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Title: Salem Chapel, v.1/2
Author: Oliphant, Mrs. (Margaret), 1828-1897
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Salem Chapel, v.1/2" ***

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                               COLLECTION

                                   OF

                            BRITISH AUTHORS

                           TAUCHNITZ EDITION.

                               VOL. 1091.

                     SALEM CHAPEL BY MRS. OLIPHANT.

                            IN TWO VOLUMES.

                                VOL. I.

                           TAUCHNITZ EDITION.

By the same Author,

THE LAST OF THE MORTIMERS               2 vols.

MARGARET MAITLAND                       1 vol.

AGNES                                   2 vols.

MADONNA MARY                            2 vols.

THE MINISTER'S WIFE                     2 vols.

THE RECTOR AND THE DOCTOR'S FAMILY      1 vol.



                       Chronicles of Carlingford

                              SALEM CHAPEL

                                   BY

                             MRS. OLIPHANT.

                          _COPYRIGHT EDITION._

                            IN TWO VOLUMES.

                                VOL. I.

                                LEIPZIG

                           BERNHARD TAUCHNITZ

                                 1870.

               _The Right of Translation is reserved._



                            SALEM CHAPEL.



CHAPTER I.


Towards the west end of Grove Street, in Carlingford, on the shabby side
of the street, stood a red brick building, presenting a pinched gable
terminated by a curious little belfry, not intended for any bell, and
looking not unlike a handle to lift up the edifice by to the public
observation. This was Salem Chapel, the only Dissenting place of worship
in Carlingford. It stood in a narrow strip of ground, just as the little
houses which flanked it on either side stood in their gardens, except
that the enclosure of the chapel was flowerless and sombre, and showed
at the farther end a few sparsely-scattered tombstones--unmeaning slabs,
such as the English mourner loves to inscribe his sorrow on. On either
side of this little tabernacle were the humble houses--little detached
boxes, each two storeys high, each fronted by a little flower-plot--clean,
respectable, meagre, little habitations, which contributed most largely
to the ranks of the congregation in the Chapel. The big houses opposite,
which turned their backs and staircase windows to the street, took
little notice of the humble Dissenting community. Twice in the winter,
perhaps, the Miss Hemmings, mild evangelical women, on whom the late
rector--the Low-Church rector, who reigned before the brief and
exceptional incumbency of the Rev. Mr. Proctor--had bestowed much of his
confidence, would cross the street, when other profitable occupations
failed them, to hear a special sermon on a Sunday evening. But the Miss
Hemmings were the only representatives of anything which could, by the
utmost stretch, be called Society, who ever patronised the Dissenting
interest in the town of Carlingford. Nobody from Grange Lane had ever
been seen so much as in Grove Street on a Sunday, far less in the
chapel. Greengrocers, dealers in cheese and bacon, milkmen, with some
dressmakers of inferior pretensions, and teachers of day-schools of
similar humble character, formed the _élite_ of the congregation. It is
not to be supposed, however, on this account, that a prevailing aspect
of shabbiness was upon this little community; on the contrary, the grim
pews of Salem Chapel blushed with bright colours, and contained both
dresses and faces on the summer Sundays which the Church itself could
scarcely have surpassed. Nor did those unadorned walls form a centre of
asceticism and gloomy religiousness in the cheerful little town.
Tea-meetings were not uncommon occurrences in Salem--tea-meetings which
made the little tabernacle festive, in which cakes and oranges were
diffused among the pews, and funny speeches made from the little
platform underneath the pulpit, which woke the unconsecrated echoes with
hearty outbreaks of laughter. Then the young people had their
singing-class, at which they practised hymns, and did not despise a
little flirtation; and charitable societies and missionary auxiliaries
diversified the congregational routine, and kept up a brisk succession
of "Chapel business," mightily like the Church business which occupied
Mr. Wentworth and his Sisters of Mercy at St. Roque's. To name the two
communities, however, in the same breath, would have been accounted
little short of sacrilege in Carlingford. The names which figured
highest in the benevolent lists of Salem Chapel, were known to society
only as appearing, in gold letters, upon the backs of those mystic
tradesmen's books, which were deposited every Monday in little heaps at
every house in Grange Lane. The Dissenters, on their part, aspired to no
conquests in the unattainable territory of high life, as it existed in
Carlingford. They were content to keep their privileges among
themselves, and to enjoy their superior preaching and purity with a
compassionate complacence. While Mr. Proctor was rector, indeed, Mr.
Tozer, the butterman, who was senior deacon, found it difficult to
refrain from an audible expression of pity for the "Church folks" who
knew no better; but, as a general rule, the congregation of Salem kept
by itself, gleaning new adherents by times at an "anniversary" or the
coming of a new minister, but knowing and keeping "its own place" in a
manner edifying to behold.

Such was the state of affairs when old Mr. Tufton declined in
popularity, and impressed upon the minds of his hearers those
now-established principles about the unfitness of old men for any
important post, and the urgent necessity and duty incumbent upon old
clergymen, old generals, old admirals, &c.--every aged functionary,
indeed, except old statesmen--to resign in favour of younger men, which
have been, within recent years, so much enforced upon the world. To
communicate this opinion to the old minister was perhaps less difficult
to Mr. Tozer and his brethren than it might have been to men more
refined and less practical; but it was an undeniable relief to the
managers of the chapel when grim Paralysis came mildly in and gave the
intimation in the manner least calculated to wound the sufferer's
feelings. Mild but distinct was that undeniable warning. The poor old
minister retired, accordingly, with a purse and a presentation, and
young Arthur Vincent, fresh from Homerton, in the bloom of hope and
intellectualism, a young man of the newest school, was recognised as
pastor in his stead.

A greater change could not possibly have happened. When the interesting
figure of the young minister went up the homely pulpit-stairs, and
appeared, white-browed, white-handed, in snowy linen and glossy clerical
apparel, where old Mr. Tufton, spiritual but homely, had been wont to
impend over the desk and exhort his beloved brethren, it was natural
that a slight rustle of expectation should run audibly through the
audience. Mr. Tozer looked round him proudly to note the sensation, and
see if the Miss Hemmings, sole representatives of a cold and unfeeling
aristocracy, were there. The fact was, that few of the auditors were
more impressed than the Miss Hemmings, who _were_ there, and who talked
all the evening after about the young minister. What a sermon it was!
not much in it about the beloved brethren; nothing very stimulating,
indeed, to the sentiments and affections, except in the youth and good
looks of the preacher, which naturally made a more distinct impression
upon the female portion of his hearers than on the stronger sex. But
then what eloquence! what an amount of thought! what an honest entrance
into all the difficulties of the subject! Mr. Tozer remarked afterwards
that such preaching was food for _men_. It was too closely reasoned out,
said the excellent butterman, to please women or weak-minded persons:
but he did not doubt, for his part, that soon the young men of
Carlingford, the hope of the country, would find their way Salem. Under
such prognostications, it was fortunate that the young minister
possessed something else besides close reasoning and Homerton eloquence
to propitiate the women too.

Mr. Vincent arrived at Carlingford in the beginning of winter, when
society in that town was reassembling, or at least reappearing, after
the temporary summer seclusion. The young man knew very little of the
community which he had assumed the spiritual charge of. He was almost as
particular as the Rev. Mr. Wentworth of St. Roque's about the cut of his
coat and the precision of his costume, and decidedly preferred the word
clergyman to the word minister, which latter was universally used by his
flock; but notwithstanding these trifling predilections, Mr. Vincent,
who had been brought up upon the 'Nonconformist' and the 'Eclectic
Review,' was strongly impressed with the idea that the Church
Establishment, though outwardly prosperous, was in reality a profoundly
rotten institution; that the Nonconforming portion of the English public
was the party of progress; that the eyes of the world were turned upon
the Dissenting interest; and that his own youthful eloquence and the
Voluntary principle were quite enough to counterbalance all the
ecclesiastical advantages on the other side, and make for himself a
position of the highest influence in his new sphere. As he walked about
Carlingford making acquaintance with the place, it occurred to the young
man, with a thrill of not ungenerous ambition, that the time might
shortly come when Salem Chapel would be all too insignificant for the
Nonconformists of this hitherto torpid place. He pictured to himself
how, by-and-by, those jealous doors in Grange Lane would fly open at his
touch, and how the dormant minds within would awake under his influence.
It was a blissful dream to the young pastor. Even the fact that Mr.
Tozer was a butterman, and the other managers of the chapel equally
humble in their pretensions, did not disconcert him in that flush of
early confidence. All he wanted--all any man worthy of his post
wanted--was a spot of standing-ground, and an opportunity of making the
Truth--and himself--known. Such, at least, was the teaching of Homerton
and the Dissenting organs. Young Vincent, well educated and enlightened
according to his fashion, was yet so entirely unacquainted with any
world but that contracted one in which he had been brought up, that he
believed all this as devoutly as Mr. Wentworth believed in Anglicanism,
and would have smiled with calm scorn at any sceptic who ventured to
doubt. Thus it will be seen he came to Carlingford with elevated
expectations--by no means prepared to circulate among his flock, and say
grace at Mrs. Tozer's "teas," and get up _soirees_ to amuse the
congregation, as Mr. Tufton had been accustomed to do. These secondary
circumstances of his charge had little share in the new minister's
thoughts. Somehow the tone of public writing has changed of late days.
Scarcely a newspaper writer condescends now to address men who are not
free of "society," and learned in all its ways. The 'Times' and the
Magazines take it for granted that all their readers dine out at
splendid tables, and are used to a solemn attendant behind their chair.
Young Vincent was one of those who accept the flattering implication. It
is true, he saw few enough of such celestial scenes in his college-days.
But now that life was opening upon him, he doubted nothing of the
society that must follow; and with a swell of gratification listened
when the advantages of Carlingford were discussed by some chance
fellow-travellers on the railway; its pleasant parties--its nice
people--Mr. Wodehouse's capital dinners, and the charming
breakfasts--such a delightful novelty!--so easy and agreeable!--of the
pretty Lady Western, the young dowager. In imagination Mr. Vincent saw
himself admitted to all these social pleasures; not that he cared for
capital dinners more than became a young man, or had any special
tendencies towards tuft-hunting, but because fancy and hope, and
ignorance of the real world, made him naturally project himself into
the highest sphere within his reach, in the simple conviction that such
was his natural place.

With these thoughts, to be asked to Mrs. Tozer's to tea at six o'clock,
was the most wonderful cold plunge for the young man. He shrugged his
shoulders, smiled to himself over the note of invitation, which,
however, was very prettily written by Phoebe, Mrs. Tozer's blooming
daughter, on paper as pink as Lady Western's, and consented, as he could
not help himself. He went out from his nice lodgings a little after six,
still smiling, and persuading himself that this would be quite a
pleasant study of manners, and that of course he could not do less than
patronise the good homely people in their own way, whatever that might
be. Mr. Vincent's rooms were in George Street, at what the Grange Lane
people called _the other end_, in an imposing house with a large door,
and iron extinguishers fixed in the railing, which had in their day
quenched the links of the last century. To cross the street in his
evening coat, and walk into the butter-shop, where the two white-aproned
lads behind the counter stared, and a humble member of the congregation
turned sharply round, and held out the hand, which had just clutched a
piece of bacon, for her minister to shake, was a sufficiently trying
introduction to the evening's pleasure; but when the young pastor had
been ushered up-stairs, the first aspect of the company there rather
took away his breath, as he emerged from the dark staircase. Tozer
himself, who awaited the minister at the door, was fully habited in the
overwhelming black suit and white tie, which produced so solemnising an
effect every Sunday at chapel; and the other men of the party were, with
a few varieties, similarly attired. But the brilliancy of the female
portion of the company overpowered Mr. Vincent. Mrs. Tozer herself sat
at the end of her hospitable table, with all her best china tea-service
set out before her, in a gown and cap which Grange Lane could not have
furnished any rivals to. The brilliant hue of the one, and the flowers
and feathers of the other, would require a more elaborate description
than this chronicle has space for. Nor indeed in the particular of dress
did Mrs. Tozer do more than hold her own among the guests who surrounded
her. It was scarcely dark, and the twilight softened down the splendours
of the company, and saved the dazzled eyes of the young pastor. He felt
the grandeur vaguely as he came in with a sense of reproof, seeing that
he had evidently been waited for. He said grace devoutly when the tea
arrived and the gas was lighted, and with dumb amaze gazed round him.
Could these be the veritable womankind of Salem Chapel? Mr. Vincent saw
bare shoulders and flower-wreathed heads bending over the laden
tea-table. He saw pretty faces and figures not inelegant, remarkable
among which was Miss Phoebe's, who had written him that pink note, and
who herself was pink all over--dress, shoulders, elbows, cheeks, and
all. Pink--not red--a softened youthful flush, which was by no means
unbecoming to the plump full figure which had not an angle anywhere. As
for the men, the lawful owners of all this feminine display, they
huddled all together, indisputable cheesemongers as they were, quite
transcended and extinguished by their wives and daughters. The pastor
was young and totally inexperienced. In his heart he asserted his own
claim to an entirely different sphere; but, suddenly cast into this
little crowd, Mr. Vincent's inclination was to join the dark group of
husbands and fathers whom he knew, and who made no false pretences. He
was shy of venturing upon those fine women, who surely never could be
Mrs. Brown of the Devonshire Dairy, and Mrs. Pigeon, the poulterer's
wife; whereas Pigeon and Brown themselves were exactly like what they
always were on Sundays, if not perhaps a trifle graver and more
depressed in their minds.

"Here's a nice place for you, Mr. Vincent--quite the place for you,
where you can hear all the music, and see all the young ladies. For I do
suppose ministers, bein' young, are like other young men," said Mrs.
Tozer, drawing aside her brilliant skirts to make room for him on the
sofa. "I have a son myself as is at college, and feel motherlike to
those as go in the same line. Sit you down comfortable, Mr. Vincent.
There ain't one here, sir, I'm proud to say, as grudges you the best
seat."

"Oh, mamma, how could you think of saying such a thing!" said Phoebe,
under her breath; "to be sure, Mr. Vincent never could think there was
anybody anywhere that would be so wicked--and he the minister."

"Indeed, my dear," said Mrs. Pigeon, who was close by, "not to affront
Mr. Vincent, as is deserving of our best respects, I've seen many and
many's the minister I wouldn't have given up my seat to; and I don't
misdoubt, sir, you've heard of such as well as we. There was Mr. Bailey
at Parson's Green, now. He went and married a poor bit of a governess,
as common a looking creature as you could see, that set herself up above
the people, Mr. Vincent, and was too grand, sir, if you'll believe me,
to visit the deacons' wives. Nobody cares less than me about them vain
shows. What's visiting, if you know the vally of your time? Nothing but
a laying up of judgment. But I wouldn't be put upon neither by a chit
that got her bread out of me and my husband's hard earnins; and so I
told my sister, Mrs. Tozer, as lives at Parson's Green."

"Poor thing!" said the gentler Mrs. Tozer, "it's hard lines on a
minister's wife to please the congregation. Mr. Vincent here, he'll have
to take a lesson. That Mrs. Bailey was pretty-looking, I must allow----"

"Sweetly pretty!" whispered Phoebe, clasping her plump pink hands.

"Pretty-looking! I don't say anything against it," continued her mother;
"but it's hard upon a minister when his wife won't take no pains to
please his flock. To have people turn up their noses at you ain't
pleasant----"

"And them getting their livin' off you all the time," cried Mrs. Pigeon,
clinching the milder speech.

"But it seems to me," said poor Vincent, "that a minister can no more
be said to get his living off you than any other man. He works hard
enough generally for what little he has. And really, Mrs. Tozer, I'd
rather not hear all these unfortunate particulars about one of my
brethren----"

"He ain't one of the brethren now," broke in the poulterer's wife. "He's
been gone out o' Parson's Green this twelvemonths. Them stuck-up ways
may do with the Church folks as can't help themselves, but they'll never
do with us Dissenters. Not that we ain't as glad as can be to see you,
Mr. Vincent, and I hope you'll favour my poor house another night like
you're favouring Mrs. Tozer's. Mr. Tufton always said that was the
beauty of Carlingford in our connection. Cheerful folks and no display.
No display, you know--nothing but a hearty meetin', sorry to part, and
happy to meet again. Them's our ways. And the better you know us, the
better you'll like us, I'll be bound to say. We don't put it all on the
surface, Mr. Vincent," continued Mrs. Pigeon, shaking out her skirts and
expanding herself on her chair, "but it's all real and solid; what we
say we mean--and we don't say no more than we mean--and them's the kind
of folks to trust to wherever you go."

Poor Vincent made answer by an inarticulate murmur, whether of assent or
dissent it was impossible to say; and, inwardly appalled, turned his
eyes towards his deacons, who, more fortunate than himself, were
standing all in a group together discussing chapel matters, and wisely
leaving general conversation to the fairer portion of the company. The
unlucky minister's secret looks of distress awoke the interest and
sympathy of Phoebe, who sat in an interesting manner on a stool at her
mother's side. "Oh, mamma," said that young lady, too bashful to address
himself directly, "I wonder if Mr. Vincent plays or sings? There are
some such nice singers here. Perhaps we might have some music, if Mr.
Vincent----"

"I don't perform at all," said that victim,--"not in any way; but I am
an exemplary listener. Let me take you to the piano."

The plump Phoebe rose after many hesitations, and, with a simper and a
blush and pretty air of fright, took the minister's arm. After all, even
when the whole company is beneath a man's level, it is easier to play
the victim under the _supplice_ inflicted by a pretty girl than by two
mature matrons. Phoebe understood pretty well about her _h_'s, and did
not use the double negative; and when she rose up rustling from her low
seat, the round, pink creature, with dimples all about her, was not an
unpleasant object of contemplation. Mr. Vincent listened to her song
with decorous interest. Perhaps it was just as well sung as Lucy
Wodehouse, in Grange Lane, would have sung it. When Phoebe had
concluded, the minister was called to the side of Mrs. Brown of the
Devonshire Dairy, who had been fidgeting to secure him from the moment
he approached the piano. She was fat and roundabout, good woman, and had
the aspect of sitting upon the very edge of her chair. She held out to
the distressed pastor a hand covered with a rumpled white glove, which
did not fit, and had never been intended to fit, and beckoned to him
anxiously. With the calmness of despair Mr. Vincent obeyed the call.

"I have been looking so anxious to catch your eye, Mr. Vincent," said
Mrs. Brown; "do sit you down, now there's a chance, and let me talk to
you a minnit. Bless the girl! there's Miss Polly Pigeon going to play,
and everybody can use their freedom in talking. For my part," said Mrs.
Brown, securing the vacant chair of the performer for her captive,
"that's why I like instrumental music best. When a girl sings, why, to
be sure, it's only civil to listen--ain't it now, Mr. Vincent? but
nobody expects it of you, don't you see, when she only plays. Now do you
sit down. What I wanted to speak to you was about that poor creetur in
Back Grove Street--that's the lane right behind the chapel. She do
maunder on so to see the minister. Mr. Tozer he's been to see her, and I
sent Brown, but it wasn't a bit of use. It's you, Mr. Vincent, she's
awanting of. If you'll call in to-morrow, I'll show you the place
myself, as you're a stranger; for if you'll excuse me saying it, I am as
curious as can be to hear what she's got to say."

"If she has got anything to say, she might prefer that it was not
heard," said Vincent, with an attempt at a smile. "Is she ill--and who
is she? I have never heard of her before."

"Well, you see, sir, she doesn't belong rightly to Salem. She's a
stranger here, and not a joined member; and she ain't ill either, as I
can see--only something on her mind. You ministers," said Mrs. Brown,
with a look of awe, "must have a deal of secrets confided to you. Folks
may stand out against religion as long as things go on straight with
them, but they're sure to want the minister as soon as they've got
something on their mind; and a deal better to have it out, and get a
little comfort, than to bottle it all up till their latter end, like old
Mrs. Thompson, and let it out in their will, to drive them as was
expecting different distracted. It's a year or two since that happened.
I don't suppose you've heerd tell of it yet. But that's what makes old
Mrs. Christian--I dare to say you've seen her at chapel--so
uncomfortable in her feelins. She's never got over it, sir, and never
will to her dying day."

"Some disappointment about money?" said Mr. Vincent.

"Poor old folks! their daughter did very well for herself--and very well
for them too," said Mrs. Brown; "but it don't make no difference in Mrs.
Christian's feelins: they're living, like, on Mr. Brown the solicitor's
charity, you see, sir, instead of their own fortin, which makes a deal
o' difference. It would have been a fine thing for Salem too," added
Mrs. Brown, reflectively, "if they had had the old lady's money; for
Mrs. Christian was always one that liked to be first, and stanch to her
chapel, and would never have been wanting when the collecting-books went
round. But it wasn't to be, Mr. Vincent--that's the short and the long
of it; and we never have had nobody in our connection worth speaking of
in Carlingford but's been in trade. And a very good thing too, as I tell
Brown. For if there's one thing I can't abear in a chapel, it's one set
setting up above the rest. But bein' all in the way of business, except
just the poor folks, as is all very well in their place, and never
interferes with nothing, and don't count, there's nothing but brotherly
love here, which is a deal more than most ministers can say for their
flocks. I've asked a few friends to tea, Mr. Vincent, on next Thursday,
at six. As I haven't got no daughters just out of a boarding-school to
write notes for me, will you take us in a friendly way, and just come
without another invitation? All our own folks, sir, and a comfortable
evening; and prayers, if you'll _be_ so good, at the end. I don't like
the new fashion," said Mrs. Brown, with a significant glance towards
Mrs. Tozer, "of separatin' like heathens, when all's of one connection.
We might never meet again, Mr. Vincent. In the midst of life, you know,
sir. You'll not forget Thursday, at six."

"But, my dear Mrs. Brown, I am very sorry: Thursday is one of the days I
have specially devoted to study," stammered forth the unhappy pastor.
"What with the Wednesday meeting and the Friday committee----"

Mrs. Brown drew herself up as well as the peculiarities of her form
permitted, and her roseate countenance assumed a deeper glow. "We've
been in the chapel longer than Tozer," said the offended deaconess.
"We've never been backward, in takin' trouble, nor spendin' our
substance, nor puttin' our hands to every good work; and as for makin' a
difference between one member and another, it's what we ain't been
accustomed to, Mr. Vincent. I'm a plain woman, and speak my mind. Old
Mr. Tufton was very particular to show no preference. He always said, it
never answered in a flock to show more friendship to one nor another;
and if it had been put to me, I wouldn't have said, I assure you, sir,
that it was us as was to be made the first example of. If I haven't a
daughter fresh out of a boarding-school, I've been a member of Salem
five-and-twenty year, and had ministers in my house many's the day, and
as friendly as if I were a duchess; and for charities and such things,
we've never been known to fail, though I say it; and as for trouble----"

"But I spoke of my study," said the poor minister, as she paused, her
indignation growing too eloquent for words: "you want me to preach on
Sunday, don't you? and I must have some time, you know, to do my work."

"Sir," said Mrs. Brown, severely, "I know it for a fact that Mr.
Wentworth of St. Roque's dines out five days in the week, and it don't
do _his_ sermons no injury; and when you go out to dinner, it stands to
reason it's a different thing from a friendly tea."

"Ah, yes, most likely!" said Mr. Vincent, with a heavy sigh. "I'll come,
since you wish it so much; but," added the unlucky young man, with a
melancholy attempt at a smile, "you must not be too kind to me. Too much
of this kind of thing, you know, might have an effect----" Here he
paused, inclined to laugh at his own powers of sarcasm. As chance would
have it, as he pointed generally to the scene before them, the little
wave of his hand seemed to Mrs. Brown to indicate the group round the
piano, foremost in which was Phoebe, plump and pink, and full of
dimples. The good mistress of the Devonshire Dairy gave her head a
little toss.

"Ah!" said Mrs. Brown, with a sigh, "you don't know, you young men, the
half of the tricks of them girls that look so innocent. But I don't deny
it's a pleasant party," added the deaconess, looking round on the
company in general with some complacency. "But just you come along our
way on Thursday, at six, and judge for yourself if mine ain't quite as
good; though I have not got no daughters, Mr. Vincent," she concluded,
with severe irony, elevating her double chin and nodding her flowery
head.

The subdued minister made no reply; only deeper and deeper humiliation
seemed in store for him. Was it he, the first prize-man of Homerton, who
was supposed to be already smitten by the pink charms of Phoebe Tozer?
The unfortunate young man groaned in spirit, and, seizing a sudden
opportunity, plunged into the black group of deacons, and tried to
immerse himself in chapel business. But vain was the attempt. He was
recaptured and led back in triumph to Mrs. Tozer's sofa. He had to
listen to more singing, and accept another invitation to tea. When he
got off at last, it was with a sensation of dreadful dwindlement that
poor Vincent crossed the street again to his lonely abode. He knocked
quite humbly at the big door, and, with a sensation of unclerical rage,
wondered to himself whether the policeman who met him knew he had been
out to tea. Ah, blessed Mr. Wentworth of St. Roque's! The young
Nonconformist sighed as he put on his slippers, and kicked his boots
into a corner of his sitting-room. Somehow he had come down in the world
all at once, and without expecting it. Such was Salem Chapel and its
requirements: and such was Mr. Vincent's first experience of social life
in Carlingford.



CHAPTER II.


It was with a somewhat clouded aspect that the young pastor rose from
his solitary breakfast-table next morning to devote himself to the
needful work of visiting his flock. The minister's breakfast, though
lonely, had not been without alleviations. He had the "Carlingford
Gazette" at his elbow, if that was any comfort, and he had two letters
which were more interesting; one was from his mother, a minister's
widow, humbly enough off, but who had brought up her son in painful
gentility, and had done much to give him that taste for good society
which was to come to so little fruition in Carlingford. Mr. Vincent
smiled sardonically as he read his good mother's questions about his
"dear people," and her anxious inquiry whether he had found a "pleasant
circle" in Salem. Remembering the dainty little household which it took
her so much pains and pinching to maintain, the contrast made present
affairs still more and more distasteful to her son. He could fancy her
trim little figure in that traditionary black silk gown which never wore
out, and the whitest of caps, gazing aghast at Mrs. Brown and Mrs.
Tozer. But, nevertheless, Mrs. Vincent understood all about Mrs. Brown
and Mrs. Tozer, and had been very civil to such, and found them very
serviceable in her day, though her son, who knew her only in that
widowed cottage where she had her own way, could not have realised it.
The other letter was from a Homerton chum, a young intellectual and
ambitious Nonconformist like himself, whose epistle was full of
confidence and hope, triumph in the cause, and its perpetual advance.
"We are the priests of the poor," said the Homerton enthusiast,
encouraging his friend to the sacrifices and struggles which he presumed
to be already surrounding him. Mr. Vincent bundled up this letter with a
sigh. Alas! there were no grand struggles or sacrifices in Carlingford.
"The poor" were mostly church-goers, as he had already discovered. It
was a tolerably comfortable class of the community, that dreadful
"connection" of Browns, Pigeons, and Tozers. Amid their rude luxuries
and commonplace plenty, life could have no heroic circumstances. The
young man sighed, and did not feel so sure as he once did of the grand
generalities in which his friend was still confident. If Dissenters led
the van of progress generally, there was certainly an exception to be
made in respect to Carlingford. And the previous evening's entertainment
had depressed the young minister's expectations even of what he himself
could do--a sad blow to a young man. He was less convinced that
opportunity of utterance was all that was necessary to give him
influence in the general community. He was not half so sure of success
in opening the closed doors and sealed hearts of Grange Lane. On the
whole, matters looked somewhat discouraging that particular morning,
which was a morning in October, not otherwise depressing or
disagreeable. He took his hat and went down-stairs with a kind of
despairing determination to do his duty. There an encounter occurred
which did not raise his spirits. The door was open, and his landlady,
who was a member of Salem Chapel, stood there in full relief against the
daylight outside, taking from the hands of Miss Phoebe Tozer a little
basket, the destination of which she was volubly indicating. Mr. Vincent
appearing before Phoebe had half concluded her speech, that young lady
grew blushingly embarrassed, and made haste to relinquish her hold of
the basket. Her conscious looks filled the unwitting minister with
ignorant amaze.

"Oh, to think Mr. Vincent should catch me here! What ever will he think?
and what ever will Ma say?" cried Miss Phoebe. "Oh, Mr. Vincent, Ma
thought, please, you might perhaps like some jelly, and I said I would
run over with it myself, as it's so near, and the servant might have
made a mistake, and Ma hopes you'll enjoy it, and that you liked the
party last night!"

"Mrs. Tozer is very kind," said the minister, with cloudy looks. "Some
what, did you say, Miss Phoebe?"

"La! only some jelly--nothing worth mentioning--only a shape that was
over supper last night, and Ma thought you wouldn't mind," cried the
messenger, half alarmed by the unusual reception of her offering. Mr.
Vincent turned very red, and looked at the basket as if he would like
nothing better than to pitch it into the street; but prudence for once
restrained the young man. He bit his lips, and bowed, and went upon his
way, without waiting, as she intended he should, to escort Miss Phoebe
back again to her paternal shop. Carrying his head higher than usual,
and thrilling with offence and indignation, the young pastor made his
way along George Street. It was a very trifling circumstance, certainly;
but just when an enthusiastic companion writes to you about the advance
of the glorious cause, and your own high vocation as a soldier of the
Cross, and the undoubted fact that the hope of England is in you, to
have a shape of jelly, left over from last night's tea-party, sent
across the street with complacent kindness, for your refreshment----! It
_was_ trying. To old Mrs. Tufton, indeed, who had an invalid daughter,
it might have seemed a Christian bounty; but to Arthur Vincent,
five-and-twenty, a scholar and a gentleman--ah me! If he had been a
Christchurch man, or even a Fellow of Trinity, the chances are he would
have taken it much more graciously; for then he would have had the
internal consciousness of his own dignity to support him; whereas the
sting of it all was, that poor young Vincent had no special right to his
own pretensions, but had come to them he could not tell how; and, in
reality, had his mind been on a level with his fortunes, ought to have
found the Tozers and Pigeons sufficiently congenial company. He went
along George Street with troubled haste, pondering his sorrows--those
sorrows which he could confide to nobody. Was he actually to live among
these people for years--to have no other society--to circulate among
their tea-parties, and grow accustomed to their finery, and perhaps "pay
attention" to Phoebe Tozer; or, at least, suffer that young lady's
attentions to him? And what would become of him at the end? To drop into
a shuffling old gossip, like good old Mr. Tufton, seemed the best thing
he could hope for; and who could wonder at the mild stupor of
paralysis--disease not tragical, only drivelling--which was the last
chapter of all?

The poor young man accordingly marched along George Street deeply
disconsolate. When he met the perpetual curate of St. Roque's at the
door of Masters's bookshop--where, to be sure, at that hour in the
morning, it was natural to encounter Mr. Wentworth--the young
Nonconformist gazed at him with a certain wistfulness. They looked at
each other, in fact, being much of an age, and not unsimilar in worldly
means just at the present moment. There were various points of
resemblance between them. Mr. Vincent, too, wore an Anglican coat, and
assumed a high clerical aspect--sumptuary laws forbidding such
presumption being clearly impracticable in England; and the Dissenter
was as fully endowed with natural good looks as the young priest. How
was it, then, that so vast a world of difference and separation lay
between them? For one compensating moment Mr. Vincent decided that it
was because of his more enlightened faith, and felt himself persecuted.
But even that pretence did not serve the purpose. He began to divine
faintly, and with a certain soreness, that external circumstances do
stand for something, if not in the great realities of a man's career, at
least in the comforts of his life. A poor widow's son, educated at
Homerton, and an English squire's son, public school and university
bred, cannot begin on the same level. To compensate that disadvantage
requires something more than a talent for preaching. Perhaps genius
would scarcely do it without the aid of time and labour. The conviction
fell sadly upon poor Arthur Vincent as he went down the principal street
of Carlingford in the October sunshine. He was rapidly becoming
disenchanted, and neither the 'Nonconformist' nor the 'Patriot,' nor
Exeter Hall itself, could set him up again.

With these feelings the young pastor pursued his way to see the poor
woman who, according to Mrs. Brown's account, was so anxious to see the
minister. He found this person, whose desire was at present shared by
most of the female members of Salem without the intervention of the
Devonshire Dairy, in a mean little house in the close lane dignified by
the name of Back Grove Street. She was a thin, dark, vivacious-looking
woman, with a face from which some forty years of energetic living had
withdrawn all the colour and fulness which might once have rendered it
agreeable, but which was, nevertheless, a remarkable face, not to be
lightly passed over. Extreme thinness of outline and sharpness of line
made the contrast between this educated countenance and the faces which
had lately surrounded the young minister still more remarkable. It was
not a profound or elevated kind of education, perhaps, but it was very
different from the thin superficial lacker with which Miss Phoebe was
coated. Eager dark eyes, with dark lines under them--thin eloquent
lips, the upper jaw projecting slightly, the mouth closing fast and
firm--a well-shaped small head, with a light black lace handkerchief
fastened under the chin--no complexion or softening of tint--a dark,
sallow, colourless face, thrilling with expression, energy, and thought,
was that on which the young man suddenly lighted as he went in, somewhat
indifferent, it must be confessed, and expecting to find nothing that
could interest him. She was seated in a shabby room, only half-carpeted,
up two pair of stairs, which looked out upon no more lively view than
the back of Salem Chapel itself, with its few dismal scattered
graves--and was working busily at men's clothing of the coarsest kind,
blue stuff which had transferred its colour to her thin fingers. Meagre
as were her surroundings, however, Mr. Vincent, stumbling listlessly up
the narrow bare stair of the poor lodging-house, suddenly came to
himself as he stood within this humble apartment. If this was to be his
penitent, the story she had to tell might be not unworthy of serious
listening. He stammered forth a half apology and explanation of his
errand, as he gazed surprised at so unexpected a figure, wondering
within himself what intense strain and wear of life could have worn to
so thin a tissue the outer garment of this keen and sharp-edged soul.

"Come in," said the stranger, "I am glad to see you. I know you, Mr.
Vincent, though I can't suppose you've observed me. Take a seat. I have
heard you preach ever since you came--so, knowing in a manner how your
thoughts run, I've a kind of acquaintance with you: which, to be sure,
isn't the same on your side. I daresay the woman at the Dairy sent you
to me?"

"I understood--from Mrs. Brown certainly--that you wanted to see me,"
said the puzzled pastor.

"Yes, it was quite true. I have resources in myself, to be sure, as much
as most people," said his new acquaintance, whom he had been directed to
ask for as Mrs. Hilyard, "but still human relations are necessary; and
as I don't know anybody here, I thought I'd join the Chapel. Queer set
of people, rather, don't you think?" she continued, glancing up from her
rapid stitching to catch Vincent's conscious eye; "they thought I was in
spiritual distress, I suppose, and sent me the butterman. Lord bless us!
if I had been, what could he have done for me, does anybody imagine? and
when he didn't succeed, there came the Dairy person, who, I daresay,
would have understood what I wanted had I been a cow. Now I can make out
what I'm doing when I have you, Mr. Vincent. I know your line a little
from your sermons. That was wonderfully clever on Sunday morning about
confirmation. I belong to the Church myself by rights, and was
confirmed, of course, at the proper time, like other people, but I am a
person of impartial mind. That was a famous downright blow. I liked you
there."

"I am glad to have your approbation," said the young minister, rather
stiffly; "but excuse me--I was quite in earnest in my argument."

"Yes, yes; that was the beauty of it," said his eager interlocutor, who
went on without ever raising her eyes, intent upon the rough work which
he could not help observing sometimes made her scarred fingers bleed as
it passed rapidly through them. "No argument is ever worth listening to
if it isn't used in earnest. I've led a wandering life, and heard an
infinity of sermons of late years. When there are any brains in them at
all, you know, they are about the only kind of mental stimulant a poor
woman in my position can come by, for I've no time for reading lately.
Down here, in these regions, where the butterman comes to inquire after
your spiritual interests, and is a superior being," added this singular
new adherent of Salem, looking full for a single moment in her visitor's
eyes, with a slight movement of the muscles of her thin face, and making
a significant pause, "the air's a trifle heavy. It isn't pure oxygen we
breathe in Back Grove Street, by any means."

"I assure you it surprises me more than I can explain, to find," said
Vincent, hesitating for a proper expression, "to find----"

"Such a person as I am in Back Grove Street," interrupted his companion,
quickly; "yes--and thereby hangs a tale. But I did not send for you to
tell it. I sent for you for no particular reason, but a kind of yearning
to talk to somebody. I beg your pardon sincerely--but you know," she
said, once more with a direct sudden glance and that half-visible
movement in her face which meant mischief, "you are a minister, and are
bound to have no inclinations of your own, but to give yourself up to
the comfort of the poor."

"Without any irony, that is the aim I propose to myself," said Vincent;
"but I fear you are disposed to take rather a satirical view of such
matters. It is fashionable to talk lightly on those subjects; but I find
life and its affairs sufficiently serious, I assure you----"

Here she stopped her work suddenly, and looked up at him, her dark sharp
eyes lighting up her thin sallow face with an expression which it was
beyond his power to fathom. The black eyelashes widened, the dark
eyebrows rose, with a full gaze of the profoundest tragic sadness, on
the surface of which a certain gleam of amusement seemed to hover. The
worn woman looked over the dark world of her own experience, of which
she was conscious in every nerve, but of which he knew nothing, and
smiled at his youth out of the abysses of her own life, where volcanoes
had been, and earthquakes. He perceived it dimly, without understanding
how, and faltered and blushed, yet grew angry with all the
self-assertion of youth.

"I don't doubt you know that as well as I do--perhaps better; but
notwithstanding, I find my life leaves little room for laughter," said
the young pastor, not without a slight touch of heroics.

"Mr. Vincent," said Mrs. Hilyard, with a gleam of mirth in her eye, "in
inferring that I perhaps know better, you infer also that I am older
than you, which is uncivil to a lady. But for my part, I don't object to
laughter. Generally it's better than crying, which in a great many cases
I find the only alternative. I doubt, however, much whether life, from
the butterman's point of view, wears the same aspect. I should be
inclined to say not; and I daresay your views will brighten with your
company," added the aggravating woman, again resuming, with eyes fixed
upon it, her laborious work.

"I perceive you see already what is likely to be my great trial in
Carlingford," said young Vincent. "I confess that the society of my
office-bearers, which I suppose I must always consider myself bound
to----"

"That was a very sad sigh," said the rapid observer beside him; "but
don't confide in me, lest I should be tempted to tell somebody. I can
speak my mind without prejudice to anybody; and if you agree with me, it
may be a partial relief to your feelings. I shall be glad to see you
when you can spare me half an hour. I can't look at you while I talk,
for that would lose me so much time, but at my age it doesn't matter.
Come and see me. It's your business to do me good--and it's possible I
might even do some good to you."

"Thank you. I shall certainly come," said the minister, rising with the
feeling that he had received his dismissal for to-day. She rose, too,
quickly, and but for a moment, and held out her hand to him.

"Be sure you don't betray to the dairywoman what I had on my mind, and
wanted to tell you, though she is dying to know," said his singular new
acquaintance, without a smile, but with again a momentary movement in
her thin cheeks. When she had shaken hands with him, she seated herself
again immediately, and without a moment's pause proceeded with her work,
apparently concentrating all her faculties upon it, and neither hearing
nor seeing more of her visitor, though he still stood within two steps
of her, overshadowing the table. The young man turned and left the room
with involuntary quietness, as if he had been dismissed from the
presence of a princess. He went straight down-stairs without ever
pausing, and hastened through the narrow back-street with still the
impulse communicated by that dismissal upon him. When he drew breath, it
was with a curious mixture of feelings. Who she was or what she was--how
she came there, working at those "slops" till the colour came off upon
her hands, and her poor thin fingers bled--she so strangely superior to
her surroundings, yet not despising or quarrelling with them, or even
complaining of them, so far as he could make out--infinitely perplexed
the inexperienced minister. He came away excited and bewildered from the
interview, which had turned out so different from his expectations.
Whether she had done him good, was extremely doubtful; but she had
changed the current of his thoughts, which was in its way an immediate
benefit. Marvelling over such a mysterious apparition, and not so sure
as in the morning that nothing out of the most vulgar routine ever could
occur in Carlingford, Mr. Vincent turned with meditative steps towards
the little house at the extreme end of Grove Street, where his
predecessor still lingered. A visit to old Mr. Tufton was a periodical
once a-week duty, to be performed with the utmost regularity. Tozer and
Pigeon had agreed that it would be the making of the young minister to
draw thus from the experience of the old one. Whether Mr. Vincent agreed
with them, may be apprehended from the scene which follows.



CHAPTER III.


Mr. Tufton's house was at the extremity of Grove Street--at the
extremity, consequently, in that direction, of Carlingford, lying
parallel with the end of Grange Lane, and within distant view of St.
Roque's. It was a little old-fashioned house, with a small garden in
front and a large garden behind, in which the family cabbages, much less
prosperous since the old minister became unable to tend them,
flourished. The room into which Mr. Vincent, as an intimate of the
house, was shown, was a low parlour with two small windows, overshadowed
outside by ivy, and inside by two large geraniums, expanded upon a
Jacob's ladder of props, which were the pride of Mrs. Tufton's heart,
and made it almost impossible to see anything clearly within, even at
the height of day. Some prints, of which one represented Mr. Tufton
himself, and the rest other ministers of "the connection," in mahogany
frames, hung upon the green walls. The furniture, though it was not
unduly abundant, filled up the tiny apartment, so that quite a
dislocation and rearrangement of everything was necessary before a chair
could be got for the visitor, and he got into it. Though it was rather
warm for October out of doors, a fire, large for the size of the room,
was burning in the fireplace, on either side of which was an easy-chair
and an invalid. The one fronting the light, and consequently fronting
the visitor, was Adelaide Tufton, the old minister's daughter, who had
been confined to that chair longer than Phoebe Tozer could remember;
and who, during that long seclusion, had knitted, as all Salem Chapel
believed, without intermission, nobody having ever yet succeeded in
discovering where the mysterious results of her labour went to. She was
knitting now, reclining back in the cushioned chair which had been made
for her, and was her shell and habitation. A very pale, emaciated,
eager-looking woman, not much above thirty, but looking, after half a
lifetime spent in that chair, any age that imagination might suggest; a
creature altogether separated from the world--separated from life, it
would be more proper to say--for nobody more interested in the world and
other people's share of it than Adelaide Tufton existed in Carlingford.
She had light-blue eyes, rather prominent, which lightened without
giving much expression to her perfectly colourless face. Her very hair
was pale, and lay in braids of a clayey yellow, too listless and dull to
be called brown, upon the thin temples, over which the thin white skin
seemed to be strained like an over-tight bandage. Somehow, however,
people who were used to seeing her, were not so sorry as they might have
been for Adelaide Tufton. No one could exactly say why; but she somehow
appeared, in the opinion of Salem Chapel, to indemnify herself for her
privations, and was treated, if without much sympathy, at least without
that ostentatious pity which is so galling to the helpless. Few people
could afford to be sorry for so quick-sighted and all-remembering an
observer; and the consequence was, that Adelaide, almost without knowing
it, had managed to neutralise her own disabilities, and to be
acknowledged as an equal in the general conflict, which she could enter
only with her sharp tongue and her quick eye.

It was Mr. Tufton himself who sat opposite--his large expanse of face,
with the white hair which had been apostrophised as venerable at so many
Salem tea-parties, and which Vincent himself had offered homage to,
looming dimly through the green shade of the geraniums, as he sat with
his back to the window. He had a green shade over his eyes besides, and
his head moved with a slight palsied tremor, which was now the only
remnant of that "visitation" which had saved his feelings, and dismissed
more benignly than Tozer and his brother deacons the old pastor from his
old pulpit. He sat very contentedly doing nothing, with his large feet
in large loose slippers, and his elbows supported on the arms of his
chair. By the evidence of Mrs. Tufton's spectacles, and the newspaper
lying on the table, it was apparent that she had been reading the
'Carlingford Gazette' to her helpless companions; and that humble
journal, which young Vincent had kicked to the other end of his room
before coming out, had made the morning pass very pleasantly to the
three secluded inmates of Siloam Cottage, which was the name of the old
minister's humble home. Mr. Tufton said "'umble 'ome," and so did his
wife. They came from storied Islington, both of them, and were of
highly respectable connections, not to say that Mrs. Tufton had a little
property as well; and, acting in laudable opposition to the general
practice of poor ministers' wives, had brought many dividends and few
children to the limited but comfortable fireside. Mr. Vincent could not
deny that it was comfortable in its way, and quite satisfied its owners,
as he sat down in the shade of the geraniums in front of the fire,
between Adelaide Tufton and her father; but, oh heavens! to think of
such a home as all that, after Homerton and high Nonconformist hopes,
could come to himself! The idea, however, was one which did not occur to
the young minister. He sat down compassionately, seeing no analogy
whatever between his own position and theirs; scarcely even seeing the
superficial contrast, which might have struck anybody, between his
active youth and their helplessness and suffering. He was neither
hard-hearted nor unsympathetic, but somehow the easy moral of that
contrast never occurred to him. Adelaide Tufton's bloodless countenance
conveyed an idea of age to Arthur Vincent; her father was really old.
The young man saw no grounds on which to form any comparison. It was
natural enough for the old man and ailing woman to be as they were, just
as it was natural for him, in the height of his early manhood, to
rejoice in his strength and youth.

"So there was a party at Mr. Tozer's last night--and you were there, Mr.
Vincent," said old Mrs. Tufton, a cheerful active old lady, with pink
ribbons in her cap, which asserted their superiority over the doubtful
light and the green shade of the geraniums. "Who did you have? The
Browns and the Pigeons, and--everybody else, of course. Now tell me, did
Mrs. Tozer make tea herself, or did she leave it to Phoebe?"

"As well as I can remember, she did it herself," said the young pastor.

"Exactly what I told you, mamma," said Adelaide, from her chair. "Mrs.
Tozer doesn't mean Phoebe to make tea this many a year. I daresay she
wants her to marry somebody, the little flirting thing. I suppose she
wore her pink, Mr. Vincent--and Mrs. Brown that dreadful red-and-green
silk of hers; and didn't they send you over a shape of jelly this
morning? Ha, ha! I told you so, mamma; that was why it never came to
me."

"Pray let me send it to you," cried Vincent, eagerly.

The offer was not rejected, though coquetted with for a few minutes.
Then Mr. Tufton broke in, in solemn bass.

"Adelaide, we shouldn't talk, my dear, of pinks and green silks.
Providence has laid you aside, my love, from temptations; and you
remember how often I used to say in early days, No doubt it was a
blessing, Jemima, coming when it did, to wean our girl from the world;
she might have been as fond of dress as other girls, and brought us to
ruin, but for her misfortune. Everything is for the best."

"Oh, bother!" said Adelaide, sharply--"I don't complain, and never did;
but everybody else finds my misfortune, as they call it, very easy to be
borne, Mr. Vincent--even papa, you see. There is a reason for
everything, to be sure; but how things that are hard and disagreeable
are always to be called for the best, I can't conceive. However, let us
return to Phoebe Tozer's pink dress. Weren't you rather stunned with
all their grandeur? You did not think we could do as much in Salem, did
you? Now tell me, who has Mrs. Brown taken in hand to do good to now? I
am sure she sent you to somebody; and you've been to see somebody this
morning," added the quick-witted invalid, "who has turned out different
from your expectations. Tell me all about it, please."

"Dear Adelaide does love to hear what's going on. It is almost the only
pleasure she has--and we oughtn't to grudge it, ought we?" said
Adelaide's mother.

"Stuff!" muttered Adelaide, in a perfectly audible aside. "Now I think
of it, I'll tell you who you've been to see. That woman in Back Grove
Street--there! What do you think of that for a production of Salem, Mr.
Vincent? But she does not really belong to Carlingford. She married
somebody who turned out badly, and now she's in hiding that he mayn't
find her; though most likely, if all be true, he does not want to find
her. That's her history. I never pretend to tell more than I know. Who
she was to begin with, or who he is, or whether Hilyard may be her real
name, or why she lives there and comes to Salem Chapel, I can't tell;
but that's the bones of her story, you know. If I were a clever romancer
like some people, I could have made it all perfect for you, but I prefer
the truth. Clever and queer, isn't she? So I have guessed by what
people say."

"Indeed, you seem to know a great deal more about her than I do," said
the astonished pastor.

"I daresay," assented Adelaide, calmly. "I have never seen her, however,
though I can form an idea of what she must be like, all the same. I put
things together, you see; and it is astonishing the number of scraps of
news I get. I shake them well down, and then the broken pieces come
together; and I never forget anything, Mr. Vincent," she continued,
pausing for a moment to give him a distinct look out of the pale-blue
eyes, which for the moment seemed to take a vindictive feline gleam.
"She's rather above the Browns and the Tozers, you understand. Somehow
or other, she's mixed up with Lady Western, whom they call the Young
Dowager, you know. I have not made that out yet, though I partly guess.
My lady goes to see her up two pairs of stairs in Back Grove Street. I
hope it does her ladyship good to see how the rest of the world manage
to live and get on."

"I am afraid, Adelaide, my dear," said Mr. Tufton, in his bass tones,
"that my young brother will not think this very improving conversation.
Dear Tozer was speaking to me yesterday about the sermon to the
children. I always preached them a sermon to themselves about this time
of the year. My plan has been to take the congregation in classes; the
young men--ah, and they're specially important, are the young men! Dear
Tozer suggested that some popular lectures now would not come amiss.
After a long pastorate like mine," said the good man, blandly,
unconscious that dear Tozer had already begun to suggest a severance of
that tie before gentle sickness did it for him, "a congregation may be
supposed to be a little unsettled,--without any offence to you, my dear
brother. If I could appear myself and show my respect to your ministry,
it would have a good effect, no doubt; but I am laid aside, laid aside,
brother Vincent! I can only help you with my prayers."

"But dear, dear Mr. Tufton!" cried his wife, "bless you, the chapel is
twice as full as it was six months ago--and natural too, with a nice
young man."

"My dear!" said the old minister in reproof. "Yes, quite
natural--curiosity about a stranger; but my young brother must not be
elated; nor discouraged when they drop off. A young pastor's start in
life is attended by many trials. There is always a little excitement at
first, and an appearance of seats letting and the ladies very polite to
you. Take it easily, my dear brother! Don't expect too much. In a year
or two--by-and-by, when things settle down--then you can see how it's
going to be."

"But don't you think it possible that things may never settle down, but
continue rising up instead?" said Mr. Vincent, making a little venture
in the inspiration of the moment.

Mr. Tufton shook his head and raised his large hands slowly, with a
deprecating regretful motion, to hold them over the fire. "Alas! he's
got the fever already," said the old minister. "My dear young brother,
you shall have my experience to refer to always. You're always welcome
to my advice. Dear Tozer said to me just yesterday, 'You point out the
pitfalls to him, Mr. Tufton, and give him your advice, and I'll take
care that he shan't go wrong outside,' says dear Tozer. Ah, an
invaluable man!"

"But a little disposed to interfere, I think," said Vincent, with an
irrestrainable inclination to show his profound disrelish of all the
advice which was about to be given him.

Mr. Tufton raised his heavy forefinger and shook it slowly. "No--no. Be
careful, my dear brother. You must keep well with your deacons. You must
not take up prejudices against them. Dear Tozer is a man of a
thousand--a man of a thousand! Dear Tozer, if you listen to him, will
keep you out of trouble. The trouble he takes and the money he spends
for Salem Chapel is, mark my words, unknown--and," added the old pastor,
awfully syllabling the long word in his solemn bass, "in-con-ceiv-able."

"He is a bore and an ass for all that," said the daring invalid
opposite, with perfect equanimity, as if uttering the most patent and
apparent of truths. "Don't you give in to him, Mr. Vincent. A pretty
business you will have with them all," she continued, dropping her
knitting-needles and lifting her pale-blue eyes, with their sudden green
gleam, to the face of the new-comer with a rapid perception of his
character, which, having no sympathy in it, but rather a certain
mischievous and pleased satisfaction in his probable discomfiture, gave
anything but comfort to the object of her observation. "You are
something new for them to pet and badger. I wonder how long they'll be
of killing Mr. Vincent. Papa's tough; but you remember, mamma, they
finished off the other man before us in two years."

"Oh, hush, Adelaide, hush! you'll frighten Mr. Vincent," cried the kind
little mother, with uneasy looks: "when he comes to see us and cheer us
up--as I am sure is very kind of him--it is a shame to put all sorts of
things in his head, as papa and you do. Never mind Adelaide, Mr.
Vincent, dear. Do your duty, and never fear anybody; that's always been
my maxim, and I've always found it answer. Not going away, are you?
Dear, dear! and we've had no wise talk at all, and never once asked for
your poor dear mother--quite well, I hope?--and Miss Susan? You should
have them come and see you, and cheer you up. Well, good morning, if you
must go; don't be long before you come again."

"And, my dear young brother, don't take up any prejudices," interposed
Mr. Tufton, in tremulous bass, as he pressed Vincent's half-reluctant
fingers in that large soft flabby ministerial hand. Adelaide added
nothing to these valedictions; but when she too had received his
leave-taking, and he had emerged from the shadow of the geraniums, the
observer paused once more in her knitting. "This one will not hold out
two years," said Adelaide, calmly, to herself, no one else paying any
attention; and she returned to her work with the zest of a spectator at
the commencement of an exciting drama. She did double work all the
afternoon under the influence of this refreshing stimulant. It was
quite a new interest in her life.

Meanwhile young Vincent left the green gates of Siloam Cottage with no
very comfortable feelings--with feelings, indeed, the reverse of
comfortable, yet conscious of a certain swell and elevation in his mind
at the same moment. It was for him to show the entire community of
Carlingford the difference between his reign and the old _regime_. It
was for him to change the face of affairs--to reduce Tozer into his due
place of subordination, and to bring in an influx of new life,
intelligence, and enlightenment over the prostrate butterman. The very
sordidness and contraction of the little world into which he had just
received so distinct a view, promoted the revulsion of feeling which now
cheered him. The aspiring young man could as soon have consented to lose
his individuality altogether as to acknowledge the most distant
possibility of accepting Tozer as his guide, philosopher, and friend. He
went back again through Grove Street, heated and hastened on his way by
those impatient thoughts. When he came as far as Salem, he could not but
pause to look at it with its pinched gable and mean little belfry,
innocent of a bell. The day was overclouded, and no clearness of
atmosphere relieved the aspect of the shabby chapel, with its black
railing, and locked gates, and dank flowerless grass inside. To see
anything venerable or sacred in the aspect of such a place, required an
amount of illusion and glamour which the young minister could not summon
into his eyes. It was not the centre of light in a dark place, the
simple tribune from which the people's preacher should proclaim, to the
awe and conviction of the multitude, that Gospel once preached to the
poor, of which he flattered himself he should be the truest messenger in
Carlingford. Such had been the young man's dreams in Homerton--dreams
mingled, it is true, with personal ambition, but full notwithstanding of
generous enthusiasm. No--nothing of the kind. Only Salem Chapel, with so
many pews let, and so many still to be disposed of, and Tozer a guardian
angel at the door. Mr. Vincent was so far left to himself as to give
vent to an impatient exclamation as he turned away. But still matters
were not hopeless. He himself was a very different man from Mr. Tufton.
Kindred spirits there must surely be in Carlingford to answer to the
call of his. Another day might dawn for the Nonconformists, who were not
aware of their own dignity. With this thought he retraced his steps a
little, and, with an impulse which he did not explain to himself,
threaded his way up a narrow lane and emerged into Back Grove Street,
about the spot where he had lately paid his pastoral visit, and made so
unexpected an acquaintance. This woman--or should he not say lady?--was
a kind of first-fruits of his mission. The young man looked up with a
certain wistful interest at the house in which she lived. She was
neither young nor fair, it is true, but she interested the youthful
Nonconformist, who was not too old for impulses of chivalry, and who
could not forget her poor fingers scarred with her rough work. He had no
other motive for passing the house but that of sympathy and compassion
for the forlorn brave creature who was so unlike her surroundings; and
no throbbing pulse or trembling nerve forewarned Arthur Vincent of the
approach of fate.

At that moment, however, fate was approaching in the shape of a handsome
carriage, which made quite an exaggeration of echo in this narrow
back-street, which rang back every jingle of the harness and dint of the
hoofs from every court and opening. It drew up before Mrs. Hilyard's
door--at the door of the house, at least, in which Mrs. Hilyard was a
humble lodger; and while Vincent slowly approached, a brilliant vision
suddenly appeared before him, rustling forth upon the crowded pavement,
where the dirty children stood still to gape at her. A woman--a lady--a
beautiful dazzling creature, resplendent in the sweetest English roses,
the most delicate bewildering bloom. Though it was but for a moment, the
bewildered young minister had time to note the dainty foot, the daintier
hand, the smiling sunshiny eyes, the air of conscious supremacy, which
was half command and half entreaty--an ineffable combination. That
vision descended out of the heavenly chariot upon the mean pavement just
as Mr. Vincent came up; and at the same moment a ragged boy, struck
speechless, like the young minister, by the apparition, planted himself
full in her way with open mouth and staring eyes, too much overpowered
by sudden admiration to perceive that he stopped the path. Scarcely
aware what he was doing, as much beauty-struck as his victim, Vincent,
with a certain unconscious fury, seized the boy by the collar, and
swung him impatiently off the pavement, with a feeling of positive
resentment against the imp, whose rags were actually touching those
sacred splendid draperies. The lady made a momentary pause, turned half
round, smiled with a gracious inclination of her head, and entered at
the open door, leaving the young pastor in an incomprehensible ecstasy,
with his hat off, and all his pulses beating loud in his ears, riveted,
as the romancers say, to the pavement. When the door shut he came to
himself, stared wildly into the face of the next passenger who came
along the narrow street, and then, becoming aware that he still stood
uncovered, grew violently red, put on his hat, and went off at a great
pace. But what was the use of going off? The deed was done. The world on
the other side of these prancing horses was a different world from that
on this side. Those other matters, of which he had been thinking so
hotly, had suddenly faded into a background and accessories to the one
triumphant figure which occupied all the scene. He scarcely asked
himself who was that beautiful vision? The fact of her existence was at
the moment too overpowering for any secondary inquiries. He had seen
her--and lo! the universe was changed. The air tingled softly with the
sound of prancing horses and rolling wheels, the air breathed an
irresistible soft perfume, which could nevermore die out of it, the air
rustled with the silken thrill of those womanly robes. There she had
enthroned herself--not in his startled heart, but in the palpitating
world, which formed in a moment's time into one great background and
framework for that beatific form.

What the poor young man had done to be suddenly assailed and carried off
his feet by this wonderful and unexpected apparition, we are unable to
say. He seemed to have done nothing to provoke it: approaching quietly
as any man might do, pondering grave thoughts of Salem Chapel, and how
he was to make his post tenable, to be transfixed all at once and
unawares by that fairy lance, was a spite of fortune which nobody could
have predicted. But the thing was done. He went home to hide his
stricken head, as was natural; tried to read, tried to think of a
popular series of lectures, tried to lay plans for his campaign and
heroic desperate attempts to resuscitate the shopkeeping Dissenterism of
Carlingford into a lofty Nonconformist ideal. But vain were the efforts.
Wherever he lifted his eyes, was not She there, all-conquering and
glorious? when he did not lift his eyes, was not she everywhere Lady
Paramount of the conscious world? Womankind in general, which had never,
so to speak, entered his thoughts before, had produced much trouble to
poor Arthur Vincent since his arrival in Carlingford. But Phoebe
Tozer, pink and blooming--Mrs. Hilyard, sharp and strange--Adelaide
Tufton, pale spectator of a life with which she had nothing to do--died
off like shadows, and left no sign of their presence. Who was She?



CHAPTER IV.


After the remarkable encounter which had thus happened to the young
minister, life went on with him in the dullest routine for some days.
Thursday came, and he had to go to Mrs. Brown's tea-party, where, in the
drawing-room up-stairs, over the Devonshire Dairy, after tea, and music,
and the diversions of the evening, he conducted prayers to the great
secret satisfaction of the hostess, who felt that the superior piety of
her entertainment entirely made up for any little advantage in point of
gentility which Mrs. Tozer, with a grown-up daughter fresh from a
boarding-school, might have over her. On Friday evening there was the
singing-class at the chapel, which Mr. Vincent was expected to look in
upon, and from which he had the privilege of walking home with Miss
Tozer. When he arrived with his blooming charge at the private door, the
existence of which he had not hitherto been aware of, Tozer himself
appeared, to invite the young pastor to enter. This time it was the
butterman's unadorned domestic hearth to which Mr. Vincent was
introduced. This happy privacy was in a little parlour, which, being on
the same floor with the butter-shop, naturally was not without a
reminiscence of the near vicinity of all those hams and cheeses--a room
nearly blocked up by the large family-table, at which, to the disgust
of Phoebe, the apprentices sat at meal-times along with the family.
One little boy, distinguished out of doors by a red worsted comforter,
was, besides Phoebe, the only member of the family itself now at home;
the others being two sons, one in Australia, and the other studying for
a minister, as Mrs. Tozer had already informed her pastor, with motherly
pride. Mrs. Tozer sat in an easy-chair by the fire darning stockings on
this October night; her husband, opposite to her, had been looking over
his greasy books, one of which lay open upon a little writing-desk,
where a bundle of smaller ones in red leather, with "Tozer,
Cheesemonger," stamped on them in gilt letters, lay waiting Phoebe's
arrival to be made up. The Benjamin of the house sat half-way down the
long table with his slate working at his lessons. The margin of space
round this long table scarcely counted in the aspect of the room. There
was space enough for chairs to be set round it, and that was all: the
table with its red-and-blue cover and the faces appearing above it,
constituted the entire scene. Mr. Vincent stood uneasily at a corner
when he was brought into the apartment, and distinctly placed himself at
table, as if at a meal, when he sat down.

"Do you now take off your greatcoat, and make yourself comfortable,"
said Mrs. Tozer; "there's a bit of supper coming presently. This is just
what I like, is this. A party is very well in its way, Mr. Vincent, sir;
but when a gen'leman comes in familiar, and takes us just as we are,
that's what I like. We never can be took wrong of an evening, Tozer and
me; there's always a bit of something comfortable for supper; and after
the shop's shut in them long evenings, time's free. Phoebe, make haste
and take off your things. What a colour you've got, to be sure, with the
night air! I declare, Pa, somebody must have been saying something to
her, or she'd never look so bright."

"I daresay there's more things than music gets talked of at the
singing," said Tozer, thus appealed to. "But she'd do a deal better if
she'd try to improve her mind than take notice what the young fellows
says."

"Oh, Pa, the idea! and before Mr. Vincent too," cried Phoebe--"to think
I should ever dream of listening to anything that _anybody_ might choose
to say!"

Vincent, to whom the eyes of the whole family turned, grinned a feeble
smile, but, groaning in his mind, was totally unequal to the effort of
saying anything. After a moment's pause of half-disappointed
expectation, Phoebe disappeared to take off her bonnet; and Mrs.
Tozer, bestirring herself, cleared away the desk and books, and went
into the kitchen to inquire into the supper. The minister and the deacon
were accordingly left alone.

"Three more pews applied for this week--fifteen sittings in all," said
Mr. Tozer; "that's what I call satisfactory, that is. We mustn't let the
steam go down--not on no account. You keep well at them of Sundays, Mr.
Vincent, and trust to the managers, sir, to keep 'em up to their dooty.
Me and Mr. Tufton was consulting the other day. He says as we oughtn't
to spare you, and you oughtn't to spare yourself. There hasn't been such
a opening not in our connection for fifteen year. We all look to you to
go into it, Mr. Vincent. If all goes as I expect, and you keep up as
you're doing, I see no reason why we shouldn't be able to put another
fifty to the salary next year."

"Oh!" said poor Vincent, with a miserable face. He had been rather
pleased to hear about the "opening," but this matter-of-fact
encouragement and stimulus threw him back into dismay and disgust.

"Yes," said the deacon, "though I wouldn't advise you, as a young man
settin' out in life, to calculate upon it, yet we all think it more than
likely; but if you was to ask my advice, I'd say to give it 'em a little
more plain--meaning the Church folks. It's expected of a new man. I'd
touch 'em up in the State-Church line, Mr. Vincent, if I was you. Give
us a coorse upon the anomalies, and that sort of thing--the bishops in
their palaces, and the fisherman as was the start of it all; there's a
deal to be done in that way. It always tells; and my opinion is as you
might secure the most part of the young men and thinkers, and them as
can see what's what, if you lay it on pretty strong. Not," added the
deacon, remembering in time to add that necessary salve to the
conscience--"not as I would have you neglect what's more important; but,
after all, what is more important, Mr. Vincent, than freedom of opinion
and choosing your own religious teacher? You can't put gospel truth in a
man's mind till you've freed him out of them bonds. It stands to
reason--as long as he believes just what he's told, and has it all made
out for him the very words he's to pray, there may be feelin', sir, but
there can't be no spiritual understandin' in that man."

"Well, one can't deny that there have been enlightened men in the Church
of England," said the young Nonconformist, with lofty candour. "The
inconsistencies of the human mind are wonderful; and it is coming to be
pretty clearly understood in the intellectual world, that a man may show
the most penetrating genius, and even the widest liberality, and yet be
led a willing slave in the bonds of religious rite and ceremony. One
cannot understand it, it is true; but in our clearer atmosphere we are
bound to exercise Christian charity. Great as the advantages are on our
side of the question, I would not willingly hurt the feelings of a
sincere Churchman, who, for anything I know, may be the best of men."

Mr. Tozer paused with a "humph!" of uncertainty; rather dazzled with the
fine language, but doubtful of the sentiment. At length light seemed to
dawn upon the excellent butterman. "Bless my soul! that's a new view,"
said Tozer; "that's taking the superior line over them! My impression is
as that would tell beautiful. Eh! it's famous, that is! I've heard a
many gentlemen attacking the Church, like, from down below, and giving
it her about her money and her greatness, and all that; but our clearer
atmosphere--there's the point! I always knew as you was a clever young
man, Mr. Vincent, and expected a deal from you; but that's a new view,
that is!"

"Oh, Pa, dear! don't be always talking about chapel business," said Miss
Phoebe, coming in. "I am sure Mr. Vincent is sick to death of Salem. I
am sure his heart is in some other place now; and if you bore him always
about the chapel, he'll never, _never_ take to Carlingford. Oh, Mr.
Vincent, I am sure you know it is quite true!"

"Indeed," said the young minister, with a sudden recollection, "I can
vouch for my heart being in Carlingford, and nowhere else;" and as he
spoke his colour rose. Phoebe clapped her hands with a little
semblance of confusion.

"Oh, la!" cried that young lady, "that is _quite_ as good as a
confession that you have lost it, Mr. Vincent. Oh, I _am_ so interested!
I wonder who it can be!"

"Hush, child; I daresay we shall know before long," said Mrs. Tozer, who
had also rejoined the domestic party; "and don't you colour up or look
ashamed, Mr. Vincent. Take my word, it's the very best a young minister
can do. To be sure, where there's a quantity of young ladies in a
congregation, it sometimes makes a little dispeace; but there ain't to
say many to choose from in Salem."

"La, mamma, how _can_ you think it's a lady in Salem?" cried Phoebe,
in a flutter of consciousness.

"Oh, you curious thing!" cried Mrs. Tozer: "she'll never rest, Mr.
Vincent, till she's found it all out. She always was, from a child, a
dreadful one for finding out a secret. But don't you trouble yourself;
it's the very best thing a young minister can do."

Poor Vincent made a hasty effort to exculpate himself from the soft
impeachment, but with no effect. Smiles, innuendoes, a succession of
questions asked by Phoebe, who retired, whenever she had made her
remark, with conscious looks and pink blushes, perpetually renewed this
delightful subject. The unlucky young man retired upon Tozer. In
desperation he laid himself open to the less troublesome infliction of
the butterman's advice. In the mean time the table was spread, and
supper appeared in most substantial and savoury shape; the only drawback
being, that whenever the door was opened, the odours of bacon and cheese
from the shop came in like a musty shadow of the boiled ham and hot
sausages within.

"I am very partial to your style, Mr. Vincent," said the deacon;
"there's just one thing I'd like to observe, sir, if you'll excuse _me_.
I'd give 'em a coorse; there's nothing takes like a coorse in our
connection. Whether it's on a chapter or a book of Scripture, or on a
perticklar doctrine, I'd make a pint of giving 'em a coorse if it was
me. There was Mr. Bailey, of Parson's Green, as was so popular before he
married--he had a historical coorse in the evenings, and a coorse upon
the eighth of Romans in the morning; and it was astonishing to see how
they took. I walked over many and many's the summer evening myself, he
kep' up the interest so. There ain't a cleverer man in our body, nor
wasn't a better liked as he was then."

"And now I understand he's gone away--what was the reason?" asked Mr.
Vincent.

Tozer shrugged his shoulders and shook his head. "All along of the
women: they didn't like his wife; and my own opinion is, he fell off
dreadful. Last time I heard him, I made up my mind I'd never go back
again--me that was such an admirer of his; and the managers found the
chapel was falling off, and a deputation waited on him; and, to be sure,
he saw it his duty to go."

"And, oh, she was so sweetly pretty!" cried Miss Phoebe: "but pray,
pray, Mr. Vincent, don't look so pale. If you marry a pretty lady, we'll
all be so kind to her! We shan't grudge her our minister; we shall----"

Here Miss Phoebe paused, overcome by her emotions.

"I do declare there never was such a child," said Mrs. Tozer: "it's none
of your business, Phoebe. She's a great deal too feelin', Mr. Vincent.
But I don't approve, for my part, of a minister marrying a lady as is
too grand for her place, whatever Phoebe may say. It's her that should
teach suchlike as us humility and simple ways; and a fine lady isn't no
way suitable. Not to discourage you, Mr. Vincent, I haven't a doubt, for
my part, that you'll make a nice choice."

"I have not the least intention of trying the experiment," said poor
Vincent, with a faint smile; then, turning to his deacon, he plunged
into the first subject that occurred to him. "Do you know a Mrs. Hilyard
in Back Grove Street?" asked the young minister. "I went to see her the
other day. Who is she, or where does she belong to, can you tell
me?--and which of your great ladies in Carlingford is it," he added,
with a little catching of his breath after a momentary pause, "who
visits that poor lady? I saw a carriage at her door."

"Meaning the poor woman at the back of the chapel?" said Tozer--"I don't
know nothing of her, except that I visited there, sir, as you might do,
in the way of dooty. Ah! I fear she's in the gall of bitterness, Mr.
Vincent; she didn't take my 'umble advice, sir, not as a Christian
ought. But she comes to the chapel regular enough; and you may be the
means of putting better thoughts into her mind; and as for our great
ladies in Carlingford," continued Mr. Tozer, with the air of an
authority, "never a one of them, I give you my word, would go out of her
way a-visiting to one of the chapel folks. They're a deal too bigoted
for that, especially them at St. Roque's."

"Oh, Pa, how can you say so," cried Phoebe, "when it's very well known
the ladies go everywhere, where the people are very, very poor? but then
Mr. Vincent said a poor _lady_. Was it a nice carriage? The Miss
Wodehouses always walk, and so does Mrs. Glen, and all the Strangeways.
Oh, I know, it was the young Dowager--that pretty, pretty lady, you
know, mamma, that gives the grand parties, and lives in Grange Lane. I
saw her carriage going up the lane by the chapel once. Oh, Mr. Vincent,
wasn't she very, _very_ pretty, with blue eyes and brown hair?"

"I could not tell you what kind of eyes and hair they were," said Mr.
Vincent, trying hard to speak indifferently, and quite succeeding so far
as Phoebe Tozer was concerned; for who could venture to associate the
minister of Salem, even as a victim, with the bright eyes of Lady
Western? "I thought it strange to see her there, whoever she was."

"Oh, how insensible you are!" murmured Phoebe, across the table.
Perhaps, considering all things, it was not strange that Phoebe should
imagine her own pink bloom to have dimmed the young pastor's
appreciation of other beauty.

"But it was Mrs. Hilyard I inquired about, and not this Lady--Lady what,
Miss Phoebe?" asked the reverend hypocrite; "I don't profess to be
learned in titles, but hers is surely a strange one. I thought dowager
was another word for an old woman."

"She's a beautiful young creature," broke in the butterman. "I mayn't
approve of such goings-on, but I can't shut my eyes. She deals with me
regular, and I can tell you the shop looks like a different place when
them eyes of hers are in it. She's out of our line, and she's out of
your line, Mr. Vincent," added Tozer, apologetically, coming down from
his sudden enthusiasm, "or I mightn't say as much as I do say, for she's
gay, and always a-giving parties, and spending her life in company, as I
don't approve of; but to look in her face, you couldn't say a word
against her--nor I couldn't. She might lead a man out of his wits, and I
wouldn't not to say blame him. If the angels are nicer to look at, it's
a wonder to me!" Having reached to this pitch of admiration, the
alarmed butterman came to a sudden pause, looked round him somewhat
dismayed, wiped his forehead, rubbed his hands, and evidently felt that
he had committed himself, and was at the mercy of his audience. Little
did the guilty Tozer imagine that never before--not when giving counsel
upon chapel business in the height of wisdom, or complimenting the
sermon as only a chapel-manager, feeling in his heart that the seats
were letting, could--had he spoken so much to the purpose in young
Vincent's hearing, or won so much sympathy from the minister. As for the
female part of the company, they were at first too much amazed for
speech. "Upon my word, Papa!" burst from the lips of the half-laughing,
half-angry Phoebe. Mrs. Tozer, who had been cutting bread with a large
knife, hewed at her great loaf in silence, and not till that occupation
was over divulged her sentiments.

"Some bread, Mr. Vincent?" said at last that injured woman: "that's how
it is with all you men. Niver a one, however you may have been brought
up, nor whatever pious ways you may have been used to, can stand out
against a pretty face. Thank goodness, _we_ know better. Beauty's but
skin-deep, Mr. Vincent; and, for my part, I can't see the difference
between one pair o' eyes and another. I daresay I see as well out of
mine as Lady Western does out o' hers, though Tozer goes on about 'em.
It's a mercy for the world, women ain't carried away so; and to hear a
man as is the father of a family, and ought to set an example, a-talking
like this in his own house! What is the minister to think, Tozer? and
Phoebe, a girl as is as likely to take up notions about her looks as
most? It's what I didn't expect from you."

"La, mamma! as if there was any likeness between Lady Western and me!"
cried Phoebe, lifting a not-unexpectant face across the table. But Mr.
Vincent was not equal to the occasion. In that _locale_, and under these
circumstances, a tolerable breadth of compliment would not have shocked
anybody's feelings; but the pastor neglected his opportunities. He sat
silent, and made no reply to Phoebe's look. He even at this moment, if
truth must be told, devoted himself to the well-filled plate which Mrs.
Tozer's hospitality had set before him. He would fain have made a
diversion in poor Tozer's favour had anything occurred to him in the
thrill of sudden excitement which Tozer's declaration had surprised him
into. As it was, tingling with anxiety to hear more of that unknown
enchantress, whose presence made sunshine even in the butterman's shop,
no indifferent words would find their way to Vincent's lips. So he
bestowed his attentions instead upon the comfortable supper to which
everybody around him, quite unexcited by this little interlude, was
doing full justice, and, not venturing to ask, listened with a
palpitating heart.

"You see, Mr. Vincent," resumed Mrs. Tozer, "that title of 'the young
Dowager' has been given to Lady Western by them as is her chief friends
in Carlingford. Such little things comes to our knowledge as they
mightn't come to other folks in our situation, by us serving the best
families. There's but two families in Grange Lane as don't deal with
Tozer, and one of them's a new-comer as knows no better, and the other a
stingy old bachelor, as we wouldn't go across the road to get his
custom. A well-kept house must have its butter, and its cheese, and its
ham regular; but when there's but a man and a maid, and them nigh as
bilious as the master, and picking bits of cheese as one never heard the
name of, and as has to be sent to town for, or to the Italian shop, it
stands to reason neither me nor Tozer cares for a customer like that."

"Oh, Ma, what _does_ Mr. Vincent care about the customers?" cried
Phoebe, in despair.

"He might, then, before all's done," said the deaconess. "We couldn't be
as good friends to the chapel, nor as serviceable, nor as well thought
on in our connection, if it wasn't for the customers. So you see, sir,
Lady Western, she's a young lady not a deal older than my Phoebe, but
by reason of having married an old man, she has a step-son twice as old
as herself, and he's married; and so this gay pretty creature here,
she's the Dowager Lady Western. I've seen her with _young_ Lady Western,
her step-daughter-in-law, and young Lady Western was a deal older, and
more serious-looking, and knew twenty times more of life than the
Dowager--and you may be sure she don't lose the opportunity to laugh at
it neither--and so that's how the name arose."

"Thank you for the explanation; and I suppose, of course, she lives in
Grange Lane," said the pastor, still bending with devotion over his
plate.

"Dear, dear, you don't eat nothink, Mr. Vincent," cried his benevolent
hostess; "that comes of study, as I'm always a-telling Tozer. A deal
better, says I, to root the minister out, and get him to move about for
the good of his health, than to put him up to sermons and coorses, when
we're all as pleased as Punch to start with. She lives in Grange Lane,
to be sure, as they most all do as is anything in Carlingford. Fashion's
all--but I like a bit of stir and life myself, and couldn't a-bear them
close walls. But it would be news in Salem that we was spending our
precious time a-talking over a lady like Lady Western; and as for the
woman at the back of the chapel, don't you be led away to go to
everybody as Mrs. Brown sends you to, Mr. Vincent. She's a good soul,
but she's always a-picking up somebody. Tozer's been called up at twelve
o'clock, when we were all a-bed, to see somebody as was dying; and there
was no dying about it, but only Mrs. Brown's way. My son, being at his
eddication for a minister, makes me feel mother-like to a young pastor,
Mr. Vincent. I'd be grateful to anybody as would give my boy warning
when it comes to be his time."

"I almost wonder," said Vincent, with a little natural impatience, "that
you did not struggle on with Mr. Tufton for a little longer, till your
son's education was finished."

Mrs. Tozer held up her head with gratified pride. "He'll be two years
before he's ready, and there's never no telling what may happen in that
time," said the pleased mother, forgetting how little favourable to her
guest was any anticipated contingency. The words were very innocently
spoken, but they had their effect upon Vincent. He made haste to
extricate himself from the urgent hospitality which surrounded him. He
was deafer than ever to Miss Phoebe's remarks, and listened with a
little impatience to Tozer's wisdom. As soon as he could manage it, he
left them, with abundant material for his thoughts. "There's never no
telling what may happen in that time," rang in his ears as he crossed
George Street to his lodging, and the young minister could scarcely
check the disgust and impatience which were rising in his mind. In all
the pride of his young intellect, to be advised by Tozer--to have
warning stories told him of that unfortunate brother in Parson's Green,
whose pretty wife made herself obnoxious to the deacons' wives--to have
the support afforded by the butterman to the chapel thrown in his face
with such an undisguised claim upon his gratitude--oh heaven, was this
what Homerton was to come to? Perhaps he had been brought here, in all
the young flush of his hopes, only to have the life crushed out of him
by those remorseless chapel-managers, and room made over his tarnished
fame and mortified expectations--over his body, as the young man said to
himself in unconscious heroics--for young Tozer's triumphant entrance.
On the whole, it was not to be supposed that to see himself at the mercy
of such a limited and jealous coterie--people proud of their liberality
to the chapel, and altogether unable to comprehend the feelings of a
sensitive and cultivated mind--could be an agreeable prospect to the
young man. Their very approbation chafed him; and if he went beyond
their level, or exceeded their narrow limit, what mercy was he to
expect, what justice, what measure of comprehension? He went home with a
bitterness of disgust in his mind far more intense and tragical than
appeared to be at all necessary in the circumstances, and which only the
fact that this was his first beginning in real life, and that his
imagination had never contemplated the prominent position of the
butter-shop and the Devonshire Dairy, in what he fondly called his new
sphere, could have justified. Perhaps no new sphere ever came up to the
expectations of the neophyte; but to come, if not with too much gospel,
yet with an intellectual Christian mission, an evangelist of refined
nonconformity, an apostle of thought and religious opinion, and to sink
suddenly into "coorses" of sermons and statistics of seat-letting in
Salem--into tea-parties of deacons' wives, and singing-classes--into the
complacent society of those good people who were conscious of doing so
much for the chapel and supporting the minister--that was a downfall not
to be lightly thought of. Salem itself, and the new pulpit, which had a
short time ago represented to poor Vincent that tribune from which he
was to influence the world, that point of vantage which was all a true
man needed for the making of his career, dwindled into a miserable scene
of trade before his disenchanted eyes--a preaching shop, where his
success was to be measured by the seat-letting, and his soul decanted
out into periodical issue under the seal of Tozer & Co. Such, alas! were
the indignant thoughts with which, the old Adam rising bitter and
strong within him, the young Nonconformist hastened home.

And She was Lady Western--the gayest and brightest and highest luminary
in all the society of Carlingford. As well love the moon, who no longer
descends to Endymion, as lift presumptuous eyes to that sweeter planet
which was as much out of reach of the Dissenting minister. Poor fellow!
his room did not receive a very cheerful inmate when he shut the door
upon the world and sat down with his thoughts.



CHAPTER V.


It was about this time, when Mr. Vincent was deeply cast down about his
prospects, and saw little comfort before or around him, and when,
consequently, an interest apart from himself, and which could detach his
thoughts from Salem and its leading members, was of importance, that his
mother's letters began to grow specially interesting. Vincent could not
quite explain how it was, but unquestionably those female epistles had
expanded all at once; and instead of the limited household atmosphere
hitherto breathing in them--an atmosphere confined by the strait cottage
walls, shutting in the little picture which the absent son knew so well,
and in which usually no figure appeared but those of his pretty sister
Susan, and their little servant, and a feminine neighbour or
two--instead of those strict household limits, the world, as we have
said, had expanded round the widow's pen; the cottage walls or windows
seemed to have opened out to disclose the universe beyond: life itself,
and words the symbols of life, seemed quickened and running in a fuller
current; and the only apparent reason for all this revolution was that
one new acquaintance had interrupted Mrs. Vincent's seclusion,--one only
visitor, who, from an unexpected call, recorded with some wonderment a
month or two before, had gained possession of the house apparently, and
was perpetually referred to--by Susan, in her gradually shortening
letters, with a certain timidity and reluctance to pronounce his name;
by the mother with growing frequency and confidence. Vincent, a little
jealous of this new influence, had out of the depths of his own
depression written with some impatience to ask who this Mr. Fordham was,
and how he had managed to establish himself so confidentially in the
cottage, when his mother's letter astounded him with the following piece
of news:--

"MY DEAREST BOY,--Mr. Fordham is, or at least will be--or, if I must be
cautious, as your poor dear papa always warned me I should--wishes very
much, and I hope will succeed in being--your brother, my own Arthur.
This is sudden news, but you know, and I have often told you, that a
crisis always does seem to arrive suddenly; however much you may have
been looking for it, or making up your mind to it, it does come like a
blow at the time; and no doubt there is something in human nature to
account for it, if I was a philosopher, like your dear papa and you.
Yes, my dear boy, that is how it is. Of course, I have known for some
time past that he must have had a motive--no mother could long remain
ignorant of that; and I can't say but what, liking Mr. Fordham so much,
and seeing him _every way so unexceptionable_, except, perhaps, in the
way of means, which we know nothing about, and which I have always
thought a secondary consideration to character, as I always brought up
my children to think, I was very much pleased. For you know, my dear
boy, life is uncertain with the strongest; and I am becoming an old
woman, and you will marry no doubt, and what is to become of Susan
unless she does the same? So I confess I was pleased to see Mr.
Fordham's inclinations showing themselves. And now, dear Arthur, I've
given them my blessing, and they are as happy as ever they can be, and
nothing is wanting to Susan's joy but your sympathy. I need not suggest
to my dear boy to write a few words to his sister to make her feel that
he shares our happiness; for Providence has blessed me in affectionate
children, and I can trust the instincts of my Arthur's heart; and oh! my
dear son, how thankful I ought to be, and how deeply I ought to feel
God's blessings! He has been a father to the fatherless, and the
strength of the widow. To think that before old age comes upon me, and
while I am still able to enjoy the sight of your prosperity, I should
have the happiness of seeing you comfortably settled, and in the way to
do your Master's work, and make yourself a good position, and Susan so
happily provided for, and instead of losing her, a new son to
love--indeed, I am overpowered, and can scarcely hold up my head under
my blessings.

"Write immediately, my dearest boy, that we may have the comfort of your
concurrence and sympathy, and I am always, with much love,

"My Arthur's loving mother,

"E. S. VINCENT.

"_P. S._--Mr. Fordham's account of his circumstances seems quite
satisfactory. He is not in any profession, but has enough, he says, to
live on very comfortably, and is to give me more particulars afterwards;
which, indeed, I am ashamed to think he could imagine necessary, as it
looks like want of trust, and as if Susan's happiness was not the first
thing with us--but indeed I must learn to be prudent and
_self-interested_ for your sakes."

       *       *       *       *       *

It was with no such joyful feelings as his mother's that Vincent read
this letter. Perhaps it was the jealousy with which he had heard of this
unknown Mr. Fordham suddenly jumping into the friendship of the cottage,
which made him contemplate with a most glum and suspicious aspect the
stranger's promotion into the love of Susan, and the motherly regard of
Mrs. Vincent. Hang the fellow! who was he? the young minister murmured
over his spoiled breakfast: and there appeared to him in a halo of sweet
memories, as he had never seen them in reality, the simple graces of his
pretty sister, who was as much above the region of the Phoebe Tozers
as that ineffable beauty herself who had seized with a glance the vacant
throne of poor Arthur Vincent's heart. There was nothing ineffable about
Susan--but her brother had seen no man even in Homerton whom he would
willingly see master of her affections; and he was equally startled,
dissatisfied, and alarmed by this information. Perhaps his mother's
unworldliness was excessive. He imagined that _he_ would have exacted
more positive information about the fortunes of a stranger who had
suddenly appeared without any special business there, who had no
profession, and who might disappear lightly as he came, breaking poor
Susan's heart. Mr. Vincent forgot entirely the natural process by which,
doubtless, his mother's affections had been wooed and won as well as
Susan's. To him it was a stranger who had crept into the house, and
gained ascendancy there. Half in concern for Susan, half in jealousy for
Susan's brother eclipsed, but believing himself to be entirely actuated
by the former sentiment, the young minister wrote his mother a hurried,
anxious, not too good-tempered note, begging her to think how important
a matter this was, and not to come to too rapid a conclusion; and after
he had thus relieved his feelings, went out to his day's work in a more
than usually uncomfortable frame of mind. Mrs. Vincent congratulated
herself upon her son's happy settlement, as well as upon her daughter's
engagement. What if Mr. Fordham should turn out as unsatisfactory as
Salem Chapel? His day's work was a round of visits, which were not very
particularly to Mr. Vincent's mind. It was the day for his weekly call
upon Mr. Tufton and various other members of the congregation not more
attractive; and at Siloam Cottage he was reminded of Mrs. Hilyard, whom
he had not seen again. Here at least was something to be found different
from the ordinary level. He went up to Back Grove Street, not without a
vague expectation in his mind, wondering if that singular stranger would
look as unlike the rest of his flock to-day as she had done on the
former occasion. But when Vincent emerged into the narrow street, what
was that unexpected object which threw the young man into such sudden
agitation? His step quickened unconsciously into the rapid silent stride
of excitement. He was at the shabby door before any of the onlookers had
so much as perceived him in the street. For once more the narrow
pavement owned a little tattered crowd gazing at the pawing horses, the
big footman, the heavenly chariot; and doubtless the celestial visitor
must be within.

Mr. Vincent did not pause to think whether he ought to disturb the
interview which, no doubt, was going on up-stairs. He left himself no
time to consider punctilios, or even to think what was right in the
matter. He went up with that swell of excitement somehow winging his
feet and making his footsteps light. How sweet that low murmur of
conversation within as he reached the door? Another moment, and Mrs.
Hilyard herself opened it, looking out with some surprise, her dark thin
head, in its black lace kerchief, standing out against the bit of shabby
drab-coloured wall visible through the opening of the door. A look of
surprise for one moment, then a gleam of something like mirth lighted in
the dark eyes, and the thin lines about her mouth moved, though no smile
came. "It is you, Mr. Vincent?--come in," she said. "I should not have
admitted any other visitor, but you shall come in, as you are my ghostly
adviser. Sit down. My dear, this gentleman is my minister and spiritual
guide."

And She, sitting there in all her splendour, casting extraordinary
lights of beauty round her upon the mean apartment, perfuming the air
and making it musical with that rustle of woman's robes which had never
been out of poor Vincent's ears since he saw her first;--She lifted her
lovely face, smiled, and bowed her beautiful head to the young man, who
could have liked to go down on his knees, not to ask anything, but
simply to worship. As he dared not do that, he sat down awkwardly upon
the chair Mrs. Hilyard pointed to, and said, with embarrassment, that he
feared he had chosen a wrong time for his visit, and would return
again--but nevertheless did not move from where he was.

"No, indeed; I am very glad to see you. My visitors are not so many,
nowadays, that I can afford to turn one from the door because another
chooses to come the same day. My dear, you understand Mr. Vincent has
had the goodness to take charge of my spiritual affairs," said the
mistress of the room, sitting down, in her dark poor dress, beside her
beautiful visitor, and laying her thin hands, still marked with traces
of the coarse blue colour which rubbed off her work, and of the scars of
the needle, upon the table where that work lay. "Thank heaven that's a
luxury the poorest of us needs not deny herself. I liked your sermon
last Sunday, Mr. Vincent. That about the fashion of treating serious
things with levity, was meant for me. Oh, I didn't dislike it, thank
you! One is pleased to think one's self of so much consequence. There
are more ways of keeping up one's _amour propre_ than _your_ way, my
lady. Now, don't you mean to go? You see I cannot possibly unburden my
mind to Mr. Vincent while you are here."

"Did you ever hear anything so rude?" said the beauty, turning
graciously to the young minister. "You call me a great lady, and all
sorts of things, Rachel; but I never could be as rude as you are, and as
you always were as long as I remember."

"My dear, the height of good-breeding is to be perfectly ill-bred when
one pleases," said Mrs. Hilyard, taking her work upon her knee and
putting on her thimble: "but though you are wonderfully pretty, you
never had the makings of a thorough fine lady in you. You can't help
trying to please everybody--which, indeed, if there were no women in the
world," added that sharp observer, with a sudden glance at Vincent, who
saw the thin lines again move about her mouth, "you might easily do
without giving yourself much trouble. Mr. Vincent, if this lady won't
leave us, might I trouble you to talk? For two strains of thought,
carried on at the same moment, now that I'm out of society, are too
exhausting for me."

With which speech she gravely pinned her work to her knee, threaded her
needle with a long thread of blue cotton, and began her work with the
utmost composure, leaving her two visitors in the awkward _tête-à-tête_
position which the presence of a third person, entirely absorbed in her
own employment, with eyes and face abstracted, naturally produces. Never
in his life had Vincent been so anxious to appear to advantage--never
had he been so totally deprived of the use of his faculties. His eager
looks, his changing colour, perhaps interceded for him with the
beautiful stranger, who was not ignorant of those signs of subjugation
which she saw so often.

"I think it was you that were so good as to clear the way for me the
last time I was here," she said, with the sweetest grace, raising those
lovely eyes, which put even Tozer beside himself, to the unfortunate
pastor's face. "I remember fancying you must be a stranger here, as I
had not seen you anywhere in society. Those wonderful little wretches
never seem to come to any harm. They always appear to me to be
scrambling among the horses' feet. Fancy, Rachel, one of those boys who
flourish in the back streets, with such rags--oh, such rags!--you could
not possibly _make_ them, if you were to try, with scissors--such
perfection must come of itself;--had just pushed in before me, and I
don't know what I should have done, if Mr. ---- (I beg your pardon)--if
_you_ had not cleared the way."

"Mr. Vincent," said Mrs. Hilyard breaking in upon Vincent's deprecation.
"I am glad to hear you had somebody to help you in such a delicate
distress. We poor women can't afford to be so squeamish. What! are you
going away? My dear, be sure you say down-stairs that you brought that
poor creature some tea and sugar, and how grateful she was. That
explains everything, you know, and does my lady credit at the same time.
Good-bye. Well, I'll kiss you if you insist upon it; but what can Mr.
Vincent think to see such an operation performed between us? There! my
love, you can make the men do what you like, but you know of old you
never could conquer me."

"Then you will refuse over and over again--and you don't mind what I
say--and you know he's in Lonsdale, and why he's there, and all about
him----"

"Hush," said the dark woman, looking all the darker as she stood in that
bright creature's shadow. "I know, and always will know, wherever he
goes, and that he is after evil wherever he goes; and I refuse, and
always will refuse--and my darling pretty Alice," she cried, suddenly
going up with rapid vehemence to the beautiful young woman beside her,
and kissing once more the delicate rose-cheek to which her own made so
great a contrast, "I _don't_ mind in the least what you say."

"Ah, Rachel, I don't understand you," said Lady Western, looking at her
wistfully.

"You never did, my dear; but don't forget to mention about the tea and
sugar as you go down-stairs," said Mrs. Hilyard, subsiding immediately,
not without the usual gleam in her eyes and movement of her mouth, "else
it might be supposed you came to have your fortune told, or something
like that; and I wish your ladyship _bon voyage_, and no encounter with
ragged boys in your way. Mr. Vincent," she continued, with great
gravity, standing in the middle of the room, when Vincent, trembling
with excitement, afraid, with the embarrassing timidity of inferior
position, to offer his services, yet chafing in his heart to be obliged
to stay, reluctantly closed the door, which he had opened for Lady
Western's exit, "tell me why a young man of your spirit loses such an
opportunity of conducting the greatest beauty in Carlingford to her
carriage? Suppose she should come across another ragged boy, and faint
on the stairs?"

"I should have been only too happy; but as I am not so fortunate as to
know Lady Western," said the young minister, hesitating, "I feared to
presume----"

With an entirely changed aspect his strange companion interrupted him.
"Lady Western could not think that any man whom she met in _my_ house
presumed in offering her a common civility," said Mrs. Hilyard, with the
air of a duchess, and an imperious gleam out of her dark eyes. Then she
recollected herself, gave her startled visitor a comical look, and
dropped into her chair, before which that coarsest of poor needlewoman's
work was lying. "_My_ house! it does look like a place to inspire
respect, to be sure," she continued, with a hearty perception of the
ludicrous, which Vincent was much too preoccupied to notice. "What fools
we all are! but, my dear Mr. Vincent, you are too modest. My Lady
Western could not frown upon anybody who honoured her with such a rapt
observation. Don't fall in love with her, I beg of you. If she were
merely a flirt, I shouldn't mind, but out of her very goodness she's
dangerous. She can't bear to give pain to anybody, which of course
implies that she gives double and treble pain when the time comes.
There! I've warned you; for of course you'll meet again."

"Small chance of that," said Vincent, who had been compelling himself
to remain quiet, and restraining his impulse, now that the vision had
departed, to rush away out of the impoverished place. "Small chance of
that," he repeated, drawing a long breath, as he listened with intent
ears to the roll of the carriage which carried Her away; "society in
Carlingford has no room for a poor Dissenting minister."

"All the better for him," said Mrs. Hilyard, regarding him with curious
looks, and discerning with female acuteness the haze of excitement and
incipient passion which surrounded him. "Society's all very well for
people who have been brought up in it; but for a young recluse like you,
that don't know the world, it's murder. Don't look affronted. The reason
is, you expect too much--twenty times more than anybody ever finds. But
you don't attend to my philosophy. Thinking of your sermon, Mr. Vincent?
And how is our friend the butterman? I trust life begins to look more
cheerful to you under his advice."

"Life?" said the preoccupied minister, who was gazing at the spot where
that lovely apparition had been; "I find it change its aspects
perpetually. You spoke of Lonsdale just now, did you not? Is it possible
that you know that little place? My mother and sister live there."

"I am much interested to know that you have a mother and sister," said
the poor needlewoman before him, looking up with calm, fine-lady
impertinence in his face. "But you did not hear me speak of Lonsdale; it
was her ladyship who mentioned it. As for me, I interest myself in what
is going on close by, Mr. Vincent. I am quite absorbed in the chapel; I
want to know how you get on, and all about it. I took that you said on
Sunday about levity deeply to heart. I entertain a fond hope that you
will see me improve under your ministrations, even though I may never
come up to the butterman's standard. Some people have too high an ideal.
If you are as much of an optimist as your respected deacon, I fear it
will be ages before I can manage to make you approve of me."

Vincent's wandering thoughts were recalled a little by this attack. "I
hope," he said, rousing himself, "that you don't think me so
inexperienced as not to know that you are laughing at me? But indeed I
should be glad to believe that the services at the chapel might
sometimes perhaps be some _comfort_ to you," added the young pastor,
assuming the dignity of his office. He met his penitent's eyes at the
moment, and faltered, moon-struck as he was, wondering if she saw
through and through him, and knew that he was neither thinking of
consolation nor of clerical duties, but only of those lingering echoes
which, to any ears but his own, were out of hearing. There was little
reason to doubt the acute perceptions of that half-amused,
half-malicious glance.

"_Comfort!_" she cried; "what a very strange suggestion to make! Why,
all the old churches in all the old ages have offered comfort. I thought
you new people had something better to give us; enlightenment," she
said, with a gleam of secret mockery, throwing the word like a
stone--"religious freedom, private judgment. Depend upon it, that is
the _rôle_ expected from you by the butterman. Comfort! one has that in
Rome."

"You never can have that but in conjunction with truth, and truth is not
to be found in Rome," said Vincent, pricking up his ears at so familiar
a challenge.

"We'll not argue, though you do commit yourself by an assertion," said
Mrs. Hilyard; "but oh, you innocent young man, where is the comfort to
come from? Comfort will not let your seats and fill your chapel, even
granting that you knew how to communicate it. I prefer to be instructed,
for my part. You are just at the age, and in the circumstances, to do
that."

"I fear you still speak in jest," said the minister, with some doubt,
yet a little gratification; "but I shall be only too happy to have been
the means of throwing any light to you upon the doctrines of our faith."

For a moment the dark eyes gleamed with something like laughter. But
there was nothing ill-natured in the amusement with which his strange
new friend contemplated the young pastor in the depressions and
confidences of his youth. She answered with a mock gravity which, at
that moment, he was by no means clear-sighted enough to see through.

"Yes," she said, demurely, "be sure you take advantage of your
opportunities, and instruct us as long as you have any faith in
instruction. Leave consolation to another time: but you don't attend to
me, Mr. Vincent; come another day: come on Monday, when I shall be able
to criticise your sermons, and we shall have no Lady Western to put us
out. These beauties are confusing, don't you think? Only, I entreat you,
whatever you do, don't fall in love with her; and now, since I know you
wish it, you may go away."

Vincent stammered a faint protest as he accepted his dismissal, but rose
promptly, glad to be released. Another thought, however, seemed to
strike Mrs. Hilyard as she shook hands with him.

"Do your mother and sister in Lonsdale keep a school?" she said. "Nay,
pray don't look affronted. Clergymen's widows and daughters very often
do in the Church. I meant no impertinence in this case. They don't?
well, that is all I wanted to know. I daresay they are not likely to be
in the way of dangerous strangers. Good-bye; and you must come again on
Monday, when I shall be alone."

"But--dangerous strangers--may I ask you to explain?" said Vincent, with
a little alarm, instinctively recurring to his threatened
brother-in-law, and the news which had disturbed his composure that
morning before he came out.

"I can't explain; and you would not be any the wiser," said Mrs.
Hilyard, peremptorily. "Now, good morning. I am glad they don't keep a
school; because, you know," she added, looking full into his eyes, as if
defying him to make any meaning out of her words, "it is very tiresome,
tedious work, and wears poor ladies out. There!--good-bye; next day you
come I shall be very glad to see you, and we'll have no fine ladies to
put us out."

Vincent had no resource but to let himself out of the shabby little room
which this strange woman inhabited as if it had been a palace. The
momentary alarm roused by her last words, and the state of half offence,
half interest, into which, notwithstanding his pre-occupation, she had
managed to rouse him, died away, however, as he re-entered the poor
little street, which was now a road in Fairyland instead of a lane in
Carlingford, to his rapt eyes. Golden traces of those celestial wheels
surely lingered still upon the way, they still went rolling and echoing
over the poor young minister's heart, which he voluntarily threw down
before that heavenly car of Juggernaut. Every other impression faded out
of his mind, and the infatuated young man made no effort of resistance,
but hugged the enchanted chain. He had seen Her--spoken with
Her--henceforward was of her acquaintance. He cast reason to the winds,
and probability, and every convention of life. Did anybody suppose that
all the world leagued against him could prevent him from seeing her
again? He went home with an unspeakable elation, longing, and
excitement, and at the same time with a vain floating idea in his mind
that, thus inspired, no height of eloquence was impossible to him, and
that triumph of every kind was inevitable. He went home, and got his
writing-desk, and plunged into his lecture, nothing doubting that he
could transfer to his work that glorious tumult of his thoughts; and,
with his paper before him, wrote three words, and sat three hours
staring into the roseate air, and dreaming dreams as wild as any Arabian
tale. Such was the first effort of that chance encounter, in which the
personages were not Lady Western and the poor Dissenting minister, but
Beauty and Love, perennial hero and heroine of the romance that never
ends.



CHAPTER VI.


It was only two days after this eventful meeting that Vincent, idling
and meditative as was natural in such a condition of mind, strayed into
Masters's shop to buy some books. It would have been difficult for him
to have explained why he went there, except, perhaps, because it was the
last place in the world which his masters at the chapel would have
advised him to enter. For there was another bookseller in the town, an
evangelical man, patronised by Mr. Bury, the whilom rector, where all
the Tract Society's publications were to be had, not to speak of a
general range of literature quite wide enough for the minister of Salem.
Masters's was a branch of the London Masters, and, as might be supposed,
was equally amazed and indignant at the intrusion of a Dissenter among
its consecrated book-shelves. He was allowed to turn over all the
varieties of the 'Christian Year' on a side-table before any of the
attendants condescended to notice his presence; and it proved so
difficult to find the books he wanted, and so much more difficult to
find anybody who would take the trouble of looking for them, that the
young Nonconformist, who was sufficiently ready to take offence, began
to get hot and impatient, and had all but strode out of the shop, with a
new mortification to record to the disadvantage of Carlingford. But
just as he began to get very angry, the door swung softly open, and a
voice became audible, lingering, talking to somebody before entering.
Vincent stopped speaking, and stared in the shopman's astonished face
when these tones came to his ear. He fell back instantly upon the
side-table and the 'Christian Year,' forgetting his own business, and
what he had been saying--forgetting everything except that She was
there, and that in another moment they would stand again within the same
walls. He bent over the much-multiplied volume with a beating heart,
poising in one hand a tiny miniature copy just made to slip within the
pocket of an Anglican waistcoat, and in the other the big red-leaved and
morocco-bound edition, as if weighing their respective merits--put
beside himself, in fact, if the truth must be told, oblivious of his
errand, his position--of everything but the fact that She was at the
door. She came in with a sweet flutter and rustle of sound, a perfumed
air entering with her, as the unsuspected enthusiast thought, and began
to lavish smiles, for which he would have given half his life, upon the
people of the place, who flew to serve her. She had her tablets in her
hand, with a list of what she wanted, and held up a dainty forefinger as
she stood reading the items. As one thing after another was mentioned,
Masters and his men darted off in search of it. There were fortunately
enough to give each of them a separate errand, and the principal ranged
his shining wares upon the counter before her, and bathed in her smiles,
while all his satellites kept close at hand, listening with all their
ears for another commission. Blessed Masters! happy shopmen! that one
who looked so blank when Vincent stopped short at the sound of her voice
and stared at him, had forgotten all about Vincent. _She_ was there; and
if a little impromptu litany would have pleased her ladyship, it is
probable that it could have been got up on the spot after the best
models, and that even the Nonconformist would have waived his objections
to liturgical worship and led the responses. But Masters's establishment
offered practical homage--only the poor Dissenting minister, divided
between eagerness and fear, stood silent, flushed with excitement,
turning wistful looks upon her, waiting till perhaps she might turn
round and see him, and letting fall out of his trembling fingers those
unregarded editions of the Anglican lyre.

"And two copies of the 'Christian Year,'" said Lady Western, suddenly.
"Oh, thank you _so_ much! but I know they are all on the side-table, and
I shall go and look at them. Not the very smallest copy, Mr. Masters,
and not that solemn one with the red edges; something pretty, with a
little ornament and gilding: they are for two little _protegées_ of
mine. Oh, here is exactly what I want! another one like this, please.
How very obliging all your people are," said her ladyship, benignly, as
the nearest man dashed off headlong to bring what she wanted--"but I
think it is universal in Carlingford; and indeed the manners of our
country people in general have improved very much of late. Don't you
think so? oh, there can't be a question about it!"

"I beg your ladyship's pardon, I am sure; but perhaps, my lady, it is
not safe to judge the general question from your ladyship's point of
view," said the polite bookseller, with a bow.

"Oh, pray don't say so; I should be wretched if I thought you took more
trouble for me than for other people," said the young Dowager, with a
sweetness which filled Vincent's heart with jealous pangs. She was close
by his side--so close that those sacred robes rustled in his very ear,
and her shawl brushed his sleeve. The poor young man took off his hat in
a kind of ecstasy. If she did not notice him, what did it
matter?--silent adoration, speechless homage, could not affront a queen.

And it was happily very far from affronting Lady Western. She turned
round with a little curiosity, and looked up in his face. "Oh, Mr.--Mr.
Vincent," cried the beautiful creature, brightening in recognition. "How
do you do? I suppose you are a resident in Carlingford now, are not you?
Pardon me, that I did not see you when I came in. How very, very good it
is of you to go and see my--my friend! Did you ever see anything so
dreadful as the place where she lives? and isn't she an extraordinary
creature? Thank you, Mr. Masters; that's exactly what I want. I do
believe she might have been Lord Chancellor, or something, if she had
not been a woman," said the enchantress, once more lifting her lovely
eyes with an expression of awe to Vincent's face.

"She seems a very remarkable person," said Vincent. "To see her where
she is, makes one feel how insignificant are the circumstances of
life."

"Really! now, how do you make out that?" said Lady Western; "for, to
tell the truth, I think, when I see her, oh, how important they are! and
that I'd a great deal rather die than live so. But you clever people
take such strange views of things. Now tell me how you make that out?"

"Nay," said Vincent, lowering his voice with a delicious sense of having
a subject to be confidential upon, "you know what conditions of
existence all her surroundings imply; yet the most ignorant could not
doubt for a moment her perfect superiority to them--a superiority so
perfect," he added, with a sudden insight which puzzled even himself,
"that it is not necessary to assert it."

"Oh, to be sure," said Lady Western, colouring a little, and with a
momentary hauteur, "of course a Russell---- I mean a gentlewoman--must
always look the same to a certain extent; but, alas! I am only a very
commonplace little woman," continued the beauty, brightening into those
smiles which perhaps might be distributed too liberally, but which
intoxicated for the moment every man on whom they fell. "I think those
circumstances which you speak of so disrespectfully are everything! I
have not a great soul to triumph over them. I should break down, or they
would overcome me--oh, you need not shake your head! I know I am right
so far as I myself am concerned."

"Indeed I cannot think so," said the intoxicated young man; "you would
make any circumstances--"

"What?"

But the bewildered youth made no direct reply. He only gazed at her,
grew very red, and said, suddenly, "I beg your pardon," stepping back in
confusion, like the guilty man he was. The lady blushed, too, as her
inquiring eyes met that unexpected response. Used as she was to
adoration, she felt the silent force of the compliment withheld--it was
a thousand times sweeter in its delicate suggestiveness and reserve of
incense than any effusion of words. They were both a little confused for
the moment, poor Vincent's momentary betrayal of himself having somehow
suddenly dissipated the array of circumstances which surrounded and
separated two persons so far apart from each other in every conventional
aspect. The first to regain her place and composure was of course Lady
Western, who made him a pretty playful curtsy, and broke into a low,
sweet ring of laughter.

"Now I shall never know whether you meant to be complimentary or
contemptuous," cried the young Dowager, "which is hard upon a creature
with such a love of approbation as our friend says I have. However, I
forgive you, if you meant to be very cutting, for her sake. It is so
very kind of you to go to see her, and I am sure she enjoys your visits.
Thank you, Mr. Masters, that is all. Have you got the two copies of the
'Christian Year'? Put them into the carriage, please. Mr. Vincent, I am
going to have the last of my summer-parties next Thursday--twelve
o'clock; will you come?--only a cup of coffee, you know, or tea if you
prefer it, and talk _au discretion_. I shall be happy to see you, and I
have some nice friends, and one or two good pictures; so there you have
an account of all the attractions my house can boast of. Do come: it
will be my last party this season, and I rather want it to be a great
success," said the syren, looking up with her sweet eyes.

Vincent could not tell what answer he made in his rapture; but the next
thing he was properly conscious of was the light touch of her hand upon
his arm as he led her to her carriage, some sudden courageous impulse
having prompted him to secure for himself that momentary blessedness. He
walked forth in a dream, conducting that heavenly vision: and there,
outside, stood the celestial chariot with those pawing horses, and the
children standing round with open mouth to watch the lovely lady's
progress. It was he who put her in with such pride and humbleness as
perhaps only a generous but inexperienced young man, suddenly surprised
into passion, could be capable of--ready to kiss the hem of her garment,
or do any other preposterous act of homage--and just as apt to blaze up
into violent self-assertion should any man attempt to humble him who had
been thus honoured. While he stood watching the carriage out of sight,
Masters himself came out to tell the young Nonconformist, whose presence
that dignified tradesman had been loftily unconscious of a few minutes
before, that they had found the book he wanted; and Vincent, thrilling
in every pulse with the unlooked-for blessedness which had befallen
him, was not sorry, when he dropped out of the clouds at the
bookseller's accost, to re-enter that place where this enchantment still
hovered, by way of calming himself down ere he returned to those prose
regions which were his own lawful habitation. He saw vaguely the books
that were placed on the counter before him--heard vaguely the polite
purling of Masters's voice, all-solicitous to make up for the momentary
incivility with which he had treated a friend of Lady Western's--and was
conscious of taking out his purse and paying something for the volume,
which he carried away with him. But the book might have been Sanscrit
for anything Mr. Vincent cared--and he would have paid any fabulous
price for it with the meekest resignation. His attempt to appear
moderately interested, and to conduct this common transaction as if he
had all his wits about him, was sufficient occupation just at this
moment. His head was turned. There should have been roses blossoming all
along the bare pavement of George Street to account for the sweet gleams
of light which warmed the entire atmosphere as he traversed that
commonplace way. Not only the interview just passed, but the meeting to
come, bewildered him with an intoxicating delight. Here, then, was the
society he had dreamed of, opening its perfumed doors to receive him.
From Mrs. Tozer's supper-table to the bowery gates of Grange Lane was a
jump which, ten days ago, would of itself have made the young minister
giddy with satisfaction and pleasure. Now these calm emotions had ceased
to move him; for not society, but a sweeter syren, had thrown chains of
gold round the unsuspecting Nonconformist. With Her, Back Grove Street
was Paradise. Where her habitation was, or what he should see there, was
indifferent to Vincent. He was again to meet Herself.



CHAPTER VII.


The days which intervened between this meeting and Lady Western's party
were spent in a way which the managers of Salem would have been far from
approving of. Mr. Vincent, indeed, was rapt out of himself, out of his
work, out of all the ordinary regions of life and thought. When he sat
down to his sermons, his pen hung idly in his hand, and his mind,
wilfully cheating itself by that semblance of study, went off into long
delicious reveries, indescribable, intangible--a secret sweet
intoxication which forbade labour, yet nourished thought. Though he
sometimes did not write a word in an hour, so deep was the aspect of
studiousness displayed by the young pastor at his writing-desk, and so
entire the silence he maintained in his room, shut up in that world of
dreams which nobody knew anything of, that his landlady, who was one of
his hearers, communicated the fact to Tozer, and expatiated everywhere
upon the extreme devotion to study displayed by the new minister. Old
Mr. Tufton, who had been in the habit of putting together the disjointed
palaver which he called a sermon on the Saturday morning, shook his head
over the information, and doubted that his young brother was resorting
more to carnal than to spiritual means of filling his chapel; but the
members of Salem generally heard the rumour with pride, and felt a
certain distinction accrue to themselves from the possibility that their
pastor might ruin his health by over-study. It was a new sensation in
Salem; and the news, as it was whispered about, certainly came to the
ears of a few of those young men and thinkers, principally poor lawyers'
clerks and drapers' assistants, whom Tozer was so anxious to reach, and
drew two or three doubtful, genteel hearers to the chapel, where Mr.
Vincent's sermon, though no better than usual, and in reality dashed off
at the last moment in sheer desperation, when necessity momentarily
thrust the dreams away, was listened to with a certain awe and devout
attention, solely due to the toil it was reported to have cost. The
young minister himself came out of the pulpit remorseful and ashamed,
feeling that he had neglected his duty, and thoroughly disgusted with
the superficial production, just lighted up with a few fiery sentences
of that eloquence which belongs to excitement and passion, which he had
just delivered. But Tozer and all the deacons buzzed approbation. They
were penetrated with the conviction that he had worked hard at his
sermon, and given them his best, and were not to be undeceived by the
quality of the work itself, which was a secondary matter. More deeply
disgusted and contemptuous than ever was the young pastor at the end of
that Sunday--disgusted with himself to have done his work so
poorly--contemptuous of those who were pleased with it--his heart
swelling with mortified pride to think that what he thought so unworthy
of him was more appreciated than his best efforts. For he did not know
the report that had gone abroad; he did not know that, while brooding
over his own rising passion, and absorbed in dreams with which Salem had
nothing to do, the little world around him was complacently giving him
credit for a purpose of wearing himself out in its behalf. The sermons
so hastily written, thrust into a corner by the overpowering enchantment
of those reveries, were not the only sin he had to charge against
himself. He could not bring himself to bear the irksome society that
surrounded him, in the state of elevation and excitement he was in.
Tozer was unendurable, and Phoebe to be avoided at all costs. He did
not even pay his promised visit to Mrs. Hilyard, nor go to Siloam
Cottage as usual. In short, he spent the days in a kind of dream,
avoiding all his duties, paying no visits, doing no pastoral work,
neglecting the very sermon over which his landlady saw him hanging so
many silent hours, without knowing that all the vacant atmosphere
between him and that blank sheet of paper, in which she saw nothing, was
peopled with fairy visitants and unreal scenes to the dreamy eyes of her
lodger. Such were the first effects of Circe's cup upon the young
minister. He indulged himself consciously, with apologetic
self-remonstrances, as Thursday approached. After that day, life was to
go on as usual. No--not as usual--with a loftier aim and a higher
inspiration; but the season of dreams was to be over when he had real
admittance into that Eden garden, where the woman of all women wandered
among her flowers. He thought what he was to say to her on that
eventful day--how he should charm her into interest in his difficulties,
and beautify his office, and the barren spot in which he exercised it,
with her sympathy. He imagined himself possessed of her ear, certain of
a place by her side, a special guest of her own election. He was not
vain, nor deeply persuaded of his own importance; yet all this seemed
only natural to his excited imagination. He saw himself by her side in
that garden of beatitudes, disclosing to her all that was in his heart;
instinctively he recalled all that the poets have said of woman the
consoler--woman the inspirer. When he had gained that priceless
sympathy, what glorious amends he should make for the few days'
indolence to which he now gave way! Thus in his inexperience he went on,
preparing for himself, as any one a little wiser could have seen at a
glance, one of the bitterest disappointments of early life.

Thursday came, a day of days--such a day as people reckon by, months
after; a soft and bright autumnal morning, breathing like spring. As
Vincent issued from his own door and took his way along George Street to
Grange Lane, he saw the curate of St. Roque's walking before him in the
same direction; but Mr. Wentworth himself was not more orthodoxly
clerical in every detail of his costume than was the young
Nonconformist, who was going, not to Lady Western's breakfast-party, but
into the Bower of Bliss, the fool's paradise of his youth. Mr.
Wentworth, it is true, was to see Lucy Wodehouse there, and was a true
lover; but he walked without excitement to the green gate which
concealed from him no enchanted world of delights, but only a familiar
garden, with every turn of which he was perfectly acquainted, and which,
even when Lucy was by his side, contained nothing ineffable or ecstatic.
It was, to tell the truth, an autumnal garden, bright enough still with
scarlet gleams of geranium and verbena, with a lawn of velvet
smoothness, and no great diminution as yet in the shade of the acacias
and lime-trees, and everything in the most perfect order in the trim
shrubberies, through the skilful mazes of which some bright groups were
already wandering, when Vincent passed through to the sunny open door.
At the open windows within he could see other figures in a pleasant
flutter of gay colour and light drapery, as he advanced breathless to
take his own place in that unknown world. He heard his own name
announced, and went in, with a chill of momentary doubt upon his high
expectations, into the airy sunshiny room, with its gay, brilliant,
rustling crowd, the ladies all bright and fresh in their pretty
morning-dresses, and the din of talk and laughter confusing his
unaccustomed ears. For a moment the stranger stood embarrassed, looking
round him, eagerly investigating the crowd for that one face, which was
not only the sole face of woman in the world so far as he was concerned,
but in reality the only face he knew in the gay party, where everybody
except himself knew everybody else. Then he saw her, and his doubts were
over. When she perceived him, she made a few steps forward to meet him
and held out her hand.

"I am so glad to see you--how kind of you to come!" said Lady Western;
"and such a beautiful day--just what I wanted for my last fête. Have you
seen my friend again since I saw you, Mr. Vincent--quite well, I hope?
Now, do have some coffee.--How do you do, Mr. Wentworth? You have been
here full five minutes, and you have never paid your respects to me.
Even under the circumstances, you know, one cannot overlook such
neglect."

"I am too deeply flattered that your ladyship should have observed my
entrance to be able to make any defence," said the curate of St.
Roque's, who could speak to her as to any ordinary woman; "but as for
circumstances----"

"Oh dear, yes, we all know," cried Lady Western, with her sweet laugh.
"Was it you, Mr. Vincent, who were saying that circumstances were
everything in life?--oh, no, I beg your pardon, quite the reverse. I
remember it struck me as odd and clever. Now, I daresay, you two could
quite settle that question. I am such an ignoramus. So kind of you to
come!"

Vincent was about to protest his delight in coming, and to deprecate the
imputation of kindness, but ere he had spoken three words, he suddenly
came to a stop, perceiving that not only Lady Western's attention but
her ear was lost, and that already another candidate for her favour had
possession of the field. He stepped back into the gay assembly,
disturbing one group, the members of which all turned to look at him
with well-bred curiosity. He stood quite alone and silent for some time,
waiting if, perhaps, he could catch the eye of Lady Western. But she
was surrounded, swept away, carried off even from his neighbourhood,
while he stood gazing. And here was he left, out of the sunshine of her
presence in the midst of Carlingford society, knowing nobody, while
every face smiled and every tongue was busy but his own: talk _au
discretion!_ such there certainly was--but Vincent had never in his life
felt so preposterously alone, so dismally silent, so shut up in himself.
If he had come to woo society, doubtless he could have plucked up a
spirit, and made a little effort for his object. But he had come to see
Her, flattering himself with vain dreams of securing her to himself--of
wandering by her side through those garden-paths, of keeping near her
whenever she moved--and the dream had intoxicated him more deeply than
even he himself was aware of. Now he woke to his sober wits with a chill
of mortification and disappointment not to be expressed. He stood
silent, following her with his eyes as she glided about from one corner
to the other of the crowded room. He had neither eyes nor ears for
anything else. Beautiful as she had always been, she was lovelier than
ever to-day, with her fair head uncovered and unadorned, her beautiful
hair glancing in the gleams of sunshine, her tiny hands ungloved. Poor
Vincent drew near a window, when it dawned upon his troubled perception
that he was standing amidst all those chattering, laughing people, a
silent statue of disappointment and dismay, and from that little refuge
watched her as she made her progress. And, alas! Lady Western assured
everybody that they were "_so_ kind" to come--she distributed her
smiles, her kind words, everywhere. She beamed upon the old men and the
young, the handsome and the stupid, with equal sweetness. After a while,
as he stood watching, Vincent began to melt in his heart. She was
hostess--she had the party's pleasure to think of, not her own. If he
could but help her, bring himself to her notice again in some other way!
Vincent made another step out of his window, and looked out eagerly with
shy scrutiny. Nobody wanted his help. They stared at him, and whispered
questions who he was. When he at length nerved himself to speak to his
next neighbour, he met with a courteous response and no more. Society
was not cruel, or repulsive, or severely exclusive, but simply did not
know him, could not make out who he was, and was busy talking that
conversation of a limited sphere full of personal allusions into which
no stranger could enter. Instead of the ineffable hour he expected, an
embarrassing, unbearable tedium was the lot of the poor Dissenting
minister by himself among the beauty, wit, and fashion of Carlingford.
He would have stolen away but for the forlorn hope that things might
mend--that Lady Western might return, and that the sunshine he had
dreamed of would yet fall upon him. But no such happiness came to the
unfortunate young minister. After a while, a perfectly undistinguished
middle-aged individual charitably engaged Mr. Vincent in conversation;
and as they talked, and while the young man's eager wistful eyes
followed into every new combination of the little crowd that one fair
figure which had bewitched him, it became apparent that the company was
flowing forth into the garden. At last Vincent stopped short in the
languid answer he was making to his respectable interlocutor with a
sudden start and access of impatience. The brilliant room had suddenly
clouded over. She had joined her guests outside. With bitterness, and a
sharp pang at his heart, Vincent looked round and wondered to find
himself in the house, in the company, from which she had gone. What
business had he there? No link of connection existed between him and
this little world of unknown people except herself. She had brought him
here; she alone knew even so much of him as his name. He had not an inch
of ground to stand on in the little alien assembly when she was not
there. He broke off his conversation with his unknown sympathiser
abruptly, and rushed out, meaning to leave the place. But somehow,
fascinated still, in a hundred different moods a minute, when he got
outside, he too lingered about the paths, where he continually met with
groups and stray couples who stared at him, and wondered again,
sometimes not inaudibly, who he was. He met her at last under the shadow
of the lime-trees with a train of girls about her, and a following of
eager male attendants. When he came forward lonely to make his farewell,
with a look in which he meant to unite a certain indignation and
reproach with still chivalrous devotion, the unconscious beauty met him
with unabated sweetness, held out her hand as before, and smiled the
most radiant of smiles.

"Are you going to leave us already?" she said, in a tone which half
persuaded the unlucky youth to stay till the last moment, and swallow
all his mortifications. "So sorry you must go away so soon! and I wanted
to show you my pictures too. Another time, I hope, we may have better
fortune. When you come to me again, you must really be at leisure, and
have no other engagements. Good-bye! It was _so_ kind of you to come,
and I am so sorry you can't stay!"

In another minute the green door had opened and closed, the fairy vision
was gone, and poor Vincent stood in Grange Lane between the two blank
lines of garden-wall, come back to the common daylight after a week's
vain wandering in the enchanted grounds, half stupefied, half maddened
by the disappointment and downfall. He made a momentary pause at the
door, gulped down the big indignant sigh that rose in his throat, and,
with a quickened step and a heightened colour, retraced his steps along
a road which no longer gleamed with any rosy reflections, but was
harder, more real, more matter-of-fact than ever it had looked before.
What a fool he had been, to be led into such a false position!--to be
cheated of his peace, and seduced from his duty, and intoxicated into
such absurdities of hope, all by the gleam of a bright eye, and the
sound of a sweet voice! He who had never known the weakness before, to
cover himself with ridicule, and compromise his dignity so entirely for
the sake of the first beautiful woman who smiled upon him! Poor Vincent!
He hurried to his rooms thrilling with projects, schemes, and sudden
vindictive ambition. That fair creature should learn that the young
Nonconformist was worthy of her notice. Those self-engrossed simperers
should yet be startled out of their follies by the new fame rising up
amongst them. Who was he, did they ask? One day they should know.

That the young man should despise himself for this outbreak of injured
feeling, as soon as he had cooled down, was inevitable; but it took some
considerable time to cool down; and in the mean time his resolution rose
and swelled into that heroic region which youth always attains so
easily. He thought himself disenchanted for ever. That night, in bitter
earnest, he burned the midnight oil--that night his pen flew over the
paper with outbreaks, sometimes indignant, sometimes pathetic, on
subjects as remote as possible from Lady Western's breakfast-party; and
with a sudden revulsion he bethought himself of Salem and its oligarchy,
which just now prophesied so much good of their new minister. He
accepted Salem with all the heat of passion at that moment. His be the
task to raise it and its pastor into a common fame!



CHAPTER VIII.


The events above narrated were all prefatory of the great success
accomplished by Mr. Vincent in Carlingford. Indeed, the date of the
young minister's fame--fame which, as everybody acquainted with that
town must be aware, was widely diffused beyond Carlingford itself, and
even reached the metropolis, and gladdened his _Alma Mater_ at
Homerton--might almost be fixed by a reference to Lady Western's
housekeeping book, if she kept any, and the date of her last
summer-party. That event threw the young Nonconformist into just the
state of mind which was wanted to quicken all the prejudices of his
education, and give individual force to all the hereditary limits of
thought in which he had been born. An attempt on the part of the
Government to repeal the Toleration Act, or reinstate the Test, could
scarcely have produced a more permanent and rapid effect than Lady
Western's neglect, and the total ignorance of Mr. Vincent displayed by
polite society in Carlingford. No shame to him. It was precisely the
same thing in private life which the other would have been in public.
Repeal of the Toleration Act, or re-enactment of the Test, are things
totally impossible; and when persecution is not to be apprehended or
hoped for, where but in the wrongs of a privileged class can the true
zest of dissidence be found? Mr. Vincent, who had received his
dissenting principles as matters of doctrine, took up the familiar
instruments now with a rush of private feeling. He was not conscious of
the power of that sentiment of injury and indignation which possessed
him. He believed in his heart that he was but returning, after a
temporary hallucination, to the true duties of his post; but the fact
was, that this wound in the tenderest point--this general slight and
indifference--pricked him forward in all that force of personal
complaint which gives warmth and piquancy to a public grievance. The
young man said nothing of Lady Western even to his dearest friend--tried
not to think of her except by way of imagining how she should one day
hear of him, and know his name when it possessed a distinction which
neither the perpetual curate of St. Roque's, nor any other figure in
that local world, dared hope for. But with fiery zeal he flew to the
question of Church and State, and set forth the wrongs which
Christianity sustained from endowment, and the heinous evils of rich
livings, episcopal palaces, and spiritual lords. It was no mean or
ungenerous argument which the young Nonconformist pursued in his fervour
of youth and wounded self-regard. It was the natural cry of a man who
had entered life at disadvantage, and chafed, without knowing it, at all
the phalanx of orders and classes above him, standing close in order to
prevent his entrance. With eloquent fervour he expatiated upon the
kingdom that was not of this world. If these words were true, what had
the Church to do with worldly possessions, rank, dignities, power? Was
his Grace of Lambeth more like Paul the tentmaker than his Holiness of
Rome? Mr. Vincent went into the whole matter with genuine conviction,
and confidence in his own statements. He believed and had been trained
in it. In his heart he was persuaded that he himself, oft disgusted and
much misunderstood in his elected place at Salem Chapel, ministered the
gospel more closely to his Master's appointment than the rector of
Carlingford, who was nominated by a college; or the curate of St.
Roque's, who had his forty pounds a-year from a tiny ancient endowment,
and was spending his own little fortune on his church and district.
These men had joined God and mammon--they were in the pay of the State.
Mr. Vincent thundered forth the lofty censures of an evangelist whom the
State did not recognise, and with whom mammon had little enough to do.
He brought forth all the weapons out of the Homerton armoury, new,
bright, and dazzling; and he did not know any more than his audience
that he never would have wielded them so heartily--perhaps would
scarcely have taken them off the wall--but for the sudden sting with
which his own inferior place, and the existence of a privileged class
doubly shut against his entrance, had quickened his personal
consciousness. Such, however, was the stimulus which woke the minister
of Salem Chapel into action, and produced that series of lectures on
Church and State which, as everybody knows, shook society in Carlingford
to its very foundation.

"Now we've got a young man as is a credit to us," said Tozer; "and now
he's warming to his work, as I was a little afraid of at first; for
somehow I can't say as I could see to my satisfaction, when he first
come, that his heart was in it,--I say, now as we've got a pastor as
does us credit, I am not the man to consider a bit of expense. My
opinion is as we should take the Music Hall for them lectures. There's
folks might go to the Music Hall as would never come to Salem, and we're
responsible for our advantages. A clever young man like Mr. Vincent
ain't to be named along with Mr. Tufton; we're the teachers of the
community, that's what we are. I am for being public-spirited--I always
was; and I don't mind standing my share. My opinion is as we should take
the Music Hall."

"If we was charging sixpence a-head or so----" said prudent Pigeon, the
poulterer.

"That's what I'll never give my consent to--never!" said Tozer. "If we
was amusin' the people, we might charge sixpence a-head; but mark my
words," continued the butterman, "there ain't twenty men in Carlingford,
nor in no other place, as would give sixpence to have their minds
enlightened. No, sir, we're conferring of a boon; and let's do it
handsomely, I say--let's do it handsomely; and here's my name down for
five pound to clear expenses: and if every man in Salem does as well,
there ain't no reason for hesitating. I'm a plain man, but I don't make
no account of a little bit of money when a principle's at stake."

This statement was conclusive. When it came to the sacrifice of a little
bit of money, neither Mrs. Pigeon nor Mrs. Brown could have endured
life had their husbands yielded the palm to Tozer. And the Music Hall
was accordingly taken; and there, every Wednesday for six weeks, the
young Nonconformist mounted his _cheval de bataille_, and broke his
impetuous spear against the Church. Perhaps Carlingford was in want of a
sensation at the moment; and the town was virgin soil, and had never yet
been invaded by sight or sound of heresy. Anyhow, the fact was, that
this fresh new voice attracted the ear of the public. That personal
impetuosity and sense of wrong which gave fire to the discourse, roused
the interest of the entire community. Mr. Vincent's lectures became the
fashion in Carlingford, where nobody in the higher levels of society had
ever heard before of the amazing evils of a Church Establishment. Some
of the weaker or more candid minds among the audience were even upset by
the young minister's arguments. Two or three young people of both sexes
declared themselves converted, and were persecuted to their hearts'
desire when they intimated their intention of henceforward joining the
congregation of Salem. The two Miss Hemmings were thrown into a state of
great distress and perplexity, and wrung their hands, and looked at each
other, as each new enormity was brought forth. A very animated
interested audience filled the benches in the Music Hall for the three
last lectures. It was Mr. Tozer's conviction, whispered in confidence to
all the functionaries at Salem, that the rector himself, in a muffler
and blue spectacles, listened in a corner to the voice of rebellion; but
no proof of this monstrous supposition ever came before the public.
Notwithstanding, the excitement was evident. Miss Wodehouse took
tremulous notes, her fingers quivering with anger, with the intention of
calling upon Mr. Wentworth to answer and deny these assertions. Dr.
Marjoribanks, the old Scotchman, who in his heart enjoyed a hit at the
Episcopate, cried "Hear, hear," with his sturdy northern _r_ rattling
through the hall, and clapped his large brown hands, with a broad grin
at his daughter, who was "high," and one of Mr. Wentworth's sisters of
mercy. But poor little Rose Lake, the drawing-master's daughter, who was
going up for confirmation next time the bishop came to Carlingford,
turned very pale under Mr. Vincent's teaching. All the different phases
of conviction appeared in her eager little face--first indignation, then
doubt, lastly horror and intense determination to flee out from Babylon.
Her father laughed, and told her to attend to her needlework, when Rose
confided to him her troubles. Her needlework! She who had just heard
that the Church was rotten, and tottering on its foundations; that it
was choked with filthy lucre and State support; that Church to which she
had been about to give in her personal adhesion. Rose put away her
catechism and confirmation good-books, and crossed to the other side of
the street that she might not pass Masters's, that emporium of evil. She
looked wistfully after the young Nonconformist as he passed her on the
streets, wondering what high martyr-thoughts must be in the apostolic
mind which entertained so high a contempt for all the honours and
distinctions of this world. Meanwhile Mr. Vincent pursued his own way,
entirely convinced, as was natural for a young man, that he was "doing a
great work" in Carlingford. He was still in that stage of life when
people imagine that you have only to state the truth clearly to have it
believed, and that to convince a man of what is right is all that is
necessary to his immediate reformation. But it was not with any very
distinct hopes or wishes of emptying the church in Carlingford, and
crowding Salem Chapel, that the young man proceeded. Such expectations,
high visions of a day to come when not a sitting could be had in Salem
for love or money, did indeed glance into the souls of Tozer and his
brother deacons; but the minister did not stand up and deliver his blow
at the world--his outcry against things in general--his warm youthful
assertion that he too had a right to all the joys and privileges of
humanity,--as, by means of sermons, lectures, poems, or what not, youth
and poverty, wherever they have a chance, do proclaim their protest
against the world.

On the last night of the lectures, just as Vincent had taken his place
upon his platform, a rustle, as of some one of importance entering,
thrilled the audience. Looking over the sea of heads before him, the
breath almost left the young minister's lips when he saw the young
Dowager, in all the glory of full-dress, threading her way through the
crowd, which opened to let her pass. Mr. Vincent stood watching her
progress, unaware that it was time for him to begin, and that his
hearers, less absorbed than he, were asking each other what it was which
had so suddenly paled his face and checked his utterance. He watched
Lady Western and her companion come slowly forward; he saw Tozer, in a
delighted bustle, leading the way to one of the raised seats of the
orchestra close to the platform. When they were seated, and not till
then, the lecturer, drawing a long gasping breath, turned to his
audience. But the crowd was hazy to his eyes. He began, half
mechanically, to speak--then made a sudden pause, his mind occupied with
other things. On the very skirts of the crowd, far back at the door,
stood his friend of Back Grove Street. In that momentary pause, he saw
her standing alone, with the air of a person who had risen up
unconsciously in sudden surprise and consternation. Her pale dark face
looked not less confused and startled than Vincent himself was conscious
of looking, and her eyes were turned in the same direction as his had
been the previous moment. The crowd of Carlingford hearers died off from
the scene for the instant, so far as the young Nonconformist was
concerned. He knew but of that fair creature in all her sweet bloom and
blush of beauty--the man who accompanied her--Mrs. Hilyard, a thin,
dark, eager shadow in the distance--and himself standing, as it were,
between them, connecting all together. What could that visionary link be
which distinguished and separated these four, so unlike each other, from
all the rest of the world? But Mr. Vincent had no leisure to follow out
the question, even had his mind been sufficiently clear to do it. He saw
the pale woman at the end of the hall suddenly drop into her seat, and
draw a thick black veil over her face; and the confused murmur of
impatience in the crowd before him roused the young man to his own
position. He opened the eyes which had been hazing over with clouds of
imagination and excitement. He delivered his lecture. Though he never
was himself aware what he had said, it was received with just as much
attention and applause as usual. He got through it somehow; and, sitting
down at last, with parched lips and a helpless feeling of excitement,
watched the audience dispersing, as if they were so many enemies from
whom he had escaped. Who was this man with Her? Why did She come to
bewilder him in the midst of his work? It did not occur to the poor
young fellow that Lady Western came to his lecture simply as to a
"distraction." He thought she had a purpose in it. He pretended not to
look as she descended daintily from her seat in the orchestra, drawing
her white cloak with a pretty shiver over her white shoulders. He
pretended to start when her voice sounded in his expectant ear.

"Oh, Mr. Vincent, how very clever and wicked of you!" cried Lady
Western. "I am so horrified, and charmed. To think of you attacking the
poor dear old Church, that we all ought to support through everything!
And I am such a stanch churchwoman, and so shocked to hear all this; but
you won't do it any more."

Saying this, Lady Western leaned her beautiful hand upon Mr. Vincent's
table, and looked in his face with a beseeching insinuating smile. The
poor minister did all he could to preserve his virtue. He looked aside
at Lady Western's companion to fortify himself, and escape the
enervating influence of that smile.

"I cannot pretend to yield the matter to your ladyship," said Vincent,
"for it had been previously arranged that this was to be the last of my
lectures at present. I am sorry it did not please you."

"But it did please me," said the young Dowager; "only that it was so
very wicked and wrong. Where did you learn such dreadful sentiments? I
am so sorry I shan't hear you again, and so glad you are finished. You
never came to see me after my little fête. I am afraid you thought us
stupid. Good-night: but you really must come to me, and I shall convert
you. I am sure you never can have looked at the Church in the right way:
why, what would become of us if we were all Dissenters? What a frightful
idea! Thank you for such a charming evening. Good-night."

And Lady Western held out that "treasured splendour, her hand," to the
bewildered Nonconformist, who only dared touch it, and let it fall,
drawing back from the smile with which the syren beguiled him back again
into her toils. But Mr. Vincent turned round hastily as he heard a
muttered exclamation, "By Jove!" behind him, and fixed the gaze of angry
and instinctive repugnance upon the tall figure which brushed past.
"Make haste, Alice--do you mean to stay here all night?" said this
wrathful individual, fixing his eyes with a defiant stare upon the
minister; and he drew the beauty's arm almost roughly into his own, and
hurried her away, evidently remonstrating in the freest and boldest
manner upon her civility. "By Jove! the fellow will think you are in
love with him," Vincent, with his quickened and suspicious ears, could
hear the stranger say, with that delightful indifference to being
overheard which characterises some Englishmen of the exalted classes;
and the strain of reproof evidently continued as they made their way to
the door. Vincent, for his part, when he had watched them out of sight,
dropped into his chair, and sat there in the empty hall, looking over
the vacant benches with the strangest mixture of feelings. Was it
possible that his eager fervour and revolutionary warmth were diminished
by these few words and that smile?--that the wrongs of Church and State
looked less grievous all at once, and that it was an effort to return to
the lofty state of feeling with which he had entered the place two hours
ago? As he sat there in his reverie of discomfiture, he could see Tozer,
a single black figure, come slowly up the hall, an emissary from the
group at the door of "chapel people," who had been enjoying the defeat
of the enemy, and were now waiting for the conqueror. "Mr. Vincent,"
shouted Tozer, "shall we turn off the gas, and leave you to think it all
over till the morning, sir? They're all as pleased as Punch and as
curious as women down below here, and my Phoebe will have it you're
tired. I must say as it is peculiar to see you a-sitting up there all by
yourself, and the lights going out, and not another soul in the place,"
added the butterman, looking round with a sober grin; and in reality the
lights diminished every moment as Mr. Vincent rose and stumbled down
from his platform into the great empty hall with its skeleton benches.
If they _had_ left him there till the morning, it would have been a
blessed exchange from that walk home with the party, that invitation to
supper, and all the applauses and inquiries that followed. They had the
Pigeons to supper that night at the butter-shop, and the whole matter
was discussed in all its bearings--the flutter of the "Church folks,"
the new sittings let during the week, the triumphant conviction of the
two deacons that Salem would soon be overflowing.

    "Oh, why were 'deacons' made so coarse,
      Or parsons made so fine?"

Mr. Vincent did not bethink himself of that touching ditty. He could not
see the serio-comic lights in which the whole business abounded. It was
all the saddest earnest to the young pastor, who found so little
encouragement or support even in the enthusiasm of his flock.

"And, oh, Mr. Vincent," said the engaging Phoebe, in a half-whisper
aside, "how _did_ you come to be so friendly with Lady Western? How she
did listen, to be sure! and smiled at you _so_ sweetly. Ah, I don't
wonder now that you can't see anything in the Carlingford young ladies;
but do tell us, please, how you came to know her so well?"

Insensibly to himself, a gleam of gratification lighted up Mr. Vincent's
face. He was gracious to Phoebe. "I can't pretend to know her _well_,"
he said, with a little mock humility; whereupon the matrons of the party
took up their weapons immediately.

"And all the better, Mr. Vincent--all the better!" cried Mrs. Tozer;
"she didn't come there for no good, you may be sure. Them great ladies,
when they're pretty-looking, as I don't deny she's pretty-looking----"

"Oh, mamma, beautiful!" exclaimed Phoebe.

"When they're pretty-looking, as I say," continued Mrs. Tozer, "they're
no better nor evil spirits--that's what I tell you, Phoebe. They'll go
out o' their way, they will, for to lay hold on a poor silly young man
(which was not meaning you, Mr. Vincent, that knows better, being a
minister), and when they've got him fast, they'll laugh at him--that's
their sport. A minister of our connection as was well acquainted among
them sort of folks would be out o' nature. My boy shall never make no
such acquaintances as long as I'm here."

"I saw her a-speaking to the minister," said Mrs, Pigeon, "and the
thought crossed my mind as it wasn't just what I expected of Mr.
Vincent. Painted ladies, that come out of a night with low necks and
flowers in their hair, to have all Carlingford a-staring at them, ain't
fit company for a good pastor. _Them's_ not the lambs of the flock--not
so far as I understand; they're not friends as Salem folks would approve
of, Mr. Vincent. I'm always known for a plain speaker, and I don't
deceive you. It's a deal better to draw back in time."

"I have not the least reason to believe that Lady Western means to
honour me with her friendship," said Vincent, haughtily--"so it is
premature to discuss the matter. As I feel rather tired, perhaps you'll
excuse me to-night. Come over to my rooms, Mr. Tozer, to-morrow, if you
can spare a little time and we will discuss our business there. I hope
Mrs. Tozer will pardon me withdrawing so early, but I am not very
well--rather tired--out of sorts a little to-night."

So saying, the young pastor extricated himself from the table, shook
hands, regardless of all remonstrances, and made his way out with some
difficulty from the little room, which was choke-full, and scarcely
permitted egress. When he was gone, the three ladies looked at each
other in dumb amazement. Phoebe, who felt herself aggrieved, was the
first to break silence.

"Ma and Mrs. Pigeon," cried the aggravated girl, "you've been and hurt
his feelings. I knew you would. He's gone home angry and disappointed;
he thinks none of us understand him; he thinks we're trying to humble
him and keep him down, when, to tell the truth----"

Here Phoebe burst into tears.

"Upon _my_ word," said Mrs. Pigeon, "dear, deary me! It's just what I
said whenever I knew you had made up your minds to a _young_ minister.
He'll come a-dangling after our girls, says I, and a-trifling with their
affections. Bless my heart, Phoebe! if it had been my Maria now that's
always a-crying about something--but you! Don't take on,
dear--fretting's no good--it'll spoil your colour and take away your
appetite, and that ain't the way to mend matters: and to think of his
lifting his eyes to my Lady Dowager! Upon _my_ word! but there ain't no
accounting for young men's ways no more than for girls--and being a
minister don't make a bit of difference, so far as I can see."

"Why, what's the matter?" cried Tozer: "the pastor's gone off in a huff,
and Phoebe crying. What's wrong? You've been saying somethin'--you
women with your sharp tongues."

"It's Phoebe and Mr. Vincent have had some words. Be quiet,
Tozer--don't you see the child's hurt in her feelings?" said his wife.

Mr. and Mrs. Pigeon exchanged looks. "I'll tell you what it is," said
the latter lady, solemnly. "It's turned his head. I never approved of
the Music Hall myself. It's a deal of money to throw away, and it's not
like as if it was mercy to poor souls. And such a crush, and the
cheering, and my Lady Western to shake hands with him, has turned the
minister's head. Now, just you mark my words. He hasn't been here three
month yet, and he's a-getting high already. You men'll have your own
adoes with him. Afore a year's over our heads, he'll be a deal too high
for Salem. His head's turned--that's what it is."

"Oh, Mrs. Pigeon, how unkind of you!" cried Phoebe, "when he's as good
as good--and not a bit proud, nor ever was--and always such a
gentleman!--and never neglects the very poorest whenever he's sent
for--oh, it's _so_ unkind of you."

"I can't see as his head isn't straight enough on his shoulders," said
Tozer himself, with authority. "He's tired, that's what it is--and
excited a bit, I shouldn't wonder: a man can't study like he does, and
make hisself agreeable at the same time--no, no--by a year's time he'll
be settling down, and we'll know where we are; and as for Salem and our
connection, they never had a chance, I can tell you, like what they're
a-going to have now."

But Mrs. Pigeon shook her head. It was the first cloud that had risen on
the firmament of Salem Chapel, so far as Mr. Vincent was concerned.



CHAPTER IX.


It was a January night on which Vincent emerged abruptly from Tozer's
door, the evening of that lecture--a winter night, not very cold, but
very dark, the skies looking not blue, but black overhead, and the light
of the lamps gleaming dismally on the pavement, which had received a
certain squalid power of reflection from the recent rain; for a sharp,
sudden shower had fallen while Vincent had been seated at the hospitable
table of the butterman, which had chased everybody from the darkling
streets. All the shops were closed, a policeman marched along with heavy
tread, and the wet pavement glimmered round his solitary figure. Nothing
more uncomfortable could be supposed after the warmth and light of a
snug interior, however humble; and the minister turned his face hastily
in the direction of his lodging. But the next moment he turned back
again, and looked wistfully in the other direction. It was not to gaze
along the dark length of street to where the garden-walls of Grange
Lane, undiscernible in the darkness, added a far-withdrawing perspective
of gentility and aristocratic seclusion to the vulgar pretensions of
George Street; it was to look at a female figure which came slowly up,
dimming out the reflection on the wet stones as it crossed one streak of
lamplight after another. Vincent was excited and curious, and had
enough in his own mind to make him wistful for sympathy, if it were to
be had from any understanding heart. He recognised Mrs. Hilyard
instinctively as she came forward, not conscious of him, walking,
strange woman as she was, with the air of a person walking by choice at
that melancholy hour in that dismal night. She was evidently not going
anywhere: her step was firm and distinct, like the step of a person
thoroughly self-possessed and afraid of nothing--but it lingered with a
certain meditative sound in the steady firm footfall. Vincent felt a
kind of conviction that she had come out here to think over some problem
of that mysterious life into which he could not penetrate, and he
connected this strange walk involuntarily with the appearance of Lady
Western and her careless companion. To his roused fancy, some
incomprehensible link existed between himself and the equally
incomprehensible woman before him. He turned back almost in spite of
himself, and went to meet her. Mrs. Hilyard looked up when she heard his
step. She recognised him also on the spot. They approached each other
much as if they had arranged a meeting at eleven o'clock of that wet
January night in the gleaming, deserted streets.

"It is you, Mr. Vincent!" she said. "I wonder why I happen to meet you,
of all persons in the world, to-night. It is very odd. What, I wonder,
can have brought us both together at such an hour and in such a place?
You never came to see me that Monday--nor any Monday. You went to see
my beauty instead, and you were so lucky as to be affronted with the
syren at the first glance. Had you been less fortunate, I think I might
have partly taken you into my confidence to-night."

"Perhaps I _am_ less fortunate, if that is all that hinders," said
Vincent; "but it is strange to see you out here so late in such a dismal
night. Let me go with you, and see you safe home."

"Thank you. I am perfectly safe--nobody can possibly be safer than such
a woman as I am, in poverty and middle age," said his strange
acquaintance. "It is an immunity that women don't often prize, Mr.
Vincent, but it is very valuable in its way. If anybody saw you talking
to an equivocal female figure at eleven o'clock in George Street, think
what the butterman would say; but a single glimpse of my face would
explain matters better than a volume. I am going down towards Grange
Lane, principally because I am restless to-night, and don't know what to
do with myself. I shall tell you what I thought of your lecture if you
will walk with me to the end of the street."

"Ah, my lecture?--never mind," said the hapless young minister; "I
forget all about that. What is it that brings you here, and me to your
side?--what is there in that dark-veiled house yonder that draws your
steps and mine to it? It is not accidental, our meeting here."

"You are talking romance and nonsense, quite inconceivable in a man who
has just come from the society of deacons," said Mrs. Hilyard, glancing
up at him with that habitual gleam of her eyes. "We have met, my dear
Mr. Vincent, because, after refreshing my mind with your lecture, I
thought of refreshing my body by a walk this fresh night. One saves
candles, you know, when one does one's exercise at night: whereas
walking by day one wastes everything--time, tissue, daylight, invaluable
treasures: the only light that hurts nobody's eyes, and costs nobody
money, is the light of day. That illustration of yours about the clouds
and the sun was very pretty. I assure you I thought the whole
exceedingly effective. I should not wonder if it made a revolution in
Carlingford."

"Why do you speak to me so? I know you did not go to listen to my
lecture," said the young minister, to whom sundry gleams of
enlightenment had come since his last interview with the poor
needle-woman of Back Grove Street.

"Ah! how can you tell that?" she said, sharply, looking at him in the
streak of lamplight. "But to tell the truth," she continued, "I did
actually go to hear you, and to look at other people's faces, just to
see whether the world at large--so far as that exists in
Carlingford--was like what it used to be; and if I confess I saw
something there more interesting than the lecture, I say no more than
the lecturer could agree in, Mr. Vincent. You, too, saw something that
made you forget the vexed question of Church and State."

"Tell me," said Vincent, with an earnestness he was himself surprised
at, "who was that man?"

His companion started as if she had received a blow, turned round upon
him with a glance in her dark eyes such as he had never seen there
before, and in a sudden momentary passion drew her breath hard, and
stopped short on the way. But the spark of intense and passionate
emotion was as shortlived as it was vivid. "I do not suppose he is
anything to interest you," she answered the next moment, with a movement
of her thin mouth, letting the hands that she had clasped together drop
to her side. "Nay, make yourself quite easy; he is not a lover of my
lady's. He is only a near relation:--and," she continued, lingering on
the words with a force of subdued scorn and rage, which Vincent dimly
apprehended, but could not understand, "a very fascinating fine
gentleman--a man who can twist a woman round his fingers when he likes,
and break all her heartstrings--if she has any--so daintily afterwards,
that it would be a pleasure to see him do it. Ah, a wonderful man!"

"You know him then? I saw you knew him," said the young man, surprised
and disturbed, thrusting the first commonplace words he could think of
into the silence, which seemed to tingle with the restrained meaning of
this brief speech.

"I don't think we are lucky in choosing our subjects to-night," said the
strange woman. "How about the ladies in Lonsdale, Mr. Vincent? They
don't keep a school? I am glad they don't keep a school. Teaching, you
know, unless when one has a vocation for it, as you had a few weeks ago,
is uphill work. I am sorry to see you are not so sure about your work as
you were then. Your sister is pretty, I suppose? and does your mother
take great care of her and keep her out of harm's way? Lambs have a
silly faculty of running directly in the wolf's road. Why don't you take
a holiday and go to see them, or have them here to live with you?"

"You know something about them," said Vincent, alarmed. "What has
happened?--tell me. It will be the greatest kindness to say it out at
once."

"Hush," said Mrs. Hilyard; "now you are absurd. I speak out of my own
thoughts, as most persons do, and you, like all young people, make
personal applications. How can I possibly know about them? I am not a
fanciful woman, but there are some things that wake one's imagination.
In such a dark night as this, with such wet gleams about the streets,
when I think of people at a distance, I always think of something
uncomfortable happening. Misfortune seems to lie in wait about those
black corners. I think of women wandering along dismal solitary roads
with babies in their shameful arms--and of dreadful messengers of evil
approaching unconscious houses, and looking in at peaceful windows upon
the comfort they are about to destroy; and I think," she continued,
crossing the road so rapidly (they were now opposite Lady Western's
house) that Vincent, who had not anticipated the movement, had to
quicken his pace suddenly to keep up with her, "of evil creatures
pondering in the dark vile schemes against the innocent----" Here she
broke off all at once, and, looking up in Vincent's face with that gleam
of secret mockery in her eyes and movement of her mouth to which he was
accustomed, added, suddenly changing her tone, "Or of fine gentlemen,
Mr. Vincent, profoundly bored with their own society, promenading in a
dreary garden and smoking a disconsolate cigar. Look there!"

The young minister, much startled and rather nervous, mechanically
looked, as she bade him, through the little grated loophole in Lady
Western's garden-door. He saw the lights shining in the windows, and a
red spark moving about before the house, as, with a little shame for his
undignified position, he withdrew his eyes from that point of vantage.
But Mrs. Hilyard was moved by no such sentiment. She planted herself
opposite the door, and, bending her head to the little grating, gazed
long and steadfastly. In the deep silence of the night, standing with
some uneasiness at her side, and not insensible to the fact that his
position, if he were seen by anybody who knew him, would be rather
absurd and slightly equivocal, Vincent heard the footsteps of the man
inside, the fragrance of whose cigar faintly penetrated the damp air.
The stranger was evidently walking up and down before the house in
enjoyment of that luxury which the feminine arrangements of the young
Dowager's household would not permit indoors; but the steady eagerness
with which this strange woman gazed--the way in which she had managed to
interweave Mrs. Vincent and pretty Susan at Lonsdale into the
conversation--the suggestions of coming danger and evil with which her
words had invested the very night, all heightened by the instinctive
repugnance and alarm of which the young man had himself been conscious
whenever he met the eye of Lady Western's companion--filled him with
discomfort and dread. His mind, which had been lately too much occupied
in his own concerns to think much of Susan, reverted now with sudden
uneasiness to his mother's cottage, from which Susan's betrothed had
lately departed to arrange matters for their speedy marriage. But how
Lady Western's "near relation"--this man whom Mrs. Hilyard watched with
an intense regard which looked like hatred, but might be dead
love--could be connected with Lonsdale, or Susan, or himself, or the
poor needlewoman in Back Grove Street, Vincent could not form the
remotest idea. He stood growing more and more impatient by that dark
closed door, which had once looked a gate of paradise--which, he felt in
his heart, half-a-dozen words or a single smile could any day make again
a gate of the paradise of fools to his bewildered feet--the steps of the
unseen stranger within, and the quick breath of agitation from the
watcher by his side, being the only sounds audible in the silence of the
night. At last some restless movement he made disturbed Mrs. Hilyard in
her watch. She left the door noiselessly and rapidly, and turned to
recross the wet road. Vincent accompanied her without saying a word. The
two walked along together half the length of Grange Lane without
breaking silence, without even looking at each other, till they came to
the large placid white lamp at Dr. Marjoribanks's gate, which cleared a
little oasis of light out of the heart of the gloom. There she looked up
at him with a face full of agitated life and motion--kindled eyes,
elevated head, nostril and lips swelling with feelings which were
totally undecipherable to Vincent; her whole aspect changed by an
indescribable inspiration which awoke remnants of what might have been
beauty in that thin, dark, middle-aged face.

"You are surprised at me and my curiosity," she said, "and indeed you
have good reason; but it is astonishing, when one is shut up in one's
self and knows nobody, how excited one gets over the sudden apparition
of a person one has known in the other world. Some people die two or
three times in a lifetime, Mr. Vincent. There is a real transmigration
of souls, or bodies, or both if you please. This is my third life I am
going through at present. I knew that man, as I was saying, in the other
world."

"The world _does_ change strangely," said Vincent, who could not tell
what to say; "but you put it very strongly--more strongly than I----"

"More strongly than you can understand; I know that very well," said
Mrs. Hilyard; "but you perceive you are speaking to a woman who has died
twice. Coming to life is a bitter process, but one gets over it. If you
ever should have such a thing to go through with--and survive it," she
added, giving him a wistful glance, "I should like to tell you my
experiences. However, I hope better things. You are very well looked
after at Salem Chapel, Mr. Vincent. I think of you sometimes when I look
out of my window and see your tabernacle. It is not so pretty as Mr.
Wentworth's at St. Roque's, but you have the advantage of the curate
otherwise. So far as I can see, he never occupies himself with anything
higher than his prayer-book and his poor people. I doubt much whether
he would ever dream of replying to what you told us to-night."

"Probably he holds a Dissenting minister in too much contempt," said
Vincent, with an uncomfortable smile on his lips.

"Don't sneer--never sneer--no gentleman does," said his companion. "I
like you, though you are only a Dissenting minister. You know me to be
very poor, and you have seen me in very odd circumstances to-night; yet
you walk home with me--I perceive you are steering towards Back Grove
Street, Mr. Vincent--without an illusion which could make me feel myself
an equivocal person, and just as if this was the most reasonable thing
in the world which I have been doing to-night. Thank you. You are a
paladin in some things, though in others only a Dissenting minister. If
I were a fairy, the gift I would endow you with would be just that same
unconsciousness of your own disadvantages, which courtesy makes you show
of mine."

"Indeed," said Vincent, with natural gratification, "it required no
discrimination on my part to recognise at once that I was
addressing----"

"Hush! you have never even insinuated that an explanation was necessary,
which is the very height and climax of fine manners," said Mrs. Hilyard;
"and I speak who am, or used to be, an authority in such matters. I
don't mean to give you any explanation either. Now, you must turn back
and go home. Good-night. One thing I may tell you, however," she
continued, with a little warmth; "don't mistake me. There is no reason
in this world why you might not introduce me to the ladies in Lonsdale,
if any accident brought it about that we should meet. I say this to make
your mind easy about your penitent; and now, my good young father in the
faith, good-night."

"Let me see you to your door first," said the wondering young man.

"No--no farther. Good-night," she said, hastily, shaking hands, and
leaving him. The parting was so sudden that it took Vincent a minute to
stop short, under way and walking quickly as he was. When she had made
one or two rapid steps in advance, Mrs. Hilyard turned back, as if with
a sudden impulse.

"Do you know I have an uneasiness about these ladies in Lonsdale?" she
said; "I know nothing whatever about them--not so much as their names;
but you are their natural protector; and it does not do for women to be
as magnanimous and generous in the reception of strangers as you are.
There! don't be alarmed. I told you I knew nothing. They may be as safe,
and as middle-aged, and as ugly as I am; instead of a guileless widow
and a pretty little girl, they may be hardened old campaigners like
myself; but they come into my mind, I cannot tell why. Have them here to
live beside you, and they will do you good."

"My sister is about to be married," said Vincent, more and more
surprised, and looking very sharply into her face in the lamplight, to
see whether she really did not know anything more than she said.

A certain expression of relief came over her face.

"Then all is well," she said, with strange cordiality, and again held
out her hand to him. Then they parted, and pursued their several ways
through the perfectly silent and dimly-lighted streets. Vincent walked
home with the most singular agitation in his mind. Whether to give any
weight to such vague but alarming suggestions--whether to act
immediately upon the indefinite terror thus insinuated into his
thoughts--or to write, and wait till he heard whether any real danger
existed--or to cast it from him altogether as a fantastic trick of
imagination, he could not tell. Eventful and exciting as the evening had
been, he postponed the other matters to this. If any danger threatened
Susan, his simple mother could suffer with her, but was ill qualified to
protect her: but what danger could threaten Susan? He consoled himself
with the thought that these were not the days of abductions or violent
love-making. To think of an innocent English girl in her mother's house
as threatened with mysterious danger, such as might have surrounded a
heroine of the last century, was impossible. If there are Squire
Thornhills nowadays, their operations are of a different character.
Walking rapidly home, with now and then a blast of chill rain in his
face, and the lamplight gleaming in the wet streets, Vincent found less
and less reason for attaching any importance to Mrs. Hilyard's hints and
alarms. It was the sentiment of the night, and her own thoughts, which
had suggested such fears to her mind--a mind evidently experienced in
paths more crooked than any which Vincent himself, much less simple
Susan, had ever known. When he reached home, he found his little fire
burning brightly, his room arranged with careful nicety, which was his
landlady's appropriate and sensible manner of showing her appreciation
of the night's lecture, and her devotion to the minister; and, lastly,
on the table a letter from that little house in Lonsdale, round which
such fanciful fears had gathered. Never was there a letter which
breathed more of the peaceful security and tranquillity of home. Mrs.
Vincent wrote to her Arthur in mingled rejoicing and admonition, curious
and delighted to hear of his lectures, but not more anxious about his
fame and success than about his flannels and precautions against wet
feet; while Susan's postscript--a half longer than the letter to which
it was appended--furnished her affectionate brother with sundry details,
totally incomprehensible to him, of her wedding preparations, and, more
shyly, of her perfect girlish happiness. Vincent laughed aloud as he
folded up that woman's letter. No mysterious horror, no whispering
doubtful gloom, surrounded that house from which the pure, full daylight
atmosphere, untouched by any darkness, breathed fresh upon him out of
these simple pages. Here, in this humble virtuous world, were no
mysteries. It was a deliverance to a heart which had begun to falter.
Wherever fate might be lingering in the wild darkness of that January
night, it was not on the threshold of his mother's house.



CHAPTER X.


On the next evening after this there was a tea-meeting in Salem Chapel.
In the back premises behind the chapel were all needful accommodations
for the provision of that popular refreshment--boilers, tea-urns,
unlimited crockery and pewter. In fact, it was one of Mr. Tozer's
boasts, that owing to the liberality of the "connection" in Carlingford,
Salem was fully equipped in this respect, and did not need to borrow so
much as a spoon or teapot, a very important matter under the
circumstances. This, however, was the first tea-meeting which had taken
place since that one at which Mr. Tufton's purse had been presented to
him, and the old pastor had taken leave of his flock. The young pastor,
indeed, had set his face against tea-meetings. He was so far behind his
age as to doubt their utility, and declared himself totally unqualified
to preside over such assemblies; but, in the heat of his recent
disappointment, when, stung by other people's neglect, he had taken up
Salem and all belonging to it into his bosom, a cruel use had been made
of the young minister's compliance. They had wrung a reluctant consent
from him in that unguarded moment, and the walls of Carlingford had been
for some days blazing with placards of the tea-meeting, at which the now
famous (in Carlingford) lecturer on Church and State was to speak. Not
Tozer, with all his eloquence, had been able to persuade the pastor to
preside; but at least he was to appear, to take tea at that table
elevated on the platform, where Phoebe Tozer, under the matronly care
of Mrs. Brown (for it was necessary to divide these honours, and guard
against jealousy), dispensed the fragrant lymph, and to address the
meeting. There had been thoughts of a grand celebration in the Music
Hall to do more honour to the occasion; but as that might have
neutralised the advantages of having all the needful utensils within
themselves, convenience and economy carried the day, and the scene of
these festivities, as of all the previous festivities of Salem, was the
large low room underneath the chapel, once intended for a school, but
never used, except on Sundays, in that capacity. Thither for two or
three days all the "young ladies" of the chapel had streamed to and fro,
engaged in decorations. Some manufactured festoons of evergreens, some
concocted pink and white roses in paper to embellish the same. The
printed texts of the Sunday school were framed, and in some cases
obliterated, in Christmas garlands. Christmas, indeed, was past, but
there were still holly and red berries and green smooth laurel leaves.
The Pigeon girls, Phoebe Tozer, Mrs. Brown's niece from the country,
and the other young people in Salem who were of sufficiently advanced
position, enjoyed the preparations greatly--entering into them with even
greater heartiness than Lucy Wodehouse exhibited in the adornment of St.
Roque's, and taking as much pleasure in the task as if they had been
picturesque Italians adorning the shrine of their favourite saint.
Catterina and Francesca with their flower-garlands are figures worthy of
any picture, and so is Lucy Wodehouse under the chancel arch at St.
Roque's; but how shall we venture to ask anybody's sympathy for Phoebe
and Maria Pigeon as they put up their festoons round the four square
walls of the low schoolroom in preparation for the Salem tea-party?
Nevertheless it is a fact that the two last mentioned had very much the
same intentions and sensations, and amid the coils of fresh ivy and
laurel did not look amiss in their cheerful labour--a fact which, before
the work was completed, had become perceptible to various individuals of
the Carlingford public. But Mr. Vincent was, on this point, as on
several others, unequal to the requirements of his position. When he did
glance in for a moment of the afternoon of the eventful day, it was in
company with Tozer and the Rev. Mr. Raffles of Shoebury, who was to take
the chair. Mr. Raffles was very popular in Carlingford, as everywhere.
To secure him for a tea-meeting was to secure its success. He examined
into all the preparations, tasted the cake, pricked his fingers with the
garlands to the immense delight of the young ladies, and complimented
them on their skill with beaming cheerfulness; while the minister of
Salem, on the contrary, stalked about by his side pale and preoccupied,
with difficulty keeping himself from that contempt of the actual things
around to which youth is so often tempted. His mind wandered off to the
companion of his last night's walk--to the stranger pacing up and down
that damp garden with inscrutable unknown thoughts--to the beautiful
creature within those lighted windows, so near and yet so overwhelmingly
distant--as if somehow they had abstracted life and got it among
themselves. Mr. Vincent had little patience for what he considered the
mean details of existence nearer at hand. As soon as he could possibly
manage it, he escaped, regarding with a certain hopeless disgust the
appearance he had to make in the evening, and without finding a single
civil thing to say to the fair decorators. "My young brother looks sadly
low and out of spirits," said jolly Mr. Raffles. "What do you mean by
being so unkind to the minister, Miss Phoebe, eh?" Poor Phoebe
blushed pinker than ever, while the rest laughed. It was pleasant to be
supposed "unkind" to the minister; and Phoebe resolved to do what she
could to cheer him when she sat by his elbow at the platform table
making tea for the visitors of the evening.

The evening came, and there was not a ticket to be had anywhere in
Carlingford: the schoolroom, with its blazing gas, its festoons, and its
mottoes, its tables groaning with dark-complexioned plumcake and heavy
buns, was crowded quite beyond its accommodation; and the edifying sight
might be seen of Tozer and his brother deacons, and indeed all who were
sufficiently interested in the success of Salem to sacrifice themselves
on its behalf, making an erratic but not unsubstantial tea in corners,
to make room for the crowd. And in the highest good-humour was the
crowd which surrounded all the narrow tables. The urns were well filled,
the cake abundant, the company in its best attire. The ladies had
bonnets, it is true, but these bonnets were worthy the occasion. At the
table on the platform sat Mr. Raffles, in the chair, beaming upon the
assembled party, with cheerful little Mrs. Tufton and Mrs. Brown at one
side of him, and Phoebe looking very pink and pretty, shaded from the
too enthusiastic admiration of the crowd below by the tea-urn at which
she officiated. Next to her, the minister cast abstracted looks upon the
assembly. He was, oh, so interesting in his silence and pallor!--he
spoke little; and when any one addressed him, he had to come back as if
from a distance to hear. If anybody could imagine that Mr. Raffles
contrasted dangerously with Mr. Vincent in that reserve and quietness,
it would be a mistake unworthy a philosophic observer. On the contrary,
the Salem people were all doubly proud of their pastor. It was not to be
expected that such a man as he should unbend as the reverend chairman
did. They preferred that he should continue on his stilts. It would have
been a personal humiliation to the real partisans of the chapel, had he
really woke up and come down from that elevation. The more commonplace
the ordinary "connection" was, the more proud they felt of their student
and scholar. So Mr. Vincent leaned his head upon his hands and gazed
unmolested over the lively company, taking in all the particulars of the
scene, the busy groups engaged in mere tea-making and tea-consuming--the
flutter of enjoyment among humble girls and womankind who knew no
pleasure more exciting--the whispers which pointed out himself to
strangers among the party--the triumphant face of Tozer at the end of
the room, jammed against the wall, drinking tea out of an empty
sugar-basin. If the scene woke any movement of human sympathy in the
bosom of the young Nonconformist, he was half ashamed of himself for it.
What had the high mission of an evangelist--the lofty ambition of a man
trained to enlighten his country--the warm assurance of talent which
felt itself entitled to the highest sphere,--what had these great things
to do in a Salem Chapel tea-meeting? So the lofty spirit held apart,
gazing down from a mental elevation much higher than the platform; and
all the people who had heard his lectures pointed him out to each other,
and congratulated themselves on that studious and separated aspect which
was so unlike other men. In fact, the fine superiority of Mr. Vincent
was at the present moment the very thing that was wanted to rivet their
chains. Even Mrs. Pigeon looked on with silent admiration. He was
"high"--never before had Salem known a minister who did not condescend
to be gracious at a tea-meeting--and the leader of the opposition
honoured him in her heart.

And even when at last the social meal was over, when the urns were
cleared away, and with a rustle and flutter the assembly composed itself
to the intellectual regale about to follow, Mr. Vincent did not change
his position. Mr. Raffles made quite one of his best speeches; he kept
his audience in a perpetual flutter of laughter and applause; he set
forth all the excellencies of the new minister with such detail and
fulness as only the vainest could have swallowed. But the pleased
congregation still applauded. He praised Mr. Tufton, the venerable
father of the community, he praised the admirable deacons; he praised
the arrangements. In short, Mr. Raffles applauded everybody, and
everybody applauded Mr. Raffles. After the chairman had concluded his
speech, the hero of the evening gathered himself up dreamily, and rose
from Phoebe Tozer's side. He told them he had been gazing at them this
hour past, studying the scene before him; how strangely they appeared to
him, standing on this little bright gaslighted perch amid the dark sea
of life that surged round them; that now he and they were face to face
with each other, it was not their social pleasure he was thinking of,
but that dark unknown existence that throbbed and echoed around: he bade
them remember the dark night which enclosed that town of Carlingford,
without betraying the secret of its existence even to the nearest
village; of those dark streets and houses which hid so many lives and
hearts and tragic histories; he enlarged upon Mrs. Hilyard's idea of the
sentiment of "such a night," till timid people threw glances behind
them, and some sensitive mothers paused to wonder whether the minister
could have heard that Tommy had fallen into the fire, or Mary scalded
herself, and took this way to break the news. The speech was the
strangest that ever was listened to at a tea-party. It was the wayward
capricious pouring forth of a fanciful young mind under an unquiet
influence, having no connection whatever with the "object," the place,
or the listeners. The consequence was, that it was listened to with
breathless interest--that the faces grew pale and the eyes bright, and
shivers of restrained emotion ran through the astonished audience. Mr.
Vincent perceived the effect of his eloquence, as a nursery story-teller
perceives the rising sob of her little hearers. When he saw it, he
awoke, as the same nursery minstrel does sometimes, to feel how unreal
was the sentiment in his own breast which had produced this genuine
feeling in others, and with a sudden amusement proceeded to deepen his
colours and make bolder strokes of effect. His success was perfect;
before he concluded, he had in imagination dismissed the harmless Salem
people out of their very innocent recreation to the dark streets which
thrilled round them--to the world of unknown life, of which each man for
himself had some knowledge--to the tragedies that might be going on side
by side with them, for aught they knew. His hearers drew a long breath
when it was over. They were startled, frightened, enchanted. If they had
been witnessing a melodrama, they scarcely could have been more excited.
He had put the most dreadful suggestions in their mind of all sorts of
possible trouble; he sat down with the consciousness of having done his
duty by Salem for this night at least.

But when Tozer got up after him to tell about the prosperity of the
congregation, the anticlimax was felt even by the people of Salem. Some
said, "No, no," audibly, some laughed, not a few rose up and went away.
Vincent himself, feeling the room very hot, and not disliking the little
commotion of interest which arose on his departure, withdrew himself
from the platform, and made his way to the little vestry, where a breath
of air was to be had; for, January night as it was, the crowd and the
tea had established a very high temperature in the under-regions of
Salem. He opened the window in the vestry, which looked out upon the
damp ground behind the chapel and the few gravestones, and threw himself
down on the little sofa with a sensation of mingled self-reproach and
amusement. Somehow, even when one disapproves of one's self for doing
it, one has a certain enjoyment in bewildering the world. Mr. Vincent
was rather pleased with his success, although it was only a variety of
"humbug." He entertained with Christian satisfaction the thought that he
had succeeded in introducing a certain visionary uneasiness into the
lively atmosphere of the tea-meeting--and he was delighted with his own
cleverness in spite of himself.

While he lay back on his sofa, and pondered this gratifying thought, he
heard a subdued sound of voices outside--voices and steps that fell with
but little sound upon the damp grass. A languid momentary wonder touched
the mind of the minister: who could have chosen so doleful a retirement?
It was about the last place in the world for a lover's interview, which
was the first thing that suggested itself to the young man; the next
moment he started bolt upright, and listened with undisguised
curiosity. That voice so different from the careless voices of Salem,
the delicate refined intonations which had startled him in the shabby
little room in Back Grove Street, awoke an interest in his mind which no
youthful accents in Carlingford could have excited. He sat upright on
the instant, and edged towards the open window. The gas burned low in
the little vestry, which nobody had been expected to enter, and the
illumination from all the schoolroom windows, and sounds of cheering and
commotion there, had doubtless made the absolute darkness and silence
behind seem perfectly safe to the two invisible people now meeting under
the cloud of night. Mr. Vincent was not startled into eavesdropping
unawares, nor did he engage in any sophistical argument to justify
himself for listening. On the contrary, he listened honestly, with the
full intention of hearing all he could--suddenly changed from the
languid sentimentalist, painful and self-conscious, which the influences
of the evening had made him, into a spectator very wide awake and
anxious, straining his ear to catch some knowledge of a history, in
which a crowd of presentiments warned him that he himself should yet be
concerned.

"If you must speak, speak here," said that voice which Vincent had
recognised: "it is scarcely the atmosphere for a man of your fine taste,
to be sure; but considering the subject of the conference, it will do.
What do you want with me?"

"By Jove, it looks dangerous!--what do you mean to suggest by this sweet
rendezvous--murder?" said the man, whoever he was, who had accompanied
Mrs. Hilyard to the damp yard of Salem Chapel, with its scattered
graves.

"My nerves are strong," she answered. "It is a pity you should take the
trouble to be melodramatic. Do you think I am vain enough to imagine
that you could subject yourself to all the unpleasant accessories of
being hanged on my account? Fancy a rough hempen rope, and the dirty
fingers that would adjust it. Pah! you would not risk it for me."

Her companion swore a muttered oath. "By Jove! I believe you'd be
content to be murdered, to make such an end of me," he answered, in the
baffled tone of rage which a man naturally sinks into when engaged in
unequal conflict of recrimination with a woman.

"This is too conjugal," said Mrs. Hilyard; "it reminds me of former
experiences: come to the point, I beg of you. You did not come here and
seek me out that we might have an amusing conversation--what do you want
with me?"

"Don't tempt me too far with your confounded impertinence," exclaimed
the man, "or there is no telling what may happen. I want to know where
that child is; you know I do. I mean to reclaim my rights so far as she
is concerned. If she had been a ward in Chancery, a man might have
submitted. But I am a reformed individual--my life is of the most
exemplary description--no court in Christendom would keep her from my
custody now. I want the girl for her own good--she shall marry
brilliantly, which she never could do with you. I know she's grown up
as lovely as I expected----"

"How do you know?" interrupted Mrs. Hilyard, with a certain hoarseness
in her voice.

"Ah! I have touched you at last. Remembering what her mother was," he
went on, in a mocking tone, "though I am grieved to see how much you
have gone off in late years--and having a humble consciousness of her
father's personal advantages, and, in short, of her relatives in
general, I know she's a little beauty--and, by Jove, she shall be a
duchess yet."

There was a pause--something like a hard sob thrilled in the air, rather
a vibration than a sound; and Vincent, making a desperate gesture of
rage towards the school-room, from which a burst of applause at that
moment sounded, approached closer to the window. Then the woman's voice
burst forth passionate, but subdued.

"You have seen her! you!--you that blasted her life before she was born,
and confused her sweet mind for ever--how did you dare to look at my
child? And I," cried the passionate voice, forgetting even
caution--"_I_, that would give my life drop by drop to restore what
never can be restored to that victim of your sin and my weakness--I do
not see her. I refuse myself that comfort. I leave it to others to do
all that love and pity can do for my baby. You speak of murder--man! if
I had a knife, I could find it in my heart to put an end to your horrid
career; and, look you, I will--Coward! I will! I will kill you before
you shall lay your vile hands on my child."

"She-wolf!" cried the man, grinding his teeth, "do you know how much it
would be to my advantage if you never left this lonely spot you have
brought me to? By Jove, I have the greatest mind----"

Another momentary silence. Vincent, wound up to a high state of
excitement, sprang noiselessly to his feet, and was rushing to the
window to proclaim his presence, when Mrs. Hilyard's voice, perfectly
calm, and in its usual tone, brought him back to himself.

"Second thoughts are best. It would compromise you horribly, and put a
stop to many pleasures--not to speak of those dreadful dirty fingers
arranging that rough rope round your neck, which, pardon me, I can't
help thinking of when you associate your own name with such a vulgar
suggestion as murder. _I_ should not mind these little details, but
_you_! However, I excited myself unreasonably, you have not seen her.
That skilful inference of yours was only a lie. She was not at Lonsdale,
you know."

"How the devil do you know I was at Lonsdale?" said her companion.

"I keep myself informed of the movements of so interesting a person. She
was not there."

"No," replied the man, "she was not there; but I need not suggest to
your clear wits that there are other Lonsdales in England. What if Miss
Mildmay were in her father's lawful guardianship now?"

Here the air palpitated with a cry, the cry as of a wild creature in
sudden blind anguish. It was echoed by a laugh of mockery and
exultation. "Should you like me to tell you which of the Lonsdales you
honoured with your patronage?" continued the mocking voice: "that in
Derbyshire, or that in Devonshire, or that in Cumberland? I am afflicted
to have defeated your skilful scheme so easily. Now that you see I am a
match for you, perhaps you will perceive that it is better to yield
peaceably, and unite with me in securing the girl's good. She needs only
to be seen to----"

"Who do you imagine you are addressing, Colonel Mildmay?" said Mrs.
Hilyard, haughtily; "there has been enough of this: you are mistaken if
you think you can deceive me for more than a moment: my child is not in
your hands, and never will be, please God. But mark what I say," she
continued, drawing a fierce, hard breath, "if you should ever succeed in
tracing her--if you should ever be able to snatch her from me--then
confess your sins, and say your last prayers, for as sure as I live you
shall die in a week."

"She-devil! murderess!" cried her companion, not without a certain shade
of alarm in his voice; "if your power were equal to your will----"

"In that case my power should be equal to my will," said the steady,
delicate woman's voice, as clear in very fine articulation as if it were
some peaceful arrangement of daily life for which she declared herself
capable: "you should not escape if you surrounded yourself with a king's
guards. I swear to you, if you do what you say, that I will kill you
somehow, by whatever means I can attain--and I have never yet broken my
word."

An unsteady defiant laugh was the only reply. The man was evidently more
impressed with the sincerity, and power to execute her intentions, of
the woman than she with his. Apparently they stood regarding each other
for another momentary interval in silence. Again Mrs. Hilyard was the
first to speak.

"I presume our conference is over now," she said, calmly; "how you could
think of seeking it is more than I can understand. I suppose poor pretty
Alice, who thinks every woman can be persuaded, induced you to attempt
this. Don't let me keep you any longer in a place so repugnant to your
taste. I am going to the tea-meeting at Salem Chapel to hear my young
friend the minister speak: perhaps this unprofitable discussion has lost
me that advantage. You heard him the other night, and were pleased, I
trust. Good-night. I suppose, before leaving you, I should thank you for
having spared my life."

Vincent heard the curse upon her and her stinging tongue, which burst in
a growl of rage from the lips of the other, but he did not see the
satirical curtsy with which this strange woman swept past, nor the
scarcely controllable impulse which made the man lift his stick and
clench it in his hand as she turned away from him those keen eyes, out
of which even the gloom of night could not quench the light. But even
Mrs. Hilyard herself never knew how near, how very near, she was at that
moment to the unseen world. Had her step been less habitually firm and
rapid,--had she lingered on her way--the temptation might have been too
strong for the man, maddened by many memories. He made one stride after
her, clenching his stick. It was perfectly dark in that narrow passage
which led out to the front of the chapel. She might have been stunned in
a moment, and left there to die, without any man being the wiser. It was
not virtue, nor hatred of bloodshed, nor repugnance to harm her, which
restrained Colonel Mildmay's hand: it was half the rapidity of her
movements, and half the instinct of a gentleman, which vice itself could
not entirely obliterate. Perhaps he was glad when he saw her disappear
from before him down the lighted steps into the Salem schoolroom. He
stood in the darkness and watched her out of sight, himself unseen by
any one, and then departed on his way, a splendid figure, all unlike the
population of Grove Street. Some of the Salem people, dispersing at the
moment, saw him sauntering down the street grand and leisurely, and
recognised the gentleman who had been seen in the Music Hall with Lady
Western. They thought he must have come privately once more to listen to
their minister's eloquence. Probably Lady Western herself, the leader of
fashion in Carlingford, would appear next Sunday to do Mr. Vincent
honour. The sight of this very fine gentleman picking his leisurely way
along the dark pavement of Grove Street, leaning confidingly upon that
stick over which his tall person swayed with fashionable languor, gave a
climax to the evening in the excited imaginations of Mr. Vincent's
admirers. Nobody but the minister and one utterly unnoted individual in
the crowd knew what had brought the Colonel and his stick to such a
place. Nobody but the Colonel himself, and the watchful heavens above,
knew how little had prevented him from leaving a silent, awful witness
of that secret interview upon the chapel steps.

When Mr. Vincent returned to the platform, which he did hurriedly, Mr.
Pigeon was addressing the meeting. In the flutter of inquiries whether
he was better, and gentle hopes from Phoebe that his studies had not
been too much for him, nobody appeared to mark the eagerness of his
eyes, and the curiosity in his face. He sat down in his old place, and
pretended to listen to Mr. Pigeon. Anxiously from under the shadow of
his hands he inspected the crowd before him, who had recovered their
spirits. In a corner close to the door he at last found the face he was
in search of. Mrs. Hilyard sat at the end of a table, leaning her face
on her hand. She had her eyes fixed upon the speaker, and there passed
now and then across the corners of her close-shut mouth that momentary
movement which was her symbol for a smile. She was not _pretending_ to
listen, but giving her entire attention to the honest poulterer. Now and
then she turned her eyes from Pigeon, and perused the room and the
company with rapid glances of amusement and keen observation. Perhaps
her eyes gleamed keener, and her dark cheek owned a slight flush--that
was all. Out of her mysterious life--out of that interview, so full of
violence and passion--the strange woman came, without a moment's
interval, to amuse herself by looking at and listening to all those
homely innocent people. Could it be that she was taking notes of
Pigeon's speech? Suddenly, all at once, she had taken a pencil out of
her pocket and began to write, glancing up now and then towards the
speaker. Mr. Vincent's head swam with the wonder he was
contemplating--was she flesh and blood after all, or some wonderful
skeleton living a galvanic life? But when he asked himself the question,
her cry of sudden anguish, her wild, wicked promise to kill the man who
stole her daughter, came over his mind, and arrested his thoughts. He,
dallying as he was on the verge of life, full of fantastic hopes and
disappointment, could only pretend to listen to Pigeon; but the good
poulterer turned gratified eyes towards Mrs. Hilyard. He recognised her
real attention and interest; was it the height of voluntary sham and
deception?--or was she really taking notes?

The mystery was solved after the meeting was over. There was some music,
in the first place--anthems in which all the strength of Salem united,
Tozer taking a heavy bass, while Phoebe exerted herself so in the
soprano that Mr. Vincent's attention was forcibly called off his own
meditations, in terror lest something should break in the throat so
hardly strained. Then there were some oranges, another speech, a hymn,
and a benediction; and then Mr. Raffles sprang joyfully up, and leaned
over the platform to shake hands with his friends. This last process was
trying. Mr. Vincent, who could no longer take refuge in silence,
descended into the retiring throng. He was complimented on his speech,
and even by some superior people, who had a mind to be fashionable, upon
the delightful evening they had enjoyed. When they were all gone, there
were still the Tozers, the Browns, the Pigeons, Mrs. Tufton, and Mr.
Raffles. He was turning back to them disconsolate, when he was suddenly
confronted by Mrs. Hilyard out of her corner with the fly-leaf of the
hymn-book the unscrupulous woman had been writing in, torn out in her
hand.

"Stop a minute!" she cried; "I want to speak to you. I want your help,
if you will give it me. Don't be surprised at what I ask. Is your mother
a good woman--was it she that trained you to act to the forlorn as you
did to me last night? I have been too hasty--I take away your
breath;--never mind, there is no time to choose one's words. The
butterman is looking at us, Mr. Vincent. The ladies are alarmed; they
think I want spiritual consolation at this unsuitable moment. Make
haste--answer my question. Would she do an act of Christian charity to a
woman in distress?"

"My mother is--yes, I know she would, what do you want of her?--my
mother is the best and tenderest of women," cried Vincent, in utter
amazement.

"I want to send a child to her--a persecuted, helpless child, whom it is
the object of my life to keep out of evil hands," said Mrs. Hilyard, her
dark thin face growing darker and more pallid, her eyes softening with
tears. "She will be safe at Lonsdale now, and I cannot go in my own
person at present to take her anywhere. Here is a message for the
telegraph," she added, holding up the paper which Vincent had supposed
to be notes of Mr. Pigeon's speech; "take it for me--send it off
to-night--you will? and write to your mother; she shall suffer no loss,
and I will thank her on my knees. It is life or death."

"I know--I am aware!" cried Vincent, not knowing what he said. "There is
no time to be lost."

She put the paper into his hand, and clasped it tight between both of
hers, not knowing in the excitement which she was so well trained to
repress, that he had betrayed any special knowledge of her distress. It
seemed natural, in that strain of desperation, that everybody should
understand her. "Come to-morrow and tell me," she said, hurriedly, and
then hastened away, leaving him with the paper folded close into his
hand as her hard grasp had left it. He turned away from the group which
awaited his coming with some curiosity and impatience, and read the
message by the light of one of the garlanded and festive lamps. "Rachel
Russell to Miss Smith, Lonsdale, Devonshire. Immediately on receiving
this, take the child to Lonsdale, near Peterborough--to Mrs. Vincent's;
leave the train at some station near town, and drive to a corresponding
station on the Great Northern; don't enter London. Blue veil--care--not
to be left for an instant. I trust all to you." Mr. Vincent put the
message in his pocketbook, took it out again--tried it in his purse, his
waistcoat pocket, everywhere he could think of--finally, closed his hand
over it as at first, and in a high state of excitement went up to the
chattering group at the little platform, the only thought in his mind
being how to get rid of them, that he might hasten upon his mission
before the telegraph office was closed for the night.

And, as was to be expected, Mr. Vincent found it no easy matter to get
rid of the Tozers and Pigeons, who were all overflowing about the
tea-party, its provisions, its speeches, and its success. He stood with
that bit of paper clenched in his hand, and endured the jokes of his
reverend brother, the remarks of Mrs. Tufton, the blushes of Phoebe.
He stood for half an hour at least perforce in unwilling and constrained
civility--at last he became desperate;--with a wild promise to return
presently, he rushed out into the night. The station was about half a
mile out of Carlingford, at the new end, a long way past Dr. Rider's.
When Vincent reached it, the telegraph clerk was putting on his hat to
go away, and did not relish the momentary detention; when the message
was received and despatched, the young minister drew breath--he went out
of the office, wiping his hot forehead, to the railway platform, where
the last train for town was just starting. As Vincent stood recovering
himself and regaining his breath, the sudden flash of a match struck in
one of the carriages attracted his attention. He looked, and saw by the
light of the lamp inside a man stooping to light his cigar. The action
brought the face, bending down close to the window, clearly out against
the dark-blue background of the empty carriage; hair light, fine, and
thin, in long but scanty locks--a high-featured eagle-face, too sharp
for beauty now, but bearing all the traces of superior good looks
departed--a light beard, so light that it did not count for its due in
the aspect of that remarkable countenance--a figure full of ease and
haughty grace: all these particulars Vincent noted with a keen rapid
inspection. In another moment the long leash of carriages had plunged
into the darkness. With a strange flush of triumph he watched them
disappear, and turned away with a smile on his lips. The message of
warning was already tingling along the sensitive wires, and must
outspeed the slow human traveller. This face, which so stamped itself
upon his memory, which he fancied he could see pictured on the air as he
returned along the dark road, was the face of the man who had been Lady
Western's companion at the lecture. That it was the same face which had
confronted Mrs. Hilyard in the dark graveyard behind Salem Chapel he
never doubted. With a thrill of active hatred and fierce enmity which it
was difficult to account for, and still more difficult for a man of his
profession to excuse, the young man looked forward to the unknown future
with a certainty of meeting that face again.

We drop a charitable veil over the conclusion of the night. Mr. Raffles
and Mr. Vincent supped at Pigeon's, along with the Browns and Tozers;
and Phoebe's testimony is on record that it was a feast of reason and
a flow of soul.



CHAPTER XI.


The next morning Vincent awoke with a sense of personal occupation and
business, which perhaps is only possible to a man engaged with the
actual occurrences of individual life. Professional duties and the
general necessities of existing, do not give that thrill of sensible
importance and use which a man feels who is busy with affairs which
concern his own or other people's very heart and being. The young
Nonconformist was no longer the sentimentalist who had made the gaping
assembly at Salem Chapel uneasy over their tea-drinking. That dark and
secret ocean of life which he had apostrophised, opened up to him
immediately thereafter one of its most mysterious scenes. This had
shaken Vincent rudely out of his own youthful vagaries. Perhaps the most
true of philosophers, contemplating, however profoundly, the secrets of
nature or thought, would come to a sudden standstill over a visible
abyss of human guilt, wretchedness, heroic self-restraint, and courage,
yawning apparent in the meditative way. What, then, were the poor
dialectics of Church and State controversy, or the fluctuations of an
uncertain young mind feeling itself superior to its work, to such a
spectacle of passionate life, full of evil and of noble qualities--of
guilt and suffering more intense than anything philosophy dreams of?
The thin veil which youthful ignorance, believing in the supremacy of
thought and superior charm of intellectual concerns, lays over the
world, shrivelled up under the fiery lurid light of that passionate
scene. Two people clearly, who had once loved each other, hating each
other to the death, struggling desperately over a lesser thread of life
proceeding from them both--the mother, driven to the lowest extremities
of existence, standing up like a wild creature to defend her
offspring--what could philosophy say to such phenomena? A wild circle of
passion sprang into conscious being under the young man's
half-frightened eyes--wild figures that filled the world, leaving small
space for the calm suggestions of thought, and even to truth itself so
little vantage-ground. Love, Hatred, Anger, Jealousy, Revenge--how many
more? Vincent, who was no longer the lofty reasoning Vincent of
Homerton, found life look different under the light of those
torch-bearers. But he had no leisure on this particular morning to
survey the subject. He had to carry his report and explanation to the
strange woman who had so seized upon and involved him in her concerns.

Mrs. Hilyard was seated in her room, just as he had seen her before,
working with flying needle and nervous fingers at her coarsest
needlework. She said, "Come in," and did not rise when he entered. She
gave him an eager, inquiring look, more importunate and commanding than
any words, but never stopped working, moving her thin fingers as if
there was some spell in the continuance of her labour. She was
impatient of his silence before he had closed the door--desperate when
he said the usual greeting. She opened her pale lips and spoke, but
Vincent heard nothing. She was beyond speech.

"The message went off last night, and I wrote to my mother," said
Vincent; "don't fear. She will do what you wish, and everything will be
well."

It was some time before Mrs. Hilyard quite conquered her agitation; when
she succeeded, she spoke so entirely in her usual tone that Vincent
started, being inexperienced in such changes. He contemplated her with
tragic eyes in her living martyrdom; she, on the contrary, more
conscious of her own powers, her own strength of resistance and activity
of life, than of any sacrifice, had nothing about her the least
tragical, and spoke according to nature. Instead of any passionate burst
of self-revelation, this is what she said--

"Thank you. I am very much obliged to you. How everything is to be well,
does not appear to me; but I will take your word for it. I hope I may
take your word for your mother also, Mr. Vincent. You have a right to
know how this is. Do you claim it, and must I tell you now?"

Here for the first time Vincent recollected in what an unjustifiable way
he had obtained his information. Strangely enough, it had never struck
him before. He had felt himself somehow identified with the woman in the
strange interview he had overheard. The man was a personal enemy. His
interest in the matter was so honest and simple amid all the
complication of his youthful superficial insincerities, that this
equivocal action was one of the very few which Vincent had actually
never questioned even to himself. He was confounded now when he saw how
the matter stood. His face became suddenly crimson;--shame took
possession of his soul.

"Good heavens, I have done the most dishonourable action!" cried
Vincent, betrayed into sudden exclamation by the horror of the
discovery. Then he paused, turning an alarmed look upon his new friend.
She took it very calmly. She glanced up at him with a comic glance in
her eyes, and a twitch at the corners of her mouth. Notwithstanding last
night--notwithstanding the anxiety which she dared not move in her own
person to alleviate--she was still capable of being amused. Her eyes
said, "What now?" with no very alarming apprehensions. The situation was
a frightful one for poor Vincent.

"You will be quite justified in turning me out of your house," he said,
clearing his throat, and in great confusion; "but if you will believe
it, I never till this moment saw how atrocious---- Mrs. Hilyard, I was
in the vestry; the window was open; I heard your conversation last
night."

For a moment Vincent had all the punishment he expected, and greater.
Her eyes blazed upon him out of that pale dark face with a certain
contempt and lofty indifference. There was a pause. Mr. Vincent crushed
his best hat in his hands, and sat speechless doing penance. He was
dismayed with the discovery of his own meanness. Nobody could deliver
such a cutting sentence as he was pronouncing on himself.

"All the world might have listened, so far as I am concerned," she said,
after a while, quietly enough. "I am sorry you did it; but the discovery
is worse for yourself than for me." Then, after another pause, "I don't
mean to quarrel. I am glad for my own sake, though sorry for yours. Now
you know better than I can tell you. There were some pleasant flowers of
speech to be gathered in that dark garden," she continued, with another
odd upward gleam of her eyes. "We must have startled your clerical ideas
rather. At the moment, however, Mr. Vincent, people like Colonel Mildmay
and myself mean what we say."

"If I had gained my knowledge in a legitimate way," said the
shame-stricken minister, not venturing to look her in the face, "I
should have said that I hoped it was only for the moment."

Mrs. Hilyard laid down her work, and looked across at him with
undisguised amusement. "I am sorry there is nobody here to perceive this
beautiful situation," she said. "Who would not have their ghostly father
commit himself, if he repented after this fashion? Thank you, Mr.
Vincent, for what you don't say. And now we shall drop the subject,
don't you think? Were the deacons all charmed with the tea-meeting last
night?"

"You want me to go now," said Vincent, rising, with disconcerted looks.

"Not because I am angry. I am not angry," she said, rising and holding
out her hand to him. "It was a pity, but it was an inadvertence, and no
dishonourable action. Yes, go. I am best to be avoided till I hear how
this journey has been managed, and what your mother says. It was a
sudden thought, that sending them to Lonsdale. I know that, even if he
has not already found the right one, he will search all the others now.
And your Lonsdale has been examined and exhausted; all is safe there.
Yes, go. I am glad you know; but don't say anything to Alice, if you see
her, as she is sure to seek you out. You know who I mean by Alice? Lady
Western--yes. Good-bye. I trust you, notwithstanding the vestry window;
but close it after this on January nights."

She had sunk into her seat again, and was absorbed in her needlework,
before Vincent left the room. He looked back upon her before he shut the
door, but she had no look to spare from that all-engrossing work; her
thin fingers were more scarred than ever, and stained with the coarse
blue stuff. All his life after the young man never saw that colour
without thinking of the stains on those poor hands.

He went about his work assiduously all that day, visiting sick people,
poor people, men and women, "which were sinners." That dark ocean of
life with which he had frightened the Salem people last night, Mr.
Vincent made deeper investigations into this day than he had made before
during all the time he had been in Carlingford. He kept clear of the
smug comfort of the leading people of "the connection." Absolute want,
suffering, and sorrow, were comparatively new to him; and being as yet a
stranger to philanthropic schemes, and not at all scientific in the
distribution of his sympathies, the minister of Salem conducted himself
in a way which would have called forth the profoundest contempt and pity
of the curate of St. Roque's. He believed everybody's story, and emptied
his purse with the wildest liberality; for, indeed, visitation of the
poor had not been a branch of study at Homerton. Tired and all but
penniless, he did not turn his steps homeward till the wintry afternoon
was sinking into night, and the lamps began to be lighted about the
cheerful streets. As he came into George Street he saw Lady Western's
carriage waiting at the door of Masters's. Alice! that was the name they
called her. He looked at the celestial chariot wistfully. He had nothing
to do with it or its beautiful mistress--never, as anything but a
stranger, worshipping afar off, could the Dissenting minister of
Carlingford approach that lovely vision--never think of her but as of a
planet, ineffably distant--never----

"My lady's compliments," said a tall voice on a level with Vincent's
eyebrows: "will you please to step over and speak to her ladyship?" The
startled Nonconformist raised his eyes. The big footman, whose happy
privilege it was to wait upon that lady of his dreams, stood respectful
by his side, and from the carriage opposite the fairest face in the
world was beaming, the prettiest of hands waving to him. Vincent
believed afterwards that he crossed the entire breadth of George Street
in a single stride.

"I am so glad to see you, Mr. Vincent," said Lady Western, giving him
her hand; "I did so want to see you after the other night. Oh, how could
you be _so_ clever and wicked--so wicked to your friends! Indeed, I
shall never be pleased till you recant, and confess how wrong you were.
I must tell you why I went that night. I could not tell what on earth to
do with my brother, and I took him to amuse him; or else, you know, I
never could have gone to hear the poor dear old Church attacked. And how
violent you were too! Indeed I must not say how clever I thought it, or
I should feel I was an enemy to the Church. Now I want you to dine with
me, and I shall have somebody to come who will be a match for you. I am
very fond of clever society, though there is so little of it in
Carlingford. Tell me, will you come to-morrow? I am disengaged. Oh,
pray, do! and Mr. Wentworth shall come too, and you shall fight."

Lady Western clapped her pretty hands together with the greatest
animation. As for Vincent, all the superior thoughts in which he would
probably have indulged--the contrast he would have drawn between the
desperate brother and this butterfly creature, fluttering on the edge of
mysteries so dark and evil, had she been anybody else--deserted him
totally in the present crisis. She was not anybody else--she was
herself. The words that fell from those sweetest lips were of a
half-divine simplicity to the bewildered young man. He would have gone
off straightway to the end of the world if she had chosen to command
him. All unwarned by his previous failure, paradise opened again to his
delighted eyes.

"And I want to consult you about our friend," said Lady Western; "it
will be so kind of you to come. I am so pleased you have no engagement.
I am sure you thought us very stupid last time; and I am stupid, I
confess," added the beauty, turning those sweet eyes, which were more
eloquent than genius, upon the slave who was reconquered by a glance;
"but I like clever people dearly. Good-bye till to-morrow. I shall quite
reckon upon to-morrow. Oh, there is Mr. Wentworth! John, call Mr.
Wentworth to speak to me. Good morning--remember, half-past six--now,
you must not forget."

Spite of the fact that Mr. Wentworth took his place immediately by the
side of the carriage, Vincent passed on, a changed man. Forget! He
smiled to himself at the possibility, and as he walked on to his
lodging, a wonderful maze of expectation fell upon the young man's mind.
Why, he asked, was he brought into this strange connection with Her
relations and their story? what could be, he said to himself with a
little awe, the purpose of that Providence which shapes men's ends, in
interweaving his life with Hers by these links of common interest? The
skies throbbed with wonder and miracle as soon as they were lighted up
by her smile. Who could predict what might be coming, through all the
impossibilities of fact and circumstance? He would not dissipate that
delicious haze by any definite expectations like those which brought him
to sudden grief on a former occasion. He was content to believe it was
not for nothing that all these strange circles of fate were weaving
round his charmed feet.

In this elevated frame of mind, scarcely aware of the prosaic ground he
trod, Vincent reached home. The little maid at the door said something
about a lady, to which he paid no attention, being occupied with his own
thoughts. With an unconscious illumination on his face he mounted the
stair lightly, three steps at a time, to his own rooms. The lamp was
lighted in his little sitting-room, and some one rose nervously from the
table as he went in at the door. What was this sudden terror which fell
upon the young man in the renewed glory of his youthful hopes? It was
his mother, pale and faint, with sleepless tearful eyes, who, with the
cry of an aching heart, worn out by fatigue and suspense, came forward,
holding out anxious hands to him, and dropped in an utter _abandon_ of
weariness and distress into his astonished arms.



CHAPTER XII.


"What has happened? For heaven's sake tell me, mother," cried Vincent,
as she sank back, wiping her eyes, and altogether overpowered, half with
the trouble which he did not know, half with the joy of seeing him
again--"say it out at once, and don't keep me in this dreadful suspense.
Susan? She is not married? What is wrong?"

"Oh, my dear boy!" said Mrs. Vincent, recovering herself, but still
trembling in her agitation--"oh, my affectionate boy, always thinking of
us in his good heart! No, dear. It's--it's nothing particular happened.
Let me compose myself a little, Arthur, and take breath."

"But, Susan?" cried the excited young man.

"Susan, poor dear!--she is very well; and--and very happy up to this
moment, my darling boy," said Mrs. Vincent, "though whether she ought to
be happy under the circumstances--or whether it's only a cruel trick--or
whether I haven't been foolish and precipitate--but, my dear, what could
I do but come to you, Arthur? I could not have kept it from her if I had
stayed an hour longer at home. And to put such a dreadful suspicion into
her head, when it might be all a falsehood, would have only been killing
her; and, my dear boy, now I see your face again, I'm not so
frightened--and surely it can be cleared up, and all will be well."

Vincent, whose anxiety conquered his impatience, even while exciting it,
kneeled down by his mother's side and took her hands, which still
trembled, into his own. "Mother, think that I am very anxious; that I
don't know what you are referring to; and that the sudden sight of you
has filled me with all sort of terrors--for I know you would not lightly
take such a journey all by yourself," said the young man, growing still
more anxious as he thought of it--"and try to collect your thoughts and
tell me what is wrong."

His mother drew one of her hands out of his, laid it on his head, and
fondly smoothed back his hair. "My dear good son! you were always so
sensible--I wish you had never left us," she said, with a little groan;
"and indeed it was a great thought to undertake such a journey; and
since I came here, Arthur, I have felt so flurried and strange, that I
have not, as you see, even taken off my bonnet; but I think now you've
come, dear, if you would ring the bell and order up the tea? When I see
you, and see you looking so well, Arthur, it seems as if things could
never be so bad, you know. My dear," she said at last, with a little
quiver in her voice, stopping and looking at him with a kind of nervous
alarm, "it was about Mr. Fordham, you may be sure."

"Tea directly," said Vincent to the little maid, who appeared just at
this crisis, and who was in her turn alarmed by the brief and peremptory
order.

"What about Mr. Fordham?" he said, helping his mother to take off the
cloak and warm wraps in which she had been sitting, in her nervous
tremor and agitation, while she waited his return.

"Oh, my dear, my dear," cried poor Mrs. Vincent, wringing her hands, "if
he should not turn out as he ought, how can I ever forgive myself? I had
a kind of warning in my mind the first time he came to the house, and I
have always dreamt such uncomfortable dreams of him, Arthur. Oh! if
_you_ only could have seen him, my dear boy! But he was such a
gentleman, and had such ways. I am sure he must have mixed in the very
highest society--and he seemed so to _appreciate_ Susan--not only to be
in love with her, you know, my dear, as any young man might, but to
really appreciate my sweet girl. Oh, Arthur, Arthur, if he should turn
out badly, it will kill me, for my Susan will break her heart."

"Mother, you drive me frantic. What has he done?" cried poor Vincent.

"He has done nothing, my dear, that I know of. It is not him, Arthur,
for he has been gone for a month, arranging his affairs, you know,
before the wedding, and writes Susan regularly and beautiful letters. It
is a dreadful scrawl I got last night. I have it in my pocket-book. It
came by the last post when Susan was out, thank heaven. I'll show it you
presently, my dear, as soon as I can find it, but I have so many papers
in my pocket-book. She saw directly when she came in that something had
happened, and oh, Arthur, it was so hard to keep it from her. I don't
know when I have kept anything from her before. I can't tell how we got
through the night. But this morning I made up the most artful story I
could--here is the dreadful letter, my dear, at last--about being
determined to see you, and making sure that you were taking care of
yourself; for she knew as well as I did how negligent you always are
about wet feet. Are you sure your feet are dry now, Arthur? Yes, my dear
boy, it makes me very uncomfortable. You don't wonder to see your poor
mother here, now, after that?"

The letter which Vincent got meanwhile, and anxiously read, was as
follows--the handwriting very mean, with a little tremor in it, which
seemed to infer that the writer was an old man:--

     "MADAM,--Though I am but a poor man, I can't abear to see wrong
     going on, and do nothink to stop it. Madam, I beg of you to excuse
     me, as am unknown to you, and as can't sign my honest name to it
     like a man. This is the only way as I can give you a word of
     warning. Don't let the young lady marry him as she's agoing to, not
     if her heart should break first. Don't have nothink to do with Mr.
     Fordham. That's not his right name, and he has got a wife
     living--and this I say is true, as sure as I have to answer at the
     judgment;--and I say to you as a friend, Stop it, stop it! Don't
     let it go on a step, if you vally the young lady's charackter and
     her life. I don't add no more, because that's all I dare say, being
     only a servant; but I hope it's enough to save the poor young lady
     out of his clutches, as is a man that goeth about seeking whom he
     may devour.--From a well-wisher, though

     A STRANGER."


Mrs. Vincent's mind was easier when this epistle was out of her hands.
She stood up before the mirror to take off her bonnet, and put her cap
tidy; she glided across the room to take up the shawl and cloak which
her son had flung upon the little sofa anyhow, and to fold them and lay
them together on a chair. Then the trim little figure approached the
table, on which stood a dimly burning lamp, which smoked as lamps will
when they have it all their own way. Mrs. Vincent turned down the light
a little, and then proceeded to remove the globe and chimney by way of
seeing what was wrong--bringing her own anxious patient face, still
retaining many traces of the sweet comeliness which had almost reached
the length of beauty in her daughter, into the full illumination of the
smoky blaze. Notwithstanding the smoke, the presence of that little
woman made the strangest difference in the room. She took note of
various evidences of litter and untidiness with her mind's eye as she
examined the lamp. She had drawn a long breath of relief when she put
the letter into Arthur's hand. The sense of lightened responsibility
seemed almost to relieve her anxiety as well. She held the chimney of
the lamp in her hand, when an exclamation from her son called her back
to the consideration of that grievous question. She turned to him with a
sudden deepening of all the lines in her face.

"Oh, Arthur dear! don't you think it may be an enemy? don't you think it
looks like some cruel trick? You don't believe it's true?"

"Mother, have you an enemy in the world?" cried Vincent, with an almost
bitter affectionateness. "Is there anybody living that would take
pleasure in wounding you?"

"No, dear; but Mr. Fordham might have one," said the widow. "He is not
like you or your dear father, Arthur. He looks as if he might have been
in the army, and had seen a great deal of life. That is what has been a
great consolation to me. A man like that, you know, dear, is sure to
have enemies; so very different from our quiet way of life," said Mrs.
Vincent, holding up the chimney of the lamp, and standing a little
higher than her natural five feet, with a simple consciousness of that
grandeur of experience: "some one that wished him ill might have got
some one else to write the letter. Hush, Arthur, here is the maid with
the tea."

The maid with the tea pushed in, bearing her tray into a scene which
looked very strange to her awakened curiosity. The minister stood before
the fire with the letter in his hand, narrowly examining it, seal,
post-mark, handwriting, even paper. He did not look like the same man
who had come up-stairs three steps at a time, in the glow and
exhilaration of hope, scarcely half an hour ago. His teeth were set, and
his face pale. On the table the smoky lamp blazed into the dim air,
unregulated by the chimney, which Mrs. Vincent was nervously rubbing
with her handkerchief before she put it on. The little maid, with her
round eyes, set down the tray upon the table with an answering thrill of
excitement and curiosity. There was "somethink to do" with the minister
and his unexpected visitor. Vincent himself took no notice of the girl;
but his mother, with feminine instinct, proceeded to disarm this
possible observer. Mrs. Vincent knew well, by long experience, that when
the landlady happens to be one of the flock, it is as well that the
pastor should keep the little shocks and crises of his existence
studiously to himself.

"Does it always smoke?" said the gentle Jesuit, addressing the little
maid.

The effect of so sudden and discomposing a question, at a moment when
the person addressed was staring with all her soul at the minister,
open-mouthed and open-eyed, may be better imagined than described. The
girl gave a start and stifled exclamation, and made all the cups rattle
on the tray as she set it down. Did what smoke?--the chimney, or the
minister, or the landlady's husband down-stairs?

"Does it always smoke?" repeated Mrs. Vincent, calmly, putting on the
chimney. "I don't think it would if you were very exact in putting this
on. Look here: always at this height, don't you see? and now it burns
perfectly well."

"Yes, ma'am; I'll tell missis, ma'am," said the girl, backing out, with
some alarm. Mrs. Vincent sat down at the table with all the satisfaction
of success and conscious virtue. Her son, for his part, flung himself
into the easy-chair which she had given up, and stared at her with an
impatience and wonder which he could not restrain.

"To think you should talk about the lamp at such a time, or notice it at
all, indeed, if it smoked like fifty chimneys!" he exclaimed, with a
tone of annoyance; "why, mother, this is life or death."

"Yes, yes, my dear!" said the mother, a little mortified in her turn:
"but it does not do to let strangers see when you are in trouble. Oh,
Arthur, my own boy, you must not get into any difficulty here. I know
what gossip is in a congregation; you never would bear half of what your
poor dear papa did," said the widow, with tears in her eyes, laying her
soft old fingers upon the young man's impatient hand. "You have more of
my quick temper, Arthur; and whatever you do, dear, you must not expose
yourself to be talked of. You are all we have in the world. You must be
your sister's protector; for oh, if this should be true, what a poor
protector her mother has been! And, dear boy, tell me, what are we to
do?"

"Had he any friends?" asked Vincent, half sullenly; for he did feel an
instinctive desire to blame somebody, and nobody seemed so blamable as
the mother, who had admitted a doubtful person into her house. "Did he
know anybody--in Lonsdale, or anywhere? Did he never speak of his
friends?"

"He had been living abroad," said Mrs. Vincent, slowly. "He talked of
gentlemen sometimes, at Baden, and Homburg, and such places. I am afraid
you would think it very silly, and--and perhaps wrong, Arthur; but he
seemed to know so much of the world--so different from our quiet way of
life--that being so nice and good and refined himself with it all--I am
afraid it was rather an attraction to Susan. It was so different to what
she was used with, my dear. We used to think a man who had seen so much,
and known so many temptations, and kept his nice simple tastes through
it all--oh, dear, dear! If it is true, I was never so deceived in all my
life."

"But you have not told me," said Arthur, morosely, "if he had any
friends?"

"Nobody in Lonsdale," said Mrs. Vincent. "He came to see some young
relative at school in the neighbourhood----"

At this point Mrs. Vincent broke off with a half scream, interrupted by
a violent start and exclamation from her son, who jumped off his seat,
and began to pace up and down the room in an agitation which she could
not comprehend. This start entirely overpowered his mother. Her
overwrought nerves and feelings relieved themselves in tears. She got
up, trembling, approached the young man, put her hand, which shook,
through his arm, and implored him, crying softly all the time, to tell
her what he feared, what he thought, what was the matter? Poor Vincent's
momentary ill-humour deserted him: he began to realise all the
complications of the position; but he could not resist the sight of his
mother's tears. He led her back gently to the easy-chair, poured out for
her a cup of the neglected tea, and restrained himself for her sake. It
was while she took this much-needed refreshment that he unfolded to her
the story of the helpless strangers whom, only the night before, he had
committed to her care.

"The mother you shall see for yourself to-morrow. I can't tell what she
is, except a lady, though in the strangest circumstances," said Vincent.
"She has some reason--I cannot tell what--for keeping her child out of
the father's hands. She appealed to me to let her send it to you,
because he had been at Lonsdale already, and I could not refuse. His
name is Colonel Mildmay; he has been at Lonsdale; did you hear of such a
man?"

Mrs. Vincent shook her head--her face grew more and more troubled.

"I don't know about reasons for keeping a child from its father," she
said, still shaking her head. "My dear, dear boy, I hope no designing
woman has got a hold upon you. Why did you start so, Arthur? what had
Mr. Fordham to do with the child? Susan would open my letters, of
course, and I daresay she will make them very comfortable; but, Arthur
dear, though I don't blame you, it was very imprudent. Is Colonel
Mildmay the lady's husband? or--or what? Dear boy, you should have
thought of Susan--Susan, a young girl, must not be mixed up with anybody
of doubtful character. It was all your good heart, I know, but it was
very imprudent, to be sure."

Vincent laughed, in a kind of agony of mingled distress, anxiety, and
strange momentary amusement. His mother and he were both blaming each
other for the same fault. Both of them had equally yielded to kind
feelings, and the natural impulse of generous hearts, without any
consideration of prudence. But his mistake could not be attended by any
consequences a hundredth part so serious as hers.

"In the mean time, we must do something," he said. "If he has no
friends, he has at least an address, I suppose. Susan"--and a flush of
indignation and affectionate anger crossed the young man's face--"Susan,
no doubt, writes to the rascal. Susan! my sister! Good heaven!"

"Arthur!" said Mrs. Vincent. "Your dear papa always disapproved of such
exclamations: he said they were just a kind of oath, though people did
not think so. And you ought not to call him a rascal without
proof--indeed, it is very sinful to come to such hasty judgments. Yes, I
have got the address written down--it is in my pocket-book. But what
shall you do? Will you write to himself, Arthur? or what? To be sure, it
would be best to go to him and settle it at once."

"Oh, mother, have a little prudence now," cried the afflicted minister;
"if he were base enough to propose marriage to Susan (confound him!
that's not an oath--my father himself would have said as much) under
such circumstances, don't you think he has the courage to tell a lie as
well? I shall go up to town, and to his address to-morrow, and see what
is to be found there. You must rest in the mean time. Writing is out of
the question; what is to be done, I must _do_--and without a moment's
loss of time."

The mother took his hand again, and put her handkerchief to her
eyes--"God bless my dear boy," she said, with a mother's tearful
admiration--"Oh, what a thing for me, Arthur, that you are grown up and
a man, and able to do what is right in such a dreadful difficulty as
this! You put me in mind more and more of your dear father when you
settle so clearly what is to be done. He was always ready to act when I
used to be in a flutter, which was best. And, oh, how good has the
Father of the fatherless been to me in giving me such a son!"

"Ah, mother," said the young minister, "you gave premature thanks
before, when you thought the Father of the fatherless had brought poor
Susan a happy lot. Do you say the same now?"

"Always the same, Arthur dear," cried his mother, with tears--"always
the same. If it is even so, is it me, do you think, or is it _Him_ that
knows best?"

After this the agitation and distress of the first meeting gradually
subsided. That mother, with all her generous imprudence and innocence of
heart, was, her son well knew, the tenderest, the most indulgent, the
most sympathetic of all his friends. Though the little--the very little
insight he had obtained into life and the world had made him think
himself wiser than she was in some respects, nothing had ever come
between them to disturb the boy's half-adoring, half-protecting love. He
bethought himself of providing for her comfort, as she sat looking at
him in the easy-chair, with her eyes smiling on him through their tears,
patiently sipping the tea, which was a cold and doubtful infusion,
nothing like the fragrant lymph of home. He poked the fire till it
blazed, and drew her chair towards it, and hunted up a footstool which
he had himself kicked out of the way, under the sofa, a month before.
When he looked at the dear tender fresh old face opposite to him, in
that close white cap which even now, after the long fatiguing journey,
looked fresher and purer than other people's caps and faces look at
their best, a thaw came upon the young man's heart. Nature awoke and
yearned in him. A momentary glimpse crossed his vision of a humble
happiness long within his reach, which never till now, when it was about
to become impossible for ever, had seemed real or practicable, or even
desirable before.

"Mother, dear," said Vincent, with a tremulous smile, "you shall come
here, Susan and you, to me; and we shall all be together again--and
comfort each other," he added, with a deeper gravity still, thinking of
his own lot.

His mother did not answer in many words. She said, "My own boy!" softly,
following him with her eyes. It was hard, even with Susan's dreadful
danger before her, to help being tearfully happy in seeing him again--in
being his guest--in realising the full strength of his manhood and
independence. She gave herself up to that feeling of maternal pride and
consolation as she once more dried the tears which would come,
notwithstanding all her efforts. Then he sat down beside her, and
resigned himself to that confidential talk which can rarely be but
between members of the same family. He had unburdened his mind
unconsciously in his letters about Tozer and the deacons; and it cannot
be told what a refreshment it was to be able to utter roundly in words
his sentiments on all those subjects. The power of saying it out with no
greater hindrance than her mild remonstrances, mingled, as they were,
with questions which enabled him to complete his sketches, and smiles of
amusement at his descriptive powers, put him actually in better humour
with Salem. He felt remorseful and charitable after he had said his
worst.

"And are you sure, dear," said Mrs. Vincent, at last resuming the
subject nearest her heart, "that you can go away to-morrow without
neglecting any duty? You must not neglect a duty, Arthur--not even for
Susan's sake. Whatever happens to us, you must keep right."

"I have no duty to detain me," said Vincent, hastily. Then a sudden glow
came over the young man, a flush of happiness which stole upon him like
a thief, and brightened his own personal firmament with a secret
unacknowledgable delight; "but I must return early," he added, with a
momentary hesitation--"for if you won't think it unkind to leave you,
mother, I am engaged to dinner. I should scarcely like to miss it," he
concluded, after another pause, tying knots in his handkerchief, and
taking care not to look at her as he spoke.

"To dinner, Arthur? I thought your people only gave teas," said Mrs.
Vincent, with a smile.

"The Salem people do; but this--is not one of the Salem people," said
the minister, still hesitating. "In fact, it would be ungracious of me
not to go, and cowardly, too--for _that_ curate, I believe, is to meet
me--and Lady Western would naturally think----"

"Lady Western!" said Mrs. Vincent, with irrestrainable pleasure; "is
that one of the great people in Carlingford?" The good woman wiped her
eyes again with the very tenderest and purest demonstration of that
adoration of rank which is said to be an English instinct. "I don't mean
to be foolish, dear," she said, apologetically; "I know these
distinctions of society are not worth your caring about; but to see my
Arthur appreciated as he should be, is----" She could not find words to
say what it was--she wound up with a little sob. What with trouble and
anxiety, and pride and delight, and bodily fatigue added to all, tears
came easiest that night.

Vincent did not say whether or not these distinctions of society were
worth caring about. He sat abstractedly, untying the knots in his
handkerchief, with a faint smile on his face. Then, while that
pleasurable glow remained, he escorted his mother to his own
sleeping-room, which he had given up to her, and saw that her fire
burned brightly, and that all was comfortable. When he returned to poke
his solitary fire, it was some time before he took out the letter which
had disturbed his peace. The smile died away first by imperceptible
degrees from his face. He gradually erected himself out of the
meditative lounge into which he had fallen; then, with a little start,
as if throwing dreams away, he took out and examined the letter. The
more he looked at it, the graver and deeper became the anxiety in his
face. It had every appearance of being genuine in its bad writing and
doubtful spelling. And Vincent started again with an unexplainable
thrill of alarm when he thought how utterly unprotected his mother's
sudden journey had left that little house in Lonsdale. Susan had no
warning, no safeguard. He started up in momentary fright, but as
suddenly sat down again with a certain indignation at his own thoughts.
Nobody could carry her off, or do any act of violence; and as for taking
advantage of her solitude, Susan, a straightforward, simple-minded
English girl, was safe in her own pure sense of right.



CHAPTER XIII.


Next morning Mr. Vincent got up early, with an indescribable commotion
in all his thoughts. He was to institute inquiries which might be life
or death to his sister, but yet could not keep his mind to the
contemplation of that grave necessity. A flicker of private hope and
expectation kept gleaming with uncertain light over the dark weight of
anxiety in his heart. He could not help, in the very deepest of his
thoughts about Susan, breaking off now and then into a momentary
digression, which suddenly carried him into Lady Western's drawing-room,
and startled his heart with a thrill of conscious delight, secret and
exquisite, which he could neither banish nor deny. In and out, and round
about that grievous doubt which had suddenly disturbed the quiet history
of his family, this capricious fairy played, touching all his anxious
thoughts with thrills of sweetness. It seemed an action involuntary to
himself, and over which he had no power; but it gave the young man an
equally involuntary and causeless cheer and comfort. It did not seem
possible that any dreadful discovery could be made that day, in face of
the fact that he was to meet Her that night.

When he met his mother at breakfast, the recollection of Mrs. Hilyard
and the charge she had committed to him, came to his mind again. No
doubt Susan would take the wanderers in--no doubt they were as safe in
the cottage as it was possible to be in a humble inviolable English
home, surrounded by all the strength of neighbours and friends, and the
protection of a spotless life which everybody knew; but yet---- That was
not what his strange acquaintance had expected or bargained for. He felt
as if he had broken faith with her when he realised his mother's absence
from her own house. Yet somehow he felt a certain hesitation in
broaching the subject, and unconsciously prepared himself for doubts and
reluctance. The certainty of this gave a forced character to the assumed
easiness with which he spoke.

"You will go to see Mrs. Hilyard," he said; "I owe it to her to explain
that you were absent before her child went there. They will be safe
enough at home, no doubt, with Susan; but still, you know, it would have
been different had you been there."

"Yes, Arthur," said Mrs. Vincent, with an indescribable dryness in her
voice.

"You will find her a very interesting woman," said her son,
instinctively contending against that unexpressed doubt--"the strangest
contrast to her surroundings. The very sound of her voice carries one a
thousand miles from Salem. Had I seen her in a palace, I doubt whether I
should have been equally impressed by her. You will be interested in
spite of yourself."

"It is, as you say, very strange, Arthur," said Mrs. Vincent--the
dryness in her voice increasing to the extent of a short cough; "when
does your train start?"

"Not till eleven," said Vincent, looking at his watch; but you must
please me, and go to see her, mother."

"That reminds me, dear," said Mrs. Vincent, hurriedly, "that now I am
here, little as it suits my feelings, you must take me to see some of
your people, Arthur. Mrs. Tufton, and perhaps the Tozers, you know. They
might not like to hear that your mother had been in Carlingford, and had
not gone to see them. It will be hard work visiting strangers while I am
in this dreadful anxiety, but I must not be the means of bringing you
into any trouble with your flock."

"Oh, never mind my flock," said Vincent, with some impatience; "put on
your bonnet, and come and see her, mother."

"Arthur, you are going by the first train," said his mother.

"There is abundant time, and it is not too early for _her_," persisted
the minister.

But it was not so easy to conquer that meek little woman. "I feel very
much fatigued to-day," she said, turning her eyes, mild but invincible,
with the most distinct contradiction of her words to her son's face; "if
it had not been my anxiety to have all I could of you, Arthur, I should
not have got up to-day. A journey is a very serious matter, dear, for an
old woman. One does not feel it so much at first," continued this
plausible defendant, still with her mild eyes on her son's face, secure
in the perfect reasonableness of her plea, yet not unwilling that he
should perceive it was a pretence; "it is the next day one feels it. I
shall lie down on the sofa, and rest when you are gone."

And, looking into his mother's soft eyes, the young Nonconformist
retreated, and made no more attempts to shake her. Not the
invulnerability of the fortress alone discouraged him--though that was
mildly obdurate, and proof to argument--but a certain uneasiness in the
thought of that meeting, an inclination to postpone it, and stave off
the thought of all that might follow, surprised himself in his own mind.
Why he should be afraid of the encounter, or how any complication could
arise out of it, he could not by any means imagine, but such was the
instinctive sentiment in his heart.

Accordingly he went up to London by the train, leaving Mrs. Hilyard
unwarned, and his mother reposing on the sofa, from which, it is sad to
say, she rose a few minutes after he was gone, to refresh herself by
tidying his bookcase and looking over all his linen and stockings, in
which last she found a very wholesome subject of contemplation, which
relieved the pressure of her thoughts much more effectually than could
have been done by the rest which she originally proposed. Arthur, for
his part, went up to London with a certain nervous thrill of anxiety
rising in his breast as he approached the scene and the moment of his
inquiries; though it was still only by intervals that he realised the
momentous nature of those inquiries, on the result of which poor Susan's
harmless girlish life, all unconscious of the danger that threatened
it, hung in the balance. Poor Susan! just then going on with a bride's
preparations for the approaching climax of her youthful existence. Was
she, indeed, really a bride, with nothing but truth and sweet honour in
the contract that bound her, or was she the sport of a villanous pastime
that would break her heart, and might have shipwrecked her fair fame and
innocent existence? Her brother set his teeth hard as he asked himself
that question. Minister as he was, it might have been a dangerous chance
for Fordham, had he come at that moment without ample proofs of
guiltlessness in the Nonconformist's way.

When he got to town, he whirled, as fast as it was possible to go, to
the address where Susan's guileless letters were sent almost daily. It
was in a street off Piccadilly, full of lodging-houses, and all manner
of hangers-on and ministrants to the world of fashion. He found the
house directly, and was somewhat comforted to find it really an actual
house, and not a myth or Doubtful Castle, or a post-office window. He
knocked with the real knocker, and heard the bell peal through the
comparative silence in the street, and insensibly cheered up, and began
to look forward to the appearance of a real Mr. Fordham, with
unquestionable private history and troops of friends. A quiet house,
scrupulously clean, entirely respectable, yet distinct in all its
features of lodging-house; a groom in the area below, talking to an
invisible somebody, also a man, who seemed to be cleaning somebody
else's boots; up-stairs, at the first-floor balcony, a smart little
tiger making a fashion of watering plants, and actually doing his best
to sprinkle the conversational groom below; altogether a superabundance
of male attendants, quite incompatible with the integrity of the small
dwelling-place as a private house. Another man, who evidently belonged
to the place, opened the door, interrupting Vincent suddenly in his
observations--an elderly man, half servant, half master, in reality the
proprietor of the place, ready either to wait or be waited on as
occasion might require. Turning with a little start from his inspection
of the attendant circumstances, Vincent asked, did Mr. Fordham live
there?

The man made a momentary but visible pause; whatever it might betoken,
it was not ignorance. He did not answer with the alacrity of frank
knowledge or simple non-information. He paused, then said, "Mr. Fordham,
sir?" looking intently at Vincent, and taking in every particular of his
appearance, dress, and professional looks, with one rapid glance.

"Mr. Fordham," repeated Vincent, "does he live here?"

Once more the man perused him, swiftly and cautiously. "No, sir, he does
not live here," was the second response.

"I was told this was his address," said Vincent. "I perceive you are not
ignorant of him; where does he live? I know his letters come here."

"There are a many gentlemen in the house in the course of the season,"
answered the man, still on the alert to find out Vincent's meaning by
his looks--"sometimes letters keep on coming months after they are
gone. When we knows their home address, sir, we sends them; when we
don't, we keeps them by us till we see if any owner turns up. Gen'leman
of the name of Fordham?--do you happen to know, sir, what part o' the
country _he_ comes from? There's the Lincolnshire Fordhams, as you know,
sir, and the Northumberland Fordhams; but there's no gen'leman of that
name lives here."

"I am sure you know perfectly whom I mean," said Vincent, in his heat
and impatience. "I don't mean Mr. Fordham any harm--I only want to see
him, or to get some information about him, if he is not to be seen. Tell
me where he does live, or tell me which of his friends is in town, that
I may ask them. I tell you I don't mean Mr. Fordham any harm."

"No, sir?--nor I don't know as anybody means any harm," said the man,
once more examining Vincent's appearance. "What was it as you were
wishing to know? Though I ain't acquainted with the gen'leman myself,
the missis or some of the people may be. We have a many coming and
going, and I might confuse a name.--What was it as you were wishful to
know?"

"I wish to see Mr. Fordham," said Vincent, impatiently.

"I have told you, sir, he don't live here," said the guardian of the
house.

"Then, look here; you don't deceive me, remember. I can see you know all
about him," said Vincent; "and, as I tell you, I mean him no harm;
answer me one or two simple questions, and I will either thank or
reward you as you like best. In the first place, Is this Mr. Fordham a
married man? and, Has he ever gone by another name?"

As he asked these questions the man grinned in his face. "Lord bless
you, sir, we don't ask no such questions here. A gen'leman comes and has
his rooms, and pays, and goes away, and gives such name as he pleases. I
don't ask a certificate of baptism, not if all's right in the pay
department. We don't take ladies in, being troublesome; but if a man was
to have a dozen wives, what could we know about it? Sorry to disoblige a
clergyman, sir; but as I don't know nothing about Mr. Fordham, perhaps
you'll excuse me, as it's the busiest time of the day."

"Well, then, my good man," said Vincent, taking out his purse, "tell me
what friend he has that I can apply to; you will do me the greatest
service, and I----"

"Sorry to disoblige a clergyman, as I say," said the man, angrily; "but,
begging your pardon, I can't stand jabbering here. I never was a spy on
a gen'leman, and never will be. If you want to know, you'll have to find
out. Time's money to me."

With which the landlord of No. 10 Nameless Street, Piccadilly, shut the
door abruptly in Vincent's face. A postman was audibly approaching at
the moment. Could that have anything to do with the sudden breaking off
of the conference? The minister, exasperated, yet, becoming more
anxious, stood for a moment in doubt, facing the blank closed door.
Then, desperate, turned round suddenly, and faced the advancing
Mercury. He had no letters for No. 10; he was hastening past, altogether
regardless of Vincent's look of inquiry. When he was addressed, however,
the postman responded with immediate directness. "Fordham, sir--yes--a
gentleman of that name lives at No. 10--leastways he has his letters
there--No. 10--where you have just been, sir."

"But they say he doesn't live there," said Vincent.

"Can't tell, sir--has his letters there," said the public servant,
decidedly.

More than ever perplexed, Vincent followed the postman to pursue his
inquiries. "What sort of a house is it?" he asked.

"Highly respectable house, sir," answered the terse and decisive
functionary, performing an astounding rap next door.

In an agony of impatience and uncertainty, the young man lingered
opposite the house, conscious of a helplessness and impotence which made
him furious with himself. That he ought to be able to get to the bottom
of it was clear; but that he was as far as possible from knowing how to
do that same, or where to pursue his inquiries, was indisputable. One
thing was certain, that Mr. Fordham did not choose to be visible at this
address to which his letters were sent, and that it was hopeless to
attempt to extract any information on the subject by such frank
inquiries as the minister had already made. He took a half-hour's walk,
and thought it over with no great enlightenment on the subject. Then,
coming back, applied once more at the highly respectable
uncommunicative door. He had entertained hopes that another and more
manageable adherent of the house might possibly appear this time--a
maid, or impressionable servitor of some description, and had a little
piece of gold ready for the propitiatory tip in his hand. His hopes
were, however, put to flight by the appearance of the same face,
increased in respectability and composure by the fact that the owner had
thrown off the jacket in which he had formerly been invested, and now
appeared in a solemn black coat, the essence of respectable and
dignified servitude. He fixed his eyes severely upon Vincent as soon as
he opened the door. He was evidently disgusted by this return to the
charge.

"Look here," said Vincent, somewhat startled and annoyed to find himself
confronted by the same face which had formerly defied him; "could you
get a note conveyed from me to Mr. Fordham?--the postman says he has his
letters here."

"If he gets his letters here they come by the post," said the man,
insolently. "There's a post-office round the corner, but I don't keep
one here. If one reaches him, another will. It ain't nothing to me."

"But it is a great deal to me," said Vincent, with involuntary
earnestness. "You have preserved his secret faithfully, whatever it may
be; but it surely can't be any harm to convey a note to Mr. Fordham.
Most likely, when he hears my name," said the young man, with a little
consciousness that what he said was more than he believed, "he will see
me; and I have to leave town this evening. You will do me a great
service if you will save me the delay of the post, and get it delivered
at once. And you may do Mr. Fordham a service too."

The man looked with less certainty in Vincent's face.--"Seems to me some
people don't know what 'No' means, when it's said," he replied, with a
certain relenting in his voice. "There's things as a gen'leman ought to
know, sure enough--something happened in the family or so; but you see,
he don't live here; and since you stand it out so, I don't mind saying
that he's a gen'leman as can't be seen in town to-day, seeing he's in
the country, as I'm informed, on urgent private affairs. It's uncommon
kind of a clergyman, and a stranger, to take such an interest in my
house," continued the fellow, grinning spitefully; "but what I say first
I say last--he don't live here."

"And he is not in town?" asked Vincent eagerly, without noticing the
insolence of the speech. The man gradually closed the door upon himself
till he had shut it, and stood outside, facing his persistent visitor.

"In town or out of town," he said, folding his arms upon his chest, and
surveying Vincent with all the insolence of a lackey who knows he has to
deal with a man debarred by public opinion from the gratifying privilege
of knocking him down, "there ain't no more information to be got here."

Such was the conclusion of Vincent's attempted investigation. He went
away at once, scarcely pausing to hear this speech out, to take the only
means that presented themselves now; and going into the first
stationer's shop in his way, wrote a note entreating Mr. Fordham to meet
him, and giving a friend's address in London, as well as his own in
Carlingford, that he might be communicated with instantly. When he had
written and posted this note, Vincent proceeded to investigate the
Directory and all the red and blue books he could lay his hands upon,
for the name of Fordham. It was not a plentiful name, but still it
occurred sufficiently often to perplex and confuse him utterly. When he
had looked over the list of Fordhams in London, sufficiently long to
give himself an intense headache, and to feel his under-taking entirely
hopeless, he came to a standstill. What was to be done? He had no clue,
nor the hope of any, to guide him through this labyrinth; but he had no
longer any trust in the honour of the man whom his mother had so rashly
received, and to whom Susan had given her heart. By way of the only
precaution which occurred to him, he wrote a short note to Susan,
begging her not to send any more letters to Mr. Fordham until her
mother's return; and desiring her not to be alarmed by this prohibition,
but to be very careful of herself, and wait for an explanation when Mrs.
Vincent should return. He thought he himself would accompany his mother
home. The note was written, as Vincent thought, in the most guarded
terms; but in reality was such an abrupt, alarming performance, as was
sure to drive a sensitive girl into the wildest fright and uncertainty.
Having eased his conscience by this, he went back to the railway, and
returned to Carlingford. Night had fallen before he reached home. Under
any other circumstances, he would have encountered his mother after such
an ineffectual enterprise, conscious as he was of carrying back nothing
but heightened suspicion, with very uncomfortable feelings, and would
have been in his own person too profoundly concerned about this dreadful
danger which menaced his only sister, to be able to rest or occupy
himself about other things. But the fact was, that whenever he relapsed
into the solitary carriage in which he travelled to Carlingford, and
when utterly quiet and alone, wrapped in the haze of din and smoke and
speed which abstracts railway travellers from all the world,--gave
himself up to thought, the rosy hue of his own hopes came stealing over
him unawares. Now and then he woke up, as men wake up from a doze, and
made a passing snatch at his fears. But again and again they eluded his
grasp, and the indefinite brightness which had no foundation in reason,
swallowed up everything which interfered with its power. The effect of
this was to make the young man preternaturally solemn when he entered
the room where his mother awaited him. He felt the reality of the fear
so much less than he ought to do, that it was necessary to put on twice
the appearance. Had he really been as deeply anxious and alarmed as he
should have been, he would naturally have tried to ease and lighten the
burden of the discovery to his mother; feeling it so hazily as he did,
no such precautions occurred to him. She rose up when he came in, with a
face which gradually paled out of all its colour as he approached. When
he was near enough to hold out his hand to her, Mrs. Vincent was nearly
fainting. "Arthur," she cried, in a scarcely audible voice, "God have
pity upon us; it is true: I can see it in your face."

"Mother, compose yourself. I have no evidence that it is true. I have
discovered nothing," cried Vincent, in alarm.

The widow dropped heavily into her chair, and sobbed aloud. "I can read
it in your face," she said. "Oh! my dear boy, have you seen that--that
villain? Does he confess it? Oh, my Susan, my Susan! I will never
forgive myself; I have killed my child."

From this passion it was difficult to recover her, and Vincent had to
represent so strongly the fact that he had ascertained nothing certain,
and that, for anything he could tell, Fordham might still prove himself
innocent, that he almost persuaded his own mind in persuading hers.

"His letters might be taken in at a place where he did not live, for
convenience sake," said Vincent. "The man might think me a dun, or
something disagreeable. Fordham himself, for anything we can tell, may
be very angry about it. Cheer up, mother; things are no worse than they
were last night. I give you my word I have made no discovery, and
perhaps to-morrow may bring us a letter clearing it all up."

"Ah! Arthur, you are so young and hopeful. It is different with me, who
have seen so many terrors come true," said the mother, who
notwithstanding was comforted. As for Vincent, he felt neither the
danger nor the suspense. His whole soul was engrossed with the fact that
it was time to dress; and it was with a little conscious sophistry that
he himself made the best of it, and excused himself for his
indifference.

"I can't bear to leave you, mother, in such suspense and distress," he
said, looking at his watch; "but--I have to be at Lady Western's at
half-past six."

Mrs. Vincent looked up with an expression of stupified surprise and pain
for a moment, then brightened all at once. "My dear, I have laid out all
your things," she said, with animation. "Do you think I would let you
miss it, Arthur? Never mind talking to me. I shall hear all about it
when you come home to-night. Now go, dear, or you will be late. I will
come and talk to you when you are dressing, if you don't mind your
mother? Well, perhaps not. I will stay here, and you can call me when
you are ready, and I will bring you a cup of tea. I am sure you are
tired, what with the fatigue and what with the anxiety. But you must try
to put it off your mind, and enjoy yourself to-night."

"Yes, mother," said Vincent, hastening away; the tears were in her
gentle eyes when she gave him that unnecessary advice. She pressed his
hands fast in hers when he left her at last, repeating it, afraid in her
own heart that this trouble had spoilt all the brightness of the opening
hopes which she perceived with so much pride and joy. When he was gone,
she sat down by the solitary fire, and cried over her Susan in an utter
forlornness and helplessness, which only a woman, so gentle, timid, and
unable to struggle for herself, could feel. Her son, in the mean time,
walked down Grange Lane, first with a momentary shame at his own want of
feeling, but soon, with an entire forgetfulness both of the shame and
the subject of it, absorbed in thoughts of his reception there. With a
palpitating heart he entered the dark garden, now noiseless and chill in
winterly decay, and gazed at the lighted windows which had looked like
distant planets to him the last time he saw them. He lingered looking at
them, now that the moment approached so near. A remembrance of his
former disappointment went to his heart with a momentary pang as he
hesitated on the edge of his present happiness. Another moment and he
had thrown himself again, with a degree of suppressed excitement
wonderful to think of, upon the chances of his fate.

Not alarming chances, so far as could be predicated from the scene. A
small room, the smaller half of that room which he had seen full of the
pretty crowd of the summer-party, the folding-doors closed, and a
curtain drawn across them; a fire burning brightly; groups of candles
softly lighting the room in clusters upon the wall, and throwing a
colourless soft illumination upon the pictures of which Lady Western was
so proud. She herself, dropped amid billows of dark blue silk and clouds
of black lace in a low easy-chair by the side of the fire, smiled at
Vincent, and held out her hand to him without rising, with a sweet
cordiality and friendliness which rapt the young man into paradise.
Though Lucy Wodehouse was scarcely less pretty than the young Dowager,
Mr. Vincent saw her as if he saw her not, and still less did he realise
the presence of Miss Wodehouse, who was the shadow to all this
brightness. He took the chair which Lady Western pointed to him by her
side. He did not want anybody to speak; or anything to happen. The
welcome was not given as to a stranger, but made him at once an intimate
and familiar friend of the house. At once all his dreams were realised.
The sweet atmosphere was tinged with the perfumy breath which always
surrounded Her; the room, which was so fanciful and yet so home-like,
seemed a reflection of her to his bewildered eyes; and the murmur of
soft sound, as these two lovely creatures spoke to each other, made the
most delicious climax to the scene; although the moment before he had
been afraid lest the sound of a voice should break the spell. But the
spell was not to be broken that night. Mr. Wentworth came in a few
minutes after him, and was received with equal sweetness; but still the
young Nonconformist was not jealous. It was he whose arm Lady Western
appropriated, almost without looking at him as she did so, when they
went to dinner. She had put aside the forms which were intended to keep
the outer world at arm's length. It was as her own closest personal
friends that the little party gathered around the little table, just
large enough for them, which was placed before the fire in the great
dining-room. Lady Western was not a brilliant talker, but Mr. Vincent
thought her smallest observation more precious than any utterance of
genius. He listened to her with a fervour which few people showed when
listening to _him_, notwithstanding his natural eloquence; but as to
what he himself said in reply, he was entirely oblivious, and spoke like
a man in a dream. When she clapped her pretty hands, and adjured the
Churchman and the Nonconformist to fight out their quarrel, it was well
for Vincent that Mr. Wentworth declined the controversy. The lecturer on
Church and State was _hors de combat_; he was in charity with all men.
The curate of St. Roque's, who--blind and infatuated man!--thought Lucy
Wodehouse the flower of Grange Lane, did not come in his way. He might
pity him, but it was a sympathetic pity. Mr. Vincent took no notice when
Miss Wodehouse launched tiny arrows of argument at him. She was the only
member of the party who seemed to recollect his heresies in respect to
Church and State--which, indeed, he had forgotten himself, and the state
of mind which led to them. No such world existed now as that cold and
lofty world which the young man of genius had seen glooming down upon
his life, and shutting jealous barriers against his progress. The
barriers were opened, the coldness gone--and he himself raised high on
the sunshiny heights, where love and beauty had their perennial abode.
He had gained nothing--changed in nothing--from his former condition:
not even the golden gates of society had opened to the dissenting
minister; but glorious enfranchisement had come to the young man's
heart. It was not Lady Western who had asked him to dinner--a
distinction of which his mother was proud. It was the woman of all women
who had brought him to her side, whose sweet eyes were sunning him
over, whose voice thrilled to his heart. By her side he forgot all
social distinctions, and all the stings contained in them. No prince
could have reached more completely the ideal elevation and summit of
youthful existence. Ambition and its successes were vulgar in
comparison. It was a poetic triumph amid the prose tumults and downfalls
of life.

When the two young men were left over their wine, a somewhat grim shadow
fell upon the evening. The curate of St. Roque's and the minister of
Salem found it wonderfully hard to get up a conversation. They discussed
the advantages of retiring with the ladies as they sat glum and reserved
opposite each other--not by any means unlike, and, by consequence,
natural enemies. Mr. Wentworth thought it an admirable plan, much more
sensible than the absurd custom which kept men listening to a parcel of
old fogies, who retained the habits of the last generation; and he
proposed that they should join the ladies--a proposal to which Vincent
gladly acceded. When they returned to the drawing-room, Lucy Wodehouse
was at the piano; her sister sat at table with a pattern-book before
her, doing some impossible pattern in knitting; and Lady Western again
sat languid and lovely by the fire, with her beautiful hands in her lap,
relieved from the dark background of the billowy blue dress by the
delicate cambric and lace of her handkerchief. She was not doing
anything, or looking as if she could do anything. She was leaning back
in the low chair, with the rich folds of her dress sweeping the carpet,
and her beautiful ungloved hands lying lightly across each other. She
did not move when the gentlemen entered. She turned her eyes to them,
and smiled those sweet welcoming smiles, which Vincent knew well enough
were for both alike, yet which made his heart thrill and beat. Wentworth
(insensible prig!) went to Lucy's side, and began to talk to her over
her music, now and then appealing to Miss Wodehouse. Vincent, whom no
man hindered, and for whose happiness all the fates had conspired,
invited by those smiling eyes, approached Lady Western with the
surprised delight of a man miraculously blessed. He could not understand
why he was permitted to be so happy. He drew a chair between her and the
table, and, shutting out the other group by turning his back upon them,
had her all to himself. She never changed her position, nor disturbed
her sweet indolence, by the least movement. The fire blazed no longer.
The candles, softly burning against the wall, threw no very brilliant
light upon this scene. To Vincent's consciousness, bewildered as he was
by the supreme delight of his position, they were but two in a new
world, and neither thing nor person disturbed the unimaginable bliss.
But Miss Wodehouse, when she raised her eyes from her knitting, only saw
the young Dowager leaning back in her chair, smiling the natural smiles
of her sweet temper and kind heart upon the young stranger whom she had
chosen to make a _protégé_ of. Miss Wodehouse silently concluded that
perhaps it might be dangerous for the young man, who knew no better, and
that Lady Western always looked well in a blue dress. Such was the
outside world's interpretation of that triumphant hour of Vincent's
life.

How it went on he never could tell. Soft questions, spoken in that voice
which made everything eloquent, gently drew from him the particulars of
his life; and sweet laughter, more musical than that song of Lucy's to
which the curate (dull clod!) gave all his attention, rang silvery peals
over the name of Tozer and the economics of Salem. Perhaps Lady Western
enjoyed the conversation almost half as much as her worshipper did. She
was amused, most delicate and difficult of all successes. She was
pleased with the reverential devotion which had a freshness and tender
humility conjoined with sensitive pride which was novel to her, and more
flattering than ordinary adoration. When he saw it amused her, the young
man exerted himself to set forth his miseries with their ludicrous
element fully developed. They were no longer miseries, they were
happinesses which brought him those smiles. He said twice enough to turn
him out of Salem, and make him shunned by all the connection. He forgot
everything in life but the lovely creature beside him, and the means by
which he could arouse her interest, and keep her ear a little longer.
Such was the position of affairs, when Miss Wodehouse came to the plain
part of her pattern, where she could go on without counting; and seeing
Lady Western so much amused, became interested and set herself to listen
too. By this time Vincent had come to more private concerns.

"I have been inquiring to-day after some one whom my mother knows, and
whom I am anxious to hear about," said Vincent. "I cannot discover
anything about him. It is a wild question to ask if you know him, but it
is just possible; there are such curious encounters in life."

"What is his name?" said Lady Western, with a smile as radiant as a
sunbeam.

"His name is Fordham--Herbert Fordham: I do not know where he comes
from, nor whether he is of any profession; nor, indeed, anything but his
name. I have been in town to-day----"

Here Vincent came to a sudden stop. He had withdrawn his eyes from that
smile of hers for the moment. When he raised them again, the beautiful
picture was changed as if by magic. Her eyes were fixed upon him dilated
and almost wild. Her face was deadly pale. Her hands, which had been
lying lightly crossed, grasped each other in a grasp of sudden anguish
and self-control. He stopped short with a pang too bitter and strange
for utterance. At that touch all his fancies dispersed into the air. He
came to himself strangely, with a sense of chill and desolation. In one
instant, from the height of momentary bliss down to the miserable flat
of conscious unimportance. Such a downfall was too much for man to
endure without showing it. He stopped short at the aspect of her face.

"You have been in town to-day?" she repeated, pointedly, with white and
trembling lips.

"And could hear nothing of him," said Vincent, with a little bitterness.
"He was not to be heard of at his address."

"Where was that?" asked Lady Western again, with the same intent and
anxious gaze.

Vincent, who was sinking down, down in hopeless circles of jealousy,
miserable fierce rage and disappointment, answered, "10 Nameless Street,
Piccadilly," without an unnecessary word.

Lady Western uttered a little cry of excitement and wonder. She knew
nothing of the black abyss into which her companion had fallen any more
than she knew the splendid heights to which her favour had raised him;
but the sound of her own voice recalled her to herself. She turned away
from Vincent and pulled the bell which was within her reach--pulled it
once and again with a nervous twitch, and entangled her bracelet in the
bell-pull, so that she had to bend over to unfasten it. Vincent sat
gloomily by and looked on, without offering any assistance. He knew it
was to hide her troubled face and gain a moment to compose herself; but
he was scarcely prepared for her total avoidance of the subject when she
next spoke.

"They are always so late of giving us tea," she said, rising from her
chair, and going up to Miss Wodehouse: "I can see you have finished your
pattern; let me see how it looks. That is pretty; but I think it is too
elaborate. How many things has Mary done for this bazaar, Mr.
Wentworth?--and do tell us when is it to be?"

What did Vincent care for the answer? He sat disenchanted in that same
place which had been his bower of bliss all the evening, watching her as
she moved about the room; her beautiful figure went and came with a
certain restlessness, surely not usual to her, from one corner to
another. She brought Miss Wodehouse something to look at from the
work-table, and fetched some music for Lucy from a window. She had the
tea placed in a remote corner, and made it there; and insisted on
bringing it to the Miss Wodehouses with her own hands. She was
disturbed; her sweet composure was gone. Vincent sat and watched her
under the shade of his hands, with feelings as miserable as ever moved
man. It was not sorrow for having disturbed her;--feelings much more
personal, mortification and disappointment, and, above all, jealousy,
raged in his heart. Warmer and stronger than ever was his interest in
Mr. Fordham now.

After a miserable interval, he rose to take his leave. When he came up
to her, Lady Western's kind heart once more awoke in his behalf. She
drew him aside after a momentary struggle with herself.

"I know that gentleman," she said, quickly, with a momentary flush of
colour, and shortening of breath; "at least I knew him once; and the
address you mention is my brother's address. If you will tell me what
you want to know, I will ask for you. My brother and he used not to be
friends, but I suppose----. What did you want to know?"

"Only," said Vincent, with involuntary bitterness, "if he was a man of
honour, and could be trusted; nothing else."

The young Dowager paused and sighed; her beautiful eyes softened with
tears. "Oh, yes--yes; with life--to death!" she said, with a low
accompaniment of sighing, and a wistful melancholy smile upon her lovely
face.

Vincent hastened out of the house. He ventured to say nothing to himself
as he went up Grange Lane in the starless night, with all the silence
and swiftness of passion. He dared not trust himself to think. His very
heart, the physical organ itself, seemed throbbing and bursting with
conscious pain. Had she loved this mysterious stranger whose
undecipherable shadow hung over the minister's path? To Vincent's fancy,
nothing else could account for her agitation; and was he so true, and to
be trusted? Poor gentle Susan, whom such a fate and doom was approaching
as might have softened her brother's heart, had but little place in his
thoughts. He was not glad of that favourable verdict. He was overpowered
with jealous rage and passion. Alas for his dreams! Once more, what
downfall and over-throw had come of it! once more he had come down to
his own position, and the second awakening was harder than the first.
When he got home, and found his mother, affectionately proud, waiting to
hear all about the great lady he had been visiting, it is impossible to
express in words the intolerable impatience and disgust with himself and
his fate which overpowered the young man. He had a bad headache, Mrs.
Vincent said, she was sure, and he did not contradict her. It was an
unspeakable relief to him when she went to her own room, and delivered
him from the tender scrutiny of her eyes--those eyes full of nothing but
love, which, in the irritation of his spirit, drove him desperate. He
did not tell her about the unexpected discovery he had made. The very
name of Fordham would have choked him that night.



CHAPTER XIV.


The next morning brought no letters except from Susan. Fordham, if so
true as Lady Western called him, was not, Vincent thought with
bitterness, acting as an honourable man should in this emergency. But
perhaps he might come to Carlingford in the course of the day, to see
Susan's brother. The aspect of the young minister was changed when he
made his appearance at the breakfast table. Mrs. Vincent made the most
alarmed inquiries about his health, but--stopped abruptly in making them
by his short and ungracious answer--came to a dead pause; and with a
pang of fright and mortification, acknowledged to herself that her son
was no longer her boy, whose entire heart she knew, but a man with a
life and concerns of his own, possibly not patent to his mother. That
breakfast was not a cheerful meal. There had been a long silence, broken
only by those anxious attentions to each other's personal comfort, with
which people endeavour to smooth down the embarrassment of an
intercourse apparently confidential, into which some sudden
unexplainable shadow has fallen. At last Vincent got up from the table,
with a little outbreak of impatience.

"I can't eat this morning; don't ask me. Mother, get your bonnet on,"
said the young man; "we must go to see Mrs. Hilyard to-day."

"Yes, Arthur," said Mrs. Vincent, meekly; she had determined _not_ to
see Mrs. Hilyard, of whom her gentle respectability was suspicious; but,
startled by her son's looks, and by the evident arrival of that period,
instinctively perceived by most women, at which a man snatches the reins
out of his adviser's hand, and has his way, the alarmed and anxious
mother let her arms fall, and gave in without a struggle.

"The fact is, I heard of Mr. Fordham last night," said Vincent, walking
about the room, lifting up and setting down again abstractedly the
things on the table. "Lady Western knows him, it appears; perhaps Mrs.
Hilyard does too."

"Lady Western knows him? Oh, Arthur, tell me--what did she say?" cried
his mother, clasping her hands.

"She said he could be trusted--with life--to death," said Vincent, very
low, with an inaudible groan in his heart. He was prepared for the joy
and the tears, and the thanksgiving with which his words were received;
but he could not have believed, how sharply his mother's exclamation,
"God bless my Susan! now I am happy about her, Arthur. I could be
content to die," would go to his heart. Susan, yes;--it was right to be
happy about her; and as for himself, who cared? He shut up his heart in
that bitterness; but it filled him with an irritation and restlessness
which he could not subdue.

"We must go to Mrs. Hilyard; probably she can tell us more," he said,
abruptly; "and there is her child to speak of. I blame myself," he
added, with impatience, "for not telling her before. Let us go now
directly--never mind ringing the bell; all that can be done when we are
out. Dinner? oh, for heaven's sake, let _them_ manage that! Where is
your bonnet, mother? the air will do me good after a bad night."

"Yes, dear," said Mrs. Vincent, moved by this last argument. It must be
his headache, no doubt, she tried to persuade herself. Stimulated by the
sound of his footstep in the next room, she lost very little time over
her toilette. Perhaps the chill January air, sharp with frost, air full
of natural exhilaration and refreshment, did bring a certain relief to
the young Nonconformist's aching temples and exasperated temper. It was
with difficulty his mother kept time with his long strides, as he
hurried her along the street, not leaving her time to look at Salem,
which was naturally the most interesting point in Carlingford to the
minister's mother. Before she had half prepared herself for this
interview, he had hurried her up the narrow bare staircase which led to
Mrs. Hilyard's lodgings. On the landing, with the door half open, stood
Lady Western's big footman, fully occupying the narrow standing-ground,
and shedding a radiance of plush over the whole shabby house. The result
upon Mrs. Vincent was an immediate increase of comfort, for surely the
woman must be respectable to whom people sent messages by so grand a
functionary. The sight of the man struck Vincent like another pang. She
had sent to take counsel, no doubt, on the evidently unlooked-for
information which had startled her so last night.

"Come in," said the inhabitant of the room. She was folding a note for
which the footman waited. Things were just as usual in that shabby
place. The coarse stuff at which she had been working lay on the table
beside her. Seeing a woman with Vincent, she got up quickly, and turned
her keen eyes upon the new-comer. The timid doubtful mother, the young
man, somewhat arbitrary and self-willed, who had brought his companion
there against her will, the very look, half fright, half suspicion,
which Mrs. Vincent threw round the room, explained matters to this quick
observer. She was mistress of the position at once.

"Take this to Lady Western, John," said Mrs. Hilyard. "She may come when
she pleases--I shall be at home all day; but tell her to send a maid
next time, for you are much too magnificent for Back Grove Street. This
is Mrs. Vincent, I know. Your son has brought you to see me, and I hope
you have not come to say that I was too rash in asking a Christian
kindness from this young man's mother. If he had not behaved like a
paladin, I should not have ventured upon it; but when a young man
conducts himself so, I think his mother is a good woman. You have taken
in my child?"

She had taken Mrs. Vincent by both hands, and placed her in a chair, and
sat down beside her. The widow had not a word to say. What with the
praise of her son, which was music to her ears--what with the confusion
of her own position, she was painfully embarrassed and at a loss, and
anxiously full of explanations. "Susan has, I have no doubt; but I am
sorry I left home on Wednesday morning, and we did not know then they
were expected; but we have a spare room, and Susan, I don't doubt----"

"The fact is, my mother had left home before they could have reached
Lonsdale," interposed Vincent; "but my sister would take care of them
equally well. They are all safe. A note came this morning announcing
their arrival. My mother," said the young man, hastily, "returns almost
immediately. It will make no difference to the strangers."

"I am sure Susan will make them comfortable, and the beds would be well
aired," said Mrs. Vincent; "but I had sudden occasion to leave home, and
did not even know of it till the night before. My dear," she said, with
hesitation, "did you think Mrs. Hilyard would know? I brought Susan's
note to show you," she added, laying down that simple performance in
which Susan announced the receipt of Arthur's letter, and the subsequent
arrival of "a governess-lady, and the most beautiful girl that ever was
seen." The latter part of Susan's hurried note, in which she declared
this beautiful girl to be "very odd--a sort of grown-up baby," was
carefully abstracted by the prudent mother.

The strange woman before them took up the note in both her hands and
drank it in, with an almost trembling eagerness. She seemed to read over
the words to herself again and again with moving lips. Then she drew a
long breath of relief.

"Miss Smith is the model of a governess-lady," she said, turning with a
composure wonderfully unlike that eagerness of anxiety to Mrs. Vincent
again--"she never writes but on her day, whatever may happen; and
yesterday did not happen to be her day. Thank you; it is Christian
charity. You must not be any loser meantime, and we must arrange these
matters before you go away. This is not a very imposing habitation," she
said, glancing round with a movement of her thin mouth, and comic gleam
in her eye--"but that makes no difference, so far as they are concerned.
Mr. Vincent knows more about me than he has any right to know,"
continued the strange woman, turning her head towards him for the moment
with an amused glance--"a man takes one on trust sometimes, but a woman
must always explain herself to a woman: perhaps, Mr. Vincent, you will
leave us together while I explain my circumstances to your mother?"

"Oh, I am sure it--it is not necessary," said Mrs. Vincent, half
alarmed; "but, Arthur, you were to ask----"

"What were you to ask?" said Mrs. Hilyard, laying her hand with an
involuntary movement upon a tiny note lying open on the table, to which
Vincent's eyes had already wandered.

"The fact is," he said, following her hand with his eyes, "that my
mother came up to inquire about some one called Fordham, in whom she is
interested. Lady Western knows him," said Vincent, abruptly, looking in
Mrs. Hilyard's face.

"Lady Western knows him. You perceive that she has written to ask me
about him this morning. Yes," said Mrs. Hilyard, looking at the young
man, not without a shade of compassion. "You are quite right in your
conclusions; poor Alice and he _were_ in love with each other before she
married Sir Joseph. He has not been heard of for a long time. What do
you want to know, and how is it he has showed himself now?"

"It is for Susan's sake," cried Mrs. Vincent, interposing; "oh, Mrs.
Hilyard, you will feel for me better than any one--my only daughter! I
got an anonymous letter the night before I left. I am so flurried, I
almost forget what night it was--Tuesday night--which arrived when my
dear child was out. I never kept anything from her in all her life, and
to conceal it was dreadful--and how we got through that night----"

"Mother, the details are surely not necessary now," said her impatient
son. "We want to know what are this man's antecedents and his
character--that is all," he added, with irrestrainable bitterness.

Mrs. Hilyard took up her work, and pinned the long coarse seam to her
knee. "Mrs. Vincent will tell me herself," she said, looking straight at
him with her amused look. Of all her strange peculiarities, the faculty
of amusement was the strangest. Intense restrained passion, anxiety of
the most desperate kind, a wild will which would pause at nothing, all
blended with and left room for this unfailing perception of any
ludicrous possibility. Vincent got up hastily, and, going to the window,
looked out upon the dismal prospect of Salem, throwing its shabby shadow
upon those dreary graves. Instinctively he looked for the spot where
that conversation must have been held which he had overheard from the
vestry window; it came most strongly to his mind at that moment. As his
mother went through her story, how Mr. Fordham had come accidentally to
the house--how gradually they had admitted him to their friendship--how,
at last, Susan and he had become engaged to each other--her son stood at
the window, following in his mind all the events of that evening, which
looked so long ago, yet was only two or three evenings back. He recalled
to himself his rush to the telegraph office; and again, with a sharp
stir of opposition and enmity, recalled, clear as a picture, the
railway-carriage just starting, the flash of light inside, the face so
clearly evident against the vacant cushions. What had he to do with that
face, with its eagle outline and scanty long locks? Somehow, in the
meshes of fate he felt himself so involved that it was impossible to
forget this man. He came and took his seat again with his mind full of
that recollection. The story had come to a pause, and Mrs. Hilyard sat
silent, taking in with her keen eyes every particular of the gentle
widow's character, evidently, as Vincent could see, following her
conduct back to those springs of gentle but imprudent generosity and
confidence in what people said to her, from which her present
difficulties sprang.

"And you admitted him first?" said Mrs. Hilyard, interrogatively,
"because----?" She paused. Mrs. Vincent became embarrassed and nervous.

"It was very foolish, very foolish," said the widow, wringing her hands;
"but he came to make inquiries, you know. I answered him civilly the
first time, and he came again and again. It looked so natural. He had
come down to see a young relation at school in the neighbourhood."

Mrs. Hilyard uttered a sudden exclamation--very slight, low, scarcely
audible; but it attracted Vincent's attention. He could see that her
thin lips were closed, her figure slightly erected, a sudden keen gleam
of interest in her face. "Did he find his relation?" she asked, in a
voice so ringing and distinct that the young minister started, and sat
upright, bracing himself for something about to happen. It did not flash
upon him yet what that meaning might be; but his pulses leapt with a
prescient thrill of some tempest or earthquake about to fall.

"No; he never could find her--it did not turn out to be our Lonsdale, I
think--what is the matter?" cried Mrs. Vincent; "you both know something
I don't know--what has happened? Arthur, have I said anything
dreadful?--oh, what does it mean?"

"Describe him if you can," said Mrs. Hilyard, in a tone which, sharp and
calm, tingled through the room with a passionate clearness which nothing
but extreme excitement could give. She had taken Mrs. Vincent's hand,
and held it tightly with a certain compassionate compulsion, forcing her
to speak. As for Vincent, the horrible suspicion which stole upon him
unmanned him utterly. He had sprung to his feet, and stood with his eyes
fixed on his mother's face with an indescribable horror and suspense. It
was not her he saw. With hot eyes that blazed in their sockets, he was
fixing the gaze of desperation upon a picture in his mind, which he
felt but too certain would correspond with the faltering words which
fell from her lips. Mrs. Vincent, for her part, would have thrown
herself wildly upon him, and lost her head altogether in a frightened
attempt to find out what this sudden commotion meant, had she not been
fixed and supported by that strong yet gentle grasp upon her hand.
"Describe him--take time," said her strange companion again--not looking
at her, but waiting in an indescribable calm of passion for the words
which she could frame in her mind before they were said.

"Tall," said the widow's faltering alarmed voice, falling with a strange
uncertainty through the intense stillness, in single words, with gasps
between; "not--a very young man--aquiline--with a sort of
eagle-look--light hair--long and thin, and as fine as silk--very light
in his beard, so that it scarcely showed. Oh, God help us! what is it?
what is it?--You both know whom I mean."

Neither of them spoke; but the eyes of the two met in a single look,
from which both withdrew, as if the communication were a crime. With a
shudder Vincent approached his mother; and, speechless though he was,
took hold of her, and drew her to him abruptly. Was it murder he read in
those eyes, with their desperate concentration of will and power? The
sight of them, and recollection of their dreadful splendour, drove even
Susan out of his mind. Susan, poor gentle soul!--what if she broke her
tender heart, in which no devils lurked? "Mother, come--come," he said,
hoarsely, raising her up in his arm, and releasing the hand which the
extraordinary woman beside her still clasped fast. The movement roused
Mrs. Hilyard as well as Mrs. Vincent. She rose up promptly from the side
of the visitor who had brought her such news.

"I need not suggest to you that this must be acted on at once," she said
to Vincent, who, in his agitation, saw how the hand, with which she
leant on the table, clenched hard till it grew white with the pressure.
"The man we have to deal with spares nothing." She stopped, and then,
with an effort, went up to the half-fainting mother, who hung upon
Vincent's arm, and took her hands and pressed them close. "We have both
thrust our children into the lion's mouth," she cried, with a momentary
softening. "Go, poor woman, and save your child if you can, and so will
I--we are companions in misfortune. And you are a priest, why cannot you
curse him?" she exclaimed, with a bitter cry. The next moment she had
taken down a travelling-bag from a shelf, and, kneeling down by a trunk,
began to transfer some things to it. Vincent left his mother, and went
up to her with a sudden impulse, "I am a priest, let me bless you," said
the young man, touching with a compassionate hand the dark head bending
before him. Then he took his mother away. He could not speak as he
supported her down-stairs; she, clinging to him with double weakness,
could scarcely support herself at all in her agitation and wonder when
they got into the street. She kept looking in his face with a pitiful
appeal that went to his heart.

"Tell me, Arthur, tell me!" She sobbed it out unawares, and over and
over before he knew what she was saying. And what could he tell her? "We
must go to Susan--poor Susan!" was all the young man could say.



CHAPTER XV.


Mrs. Vincent came to a dead stop as they passed the doors of Salem,
which were ajar, taking resolution in the desperateness of her
uncertainty--for the feelings in the widow's mind were not confined to
one burning impulse of terror for Susan, but complicated by a wonderful
amount of flying anxieties about other matters as well. _She_ knew, by
many teachings of experience, what would be said by all the connection,
when it was known that the minister's mother had been in Carlingford
without going to see anybody--not even Mrs. Tufton, the late minister's
wife, or Mrs. Tozer, who was so close at hand. Though her heart was
racked, Mrs. Vincent knew her duty. She stopped short in her fright and
distress with the mild obduracy of which she was capable. Before rushing
away out of Carlingford to protect her daughter, the mother,
notwithstanding her anxiety, could not forget the injury which she might
possibly do by this means to the credit of her son.

"Arthur, the chapel is open--I should like to go in and rest," she said,
with a little gasp; "and oh, my dear boy, take a little pity upon me! To
see the state you are in, and not to know anything, is dreadful. You
must have a vestry, where one could sit down a little--let us go in."

"A vestry--yes; it will be a fit place," cried Vincent, scarcely knowing
what he was saying, and indeed worn out with the violence of his own
emotions. This little persistent pause of the widow, who was not
absorbed by any one passionate feeling, but took all the common cares of
life with her into her severest trouble, awoke the young man to himself.
He, too, recollected that this enemy who had stolen into his house was
not to be reached by one wild rush, and that everything could not be
suffered to plunge after Susan's happiness into an indiscriminate gulf
of ruin. All his own duties pricked at his heart with bitter reminders
in that moment when he stood by the door of Salem, where two poor women
were busy inside, with pails and brushes, preparing for Sunday. The
minister, too, had to prepare for Sunday. He could not dart forth,
breathing fire and flame at a moment's notice, upon the serpent who had
entered his Eden. Even at this dreadful moment, in all the fever of such
a discovery, the touch of his mother's hand upon his arm brought him
back to his lot. He pushed open the mean door, and led her into the
scene of his weekly labours with a certain sickening disgust in his
heart which would have appalled his companion. _She_ was a dutiful
woman, subdued by long experience of that inevitable necessity against
which all resistance fails; and he a passionate young man, naturally a
rebel against every such bond. They could not understand each other; but
the mother's troubled face, all conscious of Tufton and Tozer, and what
the connection would say, brought all the weight of his own particular
burden back upon Vincent's mind. He pushed in past the pails with a
certain impatience which grieved Mrs. Vincent. She followed him with a
pained and disapproving look, nodding, with a faint little smile, to the
women, who no doubt were members of the flock, and might spread an evil
report of the pastor, who took no notice of them. As she followed him to
the vestry, she could not help thinking, with a certain strange mixture
of pain, vexation, and tender pride, how different his dear father would
have been. "But Arthur, dear boy, has my quick temper," sighed the
troubled woman. After all, it was her fault rather than her son's.

"This is a very nice room," said Mrs. Vincent, sitting down with an air
of relief; "but I think it would be better to close the window, as there
is no fire. You were always very susceptible to cold, Arthur, from a
child. And now, my dear boy, we are undisturbed, and out of those
dreadful glaring streets where everybody knows you. I have not troubled
you, Arthur, for I saw you were very much troubled; but, oh! don't keep
me anxious now."

"Keep you anxious! You ask me to make you anxious beyond anything you
can think of," said the young man, closing the window with a hasty and
fierce impatience, which she could not understand. "Good heavens,
mother! why did you let that man into your innocent house?"

"Who is he, Arthur?" asked Mrs. Vincent, with a blanched face.

"He is----" Vincent stopped with his hand upon the window where he had
overheard that conversation, a certain awe coming over him. Even Susan
went out of his mind when he thought of the dreadful calmness with which
his strange acquaintance had promised to kill her companion of that
night. Had she started already on this mission of vengeance? A cold
thrill came over him where he stood. "I can't tell who he is," he
exclaimed, abruptly, throwing himself down upon the little sofa; "but it
was to be in safety from him that Mrs. Hilyard sent her daughter to
Lonsdale. It was he whom she vowed to kill if he found the child.
Ah!--he is," cried the young man, springing to his feet again with a
sudden pang and smothered exclamation as the truth dawned upon him,
"Lady Western's brother. What other worse thing he is I cannot tell.
Ruin, misery, and horror at the least--death to Susan--not much less to
me."

"To you? Oh, Arthur, have pity upon me, my heart is breaking," said Mrs.
Vincent. "Oh, my boy, my boy, whom I would die to save from any trouble!
don't tell me I have destroyed you. That cannot be, Arthur--_that_
cannot be!"

The poor minister did not say anything--his heart was bitter within him.
He paced up and down the vestry with dreadful thoughts. What was She to
him if she had a hundred brothers? Nothing in the world could raise the
young Nonconformist to that sweet height which she made beautiful; and
far beyond that difference came the cruel recollection of those smiles
and tears--pathetic, involuntary confessions. If there was another man
in the world whom she could trust "with life--to death!" what did it
matter though a thousand frightful combinations involved poor Vincent
with her kindred? He tried to remind himself of all this, but did not
succeed. In the mean time, the fact glared upon him that it was her
brother who had aimed this deadly blow at the honour and peace of his
own humble house; and his heart grew sad with the thought that, however
indifferent she might be to him, however unattainable, here was a
distinct obstacle which must cut off all that bewildering tantalising
intercourse which at present was still possible, notwithstanding every
other hindrance. He thought of this, and not of Susan, as the floor of
the little vestry thrilled under his feet. He was bitter, aggrieved,
indignant. His troubled mother, who sat by there, half afraid to cry,
watching him with frightened, anxious, uncomprehending eyes, had done
him a sharp and personal injury. _She_ could not fancy how it was, nor
what she could have done. She followed him with mild tearful glances,
waiting with a woman's compelled patience till he should come to
himself, and revolving thoughts of Salem, and supply for the pulpit
there, with an anxious pertinacity. But in her way Mrs. Vincent was a
wise woman. She did not speak--she let him wear himself out first in
that sudden apprehension of the misfortune personal to himself, which
was at the moment so much more poignant and bitter than any other dread.
When he had subsided a little--and first of all he threw up the window,
leaning out, to his mother's great vexation, with a total disregard of
the draught, and receiving the chill of the January breeze upon his
heated brow--she ventured to say, gently, "Arthur, what are we to do?"

"To go to Lonsdale," said Vincent. "When we came in here, I thought we
could rush off directly; but these women outside there, and this place,
remind me that I am not a free man, who can go at once and do his duty.
I am in fetters to Salem, mother. Heaven knows when I may be able to get
away. Sunday must be provided for first. No natural immediate action is
possible to me."

"Hush, Arthur dear--oh, hush! Your duty to your flock is above your duty
even to your sister," said the widow, with a tremulous voice, timid of
saying anything to him whose mood she could not comprehend. "You must
find out when the first train starts, and I will go. I have been very
foolish," faltered the poor mother, "as you say, Arthur; but if my poor
child is to bear such a dreadful blow, I am the only one to take care of
her. Susan"--here she made a pause, her lip trembled, and she had all
but broken into tears--"will not upbraid me, dear. You must not neglect
your duty, whatever happens; and now let us go and inquire about the
train, Arthur, and you can come on Monday, after your work is over; and,
oh! my dear boy, we must not repine, but accept the arrangements of
Providence. It was what your dear father always said to his dying day."

Her face all trembling and pale, her eyes full of tears which were not
shed, her tender humility, which never attempted a defence, and those
motherly, tremulous, wistful advices which it now for the first time
dawned upon Mrs. Vincent her son was not certain to take, moved the
young Nonconformist out of his personal vexation and misery.

"This will not do," he said. "I must go with you; and we must go
directly. Susan may be less patient, less believing, less ready to take
our word for it, than you imagine, mother. Come; if there is anybody to
be got to do this preaching, the thing will be easy. Tozer will help me,
perhaps. We will waste no more time here."

"I am quite rested, Arthur dear," said Mrs. Vincent; "and it will be
right for me to call at Mrs. Tozer's too. I wish I could have gone to
Mrs. Tufton's, and perhaps some others of your people. But you must tell
them, dear, that I was very hurried--and--and not very well; and that it
was family business that brought me here."

"I do not see they have any business with the matter," said the
rebellious minister.

"My dear, it will of course be known that I was in Carlingford; and I
know how things are spoken of in a flock," said Mrs. Vincent, rising;
"but you must tell them all I wanted to come, and could not--which,
indeed, will be quite true. A minister's family ought to be very
careful, Arthur," added the much-experienced woman. "I know how little a
thing makes mischief in a congregation. Perhaps, on the whole, I ought
not to call at Mrs. Tozer's, as there is no time to go elsewhere. But
still I should like to do it. One good friend is often everything to a
young pastor. And, my dear, you should just say a word in passing to the
women outside."

"By way of improving the occasion?" said Vincent, with a little scorn.
"Mother, don't torture yourself about me. I shall get on very well; and
we have plenty on our hands just now without thinking of Salem. Come,
come; with this horrible cloud overhanging Susan, how can you spare a
thought for such trifles as these?"

"Oh, Arthur, my dear boy, must not we keep you right?" said his mother;
"are not you our only hope? If this dreadful news you tell me is true,
my child will break her heart, and I will be the cause of it; and Susan
has no protector or guardian, Arthur dear, that can take care of her,
but you."

Wiping her eyes, and walking with a feeble step, Mrs. Vincent followed
her son out of Salem; but she looked up with gentle interest to his
pulpit as she passed, and said it was a cold day to the cleaners, with
anxious carefulness. She was not carried away from her palpable
standing-ground by any wild tempest of anxiety. Susan, whose heart would
be broken by this blow, was her mother's special object in life; but the
thought of that coming sorrow which was to crush the girl's heart, made
Mrs. Vincent only the more anxiously concerned to conciliate and please
everybody whose influence could be of any importance to her son.

So they came out into the street together, and went on to Tozer's shop.
She, tremulous, watchful, noting everything; now lost in thought as to
how the dreadful truth was to be broken to Susan; now in anxious plans
for impressing upon Arthur the necessity of considering his people--he,
stinging with personal wounds and bitterness, much more deeply alarmed
than his mother, and burning with consciousness of all the complications
which she was totally ignorant of. Fury against the villain himself,
bitter vexation that he was Lady Western's brother, anger at his mother
for admitting, at Susan for giving him her heart, at Mrs. Hilyard for he
could not tell what, because she had added a climax to all, burned in
Vincent's mind as he went on to George Street with his mother leaning on
his arm, who asked him after every wayfarer who passed them, Who was
that? It was not wonderful that the young man gradually grew into a
fever of excitement and restless misery. Everything conspired to
exasperate him,--even the fact that Sunday came so near, and could not
be escaped. The whirl of his brain came to a climax when Lady Western's
carriage drove past, and through the mist of his wretchedness he saw the
smile and the beautiful hand waved to him in sweet recognition. Oh
heaven! to bring tears to those eyes, or a pang to that heart!--to have
her turn from him shuddering, or pass him with cold looks, because her
brother was a villain, and _he_ the avenger of that crime! His mother,
almost running to keep up with his unconsciously quickened pace, cast
pitiful looks at him, inquiring what it was. The poor young fellow could
not have told even if he would. It was a combination of miseries,
sharply stimulated to the intolerable point by the mission on which he
had now to enter Tozer's shop.

"We heard you was come, ma'am," said Tozer, graciously, "and in course
was looking for a call. I hope you are going to stay awhile and help us
take care of the pastor. He don't take that care of himself as his
friends would wish," said the butterman. "Mr. Vincent, sir, I've a deal
to say to you when you're at leisure. Old Mr. Tufton, he has a deal to
say to you. We are as anxious as ever we can be, us as are old stagers,
to keep the minister straight, ma'am. He's but a young man, and he's
come into a deal of popularity, and any one more thought on in our
connection, I don't know as I would wish to see; but it wouldn't do to
let him have his head turned. Them lectures on Church and State couldn't
but be remarked, being delivered, as you may say, in the world, all on
us making a sacrifice to do our duty by our fellow-creaturs, seein' what
we had in our power. But man is but mortal; and us Salem folks don't
like to see no signs of that weakness in a pastor; it's our duty to see
as his head's not turned."

"Indeed, I trust there is very little fear of that," said Mrs. Vincent,
roused, and set on the defensive. "My dear boy has been used to be
appreciated, and to have people round him who could understand him. As
for having his head turned, that might happen to a man who did not know
what intelligent approbation was; but after doing so well as he did at
college, and having his dear father's approval, I must say I don't see
any cause to apprehend _that_, Mr. Tozer. I am not surprised at all, for
my part,--I always knew what my Arthur could do."

"No more of this," said Vincent, impatiently. "Look here, I have come
on a special business. Can any one be got, do you think, to preach on
Sunday? I must go home with my mother to-day."

"To-day!" Tozer opened his eyes, with a blank stare, as he slowly took
off his apron. "You was intimated to begin that course on the Miracles,
Mr. Vincent, if you'll excuse _me_, on Sunday. Salem folks is a little
sharp, I don't deny. It would be a great disappointment, and I can't say
I think as it would be took well if you was to go away."

"I can't help that," said the unfortunate minister, to whom opposition
at this moment was doubly intolerable. "The Salem people, I presume,
will hear reason. My mother has come upon----"

"Family business," interrupted Mrs. Vincent, with the deepest trembling
anxiety. "Arthur dear, let me explain it, for you are too susceptible.
My son is all the comfort we have in the world, Mr. Tozer," said the
anxious widow. "I ought not to have told him how much his sister wanted
him, but I was rash, and did so; and now I ought to bear the penalty. I
have made him anxious about Susan; but, Arthur dear, never mind; you
must let me go by myself, and on Monday you can come. Your dear father
always said his flock was his first duty, and if Sunday is a special
day, as Mr. Tozer says----"

"Oh, Pa, is it Mrs. Vincent? and you keep her in the shop, when we are
all as anxious as ever we can be to see her," said Phoebe, who
suddenly came upon the scene. "Oh, please to come up-stairs to the
drawing-room. Oh, I _am_ so glad to see you! and it was so unkind of Mr.
Vincent not to let us know you were coming. Mamma wanted to ask you to
come here, for she thought it would be more comfortable than a
bachelor's rooms; and we did think the minister would have told _us_,"
said Phoebe, with reproachful looks; "but now that you have come back
again, after such a long time, please, Mr. Vincent, let your mother come
up-stairs. They say you don't think us good enough to be trusted now;
but oh, I don't think you could ever be like that!" continued Phoebe,
pausing by the door as she ushered Mrs. Vincent into the drawing-room,
and giving the minister an appealing remonstrative glance before she
dropped her eyelids in virginal humility. Poor Vincent paused too,
disgusted and angry, but with a certain confusion. To fling out of the
house, dash off to his rooms, make his hasty preparations for the
journey, was the impulse which possessed him; but his mother was looking
back with wistful curiosity, wondering what the two could mean by
pausing behind her at the door.

"I am exactly as I was the last time I saw you, which was on Tuesday,"
he said, with some indignation. "I will follow you, please. My mother
has no time to spare, as she leaves to-day--can Mrs. Tozer see her? She
has been agitated and worn out, and we have not really a moment to
spare."

"Appearingly not--not for your own friends, Mr. Vincent," said Mrs.
Tozer, who now presented herself. "I hope I see you well, ma'am, and
proud to see you in my house, though I will say the minister don't show
himself not so kind as was to be wished. Phoebe, don't put on none o'
your pleading looks--for shame of yourself, Miss! If Mr. Vincent has
them in Carlingford as he likes better than any in his own flock, it
ain't no concern of ours. It's a thing well known as the Salem folks are
all in trade, and don't drive their carriages, nor give themselves up to
this world and vanity. I never saw no good come, for my part, of folks
sacrificing theirselves and their good money as Tozer and the rest set
their hearts on, with that Music Hall and them advertisings and
things--not as I was meaning to upbraid you, Mr. Vincent, particular not
before your mother, as is a stranger--but we was a deal comfortabler
before them lectures and things, and taking off your attention from your
own flock."

Before this speech was finished, the whole party had assembled in the
drawing-room, where a newly-lighted fire, hastily set light to on the
spur of the moment by Phoebe, was sputtering drearily. Mrs. Vincent
had been placed in an arm-chair at one side, and Mrs. Tozer, spreading
out her black silk apron and arranging her cap, set herself doggedly on
the other, with a little toss of her head and careful averting of her
eyes from the accused pastor. Tozer, without his apron, had drawn a
chair to the table, and was drumming on it with the blunt round ends of
his fingers; while Phoebe, in a slightly pathetic attitude, ready for
general conciliation, hovered near the minister, who grew red all over,
and clenched his hand with an emphasis most intelligible to his
frightened mother. The dreadful pause was broken by Phoebe, who rushed
to the rescue.

"Oh, Ma, how can you!" cried that young lady--"you were all worrying
and teasing Mr. Vincent, you know you were; and if he does know that
beautiful lady," said Phoebe, with her head pathetically on one side,
and another glance at him, still more appealing and tenderly
reproachful--"and--and likes to go to see her--it's--it's the naturalest
thing that ever was. Oh, I knew he never could think anything of anybody
else in Carlingford after Lady Western! and I am sure, whatever other
people may say, I--I--never can think Mr. Vincent was to blame."

Phoebe's words were interrupted by her feelings--she sank back into a
seat when she had concluded, and put a handkerchief to her eyes. As for
Tozer, he still drummed on the table. A certain human sympathy was in
the mind of the butterman, but he deferred to the readier utterance of
his indignant wife.

"I never said it was any concern of ours," said Mrs. Tozer. "It ain't
our way to court nobody as doesn't seek our company; but a minister as
we've all done a deal to make comfortable, and took an interest in equal
to a son, and has been made such a fuss about as I never see in our
connection--it's disappointing, I will say, to see him a-going off after
worldly folks that don't care no more about religion than I do about
playing the piano. Not as Phoebe doesn't play the piano better than
most--but such things ain't in my thoughts. I do say it's disappointing,
and gives folks a turn. If she's pretty-lookin'--as she may be, for what
I can tell--it ain't none of the pastor's business. Them designing
ladies is the ruin of a young man; and when he deserts his flock, as
are making sacrifices, and goes off after strangers, I don't say if it's
right or wrong, but I say it's disappointin', and what wasn't looked for
at Mr. Vincent's hands."

Vincent had listened up to this point with moderate
self-restraint--partially, perhaps, subdued by the alarmed expression of
his mother's face, who had fixed her anxious eyes upon him, and vainly
tried to convey telegraphic warnings; but the name of Lady Western stung
him. "What is all this about?" he asked, with assumed coldness. "Nobody
supposes, surely, that I am to render an account of my private friends
to the managers of the chapel. It is a mistake, if it has entered any
imagination. I shall do nothing of the kind. There is enough of this.
When I neglect my duties, I presume I shall hear of it more seriously.
In the mean time, I have real business in hand."

"But, Arthur dear, I daresay some one has misunderstood you," said his
mother; "it always turns out so. I came the day before yesterday, Mrs.
Tozer. I left home very suddenly in great anxiety, and I was very much
fatigued by the journey, and I must go back to-day. I have been very
selfish, taking my son away from his usual occupations. Never mind me,
Arthur dear; if you have any business, leave me to rest a little with
Mrs. Tozer. I can take such a liberty here, because I know she is such a
friend of yours. Don't keep Mr. Tozer away from his business on my
account. I know what it is when time is valuable. I will just stay a
little with Mrs. Tozer, and you can let me know when it is time for the
train. Yes, I came up very hurriedly," said the gentle diplomatist,
veiling her anxiety as she watched the gloomy countenances round her.
"We had heard some bad news; I had to ask my son to go to town yesterday
for me, and--and I must go home to-day without much comfort. I feel a
good deal shaken, but I dare not stay away any longer from my dear child
at home."

"Dear, dear; I hope it's nothing serious as has happened?" said Mrs.
Tozer, slightly mollified.

"It is some bad news about the gentleman Susan was going to marry," said
Mrs. Vincent, with a rapid calculation of the necessities of the
position; "and she does not know yet. Arthur, my dear boy, it would be a
comfort to my mind to know about the train."

"Oh, and you will be so fatigued!" said Phoebe. "I do so hope it's
nothing bad. I _am_ so interested about Miss Vincent. Oh, Pa, do go
down-stairs and look at the railway bill. Won't you lie down on the sofa
a little and rest? Fancy, mamma, taking two journeys in three days!--it
would kill you; and, oh, I do so hope it is nothing very bad. I have so
longed to see you and Mr. Vincent's sister. He told me all about her one
evening. Is the gentleman ill? But do lie down and rest after all your
fatigue. Mamma, don't you think it would do Mrs. Vincent good?"

"We'll have a bit of dinner presently," said Mrs. Tozer. "Phoebe, go
and fetch the wine. There is one thing in trouble, that it makes folks
find out their real friends. It wouldn't be to Lady Western the
minister would think of taking his mother. I ain't saying anything,
Tozer--nor Mr. Vincent needn't think I am saying anything. If I speak my
mind a bit, I don't bear malice. Phoebe's a deal too feelin', Mrs.
Vincent--she's overcome, that's what she is; and if I must speak the
truth, it's disappointing to see our pastor, as we've all made
sacrifices for, following after the ungodly. I am a mother myself,"
continued Mrs. Tozer, changing her seat, as her husband, followed by the
indignant Vincent, went down-stairs, "and I know a mother's feelin's:
but after what I heard from Mrs. Pigeon, and how it's going through all
the connection in Carlingford----"

Mrs. Vincent roused herself to listen. Her son's cause was safe in her
hands.

Meantime Vincent went angry and impetuous down-stairs. "I will not
submit to any inquisition," cried the young man. "I have done nothing I
am ashamed of. If I dine with a friend, I will suffer no questioning on
the subject. What do you mean? What right has any man in any connection
to interfere with my actions? Why, you would not venture to attack your
servant so! Am I the servant of this congregation? Am I their slave?
Must I account to them for every accident of my life? Nobody in the
world has a right to make such a demand upon me."

"If a minister ain't a servant, we pays him his salary at the least, and
expects him to please us," said Tozer, sulkily. "If it weren't for that,
I don't give a sixpence for the Dissenting connection. Them as likes to
please themselves would be far better in a State Church, where it
wouldn't disappoint nobody; not meaning to be hard on you as has given
great satisfaction, them's my views; but if the Chapel folks is a little
particular, it's no more nor a pastor's duty to bear with them, and
return a soft answer. I don't say as I'm dead again' you, like the
women," added the butterman, softening; "they're jealous, that's what
they are; but I couldn't find it in my heart, not for my own part, to be
hard on a man as was led away after a beautiful creature like that. But
there can't no good come of it, Mr. Vincent; take my advice, sir, as
have seen a deal of the world--there can't no good come of it. A man as
goes dining with Lady Western, and thinking as she means to make a
friend of him, ain't the man for Salem. We're different sort of folks,
and we can't go on together. Old Mr. Tufton will tell you just the same,
as has gone through it all--and that's why I said both him and me had a
deal to say to you, as are a young man, and should take good advice."

It was well for Vincent that the worthy butterman was lengthy in his
address. The sharp impression of resentment and indignation which
possessed him calmed down under this outpouring of words. He bethought
himself of his dignity, his character. A squabble of self-defence, in
which the sweet name of the lady of his dreams must be involved--an
angry encounter of words about her, down here in this mean world to
which the very thought of her was alien, wound up her young worshipper
into supernatural self-restraint. He edged past the table in the
back-parlour to the window, and stood there looking out with a
suppressed fever in his veins, biting his lip, and bearing his lecture.
On the whole, the best way, perhaps, would have been to leave
Carlingford at once, as another man would have done, and leave the
Sunday to take care of itself. But though he groaned under his bonds,
the young Nonconformist was instinctively confined by them, and had the
habits of a man trained in necessary subjection to circumstances. He
turned round abruptly when the butterman at last came to a pause.

"I will write to one of my friends in Homerton," he said, "if you will
make an apology for me in the chapel. I daresay I could get Beecher to
come down, who is a very clever fellow; and as for the beginning of that
course of sermons----"

He stopped short with a certain suppressed disgust. Good heavens! what
mockery it seemed. Amid these agonies of life, a man overwhelmed with
deadly fear, hatred, and grief might indeed pause to snatch a burning
lesson, or appropriate with trembling hands a consolatory promise; but
with the whole solemn future of his sister's life hanging on a touch,
with all the happiness and peace of his own involved in a feverish
uncertainty, with dark unsuspected depths of injury and wretchedness
opening at his feet--to think of courses of sermons and elaborate
preachments, ineffectual words, and pretences of teaching! For the first
time in the commotion of his soul, in the resentments and forebodings to
which he gave no utterance, in the bitter conviction of uncertainty in
everything which consumed his heart, a doubt of his own ability to teach
came to Vincent's mind. He stopped short with an intolerable pang of
impatience and self-disgust.

"And what of that, Mr. Vincent?" said Tozer. "I can't say as I think
it'll be well took to see a stranger in the pulpit after them
intimations. I made it my business to send the notices out last night;
and after saying everywhere as you were to begin a coorse, as I always
advised, if you had took my advice, it ain't a way to stop talk to put
them off now. Old Mr. Tufton, you know, he was a different man; it was
experience as was his line; and I don't mean to say nothing against
experience," said the worthy deacon. "There ain't much true godliness,
take my word, where there's a shrinking from disclosin' the state of
your soul; but for keeping up a congregation there's nothing I know on
like a coorse--and a clever young man as has studied his subjects, and
knows the manners of them old times, and can give a bit of a description
as takes the interest, that's what I'd set my heart on for Salem.
There's but three whole pews in the chapel as isn't engaged," said the
butterman, with a softening glance at the pastor; "and the Miss Hemmings
sent over this morning to say as they meant to come regular the time you
was on the Miracles; and but for this cackle of the women, as you'll
soon get over, there ain't a thing as I can see to stop us filling up to
the most influential chapel in the connection; I mean in our parts."

The subdued swell of expectation with which the ambitious butterman
concluded, somehow made Vincent more tolerant even in his undiminished
excitement. He gave a subdued groan over all this that was expected of
him, but not without a little answering thrill in his own troubled and
impatient heart.

"A week can't make much difference, if I am ever to do any good," said
the young man. "I must go now; but if you explain the matter for me, you
will smooth the way. I will bring my mother and sister here," he went
on, giving himself over for a moment to a little gleam of comfort, "and
everything will go on better. I am worried and anxious now, and don't
know what I am about. Give me some paper, and I will write to Beecher.
You will like him. He is a good fellow, and preaches much better than I
do," added poor Vincent with a sigh, sitting wearily down by the big
table. He was subdued to his condition at that moment, and Tozer
appreciated the momentary humbleness.

"I am not the man to desert my minister when he's in trouble," said the
brave butterman. "Look you here, Mr. Vincent; don't fret yourself about
it. I'll take it in hand; and I'd like to see the man in Salem as would
say to the contrary again' me and the pastor both. Make your mind easy;
I'll manage 'em. As for the women," said Tozer, scratching his head, "I
don't pretend not to be equal to that; but my missis is as reasonable as
most; and Phoebe, she'll stand up for you, whatever you do. If you'll
take my advice, and be a bit prudent, and don't go after no more
vanities, things ain't so far wrong but a week or two will make them
right."

With this consolatory assurance Vincent began to write his letter.
Before he had concluded it, the maid came to lay the cloth for dinner,
thrusting him into a corner, where he accomplished his writing painfully
on his knee with his ink on the window-sill, a position in which
Phoebe found him when she ventured down-stairs. It was she who took
his letter from him, and ran with it to the shop to despatch it at once;
and Phoebe came back to tell him that Mrs. Vincent was resting, and
that it was _so_ pleasant to see him back again after such a time. "I
never expected you would have any patience for us when I saw you knew
Lady Western _so_ well. Oh, she is so sweetly pretty! and if I were a
gentleman, I know I should fall _deep_ in love with her," said Phoebe,
with a sidelong glance, and not without hopes of calling forth a
disclaimer from the minister; but the poor minister, jammed up in the
corner, whence it was now necessary to extricate his chair preparatory
to sitting down to a family dinner with the Tozers, was, as usual,
unequal to the occasion, and had nothing to say. Phoebe's chair was by
the minister's side during that substantial meal; and the large fire
which burned behind Mrs. Tozer at the head of the table, and the
steaming viands on the hospitable board, and the prevailing atmosphere
of cheese and bacon which entered when the door was opened, made even
Mrs. Vincent pale and flush a little in the heroic patience and
friendliness with which she bent all her powers to secure the support of
these adherents to her son. "I could have wished, Arthur, they were a
little more refined," she said, faintly, when the dinner was over, and
they were at last on their way to the train; "but I am sure they are
very _genuine_, my dear; and one good friend is often everything to a
pastor; and I am so glad we went at such a time." So glad! The young
Nonconformist heaved a tempestuous sigh, and turned away not without a
reflection upon the superficial emotions of women who at such a time
could he glad. But Mrs. Vincent, for her part, with a fatigue and
sickness of heart which she concealed from herself as much as she could,
let down her veil, and cried quietly behind it. Perhaps her share of the
day's exhaustion had not been the mildest or least hard.



CHAPTER XVI.


The journey was troublesome and tedious, involving a change from one
railway to another, and a troubled glimpse into the most noisy streets
of London by the way. Vincent had left his mother, as he thought, safe
in the cab which carried them to the second railway station, and was
disposing of the little luggage they had with them, that he might not
require to leave her again, when he heard an anxious voice calling him,
and found her close behind him, afloat in the bustle and confusion of
the crowd, dreadfully agitated and helpless, calling upon her Arthur
with impatient accents of distress. His annoyance to find her there
increased her confusion and trembling. "Arthur," she gasped out, "I saw
him--I saw him--not a minute ago--in a cab--with some ladies; oh, my
dear, run after him. That was the way he went. Arthur, Arthur, why don't
you go? Never mind me--I can take care of myself."

"Who was it--how did he go?--why didn't you stop him, mother?" cried the
young man, rushing back to the spot she had left. Nothing was to be seen
there but the usual attendant group of railway porters, and the alarmed
cabman who had been keeping his eye on Mrs. Vincent. The poor widow
gasped as she gazed and saw no traces of the enemy who had eluded them.

"Oh, Arthur, my dear boy, I thought, in such a case, it ought to be a
man to speak to him," faltered Mrs. Vincent. "He went that way--that
way, look!--in a cab, with somebody in a blue veil."

Vincent rushed away in the direction she indicated, at a pace which he
was totally unused to, and of course quite unable to keep up beyond the
first heat; but few things could be more hopeless than to dash into the
whirl of vehicles in the crowded current of the New Road, with any vain
hope of identifying one which had ten minutes' start, and no more
distinctive mark of identity than the spectrum of a blue veil. He rushed
back again, angry with himself for losing breath in so vain an attempt,
just in time to place his mother in a carriage and jump in beside her
before the train started. Mrs. Vincent's anxiety, her questions which he
could not hear, her doubts whether it might not have been best to have
missed the train and followed Mr. Fordham, aggravated the much-tried
patience of her son beyond endurance. They set off upon their sad
journey with a degree of injured feeling on both sides, such as often
gives a miserable complication to a mutual anxiety. But the mother,
wounded and timid, feeling more than ever the difference between the boy
who was all her own and the man who had thoughts and impulses of which
she knew nothing, was naturally the first to recover and to make wistful
overtures of peace.

"Well, Arthur," she said, after a while, leaning forward to him, her
mild voice making a gentle murmur through the din of the journey,
"though it was very foolish of me not to speak to him when I saw him,
still, dear, he is gone and out of the way; that is a great comfort--we
will never, never let him come near Susan again. That is just what I was
afraid of; I have been saying to myself all day, 'What if he should go
to Lonsdale too, and deny it all?' but Providence, you see, dear, has
ordered it for us, and now he shall never come near my poor child
again."

"Do you think he has been to Lonsdale?" asked Vincent.

"My poor Susan!" said his simple mother, "she will be happier than ever
when we come to her with this dreadful news. Yes; I suppose he must have
been seeing her, Arthur--and I am glad it has happened while I was away,
and before we knew; and now he is gone," said the widow, looking out of
the carriage with a sigh of relief, as if she could still see the road
by which he had disappeared--"now he is gone, there will be no need for
any dreadful strife or arguments. God always arranges things for us so
much better than we can arrange them for ourselves. Fancy if he had come
to-morrow to tear her dear heart to pieces!--Oh, Arthur, I am very
thankful! There will be nothing to do now but to think best how to break
it to her. He had ladies with him; it is dreadful to think of such
villany. Oh, Arthur, do you imagine it could be his wife?--and somebody
in a blue veil."

"A blue veil!"--Mrs. Hilyard's message suddenly occurred to Vincent's
mind, with its special mention of that article of disguise. "If this man
is the man we suppose, he has accomplished one of his wishes," said the
minister, slowly; "and she will kill him as sure as he lives."

"Who will kill him?--I hope nothing has occurred about your friend's
child to agitate my Susan," said his mother. "It was all the kindness of
your heart, my dear boy; but it was very imprudent of you to let Susan's
name be connected with anybody of doubtful character. Oh, Arthur, dear,
we have both been very imprudent!--you have so much of my quick temper.
It was a punishment to me to see how impatient you were to-day; but
Susan takes after your dear father. Oh, my own boy, pray; pray for her,
that her heart may not be broken by this dreadful news."

And Mrs. Vincent leant back in her corner, and once more put down her
veil. Pray!--who was he to pray for? Susan, forlorn and innocent,
disappointed in her first love, but unharmed by any worldly soil or evil
passion?--or the other sufferers involved in more deadly sort, himself
palpitating with feverish impulses, broken loose from all his peaceful
youthful moorings, burning with discontents and aspirations, not
spiritual, but of the world? Vincent prayed none as he asked himself
that bitter question. He drew back in his seat opposite his mother, and
pondered in his heart the wonderful difference between the objects of
compassion to whom the world gives ready tears, and those of whom the
world knows and suspects nothing. Susan! he could see her mother
weeping over her in her white and tender innocence. What if, perhaps,
she broke her young heart? the shock would only send the girl with more
clinging devotion to the feet of the great Father; but as for himself,
all astray from duty and sober life, devoured with a consuming fancy,
loathing the way and the work to which he had been trained to believe
that Father had called him--who thought of weeping?--or for Her, whom
his alarmed imagination could not but follow, going forth remorseless
and silent to fulfil her promise, and kill the man who had wronged her?
Oh, the cheat of tears!--falling sweet over the young sufferers whom
sorrow blessed--drying up from the horrible complex pathways where other
souls, in undisclosed anguish, went farther and farther from God!

With such thoughts the mother and son hurried on upon their darkling
journey. It was the middle of the night when they arrived in Lonsdale--a
night starless, but piercing with cold. They were the only passengers
who got out at the little station, where two or three lamps glared
wildly on the night, and two pale porters made a faint bustle to forward
the long convoy of carriages upon its way. One of these men looked
anxiously at the widow, as if with the sudden impulse of asking a
question, or communicating some news, but was called off by his superior
before he could speak. Vincent unconsciously observed the look, and was
surprised and even alarmed by it, without knowing why. It returned to
his mind, as he gave his mother his arm to walk the remaining distance
home. Why did the man put on that face of curiosity and wonder? But, to
be sure, to see the mild widow arrive in this unexpected way in the
middle of the icy January night, must have been surprising enough to any
one who knew her, and her gentle decorous life. He tried to think no
more of it, as they set out upon the windy road, where a few
sparely-scattered lamps blinked wildly, and made the surrounding
darkness all the darker. The station was half a mile from the town, and
Mrs. Vincent's cottage was on the other side of Lonsdale, across the
river, which stole sighing and gleaming through the heart of the little
place. Somehow the sudden black shine of that water as they caught it,
crossing the bridge, brought a shiver and flash of wild imagination to
the mind of the Nonconformist. He thought of suicides, murders, ghastly
concealment, and misery; and again the face of the porter returned upon
him. What if something had happened while the watchful mother had been
out of the way? The wind came sighing round the corners with an
ineffectual gasp, as if it too had some warning, some message to
deliver. Instinctively he drew his mother's arm closer, and hurried her
on. Suggestions of horrible unthought-of evil seemed lurking everywhere
in the noiseless blackness of the night.

Mrs. Vincent shivered too, but it was with cold and natural agitation.
In her heart she was putting tender words together, framing tender
phrases--consulting with herself how she was to look, and how to speak.
Already she could see the half-awakened girl, starting up all glowing
and sweet from her safe rest, unforeboding of evil; and the widow
composed her face under the shadow of her veil, and sent back with an
effort the unshed tears from her eyes, that Susan might not see any
traces in her face, till she had "prepared her" a little, for that
dreadful, inevitable blow.

The cottage was all dark, as was natural--doubly dark to-night, for
there was no light in the skies, and the wind had extinguished the lamp
which stood nearest, and on ordinary occasions threw a doubtful flicker
on the little house. "Susan will soon hear us, she is such a light
sleeper," said Mrs. Vincent. "Ring the bell, Arthur. I don't like using
the knocker, to disturb the neighbours. Everybody would think it so
surprising to hear a noise in the middle of the night from our house.
There--wait a moment. That was a very loud ring; Susan must be sleeping
very soundly if that does not wake her up."

There was a little pause; not a sound, except the tinkling of the bell,
which they could hear inside as the peal gradually subsided, was in the
air; breathless silence, darkness, cold, an inhuman preternatural chill
and watchfulness, no welcome sound of awakening sleepers, only their own
dark shadows in the darkness, listening like all the hushed surrounding
world at that closed door.

"Poor dear! Oh, Arthur, it is dreadful to come and break her sleep,"
sighed Mrs. Vincent, whose strain of suspense and expectation heightened
the effect of the cold: "when will she sleep as sound again? Give
another ring, dear. How terribly dark and quiet it is! Ring again,
again, Arthur!--dear, dear me, to think of Susan in such a sound
sleep!--and generally she starts at any noise. It is to give her
strength to bear what is coming, poor child, poor child!"

The bell seemed to echo out into the silent road, it pealed so clearly
and loudly through the shut-up house, but not another sound disturbed
the air without or within. Mrs. Vincent began to grow restless and
alarmed. She went out into the road, and gazed up at the closed windows;
her very teeth chattered with anxiety and cold.

"It is very odd she does not wake," said the widow; "she must be rousing
now, surely. Arthur, don't look as if we had bad news. Try to command
your countenance, dear. Hush! don't you hear them stirring? Now, Arthur,
Arthur, oh remember not to look so dreadful as you did in Carlingford! I
am sure I hear her coming down-stairs. Hark! what is it? Ring again,
Arthur--again!"

The words broke confused and half-articulate from her lips; a vague
dread took possession of her, as of her son. For his part, he rang the
bell wildly without pausing, and applied the knocker to the echoing door
with a sound which seemed to reverberate back and back through the
darkness. It was not the sleep of youth Vincent thought of, as, without
a word to say, he thundered his summons on the cottage door. He was not
himself aware what he was afraid of; but in his mind he saw the porter's
alarmed and curious look, and felt the ominous silence thrilling with
loud clangour of his own vain appeals through the deserted house.

At length a sound--the mother and son both rushed speechless towards the
side-window, from which it came. The window creaked slowly open, and a
head, which was not Susan's, looked cautiously out. "Who is there?"
cried a strange voice; it's some mistake. This is Mrs. Vincent's, this
is, and nobody's at home. If you don't go away I'll spring the rattle,
and call Thieves, thieves--Fire! What do you mean coming rousing folks
like this in the dead of night?"

"Oh, Williams, are you there? Thank God!--then all is well," said Mrs.
Vincent, clasping her hands. "It is I--you need not be afraid--I and my
son: don't disturb Miss Susan, since she has not heard us--but come
down, and let us in;--don't disturb my daughter. It is I--don't you know
my voice?"

"Good Lord!" cried the speaker at the window; then in a different tone,
"I'm coming, ma'am--I'm coming." Instinctively, without knowing why,
Vincent drew his mother's arm within his own, and held her fast.
Instinctively the widow clung to him, and kept herself erect by his aid.
They did not say a word--no advices now about composing his countenance.
Mrs. Vincent's face was ghastly, had there been any light to see it. She
went sheer forward when the door was open, as though neither her eyes
nor person were susceptible of any other motion. An inexpressible air of
desolation upon the cottage parlour, where everything looked far too
trim and orderly for recent domestic occupation, brought to a climax
all the fanciful suggestions which had been tormenting Vincent. He
called out his sister's name in an involuntary outburst of dread and
excitement, "Susan! Susan!" The words pealed into the midnight
echoes--but there was no Susan to answer to the call.

"It is God that keeps her asleep to keep her happy," said his mother,
with her white lips. She dropt from his arm upon the sofa in a dreadful
pause of determination, facing them with wide-open eyes--daring them to
undeceive her--resolute not to hear the terrible truth, which already in
her heart she knew. "Susan is asleep, asleep!" she cried, in a terrible
idiocy of despair, always facing the frightened woman before her with
those eyes which knew better, but would not be undeceived. The shivering
midnight, the mother's dreadful looks, the sudden waking to all this
fright and wonder, were too much for the terrified guardian of the
house. She fell on her knees at the widow's feet.

"Oh, Lord! Miss Susan's gone! I'd have kep her if I had been here. I'd
have said her mamma would never send no gentleman but Mr. Arthur to
fetch her away. But she's gone. Good Lord! it's killed my missis--I knew
it would kill my missis. Oh, good Lord! good Lord! Run for a doctor, Mr.
Arthur; if the missis is gone, what shall we do?"

Vincent threw the frightened creature off with a savage carelessness of
which he was quite unconscious, and raised his mother in his arms. She
had fallen back in a dreary momentary fit which was not fainting--her
eyes fluttering under their half-closed lids, her lips moving with
sounds that did not come. The shock had struck her as such shocks strike
the mortal frame when it grows old. When sound burst at last from the
moving lips, it was in a babble that mocked all her efforts to speak.
But she was not unconscious of the sudden misery. Her eyes wandered
about, taking in everything around her, and at last fixed upon a letter
lying half-open on Susan's work-table, almost the only token of disorder
or agitation in the trim little room. The first sign of revival she
showed was pointing at it with a doubtful but impatient gesture. Before
she could make them understand what she meant, that "quick temper" of
which Mrs. Vincent accused herself blazed up in the widow's eyes. She
raised herself erect out of her son's arms, and seized the paper. It was
Vincent's letter to his sister, written from London after he had failed
in his inquiries about Mr. Fordham. In the light of this dreadful
midnight the young man himself perceived how alarming and peremptory
were its brief injunctions. "Don't write to Mr. Fordham again till my
mother's return; probably I shall bring her home: we have something to
say to you on this subject, and in the mean time be sure you do as I
tell you." Mrs. Vincent gradually recovered herself as she read this;
she said it over under her breath, getting back the use of her speech.
There was not much explanation in it, yet it seemed to take the place,
in the mother's confused faculties, of an apology for Susan. "She was
frightened," said Mrs. Vincent, slowly, with strange twitches about her
lips--"she was frightened." That was all her mind could take in at once.
Afterwards, minute by minute, she raised herself up, and came to
self-command and composure. Only as she recovered did the truth reveal
itself clearly even to Vincent, who, after the first shock, had been
occupied entirely by his mother. The young man's head throbbed and
tingled as if with blows. As she sat up and gazed at him with her own
recovered looks, through the dim ice-cold atmosphere, lighted faintly
with one candle, they both woke up to the reality of their position. The
shock of the discovery was over--Susan was gone; but where, and with
whom? There was still something to hope, if everything to fear.

"She is gone to her aunt Alice," said Mrs. Vincent, once more looking
full in the eyes of the woman who had been left in charge of the house,
and who stood shivering with cold and agitation, winding and unwinding
round her a thin shawl in which she had wrapped up her arms. "She has
gone to her aunt Alice--she was frightened, and thought something had
happened. To-morrow we can go and bring her home."

"Oh, good Lord! No; she ain't there," cried the frightened witness, half
inaudible with her chattering teeth.

"Or to Mrs. Hastings at the farm. Susan knows what friends I can trust
her to. Arthur, dear, let us go to bed. It's uncomfortable, but you
won't mind for one night," said the widow, with a gasp, rising up and
sitting down again. She dared not trust herself to hear any explanation,
yet all the time fixed with devouring eyes upon the face of the woman
whom she would not suffer to speak.

"Mother, for Heaven's sake let us understand it; let her speak--let us
know. Where has Susan gone? Speak out; never mind interruptions. Where
is my sister?" cried Vincent, grasping the terrified woman by the arm.

"Oh Lord! If the missis wouldn't look at me like that! I ain't to
blame!" cried Williams, piteously. "It was the day afore yesterday as
the ladies came. I come up to help Mary with the beds. There was the old
lady as had on a brown bonnet and the young miss in the blue veil----"

Vincent uttered a sudden exclamation, and looked at his mother; but she
would not meet his eyes--would not acknowledge any recognition of that
fatal piece of gauze. She gave a little gasp, sitting bolt upright,
holding fast by the back of a chair, but kept her eyes steadily and
sternly upon the woman's face.

"We tidied the best room for the lady, and Miss Susan's little closet;
and Mary had out the best sheets, for she says----"

"Mary--where's Mary?" cried Mrs. Vincent, suddenly.

"I know no more nor a babe," cried Williams, wringing her hands. "She's
along with Miss Susan--wherever that may be--and the one in the blue
veil."

"Go on, go on!" cried Vincent.

But his mother did not echo his cry. Her strained hand fell upon her lap
with a certain relaxation and relief; her gaze grew less rigid;
incomprehensible moisture came to her eyes. "Oh, Arthur, there's comfort
in it!" said Mrs. Vincent, looking like herself again. "She's taken
Mary, God bless her! she's known what she was doing. Now I'm more easy;
Williams, you can sit down and tell us the rest."

"Go on!" cried Vincent, fiercely. "Good heavens! what good can a
blundering country girl do here?--go on."

The women thought otherwise; they exchanged looks of sympathy and
thankfulness; they excited the impatient young man beside them, who
thought he knew the world, into the wildest exasperation by that pause
of theirs. His mother even loosed her bonnet off her aching head, and
ventured to lean back under the influence of that visionary consolation;
while Vincent, aggravated to the intolerable pitch, sprang up, and, once
more seizing Williams by the arm, shook her unawares in the violence of
his anxiety. "Answer me!" cried the young man; "you tell us everything
but the most important of all. Besides this girl--and Mary--who was with
my sister when she went away?"

"Oh Lord! you shake the breath out of me, Mr. Arthur--you do," cried the
woman. "Who? why, who should it be, to be sure, but him as had the best
right after yourself to take Miss Susan to her mamma? You've crossed her
on the road, poor dear," said the adherent of the house, wringing her
hands; "but she was going to her ma--that's where she was going. Mr.
Arthur's letter gave her a turn; and then, to be sure, when Mr. Fordham
came, the very first thing he thought upon was to take her to her
mamma."

Vincent groaned aloud. In his first impulse of fury he seized his hat
and rushed to the door to pursue them anyhow, by any means. Then,
remembering how vain was the attempt, came back again, dashed down the
hat he had put on, and seized upon the railway book in his pocket, to
see when he could start upon that desperate mission. Minister as he was,
a muttered curse ground through his teeth--villain! coward!
destroyer!--curse him! His passion was broken in the strangest way by
the composed sounds of his mother's voice.

"It was very natural," she said, with dry tones, taking time to form the
words as if they choked her; "and of course, as you say, Williams, Mr.
Fordham had the best right. He will take her to his mother's--or--or
leave her in my son's rooms in Carlingford; and as she has Mary with
her--Arthur," continued his mother, fixing a warning emphatic look upon
him as he raised his astonished eyes to her face, "you know that is
quite right: after you--Mr. Fordham is--the only person--that could have
taken care of her in her journey. There, I am satisfied. Perhaps,
Williams, you had better go to bed. My son and I have something to talk
of, now I feel myself."

"I'll go light the fire, and get you a cup of tea--oh Lord! what Miss
Susan would say if she knew you were here, and had got such a fright!"
cried the old servant; "but now you're composed, there's nothing as'll
do you good like a cup of tea."

"Thank you--yes; make it strong, and Mr. Arthur will have some too,"
said the widow; "and take care the kettle is boiling; and then,
Williams, you must not mind us, but go to bed."

Vincent threw down his book, and stared at her with something of that
impatience and half-contempt which had before moved him. "If the world
were breaking up, I suppose women could still drink tea!" he said,
bitterly.

"Oh, Arthur, my dear boy," cried his mother, "don't you see we must put
the best face on it now? Everybody must not know that Susan has been
carried away by a---- O God, forgive me! don't let _me_ curse him,
Arthur. Let us get away from Lonsdale, dear, before we say anything.
Words will do no good. Oh, my dear boy, till we know better, Mr. Fordham
is Susan's betrothed husband, and he has gone to take care of her to
Carlingford. Hush--don't say any more. I am going to compose myself,
Arthur, for my child's sake," cried the mother, with a smile of anguish,
looking into her son's face. How did she drive those tears back out of
her patient eyes? how did she endure to talk to the old servant about
what was to be done to-morrow--and how the sick lady was next door--till
the excited and shivering attendant could be despatched up-stairs and
got out of the way? Woman's weaker nature, that could mingle the common
with the great; or woman's strength, that could endure all things--which
was it? The young man, sitting by in a sullen, intolerable suspense,
waiting till it was practicable to rush away through the creeping gloom
of night after the fugitives, could no more understand these phenomena
of love and woe, than he could translate the distant mysteries of the
spheres.



CHAPTER XVII.


Early morning, but black as midnight; bitter cold, if bitterer cold
could be, than that to which they entered when they first came to the
deserted house; the little parlour, oh, so woefully trim and tidy, with
the fire laid ready for lighting, which even the mother, anxious about
her son, had not had the heart to light; the candle on the table between
them lighting dimly this speechless interval; some shawls laid ready to
take with them when they went back again to the earliest train; Mrs.
Vincent sitting by with her bonnet on, and its veil drooping half over
her pale face, sometimes rousing up to cast hidden looks of anxiety at
her son, sometimes painfully saying something with a vain effort at
smiling--what o'clock was it? when did he think they could reach
town?--little ineffectual attempts at the common intercourse, which
seemed somehow to deepen the dreadful silence, the shivering cold, the
utter desolation of the scene. Such a night!--its minutes were hours as
they stole by noiseless in murderous length and tedium--and the climax
of its misery was in the little start with which Mrs. Vincent now and
then woke up out of her own thoughts to make that pitiful effort to talk
to her son.

They were sitting thus, waiting, not even venturing to look at each
other, when a sudden sound startled them. Nothing more than a footstep
outside approaching softly. A footstep--surely two steps. They could
hear them far off in this wonderful stillness, making steady progress
near--nearer. Mrs. Vincent rose up, stretching her little figure into a
preternatural hysteric semblance of height. Who was it? Two
people--surely women--and what women could be abroad at such an hour?
One lighter, one heavier, irregular as female steps are, coming this
way--this way! Her heart fluttered in the widow's ears with a sound that
all but obliterated those steps which still kept advancing. Hark, sudden
silence! a pause--then, oh merciful heaven, could it be true? a tinkle
at the bell--a summons at the closed door.

Mrs. Vincent had flown forth with open arms--with eyes blinded. The poor
soul thought nothing less than that it was her child returned. They
carried her back speechless, in a disappointment too cruel and bitter to
have expression. Two women--one sober, sleepy, nervous, and full of
trouble, unknown to either mother or son--the other with a certain
dreadful inspiration in her dark face, and eyes that gleamed out of it
as if they had concentrated into them all the blackness of the night.

"You are going back, and so am I," Mrs. Hilyard said. "I came to say a
word to you before I go away. If I have been anyhow the cause, forgive
me. God knows, of all things in the world the last I dreamt of was to
injure this good woman or invade her innocent house. Do you know where
they have gone?--did she leave any letters?--Tell me. She shall be
precious to me as my own, if I find them out."

Mrs. Vincent freed herself from her son's arms, and got up with her
blanched face. "My daughter--followed me--to Carlingford," she said, in
broken words, with a determination which sat almost awful on her
weakness. "We have had the great misfortune--to cross each other--on the
way. I am going--after her--directly. I am not afraid--of my Susan. She
is all safe in my son's house."

The others exchanged alarmed looks, as they might have done had a child
suddenly assumed the aspect of a leader. She, who could scarcely steady
her trembling limbs to stand upright, faced their looks with a dumb
denial of her own anguish. "It is--very unfortunate--but I am not
anxious," she said, slowly, with a ghastly smile. Human nature could do
no more. She sank down again on her seat, but still faced them--absolute
in her self-restraint, rejecting pity. Not even tears should fall upon
Susan's sweet name--not while her mother lived to defend it in life and
death.

The Carlingford needlewoman stood opposite her, gazing with eyes that
went beyond that figure, and yet dwelt upon it, at so wonderful a
spectacle. Many a terrible secret of life unknown to the minister's
gentle mother throbbed in her heart; but she stood in a pause of wonder
before that weaker woman. The sight of her stayed the passionate current
for a moment, and brought the desperate woman to a pause. Then she
turned to the young man, who stood speechless by his mother's side--

"You are a priest, and yet you do not curse," she said. "Is God as
careless of a curse as of a blessing? _She_ thinks He will save the
Innocents yet. She does not know that He stands by like a man, and sees
them murdered, and shines and rains all the same. God! No--He never
interferes. Good-bye," she added, suddenly, holding out to him the thin
hand upon which, even in that dreadful moment, his eye still caught the
traces of her work, the scars of the needle, and stains of the coarse
colour. "If you ever see me again, I shall be a famous woman, Mr.
Vincent. You will have a little of the trail of my glory, and be able to
furnish details of my latter days. This good Miss Smith here will tell
you of the life it was before; but if I should make a distinguished end
after all, come to see me then--never mind where. I speak madly, to be
sure, but you don't understand me. There--not a word. You preach very
well, but I am beyond preaching now--Good-bye."

"No," said Vincent, clutching her hand--"never, if you go with that
horrible intention in your eyes; I will say no farewell to such an
errand as this."

The eyes in their blank brightness paused at him for a moment before
they passed to the vacant air on which they were always fixed--paused
with a certain glance of troubled amusement, the lightning of former
days. "You flatter me," she said, steadily, with the old habitual
movement of her mouth. "It is years since anybody has taken the trouble
to read any intention in my eyes. But don't you understand yet that a
woman's intention is the last thing she is likely to perform in this
world? We do have meanings now and then, we poor creatures, but they
seldom come to much. Good-bye, good-bye!"

"You cannot look at me," said Vincent, with a conscious incoherence,
reason or argument being out of the question. "What is it you see behind
there? Where are you looking with those dreadful eyes?"

She brought her eyes back as he spoke, with an evident effort, to fix
them upon his face. "I once remarked upon your high-breeding," said the
strange woman. "A prince could not have shown finer manners than you did
in Carlingford, Mr. Vincent. Don't disappoint me now. If I see ghosts
behind you, what then? Most people that have lived long enough, come to
see ghosts before they die. But this is not exactly the time for
conversation, however interesting it may be. If you and I ever see each
other again, things will have happened before then; you too, perhaps,
may have found the ghosts out. I appoint you to come to see me after you
have come to life again, in the next world. Good-night. I don't forget
that you gave me your blessing when we parted last."

She was turning away when Mrs. Vincent rose, steadying herself by the
chair, and put a timid hand upon the stranger's arm. "I don't know who
you are," said the widow; "it is all a strange jumble; but I am an older
woman than you, and a--a minister's wife. You have something on your
mind. My son is frightened you will do something--I cannot tell what.
You are much cleverer than I am; but I am, as I say, an older woman, and
a--a minister's wife. I am not--afraid of anything. Yes! I know God does
not always save the Innocents, as you say--but He knows why, though we
don't. Will you go with me? If you have gone astray when you were
young," said the mild woman, raising up her little figure with an
ineffable simplicity, "I will never ask any questions, and it will not
matter--for everybody I care for knows me. The dreadful things you think
of will not happen if we go together. I was a minister's wife thirty
years. I know human nature and God's goodness. Come with me."

"Mother, mother! what are you saying?" cried Vincent, who had all the
time been making vain attempts to interrupt this extraordinary speech.
Mrs. Hilyard put him away with a quick gesture. She took hold of the
widow's hand with that firm, supporting, compelling pressure under
which, the day before, Mrs. Vincent had yielded up all her secrets. She
turned her eyes out of vacancy to the little pale woman who offered her
this protection. A sudden mist surprised those gleaming eyes--a sudden
thrill ran through the thin, slight, iron figure, upon which fatigue and
excitement seemed to make no impression. The rock was stricken at last.

"No--no," she sighed, with a voice that trembled. "No--no! the lamb and
the lion do not go together yet in this poor world. No--no--no. I wonder
what tears have to do in my eyes; ah, God in the skies! if you ever do
miracles, do one for this woman, and save her child! Praying and crying
are strange fancies for me--I must go away, but first," she said, still
holding Mrs. Vincent fast--"a woman is but a woman after all--if it is
more honourable to be a wicked man's wife than to have gone astray, as
you call it, then there is no one in the world who can breathe suspicion
upon me. Ask this other good woman here, who knows all about me, but
fears me, like you. Fears me! What do you suppose there can be to fear,
Mr. Vincent, you who are a scholar, and know better than these soft
women," said Mrs. Hilyard, suddenly dropping the widow's hand, and
turning round upon the young minister, with an instant throwing off of
all emotion, which had the strangest horrifying effect upon the little
agitated company, "in a woman who was born to the name of Rachel
Russell, the model English wife? Will the world ever believe harm, do
you imagine, of such a name? I will take refuge in my ancestress. But we
go different ways, and have different ends to accomplish," she
continued, with a sudden returning gleam of the subdued
horror--"Good-night--good-night!"

"Oh, stop her, Arthur--stop her!--Susan will be at Carlingford when we
get there; Susan will go nowhere else but to her mother," cried Mrs.
Vincent, as the door closed on the nocturnal visitors--"I am as sure--as
sure----! Oh, my dear, do you think I can have any doubt of my own
child? As for Susan going astray--or being carried off--or falling into
wickedness--Arthur!" said his mother, putting back her veil from her
pale face, "now I have got over this dreadful night, I know
better--nobody must breathe such a thing to me. Tell her so, dear--tell
her so!--call her back--they will be at Carlingford when we get there!"

Vincent drew his mother's arm through his own, and led her out into the
darkness, which was morning and no longer night. "A few hours longer and
we shall see," he said, with a hard-drawn breath. Into that darkness
Mrs. Hilyard and her companion had disappeared. There was another line
of railway within a little distance of Lonsdale, but Vincent was at
pains not to see his fellow-travellers as he placed his mother once more
in a carriage, and once more caught the eye of the man whose curious
look had startled him. When the grey morning began to dawn, it revealed
two ashen faces, equally speechless and absorbed with thoughts which
neither dared communicate to the other. They did not even look at each
other, as the merciful noise and motion wrapped them in that little
separate sphere of being. One possibility and no more kept a certain
coherence in both their thoughts, otherwise lost in wild chaos--horrible
suspense--an uncertainty worse than death.



CHAPTER XVIII.


It was the very height of day when the travellers arrived in
Carlingford. It would be vain to attempt to describe their transit
through London in the bustling sunshine of the winter morning after the
vigil of that night, and in the frightful suspense and excitement of
their minds. Vincent remembered, for years after, certain cheerful
street-corners, round which they turned on their way from one station to
another, with shudders of recollection, and an intense consciousness of
all the life circulating about them, even to the attitudes of the boys
that swept the crossings, and their contrast with each other. His mother
made dismal attempts now and then to say something; that he was looking
pale; that after all he could yet preach, and begin his course on the
Miracles; that it would be such a comfort to rest when they got home;
but at last became inaudible, though he knew by her bending across to
him, and the motion of those parched lips with which she still tried to
smile, that the widow still continued to make those pathetic little
speeches without knowing that she had become speechless in the rising
tide of her agony. But at last they reached Carlingford, where
everything was at its brightest, all the occupations of life afloat in
the streets, and sunshine, lavish though ineffectual, brightening the
whole aspect of the town. When they emerged from the railway, Mrs.
Vincent took her son's arm, and for the last time made some remark with
a ghastly smile--but no sound came from her lips. They walked up the
sunshiny street together with such silent speed as would have been
frightful to look at had anybody known what was in their hearts. Mrs.
Pigeon, who was coming along the other side, crossed over on purpose to
accost the minister and be introduced to his mother, but was driven
frantic by the total blank unconsciousness with which the two swept past
her; "taking no more notice than if he had never set eyes on me in his
born days!" as she described it afterwards. The door of the house where
Vincent lived was opened to them briskly by the little maid in holiday
attire; everything wore the most sickening, oppressive brightness within
in fresh Saturday cleanliness. Vincent half carried his mother up the
steps, and held fast in his own to support her the hand which he had
drawn tightly through his arm. "Is there any one here? Has anybody come
for me since I left?" he asked, with the sound of his own words ringing
shrilly into his ears. "Please, sir, Mr. Tozer's been," said the girl,
alertly, with smiling confidence. She could not comprehend the groan
with which the young man startled all the clear and sunshiny atmosphere,
nor the sudden rustle of the little figure beside him, which moved
somehow, swaying with the words as if they were a wind. "Mother, you are
going to faint!" cried Vincent--and the little maid flew in terror to
call her mistress, and bring a glass of water. But when she came back,
the mother and son were no longer in the bright hall with its newly
cleaned wainscot and whitened floor. When she followed them up-stairs
with the water, it was the minister who had dropped into the easy-chair
with his face hidden on the table, and his mother was standing beside
him. Mrs. Vincent looked up when the girl came in and said, "Thank
you--that will do," looking in her face, and not at what she carried.
She was of a dreadful paleness, and looked with eyes that were terrible
to that wondering observer upon the little attendant. "Perhaps there
have been some letters or messages," said Mrs. Vincent. "We--we expected
somebody to come; think! a young lady came here?--and when she found we
were gone----"

"Only Miss Phoebe!" said the girl, in amazement--"to say as her
Ma----"

"Only Miss Phoebe!" repeated the widow, as if she did not comprehend
the words. Then she turned to her son, and smoothed down the ruffled
locks on his head; then held out her hand again to arrest the girl as
she was going away. "Has your mistress got anything in the house," she
asked--"any soup or cold meat, or anything? Would you bring it up,
please, directly?--soup would perhaps be best--or a nice chop. Ask what
she has got, and bring it up on a tray. You need not lay the cloth--only
a tray with a napkin. Yes, I see you know what I mean."

"Mother!" cried Vincent, raising his head in utter fright as the maid
left the room. He thought in the shock his mother's gentle wits had
gone.

"You have eaten nothing, dear, since we left," she said, with a
heartbreaking smile. "I am not going crazy, Arthur. O no, no, my dear
boy! I will not go crazy; but you must eat something, and not be killed
too. Susan is not here," said Mrs. Vincent, with a ghastly, wistful look
round the room; "but we are not going to distrust her at the very first
moment, far less her Maker, Arthur. Oh, my dear, I must not speak, or
something will happen to me; and nothing must happen to you or me till
we have found your sister. You must eat when it comes, and then you must
go away. Perhaps," said Mrs. Vincent, sitting down and looking her son
direct in the eyes, as if to read any suggestion that could arise there,
"she has lost her way:--perhaps she missed one of these dreadful
trains--perhaps she got on the wrong railway, Arthur. Oh, my dear boy,
you must take something to eat, and then you must go and bring Susan
home. She has nobody to take care of her but you."

Vincent returned his mother's look with a wild inquiring gaze, but with
his lips he said "Yes," not daring to put in words the terrible thoughts
in his heart. The two said nothing to each other of the horror that
possessed them both, or of the dreadful haze of uncertainty in which
that Susan whom her brother was to go and bring home as if from an
innocent visit, was now enveloped. Their eyes spoke differently as they
looked into each other, and silently withdrew again, each from each, not
daring to communicate further. Just then a slight noise came below, to
the door. Mrs. Vincent stood up directly in an agony of listening,
trembling all over. To be sure it was nothing. When nothing came of it,
the poor mother sank back again with a piteous patience, which it was
heartbreaking to look at; and Vincent returned from the window which he
had thrown open in time to see Phoebe Tozer disappear from the door.
They avoided each other's eyes now; one or two heavy sobs broke forth
from Mrs. Vincent's breast, and her son walked with a dreadful funereal
step from one end of the room to the other. Not even the consolation of
consulting together what was to be done, or what might have happened,
was left them. They dared not put their position into words--dared not
so much as inquire in their thoughts where Susan was, or what had
befallen her. She was to be brought home; but whence or from what abyss
neither ventured to say.

Upon their misery the little maid entered again with her tray, and the
hastily prepared refreshment which Mrs. Vincent had ordered for her son.
The girl's eyes were round and staring with wonder and curiosity; but
she was aware, with female instinct, that the minister's mother, awful
little figure, with lynx eyes, which nothing escaped, was watching her,
and her observations were nervous accordingly. "Please, sir, it's a
chop," said the girl--"please, sir, missus sent to know was the other
gentleman a-coming?--and please, if he is, there ain't nowhere as missus
knows of, as he can sleep--with the lady, and you, and all; and the
other lodgers as well"--said the handmaiden with a sigh, as she set down
her tray and made a desperate endeavour to turn her back upon Mrs.
Vincent, and to read some interpretation of all this in the unguarded
countenance of the minister; "and please, am I to bring up the Wooster
sauce, and would the lady like some tea or anythink? And missus would be
particklar obliged if you would say. Miss Phoebe's been to ask the
gentleman to tea, but where he's to sleep, missus says----"

"Yes, yes, to be sure," said Vincent, impatiently; "he can have my room,
tell your mistress--that will do--we don't want anything more."

"Mr. Vincent is going to leave town again this afternoon," said his
mother. "Tell your mistress that I shall be glad to have a little
conversation with her after my son goes away--and you had better bring
the sauce--but it would have saved you trouble and been more sensible,
if you had put it on the tray in the first place. Oh, Arthur," cried his
mother again, when she had seen the little maid fairly out--"do be a
little prudent, my dear! When a minister lodges with one of his flock,
he must think of appearances--and if it were only for my dear child's
sake, Arthur! Susan must not be spoken of through our anxiety; oh, my
child!--Where can she be?--Where can she be?"

"Mother dear, you must keep up, or everything is lost!" cried Vincent,
for the first time moved to the depths of his heart by that outcry of
despair. He came to her and held her trembling hands, and laid his face
upon them without any kiss or caress, that close clinging touch of
itself expressing best the fellowship of their wretchedness. But Mrs.
Vincent put her son away from her, when the door again bounced open.
"My dear boy, here is the sauce, and you must eat your chop," she said,
getting up and drawing forward a chair for him; her hands, which
trembled so, grew steady as she put everything in order, cut the bread,
and set his plate before him. "Oh, eat something, Arthur dear--you must,
or you cannot go through it," said the widow, with her piteous smile.
Then she sat down at the table by him in her defensive armour. The
watchful eyes of "the flock" were all around spying upon the dreadful
calamity which had overwhelmed them; at any moment the college companion
whom Vincent had sent for might come in upon them in all the gaiety of
his holiday. What they said had to be said with this consciousness--and
the mother, in the depth of her suspense and terror, sat like a queen
inspected on all sides, and with possible traitors round her, but
resolute and self-commanding in her extremity, determined at least to be
true to herself.

"Arthur, can you think where to go?" she said, after a little interval,
almost under her breath.

"To London first," said Vincent--"to inquire after--_him_, curse him!
don't say anything, mother--I am only a man after all. Then, according
to the information I get.--God help us!--if I don't get back before
another Sunday----"

Mrs. Vincent gave a convulsive start, which shook the table against
which she was leaning, and fell to shivering as if in a fit of ague.
"Oh, Arthur, Arthur, what are you saying? Another Sunday!" she
exclaimed, with a cry of despair. To live another day seemed impossible
in that horror. But self-restraint was natural to the woman who had
been, as she said, a minister's wife for thirty years. She clasped her
hands tight, and took up her burden again. "I will see Mr. Beecher when
he comes, dear, and--and speak to him," she said, with a sigh, "and I
will see the Tozers and--and your people, Arthur; and if it should be
God's will to keep us so long in suspense, if--if--I can keep alive,
dear, I may be of some use. Oh, Arthur, Arthur, the Lord have pity upon
us! if my darling comes back, will she come here or will she go home?
Don't you think she will come here? If I go back to Lonsdale, I will not
be able to rest for thinking she is at Carlingford; and if I stay--oh,
Arthur, where do you think Susan will go to? She might be afraid to see
you, and think you would be angry, but she never could distrust her poor
mother, who was the first to put her in danger; and to think of my dear
child going either there or here, and not finding me, Arthur! My dear,
you are not eating anything. You can never go through it all without
some support. For my sake, try to eat a little, my own boy; and oh,
Arthur, what must I do?"

"These Tozers and people will worry you to death if you stay here," said
the minister, with an impatient sigh, as he thought of his own
difficulties; "but I must not lose time by going back with you to
Lonsdale, and you must not travel by yourself, and this is more in the
way, whatever happens. Send word to Lonsdale that you are to have a
message by telegraph immediately--without a moment's loss of time--if
she comes back."

"You might say _when_, Arthur, not _if_," said his mother, with a little
flash of tender resentment--then she gave way for the moment, and leaned
her head against his arm and held him fast with that pressure and close
clasp which spoke more than any words. When she raised her pale face
again, it was to entreat him once more to eat. "Try to take something,
if it were only a mouthful, for Susan's sake," pleaded the widow. Her
son made a dismal attempt as she told him. Happy are the houses that
have not seen such dreadful pretences of meals where tears were the only
possible food! When she saw him fairly engaged in this desperate effort
to take "some support," the poor mother went away and wrote a crafty
female letter, which she brought to him to read. He would have smiled at
it had the occasion been less tragic. It was addressed to the minister
of "the connection" at Lonsdale, and set forth how she was detained at
Carlingford by some family affairs--how Susan was visiting friends and
travelling, and her mother was not sure where to address her--and how it
would be the greatest favour if he would see Williams at the cottage,
and have a message despatched to Mrs. Vincent the moment her daughter
returned. "Do you not think it would be better to confide in him a
little, and tell him what anxiety we are in?" said Vincent, when he read
this letter. His mother took it out of his hands with a little cry.

"Oh, Arthur, though you are her brother, you are only a man, and don't
understand," cried Mrs. Vincent. "Nobody must have anything to say about
my child. If she comes to-night, she will come here," continued the poor
mother, pausing instinctively once more to listen; "she might have been
detained somewhere; she may come at any moment--at any moment, Arthur
dear! Though these telegraphs frighten me, and look as if they must
bring bad news, I will send you word directly when my darling girl
comes; but oh, my dear, though it is dreadful to send you away, and to
think of your travelling to-morrow and breaking the Sunday, and very
likely your people hearing it--oh, Arthur, God knows better, and will
not blame you: and if you will not take anything more to eat, you should
not lose time, my dearest boy! Don't look at me, Arthur--don't say
good-bye. Perhaps you may meet her before you leave--perhaps you may not
need to go away. Oh, Arthur dear, don't lose any more time!"

"It is scarcely time for the train yet," said the minister, getting up
slowly; "the world does not care, though our hearts are breaking; it
keeps its own time. Mother, good-bye. God knows what may have happened
before I see you again."

"Oh, Arthur, say nothing--say nothing! What can happen but my child to
come home?" cried his mother, as he clasped her hands and drew her
closer to him. She leaned against her son's breast, which heaved
convulsively, for one moment, and no more. She did not look at him as he
went slowly out of the room, leaving her to the unspeakable silence and
solitude in which every kind of terror started up and crept about. But
before Vincent had left the house his mother's anxiety and hope were
once more excited to passion. Some one knocked and entered; there was a
sound of voices and steps on the stair audibly approaching this room in
which she sat with her fears. But it was not Susan; it was a young man
of Arthur's own age, with his travelling-bag in his hand, and his
sermons in his pocket. He had no suspicion that the sight of him brought
the chill of despair to her heart as he went up to shake hands with his
friend's mother. "Vincent would not come back to introduce me," said Mr.
Beecher, "but he said I should find you here. I have known him many
years, and it is a great pleasure to make your acquaintance. Sometimes
he used to show me your letters years ago. Is Miss Vincent with you? It
is pleasant to get out of town for a little, even though one has to
preach; and they will all be interested in 'Omerton to hear how Vincent
is getting on. Made quite a commotion in the world, they say, with these
lectures of his. I always knew he would make an 'it if he had
fair-play."

"I am very glad to see you," said Mrs. Vincent. "I have just come up
from Lonsdale, and everything is in a confusion. When people grow old,"
said the poor widow, busying herself in collecting the broken pieces of
bread which Arthur had crumbled down by way of pretending to eat, "they
feel fatigue and being put out of their way more than they ought. What
can I get for you? will you have a glass of wine, and dinner as soon as
it can be ready? My son had to go away."

"Preaching somewhere?" asked the lively Mr. Beecher.

"N-no; he has some--private business to attend to," said Mrs. Vincent,
with a silent groan in her heart.

"Ah!--going to be married, I suppose?" said the man from 'Omerton;
"that's the natural consequence after a man gets a charge. Miss Vincent
is not with you, I think you said? I'll take a glass of wine, thank you;
and I hear one of the flock has sent over to ask me to tea--Mr. Tozer, a
leading man, I believe, among our people here," added Mr. Beecher, with
a little complacence. "It's very pleasant when a congregation is
hospitable and friendly. When a pastor's popular, you see, it always
reacts upon his brethren. May I ask if you are going to Mr. Tozer's to
tea to-night?"

"Oh, no," faltered poor Mrs. Vincent, whom prudence kept from adding,
"heaven forbid!" "They--did not know I was here," she continued,
faintly, turning away to ring the bell. Mr. Beecher, who flattered
himself on his penetration, nodded slightly when her back was turned.
"Jealous that they've asked me," said the preacher, with a lively thrill
of human satisfaction. How was he to know the blank of misery, the
wretched feverish activity of thought, that possessed that mild little
woman, as she gave her orders about the removal of the tray, and the
dinner which already was being prepared for the stranger? But the lively
young man from 'Omerton perceived that there was something wrong.
Vincent's black looks when he met him at the door, and the exceeding
promptitude of that invitation to tea, were two and two which he could
put together. He concluded directly that the pastor, though he had made
"an 'it," was not found to suit the connection in Carlingford; and that
possibly another candidate for Salem might be required ere long. "I
would not injure Vincent for the world," he said to himself, "but if he
does not 'it it, I might." The thought was not unpleasant. Accordingly,
while Vincent's mother kept her place there in the anguish of her heart,
thinking that perhaps, even in this dreadful extremity, she might be
able to do something for Arthur with his people, and conciliate the
authorities, her guest was thinking, if Vincent were to leave
Carlingford, what a pleasant distance from town it was, and how very
encouraging of the Tozers to ask him to tea. It might come to something
more than preaching for a friend; and if Vincent did not "'it it," and a
change were desirable, nobody could tell what might happen. All this
smiling fabric the stranger built upon the discomposed looks of the
Vincents and Phoebe's invitation to tea.

To sit by him and keep up a little attempt at conversation--to
superintend his dinner, and tell him what she knew of Salem and her
son's lectures, and his success generally, as became the minister's
mother--was scarcely so hard as to be left afterwards, when he went out
to Tozer's, all alone once more with the silence, with the sounds
outside, with the steps that seem to come to the door, and the carriages
that paused in the street, all sending dreadful thrills of hope through
poor Mrs. Vincent's worn-out heart. Happily, her faculties were engaged
by those frequent and oft-repeated tremors. In the fever of her anxiety,
always startled with an expectation that at last this was Susan, she did
not enter into the darker question where Susan might really be, and what
had befallen the unhappy girl. Half an hour after Mr. Beecher left her,
Phoebe Tozer came in, affectionate and anxious, driving the wretched
mother almost wild by the sound of her step and the apparition of her
young womanhood, to beg and pray that Mrs. Vincent would join them at
their "friendly tea." "And so this is Mr. Vincent's room," said
Phoebe, with a bashful air; "it feels so strange to be here! and you
must be _so_ dull when he is gone. Oh, do come, and let us try to amuse
you a little; though I am sure none of us could ever be such good
company as the minister--oh, not half, nor quarter!" cried Phoebe.
Even in the midst of her misery, the mother was woman enough to think
that Phoebe showed too much interest in the minister. She declined the
invitation with gentle distinctness. She did not return the enthusiastic
kiss which was bestowed upon her. "I am very tired, thank you," said
Mrs. Vincent. "On Monday, if all is well, I will call to see your mamma.
I hope you will not catch cold coming out in this thin dress. I am sure
it was very kind of you; but I am very tired to-night. On--Monday."
Alas, Monday! could this horror last so long, and she not die? or would
all be well by that time, and Susan in her longing arms? The light went
out of her eyes, and the breath from her heart, as that dreadful
question stared her in the face. She scarcely saw Phoebe's
withdrawal; she lay back in her chair in a kind of dreadful trance, till
those stumbling steps and passing carriages began again, and roused her
back into agonised life and bootless hope.



CHAPTER XIX.


Vincent had shaken hands with his friend at the door, and hurried past,
saying something about losing the train, in order to escape
conversation; but, with the vivid perceptions of excitement, he heard
the delivery of Phoebe's message, and saw the complacence with which
the Homerton man regarded the invitation which had anticipated his
arrival. The young Nonconformist had enough to think of as he took his
way once more to the railway, and tea at Mrs. Tozer's was anything but
attractive to his own fancy; yet in the midst of his wretchedness he
could not overcome the personal sense of annoyance which this trifling
incident produced. It came like a prick of irritating pain, to aggravate
the dull horror which throbbed through him. He despised himself for
being able to think of it at all, but at the same time it came back to
him, darting unawares again and again into his thoughts. Little as he
cared for the entertainments and attention of his flock, he was
conscious of a certain exasperation in discovering their eagerness to
entertain another. He was disgusted with Phoebe for bringing the
message, and disgusted with Beecher for looking pleased to receive it.
"Probably he thinks he will supersede me," Vincent thought, in sudden
gusts of disdain now and then, with a sardonic smile on his lip, waking
up afterwards with a thrill of deeper self-disgust, to think that
anything so insignificant had power to move him. When he plunged off
from Carlingford at last, in the early falling darkness of the winter
afternoon, and looked back upon the few lights struggling red through
the evening mists, it was with a sense of belonging to the place where
he had left an interloper who might take his post over his head, which,
perhaps, no other possible stimulant could have given him. He thought
with a certain pang of Salem, and that pulpit which was his own, but in
which another man should stand to-morrow, with a quickened thrill of
something that was almost jealousy; he wondered what might be the
sentiments of the connection about his deputy--perhaps Brown and Pigeon
would prefer that florid voice to his own--perhaps Phoebe might find
the substitute more practicable than the incumbent. Nothing before had
ever made Salem so interesting to the young pastor as Beecher's
complacence over that invitation to tea.

But he had much more serious matters to consider in his rapid journey.
Vincent was but a man, though he was Susan's brother. He did not share
those desperate hopes which afforded a kind of forlorn comfort and agony
of expectation to his mother's heart. No thought that Susan would come
home either to Carlingford or Lonsdale was in his mind. In what way
soever the accursed villain, whom his face blanched with deadly rage to
think of, had managed to get her in his power, Susan's sweet life was
lost, her brother knew. He gave her up with unspeakable anguish and
pity; but he did give her up, and hoped for no deliverance. Shame had
taken possession of that image which fancy kept presenting in double
tenderness and brightness to him as his heart burned in the darkness. He
might find her indeed; he might snatch her out of these polluting arms,
and bring home the sullied lily to her mother, but never henceforward
could hope or honour blossom about his sister's name. He made up his
mind to this in grim misery, with his teeth clenched, and a desperation
of rage and horror in his heart. But in proportion to his conviction
that Susan would not return, was his eagerness to find her, and snatch
her away. To think of her in horror and despair was easier than to think
of her deluded and happy, as might be--as most probably was the case.
This latter possibility made Vincent frantic. He could scarcely endure
the slowness of the motion which was the highest pitch of speed that
skill and steam had yet made possible. No express train could travel so
fast as the thoughts which went before him, dismal pioneers penetrating
the most dread abysses. To think of Susan happy in her horrible downfall
and ruin was more than flesh or blood could bear.

When Vincent reached town, he took his way without a moment's hesitation
to the street in Piccadilly where he had once sought Mr. Fordham. He
approached the place now with no precautions; he had his cab driven up
to the door, and boldly entered as soon as it was opened. The house was
dark and silent but for the light in the narrow hall; nobody there at
that dead hour, while it was still too early for dinner. And it was not
the vigilant owner of the place, but a drowsy helper in a striped jacket
who presented himself at the door, and replied to Vincent's inquiry for
Colonel Mildmay, that the Colonel was not at home--never was at home at
that hour--but was not unwilling to inquire, if the gentleman would
wait. Vincent put up the collar of his coat about his ears, and stood
back with eager attention, intently alive to everything. Evidently the
ruler of the house was absent as well as the Colonel. The man lounged to
the staircase and shouted down, leaning upon the bannisters. No aside or
concealment was possible in this perfectly easy method of communication.
With an anxiety strongly at variance with the colloquy thus going on,
and an intensification of all his faculties which only the height of
excitement could give, Vincent stood back and listened. He heard every
step that passed outside; the pawing of the horse in the cab that waited
for him, the chance voices of the passengers, all chimed in, without
interrupting the conversation between the man who admitted him and his
fellow-servant down-stairs.

"Jim, is the Colonel at home?--he ain't, to be sure, but we wants to
know particklar. Here," in a slightly lowered voice, "his mother's been
took bad, and the parson's sent for him. When is he agoing to be in to
dinner? Ask Cookie; she'll be sure to know."

"The Colonel ain't coming in to dinner, stoopid," answered the unseen
interlocutor; "he ain't been here all day. Out o' town. Couldn't you say
so, instead of jabbering? Out o' town. It's allays safe to say, and
this time it's true."

"What's he adoing of, in case the gen'leman should want to know?" said
the fellow at the head of the stair.

"After mischief," was the brief and emphatic answer. "You come along
down to your work, and let the Colonel alone."

"Any mischief in particklar?" continued the man, tossing a dirty napkin
in his hand, and standing in careless contempt, with his back to the
minister. "It's a pleasant way the Colonel's got, that is: any more
particklars, Jim?--the gen'leman 'll stand something if you'll let him
know."

"Hold your noise, stoopid--it ain't no concern o' yours--my master's my
master, and I ain't agoing to tell his secrets," said the voice below.
Vincent had made a step forward, divided between his impulse to kick the
impertinent fellow who had admitted him down-stairs, and the equally
strong impulse which prompted him to offer any bribe to the witness who
knew his master's secrets; but he was suddenly arrested in both by a
step on the street outside, and the grating of a latch-key in the door.
A long light step, firm and steady, with a certain sentiment of rapid
silent progress in it. Vincent could not tell what strange fascination
it was that made him turn round to watch this new-comer. The stranger's
approach thrilled him vaguely, he could not tell how. Then the door
opened, and a man appeared like the footstep--a very tall slight figure,
stooping forward a little; a pale oval face, too long to be handsome,
adorned with a long brown beard; thoughtful eyes, with a distant gleam
in them, now and then flashing into sudden penetrating glances--a loose
dress too light for the season, which somehow carried out all the
peculiarities of the long light step, the thin sinewy form, the
thoughtful softness and keenness of the eye. Even in the height of his
own suspense and excitement, Vincent paused to ask himself who this
could be. He came in with one sudden glance at the stranger in the hall,
passed him, and calling to the man, who became on the moment respectful
and attentive, asked if there were any letters. "What name, sir?--beg
your pardon--my place ain't up-stairs," said the fellow. What was the
name? Vincent rushed forward when he heard it, and seized the new-comer
by the shoulder with the fierceness of a tiger. "Fordham!" cried the
young man, with boiling rage and hatred. Next moment he had let go his
grasp, and was gazing bewildered upon the calm stranger, who looked at
him with merely a thoughtful inquiry in his eyes. "Fordham--at your
service--do you want anything with me?" he asked, meeting with
undiminished calm the young man's excited looks. This composure put a
sudden curb on Vincent's passion.

"My name is Vincent," he said, restraining himself with an effort; "do
you know now what I want with you? No? Am I to believe your looks or
your name? If you are the man," cried the young Nonconformist, with a
groan out of his distracted heart, "whom Lady Western could trust with
life, to death--or if you are a fiend incarnate, making misery and
ruin, you shall not escape me till I know the truth. Where is Susan?
Here is where her innocent letters came--they were addressed to your
name. Where is she now? Answer me! For you, as well as the rest of us,
it is life or death."

"You are raving," said the stranger, keeping his awakened eyes fixed
upon Vincent; "but this is easily settled. I returned from the East only
yesterday. I don't know you. What was that you said about
Lady--Lady--what lady? Come in: and my name?--my name has been unheard
in this country, so far as I know, for ten years. Lady----?--come in and
explain what you mean."

The two stood together confronting each other in the little parlour of
the house, where the striped jacket quickly and humbly lighted the gas.
Vincent's face, haggard with misery and want of rest, looked wild in
that sudden light. The stranger stood opposite him, leaning forward with
a strange eagerness and inquiry. He did not care for Vincent's anxiety,
who was a stranger to him; he cared only to hear again that
name--Lady----? He had heard it already, or he would have been less
curious; he wanted to understand this wonderful message wafted to him
out of his old life. What did it matter to Herbert Fordham, used to the
danger of the deserts and mountains, whether it was a maniac who brought
this chance seed of a new existence to his wondering heart?

"A man called Fordham has gone into my mother's house," said Vincent,
fixing his eyes upon those keen but visionary orbs which were fixed on
him--"and won the love of my sister. She wrote to him here--to this
house; yesterday he carried her away, to her shame and destruction.
Answer me," cried the young man, making another fierce step forward,
growing hoarse with passion, and clenching his hands in involuntary
rage--"was it you?"

"There are other men called Fordham in existence besides me," cried the
stranger, with a little irritation; then seizing his loose coat by its
pockets, he shook out, with a sudden impatient motion, a cloud of
letters from these receptacles. "Because you seem in great excitement
and distress, and yet are not, as far as I can judge," said Mr. Fordham,
with another glance at Vincent, "mad, I will take pains to satisfy you.
Look at my letters; their dates and post-marks will convince you that
what you say is simply impossible, for that I was not here."

Vincent clutched and took them up with a certain blind eagerness, not
knowing what he did. He did not look at them to satisfy himself that
what Fordham said was true. A wild, half-conscious idea that there must
be something in them about Susan possessed him; he saw neither dates nor
post-mark, though he held them up to the light, as if they were proofs
of something. "No," he said at last, "it was not you--it was that fiend
Mildmay, Rachel Russell's husband. Where is he? he has taken your name,
and made you responsible for his devilish deeds. Help me, if you are a
Christian! My sister is in his hands, curse him! Help me, for the sake
of your name, to find them out. I am a stranger, and they will give me
no information; but they will tell you. For God's sake, ask and let me
go after them. If ever you were beholden to the help of Christian men,
help me! for it is life and death!"

"Mildmay! Rachel Russell's husband? under my name?" said Mr. Fordham,
slowly. "I _have_ been beholden to Christian men, and that for very
life. You make a strong appeal: who are you that are so desperate? and
what was that you said?"

"I am Susan Vincent's brother," said the young Nonconformist; "that is
enough. This devil has taken your name; help me, for heaven's sake, to
find him out!"

"Mildmay?--devil? yes, he is a devil! you are right enough: I owe him no
love," said Fordham; then he paused and turned away, as if in momentary
perplexity. "To help that villain to his reward would be a man's duty;
but," said the stranger, with a heavy sigh, upon which his words came
involuntarily, spoken to himself, breathing out of his heart--"he is
_her_ brother, devil though he is!"

"Yes!" cried Vincent, with passion, "he is _her_ brother." When he had
said the words, the young man groaned aloud. Partly he forgot that this
man, who looked upon him with so much curiosity, was the man who had
brought tears and trembling to Her; partly he remembered it, and forgot
his jealousy for the moment in a bitter sense of fellow-feeling. In his
heart he could see her, waving her hand to him out of her passing
carriage, with that smile for which he would have risked his life. Oh,
hideous fate! it was _her_ brother whom he was bound to pursue to the
end of the world. He buried his face in his hands, in a momentary
madness of anguish and passion. Susan floated away like a mist from that
burning personal horizon. The love and the despair were too much for
Vincent. The hope that had always been impossible was frantic now. When
he recovered himself, the stranger whom he had thus unawares taken into
his confidence was regarding him haughtily from the other side of the
table, with a fiery light in his thoughtful eyes. Suspicion, jealousy,
resentment, had begun to sparkle in those orbs, which in repose looked
so far away and lay so calm. Mr. Fordham measured the haggard and
worn-out young man with a look of rising dislike and animosity. He was
at least ten years older than the young Nonconformist, who stood there
in his wretchedness and exhaustion entirely at disadvantage, looking, in
his half-clerical dress, which he had not changed for four-and-twenty
hours, as different as can be conceived from the scrupulously dressed
gentleman in his easy morning habiliments, which would not have been out
of place in the rudest scene, yet spoke of personal nicety and
high-breeding in every easy fold. Vincent himself felt the contrast with
an instant flush of answering jealousy and passion. For a moment the two
glanced at each other, conscious rivals, though not a word of
explanation had been spoken. It was Mr. Fordham who spoke first, and in
a somewhat hasty and imperious tone.

"You spoke of a lady--Lady Western, I think. As it was you yourself who
sought this interview, I may be pardoned if I stumble on a painful
subject," he said, with some bitterness. "I presume you know that lady
by your tone--was it she who sent you to me? No? Then I confess your
appeal to a total stranger seems to me singular, to say the least of it.
Where is your proof that Colonel Mildmay has used my name?"

"Proof is unnecessary," said Vincent, firing with kindred resentment; "I
have told you the fact, but I do not press my appeal, though it was made
to your honour. Pardon me for intruding on you so long. I have now no
time to lose."

He turned away, stung in his hasty youthfulness by the appearance of
contempt. He would condescend to ask no farther. When he was once more
outside the parlour, he held up the half-sovereign, which he had kept
ready in his hand, to the slovenly fellow in the striped jacket. "Twice
as much if you will tell where Colonel Mildmay is gone," he said,
hurriedly. The man winked and nodded and pointed outside, but before
Vincent could leave the room a hasty summons came from the parlour which
he had just left. Then Mr. Fordham appeared at the door.

"If you will wait I will make what inquiries I can," said the stranger,
with distant courtesy and seriousness. "Excuse me--I was taken by
surprise: but if you have suffered injury under my name, it is my
business to vindicate myself. Come in. If you will take my advice, you
will rest and refresh yourself before you pursue a man with all his wits
about him. Wait for me here and I will bring you what information I can.
You don't suppose I mean to play you false?" he added, with prompt
irritation, seeing that Vincent hesitated and did not at once return to
the room. It was no relenting of heart that moved him to make this
offer. It was with no softening of feeling that the young Nonconformist
went back again and accepted it. They met like enemies, each on his
honour. Mr. Fordham hastened out to acquit himself of that obligation.
Vincent threw himself into a chair, and waited for the result.

It was the first moment of rest and quiet he had known since the morning
of the previous day, when he and his mother, alarmed but comparatively
calm, had gone to see Mrs. Hilyard, who was now, like himself,
wandering, with superior knowledge and more desperate passion, on the
same track. To sit in this house in the suspicious silence, hearing the
distant thrill of voices which might guide or foil him in his search; to
think who it was whom he had engaged to help him in his terrible
mission; to go over again in distracted gleams and snatches the brief
little circle of time which had brought all this about, the group of
figures into which his life had been absorbed,--rapt the young man into
a maze of excited musing, which his exhausted frame at once dulled and
intensified. They seemed to stand round him, with their faces so new,
yet so familiar--that needle-woman with her emphatic
mouth--Mildmay--Lady Western--last of all, this man, who was not Susan's
lover--not Susan's destroyer--but a man to be trusted "with life--to
death!" Vincent put up his hands to put away from him that wonderful
circle of strangers who shut out everything else in the world--even his
own life--from his eyes. What were they to him? he asked, with an
unspeakable bitterness in his heart. Heaven help him! they were the real
creatures for whom life and the world were made--he and his poor Susan
the shadows to be absorbed into, and under them; and then, with a wild,
bitter, hopeless rivalry, the mind of the poor Dissenting minister came
round once more to the immediate contact in which he stood--to Fordham,
in whose name his sister's life had been shipwrecked, and by whom, as he
divined with cruel foresight, his own hopeless love and dreams were to
be made an end of. Well! what better could they come to? but it was hard
to think of him, with his patrician looks, his negligent grace, his
conscious superiority, and to submit to accept assistance from him even
in his sorest need. These thoughts were in his mind when Mr. Fordham
hastily re-entered the room. A thrill of excitement now was in the long,
lightly-falling step, which already Vincent, with the keen ear of
rivalry almost as quick as that of love, could recognise as it
approached. The stranger was disturbed out of his composure. He shut the
door and came up to the young man, who rose to meet him, with a certain
excited repugnance and attraction much like Vincent's own feelings.

"You are quite right," he said, hastily; "I find letters have been
coming here for some months, addressed as if to me, which Mildmay has
had. The man of the house is absent, or I should never have heard of it.
I don't know what injury he may have done _you_; but this is an insult
I don't forgive. Stop! I have every reason to believe that he has gone,"
said Fordham, growing darkly red, "to a house of mine, to confirm this
slander upon me. To prove that I am innocent of all share of it--I don't
mean to you--you believe me, I presume?" he said, with a haughty sudden
pause, looking straight in Vincent's face--"I will go----" Here Mr.
Fordham stopped again, and once more looked at Vincent with that
indescribable mixture of curiosity, dislike, resentment, and interest,
which the eyes of the young Nonconformist repaid him fully,--"with
you--if you choose. At all events, I will go to-night--to Fordham, where
the scoundrel is. I cannot permit it to be believed for an hour that it
is I who have done this villany. The lady you mentioned, I presume,
knows?"--he added, sharply--"knows what has happened, and whom you
suspect? This must be set right at once. If you choose, we can go
together."

"Where is the place?" asked Vincent, without any answer to this
proposition.

Fordham looked at him with a certain haughty offence: he had made the
offer as though it were a very disagreeable expedient, but resented
instantly the tacit neglect of it shown by his companion.

"In Northumberland--seven miles from the railway," he said, with a kind
of gratification. "Once more, I say, you can go with me if you will,
which may serve us both. I don't pretend to be disinterested. My object
is to have my reputation clear of this, at all events. Your object, I
presume, is to get to your journey's end as early as may be. Choose for
yourself. Fordham is between Durham and Morpeth--seven miles from
Lamington station. You will find difficulty in getting there by
yourself, and still greater difficulty in getting admission; and I
repeat, if you choose it, you can go with me--or I will accompany you,
if that pleases you better. Either way, there is little time to
consider. The train goes at eight or nine o'clock--I forget which. I
have not dined. What shall you do?"

"Thank you," said Vincent. It was perhaps a greater effort to him to
overcome his involuntary repugnance than it was to the stranger beside
him, who had all the superior ease of superior rank and age. The
Nonconformist turned away his eyes from his new companion, and made a
pretence of consulting his watch. "I will take advantage of your offer,"
he said, coldly, withdrawing a step with instinctive reserve. On these
diplomatic terms their engagement was made. Vincent declined to share
the dinner which the other offered him, as one duellist might offer
hospitality to another. He drove away in his hansom, with a restrained
gravity of excitement, intent upon the hour's rest and the meal which
were essential to make him anything like a match for this unexpected
travelling companion. Every morsel he attempted to swallow when in
Carlingford under his mother's anxious eyes, choked the excited young
man, but now he ate with a certain stern appetite, and even snatched an
hour's sleep and changed his dress, under this novel stimulant. Poor
Susan, for whom her mother sat hopelessly watching with many a thrill of
agony at home! Poor lost one, far away in the depths of the strange
country in the night and darkness! Whether despair and horror enveloped
her, or delirious false happiness and delusion, again she stood
secondary even in her brother's thoughts. He tried to imagine it was she
who occupied his mind, and wrote a hurried note to his mother to that
purport; but with guilt and self-disgust, knew in his own mind how often
another shadow stood between him and his lost sister--a shadow bitterly
veiled from him, turning its sweetness and its smiles upon the man who
was about to help him, against whom he gnashed his teeth in the anguish
of his heart.



CHAPTER XX.


They were but these two in the railway-carriage; no other passenger
broke the silent conflict of their companionship. They sat in opposite
corners, as far apart as their space would permit, but on opposite sides
of the carriage as well, so that one could not move without betraying
his every movement to the other's keen observation. Each of them kept
possession of a window, out of which he gazed into the visible blackness
of the winter night. Two or three times in the course of the long
darksome chilly journey, a laconic remark was made by one or the other
with a deadly steadiness, and gravity, and facing of each other, as they
spoke; but no further intercourse took place between them. When they
first met, Fordham had made an attempt to draw his fellow-traveller into
some repetition of that first passionate speech which had secured his
own attention to Vincent; but the young Nonconformist perceived the
attempt, and resented it with sullen offence and gloom. He took the
stranger's indifference to _his_ trouble, and undisguised and simple
purpose of acquitting himself, as somehow an affront, though he could
not have explained how it was so; and this notwithstanding his own
consciousness of realising this silent conflict and rivalry with
Fordham, even more deeply in his own person than he did the special
misery which had befallen his house. Through the sullen silent midnight
the train dashed on, the faint light flickering in the unsteady
carriage, the two speechless figures, with eyes averted, watching each
other through all the ice-cold hours. It was morning when they got out,
cramped and frozen, at the little station, round which miles and miles
of darkness, a black unfathomable ocean, seemed to lie--and which shone
there with its little red sparkle of light among its wild waste of moors
like the one touch of human life in a desert. They had a dreary hour to
wait in the little wooden room by the stifling fire, divided between the
smothering atmosphere within and the thrilling cold without, before a
conveyance could be procured for them, in which they set out shivering
over the seven darkling miles between them and Fordham. Vincent stood
apart in elaborate indifference and carelessness, when the squire was
recognised and done homage to; and Fordham's eye, even while lighted up
by the astonished delight of the welcome given him by the driver of the
vehicle who first found him out, turned instinctively to the Mordecai in
the corner who took no heed. No conversation between them diversified
the black road along which they drove. Mr. Fordham took refuge in the
driver, whom he asked all those questions about the people of the
neighbourhood which are so interesting to the inhabitants of a district
and so wearisome to strangers. Vincent, who sat in the dog-cart with his
face turned the other way, suffered himself to be carried through the
darkness by the powerful horse, which made his own seat a somewhat
perilous one, with nothing so decided in his thoughts as a dumb sense of
opposition and resistance. The general misery of his mind and body--the
sense that all the firmament around him was black as this sky--the
restless wretchedness that oppressed his heart--all concentrated into
conscious rebellion and enmity. He seemed to himself at war, not only
with Mr. Fordham who was helping him, but with God and life.

Morning was breaking when they reached the house. The previous day, as
it dawned chilly over the world, had revealed his mother's ashy face to
Vincent as they came up from Lonsdale with sickening thrills of hope
that Susan might still be found unharmed. Here was another horror of a
new day rising, the third since Susan disappeared into that darkness
which was now lifting in shuddering mists from the bleak country round.
Was she here in her shame, the lost creature? As he began to ask himself
that question, what cruel spirit was it that drew aside a veil of years,
and showed to the unhappy brother that prettiest dancing figure, all
smiles and sunshine, sweet honour and hope? Poor lost child! what sweet
eyes, lost in an unfathomable light of joy and confidence--what truthful
looks, which feared no evil! Just as they came in sight of that hidden
house, where perhaps the hidden, stolen creature lay in the darkness,
the brightest picture flashed back upon Vincent's eyes with an
indescribably subtle anguish of contrast; how he had come up to her
once--the frank, fair Saxon girl--in the midst of a group of
gypsies--how he found she had done a service to one of them, and the
whole tribe did homage--how he had asked, "Were you not afraid, Susan?"
and how the girl had looked up at him with undoubting eyes, and
answered, "Afraid, Arthur?--yes, of wild beasts if I saw them, not of
men and women." Oh Heaven!--and here he was going to find her in shame
and ruin, hidden away in this secret place! He sprang to the ground
before the vehicle had stopped, jarring his frozen limbs. He could not
bear to be second now, and follow to the dread discovery which should be
his alone. He rushed through the shrubbery without asking any question,
and began to knock violently at the door. What did it matter to him
though its master was there, looking on with folded arms and
unsympathetic face? Natural love rushed back upon the young man's heart.
He settled with himself, as he stood waiting, how he would wrap her in
his coat, and hurry her away without letting any cold eye fall upon the
lost creature. Oh, hard and cruel fate! oh, wonderful heart-breaking
indifference of Heaven! The Innocents are murdered, and God looks on
like a man, and does not interfere. Such were the broken thoughts of
misery--half-thought, half-recollection--that ran through Vincent's mind
as he knocked at the echoing door.

"Eugh! you may knock, and better knock, and I'se undertake none comes at
the ca'," said the driver, not without a little complacence. "I tell the
Squire, as there han't been man nor woman here for ages; but he don't
believe me. She's deaf as a post, is the housekeeper; and her daughter,
she's more to do nor hear when folks is wanting in--and this hour in the
morning! But canny, canny, man! he'll have the door staved in if we all
stand by and the Squire don't interfere."

Vincent paid no attention to the remonstrance--which, indeed, he only
remembered afterwards, and did not hear at the moment. The house was
closely shut in with trees, which made the gloom of morning darker here
than in the open road, and increased the aspect of secrecy which had
impressed the young man's excited imagination. While he went on
knocking, Fordham alighted and went round to another entrance, where he
too began to knock, calling at the same time to the unseen keepers of
the place. After a while some answering sounds became audible--first the
feeble yelping of an asthmatic dog, then a commotion up-stairs, and at
last a window was thrown up, and a female head enveloped in a shawl
looked out. "Eh, whae are ye? vagabond villains,--and this a gentleman's
house," cried a cracked voice. "I'll let the Squire know--I'll rouse the
man-servants. Tramps! what are you wanting here?" The driver of the
dog-cart took up the response well pleased. He announced the arrival of
the Squire, to the profound agitation of the house, which showed itself
in a variety of scuffling sounds and the wildest exclamations of wonder.
Vincent leaned his throbbing head against the door, and waited in a dull
fever of impatience and excitement, as these noises gradually came
nearer. When the door itself was reached and hasty hands began to
unfasten its bolts, Susan's brother pressed alone upon the threshold,
forgetful and indifferent that the master of the house stood behind,
watching him with close and keen observation. He forgot whose house it
was, and all about his companion. What were such circumstances to him,
as he approached the conclusion of his search, and thought every moment
to hear poor Susan's cry of shame and terror? He made one hasty stride
into the hall when the door was open, and looked round him with burning
eyes. The wonder with which the women inside looked at him, their outcry
of disappointment and anger when they found him a stranger, coming first
as he did, and throwing the Squire entirely into the shade, had no
effect upon the young man, who was by this time half frantic. He went up
to the elder woman and grasped her by the arm. "Where is she? show me
the way!" he said, hoarsely, unable to utter an unnecessary word. He
held the terrified woman fast, and thrust her before him, he could not
tell where, into the unknown house, all dark and miserable in the
wretchedness of the dawn. "Show me the way!" he cried, with his broken
hoarse voice. A confused and inarticulate scene ensued, which Vincent
remembered afterwards only like a dream; the woman's scream--the
interference of Fordham, upon whom his fellow-traveller turned with
sudden fury--the explanation to which he listened without understanding
it, and which at first roused him to wild rage as a pretence and
falsehood. But even Vincent at last, struggling into soberer
consciousness as the day broadened ever chiller and more grey over the
little group of strange faces round him, came to understand and make
out that both Fordham and he had been deceived. Nobody had been
there--letters addressed both to Fordham himself, and to Colonel
Mildmay, had been for some days received; but these, it appeared, were
only a snare laid to withdraw the pursuers from the right scent. Not to
be convinced, in the sullen stupor of his excitement, Vincent followed
Fordham into all the gloomy corners of the neglected house--seeing
everything without knowing what he saw. But one thing was plain beyond
the possibility of doubt, that Susan was not there.

"I am to blame for this fruitless journey," said Fordham, with a touch
of sympathy more than he had yet exhibited; "perhaps personal feeling
had too much share in it; now I trust you will have some breakfast
before you set out again. So far as my assistance can be of any use to
you----"

"I thank you," said Vincent, coldly; "it is a business in which a
stranger can have no interest. You have done all you cared to do,"
continued the young man, hastily gathering up the overcoat which he had
thrown down on entering; "you have vindicated yourself--I will trouble
you no further. If I encounter any one interested in Mr. Fordham," he
concluded, with difficulty and bitterness, but with a natural generosity
which, even in his despair, he could not belie, "I will do him justice."
He made an abrupt end, and turned away, not another word being possible
to him. Fordham, not without a sentiment of sympathy, followed him to
the door, urging refreshment, rest, even his own society, upon his
companion of the night. Vincent's face, more and more haggard--his
exhausted excited air--the poignant wretchedness of his youth, on which
the older man looked, not without reminiscences, awoke the sympathy and
compassion of the looker-on, even in the midst of less kindly emotions.
But Fordham's sympathy was intolerable to poor Vincent. He took his seat
with a sullen weariness once more by the talkative driver, who gave him
an unheeded history of all the Fordhams. As they drove along the bleak
moorland road, an early church-bell tingled into the silence, and
struck, with horrible iron echoes, upon the heart of the minister of
Salem. Sunday morning! Life all disordered, incoherent, desperate--all
its usages set at nought and duties left behind. Nothing could have
added the final touch of conscious derangement and desperation like the
sound of that bell; all his existence and its surroundings floated about
him in feverish clouds, as it came to his mind that this wild morning,
hysterical with fatigue and excitement, was the Sunday--the day of his
special labours--the central point of all his former life. Chaos gloomed
around the poor minister, who, in his misery, was human enough to
remember Beecher's smile and Phoebe Tozer's invitation, and to realise
how all the "Chapel folks" would compare notes, and contrast their own
pastor, to whom they had become accustomed, with the new voice from
Homerton, which, half in pride and half in disgust, Vincent acknowledged
to be more in their way. He fancied he could see them all collecting
into their mean pews, prepared to inaugurate the "coorse" for which
Tozer had struggled, and the offence upon their faces when the
minister's absence was known, and the sharp stimulus which that offence
would give to their appreciation of the new preacher--all this, while he
was driving over the bleak Northumberland wilds, with the cutting wind
from the hills in his face, and the church-bell in his distracted ear,
breaking the Sunday! Not a bright spot, so far as he could perceive, was
anywhere around him, in earth, or sky, or sea.

Sunday night!--once more the church-bells, the church-going groups, the
floating world, which he had many a time upbraided from the pulpit
seeking its pleasure. But it was in London now, where he stood in utter
exhaustion, but incapable of rest, not knowing where to turn. Then the
thought occurred to him that something might be learned at the railway
stations of a party which few people could see without remarking it. He
waited till the bustle of arrival was over, and then began to question
the porters. One after another shook his head, and had nothing to say.
But the men were interested, and gathered in a little knot round him,
trying what they could recollect, with the ready humanity of their
class. "I'd speak to the detective police, sir, if I was you," suggested
one; "it's them as finds out all that happens nowadays." Then a little
gleam of light penetrated the darkness. One man began to recall a
light-haired gentleman with a mustache, and two ladies, who "went off
sudden in a cab, with no luggage." "An uncommon swell he did look," said
the porter, instinctively touching his cap to Vincent, on the strength
of the connection; "and, my eyes! she was a beauty, that one in the blue
veil. It was--let me see--Wednesday night; no--not Wednesday--that day
as the up-train was an hour late--Friday afternoon, to be sure. It was
me as called the cab, and I won't deny as the gen'leman _was_ a
gen'leman. Went to the London Bridge station, sir; Dover line; no
luggage; I took particular notice at the time, though it went out o' my
head first minute as you asked me.--Cab, sir? Yes. Here you are--here's
the last on the stand.--London Bridge Station, Dover line."

Vincent took no time to inquire further. In the impatience of his utter
weariness and wretchedness, he seized on this slight clue, and went off
at once to follow it out. London Bridge station!--what a world swarmed
in those streets through which the anxious minister took his way, far
too deeply absorbed in himself to think of the flood of souls that
poured past him. The station was in wild bustle and commotion; a train
just on the eve of starting, and late passengers dashing towards it with
nervous speed. Vincent followed the tide instinctively, and stood aside
to watch the long line of carriages set in motion. He was not thinking
of what he saw; his whole mind was set upon the inquiry, which, as soon
as that object of universal interest was gone, he could set on foot
among the officials who were clanging the doors, and uttering all the
final shrieks of departure. Now the tedious line glides into gradual
motion. Good Heaven! what was that? the flash of a match, a sudden gleam
upon vacant cushions, the profile of a face, high-featured, with the
thin light locks and shadowy mustache he knew so well, standing out for
a moment in aquiline distinctness against the moving space. Vincent
rushed forward with a hoarse shout, which scared the crowd around him.
He threw himself upon the moving train with a desperate attempt to seize
and stop it; but only to be himself seized by the frantic attendants,
who caught him with a dozen hands. The travellers in the later carriages
were startled by the commotion. Some of them rose and looked out with
surprised looks; he saw them all as they glided past, though the passage
was instantaneous. Saw them all! Yes; who was that, last of all, at the
narrow window of a second-class carriage, who looked out with no
surprise, but with a horrible composure in her white face, and
recognised him with a look which chilled him to stone. He stood passive
in the hands of the men, who had been struggling to hold him, after he
encountered those eyes; he shuddered with a sudden horror, which made
the crowd gather closer, believing him a maniac. Now it was gone into
the black night, into the chill space, carrying a hundred innocent souls
and light hearts, and among them deadly crime and vengeance--the doomed
man and his executioner. His very heart shuddered in his breast as he
made a faltering effort to explain himself, and get free from the crowd
which thought him mad. That sight quenched the curses on his own lips,
paled the fire in his heart. To see her dogging his steps, with her
dreadful relentless promise in her eyes, overwhelmed Vincent, who a
moment before had thrilled with all the rage of a man upon whom this
villain had brought the direst shame and calamity. He could have dashed
him under those wheels, plunged him into any mad destruction, in the
first passionate whirl of this thoughts on seeing him again; but to see
Her behind following after--pale with her horrible composure, a
conscious Death tracking his very steps--drove Vincent back with a
sudden paralysing touch. He stood chilled and horror-stricken in the
crowd, which watched and wondered at him: he drew himself feebly out of
their detaining circle, and went and sat down on the nearest seat he
could find, like a man who had been stunned by some unexpected blow. He
was not impatient when he heard how long he must wait before he could
follow them. It was a relief to wait, to recover his breath, to realise
his own position once more. That dreadful sight, diabolical and out of
nature, had driven the very life-blood out of his heart.

As he sat, flung upon his bench in utter exhaustion and feebleness,
stunned and stupified, leaning his aching head in his hands, and with
many curious glances thrown at him by the bystanders, some of whom were
not sure that he ought to be suffered to go at large, Vincent became
sensible that some one was plucking at his sleeve, and sobbing his name.
It was some time before he became aware that those weeping accents were
addressed to him; some time longer before he began to think he had heard
the voice before, and was so far moved as to look up. When he did raise
his head it was with a violent start that he saw a little rustic
figure, energetically, but with tears, appealing to him, whom his
bewildered faculties slowly made out to be Mary, his mother's maid, whom
Susan had taken with her when she left Lonsdale. As soon as he
recognised her he sprang up, restored to himself with the first gleam of
real hope which had yet visited him. "My sister is here!" he cried,
almost with joy. Mary made no answer but by a despairing outbreak of
tears.

"Oh no, Mr. Arthur; no--oh no, no! never no more!" cried poor Mary, when
she found her voice. "It's all been deceitfulness and lyin' and
falsehood, and it ain't none o' her doing--oh no, no, Mr. Arthur,
no!--but now she's got nobody to stand by her, for he took and brought
me up this very day; oh, don't lose no time!--he took and brought me up,
pretending it was to show me the way, and he sent me right off, Mr.
Arthur, and she don't know no more nor a baby, and he'll take her off
over the seas this very night--he will; for I had it of his own man.
She's written letters to her Ma, Mr. Arthur, but I don't think as they
were ever took to the post; and he makes believe they're a-going to be
married, and he'll have her off to France to-night. Oh, Mr. Arthur, Mr.
Arthur, don't lose no time. They're at a 'otel. Look you here--here's
the name as I wrote down on a bit o' paper to make sure; and oh, Mr.
Arthur, mind what I say, and don't lose no time!"

"But Susan--Susan--what of her?" cried her brother, unconsciously
clutching at the girl's arm.

Mary burst into another flood of tears. She hid her face, and cried
with storms of suppressed sobs. The young man rose up pale and stern
from his seat, without asking another question. He took the crumpled
paper out of her hand, put some money into it, and in few words directed
her to go to his mother at Carlingford. What though the sight of her
would break his mother's heart--what did it matter? Hearts were made to
be broken, trodden on, killed--so be it! Pale and fierce, with eyes
burning red in his throbbing head, he too went on, a second Murder,
after the first which had preceded him in the shape of the Carlingford
needlewoman. The criminal who escaped two such avengers must bear a
charmed life.

END OF VOL. I.

PRINTING OFFICE OF THE PUBLISHER.

       *       *       *       *       *


Typographical errors corrected by the etext transcriber:

the charmming breakfasts=> the charming breakfasts {pg 11}

stupified=> stupefied {pg 103}

downfal=> downfall {pg 103}

their ain't no=> there ain't no {pg 118}

the litte parlour=> the little parlour {pg 260}

a man get's a charge=> a man gets a charge {pg 279}





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