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
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
"Well," growled Dionysius from his chair.
"If you please, sir, there's a lady as wants to speak to
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
"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
"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
"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
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
"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
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
"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
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.
CROSSKEYS was, as he had
confided to his friends and acquaintance, "none so pleased with the
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,
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
"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
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
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
"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
"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
"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
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
"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."
"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
"Well, sir, it's my opinion that she won't be able to get up
again for days and days!"
DR. PLUME REFUSES TO EXPLAINS THE MYSTERY.
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
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
"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
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
"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
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
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
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
"Tomkins," said the vicar, sternly, "what is the meaning of
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."
THE BIG COUNTESS.
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
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
"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
"What, poor Phil! is that all?" said July, still arranging
"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
"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
"It is all very absurd", said Blanche, languidly, from her throne. "You know as well as we do, mamma, that Phil is deficient in
"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
"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
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
"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
"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
There was something so unusual in this declaration that her ladyship
"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
"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.
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
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
"Will your ladyship allow me to tell you that I am 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
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
"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
"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.
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,"
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
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
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 footman stared at her a moment, as if astonished at her
presumption. Then he stepped to his mistress, and opened the
"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
"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
"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
"Other things! all things, my dear Lady Landon. I would
have him taught philosophy."
"Oh, of course."
"And the modern sciences."
"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.
"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,
"No one has yet been able to teach him to spell, Mr.
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
"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
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
These were the parting words of the Big Countess.
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
"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
"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
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
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
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.
THE HOME OF THE CHAUNCEYS.
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!"
"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
"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
"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
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?"
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
"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
Suddenly the propound stillness of the great old house was
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!
SOME ONE AT THE DOOR.
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
"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
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
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
"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
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.
DIONYSIUS AND HIS PUPIL.
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,
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,
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
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
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
Dionysius, thankful to escape, gathered up his Latin roots
"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."
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
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.
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
"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
Dionysius, by no means desirous of recalling his words on
that especial occasion, busied himself with the remaining wing of
"And learn everything," continued the countess, who
had treasured up every syllable.
No reply from Dionysius. He was wholly occupied with
"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.
"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
"Dear me! How very—unfortunate!"
Dionysius, his lunch ended, was cut off from that agreeable
"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
"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
"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.
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
"Good morning, Mr. Crosskeys," replied Dionysius, stepping
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
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
"Because, you see," continued Simon Crosskeys, "she richly
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
"Oh, no! no!" cried Dionysius, hot and eager; "not at all—not
"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
"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
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
"Well, sir—well," replied Crosskeys, blandly, "bygones is
bygones, sir; and when you've read that paper you'll see how it is,
"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,
"All right, sir—all right!" exclaimed the farmer, briskly
"And now happen you'll excuse me, sir—there's my misses calling me
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
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
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!
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."