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Title: Cripps, the Carrier - A Woodland Tale
Author: Blackmore, R. D. (Richard Doddridge), 1825-1900
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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CRIPPS, THE CARRIER.

A WOODLAND TALE.

by

RICHARD DODDRIDGE BLACKMORE,

Author of "Lorna Doone," "Alice Lorraine," etc.


    [Greek: ar estin hêmin logidion gnômên echon,
    humn men autôn ouchi dexiôteron,
    kômpsdias de photikês sophôteron;]

    AR. VESP. 64.


New Edition



London:
Sampson Low, Marston & Company, Limited,
St. Dunstan's House,
Fetter Lane, Fleet Street, E.C.
1892.

[All rights reserved.]


      *      *      *      *      *      *

    BY THE SAME AUTHOR.


    LORNA DOONE.

        (_Illustrated, édition de luxe, parchment, 35s.; plainer
        bindings, 31s. 6d., 21s., and 7s. 6d._)

    ALICE LORRAINE.
    CLARA VAUGHAN.
    CRADOCK NOWELL,
    CRIPPS, THE CARRIER.
    MARY ANERLEY.
    EREMA: or, My Father's Sin.
    CHRISTOWELL: A Dartmoor Tale.
    TOMMY UPMORE.
    SPRINGHAVEN.
    KIT AND KITTY.

    LONDON:
    SAMPSON LOW, MARSTON & COMPANY, LIMITED.
    FETTER LANE. FLEET STREET, E.C.

      *      *      *      *      *      *


CONTENTS.


CHAPTER                                           PAGE

      I. THE HEAD OF THE FAMILY                      1
     II. THE SWING OF THE PICKAXE                    7
    III. OAKLEAF POTATOES                           14
     IV. CRIPPS IN A QUANDARY                       21
      V. A RIDE THROUGH THE SNOW                    24
     VI. THE PUBLIC OF THE "PUBLIC"                 30
    VII. THE BEST FOOT FOREMOST                     37
   VIII. BALDERDASH                                 43
     IX. CRIPPS IN AFFLICTION                       50
      X. ALL DEAD AGAINST HIM                       55
     XI. KNOCKER VERSUS BELL-PULL                   60
    XII. MR. JOHN SMITH                             68
   XIII. MR. SMITH IS ACTIVE                        74
    XIV. SO IS MR. SHARP                            79
     XV. A SPOTTED DOG                              85
    XVI. A GRAND SMOCK-FROCK                        91
   XVII. INSTALLED AT BRASENOSE                     98
  XVIII. A FLASH OF LIGHT                          104
    XIX. A STORMY NIGHT                            110
     XX. CRIPPS DRAWS THE CORK                     120
    XXI. CINNAMINTA                                127
   XXII. A DELICATE SUBJECT                        132
  XXIII. QUITE ANOTHER PAIR OF SOCKS!              141
   XXIV. SUO SIBI BACULO                           149
    XXV. MISS PATCH                                157
   XXVI. RUTS                                      164
  XXVII. RATS                                      173
 XXVIII. BOOTS ON                                  180
   XXIX. A SPIDER'S DINNER-PARTY                   190
    XXX. THE FIRE-BELL                             198
   XXXI. THROW PHYSIC TO THE DOGS                  206
  XXXII. CRIPPS ON CELIBACY                        214
 XXXIII. KIT                                       223
  XXXIV. A WOOLHOPIAN                              230
   XXXV. NIGHTINGALES                              237
  XXXVI. MAY MORN                                  242
 XXXVII. MAY-DAY                                   248
XXXVIII. THE DIGNITY OF THE FAMILY                 259
  XXXIX. A TOMBSTONE                               267
     XL. LET ME OUT                                276
    XLI. REASON AND UNREASON                       284
   XLII. MEETING THE COACH                         291
  XLIII. THE MOTIVE                                300
   XLIV. THE MANNER                                307
    XLV. THE POSITION                              313
   XLVI. IN THE MESHES                             324
  XLVII. COMBINED WISDOM                           335
 XLVIII. MASCULINE ERROR                           342
   XLIX. PROMETHEUS VINCTUS                        351
      L. FEMININE ERROR                            361
     LI. UNFILIAL                                  367
    LII. UNPATERNAL                                375
   LIII. "THIS WILL DO"                            386
    LIV. CRIPPS BRINGS HOME THE CROWN              391
     LV. SMITH TO THE RESCUE                       402
    LVI. FATAL ACCIDENT TO THE CARRIER             410



CRIPPS, THE CARRIER.



CHAPTER I.

THE HEAD OF THE FAMILY.


The little village of Beckley lies, or rather lay many years ago, in
the quiet embrace of old Stow Wood, well known to every Oxford man who
loves the horn or fusil. This wood or forest (now broken up into many
straggling copses) spread in the olden time across the main breadth of
the highland to the north of Headington, between the valley of the
Cherwell and the bogs of Otmoor. Beckley itself, though once
approached by the Roman road from Alchester, must for many a century
have nursed its rural quietude, withdrawn as it was from the
stage-waggon track from High Wycombe to Chipping Norton, through
Wheatley, Islip, and Bletchingdon, and lying in a tangle of narrow
lanes leading only to one another. So Beckley took that cheerful view
of life which enabled the fox to disdain the blandishments of the
vintage, and prided itself on its happy seclusion and untutored
honesty.

But as all sons of Adam must have something or other to say to the
rest, and especially to his daughters, this little village carried on
some commerce with the outer world; and did it through a carrier.

The name of this excellent man was Cripps; and the Carrier's mantle,
or woolsey coat, had descended on this particular Cripps from many
generations. All the Cripps family had a habit of adding largely to
their number in every generation. In this they resembled most other
families which have to fight the world, and therefore recruit their
forces zealously; but in one great point they were very distinct--they
agreed among one another. And ever since roads were made, or rather
lanes began trying to make themselves, one great tradition had
confirmed the dynasty of Crippses.

This was that the eldest son should take the carrying business; the
second son (upon first avoidance) should have the baker's shop in
Oxford over against old Balliol College; the third should have the
queer old swine-farm in the heart of Stow Forest; the fourth should be
the butcher of Beckley, and the fifth its shoemaker. If ever it
pleased the Lord to proceed with the masculine fork of the family (as
had happened several times), the sixth boy and the rest were expected
to start on their travels, when big enough. As for the girls, the
Carrier, being the head of the family, and holding the house and the
stable and cart, was bound to take the maids, one by one, to and fro
under his tilt twice a week, till the public fell in love with them.

Now, so many things come cross and across in the countless ins and
outs of life, that even the laws of the Crippses failed sometimes, in
some jot or tittle. Still there they stuck, and strong cause was
needed ere they could be departed from. Of course the side-shoots of
the family (shoemakers' sons, and so on) were not to be bound by this
great code, however ambitious to be so. To deal with such rovers is
not our duty. Our privilege is to trace the strict succession of the
Crippses, the deeds of the Carrier now on the throne and his second
best brother, the baker, with a little side-peep at the man on the
farm, and a shy desire to be very delicate to the last unmarried
"female."

The present head of the family, Zacchary Cripps, the Beckley carrier,
under the laws of time (which are even stricter than the Cripps'
code), was crossing the ridge of manhood towards the western side of
forty, without providing the due successor to the ancestral
driving-board. Public opinion was already beginning to exclaim at him;
and the man who kept the chandler's shop, with a large small family to
maintain, was threatening to make the most of this, and set up his own
eldest son on the road; though "dot and carry one" was all he knew
about the business. Zacchary was not a likely man to be at all upset
by this; but rather one of a tarrying order, as his name might
indicate.

Truly intelligent families living round about the city of Oxford had,
and even to this day have, a habit of naming their male babies after
the books of the Bible, in their just canonical sequence; while
infants of the better sex are baptized into the Apocrypha, or even the
Epistles. So that Zacchary should have been "Genesis," only his father
had suffered such pangs of mind at being cut down, by the
ever-strengthening curtness of British diction, into "Jenny Cripps,"
that he laid his thumb to the New Testament when his first man-child
was born to him, and finding a father in like case, quite relieved of
responsibility, took it for a good sign, and applied his name
triumphantly.

But though the eldest born was thus transferred into the New
Testament, the second son reverted to the proper dispensation; and the
one who went into the baker's shop was Exodus, as he ought to be. The
children of the former Exodus were turned out testamentarily, save
those who were needed to carry the bread out till their cousin's boys
should be big enough.

All of these doings were right enough, and everybody approved of them.
Leviticus Cripps was the lord of the swine, and Numbers bore the
cleaver, while Deuteronomy stuck to his last, when the public-house
could spare him. There was only one more brother of the dominant
generation, whose name was "Pentachook," for thus they pronounced the
collective eponym, and he had been compendiously kicked abroad, to
seek his own fortune, right early.

But as for the daughters (who took their names from the best women of
the Apocrypha, and sat up successively under the tilt until they were
disposed of), for the moment it is enough to say that all except one
were now forth and settled. Some married farmers, some married
tradesmen, one took a miller's eldest son, one had a gentleman more or
less, but all with expectations. Only the youngest was still in the
tilt, a very pretty girl called Esther.

All Beckley declared that Esther's heart had been touched by a College
lad, who came some five years since to lodge with Zacchary for the
long vacation, and was waited on by this young girl, supposed to be
then unripe for dreaming of the tender sentiment. That a girl of only
fifteen summers should allow her thoughts to stray, contrary to all
common sense and her duty to her betters, for no other reason (to
anybody's knowledge) than that a young man ate and drank with less
noise than the Crippses, and went on about the moonlight and the
stars, and the rubbishy things in the hedges--that a child like that
should know no better than to mix what a gentleman said with his inner
meaning--put it right or left, it showed that something was amiss with
her. However, the women would say no more until it was pulled out of
them. To mix or meddle with the Crippses was like putting one's
fingers into a steel trap.

With female opinion in this condition, and eager to catch at anything,
Mrs. Exodus Cripps, in Oxford, was confined rather suddenly. She had
kneaded a batch of two sacks of flour, to put it to rise for the
morning, and her husband (who should not have let her do it) was
smoking a pipe, and exciting her. Nevertheless, it would not have
harmed her (as both the doctor and the midwife said) if only she had
kept herself from arguing while about it. But, somehow or other, her
husband said a thing she could not agree with, and the strength of her
reason went the other way, and it served him right that he had to rush
off in his slippers to the night-bell.

On the next day, although things were quite brought round, and the
world was the richer by the addition of another rational animal, Mr.
Exodus sent up the crumpet-boy all the way from Broad Street in Oxford
to Beckley, to beg and implore Miss Esther Cripps to come down and
attend to the caudle. And the crumpet-boy, being short of breath,
became so full of power that the Carrier scarcely knew what to do in
the teeth of so urgent a message. For he had made quite a pet of his
youngest sister, and the twenty years of age betwixt them stopped the
gap of rivalry. It was getting quite late in the afternoon when the
crumpet-boy knocked at the Carrier's door, because he had met upon
Magdalen Bridge a boy who owed him twopence; and eager as he was to
fulfil his duty, a sense of justice to himself compelled him to do his
best to get it. His knowledge of the world was increased by the
failure of this Utopian vision, for the other boy offered to toss him
"double or quits," and having no specie, borrowed poor Crumpy's last
penny to do it; then, being defeated in the issue, he cast the young
baker's cap over the bridge, and made off at fine speed with his coin
of the realm. What other thing could Crumpy do than attempt to outvie
his activity? In a word, he chased him as far as Carfax, with
well-winged feet and sad labour of lungs, but Mercury laughed at
Astræa, and Crumpy had a very distant view of fivepence. Recording a
highly vindictive vow, he scratched his bare head, and set forth
again, being further from Beckley than at his first start.

It certainly was an unlucky thing that the day of the week should be
Tuesday--Tuesday, the 19th of December, 1837. For Zacchary always had
to make his rounds on a Wednesday and a Saturday, and if he were to
drive his poor old Dobbin into Oxford on a Tuesday evening, how could
he get through his business to-morrow? For Dobbin insisted on a day in
stable whenever he had been in Oxford. He was full of the air of the
laziest place, and perhaps the most delightful, in the world. He
despised all the horses of low agriculture after that inspiration, and
he sighed out sweet grunts at the colour of his straw, instead of
getting up the next morning.

Zacchary Cripps was a thoughtful man, as well as a very kind-hearted
one. In the crown of his hat he always carried a monthly calendar
gummed on cardboard, and opposite almost every day he had dots, or
round O's, or crosses. Each of these to his very steady mind meant
something not to be neglected; and being (as time went) a pretty fair
scholar--ere School Boards destroyed true scholarship--with the help
of his horse he could make out nearly every place he had to call at.
So now he looked at the crumpet-boy, to receive and absorb his
excitement, and then he turned to young Esther, and let her speak
first, as she always liked to do.

"Oh, please to go back quite as fast as you can," said Esther to the
Crumpy, "and say that I shall be there before you; or, at any rate, as
soon as you are. And, Crumpy, there ought to be something for you.
Dear Zak, have you got twopence?"

"Not I," said the Carrier, "and if I had, it would do him a deal more
harm than good. Run away down the hill, my lad, and you come to me at
the Golden Cross, perhaps as soon as Saturday, and I'll look in my bag
for a halfpenny. Run away, boy; run away, or the bogies will be after
you."



CHAPTER II.

THE SWING OF THE PICKAXE.


The baker's boy felt that his luck was askew upon this day of his
existence, for Carrier Cripps was vexed so much at this sudden demand
for his sister that he never even thought of asking the boy to have a
glass of home-brewed ale.

"Zak, what made you send the boy away?" Esther asked, when she came
downstairs, with her bonnet and short cloak on. "Of course, I am very
foolish; but he would have been some little company."

"There, now, I never thought of it! I am doiled, a do believe,
sometimes. Tramp with you to the Bar mysell, I wull. Sarve me right
for a-doin' of it."

"Indeed, then, you won't," she answered firmly. "There's a hard day's
work for you, Zak, to-morrow, with all the Christmas parcels, and your
touch of rheumatics so bad last week."

"Why, bless the cheeld, I be as hearty as ever!"

"Of course you are, Zak; of course you are, and think nought of a sack
of potatoes. But if you declare to come with me one step, backward is
the only step I take."

"Well, well," said the Carrier, glad on the whole to escape a long
walk and keep conscience clear; "when you say a thing, Etty, what good
is it? Round these here parts none would harm 'ee. And none of they
furriners be about just now."

"Good-night, Zak, good-night, dear," cried Esther, to shorten
departure, for Cripps was a man of a slow turn of mind, and might go
on for an hour or two; "I shall sleep there to-night, of course, and
meet you at the Golden Cross to-morrow. When had I best be there?"

"Well, you know better than I do. It might be one o'clock, or it might
be two, or it might be half-past three a'most. All you have to do is
this--to leave word at the bar with Sally Brown."

"I shall do nothing of the sort," she answered; "I don't like bars,
and I don't like Miss Brown. I shall look in the yard for the cart,
brother."

"You'll do pretty much as you like. That much a may be cock-sure of."
But before he could finish his exposition of his sister's character,
she was out of sight; and he dropped his grumble, and doubted his mind
about letting her go. Nor that any one at all of the neighbourhood
would hurt her; but that there had been much talk about a camp of
dark-skinned people in Cowley Marsh, not long ago. Therefore he laid
his palm flat from his eyebrows, to follow the distance further; and
seeing no more than the hedges of the lane (now growing in the cold
wind naked) and the track of the lane (from wet mud slaking into
light-coloured crustiness), without any figures, or sound, or shadow,
or sense of life moving anywhere--he made for the best side of his
cottage-door, and brightened up the firelight.

The weather had been for some few weeks in a good constitutional
English state; that is to say, it had no settled tendency towards
anything. Or at any rate, so it seemed to people who took little heed
of it. There had been a little rain, and then a little snow, and a
touch of frost, and then a sample of fog, and so on: trying all
varieties, to suit the British public. True Britons, however, had
grumbled duly at each successive overture; so that the winter was now
resolving henceforth only to please itself. And this determined will
was in the wind, the air, and the earth itself, just when night began
to fall on this dark day of December.

As Esther turned the corner from the Beckley lane into the road, the
broad coach road to Oxford, she met a wind that knew its mind coming
over the crest of Shotover, a stern east wind that whistled sadly over
the brown and barren fields, and bitterly piped in the roadway. To the
chill of this blast the sere oak-leaves shivered in the dusk and
rattled; the grey ash saplings bent their naked length to get away
from it; and the surly stubs of the hedge went to and fro to one
another. The slimy dips of the path began to rib themselves, like the
fronds of fern, and to shrink into wrinkles and sinewy knobs; while
the broader puddles, though skirred by the breeze, found the network
of ice veiling over them. This, as it crusted, began to be capable of
a consistent quivering, with a frail infinitude of spikelets, crossing
and yet carrying into one another. And the cold work (marred every now
and then by the hurry of the wind that urged it) in the main was going
on so fast, that the face of the water ceased to glisten, and instead
of ruffling lifted, and instead of waving wavered. So that, as the
surface trembled, any level eye might see little splinters (held as
are the ribs and harl of feathers) spreading, and rising like stems of
lace, and then with a smooth, crisp jostle sinking, as the wind flew
over them, into the quavering consistence of a coverlet of ice.

Esther Cripps took little heed of these things, or of any other in the
matter of weather, except to say to herself now and then how bitter
cold the wind was, and that she feared it would turn to snow, and how
she longed to be sitting with a cup of "Aunt Exie's" caudle in the
snug room next to the bakehouse, or how glad she would be to get only
as far as the first house of St. Clement's, to see the lamps and the
lights in the shops, and be quit of this dreary loneliness. For now it
must be three market days since fearful rumours began to stir in
several neighbouring villages, which made even strong men discontent
with solitude towards nightfall; and as for the women--just now poor
Esther would rather not think of what they declared. It was all very
well to pretend to doubt it while hanging the clothes out, or turning
the mangle; but as for laughing out here in the dark, and a mile away
from the nearest house--Good Lord! How that white owl frightened her!

Being a sensible and brave girl, she forced her mind as well as she
could into another channel, and lifted the cover of the basket in
which she had some nice things for "Aunt Exie," and then she set off
for a bold little run, until she was out of breath, and trembling at
the sound of her own light feet. For though all the Crippses were
known to be of a firm and resolute fibre, who could expect a young
maid like this to tramp on like a Roman sentinel?

And a lucky thing for her it was that she tried nothing of the sort,
but glided along with her heart in her mouth, and her short skirt
tucked up round her. Lucky also for her that the ground (which she so
little heeded, and so wanted to get over) was in that early stage of
freezing, or of drying to forestall frost, in which it deadens sound
as much as the later stage enlivens it, otherwise it is doubtful
whether she would have seen the Christmas-dressing of the shops in
Oxford.

For, a little further on, she came, without so much as a cow in the
road or a sheep in a field for company, to a dark narrow place, where
the way hung over the verge of a stony hollow, an ancient pit which
had once been worked as part of the quarries of Headington. This had
long been of bad repute as a haunted and ill-omened place; and even
the Carrier himself, strong and resolute as he was, felt no shame in
whispering when he passed by in the moonlight. And the name of the
place was the "Gipsy's Grave." Therefore, as Esther Cripps approached
it, she was half inclined to wait and hide herself in a bush or gap
until a cart or waggon should come down the hill behind her, or an
honest dairyman whistling softly to reassure his shadow, or even a
woman no braver than herself.

But neither any cart came near, nor any other kind of company, only
the violence of the wind, and the keen increase of the frost-bite. So
that the girl made up her mind to put the best foot foremost, and run
through her terrors at such a pace that none of them could lay hold of
her.

Through yards of darkness she skimmed the ground, in haste only to be
rid of it, without looking forward, or over her shoulders, or
anywhere, when she could help it. And now she was ready to laugh at
herself and her stupid fears, as she caught through the trees a
glimpse of the lights of Oxford, down in the low land, scarcely more
than a mile and a half away from her. In the joy of relief she was
ready to jump and pant without fear of the echoes, when suddenly
something caught her ears.

This was not a thing at first to be at all afraid of, but only just
enough to rouse a little curiosity. It seemed to be nothing more nor
less than the steady stroke of a pickaxe. The sound came from the
further corner of the deserted quarry, where a crest of soft and
shingly rock overhung a briary thicket. Any person working there would
be quite out of sight from the road, by reason of the bend of the
hollow.

The blow of the tool came dull and heavy on the dark and frosty wind;
and Esther almost made up her mind to run on, and take no heed of it.
And so she would have done, no doubt, if she had not been a Cripps
girl. But in this family firm and settled opinions had been handed
down concerning the rights of property--the rights that overcome all
wrongs, and outlive death. The brother Leviticus of Stow Wood had sown
a piece of waste at the corner of the clevice with winter carrots for
his herd of swine. The land being none of his thus far, his right so
to treat it was not established, and therefore likely to be attacked
by any rapacious encroacher. Esther felt all such things keenly, and
resolved to find out what was going on.

To this intent she gathered in the skirt of her frock and the fulling
of her cloak, and fending the twigs from her eyes and bonnet, quietly
slipped through a gap in the hedge. For she knew that a steep track,
trodden by children in the blackberry season, led from this gap to the
deep and tangled bottom of the quarry. With care and fear she went
softly down, and followed the curve of the hollow.

The heavy sound of the pickaxe ceased, as she came near and nearer,
and the muttering of rough voices made her shrink into a nook and
listen.

"Tell 'ee, I did see zummat moving," said a man, whom she could dimly
make out on the beetling ridge above her, by the light of the clearing
eastern sky; "a zummat moving down yonner, I tell 'ee."

"No patience, I han't no patience with 'ee," answered a taller man
coming forward, and speaking with a guttural twang, as if the roof of
his mouth were imperfect. "Skeary Jem is your name and nature. Give me
the pick if thee beest aveared. Is this job to be finished to-night,
or not?"

The answer was only a growl or an oath, and the swing of the tool
began again, while Esther's fright grew hot, and thumped in her heart,
and made her throat swell. It was all she could do to keep quiet
breath, and prevent herself from screaming; for something told her
that she was watching a darker crime than theft of roots or robbery of
a sheepfold.

In a short or a long time--she knew not which--as she still lay hid
and dared not show her face above the gorse-tuft, a sound of sliding
and falling shale heavily shook her refuge. She drew herself closer,
and prayed to the Lord, and clasped her hands before her eyes, and
cowered, expecting to be killed at least. And then she peeped forth,
to know what it was about. She never had harmed any mortal body; why
should she be frightened so?

In the catch of the breath which comes when sudden courage makes gulp
at uncertainty, she lifted herself by a stiff old root, to know the
very worst of it. Better almost to be killed and be done with, than
bear the heart-pang of this terrible fear. And there she saw a thing
that struck her so aback with amazement, that every timid sense was
mute.

Whether the sky began to shed a hovering light, or the girl's own eyes
spread and bred a power of vision from their nervous dilation--at any
rate, she saw in the darkness what she had not seen till now. It was
the body of a young woman (such a body as herself might be), lying,
only with white things round it, in the black corner, with gravel and
earth and pieces of rock rolling down on it. There was nothing to
frighten a sensible person now that the worst was known perhaps.
Everybody must be buried at some time. Why should she be frightened
so?

However, Esther Cripps fell faint, and lay in that state long enough
for tons of burying rock to fall, and secret buryers to depart.



CHAPTER III.

OAKLEAF POTATOES.


"Of all slow people in this slow place, I am quite certain that there
is none so slow as Cripps, the Carrier."

This "hot spache," as the patient Zacchary would perhaps have called
it, passed the lips of no less a person than old Squire Oglander. He,
on the 20th day of December (the day after that we began with), was
hurrying up and down the long straight walk of his kitchen garden, and
running every now and then to a post of vantage, from which he could
look over the top of his beloved holly hedge, and make out some of the
zigzags of the narrow lane from Beckley. A bitter black frost had now
set in, and the Squire knew that if he wanted anything more fetched
out of his ground, or anything new put into it, it might be weeks
before he got another chance of doing it. So he made a good bustle,
and stamped, and ran, and did all he could to arouse his men, who knew
him too well to concern themselves about any of his menaces.

"I tell you we are all caught napping, Thomas. I tell you we ought to
be ashamed of ourselves. The frost is an inch in the ground already.
Artichokes, carrots, parsnips, beetroot, even horse-radish for our
Christmas beef--and upon my soul, a row of potatoes never even dug
yet! Unless I am after you at every corner--well, I am blessed if I
don't see our keeping onions!"

"Now, measter, 'ee no call to be so grum! None of they things'll be a
haporth the worse. The frost'll ony swaten 'em."

"You zany, I know all your talk. Hold your tongue. Not a glass of beer
will I send out, if this is all I get for it. Sweeten them, indeed!
And when we want them, are we to dig them with mattocks, pray? Or do
you thick-heads expect it to thaw to order, when the pot is bubbling?
Stir your lazy legs, or I'll throw every one of you on the work-house
the moment the first snow falls."

The three men grinned at one another, and proceeded leisurely. They
knew much better than the Squire himself what his gentle nature was,
and that he always expiated a scolding with a jug of beer.

"Man and boy," said the eldest of them, speaking below his breath, as
if this tyranny had extinguished him; "in this here gearden have I
worked, man and boy, for threescore year, and always gi'en
satisfaction. Workuss! What would his father a' said, to hear tell in
this gearden of workuss? Workuss! Well, let un coom, if a will! Can't
be harder work, God knoweth."

"Tummuss, Tummuss, you may say that," said another lazy rascal,
shaking his head, with his heel on his spade, and then wiping his
forehead laboriously. "'Tis the sweat of our brow, Tummuss, none of
'em thinks on--but there, they was born to be driving of us!"

Squire Oglander made as if he heard them not; and then he hurried to
the hedge again, and stood on the wall of the leaf-mould pit, and
peered over the beard of hollies. And this time he spied in the
distance Cripps, or at any rate the tilt of the Crippsian cart,
jogging sedately to the rhythm of the feet of Dobbin.

"Hurrah!" cried the Squire, who was still as young in mind as if he
had no body. "By George, we shall be just in time. Never mind what I
said, my lads. I was a little bit cross, I know. Take out the crumbs
from the bottom of your trenches, and go two inches deeper. Our new
potatoes are come at last! Mary, come out with a gallon of ale."

Squire Oglander, having retired now from the army and all warfare, was
warmly devoted to the arts of peace. Farming, planting, gardening,
breeding, training of dogs, and so on--all of these quiet delights
fell softly on a very active mind, when the vigour of the body began
to fail. He loved his farm, and he loved his garden, and all his
attempts at improvement, and nothing better than to point out his own
mistakes to rash admirers. But where is the pleasure of showing things
to strangers who know nothing? The old man's grand delight of all was
to astonish his own daughter, his only child, Grace Oglander.

This it was that made him work so hard at the present moment. He was
determined to have his kitchen garden in first-rate winter order by
the time his daughter should come home from a visit to her aunt at
Cowley. Now this sister, Mrs. Fermitage, had promised to bring home
their joint pet Gracie in time for the dinner at five o'clock that
very day, and to dine there with them; so that it was needful to look
alive, and to make quick step of everything. Moreover, this good
Squire had some little insight (as behoves a farmer and a sportsman)
into the ways and meaning of the weather of the neighbourhood. He knew
as well as a short-tailed field-mouse that a long frost was coming.
The sharp dry rustle of the upturned leaves of holly and of ivy, the
heavy stoop of the sullen sky, the patches of spaded mould already
browning with powdery crispness, the upward shivering look of the
grass, and the loss of all gloss upon everything, and the shuddering
rattle in the teeth of a man who opened his mouth to the wind at
all--many other things than these, as well as all of them, were here;
that any man (not blind, or deaf, or choked in citied ignorance) might
fall to at once, and dig every root of his potatoes.

But the strange thing, in this present matter, was that Squire
Oglander was bent not only on digging potatoes, but also on planting
them, this very day. Forsooth it was one of his fixed dates in the
chronicles of the garden, that happen what might, or be the season
whatsoever it chose to be, new potatoes and peas he would have by the
last day of May, at the latest. And this without any ignoble resort to
forcing-pit, hot-bed, or even cold frame; under the pure gaze of the
sky, by that time they must be ready. Now, this may be easy at
Ventnor, or Penzance, or even Bournemouth; but in the highlands of
Oxfordshire it requires some skill and management. In the first place,
both pea and potato must be of a kind that is ready to awake right
early; and then they must be humoured with a very choice place; and
after that they must be shielded from the winter's rages. If all these
"musts" can be complied with, and several "ifs" are solved aright, the
gardener (eager as well as patient) may hope to get pleasure from his
early work.

Of all men there was none perhaps more capable of hoping than this
good Squire Oglander. In his garden and his household, or among his
friends and neighbours, or the world at large, he not only tried to
see, but saw, the very best side of everything. When things fell out
amiss, he always looked very wise, and shook his head, and declared
that he had predicted them; and before very long he began to find out
that they were not so bad as they might have been. His ruddy face, and
blue eyes, and sometimes decidedly waggish nose, as well as his crisp
white hair, and way of standing to be looked at, let everybody know
that here was a man of no great pretension, yet true, and of kind and
happy heart, and fit to be relied upon. Ten thousand such may be found
in England; and they cannot be too many.

"Inside and outside, all look alive!" cried this gentleman, running to
and fro: "Gracie will be home; Miss Grace, I mean; and not a bit of
fire in the drawing-room grate! No Christmas-boxes for any of you
sluts! Now, I did not mean that, Mary, as you might know. Inside the
women, and outside the men--now, what is this paper for, my dear?"

"That there Cripps, sir, have a sent 'un in. He be gettin' so
pertikular!"

"Quite right. Quite right. Business is business. No man can be too
particular. Let him sit down and have a pint of ale. He wants me to
sign this paper, does he? Very well; tell him to come next week. My
fingers are cramped with the wind. Tell Cripps--now, don't you be in
such a hurry, Mary; Cripps is not a marrying man."

"As if I would touch him with a pair of tongs, sir! A Hookham to have
a Cripps, sir!--a man who always smells as if he had been a-combing of
a horse!"

"Ah, poor Mary, the grapes are sour. Tell bachelor Cripps to send in
the bag. And bring me the little truck-basket, Mary; I dare say that
will hold them. Just in time, they are only just in time. To-morrow
would have been a day too late."

The Squire was to pay a guinea for this bushel of early oakleaf
potatoes, a sort that was warranted to beat the ashleaf by a
fortnight, and to crop tenfold as much. The bag had been sent by the
Henley coach from a nursery near Maidenhead, and left at the Black
Horse in St. Clement's, to be called for by the Beckley carrier.

"Stay now," cried the Squire; "now I think of it we will unpack the
bag in the brewery, Mary. They have had a fire there all the morning.
And it will save making any mess in here. Miss Grace is coming, bless
her heart! And she'll give it to me, if she finds any dirt."

"But, sir, if you please, Master Cripps now just is beginning of his
pint of ale. And he never hurrieth over that----"

"Well, we don't want Cripps. We only want the bag. Jem will bring it
into the brewery, if you want to sit with Cripps. Cripps is tired, I
dare say. These young men's legs are not fit for much. Stop--call old
Thomas; he's the best, after all. If I want a thing done, I come back
to the old folk, after all."

"Well, sir, I don't think you have any reason to say that. Howsomever,
here cometh Mr. Kale. Mr. Kale, if you please, you be wanted."

Presently Thomas Kale, the man who had worked so long in the garden
there, followed his master across the court, with the bag of potatoes
on his back. The weight was a trifle, of course, being scarcely over
half a hundredweight; but Thomas was too old a hand to make too light
of anything.

"I've knowed the time," he said, setting down the sack on the head of
an empty barrel, "when that there weight would have failed, you might
say, to crook my little finger. Now, make so bold--do you know the
raison?"

"Why, Thomas, we cannot expect to be always so young as we were once,
you know."

"Nout to do wi' it--less nor nout. The raison lie all in the vittels,
maister; the vittels is fallen from what they was."

"Thomas, you give me no peace with your victuals. You must groan to
the cook, not to me, about them. Now, cut the cord. Why, what has
Cripps been about?"

The bag was made of a stout grey canvas, not so thick as sacking, and
as the creases of the neck began to open, under the slackening cord,
three or four red stripes were shown, such as are sometimes to be
found in the neck of a leather mail-bag, when the postmaster has been
in a hurry, and dropped his wax too plenteously. But the stripes in
these creases were not dry and brittle, as of run sealing-wax, but
clammy and damp, as if some thick fluid had oozed from dripping
fingers.

"I don't like the look of it," cried the old Squire. "Cripps should be
more careful. He has left the bag down at his brother the butcher's. I
am sure they never sent it out like this. Not that I am of a squeamish
order, but still--good God! What is this that I see?"

With scarcely time for his cheeks to blanch, or his firm old hands to
tremble, Squire Oglander took from the mouth of the sack a coil of
long bright golden hair. The brown shade of the potatoes beneath it
set off its glistening beauty. He knew it at a glance; there was no
such hair in all Oxfordshire but his Gracie's. A piece of paper was
roughly twisted in and out the shining wreath. This he spread in the
hollow of his palm, and then put on his spectacles, and read by the
waning light these words, "All you will ever see of her."



CHAPTER IV.

CRIPPS IN A QUANDARY.


Worth Oglander, now in his seventieth year, although he might be a
trifle fat, was a truly hale and active man. His limbs were as sound
as his conscience; and he was well content with his life and age. He
had seen a good deal of the world and of enemies, in the stirring
times of war. But no wrong lay in the bottom of his heart, no harm
ever done to any one, except that he had killed a few Frenchmen,
perhaps, as all Englishmen used to be forced to do.

Moreover, he had what most folk now, of the very best kind, have
almost outlived, a staunch and steadfast faith in the management of
the world by its Maker. We are too clever now for all this, of course.
But it must be allowed that this fine old faith bred courage, truth,
and comfort.

"Whoever has played this trick with me," said the Squire, as soon as
he recovered himself, "is, to say the least of it, a blackguard. Even
for a Christmas joke, it is carrying things a great deal too far. I
have played, and been played, many practical jokes, when there was
nothing else to do; in winter-quarters, and such like. But this is
beyond---- Thomas, run and fetch Cripps. I will get to the bottom of
this, I am resolved."

In a minute or two Master Cripps came in. His face was a little
flushed, from the power of the compliments paid to Mary, but his eyes
were quite firm, and his breeches and gaiters strictly under
discipline of the legs inside them.

"Servant, sir," he said, touching his forelock, nearly of the colour
of clover hay; "all correct, I hope, Squire, safe and sound and in
good condition. That's how I deliver all goods, barring the will of
the A'mighty."

"Tell me the meaning of this." As he spoke Mr. Oglander held up the
bright wreath of hair, and pointed to the red stains on the sack.
Cripps, as behoved a slow-minded man, stared at the hair, and the bag,
and the Squire, the roof of the brewery, and all the tubs; and then
began feeling in his hat for orders.

"Cripps, are you dumb; are you tipsy; or what? Or are you too much
ashamed of yourself?"

"I ain't done nort for to be ashamed of--me, nor my father avoore me."

"Then will you tell me what this means? Are you going to keep me all
night, for God's sake?"

"Squire, I never, I never see'd 'un. I know no more than a sto-un. I
know no more than the dead, I do."

"Where did you get the bag? Was it like this? Who gave it to you? Have
you let it out of sight? Did you see anybody come near it?"

"Squire, I can't tell 'ee such a many things. They heft up the barg to
me at the Black Horse, where the bargs is alwas left for you. I took
no heed of 'un, out of common. And no one have a titched him since,
but me."

There was nothing more to be learned from Cripps, except that he
passed the Black Horse that day a little earlier than usual, and had
not brought his sister Esther, who was to have met him at the Golden
Cross. He had come home by way of Elsfield, having something to
deliver there, and had given a lift to old Shepherd Wakeling; but that
could have naught to do with it.

It was now getting dark, and the Squire every moment grew more and
more uneasy. "Keep all this nonsense to yourself now, Cripps," he
said, as he stowed the bag under a tub, and carefully covered his
daughter's hair, and the piece of paper, with a straining sieve; "it
might annoy me very much if this joke went any further, you know. I
can trust Thomas to hold his tongue, and I hope I can trust you,
neighbour Cripps."

"Your honour knoweth what I be," answered the loyal Carrier. "Ever
since I were a boy--but there, they all knows what I be."

Master Cripps, with his brain "a good piece doiled," as he afterwards
said of it, made his way back to the cart, and mounted in his special
manner. Although he was only two-score years of age, he had so much
rheumatism in his right knee--whether it sprang from the mud, or the
ruts, or (as he believed) from the turnpike gates--that he was bound
to get up in this way. First he looked well up and down the lane, to
be sure there was no other cart in sight, then he said "whoa-hoa" to
Dobbin (who was always quite ready to receive that advice), and then
he put his left foot on the little step, and made sure that it was
quite steady. Throwing his weight on that foot, he laid hold of the
crupper with his right hand, and placed his stiff knee on the flat of
the shaft, never without a groan or two. At this stage he rested, to
collect his powers; and then with decisive action flung his left foot
upon the footboard, and casting the weight of his body thither, came
down on the seat, with a thump and rattle. He was now all right, and
Dobbin felt it, and acknowledged the fact with a grateful grunt. Then
Carrier Cripps took up the reins, and made a little flourish with his
brass-bound whip, and Dobbin put up his head, and started with his
most convenient foot.

"I dunno what to make of this here start," said Cripps to himself, and
his horse and cart, as soon as he had smitten his broad chest long
enough to arouse circulation. "Seemeth to me a queer thing truly. But
I never were a hand at a riddle. Wugg then, Dobbin! Wun'not go home
to-night?"



CHAPTER V.

A RIDE THROUGH THE SNOW.


Meanwhile the old Squire, with a troubled mind, kept talking and
walking about, and listening for the rumble of his sister's carriage,
the clank of horses' hoofs, and the ring of wheels upon the frozen
road. He could not believe that any one in the world would hurt his
darling Gracie. Everybody loved her so, and the whole parish was so
fond of her, and she had such a way of easing every one's
perplexities, that if any villain durst even think of touching a hair
of her blessed head--yet whose hair was it?--whose hair was it? And
such a quantity as never could have been cut with her consent!

"This is too much! I cannot bear it!" he said to himself, after many a
turn, and anxious search of the distance; "Joan's carriage should have
been here long ago. My darling would have made them keep their time. I
cannot stop here: I must go to meet them. But I need not startle any
one."

To provide for this, he just looked in at the kitchen door, and told
the old cook to keep the dinner back awhile; for the roads were so bad
that the ladies were almost sure to be behind their time; and then he
went quietly to the stable, where the horses were bedded down, and by
the light of an old horn lantern saddled and bridled his favourite
hack.

Heavy snow-clouds had been gathering all the afternoon; and now as he
passed through a side-gate into the lane, and turned his mare's head
eastward, the forward flakes were borne by the sharp wind into his
white whiskers. "We shall have a coarse night of it, I doubt," he said
to himself, as he buttoned his coat. At every turn of the lane he
hoped to meet his sister's chariot labouring up the slippery track
with the coal-black horses gray with snow, and somebody well wrapped
up inside, to make him laugh at his childish fears. But corner after
corner he turned, and met no carriage, no cart, no horse, nor even so
much as a man afoot; only the snow getting thicker and sharper, and
the wind beginning to wail to it. The ruts of the lane grew more
distinct, as their combs of frozen mud attracted and held the driving
whiteness; and the frogs of heavy cart-horses might be traced by the
hoary increment. Then in three or four minutes, a silvery greyness
(cast by the brown face of the roadway underlying the skin of snow)
glistened between steep hedgerows wherein the depth of darkness
rested. Soon even these showed traitor members, and began to hang the
white feather forth, where drooping spray or jutting thicket stopped
the course of the laden air. Every hoof of the horse fell softer than
it had fallen the step before, and the old man stooped to heed his
reins, as his hoary eyebrows crusted.

Fear struck colder to his heart than frost, as he turned the last
corner of his way, without meeting presence or token of his sister or
darling daughter. In the deepening snow he drew his horse up under the
two great yew-trees that overhung his sister's gate, and fumbled in
the dark for the handle. The close heavy gates were locked and barred;
and nothing had lately passed through them. Then he hoped that the
weather might have stopped the carriage, and he tugged out the heavy
bronze lion's-head in the pillar, which was the bell-pull. The bell in
the porch of the house clanged deeply, and the mastiff heavily bayed
at him; but he had to make the bell clang thrice before any servant
answered it.

"Who be you there?" at last a gruff voice asked, without stretch of
courtesy. "This sort of weather, come ringing like that! If 'ee say
much more, I'll let the big dog loose."

"Open the gate, you young oaf," cried the Squire. "I suppose you are
one of the new lot, eh? Not to know me, Worth Oglander!"

"Why couldn't you have said so then?" the surly fellow answered, as he
slowly opened one leaf of the gate, sweeping a fringe of snow back.

"Such a fellow wouldn't be with me half a day. Are you too big for
your work, sir? Run on before me, you piecrust in pumps, or you shall
taste my whip, sir."

The footman, for once in his life, took his feet up, and ran in a
bluster of rage and terror to the front door, which he had left wide
open to secure a retreat from violence. Mr. Oglander struck his mare,
and she started so that he scarcely pulled her head up under the
coigne of his sister's porch.

"What is all this, I would beg to know? If you think to frighten me,
you are mistaken. Oh, Worth is it? Worth, whatever do you mean by
making such a commotion?"

Three or four frightened maids were peeping, safe in the gloom of the
entrance-hall; while the lady of the house came forward bravely in the
lamp-light.

"I will speak to you presently, Joan," said the Squire, as he vainly
searched, with a falling heart, for some dear face behind her. "Here,
Bob, I know you at any rate; take the old mare to the stable."

Then, with a sign to his sister, he followed her softly into the
dining-room. At a glance he saw that she had dined alone, and he fell
into a chair, and could not speak.

"Have you brought back the stockings? Why, how ill you look? The cold
has been too much for you, brother. You should not have come out. What
was Grace doing to let----"

"Where is my daughter Grace?"

"Your daughter Grace! My niece Grace! Why, at home in her father's
house, to be sure! Worth, are your wits wandering?"

"When did Grace leave you?"

"At three o'clock, yesterday. How can you ask, when you sent in such
hot haste for her? You might be quite sure that she would not linger.
I thought it rather--let me tell you----"

"I never sent for Grace. I have not seen her!"

Mrs. Fermitage looked at her brother steadily, with one hand fencing
her forehead. She knew that he was of no drunken kind--yet once in a
way a man might take too much--especially in such weather. But he
answered her gaze with such eyes that she came up to him, and began to
tremble.

"I tell you, Joan, I never sent for Grace. If you don't know where she
is--none but God knows!"

"I have told you all," his sister answered, catching her breath at
every word almost--"a letter came from you, overruling the whole of
our arrangement--you were not ill; but you wanted her for some
particular purpose. She was to walk, and you would meet her; and walk
she did, poor darling! And I was so hurt that I would not send----"

"You let her go, Joan! You let her go! It was a piece of your proud
temper. Her death lies at your door. And so will mine!"

Mr. Oglander was very sorry, as soon as he had spoken thus unjustly;
but the deep pang of the heart devoured any qualms of conscience.

"Are you sure that you let her go? Are you sure that she is not in
this house now?" he cried, coming up to his sister, and taking both
hands to be sure of her. "She must be here; and you are joking with
me."

"Worth, she left this house at two o'clock by that timepiece
yesterday, instead of to-day, as we meant to do. She would not let any
one go with her, because you were coming down the hill to meet her.
Not expecting to go home that day, she had a pair of my silk stockings
on, because--well, I need not go into that--and knowing what a darling
little fidget she is, I thought she had sent you back with them, and
to make your peace for so flurrying me."

"Have you nothing more to tell me, Joan? I shall go mad while you
dwell on your stockings. Who brought that letter? What is become of
it? Did you see it? Can you think of anything? Oh, Joan, you women are
so quick-witted! Surely you can think of something!"

Mrs. Fermitage knew what her brother meant; but no sign would she show
of it. The Squire was thinking of a little touch of something that
might have grown up into love, if Grace had not been so shy about it,
and so full of doubts as to what she ought to do. Her aunt had been
anxious to help this forward; but not for the world to speak of it.

"Concerning the letter, I only just saw it. I was up--well, well, I
mean I happened to have something to do in my own room then. The dear
creature knocked at my door, and I could not let her in at the
moment----"

"You were doing your wig--well, well, go on."

"I was doing nothing of the kind--your anxiety need not make you rude,
Worth. However, she put the letter under the door, and I saw that it
was your handwriting, and so urgent that I was quite flurried, and she
was off in two minutes, without my even kissing her. Oh, poor dear! My
little dear! She said good-bye through the key-hole, and could not
wait for me even to kiss her!"

At this thought the elderly lady broke down, and could for the moment
do nothing but sob.

"Dear heart, dear heart!" cried the Squire, who was deeply attached to
his sister; "don't take on so, my dear good Joan! We know of no harm
as yet--that is"--for he thought of the coil of hair, but with strong
effort forbore to speak of it--"nothing I mean in any way positive, or
disastrous. She may have, you know--she may have taken it into her
head to--to leave us for awhile, Joan."

"To run away! To elope! Not she! She is the last girl in the world to
do it. Whatever may have happened, she has not done that. You ought to
know better than that, Worth."

"Perhaps I do; I have no more time to talk of that, or any other
thing. I shall hurry into Oxford, and see John Smith, and let
everybody know of it. What do I care what people think? Send a man on
horseback to Beckley at once. Have you any man worth a pinch of salt?
You are always changing so."

"I cannot keep cripples, or sots, dear brother. Take any one you
please of them."

"Any one who will deign to come, you should say. Deep snow tries the
mettle of new-comers."



CHAPTER VI.

THE PUBLIC OF THE "PUBLIC."


Meanwhile, Esther Cripps, who perhaps could have thrown some light on
this strange affair, was very uneasy in her mind. She had not heard,
of course, as yet, that Grace Oglander was missing. But she could not
get rid of the fright she had felt, and the dread of some dark secret.
Her sister-in-law was in such a condition that she must not be told of
it; and as for her brother Exodus, it would be worse than useless to
speak to him. He had taken it into his head, ever since that business
with the "College gent," that his sister was not "right-minded"--that
she dreamed things, and imagined things; and that anything she liked
to say should be listened to, and thought no more of. And Baker Cripps
was one of those men from whose minds no hydraulic power can lift an
idea--laid once, laid for ever.

Esther had no one to tell her tale to. She longed to be home at
Beckley; but there had been such symptoms with the baker's wife, that
a woman, of the largest experience to be found in Oxford, declared
that there was another coming. This was not so. But still (as all the
women said) it might have been; and where was the man to lay down the
law to them that had been through it?

The whole of this was made quite right in the end and everybody
satisfied; but it prevented poor Esther from going to the Golden
Cross, as she should have done; and the Carrier (having a little tiff
with his brother about a sack of meal, as long ago as Michaelmas) left
him to bake his own bread, and would rather drive over his dinner than
dine with him.

The days of the week are hard to follow, as everybody must have long
found out; but still, from Tuesday to Saturday is a considerable time
to think of. Master Cripps had two carrying days, two great days of
long voyaging. Not that he refrained from coasting here and there
about the parish, or up and down a lane or two, on days of briefer
enterprise; or refused to take some washings round; for he was not the
man to be ashamed of earning sixpence honourably.

But now such weather had set in, that even Cripps, with his active
turn and pride in his honest calling, was forced to stay at home and
boil the bones the butcher sent him, and nurse his stiff knee, and
smoke his pipe, and go no further than his bed of hardy kail, or
Dobbin's stable. Except that when the sun went down--if it ever got
up, for aught he knew--his social instincts so awoke, that he managed
to go to the corner of the lane, where the blacksmith kept the
"public-house." This was a most respectable house, frequented very
quietly. Master Cripps, from his intercourse with the world, and
leading position in Beckley, as well as his pleasant way of letting
other people talk, and nodding when their words were wisdom--Cripps
had long been accepted as the oracle; and he liked it.

Even there--in his brightest moments, when he smoked his pipe and
thought, leaving emptier folk to waste the income of their brain in
words, and even when he had been roused up to settle some vast
question by a brief emphatic utterance--his satisfaction was now
alloyed. Not from any threat of rival wisdom--that was hopeless--but
from the universal call for a guiding judgment from him. The whole of
Beckley village now was more upset than had been known for thirty
years and upward. Ever since Napoleon had been expected to encamp at
Carfax, and all the University went into white gaiters against him,
there had been no such stir of parochial mind as now was heaving.
Cripps could remember the former movement, and how his father had lost
wisdom by saying that nothing would come of it--whereas the greatest
things came of it; the tailor was bankrupt by making breeches which
the Government would not pay for, the publican bought a horse and
defied his brewer on the strength of it, and the parish-clerk limped
for the rest of his life through the loss of two toes when
tipsy--therefore Zacchary Cripps was now determined to hide his
opinion.

When the mind is in this uncertain state, it fails of receiving that
consideration which it is slowly exerting. If Cripps had stood up, and
rashly spoken, he must have carried all before him: whereas now he
felt, and was grieved to feel, that shallow fellows were taking his
place, by dint of decisive ignorance. This Friday evening, everybody,
who had teeth to face the arrowy wind, came into the Dusty Anvil, well
laden with enormous rumours.

Phil Hiss, the blacksmith, had a daughter, who served him as a
barmaid, Amelia, or Mealy Hiss; a year or two older than Miss
Oglander, and in the simple country fashion (setting birth and rank
aside) a true ally and favourite. Now, some old woman in Beckley had
said, as long ago as yesterday, that she could not believe but what
Mealy Hiss, who dressed herself so outrageous, knew a deal more than
she dared speak out concerning that wonderful unkid thing about the
Squire's daughter. For her part, this old woman was sure that a young
man lay at the bottom of it. Them good young ladies that went to the
school, and made up soup and such-like, was not a bit better than the
rest of us; and if butter wouldn't melt in their mouths, pitchforks
wouldn't choke them. She would say no more, it was no concern of hers;
and everybody knew what she was. But as sure as her copper burst that
morning, something would come out ere long; and Mealy would be at the
bottom of it!

Miss Amelia Hiss, before she lit her two tallow-candles--which never
was allowed to be done till a quart of beer had been called for--knew
right well that all her wits must be brought into use that evening. A
young man, who had a liking for her, which she was beginning to think
about, came in before his time to tell her all that Gammer Gurdon
said. Wherefore she put on her new neck-ribbon (believed to have come
express from London) and her agate brooch, and other most imposing
properties. With the confidence of all these, she drew the ale, and
kept her distance.

For an hour or so these tactics answered. Young men, old men, and good
women (who came of course for their husbands' sakes), soberly took
their little drop of beer, nodded to one another, and said little.
Pressure lay on heart and mind; and nature's safety-valve, the tongue,
was sat upon by prudence. But this, of course, could not last long.
Little jerkings of short questions broke the crust of silence; lips
from blowing froth of beer began to relax their grimness; eyelids that
had drooped went up, and winks grew into friendly gaze; and everybody
began to beg everybody's pardon less. The genial power of good ale,
and the presence of old friends, were working on the solid English
hearts; and every man was ready for his neighbour to say something.

Hiss, the blacksmith and the landlord, felt that on his heavy
shoulders lay the duty of promoting warmth and cordiality. He sat
without a coat, as usual, and his woolsey sleeves rolled back
displayed the proper might of arm. In one grimy hand he held a pipe,
at which he had given the final puff, and in the other a broad-rimmed
penny, ready to drop it into the balance of the brass tobacco-box, and
open it for a fresh supply. First he glanced at the door, to be sure
that his daughter Mealy could not hear; for ever since her mother's
death he had stood in some awe of Mealy; and then receiving from
Zacchary Cripps a nod of grave encouragement, he fixed his eyes on him
through the smoke, and uttered what all were inditing of.

"I call this a very rum start, I do, about poor Squire's daughter."

The public of the public gazed with admiring approval at him. The
sentiment was their own, and he had put it well and briefly. In
different ways, according to the state and manner of each of them,
they let him know that he was right, and might hold on by what he
said. Then Master Hiss grew proud of this, and left it for some other
body to bear the weight of thinking out. But even before his broad
forefinger had quite finished with his pipe, and pressed the crown of
fuel flat, a man of no particular wisdom, and without much money,
could not check a weak desire to say something striking. His name was
Batts, and he kept a shop, and many things in it which he could not
sell. Before he spoke, he took precautions to secure an audience, by
standing up, and rapping the table with the heel of his half-pint mug.
"Hear, hear!" cried some young fellow; and Batts was afraid that he
had gone too far.

"Gentlemen," said Grocer Batts, the very same man who had threatened
to put his son into the carrying line, "I bows, in course, to superior
wisdom, and them as is always to and fro. But every man must think his
thoughts, right or wrong, and speak them out, and not be afeared of no
one. And my mind is that in this here business, we be all of us going
to work the wrong way altogether."

As no one had any sense as yet of having gone to work at all, in this
or any other matter, and several men had made up their minds to be
thrown out of work on the Saturday night if the bitter weather lasted,
this great speech of Grocer Batts created some confusion.

"Let 'un go to work, hisself!" "What do he know about work?"
"Altogether wrong! Give me the saw-dust for to clear my throat!" These
and stronger exclamations showed poor Batts that it would have been
better for trade if he had held his tongue. He hid his discomfiture in
his mug, and made believe to drink, although it had ever so long been
empty.

But Carrier Cripps had a generous soul. He did not owe so much as a
halfpenny piece to Master Batts, neither did he expect to make a
single halfpenny out of him--quite the contrary, in fact; and yet he
came to his rescue.

"Touching what neighbour Batts have said," he began in his slow and
steadfast voice, "it may be neither here nor there; and all of us be
liable, in our best of times, to error. But I do believe as he means
well, and hath a good deal inside him, and a large family to put up
with. He may be right, and all us in the wrong. Time will show, with
patience. I have knowed so many things as looked at first unlikely,
come true as Gospel in the end, and so many things I were sure of turn
out quite contrairy, that whenever a man hath aught to say, I likes to
hearken to him. There now, I han't no more to say; and I leave you to
make the best of it."

Zacchary rose, for his time was up; he saw that hot words might ensue,
and he detested brawling. Moreover, although he did not always keep
strict time with his horse and cart, no man among the living could be
more punctual to his pillow. With kind "good-nights" from all, he
passed, and left the smoky scene behind. As he stopped at the bar to
say good-bye, and to pay his score to Amelia, for whom he had a
liking, a short, quick, rosy man came in, shaking snow from his boots,
and seeming to have lost his way that night. By the light from the
bar, the Carrier knew him, and was about to speak to him, but received
a sign to hold his tongue, and pass on without notice. Clumsily enough
he did as he was bidden, and went forth, puzzled in his homely pate by
this new piece of mystery.

For the man who passed him was John Smith, not as yet well-known, but
held by all who had experience of him to be the shrewdest man in
Oxford. This man quietly went into the sanded parlour, and took his
glass, and showed good manners to the company. They set him down as a
wayfarer, but a pleasant one, and well to do; and as words began to
kindle with the friction of opinions, he listened to all that was
said, but did not presume to side with any one.



CHAPTER VII.

THE BEST FOOT FOREMOST.


The arrows of the snowy wind came shooting over Shotover. It was
Saturday now of that same week with which we began on Tuesday. The
mercury during those four days had not risen once above 28° of
Fahrenheit, and now it stood about 22°, and lower than that in the
river meadows. Trusty and resolute Dobbin never had a harder job than
now. Some parts of Headington Hill give pretty smart collar-work in
the best of times; and now with deep snow scarred by hoofs, and ridged
by wheels, but not worn down, hard it seemed for a horse, however
sagacious, to judge what to do. Dobbin had seen snow ere now, and gone
through a good deal of it. But that was before the snow had fallen so
thickly on his own mane and tail, and even his wise eyebrows. That was
in the golden days, when youth and quick impatience moved him, and the
biggest flint before his wheel was crushed, with a snort at the
road-surveyor.

But now he was come to a different state of body, and therefore of
spirit too. At his time of life it would not do to be extravagant of
strength; it was not comely to kick up the heels; neither was it wise
to cherish indignation at the whip. So now on the homeward road, with
a heavy Christmas-laden cart to drag, this fine old horse took good
care of himself, and having only a choice of evils, chose the least
that he could find.

Alas, the smallest that he could find were great and very heavy ills.
Scarcely any man stops to think of the many weary cares that weigh
upon the back of an honest horse. Men are eloquent on the trouble that
sits behind the horseman; but the silent horse may bear all that, and
the troublesome man in the saddle to boot, without any poet to pity
him. Dobbin knew all this, but was too much of a horse to dwell on it.
He kept his tongue well under bit, and his eyes in sagacious blinkers,
and sturdily up the hill he stepped, while Cripps, his master, trudged
beside him.

Every "talented" man must think, whenever he walks beside a horse, of
the superior talents of the horse--the bounty of nature in four curved
legs, the pleasure there must be in timing them, the pride of the hard
and goutless feet, the glory of the mane (to which the human beard is
no more than seaweed in a billow), the power of blowing (which no man
has in a comely and decorous form); and last, not least, the final
blessing of terminating usefully in a tail. Zacchary Cripps was a man
of five talents, and traded with them wisely; but often as he walked
beside his horse, and smelled his superiority, he became quite humble,
and wiped his head, and put his whip back in the cart again. The
horse, on the other hand, looked up to Zacchary with soft faith and
love. He knew that his master could not be expected quite to
understand the ways a horse is bound to have of getting on in
harness--the hundreds of things that must needs be done--and done in
proper order, too--the duty of going always like a piece of the finest
music, with chains, and shafts, and buckles, and hard leather to be
harmonized, and the load which men are not born to drag, until they
make it for themselves. Dobbin felt the difference, but he never
grumbled as men do.

He made the best of the situation; and it was a hard one. The hill was
strong against the collar; and, by reason of the snow, zigzag and the
corkscrew tactics could not be resorted to. At all of these he was a
dab, by dint of steep experience; but now the long hill must be
breasted, and both shoulders set to it. The ruts were as slippery as
glass, and did not altogether fit the wheels he had behind him; and in
spite of the spikes which the blacksmith gave him, the snow balled on
his hairy feet. So he stopped, and shook himself, and panted with
large resolutions; and Cripps from his capacious pockets fetched the
two oak wedges, and pushed one under either wheel; while Esther, who
was coming home at last, jumped from her seat, to help the load, and
patted Dobbin's kind nose, and said a word or two to cheer him.

"The best harse as ever looked through a bridle," Zacchary declared
across his mane; "but he must be hoomered with his own way now, same
as the rest on us, when us grows old. Etty, my dear, no call for you
to come down and catch chilblains."

"Zak, I am going to push behind. I am not big enough to do much good.
But I would rather be alongside of you, through this here bend of the
road, I would."

For now the dusk was gathering in, as they toiled up the lonesome and
snowy road where it overhung the "Gipsy's Grave."

"This here bend be as good as any other," said Cripps, though himself
afraid of it. "What ails you, girl? What hath ailed you, ever since
out of Oxford town you come? Is it a jail thou be coming home to?
Oxford turns the head of thee!"

"Now, Zak, you know better than that. I would liefer be at Beckley any
day. But I have been that frightened since I passed this road on
Tuesday night that scarce a morsel could I eat or drink, and never
sleep for dreaming."

"Frightened, child? Lord, bless my heart! you make me creep by talking
so. There, wait till we be in our own lane--can't spare the time now
to speak of it."

"Oh, but, Zak, if you please, you must. I have had it on my mind so
long. And I kept it for you, till we got to the place, that you might
go and see to it."

"Etty, now, this is childish stuff; no time to hearken to any such
tell-up. Enough to do, the Lord knows there be, without no foolish
stories."

"It is not a foolish story, Zak. It is what I saw with my own eyes. We
are close to the place; it was in a dark hollow, just below the road
on here. I will show you; and then I will stand by the cart, while you
go and seek into it."

"I wun't leave the haigh road for any one, I tell 'ee. All these goods
is committed to my charge, and my dooty is to stick to them. A likely
thing as I'd leave the cart to be robbed in that there sort of way.
Ah, ha! they'd soon find out, I reckon, what Zacchary Cripps is made
of."

"Ah, we all know how brave you are, dear Zak. And perhaps you wouldn't
like to leave me, brother?"

"No, no; of course not. How could I do it? All by yourself, and the
weather getting dark. Hup! Hup! Dobbin, there. Best foot foremost
kills the hill."

But Esther was even more strongly set to tell the story and relieve
her mind, than Zacchary was to relieve his mind by turning a deaf ear
to all of it. Nevertheless, she might have failed, if it had not been
for a lucky chance. Dobbin, after a very fine rush, and spirited
bodily tug at the shafts, was suddenly forced to pull up and pant, and
spread his legs, to keep where he was, until his wind should come back
again. And he stopped with the off-wheel of the cart within a few
yards of the gap in the hedge, where Esther began her search that
night. She knew the place at a glance, although in the snow it looked
so different; and she ran to the gap, and peeped as if she expected to
see it all again.

In all the beauty of fair earth, few things are more beautiful than
snow on clustering ivy-leaves. Wednesday's fall had been shaken off;
for even in the coldest weather, jealous winds and evaporation soon
clear foliage of snow. But a little powdery shed of flakes had come at
noon that very day, like the flitting of a fairy; and every delicate
star shone crisply in its cupped or pillowed rest. The girl was afraid
to shake a leaf, because she had her best bonnet on; therefore she
drew back, and called the reluctant Zacchary to gaze.

"Nort but a sight of snow," said he; "it hath almost filled old quarry
up. Harse have rested, and so have we. Shan't be home by candlelight.
Wugg then! Dobbin--wugg then! wilt 'a?"

"Stop, brother, stop! Don't be in such a hurry. Something I must tell
you now, that I have been feared to tell anybody else. It was so
dreadfully terrible! Do you see anything in the snow down there?"

"As I am a sinner, there be something moving. Jump up into the cart,
girl. I shall never get round with my things to-night."

"There is something there, Zak, that will never move again. There is
the dead body of a woman there!"

"No romantics! No romantics!" the Carrier answered as he turned away;
but his cheeks beneath a week's growth of beard turned as white as the
snow in the buckthorn. No living man might scare him--but a woman, and
a dead one----

"Come, Zak," cried Esther, having seen much worse than she was likely
now to see, "you cannot be afraid of 'romantics,' Zak. Come here, and
I will show thee."

Driven by shame and curiosity, the valiant Cripps came back to her,
and even allowed himself to be led a little way through the gap into
the deep untrodden and drifted snow. She took him as far as a corner,
whence the nook of the quarry was visible; and there with trembling
fingers pointed to a vast billow of pure white, piled by the driving
east wind over the grave, as she thought, of the murdered one.

"Enough," he said, having heard her tale, and becoming at once a man
again in the face of something real; "my dear, what a fright thou must
have had! How couldst thou have kept it all this time? I would not
tell thee our news at home, for fear of tarrifying thee in the cold.
Hath no one to Oxford told thee?"

"Told me what? Oh, Zak, dear Zak, I am so frightened, I can hardly
stand."

"Then run, girl, run! We must go home, fast as ever we can, for
constable."

He took her to the cart, and reckless of Dobbin's indignation, lashed
him up the hill, and made him trot the whole length of Beckley lane,
then threw a sack over his loins and left his Christmas parcels in the
frost and snow, while he hurried to Squire Oglander.



CHAPTER VIII.

BALDERDASH.


Worth Oglander sat in his old oak chair, weary, and very low of heart,
but not altogether broken down. He had not been in bed since last
Monday night, and had slept, if at all, in the saddle, or on the roof
of the Henley and Maidenhead coach. For miles he had scoured the
country round, until his three horses quite broke down, with the
weather so much against them; and all the bran to be got in the
villages was made away with in mashes. One of these horses "got the
pipes;" and had to be tickled before he could eat.

The Squire cared not a button for this. The most particular of mankind
concerning what is grossly and contemptuously (if not carnivorously)
spoken of as "horseflesh," forgets his tender feelings towards the
noblest of all animals when his own flesh and blood come into
competition with them. But ride, and lash, and spur as he might, the
old Squire made no discovery.

His daughter, his only child, in whom all the rest of his old life
lived and loved, was gone and lost; not even leaving knowledge of
where she lay, or surety of a better meeting. His faith in God was
true and firm; for on the whole he was a pious man, although no great
professor: and if it had pleased the Lord to take his only joy from
his old age, he could have tried to bear it.

But thus to lose her, without good-bye, without even knowing how the
loss befell, and with the deep misery of doubting what she might
herself have done--only a chilly stoic, or a remarkably warm
Christian, could have borne it with resignation. The Squire was
neither of these; but only a simple, kind, and loving-hearted
gentleman; with many faults, and among them, a habit of expecting the
Lord to favour him perpetually. And of this he could not quit himself,
in the deepest tribulation; but still expected all things to be
tempered to his happiness, according to his own ideas of what
happiness should be. The clergyman of the parish, a good and zealous
man, had called upon him, and with many words had proved how thankful
he was bound to be for this kindly-ordered chastisement. The Squire,
however, could not see it. He listened with his old politeness, but a
sad and weary face, and quietly said that the words were good, but he
could not yet enter into them. Hereat the parson withdrew, to wait for
a softer and wiser season.

And now, in the dusk of this cold dark day, Squire Oglander sat gazing
from the window of his dining-room; with his head fallen back, and his
white chin up, and hard-worn hands clasped languidly. His heavy eyes
dwelled on the dreary snow that buried his daughter's handiwork--the
dwarf plants not to be traced, and the tall ones only as soft
hillocks, like the tufts in a great white counterpane. And more and
more, as the twilight deepened, and the curves of white grew dim, he
kept repeating below his voice, "Her winding-sheet, her winding-sheet;
and her pretty eyes wide open perhaps!"

"Now, sir, if you please, you must--you must," cried Mary Hookham, his
best maid, trotting in with her thumbs turned back from a right hot
dish, and her lips up as if she were longing to kiss him, to let out
her feelings. "Here be a duster, by way of a cloth, not to scorch the
table against Miss Grace comes home again. Sir, if you please, you
must ate a bit. Not a bit have you aten sin' Toosday, and it is enough
to kill a carrier's horse. 'Take on,' as my mother have often said;
'take on, as you must, if your heart is right, when the hand of the
Lord is upon you; but never take off with your victuals.' And a hearty
good woman my mother is, and have seen much tribulation. You never
would repent, sir, of hearkening to me, and of trying of her, till
such time as poor Miss Grace comes back. And not a penny would she
charge you."

"Let her come, if she will," he answered, without thinking twice about
it; for he paid no heed to household matters in his present trouble.
"Let her come, if you wish it, Mary. At any rate, she can do no harm."

"She will do a mort of good, sir. But now do try to ate a bit. My
mother will make you, if you have her, sir."

The old man did his best to eat; for he knew that he must keep his
strength up, to abide the end of it. And Mary, without asking leave,
lit four good candles, and drew the curtains, and made the fire
cheerful. "All of us has our troubles," said Mary; "but these here
pickles is wonderful."

"You are a good girl," answered the Squire; "and you deserve a good
husband. Now, if either the man from Oxford or young Mr. Overshute
should come, show them in directly; but I can see no other person. No
more, thank you. Take all away, Mary."

"Oh my! what a precious little bit you've had! But as sure as my name
is Mary Hookham, you shall have three glasses of port, sir. You don't
keep no butler, because you knows better; and no housekeeper, because
you don't know mother. Likewise, Miss Grace is so clever--but there,
now, if she stay long for her honeymoon, a housekeeper you must have,
sir."

The master was tempted to ask what she meant, but he scarcely thought
it worth while, perhaps. By pressure of advice from all the womankind
within his doors (whenever they could get hold of him) he had been
sped on many bootless errands, as was natural. For without any ground,
except that of their hearts, all the gentler bosoms of the place were
filled with large belief that this was only a lovely love affair.

Russel Overshute, the heir of the Overshutes of Shotover, was a young
man who could speak for himself, and did it sometimes too strongly. He
had long been taken prisoner by the sweet spell of Grace Oglander; and
being of a bold and fearless order, he had so avowed himself. But her
father had always been against him; not from personal dislike, but
simply because he could not bear his "wild political sentiments."
Worth Oglander was as staunch an old Tory as ever stood in buckram,
although in social and domestic matters perhaps almost too gentle.
Radical and rascal were upon his tongue the self-same word; and he
passed the salt with the back of his hand to even a mild Reformer.

And now, as he drank his glass of port, by dint of Mary's management,
and did his best to think about it, as he always used to do, the door
of the room was thrown open strongly, and in strode Russel Overshute.

"Will you kindly leave the room," he said to the sedulous Mary. "I
wish to say a few words to the Squire of a private nature."

This young gentleman was a favourite with maid-servants everywhere,
because he always spoke to them "just the same as if they was ladies."
Every housemaid now demands this, in our advanced intelligence; and
doubtless she is right; but forty years ago it was otherwise, and
"Polly, my dear," and a chuck of the chin, were not as yet vile
antiquity. Mary made a bob of the order still taught at the
village-school, and set a glass for the gentleman, and simpered, and
departed.

"Shake hands with me, Squire," said Overshute, as Mr. Oglander arose,
with cold dignity, and bowed to him. "You have sent for me; I rode
over at once, the moment that I heard of it. I returned from London
this afternoon, having been there for a fortnight. When I heard the
news, I was thunderstruck. What can I do to help you?"

"I will not shake hands with you," answered the Squire, "until you
have solemnly pledged your honour, that you know nothing of this--of
this--there, I have no word for it!" Mr. Oglander trembled, though his
eyes were stern. His last hope of his daughter's life lay in the young
man before him; and bitterly as he would have felt the treachery of
his only child, and deeply as he despised himself for harbouring such
a suspicion--yet even that disgrace and blow would be better than the
alternative, the only alternative--her death.

"I should have thought it quite needless," young Overshute answered,
with some disdain, until he observed the father's face, so broken down
with misery; "from any one but you, sir, it would have been an insult.
If you do not know the Overshutes, you ought to know your own
daughter."

"But against her will--against her will. Say that you took her against
her will. You have been from home. For what else was it? Tell me the
truth, Russel Overshute--only the truth, and I will forgive you."

"You have nothing to forgive, sir. Upon the word of an Englishman, I
hadn't even heard of it."

The old man watched his clear keen eyes, with deep tears gathering in
his own. Then Russel took his hand, and led him tenderly to his hard
oak chair.

For a minute or two not a word was said: the young man doubting what
to say, and the old one really not caring whether he ever spoke again.
At last he looked up and spread both hands, as if he groped forth from
a heavy dream; and the rheumatism from so much night-work caught him
in both shoulder-blades.

"What is it?--what is it?" he cried. "I have lived a long time in this
wicked world, and I have not found it painful."

"My dear sir," his visitor answered, pitying him sincerely, and hiding
(like a man) his own deep heart-burn of anxiety, "may I say, without
your being in the least degree offended, what I fancy--or at least, I
mean a thing that has occurred to me? You will take it for its worth.
Most likely you will laugh at it; but taking my chance of that, may I
say it? Will you promise not to be angry?"

"I wish I could be angry, Russel. What have I to be angry for?"

"A terrible wrong, if I am right, but not a purely hopeless one. I
have not had time to think it out, because I have been hurried so.
But, right or wrong, what I think is this--the whole is a foul scheme
of Luke Sharp's."

"Luke Sharp! My own solicitor! The most respectable man in Oxford!
Overshute, you have made me hope, and then you dash me with
balderdash!"

"Well, sir, I have no evidence at all; but I go by something I heard
in London, which supplies the strongest motive; and I know, from my
own family affairs, what Luke Sharp will do when he has strong motive.
I beg you to keep my guess quite secret. Not that I fear a score of
such fellows, but that he would be ten times craftier if he thought we
suspected him; and he is crafty enough without that, as his principal
client, the Devil, knows!"

"I will not speak of it," the Squire answered; "such a crotchet is not
worth speaking of, and it might get you into great trouble. With one
thing and another now, I am so knocked about, that I cannot put two
and two together. But one thing really comforts me."

"My dear sir, I am so glad! What is it?"

"That a man of your old family, Russel, and at the same time of such
new ways, is still enabled by the grace of God to retain his faith in
the Devil."

"While Luke Sharp lives I cannot lose it," he answered, with a bitter
smile. "That man is too deep and consummate a villain to be
uninspired. But now, sir, we have no time to lose. You tell me what
you have done, and then I will tell you what I have been thinking of,
unless you are too exhausted."

For the old man, in spite of fierce anxiety, long suspense, and keen
excitement, began to be so overpowered with downright bodily weariness
that now he could scarcely keep his head from nodding, and his eyes
from closing. The hope which had roused him, when Overshute entered,
was gone, and despair took the place of it; tired body and sad mind
had but a very low heart to work them. Russel, with a strong man's
pity, and the love which must arise between one man and another
whenever small vanity vanishes, watched the creeping shades of slumber
soften the lines of the harrowed face. As evening steals along a
hill-side where the sun has tyrannised, and spreads the withering and
the wearying of the day with gentleness, and brings relief to rugged
points, and breadth of calm to everything; so the Squire's fine old
face relaxed in slumber's halo, and tranquil ease began to settle on
each yielding lineament; when open flew the door of the room, and
Mary, at the top of her voice, exclaimed--

"Plaize, sir, Maister Cripps be here."



CHAPTER IX.

CRIPPS IN AFFLICTION.


"Confound that Cripps!" young Overshute cried, with irritation getting
the better of his larger elements; while the Squire slowly awoke and
stared, and rubbed his gray eyelashes, and said that he really was
almost falling off, and he ought to be quite ashamed of himself. Then
he begged his visitor's pardon for bad manners, and asked what the
matter was. "Sir, it is only that fool Cripps," said the young man,
still in vexation, and signing to Mary to go, and to shut the door.
"Some trumpery parcel, of course. They might have let you rest for a
minute or two."

"No, sir, no; if you plaize, sir, no!" cried Mary, advancing with her
hands up. "Maister Cripps have seen something terrible, and he hath
come straight to his Worship. He be that out of breath that he was
aforced to lay hold of me, before he could stand a'most! He must have
met them sheep-stealers!"

"Sheep-stealing again!" said Mr. Oglander, who was an active
magistrate. "Well, let him come in. I have troubles of my own; but I
must attend to my duty."

"Let me attend to it," interposed the other, being also one of the
"great unpaid." "You must not be pestered with such things now. Try to
get some little rest while I attend to this Cripps affair."

"I am much obliged to you," answered the Squire, rising, and looking
wide-awake; "but I will hear what he has to say myself. Of course, I
shall be too glad of your aid if you are not in a hurry."

Mr. Overshute knew that this fine old Justice, although so good in the
main, was not entirely free from foibles, of which there was none more
conspicuous than a keen and resolute jealousy if any brother
magistrate dared to meddle with Beckley matters. Therefore Russel for
the time withdrew, but promised to return in half an hour, not only
for the sake of consulting with the Squire, but also because he
suspected that Cripps might be come on an errand different from what
Mary had imagined.

Meanwhile, the Carrier could hardly be kept from bursting in
head-foremost. Betty, the cook, laid hold of him in the passage, while
he was short of breath; but he pushed at even her, although he ought
to have known better manners. Betty was also in a state of mind at
having cooked no dinner worth speaking of since Tuesday; and Cripps,
if his wits had been about him, must have yielded space and bowed.
Betty, however, was nearly as wide, and a great deal thicker than he
was; and she spread forth two great arms that might have stopped even
Dobbin with a load downhill.

At last the signal was passed that Cripps might now come on, and tell
his tale; and he felt as if he should have served them right by
refusing to say anything. But when he saw the Squire's jovial face
drawn thin with misery, and his sturdy form unlike itself, and the
soft puzzled manner in lieu of the old distinct demand to know
everything, Zacchary Cripps came forward gently, and thought of what
he had to tell, with fear.

"What is it, my good fellow?" asked the Squire, perceiving his
hesitation. "Nothing amiss with your household, I sincerely hope, my
friend? You are a fortunate man in one thing--you have had no children
yet."

"Ay, ay; your Worship is right enough there. The Lord lends they, and
He takes them away. And the taking be worse than the giving was good."

"Now, Master Cripps, we must not talk so. All is meant for the best, I
doubt."

"Her may be. Her may be," Cripps replied. "The Lord is the one to
pronounce upon that, knowing His own maning best. But He do give very
hard measure some time to them as have never desarved it. Now, there
be your poor Miss Grace, for instance. As nice a young lady as ever
lived; the purtiest ever come out of a bed; that humble, too, and
gracious always, that 'Cripps,' she would say--nay 'Master
Cripps'--she always give me my proper title, even on a dirty linen
day--'Master Cripps,' her always said, 'let me mark it off, in your
hat, for you'--no matter whether it was my best hat, or the one with
the grease come through--'Master Cripps,' she always say, 'let me mark
it out for you.'"

"Very well, Cripps. I know all that. It is nothing to what my Grace
was. And I hope, with God's blessing, she will do it again. But what
is it you are so full of, Cripps?"

The Carrier felt in the crown of his hat, and then inside the lining;
as if he had something entered there, to help him in this predicament.
And then he turned away, to wipe--as if the weather was very wet--the
drops of the hedge from the daze of his eyes; and after that he could
not help himself, but out with everything.

"I knows where Miss Gracie be," he began with a little defiance, as
if, after all, it was nothing to him, but a thing that he might have a
bet about. "I knows where our Miss Gracie lies--dead and cold--dead
and cold--without no coffin, nor a winding-sheet--the purty crature,
the purty crature--there, what a fool I be, good Lord!"

Master Cripps, at the picture himself had drawn, was taken with a
short fit of sobs, and turned away, partly to hunt for his "kercher,"
and partly to shun the poor Squire's eyes. Mr. Oglander slowly laid
down the pen, which he had taken for notes of a case, and standing as
firm as his own great oak-tree (famous in that neighbourhood), gave no
sign of the shock, except in the colour of his face, and the
brightness of his gaze.

"Go on, Cripps, as soon as you can," he said in a calm and gentle
voice. "Try not to keep me waiting, Cripps."

"I be trying; I be trying all I knows. The blessed angel be dead and
buried, close to Tickuss's tatie crop, in the corner of bramble
quarry. At least, I mean Tickuss's taties was there; but he dug them a
fortnight, come Monday, he did."

"The corner of the 'Gipsy's Grave,' as they call it. Who found it? How
do you know it?"

"Esther was there. She seed the whole of it. Before the snow
come--last Tuesday night."

"Tuesday night! Ah, Tuesday night!"--for the moment, the old man had
lost his clearness. "It can't have been Tuesday night--it was
Wednesday when I rode down to my sister's. Cripps, your sister must
have dreamed it. My darling was then at her aunt's, quite safe. You
have frightened me for nothing, Cripps."

"I am glad with all my heart," cried Zacchary; "I am quite sure it
were Tuesday night, because of Mrs. Exie. And your Worship knows best
of the days, no doubt. Thank the Lord for all His mercies! Well,
seeing now it were somebody else, in no ways particular, and perhaps
one of them gipsy girls as took the fever to Cowley, if your Worship
will take your pen again, I will tell you all as Esther seed:--Two men
with a pickaxe working, where the stone overhangeth so, and the corpse
of a nice young woman laid for the stone to bury it natural. No harm
at all in the world, when you come to think, being nought of a
Christian body. And they let go the rock, and it come down over, to
save all infection. Lord, what a turn that Etty gived me, all about a
trifle!" The Carrier wiped his forehead, and smiled. "And won't I give
it well to her?"

"Poor girl! It is no trifle, Cripps, whoever it may have been. But
stop--I am all abroad. It was Tuesday afternoon when my poor darling
left Mrs. Fermitage. And to the quarry, across the fields, from the
way she would come, is not half a mile--half a mile of fields and
hedgerows---- Oh, Cripps, it was my daughter!"

"Her maight a' been, sure enough," said Cripps, in whom the reflective
vein, for the moment, had crossed the sentimental--"sure enough, her
maight a' been. A pasture meadow, and a field of rape, and Gibbs's
turnips, and then a fallow, and then into Tickuss's taties--half an
hour maight a' done the carrying--and consarning of the rest--your
Worship, now when did she leave the lady? Can you count the time of
it?"

"Zacchary now, the will of the Lord be done, without calculation! My
grave is all I care to count on, if my Grace lies buried so. But
before I go to it, please God, I will find out who has done it!"



CHAPTER X.

ALL DEAD AGAINST HIM.


"Now, do 'ee put on a muffler, sir," cried Mary, running out with her
arms full, as Mr. Oglander set forth in the bitter air, without
overcoat, but ready to meet everything. At the door was his old
Whitechapel cart, with a fresh young colt between the shafts, pawing
the snow, and snorting; the only one of his little stud not lamed by
rugged travelling. The floor of the cart was jingling with iron tools,
as the young horse shook himself; and the Squire's groom, and two
gardeners, were ready to jump in, when called for. They stamped a
little, and flapped their bodies, as if they would like a cordial; but
their master was too busy with his own heart to remember it.

"If we be goin' to dig some hours in such weather as this be," Mr.
Kale managed to whisper--"best way put in a good brandy flask, Mary,
my dear, with Master's leave. Poor soul, a' can't heed everything."

"Go along," answered Mary; "you have had enough. Shamed I be of you,
to think of such things, and to look at that poor Hangel!"

"So plaize your Worship, let me drive," said Cripps, who was going to
sit in front. "A young horse, and you at your time of life, and all
this trouble over you!"

"Give me the reins, my friend," cried his Worship; and Cripps, in some
dread for his neck, obeyed. The men jumped in, and the young horse
started at a rather dangerous pace. Many a time had Miss Grace fed
him, and he used to follow her, like a lamb.

"He will take us safe enough," said the Squire; "he seems to know what
he is going for."

Not another word was spoken, until they came to the gap at the verge
of the quarry, where the frosty moon shone through it. "Tie him here,"
said the master shortly, as the groom produced his ring-rope; "and
throw the big cloth over him. Now, all of you come; and Cripps go
first."

Scared as they were, they could not in shame decline the old man's
orders; and the sturdy Cripps, with a spade on his shoulders, led
through the drifted thicket. Behind him plodded the Squire, with an
unlit lantern in one hand, and a stout oak staff in the other; the
moonlight glistening in his long white hair, and sparkling frost in
his hoary beard. The snow before them showed no print larger than the
pad of an old dog-fox pursuing the spluttering track of a pheasant's
spurs; and it crunched beneath their boots with the crusty impact of
crisp severance. All around was white and waste with depth of unknown
loneliness; and Master Cripps said for the rest of his life, that he
could not tell what he was about, to do it!

After many flounderings in and out of hollow places, they came to the
corner of the quarry-dingle, and found it entirely choked with snow.
The driving of the north-east wind had gathered as into a funnel
there, and had stacked the snow of many acres in a hollow of less than
half a rood. The men stopped short, where the gaunt brown fern, and
then the furze, and then the hazels, in rising tier waded out of
sight; and behind them even some ash-saplings scarcely had a knuckled
joint to lift from out their burial. Over the whole the cold moon
shone, and made the depth look deeper. The men stopped short, and
looked at their shovels, and looked at one another. They may not have
been very bright of mind, or accustomed to hurried conclusions; and
doubtless they were, as true Englishmen are, of a tough unelastic
fibre. All powers of evil were banded against them, and they saw no
turn to take; still it was not their own wish to go back, without
having struck a blow for it.

"You can do nothing," said the Squire, with perhaps the first bitter
feeling he had yet displayed. "All things are dead against me; I must
grin, as you say, and bear it. It would take a whole corps of sappers
and miners a week to clear this place out. We cannot even be sure of
the spot; we cannot tell where the corner is; all is smothered up so.
Ill luck always rides ill luck. This proves beyond doubt that my child
lies here!"

The men were good men, as men go, and they all felt love and pity for
the lost young lady and the poor old master. Still their fingers were
so blue, and their frozen feet so hard to feel, and the deep white
gulf before them surged so palpably invincible, that they could not
repine at a dispensation which sent them home to their suppers.

"Nort to be done till change of weather," said Cripps, as they sat in
the cart again; "I reckon they villains knew what was coming, better
nor I, who have kept the road, man and boy, for thirty year. The Lord
knoweth best, as He always do! But to my mind He maneth to kape on
snowing and freezing for a month at laste. Moon have changed last
night, I b'lieve; and a bitter moon we shall have of it."

And so they did; the bitterest moon, save one, of the present century.
And old men said that there had not been such a winter, and such a
sight of snow, since the one which the Lord had sent on purpose to
discomfit Bony.

Mr. Oglander, in his lonely home, strove bravely to make the best of
it. He had none of that grand religious consolation which some people
have (especially for others), and he grounded his happiness perhaps
too much upon his own hearthstone. His mind was not an extraordinary
one, and his soul was too old-fashioned to demand periods of purging.

Moreover, his sister Joan came up--a truly pious and devoted woman,
the widow of an Oxford wine-merchant. Mrs. Fermitage loved her niece
so deeply that she had no patience with any selfish pinings after her.
"She is gone to the better land," she said; "the shores of bliss
unspeakable!--unless Russel Overshute knows about her a great deal
more than he will tell. I have far less confidence in that young man
since he took to wear india-rubber. But to wish her back is a very
sinful and unchristian act, I fear."

"Now, Joan, you know that you wish her back every time that you sit
down, or get up, or go to tea without her."

"Yes, I know, I know, I do. And most of all when I pour it out--she
used to do it for me. But, Worth, you can wrestle more than I can. The
Lord expects so much more of a man!"

Being exhorted thus, the Squire did his best to wrestle. Not that any
words of hers could carry now their former weight; for if he had no
daughter left, what good was money left to her? The Squire did not
want his sister's money for himself at all. Indeed, he would rather be
without it. Dirty money, won by trade!--but still it had been his duty
always to try to get it for his daughter. And this is worth a word or
two.

At the Oxford bank, and among the lawyers and the leading tradesmen,
it had been a well-known thing that old Fermitage had not died with
less than £150,000 behind him. Even in Oxford there never had been a
man so illustrious for port wine. "Fortiter occupa portum" was the
motto over the door to his vaults, and he fortified port impregnably.
Therefore he supplied all the common-room cellars, which cannot have
too much geropiga; and among the undergraduates his name was surety
for another glass. And there really was a port wine basis; so that
nobody died of him.

All these things are beside the mark. Mr. Fermitage, however, went on,
and hit his mark continually; and his mark was that bull's eye of this
golden age, a yellow imprint of a dragon. So many of these came
pouring in that he kept them in bottles without any "kicks," sealed,
and left to mature, and acquire "the genuine bottle flavour." When he
had bottled half a pipe of these, and was thinking of beginning now to
store them in the wood, a man coming down with a tap found him dead;
and was too much scared to steal anything.

This man reproached himself, ever afterwards, for his irresolute
conscience; and the two executors gave him nothing but blame for his
behaviour. People in Holiwell said that these two took a dozen bottles
of guineas between them, to toast their testator's memory; but
Holiwell never has been famous for the holy thing lying at the bottom
of the well. Enough that he was dead; and every man, seeing his
funeral, praised him.



CHAPTER XI.

KNOCKER VERSUS BELL-PULL.


There is, or was, a street in Oxford, near the ruins of the ancient
castle, and behind the new county jail, where one of the many offsets
of the Isis filters its artificial way beneath low arches and betwixt
dead walls; and this street (partly destroyed since then) was known to
the elder generation by the name of "Cross Duck Lane." Of course what
remains of it now exults in an infinitely grander title, though
smelling thereby no sweeter. With that we have nothing to do; the
street was "Cross Duck Lane" in our time.

Here, in a highly respectable house, a truly respectable man was
living, with his business and his family. "Luke Sharp, gentleman," was
his name, description, style, and title; and he was not by any means a
bad man, so as to be an Attorney.

This man possessed a great deal of influence, having much
house-property; and he never in the least disguised his sentiments, or
played fast and loose with them. Being of a commanding figure, and
fine straightforward aspect, he left an impression, wherever he went,
of honesty, vigour, and manliness. And he went into very good society,
as often as he cared to do so; for although not a native of Oxford,
but of unknown (though clearly large) origin, he now was the head, and
indeed the entirety, of a long-established legal firm. He had married
the daughter of the senior partner, and bought or ousted away the
rest; and although the legend on his plate was still "Piper, Pepper,
Sharp, and Co.," every one knew that the learning, wealth, and honour
of the whole concern were now embodied in Mr. Luke Sharp. Such a man
was under no necessity ever to blow his own trumpet.

His wife, a fat and goodly person, Miranda Piper of former days,
happened to be the first cousin and nearest relative of a famous
man--"Port-wine Fermitage" himself; and his death had affected her
very sadly. For she found that he had provided for himself a most
precarious future, by unjust disposal of his worldly goods, which he
could not come back to rectify. To his godson, her only child and her
idol, Christopher Fermitage Sharp, he had left a copy of Dr.
Doddridge's "Expositor," and nothing else! A golden work, no
doubt--but still golden precepts fill no purse, but rather tend to
empty it. Mrs. Luke Sharp, though a very good Christian, repacked and
sent back the "Expositor."

If Mr. Sharp had been at home, he would not have let her do so. He was
full at all times of large generous impulse, but never yet guilty of
impulsive acts. It had always been said that his son was to have the
bottled half-pipe of gold, or the chief body of it, after the widow's
life-interest. Whereas now, Mrs. Fermitage, if she liked, might roll
all the bottles down the High Street. She, however, was a careful
woman; and it was manifest where the whole of this Côte d'Or vintage
would be binned away--to wit, in the cellars of Beckley Barton, with
the key at Grace Oglander's very pretty waist. Mr. Sharp at the moment
could descry no cure; but still to show temper was a vulgar thing.

Now, upon the New Year's Day of 1838, the bitter weather continuing
still, and doing its best to grow more bitter, Mr. Sharp, being of a
festive turn, had closed his office early. The demand for universal
closing and perpetual holiday had not yet risen to its present height,
and the clerks, though familiar with the kindness of their principal,
scarcely expected such a premature relief. But this only added to the
satisfaction with which they went home to their New Year dinners.

But Mr. Sharp, though of early habits, and hungry at proper seasons,
was not preparing for his dinner now. He had ordered his turkey to be
kept back, and begged his wife to see to it until he could make out
and settle the import of a letter which reached him about one o'clock.
It had been delivered by a groom on horseback, who had suffered some
inward struggle before he had stooped to ring the Attorney's bell. For
"Cross Duck House," though a comfortable place, was not of an
aristocratic cast. The letter was short, and expounded little.

    "SIR,--I shall do myself the honour of calling upon you at four
    o'clock this afternoon, upon some important business.

    "Obediently yours,

    "RUSSEL OVERSHUTE."

It is not altogether an agreeable thing, even for a man with the
finest conscience, such as Mr. Sharp was blest with, to receive a
challenge upon an unknown point, curtly worded in this wise. And the
pleasure does not increase, when the strong correspondent is partly
suspected of holding unfavourable views towards one, and the gaze of
self-inspection needs a little more time to compose itself. Luke Sharp
had led an unblemished life, since the follies of his youth subsided;
he subscribed to inevitable charities; and he waited for his rents,
when sure of them. Still he did not like that letter.

Now he took off the coat which he wore at his desk, and his waistcoat
of the morning, and washed his nice white hands, and clothed himself
in expensive dignity. Then he opened his book of daily entries, and
folded blotting-paper, and prepared to receive instructions, or give
advice, or be wise abstractedly. But he thought it a sound precaution
to have his son Christopher within earshot; for young Overshute was
reputed to be of a rather excitable nature; therefore Kit Sharp was
commanded to finish the cleaning of his gun--which was his chief
delight--in his father's closet adjoining the office, and to keep the
door shut, unless called for.

The lawyer was not kept waiting long. As the clock of St. Thomas
struck four, the shoes of a horse rang sharply on the icy road, and
the office-bell kicked up its tongue, with a jerk showing great
extra-mural energy. "Let him ring again," said Mr. Sharp; "I defy him
to ring much harder."

The defiance was soon proved to be unsound; for in less than ten
seconds, the bell, which had stood many years of strong emotion, was
visited with such a violent spasm that nothing short of the
melting-pot restored its constitution. A piece clinked on the passage
floor, and the lawyer was filled with unfeigned wrath. That bell had
been ringing for three generations, and was the Palladium of the firm.

"What clumsy clod-hopper," cried Mr. Sharp, rushing out, as if he saw
nobody--"what beggarly bumpkin has broken my bell? Mr. Overshute!--oh!
I beg pardon, I am sure!"

"We must make allowance," said Russel calmly, "for fidgety animals,
Mr. Sharp; and for thick gloves in this frosty weather. John, take my
horse on the Seven-bridges road, and be back in exactly fifteen
minutes. How kind of you to be at home, Mr. Sharp!"

With the words, the young man bestowed on the lawyer a short sharp
glance, which entirely failed to penetrate the latter.

"Shut out this cold wind, for Heaven's sake!" he exclaimed, as he shut
in his visitor. "You young folk never seem to feel the cold. But you
carry it a little too far sometimes. Ah, I must have been about your
age when we had such another hard winter as this, four and twenty
years ago. Scarcely so bitter, but a deal more snow; snow, snow, six
feet everywhere. I was six and twenty then--about your age, I take it,
sir?"

"My age to a tittle," said Overshute; "but I am generally taken for
thirty-two. How can you have guessed it so?"

"Early thought, sir, juvenile thought, and advanced intelligence make
young people look far in front of their age. When you come to my time
of life, young sir, your thoughts and your looks will be younger. Now
take this chair. Never mind your boots; let them hiss as they will on
the fender. I like to hear it--a genial sound--a touch of emery paper
in the morning, and there we are, ready for other boots. I have had
men here come fifty miles across country, as the crow flies, to see
me, when the floods were out; and go away with minds comforted."

"I have heard of your skill in all legal points. But I am not come on
that account. Quibbles and shuffles I detest."

"Well, Mr. Overshute, I have met with a good deal of rudeness in my
early days; before I was known, as I am now. It was worth my while to
disarm it then. It is not so now, in your case. You belong to a very
good county family; and although you are committed to inferior hands,
if you had come in a friendly spirit, I would have been glad to serve
you. As it is, I can only request you to say what your purpose is, and
to settle it."

Russel Overshute, with his large and powerful eyes, gazed straight at
Sharp; and Mr. Sharp (who had steely eyes--the best of all for getting
on with--not very large, but as keen as need be) therewith answered
complacently, and as if he saw hope of amusement.

"You puzzle me, Sharp," said Overshute--about the worst thing he could
have said; and he knew it before the words had passed.

"I am called, for the most part, 'Mister Sharp,' except by gentlemen
of my own age, or friends who entirely trust me. Mr. Russel Overshute,
explain how I have puzzled you."

"Never mind that. You would never understand. Have you any idea what
has brought me here?"

"Yes, to be plain with you, I have. One of your least, but very oldest
tenants, has been caught out in poaching. You hate the game-laws; you
are a Radical, ranter, and reformer. You know that your lawyer is good
and active, but too well known as a Liberal. It requires a man of
settled principles to contest with the game-laws."

"You could not be more wide astray!" cried young Overshute
triumphantly, taking in every word the other had said, as a piece of
his victory. "No, no, thank goodness, we are not come so low that we
cannot get off our tenants, in spite of any evidence; you must indeed
think that our family is quite reduced to the dirt, if we can no
longer do even that much."

"Not at all, sir. You are much too hot. I only supposed for the moment
that your principles might have stopped you."

"Oh dear, no! My mother could not take it at all, in that way. Now,
where have you put Grace Oglander?"

Impetuous Russel, with his nostrils quivering, and his eyes fixed on
the lawyer's, and his right hand clenching his heavy whip, purposely
fired his question thus, like a thunderbolt out of pure heaven. He
felt sure of producing a grand effect; and so he did, but not the
right one.

"You threaten me, do you?" said Mr. Sharp. "I think that you make a
mistake, young man. Violence is objectionable in every way, though
natural with fools, who believe they are the stronger. I am sorry to
have spoiled your whip; but you will acknowledge that the fault was
yours. Now, I am ready for reason--if you are."

With a grave bow, Luke Sharp offered Russel the fragments of his pet
hunting-crop, which he had caught from his hand, and snapped like a
stick of peppermint, as he spoke. Overshute thought himself a fine,
strong fellow, and with very good reason; but the quickness of his
antagonist left him gasping.

"I want no apologies," Mr. Sharp continued, going to his desk; while
the young man looked sadly at his brazen-knockered butt, for he had
been at that admirable college, and cherished his chief reminiscence
of it thus. "Apologies are always waste of time. You have threatened
me, and you have found your mistake. Such a formidable antagonist
makes one's hand shake. Still, I think that I can hit my key-hole."

"You can always make your keys fit, I dare say. But you never could do
that to me again."

"Very likely not. I shall never care to try it. Physical force is
always low. But, as a gentleman, you must own that you first offered
violence."

"Mr. Sharp, I confess that I did. Not in word, or deed; but still my
manner fairly imported it. And the first respect I ever felt for you,
I feel now, for your quickness and pluck."

"I am pleased with any respect from you; because you have little for
anything. Now, repeat your question, moderately."

"Where have you put Grace Oglander?"

"Let me offer you a chair again. Striding about with frozen feet is
almost the worst thing a man can do. However, you seem to be a little
excited. Have you brought me a letter from my client, to authorize
this inquiry?"

"From Mr. Oglander? Oh no! He has no idea of my being here."

"We will get over that. You are a friend of his, and a neighbour. He
has asked you, in a general way, to help him in this sad great
trouble."

"Not at all. He would rather not have my interference. He does not
like its motive."

"And the motive is, that like many other people, you were attached to
this young lady?"

"Certainly, I am. I would give my life at any moment for her."

"Well, well; I will not speak quite so strongly as you do. Life grows
dearer as it gets more short. But still, I would give my best year
remaining to get to the bottom of this problem."

"You would?" cried young Overshute, looking at him, with admiration of
his strength and truth. "Give me your hand, sir? I have wronged you! I
see that I am but a hasty fool!"

"You should never own that," said the lawyer.



CHAPTER XII.

MR. JOHN SMITH.


Meanwhile all Beckley and villages around were seething with a ferment
of excitement and contradiction. Esther Cripps had been strictly
ordered by the authorities to hold her tongue; and so far as in her
lay she did so. But there were others--the Squire's three men, and
even the Carrier himself, who had so many things to think, that they
were pretty sure to say some of them. One or two of them had wives;
and though these women could not be called by their very worst friends
"inquisitive," it was not right and lawful that they should be
debarred of everything. They did all they could not to know any more
than they were really bound to know; and whatever was forced upon them
had no chance of going any further.

This made several women look at one another slyly, each knowing more
than the other, and nodding while sounding the other's ignorance.
Until, with one accord they grew provoked at being treated so; and
truth being multiplied to its cube became, of course, infinite error.

Now, Mrs. Fermitage having been obliged to return to Cowley, Mary
Hookham's mother had established her power by this time; and being, as
her daughter had pronounced, a conspicuous member of the females, she
exerted herself about all that was said, and saw the other side of
everything. She never went to no public-house--nobody could say that
of her; but perhaps she could put two and two together every bit as
well as them that did. It had been her fortune to acquire exceptional
experience--or, as she put it more plainly, "she had a seed a many
things;" and the impressions left thereby upon her idiosyncrasy (or,
in her own words, "what she come to think") was and were that nothing
could be true that she had not known the like of. This was the secret
of her success in life--which, however, as yet bore no proportion to
her merits. She frankly scouted as "a pack of stuff" everything to
which her history afforded no vivid parallel. In a word, she believed
only what she had seen.

Now, incredulity is a grand power. To be able to say, "Oh, don't tell
me," or "None of your stuff!" when the rest of the audience, stricken
with awe, is gaping, confers at once the esteem of superior intellect
and vigour. And when there are good high people, who derive comfort
from the denial, the chances are that the active sceptic does not get
the worst of it.

Mrs. Hookham plainly declared that Esther's tale was neither more nor
less than a trumpery cock-and-bull story. She would not call it a
parcel of lies, because the poor girl might have dreamed it. Walking
in the snow was no more than walking in one's sleep; she knew that,
from her own experience; and if there had been no snow as yet, that
made her all the more sure to be right; the air was full of it, and of
course it would have more power overhead. Depend upon it, she had seen
a bush, if indeed she did see anything, and being so dazed by the
weather, she had gone and dreamed the rest of it.

Beckley, on the other hand, having known Esther ever since she toddled
out of her cradle, and knowing her brothers, the carrier, the baker,
and the butcher, and having no experience yet of Mother Hookham's
wisdom, as good as told the latter lady not to be "so bounceable." She
must not come into this parish, and pretend to know more about things
that belonged to it than those who were bred and born there.

But Mrs. Hookham's opinion was, in one way, very important, however
little weight it carried at the Dusty Anvil. Mr. Oglander himself had
to depend for his food entirely on Mrs. Hookham's efforts; for Betty,
the cook, went purely off her head, after all she had gone through;
and they put her in bed with a little barley-water, and much malt
liquor in a nobler form. And though Mrs. Hookham at her time of life
was reluctant so to demean herself, she found all the rest such a
"Noah's compass," that she roused up the fires of departed youth, and
flourished with the basting-ladle. A clever well-conditioned dame,
with a will of her own, is somebody.

"Now, sir," she cried, rushing in to the Squire, with a basin of
first-rate ox-tail soup, upon that melancholy New Year's Day, "you
have been out in the snow again! No use denying of it, sir; I can see
it by the chattering of your teeth. I call it a bad, wicked thing to
go on so. Flying in the face of the Lord like that!"

"You are a most kind and good soul, Mrs. Hookham. But surely you would
not have me sit with my hands crossed, doing nothing."

"No, no; surely not. Take the spoon in one hand, and the basin in the
other. You owe it to yourself to keep up your strength, and to some
one else as well, good sir."

"I have no one else now to owe it to," the old man answered, sadly
tucking his napkin into his waistcoat pockets.

"Yes, you have. You have your Miss Gracie, alive and kicking, as sure
as I be; and with a deal more of life in front of her; though scarce a
week passes but what I takes my regular dose of calumny. Ah, if it had
not been for that, I never could have been twenty year a widow."

"Don't cry, Mrs. Hookham. I beg you not to cry. You have many good
children to look after; and there still is abundance of calomel. But
why do you talk so about my darling?"

"Because, sir, please God, I means to see you spend many a happy year
together. Lord have mercy, if I had took for granted every trouble as
come upon me, who could a' tried for to cheat me this day? My
goodness, don't go for to swallow the bones, sir!"

"To be sure not. No, I was not thinking. Of course there are bones in
every tail."

"And a heap of bones in them Crippses' tale, sir, as won't go down
with me nohow. Have faith in the mercy of the Lord, sir; and in your
own experience."

"That is exactly what I try to do. There cannot be any one in the
world so bad as to hurt my Gracie. Mrs. Hookham, you never can have
seen anybody like her. She was so full of life and kindness that
everybody who knew her seemed to have her in their own family. She
never made pretence to be above herself, or any one; and she entered
into everybody's trouble quite as if she had brought it on. She never
asked them any questions, whether it might have been their own fault;
and she gave away all her own money first before she came to me for
more. She was so simple, and so pleasant, and so full of playful
ways--but there, when I think of that, it makes me almost as bad as
you women are. Take out the dish. I am very much obliged to you."

"Not a bit, sir, not a bit as yet," the brisk dame answered, with
tears on her cheeks. "But before very long, you will own that you was;
when you find every word I say come true. Oh my! How that startled me!
Somebody coming the short way from the fields! That wonderful man, as
is always prowling about, unbeknown to any one. They don't like me in
the village much, civil as I am to all of them. But as sure as six is
half a dozen, that Smith is the one they ought to hate."

"If he is there, show him in at once," said the Squire, without
further argument; "and let no one come interrupting us."

This was very hard upon Mrs. Hookham; and she could not help showing
it in her answer.

"Oh, to be sure, sir! Oh, to be sure not! What is my poor opinion
compared to his? Ah well, it is a fine thing to be a man!"

The man, for whose sake she was thus cast out, seemed to be of the
same opinion. He walked, and looked, and spoke as if it was indeed a
fine thing to be a man; but the finest of all things to be the man
inside his own cloth and leather. Short and thick of form he was, and
likely to be at close quarters a dangerous antagonist. And the set of
his jaws, and the glance of his eyes, showed that no want of manhood
would at the critical moment disable him. His face was of a strong red
colour, equally spread all over it, as if he lived much in the open
air, and fed well, and enjoyed his food.

"John Smith, your Worship--John Smith," he said, without troubling
Mrs. Hookham. "I hope I see your Worship better. Don't rise, I beg of
you. May I shut the door? Oh, Mary, your tea is waiting."

"Mary, indeed!" cried widow Hookham, ungraciously departing; "young
man, address my darter thus!"

"Now, what have you done, Smith, what have you done?" the old
gentleman asked, stooping over him. "Or have you done nothing at all
as usual? You tell me to have patience every day, and every day I have
less and less."

"The elements are against us, sir. If the weather had been anything
but what it is, I must have known everything long ago. Stop, sir,
stop; it is no idle excuse, as you seem to fancy. It is not the snow
that I speak of; it is the intense and deadly cold, that keeps all but
the very strong people indoors. How can any man talk when his beard is
frozen? Look, sir!"

From his short brown beard he took lumps of ice, beginning to thaw in
the warmth of the room, and cast them into the fire to hiss. Mr.
Oglander gazed as if he thought that his visitor took a liberty, but
one that could not matter much. "Go on, sir, with your report," he
said.

"Well, sir, in this chain of crime," Mr. Smith replied in a sprightly
manner, "we have found one very important link."

"What is it, Smith? Don't keep me waiting. Don't fear me. I am now
prepared to stand anything whatever."

"Well, sir, we have discovered, at last, the body of your Worship's
daughter."

The Squire bowed, and hid his face. By the aid of faith, he had been
hoping against hope, till it came to this. Then he looked up, with his
bright old eyes for the moment very steady, and said with a firm
though hollow voice--

"The will of the Lord be done! The will of the Lord be done, Smith."

"The will of the Lord shall not be done," cried Mr. Smith
emphatically, and striking his thick knees with his fist, "until the
man who has done it shall be swung, Squire, swung! Make up your mind
to that, your Worship. You may safely make up your mind to that."

"What good will it do me?" the father asked, talking with himself
alone. "Will it ever bring back my girl--my child? Bereaved I am, but
it cannot be long! I shall meet her in a better world, Smith."

"To be sure your Worship will, with the angels and archangels. But to
my mind that will be no satisfaction, till the man has swung for it."

"Excuse me for a moment, will you, Mr. Smith, excuse me? I have no
right to be overcome, and I thought I had got beyond all that. Ring
the bell, and they will bring you cold sirloin and a jug of ale. Help
yourself, and don't mind me. I will come back directly. No, thank you;
I can walk alone. How many have had much worse to bear! You will find
the under-cut the best."



CHAPTER XIII.

MR. SMITH IS ACTIVE.


Mr. John Smith was a little upset at seeing the Squire so put out. But
he said to himself: "It is natural--after all, it is natural. Poor old
chap! he has taken it as well as could be expected. However, we must
all live; and I feel uncommonly peckish just now. I declare I would
rather have had something hot, this weather. But in such a case, one
must put up with things. I wonder if they have got any horseradish.
All frozen hard in the ground, I fear--no harm, at any rate, in
asking."

With this self-commune he rang the bell; and Mary, by her mother's
order, answered. "I'll not go nigh the baste!" cried widow Hookham,
still indignant. Mary, like a good maid, laid the cloth without a
syllable, and, like a good young woman, took the keenest heed of Mr.
Smith, without letting him dream that she peeped at him.

"Thank you, Mary," said Mr. Smith, to open conversation.

"My mother's name is Mary," she answered, "and perhaps you would like
some pickles."

"By all means, as there is no horseradish. Bring onions, gherkins, and
walnuts, Mary. But above all things, walnuts."

"You must have what you can get," said Mary. "I will go and tell
master what you require."

"On no account, Mary; on no account! He is gone away to pray, I
believe. On no account disturb him."

"Poor dear, I should hope not. Perhaps you can manage with what I have
set before you."

"I will do my best," he answered.

"The scum of the earth!" said Mary to herself; good servants being the
most intensely aristocratic of all the world.

"He never dined at a gentleman's table before, and his head is turned
with it. Our kitchen is too good for him. But poor master never heeds
nothing now."

As soon, however, as Mr. Smith had appeased the rage of hunger, and
having called for a glass of hot brandy and water, was clinking the
spoon in it, the Squire showed that he did heed something, by coming
back calmly to talk with him. Mr. Oglander had passed the bitterest
hour of his long life yet; filled at every turn of thought with
yearning to break down and weep. Sometimes his mind was so confused
that he did not know how old he was, but seemed to be in the long past
days, with his loving wife upon his arm, and their Gracie toddling in
front of them. He spoke to them both as he used to do, and speaking
cleared his thoughts again; and he shook away the dreamy joy in the
blank forlorn of facts. At last he washed his face, and brushed his
silver hair and untended beard, and half in the looking-glass expected
to see his daughter scolding him, because he knew that he had
neglected many things she insisted on; and his conscience caught him
when he seemed to be taking a low advantage.

"I hope you have been treated well," he said, with his fine
old-fashioned bow, to Smith, as he came back again. "I do not often
leave my guests to attend to themselves in this way."

"Don't apologize, Squire, I beg you. I have done first chop, I assure
you, sir. I have not tasted real mustard, ground at home as yours is,
since I was up in Durham county, where they never grow it."

"Well, Mr. Smith," said the Squire, trying to smile at his
facetiousness, "I am very glad that you have done well. In weather
like this, a young man like you must want a good deal of nourishment.
But now, will you--will you tell me----"

"Yes, your Worship, everything! Of course you are anxious; and I
thoroughly enter into your feelings. There are none of the women at
the door, I hope?"

"Such things do not happen in my house. I will not interrupt you."

"Very well, sir; then sit down here. You must be aware in the first
place, then, that I was not likely to be content with your way of
regarding things. The Lord is the Lord of the weather, of course, and
does it without consulting us. Nevertheless, He allows us also to do
our best against it. So I took the bull by the horns, as John Bull, by
his name, has a right to do. I just resolved to beat the weather, and
have it out with everything. So I communicated with the authorities in
London. You know we are in a transition state--a transition state at
present, sir--between the old system and the new."

"Yes, yes, of course I know all that."

"Very well, your Worship, we are obliged, of course, to be doubly
careful. In London, we are quite established; but down here, we must
feel our way. The magistrates, saving your Worship's presence, look
upon us with dislike, as if we were superseding them. That will wear
off, your Worship, and the new system will work wonders."

"Yes, so you all say. But now, be quick. What wonders have you
wrought, John Smith?"

"Well, I was going to tell your Worship when you interrupted me. You
know that story of Cripps, the Carrier, and his sister--what's her
name? Well, some folk believed it, and some bereaved it. I did neither
of the two, but resolved to get to the bottom of it. Your Worship was
afraid, you remember--well, then, let us say daunted, sir--or, if you
will not have that, we may say, that you trusted in Providence."

"It was not quite that; but still, Mr. Smith----"

"Your Worship will excuse me. Things of that sort happen always, and
the people are always wrong that do it. I trusted in Providence once
myself, but now I trust twice in my own self first and leave
Providence to come after me. Ha, ha! I speak my mind. No offence, your
Worship. Well then, this was what I did. A brave regiment of soldiers
having newly returned from India, was ordered to march from London to
the Land's End for change of temperature. They had not been supplied,
of course, with any change of clothes for climate, and they felt it a
little, but were exhorted not to be too particular. Two companies were
to be billeted at Abingdon last evening; and having, of course,
received notice of that, I procured authority to use them. They
shivered so that they wanted work; and there is nothing, your Worship,
like discipline."

"Of course, I know that from my early days. Will you tell your story
speedily?"

"Sir, that is just what I am doing. I brought them without many words
to the quarry, where ten times the number of our clodhoppers would
only have shovelled at one another. Bless my heart! they did work, and
with order and arrangement. Being clothed all in cotton, they had no
time to lose, unless they meant to get frozen; and it was a fine
sight, I assure your Worship, to see how they showed their
shoulder-blades, being skinny from that hot climate, and their
brown-freckled arms in the white of the drift, and the Indian steam
coming out of them! In about two hours all the ground was clear, and
the trees put away, like basket-work; and then we could see what had
happened exactly, and even the mark of the pickaxes. Every word of
that girl was proved true to a tittle! I never heard finer evidence.
We can even see that two men had been at work, and the stroke of their
tools was different. You may trust me for getting up a case; but I see
that you have no patience, Squire. We shovelled away all the fallen
rock, and mould, and stumps, and furze-roots; and, at last, we came to
the poor, poor innocent body, as fresh as the daylight!"

"I can hear no more! You have lost no child--if you have, perhaps you
could spare it. Tell me nothing--nothing more! But prove that it was
my child!"

"Lord a' mercy, your Worship! Why, you are only fit to go to bed!
Here, Mary! Mary! Mother Hookham! Curse the bell--I have broken it!
Your master is taken very queer! Look alive, woman! Stir your stumps!
A pot of hot water and a foot-tub! Don't get scared--he will be all
right. I always carry a fleam with me. I can bleed him as well as any
doctor. Hold his head up. Let me feel. Oh, he is not going to die just
yet! Stop your caterwauling! There, I have relieved his veins. He will
know us all in a minute again. He ought to have had a deal more
spirit. I never could have expected this. I smoothed off everything so
nicely--just as if it was a lady----"

"Did you, indeed! I have heard every word," said widow Hookham
sternly. "You locked the door, or I would have had my ten nails in you
long ago! Poor dear! What is a scum like you? And after all, what have
you done, John Smith?"



CHAPTER XIV.

SO IS MR. SHARP.


On the very next day it was known throughout the parish and the
neighbourhood that the ancient Squire had broken down at last, under
the weight of anxieties. Nobody blamed him much for this, except his
own sister and Mr. Smith. Mrs. Fermitage said that he ought to have
shown more faith and resignation; and John Smith declared that all his
plans were thrown out by this stupidity. What proper inquiry could be
held, when the universal desire was to spare the feelings and respect
the affliction of a poor old man?

Mr. Smith was right. An inquest truly must be held upon the body which
had been found by the soldiers. But the Coroner, being a good old
friend and admirer of the Oglanders, contrived that the matter should
be a mere form, and the verdict an open nullity. Mr. Luke Sharp
appeared, and in a dignified reserve was ready to represent the
family. He said a few words, in the very best taste, and scarcely
dared to hint at things which must be painful to everybody left alive
to think of them. How the crush of tons of rock upon an unprotected
female form had made it impossible to say--and how all the hair (which
more than any other human gift survived the sad, sad change), having
been cut off, was there no longer--and how there was really nothing
except a pair of not over new silk stockings, belonging to a lady of
lofty position in the county, and the widow of an eminent gentleman,
but not required, he might hope, to present herself so painfully. Mr.
Sharp could say no more; and the jury felt that he now must come, or,
failing him, his son, Kit Sharp, into the £150,000 of "Port-wine
Fermitage."

Therefore they returned the verdict carried in his pocket by them,
"Death by misadventure of a young lady, name unknown." Their object
was to satisfy the Squire and their consciences; and they found it
wise, as it generally is, not to be too particular. And the Coroner
was the last man to make any fuss about anything.

"Are you satisfied now, Mr. Overshute?" asked Lawyer Sharp, as Russel
met him in the passage of the Quarry Arms, where the inquest had been
taken. "The jury have done their best, at once to meet the facts of
the case, and respect the feelings of the family."

"Satisfied! How can I be? Such a hocus-pocus I never knew. It is not
for me to interfere, while things are in this wretched state.
Everybody knows what an inquest is. No doubt you have done your duty,
and acted according to your instructions. Come in here, where we can
speak privately."

Mr. Sharp did not look quite as if he desired a private interview.
However, he followed the young man with the best grace he could
muster.

"I am going to speak quite calmly, and have no whip now for you to
snap," said Russel, sitting down, as soon as he had set a chair for
Mr. Sharp; "but may I ask you why you have done your utmost to prevent
what seemed, to an ordinary mind, the first and most essential thing?"

"The identification? Yes, of course. Will you come and satisfy
yourself? The key of the room is in my pocket."

"I cannot do it. I cannot do it," answered the young man, shuddering.
"My last recollection must not be----"

"Young sir, I respect your feelings. And need I ask you, after that,
whether I have done amiss in sparing the feelings of the family? And
there is something more important than even that at stake just now.
You know the poor Squire's sad condition. The poor old gentleman is
pretty well broken down at last, I fear. What else could we expect of
him? And the doctor his sister had brought from London says that his
life hangs positively upon a thread of hope. Therefore we are telling
him sad stories, or rather, I ought to say, happy stories; and though
he is too sharp to swallow them all, they do him good, sir--they do
him good."

"I can quite understand it. But how does that bear--I mean you could
have misled him surely about the result of this inquest?"

"By no means. He would have insisted on seeing a copy of _The Herald_.
In fact, if the jury could not have been managed, I had arranged with
the editor to print a special copy giving the verdict as we wanted it.
A pious fraud, of course; and so it is better to dispense with it.
This verdict will set him up again upon his poor old legs, I hope. He
seemed to dread the final blow so, and the bandying to and fro of his
unfortunate daughter's name. I scarcely see why it should be so; but
so it is, Mr. Overshute."

"Of course it is. How can you doubt it? How can it be otherwise? You
can have no good blood in you--I beg your pardon, I speak rashly; but
I did not mean to speak rudely. All I mean to say is that you need no
more explain yourself. I seem to be always doubting you; and it always
shows what a fool I am."

"Now, don't say that," Mr. Luke Sharp answered, with a fine and genial
smile. "You are acknowledged to be the most rising member of the
County Bench. But still, sir, still there is such a thing as going too
far with acuteness, sir. You may not perceive it yet; but when you
come to my age, you will own it."

"Truly. But who can be too suspicious, when such things are done as
these? I tell you, Sharp, that I would give my head off my shoulders,
this very instant, to know who has done this damned villainy!--this
infernal--unnatural wrong, to my darling--to my darling!"

"Mr. Overshute, how can we tell that any wrong has been done to her?"

"No wrong to take her life! No wrong to cut off all her lovely hair,
and to send it to her father! No wrong to leave us as we are, with
nothing now to care for! You spoke like a sensible man just now--oh,
don't think that I am excitable."

"Well, how can I think otherwise? But do me the justice to remember
that I do not for one moment assert what everybody takes for granted.
It seems too probable, and it cannot for the present at least be
disproved, that here we have the sad finale of the poor young lady.
But it must be borne in mind that, on the other hand, the body----"

"The thing could be settled in two minutes--Sharp, I have no patience
with you!"

"So it appears; and, making due allowance, I am not vexed with you.
You mean, of course, the interior garments, the nether clothing, and
so on. There is not a clue afforded there. We have found no name on
anything. The features and form, as I need not tell you----"

"I cannot bear to hear of that. Has any old servant of the family; has
the family doctor----"

"All those measures were taken, of course. We had the two oldest
servants. But the one was flurried out of her wits, and the other
three-quarters frozen. And you know what a fellow old Splinters is,
the crustiest of the crusty. He took it in bitter dudgeon that Sir
Anthony had been sent for to see the poor old Squire. And all he would
say was, 'Yes, yes, yes; you had better send for Sir Anthony. Perhaps
he could bring--oh, of course he could bring--my poor little pet to
life again!' Then we tried her aunt, Mrs. Fermitage, one of the last
who had seen her living. But bless you, my dear sir, a team of horses
would not have lugged her into the room. She cried, and shrieked, and
fainted away."

"'Barbarous creatures!' she said, 'you will have to hold another
inquest, if you are so unmanly. I could not even see my dear husband,'
and then she fell into hysterics, and we had to send two miles for
brandy. Now, sir, have we anything more to do? Shall we send a litter
or a coffin for the Squire himself?"

"You are inclined to be sarcastic. But you have taken a great deal
upon yourself. You seem to have ordered everything. Mr. Luke Sharp
everywhere!"

"Will you tell me who else there was to do it? It has not been a very
pleasant task, and certainly not a profitable one. I shall reap the
usual reward--to be called a busybody by every one. But that is a
trifle. Now, if there is anything you can suggest, Mr. Overshute, it
shall be done at once. Take time to think. I feel a little tired and
in need of rest. There has been so much to think of. You should have
come to help us sooner. But, no doubt, you felt a sort of delicacy
about it. The worthy jurymen's feet at last have ceased to rattle in
the passage. My horse will not be here just yet. You will not think me
rude, if I snatch a little rest, while you consider. For three nights
I have had no sleep. Have I your good permission, sir? Here is the key
of that room, meanwhile."

Russel Overshute was surprised to see Mr. Sharp draw forth a large
silk handkerchief, with spots of white upon a yellow ground, and
spread it carefully over the crown of his long, deep head, and around
his temples down to the fine grey eyebrows. Then lifting gaitered
heels upon the flat wide bar of the iron fender--the weather being as
cold as ever--in less than a minute Mr. Luke Sharp was asleep beyond
all contradiction. He slept the sleep of the just, with that gentle
whisper of a snore which Aristotle hints at to prove that virtue
being, as she must be, in the mean, doth in the neutral third of life
maintain a middle course between loud snore and silent slumber.

If Mr. Sharp had striven hard to produce a powerful effect, young
Overshute might have suspected him; but this calm, good sleep and pure
sense of rest laid him open for all the world to take a larger view of
him. No bad man could sleep like that. No narrow-minded man could be
so wide to nature's noblest power. Only a fine and genial soul could
sweetly thus resign itself. The soft content of well-earned repose
spoke volumes in calm silence. Here was a good man (if ever there was
one), at peace with his conscience, the world, and heaven!

Overshute was enabled thus to look at things more loftily;--to judge a
man as he should be judged, when he challenges no verdict;--to see
that there are large points of view, which we lose by worldly wisdom,
and by little peeps through selfish holes, too one-eyed and
ungenerous. Overshute could not bear the idea of any illiberality. He
hated suspicion in anybody, unless it were just; as his own should be.
In this condition of mind he pondered, while the honest lawyer slept.
And he could not think of anything neglected, or mismanaged much, in
the present helpless state of things.



CHAPTER XV.

A SPOTTED DOG.


When at last the frost broke up, and streams began to run again, and
everywhere the earth was glad that men should see her face once more;
and forest-trees, and roadside pollards, and bushes of the common
hedgerow, straightened their unburdened backs, and stood for spring to
look at them; a beautiful young maiden came as far as she could come,
and sighed; as if the beauty of the land awaking was a grief to her.

This pretty lady, in the young moss-bud, and slender-necked chalice of
innocence, was laden with dews of sorrow, such as nature, in her outer
dealings with the more material world, defers until autumnal night and
russet hours are waiting. Scarcely in full bloom of youth, but ripe
for blush or dreaminess, she felt the power of early spring, and the
budding hope around her.

"Am I to be a prisoner always, ever more a prisoner?" she said, as she
touched a willow catkin, the earliest of all, the silver one. She
stroked the delicate silken tassel, doubtful of its prudence yet; and
she looked for leaves, but none there were, and nothing to hold
commune.

The feeble sun seemed well content to have a mere glimpse of the earth
again, and spread his glances diffidently, as if he expected shadow.
Nevertheless, there he was at last; and the world received him
tenderly.

"It has been such a long, long time. It seems to grow longer, as the
days draw out, and nobody comes to talk to me. My place it is to obey,
of course--but still, but still--there he is again!"

The girl drew back; for a fine young man, in a grand new velvet
shooting-coat, wearing also a long shawl waistcoat and good buck-skin
breeches, which (combined with calf-skin gaiters) set off his legs to
the uttermost,--in all this picturesque apparel, and swinging a gun
right gallantly, there he was, and no mistake! He was quietly trying
through the covert, without any beaters, but with a brace of clever
spaniels, for woodcock, snipe, or rabbit perhaps; the season for game
being over. A tall, well-made, and rather nice young man (so far as a
bashful girl might guess) he seemed at this third view of him; and of
course it would be an exceedingly rude and pointed thing to run away.
Needless, also, and indeed absurd; because she was sure that when last
they met, he was frightened much more than she was. It was nothing
less than a duty now, to find out whether he had recovered himself. If
he had done so, it would be as well to frighten him even more this
time. And if he had not, it would only be fair to see what could be
done for him.

One of his dogs--a "cocking spannel," as the great Mr. Looker
warranted--a good young bitch, with liver-coloured spots, and drop
ears torn by brambles, and eyes full of brownish yellow light, ran up
to the girl confidentially, and wagged a brief tail, and sniffed a
little, and with sound discretion gazed. Each black nostril was like a
mark of panting interrogation, and one ear was tucked up like a small
tunnel, and the eye that belonged to it blinked with acumen.

"You pretty dear, come and let me pat you," the young lady cried,
looking down at the dog, as if there were nobody else in the world.
"Oh, I am so fond of dogs--what is your name? Come and tell me,
darling."

"Her name is 'Grace,'" said the master, advancing in a bashful but not
clumsy way. "The most beautiful name in the world, I think."

"Oh, do you think so, Mr.---- but I beg your pardon, you have not told
me what your own name is, I think."

"I hope you are quite well," he answered, turning his gun away
carefully; "quite well this fine afternoon. How beautiful it is to see
the sun, and all the things coming back again so!"

"Oh yes! and the lovely willow-trees! I never noticed them so before.
I had no idea that they did all this." She was stroking the flossiness
as she spoke.

"Neither had I," said the young man, trying to be most agreeable, and
glancing shyly at the haze of silver in lily fingers glistening; "but
do not you think that they do it because--because they can scarcely
help themselves?"

"No! how can you be so stupid? Excuse me--I did not mean that, I am
sure. But they do it because it is their nature; and they like to do
it."

"You know them, no doubt; and you understand them, because you are
like them."

He was frightened as soon as he had said this; which he thought (while
he uttered it) rather good.

"I am really astonished," the fair maid said, with the gleam of a
smile in her lively eyes, but her bright lips very steadfast, "to be
compared to a willow-tree. I thought that a willow meant--but never
mind, I am glad to be like a willow."

"Oh no! oh no! You are not one bit--I am sure you will never be like a
willow. What could I have been thinking of?"

"No harm whatever, I am sure of that," she answered, with so sweet a
look, that he stopped from scraping the toe of his boot on a clump of
moss; and in his heart was wholly taken up with her--"I am sure that
you meant to be very polite."

"More than that--a great deal more than that--oh, ever so much more
than that!"

She let him look at her for a moment, because he had something that he
wanted to express. And she, from pure natural curiosity, would have
been glad to know what it was. And so their eyes dwelt upon one
another just long enough for each to be almost ashamed of leaving off;
and in that short time they seemed to be pleased with one another's
nature. The youth was the first to look away; because he feared that
he might be rude; whereas a maiden cannot be rude. With the speed of a
glance she knew all that, and she blushed at the colour these things
were taking. "I am sure that I ought to go," she said.

"And so ought I, long and long ago. I am sure I cannot tell why I
stop. If you were to get into any trouble----"

"You are very kind. You need not be anxious. If you do not know why
you stop--the sooner you run away at full speed the better."

"Oh, I hope you won't say that," he replied, being gifted by nature
with powers of courting, which only wanted practice. "I really think
that you scarcely ought to say so unkind a thing as that."

"Very well, then. May I say this, that you have important things to
attend to, and that it looks--indeed it does--as if it was coming on
to rain?"

"I assure you there is no fear of that--although, if it did, there is
plenty of shelter. But look at the sun--how it shines in your hair!
Oh, why do you keep your hair so short? It looks as if it ought to be
ten feet long."

"Well, suppose that it was--not quite ten feet, for that would be
rather hard to manage--but say only half that length, and then for a
very good reason was all cut off--but that is altogether another
thing, and in no way can concern you. I give you a very good day,
sir."

"No, no! you will give me a very bad day, if you hurry away so
suddenly. I am anxious to know a great deal more about you. Why do you
live in this lonely place, quite as if you were imprisoned here? And
what makes you look so unhappy sometimes, although your nature is so
bright? There! what a brute I am! I have made you cry. I ought to
shoot myself."

"You must not talk of such wicked things. I am not crying; I am very
happy--at least, I mean quite happy enough. Good-bye! or I never shall
bear you again."

As she turned away, without looking at him, he saw that her pure young
breast was filled with a grief he must not intrude upon. And at the
same moment he caught a glimpse through the trees of some one coming.
So he lifted his smart Glengarry cap, and in sad perplexity strode
away. But over his shoulder he softly said--"I shall come again--you
must let me do that--I am sure that I can help you."

The young lady made no answer; but turned as soon as she thought he
was out of sight, and wistfully looked after him.

"Here comes that Miss Patch, of course," she said. "I wonder whether
she has spied him out. Her eyes are always everywhere."

"Oh, my darling child," cried Miss Patch, an elderly lady of great
dignity; "I had no idea you were gone so far. Come in, I beg of you,
come this moment; what has excited you like this?"

"Nothing at all. At least, I mean, I am not in the least excited. Oh!
look at the beautiful sunset!"

Miss Patch, with deep gravity, took out her spectacles, placed them on
her fine Roman nose, and gazed eastward to watch the sunset.

"Oh dear no! not there," cried her charge in a hurry; "here, it is all
in this direction."

"I thought that I saw a spotted dog," the lady answered, still gazing
steadily down the side of the forest by which the youth had made his
exit; "a spotted dog, Grace, I am almost sure."

"Yes, I dare say. I believe that there is a dog with some spots in the
neighbourhood."



CHAPTER XVI.

A GRAND SMOCK-FROCK.


Upon the Saturday after this, being market-day at Oxford, Zacchary
Cripps was in and out with the places and the people, as busy as the
best of them. The number of things that he had to do used to set his
poor brain buzzing; until he went into the Bar--not the grand one, but
the Hostler's Bar, at the Golden Cross--and left dry froth at the
bottom of a pewter quart measure of find old ale. At this flitting
trace of exhaustion he always gazed for a moment as if he longed to
behold just such another, and then, with a sigh of self-dedication to
all the great duties before him, out he pulled his leather bag, and
counted fourpence four times over (without any multiplication thereof,
but a desire to have less subtraction), and then he generally shook
his head, in penitence at his own love of good ale, and the fugitive
fate of the passion. The last step was to deposit his fourpence firmly
upon the metal counter, challenging all the bad pence and half-pence
pilloried there as a warning; and then with a glance at the barmaid
Sally, to encourage her still to hope for him, away went Cripps to the
duties of the day.

These always took him to the market first, a crowded and very narrow
quarter then, where he always had a great host of commissions, at very
small figures, to execute. His honesty was so broadly known that it
was become quite an onerous gift, as happens in much higher grades of
life. Folk, all along both his roads of travel, naturally took great
advantage of it; being certain that he would spend their money quite
as gingerly as his own, and charge them no more than he was compelled
by honesty towards himself to charge.

Farmers, butchers, poulterers, hucksters, chandlers, and
grocers--black, yellow, and green--all knew Zacchary Cripps, and paid
him the compliment of asking fifty per cent. above what they meant, or
even hoped to take. Of this the Carrier was well aware, and upon the
whole it pleased him. The triumph each time of rubbing down, by
friction of tongue and chafe of spirit, eighteen-pence into a
shilling, although it might be but a matter of course, never lost any
of its charms for him. His brisk eyes sparkled as he pulled off his
hat, and made the most learned annotations there--if learning is (as
generally happens) the knowledge of what nobody else can read.

But now, before he had filled the great leathern apron of his
capacities--which being full, his hat had no room for any further
entries--a thing came to pass which startled him; so far at least as
the road and the world had left him the power of starting. He saw his
own brother, Leviticus, standing in friendly talk with a rabbit-man; a
man whose reputation was not at a hopeless distance beyond reproach; a
man who had been three times in prison--whether he ought or ought not
to have been, this is a difficult point to debate. His friends
contended that he ought not--if so, he of course was wrong to go
there. His enemies vowed that he ought to be there--if so, he could
rightly be nowhere else. The man got the benefit of both opinions, in
a powerfully negative condition of confidence on the part of the human
brotherhood. But for all that, there were bigger rogues to be found in
Oxford.

Cripps, however, as the head of the family, having seigneurial rights
by birth--as well as, in his own opinion, force of superior
intellect--saw, and at once discharged, his duty. No taint of poached
rabbits must lie, for a moment, on the straightforward path of the
Crippses. Zacchary, therefore, held up one hand, as a warning to
Tickuss to say no more, until he could get at him--for just at this
moment a dead lock arose, through a fight of four women about a rotten
egg--but when that had lapsed into hysterics, the Carrier struggled to
his brother's elbow.

Leviticus Cripps was a large, ruddy man, half a head taller than the
heir of the house, but not so well built for carrying boxes. His frame
was at the broadest and thickest of itself at that very important part
of the human system which has to do with aliment. But inasmuch as all
parts do that, more or less directly, accuracy would specify (if
allowable) his stomach. Here he was well developed; but narrowed or
sloped towards less essential points; whereas the Carrier was at his
greatest across and around the shoulders. A keen physiologist would
refer this palpable distinction to their respective occupations. The
one fed pigs and fed upon them, and therefore required this local
enlargement for sympathy, and for assimilation. The other bore the
burden of good things for the benefit of others; which is anything but
fattening.

Be that as it will, they differed thus; and they differed still more
in countenance. Zacchary had a bright open face, with a short nose of
brave and comely cock, a mouth large, pleasant, and mild as a cow's, a
strong square forehead, and blue eyes of great vivacity, and some
humour. He had true Cripps' hair, like a horn-beam hedge in the month
of January; and a thick curly beard of good hay colour, shaven into
three scollops like a clover leaf. His manner of standing, and
speaking, and looking was sturdy, and plain, and resolute; and he
stuck out his elbows, and set his knuckles on his hips, whenever both
hands were empty.

On the contrary, Tickuss, his brother, looked at every one, and at all
times, rather as if he were being suspected. Wrongly suspected, of
course, and puzzled to tell at all why it should be so; and as a
general rule, a little surly at such injustice. The expression of his
face was heavy, slow-witted, and shyly inquisitive; his hair was
black, and his eyes of a muddy brown with small slippery pupils; and
he kept his legs in a fidgety state, as if prone to be wanted for
running away. In stature, however, and weight this man was certainly
above the average; and he would rather do a good than a bad thing,
whenever the motives were equivalent.

But if his soul could not always walk in spotless raiment, his body at
least was clad in the garb of innocence. No man in Oxford market wore
a smock that could be compared with his. For on such great occasions
Leviticus came in a noble shepherd's smock, long and flowing around
him well, a triumph of mind in design and construction, and a marvel
of hand in fine stitching and plaiting, goffering, crimping, and
ironing. The broad turned-over collar was like a snow-drift tattooed
by fairies, the sleeves were gathered in as religiously as a bishop's
gossamer; and the front was four-square with cunning work; a span was
the length, and a span the breadth, like the breastplate over the
ephod. As for Tickuss himself, he cared no more than the wool of a pig
for such trifles; beyond this, that he liked to have his neighbours
looking up to, and the women looking after, him. Even in the new
unsullied sanctity of this chasuble, he would grasp by the tail an
Irish pig, if sore occasion befell them both. It was Mrs. Leviticus
who adorned him (after a sea of soap-suds and many irons tested
ejectively) with this magnificent vesture, suggested to feminine
capacity, perhaps, in the days of the Tabernacle.

"Leviticus," said Zacchary sternly, leading him down a wet red alley,
peopled only with cooped chicks, and paved with unsaleable giblets;
"Leviticus, what be thou doing, this day? Many queer things have I
seed of thee--but to beat this here--never nothing!"

"I dunno what dost mean," Tickuss answered unsteadily.

"Now, I call that a lie," said the Carrier firmly but mildly, as if
well used thereto; as a dog is to fleas in the summer time.

"A might be; and yet again a might not," Tickuss replied, with keen
sense of logic, but none of impeached ethics.

"Do 'ee know, or do 'ee not?"--the ruthless Carrier pressed him--"that
there hosebird have a been in jail?"

"Now, I do believe; let me call to mind"--said Tickuss, with his
duller eyes at bay--"that I did hear summat as come nigh that. But,
Lord bless you, the best of men goes to jail sometimes! Do you call to
mind old Squire Dempster----"

"Naught to do wi' it! naught to do wi' it?" Zacchary cried, with a
crack of his thumb. "That were an old gentleman's misfortune; the same
as Saint Paul and Saint Peter did once. But that hosebird I see you
talking along of, have been in jail three times--three times I tell
'ee--and no miracle. And if ever I sees you dealing with him----" he
closed his sentence emphatically, by shaking his fist in the immediate
neighbourhood of his brother's retiring nose.

"Well, well! no need to take on so, Zak," cried the bigger man at safe
distance; "you might bear in mind that I has my troubles, and no
covered cart at the tail of me. And a family, Zak, as wears out more
boots than a tanyard a week could make good to 'em. But there, I never
finds anybody gifted with no consideration. Why, if I was to talk till
to-morrow night----"

"If you was to talk to next Leap-year's day, you could not fetch right
out of wrong, Tickuss. And you know pretty well what I be. Now, what
was you doing of with that black George? Mind, no lies won't go down
with me."

"Best way go and get him to tell 'ee," the younger brother answered
sulkily. "It will do 'ee good like, to get it out of he."

"No harm to try," answered Cripps with alacrity; "no fear for me to be
seen along of un; only for the likes of you, Tickuss."

The Carrier set off, to stake his higher repute against lowest
communications; but his brother, with no "heed of smock or of crock,"
took three long strides and stopped him.

"Hearken me, hearken me, Zak!" he cried, with a start at a cock that
crowed at him, and his face like the wattles of chanticleer--"Zak, for
the sake of the Lord in heaven, and of my seven little ones,--stop a
bit!"

"I bain't in no hurry that I know on," replied the Cripps of pure
conscience; "you told me to ask of him, and I were a-goin' on the wag
to do so."

"Come out into the Turl, Zak; come out into the Turl a minute; there
is nobody there now. They young College-boys be all at their lessons,
or hunting. There is no place to come near the Turl for a talk, when
they noisy College chaps are gone."

By a narrow back lane they got into the Turl, at that time of day
little harassed by any, unless it were the children of the porter of
Lincoln or Exeter. "Now, what is it thou hast got to say?" asked
Zacchary. But this was the very thing the younger brother was vainly
seeking for.

"Nort, nort, Zak; nort of any 'count," he stammered, after casting in
his slow imagination for a good, fat, well-seasoned lie.

"Now spake out the truth, man, whatever it be," said the Carrier,
trying to encourage him; "Tickuss, thou art always getting into
scrapes by manes of crooked dealing. But I'll not turn my back on
thee, if for once canst spake the truth like a man, brother."

Leviticus struggled with his nature, while his little eyes rolled
slowly, and his plaited breastplate rose and fell. He stole some
irresolute glances at his brother's clear, straight-forward face; and
he might have saved himself by doing what he was half-inclined to do.
But circumstances aided nature to defeat his better star. The wife of
the porter of Lincoln College had sent forth one of her little girls
to buy a bunch of turnips. She knew that turnips would be very scarce
after so much hard weather; but her stew would be no good without
them; and among many other fine emotions, anxiety was now foremost. So
she thrust forth her head from the venerable porch, and at the top of
her voice exclaimed--"Turmots, turmots, turmots!"

At that loud cry, Leviticus Cripps turned pale--for his conscience
smote him. "She meaneth me, she meaneth me, she meaneth my
turmot-field;" he whispered, with his long legs bent for departure;
"'tis a thousand pound they have offered, Zak. Come away, come away,
down Ship Street; there is a pump, and I want some water."

"But tell me what thou wast agoing to say," cried his brother, laying
hold of him.

"Dash it! I will tell thee the truth, then, Zak. I just went and cut
up a maisly sow--as fine a bit of pork as you ever clapped eyes on,
but for they little beauty spots. And the clerk of the market bought
some for his dinner; and he have got a bad cook, a cantankerous woman,
and now I be in a pretty mess!"

"Not a word of all that do I believe," said Cripps.



CHAPTER XVII.

INSTALLED AT BRASENOSE.


Master Cripps was accustomed mainly to daylight roads and open ways.
It was true that he had a good many corners to turn between Beckley
and Oxford, whether his course were through Elsfield and Marston, or
the broader track from Headington. But for all sharp turns he had two
great maxims--keep on the proper side, and go slowly. By virtue of
these, he had never been damaged himself, or forced to pay damages;
and when he was in a pleasant vein, at the Dusty Anvil, or anywhere
else, it was useless to tell him that any mischance need happen to a
man who heeded this--that is to say, if he drove a good horse, and saw
to the shoeing of the nag himself. Of course there was also the will
of the Lord. But that was quite sure to go right, if you watched it.

If he has any good substance in him, a man who spends most of his
daylight time in the company of an honest horse, is sure to improve so
much that none of his bad companions know him--supposing that he ever
had any. The simplicity and the good will of the horse, his faith in
mankind, and his earnest desire to earn his oats, and have plenty of
them; also the knowledge that his time is short, and his longest worn
shoes will outlast him; and that when he is dead, quite another must
be bought, who will cost twice as much as he did--these things (if any
sense can be made of them) operate on the human mind, in a measure,
for the most part, favourable.

Allowance, therefore, must be made for Master Leviticus Cripps and his
character, as often as it is borne in mind that he, from society of
good horses, was (by mere mischance of birth) fetched down to
communion with low hogs. Not that hogs are in any way low, from a
properly elevated gazing-point; and taking, perhaps, the loftiest of
human considerations, they are, as yet, fondly believed to be much
better on a dish than horses.

But that--as Cripps would plainly put it--is neither here nor there
just now; and it is ever so much better to let a man make his own
excuses, which he can generally do pretty well.

"Cripps, well met!" cried Russel Overshute, seizing him by the apron,
as Zacchary stood at the corner of Ship Street, to shake his head
after his brother, who had made off down the Corn Market; "you are the
very man I want to see!"

"Lor' a mercy now, be I, your Worship? Well, there are not many
gentlemen as it does me more good to look at."

Without any flattery he might say that. It was good, after dealing
with a crooked man, to set eyes upon young Overshute. In his face
there was no possibility of lie, hidden thought, or subterfuge.
Whatever he meant was there expressed, in quick bold features, and
frank bright eyes. His tall straight figure, firm neck, and broad
shoulders helped to make people respect what he meant; moreover, he
walked as if he had always something in view before him. He never
turned round to look after a pretty girl, as weak young fellows do. He
admired a pretty girl very much; but had too much respect for her to
show it. He had made his choice, once for all in life; and his choice
was sweet Grace Oglander.

"I made sure of meeting you, Master Cripps; if not in the market, at
any rate where you put up your fine old horse. I like a man who likes
his horse. I want to speak to you quietly, Cripps."

"I am your man, sir. Goo where you plaiseth. Without no beckoning, I
be after you."

"There is nothing to make any fuss about, Cripps. And the whole world
is welcome to what I say, whenever there is no one else concerned. At
present, there are other people concerned;--and get out of the way,
you jackanapes!"

In symmetry with his advanced ideas, he should not have spoken
thus--but he spake it; and the eavesdropper touched his hat, and made
off very hastily.

Russel was not at all certain of having quite acted up to his better
lights, and longed to square up all the wrong with a shilling; but,
with higher philosophy, suppressed that foolish yearning. "Now,
Cripps, just follow me," he said.

The Carrier grumbled to himself a little, because of all his parcels,
and the change he was to call for somewhere, and a woman who could not
make up her mind about a bullock's liver--not to think of more
important things in every other direction. No one thought nothing of
the value of his time; every bit the same as if he was a lean old
horse turned out to grass! In spite of all that, Master Cripps did his
best to keep time with the long legs before him. Thus was he led
through well-known ways to the modest gate of Brasenose, which being
passed, he went up a staircase near the unpretentious hall of that
very good society. "Why am I here?" thought Cripps, but, with his
usual resignation, added, "I have aseed finer places nor this." This,
in the range of his great experience, doubtless was an established
truth. But even his view of the breadth of the world received a little
twist of wonder, when over a narrow dark doorway, which Mr. Overshute
passed in silence, he read--for read he could--these words, "Rev.
Thomas Hardenow." "May I be danged," said Cripps, "if I ever come
across such a queer thing as this here be!"

However, he quelled his emotions and followed the lengthy-striding
Overshute into a long low room containing uncommonly little furniture.
There was no one there, except Overshute, and a scout, who flitted
away in ripe haste, with an order upon the buttery.

"Now, Cripps, didst thou ever taste college ale?" Mr. Overshute asked,
as he took a chair like the dead bones of Ezekiel. "Master Carrier,
here thou hast the tokens of a new and important movement. In my time,
chairs were comfortable. But they make them now, only to mortify the
flesh."

"Did your Worship mean me to sit down?" asked Cripps, touching the
forelock which he kept combed for that purpose.

"Certainly, Cripps. Be not critical; but sit."

"I thank your Worship kindly," he answered with little cause for
gratitude. "I have a-druv many thousand mile on a seat no worse nor
this, perhaps."

"Your reservation is wise, my friend. Your driving-board must have
been velvet to this. But the new lights are not in our Brewery yet. If
they get there, they will have the worst of it. Here comes the
tankard! Well done, old Hooper. Score a gallon to me for my family."

"With pleasure, sir," answered Hooper, truly, while he set on the
table a tray filled with solid luncheon. "Ah, I see you remember the
good old times, when there was those in this college, sir, that never
thought twice about keeping down the flesh; and better flesh, sir,
they had ever so much than these as are always a-doctoring of it. Ah,
when I comes to recall to my mind what my father said to me, when fust
he led me in under King Solomon's nose--'Bob, my boy,' he says to
me----"

"Now, Hooper, I know that his advice was good. The fruit thereof is in
yourself. You shall tell me all about it the very next time I come to
see you."

"Ah, they never cares now to hearken," said Hooper to himself, as,
with the resignation of an ancient scout, he coughed, and bowed, and
stroked the cloth, and contemplated Cripps with mild surprise, and
then made a quiet exit. As for listening at the door, a good scout
scorns such benefit. He likes to help himself to something more solid
than the words behind him.

"If I may make so bold," said the Carrier, after waiting as long as he
could, with Overshute clearly forgetting him; "what was it your
Worship was going to tell me? Time is going by, sir, and our horse
will miss his feeding."

"Attend to your own, Cripps, attend to your own. I beg your pardon for
not helping you. But that you can do for yourself, I dare say. I am
trying to think out something. I used to be quick; I am very slow
now."

Cripps made a little face at this, to show that the ways of his
betters had good right to be beyond him; and then he stood upon his
sturdy bowed legs, and turned a quick corner of eye at the door, in
fear of any fasting influence, and seeing nothing of the kind, with
pleasure laid hold of a large knife and fork.

"Lay about you, Cripps, my friend; lay about you to your utmost." So
said Mr. Overshute, himself refusing everything.

"Railly now, I dunno, your Worship, how to get on, all a-ating by
myself. Some folk can, and some breaks down at it. I must have
somebody to ate with me--so be it was only now a babby, or a dog."

"I thank you for the frank comparison, Cripps. Well, help me, if you
must--ah, I see you can carve."

"I am better at the raw mate, sir; but I can make shift when roasted.
Butcher Numbers my brother, your Worship--but perhaps you never heered
on him?"

"Oh yes, I know, Cripps. A highly respectable thriving man he is too.
All your family thrive, and everybody speaks so well of them. Why,
look at Leviticus! They tell me he has three hundred pigs!"

Like most men who have the great gift of gaining good will and
popularity, Russel Overshute loved a bit of gossip about his
neighbours.

"Your Worship," said Cripps, disappointing him of any new information,
"pigs is out of my way altogether. When I was a young man of tender
years, counteracted I was for to carry a pig. Three pounds twelve
shillings and four pence he cost me, in less than three-quarters of a
mile of road; and squeak, squeak, all the way, as if I was a-killing
of him, and not he me. Seemeth he smelled some apples somewhere, and
he went through a chaney clock, and a violin, and a set of first-born
babby-linen for Squire Corser's daughter; grown up now she is, your
Worship must a met her riding. And that was not the worst of it
nother----"

"Well, Cripps, you must tell me another time. It was terribly hard
upon you. But, my friend, the gentleman who lives here will be back
for his hat, when the clock strikes two. Cap and gown off, when the
clock strikes two. From two until five he walks fifteen miles,
whatever the state of the weather is."

"Lord bless me, your Worship, I could not travel that, with an empty
cart, and all downhill!"

"Never mind, Cripps. Will you try to listen, and offer no
observation?"

"To say nort,--does your Worship mean? Well, all our family be
esteemed for that."

"Then prove the justice of that esteem; for I have a long story to
tell you, Cripps, and no long time to do it in."



CHAPTER XVIII.

A FLASH OF LIGHT.


The Carrier, with a decisive gesture, ceased from both solid and
liquid food, and settled his face, and whole body, and members into a
grim and yet flexible aspect, as if he were driving a half-broken
horse, and must be prepared for any sort of start. And yet with all
this he reconciled a duly receptive deference, and a pleasant
readiness, as if he were his own Dobbin, just fresh from stable.

"I need not tell you, Master Cripps," said Russel, "how I have picked
up the many little things, which have been coming to my knowledge
lately. And I will not be too positive about any of them; because I
made such a mistake in the beginning of this inquiry. All my
suspicions at first were set on a man who was purely innocent--a legal
gentleman of fair repute, to whom I have now made all honourable
amends. In the most candid manner he has forgiven me, and desires no
better than to act in the best faith with us."

"Asking your pardon for interrupting--did the gentleman happen to have
a sharp name?"

"Yes, Cripps, he did. But no more of that. I was over sharp myself, no
doubt; he is thoroughly blameless, and more than that, his behaviour
has been most generous, most unwearying, most---- I never can do
justice to him."

"Well, your Worship, no--perhaps not. A would take a rare sharp un to
do so."

"You hold by the vulgar prejudice--well, I should be the last to blame
you. That, however, has nothing to do with what I want to ask you. But
first, I must tell you my reason, Cripps. You know I have no faith
whatever in that man John Smith. At first I thought him a tool of
Mr.--never mind who--since I was so wrong. I am now convinced that
John Smith is 'art and part' in the whole affair himself. He has
thrown dust in our eyes throughout. He has stopped us from taking the
proper track. Do you remember what discredit he threw on your sister's
story?"

"He didn't believe a word of un. Had a good mind, I had, to a' knocked
un down."

"To be sure, Cripps, I wonder that you forbore. Though violent
measures must not be encouraged. And I myself thought that your sister
might have made some mistakes through her scare in the dark. Poor
thing! Her hair can have wanted no bandoline ever since, I should
fancy. What a brave girl too not to shriek or faint!"

"Well, her did goo zummut queer, sir, and lie down in the quarry-pit.
Perhaps 'twas the wisest thing the poor young wench could do."

"No doubt it was--the very wisest. However, before she lost her wits
she noticed, as I understand her to say--or rather she was
particularly struck with the harsh cackling voice of the taller man,
who also had a pointed hat, she thinks. It was not exactly a cackling
voice, nor a clacking voice, nor a guttural voice, but something
compounded of all three. Your sister, of course, could not quite so
describe it; but she imitated it; which was better."

"Her hath had great advantages. Her can imitate a'most anything. Her
waited for months on a College-chap, the very same in whose house we
be sitting now."

"Cripps, that is strange. But to come back again. Your sister, who is
a very nice girl, indeed, and a good member of a good family----"

"Ay, your Worship, that her be. Wish a could come across the man as
would dare to say the contrairy!"

"Now, Cripps, we never shall get on, while you are so horribly
warlike. Are you ready to listen to me, or not?"

"Every blessed word, your Worship, every blessed word goeth down; unto
such time as you begins to spake of things at home to me."

"Such dangerous topics I will avoid. And now for the man with this
villainous voice. You knew, or at any rate now you know, that I never
was satisfied with that wretched affair that was called an 'Inquest.'
Inquest a non inquirendo--but I beg your pardon, my good Cripps.
Enough that the whole was pompous child's play, guided by crafty hands
beneath; as happens with most inquests. I only doubted the more,
friend Cripps; I only doubted the more, from having a wrong way taken
to extinguish doubts."

"To be sure, your Worship; a lie on the back of another lie makes un
go heavier."

"Well, never mind; only this I did. For a few days perhaps I was
overcome; and the illness of my dear old friend, the Squire, and the
trouble of managing so that he should not hear anything to kill him;
and my own slowness at the back of it all; for I never, as you know,
am hasty--these things, one and another, kept me from going on
horseback anywhere."

"To be sure, your Worship, to be sure. You ought to be always
a-horseback. I've a-seed you many times on the Bench; but you looks a
very poor stick there compared to what 'ee be a-horseback."

"Now, Cripps, where is your reverence? You call me 'your Worship,' and
in the same breath contemn my judicial functions. I must commit you
for a week's hard labour at getting in and out of your own cart, if
you will not allow me to speak, Cripps. At last I have frightened you,
have I? Then let me secure the result in silence. Well, after the
weather began to change from that tremendous frost and snow, and the
poor Squire fell into the quiet state that he has been in ever since,
I found that nothing would do for me, my health not being quite as
usual----"

"Oh, your Worship was wonderfully kind; they told me you was as good
as any old woman in the room almost!"

"Except to take long rides, Cripps, nothing at all would do for me.
And, not to speak of myself too much, I believe that saved me from
falling into a weak, and spooney, and godless state. I assure you
there were times--however, never mind that, I am all right now,
and----"

"Thank the Lord! you ought to say, sir; but you great Squires upon the
bench----"

"Thank the Lord! I do say, Cripps; I thank Him every day for it. But
if I may edge in a word, in your unusually eloquent state, I will tell
you just what happened to me. I never believed, and never will, that
poor Miss Oglander is dead. The coroner and the jury believed that
they had her remains before them, although for the Squire's sake they
forbore to identify her in the verdict. Your sister, no doubt,
believed the same; and so did almost every one. I could not go, I
could not go--no doubt I was a fool; but I could not face the chance
of what I might see, after what I had heard of it. Well, I began to
ride about, saying nothing of course to any one. And the more I rode,
the more my spirit and faith in good things came back to me. And I
think I have been rewarded, Cripps; at last I have been rewarded. It
is not very much; but still it is like a flash of light to me. I have
found out the man with the horrible voice."

"Lord have mercy upon me! your Worship--the man as laid hold of the
pick-axe!"

"I have found him, Cripps, I do believe. But rather by pure luck than
skill."

"There be no such thing as luck, your Worship; if you will excoose me.
The Lord in heaven is the master of us!"

"Upon my word, it looks almost like it, though I never took that view
of things. However, this was the way of it. To-day is Saturday. Well,
it was last Wednesday night, I was coming home from a long, and wet,
and muddy ride to Maidenhead. That little town always pleases me; and
I like the landlord and the hostler, and I am sure that my horse is
fed----"

"Your Worship must never think such a thing, without you see it mixed,
and feel it, and watch him a-munching, until he hath done."

"More than that, I have always fancied, ever since that story was
about the bag of potatoes you brought, without knowing any more of
it--ever since I heard of that, it has seemed to me that more
inquiries ought to be made at Maidenhead. I need not say why; but I
know that the Squire's opinion had been the same, as long as--I mean
while--his health permitted. On Wednesday I went to the foreman of the
nursery whence the potatoes came. It was raining hard, and he was in a
shed, with a green baize apron on, seeing to some potting work. I got
him away from the other men, and I found him a very sharp fellow
indeed. He remembered all about those potatoes, especially as Squire
Oglander had ridden from Oxford, in the snowy weather, to ask many
questions about them. But the Squire could not put the questions I
did. The poor old gentleman could not bear, of course, to expose his
trouble. But I threw away all little scruples (as truly I should have
done long ago), and I told the good foreman every word, so far as we
know it yet, at least. He was shocked beyond expression--people take
things in such different ways--not at the poor Squire's loss and
anguish, but that anybody should have dared to meddle with his own pet
'oakleafs,' and, above all, his new pet seal.

"'I sealed them myself,' he said, 'sealed them myself, sir, with the
new coat of arms that we paid for that month, because of the tricks of
the trade, sir! Has anybody dared to imitate----' 'No, Mr. Foreman,' I
said, 'they simply cut away your seal altogether, and tied it again,
without any seal.' 'Oh, then,' he replied, 'that quite alters the
case. If they had only meddled with our new arms, while the money was
hot that we paid for them, what a case we might have had! But to knock
them off--no action lies.'

"Cripps, it took me a very long time to warm him up to the matter
again, after that great disappointment. He was burning for some great
suit at law against some rival nursery, which always pays the upstart
one; but I led him round, and by patient words and simple truth
brought him back to reason. The packing of the bag he remembered well,
and the pouring of a lot of buck-wheat husks around and among the
potato sets, to keep them from bruising, and to keep out frost, which
seemed even then to be in the air. And he sent his best man to the
Oxford coach, the first down coach from London, which passed by their
gate about ten o'clock, and would be in Oxford about two, with the
weather and the roads as usual. In that case, the bag could scarcely
have been at the Black Horse more than half an hour before you came
and laid hold of it; and being put into the bar, as the Squire's
parcels always are, it was very unlikely to be tampered with."

"Lord a' mercy! your Worship, it was witchcraft then! The same as I
said all along; it were witches' craft, and nothing else."

"Stop, Cripps, don't you be in such a hurry. But wait till you hear
what I have next to tell. But oh, here comes my friend Hardenow, as
punctual as the clock strikes two! Well, old fellow, how are you
getting on?"



CHAPTER XIX.

A STORMY NIGHT.


The Rev. Thomas Hardenow, fellow and tutor of Brasenose, strode into
his own room at full speed, and stopped abruptly at sight of the
Carrier. "Of all men, most I have avoided thee," was in his mind; but
he spoke it not, though being a strongly outspoken man. Not that he
ever had done any wrong to make him be shy of the Cripps race; but
that he felt in his heart a desire for commune, which must be
dangerous. He knew that in him lurked a foolish tendency towards
Esther; and (which was worse) he knew that she had done her best to
overcome a still more foolish turn towards him.

Cripps, however (who would have fed the doves of Venus on black peas),
looked upon any little bygone "coorting" as a social and congenial
topic, enabling a quiet man to get on (if he only had a good memory)
with almost any woman. Like a sensible man, he had always acquitted
Hardenow of any blame in the matter, knowing that young girls' fancies
may be caught without any angling. "If her chose to be a fool, how
were he to blame for it?" And the Carrier never forgot the stages of
social distinction. "Servant, sir," he therefore said, with his usual
salaam; "hope I see you well, sir."

"Thank you, Zacchary," said Mr. Hardenow, taking the Carrier's horny
palm (which always smelled of straps and buckles), and trying to
squeeze it, with a passive result, "I am pretty well, Zacchary, thank
you."

"Then you don't look it, sir, that you doesn't. We heerd you was
getting on wonderful well. But the proof of the puddin' ain't in you,
sir."

"That's right, Cripps," cried Overshute; "give it to him, Cripps! Why,
he starves himself! Ever since he took his first and second, and got
his fellowship and took orders, he hasn't known what a good dinner is.
He keeps all the fasts in the calendar, and the vigils of the
festivals, and he ought to have an appetite for the feasts; but he
overstays his time, and can't keep anything on his stomach!"

"Now, Russel, as usual!" Hardenow answered, with a true and pleasant
smile; "what a fine fellow you would be, if you only had moderation!
But I see that you want to talk to Cripps; and I have several men
waiting in the quad. Where is my beaver? Oh! here, to be sure! Will
you come with us? No, of course you can't. Will you dine in hall with
me?"

"Of course, I won't. But come you and dine with me on Sunday--the only
day you dare eat a bit--and my mother will do her best to strengthen
you, build you up, establish you, for a fortnight of macaroni. Will
you come?"

"Yes, yes, to-morrow--to be sure--I have many things I want to say to
you. Good-bye for the present; good-bye, Master Cripps."

"There goes one of the finest fellows, of all the fine fellows yet
ruined by rubbish!" With these words Russel Overshute ran to the
window and looked out. A dozen or more of young men were waiting, the
best undergraduates of the college, for Mr. Hardenow to lead them for
fifteen miles, without a word.

"Well, every man to his liking," said Russel; "but that would be about
the last of mine. Now, Cripps, most patient of carriers, are you ready
for me to go on or not?"

"I hath a been thinking about my horse. How greedy o' me to be ating
like this"--for the thought of so much fasting had made him set to
again, while he got the chance--"drinking likewise of college
ale--better I have tasted, but not often--and all this time, as you
might say, old Dobbin easing of his dainty foot, with no more nor a
wisp of hay to drag through his water--if he hath any."

"An excruciating picture, Cripps, drawn by too vivid a conscience.
Dobbin is as happy as he can be, with twenty-five horses to talk to
him. At this very moment I behold him munching choicest of white oats
and chaff."

"Your Worship can see through a stone-wall, they say; but they only
keeps black oats at the Cross just now, along of a contract the
landlord have made--and a blind sort of bargain, to my thinking----"

"Never mind that--let him have black oats then, or Irish oats, or no
oats at all. But do you wish to hear my story out, or will you leave
it till next Saturday?"

"Sir, you might a' seen as I was waiting, until such time as you plaze
to go on wi' un."

"Very well, Cripps, that satisfies the most exacting historian. I will
go on where I left off, if that point can be established. Well, I left
the foreman of the nursery telling me about the man he sent with the
bag of potatoes to the Oxford coach. He told me he was one of his
sharpest hands, who had been off work for a week or two then, and had
only returned that morning. 'Joe Smith' was his name; and when they
could get him to work, he would do as much work as any two other men
on the place. He might be trusted with anything, if he only undertook
it; but the worst of him was that he never could be got to stick long
to anything. Here to-day and gone to-morrow had always been his
character; and they thought that he must be of gipsy race, and perhaps
had a wandering family.

"This made me a little curious about the man; and I asked to see him.
But the foreman said that for some days now he had not been near the
nursery, and they thought that he was on the Oxford road, in the
neighbourhood of Nettlebed; and another thing--if I did see him, I
could not make out more than half he said, for the man had such a
defect in his voice, that only those who were used to him could be
certain of his meaning. Suddenly I thought of your sister's tale, and
I said to the foreman, 'Does he speak like this?' imitating as well as
I could your sister's imitation of him. 'You know the man, sir,' the
foreman answered; 'you have got him so exactly, that you must have
heard him many times.' I told him no more, but asked him to describe
Joe Smith's appearance. He answered that he was a tall, dark man,
loosely built, but powerful, with a stoop in his neck, and a long
sharp nose; and he generally wore a brown pointed hat.

"Cripps, you may well suppose that my suspicions were strong by this
time. Here was your sister's description--so far as the poor girl
could see in the dusk and the fright--confirmed to the very letter;
and here was the clear opportunity offered for slipping the wreath of
hair into the bag."

"Your Worship, now, your Worship! you be a bit too sharp! If that
there man were at Headington quarry at nightfall of the Tuesday, how
could he possible a' been to Maidenhead next morning? No, no, your
Worship are too sharp."

"Too thick, you mean, Cripps; and not sharp enough. But listen to me
for a moment. Those long-legged gipsies think very little of going
thirty miles in a night; though they never travel by day so. And then
there is the up mail-coach. Of course he would not pay his fare, but
he might hang on beneath the guard's bugle, with or without his
knowledge, and slip away at the changing-houses. Of that objection I
think nothing. It serves to my mind as a confirmation."

"Very well, sir," said Cripps discreetly; "who be I for to argify?"

"No, Cripps, of course not. But still I wish to allow you to think of
everything. You may not be right; but still I like you to speak when
you think of anything. That is what I have always said, and contended
for continually--let every man speak--when sensible."

"Your Worship hath hit the mark again. The old Squire saith, 'let no
man speak,' as St. Paul sayeth of the women. But your Worship saith
'let all men speak, all women likewise, as hath a tongue'--and then
you stoppeth us both the more, by restirrecting all on us, women or
men, whichever a may happen, till such time as all turns up sensible.
Now, there never could ever be such a time!"

"Carrier, you are satirical. Keep from the Dusty Anvil, Cripps. Marry
a wife, and you will have a surfeit of argument at home. But still you
have been very good on the whole, and you never will get home
to-night. At any rate, I was so convinced, in spite of all smaller
difficulties, that I bound the foreman to let me know, by a man on
horseback, at any expense, the moment he saw Joe Smith again. And his
parting words to me were these--'Well, sir, don't you think harm of
Joe without sure proof against him. He is a random chap, I know; but I
never saw a better man to earn his wages.'

"Well, I went back to the inn at once, and rode leisurely to Henley.
It was raining hard, and the river in flood with all the melted snow
and so on, when I crossed that pretty bridge. I had been trying in
vain to think what was the best thing I could do; not liking to go
home, and leave my new discovery so vague. But being soaked and chilly
now, I resolved to have a glass of something hot, for fear of taking a
violent cold, and losing perhaps a week by it. So I went into the
entrance of that good inn by the waterside, and called for some brandy
and water hot. The landlord was good enough to come out; and knowing
me from old boating days, he got into a talk with me. I had helped him
at the sessions about a house of his at Dorchester; and nothing could
exceed his good will. Remembering how the gipsies hang about the boats
and the waterside, I asked him (quite as a random shot) whether any of
them happened to be in the neighbourhood just now. He thought perhaps
that I was timid about my dark ride homeward, and he told me all he
knew of them. There was one lot, as usual, in the open ground about
Nuneham, and another large camp near Chalgrove, and another, quite a
small pitch that, on the edge of the firs above Nettlebed.

"This last was the lot for me; and I pressed him so about them, that
he looked at me with a peculiar grin. 'What do you mean by that?' I
asked. 'Now, Squire Overshute, as if you did not know!' he answered.
'Doth your Worship happen to remember Cinnaminta's name?'

"Cripps, I assure you I was astonished. Of course you knew
Cinnaminta--well, I don't want to be interrupted. No one could say any
harm of her; and a lovelier girl was never seen. The landlord had
heard some bygone gossip about Cinnaminta and myself. I did admire
her. I am not ashamed to say that I greatly admired her. And so did
every young fellow here, who had got a bit of pluck in him. I will not
go into that question; but you know what Cinnaminta was."

Cripps nodded, with a thick mixture of feelings. His poetical self had
been smitten more with Cinnaminta than he cared to tell; and his
practical self was getting into a terrible hubbub about his horse. "To
be sure, your Worship," was all he said.

"Very well, now you understand me. To hear of Cinnaminta being in that
camp at Nettlebed made me so determined that I laid hold of the
landlord by the collar without thinking. He begged me not to ride off
with him, or his business would be ruined; and feeling that he weighed
about eighteen stone, I left him on his threshold.

"I could not bear to ask him now another word of anything. Knowing
looks, and winks, and reeking jokes so irritate me, when I know that a
woman is pure and good. You remember how we all lost Cinnaminta. Three
or four score of undergraduates, reckless of parental will, had
offered her matrimony; and three or four newly-elected fellows were
asking whether they would vacate, if they happened to jump the
broomstick."

"All that were too fine to last," muttered Cripps, most sensibly. "But
her ought to a' had a sound man on the road--a man with a horse well
seasoned, and a substantial cart--her ought."

"Oh, then, Cripps, you were smitten too! A nice connection for light
parcels! Well, never mind. The whole thing is over. We all are sadder
and wiser men; but we like to know who the chief sufferer is--what man
has won the beauty. And with this in my mind, I rode up the hill, and
resolved to go through with my seeking.

"When I got to the end of 'the fair-mile,' the night came down in
earnest. You know my young horse 'Cantelupe,' freckled like a melon.
He knows me as well as my old dog; and a child can ride him. But in
the dark he gets often nervous, and jumps across the road, if he sees
what he does not consider sociable. So that one must watch his ears,
whatever the weather may be. And now the weather was as bad as man or
horse could be out in.

"All day, there had been spits of rain, with sudden puffs of wind, and
streaks of green upon the sky, and racing clouds with ragged edges.
You remember the weather of course; Wednesday is one of your Oxford
days. Well, I hope you were home before it began to pelt as it did
that evening. For myself I did not care one fig. I would rather be
drenched than slowly sodden. But I did care for my horse; because he
had whistled a little in the afternoon, and his throat is slightly
delicate. And the whirr of the wind in the hedge, and the way it
struck the naked branches back, like the clashing of clubs against the
sky, were enough to make even a steady old horse uneasy at the things
before him. Moreover, the road began to flash with that peculiar light
which comes upward or downward--who can tell?--in reckless tumults of
the air and earth. The road was running like a river; come here and go
there, like glass it shone with the furious blows of the wind striking
a pale gleam out of it. I stooped upon Cantelupe's neck, or the wind
would have dashed me back over his crupper.

"Suddenly in this swirl and roar, my horse stood steadfast. He spread
his fore legs and stooped his head to throw his balance forward; and
his mane (which had been lashing my beard) swished down in a waterfall
of hair. I was startled as much as he was, and in the strange light
stared about. 'You have better eyes than I have,' I said, 'or else you
are a fool, Canty.'

"I thought that he was a fool, until I followed the turn of his head,
and there I saw a white thing in the ditch. Something white or rather
of a whity-brown colour was in the trough, with something dark leaning
over it. 'Who are you there?' I shouted, and the wind blew my voice
back between my teeth.

"'Nort to you, master. Nort to you. Go on, and look to your own
consarns.'

"This rough reply was in a harsh high cackle, rather than a human
voice; but it came through the roar of the tempest clearly, as no
common voice could come. For a moment, I had a great mind to do
exactly as I was ordered. But curiosity, and perhaps some pity for the
fellow, stopped me. 'I will not leave you, my friend,' I said, 'until
I am sure that I can do no good.' The man was in such trouble, that he
made no answer which I could hear, so I jumped from my horse, who
would come no nearer; and holding the bridle, I went up to see.

"In as sheltered a spot as could be found, but still in a dripping and
weltering place, lay, or rather rolled and kicked, a poor child in a
most violent fit. 'Don't 'ee now, my little Tom; don't 'ee, that's a
deary, don't!' The man kept coaxing, and moaning, and trying to smooth
down little legs and arms. 'Let it have its way,' I said; 'only keep
the head well up; and try to put something between the teeth.' Without
any answer, he did as I bade; and what he put betwixt the teeth must
have been his own great thumb. Of course he mistook me for a doctor.
None but a doctor was likely to be out riding on so rough a night."

"Ah, how I do pity they poor chaps!" cried Carrier Cripps, who really
could not wait one minute longer. "Many a naight I mates 'em a
starting for ten or twenty maile of it, just when I be in the smell o'
my supper, and nort but nightcap arterward. Leastways, I mean, arter
pipe and hot summat. Your Worship'll 'scoose me a-breakin' in. But
there's half my arrands to do yet, and the sun gone flat on the
Radcliffe! The Lord knows if I shall get home to-night. But if I
doos--might I make so bold--your Worship be coming to see poor Squire?
Your Worship is not like some worships be--and I has got a rare drop
of fine old stuff! Your Worship is not the man to take me crooked. I
means no liberty, mind you."

"Of that I am certain," Mr. Overshute answered. "Cripps, your
suggestion just hits the mark. I particularly want to see your sister.
That was my object in seeking you. And I did not like to see her,
until you should have had time to prepare her. I have several things
to see to here, and then I will ride to Beckley. Mrs. Hookham will
give me a bit of dinner, when I have seen my dear friend the Squire.
At night, I will come down, and smoke a pipe, and finish my story with
you, as soon as I am sure you have had your supper."

"Never you pay no heed at all," said Master Cripps, with solemnity,
"to no thought of my zupper, sir. That be entire what you worships
call a zecondary consideration. However, I will have un, if so be I
can. And you mustn't goo for to think, sir, that goo I would now, if
stay I could. I goes with that there story, the same as the jog of a
cart to the trot of the nag. My wits kapes on agoin' up and down. But
business is a piece of the body, sir. But no slape for me; nor no
church to-morrow; wi'out I hears the last of that there tale!"



CHAPTER XX.

CRIPPS DRAWS THE CORK.


Any kind good-natured person, loving bright simplicity, would have
thought it a little treat to look round the Carrier's dwelling-room,
upon that Saturday evening, when he expected Mr. Overshute. Not that
Cripps himself was over-tidy, or too particular. He was so kindly
familiar now with hay, and straw, and bits of string, and chaff, and
chips, and promiscuous parcels, that on the whole he preferred a
litter to any exertions of broom or brush. But Esther, who ruled the
house at home, was the essence of quick neatness, and scorned all
comfort, unless it looked--as well as was--right comfortable. And now,
expecting so grand a guest, she had tucked up her sleeves, and stirred
her pretty arms to no small purpose.

The room was still a kitchen, and she had made no attempt to disguise
that much. But what can look better than a kitchen, clean, and bright,
and well supplied with the cheery tools of appetite. It was a
good-sized room, and very picturesque with snugness. Little corners,
in and out, gave play for light and shadow; the fireplace retired far
enough to well express itself; and the dresser had brass-handled
drawers, that seemed quietly nursing table-cloths. Well, above these,
upon lofty hooks, the chronicles of the present generation might be
read on cups. Zacchary headed the line, of course; and then--as
Genesis is ignored by grander generations--Exodus, and Leviticus (the
fount of much fine movement), and Numbers, and a great many more,
showed that the Carrier's father and mother had gladly baptized every
one.

In front of the fire sat the Carrier, with nearly all of his best
clothes on, and gazing at a warming-pan. He had been forbidden to eat
his supper, for fear of making a smell of it; and he had a great mind
to go to bed, and have some hot coals under him. For nearly five miles
of uphill work and laying his shoulder against the spokes, he had been
promising himself a rare good supper, and a pipe to follow; and now
where were they? In the far background. He had no idea of rebellion;
still that saucepan on the simmer made the most provoking movements.
Therefore he put up his feet upon a stump of oak (which had for
generations cooled down pots), and he turned with a shake of his head
toward the fire, and sniffed the sniff of Tantalus, and muttered--"Ah,
well! the Lord knoweth best!" and thought to himself that if ever
again he invited the quality to his house, he would wait till he had
his own quantity first.

Esther was quite in a flutter; although she was ready to deny it
stoutly, and to blush a bright red in doing so. To her, of course,
Justice Overshute was simply a great man, who must have the chair of
state, and the talk of restraint, and a clean dry hearth, and the
curtsy, and the best white apron of deference. To her it could make
not one jot of difference, that Mr. Overshute happened to be the most
intimate friend of some other gentleman, who never came near her,
except in dreams. Tush, she had the very greatest mind, when the house
was clean and tidy, to go and spend the evening with her dear friend
Mealy at the Anvil. But Zacchary would not hear of this; and how could
she go against Zacchary?

So she brought the grand chair, the arm-chair of yew-tree--the tree
that used to shade the graves of unrecorded Crippses--a chair of
deepest red complexion, countenanced with a cushion. The cushion was
but a little pad in the dark capacious hollow; suggesting to an
innocent mind, that a lean man had left his hat there, and a fat man
had sat down on it. But the mind of every Cripps yet known was
strictly reverential; and this was the curule chair, and even the
Olympian throne of Crippses.

Russel Overshute knocked at the door, in his usual quick and impetuous
way. In the main he was a gentleman; and he would have knocked at a
nobleman's door exactly as he did at the Carrier's. But all radical
theories, fine as they are, detract from gentle practice; and the
too-large-minded man, while young, takes a flying leap over small
niceties. He does not remember that poor men need more deference than
rich men, because they are not used to it. To put it more
plainly--Overshute knocked hard, and meant no harm by it.

"Come in, sir, and kindly welcome!" Cripps began, as he showed him in;
"plaize to take this chair, your Worship. Never mind your boots; Lor'
bless us! the mud of three counties cometh here."

"Then it goes away again very quickly! Miss Cripps, how are you? May I
shake hands?"

Esther, who had been shrinking into the shade of the clock and the
dresser, came forward with a brave bright blush, and offered her hand,
as a lady might. Russel Overshute took it kindly, and bowed to her
curtsy, and smiled at her. In an honest manly way, he admired pretty
Esther.

"Master Cripps, you are too bad; and your sister in the conspiracy
too! I do believe that your mind is set to make me as tipsy as a king
to-night!"

"They little things!" said the Carrier, pointing to the old oak table,
where a bottle of grand old whiskey shone with the reflected gleam of
lemons, and glasses danced in the firelight--"they little things, sir,
was never set for so good a gentleman afore, nor a one to do such
honour to un. But they might be worse, sir, they might be worse, to
spake their simple due of un. And how is poor Squire to-night, your
Worship?"

"Well, he is about as usual. Nothing seems to move him much. He sits
in his old chair, and listens for a step that never comes. But his
patience is wonderful. It ought to be a lesson to us; and I hope it
has been one to me. He trusts in the Lord, Cripps, as strongly as
ever. I fear I should have given up that long ago, if I were laid on
my back as he is."

"Young folk," answered Cripps, as he drew the cork--"meaning no
disrespect to you, sir--when they encounters trouble, is like a young
horse a-coming to the foot of a hill for the fust time wi' a heavy
load. He feeleth the collar beginning to press, and he tosseth his
head, and that maketh un worse. He beginneth to get into fret and
fume, and he shaketh his legs with anger, and he turneth his head and
foameth a bit, and champeth, to ax the maning o' it. And then you can
judge what the stuff of him is. If he be bad stuff, he throweth them
back, and tilteth up his loins, and spraddleth. But if he hath good
stuff, he throweth out his chest, and putteth the fire into his eyes,
and closeth his nostrils, and gathereth his legs, and straineth his
muscles like a bowstring. But be he as good as a wool, he longeth to
see over the top of that there hill, afore he be half-way up it."

"Well, Cripps, I have done that, I confess. I have longed to see over
the top of the hill; and Heaven only knows where that top is! But as
sure as we sit here and drink this glass of punch to your sister's
health, and to yours, good Carrier, so surely shall our dear old
friend receive the reward of his faith and courage; whether in this
world or the next!"

"Thank 'ee kindly, sir. Etty, is that the best sort of curtsy they
teaches now? Now, don't blush, child, but make a betterer. But as to
what your Worship was a-saying of, I virtually hopes a may come to
pass in this world we be living in. Otherwise, maybe, us never may
know on it, the kingdom of Heaven being such a size."

"Cripps, I believe it will be in this world. And I hope that I am on
the straight road now towards making out some part of it. You have
told your sister all I told you at Brasenose this morning according to
my directions? Very well, then; I may begin again at the point where I
left off with you. Where did I break it? I almost forget."

"With the man's big thumb in the mouth of the cheeld, while you was
a-looking at him, sir; and the wind and the rain blowing furious."

"Ah yes, I remember; and so they were. I thought that the crest of the
hedge would fall over, and bury the whole of us out of the way. And
when the poor boy had kicked out his convulsions, and fallen into a
senseless sleep, the rough man turned on me savagely, as if I could
have prevented it. 'A pretty doctor you be!' he exclaimed. But I took
the upper hand of him. 'Stand back there!' I said; and I lifted the
child (expecting him to strike me all the while), and placed the poor
little fellow on my horse, and managed to get up into my saddle before
the wind blew him off again. 'Now lead the way to your home,' I said.
And muttering something, he set off.

"He strode along at such a pace that, having to manage both child and
horse, it was all I could do to keep up with him. But I kept him in
sight till he came to a common, and there he struck sharply away to
the right. By the light of the wind and the rain, and a star that
twinkled where the storm was lifting, I followed him, perhaps for half
a mile, through a narrow track, in and out furze and bramble. At last
he turned suddenly round a corner, and a shadow fell behind him--his
own shadow thrown by a gusty gleam of fire. Cantelupe--that is my
horse, Miss Esther--has not learned to stand fire yet, and he shied at
the light, and set off through the furze, as if with the hounds in
full cry before him. We were very lucky not to break our necks, going
headlong in the dark among rabbit-holes. I thought that I must have
dropped the child, as the best thing to be done for him; but the
shaking revived him, and he clung to me.

"I got my horse under command at last; but we must have gone half a
mile anywhere, and to find the way back seemed a hopeless task. But
the quick-witted people (who knew what had happened, and what was
likely to come of it) saved me miles of roundabout by a very simple
expedient. They hoisted from time to time a torch of dry furze blazing
upon a pole; and though the light flared and went out on the wind, by
the quick repetition they guided me. In the cold and the wet, it
rejoiced my heart to think of a good fire somewhere."

"Etty, stir the fire up," the hospitable Cripps interrupted. "His
Worship hath shivers, to think of it. When a man, or, beg pardon, a
gentleman, feeleth the small of his back go creeping, he needeth good
fire to come up his legs, and a hot summat to go down him. Etty, be
quick with the water now."

"Cripps, Cripps, Carrier Cripps! do you want to have me spilled on the
road to-night? I am trying to tell things in proper order. But how can
I do it, if you go on so? However, as I was beginning to say,
Cantelupe, and the child, and I, fetched back to the place at last,
where the flash of light had started us. And we saw, not a flash, but
a glow this time, a steadfast body of cheerful fire, with pots and
cauldrons over it. So well had the spot been chosen, in the lee of
ground and growth, that the ash of the fire lay round the embers, as
still as the beard of an oyster; while thicket and tree but a few
yards off were threshing in the wind and wailing. Behind this fire,
and under a rick-cloth sloping from a sandstone crest, women and
children, and one or two men, sat as happy and snug as could be: dry,
and warm, and ready for supper, and pleased with the wind and the rain
outside, which improved their comfort and appetite. And now and then
the children seemed to be pulling at an important woman, to hurry her,
perhaps, in her cookery.

"But while I was watching them, keeping my horse on the verge of light
and shadow, a woman, quite different from the rest, came out of the
darkness after me. Heedless of weather, and reckless of self, she had
been seeking for me, or rather for my little burden. Her hair was
steeped with the drenching rain, for she wore no hat or bonnet; and
her dark clothes hung on the lines of her figure, as women hate to let
them do. Her eyes and face I could not see because of the way the
light fell; but I seemed to know her none the less.

"While I gazed in doubt, my little fellow slipped like an eel from my
clasp and the saddle; and almost before I could tell where he
was--there he was in the arms of his mother! Wonders of love now began
to go on; and it struck me that I was one too many in a scene of that
sort; and I turned my good horse, to be off and away. But the woman
called out, and a man laid hold of my bridle, and took his hat off,
when, with the usual impulse of a stopped Briton, I was going to
strike at him. I saw that it was my good friend of the ditch, and I
came to parley with him.

"What with his scarcity of manners, and of polished language, and
worst of all his want of palate, I found it hard, with so much wind
blowing out here all around us, to understand his meaning. This was
rude of me to the last degree, for the queerly-voiced man was doing no
less than inviting me, with all his heart, to an uncommonly good
dinner!"



CHAPTER XXI.

CINNAMINTA.


"Now that," said Cripps, "is what I call the proper way of doing
things. Arter all, they hathens knows a dale more than we credit 'em."

"Well, Miss Esther," asked Russel, turning to his other listener,
"what do you think about it now?"

"Sir," she replied, with her round cheeks coloured by the excitement
of his tale, and shining in the firelight, "I do not know what the
manners may be among the gentry in such things. But if it had been one
of us, we never could have supped with him."

"You are right," answered Overshute; "so I felt. Starving as I was, I
could not break bread with a man like that, until he should have
cleared himself. He did not seem to be conscious of any dark mistrust
on my part; and that was natural enough, as he did not even know me.
But when I said that I must ride home as fast as I could, he asked me
first to come and have a look at the poor little child. This I could
not well refuse; so I gave my horse to a boy to hold, and followed him
into the warm dry place, and into his own corner. As I passed, and the
people made way for me, I saw that they were genuine gipsies, not mere
English vagabonds. There was no mistaking the clearly-cut features,
and the olive complexions, and the dark eyes, lashed both above and
below. My gruff companion raised a screen, and showed me into his
snuggery.

"It was dimly lit by a queer old lamp of red earthenware, and of Roman
shape. Couches of heather, and a few low stools, and some vessels were
the only furniture; but the place was beautifully clean, and fragrant
with dry fern and herbs. In the furthest corner lay little Tom, with a
woman bending over him. At the sound of our entry she turned to meet
us, and I saw Cinnaminta. Her hair, and eyes, and graceful carriage
were as grand as ever, and her forehead as clear and noble; but her
face had lost the bright puzzle of youth, and the flush of damask
beauty. In a word, that rich mysterious look, which used to thrill so
many hearts, was changed into the glance of fear, and the restless
gaze of anxiety.

"She knew me at once, and asked, with a very poor attempt at
gaiety--'Are you come to have your fortune told, sir?'

"Before I could answer, her husband spoke some words in her own
language, and the 'Princess,' as we used to call her, took my hand in
both of hers, and kissed it, and poured forth her thanks. She had been
so engrossed with her poor sick child that she had not known me on
horseback. Having done so little to deserve her thanks, I was quite
surprised at such gratitude; and it made me fear that she must be now
unaccustomed to kind treatment. I asked how her grandmother was, who
used to sit up so proudly at Cowley, as well as her sister, the little
thing that used to run in and out so. As I spoke of them, she shook
her head and gazed at some long distance, to tell me that they were no
more. I could not remember the rest of her people, except her Uncle
Kershoe, as fine a fellow as ever stole a horse. When I spoke of him,
she laughed as if he were going on as well as ever; and I hoped that
it might be no son of his to whom I had trusted Cantelupe. But of
course I knew that gipsy honour would hold him sacred for the time,
even if he were Bay Middleton. Then I asked her about her own
children, and again she shook her head and said--'Three, all three in
one are now; and that is the one you saved.' With that, while her
husband left the tent, Cinnaminta led me to look at the poor little
fellow in his deep warm sleep. A beautiful little boy it was; a real
Princess might yearn in vain for such a lovely offspring, if only the
stamp of health had been on him. But the glow of airy health and
breezy vigour was not on him; neither will it ever be, so far as one
may judge by skin. Clear, transparent, pearly skin, all whose colour
seems to come from under, instead of over it; the more the wind or the
sun strikes on it, the more its colour evaporates. I fear that poor
Cinnaminta's child will go the way of the younger ones."

"Poor dear! poor dear!" exclaimed the Carrier, rubbing his nose in a
sad slow way. "I can guess what her would be to them. If her loseth
that little un, mind--well then, you will see if her dothn't go arter
un."

"I believe that she will," replied Overshute; "I never saw any one so
wrapped up in another being as she is. As for Joe Smith, her husband,
and the way she treats him, I couldn't--no, I never could put up with
it, even if it were---- But, Miss Esther, why do you look with such a
curious smile at me? Of such matters what can you know? However, there
goes your clock again! Cripps, I shall never get home to-night; and my
mother will think I was poaching. Because I will not send the poachers
to prison, she believes that I must be a poacher myself!"

"Now, verily, your Worship, that bates all I have ever heerd of! How
could a Justice go a-poaching, howsomever he tried his best?"

"Cripps, he might. I believe he might, if he really did his best for
it. However, let that question pass; although it is highly
interesting. I will try, at my leisure, to solve it. But how can I
think of such little things in the middle of great sad ones? It really
made me feel as if I never should laugh again almost, when I saw this
fine unselfish woman controlling herself, and commanding herself, in
the depth of her misery about her child. And when I thought how she
might have got on, if she only had liked education, and that; and to
marry a fellow of Oriel; I assure you, Miss Esther, I began to feel
how women throw away their chances. Of course, I could not hint at
things disloyal--or what shall I call them? Unconjugal, perhaps, is
what I mean; unuxorial, or what it may be. But although I am slow at
seeing things; because I used to think myself too quick, and have made
false charges through it; I really could not help feeling sure that
poor Cinnaminta had made an awkward tally with her husband. However,
that was no concern of mine. She had made her own choice, and must
stick to it. But to think of it made me uncomfortable, and I could not
speak then of what I wished to speak of, but took short leave and rode
away. First, however, I got permission to come over again on the
Friday--yesterday, I mean; and now I will tell you exactly what
happened then."

"Your Worship do tell a tale," said Cripps; "that wonderful, that us
be almost there! They women takes a man, whether or no he wool; and
when they gets tired of un, they puts all the fault on he, they do!
There was a woman as did the washing, over to Squire Pemberton's;
nothing to look at--unless you hadn't seen done-up hair for a
twelve-month, the same as happens to the sailors; and in her
go-roundings of no account, for to catch the notice of a man much. But
that very woman, I'm danged if her didn't----"

"Zacchary, hush!" said Esther; and the Carrier muttered, "Of course,
of course! No chance of fair play wi' un! Well, go on, your Worship."

"I have very little more to tell you, as yet," Overshute answered,
with a smile at both. "You have listened with wonderful patience to
me; and I am surprised at remembering half of what happened to me in a
hurry so. I shall make more allowance for witnesses now, when they get
confused and hesitate. But, as I was going to say, I rode over to
Nettlebed Common, or whatever it is called, in good time yesterday, so
as to have a long quiet talk with Cinnaminta; knowing that if she
would not tell me the truth, she would tell no falsehood. As I rode
along in that fine spring sun, my mind was unusually clear and bright.
I saw to a nicety what questions I ought to put, and how to put them;
and nothing of all the ins and outs of this matter could escape me.
When the sun threw my shadow, as sharp as a die, I could not help
laughing to the open road and the clear long breadth of prospect, at
the narrow stupid thoughts we had been thinking throughout the winter.
In a word, I was sure, as I am of my life, of finding sweet Grace
Oglander, and restoring her father to his fine old health, and
spreading great happiness everywhere; and thus I rode up to the
gipsy-camp--and there was not a shadow or a trace of it!"



CHAPTER XXII.

A DELICATE SUBJECT.


The log had burned down, and the fire was low, when Russel thus ended
his story. Cripps was indignant, because he had made up his mind for
"summat of a zettlement;" and Esther was full of young womanly
thoughts about Cinnaminta and her poor child. But even before they
could consult one another, or cross-examine, a loud, sharp knock at
the door was heard, and in ran Mary Hookham.

"Oh, if you please, sir--oh, if you please, sir!" she exclaimed with
both hands up, and making the most of her shawl fringe, "such a thing
have turned up!--I never! Them stockings! Oh, them silk stockings,
sir! Your Worship--oh, them silk stockings, sir!"

"My dear," said Cripps in a fatherly tone, and with less contemporary
feeling than Mary might wish to inspire him with--"my dear good maid,
you be that upset, that to spake, without sloping the spout of the
kettle, might lade to a'most anything. Etty, you ain't had a drap of
nort--and all the better for 'ee. Give over your glass, girl. Now,
Miss Mary, the laste little drap, and then you spakes; and then you
has another drap. 'Scoose me, your Worship, to make so bold; but a
young man can't see them things in the right light."

"Oh, Master Cripps, now!" cried Mary Hookham, "what but a young man be
you yourself? And none of they young men can point their tongues, to
compare with you, to my mind. But I beg your pardon, sir, Mr.
Russel--your name come so familiar to me, through our dear young lady.
I forgot what I was a-doing, your Worship, to be sitting down in your
presence so!"

"Mary, if you get up I shall get up also, and go away. We are both
enjoying the hospitality of our good friend, Master Cripps. Now, Mary,
by no means hurry yourself; but tell me at your leisure why you came,
and what your news is."

"Silk stockings, forsooth!" cried Master Cripps, being vexed at this
break of the evening. "Why, my grandmother had a whole pair of they! I
belave I could find 'em now, I do! Silk stockings, to break up one's
comfort for! Not but what I be glad to see you. Mary, my dear, I drink
your good health, touching spoons in lack of lips."

"Oh, Mr. Cripps, you are so funny! And you do make me fell things in
such a way! Bless me, if I haven't dropped my comb! Oh, I am so
shocked to trouble you! Natteral hair are so provoking, compared to
what most people wears now-a-days. But about what I come for--oh, your
Worship, stockings is not what I ought to speak of, except in the ear
of females."

"Stockings are a very good subject, Mary; particularly if they are
silk ones."

"Lor, sir! Now, I never thought of that! To be sure, that makes all
the difference! Well then, your Worship must know all, and Master
Cripps, and Miss Esther, too. It seemeth that Mrs. Fermitage, master's
own sister, you know, sir, have never been comfortable in her mind
about her behaviour when the 'quest was held. Things lay on her nerves
at that time so, that off and on she hardly seemed to know where she
was, or how dooty lay to her. Not that she is at all selfish, if you
please to understand me--no more selfish than I myself be, or any one
of us here present. But ladies requires allowance; and it makes me
have a pain to think of it. You could not expect her--could you
now?--to go through it, as if she was a man; or rather, I should say,
a gentleman."

"Of course we could not," answered Overshute; and the Carrier began to
think, why not.

"However, she did go through it," said Mary, "as well as the very best
man could have done. She covered her feelings, as you might say, with
a pint pot, or with less than that."

"With a wine-glass of brandy, I did hear tell," said Master Cripps
inquiringly.

"No, no; that was a shocking story. It makes me ashamed of the place
as we live in whenever I heer such scandalies!"

"Miss Mary, my dear, I beg your pardon. Lord knows I only say what I
heers! Take a little drop, Miss, and go on."

"It makes one afeared to touch a drop of most hinnocent mixture as
ever was," continued poor Mary, after one good gulp; "and at the same
time most respectable waters--when people as never had opportunity of
forming no judgment about them--people as only can spit out their
tongues at them as have some good taste in theirn, when such folk--for
people they are not--dareth to go forth to say---- But I see you are
laughing at me, your Worship; and perhaps I well deserve it, sir. It
is no place of mine to convarse of such subjects--me who never deals
with 'em! But, one way or other, that good lady (as, barring her way
with her servants, she is, which our good master have many a time, up
and given it to her about), well, this very day, sir, in she come when
I was a-doing of my morning doos--every bit as partiklar, sir, as if I
had a mistress over me; and she say to me, 'Mary Hookham!' and I says,
'Yes, ma'am; at your service.' And she ask me without any more to
do--the just words I cannot now call to mind--for to send at once,
without troubling poor master, to fetch they stockings as was put by,
to the period of the coroner's 'quest. Poor master have never been
allowed to see them, no more has none of us, sir; for fear of setting
on foot some allowance of vulgar curiosity. And all of us is not above
it, I know; but that is a natteral error in places where few has had
much eddication."

"I don't hold much with that there eddication," cried the Carrier
rather gloomily. "A may suit some people, but not many. They puts it
on 'em all alike wi'out trial of constitootion. Some goes better for
it; but most volk worse."

"Well, you know best, Mr. Cripps, of course. Up and down the road as
you be, every door give you a hinstance. His Worship is all for
eddication; and no one need swaller it, unless they likes. But pretty
well schooled as I have been, sir, I looks down on no one. And now,
when master's sister made that sudden call upon me, I assure you, sir,
and Master Cripps, and Miss Esther in the corner there, the very first
thing as I longed for was more knowledge of the ways of the kingdom.
More sense, I mean, of where the powers puts the things that have been
called up and laid at the feet of the law-courts. They stockings was
more lost to me, than gone to be washed by the gipsies.

"It never would have done for me to say that much to Mrs. Fermitage.
She would have been out in a wrath at once, for she is not sweet like
master; so I gave her all 'yes' instead of 'why' or 'how,' as we do to
quick-tempered gentlefolk. And then I ran away to ask my mother, and
she no more than laughed at me. 'You silly child,' says mother, quite
as if there had never been a fool till now; 'when the law getteth hold
of a thing, there be only two places for to find it in.' 'Two places,
mother! What two places?' said I, without construction. 'Why, the
right-hand or the left-hand pocket of a lawyer's breeches,' mother
answered, just as if she had served all her time with a tailor. Now,
don't laugh, Mr. Overshute; it is true, every word as I tell you."

"Ay, that her be," cried Cripps, with a smack of one hand on the
other. "Your mother is a wonderful woman for truth and sense, my
deary."

"Well, well," replied Mary, with a broad knowing smile, as much as to
say, "You had better try her" "at her time of life her ought to be, if
ever they seek to attain it. So I acted according to mother's
directions, letting her always speak foremost. And between us we got
Master Kale to go, on his legs, all the way to Oxford with the hope of
a lift back with you, Master Cripps; but, late as you was, he were
later. He carried a letter from Mrs. Fermitage, couched in the
thirtieth person, to Mrs. Luke Sharp of Cross-Duck House, the very one
as sent that good book back. Master's sister have felt below contempt
towards her since that time, and in dignity could do no otherwise. And
now she put it short and sharp, as no less could be expected--and word
for word can I say of it--

"'Mrs. Fermitage has the honour of presenting her compliments to Mrs.
Sharp, and begs to express her surprise at the strange retention by
Mrs. S. of a pair of valuable silk stockings, which are the property
of Mrs. F. If they are not in use, it is begged that they may be
returned by the bearer.--Postscript: Mrs. F. takes this opportunity of
acknowledging the return of a book, which, being filled only with the
word of God, was perhaps of less practical value to Mrs. S. than silk
stockings appear to be.'

"'That will fetch them,' said my mother; 'if they be in the house,
that will fetch them, ma'am. No lady could stand against them
inawindows.' And, sure enough, back they come by Mr. Kale, about an
hour after you left our house, sir. It seems that Mr. Luke Sharp was
gone to dine with the Corporation, or likely they never would have
come at all. And they never would have come at all, because Mrs. Sharp
could not have found them, if it hadn't been that Master Sharp, the
boy they think such wonders of, just happened to come in from
shooting, where the whole of his time he spends. He found his mother
in the hystrikes of a heart too full for tears, as she expressed it
bootifully to both cook and housemaid; and they pointed to the letter,
and he read it; and he were that put out, that Master Kale, seeing the
two big barrels of his gun, were touched in his conscience, and ran
away and got under the mangle. What happened then, he were afeard to
be sure of; but the cook and the housemaid brought him out, and they
locked him in, to eat a bit, which he did with trembles of
thankfulness. And, almost afore he had licked his knife as clean as he
like to leave it, that wicked young man he kicked open the door, and
flung a parcel at him.

"'Tell your d----d missus,' he says--your Worship, I hopes no offence to
the statues--'tell her,' he says, 'that her rubbish is there! And add,
without no compliments, that a lady of her birth should a' known
better than to insult another lady so!'"

"Well done, Kit Sharp!" exclaimed Overshute. "I rather admire him for
that. Not that he ought to have sworn so, of course. But I like a
young fellow to get in a rage when he thinks that his mother is
trampled on."

"Then you might a' been satisfied with him, sir. In a rage he were,
and no mistake! So much so that our Mr. Kale made off by the quickest
door out of the premises. But the cook, she ran after him out to the
steps, when there was the corners between them, and she begged him not
to give a bad account, but to put a Christian turn to it. And she told
poor Tummuss that she had a manner of doing veal fit to surprise him;
and if he could drop in on Sunday week, he might go home the wiser.
The Lord knows how she hit so quick upon his bad propensities; for he
do pay attention to his victuals, whatever his other feelings be.
However, away he come at last; and I doubt if he goeth in a hurry
again.

"Of course he knowed better than give the broken handles of his
message. It is only the boys and the girls does that, for the pleasure
of vexing their betters. Master Kale sent his parcel in by me,
together with Mrs. Sharp's compliments; leaving the truth in the
kitchen to strengthen, and follow to the parlour, as the cat comes in.
And so master's sister, she put out her hand all covered with rings,
and no shaking; and I makes my best entry just like this, excusing
your presence, Mr. Russel, sir; and she nod to me pleasantly, and take
it. 'Mary, you may go,' she said; and for sure, I am not one of those
who linger.

"There happened, however, to be a new candle full of thieves and
guttering; and being opposite a looking-glass made it more
reproachful. So back I turned by the corner of a screen, for to right
it without disturbance. I had no more idea, bless you, Master Cripps,
of cooriosity, than might have happened to yourself, sir! But I pulled
a pair of scissors out of my pocket, no snuffers being handy; and then
I heer'd a most sad groan.

"To my heart it went, like a clap of thunder, having almost expected
it, which made it worse; and back I ran to do my dooty, if afforded
rightly. And sure enough there was poor Mrs. Fermitage afell back well
into the long-backed chair, with her legs out straight, and her hands
to her forehead, and a pair of grey stockings laid naked on her lap!
'Is it they things, ma'am? Is it they?' I asked, and she put up her
chin to acknowledge it. By the way they were lying upon her lap, I was
sure that she was vexed with them. 'Oh, Mary,' she cried out; 'oh,
Mary Hookham, I am both as foolish and a wicked woman, if ever in the
world there was one!'

"So deeply was I shocked by this, master's own sister, and a mint of
money, going the wrong way to kingdom come--that I give her both ends
of the smelling-bottle, open, and running on her velvet gown, as
innocent as possible. 'Oh, you wicked, wicked girl!' she says, coming
round, before I could stop; 'do you know what it cost a yard, you
minx?'

"This gave me good hopes of her, being so natteral. Twice the price
comes always into ladies' minds, when damage is; if anybody can be
made to pay. But it did not become me to speak one word, as you see,
Mr. Russel, and Master Cripps. And there was my reward at once.

"'I must have a magistrate,' she cries; 'a independent justice of the
peace. Not my poor brother--too much of him already. Where is that boy
Overshute?' she says, saving, of course, your Worship's presence. 'I
heered he were gone to that low carrier's. Mary, run and fetch him!'"

"My brother to be called a low carrier!" young Esther exclaimed, with
her hand on her heart. "What carrier is to Compare with him?"

"Never you mind, cheel," answered Cripps, with a smile that shone like
a warming-pan; "the womens may say what they pleases on me, so long as
I does my dooty by 'em. Squaze the lemon for his Worship, afore un
goeth."



CHAPTER XXIII.

QUITE ANOTHER PAIR OF SOCKS!


Mr. Overshute had always been on good terms with Mrs. Fermitage, his
"advanced ideas" marching well with her political sentiments, so far
as she had any. And upon a still more tender subject, peace and
good-will throve between them. The lady desired no better suitor for
her niece than Russel Overshute, and had laboured both by word and
deed to afford him fair opportunity. Moreover, it was one of her great
delights, when time went heavily with her, to foster a quiet little
fight between young Russel and his mother. Those two, though filled
with the deepest affection and admiration for each other, could
scarcely sit half an hour together without a warm argument rising. The
late Mr. Overshute had been for years a knight of the shire, and for
some few months a member of the Tory Government; and this conferred on
his widow, of course, authority paramount throughout the county upon
every political question. How great, then, was her indignation, to
find subversive and radically erroneous principles coming up, where
none but the best seed had been sown. Three generations ago, there had
been a very hasty Overshute; but he had been meted with his own
measure, and his balance struck upon the block. This had a wholesome
influence on the family, while they remembered it; and child after
child had been brought up with the most correct opinions. But here was
the young head of the house, with a stiff neck, such as used to be
adjusted in a nick upon Tower-hill. Mrs. Overshute therefore spent
much of her time in lamenting, and the rest in arguing.

For none of these things Mrs. Fermitage cared. With her, the idea of
change was free. She had long rebelled against her brother's dictation
of the Constitution, and believed they were rogues, all the lot of
them, as her dear good husband used to say. "Port-wine Fermitage" went
too far when he laid down this law for the females. Without a particle
of ill-meaning, he did a great deal of mischief.

Now Mrs. Fermitage sat well up, in a chair that had been newly
stuffed. She was very uncomfortable; and it made her cross, because
she was a good-sized woman. She kept on turning, but all for the
worse; and her mind was uneasy at her brother's house. The room was
gone dark, and the lights going down, while Miss Mary Hookham was
revelling in the mansion of the Carrier. Nobody cared to hurry for the
sake of anybody else, of course; and Mrs. Fermitage could not see what
the good of all her money was.

The lady was all the more vexed with others, because her own
conscience was vexed with her; and as Overshute came with his quick,
firm step, she spoke to him rather sharply.

"Well, Russel Overshute, there was a time when you would not have left
me to sit in this sad way by myself all the evening. But that was when
I had pretty faces near me. I must not expect such attentions now!"

"My dear Mrs. Fermitage, I had no idea that you were even in the
house. The good Squire sent me a very nice dinner; but you did not
grace it with your presence."

"And for a very good reason, Russel. I have on my mind an anxiety
which precludes all idea of eating."

"Oh, Mrs. Fermitage, never say that! You have been brought up too
delicately."

"Russel, I believe that is too true. The world has conspired to spoil
me. I seem to be quite in a sad position, entirely for the sake of
others. Now, look at me, Russel; and just tell me what you think."

Overshute always obeyed a lady in little things of this kind. He
looked at Mrs. Fermitage, which really was a pleasant thing to do; and
he thought to himself that he never had seen a lady of her time of
life more comfortable, nicely fat, and thoroughly well dressed and
fed.

"My opinion is," he proceeded with a very pretty salaam and smile,
"that you never looked better in your life, ma'am! And that is a very
great deal to say!"

"Well, Russel, well," she answered, rising in good old fashion, and
curtsying; "your opinions have not spoiled your manners, whatever your
dear mother may say. You always were a very upright boy; and you
always say exactly what you think. This makes your opinion so
valuable. I shall shake off ten years of my life. But I really was
quite low-spirited, and down at heart, when you came in. I fear that I
have not quite acted for the best, entirely as I meant to do so. You
remember that horrible state of things, nearly two months ago, and my
great distress?"

"At the time of that wretched inquest? Yes; you were timid, as well
you might be."

"It was not only that. But the weather was so cold that I scarcely
knew what I was doing at all. Hard weather is to me as it is to a
plant, a delicate fern, or something. My circulation no longer is
correct; even if it goes on at all. I scarcely can answer for what I
am doing when they put me into cold rooms and bitter draughts. I feel
that the organs of my face are red, and that every one is looking at
me. And then such a tingle begins to dawn through the whole of my
constitution, that to judge me by ordinary rules is barbarous and
iniquitous."

"To be sure, to be sure!" answered Overshute, laying one finger on his
expressive nose, and wondering what was next to come.

"Yes, and that is the manner in which justice is now administered. The
canal was frozen, and the people of the inn grudged a quarter of a
hundredweight of coal. The people at the yards had put it up so, that
it would have been wrong to encourage them. I had ordered my own
stumps to be burned up, and the flower-baskets, and so on. Anything
rather than order coals, till the swindling dealers came down again.
And the Coroner sided with the price of coals, because he had three
top-coats on. The jury, however, with their teeth all chattering,
wanted only to be done and go. They were only too glad, when any
witness failed to answer when called upon; and having all made up
their minds outside, they were shivering to declare them. I speak now,
from what I heard afterwards."

"You speak the bare truth, Mrs. Fermitage. You have the best
authority. The foreman is your chimney-sweep."

"Yes; and that made him feel the cold the more. But you should see him
on a Sunday, Russel. He is so respectable, and his nails so white. I
will not listen to a word against him; and he valued my custom, on his
oath he did. 'What verdict does Missus desire?' he asked. And he made
all the rest go accordingly. Nobody knows what they might have sworn,
without a clever man to guide them."

"Of course. What can you expect? But still, you have something new to
tell me?"

"Well, Russel, new or old, here it is. And you must bear in mind how I
felt, and what everybody was saying. In the first place, then, you
must remember that there was a great deal said about a pair of my silk
stockings. Now, I shrank particularly from having an intimate matter
of that sort made the subject of public gossip. It was neither
becoming, nor ladylike, to drag little questions of my wardrobe into
the eye of the nation so. Already it was too much to know that a pair
of such articles had been found bearing my initials. Most decidedly I
refused, and I am sure any lady would do the same, to go into a hard
cold witness-box, and under the eyes of some scores of males proclaim
my complicity with such things. If I had seen it my duty, I would have
endeavoured to conquer my feelings; but of course I took it all for
granted that everything was too clear already. And my dear brother! I
thought of him; and thought of every one, except myself. Could I do
more, Russel Overshute?"

"Indeed, my dear madam, I do not see how. You would have come forward,
if necessary. But you did not see any necessity."

"Much more than that. There was much more than that. There was my duty
to my brother, stronger than even to my niece. He is getting elderly;
and for me to be printed as proving anything against his daughter,
would surely have been too much for him. He looked to me so for
consolation, and some one to say kind words to him, that to find me in
evidence against him might have been his death-blow. No consideration
for myself or my own feelings had the weight of a rose-leaf with me.
In the breach I would have stood, if I had followed my own wishes. But
my duty was to curb myself. You are following me, Russel, carefully?"

"Word for word, as you say it, madam; so far as my poor wits allow."

"Very well, then. I have made it quite clear. That is the beauty of
having to explain to clever people."

"I thank you for the compliment," replied Overshute, with a puzzled
look; "but I have not earned it; for I cannot see that you have told
me anything that I did not know some weeks ago. It may be my
stupidity, of course; but I thought that something had occurred quite
lately."

"Oh yes, to be sure! It was only to-day! I meant to have told you that
first of all. I was grossly insulted. But I am so forgiving that I had
forgotten it--quite forgotten it, until you happened to speak of it. A
peculiarly insolent proceeding on the part of poor Mrs. Sharp, it
appears--or, perhaps, some one for her; for everybody says that she
really now has no mind of her own. She did not write me one single
line, although I had written politely to her; and she sent me a
message--I am sure of it--too bad to be repeated. No one would tell me
what it was; which aggravates it to the last degree. I assure you I
have not been so upset for years; or, at any rate, not since poor
Grace was lost. And about that, unless I am much mistaken, that very
low, selfish, and plotting person, knows a great deal more than we
have ever dreamed. It would not surprise me in the least, especially
after what happened today, to find Mrs. Sharp at the bottom of all of
it. At any rate, she has aroused my suspicion by her contemptible
insolence. And I am not a person to drop a thing."

"Why, what has she done?" asked Overshute once more; while in spite of
impatience he could scarcely help smiling at poor Mrs. Fermitage's
petty wrath and frequent self-contradiction.

"What she did was this. She sent me back, not even packed in nice
white paper, not even sprinkled with eau de Cologne, not even
washed--what do you think of that?--but rolled up anyhow in brown
paper, the same as a drayman would use for his taps--oh, Russel, would
you ever believe it!"

"Certainly it seems very unpolite. But what was it she sent back to
you?"

"Not even the article I expected! Not even that ingredient of costume
which I had lent poor Gracie, very nice and pretty ones--but an old
grey pair of silken-hose, disgraceful even to look at! It is true that
they bear my initials; but I had discarded them long ago."

"What a strange thing!" cried Overshute, flushed with quick
excitement. "How reckless we were at the inquest! We had made up our
minds without evidence, on the mere faith of coincidence. And you--you
have never taken the trouble to look into this point until now--and
now perhaps quite by accident! We were told that you had recognised
the stockings; and it turns out that you never even saw them. It is
strange and almost wicked negligence."

"I have told you my motives. I can say no more," exclaimed Mrs.
Fermitage, with her fine fresh colour heightened by shame or anger.
"Of course, I felt sure--who could fail to do so?--that the stockings
found with my name on them must be the pair I had lent my niece. It
seemed most absurd that I should have to see them. It was more than my
nerves could bear; and the Coroner was not so unmanly as to force me.
Pray, did you go and see everything, sir?"

"Mrs. Fermitage, I am the very last person who has any right to
reproach you. I failed in my duty, far more than you in yours. In a
man, of course, it was a thousand times worse. There is no excuse for
me. I yielded to a poor unmanly weakness. I wished to keep my memory
of the poor dear, as I had seen her last. I should have considered
that the poor frail body is not our true identity----"

"Quite so, of course. And therefore, what was the use of your going to
see it? No, no, you behaved very well, Russel Overshute; and so did I,
if it comes to that. Nobody can be quite blameless, of course; and we
are told in the Bible not to hope for it. If we all do our duty
according to our inner lights, and so on, the Apostle can say no great
harm of us, in his rudest moment to the ladies."

"Let us settle that we both have done our best," said Russel very
sadly; knowing how far from the truth it was, but seeing the folly of
arguing.

"And now will you tell me, what made you send for those silk
ingredients of costume so suddenly; and then show them to me?"

"With pleasure, dear Russel. You understand me, when no one else has
any sympathy. I sent for them, or at least for what I fully expected
to be the ones, because an impertinent young woman, foolishly trusted
with very good keys, gave me notice to go, last evening. Of course she
will fly before I have a chance of finding how much she has
stolen--they all take very good care to do that; and knowing what the
spirit of the age is--dress, dress, fal-lals, ribbons, heels in the
air, and so on--I made up my mind to have a turn out to-day, and see
how much they had left me. No man can imagine, and scarcely any woman,
all the vexations I had to go through. Five pair and a half of
silk-hose were missing, as well as a thousand more important things;
and they all backed up one another. They stood me out to my face that
I never had more than eight pair of the Christchurch-Tom
stockings--excuse me for being so coarse, my dear; whereas I had got
the receipt for twelve pair from the man that sold them with the big
Tom bells on immediately above the instep. I happened to remember that
I had lent my darling Gracie pair No. 12, numbered, as all of them
were, downright. And so to confound those false-tongued hussies, I
came over here in search of them. Finding that they were not here--for
the lawyers, of course, steal everything--I was not going to be beaten
so. I sent as polite a letter as, after her shameful rudeness, any
lady could write, to Mrs. Luke Sharp--a poor woman who expected every
halfpenny of my dear husband's savings. How far she deserves them, you
have seen to-day. And sooner would I burn myself, like a sooty widow,
with all my goods evaporating, than ever leave sixpence for her to
clutch, after such behaviour. Russel, you will remember this. You are
my executor."

"My dear Mrs. Fermitage, I pray you in no way to be excited. We have
not heard all of the story, and we know that servants who are of a
faithful kind exaggerate slights to their masters. It was one of the
Squire's old servants who went. Your own would, perhaps, have known
better. But now, may I see the things Mrs. Sharp sent you?"

"You may. And you may take them, if you like. Or rather, I should say
that I beg you to take them. They ought to be in your custody. Will
you oblige me by taking them, Russel, and carefully inspecting them?
For that, of course, you must have daylight. Take them in the paper,
just as they came, and keep them until I ask for them. They can be of
no importance, because they are not what I lent to Gracie. Except for
my name on them, I am sure that I never could have remembered them.
They were darned in the days when I was poor. How often I wish that I
still were poor! Then nobody wanted to plot against me, and even to
steal my stockings! Oh, Russel, do you think they have murdered my
darling because she was to have my money?"

"No, I think nothing of the kind! I believe that our darling Grace is
alive; and I believe it tenfold since I saw these things! I am not
very old in the ways of the world; and my judgment has always been
wrong throughout. But my faith is the same as the grand old Squire's,
though forty years of life behind him. I firmly believe that, blindly
as we ourselves have managed everything, all will be guided aright for
us; and happiness, even in this world, come. Because, though we have
done no great good, we have done harm to no one; and the Lord in
heaven knows it! Also, He knows that we trust in Him, so far as the
trouble allows us. Very well; I will take these stockings home. You
shall hear from me on Monday. I believe that our Grace is alive; and
God will enable me to deliver her! Please Him, I will never leave off
till then!"

The young man looked so grand and strong in his faith, and truth, and
righteousness, that the elderly lady said no word, but let her eyes
flow, and kissed him. He placed the stockings in an inner pocket,
carelessly wrapped in their paper; and he rode home apace to please
his mother; and having a cold on him from all his wettings, he
perspired freely; and at every stretch of his galloping horse he was
absorbing typhus fever.



CHAPTER XXIV.

SUO SIBI BACULO.


In April, when the sunny buds were showing forth their little frills;
and birds, that love to hop sideways and try the toleration of the
sprays that they are picking at, were almost too busy to chirp, and
hung as happily as possible upside down, shaking the flutter of young
green lace; while at the same time (for it is a season of great
coincidence) pigs reared aloft little corkscrew tails, and scorning
their nose-rings, employed them as thimbles for making a punch in the
broidery of turf; also when--if the above is not enough--ducks and
geese, and cocks and hens, and even the dogs (who regard green grass
as an emetic mainly) were all, without knowing it, beginning to wag
themselves as they walked or waddled, and to shine in the sun, and to
look very large in their own eyes and those of their consorts; neither
was there any man who could ride a horse, without knowing how--unless
he first had starved him;--at this young jump of the year and of life,
Grace Oglander wanted to go for a walk.

She had not by any means been buried in the haunted quarry; neither
had she as yet required burial in any place. On the contrary, here she
walked more blooming and lovely than even her custom was; and the
spring sun glistening upon the gold letters of her tombstone at
Beckley, ordered by her good Aunt Fermitage--the same sun (without any
strain of his eyes at all likely to turn him to a Strabo) was
pleasantly making and taking light in the fluctuations of her growing
hair.

Her bright hair (which had been so cruelly cropped) instead of being
the worse for the process, was waving and glowing again in vast
multiplicity of vigour; like a specimen golden geranium shorn to
double the number of its facets; and the blue in the spring of her
eyes was enough to dissatisfy the sun with his own sky. However, he
showed no discontent, but filled the young wood with cheerful rays,
and the open glades with merriment, and even the sombre heart of
labouring man with streaks of liveliness. For here were comforts that
come in, without the eye considering them; and pleasures, which when
thought of fly; and delicate delights, that have no idea of being
delightful.

Hereupon the proper thing is for something very harsh to break in, and
discomfit all the wandering vision of earthly happiness. But the
proper thing, in the present instance, showed its propriety by
absence. Nothing broke the flow of sunshine and the eddy of soft
shade! unless it were a little ruffle of the south wind seeking leaves
before they were quite ready; or the rustle of a rabbit, anxious about
his family; or the flutter of a bird, uncertain where to stand and
sing his best.

Grace (without a thought of what her own thoughts were or whether she
had any mind for thinking) rambled on, as a school-girl does when the
hours of school are over. Every single fall or rise of nature's work
was kind to her, and led her into various veins of inductive
unphilosophy. The packing and storing of last year's leaves, as if
exceeding precious, gathered together by the wind and land in some
rich rustling corner; the fitting of these into one another (for fear
of losing one of them) wonderfully compact, as if with the hammer of a
gold-beater, or the unknown implement wherewith a hen packs up her
hatched egg-shells; the stiff upstanding of fine young stuff, hazel,
ash, and so on, tapering straight as a fishing-rod, and knobbing out
on either side with scarcely controllable bulges; over, and above, and
throughout all, and sensible of their largeness, the spreading
quietude of great trees, just breathing their buds on the air again,
but not in a hurry (as in young days) to rush into perils of
leafiness--pleased with all these proofs of soft revival and tender
movement, the fair maid almost forgot her own depression and
perplexities.

When howling winter was put to the rout and banished underground; and
the weather, perhaps, might be hoped to behave as decently as an
English spring, most skittish of seasons, should order it; and the
blue ray of growth (which predominates then, according to the
spectroscopists) was pouring encouragement on things green; how was a
girl in her own spring yet, to strive against all such influence?

At any rate Grace made no attempt to do anything of the kind; but
wandered at her own sweet will, within the limits of her own parole.
She knew that she was in seclusion here, by her father's command, for
her own good; and much as she yearned, from time to time, to be at
home, with all the many things she was so fond of, she was such a
dutiful child, and so loving, that she put her own wishes by, and
smiled and sighed, instead of pouting. It could not be very long now,
she was sure, until her father should come home, and call for her, as
he had promised, and take her once more to beloved Beckley, after this
mournful exile.

Full as she was of all these thoughts, and heeding her own ways but
little, so long as she kept within the outer ring of fence allowed to
her, she fell into a little stupid fright, as she called it
afterwards; for which there was no one but herself to blame. Only
yesterday that good Miss Patch (her governess and sweet guardian) had
particularly begged her to be careful; because the times were now so
bad that lawless people went everywhere. Miss Patch herself had heard
several noises she could not at all account for; and while she
considered it quite a duty to trace up everything to its proper
source, and absolutely confide in Providence, whose instrumentality is
to be traced by all the poor instruments seeking it, still there are
times when it cannot be done; and then the right thing is to keep
within sight or call of a highly respectable man.

This was exactly what Grace might have done, and would have done, but
for the tempting day; for a truly respectable man had been near her,
when first she began her little walk; a man whom she had beheld more
than once, but always at a little distance; a tall stout man,
according to her distant ideas of him, always busy in a quiet way, and
almost grudging the time to touch his broad-flapped hat without
lifting his head, when he saw her in the woodland. Grace had never
asked him who he was, nor been within talking distance of him; at
which she was almost surprised, when she thought how glad, as a rule,
are all Oxfordshire workmen to have a good excuse for leaving off.
However, she was far beyond him now, when she met another man who
frightened her.

This was a fellow of dark complexion, dressed in a dirty fustian suit,
and bearing on his shoulder a thick hedge-stake, from which hung a
number of rabbit-skins. His character might be excellent; but his
appearance did not recommend him to the confidence of the public.
Grace shrank aside, but his quick eyes had spied her; and, indeed, she
almost feared from his manner, that he had been on the watch for her.
So she put the best face on it, and tried to pass him, without showing
any misgivings.

But the rabbit-man was not to be thus defrauded of his right to good
society. With a quick sharp turn he cast off the skins from his staff,
and stretched that slimy implement across the way with one hand; while
he held forth the other caressingly, and performed a pretty little
caper.

"Allow me to pass, if you please," said Grace, attempting to look very
resolute; "these are our grounds. You are trespassing."

"Now, my purty young lady," said the rabbit-man, coming so close that
she could not fly, "you wouldn't be too hard, would you now? I sees a
great many young maids about--but Lor' there, what be they to compare
with you!"

"I am sure that you do not mean any harm," replied Grace, though with
much inward doubt: "nobody ever does any harm to me; but every one is
so kind to me. My father is so good to all who get into any trouble. I
am not worth robbing, Mr. Rabbit-man; honest as you are, no doubt. But
I think that I can find a shilling, for you to take home to your
family."

"Now, Missy, sweet Missy, when once I seen you, how could I think of a
shilling--or two? You was coming out herefor to kiss me, I know; the
same as I dreamed about last night. Lor' bless them bootiful eyes and
lips, the most massionary man as ever was a'most, would sooner have a
kiss, than a crown, of 'em!"

"You insolent fellow! how dare you speak to me in this manner? Do you
know who I am? Do you know who my father is?"

"No, Missy; but I dessay a thunderin' beak, as have sent me to prison;
and now I have got you in prison too. No comin' out, wi'out paying of
your fine, my dear." The dirty scamp, with an appreciative grin, laid
hold of poor Grace's trembling hand, and drew her towards him; while
she tried vainly to shriek, for her voice had forsaken her--when
bodily down went the rabbit-man, felled by a most inconsiderate blow.
He dropped so suddenly, that he fetched poor Grace to her knees, by
his violent grasp of her; and when he let go, she could not get up for
a moment, because her head went round. Then two strong hands were put
into hers; and she rose, and faced a young gentleman.

In her confusion, and sense of vile indignity, she did the natural
thing. She staggered away to a tree, and spread both hands before her
eyes, and burst forth sobbing, as if her heart would break. Instead of
approaching to comfort her, the young man applied himself first to
revenge. He espied on the path the stick of the prostrate rabbit-man,
and laid hold of it. Then, striving to keep his conscience clear, and
by no means hit a man on the ground, he seized the poor dealer in fur
by the neck, and propped him well up in a sapling fork. Having him
thus well situated for penal operations, without any question of
jurisdiction, or even of the merits of the case, he proceeded to
exhaust the utility of the stick, by breaking it over its owner's
back. The calm wood echoed with the sound of wooden thumps, and the
young buds trembled at the activity of a stick.

"Lor' a' mussy, a' mussy!" cried the rabbit-man. "You be gooin'
outside of the bargain, sir!"

"Oh, don't!--oh, please don't!" Grace exclaimed, running forth from
her retirement. "I dare say he did not know any better. He may have
had a little too much beer. Poor fellow, he has had quite enough! Oh,
stop, do stop, for my sake!"

"For nothing else--in the world--would I stop," said the youth, who
was breathless with hitting so hard, and still looking yearningly at
the stick, now splintered by so much exercise; "but if you beg him
off, he gets off, of course--though he has not had half enough of it.
You vile black rascal, will you ever look at a young lady in your life
again?"

"Oh, no, so--oh, no, sir--so help me--" cried the rabbit-man, rubbing
himself all over. "Do 'ee let me whisper a word to you."

"If I see your filthy sneaking face two seconds more, I'll take a new
stick to you, and a much tougher one. Out of my sight with your
carrion!"

Black George, with amazement and fury, gazed at the stern and
threatening countenance. Then seeing the elbow beginning to lift, he
hobbled, as fast as his bruises allowed, to his bundle of skins in the
brushwood. Then with a whimper and snivel he passed the broken staff,
now thrown at him, through his savoury burden, and with exaggerated
limps departed.

"See if I don't show this to your governor," he muttered, as he turned
back and scowled, when out of sight and hearing; "I never were took in
so over a job, in all my life afore, were I! One bull for a hiding
like that!" he grumbled, as he pulled out a sovereign, and looked at
it. "Five bull would hardly cover it. Why, the young cove can't a'
been told nort about it. A scurvy joke--a very scurvy joke. I ain't
got a bone in me as don't ache!"

Leaving him thus to pursue his departure, young Christopher Sharp,
with great self-content at the good luck of this exploit, turned
towards Grace, who was trembling and blushing; and he trembled and
blushed in his turn at her.

"I am so sorry I have frightened you," he said in the most submissive
way; "I have done you more harm than good, I fear. I should have known
better. But for the moment, I really could not command myself. I hope
you will not despise me for it."

"Despise you! Can I ever thank you? But I am not fit to do anything
now. I think I had better go home if you please. I am not likely to be
annoyed again. And there is a good man in a field half-way."

"To be sure, you know best," the young man answered, cooling into
disappointment. "Still, I may follow at a distance, mayn't I? The
weather looks quite as if it would be dark. And at this time of year,
scarcely anybody knows. There seem to be tramps almost everywhere. But
I am sure I do not wish to press myself. I can go on with the business
that brought me here. I am searching for the true old wind-flower."

"Oh, are you?" said Grace; "how exceedingly lucky! I can show you
exactly where to find it; if only you could manage to come to-morrow."

"To-morrow? Let me see--to-morrow! Yes, I believe I have no
engagements. But will you not be afraid--I mean--after that
blackguard's behaviour to-day? Not, of course, that he should be
thought of twice--but still--oh, I never can express myself."

"I understand every word you would say," the young lady answered
decisively; "and I never mean to wander so far again. Still, when I
know that you are botanising; or rather, I mean when a gentleman is
near--but I also can never express myself. You never must come--oh, I
mean--good-bye! But I feel that you ought to be careful, because that
bad man may lie in wait for you."



CHAPTER XXV.

MISS PATCH.


That evening Grace made one more trial to procure a little comfort in
her own affairs. In the dark low parlour of the cottage, where she had
lived for the last three months, with only Miss Patch and a deaf old
woman for company and comfort, she sat by the fire and stitched hard,
to abide her opportunity. At the corner of the table sat the good Miss
Patch, with her spectacles on, and occasionally nodding over her
favourite author, Ezekiel.

It was impossible for anybody to look at Miss Patch, and believe in
anything against her high integrity. That lofty nose, and hard-set
mouth, and the fine abstracted yet benevolent gaze of those hollow
grey eyes, were enough to show that here was a lady of strict moral
principle and high sense of duty. Incorruptible and grandly honest,
but prickly as a hedgehog with prejudice, she could not be driven into
any evil course, and required no leading into what she thought the
right one. And the right course to her was always the simplest of all
things to discover. Because it was that which led most directly to the
glory of God at the expense of man. Anything that would smite down
pride, and overthrow earthly schemes, and abase the creature before
the Creator--that to her mind was the thing commanded; and if it
combined therewith a cut at "papal arrogance," and priestly influence,
then the command was as delightful as it was imperative.

This tall and very clear-minded lady was, by an in and out sort of
way, related to Squire Oglander. She called him her "brother;" and the
Squire once (to comfort her in a vile toothache) had gone so far as to
call her his "sister." Still that, to his mind, was a piece of
flattery, not to be remembered when the tooth was stopped;--from no
pride on his part; but because of his ever-abiding execration of her
father--the well-known Captain Patch.

Captain Patch was the man who married the last Squire Oglander's
second wife, that is to say, our good Squire's stepmother, after the
lady had despatched her first husband, by uneasy stages, to a better
world. Captain Patch took her for her life-interest under the Oglander
settlement; and sterling friends of his declared him much too cheap at
the money. But the Oglanders took quite the contrary view, and hated
his name while he drew their cash. Yet the Captain proceeded to have a
large family, of whom this Hannah Patch was the eldest.

A godly father (as a general rule) has godless children; and happily
the converse of that rule holds true. The children of a godless father
(scared by the misery they have seen), being acquitted of the fifth
commandment, frequently go back to the first. And so it befell with
almost all of that impious fellow's family. Nevertheless the Squire,
believing in the "commandment with promise," as well as the
denunciation at the end of the second, kept himself clear of the
Patches, so far as good manners and kindness permitted him, Miss
Patch, knowing how good she was, had keenly resented this prejudice
after vainly endeavouring to beat it down. Also she felt--not
ill-will--but still a melancholy forgiveness, and uneasiness about the
present position of Grace's poor mother, who had died in her sins,
without any apology to Miss Patch.

However, put all these things as one may (according to constitution),
this lady was very good in her way, and desired to make all others
good. There was not one faulty point about her, so far as she could
discover it; and her rule of conduct was to judge her own doings by a
higher standard than was to be hoped for of any other person.
Therefore of course, for other persons she could judge what was right
and godly infinitely better than they could.

"Oh, Aunty," said Grace, by way of coaxing, having found this of good
service ere now; "Aunty, don't you wish it was tea-time now?"

"All meals come in their proper season. We should be grateful for
them; but not greedy."

"Oh, but, Aunty, you would not call it greedy to be hungry, I should
hope. And you would be so hungry, if you only knew. Ah, but you won't
get me to tell you though. I have always been celebrated for making
them. And this time I have quite surpassed myself. Now, how much will
you offer me to tell you what it is?"

"Grace, you are frivolous!" Miss Patch answered, yet with a slight
inclination of her nose towards the brown kitchen where the wood-fire
burned. "If our food is wholesome, and vouchsafed in proportion to our
daily wants, we should lift up our hearts and be thankful. To let our
minds dwell upon that which is a bodily question only, tends to
degrade them, and leads us to confound the true end--the glory of our
Maker--with the means to that end, which are vulgarly called
victuals."

"Very well, Aunty, we will do with bread and butter. I only made my
Sally Lunns for you; and if they degrade your mind, I will give them
to Margery Daw, or the cottage with ten children, down at the bottom
of the wood. What a treat they will have, to be sure, with them!"

"Not so, my dear! If you made them for me, I should fail in my duty if
I refused them. We are ordered to be kind and courteous and
long-suffering towards one another. And I know that you make them
particularly well. They are quite unfit for people in that lower
sphere of life. It would be quite sinful to tempt them so! They would
puff them up with vanity, and worldliness, and pride. But if you
insist upon my tasting them, my dear, in justice to your work I think
that you should see to the toasting. Poor Mrs. Daw smokes everything."

"Of course she does. But I never meant to let her do them, Aunty. Only
I wanted to be quite sure first that you would oblige me by tasting
them."

"My dear, I will do so, as soon as you please." The good lady shut up
Ezekiel, and waited. In a few minutes back came Grace, with all things
done to a nicety, each against each contending hotly whether the first
human duty were to drink choice tea or to eat Sally Lunns. Miss Patch
always saw her course marked out by special guidance, and devoutly
thus was enabled to act simultaneously.

Grace took a little bit now and again to criticise her own handiwork,
while with her bright eyes she watched the relaxing of the rigid
countenance. "My dear," said Miss Patch, "they are excellent! and they
do the greatest credit to your gifts! To let any talent lie idle is
sinful. You might make a few every day, my dear."

"To be sure I will, Aunty, with the greatest pleasure. I do love to do
anything that reminds me of my dear father! Oh, Aunty, will you tell
me something?"

"Yes, Grace, anything you ask aright. Young girls, of course, must
submit to those whose duty it is to guide them. Undue curiosity must
be checked, as leading to perverse naughtiness. The principle, or want
of principle, inculcated now by bad education, can lead to nothing
else but ruin and disgrace. How different all was when I was young! My
gallant and spirited father, well known as a brave defender of his
country, would never have dreamed of allowing us to be inquisitive as
to his whereabouts. But all things are subverted now; filial duty is a
thing unknown."

"Oh, but, Aunty, of course we never pretend to be half as good as you
were. Still I don't think that you can conclude that I do not love my
dear father, because I am not one bit afraid of him."

"Don't cry, child. It is foolish and weak, and rebellious against
Divine wisdom. All things are ordered for our good."

"Then crying must be ordered for our good, or we should be able to
help it, ma'am. But you can't call it 'crying,' when I do just what I
do. It is such a long and lonely time; and I never have been away more
than a week at a time from my darling father, until now; and now it is
fifteen weeks and five days since I saw him! Oh, it is dreadful to
think of!"

"Very well, my dear, it may be fifty weeks, or fifty years, if the
Lord so wills. Self-command is one of the very first lessons that all
human beings must learn."

"Yes, I know all that. And I do command myself to the very utmost. You
know that you praised me--quite praised me--yesterday; which is a rare
thing for you to do. What did you say then? Please not to retract, and
spoil the whole beauty of your good word."

"No, my dear child, you need not be afraid. Whenever you deserve
praise, you shall have it. You saw an old sack with the name of
'Beckley' on it, and although you were silly enough to set to and kiss
it, as if it were your father, you positively did not shed one tear!"

"For which I deserve a gold medal at least. I should like to have it
for my counterpane; but you sent it away most ruthlessly. Now, I want
to know, Aunty, how it came to be here--miles, leagues, longitudes,
away from darling Beckley?"

Miss Patch looked a little stern again at this. She perceived that her
duty was to tell some stories, in a case of this kind, wherein the end
justified the means so paramountly. Still every new story which she
had to tell seemed to make her more cross than the one before; whether
from accumulated adverse score, or from the increased chances of
detection.

"Sacks arrive and sacks depart," she answered, as if laying down a
dogma, "according to the decrees of Providence. Ever since the time of
Joseph, sacks have had their special mission. Our limited intelligence
cannot follow the mundane pilgrimage of sacks."

"No, Aunty, of course, they get stolen so! But this particular sack I
saw had on it the name of a good honest man, one of the very best men
in Beckley, Zacchary Cripps, the Carrier. His name did bring things to
my mind so--all the parcels and good nice things that he carries as if
they were made of glass; and the way my father looks over the hedge to
watch for his cart at the turn of the lane; and his pretty sister Etty
sitting up as if she didn't want to be looked at; and old Dobbin
splashing along, plod, plod; and our Mary setting her cap at him
vainly; and the way he goes rubbing his boots, as if he would have
every one of the nails out; and then dearest father calling out, 'Have
you brought us Her Majesty's new crown, Cripps?' and Cripps, putting
up his hand like that, and grinning as if it was a grand idea, and
then slyly peeping round where the beer-jug hangs--oh, Aunty, shall I
ever see it all again?"

"Well, Grace, you will lose very little if you don't. It is one of my
brother's worst failings that he gives away fermented liquor to the
lower orders inconsiderately. It encourages them in the bad habits to
which they are only too prone, even when discouraged."

"Oh no, Aunty! Cripps is the soberest of men. And he does take his
beer with such a relish, it is quite a treat to see him. Oh, if I
could only see his old cart now, jogging along, like a man with one
prong!"

"Grace! Miss Oglander! Your metaphor is of an excessively vulgar
description!"

"Is it, Aunty? Then I am very sorry. I am sure I didn't mean any harm
at all. Only I was thinking of the way a certain one-legged fiddler
walks--but, Aunty, all this is so frivolous! With all the solemn
duties around us, Aunty----"

"Yes, my dear, I do wish you would think a little more of them. Every
day I do my best. Your nature is not more corrupt than must be, with
all who have the sad _phronema sarkos_; but unhappily you always
exhibit, both in word and action, something so--I will not use at all
a harsh word for it--something so sadly unsolemn."

"What can I do, Aunt? It really is not my fault. I try for five
minutes together to be solemn. And then there comes something or
other--how can I tell how?--that proves too much for me. My father
used to love to see me laugh. He said it was quite the proper thing to
do. And he was so funny (when he had no trouble) that without putting
anything into anybody's head, he set them all off laughing. Aunty, you
would have been amused to hear him. Quite in the quiet time, almost in
the evening, I have known my father make such beautiful jokes, without
thinking of them, that I often longed for the old horn lanthorn, to
see all the people laughing. Even you would laugh, dear Aunty, if you
only heard him."

"The laughter of fools is the crackling of thorns. Grace, you are
nothing but a very green goose. Even a stray lamb would afford me
better hopes. But knock at the wall with the poker, my dear, that
Margery Daw may come in to prayers."



CHAPTER XXVI.

RUTS.


There are few things more interesting than ruts; regarded at the
proper time, and in the proper manner. The artists, who show us so
many things unheeded by our duller selves, have dwelled on this
subject minutely, and shown their appreciation of a few good ruts. But
they are a little inclined sometimes to mark them too distinctly,
scarcely making due allowance for the vast diversity of wheels, as
well as their many caprices of wagging, according to the state of
their washers, the tug of the horse, and their own wearing, and a host
of other things. Each rut moreover has a voice of its own; not only in
its first formation, but at every period of depression in the muggy
weather, or rough rebellion in a fine black frost, and above all other
times in the loose insurrection of a thaw. There always is a bit of
something hard and something soft in it; jags that contradict all
things with a jerk; and deep subsidence, soft as flattery.

There scarcely could be a finer sample of ruts than was afforded by a
narrow lane, or timber-track, at the extreme north-western outskirt of
Stow Forest. Everything here was favourable to the very finest growth
of ruts. The road had once been made, which is a necessary foundation
for any masterpiece of rut-work; it then had been left to maintain
itself, which encourages wholesome development. Another great
advantage was that the hard uniformity of straight lines had no chance
here of prevailing. For though the course was not so crooked, as in
some lanes it may have been, neither was there hedge, or rail, or
other mean constriction; yet some fine old trees insisted now and
then, from either side, upon their own grand right of way, and
stretched great arms that would sweep any driver, or horseman,
backward from his seat, unless he steered so as to double them.

Now therefore to one of these corners came, from out the thicket of
underwood, a stout man with a crafty slouch, and a wary and suspicious
glance. He had thrown a sack over his long white smock, whether to
save it from brambles, or to cover its glare in the shady wood; for
his general aspect was that of a man who likes to see all things, but
not to be seen. And now as he stooped to examine the ruts at a point
where they clearly defined themselves, either from habit, or for
special reason, he kept as far back by the briary ditch as he could
without loss of near insight.

This man, being a member of the great Cripps race--whether worthy, or
not, of that staunch lineal excellence--had an hereditary perception
of the right way to examine a rut. It would have been easy enough,
perhaps, in a lane of little traffic, to judge whether anything lately
had passed, with the weather and ground as usual. But to-day--the day
after what has been told of--both weather and ground had just taken a
turn, as abrupt as if both were feminine. The smile of soft spring was
changed into a frown, and the glad young buoyancy of the earth into a
stiff sort of feeling, not frozen or crisp, but as happens to a man
when a shiver of ague vibrates through a genial perspiration. To put
it more clearly, the wind had chopped round to the east, and was
blowing keenly--a masterful, strongly pronounced, and busily energetic
east wind, as superior to hypocrisy as it was to all claims of mercy.
At the sound and the feel of its vehement sweep, surprise and alarm
ran through the wood; and the nestling-places of the sun ruffled up
like a hen that calls her chicks to her. The foremost of the buds of
the tall trees shook; not as they shake to a west wind, but with a
sense of standing naked; the twigs that carried them flattened
upwards, having lost all pleasure; the branches, instead of bowing
kindly (as they do to any other wind), also went upward, with a stiff
cold back, and a hatred at being treated so. Many and many a little
leaf, still snug in its own overcoat, shrunk back, and preferred to
defer all the joys of the sky, if this were a sample of them. And many
and many a big leaf (thrust, without any voice of its own, on the
world) had no chance of sighing yet, but whistled on the wind, and
felt it piping through its fluted heart; and knowing what a
liver-coloured selvage must come round its green, bewailed the hour
that coaxed it forth from the notched, and tattered, and cast-off
frizzle, dancing by this time the wind knows where.

Because the east wind does what no other wind of the welkin ever does.
It does not come from the good sky downward, bringing higher breath to
us; nor even on the level of the ancient things, spreading average
movement. This alone of all winds strikes from the face of the good
earth upward, sweeping the blush from the skin of the land, and
wrinkling all who live thereon. That is the time when the very best
man finds little to rejoice in; unless it be a fire of seasoned logs,
or his own contrariety; the fur of all animals (being their temper)
moves away and crawls on them; and even bland dogs and sweet horses
feel each several hair at issue with their well-brushed conscience.

All of that may be true; and yet there may be so many exceptions. At
any rate, Master Leviticus Cripps looked none the worse for the whole
of it. His cheeks were of richly varied fibre, like a new-shelled
kidney-bean; his mouth (of a very considerable size) looked
comfortable and not hungry; and all around him there was an influence
tending to intimate that he had dined.

For that he did not care as he should. He was not a man who allowed
his dinner to modify his character. The best streaky bacon and three
new-laid eggs had nurtured and manured his outer man, but failed to
improve him inwardly. Even the expression of his face was very
slightly mollified by a first-rate meal; though some of the corners
looked lubricated.

"Hath a been by again, or hath a not?" whispered Tickuss to himself,
as he stared at a tangled web of ruts, and blessed the east wind for
confounding of them, so that a wheel could not swear to its own. The
east wind answered with a scolding dash, that cast his sack over his
head, and shook out his white smock, scattering over the view, like a
jack-towel on the washing-line. Acknowledging this salutation with a
curse, Leviticus gathered his sack more tightly, and bending one long
leg before him, stealthily peered awry at the wheel-tracks. This was
the way to discover whatever had happened last among them, instead of
looking across or along them, where the nicer shades would fail.

At first he could make but little of it. The east wind, whirling last
year's leaves from the couches where the west had piled them, and
parching the flakes of the mud (as if exposed upon a scraper), had
made it a hard thing to settle the date of the transit even of a
timber dray. One of these had passed not long ago, with a great trunk
swinging and swagging on the road, and slurring the scollops of the
horse-track.

Therefore Tickuss, for some time, looked less wise than usual, and
scratched his head. The brain replied, as it generally does, to this
soft local stimulant, so briskly in fact that the master soon was able
to clap both his hands into their natural home--the pockets of his
breeches--and thus to survey the scene, and grin.

"Did 'ee think to do me, then, old brother Zak? Now did 'ee, did 'ee,
did 'ee? Ah, I were aborn afore you, Zak; or if I were not, it were
mother's mistake. Go along wi 'ee, Zak, go along wi' 'ee! Go home to
thy cat, and thy little kitten, Etty."

He knew, by the track, that his brother had passed a good while ago,
or he would not have dared to speak in this rebellious vein. And what
he said next was even more disloyal.

"Danged if I ain't a gude mind to hornstring that old hosebird of a
Dobbin; ay, and I wull too, if Zak cometh prowling round my place,
like this. If a didn't mane no trachery, why dothn't a come in, and
call for a horn of ale and a bite of cold bakkon. Ho, ho, we've a
pretty well stopped him of that, though. No Master Zak now; go thine
own ways. Keep thyzell to thyzell's the law of the land, to my
thinking."

Now a year, or even six months ago, Leviticus Cripps would sooner have
lost a score of pigs than make such a speech, inhospitable, unnatural,
unbrotherly, and violently un-Crippsian. Nothing but his own bad
conscience (as he fell more and more away from honour and due esteem
for Beckley) could have suggested to him such a low and crooked view
of Zacchary. The Carrier was not, in any measure, spying or prowling,
or even watching. Such courses were out of his track altogether.
Rather would he have come with a fist, if the family honour demanded
it; and therewith have converted his brother's olfactory organ into
something loftier, as the medium of a sense of honesty.

In bare point of fact the family honour demanded this vindication. But
the need had not as yet been conveyed to the knowledge of the
executive power. Zacchary had no suspicion at present of his brother's
fearful lapse. And the only thing that brought him down that lane, was
another stroke of business in the washing line. Squire Corser had
married a new sort of wife with a tendency towards the nobility;
wherefore a monthly wash was out of keeping with her loftier views,
though she had a fine kitchen-garden; and she cried, till the Squire
put the whole of it out, and sent it every week to Beckley. Hence a
new duty for Dobbin arose, which he faced with his usual patience,
simply reserving his right to travel at the pace he considered
expedient, and to have a stronger and deeper bottom stitched to his
old nose-bag.

The first time the Carrier traversed that road, fraternal duty
impelled him to make all proper inquiries concerning the health of his
brother, and the character of his tap. But though the reply upon both
these points was favourable and pleasing, Zacchary met with so queer a
reception, that dignity and self-respect compelled him to vow that for
many a journey he would pass with a dry mouth, rather than turn in. Of
all the nephews and nieces, who loved to make him their own carrier,
by sitting astride perhaps two on each leg, and one on each oölitic
vamp, and shouting "Gee, gee," till he panted worse than Dobbin obese
with young saintfoin--likewise who always jumped up in his cart, and
laid hold of the reins and the whip even, and wore out the patience of
any other horse except the horse before them--of all these delightful
young pests, not one was now permitted to come near him. And not only
that, which alone was very strange, but even Susannah, the wife of
Leviticus, and sister-in-law of Zacchary, evidently had upon her
tongue laid a dumb weight of responsibility. Quite as if Zak were an
interloper, or an inquisitive stranger, thrusting a keen but
unjustified nose into things that were better without it. Susannah was
always a very good woman, and used to look up to Zacchary, because her
father was a basket-maker; and even now she said no harm; but still
there was something about her, when she muttered that she must go and
wash the potatoes, timid, and cold, and unhearty-like.

The Carrier made up his mind that they all were in trouble about their
mortgage again; just as they were about six months back, when the land
was likely to be lost to them. And finding it not a desirable thing to
be called upon to contribute, he jogged well away from all such
tactics, with his pockets buttoned. Not that he would have grudged any
good turn to any one of his family; but that his strong common sense
allowed him no faith in a liar. And for many years he had known that
Tickuss was the liar of the family.

Leviticus took quite a different view of the whole of this proceeding.
He was under no terror about his mortgage, for reasons as yet quite
private; and his thick shallow cunning, like an underground gutter,
was full of its own rats only. He was certain that Zak had suspected
him, in spite of the care he had taken to keep his wife and children
away from him; and believing this, he was certain also that Zak was
playing the spy on him.

While he was meditating thus in his slow and turbid mind, and turning
away from the corner of the road towards his beloved pig-lairs, the
rattle of the sharp east wind was laden with a softer and heavier
sound--the hoofs of a horse upon sod and mud. Tickuss, with two or
three long strides, got behind a crooked tree, so as to hide or
exhibit himself, according to what should come to pass.

What came to pass was a horse in the first place, of good family and
good feed; and on his back a man who shared in at least the latter
excellence. These two were not coming by the forest lane, but along a
quiet narrow track, which cut off many of its corners. To judge of the
two which looked the more honest, would have required another horse in
council with another man. At sight of this arrival Tickuss came forth,
and scraped humbly.

"Don't stand there, like a monkey at a fair!" cried Mr. Sharp--for he
it was, and no mistake about him. "Am I to come through the brambles
to you? Can't you come up, like a man with his wits, where this
beastly wind doesn't blow so hard? Who can hear chaw-bacon talk off
there?"

Leviticus Cripps made a vast lot of gestures, commending the value of
caution, and pointing to the lane half a hundred yards off, as if it
contained a whole band of brigands. Mr. Sharp was not a patient man,
and he knew that there was no danger. Therefore he swore pretty
freely, until the abject lord of swine restored him to a pleasant
humour by a pitiful tale of Black George's trouble on the previous
afternoon.

"Catching it? Ay, and no mistake!" Tickuss Cripps repeated; "the dust
from his jacket--oh Lor', oh Lor! I had followed on softly to see the
fun, without Missy knowing I were near, of course; and may I never--if
I didn't think a would a'most have killed un! Ho, ho! it'll be a good
round week, I reckon, afore Jarge stitcheth up a ferret's mouth again.
He took me in terrible, that very morning; he were worse took in
hiszell afore the arternoon was out. Praise the Lard for all his
goodness, sir."

"Well, well. It shall be made up to him. But of course you did not let
him, or any one else, get any idea who the lady is."

"Governor, no man hath any sense of that," Leviticus answered, with
one finger on his nose; "save and excep' the old lady to the cottage,
and you and I, and you knows whether there be any other."

"Leviticus Cripps, no lies to me! Of course your own wife has got the
whole thing out of you."

"Her!" replied Tickuss, with a high contempt, for which he should have
had his ears boxed. "No, no, master, a would have been all over
Hoxford months ago, if her had knowed ort of it. Her knoweth of course
there be zumbody up to cottage with old lady; but her hath zucked in
the American story, the same as everybody else have. Who would ever
drame of our old Squire's daughter, when the whole world hath killed
and buried her? But none the less for that I kep her, and the
children, out of the way of our Zak, I did. Um might go talking on the
volk up to cottage; and Zak would be for goin' up with one of his
cards parraventur. Lor', how old Zak's eyes would come out of his
head! The old bat-fowl!--a would crack my zides to see un!"

"You had better keep your fat sides sound and quiet," Mr. Sharp
answered sternly; for the slow wits of Tickuss, being tickled by that
rare thing, an imagination, the result was of course a guffaw whose
breadth was exceeded only by its length.

"Oh Lor', oh Lor'--to see the old bat-fowl with the eyes comin' out of
the head of un! I'll be danged if I shouldn't choke!--oh Lor'!"

Mr. Sharp saw that Tickuss, being once set off, might be trusted to go
on for at least half an hour, with minute-guns of cackling, loutish,
self-glorifying cachinnation, as amenable to reason as a hiccough is.
The lawyer's time was too precious to waste thus, so having learned
all that he cared to learn, and hearing wheels in the forest lane, he
turned back along the narrow covert-ride; and he thought within
himself, for he never mused aloud--"My bold stroke bids fair to be a
great success. Nobody dreams that the girl is here. She herself
believes every word that she is told. Kit is over head and ears; and
she will be the same with him, after that fine rescue. Our only
marplot has been laid by the heels at the very nick of time. We have
only to manage Kit himself--who is a most confounded sort. The luck is
with me, the luck is with me; and none shall be the wiser, Only give
me one month more."



CHAPTER XXVII.

RATS.


Meanwhile at Shotover Grange, as well as at poor old Beckley Barton,
trouble was prevailing and the usual style of things upset. Russel
Overshute, though not beloved by everybody (because of his strong will
and words), was at any rate thought much of, and would be sadly missed
by all. All the women of the household made an idol of him. He spoke
so kindly, and said "thank you," when many men would have grunted; and
he did not seem to be aware of any padlocked bar of humanity betwixt
him and his "inferiors." At the same time he took no liberty any more
than he invited it; and his fine appearance and strength of readiness
made him look the master.

The men, on the other hand, were not sure of their sorrow to see less
of him. He had always kept a keen eye upon them, as the master of a
large house ought to do; and he always bore in mind the great truth
that men on the whole are much lazier than women. Still even the worst
man about the place, while he freely took advantage of the present
sweet immunity, would have been sorry to hear of a thing which might
drive him to seek for another place.

But what were all these, even all put together, in the weight of their
feelings, to compare with the mother of young Overshute? Many might
cry, but none would mourn; nobody could have any right to mourn,
except herself, his mother. This was her son, and her only hope. If it
pleased the Lord to rob her of him, He might as well take her soon
afterwards, without any more to do.

This middle-aged lady was not pious, and made no pretence to be so.
Her opinion was that the Lord awarded things according to what people
do, and left them at liberty to carry on, without any great
interference. She knew that she always had been superfluously able to
manage her own affairs; and to hear weak ladies going on and on about
the will of the Lord, and so forth, sometimes was a trial to her
manners and hospitality. In this terrible illness of her son, she had
plenty of self-command, but very little resignation. With stern
activity and self-devotion, she watched him by day and by night so
jealously, that the nurses took offence and, fearing contagion, kept
their distance, though they drew their wages.

This was the time to show what stuff both men and women were made of.
Fair-weather visitors, and delightful gossips, and the most devoted
friends, stood far aloof from the tainted gale, and fumigated their
letters. The best of them sent their grooms to the lodge, with orders
to be very careful, and to be sure to use tobacco during the moment of
colloquy. Others had so much faith that everything would be ordered
for the best, that they went to the seaside at once, to be delivered
from presumption. Many saw a visitation for some secret sin, that
otherwise might have festered inwardly and destroyed the immortal
part. Of course they would not even hint that he could have murdered
Grace Oglander; nothing was further from their thoughts; the idea was
much too terrible. Still there were many things that long had called
for explanation--and none had been afforded.

Leaving these to go their way, a few kind souls came fluttering to the
house of pestilence and death. Two housemaids, and the boy who cleaned
the servant's shoes, had been struck down, and never rose again,
except with very cautious liftings into their last narrow cells. The
disease had spread from their master; and their constitutions were not
like his. Also the senior footman and the under-cook, were in their
beds; but the people who had their work to do believed them to be only
shamming.

The master, however, still fought on, without any knowledge of the
conflict. His mind was beyond all the guidance of will, and afar from
its wonted subjects. It roved among clouds that had long blown away;
nebules of logic, dialectic fogs, and thunderstorms of enthymeme, the
pelting of soritic hail, and all the other perturbed condition of
undergraduate weather. In these things, unlike his friend Hardenow, he
had never taken delight, and now they rose up to avenge themselves. At
other times the poor fellow lay in depths of deepest lethargy,
voiceless, motionless, and almost breathless. None but his mother
would believe sometimes that he was not downright dead and gone.

Of course Mrs. Overshute had called in the best advice to be had from
the whole of the great profession of medicine. The roughness of the
Abernethy school was still in vogue with country doctors; as even now
some of it may be found in a craft which ought to be gentle in
proportion to its helplessness. With timid people this roughness goes
a long way towards creating faith, and makes them try to get better
for fear of being insulted about it. In London however this Centauric
school of medicine had not thriven, when the rude Nessus could not
heal himself. A soft and soothing and genial race of Æsculapians
arose; the "vis medicatrix naturæ" was exalted and fed with calves'
feet; and the hand of velvet and the tongue of silver commended and
sweetened the pill of bread.

At the head of this pleasing and amiable band (who seldom either
killed or cured) was the famous Sir Anthony Thistledown. This was the
great physician who had been invoked from London--to the strong
disgust of Splinters, then the foremost light at Oxford--when Squire
Oglander was seized with his very serious illness. And now Sir Anthony
did his best, with the aid of the reconciled Splinters, to soothe away
death from the weary couch of the last of the race of Overshute.

"A pretty story I've aheerd in Oxford to-day; make me shamed, it
doth," said Zacchary Cripps to his sister Etty, while he smoked his
contemplative pipe by the fire of Stow logs, one cold and windy April
evening. "What do you think they've abeen and doed?"

"Who, and where, Zak? How can I tell?" Esther was busy, trimming three
rashers, before she put them into the frying-pan. "I really do believe
you expect me to know everybody that comes to your thoughts, quite as
if it was my own mind."

"Well, so you ought," said the Carrier. "The women nowadays are so
sharp, no man can have his own mind to his self. But anyhow you ought
to know that I mean up to poor Worship Overshute's. Ah, a fine young
gentleman as ever lived. Seemeth to be no more than last night as he
sat in that there chair and said the queerest thing as ever were said
by a Justice of the county bench."

"What do you mean, Zak? I never heard him say anything but was kind
and proper, and a credit to him."

"Might be proper, or might not. But anyhow 'twere impossible. Did a
tell me, or did a not, he would try to go a-poaching? When folk begins
to talk like that, 'tis a sign of the ill come over them. Ah's me,
'tis little he'll ever do of poaching, or shutting, or riding to
hounds, or tasting again of my best bottle! Bad enough job it be about
old Squire, but he be an old man in a way of speaking. Well, the Lord
He knoweth best, and us be all in the hollow of His hand. But he were
a fine young fellow, as fine a young fellow as ever I see; and not a
bit of pride about un!"

Sadly reflecting, the Carrier stopped his pipe with a twig from the
fireplace, and gazed at the soot, because his eyes were bright.

"But what were you going to tell me?" asked Etty, bringing her brother
back to his subject, as she often was obliged to do.

"Railly, I be almost ashamed to tell 'ee. For such a thing to come to
pass in our own county, and a'most the same parish, and only two
turnpike gates atween. What do 'ee think of every soul in that there
house running right away, wi'out no notice, nor so much as 'good-bye!'
One and all on 'em, one and all; so I were told by a truthful man. And
the poor old leddy with her dying son, and not a single blessed woman
for to make the pap!"

"I never can believe that they would be such cowards," Esther answered
as she left her work and came to look at Zacchary. "Men might, but
women never, I should hope. And such a kind good house it is! Oh, Zak,
it must be a wicked story!"

"It is true enough, Etty, and too true. As I was a-coming home I seed
five on 'em standing all together under the elms by Magdalen College.
Their friends would not take them in, I was told, and nobody wouldn't
go nigh 'em. Perhaps they were sorry they had doed it then."

"The wretches! They ought to sleep out in the rain, without even a
pigsty for shelter! Now, Zak, I never do anything without you; but to
Shotover Grange I go to-night, unless you bar the door on me; and if
you do I will get out of window!"

"Esther, I never heerd tell of such a thing. If you was under a duty,
well and good; but to fly into the face of the Lord like that, without
no call upon you----"

"There is a call upon me!" she answered, flushing with calm
resolution; "it is the Lord that calls me, Zak, and He will send me
back again. Now you shall have your supper, while you think it over
quietly. I will not go without your leave, brother; but I am sure you
will give it when you come to think."

The Carrier, while he munched his bacon, and drank his quart of
home-brewed ale, was, in his quiet mind, more troubled than he had
ever been before, or, at any rate, since he used to pass the tent of
young Cinnaminta. That was the one great romance of his life, and
since he had quelled it with his sturdy strength, and looked round the
world as usual, scarcely any trouble worse than pence and halfpence
had been on him. From week to week, and year to year, he had worked a
cheerful road of life, breathing the fine air, looking at the sights,
feeling as little as need be felt the influence of nature, making new
friends all along his beat, even quicker than the old ones went their
way, carrying on a very decent trade, highly respecting the powers
that be, and highly respected by them. But now he found suddenly
brought before him a matter for consideration, which, in his ordinary
state of mind, would have circulated for a fortnight. Precipitance of
mind to him was worse than driving down a quarry; his practice had
always been, and now it was become his habit, to turn every question
inside out and upside down, and across and across, and finger every
seam of it (as if he were buying a secondhand sack) ere ever he began
to trust his weight to any side of it. To do all this required some
hours with a mind so unelectric, and even after that he liked to have
a good night's sleep, and find the core of his resolve set hard in the
morning.

For this due process there was now no time. He dared not even to begin
it, knowing that it could not be wrought out; therefore he betook
himself to a plan which once before had served him well. After groping
in the bottom of a sacred pocket (where sample-beans and scarlet
runners got into the loops of keys, and bits of whipcord were wound
tightly round old turnpike tickets, and a little shoemaker's awl in a
cork kept company with a shoe-pick), Master Cripps with his
blunt-headed fingers got hold of a crooked sixpence. The bend alone
would have only conferred a simple charm upon it, but when to the bend
there was added a hole, that sixpence became Delphic. Cripps had
consulted it once before when a quick-tempered farmer hurried him
concerning the purchase of a rick of hay. The Carrier had no
superstition, but he greatly abounded with gratitude; and, having made
a great hit about that rick, the least he could do to the sixpence was
to consult it again under similar hurry.

He said to himself, "Now the Lord send me right. If you comes out
heads, little Etty shall go; if you comes out tails, I shall take it
for a sign that we ought to turn tails in this here job."

He said no more, but with great extrication worked his oracular
sixpence up through a rattle of obstructions. Like the lots cast in a
steep-headed man's helmet, up came the sixpence reluctantly.

"I have a got 'ee. Now, what dost thou say?" cried Cripps, with the
triumph of an obstinate man. "Never a lie hast thou told me yet. Spake
up, little fellow." Being thus adjured, the crooked sixpence, in
gratitude for much friction, gleamed softly in the firelight; but even
the Carrier, keen as his eyes were, could not make out head or tail.
"Vetch me a can'le and the looking-glass," he called out to Esther;
the looking-glass being a large old lens, which had been left behind
by Hardenow. Esther brought both in about half a minute; and Cripps,
with the little coin sternly sitting as flatly in his palm as its form
allowed, began to examine it carefully. With one eye shut, as if
firing a gun, he tried the lens at every distance from a foot to half
an inch, shifting the candle about until some of his frizzly hair took
fire, and with this assistance he exclaimed at last, "Heads,
child!--heads it is! Thou shalt go; the will of the Lord ordaineth it!
Plaize the Lord to send thee back safe and sound as now thou goest!
None on us, to my knowledge, has done aught to deserve to be punished
for."



CHAPTER XXVIII.

BOOTS ON.


When a very active man is suddenly "laid by the heels;" sad as the
dispensation is, there are sure to be some who rejoice in it. Even if
it be only a zealous clerk, sausage-maker, or grave-digger, thus upset
in his activities; there are one or two compeers who rejoice in the
heart, while they deeply lament with the lip. Not that they have the
very smallest atom of ill-will about them. They are thoroughly
good-hearted fellows, as are nine men out of every ten; and within, as
well as without, they would grieve to hear that their valued friend
was dead.

Still, for the moment, and while we believe, as everybody does about
everybody else, that he is sure as a top to come round again, it is a
relief to have this busy fellow just out of the way a bit; and there
is an inward hugging of the lazier spirit at the thought that the
restless one will have received a lesson, and be pulled back to a
milder state. Be this view of the matter either true or false, in a
general way, at least in this particular instance (the illness of
Russel Overshute), some of it seemed to apply right well.

There was no one who wished him positive death, not even of those whom
he had most justly visited with the treadmill; but there were several
who were not sorry to hear of this check to his energies; and foremost
among them might be counted Mr. Luke Sharp and the great John Smith.

Mr. John Smith had surprised his friends, and disappointed the entire
public, by finding out nothing at all about anything after his one
great discovery, made with the help of the British army. For some
cause or other, best known to himself, he had dropped his
indefatigability and taken to very grave shakes of his head instead of
nimble footings. He feigned to be very busy still with this leading
case of the neighbourhood; but though his superiors might believe it,
his underlings were not to be misled. All of these knew whether Mr.
John was launching thunderbolts or throwing dust, and were well aware
that he had quite taken up with the latter process in the Beckley
case.

Why, or even exactly when, this change had occurred, they did not
know, only they were sure that the reason lay deep in the pocket of
Mr. Smith; which conclusion, as we shall see, did no more honour to
their heads than to their hearts.

But still, whatever his feelings were, or his desires in the matter,
the resolute face and active step of this intelligent officer were
often to be seen and heard at Beckley; and to several persons in the
village they were becoming welcome. Numbers Cripps, the butcher, was
moved with gentle goodwill towards him, having heard what a fine knife
and fork he played, and finding it true in the Squire's bill. Also
Phil Hiss of the Dusty Anvil found the fame of this gentleman telling
on his average receipts; and several old women, who had some time back
made up their accounts for a better world, and were taking the
interest in scandal, hailed with delight this unexpected bonus and
true premium. To mention young spinsters would be immoral, for none of
them had any certainty whether there was, or was not, any Mrs. John
Smith. Rustic modesty forbade that the Carrier should be asked to
settle this great point directly. Still there were methods of letting
him know how desirable any information was.

At all these symptoms of renown, when brought to his knowledge, Mr.
Smith only smiled and shook his head. He had several good reasons of
his own for haunting the village as he did; one of them being that he
thus obeyed the general orders he had received. Also he really liked
the Squire, his victuals, and his domestics. Among these latter he had
quite outlived any little prejudice created by his early manner; and
even Mary Hookham was now inclined to use him as an irritant, or
stimulant, for the lukewarm Cripps. But being a sharp and quick young
woman, Mary took care not to go too far.

"How is the fine old gentleman now? Mary, my love, how is he?" Mr.
Smith asked, as he pulled off his cloak in the lobby, just after
church-time, and just before early dinner-time, on the morrow of that
Saturday night when Esther set off for Shotover. Although it was
spring, she had not gone alone, but had taken a son of the butcher
with her; the effect of that quarry-scene on her nerves would last as
long as she did.

Mary was bound not to answer Mr. Smith whenever he spoke in that
festive way. That much had been settled betwixt her and her mother,
remembering what a place Beckley was. But she did all her duty, as a
good maid should, in the way of receiving a visitor. She took his
cloak from him, and she hung it on a hook--most men wore a cloak just
then for walking, whether it were wet or dry, and part of the coming
"Tractarian movement" was to cast away that cloak--and then Mary saw
on the feathery collar a leaf-bud that threatened to become a moth,
according to her entomology. This she picked out, with a "shoo" and a
"shish" as she trod it underfoot; and Mr. John Smith, having terror of
insects, and being a very clean man, recoiled, just when he was
thinking of stealing a kiss. This little piece of business placed them
on their proper terms again.

"How is your master, Miss Hookham? I hope you find him getting better.
Everything now is looking up again!"

"No, Mr. Smith; he is very sadly. Thanking you, sir, for inquiring of
him. He do seem a little better one day, and we all begins to hope and
hope, and then there come something all over him again, the same as
might be this here cloak, sir, thrown on the head of that there stick.
But come in and see him, Mr. Smith, if you please. I thought it was
the rector when you rang. But master will be glad to see you every bit
the same as if you was, no doubt."

John Smith, who was never to be put down by any small comparisons,
followed quick Mary with a stedfast march over the quiet matting.
Potters, with their broken shards, had not yet made it a trial to
walk, and a still greater trial to look downward, on the road to
dinner. In the long, old-fashioned dining-room sat the Squire at the
head of his table. For many years it had been his wont to have an
early dinner on Sunday, with a knife and fork always ready for the
clergyman, who was a bachelor of middle age. The clergyman came, or
did not come, according to his own convenience, without ceremony or
apology.

"I beg you to excuse," said the Squire rising, as Smith was shown into
the room, "my absence from church this morning, Mr. Warbelow. I had
quite made up my mind to go, and everything was quite ready, when I
did not feel quite so well as usual, and was ordered to stay at home."

Squire Oglander made his fine old-fashioned bow when he had spoken,
and held out his hand for the parson to take it, as the parson always
did, with eyes that gave a look of grief and then fell, and kind lips
that murmured that all things were ordered for the best. But instead
of the parson's gentle clasp, the Squire, whose sight was beginning to
fail together with his other faculties, was saluted with a strong
rough grasp, and a gaze from entirely unclerical eyes.

"How is your Worship? Well, nicely, I hope. Charming you look, sir, as
ever I see."

"Sir, I thank you. I am in good health. But I have not the honour of
remembering your name."

"Smith, your Worship--John Smith, at your service; as he was the day
before yesterday. 'Out of sight out of mind,' the old saying is. I
suppose you find it so, sir!"

With this home-thrust, delivered quite unwittingly, Mr. Smith sat
down; his opinion was that Her Majesty's service levelled all
distinctions. Mr. Oglander gave him one glance, like the keen look of
his better days, and then turned away and gazed round the room for
something out of sight, but never likely to be out of mind. The old
man was weak, and knew his weakness. In the presence of a gentleman he
might have broken down and wept, and been much better for it; but
before a man of this sort, not a sign would he let out of the sorrow
that was killing him.

It had been settled by all doctors, when the Squire was in his first
illness, that nothing should be said by Smith, or any one else
(without great cause), about the trouble which was ever in the heart
of all the house. Nothing, at least to the Squire himself, for fear of
exciting him fatally. Little rumours might be filtered through the
servants towards him; especially through Mother Hookham, who put
hopeful grains of Paradise into the heavy beer of fact. Such things
did the old man good. His faith in the Lord, when beginning to flag,
was renewed by fibs of this good old woman; and each confirmed the
other.

In former days he would have resented and nipped in the
bud--kind-hearted as he was--John Smith's familiarity. But now he had
no heart to care about any of such trifles. He begged Mr. Smith to
take a chair, quite as if he were waiting to be invited; then, weak as
he was, he tottered to the bell-pull, rather than ask his guest to
ring. John Smith jumped up to help, but felt uncertain what good
manners were.

"Mary," said the Squire, when Mary came; "you always look out of the
window, I think, to see the people come out of church."

"Never, sir, never! Except whenever I feels wicked not to a' been
there myself. Such time it seemeth to do me good; like smelling of the
good words over there."

"Yes, that is very right. All I want to know is whether Mr. Warbelow
is coming up here."

"No, sir; not this time, I believe. He seemed to have got a young
lady with un, as wore a blue cloak with three slashes to the sleeve,
and a bonnet with yellow French roses in it, and a striped skirt,
made of the very same stuff as I seed in to Cavell's--no, not
Cavell's--t'other shop over the way, round the corner; likewise her
had----"

"Then, Mary, bring in the dinner, if you please. This gentleman will
dine with me, instead of Mr. Warbelow."

"Well now, if I ever did!" Miss Hookham exclaimed to herself in the
passage. "Why, a must be a sort of a gentleman! Master wouldn't dine
along of Master Cripps; but to my mind Zak be the gentleman afore he!"

The Squire's oblique little sarcasm--if sarcasm at all it were--failed
to hit Mr. Smith altogether; he cordially accepted plate and spoon,
and fell to at the soup, which was excellent. The soup was followed by
a fine sirloin; whereupon Mr. Oglander, through some association of
ideas, could not suppress a little sigh.

"Never sigh at your meat, sir," cried Mr. Smith; "give me the
carving-knife, sir, if you are unequal to the situation. To sigh at
such a sirloin--oh fie, oh fie!"

"I was thinking of some one who always used to like the brown," the
old man said, in the simplest manner, as if an apology were needed.

"Well, sir, I like the brown very much! I will put it by for myself,
sir, and help you to an inner slice. Here, Mary, a plate for your
master! Quick! Everything will be cold, my goodness! And who sliced
this horse-radish, pray? for slicing it is, not scraping."

Mary was obliged to bite her tongue to keep it in any way mannersome;
when the door was thrown open, and in came her mother, with her face
quite white, and both hands stretched on high.

"Oh my! oh my! a sin I call it--a wicked, cruel, sinful sin!" Widow
Hookham exclaimed as soon as she could speak. "All over the village,
all over the parish, in two days' time at the latest it will be. Oh,
how could your Worship allow of it?"

"Give your mamma a glass of wine, my dear," said Mr. John Smith, as
the widow fell back, with violent menace of fainting, or worse; while
the poor Squire, expecting some new blow, folded his tremulous hands
to receive it. "Take a good drink, ma'am, and then relieve your
system."

"That Cripps! oh, that Cripps!" exclaimed Mrs. Hookham, as soon as the
wine, which first "went the wrong way," had taken the right direction;
"if ever a darter of mine hath Cripps, in spite of two stockings of
money, they say----"

"What is it about Cripps?" asked the Squire, in a voice that required
an immediate answer. The first news of his trouble had come through
Cripps; and now, in his helpless condition, he always connected the
name of the Carrier with the solution, if one there should be.

"He hath done a thing he ought to be ashamed on!" screamed Mrs.
Hookham, with such excitement, that they were forced to give her
another glass of wine; "he hath brought into this parish, and the
buzzum of his family, pestilence and death, he hath! And who be he to
do such a thing, a road-faring, twopenny carrier?"

"Cripps charges a good deal more than twopence," said Mr. Oglander
quietly; for his hopes and fears were once more postponed.

"He hath brought the worst load ever were brought!" cried the widow,
growing eloquent. "Black death, and the plague, and the murrain of
Egypt hath come in through Cripps the Carrier! How much will he charge
Beckley, your Worship? How much shall Beckley pay him, when she
mourneth for her children? when she spreadeth forth her hands and
seeketh north and south, and cannot find them, because they are not?"

"What is it, good woman?" cried Smith, impatiently, "what is all this
uproar? do tell us, and have done with it?"

"Good man," replied Widow Hookham tartly, "my words are addressed to
your betters, sir. Your Worship knoweth well that Master Kale hath
leave and license for his Sunday dinner; ever since his poor wife
died, he sitteth with a knife and fork to the right side of our
cook-maid. He were that genteel, I do assure you, although his
appearance bespeaketh it not, and city gents may look down on him; he
had such a sense of propriety, not a word did he say all the time of
dinner to raise an objection to the weakest stomach. But as soon as he
see that all were done, and the parlour dinner forward, he layeth his
finger on his lips, and looketh to me as the prime authority; and when
I ask him to speak out, no secrets being among good friends, what he
said were a deal too much for me, or any other Christian person."

"Well, well, ma'am, if your own dinner was respected, you might have
showed some respect for ours," Mr. Smith exclaimed very sadly,
beholding the gravy in the channelled dish margined with grease, and
the noble sirloin weeping with lost opportunity. But Mr. Oglander took
no notice. To such things he was indifferent now.

"To keep the mind dwelling upon earthly victuals," the widow replied
severely, "on the Lord's Day, and with the Day of the Lord a-hanging
special over us--such things is beyond me to deal with, and calls for
Mr. Warbelow. Carrier Cripps hath sent his sister over to nurse Squire
Overshute!"

John Smith pretended to be busy with his beef, but Mary, who made a
point of watching whatever he did (without well knowing why), startled
as she was by her mother's words, this girl had her quick eyes upon
his face, and was sure that it lost colour, as the carved sirloin of
beef had done from the trickling of the gravy.

"Overshute! nurse Mr. Overshute?" cried the Squire with great
astonishment. "Why, what ails Mr. Overshute? It is a long time since I
have seen him, and I thought that he had perhaps forgotten me. He used
to come very often, when--but who am I to tempt him? When my darling
was here, in the time of my darling, everybody came to visit me; now
nobody comes, and of course it is right. There is nobody for them to
look at now, and no one to make them laugh a little. Ah, she used to
make them laugh, till I was quite jealous, I do believe; not of
myself, bless your heart! but of her, because I never liked her to
have too much to say to anybody, unless it was one who could
understand her. And nobody ever turned up that was able, in any way,
to understand her, except her poor old father, sir."

The Squire, at the end of this long speech (which had been a great
deal too much for him) stood up, and flourished his fork, which should
have been better employed in feeding him, and looked from face to
face, in fear that he had made himself ridiculous. Nobody laughed at
him, or even smiled; and he was pleased with this, and resolved never
to give such occasion again; because it would have shamed him so. And
after all it was his own business. None of these people could have any
idea, and he hoped they never might have. By this time his mind was
dropping softly into some confusion, and feeling it so, he sat down
again, and drank the glass of wine which Mary Hookham kindly held for
him.

For a few minutes Mr. John Smith had his flourish (to let both the
women be sure who he was) all about the Queen, and the law of the
land, and the jurisdiction of the Bench, and he threatened the absent
Cripps with three months' imprisonment, and perhaps the treadmill. He
knew that he was talking unswept rubbish, but his audience was female.
They listened to him without leaving off their work; and their courage
increased as his did.

But presently Mr. Oglander, who had seemed to be taking a nap, arose,
and said, as clearly as ever he had said anything in his clearest
days--

"Mary, go and tell Charles to put the saddle on the mare at once."

"Oh Lor', sir! whatever are you thinking of? Lor' a massy, sir, I
couldn't do it, I couldn't! You ain't abeen a-horseback for nigh four
months, and your orders is to keep quiet in your chair, and not even
look out o' winder, sir. Do 'ee plaize to go into your slippers, sir?"

"I will not go into my slippers, Mary. I will go into my boots. I hear
that Mr. Overshute is ill, and I gather from what you have all been
saying that his illness is of such a kind that nobody will go near
him. I have wronged the young gentleman bitterly, and I will do my
best to right myself. If I never do another thing, I will ride to
Shotover this day. Order the mare, as I tell you, and the air will do
me good, please God!"



CHAPTER XXIX.

A SPIDER'S DINNER-PARTY.


Now was the happy time when Oxford, ever old, yet ever fresh with the
gay triennial crown of youth, was preparing itself for that sweet
leisure for which it is seldom ill prepared. Being the paramount
castle and strongest feudal hold of stout "idlesse," this fair city
has not much to do to get itself into prime condition for the noblest
efforts and most arduous feats of invincible laziness. The first and
most essential step is to summon all her students, and send them to
chapel to pay their vows. After this there need be no misgiving or
fear of industry. With one accord they issue forth, all pledged to do
nothing for the day, week, or month; each intellectual brow is stamped
with the strongest resolve not to open a book; and

    "Games are the spur which the clear spirit doth raise,
    To scorn the Dons, and live luxurious days."

This being so, whether winter shatters the Isid wave against Folly
bridge, or spring's arrival rustles in the wavering leaves of
Magdalen, or autumn strews the chastened fragrance of many brewers on
ripe air--how much more when beauteous summer fosters the coy down on
the lip of the junior sophist like thistle-seed, and casts the
freshman's shadow hotly on the flags of High Street--now or never is
the proper period not to overwork one's self, and the hour for taking
it easy.

But against each sacred rite and hallowed custom of the place, against
each good old-fashioned smoothness, and fine-fed sequacity, a rapid
stir was now arising, and a strong desire to give a shove. There were
some few people who really thought that the little world in which they
lay was one they ought to move in; that perfect life was not to be had
without some attempt at breathing; and that a fire (though beautifully
laid) gives little warmth till kindled.

However, these were young fellows mostly, clever in their way, but not
quite sound; and the heads of houses, generally speaking, abode on the
house-top, and did not come down. Still they kept their sagacious eyes
on the movement gathering down below, and made up their minds to crush
it as soon as they could be quite certain of being too late. But these
things ride not upon the cart of Cripps--though Cripps is a
theologian, when you beat his charges down.

After the Easter vacation was over, with too few fattening festivals,
the most popular tutor in Brasenose (being the only one who ever tried
to teach) came back to his rooms and his college work with a very fine
appetite for doing good;--according, at least, to his own ideas of
good, and duty, and usefulness; all of which were fundamentally wrong
in the opinion of the other tutors. But Hardenow, while he avoided
carefully all disputes with his colleagues, strictly kept to his own
course, and doing more work than the other five (all put together)
attempted, was permitted to have his own way, because of the trouble
there might be in stopping him.

The college met for the idle term, on Saturday morning, as usual. On
Saturday afternoon Hardenow led off his old "squad" with two new
recruits, for their fifteen miles of hard walking. Athletics and
training were as yet unknown (except with the "eight" for Henley), and
this Tractarian movement may have earned its name, ere the birth of
No. 90, from the tract of road traversed, in a toe-and-heel track, by
the fine young fellows who were up to it. At any rate that was what
the country people said, and these are more often right than wrong,
and the same opinion still abides with them.

Hardenow only took this long tramp for the sake of collecting his
forces. Saturday was not their proper day for this very admirable
coat-tail chase. Neither did they swallow hill and plain in this
manner on a Sunday. Lectures were needful to fetch them up to the
proper pitch for striding so. Wherefore on the morrow Mr. Hardenow was
free for a cruise on his own account, after morning sermon at St.
Mary's; and not having heard of his old friend Russel for several
weeks, he resolved to go and hunt him up in his own home.

It was not a possible thing for this very active and spare-bodied man
to lounge upon his road. Whatever it was that he undertook, he carried
on the action with such a swing and emphasis, that he seemed to be
doing nothing else. He wore a short spencer, and a long-tailed coat,
"typical"--to use the pet word of that age--both of his curt brevity
and his ankle-reaching gravity. His jacket stuck into him, and his
coat struck away with the power of an adverse wind, while the boys
turned back and stared at him; but he was so accustomed to that sort
of thing that he never thought of looking round. He might have been
tail-piped for seven leagues without troubling his head about it.

This was a man of great power of mind, and led up to a lofty standard;
pure, unselfish, good, and grand (so far as any grandeur can be in the
human compound), watchful over himself at almost every corner of his
ways, kind of heart, and fond of children; loving all simplicity,
quick to catch and glance the meaning of minds very different from his
own; subtle also, and deep to reason, but never much inclined to
argue. He had a shy and very peculiar manner of turning his eyes away
from even an undergraduate, when his words did not command assent; as
sometimes happened with freshmen full of conceit from some great
public school.

The manner of his mind was never to assert itself, or enter into
controversy. He felt that no arguments would stir himself when he had
solidly cast his thoughts; and he had of all courtesies the rarest (at
any rate with Englishmen), the courtesy of hoping that another could
reason as well as himself.

In this honest and strenuous nature there was one deficiency. The Rev.
Thomas Hardenow, copious of mind and active, clear of memory, and keen
at every knot of scholarship, patient and candid too, and not at all
intolerant, yet never could reach the highest rank, through want of
native humour. His view of things was nearly always anxious and
earnest. His standing-point was so fixed and stable, that every
subject might be said to revolve on its own axis during its revolution
round him; and the side that never presented itself was the ludicrous
or lightsome one.

As he strode up the hill, with the back of his leg-line concave at the
calf, instead of convex (whenever his fluttering skirt allowed a
glimpse of what he never thought about), it was brought home suddenly
to his ranging mind that he might be within view of Beckley. At a bend
of the rising road he turned, and endwise down a plait of hills, and
between soft pillowy folds of trees, the simple old church of Beckley
stood, for his thoughts to make the most of it. And, to guide them,
the chime of the gentle bells, foretelling of the service at three
o'clock, came on the tremulous conveyance of the wind, murmuring the
burden he knew so well--"old men and ancient dames, married folk and
children, bachelors and maidens, all come to church!"

Hardenow thought of the months he had spent, some few years back, in
that quiet place; of the long, laborious, lonesome days, the solid
hours divided well, the space allotted for each hard drill; then (when
the pages grew dim and dark, and the bat flitted over the lattice, or
the white owl sailed to the rickyard), the glory of sallying into the
air, inhaling grander volumes than ever from mortal breath proceeded,
and plunging into leaves that speak of one great Author only. And well
he remembered in all that toil the pure delight of the Sunday; the
precious balm of kicking out both legs, and turning on the pillow
until eight o'clock; the leisurely breakfast with the Saturday papers,
instead of Aristotle; the instructive and amusing walk to church,
where everybody admired him, and he set the fashion for at least ten
years; the dread of the parson that a man who was known as the best of
his year at Oxford should pick out the fallacies of his old logic; and
then the culminating triumph of Sabbatic jubilee--the dinner, the
dinner, wherewith the whole week had been privily gestating; up to
that crowning moment when Cripps, in a coat of no mean broadcloth,
entered with a dish of Crippsic size, with the "trimmings" coming
after him in a tray, and lifting the cover with a pant and flourish,
said, "Well, sir, now, what do 'ee plaize to think of that?"

Nor in this pleasant retrospect of kindness and simplicity was the
element of rustic grace and beauty wholly absent--the slight young
figure that flitted in and out, with quick desire to please him; the
soft pretty smile with which his improvements of Beckley dialect were
received; and the sweet gray eyes that filled with tears so, the day
before his college met. Hardenow had feared, humble-minded as he was,
that the young girl might be falling into liking him too well; and he
knew that there might be on his own part too much reciprocity.
Therefore (much as he loved Cripps, and fully as he allowed for all
that was to be said upon every side), he had felt himself bound to
take no more than a distant view of Beckley.

Even now, after three years and a half, there was some resolve in him
to that effect, or the residue of a resolution. He turned from the
gentle invitation of the distant bells, and went on with his face set
towards the house of his old friend, Overshute. When he came to the
lodge (which was like a great beehive stuck at the end of a row of
trees), it caused him a little surprise to find the gate wide open,
and nobody there. But he thought that, as it was Sunday, perhaps the
lodge-people were gone for a holiday; and so he trudged onward, and
met no one to throw any light upon anything.

In this way he came to the door at last, with the fine old porch of
Purbeck stone heavily overhanging it, and the long wings of the house
stretched out, with empty windows either way. Hardenow rang and
knocked, and then set to and knocked and rang again; and then sat down
on a stone balustrade; and then jumped up with just vigour renewed,
and pushed and pulled, and in every way worked to the utmost degree of
capacity everything that had ever been gifted with any power of
conducting sound.

Nobody answered. The sound of his energy went into places far away,
and echoed there, and then from stony corners came back to him. He
traced the whole range of the windows and caught no sign of any life
inside them. At last, he pushed the great door, and lo! there was
nothing to resist his thrust, except its sullen weight.

When Hardenow stood in the old-fashioned hall, which was not at all
"baronial," he found himself getting into such a fright that he had a
great mind to go away again. If there had only been anybody with
him--however inferior in "mental power"--he might have been able to
refresh himself by demonstrating something, and then have marched on
to the practical proof. But now he was all by himself, in strange and
unaccountable loneliness. The sense of his condition perhaps induced
him to set to and shout. The silence was so oppressive, that the sound
of his own voice almost alarmed him by its audacity. So, after
shouting "Russel!" thrice, he stopped, and listened, and heard nothing
except that cold and shuddering ring, as of hardware in frosty
weather, which stone and plaster and timber give when deserted by
their lords--mankind.

Knowing pretty well all the chief rooms of the house, Hardenow
resolved to go and see if they were locked; and grasping his black
holly-stick for self-defence, he made for the dining-room. The door
was wide open; the cloth on the table, with knives and forks and
glasses placed, as if for a small dinner-party; but the only guest
visible was a long-legged spider, with a sound and healthy appetite,
who had come down to dine from the oak beams overhead, and was sitting
in his web between a claret bottle and a cruet-stand, ready to receive
with a cordial clasp any eligible visitor.

Hardenow tasted the water in a jug, and found it quite stale and
nasty; then he opened a napkin, and the bread inside it was dry and
hard as biscuit. Then he saw with still further surprise that the
windows were open to their utmost extent, and the basket of plate was
on the sideboard.

"My old friend Russel, my dear old fellow!" he cried with his hand on
his heart where lurked disease as yet unsuspected, "what strange
misfortune has befallen you? No wonder my letter was left unanswered.
Perhaps the dear fellow is now being buried, and every one gone to his
funeral. But no; if it were so, these things would not be thus. The
funeral feast is a grand institution. Everything would be fresh and
lively, and five leaves put into the dinner-table." With this true
reflection, he left the room to seek the solution elsewhere.

He failed, however, to find it in any of the downstair sitting-rooms.
Then he went even into the kitchen, thinking the liberty allowable
under such conditions. The grate was cold and the table bare; on the
one lay a drift of soot, on the other a level deposit of dust, with a
few grimy implements to distribute it.

Hardenow made up his mind for the worst. He was not addicted to
fiction (as haply was indicated by his good degree), but he could not
help recalling certain eastern and even classic tales; and if he had
come upon all the household sitting in native marble, or from the
waistband downward turned into fish, or logs, or dragons, he might
have been partly surprised, but must have been wholly thankful for the
explanation. Failing however to discover this, and being resolved to
go through with the matter, the tutor of Brasenose mounted the black
oak staircase of this enchanted house. At the head of the stairs was a
wide, low passage, leading right and left from a balustraded gallery.
The young man chose first the passage to the right, and tightening his
grip of the stick, strode on.



CHAPTER XXX.

THE FIRE-BELL.


The doors of the rooms on either side were not only open but fastened
back; the sashes of the windows were all thrown up; and the rain,
which had followed when the east wind fell, had entered and made
puddles on the sills inside. Such a draught of air rushed down the
passage that Hardenow's lengthy skirts flickered out, in the orthodox
fashion, behind him.

At the end of this passage he came to a small alcove, fenced off with
a loose white curtain, shaking and jerking itself in the wind. He put
this aside with his stick; and two doorways, leading into separate
rooms, but with no doors in them, faced him. Something told him that
both these rooms held human life, or human death.

First he looked in at the one on the left. He expected to see lonely
death; perhaps corruption; or he knew not what. His nerves were strung
or unstrung (whichever is the medical way of putting it) to such a
degree that he wholly forgot, or entirely put by, everything, except
his own absorbing sense of his duty, as a man in holy orders. This
duty had never been practised yet in any serious way, because he had
never been able to afford it. It costs so much more money than it
brings in. However, in the midst of more lucrative work, he had felt
that he was sacred to it--rich or poor--and he often had a special
hankering after it. This leaning towards the cure of souls had a good
chance now of being gratified.

In the room on the left hand he saw a little bed, laid at the foot of
a fat four-poster, which with carved mouths grinned at it; and on this
little bed of white (without curtain, or trimming, or tester), lay a
lady, or a lady's body, cast down recklessly, in sleep or death, with
the face entirely covered by a silvery cloud of hair. From the manner
in which one arm was bent, Hardenow thought that the lady lived. There
was nothing else to show it. Being a young man, a gentleman also, he
hung back and trembled back from entering that room.

Without any power to "revolve things well," as he always directed his
pupils to do, Hardenow stepped to the other doorway, and silently
settled his gaze inside. His eyes were so worried that he could not
trust them, until he had time to consider what they told.

They told him a tale even stranger than that which had grown upon him
for an hour now, and passed from a void alarm into a terror; they
showed him the loveliest girl--according to their rendering--that ever
they had rested on till now; a maiden sitting in a low chair reading,
silently sometimes, and sometimes in a whisper, according to some
signal, perhaps, of which he saw no sign. There was no other person in
the room, so far as he could see; and he strained his eyes with
extreme anxiety to make out that.

The Rev. Thomas Hardenow knew (as clearly as his keen perception ever
had brought any knowledge home) that he was not discharging the
functions now--unless they were too catholic--of the sacerdotal
office, in watching a young woman through a doorway, without either
leave or notice. But though he must have been aware of this, it
scarcely seemed now to occur to him; or whether it did, or did not, he
went on in the same manner gazing.

The girl could not see him; it was not fair play. The width of great
windows, for instance, kept up such a rattling of blinds, and such
flapping of cords, and even the floor was so strewn with herbs (for
the sake of their aroma), that anybody might quite come close to
anybody who had cast away fear (in the vast despair of prostration),
without any sense of approach until perhaps hand was laid upon
shoulder. Hardenow took no more advantage of these things than about
half a minute. In that half-minute, however, his outward faculties
(being all alive with fear) rendered to his inward and endiathetic
organs a picture, a schema, or a plasm--the proper word may be left to
him--such as would remain inside, at least while the mind abode there.

The sound of low, laborious breath pervaded the sick room now and
then, between the creaking noises and the sighing of the wind. In
spite of all draughts, the air was heavy with the scent of herbs
strewn broadcast, to prevent infection--tansy, wormwood, rue, and
sage, burnt lavender and rosemary. The use of acids in malignant
fevers was at that time much in vogue, and saucers of vinegar and
verjuice, steeped lemon-peel, and such like, as well as dozens of
medicine bottles, stood upon little tables. Still Hardenow could not
see the patient; only by following the glance of the reader could he
discover the direction. It was the girl herself, however, on whom his
wondering eyes were bent. At first he seemed to know her face, and
then he was sure that he must have been wrong. The sense of doing
good, and the wonderful influence of pity, had changed the face of a
pretty girl into that of a beautiful woman. Hardenow banished his
first idea, and wondered what strange young lady this could be.

Although she was reading aloud, and doing it not so very badly, it was
plain enough that she expected no one to listen to her. The sound of
her voice, perhaps, was soothing to some one who understood no words;
as people (in some of the many unknown conditions of brain) have been
soothed and recovered by a thread of waterfall broken with a
walking-stick. At any rate, she read on, and her reading fell like
decent poetry.

Hardenow scarcely knew what he ought to do. He did not like to go
forward; and it was a mean thing to go backward, rendering no help,
when help seemed wanted so extremely. He peeped back into the other
room; and there was the lady with the fine white hair, sleeping as
soundly as a weary top driven into dreaming by extreme activity of
blows.

Nothing less than a fine idea could have delivered Hardenow from this
bad situation. It was suddenly borne in upon his mind that the house
had a rare old fire-bell, a relic of nobler ages, hanging from a bar
in a little open cot, scarcely big enough for a hen-roost; and Russel
had shown him one day, with a laugh, the corner in which the rope
hung. There certainly could be but very little chance of doing harm by
ringing it; what could be worse than the present state of things? Some
good Samaritan might come. No Levite was left to be driven away.

For Hardenow understood the situation now. The meaning of a very short
paragraph in the Oxford paper of Saturday, which he had glanced at and
cast by, came distinctly home to him. The careful editor had omitted
name of person and of place, but had made his report quite clear to
those who held a key to the reference. "How very dull-witted now I
must be!" cried the poor young fellow in his lonely trouble. "I ought
to have known it. But we never know the clearest things until too
late." It was not only for the sake of acquitting himself of an
awkward matter, but also in the hope of doing good to the few left
desolate, that Hardenow moved forth his legs, from the windy white
curtain away again.

He went down the passage at a very great pace, as nearly akin to a run
as the practice of long steady walks permitted; and then at the head
of the staircase he turned, and remembered a quiet little corner.
Here, in an out-of-the-way recess, the rope of the alarm-bell hung;
and he saw it, even in that niche, moving to and fro with the
universal draught. Hardenow seized it, and rang such a peal as the old
bell had never given tongue to before. The bell was a large one, sound
and clear; and the call must have startled the neighbourhood for a
mile, if it could be startled.

"Really, I do believe I have roused somebody at last!" exclaimed the
ringer, as he looked through a window commanding the road to the
house, and saw a man on horse-back coming. "But, surely, unless he
sprang out of the ground, he must have been coming before I began."

In this strange loneliness, almost any visitor would be welcome; and
Hardenow ran towards the top of the stairs to see who it was, and to
meet him. But here, as he turned the corner of the balustraded
gallery, a scared and hurrying young woman, almost ran into his arms.

"Oh, what is it?" she cried, drawing back, and blushing to a deeper
colour than well-extracted blood can show; "there is no funeral yet!
He is not dead! Who is ringing the bell so? It has startled even him,
and will either kill or save him! Kill him, it will kill him, I am
almost sure!"

"Esther--Miss Cripps--what a fool I am! I never thought of that--I did
not know--how could I tell? I am all in the dark! Is it Russel
Overshute?"

"Yes, Mr. Hardenow. Everybody knows it. Every one has taken good care
to run away. Even the doctors will come no more! They say it is
hopeless; and they might only infect their other patients. I fear that
his mother must die too! She has taken the fever in a milder form; but
walk she will, while walk she can. And at her time of life it is such
a chance. But I cannot stop one moment!"

"And at your time of life is it nothing, Esther? You seem to think of
everybody but yourself. Is this fair to your own hearth and home?"

While he was speaking he looked at her eyes; and her eyes were filling
with deep tears--a dangerous process to contemplate.

"Oh, no, there is no fear of that," she answered misunderstanding him;
"I shall take good care not to go home until I am quite sure that
there is no risk."

"That is not what I mean. I mean supposing you yourself should catch
it."

"If I do, they will let me stay here, I am sure. But I have no fear of
it. The hand that led me here will lead me back again. But you ought
not to be here. I am quite forgetting you."

Hardenow looked at her with admiration warmer than he could put into
words. She had been thinking of him throughout. She thought of every
one except herself. Even in the moment of first surprise she had drawn
away so that she stood to leeward; and while they were speaking she
took good care that the current of wind passed from him to her. Also
in one hand she carried a little chafing-dish producing lively
fumigation.

"Now, if you please, I must go back to him. Nothing would move him; he
lay for hours, as a log lies on a stone. I could not have knowledge
whether he was living, only for his breathing sometimes like a moan.
The sound of the bell seemed to call him to life, for he thought it
was his own funeral. His mother is with him; worn out as she is, the
lady awoke at his rambling. She sent me to find out the meaning. Now,
sir, please to go back round the corner; the shivering wind comes down
the passage."

Hardenow was not such a coward as to obey her orders. He even wanted
to shake hands with her, as in her girlhood he used to do, when he had
frightened this little pupil with too much emendation. But Esther
curtsied at a distance, and started away--until her retreat was cut
off very suddenly.

"Why, ho girl! Ho girl; and young man in the corner! What is the
meaning of all this? I have come to see things righted; my name is
Worth Oglander. I find this here old house silent as a grave, and you
two looking like a brace of robbers! Young woman!--young woman!--why,
bless me now, if it isn't our own Etty Cripps! I did believe, and I
would believe, but for knowing of your family, Etty, and your brother
Cripps the Carrier, that here you are for the purpose of setting this
old mansion afire!"

Esther, having been hard set to sustain what had happened already (as
well as unblest with a wink of sleep since Friday night), was now
unable to assert her dignity. She simply leaned against the wall, and
gently blew into the embers of her disinfecting stuff. She knew that
the Squire might kill himself, after all his weeks of confinement, by
coming over here, in this rash manner, and working himself up so. But
it was not her place to say a word; even if she could say it.

"Mr. Oglander," said Hardenow, coming forward and offering his hand,
while Esther looked at them from beneath a cloud of smoke, "I know
your name better than you know mine. You happened to be on the
continent when I was staying in your village. My name is Thomas
Hardenow. I am a priest of the Anglican Church, and have no intention
of setting anything on fire."

"Lor' bless me! Lord bless me! Are you the young fellow that turned
half the heads of Beckley, and made the Oxford examiners all tumble
back, like dead herrings with their jaws down? Cripps was in the
schools, and he told me all about it. And you were a friend of poor
Overshute. I am proud to make your acquaintance, sir."

"Master Cripps has inverted the story, I fear," Hardenow answered,
with a glance at Esther; while he could not, without rudeness, get his
hand out of the ancient Squire's (which clung to another, in this weak
time, as heartily as it used to do); "the examiners made a dry herring
of me. But I am very glad to see you, sir; I have heard of--at least,
I mean, I feared--that you were in weak health almost."

"Not a bit of it! I was fool enough--or rather I should say, my
sister--to have a lot of doctors down; fellows worth their weight in
gold, or at any rate in brass, every day of their own blessed lives;
and yet with that temptation even, they cannot lengthen their own
days. Of that I will tell you some other time. They kept me indoors,
and they drenched me with physic--this, that, and the other. God bless
you, sir, this hour of the air, with my own old good mare under me,
has done me more good--but my head goes round; just a little; not
anything to notice. Etty, my dear, don't you be afraid."

With these words the Squire sank down on the floor, not through any
kind of fit, or even loss of consciousness; but merely because his
fine old legs (being quite out of practice for so many weeks) had
found it a little more than they could do to keep themselves firm in
the stirrups, and then carry their master up slippery stairs, and
after that have to support a good deal of excitement among the trunk
parts.



CHAPTER XXXI.

THROW PHYSIC TO THE DOGS.


"In all my life I never knew such a very extraordinary thing," said
Squire Oglander on the following Tuesday, to his old friend Dr.
Splinters. "Why, look you here, he was wholly given up by the very
first man in London--that the poor young fellow was--can you deny
that, Splinters?"

"Well, between you and me and the door-post, Squire," answered his
learned visitor, "I am not quite so sure that Sir Anthony is quite the
rose and crown of the profession. He may be a great Court card and all
that, and the rage with all the nobility; but for all that, Squire,
there are good men in comparatively obscure positions; men who have
devoted their lives to science from the purest motives; modest men,
sir, who are thankful to pocket their poor guinea; men who would scorn
any handle to their name or any shabby interloping; sir, I say there
are d----d good men----"

"But even you, Splinters, come now--even you gave him up--unless we
are wholly misinformed."

"Not at all. That was quite a mistake. The fact was simply this. When
Sir Anthony pronounced his opinion at our last consultation, it was
not my place to contradict him--we never do that with a London
man--but I ventured in my own mind to differ even from our brilliant
light, sir. For I said to myself, 'first see the effect of the
remedial agent which I myself, in the absence of this Londoner, have
exhibited.' I was suddenly called away to retrieve a case of shocking
blundering by a quack at Iffley. That was why you did not see me,
Squire."

"Oh, yes, to be sure! I quite see now," answered Mr. Oglander, with a
quiet internal wink. "And when you came you found the most wonderful
effect from your remedial agent."

"That I did. Something I could scarcely have believed. Soft sweet
sleep, a genial perspiration, an equable pulse, nice gentle
breathing--the very conditions of hygiene which Sir Anthony's efforts
could never produce. Why, my good sir, in all the records of the
therapeutic art, there is no example of such rapid efficacy. I think
it will henceforth be acknowledged that Dr. Splinters knows what he is
about. My dear friend, you know that there is nothing I dislike so
much as the appearance of vaunting. If I had only condescended to
that, nobody could have stopped me, sir. But no, Squire, no; I have
always been the same; and I have not an enemy, except myself."

"You may say more than that, sir--a great deal more than that. You may
say that you have many friends, doctor, who admire your great
abilities. But as to Russel Overshute, if the poor fellow does come
round the general belief will be that he must thank the fire-bell."

"The fire-bell! My dear sir, in this age of advanced
therapeutics--Oglander, you must know better than to listen to that
low story!"

"Splinters, I know that foolish tales are told about almost
everything. But being there myself, I thought there might be something
in it."

"Nothing whatever! I never heard such nonsense! I was quite angry with
Esther Cripps. What can chits of girls know? They must have their
chatter."

"I suppose they must," said the Squire sadly, thinking of his own dear
Grace; "still they may be right sometimes. At any rate, doctor, the
fire-bell did as much good as your medicine did. Take another glass of
wine. I would not hurt your feelings for the world, my dear old
friend."

"Oglander," answered Dr. Splinters, putting up his great gold
spectacles, so that beneath them he might see--for he never could see
through them--how to pour out his fine glass of port, "Oglander, you
have something or other that you are keeping in the background.
Squire, whatever it is, out with it. Between you and me, sir, there
should be nothing but downright yes or no, Mr. Oglander. Downright yes
or no, sir."

"Of course, of course," said the Squire, relapsing into some quiet
mood again; "that was how I always liked it. Splinters, you must know
I did. And I never meant anything against it, by bringing this here
little bottle back. It may have saved the poor boy's life; and of
course it did, if you say so. But the seal is still on the cork, and
the stuff all there; so it may do good again. I dare say the good came
through the glass; you doctors have such devices!" Mr. Oglander took a
small square bottle from his inner peculiar pocket, and gave it to the
doctor, so as not to disturb his wine-glass.

"How the deuce did you get hold of this?" cried Splinters, being an
angry man when taken without notice; "this is some of that girl's
insolent tricks!--I call her an insolent and wicked girl!"

"I call her a good and a brave girl!--the very best girl in Beckley,
since--but, my dear Splinters, you must not be vexed. She told me that
you had the greatest faith in this last idea of yours; and it struck
me at once that you might wish to try it in some other case; and so I
brought it. You see it has not been opened."

"It doesn't matter whether it was used or not," cried Dr. Splinters
vehemently; "there is the stuff, sir; and here is the result! Am I to
understand, sir, that you deny the existence of Providence?"

"Far be such a thing from me!" the Squire replied, with a little
indignation at such an idea; and then, remembering that Splinters was
his guest, he changed the subject. "How could I help having faith in
the Lord, when I see His care made manifest? Why, look at me,
Splinters; I am twice the man I was last Sunday morning! Why is it so?
Why, because it pleased a gracious Providence to make it my duty, as a
man, to ride!--to ride, sir, a very considerable distance, on a mare
who had been eating her head off. Every one vowed that I never could
do it; and my good housekeeper locked me in; and when I unscrewed the
lock, she sent two men after me, to pick me up. Very good, sir; here I
am, enjoying my glass of port, with the full intention of having
another. Yesterday I sent to our road-contractor for a three-headed
and double-handed hammer; and Kale smashed up, in about two minutes,
three hundred and twenty medicine bottles! They will come in for the
top of the orchard wall."

"Squire," answered Splinters, with a twinkling eye, "it is not at all
improbable that you may be right. There are some constitutions so
perverse that to exhibit the best remedial agent is just the same
thing as to reason with a pig. But it is high time for me to be
jogging on my road. If Beckley and Shotover discard my extremely
humble services, there are other places in the world, sir, besides
Beckley and Shotover."

"There is no other place in the world for you, except Beckley, for
some hours, my friend. We have known one another long enough, to allow
for one another now. I would have arranged a rubber for you--but,
but--well, you know what I mean--sadly selfish; but I cannot help it."

The doctor, though vain and irritable, was easily touched with
softness. He thought of all his many children, and of the long pain he
had felt at losing one out of a dozen; then without process of thought
he felt for the loss of one; where one was all.

"Oglander, you need not say another word," he answered, putting forth
his hand, to squeeze any trifle away between them. "A rubber in winter
is all very well; and so it is in summer, at the proper time, but on a
magnificent spring evening, to watch the sunset between one's cards is
not--I mean that it is very nice indeed, but still it ought scarcely
to be done, when you can help it. Now, I will just take the leastest
little drop of your grand Curaçoa before I smoke; and then if you have
one of those old Manillas, I am your man for a stroll in the garden."

To go into a garden in good weather soothes the temper. The freedom of
getting out of doors is a gracious joy to begin with; and when the
first blush of that is past, without any trouble there come forward so
many things to be looked at. Even since yesterday--if we had the good
hap to see them yesterday--many thousand of little things have spent
the time in changing. Even with the weather scarcely different from
yesterday's--though differ it must in some small points, when in its
most consistent mood--even with no man to come and dig, and fork, and
roll, and by all human devices harass; and even without any children
dancing, plucking, pulling, trampling, and enjoying their blessed
little hearts, as freely as any flower does; yet in the absence of all
those local contributions towards variety, variety there will be for
all who have the time to look for it.

The most observant and delightful poets of the present age, instead of
being masters of nature, prefer to be nature's masters. Having
obtained this power they use it with such diligence and spirit, that
they make the peach and the apple bloom together, and the plum keep
the kalendar of the lilac. Once in a way, such a thing does almost
happen (without the poet's aid)--that is to say, when a long cold
winter is broken by a genial outburst waking every dormant life; and
after that, a repressive chill returns, and lasts to the May month. At
such a time, when hope deferred springs anew as hope assured, and fear
breaks into fluttering joy, and faith moves steadily into growth, then
a truly poetic confusion arises in the works of earth.

In such a state of things the squire and the doctor walked to and fro
in the garden; the Squire still looking very pale and feeble, but with
the help of his favourite spud, managing to get along, and to enjoy
the evening. The blush of the peach wall was not over, and yet the
trellised apple-tree was softly unsheathing puckered buds, all in
little clusters pointed like rosettes of coral. The petals of the
plum-bloom still were hovering with their edges brown, although in a
corner near a chimney, positively a lilac-bush was thrusting forth
those livid jags which lift and curve themselves so swiftly into
plumes of beauty. The two good gentlemen were surprised; each wanted
particularly to hear what the other thought of it; but neither would
deign to ask; and either feared to speak his thoughts, for fear of
giving the other an advantage. Because they were rival gardeners; and
so they avoided the subject.

"This is the very first cigar," said the Squire, as they turned at the
end of the peach wall, over against a young Grosse Mignonne,
beautifully trained on the Seymour system, and bright with the central
glow of pistil, although the petals were dropping--"my very first
cigar, since that--you know what I mean, of course--since I have cared
whether I were in my garden, or in my grave. But the Lord supports me.
Providence is good; or how could I be smoking this cigar?"

"You must not learn to look at things in that way," Dr. Splinters
answered; "Oglander, you must learn to know better. You are in an
uncomfortable frame of mind, or you would not have flouted me with
that bottle, after all our friendship. Why, bless me! Only look around
you. Badly pruned as your trees are, what a picture there is of
largeness!"

"Yes, Splinters, more than you could find in yours; which you amputate
into a doctor's bamboo. But now, perhaps, you may doubt it, Splinters,
because your trees are so very poor--but I have not felt any pride at
all, any pride at all, in one of them. What is the good of lovely
trees, with only one's self to enjoy them?"

"Now, Oglander, there you are again! How often must I tell you? Your
poor little Gracie is gone, of course; and a nice little thing she
was, to be sure. But here you are again as well as ever, or at any
rate as positive. I judge a man's state of health very much by his
powers of contradiction. And yours are first-rate. Go to, go to! You
are equal to another wife. Take a young one, and have more Gracies."

"Splinters, do you know what I should do," Mr. Oglander answered, with
his spud uplifted, "if my powers were such as you suppose--because I
smashed your bottles?"

"Yes, I dare say you would knock me down, and never beg my pardon till
the wedding breakfast."

"You are right in the first part; but wrong in the second. Oh, doctor,
is there no one able to share the simplest thoughts we have?"

"To minister to a mind diseased? First, he must have his own mind
diseased; as all the blessed poets have. But look! The green fly--who
would ever believe it, after our Siberian winter? The aphis is hatched
in your young peach-shoots before they have made even half a joint.
That comes of your Seymour system."

"Ridiculous!" answered the Squire; "but never mind! What matter now?
Then you really do think, Splinters--now, as an old friend, try to
tell me--in pure sincerity, do you think that I have altogether lost
my Gracie?"

"Oglander, no! I can truly say no. We are all good Christians, I
should hope. She is not lost, but gone before."

"But, my dear fellow, will you never understand that she ought to
have gone, long after? It is all very well for you, who have got
some baker's dozen of little ones, and lost only one in the
measles--forgive me, I know it was hard upon you--I say things that I
should not say--but if you could only bring your mind--however, I
daresay you have tried to do it; and what right have I to ask you?
Splinters, I know I am puzzle-headed; and many people think me worse
than that. But you have the sense to understand me, because for many
years you have been acquainted with my constitution. Now, Splinters,
tell me, in three words--shall I live to see my Gracie?"

"That you will, Squire; and to see her married; and to dance on your
lap her children!" So said Dr. Splinters, fearing what might happen,
if he did not say it.

"Only to see her. That is all I want. And to have her in my arms once
more. And to hear her tell me, with her own true tongue, that she
never ran away from me. After that I shall be ready for my coffin, and
know that the Lord has ordered it. Here comes more of your dust into
my eyes! Splinters, will you never learn how to knock your ash off?"



CHAPTER XXXII.

CRIPPS ON CELIBACY.


Whatever might or may be said by any number of most able and homicidal
physicians, Russel Overshute will believe, as long as he draws breath
of life, that by the grace of the Lord he owes that privilege to the
fire-bell. In this belief he has always been most strongly supported
by Esther Cripps, who perhaps was the first to suggest the idea; for
he at that time must have failed to know a fire-bell from a
water-bucket. The doctors had left him, through no fear for their own
lives, but in despair of his. There was far less risk of infection now
than in the earlier stages. No sooner, however, did the household find
out that the medical men had abandoned the case, than panic seized
their gallant hearts, and with one accord they ran away. From Saturday
morning till Saturday night, when Esther came from Beckley, there was
nobody left to watch and soothe the poor despairing misery, except the
helpless and worn-out mother.

One thing is certain (and even the doctors, with their usual
sharpness, found it wise to acknowledge this)--both Mr. Overshute and
his mother must have been dead bodies with little hope of Christian
burial, if that brave girl had not set forth (without any one even
asking her) on the Saturday night to help them. Mrs. Overshute had
quite thrown up all hope of everything--save the mercy of God in a
better world, and His justice upon her enemies--when quite in the dark
this young girl came, while she was lying down on her back, and
curtsied, and asked her pleasure.

If Esther had not curtsied, perhaps Mrs. Overshute in that state of
mind would have taken her for an angel; though Etty's bonnet, made by
herself, was not at all angelical. But she knew her for one of the
lower orders (who bend knee instead of neck), and belonging herself to
a fine old race, she rallied her last energies with a power of
condescension.

However, these are medical, physical, social, economical, and perhaps
even psychological questions--wherein what remains except perpetual
inquiry? Enough is to say that Russell Overshute, having long had a
ringing in his ears, was rung out of that, and rung back to life, by
the lively peal of the fire-bell. And ever since that, whenever he is
ill--though it be only a little touch of gout--he immediately sends a
good corpulent man to lay hold of the rope and swing to it. These
things are of later date. For the present, this young man (although he
certainly had turned the corner) lay still in a very precarious state,
with a feeble mother to pray for him. Mrs. Overshute held that same
vile fever, but in a very different form, as at her time of life was
natural. With her it was intermittent, low, stealthy, and undermining.
It never affected her brain, or drove her into furious calenture, but
rooted slowly inward, preying on her life quite leisurely. Their cases
differed, as a knock-down blow differs from a quiet grasp.

But though the house lay still in sadness, loneliness, and dull
suspense, and though the doctors, having abandoned the case, had the
manners not to come again, still from day to day there was some little
growth of liveliness. Hardenow came almost daily, having put his class
of striders under a deputy six-leaguer; the Squire also might be
expected, whenever Mother Hookham let him out; and even Zacchary
Cripps renewed an old washing in that direction. He came, with the
hoops of his cart taken out, because of the beautiful weather, and
four good baskets of clothes for to wash (whose wearers were happy
enough to have no idea where their "things" were), and quite at the
centre of his gravity--as felt by himself, and endorsed by
Dobbin--anybody getting up with a curious eye might well have beheld a
phenomenon. For here stood a very large pickling tub, with the cover
taken off for the sake of air; around the sides was salted pork--hands
and springs, and belly pieces--and in the middle was a good-sized
barrel of the then existent native.

"Veed 'un," cried Cripps, with his coat-tails up, while tugging at his
heavy tub; "veed 'un, Etty, whatsomever 'ee do. Salt is the main thing
for 'un now. I have heerd tell that they burns away every bit of the
salt inside 'em, in these here bouts of fever. If 'ee can replace 'un,
laife comes round; or else they goes off, like the snuff of a candle.
Bless me, I must be getting fevery myzell, or never should have a job
to lift this here. Now the quality of this pickle you know well, for
the most part fell on your shoulders. Home-bred, home-born, home-fed,
home-slaughtered, and home-salted--that's what I calls pork!"

"Yes, to be sure, Zak," Etty answered, laying her hand to the tub upon
the shaft-stock, while Dobbin wagged his tail at her; "but what have
you got in this very small cask, sitting in the middle of all the
brine?"

"Why, you know, Etty, you must have seed me bring 'em for all the
great folk about Christmas-tide. Oysters, as lives in the sea, and
must be salt inside of their barryels. So I clapped them in here for a
fresh smack of it, and uncommonly strengthening things they be if you
take them with enow of treble X. Likely his worship will be too weak
to keep them down with the covers on yet, as is the proper way, they
tell me; so you best way take out the hearts and give him."

"Oh, brother," cried Esther, remembering suddenly, "I ought not to be
talking to you like this. Whatever could I be thinking of? What would
the people at Beckley say? They would fear to come nigh you for a
month, Zak, and your business would be ruined. Now, do jog on, you and
dear old Dobbin. How well I knew the sound of his old feet. I can't
give you the fever, Dobbin, can I?"

With this perhaps incorrect or, at any rate, unestablished hypothesis,
she gave the old horse a lingering kiss just below his blinkers, in
return for which he jerked off some froth on the sleeve of her dress,
and shook himself; while the Carrier, having discharged his cargo,
smote himself with both arms, from habit rather than necessity, and
approached his young sister for his usual hearty smack.

"No, Zak, no," she cried, running up the steps, "I have no fear of
taking it myself whatever; but if I should happen to give it to you, I
never should get over it."

"Well, well, little un, the Lord knows best," Master Cripps answered,
without repining too bitterly at this arrangement; "but ating of my
victuals lonesome is worse than having no salt to them; you better
come home pretty soon, my dear, or somehow or other there might happen
to be some one over in the corner, 'longside of our best frying-pan."

Etty had heard this threat so often, that now she only laughed at it.
But instead of laughing, she blushed most sadly at her brother's
parting words:

"God bless you, Etty, for a brave good girl; and speed you home to
Beckley. You want more sleep of nights, my dear; your cheeks are
getting like a pillow-case. But excoose my mentioning of one thing,
Etty; I be like a father to 'ee; don't 'ee have more than you can help
to say to the great scholard, Master Hardenow."

Cripps was a gentleman, in an inner kind of way, and he took good care
to be getting up his shaft (with his stiff knee stiffer than ever,
from the long frost of last winter) while he discharged his duty, as
he thought it, at, as well as to, his sister. Then he deposited the
polished part of his breeches on the driving-board, and brought his
"game-leg" into the right stick-out, and with his usual deliberation
started--nay, that is too strong a word--persuaded into progress his
congenial and deliberate horse. Neither of them hurried on a
washing-day, any more than they hurried upon any other day.

Zacchary knew that his sister was--as Master Phil Hiss had said of
her--"a most terrible hand at blushing;" and she could not bear to be
looked at in this electric aurora of maidenhood; and therefore he
managed to be a long way off, ere even he turned both head and hand,
to deliver last issue of "God bless you!"

Full of confusion about herself, and clearness of duty for other
people, Esther Cripps ran in, to see to the many things now depending
upon her. There were now three servants in the house, gathered from
good stuff around, but wholly void of any wit, to make up for want of
experience. Esther had no experience either, but she possessed good
store of sense, and quickness, and kind energy. Whatever she thought
of her brother's warning, she would think of afterwards. For the
present she must do her best concerning other people; and Mrs.
Overshute needed now more nursing than her son did.

Zacchary Cripps, at the very first distance at which he was sure of
not being seen, began to shake his head, and shook it, in a resolutely
reflective way, for nearly three quarters of a mile. The trees above
him were alive with beauty, alike of sight, and sound, and scent; and
the Carrier made up his mind for a pipe, to enable him to consider
things. His custom was not to smoke, except when good occasion
offered; and he tried to have no contempt for carriers (of inferior
family) who could not deliver a side of bacon without smoking it over
again almost. Zacchary Cripps, like all good men, stood up for the
dignity of his work. Strictly meditating thus, he saw a slight figure
approaching with a rapid swing, and presently met Mr. Hardenow.

The fellow and tutor of Brazenose, at the sight of Cripps and the
well-known cart, stopped short to ask how things were going on at the
house on the hill above them. The Carrier answered that it would be
many a long day, he was afraid, ere his worship could get about again,
and that he ought to be kept very quiet, and those would be his best
friends now who had the least to say to him. Also he was told that the
poor old lady would find it as much as her life was worth, if she was
interrupted or terrified now.

"But, my good Cripps," answered Hardenow, "I am not going either to
interrupt or terrify them. All I desire is to have a little talk with
your good and intelligent sister."

Poor Zacchary felt that his own tactics thus were turned against him;
and, after a little stammering and heightened glow of countenance, he
betook himself to his more usual course--that of plain out-speaking.
But first he got down from his driving-board that he might not fail in
due respect to a gentleman and clergyman. Master Cripps had no liking
at all for the duty which he felt bound to take in hand. He would
rather have a row with three turnpike-men than presume to speak to a
gentleman; therefore his bow-leg seemed to twitch him at the knee, as
he led Hardenow aside into a quiet gateway; but his eyes were firm and
his manner grave and steadfast as he began to speak.

"Mr. Hardenow, now I must ask your pardon, for a few words as I want
to say. You are a gentleman, of course, and a very learned scholar;
and I be nothing but a common carrier--a 'carrier for hire,' they
calls me in the law, when they comes upon me for damages. Howsoever, I
has to do my part off the road as well as on it, sir; and my dooty to
them of my own household comes next to my dooty to God and myzell. You
are a good man, I know, and a kind one, and would not, beknown to
yourself, harm any one. It would go to your heart, I believe, Mr.
Hardenow, from what I seed of you, when you was quite a lad, if anyhow
you was to be art or part in bringing unhappiness of mind to any that
had trusted you."

"I should hope so, Cripps. I have some idea of what you mean, but can
hardly think--at any rate, speak more plainly."

"Well then, sir, I means all about your goings on with our little
Etty, or, at any rate, her goings on with you, which cometh to the
same thing in the end, so far as I be acquaint of it. You might think,
if you was not told distinkly to the contrairy, that having no
business to lift up her eyes, she never would do so according. But I
do assure you, sir, when it cometh to such like manner of taking on,
the last thing as ever gets called into the account is sensible
reason. They feels this, and they feels that; and then they falls to
a-dreaming; and the world goes into their tub, same as butter, and
they scoops it out, and pats, and stamps it to their own size and
liking, and then the whole melteth, and a sour fool is left."

"Master Cripps, what you say is wise; and the like has often happened.
But your sister is a most noble girl. You do her gross injustice by
talking as if she were nothing but a common village maid. She is
brave, she is pure, she is grandly unselfish. Her mind is well above
feminine average; anything more so goes always amiss. You should not
have such a low opinion as you seem to have of your sister, Cripps."

"Sir, my opinion is high enough. Now, to bring your own fine words to
the test, would you ever dream of marrying the maid, if I and she both
was agreeable?"

"It would be an honour to me to do so. For the prejudices of the world
I care not one fig. But surely you know that we contend for the
celibacy of the clergy."

"Maning as a parson maun't marry a wife?" asked Cripps, by the light
of nature.

"Yes, my friend, that is what we now maintain in the Anglican
communion, as the tradition of the Church."

"Well, may I be danged!" cried Cripps, who was an ardent theologian.
"Then, if I may make so bold to ask, sir, how could there a' been a
tribe of Levi? They must all a' died out in the first generation; if
'em ever come to any generation at all."

"Your objection is ingenious, Cripps; but the analogy fails entirely.
We are guided in such matters by unbroken and unquestionable tradition
of the early Church."

"Then, sir, if you goes outside of the Bible, you stand on your own
legs, and leave us no kind of leg to stand upon. However, I believe
that you mean well, sir, and I am sure that you never do no great
harm. And, as to our Etty, if you feel like that in an honest,
helpless sort of way, I beg the honour of shaking hands, sir, for the
spirit that is inside of you."

"Certainly, certainly, Cripps, with great pleasure!"

"And then of asking you to tramp another road, for your own sake, as
well as hers, sir. And may the Lord teach you to know your own mind."

"Cripps, I will follow your advice for the present; though you have
said some things that you scarcely ought to say."

"Then I humbly beg your pardon, sir. Every one of us doeth that same
sometimes. The bridle of the tongue falleth into the teeth, when the
lash is laid on us."

"Your metaphors are quite classical. However, I respect you greatly,
Cripps, for your straightforward conduct. I am not a weak man, any
more than you are; although you seem to think me one. I like and
admire your sister Esther, for courage combined with gentleness. I
always liked her, when she was a child; and I understood her nature.
But as to her--liking me more than she ought; Cripps, you are
imaginative."

"Never heerd before," cried Cripps, "any accoosation of that there
kind."

"My friend, it is the rarest compliment. However, your horse is quite
ready to walk off; and so am I, towards Cowley. I will not go to
Shotover Grange to-day; and I will avoid your sister; though I rarely
do like talking to her."

"You are a man sir," cried Zacchary Cripps, as Hardenow set off across
the fields. "God bless your reverence, though you never get a waife! A
true man he is, and a maight a' been a faine one, if he hadn't taken
to them stiff coat tails."



CHAPTER XXXIII.

KIT.


In the meanwhile, Mrs. Luke Sharp was growing very anxious about her
son, and only child and idol, Christopher. Not that there was anything
at all amiss with his bodily health, so far at least as she could see;
but that he seemed so unsettled in his mind, so absent and
preoccupied, and careless even of his out-door sports, which at one
time were his only care. Of course, at this time of year, there was
very little employment for the gun, but there was plenty of fishing to
be got, such as it was, round Oxford, and it must be a very bad time
of year when there are no rats for little terriers, and badgers for
the larger tribe. Yet none of these things now possessed the proper
charm for Christopher. Wherever he was, he always seemed to be wanting
to be somewhere else; and, like a hydrophobic dog, he hated to be
looked at; while (after the manner of a cat assisted lately by Lucina)
he ran up into his own loft, when he thought there was nobody
watching.

Well arranged as all this might be, and keen, and self-satisfactory,
there was something keener, and not very easy to satisfy, looking
after it. The love of a mother may fairly be trusted to outwit any
such calf-love as was making a fool of this unfledged fellow, fresh
from the feather-bed of a private school.

Considering whence he came, and how he had been brought up and
pampered, Kit Sharp was a very fine young fellow, and--thanks to his
liking for gun and rod--he could scarcely be called a milksop. Still
he was only a boy in mind, and in manner quite unformed and shy; his
father (for reasons of his own) having always refused to enter him at
any of the colleges. He might perhaps have shaped his raw material by
the noblest models, if he had been admitted into the society of
undergraduates. But the members of the University entertained in those
days, and probably still entertain, a just and inevitable contempt for
all the non-togati. Kit Sharp had made some fluttering overtures of
the flag of friendship towards one or two random undergraduates who
had a nice taste for ratting; he had even dined and wined, once or
twice, in a not ignoble college; and had been acknowledged to know a
meerschaum as well as if he owned a statute-book. But the boy always
fancied, perhaps through foolish and shy pride on his part, that these
most hospitable and kind young men had their jokes to themselves about
him. Perhaps it was so; but in pure goodwill. Take him for all in all,
and allow for the needs of his situation--which towards the third year
grow imperative--and the Oxford undergraduate is as good as any other
young gentleman.

But Kit Sharp being exceedingly proud, and most secretive of his
pride, would not long receive, without return, good hospitality. And
this alone, without other suspicions, would have set bounds to his
dealing with a race profusely hospitable. His dear and good mother
would gladly have invited a Cross Duck Houseful of undergraduates, and
left them to get on as they might, if only thereby her pet son might
have sense of salt for salt with them; but Mr. Luke Sharp took a
different view. To his mind, the junior members of the glorious
University were a most disagreeable and unprofitable lot to deal with.
He never, of course, condescended to the Vice-Chancellor's court, and
he despised all little actions, in that large word's legal sense. He
liked a fine old Don, or Head of a House, who had saved a sack of
money, or well earned it by vitality. But for any such young fellows,
with no expectations, or paulo-post-futura such, Mr. Sharp was now too
long established to put a leaf into his dinner-table. This being so,
and Christopher also of restricted pocket-money (so that no dinners at
the Star or Mitre could be contemplated), Master Kit Sharp, in a "town
and gown row," must have lent the weight of his quiet, but very
considerable, fist to the oppidan faction.

"Kit, now, my darling Kit, do tell me," said Mrs. Sharp for about the
fiftieth time, as she sat with her son in the sweet spring twilight,
at the large western window of Cross Duck House; "what is it that
makes you sigh so? You almost break your poor mother's heart. I never
did know you sigh, my own one. Now, is it for want of a rat, my
darling? If rats are a sovereign apiece, you shall have one."

"Rats, mother! Why, I can catch my own, without any appeal to 'the
Filthy!' Rats are never far away from legal premises, like these."

"You should not speak so of your father's house, Kit. And I am sure
that no rats ever come upstairs, or out of the window I must jump. But
now you are only avoiding the subject. What is it that disturbs your
mind, Kit?"

"Once more, mother, I have the greatest objection to being called
'Kit.' It sounds so small, and--and so horribly prosaic. All the
dictionaries say that it means, either the outfit of a common soldier,
or else a diminutive kind of fiddle."

"Christopher, I really beg your pardon. I know how much loftier you
are, of course; but I cannot get over the habit, Kit. Well, well,
then--My darling, I hope you are not at all above being 'my darling,'
Kit."

"Mother, you may call me what you like. It can make no difference in
my destinies."

"Christopher, you make my blood run cold. My darling, I implore you
not to sigh so. Your dear father pays my allowance on Monday. I know
what has long been the aspiration of your heart. Kit, you shall have a
live badger of your own."

"I hate the very name of rats and badgers. Everything is so low and
nasty. How can you look at that noble sunset, and be full of badgers?
Mother, it grieves me to leave you alone; but how can I help it, when
you go on so? I shall go for a walk on the Botley Road."

"Take your pipe, Kit, take your pipe; whatever you do, Kit, take your
pipe," screamed poor Mrs. Sharp, as he stuck his hat on, as if it were
never to come off again. "Oh, Kit, there are such deep black holes; I
will fill your pipe for you, if you will only smoke."

"Mother, you never know how to do it. And once more, my name is
'Christopher.'"

The young man threw a light cloak on his shoulder, and set his
eyebrows sternly; and his countenance looked very picturesque in the
glow of his death's-head meerschaum. It occurred to his mother that
she had never seen anything more noble. As soon as she had heard him
bang the door, Mrs. Sharp ran back to the window, whence she could
watch all Cross Duck Lane, and she saw him striding along towards the
quickest outlet to the country.

"How wonderful it is!" she said to herself, with tears all ready;
"only the other day he was quite a little boy, and whipped a top, and
cried if a pin ran into him. And now he is, far beyond all dispute,
the finest young man in Oxford; he has the highest contempt for all
vulgar sports, and he bolts the door of his bedroom. His father calls
him thick and soft! Ah, he cannot understand his qualities! There is
the deepest and purest well-spring of unintelligible poetry in Kit.
His great mind is perturbed, and has hurried him into commune with the
evening star. Thank goodness that he has got his pipe!"

Before Mrs. Sharp had turned one page of her truly voluminous thoughts
about her son, a sharp click awoke the front-door lock, and a steady
and well-jointed step made creaks on the old oak staircase. Mrs. Sharp
drew back from her meditative vigil, and trimmed her little curls
aright.

"Miranda, I have some work to do to-night," said Mr. Sharp, in his
quiet even voice; "and I thought it better to come up and tell you, so
that you need not expect me again. Just have the fire in the office
lighted. I can work better there than I can upstairs; and I find the
evenings damp, although the long cold winter is gone at last. If I
should ring about ten o'clock it will be for a cup of coffee. If I do
not ring then, send everybody to bed. And do not expect me until you
see me."

"Certainly, Luke, I quite understand," answered Mrs. Sharp, having
been for years accustomed to such arrangements; "but, my dear, before
you begin, can you spare me five minutes, for a little conversation?"

"Of course I can, Miranda! I am always at your service."

Mrs. Sharp thought to herself that this was a slight exaggeration.
Still on the whole she had little to complain of. Mr. Sharp always
remembered the time when he cast sad distant eyes at her, Miranda
Piper,--more enchanting than a will-case, more highly cherished than
the deed-box of an Earl. Nothing but impudence had enabled him to
marry her; thereby his impudence was exhausted in that one direction,
and he ever remained polite to her.

"Then, Luke, will you just take your favourite chair, and answer me
only one question?" As she said these words, Mrs. Sharp took care to
set the chair so that she could get the last gleam of sunset on her
dear lord's face. Her husband thoroughly understood all this, and
accepted the situation.

"Now, do tell me, Luke--you notice everything, though you do not
always speak of it--have you observed how very strangely Kit has been
going on for some time now? And have you any idea of the reason? And
do you think that we ought to allow it, my dear?"

"Yes, Mrs. Sharp, I have observed it. You need not be at all uneasy
about it. I am observing him very closely. When I disapprove, I shall
stop it at once."

"But surely, my dear, surely I, his mother, am not to be kept in the
dark about it? I know that you always take your own course, and your
course is quite sure to be the right one; but surely, my dear, when
something important is evidently going on about my own child, you
would never have the heart to keep it from me. I could not endure it;
indeed, I could not. I should fret myself away to skin and bone."

"It would take a long time to do that, my dear," replied Mr. Sharp, as
he looked with satisfaction at her fine plump figure. It pleased him
to hear, as he often did, that there was not in Oxford a finer couple
of middle-aged people than Mr. and Mrs. Sharp. "However, I should be
exceedingly grieved ever to initiate such a process. But first, before
I tell you anything at all, I will ask you to promise two things most
clearly."

"My dear, I would promise fifty things rather than put up with this
cruel anxiety."

"Yes, I dare say. But I do not want rash promises, Miranda. You must
pledge yourself to two things, and keep your pledges."

"I will do so in a moment, with the greatest pleasure. You would never
ask anything wrong, I am sure. Only do not keep me waiting so."

"In the first place, then, you must promise me, whether my plan turns
out well or ill, on no account to blame me for it, but to give me the
credit of having acted for the best throughout."

"Nothing can be easier than to promise that. My dear, you always do
act for the best; and what is more, the best always comes of it."

"Very well, you promise that; also, you must pledge yourself to
conceal from every one, and most of all from Christopher, everything I
am about to tell you, and to act under my directions."

"To be sure, my dear; to be sure, I will. Nothing is more reasonable
than that I should keep your secrets."

"I know that you will try, Miranda; and I know that you have much
self-command. Also, you will see the importance of acting as I direct
you. All I fear is that when you see poor Kit moping, or sighing, and
groaning, it may be almost beyond your power to refrain your motherly
heart."

"Have no fear, Luke; have no fear whatever. When I know that it is for
his true interest, as of course it will be, I shall be exceedingly
sorry for him; but still he may go on as much as he pleases; and of
course, he has not behaved well at all, in being so mysterious to his
own mother."

Luke Sharp looked at his wife, to ask whether any offshoot of this
reproach was intended at all to come home to him. If he had discovered
any sign of that, the wife of his bosom would have waited long without
getting another word from him. For seldom as Mr. Sharp showed temper,
he held back, with the chain-curb of expedience, as quick a temper as
ever threatened to bolt with any man's fair repute. But now he
received no irritation. His wife looked back at him kindly and
sweetly, with moist expressive eyes; and he saw that she still was in
her duty.

"Miranda," he said, being touched by this, for he had a great deal of
conscience, "my darling, I will tell you something such as you never
heard before. I have made a bold stroke, a very bold one; but I think
it must succeed. And justice is with me, as you will own, after all
the attempts to rob us. Perhaps you never heard a stranger story; but
still I am sure you will agree with me, that in every step I have
taken I am most completely and perfectly justified."



CHAPTER XXXIV.

A WOOLHOPIAN.


It is only fair towards Mr. Sharp to acquit him of all intention to
trust his wife with a very important secret, as long as he could help
it. He was well aware of the risk he ran in taking such a desperate
step; but the risk was forced upon him now by several circumstances.
Also, he wanted her aid just now, in a matter in which he could not
possibly have it without trusting her. Hence he resolved to make a
virtue of necessity, as the saying is, and at the same time get the
great relief which even a strong mind, in long scheming, obtains, by
having its burden shared.

This resolve of his was no sudden one. For several days he had made up
his mind, that when he should be questioned upon the subject--which he
foresaw must happen--he would earn the credit of candour, and the
grace of womanly gratitude, by making a clean breast of it. There
could be no better season than this. The house was quiet; his son was
away; the shadows of the coming evening softly fell before her step;
Cross Duck Lane looked very touching in the calm of twilight; and Mrs.
Sharp was in the melting mood. Therefore the learned and conscientious
lawyer perceived that the client's affairs, about which he was going
to busy himself, might safely wait for another day, while he was
sweeping his own hearth clean. So he locked the door, and looked out
of the window, where sparrows were swarming to their ivy roost; and
then he drew in the old lattice, and turned the iron tongue that
fastened it. Mrs. Sharp looked on, while some little suggestion of
fear came to qualify eagerness.

"Luke, I declare you quite make me nervous. I shall be afraid to go to
bed to-night. Really, a stranger, or a timid person, would think you
were going to confess a murder!"

"My dear, if you feel at all inclined to give way," Mr. Sharp
answered, as if glad to escape, "we will have out our talk
to-morrow--or, no--to-morrow I have an appointment at Woodstock. The
day after that we will recur to it. I see that it will be better so."

"Luke, is your mind astray? I quite fear so. Can you imagine that I
could wait for two days, after what you have told me?"

"My dear, I was only considering yourself. If you wish it, I will
begin at once. Only for your own sake, I must insist on your sitting
calmly down. There, my dear! Now, do not agitate yourself. There is
nothing to frighten anybody. It is the most simple thing; and you will
laugh, when you have heard it."

"Then I wish I had heard it, Luke. For I feel more inclined to cry
than laugh."

"Miranda, you must not be foolish. Such a thing is not at all like
you. Very well, now you are quite sedate. Now please not to interrupt
me once; but ask your questions afterwards. If you ask me a question I
shall stop, and go to the office with my papers." Mr. Sharp looked at
his wife; and she bowed her head in obedience. "To begin at the very
beginning," he said, with a smile to re-assure her, "you will do me
the justice to remember that I have worked very hard for my living.
And I have prospered well, Miranda, having you as both the foundation
and the crown of my prosperity. I was perfectly satisfied, as you
know, living quite up to my wishes, and putting a little cash by every
year of our lives, and paying on a heavy life-insurance, in case of my
own life dropping--for the sake of you and Christopher. You know all
that?"

"Darling Luke, I do. But you make me cry, when you talk like that."

"Very well. That is as it should be. We were as happy as need be
expected, until the great wrong befell us--the fierce injustice of
losing every farthing to which we were clearly entitled. You were the
proper successor to all the property of old Fermitage. That old
curmudgeon, and wholesale poisoner of the University, made a fool of
himself, towards his latter end, by marrying Miss Oglander. Old
Black-Strap, as of course we know, had no other motive for doing such
a thing, except his low ambition to be connected with a good old
family. Ever since he began life as a bottleboy, in the cellars of old
Jerry Pigaud----"

"He never did that, Luke. How can you speak so of my father's own
first cousin? He was an extremely respectable young man; my father
always said so."

"While he was making his money, Miranda, of course he was respectable.
And everybody respected him, as soon as he had made it. However, I
have not the smallest intention of reproaching the poor old villain.
He acted according to his lights, and they led him very badly. A
foolish ambition induced him to marry that pompous old maid, Joan
Oglander, who had been jilted by Commodore Patch, the son of the
famous captain. We all know what followed; the old man was but a doll
in the hands of his lady-wife. He left all the scrapings and screwings
of his life, for her to do what she pleased with--at least, everybody
supposes so."

"What do you mean, Luke?" asked Mrs. Sharp, having inkling of legal
surprises. "Do you mean that there is a later will? Has he done
justice to me, after all?"

"No, my dear. He never saved his soul by attending to his own kindred.
But he just had the sense to make a little change at last, when his
wife would not come near him. You know what he died of. It was coming
on for weeks; though at last it struck him suddenly. The port-wine
fungus of his old vaults grew into his lungs, and stopped them. It had
shown for some time in his face and throat; and his wife was afraid of
catching it. She took it to be some infectious fever, of which she is
always so terribly afraid. The old man knew that his time was short;
but take to his bed he would not. Of all born men the most stubborn he
was; as any man must be, to get on well. 'If I am to die of the
fungus,' he said, 'I will have a little more of it.' And he went, and
with his own hands hunted up a magnum of port, which had been laid by,
from the vintage of 1745, in the first days of Jerry Pigaud. But
before that, he had sent for me; and I was there when he opened it."

"Luke, you take my breath away. Such wonderful things I have never
heard. At least, not in our own family."

"Of course, my dear. We all accept wonders with quietude, till they
come home to us. Well, when he fetched out this old bottle, it was
fungus inside from heel to neck. He held it up against the light, and
the glass being whiter than now they make, and the wine gone almost
white with age, there you could see this extraordinary growth, like
cords in the bottle, and valves across it, and a long yellow sheath
like a crocus-flower. I had never seen anything like it before; but he
knew all about it. 'Ah, I know a genleman,' he grunted in his
throat--he never could say 'gentleman,' as you remember--'a genleman
as would give a hundred guineas for this here bottle! Quibbles, he
shouldn't have it for a thousand! My boy, you and I will drink it. Say
no, and I'll cut off your wife with a half-penny!' Miranda, what could
I do but try to humour him to the utmost? If I had had the smallest
inkling of the iniquitous will he had made, of course, I never would
have sat on the head of the cask, down in his dingy and reeking
vaults, by the hour together, to please him. But never mind that--in a
moment he took a long-handled knife, or chopper, and holding the
bottle upright, struck off the neck and a part of the shoulder, as
straight as a line, at the level of the wine. 'Not many men could do
that,' he said; 'none of your clumsy cork-screwers for me! Now,
Quibbles, here's a real treat for you! Talk of beeswing, my boy,
here's a beehive!' And really it was more like eating than drinking
wine; for all the body was gone into the fungus. Nastier stuff I never
tasted; but, luckily, he took the lion's share. 'Now, Quibbles, I'll
tell you a secret,' he said, after swallowing at least a quart; 'a
very pretty girl came and kissed me t'other day, in among these very
bottles. Such a little duck--not a bit ashamed or afeared of my
fungus, as my missus is. And her breath was as sweet as the violets of
'20! "Well now, my little dear," thinks I, as I stood back and looked
at her, "that was kind of you to kiss an old man a-dying of port wine
fungus! And if he only lives another day, you shall have the right to
kiss the Royal family, if you cares to do it." Quibbles, I wouldn't
call in you, nor any other thief of a lawyer. Lawyers are very well
over a glass; but keep 'em outside of the cellar, say I. Very good
company, in their way; but the only company I put trust in is the one
I have dealt with all my life,--and many a thousand pounds I have paid
them--The Royal Wine Company of Oporto. So now, if anything happens to
me--though I am not in such a hurry to be binned away, and walled up
for the resurrection--Quibbles, wait six months; and then you go to
the Royal Oporto Company, and ask for a genleman of the name of Jolly
Fellows.'"

"Now, Luke, I am all anxiety to hear," exclaimed Mrs. Sharp, with a
sudden interruption, "what was the end of this very strange affair. I
perceive now that I have foreseen the whole of it. But it is not right
that you should speak so long, without one morsel of refreshment. It
is many hours since you dined, my dear, and a very poor dinner you had
of it. You shall have a glass of white wine, and a slice of tongue,
between a little cold roll and butter. It will not in any way
interrupt you. I can get it all for you, without ringing the bell.
Only let me ask you one thing first--why have you never told me this
till now?"

"Because, Miranda, it would disturb your mind. And I know that you
cannot endure suspense. Moreover, I scarcely knew what to think of it.
Poor old Fermitage (what with the fungus already in his tubes, and
what he was taking down) might be talking sheer nonsense for all that
I knew. And indeed, for a long time I treated it so; and I had no
stomach for a voyage to Oporto, upon mere speculation, and for the
benefit only of some pretty girl. Then I found out, by the purest
chance, that no voyage to Oporto was needful, that old 'Port-wine'
(who departed on his cask to a better world, the day after his magnum)
meant nothing more than the London stores and agency of the Oporto
Company. And even after that I made one expedition to the Minories,
all for nothing. Two or three very polite young dons stared at me, and
thought I was come to chaff them, or perhaps had turned up from their
vaults top-heavy, when I asked for 'Senhor Jolly Fellows.' And so I
came away, and lost some months, and might never have thought it worth
while to go again, except for another mere accident."

"My dear, what a chapter of accidents!" cried Mrs. Sharp, while
feeding him. "I thought that you were a great deal too clever to allow
any room for accidents."

"Women think so. Men know better," the lawyer replied sententiously;
his ability was too well-known to need his vindication. "And, Miranda,
you forget that I had as yet no personal interest in the question. But
when I happened to have a Portuguese gentleman as a client--a man who
had spent many years in England--and happened to be talking of our
language to him, I told him one part of the story, and asked if he
could throw any light on it. He told me at once that the name which
had so puzzled me must be Gelofilos--a Portuguese surname, by no means
common. And the next time I was in town, I had occasion to call in St.
John's Street, and found myself, almost by accident again, not far
from the Company's offices."

"Mr. Sharp, you left such a thing to chance, when you knew that it
might pull down that dreadful woman's insolence!"

"My dear, it is not the duty of my life to mitigate feminine
arrogance. And to undertake such a crusade, gratis! I am equal to a
bold stroke, as you will see, if your patience lasts--but never to
such a vast undertaking. When it comes before me, in the way of
business, naturally I take it up. But this was no business of my own;
and the will was proved, and assets called in; for the old rogue did
not owe one penny. Well, I went again, and this time I got hold of the
right man---- Miranda, I hear the bell!"

The new office-bell, the successor to the one that succumbed to Russel
Overshute, rang as hard as ring it could. A special messenger was come
from London, and in half an hour Mr. Luke Sharp was sitting on the box
of the night up mail.



CHAPTER XXXV.

NIGHTINGALES.


This sudden departure of Mr. Luke Sharp, in the very marrow of his
story, left his good wife in a trying and altogether discontented
state of mind. She knew that she could have no more particulars until
he came back again; for Sharp had even less faith in the post than the
post of that period deserved. She might have to wait for days and
days, with a double anxiety urging her.

In the first place, although she felt nothing but pity for poor old
Mrs. Fermitage, and would have been really sorry to hear of anything
likely to vex her, she could not help being desirous to know if there
were any danger of a thing so sad. But her second anxiety was a great
deal keener, being sharpened by the ever moving grit of love; in the
dreadful state of mind her son was in, how would all this act upon
him? His father had been forced, by some urgency of things, to put on
his box-coat, and make off, without even time for a hurried whisper as
to the residue of his tale. Mrs. Sharp felt that there might be
something which her husband feared to spread before her, without
plenty of time to lead up to it; and having for many years been
visited (whenever she was not quite herself) with poignant doubts
whether Mr. Sharp was anchored upon Scriptural principles, she almost
persuaded herself for the moment that he meant to put up with the loss
of the money.

However, a little reflection sufficed to clear away this sadly awful
cloud of scepticism, and to assure her that Mr. Sharp, however he
might swerve in theory, would be orthodox enough in practice to follow
the straight path towards the money. And then she began to think of
nothing except her own beloved Kit.

The last hurried words of her husband had been--"Not one word to Kit,
or you ruin all; let him groan as he likes; only watch him closely. I
shall be back by Saturday night. God bless you, my dear! Keep up your
spirits. I have the whip-hand of the lot of them."

Herein lay her faith and hope. She never had known her husband fail,
when he really made up his mind to succeed; and therefore in the
bottom of her heart she doubted the genuine loss of Grace Oglander.
Sharp had discovered, and traced to their end, clues of the finest
gossamer, when his interest led him to do so. That he should be
baffled, and own himself to be so, was beyond her experience.
Therefore, although as yet she had no more than a guess at her
husband's schemes, she could not help fancying, after his words, that
they might have to do with Grace Oglander.

Before she had time to think out her thoughts, Christopher, their main
subject, returned from Wytham Wood, after holding long rivalry of woe
with nightingales. He still carried on, and well-carried off, the
style of the love-lorn Romeo. He swung his cloak quite as well as
could be expected of an Englishman--who is born to hate fly-away
apparel, all of which is womanish; but the necessities of his position
had driven him now to a very short pipe. His favourite meerschaum had
fallen into sorrow as terrible as his own. In a highly poetical moment
he had sucked it so hard that the oil arose, and took him with a hot
spot upon a white tongue, impregnated then with a sonnet. All sonnets
are of the tongue and ear; but Kit misliked having his split up, just
when it was coming to the final kick. Therefore he gave his pipe a
thump, beyond such a pipe's endurance; and being as sensitive as
himself, and of equally fine material, it simply refused to draw any
more, as long as he breathed poetry. Still breathing poetry, he
marched home, with the stump of a farthing clay, newly baked in the
Summertown Road, to console him.

Now, if this young man had failed of one of the triple human
combination--weed, and clay, and fire--where and how might he have
ended not only that one evening, but all the rest of the evenings of
his young life? His appearance and manner had at first imported to any
one whom he came across--and he truly did come across them in his wide
and loose march out of Oxford city--that he might be sought for in a
few hours' time, and only the inferior portion found. His mother
worried him, so did his father, so did all humanity, save one--who
worried him more than any, or all of it put together. The trees and
the road, and the singing of the birds, and the gladness of the green
world worried him. Luckily for himself he had bought a good box of
German tinder, and from ash to ash his spirit glowed slowly into a
more philosophic state. Gradually the beauty of the trees and hedges
and the sloping fields began to steal around him; the warbled pleasure
of the little birds made overture to his sympathy, and the lustrous
calm of shadowed waters spread its picture through his mind.

His body also responded to the influences of the time of day, and the
love of nature freshened into the natural love of cupboard. Hunger
awoke in his system somewhere, and spread sweet pictures in a tasteful
part. For a "moment of supreme agony" he wrestled with the coarse
material instinct, then turned on his heel, as our novelists say, and
made off for his father's kitchen.

His poor mother caught him the moment he came in, and pulled off his
hat and his opera-cloak, and frizzled up his curls for him. She seemed
to think that he must have been for a journey of at least a hundred
leagues; that the fault of his going was hers, and the virtue of his
ever coming back was all his own. Then she looked at him slyly, and
with some sadness, and yet a considerable touch of pride, by the light
of a three-wicked cocoa-candle; and feeling quite sure that she had
him to herself, trembled at the boldness of the shot she made:

"Oh, Kit, why have you never told me? I have found it all out. You
have fallen in love!"

Christopher Fermitage Sharp, Esquire--as he always entitled himself,
upon the collar of spaniel or terrier--had nothing to say for a
moment, but softly withdrew, to have his blush in shadow. Of all the
world, best he loved his mother--before, or after, somebody else--and
his simple, unpractised, and uncored heart, was shy of the job it was
carrying on. Therefore he turned from his mother's face, and her eager
eyes, and expectant arms.

"Come and tell me, my darling," she whispered, trying to get a good
look at his reluctant eyes, and wholly oblivious of her promise to his
father. "I will not be angry at all, Kit, although you never should
have left me to find it out in this way."

"There is nothing to find out," he answered, making a turn towards the
kitchen stairs. "I just want my supper, if there is anything to eat."

"To eat, Kit! And I thought so much better of you. After all, I must
have been quite wrong. What a shame to invent such stories!"

"You must have invented them, yourself, dear mother," said Kit with
recovered bravery. "Let me hear it all out when I have had my supper."

"I will go down this moment, and see what there is," replied his good
mother eagerly. "Is there anything, now, that can coax your appetite?"

"Yes, mother, oysters will be over to-morrow. I should like two dozen
fried with butter, and a pound and a quarter of rump-steak, cut thick,
and not overdone."

"You shall have them, my darling, in twenty minutes. Now, be sure that
you put your fur slippers on; I saw quite a fog coming over Port
Meadow, as much as half an hour ago. This is the worst time of year to
take cold. 'A May cold is a thirty-day cold.' What a stupe I must be,"
she continued to herself, "to imagine that the boy could be in love! I
will take care to say not another word, or I might break my promise to
his father. What a pity! He has a noble moustache coming, and only his
mother to admire it!"

In spite of all disappointment, this good mother paid the warmest heed
to the ordering, ay, and the cooking, of the supper of her only child.
A juicier steak never sat on a gridiron; fatter oysters never frizzled
with the pure bubble of goodness. Kit sat up, and made short work of
all that came before him.

"Now, mother, what is it you want to say?" His tone was not defiant,
but nicely self-possessed, and softly rich with triumph of digestion.
And a silver tankard of Morel's ale helped him to express himself.

"My dear boy, I have nothing to say, except that you have lifted a
great weight off my mind, a very great weight beyond description, by
leaving behind you not even a trace of the existence of that fine
rump-steak."



CHAPTER XXXVI.

MAY MORN.


It was the morn when the tall and shapely tower of Magdalen is crowned
with a fillet of shining white, awaiting the first step of sunrise.
Once a year, for generations, this has been the sign of it--eager
eyes, and gaping mouths, little knuckles blue with cold, and clumsy
little feet inclined to slide upon the slippery lead. All are bound to
keep together for the radiant moment; all are a little elated at their
height above all other boys; all have a strong idea that the sun, when
he comes, will be full of them; and every one of them longs to be back
beneath his mother's blankets.

It is a tradition with this choir (handed, or chanted, down from very
ancient choral ancestry) that the sun never rises on May-day without
iced dew to glance upon. Scientific record here comes in to prop
tradition. The icy saints may be going by, but they leave their breath
behind them. And the poets, who have sent forth their maids to "gather
the dews of May," knew, and meant, that dew must freeze to stand that
operation.

But though the sky was bright, and the dew lay sparkling for the
maidens, the frost on this particular morning was not so keen as
usual. The trees that took the early light (more chaste without the
yellow ray) glistened rather with soft moisture than with stiff
encrustment; and sprays, that kept their sally into fickle air half
latent, showing only little scolloped crinkles with a knob in them,
held in every downy quillet liquid, rather than solid, gem.

Christopher Sharp, looking none the worse for his excellent supper of
last night, laid his fattish elbow on the parapet of the bridge, and
mused. Poetical feeling had fetched him out, thus early in the
morning, to hear the choir salute the sun, and to be moved with
sympathy. The moon is the proper deity of all true lovers, and has
them under good command when she pleases. But for half the weeks of a
month, she declines to sit in the court of lunacy; at least, as
regards this earth, having her own men and women to attend to. This
young man knew that she could not be found, with a view to meditation,
now; and his mind relapsed to the sun--a coarse power, poetical only
when he sets and rises.

With strength and command of the work of men, and leaving their dreams
to his sister, the sun leaped up, with a shake of his brow and a
scattering of the dew-clouds. The gates of the east swung right and
left; so that tall trees on a hill seemed less than reeds in the rush
of glory; and lines (like the spread of a crystal fan) trembled along
the lowland. Inlets now, and lanes of vision (scarcely opened
yesterday, and closed perhaps to-morrow) guided shafts of light along
the level widening ways they love. Tree and tower, hill and wall, and
water and broad meadow, stood, or lay, or leaned (according to the
stamp set on them), one and all receiving, sharing, and rejoicing in
the day.

Between the battlements, and above them, burst and rose the choral
hymn; and as the laws of sound compelled it to go upward mainly, the
part that came down was pleasing. Christopher, seeing but little of
the boys, and not hearing very much, was almost enabled to regard the
whole as a vocal effort of the angels: and thus in solemn thought he
wandered as far as the high-tolled turnpike gate.

"I will hie me to Cowley," said he to himself, instead of turning back
again; "there will I probe the hidden import of impending destiny.
This long and dark suspense is more than can be brooked by human
power. I know a jolly gipsy-woman; and if I went home I should have to
wait three hours for my breakfast."

With these words he felt in the pockets of his coat, to be sure that
oracular cash was there, and found a silk purse with more money than
usual, stored for the purchase of a dog called "Pablo," a hero among
badgers.

"What is Pablo to me, or I to Pablo?" he muttered with a smothered
sigh. "She told me she thought it a cruel and cowardly thing to kill
fifty rats in five minutes. Never more--alas, never more!" With a
resolute step, but a clouded brow, he buttoned his coat, and strode
onward.

Now, if he had been in a fit state of mind for looking about him, he
might have found a thousand things worth looking at. But none of them,
in his present hurry, won from him either glimpse or thought. He
trudged along the broad London road at a good brisk rate, while the
sun glanced over the highlands, and the dewy ridges, away on the left
towards Shotover. The noble city behind him, stretched its rising
sweep of tower, and spire, and dome, and serried battlement, stately
among ancient trees, and rich with more than mere external glory to an
Englishman. And away to the right hand sloped broad meadows, green
with spring, and fluttered with the pearly hyaline of dew, lifting
pillars of dark willow in the distance, where the Isis ran.

But what are these things to a lover, unless they hit the moment's
mood? The fair, unfenced, free-landscaped road for him might just as
well have been wattled, like a skittle-alley, and roofed with
Croggon's patent felt. At certain--or rather uncertain--moments, he
might have rejoiced in the wide glad heart of nature spread to welcome
him; and must have felt, as lovers feel, the ravishment of beauty. It
happened, however, that his eyes were open to nothing above, or
around, or before him, unless it should present itself in the image of
a gipsy's tent.

He turned to the left, before the road entered the new enclosures
towards Iffley, and trod his own track towards Cowley Marsh. The crisp
dew, brushed by his hasty feet, ran into large globes behind him; and
jerks of dust, brought up by pressure, fell and curdled on them. In
the haze of the morning, he looked much larger than he had any right
to seem, and the shadow of his arms and hat stretched into hollow
places. There was no other moving figure to be seen, except from time
to time, of a creature, the colonist of commons, whose mental frame
was not so unlike his own just now, as bodily form and style of
walking might in misty grandeur seem. Though Kit was not such a stupid
fellow, when free from his present bewitchment.

Scant of patience he came to a place where the elbow of a hedge jutted
forth upon the common. A mighty hedge of beetling brows, and
over-hanging shagginess, and shelfy curves, and brambly depths, and
true Devonian amplitude. High farming would have swept it down, and
out of its long course ploughed an acre. Young Sharp had not traced
its windings far, before he came upon a tidy-looking tent, pitched,
with the judgment of experience, in a snug and sheltered spot. The
rest of the camp might be seen in the distance, glistening in the
sunrise. This tent seemed to have crept away, for the sake of peace
and privacy.

Christopher quickened his steps, expecting to be met by a host of
children, rushing forth with outstretched hands, and shaggy hair, and
wild black eyes. But there was not so much as a child to be seen, nor
the curling smoke of a hedge-trough fire, nor even the scattered ash
betokening cookery of the night before. The canvas of the tent was
down; no head peeped forth, no naked leg or grimy foot protruded, to
show that the inner world was sleeping; even the dog, so rarely
absent, seemed to be really absent now.

The young man knew that the tent was not very likely to be unoccupied;
but naturally he did not like to peep into it uninvited; and he turned
away to visit the chief community of rovers, when the sound of a low
soft moan recalled him. Still for a moment he hesitated, until he
heard the like sound again, low, and clear, and musical from the
deepest chords of sorrow. Kit felt sure that it must be a woman, in
storms of trouble helpless; and full as he was of his own affairs he
was impelled to interfere. So he lifted back the canvas drawn across
the opening, and looked in.

There lay a woman on the sandy ground, with her back turned towards
the light, her neck and shoulders a little raised by the short support
of one elbow, and her head, and all that therein was, fixed in a
rigour of gazing. Although her face was not to be seen, and the
hopeless moan of her wail had ceased, Kit Sharp knew that he was in
the presence of a grand and long-abiding woe.

He drew back, and he tried to make out what it was, and he sighed for
concert--even as a young dog whimpers to a mother who has lost her
pups--and, little as he knew of women, from his own mother, or whether
or no, he judged that this woman had lost a child. That it was her
only one, was more than he could tell or guess. The woman, disturbed
by the change of light, turned round and steadily gazed at him, or
rather at the opening which he filled; for her eyes had no perception
of him. Kit was so scared that he jerked his head back, and nearly
knocked his hat off. He never had seen such a thing before; and, if he
had his choice he never would see such a thing again. The great dark,
hollow eyes had lost similitude of human eyes: hope and fear and
thought were gone; nothing remained but desolation and bare, reckless
misery.

Christopher's gaze fell under hers. It would be a sheer impertinence
to lay his small troubles before such woe.

"What is it? Oh! what is it?" asked the woman, at last having some
idea that somebody was near her.

"I am very sorry; I assure you, ma'am, that I never felt more sorry in
all my life," said Kit, who was a very kind-hearted fellow, and had
now espied a small boy lying dead. "I give you my word of honour,
ma'am, that if I could have guessed it, I would never have looked in."

Without any answer, the gipsy-woman turned again to her dead child,
and took two little hands in hers, and rubbed them, and sat up,
imagining that she felt some sign of life. She drew the little body to
her breast, and laid the face to hers, and breathed into pale open
lips (scarcely fallen into death), and lifted little eyelids with her
tongue, and would not be convinced that no light came from under them;
and then she rubbed again at every place where any warmth or polish of
the skin yet lingered. She fancied that she felt the little fellow
coming back to her, and she kept the whole of her own body moving to
encourage him.

There was nothing to encourage. He had breathed his latest breath. His
mother might go on with kisses, friction, and caresses, with every
power she possessed of muscle, and lungs, and brain, and heart. There
he lay, as dead as a stone--one stone more on the earth; and the whole
earth could not bring him back again.

Cinnaminta bowed her head. She laid the little bit of all she ever
loved upon her lap, and fetched the small arms so that she could hold
them both together, and spread the careless face upon the breast where
once it had felt its way; and then she looked up in search of Kit, or
any one to say something to.

"It is a just thing. I have earned it. I have robbed an old man of his
only child; and I am robbed of mine."

These words she spoke not in her own language, but in plain good
English; and then she lay down in her quiet scoop of sand, and folded
her little boy in with her. Christopher saw that there was nothing to
be done. He cared to go no further in search of fortune-tellers; and,
being too young to dare to offer worthless consolation, he wisely
resolved to go home and have fried bacon; wherein he succeeded.



CHAPTER XXXVII.

MAY-DAY.


Ere yet it was noon of that same day, to the great delight of Mrs.
Sharp, a strong desire to fish arose in the candid bosom of
Christopher.

"Mother," he said, "I shall have a bit of early grub, and take my rod,
and try whether I can't manage to bring you a few perch home for
supper. Or, if the perch are not taking yet, I may have a chance of a
trout or two."

"Oh, that will be delightful, Kit! We can dine whenever we please, you
know, as your dear father is from home. We will have the cold lamb at
one o'clock. I can easily make my dinner then; and then, Kit, if you
are very good, what do you think I will try to do? Such a treat as you
hardly ever had!"

"What, mother?--what? I must be off to get my tackle ready."

"My dear, I will send to Mr. Squeaker Smith, and order a nice light
vehicle, with a very steady pony. And, Kit, I will put on my very
worst cloak, and a bonnet not worth six-pence, and stout india-rubber
overshoes. And so you shall drive me wherever you please; and I will
see you catch all the fish. And you will enjoy every fish twice as
much, because your dear mother is looking at you. I will bring some
sandwiches, my pet, and your father's flask of sherry; and we can stay
out till it is quite dark. Why, Kit, you don't look pleased about it!"

"Mother, how can I be pleased to hear you speak of such things, at
this time of year? The spring is scarcely beginning yet, and the edges
of the water are all swampy. You would be up to your knees, in no
time, in the most horrible yellow slime. I should be most delighted to
have your company, my dearest mother; but it will not do."

"Very well, Kit; you know best. But, at least, I can have the ride
with you, and wait somewhere while you go fishing?"

"If I were going anywhere else, perhaps we might have contrived it so.
But while the wind stays in its present quarter, it is worse than
useless to think of fishing, except in the most outlandish places.
There would not be even a public-house, if you could stop at such a
place, within miles of the water I am going to. And the roads are
beyond conception. No wheels can get along them, except in the very
height of summer, or a dry black-frost. My dear mother, I am truly
grieved to lose your company; but I must ride the old cob Sam, and tie
him to a tree or gate; and over and over again you have told me how
long you have been waiting for the chance of a good long afternoon to
do a little shopping. And the London fashions, for the summer season,
arrived by the coach only yesterday."

"Did they, indeed? Are you sure of that? Well, Kit, I would rather
have come with you than seen the whole world of fashions, although you
can judge, and a lady cannot. But I do not care about that, my dear,
if only you enjoy yourself. Ring the bell, my darling, and I will see
about your dinner."

Kit's heart burned within him sadly, and his cheeks kept it well in
countenance, as the shocking fraud thus practised by him upon his
good, unselfish mother. However, there was no help for it; and, after
all, mothers must be made to be cheated; or why do they love it so?

Thus well-balanced with his conscience, Kit put all his smartest
clothes on, as soon as the early dinner was done, and he felt quite
sure in his own mind that his mother was safely embarked upon her
grand expedition of shopping. He saw her as clean as possible off the
premises and round the utmost corner of the lane; and then he waited
for a minute and a half, to be sure that she had not forgotten her
purse, or something else most essential. At last, he became sure as
sure could be, that his admirable mother must now be sitting on a high
chair in a fashionable shop; and with that he ran up to his own room,
and kicked off his every-day breeches, and with great caution and vast
study drew a brand-new pair of noble pantaloons, with a military
stripe, up his well-nourished and established legs. He gazed at the
result, and found that on the whole it was not bad; and then he put on
his best velvet waistcoat, of a chaste sprig-pattern, not too gaudy. A
waterfall tie with a turquoise pin, and a cutaway coat of a soft
bottle-green, completed him for the eyes of the public, and--for which
he cared far more--certain especially private eyes.

Christopher, feeling himself thus attired, and receiving the silent
approval of his glass, stole downstairs in a very clever way, and took
from his own private cupboard a whip of white pellucid whalebone,
silver-mounted, and set with a large and radiant Cairngorm pebble. His
mother had given him this on his very last birth-day, and he had never
used it, wisely fearing to be laughed at. But now he tucked it under
his arm, and swaggering as he had seen hussars do, turned into a
passage leading to his private outlet.

Hugging himself upon all his skill, and feeling assured of grand
success, Kit allowed his heels to clank, and carried his head with an
arrogant twist. And so, near a window, where good light came in large
quantity from the garden, he marched into his mother's arms.

"Kit!" cried his mother; and he said, "Yes," being unable to deny that
truth. His mother looked at him, and his jaunty whip, and particularly
lively suit of clothes; and she knew that he had been telling lies to
her by the hundred or the bushel; and she would have been very glad to
scorn him, if she could have helped being proud of him. Kit was unable
to carry on any more in the way of falsehood. He tried to look fierce,
but his mother laughed; and he saw that he must knock under.

"My dear boy," she said, for the moment daring to follow up her
triumph, "is this the costume in which you go forth to fish in the
most outlandish places, with the yellow ooze above your knees? And is
that your fishing-rod? Oh, Kit!--come, Kit, now you are caught at
last!"

"My dear mother, I have told you stories; but I will leave off at
last. Now there is not one instant to explain. I have not so much as a
moment to spare. If you only could guess how important it is, you
would draw in your cloak in a moment. You never shall know another
single word, unless you have the manners, mother, to pull in your
cloak and let me go by."

"Kit, you may go. When you look at me like that, you may as well do
anything. You have gone by your mother for ever so long; or at any
rate gone away from her."

With these words, Mrs. Sharp made way for her son to pass her; and
Kit, in a reckless manner, was going to take advantage of it; then he
turned back his face, to say goodbye, and his mother's eyes were away
from him. She could not look at him, because she knew that her look
would pain him; but she held out her hand; and he took it and kissed
it; and then he made off as hard as he could go.

Mrs. Sharp turned back, and showed some hankering to run after him;
and then she remembered what a laugh would arise in Cross Duck Lane to
see such sport; and so she sighed a heavy sigh--knowing how long she
must have to wait--and retired to her own thoughtful corner, with no
heart left for shopping.

But Kit saw that now it was "neck or nothing;" with best foot foremost
he made his way through back lanes leading towards the conscientious
obscurity of Worcester College--for Beaumont Street still abode in the
future--and skirting the coasts of Jericho, dangerously hospitable, he
emerged at last in broad St. Giles', without a stone to prate of his
whereabouts. Here he went into livery stables, where he was well
known, and found the cob Sam at his service; for no university man
would ride him (even upon Hobson's choice) because of his ignominious
aspect. But Kit knew his value, and his lasting powers, and sagacious
gratitude; and whenever he wanted a horse trustworthy in patience,
obedience, and wit, he always took brown Sam. To Sam it was a treat to
carry Kit, because of the victuals ordered at almost every lenient
stage; and the grand largesse of oats and beans was more than he could
get for a week in stable. And so he set forth, with a spirited neigh,
on the Kidlington road, to cross the Cherwell, and make his way
towards Weston. The heart of Christopher burned within him whenever he
thought of his mother; but a man is a man for all that, and cannot be
tied to apron-strings. So Kit shook his whip, and the Cairngorm
flashed in the sun, and the spirit of youth did the same. He was
certain to see the sweet maid to-day, knowing her manners and customs,
and when she was ordered forth for her mossy walk upon the margin of
the wood.

The soft sun hung in the light of the wood, as if he were guided by
the breeze and air; and gentle warmth flowed through the alleys, where
the nesting pheasant ran. Little fluttering, timid things, that meant
to be leaves, please God, some day, but had been baffled and beaten
about so, that their faith was shrunk to hope; little rifts of cover
also keeping beauty coiled inside, and ready to open, like a bivalve
shell, to the pulse of the summer-tide, and then to be sweet blossom;
and the ground below them pressing upward with ambition of young
green; and the sky above them spread with liquid blue behind white
pillows.

But these things are not well to be seen without just entering into
the wood; and in doing so there can be no harm, with the light so
inviting, and the way so clear. Grace had a little idea that perhaps
she had better stop outside the wood, but still that walk was within
her bounds, and her orders were to take exercise; and she saw some
very pretty flowers there; and if they would not come to her, she had
nothing to do but to go to them. Still she ought to have known that
now things had changed from what they were as little as a week ago;
that a dotted veil of innumerable buds would hang between her and the
good Miss Patch, while many forward trees were casting quite a shade
of mystery. Nevertheless, she had no fear. If anybody did come near
her, it would only be somebody thoroughly afraid of her. For now she
knew, and was proud to know, that Kit was the prey of her bow and
spear.

Whether she cared for him, or not, was a wholly different question.
But in her dismal dullness and long, wearisome seclusion, the finest
possible chance was offered for any young gentleman to meet her, and
make acquaintance of nature's doing. At first she had kept this to
herself, in dread of conceit and vanity; but when it outgrew accident,
she told "Aunt Patch" the whole affair, and asked what she was to do
about it. Thereupon she was told to avoid the snares of childish
vanity, to look at the back of her looking-glass, and never dare to
dream again that any one could be drawn by her.

Her young mind had been eased by this, although with a good deal of
pain about it; and it made her more venturesome to discover whether
the whole of that superior estimate of herself was true. Whether she
was so entirely vain or stupid, whenever she looked at herself; and
whether it was so utterly and bitterly impossible that anybody should
come--as he said--miles and miles for the simple pleasure of looking,
for one or two minutes, at herself.

Grace was quite certain that she had no desire to meet anybody, when
she went into the wood. She hoped to be spared any trial of that sort.
She had been told on the highest authority, that nobody could come
looking after her--the assertion was less flattering perhaps than
reassuring; and, to test its truth, she went a little further than she
meant to go.

Suddenly at a corner, where the whole of the ground fell downward, and
grass was overhanging grass so early in the season, and sapling shoots
from the self-same stool stood a yard above each other, and down in
the hollow a little brook sang of its stony troubles to the whispering
reeds--here Grace Oglander happened to meet a very fine young man
indeed. The astonishment of these two might be seen, at a moment's
glance, to be mutual. The maiden, by gift of nature, was the first to
express it, with dress, and hand, and eye. She showed a warm eagerness
to retire; yet waited half a moment for the sake of proper dignity.

Kit looked at her with a clear intuition that now was his chance of
chances to make certain-sure of her. If he could only now be strong,
and take her consent for granted, and so induce her to set seal to it,
she never would withdraw; and the two might settle the rest at their
leisure.

He loved the young lady with all his heart; and beyond that he knew
nothing of her, except that she was worthy. But she had not given her
heart as yet; and, with natural female common sense, she would like to
know a great deal more about him before she said too much to him. Also
in her mind--if not in her heart--there was a clearer likeness of a
very different man--a man who was a man in earnest, and walked with a
stronger and firmer step, and lurked behind no corners.

"This path is so extremely narrow," Miss Oglander said, with a very
pretty blush, "and the ground is so steep, that I fear I must put you
to some little inconvenience. But if I hold carefully by this branch,
perhaps there will be room for you to pass."

"You are most kind and considerate," he answered, as if he were in
peril of a precipice; "but I would not for the world give you such
trouble. And I don't want to go any further now. It cannot matter in
the least, I do assure you."

"But surely you must have been going somewhere. You are most polite.
But I cannot think for one moment of turning you back like this."

"Then, may I sit down? I feel a little tired; and the weather has
suddenly become so warm. Don't you think it is very trying?"

"To people who are not very strong perhaps it is. But surely it ought
not to be so to you."

"Well, I must not put all the blame upon the weather. There are so
many other things much worse. If I could only tell you."

"Oh, I am so very sorry, Mr. Sharp. I had no idea you had such
troubles. It must be so sad for you, while you are so young."

"Yes, I suppose many people call me young. And perhaps to the outward
eye I am so. But no one except myself can dream of the anxieties that
prey upon me."

Christopher, by this time, was growing very crafty, as the above
speech of his will show. The paternal gift was awaking within him, but
softened by maternal goodness; so that it was not likely to be used
with much severity. And now, at the end of his speech, he sighed, and
without any thought laid his right hand on the rich heart of his
velvet waistcoat, where beautiful forget-me-nots were blooming out of
willow leaves. Then Grace could not help thinking how that
trouble-worn right hand had been uplifted in her cause, and had
descended on the rabbit-man. And although she was most anxious to
discourage the present vein of thought, she could not suppress one
little sigh--sweeter music to the ear of Kit than ever had been played
or dreamed.

"Now, would you really like to know?--you are so wonderfully good," he
continued, with his eyes cast down, and every possible appearance of
excessive misery; "would you, I mean, do your best, not only not to be
offended, but to pity and forgive me, if, or rather supposing that, I
were to endeavour to explain, what--what it is, who--who she is--no,
no, I do not quite mean that. I scarcely know how to express myself.
Things are too many for me."

"Oh, but you must not allow them to be so, Mr. Sharp; indeed, you
mustn't. I am sure that you must have a very good mother, from what
you told me the other day; and if you have done any harm, though I
scarcely can think such a thing of you, the best and most
straightforward course is to go and tell your mother everything; and
then it is so nice afterwards."

"Yes, to be sure. How wise you are! You seem to know almost
everything. I never saw any one like you at all. But the fact is that
I am a little too old; I am obliged now to steer my own course in
life. My mother is as good as gold, and much better; but she never
could understand my feelings."

"Then come in, and tell my dear old Aunt Patch. She is so virtuous,
and she always never doubts about anything; she sees the right thing
to be done in a moment, and she never listens to arguments. If you
will only come in and see her, it might be such a relief to you."

"You seem to mistake me altogether," cried the young man, with his
patience gone. "What good could any old aunts do to me? Surely you
know who it is that I want!"

"How can I imagine that?"

"Why, you, only you, only you, sweet Grace! I should like to see the
whole earth swallowed up, if only you and I were left together!"

Grace Oglander blushed at the power of his words, and the pressure of
his hand on hers. Then, having plenty of her father's spirit, she
fixed her bright sensible eyes on his face, so that he saw that he had
better stop. "I am afraid that it is no good," he said.

"I am very much obliged to you," answered Grace, with her fair cheeks
full of colour, and her hands drawn carefully back to her sides; "but
will you be kind enough to stand up, and let me speak for a moment. I
believe that you are very good, and I may say very harmless, and you
have helped me in the very kindest way, and I never shall forget your
goodness. Ever since you came, I am sure, I have been glad to think of
you; and your dogs, and your gun, and your fishing-rod reminded me of
my father; and I am very, very sorry, that what you have just said
will prevent me from thinking any more about you, or coming anywhere,
into any kind of places, where there are trees like this, again. I
ought to have done it--at least, I mean, I never ought to have done it
at all; but I did think that you were so nice; and now you have
undeceived me. I know who your father is very well, although I have
seldom seen him; and though I dislike the law, I declare that would
not have mattered very much to me. But you do not even know my name,
as several times you have proved to me; and how you can ride thirty
miles from Oxford, in all sorts of weather, without being tired, and
your dogs so fresh, has always been a puzzle to me."

"Thirty miles from Oxford!" Christopher Sharp cried, in great
amazement; for in the very lowest condition of the heart figures will
maintain themselves.

"Yes; thirty miles, or thirty leagues. Sometimes I hear one thing, and
sometimes the other."

"Where you are standing now is about seven miles and three-quarters
from Summer-town gate!"

"Surely, Mr. Sharp, you are laughing at me! How far am I from Beckley,
then, according to your calculation?"

"How did you ever hear of Beckley? It is quite a little village. A
miserable little place!"

"Indeed, then, it is not. It is the very finest place in all the
world; or at any rate the nicest, and the dearest, and the prettiest!"

"But how can you, just come from America, have such an opinion of such
a little hole?"

"A little hole! Why, it stands on a hill! You never can have been near
it, if you think of calling it a 'hole!' And as for my coming from
America, you seem to have no geography. I have never been further away
from darling Beckley, to my knowledge, than I am now."

Kit Sharp looked at her with greater amazement than that with which
she looked at him. And then with one accord they spied a fat man
coming along the hollow, and trying not to glance at them. With keen
young instinct they knew that this villain was purely intent upon
watching them.

"Come again, if you please, to-morrow," said Grace, while pretending
to gaze at the clouds; "you have told me such things that I never
shall sleep. Come earlier, and wait for me. Not that you must think
anything; only that now you are bound, as a gentleman, to go on with
what you were telling me."



CHAPTER XXXVIII.

THE DIGNITY OF THE FAMILY.


If Grace had only stayed five minutes longer in the place where she
was when the fat man came in sight, her eyes and heart would have been
delighted by the appearance of a true old friend. But she felt so much
terror of that stout person, who always seemed to be watching her
afar, that in spite of the extraordinary interest aroused by some of
her companion's words, as well as by his manner, she could not help
running away abruptly, and taking shelter in the little bowered
cottage.

Meanwhile, the stout man in the white frock coat slouched along the
furzy valley, with a clownish step. He carried a long pig-whip, and
now and then indulged in a crack or flick at some imaginary pig, while
a crafty grin, or a wink of one little eye, enlivened his heavy
countenance. He was clearly aware of all that had been happening in
the wood above him, for the buds as yet rather served to guide the
lines of sight than to baffle them; but he showed no desire to
interfere, for instead of taking the cross-path, which would have
brought him face to face with Kit, he kept down the glade towards the
timber-track, which led in another direction. By the side of the
little brook he turned the corner of a thick holly-bush, and suddenly
met his brother, Master Zacchary Cripps, the Carrier.

The Carrier was in no pleasant mood; his eyes were stern and
steadfast, and the colour of his healthy cheeks was deepened into
crimson. He bore with a bent arm and set muscle the sceptral whip of
the family, bound with spiral brass, and newly fitted with a heavy
lash. Moreover, he had come with his Sunday hat on, and his air and
walk were menacing. Leviticus started and turned pale, and his cunning
eyes glanced for a chance of escape.

"Thou goest not hence, Brother Tickuss," said Cripps, "until thou hast
answered what I shall ax, and answered with thine eyes on mine."

"Ax away," said the pigman, sprawling out his fat legs, as if he did
not care; "ax away, so long as it be of thy own consarns."

"It is of my own consarns to keep my father's sons from being rogues
and liars, and getting into Oxford jail, and into the hands of the
hangman."

Leviticus trembled, with fear more than anger. "Thou always was
foul-mouthed," he muttered.

"It is a lie!" shouted Zacchary; "as big a lie as ever thou spak'st! I
always were that clean of tongue--no odds for that now. Wilt answer
me, or will not? Thou liedst to me in Oxford streets the last time as
I spake to thee."

"Well, well, maybe a small piece I did; but nothing to lay hold on
much. Brother Zak, thou must not be so hard. What man can be always
arkerate?"

"A man can spake the truth if he goeth to try, or else a must be a
fule. And, Tickuss, thou wast always more rogue than fule. And now
here am I, to ax thee spashal what roguery thou beest up to now? Whom
hast thou got at the cottage in the wood?"

"Thou'd best way go up there, and see for thyzell. A old lady from
Amerikay as wanteth to retaire frout the world. Won't her zend thee
a-running down the hill? Ah, and I'd like to see thee, Zak. Her'd lay
thy own whip about thee; and her tongue be worse nor a dozen whips!"

Really, while Tickuss was telling this lie, he managed to look at his
brother so firmly, in the rally of impudence brought to bay, that Zak
for the moment (in spite of all experience) believed him. And the
Carrier dreaded--as the lord of swine knew well--nothing so much as a
fierce woman's tongue.

"What be the reason, then," he went on, still keeping his eyes on the
face of Tickuss, "that thou hast been keeping thyself and thy pigs out
o' market, and even thy waife and children to home, same as if 'em had
gotten the plague? And what be the reason, Leviticus Cripps, that thou
fearest to go to a wholesome public-house, and have thy pint of ale,
and see thy neighbours, as behooveth a God-fearing man? To my mind,
either thou art gone daft, and the woman should take the lead o' thee,
or else thou art screwed out of honest ways."

The Carrier now looked at his brother, with more of pity than
suspicion. Tickuss had always been regarded as the weak member of the
family, because he laid on more fat than muscle, even in the time of
most active growth. And to keep him regularly straight was more than
all the set efforts of the brotherhood could, even when he was young,
effect. Therefore Zak stood back some little, and the butt of his whip
fell down to earth. Leviticus saw his chance, and seized it.

"Consarning of goin' to public-house, I would never be too particular.
A man may do it, or a man may not, according to manner of his things
at home, or his own little brew, or the temper of his wife. I would
not blame him, nor yet praise him, for things as he knoweth best
about. To make light of a man for not going to public, is the same as
to blame him for stopping from church. A man as careth for good
opinion goeth to both, but a cannot always do it. And I ain't a been
in church now for more nor a week of Sundays."

The force of this reasoning came home to Cripps. If a man was unable
to go to church, there was good room for arguing that his duty towards
the public-house must not be too rigidly exacted. Zacchary therefore
fetched a sigh. None of the race had broken up at so early an age as
that of Tickuss. But still, from his own sad experience, the Carrier
knew what pigs were; and he thought that his brother, though younger
than himself, might be called away before him.

"Tickuss," he said, "I may a' been too hard. Nobody knows but them
that has to do it what the worrit of the roads is. I may a' said a
word here and there too much, and a bit outside the Gospel. According
to they a man must believe a liar, and forgive un, and forgive un over
and over again, the same as I tries to forgive you, Tickuss."

Zacchary offered his hand to his brother, but Leviticus was ashamed to
take it. With the load now weighing upon his mind, and the sense in
his heart of what Zacchary was, Tickuss--whatever his roguery
was--could not make believe to have none of it. So he turned away,
with his feelings hurt too much for the clasp fraternal.

"When a man hath no more respect for hiszell," he muttered over his
puckered shoulder, "and no more respect for his father and mother
avore un, than to call his very next brother but one a rogue and a
liar, and a schemer against publics, to my mind he have gone too far,
and not shown the manners relied upon."

"Very well," replied Cripps; "just as you like, Tickuss; though I
never did hear as I were short of manners; and there's twelve mailes
of road as knows better than that. Now, since you go on like that, and
there seemeth no chance of supper 'long of 'ee, I shall just walk up
to cottage, and ax any orders for the Carrier. Good evening, brother
Tickuss."

With these words Zak set off, and Tickuss repented sadly of the evil
temper which had forbidden him to shake hands. But now to oppose the
Carrier's purpose would be a little too suspicious. He must go his way
and take his chance; he was worse than a pig when his mind was made
up.

"Go thy way, and be danged to thee!" thought Leviticus, looking after
him. "Little thou wilt take, however, but to knock thy thick head
again' a wall. Old lady looketh out too sharp for any of they danged
old Beckley carcases. Come thee down to our ouze," he shouted in irony
after his brother, "and tell us the noos thou hast picked up, and what
'em be doing in Amerikay! A vine time o' life for thee to turn spy!"

It was lucky for him that he made off briskly among thick brushwood
and tangled swamps, for Zacchary Cripps at the last word turned round,
with his face of a fine plum-colour, and a stamp of rage which made
his stiff knees tingle worse than a dozen turnpikes.

"Spy, didst thou say?" he shouted, staring, with his honest, wrathful
eyes, through every glimpse of thicket near the spot where his brother
had disappeared--"Spy! if thou beest a man come out, and say it again
to the face of me! I'll show thee how to spell 'spy' pretty quick.
Leviticus Cripps, thou art a coward, to the back of a thief and a
sneaking skulk, unless thou comest out of they thick places, to stand
to the word thou hast spoken."

Zacchary stood in a wide bay of copse, and he knew that his voice went
through the wood; for he spoke with the whole power of his lungs; and
the tender leaves above him quivered like a little breath of fringe,
and the birds flew out of their ivy castles, and a piece of bare-faced
rock in the distance answered him--but nothing else.

"Thou art a bigger man than I be," shouted the Carrier, being carried
beyond himself by the state of things; "come out if thou art a man,
and hast any blood of Cripps in thee!" But this appeal received no
answer, except from the quiet rock again, and a peaceful thrush
sitting over his nest, and well accustomed to the woodman's call.

Zacchary had always felt scorn of Tickuss, but now he almost disdained
himself for springing of one wedlock with him. He stood in the place
where he must be seen if Tickuss wished to see him, until he was quite
sure that no such longing existed on his brother's part. Then the
family seemed to be lowered so by this behaviour of a leading member,
that when the Carrier moved his legs, he had not the spirit to crack
his whip.

"What shall us do? Whatever shall us do?" he said to himself more
reasonably, with the anger dying out of his kind blue eyes. "A hath
insulted of me, but a hath a big family of little uns to kape up. I
harn't had no knowledge how that zort o' thing may drive a man out of
his proper ways. Like enough it maketh them careful to tell lies, and
shun the thrashing."

Taking this view of the case, Master Cripps turned away from the path
towards his brother's house, to which, in the flush of first anger, he
meant to go, and there to wait for him; and being rather slow of
resolution, he naturally set forth again on the track of the one last
interrupted. He would go to this cottage in the wood of which he had
heard through one of his washerwomen--though none of them had any
washing thence--and then he would satisfy his own mind concerning an
ugly rumour, which had unsettled that mind since Tuesday. For in his
own hearing it had been said--by a woman, it is true, but still a
woman who came of a truthful family, and was married now into the
like--that Master Leviticus Cripps was harbouring pirates and
conspirators, believed to have come from America, in a little place
out of the way of all honest people, where the deaf old woman was.
Nobody ever had leave to the house; never a butcher, nor baker, nor
tea-grocer, nor a milkman, nor even a respectable washerwoman--there
was nothing except a great dog to rush out and bite without even
barking.

Zacchary had no easy task to find the little cottage of which he had
heard, for it lay well back from all thoroughfares, and so embedded
among ivied trees, that he passed and re-passed several times before
he descried it; and even then he would not have done so if it had not
chanced that Miss Patch, who loved good things when she could get
them, was about to dine on a juicy roaster, supplied by the wary
Leviticus. Grace herself had prepared the currant sauce, before she
went forth for her daily walk, and deaf old Margery Daw was stooping
over the fierce wood fire on the ground, and basting with a short iron
spoon. The double result was a wreath of blue smoke rising from the
crooked chimney, and a very rich odour streaming forth from door and
window on the vernal air. The eyes and the nose of the Carrier at once
presented him with clear impressions.

"Amerikayans understands good living." Giving utterance to this
profound and incontrovertible reflection, Cripps came to a halt and
sagely considered the situation. The first thing he asked, as usual,
was--"How would the law of the land lie?" Here was a lonely,
unprotected cottage, inhabited by an elderly foreign lady, who
especially sought retirement. Had he any legal right to insist on
knowing who she was, and all about her? Would he not rather be a
trespasser, and liable to a fine, and perhaps the jail, if he forced
himself in, without invitation and wilfully, against the inhabitants'
wish? And even if that came to nothing--as it might--could he say that
it was a manly and straightforward action on his part? He had no enemy
that he knew of, unless it was Black George, the poacher; but there
were always plenty of people ready to say ill-natured things about a
prosperous neighbour; and like enough they would set it afoot that he
had gone spying on a helpless lady, because she had never employed
him. And then his brother's reproach, which had so fiercely aroused
him, came back to his mind.

Neither was it wholly absent from his thoughts, that a great dog was
said to reside on these premises, whose manner was the peculiarly
unattractive one of rushing out to bite without a bark. The Carrier
had suffered in his time from dogs, as was natural to his calling; and
although his flesh was so wholesome that the result had never been
serious, he was conscious of a definite desire to defer all increase
of experience in that line.

"Spy!" he exclaimed, as he sat down rather to rest his stiff knee than
to watch the hut. "That never hath been said of me, and never shall
without a lie. But one on 'em might come out, mayhap, and give me some
zatisfaction."

Before his words were cool, Miss Patch herself appeared in the
doorway. She saw not Cripps, who had happened to put himself in a
knowing corner; and being in a quietly savage mood (from desire of
pig, and dread that stupid old Margery was murdering pig, by revolving
him too near the fire), she cast such a glance at the young leaves
around her, as seemed enough to nip them in the bud. Then she threw
away something with a scornful sweep, and Cripps believed almost every
word his brother had been saying.

"I'll be blessed if I don't scuttle off," he said to himself and the
moss he was sitting on. "In my time I have a seen all zorts of womans,
but none to come nigh this sample as be come over from Amerikay!
Sarveth me right for cooriosity. Amend me if ever I come anigh of any
Amerikayans again!"



CHAPTER XXXIX.

A TOMBSTONE.


Are there any who do not quicken to the impulse of young life, lifted
free of long repression and the dread of dull relapse? Can we find a
man or woman (holding almost any age) able to come out and meet the
challenge of the sun, conveyed in cartel of white clouds of May, and
yet to stick to private sense of sulky wrongs and brooding hate?

If we could find such a man or woman (by great waste of labour, in a
search ungracious), and if it should seem worth while to attempt to
cure the case, scarcely anything could be thought of, leading more
directly towards the end in view, than to fetch that person, and plant
him or her, without a word of explanation, among the flower-beds on
the little lawn of Beckley Barton.

The flowers themselves, and their open eyes, and the sparkling smile
of the grass, and the untold commerce of the freighted bees, and rich
voluntaries of thrush and blackbird (ruffled to the throat with song);
and over the whole the soft flow of sunshine, like a vast pervasive
river of gold, with silver wave of clouds--who could dwell on petty
aches and pains among such grandeur?

The old Squire sat in his bower-chair with a warm cloak over his
shoulders. His age was threescore and ten this day; and he looked back
through the length of years, and marvelled at their fleeting. The
stirring times of his youth, and the daily perils of his prime of
life, the long hard battle, and the slow promotion--because he had
given offence by some projection of honest opinion--the heavy
disappointment, and the forced retirement from the army when the wars
were over, with only the rank of Major, which he preferred to sink in
Squire--because he ought to have been, according to his own view of
the matter, a good Lieutenant-general--and then a very short golden
age of five years and a quarter, from his wedding-day to the death of
his wife, a single and sweet-hearted wife--and after that (as sorrow
sank into the soothing breast of time) the soft, and gentle, and
undreamed-of step of comfort, coming almost faster than was welcome,
while his little daughter grew.

After that the old man tried to think no more, but be content. To let
the little scenes of dancing, and of asking, and of listening, and of
looking puzzled, and of waiting to know truly whether all was
earnest--because already childhood had suspicion that there might be
things intended to delude it--and of raising from the level of papa's
well-buttoned pocket, clear bright eyes that did not know a guinea
from a halfpenny; and then, with the very extraordinary spring from
the elasticity of red calves (which happily departs right early), the
jumping into opened arms, and the laying on of little lips, and the
murmurs of delighted love--to let his recollections of all these die
out, and to do without them, was this old man's business now.

For he had been convinced at last--strange as it may seem, until we
call to mind how the strongest convictions are produced by the weakest
logic--at last he could no longer hope to see his Grace again; because
he had beheld her tombstone. Having made up his mind to go to church
that very Sunday morning, in spite of all Widow Hookham could do to
stop him, he had spied a new stone in the graveyard corner sacred to
the family of Oglander. The old man went up to see what it was, and
nobody liked to follow him. And nobody was surprised that he did not
show his white head at the chancel-door; though the parson waited five
minutes for him, being exceeding loth to waste ten lines, which he had
interlarded into a sermon of thirty years back, for the present sad
occasion.

For the old Squire sat on his grandfather's tombstone (a tabular piece
of memorial, suited to an hospitable man; where all his descendants
might sit around, and have their dinners served to them), and he
leaned his shaven chin on the head of his stout oak staff, and he took
off his hat, and let his white hair fall about. He fixed his still
bright eyes on the tombstone of his daughter, and tried to fasten his
mind there also, and to make out how old she was. He was angry with
himself for not being able to tell to a day without thinking; but
days, and years, and thoughts, and doings of quiet love quite slipping
by, and spreading without ruffle, had left him little to lay hold of
as a knotted record. Therefore he sat with his chin on his stick, and
had no sense of church-time, until the choir (which comprised seven
Crippses) bellowed out an anthem, which must have shaken their
grandfathers in their graves; unless in their time they had done the
same.

In this great uproar and applause, which always travelled for half a
mile, the Squire had made his escape from the graveyard; and then he
had gone home without a word and eaten his dinner, because he must
when the due time came for it. And now, being filled with substantial
faith that his household was nicely enjoying itself, he was come to
his bower to think and wonder, and perhaps by-and-by to fall fast
asleep, but never awake to bright hope again.

To this relief and mild incline of gentle age, his head was bowing and
his white hair settling down, according as the sun, or wind, or
clouds, or time of day desired, when some one darkened half his light,
and there stood Mary Hookham.

Mary had the newest of all new spring fashions on her head, and
breast, and waist, and everywhere. A truly spirited girl was she, as
well as a very handy one; and she never thought twice of a sixpence or
shilling, if a soiled paper-pattern could be had for it. And now she
was busy with half a guinea, kindly beginning to form its impress on
her moist hard-working palm.

"He have had a time of it!" she exclaimed, as her master began to gaze
around. "Oh my, what a time of it he have had!"

"Mary, I suppose you are talking of me. Yes, I have had a bad time on
the whole. But many people have had far worse."

"Yes, sir. And will you see one who hath? As fine a young gentleman as
ever lived; so ready to speak up for everybody, and walking like a
statute. It give me such a turn! I do believe you never would know
him, sir; without his name come in with him. Squire Overshute, sir, if
you please, requesteth the honour of seeing of you."

"Mary, I am hardly fit for it. I was doing my best to sit quite quiet,
and to try to think of things. I am not as I was yesterday, or even as
I was this morning. But if I ought to see him--why, I will. And
perhaps I ought, no doubt, when I come to think of things. The poor
young man has been very ill. To be sure, I remember all about it. Show
him where I am at once. What a sad thing for his mother! His mother is
a wonderful clever woman, of the soundest views in politics."

"His mother be dead, sir; I had better tell you for fear of begetting
any trifles with him; although we was told to keep such things from
you. Howsomever, I do think he be coming to himself, or he would not
have fallen out of patience as a hath done; and now here he be, sir!"

Russel Overshute, narrowed and flattened into half of his proper size,
and heightened thereby to unnatural stature--for stoop he would not,
although so weak--here he was walking along the damp walk, when a bed,
or a sofa, or a drawn-out chair at Shotover Grange, was his proper
place. He walked with the help of a crutch-handled stick, and his deep
mourning dress made him look almost ghastly. His eyes, however, were
bright and steady, and he made an attempt at a cheerful smile, as he
congratulated the Squire on the great improvement of his health.

"For that I have to thank you, my dear friend," answered Mr. Oglander;
"for weeks I had been helpless, till I helped myself; I mean, of
course, by the great blessing of the Lord. But of your sad troubles,
whatever shall I say----"

"My dear sir, say nothing, if you please--I cannot bear as yet to
speak of them. I ought to be thankful that life is spared to
me--doubtless for some good purpose. And I think I know what that
purpose is; though now I am confident of nothing."

"Neither am I, Russel, neither am I," said the old man, observing how
low his voice was, and speaking in a low sad voice himself. "I used to
have confidence in the good will and watchful care of the Almighty
over all who trust in Him. But now there is something over there"--he
pointed towards the churchyard--"which shows that we may carry such
ideas to a foolish point. But I cannot speak of it; say no more."

"I will own," replied Overshute, studying the Squire's downcast face,
to see how far he might venture, "at one time I thought that you
yourself carried such notions to a foolish length. That was before my
illness. Now, I most fully believe that you were quite right."

"Yes, I suppose that I was--so far as duty goes, and the parson's
advice. But as for the result--where is it?"

"As yet we see none. But we very soon shall. Can you bear to hear
something I want to say, and to listen to it attentively?"

"I believe that I can, Russel. There is nothing now that can disturb
me very much."

"This will disturb you, my dear sir, but in a very pleasant way, I
hope. As sure as I stand and look at you here, and as sure as the
Almighty looks down at us both, that grave in Beckley churchyard holds
a gipsy-woman, and no child of yours! Ah! I put it too abruptly, as I
always do. But give me your arm, sir, and walk a few steps. I am not
very strong, any more than you are. But, please God, we will both get
stronger, as soon as our troubles begin to lift."

Each of them took the right course to get stronger, by putting forth
his little strength, to help and guide the other's steps.

"Russel, what did you say just now?" Mr. Oglander asked, when the pair
had managed to get as far as another little bower, Grace's own, and
there sat down. "I must have taken your meaning wrong. I am not so
clear as I was, and often there is a noise inside my head."

"I told you, sir, that I had proved for certain that your dear
daughter has not been buried here--nor anywhere else, to my firm
belief. Also I have found out and established (to my own most bitter
cost) who it was that lies buried here, and of what terrible disease
she died. As regards my own illness, I would go through it again--come
what might come of it--for the sake of your darling Grace; but, alas!
I have lost my own dear mother through this utterly fiendish plot--for
such it is, I do believe! This poor girl buried here was the younger
sister of Cinnaminta!"

"Cinnaminta!" said the Squire, trying to arouse old memory. "Surely I
have heard that name. But tell me all, Russel; for God's sake, tell me
all, and how you came to find it out, and what it has to do with my
lost pet."

"My dear sir, if you tremble so I shall fear to tell you another word.
Remember, it is all good, so far as it goes; instead of trembling you
should smile and rejoice."

"So I will--so I will; or at least I will try. There, now, look--I
have taken a pinch of snuff, you need have no fear for me after that."

"All I know beyond what I have told you is that your Gracie--and my
Grace too--was driven off in a chaise and pair, through the narrow
lanes towards Wheatley. I have not been able to follow the track in my
present helpless condition; and, indeed, what I know I only learned
this morning; and I thought it my duty to come and tell you at once. I
had it from poor Cinnaminta's own lips, who for a week or more had
been lurking near the house to see me. This morning I could not resist
a little walk--lonely and miserable as it was--and the poor thing told
me all she knew. She was in the deepest affliction herself at the loss
of her only surviving child, and she fancied that I had saved his life
before, and she had deep pangs of ingratitude, and of Nemesis, etc.;
and hence she was driven to confess all her share; which was but a
little one. She was tempted by the chance of getting money enough to
place her child in the care of a first-rate doctor."

"But Grace--my poor Grace!--how was she tempted--or was she forced
away from me?"

"That I cannot say as yet; Cinnaminta had no idea. She did not even
see the carriage; for she herself was borne off by her tribe, who were
quite in a panic at the fever. But she heard that no violence was
used, and there was a lady in the chaise; and poor Grace went quite
readily, though she certainly did seem to sob a little. It was no
elopement, Mr. Oglander, nor anything at all of that kind. The poor
girl believed that she was acting under your orders in all she did;
just as she had believed that same when she left her aunt's house to
meet you on the homeward road, through that forged letter, which, most
unluckily, she put into her pocket. There, I believe I have told you
all I can think of for the moment. Of course, you will keep the whole
to yourself, for we have to deal with subtle brutes. Is there anything
you would like to ask?"

"Russel Overshute," said the Squire, "I am not fit to go into things
now; I mean all the little ins and outs. And you look so very ill, my
dear fellow, I am quite ashamed of allowing you to talk. Come into the
house and have some nourishment. If any man ever wanted it, you do
now. How did you come over?"

"Well, I broke a very ancient vow. If there is anything I detest it is
to see a young man sitting alone inside of a close carriage. But we
never know what we may come to. I tried to get upon my horse, but
could not. By the bye, do you know Hardenow?"

"Not much," said the Squire; "I have seen him once or twice, and I
know that he is a great friend of yours. He is one of the new lights,
is not he?"

"I am sure I don't know, or care. He is a wonderfully clever fellow,
and as true as steel, and a gentleman. He has heard of course of your
sad trouble, but only the popular account of it. He does not even know
of my feelings--but I will not speak now of them----"

"You may, my dear fellow, with all my heart. You have behaved like a
true son to me; and if ever a gracious Providence----"

Overshute took Mr. Oglander's hand, and held it in silence for a
moment; he could not bear the idea of even the faintest appearance of
a bargain now. The Squire understood, and liked him all the better,
and waved his left hand towards the dining-room.

"One thing more, while we are alone," resumed the young man, much as
he longed for, and absolutely needed, good warm victuals; "Hardenow is
a tremendous walker; six miles an hour are nothing to him; the 'Flying
Dutchman' he is called, although he hasn't got a bit of calf. Of
course, I would not introduce him into this matter without your leave.
But may I tell him all, and send him scouting, while you and I are so
laid upon the shelf? He can go where you and I could not, and nobody
will suspect him. And, of course, as regards intelligence alone, he is
worth a dozen of that ass John Smith; at any rate, he would find no
mare's nests. May I try it? If so, I will take on the carriage to
Oxford, as soon as I have had a bit to eat."

"With all my heart," cried the Squire, whose eyes were full again of
life and hope. "Hardenow owes a debt to Beckley. It was Cripps who got
him his honours and fellowship--or at least the Carrier says so; and
we all believe our Carrier. And after all, whatever there is to do,
nobody does it like a gentleman, and especially a good scholar. I
remember a striking passage in the syntax of the Eton Latin grammar. I
make no pretension to learning when I quote it, for it hath been
quoted in the House of Lords. Perhaps you remember it, my dear
Russel."

"My Latin has turned quite rusty, Squire," answered Overshute,
knowing, as well as Proteus, what was coming.

"The passage is this,"--Mr. Oglander always smote his frilled shirt,
in this erudition, and delivered, _ore rotundo_--

    "Scilicet ingenuas didicisse fideliter artes,
      Emollit mores, nec sinit esse feros."



CHAPTER XL.

LET ME OUT.


At about the same hour of that Sunday afternoon, Miss Patch sat alone
in her little cottage, stubbornly reasoning with herself. She was
growing rather weary of her task, which had been a long and heavy one;
a great deal longer, and a great deal heavier, than she ever could
have dreamed at the outset. It was for the sake of the kingdom of
heaven that she had laid her hand to this plough; and now it seemed
likely to be a "plough," in the sense in which that word is lightly
used by undergraduates.

For public opinion Miss Patch cared nothing. Her view of the world was
purely and precisely "Scriptural," according to her own
interpretation. Any line of action was especially recommended to her
by the certainty that "the world" would condemn it. She had led a life
of misery with her father, the gambling captain, the man of fashion,
who made slaves of his children; and being already of a narrow gauge
of mind, she laid herself out for theology; not true religion, but
enough to please her, and make her sure that she was always right.

Grace, being truly of a docile nature, and most unsuspicious (as her
father was before her), had implicit faith in the truth and honour of
her good Aunt Patch. She looked upon her as so devoutly pious and
grandly upright, that any idea of fraud on her part seemed almost
profanity. She believed the good lady to be acting wholly under the
guidance of her own father, and as his representative; in which there
seemed nothing either strained or strange, especially as the Squire
had once placed his daughter in the charge of Miss Patch, for a course
of Scriptural and historical reading. And the first misgiving in the
poor girl's mind arose from what Christopher Sharp had told her. Of
pining and lonely weariness, weeks and weeks she had endured, under
the firm belief that her father was compelled to have it so, and in
the hope of the glorious time when he should come to take her home.
For all that she could see good reason--according to what she had been
told--but she could see no reason whatever why Miss Patch should have
told her falsehoods as to the place in which they lived. Having been
challenged upon this subject by her indignant niece, the elderly lady
now sat thinking. She was as firmly convinced as ever, that in all she
had done, she had acted strictly and purely for the glory of the Lord.
Grace, a great heiress, and a silly girl, was at the point of being
snapped up by the papists, and made one of them; whereupon both an
immortal soul and £150,000 would be devoted to perdition. Of this Miss
Patch had been thoroughly assured before she would give her help at
all. It was well known that Russel Overshute loved and would win Grace
Oglander, and that Russel's dearest friend was Hardenow of Brasenose,
and that Hardenow was the deepest Jesuit ever admitted to holy orders
in the Church of England; therefore, at heart, Russel Overshute must
be a papist of the deepest dye; and anybody with half an eye could see
through that conspiracy. To defeat such a scheme, Miss Patch would
have promised to spend six months in a hollow tree; but promise and
performance are a "very different pair of shoes;" and the lady (though
fed, like a woodpecker, on the choicest of all sylvan food) even now,
in four months' time, was tiring of her martyrdom.

Her cottage in a wood had long been growing loathsome to her. The
deeds of the Lord she admired greatly, when they were homicidal; but
of His large and kindly works she had no congenial liking. The
fluttering spread of leaves, that hang like tips of empty gloves one
day, and after one kind night lift forth (like the hand of a baby with
his mind made up), and the change of colour all under the trees,
whether the ground be grassed or naked; also the delicate sliding of
the light in and out the peeling wands of brush-wood, and flat upon
the lichened stones, and even in the coarsest hour of the day--which
generally is from 1 to 2 p.m., when all mankind are dining--the quiet
spread and receptive width of growth that has to catch its light--for
none of these pretty little scenes did Miss Patch care so much as half
a patch. And she was sure that they gave her the rheumatism.

She was longing to be in London now, to sit beneath the noble
eloquence of preachers and orators most divine, who spend the prime of
the year in reviling their friends and extolling the negro. Whereas
for weeks and weeks, in this ungodly forest, she had no chance of
receiving any spiritual ministration; save once, when Tickuss, on a
Sunday morning, had driven her in his pig-cart to a little Wesleyan
chapel some three miles off at the end of a hamlet. Here people stared
at her so, and asked such questions, that she durst not go again; and,
indeed, the pleasure was not worth the risk, for the shoemaker who
preached was a thoroughly quiet, ungifted man, without an evil word
for anybody.

Not only these large regrets and yearnings were thronging upon this
lady now, but also a small although feminine feeling of desire for
support and guidance. Strong-minded as she was, and conscious of her
lofty mission, from time to time she grew faint-hearted in that dreary
solitude, without the encouragement of the cool male will. This for
some days she had not received, and she knew not why it had failed
her.

Though the afternoon was so bright with temptation, the wood so rich
with wonders, Miss Patch preferred to nurse her knee by the little
fire in her parlour. She had always hated to be out of doors, and to
see too much of things which did not bear out her opinions, and to
lose that clear knowledge of the will of the Lord which is lost by
those who study Him. She loved to discern in everything that happened
to her liking "the grand and infinite potentiality of an all-wise
Providence;" and, if a little thing went amiss, she laid all the blame
to the badly principled interference of the devil.

While she was deeply pondering thus, and warming her little teapot, in
ran the beautiful and lively girl, who had long been growing too much
for her. It was not only the brighter spring of young life in this
Gracie, and her pretty ways, and nice surprises, and pleasure in
pleasing others, and graceful turns of cookery, but also her pure
fount of loving-kindness which (having no other way out) was obliged
to steal around Miss Patch herself. Although she had been ill-content
with the only explanation she could get about her dwelling-place--to
wit, that in these roadless parts distance was very much a matter of
conjecture--Grace had no suspicion yet of any plot or conspiracy. All
things had been planned so deeply, and carried out so cleverly, that
any such suspicion would have been contrary to her nature. She had
lost, by some unaccountable carelessness, both the note from her
father, which she had received at her Aunt Joan's, and also his more
important letter delivered to her, when she met the chaise, by her
kind and pious "Aunty Patch." In the first note (delivered by a little
boy) she had simply been called forth to meet her father in the lane,
and to walk home with him, as he wished to speak with her by herself.
She was not to wait to pack any of her clothes, as they would be sent
for afterwards; and he hoped her Aunt Joan would excuse his deferring
their little dinner for the present.

But when, instead of meeting him, she found the chaise with Miss Patch
inside it, and was invited to step in, a real letter was handed to
her, the whole of which in the waning light--the day being very brown
and gloomy--she could not easily make out. But she learned enough to
see that she was to place herself under the care of Miss Patch, and
not expect to see her dear father for at least some weeks to come. Her
hair, for the reason therein given, was to be cut off at once, and not
even kept in the carriage; and the poor girl submitted, with a few low
sobs, to the loss of her beautiful bright tresses. But what were they?
How small and selfish of her to think twice of them in the presence of
the heavy trouble threatening her dear father, and the anguish of
losing him for so long, without even so much as a kiss of farewell!
For, after his first brief scrawl, he had found that, by starting at
once, he could catch at Falmouth the packet for Demerara, and thus
save a fortnight in getting to his estates, which were threatened with
ruin. If these should be lost to him, Gracie knew (as he had no
secrets from her) that half his income would go at one sweep--which,
for his own sake, would matter little; but, for the sake of his
darling, must, if possible, be prevented.

He had no time now for another word, except that he had left his house
at Beckley, just as it stood, to be let by his agent, to cover the
expenses of this long voyage, and to get him out of two difficulties.
He could not have left his dear child there alone; and, if he could,
he would not have done so, for a most virulent fever had long been
hanging about, and had now broken out hard by; and Dr. Splinters had
strictly ordered, the moment he heard of it, that the dear child's
hair should be cropped to her head, and burned or cast away, for
nothing harboured infection as hair did. With a few words of blessing,
and comfort, and love, and a promise to write from Demerara, and a
fatherly hope that for his sake she would submit to Miss Patch in all
things, and make the most of this opportunity for completing her
course of Scriptural and historical reading, the dear old father had
signed himself her "loving papa, W. O."

Grace would have been a very different girl from her own frank self,
if she had even dreamed of suspecting the genuineness of this letter.
It was in her father's crabbed, and upright, and queerly-jointed hand,
from the first line to the last. For a moment, indeed, she had been
surprised that he called himself her "papa," because he did not like
the word, and thought it a piece of the foreign stuff which had better
continue to be foreign. But there stood the word; and in his hurry how
could he stop to such trifles? This letter had been lost; poor Grace
could not imagine how, because she had taken such great care of it,
and had slept with it under her pillow always. Nevertheless, it had
disappeared, leaving tears of self-reproach in her downcast eyes, as
she searched the wood for it. And this made her careful tenfold of the
two letters she had received from George-town.

But now, as she came with her Sunday hat on, and her pretty Woodstock
gloves, and her neat brown skirt looped up (for challenge of briers,
and furze, and dog-rose), and, best of all, with the bloom on her
cheeks, and the sparkle in her clear soft eyes, and the May sun making
glory in her rolling clouds of new-grown hair--and, better than best,
that smile of the heart filling the whole young face with light--she
really looked as if it would be impossible to say "no" to her.

"Aunty," she began, "it is quite an age since you have let me have a
walk at all. One would think that I wanted to run away with that very
smart young gentleman, who possesses and exhibits that extremely
lustrous riding-whip. If he has only got a horse to match it--what is
the name, dear Aunty, of that inestimable historical jewel that
somebody stole out of somebody's eye?"

"Grace, will you never remember anything? It is now called the Orloff,
or Schaffras gem, and is set in the Russian sceptre."

"Then that must be the name of this gentleman's horse, to enable it to
go with such a whip. Dear Aunty now, even that whip will not tempt me
or move me to run away from you. Only do please to allow me forth.
This horrid little garden is so shaded and sour, that even a daisy
cannot live. But in the wood I find all things lovely. May I have a
run for only half an hour?"

"Upon one condition," replied Miss Patch; "that if you see any one,
you shall come back at once, and let me know."

"What, even the fat man with the flapped hat and the smock on? I never
go out without seeing him, though he never seems to see me at all. He
must be very short-sighted."

"Oh no, my dear; never mind that poor man; he looks after the cattle
or something. What I mean is, any young gentleman, who ought to be at
home on the Sabbath day. And wrestle with your natural frivolity, my
dear, that no worldly thoughts may assault and hurt the soul upon this
holy day."

"I will do my best, Aunty. But how can I help thinking of the things I
see?"

Miss Patch having less than any faith in unregenerate human nature,
feared that she might have been wrong in allowing even this limited
freedom to Grace. The truth of it was that, without fresh guidance
from a mind far deeper than her own, she could not see the right thing
to do in the new complication arising. The interviews between Kit
Sharp and Grace were the very thing desired, and surely must have led
to something good, which ought to be carefully followed up. And yet,
if she met him again, she would be quite sure to go on with her
questions; and Kit, being purely outside of the plot, would reply with
the most inconvenient truth. Miss Patch had written, as promptly as
could be, to ask what she ought to do in this crisis. But no answer
had come through the trusty Tickuss, nor any well-provided visit. The
Christian-minded lady could not tell at all what to make of it. Then,
calling to mind the sacredness of the day, she dismissed the subject;
and sternly rebuked deaf Margery Daw for not keeping the kettle
boiling.



CHAPTER XLI.

REASON AND UNREASON.


When things were in this very ticklish condition almost everywhere,
and even Cripps himself could scarcely sleep because of rumours, and
Dobbin in his own clean stable found the flies too many for him, an
exceedingly active man set out to scour the whole of the
neighbourhood. To the large and vigorous mind of the Rev. Thomas
Hardenow, the worst of all sins (because the most tempting and
universal) was indolence.

Hardenow never condemned a poor man for having his pint or his quart
of ale (with his better half to help him), when he had earned it by a
hard day's work, and had fed his children likewise. Hardenow thought
it not easy to find any hypocrisy more bald or any morality more cheap
than that or those which strut about, reviling the poor man for
taking, in the cheaper liquid form, the nourishment which "his
betters" can afford to have in the shape of meat; and then are not
content with it, unless it is curdled with some duly sour vintage. And
passing such crucial points of debate, Hardenow always could make
allowance for any sins rather than those which spring from a
treacherous, sneaking, and lying essence.

Now, a council was held at the Grange of Shotover on the Monday. A sad
and melancholy house it was, with its fine old mistress lately buried,
and its poor young master only half recovered. The young tutor had
been especially invited, and having heard everything from the Squire
(who was proud of having ridden so far, yet broke down ridiculously
among his boasts), and from Russel Overshute (who had thrown himself
back for at least three days by excitement and exertion yesterday),
and also from Mrs. Fermitage (who had lately been feeling herself
overlooked), Hardenow thought for some little time before he would
give his opinion. Not that he was, by any manner of means, possessed
with the greatness of his own ideas; but that Mrs. Fermitage, from a
low velvet chair, looked up at him with such emphatic inquiry and
implicit faith, that he was quite in a difficulty how to speak, or
what to say.

And so he said a very few short words of sympathy and of kindness, and
gladly offered to do his best, and obey the orders given him; so far,
at least, as his duty to his college and pupils permitted. He
confessed that he had thought of this matter many times before he was
invited to do so, and without the knowledge which he now possessed, or
the special interest in the subject which he now must feel for the
sake of Russel. But Mrs. Fermitage, filled with respect for the wisdom
of a fellow and tutor of a college, would not let Hardenow thus
escape; and being compelled to give his opinion, he did so with his
usual clearness.

"I am not at all a man of the world," he said; "and of the law I know
nothing. My friend Russel is a man of the world, and knows a good deal
of the law as well. A word from him is worth many of mine. But if Mrs.
Fermitage insists upon having my crude ideas, they are these. First of
the first, and by far the most important--I believe that Miss Oglander
is alive, and that her father will receive her safe and sound, though
not perhaps still Miss Oglander."

"God bless you, my dear sir!" the Squire broke in, getting up to lay
hold of the young man's hand. "I don't care a straw what her name may
be--Snooks, or Snobbs, or Higginbotham--if I only get sight of my
darling child again!"

Russel Overshute looked rather queer at this, and so did Mrs.
Fermitage; but the Squire continued in the same sort of way--"What
odds about her name, if it only is my Grace?"

"Exactly so," replied Hardenow; "that natural feeling of yours perhaps
has been foreseen and counted on; and that may be why such trouble was
taken to terrify you with the idea of her death. Also, of course, that
would paralyze your search, while the villains are at leisure to
complete their work."

"I declare, I never thought of that," cried Russel. "How extremely
thick-headed of me! That theory accounts for a number of things that
cannot be otherwise explained. What a head you have got, my dear Tom,
to be sure!"

"I wish I could believe it!" Mr. Oglander exclaimed, whilst his sister
clasped her fair fat hands, and looked with amazement at every one.
"But I see no motive, no motive whatever. My Grace was a dear good
girl, as everybody knows, and a fortune in herself; but of worldly
goods she had very little, any more than I have; and her prospects
were naturally contingent--contingent upon many things, which may not
come to pass, I hope, for many years--if they ever do." Here he looked
at his sister, and she said, "I hope so." "Therefore," continued Mr.
Oglander, "while there are so many fine girls in the county, very much
better worth carrying off--so far as mere worthless pelf is
concerned--why should anybody steal my Grace unless they stole her for
her own sake?"

Here the Squire sat down, and took to drumming with his stick. His
feelings were hurt at the idea--though it was so entirely of his own
origination--that his daughter had been carried off for the sake of
her money, not of her own dear self. Hardenow looked at him and made
no answer. He felt that it did not behove a mere stranger to ask about
the young lady's expectations; while Overshute was more imperatively
silenced by his relations towards the family. But Mrs. Fermitage came
to the rescue. Great was her faith in the value of money, and she
liked to have it known that she had plenty.

"Tut, tut," she cried, shaking out her new brocaded silk--a mourning
dress certainly, but softly trimmed with purple--"why should we make
any mystery of things, when the truth is most important? And the truth
is, Mr. Hardenow, that my dear niece had very good expectations. My
deeply lamented husband, respected, and I may say reverenced, for
upwards of half a century, in every college of Oxford, and even more
so by the corporation, for the pure integrity of his character, the
loftiness of his principles, and--and the substance of his--what they
make the wine of--he was not the man, Mr. Hardenow, to leave a devoted
wife behind him, who had stepped perhaps out of her rank a little, not
being of commercial birth, you know, but never found cause to regret
it, without some provision for the earthly time which she, being many
years his junior----"

"Come, come, Joan, not so very many," exclaimed the truthful Squire;
"about five, or say six, at the utmost. You were born on the 25th of
June, A.D.----"

"Worth, I was not asking you for statistics. Mr. Hardenow, you will
excuse my brother. He has always had a rude style of interruption; he
learned it, I believe, in the army, and we always make allowance for
it. But to go back to what I was saying--my good and ever to be
lamented husband, being, let us say, ten years my senior--Worth, will
that content you?--left every farthing of his property to me; and a
good husband always does the same thing, I am told, and I believe they
are ordered in the Bible; and, of course, I have no one to leave it to
but Grace; and being so extraordinarily advanced in years, as my dear
brother has impressed upon you, they could not have any very long time
to wait; and my desire is to do my duty; and perhaps that lies at the
bottom of it all."

After relieving her mind in this succinct yet copious manner, the good
lady went into her chair again, carefully directing, in whatever state
of mind, the gathering and the falling of her dress aright. And though
it might be fancied that her colour had been high, anybody now could
see that her dignity had conquered it.

"Now, the whole of this goes for next to nothing," said the Squire,
while the young men looked at one another, and longed to be out of the
way of it. "As we have got into the subject, let us go right down to
the bottom of it. What are filthy pence and halfpence, or a cellar,
like Balak's, of silver and gold, when compared with the life of one
pure dear soul? I may not express myself theologically, but you can
see what I mean exactly. I mean that I would kick old Port-wine's
dross to the bottom of the Red Sea, where Pharaoh lies, if it turns
out that that has killed my child, or made her this long time dead to
me."

Having justified his feelings thus, the old man stood up, and went to
the window, to look for his horse. The very last thing he desired
always was to let out what he felt too much. But to hear that old
thief of a "Port-wine Fermitage" praised, and his lucre put forward,
quite as if it were an equivalent for Grace, and to think that he owed
to that filthy cause the loss of the liveliest, loveliest darling,
without whom he had neither life nor love--such things were enough to
break the balance of his patience; and the rest might think them out
amongst them.

Now, this might have made a very serious to-do between Mr. Oglander
and his sister Joan, both of them being of the stiff-necked order, if
he had been allowed to ride away like this. Mrs. Fermitage had her
great carriage in the yard, and two black horses with wide valleys
down their backs, rattling rings of the brightest brass, while they
stood in the stable with a bail between them, and gently deigned to
blow the chaff off from the oats of Shotover. This goodly pair made a
great rush now into the mind of their mistress--the only sort of rush
they ever made--and seeing her brother in that state of mind to get
away from her, she became inspired with an equal desire to get away
from him.

"Will you kindly ring the bell," she said, "and order my horses to be
put to? I think I have quite said every word I had to say. And being
the only lady present, of course I labour under some--well, some
little disadvantages. Not, of course, that I mean for a moment----"

"To be sure not, Joan! You never do know what you mean. You would be a
very nasty woman if you did. Now, do let us turn our minds the
pleasant way to everything. If any word has come from me to lead to
strong kind of argument, I beg pardon of everybody; and then there
ought to be an end of it."

Mrs. Fermitage scarcely knew what to say, but in a relenting way
looked round for some one to take it up for her. And she was not long
without somebody.

"Mr. Oglander," said Russel Overshute, "you really ought to give us
time to think. You are growing so hasty, sir, since you came back to
your seat in the saddle, and your cross-country ways, that you want to
ride over every one of us--ladies and gentlemen, all alike."

The old Squire laughed, he could not help it, at the thought of his
own effrontery. He felt that there might be some truth about it, ever
since it had come into his mind that he might not after all be
childless. He would not have any one know, for a thousands pounds, why
he was laughing; or that half another word might turn it into weeping.
He had seen it proved in learned books that no man knew the way to
weep at his time of life; and if his own case went against it, he had
the manners to be ashamed of it. So he waited till he felt that his
face was right, and then he went up to his sister Joan, who was
growing uneasy about her own words; and he took her two plump hands in
his, and gave a glance, for all there present to be welcome witnesses.
And then, having knowledge for the last ten years how much too fat she
was to lift, he managed to kiss her in the two right places,
disarranging nothing.

His sister looked up at him, as soon as he had done it, with a sense
of his propriety and study of her harmonies; and she whispered to him
quietly, "I beg you pardon, brother." And he spoke up for all to hear
him, "Joan, my dear, I beg your pardon."

"Now, the first thing to be done," said Hardenow, "is to find
Cinnaminta and her husband Smith. But allow me to make one important
request, that even your adviser, Mr. Luke Sharp, shall not be informed
of what has passed to-day, or what Overshute found out yesterday."

With some little surprise they agreed to this.



CHAPTER XLII.

MEETING THE COACH.


There happened, however, to be some one else, whose opinion differed
very widely from that of Mr. Hardenow, as to the necessity for any
prompt appearance of either Mr. or Mrs. Joseph Smith.

The old red house in Cross Duck Lane was ready to jump out of its
windows--if such a feat be possible--with eagerness and anxiety at the
long absence of its master. Mr. Luke Sharp had not crossed his own
threshold for ten whole days, including two Sundays, when even an
attorney may give leg-bail to the Power under whose "Ca. ad sa." he
lives. The business of the noble firm of Piper, Pepper, Sharp, & Co.
was falling sadly into arrears, at the very busiest time of year; for
Mr. Sharp had always kept his very best clerks in leading strings; and
Kit thus far, with his mother's aid, had battled against all articles.
Christopher Fermitage Sharp, Esq., was resolved to be a country
gentleman and a sportsman, and no quill-driver; he felt that his arms,
and legs as well, were a great deal too good for going on and under
desk.

With fine resignation Kit accepted the absence of his father. With his
father away, he was a very great man; with his father at home, he was
quite a small boy. He liked to play master of a house, and frighten
his mother and the maids; and vow to dine at the Mitre all the rest of
the week--if that was their style of cookery!

But poor Mrs. Sharp could not treat the matter thus. Truly delighted
as she was to see her dear boy take his father's place, and conduct
himself with dignity as the head of the household, and find fault with
things of which he knew nothing, and order this, that, and the other
away--still she could not help remembering that all this was not as it
ought to be. Christopher ought to have been in tortures of intense
anxiety; and, so far as that went, so ought she; and she really tried
very hard not to sleep, and to sit up listening for the night-bell.
But a man who thinks everything of his own will, and nothing of any
other person's wish, may be pretty sure that none will miss his
presence so much as himself does.

In spite of all that, Mrs. Sharp was anxious, and so were the rest of
the household--though rather perhaps with care than love--at the long,
unaccountable absence of the head and the brain of everything. Even
the boys in Cross Duck Lane, who had a strong idea that Lawyer Sharp
would defend them against the magistrates, were beginning to feel that
they must look out before throwing stones at any other boys.

"You are not at all the thing, my darling boy," said Mrs. Sharp to
Christopher, on the evening of that same Monday on which the Council
had been held at Shotover; "your want of appetite makes me wretched.
Now, put on your cloak, my pet, and go as far as Carfax, or Magdalen
Bridge. The two evening coaches will soon be in--the 'Defiance' and
the 'Regulator.' I have a strong idea that your father will come by
one or other of them."

"I may just as well go there as anywhere else," the young man answered
gloomily. For some days now he had striven in vain for an interview
with his charmer; and, most unkindest cut of all, he had spied her
once, and she had run away. "It does not matter where I go."

"When you talk like that, dear child, you have no idea what you do.
You simply break the heart of your poor mother--and much you care for
that! Now, if you should see any very fresh calves' sweet-breads, or
even a pig's fry, or anything you fancy, order it in, dear, at once;
and be sure that you are at home by nine o'clock; and bring your dear
papa with you, if you can."

Kit, with a sigh and a roll of his eyes, flung his cloak around him;
and with long, slow, melancholy strides clomb the arduous steep of
Carfax. Here at that time--if any faith there be to bruit of
veterans--eighty well-equipped quadrigæ daily passed with prance of
steeds and sound of classic trump, and often youthful charioteer, more
apt to handle than win ribbons. Forty chariots came from smoke, and
wealth, and din of blessed Rome; and other forty sped them back, with
the glory and mud of the country divine.

The moody Kit ensconced himself, away from the tramp of the vulgar crowd,
in the beetling doorway of a tailor who had put his shutters up; and
thrice being challenged by proctors velvet-sleeved, and velvet-selvaged
Pro--"Sir, are you a member of this university?"--thrice had the pleasure
of answering "No!" Once and again he wiped his hectic cheek and
fevered brow with a yellow bandana, from which the winner of last
year's Derby was washing out; and he saw the "Defiance" and the
"Regulator" pass, newly horsed from rival inns, exalting their horns
against one another, with splinter-bars swinging behind cocked tails,
all eager for their race upon the Cheltenham road. But he saw not the
author of his existence; yet no tear bedewed his unfilial eye, though
these were the likeliest coaches.

"All right," he said, putting his pipe in its case; "governor won't
come home to-night. I'm in no hurry, if he isn't. I think I'll have
sheep's trotters. It's a beastly time of the year for anything."
Twitching his cloak, which had two long tassels, he strode, from his
post of observation and morbid meditation, towards a tidy and clean
little tripe-shop. He knew the old woman who kept it, in George
Street; and she always put him into good condition by generous
admiration.

Alas! he had stridden but a very few strides, when he met the up-coach
from Woodstock, wearily with spent horses making rally for the Star.
The driver (a man of fine family at Christchurch, now in his seventh
term, and fighting off his "smalls"), with a turn of his strong arm,
pulled the team together, while with the other hand he launched a
scouring flourish of the shrill scourge over every blessed horse's
ears.

"Well done, my lord!" said the gentleman on the box, as the four
horses pulled up foot for foot, and stood with their ears and their
noses one for one; "you have brought them up in noble style, my lord.
I never saw it done more perfectly."

My lord touched his white hat, and said nothing. He had crowned his
day, as he always loved to crown it; and now, if he could get into a
back room of the Star, pull off his top-boots and cape, and don cap
and gown, and fetch back to college clear of £5 fine--as happy as any
lord would he be, till nature sent him forth to drive again tomorrow.

But Kit, having very keen ears, had recognised, even from the other
side of the street, the sound of his dear father's voice. Mr. Luke
Sharp never missed a chance of commending a nobleman's exploits; but
he would not have spoken in so loud a tone, perhaps, if he had known
that his son was near at hand. For he hated with a consistent
hatred--whether he were doing well or ill--all observation of his
movements by any member of his household. Christopher, being well
aware of this, pursued his own course in the shadow, but resolved,
with filial piety, to keep his good father in sight for fear of his
falling into any mischief.

First of all, Mr. Sharp--as observed at a respectful distance by his
son--went into the coach office, and there left his hand-bag and his
travelling coat; then, carrying something rolled under his arm, he
betook himself to a little quiet tap-room, and called for something
that loomed and steamed afar, very much after the manner of hot brown
grog.

"Ho, ho!" muttered Kit; "then he isn't going home. My duty to the
household commands me to learn why."

With a smack of his lips, Mr. Sharp the elder came out into
Corn-Market Street again, and turning his back on his home, set forth
at a rapid pace for the broad desert of St. Giles. Here he passed into
an unlit alley, in the lonely parts beyond St. John's; and Kit, full
of wonder, was about to follow, but hung back as the receding figure
suddenly stopped and began to shift about. In a nice dark place, the
learned gentleman unrolled the travelling rug he had been carrying,
undoubled it, after that, from some selvage--and, lo, there was a city
watchman's large loose overall! Then he pressed down the crown of his
black spring-hat, till it lay on his head like a pancake, pulled the
pouch of his long cloak over that, and emerged from his alley with a
vigilant slouch, whistling "Moll Maloney." Considerable surprise found
its way into the candid mind of Christopher.

"Well now!" thought the ungrateful youth, as he shrank behind a tree
to peep; "I always knew that the governor was a notch or two too deep
for us; but what he is up to now surpasses all experience of him. What
shall I do? It seems so nasty to go spying after him. And yet things
are taking such a very strange turn, that, for the sake of my mother,
who is worth a thousand of him, I do believe I am bound to see what
this strange go may lead to."

Young curiosity sprang forth, and strongly backed up his sense of
duty; insomuch that Kit, after hesitating and listening for any other
step, stealthily followed the "author of his existence" across the
dark and dusty road. "He is going to Squeaker Smith's," thought the
lad; "he will get a horse, and ride away, no end; and of course I can
never go after him. I am sure it has something to do with me. Such
troubles are enough to drive one mad."

But Mr. Sharp did not turn in at the lamp-lit entrance to those mews.
He shunned the beaming oil, which threw barred shadows upon sawdust of
a fine device, and, keeping all his merits in the dark, strode on,
like a watchman newly ordered to his post. Then suddenly he turned
down a narrow unmade lane, hillocked with clay, and leading (as
Christopher knew quite well) to the wildest part of "Jericho."

"I will follow him no further," said Kit Sharp, with a pang of
astonishment and doubt; "he is my father; what right have I to pry
into his secrets? How I wish that I had not followed him at all! It
serves me right for meanness. I will go home now; what care I for
anything--trotters, cow-heel, or sweet-bread?"

As he turned, to carry out this good resolve, with a heart that would
have ailed him more for leaving fears unfinished, the sound of a
clouting, loutish footstep came along the broken mud-banks of the
narrow lane. The place was lonely, dark, and villainous: foot-pads
still abounded. Kit knew that his father often carried large sums of
money, and always the great gold watch; he might have been decoyed
here for robbery and murder, upon pretence of secret business; clearly
it was the young man's duty not to be too far away. Therefore he drew
back, and stood in the jaws of the dark entrance.

But while he was ready to leap forth if wanted, the sound of quiet
voices told him that there was no danger. Kit could not hear the first
few words; but his father came back towards the mouth of the lane, as
if he would much rather not go into the dark too deeply. Christopher
therefore was obliged either to draw back into the hedge, and there
lie hid without moving, or else to come forward and declare himself.
He knew that the latter was his proper course, or he might have known
it, if he had taken time to think; but the dread of his father and the
hurry of the moment drove him, without thought, into the
lurking-place. It was quite dark now, and there was not a lamp within
a furlong of them.

"You quite understand me, then;" Mr. Sharp was speaking in a low clear
voice; "you are not to say a word to Cripps about it. He is true
enough to me, because he dare not be otherwise; but he is an arrant
coward. I want a man who has the spirit to defy the law, when he knows
that he is well backed up."

"Governor, I am your man for that. I have defied the law, since I were
that high, with only my mother, in the wukuss, to back me."

"What I mean is, to defy the wrong fashions of the law; the petty
rules that go against all common sense and equity."

"All the fashions of the law be wrong. I might a' got on in the world
like a house afire, if it hadn't been for the devil's own law. To tell
me a thing is agin the law is as good as an eyster to my teeth. Go on,
governor, no fear of that, I say."

"And you know where to find, at any moment, a man as resolute as
yourself--Joe Smith. Well, you know what you have to do, in case of
any sudden stir arising. At present all goes well; but all, at any
moment, may go wrong. Squire Overshute is about again at last----"

"Ah, if I could only come across of he of a dark night, such as this
be----"

"And that fool Cinnaminta has told him all she knows--which, luckily,
is not very much. I took good care to keep women out of it. And the
Carrier too has been smelling about--but he hasn't the sense of his
own horse. Night and day, George, night and day, keep a look-out, and
have the horses ready. You know what I have done for you, my man."

"Governor, if it hadn't been for you, I might a' seed the clouds
through a halter loop."

"You speak the truth, and express it well. And you may still enjoy
that fair opportunity, unless you attend to every word I say."

"No fear, governor; I know you too well. A good friend and a bad enemy
you be. Thick and thin, sir--thick and thin. Agin all the world, sir,
I sticks by you."

"Enough for to-night, my man. Get ready and be off. I shall know where
to find you, as before. I shall ride over to-morrow, if I find it
needful."

With these words, Mr. Luke Sharp set off at a good round pace for
Oxford, while the other man shambled and whistled his way homewards up
the black-mouthed lane. Perceiving these things, Christopher Sharp,
with young bones, leaped from his hiding-place. Astonishment might
have been read upon his ingenuous and fat countenance, if the lighting
committee of the corporation had carried out their duty. But (having
no house of their own out here) they had, far back, put colophon upon
the nascent gas-pipe. The ambition of the city, at that time, was to
fill all the houses of the citizens, and extend in no direction. But
though his countenance, for want of light, only wasted its amazement,
Kit--like Hector with his windpipe damaged, but not by any means
perforated--gave issue to his sentiments. Unlike Hector--so far as we
know--Kit had been forming a habit of using language too strong for
ladies.

"Blow me!" was his unheroic exclamation--"blow me, if ever yet I knew
so queer a start as this! Sure as eggs is eggs, that is the very
blackguard I drubbed for his insolence! His voice is enough, and his
snuffle; and I believe he was rubbing his nose in the dark. I am sure
he's the man; I could swear it's the man, though I could not see his
filthy face at all. My father to be in a conspiracy with him! And poor
Cinnaminta, and Mr. Overshute! What the dickens is the meaning of it
all? The governor has a thousand times my brains, as everybody says,
and I am the last to grudge it to him; and he thinks he can do what he
likes with me. I am not quite sure of that, if he puts my pecker up
too heavily."

To throw his favourite light on his own reflections, Kit Sharp lit his
pipe, and followed slowly in his father's wake. Wiser, and wider, and
brighter men might be found betwixt every two lamp-posts, but few more
simple, soft, and gentle than this honest lawyer's son.



CHAPTER XLIII.

THE MOTIVE.


Perfectly free from all suspicions, and as happy as he deserved to be,
Mr. Sharp leaned back in his easy chair, after making an excellent
supper, and gazed with complacency at his good wife. He was really
glad to be at home again, and to find his admiring household safe, and
to rest for a while with a quiet brain, as the lord and master of
everything. Christopher had been sent to bed, as if he were only ten
years old; for instead of exhibiting the proper joy, he had behaved in
a very strange and absent manner; and his father, who delighted much
in snubbing him sometimes, had requested him to seek his pillow. Kit
had accepted this proposal very gladly, longing as he did to think
over by himself that strange adventure of the evening.

"Now, darling Luke," began Mrs. Sharp, as soon as she had made her
husband quite snug, and provided him with a glass of negus, "you
really must be amazed at my unparalleled patience and self-control.
You ran away suddenly at the very crisis of a most interesting and
momentous tale. And from that day to this I have not had one word; and
how to behave to Kit has been a riddle beyond riddles. How I have seen
to the dinner--I am sure--and of sleep I have scarcely had fifty
winks, between my anxiety about you, and misery at not knowing how the
story ended."

"Very well, Miranda, I will tell you all the rest; together with the
postscript added since I went to London. Only you must stay up very
late, I fear, to get to the proper end of it."

"I will stay till the cocks crow. At least, I mean, dear, if, after
your long journey, you are really fit for it. If not, I will wait till
to-morrow, dear."

Mr. Sharp was touched by his wife's consideration for him. He loved
her more than he loved any one else in the world, except himself; and
though (like many other clear-headed men) he had small faith in brains
feminine, he was not quite certain that he might not get some useful
idea out of them when the matter at issue was feminine.

"I am ready, if you are, my dear," he said, for he hated to beat about
the bush. "Only I must know where I left off. With all I have done
since, I quite forget."

"You left off just when you had discovered the real man who was called
'Jolly Fellows;' the man Cousin Fermitage left his will with."

"To be sure! Or at least, it was a codicil. Very well, I found him in
the wine-vaults of the company, where they have been for generations.
He was going round with some large and good customer, such as old
Fermitage himself had been. Senhor Gelofilos had a link in one hand,
and in the other a deep dock-glass, while a man in his shadow bore a
flashing gimlet and a long-armed siphon-tap. From cell to cell, and
pipe to pipe, they were going in regular order, showing brands,
_ex_ this, and _ex_ that, and making little taps and trying them.

"I was admitted, without a word, as one of this solemn procession,
being taken for a member of the sacred trade; and the number of sips
of wine I got, and the importance attached to my opinion, would have
made you laugh, Miranda. At length I got a chance of speaking alone to
Senhor Gelofilos, a tall, dark, gentlemanly man, of grave and
dignified manner. He at once remembered that he had received a paper
from Mr. Fermitage; of its nature however he knew nothing, not being
acquainted with our legal forms. He had kept it ever since in a box at
his house, and if I could call upon him after office hours, he would
show it to me with pleasure. Accordingly, I took a hackney-coach to
his house near Hampstead in the evening, and found that old
'Port-wine' had not deceived me during our last interview.

"I held in my hand a most important codicil to the old man's will,
duly executed and attested, so far at least as could be decided
without inquiry. By this codicil he revoked his will thus far, that,
instead of leaving the residue, after payment of legacies, to his
widow absolutely, he left her a life-interest in that residue, after
bequeathing the sum of £20,000, duty free, to his niece, Grace
Oglander."

"Out of my money, Luke!" cried Mrs. Sharp indignantly. "Twenty
thousand pounds out of my money! And what niece of his was she, I
should like to know? Was there nothing whatever for his own flesh and
blood?"

"Nothing whatever," answered Mr. Sharp calmly. "But wait a bit,
Miranda, wait. Well, all the residue of his estate, after the decease
of his said wife, Joan, was by this codicil absolutely given to his
said niece Grace. He said that they both would know why he had made
the change. And then the rest of his will was confirmed, as usual."

"I never heard such a thing! I never heard such robbery!" exclaimed
Mrs. Sharp, with a panting breast. "I hope you will contest it all, my
dear. If there is law in the land, you cannot fail to upset such a
vile, vile will! You can show that the fungus got into his brain."

"My dear, it is my object to establish that will, or the codicil
rather, which I thus discovered. I am obliged to proceed very
carefully, of course; a rash step would ruin everything. Unluckily the
executors remain as before, though he would not trust them with the
codicil. Well, one of them, as you know, bought such a lot of port,
half-price, at his testator's sale, that in three months he required
an executor for himself. The other took warning by his fate, and is
going in for claret and the sour Rhenish wines. This has made him as
surly as a bear, and he is a most difficult man to manage. But if any
one can handle him, I can; and he has a deadly quarrel with that
haughty Joan. I had first ascertained, without any stir, that the
attestation is quite correct--two stupid bottle-men, who gave no
thought to what they were doing, but can swear to the signing; and the
codicil itself, though 'Port-wine' drew it without any lawyer, is
quite clear and good. At the proper moment I produce the codicil,
account for my possession of it, go to Mr. Wigginton, and make him
prove it; and then, I think, we turn the tables on the proud old
widow."

"Oh, Luke, what a blessed day that would be for me! The things I have
endured from that odious woman! Of course, it will mortify her not to
have disposal, and to have to give up £20,000--the miser, the screw,
the Expositor hypocrite! The filthy silk stockings I should be ashamed
to own! But, darling Luke, I do not see how we ourselves are a bit the
better off for it. Poor Grace being dead, of course her father takes
the money."

"Suppose, for a moment that, instead of being dead, Grace Oglander is
the wedded wife, by that time, of a certain Christopher Fermitage
Sharp, and without any settlement!"

"What!" exclaimed Mrs. Sharp, jumping with astonishment. "Is it
possible? Is it possible?"

"It is more than possible, it is probable; and without some very bad
luck, it is certain!"

"Oh, you darling love!" she very nearly shouted, giving him a hug with
her plump white arms. "Oh, Luke, Luke, it is the noblest thing I ever
heard! And she is such a nice girl, too, so sweet, and clever, and
superior! The very daughter I would have chosen out of fifty thousand!
And with all that money at her back! Why, we can retire, and set up a
green barouche! I shall have it lined with the new agate colour,
trimmed with deep puce, like the Marchioness of Marston's--that is, if
you approve, of course, my dear. And a pair of iron-greys always go
the best with that. But, Luke, you will laugh at me for being in a
hurry. There is plenty of time, dear, is there not?--though they do
say that carriage-builders are so slow. But they think so much of
their old family, my dear. I know how very wonderfully managing you
are, and as clever as can be consistent with the highest principle.
But do tell me, how you have contrived all this so well, and never
even let me guess a single whisper of it."

"It has required some tact and skill," Mr. Sharp replied, with a
twinkle in his eyes, and taking a good pull at his port-wine negus;
"and even more than that, Miranda, without a bold stroke it could
never have been done. I staked almost everything upon the die; not
quite everything, for I made all arrangements if we should have to
fly."

"Fly, my dear!" cried Mrs. Sharp, looking up with a very different
face. "What do you mean, Luke? To have to run away!"

"Quite so. There is no great stroke without great miss. And if I had
missed, we must all have bolted suddenly."

"The Lord forbid! Run away in disgrace from my father's own house, and
the whole world that knows us! I never could have tried to go through
such a trial."

"Yes, my dear Miranda, it might have come to that. And you would have
gone through the whole of it, without a single murmur."

"Luke, I positively tremble at you!" the good woman answered, as her
eyes fell under his. "How stern you can look when you want to scare
me!"

"Miranda, I tell you the simple truth. We must all have been in France
within twelve hours if, if--well, never mind. Nothing venture nothing
win. But happily we have won, I believe; though we must not be too
sure as yet. We have justice on our side; but justice does not always
prevail against petty facts. And public opinion would set against us
with great ferocity, if we failed. If we succeed, all men will praise
us as soon as we begin to spend our money, and exert it near home at
the outset. Everything depends upon success; of course, it always does
in everything."

"My dear, it is not fair of you to talk like that," Mrs. Sharp
answered, with tears in her eyes; for, in all her kind and ungirt
nature, there was no entry for cynicism; "you must feel that I would
hold by you always, whatever all the world might have the impudence to
say, dear."

"Beyond a doubt you would. You could do no otherwise. But that might
be of very little use. I mean, that it would be the very greatest
prop, and comfort, and blessing, and support in every way, and would
keep up one's faith, to some extent, in human nature, and divine
assistance--but still, if we had to live on three pound ten a week!
However, we will not anticipate the worst. You would like to know how
the whole thing stands now?"

Mrs. Luke Sharp, although not very clever, and wholly incapable of any
plot herself (beyond such little stratagems as ladies do concoct, for
fetching down the price of rep, or getting gloves at a quarter of
their cost), nevertheless had her share of common sense, and that
which generally goes therewith--respect for the opinion of good
people. She knew that her husband was a very bold man, as well as a
very strong-willed one; he had often done things which she had thought
too daring; and yet they had always turned out well. But what he had
now in hand was, even according to his own account, the most risky and
perilous venture yet; and though (like the partner of a gambler) she
warmed up to back his hand, and cheer him, and let her heart go with
him, in her wiser mind she had shivers, and shudders, and a chill
shadow of the end of it.

Mr. Sharp saw that his wife was timid; which of all things would be
fatal now; for her aid was indispensable. Otherwise, perhaps, he would
not have been quite so ready to tell her everything. He had put things
so that her dislikes and envies, as well as her likings, and loves,
and ambitions would compel her to work with him. If she were lukewarm
his whole scheme must fail. At the mere idea his temper stirred. "Will
you hear the rest? Or is your mind upset?" he asked a little roughly.
His wife looked up brightly from some little blink of thought. "Every
word of it now, I must hear every word, if you will be so kind, my
dear. I will go and see that all the doors are shut."



CHAPTER XLIV.

THE MANNER.


"You see now, Miranda," continued Mr. Sharp, as his wife came and sat
quite close to him, "that it was my duty to make the most of the
knowledge thus providentially obtained. We had met with a bitter
disappointment through the most gross injustice, brought about, no
doubt, by craft, and wheedling, and black falsehood. When old
Fermitage stood godfather to our only child, and showed a sense of
duty towards him by bottling and walling up a pipe of wine, everybody
looked upon Kit as certain to stand in his shoes in the course of
time. You know how we always looked forward to it, not covetously or
improperly, but simply as a matter of justice. And you remember what
he said to me, before he went to church with Joan Oglander: 'Quibbles,
my boy, this shall make no difference between you and me, mind!'

"I am sure that he meant it when he said it; but that artful woman so
led him astray, and laid down the law about wives and husbands, and
'county families,' and all that, and pouring contempt upon our
profession, that all his better feelings left him, and he made the
will he did. And but for her low, unwomanly cowardice during his last
illness, so it would have stood--as she believes it even now to
stand."

"Oh, what a pure delight it will be," cried the lady, unable to help
herself, "such a triumph of right over might and falsehood! Do let me
be there to see it."

"There is time enough to think of that, Miranda. Well, as soon as ever
I felt quite sure of my ground about the codicil (which Senhor
Gelofilos placed in my hands after making inquiry about me here, and
being satisfied of my relationship and respectability), I began to
cast about for the most effectual mode of working it. It was clear in
a moment that the right course was to make a match between Grace, now
the legal heiress, and Kit, the legitimate heir. But here I was met by
difficulties which appeared at first sight insuperable. The pride of
the old Squire, and his family nonsense, the suit of Russel Overshute,
and the girl's own liking for that young fellow (which I had some
reason to suspect), the impossibility of getting at the girl, and last
not least the stupid shyness of our Christopher himself; these and
other obstacles compelled me to knock them all out of the way, by some
decisive action. The girl must be taken out of stupid people's power,
and brought to know what was good for her.

"Of course, I might have cut the matter short by walking the girl off,
and allowing her no food until she consented to marry Kit; and
probably if I could only have foreseen my sad anxieties and heavy
outlay, I should have acted in that way. But I have a natural dislike
to measures that wear an appearance of harshness; and I could not tell
how Kit might take it, or even you, Miranda dear. In this sad puzzle,
some good inspiration brought to my mind Hannah Patch, then living by
herself in London. In a sort of a manner she is my sister (as I have
told you long ago), although she is so many years my elder."

Mrs. Sharp nodded; she knew all about it and admired her husband none
the less for being the illegitimate son of the fashionable Captain
Patch.

"Very well," this admirable man resumed, "you are aware that Hannah
looked very coldly upon me, and spoke of me always as 'that child of
sin,' until I was enabled to marry you, my dear, through your
disinterested affection, which is my choicest treasure. Having won
that, and another more lucrative (but less delightful) partnership, I
became to sweet Hannah the child of love, and was immediately allowed
the privilege of doing all her legal business gratis. You have often
grumbled at that, but I had some knowledge of what I was about, my
dear, and I soon obtained that due influence over her which all women
ought to have some man to wield. Setting aside her present use, Hannah
Patch has £200 a year of her own, which might be much better invested,
and shall be, as soon as it comes to us; but it would not do to have
her too set up herself."

"Oh Luke, what a large-minded dear you are!" whispered Mrs. Sharp,
with much enthusiasm; "I do believe nothing escapes you, and nothing
that gets into your hand ever does get out again!"

"Well, I am pretty well for that," he answered, looking at his large,
strong palm; "I began with my hands pretty empty, God knows, and only
my own brain to fill them. But perseverance, integrity, and readiness
to oblige, have brought me on; and above all things, Miranda, the
grace that I found in your kind eyes."

The kind and still pretty eyes looked prettier, and almost young, with
the gleam of tears; while the owner of all this integrity proved that
it had stood him in good stead, by drawing from his pocket, and
spreading on his head, a handkerchief which had cost him yesterday
fourteen and sixpence, in Holborn, ready hemmed.

"Yes," he continued with a very honest smile; "you see me as I am, my
dear; and there are many poor people in the world worse off. Still it
would never do for me to stop. One must be either backward or forward,
always; and I prefer to be forward. And I hope to make a great step
now. But there must be no hesitation. Well, to go on with my story, I
saw how useful Miss Patch might be to us. She has strong religious
views, which always make it so easy to guide any one aright, by giving
the proper turn to things. Pugnacious dread of Popery, and valiant
terror of the Jesuits, are the leading-strings of her poor old mind. I
got firm hold of both of these, and being trustee of her money also, I
found her quite ready to do good deeds.

"I allowed her to perceive that if things went on, without our
interference, Grace Oglander would be married, and her enormous
fortune sacrificed, to a man whose bosom friend is a Jesuit, a fierce
wolf in sheep's clothing--an uncommonly clever fellow by the bye--a
very young tutor of Brasenose. She had heard of him; for his name is
well known among the leaders of this new sect, who call themselves
Anglo-Catholics, and will end by being Roman Catholics. Of these good
men (according to their lights) Hannah Patch has even deeper terror
than of downright Jesuits. Naturally such stuff matters not to me;
except when I can work it."

"Hannah Patch also had a special grudge against old Squire Oglander, a
man very well in his way, and very honest, who thinks a great deal of
his own opinions, and is fit to be his own grandfather. He had no love
at all for the Patch connection--the patch on the family, as he called
it--and the marriage of his stepmother with Captain Patch, and the
Captain's patronising air towards him--in a word, Miranda, he hated
them all.

"However, when Hannah was in trouble once or twice, and without a roof
to shelter her--before she got her present bit of cash--old Oglander
had her down, and was very good, and tried to like her. He put his
child under her care to learn 'theology,' as she called it, and he
paid her well for teaching her the Psalms, and the other
denunciations. They went away together to some very lonely place;
while the Squire was a week or two away from home. And now it occurred
to me that this experience might be repeated, and prolonged if
needful. Oglander had been nervous, as I knew, and as his daughter
also knew, about some form of black fever or something, which had been
killing some gipsy people, and was likely to come into the villages. I
made use of this fact, with Hannah Patch to help me, and quietly took
my young heiress off to a snug little home in the thick of the woods,
where I should be sorry to reside myself. She was under the holy wing
of Miss Patch; and there she abides to this present day; and I feed
them very well, I assure you. They cost me four pound ten a week; for
the evangelical Hannah believes it to be the clearest 'mark of the
beast' to eat meat less than twice a day; and Leviticus Cripps, who
supplies all the victuals, is making a fortune out of me. No bigger
rogue ever lived than that fellow. He is under my thumb so entirely
that if I told him to roll in the mud he would roll. And yet with all
his awe of me, he cannot forbear from cheating me. He has found out a
manner of dipping his pork so that he turns it into beef or mutton,
according to the orders from the cottage; and he charges me butcher's
price for it, and cartage for six miles and a half, and a penny a
pound for trimming off the flanks!"

"My dear!" said Mrs. Sharp, "it is impossible! He never could deceive a
woman so, however devoted her mind might be. The grain of the meat is
quite different, and the formation of the bones not at all alike; and
directly it began to roast----"

"Well, never mind, Miranda, there they are quite reconciled to the
situation; except that Hannah Patch is always hankering after 'the
means of grace,' and the young girl mooning about her sweet old parent
and beloved Beckley. Sometimes there are very fine scenes between
them; but upon the whole they get on well together, and appreciate one
another's virtues. And I heartily trust that the merits of our Kit
have made their impression on a sensitive young heart. They took to
one another quite kindly in the romance of the situation, when I
brought their sweet innocence into contact by a very simple stratagem.
The dear young creatures have believed themselves to be outwitting
everybody; the very thing I laboured for them both to do. All's well
that ends well--don't you think, Miranda?"

"I am so entirely lost--I mean I am so unable to think it all out,
without more time being given me," Mrs. Sharp answered, while she
passed her hand across her unwrinkled forehead, and into her generally
consulted curl, "that really, Luke, for the moment I can only admire
your audacity. But I think, dear, that in a matter of this kind--an
especially feminine province, I may say--you might have done me the
honour of consulting me."

"Miranda, it was not to be thought of. Your health and well-being are
the dearest objects of my life. I will only ask, could you have borne
the suspense, and the worry, and anxiety of the last four months;
above all, the necessity for silence?"

"Yes, Luke, I could have been very silent; but I cannot abide anxiety.
You call me a dear fat soul sometimes, and your judgment is always
correct, my dear. At the same time, I have little views of my own, and
sensible ways of regarding things. You would like to hear my opinion,
Luke, and to answer me one or two questions?"

"Certainly, Miranda; beyond all doubt. For what other purpose do I
tell you all? Now, let me have a nap for five minutes, my dear, while
you ponder this subject and arrange your questions."

He threw his smart handkerchief over his head, stretched out his feet,
and took a nice little doze.



CHAPTER XLV.

THE POSITION.


"Among my relations," said Mrs. Sharp, reclining, for fear of
asserting herself, as soon as her lord looked up again. "I have always
been thought to possess a certain amount of stupid common sense.
Nothing of depth, or grand stratagems, I mean, but a way of being
right nearly nine times out of ten. And I think that this feeling is
coming over me, just now."

"My dear, if it is so, do relieve yourself. Do not consider my ideas
for a moment, but let me know what your own are."

"Luke, how you love to ridicule me! Well, if my opinion is of no
account, I can only ask questions, as you tell me. In the first place,
how did you get the girl away?"

"Most easily; under her father's orders. Hannah can write the old
gentleman's hand to any extent, and his style as well. For the glory
of the Lord she did so."

"And how did you bring her to do such shocking things? She must have
had a strong idea that they were not honest."

"Far otherwise. She took an enthusiastic view of the matter from the
very first. I made it quite clear to her how much there was at stake;
and the hardest job for a long time was to prevent her from being too
zealous. She scorns to take anything for herself, unless it can be put
religiously. And for a long time I was quite afraid that I could not
get a metal band on her. But she found out, before it was quite too
late, that the mission of the "Brotherly-love-abounders," upon the
west coast of Africa, had had all their missionaries eaten up, and
required a round sum to replace them. I promised her £5000 for that,
when her own mission ends in glory."

"Then you are quite certain to have her tight. I might trust you for
every precaution, Luke. But how have you managed to keep them so
quiet, while the neighbourhood was alive with it? And in what corner
of the world have you got them? And who was the poor girl that really
did die?"

"One question at a time, if you please, Miranda, though they all hang
pretty much upon one hook. I have kept them so quiet, because they are
in a corner of a world where no one goes; in a lonely cottage at the
furthest extremity of the old Stow Wood, where their nearest road is a
timber-track three-quarters of a mile away. They are waited on by a
deaf old woman, who believes them to be Americans, which accounts to
her mind for any oddness. Their washing is done at home, and all their
food is procured through Cripps the swine-herd, whose forest farm lies
well away, so that none of his children go to them. Cripps is indebted
to me, and I hold a mortgage of every rod of his land, and a bill of
sale of his furniture and stock. He dare not play traitor and claim
the reward, or I should throw him into prison for forgery, upon a
little transaction of some time back. Moreover, he has no motive; for
I have promised him the same sum, and his bill of sale cancelled, when
the wedding is happily celebrated. Meanwhile he is making fine
pickings out of me, and he caters at a profit of cent. per cent. There
is nobody else who knows anything about it, except a pair of gipsy
fellows, too wide awake to come near the law for any amount of
guineas. One of them is old Kershoe, the celebrated horse-stealer,
whom I employed to drive and horse the needful vehicle from London. He
knew where to get his horses without any postmaster being the wiser,
and his vehicle was a very tidy carriage, bought by the gipsies for a
dwelling-place, and furbished up so that the chaises of the age are
not to be compared with it. The inquiries made at all livery-stables,
and posting-houses, and so on, by order of Overshute and the good
Squire, and some of them through my own agency, have afforded me
genial pleasure and some little share of profit."

"Really, my dear," said Mrs. Sharp; "you were scarcely right in
charging for them. You should have remembered that you knew all about
it."

"That was exactly what I did, my dear; and I felt how expensive that
knowledge was. As a little set-off against the pig-master's bills, I
made heavy entries against the good Squire. The fault is his own. He
should not have driven me into costly proceedings by that lowest of
all things the arrogance of birth. Well, the other gipsy man is no
other than Joe Smith, who jumped the broomstick with the lovely
Princess Cinnaminta. You must have heard of her, Miranda. Half the
ladies in Oxford were most bitterly jealous of her, some years back."

"I am sure then that I never was, Mr. Sharp!--a poor creature sitting
under sacks, and doing juggling!"

"Nothing of the kind. You never saw her. She is a woman of superior
mind and most refined appearance. Indeed, her eyes are such as
never----"

"Oh, that is where you have been, Luke, is it, while we have been here
for a fortnight, trembling----"

"Nonsense, Miranda; don't be so absurd. The poor thing has just lost
her only child, and I believe she will go mad with it. It was her
pretty sister, young Khebyra, who died of collapse, and was buried the
same night. This case was most extraordinary. The fever struck her,
without any illness, just as the plague and the cholera have done,
with a headlong, concentrated leap; as a thunderstorm gathers itself
sometimes into one blue ball of lightning. She was laughing at ten
o'clock, and her poor young jaw tied up at noon; and a great panic
burst among them."

"Luke!" exclaimed Mrs. Sharp, strongly shuddering; "you never mean to
say that you came home to me, from being among such people, without a
change of clothes, or anything!"

"How could I come home without anything, my dear? But I was not
'among' them at all that day, nor at any other period. I never go to
work in that coarse sort of way. Familiarity begets contempt. However,
I was soon informed of this most sad occurrence; and for a while it
quite upset me, coming as it did at such a very busy time. However,
when I had time to dwell more calmly on the subject, I began to see a
chance of turning this keen blow to my benefit.

"The gipsy camp was broken up with fatalistic terror--the most abject
of all terrors; as the courage of the fatalist is the fiercest of all
courage. They carried off their Royal stock, the heiress of the gipsy
throne--as soon as some fine thief is hanged--quite as the bees are
said to carry off their queen, when a hornet comes. Poor Cinnaminta
was caught away just when I might have made her useful; and only two
men were left to attend to the burial of her sister. Of these, my
friend Joseph Smith was one, as he ought to be, being Cinnaminta's
spouse.

"It was a very active time for me, I assure you, Miranda dear. The
complication was almost too much to be settled in so short a time. And
some of my hair, which had been quite strong, was lying quite flat in
the morning. Perhaps you remember telling me."

"Yes, that I do, Luke! I could not make it out. Your hair had always
stood so well; and a far better colour than the young men have got!
And you told me that it was gone like that from taking Cockle's
antibilious pills!"

"Miranda, I have never deceived you. I did take a couple, and they
helped me on. But, without attributing too much to them, I did make a
lucky turn of it. Their manner of sepulture is brief and wise; or, at
any rate, that of this tribe is; though they differ, I believe, very
widely. These wait till they are sure that the sun has set, and then
they begin to excavate. I was able to suggest that, in this great
hurry and scattering of the tribes of Israel, the wisest plan would be
to adopt and adapt a very quiet corner already hollowed, and indicated
by name (which is so much more abiding than substance) as a legendary
gipsy Aceldama. The idea was caught at, as it well deserved to be, in
the panic, and lack of time, and terror of the poor dead body. The
poor thing was buried there with very hasty movements, her sister and
the rest being hurried away; and it is quite remarkable how this (the
merest episode) has, by the turn of events, assumed a primary
importance.

"Foresight, and insight, and second-sight almost, would be attributed
to me by any one who did not know the facts. Scarcely anybody would
believe, as this thing worked in my favour so much, that I can
scarcely claim the invention, any more than I can take any credit for
the weather. Indeed, I may say, without the smallest presumption or
profanity, that something higher than mere fortune has favoured my
plans from the very first. I had provided for at least one whole day's
start, before any alarm should be given; but the weather secured me, I
may say, six weeks, before anything could be done in earnest, And then
the discovery of that body, by a girl who was frightened into fits
almost, and its tardy disinterment, and the universal conclusion about
it, which I perhaps helped in some measure to shape, also the illness
with which it pleased Providence to visit Messrs. Oglander and
Overshute--I really feel that I have the deepest cause to be grateful,
and I trust that I am so."

"Certainly, my dear, your cause is just," said Mrs. Sharp, as her
husband showed some symptoms of dropping off to sleep again; "but in
carrying it out you have inflicted pain and sad, sad anxiety on a poor
old man. Can he ever forgive you, or make it up?"

"I should hope for his own sake," replied the lawyer, "that he will
cast away narrow-mindedness; otherwise we shall not permit him to rush
into the embraces of his daughter. But if he proves relentless, it
matters little, except for the opinion of the world. He cannot touch
'Portwine's' property at all; and he may do what he likes with his own
little wealth. His outside value is some £40,000. However, if I
understand him aright, we shall manage to secure his money too, tied
up, I dare say--but what matters that? He is a most fond papa, and his
joy will soon wash away all evil thoughts."

"How delightful it will be!" cried the lady, with a sigh, "to restore
his long-lost child to him. Still it will be a most delicate task. You
must leave all that to me, Luke."

"With pleasure, my dear Miranda; your kind heart quite adapts you for
such a melting scene. And, indeed, I would rather be out of the way.
But I want your help for more than that."

"You shall have it, Luke, with all my heart and soul! It is too late
now to draw back; though, if you had asked my advice, I would have
tried to stop you. But just one question more--how did you get rid of
John Smith and his inquiries? They say that he is such a very shrewd
man."

"Do you not know, will nobody ever know, the difference between small,
uneducated cunning and the clear intelligence of a practised mind? To
suppose that John Smith would ever give me any trouble! He has been
most useful. I directed his inquiries; and exhausted the inquisitive
spirit through him."

"But you did not let him know----"

"Miranda, now, I shall go to bed, if I am so very fast asleep. Can no
woman ever dream of large utility? I have had no better friend,
throughout this long anxiety, than John Smith. And without the
expenditure of one farthing, I have guided him into the course that he
should take. When he hears of anything, the first thing he asks
is--'Now, what would Lawyer Sharp be inclined to think of this?'
Perhaps I have taken more trouble than was needful. But, at any rate,
it would be disgraceful indeed if John Smith could cause me
uneasiness. The only man I have ever had the smallest fear of has been
Russel Overshute. Not that the young fellow is at all acute; but that
he cannot be by any means imbued with the proper respect for my
character."

"How very shocking of him, my dear Luke, when your character has been
so many years established!"

"Miranda, it is indeed shocking!--but what can be expected of a
Radical? Ever since that villainous Reform Bill passed, the spirit of
true reverence is destroyed. But he must have some respect for me, as
soon as he knows all. Although, to confess the pure truth, my dear,
things have worked in my favour so, that I scarcely deserve any credit
at all, except for the original conception. That, however, was a brave
one."

"It was, indeed; and I am scarcely brave enough to be comfortable.
There is never any knowing how the world may take things. It is true
that old Fermitage was not your client, and you had been very badly
treated, and had a right to make the most of any knowledge obtained by
accident. But old Mr. Oglander is your client, and has trusted you
even in the present matter. I do not think that my father would have
considered it quite professional to behave so."

Mrs. Luke Sharp was alarmed at her own boldness in making such a
speech as this. She dropped her eyes under her husband's gaze; but he
took her remarks quite calmly.

"My dear, we will talk of that another time. The fact that I do a
thing--after all my experience--should prove it to be not
unprofessional. At the present moment, I want to go to bed; and if you
are anxious to begin hair-splitting, bed is my immediate refuge. But
if you wish to know about the future of your son, you must listen, and
not try to reason."

"I did not mean to vex you, Luke. I might have been certain that you
knew best. And you always have so many things behind, that Solomon
himself could never judge you. Tell me all about my darling Kit, and I
will not even dare to cough or breathe."

"My dear, it would grieve me to hear you cough, and break my heart if
you did not breathe. But I fear that your Kit is unworthy of your
sighs. He has lost his young heart beyond redemption, without having
the manners to tell his mother!"

"They all do it, Luke; of course they do. It is no good to find fault
with them. I have been expecting that sort of thing so long. And when
he went to Spiers for the melanochaitotrophe, with the yellow stopper
to it, I knew as well as possible what he was about. I knew that his
precious young heart must be gone; for it cost him seven and
sixpence!"

"Yes, my dear; and it went the right way, in the very line I had laid
for it. I will tell you another time how I managed that, with Hannah
Patch, of course, to help me. The poor boy was conquered at first
sight; for the weather was cold, with snow still in the ditches, and I
gave him sixpenny-worth of brandy-balls. So Kit went shooting, and got
shot, according to my arrangement. Ever since that, the great job has
been to temper and guide his rampant energies."

"And of course he knows nothing--oh no, he would be so very unworthy,
if he did! Oh, do say that he knows nothing, Luke!"

"My dear, I can give you that pleasing assurance; although it is a
puzzling one to me. Christopher Fermitage Sharp knows not Grace
Oglander from the young woman in the moon. He believes her to have
sailed from a new and better world. Undoubtedly he is my son, Miranda;
yet where did he get his thick-headedness?"

"Mr. Sharp!"

"Miranda, make allowance for me. Such things are truly puzzling.
However, you perceive the situation. Here is a very fine young
fellow--in his mother's opinion and his own--desperately smitten with
a girl unknown, and romantically situated in a wood. There is reason
to believe that this young lady is not insensible to his merits; he
looks very nice in his sporting costume, he has no one to compete with
him, he is her only bit of life for the day, he leaves her now and
then a romantic rabbit, and he rescues her from a ruffian. But here
the true difficulty begins. We cannot well unite them in the holy
bonds, without a clear knowledge on the part of either of the true
patronymic of the other. The heroine knows that the hero rejoices in
the good and useful name of 'Sharp'; but he knows not that his
lady-love is one Grace Oglander of Beckley Barton.

"Here, again, you perceive a fine stroke of justice. If Squire
Oglander had only extended his hospitalities to us, Christopher must
have known Grace quite well, and I could not have brought them
together so. At present he believes her to be a Miss Holland, from the
United States of America; and as she has promised Miss Patch not to
speak of her own affairs to anybody (according to her father's wish,
in one of the Demerara letters), that idea of his might still
continue; although she has begun to ask him questions, which are not
at all convenient. But things must be brought to a point as soon as
possible. Having the advantage of directing the inquiries, or at any
rate being consulted about them, I see no great element of danger yet;
and of course I launched all the first expeditions in every direction
but the right one. That setting up of the tombstone by poor old Joan
was a very heavy blow to the inquisitive."

"But, my dear, that did not make the poor girl dead a bit more than
she was dead before."

"Miranda, you do not understand the world. The evidence of a tombstone
is the strongest there can be, and beats that of fifty living
witnesses. I won a most difficult case for our firm when I was an
ardent youth, and the victory enabled me to aspire to your hand, by
taking a mallet and a chisel, and a little nitric acid, and converting
a 'Francis,' by moonlight, into a 'Frances.' I kept the matter to
myself, of course; for your good father was a squeamish hand. But you
have heard me speak of it."

"Yes, but I thought it so wrong, my dear, even though, as you said,
truth required it."

"Truth did require it. The old stonemason had not known how to spell
the word. I corrected his heterography; and we confounded the tricks
of the evil ones. All is fair in love and law, so long as violence is
done to neither. And now I wish Kit's unsophisticated mind to be led
to the perception of that great truth. It is needful for him to be
delicately admitted to a knowledge of my intentions. There is nobody
who can do this as you can. He takes rather clumsy and obstinate views
of things he is too young to understand. The main point of all, with a
mind like his, is to dwell upon the justice of our case and the depth
of our affection, which has led to such a sacrifice of the common
conventional view of things."

"My dear, but I have had nothing to do with it. Conception, plan, and
execution are all your own, and no other person's. Why, I had not even
dreamed----"

"Still, you must put it to him, Miranda, as if it was your doing more
than mine. He has more faith in your--well, what shall I call it? I
would not for a moment wrong him by supposing that he doubts his own
father's integrity--in your practical judgment, let us say, and
perception of the nicest principles. It is absolutely necessary that
you should appear to have acted throughout in close unison with me. In
fact, it would be better to let the boy perceive that the whole idea
from the very first was yours; as in simple fact it must have been, if
circumstances had permitted me to tell you all that I desired. To any
idea of yours he takes more kindly perhaps than to those which are
mine. This is not quite correct, some would say; but I am above
jealousy. I always desire that he should love his mother, and make a
pattern of her. His poor father gets knocked about here and there, and
cannot halt to keep himself rigidly upright, though it always is his
ambition. But women are so different, and so much better. Even Kit
perceives that truth. Let him know, my darling, that your peace of
mind is entirely staked upon his following out the plan which you mean
to propose to him."

"But, my dear Luke, I have not the least notion of any plan of any
sort."

"Never mind, Miranda; make him promise. I will tell you all about it
afterwards. It is better not to let him know too much. Knowledge
should come in small doses always, otherwise it puffs up young people.
Alas! now I feel that I am not as I was! Twenty years ago I could have
sat up all night talking, and not shown a sign of it next day. I have
not had any sleep for the last twelve nights. Do you see any rays in
my eyes, dear wife? They are sure indications of heart disease. When I
am tired they always come."

"Oh, Luke, Luke, you will break my heart! You shall not say another
word. Have some more negus--I insist upon it! It is no good to put
your hand over the glass--and then come to bed immediately. You are
working too hard for your family, my pet."



CHAPTER XLVI.

IN THE MESHES.


Now being newly inspired by that warm theologian--as Miss Patch really
believed him to be--Luke Sharp, the lady felt capable of a bold
stroke, which her conscience had seemed to cry out against, till
loftier thoughts enlarged it. She delivered to her dear niece a
letter, written in pale ink and upon strange paper, which she drew
from a thicker one addressed to herself, and received "through their
butcher" from a post-office. Wondering who their butcher was, but
delighted to get her dear father's letter, Grace ran away to devour
it.

It was dated from George-town, English Guayana, and though full of
affection, showed touching traces of delicate health and despondency.
The poor girl wiped her eyes at her father's tender longing to see her
once more, and his earnest prayers for every blessing upon their
invaluable friend, Miss Patch. Then he spoke of himself in a manner
which made it impossible for her to keep her eyes wiped, so deep was
his sadness, and yet so heroically did he attempt to conceal it from
her; and then came a few lines, which surprised her greatly. He said
that a little bird had told him that during her strict retirement from
the world in accordance with his wishes, she had learned to esteem a
most worthy young man, for whom he had always felt warm regard, and,
he might even say, affection. He doubted whether, at his own time of
life, and with this strange languor creeping over him, he could ever
bear the voyage to England, unless his little darling would come over
to fetch him, or at least to behold him once more alive; and if she
would do so, she must indeed be quick. He need not say that to dream
of her travelling so far all alone was impossible; but if, for the
sake of her father, she could dispense with some old formalities, and
speedily carry out their mutual choice, he might with his whole heart
appeal to her husband to bring her out by the next packet.

He said little more, except that he had learned by the bitter teaching
of adversity who were his true friends, and who were false. No one had
shown any truth and reality except Mr. Sharp of Oxford; but he never
could have dreamed, till it came to the test, that even the lowest of
the low would treat him as young Mr. Overshute had done. That subject
was too painful, so he ended with another adjuration to his daughter.

"Aunty, I have had the most extraordinary letter," cried Grace, coming
in with her eyes quite dreadful; "it astonishes me beyond everything.
May I see the postmark of yours which it came in? I shall think I am
dreaming till I see the postmark."

"The stamp of the office, do you mean, my dear? Oh yes, you are
welcome to see, Grace. Here it is, 'George-town, Demerara.' The date
is not quite clear without my spectacles. Those foreign dies are
always cut so badly."

"Never mind the date, aunt. I have the date inside, in my dear
father's writing. But I am quite astonished how my father can have
heard----"

"Something about you, sly little puss! You need not blush so, for I
long have guessed it."

"But indeed it is not true--indeed it is not. I may have been amused,
but I never, never--and oh, what he says then of somebody else--such a
thing I should have thought impossible! How can one have any faith in
any one?"

"My dear child, what you mean is this: How can one have any faith in
worldly and ungodly people? With their mouths they speak deceit; the
poison of asps is under their lips----"

"Oh no, he never was ungodly; to see him walk would show you that; and
if being good to the poor sick people, and dashing into the middle of
the whooping-cough----"

"How am I to know of whom you speak? You appear to have acted in a
very forward way with some one your father disapproves of."

"I assure you, I never did anything of the kind. It is not at all my
manner. I thought you considered it wrong to make unfounded
accusations."

"Grace, what a most un-Christian temper you still continue to display
at times! Your cheeks are quite red, and your eyes excited, in a way
very sad to witness. The trouble I have taken is beyond all knowledge.
If you do not value it, your father does."

"Aunty Patch, may I see exactly what my daddy says to you? I will show
you mine if you will show me yours."

"My dear, you seem to forget continually. You treat me as if I were of
your own age, and had never been through the very first alarm which
comes for our salvation. It has not come to you, or you could not be
so frivolous and worldly as you are. When first it rang, even for
myself----"

"How many times does it ring, Aunt? I mean for every individual
sinner, as you always call us."

"My dear, it rings three times, as has been proved by the most
inspired of all modern preachers, the Rev. Wm. Romaine, while
amplifying the blessed words of the pious Joseph Alleine. He begins
his discourse upon it thus----"

"Aunty, you have told me that so many times that I could go up into
his desk and do it. It is all so very good and superior; but there are
times when it will not come. You, or at any rate I, for certain, may
go down on our knees and pray, and nothing ever comes of it. I have
been at it every night and morning, really quite letting go whatever I
was thinking of--and what is there to come of it, except this letter?
And it doesn't sound as if my father ever wrote a word of it."

"Grace, what do you mean, if you please?"

"I mean what I do not please. I mean that I have been here at least
five months, as long as any fifty, and have put up with the
miserablest things--now, never mind about my English, if you please,
it is quite good enough for such a place as this--and have done my
very best to put up with you, who are enough to take fifty people's
lives away, with perpetual propriety--and have hoped and hoped, and
prayed and prayed, till my knees are not fit to be looked at--and now,
after all, what has come of it? That I am to marry a boy with a red
cord down his legs, and a crystal in his whip, and a pretty face that
seems to come from his mamma's watch-pocket, and a very nice and
gentle way of looking at a lady, as if he were quite capable, if he
had the opportunity, of saying 'bo' to any goose on the other side of
the river!"

"My dear, do you prefer bold ruffians, then, like the vagabond you
were rescued from?"

"I don't know at all what I do prefer, Aunt Patch, unless it is just
to be left to myself, and have nothing to say to any one."

"Why, Grace, that is the very thing you complained of in your sinful
and ungrateful speech, just now! But do not disturb me with any more
temper. I must take the opportunity, before the mail goes out, to tell
your poor sick father how you have received his letter."

"Oh no, if you please not. You are quite mistaken, if you think that I
thought of myself first. My dear father knows that I never would do
that; and it would be quite vain to tell him so. Oh, my darling,
darling father!--where are you now, and whatever are you doing?"

"Grace, you are becoming outrageous quite. You know quite well where
your father is; and as to what he is doing, you know from his own
letter that he is lying ill, and longing for you to attend upon him.
And this is the way that you qualify yourself!"

"Somehow or other now--I do not mean to be wicked, aunt--but I don't
think my father ever wrote that letter--I mean, at any rate, of his
own free will. Somebody must have stood over him--I feel as if I
really saw them--and made him say this, and that, and things that he
never used to think of saying. Why, he never would have dreamed, when
he was well, of telling me I was to marry anybody. He was so jealous
of me, he could hardly bear any gentleman to dare to smile; and he
used to make me promise to begin to let him know, five years before I
thought of any one. And now for him to tell me to marry in a
week--just as if he was putting down a silver-side to salt--and to
marry a boy that he scarcely ever heard of, and never even introduced
to me--he must have been, he cannot but have been, either wonderfully
affected by the climate, or shackled down in a slave-driver's dungeon,
until he had no idea what he was about."

"Have you finished, Grace, now? Is your violence over?"

"No; I have no violence; and it is not half over. But still, if you
wish to say anything, I will do all I can to listen to it."

"You are most obliging. One would really think that I were seventeen,
and you nearly seventy."

"Aunt Patch, you know that I am as good as nineteen; and instead of
being seventy you are scarcely fifty-five."

"Grace, your memory is better about ages than about what you do not
wish to hear of. And you do not wish to hear, with the common
selfishness of the period, of the duty which is the most sacred of
all, and at the same time the noblest privilege--the duty of
self-sacrifice. What are your own little inclinations, petty conceits,
and miserable jokes--jokes that are ever at deadly enmity with all
deep religion--ah, what are they--you selfish and frivolous
girl!--when set in the balance with a parent's life--and a parent
whose life would have been in no danger but for his perfect devotion
to you?"

"Aunt Patch, I never heard you speak of my father at all in that sort
of way before. You generally talk of him as if he were careless, and
worldly, and heterodox, most frivolous, and quite unregenerate. And
now quite suddenly you find out all his value. What do you want me to
do so much, Aunt Patch?"

"Don't look at me like that, child; you quite insult me. As if it
could matter to me what you do--except for your own eternal welfare.
If you think it the right thing to let your father die in a savage
land, calling vainly for you, and buried among land-crabs without a
drop of water--that is a matter for you hereafter to render your own
account of. You have tired me, Grace. I am not so young as you are;
and I have more feeling. I must lie down a little; you have so upset
me. When you have recovered your proper frame of mind, perhaps you
will kindly see that Margery has washed out the little brown teapot."

"To be sure, aunty, I am up to all her tricks. And I will just toast
you a water-biscuit, and put a morsel of salt butter on it, scarcely
so large as a little French bean. Go to sleep, aunty, for about an
hour. I am getting into a very proper frame of mind; I can never stay
very long out of it. May I go into the wood, just to think a little of
my darling father's letter?"

"Yes, Grace; but not for more than half an hour, on condition that you
speak to no one. You have made my head ache sadly. Leave your father's
letter here."

"Oh no, if you please, let me take it with me. How can I think without
it?"

Miss Patch was so sleepy that she said, "Very well; let me see it
again when you have made the tea." Whereupon Grace, having beaten up
the cushion of the good lady's only luxury, and laid her down softly,
and kissed her forehead (for fear of having made it ache), stole her
own chance for a little quiet thought, in a shelter of the woods more
soft than thought. For the summer was coming with a stride of light;
and bashful corners, full of lateness, tried to ease it off with moss.

In a nook of this kind, far from any path, and tenderly withdrawn into
its own green rest, the lonely and bewildered girl stopped suddenly,
and began to think. She drew forth the letter which had grieved her
so; and she wondered that it had not grieved her more. It was not yet
clear to her young frank mind that suspicion, like a mole, was at work
in it. To get her thoughts better, and to feel some goodness, she sat
upon a peaceful turret of new spear-grass, and spread her letter open,
and began to cry. She knew that this was not at all the proper way to
take things; and yet if any one had come, and preached to her, and
proved it all, she could have made no other answer than to cry the
more for it.

The beautiful light of the glancing day turned corners, and came round
to her; the lovable joy of the many, many things which there is no
time to notice, spread itself silently upon the air, or told itself
only in fragrance; and the glossy young blades of grass stood up, and
complacently measured their shadows.

Here lay Grace for a long sad hour, taking no heed of the things
around her, however much they heeded her. The white windflower with
its drooping bells, and the bluebell, and the harebell, and the
pasque-flower--softest of all soft tints--likewise the delicate
stitchwort, and the breath of the lingering primrose, and the white
violet that outvies its sister (that sweet usurper of the coloured
name) in fragrance and in purity; and hiding for its life, without any
one to seek, the sensitive wood-sorrel; and, in and out, and behind
them all, the cups, and the sceptres, and the balls of moss, and the
shells and the combs of lichen--in the middle of the whole, this
foolish maid had not one thought to throw to them. She ought to have
sighed at their power of coming one after another for ever, whereas
her own life was but a morning dew; but she failed to make any such
reflection.

What she was thinking of she never could have told; except that she
had a long letter on her lap, and could not bring her mind to it. And
here in the hollow, when the warmth came round, of the evening fringed
with cloudlets, she was fairer than any of the buds or flowers, and
ever so much larger. But she could not be allowed to bloom like them.

"Oh, I beg pardon," cried an unseen stranger in a very clear, keen
voice; "I fear I am intruding in some private grounds. I was making a
short cut, which generally is a long one. If you will just show me how
to get out again, I will get out with all speed, and thank you."

Grace looked around with surprise but no fear. She knew that the voice
was a gentleman's; but until she got up, and looked up the little
hollow, she could not see any one. "Please not to be frightened," said
the gentleman again; "I deserve to be punished, perhaps, but not to
that extent. I fancied that I knew every copse in the county. I have
proved, and must suffer for, my ignorance."

As he spoke he came forward on a little turfy ledge, about thirty feet
above her; and she saw that he looked at her with great surprise. She
felt that she had been crying very sadly, and this might have made her
eyes look strange. Quite as if by accident, she let her hair drop
forward, for she could not bear to be so observed; and at that very
moment there flowed a gleam of sunshine through it. She was the very
painting of the picture in her father's room.

"Saints in heaven!" cried Hardenow, who never went further than this
in amazement, "I have found Grace Oglander! Stop, if you please--I
beseech you, stop!"

But Grace was so frightened, and so pledge-bound, that no adjuration
stopped her. If Hardenow had only been less eager, there and then he
might have made his bow, and introduced himself. But Gracie thought of
the rabbit-man, and her promise, and her loneliness, and without
looking back, she was round the corner, and not a ribbon left to trace
her by. And now again if Hardenow had only been less eager, he might
have caught the fair fugitive by following in her footsteps. But for
such a simple course as that he was much too clever. Instead of
running down at once to the spot where she had vanished, and thence
giving chase, he must needs try a cross cut to intercept her. There
were trees and bushes in the way, it was true, but he would very soon
get through them; and to meet her face to face would be more dignified
than to run after her.

So he made a beautifully correct cast as to the line she must have
taken, and aiming well ahead of her, leaped the crest of the hollow
and set off down the hill apace. But here he was suddenly checked by
meeting a dense row of hollies, which he had not seen by reason of the
brushwood. In a dauntless manner he dashed in among them, scratching
his face and hands, and losing a fine large piece of black kerseymere
from the skirt of his coat, and suffering many other lesser damages.
But what was far worse, he lost Grace also; for out of that holly
grove he could not get for a long, long time; and even then he found
himself on the wrong side--the one where he had entered.

If good Anglo-Catholics ever did swear, the Rev. Thomas Hardenow must
now have sworn, for his plight was of that kind which engenders wrath
in the patient, and pleasantry on the part of the spectator. His face
suggested recent duello with a cat, his white tie was tattered and
hanging down his back, his typical coat was a mere postilion's jacket,
and the condition of his gaiters afforded to the sceptic the clearest
proof of the sad effects of perpetual self-denial. His hat, with the
instinct of self-preservation, had rolled out from the thicket when he
first rushed in; and now he picked up this wiser portion of his head,
and was thankful to have something left.

Chances were against him; but what is chance? He had an exceedingly
strong will of his own, and having had the worst of this matter so
far, he was doubly resolved to go through with it. Without a second
thought about his present guise or aspect, he ran back to the spot
which he had left so unadvisedly. There he did what he ought to have
done ten minutes or a quarter of an hour ago, he ran down the slope to
the nest in the nook which had been occupied by Grace. Then he took to
the track which she had taken; but she had been much too quick for
him; she had even snatched up her letter, so that he was none the
wiser. He came to a spot where the narrow and thickly woven trackway
broke into two; and whether of the two to choose was more than a
moment's doubt to him. Then he seemed to see some glint of footsteps,
and sweep of soft sprays by a dress towards the right; and making a
dash through a dark hole towards it, was straightway enveloped in a
doubled rabbit-net, cast over his surviving hat.

"Hold un tight, Jarge, now thou'st got un!" cried out somebody whom he
could not see, "poachin' son of a gun, us'll poach un!"

"Poaching--my good friends," cried Hardenow, trying to lift his arms
and turn his head round, all vainly; "you can scarcely know the
meaning of that word, or you never would think of applying it to me.
Let me see you, that I may explain. I have been trespassing, I am
afraid; but by the purest accident--allow me to turn round, and reason
quietly; I have the greatest objection to violence; I never use, nor
allow it to be used. If you are honest gamekeepers, exceeding your
duty through earnest zeal, I would be the last to find fault with you;
want of earnestness is the great fault of this age. But you must not
allow yourselves to be misled by some little recent mischances to my
clothes. Such things befall almost everybody exploring unknown places.
You are pulling me! you are exceeding your duty! Is the bucolic mind
so dense? Here I am at your mercy--just show yourselves. You may choke
me if you like, but the result will be--oh!--that you will also be
choked yourselves!"

"A rare fine-plucked one as ever I see," said rabbiting George to
Leviticus Cripps, when Hardenow lay between them, senseless from the
pressure upon his throat; "ease him off a bit, my lad, he never done
no harm to me. They long-coated parsons is good old women, and he be
cut up into a young gal now. Lay hold on the poor devil, right end
foremost, zoon as I have stopped uns praching. Did ever you see such a
guy out of a barrow?"

Heavy-witted Tickuss made no answer, but laid hold of the captive by
his shoulders, so that himself might be still unseen, if consciousness
should return too soon. Black George tucked the feet under his arm,
after winding the tail of the net round the shanks, and expressing
surprise at their slimness; and in no better way than this these two
ignorant bumpkins swung the body of one of the leading spirits of the
rising age to the hog-pound.

Thomas Hardenow was not the man to be long insensible. Every fibre of
his frame was a wire of electric life. He was "all there"--to use a
slang expression, which, by some wondrous accident, has a little pith
in it--in about two minutes; not a bit of him was absent; and he
showed it by hanging like a lump upon his bearers as they fetched him
to an empty hog-house, dropped him anyhow, and locked him in; then one
of them jumped on a little horse and galloped off to Oxford.



CHAPTER XLVII.

COMBINED WISDOM.


"I really cannot go on like this," said Mr. Sharp to Mrs. Sharp, quite
early on the following morning. "Thank God, I am not of a nervous
nature, and patience is one of my largest virtues. But acting, as I
have done, for the best, I cannot be expected to put up with perpetual
suspense. This very day I will settle this matter, one way or the
other." The lawyer for the first time now was flurried; he had heard
of the capture of a spy last night--for so poor Hardenow had been
described--and though he had kept that new matter to himself, he was
puzzled to see his way through with it.

"Luke, my dear," replied Mrs. Sharp, with some of her tightenings not
done up, "surely there need not be such hurry. You make me quite
shiver, when you speak like that. I shall come down to breakfast
without any power; and the Port-meadow eel will go out for the maids.
Should we ever behold it again, Luke?"

"Of course not; how could you expect it? Slippery, slippery--hard it
is to lay fast hold of anything; and the worst of all to bind is
woman. I do not mean you, my dear; you need not look like that; you
are as firm as this tag of your stays--corset, corset--I beg pardon;
how can a man tell the fashionable words?"

"But, Luke, you surely would not think of proceeding to extremities?"

"Any extremity; if it only were the last. For the good of my family, I
have worked hard; and there never should have been all this worry with
it. Miranda, I may have strayed outside the truth, and outside the
law--which is so much larger--but one thing I beg you to bear in mind.
Not a thing have I done, except for you and Kit. Money to me is the
last thing I think of; pure affection is the very first. And no one
can meddle with your settlement."

"Oh, my darling," Mrs. Sharp exclaimed, as she fell back from looking
at the looking-glass, "you are almost too good for this world, Luke!
You think of everybody in the world except yourself. It is not the
right way to get on, dear. We must try to be a little harder."

"I have thought so, Miranda; I must try to do it. Petty little
sentiments must be dropped. We must rise and face the state of things
which it has pleased Providence to bring about. I am responsible for a
great deal of it; and with your assistance, I will see it through. We
must take Kit in hand at once. My dear wife, can I rely upon you?"

"Luke, you may rely upon me for anything short of perjury; and if it
comes to that, I must think first."

"No man ever had a better any more than he could have a truer wife, or
one so perpetually young." With these words Mr. Sharp performed some
little operations, which, even in the "highest circles," are sometimes
allowed to be brought about by masculine hands, when clever enough;
and before very long this affectionate pair went down to breakfast and
enjoyed fried eel.

Kit, who had caught this fine eel, was not there; perhaps he was gone
forth to catch another; so they left him the tail to be warmed up. In
the present condition of his active mind, and the mournful absence of
his beloved, Christopher found a dark and moody pleasure in laying
night-lines. If his snare were successful, he hauled out his victim,
and, with a scornful smile, despatched him; if the line held nothing,
he cast it in again, with a sigh of habitual frustration. This
morning, however, he was not gone forth on his usual round of
inspection, but had only walked up to the livery-stables, to make sure
of his favourite hack for the day. He had made up his mind that he
must see Grace that very same day, come what would of it; he would go
much earlier, and watch the door; and if this bad fortune still
continued, he would rush up at last and declare himself.

But this bold resolve had a different issue; for no sooner had the
young man, with some reluctance and self-reproach, dealt bravely with
a solid breakfast, than he was requested by his dear mother to come
into his father's little study.

Now, this invitation was not in accordance with the present mood of
Christopher. He had made up his mind to be off right soon for the
bowers of his beloved, with a roll and some tongue in his little
fishing-creel, and a bottle of beer in each holster. In the depth of
the wood he might thus get on, and enjoy to the utmost fruition of his
heart all the beauty of nature around him. It was a cruel blow to
march just then to a lecture from the governor, whose little private
study he particularly loathed, and regarded as the den of the evil
one. However, he set up his pluck and went.

Mr. Sharp, looking (if possible) more upright and bright than usual,
sat in front of the large and strong-legged desk, where he kept his
more private records, such as never went into the office. Mrs. Sharp
also took a legal chair, and contemplated Kit with a softer gaze. He
with a beating heart stood up, like a youth under orders to construe.

"My son," began the father and the master, in a manner large and
affable, "prepare yourself for a little surprise on the part of those
whose principal object is your truest welfare. For some weeks now you
have made your dear mother anxious and unhappy, by certain proceedings
which you thought it wise and manly to conceal from her."

"Yes, you know you did, Kit!" Mrs. Sharp interposed, shaking her short
curls, and trying to look fierce. The boy, with a deep blush, looked
at her, as if everybody now was against him.

"Christopher, we will not blame you," resumed Mr. Sharp, rather
hastily, for fear that his wife should jump up and spoil all. "Our
object in calling you is not that. You have acted according to our
wishes mainly, though you need not have done it so furtively. You have
formed an attachment to a certain young lady, who leads for the
present a retired life, in a quiet part of the old Stow Wood. And she
returns your affection. Is it so, or is it not?"

"I--I--I," stammered Kit, seeking for his mother's eyes, which had
buried themselves in her handkerchief. "I can't say a word about what
she thinks. She--she--she has got such a fashion of running away so.
But I--I--I--well, then, it's no good telling a lie about it; I am
deucedly fond of her!"

"That is exactly what I wished to know; though not expressed very
tastefully. Well, and do you know who she is, my son?"

"Yes, I know all that quite well; as much as any fellow wants to know.
She is a young lady, and she knows all the flowers, and the birds, and
the names of the trees almost. She can put me right about the kings of
England; and she knows my dogs as well as I do."

"A highly accomplished young lady, in short?"

"Yes, I should say a great deal more than that. I care very little for
accomplishments. But--but if I must come to the point--I do like her,
and no mistake!"

"Then you would not like some other man to come, and run away with
her, quite against her will?"

"That man must run over my body first," cried Kit, with so much spirit
that his father looked proud, and his poor mother trembled.

"Well, well, my boy," continued the good lawyer, "it will be your own
fault if the villain gets the chance. I am doing all I can to provide
against it; and am even obliged to employ some means of a nature not
at all congenial to me, for--for that very reason. You are sure that
you love this young lady, Kit?"

"Father, I would not say anything strong; but I would go on my knees,
all the way from here to there, for the smallest chance of getting
her!"

"Very good. That is as it should be. I would have done the very same
for your dear mother. Mamma, you have often reminded me of it, when
anything--well, those are reminiscences; but they lie at the bottom of
everything. A mercenary marriage is an outrage to all good feeling."

"She has not got a sixpence, father; she told me so. She makes all the
bread, and she puts by all the dripping."

"My dear boy, you know then what a good wife is. Mamma, we shall have
to clear out the room where the rocking-horse is, and the old
magic-lantern, and let this young couple go into it."

"My dear, it would be a long job; and there are a great many cracks in
the paper; but still we could have in old Josephine."

"Those are mere details, Momma. But this is a serious question; and
the boy must not be hurried. He may not have made up his mind; or he
may desire to change it to-morrow. He is too young to have any settled
will; and there is no reason why he should not wait----"

"Not a day will I wait--not an hour would I wait; in ten minutes I
could pack everything!"

"He might wait for a twelvemonth, my dear Miranda, and sound his own
feelings, and the young girl's too, if we could only be certain that
the young man of rank, with the four bay horses, was not in earnest
when he swore to carry her off to-morrow."

"My dear husband," Mrs. Sharp said, softly; "let us hope that he meant
nothing by it. Such things are frequently said, and come to nothing."

"I tell you what it is," Kit almost shouted, with his fist upon the
sacred desk; "you cannot in any way enter into my feelings upon such
matters! I beg your pardon, that is not what I mean, and I ought never
to have said it. But still, comparatively speaking, you can take these
things easily, and go on, and think people foolish--but I cannot. I
know when my mind is made up, and I do it. And to stop me with all
sorts of nonsense--at least, to find fifty reasons why I should do
nothing--is the surest of all ways to make me do it. I have many
people who will follow me through thick and thin; though you may not
believe it, because you cannot understand me, and your views are
confined to propriety. Mine are not. And you may find that out in a
very short time. At any rate, if I do a thing that brings you, father
and mother, into any evil words, all I can say is, you never should
have stopped me."

With this very lucid expression of ideas, Christopher strode away, and
left his parents petrified--as he thought. Mrs. Sharp was inclined to
be a dripping well; but Mr. Sharp was dry enough. "Exactly, exactly,"
he said, as he always said when a thing had come up to his reckoning;
"nothing could have been done much better. Put the money in his best
breeches' pocket, my dear, without my knowledge; and at the back-door
kiss him. Adjure him to do nothing rash; and lend him your own
wedding-ring, and weep. For a runaway match the most lucky of all
things is the boy's mother's wedding-ring. And above all things, not a
word about his rival, until he asks--and then all mystery; only you
know a great deal more than you dare tell."

"Oh, Luke, are you sure that it will all go aright?"

"Miranda, tell me anything we can be sure of, and you will have given
me a new idea. And I want ideas; I want them sadly. My power of
invention is failing me, or at any rate that of combining my
inventions. You did not observe that I was nervous, did you?"

"Nervous! Luke--you nervous! I should think that the end of the world
was coming if I saw any nervousness in you! And in the presence of a
boy, indeed----"

"My dear wife, I will give you my word that I felt--well, I will not
say 'nervous,' if you dislike it--but a little uncomfortable, and not
quite clear, when I saw how Kit was taking things. Real affection is a
dreadful thing. I did not want so much of it. I meant to have told him
who she is, till the turn of things made me doubt about it. But he is
quite up for anything now, I believe, though he must be told before he
goes. He is such a calf that he must not imagine that she has a
sixpence to bless herself. He would fly off in a moment if he guessed
the truth. He must know her name; and that you must tell him; and you
know how to explain it all a thousand-fold better than I do."

"Possibly I do," replied Mrs. Sharp; "I may have some very few ideas
of my own; although according to you, Mr. Sharp, I am only the mother
of a calf!"

"Very well said, my dear. And I have the honour of being his father."
They smiled at one another, for they both knew how to give and take.



CHAPTER XLVIII.

MASCULINE ERROR.


Christopher Fermitage Sharp, Esquire, strode forth, to have room as
well as time for thought. His comely young face was unusually red, and
he stroked his almost visible moustache, as a stimulant to manhood. So
deep and stern were his meditations, that he never even thought of his
pipe until he came to a bridge on the Botley road, whereon he was
accustomed to lean, and smoke, and gaze at the little fish quietly.
From the force of habit he pulled out his meerschaum, flint and steel,
and German tinder, and through blue rings of his own creation, watched
and envied the little fish. For though it was not yet the manner of
his mind to examine itself very deeply, he had a strong conviction
that the fish were happy, and that he was miserable. Upon the former
point there could not be two opinions--unless the fish themselves held
one--when any man observed how the little fellows jumped at the
spicy-flavoured flies (that fluttered on fluid gold to them), or
flashed in and out among one another, with a frolicsome spread of
silver, or, best of all, in calm contemplation, softly moved pellucid
fins, and gently opened fans of gills, with magnifying eyes intent
upon the glory of the lustrous world. Kit considered them with an
envious gaze. Were they harassed, were they tortured, were they racked
with agonised despair, by the proceedings of the female fish?

Compelled to turn his grim thoughts inward, he knew not that he was
jealous. He only knew that if he were to meet the young nobleman with
the four bay horses, it would be an evil day for one of them. Tush,
why should he not go and forestall that bloated, unprincipled
aristocrat--whose intentions might even be dishonourable--by having
four horses himself, and persuading that queen of beauty to elope with
him? He had given his parents due notice; and if he had done what they
wished by thus falling in love, it could not be very much against
their wishes if he made a hasty match of it. But could this lovely
young American be persuaded to come with him. He had far too much
respect for her to dream of using violence. But surely if he could
convince her of the peril she was in, and could promise her safe
refuge with a grave old lady, a valued relative of his own, while she
should have time to consider his suit, his devotion, his eternal
constancy, his everlasting absorption into her higher and purer
identity--

He pulled out his purse; it contained four and sixpence--a shilling
and three halfpence for each horse, and nothing for the postilions.
"We must do it less grandly," he said to himself; "and after all it
will be better so. How could four horses ever get through that wood? I
must have been a fool to think of it. A very light chaise and pair
will do ten times better, at a quarter of the money. I can get tick
for that from old Squeaker himself; and the governor will have to pay;
it need not cost me more than half a crown, and about three bob for
turnpikes. Fifteen miles to old Aunt Peggy's on the Wycombe road. Once
there, I defy them to do what they like. I am always the master of
that house, and I know where they keep the blunderbuss. I have the
greatest mind not to go home at all, but complete my arrangements
immediately. Squeaker would lend me a guinea with pleasure; he is a
large-minded man, I am sure. What a fool I was to give poor Cinnaminta
such a quantity of tin that day!--and yet how could I help it? I might
have gone on like a lord but for that."

Kit turned round and shook his head in several directions, trying to
bring to his mind the places where money might be hoped for. Than this
there is no mental effort more difficult and absorbing. No wonder
therefore that, in this contemplation, he did not hear the up-mail
full-gallop, springing the arch from the Cheltenham side, to make a
fine run into Oxford. "Hoi there, stoopid!" the coachman shouted, for
the bridge was narrow, and the coach danced across it, with the vigour
of the well-corded team. "Oh, Kit, is it? Climb for your hat, Kit."

Kit's best friend--so far as he had any friends in the University--by
a stroke of fine art, sent the lash of his whip round the hat of the
hero, and deposited it, ere one might cry, "Where art thou gone?" on
the oil-cloth, which sat on the top of the luggage, which sat on the
top of the coach which he drove, like the heir of all the race of
Nimshi. The hireling Jehu sat beside him, and having been at it since
nine o'clock last night, snored with a flourish not inferior to that
which the mail-guard began upon his horn.

Kit was familiar with a coach at speed, as every young Englishman at
that time was. In a twinkle he dashed at the hind-boot, laid hold of
the handle, and was up at once; the guard, with an eye to an honest
half-crown, moving sideways, but offering no help, because it would
have been an insult. Then over the hump of the luggage crawled Kit,
and clapped his own hat on his head, and between the shoulders of two
fat passengers, threw forth his strong arm, and "bonneted" the
spanking son of Nimshi. The leaders ran askew, till they were caught
up; and the smart young driver would have thrown down the reins, and
committed a personal assault on Kit, who was perfectly ready to reply
to it--being skilled in the art of self-defence--if the two fat
passengers, having seen the whole, had not joined hands, and stopped
it.

"Tit for tat; tit for tat!" they cried; "Squire, you began it, and you
have your due." And so, with a hearty laugh, on they galloped.

"If you should have anything to say to me," cried Kit, as he swung
himself off the early mail, at the corner of his native Cross Duck
Lane, "you will know where to find me. But you must wait a day or two,
for I have a particular engagement."

"All rubbish, Kit! Come and wine with me at seven. I shall have tooled
home the 'Nonpareil' by then."

Christopher, though stern, was placable. He kissed his hand to his
reconciled friend, while he shook his head, to decline the invitation,
and strode off vigorously to consult his mother. To consult his dear
mother meant to get money out of her, which was a very easy thing to
do; and having a good deal of conscience, Kit seldom abused that
opportunity, unless he was really driven to it. Metallic necessity was
on him now; his courage had been rising for the last half-hour. "Faint
heart never won fair lady," rang to the tune of many horses' feet. His
dash through the air had set his spirits flying; his exploit, and the
applause thereof, had taught him his own value. From this day forth he
was a man of the world; and a man of the world was entitled to a wife.

It is the last infirmity of noble and too active minds, to feel that
nothing is done well unless their presence guides it; to doubt the
possibility of sage prevision and nice conduct, through the ins and
outs of things, if ever the master-spirit trusts the master-body to be
away, and the countless eyes of the brain to give twinkle, instead of
the two solid lights of the head. Hence it was that Mr. Sharp, at
sight of Kit, came forth to meet him, although he had arranged to send
the mother. And this--as Mrs. Sharp declared to her dying day--was the
greatest mistake ever made by a man of most wonderful mind; while she
was putting away the linen.

"Come in here, my boy," he said to his son, who was strictly vexed to
see him, and yearning to be round the corner; "there are one or two
things that have never been made quite clear to your understanding. We
do not expect you to be too clear-sighted at your time of life, and so
on. Come in that I may have a word with you."

Christopher, with a little thrill of fear, once more entered the
sacred den, and there stood as usual; while his father sat and
regarded him with a lightsome smile. One of the many causes which had
long been at work to impair the young man's filial affection was, that
his father behaved as if it were not worth while to be in earnest with
him; as if Kit Sharp had a mind no riper than just to afford amusement
to mature and busy intellects. Christopher knew his own depth, and was
trying to be strong too, whenever he could think of it. And if he did
spend most of his time in sport and congenial pastime, of one thing he
was certain--that he never did harm to any one. Could his father say
that much for himself?

"Aha, my boy, aha," said the elder Sharp in that very same vein which
always so annoyed and vexed his son; "what will you give me for a
little secret, a sweet little secret about a young lady in whom you
take the deepest interest?"

The ingenuous youth, in spite of all efforts, could not help blushing
deeply; for he had a purely candid skin, reproduced from Piper
ancestry. And the sense of hot cheeks made him glow to the vital
centres of the nobler stuff. Therefore he scraped with his toes--which
was a trick of his--and kept silence.

"Pocket money gone again?" continued his father pleasantly; "nothing
to offer his kind papa for most valuable information? Courting is an
expensive business--I ought to have remembered that. And the younger
the parties the more it costs; hot-house flowers, and a
smelling-bottle, a trifle of a ring, just to learn the size; that
being accepted, the bolder brooch, charmed bracelet, and locket for
the virgin heart--no wonder you are short of cash, my Kit."

"You don't know one atom about it," cried Christopher, boiling with
meritorious wrath. "I never gave her nothing--and she wouldn't have
it!"

"The double negative, to be sure. How forcible and how natural it is!
Well, well, my boy, let us try to believe you. Scatter all doubts by
exhibiting your wealth. You had five pounds and ten shillings lately;
and you pay nothing for anything that can be placed to your father's
credit. Let me see your cash-box, Kit."

"This is all that I have at present," said Christopher, pulling out
his three-and-sixpence--for he had given the guard a shilling; "but
you must not suppose that this is all to which I am entitled. I have
I.O.U's from junior members of the University for really more than I
can reckon up; and every one of them will get the money from his
sisters, in the long vacation."

"Oh, Kit, Kit! The firm ends with me. I must sell the good-will for
the very worst old song, if it once leaks out what a fool you are. By
what strange cross of reckless blood can such a boy be the future head
of Piper, Pepper, Sharp, & Co.?" Mr. Sharp covered up his long clear
head, and hid--for this once--true emotion. Kit looked at the kerchief
with a very queer glance. He was not at all affected by this
lamentation, however just, because he had heard it so often before;
and he never could make out exactly how much of him his father could
manage to descry through that veil Palladian.

"Well, sir," he said, "you have always told me, as long as I can
remember, that I was to be a gentleman; and gentlemen trust one
another."

"Very well said!" Mr. Sharp replied, with a deeply irritating smile;
"and now I will trust you, young sir, in a matter of importance.
Remember that I trust you as a gentleman--for I need not tell you one
word, unless I choose--and if I depart from my usual practice, it is
partly because you are beginning to claim a sort of maturity. Very
well, let us see if it can be relied upon. You pledge your word to
keep silence, and I tell you what you never could find out."

Kit was divided with his mind in twain; whether he should draw the
sharp falchion of his wit, or whether he should rather speak honeysome
words; and, as nearly always happens when Minerva is admitted, he
betook himself to the gentler process.

"Very well, sir," he said, pulling up his collar, as if he had
whiskers to push it down, "whatever I am told in confidence is allowed
to go no further. It is scarcely necessary for me to say that I
reserve, of course, the final right of reference to my honour."

"To be sure, and to your ripe judgment and almost patriarchal
experience, Kit. Then be it known to you, aged youth, that you have
not shown hoar sagacity. You do not even know who the lady is whom you
have honoured with your wise addresses."

"And I don't care a d----n who she is," cried Kit, "so long as I love
her, and she loves me!"

"My son, you are turbulent and hasty. Your wisdom has left you
suddenly. Your manners also; or you would not swear in the presence of
your father."

"Sir, I was wrong; and I beg your pardon. But I think that I learned
the first way of it from you."

"Kit, Kit, recall that speech! You must have gone altogether dreaming
lately. My discourse is always moderate, and to the last degree
professional. However, in spite of the generous impulse, which
scarcely seems natural at your threescore years and ten, it does seem
a needful precaution to learn the name, style, and title of the lady
whom you will vow to love, honour, and--obey."

"Her name," cried Kit, without any sense of legal phrase and jingle,
"is Grace Holland. Her style is a great deal better than anybody
else's. And as for title, such rubbish is unknown in the gigantic
young nation to which she belongs."

"Her name," said Mr. Sharp, setting his face for the conquest of this
boy, and fixing keen hard eyes upon him, "is Grace Oglander, the
daughter of the old Squire of Beckley. Her style--in your sense of the
word--is that of a rustic young lady; and her title, by courtesy, is
Miss--a barbarous modern abbreviation."

The youth was at first too much amazed to say a word; for he was not
quick-witted, as his father was. He gave a little gasp, and his fine
brown eyes, which he could not remove from his father's, changed their
expression from defiance to doubt, and from doubt to fear, and from
fear to sorrow, with a little dawning of contempt. "Why, my man, is
this beyond your experience of life?" asked Luke Sharp, trying to look
his son down, but failing, and beginning to grow uneasy. Kit's face
was aflame with excitement, and his lips were trembling; but his eyes
grew stern.

"Father, I hope you do not mean what you have said--that you are only
joking with me--at any rate, that you have not known it--that you have
not done it--that you have not even left poor old Mr. Oglander one
hour----"

"Wait, boy, wait! You know nothing about it. Who are you to judge of
such matters, indeed? Remember to whom you are speaking, if you
please. I have done what was right; and for your sake I have done it."

"For my sake! Why, I never had seen the young lady before I was told
that she was dead and buried--murdered, as everybody said--and the
tracing of the criminals was mainly left to you! I longed to help, but
I knew that you despised me; and now do you mean to say that you did
it?"

Luke Sharp was a quick-tempered man. He had borne a great deal more
than usual. And now he spoke with vast disdain.

"To be sure, Kit, I murdered her; as is proved to such a mind as yours
by the fact of her being now alive! What can I have done to have a
fool for my son?"

"And what have I done to have a rogue for a father? You may knock me
down, sir, if you please!"--for Mr. Sharp arose, as if that would be
his next proceeding;--"you have always used your authority very much
in that manner with me. I don't want to be knocked down; but if it
will do you any good, pray proceed to it; and down I go."

"I declare, after all, you have got some little wit," cried the
lawyer, with a smile withdrawing, and recovering self-command. "I
cannot be angry with a boy like you, because you know no better. Oh,
here comes your mother! Your excitement has aroused her. Mamma, you
have not the least idea what a lion you have to answer for. I leave
him to you, my dear. Soothe him, feed him, and try to find his
humming-top."



CHAPTER XLIX.

PROMETHEUS VINCTUS.


"I will not die like this! It is unseemly to die like this!" the Rev.
Thomas Hardenow was exclaiming at this very time, but a few miles off.
"I hope I am not a coward altogether; but the ignominy is unbearable.
In this den of Eumæus, this sty of Sycorax, entangled in the meshes of
a foul hog-net, and with hogs' grunt, grunt, for the chorus of my
woes! My Prometheus class is just waiting for me at the present
moment, so far as I can reckon here the climbing of the day; and I had
rendered into English verses that delicious bit of chorus--'With thy
woes of mighty groaning, mortals feel a fellow-moaning, And of Colchic
land indwellers, maids who never quail in fight;' and so on--how
small-minded of me to forget it now!--down to, 'And springs of
holy-watered rivers wail thy pitiable woe.' But instead of nymphs of
ocean, here comes that old pig again! If he could only grout up that
board--which he must do sooner or later--what part of me will he begin
upon? Probably this little finger--it is so white and helpless! If I
could only, only move!--to be eaten alive by pigs! Well, well--there
is not so very much left for them. Infinitely better men have had a
lower end than that. Only I would bend my knees--if bend them I
could--to the Giver of all good, that I may be insensible before the
pigs begin."

His plight was a very unfortunate one; but still in the blackest veil
of woe there is sure to be some little threadbare place--from so many
people having worn that veil--and even poor Hardenow had one good
"look-out." To wit, although he had been without food for
six-and-twenty hours now (having been caught in the treacherous toils
soon after he set his toes towards his dinner), he was not by any
means in the same state in which a Low-Church clergyman must have
been. His system was so attuned to fasting, and all his parts so
disciplined, that "cupboard" was only whispered among them in a
submissive manner; and even his stomach concluded sorrowfully that it
must be Friday.

Beyond this considerable advantage--which could not last much
longer--there was really little to console him. His cowardly captors,
not content with the rabbit-net twined round him, had swathed him also
in the stronger meshes of a corded gig-net. And even after that, Black
George, having had the handling of his legs, and discovered the vigour
of their boniness, was so impressed that he called out--"I never did
heckle such a wiry chap. Fetch a pair of they tough thongs, Tickuss,
same as thou makest use of for ringing of the pigs, my lad."

"Whish!--can't 'ee whish, with my name so pat?" Leviticus whispered
sulkily; but he brought the unyielding thongs, wherewith the fellow
and tutor of Brasenose very soon had his wrists and ankles strapped.
And in spite of all struggles through the livelong night, as firmly as
a trussed hare was he fixed.

Nevertheless, he could roll a little, though not very fast, because
his elbows stopped him; for being of the sharpest they stuck into the
ground, which was of a loamy nature. He fought with this difficulty,
as with every other; for a braver heart never dwelled in any body,
whether fat or lean; and he plucked up his angles from their bed of
earth, whenever the limits of cord would yield. He knew all about the
manufacture of twine--so far as one not in the trade could know
it--because he had got up the subject for the sake of a whipcord of a
puzzle in Theocritus; but this only served to make his case the worse;
for at that time honest string was made. The dressing, and the facing,
and the thousand other rogueries, make it quite impossible to tie a
good knot now; and even if a strap has any leather in it, its first
operation is a compromise.

But at that stouter period, bind made bound. Mr. Hardenow could roll a
little; but that was as much as he could do. And rolling did him very
little good, except by way of exercise; because he was pulled up short
so suddenly by feather-edged boarding, with a coat of tar. The place
in which he was penned was most unworthy of such an occupant. It was
not even the principal meal-house, or the best treasury of "wash." It
was not the kitchen of the tasteful pigs, or even their back-kitchen,
but something combining the qualities of their scullery and dust-bin.
But the floor was clean, and a man lying lowly, so far as smell was
concerned, had certainly the best of the situation; inasmuch as all
odours must ascend to the pure ether of the exalted. Hardenow knew
that it was vain to roll, because the door was padlocked, and the
lower end, to which he chiefly tended, had a loose board, lifted every
now and then by the unringed snout of a very good old sow. Pure
curiosity was her motive, and no evil appetite, as her eyes might
tell. She had never seen a fellow and a tutor of a college rolling, as
she herself loved to do; and yet in a comparatively clumsy way. She
grunted deep disapproval of his movements, and was vexed that her
instructions were entirely thrown away.

"Ah, Linus, Linus be the cry; and let the good be conqueror!" Mr.
Hardenow quoted, as his legs began to ache; "henceforth, if I have any
henceforth, how palpably shall I realise the difference between the
alindethra and the circular conistra! In this limited place I combine
the two; but without the advantages of either. I take it that, whether
of horse, or hen, or human being, the essential condition of
revolutionary enjoyment is--that the limbs be free. In my case, they
are not free. The exhilaration which would ensue, and of which, if I
remember rightly, Pliny speaks--or is it Ælian?--my memory seems to be
rolling too; but be the authority what it will, in my case that
exhilaration is (at least for the moment) not forthcoming. But I ought
to condemn myself far rather than writers who treat of a subject with
the gravity of authority; that is to say, if they ever tried it.
'Experimentum in corpore vili,' is what all writers have preferred. If
their own bodies were not too noble, what powerful impress they might
have left!"

After such a cynical delivery as this, it served him particularly
right to hit, in the course of revolution, upon a bit of bone even
harder than his own; a staunch piece of noble old ossification
(whether of herbivorous, carnivorous, or omnivorous dragon), such as
would have brought Professor Buckland from Christ Church headlong, or
even Professor Owen, from the British Museum, the Melampus of all good
dragons. Hardenow knew nothing about it; except that it ran into him,
and jerked him in such a way over the ground, that he got into the
highest corner, and gladly would have rubbed himself, if good hemp had
yielded room for it.

But this sad blow, which seemed at first the buffet of the third and
crowning billow of his woe, proved to be a blessing in disguise;
inasmuch as the reaction impelled him to a spot where he descried some
encouragement to work. And a little encouragement was enough for him.
By virtue of inborn calmness, long classical training and memories,
and pure Anglo-Catholic discipline, the young man was still "as fresh
as paint," in a trouble which would have exhausted the vigour of a far
more powerful and fiery man. Russel Overshute, for instance, even in
his best health would have worn his wits out long ago, by futile
wrath, and raving hunger.

Mr. Hardenow could not even guess how there came to be quite a thick
cluster of pretty little holes, of about the size of a swan's quill,
drilled completely through the board against which his mishap had
driven him. The board was a stoutish slab of larch, cut
"feather-edged;" and the saw having struck upon most of these holes
obliquely, their form was elliptic instead of round, and their axes
not being at right angles to the board, they attracted no attention by
admitting light, since the light of course entered obliquely. In some
parts as close as the holes of a colander, in other places scattered
more widely, they jotted the plank for nearly a yard of its length,
and afforded a fine specimen of the penetrative powers of a colony of
_Sirex gigas_, so often mistaken for the hornet.

But though as to their efficient cause he could form no opinion,
Hardenow hoped that their final cause might be to save his life; which
he quietly believed to be in great peril. For he knew that he lay in
the remote obscurity of a sad and savage wood, unvisited by justice,
trade, or benefit of clergy. Here, if no good spirit came, or unseen
genius, to release him, die he must at his own leisure, which would be
a long one. And he could discover no moral to be read from his
pre-historic skeleton; unless it were that very low one--"stick to thy
own business."

A man of ordinary mind would not have troubled his head about this.
"_Post me, diluvium_," is the strengthening sentiment of this age; no
fulcrum whatever for any good work; and the death of all immortality.
Hardenow would have none of that; he had no idea of leaving ashes fit
to nourish nothing. Collecting his energies for a noble protest
against having lived altogether in vain, he brought his fettered
heels, like a double-headed hammer, as hard as his probolistic swing
could whirl, against the very thickest-crowded cells of bygone
domicile. The wooden shed rang, and the uprights shook, and the nose
of the sow at the lower end was jarred, and her feelings hurt; for,
truly speaking, her motives had been misunderstood. And if Hardenow
had but kept pigs of his own, he would have gone to work down there,
to help her, and so perhaps have got her to release him from his
toils. Everybody, however, must be allowed to go to work in his own
way: and to find fault with him, when he tries to do his best, is (as
all kind critics own) alike ungraceful and ungracious. Mr. Hardenow
worked right hard, as he always did at everything, and his heels had
their sparables as good as new, and capable of calcitration, though he
wore nothing stronger than Oxford shoes with a bow of silk ribbon on
the instep. The ribbon held fast, and he kicked or rather swung his
feet by a process of revolution, as bravely as if he had Hessian boots
on. At the very first stroke he had fetched out a splinter as big as
the scoop of a marrow-spoon; and delivering his coupled heels
precisely where little tunnels afforded target, in a quarter of an
hour he had worked a good hole, and was able to refresh himself with
the largeness of the outer world.

Not that he could, however skilled now in rolling, roll himself out of
his black jail yet--for the piece punched out was only four inches
wide--but that he got a very decent width (in proportion at least to
man's average view) for clear consideration of the world outside. And
what he saw now was a pretty little sight, or peep at country scenery.
For the wood, just here, was not so thick that a man could not see it
by reason of the trees--as the Irishman forcibly observed--but a
dotted slope of bush and timber widening and opening sunny reaches out
of the narrow forest track. There was no house to be seen, nor
cottage, nor even barn or stable, nor any moving creature, except a
pig or two grouting in the tufted grass, and gray-headed daws at
leisure perking and prying, for the good of their home-circle.

But presently the prisoner espied a wicket-gate, nearly at the bottom
of the sylvan slope, with a little space roughly stoned before
it--almost a sure sign, in a neighbourhood like that, of a human
dwelling-place inside. And when Hardenow's eyes, recovering tone,
assured him of the existence of some moss-grown steps, for the
climbing of a horse upon either side, he felt a sudden (though it may
not have been a strictly logical) happiness, from the warm idea that
there must be some of the human race not far from him. He placed his
lips close to the hole which he had made, and shouted his very
loudest, and then stopped a little while, to watch what might come of
it, and then sent forth another shout. But nothing came of it, except
that the pigs pricked up their ears and looked around and grunted; and
the jackdaws gave a little jerk or two, and flapped their wings, but
did not fly; and a soft woody echo, of a fibrous texture, answered as
weakly as a boy who does not know.

This was pretty much what Hardenow expected. He saw that the
wicket-gate was a long way off, three or four hundred yards perhaps;
but he did not know that his jailer, Tickuss Cripps, was the man who
lived inside of it. Otherwise his sagacious mind would have yielded
quiet mercy to his lungs. For Leviticus was such a cruel and cowardly
blunderer, that, in mere terror, he probably would have dashed grand
brains out. But luckily he was far away now, and so were all other
spies and villains; and only a little child--boy or girl, at that
distance nobody could say which--toddled out to the wicket-gate, and
laid fat arms against it, and laboured, with impatient grunts, to push
it open. Having seen no one for a long time now, Hardenow took an
extraordinary interest in the efforts of this child. The success or
the failure of this little atom could not in any way matter to him;
yet he threw his whole power of sight into the strain of the distant
conflict. He made up his mind that if the child got out, he should be
able to do the like.

Then having most accurate "introspection" (so far as humanity has such
gift) he feared that his mind must be a little on the wane, ere ever
such weakness entered it. To any other mind the wonder would have been
that his should continue to be so tough; but he hated shortcomings,
and began to feel them. Laying this nice question by, until there
should be no child left to look at, he gazed with his whole might at
this little peg of a body, in the distance, toppling forward, and
throwing out behind the weight of its great efforts. He wondered at
his own interest--as we all ought to wonder, if we took the trouble.
This little peg, now in battle with the gate, was a solid Peg in
earnest; a fine little Cripps, about five years old, as firm as if
just turned out of a churn. She was backward in speech, as all the
Crippses are; and she rather stared forth her ideas than spoke them.
But still, let her once get a settlement concerning a thing that must
be done to carry out her own ideas; and in her face might be seen,
once for all, that stop she never would till her own self had done it.
Hardenow could not see any face, but he felt quite a surety of
sturdiness, from the solid mould of attitude.

That heavy gate, standing stiffly on its heels, groaned
obstreperously, and gibed at the unripe passion of this little maid.
It banged her chubby knees, and it bruised her warted hand, and it
even bestowed a low cowardly buffet upon her expressive and determined
cheek. And while she lamented this wrong, and allowed want of judgment
to kick out at it, unjust it may have been, but true it is, that she
received a still worse visitation. The forefoot of the gate, which was
quite shaky and rattlesome in its joints, came down like a skittle-pin
upon her little toes, which were only protected on a Sunday. "Ototoi,
Ototoi!" cried Mr. Hardenow, with a thrilling gush of woe, as if his
own toes were undergoing it. Bitter, yet truly just, lamentation awoke
all the echoes of the woods and hills, and Hardenow thought that it
was all up now--that this small atom of the wooded world would accept
her sad fate, and run in to tell her mother.

But no; this child was the Carrier's niece; and a man's niece--under
some law of the Lord, untraced by acephalous progeny--takes after him
oftentimes a great deal closer than his own beloved daughter does.
Whether or no, here was this little animal, as obstinate as the very
Carrier. Taught by adversity she did thus:--Against the gate-post she
settled her most substantial availability, and exerted it, and spared
it not. Therewith she raised one solid leg, and spread the naked foot
thereof, while her lips were as firm as any toe of all the lot,
against the vile thing that had knocked her about, and the power that
was contradicting her. Nothing could withstand this fixed resolution
of one of the far more resolute moiety of humanity. With a creak of
surrender, the gate gave back; and out came little Peggy Cripps, with
a broad face glowing with triumph, which suddenly fell into a length
of terror, as the vindictive gate closed behind her. To get out had
been a great labour, but to get back was an impossibility; and
Hardenow, even so far away, could interpret the gesture of despair and
horror. "Poor little thing! How I wish that I could help her!" he said
to himself, and very soon began to think that mutual aid might with
proper skill be compassed.

With this good idea, he renewed his shouts, but offered them in a more
insinuating form; and being now assured that the child was female, his
capacious mind framed a brief appeal to the very first instinct of all
female life. Possibly therefore the fairer half of pig and daw
creation appropriated with pleasure his address. At any rate, although
the child began to look around, she had no idea whence came the words,
"Pretty little dear! little beauty!" etc., with which the learned
prisoner was endeavouring to allure her.

But at last, by a very great effort and with pain, Hardenow managed to
extract from the nets his white cravat, or rather his cravat which had
been white, when it first hung down his back from the taloned clasp of
the hollies. By much contrivance and ingenious rollings, he brought
out a pretty good wisp of white, and hoisted it bravely betwixt gyved
feet, and at the little breach displayed it. And the soft breath of
May, which was wandering about, came and uncrinkled, and in little
tatters waved the universal symbol of Succession Apostolical, as well
as dinner-parties.

Little Peggy happened at this moment to be staring, with a loose
uncertain glimpse of thought that somebody somewhere was calling her.
By the flutter of the white cravat, her wandering eyes were caught at
last, and fixed for a minute of deliberate growth of wonder. Not a
step towards that dreadful white ghost would she budge; but a
steadfast idea was implanted in her mind, and was likely to come up
very slowly.

"It is waste of time; I have lost half an hour. The poor little
thing--I have only scared her. Now let me think what I ought to do
next."

But even while he addressed himself to that very difficult problem,
Hardenow began to feel that he could not grapple with it. His mind was
as clear as ever, but his bodily strength was failing. He had often
fasted for a longer time, but never with his body invested thus, and
all his members straitened. The little girl sank from his weary eyes,
though he longed to know what would become of her; and he scarcely had
any perception at all of pigs that were going on after their manner,
and rabbits quite ready for their early dinner, the moment the sun
began to slope, and a fine cock partridge, who in his way was proud
because his wife had now laid a baker's dozen of eggs, and but for his
dissuasion would begin to sit to-morrow; and after that a round-nosed
hare, with a philoprogenitive forehead, but no clear idea yet of
leverets; and after that, as the shadows grew long, a cart, drawn by a
horse, as carts seem always to demand that they shall be--the horse of
a strong and incisive stamp (to use the two pet words of the day), the
cart not so very far behind him there, as they gave word to stop at
the gate to one another--and in the cart, and above the cart, and
driving both it and the horse thereof, as Abraham drove on the plain
of Mamre, Zacchary Cripps; and sitting at his side, the far-travelled
and accomplished Esther.



CHAPTER L.

FEMININE ERROR.


Meanwhile, at Cross Duck House, ever since that interview of the
morning, things were becoming, from hour to hour, more critical and
threatening. If Mr. Sharp could only have believed that his son was
now a man, or at least should be treated as though he were; and if
after that the too active lawyer could only have conceived it possible
that some things might go on all the better without him; it is likely
enough that his righteous and gallant devices would have sped more
easily.

But Luke Sharp had governed his own little world so long that he
scarcely could imagine serious rebellion. And he cared not to hide his
large contempt for the intellect of Christopher, or the grievance
which he had always felt--at being the father of a donkey. And so,
without further probation or pledge, he went forth to make his own
arrangements, leaving young Kit to his mother's charge, like a dummy,
to be stroked down and dressed.

If he had left Kit but an hour before for his mother to tell him
everything, and round the corners, and smooth the levels, and wrap it
all up in delicious romance, as women do so easily, with their power
of believing whatever they wish, the boy might have jumped at the soft
sweet bait; for he verily loved his sylvan maid. But now all his
virtue and courage, and even temper, were on the outlook; and only one
thing more was needed to drive him to a desperate resolve.

And that one thing was supplied, in the purest innocence, by Mrs.
Sharp; though the question would never have arisen if her son had been
left to her sole handling.

"Then, mother, I suppose," said Kit as simply as if he smelled no rat
whatever, thoroughly as he understood that race, "if I should be
fortunate enough to marry beautiful Miss Oglander, we shall have to
live on bread and cheese, until it shall please the senior people to
be reconciled, and help us?"

"No, Kit! What are you talking of, child? The lady has £20,000 of her
own! And £150,000 to follow, which nobody can take from her!"

With a very heavy heart he turned away. Nothing more was required to
settle him. He saw the whole business of the plotting now; and the
young romance was out of it. He went to the bow-window looking on the
lane, and felt himself akin to a little ragamuffin, who was cheating
all the other boys at marbles. Hard bitterness and keen misery were
battling in his mind which should be the first to have its way and
speak.

"This comes of being a lawyer's son!" he cried, turning round for one
bad glance at his mother. "She said that she disliked the law. I don't
dislike, I abhor it."

"So you may, my dear boy, and welcome now. This will lift you
altogether beyond it. Your dear father may consider it his duty to
continue the office, and so on; but you will be a country gentleman,
Kit, with horses, and dogs, and Manton guns, and a pack of hounds, and
a long barouche, and hot-house grapes. And I will come and live with
you, my darling; or at least make our country house of it, and show
you how to manage things. For the whole world will be trying to cheat
you, Kit; you are too good-natured, and grand in your ways! You must
try to be a little sharper, darling, with that mint of money."

"Must I? But suppose that I won't have it."

"Sometimes I believe that you think it manly to provoke your mother.
The money ought to have been ours, Kit; mine by heritage and justice;
at least a year and a half ago. A moderate provision should have been
made for a woman, who may have her good points--though everybody has
failed to discover them--and who married with a view to jointure. Ten
thousand pounds would have been very handsome--far handsomer than she
ever was, poor thing!--and then by every law, human and divine, all
the rest must have come to you and me, my dear. Now, I hope that you
see things in their proper light."

"Well, I dare say I do," he answered, with a little turn of sulkiness,
such as he often got when people could not understand him. "Mother,
you will allow me to have my own opinion; as you have yours."

"Certainly, Kit! Of course, my dear. You know that you always have
been allowed extraordinary liberty in that way. No boy in any school
could have more; even where all the noblemen's sons are allowed to
make apple-pie beds for the masters. Every night, my dear boy, when
your father was away, it has rested with you, and you cannot deny it,
to settle to a nicety what there must be for supper."

"Such trumpery stuff is not worth a thought. I am now like a fellow
divided in two. You might guess what I am about, a little. It is high
time for me to come forward. You cannot see things, perhaps, as I do.
How often must I tell you? I give you my word as a gentleman--all this
is exceedingly trying."

"Of course it is, Kit; of course it is. What else could be expected of
it? But still, we must all of us go through trials; and then we come
out purified."

"Not if we made them for ourselves, mother; and made them particularly
dirty ones. But I cannot talk of it; what do I know? A lot of things
come tempting me. Everybody laughs at me for wondering what my mind
is. And everybody cheats me, as you said. Let the governor carry on
his own devices. I have made up my mind to consider a good deal, and
behave then according to circumstances."

"You will behave, I trust, exactly as your parents wish. They have
seen so much more of the world than you have; they are far better
judges of right and wrong; and their only desire is your highest
interest. You will break your poor mother's heart, dear Kit, if you do
anything foolish now."

The latter argument had much more weight with young Sharp than the
former; but pledging himself as yet to nothing, he ran away to his own
room to think; while his mother, with serious misgivings, went down to
see about the soup, and hurry on the dinner. She knew that in vaunting
Miss Oglander's wealth she had done the very thing she was ordered not
to do, and she was frightened at the way in which her son had taken
it.

Mr. Sharp did not come home to their early dinner at half-past one
o'clock; indeed, his wife did not expect him much; and his son was
delighted not to see him. Kit sat heavily, but took his food as usual.
The condition of his mind might be very sad indeed, but his body was
not to be driven thereby to neglect the duties of its own department.
He helped his dear mother to some loin of mutton; and when she only
played with it, and her knife and fork were trembling, he was angered,
and his eyes sought hers; and she tried to look at him and smile, but
made a wretched job of it. Christopher reserved his opinion about
this; but it did not help in any way to impair his resolution.

For dessert they had a little dish of strawberries from pot-plants in
the greenhouse; and as they were the first of the season, the young
fellow took to them rather greedily. His mother was charmed with this
condescension, and urged him so well that in about three minutes the
shining red globes ticked with gold were represented by a small,
ignoble pile of frilled stalks blurred with pink. At this moment in
walked the master of the house.

He had been as fully occupied as a certain unobtrusive, but never
inactive, gentleman, proverbially must be in a gale of wind. The day
was unusually warm for the May month, and the streets of Oxford dusty.
Mr. Sharp had been working a roundabout course, and working it very
rapidly; he had managed to snatch at a sandwich or two--for he could
not go long without nourishment--but throughout all his haste he had
given himself, with the brightest vision of refreshing joy, just time
to catch these strawberries. At least he was sure of it. But now,
where were they?

"Ah, I see you know how to snap up a good thing!" cried the lawyer,
with a glance of contempt and wrath; "show the same promptitude in
what has been arranged for your benefit this afternoon, my boy; and
then you will be, in earnest, what you put on your dogs' collars."

This was not the way to treat Kit Sharp; but the lawyer never could
resist a sneer, even when his temper was at its best, which it
certainly was not just now.

Kit looked a little ashamed for a moment, but made no excuse for his
greediness; he was sure that his mother would do that best. By this
time he had resolved to avoid, for the present, all further dispute
with his father. Whatever was arranged for him he would do his best to
accept, with one condition--that he should be allowed to see the young
lady first, and test her good-will towards him, before her "removal"
(as Mr. Sharp mildly called it) was attempted. His sanguine young
heart had long been doing its utmost to convince him that this
sweet-tempered and simple maid could never bring herself to the
terrible cruelty of rejecting him. He felt how unworthy he was; but
still so was everybody else--especially the villain with the four bay
horses: from that scoundrel he would save her, even if he had to
dissemble more than he ever had done before.

Luke Sharp, with his eyes fixed on his son in lofty contemplation,
beheld (as through a grand microscope) these despicable little
reasonings. To argue with Kit was more foolish than filing a
declaration against a man of straw. To suppose that Kit would ever
really rebel was more absurd than to imagine that a case would be
decided upon its merits. "So be it," he said; "but of course, even you
would never be quite such a fool as to tell her what your father and
mother have done for her good."

There still was a little to be done, and some nicety of combination to
see to; and after a short consultation with his wife, and particular
instructions as to management of Kit, Mr. Sharp rode off on his own
stout horse, with a heavily loaded whip and a brace of pistols,
because there were some rogues about.



CHAPTER LI.

UNFILIAL.


"At seven o'clock all must be ready," said Mr. Sharp, towards the
close of a hurried conversation with Miss Patch, Grace Oglander being
sent out of the way, according to established signal; "there is no
time to lose, and no ladies' tricks of unpunctuality, if you please.
We must have day-light for these horrid forest-roads, and time it so
as to get into the London road about half-past eight. We must be in
London by two in the morning; the horses, and all that will be
forthcoming. Kit rides outside, and I follow on horse-back. Hannah,
why do you hesitate?"

"Because I cannot--I cannot go away, without having seen that Jesuit
priest in the pig-net wallowing. It is such a grand providential
work--the arm of the Lord has descended from heaven, and bound him in
his own meshes. Luke, I beg you, I implore you--I can pack up
everything in an hour--do not rob me of a sight like that."

"Hannah, are you mad? You have never been allowed to go near that
place, and you never shall!"

"Well, you know best; but it does seem very cruel, after all the lack
of grace I have borne with here, to miss the great Protestant work
thus accomplished. But suppose that the child should refuse to come
with us--we have no letters now, nor any other ministration."

"We have no time now for such trumpery; we must carry things now with
a much higher hand. Everything hangs upon the next few hours; and by
this time to-morrow night all shall be safe: Kit and the girl gone for
their honeymoon, and you sitting under the most furious dustman that
ever thumped a cushion."

"Oh, Luke, how can you speak as if you really had no reverence?"

"Because there is no time for such stuff now. We have the strength,
and we must use it. Just go and get ready. I must ride to meet my
people. The girl, I suppose, is with Kit by this time. What a pair of
nincompoops they will be!"

"I am sure they will be a very pretty pair--so far as poor sinful
exterior goes--and, what is of a thousand-fold more importance, their
worldly means will be the means of grace to hundreds of our poor
fellow-creatures, who, because their skin is of a different tint, and
in their own opinion a finer one, are debarred----"

"Now, Hannah, no time for that. Get ready. And mind that there must be
no feminine weakness if circumstances should compel us to employ a
little compulsion. Call to your mind that the Lord is with us; the
sword of the Lord and of Gideon."

Pleased with his knowledge of Holy Writ, he went to the place where
his horse was tied, and there he found a man with a message for him,
which he just stopped to hearken.

"As loovin' as a pair o' toortle doves; he hath a-got her by the
middle; as sweet as my missus were to me, afore us went to church
togither!" Black George had been set to watch Kit and Gracie, during
their private interview, lest any precaution should be overlooked.

"Right! Here's a guinea for you, my man. Now, you know what to do till
I come back--to stay where you are, and keep a sharp look-out. Can the
fool in the net do without any water? Very well, after dark, give him
some food, bandage his eyes, and walk him to and fro, and let him go
in Banbury.

"All right, governor. A rare bait he shall have of it, with a little
swim in the canal, to clane un."

"No hardship, no cruelty!" cried Mr. Sharp, with his finger to his
forehead, as he rode away; "only a little wise discipline to lead him
into closer attention to his own affairs."

Black George looked after his master with a grin of admiration. "He
sticketh at nort," said George to himself, as he began to fill a grimy
pipe; "he sticketh at nort no more than I would. And with all that
house and lands to back un! Most folk with money got no pluck left,
for thinking of others as owneth the same. I'll be danged if he
dothn't carry on as bold as if he slep' in a rabbit-hole." With these
words he sat down to watch the house, according to his orders.

But this man's description of what he had seen in the wood was not a
correct one--much as he meant to speak the truth--for many reasons,
and most of all this: that he ran away before the end of it. It was a
pretty and a moving scene; but the rabbit-man cared a great deal more
for the pipe, which he could not smoke in this duty, and the guinea
which he hoped to get out of it. And it happened, as near as one can
tell, on this wise:

Grace Oglander, came down the winding wooded path, with her heart
pit-a-patting at every step, because she was ordered to meet somebody.
An idea of that kind did not please her. A prude, or a prim, she would
never wish to be; and a little bit of flirting had been a great
relief, and a pleasant change in her loneliness. But to bring matters
to so stern a point, and have to say what she meant to say, in as few
words as possible, and then walk off--these strong measures were not
to her liking, because she was a most kind-hearted girl, and had much
good-will towards Christopher.

Kit on the other hand, came along fast, with a resolute brow and firm
heavy stride. He had made up his mind to be wretched for life, if the
heart upon which he had set his own should refuse to throb
responsively. But whatever his fate might be, he would tread the
highest path of generosity, chivalry, and honour; and this resolution
was well set forth in the following nervous and pathetic lines, found
in his blotting-paper after his untimely--but stay, let us not
anticipate. These words had been watered with a flood of tears.

    "C. F. S. TO MISS G. O.

    Say that happier mortal woos thee,
    Say that nobler knight pursues thee,
      While this blighted being teareth
      All the festive robes it weareth,
    While this dead heart splits to lose thee--
    Ah, could I so misuse thee?
      Though this bosom, rent by thunder,
    Crash its last hope anchor'd in thee;
      Liefer would I groan thereunder,
    Than by falsehood win thee!"

And now they met in a gentle place, roofed with leaves, and floored
with moss, and decorated with bluebells. The chill of the earth was
gone by and forgotten, and the power of the sky come back again;
stately tree, and graceful bush, and brown depths of tangled
prickliness--everything having green life in it--was spreading its
green, and proud of it. Under this roof, and in these halls of bright
young verdure, the youth and the maid came face to face befittingly.
Grace, as bright as a rose, and flushing with true tint of wild rose,
drew back and bowed, and then, perceiving serious hurt of Christopher,
kindly offered a warm white hand--a delicious touch for any one. Kit
laid hold of this and kept it, though with constant fear of doing more
than was established, and, trying to look firm and overpowering, led
the fair young woman to a trunk of fallen oak.

Here they both sat down; and Grace was not so far as she could wish
from yielding to a little kind of trembling which arose in her. She
glanced at Kit sideways whenever she felt that he could not be looking
at her; and she kept her wise eyes mainly downward whenever they
seemed to be wanted--not that she could not look up and speak, only
that she would rather wait until there was no other help for it; and
as for that, she felt no fear, being sure that he was afraid of her.
Kit, on the other hand, was full of fear, and did all he could in the
craftiest manner to make his love look up at him. He could not tell
how she might take his tale; but he knew by instinct that his eyes
would help him where his tongue might fail. At last he said--

"Now, will you promise faithfully not to be angry with me?"

"Oh yes, oh yes--to be sure," said Grace; "why should I be angry?"

"Because I can't help it--I give you my honour. I have tried very
hard, but I cannot help it."

"Then who could be angry with you, unless it was something very
wicked?"

"It is not very wicked, it is very good--too good for me, a great
deal, I am afraid."

"There cannot be many things too good for you; you are simple, and
brave, and gentle."

"But this is too good for me, ever so much, because it is your own
dear self."

Grace was afraid that this was coming; and now she lifted her soft
blue eyes and looked at him quite tenderly, and yet so directly and
clearly that he knew in a moment what she had for him--pity, and
trust, and liking; but of heart's love not one atom.

"I know what you mean," he whispered sadly, with his bright young face
cast down. "I cannot think what can have made me such a fool. Only
please to tell me one thing. Has there been any chap in front of me?"

"How can I tell what you mean?" asked Grace; but her colour showed
that she could guess.

"I must not ask who it is, of course. Only say it's not the swell that
drives the four bay horses."

"I do not know any one that drives four bay horses. And now I think
that I had better go. Only, as I cannot ever meet you any more, I must
try to tell you that I like you very much, and never shall forget what
I owe to you; and I hope you will very soon recover from this--this
little disappointment; and my dear father, as soon as we return to
England--for I must go to fetch him----"

"Grace--oh, let me call you 'Grace' once or twice, it can't matter
here in the middle of the wood--Grace, I was so taken up with myself,
and full of my miserable folly, which of course I ought to have known
better----"

"I must not stop to hear any more. There is my hand--yes, of course
you may kiss it, after all that you have done for me."

"I am going to do a great deal more for you," cried Kit, quite carried
away with the yielding kindness of lovely fingers. "For your sake I am
going to injure and disgrace my own father--though the Lord knows the
shame is of his own making. It is my father who has kept you here; and
to-night he is going to carry you off. Miss Patch is only a tool of
his. Your own father knows not a word about it. He believes you to be
dead and buried. Your tombstone is set up at Beckley, and your father
goes and cries over it."

"But his letters--his letters from Demerara? Oh! my head swims round!
Let me hold by this tree for a moment!"

Kit threw his arm round her delicate waist to save her from falling;
and away crept George, who had lurked behind a young birch-tree too
far off to hear their words.

"You must rouse up your courage," said Kit, with a yearning gaze at
his sweet burden, yet taking no advantage of her. "Rouse up your
courage, and I will do my best to save you from myself. It is very
hard--it is cruelly cruel, and nobody will thank me!"

"His letters from Demerara!" cried Grace, having scarcely heard a word
he said. "How could he have written them? You must be wrong."

"Of such letters I have never heard. I suppose they must have been
forgeries. I give you my word that your father has been the whole of
the time at Beckley, and a great deal too ill to go from home."

"Too ill!--my father? Yes, of course--of course! How could he help
being ill without me? And he thinks I am dead? Oh! he thinks that I am
dead! I wonder that he could dare to be alive. But let me try to think
a little."

She tottered back to the old stump of the tree, and sat down there,
and burst forth into an extraordinary gush of weeping: more sad and
pitiful tears had never watered an innocent face before. "Let me
cry!--let me cry!" was her only answer when the young man clumsily
tried to comfort.

Kit got up and strode about; his indignation at her deep low sobs, and
her brilliant cheeks like a river's bed, and her rich hair dabbled
like drifted corn, and above all the violent pain which made her lay
both hands to her heart and squeeze--his wrath made him long to knock
down people entitled to his love and reverence. He knew that her heart
was quite full of her father in all his long desolation, and was
making a row of pictures of him in deepening tribulation; but a girl
might go on like that for ever; a man must take the lead of her.

"If you please, Miss Oglander," he said, going up and lifting both her
hands, and making her look up at him, "you have scarcely five minutes
to make up your mind whether you wish to save your father, or to be
carried away from him."

Grace in confusion and fear looked up. All about herself she had
forgotten; she had even forgotten that Kit was near; she was only
pondering slowly now--as the mind at most critical moments does--some
straw of a trifle that blew across.

"Do you care to save your father's life?" asked Kit, rather sternly,
not seeing in the least the condition of her mind, but wondering at
it. "If you do, you must come with me, this moment, down the hill,
down the hill, as fast as ever you can. I know a place where they can
never find us. We must hide there till dark, and then I will take you
to Beckley."

But the young lady's nerves would not act at command. The shock and
surprise had been too severe. All she could do was to gaze at Kit,
with soft imploring eyes, that tried to beg pardon for her
helplessness.

"If we stay here another minute, you are lost!" cried Kit, as he heard
the sound of the carriage-wheels near the cottage, on the rise above
them. "One question only--will you trust me?"

She moved her pale lips to say "yes," and faintly lifted one hand to
him. Kit waited for no other sign, but caught her in his sturdy arms,
and bore her down the hill as fast as he could go, without scratching
her snow-white face, or tearing the arm which hung on his shoulder.



CHAPTER LII.

UNPATERNAL.


Meanwhile, Mr. Sharp had his forces ready, and was waiting for Grace
and Christopher. Cinnaminta's good Uncle Kershoe (who spent half of
his useful time in stealing horses, and the other half in disguising
and disposing of them), although he might not have desired to show
himself so long before the moonlight, yet, true to honour, here he
was, blinking beneath a three-cornered hat, like a grandly respectable
coachman. The carriage was drawn up in a shady place, quite out of
sight from the windows; and the horses, having very rare experience of
oats, were embracing a fine opportunity. In picturesque attitudes of
tobacconizing--if the depth of the wood covers barbarism--three fine
fellows might now be seen; to wit, Black George, Joe Smith, and that
substantial householder, Tickuss Cripps. In the chaise sat a lady of
comfortable aspect, though fidgeting now with fat, well-gloved hands.
Mrs. Sharp had begged not to have to stop at home and wonder what
might be doing with her own Kit: and the case being now one of "neck
or nothing," her husband had let her come, foreseeing that she might
be of use with Grace Oglander. For the moment, however, she looked
more likely to need attendance for herself; for she kept glancing
round towards the cottage-door, while her plump and still comely
cheeks were twitching, and tears of deep thought about the merits of
her son held her heart in quick readiness to be up and help them. Once
Mr. Sharp, whose main good point, among several others, was affection
for his wife, rode up, and in a playful manner tickled her nose with
the buckskin loop of his loaded whip, and laughed at her. She felt how
kind it was of him, but her smile was only feeble.

"Now mind, dear," said Mr. Sharp, reining his horse (as strong as an
oak and as bright as a daisy), "feel no anxiety about me. You have
plenty of nourishment in your three bags; keep them all alive with it.
Everything is mapped out perfectly. Near Wycombe, without rousing any
landlord, you have a fresh pair of horses. In a desert place called
the 'New Road,' in London, I meet you and take charge of you."

"May Kit have his pipe on the box? I am sure it will make him go so
much sweeter."

"Fifty, if he likes. You put his sealskin pouch in. You think of every
one before yourself."

"But can I get on with that dreadful woman? Don't you think she will
preach me to death, Luke?"

"Miranda, my dear, you are talking loosely. You forget the great gift
that you possess--the noblest endowment of the nobler sex. You can
sleep whenever you like, and do it without even a suspicion of a
snore. It is the very finest form of listening. Good-bye! You will be
a most happy party. When once I see you packed, I shall spur on in
front."

Mr. Sharp kissed his hand, and rode back to the cottage. Right well he
knew what a time ladies take to put their clothes upon them; and the
more grow the years of their practice in the art, the longer grow the
hours needful. Still he thought Miss Patch had been quite long enough.
But what could he say, when he saw her at her window, with the
looking-glass sternly set back upon the drawers, lifting her hands in
short prayer to the Lord: as genuine a prayer as was ever tried. She
was praying for a blessing on this new adventure, and that all might
lead up to the glory of the Kingdom; she besought to be relieved at
last from her wearying instrumentality. Mr. Sharp still had some
little faith left--for he was a man of much good feeling--and he did
not scoff at his sister's prayer, as a man of low nature might have
done.

Nevertheless he struck up with his whip at the ivy round her bedroom
window, to impress the need of brevity; and the lady, though shocked
at the suggestion of curtailment, did curtail immediately. In less
than five minutes, she was busy at the doorway, seeing to the exit of
everything; and presently, with very pious precision, she gave Mrs.
Margery Daw half a crown, and a tract which some friend should read to
her, after rubbing her glands with a rind of bacon, and a worn-out
pocket-handkerchief, which had belonged to the mighty Rowland Hill,
whose voice went three miles and a half.

Then Miss Patch (with her dress tucked up, and her spectacles at their
brightest) marched, with a copy of the Scriptures borne prominently
forward, and the tags of her cloak doubled up on her arm, towards the
carriage, where Grace must be waiting for her. The sloping of the
sunset threw her shadow, and the ring-doves in the wood were cooing.
The peace and the beauty touched even her heart; and the hushing of
the winds of evening in the nestling of the wood appeased the ruffled
mind to that simplicity of childhood, where God and good are one.

But just as she was shaking hands benevolently with Mrs. Sharp, before
getting into the carriage, back rode Mr. Sharp at full gallop, and
without any ceremony shouted, "Where's the girl?"

"Miss Oglander! Why, I thought she was here!" Hannah Patch answered,
with a little gasp.

"And I thought she was coming with you," cried Mrs. Sharp; "as well as
my dear boy, Christopher."

"I let her go to meet him as you arranged," Miss Patch exclaimed
decisively; "I had nothing to do with her after that."

"Is it possible that the boy has rogued me?" As Mr. Sharp said these
few words, his face took a colour never seen before, even by his
loving wife: The colour was, a livid purple, and it made his sparkling
eyes look pale.

"They must be at the cottage," Mrs. Sharp suggested; "let me go to
look for the naughty young couple."

The lawyer had his reasons for preventing this, as well as for keeping
himself where he was; and therefore at a sign from him, Miss Patch
turned back, and set off with all haste for the cottage. No sooner had
she turned the corner, than Joe Smith, the tall gipsy, emerged from
the wood with long strides into the road, and beckoned to Mr. Sharp
urgently. The lawyer was with him in a moment, and almost struck him
in his fury at what he heard.

"How could you allow it? You great tinkering fool! Run to the corner
where the two lanes meet. Take George with you. I will ride straight
down the road. No, stop, cut the traces of those two horses! You jump
on one, and Black George on the other, and off for the Corner full
gallop! You ought to be there before the cart. I will ride straight
for that rotten old jolter! Zounds, is one man to beat five of us?"
Waiting for no answer, he struck spurs into his horse, and, stooping
over the withers, dashed into a tangled alley, which seemed to lead
towards the timber-track.

No wonder Mr. Sharp was in such a rage, for what had happened was
exactly this--only much of it happened with more speed than words:--

Cripps, the Carrier, had been put up by several friends and relations
(especially Numbers, the butcher, who missed the pork trade of
Leviticus) to bring things directly to a point, instead of letting
them go on, in a way which was neither one thing nor the other.
Confessing all the claims of duty, poor Zacchary only asked how he
could discharge them. He had done his very best, and he had found out
nothing. If any one could tell him what more to do, he would wear out
his Sunday shoes to thank them.

"Brother Zak," said Mrs. Numbers, with a feeling which in a less loyal
family would have been contempt, "have you set a woman to work; now,
have you?"

Every Cripps present was struck with this, and most of all the
Carrier. Mrs. Numbers herself was quite ready to go, but a feud had
arisen betwixt her and Susannah, as to whether three-holed or
four-holed buttons cut the cotton faster; and therefore the Carrier
resolved to take his own sister Etty, who never quarrelled. It was
found out that she required change of air, and, indeed, she had been
rather delicate ever since her long sad task at Shotover. Now,
Leviticus durst not refuse to receive her, much as he disliked the
plan. The girl went without any idea of playing spy; all she knew was
that her brother was suspected of falling into low company, and she
was to put him on his mettle, if she could.

Hence it was that Hardenow, gazing betwixt the two feather-edged
boards, beheld--just before he lost his wits--the honoured vehicle of
Cripps, with empty washing baskets standing, on its welcome homeward
road, to discharge the fair Etty at her brother's gate. Tickuss was
away upon Mr. Sharp's business, and Zacchary, through a grand sense of
honour, would not take advantage of the chance by going in. Craft and
wickedness might be in full play with them, but a wife should on no
account be taken unawares, and tempted to speak outside her duty.

Therefore the Carrier kissed his sister in the soft gleam of the
sunset-clouds, and refusing so much as a glass of ale, touched up
Dobbin with a tickle of the whip; and that excellent nag (after
looking round for oats in a dream, which his common sense premised to
be too sanguine) brushed all his latter elegances with his tail, and
fetching round his blinkers a most sad adieu to Esther, gave a little
grunt at fortune and resignedly set off. Alas, when he grunted at a
light day's work, how little did he guess what unparalleled exertions
parted him yet from his stable for the night!

For while Master Cripps, with an equable mind, was jogging it gently
on the silent way, and (thinking how lonely his cottage would be
without Esther) was balancing in his mind the respective charms of his
three admirers, Mary Hookham, Mealy Hiss, and Sally Brown of the
Golden Cross, and sadly concluding that he must make up his mind to
one of the three ere long--suddenly he beheld a thing which frightened
him more than a dozen wives.

Cripps was come to a turn of the track--for it scarcely could be
called a road--and was sadly singing to Dobbin and himself that
exquisite elegiac--

    "Needles and pins, needles and pins,
    When a man marries, his trouble begins!"

Dobbin also, though he never had been married, was trying to keep time
to this tune, as he always did to sound sentiments; when the two of
them saw a sight that came, like a stroke for profanity, over them.

Directly in front of them, from a thick bush, sprang a beautiful girl
into the middle of the lane, and spread out her hand to stop them. If
the evening light had been a little paler, or even the moon had been
behind her, a ghost she must have been then, and for ever. Cripps
stared as if he would have no eyes any more; but Dobbin had received a
great many comforts from the little hands spread out to him; and he
stopped and sniffed, and lifted up his nose (now growing more
decidedly aquiline) that it might be stroked, and even possibly
regaled with a bunch of white-blossomed clover.

"Oh, Cripps, good Cripps, you dear old Cripps!" Grace Oglander cried
with great tears in her eyes, "you never have forgotten me, Zacchary
Cripps? They say that I am dead and buried. It isn't true, not a word
of it! Dear Cripps, I am as sound alive as you are. Only I have been
shamefully treated! Do let me get up in your cart, good Cripps, and my
father will thank you for ever!"

"But, Missy, poor Missy," Cripps stammered out, drawing on his heart
for every word, "you was buried on the seventh day of January, in the
year of our Lord, 1838; three pickaxes was broken over digging of your
grave, by reason of the frosty weather; and all of us come to your
funeral! Do 'ee go back, miss, that's a dear! The churchyard to
Beckley is a comfortable place, and this here wood no place for a
Christian."

"But, Cripps, dear Cripps, do try to let me speak! They might have
broken thirty pickaxes, but I had nothing at all to do with it. May I
get up? Oh, may I get up? It is the only chance of saving me. I hear a
horse tearing through the wood! Oh, dear, clever Cripps, you will
repent it for the rest of all your life. Even Dobbin is sharper than
you are."

"You blessed old ass!" cried a stern young voice, as Kit Sharp (who
had meant not to show) rushed forward, "there is no time for your
heavy brain to work. You shall have the young lady, dead or alive!
Pardon me, Grace--no help for it. Now, thick-headed bumpkin, put one
arm round her, and off at full gallop with your old screw! If you give
her up I will hang you by the neck to the tail of your broken
rattletrap!"

"Oh, Cripps, dear Cripps, I assure you on my honour," said Grace, as
tossed up by her lover, she sat in the seat of Esther, "I have never
been dead any more than you have. I can't tell you now; oh, drive on,
drive, if you have a spark of manhood in you!"

A horse and horseman came out of the wood, about fifty yards behind
them, and Grace would have fallen headlong, but for the half-reluctant
arm of Cripps, as Dobbin with a jump (quite unknown in his very first
assay of harness) set off full gallop over rut and rock, with a blow
on his back, from the fist of Kit, like the tumble of a chimney-pot.

Then Christopher Sharp, after one sad look at Grace Oglander's flying
figure, turned round to confront his father.

"What means all this?" cried the lawyer fiercely, being obliged to
rein up his horse, unless he would trample Kit underfoot.

"It means this," answered his son, with firm gaze, and strong grasp of
his bridle, "that you have made a great mistake, sir--that you must
give up your plan altogether--that the poor young lady who has been so
deceived----"

"Let go my bridle, will you? Am I to stop here--to be baffled by you?
Idiot, let go my bridle!"

"Father, you shall not--for your own sake, you shall not! I may be an
idiot, but I will not be a blackguard----"

"If by the time I have counted three, your hand is on my bridle, I
will knock you down, and ride over you!"

Their eyes met in furious conflict of will, the elder man's glaring
with the blaze of an opal, the younger one's steady with a deep brown
glow.

"Strike me dead, if you choose!" said Kit, as his father raised his
arm, with the loaded whip swinging, and counted, "One, two,
three!"--then the crashing blow fell on the naked temple; and it was
not needed twice.

Dashing the rowels into his horse (whose knees struck the boy in the
chest as he fell, and hurled him among the bushes), the lawyer,
without even looking round, rode madly after Zacchary. Dobbin had won
a good start by this time, and was round the corner, doing great
wonders for his time of life--tossing the tubs, and the baskets, and
Grace, and even the sturdy Carrier, like fritters in a pan, while the
cart leaped and plunged, and the spokes of the wheels went round too
fast to be counted. Cripps tugged at Dobbin with all his might; but
for the first time in his life, the old horse rebelled, and flung on
at full speed.

"He knoweth best, miss; he knoweth best," cried Zacchary, while Grace
clung to him; "he hath a divination of his own, if he dothn't kick the
cart to tatters. But never would I turn tail on a single man--who is
yon chap riding after us?"

"Oh, Cripps, it is that dreadful man," whispered Grace, with her teeth
jerking into her tongue; "who has kept me in prison, and perhaps
killed my father! Oh, Dobbin, sweet Dobbin, try one more gallop, and
you shall have clover for ever!"

Poor Dobbin responded with his best endeavour; but, alas! his old
feet, and his legs, and his breath were not as in the palmy days; and
a long shambling trot, with a canter for a change, were the utmost he
could compass. He wagged his grey tail, in brief expostulation,
conveying that he could go no faster.

"Now for it," said Cripps, as the foe overhauled them. "I never was
afeard of one man yet! and I don't mane to begin at this time of life.
Missy, go down into the body of the cart. Her rideth aisily enough by
now; and cover thee up with the bucking-baskets. Cripps will take thee
to thy father, little un. Never fear, my deary!"

She obeyed him by jumping back into the cart--but as for hiding in a
basket, Grace had a little too much of her father's spirit. The
weather was so fine that no tilt was on; she sat on the rail there,
and faced her bitter foe.

"That child is my ward!" shouted Mr. Sharp, riding up to the side of
Cripps; while his eyes passed on from Grace's; "give her up to me this
moment, fellow! I can take her by law of the land; and I will!"

"Liar Sharp," answered Master Cripps, desiring to address him
professionally, "this here young lady belongeth to her father; and no
man else shall have her. Any reasoning thou hast to come down with, us
will hearken, as we goes along; if so be that thou keepest to a civil
tongue. But high words never bate me down one penny; and never shall
do so, while the Lord is with me."

"Hark you, Cripps," replied Mr. Sharp, putting his lips to the
Carrier's ear; and whispering so that Grace could only guess at
enormous sums of money (which sums began doubling at every
breath)--"down on the nail, and no man the wiser!"

"But the devil a great deal the wiser," said the Carrier, grinning
gently, as if he saw the power of evil fleeing away in discomfiture.
"Now Liar Sharp hath outwitted hisself. What Liar would offer such a
sight of money for what were his own by the lai of the land?"

"You cursed fool, will you die?" cried Sharp, drawing and cocking a
great horse-pistol; "your blood be on your head--then yield!"

Cripps, with great presence of mind, made believe for a moment to
surrender, till Mr. Sharp lowered his weapon, and came up to stop the
cart, and to take out Grace. In a moment, the Carrier, with a
wonderful stroke, learned from long whip-wielding, fetched down his
new lash on the eyeball of the young and ticklish horse of the lawyer.
Mad with pain and rage, the horse stood up as straight as a soldier
drilling, and balanced on the turn to fall back, break his spine, and
crush his rider. Luke Sharp in his peril slipped off, and the
cart-wheel comfortably crunched over his left foot. His pistol-bullet
whizzed through a tall old tree. He stood on one foot, and swore
horribly.

"Gee wugg, Dobbin," said Cripps, in a cheerful, but not by any means
excited, vein; "us needn't gallop any more now, I reckon. The Liar
hath put his foot in it. Plaize now, Miss Grace, come and sit to front
again."

"We shall have you yet, you d----d old clod!" Mr. Sharp in his rage
yelled after him; "oh, I'll pay you out for this devil's own trick!
You aren't come to the Corner yet."

"Ho, ho!" shouted Cripps; "Liar Sharp, my duty to you! You don't catch
me goin' to the Corner, sir, if some of the firm be awaitin' for me
there."

With these words he gaily struck off to the right, through a by-lane,
unknown, but just passable, where the sound of his wheels was no
longer heard, and the mossy boughs closed over him. Grace clung to his
arm; and glory and gladness filled the simple heart of Cripps.

Meanwhile Mr. Sharp, who had stuck to his bridle, limped to his horse,
but could not mount. Then he drew forth the other pistol from the near
holster, and cocked it and levelled it at Cripps; but thanks to brave
Dobbin, now the distance was too great; and he kept the charge for
nobler use.



CHAPTER LIII.

"THIS WILL DO."


Mr. Sharp's young horse, being highly fed and victualled for the long
ride to London, and having been struck in the eye unjustly, and jarred
in the brain by the roar of a pistol and whizz of a bullet between his
pricked ears, was now in a state of mind which offered no fair field
for pure reasoning process. A better-disposed horse was never foaled;
and possibly none--setting Dobbin aside, as the premier and quite
unapproachable type--who took a clearer view of his duties to the
provider of corn, hay, and straw, and was more ready to face and
undergo all proper responsibilities.

Therefore he cannot be fairly blamed, and not a pound should be
deducted from his warrantable value, simply because he now did what
any other young horse in the world would have felt to be right. He
stared all around to ask what was coming next, and he tugged on the
bridle, with his fore-feet out, as a leverage against injustice, and
his hind-legs spread wide apart, like a merry-thought, ready to hop
anywhere. At the same time he stared with great terrified eyes, now at
the man who had involved him in these perils, and now at the darkening
forest which might hold even worse in the background.

Mr. Sharp was not in the mood for coaxing, or any conciliation. His
left foot was crushed so that he could only hop, and to put it to the
ground was agony; his own son had turned against him; and a
contemptible clod had outwitted him; disgrace, and ruin, and death
stared at him; and here was his favourite horse a rebel! He fixed his
fierce eyes on the eyes of the horse, and fairly quelled him with
fury. The eyes of the horse shrank back, and turned, and trembled, and
blinked, and pleaded softly, and then absolutely fawned. Being a very
intelligent nag, he was as sure as any sound Christian of the
personality of the devil--and, far worse than that, of his presence
now before him.

He came round whinnying to his master's side, as gentle as a lamb, and
as abject as a hang-dog; he allowed the lame lawyer to pick up his
whip, and to lash him on his poor back, without a wince, and to lead
him (when weary of that) to a stump, from which he was able to mount
again.

"Thank you, you devil," cried Mr. Sharp, giving his good horse another
swinging lash; "it is hopeless altogether to ride after the cart. That
part of the play is played out and done with. The pious papa and the
milk-and-water missy rush into each other's arms. And as for me--well,
well, I have learned to make a horse obey me. Now, sir, if you please,
we will join the ladies--gently, because of your master's foot."

He rode back quietly along the track over which he had chased the
Carrier's cart; and his foot was now in such anguish that the whole of
his wonderful self-command was needed to keep him silent. He set his
hard lips, and his rigid nose was drawn as pale as parchment, and the
fire of his eyes died into the dulness of universal rancour. No
hard-hearted man can find his joy in the sweet soft works of nature,
any more than the naked flint nurses flowers. The beauty of the young
May twilight flowing through the woven wood, and harbouring, like a
blue bloom, here and there, in bays of verdure; while upward all the
great trees reared their domes once more in summer roofage, and
stopped out the heavens; while in among them, finding refuge, birds
(before the dark fell on them) filled the world with melody; and all
the hushing rustle of the well-earned night was settling down--through
all of these rode Mr. Sharp, and hated every one of them.

Presently his horse gave a little turn of head, but was too cowed down
to shy again; and a tall woman, darkly clad, was standing by the
timber track, with one hand up to catch his eyes.

"You here, Cinnaminta!" cried the lawyer with surprise. "I have no
time now. What do you want with me?"

"I want you to see the work of your hand--your only child, dead by
your own blow!"

Struck with cold horror, he could not speak. But he reeled in the
saddle, with his hand on his heart, and stared at Cinnaminta.

"It is true," she said softly; "come here and see it. Even for you,
Luke Sharp, I never could have wished a sight like this. You have
ruined my life; you have made my people thieves; the loss of my
children lies on you. But to see your only son murdered by yourself is
too bad even for such as you."

"I never meant it--I never dreamed it--God is my witness that I never
did. I thought his head was a great deal thicker."

Sneerer as he was, he meant no jest now. He simply spoke the earnest
truth. In his passion he had struck men before, and knocked them down,
with no great harm; he forgot his own fury in this one blow, and the
weight of his heavily-loaded whip.

"If you cannot believe," she answered sternly, supposing him to be
jeering still, "you had better come here. He was a kind, good lad,
good to me, and to my last child. I have made him look very nice. Will
you come? Or will you go and tell his mother?"

Luke Sharp looked at her in the same sort of way in which many of his
victims had looked at him. Then he touched his horse gently, having
had too much of rage, and allowed him to take his own choice of way.

The poor horse, having had a very bad time of it, made the most of
this privilege. Setting an example to mankind (whose first thought is
not sure to be of home) the poor fellow pointed the white star on his
forehead towards his distant stable. Oxford was many a bad mile away,
but his heart was set upon being there. Sleepily therefore he jogged
along, having never known such a day of it.

While he thought of his oat-sieve sweetly, and nice little nibbles at
his clover hay, and the comfortable soothing of his creased places by
a man who would sing a tune to him, his rider was in a very different
case, without one hope to turn to.

The rising of the moon to assuage the earth of all the long sun fever,
the spread of dewy light, and quivering of the nerves of shadow, and
then the soft, unfeatured beauty of the dim tranquillity, coming over
Luke Sharp's road, or flitting on his face, what difference could they
make to its white despair? He hated light, he loathed the shade, he
scorned the meekness of the dapple, and he cursed the darkness.

Out of sight of the road, and yet within a level course of it, there
lay, to his knowledge, a deep, and quiet, and seldom-troubled
forest-pool. This had long been in his mind, and coming to the
footpath now, he drew his bridle towards it.

The moon was here fenced out by trees, and thickets of blackthorn, and
ivy hanging like a funeral pall. Except that here at the lip of
darkness, one broad beam of light stole in, and shivered on gray boles
of willow, and quivered on black lustrous smoothness of contemptuous
water.

To the verge of this water Luke Sharp rode, with his horse prepared
for anything. He swept with his keen eyes all the length of liquid
darkness, ebbing into blackness in the distance. And he spoke his last
words--"This will do."

Then he drove his horse into the margin of the pool, till the water
was up to the girths, and the broad beams of the moon shone over them.
Here he drew both feet from the stirrup-irons, and sat on his saddle
sideways, sluicing his crushed and burning foot, and watching the
water drip from it. And then he carefully pulled from the holster the
pistol that still was loaded, took care that the flint and the priming
were right, and turning his horse that he might escape, while the man
fell into deep water, steadfastly gazed at the moon, and laid the
muzzle to his temple, justly careful that it should be the temple, and
the vein which tallied with that upon which he had struck his son.

A blaze lit up the forest-pool, and a roar shook the pall of ivy; a
heavy plash added to the treasures of the deep, and a little flotilla
of white stuff began to sail about on the black water, in the
commotion made by man and horse. When Mr. Sharp was an office-boy, his
name had been "Little Big-brains."



CHAPTER LIV.

CRIPPS BRINGS HOME THE CROWN.


Although the solid Cripps might now be supposed by other people to
have baffled all his enemies, in his own mind there was no sense of
triumph, but much of wonder. The first thing he did when all danger
was past, and Dobbin was pedalling his old tune--"three-happence and
tuppence; three-happence and tuppence; a good horse knows what his
shoes are worth"--was to tie up Gracie in a pair of sacks. He thumped
them well on the foot-board first, to shake all the mealiness out of
them; and then, with permission, he spread one over the delicate
shoulders, and the other in front, across the trembling heart and
throat. Then, by some hereditary art, he fastened them together, so
that the night air could not creep between.

"Cripps, you are too good," said Grace; "if I could only tell you half
the times that I have thought of you; and once when I saw a sack of
yours----"

"Lor', miss, the very one as I have missed! Had un got a red cross,
thick to one side--the Lord only knows what a fool I be, to carry on
with such rum-tums now; however I'll have hold of he--and zummat more,
ere I be done with it." Here the Carrier rubbed his mouth on his
sleeve, as he always did to stop himself. He was not going to publish
the family disgrace till he had avenged it. "But now, miss, not
another word you say. Inside of them sacks you go to sleep; the Lord
knows you want it dearly; and fall away you can't nohow. Scratched you
be to that extreme in getting out of Satan's den, that tallow candles
dropped in water is what I must see to. None on 'em knows it, no, not
one on 'em. Man or horse, it cometh all the same. It taketh a man to
do it, though."

"I should like to see a horse do it," said Grace; and her sleepy smile
passed into sleep. Eager as she was to be in her father's arms, the
excitement, and the exertion, and the unwonted shaking, and passage
through the air, began to tell their usual tale.

This was the very thing the crafty Carrier longed to bring about. It
left him time to consider how to meet two difficulties. The first was
to get her through Beckley without any uproar of the natives; the
second, to place her in her father's arms without dangerous emotion.
The former point he compassed well, by taking advantage of the many
ins and outs of the leisurely lanes of Beckley, so that he drew up at
the back door of the Barton, without a single sapient villager being
one bit the wiser.

Now, if he only had his sister with him, the second point might have
been better managed; because he would have sent her on in front, to
treat with Mrs. Hookham, and employ all the feminine skill supplied by
quickness, sympathy, and invention. As it was, he must do the best he
could; and his greatest difficulty was with Grace herself.

The young lady by this time was wide awake, and stirred with such
violent throbbings of heart, at the view of divine and desirable
Beckley sleeping in the moonlight, and at the breath of her own
home-door, and haunt of her darling father's steps, that Cripps had to
hold her down by her sacks, and wished that he could strap her so. "Do
'ee zit still, miss; do 'ee zit still," he kept on saying, till he was
afraid of being rude.

"You are a tyrant, Cripps; a perfect tyrant! Because you have picked
me up, and been so good, have you any right to keep me from my
father?"

"Them rasonings," said Cripps in a decided tone, "is good; but comes
to nothing. Either you do as I begs of you, missy, or I turns Dobbin's
head, and back you go. It is for the Squire's sake I spake so harsh to
'ee. Supposin' you was to kill him, missy, what would you say
arterwards?"

"Oh, is he so dreadfully ill as that? I will do everything exactly as
you tell me."

"Then get down very softly, miss, and run and hide in that old
doorway, quite out of the moonshine, and stay there till I come to
fetch 'ee."

Still covered with the sacks, the maiden did as she was told; while
the Carrier, with ungainly skill, and needless cautions to his horse
(who stood like a rock), descended. Then he walked into the Squire's
kitchen, with whip in hand, as usual, as if he were come to deliver
goods.

The fat cook now was sitting calmly by the fire meditating. To her the
time of year made no difference, except for the time that meat must
hang, and the recollection of what was in its prime, and the
consideration of the draught required, and the shutting of the sun out
when he spoiled the fire. In the fire of young days, when herself
quite raw, this admirable cook had been "done brown" by a handsome
young Methodist preacher. Before she understood what a basting-ladle
is, her head was set spinning by his tongue and eyes; he had three
wives already, but he put her on the list, took all her money out of
her, and went another circuit. The poor girl spent about a year in
crying, and then she returned to the Church of England, buried her
baby, and became a cook. Without being soured by any evil, she now had
long experience, and a ripe style of twirling her thumbs upon her
apron.

"Plaize, Mrs. Cook," began Zacchary, entering under official
privilege, and trying to look full of business, "do 'ee know where to
lay hand on Mother Hookham? A vallyble piece of goods I has to
deliver, and must have good recate for un."

"But lor', Master Cripps, now, whatever be about? It ain't one of your
Hoxford days; and us never sends out no washing!"

"You've a-knowed me a long time now, ain't you, Mrs. Cook? Did you
ever know me for to play trickum-trully?"

"Never have you done that to my knowledge," the good woman answered
steadfastly, though pained in her heart by the thought of one who had;
"Master Cripps is known to be the breadth of his own word."

"Then, my good soul, will 'ee fetch down Mother Hookham? It bain't for
the flourishes, the Lord A'mighty knows. I haven't got the governing
of them little scrawls myself nor the seasoning amongst them as
appertains to you. Bootifully you could a' done it, Mrs. Cook; but the
directions here is so particular! For a job of this sort, you are
twenty years too young."

"Oh, Master Cripps," cried the cook, who made a star, like that upon a
pie, for her manual sign; "well you know that the ruin of my days has
been trust in eddication. Standing outside of it, I was a-took in, and
afore there come any pen or pencil, £320 was gone. Not for a moment do
I blame the Word of God, only them as blasphemeth it. But the whole of
my innard parts is turned against a papper, even on a pie-crust."

"Don't 'ee give way now, dear heart alive! Many a time have you told
me, and every time I feels the more for 'ee. Quite a young 'ooman you
be still in a way, and a treasure for a young man with a whame in his
throat, and half-a-guinea every week you might aim for roasting
dinner-parties. But do 'ee now go, and fetch Mother Hookham down."

"The old 'ooman isn't in the house, Master Cripps. She hath so many
things to mind that the wonder is how she can ever go through of them.
A heavy weight she hath taken off my shoulders, ever since here she
come, in virtue of her tongue. But her darter can be had to put a
flour to a'most anything if my signs isn't grand enough to go into
your hat, Master Cripps."

"Now, my dear good soul," replied the Carrier, standing back and
looking at her, "you be taking of everything in a crooked way, you be.
I have a little thing to see to--nort to say of kitchen in it, and
some sort of style pecooliar. Requaireth pecooliar management, I do
assure you, and no harm. Will 'ee plaize to hearken to me now? Such as
I have to say--not much."

The brave cook answered this appeal by running to fetch Mary Hookham;
in everything that now she did, even with such a man as Cripps, the
remembrance of vile deceit made her look out for a witness. Mary came
down with a bounce as if she had never been near her looking-glass,
but was born with her ribbons and colour to match. And her eyes shone
fresh at the sight of Master Cripps.

"How well you be looking, my dear, for sure!" said the Carrier, having
(as a soldier has) his admiration of a pretty girl quickened by the
sound of firearms. "And I be come to make 'ee look still better."

Mary cast a glance at the cook, as if she thought her one too many.
Cripps must be going to declare his mind at last; and Mary had such
faith in him, that she required no witness.

"Who do 'ee think I have brought 'ee back?" asked Zacchary, meaning to
be very quiet, but speaking so loud in his pride, that Mary, with a
pale face, ran and shut the door upon the steps leading to her
master's quarters. Then she came back more at leisure, and put her
elbows to her sides, and looked at Master Cripps, as if she had never
meant to think of him for herself. And this made Cripps, who had been
exulting at her first proceedings, put down his whip and wonder.

"Not Miss Grace!" cried Mary; "surely never our Miss Grace!"

"What a intellect that young woman hath!" said Cripps aloud,
reflecting; "a'most too much, I be verily afeared."

"Oh no, Master Cripps, not at all too much for any one as entereth
into it, with a household feeling. But were I right? Oh, Master
Cripps, were I right?"

"Mary Hookham," said Cripps, coming over, and laying his hand on her
shoulder (as he used to do when she was a little wench, and made him a
curtsy with a glass of ale, even then admiring him), "Mary, you were
right, as I never could believe any would have the quickness. Cripps
hath a-brought home to this old ancient mansion the very most vallyble
case of goods as ever were inside it. Better than the crown as the
young Queen hath, for ten months now, preparing."

"Alive?" asked Mary, shrinking back towards the fire, for his metaphor
might mean coffins.

"Now, there you go down again--there you go down," answered Cripps,
who enjoyed the situation, and desired to make the most of it. "I
thought you was all intellect--but better perhaps without too much.
Put it to yourself now, Mary, whether I should look like this, if I
had only brought the remainses."

"Oh, where is her? Where is her? Wherever can her be?" cried Mary,
forgetting all her fine education, in strong vernacular excitement.

"Her be where I knows to find her again," answered Zacchary, with a
steadfast face. It was not for any one to run in and strike a light
betwixt him and his own work. "Her might be to Abingdon, or to
Banbury. Proper time come, I can vetch her forrard."

"Oh, I thought you had got her in the house, Master Cripps. How
disappointing you do grow, to be sure! I suppose it is the way of all
men."

Mary shed a tear, and Master Cripps (having been tried by sundry
women) went closer, to be sure of it. He was pleased at the sign, but
he went on with his business.

"You desarve to know everything. Now, can 'ee shut the doors, without
a chance of anybody breaking in?"

Mary and the cook, with a glance at one another, fastened all the
doors of the large low kitchen, except the one leading to the lane
itself.

"You bide just as you be," said Cripps, "and I'll show 'ee something
worth looking at."

He ran to the place where Grace was hiding, in the chill and the heat
of impatience, and he took the coarse sacks from her shoulders, as if
her sackcloth time was done at last. Then he led her to the warmth and
light, and she hung behind afraid of them. That strange, but not
uncommon shyness of one's own familiar home--when long unseen--came
over her; and she felt, for the moment, almost afraid of her own
beloved father. But Cripps made her come, and both Mary Hookham and
the fat cook cried, "Oh my! My good!" and ran up and kissed her, and
held her hands; while she stood pale and mute, with large blue eyes
brimful of tears, and lips that wavered between smile and sob.

"Does he--does he know about me?" she managed to say to Cripps, while
she glanced at the door leading up to her father's room.

"Not he! Lord bless you, my dear," said Cripps, "it taketh 'em all
half an hour apiece to believe as you ever be alive, miss."

"It would never take my father two minutes," answered Grace; "he will
be a great deal too glad of it to doubt."

"You promised to bide by my diraxions," the Carrier cried
reproachfully; "if 'ee don't, I 'on't answer for nort of it. Now sit
you down, miss, by back-kitchen door, to come or go either way,
according as is ordered. Now, Mary, plaize to go, and say, that Cripps
hath come to see his Worship about a little mistake he hath made."

Mr. Oglander never refused to see any who came to visit him. His
simple, straightforward mind compelled him to go through with
everything as it turned up, whether it were of his own business, or
any other person's. Therefore he said, "Show Cripps in here."

Cripps was in no hurry to be shown in. He felt that he had a ticklish
job to carry through, and he might drop the handles if himself were
touched amiss. And he thought that he could get on much better with a
clever woman there to help him.

"Plaize, your Worship," he began, coming in, with his finger to his
forelock, and his stiff knee sticking out. "Don't 'ee run away now,
Mary, that's a dear; you knows all the way-bills; and his Worship will
allow of you."

"Why, Cripps," Mr. Oglander exclaimed, "you are making a very great
fuss to-night; and you look as if you had been run over. Even if it is
half-a-crown, Cripps, you are come to prove against me--put it down. I
will not dispute it. I know that you would rather wrong yourself than
me." The old gentleman was tired, and he did not want to talk.

"In coorse, in coorse," said Zacchary (as if every man preferred to
wrong himself), "but the point is a different thing; and, Mary, speak
up, and say you know it is."

"Yes, sir, I do assure you now," said Mary, "the point is altogether
quite a different sort of thing."

"Then why can't you come to it?" cried the Squire; "is it that you
want to marry one another?"

Mary's face blushed to a fine young colour; and Cripps made a nod at
her, as if he meant to think of it, but must leave that for another
evening.

"I never could abide such stuff," muttered Mary, "as if all the world
was a-made of wives and husbands!"

The Squire sat calmly with his head upon his hand, and his white hair
glistening in the lamplight, as he gazed from one to the other, with a
smile of melancholy amusement. It would be a great discomfort to him
to lose Mary Hookham's services; and he thought it a little unkind of
her to leave him in this sad loneliness; but he had not lived
threescore years and ten without knowing what the way of the world is.
Therefore, if Cripps had made up his mind--as the women had long been
declaring that he as a man was bound to do--Mr. Oglander would be the
last to complain, or say a word to damp them. The Carrier himself had
some idea that such was the working of the Squire's mind.

"Now, your Worship," he said, putting Mary away to a place where she
could use her handkerchief, "will 'ee plaize to hearken, without your
own opinion before hast heard what there be to say? Nayther of us
drameth of doing you the wrong to take away Mary, while you be wanting
of her. You ought to have knowed us better, Squire. And as for poor
Mary, I ain't said a word to back up her hopes of a-having me yet.
Now, Miss Mary, have I?"

"No, that you never haven't, Master Cripps! And it may come too late;
if it ever do come."

"Well, well," continued Mr. Cripps, without much terror at the way she
turned her back; "railly, your Worship, it was you who throwed us out.
Reckoning of my times is a hard thing for me; and a hundred and four
times a year is too much for the discretion of a horse a'most."

"Very well, Cripps," said the Squire in despair; "every one knows that
you must have your time. Not a word will I speak again, until I have
your leave."

"I calls it onhandsome of your Worship to say that; being so contrary
of my best karaksteristicks. Your Worship maneth all things for the
best, I am persuaded; but speaking thus you drives me into such a
prespiration, the same as used to be a sweat when I was young and
forced to it. Now, doth your Worship know that all things cometh in a
round, like a sound cart-wheel, to all such folks as trusts the Lord?"

"I know that you have such a theory, Cripps. You beat the whole
village in theology."

"And the learned scholar in Oxford, your Worship; he were quite
doubled up about the tribe of Levi. But for all of their stuff, the
Lord still goeth on, making His rounds to His own right time; and now
His time hath come for you, Squire."

"Do try to speak out, Cripps; and tell me what excites you so."

"Mary, his Worship is beginning to look white. Fetch in the
pepper-castor, and the gallon of vinegar as I delivered last
Wednesday."

"No, Mary, no. I want nothing of the kind. Tell him--beg him--just to
speak out what he means."

"Cripps--Master Cripps, now," cried Mary in a tremble; "you be going
too far, and then stopping of a heap like. His Worship ought to be let
into the whole of it gradooal--gradooal--gradooal."

"Can 'ee trust in the word of the Lord, your Worship?" asked Cripps,
advancing bravely. "Can 'ee do that now, without no disrespect to
'ee?"

"In two minutes more you'll drive me mad, between you!" the old Squire
shouted, as he rose and spread his arms. "In the name of God, what is
it? Is it of my daughter?"

"Yes, yes, father dearest! who else could it be in the whole of the
world?" a clear voice cried, as a timid form grew clear. "They would
go on all the night; but I could not wait a moment. Daddy, I am sure
that you won't be frightened. You can't have too much of your own
Grace, can you? Don't let it go to your heart, my darling. Grace will
rub it for you. There, let me put my head just as I used, and then you
will be certain, won't you?"

She laid her head upon her father's breast, while Mary caught hold of
the Carrier's sleeve, and led him away to the passage. Then the old
man's weak and trembling fingers strayed among his daughter's hair,
and he could not speak, or smile, or weep.

"There, you will be better directly, darling," she whispered, looking
up with streaming eyes, as she felt him tremble exceedingly, and her
quick hands eased him of the little brooch (containing her mother's
hair and her own), which fastened his quivering shirt-frill; "you
wanted me to come back, didn't you? But not in such a hurry,
darling--not in such a hurry. Father dear, why ever don't you kiss
me?"

"If you did not run away, dear--say you did not run away."

"Daddy, you cannot be so ill-minded; so very wicked to your only
child."

The old man took his child's hand in his own, and soothed her down,
and drew her down, until they were kneeling at the table side by side;
then they put up their hands to thank God for one another, and did it
not with lips, but with heart and soul.



CHAPTER LV.

SMITH TO THE RESCUE.


Now, in the whole of Beckley village, scarcely a soul under eighty
years of age (unless it were of some child under eight, tucked up in
rosy slumber) failed to discuss within half an hour the "miracle"
about Grace Oglander. That word was first set afoot in the parish by a
man of settled habits, and therefore of sure authority. For Thomas
Kale had been put upon a horse, when the Carrier's leg would not go
up, and ordered to ride for his life to tell Squire Overshute all that
was come to pass.

This Kale was a man of large wondering power, gifted moreover with a
faith in ghosts, which often detracted from his comfort. He had seen
his young mistress in a half-light only, when the household was called
to look at her; and now he was ordered to a house where a lady had
died not more than a few weeks back. Between Beckley Barton and
Shotover Grange, there are two places known to be haunted. The
necessity for priming Thomas, before he started, had occurred
unluckily to himself alone. Already, as he rode out of the yard, a
gatepost and a tree shone spectrally. He felt the necessity for
priming himself; and, prudent man as he was, he saw no mischief in
affording it. Squire Overshute could not give him less than a guinea
for his tidings. Therefore (though pledged to the utmost not to speak)
he took the very turn which the prudent Cripps had shunned; and
pulling up at the window of the Dusty Anvil, gave a shout for hot
gin-and-water.

The Anvil was ringing with hilarity that night, and its dust, if heavy
sprinkling could ally it, was subsiding. For Beckley having played a
cricket-match with Islip, and beaten the dalesmen by ten wickets--as
needs must be with five Crippses holding willow--an equally invincible
resolve arose to out-eat the losers at the supper. Islip, defeated but
not disgraced, was well represented both in flesh and cash; and as Mr.
Kale called for his modest glass, a generous feeling awoke in the
breasts of several young men to pay for it. For the wickets had been
pitched in a meadow of the Squire's, where Kale had plied scythe and
roller.

Thomas Kale saw that it would be a most uncandid and illiberal act to
open his mouth for a negative only. He firmly restricted good feeling,
however, to three good bumpers, and a bottomer; pledging himself, on
compulsion, to call on his way back and manage the duplicate. But his
heart was so good, that before he rode off, with a flout at all ghosts
and goblins, he took an old crony by the name upon his smock, and told
him where to go for a "miracle."

Now, who should this be but old Daddy Wakeling, that ancient and
valued friend of Cripps, and one of the best men in Elsfield parish?
Daddy was forced to spend much of his time outside his own parish, for
the best of reasons--and a melancholy one--there was no public-house
inside of it. Here he was now, with his fine white locks and
patriarchal countenance, propounding a test to our finest qualities, a
touchstone of one's lofty confidence or low cynicism--whether the
subject should now be pronounced more venerable, or more tipsy.

But old Daddy Wakeling would be the very last (when getting near the
middle of his third gallon) to conceal from his friends any gratifying
news; and ere ever Kale's horse's heels turned the corner, Daddy's
wise old lips were wagging into the ear of a crony. In less than two
minutes, Phil Hiss had got the news; a council was held in the
long-room of the inn; and a march upon the Squire's house, and a
serenade by every one who could scrape, blow, twang, or halloa, was
the resolution of a moment.

In the thick of the rout, as with good intent they approached the
old-fashioned coach-doors (which led to the front where they meant to
be musical), a short square fellow slipped out of the crowd, and
without observation went his way. His way was to a little hut of a
stable, fastened only with a prong outside, but holding a nice young
horse, who had finished his supper, but was not sleepy. He neighed as
John Smith came in, for he felt quite inclined for a little exercise,
and he knew the value of the saying he had heard--"After supper, trot
a mile." Numbers Cripps was his owner, in that shameful age of
ownership--which soon will be abolished, now that its prime key is
gone, the key of holy wedlock--and the butcher had offered Mr. Smith a
ride, whenever he should happen to want one.

The night was well up in the sky, and the track of summer daylight
star-swept; the dim remembrance of a brighter hour (that hangs round a
tree, like a halo) was gone; and only little twinkles shone through
bays of leafage against the tidal power of the moon; and the long
immeasurable stretch of silence spread faint avenues of fear.

Mr. John Smith was a very brave man. Imagination never stirred the
corpulence of his comfort. What he either saw or sifted out by his own
process, that he believed; and very little else. And so he rode,
through light and shade, and the grain of the air which is neither;
while the forest grew deeper with phantasm, and the depth of night
made way for him.

Suddenly even he was startled. In a dark narrow place, where he kept
the track, and stuck his heels under his horse's belly (for fear of
being taken sideways), something dashed by him, with a pant and roar,
and fire flying out of it. Mr. Smith blessed his stars that he was not
rolled over, as he very well might have been; for that which flew by
him, like a streak of meteor, was a strong horse frantic.

Smith turned round in his saddle, and stared; but the runaway sped the
faster, as if he were rushing away from the forest, with a pack of
wolves behind him. The stirrups of his empty saddle struck fire,
clashing under him, and his swift flight scarcely left a sound of
breath or hoof to follow him.

"The devil is after him!" said John Smith; "I never saw a horse in
such a state of mind. I may as well mark the spot where he came out.
He has left, as sure as I sit here, a tale to be told, in the
background."

Without dismounting, he broke off a branch of young white poplar, and
cast it so that by daylight he could find it; and then, with a very
uneasy mind, he rode on, to trace the rest of it. He was not by any
means in Luke Sharp's pay (as one or two persons had suspected),
neither was he even of his privy council; and yet he was bound hand
and foot to him; partly by fealty of a conquered mind, and partly by
sense of his brother Joe's complicity and subservience. John Smith, in
his own way, was an honourable man; and money was no bribe to him.

With quickened alarm, he rode on at all speed towards the cottage of
the swineherd. Never in any way had he dealt with the sylvan schemes
of Mr. Sharp, or even from a distance watched them. It was long ere he
had any clear suspicions--for his tall brother kept miles away from
him--and in seeking the remains of Grace under the snowdrift, he
wrought out his duty with blind honesty.

John Smith's nerves were of iron, and even the riderless horse had not
scattered them; but though he rode on bravely still, a cloud of gloom
fell over him. It would make a sad difference to his life if anything
had happened to Mr. Sharp (for Smith had invested a little money under
the lawyer's guidance), and knowing Luke Sharp as he did, he feared
that evil had befallen him.

Hence, with dark misgiving, and the set resolve to face it, he lashed
his horse on at a perilous rate, through the wattled ways of
moonlight. The glance and the glimpse of light and shade flew past
him, like a cataract, till suddenly even he was scared by the sound of
his name in a sad clear voice. He pulled up his horse, and laid his
hand on the butt of a pistol beneath his cape, till a woman came forth
into the light, and said--

"I was sure you would come; but too late--it is too late!"

"Cinnaminta, show me," he answered very softly, knowing by her gesture
that the mischief was at hand. As soon as he was off his horse, and
had made him fast by the bridle, she led him round some shadowy
corners into a little dingle. This had no great trees to crowd it; and
though it lay below the level of the wood around, the moon was high
enough now to throw a broad gangway of light along it. The sides were
fringed or jagged with darkness, cumbrous tree or mantled ivy jutting
forth black elbows; but in the middle lay and spread fair sward of
dewy emblements, swept with brightness, and garnished for a Whitsun
dance of fairies.

But now, instead of skip and music, sigh and sob and wailing noises of
the human heart were heard. A fine young form, of the Oxford build,
lay heavily girt with molehills, enfolded vainly in a velvet cloak,
and vainly on every side adjured to open its eyes and come back again.
Kit was not at all the fellow thus to be addressed in vain--if he only
could have heard the living voices challenge him. His love of sport
had been love of pluck, as it generally is with Englishmen; and all
his dogs, of different sizes, must have taught him something. His
mother now was pulling at him, in a storm of fear and hope. She felt
that he could not be dead, because it would be so outrageous; and yet
her feeble heart was fearful that such things had been before. Happily
for herself, she knew not what had happened to him; but took it for an
accident of the woods; for the gipsy-woman, who alone had seen it, had
been too kind to tell the truth.

"Oh, Kit, Kit! now only look!" the poor fond mother was going on;
"only lift one eyelid, darling; only move one little hand"--his hands
were of very considerable size--"or do anything, anything you like,
dear, just to show that you are coming back, back to your own mother!
Kit--oh, my Kit, my own and ever only Kit--or Christopher, if you like
it better, darling--here have I been for whole hours and hours, and
not one word will you say to me! If ever I laughed at you, Kit, in my
life, you must have felt how proud I was. There is not anything in all
the world, or anybody to come near you, Kit. Only come--only be near
me, instead of breaking all my heart like this!"

Worn out with misery, she fell back; and Cinnaminta, with a short
quick sigh, knelt down on the turf, and supported her.

"Four times have I had to bear it, and every time worse than the time
before," she said in her soft clear tone to herself; but only to
remind herself of the tenderness she was sure to show. "And this was
her only one, and grown up!"

Her face (still beautiful and lovely with the sad love in her eyes,
the memory of the time when still there was somebody to live for)
shone in the gentle light, now poured abundantly on all of them. Of
all who had lived, and loved, and suffered, and now made shadows in
the moonshine, not one had been down to the holy depths of sorrow as
this woman had.

"Catch un up now," cried John Smith, who never knew how his ideas were
timed; "catch un up by the heels, one of 'ee, while I take un by the
head. This here baistly hole be enow to fetch the ghost of his life
out. He hath got life in him. Don't tell me! His ears be like a shell;
and no dead man's is. Rap on the nob! Lor' bless my heart, I'd sooner
have fifty, than one on the basket. What, all on you afeard to heckle
him?"

"Oh no, sir, oh no, sir," cried poor Mrs. Sharp, as Tickuss, and
another man, fell away; "I am not very strong, but I can help my
child."

"Ma'am, you are a lady!" said John Smith, that being his very highest
crown of praise; "but as for you--a d----d set of cowards--go to the
devil, all of you! Now, ma'am, I will not trouble you, except to
follow after us. Cinny will clear the way in front; it cometh more
natural to her. And you, ma'am, shall follow me as you please; and
sorry I am not to help you. A little shaking will do him a world of
good."

He was taking up Kit, with a well-adjusted balance, while he spoke to
her; and he wasted his breath in nothing, except in telling her to
follow him. As the hind comes after the poor slain fawn, or the cow
runs after the netted cart, where the white face of her calf weeps
out, even so Mrs. Sharp of her dress thought nothing--though cut up,
like a carrot, in the latest London style, and trimmed with almost
every flower nature never saw--anyhow, after Kit she went, and knew
not light from darkness.

Mr. Smith sturdily managed to get on; he was thickly built, and had
well-set reins; and though poor Kit was no feather-weight, his bearer
did not flag with him. Then setting the body of the lad on a mound,
where the moon shone clearly upon his face, and the night air fanned
him quietly, John Smith very calmly pulled out a bright weapon, and
flourished it, and felt the edge.

"Oh no, sir! Oh pray, sir!" cried Mrs. Sharp, falling on her knees,
and enclasping her poor boy.

"Cinny, just lead her behind that bush. 'Tis either death, or blood,
with him."

"Oh no, I never could bear to be out of sight. If it really must be
done, I will not shriek. I will not even sigh. Only let me stay by his
side!"

John Smith signed to his sister-in-law, who took the mother's
trembling hands, and turned her away for a moment.

"Now fetch cold water. That vein must not be allowed to bleed too
long, ma'am. 'Tis a ticklish one to manage for a surgeon even; and at
present it is sulky. But it only wants a little air, and just the
least little touch again. If you could just manage to go and say your
prayers, ma'am, we could get on a long sight better."

"Oh, I never thought of that. How sinful of me! Oh, kind good man, I
implore of you--"

"Not of me, ma'am. Pray to God in heaven, unless you wish to see me
run away. And if I do, he slips right off the hooks."

She turned away, with her weak hands clasped; but whether she prayed
or not, never could she tell. But one thing she bore in mind, as long
as soul abode with it, and that was the leap of her heart when Smith
shouted in a good loud voice, "All right!"



CHAPTER LVI.

FATAL ACCIDENT TO THE CARRIER.


Now, that little maid who with such strength, alike of mind and body,
had opened the paternal gate, and then bewailed her prowess, happened
to be the especial favourite of her good Aunt Esther. Therefore no
sooner had the Carrier begun his eventful homeward course, as
heretofore related, than Etty, who loved a forest walk and felt rather
dull without Zacchary, took Peggy's fat red hand, and, after a good
tea with Susannah, set forth for an evening stroll, to gather flowers
and hear the birds sing.

Almost before they had got well into the wooded places, Peggy shrank
away from a black timber shed, partly overhung by trees.

"Peggy not go there, Aunt Etty," she said; "goose in there, a great
white goose!"

"A ghost, you little goose?" answered Esther, laughing, for still
there was good sunset. "Come and show me; I want to see a ghost."

"No, no, no!" cried the child, pulling backward, and struggling as
hard as she had struggled with the gate; "Peggy see a white goose in a
black hole there, all day."

"Then, Peggy, stop here while I go and look. You won't be afraid to do
that, will you?"

Running bravely up to the hole in the boards, Esther saw, to her great
amazement, the form, perhaps the corpse, of a man, stretched at length
on the ground inside. It lay too much in the dark for the face to be
seen, and the dress was so swaddled with netting, and earthy, that
little could be made of it. A torn strip of cambric, that once had
been white, lay partly on the body and partly on the board. Esther
caught it up; she remembered having ironed something of this shape for
somebody once, who was going to be examined. She knew where to look
for the mark, and there she saw in small letters--"T. Hardenow."

Surprised as she was, she did not lose her wits or courage, as she
used to do. She ran to the door of the shed, tried the padlock, and
finding it fastened (as she had feared), made haste to the
grain-house, and seized a bunch of keys. Not one of them truly was
born with the lock, but one was soon found to serve the turn; then
Esther pushed back the creaking door, and timidly gazed round the
shadowy shed. She was quite alone now, for her little niece, with
short sobs of terror, had set off for home.

In the light admitted by the open door, young Esther descried a poor
miserable thing, helpless, still as a log, and senseless, yet to her
faithful heart the idol of all adoration. Gently, step by step, she
stole to the prostrate form, and knelt down softly, and reverently
touched it. She feared to seem to take advantage of a helpless moment;
and yet a keen joy, mixed with terror, shone in the eagerness of her
eyes. "He is alive, I am sure of that," she said to herself, as she
pulled forth a pair of strong scissors which she always carried; "he
is alive, but very, very nearly dead. What wretches can have treated
him like this?"

In two minutes, Hardenow was free from every cord and throng of
bondage; his lax arms fell at his sides; his legs (that had saved his
life by kicking) slowly sank back to their native angles, like a
lobster's claw untied, and his small and dismally empty stomach
quivered almost invisibly.

"Oh, he is starving, or downright starved!" cried Esther, watching his
white lips, which trembled with some glad memory of suction, and then
stiffened again to some Anglican dream. "After all, I have blamed
other folk quite amiss. He hath corded himself away from his victuals
to give way to his noble principles. But how could he lock himself in?
The Lord must have sent a bad angel to tempt him, and then to turn the
key on him."

Before she had finished this reasoning process, the girl was half-way
towards the cot of Tickuss, her heart outweighing her mind, according
to all true feminine proportions. She ran in swiftly upon Susannah,
sitting in the dusky kitchen and pondering over a very slow fire the
cookery of the children's supper. These good young children never
failed to go to see the pigs fed, and down at the styes they all were
at this moment, with no victuals come, and the pigs all squeaking,
because the pig-master was not at home.

This was most sad, and the children felt it; nevertheless they bore
it, knowing that their own pot was warming. But they too might have
squeaked, if they had known that out of their own pot Aunt Etty was
stealing half the meat and all the little cobs of jelly. It was as
fine a pot of stuff as ever Susannah Cripps had made, for she did not
hold at all with fattening the pigs, and starving her own children;
and she argued most justly, while Esther all the while was ladling all
the virtue out.

Etty had never been known to do anything violent or high-handed; yet
now, without entering into even the very shortest train of reasoning,
away she went swifter than any train, bearing in her right hand the
best dresser-jug (filled with the children's tidbits of nurture), and
in her left hand flourishing Susannah's own darling silver
wedding-spoon. Mrs. Leviticus longed to rush in chase of her; but ere
her slowly startled nerves could send the necessary tingle to her
ruminating knees, the girl was out of sight, and for her vestige
lingered naught but a very provoking smell of soup.

Now, in so advanced a stage of the world's existence (and of this
narrative) is it needful, judicious, or even becoming to describe,
spoonful by spoonful, however grateful, delicious, and absorbing, the
process of administering and receiving soup? To "give and take" is
said, by people of large experience in life, to be about the latest
and most consummate lesson of humanity; coming even after that extreme
of wisdom which teaches us to "grin and bear it." But in the present
trifling instance, two young people very soon began to be
comparatively at home with the subject. The opening of the eyes, in
all countries and creatures, is done a good deal later than the
opening of the mouth; the latter being the essential, the former quite
a fortuitous proceeding.

After six spoonfuls, as counted by Esther, Hardenow opened both his
eyes; after two or three more, he knew where he was; and when he had
swallowed a dozen and a bonus, scarcely any of his wits were wanting.
Still Esther, for fear of a relapse, went on; though her hand trembled
dreadfully when he sat up, with his poor bones creaking sadly, and
tried to be steady upon her arm, but was overbalanced by his weight of
brain. Instead of shrieking, or screaming, she took advantage of this
opportunity, and his bony chin dropping afforded the finest opening
towards his interior.

To put it briefly, he quite came round, and after twenty spoonfuls
vowed--with the conscience rushing for the moment into the arms of
common sense--that never would he fast again. And after thirty were
absorbed and beginning to assimilate, he gazed at Esther's smiling
eyes, and saw the clearest and truest solution of his "postulates on
celibacy." Esther dropped her eyes in terror, and made him drink the
dregs and bottom, with a convert's zealous gulp. And as it happened,
this was wise.

If any malignant persons charge him with having sold, for a mess of
pottage, man's noblest birthright, celibacy, let every such person be
corded up, at the longest possible date after breakfast, and the
shortest before dinner--or rather, alas! before dinner-time--let him
stay corded, and rolling about in a hog-house (as long as roll he can,
which never would approach Mr. Hardenow's cycle); let him, throughout
this whole period, instead of eating, expect to be eaten; then with a
wolf in his stomach (if he has one) let him lose his wits (if he has
any), and then let a lovely girl come and free him, and feed him, and
cry over him, and regard him--with his clothes at their very worst,
and cakes of dirt in his eyes and mouth--as the imperial Jove in some
Dictæan cavern dormant; and then, as the light and the life flow back,
and the power of his heart awakes, let there manifestly accrue thereto
a better, gentler, and sweeter heart, timid even of its own pulse, and
ashamed of its own veracity--and then if he takes all this unmoved,
why, let him be corded up again, and nobody come to deliver him.

Esther only smiled and wept at her patient's ardent words and
impassioned gratitude. She knew that between them was a great gulf
fixed, and that the leap across it seldom has a happy landing; and
when poor Hardenow fell back, in the weak reaction of a heart more fit
for pain than passion, she knelt at his side, and nursed and cheered
him, less with the air of a courted maiden than of a careful handmaid.
In the end, however, this feeling (like most of those which are
adverse to our wishes) was prevailed upon to subside, and Esther,
although of the least revolutionary and longest-established stock in
England--that of the genuine Crippses, whose name, originally no doubt
"Chrysippus," indicates the possession of a golden horse--Etty Cripps,
finding that the heart of her adored one had, in Splinters' opinion, a
perilous fissure, requiring change of climate, consented at last
(having no house of her own) to come down from the tilt, and go to
Africa.

For Hardenow, as he grew older and able to regard mankind more
largely, came out from many of the narrow ways, which (like the lanes
of Beckley) satisfy their final cause by leading into one another.
With the growth of his learning, his candour grew; and he strove to
bind others by his own strap and buckle, as little as he offered to be
bound by theirs. Therefore when two of his very best friends made a
_bonâ fide_ job of it, and being unable to think their thoughts out
got it done by deputy, and sank to infallible happiness, Thomas
Hardenow pulled up, and set his heels into the ground of common sense,
like a horse at the brink of a quarry-pit; and the field of reason,
rich and gracious, opened its gates again to him.

Herein he cut no capers, as so many of the wilder spirits did, but
made himself ready for some true work and solid advantage to his race.
And so, before any University Mission, or plough-and-Bible enterprise,
Hardenow set forth to open a track for commerce and civilization, and
to fight the devil and slavery in the rich rude heart of Africa.
Besides his extraordinary gift of tongues, he had many other
qualifications--the wiriness of his legs and stomach, his quiet style
of listening (so that even a "nigger" need not be snubbed), his
magnificent freedom from humour (an element fatal to stern
convictions), and last not least, as he said to Etty, for a clinching
argument, his wife's acquaintance with the carrying trade.

Happy exile, how much better than home misery it is! But the House of
Cripps sent forth another member into banishment, with little choice
or chance of much felicity on his part. As there are woes more strong
than tears, so are there crimes beyond the lash. When the doings of
Leviticus were brought to light, and shown to be unsuccessful, a
council of Crippses was held in his hog-house, and a stern decree
passed to expatriate him. Tickuss was offered his fair say, and did
his very best to defend himself; but the case from the first was
hopeless. If he had wronged any other parish than Beckley, or even any
other as well, there might have been some escape for him. Cruelty,
cowardice, treason high and low, perjury to his own elder brother, and
eternal disgrace to his birthplace--there was not a word in the mouth
of any one half bad enough to use to him. The Carrier rose, and said
all he could say, for the sake of the many children; but weighty with
piety as he was, he could not stem the many-fountained torrent of the
Crippsic wrath. The pigs of Leviticus were divided among all the
nephews and nieces, and cousins (ere ever a creditor got a hock-rope
or a flick-whip ready), and Tickuss himself, unhoused, unstyed,
unlarded, and unsmocked, wandered forth with his business gone, like a
Gadarene swine-herd void of swine.

For years and years that fine old hog-farm was the haunt of rats and
rabbits; never a grunt or squeak of porker (ringing or rung
eloquently) shook the fringe of ivied shade, or jarred the acorn in
its cup, until a third son arose and grew up to Zacchary Cripps
hereafter. All the neighbourhood lay under a cloud of fear and
sadness, because of what Luke Sharp had done, not to others, but
himself. Luke Sharp, the greatest of all lawyers--so the affrighted
woodman says--may and must, alas, be seen (at certain moments of the
forest moon) rising on horseback from the black pool where his black
life ended, gaining the shore with a silent bound, and galloping, with
his arm held forth as straight as any sign-post, to the nook of dark
lane where he smote his son; and then to the ruined hut, wherein he
imprisoned the fair lady; and then to the rotting shed, in which he
corded and starved the great Oxford scholar.

Whether, for the assertion of the law, Luke Sharp is allowed by some
evil power thus to revisit the glimpses of the moon, or whether he
lies in silent blackness, ignorant of evil--sure it is that no one
cares to stay beyond the fall of dusk in that part of the forest.

But as soon as the lawyer's wife and son, by virtue of the poplar
mark, had found and quietly buried his disappointed corpse, they made
the very best of a broken business, as cheerfully as could be hoped
for. Each of them sighed very heavily at times, especially when they
were almost certain of hearing again, round the corner or downstairs,
a masterful and very memorable tread. Therefore, with what speed they
might, they let their fine old Cross Duck House, and fleeing all low
curiosity, unpleasant remark, and significant glance, took refuge
under the quiet roof of Kit's aunt Peggy, near High Wycombe, where he
had hoped to lodge, and woo his timid forest angel. Here Kit found
tardy comfort, and recovered health quite rapidly, by writing his own
dirge in many admirable metres, till, being at length made laureate of
a strictly local paper--at a salary of nil per annum, and some quarts
of ale to stand--he swung his cloak and lit his pipe in the style of
better days.

From those whom his father had wronged so deeply he would accept no
help whatever, much as they desired to show their sense of his good
behaviour. And when the second-best ambition of his life arrived by
coach--that notable dog, "Pablo"--if Christopher could have sniffed
lightest scent of Beckley, or Shotover, in the black dog-winkles of
his nostrils, the odds are ten to one that Oxford never would have
sighed (as all through the October term she did) at the loss of her
finest badgerer.

In spite of all this obstinacy, three people were resolved to make him
come round and be comfortable, settled, and respectable. To this they
brought him in the end, and made him give up fugitive pieces, sonnets,
stanzas to a left-hand glove, and epitaphs on a cenotaph. The Squire,
and Russel, and Grace could not compose their own snug happiness
without providing that Kit should be less miserable than his poetry.
So they married him to a banker's daughter, and--better still--put him
in the bank itself.

The loyalty of Mrs. Fermitage to her distinguished husband's memory
was never disturbed by any knowledge of that fatal codicil. Poor Mrs.
Sharp, as she slowly recovered from the sad grief wrought by greed,
more and more reverently cherished her great husband's high repute.
She rejoined him in a better world--or at least she set forth to do
so--without any knowledge of the blow he had given to her son's head,
and her own heart. Kit, like a man, concealed that outrage, and, like
a good son, listened to his departed father's praises. But in her
heart the widow felt that some of these might be imperilled, if that
codicil turned up. Long time she kept it in reserve, as a thunderbolt
for Joan Fermitage; but Pablo's arrival improved her feelings, and so
did the banker's daughter; and finally, on Kit's wedding-day, with a
sigh and a prayer, she took advantage of a clear fire and a rapid
draught--and the codicil flew through the chimney-pot.

As a lawyer's daughter, she revered such things. In the same capacity,
she knew that now it could make no great practical difference; for
Grace was quite sure of her good aunt's money. And again, as a widow
and mother, she felt what a stain must be cast on the name she loved
best, if this little document ever came to light--other than good
firelight.

But why should Esther have had no house of her own, as darkly hinted
above, so as to almost compel her to descend from tilt to tent? The
reason is not far to seek, and he who runs may read it, without
running out of Beckley.

Cripps, the Carrier, now being past the middle milestone of man's
life, and seeing every day, more and more, the grey hairs in his
horse's tail, lowered his whip in a shady place, and let his reins go
slackly, and pulled his crooked sixpence out, and could not see to
read it. And yet the summer sun was bright in the top of the bushes
over him!

"I vear a must; I zee no way out of un," Zacchary said to his lonely
self. "Etty is as good as gone a'ready; her cannot stan' out agin that
there celibacy; and none else understandeth the frying-pan. The Lord
knows how I have fought agin the womminses, seeing all as I has seen.
And better I might a' done, if I must come to it, many a time in the
last ten year. Better at laste for the brown, white, and yellow;
though the woman as brought might a' shattered 'em again. After all,
Mary might be a deal worse; though I have a-felt some doubt consarning
of her tongue; but her hath a proper respect for me, and forty puns to
Oxford bank--if her moother spaiketh raight of her; and the Squaire
hath given me a new horse, to come on whenso Dobbin beginneth to wear
out. Therefore his domestics hath first claim; though I'd soonder
draive Dobbin than ten of un. What shall us do now? Whatever shall us
do?"

Zacchary Cripps pulled off his hat in a slow perspiration of suspense;
for if he once made up his mind, there would be no way out of it. He
looked at his horse with a sad misgiving, both on his own account and
Dobbin's. The marriage of the master might wrong the horse, and the
horse might no more be the master's. Suddenly a bright idea struck
him--a bar of sunshine through the shade.

"Thou shalt zettle it, Dobbin," he cried, leaning over and stroking
his gingery loins. "It consarneth thee most, or, leastways, quite as
much. Never hath any man had a better horse. The will of the Lord
takes the strength out of all of us; but He leaveth, and addeth to the
wisdom therein. Dobbin, thou seest things as never men can tell of.
Now, if thou waggest thy tail to the right--I will; and so be to the
left--I wun't. Mind what thou doest now. Call upon thy wisdom, nag,
and give thy master honestly the sense of thy discretion."

With a settled mind, and no disturbance, he awaited the delivery of
Dobbin's tail. A fly settled on the white foam of the harness on the
off side of this ancient horse. Away went his tail with a sprightly
flick at it; and Cripps accepted the result. The result was the
satisfaction of Mary's long and faithful love for him, and the happy
continuance, in woodland roads, of the loyal race and unpretentious
course of Cripps, the Carrier.


THE END.



NEW ISSUE OF LOW'S STANDARD NOVELS.

_Cloth elegant 2s. 6d.; picture boards, 2s._


The following are being published at short intervals:--

    Lorna Doone                        By R. D. Blackmore.
    Far from the Madding Crowd         "  Thos. Hardy.
    Senior Partner                     "  Mrs. Riddell.
    Clara Vaughan                      "  R. D. Blackmore.
    The Guardian Angel                 "  Oliver Wendell Holmes.
    Her Great Idea, and Other Stories  "  Mrs. Walford.
    Three Recruits                     "  Joseph Hatton.
    The Mayor of Casterbridge          "  Thos. Hardy.
    The Casting Away of Mrs. Lecks }   "  Frank R. Stockton,
      and Mrs. Aleshine; and The   }        Author of "Rudder
      Dusantes                     }        Grange."
    Adela Cathcart                     "  George Macdonald.
    Cripps, the Carrier                "  R. D. Blackmore.
    Dred                               "  Mrs. Beecher Stowe.
    Trumpet-Major                      "  Thos. Hardy.
    Daisies and Buttercups             "  Mrs. Riddell.
    Guild Court                        "  George Macdonald.
    Mary Anerley                       "  R. D. Blackmore.
    A Golden Sorrow                    "  Mrs. Cashel Hoey.
    Innocent                           "  Mrs. Oliphant.
    Sarah de Berenger                  "  Jean Ingelow.
    The Bee Man of Orn               { "  Frank R. Stockton, Author
                                     {      of "Rudder Grange."
    Under the Stars and under the }
      Crescent                    }    "  Edwin de Leon.
    Hand of Ethelberta                 "  Thos. Hardy.
    Vicar's Daughter                   "  George Macdonald.
    Some One Else                      "  Mrs. Croker.
    Out of Court                       "  Mrs. Cashel Hoey.
    Alice Lorraine                     "  R. D. Blackmore.
    Old Town Folk                      "  Mrs. Beecher Stowe.
    A Pair of Blue Eyes                "  Thos Hardy.
    Half Way                           "  Miss M. Betham-Edwards.
    Ulu: An African Romance          { "  Joseph Thomson and
                                     {      E. Harris-Smith.
    Two on a Tower                     "  Thos. Hardy.
    Poganuc People                     "  Mrs. Beecher Stowe.
    Old House at Sandwich              "  Joseph Hatton.
    Tommy Upmore                       "  R. D. Blackmore.
    Stephen Archer                     "  George Macdonald.
    John Jerome                        "  Jean Ingelow.
    A Stern Chase                      "  Mrs. Cashel Hoey.
    Bonaventure                        "  Geo. W. Cable.

_To be followed by others._


    LONDON: SAMPSON, LOW, MARSTON & CO.,
    _Limited_,
    ST. DUNSTAN'S HOUSE, FETTER LANE, FLEET STREET, E.C.



      *      *      *      *      *      *



Transcriber's note:

Minor typographical errors have been corrected without note.

Irregularities and inconsistencies in the text have been retained
as printed.





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