Isa Craig: 'Deepdale Vicarage' (1)

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DEEPDALE VICARAGE.

――――♦――――

CHAPTER I.

AN ABRUPT VISIT.


"AND lastly, and above all, I must beware of the ladies!"

    This astounding and illiberal sentiment proceeded by way of mental soliloquy from the Rev. Dionysius Curling, the newly-inducted vicar of the rural parish of Deepdale.  So newly inducted, indeed, that not more than a week ago he had read himself in and also preached his first sermon at Deepdale.

    In accordance with certain habits of his, he had before him a list of all the church-going people in his parish, and he had been scanning this document attentively, and had been startled at the alarming preponderance of ladies.

    "Why, they are here by shoals!" cried Dionysius.

    To glance at the man as he stood on the hearth-rug of the vicarage drawing-room, his hands clasped behind him in true bachelor fashion, no one would suppose that he was in danger from a sex which is not insensible to the charms of manly beauty.

    He was young, to be sure—very young, in some respects—but he was not, therefore, handsome.  His figure was insignificant; his complexion of that light colour which, on exposure to the sun, is apt to freckle; his eyes were small and restless; his lips were thin, and his hair was sandy.

    So much for his physiological development.

    "And yet," thought Dionysius Curling, continuing his soliloquy, as he stood on the hearth-rug, "a young man like me is sure to be run after by all these women.  Let me see!  Bless my life!  The three Misses Flushing, the seven Misses Penrose, the nine Misses Garner, the four Misses Turner, besides the widows.  Ah!" and he paused a moment, the paper still in his hand.  Then resuming it with a sigh—"Lady Landon, at the Manor—why on earth do they put her last?—Juliana Landon, Blanche Landon, Lucy Landon.  Humph!"

    Again he paused.

    "Her daughters, I presume.  Family from home on Sunday: back next week.  Estates in Ireland.  Exactly;" and he stood ruminating a few minutes, rubbing his chin softly with his hand.  Then, as if rousing himself from some mental digression, he returned to the subject before him.

    "I know what will happen: of course I do," still rubbing his chin, now complacently.  "When a fellow gets a living, of course it's different.  Yes, I remember Spratt.  Poor Spratt! he had slippers!  Bless the man! he might have walked on as many feet as a centipede—not that a centipede walks; I rather think it wriggles.  Cartes, till he had not albums to hold them.  Flowers and fruit, till he might have furnished a stall in Covent Garden.  Ah! it was wretched work.  I wonder Spratt survived it; but he did, and got married.

    "I don't mean to get married—not I.  Let them do their worst!"

    Somewhat excited and ruffled, he paced up and down the room.  It was a dismal night.  Deepdale was a retired village in the dead country, surrounded by muddy lanes, scarcely accessible, except in summer.  The vicarage was a rambling old house, with low ceilings, and small gloomy windows.  Many men, inducted into such a living, might have wished for the solace and companionship of a wife.  Not so Dionysius Curling.

    His sentiments on that head were perfectly monstrous.

    "I know what wives are," he was known to have said.  "When they are not gadding about the country, they are having the house turned upside down at home with scrubbing and cleaning.  No, indeed!  Old Martha Beck is worth twenty of them."

    Martha Beck was his housekeeper.

    He had just settled down to his evening's quantum of reading, his fire bright, his slippers on, and all things comfortable, and, as he thought, secure from interruption, when Martha Beck tapped at the door.

    "Well," growled Dionysius from his chair.

    "If you please, sir, there's a lady as wants to speak to you."

    Dionysius bristled up on the defensive, and threw an angry glance in the direction of his housekeeper.

    "It is too late, Martha.  I see no one to-night."

    "But if you please, sir, she's so very pressing.  She says――"

    "Never mind what she says.  It is not likely that a well-conducted clergyman should receive ladies at this hour.  She must come in the morning."

    "But, if you please, sir, she says―"

    "Martha," blundered her master, getting exceeding irate, "I will not admit this—this woman!"

    Martha gave back a little; not so much from deference to her master, as that she was pressed upon by some object in the rear.

    That object, a lady clad in the profoundest mourning, now glided by her, into the actual presence of Dionysius Curling

    Dionysius—a gentleman born and bred, in spite of his erratic principles—could not remain in his chair after this event had happened.  He rose, reluctantly indeed, still he rose, and with a face of intense sourness stood regarding his visitor.  She was young, and with a face that was pretty in spite of its pallor, and the marks that care and sorrow had planted there.  Evidently some great trouble was pressing upon her, for she was weeping bitterly; and, as she came forward, she said, holding out her hands imploringly, "Oh, sir, do have pity on me!"  Then, as if overcome by fatigue and distress, she sank on the little sofa which Dionysius had placed by the fire for his own especial solace.

    Now Dionysius Curling was the last man on earth for anything like a scene.  Romance and sentiment had in him neither part nor lot.  The sight of a woman, young, fair, and in distress, might have roused the chivalry of some as by the touch of Ithuriel's spear.  Not so Dionysius.  The uppermost feeling in his mind was how to get rid of her.  He could not thrust her forth rudely and unwarrantably.  He was not the man for that, either.

    A parish minister in our day is rarely, and let us be thankful for it, without the instincts of a gentleman!  No; but he stood regarding her as an enemy who had stormed his fortress by sleight of hand.

    As to addressing her,—in his confusion and dismay, and newly plucked up from his Plato, he really knew not how.

    But the lady saved him the trouble.  Wiping her eyes—which were large and handsome, with long lashes—not that this circumstance mattered in the least to Dionysius—she said, in a sweet voice—

    "Pray pardon me, sir!  I have been labouring under a sad mistake.  I did not know that my poor uncle was dead."

    "Oh! indeed," said Dionysius, stiffly.

    "My uncle was incumbent of this parish," continued she; "his name was Melrose.  You must have heard of him."

    Dionysius bowed.  The Rev. Philip Melrose, of much beloved memory, and who had held the living fifty years, was his predecessor.

    "I am his niece—his only niece," continued the lady; my name is Clara Melrose.  I kept his house until――Oh, sir! I have been very unfortunate!" exclaimed she, bursting into tears, and sobbing violently.

    Dionysius, wholly unmoved, stared stolidly at her.  All at once his face cleared up, as he espied, with great satisfaction, a wedding-ring plainly visible on the lady's finger.  "Oh, so you have a husband, ma'am," said he, quite blandly and benignantly.

    "No, sir; I am a widow."

    Dionysius retreated as if he had been shot.  Anger, annoyance, and even fear were visible in his countenance.

    "A widow," he muttered; "a widow.  Yes, I see—I see."

    "My poor husband, who was a nephew of the late vicar, died about six months ago, leaving me quite destitute.  In fact, I have spent my last shilling in coming here to- night."

    Pleasant intelligence this for Dionysius Curling.

    "I hoped to find a refuge with my poor uncle, but Providence has directed otherwise," sobbed forth the fugitive, getting quite hysterical and what am I to do? what am I to do?"

    "Indeed, ma'am, that is just what puzzles me," replied Dionysius, curtly.

    "If, sir, you have a wife―"

    "Madam," said Dionysius, with dignity, "I have no such thing belonging to me.  I am a bachelor."

    The lady, alarmed at this portentous declaration, began to sob violently.

    Dionysius, who had relapsed into utter and blank stolidity, stood looking at her.

    Presently she said, her sobs growing more and more hysterical, "Could you advise me, sir, what to do?"

    It was a difficult question to put to a man so devoid of resources as Dionysius Curling; but, as it happened, a bright idea occurred to him.  He rubbed his hands, and advancing a step nearer, said, briskly, "Had you not better take lodgings in the village?"

    "Alas, sir! there are no lodgings in Deepdale."

    Dionysius rubbed his forehead, now wrinkled up into a hundred lines of care and perplexity.  At length another bright idea occurred to him.  His two churchwardens were married men, living in great rambling farmhouses, where there could be no scarcity of accommodation.  It was evident that the lady should not, if possible, remain at the vicarage.

    Surely, if not one, yet another of the churchwardens would take her in.

    As the idea gained upon him, he looked round for his hat and stick.  The lady was seized with a violent trembling, and to any but a totally inexperienced person would have appeared remarkably ill.  But Dionysius was not blessed with perceptive faculties; besides, his mind was running eagerly on his own chance of deliverance.

    Bidding her remain by the fire, and not waiting to hear her reply, he hurried out of the front door, and turned his steps towards the abode of his nearest churchwarden, Simon Crosskeys.

    Now the reader will have divined ere this that Dionysius was an exceptional man.  He was one of those who enter the ministry regarding it only as a profession, and not as a sacred calling, from which all petty prejudices and trivial caprice must be put aside.  Thank God, Dionysius Curling's is an exceptional character.  To this, witness the persevering and wide-spread labours of our country pastors, and the unremitting and concentrated work of ministers in so many of our cities and towns.


 
CHAPTER II.

PLAIN PEOPLE."


SIMON CROSSKEYS was, as he had confided to his friends and acquaintance, "none so pleased with the new parson."

    In the sermon preached the preceding Sunday, Dionysius had used the word aesthetic, a term which Simon fancied had reference to the Pope.

    When the young vicar, breathless with haste and excitement, stood at the door of the farmer, that astute individual was about to sit down to what he called his bread and cheese.

    "Well, I'm sure!  I never thought of seeing you, Mr. Curling, at this time of night.  Howsoever come in, sir.  Happen you'll take a bit along with us."

    "Thank you," replied Dionysius, stiffly, and standing with his hat in his hand; "I have just dined."

    "Humph!" said the farmer.

    Dionysius had better have suppressed the fact of dinner.

    "He's one of them as turns day into night and night into day," thought Simon Crosskeys, getting further dissatisfied.

    Dionysius now came forward, and going up to the fire, blurted out with excessive want of tact, "I suppose, Mr. Crosskeys, you don't let lodgings?"

    Crosskeys stared at him in blank amazement.

    "You be a wonderful stranger in Deepdale, sir, to ask a question like that."

    "I beg your pardon.  I meant no offence," faltered poor Dionysius, "only I am in a dilemma."

    "A what, sir?" asked Simon, quickly, and laying down his knife and fork.

    "A dilemma—a difficulty—an embarrassment," said the young clergyman, hastily.  "I want to find a home—a place, in fact, for――,'

    He paused, and the awkwardness of his position made him blush scarlet; added to which, Simon, his knife and fork laid down, was regarding him with severe scrutiny.

    "Well, sir?" asked Simon, at length, as if his curiosity had been somewhat excited.

    "I want," stammered the wretched Dionysius, "in fact, there is a young lady—I want to find rooms for a young lady," added he, in desperation.

    "Oh, indeed," said Simon, with a smile of indescribable grimness: "a young lady—ah! humph! ah!"  Dionysius's face, from scarlet, became the deepest crimson.  Nothing could exceed the misery of his position.  But recollecting what he supposed would set all things straight, he hastened to explain:—

    "She is a niece of the late Vicar of Deepdale, and has come to my house by—"

    He stopped.  Simon Crosskeys had started from his chair with an exclamation of mingled surprise and horror.

    "What!  Clara Melrose! is that the—the woman's name?" said be, roughly.

    "Well, yes; I believe it is," admitted the vicar, with some reluctance.

    The farmer looked his superior full in the face.  It must be confessed that the latter showed unmistakable signs of agitation and alarm, and was alarmed beyond measure.  However, he hastened to pick up the thread of his narrative.

    "She came to my house by mistake, only half an hour ago.  I never saw her before in my life," said he, hurriedly.  "Pray, do you know anything of the lady?"

    The farmer let his great clenched fist fall upon the table.  Beyond this, he made no reply whatever.

    "But pray do tell me!" cried the vicar, anxiously and fearfully.  "This lady was married here, at Deepdale, according to her statement."

    The farmer nodded assent.

    "You are aware of that fact?" asked Dionysius, eagerly.

    "Certainly, sir; certainly.  Everybody knows that Clara Melrose married her cousin four years ago next Michaelmas.  We are not likely to forget that fact, Mr. Curling."

    "Poor thing!  She is a widow now," observed Dionysius.

    "A widow!" echoed the farmer.  "Serve her right—serve her right!" added he, with intense bitterness.  "It couldn't be but that some judgment would fall upon her."

    "Judgment, Mr. Crosskeys! pray inform me for what!" asked the vicar, hastily.

    The farmer's stream of communication, never very deep, now froze up at once.

    It was evident that he did not give Dionysius credit for the ignorance he professed.

    "Pray inform me for what!" repeated the vicar, eagerly.

    "Pardon me, sir; I don't think it necessary to reply to that question."

    "Good gracious! why not?" exclaimed Dionysius.

    Simon Crosskeys made no reply; except indeed by resuming his knife and fork, as a hint to the vicar to depart.

    Dionysius stood a moment, utterly confounded.  Some great and hideous evil, of which he had not so much as dreamed, lay hidden before him; some abyss into which the very next step might plunge him.  He did not know which way to turn.  He forgot that even in the little and apparently trivial difficulties of life the Great Master is ever ready to hear, and aid, and guide.

    He had one other churchwarden—or rather the parish had—a man of the name of Lewin, a grazier and also butcher.  To him Dionysius resolved to go.

    "I will sift the matter to the bottom," thought he, "or I will know the reason why."

    Nathanael Lewin—such was his Christian name—lived at the end of a long lane; indeed, his house was the last in the straggling village of Deepdale.

    As no pains were taken in these parts to improve the state of the roads, the lane was at seasons like the present in a state of mingled mud and water.

    Clerical attire was not made for so rough a transit.  By the time the new Vicar of Deepdale reached the abode of his parishioner, he was in a state better imagined than described.

    He got there at last; and it was well he was no later, or the Lewin family would have been gone to bed.

    "Well, look! if it ain't the parson!" was the salutation from Mrs. Lewin, as she nearly dropped the candlestick in her surprise.

    The farmer was halfway upstairs to his dormitory; it was therefore by no means the most happy time the vicar could have chosen for a visit.  But on hearing the sound of voices, Nathanael Lewin returned.

    "I beg your pardon, sir," said he.  "You see, we're early folks at Deepdale; and we've been a pig-killing."

    Dionysius bowed with the utmost politeness—indeed, he had a special object in being as polite as possible to Farmer Lewin.

    "I'm sorry to intrude," said he, hastily; "but I called to ask you a question—a very simple question indeed," added he, beginning, however, to feel the old embarrassment coming on with all its force.

    "Well, sir," replied the farmer, his candle still in his Land, "anything as I can do, sir, I shall be most happy.  What is it you wanted to know, sir?"

    "Do you know," said Dionysius, as well as he was able,—"are you acquainted with a lady of the name of Clara Melrose?"

    "Clara Melrose!" cried the farmer, his face kindling into excitement.

    "Yes," replied the vicar, now pale and red by turns; "that was her name, I believe."

    "And pray, sir," cried the farmer, still excited, "may I return the question, and ask what you know about her?"

    "Oh, nothing whatever; only, she is at my house, and――"

    "At your house, sir!" shouted the farmer, getting more excited than ever—"at your house, did you say?"

    "Well, yes—I believe so."

    The farmer's face turned very red, and his eyes looked as if starting from their sockets; but he said nothing.

    "I am aware there is some mystery about the lady," continued Dionysius, "and I called to beg that you would explain it."

    "Sir," replied the farmer, waving his hand, as if to sign to the vicar to depart, "there ain't no mystery at all to them as has their eyes open, and as read the papers.  Don't tell me!  We're plain people at Deepdale, but we have our wits about us.  Good night to you, Mr. Curling."

    The papers.  Dionysius stood as if petrified.  Farmer Lewin had bolted his door, and was again halfway up to bed ere he recovered sufficiently to move.

    The papers!  Why, was she a criminal?

    And he, the immaculate, the irreproachable Dionysius Curling, would have his name dragged into the dirt?  No; he could not tolerate such an idea for a single moment.  He would hurry home through mud and mire, and get rid of her at once.  At once!  There and then!

    He would give her money—he did not mind that in the least—and post her off to the nearest station in the little chaise.  His man should drive her, and see her off.  She was an incubus, pressing the very life out of him.

    Again he started, and ploughed his way manfully down the lane till the welcome sight of the vicarage cheered his weary and perturbed spirit.

    On the threshold of his home he fell in with Martha Beck.

    "Oh, goodness me, sir!  So you're come at last!"

    "Yes, I am come," said the vicar, grimly; "and now, where is that lady?"

    "Oh, sir, she's taken very bad indeed—as bad as ever I see any one in my life."

    "She shall not be bad here, Martha.  I'll have her started off in a trice.  Where's James?"

    "James, Sir,—he's gone for the doctor."

    "The doctor! who wants the doctor?"

    "If you please, sir, the lady does."

    "The lady?"

    "Yes, sir.  She's been took very ill indeed since you've been gone.  I'm sure she's in a bad fever, sir.  I've had to put her to bed, and it's my opinion――"

    "Well," gasped Dionysius, breathless, and in great agitation—"well?"

    "Well, sir, it's my opinion that she won't be able to get up again for days and days!"


 
CHAPTER III.

DR. PLUME REFUSES TO EXPLAINS THE MYSTERY.


DIONYSIUS staggered again the wall, and remained there a few minutes, oblivious of every earthly consideration.

    Clara Melrose ill in his house, and likely to be so for some time to come, was a calamity for which he was not prepared.

    In fact, it seemed the first step into the abyss he had so much dreaded.  When he had recovered somewhat from the shock, he found comfort in one reflection—he might elicit from Dr. Plume that information which his churchwardens had denied to him; he might find out what Clara Melrose had done.

    No sooner had the doctor's visit to his patient ended than he was waylaid by Dionysius, and with unusual sociability invited into the drawing-room.

    But, alas! again a wicked and cruel mystery beset the path of the young vicar.

    Dr. Plume was a mild little man—as mild, in fact, as milk; but he bristled up, and his face grew keenly suspicious as the unfortunate Dionysius opened the subject.  Instead of making any answer, he shook his head and looked into his hat, as if the solution of the problem lay there.

    "Because," stammered Dionysius, awkwardly, "you must be aware how unfortunate it is that such an occurrence should transpire in my house."

    "So it is, sir; so it is," replied Dr. Plume, still steadfastly regarding his hat.

    "Especially as I am in total ignorance as to the lady's antecedents, and liable to gross misrepresentation," continued the young divine.

    There was no answer to this remark.

    "Will you have the kindness to enlighten me?" asked Dionysius, politely.  "What has Mrs. Melrose done?"

    The doctor knitted his brows in a peculiar manner, and screwed up his lips as tight as he could screw them; but he made no attempt to elucidate the mystery.

    "What has she done?" continued Dionysius, getting impatient and determined to force the doctor into speaking.

    The doctor shrugged his shoulders with a very knowing air; then he began to button up his greatcoat.  "You must excuse me, Mr. Curling, if you please.  I have no wish to rake up the very unpleasant circumstances of the past.  Besides――"

    "Besides what?" cried Dionysius, exceedingly nettled.

    "Well, sir, all I can say is, I am sorry, and hope no offence; but, bad as she is, it is my opinion that she would never have shown her face in Deepdale without—pardon me—some encouragement from somebody."

    "Doctor Plume!" cried Dionysius, his hair almost standing on end—"you don't suspect me of wishing to harbour her?"

    "I mention no names, Mr. Curling," replied the little man, with dignity.  "But, of course, sir, it is not likely you should be in ignorance of Mrs. Melrose's past history.  No, sir; you can never expect any of us in Deepdale to believe that.  Good evening to you, sir."

    Dionysius, petrified and aghast, was unable at the moment to detain him; the consequence was that in a few seconds his ears were greeted by the sound of wheels.  Dr. Plume was driving off in his gig.

    The wretched Dionysius threw himself on his face upon the little sofa and groaned aloud.  But even the solace of his study was in some measure denied him.

    The vicarage walls were thin, and the unwonted sounds that penetrated them were by no means conducive to his peace of mind.  The opening and shutting of doors; the hurrying of women along the passages—the whole female population of Deepdale might have got into the house—were harassing to the nerves of the young vicar.  Then, the terrible onus of the thing.  The gathering storm of parochial displeasure; the vague reports; the insinuating sneers.  Oh! it would be more than he could bear!  He had half a mind to order out his horse and flee.  But to flee would be to leave his enemies masters of the field.  No, come what might, he must stand his ground.  He would at once occupy his mind to better purpose; in preparing his sermons for the next Sunday.

    Dionysius Curling was a trifle too young for the ministerial calling.  His experience of life had not been very profound, and his knowledge of the rural capacity was more limited still.  In the place of a plain preaching of the pure and simple doctrine of the Cross, he prepared an elaborate treatise, plentifully besprinkled with hard words and knotty arguments, to the bewilderment of his hearers.

    This labour wholly occupied him for the next few days.  In it he endeavoured to find a solace from the cares and vexations which oppressed him.

    Sunday morning came, and with his sermon elaborated to his own satisfaction, he set out for the small parish church of Deepdale.  The weather was propitious, and when that was the case the village street would be dotted over with persons in Sunday trim flocking towards the sacred building.  Simon Crosskeys and his wife, and Nathaniel Lewin and his wife were usually foremost amid the little flock of worshippers.  But on this identical occasion the street was almost entirely deserted.  Neither Crosskeys nor Lewin was to be seen.  Something was amiss, and already the Vicar of Deepdale grew nervous.  Faces peered in an unpleasant manner from the cottage doors and windows; and the men at the corner, the roughs of the place, whose only business on earth seemed to be to stand there, gave three groans as "the parson" went by.

    Dionysius, the muscles of his face quivering with annoyance, walked boldly into church.

    The clerk was ringing the bell industriously, and the children of the parochial school were in their places; otherwise, not a creature was visible.

    Dionysius marched into the vestry and sat down.  On range the bell.  In vain he stretched his ears for the welcome sound of footsteps on the uncovered brick floor.  There was not a sound.

    The children tittered, the master and mistress looked grave and cold; but not a creature came.

    What was he to do?  To close the church was an alternative he shrank from.  To conduct the service under such circumstances seemed to be impossible.  Things were going very hard with him that morning.  The clock struck eleven, the usual time for prayers to commence.  Still Dionysius sat, his hat in his hand, his surplice hanging by the wall.  The clock struck, and the bell ceased.  At this most distressing crisis in came the clerk.

    "Tomkins," said the vicar, sternly, "what is the meaning of this?"

    Tomkins hesitated a little.  "Well, Sir," said he, at length, "You see I don't expect as you won't have any congregation not to-day, sir."

    "And why not, pray?" asked the vicar, sharply.

    "Well, sir, you see, Master Crosskeys he come, and Master Lewin he come round the parish, sir; and they says, says they—"  The man paused, partly from shame, partly from awkwardness.

    "Go on," said Dionysius, hurriedly; "what did they say?"

    "Well, sir, they says, says they, 'Mrs. Melrose has come to Deepdale, and the new parson has taken her in.'  Now, begging your pardon, Sir, while that's the case, you can't expect anybody will come to hear you preach."


 
CHAPTER IV.

THE BIG COUNTESS.


LADY LANDON, of the Manor, near Deepdale, and of Landon Castle, on her own estate in Ireland, had well merited her usual title of the "Big Countess."

    She was six feet two, as she had been wont to boast exultingly, and her limbs colossal in proportion.  Many a frailer specimen, even of the sterner sex, might have slunk away in alarm were her great muscular arm raised against him.

    And her ladyship had all the hot Irish blood in her veins.  Not that her sympathies were Irish, by any means.  Quite the reverse.

    She had been remarkably handsome, and would have continued so, but that years had exaggerated the national type of feature for which she was conspicuous.  Her black eyes had lost none of their brilliancy, and her jetty locks had scarce a touch of grey, but the cheekbones had become prominent, even to grotesqueness; the complexion, never very delicate, was now coarse; and the mouth wide to positive ugliness.  Her two daughters were facsimiles of what their mother had been some twenty years ago.  They were colossal in height, but with the slimness and grace of girlhood; and the irregular type of feature, fully inherited, was veiled in the seductive glow of youthful beauty.

    For the rest, the ladies Juliana and Blanche were the fastest young women in the county.  They had the bodily prowess of men.  They could do anything.  They could hunt, boat, and fish to the extremest lengths.  Their dominion over horses was such that I believe they could, either of them, have ridden the fleetest horse without saddle or bridle.

    They were just now attired in riding habits with hats of the newest fashion, their long curls, black as jet, hanging to their waists: for the hunt met at Elm Bridge that morning.

    A crowd of admirers, some men of title, all men off position, were waiting below to dance attendance waiting on the two reigning belles of the county.  At the last moment their mother had summoned them to her presence.

    "Now, July and Blanche, do just listen to what I am going to tell ye, or else ye won't hear it," said Lady Landon, with the Irish accent she was apt now and then to use when she meant to be impressive.

    "We are listening, mamma," said July, who was arranging her hat at the mirror.  Blanche had thrown herself into into an easy-chair with the deportment of an empress at least.

    "His lordship has gone rat-catching again," said her ladyship, grimly.

    "What, poor Phil! is that all?" said July, still arranging her curls.

    "All!—my only son, the inheritor of his father's wealth, the representative of one of the oldest families in Britain, seeking his pleasure in catching rats—actually rats!"

"Pshaw, mamma! boys must catch something!" returned July, with the utmost indifference.

    "Juliana, with such sentiments――"

    "What is the poor lad to do, mamma?  Rat-catching is about the only thing he can understand."

    "Understand!—my son, Juliana, and your brother!  Blanche, what do you say?"

    "It is all very absurd", said Blanche, languidly, from her throne.  "You know as well as we do, mamma, that Phil is deficient in brains."

    "At any rate, I shall dismiss his tutor," continued Lady Landon.  "If he chooses to break through his engagements, I will break through mine.  Phil shall be a scholar."

    "Now, mamma, do be easy," said July, giving the finishing-touch to her curls.  "I don't care if Mr. Chauncey goes to-morrow; but I know,―――" added she, in an undertone

    "Well, what do you know?" asked her mother.

    "I know some one who might be his successor," replied July, speaking out boldly.

    "And who is that, pray?"

    "The new Vicar of Deepdale."

    "Why, what do you know of him, my dear?"

    "Only that his sermons are full of words which nobody can understand, and he might knock a few of them into Phil's head.  Nothing short of that would pacify you, mamma.  So good-bye, mamma.  Come along, Blanche."

    Blanche was more beautiful than her sister; her complexion was more dazzling, her features were a trifle more correct; but she was immeasurably prouder.  She looked very splendid mounted on her great black horse, the most vicious brute, by the way, that ever plunged and reared.  The young Marquis of Crutchly held her stirrup.

    He was over head and ears in love with Blanche.

    She did not notice him in any way.  She was cold imperious, and cruel; but to the enamoured youth it was enough to have felt the sole the her foot, the border of her garment.  Juliana, who cared more for dogs and horses than she did for their lords, galloped off free as air, leaving her escort to follow.

    The mother watched them from her window with a feeling of exultation.  She was excessively proud of her girls.  When they were out of sight, which happened speedily, her ladyship returned to the matter in hand—the education of her only son, Phillimore Roderic Patrick Landon.  She rang the bell.

    "James, I wish to see Mr. Chauncey."

    With a respectful bow the functionary disappeared, and her ladyship began, with great state and dignity, to prepare for the interview.  There was a splendid easy-chair, gorgeous with gold and velvet, the same in which Blanche had sat.  By this she stationed herself, her colossal person erect: she would not lose an inch of her dignity by sitting.  The Big Countess was extremely vain of her giant tendencies.

    Besides, she had an important work in hand: to get rid of the tutor or ever Phillimore Roderic Patrick Landon returned from the slaughter of his rats!

    Standing thus stately and glorious, she listened with some anxiety for the sound of the tutor's footstep.

    Presently the door opened, and in came the individual in question, by name Frank Chauncey.  When he reached the august presence, he bowed politely.  Her ladyship inclined her head, nothing more.  It was hardly a recognition.

    "Mr. Chauncey, I want to speak to you about my son."

    Frank bowed again.

    "It seems to me that his education does not make the progress which we could desire."

    Frank Chauncey had a clear, brown eye, remarkably pleasant in its expression.  He looked full at her ladyship as she spoke.

    "At his age, Mr. Chauncey, he ought to know how to spell.  Because, look here, this is one of Phil's productions."

    She handed the tutor a scrap of paper, on which were written, most illegibly, the following words:—


MY DEER BLANCHE,—I am sory I canot send them books.  I am going out after the ratts, and hope to catch a grate many.—Your afectionate brother,

PHIL.


    "Now, Mr. Chauncey, what do you think of that?"

    "I am grieved to say it to your ladyship, but my firm conviction is that no man on earth could teach Lord Landon to spell."

    The face of the countess became red with anger.

    "Do you know," cried she, "that you are speaking to me of my son?"

    "I regret to say I do," replied Frank, respectfully.  She stood a moment speechless with astonishment.

    "Mr. Chauncey, do you recollect the terms of our engagement?"

    "Perfectly well, Lady Landon."

    "Then you recollect also that it terminates to-day?"  She had him at an advantage there.  In spite of his outward self-possession, he winced somewhat.

    "Knowing my son's peculiarities, I entered into treaty with you for six months only; and the agreement was that at the expiration of that period we should either of us be free.  Do you understand me?"

    "I understand your ladyship quite well.  I am sorry for it.  I like the boy."

    There was something so unusual in this declaration that her ladyship was silent.

    "To attempt to make him like other men, and especially to try to make him a scholar, would be a grand mistake," continued Frank.  "He will not learn; nay, more, he cannot."

    "Indeed?  And you are very bold, Mr. Chauncey," exclaimed the countess, with her most intense brogue, "to say so to his mother."

    "I do say it," replied Frank, decidedly, "and time will prove that I am right.  Still, I am sorry," added he, with a sigh, "and so, I think, will be my pupil."

    "Ah! and that reminds me," hastily interrupted the countess.  "As a favour, Mr. Chauncey, will you promise to leave the Manor before his lordship returns?  The poor lad is so excitable, so――"

    Frank's eye, usually mild and benignant, gave a strange sparkle.  None but an infatuated mother would have so treated him.

    "May I not see the boy?" asked he, presently.

    "Indeed, I would rather not, Mr. Chauncey."

    Frank's colour rose.  Many thoughts rushed into his mind as he stood there before the throne of the Landons—thoughts which it was quite as well that her ladyship should know nothing about.

    She, on her part, congratulated herself on the skill with which she had managed the business.  She even grew quite condescending and courteous.

    "I can give you the best of testimonials, Mr. Chauncey," said she; "and I hope you will do well in the world."

    "Thank, you," replied Frank, blandly.

    It was an ultimatum he might have expected, and that had happened to a succession of well-educated, scholarly men before him.  Still, it took him by surprise.  He went away from the audience-chamber of the Big Countess with a feeling that, if it did not amount to positive grief, was very mach akin to it.

    He was disgraced and dismissed.


 
CHAPTER V.

FRANK'S FAREWELL TO LADY LUCY.


THERE were some of Lady Landon's most pretentious acquaintances who professed entire ignorance of the fact that, besides Juliana and Blanche, the Big Countess had yet another daughter.

    The Lady Lucy was a complete nonentity.  Her very birth seemed a mistake, or, so to speak, an Irish blunder.

    The countess, her august mother, had set her mind, not unnaturally, perhaps, on a son and heir.

    She was determined, with all the pertinacity of her nature, that such should be the case.  She made every preparation for a great and solemn rejoicing.  She talked of nothing else, boasted of nothing else; nothing else would content her ambition—when, lo one chilly December night, close upon Christmas, there was sent to her—a daughter.  Yes, a daughter.  She had two already—as if that were not enough.  But Juliana and Blanche had been splendid infants.  This was a puny, wailing creature, so fragile that a breath might blow it away.

    Her ladyship never either forgot or forgave the disappointment—not even when, some years after, the bells rang and the bonfires blazed, and the long-expected heir lay in his cradle; and not even when, some few—very few—years after that, her husband, on his death-bed, charged her to "cherish and tenderly nurture the girl Lucy."

    She had not forgiven it then.  Besides, Lucy was so unlike the rest of her tribe.  I should be puzzled to say where she got her dove-like eyes, of tender blue, her small but beautifully-formed figure, her clustering hair of Saxon auburn, her regular though delicate features.  Not from her mother, or from her father either.

    But her meek and saint-like spirit, her thoughtful but not uncheerful mien, her love of those things not realized by the circle in which she lived, those everlasting treasures which "the Lord hath prepared for them that love him"—these were given her from above.  Perhaps neglect and coldness had driven her to seek better and more abiding joys than those the world bestows.

    Lucy Landon was as solitary as a nun in her cell.  Her delicate health and retiring habits had led her to shrink from society; and the Big Countess cared little for introducing her into the brilliant circles where Juliana and Blanche shone like stars.

    "She is not like her mother," the countess would say.  "Where is her spirit, I should like to know?"

    So Lucy bloomed on unseen.  She had her books, her favourite studies, her birds, her flowers, her nurse Bridget, who had brought her up with all the passionate fondness of a warm-hearted Irish dependant.  But this was all.  Her mother she rarely saw in private—more rarely still her sisters.

    She was ascending the great staircase on her return from the village, on this identical morning, when, just as she reached the landing, she met, quite suddenly and unexpectedly, Frank Chauncey.

    He had just received his dismissal.

    The young man paused.  Very rarely did he venture into that part of the house.  The splendid skirts of Juliana and Blanche would have swept him out of existence.  Not so those of the Lady Lucy.

    She smiled courteously, and would have passed on her way, but he stopped her.

    "Will your ladyship allow me to tell you that I am dismissed?"

    "Dismissed!"

    There was a touch of pain in the tone, but most of all of surprise.

    "Yes," said Frank, his clear, genial eyes fixed upon her, it must be confessed, with some degree of admiration.  "I cannot teach his lordship to spell."

    "Oh, Mr. Chauncey, everybody knows poor Phil's deficiencies.  Surely mamma――"

    She paused, as if recollecting herself; then added, quickly, "Surely you are not serious?"

    Frank shook his head.

    "Then I am very sorry.  Poor Phil!"

    "Lady Lucy," said Frank, "you understand the nature of your brother—few persons do; and you understand what I have been trying to teach him."

    "Oh, yes, yes," cried she, eagerly, "I know."

    "And you have influence with him.  I am sure you will use it for good."

    "I will try," replied she, a flush coming into her pale countenance.

    "He is a strange compound," continued Frank, "and the ordinary process of education would be lost upon him.  But he has fine qualities, notwithstanding.  He loves his country."

    It was a bold thing to say.  Ireland was a tabooed subject among the Landons.

    "I commit him to your care," continued Frank, earnestly.  "I hope his career may be a noble one; and it will, if he spends it in improving the condition of neglected Irish subjects."

    Every one knew what that condition was, and had been ever since Lady Landon compelled her lord to reside in England.

    The girl bowed slightly.  Then, as if ashamed of her coldness, she said, "You may rely upon me, Mr. Chauncey.  I will."

    "Thank you, Lady Lucy.  You are very good."

    He stood one moment—not more—looking at her.  Just above was a great window, of stained glass, with the crests of the Landons.  The light stealing through the gold and purple made a kind of halo round the young girls head.

    So fragile, so ethereal, she seemed, her hand so white, her face so pure and saint-like, that some terrible fear struck like a knell upon Frank Chauncey heart.  To see her sometimes, to be near her, to catch the light of her blue eyes, to render her all the service that he could, so far removed, was to him a state of bliss beyond compare.  And now he was rent away from all this—ruthlessly and without mercy, and, it might be, for ever.

    Still, he could at least bid her farewell. He must do it quickly, for he was on debatable ground, and, therefore, running some kind of hazard; and he said, in a tone of deep concern and sorrow―

    "Will your ladyship allow me to take leave of you?"

    She put out her hand kindly and cordially, and her sweet dove-like eyes beamed upon him.

    "Good-bye, Mr. Chauncey.  I am very sorry."

    He held her hand only a moment.  Every pulse throbbed, and he dared not trust himself to speak.  Then he dropped the hand gently, and, bowing, went away.


 
CHAPTER VI.

THE MAN FOR PHIL."


THE young Lord Landon, being of migratory, or rather of predatory habits, did not return to the Manor so soon as was expected.  No surprise or anxiety was expressed at this circumstance.  He was accustomed to find his way to the houses of the neighbouring gentry, and remain there just as long as he found it convenient; and a scrawl to the effect that he was at Crutchley House, and should "slepe" there, set everybody's mind at rest.  Indeed, Lady Landon felt all the better pleased.  She could now carry out her plans in peace and quietness.

    The Big Countess had a vast idea of her own shrewdness.  She determined, first of all, to hear Dionysius Curling preach.

    "I can tell in five minutes whether her he will do," thought she.

    Lady Landon, to do her justice, was a regular attendant at her parish church.  She was a Protestant; the more pity that she did not attempt to reform and enlighten her peasantry.  But, unnatural as it may seem, she detested the very name of Ireland.  Her greatest ambition was that her son, and also her two daughter, should settle in  England—an ambition very likely to be thwarted by poor Phil, who was Irish to the backbone.

    Now Lady Landon, inasmuch as she owned the whole parish of Deepdale, which was no more than the estate purchased by her husband, was a potentate of considerable influence.  When she went to church, her subjects dared not to stay at home; not even Crosskeys and Lewin.  Lewin supplied the Manor with beef and mutton.  Crosskeys held his land on the tenure of her ladyship's approbation.  The countess might turn him out any day.  So when the carriage of the Landons, with its splendid trappings, and its laced footmen, rattled through the village, it was a signal for the temporary cessation of hostilities.

    During the week Dionysius had not been visible.  Some said he had been away.  Others that the bishop had suspended him.  All were aware that the niece of their late vicar still remained under medical treatment, and unable to be moved.  So that popular displeasure was at its height.  The Manor was but a short distance from Deepdale, yet, strange to say, the story had not reached the ears of the countess.

    Dionysius was in the desk, looking a trifle paler than usual, when the lady of the Manor, with her two splendid daughters, in hats, and with their long curls streaming over their shoulders, walked down the aisle.  After them came Lucy.

    It was not in nature to resist a glance at the very extraordinary persons in the pew before him.  The young vicar's eye rested with somewhat of timidity on the grand proportions of the giant countess, as she stood up at the head of her flock.  Then it passed over to Juliana, and, meeting the full fire of her black eyes, went further, and, scanning the Lady Blanche, who did not condescend even to notice his existence, fell on Lucy.

    Lucy by the side of her sisters seemed like a dwarf.  He did not know, at that early period, whether she was one of the family or no.  He had not time for more than a casual and hasty survey.

    The bell ceased.  The clerk assumed his post of honour, and the service began.

    Now Dionysius Curling, on the preceding Sunday, bad been compelled to display his stores of learning and philosophy for the exclusive benefit of the children of the parish school.  But he had this consolation—the church now was full, thanks to the Big Countess; and, unwilling to waste his sweetness wholly on the desert air, he resolved to preach the same sermon over again.  Accordingly he preached it.

    The Deepdale audience, consisting mostly of men and women in the humbler walks of life, and whose education had been neither classical nor æsthetical, did not understand many words of it.  But the countess drank it in with eagerness.  Not that she understood it either.  Her education, had the matter been fairly sifted, would have been found terribly deficient.  But then, her darling Phil!—If Phil could be made to talk like that!

    Of course, she had no intention of Phil becoming a minister; but to hear those learnèd words, words which sounded quite dreadful in their profundity, from his lips —oh, that would be indeed a boon!

    The vicar, encouraged by the profound attention of tile countess, began to recover his courage and his spirits.  It is true the remainder of his audience were mostly asleep, and the Ladies Juliana and Blanche gave unmistakable signs of weariness, but still he went on, and still the countess listened.

    "This is just the man for Phil," thought she.  Already the Vicar of Deepdale was, in her mind, the private tutor to Lord Landon.

    The next morning the countess rose with unusual alacrity.  No sooner had she breakfasted than the carriage was ordered to the door. She invited neither Juliana nor Blanche to accompany her; and if she had, it is doubtful whether they would have accepted the offer.  But, as it happened, her ladyship wished to have the interview entirely in her own hands.

    When the footman, with a thundering rat-tat, startled the inhabitants of the vicarage, the door was opened by Maratha Beck.  Martha Beck took the card presented to her in her apron.

    Then she glanced at the carriage with a troubled expression.

    "Master's that put about, he don't want to see any one," said she, unacquainted as yet with the power and dominion of the Landons.

    The footman stared at her a moment, as if astonished at her presumption.  Then he stepped to his mistress, and opened the door.

    "At home, James?" asked the countess.

    "Certainly, my lady," replied he, assisting her to alight.

    Maratha Beck, face to face with the Big Countess, looked somewhat alarmed.  Then, recovering herself, she opened the door of the drawing-room, into which the countess marched with great dignity.  The room was not large, and it looked smaller than ever, now it was occupied by her ladyship.  Her head seemed almost to touch the ceiling.  She had not long to wait.  The magic name of Landon, the magic sign of a coronet stamped thereby, had speedily roused the young vicar from his misanthropy.  Besides, had she not listened to his sermon?

    Arrayed in his best coat, his hair brushed, and his whiskers in Sunday trim, Dionysius Curling hastened to receive his visitor.

    The countess was standing by the fire when he entered.

    "Lady Landon, I presume.  I am highly honoured.  Will your ladyship be seated?"

    The countess did not come within the range of women to be avoided.  He could hardly suspect her of any design upon his happiness.

    "Thank you," replied she, "I would rather stand."

    It was an inconvenient habit of her ladyship's.  Of course, Dionysius had nothing for it but to stand too.  He could not, however, but be flattered by the way in which she opened her mission.

    "I suppose, Mr. Curling, you area great scholar?"  Dionysius smiled and rubbed his hands, and stammered out something like an affirmative response.

    Then the countess proceeded to unfold the story of poor Phil.

    "He cannot even be taught to spell, Mr. Curling.  Not even to spell."

    "Dear me! it is very sad! very sad indeed," replied Dionysius, in a tone of sympathy.

    "And seeks his pleasure in killing rats; only think, rats!"

    "I should not have believed it!" exclaimed Dionysius.

    "Now, Mr. Curling, I am come to you for advice.  Don't you think the boy ought to be made to learn something?"

    "Something!  I would have him made to learn everything," replied Dionysius.

    "Of course, of course," said the countess, highly delighted.  "Latin and Greek, you know."

    "Yes, and Hebrew, and the modern languages," added Dionysius.

    "French, Italian, German," said the countess.

    "And Spanish," added Dionysius; "who knows but he may not be made an ambassador?"

    "Yes, indeed," said the countess in ecstasy; "and other things besides—even—"

    "Other things! all things, my dear Lady Landon.  I would have him taught philosophy."

    "Oh, of course."

    "And jurisprudence."

    "Yes, yes."

    "And the modern sciences."

    "How delightful!"

    "And read him up well in literature."

    "The very thing!" cried the countess, holding up her hands.

    "And I forgot to say he should be well trained in mathematics.  How far has he got?"

    "Oh, nowhere at all.  He has been in bad hands," said the countess, bitterly.

    "Never mind; his lordship is young.  He will soon recover lost time.  Pray who is instructing him?"

    The countess hesitated.

    "I have recently dismissed my son's preceptor," said she.

    "Indeed!"

    "Yes, and I am very anxious to find another."

    Dionysius was silent.

    "I though, Mr. Curling, that you might be disposed to take pity upon him."

    The heart of Dionysius gave a great bound.  He was not a man of fortune by any means.  He had been engaged in tuition before he was called to the vicarage of Deepdale.  He rather liked tuition.  A touch of the pedagogue was in his nature.  Besides, his living was barely two hundred a year.

    "Will you?" said the countess, persuasively.

    "Indeed, your ladyship does me great honour," said Dionysius, bowing.

    "No one has yet been able to teach him to spell, Mr. Curling."

    Dionysius smiled.  His smile seemed to say, "Only try me, Lady Landon."

    But even in this moment of triumph, there arose a vision of terror.  His skeleton was yet in the house.  What of Clara Melrose?

    "Ah!" thought he, "that is the worst of it."

    Still it was evident, from the manner of the countess, that of Clara Melrose she as yet knew not.

    "And she shall not know," thought Dionysius.  "I will get rid of that woman immediately."

    It was now a fortnight since the day of his visitation.  Clara Melrose sat up, and would soon be able to be turned adrift.

    We must do the young man justice.  He had no intention of turning her on the bare world without any offer of assistance.  Still, from under the shelter of his roof she should go, and that speedily.

    Satisfied with this resolve, be entertained the overtures of the countess with (for him) singular urbanity.  It was arranged between the two that as as soon as possible Phillimore Roderic Patrick Landon should avail himself of the educational advantages proffered by the Vicar of Deepdale.

    "In fact, I will get him home, and you shall set to work and teach him."

    These were the parting words of the Big Countess.


 
CHAPTER VII.

AN IMPRUDENT QUESTION, AND ITS CONSEQUENCES.


WHEN Lady Landon had taken her departure, the laced footman in her train, quiet and composure seemed to be restored to the vicarage of Deepdale.  But not so to Dionysius.  His ideas were in a state of cruel perplexity.  He rang the bell for Martha Beck.  Martha, a little fluttered by the event of the morning, came in due time.

    "Martha," said the vicar, somewhat sternly, for he was excessively irate on the subject, "how is that—that lady going on?"

    "Well, sir, not amiss, considering.  You see, she took a bit of a cold last week, and that has pulled her back."

    "Can I speak with the lady?" interrupted the vicar coming at once to the point.

    Martha, hesitated a minute.

    "Well, sir, we'd the doctor's orders to keep her quiet, and not to let her flurry herself.  Perhaps you wouldn't flurry her, though," added she, appealing to the tender mercies of Dionysius.

    "I flurry her! what should I flurry her for?" replied he, hastily.  For he knew in his heart that such a result might possibly attend his visit.  He meant, when once he got the chance, to be very plain with her.

    "Well, sir," again began Martha, "Dr. Plume he ain't a-coming not this morning, sir.  However, she's a-sitting up comfortable, and perhaps you'll walk this way, sir."

    Obediently, and with an air of extreme docility, Dionysius Curling trod noiselessly up the stairs.  He had no intention of thrusting himself without due courtesy into the sick lady's chamber.  He sent Martha forward to announce his arrival, and waited in the ante-room somewhat impatiently for the result.  Martha speedily returned.

    "Your can go in, sir," said she; "only perhaps you would not stay too long.  The poor thing feels faintish this morning."

    I do not think Dionysius heard this final caution.  He was already in the presence of Clara Melrose.  The young widow—for young, indeed, she seemed—was, sitting, or rather reclining, in an easy-chair by the fire.

    She was very pretty, even Dionysius could not but confess.  Her lovely hair was gathered into a net, leaving the smooth white forehead bare.  Her face, he could not but look upon with wonder and admiration.  It was a face so simple, so innocent, so sweet in its expression, that to suppose its owner guilty of a crime was an anomaly in nature.  Her hands lay crossed upon her lap.  She seemed too feeble to attempt to rise.  Dionysius, touched, in spite of his cynicism, by the sight of the fragile being before him, said, stiffly indeed, but not without some feeling, "I hope you are better, madam."

    "Oh, yes, thank you, I am better.  I have suffered terribly, but that is over now—at least, as far as physical sufferings are concerned.  There are others, alas!" and she put a delicate cambric handkerchief to her eyes.

    Dionysius began to apprehend a scene.

    "Madam," said he, stiffly, "I wished to have a few moments' conversation with you."

    The cambric handkerchief was withdrawn.

    "Indeed, I shall be very happy.  I wanted to thank you for your kindness to me in my hour of need.  I know not what would have become of me if――"

    "Never mind that, madam," interrupted Dionysius.  "We will keep, if you please, to plain facts."

    "Certainly," replied the young widow, clasping her white hands in her lap, and looking up into the vicar's face with an expression of pious resignation.  "I am ready to converse on any matter you please."

    "Thank you," replied Dionysius, greatly relieved; "and now if you would tell me――"

    He was beginning to speak with alacrity and cheerfulness, but ere he had got any further the lady interrupted him.

    "Mr. Curling," said she, half closing her eyes, "will you give me the smelling salts?  I feel faint."

    Dionysius stared at her a moment in blank perplexity; then he handed her the salts.

    "Shall I open the window, madam?" asked he, rising to do so.

    This remark roused the lady into some degree of vigour.

    "Oh, no, thank you! not for worlds!  It would kill me."

    Dionysius muttered something, and then sat down again.  He was in a state of feverish impatience.  Any moment Martha Beck might arrive, and turn him out.  Meantime the lady applied the salts to her delicate nostrils.  Then laying them down, she said, smiling benignantly upon him, "I am better now, Mr. Curling."

    "I am glad to hear it, madam," replied Dionysius, bluntly.  "And now I should, in the first place, be rejoiced to know who you are."

    At this singular address the eyes of Clara Melrose were raised to his with a look of wonder.

    "If you remember, sir, I told you.  I am the niece of Mr. Melrose, the late Vicar of Deepdale."

    The white hand, with its gold circlet, was put out again for the salts, and the cambric handkerchief again was raised to the eyes.

    This was not getting on at all, and Martha Beck loomed in the distance.  The vicar determined to come to the point at once.

    "Madam," said he, "you will greatly oblige me by telling me what you have done."

    "Sir!" exclaimed the fair invalid, in a tone of surprise, her blue eyes assuming an alarmed expression.

    "Yes, madam, I repeat it," continued Dionysius, determined to penetrate the mystery at all hazards; "what have you done?"

    Her affrighted eyes were still fixed upon him.  With a great effort she staggered to her feet.  Dionysius rose likewise.  He was wildly, desperately imprudent.  He knew it afterwards to his cost.  But he repeated, unmindful of the danger signals on either hand, "Yes, madam, what crime have you committed?"

    She still stared at him.  Her lips were parted, but no sound proceeded from them.  Her face, white before, was absolutely ghastly.  Suddenly she uttered a piercing shriek, and staggered forward.  He had no alternative, no escape.


 
CHAPTER VIII.

THE HOME OF THE CHAUNCEYS.


"INDEED, Mrs. Chauncey, instead of grumbling, you ought to be highly honoured by the society your husband keeps."

    "I do not grumble, Reginald.  I am always glad if you can find any enjoyment――"

    "Enjoyment! that is not the word, madam.  It is a necessity of my existence.  Look at me―a man of education and of parts: cooped up within four bare walls I should go mad!"

    "Indeed, Reginald—"

    "Women are selfish, unreasoning creatures," said he, as he settled his neck-tie at the glass.  "What! shut up Reginald Chauncey?  Why, the world would cry shame upon you!"

    "I don't wish to shut you up," cried the wife, as determined to speak.

    "You do.  You grumble at the expense."

    "I thought, considering how poor we are―"

    "There you go, damping my spirits just when Sir Peter will expect me to be brilliant.  I tell you I must hire the carriage.  Would you have me turned out of an omnibus, or a wheelbarrow?"

    "No, Reginald but when it is my last, sovereign――

    "I can't help that.  I gave your money the other day."

    "Yes, but I had so many accounts to settle."

    "I can't help that either.  It's no fault of mine.  None but idiots pay their bills."

    "That is a creed to which you can never convert me," said the wife, firmly and with spirit.

    "I don't mean to try: it would be too much trouble."  She turned away her head.  She was a meek, care-worn woman, attired in a faded silk dress—so faded, indeed, that many ladies would have discarded it as useless.

    He was a fine stalwart fellow, with a reckless eye, and a face handsome in spite of its dissolute expression.  He wore the finest broadcloth; the cut of his coat was in the newest style, he had a gold chain and dress boots, and white kid gloves.  In fact, he was going out to dine.  She, poor thing, had dined some hours ago.

    Some women carry the story of their woes and their wrongs upon their furrowed brows and sunken cheeks.  She did.  No one could look at her, in the most casual, manner, and think that she was a happy woman.  Yet she had a certain pride in her husband too.

    When he was fully dressed—even to his cambric handkerchief, profusely scented, and the diamond ring upon his finger—she regarded him with very much the same feeling of admiration which she had felt once before, long years ago.  A feeling which had led to the rashest and most to be lamented act of her life—her marriage!  But now a carriage—one of those hired vehicles which supply the place of private equipages to the less fortunate members of society—drove up to the door.  It had come to take Reginald Chauncey out to dinner.

    Now was the poor wife's time of trial.

    He put out his hand—the hand which wore the diamond ring—and said, carelessly, "Give me the money."

    "Reginald," replied she, the tears gushing into her eyes, "it is my last sovereign."

    He muttered something I do not care to repeat; and then, half-frightened, half-despairing, she drew out her purse.

    He snatched it from her.  "You shall have the change when I come back."

    "But Reginald—dear Reginald!" cried she, with clasped hands and distressed countenance, "do leave me something."

    He did not seem as if he heard her.  He slipped purse into his pocket.

    "Good night.  You need not sit up."

    In her agony she seized hold of him.

    "Reginald, the man who came yesterday and made that disturbance may come again to-day.  For pity's sake leave me something to pacify him!"

    "I tell you I cannot.  You should have kept the money when you had it.  Why do you hinder me?"

Reginald Chauncey was quite the pet of society.


    And wrenching himself from her grasp, he hurried to the door, and was gone—was gone, to be caressed, and admired, and feasted.  Reginald Chauncey was quite the pet of society.

    Mrs. Reginald Chauncey was alone.

    It was a large dismal room, in a large dismal house with nothing to recommend it, as Mr. Chauncey observed, but its position.

    Now its position, geographically considered, was opposite a blank wall; but, socially regarded, it held on by a slight adherence—very slight, indeed—to the fashionable part of the town.  Below it the houses were smaller and cheaper; every bit as comfortable—perhaps more so; but, to quote Mr. Reginald Chauncey again, "they had no status."

    "Good gracious! would you live next door to a tailor?" exclaimed he.

    The house was out of repair—necessarily so, as it had been taken on a repairing lease, and funds had never been forthcoming to do it justice.  Indeed, with such a tenant as Reginald Chauncey they were not likely to be.  But as woman's hands could repair defects and supply deficiencies, so far the interior of the house showed signs of care and industry.

    The despised wife of Reginald Chauncey did the work of a slave.  She was not rewarded for it, and perhaps never would be in this world; but in the next, and more perfect economy, it seems as though there might be a galaxy of devoted women, and she would be one of them.

    She sat down, and cast around her a look which might have melted a heart of stone.

    The room was large and shabby.  The paper was repaired to the utmost; still it was barely presentable.  The paint was worn in places to the bare wood.  There was a pretentiousness about the apartment, too.  There were grand cornices and a chandelier.  But, alas! the cornices had lost their gilt, the chandelier was broken.  The furniture was old and decayed.  Clean and bright it would ever be under Mrs. Chauncey's management; but she could not arrest the progress of years.  She could not fill the gaps that poverty had made.

    There was a sofa, with a chintz cover—a cover spotlessly clean, but so patched and mended that but little of the original structure remained.  There was a plain deal table, with a somewhat showy table-cloth, the better to hide its want of gentility.  There was a chiffonier bare of everything, and a few chairs.  That was all.

    A small, cramped-up fire was burning in the spacious grate, a grate which had been dogged up to suit the habits and means of the present inmates of the house.  She sat a few minutes.  It was not her custom to do so.  Her nimble fingers rarely ceased from their labours; but she stopped to cry out in the bitterness of her soul"―

    "O merciful Father! what will become of me?"

    I think she was praying, as she remained with her face buried in her hands.

    Then she rose.  She had not time to indulge her grief any further.  She put the room in order: some little confusion had resulted from her husband's departure; and then, bringing out her work-basket, she began to sew.  She was making shirts for her lord and master.  Her eyes had grown feeble, it might be with the tears she had shed; and the light of the lamp was imperfect.  Hers head ached, and for the matter of that, her heart ached too.

    Still, she must go on.  Upon her devolved the ceaseless round of employments by which the home of the Chaunceys was kept together.

    Suddenly the propound stillness of the great old house was broken.

    There came a loud sharp ring at the front door bell.

    She started and dropped her work.  She was violently agitated.  A thousand terrors started up around the lonely and defenceless woman.  She paused ere she dared to take a step to open her hiding-place.

    Then the bell rang again.

    She gave one glance upwards.  Women such as she, who know somewhat of the pangs of martyrdom, are given to ejaculatory prayer.  And when she had thus prayed, sho took up her light and walked steadily forward.

    Arrived at the door, she set down the lamp, and said, shrinking as from an enemy—

    "Who is it?"

    "Mother, it's Frank."

    The voice was clear and joyous.  It was that beloved voice, the sound of which brought all the joy and comfort the poor woman ever possessed.

    It was an unexpected deliverance.  Frank had come home!


 
CHAPTER IX.
SOME ONE AT THE DOOR.


YES.  Frank had come home.  He had started from Deepdale Manor that morning.  The nearest railway station was six miles from Deepdale; but the countess had placed the carriage at his disposal, the better to facilitate his departure.  So that events had marched quickly to a crisis.  Frank's fall and had been instantaneous.

    "O Frank! I am so glad you are come!" said Mrs. Chauncey, still nervous and flurried.  "It is such a comfort to see your face again!" and she kissed him with all a mother's fondness.

    Frank returned her caress affectionately.  He had by this time stepped into the great blank hall, unlighted save by the feeble ray of the lamp which stood on the table.

    "Are you alone, mother?"

    This was said somewhat sternly.

    "Frank, Sir Peter was anxious he should go.  He makes so much of him, dear," replied Mrs. Chauncey, apologetically.

    "Then, you are alone, mother?"

    "Yes, I am."

    Frank stood a moment silent and stern, as though some inconceivably bitter thought was uppermost in his mind.  Then his face relaxed, and he said, cheerfully, "Mother dear, I have taken you quite by surprise."

    "Indeed you have, Frank, but I am so thankful—so very thankful," added she, taking up the lamp.  "I thought it was―― But come upstairs, my dear; I am sure you must be very tired."

    "Not particularly so, mother; only I should like some tea."

    He had now reached the great forlorn room, with its spark of fire, its curtainless windows, and its poverty-stricken furniture.  He glanced round.  Perhaps it might look all the more bare and desolate by contrast.  Perhaps the same bitter thought rose to his mind, for again he stood silent and stern, as though chewing the cud of some painful reflection.

    Mrs. Chauncey, on the other hand, seemed restored to life and happiness.  She mended the fire, putting on some cherished logs, that would else have awaited the arrival of her lord, and, spreading a snow-white cloth on the table, began to make preparations for a meal.

    "The kettle will boil in a minute, Frank, and you shall have your tea."

    He had intended to go to his room to arrange his toilette, and he had just opened the door for that purpose.  When his mother spoke, he turned round, all the sternness in his face again.

    "What has become of your servant?"

    "She has gone home, my dear."

    "Gone for good, mother?"

    "There are but few in the family, Frank," pleaded the poor woman.

    He said no more.  He marched hurriedly to his room, and paced up and down like a cadged lion.

    "The old story," said he, mournfully, "the old story."

    Mrs. Chauncey, meanwhile, forgot her troubles in the bliss off preparing a feast for Frank.  She set out her best china, and in the joy of her heart brought down the silver teapot.

    "He has everything so grand at the Manor," said she.

    There was nothing very choice in the banquet, it is true.  Some slices of ham, boiled eggs, a newly-baked loaf, and a pat of fresh butter.  This was all.  Still, it was like the dinner of herbs—it had "love therewith."

    The poor woman, used to be trodden down from her youth up, had yet the faculty for snatching any scrap of enjoyment that fell in her way.  Her life was one long working day: yet it had now and then a pause.  There was a pause, when the thin fingers ceased awhile from their labours, and eyes, gushing over with thankfulness and love, rested upon Frank.

    Frank, as far as earthly ties go, was her all.  Still, with all these feelings, she had a nervous dread of what Frank would say.  She was used to screen her husband with the fidelity of a wife.  She had sundry cloaks and subterfuges, which she hung up before his crying sins, and fancied they were hidden.  It seemed to be her duty—her plain, simple duty—to abide by him, such as he was, and if possible to believe in him.

    "He is so clever," she would say to herself, "and I was always a matter-of-fact person.  Now if he had married some one more like himself――"

    Ah, Mrs. Chauncey! if he had done so, be sure the world would have lost sight of him by now.  There is a vortex close by, out of which your wifely skill has kept him hitherto.  That other person, whose image you are pleased to conjure up, would have plunged in with him headlong.

    Mrs. Chauncey had taken up her work again, and Frank, who had finished his tea, sat opposite watching her.

    He saw—for he was very quick-sighted—how painfully her eyes were strained,—how her hand shook more than it was wont,—how her cheek was sunk, and her whole appearance more worn and shabby than usual; and, again glancing round, he saw the painful struggle of thrift and industry with a poverty that would march resolutely on —a struggle never ceasing, and sufficient to fret and chafe the spirit till it broke down in despair.  He saw all this, and sighed in the anguish of his soul.

    She looked up hastily and fearfully.

    "I will put my work away, dear, if it annoys you."

    Annoy him!  As if he would not, by his manly toil, have saved her from lifting even her finger!

    "Mother, are you obliged to work so hard?"

    "I shall soon have finished, dear.  I am making your father a set of shirts."

    "Could not you send them out to be done?"

    "It would be so expensive, Frank, and it is something for me to do," said she, in the same apologetic tone.

    "It seems to me, mother, as though you did far too much already."

    "Hark, Frank! there is some one at the door," cried Mrs. Chauncey, turning white and trembling.  "It is the man―"

    "What man, mother?"

    "Will you go to him, Frank?  He was so violent yesterday; I think he had been drinking.  And could you"—she clasped her hands with a look of distress—"could you lend me the money to pay him?"

    "What for?" said Frank, with a kind of fierceness—a fierceness, however, wrung by circumstances from the gentlest of natures.

    Mrs. Chauncey, with eager, shaking hands, was hunting among some papers in a drawer.

    "Here it is, Frank, don't be angry.  It is due to Linton for the hire of your father's carriage.  I would not ask you, dear, if I could coin the money out of my own heart's blood; but I can't, I can't!"

    "Mother, how dare you say so!" cried Frank, passionately, and the tears gushing from his eyes.  "Give me the bill."

    She gave it him, and then she fell back in her chair and uttered a wail of anguish.  She did so sometimes, and no one heard her save her God.


 
CHAPTER X.

DIONYSIUS AND HIS PUPIL.


DIONYSIUS CURLING felt himself to be in a scrape.  For several days he stole about the house on tiptoe, feeling as if he were guilt of manslaughter.  Everybody regarded him with looks of reproach.  The doctor and Martha Beck shook their heads mysteriously whenever he addressed them, for Clara Melrose had had a relapse.

    "You have behaved with remarkable want of prudence, sir," observed Dr. Plume, emphatically;—"the—Clara—Mrs. Melrose, I mean—is in a most precarious situation."

    "I wonder what she has done," exclaimed Dionysius, suddenly, his thoughts reverting to another point of view.

    Dr. Plume's eyes assumed that peculiar appearance of starting from his head; but he said nothing, except, indeed, that he did say, a minute after, very stiffly, "Good Morning, Mr. Curling."

    "Good morning, Dr. Plume."

    To get anything out of Dr. Plume was like trying to extract moisture from a flint.

    Dionysius had, however, one consolation amid his domestic embarrassments.  The negotiation between himself and the countess had progressed in a satisfactory manner.  He had, in fact, engaged to impart one hour's instruction per day to Phillimore Roderic Patrick Landon.

    The countess anticipated immense advantages from this arrangement.  She beheld, as in a vision, the time when all those dazzling words with which Dionysius embellished his sermons should flow freely from the lips of Phillimore; when, to use her favourite expression, "he should talk nothing but learning."

    Dionysius, meantime, abundantly prepared for the duties of a pedagogue, set off one fine morning for the Manor.

    He was pleased with his position on many accounts.  He had a natural love for scholarship, and the idea of bringing the wild Irish boy under the dominion of Latin roots was an occupation he would relish.  Besides, as the wild Irish boy was a young nobleman, the thing was rather gratifying to his ambition.  Private tutor to Lord Landon!  It did not sound bad.

    Alas! at this juncture, poor Dionysius was young—very young, indeed.

    He soon reached the Manor and knocked at the door.  The gorgeous footman in his lace and gold opened it.

    Dionysius―his Latin roots under his arm, and his ferule in prospective, if not in reality—was ushered up the staircase.  He walked softly and delicately, his feet sinking into the velvet pile of the carpet.  When he had reached the landing, the footman, with all due respect, opened a door, and announced, reading the name from the card, "The Rev. Dionysius Curling."

    Now the Vicar of Deepdale had never yet beheld his pupil.  He expected that the countess would be there to receive and to introduce him; but no such thing.

    At first, indeed, the room appeared empty, so far as inhabitants were concerned.  Then, as his eye peered anxiously round, it fell upon a sofa placed against the wall.  Something was lying on the sofa.  This "something" was so huddled up, so motionless, and so odd in its position, that the deciphering of its species was difficult.  But gradually it resolved itself into a boy.  Not that it moved.  No, it lay with its face to the wall; a shock of black hair, exceedingly rough and tangled, being the upper, and a pair of very muddy boots the lower extremity.

    Dionysius, having completed his survey, paused, feeling somewhat the peculiarity of his position.  But as the being on the sofa gave no sign of volition, he coughed slightly, by way of introduction.  This signal failing, as it did totally, he advanced a few paces nearer, and coughed again.

    The recumbent form on the sofa, looking from every point of view more like a bear's cub than anything else, remained immovable.

    Then Dionysius began to grow desperate.  He hated nothing so much as being ridiculous.  And here at the first start off he was made a fool of.  Why was not her ladyship present to spare him such an infliction?  Why was he shut up alone with this whelp?  Still, something must be done.  He could not stand here all day.  In his usual formal manner, he addressed the being before him―

    "May I be allowed to ask if the young gentleman—hem—whom I now behold—hem—is Lord Landon?"

    The muddy boots made a gesture of impatience.  There was no other reply.

    "Because," continued Dionysius, irate at the affront put upon him, and speaking with extraordinary stiffness, "I beg to remind that young gentleman I am his preceptor."

    The boots gave a vigorous kick.

    Dionysius now began to feel somewhat alarmed.

    "My lord," stammered he, "perhaps your lordship will—get up?"

    He had scarcely said the words when the bear's cub rolled over, and, dropping on his feet, presented the following characteristics: a face rendered conspicuous by two piercing black eyes, a rather flattened physiognomy, and a mouth of remarkable dimensions.  The forehead was hidden, and all its attributes with it, under the shock of hair.

    Dionysius, increasingly alarmed, and reminded unpleasantly of the speculations of Professor Huxley, and the "missing link" of Dr. Darwin that should unite the race of animals with the lords of the creation, glanced towards the door.  Not a creature was visible--ah! no, the countess was too cunning for that; she was snugly ensconced in her boudoir, far away from the scene of action.

    "If I am out of it, why I shall not be in it," observed she, sagaciously.

    The black eyes being fixed upon him with a menacing expression, Dionysius again broke silence.  He thought it best to explain in still more lucid terms the relation in which he stood to the young savage.

    "It is well known, my lord, that your lordship's recent preceptor――"

    He had not time to finish.  Phillimore Roderic Patrick Landon had sprung up.

    A pair of broad, massy shoulders—unduly so, considering the shortness of the figure; a brawny and threatening arm, that could have knocked over the Vicar of Deepdale in a moment; a sinewy hand, with nails like the talons of a bird of prey—these things were enough for Dionysius Carling.

    "If ever I get out of this room," thought he, "Phillimore Roderic Patrick Landon may remain in ignorance of his Latin roots till doomsday, for me."

    But there was no occasion to discuss this knotty point just then.

    The wild Irish lad, his fury expended, turned away, and with one bound reached the sofa.  Arrived there, he coiled himself up, with his face to the wall, and remained as immovable as before; the shock of hair and the muddy boots alone giving tokens of his identity.

    Dionysius, thankful to escape, gathered up his Latin roots and fled.

    "Yes," said he, as he made his way downstairs with remarkable expedition, "Huxley is right, and Darwin is right, and man is more closely related to the inferior creation than I ever imagined."


 
CHAPTER XI.

THE COUNTESS KNOWS HOW TO ALLAY IRRITATION.


BUT Dionysius was not so to leave Deepdale Manor.

    All at once he encountered the footman.

    "If you please, sir, the countess wishes to speak to you."

    "Humph," said Dionysius; "it would have been well if the interview with her ladyship had taken place earlier."

    He was very angry indeed.  To be trifled with—to be set on to teach a creature half-savage, half-idiot—it was unpardonable.

    Her ladyship received the discomfited preceptor with a smile of great benignity.

    "My dear Mr. Curling, I hope you are quite well."

    "Thank your ladyship, I am," replied Dionysius, curtly.

    He looked pale, notwithstanding.  He was still somewhat agitated.

    She knew in her heart exactly how the matter had gone—was sure to go, in fact.  She had the precedent of many tutors whom Phil had set at defiance.

    Frank Chauncey had been an exception; he had touched a chord in the heart of the wild Irish lad that the rest had left dormant.  Phil would have gone through fire and water to serve Frank Chauncey.  Yet even Frank could not teach him to spell.

    Unmindful of this circumstance, the countess was resolved that Phil should become one of the first scholars in the land.

    "Will you take luncheon?" continued she, again addressing the vicar, with a beneficent smile.

    On the table stood a small but elegant repast, prepared expressly for thee delectation of Dionysius.

    Now certain things ameliorate a man, be he never so irritated.  Dionysius was no epicure.  You had only to look at his spare figure and pinched physiognomy, to set that doubt at rest.  Still, he was hungry, and the luncheon was very nice.

    "I will take some slight refreshment," said he, laying down his ill-used Latin roots, and sitting at the hospitable board.

    The countess was a clever woman, and one who understood human nature.  Not until the vicar had discussed a wing of pheasant, did she venture to inquire――

    "And what progress have you made with your pupil, Mr. Curling?"

    The very mention of the word turned the sweetness of Dionysius's little recherché repast into wormwood and gall.

    "I am sorry to inform your ladyship that I have made no progress at all."

    The expression on the countenance of the Big Countess was one of disappointment, certainly, but not of surprise.

    "Dear me!" exclaimed she; "I am very sorry."

    "In fact," said Dionysius, his recent wound opening afresh, "if your ladyship had been good enough to introduce me to—to—the young gentleman, things might have turned out differently."

    The black eye of the countess gave a sharp twinkle.  "Do you think so, Mr. Curling?"

    "Indeed I do," replied he, with bitterness.

    "I am very sorry.  Do make a good luncheon, Mr. Curling.  I hope you enjoy the pheasant."

    To judge from the cloud that overhung the brow of Dionysius, it was a farce to suppose that he was enjoying anything.

    "You found my son rather eccentric, I fear?"

    "Remarkably so—remarkably!" repeated Dionysius, with emphasis.

    "Ah, that is the worst of it!" and the countess assumed an air of maternal solicitude.  "He has always been peculiar, from his childhood upwards," continued she.  "Still, as you so acutely observed, in our last interview, he must be made to learn."

    Dionysius, by no means desirous of recalling his words on that especial occasion, busied himself with the remaining wing of the pheasant.

    "And learn everything," continued the countess, who had treasured up every syllable.

    No reply from Dionysius.  He was wholly occupied with the pheasant.

    "Latin, Greek, and Hebrew," resumed her ladyship, her black eye, full as piercing as that of Phil, being fixed on the divine with great eagerness.

    No answer.

    "And the modern languages, and the sciences—I believe you said the sciences, dear Mr. Curling?"

    "I—am afraid—I did," stammered Dionysius.

    "Ah!" exclaimed the countess, "you, who have raised my expectations, will not disappoint them.  Surely you will teach my poor boy something."

    The wound inflected on the sensibilities of Dionysius was smarting desperately.  "Your ladyship must excuse me," said he, with some bitterness.

    Was not the shock of hair, and were not the muddy boots, vivid in his memory?  No; come what might, he would never expose himself to that sort of thing again.

    "Your ladyship must excuse me," repeated he, replying to the look of consternation on the face of the countess.

    "I—I—find I have been mistaken touching the capacity of Lord Landon."

    "Dear me!  How very—unfortunate!"

    Dionysius, his lunch ended, was cut off from that agreeable diversion.

    "It has been my most ardent wish," exclaimed her ladyship, "that Phil should be a scholar.  Pray do not give it up, Mr. Curling.  You are my only resource.  If you remember, you said――"

    "I am aware of what I said, Lady Landon," interrupted Dionysius, rising, with great dignity; "but the words were spoken under a misapprehension.  I had recently arrived in Deepdale, and was not acquainted with the peculiarities of his lordship.  That one interview has convinced me, beyond a doubt, that he can never, by any pretext whatever, become a man of letters!"

    No; not all the pomp and glory of the Big Countess, from the time of the first Landon downwards, should force him to become preceptor to Phil!

    The countess was cruelly disappointed.  "Ah!" sighed she, "it is very hard—very hard, indeed.  So ardently as I wished――"

    "If your ladyship will allow me the suggestion," said Dionysius, quickly, "you will dismiss any such wish from your mind.  Better come down at once to things as they are, and allow his lordship to do as he pleases."

    "And go rat-catching, in fact," suggested the Big Countess, with a sneer.

    Dionysius bowed.  He dared not reply in words.


 
CHAPTER XII.

CIRCUMSTANTIAL EVIDENCE.


NOW, whatever effect Dionysius Curling's failure might produce on his own mind and on the mind of the countess, one thing was certain: from the moment the equipage stopped at his door, the cloud that had interposed between himself and his parishioners began to dissolve into thin air.  The countess was sole monarch of Deepdale.  It happens in some places, even in our free and glorious England, that despotism exists on a small scale.  One imperious mind rules not, perhaps, the many, but the few.  So it was in the parish of Deepdale.  The countess held the fortunes of her tenants, as she did their lands, in her own power.  Whom, therefore, the countess delighted to honour, Deepdale honoured.

    When Simon Crosskeys and Nathanael Lewin heard―and what was there which occurred for miles round that they did not know the moment it transpired?—when they heard that Lady Landon had taken the vicar into confidence, they began to change their sentiments.

    "Poor young man! after all, he maybe don't know a word about it," observed Simon Crosskeys.

    "He must be all right, if her ladyship has taken him up," remarked Nathanael Lewin.

    In accordance with these altered politics, Simon Crosskeys, spying Dionysius in the distance, as he was making way home after his discomfiture, stopped at the gate of his field with the intent to say something civil.

    "I'll put him up to a thing or two," said he.

    Dionysius, ignorant of the change that had taken place on his behalf, was by no means disposed to an interview with the Churchwarden.  Insult of any kind nettled him extremely, and he was still smarting from his wounds.

    There are some minds which smart keenly under affronts.  Frank Chauncey's was not that mind.  He, in his turn, had encountered the bristles of the young savage, and had laughed at them.  His laughter turned them aside.  But Dionysius was thin-skinned, and the bristles hurt him sore.

    He slackened his pace, hoping that Simon Crosskeys would have gone in to his dinner ere he arrived at the spot.  But no such thing.  Simon having folded his arms on the top of the gate, calmly waited for him.

    The Vicar of Deepdale, incapable of an act of rudeness, and yet vividly remembering the transactions of a certain Sunday not long ago, bowed, and would have passed on his way.  But not so willed Simon Crosskeys.

    "Good morning, Mr. Curling," said he, touching his cap with unusual respect.

    "Good morning, Mr. Crosskeys," replied Dionysius, stepping briskly forward.

    Not so briskly, however, but that Simon had leisure to say, "And pray, sir, how's the lady a-going on?"

    Dionysius, sensitive to agony, winced at the question.  But be replied, his face turned towards the not far distant vicarage, "She is, I believe, progressing favourably."

    "Oh! " said Simon Crosskeys.

    Again Dionysius, who had been drawn up, as it were, by the question, moved on.

    "Mr. Curling," said Simon Crosskeys.

    "Sir!" replied Dionysius, sharply, and turning upon him like a creature at bay.

    "If it were agreeable, Mr. Curling, I should like to give you a bit of advice."

    Dionysius writhed again.

    "Some fresh insult is surely coming," thought he.

    "If I was you, sir, and the lady was getting better—you said she was better, didn't you, sir?"

    "The medical account this morning was satisfactory," replied Dionysius, with his usual pomposity.

    "All right," said the farmer, briskly.  "Well, sir, as soon as she can be moved, I should send for the police."

    "The police!" cried Dionysius, astounded.

    "Yes, sir; and have her took up."

    He spoke lucidly, and with the air of a man who knows what he is about.

    Dionysius was struck dumb with horror.  His starting eyes were fixed eagerly on the face of the church warden.  He would have spoken, but he was positively unable, for the moment, to articulate.

    "Because, you see," continued Simon Crosskeys, "she richly deserves it."

    The mystery, the disgrace, the annoyance that dogged his footsteps, rendered him desperate.  He wheeled quickly round, and, clutching the brown and sinewy wrist of the farmer, said, with startling energy, "Simon Crosskeys, what has she done?"

    The farmer, not in the least degree discomposed, but, as it appeared, rather exulting than otherwise, disengaged his wrist, which was being pinched black and blue; then he said, "If you'll step in, I'll tell you."

    Welcome words to Dionysius.  Breathless with excitement, he followed Mr. Crosskeys, not into the kitchen, where the family dinner was preparing, but into the parlour—a state apartment—very clean and very cold, and which was rarely used.

    "Happen you won't mind there being no fire; my misses don't like――"

    "Oh, no! no!" cried Dionysius, hot and eager; "not at all—not at all."

    "Well, sir, sit you down and take it quiet," said the farmer, opening a bureau, and beginning to search among a heap of papers.

    Dionysius sat down.  The heathen oracles of Delphi were not more inscrutably mysterious than the contents of that bureau.

    There was a silence broken only by the rustling of the papers.  The farmer was evidently in search of the one which was to elucidate the whole matter.

    A thousand harassing conjectures were floating through the mind of Dionysius.  Conjectures which were brought to an end by Simon Crosskeys.

    "This is the paper, sir; you can take it home to read."  Dionysius clutched it as a drowning man would the rope thrown out to him.

    Once possessed of this precious document, he could bid the Deepdale world defiance.

    "Mr. Crosskeys," said he, with dignity, "I hope, by this time, you are convinced that I had no previous acquaintance with Mrs. Melrose."

    "Well, sir—well," replied Crosskeys, blandly, "bygones is bygones, sir; and when you've read that paper you'll see how it is, sir."

    "But," said Dionysius, stiffly, and only half pacified, "you will, perhaps, do me the justice to say that my version of the story was strictly correct.  Unpleasant circumstances have arisen, Mr. Crosskeys――"

    "All right, sir—all right!" exclaimed the farmer, briskly "And now happen you'll excuse me, sir—there's my misses calling me to dinner."

    A dignified deportment was characteristic of Dionysius Curling.  Though rather below the average stature, he made, as the inhabitants of Deepdale were wont to observe, every inch of his height.  But on the present occasion his dignity seemed to forsake him.  He ran, almost flew, to the vicarage, hurried in at the door, and reaching his study, locked himself in, and then sank into his easy-chair to recover breath.  Having barely allowed himself time to do so, he unfolded the paper with trembling hands.  It was the Deepdale Gazette, the epitome of local news.  Dionysius ran his eye down the page, and soon came to a halt.   A black line drawn by Simon Crosskeys, the better to attract his attention, led him at once to the paragraph of which he was in search. He read as follows―


    It was our painful duty last week to record the decease of the Rev. Philip Melrose, the respected and much-beloved Vicar of Deepdale.  We regret to state that circumstances have come to light which lead us to the belief that his latter days were embittered, nay, even cut short, by grief and pecuniary embarrassment.  The circumstances to which we allude are now for the first time made public, and are so extraordinary that they verify the well-known assertion, "Truth is stranger than fiction."

    The Rev. Philip Melrose, with his usual benevolence, had adopted from her cradle the orphan daughter of his favourite brother.  The child grew up to womanhood under his watchful eye, nourished at his hearth, and a partaker of his constant bounty.  Unhappily, she seems to have afforded an illustration of the fabled viper, which, when warmed and cherished in the bosom of the pitying countryman, returned his good offices by attempting to sting him to death.

    The lady in question was united in marriage to her cousin, a young man of great promise, and who had entered into holy orders.  In consequence of the attachment between the vicar and his niece, it was arranged that the young couple should remain at Deepdale, and reside with him in the vicarage.

    A few years passed, years to all appearance of domestic happiness, peace, and virtue.  But appearances are oftentimes deceitful, and "man is born to trouble as the sparks fly upward."  Too soon was the tranquillity of the little circle at the vicarage interrupted, and their happiness brought to an end.

    The young man gave signs of a consumptive tendency.  The summer was at hand, and it was fondly hoped that a change of season might restore him.  The hope, alas! was fallacious.  He became gradually worse, and was at length advised by his medical man, as the only chance of recovery, to leave his native land, and seek a more genial climate.  His slender means rendered it a matter of difficulty to follow this advice.  The vicar was not backward to assist to the utmost of his power: but all his life he had been generous to a fault, and his resources were very limited.  The difficulty of obtaining the required funds preyed much on the mind of the wife, and in the end, we believe, led her to the commission of a crime.

    From circumstantial evidence it is clear that she alone could have been guilty of the act that embittered her uncle's remaining days, and brought his grey hairs with sorrow to the grave.  Determined, at all risks, to save the life of her husband, she forgot the ties of duty and affection, and deliberately planned the ruin of her uncle.

    It is necessary to state that, a few days before the act was committed, Mr. Melrose had received the half-yearly rents which constituted his income.  He had locked up the money in the drawer of an old cabinet in his study, where he was accustomed to keep it.  No one save himself and his niece was acquainted with the drawer, or could obtain access to it.  Unseen by any human eye, the niece of Mr. Melrose stole to the cabinet and carried off the store, even to the uttermost farthing, regardless alike of her uncle's age and necessities, as well as of the deep distress she was about to bring upon him.

    A week after the departure of the young couple for Madeira, the vicar went to the drawer of his cabinet for money, in order to meet a payment.  He opened it, and lo! his all was gone!  And how?

    Had a dagger pierced the vicar's heart, we believe he would have suffered less.  He was plunged into distresses and difficulties of every kind, and unable to resist the belief that he had been robbed by his adopted daughter, he drooped away and died.  He was followed to the tomb by the esteem and affection of the whole neighbourhood.  Should the wretched woman who committed the theft ever again set foot in England, we doubt not the proper steps will be taken for bringing her to justice.  We trust that such an action will not long remain unpunished.  The inhabitants of Deepdale regard her base ingratitude with abhorrence, and she is branded by one and all with the name of criminal.


    Thus ended the paragraph.  No name had been mentioned, but at the foot of the page were written, in the hand of Simon Crosskeys, these ominous words:—"The criminal is Clara Melrose."



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