Isa Craig: 'Deepdale Vicarage' (6)

Home Up Poems by Isa Duchess Agnes Songs of Consolation Poems: a Miscellany The Argosy (1866) Tales on the Parables Tales on The Parables Poetry Reviews Cotton Famine Round the Court Peggy Oglivie Esther West Fanny's Fortune A Heroine of Home Little Folk's History Miscellanea Main Index Site Search
 


 

[Previous Page]


CHAPTER LXXV.

"IT WAS FRANK CHAUNCEY WHO LET THE VILLAIN GO."


LADY LANDON stood in her boudoir, attired ready for an evening party.

    Love of dress could not be said to be her foible, yet no one in the county was ever known to come forth, on fitting occasions, with such extraordinary magnificence.  She was clad in a robe of rich brocade, with a train like that of an empress.  A diamond necklace was clasped round her throat, and on her arms sparkled jewels of immense value.  Altogether, her appearance could not fail to produce, wherever she might be intending to go, a decided effect.

    Opposite to her, in a dress so simple that it contrasted strangely with the splendour of her imperial mother, her sweet face pale, and even tearful, was Lucy.

    Alas, poor child! her bright visions had already been threatened by a cloud.  That fatal interview between Frank Chauncey and the countess was likely to bring forth bitter fruits.

    Lucy had not been invited to the brilliant assembly whither Lady Landon was about to carry her jewels and her finery.  The assembly was given by one of those county neighbours who, as yet, had hardly attained to the knowledge of her existence.

    "Now, Lucy," said the countess, with the air of one anxious to break up a troublesome conference, and pouring, as she spoke, some eau-de-Cologne on her handkerchief, "it's of no use saying any more; you are a little goose, child, and have made a regular blunder!"

    "Mamma, do but hear me!" cried Lucy, in a tone of distress.

    "My dear, I have heard and seen enough," replied the countess, dryly.

    "Mamma," cried Lucy, a rosy blush suffusing her face as she spoke, "you are mistaken if you think—indeed, mamma, he does—love—me."

    As she said it, the colour dyed her face and neck with crimson.

    "He does love me!" she repeated: the memory of that last blissful interview rising, fresh and vivid, before her.  What had happened since she knew not.  She only knew that, during these few weeks' absence, her heart had rested on the thought of Frank's affection; that she had been lulled into a sweet security; that she had anticipated the future with joy hitherto unknown; that, on her return, she had looked out, first of all, for the kind, genial face and loving eyes of him on whom her hopes depended; that she had wondered why Frank came not.  But still, she had never doubted him—oh, no! not a single moment.  She could have staked her very life on his integrity.

    Not so the countess.  The countess, on the other hand, doubted him considerably.

    She was offended with him.  Her pride was wounded.  Was it for this that she, the mistress of Deepdale, had stooped her dignity?—had compromised her daughter?—had flung her pearls down to be trampled on—that he might reject her magnanimous advances, and rush from her presence like a madman?

    No, indeed!  Not so was the Big Countess to be dealt with.  The pearls should be gathered up, the advances retracted.  Frank Chauncey should learn what it was to stir up the wrath of the Landons!

    But Lady Landon was still tender with Lucy.  She had not forgotten the past.  On the contrary, it held imperiousness in strong and wholesome check.  She did but hint to them that she might be mistaken.  At any rate, Frank's behaviour had led her to that supposition.  A few drops of cold water it was necessary to throw on the ardour of Lucy's affection.

    When Lucy's affection waxed all the hotter for the opposition, the countess was angry.  She hated argument, and her carriage must be ready.  She wanted to break off the subject.

    "Lucy," said she, "just throw my cloak over my shoulders, will you?  There, that will do.  When you are quite well, my dear, I intend to bring you out; it is time you began to see the world."

    "But, mamma――"

    "And, my dear, I'll trouble you to ring, and then, when I am gone, I should advise you to take your medicine, and go to bed: that's the best place for you," said the countess, dogmatically.  Lucy walked slowly across the room, her eyes filling with tears.  Heavily loomed the cloud that overhung her once happy sky!

    Ere she had time to ring, a clattering noise was heard upon the stairs.  Then the door was flung open as wide as it would go, and in rushed Phillimore Roderic Patrick Landon."

    "I say, mamma――"

    "Phil!" said the countess, startled and incensed, "how dare you rush in in that way?  Where are your manners, you rude boy?"

    "I say, mamma――"

    "Keep off, Phil!  I'm going out.  I have not a minute.  Ring the bell, Lucy."

    "Don't, Lucy—don't.  Stop! stop! stop!" shouted Phil, vehemently, his eyes flashing with excitement.  "I've seen him!  I've seen him!"

    "Seen whom?  I'll send you to school to-morrow, you wicked lad, to be kept on bread and water!"—for he had rushed up to her, and laid firm hold of her dress.

    "Mamma! hear me!  I have seen the man who stole the old vicar's money!"

    "What?"

    Her hand had tightly grasped his, in order to unloose her splendid brocade.  Now, she let go her hold.

    "What, Phil, what?"  And the colour leaped into her face, and her eyes were bright and eager as his were.

    "The villain that took the money!  I've seen him! shouted the boy—"I've seen him!"

    The countess sat down deliberately.  Her frame trembled with excitement.  For was not this a point on which, from the highest to the lowest, it was easy to stir the whole village of Deepdale to its centre?  Would not the very heart of Deepdale leap forward at the sound of the words?

    "Now, Phil," said she, trying to speak calmly, "I don't leave this room till you've made me understand what you mean.  What is it?"

    The boy, hot and furious, incoherent in his rage and disappointment, had some difficulty in laying the facts with any degree of clearness before her.  At length he did so.  What he did say amounted merely to suspicion.  There was no conclusive evidence, nor could there be, until Frank Chauncey had come forward and made it so.

    Frank Chauncey! who, as Phil vehemently declared; had been false to him, and had let the villain go!

    He would have said more, but that a soft hand closed his lips.  It was Lucy—Lucy, pale as death, save where a spot of crimson burned in either cheek.

    "Phil," cried she, pained and displeased beyond measure, "I will not have you say a word against Mr. Chauncey."

    "I will!" continued Phil, struggling loose from the hand; "I will! what right had Mr. Chauncey to let him go?  I told him he was the man!"

    "Told him, Phil?" said the countess, eagerly, and with a curious expression in her face.

    "Yes, mamma; and he made me promise not to tell."

    "Who made you promise—the man?"

    "No, no! Mr. Chauncey.  Mr. Chauncey knew all along!"

    The curious expression grew more marked in the countenance of Lady Landon.

    "It was very wicked, mamma; it made me tell him he was as bad as the man who had taken the money."

    Again the soft hand was laid on his lips; again the white face with its crimson spots rose up against him.

    "Phil, you shall not say such things of Mr. Chauncey."

    "I don't care, Lucy!  I will speak, and nobody shall prevent me.  I will tell all Deepdale that Frank Chauncey has let the villain go!"

    The quick eye of the countess glanced at her daughter with a triumphant expression.  Then her look passed over to Phil.  She rose from her seat, and drew her cloak round her.

    "Phil," said she, imperiously, "I desire that you say not another word; but get to your Greek, and let Lucy alone."

    "Greek!" and Phil laughed derisively.  His mother had not the slightest clue to the management of him.  "Greek! when I mean to hunt the villain down, and never stop until I've found him!  Greek, indeed!  Greek!"


 
CHAPTER LXXVI.

THE WIDOW'S DESPAIR.


HOPE deferred was beginning to make the heart sick.  At one time, Clara Melrose had fancied that deliverance was at hand.  But that expectation had died away.  She had fancied, too, that she could live the scandal down.  But she was mistaken.  Long continuance had worn away her powers of endurance.  She could not resist the current of public opinion any longer.

    Grief had furrowed her brow and wasted her cheek.  It had bereft her of sleep, it had ground down her energies, it had broken her spirit: who knows but it might not unhinge her mind?  Injustice and neglect have driven many a victim mad!

    She had hoped that her blameless life, her fortitude, her patient submission to her lot, would have softened the hearts of her enemies.  She had thought that first one and then another would have been won; that, ere now, some doors would have opened to receive her, some friendships been rekindled.  But, no! the faces of her former friends were still set against her like a flint.  Their doors were closed as with bars of adamant.

    Could she live on, thus lonely and forsaken? could she endure to be thus, for ever, set aside?

    She did not think she could.  And if not, what then?

    The world was before her.  Beyond this narrow circle, were there not other homes, other friends, other associations to be met with?  Let her go, and try.  Let her leave this unpitying clique at Deepdale.

    But, considered as a practical matter, it was not easy to leave Deepdale.  The countess would hold Clara Melrose with a grip of iron.  On no account would she let her go until Phil had attained proficiency in Greek.  The widow knew how useless it would be to attempt persuasion.  If she left Deepdale at all, she must do it by stealth.

    True, a flight such as she was contemplating would set the seal upon her supposed guilt.  Her enemies would be confirmed in their favourite dogma, that it was Clara Melrose who had taken the old vicar's money.

    But then, how this outcast woman yearned for sympathy!  How she yearned for the kindly voice, the genial smile, the touch of a cordial hand!  Once away from Deepdale, she might perhaps find them.

    For some days had the widow's musings run in this groove.  Now, her thoughts were beginning to ripen into action.  Her arrangements would soon be made.  She would put together her small possessions, and, unnoticed by any one, take her departure.

    There was one farewell she meant to take, and only one.  She resolved to visit, for the last time, the grave of her uncle.

    She waited until the shadows of evening would conceal her, and then, closely veiled, she turned her steps to the peaceful churchyard of Deepdale.  The last glimmer of light was fading ere she reached the spot.

    She stood beside the railing that surrounded the grave of her uncle, her tears falling fast, her frame convulsed with sobs.  Then, kneeling down, she kissed the cold, damp earth.

    "Farewell," she whispered, scarce able to articulate, for the violence of her grief: "they have driven me away! farewell!"

    They had driven her away.  The thought dwelt in her mind all through the long restless night.  They had driven her away from her home, her old associations, even from the grave of her beloved uncle.  She rose unrefreshed.  How could she sleep, in the very crisis of her fate?

    It was a bright autumnal morning.  The sun streamed in at the cottage window, the bees were humming blithely.  But no sunshine could cheer the heart of Clara Melrose; no sight of bird or flower could bring her any gladness!

    She sat, her head leaning on her hand, and, now and then, a tear trickled down her cheek.  Everything was ready for her departure.  She was going, she knew not whither, out on the hard, bitter world, without a friend or helper.  Save only her Father in heaven!

    "Oh!" cried she, "I would have lived it down.  I have tried hard to bear it.  But it has been too much! my heart is breaking!  Merciful Father, have pity on me!"

    And she bowed her head upon her hands, the tears streaming through her slender fingers.  After a time she rose, and glanced round the room with quivering lips.  Desolate as it was, it seemed as if she were about to leave a refuge.  Yet the cold looks and bitter scorn, the wither-in-unrelenting neglect, the faces set like a flint—faces which had once been friendly and genial;—these things had goaded her to desperation.  She must fly—anywhere, so she might escape.  Her bonnet and cloak lay beside her; with trembling hands she put them on.  Over her face she tied a thick veil.  This was the last thing that remained for her to do.  She was standing thus, her poor wounded heart giving great throbs of pain, her aching head and swollen eyes proclaiming her misery, when all at once she heard, in the little passage outside the door, a voice—yes! the voice of a woman.

    The blood leaped to her face, her neck, and surged to her temples.  She advanced a few paces hurriedly, and than stopped.  It was the voice of Mrs. Flushing

    A sickening recollection came into the widow's mind.  Before her seemed to swim, as before the gaze of one dazzled or bewildered, the house with its rustic porch, the humming-bees and white butterflies—the spot once so loved, basking in the warm glow of the spring sunshine: and then, the bleak, deadly chill, the cutting reception, the friendship gone and scattered!

    This, we say, swam before her gaze, and yet, hark! it was the voice of Mrs. Flushing!

    The door opened quickly, and with the touch of one in haste.  Yes, it was no mistake!  There stood the woman who had repulsed her, who had said to her, plainly as words can speak, "You cannot expect that I shall receive you!"

    Still the banned, heart-stricken creature, dare not stir; still, she dared not offer to touch lip or hand.  No! not even the hem of the other's garment!

    Then, those arms, once almost like a mother's, were opened wide, and the gesture seemed to tell her she might come.

    And the voice—a weary time was it since she had heard such a voice—it said, "Come! come! it is over, the wrong, the estrangement, the cruel suspicion, the bitter grief, come!"

    But did she?  Ah! no! she dare not for her life.  It must be a dream, a mocking dream.  The room, so desolate before, is crowded with faces—the faces of her former friends; and girlish kisses are on her lips; and loving arms are round her; and tender words breathed into her ear; and there is a hum of voices; and friendly hands have taken off her cloak and bonnet; and some one is bathing her forehead—it seems as though she had fainted—and, stupefied and half sensible, she looks from one to the other, as if asking an explanation, and the words ring out with a thrilling echo:

    "We have found it out at last!  Clara Melrose is innocent!"


 
CHAPTER LXXVII.

THE WIDOW'S INNOCENCE ESTABLISHED.


SHE was innocent!  The rumour had spread from one end of Deepdale to the other.  Phil had flung it wildly about.  Frank Chauncey had confirmed it when he placed the confession in the hands of Simon Crosskeys.

    No event had occurred within the memory of the oldest inhabitant that had caused such a sensation.  The news of the old vicar's loss had raised considerable excitement.  The suspicion that attached to his absent niece had produced a burst of public indignation.  But neither the one nor the other was to be compared to this in interest—this sudden and complete vindication of the widow's innocence!

    What could they do, those who had condemned her, but come crowding round her, to ask forgiveness?  And they did come! they came with hearts stricken and relenting, with affections rekindled, with entreaties that she would forget the past.  They tried to bind up her wounds, and pour in the oil of consolation.  Those who had been her bitterest persecutors were the most humble, and the most repentant!

    She seemed bewildered.  It was evident that she did not understand the full extent of the deliverance wrought out for her.  She looked round, and pressed her hand to her forehead.  It had come too quickly upon her.  She had become nervous and timid.  This iron solitude had worn down the courage of her nature.  She had lost, the intrepidity which had led her to brave the opinion of Deepdale.

    She would still flee if she could.  But where is there an opening for her to escape?  Her poor trembling hands would again tie on her bonnet, and she would make a way through the strange crowd that hemmed her in.

    And they would not let her go.  How could they?—the woman whom they had crushed.  What refuge was there for her, but in their hearts, their homes?  Were not better days coming—when the wall of isolation would be broken down? when they could give her the love and sympathy she had so yearned for? when her light step should pass to and fro among them, as in the days of old, and her sweet face reflect back smiles of friendship?

    As they looked at that face, they guessed what Clara Melrose had suffered!

    They tried to tell her so; but, alas! she still wept.  She could do nothing, even in this moment of deliverance, but shed tears.

    After a time, she grew calmer, and then they explained to her how it was.  They related to her the story of the real culprit, of the confession he had made of his guilt.  How he had escaped, but that all Deepdale had roused itself to bring him to justice.  They spoke eagerly and impetuously.  Mrs. Flushing sat beside her, and drew the poor aching head upon her shoulder  She who had repulsed her, was of all the rest the most tender and the most caressing!

    The widow wept and sobbed, but she said no word.  At first, she scarce knew what to say.

    None knew what her misery had been!  What could atone for her wounded heart, her blasted name, her ruined happiness?

    At length she began to fully comprehend her position.  Hitherto her mind had been confused, her faculties bewildered.  Now, a clear full sense of deliverance burst upon her!  As before a rising sun, there rolled away the cloud, and, behold! peace, deliverance, security, happiness!

    Her heart, so long chastened by affliction, rose up to Heaven in thankfulness and praise.  God had delivered her.  Her fellow-creatures had shown her little mercy, but God's goodness was abundant.  He, in his own good time, had made a way for her escape.  Her innocence had come forth as the noonday!

    Weeping for very joy, she sat, no longer desolate; ah, no!  Thoughts of happiness floated round her, of years to come spent amid these awakened friendships, these reunited links.  This home consecrated afresh; what joy! what recompense! what consolation would be hers!  Freedom, respect, sympathy, all had come back.  The darkest hour had been that before the dawn.

    It was some time ere the friends of Clara Melrose left her.  They were unwilling to go.  They would fain have carried her with them.  It was too soon to be parted yet.  But she wished to be alone.  She would be calmer, she said, and more herself after an interval of quiet.  "By-and-by!" and a smile almost of rapture lighted up her face, as she thought of the barrier broken down, and the new glad life before her—"by-and-by, they should see her again."  And then they embraced and rejoiced over her afresh, and with their words of tenderness lingering in her ear, the widow found herself alone—alone, pondering and trembling over her new joy.

    As she sat thus, still agitated and tearful, her quick ear heard again a voice—a voice that caused the pulses softly to stir in the widow's heart, and a tender bloom to suffuse her cheek.

    It was the voice of one who had never failed her—who had wept with her, in her hours of woe—who had vindicated her when all others had condemned—who had been her friend, her lover!

    It was the voice of Dionysius Curling

    He came in hurriedly.  He was excited beyond measure.  He trembled almost as much as she had done.  He had never much power of language, and he did not try to speak.  He took her hands in his, and gazed at her with a look of passionate fondness.  Surely, surely she would try to love him now.  Surely, now he might ask again that question on which all his earthly happiness depended.  In this first flush of deliverance, he might ask her to be his wife!

    She did not move from where she stood, close beside him.  Her face looked glad.  She liked that he should come.  It was sweet to have this dear friend beside her.  She was full of gratitude for his unshaken fidelity.  She would have expressed it if she could, but it seemed as though, in her case too, words came not.  But she looked at him with those eyes that had so long captivated him, and they were, perhaps, more eloquent than the lips could have been.

    Then he drew her nearer still.  She was so inexpressibly dear to him.  He would have shared his fortune with her, in all her woe and shame, had she permitted it.  Not even now, with Deepdale ringing out the words, "She is innocent," was he more convinced of it than he was then.  He would have staked his life upon it, from the first.

    But, for her sake, he was indeed glad.  Now, slander had been struck dumb, and this hideous scandal buried as in the depths of the sea!

    He drew her nearer.  He told her this that we have said, uttering it in low, tender tones, such as, at one time, we should have thought impossible to proceed from his lips.  And then he asked her, a world of affection breathing forth in the words—he asked her—would she be his wife?

    What she said was whispered, but he heard it, and the stoic, cynic he was once, broke out into a cry of rapture, and caught her to his heart !

    She had said she loved him!


 
CHAPTER LXXVIII.

REGINALD CHAUNCEY, THE WIDOWER.


"IT'S a jolly shame that he won't go shooting'!" exclaimed Sir Peter, standing in the breakfast room, with his gun in his hand.

    "He is not likely to go.  I wonder you are not ashamed of asking him!" retorted Miss Barbara.  Nobody but you would think of it!"

    "Why not, pray?"

    "Because his spirits are quite broken by the loss of his wife.  I never saw such devotedness, never!" and Miss Barbara cast her really fine eyes to the ceiling.

    Sir Peter gave a short dry laugh.

    "Ah, yes, you may laugh.  You never had any feeling.  Men who can scramble, miles and miles, through hedges and ditches, and get bespattered all over with mud, for the sake of killing a few wretched birds, can't be expected to sympathize with――"

    "With Reginald Chauncey, eh, aunt?" and Sir Peter laughed again.

    "When he has been the best husband that ever lived!" continued Miss Barbara, going into a kind of rhapsody; "I never heard of such things as he has told me—never!"

    "What about, aunt?"

    "His wife, of course!  About whom else does he ever think?  The lady for whom he mourns with such fidelity.  Ah! poor women like us don't often get such――"

    "Husbands, eh, Aunt Barbara?" suggested Sir Peter; "it is to be hoped not."

    "That's just like you, Sir Peter; as a rule, men are always jealous of each other, and always speak ill of each other."

    "On my word, I don't speak ill of anybody; but if I'd known my friend Reginald would have moped in this way, and been such bad company, I doubt whether I should have been in such a hurry to get him here."

    "Peter, you are not capable of appreciating――"

    "Perhaps not, aunt; but, good-bye, I must be off.  Be sure you take care of Mr. Chauncey!" and, kissing her hand, he quitted the room, laughing to himself as he went down the passage.

    Miss Barbara, left alone, gave a casual glance into the mirror over the chimney-piece.  What she saw there brought her to the conclusion that, though she had left her girlhood far behind, she was still a remarkably fine woman.  This reflection pleased her; she smiled, and recovered something like good-humour.

    She did not sit down to her book again, though it was one in which she was interested.  She laid it aside, and began slowly to pace the apartment.  After she had continued this exercise some little time, she opened the door and listened.  Not a sound was heard.  Sir Peter had evidently taken his departure.  Satisfied of this, Miss Barbara smiled to herself, and then stepped along the passage which led to the library.  Having reached the door of this apartment, she paused a moment, smoothed her ringlets, and then entered.

    The room was the warmest and the pleasantest in the house.  It was fitted up with every comfort, and here, in an easy-chair, close by the fire, sat Reginald Chauncey.

    Nothing could be more luxurious than his arrangements.  He had his morning robe of the finest and softest material, his footstool, his Times newspaper, and his little recherché breakfast on the stand beside him.  Reginald Chauncey was a privileged person.

    "Oh, Mr. Chauncey!" cried Miss Barbara, with affected surprise, "I am afraid I interrupt you."

    Reginald Chauncey rose with the grace of a courtier.

    "Pray do not imagine it, my clear madam; I am only too delighted to have the pleasure of wishing you good morning!"

    "Such manners! such dignity!" thought Miss Barbara.

    "But you have not finished your breakfast," said she, bashfully.

    Reginald smiled mournfully, and, as he did so, he thrust a small packet into his pocket.

    "I had forgotten my breakfast, and no wonder," said he, with the same mournful smile; "I have been reading over some letters."

    "Ah!" thought Miss Barbara, "if all the gentlemen of my acquaintance were like him!"

    Meanwhile, Reginald Chauncey finished his breakfast, and a pretty good one it was, considering the state of his mind.

    But if the reader supposes that during the time he was occupied with the grouse-pie, he was unmindful of his fair visitor, the reader is again mistaken.  By no means!  Reginald Chauncey contrived, with very little effort, to make himself thoroughly agreeable to Miss Barbara.  Indeed, so agreeable, that when the footman in attendance had removed the debris of Reginald's elegant breakfast, and he had thrown himself in his chair, to renew his disconsolateness, Miss Barbara's admiration was increased sevenfold.  Her feelings, therefore, received a shock when he announced his intention of going abroad.

    "Going abroad!" she repeated, in blank amazement.

    "Ah, yes, my dear madam! what can a poor broken-hearted fellow like me do in England?"  And, with his white hand, on the finger of which a mourning-ring was ostentatiously displayed, he drew forth the fallacious piece of cambric that had been flaunted before the eyes of Sir Peter.

    "I must retire from the world, you know, my dear madam."

    "What a pity that would be!—for the world, I mean," added she, with great simplicity.

    Here the piece of cambric interposed between Miss Barbara and the touching grief of Reginald Chauncey.

    Her heart was completely melted.

    "Oh, Mr. Chauncey," cried she, "don't, don't go abroad!  We will all try to comfort you.  Don't leave, pray don't leave"—us she was about to say, but some little recollection came across her mind, and, with a blush she substituted the word—"England."

    He held out his hand to her, his face still concealed.

    "Thank you, my dear madam; your sympathy is very consoling."  She blushed again as she touched the hand with its mourning-ring.

    After that morning, it was an understood thing that Miss Barbara was to take on herself the office of consoler to the bereaved and wounded heart of Reginald Chauncey.  It might be from gratitude, or it might be from his having ascertained the fact of Miss Barbara's having a clear income of two thousand a year; but certain it is that her endeavours met with success.

    Reginald Chauncey, with the air of a man who is conferring a favour, gently and gracefully allowed himself to be consoled.

    As a natural consequence, there followed a series of pleasant tête-à-têtes, and periods of time when Miss Barbara read to him, and sang to him, and—we may as well say it—flirted with him.

    "Entirely out of pity, and to divert his mind!" said Miss Barbara to herself.


 
CHAPTER LXXIX.

SOMETHING MORE THAN CONSOLATION.


NOW Sir Peter, though he had gone out laughing on more occasions than one, to shoot his partridges by himself, was not altogether disposed to regard the fact of Reginald Chauncey being thus "consoled" under his roof as a laughing matter.  On the contrary, it began to cause him serious uneasiness.

    It was evident that something more than mere consolation was in the wind.

    Those little tête-à-têtes in the library; those whispered conversations in the drawing-room ere the lamps were lighted; those walks in the shrubbery; those meaning glances exchanged, now and then, as if by stealth—all these things bred suspicion in the mind of Sir Peter; suspicion that, to use his own rough-and-ready expression, his Aunt Barbara "was going to make a fool of herself!"

    He did not relish the idea by any means.  As he walked along, with his gun over his shoulder, one fine morning, his face grew blank in the anticipation of what might possibly be the result of this casual introduction under the shadow of his roof.

    He did not like his Aunt Barbara.  He did not think she was a nice woman—not one of his sort at least.  Still he was sorry.  It would make him very wretched if the thing went on.  There were no bounds to the self-will of either party.  They might make up their minds to marry each other, and what could Sir Peter do?  He regretted that he had been so eager to get his friend Reginald back.  He saw through the man's character, if his aunt did not.  He knew, moreover, that in all human probability Reginald "the magnificent" had not a shilling in the world.  The very clothes on his back were not paid for.

    "A pretty fellow to marry my Aunt Barbara!" thought Sir Peter.

    He did not shoot many partridges that morning: he was too much occupied with considering what course he had better take.  Having, from sheer want of the means of killing time fast enough, got into this snare, it believed him to get out again as quickly as be could.

    "I must give Chauncey a hint," thought Sir Peter, as he stood resting on his gun.

    Giving Chauncey a hint was, however, no easy matter.  Though, as notified above, a man without a shilling, eating another man's bread, and his very coat unpaid for, he was still Reginald "the magnificent."  He was still the ruling spirit in the house of Sir Peter Silcox.  He commanded—Sir Peter obeyed.  He planned—Sir Peter executed.  Sir Peter had sold himself to this man, for the mere sake of having his time killed for him.  He was afraid of Reginald—Reginald, was not the least afraid of him.  Reginald had the pick of everything the house contained.  He had the choice of his own hours—no one dared gainsay his late breakfasts, eaten alone in the library.  He had the choice of the best horses in the stable, the best wines in the cellar, the best viands on the table.  He had been feted, caressed, banqueted—all at Sir Peter's expense.

    It struggled faintly into Sir Peter's mind, as he stood leaning on his gun, that, somehow, this was wrong.  Somehow, with all his possessions, his place in society, his baronetcy, his long line of ancestors, he was in reality a mere sponge for Reginald Chauncey to squeeze as much as he liked.

    Still, he must give him a hint.  How, or in what forms, he hardly knew at present.  It was a thing for which he was not prepared, this speaking his mind to Reginald Chauncey.

    Thinking thus, he walked steadily homeward.  Yes, the danger was imminent.  He would do it at once !

    Arrived at home, he received the pleasant intelligence that Mr. Chauncey and Miss Silcox had joust returned from their walk.

    "Their walk!" as if it had become a matter of daily occurrence.

    "The impudence of the fellow!" muttered Sir Peter, wrathfully.  And he marched to the drawing-room, whither he was told Mr. Chauncey had retired.

    He opened the door.  The first object that met his gaze was his friend Reginald, sitting at the table, writing.  He had the air of a man who is thoroughly at home, and thoroughly knew what he was about.  He bowed slightly and with his usual gracious manner.

    "Ah, Sir Peter! good morning," was all that he vouchsafed to say.

    Then he continued to write.

    Sir Peter came up to the table, and surveyed him with a stern look—a look, however, which was quite thrown away.  Reginald's eyes were fixed on his writing, and he did not see it.  There was such extreme coolness, such an extraordinary effrontery in the aspect of Reginald Chauncey, that Sir Peter was, in spite of himself, taken aback.  He felt, indeed, from the beginning that he was no match whatever for Reginald Chauncey.

    "Good morning in to you," said he, at length, still standing at the table.

    This was said by way of introduction, and because, at the moment, he could think of nothing better.

    Reginald made another slight bow.  He evidently did not consider it worth while to carry civilities any further.

    His toilette was elaborately got up.  Sir Peter's angry eye glanced over the faultless costume; the hair brushed, arranged, and we might add, dyed, to perfection.  Even the white hand, with its glittering badge of mourning, excited his indignation.

    "A regular humbug!" thought Sir Peter.

    Meanwhile, the pen of Reginald Chauncey, was gliding smoothly over the paper.  It was the tinted and perfumed material as of old; and as he wrote, he smiled complacently.  It was a smile that goaded Sir Peter to desperation.  It occurred to him that Reginald was writing to Miss Barbara.

    "Mr. Chauncey!" he began, in a loud, and, what he meant to be, a commanding voice.

    "Well," said Reginald, without raising his eyes; "shot much game this morning?"

    This was asked in a careless, indifferent manner, and because Sir Peter did not follow up his speech, as might have been expected.  But he was not long in doing so.  Aunt Barbara might any moment come rustling in, and then there would be an end of everything.

    "Don't you see I want to speak to you?" cried Sir Peter, with a sharp rap on the table.

    "Say on," said Reginald, placidly, and without raising his eyes; "I am all attention."

    "Mr. Chauncey!" began Sir Peter, plunging at once into the subject, as it were, head over heels, "I wish to tell you plainly that—that—your attentions to my Aunt Barbara-are very―"

    He stopped, and he might well!  He had done it with a vengeance!  Reginald raised his head, and looked him full in the face.

    Oh, what a look!  He could never have imagined it.  It was cutting, it was defiant, it was fierce, it was malignant.  It made him tremble from head to foot.  It made him stammer out words the reverse of what he had intended to utter.  It caused him such utter consternation, that on hearing the sound of his Aunt Barbara's silks in the distance, he actually decamped—decamped, leaving Reginald Chauncey complete master of the field.


 
CHAPTER LXXX.

THE CONSEQUENCE OF "KILLING TIME."


HE hurried to the library, and shut himself up there.  On the way, he was conscious of passing Miss Barbara, in rustling silks, and redolent with perfume.  He did not dare to look her in the face.

    His overthrow was sudden and complete.

    Not that his opinion had changed, or that the danger did not appear more imminent than ever.  But he had found out that Reginald Chauncey was his master!

    There was something about the man—call it assurance, call it craft, call it downright impudence, call it what you will—it caused Reginald to have gained entire ascendancy over Sir Peter.  It had been the work of years.  It was a chain forged link by link.  It had begun in that fatal habit of killing time.  A young man with nothing on earth to do would fall an easy prey to Reginald Chauncey.

    Visions of reformation floated through Sir Peter's mind as he sat in the library.  Some vague idea suggested itself to him of being a different kind of person, if once he could get rid of his tyrant.

    Meanwhile, his position was difficult and embarrassing.  A man who could look at him like that would not be easily daunted.  Added to which, he felt considerable uneasiness as to what was going on in the drawing-room, and whether his aunt would get to the knowledge of what he had done.  This doubt was soon set at rest.

    To his intense alarm he heard an ominous rustling of silk along the passage.  He rose up, feeling more uncomfortable than ever he had done in his life.  Just as he rose up, in came his Aunt Barbara.

    She was very angry, he could see that in a minute.  Her eyes sparkled, her cheek glowed with a deeper colour than the rouge could have made it.  In fact, to speak more plainly still, she was in a towering passion.

    The passion was all the more alarming because of her forced calmness.  She did not storm or rage—her not unfrequent habit.  No, she spoke in a cold, cutting voice that made Sir Peter shiver.

    "Peter, I'm going home."

    The wretched man had striven to look unconcerned and ignorant.  He tried to assume his usual jaunty air, as he stood before his aunt, his hands in his pockets.  "Going home!  What, now, without your dinner?"

    "Yes."

    There was a profound silence.  Once, Sir Peter made a faint show of chinking some odd coppers in his pocket; but his aunt's severe look checked him.  At length, feeling that something must be said, or done, he stammered out, "What's that for, aunt?"

    "Because you have insulted my friend!"

    Her eyes were fixed steadily upon him.  In fact, to use his own expression, she looked him through and through.

    "I am sure, aunt, I said nothing.  I did not even――"

    "No, but you insinuated.  No high-minded man can bear insinuation."

    High minded!  Poor Miss Barbara.

    "Indeed, aunt," cried Sir Peter, eagerly, "you are quite mistaken, if you think Mr. Chauncey is the sort of person you take him for."

    "Indeed!" and Miss Barbara laughed scornfully.

    "In the first instance, aunt, he has not a shilling in the world," said Sir Peter.

    Miss Barbara gave her nephew a meaning glance.  The glance said plainly, "If he has not a shilling, I have—two thousand a year!"

    "And then," continued Sir Peter, more boldly, since his aunt did not reply, "I am sorry to make the remark, but he is not a man of any principle whatever."

    Miss Barbara laughed again, this time more derisively than ever.  "He is your friend, Sir Peter," she replied: "you introduced me to him."

    Sir Peter hung his head abashed.  This reproach struck home to him with force and pertinence.

    "You introduced him; you represented him as a paragon of excellence; you could not live without him!  Perhaps you will have the goodness to call that observation to mind."

    Sir Peter still hung his head abashed.

    "Therefore," continued Miss Barbara, softening her tone, "you are responsible for what may possibly occur."

    "Aunt!" cried Sir Peter, in a voice of downright terror—"my dear aunt, you don't mean to say that you are going to marry, actually to marry Reginald Chauncey?"

    She did not answer.  Her eyes which had been so piercing, were modestly cast down.  It was evident she did intend it.

    He was now thoroughly roused.  The danger, the ruin, the spoliation that would ensue, stared him in the face.

    He burst out into vehement expostulations and entreaties.  But he might well have spared his breath.  She listened to him no more—his arguments touched her no more than the voice of the wind might, howling in yonder elm-trees!

    All she said in reply was, that her maid was putting up her clothes; that her carriage would be at the door presently; that she should go to her house in town, until her nephew had recovered his senses.  Having made this assertion, she withdrew.  He could no more stop her, than he could stay the course of the sun.

    He knew this, and he stood stupefied, just where she had left him.  All the fatal consequences of his folly, his negligence, his tampering with evil, stared him in the face.

    If there ever was such a thing in this world as remorse, Sir Peter felt it that moment.

    Still he clung to one mitigating circumstance.  Miss Barbara would be gone, and he would have Reginald Chauncey to himself.  He would take stringent measures.  He would expostulate with him, argue with him, endeavour, if possible, to rouse a spark of manly and honourable feeling.  He would care for nothing: he would give look for look.

    Alas!  Sir Peter was denied this last resource.  In vain he sought for Reginald in all his accustomed haunts.  Reginald was nowhere to be found.

    "Where is Mr. Chauncey?" he asked the footman in attendance.

    "Mr. Chauncey, sir! he took the train for town just before Miss Silcox started."

    This was the final blow.

    "The wretch!" muttered Sir Peter through his clenched teeth; "he means to meet her in London!"


 
CHAPTER LXXXI.

THE SINS OF HIS FATHER VISITED ON THE HEAD OF FRANK.


DEEPDALE had, by this time, resumed its proper attitude with regard to Clara Melrose.  After the first burst of excitement was over, after Crosskeys and Lewin had bowed their stubborn knees in penitence and the imperial countess had driven in state to the widow's door to offer congratulations; after some enthusiastic young spirits had even rung a peal from the old church tower in honour of the occasion—after all this, the popular commotion began to subside.  In fact, Deepdale was fast settling down into its normal state.

    It was still exultant in the thought that the mystery which had so long hung brooding over it was partially explained.  It rejoiced to see the fair young face of Clara Melrose passing to and fro, where once she bad dreaded to be seen.  It took Clara Melrose to its heart, fondly as ever it had done in the days of old.  Those were happy times for her, who had been so long an outcast!  She who had been sowing in tears, was now reaping in joy!

    There was, however, one solitary heart in Deepdale into which no joy could come—a heart torn by sorrow and distracted by apprehension.  It was the heart of Frank Chauncey!  He was still at Dr. Plume's.  The good old doctor heard the rumours which were rife in Deepdale.  He knew that suspicion pointed at Frank.

    "He is in league with him!  He has let him go!" was the continued assertion of Phil.  And Deepdale, on that account, refused to bestow any more of its confidence on Frank Chauncey.  He would have quitted the place long ere this—he felt his prospects practically blasted—but he was not allowed to depart.

    "You will have to give evidence," said Simon Crosskeys, grimly.  And Simon Crosskeys had set the police to work.

    The inhabitants of Deepdale were quite in earnest, when they threatened to hand over to the stern grip of the law the man who had taken the old vicar's money.

    Any day, Reginald Chauncey might be taken.  Any day, Frank, with white face and scared eyes, might have brought before him, as a criminal, a common felon, his own father!  Ah little did Deepdale know of that matter?  It was very terrible, and the young man's heart failed him.  He had suffered more shipwrecks than one.  He must never again enter the dear abode of Lucy.  Lucy was lost to him for ever.  Under any circumstances, lost!

    He had had intimation of this from the countess, not personally, but through Dr. Plume.  She had visited the doctor, one fine morning, and had declared to him that his assistant, as she chose to designate Frank, was no doubt an accomplice of the thief, and she hoped Dr. Plume would get rid of him at once.

    "Get rid of her, more likely!" said the doctor, irascibly.

    He hated every word she had been uttering.

    "But I wish to go," said Frank, to whom, with considerable reservation, this interview had been hinted at.  "I cannot remain in this neighbourhood without trespassing on your kindness."

    Dr. Plume laid his hand affectionately on Frank's shoulder.

    "My dear fellow, will you take an old man's advice?"

    "What is it, Dr. Plume?"

    "Just to tell me everything.  I don't doubt you, mind—not an atom!  I believe in you as if you were my own son!"

    "You are very good, Dr. Plume," said Frank, much affected; "very good indeed."

    "I can see that some unhappy combination of circumstances has formed itself against you, and if you were to speak out――

    Frank shook his head.

    "Ah! well, perhaps you will think better of it some of these days."

    "I am afraid not," replied Frank, sadly, but with decision.

    "Well, at any rate, I shall not be willing for you to leave me.  I won't part with you, Frank Chauncey.  Nothing shall drive me to it."

    Frank's lips grew white with the anguish of one thought, that came home to him as the doctor spoke.  There was a thing of which the good old man recked not.  The capture of Reginald Chauncey!

    A day or two after this conversation, as Frank was walking moodily along some short distance from the village, a turn in the road brought him full in view of Lucy!—his own Lucy !

    He had not seen her since that blissful interview, which no time, nor place, nor change, could blot from his memory—that interview, when he discovered, to his intense rapture, that she loved him!

    Ah it was over now.  Perhaps she would have changed her opinion, perhaps she would have credited what the tongues of Deepdale clamoured on every side.  Perhaps she would pass him without a sign of recognition.  For it was over for ever.  The friendship, the love, the blessed hopes of union, over!  Better had they never met―far better!

    With haggard face, compressed lips, and bloodshot eyes, Frank found himself close beside her.  He was fearfully changed since she saw him last.  Perhaps this very fact might go against him.  Yet, such as he was, visited with the sorest trial that could happen, his hopes blighted, his very name tarnished, his soul racked with anguish, he looked up into the face of Lucy—into her face, who might have been his own, his love, his bride, but for Reginald Chauncey's guilt!

    Men come into fearful straits sometimes, when on their heads are visited the sins of their fathers!  He looked into her face.  It was a sweet, grave, sorrowful face.  Her eyes might have wept many tears.  They had lost that expression of happiness which beamed forth when last his own had met them.  She did not pass him.  No.  She put out her hand, half tenderly, half beseechingly.  The sad, yearning look, the air of deep dejection, made it evident that she likewise was suffering.  He could almost think—and the idea sent a thrill of sweetness through his wounded heart—he could almost think that she yet loved him!

    He did not speak.  He held the little hand fondly for a moment; then he dropped it.  The expression of his face might have wrung the soul even of a Reginald Chauncey.  She made a little impulsive gesture, as though she were afraid he was going to leave her.

    Then she said, the tears gushing into her eyes, "I am very grieved for you!"

    The tone of her voice had no touch of reproach; no, not even of suspicion.  It was clear she did not suspect him—for, again, she held out her hand, and exclaimed, the tears now half impeding her utterance, "Let us pray to God that this cloud may pass over us."

    Let us pray!  Oh, then, she had not forsaken him!  She was true to him in his great sorrow.  Yet what did that avail?  Pass over!  Ah, it would more likely burst with desolating force over their heads!

    An avalanche could not bring more swift destruction.  She did not know what he did—this fair girl, with her eyes of tender blue, and her loving, trusting nature; how could she guess that the father of him she loved was a criminal?  If she had, she would not have said, a moment after:

    "When the wretched man, who has caused all this trouble, is taken, then―"

    He uttered a stifled cry.  A vehement shuddering seized him.  He could not help it.  She looked at him with surprise, then with fear.  She seemed to entreat an explanation.

    But he gave none.  He bowed in a strange altered manner, as though between himself and her a gulf had yawned, inexplicable and impassable!

    Then, while her sweet eyes were still fixed inquiringly upon him, and her lips uttered sounds of wounded affection, urging him to let her know what this strange, terrible thing meant he was gone!—gone without a word!


 
CHAPTER LXXXII.

PHIL "UPON THE SCENT."


"WELL, I've been six weeks at Tom Crutchley's, and not seen a vestige of him—the villain!  And yet the landlord said he was sure he went to London.  I don't believe the landlord knew anything about! What did he care?  He has never seen—Mrs. Melrose."

    These last two words, "Mrs. Melrose," were pronounced in an undertone by Phil.  Phil, leaning his elbows on the toilette table, and his head on his hands, apparently staring at himself in the glass.  But he was staring not thinking of himself at all, save in conjunction with two prominent ideas—Mrs. Melrose, and the wretch who had stolen the old vicar's money.

    The prosecution had been at fault.  At present nothing was done.  The false name had set everybody on a wrong scent.  Besides, no such person as the man described by Phil had been seen in the usual beat of travellers.

    Reginald Chauncey had been too cunning for that.  He had journeyed by night, and carefully kept out of sight.  At present, he was in no wise identified with Richard Canning.  Who would think of searching for a thief in Reginald Chauncey's set?

    Reginald himself was laughing in his sleeve.  He did not for a moment suppose that Frank would prosecute him,—or, indeed, that his self-interest would allow him.

    "No one else can do me any harm," thought he, "except――" and he shuddered as he remembered the pair of menacing eyes.

    The thought of those eyes, and the general apprehension of a guilty conscience, led him to resolve to quit England as speedily as he could.  But he did not intend to wander forth a penniless man.  He was playing a bold game, and if it answered, he could travel abroad in great luxury, until such time as all fear was at an end.  And his game had reached that critical moment, when the next move might leave him the winner.

    Phil and his adherents had beaten the country, in all directions, round Deepdale.  But meeting with no success, and hearing a rumour from the landlord that the gentleman, as he persisted in calling him, had gone to London, Phil set off, suddenly, to Lord Crutchley's house in Grosvenor Square.  Here he had remained ever since, industriously looking, as his friend, Tom Crutchley, Lord Crutchley's younger brother, observed, "for a needle in a bottle of hay."

    "As if he hadn't gone off to Australia by this time!" added he, for Phil's consolation.

    Phil did not think he had.  He could not divest himself of his pet idea, his grand scheme of bringing the culprit to justice.

    "I should not so much have minded, if it had not been" said he, continuing his soliloquy before the glass.  "Ah! she is a beauty.  As soon as I come of age I mean to marry her!"

    Meaning Mrs. Melrose.

    "Phil, Phil! are you coming?" and a succession of loud knocks at the door broke the thread of his mediations.  "Do you know what time it is.  Have you forgotten Mrs. Stopford's party?"

    "I don't think I have," replied Phil, slowly, his mind being still in the land of dreams.

    "Come, then, be quick! we are waiting for you.  Shall I send my man to help you?"

    Tom Crutchley was fourteen last birthday.

    "I don't want your man!" growled Phil, thrusting himself into his dress coat, and giving his shock of hair a rough and rapid stroke or two with the brush.  "I'm ready!"

    Tom Crutchley, a slim, dapper young gentleman, dressed in the height of fashion, glanced at the short, grotesque frame of the other lad.  Then he shrugged his shoulders.

    "Come along then.  I suppose you must do as you like."

    It was a dark night, and rainy.  The carriage, with its flaming lights, stood at the door to convey the young party to their evening's entertainment.  There were Tom Crutchley'S sister, Tom Crutchley, and Phil — nobody else.  Tom Crutchley's sister, a little girl with flaxen curls, was a favourite with Phil.  As all kinds of vehicles drove by them in the street, she kept calling to him to look.

    "There, Phil! do you see that?—look, look!"

    Presently a cab, hindered by the press of other vehicles, passed slowly by, almost touching them.  The person within the cab put his head out of the window to see what was the matter.

    It was a handsome head, with well-arranged hair, and a pair of bold, bright eyes.  The eyes looked straight at Phil.

    It happens so sometimes in life, that one unguarded moment may be our destruction.

    Phil, with a suddenness that made the blood rush tumultuously over his whole body, was face to face with the man who had taken the old vicar's money—face to face, his eyes looking into the eyes of the other!

    The next few minutes were more like a hurried scene upon the stage than real life.  A shout, a forcing open of the carriage door, a headlong leap, a rush—on, on, with clenched fists and eyes staring from their sockets!  Such was Phil, in close, hot pursuit of Reginald Chauncey!

    In vain the friends he had left called to him to stop.  In vain they entreated him to come back.  He was gone!

    Lord Crutchley's sister burst into tears.  But Tom Crutchley himself understood it better, and was more easily consoled.

    "He's a regular ratcatcher, that's what he is!" said he, "and I dare say he has got scent of the man."

    And Tom ordered the coachman to drive on without him.


 
CHAPTER LXXXIII.

THE MENACING EYES.


REGINALD CHAUNCEY'S smooth, false face was like a mask.  Among his set he was never seen without that smile playing about his mouth.  The power he had over the lines and muscles that would else be too prominent, the ability to rule and to charm were attainments made by long and careful training.  He was a man for, and of, the world.  In those moments of which the world knew and cared little he was another being.  Had his set seen him at this juncture, it would hardly have recognized him.  Leaning back in the hired carriage in which he rode, with haggard, guilty brow, ghastly cheek, and scared eyes, how could they have known him?  Could this be Reginald Chauncey?

    It was strange this thing should haunt him!  Who was it?  Where was its home?  Had it come forth only to foil and to wreck him?  He feared nothing on earth save those menacing eyes!

    He had won his game.  It was sure to be so.  A weak, vain woman, and a Reginald Chauncey!  He had met her in London.  His was the first face that greeted her on her arrival.  And then, in order to carry on the courtship, as it behoved a man of his position, he had gone to his hotel.  His hotel!—so he told Miss Barbara.  He had always been accustomed to go there, and the master of the hotel would not have had him transfer his patronage for the world!

    These, and other speeches of like import, confirmed Miss Barbara in the belief that her nephew had been trying to deceive her.

    "Of course he wishes me to keep unmarried, for his sake!" said she, indignantly.

    And the idea so much incensed her, that she put a letter of his, which reached her the next morning, into the fire without opening it.  A foolish act on the part of Miss Barbara.

    Reginald had followed up the lady with great adroitness.  He had played by turns with her vanity, and by turns with her self-will.  He had at length obtained a promise from her to bestow her hand upon the "long-tried friend"—so he styled himself—of her nephew.

    He did not expect Sir Peter to approve.  Of course not!  A lady with such attractions might be expected to look far higher than himself, in order to satisfy the ambition of her family.  And yet he came of an old stock, he told her—as old as any in England!  He was not rich—he sighed as he said it.  Fortune, which had given him gentle blood, had been niggardly of her other favours.  He was not rich.  And he put on a look of touching humility.  He could afford to be humble to a woman.

    Miss Barbara, stimulated by opposition, made light of this drawback.  She had wealth enough for both, she told him, in her infatuation.

    It was the dusk of evening when she made the assertion, and the chandelier was not yet lighted.  If it had been, she might have seen the mocking curve that for a moment disfigured the mouth of her admirer.  He had been into the City to buy Miss Barbara a ring.  He was in capital spirits.  He had told her he should take her to Venice for her wedding trip.

    "Delightful!" cried Miss Barbara, clasping her hands.

    He was leaning back in his cab, indulging in visions of his future wealth, when, putting his face up to the window, all unconscious and unconcerned, he saw, looking full at him, with a vivid recognition in the look, the eyes—yes, the eyes that had haunted him—the eyes which had seen him come from Deepdale Vicarage!

    That being, whoever he was, had Reginald's fate in his hands.  That being could criminate him—could stand up in the sight of all the world and say, "Here is the man who was guilty of the theft!"

    He shivered from head to foot.  He hurried on the driver, and, in his fear and rage, uttered words that can on no account be repeated.  Still the shock might prove a warning.  It was evident that danger was abroad.  The ground beneath his feet might prove to be a quicksand.  It was not safe to remain in England.  It would be wiser to hasten on the marriage, and put the sea, as quickly as he could, between himself and the country whose laws he had broken.

    "I wish I had not done it," thought Reginald, musingly.  "It was a paltry crime, and I gained nothing, save to have the consequences suspended over me for ever!"

    He thought, not of the moral, only of the legal consequences of the act.  He mourned not for the broken law of his Maker, or for bringing down an old man's grey hairs with sorrow to the grave, or for blasting the character of Clara Melrose.  He was unprincipled and selfish.  He cared for none of these things.

    Still, the panic was upon him.  He was shaken and agitated.  And when the cab stopped, and the hall door opened, letting out its blaze of light and warmth, he hurried in, not daring to look either to the right or to the left, lest the eyes that haunted him should glare upon him from out the darkness.

    The tremor had not left him when he stepped up the broad staircase—when he was ushered into the drawing-room, brilliant with its many lights.  No; it had not left him then!  It lingered when Miss Barbara advanced to meet him.  His arm trembled as he led her down to dinner.  As he sat, costly viands and wine before him, he could not drown his care, or allay his apprehension.  When the banquet was over, came the long evening that was to have been made delicious by the confidences of love.  But was it so?  Did not the craven heart within belie the bold, brave words?  Was he not haunted by the dread of an unseen evil?

    Ah! the terrors of a guilty conscience are great indeed!

    At length the time came for his departure.  He had persuaded Miss Barbara, ere another week was over, to consent to be his bride.  Poor Miss Barbara! saying, with a show of tenderness, to this man, a criminal as yet untaken, one over whom a felon's doom was impending―

    "Good night, dearest!  Be sure you come to-morrow!"

    Reginald smiled pleasantly.  He said adieu, with his usual jaunty air.  In spite of his inward perturbation, he had not shown a single particle of fear.  He had smoothed down the lines and furrows resolutely, and, as yet, they were smoothed down.  His false, handsome face shone bravely in the light of the lamp which saw the last of him, ere the great hall door was shut on him, and on the darkness.

    It was very dark, and had become tempestuous.  A gale was blowing, and the gas-lamps rocked to and fro.  The wind had almost carried him off his feet.  Holding his hat with his hands, and still not daring to look to the right or to the left, he fled into his cab, as into a place of refuge.  And the door was shut, and off the cab rattled, at a quick pace, towards Reginald's hotel.

    What is that on the seat opposite?  His face becomes ghastly, and the big drops burst from his forehead.  His very hair seemed to stand on end!  Just opposite are the menacing eyes!


 
CHAPTER LXXXIV.

"O GUILT! GUILT!"


PHIL had found the man!  Eagerly as Reginald Chauncey had fled from the scene of danger, Phil had pursued him full as eagerly.  He had seen him enter Miss Barbara's house, had watched doggedly and unweariedly.  He cared for neither wind nor rain.  Folding his arms, he paced up and down, his face inflexible, his eyes glittering.

    Not with vengeance no! but with a keen, steady resolve to have the man brought to justice; the man who had inflicted so much misery on the gentle spirit of Clara Melrose!

    When the cab drove up which was to take Reginald to his hotel, Phil came forward.  A few minutes' colloquy with the driver, and a fee slipped into his hand, settled the business.  Phil took his seat in the cab and waited for Reginald to come out.

    Phil was a true Landon.  He knew no fear.  Had it been otherwise, he need not have felt the slightest alarm.  Reginald Chauncey was completely in his power.

    The man seemed as if paralyzed.  Not Phil alone, but outraged justice confronted him.  He made no attempt to expel the intruder.  He hung his craven head.  His cold clammy bands clutched each other in his agony.  He was spell-bound―fascinated by those terrible eyes.  Was there no escape?

    Once he seemed about to make the effort.  He put out his hand as if to let down the glass; but another hand was there before him—a powerful muscular hand, with which it would be difficult to deal.  And Reginald Chauncey, as if in sheer despair, remained immovable.  He knew that if he tried to struggle his fate was sealed.  One false move, and the secret that hung on Phil's lips would burst forth.  One attempt to gain his liberty, and that sinewy hand would be laid upon him.  All he hoped for was from his native craft and subtlety.

    By this time he had surveyed his opponent.  True, the massive chest, broad shoulders, and sinewy hands were formidable.  Still, he was young.  Reginald felt his courage revive.  "Surely," thought he, "I am a match for a mere boy!"

    Presently, the hotel was gained, its doors standing hospitably open, its lights streaming from its windows.

    "If I can get him to my room quietly, all will be well," thought Reginald.

    "If he resists, I shall raise the house about his ears!" thought Phil.

    He did not mean to have him arrested on the spot.  He meant to keep the fate of his prisoner in his hands a little longer.  He had a curiosity to hear what he had to say.

    He was on his guard, however.  When they left the cab, and entered a room on the ground floor, he closed the door and planted his broad back against it.  He and Reginald Chauncey were alone!

    It was a handsome room, and well furnished.  There was a fire, and the gas was lighted, but it burnt low.  It had been put down during Reginald's absence.

    Now that Reginald Chauncey had reached his hotel in safety, and some respite was afforded him, he recovered the effrontery of his nature.  Flaring up the gas as high as it would go, he stared insolently at Phil.

    "Well," said he, speaking for the first time, "I hope you have enjoyed your ride, young gentleman."

    Phil made no reply.

    "Staying at the hotel, young gentleman?" continued Reginald, throwing himself into an easy chair with the utmost coolness.

    Phil shook his head.

    "Having had the pleasure of your company without solicitation," resumed Reginald, in the same jaunty tone, "may I be allowed to ask what is your name?"

    Phil took a card from his pocket and threw it on the table.

    Reginald picked it up and read it.

    "Lord Landon.  Humph!" and rising, he made a profound bow.  "Irish family, I presume?"

    Phil nodded.

    "Well, my Lord Landon, of course I am delighted to make your acquaintance.  But may I inquire, since the hour is late, and I am tired, what it is you want with me?"

    His voice had a tremor in it, in spite of his efforts to steady it.

    "Richard Canning," said the young lord, advancing a few paces, "my business is to have you arrested for robbery!"

    "Indeed! but you see I am not Richard Canning.  Richard Canning is not my name."  His lips quivered as he said it, and he wiped a trickling drop from his forehead.

    "No matter," cried Phil, boldly.  "I do not care by what name you call yourself.  I only know that you are the man!"

    Reginald's face was white as marble.  The pulses in his temples throbbed convulsively.

    "You are the man!" repeated Phil, confronting him with the same steady gaze.  "I can swear to you anywhere, and I will!"

    "I do not know what you mean," stammered Reginald, cowering beneath the glance of the other.

    "I saw you come out of Deepdale Vicarage, after you had stolen the old vicar's money!"

    O guilt! guilt! how it paralyzes the arm! how it unnerves the whole frame! how it makes a man the veriest coward upon earth!  He did not attempt to reply.  He put up his hands to hide his ashy face.

    "I saw you when you were at the inn—after you had been thrown from your horse.  I saw you when you were walking in the garden.  I can swear to you anywhere, and I will!"

    The indomitable resolution of the last two words it is impossible to describe.

    The wretched man cowered still lower.  He sat crouching, his face bent downwards, his fingers grasping his ruffled hair.  Could this be the gay, the fascinating, the gallant Reginald Chauncey, the life and soul of his set?

    There was an interval of silence.  At length Reginald lifted up his head and looked.

    Yes, he was there! standing like a sentinel who could never tire.  Standing, until presently the thought seemed to madden him.  The expression that passed over his features was frightful to behold.

    "Do you see this?" and he drew something bright from his pocket.

    "Yes," said Phil, coolly.

    "And do you see that window?  Will you let me open it and escape?  If you do not―― "

    And he pointed the pistol deliberately at Phil.

    Phil stood immovable.  Not a hair stirred, not an eyelid winced.

    "If you do not, I will shoot you!  Will you let me go?"

    "No!" thundered Phil.

    For one instant, Reginald held the pistol aimed direct, his finger on the trigger.  Then, he laid it down.

    "I will not hurt you," said he.  "I am not bad enough for that."

    And he gave up all hope of working on Phil's fears.  Phil had none.

    "I confess I am the man," he continued, after a pause; "it is useless to deny it.  But I ask your mercy.  I cannot think that, at your age, you intend to ruin me!"

    Phil was silent, but his look was enough.  It was a look which showed not an atom of relenting.

    Again Reginald bent down his guilty head; again his fingers clutched his perfumed locks, now in unwonted disorder.

    At length he glanced at Phil.  Phil, standing stern and inflexible.  Any moment the deed might be done, and his fate be sealed.  The thought drove him to desperation.  He held out his hands imploringly.

    "I have told you, I confess the deed.  I will go away quietly, and be seen and heard of no more.  I will leave the country."

    Phil laid his hand on the lock of the door.  Ere he had time to open it—in the one single second, that stood between him and his doom, the wretched culprit was on his knees.

    "Spare me!" cried he; "spare me for the sake of my son!"

    Phil paused.

    "He is young, and is struggling hard to live down my vices.  There is not a spot upon his character.  This will blast his prospects, and be his ruin!  You know my son—"

    "I know your son?" cried Phil, drawing back with an expression of disgust.

    "Yes!" continued the suppliant, eagerly, and as if catching at his last hope on earth.  You know him well!  His name is Frank Chauncey!"

                          *                               *                               *                               *

    The Crutchleys sat up for their friend till morning, and even then Phil did not come home.  When at length he did make his appearance, and was questioned by Tom as to what he had been doing, he answered nothing, except that it was all of no use, and he should go home to-morrow.  By which Tom concluded that the hunting for the needle in the bottle of hay had been a failure, and was given up.

    Another person waited and watched, but it was for Reginald Chauncey.  He came no more to make the heart of Miss Barbara flutter with a thousand fascinations.  He was gone, mysteriously, and, as far as she was concerned, for ever.  No word of explanation was received to throw light upon his fate.  In vain his set, inconsolable for the loss of its most brilliant ornament, made a diligent and energetic search.  In vain Sir Peter, shocked and mystified, joined in these inquiries.  Reginald Chauncey had passed away from his sphere, and was seen no more.

    Miss Barbara, whose vanity was more wounded than her affection, consoled herself by marrying a friend and neighbour of Sir Peter's, and ended her days more happily than might have been expected.

    Sir Peter, too, consoled himself by thinking that, though he was "sorry for poor Chauncey," yet it was the best thing that could happen—his taking himself out of the way;—meaning, as far as his Aunt Barbara was concerned.


 
CHAPTER LXXXV.

THE WEDDING.


THE bells were ringing merrily in Deepdale Church.  A wedding had just taken place.  Dionysius Curling, the worthy vicar, had at length been united to the woman of his choice—to Clara Melrose.

    It was a very grand event.  All Deepdale had been there to see.  The imperial countess had graced the ceremony with her presence, and was about to carry the bride and bridegroom to the Manor, where a breakfast had been prepared worthy of the occasion, and of her munificence.

    Simon Crosskeys, in his Sunday clothes, has given away the bride; and if you looked round you would see Nathanael Lewin, his dense face lighted up with excitement, and you would hear him say, rubbing his hard hand over his eyes, "God bless her!  God bless her!"

    The three Misses Flushing, and several fair girls besides, had been bridesmaids.  Indeed, all the youth and beauty of Deepdale were in attendance upon Clara Melrose!  If she had been a queen she could not have had more homage.

    "There is nothing we will not do to make it up!" had been the universal cry of Deepdale.  And they had been as good as their word.

    Mrs. Flushing had taken the old vicarage in hand, and had made it like a fairy palace.  So Dionysius Curling affirmed.  And the presents heaped on the bride were enough to furnish it, without anything else.  It was as if all the ladies in the village had set to work to make cushions and chair-covers, and hearth-rugs, to say nothing of more substantial presents—of the rosewood table for the drawing-room; of the grand piano; or the lounging-chair, for the vicar's study; or the brooch set round with gems; or the shawl, fit for an Indian princess, and which the bride was to be married in; or the ornamental cake-basket of filigree silver, with doves at the top, a gift from the countess: all these things, and far more, came pouring in for Clara Melrose.

    Dionysius Curling had gone about, the proudest and the happiest man in the parish.  He had a great deal to do.  He had dozens of private conversations with Mrs. Flushing.  He would have everything done to perfection for his dearest Clara.  "Would his dearest Clara like this?"  "Was Mrs. Flushing sure she would like that?"  At which Mrs. Flushing laughed in his face, and told him she had known his dearest Clara ever since she was born—meaning since Clara was born.

    Dionysius Curling had become a different man to what he was when we first introduced him to the reader.  He had outgrown his stiffness and pedantry, and become genial and pleasant.  What was better far, he had ceased to preach over the heads of his congregation, and had discarded the use of the word "æsthetics."  He was beginning to learn a better lesson than Plato could teach him—a lesson of faith, of hope, and of charity.  His sermons were simple and earnest, and his ministry likely to prove a blessing to the people of Deepdale.

    Phil was not at the wedding, though he had come home the night before;—just in time, his mother told him, to give the bride away.

    But Phil did not wish to give the bride away.  He was excessively angry at her being married, and declared—as, indeed, he does to this day—that if he had but spoken out before he went to London, she would have waited for him, and not thrown herself away on Mr. Curling.

    Having made this unexpected declaration, Phil rushed from the house, and relieved his mind by turning head over heels at least twenty times.  He refused to see the bride, and vowed that he would never speak to her again.  But just when the imperial chariot was conveying the newly-married pair to the station, to start for their wedding tour, a voice suddenly called to the coachman to stop, and in another minute there appeared the face of Phil at the carriage window.  He flung a bouquet in the lap of the bride, a lovelier one by far than she had yet received.

    "Good-bye, Mrs. Melrose!" cried the boy. "I――I wish you may be happy; and I forgive you—God bless you, Mrs. Melrose!" and he disappeared.

    "The most extraordinary individual of my acquaintance," said Dionysius Curling to his bride.

    And hark! as the carriage disappears, merrily ring out the bells.


 
CHAPTER LXXXVI.

CONCLUSION.


THE fact that Phil was able to perform this act of leave-taking was a sign that his feelings were recovering their equanimity.  And it was time they did.  He had an important matter to set at rest that day.  He turned his steps to the village street, and marched straight to the red brick house of Dr. Plume.

    Dr. Plume had been, of course, to the wedding, and was now at the Manor, where a numerous party had assembled in honour of the occasion.

    There was, however, one person in Deepdale who had not gone either to the wedding or to the Manor.  He it was whom Phil wished to see.  He wished to see Frank Chauncey.

    The boy's face grew thoughtful, even tender, as he opened the door.  He opened it quietly, and without his usual noise and clatter.  Quietly he walked up-stairs.  He felt sure he should find Frank, and find him alone.  The door of Frank's sitting-room was ajar.  Phil pushed it open and entered.  All was silent as the grave.  Yet Frank was there.  He sat at the table, his arms stretched out, and his head bowed down upon them.  He did not move, or appear to know that any one had come in.  He seemed sunk in profound dejection, if not despair.

    Phil closed the door softly, and stole on tiptoe to Frank's elbow.  Then gently touching him, he whispered "Mr. Chauncey!"

    Frank started.  His nerves were sensitive, and highly strung.  He started, and looked at Phil.  Then he looked beyond him.  It was as if he expected to see some one else—to see, in fact, his father!

    This was the one absorbing dread of Frank Chauncey's mind—the dread of being confronted with his father!  His face was wan, and changed, and haggard.  His eyes were sunk, his hand was wasted.  Ah! could this be Frank Chauncey—he who had been so lately young, prosperous, and happy?  Alas! indeed it was.

    Phil gazed at him a moment.  The boy's eyes were filled with tears.  His heart, tender as a woman's, for all his rough exterior, melted at the sight of the misery before him.

    "Mr. Chauncey," said he, and his voice was soft, almost musical, "why did you not tell me?"

    Frank did not answer.  Swiftly it passed through his mind what might have happened.  Deepdale, in the midst of its rejoicings, might behold as sad a spectacle as any, when Reginald Chauncey was confronted with his son!

    "You should have told me," continued Phil, with deep earnestness, and his eyes beaming with compassion.  "How could I know that the man who took the money—was your father?"  He lowered his voice to a whisper.  Frank turned away, and buried his face in his hands.

    "He is taken, then," thought he—"taken!"

    Phil went close up to him.  He put his arm round Frank's neck.

    "Dear Mr. Chauncey," said he, and great tears dropped from his eyes, "be comforted.  It is not as you think."

    Frank raised his head.

    "What is not?" asked he, in a fearful, hurried voice.

    "He is not taken.  He will never be!  Dear Mr. Chauncey, this time it is I who have let him go."

    "You!"

    "Yes, because," and the boy's voice became husky and broken—"because he was your father."

    Frank turned pale as ashes.  In another moment he was leaning against the open window, his hand on Phil's shoulder.  Phil was supporting him.

    Then Phil told him—and it never passed the boy's lips but that once—he told him the result of his journey to London: how he recognized the man he was in pursuit of; how he followed him up; how he brought his crime home to him; how the culprit was completely in his power; how he would have caused him to be arrested, but that he found out the secret; how, for the sake of Frank, he had spared him; how he had made him promise to leave England then and there; how he had never left him a moment, and in the dawn of early morning had seen him on board a vessel about to leave the docks, and bound for Australia; how he saw him for the last time, standing on the deck, waving an adieu with his handkerchief; how Reginald Chauncey, was not so disconsolate as might have been imagined, and appeared, as Phil said, to have his pockets lined with money (advanced—but this Phil did not know—advanced on the score of his intended marriage with an heiress); how Phil had kept the secret inviolate, and would continue to do, till his life's end.

                          *                               *                               *                               *

    What became of Reginald Chauncey was never known.  But Frank's subsequent history is soon told.  After the marriage of Mrs. Melrose Phil grew tired of Deepdale.  He took his departure for Ireland, intending to reside on his estate there.  Frank Chauncey accompanied him, as the medical attendant—so Phil assured his friends—of the Landons.

    "You shall go with me," Phil had said, "whether Dr. Plume likes it or not."

    Dr. Plume did not like it, but he was won to acquiescence.

    "Perhaps it will be a better opening for him than here," said the old man to himself; "and I ought not to stand in his way."

    Before long Frank's fame as a physician spread far and wide.  He gained wealth and honours, and won golden opinions from every one.  The momentary aspersions on his character died out at Deepdale, and even Crosskeys was heard to say that it was mere village scandal arising out of the relations of doctor and patient.

    "If he had not promised, you see, the other would never have given him the confession."  And Deepdale accepted this version of the story, and took Frank Chauncey back into its somewhat fickle favour.

    As for the countess, when some few years had passed, and Dr. Chauncey's name and fame were getting higher and higher, she forgot her old grudge against him.  More than this, she remembered that a debt of gratitude was still unpaid.  She remembered that his skill had saved her daughter's life; her daughter, whom no solicitations from rank or wealth could induce to change her name or estate—who was resolved to be faithful to the end to Frank Chauncey.

    The result of these cogitations on the part of Lady Landon, and sundry delicate manœuvres, was, that Frank paid several visits to Deepdale Manor.

    After one of these visits he did not return to Ireland alone.  He brought with him a lovely and much-loved bride.  That bride was Lady Lucy.

    As for Phil, he became a famous man, and sat in Parliament, and did almost everything that was required of him—except the Latin and the Greek, of which the less said the better.


――――♦――――




CASSELL & COMPANY, LIMITED, LA BELLE SAUVAGE WORKS, LONDON, E.C.

 



[Home] [Up] [Poems by Isa] [Duchess Agnes] [Songs of Consolation] [Poems: a Miscellany] [The Argosy (1866)] [Tales on the Parables] [Tales on The Parables] [Poetry Reviews] [Cotton Famine] [Round the Court] [Peggy Oglivie] [Esther West] [Fanny's Fortune] [A Heroine of Home] [Little Folk's History] [Miscellanea] [Main Index] [Site Search]

Correspondence should be sent to Webmaster@Gerald-Massey.org.uk