since I discarded him
for Nave he has turned the cold shoulder upon me. When I've met him in
the street at Evesham, he has either passed me with a curt nod or looked
another way. I would rather have Crow than anybody, for he'd be true, I
know, if he could be induced to come."

"I'll see about it," said the Squire.

"And you'll be executor, won't you, Todhetley? you and Duffham."

"No," said the Squire. "And what sort of a will are you going to make?"

"I should like to be just," sighed Nash. "As just as I know how. As
just as I can be under the unfortunate circumstances I am placed in."

"That you have placed yourself in, Caromel."

"True. I think of it night and day. But she ought to be provided for.
And there's the boy!"

"Who ought to be?"

"My second wife."

"I don't say to the contrary. But there is somebody else, who has a
greater and prior claim upon you."

"I know. My heart would be good to leave her all. But that would hardly
be just. Poor Charlotte, how patient she has been!"

"Ah, you threw off a good woman when you threw her off. And when you
made that other infamous will, leaving her name out of it----"

"It was Nave made it," interrupted Nash, as hotly as his wasted
condition allowed him to speak. "He got another lawyer to draw it up,
for look's sake--but he virtually made it. And, Todhetley, I must--I
_must_ get another one made," he added, getting more and more excited;
"and there's no time to be lost. If I die to-night that will would have
to stand."

With the morning light the Squire went off to Evesham, driving Bob and
Blister, and saw the lawyer, Crow--an old gentleman with a bald head.
The two shut themselves up in a private room, and it seemed as if they
never meant to come out again.

First of all, old Crow had to recover his astonishment at hearing Nash
Caromel was living, and that took him some time; next, he had to get
over his disinclination and refusal--to act again for Nash, and that
took him longer.

"Mind," said he at last, "if I do consent to act--to see the man and
make his will--it will be done out of the respect I bore his father and
his brother, and because I don't like to stand in the way of an act of
justice. Mrs. Nash Caromel was here yesterday----"

"Mrs. Nash Caromel!" interrupted the Squire, in a puzzle, for his
thoughts had run over to Charlotte Nave. Which must have been very
foolish, seeing she was in bed with a damaged head.

"I speak of his wife," said the old gentleman, loftily. "I have never
called any other woman Mrs. Nash Caromel. Her uncle, Tinkle, of
Inkberrow, called about the transfer of some of his funded property,
and she was with him. I respect that young woman, Squire Todhetley."

"Ay, to be sure. So do I. Well, now, you will let me drive you back this
afternoon, and you'll take dinner with me, and we'll go to Caromel's
Farm afterwards. We never venture there before night; that Miss Gwinny
Nave makes her appearance sometimes in the daytime."

"It must be late in the afternoon then," said the lawyer, rather
crossly--for he did not enter into the business with a good grace yet.

"All the same to me," acquiesced the pater, pleased at having got his
consent on any terms.

And when the Squire drove in that evening just at the dinner-hour and
brought Lawyer Crow with him, we wondered what was agate. Old Jacobson,
who had called in, and been invited to stay by the mater, was as curious
as anything over it, and asked the Squire aside, what he was up to, that
he must employ Crow instead of his own man.

The will Nash Caromel wished to make was accomplished, signed and
sealed, himself and this said Evesham lawyer being alone privy to its
contents. Dobbs the blacksmith was fetched in, and he and Grizzel
witnessed it.

And, as if Nash Caromel had only lived to make the will, he went
galloping on to death at railroad speed directly it was done. A change
took place in him the same night. His bell rang for Grizzel, and the old
woman thought him dying.

But he rallied a bit the next day: and when the Squire got there in the
evening, he was sitting up by the fire dressed. And terribly uneasy.

"I want to see her," he began, before the Squire had time to say, How
are you, or How are you not. "I can't die in peace unless I see her. And
it will not be long first now. I am a bit better, but I thought I was
dying in the night: has Grizzel told you?"

The Squire nodded in silence. He was struck with the change in Nash.

"Who is it you want to see? Charlotte Tinkle?"

"Ay, you've guessed it. 'Twasn't hard to guess, was it? I want to see
her, Todhetley. I know she'd come."

Little doubt of that. Had Nash wanted her to visit him in the midst of
a fiery furnace, she'd have rushed into it headlong.

But there were difficulties in the way. Charlotte Tinkle was not one
of your strong-minded women who are born without nerves; and to tell
her that Nash Caromel was living, and not dead, might send her into
hysterics for a week. Besides that, Harry Tinkle was Nash Caromel's
bitter enemy: if he learnt the truth he might be for handing him over,
dying or living, to old Jones the constable.

"I don't see how she is to be got here, and that's the truth, Caromel,"
spoke the Squire, awaking from his reverie. "It's not a thing I should
like to undertake. Here comes Duffham."

"I know what you are thinking of--Harry Tinkle," returned Nash, as
Duffham felt his pulse. "When I was supposed to have died, balking him
of his revenge, he grew mad with rage. For a month afterwards he abused
me to everybody in the most atrocious terms: in public rooms, in----"

"Who told you that?" interrupted the Squire. "Nave?"

"Nave. I saw no one else to tell me." Duffham laughed.

"Then it was just as false as Nave is. You might have known Harry Tinkle
better."

Nash looked up. "False!--was it?"

"Why, of course it was," repeated the Squire. "I say you might have
known Harry Tinkle better."

Nash sighed. "Well, I suppose you think he might give me trouble now.
But he would hardly care to apprehend a dying man."

"We'll see about it," they said. Duffham undertook this expedition--if
you can call it one. He found it easier than he anticipated. That same
evening, upon quitting Caromel's Farm, Duffham went mooning along, deep
in thought, as to how he should make the disclosure to Charlotte, when
he overtook her near his home. Her crape veil was thrown back; her face
looked pale and quiet in the starlight.

"You are abroad late," said Duffham.

"I went to see old Miss Pinner this afternoon, and stayed tea with
her," answered Charlotte. "And now I am going to run home."

"Would you mind coming in for a few minutes, Mrs. Caromel?" he asked, as
they reached his door. "I have something to say to you."

"Can you say it another time? It is nine o'clock, and my mother will be
wondering."

"No; another time may not do," said Duffham. "Come in. I won't detain
you long."

And being just one of those yielding people that never assert a will of
their own, in she went.

Shut up in Duffham's surgery, which was more remote from Nomy's ears
than the parlour, Duffham disclosed to her by degrees the truth. Whether
he had to get out his sal-volatile over it, or to recover her from fits,
we did not hear. One thing was certain: that when Mrs. Nash Caromel
recommenced her walk homewards, she was too bewildered to know whether
she went on her feet or her head. By that time on the following evening
she would have seen her husband.

At least, such was the programme Duffham carved out. But to that
bargain, as he found the next day, there might be two words.

Eleven was striking in the morning by the kitchen clock at Caromel's
Farm, when Grizzel saw Miss Gwinny driving in. The damaged gig had been
mended, and she now drove backwards and forwards herself.

"How's the master?" asked she, when she entered the kitchen.

"Very ill," answered Grizzel. "He won't be with us long, now, ma'am."

And when Miss Gwinny saw Nash, and saw how greatly he was altered in the
last two days, she thought as Grizzel did--that death was close at hand.
Under these circumstances, she sat down to reflect on what she ought to
do: whether to remain herself in the house, or whether to go back to the
Rill and report to her father and sister. For the latter had come out of
her insensibility; the doctors said there was no permanent injury, and
she could soon be removed home if she wished to be.

"What do you think, Grizzel?" she inquired, condescending to ask
counsel. "It does not seem right to leave him--and you won't like to be
left alone, either, at the last. And I don't see that any end will be
gained by my hastening back to tell them. They'll know it soon enough:
and they cannot come to him."

"As you please, Miss Gwinny," replied Grizzel, trembling lest she should
remain and complicate matters, but not daring to urge her departure;
Gwinny Nave being given, as a great many more ladies are, to act by the
rules of contrary in the matter of advice. "It seems hardly right,
though, not to let the mistress know he is dying. And I am glad the
child's well: dear little thing!"

Gwinny Nave sat pulling at her one straw ringlet, her brow knitted in
abstraction. Various reflections, suggesting certain unpleasant facts,
passed rapidly through her mind. That Nash would not be here many days
longer, perhaps not many hours, was a grave fact: and then, what of the
after-necessities that would arise? A sham funeral had gone out of that
house not very long ago: but how was the real funeral to go out, and
who was to make the arrangements for it? The truth of Nash Caromel's
being alive, and of the trick which had been played, would have to be
disclosed then. And Mr. Nave was incapacitated; he could do nothing, and
her sister could do as little; and it seemed to be all falling upon
herself, Gwinny; and who was to know but she might be punished for
letting Nash lie and die without calling in a doctor to him?

With every fresh moment of thought, some darker complication presented
itself. Miss Gwinny began to see that she had better get away, and leave
old Grizzel to it. The case must be laid before her father. He might
invent some scheme to avoid exposure: for though Lawyer Nave was
deprived for the present of action, his mind was not less keen and
fertile than usual.

"I think, Grizzel, that the mistress ought to be told how ill he is,"
said she, at length. "I shall go back to the Rill. Do all you can for
the master: I dare say he will rally."

"That he never will," spoke Grizzel, on impulse.

"Now don't you be obstinate," returned Miss Gwinny.

Gwendolen Nave drove back to the Rill. Leaving, as she thought, all
responsibility upon old Grizzel. And, that evening, the coast being
clear again, Charlotte Tinkle, piloted by Duffham, came to Caromel's
Farm and had an interview with her once recreant husband. It lasted
longer than Duffham had bargained for; every five minutes he felt
inclined to go and knock at the door. Her sobs and his dying voice,
which seemed to be sobbing too, might be heard by all who chose to
listen. At last Duffham went in and said that it must end: the emotion
was bad for Nash. She was kneeling before the sofa on which he lay, her
tears dropping.

"Good-bye, good-bye, Charlotte," he whispered. "I have never cared for
any one as I cared for you. Believe that. God bless you, my dear--and
forgive me!"

And the next to go in was Harry Tinkle--to clasp Caromel's hand, and to
say how little he had needed to fear him. And the next was the Reverend
Mr. Holland; Nash had asked for the parson to be sent for.

Grizzel had a surprise the next day. She had just taken some beef-tea up
to the master, which Duffham had called out for--for the end was now so
near that the doctor had not chosen to defer his visit till dark--when a
closed fly drove up, out of which stepped Miss Gwinny and her sister.
Old Grizzel dropped the waiter, thinking it must be her mistress's
ghost.

But it was Charlotte herself. Upon hearing Gwinny's report she had
insisted upon coming home--and Nave supported her views. That stupid old
Grizzel, left to her own devices, might be for getting frightened and
call in half the parish. The doctor in attendance at the Rill had said
Mrs. Caromel might go home if she had any urgent reason for wishing
it--and here she was. And really she seemed tolerably well again; quite
herself.

Passing Grizzel with a nod, she went straight upstairs, opened Nash's
door, and then--drew back with a scream. For there she saw two
strangers. Mr. Duffham was leaning over the bed, trying to feed Nash
with spoonfuls of beef-tea; Parson Holland (who had stayed with Nash all
night) sat by the fire. Poor Nash himself lay without motion: the hours
were very limited now.

Well, there ensued a commotion. Charlotte Nave went down to blow up
Grizzel; and she did it well, in spite of her recent illness. Grizzel
answered that she was not to blame; it was not she who had betrayed
him: Dobbs the blacksmith and Squire Todhetley had found him out, and
the Squire had called in Duffham. Charlotte the Second had to make the
best of a bad case; but she did not suspect half the treachery that had
been at work.

There is no space to enlarge upon the day. Nash died that night; without
having been able to speak a word to Charlotte the Second; he was past
that when she came; though he shook hands with her.

And the other funeral, which Miss Nave had foreseen a difficulty over,
took place without any difficulty. Unless it might be said that the
crowd made one. Nash Caromel dead a second time! Church Dykely had never
been astounded like this.

But the one dire act of treachery had to come out yet. Nash Caromel had
made a fresh will. Crow the lawyer brought it in his pocket when he came
from Evesham to attend the funeral, and he read it aloud afterwards.
Mrs. Nash the Second sat biting her lips as she listened.

Caromel's Farm and everything upon it, every stick and stone possessed
by Nash, was directed to be sold without delay. Of the money this should
realize, the one half was devised to "my dear wife Charlotte, formerly
Charlotte Tinkle;" the other half was to be invested by trustees and
settled upon "my child, Duncan Nave." His mother, Charlotte Nave, was to
receive a stated portion of the interest for life, or until she should
marry again; and that was all the will said about Charlotte the Second.

There's not much more to tell. As soon as might be, the changes were
carried out. Before Lawyer Nave's leg was fit to go again, Caromel's
Farm had been purchased by the Squire, and Harry Tinkle had taken it
from him on a long lease. Just after Harry got into it with his little
girl, Mrs. Tinkle died; and Charlotte, well off now, came to live in it
with him. The other Charlotte proclaimed herself to be in bad health,
and went off to stay at the sea-side. And Nave, when he came out again
to rejoice the eyes of Church Dykely (walking lame), was fit to swallow
us up with rage. He considered ladies' parasols an infamous institution,
and wished they were all sunk in the sea; especially that particular
blue one of Charlotte's which had led to the accident that unlucky
afternoon.

It seemed strange that, after all the chances and changes, it should be
a Mrs. Nash Caromel (she was always given her true name now) to inhabit
Caromel's Farm. She, forgiving and loving, made friends with little Dun
for poor Nash's sake, inviting him often to spend the day with her, and
picking him choice fruit off the trees.



A DAY IN BRIAR WOOD.


That day, and its events, can never go out of my memory. There are
epochs in life that lie upon the heart for ever, marking the past like
stones placed for retrospect. They may be of pleasure, or they may be of
pain; but there they are, in that great store-field locked up within us,
to be recalled at will as long as life shall last.

It was in August, and one of the hottest days of that hot month. A
brilliant day: the sun shining with never a cloud to soften it, the sky
intensely blue. Just the day for a picnic, provided you had shade.

Shade we had. Briar Wood abounds in it. For the towering trees are dark,
and their foliage thick. Here and there the wood opens, and you come
upon the sweetest little bits of meadow-land scenery that a painter's
eye could desire. Patches of green glade, smooth enough for fairy
revels; undulating banks, draped with ferns and fragrant with sweet
wild-flowers; dells dark, and dim, to roam in and fancy yourself out of
the world.

Briar Wood belonged to Sir John Whitney. It was of a good length but
narrow, terminating at one end in the tangled coppice which we had
dashed through that long-past day when we played at hare and hounds, and
poor Charles Van Rheyn had died, in that same coppice, of the running.
The other and best end, up where these lonely glades lie sheltered,
extends itself nearly to the lands belonging to Vale Farm--if you have
not forgotten that place. The wood was a rare resort for poachers and
gipsies, as well as picnic parties, and every now and again Sir John
would declare that it should be rooted up.

We were staying at Whitney Hall. Miss Deveen was there on a visit
(Cattledon included, of course), and Sir John wrote over to invite us
for a few days to meet her: the Squire and Mrs. Todhetley, I and Tod.
And, there we were, enjoying ourselves like anything.

It was Sir John himself who proposed the picnic. He called it a
gipsy-party: indeed, the word "picnic" had hardly come in then, for this
happened many a year ago. The weather was so hot indoors that Sir John
thought it might be an agreeable change to live a day in the open air;
and lie in the shade and look up at the blue sky through the flickering
trees. So the cook was told to provide fowls and ham and pigeon pies,
with apple puffs, salads, and creams.

"The large carriage and the four-wheeled chaise shall take the ladies,"
observed Sir John, "and I dare say they can make room for me and the
Squire amongst them; it's a short distance, and we shan't mind a little
crowding. You young men can walk."

So it was ordained. The carriages started, and we after them, William
and Henry Whitney disputing as to which was the best route to take: Bill
holding out for that by Goose Brook, Harry for that by the river. It
ended in our dividing: I went with Bill his way; the rest of the young
Whitneys and Tod the other, with Featherston's nephew; an overgrown
young giant of seventeen, about six feet high, who had been told he
might come.

Barring the heat, it was a glorious walk: just as it was a glorious day.
Passing Goose Brook (a little stream meandering through the trees, with
a rustic bridge across it: though why it should bear that name I never
knew), we soon came to the coppice end of the wood.

"Now," said Bill to me, "shall we plunge into the wood at once, and so
onwards right through it; or skirt round by the Granary?"

"The wood will be the shadiest," I answered.

"And pleasantest. I'm not at all sure, though, Johnny, that I shan't
lose my way in it. It has all kinds of bewildering tricks and turnings."

"Never mind if you do. We can find it again."

"We should have been safe to meet some of those Leonards had we gone by
the Granary," observed Bill, as we turned into the wood, where just at
present the trees were thin, "and they might have been wanting to join
us, pushing fellows that they are! I don't like them."

"Who are those Leonards, I wonder? Who were they before they came here?"

"Old Leonard made a mint of money in India, and his sons are spending it
for him as fast as they can. One day when he was talking to my father,
he hinted that he had taken this remote place, the Granary, and brought
them down here, to get them out of the fast lives they were leading in
London. He got afraid, he said."

"Haven't the sons any professions, Bill?"

"Don't seem to have. Or anything else that's good--money excepted?"

"What do they do with their time?"

"Anything. Idle it away. Keep dogs; and shoot, and fish, and lounge, and
smoke, and---- Halloa! look yonder, Johnny!"

Briar Wood had no straight and direct road through it; but plenty of
small paths and byways and turnings and windings, that might bring you,
by good luck, to landing at last; or might take you unconsciously back
whence you came. Emerging from a part, where the trees grew dark and
dense and thick, upon one of those delightful glades I spoke of before,
we saw what I took to be a small gipsy encampment. A fire of sticks,
with a kettle upon it, smoked upon the ground; beside it sat a young
woman and child; a few tin wares, tied together, lay in a corner, and
some rabbits' skins were stretched out to dry on the branches of trees.

Up started the woman, and came swiftly towards us. A regular gipsy, with
the purple-black hair, the yellow skin, and the large soft gleaming
eyes. It was a beautiful young face, but worn and thin and anxious.

"Do you want your fortunes told, my good young gentlemen? I can----"

"Not a bit of it," interrupted Bill. "Go back to your fire. We are only
passing through."

"I can read the lines of your hands unerringly, my pretty sirs. I can
forewarn you of evil, and prepare you for good."

"Now, look you here," cried Bill, turning upon her good-humouredly, as
she followed up with a lot of the like stuff, "I can forewarn _you_ of
it, unless you are content to leave us alone. This wood belongs to Sir
John Whitney, as I dare say all your fraternity know, and his keepers
wage war against you when they find you are encamped here, and that I am
sure you know. Mind your own affairs, and you may stay here in peace,
for me: keep on bothering us, and I go straight to Rednal and give him a
hint. I am Sir John's son."

He threw her a sixpence, and the woman's face changed as she caught it.
The persuasive smile vanished as if by magic, giving place to a look of
anxious pain.

"What's the matter?" said he.

"Do you know my husband, sir?" she asked. "It's more than likely that
you do."

"And what if I do?" cried Whitney.

The woman took the words as an affirmative answer. She drew near, and
laid her small brown finger on his coat-sleeve.

"Then, if you chance to meet him, sir, persuade him to come back to me,
for the love of Heaven. I _can_ read the future: and for some days past,
since we first halted here, I have foreseen that evil is in store for
him. He won't believe me; he is not one of _us_; but I scent it in the
air, and it comes nearer and nearer; it is drawing very close now. He
may listen to you, sir, for we respect Sir John, who is never hard on us
as some great owners of the land are; and oh, send him back here to me
and the child! Better that it should fall on him when by our side than
when away from us."

"Why--what do you mean?" cried Whitney, surprised out of the question,
and hardly understanding her words or their purport. And he might have
laughed outright, as he told me later, but for the dreadful trouble that
shone forth from her sad, wild eyes.

"I don't know what I mean: it's hidden from me," she answered, taking
the words in a somewhat different light from what he meant to imply. "I
think it may be sudden sickness; or it may be trouble: whatever it is,
it will end badly."

Whitney nodded to her, and we pursued our way. I had been looking at the
little girl, who had drawn shyly up to gaze at us. She was fair as a
lily, with a sweet face and eyes blue as the sky.

"What humbugs they are!" exclaimed Whitney, alluding to gipsies and
tramps in general. "As to this young woman, I should say she's going off
her head!"

"Do you know her husband?"

"Don't know him from Adam. Johnny, I hope that's not a stolen child!
Fair as she is, she can't be the woman's: there's nothing of the gipsy
in her composition."

"How well the gipsy appears to speak! With quite a refined accent."

"Gipsies often do, I've heard. Let us get on."

What with this adventure, and dawdling, and taking a wrong turn or two,
it was past one o'clock when we got in, and they were laying the cloth
for dinner. The green, mossy glade, with the sheltering trees around,
the banks and the dells, the ferns and wild-flowers, made a picture of
a retreat on a broiling day. The table (some boards, brought from the
Hall, and laid on trestles) stood in the middle of the grass; and Helen
and Anna Whitney, in their green-and-white muslins, were just as busy as
bees placing the dishes upon it. Lady Whitney (with a face redder than
beetroot) helped them: she liked to be always doing something. Miss
Cattledon and the mater were pacing the dell below, and Miss Deveen sat
talking with the Squire and Sir John.

"Have they not got here?" exclaimed William.

"Have who not got here?" retorted Helen.

"Todhetley and the boys."

"Ages ago. They surmised that you two must be lost, stolen, or strayed."

"Then where are they?"

"Making themselves useful. Johnny Ludlow, I wish you'd go after them,
and tell them of all things to bring a corkscrew. No one can find ours,
and we think it is left behind."

"Why, here's the corkscrew, in my pocket," called out Sir John.
"Whatever brings it there? And---- What's that great thing, moving down
to us?"

It was Tod with a wooden stool upon his head, legs upwards. Rednal the
gamekeeper lived close by, and it was arranged that we should borrow
chairs, and things, from his cottage.

We sat down to dinner at last--and a downright jolly dinner it was.
Plenty of good things to eat; cider, lemonade, and champagne to drink:
and every one talking together, and bursts of laughter.

"Look at Cattledon!" cried Bill in my ear. "She is as merry as the rest
of us."

So she was. A whole sea of smiles on her thin face. She wore a grey gown
as genteel as herself, bands of black velvet round her pinched-in waist
and long throat. Cattledon looked like vinegar in general, it's true;
but I don't say she was bad at heart. Even she could be genial to-day,
and the rest of us were off our head with jollity, the Squire's face and
Sir John's beaming back at one another.

If we had only foreseen how pitifully the day was to end! It makes me
think of some verses I once learnt out of a journal--Chambers's, I
believe. They were written by Mrs. Plarr.

    "There are twin Genii, who, strong and mighty,
      Under their guidance mankind retain;
    And the name of the lovely one is Pleasure,
      And the name of the loathly one is Pain.
    Never divided, where one can enter
      Ever the other comes close behind;
    And he who in Pleasure his thoughts would centre
      Surely Pain in the search shall find!

    "Alike they are, though in much they differ--
      Strong resemblance is 'twixt the twain;
    So that sometimes you may question whether
      It can be Pleasure you feel, or Pain.
    Thus 'tis, that whatever of deep emotion
      Stirreth the heart--be it grave or gay
    Tears are the Symbol--from feeling's ocean
      These are the fountains that rise to-day.

    "Should not this teach us calmly to welcome
      Pleasure when smiling our hearths beside?
    If she be the substance, how dark the shadow;
      Close doth it follow, the near allied.
    Or if Pain long o'er our threshold hover,
      Let us not question but Pleasure nigh
    Bideth her time her face to discover,
      Rainbow of Hope in a clouded sky."

Yes, it was a good time. To look at us round that dinner-table, you'd
have said there was nothing but pleasure in the world. Not but that
ever and anon the poor young gipsy woman's troubled face and her sad
wild eyes, and the warning some subtle instinct seemed to be whispering
to her about her husband, would rise between me and the light.

The afternoon was wearing on when I got back to the glade with William
Whitney (for we had all gone strolling about after dinner) and found
some of the ladies there. Mrs. Todhetley had gone into Rednal's cottage
to talk to his wife, Jessy; Anna was below in the dell; all the rest
were in the glade. A clean-looking, stout old lady, in a light cotton
gown and white apron, a mob cap with a big border and bow of ribbon in
front of it, turned round from talking to them, smiled, and made me a
curtsy.

The face seemed familiar to me: but where had I seen it before? Helen
Whitney, seeing my puzzled look, spoke up in her free manner.

"Have you no memory, Johnny Ludlow? Don't you remember Mrs. Ness!--and
the fortune she told us on the cards?"

It came upon me with a rush. That drizzling Good Friday afternoon at
Miss Deveen's, long ago, and Helen smuggling up the old lady from
downstairs to tell her fortune. But what brought her here? There seemed
to be no connection between Miss Deveen's house in town and Briar Wood
in Worcestershire. I could not have been more at sea had I seen a
Chinese lady from Pekin. Miss Deveen laughed.

"And yet it is so easy of explanation, Johnny, so simple and
straightforward," she said. "Mrs. Ness chances to be aunt to Rednal's
wife, and she is staying down here with them."

Simple it was--as are most other puzzles when you have the clue. The old
woman was a great protégée of Miss Deveen's, who had known her through
her life of misfortune: but Miss Deveen did not before know of her
relationship to Rednal's wife or that she was staying at their cottage.
They had been talking of that past afternoon and the fortune-telling in
it, when I and Bill came up.

"And what I told you, miss, came true--now didn't it?" cried Mrs. Ness
to Helen.

"True! Why, you told me _nothing_!" retorted Helen. "There was nothing
in the fortune. You said there was nothing in the cards."

"I remember it," said Mother Ness; "remember it well. The cards showed
no husband for you then, young lady; they might tell different now. But
they showed some trouble about it, I recollect."

Helen's face fell. There had indeed been trouble. Trouble again and
again. Richard Foliott, the false, had brought trouble to her; and so
had Charles Leafchild, now lying in his grave at Worcester: not to speak
of poor Slingsby Temple. Helen had got over all those crosses now, and
was looking up again. She was of a nature to look up again from any evil
that might befall her, short of losing her head off her shoulders. All
dinner-time she had been flirting with Featherston's nephew.

This suggestion of Mrs. Ness, "the cards might tell different now,"
caught hold of her mind. Her colour slightly deepened, her eyes
sparkled.

"Have you the cards with you now, Mrs. Ness?"

"Ay, to be sure, young lady. I never come away from home without my
cards. They be in the cottage yonder."

"Then I should like my fortune told again."

"Oh, Helen, how can you be so silly!" cried Lady Whitney.

"Silly! Why, mamma, it is good fun. You go and fetch the cards, Mrs.
Ness."

"I and Johnny nearly had our fortune told to-day," put in Bill, while
Mrs. Ness stood where she was, hardly knowing what to be at. "We came
upon a young gipsy woman in the wood, and she wanted to promise us a
wife apiece. A little girl was with her that may have been stolen: she
was too fair to be that brown woman's child."

"It must have been the Norths," exclaimed Mrs. Ness. "Was there some
tinware by 'em, sir; and some rabbit skins?"

"Yes. Both. The rabbit skins were hanging out to dry."

"Ay, it's the Norths," repeated Mrs. Ness. "Rednal said he saw North
yesterday; he guessed they'd lighted their campfire not far off."

"Who are the Norths? Gipsies?"

"The wife is a gipsy, sir; born and bred. He is a native of these parts,
and superior; but he took to an idle, wandering life, and married the
gipsy girl for her beauty. She was Bertha Lee then."

"Why, it is quite a romance," said Miss Deveen, amused.

"And so it is, ma'am. Rednal told me all on't. They tramp the country,
selling their tins, and collecting rabbit skins."

"And is the child theirs?" asked Bill.

"Ay, sir, it be. But she don't take after her mother; she's like him,
her skin fair as alabaster. You'd not think, Rednal says, that she'd a
drop o' gipsy blood in her veins. North might ha' done well had he only
turned out steady; been just the odds o' what he is--a poor tramp."

"Oh, come, never mind the gipsies," cried Helen, impatiently. "You go
and bring the cards, Mrs. Ness."

One can't go in for stilts at a picnic, or for wisdom either; and when
Mrs. Ness brought her cards (which might have been cleaner) none of them
made any objection. Even Cattledon looked on, grimly tolerant.

"But you can't think there's anything in it--that the cards tell true,"
cried Lady Whitney to the old woman.

"Ma'am, be sure they do. I believe in 'em from my very heart. And so, I
make bold to say, would everybody here believe, if they had read the
things upon 'em that I've read, and seen how surely they've come to
pass."

They would not contradict her openly; only smiled a little among
themselves. Mother Ness was busy with the cards, laying them out for
Helen's fortune. I drew near to listen.

"You look just as though you put faith in it," whispered Bill to me.

"I don't put faith in it. I should not like to be so foolish. But,
William, what she told Helen before _did_ come true."

Well, Helen's "fortune" was told again. It sounded just as uneventful as
the one told that rainy afternoon long ago--for we were now some years
older than we were then. Helen Whitney's future, according to the cards,
or to Dame Ness's reading of them, would be all plain sailing; smooth
and easy, and unmarked alike by events and by care. A most desirable
career, some people would think, but Helen looked the picture of
desolation.

"And you say I am not to be married!" she exclaimed.

Dame Ness had her head bent over the cards. She shook it without looking
up.

"I don't see a ring nowhere, young lady, and that's the blessed truth.
There _ain't_ one, that's more. There ain't a sign o' one. Neither was
there the other time, I remember: that time in London. And so--I take it
that there won't never be."

"Then I think you are a very disagreeable story-telling old woman!"
flashed Helen, all candour in her mortification. "Not be married,
indeed!"

"Why, my dear, I'd be only too glad to promise you a husband if the
cards foretelled it," said Dame Ness, pityingly. "Yours is the best
fortune of all, though, if you could but bring your mind to see it.
Husbands is more plague nor profit. I'm sure I had cause to say so by
the one that fell to my share, as that there dear good lady knows,"
pointing to Miss Deveen.

In high dudgeon, Helen pushed the cards together. Mrs. Ness, getting
some kind words from the rest of us, curtsied as she went off to the
cottage to see about the kettles for our tea.

"You are a nice young lady!" exclaimed Bill. "Showing your temper
because the cards don't give you a sweetheart!"

Helen threw her fan at him. "Mind your own business," returned she. And
he went away laughing.

"And, my dear, I say the same as William," added Lady Whitney. "One
really might think that you were--were _anxious_ to be married."

"All cock-a-hoop for it," struck in Cattledon: "as the housemaids are."

"And no such great crime, either," returned Helen, defiantly. "Fancy
that absurd old thing telling me I never shall be!"

"Helen, my dear, I think the chances are that you will not be married,"
quietly spoke Miss Deveen.

"Oh, _do_ you!"

"Don't be cross, Helen," said her mother. "Our destinies are not in our
own hands."

Helen bit her lip, laughed, and recovered her temper. She was like her
father; apt to flash out a hot word, but never angry long.

"Now--please, Miss Deveen, _why_ do you think I shall not be?" she asked
playfully.

"Because, my dear, you have had three chances, so to say, of marriage,
and each time it has been frustrated. In two of the instances by--if we
may dare to say it--the interposition of Heaven. The young men died
beforehand in an unexpected and unforeseen manner: Charles Leafchild and
Mr. Temple----"

"I was never engaged to Mr. Temple," interrupted Helen.

"No; but, by all I hear, you shortly would have been."

Helen gave no answer. She knew perfectly well that she had expected an
offer from Slingsby Temple; that his death, as she believed, alone
prevented its being made. She would have said Yes to it, too. Miss
Deveen went on.

"We will not give more than an allusion to Captain Foliott; he does not
deserve it; but your marriage with him came nearest of all. It may be
said, Helen, without exaggeration, that you have been on the point of
marriage twice, and very nearly so a third time. Now, what does this
prove?"

"That luck was against me," said Helen, lightly.

"Ay, child: luck, as we call it in this world. I would rather say,
Destiny. _God knows best._ Do you wonder that I have never married?"
continued Miss Deveen in a less serious tone.

"I never thought about it," answered Helen.

"I know that some people have wondered at it; for I was a girl likely to
marry--or it may be better to say, likely to be sought in marriage. I
had good looks, good temper, good birth, and a good fortune: and I dare
say I was just as willing to be chosen as all young girls are. Yes, I
say that all girls possess an innate wish to marry; it is implanted in
their nature, comes with their mother's milk. Let their station be high
or low, a royal princess, if you will, or the housemaid Jemima Cattledon
suggested just now, the same natural instinct lies within each--a wish
to be a wife. And no reason, either, why they should not wish it; it's
nothing to be ashamed of; and Helen, my dear, I would rather hear a
girl avow it openly, as you do, than pretend to be shocked at its very
mention."

Some gleams of sunlight flickered on Miss Deveen's white hair and fine
features as she sat under the trees, her bronze-coloured silk gown
falling around her in rich folds, and a big amethyst brooch fastening
her collar. I began to think how good-looking she must have been when
young, and where the eyes of the young men of those days could have
been. Lady Whitney, looking like a bundle in her light dress that ill
became her, sat near, fanning herself.

"Yes, I do wonder, now I think of it, that you never married," said
Helen.

"To tell you the truth, I wonder myself sometimes," replied Miss Deveen,
smiling. "I think--I believe--that, putting other advantages aside, I
was well calculated to be a wife, and should have made a good one. Not
that _that_ has anything to do with it; for you see the most incapable
women marry, and remain incapable to their dying day. I could mention
wives at this moment, within the circle of my acquaintance, who are
no more fitted to be wives than is that three-legged stool Johnny is
balancing himself upon; and who in consequence unwittingly keep their
husbands and their homes in a state of perpetual turmoil. I was not one
of these, I am sure; but here I am, unmarried still."

"Would you marry now?" asked Helen briskly: and we all burst into a
laugh at the question, Miss Deveen's the merriest.

"Marry at sixty! Not if I know it. I have at least twenty years too many
for that; some might say thirty. But I don't believe many women give up
the idea of marriage before they are forty; and I do not see why they
should. No, nor then, either."

"But--why did you not marry, Miss Deveen?"

"Ah, my dear, if you wish for an answer to that question, you must ask
it of Heaven. I cannot give one. All I can tell you is, that I did hope
to be married, and expected to be married, _waited_ to be married; but
here you see me in my old age--Miss Deveen."

"Did you--never have a chance of it--an opportunity?" questioned Helen
with hesitation.

"I had more than one chance: I had two or three chances, just as you
have had. During the time that each 'chance' was passing, if we may give
it the term, I thought assuredly I should soon be a wife. But each
chance melted away from this cause or that cause, ending in nothing. And
the conclusion I have come to, Helen, for many a year past, is, that
God, for some wise purpose of His own, decreed that I should not marry.
What we know not here, we shall know hereafter."

Her tone had changed to one of deep reverence. She did not say more for
a little time.

"When I look around the world," she at length went on, "and note how
many admirable women see their chances of marriage dwindle down one
after another, from unexpected and apparently trifling causes, it is
impossible not to feel that the finger of God is at work. That----"

"But now, Miss Deveen, we _could_ marry if we would--all of us,"
interrupted Helen. "If we did not have to regard suitability and
propriety, and all that, there's not a girl but could go off to church
and marry _somebody_."

"If it's only a broomstick," acquiesced Miss Deveen, "or a man no better
than one. Yes, Helen, you are right: and it has occasionally been
done. But when we fly wilfully in the teeth of circumstances, bent
on following our own resolute path, we take ourselves out of God's
hands--and must reap the consequences."

"I--do not--quite understand," slowly spoke Helen.

"Suppose I give you an instance of what I mean, my dear. Some years ago
I knew a young lady----"

"Is it _true_? What was her name?"

"Certainly it is true, every detail of it. As to her name--well, I do
not see any reason why I should not tell it: her name was Eliza Lake. I
knew her family very well indeed, was intimate with her mother. Eliza
was the third daughter, and desperately eager to be married. Her chances
came. The first offer was eligible; but the two families could not agree
about money matters, and it dropped through. The next offer Eliza would
not accept--it was from a widower with children, and she sent him to the
right-about. The third went on smoothly nearly to the wedding-day, and a
good and suitable match it would have been, but something occurred
then very unpleasant though I never knew the precise particulars. The
bridegroom-elect fell into some trouble or difficulty, he had to quit
his country hastily, and the marriage was broken off--was at an end.
That was the last offer she had, so far as I knew; and the years went
on, Eliza gadding out to parties, and flirting and coquetting, all in
the hope to get a husband. When she was in her thirtieth year, her
mother came to me one day in much distress and perplexity. Eliza, she
said, was taking the reins into her own hands, purposing to be married
in spite of her father, mother, and friends. Mrs. Lake wanted me to talk
to Eliza; she thought I might influence her, though they could not; and
I took an opportunity of doing so--freely. It is of no use to mince
matters when you want to save a girl from ruin. I recalled the past to
her memory, saying that I believed, judging by that past, that Heaven
did not intend her to marry. I told her all the ill I had heard of the
man she was now choosing; also that she had absolutely thrown herself
at him, and he had responded for the sake of the little money she
possessed; and that if she persisted in marrying him she would assuredly
rue it. In language as earnest as I knew how to choose, I laid all this
before her."

"And what was her answer to you?" Helen spoke as if her breath was
short.

"Just like the reckless answer that a blinded, foolish girl would make.
'Though Heaven and earth were against me, I should marry him, Miss
Deveen. I am beyond the control of parents, brothers, sisters, friends;
and I will not die an old maid to please any of you.' Those were the
wilful words she used; I have never forgotten them; and the next week
she betook herself to church."

"Did the marriage turn out badly?"

"Ay, it did. Could you expect anything else? Poor Eliza supped the cup
of sorrow to its dregs: and she brought bitter sorrow and trouble also
on her family. _That_, Helen, is what I call taking one's self out of
God's hands, and flying determinedly in the face of what is right and
seemly, and _evidently appointed_."

"You say yourself it is hard not to be married," quoth Helen.

"No, I do not," laughed Miss Deveen. "I say that it appears hard to us
when our days of youth are passing, and when we see our companions
chosen and ourselves left: but, rely upon it, Helen, as we advance in
years, we acquiesce in the decree; many of us learning to be thankful
for it."

"And you young people little think what great cause you have to be
thankful for it," cried Lady Whitney, all in a heat. "Marriage brings a
bushel of cares: and no one knows what anxiety boys and girls entail
until they come."

Miss Deveen nodded emphatically. "It is very true. I would not exchange
my present lot with that of the best wife in England; believe that, or
not, as you will, Helen. Of all the different states this busy earth can
produce, a lot such as mine is assuredly the most exempt from trouble.
And, my dear, if you are destined never to marry, you have a great deal
more cause to be thankful than rebellious."

"The other day, when you were preaching to us, you told us that trouble
came for our benefit," grumbled Helen, passing into rebellion forthwith.

"I remember it," assented Miss Deveen, "and very true it is. My
heart has sickened before now at witnessing the troubles, apparently
unmerited, that some people, whether married or single, have to undergo;
and I might have been almost tempted to question the loving-kindness of
Heaven, but for remembering that we must through much tribulation enter
into the Kingdom."

Anna interrupted the silence that ensued. She came running up with a
handful of wild roses and sweetbriar, gathered in the hedge below. Miss
Deveen took them when offered to her, saying she thought of all flowers
the wild rose was the sweetest.

"How solemn you all look!" cried Anna.

"Don't we!" said Helen. "I have been having a lecture read to me."

"By whom?"

"Every one here--except Johnny Ludlow. And I am sure I hope _he_ was
edified. I wonder when tea is going to be ready!"

"Directly, I should say," said Anna: "for here comes Mrs. Ness with the
cups and saucers."

I ran forward to help her bring the things. Rednal's trim wife, a neat,
active woman with green eyes and a baby in her arms, was following with
plates of bread-and-butter and cake, and the news that the kettle was
"on the boil." Presently the table was spread; and William, who had come
back to us, took up the baby's whistle and blew a blast, prolonged and
shrill.

The stragglers heard it, understood it was the signal for their return,
and came flocking in. The Squire and Sir John said they had been sitting
under the trees and talking: our impression was, they had been sleeping.
The young Whitneys appeared in various stages of heat; Tod and
Featherston's nephew smelt of smoke. The first cups of tea had gone
round, and Tod was making for Rednal's cottage with a notice that the
bread-and-butter had come to an end, when I saw a delicate little
fair-haired face peering at us from amid the trees.

"Halloa!" cried the Squire, catching sight of the face at the same
moment. "Who on earth's that?"

"It's the child we saw this morning--the gipsy's child," exclaimed
William Whitney. "Here, you little one! Stop! Come here."

He only meant to give her a piece of cake: but the child ran off with
a scared look and fleet step, and was lost in the trees.

"Senseless little thing!" cried Bill: and sat down to his tea again.

"But what a pretty child it was!" observed the mater. "She put me in
mind of Lena."

"Why, Lena's oceans of years older," said Helen, free with her remarks
as usual. "That child, from the glimpse I caught of her, can't be more
than five or six."

"She is about seven, miss," struck in Rednal's wife, who had just come
up with a fresh supply of tea. "It is nigh upon eight years since young
Walter North went off and got married."

"Walter North!" repeated Sir John. "Who's Walter North? Let me see? The
name seems familiar to me."

"Old Walter North was the parish schoolmaster over at Easton, sir. The
son turned out wild and unsteady; and at the time his father died he
went off and joined the gipsies. They had used to encamp about here more
than they do now, as Rednal could tell you, Sir John; and it was said
young North was in love with a girl belonging to the tribe--Bertha Lee.
Any way, they got married. Right-down beautiful she was--for a gipsy;
and so young."

"Then I suppose North and his wife are here now--if that's their child?"
remarked Sir John.

"They are here sure enough, sir; somewhere in the wood. Rednal has seen
him about this day or two past. Two or three times they'll be here,
pestering, during the summer, and stop ten or twelve days. Maybe young
North has a hankering after the old spots he was brought up in, and
comes to see 'em," suggestively added Rednal's wife; whose tongue ran
faster than any other two women's put together. And that's saying
something.

"And how does this young North get a living?" asked Sir John. "By
poaching?--and rifling the poultry-yards?"

"Like enough he do, Sir John. Them tramps have mostly light fingers."

"They sell tins--and collect rabbit skins," struck in William. "Johnny
Ludlow and I charged the encampment this morning, and nearly got our
fortunes told."

Jessy Rednal's chin went up. "They'd better let Rednal catch 'em at
their fortune-telling!--it was the wife, I know, sir, did that. When she
was but a slip of a girl she'd go up as bold as brass to any gentleman
or lady passing, and ask them to cross her hand with silver."

With this parting fling at the gipsies, Rednal's wife ran off to the
cottage for another basin of sugar. The heat made us thirsty, and we
wanted about a dozen cups of tea apiece.

But now, I don't know why it was, I had rather taken a fancy to this
young woman, Bertha North, and did not believe the words "as bold as
brass" could be properly applied to her. Gipsy though she was, her face,
for good feeling and refinement, was worth ten of Jessy Rednal's. It's
true she had followed us, wanting to tell our fortunes, but she might
have been hard up for money.

When we had swallowed as much tea as the kettles would produce, and
cleared the plates of the eatables, Sir John suggested that it would
soon be time to move homewards, as the evening would be coming on. This
had the effect of scattering some of us at once. If they did not get us,
they could not take us. "Home, indeed! as early as this!" cried Helen,
wrathfully--and rushed off with her brother Harry and Featherston's
nephew.

I was ever so far down one of the wood paths, looking about, for somehow
I had missed them all, when sounds of wailing and crying from a young
voice struck my ear. In a minute, that same fair little child came
running into view, as if she were flying for her life from some pursuing
foe, her sobs wild with terror, her face white as death.

What she said I could not make out, though she made straight up to me
and caught my arm; the language seemed strange, the breath gone. But
there was no mistaking the motions: she pulled me along with her across
the wood, her little arms and eyes frantically imploring.

Something must be amiss, I thought. What was it? "Is there a mad bull in
the way, little one? And are you making off with me to do battle with
him?"

No elucidation from the child: only the sobs, and the words I did not
catch. But we were close to the outskirts of the wood now (it was but
narrow), and there, beyond the hedge that bordered it, crouched down
against the bank, was a man. A fair-faced, good-looking young man, small
and slight, and groaning with pain.

No need to wonder who he was: the likeness between him and the child
betrayed it. How like they were! even to the expression in the large
blue eyes, and the colour of the soft fair hair. The child's face was
his own in miniature.

"You are Walter North," I said. "And what's to do?"

His imploring eyes in their pitiful pain looked up to mine, as if he
would question how I needed to ask it. Then he pulled his fustian coat
aside and pointed to his side. It made me start a step back. The side
was steeped in blood.

"Oh dear, what is it?--what has caused it? An accident?"

"I have been shot," he answered--and I thought his voice sounded
ominously weak. "Shot from over yonder."

Looking across the field in front of us, towards which he pointed, I
could see nothing. I mean, nothing likely to have shot him. No men, no
guns. Off to the left, partly buried amidst its grounds, lay the old
house called the Granary; to the right in the distance, Vale Farm. The
little child was stretched on the ground, quiet now, her head resting on
his right shoulder; it was the left side that was injured. Suddenly he
whispered a few words to her; she sprang up with a sob and darted into
the wood. The child, as we heard later, had been sent out by her mother
to look for her father: it was in seeking for him that she had come upon
our tea-party and peeped at us. Later, she found him, fallen where he
was now, just after the shot which struck him was fired. In her terror
she was flying off for assistance, and met me. The man's hat lay near
him, also an old drab-coloured bag, some tin basins, and a Dutch-oven.

"Can I move you, to put you easier?" I asked between his groans. "Can I
do anything in the world to help you?"

"No, no, don't touch me," he said, in a hopeless tone. "I am bleeding to
death."

And I thought he was. His cheeks and lips were growing paler with every
minute. The man's diction was as good as mine; and, tramp though he was,
many a gentleman has not half as nice a face as his.

"If you don't mind being left, I will run for a doctor--old
Featherston."

Before he could answer yes or no, Harry Vale, who must have espied us
from their land, came running up.

"Why--what in the world----" he began. "Is it you, North? What? Shot,
you say?"

"From over yonder, sir; and I've got my death-blow: I think I have.
Perhaps if Featherston----"

"I'll fetch him," cried Harry Vale. "You stay here with him, Johnny."
And he darted away like a lamplighter, his long legs skimming the grass.

I am nothing but a muff; you know that of old. And never did I feel my
own deficiencies come home to me as they did then. Any one else might
have known how to stop the bleeding--for of course it ought to be
stopped--if only by stuffing a handkerchief into the wound. I did
not dare attempt it; I was worse at any kind of surgery than a born
imbecile. All in a moment, as I stood there, the young gipsy-woman's
words of the morning flashed into my mind. She had foreseen some ill
for him, she said; had scented it in the air. How strange it seemed!

The next to come upon the scene was the Squire, crushing through the
brambles when he heard our voices. He and Sir John, in dire wrath at our
flight, had come out to look for us and to marshal us back for the start
home. I gave him a few whispered words of explanation.

"What!" cried he. "Dying?" and his face went as pale as the man's. "Oh,
my poor fellow, I am sorry for this!"

Stooping over him, the Squire pulled the coat aside. The stains were
larger now, the flow was greater. North bent his head forward to look,
and somehow got his hand wet in the process. Wet and red. He snatched it
away with a kind of horror. The sight seemed to bring upon him the
conviction that his minutes were numbered. His _minutes_. Which is the
last and greatest terror that can seize upon man.

"I'm going before God now, and I'm not fit for it," he cried, a
shrieking note, born of emotion, in his weakening voice. "Can there be
any mercy for me?"

The Squire seemed to feel it--he has said so since--as one of the most
solemn moments of his life. He took off his spectacles--a habit of his
when much excited--dropped them into his pocket, and clasped his hands
together.

"There's mercy with God through the Lord Jesus always," he said, bending
over the troubled face. "He pardoned the thief on the Cross. He pardoned
all who came to Him. If you are Walter North, as they tell me, you must
know all this as well as I do. Lord God have mercy upon this poor dying
man, for Christ's sake!"

And perhaps the good lessons that North had learnt in childhood from his
mother, for she was a good woman, came back to him then to comfort him.
He lifted his own hands towards the skies, and half the terror went out
of his face.

Some one once said, I believe, that by standing stock still in the
Strand, and staring at any given point, he could collect a crowd about
him in no time. In the thronged thoroughfares of London that's not to
be surprised at; but what I should like to know is this--how is it that
people collect in deserts? They _do_, and you must have seen it often.
Before many minutes were over we had quite a levee: Sir John Whitney,
William, and Featherston's nephew; three or four labourers from Vale
Farm; Harry Vale, who had met Featherston, and outrun him; and one of
the tall sons of Colonel Leonard. The latter, a young fellow with lazy
limbs, a lazy voice, and supercilious manner, strolled up, smacking a
dog-whip.

"What's the row here?" cried he: and William Whitney told him. The
man had been shot: by whom or by what means, whether wilfully or
accidentally, remained to be discovered.

"Did you do it--or your brothers?" asked Harry Vale of him in a low
tone. And Herbert Leonard whirled round to face Vale with a haughty
stare.

"What the devil do you mean? What should we want to shoot a tramp for?"

"Any way, you were practising with pistols at your target over yonder
this afternoon."

Leonard did not condescend to reply. The words had angered him. By no
possibility could a shot, aimed at their target, come in this direction.
The dog-whip shook, as if he felt inclined to use it on Harry Vale for
his insolent suggestion.

"Such a fuss over a tramp!" cried Leonard to Sir John, not caring who
heard him. "I dare say the fellow was caught thieving, and got served
out for his pains."

But he did not well know Sir John--who turned upon him like lightning.

"How dare you say that, young man! Are you not ashamed to give utterance
to such sentiments?"

"Look here!" coolly retorted Leonard.

Catching hold of the bag to shake it, out tumbled a dead hen with
ruffled feathers. Sir John looked grave. Leonard held it up.

"I thought so. It is still warm. He has stolen it from some
poultry-yard."

I chanced to be standing close to North as Leonard said it, and felt
a feeble twitch at my trousers. Poor North was trying to attract my
attention; gazing up at me with the most anxious face.

"No," said he, but he was almost too faint to speak now. "No. Tell them,
sir, No."

But Harry Vale was already taking up the defence. "You are wrong, Mr.
Herbert Leonard. I gave that hen myself to North half-an-hour ago.
Some little lads, my cousins, are at the farm to-day, and one of them
accidentally killed the hen. Knowing our people would not care to use
it, I called to North, who chanced to be passing at the time, and told
him he might take it if he liked."

A gleam of a smile, checked by a sob, passed over the poor man's face.
Things wear a different aspect to us in the hour of death from what
they do in lusty life. It may be that North saw then that theft, even of
a fowl, _was_ theft, and felt glad to be released from the suspicion.
Sir John looked as pleased as Punch: one does not like to hear wrong
brought home to a dying man.

Herbert Leonard turned off indifferently, strolling back across the
field and cracking his whip; and Featherston came pelting up.

The first thing the doctor did, when he had seen North's face, was to
take a phial and small glass out of his pocket, and give him something
to drink. Next, he made a clear sweep of us all round, and knelt down to
examine the wound, just as the poor gipsy wife, fetched by the child,
appeared in sight.

"Is there any hope?" whispered the Squire.

"Hope!" whispered back Featherston. "In half-an-hour it will be over."

"God help him!" prayed the Squire. "God pardon and take him!"

Well, well--that is about all there is to tell. Poor North died, there
as he lay, in the twilight; his wife's arm round his neck, and his
little girl feebly clasped to him.

What an end to the bright and pleasant day! Sir John thanked Heaven
openly that it was not we who had caused the calamity.

"For _somebody_ must have shot him, lads," he observed, "though I
dare say it was accidental. And it might have chanced to be one of
you--there's no telling: you are not too cautious with your guns."

The "somebody" turned out to be George Leonard. Harry Vale (who had
strong suspicions) was right. When they dispersed after their target
practising, one of them, George, went towards Briar Wood, his pistol
loaded. The thick trees afforded a promising mark, he thought, and he
carelessly let off the pistol at them. Whether he saw that he had shot
a man was never known; he denied it out and out: didn't know one was
there, he protested. A waggoner, passing homewards with his team, had
seen him fire the pistol, and came forward to say so; or it might have
been a mystery to the end. "Accidental Death," decided the jury at
the inquest; but they recommended the supercilious young man (just as
indifferent as his brothers) to take care what he fired at for the
future. Mr. George did not take the rebuke kindly.

For these sons had hard, bad natures; and were doing their best to bring
down their father's grey hairs with sorrow to the grave.

                 *       *       *       *       *

But how strange it seemed altogether! The poor young gipsy-wife's subtle
instinct that evil was near!--and that the shot should just have struck
_him_ instead of spending itself harmlessly upon one of the hundreds of
trees! Verily there are things in this world not to be grasped by our
limited understandings.



THE STORY OF DOROTHY GRAPE.

DISAPPEARANCE.


I.

According to Mrs. Todhetley's belief, some people are born to be
unlucky. Not only individuals, but whole families. "I have noticed it
times and again, Johnny, in going through life," she has said to me:
"ill-luck in some way lies upon them, and upon all they do; they
_cannot_ prosper, from their cradle to their grave." That there will be
some compensating happiness for these people hereafter--for they do
exist--is a belief we all like to cherish.

I am now going to tell of people in rather humble life whom this
ill-luck seemed to attend. _That_ might never have brought the family
into notice, ups and downs being so common in the world: but two
mysterious disappearances occurred in it, which caused them to be talked
about; and those occurrences I must relate before coming to Dorothy's
proper history. They took place before my time; in fact when Squire
Todhetley was a young man, and it is from him that I repeat it.

At this end of the village of Islip, going into it from Crabb, there
stood on the right-hand side of the road a superior cottage residence,
with lovely yellow roses intertwining themselves about its porch. Robert
Grape and his wife lived in it, and were well enough to do. He was in
the "post-horse duty," the Squire said--whatever that might mean; and
she had money on her own account. The cottage was hers absolutely, and
nearly one hundred pounds a-year income. The latter, however, was only
an annuity, and would die with her.

There were two children living: Dorothy, softened by her friends into
Dolly; and Thomas. Two others, who came between them, went off in what
Mrs. Grape used to call a "galloping consumption." Dolly's cheeks were
bright and her eyes were blue, and her soft brown hair fell back in
curls from her dimpled face. All the young men about, including the
Squire, admired the little girl; more than their mothers did, who said
she was growing up vain and light-headed. Perhaps she might be; but she
was a modest, well-behaved little maiden. She went to school by day, as
did her brother.

Mr. Grape's occupation, connected with the "post-horse duty," appeared
to consist in driving about the country in a gig. The length of these
journeys varied, but he would generally be absent about three weeks.
Then he would come home for a short interval, and go off again. He was
a well-conducted man and was respected.

One Monday morning in summer, when the sun was shining on the yellow
roses and the dew glittered on the grass, Robert Grape was about to
start on one of these journeys. Passing out to his gig, which waited at
the gate, after kissing his wife and daughter, he stopped to pluck a
rose. Dolly followed him out. She was sixteen now and had left school.

"Take care your old horse does not fall this time, father," said she,
gaily and lightly.

"I'll take care, lass, if I can," he answered.

"The truth is, Robert, you want a new horse," said Mrs. Grape, speaking
from the open door.

"I know I do, Mary Ann. Old Jack's no longer to be trusted."

"Shall you be at Bridgenorth to-morrow?"

"No; on Wednesday evening. Good-bye once more. You may expect me home at
the time I've said." And, with those last words he mounted his gig and
drove away.

From that day, from that hour, Robert Grape was never more seen by his
family. Neither did they hear from him: but he did not, as a rule, write
to them when on his journeys. They said to one another what delightful
weather he was having this time, and the days passed pleasantly until
the Saturday of his expected return.

But he did not come. Mrs. Grape had prepared a favourite dinner of his
for the Sunday, lamb and peas, and a lemon cheese-cake. They had to take
it without him. Three or four more days passed, and still they saw
nothing of him. Mrs. Grape was not at all uneasy.

"I think, children, he must have been mistaken in a week," she said to
Dolly and Tom. "It must be next Saturday that he meant. I shall expect
him then."

He did not come. The Saturday came, but he did not. And the following
week Mrs. Grape wrote a letter to the inn at Bridgenorth, where he was
in the habit of putting-up, asking when he had left it, and for what
town.

Startling tidings came back in answer. Mr. Grape had quitted the place
nearly four weeks ago, leaving his horse and gig at the inn. He had not
yet returned for them. Mrs. Grape could not make it out; she went off
to Worcester to take the stage-coach for Bridgenorth, and there made
inquiries. The following was the substance of what she learned:--

On Wednesday evening, the next day but one after leaving his home, Mr.
Grape approached Bridgenorth. Upon entering the town, the horse started
and fell: his master was thrown out of the gig, but not hurt; the shafts
were broken and the horse lamed. "A pretty kettle of fish, this is,"
cried Mr. Grape in his good-humoured way to the ostler, when the damaged
cavalcade reached the inn: "I shall have to take a week's holiday now, I
suppose." The man's answer was to the effect that the old horse was no
longer of much good; Mr. Grape nodded assent, and remarked that he must
be upon the look-out for another.

In the morning, he quitted the inn on foot, leaving the horse to the
care of the veterinary surgeon, who said it would be four or five
days before he would be fit to travel, and the gig to have its shafts
repaired. Mr. Grape observed to the landlord that he should use the
opportunity to go on a little expedition which otherwise he could not
have found time for, and should be back before the horse was well. But
he never had come back. This was recounted to Mrs. Grape.

"He did not give any clue as to where he was going," added the landlord;
"he started away with nothing but his umbrella and what he might have
put in his pockets, saying he should walk the first stage of his
journey. His portmanteau is up in his bedroom now."

All this sounded very curious to Mrs. Grape. It was unlike her open,
out-speaking husband. She inquired whether it was likely that he had
been injured in the fall from the gig and could be lying ill somewhere.

The landlord shook his head in dissent. "He said he was not hurt a bit,"
replied he, "and he did not seem to be. He ate a good supper that night
and made a famous breakfast in the morning."

An idea flashed across Mrs. Grape's mind as she listened. "I think he
must have gone off for a ramble about the Welsh mountains," spoke she.
"He was there once when a boy, and often said how much he should like to
go there again. In fact he said he should go when he could spare the
time."

"May be so," assented the landlord. "Them Welsh mountains be pleasant to
look upon; but if a mist comes on, or one meets with an awkward pass, or
anything of that sort--well, ma'am, let's hope we shall see him back
yet."

After bringing all the inquiries to an end that she was able to make,
Mrs. Grape went home in miserable uncertainty. She did not give up hope;
she thought he must be lying ill amongst the Welsh hills, perhaps had
caught a fever and lost his senses. As the days and the weeks passed on,
a sort of nervous expectancy set in. Tidings of him might come to her
any day, living or dead. A sudden knock at the door made her jump; if
the postman by some rare chance paid them a visit--for letters were not
written in those days by the bushel--it set her trembling. More than
once she had hastily risen in the middle of the night, believing she
heard a voice calling to her outside the cottage. But tidings of Robert
Grape never came.

That was disappearance the first.

In the spring of the following year Mrs. Grape sold her pretty homestead
and removed to Worcester. Circumstances had changed with her. Beyond
what little means had been, or could be, saved, the children would have
nothing to help them on in the world. Tom, thirteen years old now,
must have a twelvemonth's good schooling before being placed at some
business. Dolly must learn a trade by which to get her living. In past
times, young people who were not specially educated for it, or were of
humble birth, did not dream of making themselves into governesses.

"You had better go to the mantua-making, Dolly," said Mrs. Grape. "It's
nice genteel work."

Dolly drew a wry face. "I should not make much hand at that, mother."

"But what else is there? You wouldn't like the stay-making----"

"Oh dear, no."

"Or to serve in a pastry-cook's shop, or anything of that sort. I should
not like to see you in a shop, myself; you are too--too giddy," added
Mrs. Grape, pulling herself up from saying too pretty. "I think it must
be the mantua-making, Dolly: you'll make a good enough hand at it, once
you've learnt it. Why not?"


II.

The house rented by Mrs. Grape at Worcester was near the London Road. It
was semi-detached, and built, like its fellow in rather a peculiar way,
as though the architect had found himself cramped for space in width
but had plenty of it in depth. It was close to the road, about a yard
only of garden ground lying between. The front-door opened into the
sitting-room; not a very uncommon case then with houses of its class. It
was a fair-sized room, light and pretty, the window being beside the
door. Another door, opposite the window, led to the rest of the house:
a small back-parlour, a kitchen, three rooms above, with a yard and a
strip of garden at the back. It was a comfortable house, at a small
rent; and, once Mrs. Grape had disposed her tasty furniture about it to
advantage, she tried to feel at home and to put aside her longing to be
back under the old roof at Islip.

In the adjoining house dwelt two Quaker ladies named Deavor, an aunt and
niece, the latter a year or two older than Dolly. They showed themselves
very friendly to the new-comers, as did their respectable old
servant-maid, and the two families became intimate neighbours.

Dolly, seventeen now, was placed with Miss Pedley, one of the first
dressmakers in the city, as out-door apprentice. She was bound to her
for three years, and went to and fro daily. Tom was day-scholar at a
gentleman's school in the neighbourhood.

One Saturday evening in summer, when they had been about three months in
their new abode, Mrs. Grape was sitting at the table in the front-room,
making up a smart cap for herself. She had never put on mourning for
her husband, always cherishing the delusive hope that he would some
day return. Tom sat by her, doing his lessons; Dolly was near the open
window, nursing a grey kitten. Tom looked as hot as the evening, as
he turned over the books before him with a puzzled face. He was a
good-looking boy, with soft brown eyes, and a complexion as brilliant
as his sister's.

"I say, mother," cried he, "I don't think this Latin will be of much
good to me. I shan't make any hand at it."

"You will be like me then, Tom, for I'm sure I shall never make much of
a hand at dressmaking," spoke up Dolly. "Miss Pedley sees it too."

"Be quiet, Dolly; don't talk nonsense," said Mrs. Grape. "Let Tom finish
his tasks."

Thus reprimanded, silence ensued again. It grew dusk; candles were
lighted and the window was shut down, as the breeze blew them about; but
the bright moonlight still streamed in. Presently Dolly left the room to
give the kitten its supper. Suddenly, Tom shut up his books with a bang.

"Finished, Tom?"

"Yes, mother."

He was putting them away when a knock came to the front-door. Tom opened
it.

"Halloa, Bill!" said he.

"Halloa, Tom!" responded a boy's voice. "I've come up to ask if you'll
go fishing with me to-morrow."

"To-morrow!" echoed Tom in surprise. "Why, to-morrow's Sunday!"

"Bother! I mean Monday. I'm going up to the Weir at Powick: there's
first-rate fishing there. Will you come, Tom?"

Mrs. Grape wondered who the boy was; she knew the voices of some of
Tom's schoolfellows, but did not recognize this one. Tom, standing on
the low step outside, had partly closed the door behind him, and she
could not see out; but she heard every word as plainly as though the
speakers had been in the room.

"I should like to go, but I'm sure I could never get leave from school,"
said Tom. "Why, the Midsummer examination comes on the end of next week;
our masters just do keep us to it!"

"Stingy old misers! You might take French leave, Tom."

"Mother would never let me do that," returned Tom; and he probably made
a sign to indicate that his mother was within hearing, as both voices
dropped to a lower key; but Mrs. Grape still heard distinctly. "Are you
going to take French leave yourself, Bill?" added young Grape. "How else
shall you manage to get off?"

"Oh, Monday will be holiday with us; it's a Saint's Day. Look here, Tom;
you may as well come. Fishing, up at Powick, is rare fun; and I've some
prime bait."

"I can't," pleaded Tom: "no good thinking about it. You must get one of
your own fellows instead."

"Suppose I must. Well, good-night."

"Good-night, Bill."

"I touched you last," added the strange voice. There was a shout of
laughter, the door flew back, Tom's hand came in to snatch up his cap,
which lay on a table near, and he went flying after the other boy.

They had entered upon the fascinating game of "Titch-touch-last." Mrs.
Grape got up, laid her finished cap upon the table, shook the odds and
ends of threads from her black gown, and began to put her needles and
cotton in the little work-box. While she was doing this, Dolly came in
from the kitchen. She looked round the room.

"Why, where's Tom, mother?"

"Some boy called to speak to him, and they are running about the road at
Titch-touch-last. The cap looks nice, does it not, Dolly?"

"Oh, very," assented Dolly. It was one she had netted for her mother;
and the border was spread out in the shape of a fan--the fashion
then--and trimmed with yellow gauze ribbon.

The voices of the boys were still heard, but at a distance. Dolly went
to the door, and looked out.

"Yes, there the two are," she cried. "What boy is it, mother?"

"I don't know," replied Mrs. Grape. "I did not see him, or recognize his
voice. Tom called him 'Bill.'"

She went also to the door as she spoke, and stood by her daughter on the
low broad step. The voices were fainter now, for the lads, in their
play, were drawing further off and nearer to the town. Mrs. Grape could
see them dodging around each other, now on this side the road, now on
that. It was a remarkably light night, the moon, in the cloudless sky,
almost dazzlingly bright.

"They'll make themselves very hot," she remarked, as she and Dolly
withdrew indoors. "What silly things boys are!"

Carrying her cap upstairs, Mrs. Grape then attended to two or three
household matters. Half-an-hour had elapsed when she returned to the
parlour. Tom had not come in. "How very thoughtless of him!" she cried;
"he must know it is his bed-time."

But neither she nor Dolly felt any uneasiness until the clock struck
ten. A shade of it crept over Mrs. Grape then. What could have become of
the boy?

Standing once more upon the door-step, they gazed up and down the road.
A few stragglers were passing up from the town: more people would be out
on a Saturday night than on any other.

"How dost thee this evening, friend Grape?" called out Rachel Deavor,
now sitting with her niece at their open parlour window in the
moonlight. Mrs. Grape turned to them, and told of Tom's delinquency.
Elizabeth Deavor, a merry girl, came out laughing, and linked her arm
within Dolly's.

"He has run away from thee to take a moonlight ramble," she said
jestingly. "Thee had been treating him to a scolding, maybe."

"No, I had not," replied Dolly. "I have such a pretty grey kitten,
Elizabeth. One of the girls at Miss Pedley's gave it to me."

They stood on, talking in the warm summer night, Mrs. Grape at the
window with the elder Quakeress, Dolly at the gate, with the younger,
and the time went on. The retiring hour of the two ladies had long
passed, but they did not like to leave Mrs. Grape to her uncertainty:
she was growing more anxious with every minute. At length the clocks
struck half-past eleven, and Mrs. Grape, to the general surprise, burst
into tears.

"Nay, nay, now, do not give way," said Rachel Deavor kindly. "Doubtless
he has but gone to the other lad's home, and is letting the time pass
unthinkingly. Boys will be boys."

"That unaccountable disappearance of my husband makes me more nervous
than I should otherwise be," spoke Mrs. Grape in apology. "It is just a
year ago. Am I going to have a second edition of that, in the person of
my son?"

"Hush thee now, thee art fanciful; thee should not anticipate evil. It
is a pity but thee had recognized the boy who came for thy son; some of
us might go to the lad's house."

"I wish I had," sighed Mrs. Grape. "I meant to ask Tom who it was when
he came in. Tom called him 'Bill;' that is all I know."

"Here he comes!" exclaimed Dolly, who was now standing outside the gate
with Elizabeth Deavor. "He is rushing round the corner, at full speed,
mother."

"Won't I punish him!" cried Mrs. Grape, in her relieved feelings: and
she too went to the gate.

Dolly's hopeful eagerness had misled her. It was not Tom. But it was one
of Tom's schoolfellows, young Thorn, whom they all knew. He halted to
explain that he had been to a boys' party in the Bath Road, and expected
to "catch it" at home for staying so late. Dolly interrupted him to
speak of Tom.

"What an odd thing!" cried the lad. "Oh, he'll come home presently, safe
enough. Which of our fellows are named Bill, you ask, Miss Grape? Let's
see. There's Bill Stroud; and Bill Hardwick--that is, William----"

"It was neither Stroud nor Hardwick; I should have known the voices of
both," interrupted Mrs. Grape. "This lad cannot, I think, be in your
school at all, Thorn: he said his school was to have holiday on Monday
because it would be a Saint's Day."

"Holiday, because it was a Saint's Day!" echoed Thorn. "Oh then, he
must have been one of the college boys. No other school goes in for
holidays on the Saints' Days but that. The boys have to attend service
at college, morning and afternoon, so it's not a complete holiday: they
can get it easily, though, by asking leave."

"I don't think Tom knows any of the college boys," debated Dolly.

"Yes, he does; our school knows some of them," replied Thorn.
"Good-night: I can't stay. He is sure to turn up presently."

But Tom Grape did not turn up. At midnight his mother put on her bonnet
and shawl and started out to look for him in the now deserted streets of
the town. Now and again she would inquire of some late wayfarer whether
he had met a boy that night, or perhaps two boys, and described Tom's
appearance; but she could learn nothing. The most feasible idea she
could call up, and the most hopeful, was that Tom had really gone home
with the other lad and that something must have happened to keep him
there; perhaps an accident. Dolly felt sure it must be so. Elizabeth
Deavor, running in at breakfast-time next morning to ask for news,
laughingly said Tom deserved to be shaken.

But when the morning hours passed and did not bring the truant or any
tidings of him, this hope died away. The first thing to be done was to
find out who the other boy was, and to question him. Perhaps he had also
disappeared!

Getting from young Thorn the address of those of the college
boys--three--who, as he chanced to know, bore the Christian name of
William, Mrs. Grape went to make inquiries at their houses. She could
learn nothing. Each of the three boys disclaimed all knowledge of the
affair; their friends corroborating their assertion that they had not
been out on the Saturday night. Four more of the King's scholars were
named William, they told her; two of them boarding in the house of the
head-master, the Reverend Allen Wheeler.

To this gentleman's residence, in the College Green, Mrs. Grape next
proceeded. It was then evening. The head-master listened courteously to
her tale, and became, in his awakened interest, as anxious as she was to
find the right boy. Mrs. Grape said she should not know him, but should
know his voice. Not one of the three boys, already seen, possessed the
voice she had heard.

The two boarders were called into the room, as a mere matter of form;
for the master was able to state positively that they were in bed at
the hour in question. Neither of them had the voice of the boy who had
called for Tom. It was a very clear voice, Mrs. Grape said; she should
recognize it instantly.

"Let me see," said the master, going over mentally the list of the forty
King's scholars: "how many more of you boys are named William, beyond
those this lady has seen?"

The boys considered, and said there were two others; William Smith and
William Singleton; both called familiarly "Bill" in the school. Each of
these boys had a clear, pleasant voice, the master observed; but neither
of them had applied for leave for Monday, nor had he heard of any
projected fishing expedition to Powick.

To the house of the Singletons next went Mrs. Grape: but the boy's voice
there did not answer to the one she had heard. The Smith family she
could not see; they had gone out for the evening: and she dragged
herself home, utterly beaten down both in body and spirit.

Another night of anxiety was passed, and then Mrs. Grape returned to
Mr. Smith's and saw "Bill." But Bill was hoarse as a raven; it was not
at all the clear voice she had heard; though he looked desperately
frightened at being questioned.

So there it was. Tom Grape was lost. Lost! and no clue remained as to
the why and wherefore. He must have gone after his father, said the
sympathizing townspeople, full of wonder; and a superstitious feeling
crept over Mrs. Grape.

But ere the week was quite over, news came to the desolate home: not of
Tom himself; not of the manner of his disappearance; only of the night
it happened. On the Friday evening Mrs. Grape and Dolly were sitting
together, when a big boy of sixteen appeared at their door, Master Fred
Smith, lugging in his brother Bill.

"He is come to confess, ma'am," said the elder. "He blurted it all out
to me just now, too miserable to keep it in any longer, and I've brought
him off to you."

"Oh, tell me, tell me where he is!" implored Mrs. Grape from her fevered
lips; as she rose and clasped the boy, Bill, by the arm.

"I don't know where he is," answered the boy in trembling earnestness.
"I can't think where; I wish I could. I know no more than the dead."

"For what have you come here then?"

"To confess that it was I who was with him. You didn't know my voice on
the Monday because I had such a cold," continued he, laying hold of a
chair-back to steady his shaking hands. "I must have caught it playing
with Tom that night; we got so hot, both of us. When I heard he had
never been home since, couldn't be found anywhere, I felt frightened to
death and didn't like to say it was me who had been with him."

"Where did you leave him? Where did you miss him?" questioned the
mother, her heart sinking with despair.

"We kept on playing at titch-touch-last; neither of us would give in,
each wanted to have the last touch; and we got down past the Bath Road,
and on up Sidbury near to the canal bridge. Tom gave me a touch; it was
the last; and he rushed through the Commandery gates. I was getting
tired then, and a thought came to me that instead of going after him
I'd play him a trick and make off home; and I did so, tearing over the
bridge as hard as I could tear. And that's all the truth," concluded the
boy, bursting into tears, "and I never saw Tom again, and have no more
to tell though the head-master hoists me for it to-morrow."

"It is just what he said to me, Mrs. Grape," put in the brother quietly,
"and I am sure it is the truth."

"Through the Commandery gates," repeated Mrs. Grape, pressing her aching
brow. "And you did not see him come out again?"

"No, ma'am, I made off as hard as I could go. While he was rushing down
there--I heard his boots clattering on the flags--I rushed over the
bridge homewards."

The boy had told all he knew. Now that the confession was made, he
would be too glad to add more had he been able. It left the mystery
just as it was before; no better and no worse. There was no outlet to
the Commandery, except these iron gates, and nothing within it that
could have swallowed up Tom. It was a cul-de-sac, and he must have
come out again by these self-same gates. Whither had he then gone?

It was proved that he did come out. When Mr. Bill Smith's confession was
made public, an assistant to a doctor in the town remembered to have
seen Tom Grape, whom he knew by sight, as he was passing the Commandery
about that same time to visit a patient in Wyld's Lane. Tom came flying
out of the gates, laughing, and looking up and down the street. "Where
are you, Bill?" he called out. The young doctor, whose name was Seton,
looked back at Tom, as he went on his way.

But the young man added something more, which nobody else had thought to
speak of, and which afforded a small loop-hole of conjecture as to what
poor Tom's fate might have been. Just about that hour a small barge on
the canal, after passing under Sidbury bridge, came in contact with
another barge. Very little damage was done, but there was a great deal
of shouting and confusion. As Mr. Seton walked over the bridge, not a
second before he saw Tom, he heard the noise and saw people making for
the spot. Had Tom Grape made for it? He could easily have reached it.
And if so, had he, amidst the general pushing and confusion on the canal
bank, fallen into the canal? It was hardly to be imagined that any
accident of this kind could happen to him _unseen_; though it might be
just possible, for the scene for some minutes was one of tumult; but
nothing transpired to confirm it. The missing lad did not reappear,
either dead or alive.

And so poor Tom Grape had passed out of life mysteriously as his father
had done. Many months elapsed before his mother gave up her search for
him; she was always thinking he would come home again, always hoping
it. The loss affected her more than her husband's had, for Tom vanished
under her very eye, so to say; all the terror of it was palpably enacted
before her, all the suspense had to be borne and lived through; whereas
the other loss took place at a distance and she only grew to realize it
by degrees; which of course softened the blow. And the time went on by
years, but nothing was seen of Tom Grape.

That was disappearance the second.

Dolly left her place of business at the end of the three years for which
she had been apprenticed, and set up for herself; a brass plate on her
mothers door--"Miss Grape, Mantua-maker"--proclaiming the fact to the
world. She was only twenty then, with as sweet a face, the Squire says,
as Worcester, renowned though it is for its pretty faces, ever saw. She
had never in her heart taken kindly to her business, so would not be
likely to set the world on fire with her skill; but she had tried to do
her best and would continue to do it. A little work began to come in now
and then; a gown to be turned or a spencer to be made, though not so
many of them as Dolly hoped for: but, as her mother said, Rome was not
built in a day.


III.

"Mother, I think I shall go to college this morning."

So spoke Dolly at the breakfast-table one Sunday in July. The sun was
shining in at the open window, the birds were singing.

"It's my belief, Dolly, you would go off to college every Sunday of your
life, if you had your way," said Mrs. Grape.

Dolly laughed. "And so I would, mother."

For the beautiful cathedral service had charms for Dolly. Islip
Church was a very primitive church, the good old clergyman was
toothless, the singing of the two psalms was led off by the clerk in a
cracked bass voice; there was no organ. Accustomed to nothing better
than this, the first time Dolly found herself at the cathedral, after
their removal to Worcester, and the magnificent services burst upon
her astonished senses, she thought she must have ascended to some
celestial sphere. The fine edifice, the musical chanting of the
prayers by the minor canons, the singing of the numerous choir, men
and boys in their white surplices, the deep tones of the swelling
organ, the array of white-robed prebendaries, the dignified and
venerable bishop--Cornwall--in his wig and lawn sleeves, the state,
the ceremony of the whole, and the glittering colours of the famed
east window in the distance; all this laid hold of Dolly's senses for
ever. She and her mother attended St. Martin's Church generally, but
Dolly would now and then lure her mother to the cathedral. Latterly
Mrs. Grape had been ailing and did not go anywhere.

"If you could but go to college to-day, mother!" went on Dolly.

"Why!"

"Mr. Benson preaches. I met Miss Stafford yesterday afternoon, and she
told me Mr. Benson had come into residence. The _Herald_ said so too."

"Then you must go betimes if you would secure a seat," remarked Mrs.
Grape. "And mind you don't get your new muslin skirt torn."

So Dolly put on her new muslin, and her bonnet, and started.

When the Reverend Christopher Benson, Master of the Temple, became one
of the prebendaries of Worcester, his fame as a preacher flew to all
parts of the town. You should hear the Squire's account of the crush in
getting into the cathedral on the Sundays that he was in residence: four
Sundays in the year; or five, as the case might be; all told. Members of
other churches, Dissenters of different sects, Quakers, Roman Catholics,
and people who never went anywhere at other times, scrupled not to run
to hear Mr. Benson. For reading like unto his, or preaching like unto
his, had rarely been heard in that cathedral or in any other. Though
it might be only the Gospel that fell to his share in the communion
service, the crowd listened, enraptured, to his sweet, melodious tones.
The college doors were besieged before the hour for opening them; it was
like going into a theatre.

Dolly, on this day, made one in the crowd at the cloister entrance;
she was pushed here and there; and although she hurried well with the
rest as soon as the doors were unlocked, every seat was taken when she
reached the chancel. She found standing room opposite the pulpit, near
King John's tomb, and felt very hot in the crush.

"Is it always like this, here?"

The whispered words came from a voice at her side. Dolly turned, and saw
a tall, fine-looking, well-dressed man about thirty, with a green silk
umbrella in his hand.

"No," she whispered back again. "Only for four or five Sundays, at this
time of the year, when Mr. Benson preaches."

"Indeed," said the stranger. "His preaching ought to be something
extraordinary to attract such a crowd as this."

"And so it is," breathed Dolly. "And his reading--oh, you never heard
any reading like it."

"Very eloquent, I suppose?"

"I don't know whether it may be called eloquence," debated Dolly,
remembering that a chance preacher she once heard, who thumped the
cushions with his hands and shook the air with his voice, was said to
be eloquent. "Mr. Benson is the quietest preacher and reader I ever
listened to."

The stranger seemed to be a kind sort of man. During the stir made by
the clergy, preceded by the six black-robed, bowing bedesmen, going up
to the communion-table, he found an inch of room on a bench, and secured
it for Dolly. She thanked him gratefully.

Mr. Benson's sermon came to an end, the bishop gave the blessing from
his throne, and the crowd poured out. Dolly, by way of a change, made
her exit from the great north entrance. The brightness of the day had
changed; a sharp shower was falling.

"Oh dear! My new muslin will be wet through!" thought Dolly. "This
parasol's of no use."

"Will you allow me to offer you my umbrella--or permit me to hold it
over you?" spoke the stranger, who must have followed her out. And Dolly
hesitated and flushed, and did not know whether she ought to say yes or
no.

He held the umbrella over Dolly, letting his own coat get wet. The
shower ceased presently; but he walked on by her side to her mother's
door, and then departed with a bow fit for an emperor.

"What a polite man!" thought Dolly. "Quite a gentleman." And she
mentioned the occurrence to her mother; who seemed to-day more poorly
than usual.

They sat at the open window in the afternoon, and Dolly read aloud the
evening psalms. It was the fifth day of the month. As Dolly finished the
last verse and closed the book, Mrs. Grape, after a moment's silence,
repeated the words:--

"The Lord shall give strength unto His people: the Lord shall give His
people the blessing of peace."

"What a beautiful promise that is, Dolly!" she said in hushed tones.
"Peace! Ah, my dear, no one can know what that word means until they
have been sorely tried. Peace everlasting!"

Mrs. Grape leaned back in her chair, gazing upwards. The sky was of a
deep blue; a brilliant gold cloud, of peculiar shape, was moving slowly
across it just overhead.

"One could almost fancy it to be God's golden throne in the brighter
land," she murmured. "My child, do you know, the thought comes across me
at times that it may not be long before I am there. And I am getting to
long for it."

"Don't say that, mother," cried the startled girl.

"Well, well, dear, I don't want to frighten you. It is all as God
pleases."

"I shall send to ask Mr. Nash to come to see you to-morrow, mother. Do
you feel worse?"

Mrs. Grape slightly shook her head. Presently she spoke.

"Is it not almost teatime, Dolly?--whoever is that?"

A gentleman, passing, with a red rose in his button-hole and silk
umbrella in his hand, was taking off his hat to Dolly. Dolly's face
turned red as the rose as she returned the bow, and whispered to her
mother that it was the polite stranger. He halted to express a hope that
the young lady had not taken cold from the morning shower.

He turned out to be a Mr. Mapping, a traveller in the wine trade for
some London house. But, when he was stating this to Mrs. Grape during
the first visit paid her (for he contrived to make good his entrance
to the house), he added in a careless, off-hand manner, that he was
thankful to say he had good private means and was not dependent upon his
occupation. He lingered on in Worcester, and became intimate with the
Grapes.

Events thickened. Before the next month, August, came in, Mrs. Grape
died. Dolly was stunned; but she would have felt the blow even more
keenly than she did feel it had she not fallen over head and ears in
love with Alick Mapping. About three hundred pounds, all her mother's
savings, came to Dolly; excepting that, and the furniture, she was
unprovided for.

"You cannot live upon that: what's a poor three hundred pounds?" spoke
Mr. Mapping a day or two after the funeral, his tone full of tender
compassion.

"How rich he must be himself!" thought poor Dolly.

"You will have to let me take care of you, child."

"Oh dear!" murmured Dolly.

"We had better be married without delay. Once you are my wife----"

"Please don't go on!" interposed Dolly in a burst of sobs. "My dear
mother is hardly buried."

"But what are you to do?" he gently asked. "You will not like to live
here alone--and you have no income to live here upon. Your business is
worth nothing as yet; it would not keep you in gloves. If I speak of
these things prematurely, Dolly, it is for your sake."

Dolly sobbed. The future looked rather desolate.

"You have promised to be my wife, Dolly: remember that."

"Oh, please don't talk of it yet awhile!" sobbed Dolly.

"Leave you here alone I will not; you are not old enough to take care
of yourself; you must have a protector. I will take you with me to
London, where you will have a good home and be happy as a cricket: but
you must know, Dolly, that I cannot do that until we are married. All
sensible people must say that you will be quite justified under the
circumstances."

Mr. Alick Mapping had a wily tongue, and Dolly was persuaded to listen.
The marriage was fixed for the first week in September, and the banns
were put up at St. Martin's Church; which, as every one knows, stands in
the corn-market. Until then, Mr. Mapping returned to London; to make,
as he told Dolly, preparations for his bride. An acquaintance of Mrs.
Grape's, who had been staying with Dolly since the death, would remain
with her to the last. As soon as Dolly was gone, the furniture would be
sold by Mr. Stretch, the auctioneer, and the proceeds transmitted to
Dolly in London. Mrs. Grape had given all she possessed to Dolly, in the
fixed and firm belief that her son was really no more.

But all this was not to be put in practice without a warning from their
neighbour, the Quaker lady; she sent for Dolly, being confined to her
own chamber by illness.

"Thee should not be in this haste, Dorothy," she began. "It is not
altogether seemly, child, and it may not be well for thee hereafter.
Thee art too young to marry; thee should wait a year or two----"

"But I am not able to wait," pleaded poor Dolly, with tears in her eyes.
"How could I continue to live alone in the house--all by myself?"

"Nay, but thee need not have done that. Some one of discreet age would
have been glad to come and share expenses with thee. I might have helped
thee to a suitable person myself: a cousin of mine, an agreeable and
kindly woman, would like to live up this way. But the chief objection
that I see to this hasty union, Dorothy," continued Miss Deavor, "is
that thee knows next to nothing about the young man."

Dolly opened her eyes in surprise. "Why, I know him quite well, dear
Miss Rachel. He has told me all about himself."

"That I grant thee. Elizabeth informs me that thee has had a good
account from himself as to his means and respectability. But thee has
not verified it."

"Verified it!" repeated Dolly.

"Thee has not taken steps to ascertain that the account he gives is
true. How does thee know it to be so?"

Dolly's face flushed. "As if he would deceive me! You do not know him,
Miss Deavor."

"Nay, child, I wish not to cast undeserved aspersion on him. But thee
should ask for proof that what he tells thee is correct. Before thee
ties thyself to him for life, Dorothy, thee will do well to get some
friend to make inquiries in London. It is my best advice to thee, child;
and it is what Mary Ann Grape, thy mother, would have done before giving
thee to him."

Dolly thanked Miss Deavor and went away. The advice was well meant, of
course; she felt that; but quite needless. Suspect Alick Mapping of
deceit! Dolly would rather have suspected herself. And she did nothing.

The morning of the wedding-day arrived in due course. Dolly was attiring
herself for the ceremony in a pretty new grey gown, her straw bonnet
trimmed with white satin lying on the bed (to resume her black on the
morrow), when Elizabeth Deavor came in.

"I have something to say to thee, Dolly," she began, in a grave tone. "I
hardly knew whether to speak to thee or not, feeling not altogether sure
of the thing myself, so I asked Aunt Rachel, and she thinks thee ought
to be told."

"What is it?" cried Dolly.

"I think I saw thy brother Tom last night."

The words gave Dolly a curious shock. She fell back in a chair.

"I will relate it to thee," said Elizabeth. "Last evening I was at Aunt
Rachel's window above-stairs, when I saw a boy in dark clothes standing
on the pavement outside, just opposite thy gate. It was a bright night,
as thee knows. He had his arms folded and stood quite still, gazing at
this house. The moonlight shone on his face and I thought how much it
was like poor lost Tom's. He still stood on; so I went downstairs and
stepped to our gate, to ask whether he was in want of any one: and then,
Dolly, I felt queerer than I ever felt in my life, for I saw that it was
Tom. At least, I thought so."

"Did he speak?" gasped Dolly.

"He neither spoke nor answered me: he turned off, and went quickly down
the road. I think it was Tom; I do indeed."

"What am I to do?" cried Dolly. "Oh, if I could but find him!"

"There's nothing to do, that we can see," answered the young Quakeress.
"I have talked it over with Aunt Rachel. It would appear as though he
did not care to show himself: else, if it were truly thy brother, why
did he not come in? I will look out for him every night and speak to him
if he appears again. I promise thee that, Dolly."

"Why do you say 'appears,' Elizabeth?" cried the girl. "You think it was
himself, do you not; not his--his spirit?"

"Truly, I can but conclude it was himself."

Dolly, in a state of bewilderment, what with one thing and another, was
married to Alick Mapping in St. Martin's Church, by its white-haired
Rector, Digby Smith. A yellow post-chaise waited at the church-gates
and carried them to Tewkesbury. The following day they went on by coach
to Gloucester, where Mr. Mapping intended to stay a few days before
proceeding to London.

They took up their quarters at a comfortable country inn on the
outskirts of the town. On the second day after their arrival, Dolly,
about to take a country walk with her husband, ran downstairs from
putting her bonnet on, and could not see him. The barmaid told her he
had gone into the town to post a letter, and asked Dolly to step into
the bar-parlour to wait.

It was a room chiefly used by commercial travellers. Dolly's attention
was caught by something over the mantelpiece. In a small glass-case,
locked, there was the portrait of a man cleverly done in pencil; by its
side hung a plain silver watch with a seal and key attached to a short
black ribbon: and over all was a visiting-card, inscribed in ink, "Mr.
Gardner." Dolly looked at this and turned sick and faint: it was her
father's likeness, her father's watch, seal, and ribbon. Of an excitable
nature, she burst into tears, and the barmaid ran in. There and then,
the mystery so long hanging about Robert Grape's fate was cleared up, so
far as it ever would be in this world.

He had left Bridgenorth, as may be remembered, on the Thursday morning.
Towards the evening of the following day, Friday, as Dolly now heard, he
appeared at this very inn. This same barmaid, an obliging, neat, and
modest young woman, presenting a rare contrast to the barmaids of the
present day, saw him come in. His face had a peculiar, grey shade upon
it, which attracted her notice, and she asked him if he felt ill. He
answered that he felt pretty well then, but supposed he must have had a
fainting-fit when walking into the town, for to his surprise he found
himself on the grass by the roadside, waking up from a sort of stupor.
He engaged a bedroom for the night, and she thought he said--but she had
never been quite sure--that he had come to look out for a horse at the
fair to be held in Gloucester the next day. He took no supper, "not
feeling up to it," he said, but drank a glass of weak brandy-and-water,
and ate a biscuit with it, before going up to bed. The next morning he
was found dead; had apparently died quietly in his sleep. An inquest was
held, and the medical men testified that he had died of heart disease.
Poor Dolly, listening to this, wondered whether the pitch out of the gig
at Bridgenorth had fatally injured him.

"We supposed him to be a Mr. Gardner," continued the barmaid, "as that
card"--pointing to it--"was found in his pocket-book. But we had no clue
as to who he was or whence he came. His stockings were marked with a 'G'
in red cotton; and there was a little loose money in his pocket and a
bank-note in his pocket-book, just enough to pay the expenses of the
funeral."

"But that likeness," said Dolly. "How did you come by it? Who took it?"

"Ah, ma'am, it was a curious thing, that--but such things do not happen
by chance. An idle young man of the town used to frequent our inn; he
was clever at drawing, and would take off a likeness of any one near
him with a few strokes of a pen or pencil in a minute or two, quite
surreptitious like and for his own amusement. Wonderful likenesses
they were. He was in the bar-parlour, this very room, ma'am, while the
stranger was drinking his brandy-and-water, and he dashed off this
likeness."

"It is _exactly_ like," said poor Dolly. "But his name was Grape, not
Gardner. It must have been the card of some acquaintance."

"When nobody came forward to identify the stranger, the landlord got the
sketch given up to him," continued the young woman. "He put it in this
case with the watch and seal and card, and hung it where you see, hoping
that sometime or other it might be recognized."

"But did you not let it be known abroad that he had died?" sighed Dolly.

"Why, of course we did; and put an advertisement in the Gloucester
papers to ask if any Mr. Gardner was missing from his friends. Perhaps
the name, not being his, served to mislead people. That's how it was,
ma'am."

So that the one disappearance, that of Robert Grape, was now set at
rest.



THE STORY OF DOROTHY GRAPE.

IN AFTER YEARS.


I.

We found her out through Mr. Brandon's nephew, Roger Bevere, a medical
student, who gave his people trouble, and one day got his arm and
head broken. Mr. Brandon and the Squire were staying in London at the
Tavistock Hotel. I, Johnny Ludlow, was also in London, visiting Miss
Deveen. News of the accident was brought to Mr. Brandon; the young man
had been carried into No. 60, Gibraltar Terrace, Islington, and a doctor
named Pitt was attending him.

We went to see him at once. A narrow, quiet street, as I recollected
well, this Gibraltar Terrace, the dwellings it contained facing each
other, thirty in a row. No. 60 proved to be the same house to which
we had gone once before, when inquiring about the illness of Francis
Radcliffe, and Pitt was the same doctor. It was the same landlady also;
I knew her as soon as she opened the door; a slender, faded woman, long
past middle life, with a pink flush on her thin cheeks, and something of
the lady about her.

"What an odd thing, Johnny!" whispered the Squire, recognizing the
landlady as well as the house. "Mapping, I remember her name was."

Mr. Brandon went upstairs to his nephew. We were shown by her into the
small parlour, which looked as faded as it had looked on our last visit,
years before: as faded as she was. While relating to us how young
Bevere's accident occurred, she had to run away at a call from upstairs.

"Looks uncommonly careworn, doesn't she, Johnny!" remarked the Squire.
"Seems a nice sort of person, though."

"Yes, sir. I like her. Does it strike you that her voice has a home-ring
in it? I think she must be from Worcestershire."

"A home-ring--Worcestershire!" retorted he. "It wouldn't be you, Johnny,
if you did not get up some fancy or other. Here she comes! You are not
from Worcestershire, are you, ma'am?" cried the Squire, going to the
root of the question at once, in his haste to convict my fancy of its
sins.

"Yes, I am, sir," she replied; and I saw the pink flush on her cheeks
deepen to crimson. "I knew you, sir, when I was a young girl, many years
ago. Though I should not have recognized you when you were last here,
but that you left your card. We lived at Islip, sir; at that pretty
cottage with the yellow roses round the porch. You must remember Dolly
Grape."

"But you are not Dolly Grape!" returned the Squire, pushing up his
spectacles.

"Yes, sir, I was Dolly Grape. Your mother knew us well; so did you."

"Goodness bless my heart!" softly cried the Squire, gazing at her as if
the news were too much for him. And then, starting up impulsively, he
grasped her hand and gave it a hearty shake. A sob seemed to take her
throat. The Squire sat back again, and went on staring at her.

"My father disappeared mysteriously on one of his journeys; you may
remember us by that, sir."

"To be sure I remember it--Robert Grape!" assented the Squire. "Had to
do with the post-horse duty. Got as far as Bridgenorth, and was never
heard of again. And it is really you--Dolly Grape! And you are living
here--letting lodgings! I'm afraid the world has not been overkind to
you."

She shook her head; tears were running down her faded cheeks.

"No, it has not, sir," she answered, as she wiped them away with her
handkerchief. "I have had nothing but ups and downs in life since
leaving Worcester: sad misfortunes: sometimes, I think, more than my
share. Perhaps you heard that I married, sir--one Mr. Mapping?"

The Squire nodded slightly. He was too busy gazing at her to pay
attention to much else.

"I am looking at you to see if I can trace the old features of the old
days," he said, "and I do now; they grow upon my memory; though you
were but a slip of a girl when I used to see you. I wonder I did not
recognize you at first."

"And I wonder that you can even recognize me now, sir," she returned:
"trouble and grief have so much altered me. I am getting old, too."

"Have you lived in this house long?"

"Nearly ten years, sir. I live by letting my rooms."

The Squire's voice took a tone of compassion.

"It can't be much of a living, once the rent and taxes are paid."

Mrs. Mapping's mild blue eyes, that seemed to the Squire to be of a
lighter tinge than of yore, wore a passing sadness. Any one able to read
it correctly might have seen she had her struggles.

"Are you a widow?"

"I--call myself one, sir," she replied, with hesitation.

"_Call_ yourself one!" retorted the Squire, for he liked people to be
straightforward in their speech. "My good woman, you are a widow, or you
are not one."

"I pass for one, sir."

"Now, what on earth do you mean?" demanded he. "Is your
husband--Mapping--not dead?"

"He was not dead when I last heard of him, sir; that's a long while ago.
But he is not my husband."

"Not your husband!" echoed the Squire, pushing up his spectacles again.
"Have you and he quarrelled and parted?"

Any countenance more pitifully sad than Mrs. Mapping's was at that
moment, I never wish to see. She stood smoothing down her black silk
apron (which had a slit in it) with trembling fingers.

"My history is a very painful one," she said at last in a low voice. "I
will tell it if you wish; but not this morning. I should like to tell
it you, sir. It is some time since I saw a home-face, and I have often
pictured to myself some kind friendly face of those old happy days
looking at me while I told it. Different days from these."

"These cannot be much to boast of," repeated the Squire. "It must be a
precarious sort of living."

"Of course it fluctuates," she said. "Sometimes my rooms are full, at
other times empty. One has to put the one against the other and strive
to tide over the hard days. Mr. Pitt is very good to me in recommending
the rooms to medical students; he is a good-natured man."

"Oh, indeed! Listen to that, Johnny! Pitt good-natured! Rather a loose
man, though, I fancy, ma'am."

"What, Mr. Pitt? Sir, I don't think so. He has a surgery close by, and
gets a good bit of practice----"

The rest was interrupted by Mr. Pitt himself; he came to say we might go
up to Mr. Brandon in the sick-room. We had reason to think ill enough
of Pitt in regard to the Radcliffe business; but the Squire could not
tackle him about the past offhand, this not being just the time or place
for it. Later, when he did so, it was found that we had been misjudging
the man. Pitt had not joined Stephen Radcliffe in any conspiracy; and
the false letter, telling of Frank's death at Dr. Dale's, had not been
written by him. So we saw that it must have been concocted by Stephen
himself.

"Any way, if I did write such a letter, I retained no consciousness
of it afterwards," added Pitt, with candour. "I am sorry to say, Mr.
Todhetley, that I gave way to drink at that time, and I know I was often
not myself. But I do not think it likely that I wrote it; and as to
joining Mr. Radcliffe in any conspiracy against his brother, why, I
would not do such a thing, drunk or sober, and I never knew it had been
done."

"You have had the sense to pull up," cried the Squire, in reference to
what Pitt had admitted.

"Yes," answered Pitt, in a voice hardly above a whisper. "And I never
think of what I might have become by this time, but for pulling up, but
I thank God."

These allusions, however, may perhaps only puzzle the reader. And it is
not with Mr. Pitt, his virtues or his failings, that this paper concerns
itself, but with the history of Dorothy Grape.

We must take it up from the time Dorothy arrived in London with her
husband, Alick Mapping, after their marriage at Worcester, as already
narrated. The sum of three hundred pounds, owned by Dolly, passed into
Mr. Mapping's possession on the wedding-day, for she never suggested
such a thing as that it should be settled on herself. The proceeds,
arising from the sale of the furniture, were also transmitted to him
later by the auctioneer. Thus he had become the proprietor of Dolly,
and of all her worldly goods. After that, he and she faded out
of Worcestershire memory, and from the sight of Worcestershire
people--except for one brief meeting, to be mentioned presently.

The home in London, to which her husband conveyed her, and of which he
had boasted, Dolly found to be lodgings. Lodgings recently engaged by
him, a sitting-room and bedroom, in the Blackfriars Road. They were over
a shop, kept by one Mrs. Turk, who was their landlady. "I would not
fix upon a house, dear, without you," he said; and Dolly thanked him
gratefully. All he did was right to her.

She was, as he had told her she would be, happy as a cricket, though
bewildered with the noisy bustle of the great town, and hardly daring to
venture alone into its busy streets, more crowded than was Worcester
Cathedral on the Sundays Mr. Benson preached. The curious elucidation at
Gloucester of what her father's fate had been was a relief to her mind,
rather than the contrary, once she had got over its sadness; though the
still more curious doubt about her brother Tom, whispered to her by
Elizabeth Deavor on her wedding morning, was rarely absent from her
thoughts. But Dolly was young, Dolly was in love, and Dolly was
intensely happy. Her husband took her to the theatres, to Vauxhall, and
to other places of amusement; and Dolly began to think life was going to
be a happy valley into which care would never penetrate.

This happy state of things changed. Mr. Mapping took to be a great deal
away from home, sometimes for weeks together. He laid the fault upon his
business; travellers in the wine trade had to go all over England,
he said. Dolly was not unreasonable and accepted the explanation
cheerfully.

But something else happened now and then that was less satisfactory. Mr.
Mapping would appear at home in a condition that frightened Dolly: as if
he had made the mistake of tasting the wine samples himself, instead of
carrying them to his customers. Never having been brought into contact
with anything of the kind in her own home, she regarded it with terror
and dismay.

Then another phase of discomfort set in: money seemed to grow short.
Dolly could not get from her husband what was needed for their moderate
expenses; which were next to nothing when he was away from home. She
cried a little one day when she wanted some badly and he told her he had
none to give her. Upon which Mr. Mapping turned cross. There was no need
of tears, he said: it would all come right if she did not bother. Dolly,
in her secret heart, hoped he would not have to break in upon what
he called their "nest-egg," that three hundred pounds in the bank.
A nest-egg which, as he had more than once assured her, it was his
intention to keep intact.

Only in one thing had Mr. Mapping been arbitrary: he would not allow
her to hold any communication with Worcester. When they first came to
London, he forbade Dolly to write to any of her former friends, or to
give them her address. "You have no relatives there," he said, "only a
few acquaintances, and I would prefer, Dolly, that you dropped them
altogether." Of course she obeyed him: though it prevented her writing
to ask Elizabeth Deavor whether she had again seen Tom.

Things, despite Mr. Mapping's assurances, did not come right. As the
spring advanced, his absences became more marked and the money less
plentiful. Dolly shed many tears. She knew not what to do; for, as
the old song says, not e'en love can live on flowers. It was a very
favourite song of Dolly's, and her tuneful voice might often be heard
trilling it through from beginning to end as she sat at work.

    "Young Love lived once in a humble shed,
      Where roses breathing
      And woodbines wreathing
    Around the lattice their tendrils spread,
    As wild and as sweet as the life he led.

    "The garden flourished, for young Hope nourished,
      And Joy stood by to count the hours:
    But lips, though blooming, must still be fed,
      And not e'en Love can live on flowers.

    "Alas, that Poverty's evil eye
      Should e'er come hither
      Such sweets to wither;
    The flowers laid down their heads to die,
    And Love looked pale as the witch drew nigh.

    "She came one morning, and Love had warning,
      For he stood at the window, peeping for day:
    'Oh, oh,' said he, 'is it you,--good-bye'--
      And he opened the window and flew away."

Dolly's love did not fly away, though the ugly witch, Poverty, was
certainly showing herself. Mrs. Turk grew uneasy. Dolly assured her
there was no occasion for that; that if the worst came to the worst,
they must break into the "nest-egg" which they had lying by in the Bank
of England--the three hundred pounds left her by her mother.

One bright day in May, Dolly, pining for the outdoor sunshine, betook
herself to Hyde Park, a penny roll in her pocket for her dinner. The sun
glittered in the blue sky, the air was warm, the birds chirped in the
trees and hopped on the green grass. Dolly sat on a bench enjoying the
sweetness and tranquillity, thinking how very delightful life might be
when no evil stepped in to mar it.

Two Quakeress ladies approached arm-in-arm, talking busily. Dolly
started up with a cry: for the younger one was Elizabeth Deavor. She had
come to London with a friend for the May meetings. The two girls were
delighted to see each other, but Elizabeth was pressed for time.

"Why did thee never write to me, Dorothy? I had but one letter from
thee, written at Gloucester, telling me, thee knows, all about thy poor
father." And, to this question, Dolly murmured some lame excuse.

"I wanted to write to thee, but I had not thy address. I promised thee
I would look out for Tom--"

"And have you seen him again?" interrupted Dolly in excitement. "Oh,
Elizabeth?"

"I have seen the boy again, but it was not Tom: and I am very sorry
that my fancy misled me and caused me to excite thy hopes. It was only
recently, in Fourth month. I saw the same boy standing in the same
place before thy old gate, his arms folded, and looking at the house as
before, in the moonlight. I ran out, and caught his arm, and held it
while he told me who he was and why he came there. It was not thy
brother, Dorothy, but the likeness to him is marvellous."

"No!--not he?" gasped Dolly, woefully disappointed.

"It is one Richard East," said Elizabeth; "a young sailor. He lived with
his mother in that house before she died, when he was a little boy; and
when he comes home from a voyage now, and is staying with his friends in
Melcheapen Street, he likes to go up there and have a good look at it.
This is all. As I say, I am sorry to have misled thee. We think there
cannot be a doubt that poor Tom really lost his life that night in the
canal. And art thee nicely, Dorothy?--and is thy husband well? Thee art
looking thin. Fare thee well."

Summer passed, Dolly hardly knew how. She was often reduced to straits,
often and often went dinnerless. Mrs. Turk only had a portion of what
was due to her by fits and starts. Mr. Mapping himself made light of
troubles; they did not seem to touch him much; he was always in spirits
and always well dressed.

"Alick, you should draw a little of that money in the bank," his wife
ventured to suggest one day when Mrs. Turk had been rather troublesome.
"We cannot go on like this."

"Break in upon our 'nest-egg!'" he answered. "Not if I know it, Dolly.
Mrs. Turk must wait."

A little circumstance was to happen that gave some puzzle to Dolly. She
had been married about fourteen months, and her husband was, as she
believed, on his travels in Yorkshire, when Lord-Mayor's day occurred.
Mrs. Gurk, a good woman in the main, and compassionating the loneliness
of the young wife, offered to take her to see the show, having been
invited to an upper window of a house in Cheapside. Of all the sights in
the world that Dolly had heard of, she quite believed that must be the
greatest, and felt delighted. They went, took up their station at the
window, and the show passed. If it had not quite come up to Dolly's
expectation, she did not say so.

"A grand procession, is it not, Mrs. Mapping?" cried her companion,
gazing after it with admiring eyes.

"Very," said Dolly. "I wonder--Good gracious!" she broke off, with
startling emphasis, "there's my husband!"

"Where?" asked Mrs. Turk, her eyes bent on the surging crowd below.

"There," said Dolly, pointing with her finger; "there! He is arm-in-arm
with two others; in the middle of them. How very strange! It was only
yesterday I had a letter from him from Bradford, saying he should be
detained there for some time to come. How I wish he had looked up at
this window!"

Mrs. Turk's sight had failed to single him out amongst the moving crowd.
And as Mr. Mapping did not make his appearance at home that evening, or
for many evenings to come, she concluded that the young wife must have
been mistaken.

When Mr. Mapping did appear, he said the same, telling Dolly she must
have "seen double," for that he had not been in London. Dolly did not
insist, but she felt staggered and uncomfortable; she felt _certain_ it
was her husband she saw.

How long the climax would have been postponed, or in what way it might
have disclosed itself, but for something that occurred, cannot be
conjectured. This wretched kind of life went on until the next spring.
Dolly was reduced to perplexity. She had parted with all the pretty
trinkets her mother left her; she would live for days together upon
bread-and-butter and tears: and a most unhappy suspicion had instilled
itself into her mind--that the nest-egg no longer existed. But even yet
she found excuses for her husband; she thought that all doubt might
still be explained away. Mrs. Turk was very good, and did not worry;
Dolly did some plain sewing for her, and made her a gown or two.

On one of these spring days, when the sun was shining brightly on the
pavement outside, Dolly went out on an errand. She had not gone many
steps from the door when a lady, very plainly dressed, came up and
accosted her quietly.

"Young woman, I wish to ask why you have stolen away my husband?"

"Good gracious!" exclaimed the startled Dolly. "What do you mean?"

"You call yourself Mrs. Mapping."

"I am Mrs. Mapping."

The stranger shook her head. "We cannot converse here," she said. "Allow
me to go up to your room"--pointing to it. "I know you lodge there."

"But what is it that you want with me?" objected Dolly, who did not like
all this.

"You think yourself the wife of Alick Mapping. You think you were
married to him."

Dolly wondered whether the speaker had escaped from that neighbouring
stronghold, Bedlam. "I don't know what it is you wish to insinuate," she
said. "I was married to Mr. Mapping at St. Martin's Church in Worcester,
more than eighteen months ago."

"Ay! But I, his wife, was married to him in London seven years ago.
Yours was no marriage; he deceived you."

Dolly's face was turning all manner of colours. She felt frightened
almost to death.

"Take me to your room and I will tell you all that you need to know. Do
not fear I shall reproach you; I am only sorry for you; it has been no
fault of yours. He is a finished deceiver, as I have learnt to my cost."

Dolly led the way. Seated together, face to face, her eyes strained on
the stranger's, she listened to the woeful tale, which was gently told.
That it was true she could not doubt. Alick Mapping had married her at
St. Martin's Church in Worcester, but he had married this young woman
some years before it.

"You are thinking that I look older than my husband," said she,
misinterpreting Dolly's gaze. "That is true. I am five years older, and
am now approaching my fortieth year. He pretended to fall in love with
me; I thought he did; but what he really fell in love with was my
money."

"How did you come to know about me?--how did you find it out?" gasped
Dolly.

"It was through Mrs. Turk, your landlady," answered the true wife. "She
has been suspecting that something or other was wrong, and she talked of
it to a friend of hers who chances to know my family. This friend was
struck with the similarity of name--the Alick Mapping whose wife was
here in the Blackfriars Road, and the Alick Mapping whose wife lived at
Hackney."

"How long is it since he left you?" asked poor Dolly.

"He has not left me. He has absented himself inexplicably at times for
a year or two past, but he is still with me. He is at home now, at this
present moment. I have a good home, you must understand, and a good
income, which he cannot touch; he would think twice before giving up
that. Had you money?" continued the lady abruptly.

"I had three hundred pounds. He told me he had placed it in the Bank of
England; I think he did do that; and that he should never draw upon it,
but leave it there for a nest-egg."

Mrs. Mapping smiled in pity. "You may rely upon it that there's not a
shilling left of it. Money in his hands, when he can get hold of any,
runs out of them like water."

"Is it true that he travels for a wine house?"

"Yes--and no. It is his occupation, but he is continually throwing up
his situations: pleasure has more attraction for him than work; and he
will be a gentleman at large for months together. Yet not a more clever
man of business exists than he is known to be, and he can get a place at
any time."

"Have you any children?" whispered Dolly.

"No. Shall you prosecute him?" continued the first wife, after a pause.

"Shall I--what?" cried Dolly, aghast.

"Prosecute him for the fraud he has committed on you?"

"Oh dear! the exposure would kill me," shivered the unhappy girl. "I
shall only hope to run away and hide myself forever."

"Every syllable I have told you is truth," said the stranger, producing
a slip of paper as she rose to depart. "Here are two or three references
by which you can verify it, if you doubt me. Mrs. Turk will do it for
you if you do not care to stir in it yourself. Will you shake hands with
me?"

Dolly assented, and burst into a whirlwind of tears.

Nothing seemed to be left for her, as she said, but to run away and
hide herself. All the money was gone, and she was left penniless and
helpless. By the aid of Mrs. Turk, who proved a good friend to her, she
obtained a situation in a small preparatory school near Croydon, as
needle-woman and companion to the mistress. She called herself Mrs.
Mapping still, and continued to wear her wedding-ring; she did not know
what else to do. She _had_ been married; truly, as she had believed; and
what had come of it was surely no fault of hers.

A little good fortune fell to her in time; a little bit. For years and
years she remained in that school at Croydon, until, as it seemed to
herself, she was middle-aged, and then the mistress of it died. Having
no relatives, she left her savings and her furniture to Dolly. With the
money Dolly set up the house in Gibraltar Terrace, put the furniture
into it, and began to let lodgings. A young woman, who had been teacher
in the school, and whom Dolly regarded as her sister, and often called
her so, removed to it with her and stayed with her until she married.

Those particulars--which we listened to one evening from her own
lips--were gloomy enough. The Squire went into an explosion over Alick
Mapping.

"The despicable villain! What has become of him?"

"I never saw him after his wife came to me," she answered, "but Mrs.
Turk would get news of him now and then. Since Mrs. Turk's death, I have
heard nothing. Sometimes I think he may be dead."

"I hope he was hung!" flashed the Squire.

Well--to hasten on. That was Dorothy Grape's history since she left
Worcester; and a cruel one it was!

We saw her once or twice again before quitting London. And the Squire
left a substantial present with her, for old remembrance sake.

"She looks as though she needed it, Johnny," said he. "Poor thing!
poor thing! And such a pretty, happy little maiden as she used to be,
standing in her pinafore amongst the yellow roses in the porch at Islip!
Johnny, lad, I _hope_ that vagabond came to be hanged!"


II.

It was ever so long afterwards, and the time had gone on by years, when
we again fell into the thread of Dorothy Grape's life. The Squire was in
London for a few days upon some law business, and had brought me with
him.

"I should like to see how that poor woman's getting on, Johnny," he said
to me one morning. "Suppose we go down to Gibraltar Terrace?"

It was a dull, damp, misty day at the close of autumn; and when the
Squire turned in at No. 60, after dismissing the cab, he stood still
and stared, instead of knocking. A plate was on the door, "James Noak,
carpenter and joiner."

"Has she left, do you think, Johnny?"

"Well, sir, we can ask. Perhaps the carpenter is only lodging here?"

A tidy young woman, with a baby in her arms, answered the knock. "Does
Mrs. Mapping live here still?" asked the Squire.

"No, sir," she answered. "I don't know the name."

"Not know the name!" retorted he, turning crusty; for he disliked, of
all things, to be puzzled or thwarted. "Mrs. Mapping lived here for ten
or a dozen years, anyhow."

"Oh, stay, sir," she said, "I remember the name now. Mapping; yes, that
was it. She lived here before we came in."

"Is she dead?"

"No, sir. She was sold up."

"Sold up?"

"Yes, sir. Her lodging-letting fell off--this neighbourhood's not what
it was: people like to get further up, Islington way--and she was badly
off for a long while, could not pay her rent, or anything; so at last
the landlord was obliged to sell her up. At least, that's what we heard
after we came here, but the house lay empty for some months between. I
did not hear what became of her."

The people at the next house could not tell anything; they were
fresh-comers also; and the Squire stood in a quandary. I thought of
Pitt the surgeon; he was sure to know; and ran off to his surgery in
the next street.

Changes seemed to be everywhere. Pitt's small surgery had given place to
a chemist's shop. The chemist stood behind his counter in a white apron.
Pitt? Oh, Pitt had taken to a practice further off, and drove his
brougham. "Mrs. Mapping?" added the chemist, in further answer to me.
"Oh yes, she lives still in the same terrace. She came to grief at No.
60, poor woman, and lodges now at No. 32. Same side of the way; this
end."

No. 32 had a plate on the door: "Miss Kester, dressmaker," and Miss
Kester herself--a neat little woman, with a reserved, not to say sour,
face and manner, and a cloud of pins sticking out of her brown
waistband--answered the knock. She sent us up to a small back-room at
the top of the house.

Mrs. Mapping sat sewing near a fireless grate, her bed in one corner;
she looked very ill. I had thought her thin enough before; she was a
shadow now. The blue eyes had a piteous look in them, the cheeks a
hectic.

"Yes," she said, in answer to the Squire, her voice faint and her cough
catching her every other minute, "it was a sad misfortune for me to be
turned out of my house; it nearly broke my heart. The world is full of
trouble, sir."

"How long is it since?"

"Nearly eighteen months, sir. Miss Kester had this room to let, and I
came into it. It is quiet and cheap: only half-a-crown a-week."

"And how do you get the half-crown?" questioned the Squire. "And your
dinner and breakfast--how do you get that?"

Mrs. Mapping passed her trembling fingers across her brow before she
answered--

"I'm sorry to have to tell of these things, sir. I'm sorry you have
found me out in my poverty. When I think of the old days at home,
the happy and plentiful days when poor mother was living, and what a
different life mine might have been but for the dreadful marriage I
made, I--I can hardly bear up against it. I'm sure I beg your pardon,
gentlemen, for giving way."

For the tears were streaming down her thin cheeks. The Squire set up a
cough on his own account; I went to the window and looked down at some
grimy back-gardens.

"When I am a little stronger, and able to do a full day's work again, I
shall get on, sir, but I've been ill lately through going out in the wet
and catching cold," she said, mastering the tears. "Miss Kester is very
good in supplying me with as much as I can do."

"A grand 'getting on,'" cried the Squire. "You'd be all the better for
some fire in that grate."

"I might be worse off than I am," she answered meekly. "If it is but
little that I have, I am thankful for it."

The Squire talked a while longer; then he put a sovereign into her hand,
and came away with a gloomy look.

"She wants a bit of regular help," said he. "A few shillings paid to
her weekly while she gets up her strength might set her going again.
I wonder if we could find any one to undertake it?"

"You would not leave it with herself in a lump, sir?"

"Why, no, I think not; she may have back debts, you see, Johnny, and be
tempted to pay them with it; if so, practically it would be no good to
her. Wish Pitt lived here still! Wonder if that Miss Kester might be
trusted to---- There's a cab, lad! Hail it."

The next morning, when we were at breakfast at the hotel--which was not
the Tavistock this time--the Squire burst into a state of excitement
over his newspaper.

"Goodness me, Johnny! here's the very thing."

I wondered what had taken him, and what he meant; and for some time
did not clearly understand. The Squire's eyes had fallen upon an
advertisement, and also a leading article, treating of some great
philanthropic movement that had recently set itself up in London.
Reading the articles, I gathered that it had for its object the
distribution of alms on an extensive scale and the comprehensive
relieving of the distressed. Some benevolent gentlemen (so far as we
could understand the newspaper) had formed themselves into a band for
taking the general welfare of the needy into their hands, and devoted
their lives to looking after their poverty-stricken brothers and
sisters. A sort of universal, benevolent, set-the-world-to-rights
invention.

The Squire was in raptures. "If we had but a few more such good men in
the world, Johnny! I'll go down at once and shake their hands. If I
lived in London, I'd join them."

I could only laugh. Fancy the Squire going about from house to house
with a bag of silver to relieve the needy!

Taking note of the office occupied by these good men, we made our way to
it. Only two of them were present that morning: a man who looked like a
clerk, for he had books and papers before him; and a thin gentleman in
spectacles.

The Squire shook him by the hand at once, breaking into an ovation at
the good deeds of the benevolent brotherhood, that should have made the
spectacles before us, as belonging to a member of it, blush.

"Yes," he said, his cool, calm tones contrasting with the Squire's hot
ones, "we intend to effect a work that has never yet been attempted.
Why, sir, by our exertions three parts of the complaints of hunger, and
what not, will be done away with."

The Squire folded his hands in an ecstasy of reverence. "That is, you
will relieve it," he remarked. "Bountiful Samaritans!"

"Relieve it, certainly--where the recipients are found to be deserving,"
returned the other. "But non-deserving cases--impostors, ill-doers, and
the like--will get punishment instead of relief, if we can procure it
for them."

"Quite right, too," warmly assented the Squire. "Allow me to shake your
hand again, sir. And you gentlemen are out every day upon this good
work! Visiting from house to house!"

"Some of us are out every day; we devote our time to it."

"And your money, too, of course!" exclaimed the Squire. "Listen, Johnny
Ludlow," he cried, turning to me, his red face glowing more and more
with every word, "I hope you'll take a lesson from this, my lad! Their
time, and their money too!"

The thin gentleman cleared his throat. "Of course we cannot do all in
the way of money ourselves," he said; "some of us, indeed, cannot do
anything in that way. Our operations are very large: a great deal is
needed, and we have to depend upon a generous public for help."

"By their making subscriptions to it?" cried the Squire.

"Undoubtedly."

The Squire tugged at an inner pocket. "Here, Johnny, help me to get out
my cheque-book." And when it was out, he drew a cheque for ten pounds
there and then, and laid it on the table.

"Accept this, sir," he said, "and my praises with it. And now I should
like to recommend to your notice a case myself--a most deserving one.
Will you take it in hand?"

"Certainly."

The Squire gave Mrs. Mapping's address, telling briefly of her present
distress and weakly state, and intimated that the best mode of relief
would be to allow her a few shillings weekly. "You will be sure to see
to her?" was his parting injunction. "She may starve if you do not."

"Have no fear: it is our business to do so," repeated the thin
gentleman. "Good-day."

"Johnny," said the Squire, going up the street sideways in his
excitement, "it is refreshing to hear of these self-denying deeds.
These good men must be going on straight for heaven!"

"Take care, sir! Look where you are going."

The Squire had not been going on straight himself just then, and had
bumped up against a foot-passenger who was hurrying along. It was Pitt,
the surgeon. After a few words of greeting, the Squire excused his
flurry by telling him where he had come from.

"Been _there_!" exclaimed Pitt, bursting into a laugh. "Wish you joy,
sir! We call it Benevolence Hall."

"And a very good name, too," said the Squire. "Such men ought to be
canonized, Pitt."

"Hope they will be?" answered Pitt in a curious kind of tone. "I can't
stop now, Mr. Todhetley; am on my way to a consultation."

"He slips from one like an eel," cried the Squire, looking after the
doctor as he hurried onwards: "I might have spoken to him about Mrs.
Mapping. But my mind is at ease with regard to her, Johnny, now that
these charitable men have the case in hand: and we shall be up again in
a few weeks."


III.

It was nearly two months before we were again in London, and winter
weather: the same business, connected with a lawsuit, calling the Squire
up.

"And now for Mrs. Mapping," he said to me during the afternoon of the
second day. So we went to Gibraltar Terrace.

"Yes, she is in her room," said Miss Kester in a resentful tone, when
she admitted us. "It is a good thing somebody's come at last to see
after her! I don't care to have her alone here on my hands to die."

"To die!" cried the Squire sharply, supposing the dressmaker spoke only
in temper. "What is she dying of?"

"Starvation," answered Miss Kester.

"Why, what on earth do you mean, ma'am?" demanded he. "Starvation!"

"I've done what I could for her, so far as a cup of tea might go, and a
bit of bread-and-butter once a day, or perhaps a drop of broth," ran on
Miss Kester in the same aggrieved tone. "But it has been hard times with
myself lately, and I have my old mother to keep and a bedridden sister.
What she has wanted is a supply of nourishing food; and she has had as
good as none of any sort since you were here, sir, being too weak to
work: and so, rapid consumption set in."

She whisked upstairs with the candle, for the short winter day was
already closing, and we followed her. Mrs. Mapping sat in an old
easy-chair, over a handful of fire, her thin cotton shawl folded round
her: white, panting, attenuated, starved; and--there could not be much
mistake about it--dying.

"Starved? dying? dear, dear!" ejaculated the Squire, backing to the
other chair and sitting down in a sort of terror. "What has become of
the good people at Benevolence Hall?"

"They!" cried Miss Kester contemptuously. "You don't suppose those
people would spend money to keep a poor woman from dying, do you, sir?"

"Why, it is their business to do it," said the Squire. "I put Mrs.
Mapping's case into their hands, and they undertook to see to it."

"To see to it, perhaps, sir, but not to relieve it; I should be
surprised if they did that. One of them called here ever so many weeks
ago and frightened Mrs. Mapping with his harsh questions; but he gave
her nothing."

"I don't understand all this," cried the Squire, rumpling his hair. "Was
it a gentleman?"--turning to Mrs. Mapping.

"He was dressed as one," she said, "but he was loud and dictatorial,
almost as though he thought me a criminal instead of a poor sick woman.
He asked me all kinds of questions about my past life, where I had lived
and what I had done, and wrote down the answers."

"Go on," said the Squire, as she paused for breath.

"As they sent me no relief and did not come again, Miss Kester, after
two or three weeks had gone by, was good enough to send a messenger to
the place: her nephew. He saw the gentlemen there and told them I was
getting weaker daily and was in dreadful need, if they would please to
give me a trifle; he said he should never have thought of applying to
them but for their having come to see after me. The gentlemen answered
unfavourably; inquiries had been made, they sternly told him, and the
case was found to be one not suitable for relief, that I did not deserve
it. I--I--have never done anything wrong willingly," sobbed the poor
woman, breaking down.

"I don't think she has, sir; she don't seem like it; and I'm sure she
struggled hard enough to get a living at No. 60," said Miss Kester. "Any
way, they did nothing for her--they've just left her to starve and die."

I had seen the Squire in many a temper, but never in a worse than now.
He flung out of the room, calling upon me to follow him, and climbed
into the hansom that waited for us outside.

"To Benevolence Hall," roared he, "and drive like the deuce."

"Yes, sir," said the man. "Where is Benevolence Hall?"

I gave him the address, and the man whirled us to Benevolence Hall in a
very short time. The Squire leaped out and indoors, primed. In the
office stood a young man, going over some accounts by gaslight. His
flaxen hair was parted down the middle, and he looked uncommonly simple.
The rest of the benevolent gentlemen had left for the day.

What the Squire said at first, I hardly know: I don't think he knew
himself. His words came tumbling out in a way that astonished the clerk.

"Mrs. Mapping," cried the young man, when he could understand a little
what the anger was about. "Your ten pounds?--meant for her, you say----"

"Yes, my ten pounds," wrathfully broke in the Squire; "my ten-pound
cheque that I paid down here on this very table. What have you done with
it?"

"Oh, that ten pounds has been spent, partly so, at least, in making
inquiries about the woman, looking-up her back history and all that.
Looking-up the back lives of people takes a lot of money, you see."

"But why did you not relieve her with it, or a portion of it? That
is the question I've come to ask, young man, and I intend to have it
answered."

The young man looked all surprise. "Why, what an idea!" lisped he. "Our
association does not profess to help sinners. That would be a go!"

"Sinners!"

"We can't be expected to take up a sinner, you know--and she's a topping
one," continued he, keeping just as cool as the Squire was hot. "We
found out all sorts of dreadful things against the woman. The name,
Mapping, is not hers, to begin with. She went to church with a man who
had a living wife----"

"She didn't," burst in the Squire. "It was the man who went to church
with her. And I hope with all my heart he came to be hanged!"

The clerk considered. "It comes to the same, doesn't it?" said he,
vaguely. "She did go to church with him; and it was ever so long before
his proper wife found it out; and she has gone on calling herself
Mapping ever since! And she managed so badly in a lodging-house she set
up, that she was sold out of it for rent. Consider that! Oh, indeed,
then, it is not on such people as these that our good gentlemen would
waste their money."

"What do they waste it on?" demanded the Squire.

"Oh, come now! They don't waste it. They spend it."

"What on? The sick and needy?"

"Well, you see, the object of this benevolent association is to discover
who is deserving and who is not. When an applicant comes or sends for
relief, representing that he is sick and starving, and all the rest of
it, we begin by searching out his back sins and misfortunes. The chances
are that a whole lot of ill turns up. If the case be really deserving,
and--and white, you know, instead of black--we relieve it."

"That is, you relieve about one case in a hundred, I expect?" stormed
the Squire.

"Oh, now you can't want me to go into figures," said the clerk, in his
simple way. "Anybody might know, if they've some knowledge of the world,
that an out-and-out deserving case does not turn up often. Besides, our
business is not relief but inquiry. We do relieve sometimes, but we
chiefly inquire."

"Now look you here," retorted the Squire. "Your object, inquiring into
cases, may be a good one in the main and do some excellent service; I
say nothing against it; but the public hold the impression that it is
_relief_ your association intends, not inquiry. Why is this erroneous
impression not set to rights?"

"Oh, but our system is, I assure you, a grand one," cried the young
fellow. "It accomplishes an immense good."

"And how much harm does it accomplish? Hold your tongue, young man! Put
it that an applicant is sick, starving, _dying_, for want of a bit of
aid in the shape of food, does your system give that bit of aid, just to
keep body and soul together while it makes its inquiries--say only to
the value of a few pence?"

The young fellow stared. "What a notion!" cried he. "Give help before
finding out whether it ought to be given or not? That would be quite a
Utopian way of fixing up the poor, that would."

"And do you suppose I should have given my ten pounds, but for being
misled, for being allowed to infer that it would be expended on the
distressed?" stamped the Squire. "Not a shilling of it. No money of mine
shall aid in turning poor helpless creatures inside out to expose their
sins, as you call it. _That's_ not charity. What the sick and the
famished want is a little kindly help--and the Bible enjoins us to give
it."

"But most of them are such a bad lot, you know," remonstrated the young
man.

"All the more need they should be helped," returned the Squire; "they
have bodies and souls to be saved, I suppose. Hold your silly tongue, I
tell you. I should have seen to this poor sick woman myself, who is just
as worthy as you are and your masters, but for their taking the case in
hand. As it is she has been left to starve and die. Come along, Johnny!
Benevolence Hall, indeed!"

Back to Gibraltar Terrace now, the Squire fretting and fuming. He was
hot and hasty, as the world knows, given to saying anything that came
uppermost, justifiable or the contrary: but in this affair it did seem
that something or somebody must be wrong.

"Johnny," said the Squire, as the cab bowled along, waking up out
of a brown study, "it seems to me that this is a serious matter of
conscience. It was last Sunday evening, wasn't it, that you read the
chapter in St. Matthew which tells of the last judgment?"

"Tod read it, sir. I read the one that followed it."

"Any way, it was one of you. In that chapter Christ charges us to
relieve the poor if we would be saved--the hungry and thirsty, the sick,
the naked. Now, see here, lad: if I give my alms to this new society
that has sprung up, and never a stiver of it to relieve the distress
that lies around me, would the blame, rest on _me_, I wonder? Should _I_
have to answer for it?"

It was too complicated a question for me. But just then we drew up at
Miss Kester's door.

Mrs. Mapping had changed in that short time. I thought she was dying,
thought so as I looked at her. There was a death-shade on the wan face,
never seen but when the world is passing away. The Squire saw it also.

"Yes," said Miss Kester, gravely, in answer to his whisper. "I fear it
is the end."

"Goodness bless me!" gasped the Squire. And he was for ordering in
pretty nearly every known restorative the shops keep, from turtle-soup
to calves'-foot jelly. Miss Kester shook her head.

"Too late, sir; too late. A month ago it would have saved her. Now,
unless I am very much mistaken, the end is at hand."

Well, he was in a way. If gold and silver could revive the dying, she'd
have had it. He sent me out to buy a bottle of port wine, and got Miss
Kester's little apprentice to run for the nearest doctor.

"Not rally again at all, you say! all stuff and nonsense," he was
retorting on Miss Kester when I returned. "Here's the wine, at last! Now
for a glass, Johnny."

She sipped about a teaspoonful by degrees. The shade on her face was
getting darker. Her poor thin fingers kept plucking at the cotton shawl.

"I have never done any harm that I knew of: at least, not wilfully," she
slowly panted, looking piteously at the Squire, evidently dwelling upon
the accusation made by Benevolence Hall: and it had, Miss Kester said,
troubled her frightfully. "I was only silly--and inexperienced--and--and
believed in everybody. Oh, sir, it was hard!"

"I'd prosecute them if I could," cried the Squire, fiercely. "There,
there; don't think about it any more; it's all over."

"Yes, it is over," she sighed, giving the words a different meaning from
his. "Over; over: the struggles and the disappointments, the privations
and the pain. Only God sees what mine have been, and how I've tried to
bear up in patience. Well, well; He knows best: and I think--I do think,
sir--He will make it up to us in heaven. My poor mother thought the same
when she was dying."

"To be sure," answered the Squire, soothingly. "One must be a heathen
not to know that. Hang that set-the-world-to-rights company!" he
muttered in a whisper.

"The bitterness of it all has left me," she whispered, with pauses
between the words for want of breath; "this world is fading from my
sight, the world to come opening. Only this morning, falling asleep in
the chair here, after the fatigue of getting up--and putting on my
things--and coughing--I dreamt I saw the Saviour holding out His hand to
welcome me, and I knew He was waiting to take me up to God. The clouds
round about Him were rose colour; a light, as of gold, lay in the
distance. Oh, how lovely it was! nothing but peace. Yes, yes, God will
forgive all our trials and our shortcomings, and make it up to us
there."

The room had a curious hush upon it. It hardly seemed to be a living
person speaking. Any way, she would not be living long.

"Another teaspoonful of wine, Johnny," whispered the Squire. "Dear,
dear! Where on earth can that doctor be?"

I don't believe a drop of it went down her throat. Miss Kester wiped
away the damp from her brow. A cough took her; and afterwards she lay
back again in the chair.

"Do you remember the yellow roses in the porch," she murmured, speaking,
as must be supposed, to the Squire, but her eyes were closed: "how the
dew on them used to glisten again in the sun on a summer's morning? I
was picking such a handful of them last night--beautiful roses, they
were; sweet and beautiful as the flowers we shall pick in heaven."

The doctor came upstairs, his shoes creaking. It was Pitt. Pitt! The
girl had met him by chance, and told him what was amiss.

"Ah," said he, bending over the chair, "you have called me too late. I
should have been here a month or two ago."

"She is dying of starvation," whispered the Squire. "All that money--ten
pounds--which I handed over to that blessed fraternity, and they never
gave her a sixpence of it--after assuring me they'd see to her!"

"Ah," said Pitt, his mouth taking a comical twist. "They meant they'd
see after her antecedents, I take it, not her needs. Quite a blessed
fraternity, I'm sure, as you say, Squire."

He turned away to Mrs. Mapping. But nothing could be done for her; even
the Squire, with all his impetuosity, saw that. Never another word did
she speak, never another recognizing gaze did she give. She just passed
quietly away with a sigh as we stood looking at her; passed to that
blissful realm we are all travelling to, and which had been the last
word upon her lips--Heaven.

And that is the true story of Dorothy Grape.



LADY JENKINS.

MINA.


I.

"Had I better go? I should like to."

"Go! why of course you had better go," answered the Squire, putting down
the letter.

"It will be the very thing for you, Johnny," added Mrs. Todhetley. "We
were saying yesterday that you ought to have a change."

I had not been well for some time; not strong. My old headaches stuck to
me worse than usual; Duffham complained that the pulse was feeble.
Therefore a letter from Dr. Knox of Lefford, pressing me to go and stay
with them, seemed to have come on purpose. Janet had added a postscript:
"You _must_ come, Johnny Ludlow, if it is only to see my two babies, and
you must not think of staying less than a month." Tod was from home,
visiting in Leicestershire.

Three days, and I was off, bag and baggage. To Worcester first, and then
onwards again, direct for Lefford. The very journey seemed to do me
good. It was a lovely spring day: the hedges were bursting into bud;
primroses and violets nestled in the mossy banks.

You have not forgotten, I dare say, how poor Janet Carey's hard life,
her troubles, and the sickness those troubles brought, culminated in a
brave ending when Arnold Knox, of Lefford, made her his wife. Some five
years had elapsed since then, and we were all of us that much older.
They had asked me to visit them over and over again, but until now I had
not done it. Mr. Tamlyn, Arnold's former master and present partner,
with whom they lived, was growing old; he only attended to a few of the
old patients now.

It was a cross-grained kind of route, and much longer than it need
have been could we have gone straight as a bird flies. The train made
all sorts of detours, and I had to change no less than three times.
For the last few miles I had had the carriage to myself, but at Toome
Junction, the last station before Lefford, a gentleman got in: a
rather elderly man with grey hair. Not a syllable did we say, one to
another--Englishmen like--and at length Lefford was gained.

"In to time exactly," cried this gentleman then, peering out at the
gas-lighted station. "The clock's on the stroke of eight."

Getting my portmanteau, I looked about for Dr. Knox's brougham, which
would be waiting for me, and soon pitched upon one, standing near the
flys. But my late fellow-passenger strode on before me.

"I thought I spied you out, Wall," he said to the coachman. "Quite a
chance your being here, I suppose?"

"I'm waiting for a gentleman from Worcester, sir," answered the man,
looking uncommonly pleased, as he touched his hat. "Dr. Knox couldn't
come himself."

"Well, I suppose you can take me as well as the gentleman from
Worcester," answered the other, as he turned from patting the old horse,
and saw me standing there. And we got into the carriage.

It proved to be Mr. Shuttleworth, he who had been old Tamlyn's partner
for a short time, and had married his sister. Tamlyn's people did not
know he was coming to-night, he told me. He was on his way to a distant
place, to see a relative who was ill; by making a round of it, he could
take Lefford, and drop in at Mr. Tamlyn's for the night--and was doing
so.

Janet came running to the door, Mr. Tamlyn walking slowly behind her.
He had a sad countenance, and scanty grey hair, and looked ever so
much older than his actual years. Since his son died, poor Bertie,
life's sunshine had gone out for him. Very much surprised were they to
see Mr. Shuttleworth as well as me.

Janet gave us a sumptuous high-tea, pouring out unlimited cups of tea
and pressing us to eat of all the good things. Except that she had
filled out a little from the skeleton she was, and looked as joyous now
as she had once looked sad, I saw little difference in her. Her boy,
Arnold, was aged three and a half: the little girl, named Margaret,
after Miss Deveen, could just walk.

"Never were such children in all the world before, if you listen to
Janet," cried old Tamlyn, looking at her fondly--for he had learnt to
love Janet as he would a daughter--and she laughed shyly and blushed.

"You don't ask after mine," put in Mr. Shuttleworth, quaintly; "my one
girl. She is four years old now. Such a wonder! such a paragon! other
babies are nothing to it; so Bessy says. Bessy is silly over that child,
Tamlyn."

Old Tamlyn just shook his head. They suddenly remembered the one only
child he had lost, and changed the subject.

"And what about everything!" asked Mr. Shuttleworth, lighting a cigar,
as we sat round the fire after our repast, Janet having gone out to see
to a room for Shuttleworth, or perhaps to contemplate her sleeping
babies. "I am glad you have at last given up the parish work."

"There's enough to do without it; the practice increases daily," cried
Tamlyn. "Arnold is much liked."

"How are all the old patients?"

"That is a comprehensive question," smiled Tamlyn. "Some are
flourishing, and some few are, of course, dead."

"Is Dockett with you still?"

"No. Dockett is in London at St. Thomas's. Sam Jenkins is with us in his
place. A clever young fellow; worth two of Dockett."

"Who is Sam Jenkins?"

"A nephew of Lady Jenkins--you remember her? At least, of her late
husband's."

"I should think I do remember Lady Jenkins," laughed Shuttleworth. "How
is she? Flourishing about the streets as usual in that red-wheeled
carriage of hers, dazzling as the rising sun?"

"Lady Jenkins is not well," replied Tamlyn, gravely. "She gives me some
concern."

"In what way does she give you concern?"

"Chiefly because I can't find out what it is that's amiss with her?"

"Has she been ill long?"

"For some months now. She is not very ill: goes out in her carriage to
dazzle the town, as you observe, and has her regular soirées at home.
But I don't like her symptoms: I don't understand them, and they grow
worse. She has never been well, really well, since that French journey."

"What French journey?"

"At the end of last summer, my Lady Jenkins must needs get it into her
head that she should like to see Paris. Stupid old thing, to go all the
way to France for the first time in her life! She did go, taking Mina
Knox with her--who is growing up as pretty a girl as you'd wish to see.
And, by the way, Shuttleworth, Mina is in luck. She has had a fortune
left her. An old gentleman, not related to them at all, except that he
was Mina's godfather, left her seven thousand pounds last year in his
will. Arnold is trustee."

"I am glad of it. Little Mina and I used to be great friends. Her mother
is as disagreeable as ever, I suppose?"

"As if she'd ever change from being _that_!" returned Tamlyn. "I have no
patience with her. She fritters away her own income, and then comes here
and worries Arnold's life out with her embarrassments. He does for her
more than I should do. Educates young Dicky, for one thing."

"No doubt. Knox always had a soft place in his heart. But about Lady
Jenkins?"

"Lady Jenkins went over to Paris with her maid, taking Mina as her
companion. It was in August. They stayed three weeks there, racketing
about to all kinds of show-places, and overdoing it, of course. When
they arrived at Boulogne on their way back, expecting to cross over at
once, they found they had to wait. A gale was raging, and the boats
could not get out. So they put up at an hotel there; and, that night,
Lady Jenkins was taken alarmingly ill--the journey and the racketing and
the French living had been too much for her. Young people can stand
these things, Johnny Ludlow; old ones can't," added Tamlyn, looking at
me across the hearth.

"Very true, sir. How old is Lady Jenkins?"

"Just seventy. But you wouldn't have thought her so much before that
French journey. Until then she was a lively, active, bustling woman,
with a good-natured, pleasant word for every one. Now she is weary,
dull, inanimate; seems to be, half her time, in a sort of lethargy."

"What was the nature of the illness?" asked Shuttleworth. "A seizure?"

"No, nothing of that sort. I'm sure I don't know what it was," added old
Tamlyn, rubbing back his scanty grey hair in perplexity. "Any way, they
feared she was going to die. The French doctor said her getting well
was a miracle. She lay ill ten days, keeping her bed, and was still ill
and very weak when she reached home. Mina believes that a lady who was
detained at the same hotel by the weather, and who came forward and
offered her services as nurse, saved Lady Jenkins's life. She was so
kind and attentive; never going to her bed afterwards until Lady Jenkins
was up from hers. She came home with them."

"Who did? This lady?"

"Yes; and has since remained with Lady Jenkins as companion. She is a
Madame St. Vincent; a young widow----"

"A Frenchwoman!" exclaimed Mr. Shuttleworth.

"Yes; but you wouldn't think it. She speaks English just as we do, and
looks English. A very nice, pleasant young woman; as kind and loving to
Lady Jenkins as though she were her daughter. I am glad they fell in
with her. She---- Oh, is it you, Sam?"

A tall smiling young fellow of eighteen, or so, had come in. It was Sam
Jenkins: and, somehow, I took to him at once. Mr. Shuttleworth shook
hands and said he was glad to hear he promised to be a second Abernethy.
Upon which Sam's wide mouth opened in laughter, showing a set of nice
teeth.

"I thought Dr. Knox was here, sir," he said to Mr. Tamlyn, as if he
would apologize for entering.

"Dr. Knox is gone over to the Brook, but I should think he'd be back
soon now. Why? Is he wanted?"

"Only a message, sir, from old Willoughby's. They'd like him to call
there as soon as convenient in the morning."

"Now, Sam, don't be irreverent," reproved his master. "_Old_ Willoughby!
I should say Mr. Willoughby if I were you. He is no older than I am. You
young men of the present day are becoming very disrespectful; it was
different in my time."

Sam laughed pleasantly. Close upon that, Dr. Knox came in. He was more
altered than Janet, looking graver and older, his light hair as wild as
ever. He was just thirty now.

Mr. Shuttleworth left in the morning, and afterwards Dr. Knox took me to
see his step-mother. Her house (but it was his house, not hers), Rose
Villa, was in a suburb of the town, called the London Road. Mrs. Knox
was a dark, unpleasing-looking woman; her voice harsh, her crinkled
black hair untidy--it was never anything else in a morning. The two
eldest girls were in the room. Mina was seventeen, Charlotte twelve
months younger. Mina was the prettiest; a fair girl with a mild face and
pleasant blue eyes, her manner and voice as quiet as her face. Charlotte
seemed rather strong-minded.

"Are you going to the soirée next door to-night, Arnold?" cried Mrs.
Knox, as we were leaving.

"I think not," he answered. "Janet wrote to decline."

"You wished her to decline, I dare say!" retorted Mrs. Knox. "You always
did despise the soirées, Arnold."

Dr. Knox laughed pleasantly. "I have never had much time for soirées,"
he said; "and Janet does not care for them. Besides, we think it unkind
to leave Mr. Tamlyn alone." At which latter remark Mrs. Knox tossed her
head.

"I must call on Lady Jenkins, as I am up here," observed Dr. Knox to me,
when we were leaving. "You don't mind, do you, Johnny?"

"I shall like it. They were talking about her last night."

It was only a few yards higher up. A handsome dwelling, double the size
of Rose Villa, with two large iron gates flanked by imposing pillars, on
which was written in gold letters, as large as life, "Jenkins House."

Dr. Knox laughed. "Sir Daniel Jenkins re-christened it that," he said,
dropping his voice, lest any ears should be behind the open windows: "it
used to be called 'Rose Bank.' They moved up here four years ago; he was
taken ill soon afterwards and died, leaving nearly all his money to
his wife unconditionally: it is over four thousand a-year. He was in
business as a drysalter, and was knighted during the time he was mayor."

"Who will come in for the money?"

"That is as Lady Jenkins pleases. There are lots of relations,
Jenkinses. Sir Daniel partly brought up two orphan nephews--at least, he
paid for their schooling and left each a little money to place them out
in life. You have seen the younger of them, Sam, who is with us; the
other, Dan, is articled to a solicitor in the town, old Belford. Two
other cousins are in the drysalting business; and the ironmonger, Sir
Daniel's youngest brother, left several sons and daughters. The old
drysalter had no end of nephews and nieces, and might have provided for
them all. Perhaps his widow will do so."

Not possessing the faintest idea of what "drysalting" might be, unless
it had to do with curing hams, I was about to inquire, when the
house-door was thrown open by a pompous-looking gentleman in black--the
butler--who showed us into the dining-room, where Lady Jenkins was
sitting. I liked her at first sight. She was short and stout, and had
pink cheeks and a pink turned-up nose, and wore a "front" of flaxen
curls, surmounted by a big smart cap with red roses and blue ribbons in
it; but there was not an atom of pretence about her, and her blue eyes
were kindly. She took the hands of Dr. Knox in hers, and she shook mine
warmly, saying she had heard of Johnny Ludlow.

Turning from her, I caught the eyes of a younger lady fixed upon me. She
looked about seven-and-twenty, and wore a fashionable black-and-white
muslin gown. Her hair was dark, her eyes were a reddish brown, her
cheeks had a fixed bloom upon them. The face was plain, and it struck me
that I had seen it somewhere before. Dr. Knox greeted her as Madame St.
Vincent.

When we first went in, Lady Jenkins seemed to wake up from a doze. In
two minutes she had fallen into a doze again, or as good as one. Her
eyelids drooped, she sat perfectly quiet, never speaking unless spoken
to, and her face wore a sort of dazed, or stupid look. Madame St.
Vincent talked enough for both of them; she appealed frequently to Lady
Jenkins--"Was it not so, dear Lady Jenkins?"--or "Don't you remember
that, dear Lady Jenkins?" and Lady Jenkins docilely answered "Yes,
dear," or "Yes, Patty."

That Madame St. Vincent was a pleasant woman, as Mr. Tamlyn had said,
and that she spoke English as we did, as he had also said, there
could not be a doubt. Her tongue could not be taken for any but a
native tongue; moreover, unless my ears deceived me, it was native
Worcestershire. Ever and anon, too, a homely word would be dropped by
her in the heat of conversation that belonged to Worcestershire proper,
and to no other county.

"You will come to my soirée this evening, Mr. Ludlow," Lady Jenkins woke
up to say to me as we were leaving.

"Johnny can come; I dare say he would like to," put in Dr. Knox;
"although I and Janet cannot----"

"Which is very churlish of you," interposed Madame St. Vincent.

"Well, you know what impediments lie in our way," he said, smiling. "Sam
can come up with Johnny, if you like, Lady Jenkins."

"To be sure; let Sam come," she answered, readily. "How is Sam? and how
does he get on?"

"He is very well, and gets on well."

Dr. Knox walked down the road in silence, looking grave. "Every time I
see her she seems to me more altered," he observed presently, and I
found he was speaking of Lady Jenkins. "_Something_ is amiss with her,
and I cannot tell what. I wish Tamlyn would let me take the case in
hand!"

Two peculiarities obtained at Lefford. The one was that the universal
dinner hour, no-matter how much you might go in for fashion, was in the
middle of the day; the other was that every evening gathering, no matter
how unpretentious, was invariably called a "soirée." They were the
customs of the town.

The soirée was in full swing when I reached Jenkins House that night--at
six o'clock. Madame St. Vincent and Charlotte Knox sat behind the
tea-table in a cloud of steam, filling the cups as fast as the company
emptied them; a footman, displaying large white calves, carried round a
tray of bread-and-butter and cake. Lady Jenkins sat near the fire in an
easy-chair, wearing a red velvet gown and lofty turban. She nodded
to the people as they came in, and smiled at them with quite a silly
expression. Mina and Charlotte Knox were in white muslin and pink roses.
Mina looked very pretty indeed, and as mild as milk; Charlotte was
downright and strong-minded. Every five minutes or so, Madame St.
Vincent--the white streamers on her rich black silk dress floating
behind her--would leave the tea-table to run up to Lady Jenkins and ask
if she wanted anything. Sam had not come with me: he had to go out
unexpectedly with Dr. Knox.

"Mr. Jenkins," announced the pompous butler, showing in a tall young
fellow of twenty. He had just the same sort of honest, good-natured face
that had taken my fancy in Sam, and I guessed that this was his brother,
the solicitor. He came up to Lady Jenkins.

"How do you do, aunt?" he said, bending to kiss her. "Hearing of your
soirée to-night, I thought I might come."

"Why, my dear, you know you may come; you are always welcome. Which is
it?" she added, looking up at him stupidly, "Dan, or Sam?"

"It is Dan," he answered; and if ever I heard pain in a tone, I heard it
in his.

"You are Johnny Ludlow, I know!" he said, holding out his hand to me in
the warmest manner, as he turned from his aunt. "Sam told me about you
this morning." And we were friends from that moment.

Dan brought himself to an anchor by Mina Knox. He was no beauty
certainly, but he had a good face. Leaning over Mina's chair, he began
whispering to her--and she whispered back again. Was there anything
between them? It looked like it--at any rate, on his side--judging by
his earnest expression and the loving looks that shot from his honest
grey eyes.

"Are you really French?" I asked of Madame St. Vincent, while standing
by her side to drink some tea.

"Really," she answered, smiling. "Why?"

"Because you speak English exactly like ourselves."

"I speak it better than I do French," she candidly said. "My mother was
English, and her old maid-servant was English, and they educated me
between them. It was my father who was French--and he died early."

"Was your mother a native of Worcestershire?"

"Oh dear, no: she came from Wales. What made you think of such a thing?"

"Your accent is just like our Worcestershire accent. I am Worcestershire
myself: and I could have thought you were."

She shook her head. "Never was there in my life, Mr. Ludlow. Is that why
you looked at me so much when you were here with Dr. Knox this morning?"

"No: I looked at you because your face struck me as being familiar," I
frankly said: "I thought I must have seen you somewhere before. Have I,
I wonder?"

"Very likely--if you have been much in the South of France," she
answered: "at a place called Brétage."

"But I have never been at Brétage."

"Then I don't see how we can have met. I have lived there all my life.
My father and mother died there: my poor husband died there. I only came
away from it last year."

"It must be my fancy, I suppose. One does see likenesses----"

"Captain Collinson," shouted the butler again.

A military-looking man, got up in the pink of fashion, loomed in with a
lordly air; you'd have said the room belonged to him. At first he seemed
all hair: bushy curls, bushy whiskers, a moustache, and a fine flowing
beard, all purple black. Quite a flutter stirred the room: Captain
Collinson was evidently somebody.

After making his bow to Lady Jenkins, he distributed his favours
generally, shaking hands with this person, talking with that. At last he
turned our way.

"Ah, how do you do, madame?" he said to Madame St. Vincent, his tone
ceremonious. "I fear I am late."

It was not a minute that he stood before her, only while he said this:
but, strange to say, something in his face or voice struck upon my
memory. The face, as much as could be seen of it for hair, seemed
familiar to me--just as madame's had seemed.

"Who is he?" I whispered to her, following him with my eyes.

"Captain Collinson."

"Yes, I heard the name. But--do you know anything of him?--who he is?"

She shook her head. "Not much; nothing of my own knowledge. He is in an
Indian regiment, and is home on sick leave."

"I wonder which regiment it is? One of our fellows at Dr. Frost's got
appointed to one in Madras, I remember."

"The 30th Bengal Cavalry, is Captain Collinson's. By his conversation,
he appears to have spent nearly the whole of his life in India. It is
said he is of good family, and has a snug private fortune. I don't know
any more about him than that," concluded Madame St. Vincent, as she once
more rose to go to Lady Jenkins.

"He may have a snug private fortune, and he may have family, but I do
not like him," put in Charlotte Knox, in her decisive manner.

"Neither do I, Lotty," added Dan--who was then at the tea-table: and his
tone was just as emphatic as Charlotte's.

He had come up for a cup of tea for Mina. Before he could carry it to
her, Captain Collinson had taken up the place he had occupied at Mina's
elbow, and was whispering to her in a most impressive manner. Mina
seemed all in a flutter--and there was certainly no further room for
Dan.

"Don't you want it now, Mina?" asked Dan, holding the cup towards her,
and holding it in vain, for she was too much occupied to see it.

"Oh, thank you--no--I don't think I do want it now. Sorry you should
have had the trouble."

Her words were just as fluttered as her manner. Dan brought the tea back
and put it on the tray.

"Of course, she can't spare time to drink tea while _he_ is there,"
cried Charlotte, resentfully, who had watched what passed. "That man has
bewitched her, Dan."

"Not quite yet, I think," said Dan, quietly. "He is trying to do it.
There is no love lost between you and him, I see, Lotty."

"Not a ghost of it," nodded Lotty. "The town may be going wild in its
admiration of him, but I am not; and the sooner he betakes himself back
to India to his regiment, the better."

"I hope he will not take Mina with him," said Dan, gravely.

"I hope not, either. But she is silly enough for anything."

"Who is that, that's silly enough for anything?" cried Madame St.
Vincent, whisking back to her place.

"Mina," promptly replied Charlotte. "She asked for a cup of tea, and
then said she did not want it."

Some of the people sat down to cards; some to music; some talked. It was
the usual routine at these soirées, Mrs. Knox condescended to inform
me--and, what more, she added, could be wished for? Conversation, music,
and cards--they were the three best diversions of life, she said, not
that she herself much cared for music.

Poor Lady Jenkins did not join actively in any one of the three: she for
the most part dozed in her chair. When any one spoke to her, she would
wake up and say Yes or No; but that was all. Captain Collinson stood in
a corner, talking to Mina behind a sheet of music. He appeared to be
going over the bars with her, and to be as long doing it as if a whole
opera were scored there.

At nine o'clock the supper-room was thrown open, and Captain Collinson
handed in Lady Jenkins. Heavy suppers were not the mode at Lefford;
neither, as a rule, did the guests sit down, except a few of the elder
ones; but the table was covered with dainties. Sandwiches, meats in
jelly, rissoles, lobster salad, and similar things that could be eaten
with a fork, were supplied in abundance, with sweets and jellies.

"I hope you'll be able to make a supper, my dear," said Lady Jenkins to
me in her comfortable way--for supper seemed to wake her up. "You see,
if one person began to give a grand sitting-down supper, others would
think themselves obliged to do it, and every one can't afford that. So
we all confine ourselves to this."

"And I like this best," I said.

"Do you, my dear? I'm glad of that. Dan, is that you? Mind you make a
good supper too."

We both made a famous one. At least, I can answer for myself. And, at
half-past ten, Dan and I departed together.

"How very good-natured Lady Jenkins seems to be!" I remarked.

"She is good-nature itself, and always was," Dan warmly answered. "She
has never been a bit different from what you see her to-night--kind to
us all. You should have known her though in her best days, before she
grew ill. I never saw any one so altered."

"What is it that's the matter with her?"

"I don't know," answered Dan. "I wish I did know. Sam tells me Tamlyn
does not know. I'm afraid he thinks it is the break-up of old age. I
should be glad, though, if she did not patronize that fellow Collinson
so much."

"Every one seems to patronize him."

"Or to let him patronize them," corrected Dan. "I can't like the fellow.
He takes too much upon himself."

"He seems popular. Quite the fashion."

"Yes, he is that. Since he came here, three or four months ago, the
women have been running after him. Do _you_ like him, Johnny Ludlow?"
abruptly added Dan.

"I hardly know whether I do or not: I've not seen much of him," was my
answer. "As a rule, I don't care for those people who take much upon
themselves. The truth is, Dan," I laughed jokingly, "you think Collinson
shows too much attention to Mina Knox."

Dan walked on for a few moments in silence. "I am not much afraid of
that," he presently said. "It is the fellow himself I don't like."

"And you do like Mina?"

"Well--yes; I do. If Mina and I were older and my means justified it, I
would make her my wife to-morrow--I don't mind telling you so much. And
if the man is after her, it is for the sake of her money, mind, not for
herself. I'm sure of it. I can see."

"I thought Collinson had plenty of money of his own."

"So he has, I believe. But money never comes amiss to an extravagant and
idle man; and I think that Mina's money makes her attraction in
Collinson's eyes. I wish with all my heart she had never had it left
her!" continued Dan, energetically. "What did Mina want with seven
thousand pounds?"

"I dare say you would not object to it, with herself."

"I'd as soon not have it. I hope I shall make my way in my profession,
and make it well, and I would as soon take Mina without money as with
it. I'm sure her mother might have it and welcome, for me! She is always
hankering after it."

"How do you know she is?"

"We do her business at old Belford's, and she gets talking about the
money to him, making no scruple of openly wishing it was hers. She
bothers Dr. Knox, who is Mina's trustee, to lend her some of it. As if
Knox would!--she might just as well go and bother the moon. No! But for
that confounded seven thousand pounds Collinson would let Mina alone."

I shook my head. He could not know it. Mina was very pretty. Dan saw my
incredulity.

"I will tell you why I judge so," he resumed, dropping his voice to a
lower key. "Unless I am very much mistaken, Collinson likes some one
else--and that's Madame St. Vincent. Sam thinks so too."

It was more than I thought. They were cool to one another.

"But we have seen them when no one else was by," contended Dan: "when he
and she were talking together alone. And I can tell you that there was
an expression on his face, an anxiousness, an eagerness--I hardly know
how to word it--that it never wore for Mina. Collinson's love is given
to madame. Rely upon that."

"Then why should he not declare it?"

"Ah, I don't know. There may be various reasons. Her poverty
perhaps--for she has nothing but the salary Lady Jenkins pays her. Or,
he may not care to marry one who is only a companion: they say he is of
good family himself. Another reason, and possibly the most weighty one,
may be, that madame does not like him."

"I don't think she does like him."

"I am sure she does not. She gives him angry looks, and she turns away
from him with ill-disguised coldness. And so, that's about how the state
of affairs lies up there," concluded Dan, shaking hands with me as we
reached the door of his lodgings. "Captain Collinson's love is given to
Madame St. Vincent, on the one hand, and to Mina's money on the other;
and I think he is in a pretty puzzle which of the two to choose.
Good-night, Johnny Ludlow. Be sure to remember this is only between
ourselves."


II.

A week or so passed on. Janet was up to her eyes in preparations,
expecting a visitor. And the visitor was no other than Miss
Cattledon--if you have not forgotten her. Being fearfully particular
in all ways, and given to fault-finding, as poor Janet only too well
remembered, of course it was necessary to have things in apple-pie
order.

"I should never hear the last of it as long as Aunt Jemima stayed, if
so much as a speck of dust was in any of the rooms, or a chair out of
place," said Janet to me laughingly, as she and the maids dusted and
scrubbed away.

"What's she coming for, Janet?"

"She invited herself," replied Janet: "and indeed we shall be glad to
see her. Miss Deveen is going to visit some friends in Devonshire, and
Aunt Jemima takes the opportunity of coming here the while. I am sorry
Arnold is so busy just now. He will not have much time to give to
her--and she likes attention."

The cause of Dr. Knox's increased occupation, was Mr. Tamlyn's illness.
For the past few days he had had feverish symptoms, and did not go out.
Few medical men would have found the indisposition sufficiently grave to
remain at home; but Mr. Tamlyn was an exception. He gave in at the least
thing now: and it was nothing at all unusual for Arnold Knox to find all
the patients thrown on his own hands.

Amongst the patients so thrown this time was Lady Jenkins. She had
caught cold at that soirée I have just told of. Going to the door in
her old-fashioned, hospitable way, to speed the departure of the last
guests, she had stayed there in the draught, talking, and began at once
to sneeze and cough.

"There!" cried Madame St. Vincent, when my lady got back again, "you
have gone and caught a chill."

"I think I have," admitted Lady Jenkins. "I'll send for Tamlyn in the
morning."

"Oh, my dear Lady Jenkins, we shall not want Tamlyn," dissented madame.
"I'll take care of you myself, and have you well in no time."

But Lady Jenkins, though very much swayed by her kind companion, who
was ever anxious for her, chose to have up Mr. Tamlyn, and sent him a
private message herself.

He went up at once--evidently taking madame by surprise--and saw his
patient. The cold, being promptly treated, turned out to be a mere
nothing, though Madame St. Vincent insisted on keeping the sufferer some
days in bed. By the time Mr. Tamlyn was ill, she was well again, and
there was not much necessity for Dr. Knox to take her: at least, on the
score of her cold. But he did it.

One afternoon, when he was going up there late, he asked me if I would
like the drive. And, while he paid his visit to Lady Jenkins, I went in
to Rose Villa. It was a fine, warm afternoon, almost like summer, and
Mrs. Knox and the girls were sitting in the garden. Dicky was there
also. Dicky was generally at school from eight o'clock till six, but
this was a half-holiday. Dicky, eleven years old now, but very little
for his age, was more troublesome than ever. Just now he was at open war
with his two younger sisters and Miss Mack, the governess, who had gone
indoors to escape him.

Leaning against the trunk of a tree, as he talked to Mrs. Knox, Mina,
and Charlotte, stood Captain Collinson, the rays of the sun, now drawing
westward, shining full upon him, bringing out the purple gloss of
his hair, whiskers, beard, and moustache deeper than usual. Captain
Collinson incautiously made much of Dicky, had told him attractive
stories of the glories of war, and promised him a commission when he
should be old enough. The result was, that Dicky had been living in the
seventh heaven, had bought himself a tin sword, and wore it strapped to
his waist, dangling beneath his jacket. Dicky, wild to be a soldier,
worshipped Captain Collinson as the prince of heroes, and followed him
about like a shadow. An inkling of this ambition of Dicky's, and of
Captain Collinson's promise, had only reached Mrs. Knox's ears this very
afternoon. It was a ridiculous promise of course, worth nothing, but
Mrs. Knox took it up seriously.

"A commission for Dicky!--get Dicky a commission!" she exclaimed in a
flutter that set her bracelets jangling, just as I arrived on the scene.
"Why, what can you mean, Captain Collinson? Do you think I would have
Dicky made into a soldier--to be shot at? Never. He is my only son. How
can you put such ideas into his head?"

"Don't mind her," cried Dicky, shaking the captain's coat-tails. "I say,
captain, don't you mind her."

Captain Collinson turned to young Dicky, and gave him a reassuring wink.
Upon which, Dicky went strutting over the grass-plat, brandishing his
sword. I shook hands with Mrs. Knox and the girls, and, turning to
salute the captain, found him gone.

"You have frightened him away, Johnny Ludlow," cried Charlotte: but she
spoke in jest.

"He was already going," said Mina. "He told me he had an engagement."

"And a good thing too," spoke Mrs. Knox, crossly. "Fancy his giving
dangerous notions to Dicky!"

Dicky had just discovered our loss. He came shrieking back to know where
the captain was. Gone away for good, his mother told him. Upon which
young Dicky plunged into a fit of passion and kicking.

"Do you know how Lady Jenkins is to-day?" I asked of Charlotte, when
Dicky's noise had been appeased by a promise of cold apple-pudding for
tea.

"Not so well."

"Not so well! I had thought of her as being much better."

"I don't think her so," continued Charlotte. "Madame St. Vincent told
Mina this morning that she was all right; but when I went in just now
she was in bed and could hardly answer me."

"Is her cold worse?"

"No; I think that is gone, or nearly so. She seemed dazed--stupid, more
so than usual."

"I certainly never saw any one alter so greatly as Lady Jenkins has
altered in the last few months," spoke Mrs. Knox. "She is not like the
same woman."

"I'm sure I wish we had never gone that French journey!" said Mina. "She
has never been well since. Oh, here's Arnold!"

Dr. Knox had come straight into the garden from Jenkins House. Dicky
rushed up to besiege his arms and legs; but, as Dicky was in a state of
flour--which he had just put upon himself in the kitchen, or had had put
upon him by the maids--the doctor ordered him to keep at arm's-length;
and the doctor was the only person who could make himself obeyed by
Dicky.

"You have been to see Lady Jenkins, Arnold," said his step-mother. "How
is she?"

"Nothing much to boast of," lightly answered Dr. Knox. "Johnny, are you
ready?"

"I am going to be a soldier, Arnold," put in Dicky, dancing a kind of
war-dance round him. "Captain Collinson is going to make me a captain
like himself."

"All right," said Arnold. "You must grow a little bigger first."

"And, Arnold, the captain says---- Oh, my!" broke off Dicky, "what's
this? What have I found?"

The boy stooped to pick up something glittering that had caught his eye.
It proved to be a curiously-shaped gold watch-key, with a small compass
in it. Mina and Lotty both called out that it was Captain Collinson's,
and must have dropped from his chain during a recent romp with Dicky.

"I'll take it in to him at Lady Jenkins's," said Dicky.

"You will do nothing of the sort, sir," corrected his mother, taking the
key from him: she had been thoroughly put out by the suggestion of the
"commission."

"Should you chance to see the captain when you go out," she added to me,
"tell him his watch-key is here."

The phaeton waited outside. It was the oldest thing I ever saw in regard
to fashion, and might have been in the firm hundreds of years. Its hood
could be screwed up and down at will; just as the perch behind, where
Thomas, the groom, generally sat, could be closed or opened. I asked Dr.
Knox whether it had been built later than the year One.

"Just a little, I suppose," he answered, smiling. "This vehicle was
Dockett's special aversion. He christened it the 'conveyance,' and we
have mostly called it so since."

We were about to step into it, when Madame St. Vincent came tripping out
of the gate up above. Dr. Knox met her.

"I was sorry not to have been in the way when you left, doctor," she
said to him in a tone of apology: "I had gone to get the jelly for Lady
Jenkins. Do tell me what you think of her?"

"She does not appear very lively," he answered; "but I can't find out
that she is in any pain."

"I wish she would get better!--she does give me so much concern," warmly
spoke madame. "Not that I think her seriously ill, myself. I'm sure I do
everything for her that I possibly can."

"Yes, yes, my dear lady, you cannot do more than you do," replied
Arnold. "I will be up in better time to-morrow."

"Is Captain Collinson here?" I stayed behind Dr. Knox to ask.

"Captain Collinson here!" returned Madame St. Vincent, tartly, as if
the question offended her. "No, he is not. What should bring Captain
Collinson here?"

"I thought he might have called in upon leaving Mrs. Knox's. I only
wished to tell him that he dropped his watch-key next door. It was found
on the grass."

"I don't know anything of his movements," coldly remarked madame. And as
I ran back to Dr. Knox, I remembered what Dan Jenkins had said--that she
did not like the captain. And I felt Dan was right.

Dr. Knox drove home in silence, I sitting beside him, and Thomas in the
perch. He looked very grave, like a man preoccupied. In passing the
railway-station, I made some remark about Miss Cattledon, who was coming
by the train then on its way; but he did not appear to hear me.

Sam Jenkins ran out as we drew up at Mr. Tamlyn's gate. An urgent
message had come for Dr. Knox: some one taken ill at Cooper's--at the
other end of the town.

"Mr. Tamlyn thinks you had better go straight on there at once, sir,"
said Sam.

"I suppose I must," replied the doctor. "It is awkward, though"--pulling
out his watch. "Miss Cattledon will be due presently and Janet wanted me
to meet her," he added to me. "Would you do it, Johnny?"

"What--meet Miss Cattledon? Oh yes, certainly."

The conveyance drove on, with the doctor and Thomas. I went indoors
with Sam. Janet said I could meet her aunt just as well as Arnold, as I
knew her. The brougham was brought round to the gate by the coachman,
Wall, and I went away in it.

Smoothly and quietly glided in the train, and out of a first-class
carriage stepped Miss Cattledon, thin and prim and upright as ever.

"Dear me! is that you, Johnny Ludlow?" was her greeting to me when I
stepped up and spoke to her; and her tone was all vinegar. "What do
_you_ do here?"

"I came to meet you. Did you not know I was staying at Lefford?"

"I knew _that_. But why should they send you to meet me?"

"Dr. Knox was coming himself, but he has just been called out to a
patient. How much luggage have you, Miss Cattledon?"

"Never you mind how much, Johnny Ludlow: my luggage does not concern
you."

"But cannot I save you the trouble of looking after it? If you will get
into the brougham, I will see to the luggage and bring it on in a fly,
if it's too much to go on the box with Wall."

"You mean well, Johnny Ludlow, I dare say; but I always see to my
luggage myself. I should have lost it times and again, if I did not."

She went pushing about amongst the porters and the trucks, and secured
the luggage. One not very large black box went up by Wall; a smaller
inside with us. So we drove out of the station in state, luggage and
all, Cattledon holding her head bolt upright.

"How is Janet, Johnny Ludlow?"

"Quite well, thank you."

"And those two children of hers--are they very troublesome?"

"Indeed, no; they are the best little things you ever saw. I wanted to
bring the boy with me to meet you, but Janet would not let me."

"Um!" grunted Cattledon: "showed a little sense for once. What is that
building?"

"That's the Town Hall. I thought you knew Lefford, Miss Cattledon?"

"One cannot be expected to retain the buildings of a town in one's head
as if they were photographed there," returned she in a sharp tone of
reproof. Which shut me up.

"And, pray, how does that young woman continue to conduct herself?" she
asked presently.

"What young woman?" I said, believing she must be irreverently alluding
to Janet.

"Lettice Lane."

Had she mentioned the name of some great Indian Begum I could not have
been more surprised. _That_ name brought back to memory all the old
trouble connected with Miss Deveen's emeralds, their loss and their
finding: which, take it for all in all, was nothing short of a romance.
But why did she question _me_ about Lettice Lane. I asked her why.

"I asked it to be answered, young man," was Cattledon's grim retort.

"Yes, of course," I said, with deprecation. "But how should I know
anything about Lettice Lane?"

"If there's one thing I hate more than another, Johnny Ludlow, it is
shuffling. I ask you how that young woman is going on; and I request you
to answer me."

"Indeed, I would if I could. I don't understand why you should ask me.
Is Lettice Lane not living still with you--with Miss Deveen?"

Cattledon evidently thought I _was_ shuffling, for she looked daggers at
me. "Lettice Lane," she said, "is with Janet Knox."

"With Janet Knox! Oh dear, no, she is not."

"Don't you get into a habit of contradicting your elders, Johnny Ludlow.
It is very unbecoming in a young man."

"But--see here, Miss Cattledon. If Lettice were living with Janet, I
must have seen her. I see the servants every day. I assure you Lettice
is not one of them."

She began to see that I was in earnest, and condescended to explain in
her stiff way. "Janet came to town last May to spend a week with us,"
she said. "Before that, Lettice Lane had been complaining of not feeling
strong: I thought it was nothing but her restlessness; Miss Deveen and
the doctor thought she wanted country air--that London did not agree
with her. Janet was parting with her nurse at the time; she engaged
Lettice to replace her, and brought her down to Lefford. Is the matter
clear to you now, young man?"

"Quite so. But indeed, Miss Cattledon, Lettice is not with Janet now.
The nurse is named Harriet, and she is not in the least like Lettice
Lane."

"Then Lettice Lane must have gone roving again--unless you are
mistaken," said Cattledon, severely. "Wanting country air, forsooth!
Change was what _she_ wanted."

Handing over Miss Cattledon, when we arrived, to the care of Janet, who
took her upstairs, and told me tea would be ready soon, I went into Mr.
Tamlyn's sitting-room. He was in the easy-chair before the fire, dozing,
but opened his eyes at my entrance.

"Visitor come all right, Johnny?"

"Yes, sir; she is gone to take her cloaks off. Janet says tea is nearly
ready."

"I am quite ready for it," he remarked, and shut his eyes again.

I took up a book I was reading, "Martin Chuzzlewit," and sat down on the
broad window-seat, legs up, to catch the now fading light. The folds of
the crimson curtain lay between me and Mr. Tamlyn--and I only hoped Mrs.
Gamp would not send me into convulsions and disturb him.

Presently Dr. Knox came in. He went up to the fire, and stood at the
corner of the mantelpiece, his elbow on it, his back to me; and old
Tamlyn woke up.

"Well," began he, "what was the matter at Cooper's, Arnold?"

"Eldest boy fell off a ladder and broke his arm. It is only a simple
fracture."

"Been very busy to-day, Arnold?"

"Pretty well."

"Hope I shall be out again in a day or two. How did you find Lady
Jenkins?"

"Not at all to my satisfaction. She was in bed, and--and in fact seemed
hardly to know me."

Tamlyn said nothing to this, and a silence ensued. Dr. Knox broke it. He
turned his eyes from the fire on which they had been fixed, and looked
full at his partner.

"Has it ever struck you that there's not quite fair play going on up
there?" he asked in a low tone.

"Up where?"

"With Lady Jenkins."

"How do you mean, Arnold?"

"That something is being given to her?"

Tamlyn sat upright in his chair, pushed back his scanty hair, and stared
at Dr. Knox.

"_What_ do you mean, Knox? What do you suspect?"

"That she is being habitually drugged; gradually, slowly----"

"Merciful goodness!" interrupted Tamlyn, rising to his feet in
excitement. "Do you mean slowly poisoned?"

"Hush!--I hear Janet," cried Dr. Knox.



LADY JENKINS.

DOUBT.


I.

You might have heard a pin drop in the room. They were listening to the
footsteps outside the door, but the footsteps did not make the hush and
the nameless horror that pervaded it: the words spoken by Dr. Knox had
done that. Old Tamlyn stood, a picture of dismay. For myself, sitting
in the window-seat, my feet comfortably stretched out before me, and
partially sheltered by the red curtains, I could only gaze at them both.

Janet's footsteps died away. She appeared to have been crossing the hall
to the tea-room. And they began to talk again.

"I do not say that Lady Jenkins is being poisoned; absolutely,
deliberately poisoned," said Dr. Knox, in the hushed tones to which his
voice had dropped; "I do not yet go quite so far as that. But I do think
that she is in some way being tampered with."

"In what way?" gasped Tamlyn.

"Drugged."

The doctor's countenance wore a puzzled expression as he spoke; his eyes
a far-away look, just as though he did not see his own theory clearly.
Mr. Tamlyn's face changed: the astonishment, the alarm, the dismay
depicted on it gave place suddenly to relief.

"It cannot be, Arnold. Rely upon it you are mistaken. Who would harm
her?"

"No one that I know of; no suspicious person is about her to do it,"
replied Dr. Knox. "And there lies the puzzle. I suppose she does not
take anything herself? Opium, say?"

"Good Heavens, no," warmly spoke old Tamlyn. "No woman living is less
likely to do that than Lady Jenkins."

"Less likely than she _was_. But you know yourself how unaccountably she
has changed."

"She does not take opium or any other drug. I could stake my word upon
it, Arnold."

"Then it is being given to her--at least, I think so. If not, her state
is to me inexplicable. Mind you, Mr. Tamlyn, not a breath of this must
transpire beyond our two selves," urged Dr. Knox, his tone and his gaze
at his senior partner alike impressively earnest. "If anything is wrong,
it is being wilfully and covertly enacted; and our only chance of
tracing it home is to conceal our suspicion of it."

"I beg your pardon, Dr. Knox," I interrupted at this juncture, the
notion, suddenly flashing into my mind, that he was unaware of my
presence, sending me hot all over; "did you know I was here?"

They both turned to me, and Dr. Knox's confused start was a sufficient
answer.

"You heard all I said, Johnny Ludlow?" spoke Dr. Knox.

"All. I am very sorry."

"Well, it cannot be helped now. You will not let it transpire?"

"That I certainly will not."

"We shall have to take you into our confidence--to include you in the
plot," said Arnold Knox, with a smile. "I believe we might have a less
trustworthy adherent."

"You could not have one more true."

"Right, Johnny," added Mr. Tamlyn. "But I do hope Dr. Knox is mistaken.
I think you must be, Arnold. What are your grounds for this new theory?"

"I don't tell you that it is quite new," replied Dr. Knox. "A faint idea
of it has been floating in my mind for some little time. As to grounds,
I have no more to go upon than you have had. Lady Jenkins is in a state
that we do not understand; neither you nor I can fathom what is amiss
with her; and I need not point out that such a condition of things is
unsatisfactory to a medical man, and sets him thinking."

"I am sure I have not been able to tell what it is that ails her,"
concurred old Tamlyn, in a helpless kind of tone. "She seems always to
be in a lethargy, more or less; to possess no proper self-will; to have
parted, so to say, with all her interest in life."

"Just so. And I cannot discover, and do not believe, that she is in any
condition of health to cause this. _I believe that the evil is being
daily induced_," emphatically continued Dr. Knox. "And if she does
not herself induce it, by taking improper things, they are being
administered to her by others. You will not admit the first theory, Mr.
Tamlyn?"

"No, that I will not. Lady Jenkins no more takes baneful drugs of her
own accord than I take them."

"Then the other theory must come up. It draws the point to a narrow
compass, but to a more startling one."

"Look here, Arnold. If I did admit the first theory you would be
no nearer the light. Lady Jenkins could not obtain drugs, and be
everlastingly swallowing them, without detection. Madame St. Vincent
would have found her out in a day."

"Yes."

"And would have stopped it at once herself, or handed it over to me to
be dealt with. She is truly anxious for Lady Jenkins, and spares no
pains, no time, no trouble for her."

"I believe that," said Dr. Knox. "Whatsoever is being done, Madame St.
Vincent is kept in the dark--just as much as we are. Who else is about
her?"

"No one much but her maid, that I know of," replied old Tamlyn, after
a pause of consideration. "And I should think she was as free from
suspicion as madame herself. It seems a strange thing."

"It is. But I fear I am right. The question now will be, how are we to
set about solving the mystery?"

"She is not quite always in a lethargic state," observed Tamlyn, his
thoughts going off at a tangent.

"She is so more or less," dissented Dr. Knox. "Yesterday morning I was
there at eight o'clock; I went early purposely, and she was in a more
stupidly lethargic state than I had before seen her. Which of course
proves one thing."

"What thing? I fail to catch your meaning, Arnold."

"That she is being drugged in the night as well as the day."

"If she is drugged at all," corrected Mr. Tamlyn, shaking his head. "But
I do not give in to your fancy yet, Arnold. All this must edify you,
Johnny!"

Tamlyn spoke the words in a jesting sense, meaning of course that it had
done nothing of the kind. He was wrong, if to edify means to interest.
Hardly ever during my life had I been more excited.

"It is a frightful shame if any one is playing with Lady Jenkins," I
said to them. "She is as good-hearted an old lady as ever lived. And why
should they do it? Where's the motive?"

"There lies one of the difficulties--the motive," observed Dr. Knox. "I
cannot see any; any end to be obtained by it. No living being that I
know of can have an interest in wishing for Lady Jenkins's death or
illness."

"How is her money left?"

"A pertinent question, Johnny. I do not expect any one could answer it,
excepting herself and Belford, the lawyer. I _suppose_ her relatives,
all the nephews and nieces, will inherit it: and they are not about her,
you see, and cannot be dosing her. No; the motive is to me a complete
mystery. Meanwhile, Johnny, keep your ears and eyes open when you are up
there; there's no telling what chance word or look may be dropped that
might serve to give you a clue: and keep your mouth shut."

I laughed.

"If I could put aside my patients for a week, and invent some excuse for
taking up my abode at Jenkins House, I know I should soon find out all
the mystery," went on Dr. Knox.

"Arnold, why not take Madame St. Vincent into your confidence?"

Dr. Knox turned quickly round at the words to face his senior partner.
He held up his finger warningly.

"Things are not ripe for it," he said. "Let me get, or try to get, a
little more inkling into matters than I have at present, as touching the
domestic economy at Jenkins House. I may have to do as you say, later:
but women are only chattering magpies; marplots, often with the best
intentions; and Madame St. Vincent may be no exception."

"Will you please come to tea?" interrupted Janet, opening the door.

Miss Cattledon, in a sea-green silk gown that I'm sure I had seen many
times before, and the velvet on her thin throat, and a bow of lace on
her head, shook hands with Mr. Tamlyn and Dr. Knox, and we sat down to
tea. Little Arnold, standing by his mother in his plaid frock and white
drawers (for the time to dress little children as men had not come in
then by many a year), had a piece of bread-and-butter given to him.
While he was eating it, the nurse appeared.

"Are you ready, Master Arnold? It is quite bedtime."

"Yes, he is ready, Harriet; and he has been very good," spoke Janet. And
the little fellow went contentedly off without a word.

Miss Cattledon, stirring her tea at the moment, put the spoon down to
look at the nurse, staring at her as if she had never seen a nurse
before.

"That's not Lettice Lane," she observed sententiously, as the door
closed on Harriet. "Where is Lettice Lane?"

"She has left, Aunt Jemima."

If a look could have withered Janet, Cattledon's was severe enough to do
it. But the displeasure was meant for Lettice, not for Janet.

"What business had she to leave? Did she misbehave herself?"

"She stayed with me only two months," said Janet. "And she left because
she still continued poorly, and the two children were rather too much
for her. The baby was cutting her teeth, which disturbed Lettice
at night; and I and Arnold both thought we ought to have some one
stronger."

"Did you give her warning?" asked Cattledon, who was looking her very
grimmest at thought of the absent Lettice; "or did she give it you?"

Janet laughed presently. "I think it was a sort of mutual warning, Aunt
Jemima. Lettice acknowledged to me that she was hardly equal to the care
of the children; and I told her I thought she was not. We found her
another place."

"A rolling-stone gathers no moss," commented Cattledon. "Lettice Lane
changes her places too often."

"She stayed some time with Miss Deveen, Aunt Jemima. And she likes her
present place. She gets very good wages, better than she had with me,
and helps to keep her mother."

"What may her duties be? Is she housemaid again?"

"She is lady's-maid to Lady Jenkins, an old lady who lives up the London
Road. Lettice has grown much stronger since she went there. Why, what do
you think, Aunt Jemima?" added Janet, laughing, "Lettice has actually
been to Paris. Lady Jenkins went there just after engaging Lettice, and
took her."

Miss Cattledon tossed her head. "Much good that would do Lettice Lane!
Only fill her up with worse conceits than ever. I wonder she is not yet
off to Australia! She used always to be talking of it."

"You don't appear to like Lettice Lane, ma'am," smiled old Tamlyn.

"No, I do _not_, sir. Lettice Lane first became known to me under
unfavourable circumstances, and I have not liked her since."

"Indeed! What were they?"

"Some of Miss Deveen's jewels disappeared--were stolen; and Lettice Lane
was suspected. It turned out later that she was not guilty; but I could
not get over my dislike to her. We cannot help our likes and dislikes,
which often come to us without rhyme or reason," acknowledged Miss
Cattledon, "and I admit that I am perhaps too persistent in mine."

Not a soul present, myself excepted, had ever heard about the loss of
the emeralds: and somehow I felt sorry that Cattledon had spoken of it.
Not that she did it in ill-nature--I give her that due. Questions were
immediately poured out, and she had to give the full history.

The story interested them all, Dr. Knox especially.

"And who did take the jewels?" he asked.

But Cattledon could not enlighten him, for Miss Deveen had not betrayed
Sophie Chalk, even to her.

"I don't know who it was," tartly confessed Cattledon, the point being a
sore one with her. "Miss Deveen promised, I believe, to screen the
thief; and did so."

"Perhaps it was really Lettice Lane?"

"I believe not. I am sure not. It was a lady, Miss Deveen told me that
much. No; of that disgraceful act Lettice Lane was innocent: but I
should never be surprised to hear of her falling into trouble. She is
capable of it."

"Of poisoning somebody, perhaps?" spoke Dr. Knox.

"Yes," acquiesced Cattledon, grimly.

How prejudiced she was against Lettice Lane! But she had given this last
answer only in the same jesting spirit in which it appeared to have been
put, not really meaning it.

"To be wrongly suspected, as poor Lettice Lane was, ought to make people
all the more considerate to her," remarked Janet, her thoughts no doubt
reverting to the time when she herself was falsely suspected--and
accused.

"True, my dear," answered old Tamlyn. "Poor Lettice must have had her
troubles."

"And she has had her faults," retorted Cattledon.

But this story had made an impression on Dr. Knox that Cattledon never
suspected, never intended. He took up the idea that Lettice Lane was
guilty. Going into Mr. Tamlyn's sitting-room for "Martin Chuzzlewit,"
when tea was over, I found his hand on my shoulder. He had silently
followed me.

"Johnny Ludlow," he said, looking down into my eyes in the dim room,
which was only lighted by the dim fire, "I don't like this that I have
heard of Lettice Lane."

And the next to come in was Tamlyn. Closing the door, he walked up to
the hearthrug where we stood, and stirred the fire into a blaze.

"I am telling Johnny Ludlow that this story of Miss Deveen's emeralds
has made an unfavourable impression on me," quoth Dr. Knox to him. "It
does not appear to me to be at all clear that Lettice Lane did not take
them; and that Miss Deveen, in her benevolence, screened her from the
consequences."

"But, indeed----" I was beginning, when Dr. Knox stopped me.

"A moment, Johnny. I was about to add that a woman who is capable of one
crime can sometimes be capable of another; and I should not be surprised
if it is Lettice Lane who is tampering with Lady Jenkins."

"But," I repeated, "Lettice Lane did _not_ take the jewels. She knew
nothing about it. She was perfectly innocent."

"You cannot answer for it, Johnny."

"Yes, I can; and do. I know who did take them."

"_You_ know, Johnny Ludlow?" cried old Tamlyn, while Dr. Knox looked at
me in silence.

"I helped Miss Deveen to find it out. At least, she had me with her
during the progress of the discovery. It was a lady who took the
jewels--as Miss Cattledon told you. She fainted away when it was brought
home to her, and fell on my shoulder."

I believe they hardly knew whether to give me credit or not. Of course
it did sound strange that I, young Johnny Ludlow, should have been
entrusted by Miss Deveen with a secret she would not disclose even to
her many years' companion and friend, Jemima Cattledon.

"Who was it, then, Johnny?" began Mr. Tamlyn.

"I should not like to tell, sir. I do not think it would be right to
tell. For the young lady's own sake, Miss Deveen hushed the matter up,
hoping it would be a warning to her in future. And I dare say it has
been."

"Young, was she?"

"Yes. She has married since then. I could not, in honour, tell you her
name."

"Well, I suppose we must believe you, Johnny," said Dr. Knox, making the
admission unwillingly. "Lettice Lane did get fingering the jewels, it
appears; you admit that."

"But she did not take them. It was--another." And, cautiously choosing
my words, so as not to say anything that could direct suspicion to
Sophie Chalk--whose name most likely they had never heard in their
lives--I gave them an outline of the way in which Miss Deveen had
traced the matter out. The blaze lighted up Mr. Tamlyn's grey face as
I told it.

"You perceive that it could not have been Lettice Lane, Dr. Knox," I
said, in conclusion. "I am sorry Miss Cattledon should have spoken
against her."

"Yes, I perceive Lettice could not have been guilty of stealing the
jewels," answered Dr. Knox. "Nevertheless, a somewhat unfavourable
impression of the girl has been made upon me, and I shall look a little
after her. Why does she want to emigrate to Australia?"

"Only because two of her brothers are there. I dare say it is all idle
talk--that she will never go."

They said no more to me. I took up my book and quitted the room, leaving
them to talk it out between themselves.


II.

Mr. Tamlyn might be clever in medicine; he certainly was not in
diplomacy. Dr. Knox had particularly impressed upon him the desirability
of keeping their suspicion a secret for the present, even from Madame
St. Vincent; yet the first use old Tamlyn made of his liberty was to
disclose it to her.

Tossed about in the conflict of doubts and suspicions that kept arising
in his mind, Mr. Tamlyn, from the night I have just told you of,
was more uneasy than a fish out of water, his opinion constantly
vacillating. "You must be mistaken, Arnold; I feel sure there's nothing
wrong going on," he would say to his junior partner one minute; and, the
next minute, decide that it _was_ going on, and that its perpetrator
must be Lettice Lane.

The uneasiness took him abroad earlier than he would otherwise have
gone. A slight access of fever attacked him the day after the subject
had been broached--which fever he had no doubt worried himself into. In
the ordinary course of things he would have stayed at home for a week
after that: but he now went out on the third day.

"I will walk," he decided, looking up at the sunshine. "It will do me
good. What lovely weather we are having."

Betaking himself through the streets to the London Road, he reached
Jenkins House. The door stood open; and the doctor, almost as much at
home in the house as Lady Jenkins herself, walked in without knocking.

The dining-room, where they mostly sat in the morning, was empty; the
drawing-room was empty; and Mr. Tamlyn went on to a third room, that
opened to the garden at the back with glass-doors.

"Any one here? or is the house gone a-maying?" cried the surgeon as he
entered and came suddenly upon a group of three people, all upon their
knees before a pile of old music--Madame St. Vincent, Mina Knox, and
Captain Collinson. Two of them got up, laughing. Mina remained where she
was.

"We are searching for a manuscript song that is missing," explained
madame, as she gave her hand to the doctor. "Mina feels sure she left
it here; but I do not remember to have seen it."

"It was not mine," added Mina, looking round at the doctor in her
pretty, gentle way. "Caroline Parker lent it to me, and she has sent for
it twice."

"I hope you'll find it, my dear."

"I must have left it here," continued Mina, as she rapidly turned over
the sheets. "I was singing it yesterday afternoon, you remember," she
added, glancing up at the captain. "It was while you were upstairs with
Lady Jenkins, Madame St. Vincent."

She came to the end of the pile of music, but could not find the song.
Putting it all on a side-table, Mina said a general good-bye, escaped by
the glass-doors, and ran home by the little gate that divided the two
gardens.

Captain Collinson left next. Perhaps he and Mina had both a sense of
being de trop when the doctor was there. Waiting to exchange a few words
with Mr. Tamlyn, and bidding Madame St. Vincent an adieu that had more
of formality in it than friendship, the captain bowed himself out,
taking his tasselled cane with him, madame ringing for one of the
men-servants to attend him to the hall-door. Tasselled canes were the
fashion then.

"They do not make a practice of meeting here, do they?" began old
Tamlyn, when the captain was beyond hearing.

"Who? What?" asked Madame St. Vincent.

"The captain and little Mina Knox."

For a minute or two it appeared that madame could not catch his meaning.
She looked at him in perplexity.

"I fail to understand you, dear Mr. Tamlyn."

"The captain is a very attractive man, no doubt; a good match, I dare
say, and all that: but still we should not like poor little Mina to be
whirled off to India by him. I asked if they often met here."

"Whirled off to India?" repeated madame, in astonishment. "Little Mina?
By him? In what capacity?"

"As his wife."

"But--dear me!--what can have put such an idea into your head, my good
sir? Mina is a mere child."

"Old enough to take up foolish notions," quoth the doctor, quaintly;
"especially if they are put into it by a be-whiskered grenadier, such as
he. I hope he is not doing it! I hope you do not give them opportunities
of meeting here!"

Madame seemed quite taken aback at the implication. Her voice had a
sound of tears in it.

"Do you suppose I could be capable of such a thing, sir? I did think you
had a better opinion of me. Such a child as Mina! We were both on our
knees, looking for the song, when Captain Collinson came in; and he must
needs go down on his great stupid knees too. He but called to inquire
after Lady Jenkins."

"Very thoughtful of him, of course. He is often up here, I fancy; at the
next house, if not at this."

"Certainly not often at this. He calls on Lady Jenkins occasionally, and
she likes it. _I_ don't encourage him. He may be a brave soldier, and a
man of wealth and family, and everything else that's desirable; but he
is no especial favourite of mine."

"Well, Sam Jenkins has an idea that he would like to get making love to
Mina. Sam was laughing about it in the surgery last night with Johnny
Ludlow, and I happened to overhear him. Sam thinks they meet here, as
well as next door: and you heard Mina say just now that she was singing
to him here yesterday afternoon. Stay, my dear lady, don't be put out.
I am sure _you_ have thought it no harm, have been innocent of all
suspicion of it. Mistaken, you tell me? Well, it may be I am. Mina is
but a child, as you observe, and--and perhaps Sam was only jesting. How
is our patient to-day?"

"Pretty well. Just a little drowsy."

"In bed, or up?"

"Oh, up."

"Will you tell her I am here?"

Madame St. Vincent, her plumage somewhat ruffled, betook herself to the
floor above, Mr. Tamlyn following. Lady Jenkins, in a loose gown of blue
quilted silk and a cap with yellow roses in it, sat at the window,
nodding.

"Well," said he, sitting down by her and taking her hand, "and how do
you feel to-day?"

She opened her eyes and smiled at him. Better, she thought: oh yes,
certainly better.

"You are sleepy."

"Rather so. Getting up tired me."

"Are you not going for a drive to-day? It would do you good."

"I don't know. Ask Patty. Patty, are we going out to-day?"

The utter helplessness of mind and body which appeared to be upon her as
she thus appealed to another, Mr. Tamlyn had rarely seen equalled. Even
while listening to Madame St. Vincent's answer--that they would go if
she felt strong enough--her heavy eyelids closed again. In a minute
or two she was in a sound sleep. Tamlyn threw caution and Dr. Knox's
injunction to the winds, and spoke on the moment's impulse to Madame St.
Vincent.

"You see," he observed, pointing to the sleeping face.

"She is only dozing off again."

"_Only!_ My dear, good lady, this perpetual, stupid, lethargic
sleepiness is not natural. You are young, perhaps inexperienced, or you
would know it to be not so."

"I scarcely think it altogether unnatural," softly dissented madame,
with deprecation. "She has really been very poorly."

"But not sufficiently so to induce this helplessness. It has been upon
her for months, and is gaining ground."

"She is seventy years of age, remember."

"I know that. But people far older than that are not as she is without
some cause: either of natural illness, or--or--something else. Step here
a minute, my dear."

Old Tamlyn walked rapidly to the other window, and stood there talking
in low tones, his eyes fixed on Madame St. Vincent, his hand, in his
eagerness, touching her shoulder.

"Knox thinks, and has imparted his opinion to me--ay, and his doubts
also--that something is being given to her."

"That something is being given to her!" echoed Madame St. Vincent, her
face flushing with surprise. "Given to her in what way?"

"Or else that she is herself taking it. But I, who have known her longer
than Knox has, feel certain that she is not one to do anything of the
sort. Besides, you would have found it out long ago."

"I protest I do not understand you," spoke madame, earnestly. "What is
it that she _could_ take? She has taken the medicine that comes from
your surgery. She has taken nothing else."

"Knox thinks she is being drugged."

"Drugged! Lady Jenkins drugged? How, drugged? What with? What for? Who
would drug her?"

"There it is; who would do it?" said the old doctor, interrupting the
torrent of words poured forth in surprise. "I confess I think the
symptoms point to it. But I don't see how it could be accomplished and
you not detect it, considering that you are so much with her."

"Why, I hardly ever leave her, day or night," cried madame. "My bedroom,
as you know, is next to hers, and I sleep with the intervening door
open. There is no more chance, sir, that she could be drugged than that
I could be."

"When Knox first spoke of it to me I was pretty nearly startled out of
my senses," went on Tamlyn. "For I caught up a worse notion than he
meant to convey--that she was being systematically poisoned."

A dark, vivid, resentful crimson dyed madame's face. The suggestion
seemed to be a reproof on her vigilance.

"Poisoned!" she repeated in angry indignation. "How dare Dr. Knox
suggest such a thing?"

"My dear, he did not suggest it against _you_. He and I both look upon
you as her best safeguard. It is your being with her, that gives us some
sort of security: and it is your watchfulness we shall have to look to
for detection."

"Poisoned!" reiterated madame, unable to get over the ugly word. "I
think Dr. Knox ought to be made to answer for so wicked a suspicion."

"Knox did not mean to go so far as that: it was my misapprehension. But
he feels perfectly convinced that she is being tampered with. In short,
drugged."

"It is not possible," reasoned madame. "It could not be done without my
knowledge. Indeed, sir, you may dismiss all idea of the kind from your
mind; you and Dr. Knox also. I assure you that such a thing would be
simply impracticable."

Mr. Tamlyn shook his head. "Any one who sets to work to commit a crime
by degrees, usually possesses a large share of innate cunning--more
than enough to deceive lookers-on," he remarked. "I can understand how
thoroughly repulsive this idea is to you, my good lady; that your mind
shrinks from admitting it; but I wish you would, just for argument's
sake, allow its possibility."

But madame was harder than adamant. Old Tamlyn saw what it was--that she
took this accusation, and would take it, as a reflection on her care.

"Who is there, amidst us all, that would attempt to injure Lady
Jenkins?" she asked. "The household consists only of myself and the
servants. _They_ would not seek to harm their mistress."

"Not so sure; not so sure. It is amidst those servants that we must look
for the culprit. Dr. Knox thinks so, and so do I."

Madame's face of astonishment was too genuine to be doubted. She feebly
lifted her hands in disbelief. To suspect the servants seemed, to her,
as ridiculous as the suspicion itself.

"Her maid, Lettice, and the housemaid, Sarah, are the only two servants
who approach her when she is ill, sir: Sarah but very little. Both of
them are kind-hearted young women."

Mr. Tamlyn coughed. Whether he would have gone on to impart his doubt of
Lettice cannot be known. During the slight silence Lettice herself
entered the room with her mistress's medicine. A quick, dark-eyed young
woman, in a light print gown.

The stir aroused Lady Jenkins. Madame St. Vincent measured out the
physic, and was handing it to the patient, when Mr. Tamlyn seized the
wine-glass.

"It's all right," he observed, after smelling and tasting, speaking
apparently to himself: and Lady Jenkins took it.

"That is the young woman you must especially watch," whispered Mr.
Tamlyn, as Lettice retired with her waiter.

"What! Lettice?" exclaimed madame, opening her eyes.

"Yes; I should advise you to do so. She is the only one who is much
about her mistress," he added, as if he would account for the advice.
"_Watch her._"

Leaving madame at the window to digest the mandate and to get over her
astonishment, he sat down by Lady Jenkins again, and began talking of
this and that: the fineness of the weather, the gossip passing in the
town.

"What do you take?" he asked abruptly.

"Take?" she repeated. "What is it that I take, Patty?" appealing to her
companion.

"Nay, but I want you to tell me yourself," hastily interposed the
doctor. "Don't trouble madame."

"But I don't know that I can recollect."

"Oh yes, you can. The effort to do so will do you good--wake you out
of this stupid sleepiness. Take yesterday: what did you have for
breakfast?"

"Yesterday? Well, I think they brought me a poached egg."

"And a very good thing, too. What did you drink with it?"

"Tea. I always take tea."

"Who makes it?"

"I do," said madame, turning her head to Mr. Tamlyn with a meaning
smile. "I take my own tea from the same tea-pot."

"Good. What did you take after that, Lady Jenkins?"

"I dare say I had some beef-tea at eleven. Did I, Patty? I generally do
have it."

"Yes, dear Lady Jenkins; and delicious beef-tea it is, and it does you
good. I should like Mr. Tamlyn to take a cup of it."

"I don't mind if I do."

Perhaps the answer was unexpected: but Madame St. Vincent rang the bell
and ordered up a cup of the beef-tea. The beef-tea proved to be "all
right," as he had observed of the medicine. Meanwhile he had continued
his questions to his patient.

She had eaten some chicken for dinner, and a little sweetbread for
supper. There had been interludes of refreshment: an egg beaten up with
milk, a cup of tea and bread-and-butter, and so on.

"You don't starve her," laughed Mr. Tamlyn.

"No, indeed," warmly replied madame. "I do what I can to nourish her."

"What do you take to drink?" continued the doctor.

"Nothing to speak of," interposed madame. "A drop of cold
brandy-and-water with her dinner."

"Patty thinks it is better for me than wine," put in Lady Jenkins.

"I don't know but it is. You don't take too much of it?"

Lady Jenkins paused. "Patty knows. Do I take too much, Patty?"

Patty was smiling, amused at the very idea. "I measure one
table-spoonful of brandy into a tumbler and put three or four
table-spoonfuls of water to it. If you think that is too much brandy,
Mr. Tamlyn, I will put less."

"Oh, nonsense," said old Tamlyn. "It's hardly enough."

"She has the same with her supper," concluded madame.

Well, old Tamlyn could make nothing of his suspicions. And he came home
from Jenkins House and told Knox he thought they must be both mistaken.

"Why did you speak of it to madame?" asked Dr. Knox. "We agreed to be
silent for a short time."

"I don't see why she should not be told, Arnold. She is straightforward
as the day--and Lettice Lane seems so, too. I tasted the beef-tea they
gave her--took a cup of it, in fact--and I tasted the physic. Madame
says it is impossible that anything in the shape of drugs is being given
to her; and upon my word I think so too."

"All the same, I wish you had not spoken."

And a little time went on.


III.

The soirée to-night was at Rose Villa; and Mrs. Knox, attired in a
striped gauze dress and the jangling ornaments she favoured, stood to
receive her guests. Beads on her thin brown neck, beads on her sharp
brown wrists, beads in her ears, and beads dropping from her waist.
She looked all beads. They were drab beads to-night, each resting in
a little cup of gold. Janet and Miss Cattledon went up in the brougham,
the latter more stiffly ungracious than usual, for she still resented
Mrs. Knox's former behaviour to Janet. I walked.

"Where can the people from next door be?" wondered Mrs. Knox, as the
time went on and Lady Jenkins did not appear.

For Lady Jenkins went abroad again. In a day or two after Mr. Tamlyn's
interview with her, Lefford had the pleasure of seeing her red-wheeled
carriage whirling about the streets, herself and her companion within
it. Old Tamlyn said she was getting strong. Dr. Knox said nothing; but
he kept his eyes open.

"I hope she is not taken ill again? I hope she is not too drowsy to
come!" reiterated Mrs. Knox. "Sometimes madame can't rouse her up from
these sleepy fits, do what she will."

Lady Jenkins was the great card of the soirée, and Mrs. Knox grew cross.
Captain Collinson had not come either. She drew me aside.

"Johnny Ludlow, I wish you would step into the next door and see whether
anything has happened. Do you mind it? So strange that Madame St.
Vincent does not send or come."

I did not mind it at all. I rather liked the expedition, and passed out
of the noisy and crowded room to the lovely, warm night-air. The sky was
clear; the moon radiant.

I was no longer on ceremony at Jenkins House, having been up to it
pretty often with Dan or Sam, and on my own score. Lady Jenkins had been
pleased to take a fancy to me, had graciously invited me to some drives
in her red-wheeled carriage, she dozing at my side pretty nearly all the
time. I could not help being struck with the utter abnegation of will
she displayed. It was next door to imbecility.

"Patty, Johnny Ludlow would like to go that way, I think, to-day may
we?" she would say. "Must we turn back already, Patty?--it has been such
a short drive." Thus she deferred to Madame St. Vincent in all things,
small and great: if she had a will or choice of her own, it seemed that
she never thought of exercising it. Day after day she would say the
drives were short: and very short indeed they were made, upon some
plea or other, when I made a third in the carriage. "I am so afraid
of fatigue for her," madame whispered to me one day, when she seemed
especially anxious.

"But you take a much longer drive, when she and you are alone," I
answered, that fact having struck me. "What difference does my being in
the carriage make?--are you afraid of fatigue for the horses as well?"
At which suggestion madame burst out laughing.

"When I am alone with her I take care not to talk," she explained; "but
when three of us are here there's sure to be talking going on, and it
cannot fail to weary her."

Of course that was madame's opinion: but my impression was that, let us
talk as much as we would, in a high key or a low one, that poor nodding
woman neither heard nor heeded it.

"Don't you think you are fidgety about it, madame?"

"Well, perhaps I am," she answered. "I assure you, Lady Jenkins is an
anxious charge to me."

Therefore, being quite at home now at Jenkins House (to return to the
evening and the soirée I was telling of), I ran in the nearest way to
do Mrs. Knox's behest. That was through the two back gardens, by the
intervening little gate. I knocked at the glass-doors of what was called
the garden-room, in which shone a light behind the curtains, and went
straight in. Sitting near each other, conversing with an eager look on
their faces, and both got up for Mrs. Knox's soirée, were Captain
Collinson and Madame St. Vincent.

"Mr. Ludlow!" she exclaimed. "How you startled me!"

"I beg your pardon for entering so abruptly. Mrs. Knox asked me to run
in and see whether anything was the matter, and I came the shortest way.
She has been expecting you for some time."

"Nothing is the matter," shortly replied madame, who seemed more put out
than the occasion called for: she thought me rude, I suppose. "Lady
Jenkins is not ready; that is all. She may be half-an-hour yet."

"Half-an-hour! I won't wait longer, then," said Captain Collinson,
catching up his crush hat. "I do trust she has not taken another chill.
Au revoir, madame."

With a nod to me, he made his exit by the way I had entered. The same
peculiarity struck me now that I had observed before: whenever I went
into a place, be it Jenkins House or Rose Villa, the gallant captain
immediately quitted it.

"Do I frighten Captain Collinson away?" I said to madame on the spur of
the moment.

"_You_ frighten him! Why should you?"

"I don't know why. If he happens to be here when I come in, he gets up
and goes away. Did you never notice it? It is the same at Mrs. Knox's.
It was the same once at Mrs. Hampshire's."

Madame laughed. "Perhaps he is shy," said she, jestingly.

"A man who has travelled to India and back must have rubbed his shyness
off, one would think. I wish I knew where I had met him before!--if I
have met him. Every now and again his face seems to strike on a chord of
my memory."

"It is a handsome face," remarked madame.

"Pretty well. As much as can be seen of it. He has hair enough for a
Russian bear or a wild Indian."

"Have wild Indians a superabundance of hair?" asked she gravely.

I laughed. "Seriously speaking, though, Madame St. Vincent, I think I
must have met him somewhere."

"Seriously speaking, I don't think that can be," she answered; and her
jesting tone had become serious. "I believe he has passed nearly all his
life in India."

"Just as you have passed yours in the South of France. And yet there is
something in your face also familiar to me."

"I should say you must be just a little fanciful on the subject of
likenesses. Some people are."

"I do not think so. If I am I did not know it. I----"

The inner door opened and Lady Jenkins appeared, becloaked and
beshawled, with a great green hood over her head, and leaning on Lettice
Lane. Madame got up and threw a mantle on her own shoulders.

"Dear Lady Jenkins, I was just coming to see for you. Captain Collinson
called in to give you his arm, but he did not wait. And here's Mr.
Johnny Ludlow, sent in by Mrs. Knox to ask whether we are all dead."

"Ay," said Lady Jenkins, nodding to me as she sat down on the sofa: "but
I should like a cup of tea before we start."

"A cup of tea?"

"Ay; I'm thirsty. Let me have it, Patty."

She spoke the last words in an imploring tone, as if Patty were her
mistress. Madame threw off her mantle again, untied the green hood of
her lady, and sent Lettice to make some tea.

"You had better go back and tell Mrs. Knox we are coming, though I'm
sure I don't know when it will be," she said aside to me.

I did as I was told; and had passed through the garden-gate, when my eye
fell upon Master Richard Knox. He was standing on the grass in the
moonlight, near the clump of laurels, silently contorting his small form
into cranks and angles, after the gleeful manner of Punch in the show
when he has been giving his wife a beating. Knowing that agreeable youth
could not keep himself out of mischief if he tried, I made up to him.

"Hush--sh--sh!" breathed he, silencing the question on my lips.

"What's the sport, Dicky?"

"She's with him there, beyond the laurels; they are walking round," he
whispered. "Oh my! such fun! I have been peeping at 'em. He has his arm
round her waist."

Sure enough, at that moment they came into view--Mina and Captain
Collinson. Dicky drew back into the shade, as did I. And I, to my very
great astonishment, trod upon somebody else's feet, who made, so to say,
one of the laurels.

"It's only I," breathed Sam Jenkins. "I'm on the watch as well as Dicky.
It looks like a case of two loviers, does it not?"

The "loviers" were parting. Captain Collinson held her hand between both
his to give her his final whisper. Then Mina tripped lightly over the
grass and stole in at the glass-doors of the garden-room, while the
captain stalked round to the front-entrance and boldly rang, making
believe he had only then arrived.

"Oh my, _my_!" repeated the enraptured Dicky, "won't I have the pull of
her now! She'd better tell tales of me again!"

"Is it a case, think you?" asked Sam of me, as we slowly followed in the
wake of Mina.

"It looks like it," I answered.

Janet was singing one of her charming songs, as we stole in at the
glass-doors: "Blow, blow, thou wintry wind:" just as she used to sing
it in that house in the years gone by. Her voice had not lost its
sweetness. Mina stood near the piano now, a thoughtful look upon her
flushed face.

"Where did you and Dicky go just now, Sam?"

Sam turned short round at the query. Charlotte Knox, as she put it,
carried suspicion in her low tone.

"Where did I and Dicky go?" repeated Sam, rather taken aback. "I--I only
stepped out for a stroll in the moonlight. I don't know anything about
Dicky."

"I saw Dicky run out to the garden first, and you went next," persisted
Charlotte, who was just as keen as steel. "Dick, what was there to see?
I will give you two helpings of trifle at supper if you tell me."

For two helpings of trifle Dick would have sold his birthright. "Such
fun!" he cried, beginning to jump. "She was out there with the captain,
Lotty: he came to the window here and beckoned to her: I saw him. I
dodged them round and round the laurels, and I am pretty nearly sure he
kissed her."

"Who was?--who did?" But the indignant glow on Lotty's face proved that
she scarcely needed to put the question.

"That nasty Mina. She took and told that it was me who eat up the big
bowl of raspberry cream in the larder to-day; and mother went and
believed her!"

Charlotte Knox, her brow knit, her head held erect, walked away after
giving us all a searching look apiece. "I, like Dicky, saw Collinson
call her out, and I thought I might as well see what he wanted to be
after," Sam whispered to me. "I did not see Dicky at all, though, until
he came into the laurels with you."

"He is talking to her now," I said, directing Sam's attention to the
captain.

"I wonder whether I ought to tell Dr. Knox?" resumed Sam. "What do you
think, Johnny Ludlow? She is so young, and somehow I don't trust him.
Dan doesn't, either."

"Dan told me he did not."

"Dan fancies he is after her money. It would be a temptation to some
people,--seven thousand pounds. Yet he seems to have plenty of his
own."

"If he did marry her he could not touch the money for three or four
years to come."

"Oh, couldn't he, though," answered Sam, taking me up. "He could touch
it next day."

"I thought she did not come into it till she was of age, and that Dr.
Knox was trustee."

"That's only in case she does not marry. If she marries it goes to her
at once. Here comes Aunt Jenkins!"

The old lady, as spruce as you please, in a satin gown, was shaking
hands with Mrs. Knox. But she looked half silly: and, may I never be
believed again, if she did not begin to nod directly she sat down.

"Do you hail from India? as the Americans phrase it," I suddenly ask of
Captain Collinson, when chance pinned us together in a corner of the
supper-room, and he could not extricate himself.

"Hail from India!" he repeated. "Was I born there, I conclude you mean?"

"Yes."

"Not exactly. I went there, a child, with my father and mother. And,
except for a few years during my teens, when I was home for education, I
have been in India ever since. Why do you ask?"

"For no particular reason. I was telling Madame St. Vincent this evening
that it seemed to me I had seen you before; but I suppose it could not
be. Shall you be going back soon?"

"I am not sure. Possibly in the autumn, when my leave will expire: not
till next year if I can get my leave extended. I shall soon be quitting
Lefford."

"Shall you?"

"Must do it. I have to make my bow at a levée; and I must be in town for
other things as well. I should like to enjoy a little of the season
there: it may be years before the opportunity falls to my lot again.
Then I have some money to invest: I think of buying an estate. Oh, I
have all sorts of business to attend to, once I am in London."

"Where's the use of buying an estate if you are to live in India?"

"I don't intend to live in India always," he answered, with a laugh. "I
shall quit the service as soon as ever I can, and settle down
comfortably in the old country. A home of my own will be of use to me
then."

Now it was that very laugh of Captain Collinson's that seemed more
familiar to me than all the rest of him. That I had heard it before, ay,
and heard it often, I felt sure. At least, I should have felt sure but
for its seeming impossibility.

"You are from Gloucestershire, I think I have heard," he observed to me.

"No; from Worcestershire."

"Worcestershire? That's a nice county, I believe. Are not the Malvern
Hills situated in it?"

"Yes. They are eight miles from Worcester."

"I should like to see them. I must see them before I go back. And
Worcester is famous for--what is it?--china?--yes, china. And for its
cathedral, I believe. I shall get a day or two there if I can. I can do
Malvern at the same time."

"Captain Collinson, would you mind giving Lady Jenkins your arm?" cried
Mrs. Knox at this juncture. "She is going home."

"There is no necessity for Captain Collinson to disturb himself: I can
take good care of Lady Jenkins," hastily spoke Madame St. Vincent, in
a tart tone, which the room could not mistake. Evidently she did not
favour Captain Collinson.

But the captain had already pushed himself through the throng of people
and taken the old lady in tow. The next minute I found myself close to
Charlotte Knox, who was standing at the supper-table, with a plate of
cold salmon before her.

"Are you a wild bear, Johnny Ludlow?" she asked me privately, under
cover of the surrounding clatter.

"Not that I know of. Why?"

"Madame St. Vincent takes you for one."

I laughed. "Has she told you so?"

"She has not told me: I guess it is some secret," returned Charlotte,
beginning upon the sandwiches. "I learnt it in a curious way."

A vein of seriousness ran through her half-mocking tone; seriousness lay
in her keen and candid eyes, lifted to mine.

"Yes, it was rather curious, the way it came to me: and perhaps on my
part not altogether honourable. Early this morning, Johnny, before ten
o'clock had struck, mamma made me go in and ask how Lady Jenkins was,
and whether she would be able to come to-night. I ran in the nearest
way, by the glass-doors, boisterously of course--mamma is always going
on at me for that--and the breeze the doors made as I threw them open
blew a piece of paper off the table. I stooped to pick it up, and saw it
was a letter just begun in madame's handwriting."

"Well?"

"Well, my eyes fell on the few words written; but I declare that I read
them heedlessly, not with any dishonourable intention; such a thought
never entered my mind. 'Dear Sissy,' the letter began, 'You must not
come yet, for Johnny Ludlow is here, of all people in the world; it
would not do for you and him to meet.' That was all."

"I suppose madame had been called away," continued Charlotte, after a
pause. "I put the paper on the table, and was going on into the passage,
when I found the room-door locked: so I just came out again, ran round
to the front-door and went in that way. Now if you are not a bear,
Johnny, why should you frighten people?"

I did not answer. She had set me thinking.

"Madame St. Vincent had invited a sister from France to come and stay
with her: she does just as she likes here, you know. It must be she who
is not allowed to meet you. What is the mystery?"

"Who is talking about mystery?" exclaimed Caroline Parker; who, standing
near, must have caught the word. "What _is_ the mystery, Lotty?"

And Lotty, giving her some evasive reply, put down her fork and turned
away.



LADY JENKINS.

MADAME.


I.

"If Aunt Jenkins were the shrewd woman she used to be, I'd lay the
whole case before her, and have it out; but she is not," contended Dan
Jenkins, tilting the tongs in his hand, as we sat round the dying
embers of the surgery fire.

His brother Sam and I had walked home together from Mrs. Knox's soirée,
and we overtook Dan in the town. Another soirée had been held in Lefford
that night, which Dan had promised himself to before knowing Mrs. Knox
would have one. We all three turned into the surgery. Dr. Knox was out
with a patient, and Sam had to wait up for him. Sam had been telling
his brother what we witnessed up at Rose Villa--the promenade round the
laurels that Captain Collinson and Mina had stolen in the moonlight. As
for me, though I heard what Sam said, and put in a confirming word here
and there, I was thinking my own thoughts. In a small way, nothing had
ever puzzled me much more than the letter Charlotte Knox had seen. Who
was Madame St. Vincent? and who was her sister, that I, Johnny Ludlow,
might not meet her?

"You see," continued Dan, "one reason why I can't help suspecting the
fellow, is this--he does not address Mina openly. If he were honest and
above board, he would go in for her before all the world. He wouldn't do
it in secret."

"What do you suspect him of?" cried Sam.

"I don't know. I do suspect him--that he is somehow not on the square.
It's not altogether about Mina; but I have no confidence in the man."

Sam laughed. "Of course you have not, Dan. You want to keep Mina for
yourself."

Dan pitched his soft hat at Sam's head, and let fall the tongs with a
clatter.

"Collinson seems to be all right," I put in. "He is going up to London
to a levée, and he is going to buy an estate. At least, he told me so
to-night in the supper-room."

"Oh, in one sense of the word the fellow is all right," acknowledged
Dan. "He is what he pretends to be; he is in the army list; and, for all
I know to the contrary, he may have enough gold to float an argosy of
ships. What I ask is, why he should go sneaking after Mina _when he does
not care for her_."

"That may be just a fallacy of ours, Dan," said his brother.

"No, it's not. Collinson is in love with Madame St. Vincent; not with
Mina."

"Then why does he spoon after Mina?"

"That's just it--why?"

"Any way, I don't think madame is in love with him, Dan. It was proposed
that he should take aunt home to-night, and madame was as tart as you
please over it, letting all the room know that she did not want him."

"Put it down so," agreed Dan, stooping to pick up the tongs. "Say that
he is not fond of madame, but of Mina, and would like to make her his
wife: why does he not go about it in a proper manner; court her openly,
speak to her mother; instead of pursuing her covertly like a sneak?"

"It may be his way of courting."

"May it! It is anything but a right way. He is for ever seeking to meet
her on the sly. I know it. He got her out in the garden to-night to a
meeting, you say: you and Johnny Ludlow saw it."

"Dicky saw it too, and Charlotte got the truth out of him. There may be
something in what you say, Dan."

"There's a great deal in what I say," contended Dan, his honest face
full of earnestness. "Look here. Here's an officer and a gentleman; a
rich man, as we are given to believe, and we've no reason to doubt it.
He seems to spend enough--Carter saw him lose five pounds last night,
betting at billiards. If he is in love with a young lady, there's
nothing to hinder a man like that from going in for her openly----"

"Except her age," struck in Sam. "He may think they'll refuse Mina to
him on that score."

"Stuff! I wish you wouldn't interrupt me, Sam. Every day will help to
remedy that--and he might undertake to wait a year or two. But I feel
sure and certain he does not really care for Mina; I feel sure that, if
he is seeking in this underhand way to get her to promise to marry him,
he has some ulterior motive in view. My own belief is he would like to
kidnap her."

Sam laughed. "You mean, kidnap her money?"

"Well, I don't see what else it can be. The fellow may have outrun the
constable, and need some ready money to put him straight. Rely upon this
much, Sam--that his habits are as fast as they can well be. I have been
learning a little about him lately."

Sam made no answer. He began to look grave.

"Not at all the sort of man who ought to marry Mina, or any other tender
young girl. He'd break her heart in a twelvemonth."

Sam spoke up. "I said to Johnny Ludlow, just now, that it might be
better to tell Dr. Knox. Perhaps----"

"What about?" interrupted the doctor himself, pouncing in upon us, and
catching the words as he opened the door. "What have you to tell Dr.
Knox about, Sam? And why are all you young men sitting up here? You'd be
better in bed."

The last straw, you know, breaks the camel's back. Whether Sam would
really have disclosed the matter to Dr. Knox, I can't say; the doctor's
presence and the doctor's question decided it.

Sam spoke in a low tone, standing behind the drug-counter with the
doctor, who had gone round to look at some entry in what they called the
day-book, and had lighted a gas-burner to do it by. Dr. Knox made no
remark of any kind while he listened, his eyes fixed on the book: one
might have thought he did not hear, but his lips were compressed.

"If she were not so young, sir--a child, as may be said--I should not
have presumed to speak," concluded Sam. "I don't know whether I have
done wrong or right."

"Right," emphatically pronounced the doctor.

But the word had hardly left his lips when there occurred a startling
interruption. The outer door of the surgery, the one he had come in by,
was violently drummed at, and then thrown open. Charlotte Knox, Miss
Mack the governess, and Sally the maid--the same Sally who had been at
Rose Villa when the trouble occurred about Janet Carey, and the same
Miss Mack who had replaced Janet--came flocking in.

"Dicky's lost, Arnold," exclaimed Charlotte.

"Dicky lost!" repeated Dr. Knox. "How can he be lost at this time of
night?"

"He _is_ lost. And we had nearly gone to bed without finding it out. The
people had all left, and the doors were locked, when some one--Gerty, I
think--began to complain of Dicky----"

"It was I who spoke," interposed the governess; and though she was fat
enough for two people she had the meekest little voice in the world, and
allowed herself to be made a perfect tool of at Rose Villa. "Dicky did
behave very ill at supper, eating rudely of everything, and----"

"Yes, yes," broke in Charlotte, "I remember now, Macky. You said Dicky
ought to be restrained, and you wondered he was not ill; and then mamma
called out, 'But where is Dicky?' 'Gone to bed to sleep off his supper,'
we all told her: and she sent Sally up to see that he had put his candle
out."

"And of course," interrupted Sally, thinking it was her turn to begin,
"when I found the room empty, and saw by the moonlight that Master
Dicky had not come to bed at all, I ran down to say so. And his mamma
got angry, accusing us servants of having carelessly locked him
out-of-doors. And he can't be found, sir--as Miss Lotty says."

"No, he cannot be found anywhere," added Lotty. "We have searched the
house and the gardens, and been in to inquire at Lady Jenkins's; and he
is _gone_. And mamma is frantic, and said we were to come to you,
Arnold."

"Master Dicky's playing truant: he has gone off with some of the
guests," observed Dr. Knox.

"Well, mamma is putting herself into a frightful fever over him, Arnold.
That old well in the field at the back was opened the day before
yesterday; she says Dicky may have strayed there and fallen in."

"Dicky's after more mischief than that," said the doctor, sagely. "A
well in a solitary field would have no charms for Dicky. I tell you,
Lotty, he must have marched home with some one or other. Had you any
lads up there to-night?"

"No, not any. You know mamma never will have them. Lads, _and_ Dicky,
would be too much."

"If Master Dicky have really gone off, as the doctor thinks, I'd lay
my next quarter's wages that it's with Captain Collinson," cried Sally.
"He is always wanting to be after the captain."

Lotty lifted her face, a gleam of intelligence flashing across it.
"Perhaps that's it," she said; "I should not wonder if it is. He has
strayed off after, or with, Captain Collinson. What is to be done,
Arnold?"

"Not strayed with him, I should think," observed the doctor. "Captain
Collinson, if he possesses any sense or consideration, would order Dicky
back at once."

"Won't you come with us to the captain's lodgings, Arnold, and see?"
cried Charlotte. "It would not do, would it, for us to go there alone at
this time of night? The captain may be in bed."

Arnold Knox looked at his sister; looked at the three of them, as if he
thought they were enough without him. He was nearly done up with his
long day's work.

"I suppose I had better go with you, Lotty," he said. "Though I don't
think Captain Collinson would kidnap any one of you if you went alone."

"Oh dear, no; it is Mina he wants to kidnap, not us," answered Lotty,
freely. And Arnold glanced at her keenly as he heard the words.

Did you ever know a fellow in the hey-dey of his health and restlessness
who was not ready for any night expedition--especially if it were to
search after something lost? Dr. Knox took up his hat to accompany the
visitors, and we three took up ours.

We proceeded in a body through the moonlit streets to Collinson's
lodgings; the few stragglers we met no doubt taking us all for benighted
wayfarers, trudging home from some one or other of the noted Lefford
soirées. Collinson had the rooms at the hairdresser's--good rooms,
famed as the best lodgings in the town. The gas was alight in his
sitting-room over the shop; a pretty fair proof that the captain was
yet up.

"Stay, Lotty," said Dr. Knox, arresting her impatient hand, that was
lifted to pull the bell. "No need to arouse the house: I dare say Pink
and his family are in bed. I will go up to Collinson."

It was easy to say so, but difficult to do it. Dr. Knox turned the
handle of the door to enter, and found it fastened. He had to ring,
after all.

Nobody answered it. Another ring and another shared the same fate. Dr.
Knox then searched for some small loose stones, and flung them up at the
window. It brought forth no more than the bell had.

"Dicky can't be there, or that gravel would have brought him to the
window," decided Lotty. "I should say Captain Collinson is not there,
either."

"He may be in his room at the back," observed Dr. Knox. And he rang
again.

Presently, after a spell of at least ten minutes' waiting, and no end
of ringing, an upper window was opened and a head appeared--that of
the hairdresser.

"Whatever's the matter?" called out he, seeing us all below. "It's not
fire, is it?"

"I am sorry to disturb you, Pink," called back Dr. Knox. "It is Captain
Collinson I want. Is he in, do you know?"

"Yes, sir; he came in about twenty minutes ago, and somebody with
him, for I heard him talking," answered Pink. "He must be in his
sitting-room, if he is not gone to bed."

"There is a light in the room, but I don't think he can be in. I have
thrown up some gravel, and he does not answer."

"I'll come down and see, sir."

Pink, the most obliging little man in the world, descended to the
captain's room and thence to us at the door. Captain Collinson was not
in. He had gone out again, and left his gas alight.

"You say some one came in with him, Pink. Was it a young lad?"

"I can't tell, sir. I heard the captain's latch-key, and I heard him
come on upstairs, talking to somebody; but I was just dropping off to
sleep, so did not take much notice."

That the somebody was young Dick, and that Captain Collinson had gone
out to march Dick home again, seemed only probable. There was nothing
for it but to go on to Rose Villa and ascertain; and we started for it,
after a short consultation.

"I shall not have the remotest idea where to look for Dick if he is not
there," remarked Dr. Knox.

"And in that case, I do believe mamma will have a fit," added Charlotte.
"A real fit, I mean, Arnold. I wish something could be done with Dicky!
The house is always in a commotion."

Captain Collinson was at Rose Villa, whether Dicky was or not. At the
garden-gate, talking to Mina in the moonlight, stood he, apparently
saying good-night to her.

"Dicky? oh dear, yes; I have just brought Dicky back," laughed the
captain, before Dr. Knox had well spoken his young half-brother's name,
while Mina ran indoors like a frightened hare. "Upon getting home to my
rooms just now I found some small mortal stealing in after me, and it
proved to be Dicky. He followed me home to get a top I had promised him,
and which I forgot to bring up here when I came to-night."

"I hope you did not give it him," said Dr. Knox.

"Yes, I did. I should never have got him back without," added the
captain. "Good-night."

He laughed again as he went away. Dicky's vagaries seemed to be rare fun
for him.

Dicky was spinning the top on the kitchen table when we went in--for
that's where they had all gathered: Mrs. Knox, Gerty, Kate, and the
cook. A big humming-top, nearly as large and as noisy as Dick. Dr. Knox
caught up the top and caught Dicky by the hand, and took both into the
parlour.

"Now then, sir!" he sternly asked. "What did you mean by this night's
escapade?"

"Oh, Arnold, don't scold him," implored Mrs. Knox, following them in
with her hands held up. "It _was_ naughty of him, of course, and it gave
me a dreadful fright; but it was perhaps excusable, and he is safe at
home again. The captain was to bring the top, and did not, and poor
Dicky ran after him to get it."

"You be quiet, Arnold; I am not to be scolded," put in cunning Dicky.
"You just give me my top."

"As to scolding you, I don't know that it would be of any further use:
the time seems to have gone by for it, and I must take other measures,"
spoke Dr. Knox. "Come up to bed now, sir. I shall see you in it before
I leave."

"But I want my top."

"Which you will not have," said the doctor: and he marched off Dicky.

"How cross you are with him, Arnold!" spoke his step-mother when the
doctor came down again, leaving Dicky howling on his pillow for the top.

"It needs some one to be cross with him," observed Dr. Knox.

"He is only a little boy, remember."

"He is big enough and old enough to be checked and corrected--if it ever
is to be done at all. I will see you to-morrow: I wish to have some
conversation with you."

"About Dicky?" she hastily asked.

"About him and other things. Mina," he added in a low tone, as he passed
her on his way out, but I, being next to him, caught the words, "I did
not like to see you at the gate with Captain Collinson at this hour. Do
not let it occur again. Young maidens cannot be too modest."

And, at the reproof, Miss Mina coloured to the very roots of her hair.


II.

They sat in the small garden-room, its glass-doors open to the warm
spring air. Mrs. Knox wore an untidy cotton gown, of a flaming
crimson-and-white pattern, and her dark face looked hot and angry. Dr.
Knox, sitting behind the table, was being annoyed as much as he could be
annoyed--and no one ever annoyed him but his step-mother--as the lines
in his patient brow betrayed.

"It is for his own good that I suggest this; his welfare," urged Dr.
Knox. "Left to his own will much longer, he must not be. Therefore I say
that he must be placed at school."

"You only propose it to thwart me," cried Mrs. Knox. "A fine expense it
will be!"

"It will not be your expense. I pay his schooling now, and I shall pay
it then. My father left me, young though I was, Dicky's guardian, and
I must do this. I wonder you do not see that it will be the very best
thing for Dicky. Every one but yourself sees that, as things are, the
boy is being ruined."

Mrs. Knox looked sullenly through the open doors near which she sat; she
tapped her foot impatiently upon the worn mat, lying on the threshold.

"I know you won't rest until you have carried your point and separated
us, Arnold; it has been in your mind to do it this long while. And my
boy is the only thing I care for in life."

"It is for Dicky's own best interest," reiterated Dr. Knox. "Of course
he is dear to you; it would be unnatural if he were not; but you surely
must wish to see him grow up a good and self-reliant man: not an idle
and self-indulgent one."

"Why don't you say outright that your resolve is taken and nothing can
alter it; that you are going to banish him to school to-morrow?"

"Not to-morrow, but he shall go at the half-quarter. The child will be
ten times happier for it; believe that."

"Do you _really_ mean it?" she questioned, her black eyes flashing fury
at Arnold. "Will nothing deter you?"

"Nothing," he replied, in a low, firm tone. "I--bear with me a moment,
mother--I cannot let Dicky run riot any longer. He is growing up the
very incarnation of selfishness; he thinks the world was made for him
alone; you and his sisters are only regarded by him as so many ministers
to his pleasure. See how he treats you all. See how he treats the
servants. Were I to allow this state of things to continue, how should I
be fulfilling my obligation to my dead father?--my father and Dicky's."

"I will hear no more," spoke Mrs. Knox, possibly thinking the argument
was getting too strong for her. "_I_ have wanted to speak to you,
Arnold, and I may as well do it now. Things must be put on a different
footing up here."

"What things?"

"Money matters. I cannot continue to do upon my small income."

Arnold Knox passed his hand across his troubled brow, almost in despair.
Oh, what a weary subject this was! Not for long together did she ever
give him rest from it.

"Your income is sufficient, mother; I am tired of saying it. It
is between three and four hundred a-year; and you are free from
house-rent."

"Why don't you remind me that the house is yours, and have done with
it!" she cried, her voice harsh and croaking as a raven's.

"Well, it is mine," he said good-humouredly.

"Yes; and instead of settling it upon me when you married, you must
needs settle it on your wife! Don't _you_ talk of selfishness, Arnold."

"My wife does not derive any benefit from it. It has made no difference
to you."

"She would derive it, though, if you died. Where should I be then?"

"I am not going to die, I hope. Oh, mother, if you only knew how these
discussions vex me!"

"Then you should show yourself generous."

"Generous!" he exclaimed, in a pained tone. And, goaded to it by his
remembrance of what he had done for her in the present and in the past,
he went on to speak more plainly than he had ever spoken yet. "Do you
forget that a great portion of what you enjoy should, by right, be mine?
_Is_ mine!"

"Yours!" she scornfully said.

"Yes: mine. Not by legal right, but by moral. When my father died he
left the whole of his property to you. Considerably more than the half
of that property had been brought to him by my mother: some people might
have thought that much should have descended to her son."

"He did not leave me the whole. You had a share of it."

"Not of the income. I had a sum of five hundred pounds left me, for a
specific purpose--to complete my medical education. Mother, I have never
grumbled at this; never. It was my father's will and pleasure that the
whole should be yours, and that it should go to your children after
you; and I am content to think that he did for the best; the house was
obliged to come to me; it had been so settled at my mother's marriage;
but you have continued to live in it, and I have not said you nay."

"It is like you to remind me of all this!"

"I could remind you of more," he rejoined, chafing at her unjust words,
her resentful manner. "That for years I impoverished myself to help
you to augment this income. Three parts of what I earned, before my
partnership with Mr. Tamlyn, I gave to you."

"Well, I needed it. Do, for goodness' sake, let the past alone, if you
can: where's the use of recalling it? Would you have us starve? Would
you see me taken off to prison? And that's what it will come to, unless
I can get some money to pay up with. That table-drawer that you've
got your elbow on, is full of bills. I've not paid one for these six
months."

"I cannot think what it is you do with your money!"

"Do with my money! Why, it goes in a hundred ways. How very ignorant you
are, Arnold. Look at what dress costs, for myself and four girls! Look
at what the soirées cost! We have to give all sorts of dishes now;
lobster salads and raspberry creams, and all kinds of expensive things.
Madame St. Vincent introduced _that_."

"You must put down the soirées and the dress--if you cannot keep them
within the bounds of your income."

"Thank you. Just as I had to put down the pony-carriage and James. How
cruel you are, Arnold!"

"I hope I am not. I do not wish to be so."

"It will take two hundred pounds to set me straight; and I must have it
from you, or from somebody else," avowed Mrs. Knox.

"You certainly cannot have it, or any portion of it, from me. My
expenses are heavy now, and I have my own children coming on."

His tone was unmistakably decisive, and Mrs. Knox saw that it was
so. For many years she had been in the habit of regarding Arnold as
something like a bucket in a well, which brings up water every time it
is let down. Just so had he brought up money for her from his pocket
every time she worried for it. But that was over now: and he had to bear
these reproaches periodically.

"You know that you _can_ let me have it, Arnold. You can lend it me from
Mina's money."

His face flushed slightly, he pushed his fair hair back with a gesture
of annoyance.

"The last time you spoke of _that_ I begged you never to mention it
again," he said in a low tone. "Why, what do you take me for, mother?"

"Take you for?"

"You must know that I could not touch Mina's money without becoming a
false trustee. Men have been brought to the criminal bar to answer for
a less crime than that would be."

"If Mina married, you would have to hand over the whole of it."

"Of course I should. First of all taking care that it was settled upon
her."

"I don't see the necessity of that. Mina could let me have what she
pleased of it."

"Talking of Mina," resumed Dr. Knox, passing by her remark, "I think you
must look a little closely after her. She is more intimate, I fancy,
with Captain Collinson than is desirable, and----"

"Suppose Captain Collinson wants to marry her?" interrupted Mrs. Knox.

"Has he told you that he wants to do so?"

"No; not in so many words. But he evidently likes her. What a good match
it would be!"

"Mina is too young to be married yet. And Captain Collinson cannot, I
should suppose, have any intention of the sort. If he had, he would
speak out: when it would be time enough to consider and discuss his
proposal. Unless he does speak, I must beg of you not to allow Mina to
be alone with him."

"She never is alone with him."

"I think she is, at odd moments. Only last night I saw her with him at
the gate. Before that, while your soirée was going on, Dicky--I believe
he could tell you so, if you asked him--saw them walking together in
the garden, the captain's arm round her waist."

"Girls are so fond of flirting! And young men think no harm of a little
passing familiarity."

"Just so. But for remembering this, I should speak to Captain Collinson.
The thought that there may be nothing serious in it prevents me. At any
rate, I beg of you to take care of Mina."

"And the money I want?" she asked, as he took up his hat to go.

But Dr. Knox, shortly repeating that he had no money to give her, made
his escape. He had been ruffled enough already. One thing was certain:
that if some beneficent sprite from fairyland increased Mrs. Knox's
annual income cent. per cent. she would still, and ever, be in
embarrassment. Arnold knew this.

Mrs. Knox sat on, revolving difficulties. How many similar interviews
she had held with her step-son, and how often he had been brought round
to pay her bills, she could but remember. Would he do it now? A most
unpleasant doubt, that he would not, lay upon her.

Presently the entrance was darkened by some tall form interposing
itself between herself and the sunlight. She glanced up and saw Captain
Collinson. He stood there smiling, his tasselled cane jauntily
swayed in his left hand.

"My dear madam, you looked troubled. Is anything wrong?"

"Troubled! the world's full of trouble, I think," spoke Mrs. Knox, in a
pettish kind of way. "Dr. Knox has been here to vex me."

Captain Collinson stepped airily in, and sat down near Mrs. Knox, his
eyes expressing proper concern: indignation blended with sympathy.

"Very inconsiderate of Dr. Knox: very wrong! Can I help you in any way,
my dear lady?"

"Arnold is always inconsiderate. First, he begins upon me about Dicky,
threatening to put him altogether away at school, poor ill-used child!
Next, he----"

"Sweet little angel?" interlarded the captain.

"Next, he refuses to lend me a trifling sum of money--and he knows how
badly I want it!"

"Paltry!" ejaculated the captain. "When he must be making so much of
it!"

"Rolling in it, so to say," confirmed Mrs. Knox. "Look at the practice
he has! But if he did not give me any of his, he might advance me a
trifle of Mina's."

"Of course he might," warmly acquiesced Captain Collinson.

What with the warmth and the sympathy, Mrs. Knox rather lost her head.
Many of us are betrayed on occasion into doing the same. That is, she
said more than she should have said.

"You see, if Mina married, as I pointed out to Arnold, the money would
no longer be under his control at all. It would be hers to do as she
pleased with. She is a dear, good, generous girl, and would not scruple
to let me have one or two hundred pounds. What would such a trifle be
out of the whole seven thousand?"

"Very true; nothing at all," cried the captain, toying with his handsome
beard.

"But no; Arnold will not hear of it: he answered me in a way that I
should not like to repeat. He also said he should take care, if Mina did
marry before she was of age, that her money was settled upon her; said
it on purpose to thwart me."

"Cruel!" aspirated the captain.

"Some girls might be tempted to marry off-hand, and say nothing to him,
if only to get her fortune out of his control. I don't say Mina would."

"Miser! My dear madam, rely upon it that whenever Miss Mina does marry,
her husband will join with her in letting you have as much money as you
wish. I am sure it would be his pride and pleasure to do so."

Was it an implied promise? meant to be so understood? Mrs. Knox took it
for one. She came out of her dumps, and felt exalted to the seventh
heaven.

Meanwhile, Arnold Knox was with Lady Jenkins, to whom he had gone on
quitting his step-mother. The old lady, up and dressed, sat in her
dining-room. There appeared to be no change in her condition: drowsy,
lethargic, gentle, yielding; imbecile, or not many shades removed from
it. And yet, neither Dr. Knox nor his fellow-practitioner could see any
cause to account for this. Of bodily illness she had none: except that
she seemed feeble.

"I wish you would tell me what it is you are taking," said Dr. Knox,
bending over her and speaking in low, persuasive tones. "I fear that you
are taking something that does you harm."

Lady Jenkins looked up at him, apparently trying to consider. "I've not
had anything since I took the physic," she said.

"What physic?"

"The bottles that Mr. Tamlyn sent me."

"But that was when you were ill. Are you sure you have not taken
anything else?--that you are not taking anything? Any"--he dropped his
voice to a still lower key--"opiates? Laudanum, for instance?"

Lady Jenkins shook her head. "I never took any sort of opiate in my
life."

"Then it is being given to her without her knowledge," mentally decided
the doctor. "I hear you were at the next door last night, as gay as the
best of them," he resumed aloud, changing his tone to a light one.

"Ay. I put on my new bronze satin gown: Patty said I was to. Janet sang
her pretty songs."

"Did she? When are you coming to spend an evening with us? She will sing
them again for you."

"I should like to come--if I may."

"If you may! There's nothing to prevent it. You are quite well enough."

"There's Patty. We shall have to ask her whether I may."

Anything Arnold Knox might have rejoined to this was stopped by the
entrance of Patty herself, a light blue shawl on her shoulders. A
momentary surprise crossed her face at sight of the doctor.

"Oh, Dr. Knox! I did not know you were here," she said, as she threw off
the shawl. "I was running about the garden for a few minutes. What a
lovely day it is!--the sun so warm."

"It is that. Lady Jenkins ought to be out in it. Should you not like to
take a run in the garden?" he laughingly added to her.

"Should I, Patty?"

The utter abnegation of will, both of tone and look, as she cast an
appealing glance at her companion, struck Dr. Knox forcibly. He looked
at both of them from under his rather overhanging eyebrows. Did Madame
St. Vincent extort this obedience?--or was it simply the old lady's
imbecility? Surely it must be the latter.

"I think," said madame, "a walk in the garden will be very pleasant
for you, dear Lady Jenkins. Lettice shall bring down your things. The
may-tree is budding beautifully."

"Already!" said the doctor: "I should like to see it. Will you go with
me, madame? I have two minutes to spare."

Madame St. Vincent, showing no surprise, though she may have felt it,
put the blue shawl on her shoulders again and followed Dr. Knox. The
may-tree was nearly at the end of the garden, down by the shrubbery.

"Mr. Tamlyn mentioned to you, I believe, that we suspected something
improper, in the shape of opiates, was being given to Lady Jenkins,"
began Dr. Knox, never as much as lifting his eyes to the budding
may-tree.

"Yes; I remember that he did," replied Madame St. Vincent. "I hardly
gave it a second thought."

"Tamlyn said you had a difficulty in believing it. Nevertheless, I feel
assured that it is so."

"Impossible, Dr. Knox."

"It seems impossible to you, I dare say. But that it is being done, I
would stake my head upon. Lady Jenkins is being stupefied in some way:
and I have brought you out here to tell you so, and to ask your
co-operation in tracing the culprit."

"But--I beg your pardon, Dr. Knox--who would give her anything of the
kind? You don't suspect me, I hope?"

"If I suspected you, my dear lady, I should not be talking to you as I
am. The person we must suspect is Lettice Lane."

"Lettice Lane!"

"I have reason to think it. Lettice Lane's antecedents are not, I fear,
quite so clear as they might be: though it is only recently I have known
this. At any rate, she is the personal attendant of Lady Jenkins; the
only one of them who has the opportunity of being alone with her. I must
beg of you to watch Lettice Lane."

Madame St. Vincent looked a little bewildered; perhaps felt so.
Stretching up her hand, she plucked one of the budding may-blossoms.

"Mr. Tamlyn hinted at Lettice also. I have always felt confidence in
Lettice. As to drugs--Dr. Knox, I don't believe a word of it."

"_Lady Jenkins is being drugged_," emphatically pronounced Dr. Knox.
"And you must watch Lettice Lane. If Lettice is innocent, we must look
elsewhere."

"Shall I tax Lettice with it?"

"Certainly not. You would make a good detective," he added, with a
laugh; "showing your hand to the enemy. Surely, Madame St. Vincent, you
must yourself see that Lady Jenkins is being tampered with. Look at her
state this morning: though she is not quite as bad as she is sometimes."

"I have known some old people sleep almost constantly."

"So have I. But theirs is simply natural sleep, induced by exhausted
nature: hers is not natural. She is stupefied."

"Stupefied with the natural decay of her powers," dissented madame.
"But--to drug her! No, I cannot believe it. And where would be the
motive?"

"That I know not. But I am sure I am not mistaken," he added decisively.
"You will watch Lettice Lane?"

"I will," she answered, after a pause. "Of course it _may_ be as you
say; I now see it. I will watch her to the very utmost of my ability
from this hour."


III.

  "DEAR JOHNNY,

  "I expect your stay at Lefford is drawing towards a close; mine is,
  here. It might be pleasant if we travelled home together. I could
  take Lefford on my way--starting by an early train--and pick you up.
  You need some one to take care of you, you know. Let me hear when
  you intend to be ready. I will arrange my departure accordingly.

  "Hope you have enjoyed yourself, old fellow."

  "Ever yours,
  "J. T."

The above letter from Tod, who was still in Leicestershire, reached me
one morning at breakfast-time. Dr. Knox and Janet, old Tamlyn--all the
lot of them--called out that they could not spare me yet. Even Cattledon
graciously intimated that she should miss me. Janet wrote to Tod,
telling him he was to take Lefford on his way, as he proposed, and to
stay a week when he did come.

It was, I think, that same day that some news reached us touching
Captain Collinson--that he was going to be married. At least that he had
made an offer, and was accepted. Not to Mina Knox; but to an old girl
(the epithet was Sam's) named Belmont. Miss Belmont lived with her
father at a nice place on the London Road, half-a-mile beyond Jenkins
House; he had a great deal of money, and she was his only child. She was
very plain, very dowdy, and quite forty years of age; but very good,
going about amongst the poor with tracts and soup. If the tidings
were true, and Captain Collinson _had_ made Miss Belmont an offer, it
appeared pretty evident that his object was her money: he could not
well have fallen in love with her, or court a wife so much older than
himself.

When taxed with the fact--and it was old Tamlyn who did it, meeting him
opposite the market-house--Collinson simpered, and stroked his dark
beard, and said Lefford was fond of marvels. But he did not deny it.
Half-an-hour later he and Miss Belmont were seen together in the High
Street. She had her old cloth mantle on and her brown bonnet, as close
as a Quaker's, and carried her flat district basket in her hand. The
captain presented a contrast, with his superb dandy-cut clothes and
flourishing his ebony cane.

"I think it must be quite true," Janet observed, as we watched them pass
the house. "And I shall be glad if it is: Arnold has been tormenting
himself with the fancy that the gallant captain was thinking of little
Mina."

A day or two after this, it chanced that Dr. Knox had to visit Sir Henry
Westmorland, who had managed to give a twist to his ankle. Sir Henry was
one of those sociable, good-hearted men that no one can help liking; a
rather elderly bachelor. He and Tamlyn were old friends, and we had all
dined at Foxgrove about a week before.

"Would you like to go over with me, Johnny?" asked Dr. Knox, when he was
starting.

I said I should like it very much, and got into the "conveyance," the
doctor letting me drive. Thomas was not with us. We soon reached
Foxgrove: a low, straggling, red-brick mansion, standing in a small
park, about two miles and a half from Lefford.

Dr. Knox went in; leaving me and the conveyance on the smooth wide
gravel-drive before the house. Presently a groom came up to take charge
of it, saying Sir Henry was asking for me. He had seen me from the
window.

Sir Henry was lying on a sofa near the window, and Knox was already
beginning upon the ankle. A gentlemanly little man, nearly bald, sat on
the ottoman in the middle of the room. I found it was one Major Leckie.

Some trifle--are these trifles _chance_?--turned the conversation upon
India. I think Knox spoke of some snake-bite in a man's ankle that had
laid him by for a month or two: it was no other than the late whilom
mayor, Sir Daniel Jenkins. Upon which, Major Leckie began relating his
experience of some reptile bites in India. The major had been home
nearly two years upon sick leave, he said, and was now going back again.

"The 30th Bengal Cavalry!" repeated Dr. Knox, as Major Leckie happened
to mention that regiment--which was his, and the doctor remembered that
it was Captain Collinson's. "One of the officers of that regiment is
staying here now."

"Is he!" cried the major, briskly. "Which of them?"

"Captain Collinson."

"Collinson!" echoed the major, his whole face alight with pleasure.
"Where is he? How long has he been here? I did not know he had left
India."

"He came home last autumn, I fancy; was not well, and got twelve months'
leave. He has been staying at Lefford for some time."

"I should like to see him! Good old Collinson! He and I were close
friends. He is a nice fellow."

"Old, you style him!" cried Dr. Knox. "I should rather call him
young--of the two."

Major Leckie laughed. "It is a word we are all given to using, doctor.
Of course Collinson's not old in years. Why is he staying at Lefford?"

"I'm sure I don't know. Unless it is that he has fallen in love. I heard
him remark one day that the air of the place suited him."

"Ah ah, Master Collinson!" laughed the major. "In love, are you, sir!
Caught at last, are you! Who is the lady?"

"Nay, I spoke only in jest," returned Dr. Knox. "He seems to be a
general admirer; but I don't know that it is any one in particular.
Report has mentioned one or two ladies, but report is often a false
town-crier."

"Well, she will be in luck--whoever gets him. He is one of the nicest,
truest fellows I know; and will make a rare good husband."

"It is said he has private means. Do you know whether that's true?"

"He has very good private means. His father left him a fortune.
Sometimes we fancy he will not stay with us long. I should not be
surprised if he sells out while he is at home, and settles down."

"Johnny Ludlow heard him say something the other night to that effect,"
observed the doctor, looking at me.

"Yes," I said, confirming the words. "He is about buying an estate now,
I believe. But he talked of going back to India for a few years."

"I hope he will. There's not a man amongst us, that I would not rather
spare than Collinson. I _should_ like to see him. I might walk into
Lefford now--if you will give me his address, doctor. Will you spare me
for an hour or two, Sir Henry?"

"Well, I must, I suppose," grumbled Sir Henry. "It's rather bad of you,
though, Leckie; and after putting me off with so miserably short a stay.
You get here at ten o'clock last night, and you go off at ten o'clock
to-night! Fine behaviour that!"

"I am obliged to go to-night, Westmorland; you know I am, and I could
not get to you earlier, although I tried. I won't be away a minute
longer than I can help. I can walk into Lefford in half-an-hour--my pace
is a quick one. No; and I won't stay an unconscionable time with
Collinson," he added, in answer to a growl of the baronet's. "Trust me.
I'll be back under two hours."

"Bring him back with you for the rest of the day," said Sir Henry.

"Oh, thank you. And I am sure you will say he is the best fellow going.
I wonder you and he have not found out one another before."

"If you don't mind taking a seat in yonder nondescript vehicle--that Mr.
Johnny Ludlow here has the audacity to say must have been built in the
year One," laughed Dr. Knox, pointing outside, "I can drive you to
Captain Collinson's lodgings."

"A friend in need is a friend indeed," cried the major, laughing also.
"What style of vehicle do you call it?"

"_We_ call it the conveyance. As to its style--well I never had the
opportunity of asking that of the builder. I believe my father bought
it second-hand when he first went into practice many a year ago."

The doctor drove this time; Major Leckie sitting beside him, I in the
perch behind. Leaving the major at the hairdresser's, upon reaching
Lefford, Dr. Knox and I went home. And this is what occurred--as we
heard later.

Ringing at the private door, which was Captain Collinson's proper
entrance, a young servant-girl appeared, and--after the manner of
many young country servants--sent Major Leckie alone up to Captain
Collinson's rooms, saying she supposed the captain was at home. It
turned out that he was not at home. Seated before the fire was a
gentleman in a crimson dressing-gown and slippers, smoking a huge pipe.

"Come in," cried out he, in answer to the major's knock.

"I beg your pardon," said the major, entering. "I understood that
Captain Collinson lodged here."

"He does lodge here," replied he of the dressing-gown, putting his pipe
into the fender, as he rose. "What is it that you want with him?"

"I only called to see him. I am one of his brother-officers--home on
sick leave; as I understand he is."

"Collinson is out," said the gentleman. "I am sorry it should happen so.
Can you leave any message?"

"Will he be long? I should much like to see him."

"He will be back to dinner to-night; not much before that, I think. He
is gone by train to--to--some place a few miles off. Boom--or Room--or
Doom--or some such name. I am a stranger here."

"Toome, I suppose," remarked the major. "It's the last station before
you get to Lefford--I noticed the name last night. I am very sorry. I
should liked to have seen Collinson. Tell him so, will you. I am Major
Leckie."

"You will be calling again, perhaps?"

"I can't do that. I must spend the rest of this day with my friend, Sir
Henry Westmorland, and I leave to-night. Tell Collinson that I embark in
a few days. Stay: this is my address in London, if he will write to me.
I wonder he did not attempt to find me out--I came home before he did:
and he knew that he could always get my address at my bankers'."

"I will tell Collinson all you say, Major Leckie," said the stranger,
glancing at the card. "It is a pity he is out."

"Should he come back in time--though I fear, by what you say, there's
little chance of it--be so good as to say that Sir Henry Westmorland
will be happy to see him to dinner this evening at Foxgrove, at six
o'clock--and to come over as much earlier as he can."

With the last words, Major Leckie left, Collinson's friend politely
attending him down to the front-door. I was standing at Mr. Tamlyn's
gate as he passed it on his way back to Foxgrove. Dr. Knox, then going
off on foot to see a patient, came across the yard from the surgery at
the same moment.

"Such a mischance!" the major stopped in his rapid walk to say to us.
"Collinson has gone to Toome to-day. I saw a friend of his, who is
staying with him, and he thinks he won't be back before night."

"I did not know Collinson had any one staying with him," remarked the
doctor. "Some one called in upon him, probably."

"This man is evidently staying with him; making himself at home too,"
said the major. "He was in a dressing-gown and slippers, and had his
feet on the fender, smoking a pipe. A tall, dark fellow, face all
hair."

"Why, that is Collinson himself," cried I.

"Not a bit of it," said the major. "This man is no more like
Collinson--except that Collinson is dark and has a beard--than he is
like me. He said he was a stranger in the place."

A rapid conclusion crossed me that it must be a brother of
Collinson's--for a resemblance to himself, according to the major's
description, there no doubt was. Major Leckie wished me good-day, and
continued his way up the street, Dr. Knox with him.

"What are you gazing at, Johnny Ludlow?"

I turned at the question, and saw Charlotte Knox. She was coming to
call on Janet. We stood there talking of one thing and another. I told
Charlotte that Collinson's brother, as I took it to be, was staying with
him; and Charlotte told me of a quarrel she had just had with Mina on
the score of the captain.

"Mina won't believe a word against him, Johnny. When I say he is nothing
but a flirt, that he is only playing with her, she bids me hold my
tongue. She quite scorns the notion that he would like to marry Miss
Belmont."

"Have you seen any more letters, that concern me, in at Madame St.
Vincent's?" I asked.

"Do you think I should be likely to?--or that such letters are as
plentiful as blackberries?" retorted Charlotte. "And you?--have you
discovered the key to that letter?"

"I have not discovered it, Charlotte. I have taxed my memory in vain.
Never a girl, no matter whose sister she may be, can I recall to mind as
being likely to owe me a grudge."

"It was not that the girl owed you a grudge," quickly spoke Charlotte.
"It was that she must not meet you."

"Does not the one thing imply the other? I can't think of any one. There
was a young lady, indeed, in the years gone by, when I was not much more
than a lad, who--may--have--taken up a prejudice against me," I added
slowly and thoughtfully, for I was hardly sure of what I said. "But she
cannot have anything to do with the present matter, and I am quite sure
she was not a sister of Madame St. Vincent."

"What was her name?" asked Charlotte.

"Sophie Chalk."



LADY JENKINS.

LIGHT.


I.

Tod arrived at Lefford. I met him at the train, just as I had met
Miss Cattledon, who was with us still. As we walked out of the
station together, many a man cast a glance after the tall, fine young
fellow--who looked strong enough to move the world, if, like Archimedes,
the geometrician of Syracuse, he had only possessed the necessary lever.

"Shall you be able to stay a week, Tod?"

"Two weeks if they'd like it, Johnny. How you have picked up, lad!"

"Picked up?"

"In looks. They are all your own again. Glad to see it, old fellow."

Some few days had elapsed since the latest event recorded in this
veritable little history--the call that Major Leckie made on Captain
Collinson, and found his brother there, instead of himself--but no
change worth noting to the reader had occurred in the town politics.
Lady Jenkins was ailing as much as ever, and Madame St. Vincent was
keeping a sharp watch on the maid, Lettice Lane, without, as yet,
detecting her in any evil practices: the soirées were numerous, one
being held at some house or other every night in the work-a-day week:
and the engagement of Captain Collinson to Miss Belmont was now talked
of as an assured fact. Collinson himself had been away from Lefford
during these intervening days. Pink, the hairdresser, thought he had
taken a run up to London, on some little matter of business. As to the
brother, we had heard no more of him.

But, if Captain Collinson had taken a run up to London, he had
unquestionably run down again, though not to Lefford. On the day but one
before the coming of Tod, Janet and Miss Cattledon went over by train
to do some shopping at the county town, which stood fifteen miles from
Lefford, I being with them. Turning into a pastry-cook's in the middle
of the day to get something to eat, we turned in upon Captain Collinson.
He sat at a white marble-topped table in the corner of the shop, eating
an oyster patty.

"We heard you were in London," said Janet, shaking hands with him, as he
rose to offer her his seat.

"Got back this morning. Shall be at Lefford to-morrow: perhaps
to-night," he answered.

He stood gobbling up his patty quickly. I said something to him, just
because the recollection came into my mind, about the visit of his
brother.

"My brother!" he exclaimed in answer, staring at me with all his eyes.
"What brother? How do you know anything about my brother?"

"Major Leckie saw him when he called at your lodgings. Saw him instead
of you. You had gone to Toome. We took it to be your brother, from the
description; he was so like yourself."

The captain smiled. "I forgot that," he said. "We _are_ much alike. Ned
told me of Leckie's call. A pity I could not see him! Things always
happen cross and contrary. Has Leckie left Foxgrove yet?"

"Oh, he left it that same night. I should think he is on his way back to
India by this time."

"His visit to Lefford seems to have been as flying a one as my brother's
was, and _his_ did not last a day. How much?" to the girl behind the
counter. "Sixpence? There it is." And, with a general adieu nodded to
the rest of us, the captain left the shop.

"I don't like that dandy," spoke Cattledon, in her severest tone. "I
have said so before. I'm sure he is a man who cannot be trusted."

I answered nothing: but I had for a little time now thought the same.
There was that about him that gave you the idea he was in some way or
other not _true_. And it may as well be mentioned here that Captain
Collinson got back to Lefford that same evening, in time to make his
appearance at Mrs. Parker's soirée, at which both Miss Belmont and Mina
Knox were present.

So now we come to Tod again, and to the day of his arrival. Talking of
one thing and another, telling him of this and that, of the native
politics, as we all like to do when a stranger comes to set himself
down, however temporarily, amidst us, I mentioned the _familiarity_ that
in two of the people struck upon my memory. Never did I see this same
Captain Collinson, never did I see Madame St. Vincent, or hear them
speak, or listen to their laugh, but the feeling that I had met them
before--had been, so to say, intimate with both one and the other--came
forcibly upon me.

"And yet it would seem, upon the face of things, that I never have
been," I continued to Tod, when telling of this. "Madame St. Vincent
says she never left the South of France until last year; and the captain
has been nearly all his life in India."

"You know you do take fancies, Johnny."

"True. But, are not those fancies generally borne out by the result? Any
way, they puzzle me, both of them: and there's a ring in their voices
that----"

"A ring in their voices!" put in Tod, laughing.

"Say an accent, then; especially in madame's; and it sounds, to my ears,
unmistakably Worcestershire."

"Johnny, you _are_ fanciful!"

I never got anything better from Tod. "You will have the honour of
meeting them both here to-night," I said to him, "for it is Janet's turn
to give the soirée, and I know they are expected."

Evening came. At six o'clock the first instalment of guests knocked at
the door; by half-past six the soirée was in full glory: a regular
crowd. Every one seemed to have come, with the exception of the ladies
from Jenkins House. Sam Jenkins brought in their excuses.

Sam had run up to Jenkins House with some physic for the butler, who
said he had a surfeit (from drinking too much old ale, Tamlyn thought),
and Sam had made use of the opportunity to see his aunt. Madame St.
Vincent objected. It would try the dear old lady too much, madame said.
She was lying in a sweet sleep on the sofa in her own room; had been
quite blithe and lively all day, but was drowsy now; and she had better
not be disturbed until bedtime. Perhaps Mr. Sam would kindly make their
excuses to Mrs. Arnold Knox.

"Can't you come yourself, madame?" asked Sam, politely. "If Aunt Jenkins
is asleep, and means to keep asleep till bed-time, she can't want you."

"I could not think of leaving her," objected madame. "She looks for me
the moment she wakes."

So Sam, I say, brought back the message. Putting himself into his
evening-coat, he came into the room while tea was going on, and
delivered madame's excuses to Janet as distinctly as the rattle of cups
and saucers allowed. You should have seen Cattledon that evening:--in a
grey silk gown that stood on end, a gold necklace, and dancing shoes.

"This is the second soirée this week that Lady Jenkins has failed to
appear at," spoke Mrs. Knox--not Janet--in a resentful tone. "My firm
opinion is that Madame St. Vincent keeps her away."

"Keeps her away," cried Arnold. "Why should she do that?"

"Well, yes; gives way to her fads and fancies about being ill, instead
of rousing her out of them. As to _why_ she does it," continued Mrs.
Knox, "I suppose she is beginning to grow nervous about her. As if an
innocent, quiet soirée could hurt Lady Jenkins!"

"Johnny," whispered Sam, subsiding into the background after delivering
his message, "may I never stir again if I didn't see Collinson hiding in
aunt's garden!"

"_Hiding_ in your aunt's garden!" I exclaimed. "What was he doing that
for?"

"Goodness knows. Did you ever notice a big bay-tree that you pass on the
left, between the door and the gate? Well, he was standing behind it. I
came out of the house at a double quick pace, knowing I should be late
for the soirée, cleared the steps at a leap, and the path to the gate at
another. Too quick, I suppose, for Collinson. He was bending forward to
look at the parlour windows, and drew back as I passed."

"Did you speak, Sam?"

"No, I came flying on, taking no notice. I dare say he thinks I did not
see him. One does not like, you know, to speak to a man who evidently
wants to avoid you. But now--I wonder what he was doing there?"
continued Sam, reflectively. "Watching Madame St. Vincent, I should say,
through the lace curtains."

"But for what purpose?"

"I can't even imagine. There he was."

To my mind this sounded curious. But that Mina Knox was before my
eyes--just at the moment listening to the whispers of Dan Jenkins--I
should have thought the captain was looking after her. Or, rather, _not_
listening to Dan. Mina had a pained, restless look on her face, not in
the least natural to it, and kept her head turned away. And the more Dan
whispered, the more she turned it from him.

"Here he is, Sam."

Sam looked round at my words, and saw Captain Collinson, then coming in.
He was got up to perfection as usual, and wore a white rose in his
button-hole. His purple-black hair, beard, whiskers and moustache were
grand; his voice had its ordinary fashionable drawl. I saw Tod--at the
opposite side of the room--cease talking with old Tamlyn, to fix his
keen eyes on the captain.

"Very sorry to be so late," apologized the captain, bowing over Janet's
hand. "Been detained at home writing letters for India. Overland mail
goes out to-morrow night."

Sam gave me a knock with his elbow. "What a confounded story!" he
whispered. "Wonder what the gallant captain means, Johnny! Wonder what
game he is up to?"

It was, I dare say, nearly an hour after this that I came across Tod. He
was standing against the wall, laughing slightly to himself, evidently
in some glee. Captain Collinson was at the piano opposite, his back to
us, turning over the leaves for Caroline Parker, who was singing.

"What are you amused at, Tod?"

"At you, lad. Thinking what a muff you are."

"I always am a muff, I know. But why am I one just now in particular?"

"For not knowing that man," nodding towards Collinson. "I thought I
recognized him as he came in; felt sure of him when I heard him speak.
Men may disguise their faces almost at will; but not their voices,
Johnny."

"Why, who is he?" I asked in surprise.

"I'll tell you when we are alone. I should have known him had we met
amid the Hottentots. I thought he was over in Australia; knew he went
there."

"But--is he not Captain Collinson?"

Tod laughed. "Just as much as I am, Johnny. Of course he may have
assumed the name of Collinson in place of his own: if so, nobody has a
right, I take it, to say him nay. But, as to his being a captain in the
Bengal Cavalry--well, I don't think he is."

"And you say I know him!"

"I say you ought to--but for being a muff. I suppose it is the hair he
is adorned with that has thrown you off the scent."

"But, where have I seen him, Tod? Who----"

"Hush, lad. We may be overheard."

As a general rule, all the guests at these soirées left together. They
did so to-night. The last to file out at the door were the Hampshires,
with Mrs. Knox, her daughter, and Miss Mack--for Janet had made a point
of inviting poor hard-worked, put-upon Macky. Both families lived in the
London Road, and would go home in company. Dan had meant to escort Mina,
but she pointedly told him he was not wanted, and took the offered arm
of Captain Collinson. Upon which, Dan turned back in a huff. Sam laughed
at that, and ran after them himself.

How long a time had elapsed afterwards, I hardly know. Perhaps
half-an-hour; perhaps not so much. We had not parted for the night: in
fact, Mr. Tamlyn and Tod were still over the game at chess they had
begun since supper; which game seemed in no mood to be finished. I
watched it: Dr. Knox and Miss Cattledon stood talking over the fire;
while Janet, ever an active housekeeper, was in the supper-room, helping
the maids to clear the table. In the midst of this, Charlotte Knox came
back, rushing into the room in a state of intense excitement, with the
news that Mina and Captain Collinson were eloping together.

The account she gave was this--though just at first nothing clear could
be made out of her. Upon starting, the Hampshires, Mrs. Knox, and Miss
Mack went on in front; Captain Collinson and Mina walked next, and
Charlotte fell behind with Sam. Fell very much behind, as it appeared;
for when people are talking of what interests them, their steps are apt
to linger; and Sam was telling her of having seen Captain Collinson
behind the bay-tree. It was a beautiful night, warm and pleasant.

Charlotte and Sam let the captain and Mina get pretty nearly the length
of a street before them; and _they_, in their turn, were as much behind
the party in advance. Suddenly Sam exclaimed that the captain was taking
the wrong way. His good eyes had discerned that, instead of keeping
straight on, which was the proper (and only) route to the London Road,
he and Mina had turned down the lane leading to the railway-station.
"Halloa!" he exclaimed to Charlotte, "what's that for?" "They must be
dreaming," was Charlotte's laughing reply: "or, perhaps the captain
wants to take an excursion by a night-train!" Whether anything in the
last remark, spoken in jest, struck particularly on the mind of Sam,
Charlotte did not know: away he started as if he had been shot,
Charlotte running after him in curiosity. Arrived at the lane, Sam saw
the other two flying along, just as if they wanted to catch a train and
had not a minute to do it in. Onward went Sam's long legs in pursuit;
but the captain's legs were long also, and he was pulling Mina with him:
altogether Sam did not gain much upon them. The half-past eleven o'clock
train was then gliding into the station, where it was timed to halt two
minutes. The captain and Mina dashed on to the platform, and, when
Sam got up, he was putting her into the nearest carriage. Such was
Charlotte's statement: and her eyes looked wild, and her breath was
laboured as she made it.

"Have they _gone_?--gone on by the train?" questioned Dr. Knox, who
seemed unnaturally calm.

"Goodness, no!" panted the excited Charlotte. "Sam managed to get his
arm round Mina's waist, and the captain could not pull her away from
him. It was a regular struggle on the platform, Arnold. I appealed to
the station-master, who stood by. I told him it was my sister, and that
she was being kidnapped against her will; Sam also appealed to him. So
he gave the signal when the time was up, and let the train go on."

"Not against her will, I fear," spoke Arnold Knox from between his
condemning lips. "Where are they now, Lotty?"

"On the platform, quarrelling; and still struggling which shall keep
possession of Mina. I came running here to fetch you, Arnold, and I
believe I shall never get my breath again."

With one accord we all, Cattledon excepted, set off to the station; even
old Tamlyn proved he had some go in his legs yet. Tod reached it first:
few young men could come up to him at running.

Sam Jenkins had exchanged his hold of Mina for a hold on Captain
Collinson. The two were struggling together; but Sam's grasp was firm,
and he held him as in a vice. "No, no," he was saying, "you don't escape
me, captain, until some one comes here to take charge of Mina." As
to Mina, little simpleton, she cowered in the shade of the corner,
shivering and crying. The station-master and the two night-porters stood
about, gaping and staring.

Tod put his hand on the captain's shoulder; his other hand momentarily
holding back Dr. Knox. "Since when have you been Captain Collinson," he
quietly asked.

The captain turned his angry eyes upon him. "What is that to you?" he
retorted. "I am Captain Collinson; that is enough for you."

"Enough for me, and welcome. Not enough, as I judge, for this gentleman
here," indicating the doctor. "When I knew you your name was not
Collinson."

"How dare you insult me?" hissed the captain. "My name not Collinson!"

"Not at all!" was Tod's equable answer. "It used to be FABIAN PELL."


II.

The history of the Clement-Pells and their downfall was given in the
First Series of these stories, and the reader can have no difficulty in
recalling Fabian to his memory. There are times, even to this day, when
it seems to me that I must have been a muff, as Tod said, not to know
him. But, some years had elapsed since I saw him; and those years,
with their ill-fortune and exposure, and the hard life he had led in
Australia, had served to change him greatly; above all, there was now
the mass of hair disguising the greater part of his face. Bit by bit my
recollection came to me, and I knew that he was, beyond all shadow of
doubt, Fabian Pell.

How long we sat up that night at Mr. Tamlyn's, talking over its events,
I cannot precisely tell. For quite the half of what was left of it.
Mina, brought to his own home by Arnold for safety, was consigned to
Cattledon's charge and bed, and retired to the latter in a state of
humiliation and collapse.

The scene on the platform had soon come to a conclusion. With the
security of Mina assured by the presence of her brother and the rest of
us, Sam let go his hold of the captain. It had been a nice little plot
this, that the captain had set on foot in secret, and persuaded that
silly girl, not much better than a child, to accede to. They were to
have run away to London that night, and been married there the next day;
the captain, as was found out later, having already managed to procure a
licence. You see, if Mina became his wife without any settlement, her
money at once lapsed to him and he could do what he would with it. How,
as Captain Collinson, he would have braved the matter out to Dr. Knox
that night, and excused himself for his treachery, he best knew. Tod
checkmated him by proclaiming him as Fabian Pell. A lame attempt at
denial, which Tod, secure in his assertion, laughed at; a little
bravado, and Captain Collinson collapsed. Against the truth--that he was
Fabian Pell--brought home to him so suddenly and clearly, he could not
hold out; the man's hardihood deserted him; and he turned tail and went
off the platform, calling back that Mr. Todhetley should hear from him
in the morning.

We came away then, bringing Mina. Sam went to escort Charlotte home,
where they would have the pleasure of imparting the news to Mrs. Knox,
who probably by that time was thinking that Lotty had eloped as well as
Mina. And now we were sitting round the fire in old Tamlyn's room,
discussing what had happened. Sam came back in the midst of it. Arnold
_was_ down in the mouth, and no mistake.

"Did you see Mrs. Knox?" he asked of Sam.

"Not to speak to, sir. I saw her through the kitchen window. She was
spreading bread-and-jam for Dicky, who had come down in his night-gown
and would not be coaxed back to bed."

"What an injudicious woman she is!" put in old Tamlyn. "Enough to ruin
the boy."

Perhaps Dr. Knox was thinking, as he sat there, his hand pressed upon
his brow, that if she had been a less injudicious woman, a different
mother altogether, Mina might not have been in danger of falling into
the present escapade: but he said nothing.

"I remember hearing of the notorious break-up of the Clement-Pells at
the time it took place," observed old Tamlyn to Tod. "And to think that
this man should be one of them!"

"He must carry his impudence about with him," was Tod's remark.

"They ruined hundreds of poor men and women, if not thousands,"
continued old Tamlyn. "I conclude your people knew all about it?"

"Indeed, yes. We were in the midst of it. My father lost--how much was
it, Johnny?"

"Two hundred pounds," I answered; the question bringing vividly back to
me our adventures in Boulogne, when the pater and Mr. Brandon went over
there to try to get the money back.

"I suppose," resumed the surgeon, "your father had that much balance
lying in their hands, and lost it all?"

"No," said Tod, "he did not bank with them. A day or two before
Clement-Pell burst up, he drove to our house as bold as brass, asking my
father in the most off-hand manner to let him have a cheque for two
hundred pounds until the next day. The Squire did let him have it,
without scruple, and of course lost it. He would have let him have two
thousand had Pell asked for it."

"But that was a fraud. Pell might have been punished for it."

"I don't know that it was so much a fraud as many other things Pell did,
and might have been punished for," observed Tod. "At any rate, not as
great a one. He escaped out of the way, as I dare say you know, sir, and
his family escaped with him. It was hard on them. They had been brought
up in the greatest possible extravagance, in all kinds of luxury. This
one, Fabian, was in the army. He, of course, had to retire. His own
debts would have forced that step upon him, apart from the family
disgrace."

"Did he re-enter it, I wonder."

Tod laughed. "_I_ should say not. He went to Australia. Not above a
year ago I heard that he was still there. He must have come back here
fortune-hunting; _bread_-hunting; and passed himself off as Captain
Collinson the better to do it. Miss Mina Knox's seven thousand pounds
was a prize to fight for."

"That's it!" cried Sam. "Dan has said all along it was the money he was
after, dishonourable wretch, not Mina herself. He cares too much for
Madame St. Vincent to care for Mina: at least we think so. How did he
get the funds, I wonder, that he has been flourishing about upon?"

"Won them at billiards," suggested Tod.

"No," said Sam, "I don't think that. By all accounts he lost more than
he won in the billiard-rooms."

Dr. Knox looked up from a reverie. "Was it himself that Major Leckie
saw?--and did he pass himself off as another man to escape detection?
Did he go off for the remainder of the week lest the major should look
him up again?"

And we knew it must have been so.

Little sleep did I get that night, or, rather, morning, for the small
hours had struck when we went to bed. The association of ideas is a
great thing in this world; a help in many an emergency. This association
led me from Fabian Pell to his sisters: and the mysterious memory of
Madame St. Vincent that had so puzzled my mind cleared itself up. As
though a veil had been withdrawn from my eyes, leaving the recollection
unclouded and distinct, I saw she was one of those sisters: the eldest
of them, Martha Jane. And, let not the reader call me a muff, as Tod
again did later, for not having found her out before. When I knew her
she was an angular, raw-boned girl, with rather a haggard and very pale
face, and nothing to say for herself. Now she was a filled-out woman,
her face round, her colour healthy, and one of the most self-possessed
talkers I ever listened to. In the old days her hair was reddish
and fell in curls: now it was dark, and worn in braids and plaits
fashionably incomprehensible. Whether the intervening years had
darkened the hair, or whether madame cunningly dyed it, must remain
a question.

Dan Jenkins and his brother were right. They no doubt had seen looks of
anxious interest given to Madame St. Vincent by Captain Collinson. Not
as a lover, however; they were mistaken there; but as a brother who was
living in a state of peril, and whom she was doubtless protecting and
trying to aid. But how far had her aid gone? That she kept up the
ball, as to his being Captain Collinson, the rich, honourable, and
well-connected Indian officer, went without saying, as the French have
it; and no one could expect her to proclaim him as Fabian Pell, the
swindler; but had she been helping him in his schemes upon Mina? As to
her display of formal coolness to him, it must have been put on to
mislead the public.

And what was I to do? Must I quietly bury my discovery within me and say
nothing? or must I tell Dr. Knox that Madame St. Vincent was no other
than Martha Jane Pell? What _ought_ I to do? It was that question that
kept me awake. Never liking to do harm where I could not do good, I
asked myself whether I had any right to ruin her. It might be that she
was not able to help herself; that she had done no worse than keep
Fabian's secret: it might be that she had wanted him gone just as much
as Dan Jenkins had wanted it.

"I'll tell Tod in the morning," was my final conclusion, "and hear what
he thinks."

When I got downstairs they were beginning breakfast, and Miss Cattledon
was turning from the table to carry up Mina's tea. Mina remained in the
depths of tears and contrition, and Cattledon had graciously told her
she might lie in bed. Breakfast was taken very late that morning, the
result of the previous night's disturbance, and the clock was striking
ten when we rose from it.

"Tod, I want to speak to you," I said in his ear. "I want to tell you
something."

"All right, lad. Tell away."

"Not here. Won't you come out with me somewhere? We must be alone."

"Then it must wait, Johnny. I am going round to the stables with
Tamlyn. He wishes me to see the horse they have got on trial. By the
description, I don't think much of him: should give him a pretty long
trial before I bought him."

They went out. Not long after that, I was strolling across the
court-yard with Sam Jenkins, who had been despatched on some
professional errand, when we saw Sir Henry Westmorland ride up and
rein in his horse. He asked for Dr. Knox. Sam went back to the house
to say so, while Sir Henry talked to me.

"Look here," said Sir Henry to the doctor, after they had shaken
hands, "I have had a curious letter from Major Leckie this morning. At
least"--taking the letter from his pocket and opening it--"it contains
an odd bit of news. He says--where is it?--stand still, sir,"--to the
horse. "Here it is; just listen, doctor. 'Dr. Knox must have made a
mistake in saying Collinson was at Lefford. Collinson is in India; has
not been home at all. I have had a letter from him by the overland mail
just in, asking me to do a commission for him. Tell Dr. Knox this. If
the man he spoke of is passing himself off for Collinson of ours, he
must be an impostor.' What do you think of that, doctor?" concluded Sir
Henry, folding the letter again.

"He is an impostor," replied Dr. Knox. "We found him out last night."

"What a rogue! Has he been taking people in--fleecing them?"

"He has taken us all in, Sir Henry, in one sense of the word; he was
on the point of doing it more effectually, when he was stopped. As to
fleecing people, I don't know about that. He seems to have had plenty
of money at his command--whence obtained is another question."

"Cheated some one out of it; rely upon that," remarked the baronet, as
he nodded a good-day to us, and rode off.

Mina was downstairs when we returned indoors. Anything more pitiful than
her state of contrition and distress I should not care to see. No doubt
the discovery, just made, tended to strengthen her repentance. In
a silly girl's mind some romance might attach to the notion of an
elopement with a gallant captain of consideration, brave in Her
Majesty's service; but to elope with Mr. Fabian Pell, the chevalier
d'industrie, was quite another affair. Mina was mild in temperament,
gentle in manners, yet she might have flown at the ex-captain's face
with sharp nails, had he come in her way.

"I did not really like him," she sobbed forth: and there was no doubt
that she spoke truth. "But they were always on at me, persuading me;
they never let me alone."

"Who persuaded you, my dear?" asked Janet.

"He did. He was for ever meeting me in private, and urging me. I could
not go out for a walk, or just cross the garden, or run into the next
door, but he would be there. Madame St. Vincent persuaded me. She did
not say to me, in words, 'you had better do as he asks you and run
away,' but all her counsels tended towards it. She would say to me how
happy his wife would be; what a fine position it was for any young lady
lucky enough to be chosen by him; and that all the world thought me old
enough to marry, though Arnold did not, and for that reason Arnold would
do his best to prevent it. And so--and so----"

"And so they persuaded you against your better judgment," added Janet
pityingly, as Mina broke down in a burst of tears.

"There, child, take this, and don't cry your eyes out," interposed
Cattledon, bringing in a beaten-up egg.

Cattledon was coming out uncommonly strong in the way of compassion, all
her tartness gone. She certainly did not look with an eye of favour on
elopements; but she was ready to take up Mina's cause against the man
who had deceived her. Cattledon hated the Pells: for Cattledon had been
done out of fifty pounds at the time of old Pell's failure, money she
had rashly entrusted to him. She could not very well afford to lose it,
and she had been bitter on the Pells, one and all, ever since.

That morning was destined to be one of elucidation. Mr. Tamlyn was in
the surgery, saying a last word to Dr. Knox before the latter went out
to visit his patients, when Lettice Lane marched in. She looked so fresh
and innocent that three parts of Tamlyn's suspicions of her melted away.

"Anything amiss at home?" asked he.

"No, sir," replied Lettice, "I have only brought this note"--handing one
in. "Madame St. Vincent told the butler to bring it; but his pains are
worse this morning; and, as I chanced to be coming out at the moment, he
asked me to leave it here for him."

"Wait an instant," said Mr. Tamlyn, as he opened the note.

It contained nothing of consequence. Madame St. Vincent had written to
say that Lady Jenkins was pretty well, but had finished her medicine:
perhaps Mr. Tamlyn would send her some more. Old Tamlyn's injunction to
wait an instant had been given in consequence of a sudden resolution he
had then come to (as he phrased it in his mind), to "tackle" Lettice.

"Lettice Lane," he began, winking at Dr. Knox, "your mistress's state is
giving us concern. She seems to be always sleeping."

"She is nearly always dozing off, sir," replied Lettice, her tone and
looks open and honest as the day.

"Ay. I can't quite come to the bottom of it," returned old Tamlyn,
making believe to be confidential. "To me, it looks just as though she
took--took opiates."

"Opiates, sir?" repeated Lettice, as if she hardly understood the
word: while Dr. Knox, behind the desk, was glancing keenly at her from
underneath his compressed eyebrows.

"Opium. Laudanum."

Lettice shook her head. "No, sir, my mistress does not take anything of
that sort, I am sure; we have nothing of the kind in the house. But
Madame St. Vincent is for ever dosing her with brandy-and-water."

"What?" shouted old Tamlyn.

"I have said a long while, sir, that I thought you ought to know it;
I've said so to the housemaid. I don't believe an hour hardly passes,
day or night, but madame administers to her a drop of brandy-and-water.
Half a wine-glass, maybe, or a full wine-glass, as the case may happen;
and sometimes I know it's pretty strong."

"That's it," said Dr. Knox quietly: and a curious smile crossed his
face.

Mr. Tamlyn sat down on the stool in consternation. "Brandy-and-water!"
he repeated, more than once, "Perpetually dosed with brandy-and-water!
And now, Lettice Lane, how is it you have not come here before to tell
me of this?"

"I did not come to tell you now, sir," returned Lettice. "Madame St.
Vincent says that Lady Jenkins needs it: she seems to give it her for
her good. It is only lately that I have doubted whether it can be
right. I have not liked to say anything: servants don't care to
interfere. Ten times a-day she will give her these drops of cold
brandy-and-water: and I know she gets up for the same purpose once or
twice in the night."

"Does Lady Jenkins take it without remonstrance?" asked Dr. Knox,
speaking for the first time.

"She does, sir, now. At first she did not. Many a time I have heard my
lady say, 'Do you think so much brandy can be good for me, Patty? I
feel so dull after it,' and Madame St. Vincent has replied, that it is
the only thing that can get her strength back and bring her round."

"The jade!" spoke Dr. Knox, between his teeth. "And to assure us both
that all the old lady took was a drop of it weak twice a-day at her
meals! Lettice Lane," he added aloud, and there was a great sternness
in his tone, "you are to blame for not having spoken of this. A little
longer silence, and it might have cost your mistress her life." And
Lettice went out in contrition.

"What can the woman's motive be, for thus dosing her into stupidity?"
spoke the one doctor to the other when they were shut in together.

"_That_: the dosing her into it," said Dr. Knox.

"But the motive, Arnold?--the reason? She must have had a motive."

"That remains to be found out."

It turned out to be too true. The culprit was Madame St. Vincent. She
had been administering these constant doses of brandy-and-water for
months. Not giving enough at a time to put Lady Jenkins into a state of
intoxication; only to reduce her to a chronic state of semi-stupidity.

Tod called me, as I tell you, a muff: first for not knowing Madame St.
Vincent; and next for thinking to screen her. Of course this revelation
of Lettice Lane's had put a new complexion upon things. I left the
matter with Tod, and he told the doctors at once: Madame St. Vincent
was, or used to be, Martha Jane Pell, own sister to Captain Collinson
the false.


III.

Quietly knocking at the door of Jenkins House this same sunny morning
went three gentlemen: old Tamlyn, Mr. Lawrence, and Joseph Todhetley.
Mr. Lawrence was a magistrate and ex-mayor; he had preceded the late
Sir Daniel Jenkins in the civic chair, and was intimate with him as a
brother. Just as old Tamlyn tackled Lettice, so they were now about to
tackle Madame St. Vincent on the score of the brandy-and-water; and they
had deemed it advisable to take Tod with them.

Lady Jenkins was better than usual; rather less stupid. She was seated
with madame in the cheerful garden-room, its glass-doors standing open
to the sunshine and the flowers. The visitors were cordially received;
it was supposed they had only come to pay a morning visit. Madame St.
Vincent sat behind a table in the corner, writing notes of invitation
for a soirée, to be held that day week. Tod, who had his wits about him,
went straight up to her. It must be remembered that they had not yet
met.

"Ah! how are you?" cried he, holding out his hand. "Surprised to see
you here." And she turned white, and stared, uncertain how to take his
words, or whether he had really recognized her, and bowed stiffly as to
a stranger, and never put out her own hand in answer.

I cannot tell you much about the interview: Tod's account to me was not
very clear. Lady Jenkins began talking about Captain Collinson--that
he had turned out to be some unworthy man of the name of Pell, and had
endeavoured to kidnap poor little Mina. Charlotte Knox imparted the news
to her that morning, in defiance of Madame St. Vincent, who had tried
to prevent her. Madame had said it must be altogether some mistake, and
that no doubt Captain Collinson would be able to explain: but she, Lady
Jenkins, did not know. After that there was a pause; Lady Jenkins shut
her eyes, and madame went on writing her notes.

It was old Tamlyn who opened the ball. He drew his chair nearer the old
lady, and spoke out without circumlocution.

"What is this that we hear about your taking so much brandy-and-water?"

"Eh?" cried the old lady, opening her eyes. Madame paused in her
writing, and looked up. Tamlyn waited for an answer.

"Lady Jenkins does not take much brandy-and-water," cried madame.

"I am speaking to Lady Jenkins, madame," returned old Tamlyn, severely:
"be so kind as not to interfere. My dear lady, listen to me"--taking her
hand; "I am come here with your life-long old friend, William Lawrence,
to talk to you. We have reason to believe that you continually take, and
have taken for some time past, small doses of brandy-and-water. Is it
so?"

"Patty gives it me," cried Lady Jenkins, looking first at them and then
at Patty, in a helpless sort of manner.

"Just so: we know she does. But, are you aware that brandy-and-water,
taken in this way, is so much poison?"

"Tell them, Patty, that you give it me for my good," said the poor lady,
in affectionate appeal.

"Yes, it is for your good, dear Lady Jenkins," resentfully affirmed
Madame St. Vincent, regarding the company with flashing eyes. "Does any
one dare to suppose that I should give Lady Jenkins sufficient to hurt
her? I may be allowed, I presume, as her ladyship's close companion,
constantly watching her, to be the best judge of what is proper for her
to take."

Well, a shindy ensued--as Tod called it--all of them talking altogether,
except himself and poor Lady Jenkins: and madame defying every one and
everything. They told her that she could no longer be trusted with Lady
Jenkins; that she must leave the house that day; and when madame defied
this with a double defiance, the magistrate intimated that he had come
up to enforce the measure, if necessary, and he meant to stay there
until she was gone.

She saw it was serious then, and the defiant tone changed. "What I have
given Lady Jenkins has been for her good," she said; "to do her good.
But for being supported by a little brandy-and-water, the system could
never have held out after that serious attack she had in Boulogne. I
have prolonged her life."

"No, madame, you have been doing your best to shorten her life,"
corrected old Tamlyn. "A little brandy-and-water, as you term it, might
have been good for her while she was recovering her strength, but you
have gone beyond the little; you have made her life a constant lethargy;
you would shortly have killed her. What your motive was, Heaven knows."

"My motive was a kind one," flashed madame. "Out of this house I will
not go."

So, upon that, they played their trump card, and informed Lady Jenkins,
who was crying softly, that this lady was the sister of the impostor,
Collinson. The very helplessness, the utter docility to which the
treatment had reduced her, prevented her expressing (and most probably
feeling) any dissent. She yielded passively to all, like a child, and
told Patty that she must go, as her old friends said so.

A bitter pill for madame to take. But she could not help herself.

"You will be as well as ever in a little time," Tamlyn said to Lady
Jenkins. "You would have died, had this gone on: it must have induced
some malady or other from which you could not have rallied."

Madame St. Vincent went out of the house that afternoon, and Cattledon
entered it. She had offered herself to Lady Jenkins for a few days in
the emergency.

It was, perhaps, curious that I should meet Madame St. Vincent before
she left the town. Janet was in trouble over a basket of butter and
fowls that had been sent her by one of the country patients, and of
which the railway people denied the arrival. I went again to the station
in the afternoon to see whether they had news of it: and there, seated
on the platform bench, her boxes around her, and waiting for the London
train, was madame.

I showed myself as respectful to her as ever, for you can't humiliate
fallen people to their faces, telling her, in the pleasantest way I
could, that I was sorry things had turned out so. The tone seemed to
tell upon her, and she burst into tears. I never saw a woman so subdued
in the space of a few hours.

"I have been treated shamefully, Johnny Ludlow," she said, gulping down
her sobs. "Day and night for the past nine months have I been about Lady
Jenkins, wearing myself out in attendance on her. The poor old lady had
learnt to love me and to depend upon me. I was like a daughter to her."

"I dare say," I answered, conveniently ignoring the dosing.

"And what I gave her, I gave her for the best," went on madame. "It
_was_ for the best. People seventy years old need it. Their nerves and
system require soothing: to induce sleep now and then is a boon to them.
It was a boon to her, poor old thing. And this is my recompense!--turned
from the house like a dog!"

"It does seem hard."

"Seem! It _is_ hard. I have had nothing but hardships all my life," she
continued, lifting her veil to wipe away the tears. "Where I am to go
now, or how make a living, I know not. They told me I need not apply to
Lady Jenkins for references: and ladies won't engage a companion who has
none."

"Is your husband really dead?" I ventured to ask.

"My poor husband is really dead, Johnny Ludlow--I don't know why you
should imply a doubt of it. He left me nothing: he had nothing to leave.
He was only a master in the college at Brétage--a place in the South of
France--and he died, I verily believe, of poor living. We had not been
married twelve months. I had a little baby, and that died. Oh, I assure
you I have had my troubles."

"How are--Mr. and Mrs. Clement-Pell?" I next asked, with hesitation.
"And Conny?--and the rest of them?"

"Oh, they were well when I last heard," she answered, slightingly. "I
don't hear often. Foreign postage is expensive. Conny was to have come
here shortly on a visit."

"Where is Gusty? Is----"

"I know nothing at all about my brothers," she interrupted sharply. "And
this, I suppose, is my train. Good-bye, Johnny Ludlow; you and I at
least can part friends. You are always kind. I wish the world was like
you."

I saw her into the carriage--first-class--and her boxes into the van.
And thus she disappeared from Lefford. And her brother, "Captain
Collinson," as we found later, had taken his departure for London by an
early morning train, telling little Pink, his landlord, as he paid his
week's rent, that he was going up to attend a levee.

It was found that the rumour of his engagement to Miss Belmont was
altogether untrue. Miss Belmont was rather indignant about it, freely
saying that she was ten years his senior. He had never hinted at such a
thing to her, and she should have stopped him if he had. We concluded
that the report had been set afloat by himself, to take attention from
his pursuit of Mina Knox.

Madame St. Vincent had feathered her nest. As the days went on, and Lady
Jenkins grew clearer, better able to see a little into matters, she
could not at all account for the money that had been drawn from the
bank. Cheque after cheque had been presented and cashed; and not
one-tenth of the money could have been spent upon home expenses. Lady
Jenkins had been always signing cheques; she remembered that much; never
so much as asking, in her loss of will, what they were needed for. "I
want a cheque to-day, dear Lady Jenkins," her companion would say,
producing the cheque-book from her desk; and Lady Jenkins would docilely
sign it. That a great portion of the proceeds had found their way to Mr.
Fabian Pell was looked upon as a certainty.

And to obtaining this money might be traced the motive for dosing Lady
Jenkins. Once let her intellect become clear, her will reassert itself,
and the game would be stopped. Madame St. Vincent had also another
scheme in her head--for the past month or two she had been trying to
persuade Lady Jenkins to make a codicil to her will, leaving her a few
thousand pounds. Lady Jenkins might have fallen blindly into that; but
they had not as yet been able to agree upon the details: Madame St.
Vincent urging that a lawyer should be called in from a distance; Lady
Jenkins clinging to old Belford. That this codicil would have been made
in time, and by the remote lawyer, there existed no doubt whatever.

Ah, well: it was a deep-laid plot altogether. And my visit to Lefford,
with Tod's later one, had served, under Heaven, to frustrate it.

Lady Jenkins grew rapidly better, now that she was no longer drugged. In
a few days she was herself again. Cattledon came out amazingly strong in
the way of care and kindness, and was gracious to every one, even to
Lettice.

"She always forbade me to say that I took the brandy-and-water," Lady
Jenkins said to me one day when I was sitting with her under the
laburnum tree on her lawn, talking of the past, her bright green silk
dress and pink cap ribbons glistening in the sun. "She made my will
hers. In other respects she was as kind as she could be to me."

"That must have been part of her plan," I answered. "It was the great
kindness that won you to her. After that, she took care that you should
have no will of your own."

"And the poor thing might have been so happy with me had she only chosen
to be straightforward, and not try to play tricks! I gave her a handsome
salary, and new gowns besides; and I don't suppose I should have
forgotten her at my death."

"Well, it is all over, dear Lady Jenkins, and you will be just as well
and brisk as you used to be."

"Not quite that, Johnny," she said, shaking her head; "I cannot expect
that. At seventy, grim old age is laying its hand upon us. What we need
then, my dear," she added, turning her kindly blue eyes upon me, in
which the tears were gathering, "is to go to the mill to be ground young
again. And that is a mill that does not exist in this world."

"Ah no!"

"I thank God for the mercy He has shown me," she continued, the tears
overflowing. "I might have gone to the grave in the half-witted state to
which I was reduced. And, Johnny, I often wonder, as I lie awake at
night thinking, whether I should have been held responsible for it."

The first use Lady Jenkins made of her liberty was to invite all her
relations, the young nephews and nieces, up to dinner, as she used
to do. Madame St. Vincent had set her face against these family
entertainments, and they had fallen through. The ex-mayor, William
Lawrence, and his good old wife, made part of the company, as did Dr.
Knox and Janet. Lady Jenkins beamed on them once more from her place at
the head of the table, and Tamlyn sat at the foot and served the big
plum-pudding.

"Never more, I trust, shall I be estranged from you, my dears, until it
pleases Heaven to bring about the final estrangement," she said to the
young people when they were leaving. And she gave them all a sovereign
a-piece.

Cattledon could not remain on for ever. Miss Deveen wanted her: so Mina
Knox went to stay at Jenkins House, until a suitable lady should be
found to replace Madame St. Vincent. Upon that, Dan Jenkins was taken
with an anxious solicitude for his aunt's health, and was for ever
finding his way up to inquire after it.

"You will never care to notice me again, Dan," Mina said to him, with a
swelling heart and throat, one day when he was tilting himself by her on
the arm of the sofa.

"Shan't I!" returned Dan.

"Oh, I am so ashamed of my folly; I feel more ashamed of it, day by
day," cried Mina, bursting into tears. "I shall never, never get over
the mortification."

"Won't you!" added Dan.

"And I never liked him much: I think I _dis_-liked him. At first I did
dislike him; only he kept saying how fond he was of me; and Madame St.
Vincent was always praising him up. And you know he was all the
fashion."

"Quite so," assented Dan.

"Don't you think it would be almost as well if I were dead, Dan--for all
the use I am likely to be to any one?"

"Almost, perhaps; not quite," laughed Dan; and he suddenly stooped and
kissed her.

                 *       *       *       *       *

That's all. And now, at the time I write this, Dan Jenkins is a
flourishing lawyer at Lefford, and Mina is his wife. Little feet patter
up and down the staircase and along the passages that good old Lady
Jenkins used to tread. She treads them no more. There was no mill to
grind her young again here; but she is gone to that better land where
such mills are not needed.

Her will was a just one. She left her property to her nephews and
nieces; a substantial sum to each. Dan had Jenkins House in addition.
But it is no longer Jenkins House; for he had that name taken off the
entrance pillars forthwith, replacing it by the one that had been there
before--Rose Bank.



THE ANGELS' MUSIC.


I.

How the Squire came to give in to it, was beyond the ken of mortal man.
Tod turned crusty; called the young ones all the hard names in the
dictionary, and said he should go out for the night. But he did not.

"Just like her!" cried he, with a fling at Mrs. Todhetley. "Always
devising some rubbish or other to gratify the little reptiles!"

The "little reptiles" applied to the school children at North Crabb.
They generally had a treat at Christmas; and this year Mrs. Todhetley
said she would like it to be given by us, at Crabb Cot, if the Squire
did not object to stand the evening's uproar. After vowing for a day
that he wouldn't hear of it, the Squire (to our astonishment) gave in,
and said they might come. It was only the girls: the boys had their
treat later on, when they could go in for out-of-door sports. After the
pater's concession, she and the school-mistress, Miss Timmens, were as
busy planning-out the arrangements as two bees in a honeysuckle field.

The evening fixed upon was the last in the old year--a Thursday. And the
preparations seemed to me to be in full flow from the previous Monday.
Molly made her plum-cakes and loaves on the Wednesday; on the Thursday
after breakfast, her mistress went to the kitchen to help her with the
pork-pies and the tartlets. To judge by the quantity provided, the
school would require nothing more for a week to come.

The Squire went over to Islip on some matter of business, taking Tod
with him. Our children, Hugh and Lena, were spending the day with the
little Letsoms, who would come back with them for the treat; so we had
the house to ourselves. The white deal ironing-board under the kitchen
window was raised on its iron legs; before it stood Mrs. Todhetley and
Molly, busy with the mysteries of pastry-making and patty-pan filling.
I sat on the edge of the board, looking on. The small savoury pies were
done, and in the act of baking, a tray-load at a time; every now and
then Molly darted into the back kitchen, where the oven was, to look
after them. For two days the snow had come down thickly; it was falling
still in great flakes; far and near, the landscape showed white and
bright.

"Johnny, if you will persist in eating the jam, I shall have to send you
away."

"Put the jar on the other side then, good mother."

"Ugh! Much jam Master Johnny would leave for the tarts, let him have his
way," struck in Molly, more crusty than her own pastry, when I declare I
had only dipped the wrong end of the fork in three or four times. The
jam was not hers.

"Mind you don't give the young ones bread-and-scrape, Molly," I
retorted, catching sight of no end of butter-pats through the open door.
At which advice she only threw up her head.

"Who is this, coming up through the snow?" cried the mater.

I turned to the window and made it out to be Mrs. Trewin: a meek little
woman who had seen better days, and tried to get her living as a
dressmaker since the death of her husband. She had not been good for
very much since: never seemed quite to get over the shock. Going out one
morning, as usual, to his duties as an office clerk, he was brought home
dead. Killed by an accident. It was eighteen months ago now, but Mrs.
Trewin wore deep mourning still.

Not standing upon ceremony down in our country, Mrs. Todhetley had her
brought into the kitchen, going on with the tartlets all the same, while
she talked. Mrs. Trewin was making a frock for Lena, and had come up to
say that the trimming ran short. The mater told her she was too busy to
see to it then, and was very sorry she had come through the snow for
such a trifle.

"'Twas not much further, ma'am," was her answer: "I had to go out to the
school to fetch home Nettie. The path is so slippery, through the boys
making slides, that I don't altogether like to trust the child to go to
and fro to school by herself."

"As if Nettie would come to any harm, Mrs. Trewin!" I put in. "If she
went down, it would only be a Christmas gambol."

"Accidents happen so unexpectedly, sir," she answered, a shadow crossing
her sad face. And I was sorry to have said it: it had put her in mind of
her husband.

"You are coming up this evening, you know, Mrs. Trewin," said mother.
"Don't be late."

"It is very good of you to have asked me, ma'am," she answered
gratefully. "I said so to Miss Timmens. I'm sure it will be something
new to have such a treat. Nettie, poor child, will enjoy it too."

Molly came banging in with a tray of pork-pies, just out of the oven.
The mater told Mrs. Trewin to take one, and offered her a glass of beer.

But, instead of eating the pie, she wrapped it in paper to take with her
home, and declined the beer, lest it should give her a headache for the
evening.

So Mrs. Trewin took her departure; and, under cover of it, I helped
myself to another of the pork-pies. Weren't they good! After that the
morning went on again, and the tart-making with it.

The last of the paste was being used up, the last of the jam jars stood
open, and the clock told us that it was getting on for one, when we had
another visitor: Miss Timmens, the schoolmistress. She came in, stamping
the snow from her shoes on the mat, her thin figure clad in an old long
cloth cloak, and the chronic redness in her face turned purple.

"My word! It is a day, ma'am, this is!" she exclaimed.

"And what have you come through it for?" asked Mrs. Todhetley. "About
the forms? Why, I sent word to you by Luke Mackintosh that they would be
fetched at two o'clock."

"He never came, then," said Miss Timmens, irate at Luke's negligence.
"That Mackintosh is not worth his salt. What delicious-looking
tartlets!" exclaimed she, as she sat down. "And what a lot of them!"

"Try one," said the mother. "Johnny, hand them to Miss Timmens, and a
plate."

"That silly Sarah Trewin has gone and tumbled down," cried Miss Timmens,
as she thanked me and took the plate and one of the tartlets. "Went and
slipped upon a slide near the school-house. What a delicious tart!"

"Sarah Trewin!" cried the mater, turning round from the board. "Why, she
was here an hour ago. Has she hurt herself?"

"Just bruised all the one side of her black and blue, from her shoulder
to her ankle," answered Miss Timmens. "Those unruly boys have made
slides all over the place, ma'am; and Sarah Trewin must needs go down
upon one, not looking, I suppose, to her feet. She had only just turned
out of the schoolroom with Nettie."

"Dear, dear! And she is so unable to bear a fall!"

"Of course it might have been worse, for there are no bones broken,"
remarked Miss Timmens. "As to Nettie, the child was nearly frightened
out of her senses; she's sobbing and crying still. Never was such a
timid child as that."

"Will Sarah Trewin be able to come this evening?"

"Not she, ma'am. She'll be as stiff as buckram for days to come. I'd
like to pay out those boys--making their slides on the pathway and
endangering people's lives! Nicol's not half strict enough with them;
and I'm tired of telling him so. Tiresome, rude monkeys! Not that my
girls are a degree better: they'd go down all the slides in the parish,
let 'em have their way. What with them, and what with these fantastical
notions of the new parson, I'm sure my life's a martyrdom."

The mother smiled over her pastry. Miss Timmens and the parson, civilly
polite to one another, were mentally at daggers drawn.

The time I am writing of was before the movement, set in of later years,
for giving the masses the same kind of education as their betters;
but our new parson at Crabb was before his age in these ideas. To
experienced Miss Timmens, and to a great many more clear-sighted people,
the best word that could be given to the movement was "fantastical."

"He came in yesterday afternoon at dusk," she resumed, "when I was
holding my Bible Class. 'And what has been the course of instruction
to-day, Miss Timmens?' asked he, as mild as new milk, all the girls
gaping and staring around him. 'It has been reading, and writing, and
summing, and spelling, and sewing,' said I, giving him the catalogue in
full: 'and now I'm trying to teach them their duty to Heaven and to one
another. And according to my old-fashioned notion, sir,' I summed up,
'if a poor girl acquires these matters thoroughly, she is a deal more
fitted to go through life in the station to which God has called her
(as the catechism says), than she would be if you gave her a course of
fine mincing uppishness, with your poetry and your drawing and your
embroidery.' Oh, he gets his answer from me, ma'am."

"Mr. Bruce may be kind and enlightened, and all that," spoke Mrs.
Todhetley, "but he certainly seems inclined to carry his ideas beyond
reasonable bounds, so far as regards these poor peasant children."

"Reasonable!" repeated Miss Timmens, catching up the word, and rubbing
her sharp nose with excitement: "why, the worst is, that there's no
reason in it. Not a jot. The parson's mind has gone a little bit off
its balance, ma'am; that's my firm conviction. This exalted education
applied to young ladies would be all right and proper: but where can be
the use of it to these poor girls? What good will his accomplishments,
his branches of grand learning do them? His conchology and meteorology,
and all the rest of his ologies? Of what service will it be to them in
future?"

"I'd have got my living nicely, I guess, if I'd been taught them
things," satirically struck in Molly, unable to keep her tongue still
any longer. "A fine cook I should ha' made!--kept all my places a
beautiful length of time; I wouldn't come with such flighty talk to the
Squire, Miss Timmens, if 'twas me."

"The talk's other people's; it isn't mine," fired Miss Timmens, turning
her wrath on Molly. "That is, the notions are. You had better attend to
your baking, Molly."

"So I had," said Molly. "Baking's more in my line than them other
foreign jerks. But well I should have knowed how to do it if my mind
had been cocketed up with the learning that's only fit for lords and
ladies."

"Is not that my argument?" retorted Miss Timmens, flinging the last word
after her as she went out to her oven. "Poor girls were sent into the
world to work, ma'am, not to play at being fine scholars," she added to
Mrs. Todhetley, as she got up to leave. "And, as sure as we are born,
this new dodge of education, if it ever gets a footing, will turn the
country upside down."

"I'm sure I hope not," replied the mother in her mild way. "Take another
tart, Miss Timmens. These are currant and raspberry."


II.

The company began to arrive at four o'clock. The snow had ceased to
fall; it was a fine, cold, clear evening, the moon very bright. A large
store-room at the back of the house had been cleared out, and a huge
fire made in it. The walls were decorated with evergreens, and tin
sconces holding candles; benches from the school-house were ranged
underneath them. This was to be the principal play-room, but the other
rooms were open. Mrs. Hill (formerly Mrs. Garth, who had not so very
long before lost poor David) and Maria Lease came up by invitation to
help Miss Timmens with the children; and Mrs. Trewin would have come but
for her fall on the slide. Miss Timmens appeared in full feather: a
purple gown of shot silk, with a red waist-band, and red holly berries
in her lace cap. The children, timid at first, sat round on the forms in
prim stillness, just like so many mice.

By far the most timid of all was a gentle little thing of seven years
old, got up like a lady; white frock, black sash and sleeve ribbons. She
was delicate-featured, blue-eyed, had curling flaxen hair. It was Nettie
Trewin. Far superior she looked to all of them; out of place, in fact,
amongst so many coarser natures. Her little arm and hand trembled as she
clung to Miss Timmens' gown.

"Senseless little thing," cried Miss Timmens, "to be afraid in a
beautiful room like this, and with all these kind friends around her!
Would you believe it, Mr. Johnny, that I could hardly get her here?
Afraid, she said, to come without mother!"

"Oh, Nettie! Why, you are going to have lots of fun! Is mother better
this evening?"

"Yes," whispered Nettie, venturing to take a peep at me through her wet
eyelashes.

The order of the day was this. Tea at once, consisting of as much
bread-and-butter and plum-cake as they could eat; games afterwards. The
savoury pies and tartlets later on; more cake to wind up with, which, if
they had no room for, they might carry home.

After all signs of tea had disappeared, and our neighbours, the Coneys,
had come in, and several round rings were seated on the floor at
"Hunt-the-Slipper," I, chancing to draw within earshot, found Miss
Timmens had opened out her grievance to the Squire--the parson's
interference with the school.

"It would be reversing the proper and natural order of things, as _I_
look upon it," she was saying, "to give an exalted education to those
who must get their living by the sweat of their brow; as servants, and
what not. Do you think so, sir?"

"Think so! of course I think so," spluttered the Squire, taking up the
subject hotly as usual. "It's good for them to read and write well, to
add up figures, and know how to sew and clean, and wash and iron. That's
the learning they want, whether they are to pass their lives serving in
families, or as the wives of working men."

"Yes, sir," acquiesced Miss Timmens, in a glow of satisfaction; "but
you may as well try to beat common sense into a broomstick as into Mr.
Bruce. The other day--what, is it you again, Nettie!" she broke off, as
the little white-robed child sidled up and hid her head in what appeared
to be her haven of refuge--the folds of the purple gown. "Never was such
a child as this, for shyness. When put to play with the rest, she'll not
stay with them. What do you think you are good for?"--rather wrathfully.
"Do you suppose the gentlefolk are going to eat you, Nettie?"

"There's nothing to be afraid of, little lassie. What child is it?"
added the Squire, struck with her appearance.

"Tell your name to the Squire," said Miss Timmens, with authority. And
the little one lifted her pretty blue eyes appealingly to his face, as
if beseeching him not to bite her.

"It's Nettie Trewin, sir," she said in a whisper.

"Dear me! Is that poor Trewin's child! She has a look of her father too.
A delicate little maid."

"And silly also," added Miss Timmens. "You came here to play, you know,
Nettie; not hide your face. What are they all stirring at, now? Oh,
going to have 'Puss-in-the-corner.' You can play at that, Nettie. Here,
Jane Bright! Take Nettie with you and attend to her. Find her a corner:
she has not had any play at all."

A tall, awkward girl stepped up: slouching shoulders, narrow forehead,
stolid features, coarse hair all ruffled; thick legs, thick boots--Miss
Jane Bright. She seized Nettie's hand.

"Yes, sir, you are right: the child is a delicate, dainty little thing,
quite a contrast to most of these other girls," resumed Miss Timmens,
in answer to the Squire. "Look at that one who has just fetched Nettie
away: she is only a type of the rest. They come, most of them, of
coarse, stupid parents, and will be no better to the end of the chapter,
whatever education you may try to hammer into them. As I said to Mr.
Bruce the other day when---- Well, I never! There he is!"

The young parson caught her eye, as he was looming in. Long coat,
clerical waistcoat, no white tie to speak of round his bare neck; quite
à la mode. The new fashions and the new notions that Mr. Bruce went in
for, were not at all understood at North Crabb.

The Squire had gone on at first against the party; but no face was more
sunshiny than his, now that he was in the thick of it. A select few of
the children, with ours and the little Lawsons, had appropriated the
dining-room for "Hunt-the-Whistle." The pater chanced to look in just
before it began, and we got him to be the hunter. I shall never forget
it as long as I live. I don't believe I had ever laughed as much before.
He did not know the play, or the trick of it: and to see him whirling
himself about in search of the whistle as it was blown behind his back,
now seizing on this bold whistler, believing he or she must be in
possession of the whistle, and now on that one, all unconscious that the
whistle was fastened to the back button of his own coat; and to look at
the puzzled wonder of his face as to where the whistle could possibly
be, and how it contrived to elude his grasp, was something to be
remembered. The shrieks of laughter might have been heard down at the
Ravine. Tod had to sit on the floor and hold his sides; Tom Coney was in
convulsions.

"Ah--I--ah--what do you think, Mr. Todhetley?" began Bruce, with his
courteous drawl, catching the Squire, as he emerged later, red and
steaming, from the whistle-hunt. "Suppose I collect these young ones
around me and give them a quarter-of-an-hour's lecture on pneumatics?
I've been getting up the subject a little."

"Pneumatics be hanged!" burst forth the pater, more emphatically than
politely, when he had taken a puzzled stare at the parson. "The young
ones have come here to _play_, not to have their brains addled. Be shot
if I quite know myself what 'pneumatics' means. I beg your pardon,
Bruce. You mean well, I know."

"Pneumatics!" repeated old Coney, taking time to digest the word. "Don't
you think, parson, that's more in the department of the Astronomer
Royal?"

One required a respite after the whistle-hunt. I put my back against the
wall in the large room, and watched the different sets of long tails,
then pulling fiercely at "Oranges and Lemons." Mrs. Hill and Maria Lease
sat side by side on one of the benches, both looking as sad as might be,
their memories, no doubt, buried in the past. Maria Lease had never, so
to say, worn a smiling countenance since the dreadful end of Daniel
Ferrar.

A commotion! Half-a-dozen of the "lemons," pulling too fiercely, had
come to grief on the ground. Maria went to the rescue.

"I was just thinking of poor David, sir," Mrs. Hill said to me, with a
sigh. "How he would have enjoyed this scene: so merry and bright!"

"But he is in a brighter scene than this, you know."

"Yes, Master Johnny, I do know it," she said, tears trickling slowly
down her cheeks. "Where he is, all things are beautiful."

In her palmy days Mrs. Todhetley used to sing a song, of which this was
the first verse:--

    "All that's bright must fade,
      The brightest still the fleetest;
    All that's sweet was made
      But to be lost when sweetest."

Mrs. Hill's words brought this song to my memory, and with it the
damping reminder that nothing lasts in this world, whether of pleasure
or brightness. All things must fade, or die: but in that better life to
come they will last for ever. And David had entered upon it.

                 *       *       *       *       *

"Now, where's that senseless little Nettie?"

The words, spoken sharply, came from Miss Timmens. But if she did
possess a sharp-toned tongue, she was good and kind at heart. The
young crew were sitting down at the long table to the savoury pies and
tartlets; Miss Timmens, taking stock of them, missed Nettie.

"Jane Bright, go and find Nettie Trewin."

Not daring to disobey the curt command, but looking as though she feared
her portion of the good things would be eaten up during her absence,
Jane Bright disappeared. Back she came in a brace of shakes, saying
Nettie "was not there."

"Maria Lease, where's Nettie Trewin?" asked Miss Timmens.

Maria turned from the table. "Nettie Trewin?" she repeated, looking
about her. "I don't know. She must be somewhere or other."

"I wish to goodness you'd find her then."

Maria Lease could not see anything of the child. "Nettie Trewin" was
called out high and low; but it brought forth no response. The servants
were sent to look over the house, with no better result.

"She is hiding somewhere in her shyness," said Miss Timmens. "I have a
great mind to punish her for this."

"She can't have got into the rain-water butt?" suggested the Squire.
"Molly, go and look."

It was not very likely: as the barrel was quite six feet high. But, as
the Squire once got into the water-butt to hid himself when he was a
climbing youngster, and had reasons for anticipating a whipping, his
thoughts naturally flew to it.

"Well, she must be somewhere," cried he when we laughed at him. "She
could not sink through the floor."

"Who saw her last?" repeated Miss Timmens. "Do you hear, children? Just
stop eating for a minute, and answer."

Much discussion--doubt--cross-questioning. The whole lot seemed to be
nearly as stupid as owls. At last, so far as could be gathered, none of
them had noticed Nettie since they began "Puss-in-the-corner."

"Jane Bright, I told you to take Nettie to play with the rest, and to
find her a corner. What did you do with her?"

Jane Bright commenced her answer by essaying to take a sly bite at her
pie. Miss Timmens stopped her midway, and turned her from the table to
face the company.

"Do you hear me? Now don't stand staring like a gaby! Just answer."

Like a "gaby" did Jane Bright stand: mouth wide open, eyes round,
countenance bewildered.

"Please, governess, I didn't do nothing with her."

"You must have done something with her: you held her hand."

"I didn't do nothing," repeated the girl, shaking her head stolidly.

"Now, that won't do, Jane Bright. Where did you leave her?"

"'Twas in the corner," answered Jane Bright, apparently making desperate
efforts of memory. "When I was Puss, and runned across and came back
again, I didn't see her there."

"Surely, the child has not stolen out by herself and run off home!"
cried Mrs. Coney: and the schoolmistress took up the suggestion.

"It is the very thought that has been in my mind the last minute or
two," avowed she. "Yes, Mrs. Coney, that's it, depend upon it. She has
decamped through the snow and gone back to her mother's."

"Then she has gone without her things," interposed Maria Lease, who was
entering the room with a little black cloak and bonnet in her hand. "Are
not these Nettie's things, children?" And a dozen voices all speaking
together, hastened to say Yes, they were Nettie's.

"Then she must be in the house," decided Miss Timmens. "She wouldn't be
silly enough to go out this cold night with her neck and arms bare. The
child has her share of sense. She has run away to hide herself, and may
have dropped asleep."

"It must be in the chimbleys, then," cried free Molly from the back of
the room. "We've looked everywhere else."

"You had better look again," said the Squire. "Take plenty of light--two
or three candles."

It seemed rather a queer thing. And, while this talking had been going
on, there flashed into my mind the old Modena story, related by the poet
Rogers, of the lovely young heiress of the Donatis: and which has been
embodied in our song "The Mistletoe Bough." Could this timid child have
imprisoned herself in any place that she was unable to get out of? Going
to the kitchen for a candle, I went upstairs, taking the garret first,
with its boxes and lumber, and then the rooms. And nowhere could I find
the least trace or sign of Nettie.

Stepping into the kitchen to leave the candle, there stood Luke
Mackintosh, whiter than death; his back propped against Molly's press,
his hands trembling, his hair on end. Tod stood in front of him
suppressing his laughter. Mackintosh had just burst in at the back-door
in a desperate state of fright, declaring he had seen a ghost.

It's not the first time I have mentioned the man's cowardice. Believing
in ghosts and goblins, wraiths and witches, he could hardly be persuaded
to cross Crabb Ravine at night, on account of the light sometimes seen
there. Sensible people told him that this light (which, it was true, no
one had ever traced to its source) was nothing but a will-o'-the-wisp,
an ignis-fatuus arising from the vapour; but Luke could not be brought
to reason. On this evening it chanced that the Squire had occasion to
send Mackintosh to the Timberdale post-office, and the man had now just
come in from the errand.

"I see the light, too, sir," he was saying to Tod in a scared voice, as
he ran his shaking hand through his hair. "It be dodging about on the
banks of the Ravine for all the world like a corpse-candle. Well, sir,
I didn't like that, and I got up out of the Ravine as fast as my legs
would bring me, and were making straight for home here, with my head
down'ards, not wanting to see nothing more, when something dreadful met
me. All in white, it was."

"A man in his shroud, who had left his grave to take a moonlight walk,"
said Tod, gravely, biting his lips.

"'Twere in grave-clothes, for sure; a long, white garment, whiter than
the snow. I'd not say but it was Daniel Ferrar," added Luke, in the low
dread tones that befitted the dismal subject. "His ghost do walk, you
know, sir."

"And where did his ghost go to?"

"Blest if I saw, sir," replied Mackintosh, shaking his head. "I'd not
have looked after it for all the world. 'Twarn't a slow pace I come at,
over the field, after that, and right inside this here house."

"Rushing like the wind, I suppose."

"My heart was all a-throbbing and a-skeering. Mr. Joseph, I _hope_ the
Squire won't send me through the Ravine after dark again! I couldn't
stand it, sir; I'd a'most rather give up my place."

"You'll not be fit for this place, or any other, I should say,
Mackintosh, if you let this sort of fear run away with your senses," I
put in. "You saw nothing; it was all fancy."

"Saw nothing!" repeated Mackintosh in the excess of desperation. "Why,
Mr. Johnny, I never saw a sight plainer in all my born days. A great,
white, awesome apparition it were, that went rushing past me with a
wailing sound. I hope you won't ever have the ill-luck to see such a
thing yourself, sir."

"I'm sure I shan't."

"What's to do here?" asked Tom Coney, putting in his head.

"Mackintosh has seen a ghost."

"Seen a ghost!" cried Tom, beginning to grin.

Mackintosh, trembling yet, entered afresh on the recital, rather
improving it by borrowing Tod's mocking suggestion. "A dead man in his
shroud come out walking from his grave in the churchyard--which he
feared might be Ferrar, lying on the edge on't, just beyond consecrated
ground. I never could abear to go by the spot where he was put in, and
never a prayer said over him, Mr. Tom!"

But, in spite of the solemnity of the subject, touching Ferrar, Tom
Coney could only have his laugh out. The servants came in from their
fruitless search of the dairy and cellars, and started to see the state
of Mackintosh.

"Give him a cup of warm ale, Molly," was Tod's command. And we left them
gathered round the man, listening to his tale with open mouths.

From the fact that Nettie Trewin was certainly not in the house, one
only deduction could be drawn--that the timid child had run home to her
mother. Bare-headed, bare-necked, bare-armed, she had gone through the
snow; and, as Miss Timmens expressed it, might just have caught her
death.

"Senseless little idiot!" exclaimed Miss Timmens in a passion. "Sarah
Trewin is sure to blame me; she'll say I might have taken better care of
her."

But one of the elder girls, named Emma Stone, whose recollection only
appeared to come to her when digesting her supper, spoke up at this
juncture, and declared that long after "Puss-in-the-corner" was over,
and also "Oranges and Lemons," which had succeeded it, she had seen and
spoken to Nettie Trewin. Her account was, that in crossing the passage
leading from the store-room, she saw Nettie "scrouged against the wall,
half-way down the passage, like anybody afeared of being seen."

"Did you speak to her, Emma Stone?" asked Miss Timmens, after listening
to these concluding words.

"Yes, governess. I asked her why she was not at play, and why she was
hiding there."

"Well, what did she say?"

"Not anything," replied Emma Stone. "She turned her head away as if she
didn't want to be talked to."

Miss Timmens took a long, keen look at Emma Stone. This young lady,
it appeared, was rather in the habit of romancing; and the governess
thought she might be doing it then.

"I vow to goodness I saw her," interrupted the girl, before Miss Timmens
had got out more than half a doubt: and her tone was truthful enough.
"I'm not telling no story, 'm. I thought Nettie was crying."

"Well, it is a strange thing you should have forgotten it until this
moment, Emma Stone."

"Please, 'm, it were through the pies," pleaded Emma.

It was time to depart. Bonnets and shawls were put on, and the whole of
them filed out, accompanied by Miss Timmens, Mrs. Hill, and Maria Lease:
good old motherly Dame Coney saying she hoped they would find the child
safe in bed between the blankets, and that her mother would have given
her some hot drink.

Our turn for supper came now. We took it partly standing, just the fare
that the others had had, with bread-and-cheese added for the Squire
and old Coney. After that, we all gathered round the fire in the
dining-room, those two lighting their pipes.

And I think you might almost have knocked some of us down with a feather
in our surprise, when, in the midst of one of old Coney's stories, we
turned round at the sudden opening of the door, and saw Miss Timmens
amongst us. A prevision of evil seemed to seize Mrs. Todhetley, and she
rose up.

"The child! Is she not at home?"

"No, ma'am; neither has she been there," answered Miss Timmens, ignoring
ceremony (as people are apt to do at seasons of anxiety or commotion)
and sitting down uninvited. "I came back to tell you so, and to ask what
you thought had better be done."

"The child must have started for home and lost her way in the snow,"
cried the Squire, putting down his pipe in consternation. "What does the
mother think?"

"I did not tell her of it," said Miss Timmens. "I went on by myself to
her house; and the first thing I saw there, on opening the door, was a
little pair of slippers warming on the fender. 'Oh, have you brought
Nettie?' began the mother, before I could speak: 'I've got her shoes
warm for her. Is she very, very cold?--and has she enjoyed herself and
been good?' Well, sir, seeing how it was--that the child had not got
home--I answered lightly: 'Oh, the children are not here yet; my sister
and Maria Lease are with them. I've just stepped on to see how your
bruises are getting on.' For that poor Sarah Trewin is good for so
little that one does not care to alarm her," concluded Miss Timmens, as
if she would apologize for her deceit.

The Squire nodded approval, and told me to give Miss Timmens something
hot to drink. Mrs. Todhetley, looking three parts frightened out of her
wits, asked what was to be done.

Yes; what was to be done? What could be done? A sort of council was held
amongst them, some saying one thing, some another. It seemed impossible
to suggest anything.

"Had harm come to her in running home, had she fallen into the snow,
for instance, or anything of that sort, we should have seen or heard
her," observed Miss Timmens. "She would be sure to take the direct
path--the way we came here and returned."

"It might be easy enough for the child to lose her way--the roads and
fields are like a wide white plain," observed Mrs. Coney. "She might
have strayed aside amongst the trees in the triangle."

Miss Timmens shook her head in dissent.

"She'd not do that, ma'am. Since Daniel Ferrar was found there, the
children don't like the three-cornered grove."

"Look here," said old Coney, suddenly speaking up. "Let us search all
these places, and any others that she could have strayed to, right or
left, on her road home."

He rose up, and we rose with him. It was the best thing that could be
done: and no end of a relief, besides, to pitch upon something to do.
The Squire ordered Mackintosh (who had not recovered himself yet) to
bring a lantern, and we all put on our great-coats and went forth,
leaving the mater and Mrs. Coney to keep the fire warm. A black party
we looked, in the white snow, Miss Timmens making one of us.

"I can't rest," she whispered to me. "If the child has been lying on the
snow all this while, we shall find her dead."

It was a still, cold, lovely night; the moon high in the sky, the snow
lying white and pure beneath her beams. Tom Coney and Tod, all their
better feelings and their fears aroused, plunged on fiercely, now amidst
the deep snow by the hedges, now on the more level path. The grove,
which had been so fatal to poor Daniel Ferrar, was examined first. And
now we saw the use of the lantern ordered by the Squire, at which order
we had secretly laughed: for it served to light up the darker parts
where the trunks of the trees grew thick. Mackintosh, who hated that
grove, did not particularly relish his task of searching it, though he
was in good company. But it did not appear to contain Nettie.

"She would not turn in here," repeated Miss Timmens, from the depth of
her strong conviction; "I'm sure she wouldn't. She would rather bear
onwards towards her mother's."

Bounding here, trudging there, calling her name softly, shouting
loudly, we continued our search after Nettie Trewin. It was past twelve
when we got back home and met Mrs. Todhetley and Mrs. Coney at the door,
both standing there in their uneasiness, enveloped in woollen shawls.

"No. No success. Can't find her anywhere."

Down sank the Squire on one of the hall-chairs as he spoke, as though
he could not hold himself up a minute longer, but was dead beat with
tramping and disappointment. Perhaps he was. What was to be done next?
What _could_ be done? We stood round the dining-room fire, looking at
one another like so many helpless mummies.

"Well," said the pater, "the first thing is to have a drop of something
hot. I am half-frozen. What time's that?"--as the clock over the
mantelpiece chimed one stroke. "Half-past twelve."

"And she's dead by this time," gasped Miss Timmens, in a faint voice,
its sharpness gone clean out of it. "I'm thinking of the poor widowed
mother."

Mrs. Coney (often an invalid) said she could do no good by staying
longer, and wanted to be in bed. Old Coney said _he_ was not going
in yet; so Tom took her over. It might have been ten minutes after
this--but I was not taking any particular account of the time--that I
saw Tom Coney put his head in at the parlour-door, and beckon Tod out.
I went also.

"Look here," said Coney to us. "After I left mother indoors, I thought
I'd search a bit about the back-ground here: and I fancy I can see the
marks of a child's footsteps in the snow."

"No!" cried Tod, rushing out at the back-door and crossing the premises
to the field.

Yes, it was so. Just for a little way along the path leading to Crabb
Ravine the snow was much trodden and scattered by the footsteps of a
man, both to and fro. Presently some little footsteps, evidently of a
child, seemed to diverge from this path and go onwards in rather a
slanting direction through the deeper snow, as if their owner had lost
the direct way. When we had tracked these steps half-way across the
field. Tod brought himself to a halt.

"I'm sure they are Nettie's," he said. "They look like hers. Whose else
should they be? She may have fallen down the Ravine. One of you had
better go back and bring a blanket--and tell them to get hot water
ready."

Eager to be of use, Tom Coney and I ran back together. Tod continued his
tracking. Presently the little steps diverged towards the path, as if
they had suddenly discovered their wanderings from it; and then they
seemed to be lost in those other and larger footsteps which had kept
steadily to the path.

"I wonder," thought Tod, halting as he lost the clue, "whether
Mackintosh's big ghost could have been this poor little white-robed
child? What an idiotic coward the fellow is! These are his footmarks. A
slashing pace he must have travelled at, to fling the snow up in this
manner!"

At that moment, as Tod stood facing the Ravine, a light, looking
like the flame of a candle, small and clear and bright as that of a
glow-worm, appeared on the opposite bank, and seemed to dodge about the
snow-clad brushwood around the trunks of the wintry trees. What was this
light?--whence did it proceed?--what caused it? It seemed we were never
tired of putting these useless questions to ourselves. Tod did not know;
never had known. He thought of Mack's fright and of the ghost, as he
stood watching it, now disappearing in some particular spot, now coming
again at ever so many yards' distance. But ghosts had no charms for Tod:
by which I mean no alarms: and he went forward again, trying to find
another trace of the little footsteps.

"I don't see what should bring Nettie out here, though," ran his
thoughts. "Hope she has not pitched head foremost down the Ravine!
Confound the poltroon!--kicking up the snow like this!"

But now, in another minute, there were traces again. The little feet
seemed to have turned aside at a tangent, and once more sought the deep
snow. From that point he did not again lose them; they carried him to
the low and narrow dell (not much better than a ditch) which just there
skirted the hedge bordering the Ravine.

At first Tod could see nothing. Nothing but the drifted snow.
But--looking closely--what was that, almost at his feet? Was it only a
dent in the snow?--or was anything lying on it? Tod knelt down on the
deep soft white carpet (sinking nearly up to his waist) and peered and
felt.

There she was: Nettie Trewin! With her flaxen curls fallen about her
head and mingling with the snow, and her little arms and neck exposed,
and her pretty white frock all wet, she lay there in the deep hole. Tod,
his breast heaving with all manner of emotion, gathered her into his
arms, as gently as an infant is hushed to rest by its mother. The white
face had no life in it; the heart seemed to have stopped beating.

"Wake up, you poor little mite!" he cried, pressing her against his warm
side. "Wake up, little one! Wake up, little frozen snow-bird!"

But there came no response. The child lay still and white in his arms.

"Hope she's not frozen to death!" he murmured, a queer sensation taking
him. "Nettie, don't you hear me? My goodness, what's to be done?"

He set off across the field with the child, meeting me almost directly.
I ran straight up to him.

"Get out, Johnny Ludlow!" he cried roughly, in his haste and fear.
"Don't stop me! Oh, a blanket, is it? That's good. Fold it round her,
lad."

"Is she dead?"

"I'll be shot if I know."

He went along swiftly, holding her to him in the blanket. And a fine
commotion they all made when he got her indoors.

The silly little thing, unable to get over her shyness, had taken the
opportunity, when the back-door was open, to steal out of it, with the
view of running home to her mother. Confused, perhaps, by the bare white
plain; or it may be by her own timidity; or probably confounding the
back-door and its approaches with the front, by which she had entered,
she went straight across the field, unconscious that this was taking
her in just the opposite direction to her home. It was she whom Luke
Mackintosh had met--the great idiot!--and he frightened her with his
rough appearance and the bellow of fear he gave, just as much as she had
frightened him. Onwards she went, blindly terrified, was stopped by the
hedge, fell into the ditch, and lay buried in the snow. Whether she
could be brought back to life, or whether death had really taken her,
was a momentous question.

I went off for Cole, flying all the way. He sent me back again, saying
he'd be there as soon as I--and that Nettie Trewin must be a born
simpleton.

"Master Johnny!--Mr. Ludlow!--Is it you?"

The words greeted me in a weak panting voice, just as I reached the
corner by the store barn, and I recognized Mrs. Trewin. Alarmed at
Nettie's prolonged stay, she had come out, all bruised as she was, and
extorted the fact--that the child was missing--from Maria Lease. I told
her that the child was found--and where.

"Dead or alive, sir?"

I stammered in my answer. Cole would be up directly, I said, and we must
hope for the best. But she drew a worse conclusion.

"It was all I had," she murmured. "My one little ewe lamb."

"Don't cry, Mrs. Trewin. It may turn out to be all right, you know."

"If I could only have laid her poor little face on my bosom to die, and
said good-bye to her!" she wailed, the tears falling. "I have had so
much trouble in the world, Master Johnny!--and she was all of comfort
left to me in it."

We went in. Cole came rushing like a whirlwind. By-and-by they got some
warmth into the child, lying so still on the bed; and she was saved.

"Were you cold, dear, in the snow?--were you frightened?" gently asked
the mother, when Nettie could answer questions.

"I was very cold and frightened till I heard the angels' music, mother."

"The angels' music?"

"Yes. I knew they played it for me. After that, I felt happy and went to
sleep. Oh, mother, there's nothing so sweet as angels' music."

The "music" had been that of the church bells, wafted over the Ravine by
the rarefied air; the sweet bells of Timberdale, ringing in the New
Year.


THE END.



  LONDON:
  PRINTED BY WILLIAM CLOWES AND SONS, LIMITED,
  STAMFORD STREET AND CHARING CROSS.



"Mrs. Henry Wood has an art of novel writing which no rival possesses in
the same degree."--_Spectator._

"The fame of Mrs. Henry Wood widens and strengthens."--_Morning Post._


MRS. HENRY WOOD'S NOVELS.

_Sale approaching Two Million and a half Copies._

  EAST LYNNE. _480th Thousand._
  THE CHANNINGS. _200th Thousand._
  MRS. HALLIBURTON'S TROUBLES. _150th Thousand._
  THE SHADOW OF ASHLYDYAT. _110th Thousand._
  LORD OAKBURN'S DAUGHTERS. _105th Thousand._
  VERNER'S PRIDE. _85th Thousand._
  ROLAND YORKE. _130th Thousand._
  JOHNNY LUDLOW. First Series. _55th Thousand._
  MILDRED ARKELL. _80th Thousand._
  ST. MARTIN'S EVE. _76th Thousand._
  TREVLYN HOLD. _65th Thousand._
  GEORGE CANTERBURY'S WILL. _70th Thousand._
  THE RED COURT FARM. _80th Thousand._
  WITHIN THE MAZE. _112th Thousand._
  ELSTER'S FOLLY. _60th Thousand._
  LADY ADELAIDE. _60th Thousand._
  OSWALD CRAY. _60th Thousand._
  JOHNNY LUDLOW. Second Series. _35th Thousand._
  ANNE HEREFORD. _55th Thousand._
  DENE HOLLOW. _60th Thousand._
  EDINA. _45th Thousand._
  A LIFE'S SECRET. _65th Thousand._
  COURT NETHERLEIGH. _46th Thousand._
  BESSY RANE. _42nd Thousand._
  THE MASTER OF GREYLANDS. _50th Thousand._
  ORVILLE COLLEGE. _38th Thousand._
  POMEROY ABBEY. _48th Thousand._
  THE HOUSE OF HALLIWELL. _30th Thousand._
  THE STORY OF CHARLES STRANGE. _15th Thousand._
  ASHLEY. _15th Thousand._
  JOHNNY LUDLOW. Third Series. _23rd Thousand._
  LADY GRACE. _21st Thousand._
  ADAM GRAINGER. _15th Thousand._
  THE UNHOLY WISH. _15th Thousand._
  JOHNNY LUDLOW. Fourth Series. _15th Thousand._
  JOHNNY LUDLOW. Fifth Series. _15th Thousand._
  JOHNNY LUDLOW. Sixth Series.


  LONDON:
  MACMILLAN AND CO., LIMITED.



      *      *      *      *      *



Transcriber's note:

Errors in punctuation were corrected without comment.

The following corrections were made, on page

  116 "a" changed to "at" (a party at Mrs. Green's)
  116 "al" changed to "all" (for all the parties)
  172 "ts" changed to "its" (away half its discomfort.)
  186 "he" changed to "the" (of the dining-room.)
  188 "a" added (and a five-roomed Vicarage)
  226 "Charlote" changed to "Charlotte" (Charlotte stood like a goose)
  264 "III" changed to "IV" (Section header)
  269 "noislessly" changed to "noiselessly" (swinging slowly and
      noiselessly forward)
  290 "Deeven" changed to "Deveen" (Miss Deveen was there)
  301 "Deeven" changed to "Deveen" (in my old age--Miss Deveen.)
  454 "Trewen" changed to "Trewin" (to any harm, Mrs. Trewin!).

Otherwise the original was preserved, including inconsistent spelling
and hyphenation.





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